Naming things

In the beginning God created stuff. Then he created man and told man to name that stuff. This whole process of naming things is really a matter of dominance (real or perceived). God said we were to be stewards of the land and that we were to care for all creation. Man thought "I name it I own it." I don't know if God had Adam name everything because God knew man was the coolest thing ever created, or if God realized man's limited memory would cause man to only remember what stuff was called if man gave that stuff a name.

"So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field." And what began in the earliest of human history we have taken from a privilege and turned it into a right. We've made naming things an art-form, and we've mastered it.

Isn't it amazing how we've perfected this practice of christening things? It started with flora and fauna but we didn't stop there. We name our kids (I'm pretty dang grateful for that one), we named the planets and stars and other celestial bodies, we named our diseases and ailments, we named our cities and countries, and we named hurricanes and mountains and canyons and crayons.

Today, new discoveries are dubbed by the person that found it. Whether it's a new insect, or virus, or comet - it is specified by whichever name given by the discoverer (usually a narcissistic ball of ego who lends his/her own name to the new thing). God forbid I ever discover a hideous ravaging disease - it'd be named plaugus nicholosus epidemis - eww.

But there is another denominating ritual that I find bemusing. Homes and cars. From Graceland to Neverland, the rich have given their homes names that represent their personalities. But even the not-quite-so-rich-or-famous have named their homes.

And then there's cars. We once named the beast of the fields; we now name the beasts of the roads. An old friend and former roommate of mine named all his vehicles. Ten years later I strangely remember them all: Carlos (I think it was an old Buick), Iceberg (a white Ford Escort), and The Rock (a beat up Ford truck). I only named one car - my first. It was an Acura Legend given the moniker Papa Smurf (it was blue & grey). The car Bekah drove when we first met had a couple of nicknames: Santa's Magic Sack and The Pregnant Roller Skate. Neither were practical names for daily usage. But since Papa Smurf and The Pregnant Roller Skate, we've not named any of our cars.

Why do we name our cars? Or houses? Is it so we can claim dominance over these creations? Or are we trying to make the impersonal personal?


Bricks vs. Springs and the Glory of it all

Most that are close to me know that I'm a fan of Rob Bell's work. I know there are some that don't like him - and that's the cost of being a big name in Christian subculture (there's people that didn't like Billy Graham, but that doesn't lessen any of his accomplishments). I don't even agree with everything Rob talks about, but I still appreciate his work and the words he has to say. He makes me think. And I believe we all need to think a little bit more than we do now.

And sometimes those thoughts cause me to say random things. Like when I first started reading Velvet Elvis. We were in bed, Bekah was almost asleep, and I was reading. I nudged her and asked, "Am I a trampoline or a brick wall?" If you've read Velvet Elvis, this question might (emphasis on the word might) be a reasonable question. Bekah (understandably) was thinking this was some manly version of the "am I fat" question.

At that late hour the question I asked was too abstract and required too much explanation for Bekah to give a cohesive answer. But it is a question I believe all Christians should ask of themselves. In Jump, the first chapter of Velvet Elvis, Rob contrasts the ordinary items of springs and bricks; he relates them to how we express our beliefs and our faiths.

Let's pretend for a moment that springs and bricks are our thoughts about God. They are not God, just bits and pieces of knowledge that help us understand God. Some people call these the tenets of the Christian faith; others call it doctrine. They help us to know the unknowable. These springs and bricks represent the same things: our belief that God is Love, that in Him we have hope, that He is the creator of all things, that He has planned our salvation from before time began, etc. Christians (I hope) share these beliefs - these little glimmers of the character of God. These hints of God's real identity are our bricks and springs. The difference between the two items does not determine which is truer, but what we do with them is of the utmost importance.

Bricks are solid. They have one shape. They don't change. And they can be broken. Bricks are used to build walls. And walls are built to keep stuff in (or out, depending on your perspective). Through reading, I got this idea that when you treat your understanding of God as bricks, you build with them. Once you've run out of bricks your wall is completed. You're on your side of the wall; for someone to come to your side of the wall they have to understand and agree with each and every one of those bricks. But what happens to this brick wall if one of the bricks are broken - or removed? The wall crumbles... and if the wall falls, what is left of your faith? So these bricks become something to fight over - to argue about. Eventually, you begin to spend so much time defending your bricks that you fail to invite people to stand on your side of the wall. Truth is that your side of the wall is better, but it's not very inviting. In the process of trying to understand God, you shut people out from God.

Springs are not solid. They stretch and flex. They can break under stress, but the general idea is that it returns to its original form after every abuse. In Velvet Elvis, Rob points out that springs are used in trampolines. Just like bricks are used to build up faith like a wall, springs surround and support the mat of a trampoline. Trampolines are fun for one reason: as Rob writes, "a trampoline only works if you take your feet off the firm, stable ground and jump into the air and let the trampoline propel you upward. Talking about trampolines isn't jumping; it's talking. Two vastly different things." What if one of the springs breaks or is removed? You can still jump on it can't you? So there is no need to defend a spring. You can see them, and try to understand them; and you know that your God is big enough to support you as you jump. Not many people will jump on a trampoline alone. Inevitably, you invite people to jump with you - to share in this joy of reckless abandon. They don't have to understand how each spring works to jump. The more they jump with you the more they'll see God's glory revealed in those springs. More from Rob: "we invite others to jump with us, to live the way of Jesus and see what happens."

So, what is your faith like? Do you treat your knowledge of God like bricks? Or springs? Are you keeping those who do not share your faith on their side of the wall? Or are you inviting them to jump with you?

For those of you that read my status updates on Facebook, you may be worried about me - that I've flown off the deep end. Truth is that I was responding in frustration. I know that I should better regulate my emotional reactions, and for that I apologize. The reality behind my rants was born of the insults from a family friend who called me a socialist (which doesn't bother me) and a heathen (which puzzles me). She went a step further and indirectly called my wife lazy. That I can't accept as appropriate from someone who I know loves God with all her heart.

This from someone who has fed me and my family - whose sons I refer to as friends. Someone who I consider has an unshakable and admirable faith. Theologically speaking, I share the same beliefs that she does. Yet she attacked me because of my political beliefs. One of my bricks didn't match one of her bricks.

The truth in all this is that I don't have to be right. The political view that I wrote about isn't so important that it's worth calling people names. I have my opinions and my beliefs. But I could be wrong. That's the glory of Christianity - we don't have to be right about everything. That's why God tells us to reason together. That why the apostle Paul ministered through reasoning and conversation. We have to talk about it. Insulting people and tearing down their beliefs accomplishes nothing. Our nation is in turmoil. I have ideas of how our government could improve our plight. There are policies that I would like to see put into place. But I could be wrong. Maybe my ideas aren't that great. But it doesn't matter if I'm right or wrong because I believe that our God is bigger than the economy. I believe that God is bigger than Obama. I believe our God is bigger than bipartisanship. It's OK if I'm wrong. But I could be right.

Once I had my chance to vent, and shared my frustrations via Facebook with my cousin, and a phone call with my dad (two people I trust) I got to thinking about these bricks and springs. I know this dear friend of ours has a deep and rich faith, but I'd reckon it's a brick wall kind of faith. Thinking some more, I revisited that question I asked Bekah that night as she drifted off to sleep... am I a trampoline or a brick wall? Do I have the kind of faith that shuts people out? Or do I have the kind of faith that invites people to jump along with me? I hope I have faith like a trampoline. I hope I have a faith that causes people to think, 'I don't know what he's got, but I want some too.' I want God to propel me upward as I tempt logic and gravity. And I want to laugh in the joy that springs provide.

But sometimes I wonder. Am I jumping? Or am I defending my bricks?


Me, seven years ago part 2

Excerpt from my journal dated 8/18/02

What happened to our ambitions? Why have we let our dreams and aspirations disappear? Unfortunately, I too have let my hopes of a career in architecture fade into the quite routine of daily life. But unlike most, my dreams didn't die - they just changed. I still look forward to doing something with my life. Rational or not, I still have big dreams.

Wouldn't it be nice if, when we return to our high school reunions, all the kids that we grew up with have made a name for themselves? I would rather see my former classmates as CEO's doing volunteer work with the Special Olympics than a delivery driver going through rehab.

That's my dream, not just for those I went to school with but for myself as well. I believe that it is possible. I believe that everyone can achive living a life they always hoped for.

We need to learn to dream. Ignore the TV, the radio, newspapers, and anything that tells you how to think. Forget everything that you've ever learned and take a moment to imagine what kind of life you want for yourself. How did you picture your future as a kid? Ponder this daily. Pass notes, draw with crayons, play tic-tac-toe. Find something to laugh at every day. Start thinking creatively, and above all - dream.

Me, seven years ago part 1

Excerpt from my journal dated 8/2/02

As little kids we dreamed big dreams; we wanted to grow up and be something. A rock star, cop, fireman, astronaut, pro wrestler, star athlete, famous actor, doctor - anything that had meaning in the eyes of a child.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" It's a question you hear in classrooms all across America. Most answers are fairly predictable though you'll occasionally hear things like microbiologist, political activist, or private business entrepreneur. My answer was 'an architect.' And it remained my answer through much of high school.

Unfortunately, only a rare few achive those dreams. Somewhere between college and kindergarten those dreams turn into a faint whisper from a past that no longer exists. We are taught to be reasonable, not to be creative. We are told to stop climbing on the furniture and to quit playing with our food. In the process of education, imagination is lost. Daydreamers are heretics rather than visionaries.

Plans change. No one ever dreams of becoming the night shift manager at Taco Bell, yet some are forever condemned to that life. Giving up their childhood dreams for a name tag and a ridiculous uniform. They become a part of the masses; one of the many working their way up from minimum wage. They don't enoy their jobs but they still go, pretending to be content.

What happened to our aspirations? If we look at our lives, are we anything like the person we had imagined ourselves to be?


Word Variations

Lawyer-in-law: (n) What a bride-to-be (or groom-to-be) gains when she (or he) discovers their soon to be in-law is a divorce attorney.


Why I support Universal Health Care

The health plan that Obama is trying to get approved isn't perfect. I'll gladly admit that it is a flawed plan. But I am in favor of reform. What Obama wants is better than what we have.

I didn't always believe that Universal Health Care was the best option. The notion of cradle-to-the-grave was ingrained when I was growing up. And all I was taught was the downsides (real or exaggerated) of a State run program - long lines, sub-standard care, underpaid/overworked doctors, socialized medicine equals communism, etc.

What changed? I'm not among the ranks of uninsured Americans - I've got a great health plan through my employer. Yet, I now believe America needs a single payer health coverage for all Americans. Why?

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine asked for some biblical basis for my reasoning. Most Christians she knows are against Universal Care*. She doesn't fully understand their reasoning and wanted to see a different perspective. Here was (and is) my answer.

Sick people need doctors (Mark 2:17). Granted, HMOs and insurance companies didn't exist in biblical times, but there's no discrimination in Jesus's teachings about who qualifies for health care. The religious leaders of His time may have found certain people more worthy of healing than others, but Jesus made it clear - there's one group of people that need doctors: the sick. Age, race, economic and social status does not matter - and you can see that throughout Jesus' healing ministry - from lepers and lunatics to friends and family of his friends to the servant of a prominent military person and the daughter of a political leader. I don't think Jesus would approve of our current method of approving/denying care to people solely on their ability to pay, their medical history, or any of the number of reasons that modern American insurance companies use to deny claims.

We should not deny Justice to the poor (Exodus 23:6). One cannot read the Bible and miss the fact that God loves and demands justice. God is righteous and love justice (Psalm 11:7). Don't be evil and do good because God delights in justice (Psalm 37:27-28). God loves justice and hates all that is wrong (Isaiah 61:8). Do what is right, just, and fair (Proverbs 1:3). God requires you to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). Our current medical practices are far from just, fair, and merciful - and in some cases it does more harm than good. When people forgo necessary medication because they can't afford it (or the copay is too high), when emergency rooms send away sick children with the "bring them back if they start vomiting" instruction because the kid has out of state insurance, and when the injured receive the bare minimum care because they are uninsured, the concept of justice is lost in American medicine.

Furthermore, God has a special place in his heart for the fatherless and the widow (Deuteronomy 10:18 & James 1:27). We must take care of these, and unfortunately the kids missing a parent or the man/woman who has lost a spouse are forgotten/ignored in our society. It is a godless society that does not provide the most basic care to it's orphans and widows.

And just for good measure, this concept of caring for other people's needs is not a new idea (Acts 2:42-47). We as Christians should not be opposing any legislation that encourages meeting everybody's needs. We should be modeling this behavior.

And in non-biblical support for why I believe what I do... read up on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. He's divided human needs into 5 categories - the two most important being physiological and safety. If those needs are not met, a person can not fulfill their other needs: social, esteem, and self. I believe that the government should provide (or at least make available) the first two. This includes things like food, housing, and health. Your social needs (love, affection, and belonging) and esteem (self respect and respect of others) should not - and can not - be provided by the government. This is up to your family, church, coworkers, and friends to provide. As for the final need (being able to do what you were born to do)... you're on your own.

*My friend is not alone. Most Christians I know also oppose Universal Care. It seems to me that many Christians fear anything resembling Socialism. I don't understand this concept of fear. Christians should not have anything to fear - If God is for us, who can be against us?


Why I rarely enjoy bio-flicks


“I watched Selena last night and cried at the end. Actually… I started crying at the beginning of the movie because I knew what was going to happen.”

Time for a theatrical lesson. Stories that start with bliss and end in dismay are called tragedies. Stories that start in struggle and end with resolution are called comedies. I know that in modern culture “comedy” usually means “funny,” but in the purest sense of Shakespearian tradition – comedy means starts bad ends good. All that’s required to technically qualify for a comedic designation is a happy ending. Due to the nature of biographical and historical films (not to mention historically based fictional movies ehem… Titanic), these stories rarely end well. The majority of biopics would fall into the category of tragedy.

Example: Selena. She dies at the end – killed by an obsessed fan. By definition, Selena is a tragedy.


when good songwriters go bad

If you’ve been watching commercials (instead of fast-forwarding through them like I usually do) You may have seen U2 stumping for a new Blackberry phone. I find that amusing since they’ve also lent their talents to Apple for an iPod commercial, and Blackberries are big competition for Apple’s iPhones. But there’s a peculiarity in the commercial, and the song they’ve used has got me thinking...

What the heck?

Here are a few songs with lyrical blunders that have left me confused.

Starting with U2. I must begin with U2, because I’m a fan. Bono is a talented lyricist with a golden voice. Furthermore, he is a model humanitarian and an inspirational leader. Yet the title (and chorus) of the song used to pimp Blackberries is a little befuddling. “I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight.” Really? So, if he doesn’t go crazy he’ll go crazy because he didn’t go crazy. But if he does go crazy, he won’t have to go crazy because he is crazy. So either way, he’s going crazy. And if you can make any sense out of that, you might be crazy.

The mid 90’s brought us an onslaught of femininity in music, championed by artists like Sarah McLachlan, and Jewel. While many of these women artists trended to the folksy adult contemporary sound, Alanis Morissette gave us the angry girl-scorned rock tailored for post-grunge alternative radio. While she made a name for herself with a hate-mail in song ode to an ex, she could also create some infectious melodies that would glue themselves inside that spot in your brain that cannot resist the urge to sing along. For example, her single Ironic. While it is a pop-gem (musically speaking) it is an epic rhetorical device fail. Irony is an incongruity between expression and the understood result. The only thing ironic about the song Ironic is the title. Most everything Alanis sings about is inconvenient at worst – or at best a mild annoyance. Rain on your wedding day – annoying but not ironic. Irony would be canceling your wedding due to rain on a sunny day. A no smoking sign during your smoke break – inconvenient but not ironic. A no smoking sign in the designated smoking area – ironic… and funny. A flying phobic man ending his first plane ride in a crash – tragic but not ironic. A flying phobic airline passenger saying a little turbulence and an emergency landing cured his fear of flight…. You get the picture.

Speaking of women in song… Carly Simon is a timeless artist – the classic example of a singer/songwriter. Yet, her biggest hit, and most recognizable song is enigmatic and slightly illogical. “You’re so vain, I bet you think this song is about you.” The identity of this vain subject is elusive – and one of Simon’s biggest secrets. That’s not what bothers me though, I’m disturbed by the notion that the person Simon calls vain is not really the subject of the song. Huh? Imagine a conversation between Simon and this vain person. “You’re so vain.” – “Yes I am… and I’m better than you.” – “I bet you think my song is about you.” – “Well, it is. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have called me vain.” – “But the song isn’t about you.” – “If it isn’t about me, then why are you addressing me in your song?” – “Because you think it’s about you.” – “But by saying ‘you’ you’re addressing me, making me the subject of your song. So yes, I am vain, and yes, the song is about me.” I’m sure Carly Simon did not think that through before she recorded the song.

There’s my top three “what were they thinking” songs. Did I miss any?


Chilax, don't do it

New word.

Chilax (v) pronounced chill-AXE

Definition: To chill and relax at the same time.

Usage: I was chilaxing all cool, shooting some b-ball outside of a school. When a couple of guys who were up to no good started making trouble in my neighborhood.