Archive for god

sixty seconds make all the difference

five, four, three, two, one… and we’re back.  yes, it’s been a bit of a while since i’ve participated in the so-called “blogging” experience.  but all is well, and here we are once more.  you reading as the reader.  me writing as the writer.  thank goodness.  in honor of this (oh so) special occasion, our friends at wordle.net have provided us (even though they probably aren’t exactly aware of it, as it’s simply what they’re fun little website is designed to do) with an incredible visual representation of the blog consisting of all the words of all the titles of all the posts that have been written here.  that visual wonder looks roughly as follows:

i will admit, it’s not all the words.  i removed the “the”s and “and”s and “of”s and things of that sort.  with the words being sized according to use, those “common words” (as wordle refers to them) monopolized the scene in a rather grand way (and evan o’dorney was not pleased about it).  
 

now that we’ve passed through the niceties, on to business (please note, however, how eerily similar the word “niceties” is to the phrase “nice ties”.  coincidence?  i think not).  apparently, from what i’m told, sixty seconds make all the difference.  that’s what the title says at least, so i guess i’ll have to make something up that’s goes along with it (i’ll admit here and now before the world that the title “sixty seconds make all the difference” is not as random as i have implied.  in fact, it was quiet unrandom and i chose it myself.  that concept would be quite interesting, though.  making a blogger [“writer of a blog and/or blogs” for all the laymen in attendance] write something based on pre-determined or randomized titles could create some rather fascinating [and hopefully humorous] cyberspace literature.  it’s certainly something to ponder for the future).  let’s see what we can come up with.

 

well, i suppose this will do.  four minutes.  not very long at all.  but compared to say three minutes, it’s quite a long time (with three minutes being only about three quarters of four minutes.  roughly).  that in itself gives four quite the advantage over three.  so it makes sense then that four would be so much more popular than three is (just to throw in a side note here to make you all the more confused before i begin to actually get to my point, the number two-thousand is reported [by the secret lives of numbers] to be the most popular of all numbers.  sadly, both three and four are so unpopular that proper statistics are not given for either). what i’m talking about (of course) are songs.  specifically, two songs that happen to be named “four minutes” and “three minute song“.  conveniently (and definitely not intentionally) they run (approximately) the length of their titles.  one of these songs has well-crafted lyrics, a catchy melody, rocking guitar, and an inspired message.  the other, a synthesized beat and lyrics that talk about… something.    one of these songs was a hit.  the other note so much.  well-crafted, catchy, rocking, inspired… sounds like a hit to me. but as you (being the uber-intuitive reader that you are) may (or may not) have guessed, that’s not the case.  the hit:  four minutes, as performed by madonna (featuring justin timberlake and timbaland).  the not-so-hit:  three minute song, as performed by that guy you’ve never heard of, also known as josh wilson.

 

now the interesting part of this sixty second song difference is certainly not length.  if that were the case and that was the best thing i could come up with to write about, we would certainly all be rather doomed. the interesting part, in my opinion, is that on the most basic of levels, these two songs are pretty much the same.  i’ll offer you these snippets.  the chorus in the tune by madonna and mr. timberlake states “time is waiting / we only got four minutes to save the world / no hesitating / grab a boy, grab a girl / time is waiting / we only got four minutes to save the world / no hesitating / we only got four minutes, four minutes”.  your basic claim here seems to imply that with the song only being four minutes long, they only have four minutes to make whatever hugely important point it is that they’re trying to make.  mr. wilson counters with “i just don’t have the words to say, cause words only get in my way /i must apologize, i have the hardest time / finding something to define a god that i can’t define / and even if i could, it would take way too long / if all i’ve got’s a three minute song”.  explaining god is quite the task.  especially since there are so many around.  for the sake of ease, i’ll let you in on the little hint that josh wilson is one of those christians.  now, there are approximately 2,039,000,000 christians in the world (according to the wonderful people over at religioustolerance.org), probably about zero of them could give you a full and complete explanation of god and all his workings.  that being said, an explanation of god (which is akin to “trying to fit the ocean in a cup”, as josh puts it), if someone had one, would be a hugely important thing.  and that’s what josh’s song is getting at.  and there it is.  these two songs are both about the same thing: trying to say it all in no time at all.

 

that’s quite a valiant quest, if you ask me.  the problem is that when you take a closer look at the songs, the valiance ends quite quickly.  well, for one at least (bet you can’t guess which).  “three minute song” is the catchy, inspiring one, and the message is fantastic.  it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than exactly what it is: an confession that you really can’t define god, especially in only three minutes on the radio.  “four minutes” on the other hand is all about smoke and mirrors (which in actuality is somewhat impressive considering it’s in an audio format that makes the visual aspects of both the smoke and the mirrors completely null and void).  the chorus (as we’ve seen) is cute.  it makes a nice point.  the rest of the song, though, has absolutely nothing to do with that.  in fact, it doesn’t really have much to do with anything.  it’s kind of about madonna and justin wanting to have sex.  maybe.  or maybe not.  it’s hard to tell.  madonna made the following statement about it: “if you’re paying attention to what’s going on in the world – the middle east, the u.s. election, the environment, there’s so much chaos and turmoil everywhere. are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution? but people also need to be cheered up. we also need to have fun and be given a sense of hope.”  in my opinion, that thought was going so well.  and then she realized the song had nothing to do with any of those important things and had to throw some “fun” (yippee!) in there at the end.  personally the grand and wise master “seewa” on songmeanings.net gets it perfectly at the end of his comment on the song’s meaning: “hard to explain it all but I know what I’m talking about”.

 

the situation that we have encountered is certainly not a rare one.  there are plenty of hit songs released year after year that talk about absolutely nothing at all.  so why pick on madonna (and justin [and timbaland])?  basically, she (and/or they) was (and/or were) in the wrong place at the wrong time.  i came across these two songs around the same time, and their similarities struck a chord in my mind.  a closer inspection then created the opinions we’ve encountered.  in my mind, though, it’s definitely a problematic situation that goes far beyond a single artist (or two [or three]).  this madonna tune is a hit song that has gone platinum in australia, canada, denmark, norway spain, and the united states (thanks for the help mr. wikipedia).  josh wilson?  well, his myspace page clocks “three minute song” at 22,189 clicks at the moment.  does that qualify for platinum?  not exactly.

 

so the good song will never be heard by most everyone around.  and the not nearly as good song has been heard by just about everyone.  fair?  not quite.  normal?  most certainly.  i will admit that madonna has paid her dues.  radio stations will probably play just about anything someone records after they’ve been pumping out hit records for over twenty years.  sadly, josh wilson has yet to climb to that height in the industry.  in fact, he might still be looking at his map, trying to figure out where exactly the mountain is.  but we can have hope.  both for mr. wilson’s future (by the way, he has an absurdly cool rendition of “amazing grace” that you really need to check out) and that the music business will someday be a fair and just place to make art (yeah, that’s it).  if anything at all can be taken from our discussion, however, it’s this:  don’t ever challenge madonna to a song length competition.  she’s a professional.  and she’ll take you down.

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a haitian epistle

disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you will

over the christmas break, i had the opportunity to take a trip with a group of students from st. thomas aquinas at uconn to the country of haiti.  we spent from january 4th to january 14th doing this, that, and everything throughout the cities of port au prince and jeremie.  this is my account of what it was like.  it is in no way complete and can in no way fully explain what it was like to actually be there.  but here it is.  enjoy (and by the way, it’s kind of long.  i was thinking about doing a “part i”/”part ii” kind of thing, but didn’t.  so just keep reading).

well, before taking my trip to haiti i was under the assumption that it would be a life-changing event that i would never forget. to make a long story short, i was not disappointed. over the course of ten days, i experienced things i never would have expected in a million years, met many inspirational people, and had a wonderful time doing it. there is no possible way i could put into words everything that i felt, saw, and did while in haiti, but i’ll try my best.

our plane took off from jfk airport in new york city, and from that moment on, the adventures didn’t stop. no matter where we went or what we did, something crazy, exciting, or moving always seemed to be happening. even the plane ride from new york to port au prince had some animation, as the flight attendant got in a little verbal scuffle with a haitian man who wasn’t a big fan of what he got for breakfast. once we stepped off that plane, though, we truly were in a completely different world. there were no fancy terminals. no perfectly paved runways. not even a moving walkway for us to glide across to the other side of the airport. what we did find was a packed building with people struggling to get close to the baggage claim area. we found a mass of people speaking a different and foreign language and lots of “helpful” men trying to grab our bags for us in exchange for a little bit of money.

from the airport, where we were met by nick and colleen, the two incredible norwich mission house employees that led us around for most of the trip, we took a drive up to the mission house. sounds simple enough, but trust me when i say that nothing ever was. if you were to envision a pothole in the road and then copy and paste that image until it covered the entire road, you’d be pretty close. by the end of the trip, riding in the car across these roads certainly became as much of a game as a way of getting from place to place. in a way, it was kind of like riding the t in boston. when you’re on the t, you can always tell the visitors from the natives. the visitors are flailing and falling over and jerking around with every stop and start; those who live in the city, however, know how to hold themselves so that it looks like they’re taking a completely different and perfectly smooth ride. these roads were like that. after ten days of riding along them, you had a strategy for staying smooth and comfortable, but that first time with your eyes glued to the window trying to take in every person, building, and blade of grass you were seeing, you were flying around, bumping into everyone else over and over again.

it wasn’t just the ride that was jarring, however. you can read the stories and see the pictures. you can hear about the political unrest and watch the reports on tv. no matter what you “know” about the country of haiti, though, you don’t really know it. we so often hear the complaint by viewers that reality tv isn’t real. they say it’s scripted or led on or overly-produced to the point of being just reality-based fiction. in my opinion, if you took a haitian who had grown up poor and dirty and lived the life that your average haitian wakes up to each and every day and put that person into the united states, he might complain too. he’d say our life isn’t real life. it’s just reality-based fiction. when you or i need food or water, we go to the grocery store. when the electricity goes out, you go downstairs and replace the fuse. when we need to upgrade our computer, the tech guys from the electronics store drive over and have it setup in a jiffy. our lives are overly-produced. they’re scripted. but what happens when you don’t have the money to buy food… for your two-year old baby… for the fifth day in a row? what happens when the electricity goes out and you know it’s not going to come back on? what happens when it’s 100 degrees outside and you only have the option of drinking cool water that you know will make you sick or boiled water that won’t? that’s real life. that’s haiti.

and that’s what we started to see as we took that first drive along the road up to the norwich mission house. to me, it looked like a war zone. the streets were lined with concrete buildings that were half torn down. the houses seemed to be surrounded by any kind of wall that could be afforded, usually with barbed wire along the top. everything was dusty and dirty and drab. it really looked like an army had come through on a mission and just left the place in ruins. i suppose there is some truth to that, though with less of an army and more of a civil rebellion. i would come to learn, though, that the walls actually weren’t half torn down. they were half put up. apparently, a great deal of the time the excitement of obtaining a little bit of money through whatever fortunate circumstance that arises is a little too much for haitians to handle. they’re so excited and ready to start off a new, stronger life that they put their money into building this new, bigger home for their families to live in and things are great. things are great, that is, until the money runs out, and without finishing the home, they’re back to where it all began. we did get to pass a fancy car dealership. the couple of wealthy people around do have to get their cars somewhere. we also drove by the brand new u.s. embassy building. we’ll just say that the beautiful architecture and shiny stonework don’t exactly fit in with the surroundings. those two places could in theory have given a bit of a more homey feel to the experience, i suppose. we were much more akin to seeing those than to seeing dirty streets and broken buildings. really, though, they just added to jarring feeling of the ride. i had yet to really meet a haitian, but i already had a pit in my stomach for them. the amount of money that’s going into that embassy… i don’t want to know. all i can say is that there may be a couple of things in the country that need it a little more.

i’ll have to admit we were spoiled. the norwich mission house, where we stayed, is located more along the outskirts of port au prince in an area known as petionville. it was farther up into the mountains than the majority of the city, and not nearly as crazy as many other areas. the house has walls around the borders of the property, like most of the buildings around it, and there was always a guard on duty at the gate for the protection of the workers and visitors. the guard always had a really big gun in his hands, so with that in mind, we were in a pretty safe place. besides the safety, though, the house was just really nice in general. it had everything you might need and a lovely view from the roof down into the city. the boys slept in a big room downstairs, and the girls slept in a similar room upstairs. we were the lucky ones in that deal; the girls’ room did have a bathroom that had recently been fixed up, but they also didn’t have any screens on their windows. in a country with malarious mosquitoes, window screens can be pretty handy. thankfully, we were all taking our pink malaria pills throughout the trip, so none of us got malaria, even though we did end up with a bunch of mosquito bites.

in addition to the nice accommodations, we also had many home-cooked meals that were made by a haitian woman that worked at the house. as far as how a lot of haitians live each day, scratching by for food and living with their family in a tiny one-room home, we didn’t have to live that way while we were in the country. that made for an interesting psychological situation. we went around for ten days to visit people and places that were often times unimaginable, and we would truly feel for the people we met and saw. at the end of the day, though, we’d go back to our comfortable house and eat the food that was prepared for us. we were trying to understand what these people’s lives were like, but at the same time, it seemed like we were to a certain extent being hypocrites. it was tough.

the streets of the city were a crazy, crazy place to be. the lack of road lanes and, for the most part, stop signs or streetlights turn driving into somewhat of a free for all. those who could afford a car just stayed on their side of the road and passed in and out of traffic however they pleased. the goal wasn’t so much of retaining order but just more simply of getting from one place to the next. those who didn’t have a car and didn’t want to walk all the way across the city to where they had to get would use the public transportation. that’s the easiest way to describe it at least. the vehicles used for this were commonly referred to as “tap-taps”, and mostly, they were these brightly painted pickup trucks with makeshift roofs over the back end. people would stand on the side of the road and hail them, similar to tracking down a taxi, and just hop in the back (or if it was full, hang off the back). when you wanted to get off, you’d just give a little tap-tap (hence the name) on the side of the truck to let the driver know to stop, pay for your ride, and be on your way. the constant entrance and exit of the tap-taps onto and off of the street made the driving even more interesting. this of course was only added to more by the people walking through the streets, many not looking with particular focus on what cars were coming in each direction. that part, at least, made our group feel more at home; it was like being surrounded by the pedestrians on the uconn campus.

our travels took us many incredible places on our trip, and we were able to meet so many selfless people that live their lives completely for others. a perfect example of this occurred whenever we went to a place run by mother teresa’s missionaries of charity. we visited homes of sick and dying men and women of all ages, malnourished and diseased babies, and other sick or abandoned children. the sisters that were in charge of these facilities were incredible. day in and day out they take care of men, women, and children that no one else would dare to touch. their patients have scabies, tb, hiv, and others diseases, and many are thinner than the people in pictures that they show you in health class to scare out away from eating disorders. in visiting these places, we had the opportunity not only to see the hardships that they were going through but also to interact with people and hopefully share a little bit of love with them. we visited the home for the babies on the first full day in the country, and to say it was a shocking start would be quite an understatement. they stopped our car along the side of the road in front of a building guarded by a tall metal wall that looked just like all the other run-down buildings around it. this one, however, had a long line of women holding their babies sitting against the wall. we would come to find out that these women would sit there in hopes that the nuns would let them in and feed their children because they had no way to do it themselves. once inside you were immediately face to face with a large room filled with crib after crib after crib. when you turned the corner, you’d find a similar room, and through another door would be another. the first floor consisted only of several of these rooms, and each one was completely full. the baby boys and girls in the cribs all laid or stood there in their cloth diapers (some with shirts as well), and most were crying. you heart immediately poured out to these children. there was nothing you could do but walk right over and pick one up. for many, the moment they were picked up, they would stop crying. their cheeks and eyes glistened with the streaks of the fresh tears, but when they were picked up, everything was okay. these children needed only to be held to be happy. they just needed a moment of love, even from a stranger that they had never seen before, would probably never see again, and for the most part, had absolutely nothing in common with. the problem was, there were just so many. the very few sisters that ran the home were so busy changing dirty diapers and making sure they were all staying healthy that there was little time for such affection. that was our gift to them, as small as it was. you’d be holding one, though, and have to watch all of the other babies in the room crying. the simple fix would seem to be to put down the child being held and to pick up another; the problem with that was the moment you put many of them down, they would start bawling all over again. you felt terrible putting one down but knew that the others needed your embrace just as badly.

in addition to the babies, there was also a group of orphans that lived at the home. it was truly incredible seeing how open and loving all of these children were. with the upbringing that we are given, told to stay away from strangers and to be afraid of things and people that we do not know, it was mind-blowing to walk through a door and immediately have haitian kids grabbing and pulling you here, there, and everything. it didn’t matter who we were. we were people, and because of that alone, they liked us. we also had the chance to help feed the children at lunchtime. the food wasn’t exactly what people in the u.s. would consider up to gourmet standards. they were basically eating something similar to a thick gruel with a rice and beans base to it. it certainly wasn’t the most delicious looking thing in the world, but honestly it didn’t matter. the thing about food is that when you have nothing to eat besides what is put in front of you, you will gladly eat it. this point got reinforced later in the trip when we were hearing about haitians in the countryside making and eating mud cakes because they couldn’t afford anything else. as we sat there spoon-feeding babies, it didn’t matter what was on the spoon. their stomachs were empty and anything would be good enough to fill them.

this type of experience would be replicated many times in our travels around the country. we met with so many incredible people who, no matter their plight or situation, all shared a common need: love. we spent a few afternoons with children from an orphanage called “la maison l’arc-en-ciel,” or “the rainbow house.” these kids were all positive for hiv/aids and could not be supported be their families anymore. in a country where trying to find enough money for food, water, shelter, and clothes on a daily basis is nearly impossible for many, trying to then pay for the medicine of a sick child isn’t even an option. one afternoon we took a bunch of boys on a hike up a nearby mountain. the walk was fun, and the view at the top was breathtaking. the most impacting factor of the experience, however, was neither of those. it was the kids. the fact that they spoke creole and we spoke english made it so communication couldn’t really happen so effectively using our verbal skills. there are only so many “hi! how are you?”s that you can say to a 10-year-old in an afternoon before he realizes that’s all you know. the fantastic thing, though, was that the lack of talking didn’t stop communication. when a kid is dancing up and down the path and has a huge smile on his face, you can assume pretty well that he’s having a good time. when you’re grabbed by the arm and dragged over to a tree to see the fruit that a boy’s just climbed up and picked for you, it’s pretty easy to tell that he wants you to eat it. when it came down to it, and this fact would be pretty consistent throughout the trip, not being able to speak creole wasn’t really that big of a deal. it’s incredible what perseverance for understanding and a little attention to body language can do. being from the northeast where even the person having the best day in the world still walks down the street as quickly as he can with his head looking straight down, you don’t get that a lot. on this afternoon, though, these kids had a ball, and i don’t know that because they told me. i know that because i cared enough to look and see.

we went back to that same orphanage a few days later to play with all the kids, and it was a great time. our group was able to take the experience with a few boys on the mountain and multiply it ten times over. most of the children were still at school when we arrived, but when the truck bringing them back home stopped at the orphanage, they immediately came over and gave all of us welcoming handshakes and hugs. these kids acted as if we were family friends that they had grown up knowing. we were never strangers in their minds, just people, and it was people that they wanted. we spent the afternoon basking in the feeling of acceptance and love and hopefully were able to give it right back to them. being infected with their disease definitely didn’t make them the most popular kids around. we heard stories of other families wanted these children to be put into different schools and how families with hiv/aids positive kids are shunned by the community. it’s not all that unlike here, i guess, but in a world where all you have to rely on is the support and caring of those around you, it’s an awful situation to be in. for the short time we were there, though, you never in a million years would have known that these kids had lived through any problems. they smiled. they laughed. they played. they loved soccer and swinging and music and coloring and anything you wanted to do with them. as long as someone was there to spend time with them, they were happy as could be.

one bizarre thing to witness in haiti was the doings of a typical sunday. we’re all used to america, the freedom-based, most powerful country in the world. one of those freedoms has always been freedom of religion. while a great concept in the beginning, it kind of backfired. instead of allowing everyone to pick whatever religion they want to follow, it instead lets most people pick none. most people around, even if they go to church occasionally, could care less about religion and god and all that. we found out that haiti has that religious freedom thing too. there are plenty of catholics around, but you’ll bump into lots of protestants and those who practice vodou. the weird thing was that no matter their religion, on sunday most people were going to church. they weren’t sitting at home preparing for the football game that night or making sure their roof was fixed (though many could have used the time to do so). they got up on sunday morning and went to church, and they were all in their sunday best. for six days of the week, you saw people walking around in dirty, ripped t-shirts and pants, but on sunday, the suits and dresses came out. suits and dresses? i thought these people were all dirt poor. well yes, they are. that’s why for most, you would probably see the same suits and dresses week after week after week. they just wanted to do their best to praise god and show their respect to him by being clean and well dressed for church. imagine if people in our country cared enough about anything to do that.

there were far too many moments and experiences in those few days in port au prince to even think about writing about all of them here. we met with a pastor who helped translate the bible into creole, merchants whose chance of feeding their families that day depended on you buying a statue or painting from them, a woman who gave her life and money every single day toward feeding all the hungry children in her neighborhood, an american banker trying to bring hope to the island through this thing called micro credit, and students who have had to walk all the way to the hospital just to get somewhere with electricity so that they can do their homework. it was full of so many people, places, and things that i’ll never forget. it was an incredible, incredible experience, and then, we went to jeremie.

jeremie is the fourth biggest, i think, city in haiti. compared to port au prince, though, it’s not much of a city at all. it’s out in the countryside and is a much more rural atmosphere than the “big city” life we had gotten used to. we had to take a plane to jeremie because the road there is winding, unpredictable, and dangerous. one haitian man told us that if we were going to drive, it would take us somewhere between four hours and a few days to make the trip, depending on car, weather, and road conditions. seeing as we were only on the island for a week and a half, we took the plane instead. after getting off our tiny propeller plane, we were met on the dirt runway by bette gebrian, who is the primary health coordinator or the public health director (depending on which website you google to) of the haitian health foundation. we had only a moment to go to the bathroom in the one-room airport, and then we were off into the mountains. it was an interesting ride for sure. the roads in port au prince had been rough and bumpy, nothing like even the worst roads back home. the roads leading up through the mountains of the haitian countryside, however, were nothing like even the worst roads in port au prince. it wasn’t really a bad thing, just a little crazy. i’ve driven up mountain roads before, but never literally up the path of a mountain. it made for quite the ride. we would all come to embrace the motto of “be like gumby”, as if you tried to control yourself over the unexpected turns, bumps, holes, and rocks, you would inevitably hurt yourself more than just letting go and flopping around. if someone had been filming us, it probably would have made for quite a youtube video.

we were driving into the mountains to go and visit one of the villages that the haitian health foundation helps out. basically they go around to towns, villages, homes, and people throughout jeremie and the surrounding area and help promote good health. they focus on teaching things such as proper nutrition, good ratios of food, breastfeeding, and other concepts that will help the poor haitians stay healthy even when the least possible nourishment is available. at the village we visited, the hhf was running a monthly check for mothers and their children, checking things like weight and blood pressure. we also had the change to wash and clip fingernails to prevent diarrhea-inflicting diseases that cause dehydration. before we left, we were able to serve a meal of this stuff called “akamil” to the families that were there that day. akamil is an interesting dish to say the least. if you remember the gruel-like dish that i mentioned earlier, i’ll just say that the akamil made that food look rather appetizing. it was basically a gray mush. i tasted some, and honestly, it wasn’t too bad. apparently, they also have a sweeter version than the one we served that day with more sugars and sweet ingredients. ours, however, was basically made of two parts rice, one part beans, and a few various spices that they found around. the problem with a lot of these rural areas is that when families get a little money for food, they want to get the most food possible with it. the cheapest thing around is usually rice, so they get a lot of rice. even if they fill up on rice and aren’t starving, though, they aren’t getting the proper nutrition to survive. many children end up dying of kwashiorkor, a protein deficiency, because they are only taking in simple sugars and carbohydrates. the akamil that they are taught to make, and that we served while in the village, is a nutrition-based food that, while not all that delicious, provides sustaining nutrition for the haitians in jeremie.

one fantastic part of the haitian culture, in my slightly biased opinion at least, was the importance of music. music is important in the u.s. and is a huge economic force, but in haiti, it’s a huge part of life. not only is music used for enjoyment, it’s engrained in everything they do. when we got down from hiking the mountain with the boys from the orphanage, we ate lunch with them. before we ate, they sang grace for us. when we spent the afternoon at the orphanage, they sang a thank you song right before we left. when we were in jeremie, we heard songs about the signs of pneumonia and the positive effects of breastfeeding (or so we were told at least; they were all in creole). since many of the haitians were illiterate, the workers at the haitian health foundation found that song was the best means to teach, even if the tunes didn’t exactly have the lyrics of a top 40 hit. coming from a country that’s gradually trying to take music out of schools and out of the minds of children, seeing music embraced in this way was wonderful. i even had a few chances to play some authentic caribbean drums with a couple of kids that had so much natural talent and rhythm it was incredible. they tried teaching us their beats, but it was a struggle for sure. as i’m going to school to study music, it was tremendous to see so much music everywhere we went in the country.

before leaving jeremie we had the chance to drive around the city with sister maryann berard. she works for the haitian health foundation, and like many of those that we met along the trip, she was a truly incredible woman. to say she was tough would be quite the understatement. from what we hear in the united states, haiti is supposed to be this hardened, dangerous place that you should stay clear of, but for the vast majority of the trip, i personally didn’t feel in any danger. the welcoming, friendly people that we met along our journey made those ideas seem much more like rumors than the truth. i did, however, feel a bit scared twice. both of those times were under the watchful eye of sister maryann on that drive around the city. at one point, we got out and took a walk up into one of the poorest and most cramped sections of the city. before we got out, she told us that she was glad we were there because she wanted to go talk to the people but didn’t like to go up in there alone. for me, that wasn’t the most comforting thing she could have said, but we all went with her anyway. we found out what she meant as we walked along the tiny path between the tiny shacks. more and more people came out to get a look at us, and soon enough, we were surrounded by forlorn haitians needing money and food. we were never directly threatened, but being surrounded by a big group of desperate haitians yelling and holding machetes can make you nervous. or maybe it was just me. the second event on that car ride happened as we were riding through one of the busier parts of town. carnival was coming up, so every sunday they would have a kind of mini-carnival to get ready for the big celebration. we happened to be driving around on a sunday, and as such, the younger men were out having their fun. a lot of them were totally drunk and had put on masks and covered their bodies in some kind of black charcoal mixture. they looked pretty intimidating to begin with, but the thing that really got me was when one of the guys slammed on the back of our car and then almost immediately another jumped on the back and hung on. i had the luck of being seated right in the back next to the window, so he was probably about three inches away from me. thankfully, sister just kept on driving and eventually he jumped off and we got out of there before anything could happen. it was quite the experience, though. the funny thing was that while all of the young, adventurous college kids were really nervous going through those places, sister maryanne, who is 63 years old, seemed unfazed like it was all no big deal.

the group took a plane ride back to port au prince and basically started getting ready to go home, as we had to leave the next day. we were lucky enough to get to watch a “rara” pass by the mission house that night. it was pretty much a great pre-easter parade which tons of people and really neat music. i thought it was pretty cool. once again, we had a first hand look at the awesome musical culture. the next day, we got a ride to the airport and took our plane back to jfk and eventually back home. it was interesting to see the differences between the customs office at the airport in port au prince and the one in new york. none of us had any reason to be stopped in either one, but as you can probably expect, it took a lot longer getting through in the u.s. than in haiti. we did, however, finally get out and were safety back in the united states of america. it was a very, very strange feeling walking out of the airport to the hustle and bustle of new york life. there was streetlight after streetlight and car after car after car, and as you walked past all these people and all their stuff, you just had a feeling they took it all for granted. i know i had. before the trip i had heard of the starving children in china that forced me to eat the vegetables on my plate. i had heard of the poor children in africa that somehow got on my television screen but definitely needed a few dollars from me every month. i had read about the injustices in the world, and i can assure you that i believed that they were there. i had not, however, gone and seen it, and that made all the difference. the old adage is that you don’t know what you have until you lose it, and that was never truer than with this experience in haiti. the incredible part about it was that it worked both ways. being in haiti, i was able to realize how incredibly blessed i am just to have enough food, water, clothing, and shelter or how fortunate i am to be able to go to an expensive university to learn about the world and then get to go see it. i’ve taken so much for granted in my life, and going to haiti made me realize that fact and hope, for myself, that i can change that. coming home from haiti, however, i also realized what i had lost by leaving there. as i walked down the street, no stranger was willing to look me in the eye and say hello. unfamiliar people were not ready to give me a hug and spend an afternoon in my company. the friendliness and love that had shone from the haitian people was nowhere to be found around here, and while it was nice to get back to the luxuries and comfort of my normal life, that was something to be missed.

there is no possible way to put into words everything that i experienced, felt, saw, learned, and loved about my trip to haiti. reading back through what i’ve written, i’m realizing more and more all the things i’ve left out. that’s okay, though. i can just say that it was an unforgettable experience that, thankfully, will never leave me. if you’d made it all the way to the end of my wandering words, i applaud you. hopefully my stories weren’t too random for you to take out the importance that i saw in them. if you get anything, however, out of what i’ve tried to share, i hope it’s this: haiti is an amazing country. many claim it to be one of the poorest places in the world. i, however, experienced a haiti that was richer than i could have ever imagined. the haitian people shouldn’t be pitied, for they do not want to be pitied. they’re just like you and i. they just want to be remembered and to be loved, and after actually being there, i can promise you that it can truly make all the difference.

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wwjd

disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you will

i hate things that i don’t understand.  i don’t like change.  i’m a horrendously (slightly) obsessive compulsive creature of habit.  basically, when things go from being one way to being another, it scares me.  not in a boogie man scary way or anything like that, but it creates a strange and different unknown.  and fear of the unknown is one of the biggest fears around.

it’s for that reason (amongst others, i suppose) that i’m a really big fan of both my faith and my religion.   both have been around for a long, long time, and for the most part haven’t changed all that much.  the faith part, some might say, has been around since adam and eve.  they were made by this guy named god and listened to what he said.  they did make one little oops by listening to the snake in the garden, but after having god yell at them and getting kicked out of eden, they straightened out and started listening again.  and if you don’t care to go that far back (whether or not you think we’re monkeys who wear socks), belief in jesus has been around for almost two millennia.  in my book, that’s a hefty bit of time.  and then the whole religion thing.  some would say that catholicism started with jesus dying and the apostles going around saying that he was a pretty righteous dude.  others would disagree and say that original christianity was not by any means the same as original catholicism and that those practices were really started as a more strangling form of religion that was placed upon the roman people by the power of the first council of nicaea in 325 (which may or may not have been imposed upon the church of the time by the oh so powerful emperor constantine [the great]).  personally, i’m all about the first option, but regardless, both points of view leave some sort of catholic teaching beginning between 1,700 and 2,000 years ago.  once again, i’d say that’s a hefty bit of time.

and that’s pretty cool.  in my eyes at least.  it seems firm and steady.  the foundation was put down so well way back when that even through a great religious exodus (often called the protestant reformation [and by the way, i’d like to wish you all a belated happy reformation day!  for any and all of you who were not aware, the 31st day in october [though it can be changed around to a different day if desired, making it more like one of those crazy “observed” holidays that never really make a whole lot of sense] is celebrated by many [especially in the lutheran tradition] as what is very formally called “the festival of the reformation”.  it’s a day to celebrate the great work of martin luther and his theses [there were 95 of them] that sparked the protestant reformation way back in 1517.  now, it was on that day [october 31st] that luther posted his theses [which by the way, were a big list of things that he felt the church was messing up on] on the door of castle church in wittenberg, germany.  as our friends at wikipedia[.com] put it “reformation day… coincides with halloween, but there is no direct relation between the two holidays.”  there are some more conservative thinkers in the christian world that aren’t big fans of halloween because of its pagan [and dare i even say just a touch satanic] history and background.  and that’s brought up a bit in a different wikipedia article that states “some christians do not appreciate the resultant de-emphasis of the more spiritual aspects” of the day.  regardless of how you view halloween, be impressed by the fabulous political correctness with which the writers handled the situation.  it’s well played]) and some crazy situations like having three popes at once or having some rather unfortunate sex scandals plastered across the television screens of the world, the catholic church has stood its ground.  the tradition has held, and simply put, it’s not going anywhere.  for me, that’s actually a huge part of what i believe and why i believe it.  it’s just like the bible.  you can’t can’t claim the bible’s a fake.  it just doesn’t work.  there are so many contradictions and bizarre things in there, that it would be the worst fake job in history.  but it’s still around and still gets occasionally read, so you have to figure that it’s not. and the catholic church is similar.  so many stupid and terrible things have happened in the history of the church, that if it wasn’t a legitimate and solid religion with some real spiritual basis behind it, it would have folded a long, long time ago.  but it hasn’t.  and people still occasionally go to church, so you have to figure that it’s not too bad.

and rather interestingly, that’s what so much of my life is.  habit and tradition.  and most of the time, i love that.  it’s a safe way to work with life, and i like safe.  but then i heard something.  well, i was told something actually.  more in conversation than in eavesdropping, so we’ll go with the “told”.  i was in church.  kind of.  here at the university, there is a student center back behind the church, and on sunday mornings at 10:15 am, they have a mass in the big room in there instead of in the normal chapel.  honestly, i don’t know why it’s in there or when they started having it in there, but they do.  and seeing as i often can’t make it to any of the other mass times offered, i go to that one a lot.  so i was in the student center (which by the way, is often just called “the center” when they make announcements about events and activities that will be happening in it.  that, of course, always makes me think of the “boy meets world” episode when shawn starts hanging out at “the centre”, which turns out to be a cult.  it always settles a little weird in my mind, but what can you do), and it just so happened that there was a silent auction going on in the lobby area of the building to support a couple groups that are involved in trying to help out the people of haiti.  those running the silent auction were walking around making sure everything was alright and that people knew how to make bids and things like that, and a wonderful man named bob (who is one of the guys that kind of unofficially run the church.  every church has those people that are just involved in absolutely everything, and at this church, bob is definitely one of those guys) came over and stood next to me.  we stood observing the scene for a moment, and he said “the money changers are in the temple.”  and he smiled at me and walked off to do something else.

it was really simple and really quick.  and for most people, it probably would have meant next to nothing.  but for me, it packed quite a wallop.  if you didn’t know, that line was a reference to an episode in the new testament gospel accounts of jesus often simply referred to as “jesus and the money changers”.  it’s found in all four gospels (matthew 21:12-17, mark 11:15-19, luke 19:45-48, and john 2:12-15), so that considered, there’s a decent change it happened.  for the sake of space (and goodness, we all know the internet is running low on space), i’ll just give you one of the four.  and i like matthew (it’s a good name), so we’ll go with that one.  the dandy new american translation states, “jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there.  he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.  and he said to them, ‘it is written: “my house shall be a house of prayer,” but you are making it a den of thieves.'”  that only includes verses 12 and 13, but for our little chat that’s really all we’ll need (and on another fun note, john’s version talks about jesus making an impromptu whip to help get people out, which is pretty cool.  though, the fact that the story is given so early in that one gospel [chapter 2] and none of the others gives some scholars the inclination that they may actually be two different events.  my thoughts?  i had no idea about that until i just read it online, so you’ll have to ask someone else for more information in that regard).

there it is.  a lovely tale.  but why bring it up?  why now in the midst of talks of habit and tradition and all that jazz? well basically, because that’s exactly what was going on.  jerusalem was being a big huge creature of habit.  in a nutshell (and a very, very vague and simple one, to say the least), it was close to the jewish festival of passover and all the jews needed to go to the temple and make a sacrifice to god for the festival.  to do that they needed an animal to sacrifice, which they could very conveniently buy in one of the outer courtyardy areas of the temple. however, they had to buy these animals with special money (per the jewish law) that they didn’t normally have on them and had to go to the money changers first to exchange their money.  basically, it was like this:  they had money.  they changed their money to the proper currency.  they bought an animal to sacrifice.  they went and had it sacrificed in the temple.  and now i repeat: very, very vague and simple.  the thing was, jews had been doing this for a long, long time.  jesus and his family had probably done this themselves plenty of times.  plus, the setup was really convenient.  everything these people needed was right there.  in a (really strange) sense, it was the mcdonald’s of passover.

which brings us back to storrs, connecticut.  bob and i were standing there watching this hustle and bustle going on around us with lots of people worrying about making their bids on items and how much money they were willing to spend and all that.  and as bob walked away smiling, i realized that he was so right.  it was exactly the same.  and that confused me so much.  all these people were at church, there to celebrate god, and yet all of the focus was on what was happening outside in the lobby.  instead of being focused on faith and spirituality and listening to the word of god, it was all about bidding and donated items and money.  the thing is, it was all for a great cause.  the money that was being raised was going to end up going (in some way or another) to haiti, which happens to be the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  those people need all the money and support that they can get.  so it was a really good thing.  the catholic church has a list of “corporal works of mercy” that are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.  by supporting the auction, those things were going to be able to happen.  but at the same time, i stood there thinking about it, and the one thing that ran through my mind was the overdone and taboo (but if truly thought about and used, oh so perfect) line “what would jesus do?”.

wwjd.  i’ve seen it on posters, necklaces, t-shirts, bracelets, stickers, and a zillion other things.  does it actually make people think about what jesus would do?  maybe.  does it then make people act like jesus would have acted?  maybe.  i really can’t tell you that.  but i can tell you that for once, that line meant something to me because i really had to stand there and contemplate it.  regardless of what kind of swindling and overpricing the money changers and animal sellers were doing around the temple in ancient jerusalem, it was a decent service.  people got what they needed, where they needed it, when they needed it.  money was being spent on the outside, and sacrifice (which i guess could be the equivalent to modern “worship”) was happening on the inside.  it was a tradition of sorts.  a habit, definitely (if not the former).  it was the safe way to do things, so people did it.  and then jesus came in and started knocking over tables and thrashing around his whip.  the obvious question i had to ask myself was whether or not jesus would have done the same in our church.  now there’s the dumb debate over what kind of house of worship jesus would go to if he was around today, seeing as the christians worship him and the jews don’t…but he was jewish…whatever.  that’s not important.  what’s important is what he would have thought and done if he had, for whatever reason, shown up to church that day.  bob was right.  the money changers were definitely in the temple.  they were doing it for a good (even great) cause, but at the same time, the focus on god and worshipping him was totally being averted.  the minds and hearts were being dragged in the wrong direction.  and so i just stood there.  contemplative and downright confused. was what we were doing a bad thing? even though it was in an attempt to help the poorest of the poor? can good things occasionally be not so good? can they even be bad? oh dear. i was perplexed.

and here it comes, the answer.  well, no.  once again, i have no answer for you (it seems like that’s happening more and more often.  either i’m getting more deep or just less intelligent.  i’m definitely going to have to go back to the simple, stupid stuff.  it was a lot easier).  i was perplexed about the issue, and i remain as much so. and yet, i guess the only “answer” i have is to tell you not to worry about answers all the time.  i have books and books of catholic teaching, catholic laws, catholic thought, catholic history and most anything catholic you would ever want to know.  but i can promise you that none of them, even if i did look (which i’ll be honest and admit i didn’t), would have an answer to this question.  in this situation, all of that tradition and all of those teachings still leave us empty-handed.  so when you think about it, the safe way isn’t all that safe.  even with tradition, you can still lose.  for someone who is so big into these long-standing, changeless traditions, that kind of stinks.  but alas.  it happens.  sometimes all we can do is take it in and make our own decisions and opinions.  and sometimes (gasp), that may involve change.  as scary as that can be.

so go grab your wwjd bracelets. put on your jesus t-shirts and wear them proudly. and the next time you do something (anything, really), think about what you’re doing. think about it from all sides and angles. it’s incredible what you can find out when you take a look around the back corner of an issue. and if you find something a little scary, just go with it. it’s the tough things that make us grow and the changes that make us learn. even when we have no idea what jesus would do.

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god’s kids

disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you will

hola (that’s “hello” for all you french-speakers out there).  so i was in church last week (on friday, september 14th, to be rather precise), and it just so happened to be the feast day for the exaltation of the holy cross.  while not a holy day of obligation, it was still kind of a big deal.  you could tell this because instead of the normal reading – psalm – gospel order that daily masses normally partake in, this mass was more sunday-esque with the reading – psalm – reading – gospel lineup.  i don’t mean to degrade the first three members of that group (which happened to come out of numbers 21:4-9, psalms 78: 1-2 and 34-38, and philippians 2:6-11, respectively), but the reason i bring up my ecumenical outing is due to the gospel reading.  this reading came straight out of the book of john, chapter 3, verses 13-17.  now if you’re in any way biblically literate (and i can say this solely because i consider myself extremely biblically illiterate and still know a bit of this reading), you might have already picked up on the fact that this biblical slice just so happens to include one of the more (and/or most) well-known bible passages in today’s lovely world.  that passage is john 3:16 which reads (in the new american translation), “for god so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  a lovely passage indeed.  it’s hard to deny that.  but at the same time, it got me thinking.  and honestly, this idea had been floating around in my head for a while.  but when it was read in church, that was it for me.  it made me think.  and when i think, i blog.  and when i blog, you have to suffer the consequences.  sorry.

my thinking, getting back on track, was about the dandy little phrase “his only son”.  this, if you didn’t know, is in reference to jesus of nazareth (who christians consider to be the christ, messiah, and savior of all).  now it’s only three little words (comprising of only twelve measly characters in a microsoft word spelling and grammar check), but those three words (in my mind at least) pack a wallop (which urbandictionary.com defines as a “pseudo-violently high-powered action performed abruptly”, so it’s quite a thing).  it’s not that i have a problem with the phrase, but i do have kind of a big problem with that phrase.  well, less of a problem and more of a confusion.  a bewilderment, if you will.  for if you’ve ever been to church on a (pseudo-)regular basis, you’ve probably heard at least once (or maybe even twice) that you are a “child of god”.  this, of course, makes the group around you in the religious community “children of god”, as the phrase is often put.  and this is where the problem comes in.  god is the father (…and the son, and the holy spirit.  but the internet doesn’t have enough space to even begin to try and figure out the holy trinity, so we’re not going to go there at the moment).  and we’re (all, if you choose to be at least.  though, i guess in my opinion we’re all his children, and people who don’t want to believe that are just kind of like the rebellious kids who don’t like their parents [whether warranted or not.  and in this case i’d go with the not] and disassociate themselves from their families as much as possible) his kids.  so english language-ly speaking, we are also his sons and daughters.  this being another term that you (the [pseudo-]regular churchgoer) may have encountered.  but… hmm.  going back to john (who i’m assuming was a lovely man back in his day), we see that jesus was the only son of god.  but according to popular linguistics, i (and you, if you happen to be a male) am a son of god.  i can assure you right here and now that i am not jesus (thank goodness.  i don’t think i could take the pressure).  so how does that work?  my best answer is as follows:  not really sure.

 what i am really sure about is that the internet is quite an intellectual resource.  so i did a bit of searching to quench the thirst of my quandary.   in the “son of god” page on the wonderful wikipedia(.com), we find this line right in the opening paragraph: “in christian traditions [son of god] refers to the relationship between jesus and god, as well as a relationship achievable by believing christians”.  so yeah, no help.  they covered both bases to be safe.  interestly, however, it does bring up a good point a bit further down the page about chapter 1 (verse 12) in the book of john.  this verse states “but to those who did accept [jesus] he gave power to become children of god…”  so jesus, the only son of god only a few pages later, gave us the power to also be sons of god.  interesting.

 a quick google search of the term “‘his only son’ god” brought me back to my roots.  sadly, wikipedia is not the end-all be-all source of information (shocking, i know), and so i ventured forward, this time straight into the catechism of the catholic church to see what it had to say.  thank goodness for the internet, because just looking through my copy of the catechism might have taken a while, but instead my online searching lead me straight to part one (the profession of faith), section two (the profession of the christian faith), chapter two (i believe in jesus christ, the only son of god), article ii (“and in jesus christ, his only son, our lord”), paragraph iii (the only son of god).  the most relevant statements, i thought at least, were numbers 441 and 444. number 441 states, “in the old testament, ‘son of god’ is a title given to the angels, the chosen people, the children of israel, and their kings. it signifies an adoptive sonship that establishes a relationship of particular intimacy between god and his creature. when the promised messiah-king is called ‘son of god’, it does not necessarily imply that he was more than human, according to the literal meaning of these texts. those who called jesus ‘son of god’, as the messiah of israel, perhaps meant nothing more than this.” personally, i found the “adoptive sonship” line to be most interesting. number 444 then follows with “the gospels report that at two solemn moments, the baptism and the transfiguration of christ, the voice of the father designates jesus his ‘beloved son’. jesus calls himself the ‘only son of god’, and by this title affirms his eternal pre-existence. he asks for faith in ‘the name of the only son of god’. in the centurion’s exclamation before the crucified christ, ‘truly this man was the son of god’, that christian confession is already heard. only in the paschal mystery can the believer give the title ‘son of god’ its full meaning.”  because i know you want to know, the jesus calling himself the “only son of god” part of that is footnoted with a reference to john 3:16.  darn, no help there.  but, the “he asks for faith…” part two sentences later references john 3:18 (which was conveniently [or not so conveniently] just beyond the extent of the church reading), which states, “whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only son of god”.  there it is again, that same crazy phrase.  still without explanation (but thankfully, my notes in my bible pointed out to me the root of the greek word for condemn.  yeah, helpful).

further searching sent me to an interesting blog called “the monroe doctrine” and specifically a post on it entitled “jesus christ, his only son, our lord“.  it seems to be part of a series of posts about the apostle’s creed and has a whole section about the whole “only son” situation.  it reads, “the phrase ‘god’s only son’ focuses on relationships within the trinity.  god the son is not inferior to the father, but has submitted to the father in order to accomplish the godhead’s eternal purposes.  the terms father and son reveal the eternal and perfect familial love within the godhead”.  personally, i found that pretty interesting, though not particularly helpful.  for some reason, it seems that people are extremely willing to call jesus the “only son of god” while at the same time calling themselves “children of god” even if they might happen to contradict a tad bit (with “a tad bit”, of course, meaning completely).

the only real concept that has brought about any inkling of “okay, maybe that has something to do with it…”, in my mind at least, was in number 441 of the catechism.  the whole adoption thing got me thinking.  maybe jesus is god’s real kid.  and the rest of us are all just kind of step-kids.   yeah, i know.  it doesn’t really make any sense, but i’m working on it.  it’s tough when you don’t have much to go on.  i came across a sermon on the national presbyterian church website entitled “jesus christ, his only son, our lord“, and i had some high hopes for it.  but once again, this explanation falls short. here is the relevant section to read if you so desire: “so much for the relevance of his name. think with me now about his relation to the father as expressed in the words, ‘his only son.’ we in the west can be excused for thinking of biological childbirth when we recite that phrase in the creed. we may even fall to wondering at what point in eternity past god the father gave birth to the son. but that is not the meaning of the phrase, ‘his only son.’ in the hebrew mind, to be a son of someone has far more to do with common ideals than with common ancestry. even in our culture, when someone says, ‘he is a son to me’ they are not talking about matching blood types but about kindred spirits. winston churchill had a son, randolph, but the two never got along very well… but in parliament, churchill had an admiring young colleague named brendon bracken. bracken followed churchill through thick and thin, even to the point of bailing churchill out of financial difficulty just before the second world war… it could be said that bracken was more a son to churchill than randolph, because churchill and bracken were cut from the same cloth. we christians confess that jesus christ is god’s only son in precisely that sense. not that the son is the physical descendent of god the father, for they are co-eternal members of the trinity; but that jesus alone reflects with perfect clarity the glory of the father, and performs with absolute faithfulness the father’s will.”

what i find rather interesting is that the whole “only son of god” thing seems to have been pretty well established by the time jesus was around.  the concept was there.  it wouldn’t really be until a bit later that the church would decide that he actually did fit the bill like he said, but the concept was there.  and if that had stayed it’s course things would have been fine and dandy.  unfortunately (for the sake of this concept but not for christianity in general), paul came around.  and he decided to write about how we are all children of god (see romans 8:14-15 and 2 corinthians 6:17-18 [among others] for more information).  that changed things up a bit.  threw a wrench in the works, i guess you could say.  of course, it’s a beautiful thing to be a child of god, and that “title” (for lack of a better term) truly does emphasize the concept that god loves you unconditionally.  in that regard, it makes perfect sense.  in the logical sense, it’s all there.

 but logical is not really my field.  not at the moment, at least.  not when i (and maybe only i) can see the great debate of “son of god vs. children of god” ravaging forth across the land (yeah, i went for the big time dramatic effect on that one).  is there an answer?  well, maybe.  but not a concrete one from what i know and have read.  maybe we’re step-kids.  maybe we kids in sense of “he is a son to me”.  maybe we’ve just gotten so used to using both terms that they’re both right (or both wrong), and it’s just easier to keep them both going.  i don’t know.  when i started researching this topic, i had very honestly hoped that i would figure this out.  that there would be a simple, straight-forward answer.  but i guess there just isn’t.  i guess it’s just one of those read about it, think about it, pray about it, and then believe what you believe about it kind of things.  darn christianity.  always so full of derstandable things (derstandable, of course, being the opposite of understandable.  you can’t say “not understandable”.  it’s a double negative.  so just drop the “un”.  makes sense to me at least).

 so as i’ve come accustomed to often doing, i’ll leave you with something.  this time it will be a website.  and another version of the answer.  for me, i couldn’t decide whether it was the most helpful or least helpful answer i found.  it’s weird.  kind of risque and out there.  in fact, it’s supposedly from jesus himself (such excitement, i know).  it’s from the answer to the question “was jesus christ the only son of god?” on a website simply called “ask the real jesus”.  i’ll only quote one portion below, but the whole thing is an interesting read.  this section, though, really caught my eye.  it’s quite innovative (and apparently, by the editor’s note-like comment in parentheses at the end, jesus wasn’t so sure about it either).  so good luck on your search for the answer about whether or not you’re really god’s kid (and also your answers to all life’s question, i suppose).  it really is a tough one.  here’s how jesus puts it: “from god’s viewpoint, a lost soul is still one of his sons or daughters. yet, if you go inside the box of the soul, inside the soul’s sense of identity, that soul does not see itself as a son or daughter of god. therefore, in the here and now, the soul is not acting as a son or daughter of god. if a soul does not accept its divine origin, it cannot express its divine potential. if a soul does not accept its potential to be the christ, then the soul cannot be the christ in action. when i appeared on earth 2,000 years ago, only a few people had come to a full realization of their christhood. therefore, one might say that i appeared at a time when there was no other son or daughter of god on earth. i had realized the fullness of my sonship, and therefore i was and i acted as a son of god. in other words, when you look at this situation from a specific viewpoint, it is possible to say that jesus christ was indeed the only son of god who appeared in that particular place at that particular time. therefore, i can understand that some christians have strong feelings for this idea (i am not saying that i share those feelings).”

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sarah

disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you willif you’ve ever read my words before, you might notice that it’s been quite a while since that disclaimer has made an appearance. haven’t used it since february, in fact. why? not sure. i guess i’ve been preoccupied with other thoughts and ideas. now, it’s not such a bad thing to move in different directions for a while. it can be a good change of pace to keep things fresh and real. what counts, i believe, is that no matter where you’ve come from and where you might end up, you always come back to what really matters along the way.for me, what really matters isn’t harry potter. it’s not movie music or spelling bees either. it’s not even college basketball. while all those things can seem like the most important thing in the world at this point or another, i promise you they’re not.”so what could really be all that important if it’s not harry potter?”, you may be asking. to put anything that big into words, to be completely honest, is way past me. i’m into the trivial and the contrite. that’s more my line of thought and work. so instead of trying, i’ll pass the torch.the following is a journal entry (one of many incredible ones) written by one of my favorite people in the entire world. she happens to me one of the most loving and wonderful people i’ve ever met and am sure will ever meet. she took a little summertime detour into mexico for a month or so, and to hold over all those people at home going on with their boring lives, she and the rest of her group wrote, from time to time, about their experiences. you can click here to see the “original” version (and definitely check out the rest of the website to see all of the other amazing things it holds), but as i don’t know how long that will be up, i’ll put it below as well. this is a glimpse of what life is all about:our neighbors shoesthey say the best way to empathize with someone is to walk a mile in their shoes. since we’ve been in mexico, we have lived in villages where migrants leave, we have met with migrants and heard their stories. but today we walked in their shoes.we set off with nothing but our packs filled with water on our backs. we walked along a long, dusty road for a while. we were sweating with the sun beating down on us and heat surrounds us. as we walked, a trucked packed with mexicans drove by us. they were heading for the border, their faces with hope and fear. throughout our trek, my thoughts often came back to those men. i wonder how far they’ve gotten now i would think. did they reach the land where they believe their dreams will come true? were they caught, and if so, was the border patrol good or did they mistreat them? did they survive the dangers of the desert?we continued along, crossing through barbed wire, escaping some dogs, trying to move onward through the desert. looking around for miles all you could see was desert. i can’t even imagine the desperation that would cause someone to come to such a desolate place to seek a better life.after walking for a while, we finally found what we were looking for-the border. we knew we were getting close by the helicopter patrolling from the air above. as i looked toward my homeland, i didn’t know whether i should feel happy or sad, comfortable or ashamed. to see this huge rusted wall in the middle of it all was like a slap in the face. this destruction was placed in the middle of god’s creation to separate neighbors, to draw a line between those who have been given a lot and the least of these.we are asked in our xtracting sessions where have seen god. that question is hard for me today. i know where i did not him and that’s at the wall.before we turned around to cross back through the desert, we left all the water we had carried with us. hopefully the next group of migrants who will cross will be able to survive a little longer and see a bit of kindness in a place where it is hard to find.we’ve xperienced a number of xtremes today; we’ve xpanded our mind, xamined our values and xtended our hands, but perhaps the greatest thing we did was walked a mile (or more) in our neighbors shoes.

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evan o’dorney and safe sex

serrefine. s-e-r-r-e-f-i-n-e. serrefine. the end.

basically, that’s how it went down for mr. evan o’dorney on the biggest of all smart kid stages. that stage happens to be the scripp’s national spelling bee, which proclaims itself as “nation’s largest and longest-running educational promotion”. he nailed serrefine like he was spelling cat (feel free to correct me if i spelled that wrong) and then basked in his spelling champion glory. kind of. well, at least he sort of smiled. he looked more dazed and confused than anything. most champions of this grand event are pumping their fists in the air or jumping up and down or doing something crazy like that. evan didn’t follow that mold. he just stood there, let the nice man give him the big trophy, and moved on with his life.

considering that he just one a crazy huge national competition and showed about as much emotion as a brick wall, you may be thinking that this kid is a little whacked out. and you may be right (w-r-i-t-e… dang it, should have asked for the definition). apparently, mr. o’dorney was only the third child ever to win as a homeschooler. i pulled two things out of that. first off, you’d think (or at least i’d think) there would be more homeschooled champions. i mean, the percentage of normal-schooled kids to homeschooled kids probably isn’t particularly great in the homeschool’s favor (because i know you’re wondering, the national household education surveys program reports that in 2003, roughly 1.1 million [1,096,000] students were homeschooled. this was a somewhat substantial increase from the 850,000 students that reportedly were homeschooled in 1999. the 1999 and 2003 figures represented 1.7 and 2.2 percent of the u.s. student population for those years respectively. also to note is that the u.s. department of education reports that in some year not given by the wonderful people at wikipedia [though i’m simply assuming it was the most recent census], 76.6 million students were enrolled in k16 study [i’d like to also note in this “also to note” section that calculating numbers in a “k16” manner is probably the most ridiculous thing ever. basically everything in the educational sphere is based upon a “k12” system, but no, the great and wonderful education department, who you’d think would be the smart people in the government, goes with k16. tisk tisk. that is all]. thank goodness we’re talking about spelling and not math because 1.1 million is definitely not 2.2 percent of 76.6 million [though you are free to refer to the previous k16 discussion for a possible explanation of the matter.]) but still, those parents can lock their children in the closet for months with only a dictionary if they want to. the homeschoolers should be perfectly groomed for this moment. apparently, parents are much less cruel than they could be (an interestingly happy concept). the second thing that i pulled out of the homeschooling statement was that he was so obviously homeschooled. there was one point (between rounds, i believe) where they came back from commercial break, and they showed him cuddling up against his mom as he sat on her lap. please keep in mind that this kid is 13 years old, and if he were in a public (or private, i suppose) school, he would be in the eighth grade. now don’t get me wrong, i love my mommy. she’s a lovely, wonderful lady. and we’ll bank on the assumption that his mom’s a nice gal too. but when i was an insecure, pubescent 13 year old, the last thing i would ever want to do would be to cuddle with my mom on live, national television. if he’s into that kind of stuff, more power to him. i’m just saying.

when it comes to these spelling bees, i think my favorite parts are when the reporters or announcers or whoever try to interview the kids. normally, it happens soon after a speller has just spelled a word incorrectly and has been removed from the competition. what makes these moments so great? basically, it’s the most awkward thing you’ll ever see in your entire life. i think it’s safe to say that in many, if not most, situations, the smart kids in school aren’t really the most socially outstanding. now of course there are exceptions to this rule, but that’s just how it seems to go. we can think of this in kind of a mathematical way using a negative correlation. as the intelligence (on the x-axis) increases, the social skills (on the y-axis) decrease. it ends up looking something like this:

SVI

when it comes to the super-spellers, you can definitely put them on the more intelligent side of the spectrum. that, of course, leads us to the assumption that the average social skills of these kids won’t be particularly great. put these recently outed, socially awkward spellers next to stuart scott in front of a big camera and magic happens. if, of course, your idea of magic is mumbled responses, blank looks, and lots of dead air time. to me, it doesn’t get much better. there was even one interview where one of the kids had her (i think it was a her at least… not that i was confused about it. i’ve simply forgotten.) little sister there who supposedly was a pretty kick-butt speller herself (as good as a 5 year old speller can be at least [which is probably a lot better than most 50 year olds]). between the awkward girl and her not-so-awkward-but-still-only-5-years-old-and-a-little-too-shy-for-national-television sister, it was pretty fabulous.

the greatest interview of the evening, however, was the final interview of the night. after evan correctly spelled the winning word and was declared champion and stood there unexcited about his triumph, he got to chat with stu on the big stage in front of the whole world. and it went a little something like this:

stu: congratulations evan.
evan: thanks.
stu: do you like spelling?
evan: no.
stu: this is kind of awkward then.
evan: yeah.
stu: …
evan: …

end scene.

well, maybe it wasn’t as cool as that (because that pretty much would have been the greatest thing ever), but it was close. as the bee progressed, they had little biographical shorts with several of the “interesting” spellers, and evan had been one of them. he was a pretty incredible kid. he’s a talented musician and was (very unstereotypically) shown playing a piano concerto he had written alongside several (asian) string players. he’s also a big fan of mathematics. the best part of his bio, however, was when he just straight up came out and said that he didn’t really like spelling. he was just doing it because he had to (translation: “my mom is making me. she locks me in the closet. help! please!”). this statement, of course, came back around when his final interview came up. stu asked if he had changed his mind at all about liking this whole spelling bee thing, and evan just stood there… for a solid ten seconds… not doing or saying anything… it was a little awkward. scratch that. it was a lot awkward. mr. scott then asked again hoping for some sort of response. it was some serious tooth pulling. by the end of the chat, he had yanked a “maybe” out of the kid, but trust me, it took a lot to get there. a lot lot.

so after sitting through many rounds of the spelling and/or misspelling (which by the way is not misspelled. i checked.) of ridiculous words, what did i learn? well, a couple things. first of all, that our country is a lot bigger than i thought. our great empire now extends far past the traditional boundaries into canada, the bahamas, new zealand, and even europe (the judges, by the way, had one heck of a field day trying to figure out what in the world the new zealand girl was saying whenever she spelled. on a fun note, [technically speaking] she got out on the word “giraffe”). apparently from what they tell me, the title of the bee is actually a bit of a misnomer. it’s not actually the “national” spelling bee. it’s more of the “american english” spelling bee. countries that speak english (except those wretched british. we don’t like them) seem to be able to participate in addition to the americans (oh and the european kid was actually just someone living on a military base in germany). but guess what. evan o’dorney just so happens to be from the good ol’ u.s. of a. (danville, california to be exact). so take that foreigners! you sneak into our “national” spelling bee, and we still win. the second thing i learned was that homeschooling equals bad. the supposed number one reason parents homeschool their children is “concern about the environment of other schools”. basically, that’s a terrible reason. enough said. all that homeschooling can do is socially cripple a child. smart kids will be smart either way, but if they don’t have a chance to learn how people are supposed to interact, they’re doomed. yes, doomed.

so that’s about it. congratulations to evan o’dorney on his glorious victory yesterday. hopefully his ability to spell “serrefine” (which means “a small forceps for clamping a blood vessel”) will bring him to great places in life. and i close with the flawless words of jessica alba (from the end of her 2006 mtv movie awards “sexiest performance” acceptance speech):
“god bless. practice safe sex. and drive hybrids if you can!”

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recovering catholic

disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you willi consider myself what i’d like to call a recovering Catholic. now most of the time when people use the term “recovering Catholic,” they’re saying that they used to be Catholic and are trying to emphasize how that upbringing had a substantially negative effect on them. unfortunately for the norm, i’m not using the stylish version of the word. i’m simply a catholic that is recovering. i’m recovering from reading the daily campus and specifically a certain article called “religious values necessitate temperance.”on wednesday mornings i usually have a little time off and sometimes, if i don’t have homework or other important things to do, i like to walk over to the dining hall, grab a newspaper (which at the university of connecticut happens to be the lovely “daily campus”), and enjoy a nice leisurely breakfast. it makes me feel like one of those television dads, sitting there reading the paper and drinking his coffee as mom and the kids are hectically trying to get ready for school (my dining hall coffee of choice, by the way, is the french vanilla cappuccino). it just so happened that on this past wednesday, the 24th of january, i was able to do just that. i sat down with my breakfast, coffee, and newspaper and fell into my own little world.unfortunately, this moment was a bit short lived. i skimmed through a few articles, including one about two super-conservative preachers ranting on fairfield way the day before that made me both shake my head and chuckle at times. maybe i’m just a flimsy christian, but sometimes people can seem a tad eccentric to say the least. i was soon surprised to see that there was not one religious article in the paper that day but two. the second one caught my skimming eye because of a strange line in its second paragraph. it stated, “being at boston university, you probably have jewish and hindu friends.” it may have been early in the morning, but i was pretty sure that i wasn’t at boston university. i would later find out that the article was actually originally from the daily free press at boston university and was being “reprinted with permission.” that ended my confusion. unfortunately, in between being confused at the beginning and finding my answer at the end, there was a slightly biased article.it just so happens that andrew steiner, the article’s author, considers himself a recovering Catholic in the more fashionable use of the word, and he wanted everyone to know it. you do have to applaud his use of drama. he opens with several paragraphs that would offend just about anyone, claiming that jews, hindus, muslims, buddhists, homosexuals, minorities in general, and women are all doomed to burn for eternity (and since there are plenty of white, christian males left unoffended, he makes sure to later throw in eaters and athletes). thankfully, however, mr. steiner clears the air saying, “i don’t think like this, by the way.” then “why say it?” you might ask, and that’s where the article got juicy. of course he didn’t believe all those ridiculous things. “that’s how Catholicism thinks.”it was on that line in the fourth paragraph that my tv dad moment ended. i’ve read some pretty “did he really say that?” things in newspapers and even in the daily campus, but this one smacked me in the face. of course, part of that was because i was being personally trash-talked, but even moreso it was a pretty blatant attack. you don’t see a lot of those in the normal newspaper. it’s interesting to think about whether it would have been worse for him to just leave it at that or to go on and support the stark comment. both options would lead to some not-so-happy feelings, but in this case he chose to explain.well, mr. andrew steiner, i disagree with you. i guess for continuity’s sake i’ll have to explain as well.first off, the title of the article, “religious values necessitate temperance”, was actually pretty ironic. based upon the first religious article i read in the daily campus that day, it was pretty clear that not all people with religious values possess a whole lot of temperance. those two preachers on fairfield way certainly weren’t the most restrained people the world’s ever seen. the author goes on to claim that the world would be just as moral without Catholicism as it is with Catholicism. i believe this thought does have some backing. there are plenty of non-Catholics getting along just fine with the norms of decent society. but why is that? i really don’t think it’s just because we know things are wrong, as he claims. if that were true, we wouldn’t need policemen. we wouldn’t need courts, judges, and juries. people would just do what was right because they knew it was. the reason why our society functions as well as it does is because everything that we know and do is based in a “judeo-christian” sentiment. in all actuality, that term is really vague and awkward, but it’s premise makes sense. our society it’s based on a set of moral values that lead us to be polite, courteous people at least some of the time. whether or not we think of ourselves as religious or spiritual, we’re not walking around punching strangers for no reason or throwing our half-eaten meals across the room when we’re finished at dinnertime. we grow up seeing that such behavior isn’t what flies, so we don’t do it. we’re no longer barbaric tribes or pillaging empires. we’re a functioning society that was founded by a bunch of christians and continues to follow a basic set of standards that they set way back when. we do need those policemen and courts because for whatever reason some people don’t grow up matching those standards, and regardless of whether that makes them better or worse people, their actions are different enough to cause a problem with the flow of how things work. overall, though, things run smoothly, and that’s why the system is kept.as far as Catholics being the uber-race of men, i’m not so sure about that. while it would be a cool group to be a part of, the claim that Catholics go to heaven and everyone else gets a trip to hell is a vast exaggeration. i recently read an article online that made the claim that strong protestants have a much better chance at going to heaven than lame Catholics do, and honestly, i think that makes a lot of sense. i also believe the same concept applies for other religions. being Catholic, i believe that there is a god called “god” and that all the “good people” will someday go up to heaven where he lives and spend eternity in paradise. these good people are part of the one church that jesus started back before he was crucified. as Catholics (and some other christians) state in the nicene creed, “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” well there you go. Catholics believe only in the catholic church. it says so right there. upon closer investigation, however, it doesn’t. the word “catholic” isn’t capitalized. in fact, it’s a normal word in the dictionary that means “including or concerning all humankind” or “universal.” those going to heaven aren’t Catholic; they’re catholic. there’s a big difference.the way i see it, every religion in the world probably has at least one problem with it. with humans trying to run them, it’s bound to happen. with that said, if only the perfect religion sent its members to heaven, we’re all doomed. luckily, i highly doubt the application for heaven has a check box for “perfection.” basically, we’re going to die and either we’ll get sent somewhere (heaven, hell, purgatory, or other) or we won’t. if we don’t, we’ll know that the whole heaven idea was a fluke. if we do get to “go toward the light” as they say, we’re going to end up finding some sort of god-like guy up there, and we can ask him for the answers. the way i interpret Catholicism is that somewhere in that vicinity of time, we’ll have the choice to accept god and all that he stands for. everyone gets that chance, regardless of what religion (or lack thereof) they were during their life. it is at that point that we become “catholic.” yes, only the catholic church gets to go to heaven, but the catholic church is universal. that’s why the creed doesn’t say “Catholic.” unfortunately for mr. steiner, jews, hindus, muslims, buddhists, homosexuals, minorities, and women (good drivers or not), can all be catholic. they probably just don’t know it yet. of course, i suppose you could still say no if and when you get to the pearly gates, but at that point, you’ve passed the threshold from religion into common sense.i do agree with the article’s comment about repentance. it is pretty awesome that you can be forgiven and allowed into heaven, and it is on that main belief that i base my previous thoughts. if you shun god throughout your life, i do think you get that one last chance to say “my bad.” we’re all humans after all. regardless of what religion is actually the most “correct” (which we’ll all find out in that little q and a time with god that i was talking about), you can basically just say that some people caught on a little quicker than others.so i offer my condolences to all the recovering Catholics out there. i’m right there with you. and to andrew steiner: i can’t wait to see you in heaven. i here it’ll be good times, but i guess we’ll all really find out when we get there.and by the way, if you’re thinking that it’s completely and utterly hypocritical that i make all these claims at Catholicism not being the ultimate religion and then make it the only word i ever capitalize on my blog, yeah…sorry. i tried to think of another way to do it, but any other technique for catholic/Catholic differentiating just looked really weird. so i went with that. you know what they say… (nope, i don’t either. but just go with it. maybe no one else will notice.)

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