Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Assume Positive Intent

No one likes to do this anymore, and I think that's a big part of what's wrong with daily life in America.

"Assume positive intent" means that you assume that others aren't deliberately trying to hurt, impair, or otherwise screw up you or your efforts when they do so. Their motivations are not evil, vengeful, whatnot. They're just people, doing things by accident. Assume that people do what they do because they don't know any better, or because of other circumstances, not because they hate you or they don't care about your welfare.

By this mentality, the average Joe on the street doesn't care one way or the other about you. He doesn't have any ill will towards you, certainly. If he happens to bump into you and knock over your books, he did it because he tripped, or he got distracted, or he couldn't stop in time, or whatever. If you don't assume positive intent, you might think he did it because he thought it would be funny, or because he doesn't give a crap that he knocked your books into a puddle, or because he was thoughtless and couldn't be bothered to move out of your way.

This is even more obvious when you watch drivers in Boston. They automatically assume that other drivers are malicious. They honk a lot, which is the driver's version of yelling at you, as if you intended to cut them off and their being a dick back at you is going to even the score. They don't bother to think that maybe the driver has a sick kid who needs to go to the doctor and is being driven there quickly (and thus the driver is vaguely distracted), or that the other driver may have been urged forward by other people honking behind him, or anything but "that guy is an asshole." Pedestrians do it when drivers cut them off at intersections; they'll flip off people and otherwise get in their way. I knew a guy who stood in front of a car just to piss the driver off, because he tried to move through a walkway when there was a gap in the pedestrian traffic.

This is a dick move on no one's part but yours. Assume that the driver, or the pedestrian, or whatever, does not intend to ruin your existence. Very few people go around thinking, "Huh, today I think I'll scare the hell out of some cyclists by opening my car door into the bike lane." At worst, people are oblivious. They really aren't malicious. So assume positive intent, and forgive the guy.

Positive intent is all about forgiveness. If you assume that others have a reason for their screwups, you're way more likely to forgive them and get over it. You hold a grudge when you think it's their personal nature to do bad crap to you, because then you have the excuse that they're a bad person and it's okay to be angry at them.

I see this on a larger scale in politics. Liberals think that the Religious Right are a bunch of woman-hating bastards for not supporting abortion. If they assumed positive intent, they'd see their guesses change from "they don't care about women" and "they're okay with killing innocent people" to "they have a very strong, fear-driven set of morals" and "they are genuinely worried about others' eternal fates" and all that. You can still not agree with them, but I'm fairly certain you'll treat them differently in conversation if you think about how their motivation isn't to just screw people over for the hell of it.

Have you ever seen someone get pissed because someone else is being ignorant? And then the angry person walks away and does nothing about it? This is a huge issue. It's like they consider ignorance to be an innate, unchangeable trait, or that they assume that the person is being ignorant just because they want to piss you off.

Let's take, oh, random ed. Evangelicals have an absolute crap record for sex ed. They vote for abstinence-only education, and they have a notoriously hard time talking about the birds and the bees. What do people think about this?

- They want to control people's lives.
- They want to confine women to traditional gender roles.
- They want to use pregnancy and disease as punishments for sex.

These are assuming that the Religious Right is a bunch of people-hating bastards. All of these are strictly supervillain-esque evil schemes. "I know! I want people to get horribly sick for their entire lives! That'll show them! Nah-nah-nah nah nah nah!"

These people exist. 99.9% of human beings are not these people.

What's the real problem here? Well, they see someone promoting values that they believe are unethical. So their real motivations are this:
- They want to teach people their values, because they believe those values are what is moral and good.
- They want to convince people to not do things that contradict these values.
- They want people to understand the consequences of their actions.

Suddenly, they don't seem like goatee-twisting villains anymore, because everyone wants to do these things. Any human likes it when they see others abiding by what they perceive to be good morals. They will generally try to steer others away from what they see as bad decisions or actions, and usually that involves the levying of consequences in whatever form they arise, or letting (physics, biology, etc.) levy its own.

The problem is how they're doing these things. The villain schemes are symptoms, not problems. They not malevolence; they're ignorance. The Right needs a better way to get their message across.

For example, say you want to teach your kid not to have sex before marriage. You know, this is a very valid decision to make. I'm sure no one would have any problem if 20-year-old Jimmy said that he chose, by himself, to not have sex before marriage. That's his life and his decision, and he made it himself. No one would mind.

Clearly, someone out there wants Jimmy to make this decision. How do they induce this? Well, right now, they're doing it by means that create lots of pain, fear, and tension. They deprive him of information, say that he'll go to Hell if he does it, and otherwise mess with his head. Right now, this is the only way they know how to enforce their morals, because they go against some pretty serious human instincts.

These are people who only know how to use the stick end of the carrot-and-stick strategy. When stick doesn't work, they use more stick. They don't actually know any positive strategies to get people to live the "right" life.

Instead of telling them their morals suck, we need to start educating them. How do you convince kids to make the right decisions on their own, rather than scaring them into it or forcing them to endure pain and suffering after the fact? It's really easy to punch someone. It's a lot harder to use words to stop them from doing the thing you want to punch them for. Peer pressure, punishment, social ostracizing, mind games, information withholding -- those are easy. They're the natural instincts of desperate people. They're like a kick in the balls -- it's a dirty trick in a fair fight, but it will win you the match, even though no one approves of it and you come out looking like the real bad guy of the two.

We need to teach them how to play fair, but no one wants to do it, because they're too busy being self-righteous and assuming that the other side is evil by nature.

Next time you get in a sparring match with some of these people, assume positive intent. Your values do not trump theirs. Work with them, instead of against them, and you'll get a lot farther.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Evangelicals are not chill people.

They are not calm; they are not level-headed; they most certainly are not quiet. They won't sit and listen to your opinion with hands folded in their lap. They won't smile and nod genuinely when you say something they don't understand or don't agree with. They'd much rather lay the smack down than have a prim and proper discussion. They get their hands dirty.

We have this thing with winning. I swear, it's not me, it's everyone down there. And it's not that they want to go around and toot their own horns, it's that everything feels so darn serious to them, that it really does feel like a legitimate fight.

For many people, issues like abortion, gay marriage, whatnot are political issues. They're issues of the logistical treatment of other human beings. They're issues confined solely to this planet, at this time, right here, right now. Once we die, they cease to matter, because we cease to exist. Acceptance is always good. Rejection is always bad. This sort of thing. But for the southern Christian community, this is a matter of eternal life or death.

It sounds stupid to most people. Most people don't think about it really hard. Think this way: eternity is a long, long time. By definition, it never ends.

Imagine never-ending pain.

Take a moment to imagine the sheer reality of that. Of what would happen if you were in dire pain forever. And ever. And the entire time, you are vividly aware of what you were missing, that it was no one's fault but yours that you're stuck here forever.

It's almost impossible to get your mind around. Suddenly everything becomes really freaking important, something worth fighting for, something worth getting hurt for. There is no such thing as compromise, because compromise is death. Compromise is pain. Compromise is eternal destruction.

This is what these people are fighting about. It doesn't matter if it's real to you, or if you care. What matters is, is it real to them? If I were confronted with the choice between "marrying a chick + eternal hellfire" and "forever celibate + eternal paradise," which one really matters in the end? Assuming that their beliefs are true (which is their point of view), which one is significant? Choosing the temporary sin and the eternal punishment feels a lot like choosing a huge ice cream sundae when you could have a nutritious meal a little later. It's instant gratification. It's foolish, even childish. On a large scale, it becomes a threat, because it becomes a bad influence on otherwise obedient people.

These people spend decades of their lives trying to teach kids, essentially, to stay out of trouble. To learn delayed gratification so they can put off their sins and achieve a reward for doing so for 70+ years. To them, the rest of America looks like a bunch of toddlers crying for the ball that rolled into the middle of the busy street.

Some of them have gotten bitter and standoffish, and this is where you get the egotistical, "un-empathetic" types. They'll tell you to go get your ball, who cares if you get hit by the car? You whine about it enough, don't you? Just go run out there into the traffic and see what happens, see if I was right. Now I can say, "I told you so." Because you never listened. I tried, I really did, but you didn't care. Alternatively, they figure out ways to lock you into the yard so that even if you were to try, it's impossible for you to get the ball. They put up laws like electric fences, and if you touch them, you get shocked. You couldn't run into the street if you tried, and if you try, hopefully earthly punishments will be better than eternal damnation. These people are going for a sort of conditioning approach, where if every time you do something they don't like, you get punished, hopefully you'll stop doing stuff they don't like.

Some people think it's oppressive. That's a completely moot point. I'm not even going to comment. The real point is, you're not going to stop it until you convince them to change their morals. Anything is superior to eternal agony. Anything is a big word. Now realize that these people theoretically have permission to do anything to keep you eternally safe.

Scary, isn't it?

When it comes to social politics and morality, these people want to win far, far more than you. Even if your hatred knows no bounds, they still want to win more than you. They have the sheer energy, stubbornness, and drive to squash you, even if it takes a hundred years to do it. Stop fighting a battle you're doomed to lose, and start figuring out how to reconcile their beliefs with yours, and how to convince them of that. It's the only way. You can't say, "Just tolerate the fact that I don't believe." To them, this is as real as physics is, as real as the sky being blue or the water being wet, and you're all damn fools for not believing, so why should they support a blatant lie?

Until then, they have far more on the line, than you do. After all, you can only hurt for about 75 years. That' s trivial compared to Forever.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What Do You Deserve?

What do we deserve, as human beings? Do we deserve food, water, and shelter? Friendship? Sexual contact? Happiness? Love? Nothing at all?

It's a surprisingly hard question for Christians sometimes. There are two hugely conflicting messages, each with their own pitfalls, that are fighting over the Christian population right now. In this case, I'm referring to the word "deserve" in a sort of "should" sense, as in, "by deserving this thing, it means that you have every right to have it, and you have been dealt bad cards by not having it." (The other use would be, "If you have this, you were meant to have it." This is a different sense of the word that I'm not using right now.)

Point of view 1: you deserve nothing.

This is a popular point of view among evangelicals, the idea that you deserve nothing in life. You are backstabbing scum; you can't manage to pull it together enough to obey God; that's okay, though, because God has extended a hand and rescued you even though you are essentially incapable of rescuing yourself, ever. If bad things happen to you, this is theoretically the way it should be; any crumbs of goodness should be considered a privilege, not a right. Your life is supposed to be difficult and lowly up until death, wherein you finally get all the things you ever really needed in the afterlife. You don't deserve friends; you should be glad and thankful that you have them. You don't deserve love; thank God you do have it. All of humanity is a miserable excuse for a sentient race; we should be glad we weren't incinerated. Yep.

Advantages -- you certainly have a humble view of yourself, and in the end you don't run into entitlement issues and feelings that you deserve all the things in the world without working for them. You weather bad events because you expect them, and because you have already come to terms with them being inevitable and inescapable.

Disadvantages -- you become complacent with feeling crappy and not having your needs met, because you don't deserve that, anyway. You start feeling like that is an okay situation.

Point of view 2: you deserve everything good. Just for being a sample of Homo sapiens, you deserve the entire Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, right up to all the self-fulfillment stuff. You are entitled to all your basic needs -- you shouldn't have to scrape to acquire them. If things in your life aren't meeting your needs, dump them and get something or someone else. Your life is supposed to be joyful and smooth, tempered by a few helpful difficulties that eventually fall off in the end to a sort of wise nirvana. You have friends because you deserve it, because all people deserve friends. You're beautiful in your own way, and that's just great. You have love not because you are lucky, but because you deserve it.

Advantages -- You feel good most of the time, and you have a less stressful life on average because you go after the things that make you feel joyful. You are ambitious in that you run towards a better situation at all times.

Disadvantages -- When things go wrong, you get pissy that your rights and entitled things are being held back. You think that if something is bad in your life, it's the end of the world, and you jump at the chance to get rid of any kind of discomfort. You expect to be handed good things.

POV 1 is generally seen in the evangelical community and is a holdover from the days of corporal punishment and "well that sucks that you're offended, now get out of my face." POV2 is a more liberal point of view, backed by modern feel-good politics and the Self-Esteem Movement (i.e. the parenting style of the Millennials' families.) POV 1 is the hardass drill sergent to POV 2's fluffy guru type. They're extremes, and it seems most people believe a combination of the two (i.e. "bad people don't deserve good things, but everyone else does, so you can tell who is bad/lazy/whatever by their bad lives," is just one example.)

Still, it's a fight that rages on -- do you "claim what you deserve," or do you "eat the crumbs from the children's table"? Are you being a jerk by believing POV 1, or are you being too compromising and wishy-washy by believing POV 2? In the end, the battle is over one basic question: what do you deserve?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Trust Me, I'm a Christian

The South has this interesting phenomenon that a couple of my friends have brought up lately, so let's talk about it here.

Down South, if you're driving around the local town, chances are you will see at least one business with a sign on it referencing something about Christianity. It may be a simple cross; it may have "Jesus is Lord" on it; it may be the Ten Commandments or John 3:16 or some other well-known piece of text. The business can be completely secular, like a fast food joint or a furniture store, and it still has a good chance of doing this. Sometimes there are even symbols on the local water tower, essentially "claiming" the city for a certain faith. At least one of my friends has said that this intimidates her away from said business, because it says to her that they are overbearing, un-accepting, or at the very least are open enough to make her uncomfortable. The merits or drawbacks of openness aside (that's another post with a lot more fire to it), I figured I'd say a few words on why this happens.

First off, it's not an effort to chase away non-Christians. As much as some Christians are squicked out by anyone who isn't of their faith, no one wants to ruin good business. Everyone knows, whether or not they viscerally believe it, that bashing someone over the head with your opinion/faith/anything else is going to just make them go "ow" and rub their head, not believe what you want them to believe. Sure, in some places no one will want the atheist next door to come to their Christmas party, but everyone will want him to buy their product no matter what his beliefs. It doesn't matter how country or traditional or what have you that you are; business is business, and profit is profit.

People do this to draw business to them. In a town where most people are Christian, even if just to shut their neighbors up, people see these really overt signs as a big neon sign that says, "I'm like you! I abide by the morals you respect! You should trust me!"

Think about it this way. How do you become popular with the other kids at school? You wear the trendy clothes, say the right slang, and endorse their values. If they say that pink is totally out this year, it doesn't matter if you like pink, you're not going to wear it. In a more adult setting, people like other people who identify with them, and with whom they can identify. If you walk into a building full of smartly dressed types while wearing only fishnets and a bra, you're going to scare the hell out of everyone else, even if they should respect you and treat you like anyone else. Even if there is no rule or occasion saying that you shouldn't wear only fishnets and a bra, people are going to see you as a social threat. You're foreign and therefore untrustworthy.

It's all about human tribalism, and really, you can't blame us. We're evolutionarily programmed to think that Different People are scary. On the million-year-ago African plain, if some weird stranger comes up to you, they might very well be from a rival tribe trying to shank all of you for your food and women. You should distrust them until they prove themselves reasonable people; after all, life is hard and rough, and you can't afford to screw up here.

Evolution is slow. Today, our monkeyspheres (go look it up, I'm waiting, okay, done) are huge. We encounter far more people than we can reasonable empathize with or know well, and thus our instincts drive us to look for signs that these people are in our tribe.

In a mostly Christian town, having a Christian label on your business says that you don't have a strange and foreign set of morals. You value God in just the same way as your neighbor does, and you say your prayers at night just like they do. You are familiar, and you are confirmed to be friendly because you endorse the same code of ethics that everyone else does. You are an ally.

Will people consciously decide to go to one business over another because of this? Yes. If I had a nickel for every time someone has said around me something like, "Oh, they're good Christian people. See the sign on their door? You should go buy from them," I would have a pretty nice sum of money. This is very conscious; people will stand in front of two doors and explicitly state that they want the Christian one.

People do this in conversation also. If you're down South, you'll notice how often, "I see him in church each week," is used as a statement of trust. If someone is Christian, he gets a lot of brownie points in random strangers' books, so when he finally walks into your office, you know he's a good guy. It's just how things work there. If someone goes crazy and shoots up his workplace, but he was the kind of guy with a cross around his neck, everyone will throw their hands up and say that there is no way at all they could ever have guessed he would do such a thing -- mostly because their assumptions about his morals or mental state were set in stone by his overt displays of religion. It's an instant badge of trust. Of course, that trust can be ruined, but it starts you out ahead of the game.

This isn't just a religious phenomenon. Bumper stickers do a similar thing. They're an easy way to tell others that you are like them, or tell others you are against them. You're making yourself easy to read, condensing your tome of morals and opinions down to a kid's book, so that other people can process it with a glance and immediately trust you. Look at the "evolution fish" tag. It's an obvious mockery of the Jesus fish -- an alpha-shaped fish with two little legs -- and it's a big declaration to the evolution-accepting community that you are one of them, while declaring to the religious anti-evolution camp that you aren't just disagreeing with them -- you're hostile. You're willing to ridicule them in public and disparage their symbols. It sums up your opinion and mannerisms in one little symbol, so that others can already know whether or not you're worth their time. Flags outside your house are yet another way of doing this -- "I am the vocally patriotic type." You get the idea.

Is this bad? No. No, it isn't. Yes, it scares away some people (usually those who had a bad experience with extreme Christians), but in the end, when in Rome, you have to appeal to the Romans. As a religious person, I wince at the idea of lying about your faith just to suck up to someone, but what I don't mind is a religious person advertising their already present beliefs to get others to feel closer to them. It will push away a few, but think about it this way -- business is business, and if showing off your beliefs will endear you to more people than it rejects, why not do it?

Just as we can consciously decide to choose the door with the cross on it, so can we choose to ignore the signs. For people out there who are turned away by a John don't have to pay attention to it. By demanding that a business bend knee and remove their religious references, you're slighting the owner and saying he should keep his religion out of sight. You have no right to do this, and I'd be tempted to say you don't have a right to call offensive the act of someone else being open about his beliefs. (See the SMBC Comic about "It's offensive" vs. "I'm offended." You're offended, but it isn't offensive.) I would absolutely not mind walking into a store with someone else's religious symbol on it, just like I don't really care if someone is wearing the little Jewish hat or a head scarf or what have you*. It's all about who you are advertising to.

Now, in Boston, for example, it's probably unwise to put up your sign, mostly because there are enough members of other faiths that you want a more generalized advertising campaign, and the number of people you turn away by such an overt description starts getting large. But in Small Town, The South, this is basically putting a huge halo on.

There you go.

*I apologize for not knowing the technical term for these pieces of clothing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Humans Suck?

There are a few dilemmas I've yet to work out, that I hear from Christian people. In today's short (but no less verbose) post, here they are.

1. Desires are bad vs. Desires are fine

No one ever really says that desires are good; the real debate is whether your personal wants are in fact okay to have. You get the sorts of people who seem to think of humans as completely dependent types, not just in the way that we depend on God for help, luck, guidance, what have you, but in that we can't do absolutely anything at all without an edict from God as to what we should do and how we should do it. Anything we want as a human, they say, is inherently bad, because humans are inherently bad. If you want to date that person, you should wait on a response from God. If you want to get that job, you should wait on a response. If no divine answer comes, it must be born of your own evil desires, and you shouldn't do it. Things that fall into your lap are okay, because they were clearly sent from God. Stuff your Christian authorities tell you are also okay, because God talks to them. But you, within yourself, are completely incapable of making a decision.

This is a big circular problem. Human nature, here, would say that this is crap, because we're independent thinkers and can at least try to solve problems without being hand-held every step of the way. The logical response to that, given the above paragraph, is that of course you think you can do it yourself, and that thought within itself is wrong and evil, because it came from your innate desire to rebel and do whatever you want to do. Ergo you can't even question the "human desire is bad" premise without invalidating your own argument against it. It's like, "Are you an alien in disguise?" "No, of course not." "That's exactly what an alien would say!" You can't win.

2. Bad thoughts are just as evil and sinful as bad deeds vs. Bad thoughts happen, get over it

Do you ever think about punching that guy who cuts you off in traffic, or leers at you when you're lounging on the beach? Apparently this means you're a terrible person. I'm quite a victim of this also; I believe that motivations are half of what makes you a good or bad person, not just your actions. You can save all the puppies you want, but if you're doing it for bad reasons, you're still a bad person. This is backed up by the single verse that comes to mind about this: "If you look at a woman, and lust after her, you have committed adultery with her in your heart."

This verse pretty much says that any thought you think, is the same as doing it. Ever thought of bashing someone's face in? You just did it. Ever wanted to trip the obnoxious kid at school? You did.

Ever thought about having sex with someone who wasn't your partner? You did.

Ever thought about killing someone?

You did.

Isn't that terrifying? You can't even be safe in your own head anymore. Does this mean that the average person has committed a huge battery of very heinous sins without even leaving his armchair? Does this mean that most people are horribly adulterous, violent, even murderous monsters? That most people have stolen a number of things, alienated their families, kicked their neighbor's cat and more?

Does this mean we're really all terrible people, because we don't have the mental strength of Buddhist monks? Because we don't keep control of everything we think at all times?

This gets scarier: what about appreciating the looks of others? What if you're dating/married/whatever, and you see a hot woman, and you're like, Wow, she's really hot. Is this a problem? Doesn't everyone do this? Does this mean we're all just jerks?

It's a little unnerving. I like having the peace of mind that I can do whatever I want in my own head, and as long as it doesn't come out, it's fine. I can do all the daydreaming about being a superhero and punching out all the bad guys or whatever have you, and it's just a dream.

Or is it?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Off Topic: World War II

So, I've been reading a lot of Maus these days. (Wikipedia it -- in summary, it's an account of an Auschwitz survivor through the artwork of his son.) Which got me thinking about World War II and if I had any connections to it at all. Turns out I do, and I only recently learned about them.

Now, my family isn't Jewish, or any other ethnicity/group that the Nazis were rounding up. We're as white and Western European as you get. My biological mom, I'm not particularly connected to, and while I know her family was at least partly Russian, I don't really have any people I can point to there. The people who raised me, have had heritages in America since the Civil War at least. Basically, we were spared any traces of the Holocaust in any way. Thankfully.

Still, after my grandmother died, I found something cool in her house. Turns out my grandpa didn't entirely suck, and he went through some crazy stuff.

Some backstory: my grandfather, on my mom's side, was kind of a deadbeat dad. He was an alcoholic and didn't really bring in much money for the family. This was particularly bad for a poor family in an agricultural zone, where the man of the house was expected to go work his ass off and bring home the bacon scraps. Instead, it was my grandmother, raising three kids and a husband by herself, working at the sewing assembly line while my mom, her eldest daughter, worked at the local five-and-dime for pocket change. They were nowhere near what you could call well off. Once her kids grew up and got married, Grandmother divorced her husband and lived happily ever after by herself, never having the desire to remarry and enjoying her life as a single woman. She moved to another town and never looked back.

I saw very little of Grandpa Roscoe. He died a couple years after I was born, so all I really remember is an old guy in a hat, in a couple of fuzzy memories from Christmas gatherings. I never got to talk to him past little kid babble. I especially didn't get to ask him any real questions. I also didn't find out until 20-ish years later, about some other things he did in his lifetime.

Turns out that before he was an irresponsible drunk, my grandfather landed on the beaches at Normandy.

No joke. I found a box in my grandmother's house that contained his medals, papers, an American flag, and records of his capture and release, as well as an account that he had indeed fought on D-Day, in the initial landing. She had told me that he fought in World War II, but I didn't know that he was down on the ground when the boats were coming in, when Allied soldiers were drowning in the waves before even getting to fire a shot, and a few of the boats sank before making landfall, and there were bodies all over the sand and the water ran red with blood and the paratroopers missed their landing point and all kinds of other hell happened before we finally won.

This drunk grandfather of mine, the guy who essentially abandoned his kids and wife for the bottle, what did he think when he was throwing himself off the boat and landing on the stained sand? How many men beside him died? How many enemies did he kill? He was clearly wounded in some way -- he has the Purple Heart to show for it. How bad was it? Did he have a field medic patch him up while agony blazed around him? Did he grin and bear it and help break the German defenses? How far did he get before he was captured? Did he simply pass out with the other bodies, and have Germans carry him away later?

Right. After the battle of Normandy, a number of American soldiers were captured and set off to stalags, which were German POW camps for military captives. Roscoe went to Stalag XIII-C (you can even Wikipedia it, I'm so thrilled!), near Hammelburg, where he was held until the end of the war. If you look at the timeline, after the Normandy troops were carted in, later there was an exodus from Stalag XIII-D to C, where a number of prisoners trudged 500 miles to get to Stalag XIII-C and arrived there in terrible condition.

On April 6, 1945, Stalag XIII-C was liberated by American troops, and Grandpa Roscoe got to go home.

My mother was born after the war. How easy would it have been, for me to simply not exist? For some German bullet to cut down my grandpa on the shore? I wonder what sheer luck he had, such that he made it to safety. And also such luck that he was sent to a POW camp that didn't shut down and force him to death-march through the hellish winter like the folks in XIII-D.

I hesitate to call him any kind of hero, since he was only one of the scads of people who ended up on the beach that day, and he was captured right off the battlefield there and didn't go any farther, and since he came home and was a sorry excuse for a father to his kids, but in the end he surely did something worthwhile in his life, that I can say. I wish he were still alive, so I could ask him questions about what he experienced on the beach, in the POW camp, all that. But it's gone and buried, and from what I can tell he kept a lot of the stories to himself, because my grandmother didn't know very much about his actions there, only that he went to Germany, fought, and was captured.

Grandpa Roscoe, you may have been drunk off your ass for a lot of your life, and you sure sucked as a family man, but you did some really awesome things.

Edit: I found out from my family how he got his two Purple Hearts. One was due to starvation during his imprisonment; he lost 60 pounds on a frame that was already not particularly chubby. At some other point in time, he was shot in the shoulder.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Say what you will about Southern churches, but there is one thing they do tremendously well: energy. Huge quantities of energy. If you could somehow translate the energy of a Pentecostal church service into electricity, you could probably power a small city for at least a few minutes. Churches up here in the Northeast are, frankly, pretty darn boring from what I can tell, as are a number of very ritualistic, liturgical denominations. I love me some Lutheran services, but honestly, it feels like everyone there needed to get a little more sleep and about ten pounds of caffeine more than they've had that morning. Everything is slow and quiet. People are afraid to sing loud and proud.

Not so down South. I don't care if the service only gathered five people that day -- those five people will be jumping up and down, flailing their hands, and singing as loud as they possibly can until their voices run out. They will be a five-man crowd. Even the pastor will be in on it, jumping around with microphone in hand and waving his hands in the air. (I think it's some kind of unspoken mandate that Southern pastors have to be good singers? Okay, not really, but lots of them are at least competent and lead songs.)

What is with this formalized, squashed church service idea we have up here? Music is a powerful tool, and not just for slow meditation. I believe that God created rock music for a reason, and you can make awesome church songs with just about any genre. I'm pretty sure there's even Christian hip-hop and metal and stuff. Musical styles aside, you owe it to yourself to see the sheer momentum involved in a Southern church service.

We're enthusiastic, shameless people down there. We don't care if someone sees us shaking our booty to the music, or doing a very sports-stadium kind of arm-waving, or singing louder than anyone else. I was taught as a kid to project -- to really ball up your volume in your diaphragm and then use your abs to throw it out there like the song leader is a drill sergeant and he just told you to drop and do a zillion situps. We love the sense of being swept away, of giving up life's troubles and being thrilled to bits for an hour or two. We want to show how enthusiastic we are for God and all the awesome therein. So we're not going to sit on our little kneelers, no, we're going to get up and dance!

Apparently the concept of a "praise band" is a distinctly conservative thing. It's usually the Pentecostals and other fundamentalist and/or evangelical types that really do the loud church singing thing. "Shout to the Lord" is meant to be sung with the amps to 11, if you ask me, none of this wussy piano and quiet singing business. I was happy when we did Christmas carols at my church last year, because then I got to actually project.

I'm not sure what this entails. Does this mean that Southerners are more open and brash, more in-your-face? Does it mean they're more relaxed, or more enthusiastic about their faith? After all, these are the people who are okay with getting in your face about their beliefs; maybe that is yet another trait of people who are open and used to being received warmly for their religion. In contrast, I've experienced a lot of cold shoulder in the Northeast, a lot of "well, that's what you think, good for you, little kid," a lot of looking down the nose at the specimen of the "privileged majority." Down South, Christianity is a point of pride, and people will assume you're a trustworthy person until proved otherwise, so long as they've seen you in church each week. They respect that. Up here, people are expected to keep that kind of thing under wraps. God forbid you insult someone by suggesting that you have beliefs.

We should take a lesson from the South. Be proud of what you believe. Stand behind it. Fight like a beast for it. Don't be afraid to sing it loud, throw your hands in the air, dance like an idiot, whatever gets your blood going. If anyone else has a problem, they can shove off. The Christian has the same right to celebrate and enjoy their faith as anyone else, so make sure to claim your space and your voice. Don't be a shrinking violet, trying to shrivel up and disappear. Challenge assumptions, and don't let other people put you in a box so they don't have to look at you.