30 August 2012

Titles and respect. Or fake respect.

Some months ago I got into a conversation with a fellow at a Starbucks. (It’s usually in coffeehouses that such conversations take place. I don’t think it’s necessarily ’cause they’re coffeehouses—it’s mainly because I hang out in coffeehouses so often.) He asked my name. I gave it. He gave his name as “Pastor Max,” although Max is not actually his first name; I’m not giving his real name because in this story he’s not gonna go over well.

We were having a civil discussion. He was trying to educate me in certain areas that he clearly knew nothing about, but I indulged him. People like to think themselves experts in certain things, and it is not my mission in life to burst their balloons. At least, not anymore. I’ve reformed from that.

At some point I addressed him as “Max.” And he corrected me: “It’s Pastor Max,” he said.

28 August 2012

“You know what you could write about?…”

There was a stretch there where I never read the op/ed page. Didn’t miss it either.

The opinions of my local newspaper’s editorial board were interesting, and well-informed, but they’d never seek any radical action—it was always about doing the prudent thing instead of the right or generous or inspiring thing. That’s always the catch with editorial boards: They want to reflect everybody’s point of view, so they get a bunch of people with diverse viewpoints. But the extremes balance one another out, so they wind up with the middle-of-the-road view. That’d be fine if it were a radical middle—but it’s not. It’s the milquetoast middle. It’s the “Here’s what we oughta do” that doesn’t make waves, instead of the “Here’s what we really oughta do” that wakes people up and makes ’em move.

The columnists… well, there are two kinds of columnists: Those who are clever, and those who aren’t. I like the clever ones; I don’t care what party they are. Make me think and I’ll like you. Most aren’t clever—or have far too many bad weeks in a row.

And then there are the letters to the editor. I lump them into two categories: Those with legitimate statements and questions; and the cranks.

26 August 2012

Mr. Squish and the Greek system.

My first experience with “Greeks”—not ethnic Greeks, but the Greek-letter college fraternities and sororities—was at CSU Sacramento. It wasn’t a positive experience.

My first semester was on the staff of the CSUS Hornet. I was the Graphics Coordinator—i.e. the art director. On production nights (Mondays and Thursdays), because the section editors didn’t know how to lay out their pages in a way that used all the available space, they’d have all these oddly-shaped blank spots, and expect me to fill them. Usually with in-house ads. Someday I’ll tell you about all the wacky ads I created.

Well, once we put the paper to bed, at midnight or later, sometimes we’d finally have dinner. That’s where I first encountered the “Greeks.”

24 August 2012

Naming names.

Back in 2005 Kyle Lake, a Texas emergent-church pastor, electrocuted himself. He was standing in a baptismal and grabbed a microphone and zzzzt, dead. On the one hand, I was sympathetic to the family, friends, church—namely the 800 people who watched him drop dead—but good Lord what a stupid thing to do.

Irony of ironies, when Christianity Today eulogized Lake, they included excerpts from his book on God’s will—namely that old myth about how “everything happens for a reason,” despite an entire book in the bible, Ecclesiastes, pointedly written to teach otherwise. I digress, but mostly ’cause I’ve had to correct a few people about that myth recently. If everything happens for a reason, then God had that pastor killed simply to remind us not to grab the mic when we’re hip-deep in water. Seems a bit extreme. Seems more likely the pastor lacked the proper respect for electricity.

I bring this up ’cause Brian Kelly, my then-boss (and then-pastor), read my blog and, some weeks later, expressed some concern that if he ever did anything so dumb, he’d get a write-up in my blog.

“But you don’t do anything so dumb,” I pointed out.

“But I might,” he said. So how free was he to act around me, when any ridiculous thing he said or did might wind up on the Internet, where all 27 of my readers could see it and mock him?

19 August 2012

Mr. Squish and apologies.

After I ran the previous strip, which inadvertently singled out one undeserving Recreation and Leisure Studies professor and accused her of being useless, I had a small delegation of her students—“small” meaning three—come to the CSUS Hornet offices, asking to speak to the offending cartoonist, namely me.

I immediately began apologizing. It wasn’t my intent to single out anyone. The students heard me apologize, but they didn’t really accept it—they still weren’t happy. They wanted a retraction in the newspaper. I promised I’d put one in the next strip. They wanted something on the editorial page. I told them they could write a letter and we’d print it, and I’d tack my own apology underneath it, if that helped. They grudgingly accepted that, then hectored me about how awesome their teacher was. I heard them out; I figured it was penance for my mistake. Well, some of the penance.

Later that day I got a call from the associate dean of the Recreation and Leisure Studies department, likewise asking to speak to the offending cartoonist.

17 August 2012

Questioning authority.

I am a trained skeptic. Lots of Christians think skeptic is a bad word, ’cause we’re taught to have faith in God, and believe hard-to-grasp things when God wants us to, and to do so with as little doubt as possible. As we should. And I try.

But humans are not God. And humans have their own motivations for getting us to believe things. Some are nefarious or self-centered. Most, I think (either optimistically or naïvely; judge for yourself) are just misinformed or misguided. They heard something once, and unquestioningly believe it ’cause it suits their politics or theology or prejudices or tastes. They never bother to ask the basic question, “Is that really true?” In fact, sometimes they point to the fact the serpent asked that question of Eve in Eden, (Ge 3.1) and teach people will only ask that question for devilish reasons.

Well, I have degrees in both journalism and theology. In both fields, we’re taught to ask that question: “Is that really true?” Don’t believe what anyone tells you lest you’ve checked it out. In journalism, find facts; two sources when possible. In theology, find verses; one will do, but more is better.

Problem is, people are very, very used to having their every statements accepted without question. So when I ask “Is that really true?”—just doing my duty as both a journalist and theologian—they take offense.

14 August 2012

It makes little difference whether the President is pro-life.

I know a lot of single-issue voters. A single-issue voter is one of those folks who claim, “I look at all the issues, and I see what the candidate thinks of each of them, and I pick the candidate I agree with most”—and that’s complete manure, because one of those issues is a dealbreaker, and any candidate who believes different than the voter, isn’t getting the vote. Or it’s one of those folks who admit they totally do this. They don’t care about a candidate’s view on anything else; they only care about the single issue.

Most of the single-issue voters I know care about abortion. That’s all; nothing else. If you’re a pro-choice single-issue voter, you will only vote for pro-choice candidates. No exceptions. Even if they’re running for an office that has nothing whatsoever to do with abortion politics—say, the California Secretary of State—that person had better be pro-choice. ’Cause they’re never voting for anyone who’s not.

Yeah, it’s stupid. But they argue it’s a litmus test for everything else the candidate believes in.

12 August 2012

Mr. Squish and useless teachers.

In junior high school I discovered there was such a thing as a useless teacher. I hadn’t encountered one in elementary school. Maybe I had in Sunday school, but we tended to go to churches where the kids went into the regular service instead of kids’ classes, and we didn’t stay at churches with useless pastors.

But of course useless teachers exist. They have tenure, so you can’t ever fire them unless they start abusing or molesting the kids, and since they don’t, there they are… filling time in anything but teaching. Some try to teach, and do a rotten job. More often they don’t try. I had a physics teacher who just set up ten experiments around the room, and then sat at his desk and read magazines, while the rest of us goofed off and sometimes looked at the experiments. I had an algebra teacher who spent the first ten minutes of class introducing the lesson, then spent the rest of it at his desk, with his hands covering his face (we joked he was praying for death to take him), while again we goofed off. Is it any wonder I didn’t care for math and science till college?

10 August 2012

On literature and temptation.

Getting behind on my blogging here. I had posted something on More Christ about reading the entire New Testament in two weeks… and then I realized, “Aw nuts, I just committed myself to reading the entire New Testament in two weeks.” I mean, if I’m gonna preach it, I need to do it.

So I’m doing it. One week down: Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, Galatians through 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, and 1 Peter through 3 John down with it. Mark, Luke, 1-2 Corinthians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, Jude, and Revelation to go. I’m not going in order, obviously.

Not that I’m against reading a lot of bible in a short period of time. I read the entire bible every January. It’s just… it’s August, and a leisurely pace is kinda nice sometimes.

In contrast, last week I also started reading The Stand, Steven King’s novel about the End Times. Okay, not really, but it’s way better written, and more biblical, than those stupid, stupid Left Behind novels.

Of course, whenever I say this, some folks think I’m being blasphemous, ’cause King is known as a horror writer who sometimes uses the F-word.

01 August 2012

Poking the conservatives.

For a while there I had a blind spot where I’d provoke conservatives. Not deliberately. Never meant to. I just seemed to do it a lot. Maybe it was ’cause I was swinging to the other extreme as a recovering conservative. I think we all tend to assume that just because we’ve grown past something, others have kept up. But every time I took a poke at some of my immature knee-jerk behavior, it poked other people who still practice this behavior. Only to them it wasn’t immature or knee-jerk: It was good, and right, and righteous, and God-fearing.

Yeah, I know, they’re sheep gone astray.

(See what I mean?)