Digestable #36: Hipster Christmas Music, Panic Attack, Am I Ugly? Centralized China vs Decentralized World, Malachi

Yuletide Greetings!

Welcome to another edition of Digestable, the short, weekly email where we follow our curiosity and share good Christmas music.

Let’s get those sleigh bells jinglin’:

Songs for Christmas – Sufjan Stevens: There are people who love Christmas music, and then there’s Sufjan Stevens, who has written over 100 Christmas songs. Spin magazine describes Sufjan as “a truly gifted songwriter and instrumentalist when he’s not being his own worst enemy.” If you’ve listened to Sufjan you will know that is an apt description. Some of these songs are horrible. But others are pure Christmas bliss, like sipping the perfect blend of egg nog & Sprite while munching on sugar plums (trust me, that’s a thing).

On his own website, the Christmas albums are described thusly: “Recording traditional favorites alongside unique originals, Sufjan has, over the course of five years, constructed an odd, impressive, and compelling collection of Christmas hits (and some misses) that will either warm your heart or make you throw up eggnog all over the bath mat (depending on your constitution).” Someone has compiled all 5-hours of it in one giant YouTube playlist here. I own the boxed set and my favorites include Sister Winter, Holy Holy Holy, Christmas in July, Star of Wonder, and Christmas in the Room. Enjoy!

How to Navigate a Panic Attack: Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, tells a short story about his scuba diving incident that beautifully describes a technique I have used many times to regain composure. Here’s a teaser, and if you’ve ever felt frozen by fear or anxiety you’ll want to read this one.

“The teacher came up and said, “What’s wrong?”

I frantically said, “I don’t like this. I don’t want to do this. I don’t like it. I’m going home. I’ll see you later.”

The teacher, Tobi, was so calm and peaceful. I’ll never forget this moment. He looked at me carefully for a few seconds then slowly said, ” . . .

You’ll need to visit Derek’s site to read the rest.

Am I Ugly? I came across this subreddit where people post selfies and ask the Reddit community, “Am I Ugly?” Some confess that they believe they ARE ugly and are looking for suggestions to improve. Scrolling through the vulnerability on display in this subreddit was profoundly moving and a reminder of the insecurities we are all battling. I wanted to give each poster a hug, and I am more empathetic and endeared to the human race as a result of spending a few minutes in this thread.

Balaji Srinivasan — Centralized China vs Decentralized World: Some people have put in the effort to climb a little higher for a better view. Balaji Srinivasan is one of those people and this 4.5-hour interview with him is a rare opportunity to see the world through his unique glasses. He makes some fascinating geopolitical predictions about China, India, and the US, and the role of decentralized finance (including cryptocurrencies). He sees the culture and political wars not as left vs right, but centralization vs decentralization – and the final battlefield may not be not vaccines or race wars, but currencies (centralized fiat currencies vs defi crypto currencies).

He walks through historical examples of how we repeat cycles of bundling, un-bundling, then re-bundling, such as the Romans bundling an empire, Christianity un-bundling the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church re-bundling Christianity, then Martin Luther and the Protestant movement un-bundling the Catholic Church. (Not discussed by Balaji but relevant, is that today in the West decentralized grassroots churches are growing while centralized hierarchical churches are dying.) He predicts that the US is un-bundling into decentralized anarchy and is no longer a match for the economic or military power of centralized China. And if he could only buy one cryptocurrency it would be . . . (you’ll have to email me for the answer!).

The Book of Malachi: Which kingdom will win the war? The one that makes the best sacrifices.

This week I read the short Book of Malachi written approximately 2,400 years ago, and in it, the prophet Malachi criticizes the Hebrews with this message: You are suffering because you aren’t making proper sacrifices.

If you’ve dismissed the ancient practice of sacrificial offerings as a primitive and unintelligent way of being in the world, you would be guilty of chronological snobbery. I’m not suggesting a return to human or animal sacrifices, but before you remove a fence you need to understand why it was put there in the first place. According to Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory, early man had discovered “the single act of sanctioned violence [sacrificial killing of the scapegoat], becomes like a vaccination against the disease of chaotic, out of control violence.

Delayed gratification and the modern forms of sacrifice we practice, such as sacrificing $1 today in hopes of receiving $1 + Interest tomorrow, are actually the least sophisticated forms of sacrifice.

If you want to step up into the next level of the sacrifice game, you could set aside the first X% of every dollar you earn and sacrifice it to a financial need in your community. The ancient Hebrews prescribed a “tithe,” which is 10% of your income.

To properly test the tithe hypothesis you must make this commitment even when you aren’t sure you have enough to cover your own needs – especially if you don’t have enough to cover your own needs – or you will rob yourself of the rewards reserved for those who sacrifice. Malachi prophesied to the Hebrews, “Bring the whole tithe . . . test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Proper sacrifices don’t just disappear into the void of superstition . . . even if the charity of your choice squanders your sacrifice. I know many of my readers are rationalists, so here’s a psychological mechanism: the person who sacrifices becomes a different person.

When you give that money away, especially when it hurts to do so, you govern yourself differently from that moment on. You start telling yourself a different story about the type of person you are and your role in the world. You make different decisions with the rest of your money, and these different decisions lead to a different you. An antigragile you. A better you. A community made up of people who share this same story is an antifragile community. A better community.

The story of Cain and Abel in chapter 4 of the book of Genesis is an exploration of what constitutes a proper sacrifice. And the book of Hebrews summarizes in one line in chapter 11 that “by faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did.” Some have seen parallels to the agriculturists and hunter-gatherers in this story. Abel, the agriculturist, through the process of sowing and [hopefully] reaping a delayed harvest, was better at sacrificing than Cain, the hunter. History tells us who won that culture war.

The prophet Malachi had a list of deficiencies when it came to the Hebrew sacrifices. “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord.” Here’s Jeff’s translation: You can’t hack or shortcut sacrifices, it disrespects God. You are doing it wrong and you are only hurting yourself.

Malachi levels yet another charge at the Hebrews and an explanation as to why their sacrifices aren’t working: “You weep and wail because he [the Lord] no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. … so be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect. Jeff’s Translation: your sacrifices won’t cut it if you are doing violence to those you should be protecting.

400 years after Malachi, the sacrificial system underwent a metamorphosis triggered by the death of Christ. The apostle Paul advocated that since Jesus Christ became the ultimate sacrifice, we have moved beyond the era of traditional animal and agricultural sacrifice. In his letter to the Romans, he sums up the highest form of sacrifice that can be aspired to: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not be conformed to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Quote I’m Pondering: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” – The Greek poet, Dinos Christianopoulos (Credit to James Clear for sharing this quote.)

Where did your curiosity lead you this week? I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks again for following along. I’m having a riot putting these together, so if you are enjoying this newsletter I’d love it if you shared it with a friend or two and we can keep the great conversations growing.

Yours truly,

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