I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch


listen to my words

Archive for the ‘Thought’ Category

I think a lot. Probably more than I should. This section is a repository of observations, philosophic musics, and theological theorizing.

Resisting Temptation

I had a discussion recently about the temptations of Christ. Not the movie. But the temptations we actually have recorded in scripture.

Christ is the example. He’s shown us the way in all things. It’s a nice principle to think of, but it’s also one we need to study for it to be of any worth. It is one thing to say He leads us; it’s another entirely to understand enough to use it.

Christ spent forty days in the desert fasting (Matthew 4:1-2). At the close of this spiritual preparation, Satan appeared and tempted him three times. The first temptation used his mortal frailties against him – he told Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by turning the rocks to bread (v. 3). Christ responded by quoting scripture (v. 4). Then Satan told Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple (v. 6). Again Jesus quoted scripture (v. 7). Finally, Satan told Jesus he would give all the kingdoms and riches of the world if he, Jesus, would worship him (v. 9). Jesus told him to go away, and backed it up with scripture (v. 10).

The first, rather obvious, example that comes to us here is to read the scriptures. In all three instances He quotes scripture as part of his rebuttal. That alone is a way to counteract the temptations of the devil. When we read scripture we can feel the presence of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit’s presence can go a long way to removing the feelings of temptation and replacing them with better feelings.

But He doesn’t just quote random scriptures. He quoted scriptures that were relevant to the situation and the deeper situation. When tempted to turn stones to bread, he quoted what is now Deuteronomy 8:3 “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” This is, at the very least, a witty response, to quote a scripture about bread when tempted to abuse his godly power to create bread. It shows a deep familiarity with the scriptures. But even more so, the passage in Deuteronomy is talking about when God created manna for the Israelites ─ when bread was miraculously created for them in the desert. Christ knew, this of course. He was showing that he understood why this would be an abuse of his power. He was aware of the context and the similarities, and He knew when it was appropriate and when it wouldn’t be to use his power. Clearly, He was able of surviving without having bread right at the moment. Yet after forty days without food, can we really argue that He didn’t have a need? At the very least, a compelling want.

Throughout these temptations, the challenge is very explicitly to the faith Jesus had in his calling. Was He truly the Son of God, Savior of the world? If so, prove it! Satan is casting doubt, much in the way a child would on the playground. When they are at the pinnacle of the temple, he says “If you’re the Son of God, then God won’t let you get hurt. Jump off and angels will catch you.” He even quotes scripture to back it up ─ a passage from the ninety-first Psalm, which is a prophecy about Christ.

Christ is equally sly in his response, however. He quotes a passage from Deuteronomy again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord they God (6:16). The passage refers to when the people made a golden idol to worship while Moses was receiving the ten commandments. They “tempted” the Lord in that they were testing the boundaries. How far could they go before there was some sort of punishment. In Deuteronomy the Lord tells them not to do that sort of thing. Don’t test where the line is, just stay well within it. Would angels have caught Him? Well, sure. But Christ didn’t need to prove his divinity, least of all to Satan. Not even to Himself. He knew who He was and didn’t need a miracle to prove it. Some say that faith precedes the miracle, but in some cases, faith might preclude the need for a miracle.

Last is the temptation that I, personally, understand least. Satan offers Christ, literally, the world. Now, I have no doubt that Satan was capable of delivering. At least in the immediate sense. If he couldn’t, that would have been the most incredible bluff ─ which hardly disqualifies the possibility. Satan is, after all, the father of lies. But it was a question of patience. Christ framed the world. It was all his anyway. All the rulers in the world reigned at his sufferance. I think that this temptation was more than just a test of patience. It centered on the Atonement itself.

In his mortal life, Christ descended below them all, and as a result, He was crowned with glory, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But in order to return to His Father and receive His reward, He had to fulfill His mission. He had to suffer more than any mortal man could bear. Satan was hoping that by offering Jesus the kingdoms and riches of the world, he could make Jesus think he would bypass that suffering and receive the reward.

Christ is better than that. And this time, he doesn’t just quote scripture. And when he does it’s more abrupt ─ no clever explanations, simply “Thou shalt worship the Lord they God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Straight up, one of the ten commandments. A simple “That would be wrong.” But He preludes the scripture with “Get thee hence.” No more indulging the temptation. “Go away!”

I confess that I think a little of Smeagol when I think of this. “Go away, and never come back.” But it’s a useful comparison. Too often do we indulge the temptations that beset us, and then bemoan the fact that we succumbed. And then we often even have the gall to wonder why we succumb to temptation. We succumb because we let it stay on our mind!

Well could we learn from the example of the Savior and say to our temptation “Get thee hence!”

Day 1: It All Starts with God

Being LDS, this chapter grates a little. Not a lot, but the feeling is probably why I didn’t get further than the first chapter the last time I tried this.

Not that I disagree with any doctrinal point I can indicate here, at least, none which comes to mine. It’s the tone it strikes. (Also, I have a strong preference for the King James Version of the Bible — it’s what I’m comfortable with and I think it sounds better than any of the modern versions, which sound silly to me.)

No, I think the biggest thing that gets to me is this string of six words: “It’s far greater than your family.” And on the surface, that’s true. Ultimately, the Plan of God is much greater than my family. But what that sentence connotes is pretty disagreeable.

God’s purpose for me is inextricably intertwined with my family. Whatever ultimate plan He has for me, what He wants me to do, will have to do with my family. Yeah, it’s not just my family. But starting off with saying that it’s far greater than my family seems to turn my attention too far away from my family.

Also, our desires and interests are involved with the purpose God has for us. Our talents and abilities and passions can be used for God’s work, and there’s hardly a reason why he wouldn’t use that. Certainly we are required to align our will with the Lord’s, not the other way around. And if our values don’t match His, we have the wrong values. But when our hobbies, interests, and skills do not contradict His commandments, why wouldn’t an omnipotent Creator seek to use those abilities rather than have us ignore them? They’re part of the spiritual gifts He has given to us, after all.

However, a lot of that can seem like picking at nits. The main thrust of the chapter is to find our purpose from God. Just because I take issue with the feeling of his tone doesn’t mean that Warren is wrong in his meaning.

He’s right of course that unless the help is grounded in God’s plan, self-actualization isn’t going to get you to your purpose. He’s right that focusing on our own plan and will isn’t going to get us to fulfillment. If they are saying “I think” or “I believe” it’s not really coming from God’s word. And, in the end, his point to ponder is a good one. “It’s not about me.” It really isn’t.

Maybe I’m just a cynic, but the reasoning in the chapter is weak. The examples, while sometimes illustrative, aren’t very meaningful. And that’s irritating, because this chapter could have been so powerful. “There is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It’s revelation.” That’s very strong. The word of God is powerful and sharper than any sword. Using it would be a lot more helpful than the simplistic examples I see here. Instead of telling us a story about being lost on a mountain to introduce a cliché phrase — skip the cliché and just tell us. Also: go light on the exclamation points. Putting one in doesn’t add power to your writing. It makes us think you wanted to add power, and if we don’t feel that power from the words themselves, we’ll be disappointed.

This is my problem. I read everything from a good writing analysis. And Warren is, honestly, not the best writer. And it’s hard for me (personally) to ignore when the flaws with his writing are so intimately connected with his message.

So now that this is out of the way, what about actual response to the message of this chapter?

The message is that it is futile to begin your search for meaning in any place but with God. You can achieve success, but not fulfill your purpose by looking elsewhere.

And I agree. I’m not sure that I’ve been the best practitioner of this concept however. I am very self absorbed. I look at my fulfillment primarily in my writing. This might not be the worst thing, but it doesn’t start with God, and it’s short lived. If I’m looking for long lasting change in how I feel about myself, I probably need to look more specifically at how God wants me to use this talent. What can I do to learn more about it.

Point to Ponder: “It’s not about me.”
Clearly, my attitude in the past has been, consciously or unconsciously, that it is about me. After all, it is me. I don’t expect anyone else to think it’s about me, but for me, it has been me. I’m going to make a conscious choice to try and look outside of me for purpose. Maybe it will make working easier, since I do that primarily for my wife and kids. But then, that’s still not thinking about starting in God, completely. It’s just a step closer than where I am. I’m hoping that the next 39 chapters will help me look to find other ways to make it less about me.

Verse to Remember: Colossians 1:16 – “all things were created by him, and for him.”
Note, I’m rendering these in the KJV, for my own reasons
Well, for Him, but didn’t He create the earth as a place for us to learn and grow? It’s to fulfill His plan for us, to save all His children. I guess I should see it as He didn’t create the earth just for me, but for all of us. And he has created so much more than just this earth. He cares for me, but as a specimen of His children, I’m a very small part of it all. He wants me to be there, but He wants my function to be about more than just me.

Question to Consider: “In spite of all the advertising around me, how can I remind myself that life is really about living for God, not myself?”
It’s a good question, and I don’t have an immediate answer. Prayer, however, is always an obvious answer. Praying as an act in itself should be a reminder of God’s presence in my life, and if I’m praying about His will, that should be a constant reminder that it’s not about me.

Day 0: response to a friend

I started this partially to work with a friend, who needs some purpose and direction. I reckoned, I do too. I don’t feel at liberty to quote the letter, and I’m editing what I wrote for this blog.

One of my favorite hymns (my father’s as well) is “Lead, Kindly Light”:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years.

So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Sometimes, you can’t see the next step. You just have to trust and put your foot forward. We don’t know all God’s plans for us, even when we understand our purpose. I prayed to ask if I should marry Kirsti, and I received an answer that I have never ever been more sure of in my life. And then, a couple weeks later we broke up. I never doubted that answer, but one night, I was pretty despondent about it. I just told God in my prayer that I didn’t understand what what going on or how to reconcile my answer with what was going on, but that I was going to trust him. Well, it worked out in the end. But even if Kirsti and I hadn’t reconciled, I was finally at peace with it in that moment. Even when I didn’t understand what was going on, and it didn’t seem to make sense, I had chosen to trust God. I think that was my moment of Abrahamic trial. It was hardly my first born son, let alone one I’d been promised for decades, but it was pretty important to me, and I don’t think I have the faith of Abraham anyway.

I’m sure your familiar with the scripture where Paul says “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (I prefer the KJV, though I suppose if you prefer NIV there’s “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” There’s a Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, who says “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” Very similar sentiments. Using those as the basis for understanding, I want to look at what you said. “I really do believe and have faith.” You accept that God lives, you don’t doubt it. You accept, as well, that Jesus is your Savior (I’m inferring that, but it’s true, correct?).

That’s pretty much where I stand, myself. I have never wavered in my acceptance in the reality of God, nor in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. A lot like Joseph Smith said, “I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it.”

Have I always trusted him? Not really. Rather than trust a relationship with God, I have in the past sought out one of the more insidiously deceitful forms of false intimacy. While doing that, I wasn’t hearing anything from God. I’m sure He tried to speak with me, through others and through the Holy Spirit, but I was beyond hearing it.

When I finally made the choice to let Him lead me back to him, things changed dramatically in a short amount of time. I’m amazed at how I was able to become so resistant to the whispers of the Holy Ghost. Amazed at how awesome listening to God’s guidance can be. I’ve still got a long way to go, but those first few steps were very impressive.

There’s a book that’s popular among LDS people called Believing Christ. I’ve never read it, myself, but I bring it up because it draws a distinction. See, there’s also an LDS hymn called “I Believe in Christ.” Very stirring. But there’s a difference in those two titles. They both seem to be declarations of faith, but there’s a big meaning shift from believing in Christ, to believing Him, believing what He said and what He’ll do for you. Another Book of Mormon scripture comes to mind. When Christ was crucified, there were terrible storms, earthquakes, and destruction in the New World, which were followed by 3 days of darkness. During the darkness, the survivors heard the voice of God speaking to them: “And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.” He wants to protect us, to hold us close. But He waits for us to choose to do so.

There’s a lesson in the Old Testament about this. When the Israelites wandered the desert, there came a plague of poisonous snakes. The venom was deadly and many were dying. The Lord told Moses to raise a staff with a brass serpent on top of it. Any Israelite who looked to the serpent lived. Those who did not died. (That’s in Numbers 21). And because it was so easy to do, or for whatever stubbornness, many didn’t look. But those who looked, not knowing how that would work, they lived.

I think there’s more to faith than just believing. There’s an element of trust in it as well.

If I may be permitted to draw on the Book of Mormon again, The prophet Alma (the same one I mentioned above) made a comparison between faith and a seed (yes, the Savior did too, but this was a more detailed explanation than what we have in the New Testament). He says you plant the seed. You take care of it. Then it grows. and then it stops being faith. It grows, so you know it’s a true principle. It’s not faith anymore because you know. Takes a long time to get to that point. How do you develop faith into knowledge when you don’t have the faith to start with? Alma asks us to “exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you.” That’s all it takes. A “mustard seed” of faith indeed. You don’t have to have faith to part the Red Sea. You just have to have enough to take a step.

But the Lord does require us to take that step, spiritually. We don’t have to change everything. We just have to open a little to see if something will come inside. The rest comes latter.

I guess, to shorten it up, what I’m saying is that you don’t have to be a spiritual equivalent of Superman to let God in and begin a relationship. And you can’t have a deep relationship without starting one first. So just open up and be ready to shake God’s hand. God actually arriving in your life is what He will do, you don’t have to get him a ride. Just crack the door.

Moon Rat the Editorial Ass

I don’t make these names up.

And not that I’m in a position to take advantage if I happened to win, but I reckoned I’d spread the word. I have writer friends (who don’t read this) who could use it:

half a million and counting!
Ed Ass got its 500,000th hit today. This makes me feel old and venerable.

Naturally, I wanted to celebrate. I mean, with you guys, since you made it happen. But how?! No one has yet invented a giant internet pie.

Jamie Harrington, clever thing, had the idea that I have a giveaway contest, the prize being a first 20 pages crit. So that’s what it is! I’ll give away one crit of a book’s first 20 pages (size 12 font, double spaced, .5 margins for you sneaky sneakies out there).

You’ll be automatically entered to win if you do any or all of the following things:

1) repost this on your blog

OR

2) retweet my Twitter announcement

OR

3) link to this post on Facebook (make sure you include @Moonrat in the post so I’m notified of it)

I’ll close the contest at 11 pm EST tomorrow (March 31). The Rally Monkey will randomly select one winner without my input (as if I could make him listen to me, anyway).

Yay! I’m really excited now.

Iran Amok

Bad puns aside, there’s two ways to tackle this subject. I’ma try both.

Does Iran think the rest of the world are idiots? “Yeah, we got a higher voter turn out than anyone has ever. And they all voted for the guy who’s been oppressing them! And you know it’s legitimate because our council beholden to the oppressive leader and the religious dictator not interested in reform both say it is! Never mind that we say we counted 42 million hand written votes in under three hours.”

That’s even ignoring details about the 25% of the votes missing id numbers, and voter turnout of over 100% in several territories. It’s like the Simpsons episode where Lisa finally gets mad because Sideshow Bob’s people had their deceased cat vote for him.

How can we say this is not proof? It’s not just evidence. Most of what happened in that election was impossible.

Of course, we’re making it easy for them to get away with it. “We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people,” says our very decisive Secretary of State on behalf of our beloved president.

What she should be doing is saying “Stop it you lying sacks of crap. We know you’re lying, and you’re bad at it.” Iran is assuming we have the intelligence of slugs, and we’re letting them.

Even if you think we shouldn’t make accusations of election fraud, (though how anyone can think there isn’t fraud mystifies me), we need to come down very clearly on what are known wrongs. We need to force them to answer why they won’t allow media coverage, why they won’t let their people speak with the outside world, and why armored men are beating helpless civilians to death. None of it makes any sense, and by standing by, our government is enabling. There’s no excuse for this. We’re very happy to tell them to stop making clean running power stations because we think they might be using the byproduct for more nefarious purposes (oh yes, I’m sure they are, but we hardly have any proof of it). But when we can see them doing something clearly abusive of human rights, we just sit on our hands.

I encourage everyone to do what they can to help the people of Iran be heard. If you have twitter, do the green avatar thing; set your location as Tehran and your time zone as GMT +3.30. If you have a facebook or blog account, say something about it. If you have a computer under enough control, use these instructions to set up a proxy for Iranian bloggers and tweeters. This is the ONLY media coverage we’re getting of what’s going inside, and our own media, usually more than happy to take a side when it comes to abortion, global warming, or same-sex marriage, it’s nancing around trying to say that the coverage we have isn’t legitimate (a fourth hand vetted news story is apparently better news than a first hand account now). The Iranian is punishing these correspondents, and we can actively protect some of them by doing these things.

And if you’re the praying type, PRAY for them. I don’t care if you pray to YHWH, Buddha, the Goddess, Allah, Jesus, spirits, ancestors, or the stain in your bathroom sink. If you believe there is an omnipotent being out there watching over at least some of us, pray to that being that he or she will protect the people fighting to have the rights every human being deserves. Pray that those people will be able to determine their own destiny.

The Selfish in Marriage

Marriage & the gospel are essentially selfish: they are things we enter into to make ourselves happy — what I’ve missed for so long is that for my marriage to make me happy, I have to strive to make my wife happy. For so long, maybe because of what I thought I saw in the world, I thought that just “being together” should be enough for any person in a relationship. But what you are entering into when you marry is a covenant to try to make the other person fulfilled. Yes, we need it to fulfill ourselves, and that’s a lot of what drives us to it. But the way that marriage fulfills us isn’t by proximity, or even the suddenly allowed physical intimacy. It’s because it gives us the opportunity for a very personal and intense experience of focusing on what can make someone else happy and fulfilled.

Does this mean there is no room for ourselves in a relationship? I ask this thinking of how single persons will react to the ideas in the previous paragraph. Admittedly, partially this is to justify myself. But it is a valid question. Especially for a person who isn’t married. Certainly I do not want to suggest that there is no value in an individual — after all, every soul is precious in the eyes of God. Every soul. There’s a lot of talk of love making one soul out of two, and I think there’s a lot of validity to the conceptualization. But one needs to remember that before the ONE soul is made, there were TWO, COMPLETE souls.

And that’s why I began with saying that these thoughts apply both marriage specifically and the gospel writ large. Personally, I need to work out things pertaining to my marriage, but I think I’m saying very little that can’t be absorbed in that context.

Again I point out that this is a path to personal fulfillment. Christ says “he that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” And he also says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The first seems to be about subverting the ego. Losing ourselves in the work. But losing yourself, according to this scripture isn’t about losing identity completely. By focusing away from ourselves, and into the better part, we find out who we really are. Who WE are. The second points out that true love doesn’t focus on ourselves.

We can’t be completely unaware of the irony here. That’s the point of the idea, after all. While we are striving to fulfill the other, the other is, if she’s working on the same, working to fulfill us. We achieve our happiness both through performing service and through the service rendered by the other. The two together are what make the whole. And that is the plan of happiness.

The Fallen iii

Shia had no sense of time. She neither knew how long she had been lying in the mud nor how long she’d been walking. Having a companion made no difference to the situation. It seemed they walked forever, but the night didn’t grow any lighter. If anything, the forest seemed to be darker and there was no way to tell where they were headed. She was grateful that Sylfania held her hand, because she was sure she would feel even more lost without that human contact. The dryads hand was rough, yet still feminine. They were hands clearly familiar with the earth.

At first Sylfania tried to talk. But all she had were questions about the world. She claimed she had not seen much of it beyond her own tree and the nearby forest. The forest was vast, she knew that much from talking with the trees an the animals. But she knew almost nothing of the world beyond it, and that only made her curiosity greater. Most trees were not interested in learning more about the world beyond their own.

But Shia had no answers for the Dryad. She didn’t know the world like she felt she should. She knew nothing of customs or of people or cities or creatures. She knew almost nothing. So after a time, the Dryad fell silent. From time to time she would turn to face Shia and give a friendly smile, but she didn’t stop walking.

At last Shia could see a dim light through the trees. “There,” she said, pointing with her free hand. “Someone must be there.”

Sylfania cocked her head to the side. “I’m not sure what that is. I thought we would have found the road by now.” She shrugged and then continued, dragging Shia with her.

The dryad clearly had not lied about her unfamiliarity with the world. Shia had slight misgivings about charging toward the light, not knowing what was there, but she had to finally admit that she didn’t know what would be anywhere. And even if Sylfania didn’t know what this was, she at least lived in this region.

They tramped through the light undergrowth toward the light. As they approached Shia finally felt at least a little relieved to have a specific goal she could recognize. But compared to her journey up to that point,t he trip seemed to take no time at all. Seemingly in a few seconds they arrived at a stone building, two stories high, and quite large in width and length. A sign hung over the door announcing it was the Stone Heart Inn. The stone was quite old, moss growing on bits of it, but it seemed altogether a solid structure from the ground to the wooden shingles of the roof.

The light came from several windows to the left of the door as well as one or two of the upstairs rooms. The Inn apparently was doing well for business this night. As she stepped up to the door Shia suddenly noticed there was no path. She hadn’t been on one at all as she approached, but there wasn’t any path that led to the door. Nor was there any signs of a nearby road. She paused and turned to mention it to Sylfania.

The dryad was on her toes, her hands grasping the outside sill and peering intently through a window. “There’s people in there!” she was saying. “What kind of a thing is this? How did they get in there? It’s made of stone, so it’s not a tree. Is this… a…” She turned and looked to Shia, her brow furrowed in concentration till she remembered the word. “A house!” she shouted finally. “That’s what blood humans live in, right?” She turned back to the window and studied the occupents again.

Shia felt a smile grow on her face. The lack of road didn’t make sense. How did they all get here, after all? “Blood humans” didn’t fly. But she noticed that she was no longer uneasy. She didn’t have the sense of apprehension that had bothered her earlier. In fact, she felt as if the inn itself were inviting her. She was suddenly eager to go in.

“Come,” she called to Sylfania. “Let’s go meet them,” she said, as she opened the front door.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.

I never gave any thought to Memorial Day as a child. Never even really realized what it is. But now as an adult I understand it is the time we honor those who have given their lives in service to our country. It should be a time for patriotism at least as strongly as the Fourth of July, because Memorial Day not only commemorates the founding of our country (although it certainly includes that); it commemorates the people who made this country possible and preserved it.

It honors the people.

This is what is important for us to remember. The people are what this country is founded on, for and by, right? “Government of the people, for the people, and by the people.” Like it or not, this country is its Constitution — its government — and the government is the people. So we’ve dedicated a minor holiday in May to a select group who gave every bit of themselves for the rest of the people, both present and future.

The concern here is that the country, meaning the people who make it up, has changed. That’s to be expected, but it is what the country has changed into that is so concerning. A World War II veteran once discussed this. He pointed out that in World War II, men fled to Canada in order to enlist because they couldn’t get in the military here in this nation. Only 25 years later they were running to Canada in order to avoid being drafted over another war.

Politics aside, this still illustrates a vital difference in attitudes. It is around the 1960’s when our country started undergoing some startling, debilitating changes.

Only forty years ago the office of the president was nearly unilaterally respected and revered. Today it is the subject of mockery and almost universally associated with corruption, graft, and self-serving tricksters. What brought about this change of perception is not important, but there is a point about this that most people overlook. Remember the government is of, for, and by the people? The president, along with all the other elected officials so heavily criticized today, represents the people. When we look at our elected officials and see corruption, disreputable character, and vice, we should recognize that those qualities are in ourselves, as the people. We chose them. We put them there. They are what we wanted our leaders to be like.

There’s a mathematical process that shows this: corrupt elected officials = the government. The government = the people. The people = corruption. It’s not a nameless bureaucracy that is the problem in this country.

It is the people.

If we want to change the situation our country, our government, our people are in. We need to change ourselves. Until we accept personal responsibility and accountability, nothing will change in this society. More cops, bigger jails, metal detectors at schools, anti-abortion laws, teen pregnancy education, drug education, curfews, and all the legislation in the world don’t mean anything if the people are not willing to abide by lawful government and act responsibly. Ezra Taft Benson, former Secretary of Agriculture, said, “decaying cities are simply a delayed reflection of decaying individuals . . . improvement of the individual [is] the only real way to bring about the real improvement of society.” In other words, the cities in this country are such a problem because the individuals who live in the are problems.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. If we truly honor and respect those who gave everything to allow me the privilege to even write this, and for you to read the same, than we will do more than place a few flowers on gravestones at the local cemetery, or watch another showing of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or listen to a few Sousa marches. We will do something to improve ourselves and act to improve someone else. This is the duty we owe to those we commemorate, ourselves, our society, and our posterity.

Tech Support

I confess, I’m a tech. I sully my hands, ears and tongue answering questions for people. Most of whom have no clue what they’re doing. So it comes as no surprise that I would have something to say about how dumb people are. Well, it takes something big to phase me these days, and since most people who call in realize they have no clue, I’m more than willing to help them and even grudgingly respect that they’re taking a step into a wider world. The other day, I got a call from someone that I can’t bring myself to even think one nice thought about.

I work for a national Internet provider, which is really more of a multi-level marketing place. Don’t give me any grief on that, though, they treat me much better than just about any other employer I’ve worked for, and on top of that they do actually provide better quality service and products than any other ISP I’m familiar with (plus they have top notch tech support!). One of the products they sell is a combination phone/Internet access device. Kinda nifty, actually.

Ok, enough with the background. Here’s what I’m ranting about. A representative called in for some help on this Internet appliance. Only she’s not calling in for HER appliance, it belongs to one of her customers. This happens all the time, so it didn’t shock me, except that the customer wasn’t on the phone either. What’s more, she wasn’t even within convenient driving distance of the appliance. What’s more than that, she wasn’t even close to HER appliance so she could see what I was talking about. Yet demands ensued that I fix the problem. Only she doesn’t KNOW what the problem is. Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe it was just that she couldn’t explain what the problem was. Or maybe I’m right and she’s a freakin’ tard.

Among the evidence that she’s a freakin’ tard (“freakin’ tard” happens to be a very precise psychological term meaning “stupid idiot”) is the fact that she refused to explain what the problem was. Over the course of the first 15 minutes of the “conversation” (a term used loosely, I assure you) I realized that she doesn’t like to listen, she likes to hear her own voice. She interrupted every single time I tried to talk, especially if I was asking a question to find out what the heck was going on. Lest you think it was my own personal voice she objected to, I must also point out that she at one moment admitted that she didn’t even let her customer finish explaining the problem. In other words, we had the stupid (or the freakin’ tard) leading the blind (the blind man, who I am led to believe is also deaf and dumb, did not call because he’s shy about this sort of thing — by which I believe I understood properly meant anything invented since he was watching The Howdy Doody Show — which led me to wonder why this man was spending hundreds of dollars on a machine he had no intention of learning how to use; but I degress).

In all fairness, I must argue the other side. She was trying to help her customer. Why she thought I could do anything when she didn’t know the problem, and wouldn’t be able to articulate it even if she did, is beyond my ken. So there you have it, even if she wasn’t a freakin’ tard, she was at least utterly incompetent.

After 15 minutes or so of conversation, she was finally acquiesced to get her customer on the line for a three way call. This didn’t help. In addition to hanging up as soon as I put him on hold (despite the warning about what I was doing), Blind Man also had no idea how to articulate what was going on. (Sample conversation: me: “Describe to me what is going wrong.” him: “I don’t know.” me: “What exactly does it do, and what error does it give you when it does it?” him: “I don’t know.” me: “What does it do that you don’t like?” him: “I don’t know.” me (mentally expressed in the middle of more violent thoughts): Then how the heck do you know it’s not working right?!). Blind Man also interrupted a lot and made assumptions about what answer I was looking for. I was beginning to understand why these two had a business relationship. I was also beginning to wonder if they had gone to the same community college.

After roughly half an hour of conversation with persons with the combined IQ of a box of hammers, I finally thought I was beginning to grasp what the problem MIGHT have been, and informing the two that I was going to ask my supervisor a question and do a small amount of research, I put them on hold (this is when Blind Man bailed out). Well, admittedly, the search for information did take longer than anticipated, and I should have informed them that I was still working on it, but it’s not like I hung up. When I came back, freakin’ tard started yelling at me. This is not an exaggeration; I had the earpiece pulled away from my head and my neighbors will giving me dirty looks her voice was so loud. Apparently I was taking too long, and I was wasting her time when she was supposed to be on an important business call. I’m a professional, so I didn’t say this, but I should have: “Lady, you are the one wasting time. You are wasting your own time, your customer’s time, my time, and the time of every one of the fifteen people waiting on hold for a tech support representative to pick up the line and help them out. Now shut up and hangup. If you can’t plan your life around the business phone call you KNEW you needed to make at this hour, and if you can’t find out what a problem is before you try to solve it, then Stop pretending that you can do anything besides flip burgers you freaking tard!

Next time, I’m just going to tell her, that I’m sorry, the switch for that particular device on our master control panel has somehow been switched to the “broken” position. I’ll just go switch that back to “fixed.” Sorry for the inconvenience. Maybe she’ll believe that.

Got Beer?

Observe an item that appeared in The Daily Universe on 14 March 2000 from the Associated Press. The article in question discussed PETA (The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and it’s latest ad campaign: “Got Beer?” PETA claims that cows are mistreated by the dairy industry (we won’t talk about what the dairy industry has to say about that in this rant), and besides, beer is better for you than milk (and don’t even get me STARTED on that because I’m still bitter from when my friend told me to give up cheese so I’d be healthier). In the face of accusations that they’re encouraging underage drinking and alcohol abuse, here’s what PETA’s campaign coordinator, Bruce Friedrich, had to say (pay attention because we’re going to make fun of it in a moment), “College students are savvy. Nobody’s going to put beer on their Cheerios or get drunk and drive as a result of our campaign.”

Let’s look at this statement in a few different points, shall we? First “College students are savvy.” I’m not sure what he means by this. Certainly college students know better, but they don’t always DO better. To paraphrase columnist Eric D. Snider, college dorms are where the leaders of tomorrow are peeing in the elevators of today.” Mr. Friedrich has obviously not seen such classic films as Animal House, PCU, Big Man on Campus, or for that matter, virtually any movie taking place on a college campus, or else he would understand that college students have a natural tendency to do the most idiotic and unsafe things simply because their parents aren’t around to stop them. The more it appears that only someone with a mental disorder would seriously consider doing something, the more likely you are to find a mentally sufficient college student doing it, whether he knows better or not. So much for “savvy.”

The next phrase is, “Nobody’s going to put beer on their Cheerios.” In brief, let me just say that I’ve seen a lot of beer on a lot of Cheerios, and it doesn’t look like there will be less in the future. I’ve also heard a lot about how (despite the fact that both Cheerios and Beer smell like the aforementioned urinated on elevator) this particular recipe is very tasty. Must be how the barley and the oats combine. Don’t know. The point is, Mr. Friedrich is wrong, the beer-cereal combination is common.

Finally, nobody is going to “get drunk and drive.” OH! So THAT’S why it’s not a problem anywhere. Duh.

I thought that these would be the only arguments (as if common sense weren’t enough) I would be able to make, since I’m too lazy to do research on drinking trends and so forth. However, observe this second item (same paper, the 15 March 2000 issue) titled “Binge Drinking on the Rise in Colleges.” Apparently, 22.7% of all students in the country have 4-5 drinks in a row at least three times in a two week period. That means almost one in four college students are drinking way too much, and with the intention of abuse. They are more likely to be binge drinkers if they are under 24. This may be conjecture, but it seems to me that makes it very likely that many of those drinkers are probably under 21. Tell me if that sounds too bizarre.

In short, even if PETA really believes that their ads will not promote alcohol abuse, then they are certainly biased, ill-founded, and in extremely poor taste. In other words, IT’S JUST NOT RIGHT! I welcome any messages from PETA sympathizers who want to defend this position. I know I’ve left a few things out, but I have counter arguments for those too. I really just can’t see how these people can justify what they’re doing.

The problem, as I see it (and believe me, while I’m certainly not going to give up eating steaks and pork chops soon, I am certainly not a proponent of mistreating animals) has nothing to do with the ethics of drinking milk. It has to do with an acute lack of responsibility and a refusal to accept natural consequences. If you’re going to try and influence policy, you darn well better do some research and make sure your claims are substantiated. Just because you feel sorry for a cow is no reason to hate people who drink milk, and just because you don’t believe that someone’s stupid doesn’t mean that they aren’t. You shouldn’t ignore the consequences of an action, and you certainly shouldn’t make them up. If you can’t make an educated guess (like some people above can’t), then you need to do some research. (Hint: controversial ads are not always good. Anything for the sake of itself is bound to be destructive.)

Evolution and Those Evil Christians

I think this is just something I have to get off my chest, but I find the Theory of Evolution is a bit silly.

This comes of course, from working where I work. We sell educational media, and naturally, when you sell courses in both comparative religion and in biology/anthropology, well, you get some people arguing a bit.

The whole way of thinking about it started when I got a call yesterday from a guy who claimed that our use of the terms BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) instead of BC and AD was directly anti-Christian. I suppose I can see how that might be a concern, but it presumes a lot. It presumes that we are directly trying to remove belief in Christ. It presumes our motives and our methods, neither of which this man had a remote clue about. My company doesn’t use BC and AD because those terms are Christian-centric, true, but not because the owner or executives are “anti-Christian.” It’s because the academic world has seen the reality that this world of six billion people is not Christian in the majority, and enforcing that worldview on people in a secular context is ridiculous and, well, rude. When you’re giving a lecture on ancient Egypt, it hardly makes sense to speak about the time in reference to a figure from a religion that hadn’t started yet.

It does make sense to speak about it in terms of how long ago it was, however, but since you can’t refer to the current date constantly (else it gets confusing when you read it twenty years later and are unfamiliar with the copyright date), you might as well stick with the common dating system. This allows us to use the same numbers, but make it something less religiously charged.

This particular man refused to allow me to explain anything like this, and went into great depths of irrational behavior. (Now, I know a large number of you people who resent the attitude you feel many Christians have are snickering a bit and cheering me on… don’t worry, you’ll get yours in a minute). He proceeded to sarcastically tell me how we should eliminate all the excellent courses we have on Christianity because that would offend non-Christians. Naturally, I see that as an argument that we don’t have anti-Christian policies, since we support education about Christianity pretty heavily. So you can see how unreasonable this man was being.

But my point is not that he was irrational because he was a crazy Christian. He was irrational because he was a crazy Christian. But his irrationality had nothing to do with his religion. Let me demonstrate.

It always stupefies me how blindly the theory of evolution is accepted as a “fact.” It has been said (specifically by Stephen Jay Gould) that “There are no signs on the Galapagos that proclaim: ‘evolution at work.’ Evolution is an inescapable inference, not a raw datum.” Which, to me, sounds like the same sort of behavior that “scientific” people make against religious persons trying to condemn the theory of evolution. I’ll paraphrase so you get my meaning: “We don’t have enough evidence to prove our theory, but we don’t need it, it’s just true.”

Sound suspiciously like rejected a theory of science because your book of scripture is interpreted in a way that condemns it? Yeah, I thought so. Sorry, if you’re going to be scientific, you’re going to have to do better than that. Science holds that the theory is not valid unless there is raw data to hold it up. Otherwise, it’s just a potential explanation for a series of fossils, not a truth that requires us to cling to it. This especially holds true if you’re charging Christians with “fanaticism” or irrationality on the basis of their rejection of science.

More to the point, a co-worker of mine was talking about how astonishing it was that so many Christians accept the story of Adam and Eve, as presented in Genesis, as literal truth. She didn’t say anything specifically to insult them, but she made it clear that it was incomprehensible that so many of her classmates could be so dense as to find the theory of evolution to be unbelievable (my words, not hers).

So exactly why is it that such comments make a Christian a buffoon? I don’t know. Frankly it mystifies me. Is it because they believe differently? (Difference is a great source of buffoonery in our culture, because it’s such a good reason to make fun of people).

And why is it so important to people who aren’t Christians that a theory, that quite frankly has some very innate logical problems with it as well as a lack of convincing evidence, must be taught, even though it contradicts the religious beliefs of so many people?

Like I said, it’s exactly the same sort of proselytic, in-your-face, offensive sort of preaching that I daily see condemned by atheists, agnostics, and the like who genuinely seem to think that sharing your ideas is an evil practice (which is even more silly, since they don’t believe in any deity). It would probably be more accurate to say that this sharing of ideas is annoying to them, which from their point of view is an even greater sin.

The first amendment covers freedom of belief and speech that extends far beyond your right to not believe in a god. It also extends to those who do believe in a god; furthermore, it extends to those who want to share their belief. Disagreement and contradiction is protected too. You don’t like it, well, tough rocks, pal. He has a right to talk about his beliefs just as surely as you have a right to dislike what his beliefs are.

To me, it’s ridiculous to believe that one species changes from its essential form into another, regardless of how long that takes. I feel that belongs more in comic books and science fiction stories (note: I like comic books and science fiction stories, but I don’t hold them as directly representing the world I actually live in). However, that doesn’t mean I think you’re an idiot for feeling differently. It just means we disagree.

In return, will you please abstain from mocking me for believing other than you?

The Writer and Reader Response

It seems to me that it behooves a writer to understand literary theory. much in the way an artists needs to understand the rules of composition and form and so forth, the more a writer understands how text is understood, the better he can forumulate that text to evoke the message and response he desires. Thus, I will indulge myself in a little bit of criticism about literary criticism. Specifically, reader response.

The problem with the reader response theory is communicating the theory itself. (This gets pretty metaphysical, so watch out) You see, the reader response theory states that a text is nothing except for how a reader, well, responds to it. In other words, it is the reading of a text that creates the work of art, not the writing it, unless you want to go deeper and acknowledge that the writer is experiencing those words as he writes them, but that amounts to the same thing, and in any case, the writer’s experience it essentially different than the reader’s; if not simply because generating the text is essentially different than having it given to you, but also because each reader, and in fact, during each reading, the experience is different, which is the crux of the idea behind reader response theory, and also the main thrust of the paradox involved.

It’s easy enough to agree that no text is anything if it is not read. The extent to which we agree to it may differ, but we can agree it doesn’t function if it simply sits on the shelf. It may have done something at the writing, but if it is never read again, there never is an aesthetic experience. It only generates that experience when read. Each reader, and, as I said, each reading, of a text is a different aesthetic and communicative experience because each reader brings a different consciousness to the reading. He has a different background and knowledge that helps interpret and colors each new thing that he experience or reads in the future. Everyone reading a text understands it differently.

But that’s the problem. How do I know that what you read just now was understood anything at all like I understood it or meant it? I don’t. Especially if we assume the validity of reader response theory. You may simply be giving it a meaning that makes sense to you in your background. There is not guarantee that your understanding was anything like mine. So what’s the point of the theory? The only possibility is intellectual relativism, but that’s a dangerous theory that’s a story for another time.

The Value of Supergirl

My collection of Supergirl comic books is worth around $400.

I fear what this will do to me.

I have a number of items that I’ve collected over the years that are worth some money. For starters, I have some CLASSIC (meaning old) 45s from the 40s and 50s (I defy you to make smooth sounding sentence with that many numbers used as nouns) featuring Les Paul, Louis Armstrong, and others that are still in great shape. Haven’t checked their value, but to me, that was the whole point. They’re sure to be worth something to collectors (more if I had some Elvis in there, which I had within my grasp and lost) and while I am a half-hearted collector, I looked at them as less of a physical artifact and more as a collection of great music. I.e., I (brace yourself if you’re a hard core collector of anything, because this is shocking) listened to them. More than once. Satchmo can blow. Les can shred. Those are great tunes.

See, that was how I approached old things. I open my action figures and set them up in battle scenes on my desk (I’m infamous at the office; every time I bring in a new one I’m asked repeatedly where I’ll find room – oh, there’s room all right…). If I can ever develop a plan to get my old Kenner Star Wars action figures back from my cousin (my mom gave them to him, supposedly with my permission) I’d play with those too.

I read my old comics. I listen to old records. I drink from the crystal and eat off the china whenever I have an excuse to do so (such as I wanted to and I can make it look romantic so my wife does not object).

Things are too be used. For example, why would anyone make a stained glass window if we were not to look at it? Maybe that’s a bad example, since you don’t generally handle a stained glass window to gaze upon it. But you do a book. What value is a book if it is not read?

To give a better example, I was recently in Ireland and looked at the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is an extremely old hand-written, illuminated copy of the four gospels. But it’s still used. True, it’s extremely limited. The closest I got was from the other side of a few inches of glass. But researches and historians still look at it. Because it’s not worth anything just sitting there in the dark.

If I wanted something I could just look at, I’d buy a poster. In fact, I have. Supergirl is one of them, as a matter of fact (she’s right over the X-Men figures and earns a lot of ridicule from my co-workers and boss). I probably wouldn’t buy a statue, because that would just tempt me to explore it. It’s also possible I’d do the same with a painting, feeling the textures and the brush strokes. Not sure I’d do that, but I’m sure I’d be tempted.

After all, they’re just things.

But now I’ve had how much those things are worth quantified for me. The closest I came to that before was either when a dorm-mate offered to buy my “War” era U2 import singles or when I managed to sell a copy of one of the Robin issues from the Cataclysm story line to a local comic shop for more than cover value because I’d gotten it from another state (and extra copies, my local store had failed to get it).

But when I saw the price! I was impressed. Suddenly I was loathe to let anyone else read my Supergirl comics. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great story. It’s worth reading. Fortunately, even if this revelation corrupts my perception of what “things” are worth and to be used for, the first nine issues (the best ones) are collected in a graphic novel format.

It may seem a silly problem. After all, most of you are screaming in horror at the fact that I’m abusing these items and casting my financial future into ruin.

But see, it’s a philosophical problem. So long as I didn’t know the value, even if I had a suspicion of what it was worth, I could keep my nonconformist stance that said things were to be used, not stored for their potential future value. I kept them in shape, because it’s easier to enjoy a record if it’s not scratched and easier to read a book that’s not torn up.

But now I have this sudden fear of ruining my items. I’m too careful. Am I going to continue to enjoy them? I don’t know. But I hope too. I look at this as a temptation to corrupt my quasi-virtuous stance of enjoying the world around me instead of placing monetary value on it. Really when it comes down to it, this is a religious issue. Do I enjoy the manufacturing/artistic/craftsmanship capabilities that we’ve been given by God? Or do I reduce it to a line of $ and ¢.

And ultimately, it’s a deeper question. Does reducing artifacts to monetary worth dehumanize me? What will archeologists in 2000 years say about us? Will the judge us too materialistic? It strikes me that modern archeologists are grateful for any preserved artifact they can find. But it also strikes me that they’d find perfectly preserved artifacts that were never used extremely curious. After all, what is the true value of an artifact that was never culturally significant?

On Religion and Fantasy

With the release of a new Harry Potter movie comes a new string of antichrists… er… anti-free speech, anti-freedom of religion, and anti-intelligent preachers who think that the self-purporting fictional account of an imaginary boy in an imaginary place is going to damn the entire world to hell. In my mind, the one type of person equates to the other. It is fundamentally antichristian to burn books in this way. I mean, Christ didn’t deny access to other ways of thinking. He merely encouraged all to listen to the truth. As far as I can tell, my reading of the New Testament shows Christ trying to teach wholesome truths and helping people live positively. I really only recall one time (twice, depending on how you concordinate the gospels) when Christ actually attacked people. It was not on the grounds of religious differences. It was about the desecration of the holy temple.

The popular opposition to the Harry Potter books mystifies me. It does a tremendous amount of damage: it teaches hate and intolerance to children, and tells them that reading is bad. In many ways, it tells children they are bad. Most children do not have the sophistication to separate an evaluation of themselves from an evaluation of the things they like. Heck, many adults don’t have that level of sophistication (see book-burning preachers).

It also confounds me that Harry Potter in particular gets singled out. Tolkien doesn’t. Jordan doesn’t. Feist, Brooks, Zimmerman, and LeGuin don’t. Much of this is particularly odd. Tolkien was Catholic, and therefore anathema to start with for much of the non-Catholic Christian world, but at least his themes are very “biblical” in nature. Jordan deals with non-Christian deities, even as protagonists. Zimmerman was a pagan in every Christian use of the word (and it shows clearly in her work). Most of these authors sell at least at a comparable level to Rowling.

Granted, Rowling is the only one on my list here that writes for a child audience, but if that’s their reasoning, then I have to go back to my other question of whether the book or the book burners are doing more damage to the young ones.

Now, it is not unknown to anyone who reads my material that I am a fan of the fantasy genre. Works like Legend and Krull annoy me not because they’re bad but because they’re bad fantasy (see also the animated movies based on Tolkien’s works). So perhaps I take the whole thing personally. I don’t really see myself as a Potter fan, though. I have enjoyed the one movie and two books I’ve gotten through, but they’re a little low level. I suppose 15-20 years ago I would have loved them though.

But that’s not the point. The point is that these people who claim to be spreading the love of Christ are spreading intolerance and closed-mindedness. I find that repugnant both as a student of literature and as a Christian.

Look, the Bible talks about dragons. It also talks about “familiar spirits” and sorcerers and witches and wizards. Now personally, I find most of that to be somewhat metaphorical. After all, if God is in all ways perfect, then he is surely a perfect artist and writer, and therefore will employ some literary devices, such as figures and symbols and such. However, many of these preachers seem to have a problem understanding non-literal language (which leads me to wonder exactly how they think they can understand scripture) – which is clearly shown by their inability to see Harry Potter as anything other than a text book on how to perform evil magic rites (do the terms “fiction” or “narrative” mean anything to you?). This being the case, I suppose I should come up with a reasoning to justify the reading of fantasy even to you literalists.

Hypothetically, if the Bible accepts these figures as real (remember again, this is not my position, but the position the literalists to whom I speak), then you should accept them as real. This means that you shouldn’t be burning a frickin’ book just because it differs from your religious point of view!

Sorry, I got ahead of myself there. So, we’re accepting them as real, which in turn means that there will be books about the material, just as there are many books on subjects you don’t (and for that matter, aren’t asked to) agree with. This means that you shouldn’t be burning a frickin’ book just because it differs from your religious point of view!

Sorry, that just popped out of my mouth again. So there are subjects that you don’t have to agree with, but out of tolerance for other people’s way of life, as well as convincing them that you actually love them instead of just saying you do once a week while showing them difference, you really shouldn’t be burning a frickin’ book just because it differs from your religious point of view.