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.