A Manifesto, I Suppose.

I’ve been thinking about revolution a lot lately.  Specifically, what would it take for me to actively participate in a revolt against established authority.  While the recent crisis swirling around “Obamacare” and the government shutdown had the wing nuts fortifying their bunkers and stocking up on ammunition, I have to say that my fear takes me in a drastically different direction.  While the Affordable Health Care Act has its issues, as does any program enacted within the confines of our corporately funded, two-party governmental system, the real danger appears to come from behind the scenes of the law’s fierce opposition.

Politically, I identify myself primarily as a libertarian.  As in I believe the main functions of government are to protect us from each other rather than from ourselves, and to provide a functional infrastructure.  However, I hesitate to use that term for fear of being associated with the fundamentalist theocrats that are the driving force behind the Tea Party movement.  These powerful influencers of public opinion claim to want a more limited government, but at the same time work to impose their own restrictive beliefs upon the American public and enforce the standards of a “Christian nation”.  This is in fact the most dangerous threat to American freedom, and one that I will actively work against:  a worldview that operates with the rhetorical disguise of family values and good, old-fashioned American conservatism but one that fully implemented would rather disturbingly resemble the fascism and oppression of countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.  I’m sure to many this will sound like hyperbolic rhetoric.  If you need examples of where it could end up, here are two things I read just today: this and this.  The first is an example of legalistic overreaction, and the second is a disturbing threat to free speech, both of which have the undeniable effect of limiting personal freedom for no reason other than ideology.  *UPDATE* I just found this, to further emphasize my point:  http://www.teapartyunity.org/

What it really comes down to is that I am exhausted. I’m tired of political hypocrisy, I’m tired of theologies that promote bigotry and misogyny, I’m tired of self-righteous moralizers.  It wears me out that I had to leave a Facebook group for my neighborhood because people are so unreasonable it made me want to fight my neighbors in the street.  Is it really that hard to disagree civilly? To genuinely listen to an opposing viewpoint to make sure yours isn’t wrong?  To treat other people as equals worthy of respect rather than reducing everyone to fit into predetermined ideologies?

It’s gotten to the point that I actually told my wife I’ve legitimately considered running for political office just to contribute another (relatively) sane, reasonable voice to the debate.  I’m more than happy to entertain other ideas that could help push us out of this defensive, oppositional rut into which our society has fallen, so if you have any, please share.

Not an Original, But a Referral At Least…..

Since I have so far been unable to organize my own thoughts on the American church, I thought I would share with you a series of posts written by pastor and blogger Zack Hunt from The American Jesus.   He just finished a 6-part series called “Abandoning Evangelicalism” and he articulates a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about plus some new ideas to ponder.  So without further ado, here are the links:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

(It will link within the blog to the other posts, but I thought I’d give you all six parts individually just in case.)

Eureka!: An Introduction to Everything That is Wrong With Everything

Two weeks ago, I had an epiphany.  I realized that all of the areas in which I have an interest and/or a professional stake share a common problem.  If readers of this blog will remember, some time back I promised upcoming posts about the American church, the American education system, and the American government/economy.  These posts never materialized; mostly because I’m lazy, but also partly because I didn’t have a coherent argument to make for any of them.

But, as I said, two weeks ago, all of that changed.

I realized that the number one issue in all of these areas is low expectations.  We set the bar low, and then are frustrated because that’s as high as people go.  We treat everyone like children or idiots or idiotic children.  And then we’re surprised when the result is idiotic childlike behavior.

It’s a simple concept.  If we start expecting excellence, we will start seeing it.  In the Church, we treat all Christians like infants who can’t understand anything beyond the superficial.  We feed them nothing but milk all the way through their lives and never upgrade them to solid food.

In the schools, we meet every kid “where they are” and fail to push them past the “standard.” If the system gets its desired test scores, it moves on to the next student. (For the record, I’m in favor of meeting kids where they are.  We just can’t leave them there.)

And in our government, we are increasingly sending this message: “We don’t think you’re capable of caring for yourself or making your own decisions, so we’ll do it for you.  We have to protect you from yourself.”

For me, the solution to most of the problems in this country is simply to start expecting better things from people, and then holding them accountable.  I plan to go more in depth in future posts with each of the particular areas where I think this idea would be most effective, but I believe this concept can be applied to just about every facet of life and be a spark for radical, positive change.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as I continue to develop the idea further.

New Domain

So for the five or six of you that have read this blog at some point in the past, I thought I would give an update and let you know that I changed the domain name. Andyunnerstall.com was up for renewal, and while it is a simply fantastic name for a website, it is also a bit unimaginative and, well, let’s face it, narcissistic as well. So I let it expire and went with the more mysterious ‘the-armadillo.com’ It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I just like the way it sounds.

Oh, and it’s a metaphor.

New Posts Are In My Head, Hopefully Here Soon

So I’ve had quite a few things swirling around in my head lately, what with the world gone crazy and everything. I had the idea the other day to write a series of posts with the theme of “Misguided Intentions.” So far I have plans for the topics of the Christian church, the American education system, and the state of politics in the U.S. Some of these could branch off into multiple posts once I actually start writing. I never really know where I’m going to end up once I start.

So that’s my plan. As you can see from the timeline of my previous posts, I haven’t exactly been diligent in keeping up with it, so we’ll see. If anyone has any suggestions as to other topics or anything else, feel free to let me know. So here’s to the best of intentions, and I hope to see you again soon.

America the Segregated

Yesterday morning I was reading the news at stltoday.com when a crazy headline caught my eye: “St. Louis County man charged in apparent racially motivated pickax attack“.  Unable to resist the absurdity of such a thing, I clicked the link and began to read.

My first impression upon reading the article and seeing the suspect’s mugshot was that this guy most likely had some white supremacist connections, and that in all likelihood, he was high on meth. I mean, seriously, this guy is two years younger than I am and he looks like he’s about 55. And I thought $100,00 bail was generous: If I were the judge in this case, I would have held him with no bail. He’s obviously unstable and dangerous, and probably needs help with his drug problem.

Crazy story, but a pretty straightforward one, right? I thought so.  Then I clicked on the comments.

I should have known. I should have been prepared. The tendencies that an anonymous internet discussion forum bring out in even the mildest of personalities are terrifying. But I think I’ve been shielding myself from the political undercurrent in this country, mostly because it’s so irrational and unreasonable, so I was caught by surprise. Ten years ago, with the exception of a handful of crazies, the comments would have ranged from (justified) outrage from the black community to something like my reaction: this idiot doesn’t represent the mainstream, so let’s lock him up and move on.

What I read instead were a large number of comments complaining about how this lunatic got a huge bail while a 17-year-old in a mostly black community got a small bail on the same charges. The difference, of course, was that the young black man was defending himself from a drive-by shooting, while the pickaxe/pickup truck attack was apparently unprovoked. Plus the poster got it wrong anyway–$50,000 is still a lot of money. At least to me.  But that was the theme of the majority of the comments: that we get so mad about racism by whites against other races, but that we let it slide or justify it when the other races give it back.

The uncomfortable part of the conversation is that these arguments are valid on a lot of levels.  One white poster commented that they had gotten lost in a bad neighborhood in North St. Louis and were threatened and the recipient of racial epithets simply because they were the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood. And that happens. There is a lot of anger in the poor black community, but that’s always been there, and I understand why.  The difference today is that in our crumbling economy, a lot of previously middle class whites are finding themselves joining in the ranks of the poor, so now they’re angry, too. And as a result, racial tensions are escalating.

It doesn’t help the situation that the collapse of our financial structure coincides with the first term of our first black president. Who also happens to have relatively (please note the emphasis) socialist (i.e., “nanny-state”) tendencies.  And a “socialist” politician is going to have a perceived bias toward the poor community, which in this country, and many others for that matter, is made up of a considerably high percentage of African-Americans. This has lead to the reactionary rise to prominence of extreme conservatism, flag-shipped by the Tea Party movement, and a lot of angry political rhetoric.

This angry political rhetoric has led to an “us-vs.-them” kind of mentality. The lines are inevitably drawn along socio-economic lines, which all too often coincide directly with racial lines. And a suppressed racism that stayed under the surface within the white middle class while things were going well has once again reared its head.  I worked in construction during the good times, and in my community, a large slice of the middle class was made up of union tradesman. I witnessed first hand the whispered remnants of racism and sexism that were existed but were kept quiet while the work was there. But now the work is gone and all of those tradesman are angry about it, and don’t have anything else to do to keep them occupied, so the underlying racism is bound to come out, especially in an anonymous setting.

To kind of wrap this up, a couple of thoughts: I do believe we have a double standard of what constitutes racism in this country, and it needs to be addressed. But I don’t believe the solution is to level the balance by increasing the weight on the light side. We need to bring it down on the heavy side.  And also, let’s not choose an unhinged,  pickaxe-wielding maniac as the mascot for any kind of movement. That doesn’t help anyone.

What’s Your Malfunction?

Anyone who has been to my house in a while is well aware of my personal shame: I have an unfinished home improvement project that is well into its fifth year.

Now, in my defense, it is a major project, and there are many complications that make it difficult for me to complete. But in the end, these are all just excuses. In some ways, this project is representative of a recurring theme in my life: my inability to follow through on or actually accomplish anything. It’s frustrating and humbling for me, and it is my malfunction.

That leads me to my question for today: What’s your malfunction?

Don’t mind me, I’m just a parody.

While re-watching one of the greatest comedies of all time, something occurred to me:  We take ourselves far to seriously.  As people, as a society, as speaking as a Christian, as Christians. Especially as Christians.  Just look at all the controversy about Rob Bell’s new book, which hasn’t even come out yet.  Especially here in ‘Merica, we get so absurdly offended and defensive about any real or implied challenge to the way things are or always had been, it’s no wonder that so many people are fed up with the Church.

I was answering a survey this weekend at the student service at my church and one of the questions was asking me to name my greatest weakness.  My answer, after some thought, was my inability to take anything seriously. This can often get me into trouble, and challenges me in my goal to grow in maturity.  On the other hand, I also believe that it can sometimes be my greatest strength, because it allows me to avoid dogmatism, and often gives me a perspective that allows me to see both sides of an issue.  It keeps me honest.  And genuine intellectual honesty is the only way to truth.

Some would say that sarcasm and satire are two of the least Christian modes of expression, and that using them is contrary to Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself.  First of all, anyone who thinks God doesn’t use sarcasm needs to go read the book of Job.  Second of all, that argument doesn’t make sense to me since I am usually the first to make fun of myself, and therefore I would be loving my neighbor like myself.  But I do think that when used to tear down people, sarcasm and satire can be and are extremely hurtful and even hateful.  But when used to tear down misconceptions and hypocrisy, they can be a powerful tool for good.

This is why so many of my favorite movies (Saved, any Monty Python movie, Spaceballs, etc.) are parodies and satire.  This is why I like to read blogs that point out the foolishness all around us.  This is why Ben Folds is one of my favorite musicians around.  Maybe that makes me a heretic, or a cynic, or some other increasingly meaningless label.  But I believe it makes me a truth-seeker.  A truth-seeker with a great sense of humor.

For more perspective on some of these ideas, go here and here.

My Most Controversial Post Yet……My Top 10 Albums of All Time

Before I proceed any further, let me offer this disclaimer:  This list can only be certified as completely accurate up until the moment I post it. It is subject to change and fluctuation on an hourly basis. And it is not a list of my favorite bands, or my favorite songs.  Nor do I presume it to be a list of the best, greatest or most important albums; that would look completely different and perhaps is a post for another day.  It is simply a list of what I consider to be my favorite complete works.  That is, from the first song to the last, each album has had a major and lasting impact on me personally.  All that being said, let’s jump right in, in no particular order. And special thanks to Don Sanders for the suggestion.

1. Refused: The Shape of Punk to Come

Arguably the best hardcore album ever produced, this album has incredible flow, the band is ridiculously tight, and it is one of the best mixing/production jobs I’ve ever heard.  Not recommended for people who are offended by socialism.

 

 

 

2. Ben Folds Five: Whatever and Ever Amen

Do I seriously have to comment on this one?  Seriously.  Still one of my favorite albums to sing along with. Or with which to sing along. Thank you Daniel Jones for liberating me from this outdated way of thinking about prepositions. I will no longer feel guilty about writing the same way I speak.

 

 

 

3. Charlie Hall: Flying Into Daybreak


This is one of my favorite worship albums of all time, and when added to the fact that it reminds me of great friends and a great time in my life, it easily makes this list.

 

 

 

4. Foo Fighters: The Colour and the Shape

While I love the first Foo Fighters album as well, this is the one where Dave really found his own voice and threw off the chains of Nirvana. (I love Nirvana, too, by the way, but I love that Dave could in some ways make people forget he was a part of that.) Plus, the production is way better than on the first album.

 

 

 

5. Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes


Acoustic, raw, and brilliant.  Some of the best bass lines ever, and fun to sing along to.  But some songs are definitely not safe for the ears of children.

 

 

 

6. Harvey Danger: Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?


My second favorite sing-along album.  Oozing with sarcasm, but also emotion.  Who knew those two were compatible?

 

 

 

7. Living Sacrifice: The Hammering Process


My favorite metal album of all time, and, oddly enough, another of my favorite worship albums.

 

 

 

 

8. Weezer: tie between Blue Album and Pinkerton


These albums speak for themselves.  And like a parent trying to choose a favorite child, it is impossible for me to choose between them.

 

 

 

9. Silversun Pickups: Carnavas


A blissful combination of Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and all of my favorite shoegazer bands.  Must be turned up to at least 80% volume for full effectiveness.

 

 

 

10. Smashing Pumpkins: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness


Billy Corgan’s greatest masterpiece.  THE best song flow ever on any album, never mind on a double album.  Angry, sad, cheerful, nihilistic:  this album has it all.

 

 

 

So I should have expanded it to 20 albums, because I had to leave off some that I really wanted on there, plus I had to cheat a little bit with the Weezer.  So I decided to mollify myself with this Honorable Mention section: Green Day’s Dookie, At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command, The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife, Deftones’ Around the Fur, Local H’s As Good as Dead, Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy, Pixies’ Doolittle, The Postal Service’s Give Up, Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Hot, Showbread’s No Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical, and Silverchair’s Frogstomp.  A still incomplete list, but I feel a little bit better with that.

Any thoughts? Additions? Subtractions?  What’s your list? Can you narrow it down to ten? Can I ask enough questions to make you not want to read my blog anymore?

You Just Like Me for My Relativism

I got an email a couple a weeks ago about the revised dress code for anyone appearing on stage during service at my church.  I play bass in the worship band fairly regularly, so this is something that affects me directly.  Now before I go any farther, let me say that I love my church, and I respect the leadership there.  The reasons for having a dress code are legitimate-there have been some issues with inappropriate and distracting clothing in the past-but it’s words like “modest” and “inappropriate” that got me thinking about who sets that standard. What do “modest” and “inappropriate” really mean?

In large part due to the rampant self-righteous moralizing happening so frequently in our country, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relativism and absolute truth. And I’ve come to a conclusion that I’m not sure that even I am comfortable with.  Despite most of Christianity’s overriding abhorrence of the term, I think almost everything in this world is relative.

I’ll pause for you to catch your breath and collect yourself.

Please take notice that  said almost everything.  I do believe in and hold to certain absolute truths, which I’ll get to in a minute.  But the truth remains that most decisions we make and most actions we take are relative to our particular situation: our overall societal culture, our family, even our personality.  And I think our dress is a great example of this. For someone living in Miami Beach, for example, walking around in swim wear all day would be perfectly acceptable, and I would imagine, would not be considered immodest.  (If you live in Miami Beach and this isn’t true, I welcome your correction.)  But if that same person in that same outfit–say a young woman in a bikini–were to walk around the streets of Tehran, she would be immediately arrested and perhaps executed.

Even Paul talked about this type of relativism.  Check out 1 Corinthians 8 and 9:19-23 if you don’t believe me.  Of course Paul was also addressing the responsibilities that come with spiritual maturity, but that’s a topic for another day.

What I’m trying to get at is this:  too often we (as in we Christians) get caught up in legalism and moralism and end up missing the point of  what it is we are trying to do.  We alienate young people and others by adhering to things like dress codes that are mostly a generational misunderstanding.  We devalue seekers of God by expecting non Christians to adhere to Christian morality.  It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it.  Why is safely practiced premarital sex wrong to someone who doesn’t believe in or know about the biblical mandate against it?  The answer is that it isn’t, and if we don’t or can’t understand that, we will continue to struggle in our evangelistic efforts.  It is not our job to judge a non-believer’s actions–it’s our job to show them God’s love and grace.

This line of thinking, however, can be and has been taken too far. I believe that there are such things as absolute truths that I as a follower of Christ must cling to regardless of circumstance.  Here’s what I came up with:

  1. God created all that exists, and is sovereign over it.
  2. The Bible is infallibly true. Our interpretations of it certainly are not, but the word of God itself is.
  3. Jesus Christ was/is fully God and fully man, died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, and rose again from death, thereby defeating it and cancelling our punishment.
  4. Jesus will come back in judgement, and will create a new heaven and a new earth.

That’s my thoughts on the subject, however coherently they managed to come across.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject as well.