A life lesson for '24
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. - Hebrews 12:1
January 1, 2024
Good morning, fellow humans.
Regular readers here know I am a car guy, and I suppose it is inevitable to draw life lessons out of the most diverse places. As we cruise in to 2024 then, let me share a thought. Maybe it will be the seed of an idea to some.
Colin Chapman is known as the genius engineer and founder of the Lotus car company. He had a somewhat unique philosophy for which he became famous: designing his cars to the absolute minimum weight possible. His most famous quote is undoubtedly, “Simplify, then add lightness.” Another one I am fond of is “Adding power makes you faster on the straights... subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.”
He may not have been the first to discover these adages, but he certainly exploited them. Lotus cars, if fragile, were amazingly light at a time when most competitors were just adding power. This idea first resonated with me circa 1981, my coming of age era; too young for a car, but old enough to make plans. Although my heart lusted after big V8’s and American muscle, my eyes kept getting distracted by cheap Triumphs, VW Beetles, and even the emerging econo hatchbacks of the era.
Then a girl in our neighborhood got a two-year-old Ford Fiesta when she turned 16; totally not fair to a kid still mowing lawns. But I was fortunate to drive it once when she was too drunk (ahem), and what a revelation that car was. The polar opposite of Mom’s Buick. It was the original boxy design from Ford of Germany, similar to a VW Rabbit. Having owned many Euro hatchbacks and small-ish cars over the years since, I still think about that bright orange Fiesta S. The only option it had was a pop-up sunroof; perfectly light, nimble, and Germanic feeling.
There must be an unwritten rule of the universe that decrees all cars should grow over time, until they are big, fat, bloat-mobiles. I view it rather like one’s expanding waistline as we age. Of course we expect cars to be bigger than they were 10 years ago, as we watch prices going up, music getting dumber, and politicians somehow becoming even more corrupt. It seems impossible, but then it happens. Like, what other ridiculous unwanted feature could they possibly add in the standard equipment list? But then you see accident-avoidance on the window sticker, and think “ah yes, of course.” The phenomenon is not limited to cars however.
Apart from the recent economic-related packaging squeeze, there has been a gradual upsizing of almost everything since the 1950’s. We can see the trend in houses, surely. Useless, oversized, contractor-grade homes that are vomited all over the landscape. Restaurant portions; check. Size and growth of children; check. Foods like U.S. bananas: huge and perfect with little actual flavor -- brought to you by the food conglomerates. Oversized tomatoes, corn, Monsanto this and that. Yet I would wager less nutrition in any of them than when you were young.
Cordless tools used to be 9.6V. Then 12V, 14.4V, 18V, and 24V. These things will rip your arm off, whereas 12V was enough for most jobs. What about televisions...are they even called that now? 19” seemed plenty big enough until we had 26”, 32”, and so on. Does a 75-inch screen really fulfill a useful purpose? Maybe it is needed when sitting fifteen feet across the McMansion living room, but that would be guessing on my part. We can do this all day, from Big Gulps to refrigerators. Everything is getting bigger except for toilet flushing capacity. Yet few modern houses would be as charming as this modest ‘50s Ranch.
Then there is the proliferation of things. One or two connected gadgets won’t do, because now we need ten. One house is not enough, many have two or three. Our parents had one or two cars, but my driveway had six at one point. Older homes had tiny closets by modern measure, and now we need entire rooms to hold our clothes. Sure we are wasteful, but I am the last one who will ever go environmental on you, Reader. This essay is NOT about lowering our carbon footprint.
Because what I am convinced needs to happen as we head into 2024 is getting back to our fighting weight. We need to Add Lightness.
Most of us spend our lives accumulating things until the weight of them threatens to crush us. 21st century life is an ever-expanding bubble, one that forces us to constantly strive to keep up. Whether it is consumerism, debt, media consumption, mindless scrolling of apps, online games; each year seems to have more and more layers in it.
Maintaining all that stuff comes at a cost, whether it is to your time, your wallet, your relationships, etc. A general sense of distractedness seems pervasive out there, along with an ever-increasing certainty that nothing we can do will have any effect on the world at large. We cannot keep abreast of sound judgment, or keep straight basic truths that affect us deeply such as health, or gender. Zombies staring at their phones will be one of the vignettes written about this decade when the annals are written. We know it is all MK-Ultra style programming, but most are too engaged with it to stop the IV drip.
Bloat, proliferation, and distractions are not just our own problems though, they are systemic throughout society. We could talk about the political scene, the voting system, the fake economy that has decoupled from all reality, but what is the point any longer? Ditto the vaguely justified military churn that seems to be more about renewal of contracts than warfighting. Forever war, forever climate, forever attacks against the individual; thus is the state of affairs that has arisen, which we instinctively know we must resist. Yet most of us are too encumbered to do much about it.
We are encumbered because it is difficult to imagine life without 401K’s, medical plans, and house payments. “But I gotta have my Starbucks,” would be a way to summarize the basic problem. To be a 21st century Westerner is to be saturated with the world and all it offers. Your health, wealth, and prosperity are interwoven with the world and all its corrupt systems, usually by necessity. We are then resigned to accept the status quo and claim our piece of it, without really questioning why.
Readers, I can only say this with confidence because I am describing myself not so long ago. From being in the top few percent of salary earners, to ‘fill-in your life crisis here.’ The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, as perhaps you can attest. And now seeing things from both vantage points, I do question why. Why the necessity of the current system? Why our fixation on accumulating things? Why devoting our time and attention onto the created things instead of the Creator? Yes, I am grateful for the life lesson, which is why I am passing it on to you.
And I stood arrow-straight
Unencumbered by the weight
Of all these hustlers and their schemes - Bob Seger
Going on Offense
We need to get to a point where our mind is unclouded, and our judgment is clear. A race car must shed every ounce of unnecessary weight, and with every part tuned to perfection if the team hopes for a win. A runner wears lightweight shoes, even tight-fitting clothes with less wind resistance. A soldier goes into battle fully prepared and with only the necessary armaments. If clear thinking is what you desire, Reader, and especially to rid yourself of all the unnecessary weight you are carrying around through life, there is a way forward. It will transform you, so be forewarned:
First - Fill your mind with the things of God... rather than the junk the world is trying to stuff in there. I am not talking about church on Sunday, I am talking about real honest-to-God daily study and devotional. Real prayer, not just at meal time. Real commitment, not just some money in an offering plate. Challenge yourself to do this Reader, instead of scrolling the news. Dare yourself to do it. Maybe God has already been working on your heart. Why wait? Psalm 1 tells us the man who meditates on the word of God will be like a tree planted by the water, that yields fruit every year and does not wither. 2023 was a victory for our family in this regard, despite economic struggles. We are stoked about ’24.
Second - Prepare for battle. Make it a top priority to streamline your life and relieve yourself of debt, whatever it takes. Shed those extra homes, cars, commitments, and distractions one by one. Re-invest the money gained into paying off loans and cards. Let no man have a claim on you, so that you can no longer be bent by the will of the banks, politicians, employers, and systems. Your options where to invest yourself will thus increase, rather than constantly chasing after everything on someone else’s agenda. This can apply to everyone, no matter what your spiritual beliefs.
In my experience it takes living through this process yourself to truly understand Jesus’ interaction with the Rich Young Ruler, in Matthew 19. The young man approaches Jesus to ask what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the Commandments, which the man happily responds that has already done. So he asks Jesus what else he needs. Jesus’ answer is to sell all he owns and give it to the poor, then to leave his old life behind and follow Him. He had given a similar directive to the first disciples, Simon and Andrew, who had to leave their nets behind to follow Jesus. In other words, they stopped being fishermen and became fishers of men.
The rich man’s face fell at this instruction, because he was very wealthy. He went away sad, knowing he was too attached to his possessions and responsibilities. Caring more about the world is a giant stumbling block, friends, which is why Christ compares it to a camel going through the eye of a needle. But he also followed up by saying with God all things are possible. So there is hope for the rich, even though it is much more difficult for them to commit themselves to the Lord with all those cares of the world hanging on their shoulders.
Losing it all has been a huge blessing to me, odd as that sounds. It has caused me to hone in on what is truly important, and to be able to truly commit. Not just me; but my wife, our teenager and several of her best friends who recently found salvation, along with several family members on the island next door. What are some of the changes in my life, you may ask, after being in the Philippines for six years?
No car payments, for starters. We have two vehicles that were bought with cash. No bank loans, therefore no interest payments. Abundant and healthy food options all grown locally, with much less worry about GMO and mystery additives. Temperate weather, so no concerns about heating fuel or the unreliable power grid to stay warm. Our own deep well, so no dependence on municipal water. Abundant sunshine, not only for the Vitamin D but for the future solar panels we will install. A much slower pace of life, more tuned-in to the simple basic necessities and pleasures. Time to read and study; to devote to the things of God, but also to write these essays. No 5G towers in our neck of the woods.
With some effort you could achieve most of this in the country where you live, Reader. There are already plenty of ideas out there on these topics, but it absolutely takes serious life changes to enact them. That is the overall takeaway here, and why I am writing to you today about Adding Lightness. We must change our thinking if we hope to see true improvement in our condition; the human condition. What if millions upon millions of clear-thinking people took back control of their lives from the Borg? What if they gave it all to God? Do you think that would impact our schools, our governments, and the world?
Mankind got to the place we are because we’ve been walking in the wrong direction. Time to change that direction. Incidentally, there is a spiritual concept which is the very definition of “change of thinking”, and “change of direction”... we call it Repentance.
They are saying 2024 is the year of doom, cue the spooky music. The year of the Dragon on the Chinese calendar. If ’21, ’22, and ’23 seem like birth pains leading up to something ominous, then at least for some of us it is not coming as a surprise. But in our family, we are embracing ’24 with hope and optimism. We want to see what the Lord will do next, and how to be a part of it. These precious children are learning their Bible stories for the first time ever. Even that distracted boy in the background may absorb some of it, you never know. For these and many other things we are thankful.
Add Lightness to your life, friends. Get back to your fighting weight... can we even remember what that felt like? Turn your mind to God, and shed your extra burdens. These are my Visayas Outpost exhortations to you as we step into the saddle for 2024. Run this race and you won’t regret it.
“Come to me all who labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” -- Jesus Christ
Peace be upon you in Christ, from the Philippines