Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sipping learning

Many, many people I know speak very well. When I want to laugh, there is someone I talk to. If I need to hear a fresh perspective, be asked difficult questions, or need to hear a relentless and constructive truth, there are people I can look up who will on a spur-of-the-moment's notice, fill me in on their thoughts. But there are few people that can write well.
Some of the best editorials I have read from who I would consider "juggernauts" in the world of written opinion have not penned (or typed) their thoughts eloquently. They didn't ASTOUND me in the sense one might think -- they bore little semblance of MacArthur, Chesterton or the more even-keeled Lewis.
The writers I have come to affectionate and follow almost hungrily are the ones who have found writing to be a part of themselves. As I read I see them sincerely; an unsensual intimate sharing of themselves in the most honest, tempered earnest manner. Reading what they write is like...if on a mid-afternoon visit you've already shared how you've been, had a few laughs, then as you sat back on your lawnchair and listened with a half-consumed cup of coffee you heard them tell you what they think about a given issue. Not rushed, not too forceful but well thought-out and calmly delivered clear objective criticisms, alternate solutions and answers to problems.

Some of my favorite editorial or opinion pieces I've ever read have been ones that if the author themselves was speaking to me, I would not have cause or reason to interrupt or interject. Not that I have agreed with them all -- very much the opposite. I follow several journalists/editorialists that write for World magazine, Android phones, blogs, and several very liberal hosts for NPR, as well as Roger Ebert's personal blog (which has rarely features films, its his own left-wing opinions).
My tastes are all "across the board" when it comes to reading opinion pieces. I read them not to either "agree" or "to know what the other side is saying." To read from both sides of an argument for those reasons is a conceited cop-out. I read them because I admire the authors and I admire how they write.
I do not have to agree with them -- I'm safe with who I am and what I believe. I can learn from them. I can sit, coffee in-hand, and as my eyes dart back and forth across the page or screen, and listen.
Calmly, quietly they'll look at me and simply share their thoughts on life.

An agnostic man who lost the lower-half of his jaw to a surgery gone-awry and is now wheel-chair bound and can never speak to his wife again.
A public radio host who has been on the air for 30 years and tells the stories of normal every-day life human beings.
A mother of three who writes to warm her fingers for a book on what a relationship with Jesus would look like from the perspective of a real person with faults and failures and undying longings.
A second-cousin who writes each day about the joy of being a mother, and another mother of four who writes about her daily laughs and sighs of homeschooling four children under twelve.
My brother's thoughts about life and recent art work.
The editor-in-chief of a weekly Christian news publication.
A senior columnist and graduate of Westminster seminary, mother of four children and widowed in 1999.

These are just a few of the people that I'll do coffee with as often as they'll write.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

the strong-arm of stupidity

Turn the wrong burner on your stove-top to "8" and wait for a moment, then accidentally bump the mis-heated surface coil with your hand.
Without thinking, your hand will jump back seemingly of it's own accord. But be ye warned, that arrrrrr not how your piratey senses work. Nay, your body is a brilliant work of art that is concisely constructed to respond exactly that way to the offending painish sensations your sweet, tender little fingers might have unknowingly happened upon.

Sensory information is processed at the level of the spinal cord--that sensation of "dang my finger is burning" is taken care of and the problem eliminated before your brain has a chance to realize what is going on. 
How in the! you ask?
The answer? Monosynaptic reflex arc. There is no interneuron in the pathway leading to contraction of the muscle. Instead, the bipolar sensory neuron synapses directly on a motor neuron in the spinal cord. 

This may explain why some people live their entire lives without ever using their brains once.
Bad drivers, slow check-writers in line before us at the store, people who make the dumbest movies ever and call them "Riding Hood" or "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days", these people are operating utilizing only their monosynaptic reflex arcs and not ever filtering what they're doing through their brains.