Friday, May 27, 2011

The Rapture that wasn't

I have mixed feelings about Harold Camping - the man who predicted the May 21st Rapture/Judgement Day. Well, actually, no I don't: he's either a con-man, or he's delusional. It doesn't matter which, since either way he's dangerous to anyone who takes him seriously. Camping, of course, denies responsibility for any actions taken by his followers in response to his warning; this strikes me as the moral equivalent of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater and then protesting that people only got hurt because they panicked and made bad decisions.

Camping is also doubling down on his prediction; he says he was wrong about what exactly was going to happen on May 21, but that the Judgement did come "spiritually" and the world will definitely end on October 21. I'm going to make a prediction: no, it won't. If I'm right, that makes me a better prophet than Harold Camping, despite the fact that I'm functionally an atheist. (If you're keeping score, the current record between us is me-1 him-0.)

No, I don't have mixed feelings about Harold Camping. I do have mixed feelings about his followers. On the one hand, the urge to point and laugh is nearly irresistible. I mean, seriously: crazy old dude announces that he, and he alone, has figured out the Bible-based math that reveals the true date of the end of the world? And people believe him? I've said before that while Camping's predictions have their roots firmly in Christian tradition, they're also directly anti-Biblical (i.e. clearly violating the passage where "no man knows the day or the hour"). Family Radio - or at least some of Camping's followers - had an answer for that... sort of. (Don't read that if you value your sanity.) So, yes, you can make a pretty good argument that someone would have to be a complete idiot to fall for that.

But on the other hand... I've had those moments where I suddenly sort of woke up and realized that something I was doing (or had recently done) was... well... very much not the good idea that it seemed like at the time. Twice, that was accompanied by the realization that what I'd been doing was not only a bad idea, but a potentially life-ruining mistake. And I strongly suspect that a lot of Camping's victim-followers experienced something very similar last Saturday.

Here's the thing: anybody can fall for a scam, if you catch them in just the right way at just the right moment. And these are people who are predisposed to believe in precisely this sort of thing. (It doesn't really matter, for them, whether Camping is a con-man or whether he's completely sincere.) Should they have known better? Yes. Are they victims in this situation? Also yes. So while the urge to point and laugh is strong, I'm also more than a little sympathetic. That's a lousy position to find yourself in.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cthulhu Filler

Are we allowed to use the Great Old Ones as filler posts? Oh, well, if they strike me down into gibbering insanity, I doubt anyone will notice the difference.

So... Blogger - which is clearly staffed by servants of the Great Old Ones - will let me create new posts, but I can only leave comments anonymously. This is annoying, but still better than not being able to post at all. Nevertheless, it's annoying enough that I'm going to leave my answers here, where they're clearly coming from me. So...

Andy's comment on Shakespeare in the Bush: Is it weird that I'm more comfortable talking about religion than politics? Where I am (Dallas, basically) religion is actually a less divisive topic.

D'Ma's suggestion for what to do with the prize from the contest: Well, I can certainly do that. Thanks!

Hopefully Blogger will undergo a rectal craniectomy (a very complex surgical procedure, I'm told) and start working again sometime soon. 'Cause this is really annoying.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What is Normal: Shakespeare in the Bush

Normal is a funny sort of concept. Often, it simply means "the way I do things." Doing things differently - at least, in ways that are perceived to be significantly different - is "crazy."

This is not the definition of "crazy" that covers legitimate mental illnesses. This is the more colloquial, social use of the term. For that matter, this isn't the only (or even the best) use of the term "normal" either. But it is a significant part of the way people look at the world. We judge things by our own experiences, our own behaviors, our own reactions. It's sometimes hard to see why other people would do things differently, or how they could see things differently - especially when our beliefs and conclusions are so glaringly obvious to us. And it's especially hard to imagine that some of those beliefs and conclusions might simply be wrong.

Explaining one's perspective is a surprisingly tricky thing to do.

All of this is a lead-in to exploring how getting a Minor in Anthropology has affected my view of religion. But before we start talking about world religions, I want to emphasize that a lot of what we think of as universal, obvious, and natural is (instead) very frequently provincial, contextual, and relative. And one of the best examples I can think of is Shakespeare in the Bush - an account of an Anthropologist trying to explain Hamlet to the Tiv people of Africa.

Seriously, go read this thing. I promise you'll be enlightened and amused, though possibly not in that order.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To Do

So this is just a list of upcoming projects for the Blog o' Doom, here. It's mainly a reminder to me, but feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.

  1. An Anthropological perspective on religion - normal isn't always what we think it is.

  2. Metaphors for Deconversion

  3. Check up on the Deranged Cultist

  4. Thoughts on the Apocalypse That Wasn't

  5. New Entry for the Book o' Parenting

  6. Afterthoughts on the Big Local Music Festival

So, yeah. That's what you can look forward too. Or safely ignore. Whichever seems appropriate, really.

Monday, May 23, 2011

In a world of contests, one winner will emerge

Ladies, Gentlemen, and sundry sentients of all shapes and sizes, a clear winner has emerged in Movie Guy Voice contest:

In a world plagued with weeds, pestilence and varmints one woman undauntingly faces her foes to emerge victorious if not notorious!
Starring D'Ma
Spending hours each Saturday mowing her own damn grass!

D'Ma, if you'll let me know the best way to send you your prize (e-mail and Facebook seem to be the simplest options), I'll speed it on its way. Drop me a line at michael mock {a} mockwriting-dot-com. (I assume you can translate that back into a real e-mail address; meanwhile, I blow raspberries at the spambots in the audience.)

I'm a little disappointed at the lack of responses - I know there are a lot of bright, funny people who read this blog - so if anyone has feedback or constructive criticism for how to make any future contests more appealing, feel free to comment. (Or, if Blogger dislikes you leaving comments, send an e-mail to the address above.)

Blogging will be light and random this week, but my busy season is almost over. I'm not out of the woods yet, but I can see edge of the forest up ahead...

Catching Up With Pretty Much Everything...

Okay, so... Today is the day when we take it nice and easy and don't try to do much following the massive, soul-draining weekend we all just put in.

That was a joke. Follow-up, cleanup, sorting, posting... We're still very, very busy. That will probably be true all this week.

And, speaking of bananas, I'm glad that people enjoyed the Velocirapture post. I have some thoughts on Saturday's abortive apocalypse, but those'll have to wait until I can herd them together into some kind of coherent structure. Later for that.

Let's see... wasn't I running a contest? Yes, yes I was. Okay, contest ends at... say, 5:00 p.m. Central Time, today.

Speaking of... theagnosticswife pointed out in the comments that the CDC has put out a post on Emergency Zombie Response, which should be humorous and informative. (I haven't had a chance to read it yet.)

And that's pretty much it for the moment. I'll check back this evening.

::waves to everybody::

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It didn't end the way we expected...

This is going to make a lot more sense you know that a man named Harold Camping has predicted that today is Judgement Day. He's... very certain about that. Naturally, I don't think it's actually going to happen that way, so here is my alternative scenario:

Easy, easy... just tell me what happened.

It didn't happen the way we thought it would. We were wrong about what to expect. The old man... he said there would be earthquakes. At six o'clock, on May twenty-first, there would be a massive earthquake, the likes of which nobody had ever seen before. And then, as the next area reached six o'clock, there'd be another earthquake, equally horrible, there. And this pattern would just move right around the world, until everything was in a state of devastation.

We'd been driving around, just talking to people, trying to warn them; until about five-thirty, when we all got together to pray. It wasn't anyplace special, just a field by the side of the road. Tom had a flask of whiskey, and he was sucking it down like... well, like there was no tomorrow. Tom and I have been in the ministry together for fourteen years. He's a sold-out, Bible-believing, born again Christian with God's fire in his heart, but last night he told me that he was worried. He thought the Lord might pass him by, might leave him to suffer with the rest of the sinners.

Go on.

Well, like I said, we stopped, and everybody got out, and we just stood together in this field. We'd been listening to the radio all day, and we hadn't heard anything about earthquakes... but, you know, that was okay. We figured the government was just keeping it quiet, so people wouldn't panic. I mean, you know how those... oh, sorry...

No, don't worry about it. Just keep going.

Well, I mean, there we were, standing in the field, and Margie kneeled down and started praying, and a few others started praying with her. She was asking Jesus to come and sweep us away, to lift us into his arms and-


And it... didn't happen like that. Six o'clock came, and... well, we didn't need the radio. We could all see that there wasn't any earthquake. But we thought maybe we were just a little off. I mean, maybe our clocks were fast. God knows the time better than anybody, right?

Tom had wandered off a little way, towards this line of trees. He was afraid that Jesus wasn't going to take him. Did I tell you that? He was... God...

They took him first, and we didn't hear a thing. I kind of saw it, from the corner of my eye. This big shape, it just reared up over him, and then they were both gone. A couple of other people were looking around too, and then...

Was that when it happened?

Yes. Oh, God, yes. God sent them, you know. He sent them to call us home. And they... they just... They were everywhere. And they.. tore everybody apart.

I ran. I guess my faith wasn't strong enough. I ran, and they were so busy with the others that they didn't even chase me. Maybe the way they looked... maybe it was one final test, and I - and my faith wasn't strong enough.

Or maybe- maybe God just didn't want me.

They're telling me it was just a freak temporal anomaly, a side-effect of something they were doing down at the super-collider.

No. No, oh God, no. Don't you see? It wasn't an accident. It was God's will. It was the Rapture... just... not the way we expected.

It was the Velocirapture.

No, stop. You have to listen to me! This was...

It's okay, it's okay. It's over, now. Get some rest.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Movie Guy Voice

In honor of yesterday's paean to Newt Gingrich, and in particular D'Ma's suggestion that "Newt Gingrich" should be spoken in Movie Guy Voice, I'm proposing a contest. Write your own satiric movie tagline, in the following format:

In a world ________________________________, One Man will ___________________________.

So, for example:
In a world where the Literati enforce their will with gun-toting sheep, one man will stand firm to protect the country he is destined to lead.
The Bulletproof Ego
Starring Newt Gingrich
Coming this fall to a theater near you.

The prize will be... How 'bout a $20 Amazon gift certificate? Sure, why not. I can do that. Plus, it'll give you guys something to do while I'm inundated by the Big Local Music Festival.

I'll judge the entries and select a winner on Monday (May 23, 2011). Enter as many times as you want.

Addendum: Newt does NOT have to be the topic of your satire. Go after anything that seems a likely target. You might want to include a link to give the rest of us context, though.

I won't be posting tomorrow - too busy - but I do have a post scheduled to go up on Saturday morning, just in time for Judgement Day. Enjoy!

Meanwhile, for those of you who aren't up for a bit of creative writing:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Obviously I'm in the wrong line of work

Why should I be working on websites, when I could be writing epic poetry in the ancient heroic tradition, like this:

The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding. Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment's cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won't be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.

Seriously, are there any politicians out there looking for a spokesdude/speechwriter who can produce descriptions like this? 'Cause let me tell you, I will write the flowery, overblown shit out of your press releases, speeches, and tweets. I'm completely prepared to sell out my personal integrity in exchange for ridiculous sums of money, too.

Hire me, and see your spineless and petty opponents ground into searing defeat, until the only options left to them are lamentation and despair. Against the overwhelming puissance of my dazzling wordplay, they will fall like wheat before a scythe. I will sear them beyond any hope of redemption. I can do this.

My other ride is a Harley

Harley Davidson: great American tradition, or the last refuge of middle-aged white guys who have no hope of looking cool any other way?

Discussion, funny stories, and mindless outrage are welcome in the comments.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

They got it from Noah

So we're standing around on Sunday after church has let out. I'm holding Secondborn, who is now one year and one month old. One of the ladies leans in to flirt with him: "Oh, you're so adorable in your Noah's Ark shirt..." She tugs the shirt down far enough to reveal the skull and crossbones on the sail. "Oh."

I felt the sudden urge to share: "You know that pirates actually took that from the Noah's Ark story, right? While they were floating around for the forty-plus days of the Flood, Noah and his sons made a sign with a skull and two crossed bones on it, to show their mourning for... well, everyone else in the world."

I came this close to actually saying that. The whole explanation leaped into my mouth, ready to go. And I stopped myself, because I didn't want to hear someone repeat that back to me a decade from now as if it were really true.

I'm pretty sure that this is how urban legends get started.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Some people are never satisfied

Wants his money back? Wants his money back?! Ridiculous! He got what he paid for: a biological threat that would infest the neighboring country and drive people out. Something that would allow him to take over, but that couldn't be traced back to him.

Okay, so it spread faster than he expected, and crossed the border into some of his best (well, only) agricultural lands. So what? I warned him that it worked quickly. And then he sent troops in to deal with it? What was he thinking? He had the solution right there waiting: the fungus that would blight my man-eating plants. I gave it to him with his order.

Now he's complaining that he lost two companies of his best soldiers? So what? Do you have any idea how many minions I've lost over the course of two decades of cutting-edge research and experimentation? I don't have the figures handy, but it's a lot more than that. If I can make more, he can make more.

Honestly. Petty, would-be dictators these days. No, he's not getting his money back. I'll send him a nice crate of vampire porcubats instead.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reflections on Unintended Consequences

I don't know how long the Elders have employed the Whisperers to keep our secrets. Centuries at least; maybe longer. I don't know what they are, or where they come from, or how they came into our service.

So take it with a grain of salt when I say that I don't think anything like this has ever happened before. See, usually, when the Whisperers get involved, whoever revealed the secret winds up dead, and so does whomever they revealed it to. Occasionally - rarely - the people involved survive long enough to swear the proper oaths, at which point the Whisperers back off. But I don't think anyone has ever managed to elude them for as long as we did.

I say this because of the e-mail that told us it was safe to come back. Billy sent it at the request of the Elders. It was a simple message: Both of you can come home now. By way of explanation, he'd included a collection of news stories. Some were links, some were copied and pasted into the e-mail. They were... well, let me give you some examples.

In Christchurch, two weeks ago, a nice little bed and breakfast burned to the ground. Apparently the owner poured a great deal of gasoline and kerosene around the basement, then stood in the center and lit a match. Most of the guests died in their beds; nobody made it out.

Two days later in San Francisco, a maid slit her own wrists in a hotel room. The next four people who entered the room - including three hotel guests and the woman's supervisor, all of whom appear to have stumbled on the body independently - all entered the room and committed suicide alongside her.

A week later, in Richmond, Virginia, the guests at a small motel all turned on each other, apparently at once. Knives, chairs, bare hands, teeth... the last one committed suicide with a gun from someone else's luggage. No explanation could be found for their behavior. Forty-seven people died, including twenty-two women and children.

Usually, the Whisperers stop when they're satisfied that our secrets are safe. This time, the Elders called them off. Like I said, I don't think that's ever happened before.

I know that other groups use other methods to keep their secrets safe. I wonder if their methods are just as ugly, or if there's a better way to do this. I mean, it's not really my decision - of necessity, choices like that fall to the Elders - but I wonder.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual crimes or other shocking events, reported or unreported, is purely coincidental.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Reflections on Unexpected Absences

I just realized that I haven't updated anything here in... what? A month? Longer? So if anybody cares, I'm sorry. Mea Culpa. The fault is entirely mine, and other thoughts like that.

I could say that I've been a little distracted, and that would be true... but I was distracted because we were having fun. (Well, mostly.)

I could point out that since we've been on the run, I haven't had much to add on the, um, usual sorts of things I talk about here. That's true, too, but for all I know some of you actually want to know what Manokwari is like this time of year. And while it's a lot easier to break into this blog from my own computer, I can do it from elsewhere; it's not like I couldn't have left a note or something.

So I'll skip the excuses and move straight to current events. Claire and I are still alive. We're back in our apartment. We haven't patched everything up, but our situation has settled down enough to let us come back. I even have access to the archives again, which seems to be a show of good faith from the Elders. Or maybe it's a test; maybe they just want to see what I'll do with that access. Probably both, now that I think about it.

I haven't been in touch with work (neither has Claire) but I think it's safe to assume that we're both very, very fired. We haven't been in touch with any of our friends yet, either, but we'll probably do that in the next couple of days. There are several other things I'd like to talk about here, but after a month's absence the apartment is a wreck... and I really need to go help Claire with the cleanup. So... soon. I'll fill you in on the rest of it soon.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No dark gods were worshipped in the writing of this post.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Michael Mock has weird dreams part 763,471

Scary: Taking shelter in a creepy old building at night while zombies prowl the streets outside.

Scarier: Venturing out into the zombie-infested streets in search of a fast-food restaurant that's still open at this time of night. (No, I don't know why that seemed so important.)

Scariest: Driving a van full of survivors in search of a better, more zombie-proof haven... and looking back to see that everything behind you - dirt, trees, pavement, streetlights - has started to crack open, come apart, and get sucked up into the sky. And yes, the destruction is spreading faster than you can drive, but that doesn't matter because this isn't going to stop and there's nowhere safe to drive to.

Zombie dreams aren't all that unusual for me. The world-devouring apocalypse is a new one, though.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Humans Are Dead

An Aussie friend of mine has been posting clips of these guys on Facebook, and since they're funny I thought I'd share. (Not entirely safe for work - some of the language is a bit off-color. Keep the volume down or use headphones.)

There's an odd story there, by the way. Several years ago, I played (and eventually Adminned, if that's a word) at an online writing/roleplaying site based in the world of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books. I arrived there by a funny coincidence involving an obscure type of polearm, but never mind that now.

One of the things I did there was help write curriculum for the Warder Yards - basically, the warriors in this setting. We taught unarmed combat, swords, bows, maces, axes, staves and polearms... except, of course, that the studies were done online, and in character. You can't actually learn to swordfight that way. No, the main idea was to give the players enough information that they could write their fight scenes convincingly. But we produced a decent body of material, and several of the people there actually had enough real-life training to add some genuine verisimilitude to the classes.

As a result, every so often someone would stop by while looking for information on how to really use a sword. Kanamai was one of these, but she liked what she saw well enough to join the site and join the roleplay. After a while, though, she asked a couple of us - the ones with martial arts backgrounds - where she might learn about swordfighting in real life. We responded by asking what sort of sword she had in mind, and she said she'd developed a real liking for the Chinese jian - the elegant, versatile straight sword.

So I recommended that she pick up a book by Scott Rodell, who teaches Tai Chi in the general vicinity of Washington, D.C. Laoshi ("Teacher") Rodell has made a particular study of the ancient Chinese weapons and their martial applications, and in addition he deals in antique weapons - so he has experience with the genuine articles, not just the modern reproductions.

Kanamai is... One Of Those People. Australian, for one thing, but that's not what I mean. She's this sort of person: when she decides to do something, she does it. When she sets her mind on something, she's kind of a force of nature.

Before she got started, she asked me some questions about Chi ("body energy", more or less) as it related to her faith as a Christian. Once she was satisfied that there was no conflict there, she got in touch with Laoshi Rodell herself. Almost before I knew it, she had scheduled for him to come to Australia and give a pair of seminars; one on the first Tai Chi form, and a week-long class on swordsmanship. And because I'd pointed her in the right direction, she offered to put the Beautiful Wife and myself up if we came down for the seminars.

There was absolutely no way I was going to miss an opportunity like that. So we made the arrangements, and we flew down there, and we enjoyed ourselves hugely. It's still funny to me, thought, that while Laoshi Rodell does most of his teaching here in the U.S., I've only ever met him in a foreign country.

Anyway, that's why I have friends in Australia. We started as iFriends, met in real life, had a great time, and still keep in touch on Facebook. I should point out that while I met them through Kanamai, the fellow who posted the music clips is actually her husband. We got to know him fairly well, too, in our weeks there.

I have this lingering fantasy about actually moving down there someday, but right now we have too many things tying us to Dallas/Fort Worth. Still, someday...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

iFriends and Weird Dreams

I mentioned, in comments on another blog, that I am privileged to have quite a number of friends who brighten my life in various ways. A substantial portion of these are "Imaginary Friends" or "iFriends": people I know online, but have never met in person.

Online relationships really are relationships. (I doubt that's news to most of my readers, and these days it seems to be a fairly common understanding among the general public as well.) And after interacting with them for years, there are quite a number of my iFriends whom I know fairly well. Oh, I wouldn't recognize voice or mannerisms; but I know their moods and attitudes, what sort of music they like, what issues they care about, and what sorts of things infuriate them. I have, in other words, a strong sense of their personalities.

Strong enough, in some cases, to dream about them.

This has happened before. Generally there's nothing odd or skeevy about it; I dream of iFriends in the same way that I dream about other people I know.

This one, however, was an extremely weird dream. Not only was I in college, but I was rooming with one of my fellow bloggers and her husband - which, I know, sounds a bit dodgy, but in the dream it was a perfectly ordinary living arrangement. Now, I have only a vague idea of what this particular iFriend actually looks like, and I don't know her husband at all. (Actually, waking-me is a little surprised that they didn't have their dog with them; I've seen enough pictures of that dog that I might actually recognize him if I encountered him in real life.) My own wife and children had no presence in this dream whatsoever.

So far, that's not too weird. If it had stopped there, it would just have been an interesting little reminder of the courtesies required for coed living arrangements in a none-too-large dorm room. But, no: this is one of my dreams, and my dreams don't let well enough alone.

The first (and least important) bit of strangeness was that it was a very snooty college. The other students were all dressed in suits and ties, and seemed very aware of their position and importance. This was odd mainly because none of us are particularly snooty people, nor was our fourth roommate. (He wasn't anyone in particular; just one of the NPCs that sometimes show up in dreams to fill in the bit parts. I hope they get paid decently for doing that; it must be a difficult job. But I digress...)

Fourth Roommate was also convinced that the Chupacabra was roaming the campus. This seemed very tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory-ish (even in the dream), but as soon as I agreed to hear him out, the beasty came looking for me. Apparently it kept getting spotted because it was roaming the campus trying to make sure that nobody knew it was there. It was a pretty scary thing, too: spindly limbs and long claws, a wide mouth with a lot of very sharp teeth, and something like wings under its arms. Oh, and it could talk, which is how I know what it was doing.

So: I dreamed I was rooming at a University with an iFriend and her husband, and the University was haunted by a talkative but not-too-bright urban legend in the flesh. I know people who dabble in dream interpretation, but the meaning of this one should be clear to anybody:

I need a vacation.

The balance of the day...

Okay, so: work is, at the moment, a bit overwhelming. On the other hand, the driving prowess of my fellow commuters this morning left me underwhelmed.

So I think, on the balance, I'm just whelmed.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Random Thoughts

Apparently I was a bit of a science geek in my youth. Because as I was passing the water fountain in the hallway this morning, this little poem rose unexpectedly from my memory:
Johnny went to get a drink,
But he will drink no more;
For what he thought was H20
Was H2SO4.

Also, for anyone who hasn't seen this already:

...I love Australia.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Book Review: The Church of 80% Sincerity

I don't usually write book reviews. This is, in fact, the first one ever to appear on this blog. But then, The Church of 80% Sincerity isn't the sort of book I usually read, either. And since I recommended it in the brief post I did for the Rally To Restore Unity earlier this week, it seems worthwhile to come back and talk about it a bit more.

So... First of all, it's not an especially long book. I finished it in two evenings; I could have read the whole thing the first night, if I'd been willing to stay up. And it reads easily, too - it's compelling, and funny, and the text itself makes it very easy to just keep going, to immerse yourself in what David Roche has to say. But that's a little deceptive, because in some ways this is a book that should be read a little at a time; it should include some intermissions so you can stop and digest what it has to say... and so that you can go and spend some time with, maybe, some memories you haven't thought about in years, some thoughts and perspectives that you haven't nudged from their comfortable spots on the shelves in the back of your mind.

I need to re-read it, in other words. The first time, I was really just moving all the way through, looking to see what Mr. Roche had to say. Now I'd like to go back and spend some more time with those thoughts.

Is it a Christian book? Yes. And no. Maybe. Sort of. If it is, it's the sort of Christianity that readers of Anne Lamott will find familiar. But for all the time it spends talking about Miracles, and Saints, and Grace, and even Prayer, The Church of 80% Sincerity doesn't come across to me as an overtly Christian book - not in the way that I usually hear the phrase "Christian book" used. There's no single great moment of revelation, here; no dramatic reversal where the author felt Jesus come into his heart, and knew that he was saved, and suddenly his whole life was back on track. There's no powerful discussion of the need for belief, no simple formula for salvation.

And in a lot of ways, that's exactly what the book is about: Grace as the slow accumulation of understanding, and acceptance, and improvement. Prayer as interaction with other people. Faith as the awareness that good things can and do happen - here, now. Salvation as a process. It's a view in which Grace is better than miracles, in which looking for miracles becomes a distraction, something that interferes with the important stuff.

Is it inspirational? ...I don't know. My brain doesn't seem to be wired for "inspirational" the way some people's are. But an awful lot of the people who wrote blurbs for the book jacket sure seem to think so. And, well, it's inspired me to write a book review.

The Church of 80% Sincerity is, basically, David Roche talking about his life - but not just the parts of it that make him look good. He talks about the unpleasant parts, too: the ugly parts, the embarassing parts, the moments that should have happened but didn't, and the ones that shouldn't have happened, but did. Most of all, he talks about what he learned from it.

So I can't really tell you if it's inspirational. Instead, let me say this: I'm not a Christian. I don't think I can be a Christian; on a fundamental level, Christianity as a world-view just doesn't make sense to me.

But I'm pretty sure I could join the Church of 80% Sincerity.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Brave New World of Facebook

So, Facebook just suggested my Supposed Former Wife as someone I might know. Apparently we have nine friends in common. I'm a little surprised that we don't have more.

Also, I managed not to snort coffee out of my nose when I saw that.

Computer programs are brilliantly stupid. They do exactly what they're designed to do, no more and no less. By FB's estimation, we're an excellent match: plenty of friends in common, very likely to know each other already. FB has no way of evaluating when its suggestions might be really freakin' awkward.

To be fair, I'm not especially bothered. We parted on relatively good terms, at least in the context of, y'know, a divorce. But let's face it: I'm not going to try to friend my Supposed Former Wife. For anyone who doesn't already understand why, well... I don't think I can express it any better than this:

Warning: Not safe for work, obviously - kinda harsh language.

Musical Madness

In keeping with the theme of this week, I offer...

Fun Boy Three: The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum

Madness: Madness (Is All In The Mind)

Shel Silverstein: You're Always Welcome At Our House

On a side note, it's probably worth noting that Shel Silverstein - while best known as an author of children's books - had a fairly long and successful run as a cartoonist for Playboy Magazine. When I first discovered his music (and just what sort of music he wrote) I was pleasantly startled. With titles like "Stacy Brown Got Two" and "I saw Polly in a Porny", it's... not children's music.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rally To Restore Unity: An Outside Perspective

So, I'm following the Rally to Restore Unity over on Rachel Held Evans' blog. This is (obviously) a riff on Jon Stewarts' event, except the focus here is on getting the various branches and denominations and varieties of Christianity to look at each other as friends and allies and fellow-travelers; as people with legitimate differences of opinion, rather than lost souls who misinterpret the scripture out of ignorance or willfulness.

Now, obviously, I can only sort of peripherally take part in this. Any "unity" I have on this front can't be based on Christianity, so it will have to come from shared humanity. And yet, I'm really enjoying this: I'm reflexively in favor of any attempt to find (or build) common ground on the basis of good behavior and noble aspirations. And I was pleased that - when I asked about this in the comments on Ms. Evans' original post - I was informed that I was unreservedly welcome to participate.

So I'm going to take part, in my own peripheral way, by linking to some of my own thoughts on Christianity, grouped under the heading of Not The Christianity I remember. And I'm going to recommend a book, even though I'm only about 1/3 of the way through it: The Church of 80% Sincerity by David Roche.

"We in the Church of Eighty Percent Sincerity do not believe in miracles," he said. "But we do believe that you have to stay alert, because good things happen. When God opens the door, you've got to put your foot in.

"Eighty percent sincerity is about as good as it's going to get. So is eighty percent compassion. Eighty percent celibacy. So twenty percent of the time, you just get to be yourself."

May 6 update: I finished the book, and posted a book review.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In the beginning was the Word...

Okay, so Word World - for those not already familiar with it - is an educational children's show designed to teach spelling (and the occasional Important Moral Lesson). They also sing a lot of songs, and the songs are unnaturally catchy. But that's a rant for another day.

More or less everything in the show is built out of letters, and generally reflects the letters that its word is composed of. So if you have a fence, for example, the slats will generally spell out the word "fence". The main characters are all composed of letters, too - so if you look at Dog from the side, you can actually see the word "dog". And if the Word Friends need a particular item, it's just a matter of finding the right letters and putting them together in the proper order. As soon as the word is spelled, it becomes that item. (The Word Friends generally keep little stores of letters in their homes, in much the same way that we keep tools and equipment. Sometimes, however, Dog will dig up a letter or two, which seems to indicate that the letters occur naturally as well.)

Now, this is a great show. It's been a huge help in teaching Firstborn about spelling and reading. It's also, for me, an intriguing example of "magical thinking" - the idea that the Name is the reality, and by changing the name you can alter the reality. (This actually happens in the show; there's an episode where Ant gets tired of being so small, so the other Word Friends slap a G and an I on his butt and turn him into a giant.)

I can't help but wonder, though... late at night, after the show is over, do the Word Friends get together over a couple of beers and argue about whether life in Word World came about by accident, or whether there was an eternal First Word that assembled all the others? I can sort of picture Sheep arguing that probably the right letters just happened to fall together in the proper order, while Bear insists that they must have been assembled. Frog probably sides with Sheep, and points out that there are plenty of loose letters around, and given enough time they could certainly fall into the right pattern randomly. Pig, on the other hand, feels that odds of that are too unlikely, and anyway nobody's ever seen a word spontaneously assemble itself. Pretty soon the lines are drawn, and Pig and Bear are looking around for the letters to spell "stake" and "pyre" while Dog tries to calm everybody down. (In my mind's eye, Duck is passed out amidst a pile of empty shot glasses, cheerfully oblivious to the whole issue.)

This, by the way, is why I should never be allowed to watch children's programming.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Poor poor pitiful me

I have high hopes for this week. That's mainly because I can't see any way that it could be worse than last week. I have not had a single night of uninterrupted sleep since last Sunday. But at least now we know what's going on: both boys have ear infections.

Firstborn had been waking me up by coughing - loudly - at about two in the morning, until I went and medicated him. Last Thursday, he changed the tune: he woke me up at the same time, but instead of coughing, he was crying. When I asked him why, he said, "My ear hurts. Inside!"

Sure enough, the pediatrician says he has a raging ear infection.

Friday night, Secondborn was running a bit of a fever. He'd been... discombobulated, clumsy and clingy, for the last couple of days. (It seems to funny to talk about a toddler being "clumsy" since, y'know, toddler, but in fact the difference is really obvious if you're used to him just cruising around and climbing things.)

Then, on Saturday night, the fever spiked up to 105, and I ended up sitting with him in a rather chilly bathtub to bring his temperature down before my wife hustled him off the emergency room. This would have been... I don't know, four-thirty in the morning.

I should note, by the way, that we actually own one of those little devices that is supposed to help you tell if someone has an ear infection. Apparently it bounces a bit of hypersonic sound off the eardrum, and uses the echo to tell how much fluid has built up behind it. Or at least, that's the way it works for adults. For the boys, it consistently indicated that their ears were fine. Apparently the test works differently for children; for children, if you can stick the thing in their ears in the first place, they probably don't have ear infections.

Anyway, both boys are now on antibiotics. Secondborn is also on regular doses of painkiller - "regular" in this context means "alternating between acetaminophin and ibuprofen every three hours" - which means that somebody has to give him his meds at odd hours of the night. "Somebody" in this context means "me". So I'm sitting in the living room at ten o'clock (which feels a lot more like midnight), and I'm thinking, That's okay, I'll just write a little bit, and then I'll give him his one a.m. meds, and then I'll go to bed myself.

And then I fired up the laptop, opened the word processor, and realized that there was absolutely no way that I was going to be able to add anything worthwhile to any of my current projects. As a matter of fact, I probably wasn't too far from typing page after page of ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY. So I set my alarm and went to sleep, got up and medicated the baby, and went back to sleep.

And then, when I got up this morning, I actually remembered to give Firstborn his morning dose of antibiotics before I took him over to his Nana's house.

I'm calling that a win.

So when I mention that becoming a parent is a huge investment of your time, energy, and money... well, weeks like that are Exhibit A. (On the upside, last night - when everyone was medicated and feeling better - my wife came in to find me on the living room floor, where both boys had piled on to tickle me. So, as I've also mentioned before, there are rewards to parenting too.)

Anyway, that's why I didn't get anything written this weekend. I've got a couple of random posts started, but they need to be finished and proofed. I was hoping that the Deranged Cultist would stop by and pick up the slack, but either the Whisperers got him or he's enjoying his "vacation" too much. Hopefully the latter.

Busy as the next few weeks are going to be, I probably will be keeping up with the blog (if only erratically). It's a good way to blow off steam, and it doesn't take the sort of time commitment that longer writing projects require. If I can just get enough sleep, I might even have coherent things to say; otherwise, I'll try to babble in an entertaining fashion.

How's everyone else doing?

Real Work Conversations: Cicadas

In the car on the way to lunch on Friday...

Co-worker: "It must really suck to be a cicada. You live underground for seventeen years, then you come out, try to mate as soon as you can, and die."

Me: "I don't know, it sounds like a significant portion of the Geek subspecies of humanity."

Co-worker: "...Bazinga."