Month: August 2014

Exit 17. Change one word, and the hypocrite is me.

Disclaimer: This week’s post is pretty much all about sports.  If you don’t like sports, I suggest you read it anyway, because there are some life lessons at the end.  If you don’t even like sports enough to get some life lessons, then please read any of my other 16 posts on this blog.  Maybe you’d rather read about geekbullying or a certain early 90s teen pop band or being an introvert.

During the recent 2014 soccer World Cup, as well as the 2010 World Cup, I remember reading a few Facebook posts from Americans who were actively rooting for Team USA to lose.  Now I’m not talking about people who have a loyalty to another country because of their ancestry, or because they lived there, or because they have a favorite player from that country.  I don’t have an inherent problem with that.  I see that as no different in principle from Vega* the Nice Ex, who grew up in Colorado and was a Broncos and Avs fan despite the fact that she lived in northern California when we were dating.  We never fought about that.  We never fought about anything, for that matter, which is why I refer to her in front of my friends who don’t know her as The Nice Ex.

(* Again, this is me using names of stars, planets, moons, etc. to refer to people from my past and present in an anonymous fashion.  The Nice Ex was not actually named Vega.)

But anyway, I’m talking about people who actively root for the Americans to lose, no matter who they are playing against, and who would not be happy if Team USA were to win the World Cup, simply because they don’t like aspects of American culture or politics, or they don’t like the way Team USA plays soccer.  You’re entitled to your opinions; this is America, after all, land of free speech.  And people with that last reason usually know more about soccer than I do.  But I’m entitled to my opinion too, and my opinion of those people is that they’re a bunch of jerks who are ungrateful for all the freedoms they have in this country, and if they hate America so much, maybe they should like move to North Korea or something.

because_merica_thats_why_us_flag_american_eagle_sw

There’s one serious problem with this view: Go back to that description, change one word, and the hypocrite who deserves to be deported is me.  Specifically, change “soccer” to “basketball.”

Before 1992, NBA players were not allowed to play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup or the Olympics.  Those two tournaments were historically intended for amateur players, and the decision to open them to NBA players was somewhat controversial at the time.  The 1992 USA men’s basketball team, nicknamed the Dream Team by the media, was widely hyped as being the best basketball team of all time, featuring such stars as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Chris Mullin.  They went on to dominate the rest of the world in the Olympics.

I was a precocious 15-year-old during those Olympics, with an opinion on everything… specifically, an opinion that wasn’t always well formed.   I was a purist, and I felt that professionals didn’t belong in the Olympics.  And I was tired of the hype surrounding this team.  The final straw was when I read an article about how the warmup suits were manufactured by Reebok, and this was a problem because some of the players on the team were under contract with Nike and not allowed to wear clothing containing a logo of one of Nike’s competitors.  To me, this represented everything wrong with this setup… if the Olympics were kept pure, without NBA primae donnae, they wouldn’t have these money-driven sponsorship issues.  So I decided to root for the USA to lose.  I was going for Lithuania (even though they had a few NBA players too), because my dad liked Lithuania’s tie-dye practice jerseys, designed by the Grateful Dead.  Lithuania won bronze.

lithuania front 2008

(By the way, the Nike players ended up draping flags around their shoulders at the medal ceremonies to cover the Reebok logos.)  I can remember being actively anti-USA Basketball also in the 1996 Olympics.  After that, I was mostly just neutral toward Olympic basketball and the FIBA World Cup.

But this year is different.  This year, I have a reason to follow USA Basketball at the upcoming FIBA World Cup.  Since a year ago, I have had season tickets to the Sacramento Kings, and I attended 23 of their 44 home games last season.  This is a team that has been stuck in a quagmire of rebuilding, and last year was the first year that they were not also stuck in a quagmire of incompetent ownership.  Kings fans haven’t had much to be excited about over the last decade, but things are slowly, slowly starting to turn around.  And two members of this Kings team, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, will be playing for the USA at the FIBA World Cup.  (And, just as importantly when it comes to motivating me to want to root for this team: Kobe Bryant won’t be playing.)  After watching these two on the NBA court, I think the international experience will be good for them, and I’d like to see how they do.  Being out there with some of the best players of the game to represent their country is bigger than team rivalries and bigger than corporate sponsorships.

So I officially recant my former anti-USA Basketball position.  And I officially apologize to all the US Soccer haters.  You have your reasons, and I don’t agree with them, but I’m not going to judge you for it.  I haven’t walked in your shoes.

One more exhibition game Tuesday morning against Slovenia.  First game of the tournament Saturday afternoon against Finland.  Game on.

Exit 16. The most social introvert.

A friend recently said that I was the most social introvert he knew.  I had never really thought of myself that way, but he’s right.  I do seem to have a much more active social life than most introverts I come across.  But I am definitely an introvert, because I need time to myself as well.  Too much socialization leaves me feeling drained and irritable.  But I do enjoy spending time with friends.  And I seem to enjoy meeting new people, at least until I realize that I have nothing in common with them.  This weekend was a very social one for me, involving two birthday parties on back-to-back nights (and seven of us who were at both).

I wasn’t always like this, though.  Until my late teens, I had very few friends, and I really wasn’t all that close with most of them.  During the last year and a half of high school, I started spending time with the people who had most of the same classes as me; they were a pretty tame group as far as teenagers go.  I went away to college as a freshman, and I found some friends in my dorm; I started getting involved with Intervarsity and church activities, and until my early 30s, through two more geographical relocations, most of my social life revolved around church friends.  That all changed after I started getting involved with swing dancing and blues dancing.  Ever since around 2008, I’ve spent a lot more time around dancing friends than I have around church friends.

This has put me in a situation I’m not used to, a situation I never would have expected to find myself in a decade ago or more.  These days, I spend a lot of time around people with very different lifestyles and beliefs from mine.  For example, on Saturday night I spent some time playing I Never, and then playing I Have.  This is the game where everyone puts up their 10 fingers, and you go around in circles and take turns saying something you’ve never done, and then everyone who has done that has to put a finger down.  I Have is the inverse game of that, where you say something you have done, and everyone who hasn’t done those things puts a finger down.  My record of life experience has made me usually pretty good at I Never and horrible at I Have, especially when I’m with a group that likes to make these games mostly about sex and drugs, because there are a lot of things I’ve never done and not much I have done.  I don’t mean to be judgmental, but when I hear people talk about how their significant other was a f*** buddy for a few months before they became serious, or about their polyamorous friend who is having trouble juggling three boyfriends, or about all the pot they smoked in high school, or about the time they had sex with five people at once, these are all strange and foreign concepts to me.  I’ve spent most of my life in a world where these things are not acceptable, and certainly not shared openly in polite company.

So how did I end up hanging around people so different from myself?  The best answer that I can come up with is that I found things I did have in common with friends from dancing right around the same time I stopped having things in common with church friends.  As I got older, I would find fewer and fewer people at church around my age who weren’t parents and parts of families, and church people with kids typically don’t stay up late swing dancing or playing old video games very often.  I don’t mean to stereotype, but come on, we all know it’s true.  I also got to a point where I had outgrown young adult ministries, and the next step in the way most churches are set up is adult singles groups.  That group at my church is mostly people older than me with kids who have been married before, and none of them have the same interests or background as me.  They’re nice people, nothing against any of them, and I’m going to continue being part of that group as much as I can, but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel completely like one of them.

Meanwhile, I found dancing, another interest in which I can participate, and through dancing I found a lot of people with nerdy senses of humor like me, people who appreciate when I make a math joke or a joke based on an obscure Simpsons reference.  These people have a more consistent record of showing up when I invite them to something than my previous groups of church friends did.  But I still don’t always feel like I can completely be myself around them, because of the different beliefs.  I feel like I have to hide parts of myself sometimes when I know that they disapprove of people like me.  It’s kind of hard sometimes being around people who constantly post things on Facebook belittling Christians and those of my political slant.  However, this might be all in my head; during the I Never games last night, I admitted two things about myself in front of people whom I knew did not share those things in common, and their reactions weren’t what I feared they would be.

Everyone is different, and no one is just like me.  I’m going to find church friends that I have things in common with, and church friends that I don’t have things in common with.  I’m going to find dancing friends that I have things in common with, and dancing friends that I don’t have things in common with.  I’m not going to be judgmental of their different lifestyles and beliefs, but some people are going to be jerks, and I just have to deal with that.  And I have a lot to learn from people with different backgrounds from me.  My life doesn’t fit the pattern preached by churches these days, so maybe I have things to learn about being 38 and unmarried from non-church friends which I can integrate into my own core beliefs without feeling like I have to compromise.  And I can use what I learn about the lifestyles of my non-church friends to understand better how to be the light of Jesus to a broken world, in ways that those who never leave the church bubble won’t experience.

And I know that I love my crazy quirky group of friends, and I’m glad I have them.

Exit 15. I don’t know, and I don’t care.

So far, for the last 14 weeks, I’ve tried to stay away from controversies on this blog.  That won’t be the case this week.  I have something to say that some people I know aren’t going to like, but I won’t back down.

A few of my friends this week have circulated this article (click).  For the TL;DR crowd, it is about musicians Michael and Lisa Gungor, who are best known for composing and performing Christian worship music.  The controversy, according to many in more conservative and traditional Christian circles, is that Michael Gungor says that he does not believe that the Genesis creation account is meant to be taken literally.  He still believes that God is real and that Jesus is the Son of God, but his lack of belief in God having created the world in 4004 B.C., flooding all living creatures several centuries later except for a boat full of every species on Earth, has led some to go so far as to call him, his wife, and their bandmates not real Christians, false teachers, and deceivers.  Well, that escalated quickly.

I grew up attending Catholic Mass but didn’t really choose Christ on my own or study the Bible until age 19, when I was a student at UC Davis.  I came of age in my faith through Intervarsity, a ministry on college campuses, and several months later I stopped attending Mass and became involved with an evangelical church in Davis.  Davis is very much the quintessential college town, with a very educated population, and many of the university’s most well known programs are related to the biological sciences, so many Christians that I knew in Davis had no problem reconciling science with their faith.  As a result of this, although I knew that evolution was kind of a bad word among Christians because it was often associated with atheism, it wasn’t until I was around 25 that I discovered that there were still people in America who believed in young Earth creationism (i.e., that Genesis is meant to be taken literally, 4004 B.C. and Noah’s Flood).  Some of you who were raised in a young Earth creationist environment probably are surprised to realize that there are so many Christians who reconcile their faith with science, whereas those of you raised outside the church are probably as surprised as I was to discover that young Earth creationism is still that much of a thing.  So now that I’ve had another decade-plus of studying the Bible after this shocking discovery, what is my position on creationism vs. evolution?

I don’t know.  And I don’t care.

Let me clarify what I mean by that.  When I say that I don’t care, I don’t mean that I’m going to be ignorant or apathetic because ignorance and apathy are easier.  I mean that there are more important things in life than to debate over this question.  Back when I was a fairly new Christian, I remember meeting someone who was a Christian but studying evolution science, or something to that effect.  I was about to ask her if it was difficult being a Christian and studying something often associated with atheism, and before I could even ask, she anticipated what I was about to say, and said something to the effect that how and when God created the world doesn’t change the way we respond to Jesus and salvation.  And that’s exactly how I feel about young Earth creation vs. old Earth creation vs. theistic evolution.  None of those really changes how I’m supposed to live as a child of God now.  I believe that God created the world, somehow, in some time period.  I believe that all have sinned.*  I believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to bring salvation, and that this act of atonement brought salvation and reconciliation with God.  And none of this changes depending on how and when God created the world.  That’s why I don’t feel a pressing need to figure it all out.  I’ll ask God someday when I see him.

(* I’ve heard the argument that this part, original sin, requires a literal Adam and Eve, since original sin entered the world through them.  I can see that point, but whether or not Adam and Eve literally existed, I think it’s pretty obvious that humanity is inherently sinful.  Just look around you.  No one is perfect, and everyone falls short of God’s standards.)

Michael Gungor wrote this (click) in response to the recent furor over his statements.  He mentioned that the people who have problems with Christians who don’t believe in young Earth creationism “huddle together out of fear,” shutting out all the good things in the world along with the evil from which they want to protect themselves.  I see this mentality all too often, and it really makes me sad.  This is exactly what Satan wants.  Satan wants the people of Christ to be fighting each other over things that don’t matter to distract them from doing God’s work in the world, helping the needy, bringing hope to the hopeless, and the like.  And I’m sorry to be harsh, but this my experience with those who aren’t Christians suggests that those outside the body of Christ respect those who quietly practice what they preach much more than those who self-righteously segregate themselves in Christian bubbles, so no one will be brought into the body of Christ by staying in that bubble.

Of course, I don’t mean to lump all young Earth creationists in this category.  I know plenty of them who are out there on the front lines feeding the poor and helping the needy.  But all too often, this Christian bubble mentality lends itself to dangerous acts of legalism, proclaiming that Christians should be listening to this and shouldn’t be watching this and the like.  In the debate that followed when my friend posted the article in the first paragraph, he said at one point that Christians shouldn’t listen to secular music.  I’m sorry, but I can’t get behind that.  For one thing, music brings out a lot of emotions in me, and some emotions just aren’t expressed anywhere in the Christian music bubble.  Furthermore, putting labels on art forms cheapens the experience and compartmentalizes these complex expressions into boxes.  And then there’s the fact that labeling music as Christian or secular can be quite arbitrary.  Take, for example, these quotes from secular songs:

1) “Find me here and speak to me.  I want to feel you, I need to hear you.   You are the light that’s leading me to the place where I find peace again… ‘Cause you’re all I want, you’re all I need, you’re everything.”

2) “When I get where I’m going, and I see my maker’s face, I’ll stand forever in the light of his amazing grace.  When I get where I’m going, there’ll be only happy tears.  I will shed the sins and struggles I have carried all these years.”

Or these quotes from Christian songs:

3) “If I could only read your mind, tell me the answer I would find.  Do you dream of me?  And when you’re smiling in your sleep, beyond the promises we keep, do you dream of me?”

4) “Uh, we goin’ put it on ya, make it loud n clear, all of my shorties, whether far or near.  Since the last, it’s been three long years, so we goin’ make it loud, we goin’ make it loud n clear.”

You read that right; I didn’t mislabel those.  According to the legalists, those first two songs are “secular” and the other two are “Christian.”  It doesn’t make much sense to place arbitrary labels on music, now, does it.  Someone who doesn’t know those songs wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between “Christian” music and “secular” music just from this.  (In case you were wondering: 1) “Everything,” by Lifehouse; 2) “When I Get Where I’m Going,” Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton; 3) “Do You Dream Of Me,” Michael W. Smith; 4) “Loud N Clear,” TobyMac and TruDog (his kid).)

If you are one of those legalists, please don’t start telling me that my faith is weak or eroding, because it’s not.  Just forget it.  And if you’re going to stay friends with me only to convert me to young Earth creationism, don’t bother.  No one likes to be treated like a project.  I’m not writing this to convert anyone away from young Earth creationism; if that’s how you are convinced that God created the world, then good for you.  I’m not opposing anything you’re doing for God, so you shouldn’t be opposing anything I’m doing.

Don’t get me wrong… there are some very real false teachings out there that Christians need to stand against.  But some things just aren’t worth fighting about.  I heard a pastor preach once that once you get away from the literal creation account, your entire faith falls apart.  I just can’t make myself believe that.  I have no doubt that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the path to salvation, and I know that I am living for him now.  But I haven’t worked out yet whether or not I believe that Genesis is meant to be taken literally.  I’m not saying it isn’t, nor am I saying it is.  What I’m saying is that this isn’t something I need to worry about right now.  God created the universe, somehow, at some point.  I don’t believe that it makes my faith weak, nor do I believe that this undermines the authority of Scripture.  As Michael Gungor says in his response, Scripture contains metaphors.  I really don’t believe that the question of whether the creation account is literal or metaphorical dilutes the central message of the Gospel.  When I get to see God face to face someday, I’ll ask him how he created the world.  But until then, I’ve just come to accept the fact that I don’t know.  And I don’t care, because it’s not something I need to know right now to live a Godly life.

I’ll end on a lighter note totally unrelated to creationism, but related to the title of this post, which is also a quote from a song.  Last time I mentioned how I’m kind of tired of these young country singers who look like male models with cowboy hats and sing about partying and picking up women.  Yet somehow, when two middle aged men (who happen to be two of my favorite country singers) sing about partying and picking up women, it’s hilarious.  Why do I have this double standard?  I don’t know, and I don’t care.

Exit 14. I changed my mind and decided to write about the act of changing one’s mind.

I have a bunch of thoughts swimming around in my head, and I hadn’t decided yet what to share this week.  There are some new developments regarding something I wrote about recently, and while I was thinking about how much I was ready to share about that, a song came on that seemed somewhat appropriate for the situation.  I was going to post this song with the warning that it is a country song, because some of my friends who read this blog hate country music with a fierce passion.  Then I changed my mind and decided to write about the act of changing one’s mind.  Yes, friends, this is how my brain works at the moment.  I’m very busy and scatterbrained.

Some see the changing of one’s mind as a weakness.  And by some, I mean the opponents of politicians who have change their mind and those who vote against politicians who have changed their mind without thinking about who or what they’re really voting for.  And there is often merit to this view.  There have been countless politicians who change their views as the views of the general public change just to get themselves elected, politicians who were for something before they were against it and the like.  But sometimes it is healthy to change one’s mind.  Sometimes you learn something that causes you to see other things differently.  Sometimes you just outgrow your old tastes.  Sometimes you really like a song in your early teens, then you outgrow it when your musical tastes change, then 23 years later you realize it was pretty cool after all, as I wrote about previously.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  It isn’t always readily obvious if one is changing his or her mind to try to fit in or because they have learned and grown.  But usually fake people who change their minds to fit in or gain acceptance betray themselves eventually.

Going back to the train of thought that led to this post in the first place: One topic on which I changed my mind rather suddenly at one point in my life is country music.  Sometimes when someone has a strong opinion different from mine, I’m okay with it, live and let life, it’s not your thing, whatever.  Other times, especially if they’re being a jerk about their opinion, I wish I could punch them in the face, but I don’t, because that would be childish, and that would make me the jerk, not them.  But I always have mixed feelings how to react when someone says that they hate country music, because I was once one of them.  Growing up, my dad would sometimes listen to classic country, like Merle Haggard.  Mom would make fun of him for it, and most of the kids around me at school didn’t like country music, so therefore I didn’t like country music.  I was a teenager in the era of Billy Ray Cyrus and the early work of Garth Brooks, and they played that crap at every school dance, every football game, and every lunch time with music, and that turned me off of country music for a very long time.  My position eventually softened to the point that I could handle being in a room with country music playing; I just didn’t follow country music.  But I spent four months in my late 20s traveling across parts of 46 states, with everything I needed packed into the trunk and back seat of my Ford Focus, living out of Motel 6s, campgrounds with showers, and friends’ couches and spare bedrooms.  The details of that, and what led to it, are another story for another time.  A couple weeks into that trip, I was driving across Texas, there were a lot of country stations, and I figured what the heck, it’s Texas, may as well listen to what the locals listen to.  After about an hour, I realized that a lot of this wasn’t so bad.  I discovered the song in the video below on that day (July 5, 2005, if I remember right), and it almost brought me to tears because the lyrics (well, at least the chorus, not the part about his father dying) were pretty much about how I was trying to live at the time.  (WARNING:  The following link, and the other one at the end of this post, contain country music.  Do not click if you can’t handle listening to country music.)

I’m not one of those people who listens to nothing but country, and I never will be.  But I have definitely found a few country artists that I really like.  I went to a Brad Paisley concert a few weeks ago (that was the concert at which I got recognized) and had a great time, even though I felt out of place without a cowboy hat or a beer.  I was told, though, that most of those people were just phonies who were just dressing that way to give off that image.  They are probably the same people who change their minds to fit in.  I wonder how many of them were against country music before they were for country music.  And I wasn’t at the concert to fit in, I was there for the music.  And it was great music.  I’m not that thrilled with the direction that a lot of country music has been going lately, but that’s a topic for another column.

But it’s okay to change your mind.  I changed my opinion on country music because I’m a different person as an adult compared to who I was as a kid, with different experiences in life.  It’s healthy to change your mind based on learning and growth and new understandings of the world.  And those who change their minds just to fit in will be exposed eventually.

By the way, for my younger friends who may not have recognized the name Billy Ray Cyrus earlier, he is Miley’s dad.  Apparently musical talent doesn’t exactly run in that family. 😛 And I’m not necessarily referring here to anyone who reads this occasionally who is related to the Cyri, because I know there is at least one of you who fits that description.  And my facetious use of the Latin plural here brings this post full circle, because that is related to the story I wasn’t sure I was ready to share yet.  And I’m still not… that story hasn’t finished developing in real life.  If there ends up being a story to tell, I’ll tell it when I’m ready.  But in case any of you were wondering, This is the song I heard earlier.  Literally.

I’ll just end on this note for now.