6.29.2015

Here Comes a Gay Wedding (Part 2)

Gay weddings are legal. You do not like it. So now what?

To begin, I ask that everyone – both supporters and opponents of gay marriage consider the tone of anything they post about the topic. There is a point where celebratory remarks become gloating. There is also a thin line where voicing dissent morphs into disparaging criticism. However, this request is more for those who share my faith than those who do not.

As a Christian, the stamp of love should be the impetus of everything we do. I know this is not easily done and it is something that I struggle with every day. Regardless, this is what God has asked of us. Jesus told his disciples “All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other.” The way we treat those within our own community should be an example that reflects the love that God has shown us. If we can’t get that right, how can anyone outside the church expect to be treated any differently?

Beyond loving other Christians, we are given the same command in reference to those who do not share our values. When Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment, he said to love God. Then without any prompting, he answered an unasked but essential question. “The second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’” Paul also encouraged Christians to expand the scope of their love beyond themselves: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.” The definition of everyone else mirrors the term neighbor that Jesus used. This means other people who you may not like or whom you may not typically associate. It means that your love must extend to those who do not share your religious beliefs, social stature, political persuasion, and sexual orientation. You don’t have to agree with someone or even support them to demonstrate love and common courtesy.

This kind of love is opposition to selfish ambition. It is the kind of love that looks out for more than just your own good: “always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” This is a love that aims for the greater good – even at the cost of self sacrifice. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” I realize what you deem good and I deem good may not be the same thing. In these differences of opinion, it is essential that we consider views of others and the possibility that we could be wrong.


I would also caution against dwelling in fear. All of the comments worried about the future of America or predictions that the church will now enter a new era of persecution accomplish nothing. God’s favor is no more upon us than the Christians of any other nation. We must remember that God does not have a covenant with the USA. At the end of his life, Jesus gave his followers the commission: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations.” We are included, but not exclusive.

Even if we are plunged into a darker era, why is this a concern? Isn’t this what Jesus told us would happen? He said, “All people will hate you because you follow me.” More than just a prediction, Jesus also told us “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” We shouldn’t fear persecution – but expect it.

Furthermore, an attitude of fear betrays the love that God has shown us. “Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears.” As I have watched the news over the past weekend, I have observed people claiming to be Christians, spreading a message of doom and gloom. I cannot comprehend how anyone can possibly express the love of God while simultaneously preaching fear.

Finally, we must recognize what this change in law is and is not.

The Supreme Court made a ruling changing man’s law, but they did not change God’s law. Whatever you view as God’s commands remain unchanged. No court on earth has the power to revise that. We live in a culture that is constantly evolving yet we worship an unchanging God. Regardless of what you think of Friday’s ruling, please don’t forget that God is still the same today as He was Thursday and will be tomorrow.

The ruling dictates how the government views marriage, but not how the church views marriage. Despite clarion calls from FOX News, Mike Huckabee, and your distant relatives on facebook, we do still have freedom of religion in America. You are still free to attend whatever church you desire and those churches are still free to operate with whatever doctrine they desire.

This ruling changes the way the government treats the LBGT community, but it won’t change the way you treat them. If you want to be homophobic, that is still your right. If you want to believe that gays should not be allowed to get married, go ahead. If you think that homosexuality is a sin, you can continue to do so.

The Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, but it did not mandate it. No one is going to force you to attend or officiate a gay wedding. You will not be required to send gifts to gay couples that are getting married. No one is going to compel you to be gay.

The Court’s ruling may (as Franklin Graham alleges) be endorsing a sin, but it is not the government’s job to dictate what is sinful or holy. That role belongs to the church. When Jesus told Peter “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven,” He was giving that authority to Peter and the other disciples, rather than the government. Just because the court says something is OK, doesn’t mean that it is moral or religiously permissible. It only means that the law allows it. The law is also imperfect. We are told, “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law,” and, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves.

While we are on the topic of sin, we tend to forget other acts considered sins that are legal according to American law. Pre-marital sex, cohabitation between unmarried partners, divorce, extra-marital affairs, pornography, gossip, alcoholism, cussing, eating shellfish. To judge members of the LBGT community, we do so with a plank in our eye.

I’m not asking you to change your opinion about the Court’s ruling. All I ask is that you respond with grace.

6.28.2015

Here Comes a Gay Wedding (Part 1)

When I first saw the news on Friday, I knew heads were going to explode. Figuratively speaking. The Technicolor glitter wars that ensued in social media from then and through most of the past 60 some odd hours have been entirely predictable.

Battle lines are drawn between those celebrating this cultural shift, and those decrying it as the saddest day in American history. Between those changing their profile pictures to a rainbow infused portrait and those engaging in Levitical pearl clutching, there were a few consolatory posts trying to reconcile the differences. These were the Christian equivalent of Switzerland refusing to pick a side and hoping to portray reason and temperance through neutrality.

While the Skittles crowd indulged in a victory for gay rights, the conservative (and mostly Christian) critics have been acting in ways that are disheartening even if expected. When I read through these antagonistic opinions, I noticed a common theme. The reasoning behind the opposition to the Supreme Court's decision has a predominantly emotional or religious basis. Legal arguments against gay marriage have been rare.

So much is based in Old Testament scripture describing homosexuality as detestable or an idealization of what God intended. The oft referenced "traditional marriage" (which is rife with logical fallacies) is the standard these conservative voices are trying to protect.

Through this tension, I find myself in step with the Switzerland personalities. I see and understand the evangelical views, but I recognize and value the experiences of my gay friends. However, if you insist I pick a side, then I want to know your perspective. Do you see marriage as a religious institution or a legal institution?

If you believe that marriage is a religious practice, then the government needs to get out of the process. Let the churches decide who can and cannot get married. If a church chooses to officiate a gay wedding, then let that be between them and God. If you don't agree with that church, you are free to attend elsewhere. But if we took this route, those who cling to the notion of traditional marriage would have to forfeit the privileges they have enjoyed in their state sanctioned union: tax deductions, next of kin access, hospital visitation rights, insurance beneficiaries, combined incomes for home loans, and release of medical information. In the event a couple chooses to divorce, it would have to be approved by the church instead of the courts. Once the government is no longer involved with the issuing marriage licenses and recognition of marriage certificates, then they will no longer involve themselves in the dissolution of marriages. That means the church would be the authority in the division of property and custody issues would be frustratingly more complicated.

But if marriage is a legal issue, the arguments about what God wants or intends has no bearing. If we legislate civil matters on religious convictions, we push ourselves closer to a theocracy in violation of the separation of church and state. If marriage is allowed as a matter of legality between a man and a woman, then denying that right to homosexual couples is nothing more than government sponsored discrimination. At this point, we are not defining God's law; we are modifying man's law. This is where we confirm the American ideal that all men and women are created equal and deserve equal rights.

Now let me be clear, I am good with either option. If you want marriage to be strictly religious, fine. Let's do it. But if you want the privileges and protections of a legally recognized marriage, then those rights must be afforded to the gay community. You cannot have it both ways.


For now, the Supreme Court of the United States of America has ruled that homosexual marriages are legal in all 50 states. The court's decision will not erase homophobia, much the same way that electing a black president did not eradicate racism. Public opinion is clearly divided and practically irreconcilable.

It is too late to stem the tide of reactionary tweets and facebook rants. If time machines existed in this magical world of ours, I would use it to go back and urge everyone I know to tone down the angry rhetoric. Unfortunately, we can’t undo – or even redo what has all ready been done. People got pissed off, hurtful things were said, and now we are left to figure out where we go from here.

I cannot tell you what to think or feel or even believe. Just the way you cannot impose your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs upon me. I know that opinions are set on gay rights and are as likely to change as hardened concrete. So I do not wish to force anyone to accept or even approve of the actions of the Supreme Court. Instead I only hope to mold how we react going forward. In order to do so, I am going to get biblical. But I will do that tomorrow.

6.24.2015

Father's Day interview

I spent the this last Sunday playing with my kids. Playing at the park and in the splash pad. Walking around downtown including lunch at Zips and a stop in the sweets shop. When we got home I interviewed each of the kids. What better way to finish off Father's day that finding out what my entourage thinks of me. By the end of the day, I was too tired to actually do anything with answers they provided and spent the rest of the evening talking to my dad.

So here they are. I now present to you the interview I had with my kids.

What is your favorite thing to do with me?
Christian: Playing Lego Lord of the Rings.
Zu: Going swimming.
JJ: Going to different parks.

What is my favorite thing to do with you?
Christian: Playing video games.
Zu: Cuddle.
JJ: Making dinner.

What do I like to do when you’re not around?
Christian: What YouTube videos that are not appropriate for kids.
Zu: How am I supposed to know? Goof around?
JJ: Watch movies. You know, the ones you get from Netflix that we can't watch.

What do I do that makes you laugh?
Christian: Weird jokes.
Zu: Make silly faces.
JJ: Tickle me.

What do you do that makes me laugh?
Christian: No matter how hard I try, you don't laugh. You only laugh when I don’t try.
Zu: Do this? (She uses her fingers to pull down her bottom eyelids and rolls her eyes upward.)
JJ: Sometimes, I make jokes.

What do you like most about your dad?
Christian: You're funny, you're smart, and you're awesome and a ton of other stuff.
Zu: You're fun to be around.
JJ: You love me.

What is the best thing you have learned from your dad?
Christian: You have taught me a lot of life lessons like don't steal.
Zu: To be myself.
JJ: Make good choices.

What is something I am good at doing?
Christian: You're really good and making me laugh.
Zu: Cooking. The best cook.
JJ: Playing video games.

What is something that I am not good at doing?
Christian: Not good at guessing.
Zu: You're good at trying to put my hair in a pony tail, but not good and actually putting my hair in a pony tail.
JJ: You're not a good swimmer. You said that last week.

If you had to describe my job, what would you say I do at work?
Christian: You work with numbers.
Zu: Tons of boring stuff.
JJ: Type on a computer.

What is his favorite place in the world?
Christian: Where does Aunt Janda and Uncle Aaron live? Oh, yeah. Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Zu: Seattle!
JJ: I don't know. This one is hard. Blogfest. You took us last year.


If I was famous, what made me famous?
Christian: You would be famous for being the best dad EVER!
Zu: Imitating Batman.
JJ: Inventing a robot person. (Me: A what?) JJ: You know, a robot that's a person.

If I was a fictional character, which one would I be?
Christian: Grumpy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Zu: Mr. Fantastic. (note: the stretchy guy from Fantastic Four) (Me: But I'm not flexible.) Zu: Not your body, but the way you act is flexible. You always stretch to do things that we need.
JJ: Thing (note: the big guy made of rock from Fantastic Four)

What was I like when I was a kid?
Christian: Like me, made some of the same mistakes.
Zu: Skinny. I saw pictures.
JJ: Skinny.

What do you and I have in common?
Christian: I’m your clone.
Zu: We both like candy.
JJ We both need glasses.

What makes you different from me?
Christian: You'd rather shiver than sweat. I’d rather sweat than shiver.
Zu: I don’t wear glasses.
JJ: You're way taller than me. (Me: You're six.) JJ: Uh-huh.

What is your favorite food or meal that I cook?
Christian: Skillet fried potatoes and veggies
Zu: That thing with potatoes and veggies.
JJ: Spaghetti with sauce.

What is your dad’s favorite food?
Christian: How am I supposed to know. (Me: Guess) Christian: Spicy stuff.
Zu: Pizza.
JJ: Those rolled up taco things. (Me: Taquitos?) JJ: Yeah, those.

What is something that I frequently tell you over and over again?
Christian: Don’t let other people control your attitude.
Zu: Stop jumping on the furniture.
JJ: Be nice.

What makes your dad happy?
Christian: When we are happy.
Zu: When I cuddle with you.
JJ: Me being funny.

What makes your dad sad?
Christian: When we aren’t happy.
Zu: When I get hurt.
JJ: When we make bad choices.

How do you know that I love you?
Christian: I don’t know, I just feel it.
Zu: Because you tell me that even when I make mistakes, you still loves me. No matter what.
JJ: You hug me a lot.


6.23.2015

Are you OK with hate?

Over the weekend, I was skimming through the news while the kids were in the middle of their morning routine: eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth. My oldest son was distracted by the shininess radiating from my desktop monitor so he wandered by to look over my shoulder.

His inquisitive nature showed up just as I was scrolling past a story from the Charleston shooting. The picture of the racist gunman had just disappeared into the top of my screen in search of other news stories when Christian spoke up.

"Who was that, Dad?"

"A very bad man," I answered.

"What makes him so bad?"

"Well, he killed a bunch of people."

"Why would he do that?"

This is a difficult question answer. You and I know that he targeted the Emanuel AME Church due to their historical significance. We know that he harbored hate for Jews, African Americans, and minority groups in general and this motivated his decision to kill. Adults understand that evil exists in real and tangible human form that plays out in horrific and violent methods.

But how do you explain that to the kid? How do you provide a safe shelter without being over protective? How do you describe the truth of a broken world without decimating their youthful optimism?

I gave him the simplest answer that I could think. "Well, he really hated them."

Then Christian asked a question that I was not prepared to answer. "How could anyone hate someone else that much?"

"I don't know kiddo. I don't know."

On an intellectual level, I understand how hate taken to its furthest extent ends in destruction and death. I get it, but I don't get it. Recognizing that it happens does not explain why. I cannot tell my son how anyone could hate someone else enough to murder them because I do not understand it myself.

Image courtesy of The State

I can rationalize the same evil that motivates a Muslim jihadist is the same evil behind Westboro Baptist Church, white supremacists, and genocidal dictators. I can see how man can commit some disturbingly depraved acts. Yet, no matter how hard I try I cannot begin to comprehend how any individual can allow their heart to be so consumed with hatred.

And I'm not OK with it.

I am not OK with kids killed in their classrooms and cafeterias. I am not OK with parishioners murdered in their houses of worship. I am not OK with police forces so quickly resorting to lethal force or the responding riots and looting.

When will American culture get fed up with it? For now, it seems like our society has a 'no big deal' attitude. These tragedies are being exploited to score political points while the pain of personal loss is forgotten.

While pundits argue about whether or not racism still exists, minority communities fight against systematic discrimination. While the gun control debate is waged between those that believe all firearms should be banned and those who long for a well-armed society, more and more innocent lives fall victim to gun violence.

I am sick of it. The United States is a nation that is far from united. We are divided by hate, unwilling to admit our flaws and failures, and we portray those who disagree with us as enemies hell-bent on destroying America.

I am not OK with it.

Are you?

6.19.2015

Why Grunge Matters (part 2)

After reading the news of Dave Grohl's injury, I watched a few clips of the show after he returned from the hospital. They played an unplugged version of 'My Hero' while Grohl balanced on crutches - defiant of the orders to keep his casted leg elevated. The song was dedicated to the medical technician that helped in the aftermath of Grohl's accident. I was enraptured by the simple spectacle of it and the crowd’s echoing vocals, "There goes my hero, watch him as he goes. There goes my hero, he's ordinary."

The dedication reflected the original intent of the song, lyrics written as a tribute to the average working man. Unfortunately, that message was lost when first released. Recorded three years after the death of Kurt Cobain, many fans (myself included) assumed that Grohl wrote the song as a tribute to his former friend and band member.

While watching the Foo Fighters performance in Gothenburg, and later listening to Pearl Jam's performance at Pinkpop, I was hit with waves of nostalgia. Within those memories, my mind deliberated why grunge matters. Not just why it was important 20-25 years ago, but why it is relevant today.

1. There was a power behind the grunge era that had rarely been seen in earlier generations and has not been replicated since. I realize that most everyone will claim music recorded and released during their junior high, high school, and college years as the best music ever recorded. I am not that naïve. While some of my favorite songs are from the 90s, I will not dare to say those songs are the best of all time. I recognize and give credit to far superior musicians: renaissance era composers, old hymns and spirituals, early 20th century delta blues, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Even today, there are phenomenal musicians creating some amazing music.

However, musical revolutions are rare. We don't often see the birth of a new genre completely change the landscape of popular music. Elvis did it. He brought black music into the forefront of the predominantly white masses. Lennon and McCartney did it and heralded the British invasion. The CBGB did it, giving a platform to countless punk and new wave bands. Then there was Grunge and the Seattle music scene. It arrived with feedback from Marshall Amps, abused drum sets, and growling vocals. It demanded attention and the world complied. Everyone took notice. New grunge bands were signed to lucrative record deals with major labels at a rate that was previously unheard of.

What has happened since then? Post-grunge styles followed one of two paths: the radio friendly jangle of bands like Hootie and the Blowfish and Counting Crows, or the underground alternative that eschewed mainstream appeal like Sunny Day Real Estate and Built to Spill. We have seen new genres appear and disappear (nu-metal, dubstep) but none have matched the grandeur and widespread acclaim of grunge.

2. My kids will never understand what it was like to come of age in the middle of the grunge era. Granted, there are certain things that I will never comprehend. I will never know what it was like to drop several coins into a jukebox diner and program it to repeat The Surfaris' Wipe Out over and over again like my dad once did in the mid 1960's. I will never experience the feeling of bringing home a brand new Black Sabbath album like my mom did back when Ozzy was still young. I can only view the performances of Woodstock through historical lenses. The day Elvis died was two years before I was born and I was too young to remember when Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon. Likewise, there will be events and musical landmarks that my kids will live through that their kids will never understand.

But grunge is the hallmark of my generation. We are the ones who can recall where we were when we heard the news of Cobain's suicide. We are the ones who sat in awe when we first heard the opening notes of Yellow Ledbetter and insisted everyone around us shut up so that we could decipher the mumbled lyrics. We are the ones who attached correlation between Interstate Love Song and our first experience of heartbreak. We are the once who still get chills when we hear the line "That's one more kid that'll never go to school, never get to fall in love, never get to be cool" from Rockin' in the Free World. We are the ones who claim Nearly Lost You and Far Behind as personal anthems and were reduced to tears the first time we heard Hunger Strike. We are the ones who wanted to swing from the rafters like Eddie Vedder, who wanted to scream like Chris Cornell, who identified with the Man in the Box.

These are the moments and emotions that I will never be able to explain to my kids. I can teach them to appreciate the music of a time before they existed, but I can't show them how it felt.

3. Within the ugliness of the distortion, violent drum beats, and lyrical release of pent up rage, there was a beautiful simplicity to grunge's style. It kept the minimalist structures of punk rock with the dissonance of metal. The fundamental basic power chords and fuzzy tones gave it an allure that the novice musician could appreciate.

Sure, there were complexities within the genre. Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins both had guitar solos that would punish the fingertips and fret boards any anyone brave enough to replicate their sounds. Technically proficient compositions aside, there was something out there that anyone could play. I am not a talented musician, but I can pluck out the intros to Today and Come as You Are, I can play the main riff to Smells Like Teen Spirit, and I will occasionally strum along with Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.

4. They looked like us, dressed like us, and acted like us. Cargo pants and flannel shirts. Uncombed hair. Slightly crazy expressions. Angsty, alienated, disenchanted, skeptical. Actually, they weren’t just like us. They were us.

Prior to the grunge explosion, popular music was divided into four categories. 1. Glam metal. Even if we enjoyed the music, we couldn’t imagine strapping on spandex and teasing our hair into gravity defying structures. 2. Rap. Even though Run-DMC and Beastie Boys created hip-hop for suburbia, rap music was still an urban art form. 3. Country. Prior to the crossovers of Shania Twain and Lonestar, country was the music of rednecks, not something those of us in the Seattle suburbs understood. 4. Lite rock. This was the music our parents listened to: Phil Collins, Paul Simon, Eric Carmen. Grunge was a needed deviation from the norm.

5. They made us believe that we could do it too. Grunge was easy to play, easy to learn. You didn’t need to be a good musician or pleasant sounding singer to be in a grunge band.

I’ve mentioned before how singing along with Pearl Jam was the only time I felt like I could be a rock star. And I’m not alone in the sentiment that we could do what they were doing. We could relate to the themes, the style stirred our emotions, we could play the music, and they looked like us. This is why so many of my friends in junior high and high school started their own bands. Never before had we seen something that made us believe that we could do what they were doing.

This is an anomaly that has not yet been recreated.

We still need grunge. We need music that will remind us of the magic in creating art, that convince us we could be famous too.

photo found on fanpop

6.16.2015

Why Grunge Matters (part 1)

Twenty five years ago, grunge took over the world of pop music and put Seattle on the cultural map. It rode out the wave of popularity with a wall of noise for a few years then disappeared, replaced by new trends in the recording industry. The reason for the waning of the grunge movement is hard to pin down. The possible culprits are many. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) killed himself. Layne Staley (Alice In Chains) and Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots) both lost themselves to drugs. Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) went crazy. Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) boycotted Ticketmaster and effectively removed his band from American markets. In 2009, ECW Press released the fatal prognosis with their book, 'Grunge Is Dead.'

The genre may have faded from regular radio rotation, but I reject the notion that it died. Instead, grunge has evolved and I believe it is as essential to our modern landscape as it was in in the first half of the 90's. While classic rock stations are beginning to play some of grunge's most accessible tunes - evoking both feelings of nostalgia and 'holy crap I'm getting old,' this last weekend reminded me a vibrancy within the genre that will never grow up and will never die of old age.

During a performance in Gothenburg, Sweden last Friday, Dave Grohl fell off of the stage and broke his leg. After getting medical attention, a cast, and some crutches, he returned to the venue and finished performing his band's set. In the process, he reminded us all how to rock n roll properly. His playing though pain was also a great lesson in fulfilling commitments - even when it might be personally inconvenient.

If you're not familiar with Dave Grohl, he is a vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and possibly one of the hardest working men in modern music. However, when I was in junior high, Grohl was the drummer for another band - Nirvana. This placed him right in the center of the hype of the grunge explosion. After Cobain's suicide, Nirvana disbanded and Grohl formed his own group: Foo Fighters. Their debut album was released 20 years ago at the tail end of grunge's dominance; since then, they have released another seven LPs. Between those albums, a handful of EPs, and some contributions to movie soundtracks, they have released a grand total of 32 singles - one of which (Times Like These) is on the lullaby playlist on my daughter's mp3 player.

I was listening to Foo Fighters Saturday afternoon when Zu asked "Are they one of your favorite bands?" I answered affirmatively. JJ asked me what style of music that they played and I told him that it was alternative rock. JJ responded, "Daddy, you know that's my favorite kind of music, right?" If my kids are any indicator of the world around us, Dave Grohl is now influencing and inspiring a second generation of fans.

The reminders of grunge's impact didn't end with news about Grohl's injury. On Sunday, I heard a familiar melody while walking through the WinCo parking lot. As the drum beat and guitar riff became louder and more defined, I eventually found the source and realized why the song sounded so familiar. An older gentleman, roughly my dad's age, drove by in an older Chevy pickup. Windows down, music up, the old man was bobbing his head along to Pearl Jam's Evenflow. These songs carry meaning for more than just the gen-x kids that were in junior high and high school when these songs were first released. Even our parent's generation appreciates the soundtracks to our rebellious years.

Then yesterday, one of my favorite cartoonists (The Oatmeal) released some artwork paying tribute to another Pearl Jam song: Black. (see it HERE) Seeing that panel with one short lyrical snippet got the tune stuck in my head and I soon found myself humming that line "I know someday you'll have a beautiful life, I know you'll be a star in somebody else's sky."

These haunting words are a permanent fixture of my memory. I will loudly sing along with every word anytime it is played on the radio or takes its turn in one of my iTunes playlists. No shame. But as with any song that digs its way into constant mental replay, the only remedy is to listen to it for real. Which I did. I played the track from Ten. Then the acoustic version from their appearance on MTV Unplugged. Then the version from Live on Two Legs. Yeah, I'm a little obsessive at times.

From there, I stumbled upon a recording of Black from their set at the 1992 Pinkpop Festival in the Netherlands. Rather than listen to the one song, I listened to the entire 45 minute set. In the middle of the show, Eddie marveled at the sea of people in front of him. He said that they were the band’s biggest audience yet (60,000 people attended the festival). “We never played for this many people before. Never thought we’d ever play for this many people.” In hindsight, his commentary is laughable. They were one of the biggest bands of the 90’s – of course they would play for huge audiences.

But this was the beginning of a movement. This is when their first album, Ten, was less than a year old. This was their first summer tour with massive festivals. This was a young band staring into the face of the future.

image found on pinterest

As I listened to the music of Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters these last few days, I found myself pondering the impact of an era that is now a part of the history books my kids study at school. The end of the cold war, the LA riots, American military in Somalia, and the rise and collapse of a musical force that captured everyone’s attention.

My parent’s generation, my generation, and now my kids’ generation. Each of us impacted and influenced in different ways. And today, grunge is still needed. Still vital. Still alive. ("You’re still alive she said. Do I deserve to be? Is that the question? If so, who answers?")

Of course, the answers are complicated than generational appeal. And I am only scratching the surface.

6.09.2015

Adventures in Public Restrooms

Today, I watched some dude wash his hands by quickly alternating each hand (palms flat, fingers outstretched) underneath the faucet while rotating his entire upper torso in rhythm with his arms as if he was trying to increase the velocity of each swing toward his target. Left, right, left, right, left. It was like he was attacking the water with the most ferocious karate chop he could muster.

This continued until all of the soap suds had been rinsed free.

It should be mentioned I waited until he was done practicing his ninja skills before stepping up to the adjacent sink to wash my hands. It seemed prudent to avoid collateral spray from his flailing appendages; I prefer to be completely dry when exiting public restrooms.

6.08.2015

Data Nerds, History Buffs, and the Mind-Blowing Statistics of WWII

There are history buffs. Genealogists like my grandfather who will tirelessly research family origins as far back as can be traced. Civil war fanatics in Mid-Atlantic states who reenact major battles in authentic period costume. Archaeologists who dig up remnants of the past. Renaissance experts who can quote lines from the works of Shakespeare or Miguel de Cervantes while discussing the impacts of Francis Bacon and Niccolò Machiavelli. Military analysts who have meticulously studied the methods of Sun Tzu, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, and General George Patton.

I am not one of those people. However, I do admire them. When I was younger, history was one of the subjects in which I fared better when compared to my other classes. Even today, I approach the topic with a fascination regardless of whether it is of the ancient world or more modern times. History is an enjoyment, but not a passion. There isn't a single era in all of the ages passed that I would want to go back and visit. The past is something we must learn from and remember. But I possess no fondness for the glory days or desire to relive years gone by.

My interest in history is all about the stories. I love a good story and the past is filled with them. I wholeheartedly believe our ability to tell and retell a story is the most important facet of humanity.

I may not be a history buff, but I am a data nerd. The video below perks my interests in both a captivating story and raw data. It finds that sweet spot where the presentation is both entertaining and educational. It is both historical and current This is an interesting perspective on World War II - especially in contrast with the bulk of recorded conflict throughout human history. Simply put, these numbers are staggering.

ps: I would recommend watching the video on full screen.

6.04.2015

The Launguage of Dreamers

There is a certain language used by people who are chasing after or living out their dreams. For example, they will never tell you something like, "I needed a job so I applied here and turns out I am actually good at this." It is unlikely you will hear them say, "My momma always told me I would make a good lawyer so I became a lawyer."

It is a fine line between fate and inevitability. The thought of fate sounds depressing. It is as if there were other options, maybe even better options. Defeated, following expectations foisted upon them, or maybe settling for the path of least resistance. What will be will be. Inevitability determines there was only one path. This was the only choice. Any other road would have led me to a lifetime of dissatisfaction and unfulfilled aspirations.

Such a subtle difference. I have only recently begun to understand the distinction between the two.

Jim Chaffin, drummer for some old school punk and metal bands I listened to when I was younger, provided a profound explanation for me.

He was interviewed on Mark Salomon's podcast, talking about his history of learning to play the drums. Started as a kid - like most of us did when we were younger, smacking utensils on pots, pans, and Tupperware from our parents' kitchen. Unlike most kids, Jim was keeping beat to bands like Queen, Van Halen, and The Cars. Him mom bought him a set of drumsticks and a neighbor allowed him to play on his kit. He started drumming in a youth group band and eventually moved into the post-punk and hardcore scenes.

Mark asked the why question. Why did you choose drums? Jim's answer: "I just wanted to bang on stuff."

That is the language of dreamers. "I just wanted to ..."

For people like this, all roads lead to this one thing that they have always wanted to do. It is the MacGuffin that propels them through life. If it is their profession or their pastime is irrelevant: it is their passion regardless of whether or not it earns an income.

This language reveals a hopeful inevitability. Not resigned to fate, but satisfaction detached from circumstance because this is the only thing that has ever mattered.

Do you have that thing?

Finish that sentence: I just wanted to ____________________.

I just wanted to help the sick feel better. I just wanted to teach everything I know. I just wanted to take beautiful pictures. I just wanted to tell stories. I just wanted to travel the world. I just wanted to raise a family. I just wanted to build houses. I just wanted to ...

Or, if you're like my son: "I just wanted to invent a time machine." He speaks the language of a dreamer.
Photo courtesy of BBC.

What is your MacGuffin? Are you giving into fate? Or are you going to chase inevitability?

5.30.2015

A tale of two drivers

We were both first in line waiting on a read light to switch colors to a permissive green. Him in the right lane and me in the left.

With the warm weather, we both had windows down. Music was cranked to loud (but not obnoxious) volumes; high enough to register in neighboring vehicles, but not so loud to drown out or overpower their radios or conversations.

Our situations were similar, but the status of our predicaments were radically disparate. Consider the following.

He was sitting in a shiny fresh-from-the-car-wash ebony Volkswagen Jetta with tinted windows, lowered suspension, low profile tires, and custom rims. My car has never been washed, and the only money spent on it was for standard maintenance and repairs.

He stared strait forward with an iron grip on his steering wheel, jaw clenched, cigarette held outside his window, and was listening to thrash metal. I was smiling like a fool and bobbing my head to the beat of Michael Jackson's Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough.

I hate to make assumptions, but I'd be willing to bet I was enjoying my day far more than my incidental companion at the stoplight. Then again, I also have something hanging from my mirror reminding me why I have reason to be happy.

5.22.2015

Beautiful Chaos

In the grand American tradition, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer. With sunny days and warmer weather, this weekend is also the official beginning of camping season. Long hikes, pitching tents and sleeping on uneven ground, cooking over tiny gas stoves or carefully constructed fire pits.

As a kid, for me the summers meant mountains. I spent my adolescence trekking trails of the northern and central Cascade range. This was an opportunity to chase mountain goats along a snow covered ridge, feed marmots in the shadow of Mt Baker, wade through ponds and streams formed from glacial melt, and stand upon the summit of rugged peaks. My mountaineering days taught me lessons of perseverance, respect for nature, and the joy of accomplishment. It also placed in perspective the scope of my insignificance in comparison to the vast landscapes and magnitude of our bigger world.


One summer, along the Devil's Gulch trail south of Cashmere, we saw a pillar of smoke rising across the valley. At the time, I didn't think much of it. We finished our hike and headed home, unaware what we saw was a precursor to something with which many residents of western states have become familiar. The day after we returned home, the news was reporting of a wildfire in the area we observed; it spread and within days much of the forest we visited had burned.

Forest fires are powerful forces. They create massive swaths of destruction, sometimes causing evacuations and costly property damage. At a minimum, they transform gorgeous scenery into cinders - blackened hillsides of smoldering ruin.

For the casual observer, these disasters appear to be chaotic. Roaring flames that multiply with staggering speed. Acres of land burning in unison. A fire so large that the possibility of controlling it is daunting - if not impossible.

Visually, chaos is the best descriptor. But there is an order to it - a science that explains what is happening and predicts what will happen. Contours of the landscape, wind speeds, weather forecasts, the variety of trees and shrubbery that serve as a fire's fuel. Firefighters use this knowledge to combat natural forces that make men like me cower.

Within the chaos, there is order. It is even beautiful. Have you ever stared into a fire, mesmerized by the the way the flames seem to dance a waltz set to the music of crackling embers or followed the wisps of smoke traipsing skyward?

The power to ruin with the beauty to enrapture.

Despite the manpower needed to battle wildfires, the financial costs to rebuild, the burden of insurance settlements - we actually need wildfires. The health of a forest is improved by fire. Pine needles, fallen leaves, and weeds build up, destroying habitats for various wildlife which throws the ecosystem off-kilter. Fire will burn away dead vegetation and thin overgrowth. It removes non-native plant species and kills diseased trees. Ashes add nutrients to the soil. Fires return sunlight to the forest floor, serves as natural insect and pest control, revives animal habitation, and spurs new plant growth.

Fire can destroy a forest, but a lack of fire is even more destructive.

The same is true in the human soul. Sometimes, we are consumed by fiery emotional chaos; our lives in turmoil. I say this with confidence because it has been apparent in my own world. We are busy, burdened, stressed, mired in conflict. At times, this fire rages out of control and the possibility of overcoming our trials is daunting - if not impossible.

However, what is true in the natural world is also true in the spiritual realm. Within the chaos, there is order and even beauty. The bible frequently uses fire as a metaphor of how our lives are tested and improved through a refining process as if we were made of gold or silver. That which tests us makes us better. It transforms shame into worth and gives purpose to our struggle. Trials can destroy a life, but a life without trials is even more destructive.

There is an end to this fire. What comes out of the smoldering ruin is better, stronger, healthier. Embrace it. There is beauty inside the chaos.

5.15.2015

Perfectly Imperfect

We all have flaws. I hope you realize this fact. The single most obvious trait of humankind is our abundant diversity of errors. Everyone makes mistakes. People skew toward selfish motives more often than not. We claim dominance over a natural world we cannot possibly control and allege mastery in topics that remain mysterious.

Looking outward, it is much easier to identify displeasing features about ourselves than it is to list self-affirming or positive attributes. Surveys show about half of Americans want to lose a few pounds. Skee-Lo wished he was a little bit taller. The quest for exterior beauty keeps the cosmetic surgery industry profitable. It is too easy to look in the mirror with thoughts: too skinny, too fat, too short, too tall, my nose is crooked, my ears are not even.

Looking inward we could all admit blemishes in our character. One of the hard lessons I have learned over the past couple of years is that I am more self-centered than I would care to admit. I know I'm not alone. It should not take much effort to honestly assess some personal failures. Perhaps you cheated on your taxes, imbibe more alcohol than you probably should, openly mock others without regard to the weight of your words, possess bad habits that you cannot seem to break.

If you are anything like me, you brush this off with feigned humility or cover it with self deprecating humor. It is as if we trust self inflicted insults to lessen the impact or severity of our folly.

We view our errant ways - intentional slights, unintended failings, and unavoidable results of genetics as a witch who turned us into a newt. We read self-help books, attend therapy, seek wise counsel, follow 12 step plans, and at the end of the day we bravely declare "I got better."

Better is a funny word. Too often we strive for perfection unaware of improvements along the way. Realistically, better is the best we can hope for.

A result of residency on terra firma is that we will always be imperfect. We get better then realize that we still have flaws.

As long as our hearts beat, we will be incomplete. As long as our lungs draw breath, we will be tragically flawed. As long as synapses fire within our brains, we will be perfectly imperfect.


From a spiritual perspective, I believe this points to our need for a savior. Perfection is something unattainable without some sort of supernatural intervention. For this reason, Paul wrote to the Philippian church "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own." He knew that he wasn't perfect. Perfection is a long term goal - something to strive toward.

From a scientific perspective, I see this as a result of entropy - a measurable disorder. All systems seek equilibrium and our bodies are subject to the laws of thermodynamics. There might be psychologists out there who could disprove me, but I believe our emotions act with fluidity and seek the same equilibrium as any thermodynamic system. We are born into a world of disorder and that chaos is reflected in the ebb and flow of our emotional state.

This should not be thought of as a bad thing. It should be a reminder that we are all in process. It should demonstrate that we all have room to grow and improve. It should encourage second chances and grace and understanding.

You have not arrived. Neither have I. For better or worse, we are imperfectly human.

5.13.2015

being mean

While out running errands, my oldest was pondering the characters and plot of a movie we watched a few months ago. He is at the stage where he wants to examine what makes the good guys good and the bad guys bad.

The subtleties of characterization is sometimes layered to the point where it is difficult for his concrete way of thinking to understand. His aspie brain longs for black and white division between right and wrong. He is a rule follower and desires a world where everyone follows those those rules.

In examining this movie, he knew the antagonist was bad. Yet, he could not figure out why. So he asked.

"Dad, the villain from this movie, was she breaking the law?"

"No," I answered, "she was just really mean. And being mean isn't illegal."

"It should be illegal."

This is the world he lives in. All that is right is good but that which is wrong is horrible. For him, having something bad be legal is illogical. For example, he does not understand why people smoke if they know it is so unhealthy.

He does understand the difference between nice people and mean people. Unfortunately, this world is not typically kind to kids on the autism spectrum. He sees this every day - experiences it in a way that emotionally wounds him. He shares a classroom with kids that are not technically bullies, however they are not nice. They do not explicitly break the rules, but they are unkind in ways where rules do not apply.

With that in mind, his statement makes more sense. How much easier would life be if it were illegal to be mean to others? What if to be unkind was to break the law?

5.05.2015

#SgtMoore

Last Tuesday was National Super Hero Day. Saturday was Free comic Book Day. On Sunday, I went to see 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' with a few friends. Yesterday was Star Wars Day (and yes, I did wear my Darth Vader t-shirt to work). So much geekery; I am still recovering from my nerd hangover.

There are many directions I could take this post. I would love to talk about comic books and superheroes. I am planning a movie review for later this week. But today, I just can't.

Not today.

Because at this moment, a real-life hero is in critical condition at Kootenai Health. It was the first thing I saw on Facebook when I woke up this morning and roughly 75 percent of my friends with North Idaho roots have posted something about it on Facebook or Twitter.

A little after 1:30 this morning, Sergeant Moore - a Coeur d'Alene police officer was checking a suspicious individual during routine patrol. That suspicious individual shot Moore, stole Moore's car, and fled the scene eventually abandoning the cruiser near State Line. Police have caught the suspect (a twenty something on felony probation) who was hiding in a nearby Walmart parking lot.

We have heard much about bad cops this past year. From St Louis, to Cleveland, NYC, Tulsa, and Boston. There has been so much emphasis on heavy handed police tactics. Civil rights abuses. Unarmed African Americans killed. Kids killed by law enforcement. Militarization of local police departments across America. Even in North Idaho, we have had our share of officer involved controversy and mishandled incidents.

We hear a lot about bad cops. Journalists love those stories - they bring in ad revenue.

But we don't often hear about good cops. Sgt Moore was a great cop. He was one of the good guys.
Photo courtesy of the Cd'A Police Department

Something isn't right. I know that all of these police shootings are symptoms of humanity's brokenness. It doesn't matter whether the victim was an unarmed black kid or an officer trying to do his job. Both ends of the spectrum end with senseless death. Both ends point to our own spiritual corruption. All of it makes me sick.

The violence has to stop.

It has to.

Because this? What happened today. What happened last month. What happened last August. It is ridiculous.

We shouldn't have talk about stories like this.

We shouldn't see police brutality.
We shouldn't see responding protests and riots.
We shouldn't see officers gunned down in the line of duty.
We shouldn't see kids shooting up their schools.
We shouldn't see bullied teens choose to eliminate their own life.

We are killing our culture.

The violence has to stop.

5.01.2015

Guest blogging: SecondIron

Want to talk about scary movies? Science fiction? Superheroes? Me too. We could chat for hours. These are some of my favorite topics of conversation.

I also enjoy writing about them. Occasionally, I get the privilege to do that for some of my friends. Today, is one of those days as I have a guest post on the SecondIron Blog.

Click HERE to see some of my thoughts about the creatures from classic monster movies, why they're important, and what we can learn from them.