Not the Barbra Streisand kind, the kind that plague us all our lives.

I’ve been reading a mystery novel by John Dickson Carr called The Dead Man’s Knock, which is set at a fictitious college near Washington, DC, in 1948.  It prompted me to wonder what has happened at my own Alma Mater, Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.  I wondered, do they still teach science there?  So I went looking; and, indeed, they do still teach science.  But not my branch of science, Geology; at least, not as a major.

That brought up memories of my disastrous college career at Capital, and my even more disastrous career at ELTS, the seminary across College Avenue from Cap.  I thought I would take a Google Maps (R) bird’s eye tour of Cap’s campus to see what is still there.  I found the campus, easily enough, but a lot of things have changed since I was a student there.  Lehman Hall, the dorm in which I lived my freshman year, is completely gone without a trace and nothing in its place but a lawn and a few trees.  Renner is still there, but now it’s the Nursing School, a change that was taking place while I was still at school there.  Schaaf is still there, greatly expanded; the Campus Center, built while I was a sophomore, is still there, but Cap’s website informs me that it has been extensively renovated.  Troutman, Mees, Saylor-Ackermann, all are still there, but Leonard Hall is gone.  They’re knocking down Loy Gym, the women’s athletic facility, to build something else.  So much of Capital’s history is becoming the rubble on which a new level is being built.

But what of Science Hall and Recitation Hall?  Yes, Cap did have buildings with those names.  Recitation was a towering two-story classroom building constructed in the 1800’s, with a steep stairway running to the second floor, and above that a huge attic and bell tower.  I watched Recitation being razed while I still lived in Columbus as a young adult; I no longer remember exactly what was happening in my life, but I wasn’t a student there at the time.  As the walls came down, the classrooms revealed hidden blackboards with things still written on them.  Memories of Science Hall came up because the novel I’m reading placed a Science Hall on the campus of fictitious Queen’s College at also fictitious Queensboro, Virginia.  This most likely triggered the train of thought that has brought me to this particular station.  The Science Hall at Capital has been expanded and is part of a building complex that includes a huge library that grew up on the spot where Recitation once stood.  But these things are from years ago.

I spent a lot of time in Science Hall.  I had classes there with Professor Ralph Bond and Dr. Wendelin Frantz.  I went in the evenings sometimes to visit a chemistry lab where a girl I was interested in was doing lab experiments for a class.  My sojourn in the Science Hall was not one I remember with pleasure.  I was a lonely, unhappy misfit.  After all, why would a pre-sem student want to take geology?  I barely passed my classes, and some I didn’t pass.  I think, particularly, that Professor Bond was frustrated with me.  I remember one time, in a geology lab, he came into class in a particularly bad mood.  He ticked off another student for a reason I don’t remember.  I was enjoying it (God forgive me!) and had a smile on my face,  Bond looked at me, said, “What are you laughing at?”, and hurled a lab stool over the head of Ron Jefferson onto the floor at my feet.  I was stunned.  I almost got up and left the class.

Our class did get back at Professor Bond, though.  I remember a field trip with a couple of other guys, to examine fossils in situ in southern Ohio.  At the place we stopped, someone, not I, was softly singing, “What’s it all about, Ralphie?  Is it just for the moment we dig?”  Another classmate, at another time, referred to him as an old fossil, which made him grimace.  (Sorry, Wendel.)

And there are many more memories; not just of Science Hall, but of other areas of my college life, both academic and social.  I was unhappy, so my work suffered.  I was on probation and nearly got sent down.  I suffered clinical depression.  I spent hours in solitary prayer in the seminary chapel, where probably the Holy Spirit was groaning His head off because I sure didn’t have the words.

So what’s the point in all of this?  My memories, now that I’m in the last third of my life, return to torment me.  I wish there were a “delete” button I could click on to erase my bad memories so that I never recall them again, like God does when He forgives my sins.  I wish…but it doesn’t work that way.  Those bad memories crop up when they’re most inconvenient.  My hardest task in life is to forgive myself.

If only I could.


A Matter of Faith, Part II

In an earlier blog, I mentioned that there is, for me, a disconnect between what the Church taught and what I learned in school about the origin of the creation.

From the Bible, and from church teaching and Jewish tradition, I learned that God created the Universe; that He did it in six twenty-four-hour days.  He created it in the order described in Genesis, first chapter.  The world is 5,774 years old as of this year, per Jewish tradition.  And last but not least, the fossil record is nonsense.

From school and college, and (I must confess) certain sites on the Internet, I learned that God did not create the Universe because He does not exist; although that was never really pushed, we got the idea that all the scientists believe it.  The Universe started from a singularity that contained everything, both matter and energy, that suddenly expanded in every direction through space, and at that instant matter, energy, and time began to exist (the “Big Bang Theory”); but there was no hint of where the singularity came from, since the cosmologists do not believe in an oscillating universe, that is, one that expands and then collapses back into a singularity and begins all over again.

After the “Big Bang,” stars came into being and died, forming new stars and resulting in the making of new chemical elements.  Eventually the Sun formed, and the Earth and other planets as well.  As time progressed, life formed on Earth, and the entire Earth system developed to the present state.

The age of the Universe is estimated at 13.8 billion years.  The solar system came into being about 4.5 billion years ago.  Life began about 3.6 billion years ago as extremely simple single cells.  The age of the Universe has been estimated by cosmologists using what is called the Lambda-CDM Concordance Model, and independently by others using the WMAP.  Information about both of those methods is available on the Internet.  The age of the solar system was estimated by radiological dating of meteorites and dating of the oldest rocks and substances found on the Earth.  I have not found the source for the dating of the first living things on Earth, but extensive dating has been performed on fossils.

The fossil record details, as completely as it can, the order of appearance of life and the changes in the Earth’s form and structure.  Several methods, including radiation dating and carbon dating, have been used to determine the age of various fossils.

*    *    *

Thus, the difference in knowledge between the Church’s teaching and Science’s teaching, about how the Earth, and we, came to be.  It has been said that the Church teaches Who and Science teaches How.  Conservative Christians will not accept that.  Neither will strict materialists.  So what do we do about this disconnect?  Compromise?  There is “Intelligent Design”, which is acceptance of the science-how, religion-who paradigm.  More on that below.

Today, that is, Sunday, April 12, 2015, the Gospel was the story of Doubting Thomas.  Jesus, after He rose from the grave, appeared to His disciples, who were all huddled in the upper room where they had eaten their Seder dinner; all, that is, except Thomas.  They told Thomas the Lord had been there, but Thomas said that unless he could touch Jesus’ crucifixion wounds, he would not believe.  A week later they were all together again in the same place.  Jesus again came among them.  This time Thomas was present.  Jesus told Thomas to put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in the wounded side.  Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said, “You have believed because you have seen.  Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.”

And yet, it is very hard to believe events that happened so long ago and far away.  Especially when other kinds of things are happening right now.  But those new events all have to do with science.  We are discovering more new things about the world even as far down as subatomic particles and as big as the entire universe.  We know a great many things about the universe–and I say know because when we apply that knowledge we get consistent results.  It would be quite a different thing if, say, when we combine acetic acid (vinegar) and sodium bicarbonate, sometimes we get sodium acetate and carbon dioxide, and sometimes we get pink lemonade.

So what it all comes down to is a matter of faith.  Our materialist acquaintances think we’re delusional because we believe in our God, the Creator and Redeemer, and not in the materialists’ god, Science.  In fact, I recently ran across an article entitled, “Help Christian friends understand delusional thinking,” which contained seven “quotes” from Jesus distorted to meet the mindset of the writer.  Some of my young-adult cousins want nothing to do with the Christian faith.  They consider Christianity misguided and mistaken, or just irrelevant.  In addition to that, to many people we appear toxic and uncaring because of all the things we’re against.  Those people lump us all together and paint us with the same brush.  What they don’t see, in those of us who aren’t against everything, is that we serve a risen Christ, a living Jesus (not an “un-dead” Jesus), Who by His death and resurrection has completed the story of God’s love for His creation by redeeming us from our lives of sin.  For me, this is very real.  But at the same time, because I have an intellectual bent, I have to coordinate my Christian faith with the knowledge I have of science from my education.  They never told me I had to leave my brain at the church door.

It all starts with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  In God all authority over the creation is vested.  It is He Who decided the kind of universe that would happen.  It is He Who made it all, from the tiny quark to the magnificent galactic cluster neighborhood.  It is He Who ordained all of the natural law that governs how atoms and molecules behave.  It is He Who made the electromagnetic spectrum and made it possible to express energy.  It is He Who directed the development of life on this planet, from the tiniest viroid to the biggest of dinosaurs.  It is He Who chose humanity to be His special friends, and walk and talk with Him–and we chose to go our own way.  So it  became necessary to reclaim us; hence the story told in the pages of the Bible.  This is how I have bridged the disconnect between Sunday School and my public education.  As I said, it’s a matter of faith.

This would be all I have to say on the matter, if it weren’t for one other thing.  We aren’t doing a very good job of communicating this matter of faith to our younger relatives, who have been drawn away by materialism.  We don’t do show and tell very well.  And materialism is in itself very attractive, as I know from personal experience.  We can tell them the Good Old Story of Jesus and His Love–but they’ve heard it all before and aren’t interested.  We can live our lives for Christ, but they just don’t get it.  I’m afraid that if the Lord doesn’t turn things around, through us and our lives or however He chooses, that we may be the last generation of Christians in the United States.

May it not be so.

Music Rocks!

I went to the dentist last Friday for a cleaning and a small repair.  After the cleaning was over, I was moved to a different room.  I was waiting in the chair; a young, cute Black girl came in to set up the room.  I took off my Ultreya Rocks! hat to put aside with my glasses, so they would be out of the dentist’s way.  The young lady said, “Ooh, nice hair!”  (My hair is shoulder length and a little curly on the ends.)  “Were you ever in a band?”

“I’m in one now.”

“What do you play?”


“Oh, I love bass!” she said.  “I sing.  I love music!  I have to sing every week.”  I didn’t have the chance to ask where she sang because she walked away to tend to other tasks.  But the exchange left me smiling and feeling a little warm inside.  I agree with her:  I love music.  Music is one thing I couldn’t do without.

I grew out of childhood listening to the music on my parents’ and grandparents’ radios.  I’m actually old enough to remember when The Little White Cloud that Cried and Sh-Boom! were on the radio.  The radio and I sort of grew up together:  Venus, The Happy Organ, Mack the Knife–until the night when I was supposed to be sleeping I was DXing radio stations and ran across one playing classical music.  That night my music world changed.

After more experience with classical music I began to understand the background music and songs on the Children’s Record Guild stories our grandparents gave us as kids.  And there awoke in me the desire to make my own music.  I had a few weeks of piano lessons from my mother as a teen.  (She was the church organist for most of her life.)  And I was doing pretty well.  But I chickened out when suddenly there appeared in the lessons two notes played at the same time.

But by the time I finished high school I was making serious attempts at writing original music.  Most of the pieces were hymn tunes and, in retrospect, were terrible.  I did manage to salvage some of it and made something of it.  Anyway, my high school class assigned me the task of writing and directing the senior class song.  The tune was borrowed in part from a very old song, but it suited and we did all right.

College, for me, was an emotional disaster.  Being away from home with nobody I knew took its toll, even on my work.  I even wrote, in my freshman year, a short story about a guy in much the same situation as I, who discovered by accident that he could teleport himself home.  With regard to music, I tended to haunt the conservatory, making acquaintances of kids in the music department, and especially of a guy who consented to play my writings so I could hear them a tempo.  As time went on, I figured out how to grope my way through my writings myself.  To correct the problem of not having the vaguest idea what I was doing with harmony and notation, I took two semesters of harmony from a kindly teacher in the conservatory.  By that time I had picked up guitar from my acquaintances and was becoming competent in folkstyle playing.  But with harmony under my hat, and a good understanding of chord progressions, I came to find out that voice leading, the construction of vocal parts so they could be sung and have an organized, logical progression, was one of my gifts.

In retrospect, there was musical talent on both sides of my family.  My mother played piano and organ.  My father, however, did not have any music education because his family would not have allowed it.  But I remember something that happened once when I was home, that is, at my folks’ house, when I was a young adult living a couple hundred miles away.  I had built a musical “instrument” using a relaxation oscillator that produced a sawtooth waveform and had a buzzy sound.  It was started by pressing a button and the pitch was controlled by a handle attached to a rotary control.  I took it home with me that time.  My dad picked it up and played a tune on it that was accurate, well-timed, and in tune with itself.  He handed the thing back and said, “I bet you didn’t know I could do that, did you?”  And I didn’t.  Wow!

So where is this going?  Well, after a rather stormy marriage in which not much music got done, I moved to Miami.  There I picked up music again.  I wrote some folk songs and some church music.  I did some arrangements for voice and an assortment of instruments that people at church could play.  I wrote some songs for a few of the Via de Cristo (formerly Cursillo) weekends I served on.  I reworked some of the older stuff that I still had.  Not too long ago I unearthed some of those old things that had been put away.  I looked through them.  And some of those old writings weren’t that bad.  But again, my choice of music to listen to was almost exclusively classical.  My composition style was classical.

But then the classical music station was sold and started playing stuff I had no desire to hear.  I started to listen to a Christian contemporary music station to keep me awake while I drove to work, as I told myself.  The station played some music similar to those VDC songs we sang on weekends.  I switched back and forth from the radio to CDs of classical music, until the CD player in the car died.  Eventually my preference for listening in the car became the Christian station.  This continues even today.

I also dream about music.  Some dreams involve guitars and other instruments: broken guitars that I’m trying to fix; big organs I’m trying to play, or explore; new things that are impossible to make or impossible to play; singing in choirs, especially music I’ve written; and last of all, new music.  I often wake up with music running through my head that came from a dream.  Sometimes it’s new.  If I can quickly write it down, I remember it.  Some of the music I’ve written is from my dreams.

So.  Where am I now?  Back a few years ago, I was the lay leader, or rector, of a Via de Cristo weekend.  Among the candidates were two musicians, one of whom I knew and who has since moved away.  The other, without my knowing about him, I had seated right next to the first guy.  That second musician has, over the years, become my best buddy.  Brion is an expert who has been in the music industry, played guitar in Nashville with big names, writes, and plays two and a half orders of magnitude better than anyone else I’ve ever known.  By the time I had come to know him better, I had begun to play electric bass due to the urgings of my church choir director.  Brion and I performed together on a VDC weekend.  I remember saying, jokingly, “We ought to form a band.”  This eventually became the Christian rock praise-and-worship band called Ultreya.  Several other musicians have come and gone, including two lead singers, two rhythm guitarists, and three drummers.  What’s left is Brion on guitar, Michael on drums, and myself on bass.  Sonshine Via de Cristo has come to consider us the go-to band to play for Celebrations (also known as Ultreyas) and other functions.  Two of my favorite expressions are, “I learned to read music in church choir; so can you,” and, “If music isn’t fun, something’s wrong.”

If, ten years ago, someone should have predicted that I would be playing bass in a rock band, I would have laughed HA-HA.

You never know what God will do with you.

*   *   *

When I first started writing this essay, I wondered if it might be too self-serving.  But it was meant to be a sharing: who I am and something that is important to me.  I hope you, gentle reader, will forgive me this once.

The Amazing, Mystical, Magical, Disappearing Toilet Paper

When Sandy and I shop at the grocery store, I tend to pay attention to price and package size.  Buy one, get one free doesn’t get my attention unless it’s for something we normally use a lot, like breakfast cereal, for example.  I notice that BOGOs don’t usually show up in departments like meat, dairy, eggs, and produce.  Cereal, cookies, and sometimes coffee, can save us cash if they are BOGO.  But I don’t see taking home two of something when I only wanted one.

Of course, prices on everything are constantly changing.  I look at the price on a can of vegetables and say, “Geez, wasn’t that a dollar cheaper last time we were here?”  But the most aggravating thing companies do is to shrink the size of their products.

I remember, several years ago, I picked up a can of spinach, that was normally fifteen ounces and change, and thought, “This feels small.  What did they do to the can?”  I looked and discovered that the can now contained thirteen and a half ounces.  But the price didn’t fall to match the shrinkage in the contents.  It’s just their way of getting more money for their product without our realizing it.  It was that way all across the board, as far as canned vegetables were concerned.

It hasn’t stopped in these days, either.  Sandy and I go through a lot of orange juice.  We normally buy a premium brand because it tastes better than the grocery store generic.  But a year or so ago they started putting the juice into bottles that looked like pitchers, and–surprise! surprise!–they don’t hold a gallon of OJ.  They only hold three and a fraction quarts.  And they keep getting smaller.  To get around the shrinking gallon bottle, we buy cardboard cartons that used to be half a gallon.  But the last time I looked, they were 1.8 quarts, or 1.75 liters.  And of course they still cost as much as, or more than, before.  So the companies are trying to make more money from us while hoping we won’t notice.


But the thing that has irked me the most about package size is that of toilet paper.  The brand we use that started out as White Cloud many years ago advertises that it is the softest there is.  It used to come on single rolls of around 140 double-ply sheets.  Then the company, like other TP companies, introduced the double-size roll.  Adustments in roll length came and went; the company introduced other sizes, and finally things stabilized thus:

  • Single rolls at 100 sheets
  • Double rolls at 200 sheets
  • Giant rolls at 250 sheets
  • Mega rolls at 400 sheets.

Even so, you can see what is happening.  The mega-sized rolls required an adaptor, because they were so big they wouldn’t fit a standard toilet paper dispenser.  This state of affairs continued for a number of years, until. . .

The package for the mega size rolls trumpeted, “Roll-Fit Guarantee!  Mega rolls are guaranteed to fit standard dispensers!”  We bought a package sometime after that to try out, and–son of a gun!–they did fit.  Now, there are only three ways the manufacturer could have used to make the oversized mega roll fit a standard dispenser.  First, they could have made the paper thinner.  But then it would no longer be “ultra soft.”  Second, they could have used a smaller core; but obviously the cores were the same size as before, and I doubt that it would have made enough difference.  And third, they could have made the roll shorter.  In fact, that is just what they did.  The new mega roll size was 328 sheets, 18% shorter than before.  The new double size roll was 164 sheets, again 18% shorter than before.  This made the double size roll not very much bigger than the original single size.  Now, of course, the single sizes were not available, 84 sheets being obviously small, and the giant size had also vanished from store shelves, although I have seen a “family size” that had a strange sheet count.  And the price keeps going up.  In fact, it’s gone up a lot since then.  With the cost of energy down a lot since last year, I wonder why?  What excuse, other than trying to make as much money as possible from their customers, would this company, and others in like situations, give?  Our incomes haven’t gone up nearly as much as the cost of toilet paper.  I, for one, am tired of being picked up and shaken to see what will fall out of my pockets.  People will decide they can’t afford to buy such expensive stuff and will stop buying it

Then what?

A Matter of Faith

I’m a Christian.  I’m not ashamed of that and never will be.  As far as matters of faith are concerned, you will find me solidly in Christ’s camp.  I’m also a well-educated guy with two degrees and a lot of life experience.  I studied geology in college as well as the subjects, like Biblical Greek, that were intended to prepare me for seminary.  Because of that experience, there is, for me, a disconnect between what I learned in Sunday School and what I learned in college.  On one hand, the stories about Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, the Tower of Babel, Cain and Abel, and Adam and Eve and the Creation Story.  On the other hand, the Cambrian Discontinuity, Vishnu Schist, the Jurassic Era, peneplains, fossils of trilobites and Tyrannosaurus Rex, how we got coal, oil, and natural gas, and how many billions of years old the Sun is and when it will go phut.  How do we connect them and cause them to make sense?

But, they say, the Bible isn’t meant to be a science textbook; it’s the record of God’s salvation of the human race.  Okay, I agree.  But what if it were?  How would, say, the first chapter of Genesis  read if those who recorded the story knew what we know about the origin of Earth?  Now, some of you gentle readers will be upset with me; you’ll call me a heretic and a blasphemer for what I’ve just proposed, because you have been taught and believe that the Bible was written by God and the humans just held the pen.  I won’t quarrel with that.  I’m just supposing.  So here is my take on Genesis 1.

*    *    *

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  There was nothing; then God said, “Let there be space!”  Suddenly gas and matter was spreading violently in all directions, filling the emptiness that had been.  God said, “Let there be stars!” and the gas started to clump together, forming balls of matter that started to glow.  The stars grew, burning; and died, exploding or getting bigger, then collapsing.  Other stars formed.  Some stars, with their disks of gas and dust swirling around them, got other little blobs of stuff that contracted and formed planets that circled the stars themselves.  God saw that it was good.  And it was evening and morning, the first day.

Then God chose one star out of the multitude of stars that He had created.  He named it “the Sun.”  He looked and saw that a lot of planets had formed around the Sun and were circling it.  He saw that the closest two were too hot, and the fourth one was too cold.  He saw that the rest were big gas giants with no place to walk.  But the third planet was just right.  God called this planet “Earth.”

God said, “Let the Earth grow cool.”  And it was so.  The Earth became a barren rocky ball with a poisonous atmosphere.  Then God saw that the Earth was light when the Sun was in the sky, but dark at night when only the stars were shining.  So He caused a huge space rock to strike the Earth and knock a big chunk of it into space.  He caught the chunk, formed it into a ball, and sent it going around the Earth.  God called it “the Moon.”  He saw that when the Moon was in the night sky, it reflected sunlight and so now there would be light at night on the Earth.  And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and morning, the second day.

God remembered that the Earth, though it was now cool, was also barren.  And He caused comets to come from far away in space beyond the outer planets and strike the Earth.  The comets had large quantities of ice in their nuclei; the ice melted and the water ran down into the low regions of the Earth.  God called the water “the Ocean.”

Then God said, “Let there be living creatures in the Ocean.”  And suddenly there was a multitude of tiny creatures swimming in the water.  They multiplied, growing and changing.  God realized that the Earth’s atmosphere wasn’t right for the life He wanted the Earth to have, so He caused the hydrogen and methane in the air to be replaced by nitrogen and oxygen from inside the Earth.

Now, water from the ocean was evaporating in the Sun’s heat, forming clouds and raining on the Earth.  Plants started to grow in the soil of the Earth, coming from out of the oceans.  God saw that it was good.  There was evening and morning, the third day.

Then God saw that life was becoming more complex.  He said, “Let some of the living creatures that swim in the ocean also come out onto the land.”  And it was so.  Animals came out of the water and started to live on the land, breathing the air and eating the plants.  The creatures in the ocean made shells for themselves out of substances in the water that came from rivers on the land.  Some others became fish.  On the land, some animals became things that crawled: snakes, lizards, bugs; others flew through the air: insects.  Some of the animals became gigantic.  Animal forms grew, flourished, and died off.  God saw that this was all part of His plan for the Earth, and that it was good.  And it was evening and morning, the fourth day.

Then God guided His animals:  Creatures with feathers appeared, having wings, that flew through the air.  They nested in the trees, or on the ground in the tall grass.  Other animals with hair appeared, covered in fur, that walked on four feet on the ground.  The animal types  grew, developed, and died off, as the giant lizards had done.  More and more kinds of animals appeared and more and more kinds of plants and ocean creatures.  The Earth became a place of diverse kinds of life, from creatures so small that only God could see them, to large and heavy brutes on land, and the giants of the ocean.  And God saw that all this was good.  It was evening and morning, the fifth day.

Now God was ready for the creatures He would call His own.  He took two of the middle-sized, upright-walking animals, breathed His Breath into them, and named them.  The male He called “Adam;” that is, “Man.”  The female He called “Eve,” and He named them His “People.”  He could talk to them and they could talk to Him; they could all walk together and be with each other.  He told them to be fruitful, and to take care of His creation; they would be His people and He would be their God.  And God said, “It is very good!”  It was evening and morning, the sixth day.

On the seventh day God rested, because He was finished with His work.

*     *     *

Now, just a final word:  I did not go into the account of mankind’s fall from grace, or of the things that followed it.  That is out of the scope of this little exercise.  For those of you who are still not happy with me, you will find in the Bible, in the first two chapters of Genesis, two distinct, different accounts of the Creation; the second one continues into the account of the fall of mankind.  Later in Chapter 5 there is a mini-comment on the Creation, that begins the account of the lineage of Noah.  Other places in the Bible comment on the Creation account.  Especially in the first chapter of the Gospel of John there is a short comment upon the Creation identifying the Word (Jesus) as the Creator.  Each of these accounts are to some extent different from the others.  I believe that God is not so much concerned with the scientific data of the creation of His universe as He is that we know Him in the person of His Son and come to love Him as He loves us.

I am not a cosmogonist or a paleobiologist, so my rendering of the Creation story may not agree with the present state of knowledge in those disciplines.  I was just…



Recognizing faces is an important human trait.  We are born with the ability to recognize the human face.  We learn our mother’s face early on.  Some animals use smell, some use the sound of the mother’s voice.  I suppose many use all of those; and possibly we do, too.

But to recognize Mother’s face by sight is important to a baby.  Mother is a baby’s world.

As we grow older, we still carry this “face” thing with us.  The “T” shape of human features:  the two eyes joined by the brow and bridge of the nose, the vertical line of nose finished off by the serif of the mouth–these things get transferred to inanimate objects, as well.  Who hasn’t noticed the frowning countenance of a certain house that makes us feel it wouldn’t be a nice place to live, or even gives the house the reputation of “haunted”?

We transfer the same tendency to see faces in objects like rock formations, even the moon!  We see faces on animals: on an orangutan, a face “only a mother could love.”  One class of objects we see faces on is the automobile.

Since the Model T, cars have seemed to have faces.  One of my earliest childhood memories is of a car with a grille that seemed to have huge teeth standing up from the front bumper.  In those days cars had steel, chrome-plated bumpers.

More recently, it seems that auto makers have deliberately insinuated the illusion of faces into their models.  I noticed it long ago.  The grille area shrank with the advent of plastic bumpers; and an opening under the bumper provided the extra cooling air to the radiator.  The grille opening became trapezoidal with the long side on the top, giving the illusion of a smiling mouth.  Some, like the grille of a Mustang from fifteen years ago, gave the impression of smug self-satisfaction.  A few gave you the impression that that the car was putting its tongue out at you.  Some, like the Volkswagen beetle, with the engine in the back, had no grille at all, giving the impression of a frog on wheels,.  Most cars, though, suggested that they were friendly by having a simulated smile on their simulated faces.  This went to extremes a few years ago, when Mazda introduced models with what one writer described as a “goofy goblin grin” on its grille, even expanding it to include the blacked-out bumper inside the “mouth.”  When I first saw these, I was taken aback, because now it was obvious that car makers knew we see faces in their cars and were taking advantage of it.

Then one day about two years ago, i was driving behind a new Camaro.  I noticed the four trapezoidal tail lights on the back, and the slightly concave line of the rear deck.  I was looking at the car when the driver applied the brakes; and suddenly I was staring at not two, but four baleful, red, frowning eyes.  The lighted area of the tail light was a half disc with the curved edge below.  When I could see the front of the car, I saw that the headlights were recessed and partly obscured in a slot above the bumper, that gave the car an appearance of wariness.

As time went by, I saw that other car manufacturers had picked up on this, and I began to notice car models that looked angry.  As LED lighting began to replace incandescent bulbs on the exterior of cars, the makers started to use them to make shapes; for instance, the odd ogee shape of Volvo’s tail lights.  The LED strips took the place of the parking lights in the front near the headlights, being sometimes used as running lights.  Now car makers were able to add facial features to their models; and they did, with a vengeance.  Cars began to appear with frowning eyebrows.  There were cars with mouths full of white teeth that looked as though they were ready to bite.  There was a model with the bottom half of the tail lights outlined in red LEDs.  When only the tail lights were on, the LEDs gave the car the appearance that its “eyes” were closed, but when the driver stepped on the brake, the eyes opened.  If he used his turn signal, the car winked!

All this is interesting; perhaps, even amusing. But why would car makers design cars that look angry?  I was puzzled by this, thinking that it might be a reaction to the cars with big, sappy grins.  So I went poking around on the internet to find out.  As it turns out, car makers had panels of consumers answer questionnaires.  And the reason cars look angry?  People.  Like.  It.

It seems that we like it when our cars look angry and aggressive.  Now, we all will admit that there is a lack of general good will in our country today.  Rudeness is increasing.  People seem not to care about each other as much as they used to.  We see on the news that “road rage” is becoming more frequent, and we wonder if some idiot with a gun will shoot us as we drive.

Then, why, in God’s name, do we need cars that look angry?  Won’t they just make things worse?  We need kindness, not angry cars.

At least trucks have it right.  Most of them have no faces at all.