What Owns You

Hands in chains

Compulsion. We think it’s a disorder–OCD. Most of us, we say, are above it. We’re in control.

But really, that’s a delusion. So many things control out lives. And adding more irony is that we are keenly aware of it.

The device you’re probably reading this on: How many times a day do you check it? If you’re an average person, the answer is 80 times per day. Eighty! Who’s in control?

It’s no great revelation that the stuff we own ends up owning us. But it’s helpful to occasionally remind ourselves of this.

Tyler Durden Fight Club quote the things you own end up owning you
People knock Fight Club, but the book and movie resonate for a reason.

Lots of these things are vampires, leeching us of or time, money, and energy. Time, money, and energy that could be put to more productive use. It’s bad enough that we don’t really own much of the stuff we think we do . . . and then, this stuff turns around and owns us.

I know that I myself have several things that own me, physical good or otherwise. These keep me from doing what I really want to do and know that I should do: write, read, pray, work out, play music, think, and so on.

Bela Lugosi Count Dracula

A caveat: These things don’t interfere with family time. When I’m with my family, the screens are out of sight. That’s an iron clad rule, and it’s one that’s easy to follow, because my wife and I keep each other in check (this will be important later on), and quite frankly it’s embarrassing wasting so much time on this stuff. Continue reading “What Owns You”

Reset: Chapter 15: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (4)

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The silence stretched out until Joe’s eyes grew tired from focusing on the same spot on their carpet. “So what do you think?” he asked quietly.

“I think a lot of things,” said Nick, a bemused expression frozen on his face. “Most of which you probably don’t want to hear right now.”

“We can try to stop it.”

“Weren’t we just talking about how we shouldn’t try to change too much?”

A buzzing in Joe’s legs made him stand; he felt as though sitting down any longer would kill him. “I think us just being here is changing everything.”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Nick crossed his arms and looked out of the window.

“It’s a little late for buyer’s remorse, don’t you think? It’s like setting The Machine back to December sixth and not warning anyone.”

Nick turned. “About Christmas?”

Struggling for a response, Joe could only let out a choked gasp.

“God, I feel so old,” said Nick, rubbing a hand over his eyes.

Joe stopped pacing and stood next to Nick, looking out the window with him. Paxton Hall overlooked a quad in between two other dorms, a quad which was still fairly busy given the late hour, the way college campuses often were. Hives of activity. People from all over. Maybe some of them lost loved ones on that day, or knew someone who had. “We’ve got to do something, Nick. All those people . . .”

“Sure,” said Nick quietly. “And then what? What happens to the country? To the world?”

“For starters, there’ll be three-thousand fewer dead people. I can think of a couple of buildings that’ll still be standing.”

“The wars, then? The terrorists? 9/11 created the modern world. What happens if that never happened?”

Joe shrugged. “Who says the modern world is so great?”

“And what about the election? And the ones after that?

“You’re making this sound better and better.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 15: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (4)”

Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days

The logo from the Marvel comics The Inhumans

What is it about tragedy that brings out the worst in people?

I know what you’re thinking: Tragedies can also bring out the best. We have seen how America has banded together in the wake of the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.

But then, there’s the recent Las Vegas shooting.

I’m not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say an incredibly evil man shot a bunch of people at a music festival, killing close to 60 and wounding hundreds of others before turning the gun on himself.

Once again, the reaction to this act of inhumanity is nearly as inhuman as the act itself.

No, you see, it wasn’t the killer who bears responsibility. It’s the NRA. It’s NRA members. It’s the Republican Party of the United States of America. It’s any lawmaker who didn’t vote to enact laws (that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway).  It’s anyone who supports the Second Amendment. It’s anybody who likes country music. It’s anybody who voted for Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump himself (for God’s sake, the man is living rent-free in 60,000,000 people’s heads. Why does anybody let a politician control their thoughts and emotions?!).

The impulse to immediately start casting blame at people who had nothing to do with an act of violence instead of blaming the actual perpetrator is terrifyingly inhuman and evil. 

It’s sick and it’s wrong and it explains so much of what is going on in this country.

This attitude explains why there seems to be no hope of communication, no hope of reconciliation. One group of people wants the other to actually die.

How do you overcome this? How do you get over hatred, which seems to be one of the easiest, most enjoyable emotion to succumb to?

For starters, you have to imagine the other person as a human being with a soul and inherent worth. This might take a hell of a lot of imagination, but it can be done. And once it’s done, you start to extrapolate what would happen if this person were to die:

  • Do they have wife? Children? A family?.
  • Do other people enjoy spending time with them? Are other people relying on them?
  • How would other people’s lives be impacted if this person were to die?
  • What about the important people in your life? How would they be affected if you died?
  • How would you feel if someone that you cared for were murdered merely for their beliefs or opinions?

Really, it’s no different than the old cliche of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are really basic, human questions to act. And yet humanity seems in such short supply. Continue reading “Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days”

Ask a Christian, Part III

Man and God - The Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo

I’ve been taking all matters God with a really great group of guys online lately, and it got me in the mood to discuss and, hopefully, explain a few more questions and misconceptions I’ve gotten and been seeing about the faith. And so here we are with the third edition of Ask A Christian.

Hopefully you find this interesting, and even if you still think the faith wacky, well, at least you’ll be better informed.

Let me say first that a lot of these focus on the Bible, which is a difficult book for anyone, devout or otherwise. It’s a collection of several books written by people centuries apart, so misunderstandings about among the faithful and the not. So keep this in mind as we delve into some of these.

“Why do you feel guilt about everything and impose unearned guilt on everyone? That’s sadistic and cruel!”

Well then, it’s a good thing that this isn’t what we believe. Everyone isn’t “guilty.”

See, Christians, at least the Orthodox denomination, don’t believe in “original guilt.” Original sin–the disobedience to God and the fall of man–happened. Christ then redeemed mankind.

The distinction is that man’s nature is fallen. All of us live with the consequences of the fall of man, sure–old age, sickness, death, the darker sides of human nature in all of its manifestations– we are not guilty.

“You always cry ‘out of context!’ when confronted with verses you don’t like. What a disingenuous cop-out!”

Then stop flinging verses at us that you don’t understand yourselves.

This is a multi-layered issue, and could be a post itself. I’ll try to provide a condensed version:

  1. The Bible isn’t a book. It’s a library. It is a collection of different books written at different times by different people for different reasons. There is Gospel, prophecy, history, myth, poetry, wisdom, letters…so context is required for everything. Which leads into point 2.
  2. Not all Christians believe “sola scriptura,” the idea held by many Protestant denominations that the Bible is perfect and a closed book and that all we need to know, and in order to interpret it, is in there. Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, among other, denominations reject this. Even the Bible doesn’t indicate that scripture alone is the final word, which seems to invalidate the idea of sola scriptura, but I digress. I know I’ve opened a can of worms here, but like I said, this is condensed. So there is also tradition and practice, including that by the Apostles themselves. You know, those people who followed Jesus himself.
  3. The Bible, all of it, needs to be read many ways: literally, figuratively, scripturally, and so on. I’ve already written about how not all churches take the creation story literally, and 12th century Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides explained in his Guide for the Perplexed that everyone knew, for example, that the Book of Job is a metaphor. So it’s far more layered than naysayers like to admit.

When those who are trying to disprove Christianity toss random verses around, they’re engaging in sola scriptura-type interpretation without knowing what they’re citing actually means. It’s like tossing out the middle of a random sentence without knowing the rest of the words surrounding it, or what the excerpt actually is trying to convey.

And if you’re upset that there seems to be “an answer for everything,” that’s what thousands of years of serious study and tradition will do. Or it could be that the book is true… Continue reading “Ask a Christian, Part III”

What Can You Give Up?

Yet another American institution has become a flashpoint for political controversy. This time, it’s professional sports. I’ve already written about the firestorm Colin Kaepernick started last year when he decided to protest what he saw as America’s continued unjust treatment of blacks and other minorities by kneeling for the National Anthem.These protests have intensified this year, at least during the first few weeks of the NFL season.

I refrained from writing about this, because hot takes like these are rarely useful and serve to be mostly nothing more than empty virtue signaling with no mention of a solution to any such problems, perceived or otherwise. There’s also typically a debate about free speech, which no one, including me, seems to understand fully anyway.

All I know about free speech, the rule of law, and everything in general involving man’s relation to government is this: Power is really all that matters, and the illusion of self-government will exist until it becomes too expensive to maintain. He who has the guns, wins.

America’s done a pretty good job with the illusion of self-government because we were founded by people who believed in the illusion too. But I digress. The takeaway is that this is the world we live in, so we need to know how to navigate it.

If you’re sick of politics in things like professional sports, your movies, your place of worship, your workplace, and other forms of entertainment or spheres of your life, what do you do? If there are no alternatives, you can create alternatives of course. You can also vote with your wallet. This doesn’t have to be an organized boycott. You can just . . . give it up.

Think about all the stuff we do in life that really doesn’t matter. That’s mere entertainment. Do you really need to know who beat whom in which sportsball event, or which character raped/murdered/lied to which other on Game of Thrones, when most of the people involved in the production of both events probably hates you merely for your difference of opinion?

Back to sports. Of all American cultural institutions, it seems to provide the least value. Let me explain before you jump down my throat: I’m making a distinction between participating in and spectating.

  • Participating in sports. Important. In addition to athletics helping promote a healthy body, they inculcate mental toughness, teamwork, pride and ownership, self-discipline, and being gracious in both victory and defeat.
  • Spectating. Watching. Sitting, eating, and drinking. Maybe getting drunk. Cheering for laundry, for players and owners that do not care about you. Obsessing over trades and stats. Letting the outcome of an event literally govern your thoughts and emotions.

You get this in any form of entertainment, really. Look at comic books, right? Even if you don’t care about them, the seemingly deliberate destruction of the industry to parrot an incredibly narrow, though highly influential, strain of far-left identity politics is stunning to behold, and instructive to how this happens across many such industries. The writers and artists have made it clear that they don’t care about storytelling. So why be a fan? Why devote time and money and energy to it?

Everything is a business. Your favorite musicians, artists, athletes, writers, actors, and so on, all want to get paid. They care about you inasmuch as you will give them money. And if you’re a participant in any of these endeavors, you likely feel the same way. And there is nothing wrong with that.

We used to live in a world where creators gave the audience what it wanted. The debate as to whether that leads to high or poor quality isn’t worth getting into here. But I think we can say that there are certain universal human principles that make for good storytelling, the kind that people want, but will still allow for maximum creativity on the part of the writers and directors and actors and everyone else down the line. Hollywood used to understand this. Not anymore.

People, all people, can engage in whatever speech they want. Let’s stop pretending that some speech isn’t deemed more important or acceptable than others though.

This all gets me thinking about what I can, and have, given up, and why. Continue reading “What Can You Give Up?”

Reset: Chapter 14: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (3)

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Professor Brennan would never be confused for a professional comedian, but he wasn’t a complete disaster. His comedic prowess didn’t really matter to the seventy-five or so in attendance, surrounded by their peers and ready to laugh.

But not Gwendolyn. While her girlfriends were fixated on Brennan–and Joe couldn’t blame them; the man cut a striking figure–Gwendolyn stayed by Joe’s side, constantly whispering her thoughts on NHU’s Improv Club to him. He liked how her breath felt on his ear, but his heart raced from nervousness in addition to his pleasure at the attention. Really, Joe didn’t know if he could trust himself. He tried to keep an image of Jason in his mind, but it kept fading like an old photograph suffering from the ravages of time.

Again, Gwendolyn leaned close to whisper: “He’s really your professor?”

“Yes.”

Gwendolyn straightened up and said something, but her words were lost in a burst of laughter.

“I didn’t catch that,” said Joe.

Gwendolyn repeated her statement, but again, buried by the laughter, Joe could not understand them.

“It’s loud,” said Joe, taking in the room with a hand. “I really can’t hear you.”

“I said he’s not that good!”

improv_comedy_content

Her words rang out in that moment when silence reigned between the end of the laughter and the resumption of the performance, amplifying her words in the audience’s ears. A low murmur issued from the crowd, anticipating a confrontation.

“Well, well!” said one of the performers on stage. “It sounds like we have a critic in the house tonight!” She had olive skin and long black hair, and wore pair of thick black glasses. “To whom do we owe the pleasure?”

A group of students began pointing towards Joe and Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn, blushing, tried to bury herself in the wall. She slipped her arm through Joe’s and pulled him tightly towards her.

“Her! It was her!” the students yelled. “Against the wall!” “Her!” “That girl with her boyfriend!”

“If you think we’re not that good, then maybe you can show us how it’s done,” said the girl with the glasses. The crowd clapped and cheered at this idea. She motioned the two of them up on to the small stage. “You can bring your boyfriend along if you’re feeling kind of scared.”

“Come on,” said professor Brennan. He held out a hand. “We don’t bite . . . hard.”

“Oh God,” muttered Gwendolyn.

“They’ll leave us alone,” said Joe, who also had no desire to go up on stage. “Just ignore them.”

Gwendolyn’s friends, who obviously thought it would be hilarious to see her humiliate herself, yanked her by the arm and thrust her towards Professor Brennan’s. She still clung to Joe, and he found himself dragged towards the steps up to the stage with her. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 14: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (3)”

Bright Lines

In the law, there’s a concept called a bright line rule. These are those mythical legal answers where there is a definite write and wrong answer: If X happens, than legally Y must be the consequence.

I say “mythical,” because the law, as we know, tries to codify all of the wonderful occurrences that could happen in this thing we call life.

Don’t laugh, but legal language struggles mightily to be as precise as humanly possible, attempting to cover all of the bases and possible contingencies so as to avoid confusion, not create it.

Okay, seriously, you can stop laughing now.

But think about it: Killing another person is bad. That’s a bright line, sure. But in order to determine if the punishment fits the crime, we need to know:

  1. Was this a premeditated killing?
  2. If so, what was the mental state of the accused?
  3. Was it an accidental killing?
  4. If so, was it a crime of passion or negligence?
  5. If it was a crime of passion, what was the situation leading to the killing? (e.g., Self-defense? Finding one’s child or spouse being sexually assaulted?)
  6. If it was a crime of negligence, what were the facts of the situation? Were all parties contributing to the negligence, or just one?

And so on. There’s a balancing test here to determine the severity of the punishment.

The bright line has already been violated. Now we’re looking at the degree of the violation in light of all available evidence. It’s . . . a messy process.

Mind you, this is with an “easy” case like killing another human being. You can see why bright lines in the law are relatively elusive, though not for lack of trying. What laws attempt to do is provide enough flexibility to account for rare or unforeseen situations.

So what does this have to do with life in general?

Because in life, bright line rules seem to be the way to go . . . and with a similar level of flexibility allowing one to balance the factors in the appropriate situations.

This sounds messy, doesn’t it? But life is messy. Things might go according to plan 90 percent of the time, but there’s always that 10 percent where things go crazy.

Being the most rigid, holier than thou guy around might make you feel good, but the building will still be burning down around you. Continue reading “Bright Lines”