Braden Anderson, my friend

December 4, 2016

Good memories of my friend Braden Anderson:

– Meeting him and Valerie ten years ago in a little office in Provo. He was my first new friend after moving to Utah.

– For ten years after: many, many discussions.

– Going to OpenWest with him.

– Him joining Instructure with me.

– Double dates. Restaurants. Card games. Civ 5. Speed typing!

– Lunch at the Porcupine. Just me and him. Catching up. Talking life.

– His relentless courtesy. He could have trained others to work in a queen’s palace.

– His patient listening. Always listening. Always ready to hear. Available. There. Willing to talk. Ready.

– Him politely enduring my endless litany of programming questions.

– I advertised a programming party to some friends. He is the only one that showed up.

– THESE are my sweetest memories with him: Running for 3-4 miles a few times a week and talking the ENTIRE time with him.

– But it wouldn’t end. Deep discussions ensued across the shower stall walls of Dimple Dell Recreation Center.

Braden, I thought our conversations would continue for decades to come. I loved YOU, economics-loving atheist friend. I enjoyed having those conversations WITH YOU. YOU were an amazing human being. I am crushed and devastated. I HATE death and I want you back. And you were WRONG about life not having any intrinsic value, because YOU had it.

Why you should reconsider that MLM

mlm

At the risk of losing some friends, but to the benefit of those vulnerable, let me describe what makes for a good MLM (multi-level marketing business). It:

  • Dignifies hard work. It does not mock daily hard work.
  • Avoids sensational health claims.
  • Doesn’t tap into a dieting fad.
  • Doesn’t exploit the placebo effect.
  • Doesn’t depend on conspiracy theories about the competition.
  • Doesn’t encourage you to sever relationships with dissenters. I have seen this in the body of Christ and it is tragic.
  • Won’t burn bridges with friends and family.
  • Doesn’t sell the idea of being rich.
  • Doesn’t have drama with the FTC.
  • Don’t distract people, especially those in a season of life most common for starting a career, from responsibly developing a marketable skill set or getting a vocational/college education.
  • Doesn’t financially depend on long nested chain of signups / resellers. There is nothing wrong with the manufacturer/distributor/retailer model. But MLMs blows his up and exploit people at the bottom of bigger pyramids.
  • Doesn’t require buying products with a short shelf-life.
  • Doesn’t prey on the struggling or the spiritually empty.
  • Doesn’t over-spiritualize involvement.
  • Doesn’t soil one’s social circles.
  • Isn’t something you would be ashamed to have your children do.
  • Doesn’t depend on people feeling sorry for you.
  • Competes well with getting a “normal” job. A paycheck from an MLM isn’t “success” if you could have earned more responsibly and sustainably elsewhere.
  • Has a good success rate of its participants.
  • Capitalizes on reduced shipping costs.
  • Has synergy with existing needs and social activity. People already need and buy it, and seller becomes distributor of said product. Perhaps it is a fun catalyst for social events that people benefit from regardless of purchase.

I have a seen a few good examples of direct sales (cleaning products, bags, scrapbooking, craft supplies, candles). But the vast majority of MLMs do not pass muster. Most people think their MLM is the exception. Maybe yours is, but the bar is high.

I am not trying to judge you. Good, intelligent people have soiled relationships and wasted thousands of dollars on MLMs. I am trying to help you. Your best friends may feel reluctant to critique your MLM. They love you. They don’t want to lose their relationship with you.

If you need to provide for a family, then responsibly develop a career, cultivate a skill set, get an education, look for an internship, or start an entry-level position. If your family needs supplemental income, then look for part-time or contract work. You probably should not waste your time on MLMs. If you want residual income, then develop a residual skill set lucrative to the marketplace of dignified, daily work. Your family and friends and children and church and local community are cheering you on!

Five reasons to avoid “evil suspicions”, false reports, and reviling

slander

1. Even if a report is true, is it not merciful to contain its impact, to regard the reputation of another as precious? “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1) “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)

2. Love comes with an optimism: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) Optimism about another can be undeserved — even eventually disproven — but gracious. Better to be wronged than to wrong. Better to be lied to than to lie about another. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” (1 Peter 2:19) “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7)

3. Love isn’t safe: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” (C.S. Lewis)

4. The only realistic human alternative to giving each other the general benefit of doubt is hypervigilant cynicism. What an awful climate for love! To walk on eggshells, to constantly judge, to be on guard, and assume others are judging you. To constantly think of yourself, and be convinced that no one loves you. To be hypercritical and assuming — this makes for a resistant, quarrelsome, reviling, rude misery.

5. But no! True Christians are a forgiven people. Here is the most beautiful part. He was so good to us, so gracious. How can we not love others with an undeserved submission, obedience, gentleness, and perfect courtesy? Watch how Paul brings it all together:

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:1-5)

Respecting others by assuming their inconsistency

It seems like we should respect people by assuming they don’t actionably believe many alarming things they say they do. To respect them is to charitably assume that their common humanity is more fundamental than some of what they say they believe.

Consider heated arguments. Someone you love says something alarming and dramatic. But you dismiss it as “breath in the wind”, something that he didn’t think over, that hasn’t percolated through his life and worldview. You love and respect him by charitably assuming he is incoherent. He is not fully consistent with the implications of his words.

This follows a positive ethic of, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, and a ‘negative’ ethic of, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” You want people to give you the benefit of doubt. To be gracious.

This gives us breathing room to talk out loud, to say tentative things and have them bandied about and put under scrutiny. To engage what someone says seriously, but with patient courtesy. This is what keeps us from being reactionary or hyper-vigilant or hyper-sensitive to offense, or overly worried about what someone will actually do.

It doesn’t make words any less irresponsible (especially reckless accusation or slander), or worldview any less a driving force for life, but it is a reason to slow down and be at peace. It also makes friendships and conversations with people very different than you (even ideological and religious enemies) much more fruitful and satisfying.

“To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2)

When Christian Intellectuals Eat Grass

Nebuchadnezzar

Like reducing Nebuchadnezzar to a beastly state of eating grass on hands and feet, God humbles Christian intellectuals to a desperately low state of singing lullabies and whimpering, “I don’t know, I don’t know. I will trust you.”

Oh Lord my heart is not lifted up
My eyes are not raised to high for Thee
I do not think on things to great or marvelous
Or matters too difficult for me

But I have calmed and quieted my soul
Like a weaned child is my soul within me
I have calmed and quieted my soul
Like a weaned child with its mother is my soul within me

O Israel trust in the Lord
From this time forth and forevermore
O Israel trust in the Lord
From this time forth and forevermore

Psalm 131 / Waterdeep lyrics

Christians, Don’t Waste Your Life on Conspiracy Theories

By “conspiracy theory” I mean: an explanation that typically requires orchestration between multiple malicious parties and many involved parties keeping it a secret.

They are unlikely because of the high probability of a whistleblower and the low probability that evil takes the form of competent orchestration. They are tempting because they are thrilling, fascinating, fear-inducing, or useful for maligning those we oppose.

Reasons you should avoid conspiracy theories:

  • Paul warns against “evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4)
  • Proverbs associates foolish fear with laziness: “A sluggard says, ‘There’s a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!’” (Proverbs 26:13)
  • Paul associates idleness with gossip and foolish speech: “Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” (1 Timothy 5:13) Contrast: “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)
  • As Mr. Rogers says, “You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.” Conspiracy theories represent a poor use of time of gardening our minds. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)
  • God warns against joining in on a worldly conspiracy mindset: “For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.” (Isaiah 8:11-12)
  • Conspiracy theories don’t seem to be communicated in the spirit of edifying, wholesome talk: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
  • Conspiracy theories distract us from real spiritual warfare: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
  • People who believe in some conspiracy theories tend to believe in other conspiracy theories. In other words, it’s a mindset that is given over to conspiracy theories.
  • The mindset of conspiracy theories is a tax on the poor: a distracting, enslaving attitude that makes one ironically more of a tool of unjust power structures. Consider the lottery as an analogy: It titillates our imagination over what is possible, not over what is actionably probable. People end up wasting time, money, emotions, and imagination on it.
  • Our flesh, our base urges, our hunger for outrage or intrigue is tickled by conspiracy theories. “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:14)
  • Conspiracy theories violate our Christian duty to give people the general benefit of the doubt. Paul says to “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2)
  • Conspiracy theories violate the high standard of credibility, fact-checking, truth-telling, and knowledge required by commands to show courtesy and avoid gossiping, slandering, reviling, and spreading false reports. “You shall not spread a false report” (Exodus 23:1) “They are gossips, slanderers…” (Romans 1:29) “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” (James 3:5) “Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8)
  • Conspiracy theories often abuse plausible deniability: “I’m not saying this thing is true, I’m just saying it might be true!” Being suggestive avoids accountability one should own when spreading false reports.
  • Conspiracy theories often avoid the plain speech that Jesus commands in Matthew 5:37. They leave us asking, “OK, so what are you really saying?”
  • Conspiracy theories tend to be associated with bad influences, exploitative false teachers, junk science, and MLMs that make false promises of health.
  • Good, vetted, reliable, discerning, experienced, faithful teachers of the word are not prone to conspiracy theories.
  • Conspiracy theories are most commonly spread through sources and venues (the diarrhea of talk radio and social media) not known having a good reputation for reliability and truth.
  • Conspiracy theories don’t have a good track record of being proven true.
  • Conspiracy theories often evoke gnostic arrogance, a sense of special, privileged knowledge that an inner group has.
  • Conspiracy theories often involve a fascination with the secret sins of others.
  • Spreading or needlessly entertaining conspiracy theories causes Christians to lose credibility — to lose saltiness with people who otherwise have their curious ear turned toward people of the church, which is supposed to be “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
  • Conspiracy theories pervert our ability to see human depravity clearly. When we demonize people we oversimplify or underestimate the subtlety of what makes people evil. Let me repeat: Demonizing people makes you less knowledgeable about the true nature of their depravity.
  • Conspiracy theories tend to under-appreciate God’s common grace to humanity. Both of these are probably true: Your neighbor is condemned by God and needs forgiveness. Your neighbor loves his kids and takes pride in his work.
  • Conspiracy theories tend to misunderstand subcultures of professions (scientists, doctors, teachers, programmers, civil servants, police officers, etc.)
  • Conspiracy theories consider the resurrection of Jesus Christ less plausible, entertaining the possibility that the apostles colluded and collectively lied about seeing the risen Christ.

Please, for the love of God, don’t waste your life on conspiracy theories.

Recognize your carnal flesh: it loves to demonize your neighbor, it loves “evil suspicions”,  it is tickled by what is “possible”, it loves to be intellectually lazy, it delights in suggestive slander, it loves to be entertained by gossip, and it avoids accountability. No!

Invest yourself in dignifying work. Lead with risk-management that prioritizes probabilities over mere possibilities. Get “distracted” by far more worthy endeavors and causes and trains of thought.

Your time on earth is short. Your window of influence is temporary. Flex the muscle of your imagination on something glorious.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)


Addendum:

Four more arguments against conspiracy theories: (1) pro-life, (2) conservative, (3) repentance, and (4) pace.

1. One pro-life virtue is valuing humans even when distant. They could be small, or foreign, or “other”, but they are still humans, royal kings and queens in the image of God. Conspiracy theories often depend on distance. It’s easier to assume the worst of people when they are so far away. You don’t have to see them every week or play hockey with them or work alongside them. You don’t get to know about their kids or their medical problems. It isn’t personal. Conspiracy theorists don’t bat an eye when they accuse a thousand American civil servants of orchestrating the intentional cold-blooded murder of thousands of innocent American civilians on 9/11.

2. One traditional conservative virtue is local responsibility. We want local institutions to be strong. We want to mind our business, and take care of our own, and clean our own house. The sins of others usually isn’t our business. But we feel entitled to know everything and to have an opinion on everything. We check the news constantly while our kids beg for a bedtime story. We listen to gossip without objection. We read the leaked private communication between a mother and her daughter. Conspiracy theories distort our sense of privacy and locale and personal responsibility.

3. Repentance calls for a sensitive conscience to past error, a conscientiousness over failure. But conspiracy theorists don’t feel the need to repent over spreading false theories.

If 5% of parachutes made in a factory failed we would shut it down. But when a conspiracy theorist has a 5% batting average he presses forward with a determination and resolve. It’s lottery-logic: being right once, or even the possibility of being right once, is enough reason to repeat.

4. A liar will always outpace a truth-teller. He has faster legs. We appreciate reporters who pause to correct long-forgotten mistakes, even minutiae. We feel frustrated with a judicial process that methodically inches forward, but then appreciate its final verdict. But we feel overwhelmed by the rate of false claims that come the mouth of a demagogue or conspiracy theorist. It takes 10 seconds to tell a lie, but ten minutes, hours, or days to refute the lie. Meanwhile this same person has told more lies. Truth-tellers have a tendency to slow down and inspect, reflect, and debrief past claims.