Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Superman! Where are you?

I grew up in the heyday of comic books. I read them faithfully. I even ordered some cool stuff from the ads! I learned which editions would be valuable “someday”, and collected and traded them with friends. Like fine works of art, I could readily identify the handiwork of Marv Wolfman and Stan Lee, and even tried my hand at copying their style.

But more importantly, I learned about “truth, justice, and the American way” from the likes of Superman and Captain America. Superman, of course, came from a distant planet, which accounted for his super powers; but he used those powers for good to protect weaker human beings from those who would do them harm. Captain America, on the other hand, gained his super powers from a military experiment to create a super soldier. His red, white, and blue costume and his pro-America story helped the war effort during WWII.

Then there is Batman. Wealthy industrialist Bruce Wayne prowled the rooftops of Gotham City at night as the “caped crusader”, using his technologically-advanced gadgets to prevent what happened to him as a child from happening to others. [For those unfamiliar with the Dark Knight story line, his parents were gunned down in front of him by a would-be robber when he was a child.]

For a time, superheroes went out of fashion. Perhaps it was because of the campy television renderings of “Batman”, “Wonder Woman”, and “Captain America”. As the price of comic books began to rise (and I stopped buying them!), I also noticed that the superheroes were developing character flaws, and arch villains began exploiting their weaknesses.

Our heroes were no longer super – an ideal greater than ourselves – and we lost faith in them.

But in recent years, there has been a resurgence in superhero movies, and audiences have flooded back to the theaters to see Superman, Iron Man, Spiderman, Captain America and Batman once again save the day.

Is that an indication that we are once again looking for some super-powered hero to fly in and save us?

Which brings us to last Thursday night. “The Dark Night Rises”, the third in a series of blockbuster Batman movies, promised to be the movie of the summer. It opened at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning to packed theaters.

As movie fanatics are want to do, many dressed in costume as they waited in line to be the first to see the show.

So many at the screening in Aurora, Colorado, were not surprised when, just a short time into the movie, a man dressed in black appeared at the front of the auditorium. He reportedly released gas canisters, which filled the theater with smoke. Then he began shooting into the crowd until his rifle jammed. He was apprehended behind the theater without a struggle and now sits in solitary confinement awaiting a trial.

Waking up Friday morning, I found the newscasts filled with talking heads trying to explain what had happened in the wee hours of that morning. Believing that “first” is more important than accurate, newscasters filled the airwaves with speculation:

“Sixteen were killed, as many as 60 wounded.”
“Twelve were killed, as many as 50 wounded.”
“Several people in the auditorium next door were also injured by bullets that passed through the wall.”
“One person was injured in the theater next door.”
“The shooter may be [name], a member of the Colorado Tea Party.”
“The shooter was not that person mentioned earlier, who just happened to have the same name.”

I am thankful the shooter was not named “Captain Dave”!

Politicians and preachers immediately jumped on the tragedy to promote their causes. This happened as “God’s punishment on the Liberals…” or “God’s punishment on the Democrats”… or “God’s punishment on the gays”. One preacher was quick to point out that of those killed in the theater that morning, only those who knew Jesus as their Lord and Savior went to heaven.

And yes, Westboro Baptist Church has already announced that they will have their hate-filled protesters and signs outside the funerals of the victims.

Lord, forgive us!

Many blame the National Rifle Association for their powerful lobbying against gun control, and immediately called upon the President and his Republican opponent to speak out for more gun control laws.

Both were sympathetic to the victims, but neither of them committed to tightening the laws. This is an election year, after all.

One congressman pondered aloud why no one else in the theater was carrying a gun. Had they been, he insists, they could have stopped the shooter before so many were killed.

Or, Mr. Congressman, it’s totally possible that more people would have been killed as the smoke in the room would have made it hard to identify who was shooting and which person shooting was really the bad guy!

Several thoughts come to mind as a result of all this.

First, I wish the newscasters would stick to reporting facts. Folks, if you don’t know something for sure, don’t broadcast it until you do!

Second, all you people who want to immediately jump in and explain it all to us need to shut up, slow down, and think first. Take a day or two to really think about it.

On this, let me note, Jon Stewart (of “the Daily Show”) and I disagree. He believes “the heat of the moment” is the “perfect time” to begin the discussion about gun control. But I think too many stupid things get said “in the heat of the moment”.

Third, stop throwing God’s name into everything bad that happens! No one ever gives God credit when something good happens - like, say, the sun rises again - but when something bad happens, it’s always God’s fault. WTF!

I do not – and will not – believe that God sends floods and hurricanes and deranged killers to punish us, despite what Pat Robertson says.

And it’s the very epitome of ignorance to always point toward the people or groups we don’t like as the cause of God’s wrath. In this case, as far as we know, the shooter left no manifesto blaming either God or the Democrats or even his mother for not breast-feeding him until he was five.

The reason for this tragedy might simply be that he was bat-shit crazy and just wanted to kill people! Hopefully a trial will bring that to light.

Fourth, let’s tone down the angry rhetoric and remember who we are. One of my FBFs angrily posted that it is “a waste of tax-payer dollars” to house the shooter in prison – solitary confinement at that – while he awaits a trial. Another FBF of my FBF suggested we just put him into the general prison population “and let nature take its course.” Friends, just because he acted like a monster doesn’t mean we have to. One of the foundations of American society is the right to a trial. And until then, as much as we might hate it, this man is “innocent until proven guilty”.

I’m sure you would want the same consideration if you were in prison.

Finally, with regard to gun control, perhaps I am getting senile in my old age, but I don’t see a need for more gun control laws. The second amendment in the Bill of Rights (see the U.S. Constitution) says Americans have the right to bear arms.

“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

Granted, when that was written in the late 1700s, I doubt James Madison foresaw such a tragedy as happened in Colorado last week. The second amendment was added to the Constitution to prevent a standing army from taking over our beloved Democracy. In theory, an armed populace would rise up to protect those freedoms we hold dear.

I am a pacifist at heart. The only weapons I own are a broadsword (which I am pretty sure would shatter if I ever tried to use it), a hunting knife (in a box somewhere in the garage), and an assortment of dull pocket knives. I have no interest in owning a firearm, and don’t see why anyone today really needs an AK-47. Those are called “assault rifles” for a reason.

But the U.S. Constitution gives us that right, and in today’s political climate, I am not at all interested in re-writing the Constitution!

“So what’s the answer, Captain Dave? How can we stop tragedies like this in the future?”

Frankly, I don’t have the answer.

I’m sorry if you have read all this way expecting me to solve all our nation’s problems in one simple(minded) blog.

I would invoke Jesus here – you know, the Prince of Peace – but today in America that only incites more anger and hatred, so just forget I mentioned that.

I don’t want more restrictive laws. I resent the fact that I have to walk through a metal detector to renew my license, and be x-rayed before I can get on an airplane. When I walk through the mall, my every move is being watched by security cameras. And now movie theaters have to hire armed guards so I can enjoy watching all the fictional violence I want without getting caught in the real stuff.

But that is how far this once proud and honorable American society has fallen. As a society, we have traded the concepts of “truth, justice, and the American way” for self-interest. We have turned inward. We no longer think about what’s best for our country, our state, or our community.

“I’ve got mine!” (See previous post.)

“The American Way” is now “Each man for himself!” We have lost respect for our leaders. We have lost respect for our Constitution. We have lost respect for the value of human life.

What we need today is… Wait!...

Superman! Where are you?!?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Anger Management

Before we get started, this is not a blog about Charlie Sheen’s new television show.

I loved Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men”, but lost interest in him after his very public meltdown. I mean, seriously, he was making $2 million per episode… and he was still unhappy?

I’ve only seen his new show once. I was not impressed.

No, today’s blog was inspired by a conversation I had recently with a friend. He had been invited to a Christian group meeting that was supposed to be a supportive community that prays for and encourages one another. That meeting erupted into a very heated and divisive argument about “once saved always saved” and about the issue of homosexuality.

So much for supportive community!

That reminded me of a conversation I had last week. Actually, it was not a conversation, per se. It was an exchange on Facebook.

A FBF (Facebook Friend) reposted one of those “picture sayings” that I find so annoying.

If you want to say something, just say it. Don’t hide behind someone else’s words!

Anyway, this one said, “Government doesn’t know what’s best for me and my family, I do.” The repost was instigated by the recent Supreme Court ruling stating that the Affordable Care Act is, in fact, constitutional. 

I challenged the sentiment, asking my FBF if he would throw out all government regulations and benefits. Of course not, he said, some are necessary. Just the ACA. A well-thought-out exchange followed - neither of us convincing the other, but the tone remained respectful and civil.

Enter another voice: an FBF of my FBF. He doesn’t know me and I don’t know him. The following exchange ensued:

Him: “David, everything you have said falls right into the category of not my problem. It is not my job to take care of people who decide of [sic] not getting insurance, but can go out and party it up at the bars and whatever every weekend. I just never thought I would see the day that the people of this country are literally begging??? For government to enslave them!!!

Me: [Name] – I don’t understand your point. My position is that we should take care of the poor, even if it inconveniences us or costs us a little out of pocket. (I learned that from Jesus.) Not everyone who is poor is so by choice or because they “party it up at bars or whatever every weekend”. We are not all born on a level playing field.

Him: Let’s keep the religion out of this okay David? But I always expect people to say think of the children blah, blah well their parents should think of the children if nobody else does they are the ones that had them. The point I am making is how much personal freedom and liberty is everyone willing to give away just so they will feel safe and secure? Benjamin Franklin warned us of that. I do realize that not everyone who is poor does so by bad choices, but the vast majority are. My father taught me at a very young age that you want something you get off your ass and work for it! I work very hard to make ends meet and to be able to enjoy some of the nice things in life. I expect others to do the same.

[My FBF interjects another lengthy comment, not included here.]

Him: Okay, let me clarify my statement. I do believe in helping people who need it and who have fallen on hard times. However do I think I think it should be a blank check??? No! There comes a time when people have to get off their ass and earn for themselves. There is a guy the same age as me who is mentally challenged and he has a job! Yet I drive around during the day when I’m mowing yards and see both men and women of all colors who are able bodied doing nothing! This is what’s bankrupting our country. That’s the facts and the truth whether you or your precious Obama, Romney, or any other crooked ass politician choose to accept it.

Me: So you guys are sticking with, “I got mine, you go get your own”? We must simply agree to disagree.

Me (again): And no, [Name], I can’t leave religion out of it. My faith helps shape my political ideals and my world view.

Him: I got mine David because I choose to get up and work for it. Yeah I would expect you to keep religion and politics mixed together. They both have been partners in crime controlling people and keeping them in line since day 1. I could go on and on and on with you about how this country was not founded as a Christian nation and that most of the Founders were deist, atheist, and agnostic, but I do have to get ready for work so I can go earn money for all those who choose to sit on their ass.

Him (again): Also kinda like George Carlin said you religious people want to have a say in politics then the church should have to pay admission like everyone else, I.E. the church should have to pay taxes, but they don’t.

Me: Wow, [Name], all that from someone who doesn’t even know me! Thanks for judging me. But so that you might know me better, 1) Not all Christians are alike. I do not support the kooks on the Religious Right, but I take my faith seriously. I am very liberal when it comes to social issues. 2) America is a representative Democracy and I like it that way. (Do you have a better alternative?) And I support the elected President, even if I did not vote for him/her, because I am an American. 3) While you go to work for your hard-earned money (good for you, by the way… I respect that), there are many who would like to also go to work and earn money. (No, really.) But either they don’t have the appropriate skills, they have an injury or disability which prevents them from working, or decent jobs are simply not available to them. Yes, there are people who just want a hand-out – some have learned that as a way of life now – but that is not true of everyone. Unemployment is at 9% in this country; I can’t believe that almost 10% of America isn’t [sic… oops!] just sitting around for a hand-out. 4) Churches were exempted from taxes because we used to provide the bulk of social services in our communities. When the government took over responsibility for the poor, churches began spending more on buildings. That was a mistake on both parts. I fully expect (and would support it) that churches will one day have to pay taxes. So, now that you know me better, can we stick to the issues and not make baseless personal attacks? 

Me (again, offering an olive branch): By the way, [Name], I looked at your FB profile. We have a lot in common. I like BBQ and tequila (although I prefer Patron), I spent countless hours at Wolfchase Hooters when I lived in Memphis, and I do recognize Bruce Campbell with you in the photo. [He is posing with BC and captioned it, “If you don’t know who this is, I don’t even want to talk to you!”] 

Him: I’m not judging you David that’s what Christians do. If you think that I am judging you well then that’s your problem. You think and believe in what you like and who you choose and I will not believe and not like politicians and oppressive big government if that’s what I want to do. When the day comes that the government and the church tell me what to think and that we all have to agree and be good sheep is the day we have a fascist, socialist state. Um yes a vast majority of the 10% unemployed are sitting on their ass drawing a check, because why work when the gubment [sic] is going to take care of you. I’m really tired of talking about this with you and could care less that you think just because I like BBQ and tequila, and you recognize Bruce Campbell makes you think we have so much in common. You just go be a good socialist and I’m gonna go be a good patriot. Peace!

[End of exchange.]

Again, I don’t know this person. His FB profile indicates he is married, and it suggests military experience; if I understood it correctly, he even does some free-lance writing. His comments make me think he mows lawns for a living – a fairly lucrative job around here.

But I don’t know why he is so angry. He is angry at the government. He is angry at the church. He is angry at poor people. He is angry at people who are not working when he is working – and assumes they are all drawing a government check, instead of, maybe, waiting for their night-shift job to begin.

And he became angrier when I tried to make peace with him! 

But it’s not just him. So much of political discourse in recent years has been simply angry shouting. Partisan newscasts and talk radio are filled with angry shouting. Even the recent General Conference was deeply divided along ideological lines and often the discussions became heated.

And what’s the most popular iPhone app? Yep, “Angry Birds”! I'm just sayin'...

What is at the root of all this anger? Is there a solution? Will we ever be able to return to a day when we respect one another… respect those in authority… respect our elected leaders? Will we ever be able to respect our President again, instead of constantly questioning his integrity and making disparaging word-plays with his name? Will Congress ever be able to get back to the days of honoring one another by referring to one another as “the distinguished gentleman from …”?

I suppose I am just angry about all the anger in the world today!

Perhaps we do need Charlie Sheen’s new show after all?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Welcome to the Family

As many of you know, I joined the Jeep family in October. I now drive a two-door, “Detonator Yellow” Jeep Wrangler “Sport Edition” (soft top).

When I bought it, I thought it was going to be unique. Everyone would know the Methodist Preacher's Jeep and you could see him coming - fair warning! But since then, I have seen two other yellow Jeeps in my neighborhood, and at least two more around town.


But I knew I was onto something special because, almost immediately and without requesting them, I started receiving catalogs filled with all kinds of toys I can add to my Jeep.

Awfully tempting, I must say!

Anyway, the news last week about Jeep’s latest offering caught my eye. Jeep has announced a new Jeep Wrangler “Freedom Edition” for 2012.

Basically, all that means is a different trim package. A Jeep Wrangler is pretty much still a Jeep Wrangler.

The “Freedom Edition” will be offered in red, white, and “true blue”, with military-inspired decals. An “Oscar Mike” badge will adorn the seat covers. [For those not familiar with the video game “Modern Warfare”, “Oscar Mike” is military-speak for “On the Move”… or so I’m told.]

Jeep is blatantly trying to play on our patriotism to sell this one, perhaps even marketing to our soldiers returning from war. But the sticker price for a two-door is still $29,065; $31,570 for the four-door model, and as far as I can tell, veterans don’t get a discount.

But, the company proudly says they will donate $250 from the sale of each “Freedom Edition” sold to either the Fisher House Foundation and the “I Support” Foundation. Fisher House provides homes for military families while a soldier is recovering; the “I Support” Foundation provides resources to returning troops.

“Cudos” to Jeep for their philanthropy!

On the other hand, if I have done the math correctly, $250 per Jeep is less than 1% of the price of the cheaper model. Come on, Mike Manley, is that really the best you can do?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Day in the Life

Yesterday was “one of those days”.

With two worship services – each including the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and now I’m leading a congregational study in between, I was hoping non-stop from 7 a.m. until a little after noon. But it was a good busy-ness, and I was feeling good about the way everything was running.

            Until an usher handed me a note right before communion at the late service. The daughter of a church member had died in her sleep. I finished the service then rushed to the hospital to be with the family. It looked like it was going to be a sad day.

            But while eating a late lunch with the First Mate, I received a phone call from a colleague in Memphis. Actually, it turned out to be from his 2nd grade daughter. She hasn’t seen me since we moved away from Memphis a year ago and she misses me. The message she left on my cell phone – in her sweet little voice – said, “Hi, Uncle Dave. I just wanted to call and say ‘hi’…. So… ‘Hi!’”

            My heart soared!

            What makes our relationship extra-sweet is that I’m not really her uncle. But in her heart, I’m a part of the family. I returned the call later and we had a wonderful chat.

            Later that evening, the First Mate and I went to a movie. “Snow White and the Huntsman” was okay, but I wasn’t real impressed by it. Even though it’s a fairy tale, there were some pretty serious plot gaps. And how is it that Kristen Stewart is now the highest paid actress in Hollywood?

Plus, the concession stand was out of hot dog buns, so we made a Sunday evening meal out of nachos and gummy bears.

Upon returning home, I sat down with my iPhone and started surfing YouTube.

            One of the things I like about YouTube is that, like with my own brain, there is a definite “stream of consciousness” aspect to it.

I started out looking for a church video I had seen on SermonSpice (but didn’t buy) about celebrating the 4th of July.

Why do we celebrate the independence of our nation with Chinese fireworks and German food (hamburgers, hot dogs & potato salad)?

Anyway, that search led me to several videos by “the Skit Guys”. I love those guys! They are funny and always make a good point.

But from there, YouTube took me to what appeared to be skits from some summer camp... or “America’s Got Talent”.

And from there, it led me to full-length stage performances by Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy.

And then I struck gold: George Carlin! A master of words, George Carlin was probably the funniest comedian I have ever heard. I sat up late into the night listening to Carlin explain the world to me yet again.

And laughing out loud!

I didn’t realize how long it’s been since I laughed out loud. I definitely need to do that more often!

Maybe you need to also. So for your viewing entertainment, here’s a Carlin classic – the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman!