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Day 101: Tuesday

Morning Tim!

I lament not writing sooner. It’s been far too long.

We had a sermon this past Sunday that I found interesting. It was ultimately about grace, and the blessing that it is. He gave an example that resonated with me, and I wanted to share.

The story is about a man, watching a sporting even at the top of the stadium. Eager for the game and wanting to take part to the full, he grabs a plate of nachos and a beer. As the game goes on, so too do the beers. The team is losing, he is frustrated. He continues to cheer. Cheer and drink. The game passes, the home team notching a loss

The game passes, the home team notching a loss. The man stays after, finishing his last sip. At this point, many have started to pour out of the stadium. He looks down, like tiny ants they seem. He slips over the railing, and falls, bottle clinched in his hand.

This is like all of us, the story would go. We are all eager for the game of life, and as the innings go on, we find bad things can happen. The sin in our life, like the cup, pries its way into our senses, first impairing the way we see then being the lens through which we do so.

But that’s not where the story ends. It has two possible endings. Read like a newspaper, it could go one of two ways.

Imagine the owner of the building knew this kind of thing happened. He prepped for it — perhaps with a large circus net over the railing. Maybe even a giant jet-pack, binoculars in hand, ready to scour the skies as necessary.

One way this story ends is without this owner. The story, if made about us, reads poorly. “Drunken man freefalls to death, clinging to vice”. Perhaps slightly nicer, depending on the paper you read — but that’s the gist.

The other way is with the owner. The story dramatically changes. Not only is the man saved, the drunken man isn’t a central figure at all. Instead, having faded to the background, the story tells of a hero who, without any contribution from me, the drunken man, saved a life that was otherwise in ruin, otherwise headed directly to a dark end.

I’m not sure why this resonated so well. Perhaps because, as with most of us, I love to make things about me. Reading in a newspaper what ‘me’ gets is sad, though. Perhaps it was the way the story reads to give full credit, inspiring others who were to read that paper about the one they should emulate. Perhaps it’s because there is an acknowledgement that we are blessed — but that we also get thirsty. If we aren’t regularly drinking of a cup other than that of sin, we will choose to quench our thirst some other way.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Drinks have WHAT?!

Day 95: Friday

Morning, Tim!

I’m in a class on the US Healthcare system with students from numerous academic areas — business, law, public policy, social services, and medical. It’s a remarkable experience to have each of those perspectives represented in a dialogue.

We recently had a delightful conversation about social determinants of health, particularly within a rural setting. Social determinants are all of the things outside of your actual health that impact the person — their ability to retain housing, get transportation as needed, obtain food, clothing, etc. Coming from the business side of things, I’m always pleased when I hear others so passionate about others — thinking about how to set up society for human flourishing on a macro level while making a significant difference on particular individuals on a micro level.

Our dialogue around social determinants quickly turned to responsibility (and for good measure, genomics was brought in to make sure we had clinical determinants!). Questions ranged from personal responsibility — how much should the individual be held accountable for their own health — to that of a society, which naturally had substantive dependencies on the answer to personal responsibility.

Responsibility is fascinating. We each want to believe we have so much control, and act accordingly. We take credit for our actions (at least when good!) and blame others for theirs. We hand out awards for success, perhaps even a shiny medal. Yet, at the same time, we recognize that this responsibility might be overstated. When pushed, we recognize that there are myriad factors that impact each of us, shaping how we act, shaping who we become.

One of those factors for me was my childhood spent in a rural setting. I learned a lot there. I learned about simplicity, about living within means and not in abundance. I learned about working with your hands, about hard work. I learned about taking care of others in the community, because that’s what neighbors do.

There were also things I didn’t learn. Like that drinks had calories.

Tim, I didn’t learn drinks could have calories until I went to college.

Yes, we are shaped by much around us. And for some, that impact is particularly negative, and something we should strive to recognize and address. Yet the story doesn’t end there — for others, there are opportunities to be uniquely positioned to make an impact.

I’m feeling a weight to think more about rural healthcare. There’s got to be a way to bring health and vitality to rural communities.

Or at least let them know that drinks have calories…

Until Monday,

Zak

The Music of the Spheres

Day 94: Tuesday

Good morning Zak,

It’s cloudy outside in Milan.  I don’t really feel like writing.  I think I’ll just curate other people’s words today.

Quotation 1

Allow me to start you off with a piquant taste of French existentialism, as it were.  The vintage year on this one falls somewhere in the 17th century.  Of course we all know the French have been existential for at least that long:

“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.”

-Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Quite memorable, isn’t it.  I know this line about the emptiness of the universe has become kind of trite and overused, but I think there’s a good reason for that.

It was inspiring enough for 20th century composer George Crumb to cite it in the preface to his piece Makrokosmos.

Quotation 2

But the naturalistic pessimism of the 20th century is really too much for me sometimes.

In the Middle Ages people used to think that the planets made music as they revolved around the Earth.  The proportions between their respective orbits created a perfect, mystical harmony called Musica Universalis or “Music of the Spheres.”

The ‘silence’ which frightened Pascal was, according to the [Medieval] Model, wholly illusory; and the sky looks black only because we are seeing it through the dark glass of our own shadow.  You must conceive yourself looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music.

-C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image

Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

Item 3

Well no… it really doesn’t.  Here’s what the proportions between the revolution frequencies of the eight planets really sounds like:

That’s the sound of a 20th century universe, the sound of humans and all living things gradually perishing into chaos.

Quotation 4

But that’s what imagination is for, right?

Whatever else a modern feels when he looks at the night sky, he certainly feels that he is looking out—like one looking out from the saloon entrance on to the dark Atlantic or from the lighted porch upon dark and lonely moors.  But if you accepted the Medieval Model you would feel like one looking in.

-C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image

Maybe the godawful dissonance of the planets and all the apparent chaos of the universe is just a part of a larger harmony too great for us to perceive.

Quotation 5

That’s what early medieval philosophers proposed in response to the dualistic heresy known as Manichaeism.

Faced with the misgiving that in the world there may be established a dialectic of uncertain outcome between good and evil, the Scholastic tradition seeks to confirm the positivity of all creation, even in the apparent zones of darkness.

-Umberto Eco, Scritti sul pensiero medievale

Maybe that sounds like a naive proposal in modern times… maybe naivety is a good thing.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Rye bread

Day 87: Monday

Morning, Tim!

My apologies for being a bum correspondent last week! A better week ahead.

There were times when I would get stressed growing up. My mom was very kind about it, reminding me that I only had one day to get through that day. In fact, I couldn’t do anything about those past, nor solve for those ahead. If I put my head down and pushed through doing the right thing today, I’d be set.

Coming from my mom, I used to think this was fantastic advice for those times. I used it throughout college to push through weeks where school and work teamed up to overload my schedule. What would otherwise be overwhelming wasn’t so bad if I focused on today alone.

I have come to learn that it’s a pretty good idea to simply focus on today each day, not just in times of stress or pressure. While certainly good to learn from the past, and countless wisdom literature discusses the need to plan accordingly for the future, it seems today has its own challenges. In times of stress, it may simply be getting through the work. In times of relaxation, perhaps choosing to spend the time in a meaningful way for the benefit of others, not just self. There are opportunities to run astray — to eat the cake; to watch all of the episodes of that season, not just one; to slip into complacency when others could drastically use your help. Each day we have a lot to do, and most days we don’t get it all right.

Give us this day our daily bread

There is a recognition of asking for help, an element of taking it day by day, and a reminder that sustenance in bread is perhaps more realistic than sustenance through cake.

Until tomorrow,
Zak

Anti-Mustachioed

Day 85: Friday

Morning, Tim!

The Pope is visiting you tomorrow — how exciting!

I’ve been pondering your chances of becoming Pope. What with your ability to speak languages and translate — somehow, miraculously, English included! — perhaps you have a shot. Now, you may remember that there were betting sites on who would become pope, with demonstrable odds. But that was back when there was a Pope opening…so we’ll have to factor that in. Here’s what I’ve found.

First, there’s a simple 14 step guide, so it seems pretty easy. There’s even a step about going back and talking to your high school guidance counselor!

But that seems perhaps too straight forward. Ultimately, what I’ve found in reading, is that you must be 1) Catholic and 2) Male.

So you’re fairly close, I suppose.

But that’s only on technicality. There’s also the piece around for the most part having to be a Cardinal (because that’s who decides…). So what are those requirements?

Well, you have to be a priest, then a bishop…so you’ll need education (Which you’re rocking now!…wait…I guess composition doesn’t count..). And some years of experience.

Ultimately I like this post’s description best:

So that’s the career path: be born into the right half of the population, become one of a billion catholics, then one of 400,000 priests, then one of 5,000 bishops, then one of 200 cardinals, wait for the current pope to die or retire, and convince 2/3rds of your fellow cardinals to select you as the one, the only pope.

But let’s be honest, Tim. This is a boring analysis because it’s already been done. Let’s think of other factors that may limit you…

  1. Handlebar mustache. To date, scrolling through the 266 Popes, I found that none had a handlebar mustache. Being the first mustachioed Pope would be impressive, but also may be a limiting factor if they weigh that and discriminate against your kind.

Well…perhaps that’s it. I’ve sat and thought of other factors. For example, age; but, while you’d be young, you’re apparently older than the youngest ever pope. I also considered height and weight, ownership of birds, an ability to ride a unicycle, sense of humor, etc., but surprisingly there aren’t readily available datasets on those…that seems like a good blog idea. If we start to run out of topics here we can go start that one.

In fact, Pope facts generally aren’t readily available, I think an oversight the internet has made! So rather than an unusual use of a spoon, I’ll offer the fact that made me chuckle the most:

There are about 5.9 Popes per square mile in Vatican City

…pretty crazy.

Until Monday,

Zak

p.s. Do you think the pope gave up something really important to him for Lent? Perhaps his new year’s resolutions…

Control Freak Who

Day 74: Monday

Morning, Tim!

I really appreciated your capturing of The Importance of Being Named Ernesto – hilarious.

I wanted to start today with a knock-knock joke.

Knock-knock

Who’s there

Control freak, now you say control freak who

It’s tough to not be in control. I tend to think I can do it better than others. Oh, you’re looking something up on your phone? I should too — just in case. Or research that purchase. Or find it in the cabinet myself (…after you already said we didn’t have any left…). I’ll make the decision on when a work product is good enough, when and if we should meet to get further input. If people would just let me do it, it’ll turn out better!

But come on, that’s not even close to true. First, I don’t have the time to be that great at everything. Second, even if I did, I’ve proven myself time and again to be terrible with control, as evidenced by my waistline, grades, or lack of recognition by Todd, the front desk guy at my gym. I make mistakes times and again, and yet grasp for control all the more.

“Autonomy and control are cardinal virtues of the west” – David Brenner

There are gobs of self-help books. We also have a pretty good idea of the things we should be doing — be it exercise, education, sleep, putting down our phones more often, caring about others more (and not just in an academic or theoretical way…). So why aren’t we able to do these things, simply by ‘willing’ them?

I’d propose that by ‘willing’ we often mean lacking desires that are often against what’s ultimately best for us, and, when they do appear, be able to deny them anyway. In the case of cake, wow is that stuff good. But I probably shouldn’t eat 3 pieces. In fact, it would be best (…at least easiest…) if I didn’t have a desire for 3 pieces, but rather just one. Moreover, if I did desire 3 pieces, it would be great to say no. That would be control, an exercise of will.

Within that example, we need two things. The first we already noted was a sense of control, the ability to act on the ultimate desire. The second, then, is the actual desire we want to act in accordance with. I think that’s a confusing piece — because if we have ever changing second-order desires (the things we want to desire), then we don’t have time to build the habits necessary to actualize those.

Changing our second-order desires is ultimately like building habits. They take time and commitment, and only truly change if built over a period of time.

As a Christian, this is actually a beautiful thing. It means that we get to set our second-order desires once — in alignment with Christ — and then spend the long hours, full of falling short, in relationship with God ever-marching on. It’s by ceding our control that we actually might change into what we’d like to become.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Costing a leg

Day 54: Thursday

Morning, Tim!

Silly Josephine…

Tim as you well know I work in healthcare. Thinking about healthcare as a business feels kind of grimy at times — you are making money off of those who desperately need help, many times in order to live. That said, having worked with a lot of Catholic hospital systems, the usual saying goes “No margin no mission”. In order to operate, in order to help all of those people, they need to have the financial backing to do so. They certainly have a lot of write-offs each year, essentially donating care back to communities; but it’s no news that in the U.S., healthcare is expensive, and many people are paying all they can afford in medical bills.

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to think about making money off of others’ misfortune. In one hand, I’m helping them extend life; in the other, the cost of that extension is often a poor quality of life, constantly fretting about bills and work.

I recently came across some articles about financially backing legal cases. I asked a friend of mine with a law degree to explain in a bit more detail, but the gist is that there are many wrongs done to people – e.g. abuse, discrimination, etc. – done by a corporation that has quite a bit of money. If the individual were to sue, there are legal ways for the corporation to spend those dollars quickly prolonging and “drowning” the individual, making it effectively impossible to sue in many cases. There are some lawyers who will work on a contingency basis, not getting paid until the individual does — but they typically have caps far smaller than would be necessary to take on a corporation.

The linked article discusses financially backing some of these cases. Now I certainly don’t have enough money to bankroll anyone’s legal case, but the idea still intrigues me. If real harm was done, shouldn’t there be some recompense paid? The same problem we saw above begins to arise, though – in order to operate like this, the financial backer would need some form of compensation, thus taking a portion of what would go to the individual. There’s this feeling of doing good while simultaneously lessening the good done.

I’m not sure there’s any way around it within healthcare. Hopefully make it cheaper to deliver care, I suppose. It’s just unfortunate that there’s a cost to doing good.

Until tomorrow,

Zak