What I Think (as if it mattered)


Well, we decided to rejoin the Facebook world a little while ago.  We tried to simply start from scratch and build it from the ground up, but to no avail.  Of all the shifting things in our lives, one of the few constants has been our e-mail address (same one since 2003).  Since we didn’t have another one to turn to, I attempted to log-in using the old account.  It worked, and I was face to face with an online time capsule.

1,200-1,300 “friends” were sitting there having gone on with their online world, and I’m not sure that many of them even noticed I was gone, or at least I hope they didn’t notice.  Karen and I took about an hour or more shaving down the list to essentials–people we know now and don’t mind reading what new recipe they’re trying out or how big a mess their kid or dog left in the living room.  When we finished there were only 192 left.

A week or two later, we’re approaching 500 friends, and even though we didn’t necessarily want it to get that big, I’m proud that we can at least say we know them all.

There’s no real set criteria for who we’ll add.  We didn’t set out with a formula or anything.  But here are a few trends I’ve noticed in our “adds”:

  1. Do we go to church with you?
  2. If we go to church with you, would we hang out with you outside church?
  3. Are we related to you?
  4. Did we go to school with you?
  5. If we went to school with you, do we want to know how you’re doing now (which mostly has to do with whether or not we liked you then)?
  6. Are you a part of good memories?
  7. Do we wish we could spend more time with you, but simply do not have time to call you regularly?
  8. Do we work with you?
  9. If we work with you, do we like you? (after looking at the friend list, I think a couple may have slipped through that crack)
  10. Are you more concerned with getting that beer in your hand in the pic than your face?
  11. Would I hire you if your Facebook page were your resume?
  12. Do you dress like a whore?
  13. Do you let your daughters dress like whores?
  14. Does your online representation make us want to beg Facebook for a “dislike” button?

(If the answer to any one of 10, 12, 13, or 14 is “yes,” you will not be confirmed as a friend)

Again, those questions are not a formula, they’re merely a result of observation.

On another note, I enjoyed an evening of whole wheat pasta at Macaroni Grille with my wife.  She’d had a hard day at work, and just wanted to chill a bit.  I don’t mind a $50 meal at all when I know we can sit across the table and talk without the television stealing our attention.  It’s not her fault this time of year.  It’s too hard to pay attention to anyone when the ALCS and NLCS are both running.

The only real distraction was that stupid waiter who sings Happy Birthday in Italian.  I have no idea how we do it, but it seems like every time we go there someone is celebrating a birthday.  I’d rather hear the Mexicans manage a yelling mumble of their version of the song than hear these MG goofballs.

I do, however, love looking at Karen during that nut-job’s song and being able to make fun of it together without ever saying a word!

It’s a good life.

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My dad reminded me yesterday of something I’d forgotten I said about soccer: “it’s the only sport you can be good at and never score.”  True.  I wish I’d not made that statement, but alas, I did.  I’ve made way too many just like it.

At times I can have a rather overbearing personality. 

“‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”

“Tennyson?”

“No.  Keating.”

(Can anyone call that movie quote?  No prize.  Just the satisfaction.)

That personality flaw has led to many such premature statements as the soccer one that re-visit me for the purpose of biting my arse.  It’s probably because I used to have some pretty significant confidence issues.  And while I still have them, they’re certainly not to the scale they once were.  As I learned to quit those issues, I began to “confidently” make statements using phrases that made it sound like I had everything figured out.  “This IS what I say it is because I say it is, and anyone who thinks differently can kiss it.” 

I don’t know that I’ve fully grown out of that, but I’ve certainly wanted to kick my own tail a time or two for not recognizing the other 6,697,254,040 people in the world (July 2008 CIA estimate).  Nothing is what you think it is.  Ever.

When I made the soccer statement, I was apparently in the middle of ignoring my own bildungsroman.  My evolution is no different than the vast majority of humans.  I knew it all when I knew nothing, and I know so little now that I may know more.

I’ve tried for years to get in to soccer.  It really hit me when Karen and I were in Germany during when they hosted the World Cup.  I hated thinking that the world could love something so much, and I couldn’t understand it.  So, like I successfully did with salsa, guacamole, tomatoes, beer, and pickled okra, I have been working to acquire the soccer taste.

The soccer attempts bore no fruit until this year.  And I really don’t think there was any other way for it to have happened.  Up until the events that have occurred in my life of late, I was less than thrilled about accepting that I couldn’t know everything.  If I couldn’t know everything about something, I was determined to know nothing.  When I’d try to watch the sport, I didn’t know the positions, the rules, the mechanics.  I couldn’t see plays, strategy, skill.  Basically, I saw a load of dudes running around kicking a ball like mad, and I’d determined that none of them were any good at it (with my only proof being the low-scoring games).

Wanna guess how much I know about the sport now? 

Yup.  Nothing. 

I guess I know a little more than I once knew, but really I know nothing. 

The big difference?

I’m a whole lot more okay with knowing nothing now than I used to be.  Now, I just want to enjoy something that’s larger than life.  Now, I am at ease being a world citizen enjoying moments of happiness with the rest of the world.  Now, I am thrilled to see the world come together when the news tells me that the world is distant and church leaders tell me that we are unable to stop the descent into chaos and God is orchestrating the whole thing.

I love watching another country tear up at their anthem.  I love pulling for another country in their match (unless they’re playing the USA).  I love watching an underdog country (a country which, according to history teachers in America, is supposed to be valueless and 3rd world) being excellent in its passions.

Best of all, I love learning to love something about whuch I have no clue. 

I’m probably going to make more stubborn statements.  I’ll probably accidentally alienate myself by lacking control of my words.  I’ll probably annoy myself with know-it-all attitudes that I wish I could eliminate.  But I’ll sleep better knowing that I’m at least trying. 

This is my current wish-list: I really hope to learn to understand all types of people.  I want to quit my obsession with being correct.  I want to stop compulsively correcting others.  I hope to eliminate alienating comments.  And most of all, I want to learn to shut my mouth and stopping giving a rip whether or not I can teach someone else something (I’ve learned that those who I think I’m “teaching” and those at whom I chuckle when they don’t know something are typically not willingly accepting anything coming from an “all-knowing” one). 

I don’t have to be the center of attention.  I don’t have to be the funny one.  I don’t have to be the one everyone loves to see coming.  I don’t have to be famous.  I don’t have to be depressed if someone calls me out.  I don’t have to take offense at correction.  I don’t have to tell someone I know more than they, even if I do.  I can be a happy part of the room without being the hub of conversation or the main source of it.  People will like me even if I don’t introduce myself by trying to act like I know about what they do by spitting out technical terms that are specific to what they do (especially since what I spit out probably exhausts my arsenal).  My conversation doesn’t need to be comprised of the latest thing I’ve learned.  My time is not as valuable as I think it is.  I am not as important as I think I am.  It does not have to be all, and it does not have to be nothing.  I can be at ease with something.  I can be interrupted.  No one hates me just because they laugh at me.  I do not have to prove myself my making fun, and then calling it “the way I relate” or saying “if I’m not making fun of you, then I don’t like you.”  No has to KNOW anything.  There are truly no stupid questions.  If someone doesn’t know what I know or what I think they should know, I am not better. 

Kindness wins.  We are valuable without listing a single reason why.

Soccer’s cool.  Whether I like it or not.

Lately this has turned into a bit of a sports related blog. I hope that doesn’t turn anyone off.  It’s a bit heavy on my mind, though.  It’s nice to have a sport be the deep issue.

After a nine straight game win streak, the Braves are in a bit of a slump tonight with Kawakami giving up four runs (so far) in the first two innings of this late game against the Dodgers.  L.A. is becoming a quickly hated town for me.  Maybe it’s a little east coast/west coast rivalry, but I really don’t like anything Los Angeles right now.

A little bit of a subject change – – let me recommend a book called Crazy Love.  I don’t know if it’s the book itself or the timing of the book, but there’s a lot of timely information in it.

In the wake of a massive movement to make the Christian’s life a cakewalk of grace as a crutch, it’s nice to see a man like Chan center the off-kilter back to a place where love is proven instead of assumed.  I’m not talking about the falsehood of works-based religion that requires a confession booth for forgiveness.  And I’m certainly not talking about living as if anything we do requires God to save us.  I’m talking about calling love like it is.

The over-arching illustration of Jesus’ relationship to the church (and therefore the Christian) is in bride/groom terminology.  So the only thing I know how to relate is through the relationship I have with my wife.  No one would say that my actions toward Karen are the reasons she loves me.  In fact, it would be widely assumed that my actions toward Karen prove my love for her (a love that already exists).  She doesn’t love me because of my actions; instead she further confirms my love for her by my actions.  She knows I’m sincere in the very thing she knows is true because my actions coincide with my declaration.

Why should it be any different with God?

Read Crazy Love to find out a little more of what I’m talking about. 

Caveat: if you were raised in church (no matter which version of Christianity it may be), ignore the first three chapters.  They’ll turn you off.

I’m not sure what my next book will be.  I’ve tried to go back and forth (one for one) between fiction and non-fiction.  I have a lot of Grisham to catch up on.  With the momentum I have in the non-secular works, I don’t know if I should ride that or not.  This is the very reason readers should keep a queue.  I’ll keep you updated.

Lastly, if you get the chance, you should give a restaurant called Old Chicago a chance.  The food is INSANE and the beer is just as celebrated.  You’ll find out a little more about what they call the World Beer Tour when you go, so I won’t bore you with the details.  I wussed my way through a few light beers at the beginning, but I’ve finally started to see the beauty of the storied brewing processes by braching out a bit. 

It’s near impossible to carry any valid conversation about light beer.  They really do all taste about the same.  It’s the adventure into the full-bodied that initiates the connoisseur.  The Sweaty Betty, of the Boulder Brewing Company, is a bit smoky and barrel-flavored for me, but I followed it with a Dos Perros from Yazoo out of Nashville, and that was well worth the money.  Of course, all of this only applies to domestics.  The closest to good (in comparison to non-American beer) that I’ve come across is Nut Brown Ale from the Bluegrass Brewing Company out of Louisville, KY.  It holds a minimal lead over the Lawnmower of the Dogfish Head Ale House that I had in the D.C. area.

As far as lights go, I just recently made the move from Michelob Ultra to Miller Lite.  The small .4 carb increase is well-worth the taste improvement.  In terms of full-throttles, I still haven’t found a challenger for a good Guiness Stout or really any Belgian brew (e.g. Fat Tire).

We only go to Old Chicago every now and then (twice a month, maybe), so it’ll be difficult to make this a constant discussion.  Any beer I drink away from there is going to be light (without apology) because I don’t want to weight 200 lbs.  As I encounter new goods, I’ll let you know.

Well, this post has been quite the hodge podge of topics.  I’ll try to categorize it as best I can.

I’m putting together my Revelation lectures for next week.  A few years ago I would have been a little nervous about doing something like this because the book is a bit intimidating.  Now I’m not so worried about it.

If you think about it you’ll probably be hard pressed to come up with a contemporary book like this one.  I don’t think anyone would allow the imagery into rational thought.  Dragons, candlesticks, seals (not the animals), lakes of fire (try to reconcile that one), and multi-headed beasts, it’s all a bit Tolkien for me. 

Here’s the key, if you can understand Tolkien, then you’re in the right frame of mind for Revelation.  One thing stands for another, and none of it is to be taken literally.  The problem in the application is one that has haunted literati for ages: you can never know authorial intent.  Never.  Even if an author writes a book that outlines how each symbol and character are to be interpretted, it doesn’t matter — you can never know.

That’s the rub with literature/art in general.  Once an artist allows his/her work to enter the world the interpretation is up to and is owned by the audience (regardless of who gets the royalty/residual).  The money is there (hopefully) to salve that very wound.

Take, for example, a poem.

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

What does it mean?  Is it something to you and something else to me?  Is it what Frost wanted?  Is it literal?  Figurative?

The answers to every single one of them are “yes” and “no” simultaneously.  Strangely enough, this is pretty advanced literary stuff, and you’ll know you’re not quite ready for it if you’re still arguing that the poem means what Frost meant it to mean.  I know, I know, I’m sorry – that’s just the way it is.  Even if we knew exactly what Frost intended, it makes no difference because intepretation is always open.  It means one thing for you and another for me and another for Frost, and so on. 

When you approach Revelation in this, the correct way, it becomes an entirely new quandary.  What do you do with a book, veiled in allegory, thick with symbolism, cryptic at best, and whose very name means something along the lines of “decoded” (not exactly, but a variant), when there is a large section of the population who is looking to the book for some type of direction and life application?  The literary inevitability is that no two people come away with the same answers.  Sure, some will say they believe it’s all meant to be read this way or that way, but that only happens because several people have aligned to one person’s interpretation.  It was one of the most debated inclusions in the canon, and barely won over the Apocalypse of Peter (which is equally useless and useful, again, simultaneously), mainly because interpretation is the fingerprint or snowflake of literature. 

All I can do is take the good ole Historical-Critical approach to this one.  Who, what, where, when, why, how, and the most critical, can it be proven?  99% of the time that last one will be no.

Oh, well.  We’ll get through it.  You give it a read, then evaluate whether or not the title should be Revelation or Frustration.  You’ll see what I mean.

T.J. Leyden is a former member of the skinhead movement, and is the subject of national publicity today because of his book, Skinhead Confessions. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen interviews, and I get the gist. He is a rarity in that he saw the error of his life-path and realized he could still change.

Sounds like the biblical character, Paul, huh?!

I hope more people can realize change is not only possible, but ready and available. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who have no idea that they’re aligned with groups who with similarly categorized hate-speech. They won’t change because they don’t know they need to.

Unfortunately, the drastic groups–such as the skinheads, KKK, Hutaree, et al–do no not hold a monopoly on hate-speech and dangerous group think. Solipsism is rampant in religion (e.g. those who believe they are the only ones or only way), politics (Tea Parties), and nationalism (our country is and needs to be the greatest). Since these associations are so widespread, it seems like things are as they are because it’s easy to think in these manners, but it’s not. It’s learned.

Check out a playground. Watch the kids interact. If you catch them early enough, kids aren’t interested in who believes what or who looks like one thing or another. They are an open community. Granted, their desires are selfish in that they are highly motivated by pleasure, but that motivation exists in them in its basest form. Children learn bullying, segregation, hatred, racism, etc., from external sources.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that belief is selfish or that those who are convicted of their beliefs are somehow akin to hate groups. I am saying that it’s a slippery slope once you begin to force upon others–whether through unfair recruiting or derogatory speech–a belief or method of thinking. The all too common result is the extreme application of those beliefs, where it’s not enough to merely believe something, and we see dissatisfaction at the fact that others do not “see it my way.” When this dissatisfaction gives rise to exclusivity and the spread of speech that decries, belittles, ostracizes, and derides, it has gone too far and is no different than Leyden’s former associates. The good news is that, like Leyden discovered, there is still time to change.

Freedom of speech should have been called a freedom of thought.

When I was younger, we lived next to a family who had a dog that barked rather viciously at us as we walked in our yard or to our cars. I remember hating that it was so unnerved by our presence, and I couldn’t help but wish that if the dog could only get to know us it would in fact make our coming home a high point in the day!

I didn’t think we could do anything about the dog. Everyone can have a dog, right? That it barks comes with the territory. But my dad said something about the canine that made a lot of sense to me even then: “I don’t care that they have one, but my family and I shouldn’t have to be nervous going about our business.”

That made more sense than the right to own a dog.

Like the right to own a dog, everyone has a right to their opinion. Our “dogs,” however shouldn’t belittle people or cause anxiety as they go about their business.

In short, in America you can proudly attend the political rally or church of your choice. But when your methods start looking like that dog in our neighbor’s yard, you may be crossing the line into semi-oppression or at the least the appearance of such.

Does your preacher teach acceptance, peace, and altruism, or is there an increasing air of exclusivism and intolerance? Are your political affiliates looking for reasonable solutions or spending time demeaning the other side and anything with that side’s name on it?

Filter everything.

T.J. Leyden saw the light in some of the most extreme of circumstances. I hope others can find similar change in spite of less conspicuous, but equally dangerous, motives.

It’s slightly depressing to consider what it must be like to teach high school students about finance. Doing the guest lecture this morning confirmed my buried passion for teaching literature instead of any real life application (especially as the students’ ages descend). I looked at these kids, who spend unreal amounts of money with only terse retort in defense of their actions, with pity.

Mistake me not. I do not mean that these kids are the ones making poor decisions, no. It’s their parents who are to blame. You absolutely cannot absolve responsibility for financial pedagogy by speaking. What good is a class on personal finance when the students’ parents either shower them with money and tell them to do whatever or simply show no compassion by conveniently forgetting to lead by example.

We’re in such a state in America that we not only spend more than we make, but we save to the negative percentage. In other words, on average, Americans are literally living on debt. Multiple mortgages, car payments, credit card debt, personal loans. People are buying groceries on debt, for God’s sake!

Yes, I understand that sometimes people just “have to do what they have to do,” but something somewhere along the line has gone awry and must change. If not, these parents who live on and in debt are only going to perpetuate the cycle by continuing to pass along the bad habits.

I don’t think it will ever impress a 17 year old, or even a 21 year old for that matter, if I told them what a mere $50/month would do (almost $2 million if started at 17!). Dave Ramsey can repackage all he wants but without parental example the kids see no value. That $50 feels better when buying the latest video game, hairstyle, outfit, and so on.

I walked in there with the ability to make every one of those kids a millionaire, but they are unfortunately heirs to something else — habits.

For everyone reading this, it’s not too late. Yes, the number could have been greater had you started earlier, but you can start no sooner than today. Pay off your debt, free up your income, and begin building wealth. Not for the sake of hoarding, not for the sake of merely being rich, but for the sake of stewardship. Your money coupled with your brain are the only tools you have to make a change. And maybe one day someone else will walk into a classroom and simply confirm what those students are already poised to do.

The following is another excerpt from the ongoing discussion in my e-mail group.  I’m just telling you so you’ll understand some of the personal asides.

——

As for whether or not emotion/belief can enter the equation in a historical-critical approach, that is the question of the ages.  That type of analysis is unfortunately in my DNA at this point.  If someone doesn’t know what it is, I suggest they leave it alone. 

The bible is built to exclude proof, and there is a big difference between proof and evidence.  It’s unfortunate, especially in terms of evangelism, when someone leans on evidence and calls it proof that God exists or that the bible is valid.  Hebrews 11.1 gives what I believe is the most accurate summary of the utility of scripture.  Faith is the evidence and substance.  The words “evidence” and “substance” are unduly placed above the word “faith,” so much so that the point is missed.  The point is that logic, science, and on and on, can only take you so far and eventually you’ll have to depend on faith—an intangible, unprovable anomaly against which there is no logic.  Evidence leads you to a conclusion, but doesn’t prove it. The bible is set up so that if you ever prove God exists, you disprove God’s existence (if the bible is 100% true), and rightly so.  It’s well set up because without “belief” there can be no loyalty, and without faith there can be no belief.  If it could be proven, I think it would be easier for people to turn away from God. 

So here’s the leap I have a hard time with: once all the data has been collected, analyzed, marinated, and lain on the table, can I say I buy it?  That is such a personal decision because it’s vulnerable, uneducated, illogical, unreasonable, and unlike any decision we have ever made or will make.  According to scripture (Psalms, Song of Songs, et al), God knows all of those adjectives.  It’s admitted that that type of wisdom is inhuman.

 So here’s the poison in historical-critical analysis, the “evidence” doesn’t point to most of the things we’ve learned in Sunday school.  Nothing really points to any of the names called writers of the books.  The earliest copies of any NT book dates to about the 6th century.  Messing with copies was so rampant that the writer of Revelation even warned against changing “jots” and “tittles.”  Many of the OT instances of disaster have natural parallels.  The mistakes are near tragic levels even in manuscripts considered early.  The list continues . . . 

When all those things enter the picture, they really mess with my ability to make a leap I once made without hesitation.  It’s just not as easy anymore.  That’s what’s so personal about it.  Everyone has point to where they can walk on facts and then everyone – without fail – everyone has to make a leap over what is for some a ditch, for some a creek, and for others a chasm.  What was at one time, for me, a ditch now looks more like a chasm. 

Here’s what I can believe (and yes, Daniel, you’ve nailed it, belief and analysis are separate discussions):

  1. God is real: Logic is on God’s side—easily.  I’ve seen the stats for the lottery and March bracketology.  As unbelievable as they are they pale in comparison to the stats on a random occurrence that happens to bring about the universe as a result.
  2. Scripture is not invalid: whether Matthew wrote Matthew, seas were parted, the Earth was created in six days, or not makes no difference.  In it there is so much to learn.
  3. For Christianity to be a guide, the bible, tradition, and logic must work in concert: where one fails another steps in.  

From there I don’t know where to go.  Will I be back to the ditch-jump or will I be comfortable trying to jump the chasm or will I ever jump?  Again, this isn’t about a belief in God.  It’s about the bible’s place in my life. 

I’m still able to find comfort in this, if God is what we think God is, the bible doesn’t have to be accurate, mistake-free, or even true.  This is the biggest question of my life, so far: if someone could prove to me that the bible is completely inaccurate, would I still believe in God? 

I still say yes.

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