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There are these days that I get euphoria. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s something like depression – everything in life just combines in the right combinations to push my personality over the top. Rather than being down and lethargic and reclusive – symptoms of depression – I become boisterous, energetic, and super-confident. I feel like I could take over the world, in a benevolent and all-loving sort of way.

Today I’m filled with dreams of being a freelancer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely happy with my job; other potential jobs do not tempt me and you’d be hard pressed to get an actual word of complaint out of me about work. But this isn’t where I’m going to be forever. There is a time and a place for everything. And one day, I’ll get my skillsets in order, I’ll get my online presence in order, and I’ll know that it’s now or never, and I’ll take the leap to start out on my own. And today I’m just thinking about how that’ll be. It’ll be good, I hope.

But I’m also thinking about all the dreams Freya and I share together. Dreams of vacation coming up soon – a weekend hiding out in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains where we’ll spend our time painting and writing and soaking in a hot tub drinking champagne. Dreams of adventure in the near future – our road trip around the US that will be the adventure that makes everyone else jealous (8-10 months going wherever we want, doing whatever we want).

Then there are the dreams of who knows how far off – our dream of starting some sort of commune or collective; a place where artists can come and live for a few months (or longer) as they work on their various projects, a place where we can attempt to put into place the ideas about community that we are continually shaping. We drive past large buildings all the time and discuss its merits for being that place – we’ll find something some day.

Freya has a dream to start a homeless shelter here in Nashville aimed at families and children – the fastest growing aspect of homelessness in America today (see here). She has no clue what it will look like yet, that’s one of the things we want to research on our big road trip. But it’s an admirable dream, and I can’t wait to be there as she finds out how to carry it out.

But then there are the small things, the actual things. There’s the ability to roll down the windows on this majestic day, to sing aloud to a song that actually celebrates the glory of being alive (check it out, it’s on repeat as I type), to see the clouds floating along.

Yeah, it’s euphoria, and it strikes me occasionally and I love it. Today is a good day. Every day is a good day, even if you don’t quite remember it.

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“I’d always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all. It stretches on forever like an ocean of time.

“For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars.

“And yellow leaves from maple trees that lined our street.

“Or my grandmothers hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper.

“And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird.

“And Janie.

“And Janie.

“And, Caroline.

“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much – my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.

You have no idea what I’m talking about I’m sure, but don’t worry. You will someday.”

Growing up is mostly a desensitization – a loss of the ability to be in awe and to have wonder. It happens to all of us, it is equal parts a defense mechanism and a natural course of life. It is a battle sometimes to remember what it’s like to stand in wonder, to be in awe.

This film, for all the flaws that critics complain it has, is the most stark film I’ve ever seen about trying to find this sense of wonder and awe in the mundane, in the suburban, in the every day. It’s a worthy pursuit, one of the most worthy pursuits, to struggle against whatever forces you must to gain and reclaim wonder.

Wonder is not simply about the latest technological advancements – it can be about staring into the eyes of a dead bird. It can be about marveling at the clouds in a sunset. It can be so many small and large things, but the struggle is stopping, letting it sink it, trying to remember and reflect on it.

There is SO much beauty in the world. Do you see it?

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Corporate Ranting

I feel like Seth Godin saying this, but who cares:

If your business is based on having customers, an important thing to do is make the customers feel like they are wanted.

Back around March I started itching for an iPhone, but some form of pragmatism kicked in and I realized that it’d be better to wait until A) I was eligible for an upgrade [July 5] and B) the new model was released. Around that same time however I had to add the wife to my account on AT&T because well, we were married and it was time for her parents to stop paying for her cell service.

We went in one evening in March to add her to the account, and thus began a long series of struggles that have greatly pissed me off in the past month.

We went into the AT&T store simply to add my wife as a new number onto an existing contract. So they look up my account and that’s where we find problem number one. I’d opened the account in Alabama, now I live in Nashville, and you can’t have numbers of differing area codes on the same account. So they needed to “localize” my number.

Which meant that we went in to get her a new phone and number, and I walked out with a new number as well. Frustration number 1, because I wasn’t prepared to swap numbers at all, but had no alternative since I needed the wife on my account.

A month later I start researching what exactly my date of upgrade eligibility is, and lo and behold it’s set at September 2010. Which is a little confusing because my contract runs out in October 2009. But I foolishly think to myself “oh well, that’s obviously wrong, I’ll just call them and have them fix it.”

Which then starts this trend wherein AT&T fools me up front into thinking it’s an easy process, and then tries to throw as much shit in the way as possible so that I really really understand they dislike having customers.

I don’t remember the exact dates, but I do remember how far apart they were, so here’s a “timeline”:

Monday, wk 1: Call AT&T. Explain to them the situation. They look at the numbers, realize something is wrong. Say to me “That’s not a problem to fix. We’ll submit this for review and then give you a call back in a week when everything is updated!”

Wednesday, wk 2: AT&T calls me: “You requested a reset of your upgrade eligibility date, correct?”
Me: “Yes”
AT&T : “Great, we’re just calling to let you know it’s been successful!”
Me: “So, just to confirm, what is the date that I’m able to upgrade now?”
AT&T: “Well its…. Oh…. well, it looks like it hasn’t been reset. You’re going to be wanting an iPhone, right?”
Me: Yes
AT&T: Ok let me transfer you to another person, they can handle that.
Me:

I’m then transferred to another person, who first attempts to go ahead and get my information to buy the iPhone, so that I have to re-explain why I’m not getting one yet and what this call is about. They then look at my account, and ask me if there are any other phones that I’m interested in, because the iPhone is the hardest to get with what’s wrong with my account.

YOU MESSED UP MY ACCOUNT AT&T! I don’t care HOW HARD it is to reset it, you’re going to do it because it’s NOT MY FAULT.

So then I have to spend an HOUR on the phone with that person while they fill out forms and put me on hold so they can type up notes and they have me repeat my information and finally, FINALLY this is what I’m told:

“Ok, we can’t actually reset the date, but we’ve put extensive notes explaining your situation. You won’t be able to go to an Apple Store or buy online, you have to go to an AT&T corporate store and it will be up to the manager there if you can upgrade.”

At this point, I’m laughing because what else can you do when a company says to you “we messed up and there’s no way to fix it, and we’re not really sorry because, well, why should we be?” BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT I HEARD.

But does this story end here? No. Then two weeks pass, and I’m eligible for the upgrade. I go into the AT&T corporate store (I tried the Apple store just in case, but to no avail) and say I want the phone, and they say well we don’t keep them in stock we just do fulfillment orders and I say well, whatever you have to do. So they take my information, confirm my upgrade eligibility, and I swipe my card.

A week later (which is this past Wednesday if you want to know) I get an email saying “Your iPhone has arrived! Please come pick it up.” So after work I drive over to the store, and that’s where MORE problems come up.

Apparently “this form” hadn’t gone through properly, and even though my iPhone was sitting RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, and even though my bank account showed a $217 payment to AT&T for THAT VERY iPHONE, I couldn’t have it, because “this form” hadn’t gone through properly, that’s what she said.

Well, actually she disappeared into the back of the store for 15 minutes then came back and said, and I quote”

“I have good news and bad news! The good news is you are actually going to be able to get the iPhone, the bad news is you’re going to have to come back tomorrow and get it.”

Apparently “this form” NORMALLY took 72 hours to go through but they were going to email the person directly and explain what would happen and they were sure to hear back tomorrow.

Except that “tomorrow” was yesterday, and they didn’t hear anything, and at this point I JUST WANT TO GET WHAT I PAID FOR.

So to hell with you AT&T. Just fix your damn mistake, have someone other than a peon apologize to me, and maybe, although I know this is probably REALLY hard because of all the forms and confusing systems and extensive notes it would take, maybe you could give me some sort of credit on service.

Because all I did originally was decide to add another person onto my contract and give you more money. And you decided I was a pain in the ass.

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Why should I repeat them? You already know them.

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Year End Lists

I guess there are many wonderful things about the rise of blogs and the decentralization of information due to the internet, but if I were to name just one that I really really appreciate, it is the return of the critic as fan.

As I read year-end lists of fiction and music (go here for books, here for music) I respect that many of the people writing the lists, while still applying critical standards and actually judging the art, are letting the lists be personal. “I liked” is a phrase that enters into these lists quite often. 

I appreciate that, because I’m not really interested in why an album is definitively the best album of the year; I want to know what people who have more artistic knowledge than me liked. I don’t have to like it, but it least gives me a lot of new options to try.

And don’t worry, although I’m no critic, I’m working on my year end list. It’ll only be music, unfortunately I don’t read enough to make book lists. I guess I could make a “favorite magazine articles of the year” list, which would be completely comprised of New Yorker and Wired articles, but that doesn’t seem fair either.

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Long Road to Glory

 

 

Where you suppose seems a good place to start personal essays. Many personal essays that do not launch into anecdotes often start with supposing. Possibly because it is better to suppose than to think, and the world is full of people who simply think.  But this essay is entirely about what I suppose, and how I wrestle with it internally, and how that effects my perception of hundreds of issues that one can’t avoid in today’s world.

I suppose Fundamentalist Christians are the devil, if I believe the narrative outside of Christian circles today. This of course is the most negative way to view it, a more positive spin is that Fundamentalist Christians are just narrow-minded, anti-scientific, anti-scholarly, and more often than not, white middle-class, middle-Americans.

I listened to an episode of This American Life today from 2005 called “Godless America,” on the subject of these “Fundamentalist Christians.” Now, I can’t nail down exactly what comprises an FC, but I gathered that if something can be seriously expressed by someone with a southern accent, it is probably an FC position. The episode dealt with two issues; the Separation of Church and State from a “Christian” perspective, and the ridiculousness of the Bible.

These are issues that I could address in length; but that would just be me opining on subjects on which I do not have any educated opinion to share, which is not good for anyone. Listening to stories in the episode stirred up in me feelings that I’m not sure I know an easy answer for.

My wife, God bless her, listened to me ramble and process on the way home from work, so if these thoughts have any clarity at all, you can write her and thank her.

The turmoil in me regards multiple facets of what it means to be a Christian in the now world. While the central doctrines of Christianity remain the same throughout the ages, and the Gospel is the rock upon which faith is built; there is no denying that every day what it means to live as Christian changes, as well as what it means to live out the Gospel. It may be subtle day to day, but over centuries it changes radically.

Take for example slavery, which seems incomprehensible to the modern Christian but was a given part of life to most Christians and most of society  just 200 years ago. Times change. 

Today abortion is legal in America, much to the chagrin of Fundamentalist Christians. Now, I don’t think I’m a Fundamentalist Christian, but it saddens me that abortion is legal in America. I am most definitely pro-life, since the two sides to the issue are pro-life and pro-choice. 

This is where the episode of This American Life that I listened to comes into play. To explain, I must slightly digress from abortion. The episode dealt with separation of Church and State; how to Fundamentalist Christians the problem is that the norm in modern society is keeping Church out of State, when from their point of view the idea of the constitution was to keep the State out of the Church. There are reasonable cases for this view.

The scholar on This American Life (whose name escapes me) made the case that while our founding fathers were Christians and God-fearing men, they strove to craft a constitution that intentionally left out all mentions of God. Furthermore, he pointed out that when the constitution went up for ratification in the 13 colonies, it was very nearly defeated in multiple states for being “Godless.” Most controversial was Article Six, which says that there can be no religious test for holding public office. Many states had religious tests in place, and many people argued that there should be a religious test for public office. 

Thankfully the constitution as drafted was ratified, and we have the incredible document that exists today. The speaker made the point that it is ironic how back then, it was the critics of the document who said it was “Godless,” and now the charge is that it is “Christian” but being twisted as “Godless.” Now there are a myriad of issues that spring from this debate, but I want to focus on what the founders did, and why it was so incredible.

By fastidiously creating a document that does not mention God, these men created a document that incorporated the beliefs of their personal faiths in such a way that even if the nation fell away from Christianity, it would still be built upon facets of the Christian faith. Even more incredibly, their attention to detail meant that the document reflected their faith, but transcended Christianity to apply to all people. This is typically known as Natural Law; truths that may personally spring from a personal faith but are expressed in universal, natural terms so that no one can attack them for being “exclusive.” 

The brilliance of the Constitution is that the view of man and government it expresses sprang from the authors’ understanding of man and Government as dictated by their personal faiths, but that view was expressed in universal, natural terms that could not be argued on purely religious grounds.

Arguably, this is the greatest test of truth in a religion; if the truths that derive from that religions narrative and worldview fall in line with the world at large. If reality does not fit into religion; in other words if the large narratives of life cannot be explained by the meta-narrative, then obviously something is wrong with the meta-narrative.

The founders were able to take the truths of their meta-narrative and derive from it principles that applied to all people. They then expressed those truths in non-religious terms so that the truths could truly be self-evident.

When it comes to Abortion (and many other issues dear to the Fundamentalist Christians), we fail on the natural law front. Now, as my wife pointed out to me earlier, it is not that there are significant groups out there who approach these issues on a natural law level, because there are those groups, but the issue at large has become a Christian issue. 

Today in America there is pro-choice – which seems to be most people who aren’t practicing Catholics or Fundamentalist Christians, and pro-life, which are the people who are in those categories. And overall, the pro-life people’s main agenda is to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

The turmoil I face is that deep down, I don’t give a damn about Roe vs. Wade. Even if we were ever able to overturn it; within a few decades it would be reversed, and so on and so forth. The fact is, in America a significant portion of the population does not understand why it’s such a big deal to have readily available abortions. In fact, it seems downright medieval to not have them available. 

But all the time I find myself hanging my head at how the abortion issue is presented to that portion of the population. Murder! we yell, which it is to us, but not to them. Sin! we yell, which it is to those of us who believe in this theological idea of sin. Doom! we yell, because it is coming if we do not support the sanctity of all life in this country.

But Roe vs. Wade is not the thing that destroyed the sanctity of life in this country. And reversing that decision will not really change anything except the law. And the fact that it’s come down to a pro-life vs. pro-choice issue is a shame on not the Godless liberals, but the Fundamentalist Christians who are trying to convert the world to a Christian worldview via laws.

My frustration is that we haven’t attacked the issue with the care that the founding fathers handled the future of the nation they began. The Fundamentalist Christian response has been a 30-odd year battle against a Supreme Court decision that was really just an inevitable product of the philosophies that developed because of Freud and Nietzsche. And if we believe our own rhetoric, we are once again handling the future of our nation with this issue of Abortion.

Hell, we don’t even have to listen to our rhetoric. The simple fact that we are killing more of the future generation than are being born ought to scare the hell out us. The statistics and natural law arguments alone are more than overwhelming to let every single person in America know that abortion is a really bad idea. Pair that with the difficulty of nailing down exactly when life begins, and there are surely really good ways to present a logical” case against abortion that derives directly from a personal faith in God but does not come wrapped in religious or righteous language.

But by and large this is not how the issue is handled. And it frustrates me to no end, because while I agree with the goal, I disagree entirely with the methods. 

This is compounded by the fact that I am a Christian, and do believe that abortion should not happen, that it is murder. I do want to argue rationally, naturally, that abortion is wrong. I don’t want to pound dogma down people’s throats. But simply by admitting I’m a Christian, I immediately have what feels to be an insurmountable association with things that I either disagree with, or have significant doubts about. 

Normally, if I find myself too closely associated to one group that I have problems with, I leave that group, or disassociate myself from it like any rational person would. But I can’t do that with Christianity. These beliefs are what make the world make sense. Many a times I’ve stepped out from my faith in my head, and I don’t like what I find. The world doesn’t make sense unless I view it from within the Judeo-Christian meta-narrative. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty shitty Christian, especially when it comes to the day to day relationship aspect. But on the meta-level, there is nothing else that makes sense. 

So I’m stuck. I am a Christian, by choice, and by firm belief, but I’m not sure how that works out in life. Because I don’t find that I have much in common with the pillars of public Christianity today; but I don’t want to revolutionize or join any “modern” movement for reasons this post is not meant to delve into. What I want is to be taken seriously. I want this ideal world to exist where if I step up to be rational, people will recognize that while I hold fast to the fundamentals of Christianity, I’m not a Fundamentalist Christian and then they will listen to the substance of the ideas I present, without dismissing me.

And I’m not really sure what to do since that is – for all intents and purposes – impossible.

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On Writing

As I ease back into the habit of blogging, it is amazing how many thoughts come into my head in a given day that trigger the “I should blog that” response, and yet I find it so hard to write.

Let’s face it, I’m out of the habit of writing. Because of this, my blog posts are a bit more stoic, a bit more plain, and definitely don’t have the voice of “winston” that all my past blogs have featured.

This will hopefully be remedied in time. But for now, I will continue easing back into the habit of writing.

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