Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Occupy Between The Lines: What The OWS Movement Is Really (Or Should Be) About

If you’re looking for a way to ruin your Thanksgiving weekend, cause tension among your peers, and simultaneously raise the blood pressure of everyone around you within ear shot, all you have to do is say this simple incantation:

Occupy Wall Street

You felt a shiver, didn’t you?  It seems that any talk of the OWS Movement gets so heated that I’m starting to believe that every time it’s mentioned either an angel loses its wings or God kills a baby kitten.

But I’m going to talk about it anyway.

Seldom do I find things that give me such an array of mixed emotions.  When I read anything about OWS, I feel repulsed, curious, entertained, annoyed, and (hate me if you must) inspired.  OWS intrigues me because no one really knows what it’s all about.  Every news commentary on either side of the political spectrum has an opinion about as accurate as a drunk and blind archer.  Heck, the people actually protesting don’t really have much of a clue.  It’s like a Seinfeld episode – it’s a show about nothing.

And that’s what makes OWS so important.

The best way to describe the OWS is to first say what it’s not.  The reason why OWS is confusing and often times hypocritical is because it is viewed in very black and white terms.  But it can’t be viewed this way.  OWS is really not about the poor vs. the rich, the liberal vs. the conservative, capitalism vs. socialism, or the hippies vs. citizens who shower daily.  It’s unfortunate that we tend to put things in one of two camps: right or wrong.  You just can’t with this one. Love them or hate them, this protest is and will be completely lost on those who think that objectively.

OWS also really has nothing to do with politics or government or even big businesses – at least not directly.  OWS is about this discontent that people can’t shake.  We all see it in the corner of the room.  It’s like an elephant but it’s a different type of animal altogether.  It’s a species that most of us haven’t been able to define because the language of our society doesn’t allow for the words to classify it.  And we all feel it – both the 99% and the 1%.

The OWS protest is just a manifestation of this discontent.

We all have these vital needs that cause absolute discontent if they’re not met.  We all need to feel connected to our community.  We all need to have really deep relationships that go beyond Facebook.  We all need to have purpose and contribute with our talents and gifts.  We all need to feel like we’re understood.

Here’s a big one: We all need to…be needy on others.  Believe it or not, dependency is a virtue.  We are wired to want and need and long to rely on others.  And we all were also all designed to want and need and long to meet other’s needs.  This transaction is the very definition of love.

But we’ve created a society where these things are marginalized and undervalued.  We have defined success as being independent and to be in a position where every want can be purchased.  The winner of the rat race is someone that can just pay for everything they need without relying on human connection and the gifts and contributions of those they love.

This is where I tend to disagree with many of the protesters.  Capitalism really isn’t to blame.  Capitalism and consumerism are just the symptoms; it’s us who are the problems.  Capitalism has done a world of good in productivity and advancement.  But it’s you and me that have allowed it to become our master.  We are the ones who have believed our own lies. We have duped ourselves into thinking that social status is determined by all the stuff we have.  We’ve convinced ourselves that money really does buy happiness, that we neeeeeed the new iPad 46; that “if only I can get (insert something purchasable here) then life will be better”.   The ironic thing is, all these consumables aren’t a bad thing. The blame lies in us for allowing them to become the measure of our quality of life.

This discontent is something that cannot and will not be solved in any change of government or socioeconomic method.  Socialism is not the answer.  Trickledown economics is not the answer.   This discontent will not change with Obama or Romney or Pelosi or Bush or even Reagan coming back from the dead.

The change begins with you.  The change begins with me.

Sure there are some serious objective problems that need to be fixed with our government and economy.  Yes, we should seriously figure out what to do with taxes and corporations and CEOs who lay off 50 workers and then give themselves another million dollars on their Christmas bonus.  But the real change will come when one day we can say, “We are the 99% who CHOOSE to be defined by the talents and resources we contribute and the love we give to all around us.  We CHOOSE to not let ourselves be enslaved to things that are bigger, better and more shiny.  We are not forced, but CHOOSE to live within our means and redistribute our own personal wealth, out of love, to those who need it.  We CHOOSE to view each human as a soul that has invaluable worth and thereby worthy of love and connection.  We CHOOSE to live by the maxim that doesn’t say that more for you is less for me, but says that more for you is more for me.”

This is what OWS is about.  If it’s not, then that’s what it should be about.  Changing Wall Street might help with the symptom, but not with the root of the problem.  The real change starts when we decide to rebel against ourselves. The real revolution begins when we decide to bring back our humanity and start meeting our needs of dependency, community, purpose and love.

Viva la revolution.

Marriage Is A Beautiful Death

Sometimes you read a poem or hear a song or experience something so profound that you have to drop everything you’re doing (in this case, homework) and share it.  Ironically enough, I wrote a blog last week about how Pat Robertson was missing the point about marriage.  Today I saw this song on my Facebook wall.  It’s called “Dancing In The Mine Fields” by Andrew Peterson.  When it comes to marriage, Andrew Peterson gets it.

“I do” are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard
Is a good place to begin
‘Cause the only way to find your life
Is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price
For the life that we have found

This is the beauty of marriage: Marriage is death.  It’s death to self.  It’s death to the letter I.  Our culture has turned individualism into a virtue and that model just doesn’t work with the model of marriage.  This death is hard and it takes a lot of work.  But the reality is that two people that give themselves completely to each other, are completely vulnerable to each other; that die to each other will have the most joyous and unbreakable relationship on the face of this planet.  This is counter-cultural.  It’s a paradox to logic.  In the book of Ephesians, Paul calls it a “mystery”.  What he means is this is something that we wouldn’t have figured out with our human logic.  This is a model that was given by God.

But I’ll stop talking now.  Listen to the song – then go hug your spouse.

What Pat Robertson Taught Me About Marriage (Nothing)

Oh Pat Robertson, when will you learn?

Pat Robertson has been found yet again saying something that has made the masses wonder why on Earth this guy still has a following.  On a recent show, Pat Robertson gave advice to a viewer “who has a friend” that is cheating on his wife who has Alzheimer’s.    Pat’s advice: Divorce her and start all over again, just make sure she has custodial care.

I feel that anytime Mr. Robertson opens his mouth, my IQ lowers a bit. But that didn’t happen this time.  His words, while I strongly disagree with, gave me some good observations about marriage and where our ethics lie.

Let me first start off by saying that I hotly disagree with Pat’s advice.  I believe that his advice is wrong on so many levels.  I take the vow of “…in sickness and health, until death do you part” very literally and very seriously.  Pat talks about this on his show as well and defends him claim by saying that Alzheimer’s is a form of death.  Well that may make some logical sense, this interpretation of “death” opens up way too many slippery slopes. What makes Pat Robertson qualified to make this claim?  How do we know everything that goes on in the mind of someone with Alzheimer’s?  If we allow for this to be death, what other things can we justify?  Where do we draw the line?

Second, Pat’s advice is completely self-centered and shockingly against Biblical principles of marriage that talk about self-sacrifice and two becoming one flesh.  Marriage isn’t about what you can get out of it, it’s about what you can give to the person you’ve chosen to love more than anything else in this world.  The moment you start making guidelines and loopholes for getting out of a marriage, you’ve completely missed its point.

And third, if you’re the type that believes in a soul, how can we just easily divorce someone on the basis of them being “dead” if the soul is still there?  If my wife had Alzheimer’s, the functioning part of some of her body might be dead, but there is still so much that is alive, including the divine spark within her.

When I first heard this story, I found myself discussing it with people whom I greatly respect that disagreed with me.  One mentioned a story about how a man did divorce his wife and married another but they both – husband and new wife – live with her and take care of her together.  Another mentioned that it’s hard to give a point of view on this when we haven’t been in that situation.  Perhaps we might be more willing to understand if we could feel the man’s aching desire for companionship.  And these are really good points.  And then I realized that I was looking at this from a different ethical structure than my friends.  Where I am more principle minded and feel that you should do the right thing every time, no questions asked, my friends were approaching it from a more consequential view that said  if it’s not hurting the wife, then why shouldn’t the man be happy?  Both points of view make for a good argument and maybe there’s no fully correct point of view – just different approaches to the same metaphorical chess game.

But I still think I’m right.

But beyond the whole ethical debate, I learned something about myself and my marriage.  Even though I wouldn’t divorce my wife with Alzheimer’s in a million years, I asked myself, “Would I want Sarah to stay with me if my Alzheimer’s meant I couldn’t even recognize her anymore?  Could I give her away if she could be much happier with another companion?”

I answered yes.  I had to.  I love Sarah more than I love myself.

After I thought all this, Sarah came into the living room where I was sitting.

“Hey babe,” I said, “let me tell you something.  If I ever go crazy…”

“WHEN you go crazy,” she chuckled.

“Okay, when I go crazy.  If I’m so far gone that I don’t even know you and you need a companion and you find someone, you have my permission.”

“Thanks babe,” she smiled, “but I don’t see that happening.”

I believe the conversation we had is a small glimpse of what true marriage sounds like.  Marriage is a contest to see who can practice self-denial better.  Marriage should be full of arguments like “You take the last piece of pie –  no YOU take it!” and “I love you more and I’ll show it  – no I love YOU more and I’ll prove it!”  Marriage means you should be willing to let the other one go but would never – NEVER even consider it if the tables were turned.  Marriage is indeed one flesh and there’s just no separating it.

Paul talks about the sacrifice of marriage in Ephesians 5. He calls it a mystery, meaning that we wouldn’t have figured out how to do marriage this way on our own, it was advice given from God.  And he’s right.  In our self-centered world, a self-sacrificial marriage sounds crazy.  But when both husband and wife do this, marriage becomes the most joyful, wonderful, passionate thing in the world.

If Pat Robertson viewed marriage like this, we should have answered it this way:  “Why would you want to get out of your marriage?  Why would you even want the cheap beer that is your current affair when all your life you’ve had the finest champagne?  Your wife may now be a sliver of who she used to be, but that sliver is more soul-nourishing than this other relationship.  Why even bother?”

Until death do us part…and maybe even a little longer than that.  I’m going to try and make a deal with God to see if I can have Sarah again on the other side of eternity.

This Is Not My Mother’s Day Gift

Worst.  Son.  Ever.

This mother’s day, I was going to get my Mom a ball.

But then I dropped it.

Okay, lame pun.  But seriously, I didn’t get my Mom a Mother’s Day gift.  And that makes me one crappy son.

I bet my two older brothers are grinning in schadenfreude* pleasure as we speak.

It’s not that I simply forgot about Mother’s Day. Oh believe me, when your wife also becomes a mother, Mother’s Day starts to be more important than Valentine’s Day.  To forget Mother’s Day is to disappoint your mom and your wife.  Double jeopardy.

Because when momma(s) ain’t happy, no one’s happy.

Last week Sarah and I were at the store and she reminded me to pick up a card for my Mom.  But I guess I was having a moment of pride.  I didn’t want to get my Mom a Mother’s Day card. I wanted to do something creative.  Something amazing.  Something that would makes tears stream down her face and make my brothers gnash their teeth in jealousy.  Besides, Mother’s Day cards are sooooo typical.  I’m not typical.  I’m awesome.

Strike that.  I’m an idiot.

So here I am – exactly 3 hours and 52 minutes until Mother’s Day – sitting in front of my computer, desperately trying to conjure the creative inspiration that will allow me to write a poem or song or something  that honors my Mom in the way she deserves.  And I got nothing.

Wait…let me be clear.  My inability to produce something for Mother’s Day isn’t because I don’t have anything to write about.  It’s quite the opposite.  My Mom is too awesome in too many ways and everything I write just sounds lame in comparison to who she is.  And there’s that whole macho** image I have to upkeep.  A man can’t write something too mushy about his momma or else all his other macho*** buddies will make fun of him.  A heart tattoo with “MOM” in the middle is perfectly acceptable.  Writing a mushy poem about your mom is not.

And then there’s the fact that I’m just brain fried.  I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew lately.  Being a full-time worker, daddy, husband and student is hard enough.  But it’s also finals week.  I’m currently working on a 10 page ethics paper, a 13 page exegesis on a passage in Ephesians, and a study guide for the entire book of Daniel.  I also just gave an oral and written presentation on the Christian view of justice.

I don’t think I’ve ever had this much on my shoulders.  I worry sometimes that I won’t be able to get it all done; or the lack of sleep and excessive caffeine will catch up to me and I’ll go comatose for a few days.   And the question I find myself asking is, “How would my Mom handle all of this?”

And the answer I find myself giving is “She would knock all of it out of the park and handle every aspect with the utmost grace and excellence, because that’s who she is”.

And thus, I now realize the biggest thing that makes my Mom incredible.  The overload of responsibility that I’m experiencing for the first time in my life is what my Mom has done continuously since I was old enough to remember.  Mom did not and does not do anything half-heartedly.  When she’s at work, she works at 150%.  When she’s in mom-mode, she mothers at 150%.  Every task, every responsibility; every aspect of her life from what I’ve seen has been done with excellence, grace and humility.

But with every strength there is a weakness.  My Mom has some incurable diseases.  My Mom is an incurable worry-wart when it comes to her friends and family.  And the reason why is because of her 150% nature.  She cares and loves and prays and is concerned for her friends and family’s well-being more than any human I know.

And I’m not just saying that because it’s almost Mother’s Day.  It’s the God’s honest truth.

She’s also an incurable giver. If there’s a job to be done, she’ll do it.  If there’s someone in need, she’ll give to the point of self-sacrifice and will never complain or ask for anything in return.

She’s like the human version of the Giving Tree.  Only with much more sass.

So here’s to you, Mom.  You’re much more awesome than anything I can ever write.  And here’s me, wishing and hoping that at least some of that…whatever it is that makes you, you…got transferred to me.  And at the risk of being made fun of at the gym next week****, I love you more than the amount of blue in the sky.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Sorry I didn’t get you anything.

* Schadenfreude – German for “happiness at the misfortune of others”.  It’s arguably the best word in the German language.

** If you know me, then you know that’s a lie.

*** If you know my friends, then you know that’s a lie.  Sorry guys.

**** You get the point by now.

A Quick Rant (Subtitle: Stupid, Stupid, Dumb, Dumb, Dumb)

This morning I went to class and sat through and entire powerpoint lecture that was displayed on a 6 ft.wide screen.  After class, I worked 12

Daaaaaa me like watching shiny screen!

continuous hours, looking at computer screens.

I came home, longing to nurse my fried brain and bulging eyes.  And the first thing I do is turn on the computer.

And look at yet another screen.

What the crap is wrong with this scenario?

And here’s the worst part: I have no intention of turning it off.  After an incredibly long day, all I want to do is be entertained.  But I’m too dang stupid to actually think of something that doesn’t require staring at brightly lit pixels.

So dance for me, little monkey.  Entertain me you stupid, dumb, dumb, dumb screen. (See?  Even my vocabulary is getting…badder.)   Unleash my inner neanderthal and make him drool, giggle and beat his chest at the shallow and ultimately meaningless entertain that you’ll provide.

Art is Stupid

Art has no point.  Paintings are really worthless.  The ‘value’ of a painting is assigned by some person who has enough clout in the art world so that others will listen and obey.  If I create something magnificent – a little visual glimpse of heaven – no one would care.  There would be no monetary value to it.  The right people who have enough power (based solely in their position in life) did not give their blessing on it.  If someone else, however, that has the backing of these same people creates a piece of garbage, it is priceless because enough of the right people have fallen over backwards for it.

Also, there is no practical application for art.  I suppose we could break down a painting and burn the wood of the frame.  But what about music?  We could chop up the instruments, I suppose.  As for the actual incarnation of the music, the melody and harmony, there is no practical purpose for it.  It is mindless noise, droning on and on and on.

You cannot give a compelling argument against this simple fact: art is stupid.

Art could vanish from the world and life would continue.  Art does not keep buildings erect.  In fact, some sculptures defy basic engineering tenets and could collapse under any sort of external weight or pressure.

Art does not keep people alive.  It does not plant seeds or harvest grain or raise livestock.

Art does not bring healing to the infirm.  Doctors and medicine accomplish that as much as they are able.

Art didn’t create the rules in which a society operates.  Art did not dictate simple universal rules like respect for human life.

Art is stupid.

We have not been told anything else our entire lives.  You may think you are enlightened or educated, so much so that you believe art has some place in our lives.  But you are wrong.  You have been severely misled.  Look around you.  No one wants your art.  No one cares if you sculpt with precision or your voice is liquid gold.

It comes down to this: what is it worth?  What is your creation worth?  How much can I sell it for?  How can it help me buy other things?  How does it add to our gross domestic product?

Your art is worthless.  And so is the time you spent creating it.  And so are you.

In this Western world, if you do not produce something of ‘value’, you are worthless.  Your life has no point, like the art you think you are creating.  People may applaud the immediate unveiling of your latest masterpiece, but at some point everyone is thinking: ‘This has no practical use’.  And so you have wasted that precious commodity that you cannot refund, transfer or accrue: time.  No man’s insatiable greed or ambition can retrieve one spent second of precious time.

Art is stupid.

But how I love it.

It may not heal the body, but it can heal the soul.  The wounds it can bind are unseen by others, but felt deeply by the individual.

Art does not provide food or shelter, but it can make both enjoyable.

Society can live on without art, based on rules enforced by an authoritative government.  Art, however, communicates the beauty of life and the need to respect it.

And though this society prefers efficiency over aesthetics and position over truth, art will be the quiet corner that never leaves.  It may have no practical purpose to those in a hurry to breathe their last breath, but for the wise it will be an ever present opportunity to stop and observe life.  To partake in making observations about life and beauty.  To allow others to communicate their observations about love and eternity.

So to all the ambitious and greedy people who run a race to the grave….you have my pity.

To anyone who made it this far in the reading, take warning: art is stupid, and you’ll be stupid for wasting your time on it.  But to do anything else would be true stupidity.

Being A Stay-At-Home Dad: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

JJ at 5 months old.

Statistics show that anywhere between 18%-24% percent of American kids from ages 0-4 have dads that are at home.  This blog is for these dads.

I’ve had both the pleasure and misfortune of being a stay-at-home dad for the past 7 months.  I’ve loved it, hated it; it’s made me laugh, cry, angry, joyous, content and nauseous.  And now I totally connect with Charles Dickens when he wrote those immortal words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

I had no intention of being at stay-at-home dad (which we’ll abbreviate as SAHD for simplicity’s sake) for this long.  After working two jobs at once to get my wife through college, it was my desire to take a short one to two month sabbatical to stay at home, get some writing done, and try my hand at being a full-time dad. This was only a fantasy as reality would never allow this to happen; but hey, a guy can dream.  I never got the sabbatical, but thanks to woeful unemployment, I could afford to stay home for a short time while we lived on my wife’s decent earnings.

Being the primary guardian, chef, butler, maid, educator, jester and butt-wiper for my most favorite person; a 20 month old boy with light blond hair, crystal blue eyes, and a manipulative charming smile; has been one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done.  And I’m dang good at it.  I can change a diaper with the speed and accuracy of a ninja.  I have mastered most of my son’s non-verbal communication and are always aware of his wants and needs.  I now make a mean homemade mac-and-cheese.  I’ve never learned so much about the physical, emotional, intellectual and social developments of toddler in all my life.   And I’m very proud knowing that I’ve played a crucial role in my son’s well-being and all around awesomeness.

I’ve also acquired things that have made myself a better person.  I have a new-found appreciation for mothers, especially my wife.  I’ve developed traits of being more caring and empathetic.  And I’ve created a strong bond with my son that came as the result of taking care of him everyday.  To me, these things are priceless.  In fact, I would recommend such a time to any man, should they be able to afford it.

But there’s a gray lining to every silver cloud.  As good as I am at being a SAHD, I’m convinced my wife can run circles around me in homemaking and child rearing.  She’s just incredible at it.  And she’s wired with the desire of staying home to raise our kids.  I’m not.  As much as I have loved this, I am wired to work in the worst of ways.  I have purpose-driven ADHD, if there is such a thing.  I am happiest when I’m getting out of the house and into a long-houred job.  So after the first two months, me and my wife found ourselves desperately wanting to switch roles.  Five months later, I still haven’t been able to land a good job.  I definitely wouldn’t say we’re miserable, but we’re in situations where we’ve too long been doing things we just weren’t wired to do.

Now here’s where the “ugly” in this story comes along.  My wife and I are a status quo male/female duo.  She’s more of the nurturer, and I’m more of the protector/provider mindset.  This seems pretty typical among males and females.  But I’m convinced that not every husband and wife couple is wired this way.  I’ve met couples where the typical desires are reversed; where the wife wants a career and the husband wants to be the homemaker.  And these couples are good at what they do.

So what’s wrong with this scenario?

I believe there’s nothing wrong with this scenario.  But there’s many that would have you believe otherwise.  SAHDs are the subject of a lot of ridicule these days.  The ridicule goes beyond the harmless “man-mom” and “he-wife” jokes.  There is a large group of people who take a religious aspect to the ridicule.

Apparently, God doesn’t approve of stay-at-home dads.

Pastor Mark Driscoll is one of these people.  He’s the speaking pastor of Mars Hill church in Seattle, WA.  His 7,000+ congregation is shadowed by his immense popularity all over the country.  The guy does some things in his ministry that I believe are absolutely brilliant.  But I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of his.  For every one moment of Driscoll brilliance, there’s five things that make me want to pull out my hair in frustration.   The above video is one of those hair pulling moments.

In the video, Driscoll answers this question, “Is it okay for a dad to stay home if the wife wants to work?”  Now, Driscoll makes a lot of good points about how some men need to be men instead of boys.  But Driscoll says that it is NOT okay for a husband to stay home because of the scripture 1 Timothy 5:8.

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. – 1 Timothy 5:8

Driscoll goes on to argue that this verse has no cultural relevance and takes it as a literal biblical command for modern times.

*Queue hair pulling sound*

I believe that such literal interpretations of scripture are the very reason why so many churches suck.  This verse has a ton of truth in it, but definitely not to the extreme measures that Driscoll takes.  Allow me to explain.

I am convinced that every New Testament command has a purpose and benefit that’s pretty easy to understand.  In other words, God just didn’t throw out some random laws “just because”.  Every command is beneficial for our well-being.  So we have to look at where the importance lies in this scripture.  The importance in this scripture is that the family needs to be taken care of.  That’s it.

So what about the man in this scripture?

Understand that in that time, the man was the only way in which a family could be provided for.  Women didn’t have jobs back then and thus, couldn’t provide for a family.  Their role was to take care of the home and children.  Driscoll is putting the cart before the horse.  The importance of this scripture does not lie within the man, it lies within the fact that the family needs to be taken care of.

In other words, if this scripture would have been written in today’s age where both men and women have equal right to provide, it would probably have read, “If any man or woman does not provide for his or her own…”

Now, I agree that the majority of us are wired where the wife desires to be a nurturer and the husband desires to be a provider.  So if a man, whose family fits this description, is too lazy to even look for a job and lets his family go poor, yes, this scripture is absolutely applicable and that man should get some sense smacked into him. But if the wife wants to work and the husband wants to raise the kids, and the family needs are being met, then this scripture is being fulfilled.

Later on in the clip, Pastor Driscoll address the issue of both parents working while the kids go to daycare.  He discourages this, but does not outright condemn it. This is where Driscoll confuses me.  So it’s not a sin for the husband and wife to work and let someone else raise your child, but it IS a sin for the father to raise the child?  How is that any better?  What if the daycare provider is a man and that is his job?   Wouldn’t it be better for the actual father to take care of the kids, rather than someone else’s father?

So here’s to all the stay-at-home dads out there, the “mannys,” “he-wifes,” “man-moms” and “testosterhomemakers” (I made that last one up).   The world may not understand you (I know I sure don’t).  But if your wife is loving her job and making the dough, and you love raising your kids, then keep rocking on.  It’s better if you did, then someone else.

As for the guys out there that are going nuts looking for a job while being a full-time dad, be encouraged!  You are not purposeless.  The role you are playing is crucial, even though it may be making you want to pull out your hair.  And when you eventually land a job, you’ll look back on all the good times you had with your kids, all the things they taught you; and you can enjoy the fact that you’re probably closer to them than you would have been otherwise.

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