Friday, December 30, 2011

Curse you, Mowgli!

Some guys have all the luck.

Okay, maybe "luck" isn't the right word to apply to people like us, who lost their parents to animal attacks or fires (in my case, both). But still... Mowgli. Do you know what that guy earns in a year? His Learn To Hunt Like A Wolf seminars are enough to keep him comfortably well off all by themselves, but then he has the books, and those speaking engagements... It's maddening, I tell you. They treat him like he was the only orphan in the world to be raised by animals in the wilderness.

Let me tell you a little secret: he's not. Not even close.

Hi, my name is Diana, and I was raised by animals in the wilderness. There, I said it. And you know what? I'd be happy to share my secrets with you, for a tiny fraction of what Mowgli charges. I'd be thrilled if I could find a publisher for my autobiography. Speaking engagements? Ha! I'd settle for an interview in the local paper!

But, no. It's always Mowgli, Mowgli, Mowgli. Mowgli was raised by wolves. Mowgli was befriended by a panther, Mowgli was taught the Law of the Jungle by a bear, Mowgli killed a tiger and got the animals to trample an entire village in order to save his adopted parents. Well, good for him.

I can teach you how to survive in the wilderness. I can show you where to find food, and how to dig a nice burrow for the winter. I can help you get back to nature. But nobody wants to hear it from me. Why? Because I wasn't abandoned in the jungles of India, and growing up in the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area just doesn't have the cachet. Because being raised by squirrels just isn't as cool as being raised by wolves. Because everybody wants to hear about the Law of the Jungle, but nobody cares at all about the Wisdom of the Ducks. While Mowgli was running around learning how to stare down his brother wolves, I was learning how to crack walnuts with my teeth... but does anybody want to hear about that? Not hardly. Oh, sure Mowgli took down Shere Khan the tiger, but did he ever have to face down an angry armadillo? I don't think so.

But he's out there being famous and living it up, while I have to make ends meet by stocking shelves at Wal-Mart and waiting tables at the local truck stop. It's just not fair.

Some guys gave all the luck.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Right Behind: a brief explanation

It occurs to me that not all of my readers will recognize the "Right Behind" tag on the current story, so let me take a moment to explain.

A while back, I got interested in Fred Clark's deconstruction of the Left Behind books (and films). These are really awful books, both theologically and stylistically; but they're awful in some rather instructive ways, and Fred Clark has a real knack for pointing up where they go wrong and how they could have gone right (or at least, closer to right).

Now, not everyone responds to stories with commentary; some of us respond with stories of our own. And that, basically, is the origin of the Right Behind blog (also available from my sidebar): some of Fred's commenters set out to see if they could write better version of the scenes in the Left Behind books, or to experiment with alternate apocalyptic scenarios, or to head off into other, related bits of fiction. And having written these things, it seemed like a good idea to have some sort of repository for them, so they didn't get lost in the comment threads. And that, as I understand it, is how Right Behind was born.

They Are Legion is a Right Behind story. (I've requested access to the Right Behind blog, to post it there as well, but meanwhile I'm also posting it here.) So that's what's going on here.

Right Behind: They Are Legion Part Two

A park ranger picked us up not five minutes after we got back to my Jeep. We'd left the parking area beside the trail head, but we hadn't even made it back to the main road. He filled us in a little - told us that there had been mass disappearances, world-wide, and that nobody was sure what had really happened - but mainly he took down our names, addresses, and family information. He said he was going to radio it in, so someone could put it in the big national database that everyone was using to search for missing family. It was something that FEMA had come up with, apparently.

The radio wasn't much help. Everyone broadcasting assumed that everyone else knew as much as they did. They didn't give us any new information about what had happened, and we didn't understand the significance of what they did have to say. It wasn't until we got back to campus and found my roommate, Andrew, that we could get any real information about what had happened while we were away.

And that was when Anna realized - or decided - that we'd been left behind. The Rapture, she said, had come. Jesus had claimed His own, taking them directly to Heaven to avoid the judgements that were about to be poured out upon the Earth.

And I, in my usual I'm-withholding-judgement-until-I-get-more-and-better-information way, said: "That doesn't seem very likely."

It didn't occur to me until much later that Anna would see that as a slap at her beliefs, or that she considered those beliefs so personal that rejecting them was rejecting her. She just went very still, the way she does when she's angry but doesn't want to show it, and then she told me that she was going to find her parents, and that Andrew and I should do the same.

And then she left. It seemed a little abrupt, but I didn’t think much about it at the time. We’d just found out about a disaster, she needed to check on her family, and we’d been together all weekend; of course she’d want to get going. I wanted to get going, too.

So I went back to my room, and picked up my cell phone, and called home. And what I learned then made me forget all about what Anna and I had said to each other.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Lessons

Christmas this year was something of a benchmark. (And, actually, it's not over yet - we'll be getting together with my side of the family this weekend.) So what's the big deal? Well, Secondborn (1.6 yrs) is finally old enough to get presents that Firstborn (5.5 yrs) finds interesting. This has created an interesting new dynamic in our unwrapping and subsequent playing with the toys.

Fortunately, it wasn't a huge crisis. The boys are pretty good about sharing, and were even able to play together... or at least side by side with the same set of toys. Firstborn, however, kept trying to claim a selection of Secondborn's toys, which meant that we kept having to reiterate that those toys, in fact, belonged to his brother.

Which brings me back to the topic of this post...

Lessons I have learned from Christmas 2011:
  1. We require a Balance of Toys. That's not to say that the two boys must get exactly the same presents, just that they must be comparable enough that nobody feels left out. We knew we were going to have to do this eventually, but apparently we're already there.
  2. Shared Resources must occupy Neutral Ground. Firstborn is old enough to think of his room as his own space. He's allowed to close the gate and keep his younger brother out. This is fine, except that if he borrows one of his brother's toys and takes it into his room... You see where this is going, right? So toys that are being shared should be played with in the living room.
  3. Marketing doesn't end when you buy the product. Firstborn won't let us throw away all the packaging. He likes pressing his toys back into the molded plastic packages, usually to indicate that they've been put in jail or frozen in ice. He wants to keep the back of the Imaginext packages, which show entire landscapes of toys. Throwing away the packaging is Not Acceptable, which makes it very hard to clean up after the toys have been opened.
  4. Gratitude is not instinctive. Firstborn has a habit of speaking his mind. We generally encourage this, but it can create some problems... as, for example, when his Nana gives him a special pair of Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve, and he immediately announces - loudly - that he hates them and will not wear them. (I'm pretty sure he was hoping for a toy, and was just disappointed. We were able to coax him into going and giving his Nana a hug, and telling her that he loved her; and he didn't object at all when I put the PJs on him at bedtime.) We're, um, we're going to be doing some extra work on when and why we use "Thank you" to be polite.
  5. I cannot eat that much food. I don't care how good it looks or what time of year this is, if the total amount of food on my plate exceeds my own body mass, then I will not be able to finish it.
  6. Sleep is not optional. We had a couple of friends over while they were in town, and it was great.  We haven't had that much fun, or that kind of social fun at all, in a long time. (We basically just sat around the kitchen table, talking and laughing, after the boys had gone to bed.) And because we were enjoying ourselves, we stayed up late. Because we stayed up late, we were tired. Back when we were younger, and didn't have kids, that was no big deal. Now, it's a serious issue that we have to make major allowances for. (It was still completely worth it, though!)
All in all, Christmas has gone very well. If you want to see pictures, join us below the cut:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Right Behind: They Are Legion Part One

What if the Rapture came, and you missed it?

I'm not talking about being "left behind." That's all of us, everyone who's left on Earth. All the people who looked around and realized that their children were gone, all the people who looked up and realized that the car beside them suddenly had no driver, all the people who came home to empty beds or empty houses or empty neighborhoods.

But there were some of us who missed the whole thing. I, for example, had taken a couple of days off after Finals to go camping with my girlfriend. Two college students all alone in the woods at the end of their Junior year: you can imagine what all we we were doing. Maybe that's why we got left behind. Maybe, and maybe not.

Anna, you see, is very bright in her way. She can grasp complex ideas, do equations in her head, and memorize things in ways that I can't even begin to match. Unfortunately, she tends to take any idea she's given, and run with it. I'm smart in other ways; I can speak English, Spanish, and French (and read a fair amount of Latin), and I tend to withhold judgement and not take things at face value. Mine is the sort of intelligence that wants to do a lot of research, look for origins and evidence and support, and tends to ask uncomfortable and unwelcome questions.

That may be why Anna was still a Christian (nominally, at least) while I was... not. On the other hand, we came back from our trip to discover that everyone - everyone - under the age twelve had disappeared, along with a fair amount of the adult population... and the adult statistics skewed heavily to certain strains of Christianity. Nobody knew how heavily, because nobody can organize a census that quickly, but even the preliminary, anecdotal information was fairly convincing. When the police department notices that eighty percent of their missing persons calls concern members of a certain church, and further investigation can locate only four or five people from a congregation of over one hundred, that's pretty convincing. So maybe I shouldn’t consider my disbelief a product of my intelligence, if you see what I mean.

And yes, I know that everyone who's reading this now has been through it themselves, and remembers how it happened. I'm not writing this part down for you. I'm writing it down for our children, if we have any, if the world lasts that long. If there's one thing you learn studying history, it's just how much information gets lost. It's frightening how fast knowledge can disappear - a generation, maybe less, if it isn't needed or isn't wanted.

So that's what happened to us: we went into the woods, and when we came out the world had changed.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: For Flavor

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an announcement. You may want to make sure you are sitting down for this, as this is by far the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken. Is everybody ready?


Ladies and Gentlemen, for my next major project I propose to create something the world has never before experienced, something that despite decades of research and hundreds of attempts has never been accomplished. Ladies and Gentlemen, I will invent an artificial grape flavoring... that actually tastes like a grape!

Thank you, and good night.

Ninjas vs. zombies

Quick survey: ninjas versus zombies.

Who wins?


Saturday, December 24, 2011

No shirt, no shoes no service - no pants?

So we took both the boys to McDonald's for lunch today. It went well, in that we got something that might loosely be described as "food," and the boys played in the gerbil tubes for at least two hours.

Secondborn is fierce and fearless. He has figured out that he can climb around in the tunnels, and he does. The sections that give other, older kids pause - like, say, the bits of heavy netting where you can see the floor below you - don't faze him at all. He isn't at all worried about whether anyone else comes with him, either. He just charges in, goes to the top level, and gets inside the little car. (He has a deep, strong love of anything with a steering wheel.) He'll even come down the slide on his own.

Anyway, at one point Firstborn has gone up there with him. And I have no idea what happened, but I look up to see a diaper-clad bottom flash past one of the plexiglass windows. I immediately suspect that this is my child, and this impression is reinforced by the fact that the mystery flasher is wearing the same red shirt that Secondborn had on.

My suspicions are further reinforced a moment later, when Firstborn flashes past the window. He is evidently in hot pursuit of his younger brother... and he's clutching his brother's pants.

Do I even want to know how this happened? No, not really. But I slip my shoes off, climb up into the tunnels, capture Secondborn, and then get Firstborn to hand me the pants. Offhand, I can't see any good way to get the pants back on the child inside the tunnels, so I slide us both down to the bottom. At last I am able to return my son's pants to their rightful place on his bottom, and once again all is right in the kingdom.

With my quest completed, I retire to my table for a well-deserved rest.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Classic Horror Movies From My Childhood

When I was a youngster - I'm guessing I was around seven or eight, but I might have been as young as six - the local science museum decided to do a series of Saturday morning programs. The idea was that they'd show a movie, and then talk about the science in the movie, usually with some sort of arts and crafts activity. My parents were delighted by this idea, and promptly signed me up.

This turned out to be one of the formative experiences of my childhood - or, at the very least, one of the most memorable.

I really have no idea how the museum selected these movies, but I'm pretty sure cost was a factor: they were mostly older, often black-and-white films. Naturally, they involved enough science to be worth discussing. And, of course, they had been carefully selected for their ability to scare the living NFBSK out of an eight-year-old child.

I don't remember the exact sequence, but I think they might have started us with Soylent Green. This was my introduction to the concept of overpopulation, scarcity of resources, and possibly cannibalism. I don't remember exactly what sort of gloom and doom I announced to my parents when I came home from this, but I'm sure they were thrilled to have their kid explaining the eminent end of civilization to them.

Next up (I think) was Them! I had nightmares about giant ants for a week. (Admittedly, some of them were pretty cool nightmares.) Knowing about the biological limiting factors that prevent insects from getting that big? Didn't help. Not. At. All.

Obviously I wasn't permanently scarred, though. I say this because:
A) Them! remains one of my all-time favorite films to this day.
B) I went back to the museum the following Saturday and watched yet another child-traumatizing film.

After Them! we came to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This was really an excellent choice, since if there's one thing you want to show children, it's a film whose central lesson is, "Whatever you do, don't fall asleep!" I'm sure my parents really appreciated that one.

The one that really did me in, though, was The Swarm. This was the film that gave me really bad nightmares for at least two weeks, and launched my life-long aversion to bees and wasps. After the movie was over, we learned that in fact those bees really did exist, and that they were moving north towards the United States - coming closer every year. And how do you defend yourself against a swarm of bees? You can't shoot them, you can't hit them with sticks, you can't run fast enough to get away... this was by far the scariest thing I'd ever encountered in my life. I swear I spent the next month sleeping entire under the covers so the bees couldn't find me. It's a wonder I didn't suffocate; I wouldn't make any openings, because then the bees could get in.

Now, some of you are (no doubt) sitting there thinking, Well, that sure explains a lot about him. And you may be right, because clearly neither I nor my parents learned our lesson from this. Oh, no. A few short years later, I talked them into letting me stay up extra-late one Saturday night so I could watch the original Alien. And maybe a year after that, my father went to the library and checked out The Thing from Another World and let me watch that with him, after explaining that it was set up a lot like Alien.

So now you know the truth: I acquired my lifelong love of horror movies from a science museum.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

People helping people

An iFriend posted this video on Facebook. I'm sharing it here because there's just something about watching people help each other (even in something that's very clearly dramatized) that cheers me up. Admittedly, it also left me a little sniffly, so if you don't want your co-workers to catch you crying you might want to watch it at home, or at least make sure nobody else is around. (I'd pretend like I'm the sort of manly man who doesn't get reduced to tears by, say, this sort of music video - or children's cartoons, for that matter - but I've been a parent for over five years now. If I ever had those sort of pretensions, or even a tiny little shred of personal dignity, they're long gone now.)

More Christmas music

Right, so: more Christmas music that I actually enjoy. Because, hey, it's that time of year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A movie idea too terrifying to contemplate (sober)

Opening Scene: A darkened laboratory. Men and women in lab coats stand in front of computer consoles. Through a heavily-reinforced window, a steel sphere is visible. The sphere is supported by an elaborate network of struts, tubes and wires.

Head Researcher: "Is everything ready?"

Assistant: "Almost. We're still charging the trigger. Anders thinks another minute or two."

Head Researcher: "Cold fusion. If this works, we can solve the world's energy problems. Clean, cheap, plentiful energy."

Assistant: "If we can get enough power to start the reaction..."

Head Researcher: (nods)

Anders: "Got it!"

Head Researcher: "Okay. Anders, watch those readings. Thompson, activate the cycle."

Thompson: "Activating."

The screen goes white. A moment later, the screen goes black.

Head Researcher: "What happened?"

Thompson: "I can't tell."

Anders: "Looked like a power spike... feedback from the reactor, maybe?"

Assistant: "Did it work?"

Fade back in to lab. Resolve blurry shapes into people. Through the reinforced window is a massive, oddly-shaped tree. After a moment, its branches move.

Head Researcher: "Where did it go? And what the Hell is *that*?"

Assistant: "It looks like a giant octo-"

Window smashes as a tentacle reaches through. It coils around Assistant and drags him through the window.

Anders: "Run. Run now."

Scene 1: front of building. Tentacles can be seen waving idly around and occasionally knocking down walls behind the researchers.

Head Researcher: "What *is* that thing? Where did it come from?"

Thompson: "It looks like the leviathan."

Anders: "It what?"

Thompson: "Leviathan. Giant octopus-squid thing? Ate the pirate ship?"

Anders: "You're babbling. Where did the reactor go?"

Cut scene: A man in a rumpled fedora and a battered leather jacket jams a wedge into a stone door to hold it open, then steps through. He stares up at the ancient stone altar, and the gleaming metal sphere resting atop it. Water and steam leak from the severed ends of tubes, and loose wires hang down across the front of the altar. The man pauses to examine the pattern of tiles on the floor, then carefully starts forward.

Head Researcher: "Maybe the energy from the reaction punched through to some other reality. I can't imagine where else the monster-"

Thompson: "Leviathan!"

Anders: "Not helping."

Head Researcher: "-could have come from."

Anders: "Come on. Let's find a phone."

Thompson: "Try my cell."

Anders: "Good call." Punches in numbers. "Yes, Dean Yeager? What? Listen, this is Anders down in R&D. We have a situation... Fine, I'll wait."

Thompson: "What is that?"

Head Researcher: "What is wha- We should run again."

Winged figure drops from the sky, lands on Thompson, and launches itself back into the air. Head Researcher and Anders run for shelter.

Anders: "Yeager? Yes, it's Dr. Anders... Research... Cold fusion, remember? I think we may... have done something wrong... and... what do you mean, turn on the TV?"

Anders: "No, we're busy running."

Anders and Head Researcher duck into a bank, which against all probability seems to be empty.

Anders: "Just a... moment..." (To himself:) "I should never have given up jogging." (Into phone:) "All over what, sir?"

Anders (to Head Researcher): "Apparently a batch of skeletal pirates just sailed into San Fransisco, looted everything within three blocks of the harbor, and sailed away in a black ship. New York has some sort of giant monster running around, knocking over buildings... and it seems to be dropping smaller, poisonous cricket-monsters."

Head Researcher: "What?"

Anders: "I think you were right. I think we punched through into some other movies, and now they're loose in our world."

A young woman hurries into the bank and starts towards the empty row of desks for the tellers. She appears puzzled by their absence. Behind her, the bank door slams open, and a young man chases her in.

Young Man: "Wait! Before you leave for Spain, there's something I have to tell you. Jane, I am hopelessly in love with you!"

Jane: "Oh, Martin! I love you, too! I've tried to ignore it, but it just..."

Martin: "I know."

The pair approach each other, embrace, and kiss.

Head Researcher: "And this is because of our experiment?"

Anders: "Looks that way."

A flash of movement catches his eye. Anders turns, tensing, as a tiny figure climbs onto the desk beside him.

Anders: "Oh, no."

Tiny Figure: "Where are we? This doesn't look like the village."

Head Researcher: "...Village?"

Tiny Figure: "Our home! Say, you're really big. And all this stuff is really big. Do you live here? Can you show us around?"

More figures climb onto the tops of desks, chairs, etc.

Tiny Figure: "'Cause that would be positively Smurfy!"

Anders: "My god, what have we done?"

Head Researcher: "NOOOOO! Please, God, Noooooo!"

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 23

Public baptism and the end of the book

Welcome to the detailed (and spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

Monday, December 19, 2011

True Parenting Moments: Restraint

I have reached a critical spot in the video game. I have my little character carefully lined up for the nearly-impossible jump that will take him into the next area. I am focused entirely on the screen in front of me and the controller in my hands.

From the couch beside me, a quiet voice says: "I was going to say something, Daddy, but I am being quiet so you can concentrate."

Why, yes. Yes you were.

Odd recommendation: The Innovators

I recently saw The Innovators perform, and I thought they deserved a mention here. This is going to sound a bit odd, since they are an explicitly Christian music group, meaning that their songs are basically all songs of praise. (For those of you who aren't regular readers, I'm basically an atheist... so, pretty much the exact opposite of The Innovators' target audience.)

Musically, they're very good: there's nothing sloppy or unprofessional about their performance. They opened with a couple of praise songs done in a very catchy a cappella/barbershop style. They're originally from Zimbabwe, so the next couple of songs were done in their native language (Shona, I think) and were, for me, the most enjoyable part of the show. Though I have to say, the doo-wop version of Silent Night that they closed with was fun, too.

Basically, if you're looking for a music group to include in a praise service or something like that, these guys are very good and you should check them out. They're mostly performing in and around the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex right now, but (based on their calendar) it looks like they're willing to travel.

Now, if explicitly inspirational/praise-oriented Christian music isn't your thing, you probably won't enjoy The Innovators anywhere near as much. They're not a group that I'd recommend for non-Christians or ex-Christians, as the all-praise-all-the-time vibe tends to wear on my nerves. But they knew what they were doing and they did it well, so if their material suits your beliefs you're good to go.

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 22

You are my greatest adventure, and I almost missed it.

Welcome to the detailed (and spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Music

I've mentioned before that I'm a bit... ambivalent... about holiday music. But hey, we're almost to Christmas, so I figure I'll put up a couple of songs that I actually like. So...

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 21

Where the zombies went wrong?

Welcome to the detailed (and spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

Email from my mom

This came in an e-mail from my mom. Since I know that some of you share my... idiosynctratic, yeah, that's the word for it... sense of humor, I thought I'd pass it along:
Please join me in remembering a great icon of the entertainment community. The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and trauma complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71.

Doughboy was buried in a lightly greased coffin. Dozens of celebrities turned out to pay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, the California Raisins, Betty Crocker, the Hostess Twinkies, and Captain Crunch. The grave site was piled high with flours.

Aunt Jemima delivered the eulogy and lovingly described Doughboy as a man who never knew how much he was kneaded. Doughboy rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was considered a very smart cookie, but wasted much of his dough on half-baked schemes. Despite being a little flaky at times, he still was a crusty old man and was considered a positive roll model for millions.

Doughboy is survived by his wife Play dough, three children: John Dough, Jane Dough and Dosey Dough, plus they had one in the oven. He is also survived by his elderly father, Pop tart.

The funeral was held at 3:50 for about 20 minutes.

If this made you smile for even a brief second, please rise to the occasion and take time to pass it on and share that smile with someone else who may be having a crumby day and kneads a lift.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 20

Zombies and the Doctrine of Universal Monstrosity

Welcome to the detailed (and spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 19

He's Saved! Howl-elujah!

Welcome to the detailed (and spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Pinnacle Of Awesome

Anyone who's been on the Internet for any length of time is aware of Internet memes: LOLcats, for example. Or strange and wondrous phrases ("All your ____ are belong to us.") Ninjas. Pirates.

Mostly, they're amusing. Every once in a while, though, an Internet meme gets out of hand.

I'm thinking, in particular, of bacon.

Bacon is awesome. Bacon is wonderful. Bacon is the best thing to come along since, well, ever.

Bacon is so awesome that it must be incorporated into everything. Thus, we now have bacon-flavored salt. Freeze-dried survival bacon. You can even purchase your very own talking, plush bacon to hug and cuddle between bites of bacon. I am not making this up.

You can get bacon-flavored mints, bacon-scented air fresheners, bacon flavored popcorn, and baconnaise. And I have to admit that those things are, well, pretty freakin' awesome.

But I have something better. The ultimate expression of bacon-loving. The pinnacle of awesome. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...

...bacon-flavored bacon.

I ask you, can it get any more awesome than that?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Update on Night of the Living Dead Christian

We're very nearly done with the... vivisection? ...of Night of the Living Dead Christian. We're also nearly at the end of the commentary that I'd written out in advance. So I'm going to take a brief break - probably just a couple of days - and write out the last of my critique before I resume posting it here. There are... I don't know, five or six more entries at most, so we'll be done in time for Christmas.

(That will be my gift to Matt Mikalatos: he won't have to read any more of my criticism! I'm sure this will come as a great relief, though he's been a wonderfully good sport about all this.)

So, yeah. That's where we are, and that's where we're going.

Real Work Conversations: The Ultimate SF Movie Script

This is why I love my workplace. Well, one of the reasons.

So I'm walking down the hall, and I hear this:

Bob: " Highlander V. Or whatever. We could do this, we'd just need something..."

Sam: "Lightsabers."

Bob: "Yeah! No, too distinctive."

Sam: "Too copyrighted."

Me (stopping in the doorway): "Though I did once write a bit of fan fiction in which a Sith Lord was going around killing Jedi, harvesting their midichlorians, and injecting them into his own body. 'Cause after doing that for a while, there can be only one..."

Sam: "Yeah, way to mind-f*ck that childhood memory. Turns out The Force isn't some invisible energy field that surrounds us and binds us together. Turns out there are these little micro-organisms that live in your body, feeding off of you, and crapping Force into your body. And if you have enough of them, you can become a Jedi."

Bob: "And then the Umbrella Corporation got ahold of them."

Sam: "No."

Me: "No, I like this. They inject them into your body, and they give you psychic powers, except when you die you become a zombie and go out to devour the brains of Jedi. This could work."

Sam: "And they're real slow, but it doesn't matter because when you try to run they can Force-pull you back to them. Just-" (He demonstrates in pantomime.)

Bob: "We should find an RTVF Major to make this film."

Unfortunately, at that point I had to go, so I didn't get to hear how the rest of the conversation went.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christian parents of atheist or agnostic children

Update as of May 22, 2012: There is now a support group on Facebook for parents who find themselves in this position. It's not a large group (I just created it yesterday), but if you're interested you can find it here: You will need a Facebook account to join.

There is also a corresponding group for the unbelieving "children" (regardless of actual age, obviously) here:

I'm not sure exactly how to start this post, since it's a response to the troubles that some of my friends (in various locations) have run into recently, and I really don't want to name names or even talk about specific situations. But it seems worthwhile to look at this topic again, only this time specifically in terms of family relationships.

Before I jump in, I'd like to point out some other resources that might also be helpful:
  • Friendly Evangelism - a while back, I wrote a series of posts on how Christians can talk to ex-Christians and non-Christians without driving them away, starting arguments, or giving offense. (It's best to scroll down and start at the beginning.)
  • Alise... Write! - Alise is a Christian whose (formerly Christian) husband lost his faith. She has some very interesting material on moving into and being part of an "unevenly-yoked" marriage. (Again, it's best to scroll down and start at the beginning.)
  • Better a good atheist than a bad Christian - John Shore talks about priorities.
  • What to do if your college-aged child turns his back on Judaism - Shula J Asher Silberstein's article is aimed at Jewish parents, but there's plenty there to help Christian parents as well.
The Friendly Evangelism posts were aimed at general communication, and (because of the way the question was originally posed) focused mainly on talking to people you don't know, in an online environment. Talking to a family member adds a whole new set of issues and potential problems. Now it's not just religious differences creating friction; you can cheerfully throw in family dynamics, generational differences, and a host of other things to really muddy the water. Fun for the whole family, right?

No. It's not fun. In fact, I can pretty well guarantee that it's not fun for anybody. The best you can hope for - the absolute best - is that it won't be a very big deal.[1] That's true whether you're the Christian parent, or the atheist/agnostic[2] child. It's a difficult, tricky situation. Which brings me to my first piece of advice:

Don't panic. I know this is a huge shock for you. I realize that - depending on your particular flavor of Christianity - you may be terrified by the thought that your own flesh and blood is now bound for Hell. You may be wondering how this happened, what went wrong, whether you could have done something to prevent it, and what happens next. You may feel that the world is out of balance, that everything is wrong. But whatever you do, share as little of this reaction as possible with your child. Wait. Walk away and have your primal scream in private.[3]

Remember that however difficult, unpleasant, and horrifying this may be for you to accept, it was at least that hard for your child, too. In fact, it was probably harder. That feeling that someone just pulled the rug out from under you, or kicked a leg out from under your chair, or punched you in the gut? They've had that. And odds are, if you're reading this, they've felt that in very recent memory.

After that, watch your language. Losing your faith is almost never a quick, casual decision. For most people, it's an uncomfortable and unwelcome conclusion to a long and painful search for answers. So anything you say, or ask, that sounds like your child chose to quit being Christian is going to be unwelcome at best. At worst, it's infuriating.

Similarly, anything that has to do with their relationship with God is probably unwelcome. People who are unhappy with their church (or their minister, or their faith community) just go find another church. People who are dissatisfied with Christianity itself but still believe in some sort of divinity will move to another religion, or become "spiritual but not religious".[4] To get all the way to atheism, or even firm agnosticism, you have to conclude that either God doesn't exist, or at the very least that He isn't active in the world. And once someone has reached that point, they don't have feelings about God. They don't see religion as having anything to do with God: it's just people. As far as they can tell, it has always been just people. So they don't "hate God" and they aren't "angry at God." They can't be; for atheists, that's like being mad at Santa Claus.

That said, they can be, and probably are, angry about being told for years about God. Once someone has concluded that God doesn't exist - or even that He isn't what they were told - they tend to feel like a great many people have lied to them. They tend to feel like they've been used and manipulated. They feel betrayed. If you're seeing anger, that's where a lot of it is coming from. That's not all of it, but that's a lot.

The other part of the anger is mostly - one way or another - a reaction to pain. Losing faith is painful. Losing faith means asking questions that peers, family, and authority figures may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, or inappropriate. (It feels a bit like admitting to people that you have a communicable disease.) In the process of losing their faith, a lot of people also lose friends, relationships, even entire communities. At its worst, losing your faith is like losing your whole world - or, worse, losing yourself. It's an experience of finding out that you aren't who you thought you were, that things you'd always relied on weren't true, or weren't there. This experience is made worse by the fact that very few people understand (and fewer accept) what the disaffected Christian is going through as they lose their faith - especially in more conservative, religious communities.

Basically, you should try to avoid anything that trivializes their loss of faith: anything that makes it sound like they're just being silly or childish or petulant; anything that makes it sound like a simple choice; and - and here's the hard part - anything that treats their lack of belief as something other than a lack of belief. Telling a former believer that they just had a bad experience with the church, or that they're just mad at God, sends a very clear message that you have no idea what happened to them and aren't interested in finding out.

Listen to people who know. As a rule, Christianity doesn't really prepare its adherents for the idea of people losing their faith. Changing from one denomination to another, sure - but dropping out of Christianity entirely? Rare few churches ever talk about that. Most churches assume that atheists have never heard of the Gospel, or at the very least that they've never been exposed to true Christianity. A casual reading of the Apostle Paul would suggest that there's no such thing as an atheist, that God's presence is so unambiguously obvious that anyone who denies His existence must clearly be in rebellion against Him. There are several problems with these views, but even if they were irrefutably true, here and now they're just not helpful.

By the same token, talking with your minister (priest, pastor, whatever) might be helpful, but odds are good that they don't have a lot more experience with this than you do. Despite what you (and they) might hope, their training isn't likely to be especially helpful, either. So by all means ask them for advice, but take their answers with a grain of salt (or, in some cases, an entire salt mine).

You know who's going to best understand what your child is going through? That's right... it's your child. Listen to what your child has to say about his or her experience. But - and this is a very big "but" - remember that losing faith is a process. It's not like buying a car, where one day you can just decide to go out and do it, and then it's done. Your child may not be able to fully articulate everything that went into their loss of faith, particularly not in a way that make sense to you. So listen. Ask questions if you must. Take time to think over what they tell you. Above all, do not demand answers. If you can accept that you may never understand what happened, that will probably help.

Treat your child like an adult. The age of the child is going to make a big difference, here. High-school or college age children may just be "going through a phase" or "rebelling" or what have you. Then again, they may not. I myself wandered away from Christianity in my early teens; I'm creeping up on forty now, and Christian beliefs still don't make any sense to me.[5] Either way, it's best to treat your child as if this is a serious conclusion that they've legitimately worked their way to.

That's doubly important if your children actually are independent adults. I shouldn't even have to say that, but I keep running into parents who can't seem to process the fact that their children can, in fact, make decisions and reach conclusions on their own. Despite the fact that these "children" are completely self reliant, gainfully employed, married, and/or parents in their own right, their parents either can't or won't acknowledge that they have the right and ability to be self-determining.

Be ready to make some adjustments. If your child is still at home, forcing them to go to church with you isn't going to magically turn them back into a Christian - in fact, it's rather more likely to drive them further away. The same goes for leaving tracts around for them to find. If you, or they, aren't comfortable talking about religion - or can't discuss it calmly, or whatever - then put the topic off-limits. (Sort like the "Don't talk politics at the family gathering" rule. Remember that one? The one that was put in place because Uncle Charlie loves to argue, and holds political opinions that are diametrically opposed to those of everyone else in the family, and can't or won't pull back before things get really unpleasant?) If your grown child isn't comfortable with taking your grandchildren to church, let it go. It's not that important, and it's not like they're going to grow up never hearing about Jesus.[6] Take a deep breath, be flexible, and try to focus on what's really important: your relationship with your child.

Above all, have faith. I know that sounds funny coming from me, but I'm serious. If you can't trust in your child, trust in God. Do you really think He's just going to let them fall? (If you just said yes, are we talking about the same deity? He'd sacrifice His only Son to save everyone, but you think He's just going to stand by when it comes to your child?) Do you really think He's all that concerned about whether or not they're aware of His presence? Especially when compared to, say, how they're living their lives?

Don't let your confusion and fear try to tell you the limits of God's grace and mercy. Have faith. Trust.

* * *

So that's my advice. I hope it helps. Comments are open. If there's something you'd like to add - something I missed, or something you think I got wrong - please contribute. If you have questions, please ask. If you've found other resources helpful, let us know. Discovering that your child has lost his or her faith is a difficult, unpleasant situation, but you can work through it and you can keep your family intact.

[1] At worst... well, I know of one case where a high school senior was kicked out of his house, his possessions tossed out on the yard to get rained on; not just disowned, but disavowed entirely.

[2] A quick note on terminology: "atheism" is generally defined as the belief that there is (or are) no God (or gods). Agnosticism is generally defined as uncertainty about the existence of God, or sometimes as the belief that it's impossible to really know whether or not God exists. In practice, there's a huge amount of overlap between those two positions. There are a lot of atheists who prefer to define the term not as definite belief that God does not exist, but as a lack of belief that God does exist. There are plenty of agnostics who are functionally atheist: since they see no definite evidence proof of God's existence, they assume that He doesn't exist.

[3] I realize that if you've looked this up on the Internet, it's probably just exactly too late for this advice. I stand by it nevertheless.

[4] Oddly, a lot of people find this easier to accept than the notion that their child doesn't believe in the supernatural at all. I say "oddly" because from a theological perspective, it makes no sense: in most Christian doctrine, a Buddhist is just as damned as an atheist. Though in all honesty, I think this particular part of Christian doctrine is based on a seriously misguided reading of the Bible.

[5] So my parents have been coping with my lack of belief for quite a long time, now.

[6] Seriously, in modern, Western nations, that's essentially impossible. Everybody hears about Jesus.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 18

Inside the burning church

Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

Christmas Angels

Some of you may be wondering where the custom of setting an angel at the very top of a Christmas tree comes from. Well...

As I understand the story, one year Santa was very busy. The elves were disorganized, the reindeer were slacking off, Mrs. Claus had just burnt the cookies. Nothing seemed to be going right.

Up in Heaven, God looked down and noticed that Christmas was in serious danger of being late - they didn't even have the tree set up in the toy factory yet! So He sent one of His angels down to help.

There at the North Pole, one of the management elves had just finished telling Santa that they'd lost a whole ream of wish lists, and that Rudolph was violently ill from overeating, and that they were having trouble with the runners on the sled. The angel arrived right about then, and finds Santa talking with this elf beside their Christmas tree - which is still lying on the factory floor, waiting to be set up.

Well, the angel heads over there to help. Santa looks up at the angel's arrival (which is yet another unwelcome interruption) and the angel asks: "What should I do with this tree?"

The rest is history.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas for non-Christians

We celebrate Christmas. Or solstice, or Saturnalia, or whatever. We have stockings, Christmas trees, presents. Firstborn helped set up the manger scene at my parents’ house this past weekend. (It has a delightful collection of little pewter animals, and my father built a sort of lincoln-logs-on-a-wooden-base setup for the manger itself.) We won’t be attending services, let alone midnight mass, because, y’know, we’re not actually Christian in a religious sense.

Even so, there’s plenty to celebrate. For one thing, there's a lot of Christmas that isn’t actually Christian in a religious sense. And culturally, we are Christian: Christianity is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of religion, Christian holidays are the ones we grew up celebrating, and Christian churches are the ones that we will definitely not be attending.

I've ranted before about my deep and profound loathing for the holiday season, but the holiday itself I rather like. And despite my lack of religious faith, I don't see any particular reason not to celebrate the parts I enjoy.

The Christmas songs are, of course, explicitly religious, but that's not as hard to fix as you might think:
Adeste infideles, laeti triumphantes;
venite et bibate cervisia!

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
Ich habe dich getötet.
Ich schneide sie ab und brachte sie in.
Mein Boden ist in Ihrem Nadeln begraben.
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
Ich hätte lassen Sie wachsen!

Or you could go with something more contemporary; I was recently introduced to White Wine in the Sun:

Whatever you're doing for the holidays, be safe and enjoy yourselves. Feel free to talk about your plans, traditions - or, if you prefer, your deep hatred for retail work and general disgust with Christmas Carols - in the comments. Or correct my German. Or whatever. Consider this an open thread.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 17

Finally, an explanation of sorts...

Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

Monday, December 5, 2011

'Tis the season!

I'm thinking of starting a collection. Now, some people might consider stamps, or rare books, or art. Me, I'm thinking brains. In jars. I'll take them from the people who have decided that the holiday season excuses them from driving with even a bare minimum of safety and courtesy.

This, by the way, is why I should never be given Vast Supernatural Powers. (Or psychic abilities. Or a Power Ring. Or super soldier serum. Etc.)

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 16

Werewolf vs. werewolf hunter: BRAWL!

Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Not pedantic - precise!

Let's be perfectly clear about this. I am not pedantic. I'm precise.

True, I'm very careful to find exactly the right words to express every nuance of my thoughts. And it's important to make sure that I address every single point relevant to the topic at hand. Sure, maybe that requires using footnotes[1] from time to time, but there's nothing pedantic about that. Footnotes are an easy way of making sure that you include everything without losing track of the main focus of your topic. They're a sign of organization, not pedantry.

And yes, as a matter of fact, it is important to address every little factual inaccuracy, even if the intended meaning is perfectly clear. Accuracy matters, after all. Plus, you never know when a particular distinction, however subtle or unimportant in its current context, might become an issue of vital importance in some other setting. So clearly it's best to correct these issues as early as possible.

I'm not pedantic; I'm precise. That's all there is to it, really.[2]

[1] This didn't require a footnote.

[2] Okay, maybe not. I'd also like to remind you that I have opinions.

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 15

Luther... I am your father... Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 14

The Clockwork Project

Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump: