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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

NASA image of Kiribati

On the way home from work today I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR when a story came on about the island nation of Kiribati.  Kiribati is a nation consisting of a string of islands in the Pacific Ocean that, due to climate change, is sinking and may be rendered uninhabitable within the next century.  This particular story focused on 20-year-old Tiibea Baure who is taking part in a program that seeks to relocate citizens of Kiribati.  Baure is now living in Australia where she studies nursing.  She wants to do well and get a job so she can bring her parents over to Australia with her.  The problem with that, though, is that her parents don’t want to leave because they don’t believe climate change is real.  This particular quote from Tiibea’s mother caught my attention:

“I don’t believe, because it’s something beyond me. It’s something beyond my knowledge, and it’s beyond my capacity to understand it. We just believe that God will look after us, and he will do his own way to save us.”

This reminded me, a bit, of an old story I once heard from comedian Jerry Crowder about a man who’s house is being encroached upon by flood waters.  The man is sitting on the porch with the water up to his feet when a boat pulls up offering to save him.  The man simply responds, “Go on ahead.  God’s gonna take care of me.”  Later on when the water is up to the man’s knees the boat comes back.  Again the man responds, “Don’t worry, God’s gonna take care of me.”  Finally, when the water is covering the house and the man is perched on his chimney a helicopter comes and a rescue worker throws down a rope saying, “Sir, grab a hold of the rope.  This is your last chance.”  Once more the man responds, “Go on, God’s gonna take care of me.”  Well, the man drowned and when he got to Heaven he told God, “I’m disappointed in you.  You said you were going to take care of me.”  God then looks at the man and says, “Ya dummy.  I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

In a way I envy faith like that.  Especially since my own can seem so weak and doubtful at times.  At the same time, though, I wonder if such sentiments of faith can cross over from hope into foolishness.  To be sure, I believe that God takes care of us and that worrying is an utterly pointless and counter productive endeavor.  At the same time, though, I believe that God wants us to be pragmatic.  We are children of God but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to do everything for us.  Much of the time we have to simply dig in and solve our own (and each other’s) problems.  Typically what God does is provide us with the means–a boat, a helicopter, or even a scholarship program.  Most of all, though, He provides us with each other and that is how it should be.

We created our own messes of men so the least that should be expected of us is that we help each other work our way out of them.  God will always be with us and will even help us out in seen and unseen ways but through it all we’re going to have to keep working if we want to see a better world.

Of course we could all just sit around until we get to Heaven but that sounds kind of boring to me.

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I ended up taking a break from the site for a while after the holidays.  Life didn’t really change much from the status quo but for some reason it started to frustrate me a lot more (possibly because of the status quo).

But now I am back and will hopefully be getting back in the habit of updating regularly.  For now, though, I will leave you with this teaser of what might be coming down the line:

from the amazing xkcd.com

*This post title is a riff on the title of a book I recently read.  If you can guess what the book is then you are most likely a huge geek.

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These days we are rather over run by the romantic comedy genre.  To a certain extent that’s alright but after a while they can start doing more harm than good.  You see, most romantic comedies tend to revolve around a very adolescent concept of love.  This sort of overly sentimental and unrealistic depiction of romance (sometimes called “emotional porn”) is fine when all you want is a few moments of escapism but when it starts to reach the level of saturation it has it starts to affect how people believe romantic relationships should be.  That, in turn, can lead to some really messy situations when unrealistic expectations butt up against the realities of life.

That is why, for relationship veterans like me, the Scott Pilgrim series is such a breath of fresh air.  Here (in both the original graphic novel series and the recent film adaptation) that on the surface seems an over-the-top and absurd story operating on the logic of video games and Saturday morning cartoons but dig a little deeper and there can be found one of the most insightful and true to life depictions of human relationships to grace the genre in recent years.

For the uninitiated, the Scott Pilgrim series follows the mis-adventures of a habitually  immature Canadian hipster named Scott Pilgrim.  Scott has fallen obsessively in love with the new-in-town Romona Flowers and, by some miracle, has gotten her to return his affections.  Ramona, however, comes with a bit of baggage in the form of seven evil ex-boyfriends bent on Scott’s destruction.  Add onto this Scott’s own slightly off-kilter exes and the fact that everyone inexplicably has or gains superpowers at one point or another (see the aforementioned video game logic) and you get one of the most complicated relationships to ever hit the streets of Toronto.

With all of these ingredients pilled together we somehow get a wildly epic and hilariously comedic story that somehow manages to depict people in a realistic light (points, power-ups and boss fights aside).  That is because the characters here actually behave like real people do.  The problems here aren’t the contrived obstacles of most romantic comedies.  The big problems aren’t even really the seven evil exes trying to kill Scott.  Instead the main thing standing in the way of Scott and Ramona’s relationship is their own hang-ups.  Their respective immaturities, insecurities, and selfish desires prove a much greater threat and much bigger challenge than any sword-wielding, half-ninja ex ever could be.

All-in-all, Scott Pilgrim seems like something tailor made for my personality.  On the one hand it is crazy and over the–deeply infused with the hipster-geek culture that I’ve so long embraced–while on the other hand it is deeply heartfelt depicting both the joys and fallibilities of human relationships.  Needless to say, it gets a strong recommendation from me.

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Earlier this week I was reading in the paper about a split that occurred in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  It seems that several congregations have chosen to split off into their own denomination citing the controversy of the ELCA’s decision to allow non-celibate homosexuals to become ordained pastors.  While such controversies are not so uncommon these days there was one sentiment from a congregate that caught my attention:

For too many Lutherans today, “it’s the Gospel of acceptance, rather than the Gospel of redemption — love conquers all kind of thing,” he said.

“You don’t have to worry about obedience, or sanctification, or any of those issues – you just love everybody and that’ll be fine,” Winkler said.

I understand such a sentiment since it is one I have felt myself many times before.  It seems that in America Christian culture and Western culture have become intertwined to the point where the spiritual life of the individual is emphasized far above the life of the community.  While such an occurrence has benefited the American church in some ways it has been detrimental in others.  Such laissez faire faith and aimless acceptance are often the by-product of this increased individuality.

However, I do not believe that this is what is happening within the ELCA.  You see, the movement of many churches towards open acceptance of homosexuality is not a result of cultural omni-acceptance. Instead it is part of a greater movement in the modern Church to reevaluate its historical beliefs.  The Church is beginning to understand that an understanding of theology is not static but a fluid endeavorer requiring constant challenge and effort.  In this particular case the reevaluation has caused a split in the church but it is not a split caused by individualism or hyper-acceptance run amok.  Here what we are seeing is the members of each side of the debate seeking the strength of community.  On the side of the ELCA its members are seeking to create a community where homosexuals are welcomed into the fold while on the side of the new denomination its members are seeking to live in a community where where their convictions are upheld.  Each came to a different conclusion but each reacted in the same way by seeking to create an interdependent and God-honoring community.

It is simply a fact of life that different people will come to different conclusions at different times.  Though unfortunate, sometimes church splits like this one are necessary in order to maintain functioning communities.  At the same time these splits in denominations need not be a split in the Church as a whole. As long as dialog remains between the different branches then the community of the Church remains across all theological boundaries.

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Last I checked they were still calling this the information age and while it is true that information is more readily available than it ever has been before this is somehow also an age of wide spread ignorance and intentional misinformation.  Still, I believe that most people truly desire to be informed citizens capable of tackling complex issues.  With that in mind I wanted to offer a handful of tips and suggestions that may help in separating the facts from the noise.

1.  Don’t watch television news.

It is the sad state of affairs that modern television news is not actually news so much as a running commentary on the news.  As such facts and opinions are diced and mixed together until they are nearly indistinguishable from each other.  With the possible exception of Public Television TV news should generally be avoided or at very least not be your primary source of information.  Instead find a reputable newspaper and a sampling of on-line independent news sources that you can trust.

2.  Be a student of history.

The old adage is true, “those who are ignorant of history are bound to repeat it.”  Take, for example, this trend recognized throughout history: in times of economic hardship widespread xenophobia is often one of the results.  Now take a look at some of the big headline topics during this current economic recession:  Protests to the building of mosques, immigration crackdowns, the ongoing debate over LGBT rights, etc.  Through a thorough knowledge of history people can better identify true cause and effect relationships and debunk false ones.

3.  Be a student of civics

Most of us, way back in middle school or high school, probably took a civics or government class or two.  It seems, though, that many of us have forgotten the basics as we’ve grown up.  This needs to be rectified because without a firm understanding of how government truly works (i.e. what government offices can and can’t do, what their purposes are, and how they interact with each other) a person can easily be coerced into a false understanding of these bodies.

4.  Learn to differentiate between fact and opinion

This may sound simple at first but things as simple as tone and word choice can often make the inactive listener mis-categorized statements.  As such a citizen should learn to listen intently and critically and, of course, always…

5.  Fact check / Never assume you know something

Individual worlds turn upon what we think we know and often times a close look reveals that what we know is often wrong.  While this may not drastically hurt people in their daily lives it can lead to great wrongs when introduced onto the political stage.  So always check your sources and make sure you have all the facts.

6.  Work all the angles / Never take just one point-of-view

I don’t know about other places but we Americans tend to be rather stubborn folks.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  After all, a mind without convictions is no better than sand in a sift.  When these convictions, in an effort of self-preservation, block out all other points of view we not only become intolerant but completely intolerable as well.  No one says you have to agree with everyone but making no effort to truly understand others leads only to strife for all parties involved.

7.  Think globally

It’s a big world out there filled with many different societies of differing influence.  An awareness of the wants and needs of these societies as well as an awareness of our own societies positive and negative influences is crucial to being a citizen of the world.

8.  Listen to your detractors

No one likes being wrong but chances are that you’re going to be once or twice in your life.  It is in those times that it is vitally important to listen intently to your detractors and if you’re wrong admit it and use their criticism to correct and improve yourself.

9.  Don’t try to fix everything

There are a lot of problems in this world and the more socially conscience a person becomes the more they want to fix them all.  This, obviously, is impossible and often times when one problem is fix two more will pop up.  In order to preserve one’s sanity this has to be accepted.  It’s tempting to want to be the Saviour of the world or give up trying but the only real effective way to change the world is by narrowing your focus and choosing your battles carefully.  Then, once you’ve decided what you’re going to work on, go work you butt off.

10.  Be optimistic

One of the effects of becoming an informed citizen is often discovering that there is a heck of a lot to worry about.  Do not despair, though.  Instead take a page from Charlie Brown and keep plugging along.  The world changes a bit everyday.  Just make sure you are doing your bit to change it for the better instead of for the worse and never ever give up hope.  That is the most important point of them all.

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I haven’t had much time to write on here lately but I do have an article that has been bouncing around in my head for a while.  Until I get that out, though, I thought I’d bring you another edition of Recommends.

I have never been a huge fan of the iTunes music store.  It always felt a bit restricted (and Amazon MP3 is usually cheaper) but one thing that I’ve always loved about iTunes is the podcasts.  Anymore I think I use iTunes more to listen to podcast than music.  With that I wanted to bring you five of my most recommended podcast available from iTunes:

The Moth

The Moth podcast features people telling real stories of their lives recorded live on stage.  From hilarious to moving and everywhere in between, the stories on The Moth prove that truth is often stranger, funnier, sadder, and more amazing than fiction.

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Rocketboom

Rocketboom is a video podcast focused on news and Internet culture that features humorous takes on newscasting, spotlights on artists and content producers and stories of people from around the world.  It’s always something new and always of the highest quality.

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The Relevant Podcast

The Relevant Podcast is the audio arm of Relevant Magazine and, like the magazine, focuses on topics of God, life and progressive culture.  With humor and intelligence the hosts of this podcast offer stories, music, interviews and topical discussions each week.

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Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me

This show from NPR is a comedic current events quiz.  With a regular panel of comedians and writers Wait Wait… has games like “Who’s Carl this Time” and “Limericks”.  Most entertaining, though, is “Not My Job” where notable people are asked questions about things they know nothing about.  It is hilarious and oddly informative at the same time.

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This American Life

This American Life is a show from WBEZ Chicago and PRI hosted by Ira Glass.  Each week they pick a theme and bring together a variety of stories related to that theme in one way or another.  Always interesting and often inspiring, This American Life is one of the highest quality podcast around.

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I made a trip down to Des Moines today for PrideFest 2010 (Iowa’s annual LGBT celebration) and good times were had by all.   I think if you ever want to see the potential for a peaceful world you just need to visit one of these events.

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