25 December 2007

I Think We Crossed Wires Somewhere...

Tradition states that Martin Luther did a lot of thinking on the toilet. As a man who suffered from digestive problems, he, naturally, spent a lot of time there.

Well, I can't claim such unusual inspiration for this, but given that I have what I call ADS (Attention Deficit Shiny - as close as you can get to ADD without actually having ADD), I do get a lot of ideas in odd places. This one is from brushing my teeth.

I started to think of the movie Fun with Dick and Jane and the scene where Jim Carrey gets arrested by the Border Patrol. (If you think you're missing something, don't worry; you're not.)

A lot of very conservative people complain about immigration, or more specifically people illegally crossing the border from Mexico to the US (in the sense of fairness, there is some concern about the Canadian border, but very, very little). Some even go so far as to say that it is the largest threat our country faces.

Now don't get me wrong, I support immigration reform. But (yes, there is always a "but") not to the extent of deploying the National Guard or building a wall. A better-funded Border Patrol really would do the trick, if only people would get over their tax-phobia.

People say that something needs to be done - tighter border security and tighter screening processes for businesses that rely on unskilled or semiskilled labor (construction and farming come to mind) on the government's part.

But here's the rub - they claim the government is doing it's job. Because of this, we get organizations like the Minuteman Project (see my views on them here). The goal of the Minuteman Project is to alert Border Patrol officials to illegal crossings (though they often go beyond this). What I want to know is why they don't attempt to screen businesses as well?

Why is there no "Support Legal Labor" movement? A group of local businesses and individuals who sign a statement affirming that they will not higher undocumented workers? This is a much easier movement to coordinate than the Minuteman Project.

I have a theory on this. Only a theory, and not really supported by anything, so take it as you will. And I'm sure my greatest critic will say that I'm "buying everything they're selling" at my "liberal" university (I take it as a mark of pride that with as few readers as I have, I still manage to attract a critic). And oddly enough, I'm at odds with both liberals and conservatives about immigration - finally something they agree on. I suppose I should be pleased with this step towards unity. But anyway, on with my theory. I think it's that people are too cheap to actually care. Sure, they'll go on a camping trip with their friends to watch people walk through the desert. But God forbid they give up cheap construction and produce. Imagine the horror of our fast-food workers being paid above minimum wage.

Let's face it - there is no way to stop every single person who tries to cross the border illegally. But there is a way to get rid of the incentive, and oddly enough, it can be done without government involvement. But somehow, people decided it'd be better to take border patrol into their own hands...yeah. Right.

I find it funny (in a very disgusting, disturbing sort of way) that we are willing to, as private citizens, crack down on those crossing the border, but not those hiring them. Advocates of such radical reform as the wall and the deployment of the National Guard argue that illegal residents steal jobs. But what about the people giving them the jobs?

Just something to think about.

Rock on.

23 December 2007

Christmas Traditions

Most people know I'm a military brat. More specifically, an Army brat. This means that my family moves around - a lot. My dad's been in the Army for about seventeen years. In that time, my family has moved eight times. We've spent Christmas in eight different houses. Actually, we've only spent it in seven different houses. When we lived in New Jersey, we didn't get there until after the holiday. Instead, that Christmas was spent in guest quarters. Occasionally, we would travel and see family, but most of the time we were to far away to make the trip.

This year, we are "breaking in" a new house in Korea. That means that, as a college student, I'm celebrating Christmas in a house that I saw for the first time about a week ago.

With all of this moving around, Christmas isn't really about being "home" for the holidays. Home is wherever dad happens to be stationed. Going to see extended family isn't really home because I didn't grow up around them. Going to my parents' house really isn't home because, as my mom puts it, I come in the door and hear, "Welcome home! Let me show you where your bedroom is."

Instead, celebrating Christmas is really more about the traditions my family has set over the years. Being with the family, regardless of where we are. Going to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Taking all day to open our gifts (you think I'm kidding, but we always find a way to stretch it out until after dinner). Opening our gifts in a certain order. Getting gifts from "Santa". Eating cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Listening to my dad tell us the story of "Eliezer the Unreliable". Listening to my mom read The Polar Express on Christmas Eve.

As I said, this is my first Christmas in Korea. And I'm enjoying getting to explore a new country. And I'm happy that my friend from high school, Kurt, is over here too. But really, I'm just excited that my family's traditions make me feel at home halfway across the world.

Rock on.
Merry Christmas.

Eliezer the Unreliable

"Eliezer the Unreliable" is a sermon my dad wrote and has always been very important to my family and I.

His reading it has become something of a Christmas tradition at my house.




Advent is drawing to a close and this week, and - well, at least according to the devotional book I'm working with this year* - the candle of the Prince of Peace was lit. Oddly enough, I am typing this on a military base in South Korea. I cannot and will not go into detail about precautions taken to secure the base, but let's just say that while the fighting is over, the peninsula is still very tense.

Quickly browsing the news shows that we do not live in a peaceful world. Recent violence and crackdowns in Pakistan and Burma, continuing hostilities in Kosovo and Israel, multiple civil wars in Africa (Sudan and Uganda come to mind), and US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan provide plenty of evidence that we have a long way to go before world peace is achievable. And that peace will, unfortunately, probably be heralded by war.

So how can we say that the Prince of Peace has come? This very same Prince was violently killed by the Romans. For nearly all of its existence, some part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, has used violence to achieve its goals - the Crusades, the Inquisition, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, and even preaching that God was responsible for 9/11. The leaders of the Church who practice nonviolence are killed - Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Saint Stephen.

Surely this cannot be the Peace promised in Isaiah.

And it's not.

The peace we hope for, the peace that Christ will bring, will come with his return. Advent is as much about the return of Christ as it is about his birth in Bethlehem. The Prince of Peace, our Wonderful Counselor, God With Us, will come again and usher in a new kingdom, a new age. Tears will be wiped away and swords will be beaten into plows. As Peanuts creator Charles Schultz famously put it, "The beagles and bunnies will lie down together."

Rock on.
*Advent liturgy is weird. Different churches and denominations assign different meanings to the candles and weeks, light them in different orders, and so on. Confusing? Yes. But as long as everyone in the congregation is on the same page and use the time as a period of preparation and looking forward to Christmas, it's all good.
PS: The title of the post comes from Matisyahu's album Youth. "Shalom" and "saalam" are the Hebrew and Arabic words for "peace".

20 December 2007

Ode to Joy

I like to be happy. I really do. I listen to "emo" music and enjoy the rain, yeah, but I still really like to be happy (in there own way, the typically depressing things I enjoy make me happy). I like to laugh and joke, to run around, and to have a good time. Like most people, being happy is nearly vital to my life. But like the modern ideas of Love discussed last week, happiness is just an emotion.

As several people have phrased it, "Happiness happens."

I can go from happy to sad in a matter of seconds. All it takes is an unexpected, tragic event in an otherwise funny movie or getting some depressing news. Most people would agree.

Joy is quite different - you can be joyous, even in suffering. We are even told to consider trials "pure joy" (James 1:2). We may not be happy when we are persecuted, mocked, or killed, but we do it with Joy in our hearts. We may not especially enjoy serving food to the homeless, building a new house for the poor, or going without that others may have (though as we Love God more, these things will become less of a duty and more of a pleasure), but we do it with Joy.

It is well known that Martin Luther suffered from many afflictions - depression chief among them. While he was a monk, he was terrified of God, and later into his life still struggled with his doubts. But upon realizing the Good News of Christ our Lord and spreading it throughout the Holy Roman Empire, as he had to face not only his own doubts, but threats from the papacy, he continued on in Joy.

Therefore, when the path in front of us becomes dark and we begin to stumble, as the world starts to close in on us, and as we start to lose sight of Hope, even in these times, we should remember the Joy of our salvation and the new life given to us through the empty tomb that Easter morning.

Rock on.
PS: The title, of course, comes from Friedrich Schiller's poem set to the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth.

PPS: This post took a little longer, and I apologize. It's been a hectic week with jet lag and many journeys.

17 December 2007

The World Might Not Be Flat, But It Certainly Is Getting Smaller; Or: What I Learned In Korea

I'm in Korea visiting my family for Christmas. For those wondering, it's a fourteen and a half hour flight from Atlanta to the Incheon airport and covers a distance of nearly 9,000 miles (flying over Siberia was very interesting - well, as interesting as flying over a barren, snow covered landscape can be).

I was on the plane flying to from Incheon to the city my parents are stationed in when the girl in front of me (a college student making the same trek I was) started a conversation with the old Korean woman sitting next to her. After about five minutes, it was discovered the old woman's son was the American girl's dentist and neighbor. "It really is a small world," the Korean woman said (in near-perfect English).

At first, I chuckled silently at the cliche and thought about how a small world would never have as long of a flight as I endured.

But after about half a minute, it occurred to me that the conversation in front of me had just proven Thomas Freidman right - the world is flat (though I understand flat to mean no barriers to entry in the market - we're not quite there yet), small, shrinking, however you want to phrase it. Considering that I had traveled half-way around the world in little more than half a day, there is definitely something to be said about this. How we connect to each other was forever changed by the first intercontinental flight. No place in the world is more than a twenty-four hour flight away.

The fact that an old Korean woman is very fluent in English is amazing. I can understand a younger generation being bilingual. But we're now at the point where the retiring generation is also bilingual - and it's not just in Korea (the long-term US presence obviously has something to do with it, but it can't be the only variable). With international travel becoming an every-day, no, every-hour occurrence, English channels on Korean television, and any number of other factors, I shouldn't be at all surprised. It is said that if you speak English and Chinese, you can communicate with half of the people in the world. Imagine if you threw in French! Don't get me wrong - the language barrier when I'm walking around off post is a problem, but the number of English speakers is astounding.

Then there's the fact that I'm sitting in Korea writing a blog to be read by friends in the US and parts of Europe (and occasionally a few other more remote locations). When my father was in Korea in the early 90s, we got email (then called E-Mail) just to communicate with him, and as far as middle-class Americans were concerned, we were very early adopters. Now I have three different email accounts, all hosted for free, maintain a blog with very few technical skills, and use Facebook to keep up with friends from high school who live halfway across the country from me. Friends who live in California and Alaska can be communicated with in real time with IM services.

Most friends know that I am not the biggest fan of technology - I'd rather go out for coffee than talk over IM, rather climb a tree than play a video game, and rather go hiking than watch TV. But despite my qualms, there is something astounding about the opportunity for the sharing of ideas and maintaining of friendships (vital to military kids such as myself) allowed for by technology.

Rock on.

09 December 2007

In the Name of Love

Love is one of the most overused words in our culture. Just think about how often it takes the place of "really enjoy" or "like". We use the word Love, but not as it is defined in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians . Today's "love" is petty and short-lived.
We "love" TV shows, movies, bands, and articles of clothing. We "love" philosophies, stories, and paintings. And we Love people. But are our feelings towards people really the same as they are towards our possessions? Can we "fall" in Love? Can we brush off love as an emotion, the same as being happy or sad?

We are told that God IS Love - can this be just an emotion?

All that Christ our Lord did, he did out of Love. Love is the greatest motivator in the whole of existence.

It was for Love that William Wilberforce had the courage and strength to sand against slavery. It was for Love that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had the courage and stregnth to stand against Hitler. It was for Love that Martin Luther King had the courage and strength to stand for equality. It was for Love that Mother Teresa gave all that she had to spend her life working among the poor.

It was for Love that the Father gave the Son to the world. It was for Love that Christ was born to a working class family under the Roman empire in the town of Bethlehem. It was for Love that Christ taught the coming of the Kingdom of God, where the last will be first. It was for Love that Christ died a sinner's death that we might be forgiven. It was for Love that Christ was resurrected that we might have eternal life. It is for love that Christ will return to establish his Kingdom.

It is Love that Christianity is based on. It is for Love that we spend this week in Advent in meditation. And it is for Love that we should do all things, now and forever.

Love is what will bring about the world we hope for. Love allows us to place others before ourselves and to see value in all people. Love allows us to turn the other cheek. Love is what Christ commands of us. The world will know we are disciples because of our great Love, the Love made possible only by the Sovereign God.

To quote Mother Teresa, "Men do no great things, only small things with great Love."

Rock on.
PS: The title of the post comes from the U2 song "Pride (In the Name of Love)" written about Dr. King.

The Golden Compass

Let me start by saying that I defended this movie against cries that it is inherently evil. And though I am sorely disappointed in the movie on several accounts (read on), I will still defend it against calls for mass boycotts. My argument was and is that it would be nice for youth groups to stop showing movies like The Sixth Sense and following the Reel to Real discussion guide (no offense to the fine folks at R2R). Instead, a youth group could watch this movie and discuss the deeper philosophical issues. It would not only challenge one's faith (there is a disturbing lack of challenge in today's Christianity - we ignore verses that disturb us and pretend as if we don't have doubts) but also require students to think more about the underlying themes in movies.

And The Golden Compass certainly does challenge the mindset of "I'll just let the Church tell me what to think." But that's all it does. It takes aim at Christianity (particularly Catholicism) and accuses the Church of trying to control the thoughts of its followers through violence and oppression, preventing free thought from taking root. And yes, the Church has historically done this. One only need study the history of the Protestant Reformation to see this. And yes, people within Christianity today are still trying to oppress free thought. The evolution "debate"/panties-in-a-twist provides enough evidence of this (I, for one, am tired of being thought of as un-Christian for my cosmological views). But certainly this is not all of Christianity. My friends and I hold many differing beliefs and embrace these differences as learning opportunities. One of my best friends is a very true agnostic. I have great conversations with atheists. And I certainly am not trying to oppress anyone's right to free thought.

The author, Phillip Pullman, accuses CS Lewis of being "evil" in The Chronicles of Narnia. Because, as we all know, self-sacrifice (a'la Aslan) is evil. Instead, Pullman includes a fight between bears competing for a kingdom in what can only be described as the most Machiavelli-Nietzsche inspired scene in movie history. This is, after all, a world where only the strong willed and free thinkers can survive (it is, of course, Nietzsche's great irony that the Church which he hates so much is such a perfect example of this).

Everybody knows that CS Lewis, as a professor of Medieval literature, was a fan of allegory. Accordingly, the Narnia series is written in such a style. The self-sacrifice of Aslan has quite a few meanings, most notably the death and resurrection of Jesus, but can also be compared to the United Kingdom's role in World War II (the novel is set during the time, and it could be argued that Aslan/UK died to save the world from the forces of the White Witch/Germany). That's the wonderful thing about allegory - it has many, many different levels at which it can be explored. Pullman's series is a very thinly-veiled allegory. At the end of the movie, you find yourself saying, "We get it. The Church is bad." All of this is with an allegedly-softened anti-religious message. Not to mention the disturbing speech on how the Church needs to be violently destroyed.

I am not here to get into a discussion about whether or not God exists, or even whether or not we can prove God's existence. But let me say this: The past abuses of the Church, and religions in general, is not a valid argument against the existence of a divine being. Any rational believer will readily admit (and apologize) for the past abuses committed in the name of God. The Crusades, the Inquisition, al Qaeda, the Aryan Nation, witch hunts, and religious oppression (to name a very small fraction of the iniquities of the religious) are evidence that man is corrupt. Not that God cannot exist. Using this same logic, we could argue that democracy and caring for the poor are horrible things that should not be supported. All we need to do is to look at the French Revolution and Soviet Communism.

An oddity in this film is that the ultimate purpose of the Church's actions and attempts to keep people from thinking for themselves is to keep them from sinning (an odd take on Original Sin is presented). The ultimate message, then, is that there is no sin. Morality, then, is completely relativet. Even taking God out of a consideration on ethics, this is a bad idea. While neither Kant nor John Stuart Mill got it right (they really need each other), they came a lot closer to a sustainable code of ethics than Nietzsche ever did.

Philosophical differences aside, the movie was tawdry and predictable. Out side of the scenes featuring the college, the movie is a display of why computers will eventually replace decent filming locations (think Star Wars prequels on a smaller scale). Many of the twists were obvious (but then again, maybe I just watch too many movies). I was actually very disappointed in most of the performances. James Bon...erm, Daniel Craig did a decent job, but his role is comparatively small. I found myself annoyed by Nicole Kidman and her monkey (yes, Nicole Kidman and a monkey - by all accounts, this should be a good thing, but it wasn't). Ian McKellan's bear character was over-done - not by much, but enough to make the character annoying. And will somebody stop casting Christopher Lee as the wise, corrupt bad guy? Yes, he's good at it. But we already know that. Let's put him in a different role where his true talent can shine through.

I really hope that this is just a bad movie adaption. Maybe the books have more depth. I'm going to read them - I want to know how you can make killing God accessible to children, I really do. But if the movie's a faithful adaption, I'm setting myself up for disappointment.

Rock on.

04 December 2007

Saint Nicholas Comes Tonight!

No, your computer calendar is not wrong, it is the fifth, not the twenty-fifth. And no, I have not lost it. I am fully aware that tradition states that "Santa" comes on Christmas Eve. At least, modern tradition states that.

I'll spare my readers the long story of Saint Nicholas. Instead, I'll let you read the Wiki article.

When I lived in Germany, we used to celebrate St. Nicholas' Day in our schools as a way of getting a feel for German culture. In the German fashion, we would leave our shoes outside of our classroom door and "St. Nick" would come by and fill them with candy. When I was younger, I figured this was how Santa was able to make it around the world - by staggering his expected arrival, the trip would be way, way easier on the reindeer.

In more practical terms, though, I really like the idea of keeping Christmas and Saint Nicholas separate. I was raised expecting Santa to come on Christmas Eve, and to this day, a part of my family's tradition is to open "Santa's" presents (Yes, he still comes to visit us, and my sister and I still even leave a note and cookies. When you move every couple of years, even silly traditions like these make a new place feel more like home, and I look forward to Santa's visit to my parent's new place this year. Tangent over.) after the stockings, but before any of the other presents (My family also stretches out the gift-opening). But I can't help but feel that something is lost in the merging of the two traditions. While I disagree with the commercialization of any religious holiday (Will somebody please make the Easter Bunny into a stew?), there is something especially heinous in making the birth of our Saviour about toys (Linus van Pelt is a genius; also, I refer you back to my thoughts on the Easter Bunny).

I have decided that if/when/gah-I'm-too-young-to-think-about-this I have children, they will celebrate the Feast of Saint Nicholas on December the Sixth, not on Christmas. Christmas will be about Christ, his humility, his incarnation, and his Love.

03 December 2007

Hold Fast Hope

The first week of Advent is upon us and on Sunday, we lit the Hope candle in our Advent wreath at church. With the expectation of gifts and feasts less than a month away, now is a good, no, the best time to examine what we are hoping for this Advent and Christmas season.

I hope for good grades in all of my classes.
I hope for safe travel for my friends, family, and self.
I hope for good books and CDs this Christmas.
I hope for good food on Christmas day (Mom. Dad. Audrey. You three know what to do.)
And I'm willing to bet that most college students agree with me. But these hopes last only until the New Year. Then it's the same old grind of hoping for canceled classes and fun times.

What about the stuff that really matters, though? What do we hope for, or better yet, what should we be hopping for?
Advent is the time of looking forward to the coming of Christ our King, Immanuel, "God with us". We look for the Virgin who is with Child as a sign of our deliverance, for to us a Child will be born, a Son will be given. We hope for the birth of our Salvation, the very Word of God. But we look to more than that. We look to the Kingdom of God to be established. We listen for the voice calling in the wilderness, calling for the children of God to be found and delivered. We hope that "the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy," (Isaiah 35:5-6). We look for the great light to guide us out of the darkness, that the light of dawn be seen in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We hope that our world will be turned upside down (for more on the upside-down nature of Christ, see Mitch Lewis' comparison to Yellowstone).

We hope for a time when the children of Uganda are able to attend school and live without fear of rebel soldiers. We hope for a time when the people of Darfur can return home and be no longer persecuted. We hope for a time when no person is allowed to go hungry. We hope for a time when the sex-slaves in Atlanta are free and healed. We hope for a time when the North Koreans are no longer oppressed. We hope for a time when Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland can turn aside from hundreds of years of tension. We hope for a time when the full power of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, is recognized and embraced throughout the world.

Rock on.
Post Script: The post is named after "Hold Fast Hope" on Thrice's album, Vheissu.

26 November 2007

Leavenworth Made the Lark!

The town I graduated high school from made the Lark.


11 November 2007

"...of whom I am the worst."

Romans 2

We teach best that which we need learn most.

In other words, this lesson is for my own benefit.

I like to judge others. when somebody asks me how my day is without waiting for a response, I judge them. When somebody spends money on something they don't need, or often times, don't even want, I judge them. And let me say this - over the past nineteen years, I've gotten very, very good at it. College classes have made sure of that. Now, I can not only judge the person, but classify them into cultural subsets and judge those as well. I can rant against consumerism, Hollywood, urban culture, suburban culture, mass production, and the newly-coined term affluenza. Like the prayer of the Pharisee, I thank God that I am not like those who give into their commercial identity.

Meanwhile, my book and CD collections continue to grow and I search for clothing that proclaims that I am not like the rest of the world.

Paul was talking to me.
Or rather, I think, Paul was talking to himself. Paul tells his follower Timothy, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst." This is the same Paul who authored the majority of the New Testament and is considered to be the third most influential person in history (last list I saw placed him just behind Jesus and Muhammad, but that was four years ago).

Like Paul, we are all sinners. Worse yet, we all try to take the place of the Judge, the very person we claim to follow. And yet, we, along with the rest of the world, are called to be followers of the Risen Lord.

What then, shall we do? We take Martin Luther's advice. We sin boldly. We admit that we are sinners and drop our false pretenses. But we believe in Christ more boldly still.

Rock on.

04 November 2007

Rich Men Don't Climb Trees - But Perhaps They Should

Luke 19:1-10

This story brings back memories for me. Memories of juice boxes, songs, and that one week of summer vacation of which I'm not bored. And of course, memories of climbing trees. Though the memories of climbing trees are only from last week.

Yes, I still climb trees. I am one of the few college students I know who will give up a Saturday evening to climb the magnolias on North Campus. I get weird looks. My friends most likely fancy me mad. And admittedly, it's not a very common thing to do. I have yet to see anyone over the age of twenty-five climb a tree (with the exception of scientists on the National Geographic channel doing research in the Amazon). Somehow, I get this sneaking feeling that adult who climbed a tree would instantly be knocked down a rung on the social ladder.

Tax collectors were not popular. A chief tax collector was probably hated. A short chief tax collector who climbed trees was probably lucky he didn't get stoned. It's just not something that's done.

In the movie Luther, Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes - yes, Voldemort's brother) is delivering a lesson to children about the Prodigal Son. He says that the father's reaction is extraordinary - the wealthy old man runs to great his son. Rich men don't run. They don't hike up their clothes and dash across fields. And yet the old man runs to greet his son, the sinner. Similarly, Zaccheus, the sinner, runs to meet the Son, the Saviour.

Running and climbing trees. This short man must have looked more like a fool than ever. But it was well worth it. Zaccheus, having little public dignity left from his life as a tax collector, was willing to humiliate himself for the joy of laying his eyes upon the Christ.

Rock on.

28 October 2007

Dawgs and Gators and Bears - Oh My!

First off, congrats to the UGA football team. I figured we wouldn't put up fourteen points against Florida, let alone beat them. Go DAWGS!

Now on to the more interesting part of my fall break.

Instead of heading down to the world's largest outdoor cockt - erm, sorry President Adams - Florida-Georgia Football Classic (I like the WLOCP title better), I headed up to the North Carolina mountains for some hiking and time alone with God while enjoying his handy work. So on Thursday, the first day of Fall Break, I did what any college student would do. That is to say, I woke up at six in the morning, hopped in the car with my dog, and drove four hours to spend the day without a computer, an MP3 player, or even a GPS. Just me, my dog, and the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. I was originally aiming to hike along Mount Mitchell, but inclement weather changed that. So, still in the spirit of a college student, I pulled over at the first trail head I saw and hiked for two hours along a primitive trail (appropriately title the Big Butt Trail), with nothing more than a few red placards and fallen trees to guide me, without seeing or hearing another person until returning to my car. Of course the problem with trails like that is that animals tend not to stay away from the road less taken. On my way back to my car, about fifteen minutes out from the pull-off I had parked in, I came upon a small black bear. Luckily, it had heard me coming and wandered off just as I realized, "Hey, that's a bear. And it could kill me." I made it safely to my grandparents' house and then called everyone I could think of to say, "OMGZ!!! I SAW TEH BEAR!!!1!"

The next day brought a much-needed day off, including a tour of Lake Lure (think Dirty Dancing) and a very nice dinner at a local hotel. Saturday was more hiking at Chimney Rock. No where near as isolated as the trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway, nor as cheap, nor as bear-ish, the views were stunning. I spent the day hiking almost every trail the park had to offer and enjoying the view of some of the most interesting rock formations to be found in North Carolina. Chimney Rock is one of those rare geological anomalies that has been purchased and turned into a park, but somehow has avoided the cheese-level of places like Stone Mountain. And the North Carolina Park Service has just bought the sight, so its nice mix of popular tourist destination and serene, tranquil retreat is secure.

This was the first real vacation I've ever taken by myself. Sure, over the summer I drove up to Columbia, SC, for the Harry Potter book release and to see my sister, but that wasn't so much a vacation as a - something that's not a vacation. I don't like driving, and mountain roads have always freaked me out, as much as I love the mountains. Especially when driving through a cloud. But I managed the drive quite well and even enjoyed the time driving through the windy, narrow roads of the Blue Ridge area. As cliché as it sounds, the first road trip really is a coming-of-age event. It's something that you do with your family most of your life (hardly a summer went by where my parents didn't toss my sister and I into a car and drive around for at least three or four days). To be able to set off on your own with only a list of destinations to guide you is one of the most liberating experiences that one can imagine. And after spending my summer in classes, the freedom was well-received.

People have places where they feel closer to God than others. For some, it's during a mass. For others, it's a modern worship service. Most people feel God's presence on retreats. As for me, it's nature. As much as I enjoy Athens, the constant sound of cars, music, and college kids on cell phones, the lack of any real place to get away from the city (even the most secluded part of campus is right next to a highway), and the eerie red glow cast on the sky at night make me feel isolated. But the freedom and beauty of nature gives me a sense of God's power and creation. Nothing man can ever make will amount to the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon or the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains in the fall. And after three days of being in the mountains, it was amazing what had the ability to move me. Something as simple as the sunrise while driving home this morning left me praising God - with Santana and Rob Thomas in the background.

Rock on.

20 October 2007

Parties Have Too Much Power

In a stunning blow to democracy, the South Carolina Democratic Party might keep Colbert off of their primary ticket. Story here.

Ok, so we know he's running as a joke. But the requirements that could keep Colbert off the ballot are much more serious. The SC Democratic Party states that the candidate must have spent a set amount of time actively campaigning in the state and be a "viable" candidate (viable as determined by the party's executive council). While this is not detrimental for Colbert (if he wanted to, he could turn this into an hour-long Colbert Report Special Edition), other candidates could run into serious issues. It is not far-fetched to say that Obama, as a black midwesterner, is not a viable candidate in the southern state famous for flying the Confederate Naval Jack over its statehouse into the 21st century (I was living in Columbia the year the flag was taken down), or that Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, besides having not spent much time campaigning in the state, but also coming in last in fund raising, are not viable candidates (total, the two have raised less than a quarter of what Clinton has raised, and of that, 90% goes to Kucinich) are not viable candidates.

Considering that party primaries (oddly, not in the Constitution) are all but vital to making it onto the ticket, to rule out a candidate in one state primary is an electoral death sentence and a major attack on free and fair elections (I just love that as an independent, I have not voice in primaries).

But then again, the entire party system is a barrier to democracy. This, however, is an discussion for another time.

Rock on.

19 October 2007

It's Pronounced "Fronkenshteen".

Only during election season (What the crap? It's still 07!) do you get headlines like "McCain Names Mannequin". But still, I think this one takes the cake.

Stein Crosses Party Lines, Helps Franken

I just hope they run for president in 2012. I'd support the Franken/Stein ticket.

Also, if you have no clue what the title refers to, shame on you.

Colbert '08

For all of my readers (ha, like I have readers) in South Carolina (ha, like South Carolina's a state...it's not like I've ever lived there...oh, wait...), be sure to vote for Stephen Colbert in both the Democratic AND Republican primaries (yes, he's running on both tickets).

If you haven't heard, over the course of the past couple of days, Stephen Colbert has lead up to this announcement (seriously, like only three days; it took Obama and McCain, what, half a year to actually make a formal decision?) and announced on The Daily Show that he would make his official announcement on a more prestigious show - only to make the announcement fifteen minutes later on his own show. Full story here.

Wait, I think I've seen this movie before. With the help of Lewis Black and a flaw in the computer systems created by Jeff Goldblum's company, doesn't he actually win? And address congress dressed as George Washington?

Robin Williams movies aside, this is perhaps the funniest thing Colbert has done. Aside from his interview with Richard Branson.

01 October 2007

Starbucks, High Schoolers, and Drew's Infamous Coffee Rant

Driving home from Kroger tonight, I heard an interesting story on NPR. Starbucks is considering marketing their products to middle and high schoolers. What I don't get is why people think this is such a big deal. Surely caramel macchiatos are inherently aimed at kids. The US will never cease to amaze me. In our attempt to seem more sophisticated (simulated culture, but I've beat that horse to death...for now), we have turned towards corporate coffee houses to produce drinks that we can (barely) pass of as coffee that amount to nothing more than liquid candy. I like a cappuccino or a spiced chai as much as the next guy, but come on, even when we do get coffee we dump so much flavored syrup, sugar, and cream into it that all we've made is a warm, liquid Werther's Original.

My first experience with coffee (namely, cappuccino) was while I was living in Germany. It was an occasional thing for when my family went out at night. This was normally during vacations. And it was good. But it was also bitter. If an American college student got one sip of straight espresso or a traditional latte, they would spit it out. There's a reason I didn't start drinking straight coffee (and by straight, I mean sans-sweeteners) until late in my junior year in high school - coffee is an acquired taste too strong for most young people - and many older people.

The satirist who discussed the marketing change made a few good points. Saying that he's been to too many birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese and that the café atmosphere would do American youth culture good, the reporter supported the idea (the downside, he mentions, being that kids who are already hyper might very well ruin the mood of the café). And I'm all for giving kids some culture. I take the success of SpongeBob as a sign of the falling of American culture and love the idea of ninth graders discussing philosophy as non-mass-produced music plays gently over the stereo. But is Starbucks really the best place for that? Starbucks, the mass-produced counter-culture? I enjoy coffee shops, I really really do, but because they offer this unique feel. One of my favorites is an old service garage in one of the prettier parts of Athens. But every Starbucks I've ever been in has looked the same, including the one in downtown Athens (and the one on the west side of Athens...yeah, we have a lot of coffee shops). I'm willing to bet that your local Starbucks has a light-stain hard wood for tables, the floor, and chairs. lamps hanging over the cash-register; a black counter. a selection of pastries on display to the immediate left/right of the register; and on the other side, five feet away, a black table where orders are delivered. It probably has trendy music for sale - really, it's just old classics repackaged, with some Nora Jones thrown in for good measure (no offense meant to Ms. Jones).

On another note, why do we wonder why kids are such discipline problems if we let them guzzle coffee, soda, and energy drinks? "Here, kid, drink this. I don't know what it is but it has three times the caffeine of a Red Bull." (On this note, they are now marketing caffeinated gum to college students). I can't really talk about coffee addiction too much - my daily habit is four cups, at least. But at least I waited until college. I was a one cup a day type of guy back in high school. Maybe a second if I went to a coffee shop later the day.

In short, I think if we want our kids to have an appreciation for the café culture, then we are going to have to reexamine our coffee houses. There's nothing wrong with a ninth grader enjoying a dark roasted coffee over jazz and a philosophical discussion with a friend, but if they (or we) think that Starbucks is high culture, we're very, very screwed.

Rock on.

BlendTec Presents: Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris doesn't sleep. He waits.
The chief export of Chuck Norris is pain.
Chuck Norris has two speeds: walk; and kill.
Chuck Norris doesn't go hunting. He goes killing.
Chuck Norris - the only force in the universe strong enough to survive a BlendTec Total Blender.

Catch the video here.

The best part is if you look closely enough, you can see him at the top of the blender roundhouse kicking everything else.

26 September 2007

The Kingdom

One of the great parts about being a college student is that we are Hollywood's biggest target. As such, they send do free sneak previews of movies on campus quite often. I was lucky enough to get in and see The Kingdom on Tuesday night. And while they spent most of the time before the movie trying to shove commercialism down our throats (they asked one trivia question: What movie was being released on DVD that day? Answer: Knocked Up. Correct! Come over to the release party at one of the local bars. The unspoken message to everyone under 21: Don't forget your fakes), the movie itself was pretty good.

Most movies of this nature normally send one of two messages: "We're going to kill all of the towel-heads!" or "The US is a horrible, imperialistic nation and should stay away from the Middle East!". The Kingdom did neither. Instead, it starts with a very concise, yet detailed, history of the struggle between fundamentalists within Islam and the West. For the first time ever in a major Hollywood movie, wahhabism was mentioned and emphasized.

Over the course of the movie, Western views of Islam and Arabian culture are confronted as the Arabian characters are developed - religious devotion is demonstrated as some of the main characters go home to say the evening prayers with their families; there is a conversation with a former terrorist who discusses why he left the path of violence; a Saudi prince figures prominently into the story line, and his extravagant life style is well noted; the methods and beliefs of extremism within Islam are explored with disturbing detail.

The movie is very violent - there is no doubt about that. But not in the modern style of violence where you get shot and don't bleed. The fight scenes are very intense, rough, and bloody (it was odd to see Jennifer Garner in an action scene so far removed from those of Alias). For those who didn't deal well with Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan (the content of The Kingdom is somewhere in between the two), keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to see this movie. For those hoping for a typical action movie with constant explosions, chase scenes, and gun fights, don't hold your breath. The film spends a lot of time on character development, investigations, and cutting through red tape. The "R" rating for intense, sustained violence doesn't come in until the last half-hour or so of the movie.

Spoiler Warning: The last words of the movie are going to be disclosed below; don't highlight if you don't want to know. You have been warned.
The main point of the movie is delivered in the last lines. When asked, what two characters said (an FBI agent comforting a colleague over the loss of a friend, and a dying militant comforting his grandson), the answer is eerily similar: Don't worry, we will kill them all. With that in mind, you leave the theatre wondering about both sides' approach to the other. What hope is there for us as a civilization if our answer to the problem is to kill people? For my thoughts on the subject, see an old post (Emergent Qaeda).

In short, this movie is continuing the recent trend of action movies for the thinking man. Like Blood Diamond before it, and a large number of movies to be released in coming months, it brings some hope, but leaves you with more questions than answers, and above all, a feeling of urgency to do something. However, unlike Blood Diamond, the "what to do" is left up to the viewer.
End spoiler warning.

Rock on.

22 September 2007

Turns out they were right back in the 1950s...

I first came across this on Wikipedia and thought it was a joke. Nope. What seems like a set up for a 1950s sci-fi double feature is actually news...at least, on Al Jazeera.

Watch the video here.

31 August 2007

Common Sense Upside Down is Football Season

Athens is a very odd town. A true college town - erm, city - we have an amazing music scene, cheap college eats, and an eclectic make-up. But for some reason, Athens is upside down. Pay differences between faculty, admin, and those who actually work (IT, groundskeepers, food services, and grad students) aside, UGA is above all things, a football town. The Bulldogs are known for having great gymnastics and tennis teams, but football is what brings in the real money. And it's this fact that is the start of our problems.

The first major problem is tickets - UGA is a big school, with about 35,000 students total - including part time, "super seniors" , and grad students. And we have a stadium to match - Sanford Stadium holds more than 90,000 spectators. And yet not every student gets season tickets. Even giving every student season home tickets and allotting 5,000 for away students (and with the exception of major games such as USC, Auburn, and Tech, that's more than enough - I don't know of many people who'll make the trip out from Oklahoma to watch OSU take on UGA), there would still be enough room for more than 50,000 alumni and other fans. I understand that alumni tickets are a great way to bring in support. But the alumni had their chance to be in the sea of red during their four (or five or ten) years at UGA. And what better way to encourage alumni support than to treat the alumni well while they're still students? But instead, part time and fifth year students are on the bottom of the totem pole, my grad student friends only get three or four games, and not even full-time juniors get full season tickets.

Many students buy parking spaces on campus to keep from having to walk to class. Others buy parking spaces on campus because they live on campus. The lot you get assigned isn't determined by where you live. On game days, parking is a premium. It can cost anywhere between $10 to $25 - and that's parking a mile from the stadium. For a very select few (aka the big donors to UGA), parking is a gift from the university and is located on campus. However, this "gift" is actually just a student's parking space. Students who pay sever hundred dollars to park on campus, even those who live on campus, are forced to move their cars to parking lots a few miles from the main campus.

I live in a very nice condo. It's in a gated complex with a pool, a club house available for rent, courtyards in every building, and a laundry/tv/fitness center in the basement of my building. And plenty of parking. But many of the parking spaces cost $10,000. Yes, $10,000. They're "tailgating" spaces. That means that the people who buy them use them, on average, once a week...during the fall. Less than half a mile away is another tailgating lot. The spaces there cost $20,000. This doesn't include an overhang or a grill. Just the parking space. And it's about a mile to the stadium (though the spaces here do come with a shuttle to campus and a tailgate party where you can watch the game if you, like most people in town for the event, don't have tickets). I also go to a very nice church. It's a two minute walk from my place, small congregation, and home to Our Daily Bread, a ministry that provides meals to the poor and homeless. Some mornings I walk by on my way to work and see them asleep in the area around the church. $10,000 for a piece of asphalt - two minutes away from those who need all the help they can get just to get a warm meal.

On the note of tailgating, as you can tell from the real estate, it's very big business around here. I drove around tonight, nineteen hours before kickoff, and people were already setting up their tents and grills. Athens turns into a zoo. Historic North Campus gets trashed. As does the rest of Athens. You can walk around after a game and find the abandon food - much of it unopened - along with all of the trash from the day. Imagine a dump, add some beautiful old buildings, and you have campus on game night. Between the cost of food, clean up, and replacing the grass (which had to be done every spring because the lawn can't stand up to that type of a beating), the amount of money that gets spent every season is absurd. Especially when you figure in how much students pay just to take a semester's worth of classes.

I'm not a football fan, so maybe I just don't get it. I would appreciate a good season this year, but I'm not prepared to spend a ton of money just to be on the same campus as the game. But even if I were a fan of the sport and not just the team, I would hope I would have the good sense to find a better use for my money. Perhaps giving it to Our Daily Bread instead of Tailgate Station. As a student who didn't bother to spend the time or money to get tickets this year, I plan on listening to Larry Munson call the home games and maybe enjoy the USC and Auburn games from the bridge in front of the stadium. The best parts of the season are, apparently, free.

I wonder how long it will take UGA to start selling tickets to stand on the bridge...

Rock on.

19 August 2007

It's That Time Again...

The time when hundreds of dollars are being spent on textbooks; the time when new freshmen are wetting themselves out of fear; the time when all of the frats start doing massive damage to their livers and to the campus.

Yes, another school year is here. And I have a brand new sixteen hours to take care of. With courses in comparative lit, biology (complete with lab), poli sci, international affairs, and German, plus working thirteen hours (and looking for a less soul-crushing job), either my GPA or my blog will go down hill. And as much as I love my four dedicated readers, I'd rather keep my scholarship. Hopefully, I'll find time to post on the weekends or from my biology class (just kidding mom...sort of).

As for the last few weeks, I haven't updated because all of my friends are back in town. Yea!


04 August 2007

Confession of the Modern Church

All of the flair, this pomp, this flash - in the end, it is worth less than a pile of ashes. Our attempts to modernize, to make God "accessible" and like us, to make worship casual have cheapened it horribly. We forsake the meaningful words of the liturgy in the name of avoiding vain repetition. In its stead we put mass-produced pop songs with no more spiritual significance than Green Eggs and Ham. Those that maintain the liturgy do so not for the meaning, but for the fear of change. So-called traditional worship is maintained for us to feel secure and we utter the words in conformance rather than praise. Denominations are now points of pride rather than belief, and we take solace not in the Blood of Christ, but our own assurance that our group is right.

We flee the old ways of the Church and into the discriminating arms of modernism. Worship is now to be consumed like an hour-long television program. We convince ourselves that Christianity can be popular, cool, consumed, and marketed. We long to show the world that we are different, but the same - that we can walk with Christ without going anywhere at all. No longer do we care for the poor unless it advances our own reputation. Instead, our attention is turned inward. Our outreach comes in the form of a rock concert and our renovation goes to our own buildings. Our service projects serve us, not others. We raise funds for sound systems, not our down-trodden neighbors. We as the Church of Christ have joined the mainstream and look to money and numbers for salvation.

May the Lord forgive us and bring us back to him.

Rock on.

31 July 2007

Emergent Qaeda; or Why the Christian Right Is al Qaeda's Ally and Enemy

According to Frank Pastore, al Qaeda supports the Emergent Church - I read it on the internet, so it must be true!

I love sarcasm, so when I came upon Jordan Green's response, I giggled like a schoolgirl for nearly ten minutes. Especially this little tidbit on fundamentalist Christianity and Islam: "They both think Jesus was alright, but he didn’t kick enough ass."

For those with neither the time nor attention span to read either of the articles, I will attempt to summarize: Frank Pastore claims that radical Islam is bent on converting the world (caution: those who are allergic to BS may want to stop reading here) and that only America can stop it. And out of the Americans, only the conservatives, and more specifically, the Conservative Christians, are capable of stopping this threat (I get the feeling that radical Muslims believe they are the only ones who can save the world from conservative Christians). Pastore goes on to claim that Christianity is the driving force of the world, from Constantine to Bush, and that all art and philosophy owe Christianity (which, in turn, owes the ancient Greeks, especially the Athenians, namely Plato; this is, of course, excepting Aquinas, who owes Muslims, who in turn owe Aristotle, who owes Plato - longer train, same destination). Of course, what Pastore is really saying is that the gun is the only way to solve anything, and conservative Christians are the only people with the balls to pull the trigger. Accordingly, he claims that the Emergent, post-modern Christians would rather sit around and talk over coffee, and is therefore willing to let al Qaeda take over the world.

He's right. I would much rather sit around over coffee and talk rather than fight, though I would not nod "in agreement that America probably deserved to die". And while I disagree with some of the more liberal leaders of post-modern Christianity over just war theory, even I would rather feed the hungry than kill the warlord who's starving them. But I doubt that this is what al Qaeda wants, for a group of the supposed enemy to do good deeds. To build up an army of angry youth, you need one thing - angry youth. And it's hard to be pissed at the person who just taught you better farming techniques, dug a well in your town, and is now treating you to coffee (an amazing similarity between the Middle East and the US).

Pastore claims that post-modern Christianity dislikes truth, knowledge, science, authority, doctrine, institutions, and religion. That's an out-right lie. Anybody who's ever spoken with a post-modern Christian will know that they are searching for truth and knowledge, depend on science, respect the authority of God, and even hold their own doctrines (though they don't force them on others as a means of salvation). Granted, I don't much care for institutionalized religion, but neither did Jesus.

In the essay, the Emergent Church is summarized this way:
"Bottom line, it's feelings over thoughts, the heart over the head, experience over truth, deeds over creeds, narratives over propositions, the corporate over the individualistic, being inclusive rather than exclusive, with none of that offensive 'in versus out' language, such as those who are “saved” and those who are 'not saved,' or even the most divisive of all referents–'Christian' and 'non-Christian.'" I'm still waiting for the bad part.

No, post-modern Christianity is probably actually a pretty big threat to Wahabi Islam. Instead, the abuses of the Christian Right provide al Qaeda with all of the pissed-off youth the could ever need. It's easy to be mad at the person who calls for war instead of peace, the person who doesn't respect your point of view and brands your faith as evil, the person who, even accidentally, bombs your village. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we should just throw down our weapons and leave Iraq and Afghanistan. But I do think if we focus more on humanitarian missions instead of detaining prisoners, we would notice a lot less angry teens. As both fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity compete for the control of governments and corporations, it will become a war of attrition - and the Islamic side has a lot more kids to anger.

Rock on.

24 July 2007

School, Work, and Little Time

It seems like just a few months ago that I was taking a break from posting because of the end of the semester's strenuous work load.

Wait, it was only a few months ago! Which is why it sucks that the time has come around again. Summer session is ending, and I will soon have another thirteen hours under my belt, and a new job to boot. So, I must jump ship for the next week and a half or so and devote myself to studying German, revising essays, and working at the worst dinning hall on campus (which is actually about equal to the best on most other campuses, but still...)

I'll be back. In the meantime, check out this horrible video my friends and I did - conceived, filmed, and edited in less than ten hours and at no cost except our dignity. And when you're done with that, watch an entire IT infrastructure go into a BlendTec Total Blender, courtesy of Will It Blend?


14 July 2007

UGA Episode IV: A New HOPE

For those who don't know, Georgia has an amazing scholarship that I alluded to in my last post. It's for all Georgia residents who are attending a Georgia college and maintain above a 3.0.

What's so amazing about this is that it covers your tuition for up to 127 credit hours as long as you take a full schedule, which is 12 hours during Fall and Spring semesters. I think some of the exact requirements for hours vary from school to school, but the important thing is that this is a bloody amazing scholarship.

But it's called HOPE. So, especially at Georgia Tech, you will, most likely, lose HOPE during your four years. Many students around the state lose HOPE after just one year in school. While you can earn HOPE back, to do so is almost as soul-crushing as losing HOPE in the first place.

And while HOPE stands for Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally, nobody ever says the full name. No, you're not losing the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally Scholarship, you're losing HOPE. And once you've lost HOPE, life has no meaning. It's almost as bad as losing coffee. College just isn't possible without it.

So I propose that we change the name of the HOPE. Let's call it Tuition Elimination Exemplified To Battle Overpriced Official Kolleges For Everybody Everywhere Scholarship, or TEXTBOOK FEES for short. In keeping with government tradition, the title has been sacrificed to make for a better acronym. I think that generally speaking, a student could make it through college without TEXTBOOK FEES. Heck, it might even make it more enjoyable. Without TEXTBOOK FEES, college could become a place of sunshine, puppies, and professors who know your name.

Here's hoping.

13 July 2007

Thank God Pastors Can't Be Outsourced

It means I'll always have a job to look forward to. Though satellite churches suggest that the preaching side could possibly be shipped overseas...

I have finally had a chance to start on Friedman's The World Is Flat, and I'm slightly frightened. While I applaud the ability to take jobs to middle class Asian youth (though I still have my doubts as to whether or not globalization can do anything but harm the Asian poor and under-developed nations, and the moving of jobs to Mexico and other third-world countries is a topic entirely undiscussed in - expect a post on how the flattened world crushed South American and Africa), I cannot find any benefit to working class Americans. Mr. Friedman argues that while outsourcing may cut phone service jobs, it is good for American business because these Indian agencies are using American products - from software to bottled water. Yet on the very next page, he talks about how R&D is being outsourced. And anyone who's ever bought an electronic device in the past ten years knows that production has been moved overseas as well. So if research, production, and service have all been sent to southeast Asia, which Americans are seeing the benefits? Stockholders and the upper class business owners. While prices are theoretically falling (and I cannot stress the "theoretically" enough), what good does that do if the working class has no source of income in the first place?

It seems amazing what is being outsourced these days. The book starts by discussing the use of Indian firms for accounting. Yup, your CPA may very well be sending your taxes to Bangalore. By extension, to all my friends are accounting majors, I suggest you either get really good at what you do or find a job that must be done in person). As it turns out, your CAT scan may also be read by a tech in Bangalore. And most surprisingly, research assistantships, the bread and butter of many college students, are being sent to Bangalore (described as the Silicon Valley of India). For about $2000 a month, you can have all of your research done and summarized for you (sadly, this falls out of the price range of college and grad students).

I don't like to think of things as American v. non-American, but in this case, it's hard not to. Most recipients of these outsourced tele-service jobs are earning $200-$500 a month - a living wage in India. Including insurance and housing pushes the wage up to perhaps $700 a month. And this is to employ a college graduate, a professional. No American, especially one with a family, can compete with that. My friend, a college graduate, was offered a $10/hour full time job in Seattle and still may not be able to afford to live there. My $6.25/hour job on campus* is pushing it for most students, and that's in a college town, land of cheap food (for all who are curious, Ramen is 14 cents a pack now) and $1 movies.
*The most Food Service allows a student to work is 40 hrs/wk, meaning the most a student could could make is $1000 a month, before taxes. That 40 hours is on top of at least a 12 hour schedule.

This outsourcing is, of course, helping India's economy. Eventually, inflation will catch up, and the economy will grow to where $700/month will not be a living wage. The same is true of other outsourcing centers, such as Thailand. So at best, the cheap labor pool is temporary. Unfortunately, "temporary" can be a long time.

Rock on.

11 July 2007


The iPhone blends!

Check out the video at what can only be described as the single greatest commercial site ever: Will It Blend?

Ro...erm...Blend on.

07 July 2007

The Call 2007

Today is 7 July 2007, or 07/07/07. I know a few people who have birthdays today, but other than that, it is completely unremarkable.

Unless, that is, you are attending The Call - a Christian political demonstration, disguised as mass fasting, being held in Nashville.

The leader of this movement, Lou Engle. Mr. Engle claims that the idea for the Call was inspired by the Holy Ghost and that it is a result of multiple prophecies - not in the sense of the prophets of Ancient Israel speaking in the name of God, but in the smarmiest future-telling sense. Apparently, Bob Jones prophesied that the Houston Oilers would move to Nashville, and that their stadium would play host to a fast, and Mr. Engle himself believes that he and others have been predicting this event for quite some time (very convenient, if you ask me, that the planner saw this coming).

The event is in response to a few things. First, the 2006 election. From the Call's website: "The Church and the nation are in a crisis! In no uncertain terms, the elections of 2006 showed us that there is no clear moral foundation upon which the nation votes." Apparently, the Republican Party has ceased to align itself with morals, and this resulted in God ousting them from power (but as we all know, God doesn't like Democrats; the Republicans, then, are like Israel being defeated by the Assyrians*) Second, this is the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Love. Because we all know how evil hippies are.* Thirdly, a woman blindly wrote Mr. Engle a $100,000 check and told him about it as he pondered how to call attention to the moral crisis the US is facing. (*I can not stress enough the level of sarcasm that these statements should be read with.)

On the first issue: I fail to see how the 2006 election shows that the voting citizens of the US lack a "clear moral foundation". If anything, I would say that a nation tired of fighting and an administration concerned primarily with foreign policy actually voting out a rubber stamp congress shows that the voters have an idea of what they're voting for. And since when is Congress around to legislate morality anyway? Protect the people, yes, but tell them what system of morality they should hold, no. Those participating in the Call fail to recognize our status as the first nation born of the Enlightenment. The freedom to choose for ourselves which morals we will uphold is what makes us distinct, not our imagined Judeo-Christian foundation. Congress should be more concerned with helping the poor, not keeping same-sex marriage out of the nation. Oddly enough, I think Christ would support welfare reform and getting help where it is needed.

On the second: The Summer of Love - yes, it included drug use and open sex. But it also included free health care, food, and the basic necessities of what we see as living - toothbrushes, soap, and the like. Was it in the name of Christ? No. But I fail to see how helping the needy and loving others is ever a bad thing. They claim that a "spirit of worship" was released and was not directed at God. Ok. This has absolutely no meaning and creates more questions than answers. Who was worshiping whom? What is a "spirit of worship" in terms of something that can be released (this implies that it is in bondage)? Who decided to release this spirit?

On the third: Aren't there better ways to call attention to an issue than fasting? Wasting $100,000 dollars renting out a stadium and and creating publicity does nothing to convince people that there is anything wrong with this country. I believe that there is a problem with this nation and it's priorities, but also think the way we as the Church waste money on crap like this is part of it. You want to convince people that this is for real? Use the money to help those in New Orleans - go to one of the neediest cities in the world and help to take people out of this cycle of depravity - stop poverty, which leads to violence and drug use, which leads to prison time, which leads to more poverty. Spend the money on schools, food, and health care. The hippies in 67 had it right. Even fast while you're working. But there are much, much better things that the money paying for this event can go towards.

Frankly, I am disgusted that the leaders of this event have designed a political protest and dressed it in religious clothing. You want to protest the Democratic congress? Go ahead, but don't do it in the name of the Church. I participate in a fast called the Thirty Hour Famine, as do many church youth groups. This is put on by a Christian organization and many do it because they love God. But it is a small-scale hunger strike for political reasons, and there are few questions about that. This is exactly what the Call is, though less honest about their actual intentions.

I will agree, as previously stated, that there is a moral crisis in this country. I don't think that Democrats or Republicans are part of it (though possibly the actions of politicians are). The moral crisis is that we believe in a self-gratifying country. It is all about me. Spend money on mansions, have guilt-free sex, ignore those who are of no use to me. Hollywood continues to put out movies that show this as a desirable lifestyle. The actors and musicians who call for helping the poor live in multimillion dollar houses, own upwards of five cars, and receive all the free crap they can handle for doing charity concerts. Politicians who claim to care for the lower class live the same lifestyle. And the Church is more concerned with putting on big events to call attention to fasting (I seem to recall Jesus saying something about this...meh, it's probably nothing) is part of the problem, not the solution.

Rock on.

04 July 2007

Nothing Says America Like Blowing *Expletive* Up

The Fourth of July is an interesting holiday, especially in Georgia. Here, it is illegal to buy, sell, or set off fireworks (though you can own them). Which means one thing: for those of us with the time and money, a trip to the nearest state border to buy the "goods". Then, the search begins for an empty field (unless you're lucky enough to have friends or family with large tracks of land). Because nothing says America like a few broken laws and explosions.

Really, though, why do we celebrate Independence Day the way we do? Fireworks are Chinese. Bratwurst, Hamburgers, and Frankfurters are German. Beer is Mesopotamian, though the Germans perfected it. Most of our national music can trace its origins, at least stylistically, to Britain. Even the ideals on which this nation are based, the Enlightenment, is really a product of Europe, we are just the grand experiment.

I think these many traditions show that the US really is a melting pot (please forgive the cliché). Every time a new group of immigrants comes in, they are initially met with resistance (the Irish, the Chinese, and now the Mexicans), but sooner or later, their culture is adopted. It remains unique, but blends so perfectly. All one has to do is read a high school yearbook and see the long list of last names and consider their origins. And this is what we are celebrating, and doing so through application. John Adams, two days before the Declaration of Independence was adopted, told his wife that he hoped the nation would mark the occasion's anniversary with parties, sports, parades, music, illuminations, bonfires, and, in general, a good time.

"But Drew, should Christians take part in celebrations of countries when we are called to be 'not of this world'?"
Well, Timmy, I'm glad you asked (ok, so there is no Timmy, but I couldn't think of a transition).

I've heard both sides of this argument, and think that both hold some validity. Obviously, the idea that God favors the US over other nations and Americans over other people is baseless and pretty stupid. God loves everybody regardless of national identity (or anything else, and I think that some in the so-called Christian right would do well to remember this). But I do think that God favors free nations, and the US is among the first. Many of the prophetic books of the Old Testament show God's favor for the oppressed, and as the US and other free nations attempt to become the "new colossus", I think God supports them.

The second argument I've heard is that it's pointless to be proud of the country you were born into, as you have no say in the matter. If this is the case, it is just as pointless to be proud of family members. Should we think that our nation is the best? Certainly not. We've made our mistakes, and will continue to do so. But to condemn those who appreciate their nation and national identity is as equally mistaken as vitriolic nationalism. I would suggest that the disagreement over patriotism comes from differing definitions of the word pride. One suggests the pompous, arrogant attitude of nationalism. This is always wrong - this pride does, in fact, come before the fall. But there's also pride in the sense of appreciation - I appreciate the nation I was fortunate enough to be born into. Though I do admit, it is a fine line to walk.

Rock on.

29 June 2007

Blue Like Miller

My Intro to Religious Thought teacher is, in essence, the embodiment of post-modern philosophy. Raised as a conservative Methodist, he majored in Religion as an undergrad, and, as all Religion majors, realized that Christianity is not as simple as it seems. And, as all young adults coming to that this realization, faced the accompanying crisis of faith. After all, if you can accept that most of Genesis is exaggeration (at best, and this is not to mention all of the other things you learn about the Bible in school) and not notice an impact in your faith, something is probably very wrong with you. Studying those like Nietzsche and coming to the realization that you cannot prove what you believe tends to do that to you. Post-modernism is, really, the philosophy of rejection. All our lives are stories, and nobody's story can be correct.

It is into this time that we see (and need) a post-modern response to a post-modern philosophy. Whether or not they claim to be a part of the Emergent movement or not, authors like Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, and Rob Bell provide this response. And most popular among them (at least among the youth group masses) is Donald Miller. I'll admit, his books are probably among my favorite. You laugh, wonder, think, grow angry, and hopefully, learn. Christianity Today's review of Miller (not his books, but the man himself) says Miller is "often described as 'irreverent' or 'bohemian'". Which means one thing: he fits in with the rest of the world born after 1970.

Though the article focuses, in the beginning, on Miller's current aging-yet-relevant style of being (the author mentions that he is starting to have those mid-age moments, meeting a friend and asking, "Hey, how's your wife feeling these days?"), it later goes on to discuss this new trend of the Christian experience as a whole. Quoting one fan, we read, "I love Blue Like Jazz because it's, like, a Christian book, but it doesn't make you feel bad about yourself." Which means one thing (well, several, but I'll focus on this one): Nietzsche was wrong when he said that guilt is inherent in Christianity. Instead, Miller would probably argue, and I will agree, that Christianity is a post-modern religion. It's about our stories. God's story about how much he loves humanity, humanity's story about how we are trying to get back to God, and our own stories about how we relate to God and humanity. Miller is quoted as saying, "The chief role of a Christian is to tell a better story."

And, as the article points out, this is how Miller writes. Blue Like Jazz is the story of Miller going through life and learning. Searching for God Knows What is a collection of essays drawing from stories - his story of developing his own sense of evangelism, realizing that the world is fallen and needs God's help, and thinking about the role of the Church. In fact, Miller has one book that is really just one long story punctuated with moments of philosophical clarity; Through Painted Deserts is about how Miller discovered Portland.

As the masses start to wake up and smell the stories, they will need leaders, or at the very least, influences. Whether or not he wants to be, Don Miller has taken that position.

So, what's your story?

Rock on.

20 June 2007

I was gonna...

...write a review of Christianity Today's cover story on Donald Miller over the weekend. However, I decided to shave my head instead.

Now, I just got out of a Religion test, have a German test tomorrow, and an English paper due Monday. In other words, I don't have time this week. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that I'll be back with my review as early as Friday, as late as Monday. Not sure which, yet.

Back soon.


14 June 2007

The Passing of Ruth Graham

It saddens me to announce that Ruth Graham, wife to Billy Graham, passed away today. She was 87.

I hope that you will join me in praying for the Graham family and in honoring the life of such a wonderful woman.

Of his wife, Mr. Graham had this to say:
"Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team. No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support."

Intro to Religious Thought (or: What They Don't Teach in Sunday School)

The academic study of religion is the most thoroughly depressing field out there. I'm pretty sure of it. It shouldn't be, but it is. They take everything you believe and show you how stupid it is to believe in it. All interpretations (at least according to my professor, and yes he means all, as in every, including those by non-believers) are wrong (yeah, he's a big fan of Nietzsche, for those who were wondering). What's weird is when you get home and realize you still believe, despite how incredible the beliefs are. There's an old joke I once heard, that if you have enough faith to still believe after going through Seminary, you have enough faith to be a preacher. I'm starting to think the same is true for religion majors. This reminds me of a mewithoutYou quote, "We have all our beliefs, but we don't want our beliefs; God of Peace, we want you."

The problem with the way we teach beliefs in modern churches is that we claim them to be fact. In the most conservative churches, it goes without question that Moses wrote the Torah, the world was created in seven days, we are the only religion to hold this view, there was a flood, we are the only people who believe in a Noah figure, the Patriarchs are all very real, we can prove that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, and the Bible has absolutely no contradictions, historical or otherwise. In reality, the Torah has four sources and probably more authors, our TWO accounts of creation coincide with accounts from all over the Near and Middle East, the Epic of Gilgamesh recounts a flood and an ark, there is not proof for any of the Patriarchs, least of all Joseph, who should have proof, and no proof of Israelite presence in Egypt. On top of that, the mention of iron and the Philistines should not be in the Torah, as neither would not be in Canaan until after 1200 BCE. Not to mention the fact that there are multiple versions of the texts we found at the Dead Sea, especially Isaiah, on who's prophecies much of our understanding of Jesus as Christ is based. It's quite sad to listen to the students in my class who haven't been introduced to these ideas until now. Their entire faith is shattering before them (though whether or not their faith should be based on creationism is another topic).

Then there are the ideas that nobody sees coming, no matter how progressive of a church they attended or how much study they do on their own. The idea that the Israelites worshiped multiple gods, that the Hebrew Bible affirms the existence of multiple gods, the idea that God had to wrestle a sea monster during creation, the suggestion that Noah's son slept with him while he was drunk, and the idea that Mary very possibly wasn't a virgin. Even though these ideas are not as wide-spread as the first, they'll still through you for a loop the first time you hear them.

So why isn't the Church teaching its members to think? Why is it that you don't hear these ideas until you get into the lecture hall? I'm not saying they should be a part of every sermon, but they are certainly things that older Christians should be concerned with. These are serious problems for our faith and if we want to be able to say we have a relationship with God and that we understand our faith and where it comes from, these are issues that need to be addressed.

On the issue of where our faith comes from, why is it that we don't look into the Israelite background of our faith? What makes Jesus distinct from all these other deities in the ancient world is not being born of a virgin or rising from the dead. It's the long, glorious history that culminates in Christ. Almost as if God looked around at all of these ancient cults and said, "Ha, watch this," and blew them all out of the water. If you don't learn about what distinguishes Jesus from others in the "divine man" genre of ancient history, then when you hear about these other "divinities", you face a tremendous crisis.

In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell says our faith should be more like a spring than a brick, in that it should be flexible (and springs can be used for trampolines and to invite people to come play, where as bricks can only be used in walls, to keep people out). When we raise people to have brick-like faith, when it comes time for someone to need to reexamine their faith, it shatters. When a person whose faith is like a spring reexamines their faith, they survive. How do we make our faith like a spring? By learning about it.

Rock on.

Edit: Ben Witherington expresses his thoughts on a similar subject at his blog.
My friend Pat writes on a broader sense of Christian complacency over at Notes from Underground.

10 June 2007


This just in. Joseph Lieberman will never be elected to anything ever again.

Poor chap.

Good, Clean, Christian Sex

I hear that sex is supposed to be fun. Like, a lot of fun. This comes from parents, friends, family, TV, the radio, and the movies. And I don't doubt that it is. I have a question, though. Why is it that what I hear from most churches is that sex is God's gift to married couples? Why do we leave it at that? It's either this one line about how good sex is or a long list of "thou shalt not's" that if thou doest, make sex bad. Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for "free love" along with communion (though that would make for a catchy church sign and a great double entendre), but if sex is so great, why don't we discuss it more in church?

Sex is the greatest level of physical intimacy that humanity can have, yes? So it's no wonder that the Church is called the Bride of Christ, with the obvious intimate connotations that come with this, the description of Love that is inherent in this term. There's a reason we have an entire book that is little more than a love letter between two people in our Bible, despite the fact that this is often looked over (part of me is glad about this, as a sermon on the Song of Songs would be incredibly awkward). I know I'm just stating the obvious here; this is the same stuff you always hear in the obligatory youth group relationship talks. So why in the world are we not applying this?

The Church is going through something of a sexual revolution right now. By this, I mean that some on the progressive side of ministry are discussing sexuality as it pertains to faith. Not a list of what you can and can't do, but actually taking a look at how sex ties into our relationship with God. Rob Bell's new book has one of the most provocative titles in modern Christian writing: Sex. God. I was quite literally speechless when I first saw it. "Surely he can't have written a book about that!" I picked up a copy at the book store and was flipping through it. The first section is titled, "This Is Really About That". Then there is this little article from the Burnside Writers' Collective, which prompted this post, simply entitled "Sex, God, and Rock & Roll". Then there was the most awkward month of middle school youth group. It was our frank discussion on sex. This was meant to educate us. In public schools, discussions in sex ed are limited to talking about the basics. Nothing controversial (oddly enough, this is because of the Christian Right). So, to make sure that we weren't going blindly into the world of high school and sex, my youth pastor decided we would have four sessions of no-topic-off-limits sex talk. I assure you, this was quite unheard of in the suburbs of Columbia, SC, and most of my friends were quite shocked. Come to think of it, I think most people would still be shocked if this were to come up at most youth groups. All of this, I think, is for the better.

This leads us into the important question: What impact does it have on the world when the Church is afraid to discuss a gift from God? Well, it means that other people have to do the discussing. As the author of the article, Steve Simpson, points out, the porn industry is not afraid to talk about sex. The media is not afraid to talk about sex. This is where, then, people will go to learn about it. MTV and Ron Jeremy. I see in the dorms how good of a job they do in instilling good sexual values (or values of relationships in general). I thank God for those progressives in the Church that are not afraid to talk openly about sex because it's too important of a topic for Christians to not be involved in.

Rock on.

Edit: Something I thought and hoped I would never see - a Christian sex advice site. Somebody left a comment advertising for a web site "For Christian Husbands Only". And when I mean "sex advice site", I don't mean topics like "I struggle with lust/pornography/whatever", but "Keep Your Erection as Long as You Desire". This is another example of slapping the label of Christian on anything to make it all right. Sites like this, whether done in the name of God or not, still turn the focus of a marriage towards sex. Again, sex in marriage is a great thing. But it should not be the focus. And if there are sexual problems in a relationship, I would hope that the couple in question would have friends they could turn to for such advice.

07 June 2007

China, the US, and the 2008 Olympics

China is quickly emerging as the heir to the former Soviet Union's role as the second super power. China is among our biggest trade partners (seriously, find how many things in your house are marked with "Made in China"), one of the largest investors in the African continent, and the largest country in the world by population. It makes sense that such a model of the new and global economy would get the 2008 Olympics.

But should the US attend these games?

First, there is China's rights abuses in their own country. The fact that eighteen years after Tienanmen Square, they have yet to admit to any wrong doing or even allow for a memorial service in the Square itself does not demonstrate the type of nation that we should be supporting. (This is not to mention how many Chinese the Olympic construction has displaced, as Atlanta did the same thing on a smaller scale.)

Perhaps we as a nation should take a closer look at China's trading partners in Africa. Among them are the Sudan and Zimbabwe, two of the most notorious human rights abusers on the continent. China won't point out the speck in their trading partners' eyes with a plank in their own, but they won't remove their plank. China can hold tremendous sway in the reason and help to put an end to the Sudanese genocide, but instead of risking an economic advantage, they threaten to veto any UN sanctions on Sudan.

With the world on China as 2008 approaches, the US and other western nations have a great opportunity to shame China into shape. Threatening to boycott the Olympics, whose greatest supporters in recent times have been Americans, would force China to start reforming their rights policies.

But I don't see the US boycotting. China is our ally, and will be for some time, despite supporting the Khmer Rouge, despite its numerous rights abuses, and despite their support of genocidal African regimes. We want China to help us talk to North Korea. We want China to continue making our stuff. We want China. Our nation has essentially given China a get-out-of-jail-free card (or several).

Even if the US did decide to boycott, the American people would never allow it. To many rich business men are looking forward to going to the games. To many Americans depend on the Olympics to build up their national pride. NBC depends on the games to pull in advertising and viewers.

Five bucks says we would boycott the Cuban Olympics. Ten says we would boycott the Venezuelan games.

It kind of makes you wonder.

Rock on.

03 June 2007

The Kraft Effect

I think I may have made a major sociological break through over dinner. I was looking in my pantry, wondering what I should have: the Ramen or the Mac and Cheese. Suddenly, I had flashbacks of my childhood (granted, it wasn't that long ago) and all of the great foods: Mac and Cheese, Ramen noodles, Pop Tarts, cereal, Chewy granola bars, chicken tenders, and the like.

Then I looked around my kitchen, and oh crap, it's the same food. But just last year, I was dinning on the finest dinning hall foods (ok, most college kids can't say this): Philly cheese steak, smoothies, cheese cake, chili, mixed field green salads, and wonderful sandwiches. And through my last two years of high school, I had stepped away from my childhood favorites, developing a taste for vegetables, cheeses, and things that don't come out of a box. What happened?

The Kraft Effect.

The Kraft Effect can be depicted quite simply by a negative quadratic equation: as you move from childhood to a "zero year", your choice in food becomes more diverse. After the zero year, you begin to regress, with your food choices becoming more limited.

The reasons for the trend towards zero year is quite obvious, with the brain becoming more mature and more open minded, willing to try new foods. But what about as we move away from the zero year? I propose the following causes:
  1. Time - College/graduate students simply don't have the time to make anything more complicated than Easy Mac. The time buying the ingredients, cooking, and cleaning up? Ha. We have more important things. Like papers. And Facebook.
  2. Effort - What student wants to add more to his plate? Now your telling me that being in college isn't enough, but we have to learn to cook and clean as well? Ha.*
  3. Money - Easy Mac? Cheap. Store-brand Easy Mac? Cheaper. Ramen? Cheapest. Because, like with time, we have more important things to use money for, such as textbooks. And concert tickets.
  4. Taste - Seriously, I'm a little disturbed that store-brand Easy Mac tastes that good. Any cheese-sauce product that doesn't even require milk cannot possibly be healthy. But, oh is it addictive. Kinda like uncooked Ramen.
Yes, I expect that this new principle may help the world understand the student better. Of course, this is mostly just a theory. No scientist has dared trek into the hazardous native environment of the college student, and I expect that they won't for quite some time.

*This factor also explains why the undistinguished palate is only present in the dorms/apartments of students. You will observe that at restaurants, students avoid simple noodle/pasta dishes at all costs.

Rock on.

30 May 2007

Georgia to Do Away with Two Diplomas

For those who don't know, Georgia high schools have previously offered two different seals on high school diplomas. One is the college prep seal. The meaning behind this seal is obvious: the courses the student has completed courses to get ready for college. The second seal is a vocational seal. Students take standard math and English classes, geography, and such, but instead of going into advanced classes, such as the upper maths and sciences, and some history classes, they take courses in welding, carpentry, auto repair, and computer sciences (to name a few). The seal, at least at my old high school, required that they take three classes from the same group (three consecutive welding classes, for example). Most of my friends who were on this track planned on going on to trade schools and working in construction or car shops.

The two seals had a few basic requirements in common: English composition, basic maths and sciences, and introductory social sciences. They then gradually moved apart as the college-bound prepared for their trek to higher learning and the future manual-laborers learned the general practices of their trade. Obviously, this system was not perfect, as both could probably stand a little more in the way of foreign language instruction and practical mathematics (money management classes, things such as balancing a check book and keeping a budget).

The high school I attended for the first two years, Bradwell Institute, also offered a dual seal, meaning that the recipient took classes in both the upper-level arts and sciences and in technical areas (a fourth seal, the college prep honors seal went to those who took the honors and AP college prep classes).

The state, though, has decided that the vocational diploma discriminates between rural and urban schools, and on account of race and income level. Because of this, they plan to do away with it, saying that students need to be held to the same standard.

I am all for equality. But specialized education is also essential. You don't see them arguing for the removal of honors classes in Georgia. It is not just unreasonable, but also harmful to the students. Instead of wasting the future mechanic or hair-stylist's time with the Calc, Physics, and European History, put them in the classes that will prepare them for what they want to do. We say we want to prepare them for college, but they aren't going to college. We say we want to prepare them for life, but we are wasting their time with stuff they don't need. Our current education philosophy here in the US seems to be get everybody ready to go to Georgia Tech, MIT, and other technology centers, to prepare us for the future and global economy. I first call into doubt the idea of devoting our lives to technology, lest the Matrix come about voluntarily. But I do enough of that in other posts. Here I focus on becoming so single-minded in education that we have tunnel vision. Where will the dreamers go, the philosophers, theologians, and those who practice the arts, the writers, painters, and musicians, the performers and photographers? And those upon whose toil society is built in the most literal sense and whose sweat keeps life running like a well-oiled machine, what will become of them? Our way of life is built upon diversity, starting education. Let us keep it that way.

I have always lifted Georgia's dual-diploma system up as an example of what good education looks like. Teaching students what they want to learn and preparing them for what they want to do. I sincerely hope that this system stays in place.

For those in Georgia, please write to the Department of Education. Let them know how vital this program is.

Rock on.