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Divergence

Where will you go when the road splits before you?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference

Robert Frost

I have to admit, it’s been years since I’ve thought about this poem.  As a literature nut who has straddled two worlds for most of his adult life, one would think I would have kept this particular piece a little closer to my heart.

At times, it seems like it’s a never-ending battle.  What do I want to be when I grow up?  The problem with that question is that I am, in fact, grown-up.  And all I can say that I am for certain, is indecisive.  I am not unique in this, nor am I the only one who has ever, or will ever, face these kinds of choices.  Left or right, fight or flight…such ponderous questions inspired one of the most well-known and memorable poems in all of literature.

My paths in the woods are career paths, specifically technology and entertainment.  I’ve walked this line for years, content to keep one foot on the tech path, and one foot on the entertainment path.  I write in my spare time, and work a full-time job in Information Technology.  I have a degree in computers, but I also am earning a degree in film.

It’s a curious combination, since scientifc, technologically minded people tend to be more left-brained, and creative people tend to be more right-brained.  Yet I’ve managed to straddle this line for over a decade of professional life, and the end result thus far has been a spectacular display of mediocrity.  Let’s take stock, shall we?

On the tech side of things, my career has been remarkably bland.  Oh, I have proven myself to be a hard worker, a self-starter with a talent for effectively managing processes and procedures and implementing improvements that save time and money.  I flourish in environments where I can contribute, and where my ideas are heard.  I have a good handle on technology and its practical applications in the business world.  Yet my I.T. career has been one stellar support job after another.  It is only now that I’ve earned a position that is more specialized and focused.  I’m comfortable here, to be sure.  And I’m drawing a terrific salary (especially in light of the few years in my twenties when I left I.T. for awhile).  Yet, things are stagnate, because there aren’t enough hours in the day to fervently pursue an I.T. career, manage home life, and continue with my “other half.”

On the creative side of things, there is no career to speak of: just a series of side projects, many of which have languished in “development hell” for years.  The efforts I have put forth, when I do put them forth, have been great, and very well received.  My virtual series, Frontiers, was at one time one of the most widely read fanfic series on the internet.  Yet, we’ve been releasing Season 3 since 2008.  I’ve begun several film projects that ended up being cut short due to various complications.  I’ve written several promising prose series that have a pretty big reader base, but they are stalled out early in the run.  Yet here and now, I’ve got a great web series off the ground, I’m planning my next short film, and things more moving with my classes.  But things are still stagnate to a degree. Why? Because there aren’t enough hours in the day to fervently pursue a career in writing or film, manage home life, and continue with my “other half.”

It takes a special kind of talent to straddle two sides of the fence.  It’s given me insight into reconciling different and opposing viewpoints over the years, making me something of a peace maker.  It’s allowed me to coax reluctant people into joining me on whatever damn fool crusade I’m embarking on.  But when it comes down to it, you have to take a side.  To walk that line forever is foolish and impossible.  One cannot serve two masters, at least not reliably.

I’ve never been more capable of venturing down one of those roads or the other.  Never been more prepared.  Will I have the steadfastness to choose technology and let go of my more creative nature?  Or will I have the courage to leave the relative safety of the familiar and embark upon that road less traveled?

In the end, it’s never really been about which I would choose.  It’s been about how long I could keep them both up.  How long I could kid myself into thinking it’s possible to keep it up forever.  How long it would take me to find the courage necessary to finally, fully commit myself. 

For me, there’s only ever been one thing I love, one thing that keeps me up at night, one thing that makes me giddy every day before work.  And my only regret, is that it’s taken me this long to realize it.  I’ve always “known” mind you – but the true epiphany, the true, self-permeating realization that I cannot possibly do anything else…that’s a little more recent.

I always thought that making this choice would be some epic event.  But it isn’t.  It’s a calm, quiet, private moment where something inside of me finally says, “Yes. Yes, you idiot, you’ve finally accepted it. Now go on and live your life. You’ve got a lot of wasted time to make up for.”

Two roads diverge in a wood, and I —
I will take the one less traveled by
And that will make all the difference.

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Character Profile: Jason Shepard

“These kids aren’t my problem.”

It’s hard to imagine such a calloused and self-centered individual had such humble beginnings, but such is the case for Jason Shepard.  Born into a single-bedroom apartment (literally; his mother couldn’t afford insurance and had him at home), Jason grew up without luxuries like toys, disposable diapers, or medical care.  His mother worked three jobs to provide for them, after his father walked out soon after he was born.

Jason attended a poorly rated public school, where he was mocked behind his back for his limited wardrobe and the lack of a hot shower every day.  The constant taunting led to many fights and an ever-increasing build-up of anger and frustration.

Yet at home, Jason seemed content.  He enjoyed spending time with his mother at least once a week, and spent the rest of the time plucking away at a guitar she had bought him at a yard sale.  It was his most prized possession, and on it, he taught himself how to emulate the sounds around him.  He spent hours listening to the rock stations on the radio and picking out the tunes, then playing them himself.

Unfortunately, one of his mother’s job was working in a local mill, where she contracted a serious lung disease that prevented her from working.  After a friend offered legal counsel, she sued the company and the money won from the lawsuit allowed her to finally give Jason the kind of house and life she had always wanted for him.

High school turned things around for Jason.  His mother – with her health deteriorating – invested some of the money from the lawsuit and managed to make enough to provide for herself and Jason for a long, long time.  No longer ridiculed, Jason reveled in newfound popularity due in part to his impressive guitar skills.

Jason found himself escaping more and more into his music as his mother’s health declined.  He began writing songs, putting the lyrics to paper and then making up the tune as he went.  He also began casually dating Amber DiSoltes, a fellow Senior.  His mother had desperately wanted to see her son attend his Senior Prom, so he took Amber.  She told him how happy she was and how proud she was of him, giving him a strangely long embrace before he departed.

The next morning, Jason returned home to find his mother had died in her sleep.  He was devastated. He was invited to stay with his grandparents, but chose to move to New York instead, in the hopes of escaping his old life and pursuing a music career.  He left Saint Paul without so much as a goodbye, refusing even to take part at his own graduation.

Working as a Taxi driver in New York, Jason met up with Silas Bishop, a fellow aspiring musician.  Silas was playing a gig at a night club with his partner, Nathan “Nate” Reinke.  Their third man cancelled at the last minute, and Jason – who overheard this on a cell phone while driving the two to their engagement – offered his services.

The trio performed a few cover songs, and a few tracks written by Silas and Nate (which Jason picked up on after hearing the recordings just once).  By the end of the night, people were asking for EP’s and demos.  Silas and Nate offered Jason the job permanently, and Damned Azkus was born.

The band met with great success, eventually signing on with Interscope Records.  The band kicked off a brief tour in the Northeast to celebrate.  The album was a regional success, and a world tour was in the works.  Meanwhile, Jason had married Katherine “Kat” Veneziano.  A groupie for the band from age 16, she fell in love with Jason and married when she turned 18.

Twin boys soon followed, and “Kat” ended up leaving the road life to raise the kids.  Jason grew more and more distant, unable to find satisfaction at home or abroad.  He turned to drinking, had several affairs, and fell into a deep depression.  This life wasn’t what he had hoped it would be, and he had no hope left for any other kind of life.

After a late show one night, Jason took a groupie back to the hotel with him. Both were seriously drunk, and the girl, Tiffany, decided she didn’t want to wait until they were back in the hotel.  She climbed atop Jason, and the subsequent coupling resulted in a terrible car accident.  A piece of shattered windshield nearly tore Jason’s hand off.

After surgery, he was told his nerves were shot. He could never play guitar again.  The band was unable to find a replacement and their future deteriorated.  When Kat found out how the accident had happened, she took the kids and left.  Jason was utterly alone once more.  He spent several weeks in rehab only to fall back into old habits.  He landed in jail, lost his license, got it back, and repeated the cycle.

Perhaps it was fate that Jason ended up taking a trip into Virginia.  He had been drinking again, and was pulled over and arrested near Saint Paul. The arresting officer recognized him, and made a phone call on his behalf.  Jason went before Judge Harold Slate and was sentenced to community service, in the hopes of rehabilitating him.

Though he’s had a difficult life, it’s hard to feel sorry for Jason. Most of his current troubles are his own doing, and he doesn’t seem to care or look out for anyone but himself.  Yet deep down, there is a small part of him that is still that sad, lonely little boy who had only a guitar and a loving mother to get him through each day.

Fate has a funny way of bringing things full circle, and of forcuing us to confront the ghosts of a past we thought we left behind.  And so it goes with Jason Shepard, now standing at the beginning of a journey that will bring him face to face with shadows of his past and that will change his future forever.

 

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Pact with the Devil, Indeed

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love.”
– Buddha

It’s true that a great majority of people hear the word “Christian” and shudder.  So many people have had negative experiences with people who throw that word around like they know what it’s supposed to mean.  Self-centered, self-righteous assholes get up on their soapboxes and claim that God has foretold the world will end on a certain day, at a certain time.  Or that if you are getting sick or if you are poor it’s because you don’t have enough faith.

People like that piss me off.  They are swindlers, schemers, and liars, false prophets every one of them.  Yet these are the “Christians” who have the most exposure.  These are the Christians who found non profit organizations (yet somehow they themselves are always sporting elaborate wardrobes, new cars, and a wealth of materialistic delights) and who beg you to send them money to support their so-called ministry.  God will heal you if you just send us more money.  So they can afford to buy themselves more exposure.

A variety of “Godly men” have been in the national spotlight over the years, at first for their ministry and then usually again because their dirty laundry finally catches up with them, or they put their foot in their mouths and swallow it to their thighs.  Jim Bakker (a master scam artist who suckered gullible Christians out of billions of dollars in the 1980’s) is a well-known example of the former.  Jerry Falwell is a perfect example of the latter, with his horribly divisive comments about September 11th.  Perhaps also worth noting is “faith healer” Benny Hinn, who predicted the destruction of the gay community in the mid-90’s (must have slept through that) and the resurrection of dead people who tuned into Trinity Broadcast Network if loved ones pressed the hands of their departed family against the television screen.

Such absurdities may be easy to dismiss for most rational people.  It’s not that I doubt God’s ability to raise the dead.  It’s that I doubt he would use a pompous, self-absorbed asshat windbag like Benny Hinn to do it.  Sure God can use who He wants for what He wants.  But there’s a long recorded history of the types of men God has worked through, and none of them dressed in brand-new clothes or built elaborate sets or begged for money.

Ranking right up there with these so-called righteous men of God is Pat Robertson.  Mister Robertson is the founder and head of the Christian Broadcast Network and the well known television show, The 700 Club.  I admit that in my nascent years of faith, I watched the show a lot.  It was one of the only shows that I could really stand on the local Christian television station.  I also had a more personal tie to the show, in that my one-time friend and schoolmate’s sister had been featured on the show after surviving what could have been a fatal accident.

But in recent years, I’ve grown more frustrated and skeptical with the message I am hearing from these people.  When Jerry Falwell suggested that this country deserved the 9/11 attacks, Robertson agreed with him.  He has personally attacked and denounced a variety of denominations and groups, has made false prophecies about world events that he claims were God-inspired, and has had some very strange financial controversies.

I take it personally to a degree, because he supposedly represents my faith.  Yet the more I see of him, and others like him, the more I realize it’s not my faith at all.  It’s a corruption and perversion of it.  The men and women who represent MY faith are toiling in relative obscurity, with little or no money of which to speak.  They are languishing in prison cells in other countries for their faith.  They are out there personally making a difference every day.  And it is a very unglamorous job.  But I don’t remember Christ driving a new luxury sedan or wearing the latest in Jewish fashions of the day, either.  And the differences between Him and the men who claim to represent Him today don’t end there.

Robertson’s comments regarding the situation in Haiti are appalling.  If you haven’t heard, the man has suggested that Haiti made a pact with the devil himself to get rid of the French, and have been cursed ever since.  Such a statement is staggering – it truly calls into the question not only the faith of this man, but his very sanity.

The people of Haiti amaze me.  Haiti may be a poor country, but it was a country born from a slave revolt.  To suggest that the people of Haiti were WRONG to want freedom from a foreign power invading their land and enslaving them shows a staggering lack of comprehension.  Our country wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the colonists’ desire to be free from Britain.  Israel herself was enslaved how many times – yet Pat Robertson apparently has no problem with them shaking off their oppressors and finding freedom.

I hesitate to even dignify the “pact with the devil” comment with my time and attention.  It stands on its own as a mind-numbing display of ignorance and stupidity.  I cannot even fathom a motive for this statement, short of perhaps the need to drum up new members for the 700 Club by creating a media controversy that brings Robertson more attention.

Yet Robertson’s words are echoed by literally thousands of Christian pastors across the country and across the world.  Divisive, hate-filled, judgmental comments that serve no purpose except to sow hatred and reap conflict.  And the prophets spewing forth this poison fashion themselves as soldiers in God’s army, fighting the good fight against the evils of this world.  It’s us versus them.  Good versus evil.  No shades of grey.  No room to judge individuals – only entire cultures and religions.

They rally around Christ’s words that “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34)” and, like countless others before them, they wage unforgiving Holy Crusades where their way is the only right way.

What they fail to do is interpret Christ’s words in the context which He was speaking!  This is something I expect to be posting more about in the days to come, but put simply, you cannot pick and choose random phrases and make them mean what you want them to mean.  You have to put aside your own preconceptions about what you think it meant and look at the text.  Let it stand on its own.  Look at the original context in its entirety and form your opinion based on that. 

Christ wasn’t saying that His message was meant to be divisive and that everyone who stood against that message would be punished.  He was saying that the words He spoke were going to cause conflict because they flew in the face of everything the Jewish people understood about how God operated at that time and what their place was in his plan.  Certainly there is some “trickle down” in that anytime one’s preconceptions are challenged there is the potential for conflict.  But that doesn’t mean you gird up, strap your sword on your thigh, and charge off to judge the enemy.

The 700 Club is doing its part to send help to Haiti, which is admirable.  But you can bet they are also spoon-feeding the suffering people their twisted version of the Christian faith.

The time is long past to wake up and realize the staggering contradictions in this old school, hellfire and brimstone doctrine.  Has the church been missing the real message all this time?  Was the true focus of Christ’s message and ministry about damnation and judgment?

I recall incredible acts of compassion.  I recall a focus on restoration – on making people whole.  And not just certain people.  ALL people.  That is why he brought “a sword” – the Jewish people were no longer the only ones with free access to God.  Now, everyone could be restored.

I’m not going to dwell too much on this right now.  I do have many more thoughts on this topic and I will definitely post them sometime soon.  But now is not the time for preaching, it’s the time for compassion.  It’s the time to reach out to a suffering nation and do what we can to help them.  And it’s the time to silence the boneheaded, thoughtless ass clowns who spew out venomous bullshit at suffering innocents.  I implore readers to realize that this idiot does NOT speak for the Christian faith.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2010 in Uncategorized, Writing

 

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Truth Infallible

Some time ago I was told a research paper I penned in college had been selected for publication in the University’s research journal.  Since that journal may or may not be available to everyone, I thought I’d post it here to stir up some controversy.  It is much needed, as most of my entries here have been me providing a list of crap I’m doing and not really saying much of anything.   So, I hope you enjoy this very lengthy post (the paper is a dozen pages).

Truth Infallible

by Joshua D. Maley 

“God forbid that Truth should be confined to Mathematical Demonstration!”
– William Blake

           Intrinsic to human nature are several qualities, or base instincts, that drive us, compel us, and define who we are: the desire to survive (i.e. eat, drink, live), the desire to procreate (continue the species), and perhaps less obvious, the desire for Truth.

            The road to Truth is arduous.  From the beginning of history, there have been those who would manipulate facts and create their own truths with the intent to willfully mislead others.  This continues today, in the form of politicians, the news media, and the numerous religious sects vying for the control – and most often, the money – of countless individuals.

            When one considers the realm of science, however, one often does not consider falsehoods and secret agendas.  Why should they?  Scientists don’t ask for your votes.  They don’t knock on your doors and ask if you’ve heard the good news about microbes in Earth’s stratosphere.  They don’t appear on television and tell you that you’re going to burn for eternity if you don’t send them fifty dollars per month.  Surely there is no agenda here.  Surely the sweeping generalization that science is an honest, unbiased search for Truth is . . . well . . . true.

            Science as an institution appears highly altruistic.  Yet the vast army of scientists in this country, and indeed the world at large, is comprised of normal human beings, susceptible to the same biases, agendas, and flaws to which we are all subject.  Bestowing the title of scientist on someone does not make him above reproach. This is not to discount the keen intellect necessary for scientific work.  But that intellect is still human, and still vulnerable to moral dilemmas.  In other words, the science is only as good as the scientist.

            These dilemmas and their results are perhaps no more keenly demonstrated than in the eternal debate over the Truth of our existence: where did we come from?  Are we a cosmic accident, destined only to live, suffer, and die?  Or are we the product of a design that transcends our ability to understand, destined for things we cannot yet fathom?

            This debate is most often manifest in the form of “creation versus evolution” – strictly speaking, that debate is religion versus science, and its propagation has polarized society into believing that one is right, one is wrong, and there is no middle ground.

            Middle ground does exist, and has existed since the time of the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, who laid the groundwork by suggesting that the existence of life could only be the result of an intelligent mind at work (Luskin).  Issac Newton himself made a claim of intelligent cause in his work, Opticks:

Was the Eye contrived without Skill in Opticks, and the Ear without Knowledge of Sounds? . . . And these things being rightly dispatch’d, does it not appear from Phænomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent (Newton, pp. 369, 370).

            Despite increasing acceptance and a growing mound of evidence, Intelligent Design is still regarded as something of a crackpot idea that is, at best, fringe science and at worst, “repackaged creationism” (Lusk).  This is an unfortunately widespread misunderstanding.  As Stephen C. Meyer, the Director of the Discovery Institute, contends in his article, “A Scientific History – and Philosophical Defense – of the Theory of Intelligent Design”:

            The theory of intelligent design, unlike creationism, is not based upon the Bible. Instead, it is based on observations of nature which the theory attempts to explain based on what we know about the cause and effect structure of the world and the patterns that generally indicate intelligent causes. Intelligent design is an inference from empirical evidence, not a deduction from religious authority (p. 2).

            The question must be raised, then: what happened to the search for Truth?  The theory of evolution has explained many things regarding the process of life, but has offered no substantial proof for the existence of life.  Prominent scientist and evolution advocate, Richard Dawkins, admitted that evolutionary science has no proof whatsoever regarding how the “first self-replicating molecule” (the first type of life form) came about (Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed).

           Moreover, by teaching only one possibility in the face of many others, we are cheating our future generations out of the ability to think for themselves.  When we look at both arguments from a truly neutral perspective, it becomes obvious that evolution and intelligent design are intrinsically bound: both have their strong points, both have their weak points, and both are more complementary towards each other than either side wants to admit.

 “If it is not true, it is very well invented.”

– Giordano Bruno

 

           Credit for the establishment of modern evolutionary theory is generally attributed to Charles Darwin and his infamous voyage to the Galapagos on the HMS Beagle.  After this experience, he published what would become his life’s work: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.  In this treatise, he outlined his beliefs on how, given enough time, species can and will evolve into completely separate species.

           Evolution, and specifically natural selection, is fueled by a steady supply of genetic variation, which is the “ultimate source of new biological structure” (Meyer, p. 5).  If some evidence of limitations arose that would inhibit the amount of genetic variation, it would invalidate Darwin’s theory.  Such limitations were initially believed to exist during the latter end of the 19th century, and the early part of the 20th century, thanks to the studies of one Gregor Mendel.

           Mendel’s studies of genetics, and specifically inheritance, initially brought about headaches for Darwinists by suggesting that there is only a limited amount of genetic variation possible based on the traits passed on by the preceding generation (Mendelian Genetics).

           However, in the 1930’s, further advancement in genetics led to the nascence of the neo-Darwinist: an advocate of natural selection who accepts an “evolved” form of Darwin’s theory that incorporates more recent scientific information.  Neo-Darwinists believe that numerous small-scale, microevolutionary changes can eventually extrapolate to macroevolutionary changes.

           Microevolution: literally means “evolution on a small scale” (Understanding Evolution).  These are little changes, such as fish who live in dark caves losing their eyes because they no longer need them, or people who live in sunnier climates eventually developing darker skin due to constant exposure to sunlight.  The neo-Darwinist believes that one can infinitely extrapolate on these small scale changes to explain the evolution of entirely different species, given enough time; in other words, microevolution leads to macroevolution.

           Macroevolution deals with the big picture: those sweeping changes that scientists believe are responsible for the eventual development of human beings (Understanding Evolution).  This area of study recognizes common traits between completely different species.  While this particular field is not observable – to date, no scientist has ever documented witnessing one species transforming into a different species – scientists study patterns in the natural world and genetic information to infer hypotheses.

           The ingredients for macroevolution are simple: mix together the core evolutionary components of genetic mutation, gene flow, genetic drift, and natural selection and add roughly 3.8 billion years.  Such would be sufficient to proceed from a puddle of “soup” to the world we know today (Understanding Evolution).  Despite the progress made since Darwin’s era, there are still many questions evolutionary biologists are trying to answer.  These questions, culled from the website “Understanding Evolution,” are as follows:

  1. Does evolution tend to proceed slowly or in quick jumps?
  2. Why are some clades (groupings of species based on a perceived common ancestor) very diverse and some unusually sparse?
  3. How does evolution produce new and complex features?
  4. Are there trends in evolution, and if so, what process generates them?

           These questions not only provide a framework for the future study of evolution, they also suggest the limitations of the theory.  Indeed, using the term “theory” to describe it may be too informal.  In science, before a theory can be declared, several things must occur in accordance with the widely accepted scientific method.

           The scientific method is a series of steps taken to “logically solve problems in many . . . areas of life” (The Scientific Method).  The first step is actually positing a question to answer (in our case: from where does life come?).  Next, we must formulate a hypothesis (or a conclusion based on what we know; this conclusion must be testable).  Once the tests are in place, a deductive prediction is made which is either validated or invalidated by the results of the testing.  It is important to note here that even when the results validate the hypothesis, it “can never be proven or confirmed with absolute certainty” because it is impossible to test under all possible conditions and variations (The Scientific Method).  Nevertheless, hypotheses which have gained support from empirical testing are eventually promoted to the rank of theory.

           The issue with macroevolution, then, should be evident: it is untestable.  Scientists can examine data from the fossil record and from species today and can make inferences about potential relationships.  Those inferences may even ring with the sound of truth and logic.  Yet strictly speaking, if we are to follow the method developed by science itself, there is absolutely no basis for macroevolution to be considered a tried and true theory.  It is a hypothesis that has garnered support from inferences derived from scholarly study, but lacks any kind of empirical evidence.

           Taken together, these observations and inferences can logically lead us to a singular conclusion: for all its support and all its followers, the theory of evolution still involves a component of faith.  If science is honest with itself about its inability to definitively prove a hypothesis, much less a theory, then one cannot say without a doubt that evolution is 100% true.  One must have faith: in those who conduct the research, in those who publish their theories, in those who make their various claims.

Yet the deepest truths are best read between the lines, and, for the most part, refuse to be written.”                                                                           –  Amos Bronson Alcott

            Despite the popular assumption that intelligent design is a new fad being spread by religious fanatics, the debate over design in nature predates even Darwin and his evolutionary hypothesis.  As noted previously, even the ancient Greek philosophers wrestled with the question.  Indeed, the very co-founder of the theory of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, even believed that certain elements of biology were best explained as the work of a higher intelligence.  As Meyer explains in a quote from Wallace, “[S]o far from this view being out of harmony with the teachings of science, it has a striking analogy with what is now taking place in the world” (Meyer, p. 5).

           Just as Darwinism enjoyed a renaissance in the early years of the last century with the neo-Darwinist movement – which was a reevaluation and integration of new scientific evidence into an existing theory – intelligent design enjoyed a similar return to prominence in the 1970’s, thanks to the work of Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen, and the introduction of what is commonly known as the science of information.  The basis for this new brand of science (which some contend should take its place amongst the most base elements of existence, alongside matter and energy): the discovery of DNA.

           DNA, or Deoxyribonucleic Acid, is regarded as the “sine qua non of life” (Thaxton).  It is through DNA that a living system is classified; in other words, if a given organism contains DNA, it is deemed alive (Thaxton).  The familiar “double helix” represents a strand of DNA, and within that strand is reputed to be all of the “digital information” that, to use a modern analogy, instructs the body in the same way computer code instructs software.

           Francis Crick, one of the men who helped bring the DNA molecule to light, formulated a “sequence hypothesis,” which suggests that the chemical constituents in DNA code act like a written language that reflect certain things depending on their arrangement.  These bear the hallmarks of language or code, which both point to an intelligence behind the design (Meyer, p. 6).

           The modern study of intelligent design is inextricably woven into the study of DNA and genetics, although it receives credibility from other fields, such as quantum physics (the study of individual units of energy, which is “more important than even relativity in the grand scheme of things” because it “contains many clues to the fundamental nature of the universe” [“What is Quantum Physics”]).  One of the biggest issues arising from this study is a fundamental flaw with the very backbone of evolution: that element of random chance.  Whereas evolution suggests that, given enough time, completely random systems can falsely give the appearance of order, genetic studies demonstrate that the sheer number of possible sequences corresponding to a gene or protein of a given length are so great that it may in fact “preclude the origin of genetic information by random mutational search” (Meyer, p. 8).

           Meyer contends that a single protein one hundred amino acids in length is in and of itself extremely unlikely.  He posits that there are 10130 possible amino acid sequences of this length, and the vast majority of these perform no function.  How, then, can random chance be responsible for a human body that is infinitely more complex?  Meyer says, “Would an undirected search through this enormous space of possible sequences have a realistic chance of finding a functional sequence in the time allotted for crucial evolutionary transitions?”  (Meyer, p. 8 )

           Furthering the argument that there is a degree of intelligence behind life is Dean Kenyon.  In the 1960’s, Kenyon’s book, Biochemical Predestination, was considered a leading volume on chemical evolution.  Eventually, Kenyon would come to challenge his own hypotheses, and attempted a series of experiments that suggested simple chemicals do not arrange themselves into the “complex, information-bearing molecules” required for life to exist (Meyer, p. 10).  The magnitude of this “defection” should not be underestimated.

           Intelligent design theory is subject to the same limitations as evolution.  While we can point out patterns and elements of design in DNA, we cannot “prove” that they were intelligently designed any more than we can “prove” they evolved by random chance.  There is simply no way to empirically record data that will answer definitively the question of where we came from.  Intelligent design also bears with it a stigma that keeps it from being regarded as true science: specifically, its misinterpreted association with the religious extremists who want to claim it as proof of their creationist views.

“At times, truth may not seem probable.”
–          Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux

           Applying scientific theory to the study of something does not necessarily make that something science.  If, indeed, there is consensus that science is only concerned with that which is able to be proven and verified beyond a reasonable doubt, then perhaps the science classroom is not the appropriate place for intelligent design.

           Conversely, we must examine whether the theory of macroevolution is suited for the science classroom.  As has been demonstrated, it is nothing more than an inference based on existing scientific evidence.  Why is it deemed acceptable to teach this unproven hypothesis, this inference, as scientific theory?  Why is there such hostility in the scientific community when someone challenges its validity?

           Intrinsic to scientific impartiality should be a dose of neutrality.  Yet this neutrality is replaced with such vehement hostility that one must question if the “evidence” is being properly interpreted.  According to Wolfgang Wieland, who is quoted in Dr. Werner Gitt’s book, In the Beginning Was Information, scientists are swayed by bias and popular opinion.  He explains, “It only appears that such theories are tested empirically, but in actual fact observations are always explained in such a way that they are consistent with the pre-established theories.  It may even happen that observations are twisted for this purpose” (Gitt, p. 30).

           Personal bias is obvious in mainstream science as well.  Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, admits that his belief in atheism compels him to be hostile towards those who challenge evolutionary theory.  Indeed, Dawkins has no problem believing that life on Earth could have been seeded by extraterrestrials (themselves the product of some form of Darwinian evolution), but cannot abide the idea that “God” was somehow behind it (Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed).

           We have established that neither macroevolution nor intelligent design can ever be conclusively proven true or false.  We have established each takes an element of faith to believe in.  We have established that the study of both theories is not pure science, because they are both merely inferences based on scientific data but not able to be tested.  So what is the solution?

           Honesty on both sides, and proper context, will lead us to the best solution.  If indeed macroevolution and intelligent design are inferences based on scientific data, they should be taught as such.  Perhaps neither belongs in the science classroom.  Perhaps they belong in the philosophy classroom.  Perhaps they belong in an interim study of pseudo-science.  After all, we are more than the sum of our biological parts, aren’t we?  When one listens to Mozart or Bach, or is drawn into the words of classic literary works by men like Chaucer or Dickens, what we feel and experience transcends the ability of scientific explanation.  Science offers us no explanation for abstract concepts such as “beauty” – these come from somewhere beyond the reach of Darwin, Dawkins, and even Meyer and Gitt.  Science is but one aspect of our existence, and of the human experience.  And while it can help quantify some of that experience, it will never be able to provide us with a complete explanation of it.

           Science belongs in the science class room, there must be no mistake.  But the time for masquerading inferences as fact must end, and the hostility of the establishment when their long-time “theories” are called into question must likewise end.  After all, the freedom to question everything is what allowed Darwin to develop the theory of evolution in the first place.  One must wonder if Darwin would approve of the dogmatic adherence to his theory in the face of opposing ideas.

           In the end, proponents of both theories must admit, if they are being honest with themselves and true to the established principles of science, that we simply do not know what sparked the existence of life and that until we do, the study of both should be relegated to the appropriate classroom (which may or may not be the science classroom).  What we can see is how life has evolved, and how it continues to evolve.  And while we can use that knowledge to extrapolate to a degree about our past, the Truth is that we cannot prove one theory or the other.  The Truth is, we do not, and cannot, know for certain.

           Science has revolutionized our understanding of the world around us, and it has done so because the men and women who devote their lives to it have been free to question everything.  When we start putting limits on those questions, when we start imposing our beliefs on others, we start to lose ourselves.  It is ironic that that same claim, once made against religious fanatics everywhere, can now be made about many in the scientific community.  The freedom to question everything will eventually lead us to the Truth.

Works Cited

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Dir. Nathan Frankowski. Perf. Ben Stein. DVD. Premise Media Corp, 2008.

Gitt, Werner. In the Beginning Was Information. Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung, 2000.

Luskin, Casey. “A Brief History of Intelligent Design.” CSC – A Brief History of Intelligent Design. 8 Sept. 2008. Center for Science and Culture. 19 Mar. 2009 <http://www.discovery.org/csc/&gt;.

“Mendelian Genetics.” NDSU – North Dakota State University. 07 Apr. 2009 <http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/instruct/mcclean/plsc431/mendel/mendel1.htm&gt;.

Meyer, Stephen C. “A Scientific History and Philosophical Defense of the Theory of Intelligent Design.” Gesellschaft 7 Oct. 2008: 2-2.

Newton, Issac. Optiks. Prometheus Books, 2003.

“Of Darwin, Dover, and (un)intelligent Design.” Church & State Feb. 2009: 10-13.

Thaxton, Charles B. “DNA, Design and the Origin of Life.” Origins.org. 24 Mar. 2009 <http://www.origins.org/articles/thaxton_dnadesign.html&gt;.

Understanding Evolution. 24 Mar. 2009 <http://evolution.berkeley.edu&gt;.

“What is Quantum Physics.” Oracle ThinkQuest Library. 07 Apr. 2009 <http://library.thinkquest.org/3487/qp.html&gt;.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2010 in Writing

 

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Grimm’s Top Ten Christmas Carol Countdown

I’ve always been very passionate about music.  I can’t play a note to save my soul, but I love it.  It moves me, inspires me, and reaches me on a level I cannot even describe in words, as if it bypasses my brain, my flesh, my bones, and reaches out to my very core directly.

I love orchestral and classical music.  I adore the music of Amy Lee and Evanescence (which reaches me on an even deeper level than what is described above) as well as many degrees in between.  Music inspires me in ways that defy explanation.

It is little wonder, then, that a 30 year old kid who grew up as an only child and for who Christmas has always been a very special time (perhaps moreso than most) that the music of this festive season is also very dear to me.  It is tragic to see how maligned Christmas music has become in recent years.  Overexposure to anything is never a good thing, and the fact that many retail chains play Christmas music at the stroke of midnight on October 31st really doesn’t help things.

Nevertheless, if you take the time to examine some of these songs you may find that you can appreciate them better.  Not only do they help set the tone for this season (something no other holiday/season can boast of, to this degree) but the lyrics are often very touching and surprisingly insightful.  Overexposure has dulled their meaning to many ears – so I wanted to examine my ten favorite Yuletide tunes and explore what makes them so moving.  Some are classics and some you may really wonder about – but all should be interesting to you.  This list is completely subjective, based on the things about this season that I personally find value in.  So without further adieu, I give you…

Grimm’s Top Ten Christmas Carol Countdown

(Editor’s note: Not all of these songs are “carols” in the literal sense [i.e. a festive religious song] but I think you’ll agree they all fit in with the spirit of the season!)

10.  Winter Wonderland

Writers: Felix Bernard (C) / Richard B. Smyth (L)

What better way to start off the festive list with a festive song about being… uh… festive?  The catchy tune also captures the fun of a northern hemisphere Christmas and the magic that seems intrinsic to a landscape covered in nothing but white.  It evokes some very fond memories from my childhood, when all there was to do when it snowed was… play in it!

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening, 
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We’re happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Gone away is the bluebird,
Here to stay is a new bird
He sings a love song,
As we go along,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown

He’ll say: Are you married?
We’ll say: No man, 
But you can do the job
When you’re in town.

Later on, we’ll conspire,
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid, 
The plans that we’ve made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he’s a circus clown
We’ll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
Until the other kids knock him down.

When it snows, ain’t it thrilling,
Though your nose gets a chilling
We’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDCjHN8vFcc&feature=related

9.  Thank God For Kids

Writer: Eddy Raven

Technically, this song has nothing to do with the holiday of Christmas, but rather celebrates children and childhood from the perspective of a loving parent.  In this season that celebrates the birth of a child, and contains to much magic and wonder for children, this song is perfectly at home on my list.

If it weren’t for kids have you ever thought,
There wouldn’t be no Santa Claus,
Or look what the stork just brought
Thank God for kids.
And we’d all live in a quiet house
Without Big Bird or a Mickey Mouse
Or Kool-aid on the couch
Thank God for kids.

Thank God for kids there’s magic for a while
A special kind of sunshine in a smile
Do you ever stop to think or wonder why
The nearest thing to heaven is a child.

Daddy, how does this thing fly?
And a hundred other where’s and why’s
I really don’t know but I try
Thank God for kids.
When I look down in those trusting eyes
That look to me I realize
There’s love that I can’t buy
Thank God for kids.

Thank God for kids there’s magic for a while
A special kind of sunshine in a smile
Do you ever stop to think or wonder why
The nearest thing to heaven is a child.

When you get down on your knees tonight
And thank the Lord for His guiding light
And pray they turn out right,
Thank God for kids.
Thank God for kids.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-o3rbZxUlY

8.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Writer: John Neale (translator)

I first heard this one when we performed for it for a concert back at good old BVCA.  Our version was slightly different than the mainstream one, and I liked it more.  Nonetheless, one gets a sense of the importance of Christ’s birth in this brooding yet beautiful song.  The sorrowful longing seamlessly transitions into a hopeful yearning for the promised Messiah.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBfPnUZh-Bc

7.  Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing

Writer: Charles Wesley

A truly versatile song, I’ve heard soft and pleasant arrangements and bombastic, heroic arrangements and both work very well.  It is the glad proclamation of Christ’s birth and all that his birth represents.  My favorite line can be found just below in the first paragraph (“join the triumph of the skies”) – what gorgeous and poetic imagery.

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtqWRsnDBOM

6.  Joy to the World

Writer: Isaac Watts

Another triumphant and joyous celebration of the coming of Christ, this song is fantastic with or without the lyrics.  The powerful arrangement evokes images of the long-awaited Messiah finally coming.  I’ve used orchestral versions in productions I have worked on to great effect, though the joyful lyrics are just as moving.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the Earth! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5iRUABBiko

5.) Mary, Did You Know?

Writer: Mark Lowry

We take a contemporary turn heading into the top five.  “Mary, Did You Know” is a beautifully written song that posits the incredible whirlwind of thoughts that must surely have been going through Mary’s mind as she bore her unborn child to Bethlehem.  Not only this, but it puts his birth in the larger context of his life and ministry by hinting at what lays in store for this baby boy who is destined to do so many amazing things.  The play on words at the conclusion of the first verse is heart-wrenching.  It’s a gorgeous and chill-inducing song and a modern classic in its own right.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfpK6cNPF7Y&feature=related

4.) O Holy Night

Writer: Adolphe Adam

One of the most eloquent songs about the human experience of the salvation that Christ brings.  This is a soft and reverent piece that perfectly captures the humble coming of the Savior, but with an almost epic subtext to the lyrics and arrangement that excites the soul at what this sleeping child means for mankind.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of Our dear Saviour’s birth.

Long lay the world In sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d And the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope The weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks A new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;

O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts By His cradle we stand.

So led by light of A star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men From Orient land.

The King of Kings Lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials Born to be our friend.

He knows our need, To our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!

Behold your King, Behold your King.
Truly He taught us To love one another;

His law is love And His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break For the slave is our brother;

And in His name All oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy In grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us Praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,

His power and glory Evermore proclaim.
His power and glory Evermore proclaim.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ-8jYpa1-o

3.) Grown-up Christmas List

Writers: David Foster (C) and Linda Thompson Jenner (L)

Another contemporary classic, this beautifully crafted piece shows that even adults can have fantasies that seem childish – only instead of presents and bows, the singer’s poignantly selfless pleas are for an end to the evils of this world and healing for those who are hurting.  That is the heart of this season even for many of the secular persuasion.  Perhaps I am betraying my own childish dreams by admitting that I can scarcely hear this song (or read its lyrics) without letting a few tears slip.  After all, this Christmas list is identical to my own.

Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you
With childhood fantasies

Well, I’m all grown up now
And still need help somehow
I’m not a child
But my heart still can dream

So here’s my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list
Not for myself
But for a world in need

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
and wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list

As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely
Wrapped beneath our tree

Well heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list

What is this illusion called the innocence of youth
Maybe only in our blind belief can we ever find the truth
(there’d be)

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, oh
This is my grown up Christmas list

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAWhfBrJ4iA&feature=related

These final two songs are the culmination of everything this holiday means to me on a personal level, and it’s absolutely impossible for me to name one over another.  So I give you my top two:

Silent Night

Writers: Josef Mohr (L) and Franz Xaver Gruber (C)

There is something about the sheer simplicity of this piece that carries with it the very essence of this season.  Hearing this song, one is transported to the calm, quiet of Bethlehem that night.  I can’t say much more about it.  The lyrics say it all.

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
round yon Virgin Mother and Child,
Holy infant so tender and mild,
sleep in Heavenly peace!
sleep in Heavenly peace!

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight;
glories stream from Heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ, the Saviour, is born!
Christ, the Saviour, is born!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, Love’s pure light
radiant, beams from Thy Holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtQr81k3TSk

Little One

Writer: Shirley Watson

Even when I was a raucous teen, this song moved me.  It moves still, now that I have my own kids.  Now that I have seen the excitement of Christmas morning from the other side of the wrapping paper.  Not only does it celebrate the joys of being a little one at Christmas time, it celebrates the Little One that we honor at this time of year.  It brings to mind memories of when my oldest was young, looking down on him as he slept and wondering what the future would bring.  Few songs cut to the heart of this season as deftly and beautifully as this one.  If it’s not part of your Christmas playlist, it should be.

She sat by the fireside ’til her eyes became too heavy,
and she wandered off in dreams with elves at play.
Daddy found her sleepin’ and took her up to bed,
where she would spend the night in Santa’s flying sleigh.
Christmas was a whisper in her ear
Sounds that only children’s hearts can hear.

Little one, in the morning when you waken
You’ll find your every dream has taken form
There’ll be joy…
Christmas day will come to life because of you
you are loved, little one!

Mary lay and pondered until her eyes became too heavy
and she finally found the rest she’d struggled for.
Joseph sat in silence, watched the baby sleeping
wondered what the future held in store.
Angel voices whispered in his ear
Reaching down, he drew the baby near.

Little one, in the morning when you waken
the world will find that God has taken form.
They’ll be joy…
And the earth will have new life because of you
You are loved, little one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWPsN-vAt00&feature=PlayList&p=3EF3662D00DF39B4&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=66

I should note that it was VERY hard to find a copy of “Little One” and I don’t think the link above does it justice entirely as it’s slightly faster paced and not as atmospheric.  Still, it gets the idea across. 

And there we are.  What are some of YOUR favorite Christmas songs?  I’d love to hear them.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2009 in Writing

 

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Short and Sweet

“Habits form character, and character is destiny.”
– Joseph Kaines

Anything worth doing well is worth doing often.  No, that’s not another special quote – just some rambling from yours truly.  I persist in my daily (or semi-daily) blogging efforts with a few simple changes and observations.

First, I’ve added a sidebar to this page that contains some random information.  I’m not sure what the final form will be here; it’s likely I will switch them around once or twice (or thrice) before I’m happy with the setup.

Second… well, there really isn’t a second.  I just needed a good excuse to pop in and say hello.  Having done that, I will wrap up this brief post.  Look for more profound thoughts soon!

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2009 in Uncategorized, Writing

 

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Tradition

“Tradition is a guide, not a jailer.”
– W. Somerset Maugham

Time to leave the fledgling world of my latest project behind for a few posts and pontificate about forthcoming holiday season. 

I am something of a traditionalist.  I just like consistency.  I’m very methodical.  I generally do things the same way every time because I find comfort in reliability.  I drink the same beer (when available), order the same foods (I have a rotating menu of sorts, depending on where I am eating), sit in the same place when I go to movies, etcetera.  I am the original creature of habit.  I don’t get OCD about it, but I do prefer familiarity more often than not.

I find it fascinating to look at the traditions of Christmas and how they have evolved.  Many people don’t realize that a winter holiday on or around this date predates the Christian claim of Christ’s birthday.  The Winter Solstice occurs only days before, and is generally marked because it’s the shortest day of the year and that every day subsequently grows longer.  The Romans had a number of festivals around this date as well; Saturnalia and Dies Natalis Solis Invicti to name a few.  Certain Germanic peoples celebrated Yule (or Jule) at this same time of year as well (and indeed the name remains in place for the modern-day Christmas holiday as well).

A cursory examination of each of those holidays will show that our modern-day observation of Christmas is an amalgam of traditions.  Yule brings us much of the greenery and decoration, Saturnalia brings us the merry-making, and Dies Natalis Solis Invicti brings with it the notion of celebrating the birth of a deity (of sorts).  In fact, in the church’s early years, it was frowned upon to acknowledge the day of Christ’s birth, as only false gods and sinners were thought to celebrate their own birthday (I’m glad those folks aren’t around to see My Super Sweet 16; talk about worthless people celebrating their own birthday).

That’s a broader view of just a few historical traditions that we still observe.  I could easily write an entire thesis on the evolution of Christmas (and of Hallowe’en; my two favorite holidays) but that will wait for another time.  My purpose in mentioning it is simply to observe that there are activities we engage in today that have been ongoing for well over two thousand years, and most of us either don’t realize, don’t care, or cannot appreciate the connectedness that brings us to the past.

Some people – specifically young adults in their late teens and early 20’s, though that’s not all-encompassing or exclusive – seem to think that being a traditionalist and a progressive are somehow mutually exclusive.  This is an unfortunate, and often uneducated, point of view.

I am what you might call a progressive traditionalist – and that’s not an oxymoron.  I observe tradition, not out of some blind doctrinal mandate, but because I value it on a personal level.  It is important not to lose sight of what has come before; the past can teach us.  However, I have no qualms about letting something go or changing my observations if I believe it will be of benefit.  No generation is perfect.  Just because something has been observed for a hundred years doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true or proper.  At the same time, it’s foolish to disregard long-standing traditions just because they are old or because our parents believed it.  After all, it’s likely they have survived this long for a very good reason.

For my family, this holiday is all about marking the birth of Christ.  That is important to me on a personal level.  That is why we celebrate in our house.  Those who celebrate for different reasons – that’s great.  While some believers may get their noses displaced because they feel other holiday observations are “taking the Christ out of Christmas” (don’t get me started on the naive notion that substituting the “X” in “Xmas” is taking the “Christ” out of Christmas; learn your Greek alphabet, people!), I remain thankful that for one day, people of different faiths can take a break from the usual intolerance and promote goodwill towards ALL men.  Of course I wish everyone celebrated it for the same reason I do – but I’m not naive.  And I’m not going to degrade or insult you for having a different tradition than I do.  We don’t have the market cornered.

This year, our family tradition will be a little different (our family party will be on December 23 instead of December 24 because I have to work) but it will still serve its purpose: to bring us together to mark what is, for us and many others, a sacred holiday that deserves to be remembered.  And to join in many others of many other faiths to promote goodwill, tolerance, and love across the globe. 

Christmas may look different – it may be over-commercialized.  But in the end, despite what our money-driven culture wants to do with it, Christmas is what you make it.  So make it count for something positive, for your family or for those who may need it.  And whatever your observation at this time of year, be it cultural, religious, or secular, I hope you enjoy it to the fullest and that it’s a time that will bless you and your family.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?  I’m very interested to hear how people around the country (and the world) celebrate the holiday now, or in the past.

I’ll be doing a post on the music of the season in a few days – it plays such a big part in setting the stage, I think it’s worth a post all its own.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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