Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Conundrum Of Sorts

I really need to get better at writing down everything that pops in my head.  There were three or four good topics in my head earlier this week, and now, they have all left the building.  At least all the good details have gone.  There's lots of interesting news floating around, from the fight over state employee unions in Wisconsin and other states, to the spreading revolts in the Middle East, to the fierce winter weather across the U.S. But I think I'll work the remains of one of those ideas, instead. 

One of those thoughts bouncing around my head was aggravated by a couple of recent trips to some of the casinos in the area.  It was interesting, because it seems that casino floors are the only smoker-friendly places left in the U.S.  There aren't thick clouds of smoke floating over all the machines and tables, but the places do stink and irritate some folks, including my ex-smoker self.  I've noticed after being off the smokey treats for over a decade now, on those few occasions I visit those smoker friendly areas, I usually leave with something funky in my sinuses, and often an annoying headache.

Now, being the good, capitalist minded conservative that I am, I don't really care for the plethora of anti-smoking laws that are covering the land, or the insane added taxes on tobacco.  Neither seems to be having any significant affect on smoking, nor do they do anything to lay the personal responsibility for one's choices on the smoker or give the nonsmoker the power of the pocketbook to avoid smokers.  My answer is simply get nonsmokers together to let these various establishments (not just casinos, bars, and clubs, but also apartments and hotels) know that if they want our money, they need to provide us a better option.than the one glass enclosed slot machine room I saw in one casino or "non-smoking" rooms, apartments or rentals that are not enforced or were smoking for thirty years prior.  If we don't have the economic pull to effect the change, or inspire someone to start their own, smoke free establishments then that's the way the cookie crumbles.

The purported motivation behind all the pushes in anti-smoking laws and ludicrous costs added to tobacco is to prevent both smokers from hurting themselves by smoking, and of seemingly greater importance to some,  preventing nonsmokers from suffering damage from secondhand smoke.  The evils of secondhand smoke are shouted from the mountaintops, repeated from public service announcements, and even included on some of the surgeon general warnings on the cigarettes themselves.  Parents are lambasted for smoking in the home where their children are because of the importance of keeping children safe from the actions of the adults.  

I know, like everybody else, that secondhand smoke does not do any good to those around it, especially the young, developing respiratory system of children.  Arguing that is not the point of this rant.  The point that I'm aiming at is my amazement that many of these people who are hooting and hollering about how horrible smoking around anybody is dangerous and damaging and needs to be regulated and outlawed, tend to support abortion rights.  Smoking and abortion are both, in some arguments, about the person's right to do what they desire with and to their own bodies.  Yet, for some reason, to many people, smoking, which is not a guaranteed killer to those around it, or even to the smoker (how old was George Burns again?) must be screamed about and outlawed, while abortion, which is a guaranteed killer, must be defended tooth and nail.  Personally, this is a very interesting contradiction, and one I would love to hear a good explanation from any of these folks.   

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What ever happened to the melting pot, or even Must See TV?

An advantage to posting late today, I can forgo the standard Valentine's Day stuff.  Instead, I want to talk about something that strikes me frequently, but really hit last night during the Grammy Awards.  While watching, it struck me that, even though I'm a little older and never have really be a mainstream/pop music guy, I had very little idea who most of the people performing, presenting, and nominated were.  The same thing happens when I watch the Oscars and Emmys as well, and I would be completely lost if I tried watching the MTV awards nowadays.  I'm not even sure MTV does awards anymore, it's not like they do music anymore....

However, it occurs to me that this isn't simply a matter of me being out of touch with the mainstream entertainment world.  It seems to me that there isn't really a mainstream entertainment world anymore.  Very few and far between are those universally recognized bands, movies, or TV shows.  There was a time when there were some TV shows and movies that everybody had seen, and some songs that everyone knew the lyrics to.  Now, with 157 channels and DVRs to fill our TV addiction and everything under the sun (and a lot of stuff from the shadows) available on the internet on demand, plus advertisers and producers preferring pinpoint target marketing over the melting pot, and a big helping of the constant push of modern western society to individuality, it all comes to a very splintered culture.  I know we have blips on the scene, such as Justin Bieber, American Idol, and Glee, but is the fandom and recognition of those as universal as say Michael Jackson, The Cosby Show, or Titanic? 

I have been and still consider myself part of several different subcultures that suffer from this kind of splintering.  Metal, punk, hacking, and the Church all suffer in various ways from too many within the groups looking at their individuality instead of trying to melt together.  Punk is particularly vicious when it comes to dividing over ideals, with it's long and strong history of fighting to stay out of the mainstream and avoid any contact with evil corporate record labels, some in the scene laying out lots of hate, verbal, in print and sometimes physical on anyone daring to gain commercial success playing punk.  Metal isn't quite as bad, but there are some examples of the masses calling out bands for sudden, money-inspired career choices ****COUGHCOUGHCOUGHMETALLICACOUGHCOUGH****** (Excuse me, something in my throat).  Hackers engage in a lot of debates of white hat (searching out computer exploits simply for the sake of knowledge and fixing them) verses black hat (happy to exploit found holes for monetary gain, cyber vandalism or scene fame).  And of course, we don't have dozens of different denominations within the Church, didn't go through the Reformation, and didn't have a Great Awakening here in America because everyone in the Body agreed on all points of theology. 

There's nothing wrong with some grouping together by ideals, tastes, or histories.  The annual Cornerstone Christian metal festival is a big gathering of people brought together by their taste in music and their faith.  The Hackers Of Planet Earth (H.O.P.E) conferences are gathering of people interested in technology, what it does, what it is doing to us, and what we can do to it.  But when those metalheads go home, they go to their more diversified local churches, and those hackers head back to their mainstream jobs and schools.  Both groups mix and mingle with others who may or may not share all of their views and likes.  Hopefully, both the mixers and mixees pick up positives from each other.  The metalhead may get inspiration for a song from a line in the pastor's sermon, and one of the hacker's coworkers just may start practicing safer websurfing habits after a conversation about where the hacker went last weekend.

That's the whole point of a melting pot.  Different groups putting all of their good ideas together, often to create brand new ideas.  I know we started off talking about divisions in our entertainment culture, but those are just an example of the divisions in our culture, divisions that cut much deeper than TV shows and music.  Some of these divisions come from the aforementioned target marketing, with a lot of money and research going into exactly what words and images attract people with different tastes.  Some of them come from certain groups looking to keep the culture at least divided and distracted, if not conquered. 

We can't have a melting pot without a variety of ingredients.  But we also can't have a melting pot without those ingredients being willing to come together sometimes.  No, simply trying a new radio station or a different news station or listening to a different preacher isn't going to create a great social conglomeration, but it is a step in the right direction.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Is it Bread and Juice or Flesh and Blood?

We had a very interesting happening at church this weekend.  During communion, the pastor said that he had received a word, that someone in the pews hadn't taken the elements.  When the pastor asked that they come forward, not to be embarrassed or forced, but to be reminded that communion is about accepting the sacrifice Jesus made for us while we were still sinners, one person did come forward.  Then the pastor moved to asking if anyone took the elements out of habit or to not stick out, and that call got several more people to come forward.  It was a powerful moment, one that doesn't translate well into the written word, and it set my mind a working.

We get in habits, not just in the outside world, but in church and our spiritual lives as well.  Those habits can be good habits, like prayer, devotional readings, communion, fellowship meetings, fill in your own blanks here.  But sometimes they become just that, habits.  We do them reflexively, automatically, without the focus and intentionality they need and deserve.  Communion is an easy one for this to happen to, because it's usually done about once a month, depending on the church, and it's done in a group, so groupthink and peer pressure come into play.  If we put just a couple of moments of thought into the act of communion, the fact that it is one of the very few traditions Jesus established Himself, the symbolism He attached to the bread and the wine, it quickly becomes difficult to glibly just take the little piece of bread out of the plate and the little cup of grape juice and down them for appearances. 

But we still do it.  Whether it's blindly eating and drinking crackers and grape juice, not thinking about the cross we put around our neck everyday, even doing "good works" out of responsibility, not love, we fall into the trap of habit, or worse, religion.  Jesus, Paul, and Peter all spoke against religion.  They used the empty rituals and actions of the Pharisees and Sadducees as specific examples of what happens when faith and love of God become empty action and schedule.  When we read the Old Testament, we hear about the rituals being performed with hearts open to God, and they were accepted by God as proper worship.  But by the New Testament, we have the focus off  God and on to the actions.  Forgetting the verses put in those phylacteries that were made wide to show off how holy the wearer was. (Matt. 23:5, the verses were Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16, and Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, if you're interested)

One of the things I picked up from the positive mental attitude teachings of W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill was that it takes being intentional to make ourselves better.  This applies to our walk with Jesus as well.  The way to avoid the problems of empty religion is to be intentional in keeping our walk a relationship, one where communications flow both ways, one where we are looking to build up and expand the relationship at all times.  One where we admit when (not if) we fall, take the hand back up, brush ourselves off, ask forgiveness, and keep walking.  When we can maintain that intentional walk, it's never just bread and juice, it really is that body broken and blood poured out for us.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A sad trend

An article in the local paper this weekend reminded me of an issue I've noticed seems to becoming more and more common.  Here is the article about another infant allegedly killed by a significant other.  Not by a parent, but by the parent's boyfriend (in this case, I've seen a couple where it was a girlfriend who was the perpetrator)  It's a very sad byproduct of the growing trend of single parenthood, easy come, easy go relationships, and a general tearing down of the ideal of family.  The simple fact of the matter is that children, especially infants, can be very frustrating.  They can't communicate very specifically, every day is a new experience that can be both good and bad, and they have difficulty understanding what's going on around them.  The end result can be extended periods of fussing and crying and screaming when a baby want something or is hurting or uncomfortable or in any of a dozen other states. 

Now, for a biological parent, or a non-biological significant other who is seriously committed to their partner and the baby, the frustration can be overcome.  Not always easily, and sometimes even natural parents and committed significant others can slip up, but when there is that real, intentional bond between adult and child, the likelihood of losing one's temper to that degree drops significantly.  But when there is no commitment beyond one person having a roof over their head, when there isn't any real intention of maintaining a parental relationship with the child, when the child is just an inconvenience that comes with this month's source of whatever is being looked for in a relationship, there isn't always that trigger to hold back.

Obviously, it is very possible for a person who isn't a biological parent to step up to the role, that is not the point of this rant.  The point is the difference between those who successfully rise to the challenge and people like this guy and the others who keep popping up in similar stories.  That difference is primarily a respect, a belief in committed relationships, usually with an outward symbol of that commitment like a wedding ring.  But, as we keep being reminded, the value of marriage keeps going down.  More and more people are shacking up for various amounts of time, both short term and long term, the divorce rate among those who do get married remains a 50/50 shot at staying together, even in the Church, babies becoming accessories instead of responsibilities, all of these things are leading to more and more of these cases.  We could throw in abortion on demand as a factor as well, but that will get things on a completely different track, so we'll leave that one off for now. 

These cases used to be very rare, but as the foundational attitudes that I just mentioned get changed and undermined, they've gotten more common.  As these foundations keep eroding, it's going to get worse.  Both Christians and conservatives talk about how American society keeps going downhill, but we still haven't bottomed out yet.  I talked awhile back about how our current levels of depravity don't touch those reached by ancient empires like Rome.  We have to get people to take off their blinders and see the ripple effects of these things.  It's bad enough that this infant and the others (this blog from 2008 comes up with 5, it's not hard to find more and more recent ones), think about the wave effect if these foundational trends continue.