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.