Tag Archive: Religion


**What follows is the result of unease. A spontaneous reflection on observation. Wondering what happened to the vagabond? Read on, friend. It was in this moment that I realized the vagabond was gone.**

I began this blog as an experiment in some respects. I had no real intention of making it any more than it was destined to be.

So much has changed (the words of a million introspects across our world) since I began this frame for words.

The dark man in jeans and brown fleece jersey is jumping and dancing as if he really is happy. The music doesn’t judge him as it does me, I suppose. I find myself reading Pathfinder, Candle in the wind, and other posts from my past.

He’s jumping side to side now as the masses wale out the words on the screen. I think I’m the only one sitting.

He really seems happy, that man over there. In the isle. He’s clapping his hands.

I’m typing a message on my cellphone. Legs are crossed and I wonder if the usher notices how out of place my frown is. Why is his face so blank? She must ask herself. Except she doesn’t look at me.

Purple backdrops, flashing greens and blues. A man on stage who sings with passion. His face is illuminated in the spot-light. I can see every move he makes. His expression is sincere.

What does he look like when he is alone at home later in the evening, I wonder. Is he still smiling then? Does the dark man keep on dancing?

What about me – do I keep the same blank expression once home and alone? In the dark of my apartment, without purple lights to flare my emotions?

I think I mostly do – but it’s not as if I want to be this way.

No longer am I the vagabond. But did he die or is he merely dormant – or maybe I left him in Thailand, left him to wander the streets of Bangkok till the day he dies – having already died to me.

Who am I now? No longer a vagabond or a traveler or a wandering pathfinder. No longer a missionary or a dreamer. Not a romanticist or a student.

Now just a steel ball in a glass-cad maze, rolling this way and that. A rolling stone gathers no perspective. Or so they should have said, not while rolling in a maze at least.

**An inner dialogue whilst sitting in a church one day.**

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For a long time I have considered myself an introspective person, and I have attributed what wisdom I posses to this attribute. Others have noted before me that the self is the greatest opportunity to understand the social world and its behaviours for the reason that the self is always around to be observed. In fact of all people, we cannot escape only ourselves. Of course any scientific observation of an n = 1 sample group may be questioned – but we can escape this paradox if we apply experiment on what we have discovered through introspection to others in our world. Social experimentation. Interaction with people as a way to prove hypotheses of human behaviour theory.

I have been considering self-control and the role and extent of autocracy of the personal will on one’s own behaviour. As such I began looking for research material on the subject, which lead me to BF Skinner and the work I will start to summarise and perform exegesis upon below.

But first a short word on Burrhus Frederic “B. F.” Skinner:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner

B.F. Skinner – Harvard Professor of Psychology

 B.F. Skinner was an american psychologistbehaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974. Most notably, Skinner invented “radical behaviourism” and even more interestingly the “Skinner Box” or what is more officially called the “operant conditioning chamber”:

 “The box had a lever and a food tray, and a hungry rat could get food delivered to the tray by pressing the lever. Skinner observed that when a rat was put in the box, it would wander around, sniffing and exploring, and would usually press the bar by accident, at which point a food pellet would drop into the tray. After that happened, the rate of bar pressing would increase dramatically and remain high until the rat was no longer hungry.”

Credits to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner

Now some thoughts on the book itself.

Chapter one has some interesting ideas. It begins with the question “Can science help?” and goes on to elucidate on the goods and bads of the scientific era (these past few hundred years) in which there has been an exponential increase in scientific discovery. Skinner’s position is that natural science has developed so fast as to leave the science of human nature behind – thus causing imbalance in our world.

Humanity develops its understanding of technologies which have major effect on our social world and it discovers and defines laws and relationships in the natural world by which we can predict the effects of natural processes (enabling such things as atomic bombs and aeroplanes through nuclear fusion and fluid mechanics in aeronautics) but we do not apply the same drive and energy into discovering and defining the laws and relationships in the world of human nature with which we could predict the outcomes of our scientific creations (such as Hiroshima, 9/11, etc).

Skinner goes on to argue against those who rebel against the idea that human behaviour can in fact be understood through defined laws and relationships. On a side-note, it amazes me that the world has come so far and yet our common understanding of human nature is still mostly agnostic. We all agree on principles such as gravity but we don’t all share agreement on what motivates human decisions.

Why is it that advances in the hard and pure sciences such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology are pursued so vehemently and yet the very thing that drives those motivations and the thing that will inevitably make use of them remains esoteric? Psychology, philosophy and religion have much to say on these questions, but their consideration is diminished in light of technological advancement. Perhaps science will slow down in a century or two and a renaissance like age of psychology, philosophy and religion will emanate instead. The utopian satirist author Samuel Butler plays on this idea in his novel Erewhon, where ‘the instruments and products of science were put into museums – as vestiges of a stage in the evolution of human culture which did not survive.’

The question still remains however, is human nature subject to behavioural theory and prediction? What percentage of human behaviour is a categorical response to external stimuli and what percentage is not? Experiments like Skinner’s box and Pavlov’s bell suggest some relationship. Skinner’s next chapter begins to dig into this “Science of Behaviour” as he tries to show the extent to which the study of people’s actions are subject to the same methodology as is used in the hard sciences.

I aim to determine from his theories the relationships between and key principles behind free will and self-control.

Lastly, here is a brief interview with Skinner:

* Note from the author: this note talks of topics not yet fully resolved in my own mind, and may be retracted or edited in the future, please approach it with due grace. It covers sensitive topics and I have somewhat skirted around a few areas related to my arguments. Sometimes in searching for truth one must abandon comfort and force oneself to begin to form an opinion and this is my public attempt at doing so *

I work in a field that I enjoy where I can also make a difference in other people’s lives – and I do this from the perspective of my life philosophy – which is based on the teachings of Jesus. I am no militant evangelist but a philosopher and a man in search of truth, so when I come across a person in a distressful situation – I give encouragement and advice based on the philosophy I live by – sometimes this means advising people to seek God

This is the premise from which I understand evangelism at this point in my life. Evangelism is such a dirty word these days. Understandably so. Most evangelism – or at least the type that most people (of whatever persuasion) are exposed to is a closed minded endeavour to bully or provoke a listener into abandoning all they have ever known for something alien and seemingly harsh.

When the message of Jesus comes across as unfairly harsh and closed minded I believe something has gone wrong in relating it. However – there is danger in avoiding this line of thinking too, and I come now to one of the toughest questions in christiondom today:

Can I be a christian and open minded at the same time? Does being a christian mean that I must close my mind to whatever else and become what I protest to hate: closed-minded?

What do you think? I think we tread on sensitive ground and a part of me wants not to go on exploring this question for fear of the stern words I may receive. A quote comes to mind though:

“There is nothing so self defeating as a question that has not been fully understood when it has been fully posed”: Ravi Zacharias quoting CS Lewis

What this statement gets at is that the inquiring mind must first set adequate and appropriate foundations and devices in place before attempting to answer profundities with due eloquence and sensitivity.

It is important to realise that one does not sacrifice open mindedness by holding onto certain philosophies and ideas. Every person has a perspective from whose balcony they look upon the world. Without a perspective that one firmly holds onto, one is blind. And to be blind is to be closed minded.

What I have come to believe is that though it requires a delicate application of wisdom, one can in fact be open minded and hold on to one specific and exclusive perspective or philosophy simultaneously – on one condition:

The exclusive philosophy to which one holds must allow for the free will of others and hold that each individual is only responsible ultimately for them self.

Where evangelism seems to go wrong and cause hurt is where the evangelist denies the free will of him he evangelises and wrongly assumes a greater responsibility than he is fairly due for the listener’s life and beliefs. I believe that when correctly done; it is the role of the evangelist to provide and present argument, persuasion, doctrine freely as being what he believes. He should do so with conviction and passion – for passion is stirred by true belief. But – this is where his responsibility ends. He may even pray for the patron of his conversation but he must leave it then to them to ponder and act or act not.

Within the christian worldview – what follows humane and godly evangelism is a matter between God and an individual.

Being open minded means accepting that people believe what they believe – it does not mean rejecting what you already believe or feeling under obligation to reject it. One should be ready to give a thought to someone else’s beliefs and weigh them up against their own but refusing to adopt someone else’s beliefs does not make one closed minded.

Jesus was sure and uncompromising in who he was (God incarnate) and in what he believed to be true, and he stated it in no uncertain terms – but he was open minded, listening to the arguments of others before questioning them and stating his own.

If  being a christian did in fact call me to become closed minded and bigoted it would in fact be a case of “Missionary Impossible” for me.

It is from a careful, confident and open minded approach like this that people become receptive to arguments on matters of such sensitivity and importance, approach people in any other way and you will misrepresent the gospel and our God – for our God is one of love, compassion and wisdom, as well as of justice and holiness.

I think that a life well lived is one in which someone seeks God and finds peace in a life given over to Jesus. Heed my words, I believe them to be true and critical, but take it upon yourself to bring them further or leave them here.

Dear friends and family

The past few months have been dense with learning experiences, challenges (spiritual, emotional, physical) and God. I arrived here 3.5 months ago and this fact surprises me every time I think upon it because it has felt a lot longer. I think part of the reason for this is that back at University time really flew, especially in final year as a Mechanical Engineer, the continual deadlines came at me each week and the mounting pile of work and concepts to comprehend meant that I was always on the move.

Students never stop moving. They are a passionate demographic. Whatever they are doing, they are generally doing it with everything they have. I always felt as if I needed a few more hours each day; the effect of spending a long period of time with the constant feeling that one is short of time leaves the impression that time passes by very quickly. In contrast to this, life here in the valley is still very busy, but only to a fair and manageable degree. In University I needed 28 hours per day, here I need 24 hours per day and so my life feels balanced. This is what I have been searching for and have gone in search of this year – balance.

I would describe the work that I am involved in here as two part time jobs. The first is as a Maths teacher at Kwa-Dinabakubo Secondary School and the second is as a general project team member where I assist with the weekly teaching and other projects that go on in any way that I can. Usually this includes video camera and multi-media work. We try to record each teaching and message that is given in both video and audio to put on CDs and DVDs. I also am the only one around with a car available and so another duty of mine involves taking people where they need to be for the different programs.

The school work is my main concern though, this job has become very close to my heart and is a vital part of this year of mine as I try to ascertain what to do with the years that follow this one. I am testing a hypothesis; I want to know if I can truly make a life out of teaching. I am considering acquiring a diploma in higher education and becoming a travelling teacher, spending a few years at a time (up to 10) in different countries, starting in the East (Japan, Thailand, South Korea, etc.).

So far the hypothesis is being proven true. I still thoroughly enjoy teaching and find that teaching comes naturally to me. As I step in front of a class and begin to open my mouth; it is as if a switch gets flicked and I go into ‘teaching mode’. I have learnt that I thrive in an atmosphere of organised chaos where maths lessons become more of a dialogue than a monologue by the guy in front with the chalk in his hand. I find that my training in engineering has prepared me such that I am able to answer questions even on new areas with just a few minutes of quite thought – giving me the freedom to provide a free sort of classroom environment. One in which every mind is engaged constantly.

I also know the value of discipline though, having learnt that without a certain amount of discipline one becomes shackled by one’s own languidity. I spent the first few weeks at the school walking around with a stern expression and a stiff gait, demanding respect from the kids. Thus when I arrived in my first class, the first impression was already one of someone who won’t take nonsense. This backdrop then gave me the freedom to introduce a less strict atmosphere into the class whilst retaining control. I enjoy a good joke, whether made by myself or one of the kids in the back row, and I believe this helps to build upon that relationship I hope to foster with the learners. In the end I want them to feel comfortable to come to me with maths questions, and life questions. On this front I have had some measure of success already. There have been 4 or 5 kids that have opened up to me and who I have done my best to guide in one way or another (with God’s help).

These are some of my thoughts on my mission thus far. Peace and grace to all my supporters. Thanks for the support. You are making a difference.

Jeremy (aka Jack Figure)

Athens. Greece. Philosophy. Socrates. The Areopagus.

Do any of these words illicit interest? For me, ever since I was a small boy, these words have held interest with me. It began when my mom read me bed time stories from a book of Greek myth. The stories of Zeus and the Olympians, Heracles and the acts he had to perform to become a god. Minotaurs and Centaurs, Icarus, his wax wings and his genius father the inventor.

I was reading a little bit of the book of Acts in the bible this morning and came across a fascinating little section of the book narrating the time that Paul was in Athens, atop Mars Hill. The Hill renowned in Greece for it’s religious profundity. Atop this hill was another place called the Areopagus. This was my kind of place. This was a place where people would come together to do nothing other than to tell or hear some novel, new thing. According to verse 21 those that went there were accustomed to hearing new things and speaking of new ideas. They also served coffee and had a wide array of books on philosophy, theology, apologetics, science fiction and fantasy.

They didn’t have the coffee or books in reality, but if this place was around today it certainly would. The Diogenes club from the Sherlock Holmes books. The Exclusive books and attached coffee shop. A place for intellectuals to meet where ideas were held in higher regard than almost anything. A place where intellectual soliloquies were the currency and wealth was in the mind/imagination.

These were the people that hung around in the Areopagus. People well versed in the ideas of the time and the philosophies of the day. Two of the philosophies represented here when Paul arrived were the Stoics and the Epicureanists.

Stoicism: In this philosophy the perfectly reasonable intellectual person will never suffer emotional hurt because all emotional hurt is due to not thinking correctly about something, making unreasonable rationalisations. The perfect Stoic would use his intellect to avoid all emotional pain.

Epicureanism: In this philosophy, ultimate meaning and purpose is similar to hedonism but with the additional desire of reaching an existence of physical painlessness.

I think that we find a lot of Stoicism in our world still today, especially among Thinkers: Scholars, academics, intellectuals. I have realised that I was a Stoic long before I knew there was a system of thought called Stoicism. This system of thought holds that if someone where to attain perfect intellectual judgement when considering all things in the act of introspection, this someone would never be subject to emotional hurt and pain.

What do you think of this?

Here are my thoughts:
1) I believe it to an extent, however, I am a cynic in that I do not think anyone can actually achieve this state of perfect intellectual judgement.
2) I actually believe that experiencing hurtful and painful emotions is part of the human experience. I read a lot of Isaac Asimov and the one aspect that often highlights the difference between human and robot is our subjectivity to emotional influence. He who feels no pain is simply not human.
3) I believe that sometimes the correct thing to do is to feel emotional pain. I believe that it may be unpleasant but truth is avoided when emotional pain is avoided. Sometimes the truth is painful and one has not fully grasped it if one has not felt the pain of it. Poverty or violence to a loved one: if there is no emotionally painful response to this – something is wrong. In fact one might realise that this person has not truly experienced the truth of real love.

Historically the Stoics and the Epicureanists were strongly opposed to each other. In the story in Acts, the Epicureanists and the Stoics both oppose Paul and seek to hear his arguments for his belief system. Many years later most of the followers of Stoic thought and Epicurean thought would be persecuted and destroyed through the unholy work of the ‘Christian’ ruler Justinias I. In the story, Paul did not try to destroy or persecute them, he simply raised his objections with their thoughts and proclaimed his own thoughts. Many, the bible says, were convinced and converted to Christians that day, and the others, Paul left in peace for God to deal with in grace, hope and love.

These were my thoughts this morning.

Have you ever watched Dead Poets Society? I watched it first as a much younger version of myself, no doubt because my sisters had rented it from the video store (yeah VHS – retro cool!). Of course I could think of cooler things to watch than what if I’m honest sounded pretty boring… I mean poets? And dead ones? Geez… boring… of course maybe if it was more like ‘The Return of the Dead Poets’ or ‘The Living Dead Poets Society’ or something it would have been more enticing to a 9-year-old, head-in-the-clouds kid like myself. I mean zombies, and poetical zombies… That’s good TV. Anyways, I digress, the movie, right:

So I begrudgingly watched the movie. The grudge slowly turned to awe though, and this may have been when I first entertained the idea of becoming a teacher like the awe-inspiring, oh captain my captain, John Keating (played by Robin Williams).

The Living Dead Poets Society

The Living Dead Poets Society

Much later on, the idea resurfaced when I realised  some time in 2010 that I was not really cut out for industry work as a Mechanical Engineer. I began to truly enjoy my studies and realised the academic life may suite me better. I had a few conversations with a few lecturers that I had at the time with whom I had been impressed. With the information gained from these conversations I began considering the lifestyle that an academic might have. I became convinced that I wanted to pursue such a lifestyle. The lifestyle sounded a lot more like freedom than any industry job I’d come across before.

I had the perfect style of erm, hair, and thinking to be that crazy and eccentric, bushy haired professor that the majority of university and college students love to hate. I could be that tweed jacket wearing, wildly intelligent (or at least appearing so to undergraduates) Prof. who finds potential in a few young minds and moulds and shapes them to become astute, shrewd and wise.

This has become a real passion of mine. Finding young minds and hearts to shape with what I have come to believe are extremely important truths. Truths not only about science or maths or English, but about the world. Philosophy. Religion. Psychology. Truth.

As time went on and the idea of vagabonding grew in substance and passion; this idea of teaching as John Keating did began to merge with the longing I had to travel and see the world, and by doing so; to widen my perspectives with which I see the world. In order to set out to share deep and wise perspectives with young minds, I would have to make sure my own perspectives were not narrow and unworthy of reproduction.

Hence the travelling, teaching, missionary-explorer-vagabond.

This goal for this year has taken shape now with its first phase beginning on the 7th of February 2012, where I will be joining CAPRO, a missionary organisation working to supplement the substandard education of grade 11 and grade 12 students in the largely rural area known as The Valley of 1000 Hills in the Kwazulu-Natal region of South Africa.

I have had many concerns since deciding to follow this path a few months ago, the smallest of which is not money. As many of my friends get jobs and begin to earn money this year as newly graduate engineers and as they begin to pay back their parents for their education, I find myself in a position such that I am completely and totally in the arms of my God who must fulfil his promise to provide for me while I do what I believe he has ‘called’ me to do.

Every now and again however, (with increasing frequency) I find myself quite excited to have jumped into what I have only spoken and postulated about before. The new environment to experience, the new challenges to figure out and battle, the lessons to learn, the young minds to shape and the spiritual strength to gain. All of these things have become of infinite importance to me, and I feel complete peace (most of the time) in giving up a corporate career and all of the security that comes with one this year, in order to chase them down.

I know this whole idea of the Inspiring Professor is very romanticised in the Dead Poets Society movie, but I don’t expect an exact replication, I just expect to make some noticeable difference in a neglected group of young and potential filled students that come out of adverse conditions and may still accomplish great things, if given the chance.

Peace.

Jack Figure (aka Jeremy)

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