Sunday, December 28, 2014

Facebook Faith #44: If That Isn't Relativism, I Don't Know What Is

I have been in a Facebook discussion for the past day with a religious friend. During the conversation, he put forth that religious folks have superior moral codes because they have an objective standard of right and wrong given to them in their holy texts. Atheism, he said, was relativistic - using the word in the pejorative sense.

I noted that holy texts are often pretty shoddy when it comes to morality, and in any case are not needed to develop a moral standard. Also, such outsourcing of moral engagement can lead to an atrophying of one's moral muscles.

I then addressed the concern of relativism. I am parking this here for cutting and pasting purposes since this argument comes up.... a lot:
Relativism is relative. If you are saying my moral code is still being refined... yes, guilty as charged. If you are saying I am wishy washy... no, not at all.
In fact, though I don't try to shove religionists noses in it... I submit that it is they that lack sufficient moral grounding. For them, wrong is not always wrong... go back to slavery. Is it wrong? Most religious folks would say yes. So then, the Judeo-Christian god was wrong when he sanctioned it??
Errrr... ummmm... well, ya see.....
Is rape wrong? Sure it is! So then, the Judeo-Christian god was wrong when he told the Israeli soldiers they could rape young captured girls, right??
Errrr... ummmm... well, ya see.....
How bout genocide? Stealing? Extortion? Infanticide? Killing new brides??.... we could spend all day generating the list... All wrong, right? These should all be fairly clear to even someone with an adolescent moral code.
But the believer will often get into an apologetic two-step because they have to come up with a way to keep the Deity innocent, instead of just calling wrong, wrong.
If that isn't relativism... I don't know what is. 
Actually though, I am glad when believers get uncomfortable and want to play a game of theological twister... it at least shows they have a problem with it. I talked with a believer last night who said he had NO PROBLEM with any of it... his god could do WHATEVER he wants.
Brrrrrrr.... I'll take the relativist over that dude any day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Facebook Faith #43 Feelings and Coincidence

"I know I have relationship with God because there are too many things that I can't explain as random in my life. I will often pray and get a different answer to what I was thinking. I can go on, but the point is I feel God in my life."

This was an explanation I saw given on a friend's FB page this afternoon. There is rarely a time when discussing faith with a believer, that it does not come down to feelings and coincidences. They may start by trying to offer proofs, or rational arguments; but it soon becomes clear that those approaches only work when discussing faith with other believers. The pokes and prods of the skeptical tend to clear those away without much effort.

What the believer is left with is some variant of the above. Their faith is founded on feelings they have, or a litany of too good to be chance circumstances. I understand. As an Evangelical, I had those too.

And again, if you stay within in your faith circle, that will probably be enough. However, once you look over the fence, once you examine life outside your tribe, you discover every other faith rests on those items as well. The pagan, the Mormon, the Catholic, the JW, the Calvinist, the Universalist, the Jew, the Muslim, etc... They can all point to times when their deity met them in some transcendent moment, when circumstances were too perfect, when Heaven touched Earth.

One of the things that started my walk away from belief was a recognition that these divine moments were not unique to my faith. That which should have been exclusive to my "correct" belief, was being experienced across faith lines.

Coming to that realization was a little like finding "The Great and Powerful Oz" was really just that man behind the curtain. Booming voices and balls of fire lose their wonder after that.

However, what replaced the wonder of spiritual experience was an awe of the natural world and the wonderful souls around me. I discovered that man behind the curtain is a layered individual who is worth getting to know. It turns out that reality is much more satisfying than smoke and mirrors.

The universe is huge and old - and rare things happen all the time.
Lawrence Krauss –  A Universe From Nothing

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Keep It To Yourself

One retort I often get from believers is some version of this statement:

"Fine, I get it!  You don't believe anymore!  Why can't you just keep that to yourself?!"

And they say this with a straight face.

Could they be less self-reflective?

Could the irony be less obvious if delivered with a baseball bat?

To be told to keep your ideas to yourself by people who belong to a religious group that:
  • has a church on practically every corner in America
  • befriends people for the sole purpose of getting others to go to their church
  • floods the airwaves with religious TV and radio stations
  • makes really bad movies and then tries to drag us to them
  • creates religious versions of corporate logos and then slaps them on T-shirts
  • sends missionaries all over the globe 
  • works diligently to make sure the religious message impregnates the public square
  • designs programs to channel children and young people into religion
  • influences politics to favor their faith and force others to heed their dogmas
  • this list could go on and on...

Against that backdrop, they state that my occasional declaration that life is good without gods, that one can be happier without religion, and that religious dogmas and practices are rife with harm - is something that I should keep to myself so they do not have to hear it... this is the epitome of irony and dark comedy.

To expect silence of others, while your message is trumpeted through every possible venue, just shows the extent of your religion's self absorption.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What Harry Said To Voldermort

I have been watching the Harry Potter movies with my son over the past few weeks while he has been finishing up the book series.  As he read through Book 7, there were times he would just set down the book, stare blankly at it, and sigh heavily.

I knew what he was feeling.

The last time he did that, as he neared the end of book, I asked him, "Fred?"

He looked up at the ceiling, ".......yeah......"

We watched the final movie tonight. I had forgotten what a good job they had done with it.  I commented to Jake that I thought they got everything right but the final fight with Voldermort.

Jake agreed, "They should have kept in what Harry said to Voldermort.... that was important..."

It is probably self centered of me, but I love that Jake loved those books.

I recall that, in a previous post, I had thanked Ms. Rowling for all that her books had given me over the years.  Let me also add a thank you as a father, for what you have given my son.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Life: Predator or Companion?

Star Trek: Generations is generally regarded as one of Star Trek's weaker offerings.  There was a planet wide geek sigh of relief with its next sibling, First Contact.

However, Generations has grown on me over the years.  Malcolm McDowell plays an excellent antagonist.... and if you pay attention, he delivers some excellent lines.
Picard: What you're about to do, Soran, is no different from when the Borg destroyed your world. They killed millions too. Including your wife, your children.
Dr. Soran: [smiles, sighs] Nice try. You know there was a time that I wouldn't hurt a fly. Then the Borg came, and they showed me that if there is one constant in this whole universe, it's death. Afterwards, I began to realize that it didn't really matter. We're all going to die sometime. It's just a question of how and when. You will too, Captain. Aren't you beginning to feel time gaining on you?  It's like a predator; it's stalking you. Oh, you can try and outrun it with doctors, medicines, new technologies. But in the end, time is going to hunt you down... and make the kill.
Picard: It's our mortality that defines us, Soran. It's part of the truth of our existence.
Dr. Soran: What if I told you I found a new truth?
Picard: The Nexus?
Dr. Soran: Time has no meaning there. The predator has no teeth.
Dr. Soran is a wounded man and he views life with a wounded eye. In his view, time and death are an enemy.

Picard faces a similar wound in this movie with the loss of his nephew and the realization that this is the end of his family line. He struggles for a short time with a depressed outlook, but then comes to a realization contrary to Soran.
Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again.
I have a friend whom I only see every few years contact me recently.  We haven't had a chance to talk much about my de-conversion from Faith, and he wanted to know how I was doing. His tone was one of concern. My attempts to tell him that I have not been happier in my life were met with skepticism. Since he believes that without God life has no meaning, he struggles to understand how I could be happy.

I realize that, under religion, I had a view of life very similar to Soran's. I felt the "World" was out to get me. I saw most of the pleasures of this life as problematic in some way.  I presented an outward show of joy... but I was always plagued by guilt and fear.  I believed the scripture when it said, "Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God."  This life meant nothing, it was only eternity that mattered.

However, since leaving the Faith, my view has shifted.  I no longer view the world as an enemy. My time in this life is no longer a test and a trial put to me by some deity. It is, as Picard said, a journey- where our moments are to be cherished.

What my friend cannot understand is the freedom that comes from creating your own meaning and walking your own path.  It was nice to be taken care of as a child and it suited me for a time, but I much prefer life as an adult.

I used to hate Kirk's dying words in Generations. I thought, given the history of the character, he deserved more. Perhaps, but I see some wisdom in it now. I hope on my dying day, I am in a room full of loved ones and I am able to contentedly say:
"It was... fun..."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Teachers, Guns, and Toilets

I live in the Salt Lake County. I used to live in Macomb County, Michigan. In my 36 years there, I can not think of an instance where anything there made national news.

However, here in Salt Lake County, every few months something a few minutes from my home seems to be plastered all over CNN. Sometimes good, more often bad, and occasionally just plain moronic.

This week was a particular facepalm for me because it involved a teacher. In fact, it is disturbing how many stories come out about Utah teachers behaving badly.  My theory on why Utah gets the high distribution of dimwitted teachers is this: Utah has THE lowest per pupil spending in America. We are even lower than the territory of Puerto Rico. In addition, we also have a legislature that is completely hostile to teachers. So combine low pay with often less than quality working conditions... and the pool of applicants gets thin.  We have some amazing teachers, I work with some of the best, but Utah also scrapes the bottom of the barrel to fill classrooms. As such, you would be hard pressed to find in other states the kind of bizarre behavior you occasionally find here in Utah.

Utah is a Right-Wing reactionary state.  Back when the Sandy Hook situation went down, our legislature decided that teachers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in school. So with 3 hours of instruction, and a couple hundred dollars spent at Walmart, a teacher could now have their six shooter join them in class time with the kiddies.

Why three hours of class time is simply not sufficient should be apparent... but again, we are a Right-Wing state and ideology often trumps reality. Let me step into another context to demonstrate. I am presently helping my 16 year old daughter learn to drive. I had forgotten that driving is actually a very complex venture. Watching my daughter try to multitask all of the varied inputs brings a fresh perspective. As a new driver, she over-reacts and under-reacts. She needs me there to help her multi-task, interpret the inputs, tell her when to turn, slow down, speed up, etc. If I were to let her drive now without guidance, she would most likely be in a fender-bender or worse within the week. She is wicked clever and sharp as a tack - she does not lack intelligence or capability. She just needs supervised experience in these early stages.

Think of that in reference to guns. I bet if I talked to a cop or a person in the armed services, they would describe to me the myriad of hours spent on becoming proficient with a gun. Training upon training. Compare that to three hours of community classwork, afterwhich you get to carry a concealed weapon. Like the new driver, someone new with a gun is going to be a hazard to everyone around them. Why do we think allowing such a person to carry a gun in school is a good idea?

I am sure our CCW teacher, who made national news this week, carried her gun with good intentions. Pumped up with NRA slogans like, "The only thing that stops a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun!" she probably day-dreamed of saving all of her students from the bad guy.

Instead, she blew apart a toilet when going to the bathroom, and was sent to the hospital with porcelain fragments. What happened to her was pure math... and as a school teacher she should have known this. It was always statistically much more likely that she would shoot herself, a child, or some other bystander than take out a bad guy.

Math happens.

There is a great scene in the movie Glory where Matthew Broderick's character is commanding the first black soldiers in the Civil War. The men and their Sergeant are commending themselves at what good shots they are with their guns. Broderick demonstrates that being a good shot has nothing to do with combat. He pulls aside one of the men and tells him to reload his weapon. As the soldier attempts to re-load, Broderick screams at him to load and fire faster, while firing a pistol repeatedly near the soldier's ear. The man's hands shake so violently, he can no longer hold his weapon. (Scoot ahead to one minute thirty three seconds).

It is political childishness and conceit that allows Utah to think that anyone without police or military training should be allowed to carry a gun in our schools.

Friday, September 05, 2014

My Son Turns 13!

Today, my son turns 13.  He has looked 13 for a number of months now. Within this past year he has made the shift from boy to what I have termed "Man-Boy". Jacob has surpassed his sister in height and is equal with his mother. I am sure that within the next year or so, he will be the tallest of us all.

A Costco has opened just down the road from us, and its timing is perfect.  Jake is an avid runner and swimmer, burning more calories in a day than I do in a week. His ability to pack away food is reaching bulk buying proportions.

I remember the day he was born. Kathryn was taken by C-section, but Jake was coming out El Natural. The delivery room was packed. Mary Lee was a beloved NICU nurse at the hospital and the whole floor was a buzz about Jake's arrival. The assistants to the the doctor delivering were doctors themselves and plenty of the nurses were finding reasons to be in the room as well... there was hardly any space for me. Rarely has there been a child who had so many medical staff present to assure a safe delivery.

Unlike the rest of our family, Jake is pure Utah. We moved across the country when he was only two.

Cute as a bug, and being a polite toddler made him well loved in our circles. Jake has always liked structure and routine, and he pays attention when an instruction is given. When the Sunday school teacher told the kids to sing loud during this song, he did.  He pretty much drowned out the other 30 kids. Two little girls behind him tried to get him to lower the volume ... but Jake was having none of that. His director had given him instructions and he followed them for the rest of the song.  :)

Jake is the jack of all trades.  He is an academic who enjoys reading, science, and math.  He also enjoys his share of sports, primarily running and swimming.  His down time is spent on video games.

Jake has been in a number of shows.  This year he starts theater class at ELA, so it will be fun to see him working on stage again.

I am sure there is no surprise when a father says he takes pride in his son... but, not only does that seem cliche for me to say in reference to Jacob, it woefully understates what I feel in regards to him.

Awe might sound like hyperbole... but it is more accurate. I often sit back in wonder.... how does a kid his age behave so responsibly? Carry himself so well? Be so empathetic of others? He seems to have acquired character and life skills prior to his teen years that I have just started getting the hang of in my 40s. :)

So here is to my son Jake - Happy Birthday! I look forward to the decisions you will make and the life you will create in the years to come. I know it's going to be incredible!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie Review: Calvary

I am listening to the soundtrack for Calvary as I write this. There are few movies for which I enjoy the soundtrack as much as this one. It is haunting, moving, and beautiful.

The movie, for me, was a mixed bag.  It stars Brendan Gleeson as a Catholic priest who maintains a parish on a costal town in Ireland. Gleeson's performance was magnificent.

Calvary sets up the tension early. The opening scene is in a confessional. The confessor informs the priest that it his intention to kill him at the end of the week. The confessor explains the sexual abuse that was done to him by a priest as a child. He has no desire to kill a bad priest.  He wants to end the life of a good and innocent priest so he may take from the church as the church took from him. He gives the priest the week to put his affairs in order.

Gleeson's priest, rather than protecting himself or going to the police, goes on about his priestly duties. We spend the week with him as he interacts with his parishioners and walks with his visiting, suicidal, daughter. We learn that the priest entered the order as an older man, following the death of his wife.

All of this takes place in beautiful settings. The film work is wonderful. The dialogue is engaging. The music is exceptional.

But Calvary has a substantial weak spot.

The townspeople and his parishioners. They were all just... well, awful.  By that I mean that none of the characters had likeable qualities. They were all broken people... but they were broken without any depth. There was nothing there with which to empathize. For all of the fullness of Gleeson's priest, those he dealt with were caricatures.

This is a painful movie.  I was not satisfied, but it made me think... and I am still pondering. 

Go see it... but once will probably be enough.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Glenn Beck Had A Close Brush With Reality

I tuned in to Glenn Beck the other morning on my way to work. I like to occasionally check in to see what topics the conspiracy end of America are frothing over.

On this particular morning, Glenn and his posse were discussing the death of Robin Williams. More specifically, they were having a conversation, laced with incredulity, over all of the folks who believe celebrity deaths come in threes. They stood in awe of people who maintain a belief, though no statistical realities back such a claim, that some cosmic force fates celebrity deaths to occur in sets of the magic number 3.

Glenn went on (here I paraphrase) "These people get all excited when the deaths come in a three and they announce 'SEE! SEE'!!!' but if it is a two, or a one, they are silent. All of the non-threes never make them reflect back that the "3" they are thinking of was just chance happenstance."

I laughed out loud, wondering if Glenn and his cohorts just MIGHT connect the dots. But no, this was not to be the morning.

Glenn and his buddies had a near-reality experience..... but it didn't stick.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Because That Is How Leprechauns Work

My first year of teaching was in a K/1 classroom. For St. Patrick's day, my teaching partner and I painted little green footprints in paths about the room. The children came in, excited that a Leprechaun had visited us. They ran about the room, inspecting the footprints... and then the serious discussions began. Why had a Leprechaun visited us? Did he leave anything? Did he take anything?

Was there REALLY a Leprechaun?

The more orthodox Leprechaun believers quickly jumped on that moment of doubt, explaining that the footprints were a CLEAR indication that a Leprechaun had been through here - the footprints were small AND green after-all.

"But why," one of the younger ones queried, "do the footprints stop over here and then continue over there?"

"Simple," said one of the older ones, taking on an authoritative tone. "The Leprechaun jumped from this point here and landed over there!" His finger traced an imaginary arc from launching point to landing point. He then turned to face the other children, folded his arms, and announced:

"Because that is how Leprechauns work!" _______________________________________________________

Everyday on Facebook, or in blogs, or in real life, I hear people make authoritative claims about various supernatural topics. Like my student, they take on an authoritative tone and begin to explain what God is like, or what will happen after we die, or how prayer functions, etc. Though they have no particular proof of any of their claims, and though their statements tend to contradict the claims of others.... or even reality itself.... They nevertheless, with all of the bravado of my first grader, will fold their arms, look you in the eye and announce:

"Because that is how the supernatural works!"

Monday, August 04, 2014

Halo, American Education, and my son The Terminator

My son is a killing machine.

Most fathers come to this realization after just a few minutes of facing off against their sons in a video game.

I used to be good at video games... admittedly, my video games were made of square blocks, and getting better meant developing more intricate routines as the game moved faster and faster.

I sat down with Jake the other day to play Halo. I am not new to the game. I completed Halo and Halo 2 on the original Xbox. I have played multiple games WITH Jake on the Xbox 360.

But on this day, I thought we should try facing off against each other.

It was a travesty.

For me.

The only survival maneuver I seemed to have available - was keeping away from my son. Within moments of his spotting me, I was terminated.

In an effort to even the playing field, we limited the weapons he could use, and he could not come after me until I had secured some big weapons.

This changed nothing.

Finally, we settled on my having every weapon... he could have a pistol.

For a while, this lengthened the amount of time I would live... but in the end, he wasted me. I could have a Scorpion Battle Tank... and he would take me out with his pistol.

When he slaughtered me enough for one day, he put down his controller and said, "Thanks Dad... I have gotten really good with a pistol today!"

So often in American educational circles, it is assumed that if teachers just taught better, or faster, or more, we could level the playing field of the variance of scores. If student A is scoring better than student B, or if the students of city A or country A are scoring better than the students of city B or country B - there must be some way to tinker our teaching delivery to get more equality. Maybe if we just give student B more...

But understand, my problem with Jacob continually handing my behind to me had NOTHING to do with my knowledge. No amount of instruction was going to change my ability to compete with my son. In the end, no amount of tinkering with the game itself was going to change my ability to compete with my son.

The reason my son beat me today, and would beat me tomorrow and the next day, is because he has had more time on task. He has spent hours, days, weeks, and years on these games that... at this point of my life, I am never going to match.

Sometimes, the reason one student outscores another is nothing more than time on task.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Blogging Less

It has been two and a half months since I have written anything for this blog.  I was surprised to see a month go by... and then two...

I have been contemplating the reasons for this. There was a time when I wrote a few articles a week.  But in this past year it seems to have gone from a slow flow, to a drip, to off.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Most of my writing has been about religion

To be honest, that topic is growing old.  I still feel a need to resist religion when it encroaches into politics and the public square in inappropriate ways, but the topic itself for me is becoming boring.  I have tried to go back and read some of the liberal Christian authors I have enjoyed over the years, but within a few paragraphs I hear Stan Marsh's voice in my head - "Don't care, don't care, don't care...".

I have other outlets

A lot of my early blog writing was driven by a need to give voice to all of the questions that were rolling around inside my head.  As much as churches and religious leaders claim to be open to questions, they are not.  They are happy to patiently explain to you where you are wrong, but when you want to take it further... they are done (here is a perfect example).  So, when I wanted to wrestle religious issues... there were few to none in my life whom I could talk to.... so I wrote.

Today, I have a core of friends who are happy and willing to wrestle with any idea.  There were a few of us who started meeting Sunday mornings for coffee (since we did not do church anymore) and we joked that we were having "Coffee Church".  The name stuck and it grew into a regular meeting of Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, liberal theists, and religious folks on the boarders of their denominations.  Voices and thoughts are considered and respected in an arena where the endpoint has not already been pre-determined. I now wrestle these thoughts out with friends over wine and cheese, rather than by myself with a keyboard.

Laziness and time

My family has moved into a time of life where I seem to have less free time than I used to (somehow this seems counter intuitive).  When I have a free hour, I would usually rather catch up on a show or read... or call some friends and open a bottle of wine.  In addition, a fleeting thought can be shared quickly on Facebook... and probably get more response.  People do not read or respond to blogs like they used to, so the desire to invest in a post is less.

So how bout' you... has your reading or writing of blogs decreased?  To what do you attribute it?  Do you think this is a growing trend?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Book Review - Frank Schaeffer: Why I am an Atheist who Believes in God

I am an Atheist.

It is hard to put a date on when that happened. After decades in the Christian faith, it is a little fuzzy to try to pinpoint where amid my years of liberalizing Christianity, to broad Theism and Agnosticism, finally settled into Atheism.

During those transition years, I read a few books and articles by Frank and enjoyed catching him on various TV and radio interviews. Though I felt he might be overly harsh at times, I could completely relate to his religious upbringing and his rejection and critique of American Evangelicalism.

Now that I am on the Atheistic side of the theism divide, I found his new book title to be intriguing. For the most part, I am happy to be out of church life; but I know and have met Atheists who wish they could still keep a foot in religious waters or they HAVE to due to family constraints. Was Frank now an Atheist who still liked religious teachings and hoped for an after-life? If so, what has been his experience navigating between these worlds?

That is not what I found. Frank is still very fixed in his theism and the use of Atheism in the title is a bit of a misnomer.

Let me state upfront that I like Frank. He is an honest writer. His desires, hangups, contradictions, frustrations, and passions are all laid out in this book. He is an engaging wordsmith and there would probably be little difference between reading the book and sitting down with him at the pub for a beer.

When he writes of his thoughts and experiences, he gives you the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is no pretense in his writing. One thing age and experience have obviously bestowed upon him is honesty.

When Frank was telling of his former and present religious experiences, he had me. Pages flew by.

However, as an Atheist, I kept getting hit by buckets of cold water. Frank sets forth a proposition in his book and it is this: Religious Fundamentalism sits on one side of his religious sweet spot, and Atheism sits on the other. Atheism is simply the co-evil twin of religious fundamentalism. He occasionally tries to back pedal from that premise and give some Atheists some credit; but it is clear Atheism brings to Frank a frustrated eye-roll.

Which makes me wonder what prompted the use of the term Atheist in his title. He may be a theist who wavers on his opinion of who or what god is. He may be unclear as to whether humanity survives beyond the point of death, but none of those questions have anything to do with Atheism.

Again and again, Frank went after Atheists throughout the book. That itself was not a problem. If we merely disagreed on conclusions, that would have been fine. However, each time seemed to stem from a misunderstanding of the Atheist perspective... and I found myself giving a frustrated eye-roll.

I tried to give grace on those passages. I can't be too frustrated with Frank for not understanding the Atheist perspective... he is not an Atheist. Every commentary he gives on Atheism is made from within the theist framework. It is like the theist lives on a planet Atheists have left. When we look in our rear-view mirror, we now see that planet as one pinpoint of light among a myriad of others... but the theist still references our position as if we are looking at their sky.

So do I recommend the book? Yes, I enjoyed it. If you are a liberal Christian or SBNR, you will probably love it. If, like me, you are an Atheist who came from a conservative religious background there is probably a lot here for you to enjoy... and you will get a good peek into how liberal Christianity tends to view Atheism. I have heard authors like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren echo similar sentiments.

I highlighted and noted a lot in this book, both in frustration and agreement... and occasionally just because I wanted to mull over a thought again later. In the end, isn't that what a good book should cause you to do?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Kathryn is 16!

Kathryn at 5 and 16
Every dad remembers holding his little baby girl and at some point thinking, "Someday, she will be 16..." You hear older fathers tell you how quickly the years pass, but you shrug it off... it all seems so far away.

Then here you are, the little girl that you used to toss up on your shoulders is now looking eye to eye with you as she talks about high school, dances, cars, jobs, and boys.

Here we are....

I find myself wanting to "circle the wagons" (as a friend of mine said); I can count on one hand the years we have left as our little family under the same roof. I want to make all of our moments count and I want to minimize things that take away from family time.

I can understand why parents and teens sometimes struggle. Her world is expanding and broadening with every passing day... I am trying really hard not to be overwhelmed while part of mine is nearing an end.

I think the trick is always to enjoy the stage you are in... to be present. They are precious when you carry them on your shoulders. They are precious when you first take them to school. They are precious when they go on their first date, get their first apartment, blossom in their career, walk down the aisle.

My baby is 16 and she is so precious!

Happy Birthday Kathryn!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Movie Review: Amazing Spiderman 2

What a mess!

All I could think throughout the movie was.... what a mess!

Spoilers ahead... this is only for folks who equally want to complain about this movie.

I felt the first movie was rushed. Sony had to get the ball rolling or surrender all those merchandising rights and it felt like a movie that was thrown together.  However, I was hoping for round 2, Spider-man would find his footing.

No such luck... I actually think this movie was worse than the first. Here is my list of gripes:

  • Opening scene was overly long and in the end pointless... 
  • I knew in the first fight scene that they were setting up the Rhino, and he was a detestable moron.  Really, you are going to entrust that suit to that guy?
  • Every character, from Electro to Aunt May, was riddled with angst... but it ALL seemed so contrived.
  • The setup clues for Peter to find his Dad's train were ridiculous... and finding the train was even more ridiculous.
  • I just could not get into Electro... almost every word he uttered grated on my nerves.
  • There was no sense of development to the Green Goblin... and he just looked and acted like someone who showed up late for the party and was not sure why he had been invited.
  • The only characters who had any chemistry in this movie were Peter and Gwen... and they did nothing with it.

What did you think?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Facebook Faith #43 Look Kids, Big Ben!

The American Atheist association is in town this week for their annual convention.  I was able to attend a discussion/debate between David Silverman (Atheist) and some local Mormon professors.  One point the professors kept trying to underscore, and which they kept coming back to, was the uniqueness of their faith. I recognized their thought lines because I felt the same way about the uniqueness of my faith when I was an evangelical.

I run into this problem regularly of Facebook.  Either on my page or a friends, a believer comes in to instruct all of us about "the true religion".  The common element in conversations like this is that many believers enter with a bagful of assumptions that they hold, and because they spend so much time in their own circles, they assume everyone holds those same assumptions. They start from a place where their god, scriptures, and practices are a GIVEN.

The skeptic insists they back up and first legitimatize their claims. The apologetics that worked so seamlessly for the believer while in church, doesn't tend to translate so well outside. Believers often mistake the reaction of others as stubbornness or rudeness.  The reality the believer struggles to see is that their claims have no more validity than any other religion.... and believers hate it when you lump them in with every other religion (because everyone should KNOW that THEIR religion is different!)

So conversations often sound a bit like this:

Believer: My Faith is the one true faith.

Skeptic: Yeah, but the guy down the street says that about his faith.

Believer: But mine is REALLY the one true faith.

SkepticThat's what he says!

Believer: But my faith has miraculous signs.

SkepticThat's what he says!

Believer: My faith has revelation!

SkepticThat's what he says!

Believer: My faith has holy scriptures!

Me: That's what he says!

Believer: My God speaks to my heart!

SkepticThat's what he says!

Believer: You are just going to have to believe what I am telling you on faith!

SkepticThat's what he says!

and so it goes....

If you get this far into the conversation, a believer of this stripe will then return to the top of the list - rinse and repeat - just like Clark Griswald in the roundabout. There really is no choice for this believer. The only alternative is for the believer to admit the claims of his or her religion are more or less identical to every other religious claim out there.... and that simply will not do.

So into the roundabout we go!

Monday, April 07, 2014

For My Liberal Religious Friends

I feel for all of my more liberal and independent religious friends, I really do. They have all these subversive notions of love, acceptance, and equality that their conservative religions just want no part of. My friends want to change these religions, re-work their texts, and make their houses of worship a more livable place for everyone.

But they keep ending up disappointed. They can't seem to square this circle.

A few weeks ago believers watched as Christian Evangelicals shamed their faith by using starving children as pawns in their never ending war against homosexuals.

This week, Mormon women were given the cold shoulder by many in their faith, and they watched as once more the door was sealed against them.

Take heart my friends, if Jesus showed you anything, it is that loving outside the boundaries and breaking down the divisive walls of religion will.... well, it will get you crucified.

Personally, I would prefer you join me on the other side... really, the water is fine.

But if you want to keep at it.... I have your back. Keep preaching love, acceptance, and equality... and who knows ... maybe someday those walls will come down.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Why Am I Happy?

One of my friends wrote this status on her FB page:
below, please list one, two, three, four, or five words to explain how in the world you are surviving.
I usually enjoy the challenge of working a whole thought down to a single phrase, but this was stumping me. Then it occurred to me that the reason I couldn't come up with anything was that I am not just surviving. I am really, really happy.

Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on WHY I am happy and I found that all of my analogies kept spinning back to Fight Club.

In one scene of the movie, the Narrator and Tyler Durden pull a convenience store clerk into a back alley and threaten to kill him.  Tyler asks the clerk some questions about his life goals and finds the man had given up on his goal of becoming a veterinarian because it was too difficult. Tyler tells him that if he is not on the road to being a vet again within the next six weeks, he is going to come back and kill him. The Narrator can't understand Tyler's point until Tyler responds:
Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.
Death has a startling ability to focus you in the present moment.

Leaving religion gave me a death sentence; something I had never had before. Rather than living forever, I only have another 40 years or so at best. Religion often encourages people to disdain this life and pine for the next. Suddenly, this was the only one I would get.

Most religious people tend to find the notion of no after-life depressing. I had thought that way. However, when I truly came to grips with the fact that I probably have less years in front of me than behind, something shifted. My days became more beautiful.

My breakfast tasted better.

I also realize I have been living by another piece of Tyler wisdom:
The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.
Religion has a way of heaping a myriad of dogmas, pressures, and tasks into one's life under the guise that these things matter. I did not leave religion to get away from these things, honestly I did not realize how much these things held me back until I was out. Nevertheless, leaving brought a beauty and freedom I had not anticipated. An endless list of things that seemed so pivotal were now able to slide. I was like Dorthy, stepping from a world of Black and White to one saturated with vivid color.

Is my life perfect? No. There are areas that I hope to change. There are other areas I cannot change. And here is where I use my last bit of Tyler wisdom:
I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may.
My religious notions of perfection always left me feeling like I did not measure up. No matter how hard I pushed or how fast I ran, it was never enough.  I never realized until I was out that it was just one big hamster wheel.  It never let you progress and never intended to.  It simply makes you exhausted.

Everything in my life does not have to be complete or perfect for me to enjoy myself - to do things that are important and to do things that are fun.

My life is a brief opportunity to enjoy relationships, experience beauty, breathe deeply, and leave this world a little nicer for those who will come after me.

I don't need eternity.

This is enough.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Facebook Faith #42 Stronger Than Superman

I read this conversation on Facebook this morning between a mother and her son:

Mother: Well you at least believe in God still don't you?

Son: I think that all gods were invented by people because of and to take advantage of people's insecurities and superstitions.

Mother: So you think you're smarter than the God who created you?

Son: Do you think you're stronger than superman?

Mother: Superman is a counterfeit created by Satan to distract us from the truth.

I have had numerous conversations online with various religious friends, family, and complete strangers whose logic progression follows a similar path.  Once you enter into that vortex, there is little hope of escape.

It is similar to escaping Earth's gravitational pull; you have to be traveling over 11km a second or you just end up spinning around the planet.

Over and over.

Just like these conversations.

I still get sucked into these conversations on occasion, spinning around the same illogical points, never reaching an escape velocity to break through.

When someone is tethered to an idea and they feel safe with that tether, or too scared to let go of that tether, no amount of explanation will keep them from spinning back to where they were.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Facebook Faith #41 Phelps is Dead. At Least He Died Honest.

It has been good to see so many folks taking the high road when it came to Fred Phelps' death. Even people who had been personally wounded by him chose to turn the other cheek and wish his family well.

It would be easy to hate Phelps. When I first heard of his death, I must confess that my internal response was not a gracious one. So much pain perpetuated by one man did not seem deserving of even an ounce of good will. I reminded myself that here was a man so plagued by his personal demons, so wounded and broken, that he fashioned himself a god that demanded him to wound others. His religion became the vehicle for his venom.

Yet, I have to give him this... he was honest. You knew where you stood with the man. He and his god thought the rest of us were lower than the gunk on his boot - and he did not hesitate to look you in the eye and tell you so.

Contrast that with so many other religious folks who smile at you warmly, speak in soft tones, and tell you they love you. Meanwhile, they are preparing their blade as they invite you into an embrace. What they say to you, and what they honestly feel, are two different things.

I watched this play out on a Facebook page recently. Phelps' death was being discussed and one Christian man commented that his treatment of the military was regrettable. Apparently, he only viewed the military treatment as problematic. He then went on to clarify that homosexuals were an abomination.  They should not be allowed to marry and they should stop being gay. To have an alternate view is to stand against god. Still, he said he didn't hate anyone and would pray for all of us.

I hear a lot of Christians giving very similar rhetoric. I think of it as Phleps-Lite. This is where you get to hold to every position of Fred Phelps, but believe you are somehow different because you deliver that same message with a smile and a hug.

To me, the only difference between Fred Phelps and the average conservative Christian is delivery style. It is similar to Delores Umbridge and Voldemort in the Harry Potter story. Both stood against Harry. Both wanted him eliminated. Both hated him.

Voldemort's hate blazed in his eyes. Delores hid hers behind soft tones, feigned concern, and a predator's smile.

But both had similar plans for Harry.

I don't believe there is an afterlife, but if I did I would hope that Phelps can now rest from the burden of his hostility, and that his wounds have been healed.

In the end, I preferred the bigotry Fred wore on his sleeve, to the slippery words of "love" offered by so many Christians who quietly share Fred's heart.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Facebook Faith #40 - Oh Sweet Irony!

I am going to have an impish grin on my face for the rest of the week. Yesterday one of my former Pastors and I were in a discussion on Facebook. He had used the phrase unconditional love in a context about god. I questioned him about the use of that phrase, considering that his church also believes that same god will be consigning a good portion of creation to eternal damnation. We had a cordial conversation about Hell theology. At the close of our conversation, one of the church's congregants weighed in with John Piper's view of unconditional love (it is only for the elect).

Her perspective, I believe, is the end game of keeping Hell in your church theology - even if you minimize it. Her closing comment could not have been more perfect - and is evidence to me that the Universe has a wonderful sense of irony... and thinks I rock! :)

Kacy This conversation was very interesting to me. I had a very simple statement, which I have come by on my own accord, but then I found this article that I think sums up God's unconditional love perfectly. My simple statement, that I have come to through God, bible studies and a community of Christian brethren, is this...God loves you no matter what, period. Of course there is punishment for not answering His call. If you child disobeys you, do you not discipline them in some manner or another? I may have taken something completely different away then what you two were discussing, but felt compelled to answer in simplicity. Also, this was just too perfect not to share :)

Is God's Love Unconditional?
Provides God Centered resources from the ministry of Dr. John Piper. Features free sermon videos, audios, books, articles, Bible studies and online store.

Andrew Hackman Disciplining a child for their good is infinitely different from the notion of eternal damnation. I accept the former and condemn the latter.

Kacy -  You have until your very last breath of life on this Earth to believe and accept Jesus as our savior. This simple act is enough to live eternally in Heaven. That being said, how would you discipline your child, taking this in to account, if you were a supernatural being that breathed the universe into existence? How exactly do you punish someone fairly, for turning away from you at every opportunity, knowing his/her choices, knowing there was a possibility of hell, and still choosing to deny you. What then is a fair punishment?

Andrew Hackman I am not so insecure as to be that put out... nor do I see a need to punish any of the "infractions" you describe... let alone doing it to my son or daughter. I honestly would see such behavior as being the work of a petty psychopath... not a decent father, or even a bad one for that matter. I would work to protect people from the creature you have described.

Kacy -  Thank you for your insight. Out of curiosity did you read the article I posted?

Andrew Hackman Yes

Kacy - Good :) Well one of the most beautiful things God gifted will. Much love to you Andrew. Have a great evening! And if you ever change your mind, you are always welcome at K2!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Facebook Faith #39 Phantom Numbers

I am sure there is a psychological term for the sort of behavior that I am about to describe (and if any of you know it, please share).  In the teaching field it runs like this - A parent comes to me to complain that I am giving too much (or too little) homework.  Instead of making a case, they appeal to an argument of phantom numbers:

"Every other parent feels the same way!"

In reality, they have no idea who may or may not also hold this view.  However, it gives them confidence to enlist this phantom support group. I am sure that approach has its similar sibling in other professions, but that is how it goes down in mine.

I have noticed phantom numbers cropping up a bit on Facebook lately.  I tend to get involved in religious discussions which, for the most part, are about the issue not individuals.  However, I have a couple people in my friends list who interpret every inquiry that is not blowing flowers up their religion's rear-end to be a personal, full-on, frontal assault.  Within moments, everything about me as a decent human being is called into question... not just by these individuals but, in their estimation, everyone I know.

For example, during a discussion of where charitable inclination originates, one "friend" jumped in:
"Andy, once again, journeyed into a sarcastic, opinionated tyraid about what he perceives as what is wrong with everyone who doesn't see the world the same way he does. He takes his arrogant, condescending attitude and looks down his upturned nose at us all with contempt."
I did not feel any of the attitudes or emotions with which he labeled me.  When I tried to clarify that his use of "everyone" was a bit broad and that most of my friends are religious and yet they do not paint me in the light that he does, he responded:

"...most people are just way to [sic] polite with you to tell you how they really feel about you..."

The argument of phantom numbers.  This person knows my life and my relationships SO WELL, that he is able to kidnap them for his argument.

Everyone else has the SAME view as ME about YOU!

There is a term for this..... I will find it.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Year Long Popcorn

There is a local gourmet popcorn place having a contest to see who can bring the most likes to their page by Monday. This is my son Jake's favorite place... it was on his Christmas list! We are asking for your help with helping him win. So here is what you do:

1. Go to the Rooster's Gourmet Popcorn page and like the page

2. Then go here - 

and then click "Comment" under my comment to leave a comment in support of Jacob ( There are 40+ comments already there). 

It is two minutes of your time, and a few clicks.... Plus, we are giving a hand to a really cool local business!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Facebook Faith # 38 Wicked Core

If your religion has Hell for anyone not in your faith, then this Jesus meme is really what your religion boils down to. You may dress it up or cover it over. You may use words like love, acceptance, redemption, and forgiveness, but they are all rendered inert in the end. You may have exciting services with great music and coffee, excellent facilities, and engaging outreach. Your religion may be attractive in many, many ways.

But at the heart of your faith is a wicked and twisted core.... and it will come out in all the ways you do not want it to... and you will resent people for noticing.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Apologetic Dance

Apologetics: (from Greek ἀπολογία, "speaking in defense") is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of information.

What none of the definitions I saw on the Web clarify is that apologetic work is concerned with defending a conclusion that has already been arrived at. It is, at its foundation, the antithesis of the scientific method. While apologetics wants to defend the conclusion by any means necessary, the scientific method aggressively attempts to poke holes in the proposed theory.

Apologetic work goes relatively unchallenged within one's own religion. The only way to see its deformity is by observing it in another. I live in the heart of Mormon country. When I was an Evangelical, I would often hear my friends snicker at Mormon apologetic attempts to defend the veracity of the Book of Mormon.

Of course, what my Evangelical friends could not see was how quickly and wholeheartedly they accepted the weak structure of Evangelical apologetics. Again, one only tends to see the absurdity of apologetics from the outside.

My wife recently got a view of how quietly apologetic work had influenced her throughout her life. Part of apologetics is knowing when to avoid a topic. Though raised in Christianity, my wife had never dealt with what the bible had to say about slavery. After researching it a bit, she declared on Facebook:
I wish Jesus would have taken the opportunity to address slavery. His apostles certainly did. Imagine the radical shift in society if Jesus would have sided with "mercy and compassion" toward those who were owned (abused) by another.
Christians quickly swooped in to do the apologetic dance. The conclusion is that Jesus is divine, good, and perfect... so defenses are offered to support that.

Of course, those apologetic moves only convince the convinced. Their defenses work for Christians in the same way Mormon apologetics work for Mormons - the explanations only satisfy the already converted. To the outsider they are weak and often absurd. On the contrary, to one in the religion, the conclusion is already sure... so almost ANY explanation will do.

For my wife, the answers did not satisfy. She is no longer convinced of the conclusion. Apologetics only works as long as the dancing partner is willing to follow the apologist's lead.

For me, it is clear why Jesus had nothing to say on the issue of slavery. He was ahead of his time... but not that far ahead. Slavery was embedded in the cultures of biblical ages. It was in no way viewed as inherently wrong. So neither he, nor any of the bible authors, conceived it as being immoral.

On the contrary, the bible is supportive of slavery. It tells you how to do it, when to do it, and whom to do it to. It does not in any way, shape, or form reference slavery as an immoral practice. For example:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.  (Ephesians 6:5)
However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46)
When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21)
The apologist will attempt to dance around verses like these with talk of context, and bond-servants, and culture (but mostly they will work at directing the conversation elsewhere). The Christian listening will nod, satisfied, and go back to reading John 3:16.

I often wonder how apologists would need to dance if other sins were substituted for slavery in these verses:
If a spouse is caught in adultery, he or she shall be punished. But if the affair is not caught after a day or two the affair shall not be punished, since the adulterer was very clever.

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