Within the Pangs of a Dying World or, The Hope of Sabbath


DSC01993St. Augustine’s City of God stands as a centerpiece within the annals of Western Christianity. One can easily say that within City of God Christianity officially moved West and became a type of its own brand, away from the prolific East (I leave it up to the reader to decide whether that is a good or bad thing). What is often ignored in the many debates caused by Augustine’s is the backdrop to why he wrote the book. The Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 – a relatively tame sacking comparatively speaking – causing panic and uproar within the Roman Empire. It would be akin to a foreign army of untrained soldiers attacking New York City after defeating the US military to get there; the shock would be beyond belief. Augustine was writing to the suffering inflicted, but to promise them that though violence may reign now, peace holds eternity (hence his title, “City of God”).

As I type this, millions of people around the world are suffering. One of the greatest realities of suffering, and possibly its saddest, is that the majority of these people are children. An estimated 1-3 million children worldwide die from malnutrition and starvation every single year, and that number is actually down from just a few decades ago. Of course, much of the malnutrition and disease is a side effect of manmade wars. In Syria alone, millions of people are displaced, and this is not to mention the ongoings in Iraq. In this violent upheaval families are displaced, they mourn the loss of those closest to them, the most unfortunate being the lone survivors of a narrow escape, the ones who live with survivor’s guilt.

Of course, I speak of survivors as though one can survive violence; the thing about violence is that what it cannot extract from the body it will most certainly rob from the soul. We think of soldiers coming back from a war with a “thousand yard stare.” Even soldiers in the most justified of wars are still casualties of that war in a way, having seen things no one ought to see. We don’t even need to go to foreign lands to see the impact of violence and PTSD; occupying the headlines are tales of various NFL players abusing loved ones (and sometimes loved ones defending the abuse), of college campuses having to define rape – a violent act – because apparently somehow rape is ambiguous. That we even have to define that “no means no” (contra Rush Limbaugh) shows that we live in a violent culture, even if we have to hide our violence behind sexuality.

The Western world feels like something is underfoot, that we’re on the verge of collapse. It’s as though we’re simply awaiting the Visigoths to arrive and send our world into a tailspin, as the modern day barbarians of al-Qaeda and ISIL have already done in the Middle East. With the events in the Middle East quickly getting out of hand, Russia’s not-so-secret invasion of the Ukraine (as well as flying its bombers near Swedish and US airspace), the fact that South America has quietly become the most violent region in the world, sub-Saharan Africa on the brink of another genocide, and the seemingly weakening social structure of Europe, it is a wonder that more people have yet to embrace nihilism. Considering the status of the United States is only worse as its infrastructure is falling apart, its middle class might go extinct long before the polar bear, its police are becoming more and more violent against citizens (all while most citizens capitulate out of necessity), and “Land of the Free” is used more for irony than patriotic statements.  Continue reading

In the Wake of Love, Hopelessness Disappears


IMG_0813The vast rat race of modern life

Have we all bought into the lie

Money makes you happy, so find success

Acquire all the money you want, then die

 

Death is the great equalizer of us all

Something that transcends race and class

We cannot escape its omnipresent grasp

We cannot overcome, nor can we surpass

 

What then do we live for

Why continue if the edge is our end

What is the glory of wealth

If hope it cannot land

 

And what of happiness on a September day

If tomorrow it shall rain

Life is more than the moment

For it all culminates to be vain

 

Do we pass on forever in our children

But they too succumb to eternal rest

Our children’s children will one day cease

The hope of life a cruel jest

 

And of the bond between lovers

A tale more fiction than fact

For all lovers end through choice or death

If two become one eventually one will subtract

 

Live for the moment I hear you say

But what of when the moment passes

In the quiet dark when reality appears

When the fear of our end amasses

 

Or do you ignore such questions

Do you push forward deaf to silence

Are you a mindless animal

To reason you must recompense

 

To ask these questions I ask

To face the world with fear

Not about survival, but about life

This differentiates us from animals, it’s clear

 

O stupefied and simple man

How easily you are led astray

Distracted by things of decay and rust

You ignore the night and no longer appreciate the day

 

We fill ourselves with drugs

To push away well-founded anxiety

For what are we in a sea of atoms

What more are we if not concentrated energy

 

What does it matter if I die today

What is gained if death awaits ’till tomorrow

I am but one life in an existence of billions

In my death or yours the universe does not sorrow

 

But what of beauty in this world

Of sunsets, lovers, and manmade art

Surely this is what we live for

This is found at the center of the heart

 

To this I emphatically say no

For what is beautiful shall not persist

The young vixen, the Rembrandt, the cathedral

All will fail and nothing now shall subsist

 

What of the form of beauty

Is this not eternal, for what we strive

What worth of an empty, mindless form

Why, for this, should I survive

 

Why, then, do we continue to avoid death

This all-too-natural unnatural reality

For what purpose do we live

Lest all actions be mere vanity

 

Perhaps we continue on in the name of love

Not mere romance, but something grander

But should the universe collapse on itself

Would not also love capitulate and surrender

 

Or is love beyond the realm of the seen

Could it be that love is the true reality

All now merely shadows, a simulacrum

And love directs us toward an eternity

 

If what we see is all we have

Then there is no point to this life

But if there is more, an unseen extravagance

Perhaps there is meaning to this strife

 

This love cannot be a mindless force

For then it could not be love, no intention

It must be intelligible and full of vivacity

Yet so vast a mystery, one without definition

 

This love must be our object of desire

Our Penelope on the odyssey of being

To run from this love the beginning of misery

Avoiding a contentment that sex and money cannot bring

 

We shall die and decay, but love live on

This love will rescue us from the grave

It will descend to any depths

For there is no soul it will not save

 

Our moments suddenly matter enveloped in love

For they shall continue forever and ever

Love will keep us and protect us

And seek us, to the end’s, wherever

 

Though my soul shall crumble to the abyss

And life collapse and tumble down the slope

I shall no more fear the darkness

In the arms of love I find hope

 

To the abyss love will find me

Love will break open the gates of death

The end of all shall be reversed

As love breathes a life-giving breath

 

Let meaninglessness win the day now

But let not death control history

There is more to life than our senses

Let love reign today, for love has eternal victory

Contra Cruz or, I Support Israel’s Right to Exist, but I Support My Christian Family More


ChristtraThis is going to be a very long read, so let me go ahead and get the main point out of the way here: Ted Cruz was absolutely, 100% wrong for what he said. In telling persecuted Christians, “If you don’t stand with Israel, I don’t stand with you,” in his capacity as a senator for the United States of America, he effectively told these Christians that unless they give support to Israel, he will do all he can to avoid giving any aid to persecuted Christians.

Could you imagine what would have happened if President Obama said the same thing? He would be (rightfully) attacked by both the Left and the Right. In fact, Cruz has been attacked by both the Left and the Right. When traditionally conservative websites condemn what Cruz said, perhaps it’s best for Cruz to sit back and realize he’s in the wrong.

See, Cruz is a self-proclaimed believer, meaning he was telling his brothers and sisters in Christ that if they don’t support him on a political issue, he doesn’t support them. Now, there are times for Christians to turn against other Christians and those times typically involve some type of heresy. Churches have split over heresies, such as the Divinity of Christ or the Trinity. These divisions are expected and, while harmful, work to preserve the faith. Likewise, there are times to actively work against other self-proclaimed Christians, such as when a majority of German Lutherans supported the Nazis in their pursuit and eradication of the Jewish people (and other people). In these instances, it’s okay to take a stand against another Christian. But on the issue of Israel? None of these Christians are calling for genocide against the Jews and last time I checked one’s stance on the secular state of Israel isn’t a litmus test for pure doctrine, so what is Cruz thinking?  Continue reading

Dark Shadows in the City of God or, What I Saw in Mexico (excerpt)


DSC01482I’ve come across some journal writings of a young man that I know, we’ll simply call him Matthew (or Matt). Born to a successful family, he began a job in the finance field after graduating college. He felt unfulfilled in all that he was doing, so he decided to venter into Mexico. The few times he went in college were typically Spring Break trips, visiting the tourist areas of Mexico. He decided to go last year and visit what he calls “real Mexico,” the part that tourists don’t get to visit. 

His journal entries are interesting. I’m sure some of this is written creatively and even Matt might be a part of the creative fiction, but every good story must mix a bit of fiction and truth, for that is the recipe of art. Thus, I present to you his journal, fragmented though it may be.  Continue reading

Happy Labor Day! Now Get Back to Work or, A Call to All for Justice


DSC01714Does anyone else find it incredibly ironic that the people who have to work on Labor Day are the people for which the day was created? It’s the laborers who still have to work to support the non-laborers who celebrate a day dedicated to laborers.

A person I know who is a manager at a national retailer (a big box chain) told me the story once of how he had to sit down and talk about personal hygiene with an employee. The employee had to stop the person and say he knew how to bathe, he just had to choose between food for his family or the water bill that week. He chose the food and thus couldn’t shower. Keep in mind, the person who told this to me is incredibly loyal to his company and an ardent conservative, so there was no hidden agenda.

As many people enjoy a day off tomorrow, many others will be hard at work to ensure that the others are able to enjoy that day off. Some are essential – such as police, doctors, firefighters, and the like – but others are completely non-essential. Their essential jobs are to make sure we can get our stuff checked out to enjoy our Labor Day sale, or put food on our plate at the restaurant after a long day of doing nothing.

The holiday was originally set aside to celebrate the contributions of organized labor, or unions, after the US Marshals and others killed a few laborers during a strike in the 1880s. Organized labor brought justice to work, or at least attempted to, during the Industrial Revolution; thus, Labor Day recognizes their contributions. The modern celebration is ironic because 28% of America’s workforce is in retail (considered a laborious job), but only 3% of workers are unionized. Considering that the US unemployment rate is at 6.3% (give or take), but at least 49% of Americans take some form of government assistance. Perhaps part of the problem for the rapid increase of poverty, or necessity of government assistance, is that the average retail worker working full time brings in $18,500 a year.

Now, while there are practical reasons for considering a wage increase in just the retail section alone (the aforementioned link shows that increasing wages for retail workers would actually benefit out economy and only cause a 1% increase in prices), we must first consider the ethical ramifications of what we’ve been doing to our economy and, more importantly, to ourselves. Labor Day was created to celebrate not just the work done by laborers, but more importantly, to celebrate laborers. People who work for a living, who do construction, who come and fix the toilet, who work on your car, who mow your yard, who clean up after you and your rotten children at a restaurant, who help you find the clothes you “need” to have, these are people that we treat differently: they’re servants. Though no one wants to realize it, we’ve done away with most of the middle class and shifted them to the servant class. Who cares if the servants aren’t paid well and are mistreated? Perhaps they ought to get a better job and an education to help achieve that better job, never mind the fact that if everyone did that then there’d be no one to mow the yard, to fix the car, or to fix the toilet (which would lead to a pretty crappy society).  Continue reading

The Return Home: A Short Story


Source: NASA

He looked out the canopy of his ship, into the vast expanse before him. A trained soldier, engineered to serve the greater good, he reflected upon his mission. He saw the twinkling of billions upon billions of stars before him, knowing one of them harbored a planet for his people.

“Our planet is dying.” he remembered her saying.

“Aren’t we all dying?” he responded.

She smiled and kissed his hand. She had a way of pulling him away from his gloomy visions.

“We’re all living. Help us continue to do so.” she finally said.

He thought back to the green sunrise he experienced earlier in the year. Their star rising above the horizon, illuminating the lush jungle canopy. In the distance the mountain smoked, threatening more and more to erupt. And then it did. The destruction it wrought was enough to bury the village and cover the distant city of Capeton with soot, providing further proof that the planet was slowly decaying.

In all their years of space exploration, they had harvested planets, never intending to colonize any of them. At first, their laws forbid colonization, as it would inherently impact the ecosystem of any planet they encountered. Then they allowed exploration and the commodification of entire planets. Colonization was forbidden not because it would destroy a planet, but because it would prevent its exploitation. Man’s appetite was insatiable. The sweet irony was that they now needed a habitable planet to escape theirs, and they could not find one.

He was selected along with twenty other soldiers to head out into the darkness of the beyond, to find a planet and return with hope. They endured training, genetic engineering, biological implants, and years away from loved ones. His mission was to head to sector 4591, send out probes, and hope for the best.

He pressed his display and saw a holovid of her pop up, smiling and blowing him a kiss. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes and a lump developed in his throat. He thought of how he missed her and how he might never see her. Six years he’d been on this mission, and in six years the probes had found nothing.

He quietly ate his meal, allowing the hum of the ship to be the only noise made. He had long given up trying to listen to music, as it meant nothing to him any more. He wondered what she endured, if she was afraid, if she cursed him for not being there to protect her. His thoughts began to consume him and forced him to become angry at his situation. He threw his plate at the wall, the leftovers splattering over the ground.

How could he have known his second mission? How could he have known the truth, a truth hidden from everyone? He walked his way to the airlock again, contemplating forcing himself out into space. The death would be painful, but it would be quick. The thought of her somehow knowing, of her looking on at his suicide prevented him from opening the airlock.

He walked past the cryo-tubes, the cold and bitter reminders of what once was. Hundreds of embryos in suspended animation, prepared to develop in artificial wombs and eventually birthed into a new world. Representatives of a society long forgotten. How he hated these tubes, these mockeries of his life. These reminders of just how alone he truly was.

He slipped into bed. He watched the video of his wife once again, crying as he attempted to touch her image, his hand moving through it. He then switched videos, to the last transmission he received 5 months ago. Continue reading

Confessions of a White Man or, What I’ve learned from White America


Photo: David Broome Upi

Photo: David Broome Upi

Full disclosure and just to get this out of the way:

1) I am not accusing all white people of being racist. What I’m saying is that it’s far more prevalent than people realize or are willing to admit. 

2) I currently live in the South, but in an area that has a huge “immigrant” population of people from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other North/Northeastern states, so take that for what you will. 

3) I understand the difference between someone making a joke (that’s a whole other debate entirely) and someone being serious. This is dedicated solely to those who are seriously racist, although they may not recognize it.

4) I’m merely attempting to point out the prejudice that I see within language and action. I also know that I’m not perfect and have my own biases to overcome; part of writing this is my attempt to overcome them. 

Dear non-white Americans (and non-Americans),

 

I want to let you in on a little secret; white people say some pretty racist things when you’re not around. Not all white people mind you, there are quite a few that honestly are not racist (at least not obviously so). There are many who are genuinely appalled when there is mistreatment of “minorities” anywhere, or when blatant racism happens to appear. Yet, there are others who aren’t so quick to come against racist actions. Yes, they quietly “tolerate” all these non-whites encroaching upon their existence and certainly don’t want to see violence done against non-whites, but they really don’t like you. I know this because I’m white and being white means other white people feel completely free to say whatever they’re thinking to me. After all, I’m safe, right?

I’ve had the following said to me in just the past three months:

“Well, I can’t really blame Donald Sterling for what he said, it was his right to say it.”

“I’d like to move out towards Montana, where people are more like you and me, you know what I mean?”

“Well, they’re just different, you know?”

“Figures that there’s rioting after they kill another n*gger.”

Now again, and I cannot stress this enough, there have been white people who have said the exact opposite of the above. They’ve shown genuine outrage towards the blatantly racist ongoings in this country, but more often than not there’s always a wink and a nudge when talking about non-whites when it’s just white people around. To be honest, I’m disgusted by it. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and most of my friends will tell you that it’s painfully obvious. But the fact is it still happens around me and, shamefully I admit, I don’t think I do enough to stop it. Especially when it was said to me as I was a bartender, because I was more concerned about my tips and job (which I most certainly would have lost if I spoke up) than I was about doing the right thing (admittedly shameful and wrong on my part).

Of course, what’s the harm? If some white people hold a racist view, but never act it out, then who really cares? It’s not as though racial prejudice is getting anyone killed anymore, right? Well, see, that’s the problem; the racist attitudes that occur in private are inherently manifested in public, causing massive problems and even death (especially among young black men).

Think about Mike Brown and the witness (Dorian Johnson) to his murder. Two young black men stopped by a police officer. Why? Perhaps he was looking for a suspect and saw two black men, who just always conveniently fit the description of someone who’s wanted. The witness was so afraid of the police that he moved out of his apartment, and for good cause. As we’ve already seen, the Ferguson police aren’t afraid of roughing up journalists and violating First Amendment rights, so why would they be afraid of a little retribution? They’ve shown absolute tyranny in how they’ve handled the community.

Yet, within the white community, the riots are looked upon as opportunistic and self-destructive. We look at the riots and go, “Well no wonder the police are acting this way!” We show absolutely no sympathy for the vast majority of protestors who have remained peaceful, yet have been met with teargas and rubber bullets. Why? Because let’s be honest; if one black man acts up, we green light the mistreatment of the entire race. For whatever reason, no one points out the fact that the community has suffered under the oppression of poverty, under a brutal police force, under false charges, random stops, random searches, mistreatment, and absolutely no relief from this treatment. The last time an authoritative government attempted to implement martial law on a bunch of white people, to impoverish them via taxation, to fire indiscriminately into a crowd, to brutalize, search, and seize white people’s property, a Revolution occurred and the United States was born. Continue reading