Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Doesn't Honesty and Integrity Matter Anymore?

After several weeks of no activity (no comments), the discussion about atheists in the priesthood on the Community of Christ's Facebook wall kicked up again. Of course, I got into it because I'm absolutely stunned that there are church members who are absolutely OKAY with members of the priesthood who are not only atheists, but also keeping it a secret from others in the church. I wrote a post on this blog about it (can't remember what day, though). Its outrageous that people think its okay for someone to maintain a sacred office of the church (part of the leadership) if they do not believe that God exists, that an afterlife exists, that we live in a spiritual universe. Its baffling that such a person would go along with something they believe to be a lie. I cannot comprehend this at all. It defies logic. And it infuriates me that there are members in the church who are a-okay with the deceit and the hypocrisy.

Then came the news that another teacher was suspended after a reporter revealed his porn film star past. One guy (who happens to be openly gay) on my Facebook, who is okay with closeted atheist priesthood members, posted an article link on his wall. As expected, he does not believe that anything a teacher has done in the past should affect the teacher's job. He shows a consistency in belief, which is: it is okay for someone to withhold critical information from others because their priesthood office or their teaching career is more important than the needs of the community. This gets to the heart of the integrity issue. I fall on the side of disclosure. If you're in a position of some privilege or leadership in which you have power to make decisions over others, then there does need to be a higher standard that is imposed. If they cannot abide by it, step aside and let those who have no problem take their place.

About the porn star turned English high school teacher and crew coach, the local Fox affiliate station in Boston ambushed Kevin Hogan with their discovery that he had starred in some porn films last year under the cheesy name Hytch Cawke in films with provocative titles like: Fetish World, Just Gone Gay 8, and Ass Fucked By a DILF. When confronted with his alleged past, Hogan said: "I don't know what you're talking about." The overzealous reporter seems confident that Kevin Hogan is Hytch Cawke. Having seen pictures of both, I'm not certain. Hytch Cawke looks a lot skinnier than Kevin Hogan, though a guy could put on weight in a year's time.

Earlier this year, a substitute teacher in Florida was discovered to have been in a few porn films and was dismissed from his teaching duties. When he approached the American Civil Liberties Union for possible legal action for wrongful termination, an ACLU lawyer said that if he had been in most any other job, he'd have a case, but because his job involved being around underaged children, they would not touch his case at all. The great defender of our civil liberties denied representing the fired substitute teacher! What does that tell you?

I've read a few comments people have made on the current porn star turned teacher scandal on various articles. I'm stunned by the cluelessness and lack of moral principles. Many seem to think that this scandal is a violation of the teacher's right to privacy or right to have a sex life. If only it were that simple! Yes, a teacher who is gay or an atheist does have the right to a private life. They shouldn't be fired for what they do in the privacy of their own bedroom (so long as it doesn't involve underage people). But that's not what this teacher is accused of doing. He starred in a few pornographic films. That means he put his sex life out into the public for consumption by others. This means he made public his private activities and therefore, he forfeited his "right to privacy." It simply does not make logical sense for someone who wants to be a teacher to make a porn film. I mean, who makes a porn film anyway? Don't these people understand that anytime you have a job that puts you in close contact with children, you are going to be scrutinized more? Especially if you're a man. The fear of child molestation is very real, as we've all been reminded of again most recently with the Penn State scandal (which I've been meaning to blog about).

Like it or not, teachers are a role model for children. They have a lot of influence on their students. Perhaps an even bigger influence on children than parents once they reach a certain age. It is difficult for a teacher to maintain his or her authority and respect if his or her students were aware of something like this. More than any other profession, the moral standards of teachers has to be held to a high level because children do look up to teachers, whether we want to admit it or not. I know myself and how I was as a teenager, and I certainly did admire a few teachers, including one to an almost hero-worship level. I would have been devastated if I learned that one of my teachers (particularly one I admired) had made a pornographic film (especially a gay one). It would be hard to respect such a teacher. Making a pornographic film is an indication of poor judgement. And in this economy when there are many people with a teaching degree and not enough teaching jobs available, it makes sense that standards would be set high.

I'm not saying that Kevin Hogan is a bad person. There is nothing illegal about making pornography. But let's get real here. Teaching is probably not the best career for Hogan. I wish a reporter would ask him why he wanted to become a teacher and what he was thinking when he decided to make a few pornos. That's just not a logical career trajectory for someone who wants to be a teacher. I can understand someone who volunteers as a tutor or teaches English as a Second Language. But with the various stories of porn stars becoming teachers, it appears to be an indication that maybe these men had an attack of conscience and after their stint in porn, they decided they wanted to redeem themselves by giving back. However, it doesn't work that way. Don't people get it? We live in the Age of the Internet. Everything you put out there is a potential boomerang (yes, my blog counts!). If someone really wanted to keep his or her life private, it would be a wise idea to not put anything out on the Internet or on video. And if you decide to, then take ownership. If someone discovers something and faces you with it, then don't cry about it.

I guess despite the lesson in this story, I'm still baffled that there are people out there who are okay with deceit and hypocrisy. How can we establish trust and relationships based on respect if its considered okay for a person to withhold critical information from others? Information such as not believing in God if they happen to be an atheist Priesthood member or that they had done a pornographic film in the past. Of course people aren't going to be honest if they covet the Priesthood or a teaching position and they have something in their past (or present) that they know would disqualify them. But that's what living an honest life (a life of integrity) is all about. You disclose and let the chips fall where they may.

This brings to mind an Orwell quote that I love: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." So, enablers, stop defending those who would deceive others. If we value honesty, we have to start by being honest. This means not withholding critical information from others who have a right to know. This is called living with integrity. There's no other way to live.

Public high school teacher starred in porno movies released last year:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No, I haven't Been Raptured

I haven't blogged in a long while and there's a reason for that. Though I did add a few tonight, there are quite a few more posts that I'm planning to add for November, so you're just going to have to read back over them if you're interested (planned posts include: Jim Jones and Jonestown Massacre; Irish dancing; film review of The Descendants; 1991 Christmas Newsletter; book review of Higher Ground; and perhaps a few on the Republicans, or maybe not).

The last post I had on here was the film review of J. Edgar, from November 12th. I fell behind because that was a depressing weekend. It was the weekend when the mayor of Portland ordered the evacuation of the two squares that had been Occupy Portland's camp for over a month. I was enthralled and hooked to the TV and the livestream video on the Internet for the entire weekend. I've been meaning to write a post about the Occupy movement, but I felt like I needed to learn more about it before I could write about it. Then, I got busy with my social life (amazing, huh?). It just became completely overwhelming. Then Thanksgiving was approaching and I had to get my newsletter finalized and printed, and spend time writing the cards to people. There never seems to be enough time! Add to that, the daily hilarity with one Republican presidential candidate after another. If it wasn't Rick Perry's idiocy, it was Herman Cain's or Michele Bachmann's. I had planned to write a post about how making fun of the Republican candidates has become the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. It was just too easy and seems almost cruel.

So, that's where I've been. This post might appear pointless at some future point, once I've filled in the dates for November when a post should have been published on my blog. Instead of writing past posts chronologically and trying to catch up, I will maintain a daily post and if I have time, I'll write an older post to appear in November. I'm striving for 22 posts per month. No particular reason. Just because I love that number. Thanks for sticking by me. I've never gone this long without posting something, since I first started the blog in 2007!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't Go Apeshit!

This is just an announcement that the first Christmas cards of the season have been sent out to various people, with yet another creative newsletter. Its turning out to be the case that odd number years have more creative newsletters than even number years. In 2007, I took advantage of the "007" in the year to write a James Bond-themed newsletter (featuring the title of every James Bond movie, except one for obvious reasons, in a sentence somewhere in the newsletter). In 2009, I wrote from Sarah Palin's perspective, which proved to be a huge hit among those who received it. Last year, I had planned to write it up in Restaurant menu style, but I had stupidly saved the document on the work computer and when I was given 10 minutes to clear my desk, I did not have time to have that newsletter sent to my email. I just deleted as much as I could from the computer. It would have been a great newsletter, and maybe I'll do it someday but not this year nor next year (yes, I already have plans for next year's newsletter as well!).

So many newsletter ideas, so few years to try them! Maybe I should go half-year! Ha.

Last year, one of my good friends sent a newsletter for the first time. He said that he was inspired by me (I'm flattered). He's a journalism professor at a university in Kentucky (the same university where George Clooney had attended one semester before he dropped out to pursue acting). His newsletter was appropriate: News headlines. I was stunned how much he was able to convey in just news headlines. He should write for "The Onion"! He was hilarious. When I talked to him about it, I told him that I envied his ability to say so much with so few words. I write a narrative each time and push the two page limit (using a smaller-than-I-really-should font), but I would love to do a newsletter of nothing but news headlines.

My favourite newsletter each year is hands down Jantzen (my other roommate in D.C.). I feel like he and I compete each year for creative newsletters. He has written from the perspective of his unborn son and newspaper articles, and even one where it was like a missing persons bulletin. Most of all, his sense of humour comes through and I always laugh. I look forward to them every year. If you do a Google search about how to write a Christmas newsletter, you'll get quite a few options to click on. Some of the people giving free advice seem to repeat the cliche that people hate receiving newsletters every year, yet its such a tradition for a lot of people. Really? I LOVE newsletters, even if some of them are annoying brag sheets. I love seeing the creative ways people share the events of their year. I've also gotten great feedback on my newsletters, so I'm not stopping. It just encourages me to try different approaches year after year. This year marks Volume XIII. I started in 1999, during my last semester at BYU because I got tired of handwriting the same basic info in card after card. This allowed me to write the events of my year once and then hand write a personal note specific to the person I'm mailing the card to. I wish I had written a newsletter since 1990. Last year on my blog, I wrote a post as though I was writing my 1990 newsletter. I will do the same this year with 1991. That will appear on "Black Friday."

So, check your mailbox for a card coming to you. If you don't get one this week or next, don't go "apeshit." I'm busy and I'll get them out to my mailing list before Christmas. Promise!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Music Video Monday: Gloria Estefan

For this week of Thanksgiving, I selected a song by Gloria Estefan that I "rediscovered" recently and I love the lyrics. I don't think I ever really paid much attention to the lyrics when I first heard it more than 20 years ago (I believe it played on the current radio playlist in 1989). I've always preferred Gloria Estefan / Miami Sound Machine's uptempo songs, but as her career progressed, she sang more and more ballads (I theorized at the time that it was because her ballads charted higher than her dance songs). I love her "Don't Wanna Lose You", "Coming Out of the Dark", and "Reach" (the official theme song of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games), but its her high-energy dance songs ("Conga", "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You", "Get On Your Feet" and others) that really get me moving.

How did I recently "rediscover" this song? Well, every year when I write the newsletter, part of my tradition includes an appropriate song lyric to include at the top of the newsletter (and sometimes also at the signature line). This year, however, I'm doing something really creative and will utilize more than one song. "Get On Your Feet" made the cut for the songs I'm featuring this year. I think they lyrics are quite relevant regarding my year.

One thing I love about "rediscovering" old favourites is that it gives me new appreciation for the song and artist. I don't have Gloria Estefan's greatest hits, so maybe I should go look for a CD to buy. Gloria Estefan was among my favourites as a teenager. She's just an incredibly beautiful woman (a Cuban-American) and a great talent. Her "Miami sound" was a mixture of pop and Latin music, with "Conga" being the classic in terms of capturing that unique sound. I haven't heard anything from her lately, but I hope she hasn't mellowed like other favourite artists from the 1980s.

If you're ever feeling down and need a reason to pick yourself up and face life again, try this song. Its a perfect "pick-me-up". Who needs Prozac when you have music?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Music Video Monday: Stephen Bishop

Today is Stephen Bishop's birthday. Who, you ask? Exactly! He was a singer-songwriter who was big in the late 70s and early 80s. He turns 60 years old today. The song I remember him for is "It Might Be You" from the Dustin Hoffman film Tootsie, in which Hoffman plays an actor who is struggling to get an acting job and when a soap opera is hiring a female role, he decides to cross-dress in order to win that role. This complicates matters when he falls in love with the star actress, who views him (er, her) as a good girl friend to confide in. Even more complications ensue when she invites Hoffman-as-Dorothy home to visit, and her father falls in love! Its been quite a few years since I've seen the movie. I remember my parents taking us to see it when it played in theaters (1982 or 1983). It seems like a strange film for parents to take elementary school age boys to see, but I was amused by it. The gender switching roles were confusing. I also remember seeing Victor / Victoria, which was even more confusing (Julie Andrews played a woman who plays a man pretending to be a woman, or something like that). What I remember most about Tootsie is that I liked Dorothy and it was weird to think of her as being an act by Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman's character). That was also the problem for the female lead, Jessica Lange's character. She felt like Dorothy was a great friend and Michael just didn't cut it. Charming film!

Anyhow, as I looked on Wikipedia for birthdays, I was stunned to learn that "It Might Be You" only made it as high as #25 on the Billboard Top Singles Chart in 1983. I loved this song as a kid and had I been in charge of charting the song, this one would definitely have reached #1! If I'm not mistaken, the song also appeared in the film Waiting to Exhale, when the four African American ladies are in the car and this song comes on and they sing along. Timeless! The song's melody captures the early 1980s sound that I like: soft pop, but not quite elevator muzak.

Also celebrating a birthday today is Condoleezza Rice! None of my friends can understand it, but I will admit to having a crush on my dear sweet Condi. She was the only member of the Bush Administration that I liked and I would not even mind seeing her become the first female president if she's interested in running in 2016. However, I think her political days are over. As her new memoirs point out in the title, there is no higher honour than serving as Secretary of State.

Well, this is a perfect birthday two-fer. Happy Birthday, Condoleezza! Remember, "It Might Be You"! ("Something's telling me it might be you, all of my life...").

Saturday, November 12, 2011

All Work and No Play Makes "J. Edgar" Boring!

Fall movies mean one thing, usually. Oscar showcases! Film studios hoping to impress the voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences release the most serious films in the fall. This includes biopics, movies adapted from best selling literary novels, period pieces, and some of the best acting performances. Since I'm a big biopic fan, I will go see any major one that gets released. This year's Clint Eastwood film is a biopic on the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, J. Edgar Hoover. He was a legendary figure who was instrumental in nationalizing the crime data (through the use of fingerprints and a centralized database) and ran the Bureau from the early 1920s until his death in 1972. He served under eight presidents and probably most humiliating for him was having Robert F. Kennedy as his boss from 1961 to 1964 (Kennedy was born in 1925, one year after Hoover was promoted to head the Bureau).

I've never liked J. Edgar Hoover since I learned about him. My opinion is based on his testy relations with the Kennedy brothers and his view that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a communist. Hoover had too much power and kept secret files featuring the private peccadillos of various politicians and notable public figures, which he used to leverage power. Since his death, the FBI Director now serves for a period of ten years and the headquarters in Washington, D.C. bears his name. I toured the building in 2000 during my internship program. Not nearly as cool as the CIA headquarters, but it was still an impressive old-style government building with a nice museum inside.

When I was in college, a fellow political science student I knew (he was from British Columbia, Canada and seemed more interested in America than Canada) was a fan of J. Edgar Hoover. He lost credibility with me when he did not even know that J. Edgar Hoover was known to cross-dress and was likely a closeted homosexual. I knew those details back in high school. It was just more reasons to not like Hoover very much. He bended the rules to suit his purposes and he was on the wrong side of history in regards to his surveillance and harassment of the Civil Rights leaders.

As for the film, J. Edgar, Leonardo DiCaprio does an excellent job in the role. He actually does lose himself in the role and you really believe that you are watching J. Edgar Hoover rather than Leonardo DiCaprio. Best Actor nomination worthy for sure. The film, though, jumps around too much. While a straight linear film can be kind of boring, the constant jumping around in time (at least three different timelines seemed to be running) made it difficult to follow. The screenplay was written by the same guy who wrote another biopic, Milk. In one storyline, an older Hoover is dictating his memoirs to a writer, which takes the audience back to 1919 (the year my grandfather was born!) when Hoover as a 24 year old saw the sloppy investigation of a bombing. He was the right man to push for changes in investigation procedures and he was singularly anti-communist and anti-anarchist (if I'm not mistaken, two presidents were assassinated by anarchists: Grover Cleveland and William McKinley).

From the Palmer Raids to busting the mob to investigating the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby to wiretapping Dr. King's hotel room, this film covers the wide expanse of Hoover's working life. The presentation, however, is rather dull. Hoover doesn't appear to have much of a life outside of work. And when he does get away, he gets away with his right-hand man, Clyde Tolson. They eat lunch and dinner together, vacation away together, and work together. There is debate on whether the two had a romantic or sexual relationship, or were they more like brothers who spent a lot of time together? What makes things even more compelling is that Tolson inherited Hoover's house, received the flag that was on Hoover's coffin, and eventually was buried near Hoover's grave. The movie implies that the two had a homosexual relationship, though it appears that it may not have involved actual sex. Perhaps they were just two men who enjoyed each other's company?

The actor who played Robert F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) did a great job. He actually kind of resembles RFK, at least moreso than the actor who played Robert F. Kennedy in the recent miniseries The Kennedys. Too bad that he didn't play RFK in the miniseries as well. His role in J. Edgar was rather small. Dame Judi Dench plays J. Edgar's mother and she has a great line that she tells her son when he admits to her that he doesn't like dancing with women: "I'd rather have a dead son than one who is a daffodil." Day-um! That's quite the euphemism! Naomi Watts plays Edgar's secretary, Helen Gandy. At first, Edgar shows romantic interest in her and takes her on a date to the Library of Congress to show her the card catalog system that he supposedly created to make it easier to locate books (I had never heard that attributed to him). He proposes marriage without so much as a romantic spark. Its all based on his cold reading of her being intelligent and virtuous, and thus a good match for him. She declines and becomes his long-serving secretary.

While the film has plenty of interesting moments, overall, the tone is rather dull. This could be the subject matter, though. Hoover may have accomplished a lot and helped make the Federal Bureau of Investigations what it is today, but he appears to be a boring person. Sure, there's the salacious hypocrisy that he's interesting in knowing the details of other people's private, sexual lives while he hides his own homosexuality and cross-dressing tendencies, but ultimately, the movie is boring because J. Edgar Hoover is boring.

When I left the theater, I overheard some other people who saw the movie mention that during the movie, they took a quick nap, they made a mental list of things they needed to do, they counted sheep, etc. So, I'm not the only one who found the movie boring. Let's hope that The Iron Lady (about Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) is not boring. I don't expect it to be, because I find her to be a fascinating icon. My generation grew up in the Reagan-Thatcher-Pope John Paul II era. One can't separate any of those three individuals from the era in which they shared the world stage.

Below is a picture of the real J. Edgar Hoover. He has a face that only his mother could love! He looks like a human bulldog. I bet he makes a really ugly woman. I wonder what it is about some men that makes them interested in dressing as women. He didn't seem like the type. The movie doesn't really get into that (there is only one brief scene, but in the context of what happened right before, his reasons did not appear perverted). If there is a lesson to learn from Hoover's life, I'd say that its probably a good idea to not work all the time. Its okay to relax and enjoy life outside of work. After all, as you've probably heard: "no one on their deathbed wishes that they had spent more time at the office."

Friday, November 11, 2011


Happy 11/11/11 Day! This date has significance, if only because of the repetition of the number 11. In numerology, 11 is considered a spiritual number. I would have loved to have gotten married on this day, but apparently many couples had that idea. Las Vegas Wedding Chapels were fully booked today. I had hoped that something significant would happen on this day (like meeting a lady that I really hit it off with, which leads to a relationship and marriage), but that didn't happen, either. Nothing profound happened. Nothing spiritual. Nothing out of the ordinary. It was just another day for me.

It was also Veteran's Day, which meant that Applebee's was doing their annual free meal to veterans. This is my third or fourth year participating. The previous two years, I invited a fellow Navy vet from church and he said that he would, only to flake out on me both times. I invited him again this year and he said no, so at least that was better than agreeing, then making an excuse not to come (though last year he did attend a funeral on the day, so that's understandable). This year, though, my friend G and his girlfriend joined me and we had a great time. The waitress was also quite cute (and quite married). Just my luck.

I did cause some controversy on Facebook today when I reposted a photo from someone on my Facebook friends' list. Rather than write a critique on her wall and face the hostility of people on her friends list, I decided to share the photo to my wall for my friends to see. The photo was of a horse with an American flag draped around its neck. Based on the comments I read on the friend's wall, I just thought it was ridiculous. People have no clue what patriotism is. Whenever they see the American flag, they get a knee-jerk reaction and call it "patriotism." Ug. To me, based on what I learned in the Boy Scouts, a flag was meant to fly on a flag pole or draped over a coffin of a military member who died or folded into a triangle. It is NOT patriotic to have the flag on shirts, pants, underwear, a cape, placed on animals, used in car dealership lots, as a blanket, etc.

The comment I posted with the picture was:

An example of flag desecration. This is not "respecting the flag" (for those who believe in that sort of thing). It's also disrespectful to the horse, because the horse doesn't give a s$#% about national borders or governments!

I'm not much of a flag worshipper. I just don't get people's devotion to it. I see it as a form of idolatry. To me, its just a piece of cloth flying in the wind. Pretty, perhaps, but honestly...whenever I see people burning it, my heart does not beat faster nor does my blood run with rage throughout my body. I just don't get hyped up on stuff that other Americans do. I know there's room for disagreement, but this is one issue where I will claim to be right because I've studied what "idolatry" means and most Americans who have emotional reactions regarding the flag are engaging in idolatry.

It did not take long before someone commented. This woman hardly ever comments on my Facebook wall. She had in the past over some political post, but considering all the political comments I've made over the years without inspiring her to comment, I was surprised to see her post. But, then again, it wasn't a surprise. She loves horses. She basically commented that she did not agree with my opinion. She didn't want to argue or discuss it, just wanted to let me know that she disagreed. It was important enough for her to comment on my post that she disagreed with me. At least she didn't do her usual thing, which was starting off with: "Nick, I love ya, but..." Now that would have freaking annoyed me because she and I don't know each other well. Her parents and my parents are close friends and I know her parents more than I know her. She and I don't have much in common. She's a stereotypical conservative Southern woman. I'm not a fan of people who throw the "love" word around because they cheapen the word if they don't really mean it (and I know she doesn't mean it because she hardly ever made a point to initiate a conversation with me during the times she was at her parents house the same time I happened to be there).

My response was that I was not surprised that we disagreed on that point. Our life experiences are far too different. I wanted her to realize that. She did seem to agree on that point. Hopefully her parents realize that too. I can imagine that my parents probably don't like my political commentary if people get offended or disagree, but personally, I don't care. I'm very open about my beliefs and no one should be offended. I don't base friendships on agreement with my way of thinking. Besides, I did not Facebook Friend request any church member back in Atlanta because I knew that their political views and mine didn't match and I didn't want them to get mad at my posts and commentary, because I'm not going to censor myself. Those who are my actual friends appreciate reading what I think (they tell me so all the time) so of course I'm going to go with what my true friends enjoy rather than those who aren't really friends. So, if church member friends in Atlanta get offended by my political views, oh well. Maybe now they understand why I had to get the hell out of the South for my own sanity. Nothing personal against them, just that I'm a proud liberal Democrat who loves living in a liberal city.

Speaking of which, one person on my Facebook friends list de-friended me this past week just because I had deleted a comment he had posted on my Facebook wall that included the explicative: "fucking." I had posted some political cartoon or article and he just went off on a rant, using that word. I was shocked and I thought it was out of line. Its just rude to go on a profanity laced rant on someone else's wall. Of course I was going to delete it because I have a lot of church friends and as I learned at Bend Institute, people actually do read what I post. So, I am mindful not to use vulgar language (even though I personally don't have a problem with it). There have been some hilarious cartoons that I wanted to share on my wall, but declined because of the "vulgarity" of the joke.

Well, this guy couldn't understand that. He angrily told me that no one censors him and the reason why he was angry was because religious and conservative people have been abusive towards him all his life. So he's going to de-friend a fellow liberal? He couldn't get over his rant and ego to see that he was wrong to post a profanity-laced rant on my wall without consideration to my group of friends? What a loser. Weird. Its not like I know him personally though. I can't remember how we came about being Facebook "friends." He probably liked my comments on someone else's wall and Friend requested me (I don't friend request people I don't know personally). But that's the shallowness of Facebook "friendship." If people don't like your views or if you delete their comment, you're de-friended. Such shallowness! Obviously, the guy has "issues." He sounded really angry in a lot of his political rants. I just laugh it all off. People need to chill out.

Anyhow, not much to report on 11/11/11. I wish I had a spiritually significant day. There was an interesting news story about a boy who was born on this day at 11:11 a.m. to a two military couple. How about that? I love synchronicities like that. Hopefully the media will follow his life. Hopefully he will have an especially blessed life!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Evening Among Nerds

Last night, I skipped my biweekly Young Professionals discussion group (the topic was on the European economic crisis, which doesn't really interest me) in order to attend a lecture and book signing at Powell's City of Books. I generally make a point to attend the lectures / book signings of Hollywood celebrities because I think its cool that they come to Portland to promote their books. The last ones I recall seeing were Alicia Silverstone in 2009 and director Paul Verhoeven in 2010. Last night the celebrity with a book was Chris Hardwick, whom I remember fondly from MTV's dating game show, Singled Out. I had forgotten all about the show and vaguely remember it. What I remember most was what a pair Chris Hardwick and Jenny McCarthy made.

The book Chris wrote and is promoting is called The Nerdist Way, which is a comedic handbook for people who fall under the "nerd category" of high school stereotypes. The book actually got a good review in the snarky Portland Mercury alternative weekly newspaper. I wasn't sure I was going to buy a copy, but it did look interesting.

The lecture was one of the more popular ones I've been to. I figured it would be, as it always tends to be crowded whenever a Hollywood type comes up here. I've probably been to at least 50 book signings / lectures since I moved to Portland in 2006. So I can say without exaggeration that Chris Hardwick's presentation is the absolute BEST ONE EVER! The guy is seriously witty and had us laughing like crazy. He started by taking a picture of the audience (actually, his camera phone has a panorama feature, so he took quite a few shots to cover the entire area). He said that he wanted evidence to show people that he was able to bring out a huge crowd for his book lecture tour. After that, he started reading someone else's children's book, using a strange accent for the girl (claiming that he pictured the girl in the book actually talking that way, which he did in an annoying style). He then allowed the audience to pick what part of the book to read and then read a few sections, though with commentary thrown in.

Before he threw out some profanities, he actually asked the Powell's employee if it was okay to use swear words. When he was told that he could, the actual word he used was "jerked off." As in, he said that when you're telling someone something and you sense that they aren't really paying attention, to end it with: "and then I jerked off." He swears that it will get their attention. Funny!

After he read his selections, he opened the floor for questions and surprisingly, he went well beyond the usual hour that most of these events run. I learned a lot and laughed a lot. I had no idea that he has podcasts or a website or a TV show. He does stand-up comedy, too. His background is interesting, as his father was a professional bowler who ended up owning a bowling alley and Chris pretty much grew up in one. Chris claims to be a nerd and even defined the term for everyone. I never pictured him as a nerd, though. Never would have guessed it. I didn't even think the crowd was all that "nerdy." The people who attended the lecture looked like the typical Portland hipster. I guess we all have our interests. There were a few Dr. Who references thrown around and I didn't get any of those, as I've never been interested in that show (my brother loved the classic show shown on TV back in the 1980s). One much older guy (a Baby Boomer) asked Chris a question about Mozart and Chris played it well. They bantered back and forth, but the guy was strange. He seemed to want to know who Chris thought was the best composer and if Mozart would qualify as a genius. It was great to see how quick on his feet Chris was, able to entertain even the oddest question for the audience to laugh.

Even when Chris shared some personal stories, he mentioned that he was a private person and prefers to keep some things for himself (which is understandable). Here's what he said about his stint on the show Singled Out (I found it online, but it was basically the same as what he shared with us at Powell's):

The whole time I was hosting that show, it was kind of nerd vengeance. It was very "Revenge of the Nerds" in my mind. I feel like I was horrible to people on that show. There were so many screaming people on that set, I realized pretty quickly that if I made horrible comments under my breath into the microphone, people at home watching would hear but no one on the set would hear. My nerd rage forced me to be kind of douchey to people because I finally got to say the things that I never got to say to people's faces. That part of it was really satisfying.

I still find it kind of difficult to think of him as a nerd, though. However, the way he describes "nerd" is a socially awkward person who tends to live in one's head a lot and obsessively focuses on a singular pursuit to be an expert on something. Nerds are good at details on whatever it is they grasp hold of. His motive for writing this "self-help" type of book (a manual for nerds, in other words) is to help those who fall under this category to have more success in life. He claims that "the war is over and nerds won!" As we can see with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the Facebook founder, and other high tech companies founders, where would the jock types be without the nerds?

It was a great lecture and definitely the funniest one I've been to. Before this, David Sirota's lecture at Powell's earlier this year was the best one I had been to (because he had a PowerPoint presentation). But its hard to beat a witty guy who is making it cool to be a nerd. I waited in line (a long, slow moving one). He was cool about it all. I saw a few people ahead of me request getting pictures taken with him (he did the one eyebrow lift for one pose). I thanked him for writing a book like this, even though I don't think of myself as a nerd. I told him that I had been to about 50 book signings / lectures at Powell's and that he was by far the funniest and best one yet. He made me a fan. One thing that he did during his lecture that the audience enjoyed was sing "The Pi song" which is simply all the numbers to the nth decimal. It was an impressive memory, though I can't vouch for any of it being correct. All in all, a great night.

So, what is a "nerd"? To be completely honest, people have categorized me as a "nerd" in high school, but I never felt that way. I did not like science at all and I did not like hanging out with those who were definitely known as "nerds". As Chris pointed out in his lecture, nerds can actually be quite vicious to other nerds. He said that he didn't mind getting insulted by a jock because the insults tended to be lame and ridiculous, but an insult from a nerd tended to get under his skin and just lodge itself in the brain for him to obsess over. He made a plea for nerds to not be mean to other nerds. But he also said that he didn't like being mean (or "douchey").

My social circle in junior high school and high school did tend to be other military "brats" and most of my friends did seem to prefer science and math classes (I was more into history and English). I played Dungeons and Dragons once but never really got into it (one year for Christmas, I got a James Bond role playing game, which was more my style). I was more into art and writing. I didn't fit in with the jocks and the popular kids. But I wasn't like those I considered the "nerds" who seemed to have no friends. I didn't get along with any of the nerd types I knew in school. I always thought of myself as outside the high school social structure. People did have trouble putting me into a convenient box. If anything, though, I think there is a consistent view of me as the writer / artist type. That has never changed. Does that make me a "nerd", though?

Wikipedia describes a "nerd" in part as:

Some nerds show a pronounced interest in subjects which others tend to find dull or boring, too complex and difficult to comprehend, or overly mature for their age, especially topics related to science, mathematics and technology. Conversely, nerds may show an interest in activities that are viewed by their peers as stupid and immature for their age, such as trading cards, comic books, television programs, films, role-playing games, video games, and other things relating to fantasy and science fiction. Nerds are often portrayed as physically unfit, and either obese or very thin. Nerds are also sometimes portrayed as having symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder such as showing extreme interest in rules. Comparisons to Asperger syndrome are common, due to the tendency to engage in intense, specific interests and to experience difficulty in social situations.

Particularly in the case of males, nerds may be perceived as being uninterested in traditionally masculine activities such as sports (either participating in or following) or "locker room talk".

Ah hell. I guess I am a "nerd." I hate that word, though. Geek sounds better to me. Yeah, I'll confess to being a geek. But it is interesting that nerds seem to be into science fiction and fantasy when it comes to movies and books, while I've always been more grounded and prefer reality (especially with regards to history). I don't own any video games, either, because I find them to be a colossal waste of time. I know how addicting they are and I much prefer to use my time learning. If any character from a movie resembles me, I'd say it would be the robot Number 5 from Short Circuit (when he reads books like crazy and demands "more input!"). Yeah, I realize the irony. I just compared myself to a character in a science fiction movie!

Though the Wikipedia article does define me in part (I don't watch or follow sports either, but I do enjoy watching the Winter and Summer Olympics, and the World Cup), I long for the day when we don't need these labels that are the relic of the superficial adolescent world. In fact, as much as I love the concept of reincarnation and plan to keep on reincarnating, the worst part of the life experience is enduring the superficial world of high school. I wish there was a way to end the shallow categories of people. I knew smart kids who were part of the cool and popular crowd. I knew jocks who were intelligent and nice to the outcasts. There is no fine line.

If there is a term that I embrace, though, it would be "Bohemian." I love the vibe of that word and all it implies. Yes, I am a Bohemian (not a nerd). And I don't give a shit what the popular kids think of me. A shallowness of mind is punishment.

Below is a video clip of Chris Hardwick during his Singled Out days in the mid-1990s. Enjoy! And check out his book, The Nerdist Way.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Atheists in the Priesthood?!?

The Community of Christ wall on Facebook had an interesting debate this week when one church member posted an article about a Dutch church in the Netherlands in which some members of the priesthood were actually atheists. This church member then asked the provocative question to the group if anyone would have a problem with this in our church.

What really got the discussion going was the allegations by Mr. Anti-Government that he personally knows of several church members who are atheists but he refuses to name them. Nor will such people identify themselves. This really caused an uproar and I admit that I am among those who are outraged. In my view, the priesthood is a sacred covenant that goes beyond that of membership. Its a calling and responsible to the church organization. If anyone was an atheist and a member of the priesthood, there's only one decent and ethical response. Turn in your priesthood card. This does not mean you cannot be a member of the church. It simply means that you should not be participating in ordinances that you don't believe in.

The more some church members defended the right of priesthood members to be atheists, the more incensed I got. This is one position I won't back down on because it does not make sense. If a person is an atheist, that means that they do not believe that God exists, that we live in a spiritual world, that we have a soul that will transcend the death of the human body. In my view, there is nothing wrong or immoral or evil about atheism. Its simply a viewpoint held by people who are logically-based and materialist minded (particularly, scientific materialism). These people are generally highly intelligent and require physical evidence before they believe. The problem with atheists holding the priesthood offices, though, is that if you don't believe that God exists or heaven exists, that you believe we will become non-existent when the body dies, WHY WOULD YOU PARTICIPATE IN SOMETHING YOU BELIEVE IS A FRAUD?!? That's what I don't understand. To remain a priesthood member when you're an atheist would make you a hypocrite, a liar, and a fraud. Your credibility would not exist. It simply does not make logical sense, and Mr. Anti-Government who claims to be all about logic was defending their right to remain in the priesthood. He, himself, is an atheist (though raised in the church and once was such an in-your-face rightwing Jesus freak who went around trying to convert people when he was a teenager).

As I tried to explain ad nauseum in the dialogue, how can an atheist priesthood do his or her duties as required by the office if he or she does not believe that God exists? What do priesthood holders do? Well, it depends upon the office. There are teachers, deacons, priests, elders, seventys, evangelists, and apostles (forgive me if I left any other office out). Priests can officiate weddings and baptize people. The problem of atheists in the priesthood really presents itself with the evangelists. In the Community of Christ is an ordinance known as "Evangelist's Blessing." I got mine in 1999. Basically, this is a special prayer (which you get a written copy of) which can give direction to your life (mine was vague on that part, but helpful in other ways). When I decided to get mine, it was the right time. I was nearing the end of my experience at BYU and looking at starting a career in Government in Washington, D.C. I wanted some guidance for my future. I decided to pick a female evangelist just so that I could have proof that women made effective priesthood members as men (it was one of the main arguments I had with Mormons at BYU who tried to convince me that women weren't meant to have the priesthood).

I picked a lady who attended the Salt Lake congregation (where I had been baptized at 8 years old in 1980). To prepare, I had to be interviewed by her twice and I had a week where I had to fast something of importance to me (I chose music, which meant that I had to go a full week without listening to music, which was difficult then; that would be impossible now with my current job). I had scripture verses to read, meditate, and pray over. It was a week focused on spiritual preparation. On her end, she also did the same preparation. When we met, she gave me my Evangelist blessing and I was surprised by what it said. Obviously, the words of guidance were specific to me and she didn't really know me well enough to say the things she did, so I think that shows the mysteries of God and the spiritual world.

Now, imagine for a on earth would an atheist who held the office of evangelist be able to perform such an ordinance to a member who asked for one? There is no way an atheist would be able to do it without lying and it would be morally and ethically wrong to go through with it when the member was sincere in asking for the special blessing. To me, it is just unfathomable that an atheist would pretend for the sake of appearances. If they keep their priesthood offices and remain in the closet about their real beliefs, they are doing a huge disservice to church members. And this actually does erode confidence and trust. Not to mention promote cynicism where it doesn't belong (one thing I love about church is the idea that we can leave behind real world concerns and fellowship with one another as true equals and that there is a level of trust that exists which is difficult to find in the outside world).

Last year, during the Vision Project, there was a special worship service where people sang hymns and a few priesthood members were available for special prayers. I went to one I trust completely, Erik the co-leader of YAPS. I was in my unemployment period at the time and as I sat in the chair, those who were singing hymns started singing "Touch Me Lord With Thy Spirit Eternal" (which is in my top three favourite hymns). I saw this as a "sign from God" and as Erik said an amazing prayer on my behalf, I felt tears welling in my eyes. It was a great experience and the prayer was amazing, because a couple weeks later, I landed a job that I was perfect for and that was what I was looking for. Amazing how that happened! Would the special prayer on my behalf by a priesthood member been as effective if it had been an atheist? I doubt it.

At Bend Institute over Labour Day 2010, I had sought out two members of the priesthood to give me a special prayer (which included anointing my head with consecrated oil) regarding my stressful job at that Awful Place That Shall Not Be Named. I trusted the faith of both people who placed their hands on my head and prayed on my behalf. After the prayer, I fell ill and had to have a barf bag on hand in case I threw up on the way back to Portland. By month's end, I was out of my awful job. Was it because of their prayer that helped me get out of the awful work situation that I had tried for four years to leave? Would I have experienced the same outcome had they been atheists?

The debate did inspire a mini-debate on what atheism is, which is also absurd. Some people are far too loose in their interpretation. They wanted to include agnostics, humanists, pantheists, panentheists, pagans and deists in the category of "atheists." I know atheists and they would disagree. In fact, because I had been involved in an atheist group in the early to mid-1990s, I know how they think and why. I even had a few atheist books. I ultimately lost interest in atheism when so many were dismissive of my coincidences that I shared with them. In their view, it was just a coincidence, but in my view, the coincidences were too unlikely to happen because they were the case of the outer experiences reflecting inner thoughts. Synchronicity, according to Carl Jung.

As I tried to explain to my well meaning and open minded church members, atheists are different from agnostics and the other categories because they are hardcore about their belief in a strictly scientific materialist world. Atheists don't believe in God, heaven, coincidences, spiritual experiences, souls, ghosts, psychics, ESP, Near Death Experiences, etc. This is beyond mere doubt. This is in your face unbelief. I know because an atheist had de-friended me on Facebook earlier this year after being tired of reading my spiritual comments. So, knowing what I know about atheists, why should our church allow them to continue to hold the priesthood office? You can bet that no atheist organization (American Atheists, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, etc.) would allow a "religionist" or God believer to hold a leadership position in their organization. It is just cowardice of an atheist to continue to hold the priesthood office when they believe that none of it is true. I'm very ecumenical and tolerant of different beliefs, so I have no problem respecting atheists as equals whose beliefs deserve to be respected (to be free from being proselytized) and even if they want to attend church or be a part of the church community. What I won't agree with is the deception they are engaged in. The president of our church resigned over a personal problem (that has never been publicly disclosed) a few years ago and he turned in his priesthood card. If he could do the honourable thing, an atheist priesthood member should be able to follow his lead.

Ironically, my stance of no atheists in the priesthood put me on the side of the conservative church members. It was weird to side with one, in particular, especially when she brought up her view that allowing atheists in the priesthood would lead to Satan taking over the church. Uh, since I don't believe in Satan, this puts me in the heathen camp according to the conservative church members. I'm sure some of them probably think I'm an "atheist", but that's ridiculous because I believe in a spiritually directed universe and that we all have a soul and that reincarnation is reality. I'm okay with the idea that my New Agey beliefs will probably mean that I will never get called to the priesthood. I never saw myself as priesthood material (there are certain standards that I could not abide by, anyway) but I still respect the role and its importance in the life of the church. When I've had no where else to turn, I have gone to a priesthood member that I respect, whose faith is unquestionable, and asked for guidance. They've never let me down. If atheists in the priesthood is widespread in the church, I would be saddened because it would make trust much harder to establish. I would have to interview each priesthood member before asking them to say a special prayer on my behalf. I don't want to do that. Trust is crucial.

So, if you are a priesthood member in the Community of Christ and you are an atheist (that is, you don't believe in God, a soul, heaven, or that we live in a spiritually-directed universe), please do the honourable thing. Turn in your priesthood card. If you can't do that for whatever reason, then if someone approaches you to ask for a special prayer or blessing or some other sacred ordinance of our church, please decline for their sake. Church members deserve an authentic believer in God to perform the sacred ordinances of your priesthood offices. Its the ethical thing to do. Engaging in deceit just because you like the "prestige" of having a priesthood office does damage our church community and the sacred trust among members. Think about it, please, and be honest about your doubts and lack of faith.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Cain is Clearly Not Able

I meant to write about this last week, but I never got around to it. Republican front runner (in some polls), Herman Cain found himself in a scandal when it came to light on Politico that he had signed a settlement agreement with two former employees who had accused him of sexual harassment. This brought to mind the Clarence Thomas - Anita Hill hearings from 20 years ago, in which President Bush (the elder) saw his Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas come under fire for sexually harassing employee Anita Hill. It became a battle of he said / she said and people's opinions rested on who they found more credible (I found Anita Hill more credible).

Cain's response to the scandal has been rather pathetic. He kept changing his story and made a ridiculous claim that he did not sign a settlement, but was merely told of an agreement. Its hard to buy his claim of being ignorant, because he was head of the National Restaurant Association and the settlement amounts were $45,000 to one lady and $35,000 to another lady. This was a year's severance for each and happened in the 1990s. What kind of CEO would allow such large checks to be written to employees without his knowledge? If he truly is that detached from his job, he's not fit to be CEO of America. Granted, the budget of the U.S. is complex and no president knows the full accounting of every cent. However, Cain's denial brings to mind Reagan's infamous denial that he knew anything about weapons being sold to Iran with the money diverted to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. And we've seen the disastrous results when a president allows his Vice President to make decisions and carry them out. Do we need a president like that?

Cain's wife was supposed to make media appearances but cancelled when this news story broke. It makes you wonder why she doesn't want to go out and defend her husband. It appears that perhaps she had gone through this before and she probably did not want to relive that (I bet Cain had the conversation with his wife when the initial allegations were made and the settlements agreed upon). The women had to sign a non-disclosure agreement as part of the deal, which sucks. Cain defenders get to live in the illusion that their perfect candidate is being falsely accused in order to bring him down. Ironically, I bet many of Cain's supporters were fans of Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, and Monica Lewinsky during the Clinton presidency. When the stain is on their candidate, deny, deny, deny! Its all a liberal media conspiracy to bring him down.

And yet, who did Cain blame for leaking the info? None other than fellow Republican Rick Perry! I believe that this came out in the news because the Republican establishment does not want Cain to be the nominee. There is no way they will allow a black man to lead their party's nomination. It leaves the racists in the party no choice. The ultimate nightmare for a racist white Republican (please not that I'm not saying that all Republicans are racist, just that there are racist voters in the Republican party) is having to choose between two black men for president.

To show how absurd the Republicans are, both Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter weighed in on the scandal. Naturally, they use this to defend Cain and lambast the "liberal media." The ultimate irony was uttered by Ann Coulter, who proved how racist she is by her comment, "Our blacks are better than their blacks!" She had said in a rant that it was easy to be a black Democrat, because the majority of African Americans are Democratic voters. She said that it was more difficult to be a black Republican because they risked the wrath and being ostracized by their people. This is patently absurd. Its easy to be a black Republican because the Republican Party is so desperate to show that they aren't racist that they put African American Republicans in prominent positions (Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Steele, J.C. Watts, Alan Keyes, Herman Cain).

The worst part of Coulter's comment, though, is the use of "our", "their", and "blacks." If she doesn't realize that her statement was racist, then she truly is ignorant. The use of ours and theirs is a sign of ownership, which shows how she thinks. Her mind is still a relic of the slavery days. She thinks parties "own" African Americans. As to the use of the word "blacks", it is no longer an acceptable word to use. We've dropped the use of "yellows" (for Asians), "browns" (for Hispanics), and "reds" (for Native Americans) long ago, yet some still cling to the terms "blacks" and "whites." The acceptable terms for people is identifying by geographic origin of one's race rather than skin colour. Maybe she'll understand that someday, or maybe not. Her use of the word and what she said only brings to mind what Donald Trump had said earlier this year: "I'm good friends with the blacks." I just love hearing racist people use racist language while claiming that they aren't racist. Don't they realize that their words convict them?

As for Cain, I believe that his popularity is shallow. He's only in the race so that teabaggers can delude themselves into thinking that they aren't racist because they support him for president. Yet, when the voting time begins and they slide the curtain on their booth, I bet most of them will end up voting for a white man. Cain is a fool. Just like Alan Keyes before him. Not to mention Michael Steele (who was a disaster as the head of the Republican National Committee). His supporters might think that liberals are being "racist" for not liking him or for having a double standard, but they don't get it. Cain's views represent the narrow-minded, xenophobic views of his party (building an electric fence to kill Mexicans coming into the country? Scaring voters with the spectre of Sharia Law in America? Proposing a ban on hiring Muslims in his administration?). In addition, he has never held political office. He ran for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in Georgia in 2004 and came in third, behind two white candidates (no surprise in Georgia). When he was CEO of Godfather's Pizza, he put the third rate pizza chain on solid financial footing by eliminating stores and reducing employees (which makes him a job eliminator rather than a job creator). There are many reasons why Cain should not be president. His skin colour has nothing to do with it. He, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry seem to be in a race towards the bottom. Who can make the nuttiest, most nonsensical statement and policy position possible?

The best quote I've seen about Cain calls to mind the Biblical story of Cain killing his brother Abel. In the Bible story, Cain was the rebel child and Abel was the angelic one. As people have written online: "Clearly, Cain is not Able." I wholeheartedly agree!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Music Video Monday: Tracy Chapman

In honour of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I nominate this Tracy Chapman classic as the official anthem of the revolution. I love it! In fact, its been my favourite Tracy Chapman song since I first heard her debut album in the late 1980s.

Its heard to believe that this song is 22 years old (at least from the date the album was released. Chapman probably wrote and sang it years before her debut album was released). Its even more relevant now than it was then. Every time I hear it, I always think about Jesus' ministry. I like how she sings about talking about a revolution sounds like a whisper. It evokes the image of the unseen. People who live on the surface of things don't know the reality on the ground, of what people are really living. This is what happened in Eastern Europe when communism no longer worked and the people were fed up with their living conditions and dared to rise up. When the mass of people rise up, the tiny elite that rule run for cover. You can't hold back the tide of a mass of people demanding justice. The French Revolution, the fall of communism, the Arab spring all attest to this fact.

So, Americans, rise up and revolt! Our time is now. Its time to stop talking about a revolution or whispering it and act. The economy needs to be democratized. If the power elite refuse to live by a code of ethics and integrity, then they should meet the same end as Nicolae Ceausescu, the dictator of Romania who was executed along with his wife on Christmas Day 1989. Its harsh, I know, but if the wealthy class fear one thing, it is death. They have built their heaven on earth because they don't believe in the spiritual heaven. Death would strike fear into their hearts because they believe it to be the end of existence. There's a reason why Jesus had told his followers that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Blue Pearl

On Saturday, I decided to attend the Body Mind Spirit Expo rather than the business meetings of the Mission Center Conference. I hate that both are held on the same weekend, but having been to the last two Body Mind Spirit Expos, I was not missing this one!

For those who don't know about the Body Mind Spirit Expo, the best way to describe it is a weekend event in which booths are set up from vendors of all types under the umbrella of "New Age spiritualism" and a lot of lectures to choose from. The lectures are about 50 minutes and can be hit or miss. More than a few are "psychic / mediums" offering to give cold readings. This happened at my first selected lecture. The woman started off by telling her life story. She was kind of boring. No one comes to these things to hear their biography. She could use some advice on knowing what to share about her life and what to leave out. Most want to hear enough to establish credibility. When she got around to cold readings, it was interesting to hear what the person's reaction was. After giving readings to a few women, she said that she wanted to give a reading to a man, and there were only two of us in that session. The other guy was older and seemed hesitant. Since I wasn't sure if she was legit or not, I decided, why not?

I went to the front of the room to sit in the chair. She put her hand on my shoulder and said that I'm going to be making a big change or move soon. She said that it was a career change and by move (I asked for clarification), she said that it didn't necessarily mean a move to another city (at this point, I'm not really desiring to move away from Portland), but could be a move to another job (though I love my job, the low pay means that I will not hesitate to move on if I get a better job offer, particularly one that might include travel, which is what I want the most). Then she said that I was due to be in a relationship soon. She said that this would change my life in a big way and she thinks I already met the person. She acknowledged something I have never shared with anyone before. She said, "I know that you are concerned that you might spend the rest of your life alone, but you don't need to worry about that." When she was done, I was stunned because she said exactly the same thing as the psychic I had seen in the spring had told me. Two different women, half a year apart, sharing the same message: career change and relationship. Well, the other one had said "by September" and that didn't happen. I really would like to meet this lady and begin a relationship before the year ends. That's my one wish.

In another session, the psychic lady led us in a group meditation. I prefer guided meditation than self-directed one. I need to be more disciplined about it. However, during this meditation, I was stunned because I saw the most incredibly blue light I have ever seen. It was so beautiful! A dark blue with light shining through. It was intense and so amazing that tears dripped out of my closed eyelids. I've heard that there are scenes of incredible beauty that the body's only natural reaction is to shed some tears. Wow, amazing! I wanted to stay in the brilliance of that light forever! When I told my friend about it later, she asked me what shade of blue and when I said a dark blue, almost indigo. She offered "cobalt" and showed examples of cobalt blue at the Saturday Market. I will concur and say that it was cobalt blue that I saw. Translucent cobalt blue, that is. Later on Saturday evening, I Google-searched what it means to see blue light during meditation and read a few sites that came up. Apparently, this is something that people who meditate strive to see. I've meditated occasionally (not on a regular basis) and have only seen pitch black or a white light. This was the first time I saw a blue light and it was the most beautiful blue I've ever seen. According to various websites that describe this, there's a spiritual theory that this blue light, known as "The Blue Pearl" is the shell of protection for one's soul. To see it is a blessing of meditation. I kind of like that theory!

In another session, a lady spoke about "shoulds" being a problem that we need to be aware of. We need to end our emphasis on "shoulds" and anytime it appears, we need to ask ourselves what might be causing our desires for "shoulds." Though the lady was reading her presentation (and a few people did walk out early on), I guessed that she was probably more comfortable speaking from prepared notes than speaking entirely from memory. Thought its always better to attend a lecture by someone who can speak at length without notes, each person is different and her information was good. I could've used this knowledge during my last job. It might have diffused tense situations. Then again, probably not. Dealing with an OCD control freak is not easy, no matter how reasonable and understanding you try to be.

The final session I attended was true to the previous two Body Mind Spirit Expos that I attended. Each time I attended a lecture by a guy, I ended up regretting it. I don't know what the deal is, but the men who lecture are WEIRD. At the one in the spring, the guy spoke about 2012 and us having to make a choice in February (choosing which portal to walk through). He also made us do a strange ritual and advertised for an expensive initiation ritual he was giving elsewhere that will help us transition during next year's upheaval. I don't know what it was, but I felt that he was a fraud. The one last fall, I had attended a lecture by a guy whose lecture was too philosophical and academic, not to mention boring and circular. Many people walked out of his lecture. I didn't have the guts to and hoped that he would get better, but he never did. He came across to me as someone in love with his own intelligence and his entire lecture seemed designed to show off how smart he is, but many people were just turned off and left.

At this Expo, the final lecture I attended was by a guy who wanted all of us to walk up front and look everyone in the eye and see each others' beauty. A few people did so at his insistence, but I didn't participate and quite a few did not do so either. I'm glad. I thought it was a stupid exercise. I know that it was about getting us out of our comfort zone and having the courage to look strangers into the eye and recognize their beauty, but this exercise would be more effective if we had all day together and was a team-building exercise. For a 50 minute session with people we're likely never to see again, uh, no thanks!

Nevertheless, I left the Expo and headed to the Portland congregation to meet Susan, who came down from Alaska with another delegate from the congregation up there (in Mat-Su Valley, home of Sarah Palin!). We were supposed to go to a Lebanese restaurant for dinner and return for game night. However, when the final session of the evening ended, I mentioned a Thai restaurant that was next to the New Renaissance Bookstore. Susan is a friend I've known for a decade. She had lived in Atlanta when I was there and is cousins with a lady from church who is good friends with my family and currently lives in Peru. The three of us didn't fit in well with the Atlanta North congregation because we're too liberal, non-traditional, and international in our life experiences. In fact, Susan had hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 2000 and this past summer walked El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. She's well traveled and now lives in Alaska (moved there in August). She drove to Palmer, Alaska in her Prius from Florida! Now that's a road trip!!

The Thai / Lao restaurant we ate in is a Victorian style house. I ate there once a few years ago. This time, I enjoyed it even more because I got to catch up on Susan's life and hers on mine. Nancy was along for the company and was quiet most of the time but I tried to include her in the conversation. Its difficult, though, because I wanted to focus my conversation on Susan and hate excluding people. It takes awhile to get to know someone, so it was kind of awkward for the third wheel. The food, though, was incredible. Susan ordered a lettuce wrap and I had a dish that was called The James Bond something or other. I ended up liking Susan's dish better than my own! Yes, we were able to share each others' plate. Next time I eat at that restaurant, I'm getting the lettuce wrap! It is seriously delicious!

I knew that Susan would love the New Renaissance Bookstore. We spent a lot of time in there and she bought quite a few things: a DVD, a couple meditation CDs, a couple books, and a 2012 journal. She is like me regarding spirituality: open to ideas that aren't Christian. It is so nice to know others in the church who share my spiritual openness. I had no idea what Nancy might have thought of it all. Nancy has lived all her life in Alaska and said that she knows Sarah Palin. Here's the jaw dropper. She said that Sarah is "surprisingly deep." Uh, I seriously doubt that. I've read a lot about that woman and have seen many interviews, her debate performance, and other media appearances. If Sarah Palin is "deep", then I'm Albert Einstein!

We were in the bookstore so long that by the time we made it back to the church, game night was over and it was time to head over to the Southeast Grind for the young adult activity. I knew that Southeast Grind was not a good place for our group of a dozen people. It was crowded, as usual so there was no room for us to sit together and talk. We waited for a section to open up and sat on whatever we could find. I haven't seen Andrew since his wedding in June, so just had to say to him, "May I suggest...?" He laughed. That was the song that was sung by the wedding party (Bridesmaids, Groomsmen, Bridesmen, and Groomswomen) when he was waiting for his bride to walk down the aisle. I love talking with him because he's cool, funny, and smart (his father is a psychology professor at Lewis and Clark College and he has a psychology degree from the church's university, Graceland). I don't get the impression that his wife likes me very much, though. She's beautiful and amazing, but whenever I try to talk with her, she appears to be uncomfortable and wanting to end it as soon as possible. Why do beautiful women hate me so much? Really. I get this a lot. It makes me wonder if she's really shallow. I like her, though, and its upsetting that she seems so uncomfortable talking with me.

There are signs that MAYAs is truly defunct. I could sense in Rachel that she doesn't appear comfortable talking with me as well. She's been rather cold to me in the past few times we've seen each other at church events. My opinion of her has declined anyway, because I had the impression that her involvement in MAYAs was purely to find a church-member husband. Once she found him, she discarded the group for the exclusive relationship. I guess that's to be expected, but it still doesn't sit well with me. Her husband won't even talk to me, either. I noticed this at Andrew and Emily's wedding. I tried to make conversation with him but it was like pulling teeth. I don't get these people at all. What truly pisses me off the most is that I remember what they said at the Vision Project and the dishonesty bugs me. They had complained about the lack of young adults being involved and had even mentioned game night being a good way to get together. Well, a family from the Tuality congregation did offer a game night last year and I was the only one who showed up! My guess is what they really meant is that young adults that they like aren't involved and since they don't seem to like me for whatever reason (perhaps my outspoken political views, perhaps for my open spiritual views that aren't exclusively Christian), they aren't interested in MAYAs anymore or regular Young Adult meetings.

Oh well, their loss. Its not like I lack for a social life. I've moved on from MAYAs, too. After Christine left, I moved on. I became involved in the World Affairs Council Young Professionals discussion group, I've met friends from various political campaigns, I became friends with a few people at the Tuality congregation, and I'm not meeting new people through the Movies and Meaning group sponsored by a Presbyterian Church near where I live. It saddens me that others don't value me the way I value them, but its not surprising. I've lived long enough in my body to know that there are shallow people who won't like me no matter what, and there are true friends who value my friendship. Its the greatest irony of my life that I am close to four of my Mormon friends from BYU than I am to members of the MAYAs, who are fellow church members. This is probably a big reason why I'm post-religion / trans-religion.

By the time I hit the bed on Saturday night, I realized that I had experienced a perfect day! I was ecstatic about the psychic's reading, the Blue Pearl, re-connecting with old friends, and being among church members (even if some of them don't like me much). Because of the joy of seeing so many church members I know and not having enough time to talk with all of them as much as I wanted to, the pain of the past has officially dissipated for me. Last year, when I went to the Portland Congregation, all I could feel was emotional pain. That was due to the fact that my memories of Christine were still too fresh. I associate that congregation with her since she was the reason I attended that unfriendly congregation from 2007 through 2009. I'm glad that that ghost has been exorcised. I still won't attend a regular church service there, though, but at least I don't feel emotional pain when I attend the Mission Center Conference, which is held at that congregation.

On Sunday, after the awesome church service (at Mission Center Conference, its a mini-reunion in which church members from all over the Greater Pacific Northwest Mission Center come to Portland, so I get to see people I haven't seen in a year or since the last Mission Center event, such as Bend Institute or the Young Adult Retreat), I led Sharon and Nancy to Cafe Yumm! for lunch, then a tour of Occupy Portland camp, and finally to the Saturday (and Sundays, too!) Market. I was stunned by how many empty spaces there were compared to the last time I walked through in the spring. This is a bad sign. I've never seen this market place with open space for booths. Obviously, the economy is affecting the artisans and their business. But I did see a few things I want to get before they close on Christmas Eve (I need a fleece face mask for a long rainy and cold winter of waiting for three buses on my daily commute).

After walking the marketplace and returning them to their car at Lloyd Center, I bid farewell to Susan and Nancy. Susan said that she might see about living in Portland next summer. She's a physical therapist with a contract that only covers the school year, so that means she'll have to find a job for summer and she might want to come to work in Portland. If she decides to stay in Alaska next summer, I may go visit her for a week. Not enough time to explore Alaska, but enough to give a taste (and you can bet that if I visit, I will be checking out the city hall in Wasilla and go on a driveby of the Palin property).

So ends a great weekend!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Remember, Remember the 5th of November!

"Remember, remember the fifth of November and the gun powder treason and plot..." So began the famous quote regarding a "terrorist" known as Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, England in 1605. Each year, supposedly, English people burn in effigy Guy Fawkes in commemoration to the failed plot. This does not make sense, though. Why would you keep the memory alive of a failed terrorist plot? Such a thing tends to make a folklore "hero" out of Guy Fawkes, especially if people in the United Kingdom know 5 November as "Guy Fawkes Day."

Americans only know Guy Fawkes through a film by the creators of The Matrix, the mysterious Wachowski brothers, who based their film on the graphic novel, V For Vendetta. This is one of my favourite films from 2006. It was released at the right time, when President George W. Bush's popularity was in the 40% approval ratings (post Hurricane Katrina, he never saw his polls above the 50% mark) and many people began questioning his policies. When I saw V For Vendetta in the theaters, I was struck by the thought, "This is one of the most subversive movies ever made!" Its amazing that it got made at all, as the allusions to the Bush Administration were not quite subtle. In fact, a part of me wonders if this film's depiction of the British government being the actual culprit behind some devastating terrorist attacks gave rise to the 9/11 "truthers" movement.

We never quite know how hides behind the Guy Fawkes mask, but in the years since this film's release, the mask has become quite popular. The hacker group known as Anonymous wears the Guy Fawkes mask. Now, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the local Occupy movements around the world, have witnessed a few protestors in Guy Fawkes mask. This is not accidental. I believe that twenty-five years from now when we Generation Xers look back on this moment in history, historians will point to the film V For Vendetta as one of the most influential films of all time. When one decides to wear the Guy Fawkes mask, they are showing solidarity with Anonymous or Occupy Wall Streat (or both). These are strange days we're living in. Make no mistake, Guy Fawkes was a terrorist. However, as the famous quote goes: "When people fear the government, you have tyranny. When government fears the people, you have democracy." What brings fear to governments around the world? Massive protests and a complete refusal to budge one inch in the name of justice. When one has lost a great amount of dignity and the injustices pile on, of course a figure like Guy Fawkes would appeal to people.

Thanks to the catchy opening line, I am able to remember, remember the 5th of November. Not for Guy Fawkes, though. As it turns out, two of my friends celebrate their birthday today. What a great day to be born, because it makes things easier for their friends to remember, thanks to V For Vendetta!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

M. Night Shyamalan's "Devil"

On Halloween, I decided to watch a scary movie, since I rarely watch this genre of film and think its okay to allow myself to watch something that might make me jump on the one night of the year that is all about spooks. I had requested the movies Devil and Scream 4 from Netflix, but only Devil arrived, so that was my choice.

If you have not seen this movie and you intend to, I would not recommend reading this blog post any further because spoilers will be revealed. So, you've been warned.

Devil was released in theaters last year, but I did not go see it, partly because of the creepy factor, but mostly because I do not trust M. Night Shyamalan's story telling abilities anymore (The Happening was truly awful and I never saw The Lady in the Water because I heard nothing but awful things about that movie). However, the strange thing about Devil is that M. Night is not the director. He's not even the screenplay writer! So why is his name attached? Because the movie is based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan! This is like author James Patterson getting credit for stories that other authors write for him. Its all about the "brand name" and M. Night's brand tends to fall under the supernatural, things aren't as they seem, with a twist (or two). I liked Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Village. I even liked Unbreakable when I saw it, but the movie left a bad residue in my mind.

Out of the three films of his that I like, I would say that The Village is my favourite because it is the perfect allegory for the Bush Administration. He had said in an interview that it was a political film, which might confuse some people, since there is not politics in the movie. But, if you're a metaphorical thinker like I am, then you understand the message he was trying to convey and it was absolutely brilliant. I saw that film in the theater and I could tell from the audience reaction that they did not understand nor liked it (but a lot of this was due to the deceptive trailer for the film, which was false advertising). I think that film was the beginning of the end for him, and then his arrogance in making The Lady in the Water, which bombed, alienated a lot of people in Hollywood. He was supposed to direct the film version of the awesome novel (and book club favourite) The Life of Pi, but that fell through. I thought he was the perfect director for the movie, but now I think he would only just mess that story up.

When I heard the premise of Devil, I was intrigued. To sum up the movie, it goes something like this: five strangers are stuck in an elevator of a high rise office building. One of them is actually the Devil. Creepy, right? Being stuck in an elevator has to be on most people's fear list. I can't imagine a greater hell than being stuck in an elevator with Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, but I digress.

The film is interesting, as it begins with a police officer investigating a suicide. As the voice over narration says, the devil appears whenever there is a suicide and then goes to work. By the end of it, all the principle players will end up dead. While the police officer is a no nonsense kind of guy and looks at things logically, one of the security employees in the highrise building is superstitious and starts seeing the devil's hand in the events that transpire when they learn that the elevator is stuck. For the people in the elevator, every time the lights go out, one of them ends up dead. This creates a panic and the police officer who is investigating the suicide ends up being called to investigate the murder(s).

As I watched the movie, I was thinking that the trick was going to be that none of the five were the devil. But when it comes down the last person standing, the twist arrives. The devil's motives are rather lame. But the message was actually a good one. So, despite the faulty delivery, the take home message was impressive. The narrator is a Hispanic building security guy and I was wondering how he knew so much about the devil. A signature M. Night Shyamalan reveal was when the security guy tells the police officer that nothing is what it seems, as they are all participants in the drama for a reason. As it turns out, the last person alive in the elevator takes responsibility for a drunken hit and run he was involved in five years earlier, which killed the wife and child of the police officer. The devil disappears after the guy takes responsibility for his past actions and in the end, the police officer forgives the guy who had killed his family.

So, what was the message this movie was meant to convey? What I got out of it was that it is a message for each one of us. We need to take responsibility for our actions and not blame others or even blaming the devil. And apparently, the devil does not want us to forgive, either. Though I don't believe there is such an entity as the devil, I've always been fascinated with Faustian tales since childhood. The first novel I wrote in the summer before my senior year in high school was a Faustian tale (a woman marries a man that the entire town loves and who appears perfect, but in reality, he's Satan). I kind of want to write a better story about the devil because I keep thinking about how our economic system actually embodies the values we associate with the devil: greed, lust, selfishness, lack of compassion, materialism, love of money, ungratefulness, and blaming the victims for their lot in life. I find it ironic that many of the people who claim to be Christian or outright "Jesus freaks" also are die hard supporters of capitalism because in their minds, if you aren't a capitalist, then you are a communist. There's no middle way for these folks. You're either this or that. Well, what if capitalism was a Satanic economic system? After all, in the famous story about Jesus facing three temptations by Satan in the desert, the final one was about bowing to Satan to gain power over the entire world. Dick Cheney appears to have made such a deal (who has five or six heart attacks but doesn't die? Cheney is the only one I've heard who's had that many and lived to commit more evil).

I was intrigued by the film enough to post a question on the church's Facebook wall. When I mentioned not believing that Satan exists, a well meaning and conservative church member expressed concern and bore a testimony that she knows Satan is real because he appeared in her bedroom. Oh my God, really? Her response sparked a debate. I asked her how she knew he was the actual Satan and she claimed that she just knew like the way you know your own mother has entered the room even if your back is to her. I'm not buying that, though. But it did start an interesting dialogue. At the same time as I was commenting on that thread of dialogue, there was another thread of dialogue on the same Facebook wall of the church, in which a conservative church member claims that he has an actual interpersonal relationship with Jesus and he went so far as to say that Jesus was more real to him than I was to him! What's with all the kooks.

So, that made for some interesting dialogues. A woman trying to convince me that Satan is real because he appeared in her room (she did not share what he was doing there) and a man trying to convince me that Jesus told him that the Book of Mormon is a real, historical document (and not a concoction created and plagiarized by Joseph Smith, Jr.). In my experience, it seems to be the case that conservative minded people are more likely to claim to have actual visitations by Satan or Jesus. Its not possible that their imaginations are running wild or that perhaps some other spiritual being appeared to them (in all my readings regarding the spiritual realm, there are malicious earth bound spirits out there who can and do pretend to be other people through games such as the Ouija board). Since conservatives tend to be authoritarian in nature and don't like debate where everyone is viewed as equal, it doesn't surprise me. In the conservative mind, there always has to be an authoritarian figure that lays down the law, closing any debate. This is why conservatives love to quote the Bible, hoping to settle any argument while getting infuriated because final authority doesn't work on liberal minded people. So, for a conservative who claims to be visited by Jesus, its not possible in their minds that it might just be their personal spirit guide. What is most interesting about people who claim that Jesus is a real live being in their lives, is that their version of Jesus seems to endorse their prejudices or whatever worldview they have. I find this a credibility killer.

As for the movie, though it had some interesting moments and a good message, I won't be seeing it again. I still have no idea why M. Night Shyamalan did not direct this film. He gets over the title credit without having to do the work! But perhaps that's a good thing. After The Happening, I simply do not trust Shyamalan to carry a story logically. There were so many absurdities involved with The Happening that I'm surprised it ever got made. Oh well. I heard the next film in this new "M. Night Stories" series is going to be called Reincarnate. If its about what it sounds like, I may actually see this in the theater. I think Shyamalan has interesting and thought provoking ideas, with a spiritual view of the world ("things aren't as they seem" is his common theme). Unfortunately, though, he really needs to work on his delivery of the stories. I'd love to help him out.