Rude Behaviour

July 29, 2014

If smartwatches become an object of public scorn, there will be plenty of precedent. Wearable technology has been upsetting people for years. Let’s start in the 19th century …

The watch itself.
Glancing at even a “dumb” analog watch in midconversation can annoy others. As Cecil B. Hartley counseled in his 1875 tome The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness: “It is ill-bred to put on an air of weariness during a long speech from another person and quite as rude to look at a watch.”

(Such conduct can also be career-limiting if done on television; think ofPresident George H.W. Bush checking his watch during a 1992 town-hall debate.)

The Walkman.
The makers of Sony’s portable music device were sufficiently worried about it being seen as antisocial that they shipped the debut model with two headphone jacks. And then people got angry about the music being played on these things, as seen in philosophy professor Allan Bloom’s tirade against the Walkman in his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind:

“Picture a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in the living room of his family home doing his math assignment while wearing his Walkman headphones or watching MTV. … A pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of onanism or the killing of parents.”

(That 13-year-old boy would now be a 40-year-old man, so if he’s ever going to wreck the American republic as Bloom predicted, he’d best get on with it.)

The cellphone.
Hearing other people’s phone conversations can be annoying, so much that Amtrak tried designating one car on some trains as a no-phone-calls “Quiet Car” in 2000 and now offers Quiet Cars on six lines.

In 2003, New York City enacted a ban on phone use in theaters over Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s veto. Nineteen months later, Councilman Philip Reed, the sponsor of that bill, told The New York Times that it was unenforceable in practice but still worked to “embolden the community.”

Individual theaters don’t need a law to kick out offending phone users — as one art-house cinema did when it publicly banned Madonna from the premises after she kept on texting during a screening of 12 Years a Slave.

I agree that too-loud phone conversations are annoying. In 2003 the design firm IDEO came up with a novel solution: a “social mobile” prototype that, as described by The Economist, “gives its user a mild electric shock, depending on how loudly the person at the other end is speaking. This encourages both parties to speak more quietly, otherwise the mild tingling becomes an unpleasant jolt.”

If a phone manufacturer can figure out a way to amplify this electroshock therapy when people insist on using phones in public restrooms, I’m all for it.

The iPod.
If being able to listen to a 50-minute tape on a Walkman could make you antisocial, how about having a thousand songs in your pocket? Apple’s music player and its iconic white headphones put a generation of people in their own musical worlds, and not everyone has been happy about that. For example, the organizers of many running races banned headphones, even if those rules have often been ignored in practice.

But sometimes an MP3 player can help you shut out external noise. Asetiquette expert Liz Wyse told the BBC in 2011: “An iPod is a brilliant thing on trains. Otherwise you’re forced to listen to people’s loud conversations on their mobile phones.”

Google Glass.
This Saturday Night Live sketch says so much about Google’s experiment in voice-driven, face-mounted computing, doesn’t it?

Finally, smartwatches.
We are only now learning if smartwatches will eventually become as acceptable as standard wristwatches, or as intrusive as smart glasses.

-Rob of Yahoo Tech

Buying Cars

July 24, 2014

No Wonder We Hate To Buy Cars

A recent headline proclaimed that buying a car ranks among most people’s least favorite activity. Many would rather suffer pain or be deprived of a favorite pleasure than to have to endure the car lot and the car salesman. Recently, inevitably, it was my turn to face the pain. With our old minivan ailing and a long roadtrip looming, I had little choice in the matter. I had procrastinated as long as I could.

Now there are various strategies involved in buying cars. Some people only buy really, really used cars and drive them until they can wring out the last little vestige of value. Then they rub out the VIN, drive it into a lake, and start over. Not surprisingly, these people tend to be pretty handy, and comfortable under a hood. Other people buy only new cars, drive them until the new car smell has faded, and then swap them for something newer. As you would expect, these people tend to be pretty comfortable with their checkbook.

I hold to the philosophy of buying new and driving until the serious problems begin—maybe seven or eight years with the right brand, all the scheduled maintenance, and a little bit of luck. I hold to this position largely because I consider cars magic. They exist far beyond the boundaries of science and reason and firmly within the realm of wizardry. I have no idea how they work and live with the fear that if I touch anything beyond the gas cap, I will disrupt the sorcery and cause a total breakdown. I am in awe of them, and terrified when they begin to show signs of aging. When a hear that strange whir or unusual clunk, I just assume that the engine is about to blow. (Cars still have engines, right?) Our old car was making a lot of those whirs and clunks and related sounds. I had lost all confidence in it, so it was time to go shopping.

When Aileen and I walked into the dealership and began looking at that new van, the salesman did a great job of introducing us to this amazing new vehicle. He showed us lots of buttons and screens and described all the different ways the van would beep at us while we drove it. I am quite sure it is nearing sentience and, with a software update or two, should be able to drive itself and even parent my children. He opened the hood so we could admire the engine and I nodded dutifully, pretending that I actually had some idea of what I was looking at. I think I fooled him. “Mmm. Look at that. It’s shiny.” He didn’t notice the beads of sweat trickling down my face. “Tell me more about the beeps.”

What really impressed us about this van was its reliability. He convinced us that this vehicle is very possibly the greatest and most reliable car ever made by the hand of man. He assured us that the car would never break down, that the warranty would prove bulletproof, and that if we were simply to buy it today, all our wildest dreams would come true.

We were an easy mark, I guess, and before long he convinced us. We shook his hand and he led us into the office of the finance manager. Now, the finance manager’s job was to figure out how we intended to pay for this vehicle and to verify that we actually had a reasonable likelihood of doing so. However, it quickly became apparent that he could pick up a few commission dollars by selling us an extended warranty. Suddenly we were being told that we had just agreed to buy the worst car ever built, that it was probably going to break down before we even got it out of the parking lot, that the warranty is absolutely laughable, and that we would never sleep soundly at night unless we agreed to that third-party, $3,000 extended warranty plan. “Your life will not be worth living if you walk out of here without that extended warranty.”

I called him on it. “The salesman just told us this was the most reliable van on the market; now you’re telling me it’s a piece of junk that’s going to burst into flames if I look at it wrong. What gives?” He assured me that he was just looking out for me, that he was a friend. I assured him, in turn, that there was, literally, no chance that I was ever going to walk out of there with an extended warranty, unless, of course, he was willing to give it as a gift. Since, you know, we’re friends now.

No wonder we hate to buy cars. At least I don’t need to endure the pain again for another seven or eight years.

As we drove away in our whirring and clunking old van, hopeful that the factory would soon spit out that shiny new one for us, I found myself thinking about the contradiction between the salesman and the finance manager. I was sold on the car’s reliability, but once I was in, well, that’s where I was told the truth (or a version of it, at least).

And I realized that we, as Christians, sometimes pull this very sales trick when we preach the gospel and plead with our friends. We assure our friends that God has a great and wonderful plan for their lives, that putting their faith in him will bring endless and untold blessings. We tell of all the benefits of being a Christian. Well and good.

But when Jesus walked the earth, he was no salesman. He told those who wanted to follow him that the cost would be high. He told them that it would cost them their friends, their family, their finances, their plans, their comfort, and maybe even their lives. He told them that it would cost them everything.

No wonder that our friends are suspicious. And no wonder so many are shocked when they make a profession of faith and immediately meet with pain and mockery and deep questions and the sustained attacks of a Devil who wants them back. They were won with a sales trick—won with only half the truth. They have every right to be disillusioned.

-Challies

Worshipping Family

July 24, 2014

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

I love my family. I love being a husband. We celebrate sixteen years of marriage this week and I can’t imagine living life with anyone else. I love being a father. I have two kids that delight my soul. I can’t wait to see them in the morning before I head off to the church and I am always anxious to see them in the evening when I return. There are few things I enjoy more in this life than being a father. I love my family. However, having said that, I want to be on guard against loving them inordinately.

I am thankful for the growing emphasis upon the Christian family in evangelical circles. Our two children are home schooled, so I am in no way opposed to homeschooling. We attempt to practice family worship each night of the week, so I am not opposed to family worship. For goodness sakes, I wrote on a book on the subject. I am passionate about it. We have attempted to have our children in corporate worship with us since they were babies. I am working on a book on that subject as well, so I am not opposed to children in worship. However, there does seem to be a tendency with the home school/family worship/children in worship emphasis that can turn this good thing upon its head. If we aren’t careful, instead of encouraging worshipping families, we become family worshippers. The following are possible signs that we have begun worshipping the family rather than encouraging our family to be worshippers:

We Seldom Host Others: If our home is seen primarily as a citadel set against the world, there is a problem. A home centered upon Christ will be marked by growing hospitality. It is a way station of truth and worship. We gladly invite others into it for rest, encouragement, and strengthening.

We Seldom Reach Out to Others: If our family is so insular that others don’t know us, there is a problem. A Christian family filled with love and worship should overflow to those around them. Neighbors and co-workers can’t help but be touched by the love that permeates in and cascades from our family.

We Seldom Serve in the Church: If our family is so focused on just being a family that we can’t attend mid-week bible studies or are so intent on being together Sunday morning that the parents can’t teach Sunday School or assist in the nursery, there is a problem. As a Christian family we are to see ourselves as part of the community. Not separate from it. Not more important than it. But essential to it.

We Seldom Have Time: If our family is always busy with its own activities, whether soccer, piano, ballet, family vacations, or even family worship to the point that we have little time for others, there is a problem. The enrichment and growth of our children, even in spiritual things, is not to pull us away from people but towards them. Yes, we only have so many years to train and teach our children while they are at home. But are we teaching them that they and their activities are the center of life or worshipping Christ and loving others is what is most important?

We Seldom Sacrifice: If our family is reluctant to give generously, because of what it costs our family, there is a problem. We hesitate to give above our tithe to missionaries, the local church, the building fund, or the homeless shelter because our children’s college education comes first. We neglect supporting the church member headed out on a short-term mission’s trip, because our family “educational trip” is more important. We always have an excuse. And it is always our family’s need that provides the ground for that excuse. Rather, the Christian family should be generous in giving—generous to the point of giving sacrificially.

We Seldom Have Flexibility: If others feel like they are always interrupting our family by calling, visiting, or proposing a time to get-together, there is a problem. Others will notice it before us. They begin to feel like our family’s routine cannot be interrupted under any circumstances. We convey this consciously or even subconsciously and others pickup on it. Rather, our family should be noted by its flexibility and joy when others stop by, friendliness when called, and availability when needed.

We Seldom Speak Well of Others: If our family tends to have an arrogant air about it, there is a problem. We have it together. Others don’t quite understand the importance of the family, worship, and our calling as parents. Our conversations are too often critical and judgmental. If only others understood as we do. May it never be! Our families should be filled with thanking God for others. Our children should hear us commending and promoting others. People should find that we are refreshing to their souls, rather than critical of their practices.

By all means, let us enjoy and treasure our families. Let us celebrate the gift they are. Let us pour out our lives and hearts into ministering to our spouse, rearing our children in Christ, and filling our homes with the love and truth of Christ. However, in so doing, let us also be worshippers of the Christ we are seeking to honor. Let us worship Him in our worshipping families, rather than worship our families in the name of worshipping Him.

The iPhone

July 21, 2014

Six Ways Your Phone Is Changing You
by Tony Reinke

Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone at Macworld Expo 2007, and I got my first one a year later. I can’t remember life without it.

For seven years an iPhone has always been within my reach, there to wake me in the morning, there to play my music library, there to keep my calendar, there to capture my life in pics and video, there for me to enjoy sling-shooting wingless birds into enemy swine, there as my ever-present portal to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

My iPhone is such a part of my daily life, I rarely think self-reflectively about it. That’s precisely what concerns David Wells, 75, a careful thinker who has watched trends in the church for many decades.

Wells asks Christians to consider the consequences of the smartphone. “What is it doing to our minds when we are living with this constant distraction?” he said recently in an interview. “We are, in fact, now living with a parallel universe, a virtual universe that can take all of the time we have. So what happens to us when we are in constant motion, when we are addicted to constant visual stimulation? What happens to us? That is the big question.”

That’s a huge question. What is life like now because of the smartphone? How has the iPhone changed us? These self-reflective questions may seem daunting, but we must ask them.

The Internet Age

Wells is quick to remind us we are only 20 years into this experiment called “The Internet Age” (or “The Information Age”). All of our digital communications technology is relatively new. One day we will stand back and look with more precision at what our smartphones are doing to our brains, our hearts, and our souls, but we don’t have the leisure to postpone self-reflection for the future. We need to ask ourselves questions now.

We have wise Christian fathers in the faith who are asking important questions, if we’re willing to listen. One such man is Dr. Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. Groothuis has been tracking the impact of the Internet on the spiritual life since he published his book The Soul in Cyberspace in 1997.

I recently talked with Groothuis about how our iPhones are changing us. He suggested we think about six areas.

Change 1: We are becoming like what we behold.

At first that statement sounds abstract, but it’s one of the most simple (and profound) psychological realities we learn in Scripture: We become like what we behold. To worship an idol is to become like the idol; to worship Christ is to become like Christ. Passages in Scripture abound to this end — Psalm 115:4–8, Romans 1:18–27, 12:1–2, Colossians 3:10, and 2 Corinthians 3:18.

What we love to behold is what we worship. What we spend our time beholding shapes our hearts and molds us into the people we are. This spiritual truth is frightening and useful, but it raises the questions: What happens to our soul when we spend so much time beholding the glowing screens of our phones? How are we changed? How are we conformed?

One way we become like what we behold shows up relationally, Groothuis warns. Our digital interactions with one another, which are often necessarily brief and superficial, begin to pattern all our relationships. “When you begin to become shallow in your interactions with people, you can become habituated to that.” All of our personal interactions take the same shape. The barista at the coffee counter gets a DM-like response. When we hang out with friends, we offer a series of Tweet-like responses in a superficial conversation with little spiritual meaning.

“The way we interact online becomes the norm for how we interact offline. Facebook and Twitter communications are pretty short, clipped, and very rapid. And that is not a way to have a good conversation with someone. Moreover, a good conversation involves listening and timing and that is pretty much taken away with Internet communications, because you are not there with the person. So someone could send you a message and you could ignore it, or someone could send you a message and you get to it two hours later. But if you are in real time in a real place with real bodies and a real voice, that is a very different dynamic. You shouldn’t treat another person the way you would interact with Twitter.” But we do, if we’re not careful.

Change 2: We are ignoring our finiteness.

Fundamentally I am a finite man, severely limited in what I can know and what I can read and what I can engage with and (perhaps most importantly) very limited in what I can really care about. Yet my phone offers me everything — new news, new outrages, new videos, new music, new pictures, and new updates from all my Facebook friends.

One reason we own smartphones is to avoid being left behind. We don’t want to miss anything gone viral. We track hashtag trends mostly out of fear of being left out. And little by little we ignore our finiteness, we lose a sense of our limitations, and we begin lusting after the forbidden fruit of limitless knowledge in a subconscious desire to become infinite like God.

“A smartphone absorbs our interest because it is so alluring. It can do so many things. And in a sense it is asking us to do so many things with it,” Groothuis said. “But humans are limited. We can only think through so many things at once. We can only feel properly a limited number of things. And these technologies want to stretch us out over the entire globe with Twitter feeds, Facebook messages, and photos shared on Instagram. Instead, we need to embrace our finitude. And if we really own up to our finitude and the fact that a life well lived is a life lived carefully, as Paul says (Ephesians 5:15, Colossians 4:5), we simply have to say ‘no’ to some of these things.”

Change 3: We are multitasking what should be unitasked.

Habituated to shallow friendships, distracted to limited focus, and ignorant of personal finitude, we embrace the multitasking myth. We multitask everything, trying to think in two directions at the same time, trying to be in two places at the same time, trying to live in physical space and virtual space simultaneously.

This modern temptation explains why Groothuis prohibits his students from using phones and laptops in his classes. “I think we are a very distracted culture. We are trying to multitask things that should not be multitasked — they should be unitasked. And that is what I tell my students: ‘You can’t multitask philosophy.’” The study of philosophy cannot be distracted by tweets. And if not philosophy, how much more should we aim to unitask our study of God and our prayer life?

In reality, Scripture calls us to a life of single-minded self-reflection that often gets thwarted by the hum of multitasking. If it’s important, it’s worth being unitasked. Which means there must be priorities that trump our iPhone push notifications.

Change 4: We are forgetting the joy of embodiment.

The Apostle John closes one of his ancient handwritten letters with a line of enduring relevance for those of us who now write with our thumbs: “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink [modern technology for John]. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12).

As Neil Postman suggested, communications technology, like email, is ghost-to-ghost more than person-to-person. There is something of us in an email, but there’s more to our personhood that doesn’t get sent. In an email we send our ghost. The same is true of this blog post. These inescapable limitations of digital communication are rooted in God’s design in creation, said Groothuis.

“Christianity differs from every other religion except Judaism in claiming that the universe is created good. And God puts his blessing on it and God wants fellowship with human beings using the medium of matter. And we have the doctrine of Incarnation. It is something like Jesus turning water into wine — and the best wine — in John 2:1–12. That is embodied, that is people-fellowship, that is enjoying the fruit of the vine, and Jesus blesses that.”

But, I press, why is the Apostle’s own joy bound up with embodied fellowship?

“I think it has to do with the engaging of personalities,” Groothuis replied. “Our personality will come through to some extent in an email message or a tweet. But we are holistic beings. We have feelings. We have thoughts. We have imagination. We have bodies. We look different. We express ourselves differently, for example in our tone of voice. How many times have we miscommunicated with someone online because there is no tone of voice? We were joking and someone took it seriously and got offended. Or we say something serious and people think we were joking. So I think the fullness of joy comes with one personality interacting with other personalities in terms of voice, touch, appearance, and timing. Sometimes it is time just to be quiet with people, or to cry with people, or to laugh with people.”

So social media and email (disembodied communication) can be a very useful extension of our embodied relationships, but not a replacement for them. So I ask my introvert self: Are the conveniences of disembodied communication undermining the joy of embodied communication? Do I truly value the personal, face-to-face relationships in my life over the disembodied relationships I maintain online? Are my face-to-face relationships — with my neighbor, my wife, and my kids — suffering because I neglect the priority and joy of embodiment?

Change 5: We are losing interest in the gathered church.

Inevitably, this lost joy of embodiment manifests itself as empty pews on Sunday morning.

Christianity is rooted in Christ’s incarnation and this profound face-to-face reality shapes our fellowship (2 John 12; 3 John 14), our ultimate hopes (1 John 3:2), and our lives before the face of God, coram Deo. The iPhone offers few advantages here.

“We have the whole dynamic of collective worship, which is very significant biblically because God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3). When people come and worship in spirit and in truth there is the presence and dynamic of the Holy Spirit that can’t be repeated though a group Skype call. That will be second best, certainly. The Church, the body of Christ is to meet. We are to be with each other and we are to worship together and confess our sins and have communion and embrace people and show our love for people and weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh.”

If we prioritize disembodied relationships we overlook the profound embodied realities happening in baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, in corporate musical worship, in the laying on of hands, and even in sermons. As Pastor John has explained in the past, a recorded sermon in the earbuds cannot replace embodied sermons in the pew because preaching is “expository exaltation,” an integral part of the gathered corporate worship experience, embedded in the gathered people. There among the gathered people of God “preaching comes into its own as an encounter with the living God” (APJ 297).

So do we truly value the embodied reality of the local church? And even if we show up on Sunday, are we checking out, fiddling on our phones, and looking for something more promising, more entertaining, more disembodied, than the joy of God offered in embodied fellowship?

Change 6: We are growing careless with our words.

Compounded from all these online issues, we grow careless with words.

Why are we so quick to judge the motives of people online, and why are we so bold to criticize others? Why do we say things online we would never say in person? Why does digital communication draw our scorn so easily?

I was eager to ask Groothuis this question, and he responded by returning again to disembodiment. At a profound level, when we interact with people online, we are quick to forget these are souls, quick to forget “we are interacting with eternal beings,” he said. Disembodiment — distracted minds trying to multitask — makes our language especially flippant and potentially over-critical.

“We need to have integrity when we are online. We should do it prayerfully. We need to resist impulses. And I don’t always successfully do this. I have deleted not a few Facebook posts,” he said. “But remember that we are doing this before the face of God and we are interacting with eternal beings. We are having an effect on people’s destinies, even through a Twitter message. I think if we take that kind of approach it gives us a sense of gravitas and we are less likely to become flippant. Glibness and flippancy are terrible vices in our age. So many times in Scripture we are told to be careful with our words. Proverbs says this over and over again. We are told to be careful how we speak and let our words be few (Proverbs 10:19–21; 17:27). These technologies allow us to talk endlessly. It may not be the physical voice, but it is some kind of message.”

“I think we need to edit ourselves more,” he said, “and realize that mediated communication has tremendous benefits, but detriments as well.”

So many steps back

July 18, 2014

On September 5th, 1983, then President Ronald Reagan addressed the American public after the Soviets shot down Korean airliner KAL 007.

“My fellow Americans, I’m coming before you tonight about a Korean airline massacre. The attack by the Soviet Union against 269 innocent men, women, and children aboard an unarmed Korean passenger plane. This crime against humanity must never be forgotten.”

Compare the former president’s strong response to the current president’s line about the Malaysian airliner MH17 reportedly shot down by the Russians, believed to have killed 280 passengers and 15 crew:

“It is wonderful to be back in Delaware. Before I begin, obviously the world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border. It looks like it may be a terrible tragedy. Right now we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens on board. That is our first priority.”

President Obama then returned to his prepared statement on pitching more shovel-ready jobs to Americans. The contrast couldn’t be anymore clear.

Dear Daughter

July 17, 2014

Dear Daughter,

I hope you never notice the magazine rack at the supermarket.

I hope you never see the billboards on the highway or the ads on the side of the city bus.

I hope you never learn about Hollywood and the fashion industry.

I hope you never listen to pop music.

I hope you never walk down the makeup aisle.

I hope you never hate your own appearance.

I hope you never pick up the habit of putting yourself down whenever someone compliments you.

I hope you never feel the pressure to physically conform to the perverse standards of a disordered world.

I hope you always stay exactly as you are right now. Innocent, carefree, unencumbered, pure.

But these could only be the hopes of a foolish idealist like your Dad. I can rub the genie lamp and make a thousand stupid wishes, but you will grow. You will start to learn about the culture that surrounds you. You will form opinions about yourself. Your vivacious, bubbly happiness will give way to more complex emotions. You will develop new dimensions.

In these times, here in your very early life, you only cry because you’re hungry or tired or you want me to hold you. One day, though, your tears will come from a deeper place.

And, when that day comes, I want you to remember one thing: you are beautiful.

Beautiful. A work of art — full of life, exploding with a unique, dynamic, vibrant energy.

Beautiful. Eyes like the morning, a strong and powerful spirit, a face that brims with joy and hope. Beautiful because you were formed by God. Beautiful because He has known you since before you even existed, He has loved you since the beginning of time. Beautiful because you’re real, beautiful because you are.

Remember this. It’s important that you remember it, Julia, as you live in a society that’s dedicated to making you forget.

Those commercials and movies and songs and cosmetic products and plastic surgeons and diet pills and trendy clothes and Cosmo magazine covers — they will all try to feed you something. An image. A broken promise. A false salvation. A poison. An airbrushed, manufactured, painted over, photoshopped, marketing ploy. A ‘sexiness’ that’s about as beautiful and feminine as an assembly line. A ‘hot’ that’s more sterile and processed than canned food.

This is the price of living in a culture of consumerism. We all pay the toll, Julia. Your Dad included.

See, modern humans spend every waking minute surrounded by advertisements and product placements and carefully crafted, focus grouped ‘messaging’ of all kinds. It tears you in a million different directions, but the lesson is always the same: you are not good enough. You need to be ‘improved,’ they’ll tell you. Demolished and rebuilt. Shamed and made over. Pulverized and perfected.

They pull out their metaphorical shotguns and blow giant holes in your psyche. They hollow you out and convince you that they’ve got the right thing to plug the gaps. They create a void in your conscience and pour their propaganda into it. This is why we have an unachievable, inhuman, digitized idea of beauty in our society. We’ve fallen for the ultimate scam, and the scammers have reaped dividends.

A little while ago, around your mom’s birthday, I had the crazy idea that I would attempt to purchase her some clothing items as part of a gift. By the way, you can tell that your Dad is a very hip and trendy dude, seeing as how he just used the phrase “purchase some clothing items.” Anyway, my quest was unsuccessful — not to mention bewildering and terrifying — but I feel like I was enlightened by the journey. Apparently, the shops in the mall have collectively determined that every woman is a size zero and none of them care about dressing modestly (I still don’t understand how there can even be such a thing as a ‘size zero’ — all human beings must, according to physics, have some mass, right?).

Of course, these stores are wrong. Most women aren’t rail thin and many of them aren’t interested in dressing like music video back-up dancers. You just wouldn’t know it based on the selection at these boutiques, which, it would seem, have a clientele consisting mainly of mannequins and runway models.

I guess I’ve learned to take a few things for granted. As a guy, I can walk into any clothing store and find something that A) fits, and B) provides my body with basic coverage, which is the whole reason clothing exists in the first place, according to Wikipedia. As you will eventually discover, women have an entirely different experience. For them, even something as simple as clothes shopping becomes an all out assault on their values, priorities, and body image.

And women aren’t the only victims. Men might not be chasing Hollywood beauty, but we have our own unreasonable expectations, imposed on us by ourselves and the world outside. We all — men and women alike — feel the pressure to present a façade. We all want to appeal to the masses. It’s like we’re locked in this eternal competition to be beautiful, or popular, or successful, or whatever, except we set our bar for beauty, popularity, and success according to the standards of the very strangers we’re trying to ‘beat.’ We want to be like everyone, and liked by everyone, but also better than everyone. This parallel battle for sameness and superiority wreaks havoc upon our souls, and the damage can sometimes be irreparable.

It’s gotten worse now with the internet and social media. The struggle to impress our peers has invaded and consumed every minute of our lives. Julia, please understand this: of the entire population of the planet, only an infinitesimal percentage of them will ever be more than anonymous to you. Only the tiniest fraction will ever give you more than a passing glance. You should still love and respect these strangers, but you don’t need to impress them. Be a beacon of charity and truth to everyone, but you don’t need to worry about the opinions and judgments of every single person you happen across on the street.

It doesn’t really matter how they feel about you, yet many of us want to be desirable to everyone, even and especially those we don’t know. We want them to feel something when they look our way. Feel what? I don’t know. Envy. Admiration. Inferiority. A combination of all three, I suppose. We certainly can’t allow them to carry on with their day feeling better, or more attractive, or smarter, or more successful.

A silly way to live, isn’t it? We gain nothing from it, Julia. We do everything we can to impress the unknown faces in the crowd, and where does that get us? Nobody really cares in the end, anyway. Those faces are likely immersed in their own self-absorbed psychological vacuums, and whatever impression we make on them will dissipate as soon as we leave their line of sight.

We’ve all become like puffs of smoke to each other, evaporating just as quickly as we appear.

It’s a vicious, violent, tormenting cycle, and I don’t want you to be a part of it.

I’ll do whatever it takes to see to that, although honestly, I’m not sure what it will take, exactly.

Maybe Mom and I can just hold you close and love you.

Will that be enough?

And maybe I can just keep reminding you that you’re beautiful, even now, when you can’t really understand what I’m saying. Maybe if I say it often enough, you’ll believe me.

Will you always believe me?

I hope so. I pray so.

Remember, Mom and Dad are two of the very few people on Earth who will tell you the truth about yourself. The truth that, from your first moments in this world, you’ve been like a vision, full of warmth and light. You don’t need to be photoshopped or edited or remade or made up, and you never will. You don’t need a “touch-up” or a “correction.” You were molded by the hands of God and given to us as a gift from Paradise. You don’t need to add fad diets, expensive shoes, and forty layers of makeup to the package.

You will meet a lot of people in this world, and many of them are out to take something from you or sell something to you. So they’ll try to attack your self-image, suffocate your confidence, make you vulnerable, and seize whatever it is they want.

That’s the game.

Never play it.

That’s the lie.

Never believe it.

Never believe it.

I’ll protect you for as long as I can, Julia, but the day will come when I can no longer shield you from it all.

That’s why I wrote this letter. For the times when the pressures of the world — the constant, deafening din, screaming “you’re not pretty enough, you’re not good enough” — become a little too heavy to shoulder. Whether it’s 7 years from now, or 17, or 70 — whenever you need a reminder, here it is:

You’re beautiful.

Love,

Dad

********

Marijuana in DC

July 17, 2014

Civil violation notices that police already hand out for littering have been amended to include possession of marijuana and note the $25 fine. ***Possession of one ounce of the drug will cost a miscreant less than the fine for throwing a butt on the ground — $75 for littering.

This is absurd!

It’s all about the money that marijuana will bring in.

It’s not helping the masses.

Sorry, we all lose.

Grace

July 16, 2014

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I used to say I believed in grace. I don’t say that anymore. Now I say I have known grace, and what I know is this: grace believes in me…

Photo Credit: Novafly via Compfight cc
It’s 9pm, and I walk in the door still carrying the burdens of a day at my office. The kids are already in bed, eyelids heavy but holding out for a “goodnight” from Daddy. My wife is tired but smiling and happy to see me.

And I don’t want any of it.

I stomp around, tearing open mail, griping about food that isn’t in the fridge, acting like a serious jerk. And in some secret place inside of me, I know it. Somehow, this only makes it worse. I wait for the reprisal from my wife. The well-earned reprisal. The angry, “I don’t deserve this!”

But it isn’t forthcoming. Instead, she kisses me on the cheek, says she loves me, and goes to bed with the same smile on her face. I stand by myself in the kitchen, but I have two companions. My bad mood. And my wife’s grace.

Why Psychotherapy Works

Psychologists are trained in an endless list of intervention for changing people. But the truth is, they all pale in comparison to the most powerful tool at our disposal. We call it by many names—empathy, acceptance, and “unconditional positive regard”—but it all boils down to this:

The therapy room is a pocket of grace in a condemning world.

Does that sound like a rip-off? After all, people come to us to be healed, right? How will anything be fixed, changed, improved, transformed, or redeemed if people are allowed to stay exactly the way they are?

I understand the feeling. I’ve felt it.

But I can tell you now, grace isn’t just acceptance of the status quo. Grace contains the status quo—all of our struggle and pain and mess—and embraces us and values us anyway. Grace demands that nothing be changed for love and connection to happen, and that kind of love has power.

How Grace Begins to Change Everything

In the presence of grace we are given permission to be our fullest selves: that complicated amalgam of mess and beauty, shame and glory. In the presence of grace, we can allow the wholeness of our humanity to be seen—we reveal our sputtering rage, anguished tears, petrified fear, crudest and rudest sentiment, most bizarre interest, or deepest embarrassment.

And then we look up.

And grace looks back. It isn’t cringing or horrified or judging or saying in a reasonable tone, “Well, once we figure that out and change it, then you and I can get along alright.” Instead, grace looks back with a calm admiration—probably even a smile in its eyes—and it says, “There you are, I’ve been waiting for you and you’re welcome here. All of you. You are beloved.”

This is the brilliance of grace: it welcomes our darkness into the light and does nothing to it, knowing that it doesn’t have to, because darkness thrives on hiddenness, and it’s at the mercy of the light. Light drives out darkness, not the other way around.

When we no longer have to push our darkness back down beneath layers of shame our darkness doesn’t stand a chance.

What Grace Sees

I stand in the kitchen with my bad mood and my wife’s grace. And the brilliance of her love quickly becomes clear. Her attack would have only rooted me deeper in my anger. Instead, she has given me acceptance in the midst of my anger, the space to feel it and experience the fullness of my self.

I still feel grumpy, but I discover there is something else there inside of me: I want to apologize.

I go to the bedroom and I tell her I’m sorry, and her response is quick and her grace is complete: “You had a long day, you’re allowed to be in a bad mood, and you’re a good man, I knew you’d apologize.”

My wife saw my goodness, even in the midst of my junk. She believed in my light, even when all she could see was darkness. She believed in who I am and who I can be, even while I was being something else.

I used to say I believe in grace. I don’t say that anymore. Now I say I have known grace, and what I know is this: grace believes in me.

How Grace Finally Changes Everything

The healing power of grace does not end with the embrace of our darkness.

When we find pockets of grace in this world—when our true self is finally allowed to the surface—we discover all sorts of beautiful things entwined with our darkness. Like dragging the ocean and coming up with a bunch of seaweed. And some invaluable pearls.

As grace calls our true self forth, we discover magnificent parts of us we didn’t know were there—passions built into us, a purpose sewn into our DNA. Our identity is washed clean and we begin to see ourselves for what we inherently are: creators of beauty, order, and abundance. We no longer dismiss our ability to contribute in loving ways to a crumbling world. We take the grace inside of us, it becomes our guide, and we become it.

We quit dead end jobs and risk our family’s financial security to earn a teaching degree. We stop drinking and we start coaching. We quit living at the office and we invest in the life of our family. We trade in fear for boldness. We quit hiding in our homes and we start risking in the world by uncaging our ideas and our creativity. We stop waiting on perfection and we start wading into the mess.

When we quit seeking change and begin to seek grace, we let go of our frantic effort to be like someone else, and we discover a blessed peace with who we are. Finally.

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*Note: This post was adapted from an archived post.

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10. How many people should we let into this country? Liberals want amnesty for the 11-20 million illegal aliens currently living in America. Let’s say that happens, then what? Do we grant amnesty to the next 20 million illegals that come looking for a better life? There are over 7 billion people on the planet, most of which would certainly have a better life if they moved to the US. I’ll ask again: how many of these people should we let immigrate to our country?

9. How are rules that apply equally to everyone discriminatory and racist? Liberals say that everything from the justice system to education is racist. They whine that voting laws that apply to everyone equally are somehow discriminatory. Why? I have no idea. If everyone is playing by the same rules there is no disputing that the playing field is level.

8. How are rules that only apply to one group of people not discriminatory and racist?Affirmative Action set quotas for minorities in hiring and college admissions. Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program gives funds and opportunities to people of color. There are literally hundreds of liberal programs available to minorities only. Do not disadvantaged white people deserve the same help?

7. Do you know what a pyramid scheme is? Wikipedia tells us: A pyramid scheme is an unsustainable business model that involves promising participants payment or services, primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, rather than supplying any real investment or sale of products or services to the public. The people at the bottom of the pyramid do all of the paying and never reap any benefits. Sounds an awful lot like ObamaCare, doesn’t it? In the private sector a pyramid scheme is fraud but when the government does it it’s called progress.

6. Why is it okay to kill unborn children but wrong to kill convicted murderers? Liberals love abortion but hate the death penalty. Seems a little hypocritical since both involve the taking of a human life. The only difference is, unborn children haven’t viciously murdered anyone. Why do liberals deem the life of a killer more important that that of an innocent child?

5. How does stagnating growth stimulate the economy? High taxes and needless regulations are two things liberal lawmakers can’t get enough of. They are also the two things that hurt business growth the most. I don’t know if the libs are aware of this, but businesses are those things that give people jobs. When people have jobs, they have money to spend. Our economy grows when more people have jobs and spend money. This is not my opinion; it’s a fact.

4. Does it make sense to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result?The social safety net, which includes welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, and a whole host of liberal entitlements, has failed in its stated goal to pull people out of poverty. Instead, these programs have had the opposite effect, creating generations of people that are utterly dependant on government handouts. If these programs don’t work, why should we continue them? Do liberals think that they’re bound to work eventually? Even worse, they want to expand these failed programs. Now that really is the definition of insanity.

3. How will punishing law-abiding people stop criminals from breaking the law? Every liberal gun control law either passed or proposed places arbitrary restrictions on law-abiding citizens. These laws don’t apply to criminals because, by their very nature, they don’t follow laws. If someone is going to commit a murder or assault, do you think they care if their weapon of choice isn’t compliant to the local ordinance? No one has ever said, “I was going to rob that liquor store but the only gun I have holds more than seven rounds and that’s illegal in New York.”

2. How can you count to ten if you skip the number two? The first ten amendments of the US Constitution are known as the Bill Of Rights. These enumerated rights were laid down by our Founding Fathers because they felt each of them was essential to ensure we live in a free society. Liberals are enamored with all of them except the 2nd, which guarantees our right to keep and bear arms. They say all of the other amendments confer individual rights, yet claim the 2ndAmendment is a collective right that allows only the government to possess arms. Why would the Framers list 9 individual rights, and one government right? Liberals also don’t seem to understand that the 2nd Amendment protects all the others. Tyrants can’t take speech and voting rights away from an armed populace.

1. Why was George W. Bush a bad President but Barack Obama is a good one? To liberals, George W. Bush was the Devil incarnate. Their biggest beefs were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bank bailout, and Guantanamo Bay torture. When Obama took office he escalated the war in Afghanistan, gave even bigger bailouts, and after 5 years in office still hasn’t closed Guantanamo Bay. On top of that, Obama ignores the Constitution, spies on every single American, kills women and children with drone strikes, and has saddled the country with a health care law that will bankrupt the middle class and require an insurance company bailout of epic proportions. I’d say, even to liberals, Bush Jr. looks pretty good by comparison.

According to statistics provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, President Obama has now significantly decreased the number of illegal immigrants aged under 18 deported or turned away at the border. That statistic has decreased some 79.5% under President Obama, from 8,143 the last year of President Bush’s administration to 1,669 last year. Meanwhile, the Bush administration deported some 600 minors on average each year; Obama deported 95 last year.
Those statistics demonstrate that George W. Bush was dramatically lax on illegal immigration. But they also demonstrate that President Obama is even more lax – and that laxity has resulted in tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors pouring across America’s southern border.
Meanwhile, Democrats continue to promote higher spending, placing more and more Americans on the public rolls. In 2013, a record one out of five American households used food stamps. A record number of Americans were dependent on the federal government with regard to their higher education debt. Overall, a full 49 percent of Americans receive some form of federal benefits.
Adding millions of illegal immigrants to the public rolls – which will happen in terms of lower education and healthcare by necessity – will skyrocket spending. Which is the plan. Many on the right believe that Democrats are pursuing the so-called Cloward-Piven strategy, in which sociologists Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven posited that by overloading welfare rolls, the Democratic Party would be forced to take heavy federal welfare action to save state and local governments.
But this strategy isn’t what Democrats are up to. Cloward-Piven’s goal was to create impetus for government to guarantee a universal living. The modern Democratic Party is significantly less interested in guaranteed benefits than for an economic leveling. The motivating factor of the left is not caring for the poor but tearing down the wealthy. The philosophy of the Democratic Party was embodied by Barack Obama’s response to a moderator question in 2008: “I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.”
Fairness. Not prosperity. Fairness.
And so the Democrats will move to bankrupt the system. No welfare state can survive with open borders. That is a truism. And yet that’s exactly what Democrats are now promoting: open borders with a full welfare state. Why? Not because Democrats believe that the homegrown poor in America will be better off with more people joining them on the dole; they won’t. Rather, Democrats love the size and scope of the state and despise the rival the state faces in individual success. A growing welfare base requires higher taxation, more degradation of individual success. That is the goal.
It is the goal of the left’s hero of the moment, Thomas Piketty, who seeks a global tax on wealth in order to heal “inequality” – not to bring prosperity. It is the goal of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who suggests that all wealth is communal, and none is individual:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.
Obviously, none of this does anything worthwhile for immigrants who come here to seek prosperity rather than fairness. But the rise in illegal immigration certainly creates impetus for higher taxes, more economic leveling, and a decline in prosperity for purposes of fairness. The Obama administration isn’t merely taking advantage of a good crisis. They’re creating one in order to do so.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.