Archive by Author | salemonz

Political shifts, left and right (pt 2): The State of The Union

Need to catch up to part 1? Check it out (here).

The propaganda siren call of the right and the left is strong. Both lull adherents to sleep with ideas that they are the righteous ones, that the ultimate enemy is the other side, and that they can safely sleep in the bosom of their chosen ideology. No further growth is needed. “Congrats. You made it. You’re among friends now.”

Both have religion. Both have science (ish…). Both have a full half of the country with them. Both are fully convinced their side is for truth and the other side is for total destruction. There is no middle ground. There is no compromise. There is either victory or there is death.

Which is fine for the gladiatorial games, where one participant is forced to murder the other and be done with it. But it is dehumanizing. The other side becomes a villain, a demon, a sub-human. Actions against them—even violent actions, are justified, because you have to take them out before they take you out, right? Machiavelli teaches us this in the “Un-Golden rule”.

However, this is a sham of a way to run a free country, where both sides must work together to achieve a civilization.

You’ve seen the stats. Filibusters remain a constant obstacle to productivity (here). Congress passes fewer and fewer laws (here) (here) (and here). The Senate backlog on appointee confirmations is a “national embarrassment” (here).

And the vitriol is pretty rough. The extremists of each party get more press than the moderates. In the past few years, moderates have become actively hated. Repubs and Demos rarely vote against their party (now and then, sure, but only 6% of 2012 Representatives voted against their party more than 20% of the time…the rest of the time is straight ticket Right or Left) (here).

Moderates are easy fodder for more extreme challengers and the Tea Party. One by one, they fall to the wayside, or drift left or right to keep their jobs. In recent years, Republicans have taken to hunt down their moderates outright (here), lead by groups like RINO (Republicans In Name Only), who seek to eradicate the softies who might not agree with their party 100% of the time (here). It’s just not sexy to be open to working with people of different opinions.

And that’s the crux of the whole thing: not wanting to work with others.

Ever hear of Rick Nolan? He’s a Representative from Minnesota (here). The guy served in the House back in the 70s and 80s, took a 30-year break and came back. He said he wanted to bring his experience from the past and see what might work in the present.

He was shocked at how little interaction there was between both political sides. Even in the day-to-day interactions of Congress, both sides rarely spoke to each other. No one came face to face with members of the other party anymore. There were hardly as many social settings where Senators and Representatives could see each other as human. Both sides nowadays stayed in their respective camps and lobbed artillery over to the other.

Did you know Congress only works two-to-four days a week (here) (here) (and here)? Usually Tuesday through Thursday. That’s alongside the month-long break in August and the week-long breaks in February, March, April and May (here…look for “district work week”. That means not in Washington). Sure, Reps need to get back to their districts and meet with constituents, but how often that actually happens is another argument and set of statistics.

To Nolan’s point though, the political atmosphere stagnates and festers. Moreover, it is fettered by money and special interest (a whole other world to discuss). To combat all of this, Nolan introduced a bill to get Congress to work more and work together more. It is called House Resolution 695 (here) and while it stands very little chance of going anywhere, well…at least someone put up a symbolic resistance? Is that the best we can hope for?

So how to respond? How should you respond and how should I? I can’t really speak for you. you can do that in the comments. But I’ll share what’s been going through my head recently.

We’ll have to wait until next time, though, if you can stand it. This post has gone on long enough.

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Political shifts, left and right (pt 1)

I remember coming to political awareness in college.

I went to a very conservative Baptist college. All sorts of rules: no dancing, daily chapel services, dress codes, no displays of affection, no R-rated movies…all that fun stuff.

I remember being surrounded by conservative professors, hearing conservative speakers in chapel, talking with conservative friends about conservative things.

I remember the Bush vs. Gore election. I remember watching the debates in a large classroom with about 100 other students. Regardless of what was said, we would cheer for Bush and jeer at Gore. What a bore, that Gore! Hahaha. Laughs all around.

There was this one guy I sat next too, though. He was for Gore. And he was pretty well-read. He asked me a bunch of questions that got into political philosophy and reasoning behind my purported preferences for Bush and conservatism. I had to deflect–I couldn’t give answers to the stuff he was asking. He was respectful and happy for the conversation, regardless. A few of us gave him a hard time for being on the “wrong team”. He laughed it off. We won the evening, of course. Gore was stupid.

For me, 9/11 happened in college. It brought a lot of realities to the forefront. I remember Fox News being on non-stop. America. War. Patriotism. Iraq. Saddam. WMDs. What was normally just background noise to normal college pursuits drew me in, my interest piqued. I would say I started looking into issues, but I didn’t really. I remembered bullet points and saved them to fire off on someone who hadn’t memorized as many bullet points. Luckily, everyone was on the same side, so I left the heavy lifting of reasoning to others.

I heard a lot about how awful liberals were. Fox told me time and time again how there was this whole sub-race of people out there who were against everything America stood for. Our speakers in chapel would often take jabs at “the Left.” They were idiots, devoid of reason. They were tearing down our families. They were destroying our schools. They wouldn’t rest until everything was gone—destroyed, laid low.

I honestly wondered how the U.S. tolerated such a cancer. Could there even be Christian Democrats? How could they reconcile their terrible beliefs with the Bible? Liberals were just so backward on everything. It was crazy.

They hated our country so much–on every level, they wanted to tear down hard-working people and prop up illegals and free loaders. I didn’t understand why people so debauched and against everything good could even live with themselves.

I would ask my professors about it. I was told to pray for them. I was told to pray for my country. The end times were coming. Things were going to get pretty rough, but at least we had the truth on our side.

Then I graduated.

I moved to Michigan and helped a friend set up a film company. I started reading some really amazing theological books from authors more on the Left–not so much focused on the Social Gospel and not Universalists, but just more left than the mainline Evangelical diet I was accustomed to. I gained a lot of insight out of those books. They gave me a lot to mull over.

The film thing came and went and I enlisted in the Army.

Basic training was interesting. Pagans, Mormons, a Hindu, Catholics, some illegals, Protestants, atheists and anti-theists. Heck, we even had two guys from Puerto Rico who didn’t speak English. We argued and debated about all manner of stuff. Now we were junior enlisted, so it was more how things sucked or some chick was hot verses parsing out Federalist No. 51 for ways to decentralize power…but it was still an eye opener to have such diversity of opinion.

Later, the WMD thing turned out to be bogus. Bush had his gaffes. For the year I spent in Iraq, a lot of us bonded around the question “WTF are we doing here?” It seemed a little scandalous, because back then you were a traitor for questioning the president. But we still were pretty miffed about the whole deal. As the year went on, fewer and fewer believed in the mission. It was eye-opening.

When I was at camp, downloading images from the previous mission before heading out again, I always seemed to get there right as Bill O’Reilly came on. I didn’t like how he just steamrolled over people and didn’t let them finish. Fights with him were over before they started. But now and then someone would make a great counter to his arguments.

I moved to DC for my final assignment with the Army and, by chance, ran with a different crew. I found myself not watching Fox News at all. I watched Daily Show and even Rachael Maddow and Keith Olbermann (didn’t like that guy).

Liberals made some really good points. A lot of them really seemed to love their country. I started to break out of old habits and mindsets.

Yeah! What was with conservatives? Why were they so dead set against conserving the Earth? They seemed to be driven by so much self interest and greed. Ayn Rand? Seriously? Conservatives were too cozy toward special interests and corporations. They were selling out democracy. They were against everything America stood for, if you thought about it. They were pushing out everyone not exactly like them. Brown people made them nervous, be it Mexicans, Blacks or Arabs. They were destroying our schools. They wouldn’t rest until everything was gone.

I honestly wondered how the U.S. tolerated such a cancer–

–Hey, wait a minute…

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Love is hardly one dimensional

It’s weird to me when I hear people talk about love. They’ll talk about being in love, or feeling love. When I talk to them more at length, the concept of love comes across as a sort of bucket that gets filled because of certain things. It slowly empties naturally with time—so apparently it’s a leaky bucket.

People will feel appreciated and loved based on a perception of how full or empty this bucket is. Or perhaps people feel they fall somewhere along a spectrum. “I’m at a 3 out of 10 today on the love meter” or “I’m full…I’m at a 10.”

But that changes, right? Some days we’ll feel more loved than others based on their actions. Sometimes our own mood affects how loved we feel. You have the “5 Love Languages” thing (here), which is helpful and insightful, but can lead to this sort of thinking too.

So is a one-dimensional leaky bucket or meter the right way of describing love and being loved? Seems a bit limiting and myopic. Moreover, it gives impulsive people license to just cut-and-run when they feel they can get more love somewhere else. I’ve seen divorce and breakups happen all the time because one or both of the people “just aren’t feeling it.” It’s like the year’s fashion or a type of food—you just get over it after a while.

But given how often I see some of these people hop scotch in and out of marriages and relationships, I wonder if there’s a perception problem there with being “in love”? Maybe the one-dimensional thing isn’t cutting it.

What if we saw love more like a tree—a living, breathing, complex three-dimensional entity? Wouldn’t that give us more to draw from in describing how we feel for someone else than a scale of 1 to 10?

Hardly a ground-breaking analogy, for sure. I’m sure smarter, licensed professionals have already done this at length, but let’s stick with your buddy Josh here for a bit.

Let’s think of each relationship we have with someone else as a tree. More specifically, our involvement is the attention and intentionality we give to this tree. The tree itself is the result of our actions—it is representative of the relationship itself.

We can focus on the big relationships in our lives, I don’t want to get too lovey-feeley about cultivating a love relationship with the convenience store guy (hot as he may be). So let’s think about our spouse or significant other (or the one you want to have some day for all my single peoples).

There is soil—the circumstances and area in your life that you share with this person. Could be class, church, work, whatever. You and the other person have this plot of land together. The soil might suck at first, or perhaps there isn’t enough water around (all sorts of relationships start under less-than-ideal circumstances), but you try and make a go of it anyway. The soil is fertilized based on attraction and affections. The seed is planted intentionally by the two of you and viola—a small tree starts to grow.

There are roots that draw nourishment from the soil. That then starts other elements of the tree. The trunk and leaves break through the soil. The water is important. The air is important. The sun is important.

I don’t want to belabor the analogy with what means what, with where compassion fits in, or commitment, or sex. My main point is each relationship is unique as each tree is unique. The fullness of the tree, the height, the depth of the roots—all of these things contribute to the overall health of the relationship. This particular tree can’t ever be replicated with someone else. You might think you can create a tree with someone else—and that you can—but this particular tree won’t ever be recreated.

What I have personally found this does is it breaks us out of the idea that we can find something “better” just by quickly swapping somewhere else. In the one-dimensional view, if we’ve been at a 3 out of 10 recently and something hot rolls around, the one-dimensional view lets us think things could be better with this other person. We’d be at a 6 or 7 at least on the ol’ “being loved” meter…

…When in actuality you would need to kill off this tree you already have with someone else and re-plant with this new person (or let it languish and die by simply withdrawing our attention).

And who knows how well the new tree will go? It might start great, but not grow into anything special. The roots might be too shallow. The leaves might not be very full. Things might not be greener on the other side, so to speak.

If you have a more three-dimensional view of a loving relationship—if you are intertwined with the other person through branches and leaves that uniquely manifest experiences and time spent…if you have this larger view of things, then you’ll see impulsively leaving doesn’t always fix things.

It’s not to say we should always stick with it—by all means some trees become diseased and need to be cut down, or die in spite of our attempts to heal them.

But when feeling like your bucket is low, or you’re at a 2 or 3 out of 10 on some arbitrary meter, consider instead the idea that perhaps the season of life you’re in has stripped off the leaves, but that they’ll come back after winter is done. And you’ll be glad for the familiar branches and wide shade of the old tree.

…Oh great, I wrote one of THOSE types of posts.

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But I don’t know him, why am I signing his retirement card?

Do you work in an office that passes around cards to sign? You know—for birthdays, get wells, get betters—that sort of thing?

I do. And I go back and forth from being a decent human being who doesn’t mind signing them (and even wants to know more about the situation), to being a heartless jerk who rolls my eyes when a new stack comes in.

I think the main thing that I find interesting about the topic (enough to write a blog post about it), is how propriety trumps genuineness. And not just here, but in a great number of other interactions with our friends and co-workers (mainly work environments, where we are already in a “required to be here; required to put on airs” sort of state).

Each time someone sneezes, we say “God bless you” or “bless you” (if you yourself are the Lord and do your own blessing, I suppose). I don’t think many of us actually thinks bad spirits are waiting to be sucked in as we gasp after a sneeze (the origins of the pagan blessing), but we feel outright rude or bad if we don’t say anything when the person next cubicle sneezes. And am I supposed to keep saying “bless you” during her regular sneezing fits in allergy season? Poor lady machine-guns those things out. Do I wait until there’s a lull? Then start up after the next batch?

We say “sorry” a billion times a day for no damned reason. Coughing, moving first to get out of the elevator as someone is also trying to leave, slightly startling someone, BEING startled ourselves…what’s with all of the apologies? Do we actually mean it? No, of course not. That’s why #sorrynotsorry is a meme. If we went through our day being that overwrought with remorse, we’d be mewing, obsequious drones. Come to think of it….

We’re obscenely promiscuous with giving away our “best” in most circumstances. Best wishes, best of luck, best intentions…we will even give someone our best in an automatic email signature without any cause for concern. Why did you give your best *something-or-other* to that guy’s roommate, whom you’ve never met? Doesn’t your spouse deserve your best, you monster?

And so come the cards. My office signs their fair share. It started on my literal first day on the job. I was signing “bests” and “get well soon” and “sorry to hear for your loss” to all sorts of people I didn’t know.

“Was she an employees here?”

“Who?”

“The card person–the person I guess who died?”

“Yes, she died. No, she didn’t work here. She was the wife of a friend of a co-worker.”

“Oh, okay. Did Kate sign yet?”

“No, and she’s at lunch.”

“Crap.”

The card comes in—sometimes several trickle in over the course of a couple of hours. I stop what I’m doing, write my little appropriate, heartfelt but not too much, genuine but not too much, concerned but not too much, burst of appropriate words, then check off my name from the cover sheet (like many places, we have cover sheets and folders), then find someone else on the list who is actually at his/her desks. The charge of responsibility isn’t passed until the next host is found. I’ll get back to my desk just in time for another one to come in.

A couple of times, I nearly wrote a “so happy for you, congrats” retirement quip on someone’s sympathy card—for losing a pet or spouse or something—heck if I remember, but crisis averted! I sent it down the line with the appropriate appropriateness and never thought of the person again until now.

One of my co-workers said, “I keep a computer file with funny, serious and congratulatory sayings and rotate through those. You just have to be careful not to mix them up.”

Which is my point. It’s like the birthday celebration on “Office Space” where everybody murmurs out a flat, barely audible sigh of the birthday song, then more eagerly waits for their piece of cake.

“Yum, cake! Why are we here?”

“Some chick had a birthday?”

“Who?”

“Margret, I think?”

“Margret?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, okay.”

The cynic in me recognizes these cards of sympathy and congratulations are more for ourselves than the other person. But the humanist in me does care enough for my fellow man so as not to advocate for the discontinuation of the forced sympathy.

…So not bringing it up is also self-serving, I suppose? So tricky.

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Adios novel!

There’s something tragic and yet exhilarating about hitting delete on 120K words.

The novel doesn’t work—at least not in how I wrote it.

I tried to escape this fact. I went through, re-read, re-re-re-read, patched, edited, patched…on and on.

But if I was honest, it didn’t work.

My structure was wrong, my characters weren’t compelling—weren’t very relatable.

I decided to tell a few friends. “I’m sure it’s not that bad” “Just sit on it for a while.” “Publish it anyway.”

I have sat on it for a while. I took a break from it a few months ago, then started back up on it a few weeks back. I intended on doing what my friends eventually suggested: justify it, wait and publish anyway.

But after taking the break, my editor hat was fully on. Anyone out there who writes and edits knows how different those roles have to be. Writing is the art of addition; editing is the art of subtraction. I wrote about it (here) and I still believe it. It was something my journalism students always had a difficult time grasping, but when you can honestly put on either hat, things come into focus.

The novel doesn’t work.

So what’s next? On to other literary adventures? New story? Try to rewrite this one?

Sort of all of the above. The premise is solid. When I tell people about the idea of the book, people love it, so I don’t want to lose that (in fact it’s why several friends encourage me to publish anyway). However, my explanation of the theme is more compelling than the current manifestation of that theme within the book. That’s the problem.

So, I’m not only going to rewrite, but I’m going to restructure, reimagine…all sorts of stuff. It will be a story along the same parameters.

And it’s exciting, in a strange “let’s knock over the tower of blocks” sort of way. I thought I might be more mournful of the old manuscript, but I’m not—not really. I would like this damned thing to be written and out of my head, but my enthusiasm for the project continues.

I just need to make sure I don’t turn this into a form of self-sabotage—deciding to throw away everything at the last second for fear of actually putting something out there and being exposed.

Because this time isn’t that…at least I don’t think it is.

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My utter failing as a human as told by my lawn

My doppelganger, the Scotts lawn guy.

My doppelganger, the Scotts lawn guy.

I don’t like yard work. I don’t like yards.

Part of this is because I’m a ginger. I burn easily, meaning time spent outside has me looking angrily up at the sky, knowing every minute I’m stacking up my skin-cancer points like “Hunger Games” characters’ names in the reaping bowl.

Part of it is because of the years I spent in the Army performing “area beautification”–cutting, trimming, hedging and combing through grass, hand picking clover. The idea of spending time maintaining a lawn because I’m supposed to now triggers my oppositional defiant disorder (link), which I have apparently.

Now I’m not above working outside. I’m not too good for it or too prissy or whatever. I’m as much of a man’s man when it comes to swinging tools, shooting terrorists or generally hewing life from the wilderness. A part of me actually enjoys the zen-like state I can slip into while working outside.

However, again, I don’t like lawns.

I don’t like how we’re addicted to them. Thank Lancelot “Capability” Brown (link) for that one. He’s the chap who introduced manicured lawns to England in the 18th Century, which spread in popularity around the world, landing with our suburban penchant for the modern lawn. Now, any self respecting homeowner must maintain a suitable lawn. It’s a matter of pride, decency and status. A well-manicured lawn is but a small sign of a successful life–like well behaved children and a perfect, functional family. It ends up being part of the pose that covers over the mess of the actual human condition.

Part of me wishes our homes were cordoned off like houses/compounds in other countries. Let me maintain a wall and gate–perhaps a mailbox or street light. Let the inside of my property be as it is. No need to flaunt the lushness of my green patch of natural earth for the world. I mean…we don’t showcase our living room to the outside world as a sort of trophy, right? Seems strange to do that for our outdoor suburban property.

I don’t like the allergies that come with cutting the lawn. The sniffles and the sneezes. My nose gets stuffed up–and I’m just a casual allergy sufferer. I know my lawn cutting contributes to the misery of others. I don’t like that. I’ve seen the bleary eyes and sadness in the faces of more severely allergic individuals. I’m sorry! Phoenix and Las Vegas–in yesteryear lauded as places for allergy sufferers to migrate to to ease their suffering, now are the worst cities for those with allergies (link). So many lawns, trees, golf courses and pools have teraformed the natural landscape into a smothering cloud of irritants and pollen.

I don’t like the pollution. Each weekend, about 54 million Americans mow their lawns (link). That amounts to guzzling down 800 million gallons of gas through a year. The EPA estimates we spill 17 million gallons of gas per year while we try and refill these machines. That’s more than the Exxon Valdez. Every year. And lawn mowers are terrible polluters themselves. They burn gas and oil, churning out crazy levels of naughty greenhouse gases (link). One hour of running a lawnmower can produce the emissions of up to 11 new cars.

All to cut grass. And just this week. Because plants being plants, we’ll have to do it again in a few days–our own Sisyphus-like punishment (link).

I don’t like how unnatural lawns are. Americans pump millions of tons of chemical fertilizers into the soil every year to maintain their patches of little green lies (link)–this old report cites we used 2.6 million tons of fertilizer on non-agricultural land (i.e. lawns) in 1996. That is a lot of chemicals we’re putting in the ground water. And it’s not exactly good for the forests and animals who drink that water (or us, for that matter). Moreover, the region’s natural vegetation is carefully pruned and picked out, leaving little habitat for local species (link). I live in Texas, but is the grass growing on lawns all around me native to Texas? Hell no! These plants are from out of state (Kentucky Blue Grass…Bermuda…Zoyisa)  and requires inordinate amounts of water to maintain in drier climates like mine. Which leads me to mention…

Lake Medina is down 60 feet from normal.

Lake Medina is down 60 feet from normal.

I don’t like how much water we spend on watering our grass. Many parts of the country are in severe drought (link). Here in San Antonio, our lakes surrounding the cities are down dozens and dozens of feet (see above). We’re guzzling inordinate amounts of water and our environment can’t handle it. Then, to add insult to injury, we’re using as much as 200 GALLONS OF WATER PER PERSON PER DAY to feed our damned lawns (link). And much of it is potable water! Our lakes will be gone and our kids may die of thirst in the streets in 20 years, but by God let’s keep our delicate grass alive through the harsh Texas 2014 summer months, right? And it would be one thing if we lived outside or lived on our lawns in some way, but…

I don’t like how little we use our lawns. Now I’m not a parent. I realize I don’t have little children running through the yard, but everyone around my house has a family. I bet most people around your house have a family. Proportionately, what percentage of time spent in your/their house is spent out in the lawn? I wager it’s not very much. Sure, there’s the occasional birthday party or cookout, but compared to living-room time or video games or time in the kitchen, how much time do any of us really spend out in our lawns? I mean out there, rolling around, feeling that beloved grass in our fingers, breathing in the smell of it? 10% of our time? 5%? 2%? 1%? Just seems like a big money and time sink for something that just sits, unused.

I don’t like how I let everybody down because of my lawn. My lawn, my property, my business, right? But not really. An unkempt lawn is an eyesore, right? It reduces that “curb appeal” that keeps homes desirable and property values up. It classes down the neighborhood. No one likes to be THAT GUY/GIRL who doesn’t keep his/her lawn clean. Especially when the person next door works outside as much as a second job to make his/her patch of greenery the envy of the Garden of Eden.

I travel. I go out and do things. I work with people. I have a long list of hobbies. I’m a generally good person. But one look at the house where I stay and I can feel the judgment–the weeds, the dead patches, the crab grass. It’s very different from my neighbors. And I know it. And it bothers me, even when I’m away on business or vacation. And I don’t like that it bothers me.

I don’t even know most of my neighbors, but I feel the lawn becomes this first line of interaction. I’m a good or bad neighbor, depending on how much of my financial budget and spare time I spend slaving away at my patch of manicured unnatural grass.

In our crazy world, full of hunger and brokenness and a struggling environment, lawns just seem to be the craziest thing to worry about. Add in the fact that I sunburn at a drop of a hat and I circle back around to my initial postulation: I don’t like yard work. I don’t like yards.

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Giordano Bruno in Neil deGrasse’s “Cosmos” is a poor martyr for science

The other night I watched the first episode of the new imagining of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” (as did quite a few other people, from the look of my feeds in social media).

I remember seeing the old series when I was younger—not a child, but as a young adult. It’s not that I was kept from Sagan or anything. My lack of interest in the miniseries from 1980 was more superficial and petty: the visual effects were too old to pique my interest.

I perked up when I learned about Seth MacFarlane’s intended remake. The inclusion of Neil deGrasse Tyson as the new series’ host was even more awesome. I put the air date in my calendar and waited. Finally, it was time and I watched it.

It was pretty good. The initial episode was a good primer of things to come—nothing overly groundbreaking. I always love efforts to get people interested in learning about the shocking immensity of our universe. It amazing to try to behold, and the concepts necessary to express the intricacies of reality are also mind boggling (link) (link).

I did have a “brow-furrowing” moment with the episode, though—not an outright problem, but one that made me question why the well-funded and much-anticipated show would go in this direction. The moment was the inclusion of the story of Dominican friar Giordano Bruno (link).

Several people reacting to the episode seem to have friction with this portion of the show as well (link)(link). Now, most are saying it came across as anti-religion. It did and I’m not bothered by that, even as a religious person. It’s just that, for a show that wants to introduce “heroes of science” to a new generation of viewers, Bruno isn’t really that scientific.

Giordano Bruno rises from his prison in standard crucifixion pose.

In his dreams, Giordano Bruno rises from his Earthly prisons in standard crucifixion pose.

Cosmos’ treatment of Bruno’s story obscured facts and exaggerated events to appeal to people’s emotions. And the inclusion of crucifixion imagery with Bruno (see picture…twice Bruno transcended his Earthy bonds by striking up a crucifixion pose) and the religiously-tinged jargon of his ‘martyrdom’ was just cheap.

For those who haven’t seen the Cosmos episode, the show takes several minutes to tell (and adopts a new visual style to accentuate) the story of Bruno, a 16th Century monk. According to Cosmos, Bruno, influenced by Copernicus’ heliocentric model, had a dream. In this dream, he saw the Earth orbiting the sun, but also that the stars of the sky were similar to the Sun, each with possible worlds of their own. Bruno was condemned by the Church for daring to think outside of tradition and burned at the stake. Bruno was a martyr for logic and science. Religion is bad. The end.

Two reactions: 1) That’s not the real story. 2) With no evidence either way, how does holding to one superstition over another make Bruno an example for science?

On the first reaction, the Church didn’t overly care that Bruno believed in a heliocentric model of the solar system (link). They didn’t overly care in his belief of Copernicus’ views (many people did…even the Gregorian Calendar, adopted years earlier in 1582, was based on Copernicus’ observations).

What they had a problem with was Bruno’s pantheistic beliefs (link). In saying God was everywhere and not in any one place in particular, he took away emphasis on Christ as anything special. He also denied that the universe was a created thing. Say that as a Christian monk now and you’ll get kicked out of the Church too—not burned at the stake (we’ve at least come that far…not defending the practice by any means), but it wouldn’t go over well. The Church objected to Bruno because of theological reasons, not scientific ones.

On the second response, the way Bruno’s story was told in the Cosmos episode made him out to be far more of a champion of faith than of science. He had no way of testing his theory. He never could witness his theory. He didn’t even put it forward as a theory to be debated or proven. He had a dream of a metaphysical reality—a dream he believed was divinely inspired. And he exercised faith in that dream as his own brand of religion, to the point of death. Bruno was a man of faith, not science.

Changing facts and co-opting an obscure religious figure’s beliefs to fit a secular agenda is something a show championing science should be above doing. Cosmos is the one who opened the science vs religion salvo this time (MacFarlane being pretty anti-religion). It’s unfortunate that the show tried to take things in this direction right out of the gate, and in such a half-assed way. It’s distracting to what the show could be about.

By simply pointing out he thousands of things about the observable universe, you’ll naturally get people to wonder if their views from religious texts alone are adequate enough to explain reality.

The way the Bruno case was portrayed with its tweaked version of history just seemed tawdry. Galileo was a contemporary of Bruno…even beat Bruno out for a teaching job as chair of mathematics at Padua University in 1591. He was persecuted and repressed for his beliefs too–and was much more of an actual scientist. He would have been a better example to make the same point, IMO.

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Boundaries trump pacing in relationships

Taking a break from figuring out the world to lend a blog post about figuring out each other.

In my time I’ve been privy to seeing a lot of relationships. Most of us have. It’s just that since I was younger, my friends usually came to me for advice. Over the years (and decades), I’ve had my hand at talking my guy and girl friends through relationship drama in middle/high school, college, the military and now I guess, in the normal world.

Drama abounds, insecurity abounds. In many ways it’s the same now as it was in the sixth grade. Well…adulthood means the stakes are higher. Being told “nope” when asking someone to prom is a bit easier to deal with than finding out a spouse of 10 years is cheating or that swinging isn’t fixing that need for variety.

Regardless, people need a friend and confidant to check their perceptions of how things are going or get feedback on how to proceed. And, as such a friend, business as an amateur relationship counselor is as booming as ever.

I do think it’s interesting that most of my time listening and giving advice comes from a lack of personal experience. I’ve been single for all but a few scant months of my 33 years. But I’ve seen a hundred wonderful and terrible relationships. I’m happy to act as a sounding board.

And I’m not all together. My friends pour into me quite a bit too as I’ve had my go of things. I’m hardly someone with all the right answers, but I try to listen and grow.

One thing that has been coming up a lot recently with several friends, all in or at the cusp of significant relationships, is this idea of pacing. “Are things moving too fast/slow?” “Will I be able to keep the person’s interest?” “Am I scaring the person off?” That sort of stuff.

There are a lot of books and a general perception in culture about what is a good amount of time for certain milestones. The first/second/third date, long phone talks, first kiss, meeting the folks, meeting the kids, who pays, cooking over, sleeping over; there’s a cadence of cascading intimacy to this stuff. I talk with a lot of people or listen to podcasts. They give me timelines and formulas on when/how these things are supposed to take place.

Which adds stress to the already stressful enterprise of relationships. It also gives way to this sort of game that we play. Do I play hard to get? Does this make me seem too interested? Too clingy? How long should I wait before XYZ? Adding to the stress are the wildly different ranges of time for these things.

Yeah, screw that.

What I’m starting to discover is it’s more important to know yourself and define boundaries than it is to worry about the pacing. It’s more important to make sure you have a bucket to catch the water than to worry about how fast the water is pouring.

Now, there’s a lot of personal searching that needs to happen in defining this bucket (or “container,” whatever…relationships take on many shapes). Am I looking for someone to marry or just casually date? What are my views on sex at various stages of the relationship? What character traits do I need in my significant other? Where are my boundaries concerning respect, making time for the other person, being open, etc.?

All of these things help me figure out what I’m going to accept or reject as I interface with another person. It all helps shape my container and where water is going to land as it starts pouring. I might be flexible on some things, but the personal searching helps me see where I am and am not.

There are entire books about this sort of thing, so enough about all of that. The point is, when I have this idea of the sort of relationship I am ready for, let the water start. I believe whether it’s a trickle or a rush of water, that doesn’t so much matter as if it’s landing in or out of the container.

Make sense? I’ve met couples who rush through the relationship milestones and I’ve met couples who took the better part of a decade to get to the point where they make things permanent. Regardless of pacing, the couples who took the time to be themselves and stay true to what they wanted, lasted. The couples who didn’t have boundaries or expectations tended to fail, regardless of how slow or fast they took things.

So that’s my Dr. Phil moment, I suppose. Don’t be too worried about moving too slow or fast. Be worried about not compromising you. If you’re both pouring into each other in healthy ways that respect the other person, don’t be too stressed about timing.

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How to counter Valentines Day hate

Valentines Day brings some nastiness in people, depending on who you’re around.

I’m actually a fan of Valentines Day. Any chance to stop and celebrate a special someone in your life is pretty damned awesome, in my book. I’m a flowers guy. I’m a handwritten note, guy. I’m a “yes I was listening when you said you liked this” guy.

But not all people are this way. I’ve come to learn that Valentines Day is a pretty volatile holiday, full of all sorts of flare-ups and outbursts from smoldering grievances, in addition to the normal happy gushy stuff.

It can be kind of tragic. What sometimes gets me about Valentines Day is all of the anger, loneliness and lamented emptiness that seems to come out around this time. It takes many forms, but altogether, it’s especially hard to see relational hurt in ourselves and others on a day that’s supposed to celebrate relationships. In some ways, it’s worse than being alone on Christmas, or not having a place to go on Thanksgiving. Valentines Day can be a bummer because it calls out that old-school realization that even God noticed, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

But there’s something to be said for a little dose of solidarity. As I see all of the pro-Valentines and anti-Valentines Day rants on FB and elsewhere, it might be good to take a minute or two and see what’s up.

So, let’s examine some of the Valentines Day detractors in an effort to understand where they’re coming from and, perhaps, how we can still give ‘em a hug, despite the holiday hate. “Come’ere, you grouchy jerk!”

Several groups of Valentines haters exist. We would do well to notice the differences. Now, this isn’t a comprehensive list (feel free to add more types in the comments below), but it’s a good place to begin.

“I hate everything.”

Starting off, we have the people who hate romance. They hate sappiness. They hate it when others show their love publicly. Of course “hate” is pretty hyperbolic, but we know what I’m getting at. These people just generally get all Grinch-y when around lovey-dovey stuff.

To reach these people, we don’t necessarily need to agree with them. These cats are usually best left alone. Give them their space. Yes, it’s too bad they are too buttoned up to let themselves go and make a card, write a poem or whatever, but some people aren’t wired for that sort of thing.

And we can understand at certain levels, right? We’ve all been around THAT couple who gets a little too into each other in public. Spit noises during make-outs at a restaurant? The guy’s hand down his girl’s jeans late night on the D.C. Metro? See? Solidarity. We know where these types of detractors are coming from. So ease off a bit around these types.

“I hate that you have it.”

Another group of people rage or resist against the romance, but it’s a response to the fact they don’t have anyone. I tend toward this group, if I’m being honest. With all of the swings and misses, it can be difficult to see the millions of my friends who have someone (nay—the BILLIONS of my friends). I still think open hostility toward the holiday is the wrong way to go, but I do feel a bit put off sometimes, sure.

People in this category, if they’re ranting, just need to rant. They may try and pop balloons and rain on parades, but when it’s time for them to have a Valentine, they’ll be fine. They’ll come around.

“I hate the idea of having it at all.”

Then there are the people who rage against the holiday because of the commercialization of things. I personally find these rants pretty funny. The people in this group have a bevy of righteous anger toward the monetization of romance—standing tall against the need to purchase things for their S.O. and generally railing against the whole idea of Valentines Day. “Resist, you sheep! Don’t be brainwashed! Boycott Valentines Day!”

But seriously, I suppose most can decide how they want to respond to these types of Valentines Day haters. I usually try and remind them that, as capitalists, I’m surprised they have a problem with the monetization of anything. Yes, we’re programmed to buy a bunch of stuff we don’t need on this holiday under the guise of love. See also doing so under the guise of giving thanks or Jesus being born. It’s what we do.

Well, come to think of it, that probably won’t win over any of these types of people. So, maybe throw a “USA USA USA” chant in there at the end? It’s Olympic season, after all.

So, go forth and love the hell out of these people who hate Valentines Day. And above all, lighten up. Be happy for your friends who are happy, and be there for your friends who aren’t. You know…like most days.

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Don’t put your identity in what you create

I believe in a Creator. A lot of people of various faiths and backgrounds do. I am of the Judeo-Christian tradition in that I believe that humans were created in the image of the Creator.

That doesn’t mean that God has a body with 10 fingers and 10 toes, but this “image” can be thought of as one of make-up or overarching disposition. Specifically, one way we bear God’s image is we yearn to create.

Humans create. We build things. We develop tools. We construct buildings. We write music. We write poetry. We knit. We cook. We run races. We create and give awards. We celebrate accomplishments—creating memorials and days of remembrance.

And this is all well and wonderful. But you will notice a subtle change when actually examining artists, musicians and artisans as they create. Human creators, when speaking about their work, are often tortured souls. There is a tension and sense of sacrifice when an artist gives birth to a creation—and even that analogy—giving birth—brings up images of pain and blood in the ushering in of new life into the world.

Sometimes, when listening to artists as they describe their projects, I’ll hear phrases like, “I poured my soul into it” or “I gave it everything I had.”

Is this healthy? Should we creators feel so connected to what we create?

I’m not saying there should be no connection, but perhaps less? Naturally, God feels some connection to his creation—he gave his son at great sacrifice to reconcile it and loves us immeasurably. That’s another topic entirely. But have you ever considered that God is not defined by his creation? Love it as he may (and does), God’s identity is not bound to creation. When creation succeeds or fails in terms of expressing the larger good, God is still God, regardless. Our acceptance or rejection of him doesn’t make him lose sleep. Our failure to treat others with justice and compassion doesn’t make him less just or compassionate.

So, as amateur creators (amateur in compared to the Almighty), should we, as we create, feel as connected to our work as we often do? As I write this blog, or work on a novel, or pen an essay…should I allow myself to feel such elation or utter defeat when it is praised or denounced in public reception?

Because, let me tell you, one of the hardest things I had to do as a teacher of journalism was to instill in my students the idea that my rejection of their stories was not a rejection of their person. I can’t tell you how many times I saw students deflated and beaten down when I had to tear apart their work. I did it out of love—an editor who needed to correct the grammar and structure of a burgeoning writer’s first steps. Correcting spelling and grammar was necessary for success in their careers. However, it was very surprising how personally most of my students took my criticism.

They put too much of their identity in their work. They lived and died by the praise or criticism of their teacher. And I don’t think that’s healthy. That’s my point. I don’t think it’s good that we “pour our soul” into things or “lose ourselves” in things. It’s too much. What we make doesn’t define who we are.

As a journalist, I had to develop thick skin. Editors hated my work. Readers hated my work. Hell, I was called and cursed out by dozens of parents of high-school athletes, commanders of misquoted units, organizers of misrepresented events. On and on, there seems no end to the vitriol in responses to stories I’ve written. At a certain point, I had to distance myself from the things I created. So much so, that now when I run into rejection, be it romantic, social or professional, I’m much faster in my recovery, because I try to cultivate a distance between what I make and who I am.

I think that creation is sacred. I believe that when we create, be it a love letter for our significant other, a house as a part of our job, or a blog post—I believe any of those things are ways we express our being made in the image of God. I believe it’s really awesome when we make stuff and when we can join together in celebrating others when they make stuff.

But, I think we should be careful to not tie ourselves to our creations overmuch. What we create shouldn’t define our identity. And in keeping that distance, we actually liberate ourselves to create more freely, more naturally, more consistently.

And it’s a good thing, because if this first book I’m writing ends up terrible, I need to feel good about myself, afterwards!

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