Saturday, September 17, 2016

History in the Making

I've only just started to question my Americanity.

Cleaning out my bookcase has led me to read again. I'm the kind of person to visit bookshops and buy books, only to never read them. My bookcase is a massive 7 foot tall, 6 feet wide hardwood behemoth. Plenty of room has been reduced over the years to an overburdened mortuary of titles. If the existential purpose of a book is to be read, I have read most of them, leaving them to die some kafka-esque death, smothered to death by comic books and my wife's cooking magazines.

One of the many titles I've begun to investigate is Robert Remini's A Short History of the United States, a chronicle of the nation's past and present, from the early settlers of North America to the bustling coast-to-coast megalopolis we are now. I was taught American history in school at the high school level, where I took AP US History, which I then took out of obligation. Only now as I find myself becoming aware of my citizenship do I value the idea of American history. It's important to understand the past victories and defeats of any nation. The United States is prestigious enough, so I've been told, to explore and encounter.

Halfway through I'm struggling. Much evil has come of this country. Though that is the same of any nation. (We are not exempt from fault simply because of the O'Sullivanite principals of Manifest Destiny that implicate and enunciate the divine like a crude incantation.) Germany has done as much wrong as France, or Britain, or Spain. So maybe I'm just coming to terms with my station in the world and position in time. Stricken by "White Guilt" because from a young age I was told I was evil because of the color of my skin. But it really grinds my gears to hear people utter the successes of the nation with no little regard of the skeletons lurking nearby.

Last night I was on Facebook and one of my old christian familiars prompted my viewing of the above picture.

Understanding that I am aware of my limited exposure to American history, its myriad interpretations and subjective deductions, and that I have really only read one of three books that I plan on skimming in the coming months, I feel that I have at least some knowledge of history that forces me to call bullshit on this wildly positivist statement.

I feel capitalism isn't some new invention, though it's identity was defined profoundly during the industrial revolution. My opinion is that the marketplace of ancient Rome operated on the founding principals concerning the exchange of goods for services. Agriculture, skilled-labor, and prostitution are all safeguarded by the passing of money between hands. And all instances are some form of exploitation at one point or another. What makes me mad though, mad enough to weep my righteous tears on digital papyrus-on my day off no less-is that this statement is likely invoking the golden age of American capitalism, which was at the epicenter of the industrial revolution. It also happened to be the most notorious age of corruption in american history. As if the entire House and Senate were populated by Trump disciples, sowing the seeds of conspicuous corruption.

Remini's primary aim of his book is to follow the delicate dance between Federalism (a strong, centralized government) and Republicanism (a loosely constructed confederation of states under a common banner). And in his treatment of the development of American politics, he takes pains to establish the identity of the South as finding its origins in corporate colonies, owned by trading companies and established to run like businesses. Contrast this with the North, which was comprised primarily of Religious and Political refugees of continental Europe, which established colonies to espouse an array of philosophical principals, benefiting from the paternal neglect of Mother England. From the very beginning, the cosmopolitan climate of the north fostered the growth of a common identity that would precipitate the American Revolution. The hubris of the North would punish the South by levying tariffs against foreign exports. The South consequently couldn't export their cotton to England. The North would consolidate its infrastructure because of the increased interstate trade and growing of the domestic economy.

The picture above, in light of the following, so infuriates me because the "capitalism" of the South was borne upon the backs of slaves. Remini is clear to discourage the nostalgic pastoral imagery of antebellum south, with its wide plantations manned by hundreds of slaves. In reality, there were few plantations of this kind, the majority of slave owners being single households, with one slave or two. Pages could be written on the treatment of slaves and the post-Civil War Reconstruction efforts to establish Jim Crow laws to oppress ex-slaves. But even afterwards, our great nation was built on the backs of sweatshop workers exploited by trusts and monopolies. The country was fantastically wealthy, but hardly just, and the resulting opposition to the Gilded Age launched the Progressive Movement. Teddy Roosevelt, a figure enshrined by conservatives for primarily hunting related photos and surviving an assassination attempt (only to deliver a 90 minute speech afterwards), was dedicated to workers rights for women and children, the conservation of national parks and monuments, and thwarting corruption. I hardly think he felt the companies that forced women and children to work 12 hour days, with no respite to speak of, were "serving [their] fellow man."

Clearly my views will change on this over time, as most things do. As I read more American history, my knowledge will solidify into something more than lip service to the author of the week. But let it be known that I have made the attempt to understand our current state of affairs. I am not a sheep! Knowledge and its accrual keeps us from accepting bullshit like this and worshiping ideals without the foundation of experience and learning to stand upon.

Until Next Time


Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Big M Question

I hear people use the word "millennial" to describe an individual every day now it seems. The expression is one of many, demonstrating the increased granularity of our society.

That's what we see more these days: an emphasis of quality, denominations of  culture, gradations that have tremendous weight. I think of, say, the Transgender community, a fraction of a fraction of the wider populous, that leverages so much power through appealing to hardened concepts like Justice, despite the depreciation such weighty concepts endure now that God is dead. 

Millennials have been described in a variety of ways. That demonstrates the wider problem of what to call a millennial definitively. We as a people are pulled in two different directions. On one hand labels are viewed as micro-transgressions. On the other, they are coveted and disseminated. When I listened to Metal I found it very interesting that the anarchist mobs, my brothers and sisters, coveted their genre particulars like they were species. More interesting is the renewed interest is ethnic studies of religion, dying languages, and anthropology. Our world has changed so much in the last two thousand years; our cosmology has changed. What does it mean to be human in the context of the great heat death of the universe? To those that still believe, is God entropy? Our epistemology has changed. at one time knowledge was knowable, then unknowable, now quantifiable, soon to be quantum. Information is volatile, ultimately. To know what a Millennial is, we must trace how we came to this road. A truly postmodern generation, Millennials are burdened with a duplicitous relationship with their world. They both aspire to find meaning in it and grapple with the futility of existence. 

I found it interesting, personally, that I contemplate who I am on a regular basis. I am a Nihilist, a Christian, a Socialist, and an Author. Capitals to emphasize the essence of each, their properties and true form. This makes me very much a Millennial in that regard. Labels, as used by Millennials, connote variety and innovation. Labels in reality imply qualities superficially. When someone who is black says, "I am Black," it could mean much different that when a person, who is white, says, "He is Black." This is why when I say I am a socialist, there are three meanings to the word: what the "world" believes a socialist to be, what a socialist believes a socialist to be, and what I believe a socialist to be. This doesn't even account for nationalism. Obviously, the Dutch may believe different things about socialism than say, an american, or a Brit. In the end each member of the three yearns for a kind of cohesiveness that negates the originating intention of a label, and at worst reintroduces the racism-like equivalent of category, the very state the Millennial was intending to avoid by expressing their uniqueness in the first place.

We live in a mad, rudderless world, that compels me to embrace forms of nihilism that thread through popular culture. On Facebook, there are meme communities that generate more meaningless content than a Dadaist monastery. I'm familiar with a few of them. Popular entertainment, though not as cutting edge, perpetuates what these internet communities call "shit posting" on television. I think its because we crave order that we cannot acquire, and we want the world to be okay with ourselves giving up, and feeling crazy with us. I ask myself, "why is Nihilism so funny?" everyday, and I can't produce a worthy answer. This morning while I was walking my dogs it occurred to me that #YOLO is less of a modern interpretation of the Latin "Carpe Diem," and more an expression of futility. 

"I just had sex with three different partners withing 48 hours. #YOLO" a Twitter feed iterates. Translated from the common vernacular: "Smashed all night. Smashed All day. Sick beats at the club. #fuckyeah #YOLO"

Might as well right? We are all going to die.

I don't mind this world as much as it may seem because it drives people to accept Christ. To defy convention by undertaking one. Nothing is certain anymore, so people yearn for certainty. Half of me writing this is an attempt to talk myself down the ledge, to turn away from the bleak world that was provided me by moderns and post-moderns alike. The other half is just procrastinating from starting my work on the novel.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

An Open Letter to My Children

Dear Future Son/Daughter,

Myself, and many others, grow up thinking that moms and dads know what’s best. And the more I grow, the more I realize that parents are people like you and me. They’ve had thrust into their lives this wailing, screaming human that doesn’t know how to eat or sleep. And even though you’ve never done this before in your life, it is your responsibility to care and provide for this little person. Along the way you learn things, likely out of just experiencing the day-to-day, and become familiar with your child and their quirks. And I’m sure that even these words that I write to you today will become obsolete in the coming years. But I wanted to say the following because I love you and feel called to.

I grew up in a tough spot. I didn’t have much to go on living in a home that was unstable and often times changing. Even though I didn’t have it nearly as bad as other kids there were still hard days. Usually I would go to school and come home to play with my toys. Other times I would go over to other kid’s houses and play video games, even the ones my mom told me not to play. All these days I would learn new things. Sometimes what I learned was difficult and it hurt. But each time I learned from my mistakes and from good times I became stronger. And I want you to be strong like I was.

I realize now that what we see, what we hear, challenges us. Some things are too much. (I wouldn’t let you play an M-Rated video game when you turned 6!) But when we face the world and try to understand it, with all its complexity, we become like a stone on the beach: well-rounded. Some people my age think differently. They think that if you hide the badness of the world away that you will be preserved from it. I think people think this way because they remember what it was like growing up. They remember seeing things they shouldn’t have seen or listening to people that they shouldn’t have. Out of love, when they become moms and dads, they want to spare you the trouble they went through themselves by hiding you away.

I grew up watching things that I shouldn’t have. I grew up listening to people I shouldn’t have. But, here I am: the finished person I am today. There are bad things in the world. Evil things. Sooner or later we will have to face them, and be strong. We have Jesus to show us the way. All of us were made by him, including the bad people. Even in the darkest places, his light shines. So when you see something bad, or listen to something that doesn’t sound right, remember that all things have a root in what has been created by Jesus. The world out there is worth it. And when you meet people, watch something on TV, or have a bad day, see the big picture: where things are at and where they will eventually be. The world isn’t perfect, but it still bears the image of God, and all over underneath everything he is there ready to redeem it.

So if you want to watch something on TV, watch it with me. If you want to play a video game, let’s take turns. If someone tells you something at school, let’s talk about it. We can face this world together, and with Jesus we are a threefold cord that can never be broken.



Saturday, November 1, 2014

Thoughts about Pastor Mark

During this week a pastor named Mark Driscoll resigned from his ministry at Mars Hill. This came to a shock to me, or not so much of a shock given what’s gone down on the Hill lately. There was a time in my life when I waited on every word the man said, so even though my phases of admiration has long concluded I still feel compelled to think about it.

Mark Driscoll is a very harsh, bullheaded man; a theological pit-bull that can’t shake an issue. Many disagree with him for his pastoral styles, myself included, and see him as insensitive and overly positivistic regarding certain issues. He is a Reformed superhero, despite living in an age where postmodernism has crumbled the impersonal, procedural logic that Reformed Theology/Soteriology so heavily relies upon to function. Everything about him is simultaneously relevant and, paradoxically, antiquated. But he’s still my pastor.

The strength of Mark’s preaching style is his tenacity to chase something. He’s something of a warrior for theology and the pursuit of holiness that up until the early 2000s had all but disappeared in the USA in favor of wishy-washy non-denominational theology. There’s something to be said about taking a stand. Stand up and fight for something. Believe in what you say and mean. That is the way Mark handles his business. They keep saying that Mark hasn’t disqualified himself from ministry, that he’s done nothing wrong. That’s where I disagree. I think he has sinned, only not in the way people at first imagine. His sin, I think, was pride. For all the controversy, I think it was the mega church that he started that became the issue. After going to a small neighborhood church now for almost five years, I am convinced that humans were never meant to worship corporately in a room full of five thousand people, where the pastor is a demagogue and surrounded by an entourage of personal assistants.

I hope and pray that Mark moves on from Mars Hill, that this experience motivates him to re-evaluate his personal missiology and the way he deals with people. I hope that he can spend time with his family and take a long vacation and finally let go of his responsibilities. I hope that he decides to pastor a church again, and continue to change the lives of people, and I hope his church never exceeds 200 people.

Mark has been a huge influence on my life. It saddens me to see him move on. But it’s God’s will, and I hope he grows closer to Jesus for it.