Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When Tragedy Strikes, People Have to React

Three days ago 27 people were gunned down in an elementary school for no reason at all. Their lives, mostly six-year-olds, were ripped from them like dirty sheets from a bed. 1,600 plus years, based on life expectancy, were robbed from the world because a monster chose to visit his pain on others before ending his life by his own hand.

And everyone with a mouth is out, as front and center as they can, to give their Reason Why. The indefatigable explanations march forward like lemmings to the sea. I try not to criticize, because when humans are being humans it's hard to get in the way to stop it. We need to talk about it. We need to make sense of it. It's what we do as a species, as a people. We have to understand it, so we can harness it, manipulate it, subdue it, control it. Our great fear is being outside of control. Our perfect storm of aptitude and pride ensures we will fight to the last to subdue what we fear, what threatens us.

If you are a liberal then you have a list of bogeymen to blame it on. If you are a conservative then you have a list of bogeymen to blame it on. Both lists are equally pathetic. Both fail to account for all the factors involved, both lists are constructed not solely from cold hard facts, but from biases and assumptions and articles of faith that long ago passed from propositions and into verses of a worldview to be memorized and worshiped. Some axioms are better than others, and I'll give you a few of the better ones that are apropos: We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are; the mind justifies what the heart believes. The liberal laments that if only there was stricter gun control this wouldn't have happened--stick your finger in the dike and see where the pressure asserts itself next. The conservative asserts that God has been driven from the schools, so it is small wonder why He wouldn't show up to a school to prevent such catastrophe--you think your God is fighting the same culture war as you for His honor and namesake? That would make God as small and petty and silly as a human like yourself--not much of a God, if you ask me.

My god, haven't you ever theorized on paper, only to find that your explanation in a vacuum runs into problems on the ground? Haven't you found that implementing your solution begets problems unforeseen, and that sometimes answers create questions and problems that you didn't see coming?

The only thing I am left with is deep and abiding pain, if I allow myself to really think about what happened--and I mostly don't. The only proper response to what happened on Friday is to tear your garments and weep on the floor without rising for days and days and days. Any less of a response is proof of a calloused soul, which, I'm afraid, we are all guilty of. Nothing can salve the pain, no explanation or cracked up human gambit can begin to restore the horror that is a familiar and irrevocable reality that again asserted itself in our world when a masked gunmen came looking for kindergartners.

After the tragedy I am left with two resounding thoughts.

The first: I imagine going into the classroom moments before the gunman entered with hell in a barrel. I imagine stopping time, and looking at the children. I would be surrounded by teeming life and hope and expectations. I would look into their faces and only see beautiful, untouched innocence. And if I were able to stand there, surrounded by those children, with the knowledge of their fast approaching fate . . . I don't know, it is hard to find the words. I believe I might be undone. And I imagine Jesus in that room, in that slowed down time. I imagine him walking up and down the rows of desks, heavy are his steps, pausing to hug each child, wishing he could stop the mad clockwork (whether he can't, or whether he won't, is for theologians and interested parties to argue about on another day) of imminent terror. But he offers them the one thing he has offered the world since forever, the one thing he won't be denied in extending, to be with them in their pain, in their darkest hour.

The second: I think about my sons. I haven't taught myself to love them. I haven't grown to love them. The day they were born (not three years ago between the two of them) a love in my soul, not there before, appeared. This love is not theoretical and dependent--it is there, for better or worse, not unlike a third arm. Which is to say, I don't have to wonder if it is there or if it is going anywhere. If someone said, "how do you know that you love them?" my only reasonable response could be "how do you know that you breathe?" When I dwell on this unexplainable and undeniable love, my heart swells. When I ponder the depth of that love, I can feel it reach into my very own flesh and blood--they are bound up in me, and I in them, and no bond could be stronger. So when something happens in the world like what happened on Friday, I can't help but wonder what it would be like to see my own boys cut down by unspeakable evil.

I don't know what it would be like. My heart begins to wander down that road, and my mind cuts it off, because the pain doubles and doubles and I can't complete the act of wayward imagining. All I know is that, if the unimaginable were made manifest, part of me would be cut out of myself, and the thought of recovery would feel like betrayal to my sons. Wailing and unrestrained rage is only the beginning of what I can imagine. And then there would be all that time. I can imagine what the first hour would be like, the explosive pain would be the obvious first step to all. But six hours later, it would be evening and you would have to return to your empty home. And you would wake the next morning, if you were able to sleep, and it would only be a reminder that this wasn't a nightmare. I can't imagine the hours and days and months when there is no rage, anger and regret, but only empty time; time filled with echoes of memories and joy and life you can't have back.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A New Chapter

A new phone means a new effort to blog more from my phone. You download the blogging app. You think, "this is easy, I'll be able to do this all the time."

And then you never do it again.

I must strike while the iron is warm.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

To post, or maybe not

I spent a fair amount of time tonight crafting a post regarding the election and politics and so on. I got about half way through and had to ask myself, "do I really believe all of this, do I really want to sign my name to this?"

It seems to me that I hadn't said anything that over the top or controversial . . . I was just, pondering.

I don't think ours is an age that supports second guessing and holding back; reserving judgement until higher thought and investigation has taken place, but I will gladly blaze a trail.

That is flagrant self-congratulatory nonsense, but is there not a wisp of truth to be unearthed in my untenable self-flattery?

I guess I try to edit my half cocked assertions because I wish that we all did the same. Reflect before you speak, and let yourself be surprised by the results.

I normally hate the prescriptive. What am I saying--I hate this very post--but a departure from your norm, as a general rule, should not be discouraged.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Post Election: Picking Up the Pieces

Depending on my mood, I am extremely ashamed or unashamed to admit the following: I am a conservative. I believe in smaller government. Less government programs, less taxes, generally more freedom to succeed or fail in the real world. I know that a lot of people think that sounds naive, or think that's not really what the Republicans stand for--I don't care. We can have that argument--but not right now.

Obama just won. I offer my congratulations. I've barely paid attention or stayed informed on what he has done for the last four years, and I will pay even less attention in the next four. I have precious little influence over what goes on in Washington, so my time is better spent focusing on things a bit more local. But I was not for Obama, obviously, and my reasoning was incredibly simple. I was even accused of being a "low information voter." And, while I chafe at the designation, I suppose it's probably true. If government is getting bigger, I'm not happy. If you tell me you want it smaller, that's all I need to hear. But my friends and coworkers looked at me funny. They understand that I have philosophical leanings, but they still looked at me like I had a hatchet coming out of my head--they couldn't understand why I would vote Republican (which, by their tone of voice and nonverbal expressions, they seemed to think was a synonym for evil).

And so I said something to them, asked them a question, and nobody, please mark my words--nobody--had an intelligible response. This is what I said:

1) Our spending as a nation is unsustainable;
2) Sooner or later we are going to hit the wall, fall of the cliff, go bankrupt etc.;
3) Besides slashing government, how are we going to fix this problem?

Admittedly I didn't ask A LOT of people this question, only a handful or so. And I certainly didn't ask a Democratic strategist, who would no doubt have a snappy and attractive response (irrespective of the truth, of course), but that's fine, I can put the question to you--how do we get around this problem?

If you have a good and workable solution for how we give our people more and more and more services and also avoid economic collapse then you just might make me a Democrat. Good luck, to the victor go the spoils!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why Vote?, Part I

I had a friend once tell me he'd sell me his presidential election ballot for $20. I tried to take him up on it, but he demurred.

About a year ago I decided never to vote again. Not for any philosophical reasons, but only for reasons of practicality: my vote will not make a difference. Democracy is a beautiful thing, and I am thankful for it and that I live under its life-giving branches--but you only need about a thousand or so people to decide an election.

Everything else is just . . . fluff.

"Jason, what if everyone thought like that!" scream the indignant masses.

I only think the way I do because of current conditions on the ground (i.e. about 150 million people in this country will cast a vote for their presidential candidate of choice). If everyone thought like me I would be living in an entirely different world, and therefore I would revise my position. Please come back to me when this comes to pass and I will update you on my perspective on the importance of voting.

All that to tell you this--I have again revised my position, I will be voting this year. I haven't changed any of my above views, don't worry about that. My problem is that, in spite of my better judgement, I enjoy talking politics. Here is why that is significant:

Jason's Political Life Through the Years:

0 - 17.75: Political Zero. I had no idea what politics were and what they were for. I couldn't tell a Republican from a parliamentarian from a wig from an anarchist.

17.75 - 20.25: Naive Radical Leftist. Jason, our political infant, gets idealistic girlfriend with facile notions of "the way it ought to be" and how we only need to align our consciousness properly, evolve, change, grow and soon we will be the change we wish to see in the world. I got angry with the powers that be. I got angry at the "sheeple" around me who were asleep and couldn't see they were being eaten alive by our consumerist, capitalistic culture. I posted unauthorized incendiary political cartoons around my community college campus, I argued with my parents a lot; I voted for Ralph Nader.

20.25 - 26ish: Naive Radical Republican. At some point after 20.25 I was having lunch with a friend and he asked me to explain my rationale for my Leftist leanings. I tried to explain, tried to make him understand, tried to bring it together and make it all makes sense. And I found it all just coming apart in my hands. Soon the realization arrived that the only way things would ever be the way I wanted them to be is if there was a national apocalypse and we were able to start over from scratch. Once that sunk in, my leftist ideals lost their sex appeal. Now, how a full pendulum swing to the right is birthed from that I am not exactly sure, but it happened. It started with a recommendation to AM talk radio . . . and I didn't look back for five years. I quickly became the reason why you wouldn't want to go to a party that I was at. I was loud, brash, arrogant, loud, strident. I was on a mission to bend the ignorant to my will. I developed a ferocious logic, sometimes irrespective of truth or facts, and shoved it in everyone's polite little face. Whatever topic it was, I Went There. I wrote conservative missives to my liberal professors, decried liberal bias in my linguistics and Women of Literature courses, lost a good friend because of an argument over the nature of racism over dinner one night. I always made sure I won the argument, no matter who was right, and no matter what relationship I jeopardized.

26ish - Present: Unmotivated, Quiet Conservative. Thankfully I fell out of love with politics. I realized that I had been manipulated, told to believe and espouse views to mobilize my vote, only to have the issue dropped into a garbage can or pushed to the back burner after the election was over. I saw conservatives rip apart liberals for advocating this or that, only to gain power and do the same thing they criticized. Disillusionment settled in very neatly. I stopped caring if conservatives gained power or not, seeing that no satisfaction was really delivered when they were in power. I found politics to be mostly a money and power game. It sunk in for me that the time I spent fretting about what was happening in Washington was colossally out of proportion to my influence over that environment--a ballot cast once every four years. I still care, but I try to make sure that care ranks where it should in my life--very low.

Wow, well, I didn't see that little political bio coming. I had set out to tell you where I stand this election season, and why I stand there, but I soon decided that you needed my political history to put my present day beliefs and predilections in context.

I do not believe in blog posts that are overly long, so I shall be breaking this post up.

Election Season Is Almost Over . . .

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reviewed: Cloud Atlas

When I see a significant movie the feeling overtakes me that I must scribble down my own thoughts before I sift through other people's. I have my own thoughts on what I just saw, but when I start to read others I will inevitably say, "Yes, yes, that's a good point, hadn't thought about that," and so on. And while that's a good exercise, the point of a review is to share your perspective. Good, bad, or indifferent all fall before the fact that I want YOUR take. I really want to read Ebert's take on the movie, and I really want to read Medved's take as well, and I'm sure they will be different, and actually, yes, that's what I'm hoping for.

I have to say all this because I have shied away from writing reviews in the past and what has stopped me is this: I have to say it just right. I have to be erudite and informed and correct about my opinion and take. Of course I know it is impossible to have a correct opinion, but I suppose I confuse "correct" and "informed" to the point where they might as well be the same thing.

But life is short and I am busy, so I will simply shoot from the hip at you about this movie:

On a four star scale, I believe I have settled in at giving it 3 and a half stars. Everyone is correct, it is an incredibly ambitious movie. To some extent it does have to be credited for its ambition alone. You can get carried away with that, and some will no doubt go too far, but to a certain extent I simply doff my cap and say "well done, well done indeed." But it fulfills its ambition by telling its story very well, very seemlessly, easy to follow for the monumental task it set before itself. Good acting, of course, but it does buckle under the weight it gives itself of everything having to be connected, the characters having to repeat; sometimes the makeup job is a bit ridiculous, the stretch a little too stretched. But that's about the worst technical criticism I can give it.


Now here is where my proclivities, probably better described as issues, begin to take over. I take my philosophy much too seriously, for starters. Philosophy, themes, messages, statements--the things that run through all great art (in my not so humble opinion), are the fuel that guns my engine. Production value, acting, cinematography, these things all run secondary, for me, to the theme/message of the movie. And that is where my review really begins.

I think it will be very difficult to defend my take on this movie, and I'll probably be misunderstood, but whatever, here it goes.

It's a nice idea, but friend, it doesn't work.

The theme of the film is fairly simplistic, it seems to me. Karma. Be good and good will happen to you. Be bad and you will only get worse. The characters who are truly bad in the film get worse as their reincarnations proliferate. The characters who are "good" only get better. And then we get a few who are our, as I believe, our stand ins, who start off as fairly bad, but you know they have a hint of good in them, and they turn out by the end of the film. The problem I have with that philosophy is that the only way you, and I mean YOU (you who have not murdered anyone, haven't cheated too badly on your taxes, have not been overtly racist, etc.) can define yourself as GOOD is if you degrade the definition of good. I will not speak for you, I can only speak for myself, and I know that my thoughts, my pettiness, my selfishness, my wishing harm on people who in the slightest way inconvenience me, my tendency to give myself the bigger piece of the pie if given a chance (literally and figuratively), all stand as a monumental argument against the idea that I am a "good" person--that is, if we really want the word "good" to mean something. If good is to always be judged on the curve, that it varies from place to place and time to time and can be defined by people and groups in power, then fine, I am "good".

What I am saying is that if the way we save ourselves is by being good then I am doomed. There are a lot of things you can argue about, but I don't think you can argue about the fact that, unequivocally, that is what the film is saying. If that works for you then that's great, I'll be busy finding an alternative to saving myself.

I close with a little irony I picked up in the film that I believe was unintended. The film clearly advocates the common Hollywood idyll that We Are All One. I refer you to Avatar, Lion King and numerous others, that we are all one, that the grass and the stars and the animals and the oppressed humans and regular humans are all One (I agree with that last one, by the way, and only point it out because I find it conspicuous that precious few films have the balls to say that the Nazis and you and I are all one). This film goes even further and says that distinctions and separations are all illusions that we would be better unshackling ourselves from. Well that opens a whole moral, ethical can of worms that I won't start to get into--but the logical extension of that idea is that we are all one. What that means is that there is nothing about you or me that is special. There is nothing that makes us distinct from one another. We are all the same and we are not allowed to have differences--differences are an illusion.

This is the essence of all dystopia. This is a razor's edge idea that somehow appeals to everyone--sensitive artists and Hitler alike. And the irony is this: there is a dystopia represented in the movie where there is a dominant group known as Unanimity--as in, we all agree--as in, no distinctions. But it's awful, terrible, and is being fought against by the group of people that value...no distinctions.

BOOM. That just happened.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Don't try to force it, it wouldn't work anyway

It's not about time.

This writing thing; this thing I haven't been doing much of lately. This summer I was telling myself, "you're just overwhelmed, you just have too much on your plate. You're just stressed. It will pass, then you'll get back to the writing thing."

It wasn't true. It has never been true. How busy I am has never been directly proportionate to how much I write. Actually, and unfortunately, I'm pretty sure it's been the opposite for most times in my life--the busier I am, the more I write.

It hit me tonight that I just have to own it--something went out of me. Somewhere, several months ago, I just lost the thread. The ideas, the motivation, it stopped flowing. I have a lot of theories as to why, but no real way of knowing. Ebb and flow. Give and take. Yin and yang. You're in, and you're out. I'm not sure why it happened. And I don't know the way back.

Life is an unpredictable thing. It doesn't unfold neatly and satisfying like a story. We try to fix this fact by looking for patterns and signs and phenomena that will give shape to the uneven, perplexing and contradictory flow of events and datum that comprise our confounding existence. Why is this happening? Why should I have the knowledge, hardwired into my soul, that I am supposed to write--and lack the will and confidence to carry it out?

There are answers--but that's one of the problems. Answers. As in plural. There are multiple possibilities to explain the problem. I don't write because I'm not really supposed to; I lack the talent. I don't write because I am afraid of failure. I don't write because I am afraid of success. I don't write because nefarious forces would prefer to keep me down. I don't write because my time is better spent doing anything else.

When does it end? The endless navel gazing; the woe is me; the what does it all mean?; the meta-writing, bore-my-socks-off just shut up or let it out already please waiter bring the check if this is the best you've got I have a plane to catch stop wasting my time you were meant for better and you squandered it so stop depressing me with your heap of a junker that won't start because you won't let it.

I don't know. Stay tuned, I guess.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

He Caught The Ball

I was telling Jess tonight that this Seahawks win over Green Bay has too many similarities with conversations about politics and religion. It feels like people have made the decision about what they believe, and there is no budging now, evidence be damned.

My reaction on Monday night: It definitely looks like we got away with something. I'd like to believe that the officials saw something the rest of us didn't, but it sure doesn't look that way.

Tuesday: There is at last a chance, a thin thread of possibility, that they got the call right. But even if they did, what's the point, nobody else in the country would believe it.

Tonight: They got the call right, damnit. And I don't care if you think that makes me an idiot--look at the evidence, if you're not willing to consider they might have gotten it right then YOU'RE the close-minded one.

Exhibit A:

The view we got on MNF was from the South, if you will, but this is from the North. In the other view you see Jennings clearly receive the ball, and it looks like Tate just sort of shoves his right arm up there, which would seem, in no way, to imply that he has simultaneous possession. And as I watched the replay over and over again I wished and wished I could see what his left arm was doing. And there you have it. We know his right arm was on the ball--but now we see his LEFT arm, also on the ball. Do you understand. Two hands on the ball, two feet on the ground--Jennings still up in the air.

Exhibit B:

There is no doubt that Jennings elevated above Tate and received the ball first. BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT A LEGAL CATCH IS IN THE NFL. A catch is only a catch if you receive the ball and control it all the way to the ground. That means that, until Jennings is on the ground with full control of the football, Tate has the opportunity and duty to do everything he can to get the ball. So before Jennings can get his feet on the ground, Tate has already gotten both of his hands on the ball, and they are engaged in a struggle.

That is simultaneous possession--and the rule states that simultaneous possession goes to the receiver.

With all of the right angles, considered as a whole, it seems pretty solid to me.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Evasion Tactics

I wrote the following and then said, "Man, where did that come from?" And then I answered my own question. These last several months our friends and family, and our very selves, have been ravaged by divorce and heartbreak, addictions and failures and mishaps and pain:

What is it about life that makes us want to numb ourselves? The human condition is defined by our weakness to addiction. Addictions bring us comfort, a safe place, release. We all have them, and to the degree that we are wrapped in them is to the degree that we are hurt by them. Drugs, alcohol, relationships, power—those are the easy ones. Television, talk radio, video games, hobbies, talking, silence, politics, religion. All good things in and of themselves—all destructive when they become addictions.

Life frightens us. At the very heart and rock bottom of existence is a fact we cannot accept—we have no control over it. We are beholden to the elemental forces of the world. We may take our shots, and we may succeed for a time, but we accomplish as ones whistling through the cemetery at midnight. Our IQ and drive to succeed are no match for cancer, for a drunk driver, a stray bullet.

Our control gambits and schemes (like making a living, forging relationships we believe we can rely on) are unstable; we know this somewhere, but we are constantly engaged in pushing this knowledge to the bottom of our mental heap. The endless, unstoppable drip of disorder on the back of our necks drives us sideways to our addictions. They bring us pleasure, and we think that’s why we like them. But more so than providing pleasure, they are blocking us from the pain: the pain of knowing, knowing without the possibility of exception, that death comes for us all, and makes a mockery of what we tried to do with our 28,470 days—that is if the ghosts and monsters of naked, unrelenting reality did not get to us before our three score and ten.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

For Lack of a Better Title

You always know you're heading in the right direction when you think to yourself, "boy, I really don't want to write this down, much less upload it to the world wide web."

Well, actually, that's either a sign that you're headed in the right direction--or, I suppose it could also be a sign that you are heading the very wrong direction. I choose to believe the former, though I have no rock solid, scientific evidence, but only a subjective sense that the difficult and scary is worth more than the commonplace and easy. If I don't want to write it, it means that it costs me something to do so.

I got a taste of success--and it set me back two months.

Trust me I understand it wasn't that big of a deal. But I got a piece published on that blog, and I was so happy for myself. Wow, outside validation. I average about .3 non-spam blog comments per post, I don't seem to make much of a discernible splash in my online life, but someone thought that I didn't suck so bad that a piece of mine couldn't be published on their site. Wow.

And then the horse crap sets in. I didn't recognize it for what it was, but I went ahead and sabotaged myself. What do I write about now? How do I top that? Do I keep with the same subject, or do I write about something else because I don't want to beat a dead horse? What do people want to hear from me? Are they tired of hearing about me write about church/religion? People don't give much of a shit about church, probably best to shut up about it.

Friend, if you want to sabotage yourself, be like me for the last few months. Fear addled, doubting, self-pitying...so on and so on.

I guess I choose to publish this because it is a form of self therapy. Exorcise the demons. Negative things delight in the dark, better to drag them out into the light of day, where they tend to die on the vine. Want to stop cheating on your wife? Tell her, that oughta bring it to a quick end (unless you're a REAL sicko, and I know you're out there). Want to stop doubting yourself? Embarrass yourself and tell the whole world your struggle--you can't do too many of these mea culpas before you have to level with yourself and say, "shit or get off the pot already."

I'm trying to shit.

I'm Back!

And ominously so...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Terrible Burden of Thinking

Can I confirm or deny the statement below? It's a polarizing thing. I imagine the majority of Christians feel they must immediately embrace it in full as truth, or else reject it all as a liberal cheap shot.

In the last decade or so I have tried to develop the ability to let the tidal wave of peer pressure wash over me, dry myself out, and then try to figure out what I really think.

The peer pressure is equal for me, I'd say, from both my conservative and liberal contingents of friends and family. So I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't (and my conservative friends would say literally so). The one thing that really kills me on questions like this is that the majority of Christians cannot see past, "because the Bible says so," as if that is an open and shut case of an answer to difficult questions of human rights, government policy and what society should look like and how it should be structured/coaxed/engineered and so on. That is shameful.

Anyway, I'll get back to you if I ever make up my mind.

(After reflecting a little on the below statement I think I need to clarify a little: I am reading this ONLY in the context of gay marriage, as I would say that is the defining social issue of our time as it relates to a perceived or real denial of rights. I fully agree that Christians in this country, as I'm sure in many others, joyfully and happily denied rights to blacks, the rest of the races, members of religious sects that weren't their's and so on. But I don't think this statement, fashioned for this time in history, is pointed at those things.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Way of All Flesh

Damnit, I need to write. So often for me, I feel like I "need" to write, but that is motivated by guilt. But the way I feel right now, it's like I physically can't take it anymore, I NEED to write. I don't often feel that way, so when it comes up, I figure I better pay attention.

And I don't want to be writing this blog. A lot of times I don't write because I don't want to be introspective in front of the whole world. I think it's amaturish, emo-ish, patheticish. One of my favorite quotes used to be, "Your mother is the only one who wants to read your diary." Conan O'Brien once shared advice he received from, I don't know, someone important, "funny man, be funny." The way I've taken that for my own is this: Look, if you're going to share your writing with the world, you better have something to say, and/or you better be entertaining. Otherwise, keep it to yourself.

But the problem is that this thinking sometimes just really stops me up. I have an unexplainable urge to put myself before people, via this blog. But I expect perfection from myself, or pretty damn near, anyway. Everything has to pop, sizzle, snap and entertain, or make you think. This high bar that I set for myself keeps me from posting a lot of stuff (not neccessarily a bad thing, but frustrating).

But sometimes you just have to say ef it.

I suffer from a debilitating need to please people, to be liked, to entertain, to constructively provoke. I don't care how successful I am at this (of course I do, but just follow me), the point is that it's there, like my arm, and it isn't going away.

I put these mighty weights on myself, and I buckle under them. I'm tired of not writing, but nothing good has presented itself, and so I've done nothing. Maybe this post is a way of punishing myself: "If you're not going to write, then I'm going to make you write like a whiny little girl and share it with the world." Touche, self.

Recently I entered a rehab program for artists. It's called "The Artist's Way," and it has been invaluable. It's basically a 12 step program to unblocking your inner artist. It's stirred up a lot of stuff (big surprise, I still have daddy issues), given me a lot to think about, but paradoxically, I haven't felt like blogging since I've started. Oh well, life is nothing but mystery and mystery, God only sends us riddles (a despairing Dostoevsky character said that, I wasn't genius enough to spawn it).

Instead of writing I run to stories. I do too much reading. I wanted to come lay down on my bed, after my wife and I just laid our two boys to bed, and bury myself in a book. The problem is, I always bury myself in a book, it's my preferred way of running. Running from this. Running from dancing my fingers across a keyboard because I am so afraid of what will come out, or that nothing will come out. It's quite insidious because I can just tell myself it's writer training: "Just keep reading until you feel like you're a writer." But that's a pretty little lie, just like 90% of the chatter that passes for thought in my futile mind.

Also, I keep trying to shut it up, to push it down and away, to muffle it and put a pillow over its face until it just stops moving, but my brain really wants to tell you that I'm watching the Indiana Jones trilogy again (the fourth was an abortion and I will not count it). We are about 40% of the way through Temple of Doom, and that was another thing I was going to feast myself on to avoid writing. I've been a bit obsessed with trilogies lately. In the last few weeks I reread a trilogy of books from my childhood (The Tripod Trilogy), and after I've vanquished Indiana I'll probably move on to the Back to the Future Trilogy.

Ha! I've tricked myself into writing this long, stupid blog post--hope springs eternal!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

16 Things You Need To Hear

I'm a scribbler. Whether it's on my hand, or, more preferably, on a stray scrap of paper, I'm jotting down mini-inspirations as they strike me. Most of them never make it to press, so this is my effort to do them justice. The following are stray thoughts I've jotted down that have issued from my unwell mind:

  1. Short story idea about a really spooky office guy who starts saying strange, quasi-philosophical things--boss won't fire b/c of unemployment tax...golden.
  2. Jess b-day--in the beginning--mouth-watering guide to everything. (Wow, wish I had even a vague idea of what this one meant.)
  3. Alienation--study it, that's what you are.
  4. I was very proud of my non self-disclosure--until I saw someone else do it and it infuriated me.
  5. Explore the unfortunate fact that perception is everything.
  6. Modern art--
    1. I haven't gotten over it.
    2. Proudly philistine.
    3. Open rebellion.
    4. Angry.
      1. I need to stop trying to figure it out. You can't know why it's happening and you can't reason and logic it out.
  7. Secret weapon on Lost. Review!!!
  8. Some ppl speak of God as someone who resides in their pocket--stay away from that.
  9. The gov is watching, one left a Pez dispenser in my undy drawer...never mind, I forgot I got that for xmas.
  10. Christianity--It's either pathology or absolute truth. I just don't know if pathology can be that productive and last that long.
  11. Blog idea: H. Potter v.s. Lost on how to tell a story, meaning, blah blah...
  12. We have stopped warning people about the mendacious nature of their hearts--we're sending them out there naked.
  13. There is only one way to be happy--be whatever it is we are supposed to be. We must take a stand.
  14. New blog series: Stuff that is bothering me this week--people that bitch about fluorescent lighting.
  15. What if you got to the end of your life and you found out that pasta could feel? What would your reaction be? All I'm saying is that maybe we should play things a little safer than we do. Is there any way to prove this isn't true? People will tell you that it isn't possible to prove a negative, but if you pay attention you will notice that this advice usually comes from inept lawyers.
  16. A guy is paying the attendant for parking and he says, "You know, I've never been murdered, but I imagine this is what it feels like," and he quickly drives off. 
And here is a note that I preserved, written to me semi-anonymously at my previous place of employment:

Please put seat down on toilet.

thank you


Saturday, June 9, 2012

How Do You Find A Church?

Awhile ago I had posted a blog with the above title. It mysteriously disappeared from my site, catching the attention of no one (but if let the ringing apathy that I feel from the universe directed at this blog affect me I would have stopped after my third post).

The reason I took it down is because it had been accepted for publication by the Burnside Writers Collective, a website I have been following for years.

So this is your notice that the piece is back on the web, just in a much more exciting location. So go check it out!

How Do You Find A Church?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Last Day of a Decade

Tonight my watch will strike midnight, and that will end my third decade of life. It is with cautious optimism that I step into my 30s, hoping I can be a little more consistent in this decade. Self reflection in blog format is often so indulgent, but if not now, when? Ending a decade and beginning another is certainly cause to stop have a look around.

First of all, let's get one thing straight: I don't feel like I'm getting old because I'm turning 30. Americans fear aging like the caveman must have feared the saber tooth, but I like to think I have a little more dignity than to fear a mathematical certitude. But among my kind (by this I refer to American boys), this fear has filtered all the way down to the not even fully grown. This fear of growing old has even infected myself.

There are two ways to fear growing old. There is the fear of death, that one is obvious, and then there is the fear of responsibility. My generation has avoided the fear of responsibility by attempting to extend childhood, and childish behavior, well into their 20s. Much of my generation labors under the misapprehension that once you marry and settle down, you are basically signing onto your slow death.

If that were true then you would be right to try and avoid it. And for many it is true. Why? Because life is what you make it. Life is an art, you've got to put some time and thought and effort into it if you want a good one. It is also a grind. The average person has 30,000 days to put in before they shuffle off to the undiscovered country--I don't know about you, but I find that a bit daunting. As Earl Partridge said, "Life ain't short, it's long. It's long, goddamn it." (Please pardon Earl's language, he's old and cantankerous and on his deathbed, it's hard to blame him.) I've tried to fight against this extension of childhood. I failed miserably in my early 20s. I've tried to do better since then. Getting married helped. But there has been a residual demon that I have not done a good job of fighting.

I find it hard to think of myself as a Man. My dad is a Man. My father-in-law is a Man. Guys who are generally older than me are Men, but I have found it hard to feel as if I am one myself. I do not feel like I am still a boy, but I feel somehow trapped in the between place where things are awkward and I don't know where to put my hands, so to speak. There was one point where I started looking around, started sizing things up, but then it faded. The sensation of being a Man has come, for me, in fits and starts.

But now it is time to put childish things away. If I am to be 30, then I simply have no choice but to be a Man.

If not now, when?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Facebook Can Only Disappoint

I check my Facebook much more often than I am willing to admit to. I reach for it in idle moments, in a spirit that isn't quite boredom, and is not noble enough to be labeled curiosity. Usually when I do this I experience a vague sensation of restless disappoint.

What Facebook offers is an experience of community. Whether you believe in God or you are an atheist or agnostic (so this includes everyone), you know that humans are built for community. We don't do well and flourish by ourselves. Human flourishing can only come in the context of community. So Facebook gives us that, and that is why it is brilliant, and that is why it will not go away.

The only problem with it is that it is a very shitty version of community. We put forth our highly tailored best versions of ourselves to interact electronically with others. We share very shallow things and everyone criticizes us behind our back for it. We share very personal things and then everyone REALLY criticizes us behind our back. It is not possible to replicate the experience that is a face to face conversation. Speaking on the phone comes close, but we get frustrated because we can't see the non-verbals, we can't say something with our eyes, we can't reach out and punch the other, if the need should arise. If that is the case with the phone, how much more distant is the dream of conversation if it has to flow through our fingers? We have a microphone to the masses, but mostly we talk about sports, bitch about traffic and post pictures of cute and/or funny things.

If Facebook is such a shallow version of community, why are we constantly drawn to it?

Facebook is addicting only in direct proportion to how easy it is. If I can sit on my couch, in my jammies, and look at your family photos and read your post on how you feel about your latest haircut, then, sure, I'll take 76 seconds to do that. But if I have to get up, shower, dress decently, make an appetizer and buy a bottle of wine, drive to your house, eat dinner with you, and then and only then will you break out your photo album so I can see those same pictures...well, I might not get around to that as quickly. Maybe I'll do that with a small handful of my friends in any given year, but all 266 of my Facebook friends? Not likely.

Facebook is the McDonald's of community. McDonald's is a poor excuse for food, but it is very convenient and it is very cheap. If McDonald's charged $18.95 for a Big Mac and you had to dress up and drive downtown to get it, would you do it? We eat McDonald's only because, like a prostitute, she makes herself so available and easy. It's an unfortunate fact of the human experience that whenever something is easy and available you can be sure it's not good for you (wild mushrooms, jobs in coffee shops, community college).

Facebook scratches the itch that community creates. It's just that it is a microscopic scratch. And when you scratch weakly, what happens?

It makes the itch worse.

Why I Write

It is downright sexy to write in a coffee shop. Downright mythic. Maybe this is only the way a writer can feel. Writers are funny because it’s something that you can play at. Nobody plays at being a mathematician. You either is or you isn’t. But the masses can fancy themselves a writer. They can slum it for an evening or a weekend. Perhaps because the act is so private (no one has to know but you, the pen and God) it’s hard to separate the pretenders from the craftsmen. I’m done trying to figure myself out. Too exhausting. I’ve settled for the following: For some goddamn reason, though I have fought and kicked, though I have curled into a ball of depression on the floor and swore to a thousand gods that I am a talentless whelp who has no hope of redemption via the arranging of letters; despite these things, like a dog to its vomit I return to the blank page. Most of the time I only show up to say “I’m here. I’m here and I don’t have much to say. I can’t think of anything. I don’t know why I do this. Why do I do this? I don’t have anything to say.” 

I say this sometimes and I’m fairly certain it is true: I wish I was free of the curse. I just wish I could let go. I wish the demon perched somewhere in my skull would release his grip, and the assurance that I am not a writer would wash down over me like baptismal waters. And I would be free to go pursue other interests guilt free. 

Just as you cannot erase words etched in stone, I cannot eliminate the angst of the writer from the bowels of my soul.

I employ the antiquated term “soul” because I still believe in it. I’m forced to believe in it because I can feel it peering out at me at night, in the quiet places, in the bump and shove and minute negotiations of existence. Just as I believe in my arms, so I believe in the soul. I can’t really make a good argument for why I believe there is transcendence in the universe. I’m so bound up in it that all I can really say to people is, “here, put on my skin, this is what it feels like to live in a universe that God inhabits.” It’s damning and awful and terribly beautiful. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Church: What I'm Looking For

One should always be careful to define themselves exponentially more by what they are for than what they are against. Dissatisfaction and rebellion must always be temporary states. If you grow dependent on those two things then you will always need the object of your rebellion in order to maintain your identity. Self righteous indignation gets old very fast. I think I do a decent job of not operating under its strict directives, but for me it is never far from the surface.

It is with the above in mind that I offer this POSITIVE way forward in my search for a church to call home:

"It’s time we stopped trying to build the unity of the church on a foundation of what WE BELIEVE, and instead started assuming our unity because of our RELATIONSHIP with the one we believe in—or more importantly because of the one who loves and believes in us. After all, Jesus did not say, The doctrines I will teach you are the way, the truth, and the life. What he said was that HE was the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. John 14:6). If unity cannot be achieved based on WHAT we believe, the only thing left is WHO we believe in." From Paradoxy, by Ken Howard.

I would love to find a church that would not only give verbal assent to this (that is incredibly easy), but would also be excited about living it out.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Glamorous Evil

More often than I am comfortable in admitting I take refuge in the eloquence of others. Here is one of my heroes, Terry Eagleton, commenting on, in my opinion, one of the main weaknesses of the church as currently practiced today:

"Yet the idea that evil is glamorous is one of the great moral mistakes of the modern age . . . Once the middle classes get their hands on virtue, even vice begins to look appealing. Once the puritan propagandists and evangelical mill owners redefine virtue as thrift, prudence, chastity, abstinence, sobriety, meekness, frugality, obedience, and self-discipline, it is not hard to see why evil should begin to look like a sexier option . . . the devil seems to have all the best tunes. Suburban virtue is a poor thing compared to Satanic vice. We would all rather have a drink with Dickens's Fagin or Emily Bronte's Heathcliff than a chat with the God of John Milton's Paradise Lost, who speaks like a constipated civil servant."

And let me head off this objection, here is my note I scribbled in the book underneath this passage: "Only thing is, tell us what to put in its place, otherwise you're just being glib." He's not really being glib, you can't say everything about everything, but I do identify with the frustration.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Parental Frailty

"Damn you little kid."

These were the words that had come out of my mouth by the time I realized what I was saying. It was drawn out of me when the spoon full of sweet potatoes I was delivering to my 9 month olds mouth was, quick as lightning, batted from my grip.
Russell has a remarkable ability and reputation for doing this. But I still mistakenly attempt to win. And then I swear at child.

I'm trying to find a way where I come out looking less bad. The words felt truly involuntary--should we be responsible for instinctual responses we have no control over?

The session ended with me accidently dropping the container of food on the floor, which caused me to throw the spoon at the washer,  so I don't think there's much for me to salvage, here.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Gay Marriage

In the last several years no political issue has been a more frequent topic of conversation in my household  than gay marriage.

On this subject my wife and I are in between a very large rock, and a very hard place. We are Christians and we try to mean it; and we live in America in the 21st century, we have gay friends and family, and we would never want to drive an unnecessary wedge into those relationships. 

Obama's announcement of his support for gay marriage has really stirred up the struggle anew. For years I have had a very nuanced defense of my position against gay marriage. I have known for years to avoid the moral argument.

Christians cannot and should not force their moral ideals on other people.

If you believe that, then any morality that you try to codify in law has to take the form of a logical, practical and "secular" reasoning. And so I have said things like, "the most ideal situation for a child is for a mother and a father. Allowing gay couples to adopt is telling a child they don't deserve the best." And, "the reason the government gets involved in marriage is because it has an interest in stabilizing those relationships because they will be ushering forth the next generation. The government does not take an interest in lesser relationships, and because a gay relationship will not produce a child, there is no reason for the government to take an interest in a gay relationship/marriage."

The problem is, this reasoning is sounding more tinny and hollow to me as the years go by. Though it does hold some sway for me, it just feels...irrelevant. It's like Obama said, "But I think that there's no doubt that as I see friends, families, children of gay couples who are thriving, you know, that has an impact on how I think about these issues." Implicit in that statement is the acknowledgement that he has the same concerns that I have posed. But where he has come down, and I feel myself landing there as well, is that even if I believe that a child in a home with two dads or two moms is less than ideal, it is very difficult to make a case against it when a) broken homes (mostly single moms, some single dads) are commonplace, and b) children of gay couples do just fine. There is something to be said for context. Call me relativistic if you want to, but it makes sense to oppose gay marriage in an extremely conservative context (like, say, the Philippines), but it makes less sense to do so in the United States. Why is that? Well...

When I think of defending a stance against gay marriage I just feel weary. I simply don't have the energy for it. It's that feeling of putting your thumb in the dyke. This is the way the tide is turning, I can't exactly explain why I don't feel like standing against it. I do not have similar reservations about abortion. I don't have any qualms about my stance and feel no need to buckle to peer pressure. I unequivocally state that I think conception is where life begins. But I don't have the same certainty with gay marriage. 

Another resounding factor is, and please forgive me for saying this, What Would Jesus Do? I do not believe that Jesus, were he here today, would be making a full-throated defense for "traditional marriage". I think it would be, in his view, beside the point. Jesus had a way of putting a bee in everyone's bonnet, of giving very unsatisfying answers to our egos. I do not see him shouldering up alongside the conservative standard bearers and raising a sign that reads: "Marriage: one man, one woman, one lifetime." And that has nothing to do with whether or not he believes that statement, but more to do with the way conservatives are using it to bash their fellow humans in the head. 

And that's another thing that bothers me: 98% of Christians oppose gay marriage because God Said, and therefore totally contradict their belief in the ideals of America, the Constitution etc. There is also, of course, a measure of good old fashioned bigotry involved. By that I mean it is something that goes beyond their "ideals" into a simple base human instinct to reject those that are "other." You know there is an element of bigotry because, to my knowledge, there is no large Christian movement clamoring for the outlaw of divorce in all cases except for adultery, there is no movement to outlaw swinging, or adultery in general. There is no law against adultery, even though it is a grievous sin. Why the double standard? 

Though I feel myself moving firmly in the direction of not opposing same-sex marriage, I still have my hang ups. I think it is a cynical thing that Obama "changed" his view right as our election season is coming into clearer focus. I also think it's cynical that he now thinks it should be allowed, but he leaves it to "states rights" which liberals have called thinly veiled bigotry when used by conservatives in the past. If  something is as clearly wrong as the lack of civil rights for blacks in the 1960's was then why wouldn't you, as the president, push for legislation? It is with things like that in mind that stoke my fear that I would gravitate towards a position out of peer pressure. Everyone does it, allows themselves to be cowed by popular opinion, myself included. But I try has hard as I can to not be. I think it is a noble thing to not give in for fear of hurting someone's feelings--if you think something is true then you should humbly own it as your own until you are convinced otherwise. 

I'm weary, and I'm tired of fighting. Going forward I make no case against same-sex marriage (though like Obama, I reserve the right to change my mind). But would I vote FOR it? That's a different conversation to be had. But my shaky and tentative answer is, probably.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Savage Bible

I challenge Christians to listen to Savage's words and respond thoughtfully. Exposure to this type of point of view should be ENCOURAGED and sought out, not DISCOURAGED and silenced (of course keeping in mind that we all have different talents and tolerances, gifts and desires).

Here's a thought:

If you thought that the Bible promoted slavery, murder, and violence towards gay children then you would be right to call those parts of the Bible bullshit. Right?

In my next blog I plan to do a point by point response to the video above.

Also, here is a compelling and thoughtful response from a fellow gay activist to Savage's speech.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dan Savages the Bible

I need to develop some sort of award that this blog can bestow on those who approach religion in a similar way that I do.

This week's yet to be established award goes to journalist Dan Savage for the following quote:

 "We ignore the bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things."

He said this to a room of high schoolers interested in becoming journalists. And the organization that brought him in to give his speech turned around and denounced him for "belittling the faith of others."

I understand that we live in a culture where it is simply unthinkable to talk like this in public about another person's religion--and we all suffer greatly for this fact. The luxury of walking around in a "no offensive talk allowed zone" comes at the cost of honesty and authenticity.

It is not a fair trade.

We should all hope and strive for civility, and yes, cussing at minors was not the wisest choice (as Savage later acknowledged), but his unflinching honesty regarding his take on the Bible is refreshing.

Try, if you can, to keep from retreating into the shallow waters of taking offense, and instead reward courage and truth when it is spoken, regardless of whether or not it confirms your worldview and makes you feel validated and warm inside.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

State of the Blog Address

Hello readership. I don’t know how many of you there are. Five? Fifty? Only one? Only one! Mom?! Mom, is that you?

I don’t know how many of you there are, and I don’t know why you come here. Several years ago I set out to be funny and nonchalant. Your one-stop shop for silly and funny and breezy cynicism. But I couldn’t dam up the tide of all the varied creatures and angels and demons that swim in the soup of my consciousness, so other things have since poured forth. I got political. I got religious. And then I got more religious. But I still tried to be whimsical.

But lately I haven’t been feeling my whimsy. Lately I’ve only felt somber and dour and serious. I’m not happy about it. I’d rather be trying to be funny. But I haven’t learned to harness the beast, so my brain tells me what I’m going to write about, and not the other way around.

So I’m prematurely apologizing to those of you who aren’t all that interested in my religious point of view.

It’s all I can think to write about lately.

Stephen King once wrote about how he knew he was playing around with something, and he knew that he needed to fire up a god almighty steam shovel because he had something monstrously huge to dredge up (for him it was the some 5,000 or so page Dark Tower series). I have a similar feeling. A feeling that there is something lurking in my soul that needs to be said about God, Religion, Church, the cultural landscape I’m bound to. So on.

For better and for worse I am fixated on this. It’s not funny, and it’s not all that fun, but it’s what I feel like talking about.

But I can’t do anything in my life without apologizing for it (my tombstone will read, “I’m sorry”), so I knew I needed to inform you of my marching orders. I’m sorry to all of you who don’t care what I think about God. Believe me I understand and I empathize. I have the feeling that We Need the Eggs is going to be religion heavy for the foreseeable future. If you want to check out please do so. Send me an email asking me to inform you when I am done being boring and I will dutifully comply.

Sometimes when I name things they have a curious habit of fleeing. Now that I have openly declared my intentions maybe they will dissipate. Maybe I will be melting my keyboard with witty insights about Obama, Romney and the hell-like, truth-crunching and suffocating and bloody horrible campaign season that is upon us.

Actually, in light of that, maybe the battle field of Religion will be a welcome respite for some. We shall see.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who Will Tell the Truth?

"I think people do look to us [writers] to tell the truth in a way that nobody else quite will. Not politicians or ministers or sociologists - a writer's job, is to, by way of fiction, somehow describe the way we live." --John Updike

This struck me deeply when I heard it. One of those things that won't leave. For the last few months I've been discovering the treasure trove that is John Updike. He is a shocking writer. "Rabbit, Run" is full of bile and evil and the worst of human nature, with no moral or finger waving or God to save the scene in sight. Yet from what I can gather, Updike, like myself, was a lifelong Christian. But the book (published in 1960) reads like nothing any Christian I know would associate with. The only thing it would do is shock and scandalize them.

Which actually helps to give me insight into the quote. First off, knocking politicians is as necessary and simple as water; only True Believers think they can trust their horse as that person seeks to curry favor with as many people as possible to gain power over their fellow man. Calling bullshit on Politicians should be a skill taught and mastered before we are released into the adult world. But I was taken aback when he suggested that people can't expect to hear the truth from preachers. We must take it as a given that, like lawyers and cops and janitors, there are good and bad ones. But I did spend a few years in church leadership, and I've spent countless hours listening to dozens of preachers (I'm a theology nerd, ok?), and I've grown to love and have great respect for the profession. So it got my ire up to have someone suggest that preachers/ministers/pastors aren't giving us the unvarnished truth.

But then I got to thinking.

If you dig a little, maybe you can start to feel what Updike put his finger on.

Preachers certainly have the deck stacked against them to begin with. They are required to be spiritual paragons. Professionals by definition are good at what they do, and the perceived point of Christianity is to be good at following God's rules. But the truth is no one, no not even one, is good at following God's rules. I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but I'm saying clergy have the incentive to fudge their moral abilities. Need I remind you what human nature does when faced with an incentive? And despite their unfounded mystique, clergy do not have a leg up on human nature.

The power of the collar is such that its wearer might be wont to feel as if they have been infused with special moral powers and authority in exchange for their service. No such deal exists.

And our poor preachers put their children in straight jackets (don't even start trying to decide if I'm referring to you or your preacher--I am not--I am speaking to the reason for why we refer to their children as PKs) because their children are also supposed to be infused with the magical elixir that exonerates them from the implacable teenage proclivity to F*** Up. But God either did not get this memo, or decided to bump it off his desk when no one was looking.

I haven't even touched a third of the wrong-headed expectations clergy face, but I shall press on.

So we saddle them (and they saddle themselves) with all this and more and force them to preach to us Scout's Honor every Sunday.

If you don't think your preacher is tempted to make his best appear as his average, to make his sin appear as a small storm easily tamed, then I don't know if you've thought this through properly. Then this apparition of achievement is tacitly held out as an ideal to be achieved for all the spiritual weaklings in the audience.

What kind of discord, disappointment and depression over achieving an impossible ideal might that reap? My guess is it would not be difficult to under estimate.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Reading Material For My Trip

Because I am in love with books and reading it seems important to record what I will be packing along on my trip. I'm sorry I must inflict this on you, but I don't have a choice.

Literary Theory, by Terry Eagleton

On Evil, by Terry Eagleton

Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck--My creative writing teacher from my senior year of high school told me I had to read it. Maybe I'll finally make it happen.

The Afterlife, by John Updike

One Wired magazine

And then what I have on my Kindle:

Rabbit Redux, by Updike

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace--One word for this book--slog. And that's the nicest one I can muster. Doubtful that I will finish. I want to so badly, but good god, it's just too much. Too much detail, too many words, too many characters, too many scenarios without enough pay off. What haunts me is that it could break open at any moment and be brilliant. And for this possibility I will probably press on.

Anyway, that should be enough material to cover 3.5 days. I always bring much too much, I can't have it any other way.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

If The Year is a Life

From Synecdoche, NY--

If the year is a life, then fall is the beginning of the end:

Whoever has no house now
Will never have one.

Whoever is alone
will stay alone

Will sit, read,

write long letters
Through the evening

And wander the boulevards
Up and down, restlessly

While the dry leaves
are blowing.

"Goodness, that's harsh,
isn't it?"

"Well, perhaps.
But truthful."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Champagne Week

I get frustrated with Easter every year. What is it? It is a holiday? Not really. The two hallmarks of a holiday, in my America, anyway, are a day off of work and an epic meal. The odd family may do an Easter feast, but it is by no means the rule. And as a child, you don't get that excited for it. It's some chocolate, some eggs, a few laughs--but you have to dress nice, and drive to Grandma's, so it's kind of a wash.

The problem is, we don't know what we're celebrating. And that cuts both ways. From a secular perspective all you're seeing is that the idea of the bunny rabbit is getting much too much attention. There's chocolate in it for you, if that's you're thing, but that's about the extent of it. But for Christian's it's even worse. Put on your Sunday best (an anachronism, dating back to Nobody Cares), get together with the like-minded and say "He is Risen!" with the correct amount of excitement, do your Easter egg hunt with the kids but make sure you put a Christian spin on it somehow (there isn't one, but that doesn't stop you), get a good deal on a ham and call it a day.

God save us from the insanity.

I hate showing up to the family gathering and not acknowledging why we are there. We are there because it is Easter. But can I ask the question, WHAT IS EASTER? (I'll get to that in a second.) This desire to talk about why we are all gathered here doesn't so much come from the proselytizer in me (because, frankly, there isn't much of one, I'm much too much of a timid people pleaser for that), as it does from the logician. Although we are all inconsistent to a certain degree, I still cannot help but point that out for others. I wouldn't celebrate a holiday that I didn't believe in, so what's your excuse?

WHAT IS EASTER? Well it isn't any of the above. I was listening to theologian NT Wright talk about this once. So if you don't mind, I shall paraphrase as best I can from the year old memory: We make much too little of Easter. We should be popping champagne corks all week long and having a raucous party. The Resurrection is the exclamation point on all that Jesus said and did. The Resurrection is the proof that what he said is true. And if what he said is true, then That Changes Everything. Now, we don't really live like we believe everything that Jesus said and did was true, but during Easter we should at least have the decency to fake like we do.

If what Jesus said is true it means that life does not have to be ultimately tragic. If Jesus was right then he offers a constructive solution to the grinding powers of the world that demands your best and punishes you anyway. Jesus may have been wrong--but I don't believe that. If I were to make my life be consistent with the bigness, the otherworldlyness, the revolutionary nature of his proclamation, then, at the very least--

I should be celebrating with champagne this week.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games, Kardashians and Jesus

One of my favorite criteria for judging a movie is how long I think and talk about it afterwards.

If I were judging by that standard alone, "The Hunger Games" would easily be on my top 10 list.

I think any time you tell a story like that you're tapping into baseline human fear and instinct. We all possess the secret knowledge that we may one day be asked, or forced, to shirk this thinly veiled charade we call "civilization" and take up arms so that we may enter into the fray to kill or be killed. So something like "The Hunger Games" is good because it lets us simulate our collective private nightmare.

And let's us take a few notes. Get to high ground. Get people to like you. DON'T go into the mouth of the cornucopia.

There are now simply too many books, movies and stories about civilization giving way to the stomping hoards or irrationality and the worst aspects of human nature taking the reins of the world to keep quiet about the following--we don't trust ourselves. Each of us know that civilization, to a large extent, is just play acting. We've smeared respectability and laws over the surface of the human animal--and we're all paranoid that it will be wiped away sooner rather than later.

"The Hunger Games" joins a long tradition of stories manifesting scripted and regimented barbarity to hold society together. A few examples would be "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" (Ursula Leguin), "The Lottery" (Shirley Jackson), and in the same vein but less violent, "The Giver" (Lois Lowry). I'm not sure why it's a recurrent story--maybe it's God's fault. Whether you believe any or all of what supposedely happened to Jesus, his story is forever entwined with the Western World (maybe the Eastern too, I don't know, never lived in the Eastern World). The One Who Suffered For the Many. That's what you have in all these stories above.

But "The Hunger Games" offers an interesting twist on this genre. I haven't made up my mind yet, and I'm very eager to hear how the story will continue, but one of the things that occurred to me was that in our main character, Katniss Everdeen, we have a Reverse Jesus. Jesus suffered and died so that we might all live; Katniss warred, maimed and murdered . . . so that we might all live. Though, of course, she was properly reluctant and sufficiently honorable in her participation in the horror show. This is not an insult, nor is it a final conclusion, just something that occurred to me.

One other thing I'm left wondering about "The Hunger Games": To what extent, if at all, is it an allegory for television? "What if no one watched?" "you have to get sponsors, you have to get people to like you." I also believe it is impossible to watch this movie and NOT think of "Survivor." The reality television show that is The Hunger Games keeps the masses happy. It's horrific and heart breaking and barbaric . . . and we can't stop watching it. Sound familiar?

Well, I guess it's a fair question: What would happen if we woke up and found ourselves stripped of our Kardashians, our Super Bowl, The Real World, Pawn Stars, In Treatment, Hoarders, Real Housewives et al?

The blood would run red in the streets.

(I found myself exhausted by typing out all of those reality shows, so please behold the extent of the ruination of the human soul that Wikipedia has documented for us: List of Reality Television Shows.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


"You regret what you want."

I'm going through drafts of potential blogs that never quite made it. This is one of them.

You've been lied to about regret. We think there's something wrong with it. We think it's a sign of a life misspent. Every living soul knows regret of one kind or another. But we've gotten the feeling that it isn't good, so we lie and say proudly, "I have no regrets."

That is nothing but stuffing reality in a sock. Not that that is strange. It isn't. It is normal to stuff reality in a sock.

I know deep and abiding regret. The big defense is always that, "Well I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't of done what I've done." It's really no argument at all. The calculus and sum total of our decisions are a whirlwind. The only reason we don't say "My life would have been so much better if I would have--" is because we can't actually see it. Please rest assured that your life would have been better if you had made some better decisions in the past. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

There are two great monuments to regret that I am aware of. The first is the Kenny Chesney song, "Done a Lot of Things Different."

"People say they wouldn't change a thing, even if they could/oh but I would."

The other one is a quote from the movie "Magnolia." It is haunting and beautiful. It is sometimes crass and uses four letter words--but so does life. But some people prefer to shield themselves from life, so I gave you fair warning.

The following quote is an old man on his deathbed:

"Earl Partridge: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah. So I went to her school for that grade. Grade - that's grade twelve. And we meet. She was... fucking like a doll. A beautiful porcelain doll. And the hips, child-bearing hips, you know that? So, so beautiful. And I cheated on her... over and over and over again. Because I wanted to be a man. And I didn't want her to be a woman, you know? A smart, free person who was something! My fucking mind then. So stupid, that fucking mind! Stupid! Jesus Christ! What would I think, did I think for what I'd done? She was my wife for twenty-three years... and I went behind her over and over. Fucking asshole that I am. I'd go out and I'd fuck and I'd come home and get in her bed... and say... "I love you." This is Jack's mother. His mother, Lily. These two... that I had... and I lost. This is the regret that you make. This is the... regret that you make and the something you take and the blah, blah, blah, something, something. Gimme a cigarette. Mistakes like this... you don't make. Sometimes... you make some and OK. Not OK, sometimes, you make other ones. Know that you should do better. I loved Lily. I cheated on her. She was my wife for twenty-three years. And I have a son. And she has cancer. And I'm not there, and he's forced to take care of her. He's fourteen years old. To... to take care of his mother... and watch her die on him. A little kid, and I'm not there. And she does die.

Earl Partridge: I loved her so. And she knew what I did. She knew all the fucking stupid things I'd done. But the love... was stronger than anything you can think of. The goddamn regret. The goddamn regret! Oh, and I'll die. Now I'll die, and I'll tell you what... the biggest regret of my life... I let my love go. What did I do? I'm sixty-five years old. And I'm ashamed. A million years ago... the fucking regret and guilt, these things, don't ever let anyone ever say to you you shouldn't regret anything. Don't do that. Don't! You regret what you fucking want! Use that. Use that. Use that regret for anything, any way you want. You can use it, OK? Oh, God. This is a long way to go with no punch. A little moral story, I say... Love. Love. Love. This fucking life... oh, it's so fucking hard. So long. Life ain't short, it's long. It's long, goddamn it. Goddamn. What did I do? What did I do? What did I do? What did I do? Phil. Phil, help me. What did I do?"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dear God, am I a Liberal?

About three months ago I managed to confuse everyone I know by posting an outline of the blog that I am now posting today. What happened is that three months ago I got excited about writing this blog, but I didn't have the time to actually sit down and think/write it all out. So I posted a teaser. But I wasn't very clear about it being a teaser.

"Dear God, am I a liberal?--An Outline" was a teaser to this blog.

About a year ago I started consuming the books of former Episcopal Minister, Robert Farrar Capon. The effect has been nothing short of a complete shift on my view of God, theology and Scripture. I've been getting shaped by books for a decade, but I would say this is the first time that I've had my worldview "shifted." I'll get into the details of what I'm talking about presently, but for a moment take time to consider the mechanics of what is going on.

We are so easily influenced. Peer pressure is not an occasional phenomena but is more akin to the air we breathe and the water we swim in. Your thoughts, choices, opinions and ideas are not your own. I do not know to what extent I am reinventing the wheel for you by telling you this, but I find it's good every so often to be reminded of these facts. No, I'm not saying you've never conceived of something original; I am only saying it is difficult to understate the extent to which you are a product of external forces.

And so it is with Robert and I. For better or worse I have let Capon shift the way I view the things of God. I keep using the word "shift", let me explain. It is not as if he has caused me to think different things about God (i.e. now I'm not sure if Jesus is God, sin isn't so bad, the Muslims are right), but it's more like he said, "You've been looking at God through that window in front of you, but you can actually get a better view if you look at Him through this one over here."

So what is the result of my understanding of Capon's teachings? To relax, to lighten up, to let a little more go. It turns out God is much more powerful and sovereign than I thought. How best to explain? How about this:

The other day I was speaking to a Medical Assistant at work about what she was going to do for the holidays. She's Catholic, and she told me that one of the things her family does around Christmas is go out to this farm in Enumclaw where the Virgin Mary once appeared. She appeared there a few decades back, and now the farm is considered Holy Ground. The guy who owns the farm talks to Mary frequently, and she to him, and the MA rattled off to me several things that she's either seen or heard of happening that could only be classified as bonified miracles.

When she first started telling me about Mary and everything she was doing I had to suppress the condescending, knowing smile that tried so hard to leap to my face. My lifelong training has well informed me that the Catholics are dead wrong on a great many things--the god-like status of Mary being one of the major ones. I myself, unlike too many other Protestants I fear to guess at, think that most of the Catholics, like most of the Protestants, will still be "saved," it's just that the Catholics will have to be saved in spite of their many wrongs.

But then a funny thing happened. I started thinking different thoughts about the Catholics as she and I continued the conversation. I thought, "Who the hell am I to deny the reality of these things she's saying?" Because I'm a Protestant, I "know" that the Catholics are wrong and God is not happy with those things they are wrong about. I'm not so arrogant as to think I don't have anything "wrong" in my theology, just that I'm not As Wrong as the Catholics. But I had to be honest with myself--if any fellow Protestant was telling me about the exact same miracles I wouldn't have been nearly as skeptical or dismissive (I'm always at least a little skeptical). What basis did I have to discount these Catholic miracles/blessings from Mary?

After reading Capon I now know that it is entirely possible, if not incredibly likely, that God's relationship to the Catholics goes something like this: "Well Mary, they've decided you are something of the divine. It's not how I designed you, wasn't the plan I had, but it means something to them, so I'm going to send you down to Enumclaw to give them a thrill." I know how offensive my words must be for the Catholics, so let me show you just how easy it can be for the Protestants as well: God beholds Luther and Calvin, whimpers, and puts his head in his hands. "Sure, my Church gets a little out of hand and I get an anti-semite and a murderer to come running to my rescue. Great. And Calvin goes and tells the world that I, who am Love itself, creates most of the human souls in this world only to be fuel for the fire, grist for the mill." He claps his hand to his forehead and pours himself a Johnny Walker Blue, neat.

We are so incredibly concerned with getting it right--but we are not remotely capable of "getting it all right." How can God be chagrined by theological error when a) everyone will have it to a greater and lesser extent, and b) he DESIGNED us this way? We do not possess the capacity to comprehend the mind of God. So we, by design, will fall short. But, as usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle. God IS concerned with us believing the right things. We wouldn't have the Bible if he wasn't. So you have to hold both of the truths in an open hand: You won't get it right; it's important to God to get it right. But we can't. I know. Look, I didn't make it up, I'm just telling you what I'm seeing.

Am I right about all of this? Do you need to now bow down before the truths I've presented? Well, as Steve Brown is fond of saying, 50 percent of what I've just told you is wrong--I just don't know which 50 percent.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Cure is the Pain

Will you allow yourself to be challenged? I think that's the question.

Anybody, fool and genius alike, can defend themselves. Justify themselves. Can effortlessly manipulate logic and reason to see themselves as right in their own minds. Not only is this common and easy, but it is one of the rules of human nature.

All things being equal, you will follow the path of least resistance. Your human nature never wants to take the blame--if you don't conciously militate against it you'll stack the deck in your favor every time.

I was thinking about someone I know, and thinking about how for them their extent of life beyond work is to get home and turn the TV on. For them that is the path of least resistance. And to deviate from that path would be to pick up a book or have a conversation with someone in their family.

I don't have a problem with watching too much TV, but my path of least resistance is to stick my nose in a book when I should be doing more productive things. Reading is my comfort zone, stepping out and doing something is a challenge.

One that I don't really enjoy.

In C.S. Lewis' "Great Divorce" the characters think their feet are being hurt when they step on the grass. The problem was that the grass was real; they had never experienced a reality as real as that grass. It seemed painful to them.

Real power showed up looking like abject weakness. The world was won by losing. Gain will always be disguised in pain.

This knowledge alone doesn't really do anything--I'm still reading too many books.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cuffs & Cameras

What do I think of George Clooney getting himself arrested?

I don't know. I'm really torn up about it. Do I think that it is to be admired, that someone of his fame, wealth, status and privilege would stand on his principles and do such a thing, or do I think that he has an ego the size of a lower back tattoo convention (that is to say the size of Tennessee) to think that people should care, that people should take time from their mortgages & children & stress & food to say, "My God, Clooney is doing something about this Sudan situation, how can I help?"

I'll just leave myself at torn. From what I know of Clooney I really like him (though my wife likes him more. I know for a certainty that if he ever darkened our doorway it would be curtains for our marriage). It's tough to blame him for wanting to make a difference in the face of evil. It's evil that you and I couldn't give a flying F about what is going on in Sudan, so I shall not take a double helping of it and crap on someone who is taking the time to do whatever they feel is in their power to do something about a problem.

Even if they are one of those much maligned and worshiped and uniquely American creations: a Celebrity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Shut Up About Your Faith

"The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God." The Apostle Paul in the fourteenth chapter of Romans.

Do I really mean the title of this post? Of course I don't. But the above quote is a little mental exercise for us all. The Bible is too often used as a cut and dried, black and white rule book. Certainly there are guidelines, but life is much too complicated for an intractable list of rules as your only guide.

So for all of the justification the obnoxious Christian can find in the Bible for their obnoxiousness--you also have wonderful verses like this one. Does the verse mean you should ALWAYS and ONLY keep your faith to yourself? It couldn't possibly mean that, not with everything else that Paul said. 

But neither should other verses that leaders like to use as tools and goads be used as a blanket operating expectation:

"Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'” Luke 9:62. The problem with this verse is that it applies to everyone. Did you hear me, I said EVERYONE. You said to Jesus today, "I'm on my way, but just give me a moment to take care of some of my stuff." No one lives up to their own standard of righteousness. So if it doesn't mean that if you half-ass it with Jesus then you're not going to make it to heaven, then what does it mean? I don't know. You might think that's a cop out, and maybe it is, but I'm just not sure. I could listen to a gifted theologian explain it, and I would probably agree, but all of those explanations have not stuck with me. My best is that I would say it is there for people who need to hear it, when they need to hear it. All the time you half-ass it. Sometimes you half-ass it when you know you could do better. That's why this verse is there. But it is certainly not there to confirm that unless you're giving it your all you probably won't make it to heaven.

"Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that you have." 1 Peter 3:15. Always as in always ALWAYS? Surely there are some times when silence or conciliatory chatter may be a better option? (Edit: This is actually disingenuous of me. Inherent in the verse is the unspoken assumption that not every situation will call for you to speak. Otherwise it would drop the "be ready to." So I must withdraw this paragraph from my overall argument. But for some reason it gets left in the text of the blog; I have no immediate explanation for this.)

"But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one." 1 Corr. 5:11. Oh my God be careful with this. I'm not really sure what it means (because if we were to take it at face value then no one should be eating with me, nor I with most Christian's that I know). Surely there must be a place for the application of this verse--but it's really not too often. Be Careful. It sounds big and weighty and scary, but if you start seeing this practiced on even a semi-regular basis then run. They're coming after you next.

If it's God's Word then you will simply have to wrestle with it more than you're even happy with. It's deceiving, enigmatic, frustrating--you should expect nothing less if the God of the Universe is trying to talk to you. If you could understand it--now that would be the real problem. In that case you've either got a fraud on your hands, or a God that's about as smart as you. Perish the thought.

Addendum: I'm sure that I frustrate some, if not all. With the way that I talk I make it sound like we can't know anything, and that God, to quote the Brothers Karamazov, "only sends us riddles." I paint the picture of a confounding God who hasn't given us much to go on. This isn't my true perspective. I described the Bible as "deceiving, enigmatic, frustrating." But I would also describe it as clear, beautiful, rewarding and True. My problem is that the side of the street that the happy Christian who doesn't struggle with sin and confusion and frustration with God has been worked up and down, over and over, quite well, thank you very much. A rut has been dug in the sidewalk for all the traffic it has gotten. 

That side of the street is not an accurate reflection of my reality as I experience it.  

There is something broken in the modern Christian mind that makes us think we are supposed to be a shining example of strength, faith and morality. Paul lays waste to this idea: "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." God gives us a real world example of Orwellian logic: Strength through weakness, wisdom through foolishness. 

So I don't mind working the other side of the street for awhile. The side of weakness, doubt, lastness and leastness and lostness. It's mysterious, and I don't think I'll always get it right. But I'll keep striking forth, sometimes in error, sometimes in truth, if it means the scales are on their way to being balanced. Even if it takes awhile.