On This September 12th

The headline on September 12th from the New York Times

I actually started composing something a week ago about September 11th, reminiscing about that day and the general mood of the country prior to the attack on the World Trade Center.  As I paid attention to some 9/11 coverage during the past week, I was reminded of what the country was actually like, and that I was really viewing it with rose-colored glasses.  Hey, I was a sophomore in college; I’d only just started paying attention to the world around me.

Thus, instead, I reflect on September 12th, or really, the initial days that followed September 11th.

Much like the JFK assassination and the generation(s) before me that were actually alive at that time, I remember exactly what I was doing at the time it all happened.  I was in my dorm room and had just gotten up to read my Yahoo! News feed and see that a plane of some type had hit the first tower.  I woke up my roommate and turned on CNN just in time to watch the second plane hit the second tower.  On live television.

What followed over the next few hours, and few days, and few weeks, was a series of feelings.  Confusion.  Fear.  Shock.

Then Focus.

Then Togetherness.

Then Direction.

This country went through a terrible tragedy and, from it, came a sense of direction that it hadn’t had in awhile.  My initial blog post was looking to those years before 9/11, and that it was a time that I wish we could all return to.  However, in many ways, the country was already on a downward spiral of divisiveness, with the Lewinsky Scandal and Impeachment proceedings in the news.  With a Dot Com Bubble bursting.  With a Housing Crisis already in the works.

Really, a decade on, I’d like us all to reflect on where we were 10 years ago today, rather than 10 years ago yesterday.  Sure, yesterday was incredibly important and it is equally important that all those lives were lost.  At the same time, I think it’s essential that we remember how much of the country actually came together for a common purpose.  Eventually, that purpose was misdirected toward other political goals.  That purpose was used to divide the country even further than it’s ever been, certainly in my lifetime.  And today, on September 12, 2011, we are about as divided as we could be.

But on September 12, 2001, we were all together.  In grief.  In searching.  In wondering.

Yet also, in a desire to root out evil.  A need to be together in service to our communities.  To be together in solidarity and in support of our firefighters, policemen and EMTs, but also in support of each other.

Case in point: I read on Facebook that over 100 people from our church in St. Louis went to East St. Louis to be in service to others on September 10th as part of the Serve 2011 project.  That’s the kind of feeling we should be getting from 9/11.  Not only focusing on the attack itself, but also on the need to better ourselves that followed for the first few days and weeks after it.  The thing that was designed to tear us apart that actually helped bring us together, even if only for a few short moments.  Where we weren’t rich, poor, black, white, man or woman: we were just American.  And we were all the same.

And that’s what we need to work toward finding again, 10 years later.  Ten years after September the 12th.

Lonely In The Middle

The last few weeks have presented a variety of issues within the American national discourse that warrant commentary, but I’ll let that aside right now and focus on something a bit more “meta” to the situation: how, exactly, we as members of society communicate with each other.

A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook on two unrelated subjects.  On the first, I stated the following:

Andy Linsenbardt wants help with a list of bands or groups worse than Coldplay. The only one I can come up with so far is LFO.

That status update started a discussion spanning 96 comments across 10 or so people.  I followed it up with this:

For those that don’t want to read through the 89 comments in my previous status posting, the following was decided, after much deliberation: ICP < Nickelback < Creed < Coldplay.

On the other side of the coin, for a completely separate issue, I posted a story published by the Des Moines Register regarding abortion laws in Nebraska and how a particular couple were forced to do something they didn’t want to.  The feed this post spawned went for 51 comments across 7 or 8 people.

In both of these unrelated discussions, involving many individuals of completely different ideologies, we were able to “hold it together” and not get (too) personal.  We were completely capable of providing opinions without the need to tell each other that we were bad people or completely wrong (well, aside from the occasional sarcastic comment in that first thread…).  For the most part, it was a respectful discussion from ranging viewpoints.  On the latter discussion, I don’t think we came to anything close to a consensus, yet I feel we left more informed on the opposing viewpoints.

While the first status update was largely a “dig” at Coldplay (much-deserved…), I wasn’t thinking that I’d get nearly that many comments.

On the latter one, I kinda did, which brings me to the following point:

I think the thing missing most from the national discourse today is honesty and openness, especially from those positioned in The Middle.  There are quite a few folks out there on the political ultra-right or ultra-left that have their signs waving on the picket line, the so-called “activists” you could say.  These people are being very successful in pulling their ranks further and further from each other, making it appear that there is only a very distant “middle-ground” left between them.

It’s just sad when Facebook is the last bastion of reasonable discourse.

I won’t get into the abortion debate here or anything, but it’s safe to say that, aside from the folks out there with “Pro-Choice” and “Pro-Life” signs going on marches, the issue is frequently ignored in the middle.  I think it’s mostly out of fear, as those in the middle are afraid of being labeled one or the other, and what that may mean.  It’s the kind of issue we frequently ignore in schools.  Going to Lutheran and Methodist churches all my life, it’s an issue that’s frequently ignored there, as well.  It just seems as if there isn’t really a middle ground in that particular debate, let alone a variety of others.  People are afraid of the subject.  They keep it locked away.

In a related fashion, all too often, I hear of people not wanting to say anything about politics, or about religion, or about culture, because they are afraid of offending friends of theirs, or of “getting into it” to the point where they may not end up speaking with someone for a few days (or weeks…or ever again…).  These are people that don’t want to bring it up around the dinner table with their spouse, or with other family members.  Those that don’t want to bring it up at work so they don’t end up getting into some kind of long argument with their co-workers.  And most relevant to this particular post, those that don’t want to post anything on Facebook or other social networking sites so their friends (or future employers…) can’t see what they think about various issues.

And therein lies the problem.  If people aren’t willing to defend their positions, with intelligence and respect, then those on the ultra-left and those on the ultra-right with their signs will have effectively won.  They will have won by scaring those in the middle away from getting into the debate in the first place.  By causing them to hide from the discussion, keeping the issue from ever reaching any kind of moderate consensus.  Without a voice firmly planted in The Middle, then the opposing sides continue to pull apart with little to hold them together.

The problem is nothing new, and it exists in other instances.  Case in point: Years ago, at a Wesley House float trip, I had a great conversation with a Methodist pastor I greatly respect.  We were lamenting the decreasing population of Methodist campus ministries, while others were increasing in number.  In his view, the other ministries were offering a more “black and white” interpretation of the world, and the Bible, while Methodists (and ELCA, and others…) were allowing for the fact that there are “greys:” that black and white weren’t the only options.  The people we were trying to provide a service for weren’t interested in The Middle: they chose their extremes, likely because they wanted to be told what to think  The Middle, to them, was a scary place to be, a place where you may have to question things, have to think about the world, and have to make decisions.  Picking an extreme, there’s a clear-cut answer: you accept it and move on.

On a political spectrum, I technically fall center-left.  I’m a Moderate, by most interpretations.  But my thoughts on a variety of subjects, to some, would paint me as an ultra-leftist (because “The Middle” has been pulled more and more toward the Conservative side of the spectrum, but that’s another issue altogether…).

You can position yourself in the middle of an argument and still have strong feelings about it.  It’s possible.  And I try to do it all the time.

Accepting Religious Curiosity in Context

I was catching up on NPR’s “On Point” from February 16th, where Tom Ashbrook was interviewing Richard Watts, author of various books, the most recent of which is “Hungers of the Heart: Spirituality and Religion for the 21st Century.” The entire podcast is worth listening to, but toward the end, Watts and Ashbrook got into some interesting territory.  In general, Watts is very interested in “the historical Jesus,” looking at the man and historical record and the context in which the Bible was written, as opposed to focusing on what could be considered the more “mystical” aspects of the Bible.  We pick up this transcript as Tom Ashbrook is reading a comment off the internet:

Ashbrook: “…but then here’s Elmridge who says of you ‘but he is denying the divinity of Jesus.’  What about that, Rev. Watts?”

Watts: “Well, one of the things we need to do is we always need to read texts in context.  When we don’t do that we get into big trouble.  Now, for example, if I tell you that there’s…that I know someone in the first century that’s called ‘divine,’ ‘the son of god,’ and ‘the savior,’ you know, who do you suppose I’m talking about?  Well, most people would say you’re talking about Jesus.  No, I’m talking about Caesar Augustus.  Caesar Augustus received all of those divine titles, and so when Christians talked about Jesus and what they had encountered in his life, they used titles which were very counter-cultural, they were saying, look, if you want to know what life is about, if you want to know what real power is, if you want to know where divinity is, look at this peasant going around talking about creating a new community of compassion and love.  Don’t look for the seat of power for the emperor in Rome.”

Watts: “Christianity in the very beginning, before it was called ‘Christianity,’ Tom [Ashbrook], it was called ‘The Way.’  And it was a way of life.  It was a lifestyle.  It doesn’t mean that lifestyle was devoid of a basis of belief, of course it was, but it was a lifestyle long before it was a creed, and I think we need to get over our hang-up with absolute creeds and get back to the lifestyle, a lifestyle which is non-violent, which is compassionate, which is inclusive, which creates community rather than holding people off at arm’s length.”

There was another interesting exchange later in the podcast.

Ashbrook: “You know very well, as do many other preachers, that the kind of mainline protestant churches that you’re describing that may be most open to this kind of open-minded, liberal conversation, are the ones that have seen their attendance just go through the floor in the last decade.  Now why is that?”

Watts: “Part of that, that’s a great question, and part of the problem is, that, I have to lay at the feet of clergy.  It seems to me that an awful lot of clergy don’t bother to teach the people what they themselves have learned.  And so, people are sort of fundamentalist by default because they, these sorts of questions that you and I are talking about today are not often raised and I know that in mainline churches there are all kinds of people sitting there never receiving permission to raise their questions, never having the opportunity to engage in give-and-take about what their life experience has taught them, or what their life experience has asked them.

Let me tell you a very brief story.  There was a scholar in the Jesus Seminar, which works to uncover the facts about the historical Jesus, that was giving a talk to a group of Missouri Synod Lutherans, a very conservative denomination, and he was talking about New Testament documents, and the document “Q,” which is a lost document of the sayings of Jesus.  And then came time for the question period and he wondered, he felt like Daniel in the lion’s den, and a woman stood up and, instead of addressing the speaker, she turned around to address her preacher in the pew behind her and she said to him, ‘did you know about Q?’ And he said, ‘well, yeah.’  And she said, ‘why didn’t you tell us?’  And I think that’s a very powerful parable, that our churches are full of people that are questioning, who are curious, but who aren’t being adequately taught…”

I won’t write much about this, as the post is already long enough with these transcripts included.  I just wanted to say that this is the kind of thing I like to hear about, the historical context in which the Bible was written, and how that context can help inform what we know and what we don’t know about religion.  Moreover, I think that if there was more of this being taught in our churches today, there would be fewer “black and white” interpretations of what the Bible tells us, and we would all be more accepting of each other.

It’s a shame when pastors and educators shut down the intellectually curious.  We should all be fostering curiosity in ourselves and in our kids in order to better understand where we come from and who we are, rather than asking someone to tell us, and then accepting that information blindly.

Questioning and thoughtful investigation is the way of science.  It should be the way of religion, too.

“I was in the prison, and you visited me…”

Brooke and Meg were out of town this past weekend, so I attended church alone.  We had a guest pastor in church, as our regular pastor was out of town.  Her name was Pastor Arnette Pint, and she was the first Associate Pastor for Shueyville UMC back in the late-90s.  Since that time, she has gone on to a few positions, but her most recent one is serving a congregation called Women at the Well, that she started at the Mitchellville, IA Women’s Correctional Facility, so she had some very interesting perspectives.

Pastor Arnette described a variety of statistics and anecdotal stories to help illustrate what she does and why it’s important.  First, she told us that this is a relatively new concept, having a church within a prison.  This is different than having churches visit prisons, as you end up getting a variety of groups coming through and not staying – no sense of permanence.  The United Methodist Church in Iowa felt the need to appoint a pastor specifically to this prison, as the system apparently works well in other states where it’s been implemented.  Pastor Arnette relayed a story of the pastor (whose name I can’t find) that started this movement and, effectively, “wrote the book” on doing this sort of thing.  He had been ministering to the men of a prison in South Dakota and he got the sense that they wanted an actual, regular, church service.  Something permanent.  Something they could depend on.  After he started a weekly service, the numbers of attendees grew, and their outlooks after prison improved.

The part of the story that hit me was that, supposedly, one inmate thanked him for starting the service, lamenting the endless parade of churches and groups coming through to preach to them.  The inmate said “We was tired of gettin’ saved.”  It was an interesting point to make, as these churches that were coming to the prison somehow felt as though, because they were prisoners, they must obviously not be Christians.  Because they were in prison, they obviously needed “saving.”

With this framework in mind, Pastor Arnette went through some statistics, saying that 60% of inmate in her prison have been diagnosed with a mental illness, though that number is surely higher.  Most of those diagnoses happened outside the prison system, as the ones that occur once you’re in the system can be difficult to interpret.  There are 600 women in the prison, while 30 years ago, in the same building, there were only 40-something women there.  It’s a crowded place, and there’s one psychologist to manage all of them.  They communicate over the internet with a psychiatrist in order to get any medications approved.  Pastor Arnette also said that, while the statistics aren’t solid on this, she thinks it’s somewhere between 80% and 90% of these women that have been abused in some fashion during their lives, and the majority of them have struggled with addiction at some time.  For many of them, addiction is the reason they are in prison at all.  She said that, while they have counselors at the prison to help the psychologist in their day-to-day routine, these counselors, more often than not, are prison guards that have ranked up high enough to get off the floor.

The United Methodist Church in Iowa also started a program to help provide clothing for women that are leaving prison.  Apparently, the State of Iowa doesn’t provide you with a change of clothes for your bus ride home, so there are women riding from Des Moines to all points of the State in their prison uniform.  Hardly the “right foot” to get started on.  So, the Methodist Church started collecting clothes from women across the state, asking them to donate their lightly-used clothes so that these women have something to start fresh with.  The church provides a set of casual clothes, as well as a set of clothes nice enough for “that first job interview.”  Certainly a nice gesture.

One of her larger points was with regards to the cost of building and operating prisons.  She pointed out that almost $180 million has been approved by the State of Iowa to help refurbish this current prison, as well as build another prison in the state (and that’s just to build, not to operate).  That’s $180+ million to help deal with all these women that have been coming in (remember, 40 women increased to 600 in this one building over 30 years, largely due to influx of methamphetamine and harsher drug laws).  She suggested that, maybe, that $180+ million would have been better spent on helping these women before they got into prison, by providing greater access to abuse and addiction counselors, or to even see a mental health professional.

At a time when state funding for mental health is declining drastically, our spending on new prison facilities is increasing.  “How does this make sense,” she asks.

The last point I’ll leave with you are some interesting statistics on recidivism (as in, the likelihood someone within the prison will come back to the prison one or more times).  The rate in Iowa is 60%, which is comparable to other states.  According to her, in studies that have looked into programs like hers, with churches that are actually based within a prison, the recidivism rate drops to 15% for those individuals.  If those individuals leave the prison and find a church home (as in, one they attend regularly, as opposed to “just visiting”), the rate drops to 2%.

It was an excellent sermon, and an eye-opening testament to what goes on in the prison system.  Thankfully, my family isn’t known for their prison stints, so I can’t say I have any experience with what it’s like to “go through the system.”  I hope I never do, but if anyone I know has to go through it, I hope they have someone like Pastor Arnette and a program like hers to help them see it through.

This whole “War on Christmas” thing…

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Gretch Who Saved the War on Christmas
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor The Daily Show on Facebook

For some reason, this week marked the first time in 2010 that I heard mention of this year’s “War on Christmas,” first in church and then in the “Daily Show” clip embedded above.  At church this past Sunday, it was proclaimed twice (not by the pastor) that we should all remember that “Jesus is the reason for the season” and that we should all say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.”  In the clip above, Jon Stewart highlights Fox News’ personality Gretchen Carlson as going off on the city of Tulsa, OK for changing the name of their 70-year-old annual “Christmas Parade” to the “Holiday Parade”…back in 2009…

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the frustration.  Christmas is a holiday celebrating Jesus’ birth and, thus, is a Christian holiday.  And this Christian holiday has been hijacked by all these other groups, including the atheists that believe in Santa Claus, or the Jews and their Hanukkah celebration.  We should all stand up against this onslaught and proudly exclaim “Merry Christmas” to everyone, and help ensure that we get a “Merry Christmas” back instead of the more generic “Happy Holidays” (you know, ’cause there’s only one real holiday…so we can’t make it plural). <end sarcasm here>

As the last half of the video above suggests, this trend is hardly new.  If you watch many of the old classic Christmas movies, including “Rudolph,” “A Christmas Carol,” “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” etc., you won’t find much mention of Jesus.  Only “A Charlie Brown Christmas” comes to mind in mentioning it at all, with the iconic recitation of the Christmas story by Linus, but that still only lasts a few minutes compared with the rest of the plot line.  Why, exactly, these TV and radio personalities are so uppity about it in recent years is beyond me.  It’s been happening for decades.

What Carlsson, and many, many others, fail to understand is that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t actually born on December 25th, and that the date was (likely?) chosen by Rome because of other festivals occurring around the Winter Solstice; or the fact that Hanukkah predates Christmas by almost two centuries.  These people miss  the fact that the very idea of “Christmas” has become something more to the general population of the world.

A time of peace.  A time of giving and sharing.  A time of remembering and helping the less fortunate.  A time for friends and family.  A time to end hostilities between you and your neighbor.  A time to think back on those that have gone before you, and a time to watch new lives grow.

Whether or not you ascribe the holiday to Jesus, Santa, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or someone/something else: shirley these are tenets we can all agree on.

I’d be willing to bet that Jesus would rather you love and remember your neighbor, instead of getting caught up in saying “Merry Christmas.”  He’d want you to say something.  And mean it.

How We Wash Our Diapers

I think that just about everyone who uses cloth diapers has their own “secret” to clean, fresh diapers, but since we know a few new parents who are getting ready to delve into the world of cloth diapering, I thought I’d share my washing routine in case it might help!

We keep our dirty diapers in a plain trash can with a lid that came from Target for under $10, so everything wet or soiled, including flannel wipes and, when I was still breastfeeding, flannel nursing pads, goes in there. When Meg was only eating breastmilk, the poopy diapers also went in as is. Now that she’s eating solids and the poop wouldn’t break down in the washer, we just dump what can be dumped into the toilet and throw those diapers into an ice cream bucket that’s on the stairs to the basement where the washer and dryer are so we can grab them on the way down with the rest of the diapers.

Generally, we wash diapers and covers every 2-3 days during the evening after Meg is in bed. Our normal routine is that I “Prewash” everything on cold first, then soak everything in warm water with a couple of coffee scoops of baking soda. I used to take out the covers and soak just the diapers in hot water, but decided that was using too much energy for not a lot of difference in cleanliness, so recently switched to a warm water soak. I let the diapers soak for about an hour, then wash on warm with an extra rinse cycle. I just use Tide Free and Clear detergent and a couple of capfuls of vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser of the washer. I’m usually not a name brand snob at all, but since we have well water, I think the Tide really does do a much better job than other brands of baby-friendly detergent, although when Aldi has their brand of dye and perfume free detergent, I use that, but they only have it every once in awhile. By this point in the routine, I go to bed and Andy handles pulling out the diaper covers to air dry and putting the diapers in the dryer on the highest heat setting. By the time we get up in the morning, the diapers in the dryer are finished and the covers are dry enough to either put away or pack in Meg’s day care bag.

We do have a couple of all-in-one diapers that Andy just puts in the dryer and they seem to still be holding up ok, but I’m not sure how they would continue to wash if we only dried them in the dryer and only used those?

I’ve bleached all of our white prefolds maybe twice in the last 7 months, but hung prefolds and handmade fitteds outside on a really sunny day to be sun bleached every once in awhile. I had plans to hang everything out on the clothesline for as long as possible, and while I did hang out clothes all summer, the diapers didn’t make it out that often, especially since I started working, just because the dryer is so much faster and can be done overnight. As always, feel free to ask either of us any questions about cloth diapering, because we think we’re pretty good at it and it’s working out so well for us, we think anyone can handle it!

Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

Scary movies are something I’ve come to enjoy relatively late compared with others.  Many (most?) of the modern horror movies are rated “R,” and thus, I wasn’t really allowed to see any of them until late-high school.  Therefore, I’ve probably seen more “scary thrillers” (e.g. “Se7en“) than I’ve seen “horror” (e.g. “A Nightmare on Elm Street“) movies.  I did, however, make it a point to see many of the “classics” of the 30s and 40s, including “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Wolf Man,” etc.  Alternatively, Brooke had something of a problem with nightmares when growing up, so her Mom (amusingly…) subjected her to quite a few in a (failed) effort to desensitize her.  While I’ve seen many of the oldies, Brooke saw more of the 70s and 80s classics.

Since we got married, though, we’ve tried watching more scary movies when October rolls around.  We do our best to watch “Hocus Pocus” every year if possible, but since we don’t have cable (and, therefore, don’t have ABC Family…which shows it every year without fail…), we may not get to see it unless we get that far in our Netflix Queue.  This year, I decided to put a few of them up here that we will be watching in the coming weeks.

We watched this one Saturday night. Quite honestly, I’ve never found “The Exorcist” to be all that appealing, and certainly not scary. I know people have said in the past that part of the “scariness” is that “it actually happened”…which it kinda didn’t, but whatever… Regardless, I’d seen it before and Brooke hadn’t, and I noticed awhile back that it was on Netflix streaming so we added it to the queue. Once we hit October, it was time to start watching scary movies. After finishing it, I wanted to play some games, but Brooke said we had to watch an episode of “30 Rock” so she’d be able to sleep… 😛

I’ve never seen the original “Night of the Living Dead,” but it’s on Netflix Streaming, so now’s the time. Brooke wanted to watch it last year, as it was one of those her Mom made her watch years ago, so I went out of my way to “find a copy” (cough…), however when I started showing the movie to her, she said “this isn’t ‘Night of the Living Dead’!” After going to great lengths to prove to her that this was the movie she had instructed me to find, she then decided that, apparently, her Mom made her watch “some other zombie” movie and she, in fact, had never seen it. Therefore, we’re going to watch it for realz this time.

Scream” is one of the first “modern horror” movies I saw and set off a trend of newer slasher movies in the mid-to-late 90s. I saw all three of them (a fourth’s on the way) and, by far, the first one is the best. Brooke’s never seen it but I think she’ll enjoy it. It’ll probably scare her a bit, though. 🙂

Poltergeist” is another one that I never got around to seeing, but Brooke remembers vividly from growing up. Brooke actually bought it on sale last October but we never got around to watching it. I guess this year’s the time.

I would bet that most people haven’t heard of “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” but it’s one of my “old school” favorites. It certainly isn’t scary, but it does involve the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s monster, and Dracula. Lon Chaney, Jr. and Bela Legosi were both in it, but unfortunately Boris Karloff wasn’t playing the Monster. Regardless, it’s one of my old favorites and it’s up on Netflix Streaming. I’m sure Brooke will love it. And won’t be scared. 🙂

I’m going to go ahead and add this one to the list, although Brooke probably doesn’t realize that we’ll be watching this one, too.  This is probably my favorite “horror movie” for a variety of reasons.  For one thing, it does an excellent job keeping you in suspense for the majority of the movie, where you don’t necessarily who’s going to go at any given time (in most modern ones, you can see it coming a mile away, at least in the mainstream flicks).  Also, the movie involved no blood – you saw all kinds of deaths, but they weren’t particularly “gory.”  Of course, the movies that followed in the series all got progressively worse in that regard, but this one did a good job of making do with very little in the way of special effects.  The original “Halloween” is the movie that spawned the “Friday the 13ths” and “Nightmares on Elm Street” that would follow in the 80s, so in many ways, most modern horror movies have to pay homage to this first one.

Oh yeah, and the mask Michael Meyers wears is a William Shatner mask painted white.  How cool is that?!

A few “runners up” that we may or may not get to during the course of the month.  “Alien” is a classic that we own, but Brooke probably won’t watch with me.  We’ve got “Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead 2” – I need to keep my eye out for a good copy of “Army of Darkness” in order to complete the set.  “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is one I’ve never seen, but is available on Netflix Streaming.  Finally, I’ve added the new Rob Zombie remakes of “Halloween” and “Halloween II” to our DVD queue, as I’ve never seen them and the original is one of my all time favorites.  I may be watching all of these last ones alone.  And I’ll love them all.  🙂

“Print” Lives?

I’ve had magazine subscriptions of various types for years now, beginning with Boy’s Life (the Boy Scout magazine…) and various computer game mags, and then eventually to Popular Science and Consumer Reports.  However, in recent years, there have been a number of news stories discussing “The Death of Print Media,” including magazines and newspapers, primarily.  This is mostly due to the Internet and its ability to get you the same information much, much faster than a weekly or monthly periodical can, and cheaper as well.

Recently, however, certain magazines have begun to toy with digital versions of their material.  These are magazines that have either dropped in subscribers to a substantial degree, or have already folded for a variety of reasons.  For example, while TIME Magazine is apparently weathering the storm, Newsweek just got hammered by a drop in subscribers to the point where they were looking for a buyer.  Gourmet Magazine shipped its final issue at the end of 2009.  On the gaming side, Electronic Gaming Monthly was shuttered at the beginning of 2009.

Some magazines have gotten around this problem by increasing the quality of their material.  Edge Magazine, a gaming periodical in Europe, has proven to be successful by starting to use thicker, glossy paper, raising the perceived value of their product over their competitors.  The magazine just looks good sitting on your table, with its larger paper and glossy images.  It’s the kind of thing you want to keep on your coffee table, as opposed to other magazines that are constantly including more and more ads and thinner, newspaper-like print.  They also limit the number of individual magazines they produce, only making enough to send to subscribers (all over the world…) and keep a limited number on news stands.  This helps keep their costs down, rather than making more magazines than the public will buy.

Alternatively, some of the aforementioned publications are going digital…and in a big way.  The advent of the iPad has allowed Newsweek and Sports Illustrated (amongst others) to get weekly content to readers on-the-go very cheaply, effectively replicating web-based content in a magazine-oriented format.  You can turn the pages as you would with a book, but now making a touch-based gesture on your iPad screen.  The images are very colorful, print easy-to-read, and perhaps most important of all, they can now include hyperlinks and video content that you can’t with a regular magazine.  Recently, it was also  announced that Gourmet Magazine was relaunching as Gourmet Live, also releasing on iPad (announcement video below).

Similarly, Electronic Gaming Monthly was bought out by the guy that started the magazine in the first place back in the 90s and relaunched in both print and digital formats.  For a demo, click this link and it will take you to a freely available copy of the magazine (pictured above) so you can see what it looks and feels like (and you should “Experience in Full Screen”).  While you may not be interested in video games in the least, at least you’ll get an idea of what is possible through digital distribution of magazines.  EGM also has an iPad version, but this particular example is representative of what you can experience in any web browser.

So, is “print dead?”  Probably not, but it’s definitely evolving.  Everything I’ve heard suggests that print journalism majors are finding it difficult to get jobs once they graduate from college, as many newspapers and magazines are scaling back, if not shutting their doors.  The primary hurdle appears to be advertising, as very, very few companies have been able to make it with their large-scale operations solely on the advertising revenues of web-based content.  The New York Times tried unsuccessfully to require subscriptions on portions of their website years ago (and they’re trying again in 2011), but our culture tends to shun pay-for content on the internet, at least with regards to news.  There are just so many blogs available, or other free sites, that get you the same information for no money at all.

Personally, I’m on board with a model like Edge or EGM is using, one where they produce magazines in limited quantity for the people that want it, but otherwise provide digital versions for those that don’t care either way.  Honestly, I still read everything on blogs and only go to the “primary source” sites when linked there.  I like the way EGM has set up their content, but I think I’d rather have an iPad or some other similar device for that purpose, rather than use my heavier and more unwieldy laptop (imagine sitting in bed and reading…would you rather hold your laptop or your iPad?).

I think a lot of people value the content they get from magazines and newspapers, as the journalists that write them get access to news and information they otherwise can’t.  Bloggers generally don’t have correspondents in Afghanistan, so they rely on organizations like NPR and the Associated Press to gather the news, and bloggers just put their own spin on it and spread it as well.  We still need primary news sources to survive this transition from “old media” to “new media!”

A Need for Expulsion

Mike has been Facebooking and blogging about the subjects surrounding the material in the Ben Stein documentary, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” Primarily, Mike got to thinking about it after reading an article by evolutionary theorist, Richard Dawkins, where he says that Stein distorted things Dawkins said in the documentary. Admittedly, Mike hasn’t actually seen the movie (as of this writing), and neither had I when I first read his post, but thanks to the wonders of Netflix Instant Queue, I took the time to watch it.

In his blog post, Mike argues that one of, if not the, primary issue in the debate is a lack of civility, where both sides (Creation vs Evolution) take things so personally that they cannot have a reasonable argument about the matter. I’ll leave that discussion to Mike, however, as my problem with the whole thing is a general ignorance of the definition of “science.”

science –noun

1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.

2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

Now, the key in that definition is “…gained through observation and experimentation.” I know I’ve talked about this before (stupid Lee Strobel…), but the definition of science is quite important to understanding what the problem is with the debate.

By the definition put forth above, Intelligent Design (and, relatedly, Creationism) is not science.  I can say this with conviction because I know that in order for it to be science, it must be testable.  If you cannot test a theory, then you cannot consider it science and it must stay firmly in the realm of philosophy.

philosophy –noun

1. the rational investigation of the truths and principles ofbeing, knowledge, or conduct.

5. a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs.

Philosophy is very good about providing analysis of an argument.  One could even describe them as “thought experiments,” where one ruminates on a particular moral or existential issue and comes to a conclusion.  However, those conclusions are hardly “evidence,” as they cannot be reproduced by other individuals performing the exact same experiment with the same parameters.  If one person has a “thought experiment,” their experiences in their own lives will inform their conclusions, leading to differences between individuals.  Science, on the other hand, holds specific variables consistent so that any individual can come to the same conclusion, irrefutably.  If I drop a ball in Iowa and you drop the same ball in Missouri, or China, they will both hit the ground in the same amount of time (assuming the ball is held the same way and the height it is dropped from held constant, but only the location of the experiment has changed).

This is, inherently, the issue: Evolution (in the form of Natural Selection) can be, and has been, tested in many, many different ways and it has held up to the toughest of scrutiny; Intelligent Design cannot be tested and, therefore, is not science.  Have all facets of evolution (in the form of Natural Selection) turned out to stand up to that scrutiny?  No, and the Theory of Evolution has been modified when that new evidence has appeared.  I can’t think of a time when Creationism/Intelligent Design has been modified when new evidence has been presented.

Creationists have been trying to get Creationism in public schools for decades, believing that Evolution is not only incorrect, but is somehow anti-Creation.  I’m not going to get into that part of the debate, although I have some pretty clear opinions on it.  I don’t even necessarily have a problem with teaching religion in public schools, as long as they’re all treated equally (i.e. you can teach Christian tenets as long as you also teach the ideas of Islam, Judaism, etc.).  But I do have serious problems with passing off Intelligent Design as science, and serious issues with the people that purport that Intelligent Design should be taught in public schools in science classrooms.

Whether my comments are “civil” or not, I don’t know (they probably aren’t…), but I do know that the proponents of teaching Intelligent Design in science classes are wrong and are doing a disservice to students everywhere.  Science is difficult enough to understand as it is, let alone adding things into the classroom that don’t belong there and simply confuse everyone involved.


We went to church yesterday and, I must say, the sermon wasn’t very impressive.  But more generally speaking, I haven’t really been impressed by a sermon in quite awhile.

I got to thinking about this while the sermon was going on, and while I was trying to follow what she was saying.  Specifically, the pastor was talking about Creation, referring to the scripture readings from the beginning of Genesis (“In the beginning…”-type stuff).  Now, she got to talking about dirt, how the ground can give you things and how you can “play” with/in dirt, etc.  I was hoping she would then move into how this is important for farmers in the area, or people at home with their gardens.  How the earth provides food that we need, and how satisfying it can be to use the earth at our disposal to be productive.

But she didn’t go there.  Instead, she moved past that and made it to how, essentially, we need to read the Bible (i.e. “The Word”) and glean everything from it.  She also repeatedly referred to “visions” she had (hopefully she meant “dream,” ’cause otherwise, I think she needs to adjust her meds accordingly) that provided analogs of Heaven, with people praising God in His Creation.

Basically, she re-tread the same steps countless pastors of mine have tread in the past.  And these are things I’ve been exposed to practically every Sunday for 28 years.

Now, I realize that there is a time and a place for such talk.  “Seeker churches,” for example, where you have a proportion of individuals that have not been attending church for as long as me and they are hearing these things for the first time in their lives.  And I also realize that, at any church, there will be folks that walk through the door and need to hear some of these things as an introduction to the Christian faith.  Likewise, children in church need to hear it at some point, too (but there’s this thing called “Sunday School” where a lot of that can be addressed, and frequently is).

But seriously, it feels like Brooke and I have been attending churches on various levels for the last 5-10 years (and separately before that), hearing sermons in a variety of contexts, and the vast majority of them tread the same ground as has been done before.  And the most serious problem for me is that “the same ground” is losing relevance quickly.  The things being discussed in most of these sermons are the things I heard discussed when I was in elementary school.  Are they still important?  Sure.  But so is poverty.  So is on-going war.  So is strife in third-world countries.  So is crime.  So are natural disasters.  These are all things that are relevant in today’s world, that apply to everyone, and that need to be addressed in the church setting.

I’m not talking “poverty” in the sense of “poor people” like discussed in the Bible.  I’m talking about specifics.  About people in Asia and Africa that live on less than I make in 2 min, let alone all the people in the United States that don’t make a livable wage and can’t afford to feed their families.  I’m not talking “war” in the sense of battles waged in the Bible, but the specifics of Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst other places in the world.  I’m not talking “disasters” in the sense of a Great Flood, but in the specifics of Hurricane Katrina, tornadoes, flooding and a Gulf oil spill.  And, moreover, I’m not talking about pastors devoting a sentence, or a mere mention to these issues, but rather about devoting the entirety of their sermon on such things.

To me, it represents a form of intellectual laziness.  A given pastor can sit at their desk, read a book or two, and effectively repeat most of those tenets on a Sunday morning in their sermon.  Books written that are designed to “transcend time” and talk generally about issues that affect a great many people in the world, but still don’t talk about today.

I think it takes quite a bit more thought and analysis to “find God” in the situations of the present, in the aforementioned poverty, wars, and crimes.  It requires a lot more bravery on their part to discuss complicated issues that we are exposed to on a daily basis, including abortion and homosexuality.  For some reason, these issues are popular to talk about outside of church, but once you are within the doors, they are ignored to avoid offending congregation members.

That is, I argue, what people today need to be hearing.  Not what God did 2000+ years ago, but what He’s doing today.