Multiple Streams of Income and Proverbs

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations? When the grass is gone and the new growth appears and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field. There will be enough goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls.
(Pro 27:23-27)

When I was younger I’d hear things like, “You should try to have multiple streams of income.” I would think, “That’s stupid and materialistic.

Anyway, the Bible teaches that it’s simple wisdom to have a backup plan for money and food. Ignore it at your peril. Or luck out and never need it.

Lean not on your own understanding?

Pro 3:1-5 My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, (2) for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. (3) Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. (4) So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. (5) Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

I’ve written about this passage before asking whether or not it was promoting  a form on non-deliberative mysticism.

Another question to ask is this: is the author saying that the young man, “my son,” should never lean on his own understanding?

I think the answer is no. “My son” is clearly among the simple, a group of characters in Proverbs who have the potential to become wise but are in danger of seeking folly instead.

The young man who seeks wisdom in Proverbs ultimately becomes a man of understanding:

Pro 3:13-14 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, (14) for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.

Pro 5:1-2 My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, (2) that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge.

Pro 14:29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.*

The stage of life in which one has no understanding is one in which one must rely on the commands of God (that doesn’t change) and the wisdom of teachers. But eventually one must gain the understanding necessary to navigate life in the case of circumstances for which there is no direct command from God or in which there are no mentors.

*In the passages cited, there are two different Hebrew words being translated “understanding,” but they are near synonyms.

Thoughts and Things

This week I managed to deadlift 325 and 335. That’s good pos operative progress. The 335 lift was at the end of grueling back workout so my forearms and all my back muscles were exhausted. This tells me that I have significant progress to come on dead lift.

Also, this week I starting thinking about how economic principles could easily be used to make predictions about ecology. Biologists have already known this. So have mathematicians. For all I know, somebody told me about it and it just popped into my head.

I have a hypothesis that I need to find a way to test concerning connective tissue damage and the bone disorder that runs in my family.

 

 

What does it mean to have a good eye?

Pro 22:9 Whoever has a good eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.

Pro 28:22 He who hastens after wealth has an evil eye and does not know that poverty will come upon him.

In the ancient world, particularly in the culture that influences the writers of the Bible, the eye was in a metaphorical and literal sense thought ot be connected to the inner life of man. By inner life, I mean the world of thought, emotions, and intentions: the heart and soul.

One of the results of the good eye is sharing bread with the poor, which leads to happiness. What are the assumed traits of the good eye?

  1. A belief that there is enough supported by one’s hard work (see Proverbs 6:6-9) and God’s providence.
  2. A desire to receive a blessing like Abraham (Genesis 12).
  3. A desire to bless others like Abraham (Genesis 12).

Evagrios of Pontus on Imagination in Christian Devotion

Evagrios of Pontus wrote these instructions for Christian meditation. I think it’s important to utilize the imagination and the feelings in meditation just as much as thoughts and concepts. As humans we are deeply susceptible to hypnotism and rhetoric. This is important because we often can find ourselves convinced of truths upon which we do not act because they do not affect our feelings enough to goad our will into action. And other times we might act without reference to the truth because we’ve been emotionally persuaded into a habit or action. When we meditation upon truths received in the way Evagrios instructs us, those truths can make it further into our lives.

Here it is:

“In addition to all that I have said so far, you should consider now other lessons which the way of stillness teaches, and do what I tell you. Sit in your cell, and concentrate your intellect; remember the day of death, visualize the dying of your body, reflect on this calamity, experience the pain, reject the vanity of this world, its compromises and crazes, so that you may continue in the way of stillness and not weaken. Call to mind, also, what is even now going on in hell. Think of the suffering, the bitter silence, the terrible moaning, the great fear and agony, the dread of what is to come, the unceasing pain, the endless weeping. Remember, too, the day of your resurrection and how you will stand before God. Imagine that fearful and awesome judgment-seat. Picture all that awaits those who sin: their shame before God the Father and His Anointed, before angels, archangels, principalities and all mankind; think of all the forms of punishment: the eternal fire, the worm that does not die, the abyss of darkness, the gnashing of teeth, the terrors and the torments. Then picture all the blessings that await the righteous: intimate communion with God the Father and His Anointed, with angels, archangels, principalities and all the saints, the kingdom and its gifts, the gladness and the joy.”

“Picture both these states: lament and weep for the sentence passed on sinners; mourn while you are doing this, frightened that you, too, may be among them. But rejoice and be glad at the blessings that await the righteous, and aspire to enjoy them and to be delivered from the torments of hell. See to it that you never forget these things, whether inside your cell or outside it. This will help you to escape thoughts that are defiling and harmful.”[1]

 

 

[1] Nikodimos, St.. The Philokalia (Kindle Locations 903-914) Kindle Edition.

 

Abraham and Happiness

Gen 12:1-3  Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  (2)  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  (3)  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Gen 24:1  Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.

 

“Why does Abraham leave Mesopotamia? God’s words in this passage give us some insight into what is at stake. To be sure, God offers Abraham some things that any man might want, whether he is good or evil – to attain fame in history, to be the father of a great nation. But in addition to these, God speaks to Abraham about two moral dimensions that are to attend this project of exchanging the great metropolis for life in a shepherd’s tent in Canaan: Abraham is told that he will be blessed; and he is told that he will be a blessing to all the families of the earth. And in fact, the biblical History is insistent upon both of these dimensions, returning repeatedly to the suggestion that in the subsequent history of Abraham’s children “all the nations of the earth will be blessed”; and telling us explicitly, at the end of Abraham’s life, that “the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.”[1]

 

The Biblical idea of blessedness (happiness) is not altruism or a lack of interest in oneself. Nor is it a prosperity gospel way of thinking which says that as long as I am prospering I should be happy. But it is, as shown in Abraham’s life in Genesis, seeking and bestowing happiness. Or like Abel, “making good of it (Genesis 4:7)” for yourself, but also for others.

[1] Yoram Hazony, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture: An Introduction (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 111.

 

Placebo and Intelligence

In a recent experiment, psychologists “designed a procedure to intentionally induce a placebo effect” in order to test the claims of intelligence increasing software.[1]

The study has a small sample size, but bear with me. 

In the control group (people who simply thought they were participating in an experiment) there was no difference in pre and post training intelligence. In the experimental group (who were told they were training to increase their intelligence) an increase in intelligence was measured (5-10 IQ points) after only one hour of training.

In general, exercises designed to improve intelligence take several hours of training over the course of several weeks to yield a measurable effect. So the researchers designed the experiment to remove training based improvement.

Why do this?

Several attempts to measure ‘cognitive improvement games’ advertise to participants in a way that may prime them for placebo improvements (or appeal to people for reasons related to their beliefs about intelligence thus creating a selection bias by recruiting people who really want the training to work). But, as I mentioned, people apparently improved. Now, I don’t care about brain training games. Just use Khan Academy, Duo Lingo, and learn to write software. Your brain will improve. 

What interests me is what this study might imply about beliefs and mindset. If people can be persuaded to improve at an intelligence test by being primed to believe they have engaged in an activity that made them smarter, how could teachers, counselors, parents, ministers, and others leverage such a finding? We know that the coaching effect is very powerful for athletes. Could it hold true for education? It certainly makes more sense than the self-esteem movement. Replacing: “You’re smart and you can do it,” with “this brain training will make you smarter if you do it” could be a useful mindset technique. 

Anyway, there are genetic limits to IQ. But within that set range, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and, perhaps, belief can yield minor improvements. I find Arthur Whimbey’s research on this compelling. Prior to computer games, like we have today, he found that teaching people to think sequentially (out loud or writing out their thought processes) led to increased IQ scores and performance in school. This accords with Ritche’s claim that education also increases IQ.

But again, this study is small potatoes in terms of evidence. Either way, fake it till you make it is the best strategy. 

Reference

[1] Cyrus K. Foroughi et al., “Placebo Effects in Cognitive Training,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 20, 2016), 1.

Proverbs 24:27

Pro 24:27 Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.

I suppose you could shorten this Proverb to “put first things first.”

Of course, to do that we’ve got to think things through.

In the case of buying property in the ancient world, you’d want to make sure it could produce wealth before building a house on it.

Similarly, one might want to find a good source or several sources of income before buying a house.

In the case of spiritual application, it’s important to make certain things duties such as private prayer before public prayer, reconciliation with brothers and sisters before worship (see Matthew 5:21-26), honoring mother and father with finances before giving to church building projects, and so-on.

Do we need asceticism?

 

Asceticism is a much maligned concept, but it’s actually a common place of human culture. It’s essentially exercising one’s life toward some goal. Everybody is, in this sense, an ascetic practitioner. The problem is that we may not have chosen the goal toward which we are heading.

The main point of the book Fight Club was that men were being shaped into consumerist nobodies whose souls were as empty as their closets and refrigerators were full.

Asceticism in a narrower sense is the intentional adoption of severe exercises toward some goal. In one sense, many people engage in quite severe exercises toward goals they’ve never chosen! People will work at jobs they hate, miss out on their children’s lives, eat food that hurts them over and over to save time, all the while wishing desperately to not make those choices. But the narrow sense of asceticism is choosing certain severe practices to escape such deadening life paths.

Margaret Miles observed that we find ourselves attracted to any of the goals of historic asceticism, then we should “take seriously the claim of the historical authors that ascetic practices are the best means toward them.[1]

What were the goals of ancient asceticism?

  1. The acquisition of happiness and virtue.
  2. Control over one’s desires.
  3. Control over one’s thoughts.
  4. Control over one’s body.
  5. A clear vision of God and a deep compassion for the downtrodden.
  6. Partial escape from the symbolic world provided to us by others.

There were others, but these are the ones that are most appealing to me.

A modern asceticism would have to include:

  1. Fasting
  2. Solitude
  3. Physical exercise
  4. Strict attention to money and how it is used
  5. Escape to nature in some form
  6. Various forms of meditation (on Scripture, introspection, mindfulness to learn to control your thoughts/moods, etc)

 

References

[1] Margaret R Miles, Fullness of Life: Historical Foundations for a New Asceticism (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981).

 

Don’t resist by means of evil

Text

38 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη· ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ °καὶ ὀδόντα ἀντὶ ὀδόντος. 39 * ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ· ἀλλʼ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα [σου], στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην· 40 καὶ τῷ θέλοντί σοι κριθῆναι καὶ τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν,* ἄφες αὐτῷ καὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον· 41 * καὶ ὅστις σε ἀγγαρεύσει μίλιον ἕν,* ὕπαγε μετʼ αὐτοῦ δύο. 42 τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός, καὶ τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανίσασθαι μὴ ἀποστραφῇς. [1]

Translation

38 You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I am telling you to not resist by means of evil, but whoever strikes you upon the right cheek, turn to him also the left; 40 and to whomever desires to sue you and to take your tunic, give to him him also the cloak. 41 And whoever obligates you to go a mile, go with him two. 42 To whomever asks of you, give, and to him who desires to borrow from you, do not turn away.

Reflections

  1. Eye for an eye was an Old Testament legal precedent applicable to situations in which an unborn baby or neighbor is injured by violence. The law was also a precedent for cases concerning false witnesses.
  2. Jesus does not seem to be claiming that courtroom judgments should be abrogated. He uses court circumstances and assumes their enduring relevance in two previous triads. Instead, he seems to be correcting the use of these passages as justifications for using evils suffered as justification for evils done.
  3. The way out of the cycle of returning evil for evil is illustrated in four ways, but I think it’s important not to limit the process to these specifics and indeed, Jesus himself does not treat these commands as absolute rules for all times but as wise ways to avoid resisting evil with evil. So turn the cheek, go the mile, give the garment, and so-on are illustrations.
  4. For instance, Jesus tells people, “No” when they ask him for a sign (Matthew 16). He also criticizes a man for striking him (John 18:23).
  5. So, if there are exceptions, it is perhaps best to think of this teaching as recommending that one do the shocking or disarming thing to create peace in the face of institutional oppression and personal honor challenges.
  6. Jerome Neyrey sees this particular passage as a way out of the tit for tat honor/shame game played in the ancient world. I think that is part of the idea, though probably not the whole idea as Jesus and the apostles in Acts participate in that game verbally.

References

[1] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Mt 5:38–42.