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Caveat and such: I have been sitting on this article for over six weeks because I wanted it to preface the new book I’m beginning next week that uses the fictional account of a pastor to examine the pivotal role of religion in the 1970s. So, to some degree, this is an enticement to excite you to read the next 20 weeks after this. Also, you need to know that the emotional hurt resulting from how the Christian Church has treated me colors both my attitude and perspective in writing. Normally, I at least attempt to mask the worst of my bias but I am unable to do so in this matter. For that, I would almost apologize except that victims don’t need to be the ones apologizing, do they?  Nonetheless, I accept that I have no objectivity as I write this and that it may be offensive to some. I do apologize for any undeserved offense.

“You are no longer welcome to worship with this congregation.”

The first time I heard those words or something to the same effect, they stung to my very soul. I grew up in church. My father was the pastor. For the greater majority of my youth, it was generally assumed that I would, in some form or fashion, follow in his footsteps. I was prepped. I was groomed. I was even allowed to take a seminary homiletics course when I was 15 (I made a B, which was better than what Poppa made in the same course). 

Then, there was a left turn. And another left turn. Without any direct intention, I was suddenly at odds with the very body that had raised me. I wasn’t welcome.

For a while, changing denominations helped. No one said anything when my pictures, of which I was quite proud, appeared in a publication with an article that made liberal use of the word “fuck.” I thought, for a moment, I had found a place where God and I could be cool together. That didn’t last, though, and eventually, I received that letter stating, “We feel it would be to everyone’s benefit if you worshipped elsewhere.”

While it was easy enough for the Church to walk away from me, it wasn’t so simple for me to walk away from them. Church was what I knew. Church was the core of my foundation. I kept trying, but the problem kept repeating itself. Either there was no substance to the congregation’s beliefs, which drives me nuts, or they felt the need to exclude people like me, people whose occupations are sometimes difficult to explain, work that many seem to think results in a lifestyle that is largely immoral. So, the letters kept coming.

“Your continued presence makes some members of our congregation uncomfortable ….”

“Public knowledge of your published works makes it difficult for some to worship alongside you ….”

“As a part of the body of Christ, we cannot associate with someone who is unapologetic for such blatant sin ….”

That last one didn’t just hurt, it made me angry. I challenged them to tell me, book, chapter, and verse any scripture defining my work as sinful. I never received an answer.

Eventually, I took the hint and walked away completely. On my own, I still kept some practices, privately. The music, to this day, still speaks to me. A running joke has been that I am most likely to be listening to religious music, specifically, the hymns and gospel songs of my youth, when I’m editing nude photos. Don’t ask me to explain why I have such a strange habit; it just feels right and reduces stress. 

Once, about ten years or so ago, my love for the music sent me to an Episcopal church across the street from where I was living. It was Easter and I had hope that the music might bring a sense of peace. The sign outside said service started at 11: 00 AM, so I wandered over about 10:45 only to discover that, because of the special day, the service had started early, at 10:00. I got there just in time for the final prayer. I took the hint. God didn’t want me.

Fast forward to this past November. Several churches in town have pipe organs of considerable rank. One, in particular, is especially notable and I harbored the fantasy that perhaps I could slip into a service, sit in the back of the sanctuary, enjoy the music and then leave without bothering anyone. The congregation has a reputation for being inclusive of my LGBTQ+ friends, so certainly it wouldn’t hurt for me to just sit and listen.

Once burned, twice shy, though, I found the church’s service streamed online and watched for a couple of weeks. I wanted to be sure that their reputation was one put into practice and that the message and style of the homily were not going to be counter to my reason for attending. I watched for a couple of weeks and in the homily of the second week, the pastor made a reference that reminded me of an experience Poppa once had. Feeling dramatically overconfident, I wrote the pastor, via email, relating Poppa’s experience. He returned the email with a kind and appreciative message. So far, so good. 

I went to acknowledge having received his message, though, and it all fell apart. When I hit “send” on the email, it immediately bounced back. Being rather surprised, and giving the pastor the benefit of the doubt, my first response was to check the email address to which I had replied. I had contacted the pastor via a link on the church’s website so perhaps he had replied using an email program that masked his address, making direct replies impossible. I checked and found the email address was correct.

The thing about returned email is that there is almost always a reason given somewhere in the body of the bounced message. Sometimes that reason can be difficult to find, but it’s almost always there and this was no exception. Scrolling down, toward the bottom, I found the reason my email had been rejected. “This email address is blocked due to offensive content.”

Offensive content? All I had said was, “Thank you for your kind response.” How was that offensive? The message made no sense.

I then thought that, perhaps, I had dropped an F-bomb in my original message without realizing it. That happens often enough in my speech that I wouldn’t be terribly surprised. I checked. Nope, no F-bombs. I was baffled.

I read over my original message again, finding nothing offensive. Then, again, a third time, because surely I was missing something. I had to be. Finally, on the fourth read, all the way to the bottom of my email, I found the culprit. My automated signature, which Gmail adds on without me even thinking about it, includes a link to my websites. Not just this one, which I consider to only be humorously offensive, but that other one, the photography site, which was, on that particular week, sporting a set of nudes from my Experimental Series, right smack at the top of the home page. 

The reason for the block seemed clear. Whether the pastor had clicked the link personally, or if their systems are advanced enough to send a spider or bot to check the content, one way or the other the decision had been made to block me from contacting the pastor any further. There would be no attending a worship service, no listening to that magnificent organ on the first Sunday of Advent, no association of any kind. Perhaps I’m petty, but if they were going to reject my email, I wasn’t going to give them the opportunity to reject me, too.

I closed the email, expressed some frustration to Kat, and then, after she left for the salon, sat in my office chair and cried. All I had wanted was to sit in the back and listen to that magnificent instrument. I wasn’t going to socialize. I wasn’t going to sing. I wasn’t going to take communion. I just wanted to listen.

Separating Sheep From Goats

I really shouldn’t be surprised by my frustrating outcome, should I? After all, exclusivity and division are core tenets not only of Christianity but every major religion. No matter where one looks, there are “chosen people,” or those “favored by [insert deity name here].” Religious belief banks heavily on how following a specific belief system that, a) makes one different from everyone else, and b) results in preferential treatment no one else gets. While specific details may differ, the primary draw is that those who believe are rewarded while those who don’t are severely punished. 

For millennia, that concept of reward vs. punishment, believe or die, has fueled infinite wars, crusades, inquisitions, political coups, and murder without the sponsoring institutions ever being held responsible for their endless litany of crimes. How could they? No religion recognizes any authority as being more powerful than they and governments have learned that it is best to not challenge them. With no one holding them responsible, save for the theoretical deity who never seems to be directly involved, religions have been given free rein to do whatever they please without consequence. 

Within the Christian belief system, which is my primary reference point, the alleged need for a division between “sinners” and “saints” is codified in scripture such as 25:32-46, the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. For those not immediately familiar with the passage, here it is in a popular translation:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

The division is rather blatant and many authoritative leaders stop reading with verse 33. They make the argument that by creating a division between sheep and goats now they are merely following the example Jesus sets. There are multiple problems with that interpretation, however, and I feel rather bound to unpack a few of them. 

First up, let’s look at the phrase which the NIV translates as “All the nations.” The Gospel according to Matthew was written in Greek, so the original phrase is panta (πάντᾰ) ta ethne (ἔθνος). At least, that’s where most translators start. “Panta” is generally translated as whole, and “ethne,” in case you hadn’t already guessed, is the plural root from which we get the word ethnic. Think “whole ethnicities.” “Ethne” is the focus and where we first run into trouble. 

Ethne, in various declensions (this happens to be the third and most difficult to translate), appears 53 times in the approved protestant canon, almost always translated as “nations” or, in older translations, “gentiles” [source]. However, that translation is unique to Christian teaching. 

Secular use of the word more frequently translates the word to mean “company, band, host; of men [source].” This is an important differentiation because how one translates this word defines the scope of the audience. If one translates the word as “nations” then the message is global. If one uses what seems to be the more common translation of “company” then the following judgment is strictly internal and using the scripture for justification of any external division is wrong.

How does one decide which translation is more likely correct? Let’s look at some details surrounding both Matthew’s version of the Gospel and how it has changed interpretations over the centuries.

First, consider that there is no original copy of Matthew’s treatise. Get used to that because it’s true for the entire canon. The oldest reliable manuscripts, and the ones utilized for the most accurate translations, are compiled in the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, both of which date from the 4th-century ADE. There are some external fragments as well, with a fragment known as Papyrus 4 possibly being as old as the second century [source]. The problem we find within those fragments is they show a high number of variations with regional differences that, in some cases, dramatically alter the meaning and direction of the text, including all of Matthew 25. Such textual differences make is logically impossible to consider any of them authoritative because there is no way of knowing which is authentic. 

Second, there’s the fact that the global “nations” or “gentiles” translation doesn’t even appear in religious texts until the 18th century [source]. Prior to the 1700s, theologians looked at the Church as an extension of the specific assembly of believers that were following Jesus in the days prior to his crucifixion. Mind you, they still used the passage to justify violence, making the leap that an even more severe separation would occur at the final judgment. What is important to our conversation here is that there is ample evidence to suggest this was strictly an internal conversation, hence the surprise on the part of those labeled as “goats.” Those who are not already believers are not likely to be surprised by the exclusion because they have made the conscious decision to be excluded. 

What happens with this text, the glaring gap of logic between what was intended and how the Church chooses to interpret the text, is not unique to Christianity. Islamic, Jewish, and Hindu texts hold many of the same issues. Buddhism has an even greater problem as many of its oldest texts have been destroyed completely, making academic comparisons and verification all but impossible. 

I find it interesting that we have no problem arguing the authenticity of Homeric text, which are similarly written transcriptions of oral history [source] but people of faith get all upset and butt hurt when religious tomes are given the same academic treatment. For faith in something unseen to be authentic requires accuracy in the translation of its supporting documentation. Without that accuracy, faith is nothing more than a fool’s adherence to mythologies and fables. 

This leads me to question why I’m so upset at being excluded from what may well be an exercise in multigenerational misguidance? If there is no authenticity in the texts used to claim authority, then there can be no real exclusion. Yet, here I sit, not listening to an organ and feeling very excluded.

Changing the Rules

Religious institutions have a way of changing the rules as it suits them. Mind you, the text they claim supports the original stance never changes, but how they are interpreted does. This creates an interesting dichotomy. In many cases, the changes are necessary for the Church to keep up with modern times. Yet, if the deity of their scriptures is unchanging, and if the authenticity of the supporting scriptures is to be believed, the message needs to stay consistent regardless of changes to society.

Needs some examples? Okay, Let’s take church music up through the 14th century. At first, harmonies had to consist of open fourth and fifth intervals, creating the open sound one typically associates Gregorian chant. That rule was dropped by the 12th century but they kept a ban on the augmented 4th interval, or tritone, because of its dissonance. Even now, while there is no outright ban on the interval, it’s heavily discouraged. Why? Uhm … well … No, there’s no justification for that one. Just a papal edict.

Then, there was the matter of charging interest. There is substantial biblical support for not charging interest on loans, especially personal loans. This is a standard originally found in all the religions based on Abrahamic traditions. During the Middle Ages especially, this tradition was critical to building the economy.

However, capitalism started creeping in around the 16th century, and greed being something the Church has never fought well, it caved. Completely. Only the Islamic faith has remained consistent in not allowing interest to be charged within the regions it controls. 

Oh, and don’t forget the slavery issue. Abrahamic literature, again, is heavy with references to slavery. The Church embraced slavery heavily and some encouraged introducing the gospel to slaves because they came from “heathen” lands. The Roman Church, in an edict by Pope Leo XIII, banned slavery in 1888 after it had been banned by most Western countries.  [source] Protestant churches, especially those in the deep South, waited as late as the early 21st century to finally acknowledge their role in perpetuating the practice and declaring it a sin. To this day, some minor Christian denominations still think the use of slaves should be permitted.

The use of Latin in mass and who could/couldn’t interpret scripture was a HUGE issue for the church. So significant, in fact, that it is one of the primary factors in Martin Luther’s 95 theses that he nailed to the door in Wittenburg, ultimately leading to the start of the protestant movement (not his original intent)[source]. Arguments over this one continue to this day, but the Roman church officially changed its mind as part of the Vatican II Council (1962-65). Mind you, the Church was stretching to find scriptural support for this policy in the first place, but there are still a number of Catholic theologians who feel the vernacular is too tainted and sinful to be used in pronouncing the “word of God.”

I could go on practically forever on this topic. I mean, we haven’t even touched the whole Inquisition thing, the use of mortification (self-harm)[source], the concept of limbo, paying indulgences (still a thing for some stupid reason)[source], and pretty much every other social issue that has seemed to put the Church in conflict with ever-changing societal norms. 

While it’s easy enough to pick on some of the larger issues to affect the Church, I remember some of the problems Poppa had to address during his tenure as pastor. Segregation was a massive issue that may have cost him one pulpit in particular after he did a pulpit-swap with the pastor of a nearby black congregation. Women wearing miniskirts to church. Whether or not an acoustic guitar should be allowed in the sanctuary. Rock music (don’t even get me started on this one). Women wearing pants in church. And to this day, if you want to really raise the dander of fundamentalist Christians, raise the topic of women as pastors, then duck because they’re going to start throwing things immediately. The same goes for LGBTQ+ issues. 

My point is that the Church, and religious institutions in general, place themselves in judgment over social activities with dubious authority. On most contemporary issues, their antiquated and time-sensitive documentation doesn’t remotely come close to addressing challenges such as whether marriage is an absolute requisite, the definition of baptism and whether it’s actually important, the intermingling of differing religious traditions, or even the liturgy of the worship service. 

Religions have sought to establish themselves as social and political authorities, in contemporary terms, since the 4th century. One might argue that religious belief systems were significant even in more ancient governments of Persia, Syria, and Egypt as far back as 6,000 BCE. They claim the authority and then order their postulants and followers to acknowledge their authority or be deemed heretics, a rather dangerous label in certain circles. 

What we fail to realize is that no religion has any true authority outside the spiritual belief system it creates. The United States Constitution, and those of several other Western countries, goes as far as creating distinct barriers between religion and government, barriers that cause religious leaders to chafe because it limits their abuse of power.

Religions want to control every possible aspect of our lives. The ardent and faithful follower is instructed to follow the guidance of their particular deity from the moment they wake up until they once again close their eyes to sleep, and some religious dogmas even attempt to dictate that schedule. Yet, there is no true authority behind their presumption of power, even within their own sanctuaries.

I find it interesting that only Matthew records Jesus allegedly saying, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Actually, that’s not one hundred percent correct. The Gospel of Thomas also records that statement within the same conversation, but since the book of Thomas isn’t considered canon (more like a blog account versus a published news story), we’re not supposed to quote it. Still, it’s a verse that’s pushed down within the hierarchy of scriptural commands. 

The problem for the contemporary Christian Church is that Jesus, repeatedly, attempts to remove any and all barriers between himself and people seeking some form of spiritual benefit. He doesn’t care how, or if, you’re dressed. He doesn’t care what one’s occupation might be. He was friends with Matthew before he finally told him to quit the tax-collecting day job and become one of the 12. The change in occupation was not a requirement for the relationship. 

There are few checks and balances here and for many denominations, Southern Baptists high among them, there is no authoritative hierarchy at all—individual Churches and pastors are free to make up whatever rules they wish, interpret scripture however they wish, and there’s absolutely no one with the authority to tell them they’re wrong.

Guilt By Association

I have recounted to several an experience I had while preparing to hang artwork at a coffee shop some 12 years ago. I was there taking measurements when a group of three men sat down at a table in close enough proximity that it was impossible to not overhear their conversation and they didn’t seem to care (perhaps they should have). It quickly became apparent that this was a meeting of the senior ministerial staff from a nearby church. The topic at hand was what to do regarding a junior staff member assigned to work with teenagers. The problem was that the young minister had a MySpace account. Remember MySpace? It was really big 12 years ago. 

Anyway, this youth minister had friended someone on MySpace. In turn, upon investigation, completely obliterating any hint of privacy, the senior pastor had checked and this friend had another friend, someone with whom the youth minister had absolutely no acquaintance, who was disreputable because it appeared that he “used drugs.”

Whether the youth minister knew that his MySpace friend was also friends with the disreputable person was unknown. Whether the youth minister had completely vetted every last one of the second-tier friends of all his MySpace friends, an act that would have likely taken dozens if not hundreds of hours was also unknown. How the hell the senior pastor had time to go through his staff’s MySpace friends wasn’t a question anyone at the table dared ask. Yet, because of this one possible but completely unconfirmed relationship, the senior pastor was recommending that the youth pastor be terminated because, obviously, he was not making good choices among his friendships.

And the rest of the staff agreed.

How anyone, anywhere, is supposed to live under such tyrannical rule, or why they would want to, is beyond me. Further, the fact that anyone would give to someone else the authority to act in such a loathsome manner in the name of a universal deity astounds me. Yet, you do. Millions of you. The willingness to condemn one person for the actions of others is astounding. 

There is a curious passage in Christian scripture where one is given a look at the criticism leveled at Jesus by the “establishment,” The passage occurs, almost identically, in Luke’s gospel as well as Matthew’s, increasing the likelihood that at least one of them was manipulated after the fact. Let’s stick with Matthew since we started there. Back up to chapter 11 and we find that John the Baptist has sent some of his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

The question itself is interesting and please excuse me for not completely dissecting the Greek again; it would take far too much time for this conversation. If we were to put it in the vernacular, though, it could be accurately translated as something along the lines of, “Dude, are you ‘the One’ [secret code for the Messiah] or are you just jackin’ around, man?”

The question infers a couple of things. 1. John’s followers, who are more “underground” and hidden now that their leader is in prison, need some verification. No one is publicly using “the M-word” because it’s not safe. Claiming to be Messiah in that theo-political environment was a good way to grab the cell next to John’s. 2. Folks who are emotionally committed to this rebellious movement are getting a bit impatient to know whether to back this dude or not. This isn’t a gentle request. There’s an implied demand here that Jesus needs to either step up or shut up.

Jesus tells them to report back to John what they’ve seen and heard, implying they’ve been trailing him for a while and he’s noticed. His dismissive, “I don’t want to get in the way,” was sufficient in getting them to leave, though there’s no way of knowing whether they were satisfied with that answer. 

What Jesus says after that, though, is somewhat confusing and one of the curious places where it appears words have been changed from the original text because anyway one reads the Greek it comes out confusing, leaving it open to the possibility that someone most likely decided to leave something out because the narrative takes a couple of odd leaps where it appears Jesus is babbling a bit, going from how great John is to referencing violence that was taking place. It is in the midst of this that there appears to be a massive gap in the text as Jesus goes from referencing John as “the Elijah that prophecies predicted,” to this odd and seemingly unrelated statement, starting in verse 16:

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Part of what’s going on here is that John the Baptist and Jesus were two distinctly different personalities. John was austere, the guy who wore animal skin and ate all-natural non-GMO food. Jesus, by comparison, had the appearance of being a bit of a party boy, eating at the most popular bodegas, throwing or attending parties every night, hanging out with known con men (tax collectors) and party girls (prostitutes). His statement that “wisdom is proved right by her deeds” appears, based on a variation in the Greek at that juncture, to be a quote of some other well-known literature of the time, though there are no direct Torah references to back that up. What he is essentially saying is “Judge me by what I do, not how you think I live.”

Religious leaders of the day, though, were highly invested in the exact same game of guilt by association that we see church leaders engaged in today. They thought they had a good reason. Jesus wasn’t the only person running around threatening to undermine what we now refer to as Judaism. There was a whole underground resistance movement at the time. When Jesus mentions violence in Matthew 11, he is likely referring to the Sicarii (סיקריים), a group of zealots who carried knives in their cloaks and would attack Romans or Roman sympathizers in public then blend in with the crowd to escape. While it’s easy to dismiss the Sicarii as a splinter group, they scared the shit out of the religious establishment who feared Rome was going to shut them all down violently.  At least one of Jesus’ inner-circle of 12, Simon “the Zealot,” was likely recruited from the Sicarii. It is within the realm of reason, given his actions based on his ultimate disappointment, that Judas had similar anti-Roman sympathies. 

Bartholemew (Nathaniel ben Talmai) was Hebrew nobility and, like Jesus himself, of the house of David, though through Absalom. Modern translation: rich kid with a Nationalistic interest. He likely wasn’t associated with the Sicarii as he had been in Armenia prior to joining up with Jesus, but he still had a vested interest and was likely of the dominant view that the Messiah would be a military leader who would overthrow the Romans. This was a strong belief within the Hebrew community and gave religious leaders more reason to worry. Should someone step up looking to be a military leader, the vast majority of Hebrews would fall in line behind them, putting the religious leaders at risk.

Jude and his brother James ben Alpheus (aka James the Younger) were probably the two most quiet of the 12, but they, also, were known as zealots. This gave the group of disciples a strong connection with the many underground movements actively resisting the Roman government.

Too little, in my opinion, is made of the fact that Matthew was a tax collector. That they made themselves wealthy by overcharging people is well-known. What is understated is the various ways in which this happened. Publicans, as they were called, were legal con artists if we look at their activities in contemporary terms. Generally speaking, they were not to be trusted, but crossing one of them could cost one everything they had, including their life. There are even apocryphal accounts of them trading “favors” for “protection” from the Romans. If there was ever a Hebrew form of the Mafia, it started among the Publicans. 

The remainder of Jesus’ “disciples” were fishermen, a trade handed down from generation to generation. These would have, for the most part, been big, burly men with massive muscles and gruff exterior. Think of them as bouncers or “enforcers.” Now, imagine them being the ones taking up the offering when Jesus finished speaking. A wee bit intimidating.

If we remove the Euro-racist filters imposed during the Renaissance, we come away with a much tougher and, for religious leaders, a more frightening and intimidating picture of Jesus and his disciples than one tends to get in Sunday School. Imagine how they must have felt when this group came to town. It hadn’t taken long for them to become popular. Where they gathered more often than not tended to have a party atmosphere, especially in the evenings after the crowds had gone away. Jesus was likely attractive, his body well-toned from working as a carpenter alongside Joseph, a dynamic personality who naturally drew people to him. In modern terms, he might have been like a night club promoter or DJ. 

Accompanying them was a group of women that the Church paints as “supporters of the ministry.” That assessment would be pure white-wash. Sure, they “took care of” the boys in the band, but in terms that were common to wealthy men of the period, they were fun. They kept the party lively after dark and it is completely unreasonable to think they didn’t provide snuggling services to those who desired such. Yes, there were among them some who had been prostitutes, but the “sin” of being a prostitute wasn’t having sex but making oneself available to whoever knocked on the door. By being part of a consistent and limited group, their sexual services were legitimized and no one at the time would have given that an extra thought. It was only their former occupations that raised eyebrows. 

When Jesus and his group came to town, it was a disruption in the status quo. People who tended to stay in the shadows were welcome. People who had their own conspiracy theories were welcome. People who were marginalized were welcome. 

If we look at this group in contemporary terms and I impose myself into the culture that surrounded them, I would be welcome, because who doesn’t like party pics? There would be pictures of Peter lying unconscious on a pile of pillows, his brother, Andrew, using makeup borrowed from one of the women to draw crude pictures on his face. There would be pictures of people dancing, laughing, and telling stories. Not everyone in those pictures would be completely dressed, either. Mary Magdelene, who by all accounts was quite attractive, would likely have posed for me. Peter’s wife, who accompanied the group often, would have wanted pictures of the two of them, constantly, possibly to the point of annoyance. Someone like me, whose occupation is making other people look good, would have been welcome in the tents and hotels and homes where Jesus and the group stayed!

I would not have been welcome in the synagogue among the religious leaders, though, and any association with this group of disruptors would have been enough for them to shun me for life. Jesus, those who followed him, and those who dared to act like him, were a threat to everything the religious leaders knew. My, how little has changed over 2,000 years!  [source] [source] [source] [source] [source]

Moral Sin Versus Social Sins

Within every society, there is a moral code that governs basic behavior. By and large, that code is universal though it is expressed in different ways. In Jewish and Christian traditions, there are the Laws of Moses or the Ten Commandments. Islam lists 12 sins that prevent one from going to “heaven,” but unlike Christianity, they have no concept of original sin, so as long as one manages to not violate the major sins, they’re good. [source] Hindu’s, similarly, divide their sins between the five mortal sins and the ten venial sins, as defined by the Dharma Shastras. They don’t use the term “sin,” though, and appropriation of that nomenclature doesn’t adequately address the relationship between wrong-doing and the religious context. [source] Regardless of how they are enumerated, their tenents are basically the same: Don’t kill, Don’t steal, Don’t lie, and Don’t claim something/someone is a deity who/what isn’t.

That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Apparently, though, it is too vague because every single religion has added a massive number of additional rules and laws on top of their base. The Jewish Mitzvot contains 613 additional laws and countless rabbinical rules and laws on top of that [source]. At least they bothered writing most of theirs down. Christians, Muslims, and Hindus are subject to a regional or sectarian guessing game where maybe it’s okay here but it’s not okay there and some very bad names have been called on those who accept LGBTQ people or put women in positions of leadership. It’s all dizzying to try and nonsensical to try and keep up with all the variations and divinations.

What’s interesting, though, is how Jesus took all these fussings and musings and laws and reduced them down to two. A common rabbinical argument of the time was which commandment was the greatest. The question was asked as a trap to accuse Jesus of belonging to a sect of outliers. His response caught everyone off guard. Oddly enough, only Mark, in chapter 12, records Jesus saying:

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The simplicity is astounding. While I could easily write 30,000 words dissecting those two statements, the more simple version is more impactful. Love God. Love others. Love yourself. That’s it. No qualifiers. No caveats. He doesn’t limit it to Hebrews, he doesn’t exclude people of any given profession, he addresses no social distractions of any kind. Instead, Jesus lays it out there bare with no need or requirement for interpretation. Love God. Love others. Love yourself.

I have yet, in my nearly 60 years on this planet, encountered a religious body of any kind that embraced the complete openness of Jesus’ statement. None of them.

The reason is that we’re always wanting clarification, hence we devise social laws to “fill in the gaps,” assuming that we somehow know what the deity intended. Again, this happens in all religions, even the most pacifistic among them. As these social laws build up over time, they create an effective wall between the religious body and the deity they claim to worship. “You can’t be part of our group because …”

As a result, the alleged representative of the deity on earth,  the churches, temples, and synagogues that build high shrines, those bodies responsible for bringing people into fellowship, inviting people to the party, end up creating more barriers than access points, more doors locked than open, too many VIP lists and not enough general admission.

Casting First Stones

I’m running over 6,500 words already and I know your attention span is not that long so let me try to concatenate a few points into one. One of the most well-known and mistranslated passages in the Bible is John 8, 1-7. I’m not going to use the most familiar translation because it’s flat-out wrong. Here’s one that comes closer:

2 At dawn he [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

While there’s a lot that one could unpack from that passage, including all the particulars of Mosaic Law and speculation over what Jesus wrote on the ground, what matters are two things. 1. He did not condone the woman’s behavior but defended her against the religious leadership anyway. 2. He made it clear that there is no ranking among sin—any violation creates separation from God that requires atonement. 

It is that last point that deserves considerable attention because, like the Pharisees standing in the temple court, there’s plenty of sin to go around. Look at the contemporary church. 

  • It’s been over 30 years since the abuse of children by priests was uncovered and yet it still continues and those responsible turn a blind eye. Protestant and Evangelical churches are just as bad but their lack of hierarchy makes it easier to hide.
  • Megachurches build multi-million dollar facilities in the midst of marginalized neighborhoods (because property values are lower) and then ignore the needs of the people who live there.
  • Church fraud exceeds what they spend on charitable causes [source].
  • Evangelicals are committing sin #1 by referring to the president as “the chosen one.”

Once again, I could continue for pages, but just one of those points brings home the emphasis that one sinner does not get to judge another. In defending the woman, he offered her acceptance, not rejection. Numerous apocryphal accounts and Roman church tradition hold that this woman was Mary Magdelene who, from that moment never left Jesus’ side (one wants to be extremely careful in accepting that tradition as truth). What if, after everyone had left, Jesus had said, “Look, your reputation proceeds you and we just can’t have you hanging around our group. You would be a distraction.” 

Which leads to my ultimate question: What am I doing that is so horribly wrong?

The answer lies in the first myth of Judeo-Christian tradition: Adam and Eve. The reference is Genesis 3:7 in the Christian Bible, but it occurs elsewhere in other religious traditions as well. The story goes that, upon eating the forbidden fruit, the first couple realizes they are naked and start looking for things with which to clothe themselves. God comes along and, much to the couple’s surprise notices that they’re not naked. Imagine trying to slip that one past a deity! He gets upset, but not because they’re naked. He’s upset because they were disobedient. Being naked has absolutely nothing to do with what God does next in kicking them out of the garden. Yes, the deity then kills an animal and uses its skin to cover them, but that was arguably to protect them from the elements, not hide their nudity. The late Southern Baptist pastor R. G. Lee identified this as the beginning of the bloodline through the Bible emphasizing that it was disobedience and nothing else that necessitated the shedding of blood right up to the crucifixion of Jesus. 

Nudity? Not a big deal. Ever. Why? Because it’s not a big deal. Ever. Culturally, from the beginning of humanity, it has been a natural condition of life. The prophet Isaiah spent THREE YEARS walking around naked, in public. Why? “…as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush” (Isaiah 20:3). 

Like it or not, laws and rules against nudity have ZERO textual basis and non-sexualized social nudity was common until the 1870s, which is relatively recent given the expanse of human history. Only several years after the invention of the swimsuit did it become mandatory to actually wear them [source]. Christian missionaries then led the movement from that point forward, classifying nudity as a sin despite there being no biblical context for doing so [source].

Thanks to the strong influence of Victorian England, the concept spread quickly around the world and soon public nudity was banned everywhere the crown had any influence. This is why much of Europe still has few laws against nudity, mostly for health reasons, while the UK still holds tightly to a non-nude policy in public. Prudes. 

American evangelicals, however, always on the lookout for something else to make them more exclusive, embraced the laws against nudity in the name of modesty, pitting one social construct against another. Aided and abetted by some horrible misinterpretation of scripture, the lack of modesty came to have explicitly sexual overtones, completely ignoring that an abundance of unshared wealth is also immodest, as is wearing extravagant clothing and flying on private jets, things that evangelicals seem to have no problem doing. 

So, in the face of all this overwhelming hypocrisy, I find myself asking, “Tell me again why you blocked my email address? Why am I not welcome in your churches?”

Ultimately, the answer lies in the fact that I don’t need churches, synagogues, temples, or any other artificial construct to explore my own relationship with deity. The fact that I feel the need to chase after acceptance from such an entity is the greater shortcoming. 

Randy Newman, you know, the guy who wrote ToyStory’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” wrote a song called “That’s Why I Love Mankind.” It goes like this:

Cain slew Abel, Seth knew not why
For if the children of Israel were to multiply
Why must any of the children die?
So he asked the Lord
And the Lord said:

Man means nothing, he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest Yucca tree
He chases ‘round this desert
Cause he thinks that’s where I’ll be
That’s why I love mankind

I recoil in horror for the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That’s why I love mankind

The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree
The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV
They picked their four greatest priests
And they began to speak
They said, “Lord, a plague is on the world
Lord, no man is free
The temples that we built to you
Have tumbled into the sea
Lord, if you won’t take care of us
Won’t you please, please let us be?”
And the Lord said
And the Lord said

I burn down your cities-how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That’s why I love mankind
You really need me
That’s why I love mankind

Source: LyricFind Songwriters: Randy Newman God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind) lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

I don’t need a sanctuary or a congregation or a great edifice to achieve whatever spiritual fulfillment is appropriate for any given moment. Neither do you. If we can’t find our Jesus or Muhammed or Krishna or Buddha or whatever on our own, chances are it doesn’t actually exist. We don’t need artificially constructed walls, we don’t need the confines of social construct telling us what is right or wrong. We know. That inherent morality shared across every religion is inherent within us; we have it when we are born. 

HOWEVER. It is difficult for me to explain, especially to those who have never heard, the power that a well-played pipe organ holds. Since the churches Poppa pastored were all small, we never had anything more than an electronic organ. While those can, under certain conditions, sound sufficient for small sanctuaries, they can’t match the way 60+ ranks of pipe consume the listener’s body, lifts them out of their seat, and fills them with music. The experience can be transcendental.

Unfortunately, organs of that nature are massively expensive and the bulk of them reside in churches who had the funding to match the instruments to great cathedrals. There are a limited number of 36- or 42-rank instruments still functioning in old theaters, leftover from the early 20th century, but for the most part if one wants to hear great organ music, one has to go to a church somewhere. I can listen to Spotify or watch YouTube videos all day but that is never going to replace the experience of actually being there in a grand sanctuary with a well-tuned organ.

Nonetheless, I feel compelled, after all this blathering-on I’ve done for the past 8,000 words, to give you some taste of what I miss. Charles-Marie Widor’s Fifth Symphony for Organ ends with a Toccata that has become rather famous. It is constructed of variations on a set of arpeggios traveling from F Major in fifths to C, then G, then D while the bass works its way down chromatically in a beautifully melodic manner. Arguably, only Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor is more well known and we could debate for weeks as to which is more powerful. 

Widor edited the piece several times so it can change slightly depending on who is playing and which version of the music they learned. While I’ve always enjoyed listening to Dr. Andre Lash performing the piece, the beauty of the Internet gives us the ability to hear it on the instrument for which it was written, the Cavaille-Coll Pipe Organ at Saint-Sulpice, Paris. Here it is, played by that instrument’s titular organist, Philip Roth.

It pains me to no end that music like this is largely confined to institutions that might invite one in for a special performance with a paid ticket but would block that same person from regularly enjoying the litany of great music written for great instruments. This strikes me as an error equal to paid-admission-only museums that confiscate great works of art for viewing only by those whose pockets are sufficiently deep. Both acts are an immoral affront to humanity.

As I begin the new book next week, know that it experiences like these that color my perspective and opinions of memories of things that happened within the Church during the 1970s. The book, tentatively titled Pastors’ Conference, 1972, condenses into the story of a single year many of the things I saw and experienced as I accompanied my father to various events. The space of time allows me to view all that happened with a bit more objectivity, which in some instances means being disgusted by things that were passed over at the moment and sympathetic over moments when concerned actors lacked the power to stop certain disaster. Of course, we’re fictionalizing everything, changing all the names and places, altering descriptions, so that we’re not desecrating the memories of those beloved. Nonetheless, I hope you will find the story compelling.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pictures to edit. I’ll be putting in my earbuds and turning up Walton’s Crown Imperial March. Peace be with you.

Not sleeping is killing you

[Annoying copy reminding people I need to eat at least once a week. Either buy something or drop us some cash.]

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Our personal health depends on learning how to rest

We need more sleep

I am up early almost every morning. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that we have two dogs who can’t hold their bladders much past four in the morning. If I don’t want to clean dog pee off the carpet, I have to let them out. The second reason, though, is that the quiet of the morning is the best time of day for me to get writing done. My mind is reasonably fresh, creativity and thought both seem to flow well, and there aren’t too many distractions.

The downside of getting up so early is that it throws off my body’s relationship to the traditional workday. If I’m up at four, then I’m ready for lunch by eight, nine at the latest. That lull in energy you get right after lunch? Mine hits about 10 and if I’m not doing something that requires physical effort I’m going to have difficulty keeping my eyes open. While everyone else seems to be running around until 11 at night or so, my bedtime is 9:30 PM and anything past that stretches the limits of my already fragile sanity. I would have a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) if I wasn’t too tired to care.

As a society, we have a lot of problems with sleep. That’s not necessarily our fault, though. Approximately 22 million people suffer from sleep apnea, a condition that makes contiguous sleep difficult-to-impossible and can be deadly in extreme situations (source). A whole host of other health-related issues such as heart issues, weight, diabetes, emotional issues, attention-deficit, and autistic-spectrum disorders can all factor in our difficulty with sleeping (source). This time of year can be especially difficult when the adjustment away from Daylight Savings Time messes with the body’s natural circadian rhythms. Most people adjust within a day or so but some people take a lot longer (source).

There are also those people who claim they don’t need much sleep. The current US president is one of those people, claiming he only sleeps three to four hours a night (no comment on how frequently he naps during the day). Others who say they get by on little sleep include Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, fashion designer Tom Ford, Martha Stewart, Barak Obama, and former Disney CEO Bob Iger (source). Some, like Ford, claim they have too much energy to sleep. Others say there’s simply too much work to leave any time for sleep. 

But are we doing ourselves a disservice if we try to follow their example? Can we really get by on 3-4 hours of sleep? I’ve tried. That happens every February and September while covering international fashion weeks. It doesn’t go well. By the end of the month, I’m grouchier than usual (and that’s saying something), dependent on frequent caffeine jolts, and generally not in the best of health. So, what is the best approach to sleep? For that matter, how should we think of rest in general, not just the moments we are unconscious but awake moments that provide us with some level of physical regeneration. 

Not Sleeping Takes A Toll On Your Body

taking a toll

We all have those moments when we have to put in an extra-long day. The car breaks down and shifts everything late. A child gets sick forcing a late-night visit to the clinic. Deadlines looking mean staying late at work. We encounter these interruptions to our sleep on a somewhat random basis and while we feel tired we don’t think too much about them doing any harm to our body. For the most part, that perspective is correct.

What scientists are learning, though, is that when we maintain that habit, such as working multiple eight-hour jobs, the lack of sleep really begins taking a toll on our body; not just in the obvious ways of always feeling tired and losing focus, either. A lack of sleep affects the mind, heart, endocrine system, and immune system in ways we don’t always perceive until it’s too late. The older we get, the more critical the need for sleep becomes and that part seems to make sense but even when we’re still young and allegedly unstoppable we’re still doing damage to our bodies.

For example, let’s say you’ve put in a long day at work. There was an important deadline and you stayed late, putting in an 18-hour day. You got the work done. You’re proud of yourself. Now you have to drive home. There’s just one problem, at roughly the 18-hour mark, your reaction time is about the same as a drunk person. The last place you need to be is behind the wheel of a car. (source) No matter how much coffee or protein you’ve ingested in an effort to keep yourself going, it’s not enough. Even worse, when we work those long hours we tend to not eat or drink much at all, so we’re likely to further handicap ourselves by being dehydrated and under-nourished. 

The longer you stay awake, the worse it gets. Say you’re on an intercontinental flight, for example, one of those 20+ hour flights from one end of the world to the other. While most people sleep a bit, some don’t. Then, when they get to their destination, there’s still the ride to the hotel, checking in, and maybe even a meeting or two before having a chance to get some rest. Once we cross that 24-hour mark, our brains quite literally go into panic mode. They essentially start shutting down services randomly. Memory and mathematical processing go first. Your brain starts taking mini-breaks, around 20 seconds at a time where it appears that you’re conscious but you’re not. Your brain shuts down and isn’t paying attention. People say things to you, and maybe you even respond, but later you’ll have no memory of the event at all. (source

Eventually, especially past the 35-hour mark, your brain is keeping you alive and that’s about it. The brain responds more to negative stimuli than positive and irrational behavior is the result. Beyond 48 hours, hallucinations can take place and one’s actions are no longer reliable (source).

Oh, but that’s not all. Your heart hates losing sleep. Not only does one’s blood pressure soar from lack of sleep, but just the loss of a single hour can also be lethal. The Monday after the Spring return to Daylight Savings Time, when we lose an hour, heart attacks jump 25% (source). Heart attacks actually drop by 21% when we return to standard time in the fall. We need our sleep and there’s no denying it.

All those guys running around on less than six hours of sleep a day? You’re really hurting yourself. Studies show that prolonged lack of sleep kills your testosterone production by 10-15% and that’s a huge amount. Add alcohol intake on top of that and you’re really doing yourself harm. Just one week of bad sleep is essentially aging you by one year. Do the math, lunkhead. You’re slowly killing yourself (source).

We’re not done. When you pull those 18-hour days, your body starts to build up pro-inflammatory proteins like IL-6, a blood marker associated with chronic health conditions and heart disease. Your immune system goes right into the toilet. In fact, research shows that just one night of bad sleep reduces the number of cells that fight off cancer and chronic disease by a whopping 70% and when prolonged becomes a certified carcinogen (source)(source). People who work overnight or third shift jobs are at especially high risk. Cancer rates among those working two full-time jobs are significantly higher even when they don’t smoke and eat well simply because they’re not getting enough sleep

In short, everything we do is reduced in effectiveness and efficiency when we don’t get enough sleep. We might think we’re being productive, but the quality of the work we’re doing is inferior. Our bodies need the rest and the toll it takes on us isn’t always recoverable. The longer we go without sufficient sleep, but more difficult it becomes to “recuperate” and restore our body. The dangers are real.

Light Complicates Our Sleeping Patterns

A little less light

While doing my research for this essay (some of you thought I pull this stuff out of my ass, didn’t you?), I came across an article Linda Geddes wrote about a month ago on Why Office Workers Can’t Sleep.  Geddes is one of those science journalists who doesn’t mind putting herself right smack in the middle of a testing environment in order to get a better perspective on the story. She did exactly that with the study on how light affects sleep and the results are interesting. 

Her initial premise is something we already knew, at least in part. Blue light is bad for your sleep patterns, especially in the evening. Who is exposed to more blue light late in the day than anyone? Office workers. The bigger the office, the more blue light one is likely to encounter and, by extension, the more difficult it may be to get to sleep at a reasonable time. It makes complete sense. We see the effects and have little trouble accepting the studies we didn’t want to read in the first place.

We also have no argument with the fact that small screens, such as our phones and tablets, damage our ability to sleep at night. We still don’t put them down any sooner, but more devices now how an amber filter option that turns on automatically as it begins to get dark around us. The question is how many people actually use the amber filters? There doesn’t seem to be a decent study that’s been made public at this point. My guess is, given a large number of articles reminding people that filters are an option, that the number isn’t as high as it needs to be.

Where Geddes’ article gets interesting, though, is in the “back to natural light” experiment she cites. She looks at a 2013 University of Boulder in Colorado study that sent eight people camping in the Rocky Mountains to study how being removed from artificial light changed their sleeping habits. The results for the initial study were that participants fell asleep 1.2 hours earlier by the end of the trip, but also woke up earlier. Okay, that’s interesting but no one’s actually getting more sleep.

What might be more important from that particular study was that participants’ bodies stopped producing melatonin before they woke up. Melatonin is the natural chemical in our bodies that helps us get to sleep. When melatonin production stops before we wake up, we’re more likely to be sharp and ready to go. However, when we’re constantly exposed to artificial light, melatonin production continues even after we wake up, giving us that groggy feeling enticing us to hit the snooze button 15 more times. 

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. The study was “recently” repeated in the winter. I know, who is crazy enough to volunteer to spend a week camping in the Rockies in the winter? My personal response is to question the sanity of the participants. The researcher involved went with them so perhaps someone wants to look into the sadomasochistic tendencies there. [Sort of kidding, sort of not.]

Participants in the winter study slept 2.3 hours longer than they normally would. However, the method of the study raises the question as to whether they went to be early because of the lack of light or in an effort to get warm? There’s also no answer to the question of whether they were allowed to “buddy-up” which would utilize the benefits of combined body heat, making sleep more comfortable, but depending on the “buddy” might also encourage other activities that would delay sleep. 

Not satisfied with the less-than imperial results she was seeing, Geddes tossed her entire family (husband and primary-school-aged children) into the experiment by having them all go without exposure to artificial light. There was understandably a period of adjustment and the necessity of working under some amount of ambient artificial light was inescapable. However, what she found was that by pushing herself outside during the day to be exposed to natural light (she did this experiment during the winter holidays) caused her melatonin production to kick in earlier when it naturally started getting dark. As with the Colorado study, she and her family found themselves going to bed and sleeping earlier. The effect was especially noticeable with the children.

Also worth noting, though, is the importance of bright light early in the morning. In all these studies as well as several others, exposure to bright light first thing in the morning helps reduce the “melatonin hangover” effect that keeps us reaching for the coffee pot all morning. There’s a balance to be achieved. Popping on a bright light as soon as we wake up in the morning might help us activate our day a bit more effectively and kicking all the lights off and using candlelight in the evening might make our sleep longer and more efficient at night.

There’s a ton of science behind these findings and there’s more coming. The effects of light on our sleep pattern as well as specific brain functions is a “hot topic” among scientists at the moment. As we’re heading into the natural darkness of the winter months, reaching over and flipping on a light (or a dozen) around 4:30 in the afternoon seems normal enough. But what if we lit candles instead? Could that reduction in electric consumption not only lower a bill or two but also make us healthier?

I have mixed feelings. We have cats and cats and candles don’t always work well with each other. I’m also not convinced that turning off the lights and the television so far before bedtime won’t cause our children to revolt. Yours might do better. Ours might threaten our lives.

What Deep Sleep Does For Us

What Sleep Does For Us

No one in their right mind is likely to argue against sleep. Well, okay, there are always those, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead folks,” but they’ll likely be dead soon anyway so we’re going to discount their insanity for the moment. Instead, I think it is perhaps a better use of our reading time to consider exactly what it is that deep sleep does for us and it can be summed up in one word: Clean.

No, it won’t clean the dishes (if only). What it does is scrub your brain. No, it won’t get rid of your porn or pony obsessions. The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) essentially flushes toxins from your brain during REM sleep. Things like oxygenated blood, which can be fatal, are either eliminated or broken down so that they’re removed from our brain system before we wake up.

This has huge implications for anyone concerned about degenerative brain disease, Alzheimer’s, or dementia. There’s a nasty little toxin called amyloid-Beta. Amyloid-Beta contributes significantly to Alzheimer’s. However, good deep sleep for prolonged periods clears amyloid-Beta from the brain. While it does not necessarily prevent dementia-related diseases, it does significantly reduce the occurrence of those illnesses, which is a good thing. [source]

We also know that deep sleep coordinates memory consolidation. This is extremely important if you, say, want to pass that test you were cramming for last night, or are trying to learn a new language, or are trying to remember the names of all the menu items at your third job because wages haven’t increased significantly in twenty years. This is one of the many reasons babies sleep as much as they do: they intake so much new information in such a short period of time that their brains need sleep in order to consolidate and package everything.

Granted, there is limited research that suggests genetics may be the reason some people seem to need less sleep than others (source) but that research has yet to take on the task of quantifying whether those with that DNA anomaly are processing everything in less time than the rest of us, or if their brains are only doing part of the work and leaving the rest, such as the CSF cleaning, undone. 

Oh, and here’s another thing: that sleeping late on the weekend thing? That’s not helping any at all. In fact, it’s knocking your sugar levels and a few other things completely out of whack (source). People with Diabetes, pre-Diabetes, or even a history of Diabetes in their family need to stick to a consistent sleep pattern as much as possible seven days a week.

Sleep is when our brains take over and do all the maintenance work that our bodies need to function. The release of hormones while we’re asleep promotes cell growth that allows muscles to grown and gives our body a chance to heal itself (source). Sleep also helps give our immune system a boost (source) so that we’re a little better protected against those idiots who fail to vaccinate their children.

What this all comes down to is that the harder one is on their body, and especially on the brain, the more serious a matter it becomes for us to get a sufficient amount of continuous sleep. This is a bit of a blow for people like me who keep telling themselves that while I may not be getting the full 8-10 hours at night, I’m making up for it with little naps during the day. Nope. While the naps certainly don’t hurt, they don’t make up for the time it takes for slow-wave sleep to do its thing. We might feel rested and have an energy boost after a nap, but we’re not giving our body time to heal, time to process memories, or flush toxins from our bodies. If we’re consistently not getting sufficient amounts of sleep then perhaps it’s time we consider consulting a professional. There may be physical issues interrupting your sleep that a threatening your health without you knowing it.

Wasting Time and Doing Nothing Doesn’t Hurt, Either

A little "me" time

Within all this talk about sleep, it doesn’t hurt to mention that our brains can use non-sleep breaks during the day as well. I could easily fill a couple of pages with sources that advocate taking walks during the day, going for a bike ride, or even looking out the window and daydreaming. There’s a precedent for all those activities and more. Not working yourself to death every waking hour of the day.

For example, as hyper-focused as he was, Charles Darwin only worked three 90-minute sessions each day. He engaged in other activities that stimulated his brain in creative ways but didn’t tax them to the degree that his work did (source). Additional research suggests that for people engaged in the most mentally intense professions, such as mathematics, four hours of work, broken up by periods of less intense, relaxing activities, is optimal. Anything more results in diminished results. 

There are also long-term benefits to things like taking extended vacations and meditation. It’s probably important to note here that the type of meditation practiced by those involved in the “Mindfulness” field is not the same as that employed by Buddhist and does not yield the same result. However, it still has proven to be helping in doing things like lowering blood pressure, lowered stress response, and improved immunity from disease. The longer and more practiced one is in meditating, the greater the benefits, but even a one week vacation has health benefits on a genetic level if one does not spend the entire time running from one activity to the other. For a vacation to work the way it should, one needs time to relax, rest, and not be under any severe time constraints (source).

Not many people have the luxury of a schedule that lets them take time for a nap after three hours of work. Perhaps they should. The number of studies supporting rest breaks and even the use of sleep pods or other accommodations at work is significant. A study by the National Research Council strongly supports midday or mid-shift napping as a way to address increasing demands for productivity. Where napping is not appropriate to the environment, however, significant breaks, much longer than the 15 minutes required by federal law, not only enhances productivity at work but keeps employees healthier, dramatically reducing the number of days lost to illness. Sidenote: paying a living wage and taking an invested interest in an employee’s living conditions also provides a huge jump in work productivity, but that’s another topic for another day.

The bottom line to all this research is that working oneself to death ultimately hurts whatever it is you’re trying to do. There is, as far as I can tell, no profession that is immune. Even fast-food workers, whose intelligence and effort are much maligned, need more satisfactory breaks than what they are given. We all do better when we’re well-rested and our brains are less distracted. Exactly how we get there is less important than getting there, but we all definitely need to find that sleep/work balance that is optimal for our bodies.

A Bedtime Story

A Bedtime Story

Before I close this off, I want to relate an early lesson that my father taught my brother and me when we were young.

My father was a Southern Baptist pastor for over 40 years before losing his eyesight. This was back in the days when being Southern Baptist did not necessarily mean being combative and narrow-minded on every topic. Poppa was quite the opposite; rather quiet, frequently contemplative, gentle and comforting in his tone, all things that made for a tremendous pastor though perhaps not always the most forceful when it came to delivering a homily on Sunday mornings. He pastored small, rural churches in Kansas in Oklahoma and over the years garnered a reputation for growing their Sunday morning attendance from less than 50 to well over 100. Perhaps not the most dramatic real numbers, but for a rural community whose entire county-wide population was less than 700, he did well.

In one congregation in Northeastern Oklahoma, there was a deacon in the church who I’ll refer to as Dean. I was a young child of only 11 when we moved to the community so I don’t remember all the details save the fact that Dean would fall asleep exactly three minutes into Poppa’s sermon. This happened every Sunday. If the morning’s service had run according to schedule, Poppa would start around 11:30 and do his best to finish promptly at 11:50 so that the service would be completed by noon. So, Dean’s wife, May, would poke him gently in the ribs around 11:48 so Dean would have time to recover before having to stand. 

Dean’s habit worked well except during either the Christmas or Easter season when he would be compelled to sing in the small choir for the Sundays leading up to the holiday. The choir generally consisted of four men who couldn’t read music at all, six altos who said they could read but rarely hit the same notes, and five sopranoes, one of whom was so boisterous as drown out the other three. They would sing just before Poppa’s sermon, which, I guess for biological reasons, delayed Dean’s usual nap. Again, most Sunday’s this wasn’t a big deal. The entire church knew that Dean napped during the sermon so the deacon sitting next to him would dutifully give him a poke at the designated time and Dean would wake in time, except when he didn’t. More than once, the choir would stand to sing the final hymn and Dean would still be sitting there, resting peacefully. It was difficult at times to not laugh aloud.

Then, one cold Sunday in December, two weeks before Christmas, the choir sang through their Christmas program (a week early because the children took over the following week) and there were still about 15 minutes of open time. The sanctuary was packed as it tended to be that time of year, so Poppa stood to deliver a few short words to the captive audience. Three minutes in, Dean fell asleep, but this time, instead of is head dipping forward, his chin on his chest as was normal, his head fell back. The soft thunk as his head hit the paneling was enough to cause Poppa to pause for a second but he quickly continued not wanting to draw any more attention than it already had. Then, two minutes later, the inevitable happened: Dean began to snore. Loudly.

I looked down the pew at my younger brother who was watching me as we both attempted to suppress our giggles. May was sitting next to our mother on the front row of the choir and their heads turned in unison as they realized what was happening. The deacon sitting next to him tried poking Dean but it didn’t work. He tried yet again to no avail.

The timing of what happened next is responsible for searing this memory in my mind. Poppa was still doing his best to continue, attempting to narrate the details around Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. He said something to the effect of, “And as they made that journey, I’m sure at some point Joseph turned to Mary and said …”

“Damnit, May, I’ll get to the chickens in a bit. This calf isn’t going to birth itself!” Dean interrupted at full volume. Apparently, the deacon had just delivered another sharp jab and coming out of a farm-related dream, Dean had responded to what his subconscious thought was his wife.

I don’t recall Poppa’s recovery line. I’m sure he said something but it’s questionable whether anyone heard him. There was no way to not laugh at Dean’s outburst. His face turned a deep crimson. May’s went ghost-white. The service was effectively over. A final song was sung, a prayer said, and everyone went their way completely forgetting the choir’s performance but for years remembering Dean.

When we got home, my brother and I were still laughing at Dean, as insensitive children sometimes do. My father waited until dinner was on the table, the blessing had been said, before he delivered an important lesson. He said, “Boys, I don’t want to hear you laughing at Dean anymore. I know what happened this morning was funny in your eyes, but I want you to think about Dean. He has a lot going on. He has five kids to take care of, he farms 500 acres, has 30 head of cattle, plus sheep, a couple of goats, and all those silly chickens running around the yard. He has to take care of all his tractors and combines and harvesters, plus his old pickup and May’s car, and he does all that when he’s not teaching science at school. Did you know he has to get up at 4:00 every morning so he can get all the animals fed before he goes to school? Did you know that after school he’s usually out in the barn or in the field until nine or ten at night? He and May haven’t had a vacation since their honeymoon, and that was only three days because their bull got sick. So, when Dean sits down at church on Sunday morning and falls asleep, it’s okay. Those few minutes in church is the only time all week when he can relax. God understands. I understand. I hope one day you’ll understand as well. We all need rest and if we can’t rest in the presence of God there’s no safe place left to rest at all. Remember that, and remember to call him Mr. Smith, not Dean. Be respectful.”

Getting enough rest is a struggle for almost everyone. One of the reasons we publish stories and articles on Sunday rather than during the week is the hope that one has the ability to approach them feeling relaxed, not stressed, so as to be open to the ideas and concepts we introduce or enjoy the stories we create. I’ve given up on even trying to write something short, so if you happen to fall asleep during an article, I’m not going to fault you for that, either. You need the rest.

We all need the rest. And now, it’s about time for my nap. Enjoy your day.

5 Things We Don't Need To Fear

As the end of the year approaches, we have to face the fact that annual bills are due and we’ve not been very aggressive in raising the money to pay for them. There are a couple of ways you can help. Old Man Talking merchandise is available if you’re the kind of person who feels they need something physical in return for their donation. There are a variety of choices here, so you should be able to take care of your holiday giving list. For those who don’t want the extra clutter, simply click the DONATE button at the top of the page. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it helps keep us solvent. Thank you.

No Fear

Not everything in this world should scare us. There are at least five things we know to be safe.

The whole month of October was one long Halloween celebration and there were plenty of things happening, both in and external to that celebration, that was frightening. Some things, such as investigations involving members of the federal government, or the climate crisis should be frightening. Many times, though, we are provoked into being afraid of things that present no harm at all. 

Okay, I typed that line and am thinking I may need to clarify a bit. They present no harm outside the fact some of them represent a change to a stodgy, narrow-minded, misogynistic status quo that has outstayed its welcome. As a society, we are often hard-pressed to change opinions that fall under the category of “that’s the way it’s always been” or “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” falls into that hard-headed category as well. 

My late father used to tell a well-worn story of a young bride who was cooking her first holiday ham. She bought the ham, set it in a roasting pan, and then pulled out her mother’s instructions for cooking the ham. The first thing on the list was “cut two inches off the butt portion of the ham.” That requirement struck the young woman as odd so she called her mother. 

“Why am I supposed to cut off the butt portion of the ham?” she asked. 

“I don’t know,” replied her mother. “That’s the way my mom taught me to cook them. You’d have to ask Grandma.”

The young woman hadn’t talked with her grandmother in a few days so she thought it was a good excuse to call her and see how she was doing. In the course of the conversation, she asked, “Grandma, why do you cut the butt portion off the ham before you cook it?”

Her grandmother thought for a moment and then answered, “I’m not really sure, dear. That’s just the way my mom taught me to cook and I never thought to question it. You’d have to ask her.”

Now, great-grandmother was well-past 90 years old and her memory wasn’t always on point, especially when talking over the phone. So, the young woman decided she had time to pay her great-grandmother a quick visit. She drove over to the assisted living facility and in the course of conversation asked, “Great-grandma, why did you always cut the butt portion off a ham before you cooked it.”

The older woman took her great-granddaughter’s hand and said, “When I was your age, I only had one roasting pan and it was too small for the ham your great-grandfather would bring home. So, I had to cut two inches off the butt portion for the rest of the ham to fit. That’s all.”

As a society, we get stuck in those same habits and when that well-worn status quo begins to change we get unreasonably frightened not because the change is threatening but simply because it’s different than we’ve experienced before. We aren’t sure what to expect or what the outcome might be. If someone else is afraid of something, maybe we should be afraid also.

Making matters worse, the Internet is a wonderful place for spreading stories and there’s little to fact-check whether those stories are true, especially when they’re told as personal experiences. Who can challenge the authenticity of a personal experience? “You weren’t there, you don’t know!” 

We know that change is going to happen but we fear change that may not work out in our favor. We want change to be good for us, bring us more money, flying cars, self-tying shoes, and instant commutes. What we don’t want are changes that cause us to question ourselves and our motives, we don’t want change that upsets the way we’ve always done things. As a result, we’ve harbored a lot of fear. Why? It’s easier to keep cutting off the butt end of the ham rather than buying a new pan. 

What we’ve done this week is found five things that seem to invoke a lot of fear for reasons I personally find unreasonable. Those things are 1. Autistic children, 2. Women in power, 3. Using gender-neutral language, 4. Democratic socialism, and 5. Poor people. I’ve observed absolute hysteria around all five and find the fear completely irrational yet, for some reason, self-perpetuating. They are all things that, collectively, we need to move past and embrace. If you’re already cool with all five, good for you! Chances are, though, you know someone who isn’t, so perhaps you’ll share this article with them. Let’s get started.

Fear of Autistic Children

Autistic Children

I am increasingly angered by all the ignorant and uninformed vitriol aimed at autistic children, as though autism is a life-threatening and disabling disease that threatens to kill all our offspring and bring about an end to the human race. It isn’t. Neither is autism contagious. One doesn’t become autistic after being inoculated against another disease nor hanging around autistic children on the playground. None of those things are true and people who continue to spread those lies need to be corrected and their ignorance publicly addressed.

First, let’s define what Autism actually is. Autism Spectrum Disorder is “a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. (autismspeaks.org)” By being a spectrum disorder, children can exhibit challenges in different areas while not having a problem in others. We often refer to children as “high functioning” or “low functioning” but those are really misnomers related to how well a child adapts to social situations. Some autistic children are non-verbal but there are others who can’t stop talking, often repeating words or phrases several times. The experience and challenges are different for everyone.

The Center for Disease Control estimated in 2018 that 1 in 59 children are autistic but then came back in April of this year and stated that new study factors show autism is “more prevalent than indicated by the latest 1 in 59 CDC estimate.” Part of the reason for that change is that children are often not being diagnosed with ASD until they are 8 years old or older. Remember, autism isn’t something you “catch.” One of the challenges is that the more obvious challenges aren’t noticed until a child is older and more frequently in socially-challenging environments. 

What causes autism? A number of things can contribute to a child having autism, and often the condition is genetic, especially related to gene changes. Having older parents (either or both) increases the risk of autism. Pregnancies spaced less than one year apart also increases the risk. The risks are mitigated to some extent by taking prenatal vitamins with folic acid before and all the way through pregnancy, but that is not always enough to counter genetic predisposition.

What doesn’t cause autism? Anything that happens after a child is born. While autistic symptoms can often be slow in presenting themselves, it is something with which one is born. One cannot get it through vaccinations nor any other external or environmental situation that may occur after a child is born. Because autism isn’t something that presents itself immediately, it may appear anecdotally to be “caused” by an external event. This is why one sees so many stories claiming that their child was “just fine” until they were vaccinated or were in a daycare with autistic children. There’s no specific set of triggers for autistic behavior because the experience is largely individual. So, to the unsuspecting parent, it can appear that a certain event might have caused the disease, but the fact is that the disease is always present from birth.

So why do we fear autism so much? Why is it that some people would rather place their children in real danger of contracting a disease such as measles and chickenpox, which can kill their child, than have a child with autism? Why do some parents think that having an autistic child is a horrible thing?

I’ve checked all the literature I can find and there is no justifiable reason other than ignorance of the disease and perhaps, for some, a bit of laziness. As the parent of three children with ASD, I understand that they can at times be exhausting and sometimes requires us to be on our toes in social situations. But then, the children who are not ASD are just as exhausting and just as worrisome. If anything, knowing the social triggers of a child with ASD helps us be better parents. We know what to expect, what to avoid, and how to respond when things happen. 

The reality? Autistic kids are awesome! They tend to be extremely intelligent and often highly focused. They think differently which leads them to solutions no one else would have found. Many are determined when they start a task and are detailed-oriented enough to do something well once they get started. Many grow to be successful adults who are fully aware of their challenges and how to address them. They are wonderful people who can do amazing things.

Applied Behavior Analysis has an appropriately helpful article, “5 Things We Could All Stand to Learn from People With ASD.” I encourage reading the entire article, but in summary, those five things are:

  1. Honesty
  2. Fearlessness
  3. Quietude
  4. Solitude
  5. Routine

We’re slowly figuring out that what at first appeared to be the idiosyncrasies of autism are characteristics that may improve the quality of life for some people, especially when it comes to noise.

I find it interesting that just last week Oxford University’s student council voted to ban clapping at on-campus events. While the move has received considerable backlash from ignorant people who mistakenly assume that the student council is appeasing “snowflakes,” it is a fantastic gesture toward a number of both autistic and hearing-impaired students, neither of which are “snowflakes” by any stretch of the imagination. Oxford’s student council recognizes what many others don’t: people with autism are wonderful. There’s no reason to fear being around them, and there’s no reason to fear being the lucky parent of one.

Fearing Women In Power

Women In Power

Let’s be honest upfront: I don’t have nearly enough space here to fully discuss the why, how, or when related to fearing women in power. This is a huge topic whose history, arguably, goes all the way back to the mythical garden of Eden when Eve is unjustly blamed for the fall of humanity. We’ve been embedded with patriarchy through over 6,000 years of social development and the fear of overturning that system of power runs incredibly deep.

Our fear of women in power is strong; it is a large part of the reason the United States has yet to have a female president, why so few Fortune 500 companies have women as CEOs, and a significant part of the reason for the gender pay gap. And while it’s tempting to say that only men have this problem, we see plenty of women who harbor the fears as well. “Feminism” is such a negative word in many portions of society that many prominent women refuse to identify themselves as such for fear of the backlash.

When singer Katy Perry accepted the Billboard Woman of the Year award in 2012, she said, “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” 

The former first lady of France Carla Bruni-Sarkozy famously said, “I’m not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I’m a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day … We don’t need to be feminist in my generation.”

As a male person who was 1) raised by a strong mother, and 2) works 90 percent of the time with women, I fail to understand why so many in our society are afraid of women except for the most obvious reason: many men don’t want to lose the power and privilege they’ve given themselves and many women don’t want to upset the status quo (wow, that was a long sentence). I find those two excuses old, worn, useless, and boring. I’ve been hearing them all my life and find no merit, weight, or substance to those arguments. 

Let’s take a moment, please, to knock down some of the most frequent and idiotic contentions for women being in places of power.

“Women are the weaker sex.” Really? Have you ever tried pushing out a living being the size and weight of a bowling ball? Women themselves have proven this old trope false over and over. Furthermore, researchers at Duke University published a report proving scientifically that women are stronger and more resilient and better able to survive a catastrophe. Claiming that women are weaker is essentially declaring yourself to be an ignorant asshat.

“God says … “ Stop. There are multiple problems with anything claiming any kind of religious authority. First, religions, all of them, are belief systems and should never be taken as absolute law anywhere in any country for any reason. Doing so excludes and misrepresents anyone outside the dominant belief system, making the system inherently unjust. Second, God doesn’t say. Patriarchal inferences that have been preached from pulpits since 200 ADE are a mixture of mistranslation and misogyny. God doesn’t put women on the sideline. Third, religion is personal, not corporate. Just as religion doesn’t belong in government, it doesn’t belong in business, either, unless the business is in direct support of the religion (which is a bit suspect). Keep your religious beliefs in your pocket.

“Women want too much, they’re just being greedy,” says the people who have manipulated the system consistently in their favor across multiple millennia. Women aren’t being greedy, they’re simply wanting what they deserve: a fair share and a level playing field. Patriarchal practices that give preferences to men in hiring and advancement opportunities have to go completely away. Biased rules that keep women from competing directly with men need to be struck down. I am quite certain that the majority of men have no idea how much the system is totally skewed in their favor, even to the point that men’s clothes, toiletries, and haircuts are priced preferentially. Women getting the exact same advantages isn’t being greedy, it’s being fair, and goes double for people of color and triple for indigenous peoples.

“Historically, it’s always been the men … “ Shut the fuck up. The perception that the Western World has moved forward solely on the wit and intellect of men comes from books written by those same men who intentionally excluded women so they wouldn’t have to admit they’re not as bright as they want us to think. In fact, let’s pause this list to make a sublist. Here are a few women who outdid the men:

  • Sappho, who is overshadowed by Homer in founding Western literature. Homer was epic but Sappho understood the power of emotion and her verse flows much better.
  • Sacajawea, who carried a baby on her back traveling by foot over a thousand miles so that two self-aggrandizing explorers (Lewis & Clark) wouldn’t get lost and never heard from again. They owe her everything.
  • Marie Curie, who not only won the Nobel Prize (which is slanted to favor men) but did more for science than any combined dozen of her contemporaries.
  • Billie Holiday, who was to music what Marie Curie was to science, only she didn’t get the award. Her influence is unparalleled.
  • Ada Lovelace, generally considered the first computer programmer. She had to slow down to allow the boys to keep up.
  • Florence Nightingale changed all of medicine, not just what happens on the battlefield. The men in medicine “couldn’t be bothered” so she showed them how it should be done. Doctors still haven’t forgiven her for showing them up.
  • Boudica (c 63 ADE) led a Celtic army of over 100,000 and kicked the Romans out of Britain. She scared the fuck out of Nero and he wouldn’t even try going back.
  • Grace Hopper, the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard, she developed the COBOL computer language utilized in countless mainframe applications, such as the one that allows your check to be directly deposited into your account.
  • Lisa Meitner was the Austrian physicist you can thank for everything nuclear. Splitting the atom wouldn’t have been possible without her work.
  • Marie Van Brittan Brown was a woman of color who invented closed-circuit television as a way of fighting police negligence in her neighborhood.
  • Belah Louise Henry invented over 100 objects including the bobbin-free sewing machine and a vacuum ice cream freezer.

If you haven’t figured out by now, this list could reasonably go on for thousands and thousands of pages. The oldest poetry recorded was a song by the prophetess, Deborah, dating back to 1200 BCE. Women have always been there, taking the lead, picking up the slack, and not getting the credit for the amazing things they did. 

Women in places of power are only a threat to men who are afraid to lose theirs because they know their positions come not from earning them but from favor and preference and privilege. Get out of the way and let this progress happen. The world will be a better place for it.

For those who want more detailed information on this topic, let me suggest the following books:

Women in Power: A Manifesto, Beard, Mary; 12 December 17; Liveright, 128 pages

The Power, Alderman, Naomi; 10 October 2017; Little, Brown and Company, 400 pages

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, Traister, Rebecca; 2 October 2018; Simon & Schuster, 320 pages

No Excuses: Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, Feldt, Gloria, 28 September 2010; Seal Press, 384 pages

Fear of Gender-Neutral Language

Using Gender-Neutral Language

I’ll admit that this one is a relatively new fear based upon the comparative speed with which public awareness of gender non-binary and trans people has appeared in popular culture. This is also one of the most frequent issues we deal with in our own household now that Kat has come out as being non-binary. They frequently wear a pin at the salon that says “they/them” so clients who pay attention have a clue, but even one of their bosses, who is supportive, admits they don’t always “get it.”

So that we’re all on the same page, let’s start with a definition. Merriam-Webster defines the term simply as “not referring to either sex but only to people in general.” The definition isn’t the most helpful given that it doesn’t provide any direct examples, but it does get straight to the point. Gender-specific terms are no longer acceptable in a variety of places because their use limits the perspective, scope, and opportunity not only for non-binary and trans people but everyone who doesn’t want to be judged or limited by their gender.

If you’re not already encountering gender-neutral language (and you probably are but may not recognize it), it’s going to become increasingly common. The APA, MLA, and Chicago manuals of style all recognize gender-neutral language as standard, not the exception, as does the United Nations and the European Parliament. Some gender-neutral language has started popping up in newscasts, especially from socially-sensitive sources such as NPR, but they’re still not using gender-neutral pronouns as the default.

A large part of the fear and confusion around using gender-neutral language comes from the fact that not everyone wants to identify in a gender-neutral way. There are times, especially in conversations related to the children, that Kat still uses she/her. That is an exception they have invoked but creates confusion for some people.

Others are afraid of trying and “getting it wrong.” They don’t want to embarrass someone who is a friend but at the same time, they don’t want to embarrass themselves, either. Relax, most of the people directly affected by gendered language understand that the adoption of a different way of speaking takes time and effort. I still make mistakes when talking to Kat and she typically smiles and corrects me and we move on with the conversation. No big deal. Now, if someone is writing an article that’s going to be read by millions of people, by all means, have someone who is more sensitive to the language proofread that thing before you publish, but in general conversation stressing over every word is more likely to make the situation worse, or at least more awkward.

For those who are still unsure, there are a handful of resources worth bookmarking so you can review prior to walking into what may be a language-sensitive situation. The Harvard Extension School for Professional Development has this guide to Inclusive Language In Four Easy Steps. “Easy” may be a bit presumptive but the article is a convenient reminder. Fairygodboss also has a Go-To Pocket-Dictionary for gender-neutral terms and pronouns but be aware that one has to sign up for an account before accessing the material, a practice that I find a bit sketchy.

Alternatively, Suzannah Weiss wrote an article for Bustle a couple of years ago that I find helpful. 7 Gender-Neutral Terms We Should All Be Using gets to the heart of the language we use most often. Without copy/pasting the entire article, here are the essentials:

  1. They. No, it’s not plural. It’s been used to refer to a single entity since the 14th century. You can do this.
  2. Mx. Use instead of Ms. Miss, Mrs. or Mr. It’s easier written than spoken, but you get the point.
  3. Humankind instead of mankind. Humanity or people also work depending on the situation.
  4. Partner or Significant Other. Personally, I refer to Kat as my partner. Significant Other feels dismissive but that may just be me.
  5. First-Year Student instead of Freshman. Personally, I’d like to see that classification carried through graduate school. Tenth-year student, anyone? Besides, it makes one feel as though they study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and that’s cool on its own merit.
  6. Artificial, synthetic or machine-made as an alternative to man-made. This one can get a bit sticky as hand-made or person-made may be the more correct term in some instances. Context is your key here.
  7. Parent, sibling, and child in situations where referring to family members. Some sources refer to the terms Grandy (for grandparent) and Kiddo (for offspring) but Grandy reminds me of a Nashville-based restaurant chain and Kiddo strikes me as flippant so be careful with those.

The fear of gender-neutral language is simply a matter of custom. Children in today’s schools have much less difficulty with making the switch because more teachers are using gender-neutral language in school. Media outlets are making the switch so we’ll be hearing and reading those terms more frequently which helps alleviate the fears. Listen, watch, and it will all be okay. No need to be afraid.

Fear of Democratic Socialism

Democratic Socialism

In these politically-sensitive times, almost every label carries some negative and partisan angst to it but nothing seems to stir the fear more than the term Democratic Socialism. Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both self-identify under this banner and that scares the living daylights out of a lot of people. So much so, that the president routinely stokes those fears by intentionally misdefining it in his campaign speeches. 

Let’s get this straight once and for all, DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM IS NOT PURE SOCIALISM. And even then, socialism probably isn’t what you think it is. Let’s start with a textbook definition of the term. Merriam-Webster drops back to the term Social Democracy which it defines as “a democratic welfare state that incorporates both capitalist and socialist practices.” That definition stems from the terms initial usage in 1848, however, and as such I’m not convinced that the “welfare state” portion of that term applies. I prefer the definition offered by  Mark A. Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science, and law at UCLA, who defines Democratic socialism is “a call for the democratically-elected to use the public sector to promote greater equality and opportunity.” [source]

Still, the definition is loaded with fear because it espouses something other than pure capitalism, which every child since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has been taught as the only way to provide equality and fair play for everyone. What they should have been taught is that capitalism provides an artificial sense of equality and fair play for white, privileged people who are predominantly male. The fact of an ever-widening wage gap is sufficient evidence that pure capitalism fosters greed and wealth hoarding. 

Yet, we’ve seen situations proving that pure socialism doesn’t work well either. China is our most visible example of how government control over business leads to inherent corruption and unchecked authoritarianism. Corruption leads to favoritism and authoritarianism prevents people from being able to appropriately respond to injustices caused by corruption. While the system as applied in many countries does a good job of making sure everyone has a base wage, moving beyond that base is difficult and the inability to respond to corruption guarantees that the elite maintains the wealth, as it does with capitalism. 

Both systems are far from ideal, both have their vocal champions, and both leave millions of people in poverty, which is a problem. Social Democracy aims to address those shortcomings by blending the better aspects of both systems.

What’s the difference? To some degree, the answer depends on who has been asked the question. There is no definitive single source that I’ve found, so let me see if I can lay it out in the following chart.

SocialismDemocratic Socialism
The government maintains control over most everything with very little private ownership.Private ownership is still the rule but government regulation makes sure corporations don’t put profit ahead of more important issues.
Government-controlled corporations retain the majority of power. Power resides primarily in the working class 
People serve the corporations/government.Corporations/government serve the people.
Wealth remains the domain of the elite.Wealth is distributed fairly across the working class.
Money corruptly influences government decisions.Money is removed from governmental influence.
Social programs funded through exceptionally high taxes on everyone.Social programs primarily funded through taxes on corporations and the wealthy with average workers contributing at a modest level.

What Democratic Socialism fundamentally aims to address is the lack of control working-class citizens have over their economy, their government, their healthcare, their education, and their environment. It is progressively oriented toward what benefits the average consumer rather than a handful of shareholders.

What is important to remember, however, is that any political movement, no matter how well-intentioned, is only as good as the people involved. Corruption can and will take over any system where it can get a foothold. Our country’s founders recognized that potential and allowed for those most corrupt to be rooted out of government without significant defense through impeachment and recall elections. Those methods are not witchhunts nor are they undemocratic. They are necessary and should probably be used with greater fervor in order to weed out the persistent corruption that seems to have taken over the electoral system. 

Democratic Socialism is nothing to fear unless one is part of the 0.01 percent who owns the 88% of all wealth in the United States. For everyone else, the movement holds the potential for an improved economy and a more responsive government.

What we should fear are those who don’t vote or participate at all. That is where the real evil lies.

Poor People

Poor People

The topic of poverty is making its way onto the political charts as one of the issues likely to become a major talking point during next year’s presidential election. Economics is always one of the top factors in a presidential election but this time around, the president’s inevitable boasts about having “the best economy ever” are going to be met with some hard facts he’s not going to like.

Just last year, the U.N. Human Rights Council published a report on extreme poverty and human rights in the United States that made some painful points:

  • There are 40 million people here who live in poverty, while 18.5 million live in extreme poverty and 5.3 million are in Third World conditions.
  • Out of the OECD, the States have the highest youth poverty rates.
  • Citizens are sicker and live shorter lives than in other well-off democracies.
  • The U.S. has the highest rate of income inequality in the West.
  • People frequently talk of poverty in “caricatured narratives” and racial stereotypes.

The administration says talk like that overlooks the good they’re doing, pointing to low unemployment number and a continued rise in GDP. However, Foreign Policy was quick to point out that the administration had faked its numbers. Not a big surprise for this presidency, but one that results in millions of people not being eligible for the economic assistance they need to survive.

What’s more, millions of Americans actually support the administration’s actions on poverty, especially the recalculation of who they consider “poor.” 

As a society, we don’t like talking about poverty. We don’t want to see poor people on the street, we avoid driving through poverty-stricken parts of town, we don’t eat in places where poor people are likely to be present, and while some enjoy touting how much they help the poor through their charitable giving, we don’t want them getting persistent aid such as food stamps or cash assistance from the government. 

We don’t even want to go to church with poor people. One long-term study from the Quarterly Journal of Economics shows that as churches become more competitive, something that started with the Reformation in 1517, their economic priorities changed. Church buildings needed to be bigger and more ornate. Sermons needed to be more eloquent and pastors needed to use more popular jargon. Worship services relied more on entertainment content than theological accuracy. Helping the poor became something a church does “for the community” because the people they are helping aren’t welcome or comfortable inside the sanctuary.

We, as a society, are afraid of poor people. There’s even a word for it: Aporophobia. Spanish philosopher Adela Cortina is credited with coining the word. She explains that a large part of what fuels our xenophobia and racism toward others is actually a fear of their poverty. This especially occurs in our attitudes toward migrants and refugees. We don’t mind that people come from other countries, we mind that they’re poor, an attitude reflected in the government’s recent changes for visa qualifications.

This isn’t a new condition. Looking through dozens of historical references, I can find quotes about people fearing poverty well back into the 11th and 12th centuries. One of the most poignant, though, comes from Robert Walser’s 1907 book, The Tanners. In it, he writes:

“How reprehensible it is when those blessed with commodities insist on ignoring the poor. Better to torment them, force them into indentured servitude, inflict compulsion and blows—this at least produces a connection, fury and a pounding heart, and these too constitute a form of relationship. But to cower in elegant homes behind golden garden gates, fearful lest the breath of warm humankind touch you, unable to indulge in extravagances for fear they might be glimpsed by the embittered oppressed, to oppress and yet lack the courage to show yourself as an oppressor, even to fear the ones you are oppressing, feeling ill at ease in your own wealth and begrudging others their ease, to resort to disagreeable weapons that require neither true audacity nor manly courage, to have money, but only money, without splendor: That’s what things look like in our cities at present”

Our fear of poor people is long-standing and ridiculous and without any merit whatsoever. We know this, and yet we continue to perpetuate the attitude. By relegating poverty assistance to something we expect charitable organizations to handle, we shove the topic out the back door, having satisfied our conscience that by giving to a charity we have absolved ourselves of needing to do anything further when, in fact, we are abdicating our responsibility to actually help people.

We’ve even demonized being poor. Writer and activist Shane Claiborne says of poverty,

When people begin moving beyond charity and toward justice and solidarity with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did, they get in trouble. Once we are actually friends with the folks in struggle, we start to ask why people are poor, which is never as popular as giving to charity. One of my friends has a shirt marked with the words of late Catholic bishop Dom Helder Camara: “When I fed the hungry, they called me a saint. When I asked why people are hungry, they called me a communist.” Charity wins awards and applause but joining the poor gets you killed. People do not get crucified for living out of love that disrupts the social order that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them.”

Feeling guilty yet? You probably should be. We all are. I have found it repeatedly true that even poor people don’t like associating with other poor people. Other poor people aren’t likely to help one escape their own poverty. Instead, there’s an odd “I’m worse off than you” contest that often develops as competition for limited charitable resources often determines whether the power stays on or the quality of food on the table.

Societies have struggled with their fear of the poor for centuries so I’m not foolish enough to believe that just saying “we need to change,” is going to result in any significant difference. However, let me leave you with five ways you can make a difference.

  1. Remember that poor people don’t always look poor. Many people who dress nicely in public struggle to have anything to eat when they go home at night. Many poor people work multiple jobs. Being poor isn’t necessarily the absence of money, it’s the absence of enough to cover life’s basic needs.
  2. If you decide to help someone in need, do it in a subtle manner that does not create undue attention. That selfie you take congratulating yourself on your generosity is embarrassing for them.
  3. Don’t judge someone when they finally get a chance to do something nice, like go to a decent restaurant or a concert. You have no idea how long they had to save, or who might have helped make that moment possible. 
  4. Avoid using phrases like, “It’s doesn’t cost that much,” or “Who doesn’t have $10 for …” What seems inexpensive to you may represent the cost of a week’s groceries for someone else.
  5. Be the friend who’s willing to stay home rather than insisting on going out. Even going for coffee is too much for a lot of people. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation for once.
All We Have To Fear

All We Have To Fear

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his first inaugural speech in 1932, the situation across the United States was dire. The stock market had gone bust, many people lost everything they had, the economic gap between the very rich and the very poor was almost as immense as it is now. Fascism was raising its ugly head across Europe. Prohibition had resulted in a new wave of organized crime. Unemployment was high across the Midwestern states, causing many people to move West in search of farm jobs. The picture was about as bleak as bleak can get.

Against that backdrop is when Roosevelt made his famous statement (which may have been an unattributed quote), “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” People took that to heart, fought through their fears, took on the Fascists, paid higher taxes for the good of everyone, and by the time FDR died, we were the most prosperous country in the world. 

We can get there again, but to do so we have to shelve not only these five fears but others such as fearing LGBTQ+ people, fearing immigrants, fearing people who don’t speak English, fearing science and education, fearing radically new ideas, fearing youth, fearing aging, fearing risk, and fearing letting go.

How do we overcome those fears? There are a lot of articles and blogs with a lot of advice, but I think Phil and Barry at The Tools put it most concisely.

  1. Accept it
  2. Identify it
  3. Feel it
  4. Face it
  5. Practice it

I might add one more thing: Stop listening to those who peddle fear, especially those in positions of power or authority. A political campaign based on fear-mongering is only going to generate more fear in office.  A pulpit whose message preaches fear is incapable of spreading love. A teacher who peddles in fear gives the wrong lesson. Media that force-feeds fear makes us weak and uninformed.

We have no reason to be afraid of these things. Instead, our determination should be based on the late Gene Roddenberry’s mission for Star Trek’s Enterprise: To boldly go where no version of yourself has gone before. We CAN overcome these fears. We CAN find new courage to do things differently. 

We CAN cook the entire ham in one pan.

There’s no need to fear. Go out and be better.

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Climate Change Requires A Radical Response

Rhetoric is irrelevant; climate change now threatens everything, eliminating the opportunity for a measured response.

Note: I realize that since we’ve spent 20 weeks with the novel there haven’t been a large number of links in what we’ve written. Our links are not underlined or colored, they’re bold italic. When you see anything in that format, click it for more information.

Not that anyone will. Our click rate is something like 0.001 percent. Either you trust me too much or you don’t care. This is part of the problem. We all need to click those links.

Eagle Creek State Park Ooze

Didn’t We Already Talk About This?

Driving across town recently, I found myself increasingly frustrated by how quickly the needle was descending on my gas gauge. Traffic was horrid, people were weaving in and out of lanes with little regard for safety, and I was late. In conditions such as these, I find myself thinking that there has to be a better way. We’re on the cusp of 2020, after all. All the 20th-century science fiction promised us something better by now. Why aren’t we there?

Then, a sports car passes doing nothing short of 90 miles per hour, black smoke belching from the exhaust, swerving dangerously through traffic, at times crossing four lanes and then back, cutting off a semi whose driver then had to brake hard to prevent a significant accident. Words similar to “fucking idiot” came out of my mouth. This happens far too often and it always surprises me at how many people I see driving like this. I’m both angry and disappointed.

Seven minutes later (yes, I checked), I’m sitting at a stoplight, look over at the car on my left and guess what: it’s the same speeding dude who had passed earlier. All that noise, pollution, and danger at high speed and it had gotten him to the same place at the same time as I had gotten driving slower. I looked at him and glared, hoping maybe he’d look my direction. He didn’t. The light changed and he left a trail of rubber as he sped off.

As I watch his trail of pollution disappear in front of me (for the distance of two more stoplights where I’m in front of him this time), it occurs to me that drivers like him are the reason we don’t have flying cars. People drive badly enough on the ground. Can you imagine the chaos and disaster that would occur if we allowed them to take flight? Getting people into autonomous cars is likely to be one of the greatest life-saving events in vehicular history.

What bothers me more, though, is that it’s almost the end of another decade and as I’m driving across this midsized midwestern city I can see a blue/pink haze hovering around the city’s skyline. This is mid-October. We don’t have the extreme heat to blame for creating an “ozone action day.” There are no longer big factories downtown belching black smoke into the sky. The horizon should be clear, but it’s not. Once again, I’m prompted to ask why this is happening.

There’s little question that people are what’s happening. This haze is caused by too many vehicles with bad exhaust, people still mowing their lawns, burning leaves in the backyard, greasy exhaust from commercial kitchens filtering into the air catching dust and other particles, and other seemingly casual elements of life that all add up to creating an environment that not only is bad for our own lungs but is destroying the planet as well.

We hear a lot about climate change and global warming today as a political issue more than a scientific matter because the world is at a tipping point. If we don’t initiate significant change quickly, the effects could become irreversible within the next 30 years. After that point, if we’ve not significantly reduced CO2 emissions, the planet starts fast-tracking its way toward being uninhabitable and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

What bothers me most is not the ridiculous denial on the part of short-sighted people with a lot of money and power, but the fact that we’ve been aware of the problem for almost two hundred years and have done next to nothing to stop it. Seriously. This is so not a new issue that had we responded appropriately at the first alarm, a half dozen generations could have been raised never knowing there was a problem. Science writer Simon Weart compiled this short history of how our knowledge of climate change has developed.

  • 1824 – Joseph Fourier discovered the greenhouse effect.
  • 1859 – John Tyndall discovered that H2O and CO2 absorb infrared confirming the Fourier greenhouse effect.
  • 1896 – Svante Arrhenius proposed human CO2 emissions would prevent earth from entering next ice age (challenged 1906).
  • 1950’s Guy Callendar found H2O and CO2 did not overlap all spectra bands, therefore warming from CO2 expected (countered the 1906 objections against Arrhenius).
  • 1955 – Hans Suess identified the isotopic signature of industrial based CO2 emissions.
  • 1956 – Gilbert Plass calculated adding CO2 would significantly change radiation balance.
  • 1957 – Revelle/Suess suggested oceans would absorb less CO2 causing more global warming than predicted.
  • 1958/60’s – Charles David Keeling proved CO2 was increasing in the atmosphere.
  • 70’s/80’s Suke Manabe and James Hansen began modeling climate projections.
  • Current: NCAR, GISS, Hadley, CRU, RSS TLT, UAH, MSU, Glacier Melt, Sea Level Rise, Latitudinal Shift all confirm models.

Mind you, that’s the short version. Weart offers a little more depth in his book, The Discovery Of Global Warming. The amount of science supporting and providing evidence of this cataclysmic problem is ponderous. So, why the hell are we so incredibly slow to do anything about such an obvious problem? The answer lies within the foundations of human character in the 21st century: We are lazy and we are cheap.

Numerous solutions have been available between 1824 and now. We’ve had plenty of opportunities to avoid this last-minute panic. Yet, we are a society that celebrates a culture of procrastination, starting in school when we wait until the last minute to finish a project or cram for a test, and not buying anything that isn’t on sale for less than it costs to produce. As a result, we have simultaneously eroded not only the environment but the retail economy as well.

Because of our procrastination, we have reached a level of emergency where the solutions still available to us are going to require billions, perhaps trillions, more dollars and an even greater, more drastic change to our lifestyle and cultures than could ever be considered comfortable. If we are going to survive, however, we have no choice. We have to be willing to make sacrifices and piss off people in power in order to actually get something done, even if it means working outside the permission and purveyance of governments. As a society, we can no longer wait for governments to lead the way. We must go around them, or over them, in order to maintain human viability on this planet. Hold on tight, this is going to get ugly.

The Truth Is More Radical Than We Realized

Eagle Creek Park Oil Slick

When former Vice President Al Gore presented the concept of severe climate change under the banner of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, he did so with the deft touch of an experienced politician: He played it soft. He knew far too well that Americans wouldn’t be able to handle the enormity and seriousness of the problem had he gone full-tilt with all the alarming facts available to him. Even soft balling it, he was still called a radical and a fear-monger by just about everyone in any position of power. What Americans didn’t see is that Mr. Gore’s actions scared the living shit out of those who control the money and, by extension, the economy of the United States. He presented to them a problem whose only solution required an extensive overhaul of investments, one that would produce less return and therefore less profit. Theoretically, they could have embraced their role and responsibility and, if so, we probably wouldn’t be having the conversation we are now. Instead, they got mad, painted Mr. Gore as a liar and radical leftist (as though there’s anything wrong with being a radical leftist), and invested hard-core into climate change denial.

The other challenge standing in the way of easy acceptance of the severity of climate change is the fact that all the genuinely informative and factual studies are written in academic science language, something the average person doesn’t understand, doesn’t see the importance in understanding, and therefore holds the summaries suspect because they don’t understand a damn thing the paper just said. Let me try and help you out there a bit.

Last year (2018), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report on Global Warming of 1.5℃. Right there, in the title, they lost the vast majority of Americans who might, depending on their age, have been taught in school how to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit (hint: you multiply the Celsius temperature by 1.8, then add 32). If we’re going to get alarmed over what seems to be a relatively low amount, we need to understand what that increase means. 

For example, in 1980, the mean temperature for the planet was around 57℉. By 2015, that had risen to 61℉ and that’s when we saw scientists begin to scream, “Oh shit!” and start throwing major conferences on just how severe the problem has become. If we take the 2015 number and even add one full degree (which is where we were this past summer), the conditions become rather worrisome.

Why get so upset over one degree? Because it only takes as little as five degrees difference to take the planet from nice, reasonably livable conditions to being buried under thousands of feet of snow or, if it goes the other direction, a complete desert with no surface water available anywhere.

Spinning your little head a bit? I know, on the surface it doesn’t appear to make sense because we see more than five degrees fluctuation in a single day, especially this time of year. In the Midwestern United States, it’s not the least bit unusual for some days to see a thirty-degree shift between morning and evening temperatures. If we can endure that with no problem, how is complete devastation possible because of only five degrees?

Our friends at the NASA Global Observatory explain it like this:

The global temperature record represents an average over the entire surface of the planet. The temperatures we experience locally and in short periods can fluctuate significantly due to predictable cyclical events (night and day, summer and winter) and hard-to-predict wind and precipitation patterns. But the global temperature mainly depends on how much energy the planet receives from the Sun and how much it radiates back into space—quantities that change very little. The amount of energy radiated by the Earth depends significantly on the chemical composition of the atmosphere, particularly the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

While land temperatures fluctuate wildly, the rapid warming of the earth is taking us quickly toward a condition where human life is no longer sustainable. And how hot is too hot?

1.5℃ from pre-industrial levels. Spoiler alert, we were already 0.79 degrees warmer in 1980. The earth’s temperature hasn’t gone down any since then.

Now that we understand why the title of this report is alarming, let’s look at some of its findings. 

  • Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. 
  • Climate models project robust differences in regional climate characteristics present-day and global warming of 1.5°C, and between 1.5°C and 2°C.
  • Estimates of the global emissions outcome of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions as submitted under the Paris Agreement would lead to global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 of 52–58 GtCO2eq yr−1 (medium confidence). Pathways reflecting these ambitions would not limit global warming to 1.5°C, even if supplemented by very challenging increases in the scale and ambition of emissions reductions after 2030 (high confidence). Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030 (high confidence).

Now, let’s break this down to a third-grade reading level. The first point is one we’ve heard, and denied, for 30 years. Human activity is causing the earth to warm. 1.5℃ warmer is when bad things start to happen. Those bad things cannot be reversed. Nothing here is new, we’ve just argued over it so long it’s now an emergency.

The second point is that 1.5℃ is the LOW end of the scale. Regionally, some areas of the planet will see warming to 2℃. This is bad. This is very bad. A 2℃ increase means people cannot live there. People will have to move. Global migration increases. Global food supplies are not enough. Some animal species will die out completely. Global resources are too small to handle those changes. 

The third point is, perhaps, scarier. Even if everyone followed the Paris Climate Agreement like they’re supposed to, it’s not going to be enough to prevent the planet from warming to 1.5°C. The “solutions” we have now are not enough even if everyone played along and the US isn’t playing at all. Our government is going in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.

Let’s talk more like grownups again. Our ridiculous arguments over whether the science is real have cost us dearly in terms of time available to find and enact an appropriate solution. The fact that climate change is even a question in anyone’s mind is a depth of ignorance and/or stubbornness that may have to be declared criminal in order to avoid complete extermination of the planet.

Even among those who do accept that climate change is happening there has not been enough alarm over how severe the consequences are going to be within the next ten or so years. Let me say that again: ten years. 2030 sounds distant for many people but that is no longer reality. We’re not looking at only the loss of every major coastal seaport and a redefining of beachfront property by several miles, we’re looking at massive drops in food production. As polar ice caps melt, more water becomes over salinated, making it undrinkable. Production rates for crops such as wheat, rice, potato, soybean, sugar beet, alfalfa, cotton, tree and vine crops, and most vegetable crops decreases because of the increased CO2 (long and scientific explanation of why can be found at The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine

Not everything is going to wait ten years before becoming problematic, either. Global migration is already an issue and is only going to worsen as more areas of the world become uninhabitable. Europe is already feeling the pain where migration is expected to triple over the next ten years. The World Bank Group estimates that 140 million people from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America will be displaced by 2050. As that migration takes place, political, cultural, and social strains easily result in outbreaks of violence as bigotry, racism, and discrimination fueled by rampant Nationalism becomes more of a problem than it already is. 

A 2016 presidential memorandum addressed the extent to which climate change presents a threat to national security in the United States. That memorandum said, in part, 

“Extended drought, more frequent and severe weather events, heat waves, warming and acidifying ocean waters, catastrophic wildfires, and rising sea levels all have compounding effects on people’s health and well-being. Flooding and water scarcity can negatively affect food and energy production. Energy infrastructure, essential for supporting other key sectors, is already vulnerable to extreme weather and may be further compromised.” 

However, the current administration revoked that and other climate-change-related memos, choosing to completely ignore the severe danger. The administration’s opinion seems to be that if it’s not making money that it’s not important. Such an incredibly ignorant and short-sighted approach doesn’t merely threaten the economy and the stock market the president seems so worried about, but also the lives and well-being of every person in the United States. 

What we’re looking at is an ecological and economic disaster of a magnitude far greater than that of the Great Depression a century ago. The less we do, the less done not only by the United States but every government across the planet, the greater the risk that we hit that 1.5℃ mark and blow right past it. If we wait for the natural order of politics to provide change, we inevitably find ourselves facing a situation where we can no longer focus on prevention and instead are forced to find more radical ways to respond to the crisis.

A Desperate Situation Requires A Radical Response

Dead Conch

The days for a moderate, careful response to climate change passed thirty years ago. We are now in a situation where mass migration, drought, new deserts, food shortages, severe coastal flooding, agricultural failure, economic inflation, and all the social unrest that goes with those conditions is inevitable unless we make dramatic and uncomfortable changes. Those changes inevitably mean upsetting the status quo and thereby defying the powers that be and making at least half the population angry. We know that before ever starting.

In her new book  “On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal,” Naomi Klein compares the modern situation and “radical” proposals to the era that prompted Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. She writes:

The skepticism is understandable. The idea that societies could collectively decide to embrace rapid foundational changes to transportation, housing, energy, agriculture, forestry, and more— precisely what is needed to avert climate breakdown—is not something for which most of us have any living reference. We have grown up bombarded with the message that there is no alternative to the crappy system that is destabilizing the planet and hoarding vast wealth at the top. 

From the start, elite critics derided FDR’s plans as everything from creeping fascism to closet communism. In the 1933 equivalent of “They’re coming for your hamburgers!” Republican senator Henry D. Hatfield of West Virginia wrote to a colleague, “This is despotism, this is tyranny, this is the annihilation of liberty. The ordinary American is thus reduced to the status of a robot.” A former DuPont executive complained that with the government offering decent-paying jobs, “five negroes on my place in South Carolina refused work this spring . . . and a cook on my houseboat in Fort Myers quit because the government was paying him a dollar an hour as a painter.”

Far-right militias formed; there was even a sloppy plot by a group of bankers to overthrow FDR.

Self-styled centrists took a more subtle tack: In newspaper editorials and op-eds, they cautioned FDR to slow down and scale back.

The rhetoric of nearly 100 years ago hasn’t changed. As Americans, dramatic change scares us. Being told that we might have to be temporarily inconvenienced in order to make things better make us angry. Consider the typical response to large expanses of road construction. We fuss and fume about the detours and the heavy traffic and the inevitable delays. We deride construction workers for not moving fast enough. We curse at the long lines. Yet, when the work is done and the roads are smooth, there’s no denying that, as uncomfortable as the construction period was, it was necessary to keep the entire road from falling apart.

Our environment is at exactly that same stage. We are on the verge of having the entire planet crumble underneath our feet. If we are to have any hope of preventing total collapse we have to begin work right now and accept the fact that some very basic elements of life and economics in the United States and around the world have to change. 

Painful truth: change is going to happen one way or another. Either we can take steps in an attempt to control at least some of that change, or we can let it happen to us and suffer the consequences. All the bad things possible will happen if we sit on our ever-expanding backsides and do nothing.

An all-too-perfect example is the United Kingdom’s decision three years ago to leave the European Union. When the vote first passed, the UK government had time and opportunity to craft a workable departure that would have minimized the economic impact. Parliament made the decision to not do that. They fussed. They argued. They refused to cooperate with anyone under any circumstances. Those who wanted to stay in the EU dug in their heels and refused to consider any compromise. As a result, they are now at a point where they’re having to consider significantly more dramatic and uncomfortable actions to keep the country from leaving without the benefit of trade or any other treaties and, as a result, not only upending the UK economy but potentially putting the entire global economy into a downward spiral. 

Stubbornness and commitment to petty ideals have been the death of many solutions that could have already saved us from being in this frightful situation. We have reached a point where politicians can no longer be trusted to lead on environmental issues. Instead, our best option is to appeal directly to state and local governments, private corporations, and non-profits to take the actions federal governments will not and make changes even in defiance of federal regulations.

Another example: In July of this year, automakers Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, and BMW openly defied the federal government’s rollback of fuel emission standards for new vehicles by signing on to a California deal that decreases greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7 percent each year between 2000 and 2026. Yes, the change will increase the price of new vehicles, but the long-term benefit to the environment is far greater. The president’s objection reflects fear from the oil and gas industry as the new vehicles also improve fuel economy by as much as 50 miles per gallon, potentially putting a severe dent in industry profits. 

At this point, however, any argument against improvement of the environment is irrelevant no matter who is doing the arguing. To defend the status quo on the basis of one industry’s profit or loss is unconscionable. If the planet overheats by 1.5℃, the net effect is going to be severe enough to crash all economies on its own and at that point, there is nothing the federal government can do to stop it.

Change Deliberately Or Consequentially

All the denial and arguing in the world isn’t going to stop the warming from happening. By 2030 either we’ve taken the dramatic steps necessary to slow the warming (completely stopping it at this point probably isn’t an option) or we pretend to act surprised when all the things about which we’ve been warned become severe enough we can no longer deny their consequences. Either we care about the sustainability of life on this planet or we don’t. If we do care, we’re going to have to take some dramatic steps quickly. 

What steps make the most difference? The ones that are the least comfortable. Walk with me here.

Agriculture

We have to change the way we’ve been farming. Sure, it’s been productive—the United States provides food for more people than any other country in the world and employees some 827,000 people. However, agriculture is also the fourth-highest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Oops. We’ve been talking about using more sustainable farming methods since I was a kid and some farmers have made moderate changes. 

Get ready to be upset, though, because all that “organic” nonsense that everyone’s been screaming about the past ten years? It’s got to go. Organic farming increases greenhouse gas emissions. Full stop. Those benefits you think you’re getting are not worth losing the entire planet. 

Better animal breeding practices could reduce methane emissions by 10-20% and better-pasturing techniques could double that. However, feed alternatives are where a lot of reduction can take place, as much as 52% in some studies. Dietary oils are key and there are several other feeding methods that show promise.

Improving crop rotation practices, manure holding procedures, reducing the amount of fallow ground, and switching from fossil-fueled to electric pumps and motors are all things some farms have started but the process is expensive and smaller farms need financial assistance in making those changes. The difference, however, is worth any financial investment necessary.

Transportation

This one’s going to hurt. The problem is not only that we drive too much but that the vehicles we use when we do drive are amazingly inefficient and are made more so because of the inferior condition of roads and highways. Everyone’s been screaming about infrastructure investment for years, but the money still hasn’t shown up and where it has the funding has been focused on propping up bad systems rather than replacing them.

First, we need to ditch vehicles using fossil fuels ASAP. The most recent studies show that newer electric-powered vehicles (not the ones from ten years ago) reduce CO2 emissions by as much as half and the technology is only improving. Here’s the thing: we can’t wait for everyone to buy a new electric car in the natural course of individual car buying. Department of Transportation figures show that it takes 11 on average to get a car off the road. We don’t have that much time. That means we have to eliminate used car sales for non-electric vehicles and provide tax incentives, subsidies, and vehicle buy-back programs to encourage the purchase of new electric vehicles. 

Even that move, as drastic as it is, falls short of what we need to get CO2 emissions back in line. We still need to drive less and we also need to reduce the number of airplanes in the sky. On average, whether hauling people or cargo, the average commercial airplane produces a little over 53 pounds of CO2 per mile. One 2010 study shows that over 10,000 are killed each year just from the pollution that planes emit. The most readily available solution to both is investing in high-speed rail systems that utilize electric power. Localized high-speed rail systems in major cities combined with severe reductions of individual car use (most likely implemented by changes in driving laws) would not only reduce carbon dioxide emissions but could save lives do to reduce road fatalities. 

Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s a move that upsets the current economy and shifts power away from traditional sources, but we have to make these moves if we’re going to continue living on the planet.

Elimination Of Fossil Fuel Use

Talk about upsetting the status quo, we’ve had the means to wrench away from our dependence on fossil fuels for at least 30 years and we’re afraid to make the move because of this prevailing myth pushed by big oil and related industries that the effect on the economy would be devastating. It’s all bullshit. We’re talking about eliminating a source of fuel, not the demand. Therefore, the economic impact only hurts those companies who are unwilling to make the shift. Already, big oil has started investing in renewable energy sources and European producers are doing so at a significantly faster rate than US and Asian producers. If governments eliminate oil subsidies to renewable sources, the same dollars stay in the market, continue employing high numbers of people at higher-than-average wages, and the economy benefits. This is not an economic issue but a power issue. Given the corruption we’ve seen in the fossil fuel industry, a power shift isn’t a bad thing.

We can provide all the power needs for the entire planet with solar panels covering 0.3 percent of the earth’s land surface (source). Yes, that’s a lot of land, but since solar isn’t our only choice we can reduce the land-use significantly and still make sure the entire planet has more than energy to not only fuel current needs but the increasing needs going into the future. 

Conservatives and those financed by the oil, gas, and coal industries want you to believe that moving away from fossil fuels is a bad thing. No, it’s not. At the worst, it might mean more people have solar panels on their roofs. If solar panels on your roof are what saves the planet isn’t that a reasonable trade-off?

Rethinking Plastics

We use a LOT of plastic and much of it is for very necessary things especially in regard to medical supplies. So, to completely eliminate plastics, which are traditionally made from fossil fuels, requires a strong and flexible alternative. We’ve been hearing the call to reduce our dependency on plastic for over 30 years. How did we respond? We started using it to store and sell water, causing every environmentalist on the planet to do a hard face-palm. 

Plastics such as the Polyethelene PE that is used most have a carbon footprint equivalent to burning 2kg of oil for every 1kg of plastic. 1kg of plastic is roughly the weight of five plastic shopping bags. Put it all together and plastics represent the fourth largest contributor to greenhouse gases and that’s before we fail to recycle them and they end up being the trash that pollutes everything

The good news here is that technology is rapidly bringing us to that point where bioplastics, especially those produced from hemp, offer the possibility of at least making plastics carbon neutral, meaning they absorb as much carbon as they emit. As of this writing, there are still some areas of the creation process that uses oil and the biodegradable claim is challenging to fully support, keeping it from being the perfect solution. However, the reduction of CO2 a complete switch to bioplastics would provide is a significant boost toward halting the warming of the planet.

The bad news? Big Oil is only too happy to sponsor arguments against bioplastics claiming they’re not fully biodegradable. Biodegradability is certainly something that would help, but the far greater CO2 emissions from plastic happen during the creation process. Arguing over biodegradability is, at best, a distraction to keep any improvements from actually happening. Bioplastics are proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and right now that has to remain the top priority. We can worry about biodegradability when we’re sure we’re not all going to die.

Technology

The fourth Industrial Revolution is here and technology is in the driver’s seat. Already, our reliance on technology has grown 100-fold over the past ten years, but in order to save ourselves from the damage we’ve done, we have to go further than tends to make us comfortable. Right off the bat, technology is the fundamental resource that makes all other solutions possible. Still, there is more that it can do and we need to get comfortable with making the investments that utilize technology to its fullest extent.

For example, as scary as autonomous vehicles sound, they provide more fuel-efficient transportation, even in electric vehicles. Humans are not efficient when they drive. We speed, we brake wrong, we rubber-neck like crazy, and all of those bad habits result in using more energy than is necessary to get us from point A to point B.

Technology also offers the opportunity to compress CO2 into fertilizer, turn CO2 into liquid fuel, use CO2 to create hybrid membranes for medical use, and a plethora of other changes that help eliminate the use of fossil fuels and other materials that leave large amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. One of the most critical may be in developing new fabrics for clothing, eliminating the need to grow cotton, an act that completely ruins the land on which it is grown. 

There are plenty of options but what they all need is a dramatic level of investment to get them out of labs and into everyday use. One obvious source of investment funds would be to completely eliminate oil and gas subsidies and put those same funds toward planet-saving technologies. 

Economic Redistribution

If ever there was a strong argument for economic equality, saving the planet is it. The reasons are rather obvious.

  1. The poor suffer the most from environmental damage.
  2. Economic inequality drives environmental damage.
  3. The richest 10 percent are responsible for 50 percent of global emissions.

Equitable distribution of funds and resources allows poorer countries to invest in technologies and methods that reduce greenhouse emissions. Pollution in countries that have greater economic balance is significantly less than in countries with severe gaps between rich and poor. What’s more, as reliance on fossil fuels and their related industries has to be eliminated, people employed in those fields are more likely to experience a severe reduction in wealth as they are not necessarily skilled to transition into the most high-demand fields of employment. 

In order to combat this problem, we need to come to grips with the need for some very uncomfortable economic changes.

  1. Significantly taxing the richest one percent
  2. Significantly taxing corporations, especially those involved in industries that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions
  3. Greater public investment in global education
  4. Significantly higher wage minimums 
  5. Tighter control of housing and food costs

I can hear the screaming from here. Let’s face the facts, though. Trickle-down economics only benefits the rich. Inflation in the housing market has created a crisis. More public funds are necessary to combat warming and there’s no legitimate reason to put that burden on those who can least afford it. Personal wealth and corporate profits have to take a back seat to the sustainability fo the planet.

Planetary Problems Require Global Solutions

Bird tracks in the mud

Global warming and the resulting climate change are not problems unique to the United States. Granted, we’re the largest country not making a concerted effort to find a solution, but the problem is universal. For us to avoid reaching the 1.5℃ mark or worse in ten years, every country on the planet has to participate in solutions. When the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2016, 197 countries, including the United States, signed on. However, not everyone has been able to sell the agreement at home and the current closed-minded administration pulled the US out altogether. We’re not alone, though. In addition to the US, there’s an interesting list of countries that have not ratified the agreement.

  • Turkey
  • Iran
  • Angola, 
  • Eritrea, 
  • Iraq, 
  • Kyrgyzstan, 
  • Lebanon, 
  • Libya, 
  • South Sudan, and 
  • Yemen

What all of those countries share with the United States is an authoritarian leader (though not necessarily authoritarian government) whose focus is on maintaining a tight grip on the rule of their country. Such an inward “me first” focus is detrimental to addressing climate change. Leaders have to actually care about the welfare of the people they govern in order to support solutions that involve international cooperation. 

Such Nationalistic tendencies are more a reflection of the leader’s psychosis rather than the nation’s true attitude. Notice that some of the world’s most infamously dictatorial leaders, including Russia’s Putin, China’s Xi, and North Korea’s Kim, all recognized the need for their country to cooperate. For a leader to not adequately address the emergency of global warming is to demonstrate utter disregard for the people most likely to be directly affected by the crisis: the people they rule.

While most of the countries who have not ratified the agreement are small and some, such as Kyrgyzstan, barely have a carbon footprint at all compared to other countries, the United States is the world’s second-largest contributor to CO2 emissions behind China. For the US to not address the challenge not only dooms Americans but the entire planet. We, as a country, fail to provide the most critical leadership and in doing so effectively sign the death warrants of millions of people.

Yes, I realize that sounds alarmist, but this is the reality.

About Those Consequences

Tree stump in a withering lake

Remember when the IPCC report mentioned overshoot and gave it a “high probability?” That means they don’t expect the world to be able to limit warming to 1.5℃. In fact, they go ahead and admit that some regions will see an increase of 2℃ or higher. So, what happens if we completely fail and blow right past that half-degree increase from where we are now?

It’s not pretty. If greenhouse gas emissions remain at their current level, here are some of the effects.

  • Temperature records will continue to be broken. Considering this past summer already saw the hottest months on record, it’s safe to assume severe drought patterns across places that normally do not have a problem. [source]
  • The amount of land destroyed by wildfires would more than double to approximately 5.3 million acres annually. This would continue to grow in severity putting people at risk who have never needed to worry before. [source]
  • Severe drought across 40% of all land on the planet. Say goodbye to normal crop production. Should we stay at the status quo, rates of hunger and starvation would spike as prices for available food would shoot high. [source]
  • Reduced nutritional value of existing food would result in a food-security crisis for some 821 million people (estimating conservatively). While sources decline to predict morbidity rates, there’s little question the death toll would be considerably higher than it is now. [source]
  • If we reach a 2℃ warmth above the pre-industrial level, the result is a climatological feedback loop that would cause temperatures to jump 4-5℃. There are currently no reliable models for how severe the effect could be. [source]
  • Warming water rising 2-3 feet above current levels expands, displacing approximately 700 million climate refugees. [source 1, source 2, source 3]
  • More frequent and more intense hurricanes. We’re talking multiple F5 and stronger storms with an expanded hurricane season. We’ve already seen how devastating multiple storms in a single season can be. Imagine those storms on steroids. [source]
  • 60 % of all coral reefs will be highly or critically threatened. Millions of people would lose their primary food source. Whole fish groups would go extinct and disease would infect those that remain. This alone could cause global markets to completely crumble. [source]

And those, dear friends, are just the tip of the proverbial rapidly-melting iceberg. There’s no way of estimating what could happen as a result of the severe migration. The social/political unrest could topple entire governments and result in unchecked war and genocide. No country is immune from the potential fallout. Humans have never knowingly faced a greater threat to the whole planet and our very survival.

Radical Solutions Require A Radical Response

birds gather around the little water that remains in a dying resevoir

The current US president is fond of calling those intelligent enough to acknowledge the challenge of climate change as radicals. He calls their proposals radical and thinks that alone is sufficient reason for ignoring them. He’s right in that the only solutions left to us now genuinely are radical. They are upsetting to the status quo and require changing some of the most fundamental aspects of our lives. There’s no harm in admitting that the whole thing is just a little bit scary.

Where the president and his supporters are wrong, though, is in thinking that if they yell loud enough, ignore hard enough, bully scientists long enough, that it will all go away and they’ll get the continued disaster without any consequences. They are wrong and there’s absolutely nothing they or anyone else can do to stop the disaster if we do nothing. 

Here’s the thing: all those little things like switching the kind of straw one uses and recycling their plastic water bottles and all the other little tasks one does individually provide a false sense of accomplishment. Those things only help if the larger players are doing their part. Household recycling only helps if those materials are actually being recycled through means that are environmentally helpful. Straw use only matters if material from landfills stops ending up in waterways. If the big guys aren’t in the game, individual household participating is irrelevant There’s nothing you or I can do to stop the inevitable.

That means you and I have to become radicals as well. We have to vote, starting at the local level, for city council members and mayors that support clean air initiatives in our own towns.  We have to get radical in voting with our pocketbooks by paying attention to how everything we buy is made and not purchasing from companies who are not doing their best to offset their own carbon footprint. We have to get radical in pressuring our elected representatives to take governmental action, even in the face of an ignorant and incendiary president. That pressure has to come hard and continuously and needs to unseat anyone who doesn’t get with the plan.

When it comes to climate change, there is no such thing as being too radical. Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable. Yes, it’s going to mean changing the way we do things. But the alternative?

We die. 

The whole planet dies.

Not kidding. Not fear-mongering. This is the reality. 

Time to get radical.

Ethics of Nationalism

We are all humans first and every other distinction minimizes that condition.

Driving across town recently, I was unexpectedly diverted off my path by yet another episode of unending road construction. In order to get where I was going, I was detoured through a neighborhood that has, to be generous, seen better days. The red bricks holding up porches were cracked and sometimes missing. Paint was thin and bare. What grass there was had turned brown and strewn with various pieces of life’s clutter. I was glad that my vehicle’s doors lock automatically so that I didn’t have to obviously reach over and lock them. I instinctively felt less safe.

Yet, in that moment of realization acknowledging I felt something short of secure, I immediately felt the guilt of judging, not just the quality of the houses I was passing but, inherently, the people who live in them. After all, the houses themselves didn’t pose any danger. None of them were likely to leap off their crumbling foundations and start shooting into traffic. No, any sense of imminent threat I might have felt was because I made the unfair conclusion that if the houses were less than ideal, so were their occupants. Without any information beyond superficial observation, I had deemed this a “bad” neighborhood.

Before you judge me in the manner I have judged me, let me remind you that I am not alone in making such unfair and unqualified determinations. Remember when the 45th President degradingly referred to “shithole countries?” Or that other time when he said that Mexico and other Central American countries were not “sending us their best people?” If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all made those assertions at some point, usually without even thinking about what we were feeling.

The fact is that the greater majority of people with any discernable level of privilege regularly, often subconsciously, make judgments about who is “good” and who is “bad” based solely on scant, fleeting, visual information without regard or consideration as to how accurate that information may be. We see someone leaving a nice house with a well-manicured lawn and think they must be a nice person. We see someone leaving a house that likely has mold in its walls and we check the locks on our doors. Should either of those be people of color, we almost instinctively downgrade our opinions, even if we’re people of color ourselves. 

We know it’s wrong. We feel guilty when we catch ourselves doing it. Some of us even make efforts to forcefully correct that initial judgment. Were we raised to be biased? Are we incapable of changing our base behavior?

I don’t believe in excuses inappropriate behavior. When we’re wrong, we need to correct ourselves and apologize where necessary. However, understanding why we continue to struggle with behavior and responses we know are wrong might help us to more easily correct ourselves. 

The truth of the matter is that there are no “good people” or “bad people.” There are no “best neighborhoods” or “worst neighborhoods.” People are just people. Humans. Homo sapiens. We group ourselves largely according to our economic means and, on a larger scale, our occupations, not our behavior. As people, we sometimes make bad decisions that lead us to do bad things, but that doesn’t necessarily make us “bad” people any more than helping an elderly person across the street makes us “good.”

Nationalism As A Matter Of Judgment

To begin correcting this behavior, I think it might help if we look at why we tend to think in terms of “good” versus “bad” in the first place. No, it’s not a religious bias, as one might tend to think, though some religions happily jumped on the bandwagon where it suited them. Rather, it’s the influence of Nationalism that has played a larger role in shaping our behavior and it has often done so through influences as subtle as fairy tales.

If we’re going to talk about Nationalism, though, let’s first set a clear definition so that we’re all on the same page. You are free to hold to your own definition, but this is the one I’ll be using for the remainder of this article. I’m quoting from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The term “nationalism” is generally used to describe two phenomena: (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity, and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination. (1) raises questions about the concept of a nation (or national identity), which is often defined in terms of common origin, ethnicity, or cultural ties, and specifically about whether an individual’s membership in a nation should be regarded as non-voluntary or voluntary. (2) raises questions about whether self-determination must be understood as involving having full statehood with complete authority over domestic and international affairs, or whether something less is required.

At first glance, for many people, Nationalism sounds like a good idea. I love my country (patriotism). My country is the best (national pride). Superficially, there may not appear to be any problems with either of those concepts. 

However, where we run into problems is with that whole idea of defining a common origin or ethnicity. For some people in Northern Africa and what we now refer to as the Middle East, that factor of ethnicity is a strong one. People inhabiting many of those countries can trace their common ancestry for millennia and their fundamental religions are based on that shared history and texts written about it. For almost every other region in the world that identity is more troubled because for people to exist in those places, from Asia to the Americas and across Europe, mass migration had to take place. While most of those migrations occurred millions of years ago, the continual and necessary process of migration has created many different cultures and sub-ethnicities.

Factoring at a more difficult level are countries such as the United States and Australia whose dominant culture overwhelmed the indigenous peoples of the land and replaced native cultures with their own. This presents a constant, persistent question as to who belongs and who doesn’t. Shameful issues such as slavery and ethnic genocide also color National identities and throughout the history of Nationalism have given rise to severe bouts of bigotry and racism. Nationalism bristles at the concept of inclusiveness because the philosophy requires hard boundaries and definitions. People who are legitimate members of this nation hold x ethnicity, y genetic background, and z belief system or else they don’t belong here. Inclusiveness muddies those waters and makes defining the nation frustratingly challenging.

Romanticism Is Not All About Love

We are not the first generation to deal with the perils of Nationalism in a dramatic fashion. Open social media to any politically-oriented source and chances are high that one soon comes across a reference to Nazi Germany, the rise of Fascism across Europe during the early part of the 20th century, and the resulting World Wars. Modern Nationalism goes even further back, though we tend to reference it under another name: Romanticism.

Yes, I know, Romanticism is considered as more of an art movement. When someone mentions Romanticism we tend to think of artists such as John Constable and William Blake, poets such as Byron, Keats, and Shelley, and composers such as Liszt, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and late-period Beethoven. Any humanities student knows the five principals of Romanticism as imagination, intuition, individuality, idealism, and inspiration. 

While the music of the period was big and emotional and the poetry was deeply profound and personal, and the paintings were dramatic and colorful, what mattered more at the time was that their creators held a nationalistic identity that made their work a matter of national pride. Tchaikovsky was honored in St. Petersburg not merely because he was a great composer but because he was a great Russian composer. Liszt, similarly, was loved or hated not because of the challenges of his compositions but because he was Hungarian and as such to extol the greatness of his music was also, by extension, a proclamation of the greatness of Hungary. 

Nowhere was Romanticism more heavily embraced than 19th century Germany. One of the most influential definers of Romantic philosophy was August Wilhelm von Schlegel (Sept. 5, 1767, Hanover – May 12, 1845, Bonn) who created strong distinctions between Romanticism versus Enlightenment and Nationalism versus Cosmopolitanism. He found it necessary that German artists needed to make their works expressly German so as to not dilute their national identity. He felt quite strongly that it was through art, music, and literature that the cultural definition of a nation was formed. [I’m condensing severely. Schlegel’s essays were more nuanced on the subject but I don’t have the desire to delve deeply into those at this juncture.]

As nationalistic identity grew within the arts, there came an exclusion factor. If German music, for example, contained the qualities of A, B, and C, then it could not contain qualities X, Y, and Z. A, B, and C were what made the music German. Anything else was not acceptable because it was not German. The same happened in almost every other European country. Rossini’s operas were demonstrably Italian. Berlioz was unquestionably French. Poland celebrated the success of Chopin. Bruckner was unquestionably Austrian and in that period one didn’t dare equate that in any way with being German. The differences were quite distinctive. And at this same time, American composer Stephen Foster was defining the sound of the United States. Even the quintessential band composer, John Phillip Sousa (1857), falls into this category (barely), creating a sound so Nationalistic that some people actually get upset to hear his marches played outside the US. 

Getting The Backstory

Where the effects of Nationalism may be most noticeable is in literature, specifically the folklore that has been handed down through hundreds of years in oral traditions. What happens through the influence of Romantic Nationalism is a shift toward a “good guy/bad guy dichotomy” that strips tales of their complexity in order to present characters based on an imposed morality. How this takes effect on literature, especially as it develops into the early 20th century, is that characters respond to situations not based on emotion or personal history but more because they’re either the “good guy” or the “bad guy.” The character defined as “good” can do no wrong. He wears a white hat. They are honorable. She holds a strict moral code. Conversely, the “bad” character can only do good if they have a transitional event that turns them “good.”

In her essay, “The Good Guy/Bad Guy Myth,” Catherine Nichols explains:

Stories from an oral tradition never have anything like a modern good guy or bad guy in them,  despite their reputation for being moralising. In stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk or Sleeping Beauty, just who is the good guy? Jack is the protagonist we’re meant to root for, yet he has no ethical justification for stealing the giant’s things. Does Sleeping Beauty care about goodness? Does anyone fight crime? Even tales that can be made to seem like they are about good versus evil, such as the story of Cinderella, do not hinge on so simple a moral dichotomy. In traditional oral versions, Cinderella merely needs to be beautiful to make the story work. In the Three Little Pigs, neither pigs nor wolf deploy tactics that the other side wouldn’t stoop to. It’s just a question of who gets dinner first, not good versus evil.

Nowhere is the shift more noticeable than in the stories penned by the Grimm brothers. Ms. Nichols relates it well so I’ll defer to her words again: 

When the Grimm brothers wrote down their local folktales in the 19th century, their aim was to use them to define the German Volk, and unite the German people into a modern nation. The Grimms were students of the philosophy of Johann Gottfried von Herder, who emphasised the role of language and folk traditions in defining values. In his Treatise on the Origin of Language (1772), von Herder argued that language was ‘a natural organ of the understanding’, and that the German patriotic spirit resided in the way that the nation’s language and history developed over time. Von Herder and the Grimms were proponents of the then-new idea that the citizens of a nation should be bound by a common set of values, not by kinship or land use. For the Grimms, stories such as Godfather Death, or the Knapsack, the Hat and the Horn, revealed the pure form of thought that arose from their language.

As a result, the Grimm brothers wrote their tales in a way that was significantly more moralizing than the oral versions of the stories had been. Always telling the truth, keeping promises, and fighting against evil simply because it was evil, not because the character had committed any specific crime, became primary plot motivators. 

Other authors took note, given the popularity of the Grimm’s tales, and made similar alterations. Before Josef Ritson’s retelling of the Robin Hood myth, there was no “robbing from the rich to give to the poor.” The earliest versions of the stories simply recount a group of “merry men” frolicking in the forest (make of that what you will). The legends of King Arthur did not define him as British until the 19th century. Much of the ancient poetry concerning the character is French.

What happens then is an inseparable association between being the citizen of a certain country or a given belief system and one’s morality. If one is from country A or is a believer of B then one is good. Everyone else is bad. This attitude spreads all across Europe and the United States so that by the 1930s a problem has developed that no one saw coming. 

Nationalism’s Harsh Consequences

In her book One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, Andrea Pitzer makes the argument that the concentration camps employed by the Nazis and others wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for “the belief that whole categories of people should be locked up.” What caught hold and decimated Germany has never gone away.

As I’m writing, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is having that country’s military attack Kurdish villages in Northern Syria because he believes the Kurdish people who live there are inherently bad and deserve to be wiped off the face of the earth. While other world leaders stand off to the side with toothless declarations of disapproval, no one is making any active attempt to stop what is likely to be an extinction event for the Kurdish people. The same has already happened in Sudan, Dafur, Rwanda, and Bosnia. International response has consistently been the same: verbal disapproval but no interference. No one stops the genocide.

When we create a hardline system of good versus bad, people inevitably die, often in large numbers, simply because their identity falls into the category of “bad” as defined by whoever is in charge at a given moment. The United States is not immune. In fact, we’re consistently battling against those who consider eliminating those they think are “bad” people. Let me give you some examples.

This past June, a Tennessee pastor publicly called for LGBT people to be killed.

Last November, the current administration authorized the use of force against immigrants as the President has consistently stopped short of advocating shooting immigrants.

When comedian Ellen DeGeneres sat next to George W. Bush as a Dallas Cowboys game last Sunday, some people objected because, “Tens of thousands of people are dead because his administration lied to the American public about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and then, based on that lie, launched a war that’s now in its 16th year.” In other words, he’s a “bad guy” and should, therefore, be shunned.

The argument here is not that people don’t do bad things. We all know such a statement is ridiculous. What matters, though, is whether we allow those actions to wholly define a person or an entire group. 

Wait, I’m Feeling A Bit Uncomfortable

Let’s return to Ms. Nichols’ essay where she writes:

Stories about good guys and bad guys that are implicitly moral – in the sense that they invest an individual’s entire social identity in him not changing his mind about a moral issue – perversely end up discouraging any moral deliberation. Instead of anguishing over multidimensional characters in conflict – as we find in The Iliad, or the Mahabharata or Hamlet – such stories rigidly categorise people according to the values they symbolise, flattening all the deliberation and imagination of ethical action into a single thumbs up or thumbs down. Either a person is acceptable for Team Good, or he belongs to Team Evil.

Good guy/bad guy narratives might not possess any moral sophistication, but they do promote social stability, and they’re useful for getting people to sign up for armies and fight in wars with other nations. Their values feel like morality, and the association with folklore and mythology lends them a patina of legitimacy, but still, they don’t arise from a moral vision. They are rooted instead in a political vision, which is why they don’t help us deliberate, or think more deeply about the meanings of our actions. Like the original Grimm stories, they’re a political tool designed to bind nations together.

If Ms. Nichol’s assessment feels slightly uncomfortable it may be due to the fact that we’ve seen some of these Nationalistic methods utilized in public rhetoric. When a member of Congress is called a traitor, for example, because they dare to challenge the authoritative misdeeds of the President, that’s Nationalism rearing its ugly head. When the President removes troops from Northern Syria where they might protect Kurds against Turkey’s invasion because, “They didn’t help us in the second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy for example,” that’s an example of historical ignorance presented through a Nationalist filter. When the President tells four members of Congress to “go back to the countries they came from,” he’s being unvarnished and unapologetic in his Nationalism.

In fact, the US President is proud of being a Nationalist, though one might argue that he doesn’t fully understand or comprehend what that means. He has stated on more than one occasion that people who agree with him should embrace the word and use it often. Such a declaration resonates with those who are deeply patriotic. However, it also resonates with white supremacists, anti-Semitism, and lingering segregationists because the philosophy supports the good guy/bad guy distinction necessary for racism to thrive.

The rub in this conversation is that if we allow ourselves to label Nationalists as the “bad guy,” we’re playing into the exact same methodology and entrenching the problematic philosophy even further. We cannot wholly discount an entire political party because of the actions of their leaders. That in no way means we excuse deplorable and illegal actions by the President, but neither do we deride our neighbors simply for being Republicans. 

Solutions Aren’t Always Easy

To overcome the whole good guy/bad guy ideology one must alter how we assess people both individually and as groups. The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was on the right track when he talked about judging people not by the color of their skin by rather “the content of their character.” Perhaps we should “drill down” on his concept and include some of these alliterative qualities:

  • The frequency of their forgiveness
  • The measure of their mercy
  • The appropriateness of their attitude
  • The genuineness of their generosity
  • The honesty of their helpfulness
  • The tenderness in their truthfulness
  • The consistency in their caring
  • The abjectness of their apologies
  • The certainty of their sincerity

When we take away the concept of someone being either good or bad, we accept the reality that the people we admire most don’t always make good decisions, or use the best language, or check their facts before speaking, or think about how their actions might affect others. Honorable people can curse when they stub their toe in the dark, throw something in a moment of frustration, vehemently argue the wrong side of an issue, trigger someone’s PTSD, and drive irrationally. What matters is their willingness to admit to an error, apologize to anyone harmed, consider the opinion and feelings of others, make amends where appropriate, and adjust their actions in the future; not that they’re going to be perfect and never make the same mistakes again, but recognizing their own failings and attempting to address them.

Judging people against a strict good/bad ideology removes the humanity that is inherently fallible, unstable, and unpredictable. One action, or a set of actions, does not define the entirety of a person’s soul. The external perspective of what someone does may lie in complete opposition to the truth.

A near-perfect example is a child who is angry with their parents for not giving in to their wishes. I once told a young one that she still had 20 minutes until the appointed snack time. I was instantly the bad guy. She called me names, said I was a horrible father, and expressed a desire to not be a part of the family. We laugh at the absurdity of these moments because we understand that a child’s ability to reason and make appropriate judgments is not yet fully developed. Once the situation is calm, we discuss more appropriate ways to express our frustration.

As adults, though, we rarely offer each other the same generosity of understanding. Someone does something that in our perspective seems cruel, harmful to someone else, thoughtless, or without regard to the consequences. We fly off the handle, call them names, question their integrity, warn all our “friends” on social media that X is a bad person, and all without pausing to even ask that person what their motivation was, considering their emotional state, or the prevalence of external pressures when making that decision. 

Another example comes to mind. A young mother of two, single and without a substantial support system, is barely making ends meet when the variable-rate college loan she has suddenly takes a payment from her checking account that is three times more than she had expected. She no longer has enough funds to pay rent or buy food. She’s confident that if she can just make it through this month everything will be fine but for this one moment, she’s desperate, knowing how little is left in her cabinets and refrigerator. So, when the opportunity presents itself, she “borrows” a few hundred dollars from her employer without their knowledge. She legitimately intends to pay it back as soon as she can, but then one of the children gets sick and her copays are more than she makes in a month so she “borrows” a little more.

When she finally gets caught, she’s fired and charged with fraud and embezzlement. The state takes her children and puts them into the foster system. She goes to prison. She now has a record and society labels her as a “bad” person so no one wants to take a risk on hiring her after she’s done her time. Yet, she still loves her children, her apologies were honest and sincere, her regret genuine, and every other aspect of her character is unimpeachable. Still, we want that label to stay on her as a consequence of her acts of desperation and in doing so dramatically increase her chances of recidivism because all society has done is underwrite her desperation. Being desperate does not make one a bad person, but it can leave them with the perspective that taking inappropriate action is the only option for survival. 

Opinions Of Another Guy Named Martin Luther

What we must realize is there are no “good people” or “bad people.” One’s nationalistic or cultural heritage does not determine their character. Whether one wears a dark hoodie and sneakers or a suit with polished shoes doest not speak to their level of honesty. Being American doesn’t make one a damn bit better than being Sudanese or Iranian. Being Southern Baptist holds no more sway over one’s spiritual standing than being Hindu or Buddhist. In fact, for those who might scream that the religious texts quantify good vs. bad people, consider how Martin Luther explained the 8th commandment in his Small Catechism.

Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God in such a way that we should not tell lies about our neighbor, slander them, or hurt their reputation, but defend them, speak well of them, and explain their actions in the kindest way possible. (translated)

[Thanks to Nadia Bolz-Weber for the timely heads up on that one.]

Response to 8th commandment and to Luther thrusts one back to the millennia-old question of who is our neighbor? Multiple texts from the world’s varied religions are uncompromising on the fact that the term “neighbor” is a universal metaphor for personhood. Every human being is sacred. If one claims any level of spirituality, that fact can never be up for debate.

This is not a concept of lawlessness, either. When someone does something harmful to themselves or to others then there are consequences both natural and social. Some crimes demand a person to be removed from society in order to keep society safe. I wouldn’t think of arguing otherwise. However, we must realize that even those incarcerated for the worst crimes against humanity never lose their personhood. We are all homo sapien first. We all share that common bond.

Kat Armas recently related, “… just as poor doesn’t mean lazy, uneducated doesn’t mean stupid; to be vulnerable in society doesn’t mean to be helpless; and while the marginalized are often silenced, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a voice.” I would add to her statement that just because someone does something anti-social or illegal or even immoral by some universal measurement does not separate them from their humanity.

Uncomfortable Apologies To Christopher Columbus

What concerns me at this juncture is that as citizens of this Western post-industrial society, Nationalism has been so deeply ingrained in our basic understanding of the planet that suggesting we break away from the good guy/bad guy mythos feels too wrong on an emotional level. Intellectually, sure, we can perhaps wrap our heads around the concept a little bit, but to not label some people as “bad” forces us to deeply examine the depths of our hidden bigotries and that never makes us feel comfortable.

We were standing at the counter in Kat’s salon late this week when the question came up as to why the banks are closed this coming Monday. Her father, who tends to have an aggressively anti-liberal bias in his opinions, said, “Oh, Monday’s Columbus Day, or for those intolerant of Columbus, Indigenous People’s Day.” He laughed. He was making a dig he considered playful. The moment was inappropriate for argument so I rolled my eyes and continued with my day. 

However, giving the matter more thought, I have to admit that I am intolerant of Christopher Columbus. His actions and activities in the name of converting the world to Catholicism and furthering Spanish economics were deplorable by my 21st century standards. I refuse to celebrate anything honoring him because of the lasting damage he caused. 

Does that make him a bad guy?

As much as I have previously argued otherwise, I have to swallow my pride and admit that no, he’s not a bad guy. His actions are not worthy of celebration, his perspective was warped by unenlightened religion and what appears, from the distance of a little over six centuries, to be rampant narcissism, and he introduced diseases that led to the annihilation of millions of indigenous peoples. Yet, none of that separates him from his humanity. He was still a person. He was married to Filipa Moniz Perestrelo and perhaps she loved him. He had a son, Diego, who apparently thought enough of his father to follow somewhat in his footsteps. After the death of Filipa, Beatriz Enrique de Arana was his mistress and the mother of his second son. Ferdinand. There were relationships and domestic activities that belie the horrible reputation he has for wrecking the rest of the planet. Columbus was not a bad guy; he was a person who, at times, did what we now consider horribly bad things, but when he did those things his perspective was one we are incapable of fully understanding today. Be sure, he did not consider himself a bad person.

Emotionally, that entire paragraph feels wrongfully apologetic. Yet, it is accurate. It is defensible. 

When we finally separate ourselves from Nationalism and the binary good guy/bad guy philosophy we find ourselves in a better place of acceptance, a place where we can genuinely see the positive qualities of people with whom we disagree, people whose philosophies and lifestyles we are challenged to understand, people whose language seems incomprehensible, people whose cultures may appear threatening, people whose skin color reminds us that our species was not created any shade of white. We see people, not an improperly moralistic judgment of those people. 

And when all we see are people, we can begin to see peace. Rejecting Nationalism isn’t easy, but it is absolutely necessary because none of us are the good guys we think we are. Always remember, there are no bad neighborhoods.

Replacing WWJD With WDJS - old man talking

Editorial Note: I was almost finished writing this post, or thought I was, when the news came that Rachel Held Evans had passed. I made the decision to push this article out a week and re-run one where Mrs. Held Evens unique way of confronting patriarchy was on display. Interestingly enough, I had not quoted the author again until this article. I considered whether to pull the quotes but opted to leave them because, as usual, Mrs. Held Evans style perfectly summed up what was appropriate. While her presence most certainly is missed, I am grateful that she shared so prolifically her struggles, doubts, questions and the answers she found along the way. I’ve linked to her book in both the text and the Bibliography. Please consider purchasing a copy.

One might justifiably sit and argue that there is no place for religion in politics. Many people consider the alleged wall between the United States government and any formal religion must be maintained without compromise. However, in practice, and certainly at the state and local levels, that concept is less clear and certainly not heavily embraced in all locales. In fact, research by the Pew Research Center shows that the constitutions of all fifty states mentions either God or the Divine. Only four, Colorado, Iowa, Hawaii and Washington, don’t refer to God directly. Colorado, Iowa, and Washington make reference to a “Supreme Being,” while Hawaii mentions in its preamble that they are “grateful for Divine Guidance.”

There is little question that matters of religion and spirituality are dominant in the lives of many Americans but with a nation so diverse and full of so many different religions many politicians find there is strength in playing to the desires of the largest religious groups. However, while most politicians lean toward the evangelical nature of protestants, at least since 2015  protestants no longer make up a majority of the population among U.S. adults. Religion swapping is more prominent than ever. Yet, on any given week, one in five people will share some aspect of their belief system online.

We already know that the greater majority of members of Congress profess to belong to some form of Christianity, even when their constituents are largely some other religion. The addition of two Muslim women to Congress was a big deal that actually angered some conservatives who fear being dragged into sharia law. Never mind that those same politicians would happily make the Ten Commandments the law of the land if they could.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that when South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg began making waves and gaining popularity among the swarm of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, the race would almost immediately take a turn along religious lines. “Mayor Pete,” as he is called vernacularly, is not only openly gay, but happily married to another man. Religious conservatives, especially evangelicals, are outraged that Buttigieg is running. Their response has been 100% predictable and Mayor Pete has been ready for them, unafraid to call out the hypocrites while quoting scripture and smiling the entire time.

Topping off the response in a most public manner has been evangelist and friend of the president, Franklin Graham. Mr. Graham, who was once expelled from college for keeping a girl out past curfew, has tweeted:

Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian. As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized. The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman—not two men, not two women.


Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham)

Almost immediately, Graham was severely criticized even among other Christians, for his hypocrisy in calling out the presidential candidate while maintaining friendship with a president whose own sins are significantly more offensive in the social ethos. One shouldn’t be surprised, though, and if Graham had not made the statement be sure that some other fundamentalist Christian leader would. Christians at large, and Southern Baptists particularly, consider it their duty to keep political leaders, or would-be political leaders in line. Evangelicals feel compelled to provide a moral compass for the planet whether the inhabitants of the planet want their compass or not.

With Mayor Pete’s popularity growing, one has to reasonably expect that the more right-wing portions of the Christian community will keep up their verbal assault on the candidate, making every attempt they can to unseat his run for office. In light of that knowledge, it only seems fitting that I refer back to some wise words of my father in a probably pointless attempt to explain why those alleged followers of Christ are engaged in the most un-Christlike of activities.

The Bible Is NOT A Contemporary How-To Guide

The Bible Is NOT A Contemporary How-To Guide - old man talking

For the sake of those not already familiar, I should explain that my late father was a Southern Baptist minister for over 45 years. I was raised strongly in that set of traditions amidst a changing theology that morphed from compassionate and forgiving to accusatory and aggressive over a span of 20 years. By the time Poppa died in 2002, he had grown quite disillusioned with the denomination and the direction its leaders were going. At no point, however, did he question his own beliefs nor his interpretation of scripture and he bristled at many of the philosophies he said were attempting to turn the Bible into a contemporary political guide book.

Two particular examples stand out in my mind and I hope you’ll excuse the personal reference here as they serve to make my greater point. Both of these topics invoked long conversations with my father. With neither did he show any outward irritation, but the depth of my conversations with him underscore how bothered he was by their prevalence.

One incident I have to take him at his word for accuracy. As he grew older, he listened to a lot of tapes of sermons and speeches from denominational events he was no longer physically able to attend. On one of those tapes, the speaker was apparently trying to relate in some form to popular culture. While his reference was about 30 years too early for the audience he was attempting to reach, he assumed that frequent reruns of the show and a recent live-action movie would keep “George of the Jungle” within the realm of cool and hip.

First, Poppa objected to the tactic at all, saying that it cheapened the gospel and treated Jesus like a cartoon character. We talked about appropriate and inappropriate metaphors and his concern was that even though there might seem to be a parallel with an event or incident and a passage of scripture, when the comparison was with something never intended to serve a religious purpose the Bible sacrificed a portion of its authority. The more ridiculous the metaphor, and there’s little question that George of the Jungle is pretty ridiculous, the less authority the Bible could bring to bear.

What stuck in his craw, though, was the speaker’s use of the line from the cartoon’s theme song, “Watch out for that tree.” The speaker, who was momentarily popular among teen audiences, was attempting to make the argument that life was full of “trees” and one needed to be careful to not fling themselves into them as George did in every episode.

Poppa objected to the metaphor because the problem wasn’t the tree’s but rather the fact that George was an imbecile who never learned to land gently on a tree branch as his ape mentors did. The trees did nothing wrong. There was nothing inherently bad about the trees. George was just stupid.

Moreover, Poppa contended, the premise promoted an atmosphere of fear, telling teens that they had best be on the lookout and afraid of everything. He was very much against the attitude among many preachers of the period to “find a satanic boogeyman behind every corner.” Rock music only bothered him because it was loud, for example. He didn’t consider it satanic. Messages like the one on the tape, he insisted, turned perfectly normal things like movies, dating, and books into instant boogeymen rather than teaching teens how to effectively determine for themselves the appropriateness of a situation.

What prompted the second and considerably longer conversation, however, was the popular use of the acronym WWJD, which (for the sake of any uninitiated readers) stands for What Would Jesus Do. The concept was to encourage believers faced with a difficult situation to ask themselves what Jesus would do if they were faced with that situation. The acronym spread into an entire movement that is still in force today. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it and when it first started Poppa had been supportive. In fact, I’m pretty sure he had a sermon on the topic.

By 1998, when my third son was born, however, Poppa had changed his mind. Upon hearing someone admonish one of the boys with, “What would Jesus do in that situation?” Poppa pulled me to the side to suggest we discourage use of the phrase. “The Bible is not and should never be used as a contemporary how-to guide, especially in situations where there cannot possibly be any direct correlation between current and historical events.”

What? My father was dissing WWJD? Could my ears be deceiving me? There was no mistake and the conversation was one that continued off and on for a couple of years. Poppa’s premise was that in attempting to make biblical references fit contemporary situations we were inevitably, and at times irreparably, bending scripture completely out of context, trying to make the Bible fit into places where it has no place being.

For example, in the case of his young grandson, Poppa argued that it is impossible to know what Jesus would have done at age seven or eight because there is absolutely no authoritative record of his childhood. To apply the adult precepts of Jesus’ ministerial teachings was inappropriate because children, especially young ones, are incapable of reasoning at an adult level. Adult precepts as simple as “turn the other cheek” fail to make a lick of sense to a six-year-old.

So, then, does that mean parents shouldn’t provide religious instruction to their children? After all, there is little question that the whole collection of religious tomes, regardless of source, are directed to and written for adults. Should we possibly hold off all religious instruction until a person’s full reasoning capabilities are formed?

This is a problematic question for Christians, especially, who believe that once a person is old enough to discern between right and wrong that they must make a deliberate choice toward Christ or risk eternal damnation. Never mind that a person of any younger age has absolutely no sense of what “eternal damnation” might be, the religion pushes the salvation narrative as a requirement. Without religious teaching, children who tragically die prior reaching a point of at least intellectual maturity (dodging the question as to whether some never reach that point) opens them to the risk of separation in whatever afterlife might exist.

Poppa’s response was that one should respond instead with the direct quoted words of Christ, or at the very least some other appropriate New Testament passage. In the case of my son, for example, the exhortation from Ephesians 4:32 to, “Be kind to one another,” would have been more appropriate and more directly instructive. Children understand how to be kind. There is no deep philosophical reasoning required. They get it, and they can then connect that basic instruction to their limited religious understanding in a valuable manner.

As we continued the conversation, Poppa worried that the whole WWJD movement left people in the position of trying to guess what was appropriate rather than actually reading scripture and studying what Jesus actually said. As time passed, he felt that much of the movement away from well-studied hermeneutics was largely responsible for the radical right movement not only within the Southern Baptist Convention but evangelical Christianity as a whole. Poppa had spent his entire adult life wrestling with the challenges of biblical interpretation, especially New Testament literature, and saw in the shallowness of the WWJD movement and everything that followed an attempt to circumvent what the Bible actually says in favor of inserting what one wanted it to say. He worried that continued movement in that direction would lead the Church directly toward embracing heresy.

Poppa died in 2002, fortunately never seeing the mess that many evangelicals now embrace. I dare say he would, at the very least, be severely disappointed.

The Challenge to Put Christ Back In Christianity

The Challenge to Put Christ Back In Christianity - old man talking

Putting aside the scholarly arguments as to whether a physical Jesus actually existed as one person or, perhaps, represents the collected teachings of multiple messianic Jews from the early first century, when we consider the long-term effect of philosophies such as the WWJD movement and other make-your-own-religion concepts we find they have to a large degree stripped Jesus’ actual teachings away, leaving only excerpts and convenient quotes that support a wholly man-made doctrine designed with a political outcome. Christ is little more than an avatar.

Of course, those who are deeply committed to these marginally-related principles would defend them fiercely. They’ll even quote limited pieces of scripture as they’ve been taught. The sound bites are appealing and easy to follow because at first glance they almost make sense. Only when one stops and thinks critically for a moment does one find that there’s a disconnect between the concept and actual scripture. Gaps in reason require one to make a complete re-interpretation of the Bible that is not supported by the best translations. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough people stopping long enough to think and see where the gaps lie.

I have to be careful at this juncture because questioning religion in general and Christianity specifically is pretty much standard operating procedure for me. No one is surprised nor terribly upset because challenging belief systems is what I do. Of course I’m going to question the validity of WWJD. I’m going to question the validity of any belief system not because I’m wholly against believing in something but because that belief needs to be genuine and personal or it is not real. Adaptive belief is hollow and lacks either conviction or meaning.

I’m not the only one asking questions, though, and some of the loudest voices come from inside the camp, in a manner of speaking. When intelligent, committed people of faith start asking the hard questions and coming up with different answers, perhaps it is in the best interest of the Church to start listening.

One of the most valid responses to Franklin Graham’s gay-bashing comment about Pete Buttigeig came from John Pavlovitz, a minister in Wake Forest, NC, right smack in the heart of conservatism. Pavlovitz has become extremely popular over the past three years for pointing out, sometimes with painful accuracy, how support for the US President and the administration’s policies is not only unbiblical but often inhuman. When Graham decided to challenge Mayor Pete, Pavlovitz took to his popular blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said, with an open letter to Mr. Graham. I won’t repeat the entire thing here, since that would be wholly inappropriate, but at the center of his challenge he says:

Someone else’s devotion to Jesus and the veracity of their faith confession are above your pay grade.

I understand that this news likely comes as a surprise to you. The Pharisees and Sadducees of the Scriptures suffered from the same afflictive arrogance currently plaguing you.

They too imagined themselves qualified to established people’s moral worth and believed they were arbiters of other’s righteousness.

The Scriptures say that those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved; not those who conform to your preferences or acquiesce to your fears or bow to your bigotry. The saving and the life-giving and the movement of the Spirit aren’t within your control or defined by your desires.

Pavlovitz references Romans 10: 12-14, in context. Paul the Apostle doesn’t list any exceptions in his statement regarding who is eligible for salvation. In fact, Paul’s reason for making this statement is to address a matter of racism that had cropped up in the early Church. He starts out by saying, “There is no difference between Jews and anyone else.” For the late first century, that was a pretty radical idea. The Jews of that period considered themselves “God’s chosen people” and by extension that made God their private property. No one else was allowed to worship YWH without converting to Judaism first, and they tended to be rather picky about who was allowed to make that conversion.

Paul is pretty blunt in his statement, even more so than Pavlovitz. He shakes the community in Rome to its core when he says there’s no difference between Jews and anyone else (most translations use the word Gentiles, which is a little softer than the actual language Paul used). Then, Paul hits with a reference back to Hebrew scripture (Joel 2:32) to remind them that anyone can have salvation. In other words, THIS IS NOT A NEW CONVERSATION!

Even before there was a Christ figure with which to contend, Hebrew scripture predating the Apostle Paul by nearly 1,000 years negated the ridiculous idea that there could be any exception as to whom God would accept. None. Zero. [Noting that there really is no firm dating of Joel’s prophecies because he makes no direct reference to anything that can be put on a timeline.] Therefore, claiming that being gay (or lesbian, or trans, or a person who puts pineapple on pizza) prevents someone from being a Christian doesn’t hold water. The statement is unbiblical, unsupportable, hypocritical, and beyond ignorant. Moreover, there is the strongly implied inference that if God doesn’t make any exceptions then those who believe in and follow him should not make exceptions, either. Paul’s audience had just as much difficulty with that concept as do contemporary evangelicals. Yet, no matter how much one wants to put spin on scripture, any half-honest translation ends up at exactly the same place: God accepts everyone without caveat.

See what happens when one looks at what the Bible actually says, in context, versus trying to twist it into something politically or socially convenient? This is exactly why the guess-work required by WWJD is so dangerous—it takes one out of the realm of relying on scripture and puts us in the position of interpreting scripture to match the desires of the moment. Religious texts, any of them, are easily manipulated to support whatever ideology one wants when one strays from actual context. A belief system loses its credibility when it constantly changes to fit the convenience of the situation.

Another disturbing aspect to WWJD is that it completely bypasses the fact that some of the events in the Bible are wholly inappropriate for contemporary society. I know that concept rubs a lot of Christians the wrong way because they are convinced that the Bible is current and authoritative for all of modern society. That’s really stretching things a bit, though.

Expressing this dichotomy in the most lovely of manners was the late Rachel Held Evans in her book, “Inspired.” I’ve referenced Mrs. Held Evans before, but in this book she challenges the concept that “God’s ways are not our ways so don’t go questioning what you don’t understand.” Here’s an excerpt from the book:

The question of God’s character haunted every scene and every act and every drama of the Bible. It wasn’t just the story of Noah’s flood or Joshua’s conquests that unsettled me. The book of Judges recounts several horrific war stories in which women’s bodies are used as weapons, barter, or plunder, without so much as a peep of objection from the God in whose name these atrocities are committed. One woman, a concubine of a Levite man, is thrown to a mob, gang-raped, and dismembered as part of an intertribal dispute (Judges 19). Another young girl is ceremonially sacrificed to God after God grants a military victory to her father, Jephthah, who promised to offer as a burnt offering “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites” (Judges 11:31). Earlier, in the book of Numbers, God assists the Israelites in an attack against the Midianites, and tells the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child from the community. They kill all except the young virgin girls whom the soldiers divide up as spoils of war. Feminist scholar Phyllis Trible aptly named these narratives “texts of terror.”

While women are raped, killed, and divided as plunder, God stands by, mute as clay.

I waited for a word from God, but no word came.

The inability to see the difference between portions of scripture meant for instruction versus those meant to provide historical context is what gives us religious terrorists such as ISIS. Remember, Islam accepts much of the same Canon of early Hebrew texts as does Judaism and Christianity. When one applies the WWJD philosophy to those scriptures we get the establishment of caliphates that think nothing of mowing down hundreds of thousands of people in the name of religious purity. Again, Mrs. Held Evans states (emphasis hers):

If the slaughter of Canaanite children elicits only a shrug, then why not the slaughter of Pequots? Of Syrians? Of Jews? If we train ourselves not to ask hard questions about the Bible, and to emotionally distance ourselves from any potential conflicts or doubts, then where will we find the courage to challenge interpretations that justify injustice? How will we know when we’ve got it wrong?

“Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man,” Thomas Paine said.  If the Bible teaches that God is love, and love can look like genocide and violence and rape, then love can look like . . . anything. It’s as much an invitation to moral relativism as you’ll find anywhere.

Use of the term “moral relativism” requires some explanation. Moral relativism is the philosophy or belief that morality holds true (or false) based on what is happening at any specific moment in history. In other words, yesterday’s morality does not necessarily become today’s morality because the situation has changed.

Do you see how this is problematic? “If it was good enough for Abraham and Moses, it’s good enough for me,” opens the door to everything from the callous slaughter of innocents to the deliberate execution of “infidels.” The very reason Islamic terrorists are able to recruit young people is because they convince them terror answers the question WWMD (What Would Muhammad Do)?

Playing around fast and loose with scripture not only takes us toward a path of heresy but disassociates us from the teaching of Christ himself. The theological stance that the Bible is to be taken literally, that there is no use of metaphor or morality plays in any of the texts, that everything happened exactly in the manner listed and that no literary appliances were applied in the development of the stories lacks a certain amount of academic credibility on its own. When applied to choice snippets of Biblical literature, however, it weaponizes the Bible for use as a horrible bludgeon against whomever or whatever the reader wishes to oppose. We lose the deeper context and meaning implied by the text. Knee-jerk radicalism becomes the basic response to most everything.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Colorado pastor, writes in one of her books:

The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.

Using the words of Jesus as the balance against which all other portions of the Bible are measured takes away the violence, the hate, the discrimination, the xenophobia, the homophobia, and nationalism of the Old Testament. Instead, we find an attitude centered in peace, a desire for harmony, and more than anything, a nagging insistence for forgiveness.

Again, Bolz-Weber writes:

Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” not forgive us and smite those bastards who hurt us.

Forgiveness is a big deal to Jesus, and like that guy in high school with a garage band, he talks about it, like, all the time.

One might reasonably question that if forgiveness is such a strong theme for Jesus, who is allegedly the centerpoint of all things Christian, then why don’t we see more forgiveness in the doctrines and practice of Christianity. I’m sure I’m not the only person struck by the fact that one time Jesus blew his cool in public and drove the money changers from the temple, and that becomes the character trait Christians choose to emulate more than the countless number of times he talks about forgiveness, charity, and caring for the poor. Perhaps one of the reasons WWJD do is so offensive is because those espousing that philosophy only look at the what they interpret as the more aggressive moments of Christ. They miss the quiet, comforting, accepting, forgiving personality of the deity incarnate completely.

We cannot adequately or accurately answer the question of WWJD unless we have a firm understanding of who Jesus is and we cannot begin to understand who Jesus is without confronting the mind-boggling and infinite question of who God is. The portrayal of God one receives from some pulpits is that of a damning, vengeful, “my way or the highway” kind of deity that advocates tossing people out of the family because they don’t play by the rules. That definition of God insists upon whooping our disobedient asses while intoning the most useless phrase any parent ever uttered, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”

One more time with Bolz-Weber:

I can’t imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can’t imagine that God doesn’t reveal God’s self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity. In a way, I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine.

Perhaps here is the crux of why WWJD doesn’t work: our failure to understand the enormous capacity for God to love, to forgive, blocks us from embracing the offensive nature of grace therefore leaving us incapable of understanding the thoughts and intentions of Christ even when he laid them out for us in plain sight. Our desire to fit God inside a box, any box, leaves out too much of what deity is, all that it encompasses. We cannot begin to comprehend WWJD when one worships a deity shrunken down and confined to ancient texts of questionable origin.

Only when we look at what Jesus says, with every last bit of contextual inference and historical relativism and the immense deific perspective applied do we begin to catch a glimpse, and I’m convinced that it’s little more than a sliver, of what he would have us do. We have this horrible tendency when faced with the outward focus of any religion, because they all ultimately have that same first-shall-be-last, we-before-me thing going, to find a way to wedge ourselves into the equation somewhere toward the top.

We like congratulating each other for doing anything that might align with what Jesus taught. We reward those who give the most, those who help build the biggest hospitals, those who pastor the biggest churches, those who have the largest television ministries, and those who spend the most time in the mission field. What we fail to realize is that in doing so we relegate the poor, the sinner, the person in need, to little more than notches on a religious gunbelt. Even when one doesn’t directly do the aggrandizement for themselves, every rating system we create, every quantification of what we’ve done, pushes God out of the way so that we can take the spotlight. The moment we even think in those terms, whether we act on them or not, we stop being anything at all like Jesus. There is no concept of what Jesus might do when we completely misrepresent what Jesus says.

On one occasion, a few months before his death, I had taken Poppa to the doctor and before returning home we stopped by the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. The sight of those chairs across the lawn raised deep emotions. The names of the 168 people killed, many of them infants, tore at our hearts and prompted the inevitable question, “How could anyone do something like this?”

Poppa, wiping tears from his eyes, said quietly, “This is what happens when people think they are doing what Jesus would do.”

What Jesus Actually Said

What Jesus Actually Said

Poppa kept a Bible next to his chair in the living room, which was a point of humor as his eyesight gradually diminished to the point that, even with a magnifying glass, the words were little more than oddly-shaped gray blobs on the thin paper. Late one evening on our last visit outside hospice, we were talking and I was expressing some discomfort with what I was seeing in the Church. I thought I was hedging my words well because I thought I knew my father’s position on just about everything. I was wrong.

Picking up his Bible and setting it on the arm of his chair, he said, “If you’re looking for God in these pages, you’re not going to find him. If you’re looking for God in a building, you’re not going to find him. If you’re looking for God inside yourself you dishonor him. God is too big to be ‘housed’ anywhere. He is as expansive as the universe. We don’t find him, he comes to us.”

GPS wasn’t yet a thing that was widely available and reliable so the comments that come to mind now would have made no sense then. Instead, our conversation came back around to things like predestination (a topic on which we politely disagreed) and various concepts of God’s presence and whether God has an audible voice. There was, at least on my end, a sense that the gap between our belief systems was widening and Poppa was trying to extend the bridge as I pushed the edges of the canyon further apart.  Finally, he said:

“The core of the New Testament and the heart of being Christian is found in Matthew 5. Look deep into the social inferences of the Beatitudes and consider the expanse of what Jesus is actually saying. I’m not sure anyone who heard him that day understood what he was saying or they might have stoned him on the spot. What he’s advocating is offensive to our way of life. He’s anti-capitalism, anti-democracy, anti-authoritarian, and anti-tradition while still embracing the customs and culture of his time. This is why religious leaders turned on him—Jesus was radical good in the face of radical evil and the religious structure of the day found that offensive. Anyone who is preaching a gospel that isn’t radically good and radically offensive is not hearing what Jesus is saying, then or now.”

Sadly, as the hour grew late and Poppa grew tired, we were not given the opportunity to take that conversation much further. In the years since, though, his words have run through my head often and when they do I look at that passage in the fifth chapter of Matthew and consider what Jesus was really saying and what his words prompt us to do. Let’s do this dissection together.

When Jesus Said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  He was saying, “blessed are those who find joy in things that are not materialistic, those who find pleasure in giving even to the point of their own discomfort; blessed are those who realize that we, of ourselves, can provide nothing for ourselves, neither physically or emotionally or intellectually; blessed are those who don’t chase after every trend, every new technology, or the highest position available.

Jesus was not saying, “Blessed are those who are down but pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” or “Blessed are those who are totally independent and rely on no one.”

When Jesus Said: ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

He was saying, “Blessed are those who have lost everything—a spouse, a child, a parent, a home, an opportunity, a job, a ride in the pouring rain.” He was also saying, “Blessed are those who see the injustice around them and feel their hearts torn, blessed are those who cry for people enslaved through modern tactics of economic dependency, blessed are those see the planet being destroyed before their very eyes and despite their best efforts cannot save it; blessed are those who mourn for what is right under the siege of a government intent on doing what is wrong. Blessed are those who send an innocent child to school, to learn, and that child doesn’t return home because of unchecked gun violence.”

Jesus was not saying, “Blessed are those who pout when they don’t get their way,” or “Blessed are those who cheat and get caught,” or even “Blessed are those who start an unjust war they can’t win.” Not everything we lose deserves the blessing that comes with mourning. When we are complicit in what caused the loss is is the guilt that causes us pain and without forgiveness there is no release from that guilt.

When Jesus Said: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth, he was saying, “Blessed are the people who have a handle on their shit and keep it under control; Blessed are those who understand the strength of being gentle, those who understand the hurt and abuse of anger and choose to avoid it. Blessed are those who address challenges to their philosophy with respect and intelligence.” Jesus was saying, “Blessed are those who guide with a careful hand on the reigns, those who set a worthy example rather than leading by brute force.”

What Jesus is not saying is “Blessed is the angry alpha-type person who yells and screams to get what they want.” He is not saying, “Blessed is the church that exerts political power,” or “Blessed is the pastor who guilts his congregation into giving him more money or buy him a private jet.” Jesus is not defining meek as anything remotely related to weakness, but rather the ability to control one’s strength and to use that power and influence for genuine, humanitarian good.

When Jesus Said: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. He was talking about a very specific kind of justice. He wasn’t talking about the self-centered, taking matters into their own hands, religious vigilantism that has people carrying signs in protest and passing anti-abortion laws that endanger the lives of women and their children. No, not at all.

Jesus  is saying, “Blessed are those who look for the long-term solution to injustice rather than the short-term bandage. Blessed are those who look for a tenacious love to overwhelm the indifference and hate of oppression. Blessed are those who seek justice through rehabilitation. Blessed are those who seek justice through mercy and grace. Blessed are those who know when justice has gone far enough.

Jesus is not saying “Blessed are those who hijack political parties in the name of religion,” nor is he saying, “Blessed are those who substitute revenge for justice.” Jesus’ concept of justice has nothing to do with making people pay for their sin and everything to do with bringing everyone back into the family.

When Jesus Said: Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy, he was saying, “Blessed are those who relive the suffering of others; Blessed are those who feed the hungry, Blessed are those who give away their clothes rather than resell them; Blessed are those who take in the homeless rather than shrugging that the shelter is full; Blessed are those who meet people’s needs without asking for an ID card or proof of citizenship.”

What Jesus is most definitely not saying is, “Blessed are those who fund ministries from the leftovers of their church budget.” Neither is he saying “Blessed are those who call themselves charitable but charge market prices for their services.” When he instructs his followers to be merciful there is an implied level of sacrifice, that he expects people to actually take care of their fellow humans without any regard to what they’re getting out of it, including any presumed religious favor. Being merciful is not only giving from our abundance but giving when we have nothing left for ourselves.

When Jesus Said: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God, he’s really applying some pressure. He’s saying, “Blessed are those who don’t merely pretend to be good but are genuinely good on the inside. Blessed are those whose hearts have been refined by fire, those who have survived deception and disappointment from a false Christianity and still managed to find truth. Blessed are those who see past the obvious to perceive what is good and what is right. Blessed are those not dissuaded or fooled by Fake News or the shell games of con men standing behind pulpits in stained-glass cathedrals.”

What Jesus is not saying is,  “Blessed are those who pray the loudest and the longest.” He is not saying “Blessed are those who wear the name for political game.” He is not saying, “Blessed are those whose Christianity exists only for an hour on Sunday morning.” Jesus is saying, “Blessed are those who have surgically removed all the selfishness and greed and hate from their lives to become committed to the truth.”

What Jesus Said: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God, he was addressing those right in front of him, even among those closest to him, who expected him to raise up an Army and take on the Romans. That’s not what Jesus has ever been about, though. Instead, he’s telling us, “Blessed are those who bring people together, not divide them apart. Blessed are those who put out the fires that others started. Blessed are those who let go of grudges to find reconciliation. Blessed are those who reach across the aisle of ideological differences and say, ‘We can do this.’”

Jesus is specifically not saying is, “Blessed are those with the best defense mechanism.” Neither is he blessing those who support and maintain the biggest military industrial complex in the world, and especially he is not offering a blessing to those who would put a gun in the hands of every person on the street. Jesus doesn’t buy into this strange concept that we can be peacemakers by threatening to take every life on the planet. For Jesus, the biggest deterrent toward war and violence is love, not weaponry.

When Jesus Said: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, he’s understanding that if one does what he’s already instructed them to do, they’re going to catch some serious flack. He’s saying, “Blessed are those who do what I’ve instructed and catch unholy hell for it. Blessed are those who question the patriarchy and get roasted by Christianity Today. Blessed are those who challenge centuries of Church misogyny and abuse only to lose their job because of it. Blessed are those who are fined or put in jail for feeding the hungry and homeless. Blessed are those who are asked to not return to church because the sinners they brought with them made the congregation feel uncomfortable.”

Jesus was not addressing those who are inconvenienced in respecting the differing faith of others nor those who are told “you can’t put a cross on public property.” He wasn’t addressing those who were asked to bake a cake or fill out a marriage license or pay for their employee’s birth control through their health insurance.

He even takes it a step further

When Jesus Said: Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account it was as though he was looking directly at our present day situation. He was saying, “Blessed are those who get called names by the alleged leader of the free world. Blessed are those whose social media feed is filled with trolls challenging the tenets of one’s faith. Blessed are those who put humanity before profit and are called radicals. Blessed are those who accept those seeking a better life and are called bleeding hearts. Blessed are those who are called heretics because they believe God doesn’t care how one identifies or what label might be assigned because if we are divinely made we are divinely loved without distinction.”

Jesus was not addressing those who get butt hurt when they’re called out on their hypocrisy. He offered no blessing for those criticized for building church campuses worth millions of dollars while those on the outskirts starve. Jesus provides no sympathy for those who are ridiculed when they close their church buildings rather than housing refugees and victims of natural disasters. Jesus especially provides no solace for the “bad press” that comes for ignoring rampant abuse.

Jesus, The Quiet Revolutionary

Jesus, The Quiet Revolutionary

We fail to realize that Jesus quietly lays out a complete social structure that he expects Christians to follow and it is nothing like what anyone has done the past 2,000 years. He continues his sermon, at least by Matthew’s account, through chapters six and seven as well. Some have reasonably argued that the event took three days to deliver. Along the way, Jesus says some things that are, by today’s standards, rather radical.

  • Uncontrolled anger is on par with murder (5: 21-22)
  • Seek arbitration rather than taking someone to court (5:25)
  • Take responsibility for your sexual aggression rather than blaming the victim (5:27-30)
  • Give more than is asked (5:41-42)
  • Love your enemies (as opposed to “bombing them back to the stone age.”) (5:43-47)
  • Avoid publicity for your actions (6:1)
  • Keep your beliefs private (6:5)
  • Don’t accumulate excessive wealth (6:19)
  • Don’t be materialistic (6:25-33)
  • Judging others is hypocritical (7:1-5)
  • Don’t waste resources (7:6)
  • Beware of Fake News and con men (7:15-21)

Over the course of this and four other sermons Matthew records, Jesus covers a lot of ground but he doesn’t cover everything and very little translates well to modern society. We can stretch and twist like a well-conditioned yogi but Jesus doesn’t tell us how much screen time the five-year-old should have or the evilness of homeowners associations. I’m not the first person to point out that Jesus talked about attitudes and behaviors, not specific actions. That means Jesus did not directly address a host of modern issues, including sexuality (except for prohibiting abuse), gender, technology, immunization, AI, the world cup, sports in general, cosmetic surgery, soda, casual nudity, tattoos, globalism, partisanship, anything to do with the United States (sorry, Mormons), fashion, space exploration, quantum physics, super heroes, bionics, yoga, smooth or crunchy peanut butter, and which way to toilet paper should roll, among billions of other things. Asking WWJD for any of those issues or circumstances is absurdly presumptive and theologically ignorant.

When we ask What Did Jesus Say, however, the answer is rather consistent:

  • Give generously, even to the point of having nothing left
  • Work diligently and to the best of your ability, beyond what is asked or expected
  • Love unconditionally, even to those you find unlovable and undeserving
  • Endure without complaint regardless of what is said against you
  • Be gentle in the face of unjust and undeserved aggression

These are tough words and from a political standpoint are even further left than Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might seem to be. Jesus doesn’t fit comfortably in a society that is focused on greed and power and grabbing everything one can grab. His words are radical to the point of being revolutionary. Jesus’ words are all-inclusive. The love of God has zero exceptions. There are no citizenship requirements. There are no borders or boundaries. Everyone is equal and over and over and over he states and demonstrates that it is our responsibility to care for everyone else without concern for ourselves.

When we look at WDJS, we realize that the United States has never followed his teachings in either spirit or law. For that matter, for the greater portion of its history, neither has the Church that bears his name.

Instead of following what Jesus says, we would rather mistakenly impose actions, attempt to control other people and what they do with their bodies. We would rather make displays of overwhelming strength and show off how rich we are. We would rather keep the poor and non-Caucasian person marginalized.  We would rather overthrow governments and sow the seeds of chaos. We would rather facilitate unchecked greed in the name of innovation. We would rather beat down our opponents rather than give them a level playing field. We would rather tell women, “No, you can’t.” We would rather tell immigrants, “Go back, we’re all full up.” We would rather ignore and excuse the flagrant adultery of one while demonizing the morality of another. We would rather separate ourselves into feuding sects than sit at a common table. We would rather feed others the scraps of fast food while we dine sumptuously on steak.

We cannot begin to comprehend What Would Jesus Do because we have no real concept of what Jesus said. We have no business claiming to follow the teachings of someone to whom we’ve never actually listened. We cannot claim any moral authority to tell anyone how to behave when we completely and thoroughly ignore the one who set the standard.

That we would claim to have any concept of WWJD demonstrates our level of spiritual bankruptcy because he left no question about how we should live. It’s radical. It’s anti-democratic. It’s anti-capitalistic. It’s the very antithesis of the American society, but it’s straightforward and pure in its truth.

Give until you have nothing left to give.

Love when there’s no reason to love.

Endure to the very end.

Jesus’ words set the standard and anyone who claims to follow him but does not live up to that standard is a false teacher and a con man. So, when  a politician attempts to force a matter of religion, or a preacher attempts to influence a matter of politics, the question is never What Would Jesus Do. The only question that applies is What Did Jesus Say, and if it doesn’t match up, then the follower of Christ has no choice but to reject it completely.

Like it or not, that’s the standard you’ve chosen.

Limited Bibliography

Additional sources are linked directly in the article

Sandstrom, Alexandra, “God or the Divine Is Mentioned in Every State Constitution.” August 17, 2017

Lipka, Michael, “10 Facts About Religion in America.” August 27, 2015

“Franklin Graham – Early Years”. Experiencefestival.com. Archived from the original on March 22, 2012.

Mazza, Ed, “Franklin Graham Gets Holy Hell After Telling Pete Buttigieg To Repent For Being Gay.” April, 24, 2019

French, David, “Franklin Graham & Lost Evangelical Witness: Transactional Approach to Politics Hurts Church.” National Review. April 25, 2019

Southern Baptist Convention, “Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials.” June, 1998

Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah & Micah. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. (Eerdmans, 1976)

Held Evans, Rachel, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again (Thomas Nelson, June 2018)

Bolz-Weber, Nadia, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of Sinner and Saint (Jericho Boox, September 2013)

Bridges, Jerry, The Blessings of Humility. (NavPress, June 2016)

Cavey, Bruxy, Blessed Are The Meek (sermon)

Metzger, Paul Louis, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”—not those who crave fast food justice (Patheos, January 2015)

Martin III, John C., The Sermon on the Mount (AuthorHouse, 2004)

Bourgeault, Cynthia, The Way of the Heart (Parabola, January 2017)


White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

Being significantly Native American is something of which I am proud. Our family heritage beginning in North Georgia and the Carolinas prior to being forcibly removed to Oklahoma carries with it a tremendous amount of legacy and culture. I have, for the majority of my life, happily and at times ferociously identified as a first nation’s citizen.

However, when most people first meet me, they typically don’t see someone whose sympathies and loyalties lie with the Cherokee and Choctaw nations. What most people see is the result of my French heritage on my maternal grandfather’s side. It’s not that I’m ashamed of a family of teachers that migrated from Calais under the persecution of the Catholic church and landed in New Amsterdam in the early 17th century, settling in what is now Long Island. I’m somewhat proud of the fact that our family defended the United States in every major war even if surviving those conflicts wasn’t necessarily a strong point.

If I wanted, I could easily enough pass as just another white guy and go on through my life claiming the privilege afforded to such. Where I have a problem is knowing that the European side of my family actively participated in the oppression of the native side of my family. While the native peoples often won direct encounters with my grandfather’s ancestors, the policies and subjugation supported by my white ancestors is not something with which I can morally agree. Therefore, I find it less reprehensible to identify with my native family.

What I can’t control is how others see me. I don’t look like a native person at first glance, especially when Kat keeps my hair cut and colored as it is now. Following my father’s death from complications from melanoma, I’ve been careful with my exposure to the sub which keeps my skin rather pale. That means that, whether I like it or not, I am most frequently treated as a white guy.

For most of my life, being treated like a white guy hasn’t been especially bad. There are a lot of privileges that come with people thinking you’re white, especially when traveling through predominantly white parts of the world. Increasingly, however, and totally through our own fault, being a white male is becoming a problem. White males have now been strapped with the same kind of negative stereotype they’ve previously imposed on others. Those people groups who have been previously oppressed by white males, and there are a lot of those groups, are starting to take a stand and call on white men to take responsibility for their crimes as well as those of their ancestors.

For example, the issue of slave reparations looks to be a hot-button issue in next year’s Democratic primary. Be sure that native tribes are watching those conversations with intentions of launching a second, different kind of #metoo movement should reparations start gaining serious ground. What European invaders did to both groups was/is unspeakable and making amends isn’t going to come quickly nor cheaply. There has been a lot of damage done at the hands of white guys over the centuries.

All this makes white guys nervous because, from their perspective, all they see is their power, privilege, and influence slipping away. As a result, they’re acting in the same way as did their ancestors: being jackasses.

Being jackasses has typically worked well for white guys in the past at the first sign of any form of a challenge by increasing the oppression, doubling down on the punishment imposed through the institutions they control.

Life in the 21st century doesn’t quite work the same way, though. There are laws preventing continued oppression and multiple organizations with strong financial influence happy to raise a fuss if anyone tries. Male-run institutions that once dominated social life, such as the Christian church, are now largely ignored, in some cases reviled, and routinely mocked for their attempts at meddling outside matters of faith. The weapons white guys traditionally use no longer are sources of fear to people who are sick and tired of being oppressed.

As a result, we see white guys resorting to being jackasses on their own, doing and saying things in support of the patriarchy and then getting upset when someone calls them out for being a jackass. Even online trolls hiding behind the masks of anonymity are finding people laugh at their ignorance, dissolving their power.

Fortunately, not every white guy on the planet wants to be a jackass. In fact, a number of white guys have told me they don’t start out trying to be a jackass—it just happens. They’ll do something they’ve done repeatedly for 30 years without anyone saying anything and now they’re suddenly forced to apologize and often resign from their employment. For possibly the first time in recorded history, white men are not in control of the social environment and are finding it difficult to adapt because they’ve never had to adapt to anything before now. They’re clueless.

So, having some sense for what white guys are feeling but with absolutely no sympathy, I’m offering the following basic guidelines for what white guys need to do to not be complete jackasses. Understand, I don’t have space here to go into the depth of detail some guys are going to need. There are a lot of ways to be a jackass. I’ll cover the basics here and continue later if there is appropriate justification. That means more than three people need to read this. Let’s get started.

Remember: White Guys Are A Symbol Of All That’s Wrong

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

Proof in point: just this past week, following the aftermath of a racist, xenophobic terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the primary shooter directly referenced the US President and statements supporting white supremacy, the US President states that he doesn’t consider white supremacy to be a problem. His blatant and willful ignorance is a maximum jackass exhibition.

The list of horrible things perpetrated by white guys and the institutions and governments they control is astounding. Just going back the past 2,400 or so years, here are a few of the low moments of history where white guys really sucked:

  • Subjugation and enslavement of multiple people groups through the expansion of the Holy Roman Empire
  • Use of caste systems to oppress the poor
  • The Dark Ages and the Crusades
  • The Inquisition
  • The imperialistic takeover of foreign countries
  • Every European war
  • Every World war
  • Every American war
  • Intercontinental slave trade
  • Mass genocide of North American indigenous peoples
  • Mass genocide of ethnic Europeans
  • Misappropriation of cultural, ethnic, and religious history, artifacts, and customs
  • Imposition of religious-based moral code
  • Mass rejection of contributions to science and medicine by women and people of color
  • Theft of intellectual property and patents from women and people of color
  • Jim Crow laws
  • Racial segregation
  • Institutionalized misogyny
  • Gender discrimination
  • Denial of civil rights
  • White nationalism

I could go on for several pages but I think that list is sufficient to make my point. Every time a woman or person of color encounters a white guy, they see all that history, all that inclination toward hate, all of those instances of abuse of power and denial of basic humanity, and they respond with a justified distrust of every white guy on the planet. How white guys have responded for all of history shapes expectations for what white guys might do next and that expectation is that white guys are jackasses.

Yes, that is an unpleasant stereotype but it is not unfair because it’s based in well-documented fact. The reluctance of the US President to denounce the violent white nationalist movement as a global problem shows that the stereotype remains accurate. When people naturally question the motives of anything a white guy says or does it is because, as a group, white guys have proven they cannot be trusted.

Knowing that they start every social encounter with that stigma against them should make white guys more aware of when they’re being or about to be a jackass. When white guys begin to see themselves as other people see them, one might think they would be ashamed, and yes, some are.

Unfortunately, too many deny the reality of their past. Too many white guys claim they don’t have a racist bone in their body while being overtly racist. Too many white guys claim they support women in public but beat them up, physically and emotionally, in private. Too many white guys want to enforce laws on other people they don’t keep for themselves.

Too many white guys are jackasses and it’s not a secret. Everyone knows and judges every white guy they meet based upon that standard behavior. The only way to change that is for white guys to change their default behavior.

MAGA Is The New Klan

Symbolism is a big factor in what makes a person a jackass and there are some things that immediately identify a white guy, or anyone else for that matter, as a jackass. Among those symbols of gross ignorance are:

  • Klan hoods
  • Nazi/Neo-Nazi symbols such as swastikas
  • Confederate battle flags
  • Anything named after a Confederate
  • MAGA merchandise

The past three years have seen a disturbing rise in the visibility of white supremacists. Concepts and ideas we thought were behind us, shoved into dark closets where their presence could be ignored, have been emboldened by the rhetoric of alt-right publications, radio talk show hosts, and the diatribe of politicians (who are primarily white guys) espousing anti-immigrant nationalism.

As a result, what began as a campaign slogan has become another symbol of hate. People wearing Make America Great Again (MAGA) merchandise have taken to public rallies and social media to hurl vulgarities at people of color, people of non-Christian ethnicities, women, and even scientists and doctors. The frequency and volume with which that has happened is overwhelming and leaves those whose people groups have been attacked with little choice but to assume that anyone wearing such merchandise has to be a jackass.

Think of this in terms of guilt by association. When one is part of a team, and white guys are certainly their own team, one takes credit for the team’s activities. If a basketball team wins a game, it doesn’t matter how many of those points LeBron scored, the team won. When the rest of the Lakers fail to step up and lost the game, LeBron is just as much a loser as the rest of the team.

Guilt by association works the same way. When someone commits an act of hate while wearing a religious symbol, it smears the reputation of anyone wearing that same religious symbol. When someone says something racist while standing in front of a Confederate battle flag, it negatively colors the acts and words of anyone else embracing the Confederate battle flag regardless of their reasoning. When hundreds and thousands of people wearing MAGA hats scream derogatory and inflammatory comments about the press and immigrants it causes everyone in a MAGA hat to look like a jackass.

Please note that this has nothing to do with who has the right to do what. One still has the right to wear what they want to wear (with the exception of Nazi symbols across parts of Europe). However, it is impossible to embrace symbols of hate and still claim that one doesn’t hate. Words come rather inexpensively and if one’s actions don’t match with one’s words people of reason are going to trust the actions more than the words.

One also needs to be aware that just because something was once socially acceptable within a cloistered group of some form doesn’t make it publicly acceptable now. The use of blackface in minstrel shows is a prime example. Those cloistered within predominantly white society didn’t find anything wrong with the practice because they never even considered the racial implications. Now that people of color have made it abundantly clear how offensive blackface is, not only do we need to avoid it but we need to apologize if we’ve committed those acts previously. Such apologies are not merely for doing something offensive but for the willful ignorance that allowed one to engage in those incidents in the first place.

White guys are too often too slow to give up their symbols and too reluctant to admit their ignorance. While I don’t think anyone expects every white guy to suddenly change, be very much aware that wearing anything MAGA-oriented identifies one as a jackass. No other actions required.

Lose Your Obsession With Guns

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

When the founding fathers, a bunch of white guys, wrote the Constitution of the United States, our military was a long way from being the bloated representation of government overreach that it is today. There was no standing Army. Instead, each state maintained a militia, a National Guard-type unit, to be called upon should there be an invasion. To facilitate the readiness of that militia, the founders included the Second Amendment which reads:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The entire purpose of the amendment was to make sure that no centralized federal government could take away the weapons that might prevent its overthrow should that become necessary. Democracy was a new concept and a lot of people didn’t trust it. The ability to forcibly change forms of government was an important issue.

Times have changed rather dramatically. The combat-ready strength of the US military stands at roughly 1.5 million troops supported by the best weaponry and technology in the world. While each state still maintains a localized National Guard under the control of each state’s governor, its weapons and materials are also provided by the federal military. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for anyone else to purchase and maintain military-grade weaponry. None. Zero. No one’s going to successfully take on an entire US Marine squardron and live to tell the tale. The initial purpose of the second amendment no longer exists.

However, white guys have been fighting tooth and nail for the right to keep weapons of every imaginable type in the name of “personal safety.” The problem with that is that, in turn, it is white guys causing the high-fatality incidents involving guns.

The problem with white guys and guns isn’t just in the United States, either. The person charged with the murder of 49 people in New Zealand is a white guy as well. The person who killed 69 people at a camp in Norway: a white guy. Over and over and over, we see it is predominantly white guys committing the greater acts of violence.

Here’s the thing: very few people think twice about someone having one gun. Whether for the myth of self-protection (one is more likely to be killed by their own gun) or for sport, one or even two guns is only going to raise the eyebrows of those committed to pacificity.

What is bothersome are those who stockpile weapons, especially weapons of military grade and weapons modified to do more damage to a target. There’s no legitimate, peaceful reason for maintaining these weapons. One can’t take them hunting because they damage the trophy. The only reason to have them in one’s possession is to kill people more efficiently, and any non-military concern over killing efficiently makes one a jackass.

Who does one plan on killing with weapons of such high damage strength? To claim that one is guarding themselves against the government is preposterous because from the outset one is massively outnumbered. That leaves the rest of us, normal, law-abiding citizens who now have to worry about the fact that some white guy has the ability to efficiently kill dozens of people before anyone can do anything to stop him.

No one in any oppressed group believes in such a thing as a good guy with a gun because that has not been our experience. In a world where people feel emboldened to shoot first and figure out the facts later, any display of excessive and unnecessary force is bothersome. Furthermore, the more one yells and screams about their “right” to carry, own, and stockpile such weapons, the most untrustworthy and suspicious they appear.

When we see a white guy desperately clinging to his weapons with a “pry them from my dead, cold hands” attitude, we see someone capable of committing the next mass shooting. We don’t see a “nice guy.” We don’t see someone who is going to keep “the rest of us” safe. We see a lunatic. We see a jackass.

Keep Your Pants On

Again, recent news points to the problem white guys have thinking they have some right to have sex with everyone else, including children. Perhaps the biggest news of the past month in this regard is the sentencing of former Cardinal Pell, another white guy, for his assault on two choir boys. Finally, we’re seeing the courts and perhaps, more importantly, the Catholic church standing up against jackasses who commit sexual assault.

One doesn’t have to commit a felony to be guilty of being a jackass, though. White guys have long held this mistaken belief that it is their job to propagate the human species and acted as though the world were dependent upon them having as much sex with as many different people as possible. Those guys are all wrong. The planet is over-populated, so we don’t need anyone propagating the species and too many of their victims would not be capable of producing offspring because they, too, are guys.

Sexually aggressive white guys have gotten away with their actions for centuries because anyone who dared to speak up was instantly shamed and ridiculed, that whole blame-the-victim problem. Fortunately, society, in large part thanks to the #metoo movement, has started moving away from that bad habit and is calling out white guys who attempt to impose their sexual urges upon anyone who does not want them or who might be incapable of providing informed consent.

Dear white guys: if anyone is desperate enough to want to have sex with you, they’ll find a way to let you know. Outside of that scenario, back the fuck off everyone. Stop leering from across the room. Stop stalking people on social media. When you break up with someone, don’t keep texting, stay off their social media, and let them get on with their lives without you. Perhaps more than anything white guys, stop sending people pictures of your penis when they haven’t asked for them! That act alone is enough to brand a person as a jackass forever.

Please believe me when I say that no one is impressed with the sexual prowess of white guys. Instead, most people are disgusted, disapproving, and disappointed. White guys don’t have anything better, or often as good, as anyone else. White guys are not better lovers, not more romantic, and not more likely to father exceptionally talented or intelligent babies.White guys hold absolutely zero sexual advantage over anyone else.

Instead, white guys have a greater reputation for taking advantage of people who are intoxicated, slipping dangerous substances into people’s drinks, and committing violent sexual acts against anyone they think they can dominate. This is one of those areas where it doesn’t seem to matter if one is gay or straight, either. Gay white guys tend to be just as sexually inappropriate toward other men as straight white guys are toward women. The only significant difference between the two is that gay white guys often pretend to be straight white guys because they’re afraid to admit that they’re gay, which a completely different issue.

Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of people out there who enjoy a good sexual encounter and appreciate a lover who demonstrates sufficient talent in pleasuring their partner. We’re not saying people don’t want to have sex. What we’re saying is that they want to choose with whom and under what conditions they have sex. No one wants to put up with witless suggestive banter (and trust us, all those pickup lines you stole off the Internet are genuinely dull and boring). No one wants to feel that their job depends on having sex with you, or that they may not get a promotion if they turn you down.

I feel the need to be very specific because the demonstrated level of ignorance is so very high. Therefore, take this to heart, doing any of the following things makes one a jackass:

  • Making any form of sexually suggestive comment toward any person under the age of 18. It’s illegal, jackass.
  • Pressuring anyone of any age to have any form of sexual contact with you, including touching outside one’s clothing.
  • Failure to wear a condom during any sexual activity that involves the potential exchange of fluids.
  • Failure to disclose any sexually transmitted disease with a potential partner.
  • Making continued sexual advances or overtures after being told no. No one is really going to respond positively to being “worn down.”
  • Touching someone sexually without permission.
  • Touching, snapping, or pulling on someone’s undergarments without express permission. No, it’s not funny.
  • Pulling out one’s penis in public. Ever.
  • Implying with or without any level of specificity that sexual activity with you might lead to any form of preferential treatment.
  • Blaming someone else for your sexual aggression.
  • Suggesting that someone’s manner of dress or other activities was “asking for it.”
  • Trying to pass off one’s sexual aggression as a religious or fraternal obligation.
  • Dismissing one’s sexual activities with phrases such as “I didn’t mean anything by it,” or “I was just joking around.” No one’s laughing.

Check Your Opinions

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

Fans of The Big Lebowski are fond of replying to a statement with the dismissive quote, “Well, that’s like, just your opinion, man.” Another frequent quote of more questionable sourcing is, “Opinions are like assholes: everyone has one and they all stink.” We have a lot of opinions about opinions and defend severely the right for one to hold whatever opinion they might wish to have.

However, some opinions that white guys often hold get them labeled as jackasses. While one has the right to any nonsense that pops into their pea brain, there are a number of opinions white guys need to keep to themselves. Why? Because some topics are absolutely none of your business and any opinion a white guy holds no those topics is irrelevant. Voicing, especially yelling, an opinion about something that for them is irrelevant puts one squarely within the domain of being a jackass.

Since I am sure that statement leaves some people scratching their heads, let me offer some specific examples.

Anything to do with women’s bodies and/or their ability and willingness to procreate. Only women have the right to express opinions about matters related to their bodies. Even if a white guy is married to a woman, that still does not give them the right to exert any level of dominance over what they do with or to their own bodies. White guys seem to have an especially difficult time getting this fact through their thick heads. When it comes to women’s bodies, your opinion is not wanted, your opinion is not needed, your opinion is irrelevant, and voicing anything other than support makes you a jackass.

Expressing opinions that assume other people, especially women, don’t understand a topic as well as you do. You’ve heard the word “mansplaining,” so don’t do it. Any time a white guy feels the words, “Well, actually … : start to come out of their mouth, they should, as quickly as possible, shove a donut in it so that thought doesn’t actually escape. Believe it or not, people are fulling capable of discovering the truth to matters on their own and if they need the assistance of a white guy, they’ll ask for it. No one has deemed that white guys are any smarter than the rest of the population. Even if you think you’re “just trying to help,” wait for someone to ask. Correcting someone just because you think you’re right makes you a jackass.

Attempting to “relate” with a culture of which you are not a part. Sorry, Dad, you’re not “cool” when you voice your opinion on your daughter’s favorite musician, even if you think you’re agreeing with her. What you are, in fact, doing is embarrassing her and acting like a jackass. The same goes for any white guy who claims to know how a person of color feels. Dude, it is impossible for you to know how a person of color feels because you are not a person of color! You can be sympathetic to their challenges, you can be empathetic to their struggles, you can be supportive of their goals and life choices. But things, like calling someone “nigga” or acting all “hood” when you live in the burbs, is a straight-up jackass move.

Stating opinions that imply a person is not as good as you simply because of their skin color, gender, country of origin, sexual identity, or religious beliefs. The proper term for those opinions is hate and we’ve had about all the hate from white guys that we can stand. As we have stated previously, you are not more important than anyone else. One can be confident and self-assured without disparaging others in the process.Putting yourself above anyone else is a classic jackass move. Not only that, white guys have held these hate-filled opinions for so long that the level of jackass one achieves in expressing hateful opinions magnifies the severity of how very wrong one is being.

White guys, more than any other group, have used their opinions to dominate others. The time has come for this form of manipulation to end. Check your opinion and feel free to keep your mouth shut.

Believe In Science

Nothing makes a white guy look like a jackass any faster than not believing science. Whether it’s regarding vaccinations or climate change or the source of humanity, science has such well-established answers to so many questions that to challenge them without equal levels of scientific evidence is preposterous. Yet, white guys keep going there in astounding numbers. Here are some things white guys have actually said.

“I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming.” – Vice President Mike Pence

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” – Donald J. Trump (2012)

“There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” – Rick Perry

“I’ve heard many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” – US Senator Rand Paul

One doesn’t have to do a lot of research to find that the majority of conspiracy theories and anti-science rhetoric around a number of topics, from the shape of the planet to our exploration of space, are dominated by white guys. Look for science deniers among people of color or women and one doesn’t find many in either group. White men, though, they think they know better than all those folks with their years of research and blind studies and proven theories.

Dear white guys: failure to believe in science makes you look stupid. In fact, anytime a white guy makes a comment contrary to proven science, everyone assumes that such ignorance comes from an inability to comprehend anything more complicated than the construction of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Many people pity the poor white guy whose brain has not developed to the point they understand basic science.

What separates science from white guys’ opinion? Proof. White guys’ attempts at proving their statements are lacking any form of real proof. They may have a large number of assumptions or even utilize anecdotal stories that kinda sound like they might be factual, maybe. Scientists, on the other hand, have to submit their research for peer review, a study by other people who are also smart, and the ability to duplicate findings with accuracy. By the time a piece of scientific research is released to the public, it has already been tested, re-tested, and frequently utilized multiple studies before coming to a consensus. Bottom line, scientists know what they’re talking about while untrained white guys running around the internet fail to have a clue.

When a white guy says they don’t believe science, not only do they look stupid, they are also letting everyone know that they’re scared little boys afraid that all the science is going to destroy their power and influence. I have bad news for those people: when science says the planet is getting warmer, it’s going to happen whether you believe it or not. When science says that without immunization children are going to die of preventable diseases, that’s going to happen regardless of what you believe. Science neither needs nor asks for your approval. A + B = C every time and what some random white guy believes about that is irrelevant.

So, if the choice is being a jackass who looks like a fool or accepting the science and making adjustments accordingly to live a better life, doesn’t it make more sense to believe the science? Yes, it does. This is a really, really easy place to not look like a jackass. Try it.

Stop Calling The Cops On Everyone

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

We seem to have developed this problem over the past three years of white guys calling cops on people of color who are doing nothing more than living their lives. Apparently, a large number of white guys, typically overweight white guys with bad haircuts, seem to think that they need to call the cops anytime they see a person of color or even someone they simply don’t know doing something.

Apparently, there is some disconnect with white guys being able to tell what is an emergency and what isn’t. Let me help you with that. NONE of the following things are reasons to call the police.

Notice each of those items has a link. That link takes one to the CNN article reporting on that ridiculous event actually taking place. Someone actually decided to call the cops because people of color were engaged in these activities.

This is the type of thing that prompts normal people to ask the question, “What the fuck are these people thinking?” The answer is that they’re not thinking at all. People who call the cops on those who are only living their lives are racist jackasses.

I have looked over all of these and tried to imagine under what circumstances someone might be so misguided as to feel the need to call the police. The only excuses I can see is either blatant racism or else every one of these people is hallucinating and thinks brightly colored unicorns that need to be tamed, or some other such nonsense.

People of color know this ongoing form of oppression all too well. The fact that there has been an uptick in reporting this nonsense is new, but there has never been a time in our nation’s history where white guys weren’t calling the police on people of color simply for existing. The biggest difference now is that other people, people of conscience, are watching and making sure that these absurd incidents don’t go unnoticed and, in many cases, that the person calling the police is appropriately shamed or even legally punished.

Still, just in case there is any lingering confusion, these are the instances where one should call the police:

  • When you witness a murder
  • When you witness a shooting
  • When you witness a carjacking
  • When you witness a robbery
  • When you witness a vehicle accident
  • When you are stranded on the road and need assistance
  • When you are being attacked by a herd of wild elephants, lions, or tigers
  • When you’ve fallen and can’t get up
  • When your car is not where you parked it
  • When someone takes a ball bat to your head
  • When someone removes your spleen without your permission
  • When your identity is stolen
  • When you don’t know where you are
  • When you don’t know who you are
  • When you discover a 30-foot crater in your yard that wasn’t there before
  • When bullets come whizzing through your windows
  • When people come whizzing through your windows
  • When cars come whizzing through your walls.

Are you beginning to get the idea? When something actually happens to you or you witness the real commission of a serious crime, then it’s okay to call the police. Any other time, think about what you’re doing before you do it. Calling the police just because people of color are living is being a jackass.

Just Because Someone Is Different Doesn’t Mean They’re Wrong

A large number of white guys seem to have issues with anyone that is different from them. One of the biggest issues with the white supremacy movement is the ridiculous and hilariously unsubstantiated opinion that being white and male somehow makes one better than everyone else on the planet. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There’s nothing wrong with people being different in every way imaginable. People who are of a different race are not wrong. People who are in a different place on the gender spectrum are not wrong. People who love differently are not wrong.

Bottom line: People being who they are and who they want to be is not wrong.

What this comes down to is minding one’s own business. Does it hurt a white guy for someone to not speak English? No. Does it hurt a white guy for a woman to love other women? No. Does it hurt a white guy for someone to worship different mythology? Not at all. All of those are personal issues and that means they have absolutely zero bearing on anyone else.

Since lists seem to be the one thing each of these sections has n common, let’s create another one. Here is a partial list of personal choices, characteristics, and traits that are not anyone’s business except for the person to whom they belong.

  • Being gay, bi, lesbian, trans, pan, omni, or anywhere else on the gender/sexuality spectrum
  • Being vegan or an omnivore or any other dietary preference
  • Having non-white skin
  • Being Muslim, Hindu, or any other non-Christian religion, or no religion at all
  • Being an immigrant, regardless of the circumstances
  • Having sexual fetishes
  • Being voluntarily celibate
  • Whatever number of children one has, including none
  • Having colored hair, or not having any hair at all
  • Body modifications
  • Being overweight or obsessively fit
  • Having emotional and intellectual challenges
  • Physical deformities and challenges

For centuries, white guys have picked on and bullied people like these simply because society let them get away with it. We’re not doing that anymore. Calling people names like “Pocahontas” because they claim some native ancestry or “Cryin’ Chuck” because someone shows emotion is being about as big a jackass as is possible and there’s absolutely no room for it in today’s society.

New flash: Diversity is a strength and going forward it is the cultures that are most diverse that are going to lead the way and dominate in terms of innovation and economic growth. There is no gain to be made by leaving people out of the conversation simply because something about them is different. We, as a society, are increasingly finding more ways to embrace and celebrate how beautifully diverse we are and the more white guys get in the way and try to put people down or push them to the side, the more often white guys are going to find themselves on the losing end of legal action. We’re not putting up with the segregation and separation and bullying any longer.

What white guys need to realize is that just because people laughed at their antics before doesn’t mean their actions are acceptable. People laughed because they were afraid of becoming the next target. We’re tired of laughing and tired of making excuses for you when you’re nothing more than a bully. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone being different from you. In fact, in most cases, being different from you is a good thing because no one wants to be the jackass who bullies someone into committing suicide. White guys have been doing that far too much and it needs to stop. Now.

Don’t Expect Back What You Don’t Give

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

I’m starting to hear white guys complain that they’re not being respected anymore. I’ve got some bad news for you, dudes, you never were respected that much in the first place. For centuries, people have feared white guys, tolerated white guys, and acquiesed to white guys because they didn’t think they had any choice. White guys controlled everything and to challenge them has too often meant death. We’re not talking ancient history here, either. This past week’s tragedy in New Zealand is a perfect example.

White guys scream about demanding respect, respect for their person, their position in a company or in government, respect for their heritage, and respect for their accomplishments. When focused on themselves, white guys are all about respect.

When someone else is the topic, though, white guys seem to forget the meaning of the word. They have a history of doing things such as pushing people to the back of the bus, or forcing them to eat in a different part of the restaurant, and making them use a separate entrance. White guys have too frequently showed disrespect for entire countries, referring to them in derogatory manner and denying them the investments they need to succeed. Traditions and cultures are frequently ignored by white guys as well unles they see something they can appropriate for their own use.

Society respects those who raise the bar in how they treat others. No one is going to respect you for having a lot of money if one simply capitalizes off the family trust fund. Society respects those who use their wealth to help other people and improve the human condition for those who have little or nothing. No one is going to respect your achievment when it comes accepting creit for the work of others and profiting from the innovation of others. Society respects those who lift people up, who give credit where it’s earned, who leave no one in the shadows and distributes the rewards fairly across those who participated.

History works against white guys who want respect. The legacy you have is not a good one. People who have already suffered at the hands of white guys aren’t likely to trust the next one no matter how much he smiles and tells them he’s different. They’ve heard those words before and found them to be lies.

If white guys want respect they have to give it in greater doses than can be returned to them. They have to use their privilege and positions of power to help people, not just people who look like them, but people they’ve never met, people who struggle, people who have addictions, people who have too often been kept from participating fully. If white guys want respect, they have to be willing to step aside and let someone else lead, they have to admit when they’re wrong and apologize quickly and earnestly, not waiting until their back is against a wall.

If white guys want respect, they have to stop mistreating their own families. Doing things like sleeping with a porn star while your wife is pregnant is one of the biggest jackass moves ever. Divorcing your dying wife to marry your mistress is another jackass white guy move that kills any respect for you. Turning your back on a child because they’re gay or marry someone of a different race or religion immediately strips you of any respect you might have had.

Folks in Indiana have mourned the passing this week of former US Senator Birch Bayh. I want to be careful here about praising someone I didn’t know, especially a politician, but at least on a few instances Senator Bayh set a good example for white guys. One was in his authorship of Title IX that requires women to be given equal acces to higher education and athletics. I went back and looked at some of the opposition he faced to that legislation and was sicked by some of the demeaning excuses given by his fellow Senators who opposed his work. Senator Bayh also wrote the constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18, realizing that there were young people dying for a country in which they had no voice. Senator Bayh also played a significant role in the construction of the Equal Rights Amendment and even though he couldn’t get that one passed, he made an overwhelming effort to give a voice to millions of people who still, to this day, struggle to be heard. Senator Bayh was, at least in those specific moments, a white guy who earned some respect.

Unfortunately, there are too few white guys who are willing to put their careers and reputation on the line for the sake of others. There are too few white guys standing up to not only apologize for the sins of their forefathers but taking steps to correct the damage they’ve done.

Instead, we get one jackass after another who thinks that white supremacy isn’t really a problem, who think racists can still be “really good people,” and who are willing to deprive their own people of the assistance they’ve earned in order to build a massive symbol of intolerance along our Southern border. There are too many jackasses looking for respect they’re never going to receive.

No One Is Coming For Your Job

White guys, more than any other group, have an irrational fear of being unemployed and becoming obsolete. If white guys in any way face obsolescence it is because of their own failure to adapt to the changing conditions of the world around them. No one is doing anything to white guys. Rather, they’re stubbornly refusing to change, as though learning new skills and new ways of work is somehow beneath them.

Let’s look at these things called facts. US unemployment is around 3.6%, the lowest it has been in over 20 years. And while it’s true that those numbers don’t account for people who have given up on looking for jobs, the fact remains that there are hundreds of thousands of jobs going unfilled because there is no one available to fill them. Farm and day labor jobs are especially hurting as they have traditionally relied on the immigrant labor force. Those employers would love it if white guys would apply for their jobs, but they won’t. White guys think the work is beneath them and that those jobs don’t pay enough. Yet, they don’t want anyone else to have them, either, but cause that’s somehow “stealing” their job. Never mind the sheer lunacy of the fact that one can’t lose what one never had.

We should also bear in mind that white guys have a really bad history of bringing in other people against their will to do the jobs they don’t want to do. What do you think the slave trade was all about? White guys didn’t want to pick cotton because it’s hard, menial work. So, they forced people of color to do that work for them. Now, white guys are complaining that people of color are taking their jobs? That’s some jackassery right there.

If anyone is coming for the white guy’s job, it’s technology and yes, that might be something worthy of some worry. However, even that problem can be solved by learning a new skill. One is never too old to learn how to code and coding is the new equivalent of working on a manufacturing floor. By the time we reach 2030, coding is going to be considered a basic skill expected of everyone entering the workforce. The prudent move would be for white guys to start taking classes now.

The United States economy cannot survive without foreign workers. At the moment, there are approximately 13.2 million people working in the US who are from foreign countries. If all those workers were forced to leave, our economy would completely collapse and many more jobs would be lost as employers went out of business. Immigration is a key and fundamental component to growth and without it, every other job is in jeopardy. We don’t have enough people to fill all the jobs.

Here’s another thing one might want to consider: about 65,000 immigrants currently serve in the US Armed Forces. Anyone who seriously disparages a young person who is willing to lay down their life for a country in which they were not born is a special kind of jackass.

No one is after your job, dude. And even if they were, there are millions of jobs waiting for someone to fill them. This fear mongering about jobs is something only white guys who are jackasses do.

Just Trying Being A Nice Guy

I could go on and on and on about all the things that white guys need to do to not be a complete jackass. The list is lengthy and about the time I think I have everything covered, one of you comes up with a new mind-boggling low that shows us there is still more jackass ground to cover.

The typical defense is “Not all white guys are jackasses,” but I want to challenge that statement. Not all white guys are jackasses all the time. There are plenty of white guys who are cool on most issues but have one bad habit such as refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns around someone who is nonbinary. That’s a matter of respect, dude. Show some and maybe you’ll get some back. Other white guys do little non-verbal things, like making a show of wiping down the gym equipment after it was used by a black person who also wiped down the equipment. I saw that happen just this morning. Jackass move, dude.

More than anything, my challenge to white guys is that you know better. You know what you’re doing, what you’re saying, and how you’re acting is wrong. If you were still two and pulling this bullshit, your Mom would yank you up by the shirt collar and blister the seat of your pants. Regardless of how they themselves might have acted, white males alive today were taught to treat everyone fairly and equally, to listen to what other people say before responding, and that the color of a person’s skin makes absolutely no difference in the biological construction beneath that skin. You know better.

White guys need a time out. They need to take a step back, stop running for political office, and see how much the world improves when it’s not being run by one jackass after another. Sit it out for at least a generation. Watch. Learn. Improve. Then maybe you can earn your way back into the public trust.

But right now? White guys, as a group, are a mess. It frightens me that I am too often identified as one of you. The world rapidly grows tired of putting up with your foolishness. If white guys don’t improve, there may eventually be a legitimate reason to be afraid. Do better.

old man talking

A lot of my morning time is spent reading. The first 60-90 minutes of every day are spent perusing countless articles while consuming infinite cups of coffee. Fortunately, I read quickly so I am able to consume a significant amount of material within that period of time.

Since the majority of that reading is done on a digital platform, however, everything I read becomes a data point that is then used to push ads back at me for products and information that, mathematically, I should find interesting. Occasionally, those algorithms are frighteningly accurate, such as when I mention, out loud, that I need more socks and suddenly there are ads for socks in all my news feeds. Most the time, however, the algorithms miss the mark, feeding me ideas and concepts that I’ve either already exhausted or find boring and unimportant. The most common of those ads are for websites that want to sell me 300 new writing ideas.

“Inspire your readers with these exciting topics!” they scream at me in the most uninspiring of ways. Then, they’ll try to entice me with sample writing topics such as “Spending An Hour Alone In A Forest,” or “Better Living Through Flatbread.”

What those sites assume is that I am ever at a loss for words. I’m not. I have to do a tremendous amount of self-editing to keep each of these posts under 10,000 words, which is more than anyone is ever going to read outside of book form.

They also are choosing to ignore how many thousands of articles already exists about personal experiences traversing nature or the presumptive benefits of changing one’s eating habits. We’re talking thousands upon thousands of articles written by thousands of writers trying to achieve the exact same goal: get your attention. Obviously, not everyone is going to be successful.

Inspiration is not always a pleasant experience

Old Man Talking

Where I am most bothered by those ads, though, is the challenge that it is somehow my responsibility to be inspiring to my readers, as though this might be the only source of inspiration to enter one’s life—ever. I know what my readership demographics are and they lead me to believe quite strongly that most everyone is finding plenty of inspiration through other sources.

Being “inspirational” has never been my goal with any of my writing. Intentionally attempting to inspire or motivate other people assumes that the writer has already found inspiration or motivation through whatever they’re writing about. My problem: I am overwhelming uninspired by anything.

Okay, so that last statement isn’t entirely correct. What I should say is that I’m not inspired by the type of classical things such as a young cancer patient’s enthusiasm for a particular sports team or someone else’s bicycle trek across a continent. If those things make them happy for a short while, great, but they’re activities don’t inspire me to emulate them in any way or try to be “better” through similar methods.

On the rare occasion I am influenced to do something it is likely to occur through an extremely personal encounter that is somewhat painful. For example, I am motivated to improve the quality of my black and white imagery because of the times the legendary Horst P. Horst literally yelled at me (typically in German) for producing photos lacking depth.

While I have the greatest respect and admiration for the late photographic genius Horst posessed, my typical encounter with him was far from pleasant. Was he inspiring? No, he was frightening. Did he influence my inspiration? Yes, because his criticism was wholly correct and he could take the exact same shot and it would come out a masterpiece. He did nothing, however, that produced the smarmy feel-good emotions that we now expect from being inspired.

I’m going to indulge in a bit of brutality by stating that if one thinks they’re finding “inspiration” through a warm and fuzzy emotional experience they’re most likely going to need to be re-inspired again tomorrow. Emotions don’t last long enough to get anything accomplished. If one is looking for a warm and fuzzy experience then perhaps they would do better to find a dog and give it a hug. Dogs are wonderful and warm and fuzzy.

Being inspired isn’t something that comes and goes. Either the inspiration is there or it’s not. To help you better understand that, I want to share some things that claim to be inspiring and explain why they’re not, and then follow that with ways to find what is inspirational if one is truly up to the challenge.

Secrets of Happiness from the Oldest of the Old

Old Man Talking

This lovely gem is a long-form ad for the book Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons From a Year Among the Oldest Old by John Leland lightly disguised as an interview with Kiplinger Associate Editor Mary Kane. The goal is to inspire readers to find happiness by buying this book encouraging us to hang around old people.

Before you get all up in arms, I have no problem with one being encouraged to spend time with old people. I am an old person and I rather enjoy the company as long as one doesn’t stop by unannounced or interrupt my nap time. We old people are cool.

What I don’t appreciate, besides trying to pass off a blatant ad as an interview, is the encouragement from Mr. Leland to find happiness by making choices that include stuffing our emotions, trying to “forget” bad things that happen to us, and flat out ignoring things that caused us to feel uncomfortable. In short, what Mr. Leland encourages is finding bliss through willful ignorance and psychological avoidance.

I have always had a soft spot for the oldest among us. They have great stories from which we can learn valuable lessons. Talking with those who survived involvement in World War II was largely what shaped my fervent attitude that war is immoral and governments are not to be trusted. Old people have the ability to provide a perspective those younger than they cannot imagine on their own.

I’ve not met too many, however, who would have ever said they were especially happy. Some would have said they were content, but most offered warnings more than encouragement. Their stories were lessons learned in the hardest of ways passed along in hopes that we would not repeat their mistakes. Happiness was something they felt when grandchildren came to visit because their own existence was validated in the lives of those young ones.

There is much to learn from listening to the stories of those who are among the oldest but don’t expect to find happiness in their tales. Happiness is something one still has to discover and define for themselves.

Become A Better Photographer With This 52-Week Challenge

Old Man Talking

Photography challenges have become a staple among amateur photographers, especially those who desperately want to quit their boring 9-5 jobs and spend their days doing something more creative. I get dozens of email and article prompts similar to this every January and I delete every one of them.

This particular article on LifeHack.com thinks that Dale Foshe’s photography challenge is sufficiently inspirational. This is the fourth year Mr. Foshe has responded to the question of, “How do I become a better photographer?” by giving amateurs this list that includes items such as: “Your inspiration this week is to simply take an amazing Black and White photograph of any subject you want,” “This week’s inspiration is Anonymous. Interpret this how you wish.” and “Work, let it inspire you this week.” Anyone else get the feeling Mr. Foshe had some problems filling all 52 slots?

Challenges like this are good at doing one thing: taking up a lot of time. They don’t actually help the average photographer get any better because they lack focus and precision. The very format keeps them from zeroing in on what a person needs to improve.

If one wants to become better at what they do, no matter what that is, there are three primary steps to follow:

  1. Don’t try to do everything. One of the biggest mistakes made when a person is just starting out in a field is trying to do everything. Stop. Focus. Figure out what you enjoy and do best and do that. Let everything else go. For example: I don’t do weddings (not often, at least). I dislike them. I don’t have a good time. So why would I try competing in that field?
  2. Know your weakness(es) and work to improve them. Rather than running all over the place with random challenges, look at specifically improving the places that provide the biggest challenges. Make it elementary: learn to put the shoes on the correct feet before trying to tie them. Start at the basics and work until that area is mastered before moving to something else.
  3. Get honest feedback from someone who knows the field a lot better than you. Getting advice from a peer or someone only marginally better is limiting because they cannot provide the difficult and honest feedback we need to improve. I was extremely fortunate to know two of the best photographers ever: Horst and Helmut Newton. Horst, as I mentioned, could be extremely abrasive in his criticism; it hurt but it moved me forward. Helmut was a touch more gentle in his approach (depending on the size of the error) but no less brutal in his honesty. People who fudge on criticism to save one’s feelings are limiting one’s growth.

When one has a passion for doing something, let that passion be the inspiration that drives one forward, not some external misdirection that cannot address specific needs. If that passion is not strong enough to provide inspiration then perhaps one needs to consider whether the passion is there at all.

Facial Exercises May Make You Look Three Years Younger

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Gretchen Reynolds wrote this piece for the New York Times of all places, based on researched published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Dermatology. In response to claims that non-medical activities such as “facial yoga” might affect one’s physical appearance, a clinical study was done to determine whether there is any validation to such claims. There is, but it is only moderate.

Three years. That’s pretty much the limit of facial restoration one can expect from performing facial exercises alone. Using some moisturizing creams might help extend the benefit a bit more, but at the end of the day if one is hoping to look 10-15 years younger then facial exercises are not going to provide the bump one wants.

Three years, and that’s the maximum mind you, means when one is 60 years old they look like they’re 57, as if there’s really that much difference. While that three-year gap might have a minimal influence when one is 30, beyond that looking three years younger is not a significant difference.

What upsets me about articles like this (and there is a ton of them out there right now): there’s nothing wrong with looking the age you are! Let’s stop with the age shaming, shall we? Take some pride in the fact we have survived multiple rotations around the sun and that our bodies might be reflective of the challenges of our journey.

People over the age of 40 are already having difficulty dealing with a youth-oriented society that devalues one’s experience and ability to contribute to the workforce in a meaningful manner. Telling us that we need to look three years younger is depressing and insulting, not inspirational. For all the talk about inclusion and accepting one for who they are, that rhetoric needs to extend to those who are being pushed out and marginalized simply because of a number. If we appear worn and haggard and perpetually tired, consider that we’ve worked hard, probably longer than those in management have been alive, and we wear on our faces and our bodies the scars, the wrinkles, and the stretch marks of having fought the battles that make today’s marvelous successes possible.

Taking The Mystery Out Of Finding Inspiration

Old Man Talking

Being the silly humans we are, we tend to make things a lot more difficult than they need to be and finding inspiration is high on that list. When we reach the point where we’re needing inspiration, our first impulse too often finds us looking in the most ridiculous and extreme places, taking on absurd lifestyle changes, and ultimately being disappointed when those extreme measures eventually lead us right back to where we started.

Part of that difficulty stems, I am convinced, from the fact we don’t necessarily understand the word in the first place. We hear/see media tell us that something is inspiring, someone’s adventures or success is inspiring, the courage with which someone is fighting a disease is inspiring, and we falsely assume that we all should be inspired by those or similar nouns.

Considering the etymology of the word Inspiration might help a bit and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has some potentially helpful insight:

Inspiration has an unusual history in that its figurative sense appears to predate its literal one. It comes from the Latin inspiratus (the past participle of inspirare, “to breathe into, inspire”) and in English has had the meaning “the drawing of air into the lungs” since the middle of the 16th century. This breathing sense is still in common use among doctors, as is expiration (“the act or process of releasing air from the lungs”). However, before inspiration was used to refer to breath it had a distinctly theological meaning in English, referring to a divine influence upon a person, from a divine entity; this sense dates back to the early 14th century. The sense of inspiration often found today (“someone or something that inspires”) is considerably newer than either of these two senses, dating from the 19th century.

Condense that down and what we find is that inspiration is that breath, that divine spark if one chooses to believe in such, that gives us life. Inspiration is personal, intimate, and perhaps even involuntary to some extent. When we consider what inspiration really means then it becomes much easier to understand how we might find it.

Inspiration Personalized By The Universe

Old Man Talking

Life in the 14th century centered around religious belief and orthodoxy. One didn’t have much choice. The Inquisition was in full effect and failing to adhere to the religious tenets imposed by the Roman church was a good way to lose one’s head or be burned at the stake. In this environment, the words, “God told me …” carried a lot of weight, especially when being said by an Inquisitor. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that creative inspiration, that motivation to do something different, was attributed to the divine. To claim anything else would have been fatal.

Not everyone today feels so compelled to attribute new ideas or concepts to a divine source. If doing so helps one justify something genuinely helpful then there’s no reason to object. Whether one believes in deity or not, though, it certainly seems at times as though the universe has the ability to feed one thoughts and concepts that are inspiring.

While there is plenty of room for legitimate skepticism, explaining such things as a culmination of experience, exposure, and creativity, when such moments do come, they are always personalized. One cannot take such events and impose them upon anyone else except the person who originally experienced the moment. “Spiritual” inspiration comes with an engraved plaque that defines ownership.

For example, some might claim that Michelangelo’s statue of David was divinely inspired.  Such a claim makes sense given that the Inquisition was still in full force in the early 16th century. However, one cannot impose the artist’s allegedly divine inspiration on anyone else. No one saw the artist passing out flyers offering to teach new sculptors his “inspirational” method. There weren’t a thousand copycat statues littering Rome. Whatever spark inspired Michelangelo was unique to him.

I’m willing to admit that sometimes creative inspiration seems to arrive out of the blue. Psychologists chalk that up to an accumulation of influences coming together in a synchronized manner. Others may claim the stars have something to do with the influence. Still, others are convinced there’s a deity at work. No matter what the source might be, it is personal to the one who receives is and not something that can be spread around like soft margarine. Remember that the next time someone tries selling you a class or a book offering to teach you their “inspirational” method. Inspiration is individual, not crowd sized.

Inspiration Begins Within Ourselves

Old Man Talking

If you taking absolutely nothing else away from what you’re reading today, please latch onto this: you are enough; you can inspire you. We don’t need to look to someone else, we don’t need some special event, we don’t even need to change our diet or buy a new wardrobe, as interesting as those things might be. Inspiration doesn’t come from watching someone else score the game-winning goal. Inspiration comes from the belief that one can score that goal themselves.

One of the biggest challenges to our lives is the notion that we are not enough. We pick up on this self-defeating attitude early in our lives and have difficulty letting go. We are told we need to be richer, smarter, prettier, fancier, dress better, have a different body shape, be a different gender, love only the right people, go to the right places, have the necessary experiences, and achieve greater success than anyone else.

All of those things are wrong. Each person is born with the very thing they need to find inspiration within themselves: breath. One doesn’t need a minimum bank balance or IQ. One doesn’t have to look a certain way, wear certain clothes, or have certain experiences. None of those things matter one damn bit. All that matters is that we breathe and the more we breathe the more opportunities we have to believe in ourselves and find inspiration not in every breath someone else takes but in every breath one takes on their own, for the benefit of their own life.

Let me spin this a more personal direction. Like many people, I have made some really stupid decisions in my life, choices that left me broke and homeless. There were times when it was really tempting to sink into a “woe is me” pity party. What allowed me to survive through those most difficult times was the fact that I never stopped believing in me and what I am capable of doing. Books didn’t inspire me. Someone else’s story didn’t inspire me. Changing my diet damn sure didn’t inspire me. I inspire me.

That doesn’t mean one doesn’t sometimes need some help here and there. Even the most successful of people, those who never seem to have a worry in the world, benefit from extensive networks of influence. Sometimes, that help is as simple as a phone call or message that confirms, “Yes, this person can do that job.” Other times, that help may be more substantial, such as a safe place to sleep or a warm meal.

Accepting help doesn’t stop us from being our own inspiration, however. This goes back to what I said earlier about identifying our weaknesses. Life doesn’t play fair and sometimes we’re saddled with illnesses that make us dependent on assistance from others. We cannot always control whether we can get out of bed on our own or walk down the street on our own. When faced with such challenges, asking for and accepting help is absolutely the right thing to do. Even then, however, every breath has the potential for inspiration.

To some extent, I suppose I’m wrong in ever saying I’m uninspired. As long as I’m breathing, there is inspiration in the most real sense of the word.

What’s important is that we don’t need to go looking to other sources for our inspiration. The extra push, that creative spark, that motivational edge, is already within us. Life is inspiration and it’s waiting for us to grab hold and change the world. Many things may influence our inspiration, from Horst to fashion to football. Nothing happens, however, until we let the breath within us take over and unleash what has been hiding inside us all along.

No one is getting their breath from me. Nothing I say is going to inspire you. I hope everyone is okay with that.

Old Man Talking - 2018 In Review

I’m done. Done taking pictures for the year, that is. We had our last shoot a week ago and while there are still enough images to edit that I’ll keep my photography website in fresh content through February at least, the stress and time consumption of putting together a photoshoot is over for the year. In fact, we likely won’t pull the camera out too often between now and March. That sounds and feels strange, but it’s a reflection of everything else that is going on at the moment.

What Happened?

Looking back over the year, as I almost always do at some point in December, the first thing I realize is the number of people I have to thank and at the very top of that list is my partner in life and in mayhem: Kat Franson. Kat not only does hair and makeup for the majority of our photoshoots, she’s full-time and constantly booked at Biz on Fletcher, a full-service spa/salon. If you like her work, you can try to get in with her there. On top of that, she still moms kids, hangs with friends, and occasionally finds time to go on dates with me. I rather like that last part.

There are plenty of other people to thank as well. Let’s see how many of them I can actually remember (what I’m about to do here is extremely dangerous–do not attempt on your own): Mrs & Mrs Klausing, Antesha Prosser, Skyy Wells, Wendy McLish, Emily Comstock, Cynthia Webb, Ashleigh Williams, Haley Challies, Jacqueline and Brandon Sobotka, Jasmine Grey, Loren Hewins, Madison Jones, Meghan Clark, Sarah Arvin, Blair Lawson, Colleen Grady, Kwani Young-Cornell, Samantha Lefler, Kia Love, Sarah Harris, Victoria F S Nieke, Rachel Notestine, Holly Hacker, Polina Osherov, Robert Moore III, Catherine Fritsch, Dlang Ferguson, Nikki Blaine, Keith Dellinger, Travis Little, Gary Watson, Brian Logan, Greg Fleckenstein, and Gabe Letbetter. Not much would have happened this year had these people not helped us out significantly.

Not everything this year has been especially positive, though, and that opens plenty of room for second-guessing. At the core is the fact that important numbers are significantly lower this year than last, and about half what they were in 2016. Without getting into gross and slimy details, this means fewer people are paying attention to our work. When that happens we would be remiss if we did not question why. As we find answers to that question, we raise another: what are we going to do to correct that movement?

Here I come to a quandry. On one hand, there are some things that are always popular, specifically nudity. Our most popular entry on the photography website is a 2017 article about nipples. It’s received more than twice the views of its closest competitor. At the same time, however, public attitudes toward nudity are becoming as divisive as the political scene. Many are concerned that such imagery encourages an unhealthy and misogynistic view of women, which is never our intention. Others view nudity as empowering, taking control over one’s own body, which we support. We are wondering if there is an acceptable middle ground between the two.

What Comes Next?

As we look toward the next year, some of the changes we have planned are already taking shape. We are submitting more work to juried art shows, for starters, and while there’s no predicting whether we’ll even be accepted to any of these shows, putting ourselves out there for consideration is something we’ve not done in a very long time. So far, we’ve had one piece accepted to The Dirty Show in Detroit. While that’s a big deal and more than a little exciting, this requires we think differently about how we’re shooting, with less focus on local preferences and looking at a broader, more international perspective. That’s a little scary because it means validation might be slow in coming and I like validation as soon after I put something out there as possible. I like knowing that someone is paying attention and art shows have a longer arch than I’ve normally pursued.

This past year, we put a ton of effort into creating work for publication and while that publication did eventually happen we were disappointed with the ratio of work to benefit. I don’t know that returning to an art focused approach eases that frustration any, but at least we go into that arena expecting a significantly longer time frame, as in work done this year may not reach exhibition outside the website until 2021 or later.

Shifting spheres from fashion/editorial-styled work toward more artistic concepts also means thinking differently about themes. Where this year we looked at and based work on fashion trends, this year I’ll look more at social issues. I’m slightly hesitant in doing so because addressing social issues risks controversy and I don’t have the energy for enduring the stupid people who feel compelled to comment. At the same time, I’m of the opinion that people, en masse, have stopped listening to words but still pay some attention to pictures. While that approach to information is flawed to degrees unimaginable if we can successfully make a statement heard we will have succeeded. For the moment, I’m considering working with the following themes:

  1. Censorship/socially imposed morality Two things drive my motivation toward this theme. First is Tumblr deciding to take a scorched Earth approach to removing “adult” imagery from their platform in response to an issue with child porn. That every other social media platform already censors imagery raises the issue back to where it must be discussed in the most visual ways possible.
    Second, and perhaps more troubling, is the socially imposed morality that comes on the backside of otherwise important events such as the #metoo movement. What is particularly at issue for the moment is whether it is morally acceptable for photographers to take nude pictures of the opposite gender. Expanding out from that is a sense of social morality that one is not aware of until it has been violated. Think Prada’s problems with the monkey totem. I can promise you that no one in the Prada organization was intentionally insensitive. Rather, their perspective was not broad enough to see how the design might cause offense. The company then gets punished for not having that breadth of sensitivity and they pull the totem. That’s still social censorship.
    Where’s the line? Who gets to say, “What you did was insensitive and wrong,” when it’s virtually impossible to be aware of every possible perspective on every issue and every action. To try and please everyone guarantees failure. How do we tell the social police to back the fuck off without looking like assholes ourselves? I’m interested in exploring that issue visually. We need to have that conversation.
  2. Mental Illness. One of the factors in health care that has really played into my center of attention this year is the prevalence of mental health issues affecting the national conversation and the severe absence of anyone doing anything about it. As a country, our attitudes toward mental health are still based on the ignorance of the 1950s. As mental Illness diagnoses have skyrocketed, as suicide has taken the lives of more public figures, our willingness to address these issues and pay for the care is severely lagging. This isn’t a new topic. This article from February 2017 reads as though it were yesterday’s news, just change the names of the artists affected. At this point, I’m thinking an art series that personalizes issues such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, adult ADHD, and other common mental health diagnosis might be worthwhile. The catch is finding people brave enough to tell their story publicly.
  3. Loss of artistic craft. An article hit my inbox this week championing new software allegedly solves a huge issue for photographers: stripping out backgrounds quickly while leaving stray hairs in tact. I’ve not tried it yet, but if it works it represents automation of yet another post processing skill that was once done by real people. In conversation with an artist last week, he raised the issue that certain difficult photo issues will likely soon be resolvable at the touch of a button and I’ve no reason to question the accuracy of that statement. This raises a frightening question: do we still need talented individuals to create art? What happens when we start letting our computers do all the work? How far are we from creating masterworks of art on our phones? This troubling issue keeps me up at night. Perhaps addressing it directly might help me sleep better (writes the person up typing at 4:00 AM).

Issues And Concerns

Of course, just because I want to do work in a specific area, style, genre, or issue doesn’t mean that we can conquer the logistics of getting anything done. There are challenges both certain and looming that could get ugly if ignored. Mind you, my intention here is to not be self-defeating but facing issues head-on so that solutions can be found.

  1. Scheduling Kat’s Time. Anyone who has tried making an appointment with Kat at the salon likely understands this challenge. She’s good at what she does and that means she’s busy. Her books stay full a large percentage of the time. One of the changes we saw in 2018 was that the salon started opening on Tuesdays in order to help meet demand. Not only is that one less day Kat is available for photoshoots, it puts more pressure on the days she has off to address household concerns. If I fill one of those days with a photoshoot, she then has to juggle that with things like getting kids to the pediatrician, meetings at school, buying groceries, and all that other fun stuff.
    The solution here sounds simple enough: involve other hair and makeup artists. The reality, however, is that anyone who is good enough to fill Kat’s shoes is just as busy as she is. Victoria F S Nieke stepped in on one shoot this fall, but her schedule’s possibly more crowded than Kat’s. Any volunteers?
    What I’m considering for the moment is looking toward scenarios where hair and makeup isn’t quite as important to the finished product, concepts where the model can likely handle a bit of powder, eye liner, and mascara and that be sufficient. Yes, that’s a bit scary because a lot of people don’t wear makeup regularly and suck at putting it on their own face. Out of respect for Kat’s time as well as others, that might be the best solution. How’s your makeup game?
  2. Equipment upgrades. This spring, it will have been ten years since I purchased a new camera. To say that the technology has changed a bit is a dramatic understatement. I’ve been hobbling along the past two years but I’m now facing a situation where I’m having to turn away some requests because I can’t trust my equipment to handle the job. It’s time for an upgrade.
    Of course, anyone in the field knows the immediate challenge: new cameras are fucking expensive. However, on the plus side, I wouldn’t have to go with the newest and brightest to provide a significant upgrade. My thinking at this juncture is that an intermediate model at a more modest price still represents a significant improvement over the current status. Sure, I’d love to drop $5-8K on a new body and glass, but the immediate economic outlook  renders such a move questionable.
    Of course, you could always donate to the cause. Hint, hint.
  3. Location options. I have shot almost exclusively out of the house this year. That has worked to a limited degree because of the concepts we’ve been shooting. However, that comes with some significant challenges. First, we have cats—seven at the current time. That limits who can safely visit us without becoming ill. One poor model didn’t last five minutes. Average allergy pills are not enough.
    Second, and equally as critical, we don’t have sufficient natural light in the rooms where we shoot. That has meant having to use artificial light for everything and while I’m thankful to have that option, I really miss shooting natural light and the depth that comes with doing so. Not having that option in my arsenal has dramatically changed the content of my portfolio.
    So, I’m looking for other locations, places I can schedule, drop by with a model, and shoot without disturbing or potentially doing harm to large numbers of people, preferably without having to set up a bunch of lights. I’m open to suggestions, options, and possibly even some trade.

Making 2019 Better

If we’re going to be honest, and at this point there’s no reason to fake anything, I’m not feeling all that positive about the coming year. Looking at what has transpired over the past two months frightens me and actions the President has taken just this week puts our lives at greater risk than we’ve seen since the Cold War. One has to be naive to not see the potential for the wheels flying off this wagon we call the United States over the next 12 months.

Kat and I were having a conversation earlier this week regarding the long-standing situation where we only see progress being made when the level of complaint is so loud as to force that progress. This doesn’t merely apply to government, but across the board in almost every sector one can imagine. Innovation rarely happens without the need to address an issue that has become critical. Even technological innovations such as autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things happen because of the need to address fuel consumption, decreases in consumer purchase power, and the impending threat of global climate change.

I’ve grown tired of having to complain all the time. The anxiety produced from being continually angry is exhausting. Yet, we are irresponsible if we let certain actions and activities pass without opposition. When we say nothing, those responsible for the offense assume we don’t care and proceed to do something worse.

What I would rather do is focus my attention on areas of hope. Take, for instance, the number of states increasingly decriminalizing marijuana and the resulting boom in hemp and other related products. I can think of nothing that stands to so dramatically improve the lives of so many people. From CBD-infused drinks to sustainable clothing and other products, to overturning countless drug convictions that were unnecessarily severe and improper, the opportunity for millions of lives to be improved is unequalled.

Progress in 3D design and imaging is also an area I think holds a lot of promise. I will admit to not knowing nearly as much about these technologies as I would like. I’m at the point where I really need a hands-on experience with someone who knows what they’re doing in order to move forward with my level of understanding. Still, despite only having a partial picture of all that’s happening, I can see unbelievable opportunities in this area.

A lot is happening in the science fields as well and nothing there is exciting me more than exploration of the cosmos and our increased understanding of what’s there and how the universe is constructed. While I appreciate that the immediate application of this knowledge escapes most people, what we are learning in space right now are the very things that could save us from extinction in the future and holds the potential for leading us to better lives and a better society. I could never explain everything in a paragraph or even a set of blog posts, but each new discovery brings with it a hosts of new opportunities. Breakthroughs are still several years away but the promise is real and that gives me hope.

If there is a challenge to 2019 it is that: finding our own hope, discovering those things in which we can believe, things that are moving forward without having to yell and scream all the time. We have operated too long without a positive vision for the future and we need to understand that we must create that vision for ourselves.

Group Participation Area

We do not, cannot, achieve any of the goals we’ve outlined above on our own. Ours is a world dependent upon interaction with other people, having subjects in front of the camera, having participants in larger conversations. We welcome this opportunity for other people to be involved in our work. As mentioned earlier, we’ve had some fantastic help throughout 2018. Now, we are hoping to more than double the size of that list as we move into the new year.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Step in front of the camera. Whether we’re addressing censorship or mental illness or craftsmanship, we’re going to need a lot of faces in front of the camera and the more faces and bodies we have, the better.
  • Tell your stories. I love a good story but more than ever we want to hear about your experiences, your journey, as we look for words to augment our pictures. We want to more directly touch people’s lives in very real ways.
  • Share your space. Have a place with great natural light? We’d love to come visit! Contact us and we’ll work out the details in a way that accommodates your schedule.
  • Make introductions. Know someone who would look good in front of the camera? We’d love to meet them. Have a friend who has horses? We’d love to meet them! Have an acquaintance who owns some really cool space? We’d love to meet them! If you’re local to Indianapolis and know someone, chances are we’d love to meet them. And if we’ve not done so already, we’d love to meet you, too!
  • Share our pictures. You know how this social media thing works. We get a lot of likes but few shares. We would love it if you would help grow our network by sharing our photos.
  • Buy our stuff. I never have been one to really push the stuff we have for sale. There are links on our pages and if you want them, then great. Let’s get real for a minute, though: we could use the additional income. There are books, clothes, and of course, artwork. We have something for almost everyone.
  • Contribute to the cause. For those who are more altruistic and feel like supporting us we have a convenient little app that collects donations and sends them to us. This allows us to accept credit cards as well as PayPal and other sources. Again, I don’t tend to push this opportunity too often, but it’s there.

2018 has been one of those years where, for the most part, we’re thankful to have survived with everything pretty much intact. We greatly appreciate everyone who helped and participated but we are also looking forward to doing more and better work in the coming year. Thank you for watching and playing along with us. Let’s work together and make 2019 the year that makes the history books (in a good way, of course)!

Before you leave, why not help us out?

Yes, I’m totally being pretentious but as I mentioned above, we could use some financial participation. After all, the number of you actually paying for pictures is disappointingly small. Click here to visit our Donation page. Thank you for helping!

Old Man Talking

While avoiding the politics of a partial government shutdown, the day-to-day for the majority of us is unaffected.

Here we are, the United States government is in partial shutdown mode. Not a full and complete shutdown, mind you. Social Security checks still go out. Medicaid still gets paid. FBI, Secret Service, and Border Patrol agents are still working. Air traffic controllers still keep the sky safe and there are still plenty of security people to make the task of getting on an airplane and total and complete pain in the ass, just like every other day of our existence. 

Sure, there are political reasons this shutdown occurred but we need to be mindful that this is not the first time we’ve been through this. There were eight shutdowns during the Reagan administration alone! Yes, there are some people who are horribly and unfairly inconvenienced but for the greater majority of people, a shutdown merely illustrates how little we rely on the federal government. Even where we do tend to depend on the government there are ways we can offset that dependency and if we’re being totally honest, where we can be independent of government we probably should.

One might find themselves asking at this point, “What would those things be? What can I do without the government?”

Breathe, for starters. Remember that government is here to serve the governed and one thing which a shutdown has the ability to do is bring that fact back to a level of startling reality for politicians. They have this nasty tendency to forget who put them in Washington in the first place and what we expect them to do there. The more of our lives we continue without freaking out over the inherent ineptness of all things political the more we remind them that they are intended to be servants, not rulers.

So, let’s go over just a few of the things one can do while Cadet Bone Spurs is off golfing. Again.

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Five Noble Endeavors

While there are a lot of things one can do during a partial government shutdown, let us focus first on the things one should do during a partial government shutdown. Why? Because there are some people who are adversely affected by the partial shutdown and there are some causes that we should be helping out anyway. We don’t live in this world alone and while the government has the ability to serve as an efficient means of providing assistance over a broad group of people we still can pick up some of the slack on our own. In fact, we all might be better for doing so. Here are some noble gestures you can make now that possibly should become habits.

  1. Donate your time. Sure, you don’t actually have any time, but if you schedule an hour here or 90 minutes there, just put it in your calendar, you’ll be surprised at how much a difference you can make without completely disrupting your world. One of the areas most adversely affected by the partial shutdown are those services that provide care to the elderly, especially those who are homebound. Programs that deliver meals, for example, stop receiving funding. For some of those programs, that put people at risk of going hungry.

    What you can do: Look around you. See who isn’t having as many visitors as they normally receive. In my neighborhood, for example, I know one elderly neighbor gets a visit from oxygen supply every day at exactly the same time. While I would hope that their service is not interrupted, I’m watching to make sure that delivery happens on time. If it doesn’t, then I’ll be walking down the street to make sure they’re okay and helping out if I can. How long might that take? Maybe an hour if there’s a real problem. There are other things even more simple, such as taking someone a hot meal or driving to a doctor’s appointment.

    These are easy things that we’ve allowed government agencies to take over so that no one in need gets missed. If we’re being good humans, though, no one would ever have those needs in the first place. A little of your time is a small thing to give.

  2. Donate your money. I know, we all have even less money than we do time. I get it. Unless your name is Jeff Bezos you are probably counting every penny and struggling to make ends meet. There’s a reasonable chance, though, for about forty percent of the American population, that at least ten dollars a month could be reallocated toward charitable causes without it negatively affecting the family budget. If those who can give would give then a number of projects and services who depend on government grants would be better able to function during times like these.

    What you can do: First, check your expenses to see if you have any wiggle room. For example, that $20 a month you’re spending on a gym membership. Are you really going? Yeah, we know you intend to go just as soon as something-or-the-other happens but let’s be honest: if you’ve not been in the past eight months you’re probably not going back. Take that money and put it to good use. The kinds of places most quickly affected by a shutdown are things such as homeless shelters and non-profit programs for veterans. Any small non-profit that operates on a shoestring budget, to begin with, doesn’t have cash reserves to get them through a government shutdown. Your donation goes a long way.

    An important thing to remember here is that while your donation may seem small to you it can be life-saving for small non-profits. Every dollar they receive ads up. And we both know you’re not going back to the gym.

  3. Care for your environment. Mention the word environment and we tend to think in terms of the whole planet which isn’t terribly inappropriate. Climate change, for example, has to be addressed on a global level if we are to continue living here. What is most likely to be affected by a partial government shutdown, however, are the grants that fund things like roadside cleanup and recycling programs. Where those services are supplemented by a local municipality there probably won’t be any interruption but where it is left up to entities such as neighborhood associations or other non-government organizations (NGOs) there could be a lapse in service.

    What you can do: Brighten the corner where you are. Yes, that’s a very, very old song from somewhere around the 1920s. The sentiment still applies, though. Clean up around you. Take a trash bag and start off down the street. Get the kids or grandkids involved. Make it a party.   Don’t want to leave the house? Fine. Gather material to be recycled. Look around for paper, especially. Many of us have a lot of paper trash that could just as easily be recycled. Just be sure to shred any personal documents before putting them in the bag. Once you have a hefty amount, then you take them to the nearest recycling center. If you have enough to actually get paid for your haul, then donate that money to another NGO that needs help.

    Caring for the environment is one of those things you should be doing anyway. The shutdown is a good excuse to start.

  4. Make friends with a Dreamer. One of the reasons this current shutdown happened in the first place is because Cadet Bone Spurs ended the DeferredDACA children are often referred to as Dreamers Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, leaving it to Congress to find a long-term solution for providing a path to citizenship for children brought into the country illegally. Congress, as usual, has had its thumb up its ass leaving some 200,000 people at risk of being deported to countries that don’t want them.

    What you can do: DACA children are often referred to as Dreamers because the most dream of becoming US citizens one day. That path to citizenship, however, has never been clear or easy. Some try to enter the military, but even that doesn’t always work. Since September, many have lost jobs or college scholarships or found their housing in jeopardy. These young people are all around us. Find one and befriend them. Let them know someone has their back. They may not need direct assistance from you now, but they could in the future if this shutdown doesn’t provide them with a solution. Your friendship could mean more than you could possibly imagine.

    A simple act of kindness can have a lasting impact.

  5. Give someone a meal. The lack of an operational government does almost nothing to affect the perpetual problem of hunger across the US. Even with programs in place, 1in 6 people in America face hunger on a daily basis. There has never been enough federal, state, or municipal assistance to thoroughly address the problem. What makes the problem worse is that the larger number of people who are “food insecure” are not homeless. Sure, the people you see on the street are in need, but in thinking they define hunger in America we miss the millions of starving people who may live in the house next door. No one needs your help more right at this very minute.

    What you can do: Our ability to give away food is dictated by state and local laws. You can fix a casserole and take it to your neighbor in need but you can’t double the recipe, buy some paper plates, and start serving at your local park in many cities because of health regulations (at least, that’s the excuse used to stop such generosity). Public distribution of food tends to get good people in trouble. Privately, though, you can feed whomever you want. The trick is to keep it private. Invite someone to your home, take food to their home, or take a homeless person to a nearby restaurant. No one can prevent you from doing those things. You know what you can afford to do. The hungry people are there.

    This is a good place to start a long-term habit

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A Shutdown Just For You

While I strongly feel that the world would be a much better place if everyone would undertake at least one of the projects listed above, let us also acknowledge the fact that, as a species, humans are generally selfish and have an overwhelming tendency to think about themselves first. I’m not sure we can help ourselves; being greedy is almost part of our DNA. I’ll let you know when scientist finally identifies that gene. 

What we really want to know is what we can do for ourselves, what will be fun and enjoyable while the government is shut down. We’ll ignore the fact that, for the most part, absolutely nothing has changed from when the government is operating. You could do these same things pretty much any time one feels like doing them, but there’s something about using the government shutdown as an excuse that makes everything a little more exciting, almost as though one were breaking the law (which we’re absolutely not advocating someone do). So, maybe, after helping out someone else, we go with one of these.

  1. Have more sex, possibly with more people. The details of the latter part of that statement are dependent totally upon the limitations of any current arrangement in which you might be involved. The fact of the matter, though, is that the government thinks it can tell women and gay people and trans people and everyone else what they can do with their bodies. The government does not actually, nor should they ever have that power, but they do like pretend such crazy things. So, go ahead. Enjoy. Explore. Get laid. The government’s not looking. Hell, given its track record there’s a pretty good chance half of Congress is already doing the same thing.
  2. Roll a joint and puff away, if your state approves. While most of the Justice Department still work through the shutdown, the part that goes after legalized weed is otherwise occupied until everyone is back to work. Again, we’re not encouraging anyone to break a law here, but to the extent one can indulge without putting themselves at risk this is an excellent time to do so. Politics are heavy, man, and it’s a lot easier to deal with the nonsense if you’re high.
  3. Pet a puppy or a kitty and give it a good home. Enduring this long political nightmare is stressful, man. Whether the shutdown last three days or three months we really worry a lot about the things that might not get done or all that isn’t getting paid while members of Congress sit around accusing each other of collusion. That’s why you need a pet, something that doesn’t give a shit about what’s happening at the nation’s capital and has the ability to help you completely forget about all the stress associated with everyone running through those once-sacred halls with their pants around their ankles. Petting a puppy or a kitten relieves that stress, makes you happy, makes the pet happy, and gets the animal off the public assistance roles.
  4. Take a prolonged vacation. If members of Congress and Cadet Bone Spurs don’t feel the need to work then why would the rest of us? After all, they’re supposed to be our leaders. If we go golfing in South Florida aren’t we just following the example given to us? Yes, yes we are.
  5. Take naked pictures. I’ll gladly help with this one. If they come out really well, we’ll even post ’em to the Internet for you. Sending them to your elected representatives would normally get you into trouble but all the people who work on those cases are furloughed so you have plenty of time to run. Sending them to your ex, however, is still not a good idea. He’s over you, Janet. There’s no going back. Look forward and find your future there.

 

Wrapping Things Up

On one level, even a partial government shutdown is serious business and we don’t mean to make light of that seriousness. Much. On a totally different level, though, the political charades are absolutely ridiculous and there’s no reason for us to not jump right in the middle of that silliness. There are people who need help and there is fun to be had. We can do both.

Just hurry, though. Shutdowns have this way of forcing compromise even when the compromise is bad for the country. Congress doesn’t want to get saddled with the blame for this even though they’re totally to blame. We may not have long to act.

Get busy. Do stuff. Have fun doing it.

Abide in Peace,
-The Old Man

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