The Edge.

March 2nd, 2009

I think it’s important to push the limits of your comfort zone. I’m not talking about jumping out of an airplane or singing karaoke, but rather doing things on a regular basis that push you outside of the boundaries of what you would consider a typical day.

I think a balanced life is all about perspective and recognizing what’s important and what isn’t; what’s worth worrying about and what is worth blowing off. And yet, knowing this does not always help. So whenever I do anything that pushes the limits – my limits, I get edgy. Is that normal? I don’t really know. I imagine that some of it is fairly normal, but I think I have a real problem with perspective. I have a problem stepping back and thinking, “what’s the worst that can happen if this situation goes wrong?” In my case – the answer is usually “nothing.” Or at the very least, it would result in a minor bump in the road. Rationally, I know this. It’s not like my life is on the line, or that I’ll actually lose everything if event XYZ does not go smoothly, but that is not always communicated to the rest of my body. The feeling in the pit in my stomach, the cold hands and feet, the rapid heart rate. Is it chemical? Maybe. I am hoping so to some extent. But maybe not… maybe I need to give my mind a workout on a regular basis. It reminds me of what happens when you physically workout – or rather, you don’t. The less you do – the smaller you get, the weaker you get, and the more pain you go through when you do actually have to “exert” yourself. I need to keep pushing out of the shell in order to get far enough out to gain some perspective. I need to voluntarily do the things I don’t like to do more often so that I don’t dread those things when I actually have to do them.

Here’s to keeping perspective.

Freedom.

February 23rd, 2009

So, I have heard it said over the pulpit recently that we Christians are no longer allowed to pray to God at work or school. I’m told that we are being restricted from praying out loud or discussing Jesus Christ at the lunch table or in front of any coworkers. Frankly, I have not encountered such things, and I am curious to hear from those who have.

I have apparently been fortunate enough to work for some pretty large corporations who have not imposed such restrictions – as I have spoken to many on the job about my church while mentioning that we believed in Jesus along with baptism in Jesus name. I have not encounted any closed-door reprimands or uncomfortable silences; no marks in my file or phone calls from upper management.

Maybe I’m just not making enough noise.

Granted, I don’t pray loudly in the hallways or ask everyone to join hands in meetings for a quick prayer, but I certainly don’t feel shunned for my beliefs. I haven’t had any “sensitivity training” that outlines how my prayers should be generic or non-specific, and I wouldn’t hesitate to say “Merry Christmas” during the holidays, though I often opt for “Happy Holidays” in case a coworker is Jewish or non-celebrating. But that isn’t because I feel persecuted, I’m just trying to be polite.

Maybe schools are different.

Although, a while back, my niece was given permission by her school to conduct a Bible Study on school premises at a high school in the Austin area. She and her supporters spoke openly about Jesus, and were able to do so during school hours. I don’t believe she was asked to remain “generic” in her representation of God, and I believe that they ended up having a great turn out. And that was liberal Austin, mind you – not quite the Bible Belt that we are in up here.

So what say ye? Are we the lucky ones?

I’d be interested to hear your stories.

Default Christian

January 15th, 2009

A large percentage of people in the U.S. consider themselves to be Christian. I think it’s like 80-90% – or something like that. Yes, I realize I could look it up, but so can you. What am I, a statistician?

iStock 000006319863XSmall

Anyway.

That sounds like a high percentage to me. But when I discuss religion or Christianity with various friends, I realize that I can pretty easily account for that number. It isn’t about denominations or behaviors or standards. It’s not about commitment level, effort or anything like that. It is a fundamental difference that makes comparing our two views of Christianity like comparing holy apples to holy oranges.

Here it is. Is God an entity, or is he just a good set of principles?

I think many people that consider themselves Christian don’t really believe in an all-powerful being – manifest in the form of Jesus Christ who came to earth, died, and rose again. They don’t think of him as a savior, and they don’t really acknowledge anything supernatural about the whole situation. (I realize that particular description has a Oneness slant, but I want to be clear that I am not even talking about the theological differences between Trinity and Oneness.) I am talking about God as a person versus God as a concept or a set of ideals.

I think the philosophical difference between these two views is huge. The gulf between God as a person and God as a rulebook is not to be underestimated. I think it is pretty easy for people to accept the idea that a really nice young Jewish guy named Jesus lived 2000 years ago, and that he had a lot of great ideas about how to treat each other. People aren’t so much for this idea as much as they aren’t against it. There’s a lot of “sure, I can admire that” – enough in fact that many people might actually check off the “Christian” box on a form if asked for their religious affiliation. By the way folks, if you are ever asked this during a job interview, make sure and report them to the Texas Workforce Commission or to your state’s work force authorities. But I digress.

The disappointing thing is how much I think these default Christians are missing out. It’s like having a set of rules with no relationship. Granted, the principles alone will make one a good citizen, but I would like to suggest that some of you that fall into this category reach farther. It is certainly a leap of faith, but it is one worth taking. If you want to know more, just ask me or someone you know who is active in their church. I’m no expert or anything, but I know enough to point you in the right direction. And I know it is worth the journey.

Lunatic Fringe?

December 5th, 2008

So, there are times when I almost reconsider my faith in humanity. What I try to do, however, is convince myself that people that cockfight toddlers or kill horses with hammers are the exception and not the norm. I hear stories that just hit me in the gut and make me so angry and sad at the same time, but I try not to let myself believe that these people represent more than the fringe of society. I suppose such occurrences wouldn’t really make the news if they were common. And if they’re not common, then they must not be the norm.

How far away is the average person from committing vile acts? With the right motivation, how far would you go? I participated in a study in school that illustrated some disturbing facts about about human psychology and how easily we can cross over into what most would consider to be abnormal and unacceptable behavior. After doing some recent searching, I found a description of the study. It is called the Milgram Experiment. Here is the experiment as stated on Wikipedia.

The experiment

Three people take part in the experiment: “experimentor”, “learner” (“victim”) and “teacher” (participant). Only the “teacher” is an actual participant, i.e. unaware about the actual setup, while the “learner” is a confederate of the experimenter. The role of the experimenter was played by a stern, impassive biology teacher dressed in a grey technician’s coat, and the victim (learner) was played by a 47 year old Irish-American accountant trained to act for the role. The participant and the learner were told by the experimenter that they would be participating in an experiment helping his study of memory and learning in different situations.

Two slips of paper were then presented to the participant and to the “learner”. The participant was led to believe that one of the slips said “learner” and the other said “teacher,” and that he and the actor had been given the slips randomly. In fact, both slips said “teacher,” but the actor claimed to have the slip that read “learner,” thus guaranteeing that the participant would always be the “teacher.” At this point, the “teacher” and “learner” were separated into different rooms where they could communicate but not see each other. In one version of the experiment, the confederate was sure to mention to the participant that he had a heart condition.

The “teacher” was given an electric shock from the electro-shock generator as a sample of the shock that the “learner” would supposedly receive during the experiment. The “teacher” was then given a list of word pairs which he was to teach the learner. The teacher began by reading the list of word pairs to the learner. The teacher would then read the first word of each pair and read four possible answers. The learner would press a button to indicate his response. If the answer was incorrect, the teacher would administer a shock to the learner, with the voltage increasing in 15-volt increments for each wrong answer. If correct, the teacher would read the next word pair.

The subjects believed that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving actual shocks. In reality, there were no shocks. After the confederate was separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level. After a number of voltage level increases, the actor started to bang on the wall that separated him from the subject. After several times banging on the wall and complaining about his heart condition, all responses by the learner would cease.

At this point, many people indicated their desire to stop the experiment and check on the learner. Some test subjects paused at 135 volts and began to question the purpose of the experiment. Most continued after being assured that they would not be held responsible. A few subjects began to laugh nervously or exhibit other signs of extreme stress once they heard the screams of pain coming from the learner.

If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, in this order:

– Please continue.

– The experiment requires that you continue.

– It is absolutely essential that you continue.

– You have no other choice, you must go on.

If the subject still wished to stop after all four successive verbal prods, the experiment was halted. Otherwise, it was halted after the subject had given the maximum 450-volt shock three times in succession. This experiment could be seen to raise some ethical issues as Stanley Milgram deceived his study’s subjects, and put them under more pressure than many believe was necessary.

As you will read in the results analysis, a full 65 percent of experiment participants administered the experiment’s final 450-volt shock.

Now, in this instance, the motivating factor had to do with authority and obedience – which has as much to say about conformity as anything, but the point is how easily the majority of people can be convinced to do something horrendous.

What this says to me is that people aren’t necessarily mostly good or mostly bad, but rather they are easily influenced by those in authority. I find this to be indicative of our need to be led. I think these results say a lot about our nature.

I have frequently stated my dislike for authority – particularly when it is abused. And frankly, studies like this make me even more wary. I still think most people in positions of authority shouldn’t be, and that many of them get there because of their charisma and tenacity – not because of their qualifications, character or integrity.

But I am reassured through all of this that I do need a Leader. It is my nature to serve a higher authority. And thanks to the promises in the book of Acts, I no longer need a go-between. I don’t need a priest to relay my thoughts to Him. I don’t need a middle man.

So how “good” are we? Maybe we are only as good as our compass. Choose wisely.

The Other Half Of Writing.

November 12th, 2008

I’m working on a script for our spring drama at ALC , and it has been an interesting process. As many of you know, I design visual presentations for a living – mostly for lawyers. While I enjoy working in that medium, I have always liked writing. More accurately, I like to “have written” more than I actually like the process of writing. At least that’s the case right now – with a few exceptions.

typewriter

When it comes to graphics and multimedia, I have years of tricks, techniques and experience from which to draw. I can do something half decent without much effort. But while I have been writing in short bursts for many years (eg. skits, short sketches, etc.) – I have not written anything this lengthy. I really don’t have any tricks to fall back on when writing something like this, so it is definitely work. I have to get in a zone in order to focus enough to be coherent – usually with some Beck or Coldplay running in the background. I am learning a lot about the process, and the further I get into it, the more I think I’m starting to enjoy the actual writing. The challenge is keeping my mind focused enough to keep the story flowing properly. I am trying to use tools that can assist with organizing my thoughts. For example, I’ve been trying some mind-mapping software with limited success. As a visual thinker, I see the scenes in my head as they are to be performed on stage, but without a cohesive plot line, they are just a series of scenes. So, I determined that the best way for me to work is to write the scenes as I see them – in no particular order, then add hooks to connect everything. That’s seeming to work, but I think I will be able to do that most effectively once I have all the scenes written. I still have a few to go.

I am also interested in the idea of adding multimedia to the show. I am writing the script to integrate video, music and lights. We have a programmable lighting system and nice big video screens that will add a cool component. I am hoping to use video as another cast member – which could be cool. It will be nice to be able to add to the story with these familiar tools.

I hope to be done with the script this week. If anyone is going to be in the Plano, TX area in March, please drop by ALC and check out the performance. Stay tuned for specific dates.

Election Fatigue

November 1st, 2008

So after taking a few online tests to see where I fall on the issues, I’ve learned that I am a bit of an anarchist. Those of you that know me, and think that I lean liberal, might be surprised to hear that. As such, I don’t really want the federal government to control anything. But how can this be? How could I argue for big government one minute, then no government the next? The fact is – I have never wanted big government. But I get so freakin’ irritated at the attitudes of those on both sides, that I end up – in typical fashion – playing devil’s advocate to the arguments that annoy me the most. And until recently, I have been most annoyed with the Republicans and their moral superiority complex. But lately, I have to admit that Barack Obama hit a nerve with his “spread the wealth” tax speeches. I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced that anything other than a flat tax is fair. You want the rich to pay more? Great! That’s the beauty of percentages – they do pay more.

Very early in this election season, I was a bit of a Ron Paul supporter. I have another friend (an Obama supporter) who also said back then that she might consider voting for Ron Paul. It’s interesting to see how a few key issues can take someone from being supposedly left wing to extreme right wing – yet they would never consider voting Republican … supposedly somewhere between the two.

I’m not looking to get in a debate based on this post – really. I understand the arguments from both major parties, and I’m really sick of hearing them. But I believe that I may have found a party that I can get behind. Turns out, I may have been a Liberatarian all this time, and I just couldn’t see it. It’s not quite anarchy, but it’s pretty dang close. I know – it just transfers control to the state, but it goes a long way toward getting the government to leave me alone. Plus, they don’t care who marries who, whether I have a gun or not, and while they (supposedly) care about the environment – they think the federal government would just screw up any efforts to preserve it. They are against censorship, they are essential pro-choice (that’s a toughy), and they care about privacy. All of that sounds pretty good to me.

So what do I do now? Do I “throw away my vote”, and vote Liberatarian – or do I try my best to overlook my problems with the two major parties and cast my vote in one of those two directions?

I guess I’d better hurry and figure that out.

You Gotta Keep ’em Separated.

October 24th, 2008

Church culture. I guess that term means different things to different groups and denominations. I come from a denomination where separation is emphasized. You often hear the verse “come out from among them, and be ye separate” as a source of supporting scripture.

What does it mean to be separate? Does it mean that our women wear skirts when everyone else wears pants? Does it mean that I don’t go to sporting events or movies? Does it mean that I isolate myself from the rest of the world? Maybe. Honestly, maybe it does. But I don’t think so.

Could it mean that you behave differently than what one might consider typical? Do you return that $20 bill you saw that person drop without noticing? Does it mean you don’t curse at that driver that cut you off. Does it mean that you show mercy when someone else might take advantage? I think that’s a start. The truth of the matter is that a lot of people behave decently – Christians, athiests, Buddhists, Muslims. So in light of that, what makes us separate? It should be God’s light shining through us. It should be us doing good as a reflection of Him. It should be less judgment and more support. We should be a refuge to those who need it.

I’m really tired of church culture. I hate to generalize, but when something runs rampant and unchecked, it can become twisted and ultimately a distortion of its original intent. We often turn into an arrogant bunch of elitists with a distorted view of the world and the people in it.

I love my church. But I spent my first 8 years not being a part of any church organization. I was allowed to watch Bugs Bunny and Speed Racer, my parents listened to the Beatles, I went roller skating and saw Raiders of the Lost Ark at a theatre, I didn’t feel out of place at family get togethers, and I felt like a normal kid at school (well, sorta). I learned to appreciate that most people out there are good people – whether they label themselves a Christian or not.

When I became a Christian at 8 years old, it was an adjustment, but I thank God that he found my family. I understood the sacrifices we made, and I knew why. It is a part of the journey that transformed my life in a positive way. I thank my parents for bringing me up in a Christian home.

That being said, I don’t regret having a healthy exposure to the culture around me. To this day, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

I’ll probably have more to say on this, but I’ve gone on long enough for now.

Official B.S.

October 1st, 2008

Yes, that’s right.  Belief System.

I think it’s probably a good idea to get some of my core beliefs in writing.   You know – to let people know that I actually have some.  Why should you care?  I’ll assume you don’t.  But it’s like putting a public declaration in the classifieds section of the newspaper.  It’s for me.  It’s a written record.  It’s also a way for you to come back and call me out if I change my mind or screw up.  Lucky me.

Maybe I’ll write a mission statement as well in an upcoming post.  Maybe it will be worthy of engraving on a placard or something that I can put on my desk.

I’m going to start out simple.  It may seem random, but it’s a start.

 

OBS – Part 1

– I believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – known as Yahweh – is the one true God.  There may be others, but none come before Him.

– I believe that there is no positive version of the afterlife that does not include that God.  I believe that after death, you will be either a) be with God in Heaven, b) be without God in Hell or c) your soul will completely cease to exist.

– I believe in the separation of church and state.  I think this benefits the state, but more importantly, it benefits the church.

– I believe that abortion past a certain stage of development is murder, and should be allowed only in emergency situations.  I do not know what that stage is, so I’ll just leave it at that and thank God that I will never personally have to make that judgement call.

– I believe that gays should be allowed to be legally married in the eyes of the United States government.  The fact that I am personally opposed to the lifestyle, and that it does not conform to my view of biblical marriage, does not mean that gays should not be given the same financial considerations that I enjoy as a citizen.

– I believe that you will certainly go to hell if you watch too much reality tv.

– I believe cussing is ok if it’s after 10 pm and you don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.

– I believe in protecting our borders.

– I believe the war in Iraq was a mistake.

– I believe in the right to bear arms.

– I believe I can fly.