An Evolution of Faith

A thought crossed my mind a few days ago. It continues to float in, wander around, and float out again. Last night I ran upstairs to jot down a few notes so that I would be able to somewhat clearly remember the jumbled thought, and, hopefully, organize it and make it a little more coherent. As I start to write this I can feel my heart beating a little faster because I tend to keep thoughts like this, thoughts concerning my faith and understanding private with the exception of a very small number of people.

Perhaps a little back story is required…

When I first began to read the Bible and other texts concerning the Christian faith in earnest, I was struck by the image of Jesus’ openness and vulnerability in the garden of Gethsemane. It was just him and God. There he prayed, alone, and asked God “may this cup be taken from me,” (Matt. 26.39 NIV). Alone, in solitude with others watching outwardly in order that he not be disturbed during such an intimate act. Also, he, himself, directs that prayer is an act to be performed in private in Matthew 6, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen,” (Matt. 6.6, NIV). Long story short, I rarely, if ever, pray in public. When I do pray in public, either in church, at the dinner table, or reciting the Lord’s prayer before an athletic event in high school (in my youth), it does not feel the same. There is a lack of intimacy, a lack of depth. It is not empty, but definitely not full either. Does that make sense?

I also take very seriously words from earlier in chapter 6 of Matthew, verses two through four, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret,” (NIV).

As I said, I keep my thoughts private, probably to an extreme. I keep my actions concerning my faith private, definitely to an extreme.

There are other reasons, well really only one reason, why I tend to keep quiet concerning my faith, and that is because when it comes to the very loud and outspoken conservative evangelical point of view, I have always seen myself in the minority and did not want to attempt to defend my thoughts against an overwhelming number of people driven by an unwavering opinion, belief, or faith in their rightness over others. And I am not just referring to more conservative Christian points of view, but also atheists and agnostics that are just as fervent and unmoving in their opinions and/or beliefs. It hits harder, though, coming from a fellow believer, because a fellow believer will tell me that I am missing, or have missed, the point, attempt to correct me, and then tell me that because I do not agree that I am lost and going to hell. Though those closest to me may never tell me that to my face, they do support and follow those that proclaim such, and, I won’t lie, that stings. That stings a lot.

So where am I going with this?

The thought that crossed my mind the other day was this. Grace vs. legalism. That’s it. One word against another, but oh, isn’t it so much more complex. A couple of definitions to start:

Grace- (in the Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings; a divinely given talent or blessing; the condition or fact of being favored by someone.

Legalism- excessive adherence to law or formula; theology dependence on moral law than on personal religious faith.

(Both definitions come from the handy-dandy New Oxford American Dictionary app on my computer)

Grace is further defined by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland as “God’s unfailing commitment to love,” (If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, p.7).

Those that read, study, have read, or have studied the Bible know that both legalism and grace are within it. Grace tends to abound in the New Testament, and legalism is firmly rooted in the first five books of the Old Testament, especially Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Why is that? The simple explanation is that Jesus came as the Messiah, or Savior, and fulfilled the old law (Matt. 5.17), bestowing upon the world God’s grace (John 1.17). There is more to it than that, especially if one reads the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) while considering what the Israelites living under the law were doing.

Think about it. These men, women, and children were freed from their bonds of slavery after generations. They had no real identity as a free culture. Little set them apart as God’s chosen people and descendants of Abraham from those other Middle-Eastern cultures surrounding them. They wandered to and fro seeking land to establish themselves. Not only were they seeking land to establish themselves as God’s chosen, but also they needed a law or code to set them apart, or sanctify themselves, from those around them that did not subscribe to their one God.

So there they were, a small, wandering tribe of people with little cultural identity to set them apart and a belief system that was completely alien to all of the other cultures around them. What better way for God to set them apart than to give them a strict code of law to follow and attempt to fulfill? A strict code that would not only keep them safe from natural harm (it protected them from eating spoiled shellfish, parasite ridden pork, and other harmful things (Lev. 11) ), but also directed the propagation and growth (the classification of homosexuality as an abomination/sin (Lev. 18 and 20), etc…) of the small tribe into a larger, established society dedicated to continuing its sanctification.

The Israelites eventually settled on a piece of land and continued to grow through observance of their God-given law. In this way, legalism served a positive purpose. It gave a group of people a direction for positive growth and security. It helped them establish a stable society in a time when the state, as we know it today, did not exist. As all of this was happening, they continued to live in anticipation of their Messiah who would save them from the perils of the surrounding world.

They did not follow the law word for word. How could they? It would take a true act of God for anyone to be able to follow such a strict and regimented code without falter. They did, however, follow it well enough to continue to multiply and reestablish themselves after being conquered and moved and resettled again, and being hellenized by the Greeks and later ruled by the Roman state (though different than the modern nation-state, a state nonetheless).

Seeing that His people were set apart distinctly from those surrounding them, and that their society was stabilizing and that the world around them was growing more organized and stable, God felt the time was right to bring forth a new law, one different from the law under which they lived that promoted outward sanctification, but inward sanctification. A law that would not only provide for their salvation but also the salvation of those with whom they lived and interacted, namely Gentiles. Thus enters into the world, Jesus.

Arriving in a time of Roman rule over the kingdoms of Israel and after the hellenization of the region by the Greeks, with trade routes and roads coming together and stretching to the limits of the known world, Jesus knew that the time had come for the law to change and that the gospel could and would be spread to the corners of the earth, allowing for the salvation of all people under his new covenant, regardless of their lack of observation of the old one. The Hebrew people had managed to maintain their society and culture under foreign rule and that through peace, they could continue doing such.

The law became one of spiritual sanctification. Followers were to no longer set themselves apart with action and behavior governed by law, but through their faith and their behavior as guided by that faith, with the complex old law being reduced to one phrase, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets,” (Matt. 7.12, NIV). Followers were also commissioned to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Matt. 28.19-20 NIV).

The law became one of internal observation rather than observing that others were keeping the law. It became a law of forgiveness of others and bestowing grace and love on others, because we, ourselves, are inadequate to fulfill the old law. Through the same forgiveness shown to us, and the life given to us, we can forgive others and live a life of love, free from the judgment and punishment of others. In short, the law became love, and that love is shown through grace and mercy.

The writer of James said it well. “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement,” (James 2.12-13 NIV).

We all think of the impossibility of following the legalism of the Old Testament and the kind of discipline that must take. Little is ever said of how incredibly difficult it is to live under the covenant of the Gospel. How much more infinitely difficult is it to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5.44 NIV). Remember the “love” spoken of by Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth? The love that is “patient” and “kind”? The love that “does not envy” or “boast”? That “is not proud” or “rude” or “self-seeking” or “easily angered”? That “keeps no record of wrongs”? That “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth”? That “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”? That is a hard love to give, even to ourselves and those we love. Imagine showing our enemies that kind of love. Imagine the kind of grace it takes to give that kind of love.

I have read those words many times in private and a time or two at weddings and one funeral. Yet, it still hits me at how difficult it is to show that kind of love, and I imagine it is just as difficult for all of us. I don’t just imagine, I know it is. It is infinitely easier to show contempt toward those with whom we disagree or disapprove. It is easy to show disapproval. Replacing that contempt and disapproval with love and mercy is our calling. It is what we are supposed to do, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13.34 NIV).

It is an endless road to walk. I know I will spend the rest of my life attempting to learn how to love the way in which we are instructed, and I will likely not ever get it completely right. I suggest we all do a little walking ourselves before we try to tell others where and how to walk. That is the whole point of the Gospel, not how, or about what, my neighbor thinks and lives, but how I think and live, and do I live and walk a life of love.

I partially stole the title of this piece from Philip Gulley’s book The Evolution of Faith. It’s a pretty good book and one that I will likely flip through again.

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History: Getting All the Books, Reading All the Pages, Learning All the Stories

I am over 500 pages into the reading lists I have received from professors for the courses I am taking in the upcoming Fall. Mercifully, the professor for my summer class responded to my email asking him about a reading list stating that he would be sending out course information and readings (mostly journal articles) a week or two before class starts in late June/early July.

Over the weekend, we took a trip to the bookstore and I happened upon another title on my reading list and scooped it up, increasing the page count to over 3,000 with a few more titles to find before August arrives.

It’s always exciting reading history. No matter how much one may read on a given topic or period something new always pops up and adds to the narrative. Learning something new about a particular idea, person, or place adds to the understanding one has and adds color to the picture that has already been painted, making it a little more vibrant and adding a little more depth.

It’s a rainy, dreary day, so I am going to try and knock out a couple hundred more pages today. Though I am not particularly excited about the period into which I am currently delving, it is a period crucial to the understanding of other periods which I do find interesting. It is fascinating to see and to learn how the stories of some continually impact the lives of others that do not live in the same place or time.

History is an excellent reminder that we do not live our lives in seclusion. We are in it together for the long haul, and just as stories we act out day-to-day are influenced by past characters and ideas, so, too, will be the stories written in the future along with the narratives we leave behind.

Fascinating? It should be.

Getting Prepared…

I totally forgot to write about this when it happened a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I were out to dinner with friends, and I was frustrated because it had been nearly a week after the early review deadline for my graduate school application. I asked one of those eating with us, whom I knew to be a graduate student at Appalachian, how long it took for her to hear back from the graduate school. She said she heard back rather quickly, but it probably depended on the program to which I was applying and how many early applicants they had to screen. She just suggested contacting the graduate school at the beginning of the week and seeing if any headway had been made.

Being my rather impatient self, I was not completely satisfied with that answer, but did not press anymore, knowing that there was little I could do. So I dropped it.

Later that night, after my wife and I got home from dinner and the movies, I felt an overwhelming need to check my email (since for some reason, even though I have my email set up on my phone for push notifications, my email never sends me notification of incoming messages unless I open the app). The previous conversation took place at about 5:00pm or so. According to my email, I received a notice from ASU to check on the status of my application on the website portal, because a decision had been made concerning it, at 5:36pm.

Talk about vague and heartstopping! What kind of decision was made? Why not just send me the rejection notice or acceptance letter through that email? Do these people not understand what an email like this does to someone like me?

So with my hands shaking and my heart beating out of my chest, I opened my application account on the website portal (have you ever tried to input passwords and such on your phone with your hands shaking? It does not work too well.), clicked a link here and a link there to get to the link to a letter from the university. Three words popped out immediately.

Congratulations.

Unconditional admission.

I finally heard back from the program director this morning, and registered for a class this Summer and three for the Fall. I contacted health services at the university and will, unfortunately, need to get a tetanus booster, which is only slightly mortifying.

The rows are setting up and the ducks are figuring it all out slowly.

With registering for these classes, my reading list has been updated to twelve texts, so far. For one class I have not found the reading list, yet, but I have a feeling that will change once I get in touch with the professor.

Needless to say, I foresee a few trips to the library in the not-to-distant future.

In homage to Chief Brody, We’re gonna need a bigger coffee cup.

A Christian’s View and Questions for Other Christians

This has been building within me for some time. Some of it has come out in bits and pieces through various outlets. It is time, however, to put it out there in one place, in one voice, so that my thoughts and opinions on the matter are known and the grounds upon which those thoughts and opinions are based are understood.

We are in the midst of the civil rights movement of my generation. I will not bore you with parallels to civil rights movements of the past such as those of African-Americans (which continues still), women (which continues still), American Indians (which continues still), immigrants (mainly non-European,which, by the way, continues still), or any other group of people or ethnicity that is, or has been, disenfranchised by American society (which continues still…).

The movement in the headlines nowadays concerns the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer community/communities (LGBTQ). Like many that will read this post, or few as it were, I am acquainted with people that are part of that community as well as people that oppose the rights of that community as well as people that sit on the fence between the LGBTQ community and those that oppose the rights it desires and deserves as well as those that just do not give a shit one way or the other. This is one of the most difficult posts I have ever set out to write and complete for that reason. There are family members and friends that may not like what is written here. There are family members and friends that may like what is written here. I can only say to take it all as you will, because most of you know where I stand on this issue anyway.

Making the headlines in this movement most recently are a series of laws known as Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, most recently in the state of Indiana. Plainly spoken, behind the euphemism of “religious freedom” is the less appetizing phrase, the right to use one’s faith as a cover for bigotry and an excuse to discriminate against those with whom they disapprove. Bigotry. Discrimination. It really is as simple as that. (I fully expect that those in support of these laws and the bigotry they support will stop reading now, but I hope they don’t.)

For years I have tried to understand and appreciate the evangelical approach to this issue, but I cannot get there. Well, that is not entirely true. I understand the approach, but in no way can I ever appreciate it. I understand that the same faith that I work so diligently with to try to love and appreciate those around me, even those with whom I disagree or disapprove, is used as a bully pulpit to oppress our neighbors. I struggle with “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matt. 7:12 NIV). I struggle with it daily. I am the most impatient person there has probably ever been. I make hasty judgements of others at first glance. I do not suffer fools lightly. These are flaws in my character that will likely haunt me until I am put in the ground. I admit it freely. This is probably my biggest and heaviest cross to bear, so to speak.

I have other crosses I bear on the same continual basis. Some of those are more well hidden than others. If you know me or have seen pictures, you can safely assume that I enjoy eating and being somewhat gluttonous on occasion. That’s a cross I bear. It is something with which I struggle. I can also be envious of those around me for their positions in life or stations. I’m not immune to the desire to covet, I mean, who is? I may even bear the smallest, whitest false witness. See, all of those, except for the gluttony, are stowed away harmlessly. People do not see them. I do not talk about them, and that is that. I am not perfect, have never claimed to be and never will be.

Before I continue further, let’s rehash the basis for the denial of certain civil rights for those within the LGBTQ community. Long story short (because the whole story boils down to this anyway) is that these people, these human beings, live in sin, according to various verses in the Bible, and sin is destructive to society. However (there is always a however, isn’t there?), their sin is apparently much different and worse than regular sin committed by everyday, hardworking, churchgoing folk, because it is an abomination. An ABOMINATION. A big. scary. fucking. word.

Why is that sin a big scary word?

Why is that sin targeted?

There is one reason, and one reason alone. It is an easy target. It has a clear dividing line. It is easy to separate the partakers from those who do not partake, or is it?

Let’s talk sodomy. As defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary, sodomy is “sexual intercourse involving anal or oral copulation.” So blowjobs, cunnilingus, and anal sex/penetration of any kind is sodomy, and sodomy, according to various verses in the Bible, especially Leviticus, is a sin. Now, we all know, but do not speak about, that there are some…well…kinky people out there. There are women who will willingly sodomize a man who has consented to it. Odd behavior? Yes. Sinful? Yes. It happens, but I bet anything that no one can confidently tell such a woman or a man just by seeing them hold hands or kiss. There are women that will provide consensual oral sex to their male partner and men that will provide the same for their female partner. Can you tell who those sinners are just by seeing them showing one another affection in public? There are men that have consensual anal sex with their female partners. Can you tell who those sinners are?

Can you tell who the sinners are?

I cannot, and, truthfully, neither can you.

Do you know why you cannot?

It probably has something to do with the fact that what those couples do in their private moments is nobody else’s fucking business. Their perceived sins are between them and their God. Their perceived sins have not one f’ing thing to do with the state. They have nothing to do with the business they wish to do. Their perceived sins have nothing to do with you, just like your perceived sins have nothing to do with anyone but yourself. Their perceived sins are their crosses to bear.

Probably like most of the straight people that read this, I have never had an in-depth conversation with anyone I know that is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer concerning their sexual experiences, preferences, or appetites. It is none of my business, just like my sexual experiences, preferences, or appetites are none of their business.

Since I, and I am assuming most of the straight people that read this, have not had an in-depth, candid conversation concerning personal sexual behavior or sexual acts with a member of the LGBTQ community, all of my ideas concerning those behaviors and acts are assumptions. All of your thoughts and ideas concerning those behaviors and acts are assumptions, unless, like I said, you have first hand knowledge from a primary source within that community. So, how easy a target is it? How easy is it to spot someone that has committed the perceived sin of sodomy?

The sin of homosexuality is, as its name states, unique to the homosexual community, though never specifically recorded as such in the Gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John as being specifically said by Jesus, but only in terms of “sexual immorality” as stated here for example:

“For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, magic, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean,’” (Mark 7: 21-23 NIV).

Sexual immorality is grouped with other sins such as adultery, envy, slander, and arrogance.

A few questions.

Do those that wish to discriminate against the LGBTQ community wish to show the same force of will toward known adulterers? Known thieves? Known liars? Or, is it only against homosexuals and other sexual “deviants” you wish to treat in a bigoted manner?

In essence, what supporters of this backlash against the LGBTQ community’s civil rights movement are saying is that they are smart enough to distinguish sin from sin and apply degrees of severity of sin which do not exist in the New Testament. They are saying that they know, without a doubt, that God places sexual immorality above all other sin, except that which is unforgivable.

How utterly callous, pompous, and arrogant are these people?

Then there is the argument that homosexual acts are unnatural. They go against the laws of nature and the purpose for our creation which is to go forth and multiply, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it,” (Gen. 1:28 NIV). What about those good, faithful, obedient, believing Christians that practice any manner of contraception when engaging in consensual, traditional intercourse with their partner? Is this not a sin of equal bearing with homosexuality? Is it not just as unnatural? Does it not restrict the ability of a couple to multiply as commanded in Genesis? Are men that get vasectomies or wear condoms not as sinful as homosexuals? Are women that tie their tubes or use contraceptive devices or medications not sinful? Do these people not deserve the same discriminatory treatment as homosexuals?

What about the teenage boy or girl that wakes up after nocturnal emission (wet dreams)? Are they not privy to the same discrimination? Were their orgasms achieved in a manner other than multiplying their seed?

There is a reason why Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor. It is a simple reason, especially if one humbles themselves enough to see it.

We are not pure enough or smart enough to judge and punish sin. That is not the job or responsibility of a Christian. Our responsibility is to witness, to show, and to love. When we attempt to provide God’s judgement on others with whom we disapprove, we do absolutely nothing more than fill ourselves with pride and self-righteousness.

We do not tear people down for who they are. We love them and we build them up. We show them the way. We show them the narrow path. We do not use the power of the state to force the path upon them. Christianity and the values expressed within are a matter of free-will. One can choose to accept it or reject it. The reasons for acceptance or rejection are personal. The decision is between the individual and God, not the individual and you or between the individual and the state.

I am sick, literally sick to my stomach as I write this, because I know it will fall on deaf ears, so to speak.

I am sick of people using my faith, using what I believe to be the standard for love and peace to bring pain and tears and sorrow others.

Please do not try to witness to me. I do not want to hear the same song or see the same dance I have seen and heard to justify bigotry. Those tunes are old and the moves are worn out. They are the same tunes and moves that have been used for generations to justify placing one group of people over another for one reason and one reason alone. Pride. And “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall,” (Proverbs, 16:18 NIV).

I will close with one final question.

What would Jesus do?

I do not know for certain, but can assume through His example of love and acceptance. He would not support these laws, not in the least.

Oh, and do not forget about the unclean language I have used in a place or two within this writing. If you are going to discriminate against homosexuals, then feel free to discriminate against me. Chances are I do not need what you are selling.

Minority Report

I am not sure, but I think this may be my first post concerning a current political issue, other than elections, that is being talked about in the news and my corner of the social/digital universe.

If you live under a rock, or just do not pay attention to news or politics, here is the gist. There are international talks underway concerning the nuclear development program in Iran (I know, right? When aren’t there international talks concerning the nuclear development program in Iran?). The United States, Russia, China, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom are attempting to negotiate a deal with Iran, which is beginning to sound promising.

A little while back the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, came and spoke to the Congress of the United States at the request of House Speaker John Boehner, not the President. Following the speech, freshman senator Tom Cotton wrote an open letter to the  “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” which has, predictably drawn considerable criticism. Just do a google search for “letter to Iran,” and see for yourself.

Having read the letter, and doing my very best to keep my bias removed from this line of thought, I can see where the writer is coming from, and the point he is trying to convey. However (there is always an however), the way the letter is written reeks of condescension. It reads as a mini-lecture on American civics given to middle-schoolers. I cannot comprehend the level of self-importance that the language conveys.

The writer, and those that signed, are members of a collective body whose voice is supposed to be singular. They each are one member and one vote within a body of one-hundred. At best, the body can be interpreted as representatives from 50 individual states. Even then, they are a delegation of two. Yet, one sovereign body it is, as defined by the Constitution, Article I. Forty-seven senators, including the writer, signed the letter that is written on a piece of paper with the letterhead “United States Senate, Washington, DC 20510.”

Trying to look beyond the patronizing language sent to leaders and the head of state of another sovereign nation, there is another level of self-importance over which I cannot get. Forty-seven signatures beneath a letter written beneath a letterhead representing one body made up of one-hundred delegates. Do the math. Forty-seven out of one-hundred is forty-seven percent. That is not a majority. How self-involved does one have to be to believe that what is decidedly less than a majority represents the opinion of a collective body?

Had the senator written this letter under his office’s letterhead, I could understand that. But, by using the letterhead of the United States Senate, he, and the other signers, attempted to use the august body of the Senate to give greater credence to a minority opinion and their individual benefit. Yet, nowhere in his letter does he stipulate that this point of view is of the minority.

I believe it would serve the senator from Arkansas well to have any other open letters he wishes to send to leaders or heads of state written by his communications staffers. Yes, he may very well be representing the interests of his constituents in Arkansas, but when he is attempting to represent the Senate of the United States, he is representing many more people, and, clearly, according to the number of agreeing signatures, the minority in this case.

I do not know if this is the first case of a minority opinion being sent on official United States Senate letterhead to leaders of another nation, but it sure as hell should be the last.

Partisan rhetoric aside, the minority opinion does not represent the opinion of a body that represents the whole country. It would do well for Mr. Cotton and the forty-six other senators that support him, including the two from my state, to remember that. The Senate was not established to represent individual or minority points of view. In the Senate, the majority rules.

Hurry Up and Wait!

Waiting. This is something I am not good at doing. Ask anyone who knows me. I do not do well when it comes to waiting, though, a lot of times I do it to myself. I hate waiting so much that I am obsessive about people waiting on me. Doesn’t make sense? Well, I will get to an arranged meeting spot 10 to 15 minutes early and wait on others just so they do not have to wait on me. No, now that I think about it, that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Regardless of this nonsense, I hate waiting, and, once again, I have done it to myself.

My application for graduate school is due for early review on March 15th. What did I do? I submitted it a little over a week ago. Three weeks early. I submitted my application three weeks before the early review date. What have I done every day since I submitted my application? I have checked the status. I have checked on the status of my application every day. Every. Single. Day.

Like I said, I do not do well when it comes to waiting.

I know exactly where I get that from. A short story…

When my brother and I were growing up, school started at 8, well middle and high school started at 8:15, but the home room call was at 8. Take a guess at what time we got to school every day. Between 7:30 and 7:40/45. See, my dad has to get everywhere early and when he had to be at work by 8, he had to get there well before 8, so that means we got to school early…way early. Did that stop once I got my driver’s license and became responsible for getting my brother and me to school? No. I moved the heavens and earth to get my brother out of the bed and showered so we could leave the house by 7:30 for the 10 minute drive to school.

Did that stop once I moved out of the house? No. With every job I have had, I have shown up at least 10 to 15 minutes early for the shift, well, except for those pesky times of over-sleeping. When I know that I am not going to be at least 10 minutes early, my mind begins to panic. Yes. Panic. My heart rate rises and the dread and fear of being late overcomes any rational thought that could pass through my head. I am always in competition with the clock. When we go on a trip and use the GPS and the GPS tells us that we will arrive by 3:15, I do everything in my power to arrive by 3:00. I guess you could call it an obsession or a compulsion or an obsessive compulsion.

When I went back to school to finish my undergrad, I was the student that was either at the door first, waiting for the previous class to end so I could sit at my desk, or I was the first one in the door of the empty classroom waiting for my other classmates and professor to show up. I was that guy, not because I wanted to impress the professor with my punctuality, but because I needed to do it. I needed to do it. If I was going to be tardy, I would not even go to class. That is how much I hate being late. I would rather chalk up an absence than be late to class.

This drives my need to always be early and adds to my frustration of hating to have to wait, because what happens when I get to class early? I have to wait for it to start. It is a vicious cycle that never, ever ends. It’s like the bad joke that never goes away, or the shitty song that stays in your head and plays over and over and over and over again.

So, I have already checked on the status of my application once today. I will probably do so again after lunch, and at least one more time before I go to bed. Why? Because I am a glutton for punishment, and I cannot wait to see what happens. Now that I think about it, that saying makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Clearly, I can wait, and I hate it.

Normally Acceptable

The other night, I kept thinking and thinking about what I read before going to sleep and that prompted this post. I’m still thinking about it; wondering if there is a way to answer the questions I left at the end. I want to try to answer those questions and investigate this idea of normal, because, well, we all try so hard to individualize ourselves and separate from the herd. In small ways, we are successful. We differentiate ourselves and we give ourselves labels that provide some division, some distance, from others’ identities. However, most of us still remain within the realm of normal.

Why is that?

Why do we seek to be different, even in the most innocuous ways, but, at the same time, we voluntarily stay within the bounds of unwritten rules?

Is it a comfort thing? Is it an issue of stability and security? How do we set the boundaries on what is normal and acceptable when it comes to living out our individuality within a social group? How do we balance the scales between the consistency of normal and the variability of individuality? How do we measure and compare being different with being too different? Where do these unseen boundaries, unwritten rules, and unspoken measures come from?

Those are a lot questions, so maybe you can see why I am so jumbled up. Most of these are issues I think about, and have thought about, for a long time. Even for a group of professed nonconformists to normal rules of greater society, that group has rules that are unwritten and unseen boundaries that are not to be crossed if one wishes to remain a nonconformist. So, even in their nonconformity, there is conformity; there is a standard.

There are some that say screw the rules, let’s all live our own lives, but I believe that to be too simplistic. I do, however, believe that if one tries hard enough, one can find a niche within which to socialize and find a level of comfort, really, in essence, to feel, dare I say, normal, or would it be better to replace normal with accepted?

I am sure there will be more to come concerning this strand of thought. If you have all the answers, or even just one or two, feel free to share them with me and with the few readers that grace these posts with their presence.

The Panopticon, Santa Claus, and Stanley Kubrick

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am reading quite a bit and have begun to delve into the world and theories of Foucault. Currently, I am reading Discipline & Punish and just finished the chapter on the panopticon. There is quite a lot to wrap one’s head around within this chapter, but it is the final question asked that sticks with me, which demonstrates the point being made.

“Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” -Foucault, Discipline & Punish, translated by Alan Sheridan.

I suppose a little background is necessary to understand. Through the book, Foucault illustrates how the physical punishment of the Middle Ages up through the monarchies of the 18th century began to transform, with the thinking of the Enlightenment, into a more subtle form of discipline that focuses less on the body and more on the mind and behavior of the subject being disciplined. That is the gist that I get from it, anyway.

The panopticon is an architectural design that facilitates this relatively new disciplinary form, involving a circular building, hollow in its center with a tower in the middle allowing those being disciplined to be observed at any time and/or all times. The individual cells within the building that holds those being disciplined are able to be viewed at any time by the observer in the tower. However, those in the cells cannot see those who are surveilling them. The “major effect” being “to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent disability that assures the automatic functioning of power.” The tower, not necessarily being occupied at all times (though the observed do not know that), serves to portray an unending process of surveillance and observation.

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The Panopticon Source

Foucault expands on the idea of the theoretical “mechanism” of the panopticon, “it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use,” showing how the separation of those to be observed into individual units and the constant observation performed on, not only convicts in prisons, but also, workers in factories, military service members, students in schools, patients in hospitals, etc. The observing parties, be they prison guards, teachers/professors, military leaders/commanders, job foremen/supervisors, religious leaders, etc… represent the rules and protocols that the observed are expected to follow and work to engrain those rules and protocols into those being observed.

As I ruminated on this, the quote referenced at the top, and this idea as well, “…in order to be exercised, this power has to be given the instrument of permanent, exhaustive, omnipresent surveillance, capable of making all visible, as long as it could itself remain invisible,” I had a thought. Santa Claus. Yep, that was my thought. Santa Claus is the panopticon. Think about it. “He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

So, the idea of the panopticon, or the mechanism, has become a naturally conditioned phenomenon in our society. There is a lot said for the perceived, unending surveillance perpetrated by the government. We wax endlessly concerning the infinite presence of Big Brother. We exclaim from the mountaintops the right to privacy. Yet, for any number of reasons, we allow ourselves to be observed or surveilled in the most intimate of settings in order to feel safe and to know that our society is secure and stable.

Any number of reasons. The primary reason is for stability. Word has it that in order for a society to function, there must be stability. In order to create stability, norms have to be established. In order for norms to be established, there has to be a specific consensus on what is to be considered normal. Once the norms are established, they have to be codified and the norms enforced. Once this happens, norms become rules. In order for the dynamics of power within a group of people to remain stable and unchanging, the rules governing said group must be developed, observed, practiced, and enforced.

What better way is there to enforce societal norms and rules than to teach young children about a man that “knows if you’ve been bad or good,” and if the young children are not good, their behavior will be rewarded negatively; in other words, they will be disciplined. If the children adhere to the rules, they will be rewarded positively with gifts and such. Even though Santa is not there, he is there, and he is always watching, ever vigilant to ensure stability within the group.

We are conditioned for this never-ending observation and surveillance. We accept it, most of the time, without question, because to question is to challenge the authority performing the observation, and challenging authority is to promote instability. Instability provides for the upsetting of the established dynamics of power within a group of people; it is, therefore, frowned upon. So to borrow a title from Stanley Kubrick of a movie that I have never seen, we operate in our society with our “eyes wide shut.” This is something to consider the next time Big Brother is brought up in terms of government surveillance. The government is a visible mechanism of power, and can, therefore, be directly protested. There are powers unseen and unheard that can, and probably should, be scrutinized and protested as well, though it is difficult to protest intangible power. These powers are submitted to voluntarily by most of us with our eyes wide shut, yet, they permeate much deeper than any surveillance the government can perform. Our very souls, our very character is affected by them, and, most of the time, is done so without question because of our conditioning to social stability and the normal that is enforced through them.

That leaves me begging a question or two that I will not answer here. If something is to be considered normal and stable, why does it need rules enforced in order to continue its stability? Doesn’t the necessity for rules negate the very meaning of what is to be normal and what is to be stable?

Getting Over It…

Blah. That’s really all I can say. Have you ever been to the point when a head cold that has completely leveled you has finally started to subside but you still feel like you’ve been hit by a small automobile? That is where I am.

A couple of weeks ago, the sniffles hit me. Last week (pre-Valentine’s Day), it was a full-on head cold that put me completely out of commission. I’ll leave out the gross details such as an ungodly and unending production of mucus, other than to say that I went through every box of tissues in the house and still need more. My senses of taste and smell were nonexistent. I cleaned out a box of generic Advil Cold & Sinus and drained through a bottle of NyQuil singlehandedly. I’ve nearly exhausted the generic vaporub, religiously applying it to nearly any skin surface that will accept it and marinating in the mentholly cloud that enveloped me.

Now, taste has returned, somewhat, and smell has partially made its way back. Food is enjoyable, almost. Just the other day, my better half asked me, as I was applying the sweet smelling vaporub, “when are you going to get better?” I informed her that I AM getting better.  At least now I can SMELL the goodness. I have made it consecutive nights without having to get up to either take more NyQuil or reapply vaporub. Life, it seems, is returning to normal. However…

Unless you have been living under a rock, or in California or Florida or somewhere tropical, you know that it has been as cold as a well-digger’s ass for the past few days. I mean. Cold. I rarely complain about the cold. I actually prefer cooler and colder weather to the sweltering heat of the dog days of Summer. This cold on the other hand, has been, let’s say, ridiculous, and it just so happens that this Arctic cold, this Siberian cold, this whateverthehell cold has coincided with my head cold.

When you have to put on a hooded sweatshirt, a fleece jacket, a wool overcoat and a stocking cap under the hoodie hood just to take the dogs outside to potty, it’s a ridiculous kind of cold. When the poor pups scurry to potty, only to return limping onto the porch and inside because the cold stings their little puppy feet, you know it’s a ridiculous kind of cold. When Buffalonians, Minnesotans and Wisconsinites (Wisconsonians?) point out how cold it is, you know it’s a ridiculous kind of cold.

That kind of cold and the cold that presently lives within my head do not mix. At all. Now the weather is evening out a little. It is a balmy 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside, pretty much heatwave, but I feel just about worthless. Oh, and with the ridiculous cold and my head cold, one of the books that was put on my reading list is an 800 page narrative on the fall of Richard Nixon and the rise of Ronald Reagan and his presidential campaign of 1976. As I have stated before, I am a big fan of politics and political history, but this book, oh my god, this book. This book exhausted every ounce of patience I have when it comes to reading. If you read the news, be it the newspaper or an online source, imagine a news article that rambles on for 800 pages. Don’t get me wrong, the book is chock FULL of information and has extensive notes on source material, but it probably should have been two books, maybe even three. It took all of the reading time i could muster to finish it in just shy of two weeks, and took all of my attention away from other books I am wanting to read. So, take that plus the ridiculous cold plus the cold that stubbornly sticks to my head and you get my current condition.

I am on the mend and looking forward to finishing another book in the next couple of days and cracking into two or three more within the next week. The weather looks to be on the mend, as well, warming into the 30s with some rain tomorrow, then snow flurries/showers in the coming week. It will be a welcome return to normal weather, and I am hoping that the rain tomorrow will moisten things up a little bit. With this cold, any water anywhere in the air is solid, thus leaving everything dry. No amount of chapstick or carmex  or anything can provide relief to my arid lips, and the house feels like a desert, temperature controlled at 65 degrees.

That’s what’s on my mind as I look out the window at the neighbor’s snow covered house, the snow covered hills, and the snow covered yard, and I can smell the homemade tomato sauce on the stove! Here is to the possibility of slightly more positive posts in the near future!

A Change in the System

As I sit here waiting for the snow to start falling again, I’m thinking about this article I just read concerning a certain presidential hopeful. I’m not going to post the article here or talk about the particular hopeful candidate. I think we are all a little tired of campaigning and electoral politics, especially in my home state of North Carolina. We just finished with a very bitter and what seemed like a never-ending campaign season.

Now, I love politics. I do. I especially enjoy studying political history. What I am not a fan of is current electoral politics. Emotions get involved and warp the debate that should be based on reason. Then the shouting and finger pointing start, along with snide and pithy remarks that go on and on and on and on and on. It gets old and boring and accomplishes nothing beyond expanding the commenters’ own ego and hubris. We’re all guilty of it. I know I am, at least, and I admit it. Why is it so damn hard for others to do the same?

Imagine how much more civil the process can be if we set our egos and emotions aside and simply talked to one another concerning our opinions. If we stopped allowing politicians and their ilk to bring our emotions into the varied debates, they would stop. If we turned off our televisions and radios when their emotion provoking advertisements came on, they would stop spending money to have them broadcast. The web ads are more difficult, but are easily ignored, and sometimes can be blocked.

The fact of the matter is that politicians themselves, as well as their biggest supporters, have more than enough ego to push their side of the debate. It is our job, no, our responsibility to take their ego out of the equation and attempt to work the problem out rationally, without the influence of emotion or ego.

Another fact is that a particular political platform is not going to please or benefit everyone. Let’s get real about it. According to the United States Census Bureau, the total population for the United States plus Armed Forces overseas through January 2015 was 320,366,579 people. 320. Million. People. That’s a lot of people to please. A lot. Of people. To please. A lot of personalities to influence. No one person, no one party, no one policy, no one law is going to please or influence them all.

Oh? We are a representative democracy? or a Federal Republic? or a Constitutional Republic? Whatever label you want to put on it? So, it takes a majority to set policy and such, a majority being 50% plus 1. Half of 320,366,579 is 160,183, 289.5. That’s still 160 million people to influence or persuade.

But not all of those 320 million people are eligible to vote. Okay. According to the United States Election Project, the voting age population was at 245,712,915 people for the general election of 2014. Half of that is 122,856,475.5. That’s still a lot of egos to influence. But, only 81,687,059 ballots were cast for the highest office on the ballot. Only two-thirds of those even eligible to vote cared enough to do so.

Though not a presidential election year when more voters go to the polls, these numbers illustrate a couple of possibilities, one of which being apathy. People just do not care. Another is that a lot of folks assume that their congressional representatives will win their seats with little to no contest. The incumbency rate averages safely over 80% for representatives and over 75% for senators, so voters tend to stay home for midterm elections thinking their vote will not sway too much one way or the other.

The last possibility that I will mention here goes along with the first possibility that people just don’t care, and that is voter fatigue. A lot of us are just tired of elections. The election cycle never, ever ends. Campaigning never goes away. It is an endless and vicious cycle, and we are tired of it. l say “we,” because I do not think I am alone in this. I no longer watch the news, and very rarely listen to, or read, it much anymore. Well, I probably read or listen more than the average person, but not anything like I used to do. It’s not news anymore. There is little “new” in the news. It is the same story with different characters and different wording, but the plot never changes. Who wants to keep track of that? And with most news outlets, especially those driven by profit motives, mixing news with opinion and commentary, the news is not news anymore. It is simply an orchestrated pandering for like-minded viewers, readers, and listeners. This pandering is nothing more than free campaign contributions given by a given media outlet to the candidate or political cause of its choice, thus continuing the already endless campaign cycle. What it almost seems like is that there is little governance occurring within our system, giving way to the tiresome cycle of unending campaign pandering and electioneering.

And that brings us back to the emotional and ego driven side of electoral politics and the necessity to go beyond the emotional and reach for the rational, to put aside egos and that intoxicating feeling of being right. We can force a better and more constructive conversation. The office seekers are not going to change the conversation for us. We have to demand it. We have to make it known that we are tired of it. The absolute best way to do so is to stop. Stop contributing to a system that does nothing but indulge your ego. Turn the channel if you watch the 24-hour news cycle. Force media outlets to report news, real news, not opinion or commentary. Use your own thoughts to construct an opinion or frame of mind rather than ruminating on something that someone else has already said. Take your own thoughts and use them when having a constructive dialogue concerning a political issue or official instead of bloviating the same tired talking points that someone else has put together. Doing so can reinvigorate our citizenry and bring about an enjoyment of participating in our primary civic responsibility of self-governance.

We” are the government, not the media or elected officials. Elected officials are supposed to represent our wants and needs. We supplement the ideas and we give the political will. It is not the other way around. The media is not there to shape opinion with commentary, but to report factual information. Hold the media to its responsibility. If you see a program giving commentary, turn the channel and do not go back to it. If you read a news article that provides commentary or opinion presented as fact, go to another website or throw the periodical in the trash.

It can be done. I am as big a political junkie as anyone I have ever met. I watched the 24-hour news cycle like it was a religion. I read the news like I could not get enough of it. I have not watched the news on television in going on three years, maybe longer. I have not consistently read news on a major media website in about the same amount of time. I may click on a link here and there if there is an article that is really newsworthy, but as far as taking one, or even two outlets as the political and civic gospel? No, I do not do it anymore.

Ask your own questions and find your own answers. With such an amazing tool as the internet, it does not take much time to do, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Scrutinize and criticize on your own terms. Stop letting others do it for you. Information feeds knowledge and knowledge is power, real power. Stop letting others dictate what information is important and take it upon yourself to do so.

Do you know what scares those in power most? It is not an armed citizenry, but an educated citizenry that has the ability to process information and use that information for its benefit. Information and knowledge can do more to challenge authority than any other weapon. And that is how you bring about change to a system that desperately needs changing.