Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Geography of Hate

Vorjack from Unreasonable Faith shared this interesting interactive map which shows the areas in the U.S. which produce the most hate tweets on Twitter. This map is based on 150,000 geotagged tweets between June 2012 and April 2013 which contains racial or sexual slurs. Here's a snapshot of my local region showing homophobic tweets in the Eastern Tennessee and North Georgia area. You can check out the full interactive map here. The interesting thing is that the majority of the hate tweets originate in the Eastern half of the U.S. The process, and pitfalls, in collecting and mapping this data is explained here. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Dream of Life

There is something about listening to speeches (sermons?) by Alan Watts which really strikes a chord with me. I've only read a couple of his books and even though I don't completely buy into everything he talks about it's fun to think about and play with the ideas in my head. It always inspires me to look at life differently.

If we had a chance to dream the perfect dream of life would we get bored and end up dreaming of a normal life? Boredom is one of many reasons why I can no longer understand the point of living in bliss for eternity in heaven. Even as I child I (secretly) asked myself "wouldn't eternity be boring?" As a teenager I even had dreams where after a few millennia in heaven I dove off the edge of heaven and back to earth (reality) because I found heaven boring.

I can understand why people feel the need for heaven to be real. Life is rough, heart-breaking, and down right miserable at times and some people rely on the hope for a way out. Heaven=hope to billions of people and the last thing I want to do is to pull the rug from under their feet. To me, heaven is more of a distraction from the here and now. There is so much beauty to see and experience that I can't see myself ignoring all of reality, however short in comparison, in hopes of entering a place (or state of mind) of eternal bliss. Who I am contains experiences and memories of both good and bad things and I can't fully appreciate the good moments in my life without the bad. I believe learning to live with the ups and downs of life is what being human is all about.

Does this idea that we are all connected, that we're all waves of an ocean, of any benefit to anyone? Although I have trouble believing that at the core we are God playing hide and seek, the idea that we are connected to each other and the universe helps me to be more understanding, compassionate, and to tread carefully and respectfully in life. This concept isn't necessary for me to be compassionate and understanding of my fellow man but is simply a story which symbolizes and illustrates why I do. So which is more important to you: controlling your adventure of dreams or simply experiencing them?

Friday, May 10, 2013

"You Got To Touch His Freakin' Heart"

A video of Jeff Bliss, a Duncanville High school student, going off on his teacher has recently gone viral. Here's the video if you haven't already seen it.

The teacher is now on leave with pay pending an investigation of the incident. You can watch an interview with Jeff here.  I've felt this kid's frustration before when I was in high school (and in college at times). Some teachers just hand out material for you to learn and the students regurgitate it on a test (I personally tend to forget what was taught after taking a class taught like this). Although he probably could have delivered his message in a more appropriate manner sometimes rants like these have to be expressed and witnessed by the public to get to the root of the problem.

I enjoy classes where there is interaction between the teacher and their students. Not every student learns the same and some need more involvement from their teacher. If the teacher hadn't brushed off the student ("you're wasting my time", "get out") the video probably wouldn't have gone as viral as it had. A student's success depends on all parties involved: the parents, student, and teacher. In this case Jeff was frustrated because he values the importance of a good education. He wants to succeed but feels that this specific teacher was not making any attempts to hear him out let alone teach beyond passing out worksheets (err, "packets"). I know the education debate is complex and I don't believe that cutting a teacher's pay (the "stick" approach) is going to resolve our nation's failures in education. I also don't want teachers teaching me or my kids with such an extreme lack of enthusiasm for their job that it causes an outburst like this one. At least in college you have some options towards choosing your teacher and I've seen some students, prior to their appointed registration time, research professors on ratemyprofessors.com. I've personally never used the site prior to today and don't really plan to in the future but felt it worth mentioning. When a student like Jeff, who returned to school after dropping out, feels this strongly about the education system then you know there are issues to be addressed. If the kids (with the help of parents) are truly trying their best then the least the teacher can do is try to inspire the kids. Jeff said it best, "you got to touch his freakin' heart".

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Clara Oswald: The Red Shirt

Although I mainly write on religion and spirituality I thought I'd continue my thoughts on Doctor
Who and theories on the identity of Clara Oswin Oswald. One of the common themes I've found reading on theories on Clara's identity is that she wears red, a lot. Combine that with the fact that she keeps dying and you can't help but calling her a red shirt. Others have also noticed roses referenced in several episodes, possible hinting at a connection with Rose Tyler (a popular theory being that Clara is the daughter of Rose and 10-Two). Even though the color red may be a foreshadowing of Clara's death why does she keep coming back only to be killed again? The way the Doctor desperately tries to keep Clara alive after seeing her die twice before reminds me of Desmond's attempts to keep Charlie alive in Lost. Regardless how many times Desmond tried to keep him alive Charlie had to die.

There is a Grand Unified Doctor Who and Clara theory found here which attempts to explain why Clara keeps popping up throughout history. It states that she is in fact a Time Lord who used a Chameleon Arch on herself.  Even though her body dies her Time Lord essence fights its way back into existence constantly being reborn throughout time. It's an interesting theory (although I'm unfamiliar with the Classic Doctor Who series so I'm not sure of the theory's plausibility) but I really like the focus on her essence fighting its way back into existence.  Unlike Charlie in Lost where death was unavoidable, life is unavoidable for Clara. Regardless of her true identity I believe her constant rebirth is tied to the Doctor's identity and acts to remind the Doctor of something incredibly important ("Run, you clever boy. And remember.").

And on a side note, does the promo pic of the new episode, Nightmare in Silver, not remind anyone else of The Last Supper?

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Doctor Who is Named...

So while wrapping up my last post on our thoughts on God a line from the Tao Te Ching and my excitement to watch Doctor Who tomorrow accidentally collided inside my head. I love reading about the intersection between religion and science fiction so I couldn't help myself from creating this meme. The line was "The Tao that can be named (spoken) is not the eternal Tao."Although now that I think of it a better line to use would have been "The Name that can be named is not the eternal name." I don't believe Moffat and friends will actually reveal the name of the Doctor but instead talk about the power in knowing the name and what may befall if that name fell into the wrong hands. My wife and I are banging our heads against the wall trying to figure the identity of Clara Oswald, I suppose, like everyone else. Even though we may not guess her identity we're definitely enjoying trying to solve it. Let me know if you can come up with a better meme. I'd love to hear them.

Our Thoughts About God

This image sums the first of many questions I asked myself when I began my spiritual journey over 7 years ago.
"Our thoughts about God are just that: thoughts about God. They are not God. They approximate God. This includes the thoughts, now written, of the biblical writers and all theologians since. All their thoughts and all their writings are not God, but approximations of God." -David Haward (You can see more of David's work here.)
This was when I began to differentiate between my thoughts and what God is. How I define God is just that, my definition. To embrace the idea that our thoughts are just approximation carries with it a humbling affect. It allows me to understand how someone else may view and define God (or anything else for that matter) differently. God then becomes malleable (a playdoh god, maybe?)  able to change shape and grow depending on the viewer. This tells us more about ourselves than it does about God herself granting us another window into the heart of our neighbor. Is there a God beyond our personal playdoh god? Sure, why not, who knows. Does it matter? That depends how important it is to you for your thoughts about God to be real.

This is something most people don't readily think about because it introduces a sliver of doubt on what they consider to be the foundation of their beliefs. But doubt is not the "gateway drug" which leads down the slippery road to Atheism, it is a constructive tool which helps us analyze our beliefs. Analyzing what we believe helps us to better understand why we believe the things we believe. Would you rather accept a belief system you simply inherited from your parents and/or environment or would you like the chance to choose what you believe for yourself? In the end we decide what religion to follow (or not follow), which house of worship to attend, and what spiritual practices to practice. In the end we make our choices based on our thoughts after weighing the evidence we analyzed. Now multiply that process by several billion people and it becomes clear that our thoughts about God are simply that, our thoughts.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How Good Do We Have to Be? Part 6- Final thoughts

  [I started this blog series well over a year ago on Harold Kushner's How Good Do We Have to Be? and life got in the way and I never got a chance to finish reviewing the book. I recently recommended this book to other people which caused me to dig up this long unfinished post.]

In the last couple chapters Kushner explains that life after Eden wasn't a punishment at all but a gift to be cherished. We are conscious about our death and having that knowledge makes our days that much more beautiful, or at least it should but we allow guilt and fear to overtake our lives. How good do we really have to be? There is no bar we have to meet that any higher power requires of us. What we can do is forgive, love and accept our friends and family for who and what they are, human. We are going to make mistakes and holding the ones we love to unreasonably high expectations will only feed the damage caused by guilt and fear. It is hard to be humble and vulnerable but if we open ourselves to others and understand our shared suffering then we don't have to suffer alone. And by opening ourselves to others we allow love to flow freely between us.

Kushner closes with what he deems is the most important word in the Bible found in Genesis 17:1. Tamim, which is usually translated as perfect or blameless, can translate to mean something like whole-hearted. Kushner states that God, as a God of forgiveness, doesn't want us to be perfect but to strive for integrity. As fallible humans unable to go back to Eden (existence before eating from the Tree of Knowledge) we should strive to be true to the core of who we are and the goodness found within all of us. In the final chapter Kushner shares one of my favorite stories, The Missing Piece, by Shel Silverstein. Like the circle who is content with searching for its missing piece after finding and leaving it behind, Kushner suggests we are more whole when we are incomplete.
"The man who has everything is in some ways a poor man. He will never know what it feels to yearn, to hope, to nourish his soul with the dream of something better...There is a wholeness about  the person who has come to terms with his limitations, who knows who he is and what he can and cannot do, the person who has been brave enough to let go of his unrealistic dreams and not feel like a failure for doing so."
There is a wholeness in coming to terms with our humanity, with our fallibility. When we give up our search for perfection, accept ourselves and others for who we are, and strive to be our best selves, then we find there's plenty of love and forgiveness to go around.

Part 1: A Story of Emergence
Part 2: Guilt and Shame
Part 3: The Cycle of Guilt
Part 4: The Wholeness We Seek
Part 5: Is There Enough Love for Everyone
Part 6: Final Thoughts