Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Ache, But Not The Emptiness

I am re-reading Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series. I had forgotten how talented Koontz is at addressing momentous topics with creativity and seriousness. Close to the end of Odd Hours, Koontz writes the following:
"Grief can destroy you - or focus you.  You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone.  Or you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn't allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it's over and you're alone, you begin to see it wasn't just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill.  
 It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it.  The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can't get off your knees for a long time, you're driven to you knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss.  And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Importance of Fear

Bruce Feiler, who is neither Christian nor a practicing Jew, decided to read the first five books of the Old Testament as he traveled to the stories' historical locations in the Middle East. Among other things, he kept revisiting the impact of the geography in his understanding of events in the Bible. He offers the following perspective on the Desert in Walking The Bible: 
"The first lesson of the desert: By feeling uneasy and unsure, by fearing that you're out of your depth and therefore might falter, by feeling small, and alone, you begin - slowly, reluctantly, maybe even for the first time in your life - to consider turning somewhere else.... You eventually grow wary of the flat and easy, the commonplace and self-reliant. You begin to crave the depth, the height, the extremes. You begin to crave the fear."
I have experienced the "deserts" of my life - hard times in marriage, fears that came with a childhood diagnosis in my youngest son, my father's death, my DVT's, my recent heart attack. I like Mr. Feiler's description of his experience of the desert. It resonates. Those are the places where I was small, alone, and forced to turn to God in the midst of situation where I faltered. I find his assessment to be true: "When your god is self-reliance, and you let yourself down, there is nowhere else to turn."

As odd as it sounds, there is something to be said for the fear that is found in these places. Perhaps 'crave' is too strong of a word, but it's when the stakes are high that life matters in ways it does not when the way is flat and easy. There's a refinement of character that cannot happen in the safety of the common place. Often we don't realize how much ground we have covered until we look back. 

And then we begin to miss the fear again - not because we want to be afraid, but because those situations reminded us of that life is meaningful and important. I don't fear falling off my couch or stubbing my toe. I do fear falling off the roof, cutting more toes off in a lawn mower or having another heart attack. Why? Because the former are trivial, but the latter can potentially be profound. Fear reminds us of the parts of life that matter, and that is important in a culture where we are so distracted by triviality that the profound depth of life is too easily ignored. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Michigan's Proposal For Students With Gender Dysphoria: Is It The Best Solution?

Michigan is currently proposing a new set of guidelines to accommodate LGBTQ students ("The State Board of Education Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students").

Much of the proposal talks about training, sensitivity, and attempts to create a climate free of bullying or discrimination. I think those are goals we can all agree are worthwhile. Toward the end, the proposal gets more specific as it relates to students with gender dysphoria. This is where the policy presents a number of difficulties.

Let me be clear: what I’m about to say is not a commentary on the need to treat those who identify as transgendered with dignity. This is about public policy guidelines that seek to weigh everyone’s rights and promote the common good of all parties involved. I don’t believe this proposed policy does either. I will be highlighting several quotes that stood out to me and offering my concerns about the rationality and impact of this policy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Calamity (The Reckoners)

“Perseus had his magic horse, Aladdin had his lamp, and Old Testament David had his blessing from Jehovah. You want to fight a god? You’d better have one on your side too.” 

Calamity, the third installment in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners trilogy, continues a compelling
story of power, human nature, love, sacrifice, forgiveness, and an impressive array of super (and not so super) heroes.

In Calamity, we see David and the others face their greatest challenge yet: to restore rather than destroy someone who is evil. They have figured out how to take down Epics: find their fear – they all have one that will neutralize their power - and go for the kill. But when Prof gives in to the evil side of his Epic nature, they have to change their game plan. They need Prof - the 'god' referenced in the opening quote - to take down Calamity, the monstrous Epic who started this chaos. In order to have any confidence in this plan, they need to believe Prof can be freed of the calamitous evil that has consumed him.

This restoration will be monumentally hard. Calamity claims  “people are evil to the core.” If this is true, than those in whom Calamity’s power has manifested are doomed –as is the rest of the world. The Epics aren’t just supersized people; they are all immensely powerful villains. The more they use their power, the more they succumb to evil, and it always happens. Always.

Yet David sees hope. He does not believe people are doomed to failure, determined by their evil nature to succumb to Calamity’s poisoned power. He believes people are good. He's seen worlds in which good has prevailed even in the most fallen of the Epics. Granted, he is overly optimistic. He believes people are inherently good when the story makes clear that they aren’t (Calamity’s power doesn’t introduce evil to its victims; it merely makes the worst part of their nature overwhelming). Still, David’s hope is not unfounded. People change; why not Prof? It’s an obvious truth to him.

“I would watch the sun rise, and wish I could capture the moment. I never could. Pictures didn’t work—the sunrises never looked as spectacular on film. And eventually I realized, a sunrise isn’t a moment. It’s an event. You can’t capture a sunrise because it changes constantly—between eyeblinks the sun moves, the clouds swirl. It’s continually something new. “We’re not moments, Megan, you and me. We’re events. You say you might not be the same person you were a year ago? Well, who is? I’m sure not. We change, like swirling clouds and a rising sun. The cells in me have died, and new ones were born. My mind has changed… I’m not the same David. Yet I am.”
The ending will not surprise you, but the manner in which the journey unfolds is clever, compelling and insightful, as is always the case with Brandon Sanderson.  This is a series I have pushed my sons to read. The protagonist, David, is brave, loyal, and kind. His character is solid, and he longs for peace even as he enters a war that cannot be avoided. In the face of calamity, he clings to the hope of restoration and new life.

If he is going to lead the ones who bring about a reckoning, I’m in.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

North Carolina's 'Bathroom Law' And The Tension of Comfort And Safety

The recent 'bathroom law' in North Carolina has provided the flashpoint for an important question: Should people who were born biologically male or female have a right to use the bathroom or locker room that matches their chosen gender identity?

Generally, proponents of gender-inclusive facilities have two key reasons: the discomfort for both the person and those around them if they are in a bathroom at odds with their appearance, and the danger that may accompany a scenario like that. On the other hand, opponents have two concerns: the unexpected, unwelcome nudity of opposite-sex genitalia (particularly in locker rooms), and the disruption of privacy in a 'safe' room where the expectation is that people are surrounded by peers of the same sex.

There is a lot to be said about this issue, of course.  Currently, most of the focus is on helping transgender people feel comfortable and safe. That's an appropriate concern, but it's incomplete. What about the comfort and safety of women and children? Shouldn't they be considered as well? (1) And are we stuck in an either/or dilemma, or is there a solution?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

"I bet your parents taught you that you mean something, that you're here for a reason. My parents taught me a different lesson, dying in the gutter for no reason at all... They taught me the world only makes sense if you force it to." - Bruce Wayne

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has given critics plenty of reason to rant. As far as the art of film goes, it leaves a lot to be desired (though I must confess, I enjoyed it enough to see it twice). However, my goal is not to critique the movie as art but to look at the some of the worldview messages either embedded or preached in it.

Zach Snyder touched on a number of issues: terrorism, politics, power, genetic engineering and religion, to name a few. The one that stood out to me as the core of the movie had to do with power. 

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s been three years since the unveiling of Superman to the world at the end of Man of Steel. Plenty of people are angry about what happened in Metropolis, but far more are in awe of this Kryptonian god. He stops terrorists; he saves people trapped by fire and flood; he carries the space shuttle on his shoulders. There’s just that pesky and increasingly vocal minority that worries that a Man of Steel might not have the morals to match to his muscles. Early on, a Senator voices what many are feeling: “The world has been so caught up with what he can do that no one has asked what he should do.” Not even Superman has a clear perspective on the latter question, and therein lies the problem.

Lex Luthor highlights what he calls the oldest lie in America: “power can be innocent.” Not that this bothers Lex, of course. He’s not concerned that people have power; he’s concerned that people other than himself have more power than he does. After all, Lex knows his own heart, and he assumes others will do with their power what he longs to accomplish. Lex has never known power to be blended with goodness; no wonder the idea of a God who is all-powerful and all-good makes no sense to him. Superman is neither, of course, but he’s the closest thing Lex has seen. The principle still applies. Superman has power; he must be corrupt. And he must be controlled.

While the movie does not do a great job making this plain, Bruce Wayne is a mess. He has given in to depression and isolation. He drinks himself to sleep at night. His crumbling mansion matches his crumbling morality, one which now justifies torturing criminals and savagely attacking gangs. A clearly jaded Alfred notes at one point, “That's how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men... cruel.” Bruce’s response? “Twenty years in Gotham. How many good guys are left? How many stay that way?” Not Bruce Wayne, that’s for sure. “We are criminals,” he tells Alfred. “We’ve always been criminals.”

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Beauty (#1-6)

“Two years ago,  a new sexually transmitted disease took the world by storm. This STD was unlike any other that had come before. This was a disease that people actually wanted. ‘Victims’ of this epidemic were physically changed by the virus. Fat melted away, thinning hair returned, skin blemishes faded, and their facial features slimmed.  It became known as The Beauty… Suddenly, perfect skin, flawless features, and a gorgeous body were only one sexual encounter away… Now, over half the country’s population  has the beauty, and the other half of the country hates them for it.”

The Beauty is built on an interesting premise: what if an STD (with only minimal side effects) made you beautiful? No more need for diet and exercise to get people to check you out. No more need for the average person to exercise self-discipline to maximize their genetic potential.  Beauty and overwhelming sexual desirability are just one lucky virus away. Who wouldn’t be tempted to become one of the elite? As you might expect, The Beauty spreads swiftly. 

But it turns out there’s a catch: a fairly horrible death is inevitable after one has been beautiful for a while. Fortunately, there’s a cure. Unfortunately, it appears that the cure will make the people as ugly as the virus made them beautiful. Throw in a Big Government/Big Pharma conspiracy to weed undesirables out of the population by not making the cure available for a while, and you’ve got a story for our times.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

X Misses The Spot: The New X-Files In A New Entertainment World

I loved the original X-Files. My largest high school research paper was on UFO's; X-Files was right in my wheelhouse. It was bold, creative, fun, creepy, and at times moving. It gave life to every conspiracy I wanted to believe was true - and a few that I didn't.

Mulder the believer, Scully the skeptic. More often than not, they hit a sweet spot between wanting to believe and refusing to do so. Chris Carter reminded us that wonder without science leads to mystical fanaticism, but science without wonder is impoverished when it refuses to see parts of reality that don't fit into a lab. The X-Files managed to challenge both ends of that spectrum while not entirely dismissing people who live on the fringe.

When it ended, I was really disappointed. Unfortunately, the new series has not recaptured the magic of the original series. I'm not sure it could.

I think of the X-Files as the foundation on which a lot of sci-fi/horror/conspiracy shows have been built. Like the original Star Trek, its place in the TV canon is solid. Like the original Star Trek, it was also eclipsed by its progeny. Other shows took the X-Files landscape and built on it, remade it, populated it with more and better of everything (except the original quirky charm): Fringe, Lost, Resurrection, Surface,  Supernatural, American Gothic, Wayward Pines, Millennium, Warehouse 13, Grimm, Miracles, Primeval, The Lone Gunmen.

Now the X-Files is back, but.. it's not.