Sunday, September 6, 2020

It's Time to "Defund" Evangelicalism

Normally, I wouldn't barrage you guys with something like this, but, I keep recycling these thoughts over and over. And it's reached a point where I just need to let it go and move on. Sorry, in advance. But as a reward for your tenacity, enjoy some DankChristianMemes while you read!

In 2007 a book came out called, "unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters." Of  course, it made the rounds in my church circles, telling us what we already knew, but the impact the book has made has radiated outward through time, retaining it's relevance (especially now). 

Clarification needs to be made between "evangelizing" and "evangelicalism" before proceeding. 

The basis of evangelizing comes from the words of Jesus before he ascended into heaven. In the synoptic gospels, these passages occur typically at the conclusion of the books. Specifically in Matthew 28:16-20, the Apostle Matthew writes: 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Evangelizing, specifically, is the act of going out and telling people the gospel (ie. the "Good News"), which can be understood in a variety of ways, but can be ultimately summarized as communicating the truth that Jesus made amends to God on our behalf out of love for us and now we can live a life with Him and for Him. It however does not mean establishing distant trading empires to extract resources, enslaving and homogenizing ethnic minorities, or nationalizing refugees. Purely, it is an act of communication and service. It is impossible to coerce someone to believe in God (ie. trust Jesus at his word), but it is possible to demonstrate his love selflessly by being forgiving, capable of love, and willing to serve those Jesus came to serve. This is not the same as participating in corporate worship (ie. going to church), being a member of a social/political organization, or engaging in spirited debates on social media. It, by definition, requires intimate proximity to the party being "evangelized."


This labored definition, which could be so much longer, is meant to make unambiguous the process and means through which "evangelizing" is undertaken. Evangelizing is, from a distance, unimpressive and without pomp. It's capacity is to be miraculous and is considered to be one of Paul's described spiritual gifts that Christians receive when accepting the truth of the gospel.    

Evangelicalism is a confederacy of smaller institutions and organizations that combine to form a massive movement in the United States. (Use of the word "confederacy" is unrelated to Evangelicalism's initial justifications for Slavery in the United States.) The institution, in my personal experience, has iconic membership aspects; that is, much like a bank's functions (interest, return on investment, and lending) coalescence to become a piece of the American Banking institution. For example, the church I attended in Escondido, California growing up allied with popular cultural movements and affiliations associated with American church organizations including, but not limited to: "conservative" politics, Pro-Life, Anti-Gay, Nationalism, American Exceptionalism, support of the Israel nation state, Dispensational Eschatology, and Anti-Immigration. Evangelicalism is supported by multimedia platforms, like radio, television, and printed materials, which serve to spread information pertaining to theology, social movements, denominational conferences, theology, political endorsements, and charity initiatives. Churches, depending on size, commonly operate with an executive board of elders that report to a "senior pastor," who's primary role can be as singular as Sunday teaching, to a myriad of responsibilities that cover the vision/direction of the church, counseling services, fund raising, branding, marketing, and ministry oversight (childcare, youth group, senior outreach, etc). The only reason why I bring this up is because these functions are just as apart of the American Church's identity as Evangelicalism is associated with the previously stated points. 

Again, this labored definition is meant to distinguish Evangelicalism from other institutions that involve an "organized" expression of Christianity, such as the Emerging Church (moderate) and the Emergent Church (liberal/syncretic with concurrent, cultural movements).


The problem with Evangelicalism is that it fundamentally escapes the purview of the Gospel and it's core teachings, instead substituting extra-biblical interpretations of scripture as orthodoxy, as well as syncretize with conservative ideology, which itself has become a state religion that mythologizes and deifies particular government institutions/principles. (Fascist and Authoritarian governments attempt the same thing, much to the dismay of contemporary, civilized nations.)   

One of the lamentable failures of Evangelicalism is the substitution of commentary/interpretation in place of sola scriptura (the idea posed by Martin Luther during the Reformation, that scripture alone was the authority of the church, as opposed to Rome). Instead of seeking answers in the teachings of Jesus and His gospel, the interpretation of others takes precedence, and the believer ceases to consult scripture for truth, but blindly accepts current culture's "truth." For instance, on the issue of immigration and the seeking of asylum, Matthew 2:7-15 describes Mary and Joseph fleeing for their lives as Herod maneuvers to seek out his potential opposition and eliminate it: 

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”


 The irony that Joseph would seek refuge in the country of his ancestor's persecutors notwithstanding, Jesus in his infancy (guided by God's provenance) takes on the role of immigrant and refugee. Later on in the same gospel (Matthew 18:4-6), Jesus asks his disciples to undertake their walks with him with the humility of young children. He concludes this thought with the following:

Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

But, despite the very words of Jesus himself, the instruments of Evangelicalism prioritize the needs of the state over the needs of his children. Even worse, the network of affiliated organizations that align under the unified banner of Evangelicalism user their platforms to convince their congregations that nothing is wrong with turning away those that seek aid and refuge. 

Aside from the antithetical stances that Evangelicalism takes on immigration as a whole (including refugees and asylum seekers), Racism is prevalent in the culture of Evangelicalism (or, at least, implicitly) because of its silence on the topic of equality among those created in the image and likeness of God. Liberty University (a "bastion of the Christian Right") and Bob Jones University both encouraged (and in the latter's case, enforced) the separation of couples based on race. Historical institutions of Evangelicalism defended the practice of slavery with scripture. Bishops William Meade and Stephen Elliot noted that the institution of slavery was a part of God's plan for the world, assuming a prototypical argument for the "White Man's Burden." However Frederick Douglas rightly denounced the words of of those like Meade and Elliot stating,

Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason but the most deceitful one for calling the religion of this land Christianity...

The amplification of these evils extend from the nationalization and mythologizing of Christianity's impact on key moments in the formation of the United States government. The ongoing argument I often hear is that the United States of America was founded as a "Christian" nation. This is strange considering that the resounding majority of the founding fathers were Deists or nominal Christians, heavily influenced by Enlightenment Deism. Why this is important is that Evangelicalism, rather than joining the rest of Christendom in curbing the excesses of capitalism and the policies that conflict with the Gospel, the incorporated cogs in the machinery of Evangelicalism equate the combined successes of America's institutions with God's favor and approval. The reality is that Jesus's Kingdom of God transcends national/political institutions (as well as the divisions of sex, ethnicity, and wealth.) Jesus, multiple times in the gospels, rejects the mob's wishes to nominate Him a leader against the provisional Roman government in Palestine. In fact, he goes so far to say that it is right to pay taxes to Cesar. The theocratic tendencies of Evangelicalism conflict with Jesus's mission to unite the entire world under one Kingdom of God, in that it advances a false narrative that the USA is anointed by God (due to a  nationalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation).  


For the sake of brevity, that this alone could go on and on, I will stop here. Evanglicalism as it stands wields an influence that is implicit and far-reaching in our culture and our traditions. It feeds a narrative that denies the sovereignty of God and his providence (in that if non-christian voices exist in a national conversation, God/Jesus/Holy Spirit will somehow lose His ability to work and minister to those who answer to Him). It attempts to support, without the aid of scripture, the demonizing of immigrants out of unjustified fear. It entertains the worst aspects of the pharisees that Jesus denounced by "praying loudly" in public spaces (saturating the media with feigned piety), being "whitewashes tombs" (the artifice of piety despite endemic moral failure), and removing themselves from those "defiled" (supporting and executing policies that harm the most vulnerable of individuals, foreign and domestic). 

It is my hope that Evangelicalism will be tested and broken under the weight of it's own egregious deeds, so that we can all move on and pursue Christ, unimpeded by cancerous and unfounded theology that distorts the Gospel.   

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Luke 9:62


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

I'm Quitting the Sauce (Seriously)

I've had various drafts of this blog come and go. What is here now seems the best possible iteration of the past couple months. I think what impressed me to write was the fact that I thought being in a scenario like this wouldn't happen. That I didn't "have a problem." That only washed up detectives and coked up movie stars struggled with the temptations. And while I am planning to have a beer at Christmas, it seems that I may never drink again, if my current disenchantment endures. 

I made the decision to stop drinking about a month ago, which seems appropriate given the current, insufferable socio-political climate. It's very strange, to think that my 20s was a marathon of unrelenting alcohol consumption. (Never all at once, just a slow burn.) Even stranger, that the majority of my life was spent NOT drinking beer and wine and Moscow Mules and whiskey and scotch, and whatever else can be fermented into ethanol. I remember, fondly, going to the local independent supermarket where I grew up, gift certificate in hand, when I would buy a 2 liter of A&W Cream Soda and an oversized jar of kosher dill pickles. Back then, that was enough. Why isn't it anymore? 

After I turned 21, it was a fashionable thing to go to local gastropubs and sample the available stock. I never racked up any credit card debt doing so, but I went enough to realize that the super markets had a much better going rate. When I worked for Stone Brewing Company, beer became free over night, which was fortunate given that large quantities were necessary to cope with working 9 hour shifts, 6 days a week in wretched conditions without worker representation. But even outside of work—at church, at home—drinking was a cultural exercise. And, I was very... cultured. 

The turning point was when I realized the rate at which I was drinking. I was having about three six packs per week, usually 2-3 beers per night. Pouring the beer was like measuring out NyQuil into a thimble. I would tell myself that I was just making sure that the beer wasn't over-agitated, but to the person outside of my window I was like a mad scientist. I could see what I was doing and it didn't sit well with me. Then, I had the realization that our fridge was never without at least one beer—I couldn't place a time when it wasn't. Most important, the stress wasn't going away and the beer was no longer relieving it, even when knocking down a 6 pack of Enjoy-By IPA. At this point, I don't even think my medication was working anymore.

Of course, it's now September (ish). I'm addicted to sugar free soda as a replacement, but, you know, pick your battles. At least I lost about 15 pounds in two weeks after making the transition! 

Anyways... enough about me. I have a couple updates!

I can say with modest certainty that my newest book should be ready for printing around Christmas time. My wife is making good progress on draft 3, which is encouraging. Usually that indicates positive things: plot is cohesive, fewer grammatical and structural errors, and good pacing. Additionally, the cover art I received back from the artist my designer picked will look incredible. God, it will look so dope! 

Also, if any of you are interested in pre-ordering the book, please let me know. I'm planning on ordering about a 100 copies. Cost will most likely be $30, plus $4 shipping. Of course, each will be signed by yours truly!

Thanks for hanging in there for a substantial update on my part! Love you guys!   






Saturday, August 22, 2020

Tacky Hawaiian Shorts: North - By Stuart Warren

North

Corrugated metal and patchwork bracing hold them together, the forgotten Victorian storefronts along the sparse Akoni Pule Highway. The road terminates at Polou, where wild guava and coconut line the trail down into the valley. Driftwood shifts in the roiling grey waters, traversing blackened sand and decimated stones. The deafening valley howls. Crashing waves, then the receding of water.

 

The ones left behind carry on, despite the inclement conditions. Paradise lost to the progression of time and the markings of colonists. The sweet smell of chicken braising in coconut milk wafts through the air, and with it laughter and gossip, in celebration of another day completed in the company of friends. A depreciated flat screen rolls ESPN highlights in the adjacent dining room. The static washes over them.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Tacky Hawaiian Shorts: West - By Stuart Warren

 West

Two women with calloused hands haggle in a prop-up tent. Vendors eye each other suspiciously, unboxing imported merchandise. Trinkets and baubles. Captured essence of island life made by the hands of children thousands of miles away. The coffee is “Kona”. One pound for twenty-four dollars. “I’ll give it to you for twenty,” says a Filipino woman.

The Martian desert lies above the tourist alcoves, parched by the exhausted wind; a dry heat. Golf carts roam in herds on distant greens. Lonely highways, arrested by total darkness in the quiet hours, lit only by sickly torches of fluorescent light. Beaches, purified by time, covered in plastic awnings, are serviced by the true wards in the shadow of Pu’ukohola.


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Tacky Hawaiian Shorts: East - By Stuart Warren


East

From the mouth of hell, ground water flows into the windswept ocean. A grove of coconut trees hedges the warm spring, but none walk below them. The sweet spot is by the mouth of the inlet, where the sand churns beneath the surface, and the fish are lost in the debris clouds. Sweeter in memories past, this place is now lost for all time, beneath the flow of Kilauea.


The white noise, like crashing waves, or passing traffic on the rural route, is deafening. They aren’t supposed to be here, the frogs. In the viridian groves, they encroach but cannot be turned away. Shafts of light pierce the clouds overhead, technicolor horizons in the late afternoon rainstorms. From the antiquated living room, near the sliding door to the deck, a gecko carcass rots. It’s covered in fire ants.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Tacky Hawaiian Shorts: South - By Stuart Warren




South

The rain comes down the enameled metal surface, streams deviating as etched crevasses recall seasons and generations. The rusty playground is site to another tropical downpour in the southern-most territory of the United States. A soaked flag wags limp, hoisted over volcanic masonry.




Golden fields contain lost civilizations. The withered carapace of a wind generator lies like a fallen megalith. Local ranchers tend to fleets of defunct machinery as tourists traverse their land. The earth is scorched by voracious cattle. Living leather purses, filled with bones, watch the rust punk revolution unfold.



Monday, July 6, 2020

Book Printing Logistics for... Uh... Dummies

The book is not finished but I am eager to make it so. While my wife continues one last overview of the book and it's contents, I've started the process of getting quotes from potential printers to see what I'm actually working with. What I've learned already, after only a few hours, is very interesting, so I wanted to share!

I use Notes to jot down what I need on the fly when I get an idea. 

To the right is a basic (and messy) profits & losses statement. I wanted to get an idea of what kind of expenses go into printing a book and things that I wouldn't otherwise think about. My goal is to print a hardcover, ideally, but—choosing between softcover and hardcover—a softcover will give me a larger print run and a lower per unit cost. Alright...

Are you ready to fuckin' MATH?

Using my current eBook vendor, BookBaby, I generated two estimates, with only the hardcover and softcover variables changing.

Interestingly enough, printing 150 softcover and 100 hardcover, is the exact same price. I used this as a baseline for all my quotes.

To produce 1 softcover volume, after printing, shipping (from the printer), and taxes, is roughly $15.85 at cost. I figure I can sell them at $20 per copy, which would be a total "profit" of $4.15. For the hardcover variant, the rate would be $23.78 at cost and $30 per copy. The "profit" for the hardcover would be $6.22.

But then, remember, we need to SHIP these to our beautiful readers. For shipping costs,  it would seem that most of the internet recommend using media mail via USPS. The rate for this starts at $2.75 for the first pound, plus an additional .52 per pound. Therefore, it costs $3.27 to ship a 2LB package. (Calculating the weight of the final printed book, at this time, isn't possible. However, books of a similar size are roughly 1LB 3OZ.) After all said and done, I figure it would be reasonable to charge $4 to ship the book, in addition to the cover price, thereby bringing the total to a $24/$34 total for either version.

I researched a few vendors to compare with BookBaby:



Moving on, one of the things that people don't realize is that the margin for profit in physical book publishing is so horrendously slim that many publishing houses are going out of business, unable to compete with digital publishing platforms like Amazon Kindle and Apple iTunes. The way to calculate how much you make during a publishing print run I've detailed below:

Total profit:
  • Softcover profit is $4.15 x 150 = 622.5
  • Hardcover profit is $6.22 x 100= 622
Note: I was floored initially that the total profit was (almost) the same in both formats. 

Next step, we calculate the margin of profit using the total cost of the print run (printing, shipping, and taxes):
  • Softcover margin: $622.50 / $2378 = 26%
  • Hardcover margin: $622 / $2378 = 26%
Believe it or not, 26% is absolutely incredible. According to my mentor, who has been printing and publishing books for almost 35 years, his industry average is around 11%.

A real profit and loss statement will have much more going on, citing things like cover design, editing, marketing, and the author's advance. I'm lucky enough to have a beautiful wife who edits professionally, but I do pay for the cover design and eBook conversion. The $622.50 profit does not cover the cost of designer fees, unfortunately; which means the book will inevitably lose money. But for me, it's more important to see it printed. I dunno, it's just nice to tangibly hold in your hands, something you've made. Imagine if, after going through labor, the OB gave you a hologram of the baby, saying something, like, "This is your little girl! She can't hug, but look at that resolution, huh?"


Friday, June 26, 2020

Book Outlining For... Uh... Dummies

One of the most difficult things about writing a book is taking a good idea (your elevator pitch) and stretching it out to 150,000 words.

No one is ever going to have every conversation meticulously planned out for every character/chapter, or have a concrete layout of their world from the beginning. That's impossible. Only John Milton did it, but he was nearly blind, which doesn't leave a lot of time to do things other than just sit and think. 

To demonstrate my method I'm going to take a simple idea and stretch it out:

Elevator Pitch

"Everyman, Mr. Smith, goes to Washington"

The above sounds a lot like a very familiar movie, sure. Mr. Smith's idyllic journey from his altruistic beginnings to the withering and corrupting ecosystem that is Washington DC is, in fact, a fairly archetypal story. The everyman has ambition, journey's out of his comfort zone, becomes disillusioned, confronts his disillusionment, and then grows from the experience. But how do you stretch it out?

Elastic Story-Telling

Most people trying to write a book have a good idea of where they want to go. For instance, with the above, I have a couple of scenes in mind that could go into the story. But what goes in between?

Every book needs a basic outline.

I make three sentence summaries for each chapter. This allows me to explore the entire plot, very quickly, without too much effort. For example, assuming this book has 10 chapters, this is what I would do:


  1. Mr. Smith is encouraged by his local congregation to explore local politics, in lieu of his grandfather's historic tenure as the first mayor of the town. He talks to a local councilman to get pointers. Mr. Smith runs for mayor and gets elected narrowly. 
  2. After 1 year of serving as mayor, he meets with state officials to discuss a new highway that will be running through his county. Edward McElroy, the representative of his congressional district is attending. They hit it off, and discuss politics, leaving Mr. Smith wondering what more he can do for his country. 
  3. Mr. Smith announces at a press conference that he wants to runs for the U.S. House of Representatives. He challenges the encumbent of his district (the very same McElroy). They have a series of town hall debates, with the last one Smith challenging McElroy directly. 
  4. With the help of harnessing the local community, though piggy-backing off the goodwill earned by his grandfather, Mr. Smith faces a difficult election day. Smith goes door to door on election day, early in the morning. Smith narrowly, again, wins the council district.
  5. Smith goes to Washington DC (finally) and moves into his office. He meets his staff and other congressmen. Big players like the House Speaker and Minority Whip are eating lunch in the commissary and having a lively conversation about X, a regular debate.
  6. Smith's first day in the House. Still learning the social etiquette of his new job, Smith makes several mistakes. Smith votes against his party and gains some enemies. 
  7. Smith Encounters corruption in both parties, with the Speaker and the Minority Whip taking concessions from two lobbying industries. Smith confronts them and is bitterly dismissed. Smith brings up his objections the following day regarding two pieces of legislation that are being debated. 
  8. The House Speaker and Minority Whip pass their laws successfully. Smith is discouraged and goes out to drink at a bar. The following day reporters confront him and he is ashamed of his lack of decorum. 
  9. Smith reads a letter from one of his supporters and is reinvigorated, admitting fault in a public statement. An amendment to one of the laws that passed the previous day is proposed, which Smith filibusters. Smith collapses on the house floor and suffers a stroke. 
  10. Smith awakes 4 months later from a coma and learns about his example in the House. His willingness to standby his principals garnered him sympathy, but also encouraged others to look into the House Speaker and Minority Whip. Extensive corruption is uncovered and Smith is celebrated in his home town. 
I wrote the above in less than an half hour, but I was able to create a story from it. That's what matters. After all, we don't live forever.

Forget What You Saw Here

While the above is useful for crafting a general idea of where the story will go, the above will drastically change over the course of the actual novel writing. New ideas, new characters, new plot devices will emerge, and directly conflict with the original outline. This, believe it or not, is totally fine. 

So, assuming that I wanted to write this book, I would write my first chapter right away. But, before I do this, I will write an extended play by play of the chapter, consolidating the chapter into a series of beats (scenes) that will compose a story within a story. (Even chapters have their own flow and drama.) To demonstrate will randomly roll a ten sided dice. (Yes, I play Dungeons and Dragons... wanna' fight about it?) 

Okay...I rolled a 6...

For chapter 6, I originally laid out the first day of Mr. Smith in his freshman role. Assuming nothing has changed, before I write anything concrete, I would jot out a series of beats that I want to take place in the chapter:

  • Smith is nervously smoking a cigarette in his dim office, trying to shake out his nerves. 
  • Helen, Smith's secretary comes in, gives Smith an itinerary, and shows him to the chamber, feeling bad for his nerves.
  • Smith Enters the chamber, almost late, and takes his seat. The representative next to him is idly chatting with a fellow party member. 
  • Smith introduces himself
  • Trying to butt in on an ongoing discussion over a bill, Smith is chastised by the House Speaker and Majority Whip for his indiscretion. 
  • Smith fumbles with his briefcase, spilling his papers on the floor.
  • A bill is being discussed and brought to a final vote. One of the bill provisions will negatively affect members of his district, and others in his home state. 
  • Smith voices his objections and he votes against the bill. 
  • After the session, two of his fellow party members angrily accost him in the hall. They demand to know why Smith voted against them. When Smith divulges his reasons, the party members cruelly laugh in his face and insult him saying that "party above policy" is what wins votes. 
  • Smith's assistant bleakly smiles and escorts him back to his office
The above is an example of what I would do when writing a chapter for the first time. Everything there constitutes a solid scene where I can explore the character and their motivations. This also helps to defeat writers' block because you have a road map for your narrative. 

Keep Calm Write On

One thing about writing a chapter is that there will be varying levels of interest regarding each beat. Some you will feel are compulsory. Beat 3 of 10 is only there to move the plot along. Beat 6 of 10 is the sweet spot. Regardless of the context just shit it out. There are so many opportunities to expand upon previous sections during later drafts and revisions, so try not to dwell too heavily on these beats. Chances are, while writing a later chapter, you will want to come back to a previous chapter and re-write it to reflect a sudden epiphany.

If you have any comments or questions regarding the above, please hit me up in the comments below.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Thoughts on Warren Ellis

Before I begin I want to state very clearly that I do not approve of what Warren did (according to some of the women breaking their silence). This is meant to be for me, to vent, to try to make sense of all this.

Warren Ellis at SDCC 2010


Yesterday my wife walked up to me and showed me a breaking article that explained Warren Ellis was accused of sexual coercion. You can find that article here. I'm devastated. Even though I don't know Warren personally, earlier this year I embarked on a journey to read everything he's ever written. I've always really liked his work, from his amazing original series Transmetropolitan to his comprehensive representation of people of color and members of the LGBTQ community in The Authority, Trees, Injection, Global Frequency, and The Wildstorm. So it's with great sadness that I now confront this awkward situation. Obviously, my heart goes out to the women who were manipulated by Warren. My pain is a parody of theirs, by comparison. Situations like these also become more real when you have a daughter, and consider the future ahead of her.

How does one separate the author from the work? Writers are traditionally fucked up people. How could they be good writers, if they didn't have some kind of trauma that they were working through? I know, for instance, that Alan Moore is deeply moved by the occult. So much so that he wrote an entire series (Promethea) to explain how it works. Likewise, Grant Morrison is convinced that he was abducted by 4th dimensional aliens--after taking a bunch of psychotropic drugs, of course--and since experiencing that he has attempted to justify that experience by writing about it in superhero comics. Neil Gaiman? I think he just read a lot. Who knows?

I remember when Louie C.K. was also outed by the #metoo movement. I remember Sarah Silverman talking about how she felt betrayed and devastated by the news. That she was a close friend of Louie, and to find out was crushing. She explained that she, at the same time, loved Louie but also hated him for what he did. In a way, that's kind of how I feel.

With comics, things get even more complicated. I would argue that if writer X, makes Batman say Y, there is a degree of separation between the author and the work. Mostly because, with comics, the writer is becoming a mouth piece for a corporate property. This property is controlled by an editorial staff. A writer can't make Batman antisemitic or homophobic, because there are a team of editors in place to make sure that doesn't happen. (Though maybe Frank Millar is an exception to the rule?) So, when I read Warren Ellis, I hear Batman's voice. I see through the eyes of Spider Jerusalem. I listen to Midnighter's rants. I feel the electricity in Jenny Sparks' hands. I taste the dankness of the Venture space shuttle, after ten years of travel in deep space. And, regardless, of what Warren did, I feel those things. And his work has strengthened the medium of sequential art as a whole.

I'm just pissed off.

It's integral to my faith in Jesus Christ that people are inherently fucked. They have no hope of being good apart from Christ. Every act of good will, of sacrifice, can be linked back to the implicit self-interest of the individual. So why should I expect any different from Warren? Like every human that has ever existed, he has made bad decisions. He has been cruel, lustful, depraved, dishonest, and cowardly. I would hope that, after all of this, he can repent of his wrongdoings and seek forgiveness and restitution.

But I can't demand that. I just have to hope.


Monday, June 1, 2020

"Thought Experiments" - An Original Short by Stuart Warren




“What’s he doing?”
                A woman, behind Jack, pointed down the line at a frumpy young man in his late twenties fumbling with a phone and a half eaten sandwich. Jack focused on the smartphone’s display and saw a lively procession of emoticons and ascending praise.
                “He’s an influencer.
                “A what?”
                “An influencer.”
                “What’s that?”
                “Someone wealthy enough to have free time, but too poor to sustain it indefinitely.”
                “That sounds awful.”
                Jack nodded. It was awful.
                The line snaked along theoretical lanes inside the crowded government facility. Etched into the bones of an aging strip mall, the Department of Motor Vehicles exuded an odor of wet drywall and day old urine. False hope abounded, embodied in the musty décor and hopeless faces of employees required, by law, to work inefficiently. Above Jack, a sign fixture dangled perilously from the ceiling:
USE OF MAGIC PROHIBITED
UNLAWFUL EXPERIMENTATION WILL RESULT IN REMOVAL FROM THE PREMISES
The woman beside Jack groaned.
                “Christ!”
                Jack chuckled. He would’ve liked to see Jesus here, kicking over desks and whipping frightened attendants like weary cattle. He was the first Magus, the supreme Mesmer. He would have burned this all down were it not for the brief detour back to the realm of immaterial.
                “Are you here for the certification too?”
                Jack turned around and saw the woman for the first time: a retro embodiment of sixties kitsch, replete with beehive hair and a tropical muumuu. She saw the surprise in Jack’s expression and shrugged. “I’m in theater. You know? Plays… This is art, okay.”
                “I’m not here for a certification,” Jack replied, slyly. “I’m here for a License to Think.”
                The woman sputtered jealously. “Lucky guy.”
                “Correct,” Jack agreed. “But it’s not all glamorous.”
                “That’s bullshit. Magic is awesome. I wish I could do magic.”
                “It has its perks. Not all of them good I’m afraid.”
                The woman snickered.
                “I haven’t seen you online, have I?”
                Jack shook his head.
                “When Experimentation Goes Wrong is one of my favorite shows,” the woman continued. “It’s like screwball comedies, if everything was on fire!”
                Jack smirked.
                “My name is Annie.”
                “Jack.”
                Jack shook Annie’s hand. It was sweaty.
                “This makeup makes me burn up. Sorry.”
                “Nothing to apologize for. Far be it from me to judge another in this desolate place. You might as well be Cleopatria in the nude, compared to the ghouls they have here.”
                Annie frowned. “That’s sexist. You’re sexist. Of course you are. You’re a fucking magician.”
                Jack wrinkled his nose.
                “I’m not a magician. I’m a philosopher,” he replied smugly. “And it’s a profession that precludes manners.”
                “Asshole,” Annie grumbled. “I’m always next to a creep…”
                Jack looked ahead, unmoved by the altercation. A ghoul, with layers of foundation caked on to her putrid skin waved him forward.
                “Nnn… Next…” she croaked.
                Jack approached the counter and flopped an envelope onto the plastic shield, protecting the faux laminate wood. “I’m here for my license.
                The ghoul looked down, straining her failing eyes. A valid birth certificate was splayed out with a social security card and a utility bill. She ground her teeth, snarling thoughtfully.
                “Ahhh… arrrr… are you pruh... prepared for a vuh… verbal test?”
                Jack placed his phone faced down on top of the documents and emptied his pockets of loose change. The ghoul looked down, identifying the rhetorical objects and growled.
                “Duh… door, four.”
                Jack smiled. “Thank you, my dear.”
                The ghoul smiled, worms crossing between blackened teeth. She dragged her arm across the countertop, sweeping the contraband into an iron lockbox. It would be returned after the assessment.
                The examination rooms were standing compartments: cubby holes with irritated, bespectacled gentlemen shuffling tarot cards and organizing talismans. Jack entered the booth, placing both hands—palms down—onto a blue stencil outline, while “Steven” carefully categorized the mystic paraphernalia with sterile precision.
                “With your hands bound, and relying only on verbal commands, you will be tasked with transmuting three objects,” Steve recited, speaking dryly from a memorized script. “You will be timed and all tasks will need to be completed before this undisclosed time expires. Do I have your consent to proceed?”
                “Yes, yes. Please, I’m ready,” Jack replied.
                Steven drew out one yellowed card from a dispenser. He reached into a box of bric-a-brac and grabbed a pewter soldier and placed it in the center of the space between them. Steven flipped over the card.
                “‘If matter is material, then what is consciousness?’”
                Jack looked down at the soldier and frowned.
                “It is the immaterial made material.”
                As Jack spoke, celestial energy coalesced around the inanimate object. The soldier flexed, the cracking of bones and flesh faintly audible, and its green skin became pink and soft
                “Oh my god,” the soldier wailed, thrashing on the ground. “Not again… Please god, make it stop!”
                Steven quickly slapped down an opened Styrofoam cup onto the homunculus and slipped the dialogue card underneath to carefully remove the figurine from the surface.
                “That’s actually my specialty,” Jack murmured whimsically.
                Steven looked at Jack, unamused. “Whatever it is that you people do, I don’t want to know.”
                Steven drew another card from the dispenser, retrieved a feather from the box, and flipped over the card.
                “I… also know this one.”
                Steven paused, tapping his finger on the countertop. He flipped over the card.
                “‘How do you make a feather weigh eight hundred pounds?’”
                Jack shrugged playfully.
                “You move it to Jupiter, obviously…”
                The feather flexed against the countertop, warping the plastic fibers of the manufactured wood, until it ripped through and crunched into the linoleum flooring below.
                Steven left the side of his booth and motioned for Jack to follow him to the next cubby over.
                In the second booth, Steven took out a dollhouse, placing it off to the side. With a swipft, Steven took another card and cleared his throat.
                “Why is there a global housing shortage?”
                Jack took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “I hate this one.”
                Steven, who probably lived alone in a one bedroom apartment, nodded bleakly. He turned to the side, looking over at someone and silently shook his head. Jack, meanwhile, focused and breathed through his clenched teeth.
                “Not too much time left…” Steven muttered.
                “It’s because people don’t share,” Jack said, though not particularly to Steven. The dollhouse shifted sideways, a transparent weave embodying the structure of the original, only minutely as dense. Steven took out a telescoping pointer and prodded the copy, which firmly resisted. He unclipped a pen from his front facing pocket and jotted down a signature on a blue receipt.
                “Bring this voucher to desk 12F.”

Jack was out and back into the world a half hour later, holding in his hands a provisional license to think in the State of Oklahoma. As he walked out to his car, he shuffled through his pockets, feeling for the familiar shape of his key fob. As he did, a blinking light on the seat caught his attention. The fob was laid out across a pile of junk mail and a half eaten energy bar.
                “Is there such a thing that I don’t lock my keys in the car like some pedestrian simpleton?” Jack bemoaned. As he did, an identical fob took shape inside his clenched fist.
                Jack grinned. “Imagine that.”
                When he opened his hand the fob was half materialized through his knuckles.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Why It's Better To Share, Instead of Borrow

Late last year I was scrolling through my Hulu queue and saw the below:


Holy shit! Is it my birthday? I thought. Guy Pearce is my jam! So of course I embarked on a binge of this very short miniseries. (3 episodes, 3 hours)

I was impressed. Before I tell you why, consider the following.

Every so-and-so has done the Christmas Carol story before. Despite the story being of English origin and set in the very specific context of industrialized England, somehow Americans has also been hooked. This is likely due to the biblical overtones of the story. The three ghosts can loosely represent Christocentric ideas like the Trinity or the three days Jesus spent in the tomb after his crucifixion. The story of redemption, of forcing a man to repent for his sins and receive salvation. The lessons taught about generosity, grace, and the worship of material wealth. Even Scrooge's first name, "Ebenezer," is derived from the Hebrew word "ebhen hā-ʽezer" (literally "stone of help"), to symbolize the divine assistance Scrooge receives from the spirits, as well as the heart of stone Scrooge possess until his redemption. It's all there and easily received by a population that is loosely familiar with biblical verbiage.

The story is so ubiquitous (over here, "across the pond") that I grew up on several iterations of Dicken's work including, but not limited to, Mickey's Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooged, and A Christmas Carol, featuring George C. Scott (1984). (While jogging my memory, I discovered a version with Patrick Stewart!? What have I been doing with my life?) And, even if some of these versions are unfamiliar, it's likely that at least one of these has made it into your life at some point.

I actually liked Scrooged the best growing up, seeing it as some kind of Ghostbusters spin-off.

So, yes, I was very impressed with the recent version put on my FX. The expanded format allowed for a greater level of narrative depth in areas previously unexplored, such as the politics of the afterlife and the hellish bells that toll there. There is also motivation on Marley to move Scrooge to repentance. For, if Marley fails, he will be cast into an unrelenting purgatory. The #metoo movement is invoked when Scrooge forces Mrs. Cratchit to undress in front of him so that she can take out a loan for live-saving surgery for her son Tim. The spendthrift policies of industrialized Britain and the deadly cost of unbridled capitalism are as relevant today as it was then (corporate loopholes, poor working conditions, the wage gap, the working poor, unaccountable executive, etc.). There is even a scene depicting the rationing of coal, where Cratchit is, absurdly, charged for having additional coals provided to his stove in Scrooge's office. Each of these details cement the viewer in the time period and add layers of complexity to the story that has too often been sanitized by an over-emphasis on joyful climax. (Yes, Scrooge is redeemed. But that doesn't negate the pain and neglect he caused, or the inevitable restitution implied by his change of heart.)

But why write about this in the summer? Why is this important?

I actually was hooked by a line read by Pearce in the show, and I knew that I would want to write about it eventually, but never had the time to do so. Specifically, Pearce states the following:
"A gift is but a debt, unwritten but implied."
This idea got my attention, as I languished on my mom's couch last Christmas. Specifically, I had bought my brother a 3D printer, which I wanted to give as both a celebration of his personal industry and the accommodations he made for me while we visited our father in Hawaii. It was quite an expense, something only made possible by money recently bequeathed to me from my late grandmother, but it was worth it. The above quote seemed to explain something behind the materialistic motivations inherent in gift giving. Though my brother was none-the-wiser, there was some part of me that that sought recompense.

Guy Pearce as Scrooge.
(This is all the shit that goes through my head when I write about something. After all these paragraphs, now I begin the actual article.)

I've always been fascinated by the interaction of words, specifically when people use different terms interchangeably. The language behind share and borrow is markedly different, despite their everyday use as equivalents. Both terms invoke the collaborative ownership of something (wealth, property, resources, etc). Both are primarily positive in connotation. Where the terms part ways involved the object of the sharing or borrowing, In the latter case, borrowing implies that resources gained are returned. Sharing implies extended or perpetual ownership. I would not be the first person to write about the implications behind gift giving. But what I seem to get stuck on is the liquidity of the terms.

Sharing reminds me of the early Christian Church. In the Book of Acts 2:42-47 we read the following:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The only reason I bring the bible in to this, is because Americans typically leverage biblical language, the language of A Christmas Carol, while championing the acquisition of wealth, equating divine favor and moral excellence to those who were most adept. But, clearly, in the bible we see a different idea taking place: the sharing of resources for the betterment of the collective. This is essentially a prototype of communism, where members of the community own the "means of production."

Oldie, but a goodie.

Scrooge's statement, where a gift demands reciprocity in some form, brings an argument against charity, that in giving there is an implicit motive to justify one's self. Or, we simply give to feel congratulated and compensate for a moral failing that looms over our consciousness. The moral of A Christmas Carol promotes the idea of selfless giving, specifically grace.

Borrowing, as a concept at least, implies temporary ownership. It is active on the part of the supplicant, passive on the part of the provider. One goes to an institution and asks for a resource and is given that resource, with the understanding that this resource will be repaid in some capacity over time. Obviously this practice is monetized to favor the institution. Some form of additional reciprocity is sought to justify the initial lending. This is typically done with charging interest, where a percent of the total money left to be repaid is charged in addition to the principal. I'm laboring on the minutiae of this to prove a point: of the two terms, only borrowing is inherently predatory.

When we share our resources, we are committing to mutual prosperity and strength. A community, even on the fringe, will survive indefinitely when operating under the concept of sharing resources. Likewise, when someone buys "shares" in a company, they are participating in a group effort to see something come into being. Sharing, in my mind, aligns with the concept of grace; that is, unmerited favor. Grace is a gift. There is no implied debt or language hinting at future reimbursement. It flies in the very face of modern theories like laissez-faire capitalism, where economies are advanced on the basis of self-interest and competition over limited resources. This is incompatible with the Gospel and the concept of sharing. But, even Christians seem consigned to rationalize the use of free market capitalism as a means to an end, or a necessary evil that we must all endure for the sake of general order. Verily, Jesus never said, "Blessed are the poor, that is, unless they deserve to be poor because they collect food stamps, make bad decisions, and are addicted to meth." Sharing involves two active participants, and, rather than the supplicant approaching the provider, it is the provider that approaches the supplicant.

There are several iterations of this comic that have popped up on the internet in the past few years. But all seem to point out the incongruity between the worship of market freedom over the livelihood of average workers.

At the end of the day, the nuance of this argument can be obfuscated by quick tempers and personal narratives. Objectivity flies out of the window and we typically keep to our camps, where the firelight is warm, comforting, and calming. Rarely are we forced to venture beyond the borders and confront the wilderness. That would require bravery, after all. I know that my philosophy is influenced by the teachings of Jesus, which some may find hostile for tertiary reasons. If you, reader, are not a fan of the whole Christianity thing, then consider something like the Utopian future of Star Trek, embodied by the fictional organization known as the United Federation of Planets. In this speculative timeline, resources are shared within the federation. Though there is money exchanged between the Federation and other species (ie, the Ferengi, who covet "gold plated Latinum"), the act of doing so is implicitly denigrating to both parties. And, though it seems absurd to live life based on fictional principals, just because it's not real doesn't mean it can't have an impact on how experience the world and interact with it. (In my case, I believe Jesus is reality, which I would call a "win" in my book.)

Anyways, that's what's been on my mind the past few weeks.

In other news, I finished my 3rd book this weekend. I am beyond excited to share the details with you as the book enters the design process!

#TheWorkingAuthor

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The "Meh"-of-All-Trades

I have this tendency to be good at things, but not great. It sounds like a brag, but it's the source of a lot of turmoil in my life.

Typically, the starting age for a professional [_____] is young, like too young. Usually it's a gymnast that is worked so hard at 15 that she doesn't get her period until she's in her 20s, or its a 8 year old kid who's father sneaks protein power into his breakfast cereal so he can hit the gym and get "swole." And then there's people like me who are average, with hobbies, dreams, and simple acquisitions.

Growing up I played sports, like, all the sports. I played soccer (field and arena), football (flag and tackle), basketball, baseball, and track and field (discus, shot put, 200 meter, and 100 meter). I never truly found my stride in any of them. The truth is you have to keep at something long enough to get good, appreciate the "rules," learn the minutiae of whatever it is that you do. Certain trade skills, after so long, become apparent. (Like sanding wood at different grit sandpaper, or playing baseball with performance enhancing drugs.) Actually, the only consistent experience I had with sports was the unrelenting day dreaming. I remember vividly knocking home run hits into the stratosphere and breaking the sound barrier on the 100 meter. You know, typical sport stuff. 

While all this was going on, there was guitar.

I used to air guitar, a lot. Like too much. I would pretend to be Angus Young and Bon Scott from ACDC and jump all over my room. I had this vision in my head of bending notes and melting faces. The moment I started playing acoustic guitar, I was looking at Angus and thinking, "Yeah, I want to do that."

So I kept playing, despite the hurdles and frustrations. But, while I was playing, I started to write.

I wrote my first "book" when I was in 6th grade. It was awful and done in conjunction with a writing assignment on ancient Greece for my humanities class. In 7th grade, I wrote another one. It was a steaming heap o' shit. This one was different though. I made a title page, table of contents. I printed the entire thing out on a Packard Bell inkjet printer, in color! Between the end of 8th grade and beginning of 9th grade, I continued this trend and wrote a serialized novel that I ultimately never finished. Every weekend I would post a chapter on DeviantArt using a title card I made out of clip art and papyrus in MS Paint.

But I stopped. I don't remember why.

I often pick up things and explore them with great intensity. These can be music genres, hobbies, routines, TV shows, books, etc. But the consistent experience I have always begins with a dream of meteoric greatness, followed by a sobering defeat at the hands of reality. I remember collaborating with a group of friends in 7th grade to create a team of highly sophisticated androids to serve the world and wield their awesome destructive power. I drew up sketches of the machines, told my friends to take science and math courses to beef up their mad scientist game, and I even drew the schematics for our compound where we would all live together when all was said and done. I wish I could go back and ask myself why I wanted this so bad. What was the end goal? Even at the peak of my wretched peer group failures in middle school and high school, the thought of blowing things up with these androids never crossed my mind. The fantasy was enough of a justification on its own.

Throughout my life up to this point, writing has meshed with everything I pursued. In college, I was cranking out papers, getting As in my English classes. In my final quarter, I wrote an novella that would eventually become Spirit of Orn for my science fiction class. After coming home from Santa Barbara, I volunteered for an academic journal that promoted comic books and pop-culture as high art. Yet, while I worked for Apple Retail I began laying out a three part novel that I am planning on starting after my current book is complete. 

The only thing I know, with certainty, is that I love to tell stories. And I think, in the same way that Umberto Eco tries to communicate the nuances of semiotics in his popular fiction, I also have a love for my subject and attempt to embed myself in the work to make it more real. When I started Spirit of Orn, I learned Norwegian, read about paganism (old and new), researched the Sognefjord language of Nynorske. I even went to Norway to see with my own eyes the lay of the land. (It was such a beautiful place too.) All this to say, I wanted to communicate the story I envisioned and went to great lengths to render it.

Writing gathers up odd things and meshes it all together, is what I'm saying. The act of creating a story instigates in me a discipline of research. I end up learning a lot about things, without ever mastering any topic in particular. To master the art of writing then (if such a thing can be done) is to be well rounded and willing to participate. One must become the "Meh-of-All-Trades." And this gives me hope, believe it or not. 

     






Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Weary Political Manifesto

This last pay period I worked 12.5 hours of overtime. It was something else. The degree of sheer exhaustion I can't even begin to quantify, especially when you combine that scenario with 1) working from home 2) no gym access 3) raising a 3 year old. Sure, the second one doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's the release valve of my life for all the pent-up stress and energy stored up in my body.

Of course there's a silver-lining: the cost of daycare went down quite a bit. The emergency fund will get a much needed boost.

There's a lot of media going around these days, mostly bad. It's just another thing to look at. Just another screen. A call with a friend yesterday though was able to put my mind at ease. It was probably the Holy Spirit, or just talking to another person. Likely, some mixture of both. Indeed, talking about something that ISN'T a deadly virus is novel and refreshing. One thing we talked about resonated in my weary, thirsty heart, which was the preoccupation with partisanship and how misleading it is. Obviously, I've shared before that I'm a left leaning centrist. But this talk isn't about who you, reader, should vote for, but about why the previous sentence is such a problem.

What purpose is there to say "I am," as if we have to right to define who we are, excised from the context of society? Two-thirds of the global population emphasizes (for better or worse) group membership over individual rights. Western societies are desperate for meaning and value, or some guiding principal that elevates the drudgery of day-to-day minutiae to a transcending super-context. Brand and influence, among many other things, guide our purchases in the free market. Do we wear Adidas? Do we play Gibson guitars? Do we wear Banana Republic? Is the product we put in our hair Paul Mitchell? And even if we purchased our clothing second hand from thrift stores or flea markets, the posturing, pretentiousness of wearing unbranded clothing is just as evil as buying Chanel. The working poor buy the table scraps of the rich to look presentable for job interviews and we have the gall to call it bohemian? But... I'm ranting.

No, the point that I'm trying to make is that we all are members of some defining super-context while pretending to be mavericks.

I think the preoccupation with politics of all varieties is distracting us from what is really important. Group membership and individual purpose feed off each other in great ways, though, when looking at my Facebook feed, the worst of both is being feed into each other like a feedback loop. What I see in my feed are the proud participants in a movement with no general impetus to action. Are constituents advancing the kinds of social justice preached by Bernie Sanders by becoming inner city teachers, or donating to their local food shelter, or participating in local town hall meetings to make certain that the poor aren't being priced out of their apartments? Are Christian Republicans advocating for the widows and orphans, stamping out institutionalized racism, or identifying and stopping hate speech and xenophobia? Even worse, are we all becoming arm chair philosophers, content to espousing what we believe, without any practical means to implement the change we so desperately want to make?

To all the Christians in the room, here's where shit gets real, really fast.

(Before I start, let me say that no one is innocent of this, myself included. But admitting we have a problem is always the first step on the road to spiritual recovery.)

I think it's easier for us to mesh Christianity with something other than the framing principals of the Kingdom of God. This makes it easier, right? We can say that Jesus was a democratic socialist, and then source our practices from news articles and academic journals. The framing context of Jesus is lost in the present zeitgeist, and then Jesus just becomes another branding icon. Things like the Cross become jewelry and the Book of Ecclesiastes a guide to smart real estate investment. We must remember that Jesus was/is a person, an individual. He wasn't a philosophy or a lifestyle or a populist movement.

The different demographics of 1st century Palestine listed in the New Testament weren't just fraternities or mystery cults, they were political parties, with real weight and power. Jesus wasn't a member of any of them, but instead spoke about his "kingdom" where everything was upside-down. And to be a member of this faction of Judaism was to refuse the norms of every competing worldview and philosophy. So this preoccupation today with certain factions and political theories, regardless of where one lies on the spectrum, is excluding Jesus from the picture. Sure, I can be a follower of Christ that practices the values of the current Kingdom of Heaven and vote and participate in a political society. But I can't be a democratic socialist, republican, centrist, anarchist, democrat, or libertarian that goes to church and reads the bible, and participates in community. In the former example, truth proceeds from Christ. In the latter, truth proceeds from the political party, dictating the praxis in which Christianity is contextualized and put to work. So I think the frustration that we all feel, the lack of fulfillment in partisan discourse, comes from the lack of value and fulfillment we receive when our true god is Rush Limbaugh or Arianna Huffington, Fender or Gibson, Coke or Pepsi, MSNBC or Fox News, and not Jesus Christ.

Obviously, if you are reading this and are not a Christian, the whole previous paragraph is moot. But, having an awareness that not all civilizations, societies, groups, and philosophies are perfect, allows breathing room to admit flaw and culpability. Don't you worry about what Christians think. It doesn't matter what we think, because we are all crazy, right? It is more realistic to believe that we are fallible, and the progression of humanism motivates us to accept blame and proceed with caution, right? We can just be that one group that believes that we are right, that everyone is wrong, but are proceeding out of a metaphysical system that, at its core, preaches love and forgiveness.

Therefore, in light of the words above, for ease of mind and calmness, accept the fallibility of your philosophy. Accept the peace of knowing that the change you want, is the change you can make your damned self, without the congratulatory approval of others.

I'm out.

PS: Sorry for such a delay since the previous post. Rest assured, I'm working on the book and it's gonna' be great!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Abortion: (A.K.A.) That Thing We Don't Like to Talk About

At UCSB I took Classics 120 with Professor Athanassakis in 2009, and it was a terrific class. Like most of my required reading books I purchased throughout my undergraduate, I kept the course reader, which was a collection of poetry and prose from a variety of sources. All of it very fascinating and very interesting. The takeaway I had was, primarily that the Romans were "like, totally, just like us." And then I remembered that we used to know how to make quick dry cement 2200 years ago. So, yeah, the Romans were pretty rad, as far as the alternatives were concerned.

Something that stuck with me was one section on Abortion, selected from Jo-Ann Shelton's As the Romans Did, which she sources from Soranus' work Gynecology 1.64. 1-2 and 1.65. 1-7:

"In order to dislodge the embryo, the woman should take strenuous walks and be shaken up by draft animals. She should also make violent leaps in the air and lift objects which are too heavy for her [...] If this is ineffective, she should be placed in a mixture, which has been boiled and purified, of linseed, fenugreek, mallow, marsh-mallow, and wormwood. She should use poultices of the same substances and be treated with infusions of of olive oil, alone or mixed with rue, honey, iris, or wormwood [...]

A woman who intends to have an abortion must, for two  or three days beforehand, take long baths and eat little food. She is then bled, and a large quantity of blood removed from her [...] After the bleeding, she must be shaken up by draft animals."

The section continues for another paragraph focusing on the things one SHOULD NOT do to instigate a miscarriage.

The only reason why I bring this up so randomly is because I was watching Michelle Wolf's newest standup on Netflix (which was amazing) and one of her bits was about her experience getting an abortion, and the general apathy / antipathy that women experience when getting the procedure done. Obviously, when Roe v. Wade passed in the early 70s, the days when women would get back alley abortions was, at that time considered, hopefully over with. (I don't know if this was truly the case, or if it took a few years of general developments for the service to become widely accessible.) But one can assume that the procedure, before the landmark legislation was passed, was likely dangerous and unregulated, or improvised with varying degrees of risk to the mother.

The Reader in Question
Given that Soranus was a physician living in the 1st century, writing about abortion, it would be reasonable to say that getting an abortion, legal or not, is nothing new. In fact, this document indicates that its as old as Western Civilization, if not older (if we look at the Ancient Near East). And this reality is something that I often confront when I think about the "normalizing" of abortion and the upheaval it has echoed throughout history.

Excerpt A
Excerpt B
If I had to go with a moniker that would, unfortunately, carry the weight of tremendously unwanted baggage, I would have to say that I'm "Pro-Life." At the same time, were my wife pregnant with a life threatening pregnancy complication, I would very reluctantly choose to abort the fetus. (Obviously, my wife would be the final authority on the matter, but that goes without saying.) The saving grace of Roe v. Wade, is that, in the event of the above, my wife and I at least have the option, to avoid the horrendous outcome of a fatal pregnancy. For everyone else, it means not having to undergo some form of underworld surgery that isn't regulated or controlled by a board of medical directors. If history can teach us anything, abortions will continue to be practiced regardless of the legality of it, and it is reason why Roe v. Wade SHOULD NOT, be thrown out.

Legality and use cases aside, I've never liked the idea of abortion because its a morally ambiguous position. I would never vote against Roe v. Wade under controlled conditions, but the fact that so many, male and female, talk about it with flippancy is unmistakably horrifying, especially when considering the existential ramifications of the procedure. This is because the decision ultimately is decided based on a value assessment of the fetus. Were I to kick a woman in the stomach, instigating a miscarriage, whether or not I serve a life sentence for murder depends on the viewpoint of the one who is pregnant. (ie. If she had paid me to do it or if I did it out of malice/aversion of being a father.) In the thought experiment, the child is the controlled variable, the independent variable is the binary choice of abortion vs non-abortion, and the dependent variable is the perceived moral outcome. Why is that? The child's value is relative to the caregiver in either scenario. And let me be absolutely clear: I'm not even, remotely, suggesting that a woman should be shamed for having an abortion. Do not put those words in my mouth, please. What I am struggling with here is the philosophical situation at hand where one life is of depreciated value, based not on medical complications or tragedy of circumstance, but based on whether or not the child will place an imposition on the caregiver's emotional, financial, social, or occupational livelihood. Granted there are outlier incidents like rape or incest that do make up a minuscule percentage of the sum total of abortions accounted (1% and .05% respectively according to the Guttmacher Institute, a strictly non-partisan research group that studies sexual/reproductive health and was founded by a former president of Planned Parenthood), but I am focusing on the vast majority of other instances.

There are common objections to my previous points, but the main one that I hear, one that seems to cast a shadow of influence over all, is the idea that an embryo, regardless of developmental state, is simply "just a bunch of cells." The fallacy of that argument lies in the reality that everything is "just a bunch of cells." Killing a grown adult, child, or elderly human specimen, is morally repugnant in most cases. Killing a grown adult, child, or elderly human specimen,because their existence places a emotional, financial, social, or occupational burden would be exponentially worse. I would argue that this utilitarian approach to placing value on life begets other odd conclusions, such as devaluing the autonomy and rights of animals, as well as hyperbolic solutions to "solving the homeless problem." In each case the subject of these debates are "just a bunch of cells." So this leads me to conclude that these value assessments are made on the immediate state of the organism, and not, simply, what the organism could be at a later point in time. This doesn't sit well with me because any formal consensus on the matter would lead to rippling effects. For instance, is the purpose of criminal justice to "punish" inmates for an offense, or is the purpose of criminal justice to "rehabilitate" them? The former makes a value assessment on the immediate individual, without any thought taken to modify the behavior against future offenses. The latter does not consider the immediate individual, but considers the potential individual, and takes steps to transition one to the next.

There are other ideas at play here bigger than me, obviously. So many so, that I could not begin to address them without writing a book. I intentionally did not evoke religion in this assessment because individual values may not subscribe to the authority of scripture. (Which is fine.)

My argument for life in potentia can be subverted in a variety of ways. Some may say that life is not only based on value assessment but also general consensus. (Life based on consensus values the viewpoint of the group however, not the individual.) Others may argue that reproductive rights proceed from earlier movements in gender equality and women's suffrage. But, at the end of the day, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, and they usually stink. I can accept that the viewpoint I have cultivated over my general life experience may not suit everyone. I can even state that, according to my theological presuppositions, I firmly believe that every aborted fetus is predestined to spend an eternity with God the Father, because it would go against everything I have read in scripture to say otherwise. Like any debate, however, nuance is often lost against monolithic ideas. I would just ask of anyone to consider the extent of the argument and exercise the ecumenical due diligence.

Peace and Love, bitches.