Thursday, April 28, 2005

Emotions II

Today at work I was contemplating various things as I carried peoples' groceries out for them, and some more things occurred to me regarding emotions. In specific, regarding Sadness.

Previously, I talked about Anger and Fear, and how they are natural responses to pain. Fear is the instinct to run away from the source of pain, and Anger is the instinct to fight and destroy the source of pain. They're our psyche's immediate response to pain and danger.

Once the source of the pain has been dealt with, however (that is, to use our grizzly bear metaphor, once the bear has either been chased away or eluded somehow), what we're left with is the pain of the wounds we received in the conflict. Perhaps the grizzly bear has left claw-marks on our shoulder, or the schoolyard bully's taunting has left us feeling insecure. Sadness is our response to that pain. It only occurs once the adrenaline of Fear or Anger has subsided, and we're left to deal with the aftermath.

There are two main reactions that I can think of to the emotion of Sadness. The first reaction is to hide; to find a secluded corner somewhere and nurse our wounds, away from people and all possible sources of further pain. This can sometimes result in Depression. The second reaction is to seek help, to go to those we trust for consolation and comfort. Tears and crying are a part of that second reaction, they're our automatic signal system that says "Hey! I'm hurt, I need help!" Both reactions serve a purpose: to help us heal our wounds and ease our pain.

Of course, it's the second reaction that is usually the most helpful. Any time we shed tears over a thing, it's usually a pretty good sign that we should be talking to someone about it. Of course, for us Christians, there is always someone nearby we can turn to in moments of sadness or anguish -- Jesus.

Now, we know that God is all-powerful, so there is nothing in this world or any other that can possibly cause him pain directly. And yet, we read in the Bible that God feels sorrow, sadness, and even anger at times. It seems contradictory, but it's not. If I am standing in front of an angry grizzly bear, confident in my knowledge that I am stronger than the bear and it cannot hurt me, I can still feel fear if I notice that a small child has wandered into the bear's path, and anger if the bear harms him, and sadness if he's hurt. They're sympathetic emotions, felt on behalf of someone you love and care about. In fact, one might say that the definition of love is when you feel emotions on someone else's behalf as strongly as or stronger than you do yourself. This is why God gets angry, or feels sadness; he loves us, and feels for us.

I dunno, it's just something that occurred to me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


What are emotions? We all have them, but how often do we really think about them? I've often wondered about them myself, things like "Why is sadness unpleasant?," and "Why should certain things cause me to be happy?" Somewhere in the midst of all those questions, I came to some conclusions. I'll share some of them here. Why? Because I can.

So, emotions. I've come to the conclusion that emotions are basically our instinctive responses to things that happen to us. Something good happens, we feel good. Something bad happens, we feel bad. I suspect they were given to us by God to help us survive in this world; to give us a basic sense of what we should and shouldn't do. If we're afraid of the giant bear standing in front of us, we're less likely to go up to it and try to hug it (which would probably be detrimental to our health). Likewise, if we feel happy when we're with friends, we will try to hang out with them more, which also helps us survive. Of course, there's more to emotions than just survival, but that's the part I want to focus on at the moment.

For today's blog, I want to focus in particular on fear and anger. I've been hearing a lot about these two lately, for some reason, and so I've been thinking about them a lot. This is what I think:

It seems to me that fear and anger are flip sides of the same coin. They're our natural reaction to pain and danger, part of our "fight or flight" instinct. When we're confronted with pain and danger (such as the giant rabid grizzly bear I mentioned earlier), we basically have two options: run away, taking yourself away from the danger; or stand and fight, and take the danger away from you (by killing the bear with your pocketknife and making him into a rug, perhaps). Of course, these actions are the result of the emotions that spring up within you as a response to the danger: fear makes you run away, anger makes you stand and fight.

That's all well and good when we're talking about enormous hungry bears with a taste for human flesh. The problem is, with us human beings, not all pain and danger is the physical sort. Things get way more complicated when we're talking about emotional pain and distress. If you get angry and kill your boss and make him into a nice rug, you'll probably go to jail for the rest of your life (or, in Canada, 2 or 3 years with parole). If you are afraid of the school bully and run away from him, he'll just come after you again later and taunt you some more.

So we repress our emotions. We pretend we aren't afraid. We seal the anger inside. We try to deal with the problem as best we can, but meanwhile the bottled up emotions eat away at us and make us miserable. Fear becomes cowardice, and anger becomes hate. People tend to think anger is better than fear, and I think this is because anger tends to result in a more permanent solution -- if you run away, the danger is still out there and could come get you again. If you kill the danger, or at least make it afraid of you, it's dealt with for good. But in reality, when talking about emotional pain and danger anyway, both options have equally bad ends. The fear or the anger consumes our lives, isolating us, distorting how we look at things. No matter which emotional response to pain we choose, it makes our life worse.

There is a third option, though. Strength. Although anger seems stronger than fear, both are born out of weakness. If you are stronger than the grizzly bear, the bear poses no threat to you. You have no reason to be either afraid or angry. In fact, if you're stronger than the bear, and fear or anger are not clouding your perceptions, all of a sudden you have time to see why it is that the bear is angry. Perhaps the bear stepped on a thorn, or a bear trap. If the bear's worst attack cannot hurt you, you are no longer primarily concerned about your own welfare, and you can begin to feel other emotions about the bear: sympathy, caring, perhaps love. You could even help the bear remove the thorn or the trap or whatever. (Just a note for those who aren't paying attention: the bear is a metaphor for people in our lives who hurt us emotionally).

Of course, no human being is actually stronger than a bear. No normal human being will not be hurt by the barbs and betrayals of our fellow humans. There's always something stronger than us, something that can hurt us. In fact, there's only one person in all of existence big enough to feel no fear or anger as a result of pain.


So, in the end, it all ties neatly back to my previous blog post about growth and destruction (I swear, I didn't plan it that way). We need God; we need to rely on his strength to see us through. When your eyes are on God, and it's his strength you're relying on and not your own, all of a sudden all of those things which looked so big and scary are now small and harmless. You can start to focus on what's important, rather than yourself and your emotions.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Quote

I discovered this quote quite a while ago, and then recently rediscovered it lurking within my "Cool Quotes" file. It basically sums up my feelings about history and modernism:

"Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist's snobbishness."
--Albert Einstein, 1954

Monday, April 18, 2005

Growth and Destruction

Trials don't build you -- God does.

I've heard many people, when referring to the pains and trials and obstacles of life, say that God has allowed this bad thing to happen so that they might grow as a Christian. Adversity builds character, they say, so God allows his children to be attacked and injured by the world and the devil in order to grow stronger and more Christ-like. It's a nice enough sentiment, because it makes sense of the senseless violence and pain we see around us, and in our own lives.

The problem is that it's not true.

The Enemy's attacks are designed to destroy us, not build us. He seeks out our weakest points and attacks them mercilessly in an effort to make us ineffective. Left to ourselves, without the help of God, we would (and do) quickly fall under the onslaught. There would be no building of character or increase of Christ-likeness. We would simply crash and burn.

It is depending on God and overcoming those attacks that builds us up and strengthens us. It's not that God sends trials to strengthen us, but that God strengthens us so we can overcome trials, through things like the Bible, prayer, and fellowship with other Christians. It's just that it usually takes a trial or two to realise we need to depend on God and let him help.

To demonstrate with an example: the first two fingers on my right hand have thick calluses on them from playing bass guitar. The skin there is very thick, to protect my fingers from injury on the strings of the guitar. The strings themselves don't make my finger skin stronger, they tear at it and weaken it. It's my body that responds to the attacks and strengthens itself in that area. Trials force us to rely on God, and the more we do that, the stronger we grow.

The pain and anguish of trials and difficulties could be avoided if we trusted and grew in Christ beforehand. Not that there would be no trials, mind you, we would just be prepared for them and they wouldn't be a big deal to us. It's like the difference between a regular guy fighting some thug with a knife, and a black belt in karate doing the same. The first fight is extremely difficult and painful. The second can hardly even be called a fight. Has the guy with the black belt become that good at fighting by being beat up by thugs with knives for days on end? Of course not, the only thing that results from getting beat up by a thug with a knife is a lot of pain. No, Mr. Black Belt got where he is by studying and practicing and training in a dojo somewhere. Similarly, we don't grow as Christians by getting beat up by the attacks of the enemy and the world. We grow as Christians by studying the Bible, practicing our faith in prayer and worship, and training with our fellow Christians.

Will our lives be perfect and utterly free of difficult experiences when we grow more like Christ? No. There are some things even a black belt has difficulty with. However, we do have one advantage over our black-belted friend: the black belt's skill is based in his own ability, and his abilities are finite. There are some things he just cannot do, and some fights he simply cannot win, no matter how much he trains. We, on the other hand, do not rely on our own ability, but God's. With God, there is nothing he cannot do, and no fight he cannot win. The more we rely on him, the stronger we will grow, and there is no upper limit on that.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I Am Canadian

In 1914, World War One broke out with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, while he was touring the neighboring country of Serbia. He was first in the line of succession for the rulership of the Austrian/Hungarian empire. In response to his assassination, Austria's Kaiser issued an ultimatum to Serbia. Serbia agreed to all but two of their demands; primarily they balked at the placement of Austrian troops within Serbia. War loomed, and the Serbians allied with Russia for protection. In response, Austria allied with Germany and called the Russians' bluff, invading Serbia. But the Russians didn't back down, a decision that would cost the Czars millions of Russian lives and after the war resulted in a communist revolution that brought an end to their reign.

Since France had a treaty with the Russians, they were forced to go to war when Germany attacked Russia. The Germans struck back at France, marching through Belgium on their way. The Belgians weren't pleased with this, and they went to war with Germany too. Since England had a treaty with Belgium, England was also dragged into it, along with her colonies -- in particular, Canada.

Twenty years earlier, in 1894, one William "Billy" Barker was born in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada. Son of a blacksmith, he grew up on the farm, horseback riding and shooting and bird-hunting, unwittingly building the skills that would serve him well in the coming war. When England declared war on Germany, Billy joined the waves of young men who signed up to fight for King and Empire. After a year's worth of training, he arrived in Europe as a machine gunner. It didn't take long, though, before he decided that the filth and gruesome horror of trench warfare wasn't for him. He signed up for the Royal Flying Corps, as an observer, which meant that he sat in the second seat of a biplane and took reconnaisance photos, not to mention manning the guns. This was an entirely new concept, and Billy and his comrades were pioneers in the field.

For about a year, Billy flew reconnaisance missions as an observer in relative peace. Then in July, 1916, the British and French launched the ill-fated offensive of the Somme. It was an utter disaster, resulting in the loss of 58,000 British troops on the first day of battle alone. In the sky, Billy was in the thick of it, downing two German Roland scouts and taking a piece of shrapnel in the leg. After that battle, in late September, he earned a Military Cross when he and his pilot fought off two German Albatros planes and still managed to complete their photography mission.

In November, Billy applied for pilot training, and by January, he was back at the front, this time flying his own plane. It wasn't long before he was promoted to Captain, in charge of 'C' Flight in the No. 15 Squadron. Two months later in March, he earned another promotion and a bar to his Military cross for a dangerous recon mission that he managed to pull off despite damage to his airplane.

In August, a wound to the head took him off the front lines. While he was recovering he was given the job of instructor, where he first flew the legendary Sopwith Camel. He returned to the front in October, and within a week he had shot down three Albatros scouts.

Meanwhile, as the war had raged, other powers had been dragged into it. The Ottoman Empire joined the Austrian side, hoping to get a piece of Russian land for itself. Italy, Japan, and America joined the British and French, each one for their own purposes.

Italy had suffered a defeat at the hands of the Austrians in the battle of Caporetto, and the French and British each rushed in four airplane squadrons to help. Billy Barker was among them. Rather than recon, his job this time was to protect the recon planes, shoot down observation balloons, and keep the Austrian planes on their side of the front while making incursions into enemy territory of his own.

On Christmas day of that year, Billy and his buddy (and fellow Canadian) Steve Hudson decided to throw a little Christmas party for the enemy. They snuck out and dropped a mocking holiday greeting at their foes' airfield, along with lots of machine gun fire and two twenty-pound bombs. The Austrians were pissed off at this breach of the usual unnofficial Christmas truce and retaliated the next day, hoping to catch the British off guard. It probably wasn't a good idea to fly planes hungover and/or still drunk, though, and Barker and the British tore them apart, destroying twelve German planes.

Throughout their time in Italy, Bill Barker and Steve Hudson became reknowned "Balloon Busters", between them destroying at least nine enemy hot-air balloons used for observation. Billy shot down two in December. In January, he and Steve took off on a "practice flight". Somehow they managed to find and destroy two kite balloons during their practice. Later, in February, they informed their superiors that they were off to "test guns". During this "gun testing" they just "happened" to come accross five more enemy balloons, and shot them all down.

Billy had many more adventures during the war, with a total of 46 downed enemy aircraft to his credit, but it was his final one that was his greatest. Two months before the end of the war, Billy was reassigned to head up a fighter pilot school in England. He took two weeks' leave, and then requested permission to go to the front before he started teaching, to "familiarize himself with the latest German tactics and newest aircraft capabilities". Permission was not only granted, but he was also given one of the new Sopwith Snipes, the most advanced fighter plane in the skies at the time. He destroyed three German planes, and then was ordered to return to England and get to the teaching he was trying to avoid.

On the morning of Oct. 27, 1918, Billy Barker climbed into his Sopwith Snipe to return to England. He climbed up to 15,000 feet and, flying over enemy territory, encountered a German Rumpler two-seater. The German gunner managed to keep him at bay for a while, so he backed off to 200 feet and picked him off at long range before swooping in and finishing it. In his concentration on taking down this one last German plane, he failed to notice the German Fokker fighterplane sneaking up behind him. A blast of machine gun fire shattered his right thigh, causing him to faint from the pain. Barker's Snipe went into a spinning dive, plunging 2,000 feet, still pursued by the Fokker. He managed to regain conciousness and pull out of the dive, somehow dodging the pursuing plane's machine gun fire. He turned to meet his attacker, and destroyed him in a hail of bullets.

As Barker desperately turned back toward friendly territory, he was pounced on by a patrol of Fokker and Albatros biplanes. Guns opened up from all directions, but somehow he managed to shoot down three enemy planes in rapid succession. Another bullet struck his other leg in the exchange, rendering him unable to operate his rudder control pedals. He fainted from the pain again, plunging downward once more.

The blast of fresh air revived him, and he leveled out to find himself in the middle of a group of at least sixty enemy fighter planes. As they all opened fire, he pulled himself into a tight turn and blasted away at anything that crossed his sights. Another Fokker fell from the sky, but Barker was hit in the left elbow. He fainted again, and streaked downwards another 5,000 feet before coming to. To his dismay, he was still surrounded by Fokkers on every side.

Wounded, losing blood, barely able to maintain conciousness, and with only one operational limb, Barker knew he was done for. Determined to take one last enemy plane with him, he laid on the machine guns and charged at one of the Fokkers, determined to ram it out of the sky with his dying breath. He was still firing when to his utter surprise the enemy plane disintegrated. A bullet punched through his gas tank, but miraculously it did not start on fire. Coming up on the ground now, Billy switched over to his reserve tank and tried to steer his plane in for a crash landing. As he hit the ground, he skidded sideways and flipped over, coming to rest in a cloud of dust and smoke. Scottish Highland troops, who had witness the epic aerial battle, rushed to the scene and pulled him out. They were amazed that he was still alive.

Barker lay in the hospital in Rouen for two weeks after this, unconcious. He received telegrams from King George V, the Prince of Wales, fellow ace Billy Bishop, and many others. He also received the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

After the war, Billy Barker returned to Canada and co-founded a short-lived air transport company with fellow air ace Billy Bishop, the man who shot down the Red Baron. The duo tended to cause havoc; among other things they caused a stampede with their low-flying aerobatics at the Canadian National Exhibition, and had to pay heavy reparations to a woman who miscarried in the ensuing near-riot. The following year, he helped found the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving as its first director, and flying for a time in Iraq and Palestine. Later, he left the military, and became President of the Fairchild Aviation Company of Canada.

Lt. Col. William "Billy" Barker died in 1930, test flying a new Fairchild two-seater outside Ottawa. He was buried in Toronto with full military honours.

This is the sort of Canadian history we were never taught in school.

Billy Barker

Monday, April 11, 2005


As you may have noted, I now have a blog. I have hopped onto the proverbial bandwagon. But that begs the question: what is a bandwagon? Why do people jump on them?

The word "bandwagon" is derived from two words: "band" and "wagon". "Band" derives from the Old French word "bande", probably derived from the Primitive Germanic word "bindan", which means "to bind or tie", and probably referred to a band of cloth worn by a group of soldiers or others, for identification purposes. From there, by 1660, it came to refer to any closely knit group, and in particular a group of musicians.

"Wagon" derives from Middle Dutch "wagen", from Primitive Germanic "
wagnaz", and ultimately from Primitive Indo-European "wegh", which means "to carry" or "to move". The English word for a wheeled vehicle was originally "wain", but after we borrowed "wagen" from Flemish immigrants and Dutch traders, "wain" sort of fell by the wayside.

The term "band-wagon" itself comes from 1855, and was coined by the Americans to refer to the wagon the band played on in a circus parade. Since they also used band-wagons in political victory celebrations, it wasn't long until Theodore Roosevelt used the term in 1899 to refer to people who jumped "on the band-wagon" in an attempt to ride the coattails of a venture that looked likely to succeed.

So that's what I, having been convinced by certain friends, am doing. Everybody and his dog seems to have a blog now, so it seemed appropriate that I should too. I figure this way, I can ramble on about things no-one cares about, and no-one can stop me! Muahahaha!

Anyway, welcome. I guess.

Wild Waters

The rising black waters rushed under the wooden bridge, a relentless flow that could pull a man under and drag him to his doom. Above, the midnight stars were obscured by the ever-present streetlights, glaring into every dark corner, driving back the gentle peace of the night in favour of a harsh artificial day. I stood there on the footbridge, leaning on the rail, trying to ignore the lights and the crowded buildings that encroached upon this small sanctuary of green life and water. The rising spring flood seemed to make a silent mockery of all that man had built about them. Buildings, fences, bridges, roads, all would fall if they stood in the path of the uncaring waters.

There was something wild about it, something yet untamed by the tiny creatures that claim dominance of this planet. A hint of a great untapped power dwelling just under the surface, greater forces which could in an instant destroy a thousand years of man's achievement. Compared to those terrors of nature, this was but a trickle, a drop, but even this could claim a my life without a moment's notice, were I not careful to stay clear. And yet this great, monstrous, beautiful beast is viewed by most as an inconvenience, a distraction.

The world's people, those who were now tucked safely in their beds, hiding from anything wild or unknown or frightening, would wake up the next day worrying about work, or finances, or complaining about their hangover and their petty problems. They would go about their lives as they had every day before, oblivous to all but their own tiny universes, oblivious to the enormity of the world around them. None would pause to consider the beauty of the light striking a tree that certain way, or the pleasant odour of the spring rain, and few would spare the sunset's fires a second glance. Their only concern would be this afternoon's business meeting, or that bit of gossip they heard about someone they hardly know, or their plans for getting drunk and even more oblivious to everything that weekend.

Here, next to the black torrents seething under the surface of the swollen stream, such things seem small and petty. If mankind's greatest achievements cannot match that of a small creek barely large enough to have a name, then what chance have the shallow concerns of society? And if we are so small before the hugeness of nature, then what are we before God, who created it all?