30 June 2008

God Created Hanging Chads to Test Our Faith

This November, don't be surprised if a lot of voters don't choose to vote the traditional Red or Blue, but Purple instead. No, not for homosexuality, that's ridiculous! I mean for the King of Kings.

That's right, if certain evangelicals have their way, Jesus will be President. Never mind that white guys shouldn't have dreadlocks, least of all a scrawny bug-eyed one whose name sounds vaguely like a Scottish broadsword. I mean, honestly, why waste what could have been a kick-ass name driving around an eco-friendly bus blathering on about peace?

But that's not the point. The point is, it's one thing to think about the church and the state and the relationship between the two, but another thing entirely to ignore the specifics of historical situations in favor of sweeping generalizations. And you know when sweeping generalizations are involved, it's always better to sweep the leg than risk getting crane kicked in the face.

That last reference was a bit of a stretch. The next sentence is not. Whatever the similarities, and my own predisposition to distrust and dislike the government, the United States is not the Roman Empire. I'll grant that there are tons of similarities. I'll grant that there is a huge problem when a President conflates their own policies with God's and makes more than a slip-of-the-tongue's share of theological justifications to their actions. But, no President has ever claimed to God. That was John Lennon, and by the transitive property, Noel Gallagher.

This isn't about John Lennon or Noel Gallagher. Neither of them could even register to vote (even if Lennon were still alive). This is about the problem of getting Jesus into politics in the first place. When a Roman Emperor claims to be the Son of God, it would seem appropriate that the actual Son of God would want to counter that claim.

As far as I know, and as shitty a President as he's been, W's never claimed to be anyone's son but HW's, and I don't think Jesus particular cares to contend for that title. But if he did, it would make Barbara Bush a virgin, which, depending on your politics and the sensitivity of your imagination, might be a comforting thought.

Anyway, I don't think the idea of Jesus for President is particularly counter-cultural, at least not in the way Jesus as Lord and Savior was during the Roman Empire. If the Emperor claims to rule by virtue of being the Son of God, it's a big deal, politically speaking, to follow some subversive who makes the same claim without the world's biggest army backing him. If you believe nothing else about Jesus, you have to believe he had balls.

But a President is another thing. Elections in America may not be entirely fair, or entirely representative, or particularly well attended, but I don't know anyone under the illusion that the President gets to be President by being divine offspring. And I know a lot of crazy people. To say that we picked our Savior from among us is not an idea I've known many evangelicals to support.

Jesus doesn't get elected. Jesus takes names and kicks ass, but not in a Chuck Norris kind of way, in a redemptive way. My point is, for Christians, voting for Jesus was never an option. For Christians, Jesus gets to be whoever he says he is, regardless of whether or not anyone else agrees with (or votes for) him.

Anyway, Jesus was a liberal hippie.

25 June 2008

At Least the New York One Has a Good Theme Song

Allow me to explain why I love CSI (pick whichever variety you prefer). Sometimes, I don't want to do anything, but I also want to television to be on. Because CSI offers the right kind of drama (predictable), the right kind of dialogue (blunt, thoughtless, and again, predictable), and the right kind of acting (bland).

Essentially, CSI is the show to watch when you want to watch nothing. When nothing is on tv, at least one of those shows will be CSI, and it will be the one I chose. Because it took so little thought to make CSI, it takes less then no thought to watch it.

And I don't mean this as a criticism. Lots of people put lots of thought into making shows that take no thought to watch. It's television. If you want to be high brow about it, you have to pay for it, either by buying particular channels, or getting your complimentary tote bag from PBS.

CSI, on the other hand, has either discovered, derived, or stolen the perfect television formula. They don't have to be smart, just sound smart. And when I want to watch tv and not think about it (which is most of the time), I don't want to be distracted by someone trying hard to be smart.

On the other hand, I don't want to be distracted by someone trying to be shallow, like on reality tv. People who try to be shallow aren't shallow, they're fucked up, and it makes me mildly interested in them. The point is to be shallow, and the best way is to try to be smart, and it's what CSI does best.

And it occurs to me as I write this that CSI was the inspiration for a new major at the college I used to attend. Education is great.

23 June 2008

Love in the Time of Text Messaging

Supposedly, it's a good idea to write, even if it's not good, or you're not feeling inspired. Which is exactly why you all have to read this crap.

Remember when there was all this going-on about Generation X? And then, every six months or so, everyone wanted to come up with the catchy new name for the subsequent generation? I am a part of that generation!

AND, it's not as cool as it sounds. Generation X was characterized by a sense of hopelessness. They had non-traditional jobs, and non-traditional relationships, too much cocaine, and too much irony. Chuck Klosterman— the seminal Gen Xer—, in Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, describes the mind of every Gen Xer when he says, "the omnipresent sentiment [was] that the world was on the decline, but we were somehow destined to succeed individually."

So, growing up post-Generation X is like being Generation X's kid brother. I mean, some of us really are. That's not the point. The point is my generation simultaneously wants to be like Generation X in every way and unlike Generation X in all the exact same ways. It's pretty fucked up.

Think about social networking sites and YouTube. On a site like myspace or facebook, plenty of people have no qualms whatsoever about posting loads of pictures and personal information. And YouTube is much the same. Everybody uploads shitty quality videos of themselves doing average things at near-average levels of competence.

The post-Generation X generation— I won't bother with a name for now— is marked by the ubiquity of the individual. In reality, they become a non-individual. So, in a way, the best way to describe the post-Generation X generation would be to say that the omnipresent sentiment is that the individual is on the decline, but somehow, the world is destined to succeed.

The success of social networking sites and of sites like YouTube is not the success of individuals connecting to each other, but of the success of the collective identity of a generation of non-individuals at the expense of those actual individuals. So when the media labels the post-Generation X generation the "Look at me!" generation, the "me" in that statement can only mean the generation as a whole, and any individual who is a part of the generation.

And that's why I have a love/hate relationship with writing a blog. Because, in a way, it's a sincere attempt to improve my own writing and communicate what I hope are mildly interesting (by which I mean, mostly distracting and diverting) ideas. But in another way, blogging in a the era of the ubiquity of blogs is a way to eschew individualism in favor of attempting to discover an identity as a generation to whom too many identities have already been assigned.

19 June 2008

Apocalypse When We Get Around to It

Want to know how I know the world's ending? The signs are more subtle than you might think, but hey, at least there are only four.

  1. Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time covered in a "lite jazz" style. It's a cheap '80s pop tune that only ever made sense in the context of a bespectacled and be-afroed loser's awkward high school dance. It's difficult to imagine a time when Cyndi Lauper would actually be toned down to something simultaneously less offensive and less palatable.

  2. Celtics and the Lakers. I don't know that much about basketball. I don't even care, let's say, at all. But I thought the Celtics/Lakers rivalry ended by, say, 1990. And around that time, musicians started to really play up the irony routine (they knew what it was before, it just wasn't yet a fad). I just don't see that movement to irony being made in sports, because music pretends to be against the status quo, but sports always attempts to define it. Yet, I felt the same way watching the recent NBA playoffs between the Celtics and Lakers as I feel when I listen to music which pretends to be ironic but just winds up being shitty.

  3. Katie Couric replacing Tim Russert as Host of Meet the Press. The last I heard, this was still a rumor. For as long as I can remember knowing who she was, I've always felt convinced that Katie Couric— more probably than any other person— was entirely hollow. I don't mean only metaphorically, either. And I don't think that just because she's one of the few female anchors in what is undoubtedly a boy's club it's misogynistic to say she can't read the news. Connie Chung read the news just fine. Katie Couric, as stated, is hollow, and the effect on me of her reading the news is always a feeling, not that someone is reading the news, but that news is now sentient and reading itself to me. And that, friends, makes me uncomfortable.

  4. Doomsday predictions. I get that the devastation caused by natural disasters is hard to come to terms with, but I'm pretty sure that if it really is God's idea to punish a lot of people who aren't remotely to blame for the alleged sins of few boring aging homosexuals who only ever wanted to form lasting, mutually monogamous relationships, God winds up looking like kind of a dick. Plus, the more people who predict the apocalypse, the more likely it is that one of them will go batshit fucking insane and bring it down on all our heads themselves. And to that I say, "I totally saw that coming."

16 June 2008

On Patriotism.

Although meatiocrity has recently taken a sabbatical from religious news to address a broader variety of topics, at its heart, this is a blog about the ideas that are so entwined with life it becomes impossible to distinguish which gave rise to which.

As such, one of the most fascinating current events is the Zimbabwe election crisis. For those of you who don't remember, or are typical Americans, Robert Mugabe has been President of Zimbabwe since the free elections of 1980. Prior to that, he played a leading role in the guerrilla fighting which helped end both British colonial rule and white minority rule.

Mugabe is also known for leading Zimbabwe out of one of its worst humanitarian crises— the fight for independence—into the country's other worst humanitarian crisis of food shortages and economic collapse. More recently, as you'll gather from the article linked above, Mugabe is responsible for a variety of impediments to the current electoral process.

I think it's obvious that Mugabe is not a great leader. But I think there is something about him that sounds naggingly familiar. The idea of fighting off oppressive colonial powers, of internal struggle to form a nation from tribes and factions, of sussing out the distribution of power, of failing to form a stable government the first time around and eventually rewriting the constitution— it all pulls at the back of my mind.

It's because its not an unfamiliar story. It's the story of America's founding years. We had militias to fight the British, our first try at democracy collapsed, we continued to repel colonial influences after declaring independence, and we even elected a guerilla leader as our first president.

This isn't a moral judgment one way or the other. I'm not saying America is so bad, or that Robert Mugabe is the good guy. I'm not really saying anything about who's good and who's bad. I'm just saying, isn't it interesting that the formative events of revolution and independence and the formative ideas of freedom from foreign rule are common to both?

And if Mugabe is concerned that his presidential rival, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change, is too Western, there are any number of Americans upset that immigrants might be too culturally other than American. Mugabe's not exactly a role model, but he's also not that hard to understand.

I think anybody who's got an inkling of love for their country— especially America, or any other country who formed in similar fashion— is, in a way, not entirely unlike Robert Mugabe. We never had the opportunity to sabotage a run-off election by having activists murdered and arresting the opponent's second-in-command. We never had a chance to take land— and power— from the vestiges of our oppressors and redistribute it to honest patriots.

But, if we had the opportunity, I think we might not act that differently. We might spy on our democratic rivals or run smear campaigns against our republican enemies. We would certainly want to enact legislation to protect our country, or at least our idea of what our country it. That's what patriotism means.

15 June 2008

How to Be Ignored

A week ago, hundreds of churches agreed to pray together that they would be "one." This week, they'll all pray to be "dead." Never mind that it would have been much more efficient to pray for God to make them "one, dead," or "dead ones," or "one dead," like unified zombie army.

I will mention only this once how the website, the logo, and the banner on the upper right are so respectively web 2.0, iPod advertisement, and ONE.org that any quasi-spiritual hipster worried about postmodernism and the emergent church and relevance couldn't avoid getting on board with the plan to allow pastors nationwide to avoid preaching (or, at least, avoid stealing someone else's sermons) for a few weeks.

That's not what bothers me. Well, technically, it's not what bothers me most. The whole premise bothers me in the same way it bothers me that I have to rinse the sand out of my ass crack after I've been to the beach, even though nobody, to my knowledge, put sand down my trunks. I'm not so sure i'd like to ask God to make the church one in the same way I'm not so sure I want to found out how that sand got where it got.

Seminary taught me that the only times in history in which the church presented a unified front, it was either being persecuted, or persecuting others. It's not a great example. How about, some internal disagreement but nobody gets killed? It's just a thought.

I'm not saying it's actually that easy to disagree with others. I'm bothered by the thought that, in worrying about the unity of the church at large— not merely by praying to make us one in purpose or mission, but by producing and using videotaped sermons in a nationwide effort to present a unified front to the vague collection of "others who are not us"— the local significance of an individual church gets ignored.

So, you might wind up unified. You might also wind up a head-in-the-clouds congregation who cares more about esoteric global ideas and who are too involved in thinking about whatever tenuous connection they have to some vague good being done elsewhere to care about the folks in their immediate neighborhood.

God, make us many.

13 June 2008

Is Art a Battleground?

Some questions I have, as a response to a recent article:

What makes art offensive?

Is it the content?

Is it inherent in perception?

In presentation?

What is an appropriate response to being offended by art?

Is art that offends bad art?

When we are offended by art, ought we reflect why?

At what point does patronage become responsibility?

Who is held responsible for offense taken, artist, viewer, or sponsor?

What is the purpose of art?

Should art always offend?

Should art never offend?

What is the nature of taking offense?

What is the role of art in society?

What is the role of Christianity?

What is the role of art in Christianity?

What is the role of Christianity in art?

Should patrons of art be disallowed anonymity if they sponsor something considered objectionable?

How should art be funded?

Can art be more or less Christian?

What does it mean for Christianity when it no longer produces art?

What does it mean for art to be for or against Christianity?

Can art be Christian?

Can Christianity be artful?

Sorry, no answers this time.

11 June 2008

One, Two, Three Headlines

Sometimes, the news is awesome. Here are three examples, thanks to MSNBC:

I'm not dead yet.

Remember those vague bits of advice your dad gave you? Like, “keep your nose clean,” “wash behind your ears” and “never pet a burning dog?” One of the most memorable was “measure twice, cut once,” and it turns out it applies not only to making birdhouses and spice racks but to organ harvesting. That's a tough one to explain. “Sorry, Laz, we need your corneas, a kidney and part of your liver.”

Dubious honors.

Ask Lou Gehrig about how it is having something named after you. I'll bet his answer would be something like, “not great.” And while a catfish isn't quite in the same order of magnitude as a debilitating disease, I don't think I'd feel honored to have one named after me, let alone a thick-lipped one. Double points, however, for the snarky scientist who named a slime mold after President Bush.

Weird terrorists get no respect.

Pipe bombs suck, but a great way to improve them is, instead of having them fire off shrapnel, how about chicken nuggets? But I suppose even chicken nuggets could pack too much punch. Better send in the bomb squad. Only, I don't want to make that call. “Hey, bomb squad, we've got the road blocked off. It's safe to diffuse the chicken now.”

09 June 2008

More Undeniable Proof that Monkeys Are Awesome

I just can't get enough of monkeys and monkey-related news. And the best kind of monkey is a Hindu monkey god.

Lord Hanuman is pretty cool, as far as gods go. Sure, he can leap oceans and lift mountains and once lead a badass army of monkeys to victory over evil demons. All this might merely make Hanuman a target for a Marvel movie adaptation. But I think what's more impressive that he landed a gig as chairman of a business school without submitting a résumé, interviewing, or appearing visibly. I guess it's all who you know. Or, being a kickass deity.

05 June 2008

Jesus and the Oompa-Loompas

This post is a tangent. It is, technically, a post in its own right, but it's also a tangent and one significantly hefty enough that I felt it unfair to leave it as a comment attached to the original post to which it is a reply. Also, I wanted everyone to read it because at the end of the day— actually at all parts of the day— this blog's really about me.

So, some lost tribe— which is only called lost because we happened to accidently find them— is in the Amazon, and half of them are all done up like Oompa-Loompas and the other half like one half of an Amos 'n' Andy routine. To be fair, they wouldn't get those references. Which is probably not the thing which brings some people to wondering about whether or not we ought to send in the missionaries.

Which brings me to a tangent in a tangent: has anyone ever given serious thought to religion and spiritual practices among Oompa-Loompas?

But that's not the point. Except, in a way, it is the point. On one hand, someone says, yeah, go evangelize this tribe, or these Oompa-Loompas. It'll be good, character-building stuff for them. On the other hand, someone else thinks they should be left alone, preserved, because maybe contact with another culture so different from their own will end very badly. Like, for example, with their making candy for Willy Wonka.

Which doesn't sound bad, except that what is true of sausage is true of candy: you might want to eat it, but seeing it getting made will lead you to write a novel exposing its horrors to the public and fast-tracking government regulations on food preparation. If you're Upton Sinclair.

As is the trend so far (I'm being explicit for those of you who are a bit slow), I mean the Oompa-loompas and I also mean that Amazonian tribe who may or may not need to hear about Jesus and the Gospel. It may not be a good analogy, but I'm going with it anyway. I hear it's good exercise. And by hear, I mean, made up just now.

I always wondered how well the Oompa-Loompas liked working for Willy Wonka. Were they on the level of slaves? Better? Had they unionized? Did Wonka ever have problems with the EEOC? You can't deny that the Oompa-Loompas were drastically different than the people in that film. They had a whole singing, dancing psychedelic culture all of their own. Wonka was weird but he was no Oompa-Loompa.

So at some point, those two cultures had to meet, Wonka the candyman and the Oompa-loompas the weird green-haired dwarves, and at some point after that, one of those cultures got the other one to make some crazy-ass treats in order to thereby make a crazy-ass-load of cash.

And who knows about this Amazonian tribe? Would they, so to speak, make candy for us? We, like Wonka, would be the ones gaining, unless you count the knowledge they'd gain of the candy-making process.

Then again, apart from Charlie, the only ones really immune to the hypnosis of the candy are the Oompa-loompas. All the other kids can't hack it, they abuse the power. The candy is powerful and I think the gospel is powerful, whether you believe in God or not, it does something to people.

So we're like all the kids, and pretty much all of us can't handle the power of the candy. We want more of it than we should, or we sink ourselves into the chocolate-y river of religious experience, or we get so bloated on it we blow up like a blueberry and they have to roll us away. I mean, some churches roll people away down the aisles anyway, but that's another whole weird thing.

I just don't feel comfortable giving an answer. Since this tribe is so unknown, I can't know how'd they respond. Would they really be like the Oompa-loompas, able to handle the power? I doubt it.

I get the feeling they'd be a lot like us. Most of them would fuck up pretty bad, and maybe a couple would catch on. It's not a great percentage, and that's why I'm not sure I think missionaries ought to go meet these people. I'm not sure they could handle the candy, or that we're handling it particularly well enough to know how to share it.

There's probably also a metaphor somewhere in the Amos 'n' Andy bit, about how we all tend to oversimplify those who are different than ourselves so that by making them one-dimensional we can easily predict what they'll do and how they'll respond to us. But that might be a bit of a stretch.

04 June 2008

Do Your Homework

A friend of mine has written a thought-provoking article on questions of evangelism, missionary activity and the meaning of the gospel. I have been thinking for a couple of days about Mel's article "Jesus in the Amazon" and intend to write a response here on meatiocrity. Reading Mel's post and the comments on it beforehand will lend some context to the comments I'll make tomorrow.