14 August 2013

Literally.

I won’t bother to link to the article, but once again on the Internet, some nimrod was ranting about the end of civilization as we know it, and for evidence he pointed to the fact that once you Google “define:literally” you get this.

Definition 1 is the familiar definition, “Exactly.” Definition 2 is the popular, but often totally opposite, definition, “Virtually.”

The ranter is outraged, I tell you, outraged. Everybody who means “virtually” is using it wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. And now Google is telling them they’re right, because when they look it up on Google, they can now point to it and say, “Aha. Told you it means that.” The reason I’m not linking you to the original article (and the many, many others like it) is because these ranters don’t understand what a dictionary does.

A dictionary informs us what words mean when people use them.

It doesn’t inform us what words they ought to use, or which definitions are proper or improper. It could, but then it’s not doing its job as a dictionary. Let’s say I’m new to the language. Let’s say I grew up speaking Spanish. Or let’s say I’m a 10-year-old child with a 10-year-old’s vocabulary. And let’s say someone uses a word, and I’m not familiar with that word, and I correctly decide to look it up in the dictionary. I should be able to find that definition. If that person uses the word wrong—but everybody is using that particular word wrong, because people follow the crowd, and not dictionaries—I should nonetheless be able to find that definition. If I can’t, it means I’m not gonna understand what that person meant, and therefore that dictionary sucks.

If you wanted to get to “literally” before the idiots got hold of it and made it their own, you’re literally too late. And I mean that in both senses.

And if you’re bellyaching about the collapse of society, I got news for you: Your world ended. Mine didn’t. Mine is doing just fine.

Your world is a world in which words mean what they’ve always meant. They never evolve new meanings. They never require you to learn new things about them. They’re absolutes. Nice, comfortable, safe absolutes.

Your world has a lot of things like that. Customs stay the same. Cultural standards say the same. Beliefs stay the same. People stay the same. People fit into their nice comfortable categories and never deviate. Once you have a person’s personality pegged, you needn’t ever alter it. Once you’ve got a societal phenomenon figured out, you need never change your mind. You have people figured out. You have God figured out. You’re good.

Problem is, your world is imaginary. It doesn’t exist and never did. You manufactured it in order to bring yourself comfort. But change is the only constant in the universe. Change is inevitable. For God is behind it. He doesn’t want things to stay the way they are. He is making all things new.

That’s the world I live in. Makes me uncomfortable too. But it’s okay. Literally okay.

27 July 2013

The recovering atheist?

Kirk Cameron has a new movie coming out, called Unstoppable. Facebook tried to test how accurate that title was, by blocking its users from posting any links to Unstoppable’s website. Apparently the site set off Facebook’s spam detectors.

I’d better insert this disclaimer. I’m not a Kirk Cameron fan. I’m not talking about his acting; I think it’s okay. (Not award-winning good, but way better than, say, the kids in high school drama. When he’s in a lousy movie or sitcom, that’s the writer’s fault, not his.) I’m talking about his evangelism and outreach efforts.

When Cameron first got mixed up with Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” apologetics ministry—playing Comfort’s goofy sidekick in his training videos—he was okay, ’cause his job was basically to look on in awe as Comfort talked condescendingly about atheists and skeptics, and complain about how their intellect and critical thinking skills were getting in the way of the gospel. (No, really.) But now he acts like Comfort: Too confrontational, too arrogant, too dogmatic, and I hate the underlying philosophy of “You need to bypass your intellect and just believe.” It’s what the Mormons teach, and it violates Jesus’s command to love the LORD with all our minds. (Lk 10.27) Comfort’s problem has always been that his evangelism lacks patience, among other fruits of the Spirit. It’s too interested in winning arguments, and getting results—intellectually bankrupt results. Cameron, as his disciple, is just as fruitless when we see him in the press: Too little patience, kindness, gentility, and graciousness. Too little love. Too reminiscent of that “twice the son of hell” statement Jesus made to describe the Pharisees’ converts. (Mt 23.15) ’Cause while your average pagan knows nothing about Ray Comfort, they’ve heard of Kirk Cameron: He’s that kid who became a Christian, then became an a--hole to all his coworkers, on Growing Pains.

After Facebook decided to lower its spam shields and let Unstoppable stuff in, I found a video on a Facebook friend’s page, promoting the movie. Well, sorta. It mentioned the movie. But it was more of Cameron’s apologetics. He talked about being a “recovering atheist.” His words.

Now, if you know anything about Cameron’s history, despite being raised by Christians, he became a Christian at age 17. Which means he became an atheist as a teenager. I’m not entirely sure how atheist you can be, as a teenager: Most of the atheists I knew in high school didn’t know squat about atheism. They tended to be as Cameron describes: They don’t believe in God, yet at the same time they hate God. More accurately, they hate God as described by their parents, who did a crappy job of passing down God to them. That’s your standard unthinking atheist. Now intellectual atheists—the sort I discovered in college, once I met kids who had been raised atheist, who didn’t hate God, ’cause they’d never been improperly introduced—they’re another breed altogether. Describing all atheists as the God-hating sort just goes to show how many atheists you’ve really listened to, as opposed to assuming they’re all just ninnies like you were as a teenager.

What got me ranting about Cameron was his word “recovering.”

If you’re involved in the recovery movement at all—the 12-step programs, whether Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery—you know “recovering” is a mighty loaded word. When addicts call themselves “a recovering addict,” what they mean by that is, “I’m an addict. But I’m trying not to be. I’ve seen the route that life goes, and I don’t want to go there.” Likewise when I call myself “a recovering Fundamentalist,” or “a recovering conservative,” what I mean by that, naturally, is “I’m a Fundie. I’m a conservative. But I’m trying not to be. I’ve seen the route that life goes, and I don’t want to go there.” So when Cameron calls himself “a recovering atheist,” the inevitable idea which comes to the mind of anyone in recovery, is “I’m an atheist. But I’m trying not to be.”

I’m gonna give Cameron the benefit of the doubt, and assume he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he uses this recovery language.

But let’s play with the idea just a little bit. What if he does know what it means to call himself “a recovering atheist”? What if he is an atheist—and he’s trying not to be?

Well, it definitely explains why he’s resorted to pseudo-intellectual arguments as the basis of his faith, and not so much a living relationship with Christ Jesus, with Christ’s attitudes—his love, grace, and compassion—emanating out his every pore.

14 July 2013

Fruit-free water, please.

I’m gradually developing a new peeve: Fruit-infused water.

Somehow or other, it’s become popular to chop up bits of fruit, put it in ice water, let the fruit decompose just a bit into the water, and serve it to people as if they want their water flavored that way.

As I understand it, the point is that the water have a subtle taste of strawberry, melon, cucumber, or whatever it is you’ve thrown into the water. But people don’t know how to do subtle. So they throw half a pound of fruit into the water—sometimes jumbled up, as if that makes it any better—and add a little sugar. This makes it taste like a really weak ade, like limeade with way too much water in it, or cherryade where the kids only had five cherries and figured they’d stretch the fruit as far as it could go. But it’s neither ade nor water. It’s some sad hybrid, and I don’t want it.

Ah, but if someone’s made it, they didn’t have a pitcher of water on the side. Their tainted water is the water. And they’re a little put out that you don’t want their fruity water. After all, it’s only just a little mango, or kiwi, or watermelon they’re floating in it. Why, you can hardly taste it. (Which begs the question, “So what was the point in adding it?”) But of course I can taste it, which is why I want water.

It never used to be any trouble to ask for only water.

Anywho. You wanna make fruit-infused water, go for it. Have fun. Get creative: Throw a chopped tomato and a sprig of basil in a pitcher of water. Somebody oughta like it. Not me, but somebody. But don’t forget to provide actual water on the side, for those of us who like our water without pulp.

10 July 2013

Homecoming, 2008.

The year is 2013, meaning it’s now been 15 years since I graduated from Bethany College, later Bethany University, which closed its doors in 2011. Now all that’s left of it is a campus which isn’t selling, a giant debt left over from years of mismanagement, and a really hostile alumni page on Facebook where people bitterly yell past one another about how the school should never have closed, and “who’s offered to buy the campus? Why, they’re not orthodox enough. Stop the sale!…” ad nauseam.

Well, that and some really awesome alumni, myself included. So there’s that.

Since nobody bothers to make much of a to-do of five-year and 15-year reunions, there’s not one for my graduating class. There wasn’t much of one for my 10-year reunion. I went to it in 2008, and I decided to resurrect some of the old posts I wrote about it.

Where I anticipate what I’m in for at Bethany’s homecoming.

Originally posted 1 February 2008.

The year is 2008. That means it’s now been 10 years since I graduated from Bethany College (now University) in 1998, and 20 since I graduated from Vanden High School in 1988. So, I’m feeling old. Not that old, but you know… old. Older.

I’ve said I have next to no interest in going to my high school reunion—in spite of being tracked down via Facebook and forcibly added to the VHS reunion page. But long before I have to decline invitations for that one, there’s Homecoming at Bethany, which takes place in two weeks. And since I live in the same town, and have Saturday free, there’s really no reason to miss it.

Well… except for the Homecoming schedule. Here it is.

Friday, 15 February.

  • 11 am. Guest Speaker and Alumni of the Year, Daniel Stump.
  • 11:45 am. Hall of Fame Luncheon.
  • 3 pm. Alumni vs. Alumni Game.
  • 5 pm. Reception Dinner.
  • 5:30 pm. Women’s Basketball Game vs. Simpson College.
  • 7:30 pm. Men’s Basketball Game vs. Simpson.
  • 9:30 pm. Presidential Reception.

Saturday, 16 February.

  • 8:30 am. Continental Breakfast.
  • 10 am. Award Chapel.
  • 12 pm. Lunch.
  • 2 pm. Decade Party.

They actually charge you for all these events, you know. You’re expected to pony up $50 for the whole shebang. $24 if you’re just gonna be there Friday, and $28 if just Saturday. Plus they want you to pay alumni dues. What’s the purpose of alumni dues? So they can maintain the mailing list, and send me a yearly newsletter in which they tell me all the great things Bethany is doing, in the hopes I’ll send them money. Basically I’m paying for them to ask me for money.

Since you knew I was gonna do it anyway, let’s go through these events one by one and look at whether or not they’ll be worth my time. Or anyone’s time.

The guest speaker. I don’t know Daniel Stump. He’s a missionary to Barcelona, Spain. I’m sure he’s quite deserving of an award, since missionaries never get enough credit for the hard work they put into church-planting. I expect his speech will consist of some stories about his experiences. It’ll be inspiring. Missionary stories usually are. However, I hear missionary stories on a pretty regular basis, and don’t wish to pay to hear another one. By the way, for those of you who don’t know Latin, his title should be Alumnus of the Year. But Bethany didn’t teach Latin, and as I recall there were darned few of us in Greek.

Hall of Fame Luncheon. Of course there will be food, which is always appreciated. It’ll be Café Bethany food, which is typically hit-and-miss. In order to make it a more formal occasion, they may break out the tablecloths and chafing dishes and the nice plates, and the entrees may be more grandiose than usual. But it’ll be Café Bethany food. I ate the stuff for years and don’t have that many fond memories of it. I remember it was spectacular in my first year, then turned to junk, then hovered round the Hometown Buffet standard. But I know even the most pedestrian cafeteria cook can crank out a decent meal when they’re called upon to do so.

The Hall of Fame component… well, I’m not entirely sure what that consists of. My guess is they’ll point out some of the more distinguished Bethany alumni, and we’ll collectively shrug our shoulders because we’re all Bethany alumni: We know it wasn’t the school which made us distinguished. It was God. It was us, as individuals, allowing God to do something significant with us. Some of these significant things produce titles. Some don’t. Since, as Jesus pointed out, in the Kingdom of God titles are irrelevant, we’re sort of honoring the very thing God doesn’t care about.

Alumni vs. Alumni Game. I don’t suppose the game will be paintball, although that would be several kinds of awesome. No, it’ll likely be basketball or volleyball—something we can play in the gym. The participants will consist of those alumni who’ve managed to stay in shape, plus a few good sports who were nagged into doing it by classmates or spouses. No one will care about the outcome… other than people who really shouldn’t. It’s really just an excuse to fill in the massive blank spot between lunch and dinner.

Reception Dinner. At some point or another, President Max Rossi is gonna insist upon speaking, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he uses this particular dinner to do it. He’s gonna talk about Bethany’s distinguished past. Of course, since we were there, we know what that past really consists of; Max wasn’t there, so all he knows is what the yearbooks vaguely show him. He’s gonna talk about Bethany’s amazing potential future. Of course, since we’ve heard many such speeches before, we know nearly all of them will come to nothing. They’re still in talks about selling the school to Azusa Pacific University. The future is up in the air.

Nonetheless, Max will try to tug at our heartstrings a little bit. He’s pretty good at that. He’ll be effective, I expect. Nostalgia is a funny thing. We tend to blot out our negative experiences, just because they were negative. All that’s left are a few individual (somewhat fuzzy) positive memories, and if they can be combined with some nice emotions, you might actually have something which makes you wistful for the past. The further away you are from that past, the fuzzier and more sepia-toned the memories become. We can even be convinced to honor those memories by throwing money at them.

But my memory is pretty darn sharp. I remember Bethany had great students which became great friends. I remember excellent professors. I also remember an inept administration which got in the way, way more often than helped. Since I live in the same town and know a few Bethany professors and students, I know things haven’t changed any. I’m not going to Homecoming to see the administration—even though I know Max Rossi, and think him a nice guy. I have no interest in funding grand projects which will either be tossed out the window once Azusa buys the school, or once Max gets sacked, or five years down the road when Max changes his mind ’cause he heard somewhere that Vanguard tried it. Schools are ultimately about the people, not the institution itself. I’m going to homecoming to visit the people. If they’re not there I’ll be bummed. They are 90 percent of what I care about. I only care about Bethany because I’d like my professors to stay gainfully employed. Well, most of them.

Basketball. I don’t know anyone on the current teams. I haven’t been following Bethany’s track record, and don’t care. At Bethany, basketball is, and has always been, a giant money pit. Money is dumped into that program to fund athletic scholarships for a lot of below-average scholars, Christians in name only, who are regularly unconnected with student life. The only reason I knew any basketball players as an undergrad was because some of them lived in my hall. They demonstrated nothing but contempt for the spiritual life on the campus, figuring it was all hypocritical because they themselves were hypocrites. Of course there were exceptions; some really outstanding Christians who are still serving Jesus in their communities. But there had to be some other way to get ’em scholarships to Bethany. The rest served no useful purpose to the school except to win games, and they often didn’t.

I still think Bethany’s intercollegiate athletics program should be eliminated. The scholarships ought to be given to more worthy academic candidates, and the gym used for actual P.E. courses. The only reason we have a homecoming game is to make people not think about the drain basketball truly is. It’s to watch the kids beat Simpson College, and evoke more nostalgia.

Presidential Reception. I’ve actually crashed one of these after the Homecoming game. It’s pretty much coffee, hors d’oeuvres, and the President shows up to schmooze. It’s so people can come down after all the excitement during the game… provided Bethany wins, which it may.

I may actually crash this year’s reception, but otherwise I have no interest in going to the Friday events.

Continental Breakfast. That means no chafing dishes; just cold muffins and scones and fruit. And hot beverages. Since I’m paying $28 for what amounts to two meals and small talk, it’s a bit disheartening that our first meal is gonna suck hard. I’d rather go to the Starbucks down the road. But even so, I’m definitely going to the continental breakfast. I’m not gonna go to the extremes my dad would, and smuggle scones out of the café. But I’ll be sure to eat a lot of them.

If I run into some interesting classmates and get to talking with them, I’ll make sure to skip…

Award Chapel. In which there will be a chapel service. Likely worship music, which is fine; and maybe another bad sermon, the likes of which I had to put up with throughout my years at Bethany. Oh, and they’re gonna hand out awards. Awards for what? To whom? Well honestly, who gives a rip? What could any of us have done, which actually merits an award from Bethany? I suppose if we gave them a million bucks to renovate the dorms, or managed to recruit a thousand students, there’d be legitimate cause for recognition. But awards for just going through life, doing what Christ has called us to do? I want my award from Christ, not alumni president Abe Daniel. No offense, Abe; I just happen to prefer my boss’s accolades to yours. Especially since yours may cancel his out. (Mt 6.1-6)

Lunch. If you’re visiting the campus on any other day, lunch at Café Bethany is about $5. So I’m getting severely overcharged here. I also know from experience that the students, the ones currently paying to be here (like I was when Homecoming took place when I was a student), are being shunted to the Fireside Room to eat substandard lunch fare. Even though they pay a bundle for the meal program. Nobody wins but the Café.

I have a bad feeling we’ll also have to put up with speakers during lunch. But hopefully my classmates and I can ignore them and get on with our conversations.

When I was an undergrad, our lunchtime conversations would occasionally last till about 2. Everyone would be gone—the café staff trying to shoo us out of there—and we’d still go nattering along about whether Jesus’s students ever played soccer, or whether New Jerusalem will have indoor plumbing, or whether King David in his youth ever worried his sheep. I’ve never initiated any of the more inane conversations, but for whatever reason I felt obligated to put them to rest, and so we’d go on and on and on till we absolutely had to leave for our afternoon commitments. No doubt some of us can still talk like that. I certainly can.

Decade Party. As if the bulk of us hadn’t already grouped into cliques with the folks we attended school with, we’re now forced to go off and mix with people, based on the decade in which we graduated. So that puts me in the ’90s room. I know some people who graduated in the 2000s, and some who graduated in decades previous, but I guess I’ll get that schmoozing out of the way over breakfast and lunch.

And there, I guess, we’ll stay until people decide they have to drive home to other parts of California, or catch a flight to other parts of the world, or decide they’re just tired of reminiscing with people who really haven’t grown as individuals since they last saw them. Others will stay uncomfortably late, until staff encourages them to leave and take it to Starbucks (and since the one nearest the campus closes at 9, maybe they should take it to LuLu Carpenter’s in Santa Cruz). As for me, I will probably have had enough of them by 4, and go home and get ready for the Sunday service.

Homecoming from the alumnus’s perspective.

Originally posted 16 February 2008.

First of all, let me rant about a minor peeve of mine. “Alumni” is plural. If you’re referring to an individual, it’s “alumnus” for a male, “alumna” for a female. You don’t call yourself an “alumni” of your school; it’s like identifying yourself as a “dumbasses.” Got that? Good. Now it’s out of my system.

Well anyway:

8:30 am. Continental Breakfast. I showed up early for the Continental Breakfast, and after a few minutes got in there, got my nametag, and proceeded to scarf down bagels and scones and raisin bran. And lots of coffee. The café has apparently switched to serving good coffee. Last time I was there, they served Starbucks™, but they didn’t really know how to brew it properly. (And I suspect they were using Scotts Valley tap water, which tastes like ass. Literally, like a dead ass was dropped into the aquifer, where its sulfurous carcass tainted every sip.) So it wasn’t all that great. I once compared it with actual Starbucks after having gone directly from Starbucks™ to the café…. Aw, crap, I’m off on a tangent. Never mind.

Okay. So. I figured, “Well, the class of ’98 has gotta show up at some point, so I’ll make sure there’s a table for them,” and I picked out an empty table and started eating at it. About 15 minutes in, it occurred to me the gang may very well have gone to the Presidential Reception last night, decided to move on to an after-party elsewhere, and decided to ditch the Continental Breakfast because they’re too hung over tired. A member of the class of ’61 figured the same thing. So the next thing you know, I’m at a table with a bunch of seventy-somehings, and they’re discovering to their horror that I actually believe in both Jesus and global warming.

It was interesting listening to them reminisce. Some of them were there when the school moved from San Francisco to Santa Cruz back in the late ’50s, and they had some zany memories.

Five cups of coffee later, I went to the chapel.

10 am. Award Chapel. I was hoping to avoid this, but I went to the bloody thing anyway.

The Alumni Coordinator had asked me, during breakfast, whether I’d like to go be a part of the Alumni Choir, which was warming up before the service. I declined with my usual, “I don’t think anyone wants to hear me sing.” I assumed some of my class was in the choir. None were. In fact, the only person in my class there at the chapel at all, was Alumni Association President Abe Daniel. Everyone else… well, I met a very few people from ’88, a larger bunch from ’78, a lot of people from ’68, and even more people from ’58. Which makes sense. Older people tend to be retired and can afford to make the time for Homecoming. People my age haven’t always felt the nostalgia kick in just yet. Wait till we hit 40.

The service began with some scholarship recipients, who wished to thank the Alumni Association, so Abe had them come up on stage while he read their thank-you speeches. Why’d he read them? Why couldn’t they read them? I didn’t remember to ask him later. Maybe it was for the sake of time; maybe they were nervous; maybe Abe likes to hear himself talk… Nah, they were probably nervous.

Then we sang a hymn, and we were introduced to the current ASB Student Senate, as if we cared. The ASB president said a few words, which indicated he must’ve been elected for personal popularity, ’cause it sure wasn’t for public speaking skills. Hey, so long that he’s doing a good job.

Garland Covington was presented the Heritage Award, so he said a few words. Pretty much all the award recipients didn’t know why they were deserving of an award. Alice Alford (who won the Founders’ Award) joked they ran out of worthy recipients, so they decided to give ’em to everyone else, and since her name starts with A, she’s first. Jay Swartzendruber, who won the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award, didn’t show up to receive it, but sent some remarks. As I pointed out, none of us are doing what we’re doing so that Bethany will give us awards.

The Alumni Choir came after Covington. First they sang the GTBI Song. Glad Tidings Bible Institute is Bethany’s original name, when it was in San Francisco, and some of the visiting alumni were actually GTBI alumni. So we sang their school song. Then we sang the Bethany Alma Mater. It was written when Bethany was still called Bethany College, but a few years ago it became Bethany University, so the song was altered: In the two instances where it had “college,” it now had “university.” Trouble is, it now has three extra syllables in two different lines, and attempting to compress “university” into two syllables became chaos.

“Someone needs to write a new song,” I told Abe later. “And put a backbeat in it.”

“Not me,” he said.

Then the choir sang an old Pentecostal hymn, a few more people accepted awards, the Bethany Ambassadors sang some worship songs… which I’ll rant about another time. (The Ambassadors were fine, but their song selection… yeah, I’ll rant about it later.)

Then we had karaoke: Dan Fryer and Lisa Jensen, two fiftysomethings with big ’80s hair (which is how you know they’re fiftysomethings), got up and sang along to a CD track. This being Bethany's chapel, their monitors (if they even had any) in no way matched the external sound system. So they had no idea how much their voices were being drowned out by the cheesy backing harmonies of the CD, and how the sound guy—all the way in the back of the chapel, unable to actually hear anything, since there are no speakers back there—was desperately trying to balance them as they sang. Great Thundering Zeus, it was awful. Profoundly awful. But we clapped anyway because we’re all nice Christians. Plus many of the older alumni suffer from hearing loss. Anyway, some of us are used to crap like that in our churches on a regular basis. This is how singers get the idea they’re any good: Our pity applause only encourages them to inflict more of their “talent” upon others, and try out for American Idol, and fail humiliatingly. See folks, this is why honesty is the best policy. I know you want to spare their feelings, but think of the hundreds of people who have to experience this horror again.

Bethany President Max Rossi then got up to speak, and of course he included some fund-raising, ’cause that’s his job. We had to watch a video of how Bethany wants to build a new dorm… and throw in a conference center while they’re at it. Of course, since everyone’s aware Bethany may very well be purchased by some other school within the next couple years, it’s not gonna be easy to raise money for infrastructure when you don’t know how that money will be re-allocated under the new administrators. So I don’t know how well the pleas for money went. I doubt they went well.

12 pm. Lunch. Again I figured the class of ’98 might finally show, so I took a solo table. Then nobody showed. I eventually wound up with current Bethany students at my table.

“You don’t usually eat this well on a Saturday, I take it,” I said to one student.

“Never,” she said.

“And that’s the dumb thing,” I said. “We’re alumni. We know what Bethany is like. We lived here. We know the buildings are falling apart, and the food sucks, and administrators have huge plans that won’t ever go anywhere but they really want money for it. Who do they think they’re kidding?”

I don’t know if my ranting drove them away, but they did leave awfully quickly. Eventually the folks who sat by me at breakfast came over, and we talked a little about grandchildren and HMOs.

The food wasn’t bad; salad and vegetables and grilled chicken, served on the chafing trays because they didn’t want us wandering through the cafeteria-style serving tables and experiencing some real nostalgia for what college food is like.

Abe took advantage of the fact we were all at lunch together to perform some Alumni Association business. We had to approve a new member to the Alumni board. Since I knew the candidate, Kirk Smith (he was ASB vice-president on my first year in the Student Senate) I figured he was pretty unlikely to screw up the job, and voted for him.

Then, for some reason, probably because someone owed Satan a favor, Fryer and Jensen popped in a CD and proceeded to “entertain” us for the rest of our meal. As I felt the bile rise, I told the folks at my table, “I don’t think it’s possible to be too early for the Decade Party,” and left.

2 pm. Decade Party. The Decade Party was in the Spot, also called the Robert Harrison Student Union, which used to be the bookstore when I was an undergrad. I used to live on the third floor. I actually arrived for the Decade Party at 1 pm, and spent the entire hour reading, and waiting for other people to show up.

Everyone who graduated from 1990 to 1999 were expected to go to the Spot and reunite. What made it a “party” was that the Homecoming coordinators had provided us with two 12-packs of canned iced tea. Yes indeedy, that was $28 well spent on Homecoming.

If you didn’t come to Homecoming, you suck. In all there were (I think) 12 of us. Most of us were alumni, and a few of us were spouses. Some brought kids. We hung out for about two hours, said hi, talked about what we’d done in the past decade and what we were doing now, caught each other up on the classmates we knew who weren’t there, resisted the temptation to manufacture malicious, scandalous gossip about the ones who said they were coming and didn’t (okay, that was just me) and left around 4.

“We need to get everyone to attend next Homecoming,” one of them commented.

Yeah, probably. I might attend. That’s actually my brother’s graduating class, but I know a few of them. Might be interesting. But I think I’ll give the rest of the “festivities,” such as they are, a miss and only go to the Decade Party. The rest of the action was a waste of the day.

No offense to the coordinators… but come on, folks. Would you want to attend any of that?

04 July 2013

Independence Day, 2013.

Happy Independence Day.

Haven’t done much for it yet. Ordinarily we might hit up the Fourth of July parade in Fairfield, but my favorite vantage point from which to watch it, the air-conditioned Alpha Pregnancy Resource Center office, is no longer available, since Mom doesn't work there anymore. We’re in the middle of a heat wave: It’s before noon, and already 93 degrees in Fairfield, and 103 in Vacaville. I'm spending it indoors if I can help it, and only venturing outside for fireworks. And barbecue.

I did go outdoors briefly. My sister Shannon and her family are visiting from Spokane, and since she’s so seldom in California, my brother Chad wanted to gather us Leslie siblings together and have coffee or something. We compromised: Kerry and I went to Peets Coffee & Tea, and Chad and Shannon went to Jamba Juice; the stores are right by one another in the Nut Tree shopping center. (Kerry took the selfie at right.) The temperature was already climbing by then. But I’ll still drink coffee. Forget energy drinks; coffee is the original, and as far as I’m concerned, still the best of them.

Tonight we’re all at Mom’s for barbecue. We’re not decided on fireworks. Either we’ll stay in town and watch Vacaville’s spectacle from someplace we can easily drive away from (the traffic gets nuts afterwards), or we’ll go to Dixon and watch their show. Dixon is a little warmer and a little farther away, but on the up side, fireworks are legal in Dixon, so there’s always the chance we can watch someone accidentally set themselves or their car on fire. So there’s that.

Today I was scanning the blogosphere, and a lot of the Christian bloggers I read were commenting on civic idolatry. It’s a problem, and one patriotic Christians (particularly conservative Christians) don’t think about all that deeply. Looks like they’re starting to; even the conservatives were commenting on it today. I notice they get less idolatrous the longer Democrats are in power. Because I used to engage in it quite a lot myself, I’m a little hyper-sensitive about it.

Civic idolatry is when we take our patriotism too far, and start to talk about the United States as if it can do no wrong, or talk about our Founders as if they were infallibly wise, or move beyond “God bless America” to the usual baloney about America being a Christian nation which needs to return to the Christian principles of the Founders.

I’ve read and taught enough Revolutionary-era history to know better. Times may change, but human nature doesn’t. Politicians back then were exactly the same as politicians now. They paid a lot of lip service to God and Christianity, but once you look closely at their personal lives, you find they were neither as conservative or as Christian as some of us would like to believe. The so-called “Christian principles” they followed were largely the principles which managed to leak down from Christendom into English common law and the larger society. The Christianity they followed, same as today, is what the wider Christian culture interprets as religion as Jesus would want it practiced, and not necessarily the behavior Jesus truly wants of us. Fr’instance, the slaveholders: Did any of them actually follow the principles of slaves-are-brothers-in-Christ that we read in Paul’s letter to Philemon? Other than George Washington, who among them actually freed their slaves? While some Founders were certainly devout, I can’t say that as a whole they were any more devout than our present-day Congress.

I never presume when we say, “God bless the U.S.A.,” God’s automatic answer is yes. I do pray he blesses it; I certainly don’t pray this because I believe we deserve it. (I realize many people consider it blasphemy against America to say this, and that anyone who says it is somehow not a “real” American.) On the contrary: “God bless America” is a prayer for grace, because we don’t deserve it. We don’t make enough of an effort. Whether liberals or libertarians, too many of us figure all the necessary sacrifice was done by the Founders and the veterans, so we don’t have to put anything in. We just have to be true believers in order to draw freely from the blessings of liberty. Tax-free whenever possible.

It’s great that we believe in freedom. It’s annoying how very few of us believe in the values which need to work hand-in-hand with freedom to make it worthwhile. Namely justice and equality and sacrifice. It irritates me when so-called Christians blame the needy for their own neediness, and insist prosperity should be rewarded, as if it were merited, instead of the blessing from God that it is. It bothers me when conservatives and liberals both are more concerned about defending the purity of their ideologies as a whole, rather than recognizing which parts of them are of God, which parts are not, and holding onto the good and shunning the evil.

I’m concerned that our insistence that America is a Christian nation (when our Constitution has clearly made it a secular one) is unduly alienating non-Christians. I’m concerned this will get in the way of sharing Jesus with them, ’cause all they can focus on is how we seem to want them gone or marginalized. I’m concerned too many Christians equate the Kingdom of God with the United States (or the Republican Party)… and are due for a shock when Jesus decides to remove them once he returns. Or, God forbear, sooner.

I love my country, but I’d like to think I love it realistically. I’m not one of those idiots who threaten to leave it whenever the other party wins an election. Nor am I one of those idiots who side with it regardless of whether it does right or wrong. I want the best for it, and still believe the best is achievable—which is why America is great.

That, and we have coffeehouses with free refills. Okay, Peets isn’t one of them, but still.

26 June 2013

Mountains, molehills, and same-sex marriage.

Back in October 2010, I participated in a synchroblog on same-sex marriage. Considering the current events (namely the Supreme Court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act), I thought I’d repost it here.

This month, the bloggers whom I synchronize topics with—the synchrobloggers—are discussing same-sex marriage. Which isn’t a controversial topic among Christians… unless you’re okay with it, or even for it.

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights group, delivered a petition to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Specifically, to Boyd K. Packer, president of their Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the number two guy in their church. They asked him to rescind some comments made in a sermon he preached on 3 October 2010. According to the Associated Press, Packer had said,

Some suppose that they were born preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father.

It can be argued that the impetus for Packer’s statement comes from his personal prejudices against gay people. It can equally be argued that it comes from a very widespread interpretation of the bible. It reflects what most Mormons—and most evangelical Christians, heretic Christians, conservative Jews, and Muslims—believe about homosexuality: It’s biologically unnatural, it’s kinda icky when you think about it, and the lifestyle that’s cropped up around it is far too fixated on deviant behaviors and materialism—and recruitment of our young people. Oh, and there are verses appearing to condemn the practice in the bible. Therefore it’s not God’s idea, and sin.

We can debate about which came first, the prejudice or the scriptures. But your average conservative monotheist will almost invariably say it’s the scriptures. It’s not true, but it’s what they’ll say. The implied argument—which likewise isn’t true—is, “You know, if it weren’t for these pesky anti-gay verses in Leviticus and Romans, I would have absolutely no trouble with you gay people. But I’m hamstrung by my bible. I can’t go against it. That’d be going against the God who inspired it.”

The reason we know this isn’t true, of course, is that if we could ever set aside the bible, let’s be realistic: Not a single one of these folks—except the closeted gay ones whose rhetoric is meant to hide hypocrisy or a hidden lifestyle—would ever make an instant 180° turn and embrace homosexuality as an acceptable alternative to heterosexuality. It’s ridiculously obvious by what they’ve said in the past. Namely the the slurs, the gay jokes, the slams, and the hate speech they’ve preached in the past, under the label of “bible truths.” The bible justifies not a single word of it. Jesus in fact teaches the contrary: Gays are your neighbors, so love them. And if gays are your enemies, love them all the same.

But even though the impetus for most folks comes from prejudice, not bible, the fact is there is a bible, and it’s widely interpreted to say God doesn’t approve of homosexuality. That’s where the Human Rights Campaign’s petition is simply naïve. The Mormons are going to read it as saying, “Please stop preaching and following your religion’s scriptures. They’re not true and they offend us.” How can any believer, who believes their scriptures, realistically respond to such a petition?

(Especially an email petition. A giant list of email addresses just doesn’t have the same impact as a giant list of physical addresses. But that’s another rant.)

Anyway… I was supposed to discuss same-sex marriage, wasn’t I? Right.

Naturally, if you’re prejudiced against gays (whether you blame your prejudices on the bible or don’t), you’re against same-sex marriage. You figure it’s bad enough people are having gay sex, but to legitimize it with the word “marriage” is simply awful. Once that becomes legal, society is gonna find it near-impossible to ban the queers outright, and round them up into concentration camps, and apply electrodes to their genitals in order to jolt the gay out of them. As it stands, you’re still harboring a secret hope that some form of this Clockwork Orange style scenario might yet one day play out… just like when white people used to dream of deporting all the blacks to Africa. But that dream will die once they can legally marry one another.

Okay, maybe you’re not so twisted. Hope not. But to listen to all the screeching against same-sex marriage, you start to get the picture that the scenario I just related would make far more of these folks chuckle than cringe. I didn’t make it up, you know. Some therapy centers [like the now-defunct Exodus International] are attempting similar tactics as we speak. I wonder, as I was telling my best friend last night, how these folks would want to have any sex, even heterosexual sex, after that’s been done to them. The minds that think nothing of such techniques seem a lot more interested in society than the individual, and when you turn the Kingdom of God upside-down like that, the stench of evil creates a disquiet even among good church-going folk who only want to see God’s laws upheld, no matter if involuntary enforcement has to violate the human mind.

For them, legal same-sex marriage means defeat. For gays who want to marry one another, it likewise means victory. (And for gays who really don’t want to marry one another, who saw the ban as a convenient excuse to avoid commitment… well, I’m not going to deal with them today. I’m just gonna be quietly amused by their internal conflict.)

For me it honestly doesn’t mean anything one way or the other.

I believe marriage is a sacrament. I also believe in separation of church and state. The state has no business declaring what is a sacrament and what isn’t. Ergo the state has no business officiating any marriages at all. Straight or gay, Christian or pagan: The state legitimizes none of them. They can’t legitimize a baptism. Nor should they be able to legitimize a marriage, regardless of what the social customs are in our culture. Just because England had no separation of church and state, and officially recognized marriages, and that custom was carried over into our common law, doesn’t legitimize it at all. Custom and tradition is not an adequate defense. It’s still wrong.

All any state should be able to do is recognize domestic living arrangements. For everyone. That’s all. And really, the only reason they need to do so is to sort out financial liability, tax liability, child custody, next of kin, and other legal necessities. You don’t need to be “married” for any of that stuff. Gays have had all these privileges ever since people realized domestic partnerships grant all the benefits of marriage. That’s as far as any state should go. No further, or it violates the First Amendment and establishes a religion: A secular one, a religion which bypasses the churches, and has regularly allowed people to get married despite what any church teaches, despite any standards every church has for its members.

Of course, in applying this scenario, there are gay churches, so there will be gay marriages. But since the state will recognize no marriages, homophobes won’t have to worry about the state legitimizing anything. They can continue to think, to themselves, that none of those gay marriages count, for to them they won’t. And gay couples, if it amuses them, can reciprocate and consider the homophobes’ marriages not to count, since bigots obviously don’t understand how Christian love works in the first place. Problem solved.

But a live-and-let-live solution like this won’t work for those who don’t approve of homosexuality. After all, they think it causes tornadoes.

Now, if I stop there, I’ve neatly dodged several questions. But I’m not going to do that.

The above lays out my public view on the whole issue. That’s the answer I usually give. Naturally I have personal views. And most of the reason bigotry continues to exist and flourish is because people never share their personal views. They give impressive public answers… and then quietly undermine those answers in favor of their personal prejudices. It’s like all those white folks who were totally in favor of integration in the 1950s, but they’d never sell a house in their neighborhood to a black family. ’Cause you know, property values. Or the fear of what the neighbors might think. Apparently confessing your bigotry wasn’t okay, but confessing your gutlessness was.

Well, I confess: I’m bigoted.

I always have been. I was raised to be. Dad’s firm paranoid belief is that every gay man is probably interested in him, and given the chance will try something. Mom strongly believes they’re a bad influence. I’ve told gay jokes. I’ve believed the stereotypes. I’ve bought into the anti-gay propaganda. That is, till I met actual gay people, dealt with them as human beings instead of political forces to oppose, and was reminded by God that they’re just as much his kids as I am.

The only way to be truly unbiased is to admit your biases and compensate for them. (Which is something people really ought to tell Fox News, but that’s another rant.) Not over-compensate: Liberal guilt creates just as many problems as bigotry. If I were wracked by liberal guilt, I expect my response to the whole same-sex marriage idea would be the same as the general public’s: “Sure! Let ’em get married! The more the merrier! They can get married at my house if they want! I’ll even perform the ceremony! For free!” And my big plastic fakeness would be off-putting and creepy, ’cause I’m a rotten actor. I would squirm throughout, and in order to alleviate my tension I’d lash out in small, subtly undermining, quietly destructive ways. (Woe to those who don’t hold their liberal-guilty “friends” at arm’s length, for scratch the veneer and you’ll find a bigot desperate to escape and take savage vengeance upon the nearest victim.)

I don’t overcompensate. I still can’t biblically justify same-sex marriage. Sorry. I know my liberal friends would really like me to. They’d love to say, “My scholar friend has looked at the history behind the anti-gay verses in the bible, and concluded these were actually condemnations of paganism, not homosexuality.” I do actually think a fair case can be made for that. But I also think an equally fair case can be made against homosexuality.

As far as homosexuality is concerned, I’m largely agnostic: I don’t know whether it’s sin, and I’m not worried about it: There are so many other sins, bigger sins, to worry about. If I had to pick a side, I’d err on the side of caution. It’s probably sin. But maybe my bigotry is tipping me that way. I make no claim of infallibility. But again, far more has been written in the scriptures about injustice, irreligion, the works of the flesh, the love of wealth, and inhumanity. Heck, more has been written about the kosher laws.

So since it appears way down on God’s list of priorities, it’s way down on mine too. It’s no different than any other sin I choose to overlook in friends and family. It’s there, but it’s forgiven; let’s go have coffee. You wanna get married to your same-sex partner? Fine; better you’re in a stable relationship than trying to hit on everyone who walks by. Does it matter whether I personally approve? After all, the only one whose approval you should desire is God’s. Work that out with him. I’m fine. Stop changing the subject because I want coffee.

Hardly the ringing endorsement some folks want from me—in one direction or the other—but that’s where I am right now. Ask me again in a decade.

The October ’10 synchroblog:

Links to the other synchrobloggers are in the pull-down menu above. Switching the menu takes you to that blog. Read ’em; see what you think. I always find it interesting to see how many people independently come to the same conclusions I do; at least I know I’m not totally off the deep end. But then again, maybe we collectively are.