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To the Grave

Well, here we are.

Doomsday week. images

Is everyone ready for Friday? Evidence to the contrary, this is the date most crazy people whackadoos nutjobs people of questionable little no certain intelligence have earmarked for the end of the world, as foretold by the Mayans.

It grieves me a little, that so many accept so much on so little evidence. It grieves me further when those many, can’t even be bothered to get their own facts straight.

For the sake of argument, here’s a crash course in the Mayan calendar system. It’s way more complicated than the calendar we follow. Think of it more like an odometer than a calendar. Unlike our simplistic date system (MM/DD/YYYY), the Mayans had a whole string of numbers that represented things like baktuns, katuns, and plain, simple tuns. An example Mayan date looks like this: 12.19.19.3.11 (for the record, that’s March 7, 2012).

If you follow those numbers through to their natural progression, guess what happens on December 21? The odometer rolls over. The date on Friday will look like this: 13.0.0.0.0. That’s it, folks. In layman’s terms, what people are so afraid of is the Mayan version of Y2K. Fortunately, no computers run on the Mayan long-count calendar, so there will be no technological meltdowns, like we experienced on Y2K.

Oh, wait…

My morning reading today was replete with articles about people indulging in luxury bunkers, contemplating suicide, even contemplating killing their family to “spare” them the end of the world.

On a normal day, we might look at these people like they’re nuts.

But three days after a roomful of little kids is shot to death by a very sick individual fucking psycho, I think the mental state of these people warrants a closer look.

My wife and I have five kids. We know there’s not a parent on the planet that doesn’t want to reach out and hold onto the parents of Newtown, CT. My heart has broken a hundred times for each precious little child lost, and for the six brave adults who tried to protect them. It has also broken every time some idiot politician wants to talk about gun control. Of course something needs done about this. But other things need done first. Like grieving. Burying those who perished.

There’s something wrong with people. Something very wrong. And we, as a culture, as a society, as a race of people, have ignored it for too long. The root cause of this destructive, evil, senseless behavior is not going to be handled by taking away weapons or buying bunkers. It won’t be achieved through fear-induced mass suicide. The problem is depravity of spirit. People value other people too little, and value themselves (and their “stuff”) too much.

You have only to walk out your front door to witness firsthand the atrocities that humans commit against other humans. How many people in cars tailgate you until you move, then speed by and flip you the bird? What possible reason could they have for being in such a hurry? They don’t need a reason. That they’re in a hurry is sufficient, and damn the poor fool who gets in front of them.

How many battles have you waged to find a parking space in the mall, especially at this time of year? Hell, how many times have you been walking towards the door to Target, and suddenly people rush past you, so they can get there first?

Our culture is incredibly self-centered. Community doesn’t matter anymore. People don’t matter. All that matters is the list of things we need to cram into our busy day. All that matters is meeting our own needs. And if you get in our way, screw you. Because we are entitled to be happy and to have the things we want for ourselves.

Yet for all the cool stuff we have, I’ve never seen a more miserable, unhappy, depressed group of people than those out there, right now. Depression. Anxiety. Mental health issues. These things are rampant – rampant! Take stock: how many people do you personally know who take some kind of anti-anxiety medication, or anti-depressant? Who knows the difference between Zoloft and Ativan? Who has taken one or the other?

We have created a world that is morally ambiguous, bereft of any higher meaning or calling than our own self-interest. Where we place such importance on meaningless work and the meaningless acquisition of meaningless stuff, thereby creating a value system that is – you guessed it – meaningless. We open the door for people to feel stress, anxiety, and depression when life doesn’t work out like they think it should, because it is impressed upon us that we are entitled to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.

And these days, it’s worse. These days, we love to flaunt our wealth and happiness all over the internet, don’t we? And those who haven’t achieved what they feel they should have, those who don’t have what they think they deserve, get even more depressed looking at photos of their friends, colleagues, and former classmates on beaches and in exotic locations. We paint a picture of ourselves that makes it look like we have it all – even when we don’t. And many of us get depressed over seeing the “success” of others. Gee, I wish I could go to Hawaii. I wish I had a house that nice. Why can’t I take trips to Florida every year? Those folks fail to realize that pictures are a moment in time, and having stuff or going places doesn’t mean someone is happy. Smiles are easy to fake.

I’m not trying to assault those with depression or anxiety. In fact, I’m one of those who suffer. My anxiety is health-related, not stemming from Facebook envy. I wish my friends every success and honestly, I hope at least half of them are actually as happy as they make themselves out to be. Personally, I’m comfortable with where I am. Don’t need to flaunt. But I have major anxiety problems, mostly health-related, that have ironically led to actual health problems. I’m not ashamed of the anxiety, but I am frustrated with the world that has allowed such things to take root. I empathize with those who suffer, because I’ve spent many years suffering. To a degree, I still do.

Which is why I feel I’m uniquely qualified to point out that, hey, these things are real. As real as cancer, as real as heart disease, as real as influenza. Which means they are also treatable, when they’re identified. Therein lies the rub, though. Most people are content to explain away strange behavior in loved ones. Most people wait too long to seek treatment, or to intervene and recommend treatment for someone they know is having problems. “Oh, it’s just stress.” Well when “just stress” is left unchecked, it can push people into developing real health problems. Or push people into taking a weapon and taking a life (including their own). But we are content to ignore it, until it’s too late. Which shows that we have not yet reached the point where it is socially acceptable to have a mental illness.

Folks, there are people out there in this country, maybe in your town, who are thinking about ending their lives, and the lives of their families, THIS WEEK! This. Week. Because they are afraid. And they are depressed. They have no hope. And there are others out there who are contemplating taking a gun into a crowded place and opening up on people (already there have been 2 incidents since the awful tragedy in Newtown, CT. One was an averted crisis, the other took place at a shopping mall [no deaths, thankfully]).

This isn’t about weapons. It’s about a broken world. A broken race of people whose priorities are so skewed and distorted, that the idea of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a luxury bunker to assuage their own paralyzing fear, is more important to them than the suffering of an entire community whose children were just brutally slaughtered. In the midst of a very real, heartbreaking tragedy, in the midst of death and pain, people are still thinking about themselves. About killing themselves, or others, to avoid some imaginary apocalypse, popularized by self-absorbed, fear-mongering idiots and spread like wildfire by a culture over-exposed to information without context and obsessed with only looking out for themselves.

The human race is sick. If you are a believer, you know what that sickness is. You know it has a name. If you’re not, then perhaps it shall suffice to simply say, that it is sick. People do not value other people. They only value themselves, their own happiness, their own gain, their own safety. Community, unity, brotherhood are failing, replaced with “I’m entitled. It’s my right.” For those who disagree or stand in the way of what I believe and what I want, there is no compromise. There is only hatred – cries of heretic and traitor and idiot and how dare you! If your beliefs don’t align with mine, you’re a moron unworthy of life, and I hope you die. I’ve seen comments like this. Heard them. It’s disgusting. Self-focus in the extreme, often disguised as being “progressive.”

This is hard for me to write. I’m a product of this culture, too. I’m self-centered. I hate crowds. I tend to think people are idiots unless they prove otherwise. But you know what? That’s not a healthy attitude. It’s the predominant one, but that doesn’t make it healthy. It’s arrogant, pretentious, and judgmental, and it says a lot more about me than it does about the people who feel its wrath.

We once thought it was better and nobler to take the high ground, to be kind to others just for the sake of it. How much more noble is it now, that so many take the easy road? Anyone can hate. There’s nothing special there. But it does take something special to show kindness when you are shown none. To show mercy when none is granted you. To show love to those deemed unlovable. Because even that fucking psycho very disturbed person once sat in a Kindergarten class room, and came home to his mommy and daddy to tell them about his day. Would gun control laws have stopped him, as an adult? No. But maybe understanding what was wrong with him could have.

We are a sick nation, and right now we’re a grieving nation. These little ones deserved better than to be cut down at the very beginning of their lives. Those six adults demonstrated that more noble ideals do still exist out there, laying down their very lives for their beloved students. And our brothers and sisters on this rock deserve better than to be scared out of their wits by a fictional apocalypse. We’re all humans, for crying out loud. We’re all people. Fellow travelers toward the grave, as Dickens so eloquently wrote. We have to watch out for each other.

Just days away from the end of the world, and you know what? Things are looking pretty dark. Maybe it really is time for the end. After all, what is an ending, but a new beginning? And what better time than Christmas, a season that for many denotes the birth of new life?

Even the contemporary Mayans (yes, they still exist, and they’re laughing at the doomsayers) look to this Friday as a day of renewal. The start of a new cycle, and the end of the old. It’s an important time, yes. But not because it’s the end of all things. Rather, because it’s a new beginning for all things.

So, yes. Perhaps it’s time for the world to end. Perhaps it’s time for the people of this rock to start thinking differently. Because this sickness is killing us. This self-centered, ego-centric, “don’t care about anyone but me” attitude is going to destroy this country and this world eventually.

So, let the world as it is end. And let us have a new beginning, where people matter to each other. Where we watch out for each other out of respect, and can coexist as people with different ideologies and faiths. Reach out to those who are hurting. Remember the parents of Newtown, whose Christmas morning will be the hardest they’ll ever face. Remember those who face this weekend with fear. They don’t need our ridicule for being stupid, they need our support to heal and understand. Start recognizing that mental illness is real illness, and that those people need help – BEFORE it comes to shooting up a roomful of children, or teenagers, or a campus of college students, or themselves.

There will always be evil. And preventing every tragedy is impossible. But in the world we’ve created for ourselves now, without a moral compass, without absolutes, is a world in which evil can thrive more fully. Remove that, and you remove much of its power. And the only way to do that is to realize that the thousands of faceless people you see every day are just like you – they have their own lives, stories, and struggles. They are not worthy of your scorn or irritation. Their lives are more valuable than your Christmas list and your to-do list and your fancy new car with leather seats and a built-in MP3 player with GPS. Even though you’ve never met them. Even though they may not have even existed to you five minutes ago. Even though they may disagree with you on religion, politics, or any number of other things, their lives are still precious. Even if they don’t hold the same courtesy towards you.

Perhaps this is a tall order. Perhaps the dream is too big. But it is Christmas, and I’m just a big kid at heart. And kids dream big at Christmas. (Trust me, I know, I’ve got 5 of them dreaming bigger dreams than we’ll ever be able to afford!) Besides, when we aim high – even too high – the mark we do hit is much greater than when we lower our standards. So, let the end of the world (as we know it) commence. And if, all evidence to the contrary, the apocalypse does come on Friday, at least we’ve all got a front-row seat to the end of it all. That’s one hell of a Christmas gift.

Merry Christmas to those who observe it, happy holidays to those who don’t! Here’s a little parting gift to my more conservative-leaning friends. Enjoy!

Mayan_Cartoon3

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It’s the End of the World as We Know It…and I Feel Fine

Where were you when the world ended? You know, the first time? It was, oh, about 11 years ago. On New Year’s Eve. Remember the global catastrophe that beset us? Remember all the people with their fallout shelters and five-year food supply laughing at those of us left to cope with nuclear fallout? How about when Stewie mutated into an octopus, and his offspring overran the rest of humanity because Peter made everyone burn their weap…ons…

Ah, crud. That wasn’t the end of the world, that was a Family Guy spoof of Y2K.

I actually remember quite vividly where I was: in Florida. Orlando, to be precise. Kim and I took in the New Year’s Eve show at Mediaeval Times. Our thought process? If we’re going to get nuked back to the dark ages when the clock strikes twelve, we might as well be in a place loaded with appropriate weaponry.

Of course, it didn’t quite turn that way, did it? As much as the media and publicity hounds enjoy predicting doom and gloom, they tended to forget that before it was midnight in good ol’ EST, it had been midnight across a number of other time zones first. And the world didn’t end then, either.

Of course, Kim and I knew that nothing was going to happen. I was a computer geek, after all – newly minted and working at Applied Concepts, Inc. at the time. But I knew enough to know that the precautions, code upgrades, and so forth would be sufficient. I wasn’t an alarmist. I didn’t really care about Y2K outside of the fact that it was the turn of the century, and the millennium. I suppose that’s why everyone wanted to get freaked out about it – it was a huge moment for the human race. We hadn’t seen the like in 1,000 years, and won’t see the like for another 1,000 (well, 989 years now).

Less than two years later, I wasn’t laughing quite so hard when our World Trade Center towers came crashing to the ground. And before the dust could settle, self-styled prophets were out on the streets preaching the end of days, the judgment of Christ! Layfolk were suddenly experts in the field of apocalypse – Nostradamus became a household name. You remember him, right? He’s the guy who predicted 9/11 – after, of course, someone switched the words of his prophecies around to make them fit the context. (Side note: he’s still a household name, apparently; I misspelled his name and Word’s spell checker had it programmed in. Wow.)

I suppose the end of days panic that surrounded 9/11 was slightly more forgivable. It was the first time my generation – Generation X – had seen the grisly reality of war. Sure, we had the Gulf War – but we were kids when Bush Sr. took on Saddam, and it was over so quickly, it hardly felt like a war at all. 9/11 was personal – and the like had never been achieved before. And in the light of that great and terrible tragedy, men like Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye made a killing off of their apocalyptic Left Behind novels. They didn’t exploit the tragedy – too much – but they certainly didn’t complain about the paychecks.

There was some mild concern about some asteroid back in 2004 that was supposedly going to collide with Earth. Shortly before that, Nancy Lieder prophesied that some secret, hidden planet, Nibiru, was going to crash into the Earth. She euthanized her pets in preparation for this disaster, and encouraged others to do the same. Yikes – people are dangerous. (Side note: Nancy Lieder has since merged her nonsense with Zecharia Stitchin’s nonsense about 2012 and ancient Sumarian tablets; she now believes Nibiru will collide with us in 2012. Nevermind the gravitational effects a massive planet invading our solar system would have, or the overwhelming number of amateur astronomers with tweaked out telescopes would see it and report it.)

I suppose this brings us to the 2012 prophecies. Let me cut to the chase here, since it’s a little hard to cover quickly: the Mayan long count calendar will soon progress to the next b’ak’tun. Doesn’t that sound horribly terrifying? It’s just restarting a calendar cycle – not unlike how we “restart” every decade, or ever century, or every…millennium!

That’s a great analogy – 2012 is, basically, the Mayan version of Y2K. It’s a big shift in their calendar. If the ancient Mayans still existed, I bet they’d be throwing one helluva party and laughing at the rest of us for thinking the world was about to end.

The truly glorious thing is that evidence arose recently to cast into the doubt the original calculation! (See here: http://news.discovery.com/space/the-2012-mayan-calendar-doomsday-date-might-be-wrong.html) Well, so much for that.

But – why wait until next year? Let’s just end the world now and get it over with! That’s what Harold Camping, a radio minister and former engineer has to say about it. He is predicting, through various mathematical calculations involving some allegedly sacred and holy numbers, that Jesus Christ Himself is coming back this Saturday, around dinnertime.

I guess I’ll be ordering an extra pizza. Can you get pizza on Pita bread?

The thing about being a Christian, and dealing with a faith that is increasingly frowned upon by an ever-growing secular culture, is that you have to deal with some subjects that make even the most pious squirm in their pews. Christianity is a faith of absolutes, a true abomination in this age of moral relativism. The Second Coming ranks right up there with Creation (because many Christians don’t believe Genesis is a literal account, being under the mistaken impression that science has “proven” macro-evolution), the stance on homosexuality, the rapture, and many other topics as being too delicate for polite conversation.

The latest in a long line of self-styled prophets, and spiritual kin to the likes of William Miller, Ellen White, and Hal Lindsey, Harold Camping claims that he has broken some mystical mathematical code that supposedly exists within the Scriptures, and that the addition of certain holy numbers leads him to the date May 21, 2011. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t gone to great lengths to understand the math. I’m terrible with numbers. I barely have a grasp of words, to say nothing of numbers. But I don’t have to understand the mathematical model to know that it’s been done before. Google Bible Code and have a laugh – depending on how you look at those numbers, even 9/11 “could have been” predicted.

Thing is, numbers are just as vulnerable to personal spin, bias, and interpretation as anything else. There have already been a handful of “Holy Number” predictions that have come and gone (the Jehovah’s Witness prophecy of 1914 based on Daniel 4 come to mind). Lo and behold, we’re still here.

One thing I’ve learned in my life as a writer and director: people subconsciously (or in some cases, very consciously) impose their own personal narratives on everything – especially faith. Facts are rarely just facts – they’re spun one way or another. The Scriptures are, unfortunately, an excellent resource for spinsters.

Individual scripture verses, when taken out of context, can easily be twisted to mean just about anything. Our modern sensibilities have shown us that a proper interpretation of the Scripture involves a complete understanding of the work: who wrote it, why, and what place it originally served in a historical context. We will never have a perfect interpretation of every verse, every practice. But when we keep context in mind, we can have a somewhat more accurate idea.

Sadly, most “Bible scholars” fail to see this. Why? Because they’re less interested in scholarship and more interested in imposing their own narrative onto what they read. They go in looking for evidence, and pick it out, regardless if it even makes sense in the new context. Unbelievers see this and, logically, hold the entire faith accountable for the actions of a few. So these self-styled prophets make all of us look like blithering idiots because they’ve got an axe to grind. And their grinding axes really grinds my gears. You know what else grinds my gears? When I can’t find the droids I’m looking for.

Ugh – Family Guy again. Sorry.

So, do I think that Mr. Camping is right? Did he really, finally, uncover the crazy mathematical formula that will predict Christ’s second coming? Eh – I’m skeptical. Only because we’ve been down this road before with holy numbers, and it turns out to be – surprise! – one man imposing his own narrative on the Scriptures and calling the result a prophesy.

Far more dangerous, in my opinion, are the people who are quitting their jobs and tying up the affairs of their lives, and convincing others to do the same. They cite that they’re being prepared, as the Scriptures command (oye vei, here we go again), but is that really what they say?

If you visit http://www.wecanknow.com you will find a marquee across the top that publishes a bunch of random verses that, when read together, make it sound like God has granted them some kind of special understanding, and that they have been commissioned by Him to enlighten everyone else. But go re-read those verses in their original context, and they’ll tell a slightly different story.

I’ll admit, Camping does call a fairly common misinterpretation – or perhaps simply we could call it a “cursory reading” – of 1 Thesselonians 5:2-6 out on the carpet. It’s commonplace that church-goers are told that Christ will come the second time like a thief in the night, and this verse is part of the origin of that. But let’s look at the whole passage.

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

I’m not a Bible scholar. Far from it. But what I see in these words is an admonishment for vigilance – NOT a promise that we will be able to figure out the exact date. What I see here is that those who believe will, by the very nature of their belief, simply be ready for Christ’s return when it does happen. We’re not going to be surprised when it happens. And we have nothing to be afraid of when it happens. But there is nothing to suggest that we will be able to interpret the specific date through a mathematical code. Watch, and be sober, folks. That’s the message here. Be ready.

At least, that’s how I see it. That’s my spin. I have done my best to look at that verse as indifferently as I can – and my honest take on it is simply to say that we won’t be surprised when it eventually does happen. Period. It carries with it the imperative to be ready at all times – but that’s just good sense anyway.

So, my final thoughts? I’m not really going to order an extra pizza. If indeed Christ returns this Saturday, I’m sure He could feed 5,000 with a few slices of Za if He wanted.

I don’t think He’s coming back on Saturday. But I won’t restrict my belief that He can do whatever He darn well chooses, either. But my take: it’s when everyone is looking in one direction, that He could easily come in from another direction – like a thief, maybe? A thief in the night? – and catch those who don’t know any better completely by surprise.

But not me. Because whenever we all least expect it – that’s when I’ll be expecting it.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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