That’s Me in the Corner

let it shine, this light of mine...burn it down...what?!?

let it shine, this light of mine…burn it down…what?!?

“Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.” –Napoleon Bonaparte

I haven’t been here in a while. I’m sure my absence has not gone unnoticed. My hands can feel the lack of intimacy they once enjoyed with my laptop. They are fumbling and clumsy and my brain struggles with both recalling ideas and monitoring my two left, thumb-heavy, hands. Some topics are harder to live with than others. Every time I come to the thought of this post, I find something far more satisfying to think about. This is my rationalization, in a paragraph or less.

I’ve given you a summation of my faith as it was influenced in my youth. This post is about my own journey into Christianity.

Like all worthwhile things in which a young male can find himself entangled, my Christian faith began with a girl. More to the point: a girlfriend. Her sister–who was ten, or so, years her senior had taken her to a church service. When she returned home she called me in an excited state. She was raised Catholic-ish and this church was an entirely different experience from that. She had enjoyed her time at Family Worship Center.
Family Worship Center was an Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Bible-Preaching, Pentecostal-Leaning group of people who were, and still are (as far as I know), being manipulated by a portly, affable, charismatic man, and his family. I wouldn’t learn that for a few years. When my girlfriend called me she invited me to a meeting. Looking back, it seems to me that, given her excitement, a young me might’ve had a hard time turning down such an invitation. At that time in my life I sought any excuse to leave my parent’s house and hang out with my girlfriend. I had little trouble. The conversation ended in what could be best described as an adolescent tiff. Read: deeply unsatisfying.

After the phone conversation, my girlfriend and her sister prayed for me. This was revealed to me after I had reconsidered my initial reaction to her invitation called her back and accepted. My young mind had a hard time contextualizing this fact. Once I had given my life to God and asked Jesus into my heart, I put my girlfriend’s prayer in the “miracle” category. It was the first sliver of evidence that God had any interest in me. As I age I’ve come to realize that my reconsidering an irrational reaction to an invitation does not require divine intervention. I react irrationally then reconsider said reaction all. the. time…it’s how I roll, to use the parlance of the youth of a decade ago…

Boring. I started this post 6, or so, months ago. It felt like a good idea. I felt an obligation to explain something about myself. That obligation was made up…it was manufactured in my 41 year-old child’s brain, not to say I have a 41 year-old child. I, at the age of 41 (and into 42), have a child’s brain. Not to say that I extracted the brain of a living, healthy, and happy child and put it in a jar and added that jar to my collection of jar-bound treasures. I mean my brain is child-like.

I’m reading a book about writing a good memoir…I know it sounds like a circle-jerk, but it is a tad more satisfying, trust me. The author writes that the secret to recalling a memory is to hear the screen-door slamming. I agree with her: sound, or certain smells, or the mental image of the glimmer in a friend’s eyes are very reliable place-holders for memories. This is why I spent most of my twenties and the bulk of my thirties trying to forget most of those things. I hate letting all that hard work go to waste.

It’s like a detox…why would I want to detox? I spent a lot of money on those toxins. What kinda scam you runnin’ here, doc?

I regard my childhood memories like a street-person who has a vibe that can only reliably be described as: unhinged. I don’t want to be disrespectful, and as such, I want to acknowledge their presence. But I don’t want to lock in. I do not want to be the Hanoi landing-pad for their cerebral refugees.

My memories are like a distant cousin who went off his meds, against the wishes of everyone, save the voices in his head. In this scenario, I am me–nursing my third Ranger IPA because we are at a family reunion and I’m starting to catch a buzz and I need to keep my shit together (those of you who know me get that joke). The fresh beers are across the room–behind me, and I’m headed to the bathroom with one half of one warm IPA. My un-medicated cousin is standing on line for the same bathroom which originated my trip from being cold beer-adjacent to being loony cousin-adjacent. Then, he turns around and starts explaining the minutia of President Obama’s birth-certificate. And some things he’s been reading about Operation Jade Helm 15 on the web. So I’m stuck drinking a shitty beer and listening to things that I don’t believe or care about.

My childhood is like 9/11: of course I have questions. But I don’t want any fucking answers. You need to have your larger can in place before you start opening cans of worms like some kinda asshole–it’s just common sense.

So I’m not writing that post. Not now, maybe never…because I don’t have to. I went to Kaua’i to help build a Christian church community and during that time I realized: “I don’t give a fuck if anyone believes in the saving power of Jesus’ sacrifice”, because I don’t believe in it. It was just something someone told me and I believed it (and I mean, really believed it) for a couple of decades because it was a great distraction from life. At least it was for me.

I’ve gone into every situation thinking that it’ll work itself out. That is my resting face, life-choices speaking. That idea was never more challenged than when I went to Kaua’i as a church-planter and came home as a Deity-indifferent alcoholic. That shit did not work itself out. What the fuck, life? But life knows that I play the role of bully and victim seamlessly. I come by both honestly, and I’ve no predilection to apologize for either.

I do not regret going to that beautiful island-county, don’t get me wrong. I learned one very important life-lesson. I have no real sense of who I am. I don’t never know if I ever did. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing an impression of the person that the people around me wanted me to be. And I don’t know why that is. I know the blame falls on me. The onus rests on the individual to be said individual. That is true. But, why would I do the foot-work for a therapist who is destined to relieve me of a hard-earned buck or two? Or, mayhaps, I’ll die and it’ll still be a mystery. Either way, I’m no fan of spoilers. Let me enjoy the movie.

I am not a Christian. Nor am I a materialist. I’m comfortable with a reality that transcends my understanding. But, I’m not gonna try and figure it out. I figure that if that transcendent entity has an interest in me, it knows where to find me. If that happens, I suspect it’ll have some questions for me…I will have some questions too. You see: I’m a lover, not a fighter…but I’m a passionate lover. So, pack a lunch. Either way it goes down, calories will be burned.

One other thing, to nobody in particular, don’t give a person self-awareness and then demand that they deny themselves…that’s a dick move, bro…(or sis, ladies?)

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An Open Letter to Christian Churches

your pride was less annoying when it came with a sense of style...

your pride was less annoying when it came with a sense of style…

“My parents are very religious…very pro-Iraq-conflict…’Cause that’s what Jesus would do; smoke them out of their holes like the gentle carpenter, oh he only turns the other cheek to grab another can of whoop-ass…” –Maria Bamford

Dear Christian Churches:

Hey folks, I know it’s been a tough season.  Money has been tight.  Formerly needy people are finding new ways of comforting themselves.  Crazy fringe groups like: Greater Ministries International, the Westborough Baptists, Focus on the Family, CBN, and the GOP, have co-opted our message and distorted it to the point of being unrecognizable.  People are buying in like crazy.  People are like crazy.  People are crazy.  People be cray-cray.  It’s been tough.

This hasn’t been true for all of us.  For some, times are good.  For some, the walls and doors of their buildings can barely contain the number of devoted followers who joyfully rush to their respective over-stuffed houses of worship and make it rain.  Every.  Chance.  They.  Get.  The coffers are full.  Their problem is different.  Their question is: Do we create more worship services, or move to a different space?  That is the purpose of this letter.

Please stop erecting new church buildings.

You suck at it.  There was a time when we, as a faith, killed it when it came to architecture.  Most of the great artists and trades-people were on board with our mission (not by choice, but seriously, to-may-toe_to-mah-toe).  As a result, there exist beautiful structures that double as grand examples of devoted worship.  That is not the case anymore.  Like the great sage Glenn Frye (actually it was Don Henley–kindly pointed out by Jill in the comments) once said: “…those days are gone forever, we should just let ’em go”.  These days, churches are more apt to drive through the town in which they’re called to serve, passing every abandoned commercial shit-box, to find a fresh plot of land, and build their own ply-wood and glass shit-box.  Not cool guys.  Not cool.

Every single one of these boxes will one day be shuttered.  Then what?  Nothing, nobody wants that building.  It becomes an ugly and hollow visage of its former mediocrity.  If it is small enough, one might be able to find a non-profit thrift-store or crisis-pregnancy center (both seem to have a similar distrust for aesthetic) to fill the void between the walls; for a season.  But, for the most part, it just sits there in a state of perpetual decay until–one day–it catches fire or is torn down by the city for safety reasons.  A testimony for all to witness.

I remember being involved with such a situation when the church I was attending left the Seventh-Day Adventist building in which they were meeting to build a monstrosity in the woods…next to a golf-course community.  The church, which I’ll call: Christ the Rock Community Church, left the building we were occupying because we were asked to leave by the Adventists.  It wasn’t really anyone’s fault.  It was the result of two differing Christian worldviews that could not find common ground anymore.  So maybe it was everyone’s fault.  These things can be tricky.  But, at a time when we were looking to find a new place to call home, Wal-Mart had successfully won the battle against the local (pro-living-wage) K-Mart (yet another evidence that free-market economics lack perspective).  The former K-Mart building was vacant and available.  It would’ve served as a great building.  The reason given for not utilizing that building was: cost…not that the money wasn’t there, it would’ve cost more to renovate than to build a new building.  We know now that this was a result of heavily manipulated stressors on real-estate and building supplies; things over which the average church community has no control.

But that’s my point, it’s the short-sightedness of  building funds that stifle us.  Even if the cost was legitimately more burdensome, imagine the testimony to the surrounding community that a vacant eye-sore could be made into something useful.  This would effectively transform a building fund into a general ministries or missionary fund.  A bargain at twice the price.  Re-purposed buildings are physical examples of redemption to a community.  They are examples of the gospel…a gospel of second chances.  In this transubstantiation, commonplace brick and mortar become the words of God–just as ink and paper, or the actions of the devoted, do.

The other beautiful thing that happens when you re-purpose a building is that nothing is lost.  When the community moves on, the building is every bit as useful as it was when they got there.  Unlike the ply-wood shit-boxes in the forest, commercial properties remain commercial properties to be filled or torn down as the land-owners and surrounding community see fit.  There is a stasis achieved that is bigger and more stable than the whims of a church board in crisis.

Or don’t have a building.  If you’ve money, find a place that you can use and disperse the money into the economy by supporting the school, or grange, or community center in which you meet.  It offers you less autonomy, but it is in the wrestling…the negotiation…the forced contact with those in charge that we are forced out of our western passive-aggressive monastic state.  A church building should be a conduit for contact with the surrounding community.  Not a sanctuary from it…not a strong-tower.

It’s time to re-think this form of consumerist philosophy.  It is time to disconnect our sense of worth from property.  What would Jesus do?  I don’t know.  I never got the vibe that he was in to property rights…he seemed indifferent toward property.  There was a time when church buildings were works of art…so much so that when they were of no use to the church community that once filled their voids, they became useful to the community at large.  They were made into pubs or libraries or personal dwellings…all of which are more akin to first century churches than the mega-box churches of western white-washed suburbia that we see today.  Re-purposed commercial buildings are not only more centrally-located to the community, they’re also (when used with proper hospitality) a gift to the people in the community.  A gift for which it is hard to be compensated.  In a consumerist society, that is a rare gift.  And it is an important gift, if for no other reason than to keep the giver honest…

Faux Rage

I'm Green with Rage!!!

I’m Green with Rage!!! 

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” –Aristotle

I don’t have a lot to say this week…or I have too much to say and I’m having trouble figuring out how to say it all…or I don’t have much to say.  At any rate, this will be short.  I’m really not in the mood to say anything important.  It has not been a good week for communication.  Maybe it has been two weeks now.  But two very talented writers whom I admire have been victims of America’s new favorite past-time, celebrated by conservatives and liberals alike: Faux-Outrage.  Faux-Outrage is a side-effect caused by watching news programs where-in puffy white-turned-red faced men yell the things about which you should be concerned at you. 

My first example is Rolling Stone contributor Janet Reitman’s compelling and articulate piece about the Boston Bomber which was chosen for the cover story of  Rolling Stone Magazine (allegedly after a last minute cancellation by Kanye West–Yeezus H. West, who was originally set to grace the cover) which caught the ire of the lead-singer of a band named Disturbed (a man with a similarly forgettable name).  Then all hell broke loose.  There were many angry people…people who claimed that Rolling Stone was trying to glorify this kid turned “terrorist”…people who clearly hadn’t read the article.  When people did finally get around to reading the article, the outrage was hastily aimed at the photo…a photo that was used in the bombing coverage by the New York Times within days of the bombings.  Lastly came the claim that Rolling Stone lacked the journalistic integrity needed to print pictures like the one in question on the cover of their publication without incurring the wrath of roided-out Nu-Metal heads, pundit peddlers of vapidity, and doughy cake-filled bloggers alike.  By then everyone had gotten so bent out of shape they were all ready for a collective rage-baby nap, and this final claim petered out.  Life is hard in America…always having to invent things about which to be angry…thanks a lot, clean water and small-pox vaccinations!

The other example, one I’ve been reading a lot about the last couple of days, is the book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth written by Reza Aslan.  It is a book written by a scholar in which he discusses his educated view on the historical Jesus.  Perfectly reasonable, right?  Not according to Right-Wing Evangelicals who have taken the time out of their busy days to sleuth out this factoid for our shared safety: Reza Aslan is a Muslim…gasp…(says C.S. Lewis: “What a delightful name.”).  How dare an educated Muslim write an historical piece about an historical figure…where does this guy think he lives, America?!?  This book has upset a lot of people.  If you are aware of this book and are wondering why so many people are so angered by it, join the club.  I’ve been scouring the internets and World Webs to find a reasonable opinion or coherent argument against this book…so far, no luck.  If you are aware of this book and you do not wonder why so many people are so angry about it, I suspect you’ve already joined a club…here’s a short video to illustrate the ridiculous dogmatic din…

In other news I went to a barbeque at my full-time friend, and sometime-guest-editor of this blog, Matt’s house and we came up with a book idea that’ll make us rich…or if not rich at least a little more infamous, which is worth its weight in gold if you ask Matt and I…but I wouldn’t if I were you.  We are going to write the cliff-notes for every book about Hitler ever written.  They will be short books; the main contents of which being the simple line, and I really shouldn’t be telling you this before we get our book deal, “Hitler was a dick.”

Kris: My Friend

Kris' Pink Jesus and "Homemade Wine"

Kris’ Pink Jesus and “Homemade Wine”

“Someone asked me once if I knew the difference between a civilian and a citizen. I know now. A citizen has the courage to make the safety of the human race their personal responsibility. Dizzy was my friend. She was a soldier. But most important, she was a citizen of the Federation.” –Johnny Rico Starship Troopers

On a cold, rainy Thursday morning in January my friend Kris passed away.  He spent his last two months-ish in a hospice in East Bremerton.  It was a nice place on the inside, but as you pulled into the lot you were confronted by a towering rock wall that exuded a foreboding vibe…it was like the final battle scene in Starship Troopers…an uphill battle against alien bugs…

I met Kris at my friend The Ricker’s house.  He was The Ricker’s neighbor and had been invited to a guy’s group that had been meeting on Thursday nights at The Ricker’s place for some time.  I was made aware of this former radio personality by my friend Chris (different Chris…different spelling) and, being a lifelong fan of radio, I felt compelled to not only meet him but strike up a conversation about a love we both shared.  We became fast friends.  Little did I know the price of this friendship.  Had I known, I might not have committed.  Thank God I didn’t know.

Together, Kris and I walked through some heavy shit…we learned a great deal about who we are before God in Christ.  We learned that there is no need for false pretense in Christ.  We learned that love means walking through anything that comes our way in the process of glorifying God.  Then we were tested on that material…pop-quiz, hotshot–what do you do?  I still don’t know the full scope of what God was trying to teach us all through Kris’ life.  I’m convinced it was something important.

I learned a great many things from my friend Kris.  He had the Zen attitude that comes from defying death’s icy-cold grip enough times to make a cat ask: “What the fuck?!”.  One evening we were all sitting on The Ricker’s back patio.  It was Summer.  Kris had just bought the fillet of a white fish that had been crab-stuffed by the skilled hands of some Trader Joe’s lackey.  When he told the story of his acquisition, preparation, and subsequent consumption of this dish, his face told the story of a blissful nirvana accessible to anyone with an oven and a working knowledge of rooting out Trader Joe’s locations.  I knew instantly that I needed the recipe for this fish dish.  He gave me all of the steps he followed.  I made note of them all.  Then began my journey toward the realization of this entree of which dreams were made, if one were to stuff one’s dreams with crab…which I do.  I told Kristy, my wife, all about it and she gathered the requisite ingredients.  The stars aligned and we came to the evening when we could enjoy this fish.  I sat down and, remembering the look on Kris’ face, I gleefully took my first bite.  Were evolution not so lazy my taste buds would have grown arms with shovels attached to them to clear my tongue of the hideous flavor that accompanied this fillet.  The trip to nirvana that seemed too good to be true, was.  During the ensuing three days, while I tried anything and everything that wouldn’t cause permanent nerve damage to rid my mouth of that repulsive flavor, I contemplated why Kris would’ve given me such horrible culinary advice.  Was it some kind of a prank?  Did Kris lack the sophistication to discern between good and bad dishes (dishi?)?  Did Kris not like me?  All of these were important questions as they’d all play a role in formulating the response I gave to the inevitable question: “How did you like the stuffed fillet?”.

In the end, I decided it was none of those options.  And what I learned through this contemplation was, prossibly (a word I invented to bridge the substantial chasm that the terms possible and probable leave between one another), one of the most valuable lessons of all of the things I learned from Kris.  You see the secret was, and is, that Kris didn’t let a mediocre meal taint his view of life…he used his view of life to change a mediocre meal.  When you live on borrowed time everything tastes better…but borrowed time doesn’t actually exist…or it is all that exists.  My point being: Kris’ close calls with death never changed the length of his life, anymore than my lack of close encounters has modified the length of my life.  We only have the time we’re given, but Kris experienced things that changed his perspective about the life he’d left to live, and I, by meeting Kris, also experienced something capable of changing my perspective.  If I allow such change.  I do…Sometimes.

The following Thursday Kris asked me: “How was the fish?”.  “Not bad”, I told him…it was a lie, but I just didn’t see a reason to contradict his view of the fillet.  Maybe that was wrong.  Time will tell; she always do.

Redemption is a subject that preoccupies the human experience more than anything else.  It’s in our songs, poems, stories, and movies.  We use it to understand the hero’s plight, and it is a hook upon which we hang our hope.  I had the opportunity to watch a hero strive toward redemption, and while I missed the beginning, I saw the end.  It was beautiful.  Thursday, January the 24th heaven received a new voice to join in the refrain: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty Who Was and Is and Is to Come.”  Kris: My Friend.

Entropy, It Ain’t What It Used To Be

“Only entropy comes easy.” Anton Chekhov

I first read this line, the line after which this post is named, on a t-shirt.  Funny stuff if you ask me…and while I know you didn’t, I’m confident that you’re thankful for my brilliant observation.  Lately I’ve been thinking about the frustration that people face as a result of entropy.  For the purpose of this post the term entropy means: everything is breaking down…all around us…everyday.  This is a gross simplification of the term, and Dictionary.com has a far more suitable definition on their site…feel free.  I’m not one of those bloggers who pads his word count by using cut and paste to insert long drawn-out definitions into his posts.  Plus I tried.  Formatting was a bear.  So—here we are.  The actual definition really has little to do with my point, which is more about how this constant degradation of stuff makes us feel, and how we react to it…more to the point, how I react to it.   The frustration that this process produces seems to be as universal as the proclivity to try and reverse it.  We all entertain, at times, the slavish inclination to slow the decay-rate of our possessions, our relationships, our bodies, and our lives.

My life is filled with all of these little reminders that things are not cooperative.  I want my car to run trouble-free until the time comes when I am bored with it and want another…“It’s not you, car, it’s me”…it’s totally me.  My house, which is a great place, has little things happening in it all the time that need maintenance or repair.  They are small, insignificant things, but so are ticks…and that fact makes them no less annoying.  Relationships are no minor source of frustration for me, I constantly have to apologize for something stupid I’ve said or done…and it is wearisome at times.  I know, I know, the solution is simple: “Just stop saying and doing stupid things”.  That really does seem simple when I read it…alas; the doing is far more complex—as they say when hot coffee is in play: “There are many a slip, between cup and lip”.  But the point isn’t how I fix me; that’ll take some time, and I’m beginning to suspect I won’t be around for the re-boot unveil of pats0 2.0.  My point has to do with the fact that everything around me is an indicator that I was not made to be in a constant environment of decay…it makes me uncomfortable…the natural state of the world and all of its elements makes me uncomfortable.

What could be more natural than decay?  Instinctually, we realize this simple fact at a very young age.  We receive a toy that captures our imaginations and quickly usurps the role of our former favorite toy to become our new favorite.  When that happens, we protect it with a vigor that our Slinky and Silly-Putty never enjoyed.  It’s as though we know: the more hands that touch this treasure, the more magic that is drained.  Soon, Chatty Cathy speaks in hushed tones and the clicks that used to be so prominent when our Lego’s found their purchase become more and more subtle.  But this does little to quell our shock as life doles out proof after proof that this is the way it is.  We are not only shocked that it is happening to us, but we react in a way that would lead one to believe that we think that entropy is a strange quirk that we alone possess, and as such we try and hide, from everyone, the fact that our world is coming down around our ears.

In a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine, I read two articles about two recent media train-wrecks—Charlie Sheen and John Mayer…the former got the cover, and after reading the article, I can see why.  Say what you want about the tiger-blood swilling, seven-gram rock-banger…when he’s not winning, the man gives a compelling interview, because that’s how he rolls.  But that is neither hither nor thither; the metaphor that these two guys employed to describe the way their lives felt just prior to their public melt-downs was the interesting part.  They both made reference to the idea that their lives were falling down all around them, and they were standing there trying to hold it all up as things crumbled.  It read like someone trying to hold up a house while it is falling down.  Although not to give those inside a couple of extra seconds to escape, but more for seeing to it that the neighbors never suspected that anything was wrong with the structure…the very last ditch in damage control.  Everything is okay here, move along.

I have never, nor do I know anyone who has, lived in a perfect world.  I’ve heard no firsthand accounts of what it would be like, but the longing for unity, for peace, for redemption, and for a clock that never losses time is everywhere.  It is in our poems, songs, and stories.  So from where does all of this consternation toward degradation come?  The imagination of humanity seems to reliably point toward a future devoid of disappointment; at least a good portion of our fantasy is bent on a better hope.  But this is not the story of history.  The story of history is change through adversity…maturity through suffering.  What a crazy coincidence that we all long for something perfect…Crazy like a Warlock…

June Fourth

“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”

–Ingrid Bergman

In 1994 on June the 4th my wife Kristy and I were married…I’d known her for a couple of years, and she was the second serious girlfriend I’d had in my life.  Though I had had two girlfriends and had been dating for four or five years and I was about to get married, I was still a complete idiot on the matter of girls and relationships…A complete idiot.  This well-veiled fact was of little deterrent for my soon-to-be-bride and I.  It had no power to deter her, because she wasn’t aware of my ignorance.  Somehow, I’d been able to hide my stupidity.  It had no power to deter me because I had no vested interest in listening to reason, and one’s wedding day is no time to start listening to anything that might “rock the boat”, as they say.  So there we were: two people completely, blissfully, ignorantly, about to give our lives to one another…what a happy mistake.

I know describing a marriage, especially one that has lasted eighteen years, as a mistake is not romantic…it may even be borderline rude.  But when I look back on all the years my wife and I have been together, and how little we knew about love, commitment, and one another, I would be lying to call it anything else.  I couldn’t have written this story.  I couldn’t even have coordinated this effort.  Someone else deserves the credit.  Someone who knows how to turn happy mistakes into lives that tell the story of redemption.

I’ve heard it said that the way people generally view marriage is something like this: “I know that I love me, and I’d like you to join me in the life-long quest of loving me.”  I don’t know who said that originally, but it seems to me very apt.  Though it will never make its way on to an anniversary card and it is an ill-advised way of beginning a marriage proposal, it is what people seem to be thinking when they decide to get married.  I know that I put far less thought into what I needed to do to love my wife, than what she needed to do to love me.  I don’t know if she was thinking the same thing, but I do know that in this scenario the ratio was in the 50% range, and that is as large a consensus as one could hope for in these tumultuous times…for good or ill.  As such, I feel good about considering this an appropriate generalization.

It is an interesting thing, marriage.  Two people trying to turn separate histories, separate ideas of family, and separate ambitions of what family can be into one singular story while everyone they love and who love them look on.  It may not be the highest pressure situation known to human-kind…but it is close.  It’s no small wonder, that the failure rate of said institution is so high.

So how did I get so lucky?  Me, a guy who’d fought against all odds to even find love.  Me, a guy who has no idea what the term really means, in the larger scheme of things.  A guy who struggles in the most non-ironic way to understand it every day…a guy who cares less about reciprocating it than having the capacity to truly understand it, as life goes on…how am I so lucky?   It seems unfair.  And it is.

But what am I supposed to do?  Apologize; try and make you feel better about your misfortune?  I cannot.  I will not.  I lack the power.  All I can tell you is that love is real. I never believed it, but for crying out loud I’ve seen it…even though I had no right.  I’ve seen it.  And now what can I tell you?  Get off of your ass and find it.  You are unable to do it in your own strength…and please believe me when I tell you this is no taunt…you are unable to find love in your own strength.  But this does not preclude you from finding it…so go!

Eighteen years?  Here’s to mistakes…beautiful, beautiful mistakes…thank God for them.  I know I do…

The Things I Think pt. 3: On Education

“…like ants in a colony we do our share
but there’s so many other fuckin’ insects out there…”

–Bad Religion, Punk Rock Song

There is a problem with education in America, this news is nothing new.  Although it is a fresh feeling for a country not used to failure (don’t worry failure, we’re warming up to you).  Luckily, we have some of the greatest historians in the world, and if we can just bring up these scores, we can spin this ugliness right out of existence (you know, like the way we made Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders storm San Juan Hill—we can make a hero of you too, test scores) (Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders would be a great name for a dance team of some sort—but really there is no time to talk about that) (Ladies and Gentleman please welcome Ted…okay, you’re right, I’ll move on).  Why is it that one of the most affluent countries in the world is having their asses handed to them, in terms of education, by countries that aren’t even sure where their next drink of clean water is going to come from?  (I know. I know.)  There have been as many proposed theories, as proposed solutions, but for the most part, they boil down to a couple of ideas:  1) Teachers don’t make enough money, and 2) Students don’t spend enough time at school (this is an idea born of a philosophy that we should mimic the work ethic of Asian countries like Japan and China whose students spend much more time engaged in their education than do our students).  While the stats are more complex than I care to go into, the view from the cheap seats is that—when compared to thirty-four (34) industrialized countries—the U.S. ranks fourteenth (14) in reading, seventeenth (17) in science, and twenty-fifth (25) in math.  But let’s face it, math sucks.

Some of the most laughable solutions have come from the Executive Branch of our fair government, either by those in office, or those desperately scratching the blood-slicked walls of the tower, trying to get in—read: Newt Gingrich.  George Dubbya Bush’s administration thought that standardized testing would be a great way to demand accountability in the schoolhouse and bring those scores up.  Luckily for him, this plan will probably be lost to history because, though a horrible arrangement, it was not his worst idea…not by a long shot (you know what I’m talking about, Baghdad).  The aforementioned Newt had a ludicrous proposal on his way through the revolving door of the Republican Primaries.  He thought that America should make higher education less of a priority, and give some students an opportunity to enter our non-existent job force earlier, should they choose.  Let sixteen (16) year old kids decide whether they want their collars to be blue or white.  He took a beating in the court of public opinion for suggesting “child-labor” as a solution for our economic woes.  Though the implication that Newt was in favor of sending child-labor laws decades into antiquity was not entirely true, it was entirely funny to see a politician take it on the chin for saying something stupid.  But did Newt simply vocalize a long-held American sentiment about education?  Wasn’t he just showing the same Western misunderstanding about the value of instruction?

The sentiment of which I speak is the idea that one can determine the value of any given facet of education based upon how well it prepares one for the workplace.  I first vocalized this idea when I was in a Jr. High math class.  I decided that I wasn’t going to use whatever the particular lesson was in any real-world situation so there was no need for me to pay attention.  I had heard this idea from another kid who I thought was cool, and now we’ve both realized that that view of learning was short-sighted.  Or, at least, I have.  I don’t know what the other kid is doing with his life, but I’m pretty sure he uses math whether he’s flipping burgers at McDonalds, or making change at the Meth store he operates.  We were much younger than Newt…so I’m not sure the excuse he has for his ignorance.  I forget my point.  Oh yes.  Could it be that the problem with education in America is we misunderstand its value from the out-set?  Is schooling nothing more than a tool used to train us to become better workers and citizens?  Surely a horse would never seek out the training required to plow a field for its own enlightenment…a horse only learns to plow fields if it is going to spend its life plowing fields.  Newt was merely suggesting that we learn from the noble horse, right?

Homer Simpson once asked the question, “How is education supposed to make me feel smarter?”  And I’m not convinced that everyone who heard that quote had the ability to sniff out its absurdity.  To an increasing number of people education seems to have become a tool that others use to make us feel small…to make us feel bad about ourselves.  It’s the same old fear of knowledge re-packaged for modern consumption.  In this climate Copernicus wouldn’t be considered a heretic; he would be accused of being an elitist.

Low test scores, low teacher’s wages, lack of time spent in school, and lack of parental interest in their child’s education are not the problem.  These are merely the symptoms pointing to a society who cares little for education.  There is a Western proclivity that cherishes the destination over the journey, as such, education takes a backseat to the things said learning provides.  Until we have the same enthusiasm for intellect as we do for fantasy houses and dream cars, test scores will suffer.

It is a great benefit, to an increasingly overbearing governing body, that we see instruction as a mere stepping-stone to gainful employment.  Our leaders are huge fans of the idea that we train ourselves to be nothing more than revenue factories.  That we, like horses, drop our heads and grind out twenty (20) to thirty (30) years of trouble-free labor.  But if we were to take education seriously, just on its face, who knows where that kind of reform might lead?  It is never a waste to spend time learning.  If one entertains this thought, they do so to the peril of their mind and soul.  If this is so for the individual, it only takes time for it to be so for the whole of society.

The Memorial Service and the Crazy Things Christians Believe

“Under wings of gold and silver, sometimes we have to hide; for shelter from this bitter winter, at least tonight”

-Mark Salomon

Saturday the 21st of April my family and I went to celebrate the life of my wife’s late grandmother whom we lovingly referred to as Granny D.  It was a normal service…normal for Christians…which involved many stories of past loves and losses, and a strong message of hope beyond the grave.  We were all convinced of the idea that her life after her death was exponentially better than the one to which she clung immediately prior.  This caused me to realize something about the nature of Christian belief, not for the first time, I realize it in different ways everyday…for good or ill, Christians believe some crazy things.

There are many times when I am at odds with the crazy things that Christians believe, even though I am a Christian.  I will not go into this list as it is vast and is likely to land me in various debates and controversies which interest me little.  I will say that I do share some crazy beliefs held by the majority of people who identify themselves as Christian.  I believe in Heaven and Hell though, admittedly, I know very little about these “places”.  I believe that a young woman, in the town of Nazareth, was one day impregnated by God and gave birth to a Savior even while she was a virgin.  I believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ after three days being victim to the ravages of mortification.  And I believe in the craziest of all Christian beliefs: the belief that one should love one’s enemy.  I believe all of these things, which is easy for me to say…I haven’t a clue about how easy it will be for others to say this of me at my memorial service.

This was a memorial service so, of course, nobody showed up with an axe to grind…or if they did, they were intelligent enough to stow that axe.  Rather, the words that most everyone spoke about Granny D had to do with the fact that she had a loving disposition.  There were no grandiose comparisons to Mother Theresa…no calls of sainthood…no false pretense whatsoever.  There were just a bunch of people who seemed to remember this woman as a person who genuinely cared for them.  Does this mean that Granny D loved her enemies?  I don’t know.  I don’t know anyone who was a big enough asshole to make an enemy of Granny.  But, it seems to me, that it does mean that she took seriously the charge to love people without regard to their race, culture, social status, political proclivities, or education.  It was clear to me that her friends and family were nothing if not a cross-section of humanity.  She took seriously the craziest tenant of Christianity that exists…love.

When people spoke of Granny D and the way she treated people, there was a theme that ran through the entire narrative, a narrative that ran past the lips of over a dozen free-thinking people, and was not called into question by any of the many in attendance.  That theme was the ease with which she carried herself whilst showing kindness to loved ones and strangers alike.  This love seemed to come naturally to Granny D.  But I don’t think it did come naturally.  I don’t think it came easily.  I think the fact that it seemed that way was a testimony to the fact that Granny took seriously the charge to love others and also took seriously the fact that she could not do this on her own.  Granny D trusted Jesus to do that which her frail humanity could not.  Granny D knew it was important to love; love is something all Christians understand to be important (not Christians alone but it is the subject about which I am speaking, Christians).  It’s important to love…love thy neighbor…love thy enemy…love thy God…love thyself (or to thine own self be true, if you like).  But Granny also knew she couldn’t do it by herself.  She understood her weakness.  That is why this love seemed so natural, how she pulled it off with such ease.

It is easy to say that you believe in the crazy things that Christians believe.  The hardest part about it is how you think others will see you in light of saying something like: “I think Jesus literally turned a few fish and a couple of loaves of bread into a feast for Fifteen thousand or more people”.  Yeah they may think that you’re crazy, but what do you care?  I’ve seen Sarah Palin’s Facebook fan page…there are a lot of “Likes”.  Apparently, there is no inherent nobility in not caring what others think of you.  But at your memorial service belief in the fantastical will pale in comparison to the one thing anybody cares about…did you believe the crazy story about love?  You either did or you didn’t and the evidence is rarely summed up by the things that you said, it’s more of a gut thing.  How did you treat those with whom you came into contact?

How did I treat those with whom I had contact?  A lot of the time the answer is: poorly.  But this is not because I have a special deficiency in empathy or sympathy; it is because I am quite sure that I can go it alone, that I posses all I need to overcome my selfish nature and truly love people.  In short, I don’t take my need for Jesus seriously enough.  If my memorial service were to be held tomorrow, there is no doubt in my mind how well I’d fare.

Meandering the Fringes: Thoughts in the Wake of the Emerald City Comicon pt. 3: The Pecking Order

People say they love truth, but in reality they want to believe that which they love is true.

-Robert J. Ringer

There were times while we (my friend Ricker and I) were at the “Con” (as my friend Ricker calls it) when we didn’t know what to do we were in that whelmed state that isn’t quite over or under…I guess, as such, whelmed is probably the wrong term, but really who are you to judge.  This is a theme that is gaining notoriety, not judging.  I find this quite comforting after I say something stupid, or almost stupid.  Really this has nothing to do with my point.  My point is when my friend Ricker and I had no idea what to do next; we would go over to our friends’ booth.  We would do this for two reasons.  What are the two reasons; you might be asking yourself.  The answer is, I don’t recall.  However, I do remember having fun every time we stopped by for a visit.  Tom and Tim Engstrom are brothers who write and illustrate comics.  They are quite talented, and I don’t mind saying, handsome devils.  I don’t mind saying this because they are easy on the eyes.  Also, I’m not a homophobe anymore.  I stopped fear the gays long ago, my wife still fears them on account of the fact that I am so attractive, at least that’s what Tim and Tom said.  Together they write “The Legendary Boys of Floyd” a web comic.  They were situated between a couple of heavy players in the comic book game, guys of whom I knew nothing, but my friend Ricker kept totally nerding-out over them, because he is just so into this stuff.  Their names were Kurt Busiek, and Jason Howard, and I only mention their names so that I can use them in tags and possibly funnel more than two people to my blog under false pretense…my third favorite tense, and second favorite pretense.  Don’t get me wrong, they seemed like nice fellows, but I would be hard pressed to muster any strong feelings about them, unless they were driving a hit-and-run van, that was involved in an accident, where-in I was the victim.  Ahh the comfort of tangential goat-trails…I know you were jonesing (which should be a verb meaning: drinking tainted juice or kool-aid, but doesn’t) (it actually isn’t a real verb at all) (it’s fake, but it means that you really wanted me to go off on a tangential goat-trail) (at least in this context) for one.

My friend Tom Engstrom, whom I’ve known for around five years or more, introduced me to his brother Tim.  We all sat around talking to one another about the pomp and circumstance that inevitably follows an event such as the “Con” (as my friend Ricker calls it).  While we were standing there talking to Tim and Tom, the relative jovial atmosphere quickly dissipated as a bald man dressed as a Steam-Punk—who couldn’t quite commit—walked past Tom and Tim’s booth.  After feigning interest in photographing them he moved on, having never clicked a shot, to a different, presumably more popular, booth.  “That guy really pisses me off”, Tim said (I think).  It became clear that this bald man was an important chronicler of some sort, and he was not doling out the love equitably.

The comic book industry kind of started out as a means to promote the interests of the under-dog to a generation of kids whose parents were addicted to the bully ethos of post-war America.  They were accessible books that dealt with the issue of class-antagonism.  Though kids, and their parents, didn’t realize it at the time, these books were subversively communistic in origin.  Imagine a Marvel universe where-in you had to wire “X” amount of dollars to Peter Parker’s Cayman account before he lifted a webbed finger to take down the Hob-Goblin (gasp, commie nerd alert).  So it struck me as strange when I realized there was a very tangible pecking order when it came to the “Con” (as my friend Ricker calls it).  How dare you nerds try and subvert the subversives!  And by subverting them try and insert some hopeless realism into a wonderfully fictitious utopia…a utopia where super-humans are trying to destroy us, either actively, or indifferently.  Stan Lee is probably turning in his grave right now… (Wait, what…are you sure?  Still alive, huh?  A cameo in Iron-Man 2!?  Are you sure he’s not dead?  Huh.  Iron-Man 2?  Are you sure?  Huh.)  Stan Lee is probably very upset over this.  Or maybe he loves it.  We will just add his name to the list of failed utopia makers, alongside Walt Disney, and Thomas Jefferson (yeoman farmers, indeed Tommy)

I guess the point of all of this is…well mainly it was to try and eke out a third post from a two post scenario, but more nobly, it is to say we need to be careful when choosing a pecking order whenever art is involved.  We suck at it.  Art is not conducive to meritocracy, at least not in the commercial sense of the term.   Whenever we try to force our strange ideas of good or bad onto art, weird things happen.  Things like Britany Spears becoming a super star rather than flipping burgers in her uncle’s greasy-spoon, Stan Lee does cameos in movies that should’ve never been made, and my friends Tim and Tom don’t get their picture taken by a creepy looking bald Steam-Punkish guy with a purple JanSport backpack…really JanSport?  Jules Verne is turning in his grave.

Check out Tom and Tim’s website, “The Legendary Boys of Floyd”.  I find it funny.

Meandering the Fringes: Thoughts in the Wake of the Emerald City Comicon pt. 2: Hey God, Did You See That?

“Science, my lad, has been built upon many errors; but they are errors which it was good to fall into, for they led to the truth.” –Jules Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth

We (my friend Ricker and I) were standing in line at the Subway sandwich shop located in the convention center when he (Ricker) turns to me and asks, “What do you think God sees when He looks at this event?”  My initial suspicion was that Ricker meant something deeper, though I never asked if that was so, or what that might have been.  I guessed that God saw what I saw.  What did He think about it?  I had no idea.  I wondered if anyone there cared, except Ricker, and I—after he pointed it out to me.  What, Seriously!?  You are, once again, way ahead of yourself here, boy-o; let’s start with what I saw.

Costumes everywhere, that’s what!  Though a brighter writer could probably put the experience into categorically easier to swallow segments, there is no such writer here…save the ones I’ve dispatched in fits of jealous rage, as a result, they are in no shape to comment.  Costumes are a proud tradition among “Conies”, although I would’ve assumed them to be more widely worn, perhaps Seattle has the same attitude toward fan-boydom as it does toward everything else, that of passive indifference.  Still, there were a few costumes, some entertaining, and some that gave me the itch to give my hippocampus a rape shower.  The costumes gave wall flowers the chance to shine in a controlled environment, and 6s and7s the chance to be 8s and 9s.  There is a strange self-absorption to these costumes; it is a self-absorption that requires others to play along.  At the “Con” (as my friend Ricker calls it) there are many willing to participate.

There were Princess Leias, storm troopers, Fetts of all stripes, zombie every things, He-Man was there (though he had really let himself go) (Ricker thought so too), some higher ups in the COBRA organization, at least one Ewok, various Steam-Punks, and two or more Kevin Smiths.  I also saw some alien beings that were like ten feet tall!  I think God saw all of that too.

I saw a zombie who was clearly irritated by the large crowd gathered at the “Con” (as my friend Ricker calls it).  Here is a thought (mayhaps judgmental, so please forgive me in advance), if you go to the Comicon dressed as a zombie try to stay in character and not act irritated by crowds…zombies love crowds; especially slow moving crowds that are locked up like cattle on a feed lot.  You guys “live” for that shit.  Slow moving crowds are to zombies what low hanging fruit is to Aesop…fodder for tales.

Dear He-Man please do a sit-up or two before you decide to don the ole ephod and double bandolier, or whatever you call your ridiculous get-up, there are kids here!

There was a man dressed as the Riddler of “Bat-Man” fame pushing around a baby carriage, this made me think of the intellectual-anal cavity search I underwent to adopt my two girls, all of which would have been flushed down the toilet had the caseworker found any component of the Riddler’s costume in my closet.  This put me in a dark and bitter mood.  Child rearing is so easy for some.  Tim Engstrom warned me not to write that, “It sounds too much like a bitter re-telling of sour-grapes tales of woe”, he said. (I think)  Looking at it now, I think he was right.  But what am I going to do about it now?  Go back and erase what I’ve just written?  Negative, not only would that affect the observation itself, but all of these thoughts that follow as well…unacceptable.  Move on!  That is part of the point though.  How can I even begin to imagine what God thinks of this spectacle, when I am so insularly informed by my own bitter predispositions?  And if I could, would anyone care?  The answer is no.  No one would care.

In the 1940s a group of physicists were talking about intelligent life in other universes, of which there are many.  They spoke with great anticipation of how many different societies there inevitably were given the fact that there are so many planets in so many universes, and given the relatively short amount of time it took for humanoid life to evolve here on earth.  A man named Enrico Fermi listened patiently to all of this talk, and then he replied by simply asking if all of this were true, where was everyone?  More to the point, where is everyone?  This idea became known as the “Fermi Paradox”.  Decades later it was posited by Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico, that perhaps “Runaway Consumerism” was to blame for the lack of intelligent visitors from other planets.  The idea being that once a society, on any planet, evolved to a certain point all the trappings of said evolution—trappings like Xboxes, comic books, and Comicons—would interrupt said evolved beings from caring about all other living creatures in any meaningful way.  More simply, a society with video games wouldn’t care about visiting their next-door neighbors, leave alone visiting creatures in neighboring galaxies.

The costumes at the “Con” (as my friend Ricker calls it) attest to the idea that it is more rewarding to pretend to visit other planets than to do it.  What does God think when he looks at the “Con” (as my friend Ricker calls it)?  I don’t know for sure.  The more troubling question lies shallowly beneath the spectacle.  Does anyone care?