Headline of the Day: Christian Freakishness?

jesusThere’s an utterly fascinating article right now at The Atlantic, that also happens to be worthy of a Headline of the Day installment…

….for this headline certainly caught my attention:

The Freakishness of Christianity

The Atlantic

It’s a thought-provoking introduction to ideas put forth by Christian evangelical theologian Russell D. Moore in his new book Onward, ideas that I find encouraging, however skeptical I might remain.

First, a quick detour: My earliest memory of the use of the term “freak” as a non-pejorative noun was when I heard David Crosby‘s CSN&Y song Almost Cut My Hair, from the 1970 album Déjà Vu.

Crosby sings:

I feel like letting my freak flag fly

…and I didn’t really understand it at first.

But, as I became more and more interested in hippie culture, listening to more music, reading books, and watching films on the subject, I eventually got it, and I LOVED it.

While I never felt the need to label myself a freak or hippie or overtly dress the part, I certainly related to the 1960s & 1970s counterculture’s rejection of conservatism’s sense of superiority, its judgement of others, and its capacity for hatred. As result, I’ve always had a very healthy inner-hippie.

Back to the Atlantic article, it’s interesting to discover that there’s a prominent evangelical Christian leader who seems to have come to some of the same conclusions, proposing the idea that Christianity’s marriage with American conservatism is ready for a divorce.

This is not an assimilated, salable Christianity. If anything, it troubles the anodyne, dog-whistle-y “values” rhetoric that Moore rejects. It calls for politicians to be committed to living out Christianity beyond the breath it takes to utter “God bless America.”…

And inevitably, it undermines Bible Belt identity, which has long depended on pairing God with guns and Republican politics. Not to worry, Moore says: “The Bible Belt was no Promised Land.”

Right on!

I’m still troubled by the whole idea of evangelism, and I’d much rather all religions evolved away from doctrines of proselytization.

And, while this sounds incredibly exciting:

Moore is making an argument for embracing Christian strangeness. “Our message will be seen as increasingly freakish to American culture,” he writes. “Let’s embrace the freakishness, knowing that such freakishness is the power of God unto salvation.”

…it’s decidedly odd language coming from a guy who looks like this:

russell-moore

Still, to judge Moore by his appearance is shallow and utter hypocrisy on my part.

So, I’ll let that go, and I’ll hold out hope that some good may come from his ideas.

Tweet of the Day: @RainnWilson

meditation-flipboardI’ve mentioned numerous times here at Fish & Bicycles that I dabble in Buddhism (one example), and I’ve tried to sustain a regular meditation practice off and on for many years, so it’s fair to assume that I think very highly of the process.

And yet, Buddhism and meditation are highly susceptible to suffering at the hands of New Age pretension, and meditation has notoriously been stripped of its religious and spiritual origins as of late, and co-opted as a productivity tools for businesses.

I use and mostly enjoy the iOS app Flipboard on my iPhone, and like other news aggregators, when you first setup the app you enter general topics you are interested in so that Flipboard knows what kind of content to push to you. Sadly, however, the vast majority of articles I see on Buddhism, meditation, or spirituality look like the one in the screenshot provided here.

Well, all that’s to say, as much as I continue to aspire to living a more spiritual life and to sustaining a daily meditation practice, there are days when the spirituality industry gets to me, it’s been getting to me quite a bit lately, and so when I came across today’s Tweet of the Day installment, posted by one of the funniest guys around, Rainn Wilson, it just totally hit the spot.

Rainn tweeted the following video titled F*ck That: A Guided Meditation by Jason Headly, whose short film titled It’s Not About The Nail is one of the funniest-whilst-insightful comedy bits on couples I’ve ever seen.

(Disclaimer: F*ck That: A Guided Meditation is laced with profanity, and may therefore be offensive to some and/or NSFW for others.)

Video Fridays: Father’s Day Weekend Edition

Me & Julian, Father's Day, 2013
Me & Julian, Father’s Day, 2013
Since I likely won’t be able to post anything on Father’s Day this Sunday, and since my son, Julian, is now 17-1/2 years old and his days in the nest are painfully dwindling away, I thought I would dedicate today’s Video Fridays installment to him, for I wouldn’t be a father if he hadn’t come along.

Today’s video, Ben FoldsStill Fighting It, featuring touching homemade-movie-esque footage of Ben and his son Louis, and lyrics about the experience of fatherhood, on one hand, and growing up, on the other, never fails to choke me up.

The song was released in 2001, when my son was about the same age as Louis, and as much as I’ve loved and cherished some aspect of every age Julian has attained, there was something particularly special about that age, when walking wasn’t so new and treacherous, when verbal communication was beginning to get easier thanks to a growing vocabulary, when the innocence and infinite sense of wonder of childhood was in full bloom, when playing was so much damned fun, and when simply holding hands as we strolled in public felt like I had an umbilical cord connecting me to an infinite pool of love.

Being a parent is an experience of extremes. There’s the infinite pool of love and the unbridled joy of play, but there’s also the anxiety concerning the future, the fear of terrible things happening to your child, the frustration when your child has the gall (wink) to remind you that they are an actual person, with the right to self-determination, the pain you feel when they feel pain, the excruciating guilt you feel for the mistakes you’ve made raising them, particularly when they pick up any bad habits that you have been unintentionally modeling for them, and the emptiness at the thought of them one day flying the coop.

Ben Folds captures this all so perfectly:

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It’s so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We’re still fighting it, we’re still fighting it
And you’re so much like me
I’m sorry…

It was pain
Sunny days and rain
I knew you’d feel the same things…

You’ll try and try and one day you’ll fly
Away from me

Somebody get me a hanky, stat!

Anyway, it might seem that that list I wrote above, of the goods and the not-so-goods, suggests that the not-so-goods far outweigh the goods, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When you love someone as deeply as you love your child, you never, EVER see it that way, you would NEVER prefer the alternative — losing your child, or not ever having had a child. You just hope that the Buddhists are right, that if we practice mindfulness awareness we can be totally present for them despite our fears, and if we practice non-attachment we can celebrate their departure when they come of age, feeling satisfied and sustained by all of the years of glorious memories, and excitement for the possibilities that life will present to them.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Of Guitars, Celebrity, And Spiritualilty

lennon-gibsonThis, in the photo here, is a guitar once owned by John Lennon.

  • This gorgeous Gibson J-160E was bought by Lennon in September 1962, co-signed by Bealtes manager Brian Epstein and paid off in full after a year, and then disappeared at a Christmas show in December 1963.
  • No one knows exactly where the guitar was from 1963 to sometime in the 1970s, when it was bought for a “couple hundred dollars” in San Diego by someone who did not learn of its origins until last year, when a friend noticed it looked a lot like a guitar he saw in a book of Beatles memorabilia.
  • A brand new Gibson Gibson J-160E today costs about $2,700.00.
  • Lennon’s briefly-owned J-160E is now expected to sell for between $600,000.00 to $800,000.00 at auction in November 2015.
  • Wow.

This story raises a lot of questions for me: as a music lover, and more specifically a HUGE Beatles fan; as a musician, and more specifically a guitarist; and as an aspiring Buddhist, and more specifically an aspiring Buddhist who, while somewhat successful at non-attachment in many areas of life, is NOT so successful when it comes to music gear.

  • Should a guitar purchased new for about $250 in 1962, and owned by a Beatle for only 15 months, now be worth 280 times that or more?
  • If I had mountains of disposable income, would I buy this particular guitar if I could? (Answer: Yes!!!)
  • How long would I feel good about the purchase? i.e. How long would it take me to get sick of hearing myself tell people that the guitar once belonged to John Lennon?
  • Would I actually play — thereby adding wear and tear — such a precious instrument?
  • If not, what’s the point of owning a guitar that never gets played?
  • How much does coveting this guitar set me back in my pursuit of Buddhist presentmomentness? i.e. Will I be reincarnated as a $250 guitar that, rather than being sold to the next John Lennon and destined for protection and veneration, is bought by some Pete Townshend disciple?

Why We Love, And Even Need, Photos & Videos Of Interspecies Animal Friends

dog-jerryFrom 1984’s comedy classic, Ghostbusters (my emphasis added in bold in the last line of dialogue):

Peter Venkman: Well, you can believe Mr. Pecker…
Walter Peck: My name is “Peck.”
Venkman: Or you could accept the fact that this city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, “biblical”?
Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff!
Venkman: Exactly.
Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes!
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Venkman: Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

That the idea of cats and dogs living together in peace should be included in a list of biblical-scale events works as the punchline of this joke, because it’s so tame compared to the other items listed. And yet, it speaks to the endurance of the stereotype that cats and dogs are natural enemies.

cat-dogMeanwhile, anyone who spends nearly any amount of time on the interwebs or watches any number of home video TV shows is familiar with the near-ubiquitous photos and videos featuring animals from different species — in some cases species known to have a predator-prey relationship in the wild, or would likely be enemies if they shared the same habitat — interacting playfully, or even, though some might call it anthropomorphizing, lovingly.

I have to admit, while I’m a true lover of animals, I’m not someone who goes all gushy over them, regularly browsing cute animal photos and videos on the web, using puppy or kitten photos as the desktop background on my computer, etc.

And yet, the videos that feature friendly interspecies interactions do grab my attention and move something deep inside me, and I suspect the same thing happens for millions of people, even, perhaps, some hardcore cynics. I’m sure there are some who would rather suggest that these are nothing more than the result of artificial domestication, but I suspect that this is a slim minority, judging by how often these videos go viral.

Given that we live in a world perpetually wrought with human conflict, often horrific and deadly human conflict, it’s easy to despair, to conclude that there will never be lasting peace.

tiger-pigUnder these conditions, how can we not be moved when we see a cat and a dog peacefully snuggled together, as in the above photo, or, let’s say, a tiger and a piglet doing the same? And even if the two species interacting aren’t known or likely enemies, many of the pairings appear surprising and unlikely and serve as powerful symbols of harmony and hope in the face of differences.

Given that we live in a world perpetually wrought with human conflict, we are drawn to, and I’d even say we need, these images of animal harmony and hope, to keep us from despair. In fact, our biochemistry helps us benefit from these images. Human brains produce a hormone called oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”, because it’s released when we experience love and joy, and it’s been proven that we produce oxytocin when we observe baby humans and cute animals.

I could go on and on with this topic, perhaps by bringing the spiritual component to the topic, for instance how Buddhism, which I dabble with, teaches the value of cultivating harmony with all living things, but I think you get the point.

So, even if you think these interspecies friendship videos are a bit cheeseball, try to let go of your initial resistance, allow yourself to notice the sweetness, to consider the far-reaching implications of the fact that our brains allow us to experience feelings akin to love when we see such sweetness, try to extrapolate how this sweetness could possibly melt away human-to-human and human-to-animal conflicts.

Start now, watch this brief yet powerful video of a monkey affectionately interacting with a litter of puppies, notice how gentle the monkey is with these fragile, practically newborn pups, notice the monkey’s fingers lightly stroking the puppies, truly caring regardless of the fact that these creatures must seem incredibly different and strange.

Enjoy.

Video Fridays: R.I.P., Leonard Nimoy

mr-spockWow. I’m shocked by the passing this morning of Leonard Nimoy.

I’d gone years without watching any Star Trek: The Original Series, or any of the movies featuring the original cast, before I decided recently to do a series of Video Fridays posts on a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth, a lineup that included Star Trek, and I published my post on Star Trek just two weeks ago.

In preparation for writing that post, I watched many episodes of the TV show, reconnecting with what I loved so much about it. And then, this past week, I was home sick in bed for two days and binged on more Star Trek, including the movies.

That Leonard Nimoy should die today, frankly, creeps me out as much it saddens me.

I think it must be nearly impossible to grow up Jewish in the late 1960s, 70s, 80s, etc., and NOT know, with enormous pride, that the two main characters in Star Trek, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Nimoy), were played by Jewish actors.

Years later I learned that the Vulcan salute (seen in the photo above), was derived by Leonard Nimoy from a blessing bestowed by Rabbis, where the hands form an approximation of the Hebrew letter shin, shorthand for the Hebrew word Shaddai, one of numerous Hebrew names for God.

As an actor, I think the best compliment one could give would be that his portrayal of Mr. Spock was defining and masterful. While Gene Roddenberry may have dreamed up the character, Leonard Nimoy brought him to life and was always believable as that half-human-half-Vulcan caught between the competing aspects of his nature.

While I was very impressed by Zachary Quinto‘s performances as Spock in the recent reboots, Quinto’s was an act of imitation and Nimoy’s an act of creation.

I couldn’t pick just one video to accompany this obituary, and so I’ve included two. The first is perhaps the most moving scene from all of the TV episodes and movies, a scene that epitomizes Spock’s Vulcan logic, as well as his very human emotional bond to Captain Kirk. The second is a compilation of clips from the TV series that highlight Spock’s human-Vulcan conflict, often to comedic effect.

As my fellow Jews say, upon the death of a loved one, “May his memory be a blessing.”

Rest in peace, Leonard, and thanks so much for the many years of thought-provoking entertainment.

Live long, and prosper.

Being Sick Sucks, Revisited

(Since I’m bedridden by some bug or another, and consequently not feeling inspired to write anything new, I thought I’d re-post something from about four years ago on the topic of being sick. I did edit a bit, because I didn’t like the ending. Hopefully, I’ll be back with something new tomorrow.)

Seriously! Being sick really sucks.

When I was a kid, a sick day at least had a silver lining, it meant missing school. But now, every hour I miss at work is an hour I’m getting behind in my work.

I wrote back in August about how vacation is a double-edged sword, a badly needed break from the daily grind for sure, but that there’s often so much prep work to prepare for a vacation and so much catch-up work when you return, that the time off might not register as having been as relaxing and renewing as one would like.

Well, sick days are worse. There was no warning, no chance to prep, I’ll have tons of catch-up when I’m back at the office, AND I’m lying here in bed in physical distress.

I, of course, am very thankful that I have plenty of accrued sick leave and good health insurance. And so now, in addition to being sick, I feel guilty for complaining about being ill, while millions of people on this planet don’t have the luxury of calling in sick and getting paid for it; while millions of people don’t have any health insurance or access to adequate healthcare.

Being sick sucks, indeed, but for me and my fellow First Worlders, hopefully it engenders compassion for those less fortunate than us.