I had this amazing duet yesterday at Ecstatic Dance with a UCSB co-ed. This is characteristic: lying on the floor, we had wound our legs together. She hooked her right ankle under my right knee is I raised the leg, leaving me free to push myself off the ground. She lifted with me, allowing me to get my left knee under her thigh, and as I crouched, she arched along her right side, suspended in air, held up only by the leverage on my outstretched right leg. Her hand held in the air, I tried to take it so that she could pivot over my thigh, and almost lost my balance. Recovering, she stretched even further as I widened my stance before grasped her hand so that she could release the wrap of her left ankle around mine.

I enjoy dancing with younger women, which is a scandalous disappointment to the women my age. There are pragmatic reasons for that: flexibility and weight foremost among them. There are things that younger dancers can do that are beyond the means of their elder sisters.

It is true that there are moments that become subtly or overtly sexual, but I do not take advantage of them.

No, rather I offer them gifts. At one point, I had one hand on her breastbone and one on her back, cupping her heart chakra in my hands before opening my hands to the sky.

You see, when they open themselves to me in innocent awe, I see into their futures. I see all the sorrow of their struggle with the future that my generation has left to them.

I have given up on my generation. I seek to create power in those we have abandoned, so that they may do better than we did, and I dispense my gifts as I see fit.

God’s Bargain

One of the charms of Democracy is the barren privilege of our belief that we can bargain with an incredibly powerful being – our government – that knows almost nothing about us. We have a vote, and we hang on the words of candidates, hoping to hear a promise that we can bind with our vote. Those that draw upon other resources (whether the free market or faith) to garner security tend to wish to limit the role of government. Those looking at success from the outside often wish to draw upon governmental power to avert personal calamity. In most of the electorate, those two impulses join in incoherent combination. Witness, for example, the Floridian retiree who pronounces that entitlements must be cut to reduce the federal deficit, but insists that Medicare and Social Security are sacrosanct.

Entitlements for the elderly were established as a “New Deal” during the Great Depression. At that time, the elderly were the most impoverished segment of society. Since that time, the elderly have become the wealthiest segment of the population, being replaced on the lowest tier by our children.

The challenge of loving people unconditionally – of saying that you will invest in the survival of others without regards to merit – is to create conditions in which the loved ones may choose to use their power to hurt themselves and others. In our modern democracy, the elderly – the community with the most time for political organization – have used that opportunity to steal power from those without a political voice – children. That hasn’t happened directly, and any specific senior citizen would be angered by my characterization. But governments are aggregates, and my statement, in aggregate, is irrefutable.

The Bible, of course, is the story of Unconditional Love’s attempt to enter into and glorify the world. It celebrates episodes of human grace, but for the most part it is a record of iniquity – of the rejection of unconditional love in favor of material possessions (land, wealth or political alliance) that provide security. Inevitably, the strategies of material possession create competition between individuals and communities, often culminating in violence.

How does God deal with this problem? Well, in the Old Testament, generally by disassembling the nation. In the record we have Noah’s Flood, the subjugation of Egypt, the culling of the Golden Calf, the jealous threats of Exodus and the exile to Babylon. So we have this paradox: the gifts of Unconditional Love are showered on the people, but when they abuse them, they suffer terrible punishment.

Unfortunately, the power of this rebuke was projected onto individuals. If the nation should suffer as a whole for sin, so must the individual. Personal misfortune was interpreted as a consequence of personal sin, when in most cases it occurs as a result of sins committed by others. The hungry child sleeps at her desk while the septuagenarian on social security tees up on the golf course.

Jesus rails against such hypocrisy in the opening verses of Luke 13. He speaks of Galileans whose blood was added to the Hebrew sacrifices, and the people killed by the collapse of a tower, and warns that they were not alone in their sin. To the audience, he proclaims twice:

Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

But then Jesus tells a strange little story about a landowner that planted a fig tree in his vineyard. When it bears no fruit, he orders his gardener to cut it down as it was “wasting the soil.” To this, the gardener replies [ESV Luke 13:8-9]:

Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put manure on. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.

In many other parables, Jesus speaks of himself as a landowner, prince or bridegroom, but in this case, I see him renewing his role as a tender of life, most familiarly through the parables of the shepherd. To those familiar with the story of the Golden Calf, it might come to mind that God threatened to destroy the entire Hebrew nation, and relented only when Moses assumed responsibility for their future conduct.

Here Jesus says that the problem is not with the Hebrew people (the tree) but with the ground they are planted in. He vows to spread his loving spirit on them, and counsels that they will flower and bear fruit under his care.

And if not, then God may destroy them. Note that: the landowner orders the gardener to cut down the tree, and the gardener offers to care for it another year, building a bond of caring that means that the landowner must do the work of clearing the ground.

In disobeying the owner the following year, will the gardener himself by cut down? Is Jesus offering this assurance to his disciples: “I will care for you as Moses did, and if you fall, I will fall with you.” Recognizing both that sin must not be allowed to take root in the land, but also committing himself without reservation to preservation of the tree of human spirit that will eventually spread Divine Love over the entire world?

Ultimately, the only stable security is in knowing that we are loved. God is the only perfect source of that love, but his restless seeking to heal the world means that we cannot take that love and hide from the world. We cannot “retire” in comfort. We must go into the dark places where people hunger and live in fearful ignorance and bring them love. If we do not, love will pass round us seeking another way, and the sins of others will overwhelm us.

God’s purpose is pure, and embraces everything. It can serve us only if we serve others.

God loves us, but he cannot be bargained with like we can bargain with a government.

But why would we want to?

Intelligence and Creativity

Joseph at Rationalizing the Universe explores the modern formulation, rooted in Goedel’s Theorem of logical incompleteness, of living with uncertainty. The following discussion ensued:


You point out correctly that Goedel’s theorem is restricted to a fairly narrow problem: proving that a proof system is “correct” – i.e. – that its axioms and operations are consistent. In other words, we can’t take a set of axioms and apply the operations to disprove any other axiom.

This seems to lead to the conclusion that we can’t trust our proofs of anything, which means that there are no guarantees that our expectations will be met. Unfortunately, expectations are undermined by many other problems, among them determination of initial conditions, noise and adaptation. The last is the special bete noir of sociology, as people will often violate social norms in order to assuage primitive drives.

At this point in my life, I am actually not at all troubled by these problems. Satisfaction is not found in knowing the truth, it is found in realizing creative possibilities. If we could use mathematics to optimize the outcome of social and economic systems, we would have no choices left. Life would become terribly boring. So what is interesting to me is to apply understanding of the world to imagine new possibilities. Mathematics is a useful tool in that process, particularly when dealing with dumb matter.

This brings me back to the beginning of the post: you state that “mathematics is the unspoken language of nature.” If there is anything that Goedel’s theorem disproves, it is precisely that statement. Mathematics is a tool, just as poetry and music are tools. At times, both of the latter have transported my mind to unseen vistas; mathematics has never had that effect.


You raise a very interesting point; if we could optimise everything then would we take all of the joy out of being…. you may well be right. I know I get a lot of my satisfaction from the quest to know more. Although I disagree that Godel’s theorems disprove my original statement in this sense; language is essentially about describing things. That is why you can have different languages but they are easily translatable…. bread/pan/brot etc…. we all know what they mean because they all describe the same thing. In exactly the same way, mathematics describes things that actually exist; that isn’t to say nature is mathematics at all – mathematics is the language of nature but it is just as human in its construction as the spoken word. But is matter not matter because a human invented the label? Matter is matter.

To be, these theorems don’t break down all of our proofs; but what they do show is a vital point about logic. One which I think is going to become and increasingly big issue as the quest to understand and build artificial intelligence increases – can we every build a mind as intelligent as a humans when a human can know the answer to a non-programmable result? We hope so! Or rather I do – I do appreciate it’s not for everyone


I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I must caution that the mathematical analogies in classical physics cannot be extended in the same way to the quantum realm. Richard Feynman warned us that there is no coherent philosophy of quantum mechanics – it is just a mathematical formulation that produces accurate predictions. Ascribing physical analogies to the elements of the formulation has always caused confusion. An extreme example was found in the procedure of renormalization, in which observable physical properties such as mass and charge are produced as the finite ratio of divergent integrals.

Regarding human and digital intelligence: one of the desirable characteristics of digital electronics is its determinism. The behavior of transistor gates is rigidly predictable, as is the timing of clock signals that controls that propagation of signals through logic arrays. This makes the technology a powerful tool to us in implementing our intentions.

But true creativity does not arise from personal control, which only makes me loom bigger in the horizon of others’ lives, threatening (as the internet troll or Facebook post-oholic) to erase their sense of self. Rather, creativity in its deepest sense arises in relation, in the consensual intermingling of my uniqueness with the uniqueness of others.

Is that “intelligence?” Perhaps not – the concept itself is difficult to define, and I believe that it arises as a synthesis of more primitive mental capacities, just as consciousness does. But I doubt very much that Artificial Intelligence is capable of manifestations of creativity, because fundamentally it has no desires. It is a made thing, not a thing that has evolved out of a struggle, spanning billions of years, for realization. Our creativity arises out of factors over which we have no control: meeting a spouse-to-be, witnessing an accident, or suffering a debilitating disease. We have complex and subtle biochemical feedback systems which evolved to recognize and adjust to the opportunities and imperatives of living. We are a long way from being able to recreate that subtlety in digital form, and without those signals, meaningful relation cannot evolve, and thus creativity is still-born.

Dabiq-alypse Now

As Russia and its toady Assad ravages the Syrian city of Aleppo, dropping barrel bombs on children and hospitals, this week the rebels seeking relief from Assad’s tyranny took the town of Dabiq from ISIS.

Dabiq is also the name of the print magazine in which ISIS boasts of its accomplishments. Based upon the reading of its scholars, the town is supposed to be the site of the final battle between Islam and the Crusaders. The battle was to have triggered the end of the world.

Strategically, perhaps, that makes sense. Dabiq lies close to the Turkish border, and will obviously be the focus of Russian and Syrian attacks after the fall of Aleppo. Turkey’s Erdogan is a hot-head, having ordered a Russian plane shot down this year, and forcing Putin to suffer a humiliating delay during a state visit to Ankara. Just east of Dabiq, the Kurds are forming a state in the territory lost by ISIS’ retreat.

Russian ambition has made Syria into a great fortress in the Middle East. The only aircraft carrier in their fleet is moored off the Syrian coast. Confronted with Clinton’s promise that she would seek a no-fly zone over Syria during her first days in office, Russia has installed anti-aircraft missile systems throughout the country. Given that neither ISIS nor the rebels have aircraft, the only purpose of the system is to threaten any coalition that seeks to enforce a no-fly zone. Russian obviously plans on seeing through their mission of restoring Assad to total control of the Syrian, even at the risk of direct confrontation with the American military.

But then just to the west of Syrian we have Israel, who can’t be comfortable with the adventurous Russian military on their borders.

As I was mulling this over last night, it occurred to me to wonder: among all the parties to this conflict, which would Mohammad recognize as fighting for justice? The Syrian rebellion grew out of Hunger Games protests in the drought-stricken Syrian interior. The Assad regime lost its legitimacy when it attacked the protesters. They fought back, just as Mohammad fought back against corruption in his era.

ISIS claimed Mohammad’s mantle in its quest to establish a caliphate. But in losing Dabiq, perhaps it has revealed the true heirs to Islam. For the rebels are themselves Muslims, and it is against the Crusader Vladimir Putin, self-proclaimed protector of Orthodox Christianity, that they will fight for justice in Dabiq.

The story isn’t over yet, my friends.

Love Purifies

Ecstatic Dance is demanding, and we get injured every now and then. I came away from this afternoon’s session with a strain in my lower back. It loosened up as I was pedaling back from the train station, but I know it will hurt again tomorrow morning.

Some people find the best way to deal with a nagging injury is just to dance more. I find this to be particularly true with the injury occurred off the floor. The quotidian world is full of angry energy, and the tension that results from stress allows it to tunnel its way into our bodies. Dancing with people that really love to dance is a great way to chase it away.

But it doesn’t always work.

My way of ministering to people with deeply rooted psychic wounds is to stand ten feet away and imagine touching the wound with my finger tips. I don’t push or pull forcefully. Instead, I caress it, until it willingly wraps itself around my fingers. Drawing it loose, I gather it into my heart.

Now it’s a little different when the wound is generated consciously. That’s a case of possession, which often can be mild, but in some cases can be disabling. Then it’s a little different. I usually end up with my heart pressed against a shoulder or back, patiently waiting for them to relax until I can reach the source of the trouble. Then I inhale it. What is good seems to end up in my heart; what remains is expelled into the air.

What you might guess from this is that I consider smacking people on the forehead to be useless. You have to send love in to fill the spiritual void.

Now taking in all this negativity probably sounds a little scary, and I do have resources that are unusual. But at root, it all boils down to this: if your make your heart God’s tool, there is absolutely nothing that can get into it that will hurt you. And what comes out of it is guaranteed to be helpful to the injured party.

So to be clear: I’m really not doing anything except to provide sensory input. Love does the work.

The same holds true in psychic conflict, which is an important part of physical violence. Violence is a way of imposing our will upon others, but that imposition has no support. The spirits don’t want to feel the pain of the victim, unless they are deeply wounded themselves and just trying to spread misery. Even in that case, what they really want is healing. So I offer it to them. I vacuum them up into my heart.

But what if the person is genuinely trying to love people? What if I am mistaken in my judgment? Well, then I am actually completely impotent. The psychic energy is happy where it is, and chooses to stay there. The conflict is therefore rooted in simple misunderstanding, and what usually ends up happening is affirmation that builds strength in both of us.

Ultimately, then, I can’t take anything from people that love themselves and others.

Middle Eastern Military Mash-up

Recent events in the Middle East point to a progressive tilt into global conflict. That doesn’t have to happen, and obviously if the US was to flex its military muscles in the region, we could lay waste to the military industrial complex of the combatant nations without needing to occupy their territories. To go any further would be folly. I lay out here my reasons for believing that we need to stay the course in the Middle East, while scrupulously avoiding military intervention to the purpose of “nation building.”

What we see in the Middle East is a sectarian spat between flavors of Islam. While once they were united in their enmity of Israel, the fatal seed of Islamic theology – the failure to separate Church and State – has inevitably brought a resort to military force justified under religious terms. This is most obvious in Yemen, where Iran intervenes on the behalf of the Shia Houthis, while Saudi Arabia supports the Sunni elite.

What is absurd about this, to the Western observer, is the failure of the parties involved to recognize the truths revealed by the two World Wars: there are no winners in modern military conflict. This is playing out now in Syria, where Assad, safe in the capital Damascus, lays waste to the rest of Syria with the assistance of Russia and Iran. While buildings may be replaced, the hatred left in the hearts of innocent civilians will be almost impossible to heal without his removal.

Recent events show how close we are to being drawn into that region’s conflict. A US-built warship operated by the United Arab Emirates was destroyed off the coast of Yemen recently, apparently by a Houthi rebels using an Iranian cruise missile. This week, a US destroyer came under attack using the same weapons system. The justification was probably its assumed participation in gathering the intelligence that the US is providing to the Saudi military. The Houthis discovered, however, that military technology is not the same as military capability. The attack was countered, the cruise missiles either destroyed or misdirected.

To punctuate the lesson, Obama ordered a counterstrike by US cruise missiles against radar installations managed by the Houthis. Five were destroyed yesterday. The suppliers – and possible operators – of the equipment are almost certainly Iranian military specialists. In response to the destruction of their equipment, Iran has scrambled warships to the region.

Donald Trump offers one future possibility for US action in this escalating tension: punch everybody in the nose. Another is to simply walk away. I don’t believe that either response is sustainable. Punching people in the nose creates collateral damage, and sustains enmity that will impede our ability the build and sustain peaceful relations in the world community. Walking away does the same: it gives a dangerous positive feedback signal to men whose testosterone levels are already way out of control. If allowed to expand their influence without resistance, eventually they will arrive on our shores.

The only other option is to bide our time, waiting for the lessons of World War II to sink in. It is a policy of containment that prevents the disease from spreading.

In Saudi Arabia, that lesson is delivered through the economic consequences of military intervention. US military technology is incredibly costly to operate. With the fall in oil prices, it is a burden that the Saudi regime can no longer support. Its competitor in the region, Iran, is facing the financial burden of creating and sustaining its own military-industrial complex. Given that reality, I was amused last week by the announcement of a deal between the two countries to limit oil production. Fat chance! The deal was dead before the ink dried on the signature line.

So these two will eventually exhaust themselves, just as Russia was exhausted by the Cold War. Putin, a man whose grasp of history is limited to the fawning of his cronies, also seems to believe that he can exploit the quagmire in the Middle East to force the US and Europe to cede Russia control over the nations that once formed the Warsaw Pact.

All of those ambitions will collapse in the face of human suffering and the political impotence of military adventurism. These are the two outcomes that the Law of Natural Consequences forced upon the immature participants of Europe’s two great wars – lessons that resulted in the formation of institutions to prevent a repeat of those tragedies. With a little patience and a firm policy of military deterrence, it will not be long before that same lesson is learned by the countries that believe their Islamic faith gives them special insight in matters of justice, and therefore the right and duty to intervene militarily in the affairs of other nations.

Lies, Damned Lies – And Hypocrites!

Whenever a “marriage protection” advocate quotes Paul’s edict against “homosexual” relations, I think of Peter’s warning:

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

[NIV 2 Peter 3:15-16]

Appropriate because, according to a scholar of ancient legal terminology, the word chosen by Paul was not “homosexuality” as we understand it today, but a term connoting criminal coercion.

Conservatism in modern America also runs afoul of one of Jesus’ edicts:

No man can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

[NIV Luke 16:13]

I have not hidden the fact that I am disgusted by the co-option of the Christian message by “fiscal conservatives” (by which I mean: “greedy carpet-baggers”) in the Republican Party. There are hypocrites in the midst of the “Moral Majority,” and I find no fault with those in the Democratic Party that decry the presence of those hypocrites that take refuge in the Catholic Church. Catholics that insist that the authors of those warnings must resign manifest the height of hypocrisy, for in fact the Democratic Party operates on parameters far closer to Jesus’ personal conduct than do those such as Donald Trump, or even Paul Ryan.

Return to the last line of the quote from Peter’s second letter. The self-destruction of the Republican Party is Biblical.