Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

I’m Awake. Honest.

December 14, 2010

Hard as it may be to believe, I’ve scanned the entire Internet for the past three days and found nothing worth blogging about.  

So I’m reading.  After a couple of books reviewed for our polity’s young adult web site, I’m back to reading something a little more interesting (to me, at least).  It’s the latest publication from the LC-MS  Commission on Theology and Church Relations.  The title is Together With All Creatures and the topic is the proper Biblical understanding of mankind’s role in relation to the rest of creation.  With the heavy emphasis on ecology and environmentalism and the green movement in the last 40 years, somebody decided maybe we ought to formulate a good statement on what we believe in this arena.  
I’ve only just started it, and I appreciate thus far that the first 30 pages or so are historical background on the issue, examining the statements of various influential people – Christian and otherwise – on the relationship of mankind and humanity.  It also takes time to examine some of the particularly American voices on this topic, which helps trace the evolution of thought in our country in regards to nature and the wilderness.  
The only thing I’ve found curious thus far is in the section that begins to delve specifically into theology.  The working premise of the theological section of this book is (on page 30) that, 
“We bring together the confession of our common creatureliness and distinctive creatureliness in the thesis: 
God has called us to serve His creation as creatures among fellow creatures in anticipation of creation’s renewal. This renewal has begun in Christ, is continued by the work of the Spirit in the church, and will be completed upon Christ’s return.”
To me, this doesn’t really seem to emphasize our distinctive creatureliness, but I’ll hold off on getting all rabid about this until I finish the book.  The other interesting thing I saw – less than a page later – was this statement, describing the other creatures in nature around us:
They are our fellow creatures, and in a sense our neighbors, because like us they have been created by God and formed from the soil of the earth.
I don’t disagree with the spirit (Spirit?) of the statement, but I couldn’t remember the creation account in Genesis indicating that God had formed the animals out of the ground.  Certainly, it doesn’t describe God forming them by hand as it describes Him doing with Adam.  But sure enough – Genesis 2:19 states that:
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.  (ESV)
I’ve read Genesis a zillion times, give or a take a few, and never noticed that line.  I guess with all the attention focused on God creating Adam out of the ground, I overlooked this.  That’s why we should always be reading Scripture, and why we should always be willing to go back to check Scripture against what someone says or claims or assumes Scripture says!  
I look forward to learning more through this document!

Manhattan Declaration

December 2, 2010

Some of you may be hearing about a spat in the love-land that is all things i.

iPod.  iPhone.  iTouch.  iBanned.
Specifically, Apple decided to remove the Manhattan Declaration App (application), a piece of software designed for iPhones that allow the user to, among other things, digitally sign their agreement to and support of the Manhattan Declaration.   The Manhattan Declaration is a rather wordy but ultimately well-expressed statement affirming the dignity of human life (rejecting abortion, euthanasia, and any other technology or ideology that diminishes or dismisses human life at any stage or for any reason), the sanctity of heterosexual marriage (rejecting same-sex marriage and efforts to redefine marriage as anything other than between a man and a woman), and insists on religious liberty for all).  
Apple was petitioned to remove the app as something “offensive”.  A counter-petition is currently ongoing for Apple to reinstate the app.  It’s interesting how who sponsored the petition to remove the app caricatures the Manhattan Declaration and it’s supporters (incorrectly), stating that the Declaration supports:
  • “elimination of choice for women” – no, women have many, many choices.  The Declaration seeks to eliminate exactly one choice – the choice to terminate a defenseless human life.
  • “stop the march to equality for LGBT people” – LGBT are equal as human beings.  However the Declaration does insist that normalizing LGBT issues legally will eventually lead to a fundamental societal breakdown.  
  • “elimination of any separation between church and state” – patently false.  However the Declaration does insist on the appropriateness of existing protection of all religious liberty by the state, as opposed to the growing insistence on fighting against religion by the state or the attempt to redefine the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion with a far less inclusive emphasis on freedom of worship.  
Much of the debate at this point focuses on the issue of how Apple determines when an app is offensive and when it is not.  The app development guidelines are only available to  developers registered with Apple, but rumor has it that they are openly rather subjective in terms of how these decisions are made.  
Is it good or bad for Apple to make this decision?  We have to think about this carefully.  Forcing a company to support or sell or develop or carry any specific type of product is fairly antithetical to our capitalist mindsets.  While companies are prohibited from improper discrimination in who may buy, lease or otherwise access and utilize their products, what products they choose to make remains their decision.  From this perspective, Apple is completely open to determining what Apps they will host and sell and which ones they won’t.  This is much preferred to the attempts currently underway by the LBGT community to force businesses to do whatever they want them to do, thus violating the inherent sanctity of a business/business owner to decide for themselves what sort of work they will or will not engage in.  
Ideologically, we shouldn’t be surprised at this turn of events.  Now that any form of objection or rejection of the LBGT agenda is being more and more equated with hate-speak, it’s going to be harder for any company to in any way support or associate with anyone hateful enough to disagree with the whims and dictates of LBGT promoters.  Sad for companies, true.  But don’t be fooled – this same level of rhetoric will soon be used against congregations and any other group that disagrees publicly with the LBGT agenda.  The public schools have already pretty much been won over to this mindset.  Public universities have also been on board with this for some time.  The courts are more and more demonstrating their predispositions to this agenda.  Is it a shock that Apple would capitulate as well?
People who agree with the Manhattan Declaration can and should petition Apple to reinstate the app.  They are free to do so, and if they can muster adequate public pressure, they should at least in theory stand a good chance of success.  But not a guaranteed chance of success.  Apple is ultimately free to make it’s own decision.  It certainly isn’t the only way to get the word out to people about the Declaration.    Ultimately I question the usefulness of the Declaration in the first place, but that’s another matter.  

Hijacking Holidays

November 30, 2010
Before going any further, read this.  It is President Abraham Lincoln’s official proclamation of a fixed national day of Thanksgiving.  If you  are tired of thinking about Thanksgiving, you can come back and read this next year, if you promise not to forget.  
Because everything I write is of vital importance to every single person on this earth.  Truly.  Italics would not lie.

By various sooper sekret pathways this article came to my attention last week.  It seemed ludicrous enough without any real further investigation, but it’s stuck in the back of my brain and I decided to address it this week after a little poking and prodding.  It’s an essay that decries the celebration of Thanksgiving as fraudulent and misplaced.  

This is the sort of stuff that is regularly pushed about in certain circles as truth or history or fact or reality.  Pieces of history and facts rearranged into an order that pleases the person and supports their hypothesis or assertion.  Yes, history is a discipline of interpretation in many respects – but there are more and less faithful attempts at that interpretation.  This essay is a less faithful one, and I’d like to spend a few minutes breaking down why, since at an emotional level this might appeal to people and ring of truth.
First off, the author’s bias is so blatant that he feels the need to go ahead and state it outright in the first three paragraphs.  He’s not right-wing, nor even centrist.  Anyone who so casually dismisses moderates and centrists right off the bat is going to be suspicious in my book, regardless of which end of the spectrum they prefer to situate themselves.  Not that there is inherent accuracy or truthfulness or honesty in being a centrist or a moderate, but because I’m likely to suspect them of less ideological goofiness that anyone on either extreme end of the ideological spectrum.
Paragraph three is where the historical inaccuracies begin.  The assertion is that liberals are capable and willing to admit that Thanksgiving is based on mythological events or even conscious untruths – of the “European invaders coming in peace to the “New World”, eager to cooperate with indigenous peoples”.  
I don’t see anything in President Lincoln’s proclamation that pertains specifically to invaders, peace, or indigenous peoples.  So to accuse the Thanksgiving holiday of perpetrating a myth is achievable only by asserting another basis for the holiday in lieu of the actual one.  The actual one is gratefulness for the undeserved gifts & blessings of God.  Despite the fact that there is no peace, but in fact is a raging Civil War going on at the moment.  Despite the fact that cooperation even with our own kind was trampled.  
Thanksgiving is based on the historically accepted idea that having just barely survived their first winter in America – and only then by the grace of the peaceful indigenous peoples around them – Pilgrim settlers from Holland joined in a meal with their indigenous neighbors in celebration of the fact that 50 of the 100 travelers were still alive.  I don’t think the meal was much of a political ploy.  It’s not as though they were trying to lure the Native Americans into a sense of peace before slaughtering them when the reinforcements arrived.  I’m pretty positive that the local tribes understood that these people were alive only by their benevolence and kindness.  Both sides undoubtedly couldn’t fully appreciate how history was going to unfold over the next 300 years or so, but at that moment, on that day, there was genuine gratitude by the Pilgrims, both to the local tribes as well as to God.  
In the next paragraph the author decries the rewriting of “the collective, cultural definition of Thanksgiving” in favor of personal interpretation.  He ironically is attempting to describe those who celebrate traditional Thanksgiving, but it more accurately describes his own efforts to turn Thanksgiving into some misguided celebration of overall ethnic tolerance and peace.  The remainder of this paragraph in the essay devolves into a lambast against capitalist ideology.  Hardly the time or place, but a further indication of where the author is coming from.  Thanksgiving is hardly the main issue this person takes umbrage with – it’s rather one aspect of a larger fish attempting to be fried.
Next we have fallacious generalism or oversimplification.  Yes, there were times when settlers – even the American government – resorted to extremely immoral efforts to dislodge or destroy native populations.  This is deplorable.  Period.  However to characterize all European and American interaction with native populations as part and parcel with these other situations and occurences is dishonest and inaccurate.  However, to acknowledge that the first Thanksgiving was, in and of itself without any consideration of what happened afterwards – a day or moment of genuine gratitude and fraternal kinship would pretty much destroy this guy’s argument, so that has to be ignored.  We must also ignore that some of the issues that play into the author’s assertions of genocide were also quite unintentioned – if also perhaps unavoidable.  Illnesses and diseases that were unknown in the New World but routine and non-lethal in Europe were unleashed amongst the native populations with devastating effects.  This was – at least initially – certainly not part of some pre-planned effort to kill off the indigenous population.  It simply happened.  Biology was at play long before ideology entered the process, one could reasonably argue.  Again, this is an awful set of events – but at least initially it was as big a surprise to the settlers as it undoubtedly was to the native populations and modern historians.
Most of the rest of the article is devoted to rather stunning suggestions of how we undue the damage of Thanksgiving, including land redistribution and wealth redistribution.  Depending on how these terms are defined, I could understand and support them to a certain sense.  However, he doesn’t bother to define the terms, let alone examine the huge problems that these solutions would undoubtedly create for everyone involved, problems that would hardly end up being the solutions he appears to envision. 
Then he creates an analogy using the Nazis.  You can imagine how things go from there.  Or maybe you read it for yourself.
In any event, his basic premise in this article is that Thanksgiving is about intercultural peace and love and happiness, and unfortunately his whole argument ultimately fails – regardless of the noteworthiness of some of it’s isolated sentiments – because of this false premise.  Intercultural peace is not the foundational cultural element of Thanksgiving.  While the initial event which is the historical anchor for Thanksgiving involved a moment of intercultural peace, this is not the crux of Thanksgiving – as a national collective understanding or otherwise.  If it were, I’m sure we would be celebrating Intercultural Joy day or something like that.  No, the crux of Thanksgiving and the historical event that underlies it and is reflected in Lincoln’s proclamation of a national holiday is on something the author ignores completely – giving thanks.  
Not giving thanks specifically for intercultural peace and understanding, though that’s a laudable and desirable goa
l.  Not giving thanks for the good things that we have done or are doing or will do.  Not giving thanks because we deserve what we have.  Not giving thanks because we have or haven’t made appropriate reparations to the people we have wronged, either nationally or individually.
The core of the historical event and the presidential proclamation is giving thanks to God.  For the blessings of life itself, regardless of the fact that we routinely abuse this blessing and take it for granted and spend our time trying to deprive one another of these blessings.  For the fact that our loving God continues to pour out His blessings on His creation.  Not because we deserve them or have earned them or are particularly wonderful, but because He loves us.  And why could God love a people that defraud one another and hurt one another and kill one another in order to hoard up these blessings for themselves?
Only because of our intercessor, Jesus Christ.  Because God – knowing we are incapable of improving ourselves and doing the right things, whether those things are what the author of this article suggests or otherwise – sent His Son to atone for us.  To obey where we cannot, to suffer what we deserve, to die as we all ought to die, to be separated from true righteousness and justice and mercy which is God Himself as we ought to be separated from Him for being son unrighteous, so unjust, and so unmerciful.  God can and does love us because of Jesus Christ.  
You want something to focus on for Thanksgiving, focus on Him.  Focus on the only true example of righteousness and justice and mercy the world has ever and will ever know – Jesus Christ.  Focus on what we did to him, how we handled that message and that reality.  We killed him.  And now ponder anew the meaning of righteous and just and merciful, that God knew this would happen, and that in happening, we are freed.  We are saved.  We are reconciled.  Not fully and not completely – yet.  But the process has begun.  The only process whereby the justice and mercy and righteousness that the author of this article would like to see will ever be achieved – and will be achieved.  Not on his terms, which are imperfect at best and hurtful at best, but on God’s terms which can be trusted to be perfect and right, always.
Hopefully Mr. Jensen could raise a drumstick to this reality on Thanksgiving, just as the pilgrims did.  Just as President Lincoln did.  And just as you and I ought to.  
And that message is of vital importance to every person on this earth.  The italics don’t lie.

…Like ham in beef chow mein…

November 18, 2010

I'd never cry if I did find
A blue whale in my soup...
Nor would I mind a porcupine
Inside a chicken coop.
Yes life is fine when things combine,
Like ham in beef chow mein...
But lord, this time I think I mind,
They've put acid in my rain.
--- Milo Bloom

(from the mind of Berkeley Breathed, author of the beloved Bloom County comic strip)
Not necessarily acid in my rain, but a sneaky new version of the New International Version (NIV) Bible in place of the traditional NIV normally served.  
To begin with, I’m a fan of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.  It works hard to maintain textual integrity/faithfulness to the literal wording of the original Hebrew and Greek, while also making efforts to be readable in English.  It’s considered to be more textually faithful than the NIV.  For additional information on the usefulness/accuracy of the ESV, you can refer to this somewhat lengthier document.  
But I use the NIV oftentimes for quick reference.  Particularly, I’m fond of using the popular Bible site for  quick reference or use as I’m working on Bible studies.  Thanks to Gene Veith’s blog  for letting me know that the NIV at this site – and soon to be all NIV sites and prints – has been changed.  
The NIV was originally published in 1978 and revised in 1984.  There was an effort in the early part of the new millenia to update the NIV again in a form known as Today’s NIV (TNIV).  There was a fair amount of controversy about this translation because it utilized gender-inclusive language as opposed to the original masculine pronouns in many parts of the translation.  I’m not a fan of gender-inclusive language unless it’s appropriate or intended.  Changing how we translate a document as important as the Bible simply because of sensitivity (misplaced, in my opinion) that the Bible is somehow gender-offensive is dangerous precedent.  Beyond the philosophical level, there are other very good reasons to be careful how the Bible is translated in light of modern sensibilities.  For a very brief but very helpful analysis of this, this article  by Wayne Grudem is extremely useful.  
In any event, the TNIV did not enjoy a very widespread adoption.  I assume this means that people didn’t buy many copies, which is always disappointing to a publisher as well as the group that has funded the research for the translation.  It’s probably also disappointing to people who have an agenda of furthering the reach of gender-inclusive language.
The NIV is scheduled to be replaced completely  in 2011, with the traditional NIV and the TNIV no longer being published or made available.  If you like the NIV, I suggest you hold on to your copies of it because you won’t be able to buy a new one after next year.  And, you won’t necessarily know that there’s a difference because despite there being some pretty substantial changes, it’s going to continue to be called the NIV.   So unless you’re very careful, you may be already referencing the new NIV when you’re using online Bible sites.  I was very surprised by this, and very disappointed that there wasn’t some effort made to indicate that there was a change.  
I’m sure that part of my concern is also driven by personal preference.  In some ways, it’s not much different than those who grew up with the King James Version.  It’s not a matter of accuracy, but a matter of familiarity and comfort.  An argument could be made that the gender-inclusive language is not a crucial issue.  However, it’s a change based on a very recent cultural (and mostly Western culture) issue regarding feminism and language.  I don’t see how the issues of a comparatively small percentage of people worldwide ought to dictate or influence the way one of the most widely known translations of the Bible is updated and made available.   I am also suspicious that this is an effort to push people to buy more Bibles, and the thought of marketing playing a part in all of this just sickens me.  
Whatever the reasons, and whatever your stance on those reasons, the most important thing is to be informed so you can make good decisions.  Hopefully this helps!

You Must Be Poking

November 16, 2010

I love waking up in the morning and having to think.

Thanks to Doni for this wonderful link to a long but enjoyable article/critique.  The author, Zadie Smith, interweaves a movie – The Social Network – with a book – You Are Not A Gadget .  While I don’t have much interest in seeing the movie, it’s a book I’m definitely going to be reading before too long.
The main thing that struck me in this article is somewhat of a side note of focus.  Smith (as well as the movie and the book) wrestle with what drives Generation Y to do the things that it does.  The traditional goals of great wealth or great power seem uninteresting to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg.  This must make it really difficult to write scripts or books or articles about him.  Yet it’s totally in keeping with the nature of Generation Y, philosophically and otherwise.  This is the result of philosophical and religious choices that are now close to overwhelming our culture.  Smith writes towards the end of this essay:
For our self-conscious generation (and in this, I and Zuckerberg, and everyone raised on TV in the Eighties and Nineties, share a single soul), not being liked is as bad as it gets. Intolerable to be thought of badly for a minute, even for a moment. 
A few paragraphs later she relates her students’ reactions to a scene in a book she is having them read:
In the most famous scene, the unnamed protagonist, in one of the few moments of “action,” throws a dart into his girlfriend’s forehead. Later, in the hospital they reunite with a kiss and no explanation. “It’s just between them,” said one student, and looked happy. To a reader of my generation, Toussaint’s characters seemed, at first glance, to have no interiority—in fact theirs is not an absence but a refusal, and an ethical one. What’s inside of me is none of your business. To my students,The Bathroom is a true romance.
And finally, a few paragraphs later:
The last defense of every Facebook addict is: but it helps me keep in contact with people who are far away! Well, e-mail and Skype do that, too, and they have the added advantage of not forcing you to interface with the mind of Mark Zuckerberg—but, well, you know. We all know. If we really wanted to write to these faraway people, or see them, we would. What we actually want to do is the bare minimum, just like any nineteen-year-old college boy who’d rather be doing something else, or nothing.
What is the meaning of life?  Philosophically and theologically, Generation Y has been informed that there is none.  There is no unchanging Truth, and even if there were, we couldn’t possibly know it reliably or communicate it effectively.  Power and money are means to an end, a means to accessing or controlling Truth, with all of the commensurate benefits that can come from such control.  But those tools aren’t effective if Truth is nonexistent or unknowable.  Those are tools from another age.  The aren’t for another age, because there are still plenty of people who recognize today that even if there is no truth, having money and power is a better way to spend your life than not having power and money.  And some of those people have scores to settle, addictions to feed, a twisted desire just to see what they can get away with, and any number of other minor and major neuroses that the rest of us need to pay attention to for our own protection.
If not power and money, then what?  What remains?  Smith argues relationships.  I think that’s a bit too generous.  I think ultimately what matters now are feelings.  Feeling liked.  Feeling popular.  Feeling connected.  Feeling in the know.  Feeling reassured that your life has some meaning because you are connected to x number of people.  Never mind that those feelings are all too often superficial and poorly supported, even in the midst of unprecedented opportunities and options for connectivity.  Relationships take a lot of work, but feelings are relatively easy.  
Click a button.  Send an invitation or a request.  Accept or deny (or now, make your decision later).  When connected, the other person exists not so much as a unique person (relationship) with dreams and hopes and abilities and shared history, they become a source of feelings.  Perusing their photos, evaluating and judging their status updates.  We have the illusion of relationship because our connected status allows us to ‘hear’ from them daily or weekly or whenever.  Never mind that those updates aren’t generally directed towards us, and are shouted into a bleak ether made only slightly more friendly by the illusion of tens or hundreds or thousands of people that might hear and care, if only briefly.
If relationship was really the point, we’d prioritize that.  We’d write letters (snail or e-mail).  We’d take trips to visit people.  We’d invest ourselves in the relationship in tangible, active ways.  This would make a few things immediately apparent.  That most of our digital connections are not people we’d be willing to go to that effort or expense for.  We may have a lot of connections, but as social researchers continue to stoically chant, we have very few real, true friends.  People we would take a bullet for.  Or a plane.  Or an hour out of our day.  Very few of our connections matter in a real and deep and abiding sense in that they matter to us,  rather than for us.  Most of them provide just feelings.  It’s all we want from them.  It’s all we expect to be able to give them, if we bother to think of giving them anything at all. 
As an obstinate Facebook user (I don’t update very often, have never changed my profile picture, etc.), I understand the lure of feeling.  And I do very much see Facebook as an adolescent-driven source for feeling.  Smith comments:
Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of b
lue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is.
I think that Smith is too quick to paint users of Facebook passively.  I see it’s limitations and awkwardness, but I do value the fact that it has enabled reconnection with people.  The people that I really revalue reconnecting with I tend to now relate with in ways other than Facebook – emails or letters or visits.  But Facebook was valuable in that initial step of reconnecting.  Perhaps that is what it will ultimately be remembered for when it goes the way of Facebook and any other sort of software interface.  It remains to be see whether, once those connections are there – or more accurately once the subset relationships are there – people will move on with their lives (and relationships) without a continued desire to be told how many pigs their friends have found on Farmville, and without the constant advertising opportunities that will only increase with time.  If we are more than the sum of our ability to coerce or purchase or connect, we’ll need to demonstrate that in meaningful ways.  I tend to think those ways are going to look a lot like how they’ve always looked, as opposed to having a new medium and methodology to them.  
Or we may just continue to take the easy way out, reinforcing ultimately the philosophy that nothing really matters, only what we think or feel, and other people will continue to be reduced to tools for generating feelings and thoughts within us.  

Who Are You Again?

November 16, 2010

I haven’t been to this wing of the hospital before.  I’m not sure if there is any real difference between the wings, so the observation isn’t necessarily indicative of much.  The woman who validates my parking and verifies who I’m here to see and prints my visitor badge is very helpful.  Perhaps overly so.  She announces the room number – which I already know but is a very helpful touch that many of the other security personnel don’t add.  I’m already walking away towards the elevators and she’s starting to give me directions.  I thank her and keep walking.  Sometimes helpfulness isn’t very helpful.

The e-mail from the secretary at the office wasn’t overly helpful, though.  _______ is in the hospital and would like you to visit her.  She has attended Bible Studies at the church.  She’s at Cottage Hospital, Room ___.  I’ve never heard the name before.  Granted, I’m new at the church and still nailing down the last of the 80-odd names and faces that I see or speak with on a weekly basis.  But this woman’s name isn’t in my member spreadsheet, and isn’t in any of the older directories I’ve stashed away as I’ve continued cleaning out my predecessor’s paperwork from my office.  If she’s been to Bible studies here, it hasn’t been for quite a while.  
I find the room fairly easily.  A shared room with another patient.  There’s a nurse tending to one of them and I mention who I’m here to see, and she nods me towards the woman she’s finishing up with.  She looks to be in her early 50’s.  But it’s the sort of aging indicators that mean she might really only be 35.  She’s lying down when I come over, working to turn herself onto her back and sit up.  Her straight dirty-blonde hair hangs to probably her shoulder blades.  
I introduce myself and indicate that I had come at her request.  It’s immediately clear by the look in her eyes that she doesn’t know who I am or what church I’m with.  I’m struck immediately with the realization that at some point earlier today, this woman was probably leaving messages on voice mails at churches all around the Santa Barbara area.  I’m ____________________.  I used to come to Bible studies at the church.  I’d like the pastor to visit me.  I’m in Cottage Hospital, Room ____.   Whether she believes that she really has attended Bible studies isn’t an avenue I’m willing to go down at this point.
She’s difficult to understand.  The television in her room mate’s corner is blaring loudly, and the thin sheet that circles around the other bed to divide the room is terrible sound insulation.  It would be helpful if the sound were turned down a notch, and I hope briefly for this as visitors arrive for the other woman.  But the television continues to blare unhelpfully.  
She lives in town in her travel trailer.  She was attacked.  She was harassed.  Repeatedly.  There was a beating.  She’s suffering post-traumatic stress symptoms.  I’m tempted to ask whether or not she was in the service, but it’s clear very quickly that the stress is attributed to the beatings and harassment she’s received here, not in some foreign battlefield.  At some point in her childhood she was going to Catholic church with her grandmother.  But then her grandmother was gone.  Perhaps she said she died.  I can’t be sure.  I know it’s not a detail to stress over.  With her mother or some other woman she didn’t go to church anymore.
She’s co-founded a new church here in town.  I’ve heard of it, and whether or not she really co-founded it or not is irrelevant at this point.  Who are you again? she asks, and I repeat my name and the congregation.  Again there’s the confusion in the eyes, but she speaks quickly to mask it.  She has trouble walking.  She can’t keep her balance.  Her meds were stolen at one point and now she’s all out of whack inside.  The doctors aren’t sure what to do yet.  She’s been here almost a week now.  
She mentions other churches, other times in her life.  The narrative flow would impress Tarantino.  It’s hard to piece together what has happened when.  Were the beatings recent?  She doesn’t have scars or bruises or scratches that would indicate it.  I imagine that perhaps my confusion is only a flickering shadow of her own internal confusion.  She mentions needing a pair of sweat pants.  The confusion has settled on a desired pair of sweatpants for some reason.  A pair of eyeglasses.  Perhaps asking for these things is a way of getting a handle on reality, on linking on to something tangible, controllable.  Perhaps it’s a reflex.  It would be easy to believe that she has spent a lot of time asking for things.  I chastise myself for wondering and doubting.  How helpful is doubt here?  What does it accomplish?
What church are you with again?  I repeat the name of the church.  She talks about another church somewhere else in town, but I’m not sure where she’s referring to since I’m new in town myself.  She smiles as she starts talking about some of these places.  Places of happier times, perhaps.  Distant moments of clarity or beauty.  It’s clear that the confusion is likely to be with her for some time.  I suspect it’s not an unfamiliar companion in her life, and I wonder what the meds that were stolen were for.  
I offer to close us in prayer and to visit her again.  I have a meeting to go to.  I’m already rationalizing how I’m really not being much help to her.  She probably won’t remember me when I stop by tomorrow.  Or what church I’m with.  Not that either matters to her, really.  She needs a pair of eyeglasses.  Maybe some sweat pants.  She needs a handle on the world that swims around her and leaves her without the ability to stand or balance and instead pins her to a hospital bed.  What does it matter where those things come from or how?  Isn’t it the same creator behind the gift?  Isn’t it the same Giver regardless of whose hands actually convey the gift?
Her own hands are rough and thick.  Hard hands.  Hands well accustomed to work, to effort, to struggle.  
I pray, chastising myself for criticizing my own prayer, or worse yet, for praying while considering how formal and stiff my prayer for her must sound.  What sort of prayers is she used to?  What sort of prayers do they use in the church she co-founded?  I draw the prayer almost to a conclusive Amen, leaving time and space for her to say something if she wishes.  She rocks back and forth very slightly, eyes closed, lips moving.  I wait another few seconds and pronounce Amen.  She continues to sway, lips parted and moving, eyes firmly shut.  I squeeze her hands.  
I don’t know what help I can be to her, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not helpful.  I wonder how many other pastors came by today, or will stop by tomorrow.  Curious.  Uncertain.  I wonder how many will feel guilty for not wanting to come back, for not wanting to spend time with a woman who is lost enough to know that it doesn’t really matter who helps, as long as help comes.  Part of me wonders if I will come back tomorrow.  The cold calculating part of me is busy whirring away the calculations of time and effort and ROI.  As though my time is my own, or as if I exclusively determine it’s value.  The calculations continue, but I already know that I’ll be back.  That maybe
just by coming back I’ll be helpful.  Even without sweat pants or eyeglasses.  Just a stranger that came back.  Maybe the coming back is the helpful part.  But I won’t likely know that until long, long after she and I are both gone.
I find my way back to the elevators.  A doctor of some sort is heading down with me.  I ask for the first floor.  Do you know where you’re going? he asks.  I resist the sudden urge to shoot back Do any of us really know where we’re going?  and tell him that I think I do, but that I’m still learning my way around.  Actually, this evening, I’m pretty confident of where I want to go.  Helpfulness comes at odd times.   A woman races to jump into the elevator with us before the door closes.  You just barely made it in time! the doctor observes.  
This way I’ll make my bus! she responds.
We descend to the second floor where the woman exits.  The doctor is indicating that if I get out here, It will take me to the main lobby.  I need the Castillo street entrance, I assure him.  He’s clearly unconvinced.  I have become a charge of his, and he seems determined to see me where I need to go.
We reach the first floor and he seems uncertain whether he should let me out here.  I assure him he should.  He steps partially out with me, giving me directions around the corner and down the hall.  I’m already walking as he concludes the directions.  I thank him and keep walking.  Sometimes helpfulness isn’t very helpful.  But it sure can be reassuring.

Whooda Thunkit?

November 8, 2010

Since I first blogged on this blog a few days ago, the thing has gone somewhat viral.  Not my commentary on it, but the original blog post itself – the mom of the boy who dressed up as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween and how ticked off she was (the mom, not the boy pretending to be Daphne) that anyone might find it odd.  I’ve seen this popping up in all sorts of places.  Not surprising – it pushes all the right buttons.  Moral outrage and indignation.  Allegations of bullying.  Gender/sexuality issues (perceived or otherwise).  And of course, someone willing to stand up and tell the world to go to hell because nobody could possibly have anything to say or contribute to her or her son beyond what she has decided to provide him.

So I’ve been thinking more about it, and wondering what else ought to be said.  
If my daughter had dressed as Batman, no one would have thought about it twice.  No one.  
This sounds like a pretty compelling argument at surface level.  If my daughter wanted to dress as Batman or Spiderman or Superman, what would I say?  Would I have as big an issue about it as if my son wanted to dress up as Daphne?  No.  Why?  Because they’re not the same issue.
First off, there are female equivalents for pretty much every male superhero.  There’s a Batgirl.  And a Supergirl.  There’s probably a Spidergirl but I’m afraid to Google that.  So if my daughter was interested in dressing as a superhero (which she isn’t), there are plenty of female options to choose from.  But let’s say she really wanted to go as Batman instead of Batgirl, since the costumes are decidedly different.  Would that cause me concern?  No.  Is this inconsistent with disagreeing with encouraging the blogger’s son to dress up as a girl for Halloween?  No.  
Yes Batman is a man, but his masculinity isn’t the core issue that Batman has going on.  It’s not so much about being a man, as it is about being a masked person with all sorts of cool abilities and tools at your disposal with which to whack bad guys.  That’s appealing, and the appeal isn’t necessarily gender specific.  Hence there can be a Batgirl who has many of the same characteristics as Batman, only with better hair.  Daphne is a young woman.  Her character is totally feminine.  She isn’t pretending to be anything else.  There could not be a male version of Daphne.  A male version of Daphne would be a regular guy with nice hair.  
A boy wishing to dress up as a girl, simply because she’s a girl, is not the same thing as a girl who might want to dress up as a masked superhero because the mask and the costume and the gadgets and everything else are cool.  In doing so, she wouldn’t really be dressing up as a man per se, but as a character with all these amazing gadgets and the ability to fight crime.  What she would want to be emulating, in other words, is not being a man, but being a superhero with cool skills.  If my daughter wanted to dress as Batman, I’d encourage her to consider the female alternatives.  If she were insistent, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.
If she wanted to dress up as Bruce Wayne, I’d have a problem.  
If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept.

I tend to agree with this.  I don’t think isolated cross dressing in young children is a sign of sexual confusion necessarily.  But let’s be clear here – it’s obvious from this mother’s blog that she isn’t really concerned about this issue at all.  Because even if it is linked to gender confusion or problems with sexual identity, she sees no need for alarm.  Whatever happens, happens.  She loves her child regardless.  I commend her love.  I don’t commend her laissez faire approach to the issue or her rejection of anyone who might possibly disagree.  

It seems clear from her description of her son’s behavior that there is some confusion on his part – and that’s only natural and normal.  His best friends and most regular companions are all female.  Of course he would be inclined to want to emulate them at some level.  Of course if his best friend suggests he might want to wear the same costume as her, he would find that a reasonable idea.  And yet, despite of all this reinforcement for his decision, he begins to have second thoughts.  The author doesn’t describe why this might be.  But it seems clear that either all on his own, or through the comments of others, he began to realize that perhaps his initial logic was flawed.  Maybe it wasn’t an appropriate costume for him.  He’s trying to sort out the gender confusion.  It would have been an ideal moment to offer some male costume options (Shaggy?  Fred?  Even Scooby?).  

My job as his mother is not to stifle that man that he will be, but to help him along his way. Mine is not to dictate what is ‘normal’ and what is not, but to help him become a good person.

You can’t “help someone along the way” without providing assistance that may, in one form or another, stifle one aspect of a person or accentuate and help another aspect to flourish.  Yes, you do help your son learn what is normal, because you have lived in the world a lot longer than he has and know what is normal.  

You know, for instance, that you don’t allow your child to play with feral rats.  Or to gnaw on roadkill.  You know that you don’t allow your child to jump up and down on the table at the restaurant you’re eating at.  You know that you don’t allow your child to roam the streets naked because he’s so inclined to do that regularly.  Why?  Because these things are not normal – and while your child may be too young to know that, you are not, and you are responsible for helping him learn.  A “good person” after all is someone that acts in ways that are generally conceded to be good based on some definition.  That requires that you help teach your son (or daughter) what those ways are.  Your son or daughter is not free to arbitrarily decide for themselves what constitutes good or bad.  

Earlier in the essay the mother mentions other cross-dressing situations that are not considered taboo or inappropriate (well, fraternity brothers and football players).  Why aren’t they taboo?  Because they’re older, somewhat more mature people who clearly understand what the difference is between the genders.  They are not cross-dressing out of confusion, but specifically because such cross-dressing is widely considered to be inappropriate outside of an attempt (however poor is not the question here) at humor.  They are demonstrating the humor that the vast majority of people find in a situation where someone is pretending to be something they are not.
This is not the same as a small child attempting to learn what are appropriate dress-up options.  This is not the same as encouraging the child to continue in a path of behavior even though the child recognizes that they may have been in error on the matter.  This is not the same as utilizing your child as the lightning rod for you to wield your righteous indignation.  
I have no doubt this woman loves her child.  It’s unfortunate that she rejects so completely the idea that anyone willing to sit her down and express concerns with her might be attempting to love her – and her child – as well.  If the measure of love is the willingness of everyone else around us to patently agree to whatever we decide to do or say, it’s not worth much, as love goes.  I hope this mother has the chance to think further about this situation.  Beyond her defensiveness and protectiveness (both understandable, to an extent).  But based on a lot of the reactions people seem to be having to her post (affirming it), that’s probably not going to happen.  
Ultimately, that’s a shame for all of us – not just this woman and her son.  

Tell All The Truth…

October 21, 2010

I didn’t wear purple yesterday.

Normally, this would not necessitate any sort of special disclaimer.  I never wear purple – except for vestments during Lent.  Next to pink, it’s the color I am least likely to ever be seen in.  Other than perhaps yellow.  Or orange.  Anyways, it’s down at the bottom of the pack, to be sure.
But now my color choice needs to be explained further.  We were exhorted as a nation to wear purple on Wednesday 10/20 to celebrate Spirit Day in solidarity with Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) youth who may feel bullied, and to commemorate those who have committed suicide as a result of this bullying.  The day was sponsored by the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).  I hadn’t planned on saying anything on this topic because I didn’t think there was much to say.  But then I read this blog entry by Jim Wallis.  
Years ago I was initially enamored with Wallis’ strong call to social activism and concern by Christians, but I have grown increasingly less enamored with the directions he has taken his considerable influence.  His blog entry  is another de-enamorizing point.  Try saying that a few times quickly.  After margaritas.  
I digress.
I would support a day against bullying.  I do support it.  I know it’s debilitating effects all too well.  And if the media storm right now following the suicide of Tyler Clementi were about bullying, that would be wonderful.  But it’s not.  It’s about advancing the acceptance of LGBT beliefs and practices.  While I have spoken out strongly against the bullying of anyone, it’s frustrating to watch the broad and very real issue of bullying used as a means of shoving the LGBT agenda down people’s throats.  Bullying is wrong.  Period.  And if GLAAD was really concerned about bullying, as opposed to furthering their own agenda, they would have touted Spirit Day as a day of standing with any victim of bullying, regardless of reason.  Instead, they’re simply ‘amplifying’ their own agenda.  To hell with everybody else, effectively.  
Wallis should be smart enough to see this.  Smart enough to tell the difference between a sham publicity stunt and a genuine concern for a very real phenomenon that goes on over computers, in playgrounds, classrooms, offices and homes.  Wallis calls Christians to added attention to LGBT youth who may be at risk for bullying.  But what about all the other people who suffer from bullying?  Do they merit special attention, too?  What about youth with poor self-esteem?  What about youth who are smaller or physically weaker in some way?  What about youth who are different in terms of their intellectual level or their behavioral patterns?  The truth is that bullying happens every day to a depressing number of people for a depressing number of reasons.  Yet we’re only to specially pay attention to the LGBT youth because they have very vocal advocates churning out Spirit Days?
We won’t even go into the monumental uselessness of Spirit Day for accomplishing anything other than pushing people to come closer to terms with something that common sense and thousands of years of human history has rejected as unhealthy and preposterous – the equivocation of any form of sexual union as synonymous with heterosexual marriage.  How does Spirit Day actually help any of these bullied teens?  It doesn’t.  Your school yard bully has no regard for Ellen Degeneres tearful plea on behalf of LGBT youth.  If today’s bullies are anything like the bullies of my day, all this attention might even intensify the bullying.  In all of the hullabaloo, it’s often missed that the bullying of Clementi wasn’t even directed at his sexuality (at least based on available evidence at this point).  The average bully has some severe issues that are likely prompting their bullying, issues that aren’t going to be addressed by a bunch of strangers wearing purple.  Or pink.  Or orange.  Or yellow.
Wallis wields a lot of influence.  I wish that he would use it more discerningly.  The only thing worse than his using it carelessly would be to discover that he is using it discerningly.  

House Keeping

October 1, 2010

Traffic at this blog site is up, something that’s a pleasant surprise.  Welcome to any and all of you silent readers out there – I look forward to getting to know you as you (hopefully!) feel led to morph the monologue into a dialog!

From time to time, and with increasing regularity, I get comments posted to entries – usually older entries.  The comments are usually very brief (less than two sentences), and very vague (this is an awesome site).  I believe that these are spam entries attempting to generate traffic back to their own, unrelated web sites and services, so I haven’t been publishing those comments.   I always publish comments that appear to be directly related to an entry and are from people that I know are readers of the blog.  I don’t wish to publish comments that aren’t from real people or are from spammers.
If I’m in error on this, and it is actually a reader who is posting these, please drop me a line and introduce yourself and I’ll be sure to post your comments in the future.  In the not so distant past I could count my readers on one hand (with fingers to spare), and now it appears that I at least need two hands.  To God be the glory, and I’m glad if my musings are interesting or at least helpful in curing insomnia and/or constipation.  We all have our roles to fill.
Regardless, it’s good to have you along for the ride.

A Minority Opinion

September 20, 2010

Having been on the Internet for close to 20 years now, being ‘wired’ is part of who I am (in fact, I remember perusing the first issue of the magazine that is linked to below).  It’s hard to imagine a day without checking e-mail or randomly perusing news links and other vital activities once associated only with obsessive compulsiveness.  Yet for being that attached to the Internet, I also realize that this is a decision that may not always be the best thing, and that there are other ways of looking at online interconnectedness.

I have a high school buddy who has given up on Facebook because he is responsible for engaging in social media for networking and business purposes, and has no desire to fill his free time in the same way.  And so in light of his decision, I thought that this short editorial might be helpful in helping us think about what it means to be wired and to have our identity digitized to greater or lesser extents.  
Let the buyer beware.