Month: April 2015

Exit 52. Worrying about it too much just makes me sad and frustrated.

This is my 52nd post on this blog, and the implications of that are clear.  This blog is a weekly, and there are 52 weeks in a year, so this means that it has been a year since I started this blog.  If you want to get really technical, next week would be a closer approximation of the anniversary of the first post, since the first one was numbered 1 instead of 0.  And this is actually my 53rd post; a few days before the post I later renamed to Exit 1, I posted a short introductory article basically saying that this blog wasn’t going to have a topic or a format.  But even so, this is the 52nd week that I have written in this blog.  This means that the events that inspired the first few posts, including my process of job searching, the Isla Vista massacre, and my rediscovery of a certain early-90s teen pop quintet, happened almost a year ago now.

Time seems to pass faster and faster as I get older.  It is hard to believe that I have been writing this blog for a year already.  When I was in elementary school in the 1980s, the concept of “the year 2000” involved connotations of some exotic future date with robots and flying cars.  Now the year 2000 is far enough in the past to bring about feelings of nostalgia.  Kids born in 2000 are in high school already.

I’ve always found it fascinating how society’s collective perception of the future has changed over the years.  Among a growing awareness of environmental destruction, overpopulation, and sustainability issues, the optimistic Jetsons world of robot housekeepers and flying cars for everyone has given way to the dark post-apocalyptic dystopias of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.  And as usual, those with strong opinions on things have strong opinions on this issue, and neither side sees the whole story.  On one side, you have those who believe that the way to prevent worldwide catastrophe and destruction is more government regulation, telling people what they can and can’t do.  They fail to see that people like their freedom, especially in many parts of the US, and more importantly, they fail to see how their sense of control can stifle innovation, which may bring creative solutions someday to some of this generation’s problems.

On the other side, you have the skeptics, the deniers, those who read studies saying that the science is flawed and that, for example, all of our energy crises would be solved if only the government would let us drill for more oil in more places.  The problem here is that, even if you allow that climate data is within the bounds of what is caused by natural variability, even if you make the most optimistic projections about how much petroleum is left on Earth, this view is still missing some key realities.  Even if natural variations in climate are causing the drought in California and the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, it is still happening.  This head-in-the-sand mentality doesn’t do anything about what is actually happening right now, regardless of the cause..  Even if there is a lot more petroleum lying under protected wildlife habitat waiting to be drilled, Earth is not infinite, and new petroleum is not being created on anything near the time scale required to replenish what is being used today.  We may run out in 20 years, we may run out in 300 years, but we will run out someday.  And of course on both sides of the issue, you have hypocrites who only care about the image they give to the world rather than how their lifestyle actually contributes to the problem.  But that’s another story.

I feel a bit conflicted about my own lifestyle at times.  I drive a lot, especially since starting my new job last year.  My social life is spread across three counties, and my job is in a fourth county that is not in the same direction as the other three.  I’ve also often questioned my decision to settle in the suburbs, especially now that my job is not in my neighborhood.  For seven years I rode my bike to work if it wasn’t raining, but now work is 25 miles away.  Moving near work would solve that problem while also creating other problems.  My work is in a much smaller community, the kind of place where it is hard to fit in being a single guy who doesn’t know anyone and doesn’t have a family of his own.  But the more sustainable kind of places where adult singles tend to congregate also would be difficult places for me to fit in (not to mention farther from work).  Those neighborhoods tend to attract noisy people who are looking for night life and places to party.  Believe me, I’m not trying here to have a sense of superiority over people in small towns or people in urban neighborhoods with night life.  There are things I love about small towns, and there are things I love about vibrant new urban areas, and some of my favorite people live in each of those kinds of places.  I just don’t think either kind of place is going to suit me any better than the suburbs, especially considering the specifics of where I am right now.

There are things I can do, though.  I asked at the beginning of the year if any coworkers commute from the same direction that I’m coming from; there were only two, and both of them have different enough schedules to make a carpool impractical.  Maybe next year, now that I’m settled, if no new people coming from my direction join the staff at my school, I can even ask if anyone from the nearby high school or any of the nearby elementary schools commutes from my direction.  And when it comes time to replace this car, I’m definitely going to look into hybrids and other fuel-efficient options.  But for now, I’m doing the best I can.  And while it is important to be aware of the greater consequences of my actions and my lifestyle, worrying about it too much just makes me sad and frustrated.

Exit 51. There is so much to miss when you don’t pay attention to your surroundings.

I was recently walking around the campus of UC Davis when I noticed something interesting: the campus buildings have street addresses now.  I’m pretty sure this is a recent change; I’m the kind of guy who would notice something like this, after all.  When I started at UC Davis as a freshman, in 1994, the streets on campus had names, but the mailing addresses for buildings didn’t contain the street names.  Mail was just addressed to the room number, building number, and “UC Davis,” followed by the standard “Davis, CA 95616” on the last line.  During the time I was there, the Postal Service apparently told the school that this was not an appropriate form for addresses, so all buildings on campus were given the mailing address “1 Shields Ave.” to go along with the room and building number.  (Shields Avenue is one of the streets in the central part of campus, named after a judge who was influential in choosing Davis as the site of the University of California Farm, which eventually grew and became UC Davis.)  As far as I can tell, the addition of street addresses to the buildings has not changed most of the mailing addresses; academic departments still have 1 Shields Ave. as their mailing address.  Residential buildings (i.e., dormitories and on-campus apartments), however, use the new form of the street addresses.

I’m not sure why this change has been made, but I have a guess.  Perhaps the buildings have been given addresses so that GPSs and online map services can give better directions to and from the buildings.  And it makes me sad that this is even necessary.  It seems like no one has a sense of direction anymore, no one knows how to read a map anymore, and no one pays attention to their surroundings anymore.

I’ve always been fascinated by maps and roads and things of that nature.  I didn’t realize until I was an adult that some people don’t read maps and don’t pay attention to street signs.  Of course, a lot of this is just the result of different people having different learning and thinking styles.  I took an education class in which this was used as an example of how there are different types of learners.  Some people find their way better using maps, some prefer written directions with where to turn left or right, some prefer to look for landmarks, and some prefer to wing it.  But it seems more and more common these days to just blindly follow what one’s GPS tells them, without thinking about whether or not the directions feel right.

In 2006ish, I was carpooling with some people I used to know to go miniature golfing.  I had been there before (although only once or twice), and I was pretty sure I remembered how to get there, but the driver of the car, who had not been there before, had just gotten a GPS and didn’t care that I knew how to get there, because her GPS was going to give her directions.  I said something on the way about where we were going, and she got really upset with me, about how I was being a jerk and all this mean stuff that I had no idea where it came from.  As we took our exit, the miniature golf place was visible on the opposite side of the freeway.  But somehow, the driver couldn’t figure out where to go, and whatever her GPS was saying wasn’t making sense to her.  She pulled over at a gas station to ask for directions.  Remember, the miniature golf place was in plain sight from where we had just exited, so it was pretty obvious to any rational human being which way to turn.  She had told me earlier that she didn’t want me to talk, so I didn’t say anything.  As soon as the car stopped in the gas station parking lot, I got out and walked the rest of the way.  And I beat them there by 10 minutes.  I tried apologizing to the driver of my car later, but she told me she didn’t want to hear it, and she never spoke to me again.

Now I’m pretty sure that’s an extreme case.  GPSs don’t turn everyone into assholes.  But there is so much to miss when you don’t pay attention to your surroundings.  So many people know so little about the area in which they live, and so many people are content to go through life without thinking, even laughing proudly about having no sense of direction.  Now I’m not claiming some kind of sense of superiority over people with no sense of direction; not everyone’s brain works like mine.  And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the buildings at UC Davis having street addresses.  For that matter, my theory might not even be correct in the first place; I just tried typing some of those street addresses into Google Maps, and they didn’t all work.  Maybe they’re still working out the kinks.  But anyway, having a sense of direction these days is just another way that I don’t understand others, and they don’t understand me.  And I think the world would be a better place if we paid more attention to little things like that.

Exit 50. There’s something in the water, but it isn’t Jesus.

The other day, I was in the car listening to the radio.  For you young kids, that’s this thing that old people use to hear music for free; it’s kind of like satellite radio, except it’s free.  Anyway, I was flipping around channels, and I heard this song on a Christian station.

Except then I realized it wasn’t that song.  It was this song.

I don’t have a problem in general with cover songs.  The problem I have here is that this isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened.  A popular artist records and releases a song with a strong Christian influence in the lyrics, and it gets ignored by Christian media; then, just a few months later, a “Christian artist” covers the exact same song, it gets played heavily on Christian radio, and Christian music fans talk about how great it is.  The problem isn’t stealing; Ms. Underwood was properly credited on Point of Grace’s recording, and I’m sure the necessary royalties were paid.  The message being sent here is that the Christian music world is telling Carrie, “Hi, sorry, your song is great, but you’re a secular artist, and playing your song might send the wrong message because you have other songs that don’t glorify God.  So we’re going to have one of our more Godly people re-record the exact same song.”  Does this sound like nonsense to anyone else?  Has the body of Christ really gotten so crazy and so arrogant?  There’s something in the water, but it isn’t Jesus.

And this is not the first time this has happened.  Remember this one-hit wonder from 2004?

Somehow this is inappropriate for Christians, but again, the same song is just fine when covered by a “Christian artist.”

Same song, same music, same lyrics.  The only difference is who is singing it.  If we are judging whether or not music is “Christian” solely based on the past career of the artist, we’re completely missing the point and descending into dangerously closed-minded legalism.  This music is acceptable or not acceptable based on some arbitrary label that is depends on other things besides the content of the music.  That doesn’t make sense.

But I think all of this misses an even bigger point.  I’ve known people who have actually come out and said that Christians shouldn’t listen to secular music.  I feel sorry for those people, honestly.  They don’t have any music to express emotions like anger, sadness, and betrayal, which they all feel too.  I hate to say it, but part of the reason I don’t listen to Christian music as much as I used to is because it all started sounding the same eventually.  Can’t the Christian music industry do better?  These people who take pride in only listening to Christian music, instead of opening themselves up to the wide range of cultures and beliefs out there in the world, shut themselves in a Christian bubble and make rigid rules about what is and is not okay, then self-righteously spend their time talking down to other Christians who don’t agree with their rules.  Maybe they should spend their time on something else, like feeding the poor or telling those outside the church about the life-changing message of Jesus… you know, the things Jesus told them to do.

I used to be one of those people, to some extent.  After I became a Christian, I started listening to Christian music, and I didn’t buy any secular music for about three years.  I used to pride myself on listening to different music from people around me, although I didn’t seal myself off from secular music completely.  I still listened to secular radio, and my TV and movie watching habits didn’t really change.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with choosing not to watch certain movies or listen to certain kinds of music.  After all, I have made a choice not to watch Fifty Shades of Grey or listen to Justin Bieber.   But it is not your place to say what someone else can and can’t listen to, especially when it is based on a semi-arbitrary label of what is “Christian” and what isn’t.  And that line can be fuzzy sometimes, as I’ve written about before here.  Can’t we just let music and art be music and art, and make decisions about individual works rather than grouping things into labels and genres?  I’ve often said that the best music defies labels and genres (to which a musician friend once replied that great music creates genres, but that’s another topic).

And one final thought: Those of you who know me in person know that I have this uncanny ability to hear randomly chosen songs at the most hilariously and ironically appropriate times.  Some time, maybe next week, I should make my entire post be stories of times when this kind of thing has happened.  Anyway, so here I am, sitting here, with my music on shuffle, typing an article about legalism in Christian music, and people’s opinions on what Christians should and shouldn’t be listening to, and what should come on?  A song that was condemned by the Catholic Church and other Christian groups, of course.  I’ll leave you with that.

Exit 49. Learning is the first step to understanding.

Last night I was at a friend’s housewarming party.  I got into a long and intense conversation about religion and politics with one of her college friends whom I hadn’t met before.  At first, going by some comments I had overheard her make earlier in a different conversation, I had a feeling this would be someone I disagreed with, but she turned out to be really cool.  (Note: Before you get any ideas, she’s married.  That isn’t where this story is going.)  While there were things we did not agree about, she said that it is a good thing to hear other people’s perspectives on issues.  I completely agree with this.  But that’s not where I’m going here.

At one point, she was asking about my faith background.  She is Episcopal.  For me, though, that is not an easy question to answer.  I consider myself a Christian, but I don’t consider myself tied to any one denomination.  I attended Catholic Mass until I was 20, but have mostly attended evangelical churches since then.  I am currently a member of a Baptist church.  She went on to talk about some things she likes about the Episcopal Church, and some of the differences with Catholicism.  She said that anyone can take communion in an Episcopal church, but only Catholics can take communion in a Catholic church.  I said that I still attend Catholic Mass once a year, on Christmas Day at the church of my childhood because I’m always back home visiting my parents and brother and grandmother for Christmas.  I don’t take communion at Christmas Mass, though, or any other time I have occasion to be at my parents’ house on a Sunday and go to church with Mom, out of respect for the Catholic beliefs about communion which I don’t agree with.  I took a class in college on Christian theology, from the late Dr. Lincoln Hurst, and I wrote my term paper on transubstantiation vs. memorialism and took the memorialist view.

At this point, she gave me a look and asked a question which suggested that she wasn’t following what I was talking about.  So I explained.  I explained transubstantiation, how Catholics interpret the Last Supper passages in the Bible, where Jesus breaks the bread and pours the wine and says “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” to mean that when the priest consecrates the bread and wine during mass, they miraculously become the actual body and blood of Christ somehow.  Most Baptists and Pentecostals, on the other hand, believe that communion is a memorial act, strictly symbolic of what happened on Jesus’ last night on Earth with no actual change in the nature of the bread and wine.  In researching that term paper, I rejected transubstantiation because of the wording in Mark’s version of the story.  Mark clearly writes (14:23-24) that Jesus did not say “This is my blood” until after the disciples had drank the wine.  If one is to accept that the Bible is divinely inspired, then God would have not have allowed this wording in a divinely inspired manuscript, and those who compiled the Bible would not have considered this wording to be canonical, unless transubstantiation was never intended to be an essential doctrine.  Again, this is merely the opinion I put forth in a term paper I wrote at age 21, so if you disagree, I’m not going to try to change your mind.  These differences, I explained, were one of the first points of dissension between Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans in the early days of the Protestant Reformation.

Anyway, the girl I was talking to last night, she said, “I never knew that.  I always just thought Catholics were being mean.”

I’ve found over the years that many things that confuse and frustrate people, causing them to complain, have rational explanations behind them.  While not all of the explanations are good excuses for why things are the way they are, it helps to understand the history behind something before you complain about it or try to change it.  You think that the President of the United States should be chosen by a direct popular vote instead of the Electoral College?  Learn about the history of the Electoral College and the Connecticut Compromise, and about the difference between a democracy and a republic, a federation and a confederation, and which ones apply to the United States.  You find the US system of measurement confusing and wonder why it takes 12 inches to make a foot, instead of 10 like the metric system, since calculating with 10s is so much easier (in base 10)?  Learn about the Romans and their system of numbers, beyond I and V and X, and how they wrote all fractions in twelfths, because twelfths can be grouped evenly into halves, thirds, or fourths, whereas tenths cannot.  You live in Sacramento and wonder why there are two Highway 80s?  Learn about the Interstate Highway system, and what a business route is, and why the route numbers of these two routes were changed in 1983.  Now learning about these things doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll change your mind; I could probably tell you more about the reason there are two Highway 80s in Sacramento than 99% of Sacramento County residents, yet I still think that the numbers should be changed.  But, no matter what the issue, learning is the first step to understanding, which is crucial if any meaningful changes are to be made.