Tentatio

struggle, spirituality, absurdity

Category: Amusing (page 1 of 3)

Westboro to Picket at Sandy Hook Elementary

It appears they’ve announced that they will be protesting Sandy Hook Elementary. I can’t say I’m surprised.

What actually surprises me, however, is that they still appear to be operating under the assumption that someone still takes them seriously. In 2007 they were labeled “The Most Hated Family in America” in a documentary done by the BBC with  Louis Theroux. It’s a great show, by the way – I highly recommend it. I remember watching the national media’s reaction to this wonderfully dysfunctional family, specifically noticing how any anger directed towards them simply fed the group’s narcissistic sociopathy (I’m not sure if that’s a real thing, but it fits).

But honestly? I say pity them as you would the kid that starts fights in school because no one believes he really is Batman. Stop taking them seriously, stop allowing yourself to get angry, stop complaining about them. They feed off negative emotion like I feed off bacon: every chance they get.

Start treating them as they really are: deluded, sad, angry people who have no capacity for self evaluation. It is widely acknowledged that the patriarch, Fred Phelps, is a mentally ill, abusive, megalomaniac that keeps his little family in line by means of fear. That’s a hard way to live, both for him and his family.

While I have been pretty snarky during this brief post, what I am about to say is intended to be extremely serious (so please don’t send me any hate mail): Listening to( and reading) the rants by their leader, Fred Phelps, it is fairly clear that he suffers from at least a personality disorder and quite possibly other significant mental health issues. I find it deeply ironic and unsettling that they will be demonstrating in the wake of an event that will hopefully bring mental health awareness/issues to the national conversation.

 

 

Superhero Jesus

Everyone knows Spiderman. He flips around with web shooting out of his hands and beats up bad guys. But…if you ask how he gained all those superpowers, you might get different answers depending on the generation of the person you are asking. The older crowd knows that he was bitten by a radioactive spider, which, rather than giving him leukemia, made him a hero. However, the younger generations would answer that he was bitten by a genetically modified spider. Why the difference?

Stan Lee created Spiderman in the early 1960s. In the cold war era, when it seemed like nuclear war was both inevitable and imminent, radiation and nuclear fallout had Americans shaking in terror. Spiderman being bitten by a radioactive spider spoke to an underlying fear that resonated with many.

Spiderman’s popularity experienced a resurgence in 2002 with a new series of movies. This time it wasn’t radiation. A genetically altered spider bit Peter Parker, which makes perfect sense. In 2002, the Human Genome project was about a year from being completed, with rough drafts of the entire human genome already being disseminated. It was an amazing accomplishment. At the same time, our culture was becoming more aware of the possibilities and dangers involved with genetic modification. It wasn’t the radiation of the 1960s, in part because we were doing it to ourselves (and our food).

This is a small example, but it shouldn’t be too surprising. Artistic expression often works with themes that resonate in culture, even when those themes aren’t obvious. In fact, I have a hunch that literature (and I use this word very, very loosely) often speaks to a culture most powerfully when it works with themes that are under the surface. When an unexpected nerve is hit, it hurts worse.

Aside from interesting cultural analysis, the kinds of stories that our culture finds compelling can also tell us a lot about ourselves. Consider the biggest blockbusters over the last few years. What do they have in common? Have you noticed that there have been nauseatingly large quantities of superhero movies? You haven’t? Oh…I see. You live in a cave.

What kind of hero do we want? Let’s leave Spiderman behind and look at two of the biggest superhero franchises over the last few years: Ironman and Batman. Both movie franchises made gobs of money, and most of the movies were fantastic (except for Ironman 2 – that was awful). There are some eerie parallels between these two.

Both are the alter egos of wealthy billionaire playboys who use technology to gain an advantage over their enemies. And both commit acts of subjective violence, underscoring our deeply held belief that violence really can solve the world’s problems. This isn’t a commentary on violence per se, but it does show perhaps who we really trust in our society. We look to the billionaires and entrepreneurs, and especially to science and technology, to solve the problems that we face every day. We hope that through the use of money and technology we can actually even address the great evil that works its way through our world.

This really makes a lot of sense. To whom does our culture look up? We idolize people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, those wealthy, brilliant innovators at the forefront of technological advancement, and we hope that through their innovation our problems will be “solved.”

I’m not intending simply to browbeat our culture and tell them that they’re putting their trust in the wrong thing. In fact, humans of been doing that for as long as there have been humans. But I do see some interesting parallels between our desire for a superhero and Jesus’ experience of the people he encountered in the Gospels. Everybody was looking for a hero to save them from the Romans (they called that hero “Messiah”). And so Jesus had to confront the people’s expectations while at the same time reshaping their desires. God was going to do something very unexpected.

The kingdom of God, after all, was not something that was going to be achieved by military force. Instead, a new reality invaded the world, bringing God’s presence in and through the work of Jesus himself. Or, to put it another way, God’s presence was returning to Earth. While I’m sure nobody would have objected to God’s presence, it’s hard to imagine that this is what the people thought they really wanted.

The same goes for us in the modern 21st-century. Our culture desires billionaire superheroes to bring innovative technology and scientific advancement, and we think this is going to actually save us from both ourselves and the evil that we encounter in our world. However, that hasn’t worked so far, and I really don’t think it’s going to work in the future.

Jesus is not a superhero that is here to solve all our problems. Instead, he is God’s presence that has come to confront evil and actually take the full force of that evil onto himself. This goes far deeper than merely solving problems. It actually cuts right to the core of who we are as individuals and as communities. The problem is that the line between good and evil is drawn down the middle of each of us. Neither a superhero nor Google can save us from this reality.

Thoughts on Remission

I have no idea where I am going with this but feel compelled to write. So bear with me. Or don’t, it’s your choice. That’s the danger (from my perspective) of blogging.

So I got the news that I have achieved a 3-log reduction in the presence of the Leukemia mutation. Or something like that, but I was never great with Biology. Suffice it to say, this is the goal for treating my kind of Leukemia (CML), and within this threshold the disease is considered well under control. My next step is for the mutation (actually it’s the presence of a protein, or something like that) to be undetectable by the machines that do the detecting. That won’t necessarily mean the mutation is gone, but rather that it is so low that the machine can’t find it (we are on the molecular level at this point).

It’s strange, though, because I still sense that I have a ways to go in terms of dealing with the emotional side of having leukemia. For those of you that know me well, this summer has sucked horribly. I’ve been sick and injured for most of the season, and then I was forced to try a different leukemia drug because the original one was no longer effective. Not to mention that I struggled with the side effects of that original drug.

Now I feel better than ever, and I actually have more energy now than I know what to do with. But this morning, a friend of mine mentioned in passing that he had had some blood work done and the doctor said he wanted to run another, more specific test. It ended up being nothing (except that my friend needed to lose a little weight), and yet when I heard this story being told, I almost had a small heart attack at the idea of him needing more blood work. I’ve been down that road, and it didn’t go well with me.

It was like a small panic attack induced by PTSD, or something like that. I can be a little dramatic at times.

But it did tell me that I have a ways to go. I still get depressed, and who wouldn’t? After the leukemia, the multiple deaths of loved ones, the car wreck, my cat that died, the million kidney stones, and a few other things, this shouldn’t surprise me.

It all reminds me of how messy life really can be. I get impatient with movies that have nice, black and white, neatly wrapped endings. How is that anywhere near life-like? Real life has real struggles, real joy, and everything in between – and often at the same time.

I am in remission. That’s incredibly good news, but it isn’t the end of the story, nor is it the beginning of another. My good news simply is. I will carry this damned mutation all my life, and my life will likely be long.

Learning to live in that tension takes serious chutzpah. I pray that God grants me some of his…

My Review of “New Moon” (And why I hated it)

I have a strong sense of smell. When I was a kid, my mom couldn’t sneak candy in the car without me sniffing it out (and then asking for some). It’s a blessing and a curse.

When I walked into the theater last Friday at 11:30am to see “New Moon,” I noticed that someone sitting behind us had been drinking. I was initially surprised by the smell as it was still early in the day, but considering he and I were both likely being forced to watch the movie by our significant others, I couldn’t judge him.

About 20 minutes into the movie, I was *this* close to turning around and asking him for some of whatever he had. Yes, the movie was bad. The dialogue was tepid at best, the cinematography was mediocre, and the movie itself reeked of melodrama – worse than my friend behind me and whatever cheap bourbon he had been sucking down.

But that really didn’t bother me that much. I’ve seen bad movies before, and I have an active enough imagination to be entertained while watching even the worst fermented garbage that Hollywood throws at us. Like “Mom and Dad Save the World” with John Lovitz. That movie is terrible. Terribly awesome, but still terrible.

I found myself becoming more and more uncomfortable the longer I watched the movie. No, it wasn’t the gratuitous scenes of sculpted boys and men taking their shirts off, though there was plenty of that. It was with the movie’s heroine, Bella. Listening to her talk and watching her react to life’s twists and turns (I won’t spoil anything for you in case you particularly hate yourself and are going to see it) became harder and harder to bear.

The reason is due to her complete and utter dependence on Edward (and a little on Jacob, too). We all depend on people to some extent. I think it was Thomas Merton John Donne that said “No man is an island.” But Bella is so dependent that she spends months sitting in her room being depressed because Eddy isn’t around anymore. Like I said, melodrama. However, I am incredibly unnerved by how much her character needs Ed around to feel happy.

That whole “You complete me” nonsense in a relationship is literal poison.

If someone bases their sense of self and well-being on another person with whom they are involved, they are setting themselves up either for a quick and meaningless  or a volatile (and possibly violent) relationship. It’s dangerous, psychologically and emotionally.

And yet, this is exactly how Bella approaches her life. Her entire sense of self revolves around Ed-the-love-machine. In anything other than a movie (and book), this would be a recipe for an incredibly unhealthy relationship. But no, it’s a movie, so everything works out in the end. She gets the Ed she needs in order to survive, and everything works out.

My fear is this: Do we really want to act like being co-dependent is a good thing? That sounds like a horrible idea.

Humans and Nature

Ok, the title isn’t not as epic as it sounds. I haven’t posted in forever, and at the end of each week, I kick myself for it. Why? Writing takes up a large portion of what I do for a living, and yet I can’t ever get myself to put together something as small as a blog post every other day. Absurd.

Maybe it’s like exercising. I used to hate working out, and now I do all the time. The trick was that I had to stop thinking about it as working out and actually develop a goal. So I chose triathlons, because why not? Swimming, biking, and running – not enough monotony to drive me nuts.

We’ll see if blogging is more like that. Of course, I need a goal, but we’ll see…

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