Friday, February 1, 2013

Feeling a little God smacked today . . .

Getting a lot of "God is great" type posts in my Facebook feed today.  I get them from time to time and for the most part I don't care.  I'm sure my friends put up with my frequent posts about gay-rights and other pet issues of mine, but I have to admit that sometimes I get to feeling a bit fed up with God-talk, especially when I just as often come across "Christians" who think it's OK to spread lies in the name of God.  

It's funny how some people feel the need to praise God for every little thing when it seems clear to me that most of the good things in the world happen as much in spite of God (or a belief in him) as because of some belief in him.  While I understand the apologetics that God works through individuals, when I take into account all the evil done through God-motivated people the whole "works of God" concept ends up being a zero-sum to me, if not an actual negative balance.  It seems far more likely that people do what they do and some of them feel the need to put the credit and/or blame on God.  

At any rate, when I get to feeling like this, I remember having put my feelings on the matter into a poem a while back.  


I've never known a god to be
Much interested in equality
Or children starving in distant lands
Or mothers beaten by father's hands
Or general suffering of any sort. 
They sit on thrones, hold heavenly court,
And watch us mortals down on Earth,
Living and dying and giving birth
And wondering why the pains and tears
Cried up to heaven fall on deaf ears.

-Karl Jennings, September 2004

Friday, July 27, 2012

On Losing the Moral High Ground

These are exciting times for gay rights.  We've seemingly turned a corner.  For the first time in history recent polls show a slim majority of people in the United States actually support marriage equality for same-sex couples.  The President of the United States, as well, has come out in support of marriage equality.  Even several religious groups are supporting equality, even embracing and welcoming gays into their ranks, not only as worshipers but also as clergy.

Perhaps the most important factor in this changing tide is the visibility of the gay community itself.  The truth is, as more people realize that they probably already know some gay people -- as friends, neighbors, and even family members come out as LGBT individuals -- more and more people realize that we aren't very different from them.  They realize that far from wanting to destroy society, we simply want to be able to participate in it equally.  They learn that we are people just like they are and are just as invested in a strong, just, and free society.

Because of this growing visibility and growing acceptance, the LGBT community is finding growing numbers of allies in positions of influence in politics, the media, churches, and virtually every realm of society.  We even have allies among groups traditionally reluctant to support our causes, if not outright hostile to them.  The end of Don't Ask/Don't Tell would never have happened as quickly and relatively seamlessly as it has without the support of at least some conservatives.  Even the GOP's own advisors have said that the party needs to get on the right side of history or else risk losing significant support, especially among younger generations.  Homophobic utterances very often now elicit the same public outcry that anti-semitic or racist remarks do.

A case in point is the recent outcry over revelations that the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain made donations to several groups that oppose marriage equality.  CEO Dan Cathy publicly confirmed that the company operated under "biblical values" (read "anti-gay") and warned of incurring the wrath of God if marriage equality is extended to homosexuals.  This has quickly become a national controversy with many celebrities and politicians condemning the anti-gay rhetoric and calling for boycotts of the restaurant.  (Unfortunately, a few others, notably Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, have come out in support of the fast food chain.)  Of course all this boycotting and counter-cotting is well within the rights of those on both sides.  I certainly have a right not to spend my money in an establishment where those same dollars are going to be used to curtail my rights.  Likewise, those who oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples are certainly within their rights to support establishments that share these views (narrow and bigoted as they may seem to a growing number of us).

Unfortunately, where there is power there is also the potential to abuse that power.  Recently the mayors of Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco have not only expressed their disgust over the anti-same-sex stance of Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, but have, to varying degrees at least intimated that the restaurant chain would not be welcome in their cities.  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel even went so far as to vow to block the chain's plans to open a restaurant there.  To my dismay, many of my friends seem to applaud this behavior.  To me, however, this is where we lose the moral high ground.

There is a marked difference between equal rights violations, and an individual exercising his Constitutional right to freedom of speech.  Unless Chick-fil-A is in violation of existing laws, they should be treated with equal fairness in civil matters of permits, licensing, etc.  The personal political views of the owner really shouldn't come into play.  That's the price we pay in the United States for our freedom of speech.  Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot and it were a business owner who was denied necessary permits simply because he was pro-same sex marriage?  Or how about a business being denied a liquor license simply because the owner was gay?  The truth is, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye when these sort of abuses are seemingly carried out in our favor.  In the fight for marriage equality we cry out that we are not seeking special rights but simply equal rights.  We can't afford to lose the moral high ground by allowing abuses of power to be done in our name.  Thankfully, at least, it appears the mayor of Boston has backed down on his threats to block the franchise, and the ACLU of Illinois has weighed in on the legality of such actions:

“The government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is to punish someone for their words,” said Adam Schwartz, senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “When an alderman refuses to allow a business to open because its owner has expressed a viewpoint the government disagrees with, the government is practicing viewpoint discrimination.” 
The ACLU “strongly supports” same-sex marriage, Schwartz said, but noted that if a government can exclude a business for being against same-sex marriage, it can also exclude a business for being in support of same-sex marriage. 
“But we also support the First Amendment,” he said. “We don’t think the government should exclude Chick-fil-A because of the anti-LGBT message. We believe this is clear cut.”

 Personally, I would like to see Chick-fil-A take a huge financial loss over this issue, but the way to bring this about is to withhold our patronage, not to condone the abuse of power by elected officials.  I say let Chick-fil-A open its locations.  If we truly feel that their policies are shameful, then let's not eat there and let's encourage our allies to withhold their money as well.  And most certainly let's keep a close eye on how they do their business, and if they are found to be in violation of equal opportunity laws (where they exist, as they do in Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco) then by all means let's sue the hell out of them.  But let's not become the thing we hate by supporting abuses of power done in our name.

[Thanks to my friend Dag for helping to clarify this issue for me.]

Thursday, April 19, 2012

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month.  Unfortunately, I've had a dearth of poetry thus far.  In part, to rectify that, I'm posting this which I wrote to Chris back in 2004.

Think of the Sun, whose earliest morning rays
Burst in your room and spill across your floor.
Or think of the sea, whose restless thrashing waves
Swell with the tide and crash upon your shore.
Imagine the fire with which your day-star burns,
Bathing your world with warmth and golden light.
Imagine the moon which 'round your world turns,
Stirring your seas and lighting up your night.
And when you think of these, remember me;
My grand ambition cannot be outdone,
For I would be the moon which stirs your seas,
And I would be your Fiery Star -- your Sun.
   If Nature's power inspires a lover's art,
   Let these be types and echos of my heart.

For those interested in the details, it's a Shakespearean style sonnet.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sincere Holiday Well-Wishing

Apparently, 'tis the season to be offended.  I'm told that if I wish someone a "Merry Christmas", I'm being offensive because maybe they don't celebrate Christmas.  But the back-lash to this idea has reached the point where people express offense because they aren't wished a Merry Christmas.  They are actively offended by wishes of "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays".  They bemoan the removal of Christ from Christmas.  Twice this holiday season I've received particularly belligerent well wishes of "Merry Christmas! (Yes, I said "Christmas" because Jesus is the reason for the season and if you don't like it you can stick it!)" -- well, I'm sure you get the picture.

Really, I understand the sentiments behind both sides of the issue.  People don't like religion crammed down their throats, and people feel defensive of their own beliefs.  I do understand the implied connection to the larger issues of separation of church and state, as well.  The government is supported by and serves all of us, and shouldn't be seen as promoting any religion.  But let's be reasonable.  Is hearing "Merry Christmas" or merely being exposed to the celebration really grounds to take offense?  Outside of state-sponsored institutions and programs, do we really have a right to be free from exposure to the dominant culture?  Do we really have a "right" to not be wished well?  Truly, when most people say "Merry Christmas" that's exactly what they are doing.  They are not splashing holy water on you or trying to convert you.  "Merry Christmas" from the mouths of the vast majority is simply the Thanksgiving-to-New Year equivalent of "Haveaniceday", though I suspect it's usually a bit more sincere.

On the other hand, no matter how washed in the blood of Jesus you are, if you live in America you live in a largely pluralistic society.  Sure, there are far more (nominal) Christians than any other religion (or lack thereof) in the country, but we do live in a world where different points of view abound.  If you want to wish the world a Merry Christmas, I say have at it, but why not let other people express their greetings as they see fit for whatever reasons they see fit.  If I wish you "Happy Holidays" why not take that with the same grace you'd expect me to take your "Merry Christmas"?  Why assume that I'm being held hostage by some sort of "political correctness"?  Maybe I'm being sensitive to others' feelings, or maybe I don't believe in Jesus, but I want to participate in the "Season", which after all is as much a hodgepodge of pagan ritual and various pre-Christian winter festival customs as it is anything directly stemming from Christianity.  (Even most Christian scholars agree, for instance, that Christ was not born in December.)  But I digress.  My point is it shouldn't matter one way or the other.  Celebrate as you see fit, and if you want to wish others well, do so sincerely, but let others do the same.  And if you don't feel like wishing others well, well don't.  But why take needless offense at someone else's good intentions?

There are surely more important battles to be fought over freedom of (and from) religion.  The "Merry Christmas" battle is a monumentally stupid one on both sides.  It does nothing to pursued or promote a better world but only spreads the "circle the wagons" mentality on either camp.  Let there be Peace on Earth, and let's all be free to express that wish however we see fit.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Death Becomes Her?

I was recently chatting with a friend about life, immortality, and death.  We were mostly talking about the increasing human lifespan, at least in most developed countries, and what the future of technology holds for those who are lucky enough to live to take advantage of inevitable breakthroughs in the problems of aging, disease, and death.  Although my friend seemed excited by the prospect of eliminating diseases and improving the quality of life of the elderly, she surprised me by adding, "of course, I wouldn't want to live forever." Now this shouldn't have surprised me, I guess.  I've heard it many times before, as I've also heard her explanation:  "If you lived forever, wouldn't life get terribly boring?" 

OK, so I wasn't exactly surprised, but I was a bit taken aback, as I always am when I hear this thought expressed.  My friend isn't a particularly bored person, and she's certainly not boring.  She seems to always be interested in something exciting or new (to her, at least) or fun.  It's not that she's flighty or superficial. It's just that she's immensely curious.  "If you get bored," I told her, "move to the south of France.  But death?  At least France has email, and the return flights are cheaper."

On the one hand, I guess I sort of get her point.  There is arguably a finite amount of information to be learned in the world, so at some point I guess you will have seen it all.  However, it seems like it would take so long to reach that point that this really no longer becomes a reason to accept death, at least not death as we briefly-lived humans know it.  It would take so long, in fact, that I'm not even sure I can wrap my head around the length of time it would take.  To me, it seems like that alone is good enough reason to want to live "forever" or at the very least make death into a door we only open when we choose to.

And is there any other reason why we'd choose to open that door, other than boredom?  Dread of a few upcoming events might make it seem attractive to die before they come.  Eventually, our sun is going to die.  Before that happens, she'll balloon up, completely engulfing Mercury and Venus, and if not engulfing Earth, at least making it too hot for life here.  Of course, by then we may have moved the species off-planet to what by then might be a few balmy moons of Jupiter or Saturn.  Then, of course we'd face the eventual dying of the sun.  But maybe by then we'll have world-sized interstellar spaceships, zipping us along to new star systems.  Who knows?  But isn't finding out sort of the point?

Some will say that even if we last beyond the death of the sun, eventually we'll find our galaxy standing seemingly alone in a universe expanding so fast we won't even see our nearest galactic neighbor.  On the other hand, maybe we'll kill ourselves with climate change, or global war, or maybe get hit by an Earth-shattering asteroid while our backs are turned in political and religious infighting.  Even so, wouldn't it be enough just to know how it all ends?

Another of my friends, Ty, and I talked about this once.  He was equally as baffled by the death-welcoming attitude of most people we knew.  We agreed that we're going to have to be forcibly evicted from this life, kicking and screaming.  I haven't talked to him for far too long, but we have a standing date to do some inter-galactic backpacking a few million years from now if we get this whole death thing licked.  All the rest of you adventurous spirits are welcome to join us.  I can't begin to tell you what that will be like, except to promise that it won't be boring!


P.S.  A Christian friend of mine (also of the "won't it get boring" camp), reading a draft of this said that if I don't die, I won't know the joys of the next life.  My reply to that is two-fold:  First, if there is a "next life" it'll still be there when I'm kicked out of this one, and second, if you can't find enough to hold your interest now, what makes you think you'll fare better in "eternity" somewhere else?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Catching up

Quite a lot has happened since I last updated this blog.  Primarily, I've come to realize that as much as I love massage, it's not going to be a practical long-term career for me.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First of all, I think I came to this profession too late in life.  While I believe I have above-average skill in the art of massage, I don't think my body is going to hold up for a decade of this work, full-time, much less through retirement.  If I have enough work to not feel anxious about money, then my hands hurt almost constantly.  Ironically, massage has given me a lot of time to think about this.  While giving a massage, I can often achieve a state of meditation, and this has given me ample opportunity to reflect on my life and my long-term goals.  

I've always been interested in psychology - in what motivates people and in why they believe and act as they do.  I've also been reading a lot of science blogs and books, as well as books on philosophy and religion.  Of course, I've also been an observer of contemporary "culture wars", especially concerning gay rights.  Living in Utah has also brought home the struggles of gay people who live in especially conservative and unsupportive environments.  Add to that the fact that I'm increasingly regretting the fact that I never went back to college after completing my associate's degree, and that brings you to my latest adventure.  I'll be attending the University of Utah this fall, double-majoring in Psychology and Philosophy.  Truthfully, I'm not exactly sure where this is going to take me, but the more I learn about the field, the more I believe I have something to contribute.

I love giving massage.  I've connected with a lot of people in a very intimate setting, often helping them to work through recovery from painful accidents and surgeries.  This is really the first time I've dedicated myself to a profession where the primary satisfaction I receive is that of improving the lives of my clients in some small way.  Most of the jobs I've done in the past have had a large service element, which I have always enjoyed and which is probably why I've felt drawn to massage in the first place.  I'll continue giving massage, at least until I graduate.  Hopefully I'll be able to maintain enough of a clientele to help pay for school.  But even if at some point I don't give another massage, I don't regret the effort I've put into learning the craft, and I'm very grateful to those who have given me their trust as clients and friends.  

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

To Those Who Love Too Early and Too Deep

To those who love too early and too deep,
Whose love is both impractical and bold,
Who wage wild dreams and trouble their own sleep
And find their beds without him all too cold.
I know the passions burning in your heart.
I know the pressure building in your chest.
I know the quick despair each time you part.
I know the joy and pain and all the rest,
And though I have no words to ease the fears
That love won’t last or he won’t love in kind,
Believe in love despite the pain of tears
That threaten every time he comes to mind.
  I know that love is all we need to know;
  Despite the risks, I’d ever have it so.
[Karl Jennings, Dec 28, 2010]

This poem came to me earlier today almost whole. I know what it's like to love to early and too deep(ly) (Ha! Poetic license trumps grammar). I've jumped in almost blindly to every friendship and romance I've had. This is especially true for those relationships that have meant the most to me. So for what it's worth, I can relate to those of you who fall hard and quick and sometimes find it not returned or ill timed or just too much too quickly for the object of affection. Despite that, though, to me there's a freshness and an honesty in letting people know how you feel. The greatest tragedy would be not to show it and miss a joy that could have been.