Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Does the Nativity Offend You? It Should.

'Nativity' photo (c) 2013, Sharon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
The nativity; so romantic and idyllic, so comfortable and peaceful, so familiar and well-known, like a warm pair of sweat pants we can burrow in to. We see it every year, the shepherds, the wise men, the baby Jesus in the manger.  We know the nativity scene like the back of our hand, so well we could set it up blindfolded. I wonder though, if it’s a bit too familiar to us, a bit too comfortable, a bit too well-known.

Think about it, the baby Jesus, the son of God born in a barn.  We romanticize it a bit.  Truth is it’s not quite as cute and quaint as we make it out to be.  When’s the last time you’ve been in a barn? Chances are the smell was unpleasant to say the least. In all reality, where Jesus was born was most likely in a cave and he was laid to rest in a feed trough—hardly where one would expect to find the son of God to be found on the night of his birth.

We need only to think back to the birth of Prince George, son of Prince William and Duchess Catherine, to imagine the fanfare that should have accompanied the birth of Jesus.  Remember the wall-to-wall media coverage, the international acclaim, and the fanaticism over the royal birth?  If Jesus were to be born today, we would certainly expect his coming to be celebrated in the same manner. Yet, that is the exact opposite of what happened.

Bear Nativity
This is where we need to go back to the historical manger, the feed trough, the smelly cave. We need to strip off the layers of romantic and idyllic images we’ve pictured it to be.  Instead, we need to see the birth of Jesus in a cave for what it really is—unsettling, offensive, shocking even. Rather than being born in a royal palace, in the capital city of Rome, he was born in a backwoods town, far away from the centers of power and influence, amongst a family with so little wealth or persuasion they couldn’t even secure a place to spend the night.

If Jesus were to come today, he wouldn’t come to an influential political family in D.C. or a media mogul in Hollywood. No, if Jesus were to come today, he would come to a migrant family from Mexico, traveling without documentation across the Sonoran desert, looking for work in the United States. If Jesus were born today, he would be born in the desert, left for dead by the coyote, picked up by la migra (the border patrol) and swaddled in an old, worn out blanket, as the family rode in shackles to the border patrol holding cell. If Jesus were born today, his coming would be announced to the minorities of the slums of south central LA, to the drug dealers and prostitutes, to the poor, the homeless, and the forgotten.

It’s a bit offensive isn’t it? A bit shocking perhaps; the thought of the sweet, innocent baby Jesus born amidst such utter poverty—and it’s exactly the context Jesus was born into. Maybe we’ve familiarized ourselves with the nativity so we can forget that we are the ones that need to be shaken up. Forget that we have assimilated with the powerful, that we have aligned ourselves with economic interests that abandon the poor, that we have accepted a world where Jesus born in abject poverty would simply be disregarded as another unplanned pregnancy of a single, unwed, minority female. 

Here in middle class, suburban America, where Christmas and the baby Jesus is comforting and reassuring, this image of Jesus disturbs us. We’re far too comfortable with our image of a white Jesus who looks like us, mirrors our own political and economic values, coddles us in our preconceived notions and ideals about him. Just as we find such an image of Jesus’ birth shocking and unsettling, those reading Luke’s written account would have been similarly offended. 

And that’s the way it should be. If the nativity isn’t offensive and unsettling to us today, perhaps it’s because we are those amidst the halls of power he was seeking to avoid.

So this Christmas, if we think we’ve got God figured out, if we think we’ve got Jesus perfectly idealized, we need to take a fresh look at the nativity. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Why I hate Apple

Apple certainly meets all the criteria by which one would define a highly successful, 21st century company.  Highly profitable, Apple’s products have significant influence in American culture and the company enjoys a cult-like following by some.  One need not be a student of the culture to recognize the impact Apple has in our society.  From Apple retail stores in the mall to the company’s push to put an iPad in every school classroom in the country, Apple is in my view the most influential company in 21st century American consumerist culture—and that’s why I hate Apple.

'Apple' photo (c) 2006, Adrian - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/For me it really goes back to the invention of the iPod, brilliant of course, yet the advent of the iPod would drastically change American culture at large and turn out to be a huge financial boon for the company.  Macs really only had a niche following until the iPod came out.  I’d see one at a friend’s house and stare at it like I was looking at alien technology.  But the iPod changed all that. Rocketing to popularity thanks to its functionality and ease of use, it quickly became the go-to music playing device, seemingly making those MP3 players seem out-of-date overnight.

The other side of the iPod was the impact it—and its music library iTunes—had on the music industry at large.  Remember record stores? They actually existed before the iPod and iTunes.  When’s the last time you actually listened to an entire album?  The impact of iTunes is that “singles” downloads are standard fare and the art of the entire album is lost. And of course, true to Apple, an iPod today is now simply a relic of the past, antiquated by the latest iPhone or iPad. 

Yes, the iPhone, revolutionary as it was—and still is—changed the game forever.  I remember one of the first iPhone commercials in which some guy (perhaps you remember) whined about how pre-iPhone, he had to carry around a phone, a camera, and some third item I can’t remember. But, now with the iPhone, his “burden” was reduced by two-thirds.  This sales gimmick of creating a problem for the consumer that didn’t actually exist then solving it has become a feature of Apple marketing since.

I could list other things about Apple which irritate me, like how a device can only be used with one iTunes account, how Apple purposefully leaves out features only to conveniently include them on the next device (4.0 vs. 4.1), or Apple’s needlessly changing features such as the charging outlet in the iPhone 5 so as to force consumers to go out and buy new accessories.  I could talk about how Apple takes the money it makes off American consumers and stashes it in other countries to avoid paying taxes—taxes which support the public infrastructure and civic society which has allowed companies like Apple to thrive.  I could also highlight the unscrupulous and immoral treatment of workers in overseas countries by Apple contracted manufacturers (and  other companies) like Foxconn.

'The Apple Store in Japan' photo (c) 2010, IvanWalsh.com - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
The temple of the cult
But when it comes right down to it, what I most hate about Apple is the way they promote a culture of mindless consuming, which encourages an unsustainable, ecologically irresponsible usage of earth’s resources, a financially reckless approach to spending, and an ideology that meaning is found not in purposeful actions or personal relationships but in acquiring the latest gizmos and gadgets. 

Perhaps what has made Apple so successful, and what causes my utter hatred, is that Apple represents the purest form of unbridled capitalism. Apple, like no other, has incorporated the tenets of a godless, laissez-faire capitalism; the pursuit of wealth regardless of the costs to others, the utter disregard for community or society, the view of the earth as a resource to be exploited, the exaltation of wealth as a god, and the insistence that meaning and purpose in life can be found by acquiring stuff.  So, in the end, my hatred of Apple is perhaps misguided—and I should rather direct my ire towards global capitalism.

If like me, you believe that meaning is not found in acquiring more stuff, that the earth is a treasure worth preserving, that humans are our sisters and brothers deserving of our care, that we’re all in this together, and that the rejection of wealth is the path to true enlightenment (as most religions teach) I invite us to unite in rejection of a godless, meaningless financial system and strive to live and act in a way that subverts the norms of capitalism.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Congratulations on Winning the Genetic Lottery!


Perhaps you’ve seen the latest pictures online of the lingerie wearing new mom Caroline Berg Erickson who took a “selfie” just four days after supposedly giving birth to her child.  Or maybe you can remember from a few months ago the “what’s your excuse”  “fit mom” Maria Kang who posed with her three young children in skimpy work-out attire to show off her well-toned body. While Erickson has claimed that her picture wasn’t meant to shame women, and Kang has strongly resisted claims of being a bully because of her pictures, I think the message stands out loud and clear. 
'LeBron James' photo (c) 2011, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Perhaps you’ve heard it said that we can be anything we want to be in life. That sounds great and all, but at 5-11/185, I’ve got no shot at making an NBA roster. Some say that anyone can be anything they put their mind to—baloney I say. It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I don’t and won’t ever have the size, strength, or quickness required to compete in a professional sports league like the NBA.  My point is that these two women, who I am sure maintain rigorous physical fitness regimens, are also winners of the genetic lottery.  
LeBron James is an incredible basketball talent who works very hard at his craft. He also happens to be 6-8, 250, built like an ox, and able to jump out of the gym.  LeBron could say all he wants about his “hard work and dedication” getting him to where he is today, but let’s be honest, his “God-given” physicality and talents had a LOT to do with it. Heck, LeBron is such an athletic freak of nature that he has expressed desire to play an NFL game one day, with many thinking that he certainly could compete. NFL stars such as Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham, who played little or no college football, also demonstrate this reality.  So much for “hard work and dedication” being the keys to success.  
Here’s the thing, like the ancient Greeks, our society has given preeminence to those with incredible physical attributes like James and Erickson while conversely critiquing everyone else for not being able to meet those same standards.  It’s basically an aristocracy of physicality.  At least ancient Greece seemingly recognized what they were doing —our society is messed up enough to believe it’s simply “hard work” and “dedication” that gets you a body like Erickson or a jump-shot like LeBron. 
'2013 Boston Marathon' photo (c) 2013, Sonia Su - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here’s a reality check, all humans are not “created” equal—not all have the same gifts, talents, strengths, or abilities. Neither do we all start off with the same basic “tools” to work with.  I am a runner.  I have run a marathon, something 99.5% of the population hasn’t done. I ‘d like to think that makes me pretty special. But here’s the thing, my dad was a very good runner, far better than me in fact. He has qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon 3 times (the top marathon in the country) and ran a hundred mile race! By that standard, my single marathon doesn’t look that fantastic anymore.  I’m not a scientist, but I’d say chances are pretty good that my dad passed along some genes that predisposed me to being good at endurance sports, not to mention passing along an environment and culture of running!
Being I’m a self-proclaimed theologian, I of course recognize a religious dimension to all of this. According to author Luc Ferry,  one of the defining things that separated early Christianity from Greek thought was its insistence on the value of humans no matter their differences or “weaknesses.”  Christianity continues to affirm the intrinsic value of each and every human being as created in the “image of God” (theologians have argued for centuries on what that actually means).   So then, I find it troubling that in a culture that claims to be overwhelmingly “Christian” people are not valued simply by virtue of their humanity but rather by their physical appearance, their earning potential, or their abilities. 
Worse even, our culture shames people for not living up to these impossible standards. I’m sure many women wish they could look like Kang, but they don’t have the same body size, structure, genetics, etc. Or perhaps they don’t have the time or motivation to work out like Kang. Yes, physical health is important, but there are many people who simply find other things to enrich and enhance their lives in other places than the gym.  That’s not a bad thing. There isn’t some eternal law that says we must all have a certain BMI or body fat percentage—our culture defines such. 
What I’m saying is, first of all, be you. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t.  I can’t be LeBron James, and I’d be fooling myself if I thought I could be. Second of all, take care of yourself—however that works for you. We all know the things we should cut back on and we all know the thing we need to do to improve our health. But third, and most important, don’t freak out about it. I’m never going to be an elite runner, to me I’d have to give up too much to make that even a possibility, and despite what Maria Kang might think, all woman aren’t supposed to look like her, and that’s ok. Because you know what? In the end, I think we’re all winners of the genetic lottery! We’re the only us that exists in the world! And when recognize that fact and start truly being ourselves, we’ll be the richest people in the world!
So be you!
Take care of yourself!
Don’t worry about what others think!
 Go us!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

What about the W*r on Thanksgiving?

(Read Here for why I dislike using the word “war” as an adjective for anything other than war.)

'Happy Thanksgiving 2010' photo (c) 2010, Benn Wolfe - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
It’s just about that time of year again! No, not when the holiday decorations go up, or the mall Santa’s come out in full-force; rather it’s that time of year when the so-called “War on Christmas” rhetoric gets drummed up again.  Right on cue, Fox News published a handy little website where readers can upload their own battle accounts of where Christmas is “under attack.” The site also features an interactive map where viewers can see places “challenges to religious freedom” are currently taking place.

Call me crazy, but how is challenging the hegemony of the Christian religion and the pre-eminent Christian holiday aka Christmas an attack on religious liberty?! The so-called “War on Christmas” (if there is such a thing) is nothing else but a push FOR more religious liberty! #ExasperatedFacePalm

Well, in case you missed it amongst the holiday (oops! Christmas décor) (see, I’ve succumb to the battle) decorations up in stores, the commercials about shopping lists, and the ads for stores opening the day before Black Friday (previously known as “Thanksgiving”). This coming Thursday is in fact, Thanksgiving! Yes, the holiday does still exist!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and still has all the values long-since abandoned by Christmas.  You know things like thankfulness, friends and family, and food.  In fact, I’d say Thanksgiving is what Christmas used to be before we allowed it to be completely commercialized.  And poor Thanksgiving, now it’s simply just a day off to “carbo-load” like a marathon runner before the rush of Black Friday. Heck, stores like Wal-Mart are trying to make it just another day to go shopping (and just another work day for their employees).

'Bondi Junction Shopping Mall' photo (c) 2005, Charlie Brewer - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Is the mall where you will be this coming Friday?
Forgive me if I find it just a BIT hypocritical that many of the same folks crying about “Christ” being taken out of “Christmas” are all too willing to get up at 3-4-5am to hit the stores for the deals.  These same folks who cry about the “War on Christmas” yet then go shopping on Black Friday—or God forbid Thursday—are complicit (i.e. guilty) for perpetuating that very “war.” There’s nothing more hypocritical than going out and shopping for new stuff the day after expressing thanks for what you already have! Anyone who claims to support “family values” should value families enough to not make them work on a holiday or 4am the day after! (If you go shopping, you’re doing that!)

If you really want to end the “War on Christmas,” truly celebrate Thanksgiving.  For starters, don’t go shopping on Thanksgiving weekend—or if you must—only shop on “Small Business Saturday.” You might try volunteering at a local outreach meal or giving money or food to an organization putting on a meal like the Denver Rescue Mission or (my dad’s church) East Denver BBC. If you wanted to get down-right Biblical, you could even invite over a less-fortunate family if you wanted to really be like Jesus.

 At the very least this Thanksgiving, take some time and value your family, your friends, those you love and love you.  Take stock of how fortunate you are, how much you have been blessed (by God, by circumstance, by friends, by chance—just be thankful). The best thing you can do to combat the “War on Christmas” is to really celebrate Thanksgiving—and that means truly being thankful for all that we have in life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Peace—at the point of a gun?

Perhaps you’ve seen this new version of a “coexist” bumper sticker. If you can’t make it out from the picture, the letters that spell out the word “coexist” are gun manufacturers.  It’s a different “coexist” entirely, and I must say, fairly clever. 
Being that I’m a person who over-thinks things like this, when I first saw this my mind immediately went to the apparent contradiction between gun manufacturers and the word “coexist.”  In fairness, to those sporting the sticker, the two go hand in hand—violence is rebuffed by the threat of violence.  Or, to simplify as NRA executive VP Wayne LaPierre (in)famously said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." If you’re not following, LaPierre, and folks who align with him believe that peace is ultimately achieved through violence—or at least the threat of it.

Coming from a Christian perspective, I find such ideology extremely troubling, for I remember the texts from the Hebrew Scriptures which speak of a vision of peace without violence, where weapons of war are no longer necessary and methods of war no longer need to be taught. Consider the words of the prophet Isaiah:

Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
   to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
   and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 
He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.

The prophet Micah also repeats this same vision, of a day in time where people follow the ways of God, a way of peace, not violence.

He shall judge between many peoples,
   and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more;

Say what you want, but the biblical vision of peace is not one where we stockpile weapons or rely on the threat of force. A biblical vision of peace is that where our weapons of war are melted down into farming tools—specifically—where humans stop investing into things that destroy life but rather into that which engenders life.
Consider for a moment the United States, where more than half of discretionary spending goes towards “national defense.”  Even considering the entire federal budget, the US spends as much money on harming people as it does on healing people (military vs. Medicaid/care). So For being a “Christian nation” the US is hardly following after the biblical vision.

 America is 12 plus years into a seemingly endless “war on terror;” a war which President Obama has disappointingly continued on through drone strikes and other covert military actions.  The question begs, are we any safer? Or, more specifically, are there less people in the world who want to do harm to America?
The answer to that is clearly “NO,” as reports have details, drone strikes and similar measures only further anger and radicalize. One U.S. official estimated that for every “terrorist” killed by a drone strike, 40-60 new enemies are created.  Even sixteen-year-old Pakistani women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai told President Obama that drone strikes are doing more harm than good for the cause of “peace.”

Any overview of American foreign policy should reveal that America has seemingly followed after the vision of “Pax Romana” or the “Peace of Rome” which was achieved through violent military defeat and continued subjugation and oppression of all dissidents.    Such peace via the sword was one of the main critiques of the apocalyptic book of Revelation in the Bible (despite what some crazy rapture “theologians” would have you believe).  The problem with an illegitimate and unfaithful interpretation of Revelation as “rapture theology” is that it presents God as righting the world via a giant blood-bath.  Such an interpretation lends credence to the ideal that peace can be achieved through violence. Such an interpretation is wholly inaccurate.
Whether it be on a national level in regards to foreign policy, or on a personal level,  I find it very hard for anyone to square a profession of Christian faith with the belief that peace is achieved through violence—or the threat thereof.   The biblical vision of peace is not achieved through military might or violent divine intervention, but rather faithfully following after the ways of God—which begins by truly loving one’s neighbor as yourself—not threatening them with violence.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Bible: The real horror of Halloween

Ah, it’s that time of year again when the leaves are falling, the mornings are brisk, the baseball season is finishing up, and churches are celebrating Halloweerrr no… they’re celebrating the autumn season with “Harvest Festivals” and “Trunk or Treats” all coincidentally coordinating with that other big holiday of the season—Halloween.

'Monroe Lodge 27 Trunk Or Treat (2 of 18)' photo (c) 2013, Ricky Cain - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Halloween is one of those weird cultural holidays that conservative Christians have had a sort of love-hate relationship with for some time. There is a group that says that Halloween stems from a pagan holiday and is all about worshipping evil and therefore should be avoided all together. Some are uncomfortable with the holiday in itself but take advantage of the tradition of kids and candy by sponsoring “harvest festivals” and such. A third approach that has seemingly become the thing to do is the so-called “trunk or treat” where church members decorate their trunks, then line the church parking lot, creating a gauntlet of candy for the un-churched neighborhood kids to descend upon en-mass.

“Trunk or Treat” has the added benefit of attracting neighbors to the church without them actually having to make the intimidating walk into the church. Out in the parking lot, it’s a lot easier to avoid the overzealous proselytizer with all the open space—pews and doors make for a veritable maze when trying to steer clear of the old timers who look at young families like a tiger drooling over red meat.

Yet, even within the brilliance of the “trunk or treat” lies a dilemma, namely, how should the trunks be decorated? Since most churches are trying so hard to avoid the ghosts and goblins culture of Halloween, many “trunk or treats” mandate that all decorating be biblically themed. What’s comical about this is that in trying to “sanitize” Halloween and make it more kid-friendly, most trunks reveal some of the most horrific, gruesome tales in the Bible.

'Horfield church at night' photo (c) 2006, Rob Brewer - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/What’s horrifying about a Bible story themed “trunk or treat?” How about a man getting his head cut off (David and Goliath)? Or, there’s three men being burned alive (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). There’s of course the story of a deity approving a genocidal slaughter of an entire city (Jericho). There’s the story of a young woman forced into marrying and old perverted king (Esther). There’s the story of an entire army suffering an agonizing death by drowning (Pharoah’s army). There’s of course the story of a man getting eaten by a whale (Jonah). And lest we forget, the story of God murdering the entire human population save eight (the Flood). Anyone with any biblical knowledge will recognize what’s meant to be a G-rated, kid friendly event is instead something far more gruesome and terrifying. What we find in these biblical stories and others like them would turn the stomachs of most horror movie aficionados. Forget watching the latest installment of SAW or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, just read a Bible.

This is the problem of a Christianity that tries to white-wash scripture, that tries to sell this book as “the Word of God, inerrant and inspired.” What ends up happening is that same Christianity finds itself defending a book full of rape, incest, adultery, torture, and murder. The story of Noah and the flood is wonderful if you forget about the people murdered by God. It’s fun to read of the battlefield successes of the Israelite army if you disregard the brutal killing of women and children. Ironically, that Christianized Halloween “trunk or treat” looks pretty sick and twisted in the end.

'2002-32-1 Bible, Sunday School Teachers Edition' photo (c) 1980, Naval History & Heritage Command - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here’s the thing. Those are just stories. They are not divinely inspired, they are not sent down from heaven. The Bible is full of stories written by people trying to make sense of their human experience and the divine. The Bible is also full of stories about groups seeking to justify their own beliefs, of overzealous proselytizers trying to prove that a rigid purity is what God desires. The Bible is also full of humans telling their fellow humans to care for the poor, the foreigners, and the outcasts. This mishmash of stories is what the Bible is and we’ve got to accept it for what it is—a book written by humans trying to make sense of their human experience and their encounter with the divine. I take the Bible seriously not because it is “inspired” or “the Word of God,” but because it recounts the struggle of humans throughout the ages trying to make sense of this experience we call life and trying to find meaning beyond it in what we have labeled “God.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Robin Thicke: the dirty bastard who needs glasses

'Blurred Lines' photo (c) 2013, Pat David - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
= deuchbag
Surely everyone has seen by now the video of the infamous Miley Cyrus “twerking” performance at the VMA awards.  I’m not going to link it here because I don’t want to give it anymore air time then it’s already gotten. That being said, “co-conspirator” Robin Thicke recently did a sit-down interview with Oprah that will air October 13 on her own OWN network. In some of the snippets released, he pleads ignorance as to the events that took place on stage that night.

In the interview, according to Huffington Post, when Oprah questions Thicke as to his level of participation in the action, he responds that “I'm singing my butt off so I'm sitting there, I'm looking up at the sky, and I'm not really paying attention to all that," Thicke says. "That's on her.” First, I thought the events took place indoors, and second, he’s basically claiming to be an innocent bystander in the whole event. But wait, it gets worse.

 If that wasn’t enough, he claims that not only did he not know what was happening, the act itself was non-consensual.  "People ask me, 'Do you twerk?' I go, 'Listen, I'm the twerkee,'" he continues, laughing. "I'm twerked upon. I don't twerk myself, OK? I'm just twerked upon." Poor guy. Clearly he’s the victim here. Excuse me while I throw up.

'Blurred Lines Robin Thicke Sang Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing In 2012' photo (c) 2013, Zennie Abraham - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Add caption
Thicke has escaped nearly unscathed from criticism after the events of that night while Miley Cyrus has faced near-universal condemnation. Not that I would judge Miley’s actions as commendable in any respect, but I’m pretty sick of Thicke playing coy in all this, like he had nothing to do with it and was just the poor, faithfully married man being twerked upon.  Yeah, I imagine it’s just like in his R-rated music video for Blurred Lines in which topless women prance around while he sings about pressuring uncertain young women into sexual activity. As one writer has said, “the sex being sold in this song is not inspiring, egalitarian or sensual like sex should be, but narrow and non-consensual. What this song promotes is an extremely constricted view of women’s sexuality defined entirely by the male singer.” Thicke is hardly the innocent “twerkee” he portrays himself to be and rather seems more a perverted sex addict who *conveniently* blames someone else.

This just goes back to the whole rape culture here in America, where unwanted sexual advances by a guy were seemingly the result of him being “led on” by the female.  Guys in this country have got to stop viewing women as objects and as willing recipients of whatever sexual advances they so desire; in other words, the sort of behavior which Thicke advocates in his own song.

There’s a story breaking just today about a young woman in Missouri who was allegedly raped, with the local police having what they felt was a “case that would ‘absolutely’ result in prosecutions.”  Conveniently, the young man accused got let off the hook without even a trial while the young woman and her family were run out of town. Worse, parents of the accused think “Our boys deserve an apology, and they haven’t gotten it yet.” Do those words ring a bell?

Does Thicke wear contacts? Because it seems like he’s gotten a vision problem. Perhaps someone should get him some glasses, so he could see that those “blurred lines” aren’t really as fuzzy as he thinks them to be. His hypocritical words and actions are absolutely the wrong message of our society and simply contribute to the so-called “slut-shaming” and blame-the-victim mentality which so disgustingly pervades our society of which Thicke represents the most vile, reprehensible, dirt-bag of all.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What if you had to live with your trash?

A few months back I watch the documentary Garbage: The Revolution Starts at Home. In the film, one family decides to store up all their garbage for three months just to see how much stuff they throw out.  After the 3 months and their garage filled with their garbage and recycling, the point is made that our consumer economy produces a huge excess of trash.  In case you haven’t figured it out for yourself, the average American produces tons of garbage!
'Evil blue horse of doom. Weird public art choice for airport.' photo (c) 2011, Amy Gahran - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
If you’ve ever flown into Denver, along with seeing the creepy blue horse, you’ve probably seen the pyramid-shaped landfill just east of the airport on Pená Boulevard.  Yep, that’s where some of the trash from this thriving metropolis goes after getting tossed into the trash can, loaded into big trucks, and hauled away, out of sight and out of mind—unless one happens to drive to DIA. 

This is sort of a problem in our society. We can just get rid of stuff conveniently, without ever having to think about the consequences. Now sure, is it better than the Middle Ages where trash and sewage just was tossed in the middle of the street, allowing disease and sickness to run rampant? Of course. But is there perhaps still a better way? I think so—it’s called recycling.

I work for a retailer of composite decking, and we throw a lot of stuff away. I mean A LOT.  Since it’s the slow season and I’m often bored at work, I decided to calculate just how much trash my company has thrown away—and what that might actually look like.  The warehouse I work in is 148’ x 300’ x 19’ approximately—roughly the size of a football field minus the end zones. I asked some of my co-workers, and they approximated that we fill an average of 4 dumpsters of trash each week.  The warehouse is approximately 843,600 ft³ with the dumpster about 83ft³.  So, based on 4 dumpster loads a week for 52 weeks that’s about 17,000 cubic feet of trash a year. If one were to pile up all the trash from the time the business has been open, it would fill nearly one-quarter of the warehouse!  Imagine a pile of trash 19 feet high, to the 25 yard line on a football field!

It's a BIG building!
VERY spacious inside!
Now, one might say, that’s a business in the construction industry and therefore goes through a lot of materials.  I think we’d be surprised by the amount the average household produces in a year as well. I have a trash container which is approximately 24” x 27” x 42” which is emptied once a week.  That container can hold about 15 cubic feet of trash.  If I fill that up every week, which thankfully I don’t because I recycle, that add up to 818 cubic feet of trash!   Two years of trash would completely fill my rather spacious 12’ x 16’ x 8’ bedroom!
'Trash Recycling with Disposal Containers' photo (c) 2011, epSos .de - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Our leaders talk a lot about what kind of world we want to leave our children and grandchildren. Do we really want to leave them a world with huge trash piles everywhere?  There’s much we can do to limit our waste: recycle things like metal, paper, plastic, plastic bags, etc. We can compost our organic waste such as food (Americans throw nearly 40% of food away yearly!) And we could always—GASP!—stop running out and buying stuff we’re eventually just going to throw away. Life is more than just stuff. What matters is our relationships. We can’t take anything with us when we die, so rather than spending all your money on stuff that’s just going to end up in a landfill most likely after you die, invest your time and money in those you love.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Why Ayn Rand has EVERYTHING to do with the Government shutdown

'US Capital' photo (c) 2013, Ed Schipul - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The United States Government is now past day 4 of what will most likely be a long government shutdown. Basically, the government
can’t spend money without congressional approval, therefore, with no money to spend, the government can’t continue to be open for business as usual.  The GOP controlled House (or more specifically the influential Tea Party representatives) sees this as an opportunity to “bargain” with President Obama and the Democrat controlled Senate.  The House has decided they will only fund the government if all or part of the President’s landmark health legislation is de-funded. Being that Obama has no intention of decimating his only substantive legislative achievement as President, and the Tea Party Republicans are likely to face basically zero consequences from their gerrymandered deep red districts, the lines are set and we could be in for a long slog.

On a related note, I recently finished reading Ayn Rand’s influential novel Atlas Shrugged.  With over 1,000 pages it took me about a month to finish. Though Rand certainly had skill as a novelist, Shrugged is terribly long winded, creates a “straw man” of epic proportions, and is a caricature to end all caricatures. So what does Ayn Rand have to do with the government shutdown? Well, basically everything.

One must first understand that Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” as so illustrated in Atlas Shrugged has become the intellectual foundation of the Republican economic policy—especially of the Tea Party wing—with GOP big shots and Tea Party favorites Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz endorsing her ideology. Where this gets especially problematic is that fact that the Tea Party is also a de-facto evangelical Christian movement. This unholy matrimony of conservative Christians and Rand’s Objectivism began after her death as her ideology became separate from the controversial character she herself was. So, basically what we have here is conservative Christians proudly proclaiming the ideology of an avowed atheist. If you find this peculiar you are not alone.

'Ayn Rand FU' photo (c) 2010, monkey_bob99x - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
I don't like expletives, except where appropriate.
Family Research Council Rep Ken Blackwell demonstrates this dissonance well when he said that “there was ‘nothing more Christian’ than ‘not locking people into a permanent dependency on government handouts, but making sure they are participants in their own upliftment and empowerment so that they in fact through the dignity of work and can break from the plantation of big government.’” If only he was alone in his ideas.  More troubling is the trickle-down effect these ideas have had, with one Baptist pastor and seminary student telling me in an online conversation that the answer to our problems is “to have the freedom to create something for ourselves, our children and others around us, and it is within the system of free market capitalism.” He also chided me for decrying the rich as “these are the very people you are asking to do something for you” and “have been capable enough to parlay their talents…into wealth.” This is CLASSIC Ayn Rand.

What’s really frightening is that fact they these two people—both conservative Christians—are completely oblivious to this.  Folks who claim Christianity as their religion care more about following the teaching of an atheist Russian immigrant than the teachings of a man who they themselves claim to be the very Son of God.  As Jim Wallis has said, what’s happening is that people’s politics is driving their theology rather than their theology driving their politics. This entire government shutdown is based on the ideas of an atheist.

I could list quote after quote demonstrating the unbiblical ideas strewn throughout Rand’s work. I could list out her blatant mocking of God and Christianity. I could demonstrate Rand’s utter disregard for human life. Instead, I will simply quote the iconic line from her book; “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” No matter the denomination or affiliation one is from, any Christian should recognize such as utterly un-Christian. 

As an ordained minister and as someone holding an advanced theology degree, I could proceed to quote verse after verse which contradicts such an ideology. I could delve into church history and demonstrate how the theme of undeserved grace from a benevolent God has been central to Christianity throughout the centuries. Instead, I will simply let the scriptures speak for themselves.   Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13 KJV).” One of these two is not like the other.

The philosophy being spewed from the mouths of many conservative politicians these days is nothing short of heresy. Further, the ignorant repetition of such viewpoints represents a biblical ineptitude downright shocking.  Those who cling to their Bibles most dearly have no clue as to what it actually teaches. What’s a biblical attitude toward government? Cue Jim Wallis:

The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good — protect and promote. Government is meant to protect its people’s safety, security, and peace, and promote the common good of a society — and even collect taxes for those purposes. Read Romans 13 by the apostle Paul and other similar texts. The scriptures also make it clear that governmental authority is responsible for fairness and justice and particularly responsible for protecting the poor and vulnerable. Read Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the book of Kings to see that God will judge kings and rulers (governments) for how they treat the poor. And it wasn’t just the kings of Israel who were held accountable for the poor, but also the kings of neighboring countries — all governments. That’s what the Bible says.

Please save your critiques about how brilliant Rand’s system is. The point isn’t to bash Rand—though I did find it quite odd that she spends so little time in Shrugged painting a picture of what the world would look like if her theory was in place. I’d be glad to have the debate about whether or not Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is actually a worthwhile economic theory—just don’t dare try to neatly wrap her atheistic ideals into a Christian worldview and then try and tell me you believe in the Bible, because you don’t.



Saturday, September 21, 2013

Forget Alien Invaders, we need to save the earth from ourselves.

'Alien Invaders' photo (c) 2008, Shawn Rossi - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Last weekend I watched a sci-fi alien invasion movie. I won’t tell which one so as not to spoil it for anyone who still wants to see it. In this movie, like so many other movies, the aliens were sucking down earth’s resources. Aliens had invaded the planet earth and nearly destroyed humankind in order to harvest earth’s natural resources. Though I’m not a huge fan of the sci-fi alien invasion movie genre, it seems nearly every movie involves aliens invading earth to mine earth’s resources (Independence Day, Battle: Los Angeles, Oblivion, etc…). Funny thing; in reality, I would say the real threat to earth isn’t from some alien invasion but rather from humans ourselves.

 Recently the Kansas City Star reported that the Ogallala Aquifer, “A vast underground lake beneath western Kansas and parts of seven other states could be mostly depleted by 2060, turning productive farmland back to semi-arid ground.” Citing the same study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Washington Post reports that drought conditions and thirsty crops have been causing farmers to pump ever-more water from the aquifer at a rate which will not be able to be replenished for perhaps thousands of years. If farmers in the Midwest don’t begin taking drastic measures, their grandchildren might be living in a true “Great American Desert.”

The problems of water over-usage are not limited to the Midwest either. The Colorado River, the most endangered waterway in America and the most litigated river on the planet, will most likely face water shortages in the near future. It was recently reported that the water delivery from the Colorado River will most likely have to be cut by 2016, and with the Colorado River Basin serving roughly 40 million people, a number expected to double by 2060, the future looks very dry. Not only is providing water for households and farmers an issue, but lower levels on the river will cause problems for southwest cities which survive off the hydro-electric power produced by massive dams on the river.

I could go on, citing other stories about over-mining the earth, over-taxing its limited resources, over-harvesting the planet we call home, but I think this makes the point. If the only reasons aliens would invade planet earth is to exploit its natural resources, then I think we’ve got nothing to worry about, because we humans are doing a good enough job of that ourselves.  As an Op-Ed columnist wrote, we’ve got to save (the earth) from us. Sustainability and thinking green have become buzz words over the last decade, and for good reason.  Humanity cannot continue to live at its present rate of consumption indefinitely into the future. The earth cannot sustain it. 

'Earth - Global Elevation Model with Satellite Imagery' photo (c) 2012, Kevin Gill - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Throttling back our consumption is particularly unpopular in America amongst the big-business capitalists, who have thrived off of humans consuming as much as possible, while also getting to those raw materials to create such as goods as cheaply and irresponsibly as possible.  America basically lives with the idea that there will always be “more,” which  I think this has been part of the national psyche since the early settlers, when the rationale was of “Manifest Destiny” and a wide open wild west, ready to be conquered. I find it particularly troublesome when politicians speak of leaving our children and grandchildren with massive debt yet show no concern regarding the earth with which we will leave them to live on.
Whether the earth runs out of resources first or rather our reckless pursuit of resources ruins vast sections of earth to the point of it being uninhabitable, the future looks very bleak if we as humans do not change our level of consumption. Sustainability is not a dirty word, it’s just about living within our means, being reasonable, and trying to leave our children and grandchildren a safe, healthy world to live