So, it’s been pretty intense…

It’s been a rough year, but this last month or so has been particularly difficult.  I lost my Dad a little less than a year ago and I knew that it was going to be a big change, but I figured that since I had so long to prepare for it that it wouldn’t be quite as severe.  I’ve got to say that I was sort of right and sort of wrong.

Dad’s passing seemed like a necessary part of life, but the circumstances still don’t entirely sit well with me.  Either way, Dad is gone.  That fact was cemented in my mind while I sat alone with his body, waiting for the funeral home to drive quite some distance to come pick it up.  What was left there in that room was not my Dad.  He was gone and I was left to grapple with some very concrete concepts of mortality and the human soul.  It has stayed with me longer that I thought it might.

The year has progressed, with lots of challenges in completing not only a couple of very large personal projects, but also with trying to get Mom’s house in order for her to be there by herself.  That struggle seems to be coming to an end, but I wouldn’t relive the last couple of months for all the money in the world.  Please allow me to elaborate.

We moved Mom in with us after Christmas so that they could redo all of the floors in her house.  During that time, it became painfully evident that Mom had been hiding a great deal of physical limitation and disability.  Still, she really perked up at the new flooring and although it was an enormous undertaking, it seemed worth it to see her happy with her home…until she fell forty-five minutes after we got her home.

After that, we ended up with Mom on a walker in a house that still needed the kitchen reinstalled.  I started working as late as I could every night after I got off work and most weekends, trying to arrange all the details and install the kitchen.  Many days became sixteen hours of work and six hours or less of sleep, but even that seemed worth it.  I had even hired a couple of guys to help me with the kitchen and it really started to come together…that is, until the bottom fell out.

My Aunt Frances had some complications with some surgery to remove a gall stone and I guess something went way wrong.  She was well into her mid-eighties and her body just couldn’t fight anymore.  They brought her back to the same hospice center that my Dad was in last year and I went straight out to see her, planning to return the next day and every day thereafter until she passed.  She’s always meant a lot to me and I hated to see her go.  Fortunately, I got to see her that one last time.  Unfortunately, on the way home I stopped off to let a tenant back into their apartment and on the way back to my Jeep Cherokee, I fell and broke my left arm, my nose, and I did my best to take all the skin off of large sections of my face.

In a matter of seconds, I found myself covered in blood and helpless to get myself off the ground for a few minutes.  I just laid there and bled…alot…I mean a bunch.  In fact, there is still blood on the concrete if you were to check out that sidewalk.  This all led to the most disturbing trip to the emergency room that I’ve ever had.  The highlight for me was when the woman next to me passed out and started throwing up blood.  Yeah, it sucked.

So, for the sake of expediency, here’s a summary of how it has been since then: awful…it has been awful.  I couldn’t go back out to see my Aunt Frances because we didn’t want her to be worried because I looked like I had been in a car wreck.  I spent the next several weeks as an invalid, because it unbelievably hard to do just about anything when you can only use one arm.  Even the simple stuff is hard, like tying my hair back.

Finally, I was starting to feel better and a bunch of friends had chipped in to keep everything moving forward.  It looked like I might be able to start catching up and finishing Mom’s house when I did something stupid and reactivated a near-record level of sciatic pain.  Thankfully, there are Prednisone and Percocet.  Those were starting get me moving again when something happened that really put the topper on this whole last year.

I took Mom to a quick doctor’s appointment.  The short version is that she had some trouble with her walker and fell backwards with me trying catch her with my bad arm.  Yep, totally helpless, watching my Mom fall backwards in slow motion while I tried to catch her with a useless arm and with a walker between us which made it impossible, anyway.  Her head hit the ground and she died for somewhere between thirty seconds and a minute.  It felt like longer because she turned blue and was non-responsive and the world seemed to stop, but either way, it was the worst.  Thankfully, she revived and after a couple of hours in the emergency room, we were on the way home.

So that’s been my year…intense and sucky, but with lots to think about, which made it even harder, at times.  Now, we are counting down the final days until we can get my son’s spleen removed so that his health can improve.

IMAG1278With that and the rest of my year, I’ve got something that I would like to admit:  It has been a really humbling experience, to say the least.  It has been really hard, but it has left me with some very lucid realizations.

  1. I would really appreciate your prayers for my son, Bruce.  Like me, they are going to have to take out his spleen so his body will quit destroying his red blood cells.  This will relieve his jaundice and he will no longer be yellow, but he will also be no longer able to fight off encapsulated bacterial infection.
  2. I would also appreciate your thoughts and prayers.  This whole thing has been so humbling and most days I have just enough stamina to finish my work day and spend the evening fighting the pain.  It’s getting better, but some days are better than others.  Also, it has become apparent that I am sometimes a real jerk and also that life is fleeting, at best.  I’m making a real effort to apologize to some folks with whom I need to make amends because I feel like it is the right thing to do.
  3. Most of all, I want everyone to take a really hard look at where we are right now.  Our country is eating itself over racial tension, bathrooms, and an election where we get to decide between two very large bags of crap.  I don’t know what to say to everybody, but I do know that I would like to remind Christians that the same Jesus who said to love your neighbor also said to love your enemy.  Frankly, I don’t see enough of that happening.  We need to start making amends with everyone or this election will be the least of our worries.

Public Service Announcement (If you don’t ever use power equipment, skip this one)

Sometimes I get busy and don’t catch problems until they cost me money.  Recently, I’ve been noticing problems with some of my power equipment.  I was immediately suspicious because all of my small engine equipment is Stihl (and not Stihl purchased at a big box store, Stihl purchased from a commercial Stihl dealer).

All of my equipment went from starting on the second or third pull to starting after a lot of work, if at all.  My string trimmer was the worst, so I took it in and after two trips to the shop, replaced the carburetor.  After that, the problem was solved.  The culprit…ethanol blended fuel.

As it turns out, ethanol blended fuel is devastating for power equipment.  This is especially true for two-cycle engines.  If you use ethanol blended fuel, you can expect to keep replacing your carburetor on a regular basis (which isn’t cheap).  Consumer Reports started documenting the issue about three years ago.  You can find their first article on the issue here.  Now, every major small engine producer has some sort of warning on their products or website.  This is great for consumers purchasing new equipment but not so great for those of us with older gear, as we have missed out on the warnings.

Fortunately, their is an easy (although somewhat inconvenient) solution.  You have to find gas stations that still sell pure gasoline, without any ethanol.  They are getting pretty scarce, but you can find them by visiting this website. It may mean some extra driving, but at least your power equipment will still work.

Why is this even an issue?  Well…I don’t want to get into another political discussion, so we’ll leave it at just another example of your government at work.  You can find the complete history of the issue here.  Pay particular attention to 2003 to 2009…yep, this issue spans several presidential administrations, making it a “big government” problem.

Good vs. Evil and the Need for Shared Values

I made sure that my last post was harder on Christians because I believe that a true change in the conversation needs to start at home.  For me, that was the easiest way to start inside and work my way out.  Today, I thought that I might start getting to what I feel is the root of the problem.  As a result, I’m sure that this one is going to step on some toes.

I wrote a piece on objective truth a while back.  I was going to review that for a bit, but this is the internet and it is far easier for you to just click here and go read it, if you haven’t already.  That post starts us on the road to what I feel is one of the most significant reasons that we all seem to be at each others throats with a lot of issues:  We no longer have a high degree of shared values.

I truly believe that the push for multi-culturalism and our rejection of objective morality has left us without any sort of societal moorings.  I don’t want to tie that statement to current issues for examples, because I feel that it might lose some of its weight.  Hopefully, by backing us up a few years, I can look at how we arrived at our current situation.

Let’s start with marriage.  I’m not one to beat-around-the-bush, so I’ll just get right to stepping on people’s toes.  Just about every culture had a high regard for marriage in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Regardless of religion, it was an institution which was not to be entered into lightly.  Violations of one’s marriage vows were certainly seen as taboo and often as severe, punishable offenses.  It wasn’t just the Judeo-Christian folks who made such a big deal about marriage; it was almost everyone.  Then something changed.

I’m not sure if it was the sexual revolution or our changing legal system which led the charge, but somehow we decided to allow the devaluation of the institution of marriage.  Adultery went from something that could get you a big, fat, scarlet letter on your chest to something that had any number of excuses.  Things not working out or maybe marriage isn’t quite what you thought it would be?  Just give up.  There is always next time.

Broken marriages have become so commonplace that I’ve even heard jokes made within communities of faith.  I used to know a guy from church who joked about how many times he had been married.  I’ve got news for that guy.  Multiple divorces doesn’t make you funny…it makes you a failure…at a lot of things.

The point, however, is not marriage.  It is about whether or not we share values.  The simple fact is that we absolutely must have shared values on at least some critical, core issues or there is no way that we will ever live in harmony or peace.  As much as it makes some of us uncomfortable, we have to recognize that there is Good and there is Evil.  We have to not only understand that these two things exist, but that they are in direct conflict with each other.  Then, we have to pick a side and understand that that choice will naturally lead to conflict with those on the other side.

Our media has tried to remove objective morality and shared values from our society.  The only values they promote are tolerance and non-judgement, which have been perverted in the way that have been presented to the public.  Also, they are poor substitutes for mutual respect and love.

We have been inundated with atrocious, morally destitute entertainment and news for so long that we have lost our sense of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong.  I can’t tell you how many times that I have been shocked when an otherwise sane and rational person has demonstrated a working knowledge of the cast of The Jersey Shore or the antics of Miley Cyrus or the family dynamics of the Kardashians.  Let’s think about that for a minute.  Here are what I consider to be completely reasonable people who have conversant understanding about a group of young people whose moral quandaries and substance abuse antics became the fodder for tabloids.  The Kardashians (whose main claim-to-fame is a daughter who had a sex tape released on the internet) have commanded our attention for years, now.

We have lost our minds.

I feel like I need a shower after just thinking about those folks long enough to write about them and the point is not even that the aforementioned people are evil.  They are just sad, broken people that have been made into celebrities.

The problem is that we have allowed it to happen.  The problem is that we have allowed this drivel to distract us from the real issues.  The problem is that we have allowed our moral sense to be degraded because instead of our diversity strengthening the moral conversation, it is being used to dilute it.

We have got to find a way back to where, regardless of our faith or lack thereof, we can unite as a people and agree as to whether something is right or wrong.  We have to fix our moral barometers, so that we can once again accurately grasp the difference between good and evil.  We have got to remember that in any given situation, there may be a million perspectives…but there is only one truth.

This post has two titles.

I started to lay out what I think is a very important framework for a conversation, yesterday, in a post.  Although a few people got distracted by the cute picture of the kids and how it displayed on Facebook, my hope is that most people read the whole piece.  Either way, you can go back and look at it if you missed it, as it is a prerequisite for today’s post.

Here are the two titles for today’s post and you get to choose which title to apply, based on your own personal convictions:

The Necessity for Mutual Respect

or…

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

I chose the titles because each lends itself to a particular reader.  I won’t bore you with details, but one title is for Christians and the other is for those who are not Christians.  I know that those are really broad parameters, but for the purposes of what I’m trying to illustrate, I think they are adequate.

Yesterday, I wanted to lay a foundation of the fact that we are all human beings and that as such, we have equal value.  I wanted to cut through the whole “us” versus “them” paradigm which seems to permeate all of the coverage of each and every event that we are currently being fed by all forms of media.  If we are ever going to find healthy solutions for our problems, any of them, then we are going to have to approach them from a “we” perspective.

The simple truth is that we can have no progress unless we all respect each other in the process of finding solutions.  I know that issues quickly become quite complicated, but we have to start from a position of mutual respect for others as human beings.  This is a truth so simple that it is evident in almost all of children’s media ever produced.  We have to respect each other, despite our differences, if we are ever to get along.  Beyond that, we must seek to find common grounds from which to build relationships that will lead to solutions.

I chose the Christian/Non-Christian distinction to start with because that seems to be one that is currently in play in most of the discussion that I have seen.  Also, it is one with which I have had the most interaction.

I can only speak briefly to those in the Non-Christian camp in regard to many of the current conflicts.  To those folks, I would merely like to point out that we must have mutual respect for each other in order to find solutions.  Whatever your religious, political, ethical, or moral underpinnings, you have to be willing to engage in civilized, respectful communication and trustworthy negotiation in order to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.  As we may or may not share much in the way of moral, ethical, or intellectual convictions, I am left with appealing to any sense that you may have of justice, fairness, or love.

As for Christians, I could go all day on this but I will keep it simple, we are required to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Actually, we are even commanded to love our enemies.  Boy, that’s a tricky one, huh?  We like to discuss the story of the good Samaritan, but we often stop short of realizing its full implications.  Jesus was telling this story to a primarily Jewish audience.  An audience which hated Samaritans.  In fact, I think that it is important to note how often Jesus interacts with Samaritans, both as illustrations and as people.  Samaritans were the ultimate “those people” to the Jews of his Jesus’ day.

Take a minute.  Think about a people group that you dislike…maybe even one that you hate.  That is your Samaritan.  Here’s the hard thing to hear:  Jesus loves those people, too.  Now, here’s the hardest thing to hear:  Jesus expects you to love those people, as well.

Ouch.  That really stings, doesn’t it.  That’s one heck of an expectation.  It creates a lot of uncomfortable situations.  I makes us have to love people who have a lot of qualities that we really don’t like.

I’ve got to be honest.  When I take a minute to make a list of people that I can’t stand, that list comes really easy.  Liars, thieves, adulterers, hipsters (we have a lot of those in Asheville), guys who wear wear pastel Polo shirts with khaki shorts and boat shoes with no socks, most white people with dreadlocks, people with a sense of entitlement, and on the list goes…

I have to work every day to try and love the people on my list.  Some days, I do pretty well.  Some days, I don’t do well at all.  The problem is (and this is the reason for this whole series of posts) that the internet and how our society works gives us a perfect venue to make complete jackasses out ourselves in about thirty seconds with a comment on a post or a couple of words on the street.  The crazy thing is how often we do it and still feel good about ourselves.

I know that we’ve got some serious issues that are at stake, but if we are descending into a state of becoming raging jerks, then we have lost the ability to bring anything positive to the situation.  This isn’t just about keeping one’s composure while secretly hating someone in the back of your mind, this is about seeking to find a way to lovingly relate to another human being with whom you potentially totally disagree.

I know this is a lot to ask and that this post is being harder on Christians that on those who are not, but we are commanded to go that extra mile.  If we are blasting people on the internet or in any public forum, then we are falling woefully short in following that command.

Next time, we start digging into the hard stuff.  I promise to be an equal-opportunity offender before I get done with all of this.

America 2.0: Rise of the Machines

There was a time when I consumed a lot of science fiction, which was composed of equal parts of books, comics, and movies.  I spent untold hours plowing through the material, and as a result, I developed a great appreciation for the genre.  Science fiction has a rich history, even though it is largely a product of mankind’s fears as a result of industrialization and later, the advent of the atomic age.  Truly, a great deal of science fiction is born out of man’s apprehensions about the inventions that he has wrought upon this earth.  However, the most amazing thing about the genre is how right many of these works have proven to be in modern America.

I suppose that the easiest place to start is with Orwell.  His vision of the future in 1984 doesn’t seem so fantastic in light of the Edward Snowden revelations.  When Snowden leaked information about the NSA spying on American citizens and collecting colossal amounts of data, there were a lot of “tinfoil hat” types who felt supremely vindicated.  After all, you aren’t really paranoid if the government is actually listening to everything that you are saying, are you?  If one stops to consider the government intrusion alongside the fact that almost all electronic devices are now sold with a camera which faces the consumer, an omni-directional microphone, and an ability to connect with internet and share everything that has been recorded; Orwell easily comes out looking more like a prophet than an artist.

This brings me to my main point.  I think that if we look at the Terminator series, along with the Matrix series, that we will see some cautionary tales that we would do well to embrace.  Although I don’t feel like we will be running from robots disguised in human flesh or finding ourselves plugged into a giant human electrical farm any time in the near future, I do feel like I am seeing elements of both franchises come true on a daily basis.

In the Terminator series, mankind was almost driven to extinction at the hand of the machines.  Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be happening, but we are seeing technology emerging that makes the idea of unmanned machinery oppressing humankind sound a little less crazy.  When we first saw the unmanned Hunter-Killer Drones in Terminator, we thought that it was the technology of the future.  Now, we are seeing unmanned drones being used by the military to conduct operations and eliminate targets around the globe.  With that in mind, it isn’t too much of a stretch to point out that with the right combination of GPS, satellite imagery, and artificial intelligence,  a computer in Utah could easily have the ability to wipe out human beings at any location on the planet.  Scary.

Next, we have the Matrix series, with mankind being subjugated and pacified by machines that use them as a power source.  While mankind is certainly still the primary power consumer on this planet and most would argue that the machines are serving us, I would ask this twofold question:  Are the machines really serving us or have we abdicated our lives to them?

Think about how we’ve structured our lives.  How many of us have a television running every morning while we are getting ready and during meals with our families?  How many of us are slaves to our phones; unable to even have a meal in a restaurant without slavishly staring at the screen of our devices?  Are we really free or are we slaves to the machines that we have built?

Look around.  Are you reading this while looking at your phone instead of your spouse?  When is that last time that you ate with your family without a screened device present?  When is that last time that you went a whole day without watching your television?  When is the last time that you went a whole day without your phone?  When was the last time that you took the time to call and actually speak with someone instead of shooting the a text message?

Let’s face it.  The machines have risen.

 

In Defense of Obama (on this one, single issue)

I’m going to lose some friends over this post…and that’s okay, because it is time for me to be completely honest about this one area of personal moral conviction.  I think that I can best sum things up with this following statement:  We have a horribly broken immigration system that is incredibly unfair and only someone who has been whipped into a frenzy of xenophobia and racism/nationalism by ultra-right-wing interest groups could miss the point that Republicans and Conservative Christians ought to be backing massive Hispanic immigrant amnesty with full gusto.  If you are someone who is politically conservative and you don’t back immigration reform, then you have not been paying attention.

Now, I’m going to pause for a second so that you can un-friend me on Facebook or start composing your condescending comments or email.  Still with me?  Good.  Now I can clarify a few things before I get to my point.  First, I am someone who votes mostly Republican.  I own lots of guns, several of which Nancy Pelosi and her ilk would like to see banned in the United States (with high capacity magazines, to boot).  I am a Christian…and I’m white…and I’m male.  I come from a family of land and business owners.  I hate Obamacare and no matter how I feel about immigration, I personally believe that Mr. Obama is the worst American president in my lifetime, which is hard to believe, since I’ve lived through Nixon, Ford, Carter, Clinton, and two Bush administrations.  I hate our current entitlement-driven welfare system and I despise big government.

So, you might be asking yourself why someone with such credentials is backing Obama on this immigration issue.  The answer is simple, but it is fourfold:

  1. I work in property management and a significant portion of our large holdings are mobile home parks in Western North Carolina.  I know hundreds of illegal immigrant families and the vast majority are hard-working, honest people who work six or seven days a week to provide for their families.  Often they are doing jobs that most people do not want, either because they are unpleasant or because most Americans are lazy and entitled.  These people are providing the services that are keeping our country going and they have none of the rights we have.  They are cooking our food, building our homes, paving our roads, and raising our children.  They deserve our gratitude, not the short-end-of-the-stick.
  2. Every illegal Hispanic that I know would pay whatever penalty and go through whatever program that we established to be able to stay here and become a U.S. Citizen.  Most of them are already paying into our tax system through fake or borrowed Social Security numbers and they certainly won’t be seeing any of that money coming back to them.  (In fact, many believe that this whole issue stems from wanting to keep illegal immigrants in a position where they are propping up the failing Social Security system)  They come from corrupt countries where people are cutting their heads off if they don’t grow drugs.  In Mexico, they just had forty-three student protestors who were beheaded and left in the desert.  Oddly, no one seems to think that is such an atrocity, although we sure will raise hell about three Americans getting beheaded in Syria and Iraq.  These people came here to escape and for an opportunity to live the American dream.  Maybe you don’t read history, but that is exactly what our ancestors did; which brings me to my next point.
  3. I am not a racist.  Sure, both myself and my kids are blond-haired and blue-eyed, but that doesn’t mean that we hate brown people.  Last time I browsed through my history books, I noticed that we annihilated a whole lot of people who looked just like these folks from Mexico and Central America to colonize and develop this country.  We are the imports here, folks, not the brown people.  Oh, and if you say it’s not about the color of their skin, it’s just that they belong in their home country?  Great, that makes you a nationalist which is the first step on the road to being a Nazi.  Awesome for you.
  4. I believe that this country was founded on Christian principles by mostly Christian leaders.  Why is this important?  Oh, I don’t know…maybe if you’re not a fan of gay marriage or abortion or legalized drugs; don’t you think it might be a good idea to find a way to legalize a population of nearly eleven million (let’s look at those zeros – 11,000,000) people who are overwhelmingly Catholic and almost completely Christian in their religious beliefs?  Numbers like that, coupled with areas of population concentration, could significantly change the outcomes of elections all over this nation.

If you’ve stayed with me this long, I would invite you to take a deep breath and consider what I believe is my most important point.  Jesus told us to love “the least of these.”  In American, these immigrant folks are exactly that…and they are Christians.  What does that make you?

Thank you, Rod Hilton!

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I have sensed a great disturbance in the force.  Alderaan being destroyed?  No.  George Lucas’ reach exceeding his grasp?  Absolutely.

I first sensed that disturbance way back in the nineties when a bunch of us ate dinner at Matt Weather’s parent’s house and journeyed to see the reissues of the original Star Wars trilogy.  It was in that one simple moment when Greedo all of the sudden developed a magical rubber arm and took an awkward shot at Han Solo that I suspected that we were in for trouble.  Three prequels later, I was left with the full realization of Lucas’ folly.

My childhood was destroyed.  My beloved Star Wars had been brought low with Lucas’ meddling and ill-planned or ill-executed prequels.  All I was left to do was find unaltered versions of the three original films and pretend that Episodes 1-3 didn’t exist…that is until this month.

Earlier in the month, on Star Wars Day, there was great celebration amongst the geeks.  Incidentally, there was also a special episode of The Big Bang Theory that made mention of “The Machete Order.”  What is The Machete Order, you may ask?  It is simply the most beautiful piece of scholarly film thought in the last 20 years.  I would take the time to explain it, but I’ll simply refer you to the original article and another commentary.

Here is the original.

Here is a follow-up.

All I can do at this point is praise Rod Hilton and spread the word of his glorious work.  Thank you, Rod Hilton!  You have saved us all.

Never again, Jar Jar…never again.