The Deeper Magic


When I was young, I read the Chronicles of Narnia again and again. Not as much as read Swiss Family Robinson. But a lot.

There’s this passage I really hate in The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, where Aslan has been brought back to life, having been ritually slaughtered by the White Witch. He explains why he’s alive. It goes a bit like this:

It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.

Now, the lack of subtlety in the book aside (its intentions and allusions are written very much on its sleeve), this bit of text feels a bit like cheating. It feels like a deus ex machina, except instead of something semi-badass (the Eagles are coming!), it’s some yadda yadda. A bit of exposition to plaster over the why of it all.

I still kind of hate it.

But I also appreciate it. Not because of what it says on its face, but because (pardon the meta here) of the deeper magic it contains.

I think I’m the White Witch. But you don’t get off the hook: You’re the White Witch too.

The White Witch is someone who has glanced at something and accepted what she has found. She’s gotten the explanation she wants, and she’ll look no further. She finds the thing that lets her kill the lion but doesn’t find the next thing, the thing that lets the lion kill her.

The next thing is important.

I think a lot of thing have this deeper magic. I think we should keep digging. I think simple explanations are too easy, that there is more behind the curtain.

I think “thus far and no further” is never far enough.

Are lives cheap?

Life is precious. This goes without saying. Or does it?

With nearly 7 billion people on earth, you can argue pretty easily that life is extravagantly cheap. After all, anything that’s plentiful is cheap. That’s supply for you.

So how you do resolve that conflict?

The Eternal Now (How Technology Changes Your Mind, Literally)

What I mean is that technology literally changes your mind. It changes the way you think. It changes the way you see the world, the way you perceive time, shapes, logic, language, and a whole host of other things.

I can only speculate how language changed the human mind. That was too long ago. But we can very easily speak about how written language changes the our minds, as writing is a relatively new development, and pre-literate cultures still exist in odd places.

For instance, pre-literate cultures don’t develop technology. At least not particularly involved technology. They don’t develop science, they don’t develop symbolic logic. They develop as far as the strictures of human speech and oral tradition will allow, and that’s it. They can’t go any further. Or at least the benefits of going forward don’t outweigh the downsides. Or developments simply get lost in the fog of oral memory. However you want to put that.

You start thinking differently about the world once you’ve got a written language. You can finally start talking about talking (meta-language, if you will), which means you can develop ideas like structure, syntax, plot, and other ideas like them, all words adapted from other, pre-existing arenas (such a building and surveying, for instance) to fit the purpose of speaking about speaking.

You develop symbolic logic, and from there you develop a scientific world-view. You start thinking in abstractions. The desk is the shape of the rectangle. Before, there was no such thing as “rectangle”. There was no categorization in that kind of abstract way. There were only words that applied to things. There were no external references. There were simply the things.

The printing press comes along and it changes your mind again. You start thinking of the printed word as something cheap, something almost disposable. Suddenly books are everywhere, and anyone can be a scientist.

The train is invented and changes your concept of travel. Suddenly you can go from one side of the country to the other without taking out years of your life to get there. For a while, the train is the fastest way to get people from here to there, but also information. This is dangerous, as the trains go faster than information can travel. Vehicle collisions become a very real and frightening thing.

The telegraph is invented and changes everything. You start thinking of messages as ephemeral, as passing quickly through the void.

The telephone is invented. Distance seems to melt away. Everyone, everywhere is accessible.

Video is invented. Everywhere a camera can go is here, right now.

The internet is invented. Cellphones are invented. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google. Everything, everywhere is now. Everything is electronic. The idea of waiting for something is an anachronism.

And you don’t see it. You’re swimming in a sea of all this change and of course you don’t notice the water.

But it’s there. The internet has changed your expectations, changed your perception about the nature of things.

We are entering the eternal now.

There will be no past, soon. It’s all there. The chronicles of your and everyone else’s life available, like everything else, instantaneously. Film, music, writing, journalism, participation, anything that can be reduced to bits will be reduced to bits and will be available at your fingertips now. Now.

And so there will be no future. The idea of waiting for something, instead of being an integral part of the human experience, will be a problem. If you are waiting for something, it’s because something somewhere is broken. Like when a website doesn’t load: You don’t sit back and say “well, that’s just a part of life!”. You think, “something is broken”. This will extend from the internet to every part of life. Waiting will be engrained on your mind as a function of something being broken. Waiting is something needs to be fixed.

I’m not a digital native, not really. I grew up in a world where the fax machine was the pinnacle of human information transfer technology.

Even still, using a fax machine is an unbearable experience now. It’s frustrating. Listening to a machine negotiating with another machine and being able to see a piece of paper being sucked into the machine is annoying.

My friends who don’t participate in social media don’t seem real to me. They seem ephemeral, like ghosts. Having to wait until we’re face-to-face to interact? That’s frustrating. I want to talk to them now. I want to communicate in the now.

My mind, that tricky organ that keeps getting overwritten by innovation, doesn’t understand the idea that they will be around in the future. That’s not a time, that’s not a place. They are not participating in the eternal now, and my brain is telling me that they don’t exist. That they’re not there. And in a brain wired to find sadness in people not being there, I feel sad. They aren’t in the eternal now. They aren’t there. It’s a source of unconscious, unexplainable sadness.

So here’s the question: How has technology changed your mind? How do you react to the world now that you’re online 24/7? Look at the sea you swim in for a moment and ask, “How is it changing me?”

A point about denominations

  • You should ask the question, “Why do we have denominations? Why can’t we all just be Christians?” Then wait until someone asks, “What does ‘just be Christians’ look like?” As soon as you’ve started describing that, BOOM, you’ve started your own denomination. Then you should ask yourself the question, “Is it even possible to not have denominations?” That’s a much better question, and much harder to answer.

What Goes On In Your Head

Last night I watched the Emmys. So sue me. Or judge me from afar.

One thing I noticed is that Claire Danes doesn’t much look like Claire Danes. That is to say, Claire Danes (the woman trying to revive her career) doesn’t much remind me of Claire Danes (the girl from My So Called Life). Possibilities of plastic surgery aside, I’ve met people that don’t really resemble themselves throughout much of their lives. But I’ve also met people who look similar from cradle to coffin.

I wonder how our brains handle this. It’s easy enough to slot a certain person into a category (this is “Dan” because he looks like “Dan”), but how does a brain handle someone in the category of “Dan” who doesn’t really look like “Dan”? If someone’s looks change through their life, or they have plastic surgery, or they have facial reconstructive surgery, how do we really see that person?

I don’t know if maybe this changes with how close to you are to that person. It might be that I’m not overly familiar with Claire Danes, but whenever anyone said “Claire Danes” my brain said, “That’s not Claire Danes!”

So I wonder: If Laura (my wife, and a very attractive woman) were somehow damaged and had to have reconstructive surgery that made her only vaguely resemble herself, how would my brain react? And if I reacted the same way to Laura, how long would it take for my brain to put her back in her category?

Worship music

Here’s a quick question. Why are we biased in favour of new music in worship?

I get this a lot when talking about worship, and I see it in myself too. I lean towards new music. I like to sing songs that reflect my comfort zones, songs that exist in my vernacular.

There’s something disconnected about that, I think. Something off. I mean, we don’t exist apart from the rest of church history. Why would we sing only our own songs? Why not the songs (and Psalms, too; remember that Israel is as much a part of church history as the early church) of our forefathers? We have their faith, after all. We use their theological terms. We rest our faith at least partly on the tradition passed down through history. So why do we so quickly jettison one of the great traditions of the church, namely the songs?

Giving the saints of yesteryear a voice in the goings-on of the modern church is a good exercise in continuity that we’re missing out on. Hymns and psalms aren’t just for the grumpy old people ossifying in their seats. They’re for everyone; they’re a way of saying that we place ourselves firmly in the flow of church history, that we’re not modernist snobs who think we’ve got the best music ever invented.

There’s another question, about why we assume that people jumping around and showing energy and “getting into” the music is always a good thing, or why we assume the Holy Spirit is synonymous with adrenaline, but I’ll leave that for another time.

RCA to VGA converter.

I want to plug a DVD player directly into a monitor. Anyone have any experience with this sort of thing, any product recommendations?

I would pay my bounty in time, but I don’t have the skill.

Bryce makes a good point in his latest post about Inkscape (and FOSS in general, as he points out). It is better to spend time hacking on something yourself than to offer someone $100 to do it for you. I think this is right and true for many reasons, one being that $100 is not very much money at all to pay someone for what usually ends up being quite a few hours of work.

But then there are people like me. I don’t have any coding skills at all. I don’t have enough time to pick them up. I really enjoy Ubuntu, I really like the concept of Open Source Software, and I want to help both of those things succeed. You tell me how I’m going to invest my time in a project like Inkscape. Or, even better, something simple like gTwitter, which could use some improvement. I’d love to figure out a way to help them along. I’d love pay a bounty in time to make a program I use all the time work like it should work, but I don’t have any usable skills that would help them along.

So paying your bounty in time is fine, as long as you have some sort of skill. But for the rest of us? The Joe Blows of the world who use open source software but don’t give much back? What about us?

Here’s a question.

If you want to be a scriptural Christian, do you read the Bible like it’s a systematic theology, or some other way? What do the scriptures ask regarding their own interpretation? How does the Bible say “read me”?

Or is that a question with a stupidly easy answer I’ve managed to miss?

Reading between the lines.

Interpreting the Bible is hard thing. If you do it wrong, you can literally make the Bible support almost anything.

I find it difficult to extract myself from the reading. There’s a cultural context to everything I do — if I’m honest with myself — and that cultural context is often in conflict with what the Bible says.

Is it just popular culture, though? Every group of people has a particular slant, a way of looking at things. Could it be possible that Christians read certain sub-cultural things into the scriptures?

This seems to be a real problem. In the hands of the Greeks, the Bible became a philosophy textbook. In the clutches of the Enlightenment, the Bible turned into something rational, something factual. In slippery fingers of the modern western world, it’s been transformed into a manual for a better, more fulfilling life.

I don’t pretend to know what God was thinking when he inspired the scriptures. I don’t even know — neither do you, admit it — what that process looks like or what it means. I don’t know what the original authors thought of truth, whether they were what we think of as modernist or post-modernist, what their approach to facts was.

All this highlight how difficult it becomes to understand some things. Certainly most things are clear, but modern life brings up issues people in Biblical times couldn’t have dreamed about. Obviously you can’t write a blank cheque and say, “Well, if the Bible doesn’t mention it, it’s okay!” There are principles for almost everything.

Which is, of course, when things become tricky. When things start creeping into the interpretation that just might not really be there.

The question becomes how much you let your viewpoint inform the scriptures and vice versa. What does the Bible have to say about that? For example, the idea of verbal plenary inspiration is a very rationalist doctrine: is it actually in the Bible, or is it something a bunch of rationalistic theologians came up with because they were so fixated to a certain mindset that the Bible must obviously have been inspired that way?

I’m not saying this is what happened: I’m just asking the question.

Still, at the end of the day, how far can imperfect humans with biases and an imperfect perception of reality really read between the lines?