Saturday, October 5, 2013

How Pokemon Has Shaped Me

For me, Pokemon has always been a game that conjures up intense feelings of nostalgia. I invested so much time and love into that video game when I was young, and I still retain all that knowledge to this day. I can look back and see that it was of no ultimate consequence. All video games are merely 1’s and 0’s being read and yet, it was important to me. It’s funny how those trivial things shape us most. I’ve often pondered how much more hopeless the world seems and how cynical I’ve become as I’ve grown older. It’s only now, after the passage of time and the expansion of my intellectual scope that I can grasp how truly inconsequential that game was. But it is also precisely because of that same intellectual scope that I can also see how indicative that game was of who I am.
            Pokemon is a magical land inhabited by humans and creatures. These creatures are called Pokemon. In this land, the people catch the Pokemon and use them to battle one another. These Pokemon come in a variety of different breeds with different “types” with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. As you battled other people, your Pokemon would level up and evolve into their next form. The goal was to become the Pokemon Master. The premise itself is simple enough, but the brilliance of it is the endless possibilities that it creates. As of right now, there are 693 Pokemon. Each one is unique. And since the game itself is so open ended, you could literally play for years and never “beat” the game.
            Reflecting back on my obsession with Pokemon, I can observe some things about myself. I see a young man who was obsessed with cramming his head with knowledge. To this day, I absolutely retain that trait. In fact, it defines me in a lot of ways. That never-ending search to learn more, to be equipped with knowledge, is a road that I travel further on daily. There will always be more facts to memorize and I need to know them. But, it’s not just the facts themselves that are important.
            The facts become truly important in their relation to one another. When the pieces of knowledge whir and click like a machine, when that knowledge equips me to react in the moment and make a strategic judgment, there is nothing like that thrill. All these ideas become valuable as they become like tools in my toolbox. They are components of a moving machine that I thoroughly understand and can manipulate. Let me offer you a very simple example. Let’s say I’m a fire type Pokemon. Fire types are weak to water types. Now, how will I choose to counter a water type when I encounter it? I have a number of options. Perhaps my fire type is pretty bulky and can take a hit. Well, I will invest training into their defense or special defense to build up their resistance to the opponent’s moves. Or, I could go a different route and perhaps learn a move that will counter a water type. I could also simply have an electric Pokemon (water is weak to electric) in my team that I can switch in to deal with the water Pokemon. Either way, I need to know the strengths and weaknesses of each Pokemon and how they interact with other Pokemon.
This is how I view ideas, and particularly struggling through concepts. When I face new ideas, I take them apart, understand the perspective, analyze their strengths and weaknesses, then I put it back together and see how the engine runs. I test it by throwing things at it or replacing parts. To change the analogy, the idea is like a bridge and I start running trains across it to see where it will break. Pokemon taught me this. I download a mass of information into my head, and this information then becomes a massive toolbox with which to construct a machine, in Pokemon, that’s a battle strategy, but in life, that leads to a comprehensive understanding of a concept.
            As a child, Pokemon simply brought me joy. It stimulated my mind and gave me drive to achieve things, even if they were only digital. The point is, those digital achievements taught me how to think and thereby achieve physical goals. It’s funny to say, but I stand before you today as a product of a video game I played as a child. A video game that fed my passion for learning, and that gave me an outlet for my endless thirst for complexity.

by: Matthew Stanley

Monday, September 30, 2013

History is Bunk

History is bunk. History that is bunk is the history told by men. However, speaking biblically, history is the wonderful story that God is telling. The world is a stage and we are the actors. That story is beautiful, true, and there is no bunk in it. Since God is the storyteller, it’s only natural that His book is the ultimate history book. The Bible is the word of God and it’s the only reliable and infallible source of history. The Bible tells us that men are fallible and so that puts everything that they write and say up for grabs. We should be skeptical of it all.
            The Lord is writing a story but He’s writing it in a logical universe that He is actively sustaining. A leads to B and we can discover them. That means that there is a proper technique to conducting the pursuit of history. Oddly enough, it essentially consists of getting as close to the event as possible and trying to mitigate the damage of human bias.
            Ideally, you should desire to find original source documents. Things like the Declaration of Independence are original sources. Other sources are things like letters, tax returns, proclamations, and journal articles. History is not found in accounts, but in account books. These are sterile documents that give us a glimpse in to the time. Sometimes these things cannot be found. Archaeologists have to deal with studying cultures who’s records are largely nonexistent and who’s languages are lost to the ages. But the key is always to get close either by going to the location or by speaking with those who know more than you.
            It’s easy to trust History. ‘He has a Doctorate in History, he must be right’ or perhaps, ‘forty million history books can’t possibly be wrong, can they?’ But ultimately the study of history is less exact than we’d like to admit. Any teenager will learn this quickly in high school. The web of gossip that grows in high school is pervasive and deceptive. Human beings are prone mistakes. Add a thousand years between you and the event and you are going to get a muddled mess! History is the daughter of Time. Times obscures and defines events.
            Humans also have a compulsive need to twist facts. Everyone has their own bias or worldview. That’s what they use to interpret the world around them. But, when something doesn’t fit into their system, it has to either be changed or jammed in. Any account of history will necessarily be shaped by the presuppositions of its author and of his sources.
            In Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, the protagonist coins the term “tonypandy” for fictitious or twisted accounts of history. There are many such instances of tonypandy that are cemented in humanity’s history books. The book, The Daughter of Time, specifically addresses the claim that Richard II murdered his two nephews. One piece of tonypandy that irks me is the idolization of Christopher Columbus. In this case, it’s an amnesia of facts and the construction of a neat narrative that makes Americans feel good. Another one that Americans use to pat themselves on the back is the Boston Massacre, which was no massacre at all. Atheists love to pretend that John Calvin was an oppressive theocrat and they love to pretend that Nicholas Copernicus was this great man standing up to religion in the name of science. Neither of these men were who our atheist friends would like them to be.
            History has many variables and it has many lenses through which we can view these variables. But, since God’s writing the story, I say that we look at things through His lens. The Bible is God’s thoughts on history and it should be our lens. The Bible is also unique out of any other textbook. The Bible prophesies the future. It tells of the glorious and final end that the Lord is driving all things towards. Let’s remember that some tonypandy isn’t worth being the hill that we die upon. However, the hill of Christ, His work, and His resurrection is a hill most certainly worth dying upon.

Matthew Stanley

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Calvin Study: Week 1

            In the first five chapters of Calvin’s Institutes, the doctrine commonly called “general revelation” or “natural theology” is explored. Throughout, Calvin continually argues for the goodness of God and pounds home man’s desperate attempts to ignore Him. In the end, we only see man destroying himself at every turn, whereas God is constantly merciful.
            Calvin asserts that all the knowledge we have is merely knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. Yet, these two things are inextricably related. Men have the incredible gift of being made in God’s image, and thus can see God’s attributes in themselves. Even if they are fallen, the attributes of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness are evident to them. The image of God in man is one chief way that men can know God. Therefore, man must acquire knowledge of himself in order to have an inkling of who God is. Here, the complication arises. Man must also have knowledge of God to understand himself. This is because without seeing God’s perfection, men cannot see their own shortcomings. Without being aware of God’s spotless moral character, men think of themselves as upright. Therefore, for man to approach understanding his heart, he must understand himself in light of who God is.
            Calvin places a large emphasis on seeing God’s greatness and responding in love. He says that in order for men to love God, they must see Him as worth seeking. Of course, Calvin expands this to say that He is worth seeking. Continually, Calvin calls us to see God’s majesty and bow down. He points to God’s providential ordering of the universe, His salvation of the righteous, and His judgment on the wicked. These are all things we can see that should produce in us a response of gratefulness and adoration. True knowledge of God is a cycle of recognizing who God is and then responding in obedience. Because the heart that knows who God is submits to His authority and renders the allegiance it knows it owes. Therefore, obedience, or as Calvin says, piety, is bound up with knowledge of God. This is clear from Scripture when Solomon says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
            Calvin then goes on to build a case against men. He is much like an Old Testament prophet in that he proceeds to pile up evidence against men that they have not rendered the fealty to God as they ought, despite all God’s goodness and evidence. Every man is implanted with an awareness of the divine. We can see this by the religious nature of man since the very beginning. Down the ages, men have groped in the dark for meaning, and usually this meaning was counterfeited in the form of some false god. Religion was not a clever invention of men; rather, its psychological power comes from man’s innate awareness and need of God. In all these attempts to flee from God, we see even further evidence of man’s knowledge of God. Only insane men flee from something that they do not actually believe exists.
            Men who say they are seeking God are not actually seeking God. They are simply seeking to fill the hole that God is meant to fill in their souls. They are empty and they know it. There are many who claim they genuinely want to know the truth, but they don’t. Their blindness is a mixture of ignorance and vanity, but the end result is that they will never accept God. They want their cake (spiritual wholeness) and to eat it too (not obey God’s laws). They do not seek God as He has revealed Himself. He has been clear about Himself and how He wants to be worshipped, but they ignore these precepts and devise their own rites.
            So, man is without excuse. God’s name is written in the heavens. God showers good gifts on men. Man himself is one of the loftiest proofs of Jehovah’s wisdom, and, yet, He will never accept God’s lordship over him. God’s greatness is displayed in His sovereign reign over His creation. Again, this ought to draw us to the Lord. But it only leads men to shut their eyes tighter. Calvin pronounces a final verdict: general revelation cannot lead a fallen man to God. It simply can’t.
            God is so clear to men, but we will not listen. We will not heed His voice. We have crowned ourselves lord of all and we will hear no opposition. Praise Jehovah that He sent His Son and His Spirit to work salvation on our behalf and give us new life. Now we see His handiwork in all its glory. Our praise is weak and imperfect, but that praise springs from hearts that have beheld the majesty of God and have fallen deeply in love. 

By: Matthew Stanley

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writing some poetry

Teach Me Each Motion
By Matthew Stanley

I am an underground creature
Born and bred for the dark
All my ancestors slithered
Through the soil and bark
They ate of the dust
And were gorged on blood
I was content in my squalor
I loved drowning in mud
Until spotless hands drew me
Pulled me out of the mire
Set my feet on a Rock
Set my soul on fire
My blind eyes are adjusting
Light has begun to penetrate
There is now pulsing life
Where there was once a slate.
I’m learning to stand
On a wholly other ground
All the while crying out
Why am I the one You found?
There is no health in me
My breath is like a disease
Why did You choose my hands?
What made You choose these?
Still I stumble and fall
While You hold me in your hand
When I come low in sin
Even while I eat the dry sand
Your fountain never stops
And Your spring will never run dry
I know it is there that I find grace
Where else can I fly?
Your mercy is free and boundless
Covering me like an ocean
All I want is to serve You
So teach me each motion
So, in humbleness I bow
It’s all I can do
I’m a slave in Your house
But it’s not slavery,
If it’s for You.