Monthly Archives: August 2011

It’s a Small World After All

I just put down my phone.  I was texting one of my friends, just checking in and seeing what was going on in his life today.  He’s in Germany.  4,000 miles away.  Even in the Internet age, that we can have a real-time conversation across an ocean, on two separate continents still blows my mind.

It makes me think of something that I talked about with my students last year.  For most our history, it seemed to Earth’s inhabitants that the world was constantly growing.  Explorers and outcasts alike spread from their homes to find new lands and new peoples.  The horizons kept stretching further and further into the distance.  The discovery of the Americas by other peoples seemed to double the world’s size – at least to the outsiders’ eye.

But once the globe had been fully explored and charted, the horizons became fixed, and within generations, they seemed to begin rushing inwards.  The reason for this?  Technology.  Technology in general allowed us to see the world from a much larger viewpoint, but the technological advances in communication have done the most to advance this feeling of a shrinking world.

What used to take weeks or months to deliver a message can now be done with the press of a button.  But let’s think back even within the last 25 years – or even 15 years.  Remember when the only phone we had was a land-line at home?  And it had a long, curly cord attaching it to the wall?  Yeah, I remember that.  And I remember when cordless telephones came out, and we all felt like we were the Jetsons.  And then, eventually, the unthinkable happened:  they came out with phones that could go in your cars.  Beam me up Scotty!  You remember the first mobile phones, right?  They were as big as your house phones (and included the curly cord) and were mounted right on to your dash.  Or, if you were really mobile, you had a “bag phone” – a big bulky mobile phone that you could actually carry in and out of your car.  I remember when we got one, I thought we might as well had been the President since our bag phone was so fancy.

But what did those bulky phones do?  They allowed for more chances of communication between people.  We no longer had to wait around the kitchen for a call.  Wives were spared the annoyance of forgetting to tell their husbands to get milk.  They could simply call him on the way to the grocery store!

And then!  And then, cell phones came out.  And it has been non-stop from there!  Suddenly, people were connected to each other, no matter where they were. Our ability to communicate with each other no longer relied on cords, or time, or even space.  We each had a device that would allow us to instantly contact another.

And let’s not forget the Internet.  Oh, the Internet.  The only people who can really understand how the Internet changed the world are the ones who lived before its invention.  I actually remember not having the Internet.  Actually, I remember not having a computer in our house (mainly because I had to do my whole 4th grade Georgia History project by hand…and when my brother came to fourth grade a couple of years later, he got to type it all!).  And I don’t have to go into all of the cool things that the Internet can do, or more accurately, can allow us to do.  We all know that.

What I think is the coolest of all is what the Internet does on a larger scale.  Let me back up for just a minute.  For most of civilization’s history, access to knowledge was very limited.  If you wanted to learn a trade, you went to live with a master of that trade and you became his apprentice.  Books were scare and people who could even read them were even more rare.  That’s why if you wanted a formal education, you picked up and moved your life to live at a university.  And there weren’t thousands of students; there were a handful, and each of them studied personally under one, two or three professors.  Even if you spent your entire life studying, you could only learn what your professor taught you, plus what you could read.  Information was limited.

Now think about the Internet:  You have a question about something?  As long as you have an Internet connection, you can have 4 million posts about your inquiry within 0.23687 seconds.

Now for the part that really makes my head swim:  look at smart phones (iPhones, BlackBerrys, Andriods, etc).  They all have access to the Internet.  What does that mean?  It means that, at any given point, we now have access to more information than ALL of humanity in the past ever had, combined…All in the palm of our hand.  We don’t have to be content with not knowing what the Pythagorean Theory is.  Simply open your phone’s browser and Google it.  Each phone is now a portal to the vast ocean of shared knowledge that is the Internet.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the information that we have access to is all good knowledge.  I don’t know the stats, but I’m sure that most of the information out there is pure crap.  Anyone with a keyboard can put whatever they want into the Internet.  And that will come up when you search.  So, you have to be smart about sifting through information.

But think about what the Internet has done beyond giving us instant access to vast amounts of knowledge.  Think about what it has done for communication.  We can now email people across the globe and they will receive our message instantly.  Researchers in France can collaborate with scientists in California to come up with a new life-saving drug.  Engineers can troubleshoot a robot an ocean away that will be used by a doctor in another state to perform a delicate surgery.

Skype allowed me not only to call home as often as I wanted to when I lived in Germany, but it allowed me to see my family via video chat.  For free.  And now, I have a free Skype app for my phone, so I can pick up and call my friend in Germany just as quickly and easily as I can my brother.

And don’t even get me started on technology’s impact on transportation (which is the other major reason the world seems smaller).  What used to take a month – or several months – in a dangerous, rocky, wind-powered ship, now takes merely hours.  I can wake up in Frankfurt and then go to sleep in Cuthbert, Georgia that same night.  I may live 1,400 miles away from my family, but I can fly down for my grandfather’s 80th birthday, and it’s no big deal.

And we’ve all seen the beauty of a sunrise and even a moonrise.  But can you imagine the feeling that those NASA astronauts had as they became the first humans in history to witness an earthrise?  All of humanity’s conflicts, all of the wars, the Roman, Greek, Chinese, Ottoman, Egyptian, European and American empires, all of our achievements – all of those took place on a little blue and white orb that those astronauts saw in their line of vision.

Earthrise

That’s why the world is smaller.  China no longer seems so far away when you can video chat live with a student there.  Marburg can really be a home away from home when I get constant updates from my friends there.

Yep, it’s a small world after all. 

That’s why it sometimes makes all of our disagreements seem silly.  If our entire world is so small, then our differences and problems are even smaller.  We should focus on working and living together…on making peace, and on saving our environments.

*****

Following are two articles that I shared with my students.  They both deal with technology and the power it has to shape the way we interact with the world, the way we think, and the way we (re)act to different situations.

The first is Google, a Giant in Mobile Search, Seeks New Ways to Make it Pay by Claire Cain Miller and was published in the New York Times on April 24, 2011.  It has to do with the technology that Google is creating to improve searching for information on mobile devices such as smart phones.  Here are a couple of excerpts from the full article:

Google trained its computers to learn spoken language based on troves of voice recordings. “Even if you’re from Brooklyn and you drop all your R’s when you park your car, it’s heard plenty of people from Brooklyn and it can do well,” said Mike Cohen, head of Google’s speech technology team. 

At first, Google engineers thought people would talk to its voice search service as if they were talking to a person — “you know, it’s my anniversary, and I’d love to take my wife somewhere really romantic to eat, do you have any ideas?” — so it taught the service to filter out unnecessary words. But it turned out that Google had already trained people into thinking in keywords, so they knew to search “romantic restaurants” even when speaking instead of typing.

People can now snap photos of landmarks or wine labels to search for them using Google Goggles, speak to their phones using voice search and, on Android phones, translate spoken conversations between English and Spanish.

People can also snap a photo to translate a menu in a foreign country, and speak English to hear the Spanish translation. Someday Google hopes to be able to translate both sides of a phone conversation as it happens, said Franz Och, head of Google’s machine translation group.

This second article is from the April 12, 2011 USA TodayThe World to the Rescue  is written by Steve Sternberg and is the most amazing article (out of the two).  It shows how “for-fun” social networking sites (like Facebook) can be utilized in the most unlikely of cases – like disaster response.  Again, some excerpts to pique your attention:

Japan’s disaster has spotlighted the critical role that social media websites such as Twitter, FacebookGoogleYouTube and Skype increasingly are playing in responses to crises around the world. They may have been designed largely for online socializing and fun, but such sites and others have empowered people caught up in crises and others wanting to help to share vivid, unfiltered images, audio and text reports before governments or more traditional media can do so.

“Often, it’s not the experts who know something; it’s someone in the crowd,” says Sree Sreenivasan, a social media specialist at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. 

The emergency managers and military officers who planned X-24 say the idea was to tap the potential of social media to create video and text channels of communication that offer more immediacy and flexibility than the standard command-and-control operation anchored in a government war room. 

“We’re trying to reconceptualize emergency response around resources that didn’t exist five years ago,” says Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

One example of the technology in the article are emergency maps that anyone can create as a free app.  Here is an excerpt describing how a Boston resident was able to help save people in Haiti after their horrible earthquake by designing such a map:

Meier put out a call for volunteers.  They began creating a crisis map in his Boston apartment.  “We were all crammed into my living room,” he says. “It was snowing outside. Here we were on a live Skype call with search-and-rescue teams in Port-au-Prince.”  Soon the Marine Corps and Coast Guard were using the program to stage relief efforts. The World Food Program sent Meier’s team a list of displaced-person camps along with a request for GPS coordinates so volunteers could locate them.

 In Japan, Meier says, colleagues familiar with the Ushahidi approach launched their own crisis map “within a couple of hours.”  It may be the largest crisis map ever created, containing more than 8,000 reports from social media detailing such items as shelters, food stores, open gas stations, road closures, building damage assessments and cellphone charging centers, he says.

You want an idea just how helpful social media sites can be in helping with disaster relief?  Check out these stats:

As many as 4 billion people worldwide — and 84% of Americans — now use mobile phones worldwide.  Twitter’s traffic is just as eye-popping, says spokesman Matt Graves.  “Right now, on any given day, people are sending 140 million messages,” he says, “a billion tweets every eight days.”  About 200 million people a day watch videos on their mobile phones, triple the number of a year ago, she says.

Compared with social media, information moves at a relative snail’s pace even in today’spost-9/11 war rooms, with their vast Internet bandwidth and huge TV screens, says Blanchard, a former deputy director of the U.S. government’s preparedness website, www.ready.gov  “Currently, situation reports aren’t real-time,” she says. “They can be up to six to eight hours old.”

Social media can bridge that gap, she says, but emergency managers must overcome longstanding hurdles, such as policies that restrict them from acting on information that doesn’t flow from official sources.

Read the whole article here.

The article begins and ends with a remarkable story about a US Ambassador who kept up with his Twitter feed during and after the Japanese catastrophe.  He received two tweets, each about 100 characters long, from a Japanese worker, asking for help in evacuating a hospital.  It shows just how interconnected we have become:

Officials at Kameda [Japan] turned to [Ambassador] Roos. The ambassador alerted the U.S. Embassy’s defense attache, who passed it down through the U.S. military chain of command.  An hour or so later, Fuller, Roos’ aide, says, “we got a note back,” saying the patients would be evacuated by Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces.

Two tweets had mobilized troops.

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Categories: Politics/Current Events, Science/Technology | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

by Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.  August 15, 2011, New York Times, page A21, or available online here

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

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Another Sunday Sermon

I came across this article during the flight from Atlanta to Buffalo.  Especially as a historian, I found this really interesting.  You have to take into account when reading the Bible that Jesus did not speak English.  And the Bible wasn’t written in English originally.  Therefore, the interpretations may be wrong – or at least different than what the authors originally said or intended.  I really want to read the book that is referred to, Love Wins, by Rob Bell.  

“There’s a reason why a book about the afterlife has created such a stir.  Love Wins is making Christians re-examine what Jesus’ words of teaching really meant.”

SHOULD BELIEVERS FEAR HELL – AND GOD? 

By Oliver Thomas

What happens when you die?

People have been wrestling with the question for as long as we’ve been people. And though Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and others have tried to eliminate some of the mystery from what lies ahead, the truth is we’re all speculating. Not even the pope or Billy Graham has been given an advance tour of the other side.

The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans all had elaborate beliefs about the afterlife. We’re no different. Right now, a book is burning through America’s churches that has put the issue back front and center for many. The book —Love Wins— by Rob Bell challenges the traditional Christian belief in a place of eternal punishment. Damnation.

Hell? Yes.

Most Americans still believe in hell. A 2009 poll by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life put the number at 59%. A 2005 Fox News poll put it at 74%!

Ask these folks why they cling to such a decidedly medieval notion, and they will tell you: Because the Bible teaches it! And if we’re talking about the King James Bible, they are right — at least on the surface. But dig into the languages in which the Bible was actually written — Greek and Hebrew — and things get murky.

Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament) is the abode of the dead described as a place of eternal punishment. Rather, “Sheol” as it is sometimes called, appears as a shadowy, dreamlike place where all people — good and evil — are destined.

One Old Testament writer has this to say: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might for there is no activity or planning or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.” Not my idea of a Shangri-La, but certainly better than everlasting fire.

Even Jesus gets misquoted here. Clearly, Jesus taught that there would be a day of reckoning. In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, he paints a disturbing picture of it. “I was hungry and you didn’t feed me. Naked and you didn’t clothe me.”

But the Greek word that is often translated “eternal” (aionos) — whether it is used to describe punishment or life — is better understood as a word of quality, not quantity. Punishment is only “eternal” (in the way that Americans understand that word) in the sense that it could be final.

Not what Jesus meant

Nearly every reference to “hell” that comes from the lips of Jesus is a mistranslation.

The word translated as hell by the King James Bible is the word “Gehenna,” literally “the valley of the sons of Hinnom.” This notorious valley on the south side of Jerusalem was once the site of pagan sacrifices, including child sacrifice, and had been cursed by the prophets of Israel. By Jesus’ day, it served as the garbage dump. It was a foul, noxious place where dogs roamed and fires burned. Jesus seized upon this vivid imagery in his sermons. He urged people to repent (literally “change your mind”), lest they end up in Gehenna (i.e. the garbage dump).

He could just as easily have told them to repent or they would wind up throwing away their lives.

Rob Bell makes the case that turning Jesus into a purveyor of hell-fire and brimstone religion stands his gospel on its head. After all, Jesus taught that God was loving and merciful — more loving and merciful, he insisted, than a human parent.

Equally fundamental to Christian, Jewish and Muslim beliefs about God is that God is a God of justice. A bedrock principal of justice is that the punishment must fit the crime. We don’t impose the death penalty for speeding tickets.

Reality check

Now, I’m a pretty decent parent, and I’m married to an even better one. I can guarantee that if one of our daughters turned out to be a murderer, neither of us would respond by setting fire to her. We wouldn’t torture her for a second, much less a trillion years. (Reality check: A trillion years is a mere droplet in the ocean of eternity.)

Yet millions of Americans are laboring under the heavy psychological burden that if they don’t believe the right things about God — or “accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior” as Evangelicals like to put it —they will burn in hell forever.

Several questions cry out for a response. Why would we worship a God like that? And, perhaps more important, what kind of people — and, consequently, a nation — does that make us?

Fearing God

The answer to the first question is simple: fear. Fear is a horrible motivator for human behavior. It can cause us to do all sorts of wild things. If we really believe that unorthodox beliefs will lead people to everlasting torment, you begin to understand things such as the Crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts and, yes, jihad. Muslims, too, believe in a place of everlasting torment. Forgive me if it sounds circular, but irrational fears are scary.

The second answer is less apparent though no less disturbing. I suspect that a deep-seated fear of God lies behind much of the neurosis — if not actual psychosis — that we see in the world today. No person is as sick as a person who is sick on bad religion.

So the hornet’s nest Bell kicked over with his little book is one that affects us all. Because the kind of God Americans worship affects the kind of people we are. If that God is unjust when doling out punishment, it’s likely we will be the same. If folks don’t measure up to our standard, then, off with their heads.

Though we may speak of such a God as loving — and as his devotees think of ourselves in a similar fashion — deep down, we know it’s a sham.

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U.S. Debt Crisis 101

Someone sent me this YouTube video and I thought I’d share it.  It’s pretty much an elementary explanation of our economic debt crisis.  It helped me understand it a little better, though made me feel even more powerless.

 

And here is an NPR cartoon that pretty much sums up how I feel:

 

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Atlanta’s Hometown Airline

Following is an article from the March ’11 edition of Delta’s Sky Magazine.  Written by Richard Anderson, the Chief Executive Officer for Delta Air Lines, it talks about Delta’s relationship with the Capital of the South and its headquarter city, Atlanta.  I liked it, so I thought I’d share with you all.

FROM ATLANTA TO THE WORLD FOR 70 YEARS: Building a Global Airline and a Global City

Delta Air Lines’ founder C. E. Woolman reached an agreement with Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield 70 years ago that changed our airline and the City of Atlanta forever.  In exchange for an affordable, long-term lease, Mr. Woolman agreed to move the center of Delta operations from Monroe, Louisiana, to Atlanta.  Delta – then with just 53 employees running 113 seats on eight flights a day – relocated its headquarters to Altanta in 1941.  It was a pivotal moment not just for Delta, but for the promise of U.S. air travel.

The move planted the seed for Atlanta’s rise as the busiest passenger hub and Delta’s eventual transformation into a leading global airline.  Since 1941, metro Atlanta has grown from 800,000 residents to about 6 million today, while at the same time Delta has grown from eight Atlanta fights to more than 1,000 departures headed to approximately 220 points across the globe.

Along the way, Delta and Atlanta together have recorded a lot of firsts:  In the 1950s, Delta pioneered a concept in Atlanta that became known as the “hub and spoke,” which ultimately led to the development of the world’s largest airline hub in our hometown.  In the 1970s, Delta launched the first nonstop transAtlantic flights between Atlanta and London, propelling Atlanta’s vision of becoming a global capital.  And in the 1990s, Delta and Atlanta partnered to win the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, leading us into an era in which we have increased nonstop international service from Atlanta by nearly 500 percent.

But even with all the changes, our alues and many of our partners remain the same.  The Coca-Cola Company, in fact, is Delta’s longest-standing corporate partner, with onboard Coke service dating to the 1940s.  Last month, we saluted this history by christening a Boeing 777-200LR as the “Spirit of Atlanta” with a bottle of our hometown drink.  The christening harkened back to December 1940, when Douglas Aircraft Company christened one of Delta’s early DC-3s as the “City of Atlanta” – also with a bottle of Coke.

The Spirit of Atlanta

The last 70 years prove that, together, the people of Delta, metro Atlanta, the State of Georgia, our customers and our business and charitable partners are a powerful combination.  Our partnership with Atlanta has created something that can’t be replicated – a city that 12 Fortune 500 companies call home and a company, Delta, that has remained Georgia’s largest private employer for a generation.

If your travels take you through Atlanta today, we hope you’ll join us in lifting your glass to our hometown.  We look forward to another 70 years and more in Atlanta.  And we look forward to continuing to bring you a strong global network and premium product that will keep our customers worldwide flying Delta for years to come.

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The Elixir of Life

I’m back in Buffalo and all moved into my new apartment.  Yesterday morning, something horrible happened.  I woke up, after having to sleep on the floor (don’t have a bed yet), and unsteadily made my way downstairs to the kitchen.  One of the first things I unpacked was my $14 Black and Decker automatic coffee maker – and that was my destination yesterday morning.  I sniffed the air as my foot hit the last step and I was suddenly mad at myself for not setting the timer.  There was no coffee waiting on me.

My annoyance at myself was about to boil over into wrath.

I got to the kitchen and just stared at my coffee maker.  In a moment of realization that was as annoying and shocking as the car alarm that went off every hour on the hour the night before, my blood pressure sky rocketed.  I may have packed my coffee maker, but I didn’t have coffee filters.  No problem; I had paper towels.  But I didn’t have coffee.  FML

My blurry senses suddenly sharpened as survival instinct kicked in.  I sprinted back up stairs (okay, sprinted may be a little exaggerated) to grab my secondary lifeline:  Google.  Keywords:  starbucks buffalo, ny.

Thank the gods above (and below and every which a’ way!)  There’s a Starbucks one block from my apartment.  Crisis averted.

Being that coffee is what saves all of you from a bad-mood me, out of sheer civic duty, I went and bought a 1 ½ lb can of Folgers Black Silk coffee and 200 coffee filters.  That should stave off DEFCON 1 for a little while.

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In the Shadow of a Castle

“Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.” 

Bertolt Brecht

Journal entry from 9/26/08:

The stone is cold beneath me and against my back, and I sit mere inches from a 50ft precipice. The trees sway and dance in rhythm with the chilly breeze of the coming night. Marburg lay spread out below me.

It’s Friday evening, the closing of a stress-filled week, and I have finally made it back up to Marburg’s castle. It actually feels as if I’m here for the first time. Last time was too quick. We came; we glanced; and then we hurriedly left, hungrily looking for the next “site to see.”

And so, this morning, I slept in – in an attempt to catch up on some much needed rest – and then decided to make my way into town, alone, to really begin to experience Marburg for myself. I naturally found myself heading straight for the castle.

It’s very strange: though we came to this exact spot last time, I now notice so much that I overlooked earlier.

There were too many people on the front side of the castle, so I made my way around to this back, much quieter, side. I found a perfect place to sit and write atop the castle’s wall, which overlooks a steep cliff down the mountainside. Then, stretched out before me is Marburg – as I have never really seen it before. And as I look down at the towering spires of the Elizabethkirche, I realize something. One would think that while perched on the wall of a solid fortress, glaring down at the city below, you would feel…powerful.

But as I sit here and watch the shadow of the castle behind me inch slowly over the city like a protective shield, I cannot help but to be overcome by how tranquil it is. It is shockingly quiet. The city noise is left far below. Only the distant hum of cars and the rustling of leaves as they give way to the ever-colder wind break the silence.

Perhaps this is why the royalty built the castle here; not to feel domineering, but to escape the hustle; to be able to sit here and think…or perhaps to sit here and not think.

The “one month mark” of my trip is almost here and it has yet to even begin to sink in that I will be here for an entire year. But, past the stress and the worry (and yes, the complaining) I am so very glad that I decided to embark on this adventure. And though I may feel lonely at times, I am also glad that I came alone.

Sure, I have traveled throughout Europe before, always finding myself in somewhat uncertain situations. And I have spent a month living in a village in the middle of the rainforest, with everything that that entails.

But never have I ever been really on my own. On my other trips, I went with groups. Even when I started college, I came with my best friends. So, to be transported here, to this new culture (which may not be as different as Mayan culture, but significantly different none the less) by myself, is certainly the greatest adventure of my life so far.

And already this trip is causing much more self-analysis and self-reflection than I expected. So, not only am I learning about the rich German culture, but I’m hopefully learning more about myself as well.

Well, it seems that Night is only over the next mountain ridge, and it is coming as quickly as the temperature is dropping. So, I suppose that it is time for me to leave the refuge of the castle and head back down to the life of the city below.

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After the End

“What are you?” asked the woman.  She had caught a glimpse of my true form in my stolen eyes.

It had been one hundred lifetimes since I had seen a human being.  A thousand years ago exactly, judgment had been passed down from on high, and I, along with those like me, had been banished to a pit of flames and ash.  After the final battle, a new Earth had been established and a millennium had passed under his reign.  But now, that period was over and the Revelation, the final chapter of his Book had come to a close, and I was released from my fiery prison.  Nothing else was written in the Book, so the future lay before us all like blank pages.

“You cannot know,” I told the woman.  She looked deep into my eyes, searching for some type of answer.  I closed her eyes as she slid her hand down my bare chest, and in one fluid motion I entered her.  She cried out in ecstasy.  As I breathed out, she breathed in, and with that very breath – the carrier of life – she and I became one.  I could feel her body in its entirety, and I knew that she was the realization of perfection…pure and flawless.  From the moment of my liberation, I had searched for one like her.  Her dark skin, without blemish, set her apart, and I knew that she was the one.

After the deed was done, I withdrew and she fell back against the wall, panting.  Even I had trouble maintaining the image of my borrowed appearance.  She saw the shimmer in my persona and her hand fell instinctively to her abdomen.  I took a step forward and placed my own hand on her stomach.  As my hand met her skin, I felt the faint hint of movement.  It was the first new life created in a thousand years.

“What now grows inside you,” I told the woman without moving my mouth, “will assume the mastery of this world.”  I saw a trace of fear flash across her face.  But soon, it gave way to a content happiness, as she caressed her stomach.

“I do not understand,” she told me.

“You cannot,” I repeated.

For a thousand years after the victory of the great I Am, mankind lived in a world unlike any except that into which the original Pair was born.  The survivors of the great battle lived in a world with no pain, no misery, no sorrow.  He himself wiped away every tear of joy from their eyes.  Every instant of the millennium was spent in joy and in worship of he who created them.  However, though there was no death and no loss, there was also no creation of life.  That is why the sensation of life within her womb was new and alien to the woman standing before me.

During my imprisonment it became clear to me what this new kingdom on Earth was meant to do.  It was the only way that he could fix his creation’s flaws.  By removing all temptation, by removing all pain, all sorrow and by providing only one option, that is gladness, salvation, oneness with him, would mankind finally be what he wanted it to be.  Only on the straight and narrow path could humans achieve what he, the Lord of All Creation, deemed perfection.

For a thousand years, the embodiment of beauty standing before me worshiped her heavenly father without ceasing and sang his praises.  But now I saw that I had given her something that she had never experienced:  physical pleasure as well as the knowledge that there was indeed something alive inside her; it was the feeling of motherhood.  And yet, she could not understand.  She had not been created in this new kingdom to understand.

I reached out my hand to her and in my palm was a perfect apple.

“Eat this,” I told her, “and you will understand.  And then take the seeds from the Fruit and plant them in the garden.”

Before the woman could take the apple, a wind at my back blew my robes into small wisps of smoke.  And a hand, perfectly sculpted yet scarred grabbed my wrist.  Even before I turned my gaze I knew who held my arm, and I looked up into the grey-blue eyes of the Archangel.

“Ah, hello, Gabriel,” I greeted him.  The wounds on his left chest, the ones I inflicted on him a millennium before, still bled.

“You have been summoned,” he said to me in a voice more powerful than thunder, and he released my hand.  I nodded to him and looked back at the woman one last time.  I snarled as I noticed the Fruit rotting in my hand.  Fiery wings erupted from the flesh of my back and I spread them wide in the room.  I beat them once and leapt into the heavens.

In an instant I stood before eternal and never ending gates.  A saintly gatekeeper stood before us and acknowledged my guardian and me before gesturing that we should enter.  I stepped forward and Gabrielle led me into the throne room.  It was a room unchanged, perfect and bright.

I saw the feet of the Alpha sitting before me, and the throne to his right was occupied once again.  It was the Son, sitting, radiant and pure.  My eyes rose up from the feet set before me, those foundations of all things, and I met the face of the Alpha.  No man had seen that face and lived.  But then again, I was no man.

His face was not beautiful or flawless like his Son’s.  It was ever changing.  In one instant it was that of a wise old father; in the next, that of a fresh, newborn child.  In the blink of an eye the face would meld to that of a haggard woman before suddenly giving way to the wretched, repulsive face of Death.

I felt his piercing stare fall upon me, and when he spoke, his voice came not from his mouth, but radiated from his heart.  “You, oh Great Deceiver,” he addressed me, “dare come before me in guise?”

As he spoke, I felt as my body was forced to assume its true form.  My damnation and expulsion from heaven had scarred my figure.  Once the Lord of Luminescence had stolen all Light and kept it for himself, there was nothing left for me except Darkness.  And that Darkness devoured my being and left me forevermore hideous.  My wings were no longer beautiful and feathered, but instead shredded and leathery.  The fires of jealousy and greed had singed my skin and the envy, the desire for what had been taken from me, had consumed my angelic features.  Hatred – the hatred of those countless generations that came after me, and my own hatred at the injustices thrown upon me – had distorted my body into something repulsive.  My charred skin had become hard, as hard as my own heart.  Even my feet had taken the same shape as that worn by the lowest beasts that walked the Earth.

I, the Fallen One, shed my skin like a serpent and stood raw, naked and exposed before him.

“What is it you wish to accomplish in my new kingdom?” the Lord of Thrones asked me.

“I wish only to grant back to mankind that which you took away from them,” I told him.  For a moment, there was silence throughout the cosmos.

“You, the ruler of only one-third of the stars, those that fell, hope to advise me, creator of all that was, is, and all that shall be, on how to govern that which I have created and provided for?”

“Yes,” I answered him.

He gave a snort and then replied, “You have been released from your prison but for an instant and already attempt to blacken their salvaged hearts.”  Upon receiving no answer from me, he continued, “You seek a woman.”

“No,” I corrected him.  “Not a woman, but a mother.”

“And what do you desire from a mother?”

“A fresh beginning,” I told him.  “In the Beginning was the Word,” I continued, “and the Word provided for mankind, but kept from them one Fruit, the lush sustenance of Knowledge.  However, I offered them the Fruit and you punished them for wanting to become like me…and like you.  You had to begin again, washing away not only their sins, but everything of their past.  After that, you provided yet another beginning when the Word became flesh and your own Son sacrificed himself for your creation.  Yet again, you have wiped clean, through warfare and bloodshed, everything of their world, keeping it “pure” for a millennium.  And yet, as you said, I have been released for only an instant, and already, upon given a Choice, one of them has already chosen against your Will.”

“Why do you wish to steal happiness from them?” he asked me.

“It is not happiness that I wish to steal.  I wish to grant to them Choice.  Free choice in their lives.”

“I gave them free will!” he bellowed.  For a moment, the tides of time reversed, but soon proceeded normally once again.

“Free will indeed,” I told him.  “And yet, it enraged you when they chose to do that which would not be pleasing to you.  You have since cursed them for that, plagued them with disease, disaster, and eternal damnation.  If it were not for the Compassion of your Son, not a single of these souls would join you here after death.  I wish for them to have true free will.”

“You would have choice without consequences?” he demanded

“Consequences come naturally, my lord,” I replied.  And then there was silence as the Ancient One thought.

His head shifted to that of a great blue elephant and he asked, “You would have them indulge in the pleasures of the flesh?”

“Yes,” I told him.  “I would wish for them to know the intimate senses of the flesh, but I would also have them truly know the deeper pleasures of Life as well without fearing themselves or others.  I would have them enjoy pure happiness and jubilation, that which comes from themselves, not the shallow and hollow joy which is feigned by your ministers.”

“Explain yourself,” he demanded.  The sharp gaze of a falcon now stared down at me from above.

“Look below at your Creation,” I said, and turned to point at the small orb known as Earth below us.  “How can one truly know pleasure if one has never felt pain?  How can one actually appreciate the joy of love without ever experiencing the piercing pain of loss?  One cannot exist without the other.

“Look at your new kingdom, look deep within the city walls,” I told him, “You claim to have given them delight and merriment, and yet all you have done is taken away heartache and death.  In your quest to keep from them the Knowledge of Evil, you have kept from them true Knowledge of Good.  No loss has fallen upon mankind for a thousand years.  And here in heaven has it ever.  Yet the absence of Loss does not grant Joy and Contentment.  Eternal joy is not joy at all.”

The Son turned his gaze to Earth and then over to me as the Father stared down as well.

“Look around,” I told him.  There were humans and angels and all of his creations bowed and worshiping him without ceasing.

“This is not salvation,” I said to him, he who sat on the throne.  “It is bondage.”

Both Gabrielle and the Lamb looked to the King, anticipating his reaction.  But there was none, so I continued.  “To live in fear of your creator, to live in fear of those different from oneself and to live in fear of the unknown of an afterlife is to not live.  Particularly when the afterlife is not a life at all, but simply the fulfillment of a duty to the cosmic master.”

The Great One waved his hand and time itself stood still.  Only those in heaven continued unaffected.  “And what is it that you ultimately want, oh Lord of All Things Vile?”

I took a deep breath and exhaled.  I had waited for this moment since my expulsion.  My forked tongue slipped forth eagerly from my lips.  And then I spoke:

“I do not seek retribution, nor do I hope that you will clear my name from all of the wrongdoings and lies with which it has been falsely associated.  I am not here to ask forgiveness, for I know your forgiveness has limits.  I stand before you to ask for the World of Man.”

He who was, is and will be, suddenly was not in the throne, nor was he anywhere, but he was everywhere all at once.  Finally, a shape reappeared on the throne, and as I looked up, I stared into the eyes of every man, woman and child that had ever lived.

The Son now looked anxious.  His Father spoke:  “You ask for that which I created?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“What makes you think that I would grant such a request?”

“Because,” I told him, “the final chapter of your Book has closed.  There is nothing left.  Your millennial reign on Earth has ended.  And yet, you are not pleased with your creation.”

In the silence that followed, I realized that the Father strummed the cover of his Book.  As I continued, I wondered if he thought of the final pages:

“You are the Alpha, but you are also the Omega.  You created this world many lifetimes ago, and now you have ended it.  Go!  Begin anew!  Elsewhere,” I told him.  “But, leave this world to me.

“You remain angry and unsatisfied with the World of Man and blame them for their flaws, those decisions which are against your Will.  But, both you and I know, oh Exalted One, the real reason for your anger.  You wrote a book that limits your own power, and above all, a flawed creation means a flawed creator.”

Suddenly, the Son sat upright in anger.  Instinctively, my hand moved swiftly to the hilt of my sword.  Yet, I knew I had nothing to fear.  The Prince would not strike me; for, violence had been reserved for the Father, and the Son’s own Compassion was too great.  He felt it even towards me.  However, his Father’s silent contemplation only angered him further.

Moments would have passed if time had been allowed to run its course.  As it were, I could not tell if I waited for a second or an eternity, though I knew it was neither.

Finally, the Father spoke:  “So be it.”

The Son’s face fell.  That was understandable.  He had given his life, had given everything for the salvation of Mankind so that they may not be eternally damned by the Cosmic Judge.  And suddenly his Father had, with three words, delivered the entire fate of mankind into my hands.

And yet, when he looked at me, and our eyes met, I felt a sense, however small, of understanding.  For, he had stepped into the World of Man so that they could escape the strict and impersonal rules and commandments laid forth by the God of Gods and instead find Compassion and the personal connection with the Lamb.  A part of me expected the Prince to speak, but he remained silent.  I did not know if his silence stemmed from fear of his Father, or from his wordless consent.

Suddenly, I noticed a third throne, sitting to the King’s left.  In it sat a woman, more perfect than all creation.  Her dark skin set her apart and was pleasing to my eye.  She sat staring down at me, beautiful and frightening.

I felt the Father’s voice in my body once again, “She who carries your seed is yours.  Of her own free will.”

The woman stepped down from her throne to stand beside me.  She turned to face the Father and Son.  “Does this please thee?” the King of all Kings and the Lord of all Lords asked me.

“Yes,” I answered.  “I wish for nothing further.  I will not pursue you anywhere you may go.”  My gaze met with the Prince’s once more and I saw a twinkle in his eye before he looked sternly forward, glancing only momentarily down at Earth one last time.

“One final thing,” said a voice from the throne in the middle.  I was given a start as I looked up.  The Father’s eyes now peered down through a majestic and angelic figure, my original given body.  He was talking to the woman.  I saw how she gazed at the heavenly creature sitting before her, and anger flared up inside of me as I stared down at the distortion I had become.

In my body, the Father stepped down from his throne and extended his hand.  In his palm was a perfect apple, the Fruit.  “Take this,” he commanded her.  She obeyed.  His body, my body, suddenly shriveled like the desert sand and withered away.  He was back on his throne, faceless.

“Then I have spoken,” boomed the Lord, Creator of All Things.  “It is done.”

In the next instant, I stood on the wall of New Jerusalem, my talons digging deep into the stone.  A clap of thunder more profound than had ever before been known heralded my reentrance into this world.  People ceased their worshiping and then exited their dwellings to step out into the streets.  For the first time in a thousand years, a cloud drifted in front of the sun.  Many people below were afraid of its shadow, yet some found comfort in its shade.

Without warning, the sun was extinguished and the world was plunged into darkness as all of the stars fell from the sky.  Chaos reigned as the Creator and the Word left this world forever.  I wasted no time in replacing every star individually and I hung the moon tenderly myself.  My winged followers began dismantling the walls of the Golden City so that mankind could again inhabit the whole of the Earth.

However, I remained perched in the sky alongside the woman.  I silently folded my wings tight around me, cloaking myself to hide my scarred exterior.  “Eat, Mother,” I told her.  She bit deep into the Fruit, and then I set the world in motion once more.

I reached over and placed my hand on the woman’s stomach.  Feeling the life that I had created brought a smile to my now attractive, borrowed face.  The smile only widened as I watched the people below as they gulped up water and fed themselves for the first time since the Four Horsemen established the heavenly Reign on Earth.  Hunger had been a stranger for the past millennium, but so had the pleasure of food and a full stomach.

Yes, the humans went on with their new lives and they once again became the host of Age.  For now they were grateful for their gifts.  However, there would come a day when their Compassion and Patience with each other would come to an end.  Some would want Favor, others Riches and Power.  Others still would want Answers.  A segment of their kind would simply always feel unworthy and lost, seeking personal validation, satisfaction and Purpose.  And when these desires could not be fulfilled to their liking by Earthly means, they would turn their attention to the heavens.

This time, I and my son would be waiting to fill the empty thrones.

 

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“After the End” by W. J. Newsome is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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How Much Would You Pay for the Universe?

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“Homosexuality is an Abomination!” – God

I was riding down a south Georgia portion of Interstate 75 when I looked up and saw a huge, new billboard for a local church that read “HOMOSEXUALITY IS AN ABOMINATION.”  It was signed, “God.”  At first I didn’t let the sign bother me.  I had a good weekend planned, so I just thought, “Those ignorant mother f•ckers,” and kept on driving.  A couple of days later, when I was heading northbound, I saw that the church had the same sign posted so that everyone traveling on I-75 could see it, no matter if you were going north or south.

That time the gigantic billboard pissed me off.  I hadn’t noticed the sign until I was right up on it, so I didn’t have any time to jot down the phone number or even catch the full name of the church.  I’m sure it was something like “Christ’s Love Baptist Church.”  Normally, I don’t let anything like that bother me, but here I was, just driving down the road and minding my own business, listening to music, not hurting anyone, when some church tells me and every single car whizzing by that GOD himself thinks I’m an abomination.  I wanted nothing more than to blow that f•cking sign up.  But, of course, I kept my cool and drove on home, but I’ve been thinking about that sign for days now.

The billboard was referring, of course, to the random Bible verse in Leviticus (20:13) that states, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.”  Yeah, I guess that’s pretty straightforward.  In fact, I can’t think of any other way to interpret that verse except that homosexuality is not only wrong, but an abomination.   And then of course, there is the section in 1 Corinthians (6:9-11) that lists who all won’t get into heaven (or, “inherit the kingdom” as the Bible puts it); yep, you’ve got it homosexuals are on the list, along with fornicators, thieves, wizards, and all of the other familiar evildoers.

Okay, so we’ve established that there are at least two verses out of 31,173 in the Bible that are against homosexuality.  But, it’s mainly Leviticus 20:13 that opponents of homosexuality cling to.  But here’s my question for that church who paid a lot of money to put up that billboard, and all of the other churches like it:  Why do you pick and choose which Bible verses you stringently adhere to?  The Old Testament is full of random and ridiculous rules and commandments that you have no problem overlooking.  Like, what about Deuteronomy 22:5 “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.”  So, say, women wearing pant-suits are an abomination, too?  While we’re on the topic of God deciding what we can and can’t wear, what about 1 Timothy 2:9:  “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.”  So, where’s your sign that says “WOMEN WHO BRAID THEIR HAIR AND WEAR GOLD ARE WHORES” – GOD” ?

And let’s not forget the Bible’s punishment for adulterers: DEATH for the man and the “other woman.”  Deuteronomy 22:22:  “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.”  MUST die.  Phew.  Maybe if we stuck to this rule the Earth’s over-population problem would be more in check.

So, why ignore those verses?  They’re just as straightforward as the one against homosexuality.  Actually, if you want to be such a good little Bible follower, then why not follow Leviticus 20:13 to the letter?  Because, let’s read the entire verse:  “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”  So, why quit with calling me an abomination?  Don’t be half-hearted about it; carry out God’s commandment and kill me.  I hear stoning was an Old-Testament favorite.  Or, perhaps, if you pray hard enough, God will destroy us with a column of fire.

If I had to guess, “Christians” and people like that who just pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to believe, are simply using the Bible – and Leviticus 20:13 in particular – as a shield to justify their own personal feelings and repulsion to homosexuality.  And don’t give me that whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” shit; that’s just a way for you to discriminate and still sleep at night.

And I guess, what I really want to ask is why did you choose to ignore Matthew 7:1 “DO NOT JUDGE, OR YOU TOO WILL BE JUDGED.”  Please, tell me, where in the Bible it says, “I, God, grant you permission; be my judges on earth, tell everyone that is not like yourself that I hate them and they’re going to hell; be arrogant enough to sign billboards with my name.”  I looked and I couldn’t find that particular verse.  Don’t you think if God really thinks I’m an abomination he’ll take care of me when I stand before him?  He doesn’t need you to do his work for him.

And what about the verse when the disciples asked Jesus which of the commandments was the most important, and the Prince of Peace answered (Mark 12:30-31), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”  Let me repeat, because obviously you missed that one, even though it’s written in red in the New Testament:  LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  THERE IS NO COMMANDMENT GREATER THAN THESE.  Seems kind of like Jesus pulled the trump card there:  when in doubt, love your neighbor.  And I have to say, when I saw that billboard, or see signs on TV that say “God hates fags!” I don’t really feel the love.

If we’re all God’s children (Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”), then just let him deal with us, the people that you think are an abomination.  I’d much rather face him than you, because I pick and choose to believe 1 John 4:8:  “Whoever does not love does not know God, because GOD IS LOVE.”

Okay, I’m done with that.  I know I shouldn’t let such billboards make me bitter against all Christians.  Because I have met tons of Christians who actually follow Christ’s message.  I just find it repulsive when so-called “Christians” spend all of their time judging and preaching hell fire (not only against gay folks, but against anyone who doesn’t fit into their idea of a ‘holy’ person).  Actually, I pity those angry Christians.  I think it’s sad that they read the Bible and all they find is damnation.  They really missed the good stuff.

So, I may be done with the pick-and-choose Christians, but I do have a few other things to say.  So, sit tight.

First, let me say, that I’m not writing any of this to justify myself to anyone.  Nor am I writing to fight for understanding on behalf of every gay man and woman; I’m only one person and I can’t speak for everyone.

I’m not sure how many people out there still believe that being gay is a choice.  Maybe I’d be surprised by how many do.  Since I grew up in the Southern Baptist “Belt Buckle” of the Bible Belt, I grew up believing that being gay was a sin.  And if it was a sin, then it was a choice.  That definitely caused some conflict within me; I didn’t understand why, even though I was as good a Christian as anyone else, these thoughts and desires were still in me.  So, I’d pray harder for them to go away while wondering if the other guys in my class were struggling with the same thing.

It was not until I got to college that I even heard the idea that people could be born gay, and it made such perfect sense to me.  That was the only way to explain my “defect” and why it wouldn’t go away; it had to be inborn.

My reaction then, naturally, was to research what caused homosexuality.  I wanted to know exactly why I was they way I was.  What I found only frustrated me:  you could find articles that stated, yes, homosexuality is inborn, and the next article would say that there was no scientific evidence for that, so it must be a choice.  It pretty much depended who was funding the research, and it gave weight to the axiom that you find what you’re looking for.

Of course I dismissed the ones that said I had chosen this “lifestyle” and read the ones that suggested I was born this way.  Some hinted that it may be genetic (though I now understand that a “gay gene” will never be discovered, because that’s not the way genes work.  A single gene doesn’t control something as complex as sexual orientation or intelligence or personal dispositions).  Some research suggested it was environmental, perhaps a different blend of hormones in the womb.  Others still said that it was psychological – maybe the child didn’t have enough interaction with the parent (or relatives) of the same sex during the important stages of development.  Those same scientists said that even though homosexuality might have been onset after birth, it happened so early in development that it was still not a choice on behalf of the person.  Despite all of the studies on brain structure, and hormone levels, and birth order, it seems that the state of the science right now is that science can’t say decisively what causes homosexuality.  Here’s a good document for an overview of all the experiments and studies and the role that “choice” plays (namely that some people choose to live their life openly, while others choose to live a “straight” life).

I am a firm believer in the science of evolution, so my search for answers was not only for personal satisfaction, but also for understanding of why there would be homosexuals in nature.  Especially after being called “unnatural” once, I wanted to find out where in the natural world I fit.  An obvious answer would be that we’re an evolutionary mistake.  It happens; sometimes mutations lead to dead ends (like, uh, not being able to reproduce…yeah, that’s not so great for the survival of the species).  However, after giving it some thought, I only half-jokingly now state that in a world of rampant overpopulation, I and those like me are evolution’s population control, a “natural” way of slowing down our population growth so that the world doesn’t give out of resources quite as quickly.  A friend once told me that homosexuality is God’s way of assuring that the most brilliant minds are not bothered with children.  Hey, you’ve got to have a good sense of humor when dealing with this type of stuff…

Anyway, I eventually quit reading, because I only became more frustrated after each article.  I realized that I didn’t care whether it was a faulty gene, or a hormonal imbalance…I didn’t choose to be this way.  I just had to accept it and carry on with my life.  And eventually I did.  To hell with anyone (including myself) who demanded an explanation.

And to anyone who believes that there can be “gay therapy” or that you can “pray the gay away,” I have a little experiment for you:  for my straight readers – try to make yourself truly love and have sex with a member of the same sex.  It just doesn’t work, does it?  When you were born, you didn’t decide, or make the choice to be straight, right?  And being attracted to another guy or another woman just doesn’t make sense to you.  It’s the same thing – I tried for years and years to be “into” girls.  It just didn’t work.  And to expect that gay folks can be “cured” by therapy is absurd.  Sure, there are “success” stories – of gay people who want to be accepted SO bad, and have been told for so long that they are a sinner and disgusting, that they “convert” to being straight.  And they may even believe they are straight.  But in my opinion, they’re just acting straight to gain acceptance.  And to me “gay therapy” is destructive to people’s identity and self esteem.  But I’m not the only one that thinks that way.  Here is the link to the official paper put out by the American Psychological Association on the dangers of gay therapy.

I think that most people who are against homosexuality, or at least have an aversion to it, don’t understand it; they don’t know (or at least don’t know that they know!) a gay person.  It seems like most people’s mind goes straight to the bedroom when they think of “gay.”  That’s normal, I guess.  I mean, sex is one way we categorize ourselves; it’s in the terminology:  homosexual, heterosexual.  We put ourselves into boxes depending on our reproductive capability and sexual attraction.  But, what a lot of people don’t take the time to think about is that just like straight couples, what goes on in the bedroom is only one aspect of life.  Gay men and women actually (believe it or not) love each other just as wholly as straight couples do.  Remember that uncontrollable, dizzying feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you have a crush on someone?  And that moment when you may realize that, despite yourself, you’re in love with that person?  I’ve felt that.  For another guy.  Maybe I’m just some idealistic, hippy humanist, but I’m not sure how love, in any of its forms, can be wrong.  And I’m not sure how someone can tell me that the love that I feel is wrong, or less than the love that they feel.  Oh well; there are a lot of things in life that I don’t understand…

So, wrapping this wandering pondering up, besides the legal injustice (people have no problems accepting our work and our tax money, but only just recently let us serve openly in the military, and only allow us to receive the legal and financial advantages of marriage in 6 states of this Land of the Free), I find it really sad that people like me have to worry about coming out – about explaining and justifying who they are to their friends and families.  That’s something that straight people don’t have to do.

Now, let me add again that I’m not writing for every gay American.  I don’t know how they all feel.  I know that some people have had a way worse experience than I’ve had; we’ve all been made aware recently of the kids committing suicide because they were bullied.  My heart goes out to them.  But, fortunately, while deciding to come out created a lot of distress for me, I try not to focus on the negative (though it’s hard when I’m driving along the interstate and see such billboards!) and instead focus on the positive.  Yeah, America still has strides to take in order to treat all of its citizens equally, but in some countries people are still murdered and chopped up with machetes for being gay.  So, in that respect, I’m thankful that I happened to be born in the US.

And lastly:  I don’t expect everyone to accept homosexuality.  That simply won’t happen.  But please don’t, for example, use the argument that gay marriage will ruin the institution of marriage; 51% of marriages (between a man and woman, mind you!) in America end in divorce.  And don’t quote the Bible against me, because there are just as many verses that can be fired against you.  And if you really have to have someone to “blame,” then either blame God for creating us, or blame straight parents…they’re the ones having all the gay babies!  (Okay, maybe an inappropriate time to joke…)  And even if you believe that I chose to live this way, what does it matter?  How does it hurt you?  Don’t worry, I’m not out to convert you or your children to the dark side!  And sure, I want to take over the world, but that has nothing to do with me being gay.  So, even if you think homosexuality is a “lifestyle” that is chosen, I just don’t see how it affects you.   Who cares what I do in my life as long as it doesn’t negatively affect you?

So, I will end with this request:  I do not ask that you understand me or welcome me with open arms.  You have the right not to.  I will not hate you if you don’t.  But, I ask for the same in return.  If you don’t love me or accept me, at least leave me alone.  

Categories: Politics/Current Events, Religion | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

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