Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Final Frontier

 The Final Frontier

By Bobby Neal Winters

I’ve been excited watching SpaceX, exploding rockets and all.  It is capitalism being directed toward space.  Yes, I am a geek/nerd/whatever label you want to affix to me.  I watched Star Trek in the early 1970s; I watched Star Wars when there was still just the one movie.  So you can dismiss me if you want to.

But there is money to be made.  If history teaches us anything, it is this: If money can be made it will be.  You could even sing it: “Ain’t no mountain high enough, and no valley low enough..” to keep entrepreneurs away from profit.

Where, where is this money in space you ask?  Are there banks filled with it out there?  Are there little green men with checkbooks? That I will answer by saying who knows.

The money is in mining:  Mining the moon; mining asteroids.

Mining is a nasty business.  There is the aesthetic aspect; open pit mines are ugly.  Here in southeast Kansas we know that strip pits will fill with water and make a nice little lake for the doctors and the lawyers to build houses on, but that is not the image they have in many places. Then there is the chemical aspect where heavy metals are released into the environment.

All the above lead to regulation, and regulation puts pressure on entrepreneurs to find another way to make money.  It is at this point, the entrepreneur puts his finger to the wind and finds it pointing to space, the Final Frontier.

For those who don’t like regulations, frontiers are very attractive places.  Frontiers tend not to have very many regulations to begin with, and those few regulations they do have don’t have very many people around to enforce them.  Maybe Marshal Dillon and Festus, but that’s it.  They didn’t manage to enforce the regulations on Miss Kitty, did they?

They are already studying asteroids.  Some of this is being done in the name of making us safe from planet killers like the one that got the dinosaurs, but don’t fool yourself.  It’s all about the Benjamins, Baby.

This will take a long time.  I will not live long enough to see anybody make a dime from asteroid mining directly.  Elon Musk will make a lot of money on the ramp up because there is a lot of money to be made in satellite communication.  He’s building a network of satellites that has the potential to make every person in the world potentially connected to every other.  

This being said, I don’t think he will live long enough to make a dime out of asteroid mining because it is going to take a long time to get the infrastructure ramped up.  This is the thing that all science fiction misses: Infrastructure takes time.

But given the need for things that are mined, there will be added pressure to do this.  

Right now, we are worried about climate change and we are looking for alternatives to oil. That puts pressure on renewable/low carbon sources of energy, and  consequently, there is pressure to produce more batteries.  Batteries require ingredients that have to be mined.  As has been pointed out, mining can be nasty, so this encourages mining in space.

So we have a place where those who are concerned about the environment have a natural alliance with those who wish to become as rich as Croesus.  This kind of makes me want to reach for my tinfoil hat, but let’s push on.

This sort of synergy argues for mining in space.

In addition to mining, you could move dirty industries to space.  No regulations for them either.  A lot of the work would be done by robots, but there would be people too.  And they would have to move there because the jobs they used to do on earth would be gone.  There are people to whom the nasty work of mining looks like opportunity, my father and his father and brothers to name a few. 

Instead of going to the east Texas oil fields or off shore or Alaska, they would go to space.  Eventually, they will build space habitats complete with company stores, mark my words.  And you think Las Vegas is wild or that Old Dodge City was.  You haven’t seen anything yet.

It’s not going to be as utopian as Star Trek.  Think Firefly or the Expanse.

I don’t see it, but maybe my grandchildren’s grandchildren.

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )



Saturday, February 13, 2021

Testing

 Testing

By Bobby Neal Winters


When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

Matthew  8:14-15


My online Bible Study Group has been going though the book of Matthew. We did the Lord’s Prayer as a part of that; it took us three weeks and we could’ve done more but the teacher told us we had to go on.  

Those of you who know the Lord’s Prayer know the line “lead us not into temptation.”  This always causes discussion.  How could God lead us into temptation?  

One answer is this: The word translated as “temptation” can also be translated as “testing.”

My wife’s mother is very sick and has been so since the day after Christmas. I’ve not written about it until now because she’s a private person and never seeks to call attention to herself.  She always very quietly does what needs to be done.  

Our lives have changed.  Jean, my wife, is living with her mom now and has been since she got out of the hospital.  We are lucky that Jean’s mother only lives two blocks from us.  She moved to town two months after my second daughter was born almost thirty years ago.

She has been a godsend to us. She helped when our second daughter was a baby and our third one. She’s helped with the grandsons.  At the same time, she helped in her church, she helped with the Red Cross, she helped in random ways. No one asked her to do anything; she just did it.

Then she got sick.

The members of her church have sent her cards. Her neighbor girl has reached out and helped in numerous ways.

Jean is there with her, doing for her mother the things her mother has done for us.

The order of the family has changed.  She who used to take care of all of us must now be cared-for herself, and Jean, my wife, her daughter, is doing that.  My daughters and I must care for Jean.

Nobody asked anybody to do anything. It just happened.

There has been a reordering.  We reordered my mother-in-law’s living room into a hospital room. We reordered my kitchen and pantry from something only my wife could understand to something the rest of us could understand.

We are raised by our parents and we raise our children. We always wonder if we’ve done a good job. Did we raise our children to be adults?  Will they be good people?  

My dad never got to know; my mom did a little.  

My mother-in-law knows for sure, and my wife and I do too. 

Would we have wanted this to happen? No.  We pray that it doesn't everytime we pray the Lord’s Prayer, just as Jesus taught us to pray.  The time of testing comes regardless.  The time of testing is built-in to the fabric of life itself.

We ready ourselves for it the best we can.  Sometimes we have a good example to follow.

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )



Saturday, February 06, 2021

Gone

 Gone

By Bobby Neal Winters

A little over a week ago as I write this, I lost my wedding ring.  I was sitting in my office having a Teams meeting with two colleagues; I felt my ring finger like I do out of habit; and it was gone.

I may have exclaimed something at that point, but I will leave it to either of my two colleagues to say what.  Those who know me best might make a quick guess.

I’ve gotten a lot of advice about how to look for it.  I’ve alerted the custodian and campus police to be on the lookout for it in Lost and Found.  I’ve checked my pockets, retraced my steps, dumped out my various pencil holders.

Nothing.

If you find a rose gold, nugget shaped ring somewhere around the circle of Pittsburg I frequent, please let me know.

This is not a ring of great material worth.  I think it cost several hundred dollars 30 years ago in that jewelry store on Main Street in Stillwater, Oklahoma where we got it.  There is a great deal of sentimental value that goes along with it, of course, but that’s not the reason I am missing it.

I miss it because I feel naked without it.  When I say that, I am not speaking figuratively.  I mean that I feel like I’ve stepped out of the shower to discover I am at the corner of 4th and Broadway.

I tried to explain this to one of my daughters and she said, “Oh yeah, Dad, you’re such a chick magnet.”

Even though she’s brilliant, had great ACT scores, and is highly educated, she doesn’t quite get it.

Such was my discomfort, that within 12 hours of losing my ring, I’d gotten on Amazon and bought a new one.

While doing that, I made a discovery, maybe several.  First: you can buy a wedding ring on Amazon.com.  Second: They don’t cost that much. Third: You can order one on Friday evening and have it on your finger before that time on Monday.  Fourth: You can do that for about $20.

So as I type this, I do so with a $20 ring on my finger that is made of tungsten carbide.

It’s not as attractive as the one my wife got me.  It doesn’t have the sentimental value.  It doesn’t have the monetary value.

But I don’t feel naked anymore.

I squeeze my left pinkie and middle fingers against it, and I think about my wife.  I feel it, and I know my wife is about in the world, and that I am not alone. 

And my heart is at ease.

Again, if you find a ring of the description above, contact me through Facebook.  There’s no reward other than the good it will do your soul, but I will appreciate it.

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )



Saturday, January 30, 2021

Living on

 Living on

By Bobby Neal Winters


So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.

--1 Kings 2:10

The Bible says very little about what happens to us after we die.  What it does say, it says in metaphor:  “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

We communicate in metaphor, when either we don’t have the words or our audience doesn’t have the words.  Death is a wall between us and something else.  Fools ignore it; the Wise prepare; Jesus explained, but he knew we just didn’t have the words.

I’m not going to improve on Jesus, so I will leave that aspect of the Afterlife to faith.  Let me now explain what I know for sure the best I can.

Here on earth, each of us is connected to a lot of other people: Fathers and mothers; sisters and brothers; daughters and sons; friends and neighbors; co-workers; people we pass on the street.

Each one of those people is an opportunity. Every single one of them has a soul that is a part of the breath of God.  When we interface with them, we leave a little of ourselves with them--and they leave a little of themselves with us.

In this way, over the course of our lives, we build something in the world of humans that has our shape.  This Thing we have built will live on after we have died.  

Here I will resort to metaphor.  Life is like a soup.  The world is the water; some people are salt or spice and will mix in and not be noticed; some are like chunks of meat and potato.  While you might not know the name of the grain of salt or the fleck of spice, their presence makes life more palatable for everyone. 

My father was not a perfect man, but he did have a respect for women, and that lives in me. I believe that Dad’s gone to be in one of the many mansions Jesus promised, but I know that part of him lives in me.

My mother was not a perfect woman, but she did have the ability to love and be loved by people no one else loved.  I hope that this still exists in me.

I had teachers who taught me skills that I’ve had the privilege to pass on to my students.  My teachers exist in me and I in my students.

There are huge men who’ve helped fallen children, and tiny women who’ve wiped away their tears. They will live on in those they’ve helped.

And there are those who live on in us in the form of scars, but life is too short to dwell there.

When one of us passes, we cry for ourselves.  There is a Thing shaped like them left in the world.  It is not a hole, not a vacancy.  They are still among us, but we’ve lost a certain eminent aspect of them.

We’ve lost people; we are losing people.  The pain we feel about this is evidence they exist still.  Our pain is a measure of how much they’ve given of themselves.  As much as it hurts, we wouldn’t want any less.

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )




Saturday, January 23, 2021

Mother Abigail and Wisdom

 Mother Abigail and Wisdom

By Bobby Neal Winters

I’ve been watching The Stand on CBSAllAccess. While I think it was an interesting choice to air a work centered on a devastating plague during a time of pandemic, I have been enjoying it.  I especially like Whoopie Goldburg as Mother Abigail.

For those of you who are not familiar with The Stand, it was originally a book by Steven King.  It was made into a miniseries back in 1994. I’d enjoyed that at the time, so I’ve been looking for it on streaming media since that became a thing.  I hadn’t found it until this new version appeared.  The Stand is an apocalypse.  The world is destroyed by a plague.  Those few who survive gather themselves into two separate locations: The good in Boulder, Colorado and the evil in--where else--Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mother Abigail personifies wisdom and is the spiritual leader of the Boulder group.  Having an elderly black woman as a symbol of wisdom is a trope in American literature.  There are truths that we can hear from this archetype that would simply sound out of place anywhere else.  I don’t know whether that is racist, sexist, ageist, or all three.  All I know is that it is something I’ve seen.  

But Wisdom being personified as feminine goes back farther; it goes back thousands of years.  Biblically, in both Hebrew and Greek, the words for wisdom are feminine in gender.  This doesn’t necessarily mean much, but when hymns to Wisdom are written in those languages, it is quite natural to use the feminine personal pronoun.

But in Proverbs Chapter 31, verses 10 through 31, there is a word portrait of a virtuous woman.  Those of you who haven’t read it, should.  Those of you who have, know it to be a litany of the activities of a virtuous woman and the benefits accrued to her family because of them.  It gets pretty dense at certain points.  I remember as a youth listening to it and inserting “She spot-weldeth.”

There are women who react negatively to this with: “You men think women are only good for what they can do for you.”  I am not going to argue with that.  I will say that--in my family at least--there aren’t too many men who would fit the person described, but there are a number of women.

It has also been pointed out to me recently that the virtues described for a virtuous woman in these verses describe a personification of Wisdom.  Wisdom in the feminine. 

Here those of us who seek to be wise--whether we are male or female--are given this feminine archetype to emulate.

The qualities included are planning ahead, not wasting time, handling responsibility, and looking to the needs of others while still taking care of oneself.  This is a text that will preach and reach the listener in a practical way.

One can get off on a tangent arguing about whether this image is natural or cultural or whether those two words can even be separated in this context.  Many hours and many pages could be filled with this discussion, some it possibly fruitful.

But, regardless, there it is.

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )



Saturday, January 16, 2021

Difficult and left untried

 Difficult and left untried

By Bobby Neal Winters


The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.-- Gilbert K. Chesterton

There is an ancient Christian text called the Didake (did-ahk-ay) that begins with these words: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways.”  

The document then goes on to describe the Way of Life.  To say that the Way of Life is not an easy way might be something of an understatement.  I was going along reading it sentence by sentence saying, Preach it, Brother, Preach it, but it didn’t take too many sentences before I read one that made me say, Ouch!  

The thing is, there is nothing there that is not in the New Testament or in the Gospels.  The Didake just condenses it down to the essentials.  It’s like chewing salt from a block rather than just eating it dusted on your popcorn.  It’s the same stuff, but maybe a gallon of soda pop would help it go down.

The New Testament itself, Jesus tells the rich young ruler:”If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

To this we reply, the whole perfection thing sounds really great, but I have so very nice things.

We fall short.

I’ve come up with a solution to this that makes me feel more comfortable.  I should become a self-help guru and sell it to you, but I will give it to you for free. Here goes.  Jesus knew we were going to fail, but he set up the teachings to point us in the right direction.  If we fall short of these very high ideals while striving toward them, then at least we’ve made progress.

I think that last paragraph has some truth to it, but there is a tiny voice in the back of my mind that is trying to say something else.  The voice is calm and insistent but there is a chorus of other voices that are trying to shout it down. 

My head can sometimes be very noisy.

A good question to ask would be, why would I care?  The Didake is just a dusty old scroll; the Bible is just a dusty old book.  Jesus didn’t even have a car, much less a computer. What do they know anyway?

I was raised being taught these things were right.  I’ve grown up, looked around the world, and I’ve not found anything better. It doesn’t teach pursuing money; it doesn’t teach pursuing power.  It teaches that our pursuit should be in helping our fellow human beings whether they suffer from a lack of food on their tables or love in their hearts.  It teaches a way of ordering your personal life that is in harmony with these aims.

Jesus tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light, but maybe we have to put down some other things first. Maybe Bob Dylan was right, “If you ain’t got nothin’, you’ve got nothin’ to lose.” 

I don’t have a sweet answer.

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )



Saturday, January 09, 2021

An Early Ash Wednesday

An Early Ash Wednesday

By Bobby Neal Winters

A Facebook Friend of mine asked in her status for people to share their favorite verse from the Bible.  I don’t think I have one.  I am not sure why, but I will think about it.  I did have a verse that popped to my mind: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

It’s there in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis.  I am far from the first to suggest this, but it does seem to capture Man in two parts that are held in Cruciform tension as they say:

You are made of dirt;

You’ve been filled with the spirit of God.

I need to be reminded of both of these from time to time.  To be reminded of the first, I go with some friends of mine to Ash Wednesday Services at Our Lady of Lourdes.  They meet at Oh dark thirty, and that is a time when you are very receptive to the dirt message.

There are times, however, when I need to be reminded of the second.  This comes from two different directions.  I need to know that I have been filled with the spirit of God, and I need to be reminded that you have been filled with the spirit of God.  This is all part of the deal.

I am supposed to love you.  Regardless.

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”

Here Jesus was quoting ancient Jewish teaching.  In the Sermon on the Mount he pushes it further: “ “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

In my youth, I used to think this was a way He was telling us not to have enemies.

No, that is not the case.

You are going to have enemies.  This is beyond your control.  There will be people who will hold your existence in contempt. You are to love them.

At some point, I heard the voice of Inigo Montoya, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

Love is not a feeling.  It is accompanied by many feelings, but it is not a feeling.  It is something beyond.  It is something we can do.  It is something we may choose to do, but it is like math or chess or pushups or whatever, you have to work at it.

That person in front of them. The one you disagree with; the one who is working against everything you believe in; the one who challenges you: You are to love him.

As inhumanly difficult as that may be, that is the easy part.  The hard part is how that love is to be manifested.  

Giving them their way is not necessarily the answer.  And quite frankly, it can’t be roadmapped out. But remembering that your love for them must be the center of it.

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )