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Archive for October, 2010

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day. It was also the day I broke one of my rules…no politics on Facebook. Well, actually I suppose we were talking about religion so maybe I’m still golden.

One of my Christian Facebook friends seems to enjoy stirring things up. And yesterday he stirred things up by announcing that homosexuality is a sin. I suppose you can guess where things went from there.

I was embarrassed. It struck me though, more than it has on other occasions, how much of the culture of modern Christianity seems to be about bullying. About using the guise of “reaching others” to really spend our time banging others over the head about what they are doing wrong. Nevermind that Jesus himself told us explicitly to NOT do that. (Matthew 7:5; Luke 6:41-42) Granted those verses do say we can deal with the speck in our brothers’ eyes…but only after we’ve gotten the logs out of ours. And I don’t know about anyone else, but every day I wake up and realise that there is still a wooden eye in my head. By the time I get these logs out, the eyes themselves will be in heaven.

I’ve got a non-Christian acquaintance who has decided that my Christianity isn’t good enough for her because I don’t give her money to pay all of her bills and I don’t drive her to medical appointments. So she shows up periodically to bully me about religion. You may have seen her here from time to time. Thanks to her (and others) I’ve really come to despise the idea of using religion as a tool to abuse others. Because that’s what it is. Rarely have I seen another person who uses the “you aren’t a good Christian” trope for any other reason than to impart unto themselves a degree of superiority. A blog I recently started following is really a series of sermons written by a writer. Underneath all the various vignettes it’s clear that the writer is using those blog entries as a form of self-aggrandisement. “Buy my Christian Fiction because I’m clearly really in touch with the Faith. Unlike most of you.”

Lucifer was cast out of heaven because he wished to be God’s equal. More and more it strikes me that in condemning others we might be committing the sin of pride.

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Deleting Buffy

When Buffy The Vampire Slayer first came out in theatres I made my husband go with me on opening day. Rutger Hauer was in it, and anyone who knows me knows that I will not pass up Rutger Hauer for anything. Nothing. A bit later I heard they were making a TV show out of the movie but since I didn’t think the movie was all that great and I’ve never really been able to gin up much of a care about Vampires in general I just didn’t pay that much attention. The show ran for alot of years, concurrent to a period in my life where we were busy beyond belief and preoccupied with things like keeping start-up companies in business. We didn’t watch as much TV then, and we didn’t have a TiVo. So the cultural zeitgeist of Buffy a la Joss Whedon just passed me by.

A jump to the left and a step to the right later, we’ve got that TiVo player and we’ve also got a Blu-Ray player that streams Netflix Instant, and Netflix Instant is showing all the seasons of Buffy at the touch of a button. I watched Season One this week, and started Season Two. Then I just deleted all of them.

I know a lot of my family and friends love this show. Pretty much everyone in all my circles of friends references it, and many of them own all seasons on DVD. I don’t say this to offend any of you, because I respect and love you all.

But here’s the thing…

I can handle mythic fiction about a lot of things that make some other Christians leery. I clearly had no problem with Harry Potter despite the whole “Witchcraft and Wizardry” thing, because upon reading them it was clear to me that they were built around their own mythology and didn’t involve real witchraft. Sort of like C.S. Lewis’ witchcraft in the Narnia series. I also have no problem with a lot of the Arthurian legends that contextualise their pagan roots. I have no problem with studying comparative religion, in fact that is one of my main avocations.

But I cannot accept Demons–which I know to be very real–as a form of entertainment. Yes, I know Buffy conquers the demons, fighting them with crosses and stakes and other parachristian implements and symbology. But at the root of the show I watched is a reliance on demons and demonic possession as entertainment. I felt a weird sense of oppression when watching the show and I just can’t keep at it. Yes, I’m curious about some things–will Xander ever realise Willow loves him? Do Buffy and Angel ever get together? I really liked hanging out with this gang of kids and their gentle-hearted librarian leader. I liked them a lot.

It’s just that with me there seems to be this line…one where I don’t feel comfortable compartmentalising demons in fictional entertainment.

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Me Either

Aunt B. posted a link to a new blog that looks like fun. It’s called Biblioden and is a book review site. I was nosing around to see who’s behind it and what they think about the world in general when I came across this little caveat:

Most genres are open for consideration. However, Biblioden will not review the following categories: religious fiction, erotica, technical manuals.

Hah! Those would be the three categories I won’t read either. Yet having read the Tim and Beverly LaHaye books about Christian Married Sex, I’d say perhaps those count as all three in one.

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As I keep telling myself–and everyone else who will stand still for 30 seconds–I am a very Libertarian type of person.   I really do believe in “Live and Let Live”.  As a Christian Libertarian I also believe in the second clause “…and let God sort it out.”

Lately, though, I’ve been having a problem with the way certain other people live their lives.  I feel no small measure of guilt, which is why I’m writing about it.  Also, I suppose, I just need a healthy vent.

My prime example is a fellow we’ll call Leonard.*   Leonard decided when he was younger that he wanted to be a musician*.    For years he knocked around Nashville in one entry level job after another, doing the kinds of things people do to keep their heads above water.  He bagged groceries and pulled espressos and talked about being a musician.  Even though he didn’t have a guitar.    He had the good fortune to be married to a woman who decided that if they were to have any life at all, she’d better buckle down and be the one in a “grind” of profession, so Lucy* became a nurse.   She worked around the clock and her paychecks financed their lifestyle.   Eventually Leonard’s parents bought him a guitar so that he could actually play gigs.   And then Leonard got discovered in an unlikely and fairy tale way.   He put out a couple of albums for a small label, then transferred to a larger label and put out a couple more.   He also played sessions on a few other albums, one of which hit the big time.   As a sessions player on a top 10 album, he ate out for years on the reflected glory.    But none of his own albums did very well.   Eventually his label dropped him.   So now Leonard hangs out on the internet and talks with other people about Deep Issues and the problems in the music industry.   He fiddles around on his guitar, coming up with new songs that sound like the same songs on the albums that nobody bought.

All this time, Lucy has been raising their children and working sixty hour weeks.

Of course, the libertarian in me looks at Leonard and Lucy and says “well, whatever works for them.  If that’s how they’re content, then great.”

But here’s the thing.   They do have kids.   And their kids have grown up always wanting for things.  Not much, if Lucy could help it.  But there were long stretches of wearing nothing but secondhand clothes and driving over to grandpa’s to get money to pay the utility bills.   Right now they are struggling financially.   Leonard’s former trickle of income has dropped to the occasional droplet of dimes.    Several friends have offered Leonard good jobs in companies that have good health plans so that his daughter can finally get the medical attention she needs for an ongoing health problem.

But Leonard turns them down because he’s following his muse.

This is where I have issues, folks.   Leonard isn’t one person.  I live in Nashville, TN and my “Leonard” is an amalgam of about 15 guys I know in various artsy jobs.   But the one thing they all have in common that bugs the snot out of me is that they all have children.   And as much as I want to say it’s okay for someone to follow their bliss if that’s what they work out between their spouses and landlords and themselves I can’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of bringing children into the world and then not putting your big boy pants on.

I suppose that perhaps it’s because children WERE the pipe dream I chased for so many years.  Or maybe it’s because I am married to a man whose father did similar things and who still bears very real scars from the experience.    But the way I see it, once you bring a life into this world you sign a pact with the universe that you will do everything within your power to make that child’s life as good as possible.  That doesn’t mean that if you aren’t making a million dollars you’re not a good parent.   But I do think it means you don’t turn down good jobs so you can sit at home and play around on Facebook while your kids have untreated medical conditions and shop at Goodwill for all their clothes.

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Last Thursday night I was in the middle of a really good book (okay, an okay book, but it was at an interesting plot point) when I realised that I had to go down to the basement to check on my cafe in Cafe World.

That’s when it struck me.

I am tired of games that create an obligation for me.

I love a lot about the Facebook games.  I love that they bring a lot of basic creativity to you, that they give you the option to spend time making your farm or restaurant or city be fantastic.   They are a sort of doll house, bringing creativity and control to people who sorely need those elements in their lives.   There were a lot of very painful days where the Zen of farming or cooking was a peaceful way to concentrate outside myself and turn down the noise of pain.  And I may yet find myself going back there for more of that Zen.

But, quite honestly, the timed element of those games has now officially worked my last nerve.  You see, the basic gist behind them is that you have to come back in a certain amount of time to harvest your crops or serve your food or restock your store or fulfill your contract.    Video game designers call it a Compulsion Loop; essentially, the game is nothing more than a compulsion to come back.

Lately it’s stopped reminding me of a Zen Garden and more of a Sisyphean nightmare.   So I’ve “scaled back” (ie. stopped) playing for the moment.   Already my days seem a bit longer, now that they’re not divided into 4- 8- and 12- hour “harvest crops” chunks.

When you look over the selection of games available for Facebook, they are all essentially basic Compulsion Loop models.  There is little to no second-tier of strategy to them, which in the end will make them self-limiting I think.   I’m curious to see if Facebook could support a gaming model that is both social AND more evolved.   In the past that has worked within the framework of one game’s multiplayer interface (think World of Warcraft), but then you had a self-limiting social aspect.  Everyone on the network was there solely for the purpose of playing WoW.   The social appeal to Facebook gaming is  that you are open to a larger cross-section of your friends and acquaintances.     As it is, though, those games have a built-in obsolescence factor of about 8 weeks.  (That’s when most people stop playing.)

I did meet a lot of new people and made some genuine friends.  I’ll still stop by the farm from time to time and check on my cute animals.   But I’m ready to find the next big thing.

Which, word to the wise, right now is Pocket Frogs.   I swear I need to find some sort of Pocket Frog Methadone.  But that’s another story.

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Lately I’ve done alot of thinking about families.   When mentally composing this blog entry in the tub I started with the thought that I’ve been lucky with my particular families–then I realised that isn’t entirely true.  But more on that in a minute.

We’re coming up on the time of year when the emphasis on families is ramped up into overdrive–by January there will hardly be a person left standing because we’ll all be rendered into puddles of weepy drunken tears about how our families don’t live up to the Holiday Specials.     Few of us are Cleavers or Cosbys or even the Alan Thicke family whose last name escapes me at the moment.   In a conversation with Ivy last week, she brought up a friend in recovery who is still trying to achieve a relationship with her father that doesn’t include him belittling her.    That led to a larger discussion about families in general.   About how many people don’t have great ones, how many people spend long stretches of their lives trying to rebuild their families into one they are better suited to, like a bridge of toy blocks.    About how that seldom works and so those people drink, do drugs or write episodes of Lost.

That’s why I’m a huge fan of the non-traditional family.   Don’t get me wrong–I still believe in the idea of family.   But when you get right down to it, the things people want from family when they talk about it are unconditional love, acceptance, nurturing and care.   And a lot of times folks are not able to get that in their Origin Family.   People are fallible.  People are human.  People are often lost.  And they can’t always give those things to others.   So the way I see it, we’ve all got two choices.  We can bang our heads against a brick wall and fret over what obviously doesn’t work.   Or we can accept it for what it is and make a family of our own.   We can assemble, out of the friends and lovers and pets and houseplants those same pieces.  Love, acceptance, nurturing and care are out there for the taking, if you just look.   You can, with a bit of work, make a family that works for you.

And that’s the point I wanted to make from the beginning.  I did grow up in a good Origin Family.   We do have those heartwarming moments.   And I’ve been blessed to find my soulmate when I was very young.   That is the greatest wealth of my life.   But even though I am surrounded by these people who love me and whom I love in return, we always work at it.   A friend who stayed with us a couple of weeks ago mentioned that we were always apologising to one another.  I pointed out that may be one reason we are still happily married after 20 years–we work to show one another consideration.   Even in my own Origin Family we had to work through rough patches.

Families take work.   All families.   And I happen to believe that if you can’t get your Origin Family to work with you, then it’s a perfectly sane and acceptable alternative to make your own, better family.

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Yeah, I know.  Lazy blogging.  But this, after all, is why I started the blog in the first place.  And posts like these are what sealed my reputation as a contrarian.   So let’s have a bit of Fun Friday.

You Tube embeds on blogs.

This was not my original first choice.  But I was remembering when we used to do that on Fridays.  And how much it bugged me.   I must say that I don’t mind these when used sparingly.   Ivy had one a few days ago.   But she did it right.  She had the video embedded, but she told you the gist of what you were going to see if you didn’t have the time or the inclination to watch it.   Aunt B. also does it right, the times she does it.   She tells you about the music and then says “here, this is what I’m talking about.”    But I just get so miffed when I’ve subscribed to a blog because of what a person has to say or how they say it, and you go there and all there is is a video.  I’d rather they just not post that day, if they can’t gin up enough effort to go ahead and say something original.    It’s the same logic that has me bugged by email forwards.  I’ve told everyone close to me that if they have to forward me a cartoon or funny anecdote that it has to have a minimum of five words they wrote themselves.    (Usually those words are now “I know you don’t like these but I thought this was funny.” )

Amazon’s Vine Program

Yes, this is a stupid thing to have under your skin.  And I suppose it isn’t necessarily the program itself that I hate with a blinding hot passion.    You see, Amazon started this Skull and Bones type secret society thing where they pick customers using a mysteriously vague set of criteria.   Those people are offered a chance to become what they call Viners.   That means that twice a month they get to choose from a list of free things that Amazon is “lending” them for the purpose of a review.   It used to be only Advanced Readers’ Copies (ARCs) of books.  The idea then was that when people came to order the book on Amazon, there would already be a review there, unlike purchasing that same book in a brick and mortar store.   But then the program expanded to include other things Amazon sells.  Like Wiis and VCRs and printers and $1000 software bundles.   So now the book reviews generally say something like “I don’t really read romance books but” or “I generally don’t care for this type of book but” etc.   Apparently to stay in the Vine program they have to generate a certain number of reviews, and apparently the “good” stuff is hard to come by.   So, in the words of one Viner whose comments I read recently they “have to review books they don’t care about so they can still be eligible for the good stuff.”   Never mind that considering a book to be NOT the good stuff makes me want to scream.

Commercials For Red Lobster

Let’s be honest.   Red Lobster is not a restaurant where you tend to get a lot of value for your money.   It’s expensive to eat there, and while the food is yummy it does cost more than I personally think it should.    But they run those commercials when you are hungry and you have to see that shrimp dripping in butter and garlic and wine while you are eating saltines on the couch.  It’s cruel.

This New Dog Food We Buy

I can’t remember what it’s called.   It’s actually the same dog food we’ve bought for 9 years, but they’ve “improved the formula”.   This improvement consists of adding a few chunks of moist food in with the dry kibble for ‘variety’.   Sort of like doggie Lucky Charms.    The only problem is that both of my dogs will root around in the bowl to fish out the moist bits, scattering unwanted dry kibble to the four winds.   Then I either have to crawl around the floor to re-bowl the second class citizens OR suck them up with the vacuum.   And now, when I try to suck them up with the vacuum, Gob enters into a vendetta with the Dyson.  He follows me and the vacuum from room to room, barking indignantly at the yellow plastic creature who ate the food he didn’t want to eat but still considers his.

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