Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sin is FUN! (Part Three)

(And it all started with Communion wine)

(Part ONE is here)

(Part TWO is here)

Sex can lead to far too many abuses, such as adultery, cheating, perversions and the like. It is best that we just avoid all sex altogether from now on. I mean, why even take a chance with something so potentially harmful and dangerous? If we don't ever even go near sex, then we can never misuse or be hurt by it.

Sound silly? Now you know how I feel about your assurance that my beer upsets Jesus.

Christian drinking has long been a bone of contention in the church, which makes no sense because most of us have no idea what "bone of contention" even means.

But the nice thing is that with diligent study of the Bible, you can discover exactly what God thinks about Christians drinking. Well, in YOUR mind, at least. (But for many, this is plenty.)

If a Christian makes a personal choice to never drink, I totally respect that. I certainly don't insist that they should drink, and many mature ones will not insist I must teetotal with them.

I am far more frustrated with the logic that some use that it should never be touched because if misused or abused, then it can lead to terrible things. So "total abstinence from alcohol is just safest", is the reasoning used.

Aside from the whole "use God's word for our standard" being thrown aside while we make up our own guidelines as we go, the logic itself is still poor.

We could apply that thinking to those just as deadly cars and never drive them again. Guns and sharp knives will have to go. Ironically, many anti-gun people do use this same reasoning for wanting to get rid of them altogether (they kill people!) as we Christians use for alcohol.

We Christians took this goofy logic to its ultimate endgame with Prohibition in America, between 1920 and 1933. And aside from little snags like the Saint Valentine's Day massacre and mobsters like Al Capone rising to power, it was a rousing failure. (If we do it again, we need to hand out more fliers this time. Education is paramount!)

Invariably, someone will have a horrific drunk driving story or a growing up around alcoholism experience (as I have) to prove it is only and always wrong. But this still glosses over the subject.

If you think I am going to argue that drinking is OK for everybody, I'm not. It is not. If we use the Word as our guide (which Christians should), then does the Word say drinking is a sin? No, no it does not. Does it say drunkenness is a sin? Why yes, yes it does. And for some, never touching it at all is absolutely for the best.

But I still prefer to focus on talking about being responsible and not applying knee jerk reactions to our moral convictions. I also think a lot of Christian kids end up over the deep end with it (as with many other things), because they were never shown that it can and should only be used responsibly and in moderation.

If it's a "sin" to even touch it (forbidden fruit is so tempting), then might as well go all the way and get hammered.

Our two kids might have the best of both worlds, having a mom who has never had anything to drink and a dad who only drinks in moderation. They see it is not scary and dangerous, but it is also cool to choose to never drink, if that's what you want. (Drinking does not make you look cool, as obviously only smoking does that. Duh!)

Kids will mess up and make mistakes, whether they are Christians or not. The main thing is to teach them they are both capable and expected to become mature and responsible, without creating artificial and largely useless safety nets to shield them from the world.

Ironically, many Christians retreat further and further away from all other people of the world, into the four walls of their churches, where they ramble on at length about loving and reaching the world for Jesus.

Yeah. We're nothing, if not consistently ironic in what we say and do. But maybe acknowledging that is a first step toward changing it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Joy versus Happiness

. . .

It is almost as if our stunted capacity for thankfulness and true joy has also robbed us portions of moments of our happiness.

. . .

I have suffered severe chronic pain for over 10 years now and have had times when it wore me down to the point that I didn't think I could go on. A few unexpected, unintended good things may have come from my condition, and one of them is a clearer understanding of the difference between joy and happiness.

Happiness seems to be the be-all, end-all that many Americans strive for in life, but if one does not understand happiness' transient, fleeting nature, then one will surely find themselves disappointed and frustrated on a regular basis.

I believe happiness is best defined as something we experience or "happens to us", whereas joy is something we own and is "part of us". You either have joy or you do not. It does not show up and disappear with regularity. That is happiness.

When I get in my nice, semi-new Nissan with its MP3 stereo jack each day, I probably feel a little happy about it. And yet, if I were to lose it and be relegated to a junker, I might be unhappy about it, but I would not lose my joy over it.

Happiness comes and goes. Joy does not.

A friend told me about a time lived in a poor European country where a teenager was overjoyed, simply because he finally got an animal which would allow him to work harder and produce more on his dad's farm. His father was heartbroken, because he felt his son had no real future or escape from their poverty.

Contrast this with many American teenagers who are briefly happy over their new iPod or computer and yet so quickly afterward lose that excitement and the dichotomy is striking.

It is almost as if our stunted capacity for thankfulness and true joy has also robbed us portions of moments of our happiness.

The joy of the Lord is my strength and it is persistent and abiding, both when I have good days and when I have bad days. Hardly a day will go by that I do not laugh and do my best to make someone else laugh. This does not stem from "happiness".

What brings me joy? Things like my relationship with God and that with my wife and my two children. These things which alone truly matter and will last forever.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How To Lose Friends And Alienate People

Did I mention I'm smarter and better than you?
Here child, let me list the ways.

Dale Carnegie first wrote the currently 15 million copied bestseller, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" way back in 1936. Think about that for a second! That was well over a century ago, if you're terrible at math, and yet it is still one of the best selling books in the world today.

It remains very popular and is supposedly effective. I don't know. I might even read it someday. I understand that it encourages respecting people, listening more than just talking and other weird stuff.

Since I thought I was clever at making up the anti-title of, "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People", I was seriously annoyed to learn that someone already wrote a parody of Carnegie's book with my exact awesome title, literally just one year later in 1937. I didn't realize they even had smartasses back then. Cool!

Gradually I have come to realize that for the most part there are only two different types of people in the world, especially when it comes to their opinions, convictions and comments.

Those who belong to the 1st type seem the most populous. Or maybe just pompous. ("Pompulous"?)

Sometimes these self made philosophers, political and legal experts are “right” and sometimes they are “wrong”. But this really is not pertinent. "Right" and "wrong" are silly and irrelevant concepts for them. This is because they also are perpetually one dimensional. Their dimension. You are invited to visit, but you may not stay.

You may have seen or heard one or two of them. Trust me, they are not hiding. Some of them even have their own radio and TV shows, God help us all.

You see, they rarely persuade even a single soul or change a solitary mind, but no worry... that’s perfectly OK with them. They honestly have no intention or desire anyway to do so.

Sadly for us, they and their opinions were once, in the not too distant past, wonderfully confined to yelling at squirrels in their back yards or schooling that ignorant sheep of a cashier at the local Safeway. But the Internet has miraculously changed all that. (Thanks a lot, Al Gore, you jerk.)

In a new age where every person's opinion not only "matters", but can even be equally inane and still be shouted at fullest volume, their computer chair is so much higher than any soapbox of old and now they can abuse thousands at once, even on coffee breaks.

If you have spent even a little time on message boards trying to discuss politics or religion with strangers, you discover the anonymity of the Internet makes it much more appealing to roughly 90% of people to tell you that you are a stupid moron, rather than to engage or address your ideas. And these people vote.

Oh my god... these people vote. OK, let's try not to think about that.

These self made web gods sadly prove that the cheesy TV commercials about students happily interacting with other kids from the other side of the world on their huge classroom monitor are absurd. If adults can't act like adults on the Internet, who do they think they're fooling with this "it's a small world after all" crap?

If you've never spent time discussing religion or politics on the Internet with those of differing opinions, I encourage you to take at least a few hours to do it. You will walk away with a much greater understanding of human nature and the added benefit of probably never wanting to do it again.

I mean, think about it, why spend a lifetime influencing, informing or winning over anybody, when you can so, so much more easily just criticize, demean or "beat" them in an argument with a one line put down? For this 1st type of “communicator”, this is a no-brainer. Pardon the tautology.

But finally and gratefully we have those others in the 2nd group, this albeit frighteningly small and odd minority. Many of them do not have TV shows, but that is OK. They have friends who actually like them.

These rare 2nd type individuals, regardless of their loving, hating or maybe even only weakly and half-heartily agreeing with some of the other countless differing, interesting opinions and thoughts out there in the world, can still somehow occasionally opine with purpose.

In a rare instance, their words can even be ones that are actually adding to a constructive and evolving dialogue, informing and expanding the understanding of others or truly just interacting with them on a meaningful or at least harmonious level, however small or large that may prove to be.

Thank God for this 2nd group.

In closing, a very wise and beloved man once said something like (I am paraphrasing): "treat others the way you wish they would treat you".

Do you want people to listen to you? I wonder if people also want you to listen to them? Hmm. Weird, I know, but maybe worth looking into.

Unfortunately for most of us, this remains terribly counter intuitive advice. Both my flawed logic and nature dictate that I should rather, "demand others treat me the way I expect to be treated, and I'll treat others however I think they have it coming".

This selfish method works very poorly, of course, but is probably not going to be abandoned any time soon.

So, to those rare, 2nd type individuals, I just want to say that I know you are out there and would like to thank you for making the world a vastly more interesting and valuable place. Someone has to do it and I'm trying to be more like you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sin is FUN! (Part Two)

(Typical reaction to church)

(Part ONE is here)

(Part THREE is here)

First of all... holy crap... two blog posts, two days in a row.

Second of all... doing a Google image search for "sin is fun" to put a picture at the head of this post? Probably not my smartest idea in a while.

But I don't know why I am even remotely surprised that there is a T-shirt for sale with those exact words.

To clarify for the unsubtle of mind, I wrote in the last part that "sin is fun"... not that it's awesome, cool, etc. The title was not flippant, but rather a very specific jab (too unclear for some) at those who strive to persuade themselves and others that sin is in fact not fun.

Is sin fun? You bet your ass it is. Does it come with a price? Always. And sometimes a terribly steep one.

Ironically, those who go to extremes to convince their kids that sin is NOT fun are usually the same ones who loosely define sin as anything you would consider fun.

Hmm. Go figure. Who would have thought that misguided religious nonsense might have a couple contradictions in it.

The overarching point of the blog post was to address the many different methods Christian parents use to raise their kids to make the right decisions later in life. BONK.

("Bonk" is the sound of me having to hit some over the head with unsubtle, unfunny direct statements.)

Many who raise their kids for 18 years (or up to 30 in a bad economy) try exceedingly to shield their precious snowflakes from the evils of this world, and the same kids then unsurprisingly move out and dive into those said evils head first. I say 'unsurprisingly', but many things which I assume are obvious are not so to everyone.

Just one example is Internet filters for kids. For little kids, I think they're great. Once your kid gets in their teens, if that is your solution to protecting them forever and ever from porn, you're not exactly thinking ahead. When little Johnny moves out and no longer has filters on his Internet, don't act surprised that he doesn't have actual self control to fall back on, when he never had the chance to exercise it.

Are you really convinced you are trusting your kids to do the right thing, while never allowing them a chance to do the wrong thing? How does that work, exactly? Magic? Cool!

In some religions, where women's bodies are apparently the most beguiling and tempting thing on the planet (awesomely close, I'm sure), their solution is to cover all of the women from head to toe... except for eye-slits, of course. How else are they gonna see to go to the kitchen and make us men a sammich?

And of course this fixes everything. If you can't see women, you can't lust after them. Why rape remains rampant in countries that practice this, they have not yet figured out. Those beguiling eyeballs, I guess.

Sound to you like a disgusting, tasteless joke to insinuate it is still the woman's fault? Well, you're right.

What amazes me is when Christian parents emulate this mad method, but just to a smaller degree. They protect little Johnny (poor guy) in his holy bubble, perfectly insulated from alcohol, tobacco and firearms... and cussing... and R-rated movies... and mostly importantly... BOOBIES!

One nipple sighting and the world will literally end. Heaven protect us from them. Amen.

Why so many of these same kids move out and end up over the deep end, we are still trying to figure out.

Part of it might... just might... be related to the fact that as a parent you don't cuss, smoke, drink, listen to "secular music" or watch racy movies and have never once missed a church service in your life, but you're also a self centered ***hole.

I have quite a few atheist friends who are considerably less ***holish, to be frank. (I'm serious... I do.)

It's not a mystery. If you base your "religion" on how much more perfectly spotless and clean you are (at least than "the average"), instead of doing something abstract and useless, like say... oh, I don't know... treating people right and talking to them with respect and kindness, then chances are when your kids leave the nest, they will explore to find and test other ways of being selfish than just being a super religious turd. Just a theory.

I can always tell when I meet a genuine, sincere Christian, before they ever even tell me. They usually have considerable self confidence, while clearly not acting or thinking they are better than me. And damn are they rare.

If you can pass THAT kind of value on to your kid, then you just might not have to try so hard to shield your precious snowflake as much from the gross evils of this world... like HBO, Lady GaGa and my blog.

I just realized that I never got to the topic of Christian imbibing, so I guess that will be part 3 of this 2 part series. (I always try to give 150%.)

If I sound angry and bitter, I assure you that I'm not. Not even close. I just forgot to insert enough inane jokes between the serious stuff. Next time. :)

(Next... Part Three: I stop rambling and get to a point of some kind)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Communication Breakdown

Every once in while, I think I should write a post that makes it look like I am spiritual and love Jesus and stuff. We'll see if this qualifies.

This is a 5 part series with a close look at many of the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible. No, actually it's just something I thought of on the way to work.

Communication is one of the most important things that separates us from the beasts. Businesses could not exist like they do without communication and relationships regularly die when it is poor or lacking altogether. And long distance communication is just as important as up close and personal. Fortunately, as critical as communication is, we have long since mastered doing it half-assed.

The very first instance of long distance communication was probably a one syllable cuss word scraped on a rock and hucked at someones head. Then it moved up to much more nuanced profanities on arrows, spears, etc. Shortly after this the Indians invented smoke signals and communication briefly stopped altogether, as nobody can read smoke, obviously. This was the "dark ages". (I am a history buff)

Then we invented paper and pen and everything changed. Then, getting a letter even once a year delivered by some random guy on a horse was a huge deal. Like, "bigger than Christmas" huge (although Christmas gifts did suck more in old times).
Then everything sort of exploded more and more rapidly over the last 100 years, like bam bam bam. Telegraph, radio, telephone, cell phones, email, instant messaging, and then ultimately texting. Then it went backwards a tiny bit with Facebook, but not too bad.

I got to wondering what our average conversations with God would be most analogous to?
A rushed voice-mail? A garbled, blurted out shout while sprinting past? Or maybe a poorly scrawled Post-It note quickly slapped into one of His nail scarred hands? OK, I went too far with that one.

My favorite scripture is in Matthew 22:37-40, where it tells us the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves. And that upon these two commandments hang ALL the law and prophets.
So essentially, nothing is more important for us to do than love God and other people. Pretty complicated religion, huh?
And as nothing is more important than our relationship with God and others, nothing is more important for nurturing them than communication.

Here is a fun test to try at home: only communicate with your spouse for a week or two with hastily scribbled Post-It notes. If you are single, try it with your boss at work. In the end, you will both get a huge chuckle out of it. Or fired or something.

How we talk to others defines and determines our relationships with them. So it never ceases to amaze me when I witness married couples speaking to each other with any less respect or kindness than they would afford a friend or even complete stranger. I don't care how "many years you've been married", why would you do that?
And if marriages are hurt by poor communication, how do you think it affects our most important relationship of all?

There are certainly a lot of different praying "styles". I have heard some people sound like they're rapping with a surfing buddy and others sound like they're nervously talking to a head of state from a foreign country we are on poor terms with.

Some people like to actually write their prayers out in a journal, just like letters, to focus better and not forget anything. It's not a bad idea, really. I have never done it myself, but I know a couple rambling, incoherent people at church that I would like to try it.

The next time you pray, stop for just a second to pay attention to not just how much time you set aside for it or what you pray, but how you pray it. How does it come across? How would it come across if you spoke to others that way?

Can you and do you speak with God for who He is, among other things a King, Father and friend? Do you pray with reverence, respect, boldness and love?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

REAL 3D Animation

This is some of the coolest art you'll see in a long time. BLU is a street artist from Italy whose identity remains anonymous. I first saw some of BLU's work more than two years ago and his work was amazing then.

Now he is incorporating 3D objects into this latest work of his, such as orange beach netting, sand, plastic debris and even a live girl model who is blown off her feet and swept away.

I honestly can't even imagine where he finds the patience to do this kind of art, but we're very lucky that he does.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sin is FUN! - (Part One)

(Not to scale)

(Part TWO is here)

(Part THREE is here)

Wheeeeeeeee! On a scale of 1 to 10, sin is really fun. This has been known for literally hundreds of years.

People who say it isn't fun are lying. If sin was not fun, it would be like vegetables and most Americans would already avoid it like the plague.

As a Christian parent, I have wrestled with the conundrum of hiding this fact from my kids as well as wrestling with other big words like "conundrum".

But how much should we hide it?

Just this last year my wife and I have seen our daughter enter her first year of college and our son become a senior in High School.

At their age, I studied diligently and worked very hard at how best to get into trouble and do things I shouldn't. I had straight A's in dumbassery and about a D or D minus in life skills.

So, how did my kids turn out so differently? Their mom. Hallelujah. OK, not JUST their mom, but still... thank God for her. But there is more to it.

My wife and I somehow got on the topic this morning, as we just recently have been observing more and more kids the same age as ours dabbling in this ancient fine art of dumbassery.

It gradually brought me to something I like to call "thinking". I schedule this uncomfortable activity at least once every month or so. And I came up with some surprising conclusions. Or opinions or something.

The Mrs. and I have very similar and in some cases divergent views on child rearing.

For instance, I felt that their practicing with firearms as soon as they could ride a bike was sensible and she was maybe a little more... hesitant of the idea. (No, I didn't let them use firearms while ON their bikes. Give me some credit.)

I also told her last night that our son agreed that he would be willing to join me in jumping off the world's highest controlled jump, if we ever go back to Las Vegas. Her opinion was a little more reserved and she shared with me, "No, no you're not".

Back in the day, we parents-in-training both agreed our little girl could not paint her room dark purple.

But then we again butt heads a little when it came to the issue of "adult" content in movies, especially as our precious snowflakes got older.

We actually agree more than we disagree on this topic, and certainly both respect and understand the merits of each others standpoint immensely. And we have articulated our opinions and even their differences to the kids, so they also know them quite well.

We didn't flip a coin to see whose belief would win and be "taught" and I opted out of claiming physical dominance or some kind of biblical authority over her. She is incredibly wise and that is partly why I married her.

My beautiful bride probably tips more toward the traditional "American Christian" belief concerning nudity than I do. And this oft described "Puritanical" slant on this topic has obviously taken a much more pivotal position in our society lately.

Especially with the glut of super easily obtainable pornography. Apparently there is some on the Internets. For free.

(My wife would probably also be OK with getting every single bottle of alcohol out of our house. I am in complete agreement, I just want to empty them into my belly first. More on that in Part Two of this exciting series.)

But back to the topic of boobies. You know what... lets just call it "sex and violence". Lump them together for brevity sake. And because using the word "boobies" probably made some of you uncomfortable. Boobies.

I have a very simple philosophy that might be summed up as this: boobies are awesome and violence is not. But they won't let me say this at church. Anymore.

But if I were to forced to say it like a grownup, I think I could.

I would simply say that God created the human body as one of the most beautiful things ever (unless you're 800 pounds, I suppose) and He specifically called it "very good". He also said that He literally hates violence.

(I think if I left out the snark about "800 pounds" that TOTALLY would have sounded like a grown up.)

Between sex and violence, I think it's pretty clear which topic makes God more "uncomfortable" and apparently it is not the same one as many of us.

If you came home to discover complete strangers naked and/or having sex in your living room, it would shock and probably offend you. But it would be something to laugh about down the road.

If you came home to someone being murdered in your living room, you would probably need years of counseling.

Yeah. Go ahead and let that soak in.

And yet most people, certainly Christians included, will more than welcome both of these visuals into their living room with most R rated movies.

(I'm a Christian and own many R rated movies, so bear with me.)

The stark irony is that many Christians are somehow more comfortable with two hours of Hollywood violence, bloodshed and murder than they are with two minutes or even two seconds of a lady's nipples on the screen.

This has always confused me a little.

But to try to get back onto topic, what is a proper and healthy balance for viewing and addressing these huge, age-old "twins"? (I mean "sex and violence", you pervs.)

Call me biased, but I think God's opinion carries a lot of weight.

You could probably argue that He is equally as shocked and uncomfortable as we are at the sight of a woman's breasts as He is to violence. And yet, I somehow doubt that.

Or you could assert (the more popular Christian view) that breasts are just SO super awesome, God demands they almost always be kept under lock and key. Maybe. But again, I tend to question the balance and truth behind it being quite that simplistic.

(If I sound like a hippy, I am not. I was raised by hippies and we stay in touch, but I barely let them influence me. OK, they were a terrible influence, but I mostly recovered.)

I could go into a long rant about how Christian mores and values toward nudity were enormously different in centuries past, evident in over a thousand years of traditional Christian art.

Keep in mind that most of all recorded Christian history happened in a place called "not America". No, I'm serious. Google it.

I think it's called Europe or something and they still have a much more casual view of the topics of sex and nudity than we do. I think with their topless beaches, something like our "Girls Gone Wild" is just redundant, indulgent and silly looking to them.

But that is not really my goal or overarching point here.

I guess I am not trying to stir up a debate per se about sax and violins on television and in movies. I'm not even saying Europe's values are "better". Just throwing stuff out there for consideration.

If you thought my point is lobbying for more sex and nudity in our media and culture, then you missed it. Big time.

But what if our kids were constantly told that sex is beautiful, natural and healthy and should be respected and highly valued, versus it being treated as "dirty", simply because it makes us so uncomfortable to even talk about it?

Just an idea.

At this point, especially if you are not a Christian, you might be looking at the sensational title I gave to this blog ("Sin is FUN!") and be thinking to yourself, "hey wait a second, jerko, nudity and sex do not equal sin!"

Maybe that's my point.

Can sex be used to sin? Can it be casually misused and maliciously abused to horribly hurt others and damage ourselves, often permanently?

Yeah. Obviously.

But I also think our reaction to this reality can either be mature and constructive or knee-jerk and destructive. Taking a minute to really think about it certainly couldn't hurt.

Especially if you happened to do the deed yourself at some point, made some little humans in your likeness and you plan on passing on your opinions and values to them.

(Next... Part Two - Booze: "Yummy" or just "An aphrodisiac"?)