Friday, February 25, 2011

THE SEXY EVANGELIST



One morning I came across a sexy-looking evangelist working her audience on TV. I had been channel surfing to find COURT TV, but this particularly painted character resolutely standing by her pulpit and looking thoroughly disgusted with her flock momentarily caught my eye. 


“God will NOT make you do what you DON'T want to do," she emphasized the negatives. I was a little disappointed. I thought she was going to do something crazy.


"He will simply find someone else to do it.” Now I was really disappointed at this anticlimactic statement. 


But the hubris of her frosted hair and botoxed cheeks fascinated me. The cameraman zoomed in on a few sexy people here and there in the audience who evidenced agreement with her by the vigorous bobbing of their heads. Encouraged, her voice crescendoed to an uncomfortably high-pitched vibrato that betrayed her seniority. 


Via a number of highly suspicious narratives, she developed the scant connection between faith and a fat, financial portfolio. The more she castigated the crowd, the more agreeable they seemed to become. I watched a select few of the sexy people become animated and verbose at the prospect of an impotent God who exhibits the divine traits of omnipining and omniwhining. 

Of course, He is "still in control" despite his inability to have His will be done on earth as it already is in Heaven, she assured her transfixed crowd with an insistent fist-pound on the podium. I waited, but she did not further address this oxymoronic claim (as it was not her point). She was ad libing the script, too far from her notes, and too moved by the Spirit to employ the rational part of her brain to draw any reasonable conclusion anybody could logically follow. Her line of reasoning was not only classically heretical but entertaining in a humorous sort of way, like watching Michael Scott of THE OFFICE redeveloping policy on the spot. 


"God owns the cattle on a thousand hills!" She said this accusingly, sweeping her finger across the audience as if she detected the slightest pulse of faithlessness, probably emanating from the unsexy lowlifes in the crowd (It might as well have been her middle finger). 


"How DARE you think that God Almighty cannot take care of you!" 

Reaching back into the recesses of my religious education, I recalled that of all that can be said of God that God is willful sums the whole. As I understand it, God does the things He does because He wants to do them and not because He has to do them. 


So when God created the rhino, did God create the rhino with a walnut-sized brain because He had to create that size of a brain in order to limit the havoc the rhino could wreak had it a larger-sized brain? If so, then the rhino has to be “God” in the way we mean “God” to be. The tenuous will of the rhino would have altered the will of "God" which would make "God" a nonsense word like the word snerheryyrting (I turned it into a nonsense verb). 

When God created the rhino, surely God gave the rhino distinctive horns and hooves because God wanted the rhino to have those distinctive horns and hooves and not because the rhino had to have those particular horns and hooves. The point, I am sure, is not that the rhino is a rhino but that God created the rhino the way that He created it because He wanted to create the rhino the way that He created it and not because He had to create the rhino the way that He created it.

Surely the evangelist must at least intuitively know this to be true, but she is so far from her notes that she has fallen into a quagmire of fallacious poetry, interjecting her sagging (non-botoxed) line of reasoning with romantic platitudes like "God will have His way!" or "Jehovah-jireh!" or "Nothing is impossible with God!" Little bursts of inspirational silliness. 


At least none of it makes immediate sense to me, so my curiosity has deflated. I critically survey her outfit. Her porcelain smooth face is certainly layered. Her thin lips have a puckered look by the overlap of her red lipstick. She's wearing a pants suit designed to hide her wide hips, but it's not working. And the botox is not working. But the frosted hair looks hot.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

HOW AN ENGLISH MARKET DAY TURNED POLITICAL


Thursday was market in England, an event in which concrete wastelands and empty fields were magically transformed into an aggressively bustling outdoor mall with hundreds of vendors peddling an unthematic combination of cheap plastic, cheap artwork, shiny metals, cheap electronics and, otherwise, authentically ethnic wares. 


There were also the butchers who fell within the food vending category, walking around in their blood-soaked aprons, arranging fish frozen in various states of agony, chickens, pheasants and rabbits strung up by the feet in neat little rows by order of size, the sickeningly sweet smell of game and blood I then associated with Sunday dinner. 


There were also the fast food vendors who mostly sold food much of which I never developed a taste during the four years I lived in the Commonwealth. I enjoyed the fish & chips generously sprinked with salt and sopped with vinegar and wrapped in yesterday's news. I also enjoyed the batter-fried rock (eel). I was too queasy to enjoy the blood pudding, and I was a baby when it came to unsugared custard which crowned many an English pudding.


Tarik was a giant Arab with each fist the size of my head. He accosted me at the Carterton market in 1985. He was peddling batteries, thousands of them. I had never seen so many batteries at one time in my life, so I stopped. I had been walking up and down the makeshift aisles with five or so British pounds in my pocket, looking for something gaudy to buy.


"You American?"


We American kids, living in foreign countries, did not always follow military protocol when asked by strangers to reveal our national identity. We thought that identifying ourselves as American was a sure sign of immunity: you would be given attention, you could get free food, you were a credible source of all things American whether or not you knew anything about it. 


People who once gave you blank stars of indifference would all of a sudden perk up with curiousity when they found out you were American. Better yet, tell them what state you were from, and they were all the more curious. My state, Florida, made people sick with jealousy, I suppose, because they envisioned sprawling beaches of white sand and sexy people throwing back their heads in laughter with nary a care in the world like they do in American commercials, dramatically downing Cokes in their short-shorts and scant bikinis.


"Yes, sir. I'm American."


Tarik looked me up and down. Like a mean girl.


"You healthy."


It was a statement and an accusation. I had the uncanny ability to do 50 push-ups by age 13. I was doing about 150 or so each day to bulk up my scarecrow frame which did nothing but make be a wiry scarecrow. I eagerly told him about my exercise routine, how I did curls for my biceps, lifts for my forearms, sit-ups for my abs. He seemed captivated by my enthusiasm for a moment. 


I didn't notice that a boy entered our circle until Tarik interrupted me to introduce him. The boy, an Arab, too, looked me up and down, but in admiration.


"Cor! 'Owd you get those veins on your arms, mate?" 


He was fascinated with my scant build. I relaunched into my exercise regimen.


"Oy don't 'ave weights." He cut me off.


"That's fine. I don't either. I use a gym bag full of large rocks that I found in my yard." I encouraged him.


"Wha' about batteries?" He asked hopefully.


I was doubtful about the batteries, but Tarik insisted that I demonstrate what a "curl" was. He ordered another Arab to get a shopping bag full of A-batteries. He handed me the bag and I demonstrated the bicep curl. The boy tried it. I pitied him as his boney arm pumped up and down. 


He was unhealthily thin, but, being optimistic, I corrected his curl and told him he should use more batteries if the resistance wasn't enough. I told him that he would look like me in three weeks or so if he kept it up. He enthusiastically thanked me. Tarik, puffing at a cigarette, had slipped into a contemplative but rude stare.


" 'Ow old are you?" He demanded.


"Thirteen." I said.


"You know 'ow old 'e is?" He jabbed his fat finger at the boy. "Fif'een! And look at 'im! 'Es skinny! Look at you! You healthy! It's all your American food!"


At that point I should have realized the conversation was over, at least from my side. I was not sure how we got from a life-changing workout routine to an indictment about my very skinny body type versus the boy's very-very skinny body type. I tried to babble my way through a list of foods I ate, making sure that it was full of non-American foods like beans and rice (which it was because my parents often went grocery shopping at the English supermarkets). 


Oh, but he wasn't through. He went on: American THIS and Ronald Reagan THAT. It dawned on me that I was about to get the political dress-down the American military had so thoroughly schooled us to avoid. I discreetly extricated myself, moving down the aisle until I could no longer hear Tarik's angry castigation.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

WAR, HUNGER GAMES & REALITY TV ANXIETY



In November 2004 my brother along with thousands of other Marines, soldiers, and military personnel breached the city of Fallujah, Iraq. He called us on average of once a month, but we were able to follow the exploits of his battalion by the news. In addition to being unable to shower for several weeks and having to sleep in a sitting position for the same amount of time, he recounted to us with cheerful resolution that he was probably not going to return in one piece or at all.


Upon returning stateside in the Spring, he was able to fill us in on little vignettes of terror that dominated his battlefield concerns like the total lack of evidence of enemy casualties in pitched battles where they watched the enemy go down. Or insurgents trained in the agile art of Parkour (an art-form which, incidentally, ended up being the 2004 Internet sensation), scaling fifteen-foot+ walls with ease. Or belligerents, hyped up on heroin and sustaining multiple, gangrenous wounds (including sniper shots to the head) laughing maniacally while being taken into custody.  

Many accounts like these have been told, illustrating the abnormal bent the mind must take to survive out-of-the-ordinary situations. One cannot argue that a "bending'' of normal societal protocol must occur deep within the soul of the warrior if he is to fulfill his or she her part in the overarching objective. It has been ascertained that Viking wars lasted no more than fifteen minutes once opposing sides made contact. Biblical battles, I am certain, were some of the shortest wars, precisely because the "Black Flag" (No prisoners. Total destruction) was given precedence.


Solzhenitsyn says that "A person who is not inwardly prepared for the use of violence against him[self] is always weaker than the person committing the violence" (Gulag Archipelago). Surely, a legitimately aggressive and deceptive state of mind is fitting for combat personnel that might not be unacceptable for the rest of us.

In On Killing (The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society), Lt. Col. Dave Grossman says that only 2% of American military personnel actually enjoy killing and that many of those could be ranked amongst the psychologically imbalanced. Sun Tzu says "To capture the enemy's army is better than to destroy it", and elsewhere, "The reason troops slay the enemy is because they are enraged." (Art of War). The reality is that humans have a natural revulsion towards taking the life of a fellow human being, enemy or not.


Thousands of soldiers, marines, airmen, and others have done their share of taking lives, but that happens largely within the constraints of and according to the strictures of the objective. The objective is paramount and dictates the extent of harm done. That is very different than taking life for personally motivated reasons or for personal gain, though, indeed, war is personal for each participant.

In combat all actions and resources serve the attainment of the objective. Even normal bodily functions like eating, sleeping, and hygiene. Though the objective can be closed upon in increments and by missions, it cannot be secured unless certain criteria are met, insuring the verifiable completion of the objective. All effort is funneled, all resources contribute towards, and all machines are attuned to victory. 


With military combat the terror comes at the beginning. The discomfort, the writing of wills, the prayers, the shakes, the hyperventilating is all preparatory to the incremental steeling of blood and stubbornness of resolve with the culmination of joy, agitation, exhaustion and relief at the accomplishment of the objective.

Reality TV anxiety is very different than combat anxiety. In Reality TV each contestant begins the game having theoretically secured the objective. He now needs to play the game in order not to lose it. In The Bachelor all 30 women are already married to Brad: they just need to be the only one to survive the game. In Deal or No Deal Howie has already given each opponent one million dollars: each just needs to hazard correct guesses in order not to lose it. In Hell's Kitchen, Chef Ramsey has already given 250K and the job title to each person: each just needs to not lose them by making stupid choices. 


In Reality TV optimism, enthusiasm, and excitement come at the beginning, significantly diminishing with each elimination round, and finally culminating with disappointment for most and relief for one: relief that it is over and the nascent realization that you didn't really have to do everything you did in the first place.

I think Suzzane Collins has it right in her Hunger Games trilogy. Katniss, the heroine, must not only ruthlessly kill to survive in the arena, but she must play to the omnipresent cameras which are aimed at encapsulating her inglorious breakdown. That structure funnels Katniss into an exponentially increased, internal pressure by the inordinate suppression of normal human responses. That pressure is expected to morph with each new hour with each new camera angle with each rigged trial until she eventually cracks to the delight of all who are watching. 


No wonder seemingly normal citizens go postal on each other: we are just waiting and itching to watch each other explode over the minutest of things. Well, with that attitude we just might get our wish. Just hope that you aren't in the vicinity when it happens.

Monday, February 21, 2011

PRODUCT FEATURE: "DWANE THOMAS, VISUAL LATIN"


Many a body-builder type has gone toe-to-toe with a lean, wiry opponent, only to find himself winded and in compromising positions simply because he was built in all the wrong places. My banes were a little guy from Alaska (a pretty boy, sporting flushed cheeks and a cheerful attitude) and Rodney, a short, Black android from Germany (a computer nerd with the campus distinction of never listening to music). These men admired my gymnastic ability and campus seniority but never stopped exploiting my gravitational ignorance or defensive wrestling posture. Coach Hazewinkel, himself barely five feet tall, had placed in the 1968 Olympics and at 48 could still take each of us down to the mat. He incessantly complained about my comfort zone: fighting on my back where  he believed I subconsciously sought to showcase my benching ability. One Saturday morning meet I finally took his advice and worked over my opponent so ferociously that he threw up milk into his mouth. He received more sympathy than I received glory around campus, but Coach was elated with the promise of my emerging skill. Chief of all lessons I learned from Coach? Crises do not always call for familiar feats of strength.


Dwane Thomas, a friend since 1986 Oxford, England, is the one influence who has consistently reinforced with me a similar idea these last twelve years. Dwane and his family lived along the main strip in Brize Norton, across the street from the R.A.F. flight line, and down the road from Carterton where lived many of our fellow, American neighbors. We spent weeks worth of hours together walking to the sweet shop (which was adjacent to the memorial of a martyred saint, the name of who neither of us recall probably because we were both disinclined to religious sentiment at the time except for the healthy interest in avoiding the fires of Hell), playing on the village green (where 12-year-old Dwane and my 11-year-old brother engaged nigh to twenty British youth in a shouting match about national matters. A fight almost ensued, but the opposition was wary because Bryan and Dwane postured that they wanted to fight even at the expense of being soundly beaten), discussing political events especially the night U.S. & R.A.F. aircraft bombed Omar Ghadaffi's Libya (we cowered upstairs in Dwane's room developing alternative strategies for evading personal harm at the event of a Libyan reprisal, Dwane brandishing his six-inch long Boy Scout knife to underscore his resolve to never be captured), and most memorable to me was eating peanut butter sandwiches while reclining in the sun on haybales deep in the wheat fields where nobody could find us except the occasional pheasant (we used to free dozens of pheasants from the poachers' holding pens until two poachers,one of them brandishing a rifle, caught Dwane and Bryan while I observed hidden in a thorny hedge a safe distance away).


Dwane Thomas founded  VISUAL LATIN, a video series teaching Latin by immersion where he constructs a forum in which Latin is the environment and where intuition is the student's guide. Afterall, a child learns an entire language in two years time without ever taking an exam or without ever being given a lesson, and that includes grammar, sentence stucture, and basic literary devices. The natural inhibition to learning a new language (or a new "anything") is bringing incompatible structures or "skill sets" into an arena that does not necessarily demand it. Some people have a photographic memory, but a photographic memory will not necessarily serve in abstract situations. Some people have great short-term memories, but a short-term memory will  not necessarily help in situations that demand a long-term memory. Some people cram, but cramming is not possible in states of immediate crises. Some parents allow stock parenting styles to dominate their relationships with their children. Some parents ruin their children by applying too much pressure, whereas other parents ruin their children by applying too little pressure. The chief of all important factors suspiciously absent is the consideration of the child's nature.


That is why immersion is the mother of all educational skill sets. A child can memorize fifty different words, and, unless he has a photographic memory, he will more than likely lose some of the words or at best hazard correct guesses. Immersion promises more than just best-guesses. It tells you that the meaning of the word is in the word itself. Each word has a history, each word has an ancestry, each word has descendents, each word has a story. Oftentimes people approach a new interest or a new word with their brains, and the brain interrupts learning time and time again. Immersion contextualizes authentic assimilation by integrating knowledge with experience. But the experience has to be there first, for only then does the brain have something to cipher.


I could bench almost twice the weight of each of my wrestling opponents, but that never resulted in my winning. I could do a double back tuck off the high bar, but it never assisted me in pinning an opponent. I could do five back handsprings in a row, yet that never resulted in victory on the mat. Wrestling had an intuition all of its own that I forfeited time and again for the comfort and familiarity of my strong suits. Had I not so much physical mass or so many social accomplishments to hide behind, I might have enjoyed wrestling.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

PLATONIC SLEEP DEPRIVATION


In high school my brother and I routinely awoke at 5:30 A.M. to make beds, dress, and do hundreds of calisthenic reps. During the German winters we shut our bedroom door, opened the rolladen windows horizontally to calibrate our room with a biting breeze in order to compel our working out. We combined excruciating exercise with Bible reading and the spiritual time-tithe we called "Devotions" (While other people were reading a mere 20 minutes a day, we were reading 60 minutes). Many a time I awoke from these torturous sessions to find I had fallen asleep in the fetal position next to the radiator with lightly-etched, burned lines in my back. As we adjusted to these conditions every few weeks, our wills hardened, and we rolled back our waking time by a half hour. At one point we were awaking at 3:30 A.M.


We rationalized the necessity for creating this edge. There was the commercial airliner that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland due to terrorists, the deaths of over 100 people at the Ramstein A.F.B. Air Show due to the collision of two Italian planes, the frightening novelty of an emerging Middle Eastern enemy, and the discomforting presence of neo-Nazism in our community. A greater reason existed: the general Christian consensus that we were living in the Last Days and that of all the people in the world we were probably the closest in proximity to the Anti-christ who was probably huddled up in an apartment building somewhere in Brussels, Belgium, awaiting for Christ's Return so he could finally walk around freely and get busy.


In our zeal we failed to understand that not only were we developing an edge that admirably increased our pain threshold, but we were also not getting much sleep. The signs were all around. We fell asleep before, during, and after school. We did not complete homework in a timely manner. Outside workout sessions we were lethargic. We consumed copious amounts of sweets from the village Edeka, spending marks upon marks on white chocolate, cookies, and pastries. We burned more calories than we consumed. Hyperfocus in one area trumped normal healthy human function in other areas.


Thought systems and structures that bifurcate faith and reason, heaven and earth, the spiritual and the physical have distinct outcomes and if given enough time will perpetuate their own unique diseases. On the Aristotelian side that elevates the secular over the sacred, one is ultimately left with nothing but material. Stuff. Things. It disregards spirit, spiritual health, emotional stability. At best, the sacred comes in an unhealthy second (aka, "last"). The Aristotelian view has expedience as its aim and the incessant categorization of particulars that will drive its adherents into state institutions like universities and mental health hospitals, babbling to themselves within the protective confines of very, very thick walls.


The Platonic side elevates the sacred over the secular and ultimately manifests itself by a disregard for the material. Idea. Impression. Platonic interests hyperfocus upon theoretical worlds, conceptual blueprints, and orgasmic ideals. The Platonic tendency demonstrates very little interest in appropriate, material manifestations of a thought. To the Platonist, thought is substance. The largely religious demographic that despises the world so much they ache to leave it manifest through time a rapid erosion of the intellect in the forms of paranoia, dementia, schizophrenia, and a myriad of other mental illnesses. The extreme cases end up babbling to themselves, too, but they do it in an entirely different place: the church, the private school, the not-for-profit ministry, at home. They, too, have no interest in correlating thought to reality so they prefer to ignore physical standards. That is why many in this camp do not sleep, cannot sleep, and choose not to sleep. There is so much they have to do, to prove, to save, to fight for that sleeping is metaphorical apathy and allegorical sin. Vigilance like this has no measurement and no end in sight.


I routinely get up at 5:00 A.M., but I have good reason. I have six children who orbit me like the sun, I have a school to develop, I have a consulting company to work, I have books within my industry that need to be read and understood, I have an exercise routine I find very helpful in increasing my productivity. And most importantly for these days, I need quiet time by the fireplace with a cup of hot tea in my hands to reflect over the last 38 years and how I can converge all of my effort to make today better.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

BORDER TALK


Cold War era European border crossings remind me of Walmart at 9:30 P.M.: you see people you only every imagined but never thought existed. When traveling the former East-bloc, the safest places to me were away from the borders. Borders held up vagrants, riff-raff, criminals, con artists, predators, not to mention emotionally anxious people who would do perhaps anything to have a guard let them through. Gypsies, too, though they are not all suspicious characters. In 1990, however, the hair on your neck would bristle when their men would nonchalantly mill around you, feeling you out without even giving you a glance.


Germans call a border a Grenze, which sounds like onomatopoeia for the gutteral warning it is. If ever you could bank on a tense moment, your heart rate was sure to increase when pulling up to an East bloc border. My father was a pro at getting through these borders. Each trip to the East, he would pack the vehicle with Cocoa Cola and candy bars. The drive to Baia Mare, Romania was typically 24-hours, so I originally thought the sugar was meant to keep the drivers awake. We tended to plow right through, swapping drivers every few hours or so. Giving the destabilizing nature of the East, it was inadvisable to stop along the route for the night.


My dad had another idea for the Coke and chocolate. As our car approached the dirty, mercantile-grey Hungarian-Romanian border, an emotionless border guard would sinisterly wave us to the “preliminary” border. The guards were often middle-aged men, but many were boys or looked like little boys anyways (Our Eastern neighbors didn’t use steroids in their foods, so a 30-year-old woman looked 14-16 and a 40-year-old man looked 18-22. One Christmas I went carolling hand-in-hand with a “little girl" I thought to be 8 or 9, only to find out later that she was older and sure I was going to marry her). If inclined, the guards would harrass and intimidate you. The rules for this were random which, I learned, is why my dad had the Western goods stashed in the front seat. Sensing resistance from our guard, my dad would quiety slip him a Coke and candy bar. Instantly the overall mood would change.


The first emotion was surprise. At that time the East bloc did not commercially sport colors as bright as the red can of a bonafide American Cocoa-Cola. Amidst the toxic, industrial, grey tones, a Coke can was truly an aesthetically pleasing work of art.


The second emotion was one in which the guard was visibly tortured. Here was contrabrand he could sell on the black market for hundreds of Romanian lei (We would exchange our American dollars for lei on the black market. You couldn't beat the exchange rate). If caught, however, that Coke could could cost him his job or worst. The Romanian revolution in which the Romanian dictator Ceaucescu and his wife were chased around a courtyard and shot to death on Christmas Day 1989 had only taken place six months before my first trip in May 1990.


The third emotion was the passing from agony to resolution. The guard stashed the items into a shoulder-strapped bag he wore cross-torso, which, in retrospect, was probably used for contraband purposes anyway. Now becoming an accomplice to us Americans, he would smartly salute or wave us through.


I was morally conflicted when we would jettison past kilometers of cars in the slow lane, being given that ambivalent stare-down from Eastern drivers who assumed we made an exchange of some sort with the authorities. The slow lane would be at a standstill, and people would be outside their cars walking, smoking, talking, and eating. Speeding by, I would cheerfully smile at them as if to say "You have to understand one thing about us Americans: RONALD REAGAN."


One time it didn’t work so easily for us. According to 1990 Romanian border-customs, Americans could not enter the country unless given an invitation from a distinguished resident of Romania. We had our letter of invitation, we had our passports, and we had an inventory of everything we were bringing into the country. Nevertheless, at the discretion of the border guard we could be made to empty our car and reinventory everything on spot. This was unacceptable to my father and a dread for me, because I would secretly pack items not on the official inventory. Like the extra deoderant and hair gel I would stash for my friends.


What the guards really wanted was a portion of the goods we were bringing into the country. But they wouldn’t ask for it, I suppose because then they could be accused of extortion. They had other ways. They would detain you, interrogate you, disappear into the little sentry box for copious periods of time, occasionally peeping out the window at you, laboriously practice their English on you by dramatically flipping through each passport, butchering names on purpose so you would end up correcting their English enunciation and then they would in turn correct you for correcting them. They wouldn’t ask for anything, but they would jostle you into a position in which you would suggest that they take what they wanted.


On this one occasion the guard did not sense our cooperation. He disappeared as we watched ongoing action ahead of us. Another Romanian guard had ordered everyone off a Hungarian bus—thirty people or so. A young man, who was hiding inside, tried to run out one end of the bus to bolt for the border. Why, I don't know. He was easily apprehended, slapped, and punched right in front of us. At that point we struck some sort of satisfactory deal with the Romanian guard and were soon on our merry way.


Culturally we have been at a border ourselves, riding an epochal wave into a new era. No one really knows the rules of the game because people groups, being separated by at least 150 –1500 years of dictatorial oppression are all now thrown into the mix by the upheaval of an atheistic system underpinning a variety of oppressive regimes no longer compatible with the new world climate of democracy or, as I like to think of it, "spirit." Stone Table, the school I founded in 2000, is a place where we intentionally teach students to disentangle the “rules” of the new cultural game and guide them to design innovative ideas and products that can facilitate the inescapable changes before us, bending them into legitimately beneficial forms NOW before competitive, authoritarian forms become galvanized for the next 200 years, largely because of Christian pessimism and apathy.


I am quite certain that is a legitimate part of the Great Commision: spatially pushing back the barriers of oppression from your mind to your bedroom to your driveway to your front yard, and so on and so forth, creating increasingly larger spaces or "forums" where persons, families, people-groups, and nations can be funneled into a new cultural light supportive of generic, Biblical ends. After all, those ends are intrinsic to the universe anyway, so peace on any front (be it psychological or international) only seems possible by aligning with that liberal reality.

Friday, February 18, 2011

KILLING EFFORT


I often hear people berated for not finishing projects. Either they are "losers" or "quitters" or they don't have "sticktoitiveness." Other people bail out of projects like one crawls out of bed. Either they are "sick" or they are "not well" or they realized a "better way" or factors outside their control made them "realize" they were "going about it all wrong." In the end the decision to quit or to continue belongs to each individual.


However, certain factors absolutely discourage the completion of certain goals. There is the talker who says he is going to accomplish great achievements when his talk achieves nothing tangible but the production of copious amounts of carbon dioxide (which, I suppose, is beneficial to plants).


The dreamer who funnels emotional energy into the construction of contrived ideologies, (the complexity of which is entirely incompatible with reality and sanity). 




The coward who by mistake does a great feat and lives in fear of having to do it again (even though his clouds-with-no-rain personage expects to perpetually benefit from the accident).




Certain things should and never will be completed. If you light a dry stick on fire, it will more than likely burn. Light a water-logged stick on fire and, no matter how much you "believe", it is not likely to burn. If we align with reality, we can minimize friction that is the catalyst to rapid decay of our personal efforts. 


If it is transient (like a breath) don't call it permanent. That kind of mindset is not healthy. Do not arbitrarily dub things intrinsic, because you cannot make intrinsic happen. Eat the candy bar. Spend the money. Enjoy the entertainment. This, too, shall pass. 


I don't recommend that you dub the candy bar "Heavenly Heathbar" and think it has been converted into some eternal quality. 




I also don't recommend that you invest money in some religious version of a pyramid scheme and then be disappointed when the money is lost because you thought it  was especially looked over by Jesus. 



Don't waste money on the Christian concert and be disappointed if the Christian celeb checks into a psycho ward because he cannot function as a little god.



It is assumed that if I put my hand to the plow, I did some serious calculating before I pulled out the oxen, dragged out the plow, and snapped the whole thing together. It is assumed that I calculated worth, time, physical effort. 


However, it is so easy to mindlessly leverage one's assets to begin a great but asinine effort without asking "Why am I doing this besides the fact that I can?" 


And when one finds himself in the stressful position of having overcommited and in danger of grossly underdelivering, it is time to exert enough willpower to terminate the endeavor before it comes crashing down on its own.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

KOMMERCIAL KRISTIAN KULTURE


Having grown abroad in Europe, I was exposed to the "Ockham Razor" of culture types which reduced most everything to the simplest categories possible, especially in the commercial culture. A yearly German goods expose would feature new merch before it was widely distributed. However, these goods were typically innovative twists or convenient upgrades on existing products like exercise equipment, electronic gadgets, household appliances, fuel-powered vehicles, and industrial-grade tools. Whatever was popular could almost always be reduced to a generic kind. For example, I remember one year in Kaiserslautern being absolutely mesmerized by an innumerable array of countoured showerheads, the intricate features striking me as so thoroughly beautiful that over 20 years later I remember them more than I do the sports cars headlining the event.


Though markets exist most anywhere in the world for popular products at the cheapest costs, the commercialization of faith in the United States hits new absurd heights. In RAPTURE READY: ADVENTURES IN THE PARALLEL UNIVERSE OF CHRISTIAN POP CULTURE Daniel Radosh says that in 2006 Americans spent over 7 billion dollars on Christian products, "Christian products" defined as commercial goods having an explicitly Christian message. Upon a closer look, a large percentage of Christian products being sold are cheap facsimiles of existing products from the Christian boy & girl bands who modeled themselves after Backstreet Boys & Spice Girls to Praise Ponies and Good News Tatooz. The Christian discount industry is a legitimate industry, but it is often engined by that silly, evangelical reasoning that goes something like "If my This Blood's for You t-shirt wins only one person for Christ, then that soul was worth it!" Not only is the profit & loss statement not determined by the number of souls "won for Jesus", but oftentimes the idea for the product is not even determined by alleged religious sentiment.


You still have the problem of cheap facsimiles, because facsimiles are always less than the standard from which they are derived. The prototype is never the facsimile, so I am not sure how people can be so certain that a particular Christian product is the effective agent of a salvation experience. And the salvation experience is another problem. How do you measure a salvation experience? From an email sent to you by a fan of your product? How do you develop a business plan solely on the basis of faith? Is the product really about the soul? In Rwanda, "The Cradle of the African Revival", over 90% of the population considered themselves Christians at the time of the 1990's massacres. Would an infusion of cheap Christian products have abated the hatred that boiled underneath the surface of that Christian country? Can a product really have that kind of final effect on an individual, on a nation?


While a cheap Christian product can contribute to the cumulative effect of positive influences in an individual's life, it is just another example of shoddy marketing based on shoddy evangelical apologetics to attribute metaphysical power to a product, and a facsimile at that. I myself have been close to an epicenter of marketable Christian goods. Though many of its product-visionaries have created useful tools that help distribute the Christian messages they deem to be important for the rest of us, I've watched the fallout in personal lives via bankruptcy, substance abuse, divorce, and wayward children. I have been around many of these sorts of Christian entrepreneurs and they are as bad an influence as many of their "secular" counterparts. With a divorce rate amongst Christians of well over 50% and illicit, sexual activity amongst their offspring in some churches of over 40%, I don't think the industry has the kind of effect it claims.


But this post is really about encouraging people of faith to create legitimate goods, useful on a cellular level. Facsimiles might very well have a distinction in and of themselves, but those distinctions are just adjectives. The facsimile can never be a distinctly different noun unless, like the convergence of atoms into a molecule, it undergoes a fundamentally distinctive change to emerge as a new entity. Just as there is only one Sting, one Joni Mitchell, and one Eminem, there is only one Michael Card, one Haley Williams, one BonoThat, I believe, is how it should be. I fear that one day I will wake up to a Christian Harry Potter who defeats NATAS with his "Wand of the Spirit." Seriously.