[I think this is actually my first post about 9-11, but, yaknow, other people blog about it all of the time.]

I usually listen to NPR on the way in to work. I wasn’t listening to the radio 11 years ago today. I think I was in the middle of a media fast.

Of course everyone was talking about it when I got in to work.

I was content to not see any of the now-famous images for weeks.

But it affected me. In particular the man who had been my best male friend up to that point in my life was working in one of the towers. We looked for him frantically for a while. He’s fine and has a beautiful family now.

I won’t walk you through the process of arriving at my current emotional response to 9-11. Much of it was immediate. Some of it evolved slowly over time.

Obviously it’s tragic that so many lives were lost. My friend might have died that day.

Ultimately it’s that feeling of personal loss that makes the most sense to me. I’m sad for those who lost someone–many lost multiple someones. Death is always, in many ways, difficult and wrong. Whatever else I say, I want to be clear about that.

But other than the numbers, and aside from the horrible personal reality that many experienced (which, again, I don’t at all mean to dismiss or diminish), I don’t find the incident particularly tragic or unjust.

It was unjust and tragic, no question. 9-11 reminds me that the world is a wicked place, full of death and meaningless destruction.

And here’s where I start to have problems with–and depart from–the national response. Honestly I don’t think our nation or our people have suffered particularly. People talked about feeling violated that day. Maybe that’s true. Maybe we were violated. But our innocence was already lost.

Typically we don’t even think of the tens of thousands across the planet who die daily, not just of famine and disease, but from bullets and bombs–children and other innocents among them. We especially don’t want to think of the part that we play in that, both directly and, in multiple ways, indirectly.

We spend more on death in the name of defense than any other nation by far, more than several of the next biggest spenders combined. And we export weapons to our friends, however unfriendly they might be to their neighbors.

We’re at war right now. There’s national outrage over the soldiers killed in those battles–as there should be. But there’s noticeably less outrage over the children and other foreign civilians who get caught in the crossfire, let alone the soldiers we kill. Those foreign soldiers have families too. They believe they’re fighting for their loved ones, for their country, for their God; they believe that they’re fighting to survive, fighting because they have to. You’re sure that we’re right and they’re wrong just as they’re sure that they’re right and we’re wrong.

Then there’s the fact that we feel entitled to more of the planet’s resources, energy and prosperity than anyone else. And we don’t even think about how that affects everyone else, how much more difficult it makes their “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” I wonder if we truly believe that those endowments are for them too or just for us.

Some folks stirred controversy by saying that 9-11 was God’s judgment. I’m not going to join them. But I will say that if you look at the death and tragedy across the globe and either ignore it, rationalize it or, indeed, claim in any way that it is God’s judgment, you have no right protesting when others speculate the same about 9-11.

I don’t know for sure what God’s judgment looks like. I don’t claim to be able to distinguish which deaths are divinely sanctioned and which are not. I’m pretty sure that one way or another they all are. So then it becomes a matter of which ones He really means. Yeah, you can think about that if you want. When I think about it, it just pisses me off.

I don’t begrudge folks their grieving over 9-11. It’s totally appropriate to grieve. In some way I think we all lost something that day.

What I don’t approve is the need for blood. It’s bad enough that we started a war in the name of vengeance. We can argue about whether the war in Afghanistan and the broader “war on terror” actually improve our national security or accomplish some other meaningful thing. Lots of folks seem to think (or seem to have thought) that they do. And their position is at least understandable.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not also motivated out of the “need,” as even its supporters have put it, to go kick someone’s ass. I don’t consider that patriotic. And if you want to call it patriotism, I don’t mind saying that I see no nobility in that kind of patriotism.

But we started another war in the wake of 9-11 on pretext and because we could put a villain’s face on it.

And though many Americans, I’m proud to say, have learned and/or exercised tolerance in the last eleven years and have grown in their appreciation for those different from them, far too many others have used 9-11 as an excuse to hate Muslims, Arabs, people of color, foreigners of any kind, anyone who’s different.

I started to say that that’s the thing that disgusts me most. It’s close.

Probably what disgusts me most is the upsurge of folks crying out “God Bless America.” Don’t get me wrong, I long for God’s blessing and grace upon us. But I notice that He’s blessed us plenty and we’re not much thankful for it. One of my favorite bumper stickers suggests what’s long overdue: “America Bless God.”

I also notice that we’re more than happy to sing “God Bless America” even as we’re whispering under our breath, “and to hell with those other bastards.”

We didn’t want God after 9-11; we wanted protection, we wanted to add His might to our acts of violence, we wanted to feel better about ourselves.

I don’t think Americans are especially evil; I just don’t think we’re especially good. I think we’re human. And I am sick to death of all of the talk of late about American Exceptionalism. I mind it a lot less when it’s a call to action, to sacrifice and hard work. I mind it more when it justifies our arrogance, indifference and sense of entitlement.

I have a lot to say about Blue Like Jazz, the movie, which opened today. But it’s proving to be too much for me to condense and a tad confrontational. I think I need more quiet time to process, and maybe get my attitude in check. That probably won’t help, except that I might piss off some of you later rather than sooner.

If you’d rather not listen to me babble, check out the trailer and then just go see the movie, damnit: Blue Like Jazz (official trailer) Look for a theater and get tickets here: Blue Like Jazz

Even though I haven’t figured out how to tactfully say everything I want to say, I can say a few things for sure:

1. This is not a typical “Christian film.” Those who made it don’t even want to classify it that way. Given the quality and tone of most Christian films, I don’t blame them. But I think it would be disingenuous to deny that it comes from a Jesus-oriented sensibility (and, for the record, I don’t think they do deny that).

2. It’s surprisingly authentic and open. Clearly for some folks it’s a little too authentic. But, call me crazy, I kinda think films about faith and spirituality should be authentic.

3. If you’re not a Christian, this is one film about faith that might not make you hurl. And if only for the last scene, I beg you to see it. Please. If you’re totally disappointed you’re welcome to rail at me later. For those of you have been damaged, please be assured, there’s not an altar call or a salvation prayer or an Amway commitment or an RNC platform statement at the end.

4. If you are a Christian, you especially need to see it. I feel pretty good about not telling you (aside from what I’ve already suggested) the many reasons why.

5. If you read the book, I’m guessing you’re interested in seeing it already. It’s different from the book and in some good ways. They created more of a narrative but they managed to capture the spirit of the book and many of its most powerful moments.

6. You should see it with someone you love and/or disagree with and talk (or argue or make obscene gestures) about it afterward. For believers that someone could be God. For many of you that someone can be the other, unnamed (or, hell, named) voices in your head. But a flesh-and-blood someone that you can (but probably shouldn’t) punch (I’m not sure why I chose that image to convey tangibility, but I’m sticking with it) would be awesome.

In addition to seeing an advance screening of the film, I recently re-read the book.

It’s been eye-opening, perhaps more than anything for how I’ve changed since I first read it. I probably disagree with more of it now than I did then, but I still think it’s a great book and I still recommend it (I’m happy to say that a friend at work recently read it on my recommendation; yay for people who read . . . and who take suggestions; by the way, she liked it, or at least she said she did).

IMO, the book and the film address many of the things about faith that church folks are often unwilling to talk about. And it doesn’t reduce them to narrow and formulaic answers. As much as anything it asks questions. I think asking questions is a good thing.

So is looking for the answers; maybe this is just me, but I think looking the answers is a helluva lot better than having them shoved down your throat.

Please see the film this weekend. It’s excellent. It’s unusual. It’s liable to not be in theaters too long precisely because of those two characteristics.

I just read this story at NPR:  Stop ‘Schweddy Balls’ Effort Begins. I was more than a little upset. I’m kind of proud of the fact that I quickly composed the following on my iPhone. I encourage you to join me and share your feelings with Sean Greenwood, public relations manager at Ben & Jerry’s. My hope is that this ridiculous campaign backfires and that Schweddy Balls becomes a permanent and popular fixture in the Ben & Jerry’s lineup.

Mr. Greenwood,

Nobody wants to argue with Mom. Sometimes, however, it’s the right thing to do. I learned moments ago about the campaign by “One Million Moms” and the right-wing loons at AFA to get you to stop making and distributing Schweddy Balls ice cream.

That would be wrong for so many reasons. Among them, it seems to me, because it would completely contradict the spirit of your company, the way you do business and, truly, the joy of your ice cream.

Part of what’s great about Ben & Jerry’s is the variety and uniqueness of your flavors. In many ways they mirror what’s great about this country. Not one of us is the same as another. We have different tastes and opinions. We don’t all like the same things.

I doubt that there are many folks who like every variety of ice cream you make. Fewer still would appreciate each flavor equally. And that’s fine. I’d say that’s even to be expected.

I wouldn’t dream of demanding that the women at OMM and AFA have a sense of humor. I honestly don’t care if they like Schweddy Balls as a name or a flavor. What I do ask is that they respect my right to choose the flavors that please me and be amused by the things that make me laugh.

If they like Tough Love Vanilla with Dirt of Shame Sprinkles, that’s great. I say “eat up, ladies.” You dine on what brings you delight. And, truly, God bless you as you sup.

If they want to tell each other G-rated knock-knock jokes, a hearty “har har” is what I wish them. To tell you the truth, I don’t mind a corny knock-knock or riddle myself.

But I laugh at other things and I enjoy other flavors too.

It seems ironic to me that OMM calls Schweddy Balls “tasteless” (I have to wonder whether they’ve even given them a lick so that they’d know the difference), because tasteless is exactly how I’d describe the narrow world view and fascist regime they seek to enforce. OMM wants to limit our choices and eliminate the things they don’t like.

I for one wouldn’t want to shop in a store where only vanilla was available. I don’t want to live in a pasty-white, tasteless, humorless, monochrome country. I tend to think that Jesus likes variety and that Jesus would fight to save Schweddy Balls, so that’s what I’m doing.

I want you to know that I support your Schweddy Balls and I’m confident that millions of Americans are ready to join me in helping you hold on to your Schweddy Balls.

In all seriousness, it strikes me as fitting that the OMM campaign comes on the eve of Banned Book Week. Please don’t let this misguided band of women censor your freedom of expression or limit our freedom of choice.

Please don’t take away our Schweddy Balls.

Sincerely,
Joel Wasinger

I hate lists. They are evil, tyrannical, “Type A” instruments of oppression, dogma and stultification.

I love lists. They’re liberating. And they’re a helluva lot easier than actually organizing my thoughts.

I have much more to say about lists, about their corrupting, insidious evil and their glorious, divine grace.

For now, I want you to know that I’m going to employ them liberally (yes, “liberally”–bwahahaha–and I mean that in nearly every possible sense, especially the ones that make you most uncomfortable). I hate them, but I’m going to use them. We often use the things we hate, don’t we? I do. Judge me if you must.

The truth is that I don’t necessarily hate lists. I hate the way that lists are often employed, what so often seems to be implied by them. Maybe what I hate most about lists is merely my perception of what people mean by them. It may be that I hate an idea of Lists, an imagined evil List-ness. No matter. Even if merely imagined, it’s real.

To distinguish my lists from the evil ones (and from the “evil one”), I present to you a random assortment of characteristics not so much defining but casting an ambiguous net of semantic approximation in the vicinity of Joel’s Bastard Lists. Yes, my lists are bastards. You need to know who and how they are, lest you confuse them with their wicked step siblings and find yourselves, as is human habit, controlled by their sinister insinuations. Yes, even my beautiful little bastards insinuate. They insinuate sinisterly. Don’t hate them; it’s not their fault. I’m telling you now so that you can know and not bend to their illusory (and, in fact–in my case at least–entirely unintended) but nevertheless consequential web of control.

Joel’s bastard lists are (unless otherwise clearly indicated–and sometimes contrary to clearest explicit indication) . . .

  1. random, ambiguous, approximate;
  2. irregular, asymmetric, mismatched, periodically perpendicular, potentially hazardous;
  3. repetitive;
  4. redundant, overlapping, sometimes superfluous, frequently gratuitous;
  5. incomplete;
  6. by no means exclusive
  7. rarely authoritative;
  8. not meant to be limiting, constricting, binding, controlling, containing or contained;
  9. mostly unstructured;
  10. only loosely affiliated with any system or dogma, even my own;
  11. inconsistently (and perhaps most often simply not at all) prioritized;
  12. only occasionally sequential, even when ostentatiously numbered;
  13. often painfully amended so as to be odd–and, ideally, prime–both in the number of their constituent elements and otherwise. . .

Whereas evil lists define and circumscribe, my lists mean to set you free–to begin and not end, to disrupt and not merely to order, the thoughts and feelings you might have about the subject whose qualities or whose members or whose whatever other thingies they sort of haphazardly, only-superficially-numerically enumerate.

Today I took off the tail end (the parenthetical addendum) of the subtitle of my blog , because it was inadvertently (though not entirely undesirably) rhymey. I found this moderately delightful at one point, but increasingly annoying. It was an accident; I kept it; now I’m abandoning it. Here it is: “(and if I am, it’s only because I’m at sea, and not because I mean to be).”

Somehow it just seemed that I should mark the passing.

So there, I did.

Christians piss me off.

God bless ’em, they’re family and I love ’em but most days too many of ’em make me mad as hell. And that means something. ‘Cause I believe in Hell (though, just to provoke my Christian friends, I have to point out that I’m not sure if it’s a “place” or more of a spiritual construct, and I have all sorts of issues with eternal damnation; but let’s ignore that for now).

I’d like to introduce you to a couple of Christians who don’t piss me off. Their names are Jen and Jeremy Price.

Jeremy is a frighteningly earnest, athletic young man with–based on my interactions with him–zero capacity for bullshit. He’s also a musician with a singular and compelling voice.

Jen is quiet and smart. She was her high school’s valedictorian, but chose training in the ministry over a plethora of post-secondary options that would surely have been more lucrative.

Part of why I remember Jen’s situation is that my daughter, Christine, was a salutatorian contemplating a similar move. Jen was kind enough to chat with her about it and careful not to push her one way or the other. As it turns out, Christine concluded it was best for her to get her degree, which she did (in Math). Christine is now on staff at the House of Prayer in KCMO, for any of you who don’t know.

Jeremy and Jen are young, energetic, intelligent, creative. They have beautiful kids and seem like loving parents. They’re the kind of couple contemporary churches would love to advertise on their billboards. Honestly, I’d like them even if they didn’t do what they do.

But here’s what they do:

Jeremy and Jen started (note: they didn’t “join” or even “encourage someone else to start”; they realized no one else was doing what needed to be done so they naively stepped out to do it themselves) a program building homes for and ministering to AIDS orphans in Africa.

You might know that the AIDS epidemic is ravaging the African continent. But if you’re like most folks, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the consequences for the children of Africa–children whose parents are dead or dying, whose extended families are absent or abusive; children who, at 14 or 10 or 3 years of age, have been raped and exploited; children who have been utterly abandoned and who themselves might be afflicted with AIDS or other debilitating illnesses.

Jen and Jeremy visited Africa; they saw the devastation; it broke their hearts and they were ruined for anything else.

Jen and Jeremy started an organization called Ten Thousand Homes to build those homes and save those kids. It’s hard work. Messy work. I’ve heard stories from folks who have worked with them about shacks where the stench of disease and human decay was enough to make even those with a strong constitution literally bend over as if they’d been punched in the gut. I’ve seen hardened men broken and in tears over the suffering they’d witnessed.

Jeremy and Jen and their teams walk into those homes and they tend to their inhabitants, touching festering wounds that, I’ll be honest, I don’t even want to think about.

Jeremy and Jen and their teams bring those kids out; they build them decent, clean, durable homes. They care for them (and not just for the kids but for adults as well). They love them–tangibly and wholeheartedly. And they bring hope.

When I listen to Jen and Jeremy talk about their work, they seem entirely unimpressed with themselves. They just know something needs to be done and they seem sincerely grateful that they’re the ones who get to do it.

When I listen to them and look in their eyes, I don’t get the impression that they’re doing what they do because “Jesus told them to.” Don’t get me wrong, they love Jesus and would do whatever He asked. But I get the feeling that they volunteered and, if we can turn this around a bit, they love Jesus even more because they continue to discover that He cares about these kids as much as they do.

I dare you to be cynical about the Prices and their work. I dare you to tell me that it doesn’t matter. I dare you to pretend that it’s not exactly what Jesus would do, what He repeatedly told us to do, what the Prophets, in the name of Yahweh, consistently cajoled us to do. You can do all of that, of course, but you’d be a liar and the worst kind of coward.

My friend Brett (Brett is also an incredible guy, by the way, a bright, articulate and compassionate young man who writes one of my favorite blogs, which you can find at bretttilford.com) and his brother Josh (Josh seems a lot like his brother; I just don’t know him as well) are hosting an event for Jen and Jeremy August 4 at a hip cafe in Deep Ellum. There will be music and art and a bunch of great people just hanging out and celebrating Ten Thousand Homes. You can find details at One House One Night.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that most of you have nothing more important to do that night. If you stay home and watch TV, I will be personally disappointed. Chrissy and I will be there, but, rest assured, if I’m being too loud or obnoxious, you’re entitled to walk up and tell me to STFU; it’s my gift to you in exchange for your joining us that evening.

If you claim to love Jesus, you need to come learn more about this amazing group of people and what they’re doing and, let’s be honest, you probably need to get up off your ass and do something yourself. If you don’t call yourself a Christian, I encourage you to show up and I challenge you to walk away thinking that Christians are all self-absorbed and shallow and that their faith counts for nothing.

Or, like I said, you can stay home and be a cynical coward.

Don’t dawdle checking out the site, One House One Night; they’d like your RSVP by July 21. We need to fill that place. I will personally track you down and whisper obscenities in your ear (no, not the sexy kind, unless I decide that would make you more uncomfortable) if you wimp out on us.

If you’re not going to be in the DFW area that night, you still need to check out Ten Thousand Homes and Jen’s blog.

I don’t know about you, but I try not to think about what other people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

Don’t get me wrong–it happens. You know how it is: you see, for instance, a particularly oddly-matched couple. And you can’t help thinking, “Wait. Really? How does that even work?” I’m not saying I’m proud of it, but I go there sometimes, despite my best efforts not to. In my defense, it’s not so much prurient interest as it is morbid curiosity. And, as I said, I try to banish those thoughts and I certainly don’t dwell on them, no matter how innocently they arise.

So, yeah, no offense, but I have no desire to imagine you doing the nasty. I like to think that you’re returning the favor and, yaknow, not thinking about me that way. I mean, c’mon, it’s creeping me out just thinking about your thinking about it. Stop already; you know who you are.

Enough said.

But it seems that too many Evangelicals just can’t get their heads out of other folks’ nether regions, um, metaphorically speaking. At least that’s the best I can figure. Why else are they so concerned about same-sex marriage? Why else, other than, well, the sex?

To their credit, sex is important. What’s more, it’s great fun, and a delightful thing to think about. I just make a point of thinking about sex with my wife and not, for example, sex between a couple of dudes–no matter how buff they are or how sweetly sensitive they seem to be (I’m a big fan of the cuddling and the sharing, and I like to think that others are too).

I’ll go further and say that from my perspective, in accordance with my personal religious beliefs and a variety of values I hold dear, sex is critically important, deeply spiritually significant, even essential. But those are my beliefs. I will express them and live them; I will even advocate for them; but I don’t feel it is my right or responsibility to impose them on you. And, as I said, even though sex is important to me, I’ve decided that it’s not important to me to think about you having sex.

One more thing: I don’t need or want Uncle Sam peering through the curtains or sneaking a peek beneath the sheets either. I certainly don’t want Congress or the Courts regulating my sex life (or the sex lives of other consenting adults). I would think that folks who are always clamoring for “limited government” would agree.

So if we can agree that I don’t need to think about you having sex and you don’t need to think about me having sex and the government doesn’t need to be involved in anyone’s sex life (notwithstanding the occasional scantily-clad census worker fantasy you and your significant other like to act out), what’s the deal with same-sex marriage?

The deal, as I see it, is commitment. Two people commit to care for each other, to radically identify with each other, to pool their resources, to make a life together. The reasonable consequence of that commitment is that those two people are entitled to certain basic rights. The premise being that this kind of long term, committed relationship is good for society and that society should recognize it, honor it and try to support and preserve it.

At least that’s how I see it.

If I had my druthers, I’d reserve the word “marriage” for the sacred, freaky, heterosexual joy I experience with my beloved. But I don’t often get my druthers. And I long ago resigned myself to the fact that “marriage” means something different even to most breeders, yea verily, even to most breeder couples who claim to be “married.” Truly, I’m far less bothered by a loving, committed homosexual couple using the word “marriage” to describe their relationship than I am by, oh, let’s say, adulterer and serial monogamist Newt Gingrich calling what he does “marriage.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Yahweh Himself prefers gay marriage to adultery and divorce.

To recap:

  • from my personal perspective, marriage is, to a great degree, about sex (which my wife and I will enjoy in private; or if in public, at least discretely); but . . .
  • from a social perspective, marriage is about commitment; and . . .
  • from a public policy perspective, marriage is about the civil rights to which participants in said commitment are entitled.

Those are three things I care about and am willing to fight for–not just for myself, but for everyone. But, I promise you, I’m not interested in your or anyone else’s sex life and I implore you not to ask me to take that interest.

I encourage you to enjoy your sexuality and even to think about it a lot; but if you find that all you can think about is someone else’s sex life, you might consider getting some help–or just getting a life.

I’ve been blessed with a beautiful wife (two, actually), an amazing daughter, a family that loves me, some great friends. I’ve lived a good life, got a college degree and had a reasonably meaningful and enjoyable career. And I’m pretty sure that Jesus loves me.

Yaknow, when I write that down, it sounds like a note of passing. It isn’t–at least it isn’t meant to be.

My fear is that it might be.

That fear isn’t based on health concerns or the lack of opportunity or even the lack of resources. Sure I wish I had the health and physical stamina of my 18-year-old self; I wish I was independently wealthy and knew all of the right people and all of the right tricks, had all of the right points of access and knew all of the best shortcuts to turn my dreams into reality. But a lack of resources (physiological, fiscal or otherwise) isn’t what’s kept me from realizing my dreams.

For the most part, when I imagine the gossamer-titanium membrane that separates imagination from actuality, a helluva lot of it comes down to, well, fear.

A few fears that come quickly to mind:

1. Disappointing and alienating the people who have proven themselves more than willing to forgive, accept and persist in their irrational love for me, whatever idiotic thing I do or, on the other hand, whatever simple act of decency I fail to do.
2. Offending religious and/or social conservatives with my foul, fucking language.
3. Showing myself to be not merely liberal but an off-the-reservation, anti-establishment, commie, universalist blasphemer against every sacred tradition or cherished family/American/Christian value.
4. Showing myself to be not merely conservative but an intractable, sycophantic, nostalgic reactionary, cleaving like a scared, hungry baby at the mother’s tit of the most illogical, regressive, outmoded beliefs.
5. Being arrogant.
6. Being stupid.
7. Showing myself over- or under-educated.
8. Failing to sufficiently reference my thoughts to the history of thought.
9. Bogging myself down by being pointlessly referential and allusive.
10. Saying the obvious.
11. Saying what everyone else is already saying or has already said.
12. An inability to translate my weird ass thoughts into words that not only make sense to another human being but successfully communicate what it is I actually mean.
13. A maddening desire to fully qualify and contextualize every statement.
14. A bad habit of saying things that are easily taken out of context and inevitably piss people off.
15. Being wrong.
16. Being right.
17. Being too early, too late, right on time.
18. Being irrelevant.
19. Appeasing the masses; being a populist demagogue.
20. Appeasing any of a number of self-appointed, self-righteous oligarchies of elites (whom you can always identify as such by their impassioned accusations against and vilifications of the other oligarchies).
21. Being too enamored of my own thoughts and/or the sound of my own voice.
22. Saying what I have to say in a way that is uninteresting, inelegant, ugly.
23. Being just a “thinker” or “word guy.”
24. Not being any good at even that.
25. An obsession to be comprehensive.
26. Being longwinded, verbose, redundant.
27. Incomplete lists.

So here we go. Let’s just face into some of these fears with a few guarantees:

1. I will continue to wrestle with my demons and will likely be held back to some degree by my fears. I don’t resign myself to bondage, but at this point in my life I no longer believe that regurgitating positive incantations and forcing my mind through tritely optimistic formulae will banish negativity, satan, poverty, halitosis, illogic, rationality or what-the-hell-ever-else is blocking me or chafing my short hairs.
2. I will disappoint you. I’m just gonna have to trust that the people who love me will continue to do so and that my being who I am won’t make them ill or prematurely gray or pathologically disillusioned. Or maybe they won’t love me. Or maybe they will love me and all of those curses will fall on them. I love them but they have to live their own lives, just as I have to live mine.
3. Sometimes I will say things that make no sense.
4. Sometimes I will say things that don’t need to be said.
5. I will sometimes trip (or run headlong) into vulgarity and blasphemy.
6. I will continue to resort to bullsh** neo-victorian euphemism and typological trickery to satisfy my own need to not feel like I am that much of a potty mouth or unsophisticate.
7. I will occasionally (or frequently) rant, whine and pontificate.
8. I will repeat myself.
9. Some of my ideas will be ill-conceived.
10. Others will be poorly expressed.
11. I will probably plagiarize (though, I hope, unintentionally).
12. Most of my conservative friends think I’m liberal. Fuck it; I’ll wear that label if it makes them happy.
13. Some of my liberal friends wonder why I cling to the backward vestiges of sectarianism and superstition. Fuck it. I love Jesus. I believe in fairy tales. I pray to an invisible God who committed genocide and sanctioned incest. Sue me.
14. I will hate every label and system and structure you try to fit me in.
15. I will continue to strive to define myself (or hear for myself from the heart of God who I am). I will probably take your definitions too seriously, but in most cases I will ultimately dismiss them.
16. I like words–pretty, ugly, arcane and obtuse, monosyllabic and simple, pious, profane, frustratingly vague, painfully precise, etc. There are enough of you bastards that obviously don’t; I’m pretty sure it’s okay that a few of us do.
17. I like to think. Not that I’m opposed to doing. I do some things. But I’m no longer content to restrain my thoughts because I don’t have a three-point action plan to accomplish them.

This is who I am and who I’m deciding to be. You might not like it. Feel free to express your disagreement. Feel free to join the billions who don’t read what I have to say.

Or feel free to join me. I mean this to be fun. I mean it to be meaningful. I mean to actually follow through this time; I like to believe that I’ve finally found a way to pretend that I don’t give a damn what any of you think (it’s a lie; I do–at least sort of) and can in fact say what’s on my mind, instead of always settling for an unreasonable facsimile thereof (that might be a lie too: I’m not sure we ever get the “real” thing; but I’m willing to risk getting closer than I usually dare).

I’m a technology professional–I’ve even worked for a software company and played a key role in development–so I can say this with some authority: too many developers want to make you think that when their software crashes, it’s your fault. Don’t believe them. They’re human just like you. And, just like you, they’ll pass the buck when they can.

There’s a lot to be said for expertise, for specialization and for technical or esoteric knowledge. I’m a big fan. But these things are also dangerous. When someone reckons himself an expert he starts to believe that, well, he’s better than you. And, in that he’s better than you, if something goes wrong, it’s probably your fault and not his. The understanding of this propensity has applications all over (economics, medicine, religion, music, literature, etc.), but let’s stick to software for now (please do consider those other applications though).

My role in software development began as a wing nut support tech. I say “wing nut” because I liked the stuff other people hated. When folks called complaining that their system kept crashing, I was intrigued. When they phoned us wanting to do things with our software that it wasn’t designed to do, I took it as a challenge. It wasn’t long until I started to do a lot of troubleshooting and testing, which led to the creation of a testing department (of which I was manager) and finally to a programming liaison position.

One of the things that made me good at what I did (and one of the reasons, by the way, that I think it’s boneheaded to let programmers manage and audit themselves) is that I tended to believe the users. I couldn’t help it: I liked them; they were my friends. One of the stupid things my coder buddies (for whom I had the same sort of affection, doggone it) would often ask is “what the heck were they trying to do?”

Now don’t get me wrong, “what was the user doing when the software failed?” is the first question one should ask. But the question my buddies asked was far more rhetorical. What they really meant can be summed up in the old story of the patient and the doctor:

Patient: Doc, it hurts when I move my arm like this.
Doctor: Don’t move your arm like that.

As ignorant as our users could be (and, let’s be honest, often were), what they were doing was their jobs. Specifically, they were trying to do with our software what we claimed it could do.

Without going into painful detail, here’s how it should work: software should have a stated application (hence the metonym). Most software has a specific application. The key is that it should be clearly articulated and well known. Similarly the software’s limits should be identified, expressed and understood. The software should work within its limits and do what its developers claim it can do. The best software will meaningfully and effectively warn you as you approach its limits and, instead of imploding, tell you when you’ve reached them and let you know why your instructions can’t be executed and your data can’t be processed.

It’s simple really. But it’s also hard work. And it requires a bit of honesty and humility–qualities that, sadly, are wanting in most industries and, let’s face it, throughout our culture. Honesty and humility are especially hard to find, I’ve noticed, when the market value of the product is both high and highly subjective, there exists a well-established (though not always well-defined) oligarchy of “experts” and the nature of the industry is in constant flux. Software is clearly such an industry.

You can thank Bill for today’s rant. I’ve been sitting here waiting for Outlook to load. Alas, my mailbox “was not closed properly,” so Outlook is trying to repair it. Notice the subtle insinuation: apparently I did something wrong. And, ever the martyr, Outlook is hard at work fixing my mess.

What I remember is that I clicked that little “X” in the upper right corner like I always do. From what I could tell, the software completed its exit and the data was closed just fine. There were no obvious warnings (certainly no clear ones). No one said, “hey guy, you did something wrong; do this instead.” Not long thereafter, I shut down the computer. Again, no red flags. I didn’t realize I was screwing something up. Silly me.

I had a thought this morning about prayer. It’s not really a new thought (I’ve had it and heard it before in a variety of forms), but it struck me with vitality. And I’ve been meaning to blog. Lucky you.

Most of what we do in the name of prayer (and, by extension, most of what we do in the name of worship and religion–or for all of you us pretentious bastards, “spirituality” or “relationship [with God]”) is just noise–a straining of our voices and a flailing of our arms; incessant, senseless striving. If we’re lucky, despite all of that nonsense, we stumble upon a moment in which we hear the voice of God. I’m pretty sure that that fleeting moment is the only thing that can rightly be called “prayer.” The rest is waste.

I’m not at all convinced that there’s any causal relationship between the noise and the moment. If there is I suspect it mostly amounts to this: we reach a point of exhaustion in which, by God’s grace, we find ourselves, one way or another, unable to speak or act or even will ourselves Godward. Somehow I think it still matters that we at least have an intent in our heart in Her direction but that thought may merely reflect my lack of enlightenment. And, yes, I reckon “intent” as qualitatively different from “will.”

Okay, there’s that and the fact that all of our meaningless “spiritual” noise temporarily displaces all some of our other distractions. But that displacement is at best a nearly-incidental medial point and should not be (though it usually is) mistaken for the moment or its cause.

In the months during which I finally lost hope in philosophy, ironically, I read some of the best philosophy I had ever read. One of my favorite encounters during this period, a guy named Marcel, said something about our inability to apprehend Truth except “out of the corner of the eye.” Maybe that’s true because even our eyes are frenetically, spastically overactive. Maybe this excess of overactivity (yes, that’s a redundant superlative; deal with it) is closer to what the writers of Scripture mean by “lust.”

Whoever you are and whatever you think you know, the title of this post is my advice to you, to us. Of course the very nature of the advice provokes our minds to war against its intent.

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