Thursday, June 24, 2010

If I Listened Long Enough

My mind does not accept "magic" as an explanation.

I suppose it was sometime in high school that I first realized this. Something in my head wanted more repeatability and consistency in my life. Coincidentally, I started dating at this time, which didn't add to my repeatability or consistency levels.

Now, I understand there are many events that are "non-repeatable." For example, my mom is never going to have another child like me (for which, I'm sure she is grateful). My wife and I aren't bringing any more children into this world, but other people can, and do, all the time. The "Miracle of Birth" is ... well, pretty commonplace. It's also pretty well documented and studied; we know how it happens.

On a grander scale, there has been (to our knowledge) exactly one universe ever created. We can't tell how it got here, or if there are others, because there's not enough information. In ancient times, when there wasn't enough information to determine a cause for an event, it was attributed to some deity (for example, the seasons in Greek times were thought to be caused by Demeter's daughter being taken to the underworld for six months of each year).

As time has gone on, we've gotten better about gathering information. Our toolboxes for studying things has gotten better. We understand that the seasons are due to the tilt of the planet, toward or away from the Sun; it's not because some kidnapped goddess ate some pomegranate seeds in Hades. Once other explanations became available, religions based on explaining natural events faded, and religions based on how to live surged.

The concept of God is something that I struggle with daily. I was raised Catholic, and when I went through the Confirmation Rite, I chose St. Thomas (the Doubter) for my saint name...I also chose St. George (of dragon slaying fame) for bravery, because I knew I wouldn't last long as a Doubter without some Bravery thrown in. I ended up studying many different religions (even attended services for a few) in high school and college, but nothing in particular ever grabbed me.

All the services I attended, bible study groups I joined, retreats I went on, times I was an server (or eucharistic minister, later) at Mass ... I never really felt connected to any deity. It is for this reason that I have not attended services regularly in some time. Maybe it's time to start again.

It's not that I miss God. I find that I miss the people.

Until another time,

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why So Many Lose, And So Few Win

Lightning struck a styrofoam statue of Jesus last night.

Let me relate some facts, now that I've done a bit of reading about this statue. It was only six years old. The church it was constructed in front of built it (using donations, none of the regular church funds) at a cost of something between a quarter and three-quarters of a million dollars (depending on the source). It was a metal frame (the only surviving pieces), wrapped in molded styrofoam, and then coated with a thin veneer of fiberglass, so it could be painted to look like stone or marble.

There was, of course, criticism when it was built. It was nicknamed, "Touchdown Jesus" by some people. Heywood Banks (a parody songwriter and folk singer) wrote a song about it, entitled "Big Butter Jesus." There were people asking, "What else could the church have done with the funds they used on that statue?"

Now that it's been destroyed, I'm really shocked at the amount of people who are willing to ascribe this to divine intervention. Shouldn't we be past the whole, "God Smites Wicked; Full Story At Ten" mentality? I remember when someone tried to attribute AIDS to God, something about vengeance on the wicked (this is trending down). I remember just a short time ago a scientific experiment was conducted to disprove a claim that immodestly dressed women cause earthquakes.

Suppose there's a God (just go with me on this one), who spent a lot of time and energy between 6000 and 1400 years ago, sending the Divine Word to his creations. Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam; assume these (and their associated publications) are the attempts of a Deity to inform us of His(Her) Will.

As divine works, these have a lot in common. They all include a creation story, instructions on how to worship, rules for treatment of your fellow man, etc. They all say Good Things™ will happen, if you follow their commandments. They contain stories of vengeance, of compassion, of mercy, of rules broken and rules upheld. There are wise people portrayed, and there are also fools (there sure seem to be a lot of fools, lately, doesn't it?).

This kind of reading can make a person think, "Ahah! They are all so similar! They must all be the Divine Word of God!" Of course, it can also make a person think, "Plagiarism! Someone wrote down some good stories, and all the other religions copied them!"

As for me ... I hope their statue was insured.

Until another time,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

And Cheer Them With Fervid Elation

I was born during the winter in Nebraska in the mid 70s.

I like to tell people that my first words were spoken in the fall, and that they were "Go Big Red"; my parents assure me that was not the case. I'm told that my first words were, "Here's Johnny!"

I grew up feeling sorry for beating up Kansas, and worrying about Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. I hated all teams associated with Florida.

I considered a bit of a history lesson here, for context, but it's been done. The first article is (slightly skewed) from Sports Illustrated, the second is the Wikipedia entry for the (former) Big Eight Conference, and the last article is a timeline of events regarding (current) Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-10 teams, and the conferences they have been affiliated with. So, I'll just intersperse my growing up with the changes I've seen in sports. If you need more analysis, you might read some Writing For The Cycle. He's much more knowledgeable about such things, and I'm sure he'll get to talking about this.

I moved to Minnesota when I was nine years old, carrying my Husker pride with me (which was a good thing, the Gophers were terrible in the 80s). I was a sorta Orioles fan, since Omaha didn't have a MLB team (Omaha Royals are AAA, so I kinda followed KC), but then the Twins won the World Series in 1987, and I was on the bandwagon. They did it again in 1991.

I started to learn hockey during this time, and began following the North Stars. I was not as devastated as many of my friends when they moved to Texas, but I was not happy about it.

I went to college at Drake University, in Des Moines, IA, still cheering the Big Red in the Big Eight (which, for 20 years at the beginning of the century, included Drake). Baseball lost a lot of its shine for me in 1994. Even in Iowa, in the heart of Hawkeye country, I found fellow Huskers. We would gather on Saturdays, and watch the Blackshirts eat up offenses for most of the 90s.

I remember the outcry among the Iowa fans when Penn State joined the Big Ten conference. I remember it being a big deal, but I didn't really pay much attention to it, because it was Big Ten, and although I lived in the conference, I lived and died with Nebraska.

I learned to hate Texas for reasons unrelated to hockey, when the Big 12 Conference was formed in 1996. They were arrogant bullies, and everything I hated Florida for being, but now Texas schools were locked into schedules with Nebraska every year. Texas got them to move the conference seat from Kansas City to Dallas.

I married in the late 90s, and my wife still jokes that she's a Cornhusker by marriage, and roots for the team because it's in the marriage contract. Nebraska's fortunes went down, and Texas fortunes went up.

I saw today that Colorado has left the Big 12 for the Pac-10. Nebraska is expected to announce it will join the Big Ten on Friday, June 11th, 2010.

I am not entirely sure what all the fallout from this will be. But I do know one thing: Nebraska already has one of these, which may help them get along with their new Big Ten brethren.

Until another time,

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Please Help Them With Your Youth

I like tricking kids.

When babies are just at that age where they realize that I can hide a toy with my hands but it's not gone (object permanence), this is my favorite baby age. They've learned something, and I'm making them use it.

Another great source of entertainment for me is when kids ask questions I know they know the answer to. For example, my son used to come in from playing outside, and find me reading National Geographic magazine. He'd say, "What are you doing?" and I'd say, "I'm baking cookies." Then he'd say, "No, you're reading your magazine." I'd agree, and smile, and ask him why he asked, then. Now, he asks, "What are you reading?" and we occasionally get into good discussions about plant or animal articles.

Mothers that would see us out with our two small children would say, "Treasure this time; it goes so fast!" Parts of it don't go fast enough. Dinner times, for example, are exceptionally slow, and there's not much to treasure about them ("Sit up!" "Drink your milk!" "Don't talk with food in your mouth!" etc).

I've mentioned before, I have a son (who is now eight) and a daughter (who is four...-and-a-half, if you ask her). I'm not a perfect dad, but I do what I can with what I've got. The most treasured thing that has happened between me and my kids is literacy.

Our family was big proponent of singing the ABCs. Then, when they had that down, we all learned our ZYXs, too (yes, my kids know the alphabet forwards and backwards). Shortly after that, we learned character recognition, and we'd drive around town doing errands, and finding letters on signs. They would practice forming letters (usually, the letters of their names) during coloring time. We would read to them often, pointing at the words as we said them.

Naturally, I'll put forth that my kids are geniuses, inheriting a great deal of natural ability from their parents. But the fact is, kids who are exposed to people who read, people who enjoy reading, and people who demonstrate to the kids that they enjoy reading, will be interested in reading. Kids who are interested in a topic will put forth effort to learn it, and any kid that puts forth effort is fun to teach.

The eight year old is well on his way to literacy, having gotten through the second grade this year. He reads longer books, with semi-complex plots. I make him read to me, now, because I enjoy hearing such great progress.

The four year old (FOUR AND A HALF, DADDY!), she recognizes letters, and knows their sounds. It's only a matter of time before she starts seeing words as sets of letters and sounds, and then by "smooshing" the sounds together, she will read words.

I cannot express how wonderful it is to see a child's face light up the first time they realize they read a word using letter-sounds. I still remember it from the boy learning, and I can't wait until the girl does it.

This is the time, for me, to treasure.

Until another time,

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Just a Little More Time Is All

I am a lucky man.

No, I didn't win the lottery (precisely), nor has my dream job as a professional mattress tester fallen into my lap.

However, I was born to two parents who are full of common sense, and instilled into all of their children the value of learning (even if it's not in a school), and taught us the rewards of having situational awareness. I was encouraged to try things, test limits, and take things apart (and put them back together).

This was possible, because my parents were born during the baby boom of the 50s, and they grew up in the 60s, when civil freedoms were finally (legally) pushed to the logical conclusions of frameworks laid down in the 1800s. They understood freedoms, and they understood prejudices, and they tried very hard to make sure they led by example, not judging people "by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," as the good Doctor prescribed to the nation.

The baby boom of the 50s was due to the return of the men (and women, but mostly the men) who returned from Europe and the Pacific after World War II. Some of them brought brides they married afield, but many of them came back from their foreign service to girlfriends or fiances or wives; they started families.

But this past Monday, Memorial Day, is not a day to remember those that returned from that war, or any war. It's a day to remember those who have fallen, so that the others have somewhere to return to.

I'm happy I live in a country where I do not have to serve in the military. It's a volunteer militia, and I support them, even when I don't agree with the reason for action, or the deployment destination. It's not my job to decide how to protect the country, but it is still my country.

As short and as rocky of a history as this country has, it's seen a lot of fighting, and a lot of death. But every battle fought for freedom, for ourselves or others, we need to remember the price paid. I think #16 said it best, when he said that "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

However, due to the influences of my parents, I still work towards a day when a military presence will not be required to defend freedoms for all to enjoy.

Until another time,

P.S.   Yes, I am quite pleased with myself that I managed to quote two of my favorite speeches in one post, thanks for asking.