Saturday, May 27, 2017

Malformed objects: Despair, Imposter Syndrome, and Value

I try not to discuss specific details of my life, but this is important to the topic. I spent a little over 5 years working at Google, which is consistently touted as the best company ever and only hires the smarted people. I also was diagnosed with clinical depression during my time at Google.

I noticed a fair number of my co-workers were like me in that they appreciated positive feedback and collaborative efforts. But most of us are not as good at offering positive feedback, and most collaborative tasks were not well rewarded. This left me in an unfulfilled state, with this valley between my emotional needs and my tangible rewards. Were this the only factor, I think it would be tolerable, and I think that's where some of the modern workers end up.

But for me, the valley led to despair. It opened up a deeper wound of feeling insufficient. And all the initial validation from getting a job at "the best company on Earth" suddenly became an unshakable noose around my neck. I had to remain a Googler, I had to impress everyone, because if I didn't, what was I? I would be a failure. If I left, I would have to hang my head in shame as someone who couldn't live up to the measure of "smartest" and identify as a member of "the best company." Amidst some of the hardest emotional and spiritual conflicts of my life, I was shackled to this identity to validate my existence.

At Google, I was first introduced to the concept of Imposter Syndrome [ ]. It was eye-opening, because it was like the other side of the coin of depression. Depression told me I was insufficient, but I still had my job to try and counteract that. But through fighting depression with this work identity, I made the job my functional savior, and relied on praise and validation there to keep me buoyant. And like any addiction, I needed more and more praise to sustain the feeling.

What's also debilitating was that I felt worthless. Like my contributions were all false, flukes, and any moment people would see through the charade and realize the emperor was wearing no clothes. I even remember thinking that I didn't have Imposter Syndrome at first, because people who have it are competent, and I certainly wasn't competent. I think it's worth noting that I still feel this. It's a constant battle, and most days my internal narrator tells me that "you are not good enough at anything to have this, it's only for people who are skilled. You are stressed out because you know you are a charlatan."

If you search online for Imposter Syndrome, you'll find many articles about the topic. The struggle between a workplace demanding all your talent and a self drive to be the best you possibly can is draining, but it's in some ways reassuring that I'm not alone in this fight. Here's an article from my latest search, which does well to outline the negative internal voices, and some useful thoughts to hold on to:

The feeling also preys upon the desire to be the hero of the story. To "save the day," to be recognized as a household name and change the world so dramatically that everyone remembers and loves and worships my memory. It's a modern selfism, but also reminds me of what I was taught of the story of Beowulf. That the legendary deeds elevated him to a high status, and he would be remembered forever. His amazing deeds, retold in story, is was gave him immortality. Isn't that what I aspire to? Is that not what all tech workers aim for? Become immortalized through the power of achieving and the things we want, at being the best and having everyone agree.

As an imposter, especially one at Google, I watched my coworkers write articles features in the news, make programs that millions of users loved, speak at major conferences and events, and write books. All the while, I learned, and worked, and tried to do a good job, but never accomplished miracles. I was surrounded by technological immortals, and I was dirt. I felt I brought the whole collective down with my very presence there. Every day I'd stare in the mirror and ask myself "what could you possibly accomplish that would be worthwhile?" Actually, my internal dialogue was very caustic, but this is the basic concept. And that's primarily why I left Google.

A caveat: I feel it is also worth noting that I fear I have perceived Imposter Syndrome but that it's actually Dunning–Kruger effect [ ]. The simple explanation of that one is that I am far less competent than I think I am. Or, I believe I am superior when I am actually inferior.

Investigating Self-Worth

Leaving aside the assessment of what malady I have for the moment, let's dissect the general topic.

Imposter Syndrome and Despair/Depression are here byproducts of feeling like a broken tool. Using the object model I've used in previous articles, this is like a malformed object. Previously I mentioned corruption, and this is another form. The object should derive it's value from it's inheritance tree, and has a set of methods (also called functions, or an established way of accomplishing a task) that it uses to validate and interact. In this case, the calls are not returning properly, or the object no longer has the correct methods and therefore the results are flawed. Imposter syndrome is like a method that checks for the value of the work done, but always returns "false," or "you failed." Dunning-Kruger is like one that always returns "true" and "you succeeded" regardless of the outcome. It's almost a delusional state, because the object has a view of the status of the world that doesn't actually match the state of the world. Or, as from my experience, the flaw is not necessarily in the returned value, but in the comparison.

Just like objects in programming, you cannot compare two object to assert equality. And therefore comparison is also inexact if you try to analyze two different objects. The despair comes from comparing myself to others around me on a single axis, like publishing books or giving presentations, and determines I am not as well known, therefore I am insufficient. Insufficiency is akin to being worthless, or a failure, depending on the person.

But we're much more complicated objects and usually have some form of error correction, so where is the error correction here? In this case, if the object is sufficiently malformed, the correction cannot come from inside itself. So I cannot repair myself. If I were on my own, then this is the ultimate end, and as a damaged object my depression and despair would be correct in saying I'm worthless. But I'm not a standalone object, I'm part of a much bigger system. And these external objects have repair methods that can be used on my object, restoring me to functionality, or at least providing correction for the damaged pieces. Like a splint on a broken leg, this correction is external to the body but helps it repair, and restore functionality.

In the humanistic sense, society is that error correction. My friends and family act as that correction. If my work valuation method is diminished, then I can solicit my friends and family for valuation to augment the broken method. If those checks are working properly, it means there is a holistic definition of value I should be using. In the Instance of Eric case, my writing and my friendship with others are what people have told me helps measure my value. I contribute meaningfully to the lives of others, and even if I can't sense that, I see others around me who all agree. Therefore I can use their input to offset the dysfunctional internal voice I have.

In the spiritual sense, Christianity offers an even more augmented view by saying God gives us a new identity in Jesus, who made a new method for us to check our value. And unlike Dunning-Kruger where the result was true even if the value was not, this one returns true each time because God is setting a value for us externally to our object. (Or, we inherit from the object that always returns true. You can read my other post about that if you want a different way of describing it.) Paul writes in Galatians 3 a description that I like, about "putting on Christ" as though it's a covering, or in one of my favorite programming terms, "a layer of obfuscation." 

So my error handling to offset depression and workaholism is seeking valuation from additional sources, and looking for a quorum. I share this to help anyone reading it to hopefully battle these self worth struggles and know that you don't suffer alone. That's an important one for depression, but that's an even longer topic I hope to address later.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Cross-Section of a Catastrophe

This is another jumble of thoughts, so I'm just going to stream them as I can and see how it goes.

When I was in 10th grade, I was part of a small club at my school that was focused on philosophy. There was one thing a friend there brought up which I recall a lot, which was Transactional Analysis. TA was the first time I think I could put to words the concept of tone and intention beyond just terminology. Then shortly thereafter I was reading a poem by Charles Harper Webb called "Tone of Voice.[1]" The last line of it stuck with me:

As useless to protest, "I didn't mean that," / as to tell a corpse, "Stand up. You misinterpreted my car."
This imagery of words having profound impact is quite the opposite of the rhyme I was told as a child, which was "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Yet I feel it's almost the opposite. I have a scar on my arm from a hot pan I bumped into while being careless in the kitchen, and a scar on my heart from where a girl I liked told me I was worthless. I have no problem cooking food near hot pans now, but I still treat relationships like it will lash out just as badly years later.

Actually, to that point, I think there's an important distinction here which leads to my connected thoughts. Those word scars are variable. A rock thrown by a friend or a foe will hurt just as much when it hits you. But scathing words from a friend, spoken with anger, hurt worse than any bully's vitriol. And the reason there is because friends we form some sense of trust with. We open ourselves to them, give them a greater view of who we are. And with that power, we give them the ability to bolster us into the people we were meant to be, or tear us apart into husks of humans. It's a huge amount of vulnerability, and I think it's why it makes us all so gun-shy to open our hearts. Either we've been wounded, or we've seen the damage it can inflict, so we guard our hearts, lock them in iron, so we never hurt again.

I made the observation recently to some friends that conversations and social interactions are like a lot of people in a dark room swinging sledgehammers in a hammer throw stance. We're spinning circles in the dark and sometime we connect with another person. And we may not be able to see the impact, but it happens, and it may be grazing, crippling, or fatal. And in turn, we never know when someone else's words will slam into us in ways we never imagined.

I recall another point from those high school years when I made some scoffing comment about someone's car being fuel inefficient, and another person pointed out that I'm not driving an economy car either. That comment, my embarrassment, and the truth of her remark sticks with me to this day. I recall "she was right, I was totally trying to feel superior even though, in the grand scheme, I'm not much different." I suspect she wouldn't recall it at all if I ran into her again, maybe even like the other girl who told me I was worthless, but those moments have lasted with me for more years than I would have imagined.

So these sledgehammer comments can be words, or tone, or contextual. And using the same pirouetting sledgehammer image, we are never quite sure when they'll happen. Though, as you spend more time with people, you interact more, and have more chances to do this. I then picture knowing people as getting some illumination. You can predict the swing, you can gauge your momentum and hopefully achieve harmonious synchronicity. Or, you can use this new knowledge for evil and give them a well-aimed blow with the sledge.


This gave way to my other thought, which is that this TA view tends to deal primarily with the external interactions. But we also have internal dialogue, and a whole world of thoughts, reactions, and complications happening below the surface. So I myself am a few layers before you get to the sledgehammer level, and so are others.

I wouldn't say they map specifically to Freud's model psyche with id, ego, and super-ego[2], but maybe it's just my unfamiliarity with the concept and I'm really reinventing the wheel.

So the inner layer is the core of me, or who I think I am. What my perception of the true me is, or my identity. Then comes the self-perceptive level, which is how I perceive my surroundings and things that happen to me, and what parts of me I think I express through the next level, the behavioral layer. The outer layer is the interaction layer, which is the observable portion, or the conversations we have with other people and can be the closest to factual interactions as possible. Below this interactive layer is what is subjectively done inside me, and thus harder to analyze both in myself and in others.

There's sadly no debugger for humans, or at least not one I know of. Otherwise this would be significantly easier to diagnose.

So let's take my model for a spin. Let's say I see a friend feeling sad. My interaction layer see's her agitation, hears her voice, notes her comments about sadness. These are observable and objective assessments of the situation. My behavioral layer first is the part that translates things like tears into strong emotions, or words into context of what happened to cause the sadness. It also passes those concepts into the self-perception layer. This is the part of me I consider my active consciousness, which processes this information and tries to assess things like "am I the cause of this sadness" or "what caused the sadness." But it also passes a request to my core, some sort of question like "have I felt like this before?" to which my identity then works on, and pulls up things like when I was heartbroken, or when I was injured and in pain. It passes that story, that piece of me, back to my introspective side, which converts that information into something that can be output to others. I may repeat the story, showing when I was like that too, give her some insight. Or maybe it just compiles the information and decides that hugs are helpful to me when I'm down, so I'll offer a hug to her.

You can picture this replicated in her too. She's going through some intense emotional stress, which is affecting the identity. So it tells the perceptive layer that it's in emotional pain, and things suck. That gets filtered through behavior as crying and venting to a friend, which are the interactive results.

As a person who has spent a decent amount of time trying to puzzle through programming, this is sort of a hybrid of encapsulation and abstraction. In one sense, the Eric instance has a core identity, which is surrounded by the perceptive layer, and then behavioral layer around that. The outer edge is the interactive portion, which is the massive pool we're all swimming in. So some other person instance might bump up against me, trading interactions, which then get passed through these filter layers.

Other times, I may just sit inside my own self-perception layer, trying to understand the identity, and try to figure out where the behavior comes from. The abstraction layers here[3][4], are not static. They are not just functions that take one input and output something else, but they have their own context and shaping that has happened in them. Some of those subconscious things will come out in these, like maybe a practiced response to a phrase will trigger in the behavioral layer before anything else is consulted. Maybe the identity and the perception will spend hours reassessing past mistakes in hopes to glean a new outcome, while the behavior (and the body) sit idly by waiting for something to do [5].

So all that said, I'm sure it needs work and some refining, but I find it a useful way to view my interactions with people, especially because I exist in some privileged context where I view my whole cross-section of interactions, but I only have the observable interactive layer for others. So if they're just an abstraction of their interactions, one cool move makes everyone thing that person is calm and collected, while inside they may be secretly falling to pieces under the stress of all their questions and reactions, but are controlled in what they let out to the interactive layer.

It also makes sense why we're our biggest critics. We have this expanded view of what we are both capable of and where we fail. I know I'm prone to giving grace to others because I don't know what's affecting them. But for some reason, to myself, I give no grace even though I have a very deep knowledge of all the things I'm wrestling with.

1: Google Books copy of Liver by Charles Harper Webb
2: This seems like a decent summary of Freud's model:
4: Another post of mine on the topic of object oriented humans and some abstraction.
5:  There's an Onion News sketch about this, which I think sums up the anxiety loop fairly well, and I am prone to getting caught in it. You can watch it here:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Corruption and relationships

I'm using the term corruption as where data gets mangled, and it becomes unusable for its initial purpose. A corrupted file can be salvaged, but without a fix it will not function properly. In lots of cases, the corruption will cause other things to break because they expect it to be functional. So then you get a cascading failure, where one bad input breaks a whole system.

I picture our broken world state like this. Our lives are corrupted, and we need some repair function to be run to be restored. Maybe we can limp along, maybe it's so minor that you can get most of it without and issue, or maybe it's so bad that it breaks everything and everyone around you.

Regardless the degree, if there is a master copy, then you can be restored.

This to me is a good analogy of what sin looks like. It's the perversion of good, as C. S. Lewis put it. It's the corruption of valid data. Instead of interpreting and acting as we were once designed, were now damage, in need of repair, and may cause damage to others.

Recently I've been talking with lots of people about relationship issues. And one of the things I've really noticed lately is how much they are exacerbated by the damage we have. You're attempting to merge together two injured people to make a functional one. But if you ignore the corruption, all of the output will be negatively affected.

Relationships open up and expose more of us to others. It's an incredibly powerful function, and therefore dangerous to us. A decent analogy would be running as root, or some sort of privileged user, on a machine. It means you can accomplish great things on the system, upgrade and fix it, or you can also destroy it and take actions that would normally have some safeguards against it.

In our relationships, were opening up ourselves to this other party to either bolster us, or tear us down. And we hope we choose wisely, but sometimes it's hard to tell until its too late. And if we remain too closed off, we never give them the opportunity to show how well we could work together.

So when I hear relationships where one of the parties refuses to open, or engage in deeper conversation, or assess the state of their own heart, it pains me. And when some, in their corrupted pain, hurt others as a defensive technique, that's even worse. That's using this power we ought to respect and cherish and abusing it. A hammer and chisel can be used for carving works of art, or for smashing a china shop.

There's a Depeche Mode song I think that goes well with this, called "Precious":

"Precious and fragile things
Need special handling
My God what have we done to you
We always tried to share
The tenderest of care
Now look what we have put you through

Things get damaged
Things get broken
I thought we'd manage
But words left unspoken
Left us so brittle
There was so little left to give"

It's worth asking yourself the cost and whether you're willing to pay it before diving into a relationship. If you're looking for someone to put on a shelf, for someone who fits into your schedule and fits your needs, and not another human being who is growing and changing as dramatically as you are every hour, then you're probably not ready for this challenge.

And let's be honest, most of us aren't really ready to pay this price. But if we're totally unaware of the complexities necessary, then the complex needs with catch us off guard and we'll end up hurting ourselves and others.

There was dream I had a while back that really summarized well:

The Dream

The bits I recall are a man and woman I am friends with invited me over for something, like a game and I was sitting at their table painting stuff for it. Then they started fighting over some trivial issue. But it snowballed and they just got more upset with each other until the man took his car and left and woman told me to be like the man and leave. (It was sort of an implied "like all men" indicating the common absent husband/father trend.)

I go home, but it bothers me so I send them a short text to how they make amends soon and figure out how to reconcile as best I know how to, because I want them to work it out. I know they both care so they just need to talk it out.

Then I get thrust into my own relationship turmoil. There's some woman I love and I am pursuing. The situation reminded me of Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time, and seems like I have a Finn-esque background with her. But she withdraws and runs away and tells me not to follow because it hurts.

But I'm a hero! So I pursue because I don't want to see her in pain. And I fight through all sorts of weird rooms and mental things that want me to quit, all the while having her voice in my head narrating, explaining why the worlds around me are part of her defenses and she urges me again to leave because it's just too hard. I don't, I fight through, and eventually the fighting stops. She even says in my head "I realized I want you to see this." I open a new room, and there are a few people at a folding table, it's a gaming type room, and to one side is a small monitor. They tell me she's letting me watch what has happened and is happening, and that I should be prepared for a rough ride if I choose to sit. I purposefully stride across the room sit down at the desk. (And then I woke up)

Interpreting the dream

Now comes the interpretation parts, and why this dream stood out to me. The first relationship is a problematic one. It's a minor issue that is really about a much bigger set of problems but they are only addressing the surface and not delving deeper as really both of them actually want to but don't seem to know how to.

The second part is where opening up after initial conflict shows deeper pain, and instead of asking them to understand, they run, afraid of both what others will think and how hard it will be to look at it themselves. The pain of opening themselves up is overwhelming and makes her want to run, to return to comfort.

The third part is when you trust someone enough to know they want what's best for you, they care, they love you. So you open the painful parts to them, and they willingly look to see what's happening, to find 'you'. That's when my dream self stepped into the room to watch. To say with actions "I am here for you regardless the cost."
Waking up during the third part to me was a note that this will not be something that is completed in a day, or even have an obvious resolution. It is the struggle of a relationship for the rest of it's lifetime. It requires a fight and a struggle and perseverance.

And now to apply this to myself. It's time to go beyond the surface, delve into the deeper parts, and show them it isn't their past or their pain that defines them but who they are as a whole being. And God shows us we have an intrinsic value that He put in us, so why wouldn't we also want to find out that value? To restore ourselves from the corrupted state?

It also means that the parts that hurt me are not completely without merit, but they aren't the entirety of me. What I think might stop others from caring about me are just details, and if someone does care they will also pursue. It's a two way street, but each of us with go through phases of wanting others to see and understand, and withdrawing as we ourselves are uncertain what that looks like. Like the section where I pursue her through pain, she'll need to do the same for me. There will be times when I'm scared, I'm vulnerable, and I just want to hide it all. She'd have to pursue, to show she will fight alongside me to help me, to be willing to sit at that same table and see the past and present pain, and accept the cost.

More than just romance

It's also worth noting in this that applies to more than just dating, marriage, etc. Our relationships with other people can hurt or can help. we have friends we trust, and when they break that trust it can hurt in ways just as painful. I used dating/marriage type relationships here because it's usually where we are most vulnerable, but its really applicable to them all. Even at work, putting too much power into a boss' hands let's them destroy your being just as much as any corrupted relationship would.

I hesitated writing this because at first read it sounds terrifying, but I find it sounds far more exciting to be open, known, and work on restoring the corruption together. That's important to bear in mind here.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Instantiation: Constructors and Comparison

I realized I have posted very little on here, mostly due to other life stress, and every time I sit down to commit something I get halfway through it and then save it as a draft. Well, I figured with how many times I've rehashed this idea across various drafts, I should just commit an initial version of it and move forward. Perfection is the enemy of progress in my life.

There's the common saying of "you're one in a million" indicating someone's uniqueness, and recently the caveat to that has been "that means there are 7000 people just like you in the world." Though I haven't literally gone around and compared every person to every other person, I feel confident I can assert that it is nonsense. Even people who would be similar, coming from same backgrounds, worldviews, times, and economic status are nothing alike. We as people are more than just the collection of statistics.

We are not the same, but we can be similar, and have some portions of us that can be compared. Like objects in code, a direct comparison is not really possible unless you specify the values to compare, and in which case you're not asserting that Object A is equal to Object B, you are comparing attributes of Objects A and B to see if they are equivalent.

This is sort of a carry-on from the idea I put in my explanation of this blog name, that we're object-oriented. I am an instantiation of the human model, an object named Eric. And this instance has lots of components. It has skin, and eyes, and ears, and a brain, and all of those fundamental pieces that make us part of the Animalia's "Homo sapiens sapiens" subspecies. (Yeah, no joke, according to Wikipedia H. S. Sapiens is modern man's subspecies. I wonder what post-human will be?)

Along with the collection of the physical traits, I also have a fill range of spiritual, intangible, mental traits. To our current knowledge, there's nothing in our DNA that specifies the brain, the intellectual prowess, the relative skill with langauges or numbers or three-dimensional models. It's something in how the system grows, but it is something that makes me me. And it's difficult to codify in words, but I find it's easier to explain in programming concepts.

So I am an instance of human, and I have all the traits that compose me. I have a wealth of habits, past state, and desires that are all loaded into my being. And this object moves along, interacts with others, it can share and help and nurture others, or it could be used to harm and conflict with the structure of nearby objects. I attempt to do the former, using the traits and skills I have for the benefit of the system, like the cells that compose me I try to work within and improve the system of the work around me.

And most objects carry some inheritance model for where they came from. Humans are a little more complicated. We know, or long to know, the parents, the man and woman (or whatever else as science progresses) who combine their 23 chromosomes into the randomization pot to produce us. They are our physical constructors. But we're also given enough consciousness to wonder about us as a species, about the universe, to ask the big questions of why were are here and what we are. 

God is the constructor. He instantiated us all, everyone and everything in the universe we inhabit. And not only did He put us into motion, but He gave us our composition. Our components are unique, a specific index of attributes. Even if there were another person with all our same elements, same cells, same skin patterns and hair style and clothing, they are not us. There is more to life than the atoms. Even the atoms are subject to the Constructor.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

[Time Relevant] Selection Bias and SCOTUS rulings

To be honest, I'm not particularly fond of writing anything relevant to current social issues, and I feel the need to add some additional caveats to this post.

 Politics has long been a frustrating source to me because my experience has mostly been negative. And usually I wouldn't post something like this, but though this is not specifically programming oriented, I think this still falls within my technology parallels method.

I as a person exist as an object that has many labels ascribed to it: Christian, tech worker, occasional blogger, and citizen of the USA to name a few. Though we usually choose to have a primary identifier, all of them are accurate. So with this recent ruling to expand the legal definition of marriage to include two persons of the same sex, I find that the Internet has exploded in vitriolic cries of "you either agree with me or you're wrong!" These are not helpful, nor are they isolated to one particular side of the controversy.

I read through some of the ruling, and I particularly liked this line from the Opinion of the Court:
"The petitioners in these cases seek to find that
liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having
their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and
conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite
sex." [NPR with SCOTUS embedded]
Now again, I am not particularly well versed in legalese, so I am likely to use terms in ways that aren't correct. But I'll continue in the hopes that the spirit of what I am trying to convey is shared, and as always with difficult subjects, God is made known through what I write.

That's a critically important thing to understand with this. Let me repeat it: I am human. I sin. I pursue my own selfish ends more than I would prefer. My intention and desire is to point to God and share that good news, but I could fail. What I hope and pray is that regardless of my success, you (the reader) see God through this and learn to go to Him for clarification, not another flawed person like me. [It is reminiscent of Philippians 1:15-26.]

So with all of these conditions in mind, I find I am not troubled by the decision of the court to deem that same-sex marriage is legal. From a legal stand point, it is giving the same financial and medical benefits to couples. That is exactly what I think the government should be doing. It should be ensuring that people are receiving equal treatment. I personally may disagree with the practice because of many reasons, but the religious stance on the topic should not influence law. This is why separation is in place.

Now, what I might want is for the laws to mirror what is best for people, but let's look at the history of the law that God gave us. The law was imposed after we had already fallen, to try and help us understand that no matter what the set of restrictions, we will never be blameless under the law. We've sinned, we might be sinning right now, and we will most likely sin in the future. Jesus' death by taking on sin was necessary because we suck at following laws. These laws were good, they set up fundamentals for how we should live, how we should help each other, and how we should avoid dangerous scenarios. (At the heart, the goal was always to pursue God, but again, that's a bigger topic.) But under a limited one, we got caught up in the details, looking for edge cases to why "I was in the right and they were in the wrong," much like the moral law that C. S. Lewis spoke of in Mere Christianity. So the Pharisees expanded the law, gave stipulations, put boundaries and restrictions and rulings on it, not for some intentionally nefarious purpose, but like what I expect most people would do is to help others. But in that, you've enabled exploitation of a system. The more complex, the more room to slip through.

So let's look at this current legal state. What has changed in our spiritual battle with this ruling? Nothing. What is and isn't permissible by the culture has changed, and will always change, but the heart of whether we are pursuing God has not moved at all. We are still failing God's law, and we are still in need of Jesus' sacrifice, God's mercy and grace, and the Holy Spirit's guidance in the present. What the laws of the land do, which are lower in my priority hierarchy, is tell me how I need to act as a citizen of the nation I'm in to remain compliant.

Oddly enough, two sections I find very helpful on this topic of conflict between our spiritual and social obligations are from the same chapter. 1 Peter 2. The first half discusses being set apart and different, so we're not doing the same as others, but "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." [1 Peter 2:12] Which is followed by "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people." [1 Peter 2:13-15]

I bring these up because I think there is entirely too much focus on the arbitrary line of "the laws we had before made us a 'Christian' nation and these new ones don't." When really, none of this is. There are lots of things that are legal that are immoral. Pornography is legal and it's oftentimes more sexually deviant than just two people of the same sex. But why is that being legal not destroying the state of our Christian nation? Probably because we allow people to make decisions, but we ought to be helping influence them to see why just because you can doesn't mean you should.

But by making it illegal, by not giving it the same footing, we set it apart, making it somehow special, and being human, we crave the forbidden fruit. I mean, think about it, the common phrasing for wanting something you're told you can't have is taken from Genesis as the tangible fall of humans! It's so ingrained in our sin nature that we refer to these things we are compelled to try as the source of our mortality, and it's usually an endearing term!

So for this ruling, I don't see anything as different, and as a citizen, I respect it as the legal state. As a Christian, I disagree with it, I think it's harmful to the participants, but I don't think it should be illegal. Like with alcohol, prohibition kept honest people honest, but those who would disobey the law only went further out from the law, causing more harm, breaking more laws, giving rise to other issues, all for us to realize that the battle is not won with a legal ruling in a court, but by God softening our hearts, and us being lights in the darkness, helping, feeding, lifting, and loving our neighbors, regardless how far they've strayed. We also strayed, so we know how difficult it is to come back, and we know how great it feels to finally be home in God.


I'll separate this visually because I don't want it to detract from above. There are a few other bits at work in this I think are worth noting. The best way I can describe the next one is that is it some sort of selection bias. My social feeds have been mostly very aggressive statements about "with us or against us" responses to this news. I feel this is some strange culmination of selection bias, survivorship bias, and "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" rolled together. I have seen a handful of well-phrased calm writings on the subject, and a few inclusive statements to bridge gaps. But the majority of the reshared articles, the lengthy posts, and the curt hashtags are designed to divide. If "#LoveWins" then who lost? If this is what ruins the nation than was it perfect beforehand?

The rehashing of the same divisive messages is not doing anything to build the case for Christ. If love wins, then maybe we should be using this as an opportunity to share when Love really did win, and Jesus was raised from the dead by God to show that mortality and our sin nature were no longer the masters of our lives. Love set us free, not just to be with a person, but to have eternal life. Let's emphasize that kind of love, and instead of drawing lines, look for commonality, build on what we're all seeking. We want someone who will care for us forever, and marriage is our attempt at getting that here and now tangible representation of that. So it's not surprising we'd adapt it to how we think we ought to do it.

The number of "unfriendings" on Facebook over those who agree and disagree are another good example of the survivorship bias. Who will you read if you only keep those around who repeat your own thoughts? What will challenge your positions if you hide within the walls of comfort? The "bumper sticker politics" that Facebook now provides by resharing tag lines and cleverly-captioned pictures is only reinforcing the bias.


And perhaps most frustratingly to me, there is little space for dialogue and discussion when people assume a dissenting point of view is an argument. If I disagree, it does not mean I am fighting you. I am expressing my worldview, and explaining how it is. As entities surviving in the same space, throwing up an arbitrary wall against people who disagree is counterproductive for the secular, and sinful for the faithful. If we're called to be light in the dark world, and we withdraw because someone didn't do what God wanted, we'd never have any conversations. In fact, we'd likely need to find some way to kill ourselves or enter into an induced coma, because I know I'm disobedient all the time. Romans 7, where Paul expresses his frustration at this difficulty of the law showing him how sinful he is, and sin continuing to flare up in him and counteract his desire to emulate God.

Paul battled with the same thing I do, how does remaining in this broken state help others? Because it is not our power that saves us and others, but the Holy Spirit doing His work in us that redeems our actions, guides our hands for good, and can breathe life back into this heart of stone.

So now, if power and strength come from God, and the gospel is to share the Glory of God to other broken people, the only way we can convey it is in our broken state. He is not waiting for us to be perfect, because that's not going to happen this side of Heaven. Therefore, for our human parts, it looks like we need to compromise, be willing to yield our presumed superior position, and be the servant Jesus acted like, who washed the feet of the people who would abandon them, who spent years teaching them even when not all of them would believe. I have to preach this same encouragement to myself every day, to remind me that it is never "us and them" but "we." And this we should only have a distinction between those who are pursuing God and those who aren't yet pursuing him. Remember, every tongue will confess at the end, so what we ought to do now is be the hands and feet here now, wherever we are, doing whatever we can.


Here's a song to help: "Oceans" by Hillsong UNITED
"Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior"

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Inheritance [and Regeneration]

The concept of original sin posits that we are born in a bad state. Our instantiation came with sin attached. It's inherited. And the only way to remove it, to decouple it, is to rebuild the object. This is the second life. It's like we are typecast from the object deteriorating from sin into a now non-bound version that more reflects God. Where, through this new Holy Spirit addition, we are not shackled to the function calls of sin.

Like typecasting, it is a whole new set of properties and functions. An integer isn't a string, but they can both be printed. I see our sin like that. First we are shackled to it, unable to choose differently. But the new one is openness. We can choose sin, or choose redemption, and live in a different way. Even if some of our actions look the same. We still eat food like we did before, we still need sleep and crave friendship, but were not doing it as a way to justify our lives and control the universe, instead we can do it as part of God's creation and living out His purpose.

Typecasting from worldly to redeemed in Christ is immediate, but painful. Imagine all those errors when the familiar calls are made to old functions which have disappeared. Errors, breaking, failure. But God is the error handling for this, we are an emulated process now executing inside His structure, and bad calls can be handled. He is our nanny process, our host system, our hypervisor.


I think there is an interesting caveat to the change in function calls though, because we can still make the old ones. Just because we aren't obliged to sin, it doesn't mean we can't choose it. Freedom in this model means that we could continue in the way we had been acting, with God insulating us from the damages caused when we try to execute a bad command. Or maybe he would let it execute as we expect, let us experience whatever the pain is that is coming, but ultimately if we're "in Him" then it won't permanently destroy us. 

It's a strange concept to try and put to programming since it's more our choice than normal programmatic flow. But I look at it a bit like badly bodged together wrapper scripts, which lets bad code limp on for years, with more and more layers of cruft added, or taking the better steps to rewrite the system and make it work properly.

Let's build on that idea. A very popular concept within the world of agile programming is this whole "launch and iterate" model. What would that look like for the human? How do we iterate? Well, if we're convinced that the old way of functioning is sufficient and everything around us must bend to our desires, then we are just adding more and more layers of abstraction. And with more layers between us and others, we're making more complicated scenarios which are bound to breakdown at some point. There will always be an edge case that will break these makeshift interfaces.

So let's say we rework the system. This means, as people, we change ourselves. It's hard. It admits we're imperfect, and often it hurts. You go through the same debugging steps, finding the things that used to work that don't anymore and you have to repair them. And sometimes you find the way you did it previously was just horribly dysfunctional, and can be significantly improved. So you refactor, and you improve yourself.

And you'll probably find others still need those cumbersome layers of abstraction to interact with you, or sometimes they just don't know how to handle the new data coming at them. But one thing you definitely learn from this model is that you can't change the other object! Imagine how much that changes our normal ways of social difficulty. As people, myself included, tend to see all problems as being the fault of those around me. Someone else caused this issue, if only they interacted MY way this never would have happened. Those thoughts are from us looking at the world as something that needs to be modified to fit our limited commands. Not that we ought to change to better interact with the world.


So merging these back together, I picture inheritance as the immediate change over from being stuck with one functional model, and moving to a much more versatile one. The one that inherits from a much better, more capable model, which is Jesus. And then the process of sanctification is where we launch an iterate on our own being. We wrestle with how we act, what we want, what we do, why we do it, and find that we're slowly reshaping our actions from "why can't everyone conform to me?" and into "how can I help others and interact better?"

And as a bonus, under the second model, we're no longer constantly angered by others not matching what we want, because we're sharing in the burden of communication.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Behind the name "Object-Oriented Faith"

I imagine there are two common reactions to the title of this blog. Those who might have some background in religions might think it is a reference to worshiped objects like idols, images, statues, things found in nature or made by people as gods and believed to contain power or act as power conduits. This is not what object-oriented means.

It is programming terminology.

Which brings me to the second reaction. Those who know programming, are probably wondering what faith has to do with programming. Programming is a strict logic system, and not something you would associate faith with. Faith tends to imply a belief that is unverified, and programming, like mathematics, is derived from repeated testing yielding the same results. It is no stretch of the imagination to say most would find these two incongruous.

So then, what is this amalgam of two seemingly unrelated terms? Let's borrow a quote from Wikipedia.

To quote Wikipedia:
"Object-oriented programming (OOP) is a programming paradigm based on the concept of "objects", which are data structures that contain data, in the form of fields, often known as attributes; and code, in the form of procedures, often known as methods A distinguishing feature of objects is that an object's procedures can access and often modify the data fields of the object with which they are associated (objects have a notion of "this"). In object-oriented programming, computer programs are designed by making them out of objects that interact with one another."

I am someone who relates well to code, and uses code to approximate life concepts, I felt that an object-oriented approach to faith would be a good idea. This isn't to say all concepts are easily coterminous with programming, but there's certainly some ideas that I have benefited from wrapping in that mindset.

To borrow phrasing from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christanity:
"What they do when they want to explain the atom, or something of that sort, is to give you a description out of which you can make a mental picture. But then they warn you that this picture is not what the scientists actually believe. What the scientists believe is a mathematical formula. The pictures are there only to help you to understand the formula. They are not really true in the way the formula is; they do not give you the real thing but only something more or less like it. They are only meant to help, and if they do not help you can drop them. The thing itself cannot be pictured, it can only be expressed mathematically. We are in the same boat here."

I really enjoy the object concepts. Objective interaction helps me picture God to me, me to others, and me to my body. There are countless ways that we interact, and what those interactions do, and I picture them like programs. When used properly, the system runs beautifully.

But more often, we get mismatches, we try the wrong call, and we break. We are broken people, and just as a program crashes, we fall apart in exciting and unexpected ways. Debugging the system, if you will, is the introspective guise I'm taking for this blog, as we delve into Christianity as a set of concepts and how they relate to each other.