The Oncoming Train

A man stands in the middle of a desert road. Behind him, where there is no horizon, the road stretches off into the infinite. In front of him it is the same, save for a wide crack in the road.

The man looks down into the crack. He sees nothing but darkness. He finds a small rock on the side of the road and tosses it into the abyss to see how far down it goes. He hears the rock bounce off the walls of the crack again and again on its way down. The sounds the rock makes grow quieter until they finally disappear. If the rock lands, the man does not hear it.

The man looks up. A train is coming. Straight toward him.

The man did not expect a train on the paved road, but there it is all the same. He could argue that a train can only travel along tracks, but the train would not care. Its bearing suggests it means him harm.

The man weighs his options. He only has time to jump, but to where?

He could jump to either the left or the right and avoid the train entirely by getting off the road and into the dirt and tumbleweeds. The man decides there is no time for that. The train is coming too fast and it is too big.

He could jump straight up and let the train pass under him. The man knows that jump would offer only a temporary solution. After the jump peaks, he’d just come back down again and hit the train and be carried along by it.

The man looks behind him. He could jump backwards to where he came from. The man is not only sorely put off by the idea of going back, it is again only a temporary solution. The train would still come and catch up to the man quickly.

The man looks down. He notices the crack is just wide enough to leap into. He could jump in and hide until the train passes over him. But, the man does not know where the darkness will take him. He knows from the rock he threw that, if there is a bottom, it is a long way down. It is likely he will be hurt if he jumps in.

It is also possible jumping into the abyss will kill him.

The man looks up. The train is almost upon him. There is one more jump he is reluctant to even consider. He could jump forward. This would mean whatever harm the train intends to inflict would come to pass. There would be no avoiding it.

The man winces at the thought, then steels his gaze. Yes, he must face the train. He knows the train will punish him, but he is strong. He can endure it. And that which he cannot endure will be made better by others. By the love and care of his wife and family, and by the hands of his friend, the surgeon. His recovery will not be easy, but if he wanted it easy he never would have ventured out into the desert in the first place.

The man, his eyes open wide and his feet firmly planted, puts out his hands and braces for the impact.

Sex vs. Violence

WARNING: This blog contains adult content.

Been seeing this quote going around, attributed to author George RR Martin (writer, Game of Thrones):

George RR Martin

“It’s a uniquely American prudishness. You can write the most detailed, vivid description of an ax entering a skull, and nobody will say a word in protest. But if you write a similarly detailed description of a penis entering a vagina, you get letters from people saying they’ll never read you again. What the hell? Penises entering vaginas bring a lot more joy into the world than axes entering skulls.”

Martin isn’t alone in his befuddlement. I’ve read or heard similar thoughts from friends, professors, other creators of modern media, critics and entertainers.

My take? Sex is something sacred and very, very special that can and has been perverted. Violence is bad. Sometimes necessary (in defense of freedom), but always bad.  Perverting that which is sacred is worse than bad. It’s evil.*

*Which isn’t to say violence can’t be evil. It absolutely can be. But at its base its a thing we understand to be not positive. Children are taught “don’t hit” and there’s no group of people out there arguing that hitting is, actually, pretty great. That would be ridiculous.

Sex is such a tricky topic. Sex, at its core, is a good thing. Sex is great. But I and a lot of other people (all Americans, I guess) think sex is something that’s best discussed and practiced by a man and his wife. That’s not prudishness, that’s putting a thing–a very important thing–in its proper place. Very important things should always go in their proper places.

But much of the world doesn’t really agree with that. Sex is everywhere and attached to everything. In that way and many others it’s been perverted into this other thing–into something it’s best that it not be. CS Lewis (writer, Mere Christianity) said it best:

CS Lewis

“Sex is not messed up because it was put in the closet; it was put in the closet because it was messed up.”

In other words, what some call prudishness I would call trying to fix what’s been broken.

Admittedly, when we’re talking about sex, we’re in that sticky zone of intersecting ideas where religion and morality start pulling at each other. I have some atheist/agnostic friends who couldn’t give two figs about my religion, but we find a lot of common ground on moral issues.* We both believe in helping out our fellow man, we both want to do right by our kids and treat our spouses well, etc. But, almost invariably, we have disagreement when it comes to the place sex should have in our lives and culture.

*I don’t think my morality deriving from my religious beliefs invalidates my sense of right and wrong. I would argue that all morality comes from either religion itself or from something only religion can explain. Of course, that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

I think the essential problem is that, for those that believe sex fits into far more places than someone like myself thinks it should, it’s hard to understand how something that ostensibly should be about joy and happiness is somehow a bad thing. I mean, how can that be?

This is where taking religion out of morality becomes problematic. The idea of the sacred disappears when religion is removed. Suddenly, things skew towards the secular and are judged less by their longer lasting, deeper consequences, and more by the surface results that can be viewed immediately. Defining something as sacred is, itself, a leap of faith. I’m saying God has more claim to a thing than I do. A God I have never met.*

*Faith in God has always been about taking the longview. God is great about telling us points A and Z and not really giving us much to go on for B-Y. So the faithful can look like fools until they’re proven right. Hopefully, it happens during their lifetime, but such is not always (often) the case.

So, to those like George RR Martin who believe we’re better off witnessing a penis going into a vagina rather than an axe cleaving a head in two (and I’m in no way saying either one is something I think I should or want to see), I say I’d rather see something I can clearly define as evil and understand as such than see that which I consider precious rendered as puerile entertainment for the masses. I truly believe the latter is the greater of the two evils.

Or, to put it another way: I don’t want to have to explain it over and over again to my kid (or myself!) the confusing vagaries of sexual practices and combat the mixed up messages of the world by constantly redefining for her what about sex is good and what is bad. Far, far easier to say “See that guy hitting that guy? Yeah, that’s bad. Don’t do that. Unless we’re at war. I’ll tell you when we’re at war.”*

*Yes, that’s a bit reductive. So what? If your argument is that it’s easier to define what is evil about sex than it is about violence, then we may need to agree to disagree.

I can’t possibly imagine what the response to this blog will be. Many I consider friends will likely find much to disagree with here. That’s okay. I invite discussion, but I do ask that we keep it civil. Thanks.

Road Trips and Dragons Who Want to Eat Me

This one time, I was driving down the road at night when a gray, mossy cave rose up in the middle of the highway. A dragon emerged and opened his jaws wide to receive my vehicle. I could see its tongue flicking around its sharp teeth. I was pretty sure that if the dragon failed to swallow me up then his giant wings would envelop and trap me and everyone else in the car with me.

Then I shook my head and the dragon and his cave disappeared. I should have known better than to try to drive home at midnight after spending the previous fourteen hours at Six Flags Magic Mountain, but I’m an insomniacs and insomniacs think their lack of sleep give them superhuman powers.*

*We don’t like to brag about this to you ‘normals’, but it’s true. We’re amazing and we know it.

The View from Vern’s Driveway

Ever since that night the road has an adverse effect on me, no matter the time of day. I get hypnotized by the painted yellow strip far, far to easily. Couple days ago I drove my Grandma up to Pilot Hills, CA to see her friend Vern. After dropping her off, I drove right back home. It was 10-hour trip, all during the daylight hours, and, sure enough, I nodded off.

I’m smarter about it now. I’ll pull off and grab a cold drink or some candy to stir me. If I’m really desperate, I’ll buy some Diet Mountain Dew. This is a HUGE deal for me. For religious reasons, I don’t drink caffeine. Caffeine is not technically forbidden by my religion, but addictive and mind-altering substances are so I’ve always figured caffeine was part of that. I’ve now come to believe it is better to drink half a bottle of Diet Mountain Dew* than die in a ditch with a car on top of you.

*A half bottle is MORE than enough when you you’ve gone 30+ years without caffeine of any sort. I’m a friggin’ coked-up rodeo clown after half a bottle.

So, no dragons after dropping off Grandma. No hallucinations of any sort. It’s shame it’s come to this though. I find highway driving relaxing and enjoyable when I’m lucid enough to enjoy it. I particularly enjoy night driving. But when I get sleepy, it’s just misery. Lots of slapping my face, turning up the air conditioner and ruining my diet.

Okay, so ruining my diet is kind of fun. Have you guys tried the Hershey Air Delight? Man, that’s a good candy bar.

How do you stay awake during road trips? Doesn’t being a trucker seem like one of the hardest jobs ever?

At the Crossroads and Frustrated

You may have noticed I haven’t been exactly present on this site for the past week. Some great comments were left on my post Should Adults Wear Shorts? and I didn’t respond to any of them. (Just so you know, message received: wear shorts, stop being a jerk about it.) I’m not totally sure why I didn’t respond, but I think a lot of it has to do with the incredible amount of frustration I’ve been feeling lately.

This is gonna be tricky because I don’t think the time to get into specifics is right now. Basically, I’m at a crossroads.

In all of the most important ways my life is better than it’s ever been. My wife and I have always been strong partners and very much in love, but now, even after 12 years of marriage, we’ve managed to discover a new peak. Our kids are fantastic and healthy. The emotional stress and confusion and doubts that have been with us ever since our daughter with special needs was born have largely subsided. Honestly never thought that would happen. New responsibilities at work have given me a new sense of purpose there. I love my calling at church. They actually made an Avengers movie. And it’s good.

So what’s the problem? Sorry, that’s just for me. Suffice it to say, the dissatisfaction and lack of direction in another, critical area of my life is leaving me frustrated and, at times, angry. Great change is coming, for good or ill, and I’m at the very tipping point. Plans I made have not worked out like I thought they would and I’m facing an undesirable alternative I’ve been avoiding for a long time. I thought I was on the path I was supposed to be on. It is hard, now, to see how things could possibly work out in my favor.

I’m being vague, but it doesn’t really matter what I’m talking about.

I seek God’s counsel continually. I thought He was backing me up on this one. Crud, I thought it was all His idea in the first place. Am I mad at Him? Of course not.

This is where my true frustration is coming from: underneath the disappointment I feel for my situation, I’m more disappointed with myself. How many times in my life have the dark and grim things later revealed themselves as just steps on the path to something great? Many times. Many, many times. God tests our faith continually, but it’s pretty much always the same test.

So, I have to wait this out. But waiting at a crossroads is pretty much the most stultifying thing a person can do. Instead of moving forward or backward or left or right, I’m left at the fork in the road to ponder and pray and scold myself for being so dissatisfied when I have so much that is so great. In the moments of my deepest frustration, I feel unworthy of the blessings given to me. There’s nothing I hate more than ingratitude, both in myself and in others.

I know this is only a moment in my life. I guess I just wish it was over by now.

More than that, I wish I didn’t wish that.

Should Adults Wear Shorts?

Years ago, I read an interview with the costume designer for the TV show LOST in which the question was posed, “Why don’t any of the actors wear shorts?” After all, the characters are all on a tropical island and away from the normal trappings of civilization. Perfect shorts weather and conditions. No one is going to an office for work. Wouldn’t they be more comfortable if every day is Casual Friday?

The costume designer’s response: “The actors look stupid in shorts.”

I’d never thought about it that way before. I live in California. Most days out of the year, I can wear shorts comfortably. But should I? The new answer: not unless I want to look like a dork.

What got me thinking about this recently was this article from Forbes Magazine, Why Adults Should Ditch the Shorts, Wear Suits in which the writer equates wearing shorts with dressing like an 8-year-old. Here’s an excerpt:

The kid-who-stayed-40-years-too-long-on-the-playground look doesn’t inspire trust. If dressing up as a third grader is your idea of how to treat yourself, what’s your idea of how to treat me?

And what’s the rest of the world’s idea of how to treat you? When I was growing up, I was told, “The way you dress is the way you’re regarded.” See Dennis the Menace in the funny pages of your local newspaper to discover how you’re regarded.

Another maxim from my youth was, “Don’t dress for the job you have; dress for the job you’d like to get.” Checked the ad listings lately for WANTED: GRADE-SCHOOL-RECESS BULLY?

The author goes on to advocate suits over shorts, arguing that they hang better on the body of a middle-aged man than the t-shirt and shorts ensemble that tends to reveal far more than anyone wants to see. That’s a little extreme for me, but the point is valid.

Have you seen the The Descendants (great movie, but see it edited)? George Clooney plays a lawyer, but since he lives in Hawaii he and every other male he knows wears a sandals-and-shorts ensemble. Now, George Clooney is a very good-looking man, but not so much in this movie. His wardrobe is terrible. It hangs on him like a wet sack someone cut a hole out of. Honestly, I felt a lot better about myself after watching him traipse around the islands with his knees hanging out.

Usually, I’m not too hung up on things like wardrobe and the outer appearance. Long as you’re clean and don’t smell funny, I don’t really care how you choose to present yourself to the world. But, a year ago, I made a decision to not wear shorts anymore except for around the house and doing yard work and to wear sandals sparingly.* Funny how I feel more like an adult now.

What do you think? Are shorts on adult males verboten? Are women exempt? 

*Sorry, I know sandals are considered ridiculous apparel in many parts of the country, but it gets frakkin’ hot here and nothing heats you up more than covered feet.