Remember moments of Oscar night rebellion? Marlon Brando comes to mind. Someone on Twitter said they were happy that the Oscars were devoid of politics.
Actually, politics did enter the artistic arena–it’s just that for the average God-believing American, it went unnoticed because it is part of their culture.
For the Academy, though, Matthew McConaughey’s speech was profoundly counter cultural and “weird”.
This is where we are in America: Thanking God, humbly and passionately, is viewed as strange, different, and even subversive.
America has been transformed, alright. You’re a rebel if you’re a sincere God believer and willing to say so.
America faces a crossroads and most Americans know it. They know that the state invading every aspect of life from constipation to thermostat setting to TV type elevates the state over the individual. If God isn’t making the rules for America, god, in the form of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama, the Triune of I-Know-Better-Than-You-What-Is-Good-For-You will be making the rules. And boy, are they.
So, Americans can either buy the illusion–that the state will care for them. Or, Americans can recognize that no human power can adequately care for the mind, body, and spirit. And when the state does care for basic survival needs, it starves the mind and spirit needs as a result.
John Hawkins joins me to discuss this topic–oh, and health care, the shooting at Fort Hood and lots of other topics are woven in together.
How much of our behavior is determined by external expectations? How much of our behavior is driven by free will? How much of our future is destiny?
It seems that one day can turn into a week which turns into a year which turns into a life and before a person wakes up, time has passed and a person is down a road he never thought he wanted to travel. The Anchoress wrote a post around this video by Ellen DeGeneres. It’s insightful and I’ve had it on my mind ever since:
The Anchoress says (the whole post is a gem):
And too, I think she spoke a great deal of plain truth. Polonius advised his son, “to thy own self be true” but Degeneres spells out the loss and pain that can come from doing exactly that. The truth – the whole truth – is one part courage, one part discipline and two parts sacrifice; the great paradox of life is that one must be willing to sacrifice one’s very self in order to wholly own who one is. Rather like the gospel admonition: “who would lose his life will save it.”
There comes a moment in all of our lives when we get a sense of what we are born for. Degeneres got it when she wrote that letter to God. Whether she realized it or not, she had a blessing at that moment; a revelation. In her exquisite pain she wrote the whole, honest truth; she revealed herself or, in another sense, gave herself up. And in response she got the truth back at her, an answer, in the form of a “showing” (or a knowing if you will) of what her life would be.
I’ve heard many people talk about the crystalline moment when they suddenly “knew” something or “envisioned” something in their lives and it turned out precisely as it was seen or known. In fact, something very similar happened in my life, when I -also in a moment of huge pain and confusion- spoke to God from the depths of my heart, and rose to my feet knowing with certainty that my life had a plan and a purpose; that plan and purpose began unfolding within hours, and continues to unfold, instruct and reveal itself to me.
To repeat: “the great paradox of life is that one must be willing to sacrifice one’s very self in order to wholly own who one is.” Yes. That is life.
An intentioned life means pruning out producing branches and discarding them so that other branches can produce more. Pruning causes pain, but also growth. So the tree of life is sort of a bonsai tree and can end up being fairly odd-shaped.
Or life can be an unpruned bush, producing little, no shape, no special quality, unrecognizable, anonymous and filler on the world’s landscape.
And how much of an individual’s shape is constrained and/or recognized by others? That is, some people look anonymous except to those who see beauty where others see the banal. And, like the physicist who changes the properties of the experiment he studies, the love of the admirer changes the quality of previously unremarkable individual.
There is individual influence and then there are social influences–the nuns in grade school, the Fraternity at college, the self-selected trade group, the work culture, the movies, Twitter. Each group exerts a pressure to bend and shape and most people seem to underestimate the power of the systems they’re a part of to manipulate their life.
Shaming works, of course, but there are subtler ways to shape a person. Messages are filtered and framed and people accept the messages because it is a lot of work to question every single one and ferret out the truth.
That is why, in the end of the day, people must be intentional. A person who wants to die somewhat satisfied should take time out and consider his ways. A person must seek the truth and attempt to live it. One person’s path is not another person’s path and if it’s the right path for him, it will be narrow. Choices must be made. Well, choices are made, whether conscious or not. At least with intentional choices, they result in fewer regrets.
Perhaps the most challenging part of a well-lived life comes from being awake and choosing. It causes pain and by necessity, loss. There is also this paradox: a person must surrender to purpose in order to be free.
All of this involves pain–the excruciating, dull achy bone-crushing kind. Truth is not easy, but once it’s recognized and chosen, a unique life takes shape.
Roger Simon met Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and says, “I was in the presence of pure Evil.”
Roger’s analysis of coming face to face with evil is compelling. Please go read the whole thing. After you come back, I’ll have some thoughts that were triggered by his piece.
I met evil once. She was in the form of a patient. She made the hair on my neck stand and I felt physically ill/drained being around her. She is the first and only patient in eleven years who prompted me to ban her from ever setting foot in the practice again. There were other wacky and weak people. There were even unbalanced and in one or two cases, psychotic people. There’s been a stalker. But evil is a whole different kettle of fish and it’s a disgusting, oily, leaves-a-rancid-residue experience to interact with them.
When I met evil, I felt afraid.
Unlike Roger, I’ve never been atheist. I’ve had agnostic periods where my faith faltered, but God has influenced my life such that disbelief would be ungrateful and stupid, really. The school of hard knocks gave me some very direct answers. The answers have tended to be more mysterious than I expected and lead me on some paradoxical paths. God, it turns out, is nuanced.
Let’s face it. Being atheistic simplifies things. The world is what we experience and nothing more. The print we make on the earth begins at birth and ends at death. Bad people had bad life experiences which makes them do bad things. A better, kinder upbringing would make a better person who would do better things. And that’s mostly true, but sometimes it’s not.
An atheist doesn’t have to fiddle with good or evil. There’s just gradations of human. Some behavior is more helpful. Some behavior is less helpful. Iran’s leader, Pol Pot, Stalin, Mussolini, and even Hitler just consistently chose unhelpful behavior. A lot.
Acknowledging evil, though, complicates things, because that means there is also good. And we know this to be true. I’ve been in the presence of people who have a pureness of soul that’s difficult to describe. It’s just a relief to be around it. That’s why people love babies so much. They are so pure and sweet and good. It’s rarer to find in adults, but exists.
Roger asks why evil is allowed to exist. A friend and I discussed this recently. How, though, can free will exist without the possibility of choosing to do right and wrong? How can God know we believe if we’re guaranteed a simple, pain-free life just by being a believer? How will our faith be tested if every brush with evil leaves us unscathed? The ultimate evil, in my opinion, is death. From the loss of physical life, there is no redemption. Well, there is none without faith.
One more note. It is fashionable on the Left to label anyone who disagrees with politically correct ideology as evil. President Bush was called evil. There is a scripture that foretells of days when evil will be called good and good evil. To even imply that President Bush was evil is atrocious and diminishes true evil. I actually think that those on the Left have an easy time bandying about such terms because they don’t really believe in the concept of good and evil, but that know people on the Right do. So, calling President Bush evil is really about impugning believers–poking fun at their simple-mindedness.
But who is simple minded? Running away from the notion of evil lands a person in a place where engaging it is “rational”. Roger Simon asks incredulously, after meeting Ahmadinejad, “This was the guy that my president wanted to talk with?” Yes. Because evil doesn’t exist. Evil is the same sort of superstitious notion as ghosts and angels.
The evil count on this denial. The evil count on the weak and faithless to cower behind intellectualism and rational thought. Only those willing to name evil are willing to fight it.
Believing isn’t for sissies. It’s challenging, paradoxical and yes, nuanced. Does evil exist? Yes. Thankfully, so does Good.
Overweight people eat more than thin people and are more likely to travel by car, making excess body weight doubly bad for the environment, according to a study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
“We need to be doing a lot more to reverse the global trend toward fatness, and recognize it as a key factor in the battle to reduce (carbon) emissions and slow climate change,” the British scientists said.
They estimated that each fat person is responsible for about one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions a year more on average than each thin person, adding up to an extra one billion tonnes of CO2 a year in a population of one billion overweight people.
Environmentalism is the new religion. And now, the amen pew will be shaming the gluttons. For being so open-minded the Left sure sounds like a bunch of old ladies at a prohibition meeting.
I hate cults.
Let’s just get that out of the way–whether it’s the ideology that encourages psychos in a compound to impregnate minors or convinces otherwise seemingly rational people that aliens gave diseases to earth dwellers or assures people that Gore is going to save the world one glorious carbon swap at a time–I hate cults. There are many reasons to hate them and the leaders that get rich off the followers of the ideology. Mostly, I hate cults because people cede their power and potential to another person or group and often drag innocent people (children) along with them in their craziness.
Here’s the thing, though. This is America. People are free to do what they damn well please as long as it’s legal. And because the line between cults and corporations or churches or groups is so fine, I’d rather err on the side of the individual to choose his own crazy. State-mandated “sanity” is its own crazy cult and I want even less a part of that than some insane idea cooked up in a basement somewhere.
That preamble brings me to Scientology and the death of John Travolta and Kelly Preston’s son, Jett Travolta. The death of Jett Travolta is a tragedy. It is a family tragedy. It is a personal tragedy. I might not agree with their family’s “religion”, but it is none of my business and it’s no one else’s either.
The fact that the Travolta’s son might have had autism and that the Church of Scientology doesn’t recognize the illness does not matter. Science has little of value to help families of autistic children so the diagnosis is nigh to irrelevant. If the family doesn’t want the label, who cares? Science fiction has about as much to help an autistic family as science. Right now, the best families can do is to love their kids and give them intense one-on-one education–something the Travoltas did (home schooling is very one-on-one).
Americans are free. They are free to be stupid. Parents are free to educate their children in a manner they see fit. They are free to go to the church and associate with whom they desire. And people are free to not accept a diagnostic label, even if it means they’re in denial, when the diagnosis yields little benefit (if any) and treatments are elusive.
All citizens should feel protective of these rights even if they disagree with how a person employs these freedoms individually. Freedom can be uncomfortable business, but totalitarianism is a whole lot less comfortable and it creeps on Americans one conventionally accepted dogma and public indictment at a time.
How often do we do something, say something, share something–not because we will get something in return, but just because we want to give a gift? If there is one trait we value in other people, it’s generosity of spirit. These are the forgiving types. They really truly listen to you, even when you’re telling the same story again. These people emanate kindness. You just want to be around them.
I’ve known a couple people like this. Their goodness just came from some authentic place from within. They have a certain decency. One of these people died this last year from cancer. I didn’t write about him. I just couldn’t. I’ve been too ticked off about it. He was one of the good ones. Sweet-natured, loving and giving. Everyone loved and admired him. I’ve come to believe that the old idea that only the good die young may well be right. (In that case, I can expect to live for a very long time.)
I guess I bring up the whole “generosity of the spirit” thing because it is particularly important during times of economic difficulty to find that generous place–for ourselves. When we live miserly, withholding, stingy lives, we tend to draw that sort of energy into our lives, too. It isn’t about money, either. It is possible to have this spirit with lots of money–Old Ebeneezer Scrooge, right? And it is possible to be generous, charitable, with next to nothing.
It’s something that I’d like more of in myself. I would like to be more genuine and possess the expansive kindness that makes other people feel good about themselves. Too many people and experiences are just difficult and mean, I don’t want to contribute to that world and make another person’s day diminished by my own smallness.
So, in honor of Mark, rather than focus on his passing, I want to focus on what he brought to this world and emulate it. There are too few people like Mark. Maybe he was innately good. I don’t know. But I suspect he had to work to be loving and kind and make choices to be generous like everyone else does. I think he made those choices so often, it became a habit, a way of life, his character. He touched many lives with his generosity of spirit and is proof that good guys do win.
Why does it take getting pounded by life to tenderize our hearts to the suffering of others? Some don’t get tender, of course. Some, like Javert, feel wronged and pursue “justice” until the end of their days. They keep track of every slight and spend their days plotting revenge. Mercy is weak, kindness naive.
Some who suffer retreat from life and become a non-entity. And some who see these people retreat condemn them. The Anchoress addresses this notion:
John never demanded notice. Likely he never believed he was worth anyone’s noticing. When you are rejected by your parents at a young age, never quite included in “the family,” that can happen.
It has never been my habit to decide the spiritual fate of someone else; in fact I loathe nothing more than folks who presumptuously declare they know the state of someone else’s soul, because of this scripture verse or that. These people, to me, seem unloving, empty and oddly disconnected from the scripture they quote…as though their intellect has cut off from their heart. Other people mean well, but…I know tomorrow my email will contain a few missives from people who will quote scripture at me and enumerate to me all the reasons my brother is not now in the peace of Christ.
I say to hell with that. He was loved into being; he was baptized and sealed. The people who were supposed to teach him the way in which to go spun him madly, incessantly – then allowed him to get dizzy and lost. He lived a sad, tortured life the best way he knew how – quite imperfectly, but then his tools were also very insufficient and his trust was non-existent. I cannot claim to know anything, but I do not believe that a loving God would look upon this much-sinned against man and reject him once again, as he was rejected all his life.
Pain. There is so much pain. And while many people have empty souls, who knows what their lives would be like if love touched them? Only God knows the answer to that.