Archive for October, 2008

Why People Shouldn’t Vote: With Great Power comes Great Responsibility

I don’t write about politics because I really don’t like them.  The best definition of politics I’ve heard is choosing your words and actions based on how others will think or feel or act rather than what you actually think or feel.

Other people are really good at this.  I’ve never really been at choosing my words based on other peoples thoughts or feelings.  It’s not that I intentionally search for conflict or desire to be offensive – but I do think it helps authenticity in a relationship when what comes out of my mouth corresponds with what goes on in my head or my heart.

(Despite my lack of affection for politics, I was good enough at politics to be voted class president in the fourth grade, but it was a short term since it was only for the month of August and I felt a little gypped that I only got to call rows to go to lunch for a week.  I like to think of it as my own reliving of the great presidency of William Henry Harrison; Tippecanoe and Tyler too! was my official campaign slogan.)

But this election year feels more like a docu-drama; I really don’t enjoy it.  If I want drama, I’ll watch LOST or 24, thank-you very much.  Could someone just provide good reporting on the election for once, rather than all the drama associated with it? Puh-lease?

Yet still, I work on a university campus in which part of the conversations are on how “uncool” you are if you don’t vote.  Especially in this election, when several of my students reside in swing states.

(By the way, I am so glad I don’t live in a swing state.  I went to visit my family in Wisconsin and wondered why several folks seemed on edge.  I looked at the television commercials and now I know why.  Ever listen to the music in political commercials?  So sad…I just wonder how dumb we are that we can fool ourselves so much…)

I do believe that we are very privileged to live in a democracy.  But I also believe that there are certain responsibilities that are associated with a republican form of government, and part of that responsibility is taking the necessary time to understand the issues in order to vote intelligently.

Being a political groupie and regurgitating rhetoric that we’ve all heard before is so unbecoming to our country.  Case in point – watch this clip of John Oliver on the Daily Show recently.  I don’t care what your political affiliation is, this is just sad.

(Best line: “That’s not a saying, that’s just a selection of words you made up.”)

Do we really want these people voting?  Maybe Ben Parker from Spiderman was right – “with great power comes great responsibility.”

It’s probably both politically and socially incorrect for me to say this (hence why I really wouldn’t make a good politician), but I think I’ll say it anyway because of some semblance of social responsibility:

I think some people shouldn’t vote.

When people like those interviewed by John Oliver are voting for who will be running the country, then we fall into something tragic – like what my friend Eddy posted this on his blog today…if this is prophetic, then God help us all.

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

  • From bondage to spiritual faith;
  • From spiritual faith to great courage;
  • From courage to liberty;
  • From liberty to abundance;
  • From abundance to complacency;
  • From complacency to apathy;
  • From apathy to dependence;
  • From dependence back into bondage.

—Attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, ~1770

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Chicken or the Egg: Foreknowing Tragedy

I think I’m getting better at my job sometimes when I say something that makes me pause and realize something deeper is going on inside of me as well.

Good stories (and good theology) typically bring up more questions than answers.  While we westerners love the systemitized, compartmentalized, neat and tidy answers, I grow more and more skeptical of these as I get older.  It’s not that I don’t like them; nor do I wish they weren’t true.

So one student asked a variation of the question that many theologians and aspiring theologians have pondered over the past 500 years:

Do we have free will or did God predestine it all?  More specifically, did God predestine the fall?

I used to try to answer this question systematically, or with a tidy analogy.  I can go Calvinist or Armenian on you, but neither really satisfy anymore – I never want to be heard regurgitating someone else’s B-movie script answer to this question.

I’ve learned to take more pages from Jesus’ teaching style in that as a Rabbi, he typically responded to questions with questions and stories.  Questions and stories make people think, and learn, and hopefully grow.

So here is my best shot at this question:

Who is a person that you love very much?  I mean, someone you really love…maybe you love them even more than you love yourself.

Now imagine the tragic disintegration of your relationship.  Imagine every painful step of this tragic spiral from the first step where they don’t return your phone calls, to where they have nothing more than superficial conversation.

Now imagine that they give curt, one word answers when you express your love to them. They don’t even look you in the eye.

Finally, they ignore your existence.

They no longer trust you, even though you have been nothing but trustworthy.  You love them, but they don’t love you back at all.  You give them everything they ever would want or need, and they throw it back in your face.

Now imagine all of this will certainly happen, and you know it all beforehand.   You can’t make them change, and you can’t force them to love you – because that really isn’t love.  Forcing someone to love you isn’t really love, is it?

Does it make it any less painful that you know this tragedy before it actually happens?

They say the best ideas come from holding two opposing points in tension.  I get that with free will and predestination.  I’m OK with the tension to comprehend God as both fully loving, and so allowing humanity to choose to love him freely, and yet being fully in control and knowing what will ultimately happen in the end.

When two people get married, we don’t ask the question – who’s decision was it to get married?  We know a healthy marriage is that both people have made this decision – that one person’s decision doesn’t make a healthy marriage.  Being part of God’s family is like a healthy decision to get married – it’s both fully our choice and fully God’s choice.

When it really comes down to it, if God is love as John says (mull on that one for a few decades), then what is more mindblowing (or heartblowing) is that God had to endure the knowledge that his beloved creation which he loved so dearly chose to give him the finger.

What escapes me is how God’s heart can take it all.

Simplicity = Beauty

A very thoughtfully crafted, yet simple video.

I love thoughtful art.

Reflections from the Chemo Ward

I have a very strange blood disease called Polycythemia Vera. It basically means I have too many red blood cells for my own good.

Those of you who know me have probably heard my story on how this happened, but the week after I graduated from IIT, I had a routine physical with my doctor, who happened to run a CBC (Complete Blood Count) and sent me on my way. My then-living grandmother greeted me at home as I pulled in the driveway, and said that the doctor wanted me to come back to the clinic right away. He said it is probably nothing, but he wanted to see me to clear up that what he thought was simply an anomaly of test results.

So I drove back to the clinic, the doctor ran the same test again, and it was no mistake. I literally had enough red blood cells for you and yo’ mama. When they did a phelobotomy (no, not a lobotomy…I had that years earlier), my blood came out the consistency of watery ketchup.

Ewww.

To make a very long story very short, after being poked and prodded with an ultrasound, a CT Scan, and the granddaddy of them all, a bone-marrow biopsy, a minor emotional breakdown due to a delay in the results wondering if I had a brain tumor, the doctors told me that I wasn’t really normal.

[Like I needed all those tests to determine that…]

I basically have a disease that every long distance athlete dreams of having.  Ever hear of blood doping in the news among endurance athletes?  I do that naturally.  The day after I ran the marathon a few years back, I was fine.  Really – no soreness, no stiffness, I was fine.  I ran 4 miles that Monday to loosen up and I was bored.

Everyone thought I wasn’t normal – they were right.

The treatment for my blood disease is actually quite simple – I have a unit of blood taken out every month that decreases my red blood cell count quite naturally. It’s sad, because they have to throw my blood away. I’m universal donor as well, and the fact that I go in once a month to give blood that is thrown away is depressing.

But, there are some fun parts. When I go, I tease my female friends by saying it’s my time of the month where I get bloody.

Ewww.

The other meaningful part for me is that I get to spend time in a chemotherapy ward. Since I’ve been going here for several years, I know my nurses and doctor fairly well. We joke and talk a lot.  Belinda is an older African American woman with six great-grandchildren – you’d never guess by looking at her.  Marcy has a daughter the same age as my first nephew, Luke, who we have swapped stories of cuteness, orneriness, arranged marriages, and sweetness over the years.  Carrie typically phlobotomizes me, and trains the new nurses on me because I’m pretty low maintenance, and they can mess up on me for the first time and I won’t holler.

We have a lot of fun.

But there is a serious undertone that can be felt when you enter a chemo ward.

How can you not when you see people with needles in their arms connected to drip bags on carts hanging around?

One woman I talked with has been fighting cancer on-and-off again for 15 years. I asked her how she dealt with it. She said she didn’t have much of a choice, really. She has three kids and wants to see them all graduate from high school, and to see her grandchildren.

One man I talked with was much more somber. He said his outlook didn’t look good, and he was wondering why God let this happen to him.

I told him I didn’t know either, but I asked to pray for him for healing.

I have no idea if anything happened to him or not.  I’d like to think something did, but I don’t know if I’ll ever know.

The chemo ward is an interesting place for me.  Everyone I am sitting beside has tubes feeding foreign objects entering their body trying to reduce cell division in order to prevent the death-bringning, malignant cancer.  I come to the chemo ward and have tubes inserted to take natural objects out of my body trying to control my overproduction of life giving red blood cells and have the overflow tossed away.

It’s ironic.

I feel like I don’t belong – because I know I’ll be back, and some of the others don’t.

I asked Carrie about this one day – about how hard her job is along these lines.  And she looked at me, and said, “Andy, it’s not about the ones we lose.  It’s about the ones we save.  But we know you’ll show up regardless; and so will I.”

I paused and thought about what Carrie said, because much of what it means in life is to show up during the times when it is most difficult.  Showing up at a chemo ward takes a brave person.  Administering treatment to cancer patients for a living takes a brave person. Telling someone they have cancer takes a brave person.

I think bravery and courage are far underrated in a society that is plagued with image management, self preservation, and political posturing for position.  The beauty of the chemo ward is that all of those things fade away and people are sitting with their loved ones, holding their hands, reading them stories, or just being with them in the midst of pain – who choose to show up, day after day.

It’s the beauty that rises out of the ashes.

It’s the new life that comes from the announcement of death.

It’s the realization of the beauty of life that comes when life seems so short.

It’s safe to say that I’ve learned as much there as I have in any training I’ve ever been a part of.

Crew, Sox, and Cubs – OH MY!

In honor of the Brewers, Sox, and Cubs making the playoffs for the first time in the history of the planet, I thought I would share a little of my baseball journey with my proximity with these teams over the years.  It’s slighly nostalgic, so don’t choke too hard.

Baseball was a very formative influence in my life.

There seems to be a time in many (not all) young boys’ lives where a switch gets flipped and we care significantly about sports.  Not just playing it ourselves – but watching them on television, reading about them in the sports page, checking the league leaders, wearing their jerseys, collecting their cards – it becomes an obsession.

That happened for me when I was about 7 and my cousins and I could do nothing but talk and play baseball.

I changed my favorite color from red to blue because blue was the color of my beloved Milwaukee Brewers.

I can still tell you where I was when listening to the Brewers win the opening 13 games of the 1987 season.  I can still remember the 1988 starting lineup of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Yes that is 20 years ago; it makes me feel ridiculously old.  But that is the intensity of love that boys are able to develop with their baseball teams.  Combine boys, baseball, and dogs…and yes, that is a recipe for happiness.

My affection was for the Milwaukee Brewers, and their two premier players that later found themselves in the Hall of Fame: Paul Molitor and Robin Yount.  The Ignitor and The Kid. They were great ballplayers and great men.  They started the golden era of Milwaukee baseball in 1978, and drove it to it’s peak in 1982.  I was all of a wee four year old, but it is still my first baseball memory – watching the Brewers against the Cardinals.  After Molly left for greener pastures to Toronto in 92, and Yount retired in 1993.  Bud Selig, the owner became commissioner in 1992 and the little-Milwaukee-that-could had some clout in the world of Major League Baseball.

As any young boy learns their affection for their home team, I also learned to detest their rivals – most notably, the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins.  The Twins were just plain better than the Brewers – a World Series Title in 1987 and another 1991 proved that.  But the White Sox – well, they were close enough to the Brew Crew to compete.  So I began to loathe them and their ugly uniforms from Bill Veeck. Since the Brewers were in the American League, most kids find a way to enjoy a team in the National League since interleague play didn’t exactly exist yet.

So, because I could, I enjoyed keeping up with the lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs.  They were harmless, and they loved their baseball.  And there was something about their fans that was just…well, you couldn’t help but respect them because of their faithfulness to their team.  And an angry Cubs fan is still a lot nicer than a happy Sox fan.

But tragedy struck in 1994 when the strike hit (poorly navigated by Bud) and the World Series was canceled.  But at least the Sox lost the chance to win the World Series.

But by the time I left Wisconsin in 1996, the Brewers had become a sorry team and I was moving to…you guessed it, right next to Comiskey Park at Illinois Institute of Technology.  We heard the fireworks every night in the fall, and it was great to run over and catch a cheap game since the place never sold out, and IIT students were welcome.

And I got to watch my Brewers when they came to town.  Even though they were awful.

But then, in 1998, something of cosmic importance happened: the Brewers switched to the National League.  You know, where they don’t have the DH and they ask the pitchers to hit?  What kind of blasphemy was that?

I didn’t understand.  Now I understand the ways of the National League, and I think it’s better.

Worse yet, the team I had a growing interest in, the Chicago Cubs, was now our division rival.  And the Cubs were great in 98!  I mean, Sosa was running in the home run chase against McGuire (even though both were juicing like oranges), and it was just exciting.

But my Brewers still sucked.

And Selig was still comissioner.

And I lived next to Comiskey Park.  Which, i suppose in all honesty, now I’m supposed to have a general affection towards because the Brewers switched leagues.

But one does not undo rivalries ingrained in childhood in a day…no, oh no.

I was confused.  Everytime the fireworks went off in Comiskey, I felt this weird sense of, “No, that’s bad.  I mean, it’s kinda good, right?  The don’t play the Brewers anymore, you can like them now.”

It was this sense of trying to like the cute ex-girlfriend who dumped your best friend who was now kind of interested in you and lives next door.  You know it’s bad news, but it’s so easy…and convenient…

But I had my principles; and I would not like the Sox.  I left Bridgeport and the South Side in 2003, and I think a part of me died when I left the South side.  Maybe I should have reconsidered the Sox for a few years…

But all of that changed in 2003 when the Cubs made a run at the Series.  I was new to the North side where all the pretty people lived, and all of the sudden the Cubs who were now division rivals but once affectionate bumblebutts were just a few outs from the World Series.

Enter Bartman…you know the rest.

Then in 2005, I watched the Sox win the series after Boston had their run in 2004.  You should have been on the North Side when the White Sox won.

Silence.

I called my friends on the south side, longing to be in Bridgeport for the most crazy celebration ever.  It was awesome.

I was more confused, because now for some reason the distance had grown my affection for the White Sox…but I still couldn’t really bring myself to root for them in the series.

Did I mention that my Brewers still sucked?

And I was still confused.

So I resolved I had to make a decision – one of the three teams.  Cubs, Crew, or Sox.  No Sox – couldn’t bring myself to it.  The Crew?  Well, they were just ugly at this point in time.

I had a long affair with the Cubs that offseason.  My roommate tried to convert me.  I thought about it – long and hard.  I had a conversation with one Cub fan who I particularly respected.  There was always something about the real Cub fans – not the Wrigley experience bandwagon – that I truly respected.  My grandpa has waited his entire life – 83 years – to watch the Cubs win the World Series.  It’s not a small thing to him.  He needs to see it before he dies.  It’s not just with him either – there is this unfailing, undying loyalty that I respected so much in the Cub fans I knew.

And that’s when I realized that I could never be a Cub fan.  Because I would betray my first love of my youth if I did – how could I give up on you, Milwaukee?  How could I forget you, oh Brewers.  My heart was moved within me, and I decided that in all the life of integrity of the game, I couldn’t leave my Crew.  The very reason I wanted to be a Cub fan was why I could not leave my Brewers.

So for the first time in the history of the world, the Brewers, the Cubs, and the Sox are all in the playoffs.  And if you are reading this far, you now know what a strange man I am…but baseball does this to us sometimes.  And this year, who knows?  Maybe a stranger thing will happen and the Crew or Cubbies will win the series.


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