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.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Top Lists

Hey-ho-let’s-go talk about something a little lighter. Ranking systems, contrived or rooted in reality, have always captured my attention with such vigor that I often find myself arrested by them. It’s cathartic, discovering what is—and is not—worthy of our affections. A crystalline high like no other. (Maybe it’s similar to the effects of public shaming, or social outrage, knowing that the world’s fattest man was ousted by some young upstart from Wisconsin?)

Even though it's slightly delayed, I wanted to feel out the things that moved me in 2019. So the following categories summate my spurious attempt to do so. (Does anyone else alliterate when they’ve had a couple of beers?)

YouTube Channel

YouTube has evolved so much that I scarcely remember what it was before. But what it is now is a wide array of DIY cable networks, where the things you actually like are all prepared and ready to be viewed at any time, any place. This year, while videogamedunkey and Easy Allies have vied for my affections, I somehow have come to love TysyTube Restoration. Tysy, who I suspect is from Switzerland—his pieces are demonstrably European, varying between French, German, Spanish, and Italian—finds derelict baubles and proceeds to renew them with practical equipment that I’ve known my whole life. Much like the surgical videos that cater to cathartic eruptions emanating from pustule-ridden human tissue, there is an inherent relaxation that accompanies Tysy’s exhaustive and meticulous excise of wretched decay from inauspicious relics of the past. (Ooof! This is a strong beer!) I think there is an eternal sediment that awaits to be shaken from our lives. We all yearn for it. We all seem to be guided toward this principal that we are in need of cleansing and purification. Tysy’s renewal, then, must be tapping into a reservoir far more primal than cat videos and pirated broadcasts of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.


What a difficult thing to quantify: books and their recreational appeasement. I have read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Lorana, The Island of the Day Before, Numero Zero, A Once Crowded Sky, and just began reading Baudolino. There have been comic books as well. There always is. But the act of reading a book always—to me at least—becomes a comprehensive investment. Even though I haven’t finished it yet, I find myself just enthralled with Baudolino, which narrates the exploits of the eponymous main character through a very playful adventure of wit and deliberate candor. As always, the story qualifies as “historical fiction,” given the breadth of detail given to reconstructing the 13th century milieu of continental Europe. Umberto Eco, author of all the above (except A Once Crowded Sky), wields a level of interdisciplinary competence that I have not yet encountered in any living person, other than N.T. Wright. His stories are exhaustive and precise. Every detail is intentional. Not only are they entertaining, they are informative and critical of society and historical movements that predominated each era of Western Civilization. Much like Paul Gilbert (a virtuoso guitarist), Eco very much conveys his love for his subject, and his unrelenting desire to communicate the way he feels through his work.


The Similitude of a Dream kept me above water for the later half of 2019 in a way that I had never thought possible. Especially because most Christian music is terrible, filled with bad theology, and songs that lack the emotional honesty suited to the average human being. Neal Morse is well known in the progressive rock community as a singer and songwriter, and adept at cultivating a community of session and touring musicians. And despite the fact that he unabashedly writes christian worship music, musicians from all philosophical dispositions love collaborating with him. Mike Portnoy, who left Dream Theater in 2010, once said that he equates Neal Morse to Paul McCartney in song writing ability. Personally, I feel, Morse lends an artistic credibility to christian music (compositions and lyrics) that have not been (in my opinion) demonstrated since the Enlightenment. The Similitude itself is a double album, within a larger double album (Bro...), based on John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Like most progressive rock albums, there is a story that spans the entire work, chronicling the tumultuous life of a man seeking God in the real world. The album is all over the place emotionally, and seems to touch all the parts of life that we, as people, encounter on a daily basis. Incidentally, it's one of those albums that I wish I had in my early christian years. Broken Sky, to put it bluntly, saved my life.


It's Desmond. (Who the fuck did you expect?)


2019 was one of those years where, after a decade of not playing music on a regular basis, I wanted to make my glorious return. When I was in college, I was the lucky recipient of a cash prize from abstaining from alcohol until I was of legal age, which I used to buy a guitar, custom built to my specifications. I immersed myself in the speculative guitar making community, researching the different tonal aspects of wood and why they are used. Guitar pickups were another abyss I had to wade through, listening to different sound samples from guitars of similar build materials. After this rock-polishing, tumultuous journey, I received the guitar which had been damaged in shipping and I had to wait an additional 6 months before it was repaired. After putting an additional $1000 into the instrument, I was 30 years old and feeling completely shitty about my adventure in guitar gear.

However, last year, I finally got the genuine item (used): the Ernie Ball Music Man John Petrucci signature guitar. And, in one, year I went through more strings than I have in almost ten years.

I have a really ugly guitar face...


I'd like to do this more often and I'm hoping to actually get a more formal list coming soon for each new year. I hope I was able to make you laugh, ponder, and muse.

~Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

New Decade New Me

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays I found myself without time or the focus to write or work on anything other than my book. This year I spent a Christmas apart from my family out of necessity to save my marriage, though, in truth, the reality was a little less hyperbolic. This holiday season, I made some interesting discoveries, changed some vital behaviors, learned that I was suffering under some kind of banal alcoholism, all—it would seem—in preparation for the decade ahead of 2020.
Much to my chagrin, my unprofessional dispositions at work have led to the reality of being held back (yet again) in life from joining my contemporaries in the sun. My arrogance, like some Aesop fable, has prompted me to very painfully come to terms with where my career is going and how I should continue. It fucking sucks and it makes me so depressed.
Silver linings... At least I have a new desk.
Where to go from here then? That’s the question, isn’t it? I have vacillated on the possibility of either quitting my job or reducing my hours to part time to pursue—more aggressively at least—my writing career once Eowyn starts kindergarten. Joining local writing groups. Being more active in my peer community. Submitting stories to journals. Crowdsourcing for insight and strategies that I could not otherwise formulate on my own… I could go on. But I struggle with whether or not this is a selfish thing. Being a Youtube star, or a writer that couch surfs from apartment to apartment, takes no particular brand of courage when there’s nothing to lose. (And I don’t mean to intimate this as something particularly disparaging to those in my circle of friends that have done this/continue to do this successfully.) But when there’s a family involved, when your child is depending on you for a good life, the picture becomes hopelessly muddy. Can one be virtuous these days, while still being “dangerous”? Something to pray on, then.

Busy at work...
I’ve wanted to produce another “Little Bits” post, but I keep forgetting to record my momentary sparks of “genius” when they are prompted by some cursory observation or thought. Similarly, an opportunity arises every so often to write a short story, but these moments always come when I am pressed up against an unmovable deadline (ie. I have to go to work/church/bible study/the store/in laws’ house). Perhaps the imminent danger of being late to something get’s the juices flowing? Possibly. But this goes back to previous posts, lost somewhere in the ether, where I’ve mentioned the ease of writing a short story versus a novel. Short stories are accessible and “punchy.” (The structure of a short story is “Look here!”, then “Oh snap!” whereas a novel adds an additional piece: “So what?”) They are formulated with relative ease, and any subsequent work is less focused on the verbosity of the content but on its composition and flow. Lawd! A novel requires investment and an endurance that I somehow possess in the literary realm, but not in the social and occupational strata of my life. Anyways… this little rabbit trail is brought to you by my lack of focus and my lack of communication these past few weeks.


One thing that I’ve noticed now that I’ve been 31 for a while and have suffered a major setback in my professional career is the transition from a somewhat youthful awareness and motivation to a laid-back, adult complacency. It’s very strange. Everything now seems deliberate, as opposed to spontaneous. Life choices are weighted by the amount of chaos that would be injected into the ongoing domestic equation. It kind of sucks, but I’m hard pressed to establish an alternative life hack to change this pattern. How does one pursue a “van life” with a family? Probably not very easily, definitely not once the kid reaches the age of public schooling. (That is unless you are a huge piece of shit.) The shadow of domesticity isn’t that bad though, now that I’ve settled into it with Alyssa. There is a flow, a routine. I can expect certain things and rule out others. As 2020 rolls out, I have many ambitions that I hope to see happen. I want to print my next book, run a Kickstarter, and better establish myself as a writer. Hopefully that’s possible with that additional stability on hand? After doing taxes this year, I can say with some certainty that we are “doing okay,” but there’s always something else, isn’t there? I have a feeling that this year, somehow, will be a “shit or get off the pot” kind of year.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Living in Paradise

Hawaii is a strange place.

I was first introduced to the island state when I was about a year old. Before my parents divorced we went to the island of Kawaii. And while some people insist that memories from back then are a tad unreliable I do remember a road. It was winding through valley of emerald, and at the end was a pristine beach, the kind you see on postcards. My dad always wanted to live there, but in a suspicious way. There was a time that I wanted to live in Japan and “go native,” but then I turned 17 and stopped watching anime. It was like my dad never got noticed by senpai.
Sunset view from the front porch of my dad's house.

Still, I can’t fault him for liking the place. It’s very pristine and, at times, otherworldly. The east side of the island is demonstrably wet, with a microclimate that gets something to the tune of 300 inches of rain a year. There are waterfalls, abandoned structures retaken by the vegetation, and the remnants of a railway that was decimated by a tsunami in the 40s and 60s. When my dad convinced my grandma to purchase a house outside of Hilo, going there again in grade school was very much like moving up river to get to Kurtz and his locally sourced, native experience.

Concerning the west side, Kona reminds me of the “before” picture of a Mars colony before collapsing into dystopian upheaval. Brightly lit tourism and razor-sharp volcanic rock, cooking in the sun, abound. Basalt blacktop that you could cook eggs on. The beaches, where one can find them, are a mixture of coarse, white sand and coral growing on not-so-recent-but-geologically-new lava flow. The 3rd time I went to Hawaii I stepped on a sea urchin, looking like a total asshole in front of a local smoking some shitty weed. Incidentally, if it wasn’t the urchin spines that got me, it would have been the lava flow beneath. Everything here is sharp, rough, like iron castings with the marks still left at the edges.
Kua beach, I think.

All this considered, I say Hawaii is a strange place because I never understood why my dad wanted to live there. (He always seemed to me more like a Montana person.) Hawaii is about as large as San Diego County but with a 4th of the population and extremely isolated. Everything needs to be imported to the state and utilities are enormously expensive. Not only that, Hawaii is a welfare state, specifically the product of colonial occupation. Poor education, lacking infrastructure, and a deficit of investment in collaboration afflicts the island native population. So my dad, Mr. Red State, is up in arms of course. I never understood the mentality that conservatism intersects with business-minded pragmatism. You would think that the solution to bolstering up marginalized populations would be to invest in education and social infrastructure. But conservatism in practice seems more like social Darwinism, without teeth or the wherewithal to commit genocide and “thin the herd” so that the invisible hand of the market can act.

Hiking near Waipio valley.

Great view at the end.
I'm not good at taking pictures of myself.

This time visiting the island, I was able to see the house my father built, which after so many years of toil and hardship is complete. The last few nights have been marathons of movies, an old pastime of the Warren household. Last night I wanted to share with my dad the Netflix Series “Documentary Now,” only to have him abruptly turn it off and switch to The Matrix and Alita Battle Angel. (No, I’m not bitter at all.) For fucks’ sake, does anyone out there still have the critical thinking left to understand subtlety and nuance? Have we truly descended into the Age of Unreason?

And for all the unruly and disrespectful abuse—my dad asserts at the hand of its own natives—the islands have endured, I see an opportunity for this place to flourish and grow into a modern paradise. Fertile agricultural land, readily available geothermal power, myriad opportunities to repair infrastructure, and technological discovery (vis a vis the Mauna Loa Observatory). Shouting from the stands, angrily bellyaching about social and institutional poverty without any intension to fix it in a productive way, is the height of stupidity. So while my dad has finally realized his sought after dream, I can’t help but comprehend the irony of his life. He’s trapped in a recursive loop of disillusionment and hatred of the other and he doesn’t even realize it. My brother thinks it’s a waste of time to discuss and have a meaningful dialogue with him, and for the first time in my life I’m starting to believe that. Then again, I suppose, people hear what they want to hear. As Jesus once said,
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Three Loves

The post is mostly for me. I don’t want to forget.

In my experience, there are three particular dimensions of how people have historically loved God. And like all things that have been enjoyed best in moderation, no one perspective should be more indulged in than the other. Certain denominations, certain people, it becomes clear which position is over emphasized and which others are diminished.

Or, maybe, I’m just wrong about all of this. But who cares, right?

God’s Love, as in how we classify the crucifixion, can be realized as an economic transaction, a court proceeding, or the ebb and flow of a relationship.

Language of debt

We have heard things like, “God pays our debts” or “the wage of sin is death.” I often hear members of the church using economic jargon to explain how God loves us. For instance, at a very awkward charity dinner, a guy about my age (18 at the time) got up on a stage and started talking about God. He explained that salvation was like God giving you the keys to a brand new Lamborghini, for free. We would be a fool not to take it right? The problem I have with language like this is that the language of commerce is very integrated into our society. The United States is one of the richest countries in the world. We shall not want. Every house has a car that was paid for with money the person didn’t have. Every channel selling products and services for the small, small fee of whatever. Because we are conditioned to be consumers from birth, it’s only the next logical conclusion to see God as an ATM machine with the infinite credit “of his righteousness” that we can draw upon, because his Son “paid our debts.”  All these statements are true but, given the context of our own wealth, God’s love becomes transactional. Our devotion is conditioned on spiritual return on investment. If our profits and losses forecast indicates that keeping stock in God is not worth it, then we’ll invest in a new idol.

When Paul says in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” the language is worthy. 2,000 years ago, the world was minting coinage with important people on it. So a basic template of transactional commerce was available for Paul to use, only he frames this in the context of the process of labor in action. People worked harder than we could ever imagine back then, far more than we do today. Working a full day (530AM to 730PM in the Summer) with no respite, and all for a small pittance, was the labor Paul was intimating. When people sin and turn away from God, its hard labor on an ever diminishing timetable and pay scale. It would be like working 35 years at a company, standing apart from your co-workers as a champion for the Brand and then getting an ignoble death instead of a company watch. (Or worse, receiving the watch that you worked so hard for, and then getting shot in the face.) It would be like building a skyscraper for your entire life, and at the ribbon cutting ceremony being barred inside while it’s demolished with decades of hard work coming down on you. Paul is talking about investing in the self, giving purpose to work and action, working a long, hard day and receiving payment. (Possibly an analogy for a lifetime of experience.)

Something that pagans have understood even longer than Christians and much of the history of Judaism is that the favor of the divine comes at a steep price. Blood sacrifices weren’t merely an expression of primordial savagery, they were expressing an idea that the things we want come at a price, often at the expense of other things. Children were sacrificed to ancient Mesopotamian and Sumerian fertility gods. The same principal applies however when we buy products made in sweatshops today. Likewise, Viking raiders would flay and hang their own people to ask favor from their gods for victory, just like we send countless soldiers to die in foreign war zones so that we can wield soft power in future geopolitical dealings. So when Christians talk about the payment of Christ’s blood for our sins, it should be more sobering, not just something to “yaddy-yaddy-yadda” while drinking the communion wine.

Justified By Jurisprudence

Reformed Theology favors overwhelmingly a legal perspective when speaking to things concerning salvation, often using a “courtroom analysis” of Soteriology (the “ology” that studies the act of salvation in Christianity, and its mechanisms). Humanity is on trial for crimes against the divine and in a dramatic turn of events, during the sentencing hearing, Jesus sentences himself for the punishment, being both 100% Man and 100% God. There is also the matter of the blessings and curses that God stipulates in his law, as pertaining to the Hebrew people. Jesus, being a member of that population, acts as a proxy for both the rewards and punishments of the law that the Jews received from Moses (seen in Deuteronomy, Chapter 28). As a result, he (Jesus) can satisfy to the fullest extent what is required to be justified before God. Just as well, he can be sentenced for the unlawful actions made against God. (This is why they explain so thoroughly the perfection of God’s justice in both the Torah and the New Testament.)

Focusing on just the legal aspects of religion, one can strain out most—if not all—of the lurid and compromising history of Christianity in the modern era, namely concerning the Puritans. Often, there’s this desire to sing the praises of the Puritans, who really strived to live out their lives with holiness and dignity, though this seemed to be at the expense of others. The Scarlet Letter, the acts of the Salem Witch Trials, and the implicit need for a “Great Awakening” indicate that living under a legal mindset begets a religious experience robbed of the “freedom” of the Gospel that united disparate social classes and demonstrated Christ’s love to the world in the latter half of the 1st century and 2-3rd centuries. Legal thinking tends to compartmentalize ideals and paradigms. Rather than think about helping another in need, we may assess first the need against hypothetical factors. “Why is this person like this?” “They must have done something wrong to be like this.” Each of these ideas Jesus himself refutes in both Matthew 5:45 and John 9:1-12. He says God “…makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” And, concerning the Gospel of John, Jesus’ own disciples ask why a man, stricken with illness, has lost God’s favor. It is such an insane idea, as if God’s people—or anyone for that matter—can save themselves from their circumstances, but this idea is rampant across the fragments of Christendom. If not based on the principal of social contract, the charity of the Gospel should be enough, at the very least, to support ideas like universal healthcare and class inequality.

On the matter of categorical thought, I myself was radicalized by the previous wave of reformed theology that mainstream Christianity experienced in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Ideas like “Catholics [or insert other denomination that you don’t agree with] are not saved by the grace of god,” and “theological requirements” to evidence salvation were cancerous growths on the church. And while I would be remiss if I didn’t clarify that salvation does come down to assenting to some very basic theological presuppositions that allow the Gospel to work, the fact of the matter is is that salvation by Christ is far from the idealized process laid out by reformed theologians. Jesus’s duels with demons, societal pariahs, and competing theological traditions—advanced by both secular and religious authorities—were strained and fraught with internal and external conflict. If we are to live like Jesus, we ought to expect the same atypical experiences.

The legal aspects of Christianity aside, there is merit to a uniform theological paradigm. Christianity, like any society, has norms and conventions that are assistive in bringing people together. While it is silly to fight and murder people over how-to-love-each-other-best, that doesn’t negate the need for organizational structure and theological scaffolding. The apostles did a good job at addressing concerns of the day and teasing out the finer points of the emerging Christian beliefs, and that work shouldn’t be cast aside simply because cursory readings chafe against our sensibilities. Trademark sayings like “the woman is the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7) and “I do not permit a woman to teach” (1 Timothy 2:12) are certainly damning bereft of context, but the former was dealing with spousal abuse and the later with, possibly, women from cultic backgrounds syncretizing with emerging Christian liturgy. If we bristle at certain things stated in the cumulative swath of biblical literature, it is very likely that we are reading it wrong, and not the other way around. (This tends to be the case when adapting 2000-4000 year old worldviews to, ultimately, overlay them on top of a society with radically different ontological and epistemological backgrounds.)

“It’s Not You Jesus, It’s Me…”

The appropriate way to “love” God is hotly debated. (As in, for what he does in our lives and how we should thank him in worship.) Truly, it is an absurd circus of emotional baggage and presuppositions that seem to serve the individual more than the group. Relationships dominate our lives. From them we derive positional meaning in society, and validation, affection, and so on. Similar to how the law monitors the growth and attenuation of society, relationships judge how we grow and mature. Those with unstable relationships are perceived as a burden to be around, while those adept in cultivating them attract others with charismatic magnetism. The over-emphasized effect of relationships in our lives contaminates other aspects of life, including the religious.

Unlike the previous two points, I think God doesn’t mind our deficiencies in this aspect. In fact, Jesus’ ministry emphasized getting to know, being able to serve, and showing others how to love people in a way that seems so alien to our understanding of relationships. Speaking from personal experience, relationships are judged on their effectiveness to make us feel appreciated. If we stop feeling appreciated, then the relationship dissolves and the parasite moves on to another host. When Jesus is included in our lives, this pattern is challenged. An old-timey example of this is the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11:1-9. Whether or not you believe this happened or not isn’t the point, but the Tower of Babel narrative describes what was likely a ziggurat, and how it’s construction angered God. In ancient near east culture, ziggurats functioned as a connection point between the real and the divine. Supplicants—often the ruling class or royalty—would ascend to the heavens and meet their God there to ask for favor and guidance in matters of state, which was often a display of power and dominion. A city-state would often feature a patron god, whose worship was cultivated by a temple cult, vested with power on behalf of the royalty. In many ways, the relationship was quid pro quo and one-sided, where the royalty used the favor of the gods to justify their rule. So, imagine God’s anger and disappointment when the people he created build an extravagant mound to demand from their maker all the things that they want.

Fighting against Christian friends (the “good” kind) is like pissing into the wind because Jesus’s challenge is to love others more than we love ourselves. Often, that means taking into consideration thoughts and viewpoints outside of our natural inclinations. It means submitting to other people for insight and instruction. Conversations are not strategic tools for one’s gain, they are the means of reaching a consensus that benefits both parties around the influence of a mediator. This of course can be annoying. It can be infuriating even. I hate going to church sometimes, even though I know that I will encounter someone that needs me as much as I need them. In becoming a part of a church (local, global, whatever) there is a shedding of the person you were before, and not in a way that forces the participant to relinquish their personal agency. People are integrated into a system with parts, roles, and purposes. If person A is supposed to serve the role of “feet-of-the-church” and person B as the “eyes-of-the-church,” if they never cross paths, person A is going in the wrong direction and person B is stuck where they are at.

In sum…

Each perspective is intended to supplement the other, as I said before. Imagine a version of Christianity where we feel the weight of our divine debt, the gravity of our legal standing, but no cultivated relationship with Jesus. The result would be hopelessness. A Christianity with emphasis on intimacy with Jesus, because of an acute awareness of how much it cost, begets a hyperbolic and ungrounded faith. Particularly ugly, due to the potential for poor understandings of Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, as well as cultivating a flippant, transactional, approach to faith. Lastly, a Christianity dedicated to the lawful application of faith and a close relationship with God could, without the emphasis of our debt to God, would be patently passive and without a sense of urgency. Understanding the idea of debt makes salvation seem more immediate. That’s just my opinion, at least.

Hopefully these ideas have been stimulating. Sometimes I just like to write on autopilot and wake up to an impromptu essay. This has been one of those exercises, though spread out over the course of an entire month. I should add that these are my off-the-cuff assessments. Also, I’m not a pastor. I’m just some guy in a one bedroom apartment trying to make ends meet. So… yeah.