Monday, December 30, 2013

Facebook Faith # 36 Grinch Obama

"Guess what Obama didn’t do for Christmas? Go to church. That’s right, Obama did a lot of things on the 24th and 25th, including playing golf on Christmas Eve, but he did not have time for church."

The text above accompanied this meme on my newsfeed today.  I literally sat and stared in wonder at this one for a few minutes.  I have seen a lot of bizarre religious things proclaimed this year, but this one slips in - with just 24 hours to go - as perhaps being the most idiotic statement of 2013 in the religion mixed with politics category.... and given Michelle Bachman, Ted Cruz, and  Louie Gohmert.... that is saying a lot.

In fact, it was so absurd, I thought that even the usual suspects of Pavlov conservatives would reject this. Unfortunately, when I went to the source page on Facebook - ForAmerica - I found that in 10 hours, nearly 60,000 people had liked this so far.  Combine religion with Obama-hate and the salivating will commence.

Beyond that.... the comments... oh, the comments!
  • Muslims don't go to church
  • Don't think Jesus is especially pleased, (we're not supposed to be anything but Christian..)
  • Narcissist, sinners with messiah-complex don't feel a need for God. He'll try to lie his way out at his appointment before the judgment seat! He'll of course forget that God sees all, knows all, and has it all recorded. Poor soul.
  • Prolly brought either his prayer rug, or a hammer and cicle golfing...
  • he hates America and is an illegal muslim how is that news?
  • if the dems get the house because idiots re-elect or the left fixes the votes again, this country is done for
  • Don't get upset with him because Christmas is not a Muslim holiday.
  • At least he's no longer pretending to be a Christian.
  • he is a very mean person & only has one thing in mind.....To ruin our wonderful country

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Facebook Faith #35 The Lady Doth Protest Too Much
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks." ~ Hamlet Act 3

A few days ago I wrote a post about my observations during the whole Phil Robertson Duck hub-bub. Just on the duck-tails of that event, Utah, by order of a federal judge, became the 18th state to allow gay marriage.

Utah, as a whole, did not take to kindly to a Federal judge stepping in and declaring our voting away the rights of our fellow citizens unconstitutional. Our governor, like Governor Orval Faubus, has vowed to fight the federal government on this.

Throughout both of these events, I kept hearing things like:
  • I am not a homophobe, but...
  • I am not a racist, but...
  • I don't hate anyone, but...
  • Yes, everyone is equal, but...
A midst those phrases, various folks were expressing frustration about not being to express themselves.  They are tired of the "political correctness" in society today.  I saw this meme posted by one who is frustrated with PC:

Followed by this one:

Now, this same friend (and others of like mind) will jump on my page with guns blazing if I say anything about Christianity.... yes, then THEY will enter the 'magical place'.

But a similar reaction is not to be found when people with a different pigment, or sexual orientation are slighted.  Then these folks long for the days when anything could be said about homosexuals or people of color... with no worry of push back.

Those were the daaaaaayssssss!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Facebook Faith #34 If It Walks Like A Duck

And I support A&E's right to let go of
employees who say dumb things
If you were on Facebook today, your newsfeed probably blew up with posts about Mr. Duck. I had many lengthy conversations.  Here are a couple things I noticed:
  • There are a hell of a lot of people who do not understand what the Constitution has to say about free speech
  • Many people believe all opinions have equal validity
  • Folks LOVE when someone speaks their mind (on a subject they agree with)
  • Sarcasm and condescension only work in the mind of the person using the tactic
  • Those who dish it out can rarely take it
  • Blaming the victim is really popular
  • Some of my Facebook friends are adept at "Palining" (ignore the question and just keep repeating your talking point)
  • Defending homosexuals makes you anti-Christian
  • Christianity is all over the map on the issue of Homosexuality
  • If you don't cherry pick scripture the way I cherry pick scripture, then you are not a real Christian
  • You are a bigot if you don't tolerate bigotry
  • Homophobes HATE being called Homophobes

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Facebook Faith #33 - Deconverting From The Demonic

When this drifted through my newsfeed last night I sighed and smiled. It is so true. As a believer, I could never have imagined or dreamed how freeing it would feel to be released from a world infested with angels and demons.

It takes a while to be free from this world. Even when I realised I was no longer a Christian, no longer a believer, I was not yet free.

Deconversion is not merely an intellectual exercise. I had made the mental shift, but disconnecting the emotions and untangling the superstitions from my thoughts was a longer process. Though the heavy work seems to be now finished, I still occasionally find tokens of my former thinking hidden away in drawers.

I spent most of my 45 years in a Christian culture where angels, demons, and deities were hidden behind every corner and influencing every event. People were always telling stories about how they were "under attack by the evil one" or "going through a trial orchestrated by God". If you got the job you wanted, it was a gift of God; if you didn't, He simply has something better in mind. Every good fortune and every tragic circumstance, had its origins in the hand of some unseen force. If you are an intuitive person with a gift for words, you can become quite popular by assigning spiritual meanings to these life events.

Looking in life's rearview mirror, I can see now the toll that all of this superstitious tea leaf reading has on the psyche. It is a heavy juggling act of performance and appearance. The believer is involved in a wide array of emotional and mental gymnastics to give these events divine meaning, while interpreting them in a way that is acceptable to the community.

The release from that pressure is freedom. Things are what they are. The same amount of good and bad circumstances befall me as ever have.... there were never any unseen forces at work. Now that I know that, life is better because I now deal with reality... as reality.

I occasionally have believers tell me that they are praying for me. They are sure my rejection of religion is the result of my being angry with god, or being disappointed with other believers. Once I "get over that", they are confident I will be back into the faith better than ever.
"I know Jehovah God is real. I feel him and his presence in my life daily. ...I see him moving everywhere I look. ... I am going to pray that God will reveal himself to you. You won't be able to escape it. I can't wait to hear your testimony one day. "
No. There is no one moving. There is no one to reveal. There is nothing to escape. I am simply being invited to put on, once more, the mental chains I have cast aside. Though perhaps offered with kindness and good intent, there simply could not be anything less appealing. To quote CS Lewis from his book The Great Divorce:
"If a corpse already liquid with decay had arisen from the coffin, smeared its gums with lipstick, and attempted a flirtation, the result could not be more appalling. "
I am in a world of freedom and (again to quote Lewis from the same book) "out of it I will not go!"

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Heart of God

We are probably all familiar with the scene from the Matrix where Neo is waiting for the Oracle. He meets a mystic boy  who is bending spoons with his mind. The boy offers a spoon to Neo.
Boy:  Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
Neo:  What truth?
Boy:  There is no spoon.
Neo:  There is no spoon?
Boy:  Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
I was a Christian for about 30 years.  During that time, my Christianity moved from Hell-fire certainty to Universal brotherhood.  In all those years I heard countless people telling me what the heart of God is... words upon words.  Then one day, I had a conversation with that mystic boy.
Boy:  Do not try to find the heart of God. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
Me:  What truth?
Boy:  There is no God.
Me:  There is no God?
Boy:  Then you’ll see, that it is not the heart of God that you are discovering, it is only yourself.
I came to realize that my shift from believing in a God who could send his children to Hell, to no longer believing that was even remotely possible, had nothing to do with a change in God. It was a change in me.  With that insight, came the realization that everyone's view of God is merely a reflection of their own heart. That pastor, or rabbi, or priest, or believer who is telling you about God is really only telling you about their own heart. They know nothing of any deity.

None of us do.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Facebook Faith # 32 - Why I Speak Out

There are plenty of kind, well meaning religious people. They do lots of great things and have angst toward no one. These people come to mind when I consider going easier on the religious critiques.

But then another bunch of religious garbage plugs my reader feed and I remember that those folks are the religious outliers and not the religious norm.  The following is an example of why Atheists need to speak out - even if it at times creates some tension.

Recently a young man named Ronnie Smith was murdered in Libya. He was there as a teacher with an international school. He leaves behind a wife and son.

He was also a Christian. I don't know to what extent he was using his position as a wedge to proselytize in the culture. To be honest, I don't care to know. It does not change the tragedy.

However, conservative evangelical pastor John Piper seems to think his reason for being there was to bring people to the Christian faith.  As such, Piper views Smith's death as a small price to pay when weighed against the souls Smith saved from "something worse than death".  Piper goes on:
"I call thousands of you to take Ronnie’s place. They will not kill us fast enough. Let the replacements flood the world."
Piper is not calling on people to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, or teach the uneducated. To Piper, and much of Christendom, the call to harm's way is about the after-life. This life is nothing but a preparation for the next. Choose wrongly, and you will be assigned to a never-ending horror show - by a god who loves you.  Piper wants to get you on the right team before you die.

Religious people like Piper set culture against culture. They create soldiers to fight an imagined and contrived war.  They encourage people to waste time and resources in battles that do nothing for humanity. Worse, in cases like this, they celebrate tragedy; confident it is another score for their team.

Beyond that, they go on to encourage others to sacrifice their precious lives for these mythical errands.

The power of these horrible, life-draining myths are becoming weaker with each passing day. Let us speed their end.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Franklin Graham: Name Dropper

Franklin Graham is a tool.

Just needed to clear the air of any biases up front.

I have written about his shenanigans, both when I was a believer and as an Atheist.

To be honest, I do not know enough about his father to offer any real commentary - except to say this: When I was a conservative republican Christian, I never thought Billy was on my side. Later, when I was a liberal universalist Christian, I never thought Billy was on my side. Billy was an Evangelist; and as such, had a motivation that transcended mere team play.

Franklin has no such ecumenicism. He has chosen a side, and fights vigorously for that side. If he needs to partake in hyperbole, slander, misrepresentation - or dragging his dad out for photo ops to buttress against his lack of recognition - he will do it.

Really, I can't adequately describe how low I think Franklin is without the use of some choice cuss words.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Defending Black Friday

My Black Friday shopping in the past few years has been minimal. Nowadays I try to snag a few deals online (which I have this year) and call it a day.

But years ago, I used to get together with my brother-in-law on Thanksgiving and we would grab the ads and chart out our items for the next day. We would meet up early the next morning with some friends and see what we could get. We would never show up hours before, camping out was not for us, but we would be there when the doors opened. Sometimes we got some deals, and sometimes we didn't.  Then we would all head over to breakfast at Denny's.  It was fun. We had a good time.

It has become chic in the past few years to blast Black Friday. We gripe about consumerism. We blanche at stories of people tackling old ladies in order to get the latest video game.

All valid.

However, I remember having good conversations with cheery people while waiting in line. I remember helping people get their deals, and others helping me get mine. There was always a lot of laughter at Denny's, and it wasn't just coming from our table.

In addition, Black Friday put items that would not normally be considered, in range.  I know a mom who gets up early every year to snag the Lego deals for her boys. The big sets are typically out of her price range, but on Black Friday those items become possible.

So, I can't join in the anti-Black Friday pile-on. I understand the concerns (though at times the delivery of those concerns smells a little like self-righteousness), but I can't apologize for my many outings with friends and family during Black Fridays past.  We enjoyed ourselves.

On this Black Friday, my wife and I sit here in our pajamas drinking coffee; while we wait for the latest lightning deal at Amazon for the nieces and nephews.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Modern TV Writers Have a Tough Job

This morning I was frying eggs and sausage, getting them ready to be placed on the bread sizzling in the adjacent pan.  While cooking, I was watching Dr. Who, Season 3 Episode 10 (marvelous stuff).  I love the Doctor's view of humanity.

As I cooked and watched TV on my MS Surface, it occurred to me that the modern television writer faces a dual disadvantage that no previous writer in their profession has had to contend with.  Thirty-five years ago, there were really only 3 network stations creating story content.  Then came along cable, and throughout the 90's, more and more stations began creating original shows.  The competition for consumer viewing time spiked.

However, consider what writers face today.  There are not only the myriad of channels providing new content.... thanks to Netflix, the present writer must also contend with his or her predecessors.

I have many seasons of Dr. Who left to watch.  After that, Breaking Bad will probably be next. "Old" shows take up a great portion of the viewing time I have available.

I am even consciously avoiding shows like Game of Thrones and Once Upon A Time until the shows end - that way I can watch them straight through uninterrupted.  As one of my friends quipped on Facebook this morning.

On a side note, Netflix has also started to release its own original content... but unlike shows of the past, they have abandoned the week to week model and release a "season's" worth of shows at once.

We are living in interesting entertainment times....

Where do you think we are headed?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Facebook Faith #31 It Says So Right Here On This Napkin

I had another eventful day on Facebook (it had been quiet for so long).  Our discussions had a good beginning, but it wasn't long before it started to get a bit circular.  One of my friends began to use the bible as justification for what the bible says.

It is a frustrating, swirling tangent that can enter in to a conversation about religion.  The frustration starts because the believer truly does not see the circular path they are walking.  They have a thick set of filters, but because they grew up with them, and live in a society that supports them, they are not even aware of their presence - the fish has no concept of being wet.

The believer cannot see their perspective as one among many.  In their mind, they have THE perspective... and everyone outside of their perspective needs to get with the program.  So conversations tend to sound like this:
Believer:  What a glorious shade of blue our God has colored the world in!  Don't you love the blue he has made it?
Non-believer:  Actually, I don't see it in blue.  You see it in blue because you are wearing blue glasses.
Believer:  How can you say that?  Everything around us is clearly blue!  Look for yourself!
Non-believer: I am looking, and I am telling you that you are seeing blue BECAUSE you are wearing blue glasses.  See that guy over there?  I was talking to him a moment ago and he sees everything in red because he is wearing red glasses... and that lady over there is seeing emerald because of her green glasses.  You are all seeing different colors because you are wearing different colored glasses.
Believer (speaking in patient tones):  Friend... you can choose to live in denial of what is clear all around us... but denying the truth does not change the truth.  Blue surrounds us!
Non-believer:  I do not deny that you are seeing blue, but you must see that ...... hmmmm... let's try something. Will you do me a favor and take the glasses off?
Believer:  What glasses?
 At this point, one has to consider how long to keep spinning in this circle....

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Facebook Faith #30: You Gotta Have Faith-a-Faith-a-Faith!

I was involved in a number of protracted Facebook conversations yesterday on the topic of FAITH.  Faith, by believers, is often presented and articulated as a virtue.  Faith takes bravery!  Faith takes courage!

Whereas non-belief is portrayed as a weak and limp position.  Belief in... well anything... is better than belief in nothing.  Here are two quotes from one of those conversations:
"It takes a whole lot of guts to have faith in something. All it takes to believe in nothing is...well...nothing. I'll take faith, thank you."
"When something is a proven fact, then it's not believing, it's knowing. Knowing, in my opinion, doesn't take as much balls as believing."
As I have stated in times past, these assertions are very disingenuous. Faith and Belief are only stated in such universal terms when the believer is confronting an atheist.  When the believer is speaking to someone of another faith, the "other" faith is usually of little value, if not downright dangerous.

As many of you know, I was a Christian for nearly 30 years.  For the past 10 years, I have lived in Salt Lake City - the heart of Mormon country.  If faith is of value, then Mormons must be getting a lot of respect and admiration from their fellow believers of different traditions because they are a VERY faithful people.

But no... When I traveled in Christian circles, I rarely heard Mormons spoken of in positive terms.  In Bible studies, the Mormon scriptures were laughed at.  From the pulpit, pastors would warn their congregations of Mormon practices.  Classes would be given about how to confront Mormon doctrine.  Parents would worry about their children being surrounded by so many Mormons.

My wife and I sat through a bible study once as one woman told the group how she was witnessing to a Mormon neighbor about Jesus.  "Her husband is not happy about her questioning her faith, but she is slowly coming around!"

When my wife and I questioned whether her efforts were causing harm to the marriage and the children, she looked taken aback.  She explained that if the friend had to choose between her family and Jesus... the choice was clear.  So much for faith being a good thing - the folks of my faith were willing to destroy a family to "rescue" this woman from her faith.

Billy Graham's website had to be scrubbed last year when Franklin put his support behind Mitt Romney for president.  It seems their ministry had plenty of disparaging things to say about Mormons prior to having need of one politically.  Faith's value is negotiable.

In truth, most believers have no more respect for faith than I do.  They find the faith of the "other" to be problematic, wrong, harmful, or silly.  Faith is only ballsy and gutsy when it is their own.

Unless, like Franklin Graham, they have a temporary need of that other... then they will scrub their language and attitudes for the moment.  When they speak to me, they will speak of faith as if it were one big happy monolith that I, unfortunately, am not taking part in.  When I leave, things go back to normal.  They will stand against - or roll their eyes at - the Catholic, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Mormon.

 - while being offended that I will not give their faith the respect they believe it deserves.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Welcome Pizza Hut!

I am very happy and satisfied right now. I just had some Pizza Hut pizza. It is one of the better pizzas, and I have a theory about why this is so.  I am pretty sure that they place a stick of butter in the pan, then let it melt in the oven, before putting in the dough. I am not exactly sure that this what they do, but it tastes like it, and that is what I fantasize while eating it.

Salt Lake City does not have a lot of Pizza Huts. In fact, I think there was only two when I moved into the valley 10 years ago. Yes, they were there, but I rarely drive out of my way to get anything. If a restaurant isn’t located on my way to or from work, I probably won’t be visiting it.

Ten years ago, my house was on the edge of nowhere… literally. A four lane road ended in the middle of a hill just past my house. From that ending to the Oquirrh Mountains, there was nothing.

I was impressed by the ending of that road. It was nearly three times as wide as any of the roads near my home back in Michigan… and those roads were bursting with subdivisions. Here was this massively wide road that just, ended. It told me these Utahns planned ahead.

That once dead-end road now leads in to one of the largest home developments in America. Our house was on the edge of civilization- now we are in the middle of one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the country.

Along with that reality comes all of the shopping and restaurants one could wish for… except, it seemed, on my corner.  As the store fronts were being built, I found my enthusiasm waning as each new marquee went up: insurance, UPS, paint store, nail salon, dentist.  Could my options be any more boring?

When a new set of stores started rising a few months ago, I didn’t even get my hopes up… it would probably just be a damn florist or daycare center. Fortunately, I was wrong. One of the first signs to go up was a hiring notice for Pizza Hut!  Joy!

So this evening I dined on that delectable greasy crust.  Pizza Hut sausage make me question my asserted position on deities. The dinner pak my wife picked up included wings… I now have another reason to make that a regular stop.

Ahh Pizza Hut!  Welcome to my neck of the woods….

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

America Needs Some Honest Educational Self Reflection

"How did this happen? Who's to blame? ...if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror." ~ V


I was listening to one of our state senators recently, bemoaning our "broken" educational system.  Broken, as if there were some faulty piece in the machinery... and if we could just replace it, or screw it in tighter, the educational machine of our nation would merrily hum along.

That is how we have been approaching education for the past 30 years. We try to "fix" "broken" facilities, or tax structures, or curriculum.  For the past decade, we have been trying to "fix" broken teachers.  As an educator, let me tell you that that process has been a barrel of fun.

All of this has been an adventure in avoiding the obvious. We see ourselves trailing behind other nations of the world and we are ever looking for someone to blame. However, like a poor marksman, we keep missing the target.  The missing piece is there for all to see. Let me show it to you:

What you are looking at is the hallway from the pool deck to one of the dining areas of the Carnival ship Inspiration.  I acted like I was getting a picture of the hallway, but I really wanted a picture of this family.  Each morning, these parents sat with their son at the table, while he worked on what appeared to be Calculus problems.  Here we are, on a cruise ship dedicated to glorious hedonism, and this kid is taking time out every day to study.

Did I mention this was an Asian family?  Are you surprised?

We hosted two Asian students for a few weeks over the summer. They were great kids.  One thing I noticed about them was that, amidst their busy schedule with their group, they took time out each day to study.

I live in the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley. Outside of Utah Valley, we are probably one of the whitest areas of the country.  Yet if I go over to the local academic enrichment businesses such as Kumon, the vast majority of their clients are Asian or Indian.

What are all the other American kids up to around here? They are mostly in soccer or football, some are in dance or music, others are just hanging with friends.

Now I don't see anything wrong with what the majority of our American kids are up to... but at some point, we have to acknowledge the different ways in which cultures invest their time and money.

Typical American culture puts a lot of time and money into sports and entertainment. We regularly see American parents grooming their kids to be athletes, musicians, or beauty contestants; but we rarely see such grooming investment going toward making them scientists, linguists, or mathematicians.

I recently saw this graphic on Facebook. It shows the highest publicly paid position in each state. Notice what dominates:

If you want to know what is really important to someone, regardless of their declarations, look at where they spend their time and their money.

In the movie The Matrix, the character Cypher wants to be put back into the Matrix with no memory of who he was.  Instead, he says:

"I want to be rich. You know, someone important.... like an actor."

Cypher summed up the heartbeat of our culture. We do not honor and invest in those who heal us, who move us forward scientifically, who advance us intellectually. No, those we make most rich and important are those who entertain us.

Our education system is not broken.  It is a reflection of our culture. We can try any myriad of ways to "fix" it, but if you don't like what you see in a mirror, no amount of mirror adjustments will change the reality.

Now, I don't necessarily WANT those other cultures either. Do I really want to go on a cruise and spend my time doing calculus? Do I want to be visiting another country and stay inside studying? Not at all. I think America just needs to be more honest with why we are where we are. If you want to be better than someone at something, you usually have to be willing to commit more time and money to that thing than they are.

I remember, back in an economics class in college, seeing a documentary about KFC coming to Japan. The amount of training the Japanese received to cook chicken and run the register was simply bizarre. It was weeks and weeks of classwork, where each training session started with the new employees in full KFC uniforms standing and saying a pledge to KFC in unison. This was in the 1980s, when Japanese auto companies were kicking America's hind-quarters, and I remember thinking, "If that is what it takes to be first... I'll be a happy second".

Sometimes being first at something isn't worth the investment. It takes a single-mindedness and dedication that may not be worthy of the loss of time required. We are only here for a brief span.

America is a leisure culture that values entertainment.... perhaps we need to own that.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Amazon Prime - 30 Day Trial For The Holidays

I have had Amazon Prime now for a couple of years.  I originally got their 30 day free trial near Christmas so that I could do all of my Christmas shopping and gift giving with free shipping.  My intent was to ditch it after the free trial period was over.

However, I have to say that I got really spoiled with two day "no cost" shipping.  Yes, I pay the annual 79 dollar fee, but I know I would do more than that in normal shipping.  In addition, now that my shipping is covered, I find myself going to Amazon more.  Why bother running out to the store to pick up item X when Amazon can have it to me in two days...  all those little trips out prevented, add up.

I know you get the Amazon version of Netflix included... but since I have Netflix, I rarely use it.  You also get the Kindle library... but since I have never had a Kindle, this was moot.  However, I am getting my first Kindle next week... so I'll update with how that goes.

For me, it is mostly about the shipping... easy ordering, no going to crowded stores.  Presents shipped directly to recipients.  Classroom stuff sent right to my school.  Easy!

So, if you have not done Amazon Prime before, at least do yourself the favor of getting it free for 30 days with Christmas around the corner... but don't be surprised if you keep it.

Jars of Clay - Inland

There are some bands who get less rotation in your playlists as the years go on. What appeals to you in your teens and twenties often does not hold as you move in to mid-life.  I have built up a prodigious music collection over the years, most of it acquired during those said teens and twenties. However, the majority of those CDs have not been spun in over a decade. Add to that, my shift out of faith has rendered much of my collection non-palatable. Next summer I intend to send many of those CDs out to pasture via Ebay.

Still, there are a few bands who have had the depth and elasticity to journey through my varied changes in age and mind. While others lie dormant, they still get regular play.

Jars of Clay is one of those bands. I have seen them twice in the past two years and I enjoy them more now, even though we sit on opposite ends of the faith divide. Their music remains engaging, while their lyrics are as clever and poetic as ever.

Jars latest recording - Inland - is one of my favorites and I could not recommend it more. If you want to give it a listen, you can hear the entire recording at Billboard magazine here.

Facebook Faith #29 - The Common Thread of Religion

I spend a lot of time lately listening to various people's religious journeys. Once you step outside your own religious circle, where you believed in only one true path, you meet people with tales of different paths, each with its own nuance. I have my own to tell, but regardless of which one is told it becomes apparent that they are all simply different flavors of the same human mechanism.

I was part of a conversation on Facebook recently where a number of Christians were in a debate over a particular theological point and practice. One of the conversants became concerned about the disagreement occurring within the conversation and moved the entirety of the group to a private chat, stating -
"I simply can't imagine the damage that may have been done if any non-believer read those posts."
I have heard her concern expressed in varied ways about different circumstances over the years. Regardless of the topic at hand, the underlying motivation is the same. Religion is about control. The need to control the conversation, control the message, control the delivery. Religion treats everyone as children who must be corralled. Be it Mormons, Jehovah's Witness, Catholics, Muslims, or Evangelicals; the same thread is there. To quote Joss Whedon's character, River -
"We tell them what to do, what to think - don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes and in their heads and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Facebook Faith # 28 - No Real Middle Ground

I saw this on Facebook this morning and the reality of it finally hit me. We have all heard the argument repeated multiple times - if you are going to use the bible to persecute homosexuals, then it is only fair that you go after all of the other items the bible speaks against - and that you go at them with equal vigor.

Yet the truth is, we never see this. There are no big Christian groups going after the people who eat shellfish without the slightest hint of shame. No religious sects are calling for the boycott of clothiers who mix fabrics. I watch as well-fed Christians go on and on about the destruction gay marriage is going to rain down upon America.... while they greedily chomp on pork in its varied fried forms. They don't go after these things because, even from their narrow perspective, that would appear.... looney.

I only seem to be able to perceive the Christian who condemns homosexuality in one of two ways. Either they give equal credence to the condemnation of mixed fabric, at which point I can't help but think of them as a bit looney - or they are simply grabbing a scripture to support a bigotry they already have... and leave mixed fabric alone because it is of no consequence to them. In this case, they are simply an asshole.

So, I am not finding room for middle ground. I know a lot of Christians who insist of their love for homosexuals and want to treat them kindly, but feel they still need to define homosexuality as sin. It sounds like a softer, more acceptable position.... and for a while, I tried to respect it... but I just can't.  I don't buy it anymore.  Because, again, you will not find that person taking that more metered view on any number of other abominations in the bible.  They don't love the shellfish eater, but still feel the need to hold to the biblical truth of that person's sinfulness.  You don't hear them trying to draw equivalencies like, "Yes, that person mixes fabric... but God hates my sin of gossip too... so we are all just sinners!"

No, you never hear statements like that because... well... the Christian knows they would sound completely moronic.  Which just shows how cultural these things are.  What Christianity has not yet grasped is that when they hold an anti-homosexual position, even when nuanced with as much grace as they can allow, it sounds to everyone else the way a biblically based anti-mixed-fabric person would sound to them.

A bit looney.

So, the choice is - take the whole "Word" and EVERYTHING that entails.... or, admit that you are selecting to separate certain verses because your religious culture directs you to do so.

But please stop acting like you have an acceptable, nuanced, middle ground because... like Jesus... that position just makes everyone else want to throw up.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Facebook Faith # 27 - Why Not Call It A Rock?

I have been out of religion for a year or two. It is hard to pinpoint a specific time, since it all runs along a continuum. Many believers would say I left the fold many years ago when I rejected a belief in Hell. Others might tag my walk-away decades previous when I quit believing in an inerrant scripture... and some still consider me in the faith.  :)

One of the things you notice when you leave faith is how much similarity there is between the varied religious voices. Although I considered my religious flavor unique when I was embedded; looking at it in the rear-view mirror reveals it to be merely one shade of color in the cacophony.

So when I saw this posted on Facebook this morning by a member of my old tribe, I had to chuckle. One of the rallying points of my previous religion was that we weren't religious! No, no, no.... we had a relationship! Such a statement seems silly now that I am out, but it made great sense at the time.

As I look at this chart now, I see the same foundation to both lists.  The difference rests merely in how it is spun, but at the end you find yourself in essentially the same location.

It reminds me of an exchange in the Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy. Ford Prefect has crash landed on prehistoric Earth with a bunch of Management Middlemen who insist on acting as if the marooned reality of their situation can be changed simply by addressing it differently.

Look! C’mon please! I mean everybody! there is some important news: we’ve made a discovery. 
Is it on the agenda? 
Oh don’t give me that! 
Well I’m sorry, but speaking as a fully trained management consultant I must insist on the importance of observing the committee structure. 
On a prehistoric planet!? 
Address the chair. 
There isn't a chair! There’s only a rock! 
Well, call it a chair. 
Why not call it a rock? 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Facebook Faith #26: Not A Fair Exchange Rachel

Today on Facebook, Rachel Held Evans posted an article she wrote for CNN.  In it, she offers a bargain:
So, atheists, I say we make a deal: How about we Christians agree not to throw this latest Richard Dawkins thing in your face and you atheists agree not to throw the next Pat Robertson thing in ours?
In other words, you ignore gaffs our side makes and we will ignore gaffs your side makes.

Gee.... what a deal....

This reminded me of conversations I have had with my friends on the political Right.  They too want to make the case that BOTH sides have their share of crazies:
"Yeah, we have crazy voices on the radio - Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, and such; but you have.... uh..... you have.... ummmm.... YOU HAVE NPR!!"
And from this, they want to frame equivalencies.

In the same way, Rachel is trying to set reality as if both sides make the same errors and both sides are playing the game the same way.

We are not.  Let's be honest... at the end of the day, religion has a lot more batshit crazy to explain. The exchange she offers is just too lopsided.

I do appreciate Rachel's attempt to encourage dialogue and make it respectful.  But in her article I see her put in a position she often finds herself - having to excuse and try to make palatable all of the nonsense that goes on in her religion.

As I have said before on this blog,  I believe Rachel is a good and honest soul.  I think she would be amazed at how much further she could go in her humanity if she would let go of the double minded juggling she is forced to do within her religion.  It takes a lot of energy to call a book full of bigotry and violence, peaceful.  It is laborious to try to reframe an exclusionary religion as loving.  Everytime she tries to build something beautiful, she watches in horror as her own people tear it down.

What she does not yet see... or can't see.... is that folks like Robertson are not people who are smearing her good religion with bad things.  The religion itself is the source of these troubles... folks like Robertson just bring that reality into sharp relief.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Should Our Kids Say The Pledge?

As you have probably read, or heard in the news, there is a court challenge in Massachusetts over the phrase "under God" in our pledge.  Atheist parents, and I assume other non-Christian parents, object to their children having to make this declaration.

As an Atheist, I share their concern but I feel this is simply a symptom of a much more problematic tendency resulting from our Western team-competition mentality.

If you listen to what is being said, the children are "pledging allegiance" to something they do not yet understand. They are applying a signature, when they have not read the contract.

I cringe when I see young children being baptized.  I recently attended a child baptism. The parents beamed as they gushed over their child with compliments.

"We are so proud of you for making this decision to be baptized" they said; and the crowd gave its assenting nod (at my previous church they would hoot and holler).

I once heard a young teen declare that the United States was "the best country in the world." This was stated by a child I know has never traveled abroad, nor spent any time researching alternative economic or political systems.

In all of these, and similar situations, we have taught our children to have certainty in areas in which they have no knowledge or experience. They have been trained to make statements of an absolute nature, and to regard with suspicion anyone who does not share their certainties. From what I have observed, these children grow up, not only being weak in critical thinking skills, but regard with disdain those who practice such skills.

How much better a citizenry we might have if we taught our children to withhold judgement on matters in which they are not yet educated. What if we taught them it is ok to abstain from opinion when they are not well versed in the subject? What if they really understood the old proverb "Every argument sounds correct, until the other side is presented?

Instead, we train our children to parrot words they do not understand; make declarations on topics in which they are not schooled; and enter into commitments they are too young to comprehend.

I believe we can do better....

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Survey Says...

I just got done filling out a survey for a friend's college class. It was directed toward me for insight into the fashion decisions educators make.  I am a bit dull when it comes to fashion, but here are my answers:

Current Teaching Assignment : 2nd Grade Teacher

Degrees Held: B.S. M.Ed. with certifications in ESL, Math, and educational technology.

Describe your “fashion” style: At work I wear a button down shirt, tie, and slacks.  Outside work I live in jean shorts and a t-shirt.

On average, how much time effort and thought do you put in to getting ready in the morning: Not long at all.  Quick shower and shave.  I run my hand through my hair and spray it. Brush my teeth and  then I am off to the closet. I grab the next shirt and the pants that go with it.  The only time I “think” about it is around the holiday season when I try to coordinate seasonal ties.  Total time, about 20 minutes tops.

Favorite piece of clothing: There are various fall jackets I have been fond of…

What other activities are you involved in:  I am a novice thespian - many guys at 40 buy a corvette and chase women half their age, I found the stage to be much more attractive.  I am also a voracious reader, a sporadic writer, and have a particular fondness for the couch and my remote control.  

Favorite Hangout: Coffee shop or a quiet pub with friends.

Describe Your Body Shape: Perpetually slightly overweight. 

If you could look like a celebrity who would you look like: Gene Wilder

What is your favorite color:  Blue

How do you dress to impress: I really don’t.  This quote by the character Ian Malcom has always been my perspective on fashion (and sports)  "Truly, can you imagine anything more boring than fashion?  Professional sports, perhaps.  Grown men swatting little balls, while the rest of the world pays money to applaud.  But, on the whole, I find fashion even more tedious than sports." 

On scale of one to ten how outgoing would you say you are: Probably a 7.  I am bad at small talk, but I find people fascinating, so I always want to strike up a conversation.

What is your favorite food:   Deep fry it and I will tell you…

What social issue are you interested in: Education is near and dear of course.  Outside my profession, I would say religious liberties… specifically freedom from the need to be or appear religious.

Where and how do you buy clothing: Whomever has a  good sale… plus, I often find I have to buy from the Tall section even though I am far from tall.  I have a long torso and short legs… so I gotta buy tall or my shirts come untucked.

What brands are your favorites:   See above quote by Malcom.

What are you primary concerns when you select clothing for work? Recreation?  For work, that I look professional.  For recreation, that I am comfortable.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Balancing The God Equation

For the past three years I have been working on a math certification for my teaching license.  It was 6 graduate level math courses which often pushed the envelope for this elementary teacher.

One of the classes was called "Algebraic Reasoning".  Since there is a focus presently in education on addressing real world situations, there were lots of story problems and hands-on scenarios, rather than just lists of equations.

Often, the story problems were rather lengthy and convoluted (from my perspective), involving many variables.  It occasionally took 30 minutes to solve one problem, or the knot of numbers seemed so tangled that I would have to set it down and attack it again later.

When a problem had multiple variables, success often depended on getting started with that first variable (A).  From that starting point, I would one by one work through the other variables (B)-(F). Some variables took longer to get than others, and B might sometimes need to be reworked when I discovered what (E) turned out to be.

In any case, when done I would do a last check by plugging all of the variables into the equation and, if done right, the equation should balance.

It was frustrating when the equation didn't balance, and I would have to go back into the problem to find which variable was out of sync.  It was often tempting, due to exasperation, to declare the equation "close enough" and be done with it.  However, my personality is such that I don't like to leave a mystery unsolved.

My first variable (A) was usually the last variable I would review.  It was the linchpin that everything else flowed from, and the reason it was selected was that it was OBVIOUSLY true.  I would often spin back and forth through the other variables multiple times before I would even consider that my first variable (A) might be where the problem was.

It occurred to me recently that this was the pattern I had lived out in my Christianity.  Back when I was a teenager, I committed many books of the bible to memory.  I could not reconcile what was written in its pages and what I saw in the world.  So even as a young man, I realized the bible was not inerrant.  I decided the bible was the testimonies of men who encountered God and was told from their human perspective.  I could not say this aloud because it would not have been acceptable in my circles. However, for the moment it seemed to help balance the equation.

As time moved on, my life and perspective broadened.  New situations and experiences challenged my thinking and I realized the way I had been framing the equation was not taking into account all the variables. One by one I started to address them... first the nature of God and salvation (were the acceptable children really such a small number?), then Hell, then other religions, the history of faith, meaning, eternity, other voices and philosophies.  Though each adjustment brought relief for a time, the variables seemed to multiply with each change.  When I plugged my new results into the God Equation, some variable would be out of sync. It became tempting to just quit fiddling with it and declare "close enough".

Similar to my class math equations, I spent my time readjusting all of the variables after the first, but never touched the first itself.  God was the linchpin, the given, the obvious starting point that had to be correct.

Then came the day when I addressed my first assumption.  What if there is no God?  A lifetime of conditioning fought against the idea, but my need to address the unsolved mystery won out.  I changed my first variable from "God" to "no god"..... and for the first time in my life, all the tumblers fell into place, the variables flowed smoothly together like the pieces of a puzzle, and the equation balanced.

Like the old computer Joshua in the movie Wargames, I played out all of the scenarios, all of the equations, with God as part of the equation - and they all end eventually in human devastation.  Like Joshua, I discovered that religion is a strange game....

and the only winning move is not to play.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

South Jordan and The Sneetches

I live in South Jordan which is a suburb of Salt Lake City.  It is a really great place to live, so my critique is said as one who is happy to be a citizen of South Jordan.

I went to my first city council meeting this evening. I was surprised and dismayed to find they open such meetings with a prayer.  One of the council was asked to pray.  He stood up and gave an off- the cuff prayer that would have been perfectly appropriate for any evangelical or LDS church meeting in South Jordan.

However, in this hall containing  an American governmental body, which is supposed to represent all Americans, the prayer struck me as vulgar and crass. I have never seen such an un-American action taken under the guise of some sort of patriotic fidelity.

The event reminded me again why separation of church and state is so important.  In that prayer, the government of South Jordan reminded its citizens which team is "correct".  It drew a line as to who is in and who is out.  The "other" may be welcomed, but only at the discretion and grace of those of the proper faith.

It is not the position of government to side with a religion... or to show preference to Sneetches with stars or without.

Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches
Had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches
Had none upon thars.

Those stars weren't so big.  They were really so small
You might think such a thing wouldn't matter at all.

Please South Jordan, do your duty and represent all of us.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My Early Prediction for 2016

My prediction:  The Republicans are going to circle the wagons for 2016.  The Right politicians fear the frothing, conspiracy driven, AM radio folks who make primaries happen.  So they will trumpet Christian persecution, gun rights, anti-gay, anti-woman, disdain for anyone not rich, platforms.

Then they will get their asses handed to them AGAIN in the next presidential election.

At that point, the moderate majority will separate themselves to their own identity, and a lot of those Republicans who have been visiting with the Left, because they did not want to sit down at the crazy table, will drift back to the group who identify themselves as moderate Republicans.  Those who count Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as news sources, and who think Michelle Bachmann stands for what is right, will have to plow out their own identity, separate from a new, leaner, more focused Republican party.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Facebook Faith # 25 God Can Slaughter Whom He Wants

This video is making the rounds on Facebook.  It is only 5 minutes, but it is a grueling 5 minutes.  Just in case you can't endure, here is (to me) the crux from what John Piper has to say:
"It's right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.
God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God's hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.
So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing."
My brother once said, after reading something of mine that he disagreed with, "I feel like a mosquito at a nudist colony... I don't know where to start."  There are so many things horribly, horribly wrong with Piper's world-view that it is hard to pick where to begin.

First, let's do away with any notions that Piper is at the fringe of Christianity.  John Piper is one of Christianity's most sought after speakers and authors. He is a principal voice in the American Christian faith.  His books are not banned at Christian bookstores, they are front and center.

On to the argument.  John Piper, and anyone who agrees with him, has no objective sense of right and wrong.  His moral code is on shifting sand.  There are no true moral or immoral behaviors, only the actions of his god.  Once those actions have taken place, right is determined.  His followers may, or may not, be correct in imitating his actions.  This god is full of do as I say not as I do, behaviors.  To describe Piper's god as capricious is to partake in the epitome of understatement.

John Piper is an example of some of the worst religious thought that can occur in a secular environment.  I say this, because I would hate to see what would happen under his reign if he had the power like some clerics in Islamic nations.  A closer tie between religion and state increases the influence of men like Piper.  Slaughter in the name of religion does not even cause a blip on this man's moral radar.

I no longer believe in any deities.  But if I did, I would expect the god to be superior to me in morals and character.  Piper believes in a poor deity.  Look at the quote above.  If you are a parent, could you imagine your child describing you in that way?  Piper's god is not a good parent; he is not a good person.  Anyone reading Piper's description of his god knows in their gut that the creature he describes is not good. To believe Piper's god to be good, you need a LOT of religious indoctrination or suffer from a cosmic version of battered spouse syndrome.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Dark Side of Homeschooling

A recent article in the Washington Post addresses Virginia's religious exemption law for homeschooling. Under the law, families claiming religious exemption may home-school their children with no input or oversight from the state.

Anything goes.

First let me make clear that I am not opposed to home schooling. My wife home schooled our children for a number of years and they received an excellent education. They hit the ground running when they returned to a traditional school environment. If done right, it can be an excellent option.

However, I think there is a dark side to home schooling, and I believe it most often occurs when the motivation is religious rather than academic. Many homeschooling association seminars sound more like a Glenn Beck radio program than a discussion of educational instruction.  Fear and paranoia are the main course.

Behind this is a fear of what public schools are teaching our children. You can hear the tone when Clarence Powell, father of the home schooling family featured in the Post story, sums up his reasoning for home schooling his children:

“I think it’s important that parents have a role in instilling in their children a world view that does not exclude God.  It’s a sacred honor to be able to home-educate your children and instill in them values in a way that’s consistent with your faith.”
There is an assumption that there is a "worldview" taught in public schools that is going to be harmful to their child's view of their god, so teaching at home becomes a safeguard to keeping children in the faith. Academics and education no longer sit in the driver's seat for schooling considerations - faith protection does.

I liken this to religious people I have known who rush into marriages, or consider faith compatibility sufficient for marriage - because they believe if you put off marriage too long you might slip up and have sex before marriage... and that would be the worst thing imaginable.  Better to live in a dysfunctional marriage than risk doing the deed before the vows.

In the same way, these types of home-shoolers live in fear of their children being corrupted by "secular humanism." It is not that they have no academic concerns, but those pale in comparison to their fear of folks outside their faith. Better the child get a substandard education than risk being subjected to ideas contrary to their religion.

I am entering my 23rd year of teaching. I spent most of those years as a man of faith. I lost track of how many times various Christians would corner me, wanting to hear the inside scoop from one of their own about what the "public schools were really up to!" These Christians always left the conversation with me feeling disappointed, because I had no exciting stories to tell of back-room meetings with secular humanist teachers plotting the overthrow of Christian America.  No, I only knew of all my teacher friends who came from varied walks of life united under a common goal of giving children a good education.

I now realize that I passed up a wonderful financial opportunity. If I had been more savvy, I would have winked back at those people, looked conspiratorially to my left and right, and said, "Shhhh.... don't tell anyone, but here is what is REALLY going on..." Oh, I would have speaking engagements and book deals being thrown at me by nearly every conservative Christian media market out there. I could have become an expert contributor on Fox News panel discussions!

Sigh... opportunities missed. :(

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Facebook Faith # 24 Millennial Article Part 2

I wrote a post yesterday about the article by Rachel Held Evans that is making the rounds on Facebook and the blogosphere. In it she suggests that a lot of the millennial generation are leaving church due to the way the church presents itself. Some people are sharing the article because they think she raises some valid points, others to demonstrate an example of the heresy infesting the church.

I saw one such example after one of my friends posted her article. "Lenny" commented:
So she basically wants Christians to stop being Christians... she needs to leave the Church and be happy in doing so.
I don't always agree with Rachel, but I like her.... and I can't stand small minded remarks that are no better than static. I replied:
No Lenny, she just has a different spin on what Christianity entails. I do not find it all that different, it seems to be the same item in more pleasant packaging. However, I always find comments like yours interesting, as you want to eject your own simply because of a difference in window dressing... no wonder there are over 30,000 different versions of Christianity... you all can't stand each other, and yet you talk as if love was a market you have a corner on.
I always give a level of credit to good souls like Rachel who somehow remain hopeful in a faith that often seems dominated with Lennys. The Lenny attitude reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon I once saw (I looked but could not find it). In it, Lucy and her girlfriends are creating an invitation list for a birthday party. They start out listing who they are NOT going to invite and realize they are having more fun with that list. One of the girls comments:
 It's a lot more fun not inviting people than it is inviting them!
Rachel needs to add that attitude as another reason why many Millennials are leaving or eschewing Christianity.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Facebook Faith #23 - Why Millennials Are REALLY Leaving the Church

An article written by Rachel Held Evans for CNN is making the rounds on Facebook right now.  In it Rachel addresses "Why Millennials Are Leaving Church".  I think the title is a little of a misnomer because Rachel actually addresses two things - why Christian millennials are leaving churches and also why non-Christian millennials aren't coming. I don't know if she intended to write about the Christian millennial experience only, but she often seems to be referring to millennials in the general sense. That being the case, I think she is fairly spot on with the first point, but I don't think she can imagine why she is incorrect on the second.

I often hear from Christian friends and relatives something like, "I don't always like what is happening in the church either, and I may at times be disappointed by the people in it, but I don't understand why you needed to leave. Why not stay and fight for the changes you think need to happen?" This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of why many are leaving the church or never bother coming in the first place. It is not any kind of disaffection, disappointment, or hurt.... they simply don't believe it. However, this is a hard concept for a believer to try to imagine. Belief sits at the fulcrum of their identity and ethos, so they have a difficult time imagining it not being there. For example, she says in the article:
"We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers."
but then she goes on to say:
"Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus."
So, as much as she may bristle at pre-packaged answers, she still expects those answers will fall within her established paradigm. To the non-believer, a pre-packaged answer... and an answer that is expected to fall within a certain framework, are essentially the same thing.  At the end of the day, millennials of all stripes will probably fail to see a difference between what Rachel is offering, and what is offered by the church leaders she critiques.

From my perspective, what all of these young, hip, liberally minded Christians are missing is that there is no revival coming; there is no big movement similar to previous historical times that saw an upsurge in Christian fidelity. At this point, religion is noticing the first symptoms of what, in the end, will be a terminal diagnosis. The coming generations will see less and less people coming out of childhood with a default belief. Having not been indoctrinated with religion as a child, few will pick up the practice in their adult years. Within the next couple of generations, religion will exist as nothing more than small pockets of cult groups.

The patient is not going to recover. At this point, we have to start considering Hospice care - how to make the patient's last days as peaceful and painless as possible.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Michigan Trip 2013

This summer we made the trek back to Michigan, the land of my birth.

We started our journey with a series of delays at the SLC airport... which caused us to hang around there for about 5 hours.  My friend Kory was kind enough to work his afternoon around our ever-changing flight schedule.

Because our flight was delayed in SLC, we missed our Midway connection.  We spent the night sleeping in airport chairs.  It was freezing.  I am never cold, and it was freezing.  Jake was fortunate enough to have his robe.

Our first night we had dinner at my in-laws.  My brother in law, Lee, is one of the world's great story tellers.

Wine in the grocery store is a luxury we do not have in Utah.

My brother and his sons came up from Kentucky.  The cousins enjoy a game of spoons.

My mom loves to play baseball with her grandchildren.

My brother Matt won big at Chuck E Cheese.

Walking on the path that used to be railroad tracks behind my folk's house.

Matt and I Skyping with our brother Steve in Hong Kong.

We met up with Mary Lee's cousins.

Both sides of the family at Henry Ford Museum.

My Dad and my son.

My Mom-in-law's birthday (my daughter made the cake... which is actually watermelon inside)


Sorry gals... the guys are winning....

Two of my best friends... who really need to make a Utah run...

Our friends from the ol' neighborhood in Macomb.  Such wonderful people!

Wrestling with Dyson!

We stopped at the Badlands on the drive home.

and Mary Lee wanted her picture with this dinosaur....

A last stop at Mt. Rushmore before heading home....
Related Posts with Thumbnails