Wednesday, February 19, 2014

People Change: This is a Fact

The politician decides to run for office. He hasn't given any speeches recently and yet, ten years ago, something he said was caught on camera and posted to some social media site. Something said, off-the-cuff, and yet, his opponent's dirt diggers will make him pay dearly for it. The politician had forgotten about it and would be embarrassed about the statement, had he found it first. 

A gentleman marries a woman. She hates kids. He has a career that he deeply loves. They have children. She makes him take care of their every need and forces him to leave his career for one that makes more money. He's smart and capable and does well in his new career. Their marriage changes. They fall deeply in love. She learns to love her children. They are happy.

Yet, some of their friends from years back remember them from their days at the beginning of their marriage. The friends bring them up in casual conversation, telling stories of the woman who didn't love kids, worrying about the husband, being forced to change careers, and even mocking them behind their backs.

These stories are simply an example of how humanity assumes that people never change. If they get to know a person and then move on, the way they saw that person during those moments they spent with them is stuck in their minds in perpetuity. The human mind sees this as fair. After all, your assessment was very fair when you had contact with the individuals.

But people change. And they can change very quickly.

My wife and I have been married for nearly twelve-and-a-half years. We began marriage as a very happy couple. We fought a lot. We believed in God. We were deeply religious. We didn't believe in birth control. We believed that sex inside of government-sanctioned marriage was the only allowable sex. We thought that we could never have friends of the opposite sex, in any and all capacities, while married to each other.  We wanted to home school our children. The list goes on.

As the years went by, we began to change. From the outside looking it, our life looked like a series of irrational spontaneity. One week, we would be home schooling. Then, the next, all of our kids were enrolled in the local school and we left the church we were nominally attending, asking to be removed from the membership rolls.

One day, we would be driving a few old beater cars, then the next weekend, we would have two later model cars, gleaming in the burning sun, in our driveway.

The reality was that my wife and I would, every so often, get so tired of our complacent existence, that we would stay up for 72 hours, discussing our life and considering change - then acting on it.  What seemed rash to those on the outside was actually a very carefully constructed choreograph of life on the inside. Sure, we had to experience various things within that dance in order to continue making wise decisions, but we were willing to take that risk.

I grew up with an old friend. He was three times my age and still looks to be that way. Life has hit him hard. As a young lad, I was a very interesting character. I was funny and rash.  I was the always getting into trouble and those who knew me got used to rolling their eyes and dismissing me by saying, "That's just Joe."

This was funny at the time and I learned to enjoy it. But, as life moved on, I married and had six wonderful children. I bought a house, started a new career, loved my wife, tolerated my kids, and watched as my bride went through college to start her own career. 

I had matured.

And yet, this old gentleman would come to my house, hear a few things about my life, and say, "That's just Joe." I found it to be humiliating. Dismissive of my capabilities to make good decisions. Hell, I wanted to be recognized as an adult, but was still treated like the child I used to be and act like. I had arrived in my own life, but this gentleman refused to recognize it. Worse, he was only the tip of the iceberg.

This affected me greatly and finally, my wife had had enough. She confronted the old guy and told him that I was a different person now. He was shocked. And his shock surprised me, until I realized that humans who don't have ample interactions with other human beings, tend to see those people as who they used to be - forever. This wasn't this guy's fault.

People change. Some change very slowly. Others change quickly. Some, of course, not at all, but they grow wrinkles, so they've still changed. Before you spread the old news about them, get to know their new selves.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Highway in the Distance

On April 28, 2012, I wrote about the mournful wail of the train horn.
I remember those nights when I was young.  I would be laying in my bed, thinking of whatever I was thinking of, feeling the soft summer breeze come through the window of my bedroom, lightly flapping the curtains.  Then, without fail, off in the distance, I would hear that mournful wail.  It would start low and last a long time.  Then, it would increase in volume and pitch.  As the train came nearer to our house, the loud sounds of metal on metal would fill the neighborhood, the horn would let out one last distant wail and then break free of it's yonder bonds as the train crossed the bridge over my front street.  The sound of the horn would wash over the whole house, shaking it to it's crumbling foundation.  Then, the pitch would lower and continue on into the distance, leaving only the clackety-clack of the wheels to lull me to sleep.
While I still remember that sound fondly and love the fact that I now live just three blocks from a frequented train track, there is another sound that hearkens my thoughts back to me resting in my bunk bed at night, lost in thought, dreaming about the beautiful Jolene who I was meant to marry, but didn't.

A mile from our front door, Interstate 35W wound it's way through the industrial areas of Northeast Minneapolis, snaking around the East and West Banks of the University of Minnesota. Thousands of cars, per day, would travel that stretch of highway. But I mostly remember the high pitched sound of the 18-wheeler.

For anyone who has been following Incongruous Circumspection since it began in February, 2012, you know I had a tough childhood, filled with abuse. But, having a mother with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, we also had many exciting adventures. The happy times were punctuated by being miserable. And the worst part was, you never knew when those punctuations were going to happen. Stress would build and then stay at a marginally high level until the bad happened, then it would reduce and begin the cycle all over again.

The sound of the truck tires would take my mind and carry me with them. I would imagine that I was traveling with the truck, off to some mysterious and exciting land somewhere. Anywhere but where I was. 

That sound follows me everywhere. I hear it when I'm camping, when I'm in a hotel, when I'm riding the ski lift at Lutsen Mountains in Lutsen, MN, about to slide down the Alpine Slide. And when I don't hear it, I see the world as quiet and peaceful.

Wherever I am at that moment, I rest.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fighting the Doctrine of Worthlessness

Let's toss out the Bible. I've lost a bunch of you. That's okay, I know you'll keep reading in order to strengthen your beliefs, so I'll just hope that my words "won't come back void." Yep...two can play at this game.

You've heard it said, "A little leaven leavens (or leaveneth for you KJV types keeping score) the whole lump." This phrase comes from the Apostle Paul, encouraging the new Christian church to dump those that were naughty. Kick them out. Excommunicate them, if you will. The idea was that the naughty member would, in time, permeate the rest of the church, making them all naughty.

As the centuries passed, theologians and preachers have used that phrase to preach "The Gospel," claiming that one sin makes everyone naughty. If you have one naughty thought (like: I think 32 miles per hour is okay in a 30 miles per hour zone (or whatever that translates to in kilometers per...what's the metric equivalent to an hour?..), no matter how limited in wickedness, you're damned.

Thus, many a child grows up, seeing themselves as worthless...hopeless...even dirty. Even when they are "saved," these individuals are constantly reminded of their utter inability to be good. They must rely on someone outside of themselves to keep them on the straight and narrow. One untoward thought. One look in the direction of beauty. Anything that might be construed as sin by centuries, nay, millennia of evolved religious-based morality, will incur the wrath of God. Some believe even hell fire, no matter if they were "saved" or not.

Let's turn it around with this simple concept: Instead of a little bit of naughty makes a whole naughty person, wiping out their goodness, why can't we just admit that a whole lot of goodness forgives a little bit of naughty. Let's face it: Most of humanity is good, minding their own business, doing whatever they can to help those they are responsible for and even those they aren't.

Finally, let's face this truth: A man or woman in isolation, that man being the entire makeup of a society, can never commit a crime, can never sin, and is never naughty. Unless, of course, you superimpose on that society, a sort of god-like person, watching your every movement, just waiting to punish you for the smallest of infractions, which nobody would ever come up with something so asinine...oh wait...

Why I Listen to Christian Radio

The title of this post is a bit too narrow to encompass everything I do to stay on top of the culture where I live. As a passionately indifferent atheist, I listen to Christian radio (sermons, music, etc), read blogs of amiable and thoughtful Christians, and pretty much read and listen to anything where the material is educational, rather than political or sensational in nature.

Recently, I stopped following the Religious Right Wing as closely as I had been. Bryan Fischer, Kevin Swanson, et al. Essentially, my reading and listening used to be a listing of those people that Right Wing Watch copiously kept track of. I stopped because I got tired.

Think of it like programming, my day job:

You're writing a program, using a high level code language to do so. Everything you use in that language is so abstracted from the actual internal logic of doing the dirty work. Sorting functions are used instead of writing a sorting algorithm. Collection objects are fondled and loved, instead of writing code to handle every edge condition when accessing an array or some other basic non-trivial programming construct.

Then, something bad happens. You work for days, trying to discover the bug in your code. You Google incessantly, post ad nauseum to Stack Overflow, even go as far as putting your code out on Facebook and begging your barista friend to pretend he knows something about code and humor you by looking it over. Then someone says the obvious: RTFM.

That stands for "Read The F*cking Manual," something not done much these days, being that the intelligence of a programmer's Integrated Development Environments are legen - wait for it - dary. Nobody codes in Notepad anymore, and if they do, you wouldn't know them anyway, because they're introverted hermits, living in their grandmother's basement, hidden from all government spies, scheming to take over the world.

Reading the manual then opens the programmer's eyes to the foundational concepts behind the high level coding language. As you read, there will be more than a few "AHA!" moments, and you may happen across the reason behind your bug.

Or, one day, your code just begins to work - but we won't talk about those days.

And that is pretty much why I care to keep my mind up to date with the foundational theology of Christianity, a huge component of our American and especially western culture, historically. 

But mostly, I have six kids. These kids ask a lot of questions, something I did when I was a child, and yet I was spoon-fed one-sided ideas (high level ideas, based on the foundational reasoning of Christian thought), rather than given the basic building blocks for making sound, life defining decisions. 

In short, I have put it upon myself to stay fresh, so that, if I say, "Free will is impossible because God cannot be omniscient and control the hearts of kings at the same time," and my kids ask, "Why, Daddy?" I can give them a really good answer.

Also, they've almost graduated from asking questions like, "Daddy, does God fart?"

Hint: I know the answer to THAT one.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Call Me Maybe - The Dumb Song That Made Me Cry

So, I want to tell you a story. A story of hope. A story of looking back in life and weeping. Looking forward and seeing hope for the children of mine, given to me through the wonders of humanity's ability to procreate. I want to tell you this story through the song, Call Me Maybe.

It was the summer of 2012. Call Me Maybe swept the United States, captivating the attention of every person below the age of fourteen. The song was dumb. Pointless. Bubble gum pop-y. Tried and true (translation: boring) lyrics. Sung by a lovely young woman, yet a complete waste of time. Unless, of course, you like your music in small doses of sugary substances, digesting it quickly, and feeling hungry for more meaningful and complex flavors. You

And yet I wept over this song. Yeah. Blubbery tears, snot dripping from my nose. And it wasn't while watching Jepsen sing. Actually, it was all the hundreds of YouTube videos of the song, with perfectly choreographed young folk, being happy together. Coming together in a community. Enjoying something. Embracing camaraderie. Having fun, with no real purpose except having fun, based on a dance and common enjoyment in an activity that (I must squeak that word out carefully here).

And that is why I loved it. 

I never had that growing up. Everything was forbidden. Everything was serious. All was for naught, unless directed toward heaven. Every minute of every day had to be redeemed and accounted for at the Judgment Seat. All thoughts and actions were re-channeled to prepare for telling others about Jesus Christ or letting them see your perfect life through how you lived (which was a totally awesome concept, being that I could hide my embarrassing religious beliefs and still claim to be a worthwhile Christian...though this concept was always railed against by various religious leaders, calling out the lazy ones among us..."Share your faith!," they would shout, then lambaste you with some idea that everyone who you didn't speak to in a public urinal was going to hell because of you).

And I lived miserably. I was supposed to be a happy Christian and yet I was miserable. Miserable as hell, ironically.

Part of the weepery was looking forward. Sure, I looked at my past and cried for what I missed. I wanted to be those young people. To be sitting on those buses, in those vans, elbow to elbow, smelling the mutual purposeless existence, enjoying life while careening toward nothing in particular. But mostly, I wept, purposing to not allow the same weeping in my children when they reached my age.

I want my children to hear that song and watch those videos when they hit 31, burst out laughing, crowing, "We did that!"

And think nothing of it.

Fight Normativity - Take Another Shower

The first thing I do when I roll out of bed, other than setting my feet upon the cold, wide plank boards of our bedroom floor, is to stumble down the two flights of stairs to the shower. 

I love taking showers. They're refreshing, relaxing (a different kind of relaxation than the slumber I just left), and a time to unwind and prepare for the day. Some mornings, I wake up too late and end up taking a shower at night, before bed. But not usually. That consistently gives me Einstein-like bed hair in the morning. Being that I don't ever look in a mirror and my sweet bride thinks I'm beautiful in every way imaginable, I usually don't discover this until later that evening.

But, say I took a shower in the morning. When I arrive home after work, I walk past the bathroom and my whole being yearns for that hot water rushing over my soulless self. My feet play tricks on me, trying to move me in the direction of the lavatory. But then, a click in the back of my brain jerks me back to my normative reality:

"You already took one this morning!!"

The problem with that thinking is that my body has already considered the possibility of the shower. Now that logic has stepped in, the physiological relaxation process that had already started then feels the need to reverse itself. This takes ample brain power. Always victorious, I walk the other direction and find myself oddly more exhausted than when I arrived home.

Now for the tossing of the normativity shackles...

Take another shower!!! I will. I'm going to. I need it every so often. You probably do as well. If it's a bath you're into, then do that instead. Heck, mix it up, take a shower in the morning and a bath in the evening. 

I tip my hat to my well-relaxed and healthy readers.


I. C.

Valentine's Day with My Bride

Tonight, we are putting the kids to bed. Then, we'll go to McDonald's. We might even go crazy and get Kid's Meals - just for the toy. Heck, ice cream cones too!

Then, we'll go home and enjoy a bottle or two or three or so (who counts after three!?), sitting in front of the fireplace. 

Then we'll fall asleep.

Kristine will wake up the next morning with a hangover and I will laugh at her. She will slap me. I will laugh harder. She will kiss the slap mark, which will be enormous, being that she works out every day, something I can't do because it hurts and I don't do things that hurt me.

The kids, after hearing the slap, will come into the room and see Mommy kissing my cheek and will walk away, confused as to why a simple peck sounded like a very hurtful slap.

Then, we'll go back to sleep. The kids will get their own breakfast.

The day will be perfect.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Night With My Bride

Kristine went to school. I stayed home with the kids, as usual. She had made them supper and I arrived home late, pushing some project at work.

After class, she called me and said she had to go get a few groceries. I asked her to come home and we could go together after the kids went to bed. So she did.

We went to Wal-Mart and smelled candles. They were all gross, but she bought dozens anyway. Then they smelled good.  

Then she bought a few pairs of delicious thongs (ignoring my protests about money), a utilitarian bra (is there another worthwhile kind?), and a few groceries. After that, we happened upon the aisle of tea.

Tea is good, here in Minnesota, where it's cold and snowy for 11.5 months out of the year. That other half-month finds us 'Sotans cowering inside by the fire, listening to the drowning whine of mosquitoes, the unofficial state bird. Oddly enough, all babies in this state are born exactly nine months later. I'm not quite sure when that month is, because I lost track of our babies after we had two, on our way to six or whatever we ended up with.

Then, we went through the check out line. The few groceries became a $168 bill and we whistled our way to the car, the parking lot smelling like flowers and cupcakes, coming from the candles in the cart.

On the way home, I begged Kristine to go out with me to get a drink. I had walked past a twelve pack of Heineken and, even though I'm not a huge fan, got thirsty. We ended up at Carbone's in Farmington.

The parking lot had three cars in it. We were the third. 

"Lots of people here," Kristine said.

At that exact moment, the door of the bar swung open and a gentleman walked out.

"Even more popular now," I retorted.

We entered and found a table. About a half-dozen, swearing regulars, yelling about a jacket used to flick a bean (I have no clue what the context was) were sitting at the bar. They acknowledged us with their drunken looks. The bartender came over and offered us drinks, informing us the kitchen was closed.

We were hungry, but decided two beers on an empty stomach might do the deed. The manager of the establishment was walking around, vacuuming the floor. It was 11 at night.

We dove into conversation. Pleasantries were exchanged. Phones were fondled. Then more pleasantries. Mid-sentence, the manager walked up to us.

"You guys want a pizza?"

"The kitchen is closed, we thought."

He shrugged. Then he helped us order a pizza, personally made it, and brought it out to us. A few minutes later, he popped back over and slapped a slice of his new creation, Stroganoff Pizza, onto the table, then stood there, eagerly waiting for our verdict. My god, that was a good slice! His eyes twinkled and his vacuuming became just a bit more efficient after we gave him the thumbs up and mumbled exclamations with our mouths full.

Other employees came and introduced themselves with one even telling us her life story. She's 32 and just got out of a 9-year relationship. No need to worry. With her confidence, she'll be fine.

Then, we went home and fell asleep, wrapped up in each other's arms.

Did I mention that I really love my wife? I did.