Ask a Christian 

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Well, you’ve done it Internet. You’ve broken me.

Just when I think there are no more ways people can get Christianity wrong, I see stuff that doesn’t even make me upset; it just leaves me scratching my head and wondering how anyone living in the United States or Europe could be so wrong about the underpinnings of the last 2,000 years of our civilizations.

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And then I remember that the United States and Europe are far different than they were even 50 years ago.

So as a part of my mission is to clear up misconceptions and change perceptions, I’ve decided to set up my booth, so to speak, and talk about some of these things people think they know about Christianity, but have way, way wrong.

I’m not trying to convert anybody (but if you want to visit a Greek Orthodox Church to see what it’s all about, that’s great!) but I would just like to change contemporary American’s perceptions about what it is us Christians do and believe.

–From “How We Do: On Missions and their Statements

This is not done in anger, but as a relatively quick way to clarify some Christian beliefs. And I am not trying to convert anybody, just attempting to do a bit of level-setting so we’re not all talking past each other when we discuss Christianity.

Mind you, I’m approaching this from the perspective of my church, the Greek Orthodox Church, so your mileage may vary.

Before we begin, I have to point out that these are actual questions I have gotten and actual things I have seen on-line and elsewhere. I’ll only go over a few in this post, mainly focusing on the Bible itself, because if I don’t control myself I could go on about this stuff for days . . .

“You think God wrote the Bible, so you can’t disagree with it even when it’s wrong because Christians are all superstitious (and dumb).”

No Christian believes that God Himself wrote the Bible. If anyone’s been taught that God literally sat down, uncapped his pen, and scribbled down a few notes, than they seriously need to find a new teacher. Continue reading “Ask a Christian “

Make America Humble Again?

While neighborhood-scouting in the tony areas of Northern Virginia with my family, I saw a house proudly decorated with signs reading the following:

MAKE AMERICA HUMBLE AGAIN

I wasn’t able to get a picture since I was driving, but here’s how they looked: They weren’t homemade, so I know there’s some enterprising company wishing to express this sentiment (which only seems to arise when a Republican is president, but I digress), and there are obviously people who want to pay for this sentiment. 

The text was meant to simulate something, a name-card, maybe, reading “Make America ________ Again,” like a political mad-lob. The word “humble” was written in a cursive script in the blank space, and the whole thing was on a pinkish background. 

Not the sign, but the closest picture I could find.

The signs got me thinking about the concepts “America” and “humility,” which is a persuasion win on both the signmaker and the sign-hanger’s part. 

But given what I know about America specifically and geopolitics at large, was America ever humble?

It’s the same way people wonder if America was ever great (hint: It still is, but mostly in relation to most everywhere else). 

America began life as a gigantic “Eff You!” to the most powerful empire in the world. 

It prevailed against incredible odds, and somehow survived the difficult decades after, to emerge some two centuries later as the world’s only superpower.

It’s kind of hard to be humble with a history like that. 

Look, we all know it’s not going to last. All empires–because that’s what America is, like it or not–have their ups and downs. And they change forms. 

Look at England, for example. It’s not the same country it was in 1066, or even 1966.  And yet it persists. 

America isn’t even that old, and we already don’t exist as founded. We haven’t for a lot time. 

America as founded died a long time ago, and is now firmly in the “smells funny” phase.  Continue reading “Make America Humble Again?”

The First Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving 2016 will be particularly bittersweet this year. It will be the first Thanksgiving holiday since my mother-in-law died of pancreatic cancer on July 6 of this year at the age of 56.

All holidays after a loved one passes are difficult. My son’s birthday in August was just not the same without my mother-in-law.

She was diagnosed on November 1 of 2015 after seeking relief from what she thought was back pain that spring and summer. She and my father-in-law owned and operated a restaurant, so she chalked up her back pain to the long hours spent waiting tables and helping my father-in-law in the kitchen. It turns out it was stage IV pancreatic cancer.

The funny thing about the initial diagnosis and the beginning of chemotherapy is the confidence. Though pancreatic cancer has a combined one-year survival rate of 20%, the specific five-year survival rate for stage IV pancreatic cancer is 1%. You can do the math to figure out the one-year survival rate if you really feel compelled to do so. 

Her diagnosis came about six weeks after I had started a new job in Washington, D.C. after a long bout of unemployment followed by a return to school for my MBA. I needed this job to take care of my wife and my son, move on with my career, and try to build some kind of wealth. The downside was that my new employer wanted me to start two-and-a-half weeks after I got the offer. My wife and I agreed that I was to leave New England, get a temporary place to live, start working to try to pay down some debts, and then the rest of the family would follow so my wife could get a job down here and we could get a house. My in-laws, of course, were planning on coming with us.

And then came the diagnosis.

My wife stayed up so she could help with her mother, and I began working two days from New England and three days down in D.C., making that journey, usually by car, two days a week. I’m still operating under this arrangement.

Chemotherapy started shortly after her diagnosis, though God only knows how long she was suffering before the cancer was detected. At first she didn’t look any different than her robust fifty-six years, but we soon noticed changes. First, she would come back from chemotherapy a shell of herself, tired, weak, and miserable, looking like she had aged ten years in a day, her hands cold and tingling, her lips and throat chapped, her appetite gone due to the medication. After two weeks she would start to feel like her old self . . . just in time for another chemotherapy session.

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My wonderful wife brought her to the cancer specialist, as well as all of her other appointments, making sure she took her pain pills, ate what she could, and got her rest. Over time, we saw more and more changes, gradual at the time but shocking when we look back at the photographs. She grew thinner, like all of the fat and muscle had been boiled off of her body, leaving a skeleton covered with a thin layer of skin. The color left her olive complexion, leaving her looking waxy and unnatural. Her face, normally smooth, grew wrinkly. She never lost her auburn hair, though she let it go fully gray and cut it short just for convenience’s sake. Only her eyes stayed the same, retaining their sparkle and vivacity until near the very end when even that left her. 

And then she had trouble sleeping. And then she couldn’t eat. And then she couldn’t go to the bathroom. And then she couldn’t walk unaided. And then she couldn’t walk at all.

She made it to that first Thanksgiving, and then to Christmas that year, where she even did some Greek dancing with my wife and her cousins and her aunts and other friends of the family.

“I just want to make it to Easter,” she’d say.

“You’ll make it farther than that,” my wife and I would say, confident that she would be the one to beat the odds. Why? Well, because we were special, right? Isn’t everybody?

As time wore on, we just prayed to God to take her soon.

She did make it to Easter, but wasn’t able to go to Church. Our priest, wonderful man that he was, came to administer the holy unction on Holy Wednesday, and communion that Sunday. He or the deacon came quite often to give communion and comfort to her.

After Easter, she would just say she wanted to make it to my son’s, her only grandchild’s, fourth birthday in August, and maybe, just maybe, her fifty-seventh birthday in September.

Alas, she did not make it. At the end, she was drugged out on morphine in her room, because the only alternative was pain so bad she couldn’t even speak. We had a desultory Fourth of July barbecue with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend, trying to act happy and normal on a beautiful summer’s day, but it was all pretense. And two days later, she was gone.

My mother-in-law died peacefully, or as peacefully as one can die from a satanic disease that eats you from the inside out, around 10:30 in the morning surrounded by her family. She was a woman of strong faith throughout her first, which helped her, and all of us, through this ordeal. She had a smile on her face as she died, leading me to believe that maybe, just maybe, she liked what she saw on the other end. For that, I sure am thankful. Continue reading “The First Thanksgiving”

Living for Dying: No One Said Life Has to Make Sense

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It’s can be frustrating, can’t it? The ambition inflation of a certain generation weaned on the belief that it could do anything, be anyone, all because you were you? Both being of and dealing with this generation.

The truth is, you can do nearly whatever you want in America. But it’s not because the world owes you anything. In fact, it owes you nothing (or, as my grandfather used to put it, “The world doesn’t owe you shit.”) You have to go out and grab it.

But if you were raised in a cage of safety, affluent, and never facing any hardship, you likely don’t have that drive. It’s a strange paradox.

So your life sucks and it’s entirely your fault. What are you going to do about it?

My life doesn’t suck, but it hasn’t worked out as I planned it. This is for two reasons:

  1.  Life rarely, if ever, works out how you plan it; and
  2. I failed to go all-in on the things I should have gone all-in on.

Things didn’t work out as planned–who cares?

I don’t! I enjoy challenges, and life is a challenge.

When you’re 18 or 20 and you’re making plans, it’s delusional to think they’ll pan out to the letter. Unforeseen things pop up. They always do.

With the right kind of plans–that is, overarching visions and systems to achieve them, as opposed to nothing more than concrete goals–one’s younger years can be better served achieving some level of fruition later on.

If you tell yourself “I have to be X by this date,” you’re setting yourself up for failure. 

Far better to tell yourself “I shall do X every day so that I’ll put myself in the best position to achieve Y.”

This requires being comfortable with ambiguity. Many of us aren’t comfortable with this when we’re younger, but the older you get and the more you experience, the more ambiguity becomes a puzzle to figure out than a scary monster to run from.

That said, ambiguity can have its drawbacks. And yet, aside from things like career and where you live and family composition, it can seep into other areas of your life. Things like:

I’m going to dive deep here, so hold on. You have been warned. Continue reading “Living for Dying: No One Said Life Has to Make Sense”

The Society Of People Who Don’t Put Things On Other Things

There’s a funny Monty Python sketch called about the Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things, a group of people who like to . . . put stuff on top of other stuff.

Well, think it’s funny. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway, this ridiculous sketch got me thinking about our own society, which is quite the opposite.

We hate putting things on top of other things.

I don’t mean that in the literal sense. Our big problem is that we don’t judge. We don’t like to see anything as objectively good or bad, right or wrong. It makes us squeamish. It’s icky.

A part of this goes back to Americans’ fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of equality: In addition to believing that “equality” means “equality of outcomes,” may of us also think it means that every single thing–ideology, action, belief–has identical worth. This is called “relativism,” also known as “bullshit.”

Americans seem paralyzed when it comes time to make any kind of value judgment, whether it’s ridiculous attempts to excuse Islamic terrorism by referencing “The Crusades!” or trying to justify and normalize pedophilia and incest as just being different, equally valid kinds of love as any other.

This is insanity, and, like they say in the Monty Python sketch, silly.

America needs to be a Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things.

What got me thinking about this? Waking up and looking at the world around me:

And so on.

You could say that we do put some things above others. We value certain nationalities, or certain races, or certain professionals. And that is, of course, true.

But we’re so loathe to make any sort of value judgments, such as:

  • If you murder people, regardless of why, it should be deemed wrong.
  • If you are shot by the police for a valid reason, your skin color should not make it any less right or wrong.
  • If you are a police officer and you shoot someone for a reason that is not valid, you shouldn’t get to hide behind the “Blue Wall” and you should be punished, even though you’re a police officer.
  • If you want to protest the National Anthem, that’s fine. If you disagree with that, that’s also fine. Some things can be morally equal (I don’t consider standing for a colored cloth a “moral” obligation).

If you are afraid to put things on top of other things, the whole thing is going to fall down.

The timing of everything makes one think as well, especially with arguably the most important election in the last 50 years looming. Continue reading “The Society Of People Who Don’t Put Things On Other Things”

“Be Nice . . . Until It’s Time To Not Be Nice”: Surviving in the World with your Principles Intact

By nature, I am slow to anger and quick to forgive. This might make me a good Christian and a rather pleasant guy to be around, but in any kind of conflict or war I know I would be a liability–a good man but not good at being a man, as Jack Donovan would say.

The thing is, I do think we are in a war. Emotionally, I do you logically, spiritually, and increasing the physically, it is a reality, both at the national and international levels.

At least here in America, we are more divided than ever. I have tried, but I am sick of trying, to demonstrate to people that I do not hate them. Some people are going to hate you no matter what. How you deal with them is still a mystery to me, although I have my ideas.

Anyway, it seems that a sad fact of life that you were decency will always be used against you. Always.

I don’t think this used to be the case here in the United States. Cynicism is a very un-American trait, but I think we as a nation could afford to be more open, honest, and trusting if there were higher levels of trust and more social cohesion. Now, for a variety of reasons, society is breaking down. We are witnessing it in real time.

Paeans for unity are meaningless, because lots of the people who make them really want division, anger, and distrust. If there was actually unity, these people would be out of a job.

So is the only way to survive to be cynical? Distrusting?

I have a problem with this because this is not my nature. Both as an American and a Christian, I’d prefer to be decent and to treat others the way I would wish to be treated. However, given the hatred that I see and receive, I feel my basic outlook changing and I don’t necessarily like it.

With these thoughts bouncing around my head, I recently completed a two-day negotiation training course for work. In it, I had a little bit of an “Ah-ha!” moment when, in discussing game theory, I learned about Robert Axelrod‘s negotiation strategy.

How did something from the world of mediation and negotiation help with this internal dilemma? Let me explain. Continue reading ““Be Nice . . . Until It’s Time To Not Be Nice”: Surviving in the World with your Principles Intact”

Religion versus Human Nature

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I saw an interesting tweet the other day. I’m paraphrasing, but it said something to the effect that Christianity is flawed because it holds that humanity is flawed. Therefore, any belief system that holds this flawed nature of humanity as a fundamental principle is destined to fail.

I reject this sentiment wholeheartedly. Hold on; there’s a lot to unpack here.

First, this sentiment logically implies that, if Christianity is flawed for this reason, so should the other two well-known Abrahamic faiths, as at least one of them is based on the same creation story. Second, I have to wonder about any religion that does posit humanity as perfect and complete. Even the pagans praying to rocks or whatever were seeking some kind of help that they couldn’t get on their own.

I’ve already discussed how Christianity is different from paganism, as Christians don’t pray to God to persuade him to do stuff for us. But that’s not the important question. What I’m thinking about is the fundamental nature of human beings.

If you ask me, any religion that doesn’t recognize the flawed nature of humanity is not worth your time. Continue reading “Religion versus Human Nature”