bugs and birds

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Something to break up the constant attention to sin we’ve fallen into in these parts.

A bug:

a bug, a flying bug of some kind, more properly called an insect.

A western bluebird. Haven’t seen these around here too often.

western bluebird
western bluebird

white-breasted nuthatch:

white breasted nuthatch

accumulating wealth

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Avarice is the sin of greed. That’s an easy definition. Maybe this should be a short post because we all know those other people who like to hoard money and wear all that gaudy gold and drive around in terribly inconvenient vehicles for the sake of thinking they are impressing people.

Ah yes, Greed. That flamboyant Hollywood playboy. That insatiable corporate executive. That bore who knows no other conversation besides their portfolio and real estate ventures.

As Mr. Burns says, “I’ll keep it short and sweet — Family. Religion. Friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business.”

This is the public face of avarice, and like all of the vices this popular persona hides and excuses a lot of more pernicious forms of greed.

Greed, one movie said a long time ago, is good. Most people agree, in deed if not always on paper.

That’s a problem really, because admitting a sin is one of the key steps to overcoming it. Denying it exists, or only exists for other people makes for a lot of rationalizing and self-righteousness.

Mr. Burns is blatant in his greed. He lives for himself, thinks only of himself, accumulates wealth for the sake of accumulating wealth, steps on anyone who gets in his way, and will even attempt to block the sun itself in order to gain a few extra dollars.

Avarice, from this example, is the ruthless accumulation of wealth for personal gain, usually out of desire for power or acclaim.

This one is easy to spot. If this all it were, however, it might still be a deadly sin but hardly worth listing due to its relative scarcity. Unrestrained greed is the province of popes and kings and 19th century railroad tycoons, most of whom are now dead. Unrestrained greed, you see, requires the rare quality of unmitigated power. Even corporate executives find, at the end of the day, their power to be rather more mitigated than they would wish.

It doesn’t take too far to go from the unacceptable unrestrained greed to the more valued and honored time tested avarice. Sometimes a few appearances at a charity function is all it takes.

However, avarice isn’t limited to unabashed greed. If all sins merely included their unabashed versions we’d have much more clear lines in living our lives, and likely could stamp our driver’s licenses with the appropriate symbol of good or evil.

Avarice isn’t deadly because there are some supremely greedy people in this world. Avarice is deadly because it’s substantially more devious than we think. It infests our very core and is likely is one of the pervasive sins among all people, those saved by Christ as well as those not.

So there’s obvious greed. That’s one aspect. Check that off the list of things most people aren’t about. How about these things:

Avarice is not only about securing wealth for ourselves. It can also include any particular obsession with managing money or gathering it for any cause. For example, a person can be personally poor but they focus their lives on managing the money of charities or churches or other non-profit organizations. They live in a modest house, but seek a particularly noteworthy new building for their meetings, and go all out in making sure everyone hands over money. This obsession for money, this underhanded avarice, long ago infiltrated the Church making it seem somehow obvious that grand buildings and ornate decorations were impressive to God, all while God says something else. By making it seem righteous, this form of avarice can completely consume the soul of someone while making it seem such a person is a model Christian. This is also at the root of why oftentimes success in business lifts a man into an elder position while mere spirituality leaves one without much of a voice. That money is a sign of success in all things is avarice at work. Even if good works result, souls are lost.

Now, that is a definition folks will start to quibble with. Deadly sins are wily beasts.

Try this next one on for size.

Throughout the entirety of Scripture God says we are to trust him for our welfare. He feeds the birds and clothes the flowers and when the young ravens cry for sustenance he does a work. The future is glory, our lives are in his hands.

Yet who lives by this? Anyone anymore? Of course not. It is foolish to think that God is going to work in providing for our needs now and in the future. We need to hoard, for ourselves and for our children, because no one else will do it. We have to get into the intricacies of sundry retirement plans, invest for college, for the future, for emergencies. And we have to do it in a way that supports our neighbor matching lifestyle.

Disasters may come. Wars and rumors of wars and floods, or fires, or computer glitches, or any other unthinkable events can throw us off track. We must worry. We must fret. We must plan and keep planning and when the plans are made make backup plans. Poverty is no longer seen as a spiritual discipline because it’s so clearly bad planning and poor stewardship. It’s all right and good to put a little in the passed plate, but not so much as to invade our plans and security.

Obsession with our financial security. That’s avarice too.

Most folks are shaking their heads now at these. Only it’s pretty clear that folks who want to really know God and overcome the barriers of their sinfulness have to see avarice as not only a rabid weasel but also as a elegant swan. It is deadly precisely because it makes sense and we can convince ourselves to guide our lives, sacrificing our devotions to God in its altar. It is why churches become established then stale. It is why radicals become entrenched and staid. It is why fires go out, excitement dies down, eagerness wanes, and the fluid work of the Spirit hardens into inflexible concrete.

We see here the great difficulty with unraveling the most pernicious sorts of sins. They are not blatant evils but at times can point to great goods, and there may in fact be a fine line between the holy and the sinful in any given action. It is not wrong to make money, or have investments or do any of those other things which money allows. Except, of course, when such things are wrong, as they may in fact be either in total or in degree given the individual. This line is a matter of the most sensitive discernment to figure out.

Sorting these things out is why we need the Spirit to guide us and humility to always listen. Because unlike what Mr. Burns declared family, friends, and religion aren’t necessarily the demons to be conquered in order to indulge avarice. They may be, in fact, the angels of light that lead us ever so gently down the road to hell.


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I just can’t get away from sin can I? I did warn everyone, what with my soliciting books and all.

I think the island effect is slowly wearing off, so regular commentary (whatever that is) will begin again shortly.

Unless I get a picture of the western tanager that keeps hanging out round these parts in which case it’s more pictures of birds.

three more vices

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As the previous post begins to illustrate, the topic of sin isn’t about some legal wrongs and rights. That’s what makes it so tricky in some ways. We like to have lists posted on boards so that we can know what shouldn’t be done and who is doing it anyhow. We put on our sash and then go out to patrol the highways and the byways to make sure that no one violates our particular lists that may or may not exactly match up with the Divine lists we think were written.

It doesn’t matter that Scripture says overcoming sin is only possible by the Holy Spirit. Violations are violations and folks just plain need to stop it.

Having lists is easy but it also can be entirely misleading. Because lists depend on egregious action all we can do is keep an eye on people to make sure they aren’t doing something which offends. Only offensive actions do not make up the totality of sin. And sometimes being offensive is exactly the opposite of sin. Jesus offended people left and right, in word and in action.

Sin is not about doing wrong. Sin is an orientation. It is an expression of a reality which does not match up to true reality. Each time we sin we express a view of this world and an opinion about God which is out of alignment with what God says is real.

Holiness is like gravity oriented always Godward. The nature of things got disturbed, however, and sin is that which distances us from our core. Sin too much we will break orbit and drift away into nothingness.

That is why the 8 deadly sins are such an important point of orientation. They are not lists of wrong and right actions, and they are not limited to the dirty or licentious. Just as we are whole beings, sin attacks us holistically. It affects our actions, our needs, our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our attitudes, our very being, with the most pernicious not being those which are reflected in a dubious deed, but instead corrupting us within like a cancer.

The worst sinners among us may seem to never sin at all.

That is the nature of the final three deadly sins: avarice, vainglory, and pride.

All three look down on the lascivious and ignoble sins of gluttony, fornication, sadness, and acedia. Sermons will be preached on these four sins, and folks will go around and judge others who fall into their trap.

Ah, but avarice, vainglory, and pride are oft commended and encouraged. No, not in their blatant expressions, that is too crass even for evil. It is in their deeper and noxious states that they have infiltrated the community of saints and sought honor for their shame, even to the point of making what is an evil into a good, and blinding folks to the effects of this transformation.

7 or 8

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In recent times, namely the last millenium plus or minus a century, the list of deadly vices has typically numbered seven. Seven is, of course, the perfect number according to those who think seven is the perfect number. The Seven Deadly Sins then are considered the complete package of a person’s faults and misdemeanors before God and each other.

It’s not the Ten Commandments anymore we have to watch out for, even if overly zealous religious folks would rather make this the monument in our various civic forums.

The Seven sins are gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, sloth, envy, and pride. Of these only fornication is really considered a sin anymore, unless a person exists outside the church circle and then that’s a sin only if involves unattractive people.

The others are more or less frowned upon in excess, but television wouldn’t exist in any recognizable form if we really didn’t wink and nod at the whole lot of them. Indeed, most of our own lives would have to be radically adjusted were we to really take the “deadly” part seriously. For us they are more like yellow lights than red. If we notice them we won’t stop but we will slow down or speed up, depending on the situation and our own state of mind.

Gluttony is eating too much. Well, it’s more than that. It’s anything which takes particular and consuming notice of food. Eat too much and become overweight? That’s just a part. Send the waitress back because the meat is a slight bit too red or the plate has carrots instead of peas on it? That’s gluttony too. Not eating, starving oneself, always watching every bit and morsel, shaping one’s life in the endless avoidance of every calorie? That’s another form of gluttony.

The opposite of gluttony is temperance.

Fornication then comes next, and it considered a close cousin to gluttony. A full stomach means the mind can think in other directions, and as with gluttony, it’s not only a matter of wrongful satiation. There’s all manner of thoughts, and approaches, and ways of living which can suggest a soul enslaved to sexuality. But, we’re all pretty clear on this one. The internet can tell you all you really didn’t want to know about this particular sin.

The opposite of fornication is chastity.

Anger is a deadly sin, which is confusing really because there are so many really great things to get angry at. It’s hard to go through the day and not find some sort of righteous indignation about what someone else is doing, and being that we’re entirely right to find it wrong the anger seems entirely appropriate. Only the Deadly Sins aren’t about that other person. Their concern lies elsewhere, within our own soul, and an angry soul is not a soul which is still. A still soul listens to the Spirit, and responds in love. It’s a deadly sin because it throws us into a chaotic state, for there is so very much to get angry at, if we indulge we will easily find ourselves trapped in that tar and constantly ignited with the slightest spark. Sure the guy in the corvette may have cut you off and given you the finger while doing it, but to react with anything nearing equivalent emotions is a step onwards to hell.

The opposite of anger is impassivity. It’s not just passive, it’s impassive, intentionally not letting things get to you.

So far so good. These three are sins listed in every list, and each can consume a soul with endless strife. When we think of a spiritual person, we know to not include these three things. Even if we excuse them in our own lives.

Fourth on most lists comes Sloth. This is where I part ways, and not because I like a good sleep-in on a midweek morning. Sloth in contemporary parlance is just about equivalent to laziness. Thus, the sin of sloth becomes a transformable beast, determined not by some heavenly dictate but by each person’s consideration of how much work should be getting done. The opposite of sloth is clearly work. But that’s not right at all. Well, work is right, but who gets to define what work is right? Does any old act of unenjoyable effort constitute a spiritual discipline and lead to our overcoming a deadly sin? No.

Indeed, leaving sloth in the list, in my estimation has done enormous damage to the the whole Christian Spirituality project because it has allowed a variably defined word to induce significant influence on how people perceive their spiritual state.

This is why the earlier, and in my estimation spiritually and psychologicall better, lists had not seven but eight deadly sins. Eight isn’t as good a number, truth be told, as it doesn’t really seem to mean anything in the kinds of numerologies that conservative Christians take so seriously. It’s just a number with one circle on top of the other. Give it a carrot nose, two piece of coal, and a corncob pipe it’d be a snowman. It’s not really a number for noble lists, but maybe that’s appropriate as there’s hardly anything less noble than the deadly sins, which really do number eight.

Now, it seems odd to be rejecting one on the seven list and in doing so make the list larger. That’s bad math really. Except, you were focusing solely on addition. The eight numbered list comes about by a little bit of division. Sloth is divided into two, and these two have only a little in common with the popular conception of their sum.

The first of the new two is sadness. In our modern era it seems downright callous to say that sadness is a deadly sin, because we have clinicized it and given it the name of depression. Depression is a condition not a sin, consumed with all manner of psychology and neurochemistry, and brain wave transducivity (I think I made that last one up). All true. Only who said sin had to be isolated from our neurochemistry? We are humans, body and spirit. Whole not a collection of parts. That we have even a genetic predisposition towards what can develop into a deadly sin is not at all a reason to toss it out. Indeed, it helps our understanding to realize what can be a sin if embraced can also be attacked from all sorts of directions.

It is not in the temptation or the tendency towards depression that it is a sin. It is in the wallowing. It is in the accepting of this condition as reality and living in such a way that justifies our own lowered self. It is succumbing to moods similar to anger, except they are self-focused and corrosive. Rather than seeking to impose our will, it is a total loss of will because our expectations or yearnings have not been met. Sadness such as this can certainly be reflected in a lowered energy level, loss of ambition, and inability to poke oneself back into the game. But, to address solely the symptoms is to miss the much deeper and deadly part. It is not work that is the opposite, it is trust.

Similar in basic description but entirely not similar in outward response is the sin of acedia. This is, basically, spiritual depression. But, it’s more than what comes to mind with those words. One of the reasons for leaving this off the newer lists is because it was thought this is a tempation peculiar to monks or those living in purposeful spiritual communities. Not at all. Indeed, I’d say this is one of the most common deadly sins around, and for me at least, the dragon which sparks the rest of the sins.

Acedia is the feeling that prayer doesn’t work, that studying Scripture is a waste of time, that the spiritual disciplines are spiritual nuisances, and that anything devoted to the interior soul is energy poorly spent. Indeed, the very symptoms of acedia can be congratulated as an overcoming of sloth. The person fallen into this deadly sin wants to do just about anything other than commune with God privately. This person loves to visit others, always seeking out new company or new conversation, seeking out new jobs and new responsibilities, moving from place to place, impatient of stopping and frustrated with solitude. This person uses busyness as a mask for their lack of faith in the Living God. Rather than devote themselves to maturing as did Mary, they devote themselves to activity according to Martha. There are things that need to get done, such a person says, and getting these things done brings noise to an unbearable silence. Such a person doesn’t hear God. They are resigned to the fact God is not doing a thing. They let their frenzied soul be their religious guide rather than the Holy Spirit.

Those with acedia are often the least slothful people you’ll ever meet. Because if they stop they will have to face the fact they don’t really believe. And that is a reality most folks would rather hide by any means possible, even and especially by honored ministry.

“Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'”
– Matthew 7:21-23

The opposite of acedia is perseverance, standing even when all seems lost and barren, waiting for the sun to again rise.

These five are enough sins for now methinks.

island thinking

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It’s a curious thing to get away so far away even though it’s not all that far away. The mind gets into a mood.

It’s a mood of thoughtful quietness, in which it is thinking, pondering, considering but not really all that interested in expressing.

I think it is the ocean that does this. The ocean is, frankly, far too big for consideration and so it diminishes attempts to encapsulate. A cup of ocean water is just another cup of water, not a traveling sized ocean afterall.

But, the mind wanders back after a spell, and slowly remembers how to string together a few thoughts in some vaguely recognizable order. Then it gets to remembering how this can be a good thing, even if not ever complete.

This coming week will have more thoughts, and will get back into a regular consideration of things which do seem to matter.

Take the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for instance. That’s a curious tree really, for who today would say knowledge of good and evil is something to be avoided. Ignorance is the sin, right? Yet, eating of that fruit caused a landslide of moral strength, which reverberates in the valleys of all our hearts.

This might matter. Unless the forest somehow begins to speak with the voice of an ocean this week.

Santa Rosa Island

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Went to Santa Rosa Island and took some pictures.

Santa Rosa Island

A lot of pictures. Some on the beach, some in the hills, some in the forest, some in camp, some by a stream, some of birds, some of deer, some of the ocean, some under the ocean.

Santa Rosa has a quality to it that I felt more than noticed on a previous trip by it on the way to San Miguel. There is a mystical air, something deep and spiritual. So I was curious to land on it and see what this was, if indeed there was anything.

There were moments I tasted of this, but not too strong. However, on the last day I realized my reaction. Santa Rosa has been a cattle farm for more than 150 years. It is, in fact, the last remnant of original Mexican land grants given to wealthy men hundreds of years ago. This land grant passed through hands until it reached a large cattle company which still has rights to the island until 2011.

Have you ever seen an antique desk which someone painted over in a garish blue or green to match the present fashions. Scrape off the layers and there is a beautiful oak underneath. Santa Rosa has been painted over. It has been stamped with cattle operations and all other sorts of human presence so that it isn’t quite reflecting its full character. Wait five years more and it’ll be more clear. Wait another fifty and we’ll be able to see the island for what it should be. The wonderful thing is that unlike many other natural wonders this island is indeed on its way to recovery. It has moments of mysticism still left in it.

And it certainly was a wonderful trip, a very interesting place to visit, and a welcomed balm for my soul. Plus, I can say I have visited all the Channel Islands, and now can revisit them each for their own particular gifts and personality.

I’m back

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snorkeling on Santa Rosa Island

I got home around 10:00 last night after five days away, four of which were spent on Santa Rosa Island. This was an accomplishment of sorts as now I’ve been to all the islands which are part of the Channel Islands national park. That’s a fine thing to do in my mind, which is why I got to doing it. Good times were had on Santa Rosa. One day was spent stepping in. One day was spent stepping away. One day was spent hiking the dusty, almost barren interior, while the next was spent wandering the beach, the pines above the beach, and the water on the other side of the beach.

I have quite a few pictures and some thoughts on this island’s personality coming up in a little while.

off and away

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Well, I’m off to a deserted island for the weekend. At least mostly deserted.

As I’ll be 50 miles offshore and am excited by the mere fact there is drinkable water where I’m going, I won’t be able to post a thing until Monday at least.

I am bringing my camera… so there should be some decent pictures when I do.

Maybe even of a blue whale, so I hear.

people I like

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I would definitely vote for this man.

Fortunately, I live in a place which mandates against having a lawn. I’m all for the discovery of what nature brings, and what nature brings is usually more beautiful than our attempts at mundane order.

There are no weeds. There are only plants of various kinds which grow in shapes pleasing and colors diverse.

Weeds are a conception of our own mind. We are revolting against our location and distancing ourselves from the dance which nature seeks to lead.

The raucous sound of weedwhackers and lawnmowers are the belchings of our frenetic attempts to control.

Of course, this isn’t surprising opinions given I live on a NWF certified wildlife habitat.