Now, You Might Feel A Sting…

When I started dating the woman would become my wife, I also started going to her church. It’s called Mill City. It was started by her brother-in-law(Pastor Mike) and she has invested a good deal of work into it herself, so it’s pretty important to her. I was kind of in between churches myself, having just changed my work schedule, and I was never really one to be super committed to any one specific church or denomination in the first place. So I followed the general theme of Paul’s advice to the Corinthians and had no real trouble making her church my church.

It’s a good church. The kind of church we need more of. A real put your money where your mouth is, walk the talk kind of church. For the last couple of weeks, Pastor Mike has been preaching on ‘What Christians Do’ and the week before last he talked about generosity, both temporal generosity and a generosity of spirit(AKA ‘grace’ AKA giving people the benefit of the doubt). Over lunch, Kate and I were talking about how we had both been impressed by the sermon in different ways and we resolved to try and be more generous, both with each other and with the world in general. And do you know what I found out?

Being generous is easy.

But receiving generosity? That is daaaaaamn hard. Surprisingly and obnoxiously hard.

This kind of took me by surprise, because before this, if you had asked me which I thought would be harder, giving or receiving, I would have looked at you like you were an idiot and said ‘Duh. Giving.’ After all, it’s giving that requires action on the part of the giver. They’re the ones who actually have to go and do something. They have to spend money, or time, or gas. They have to pick something up and go get something or generally put themselves out for another person. But once I actually sat and thought about it, it became apparent fairly quickly that as far as I was concerned(and while I make no claims as regards being an archetype, I would be surprised if this were not, by and large, universal), giving was much easier than receiving.

Yeah, I may be putting myself out momentarily, but the intangibles are all flowing back my way. Personally, I get a little rush out of giving people things. You find something that somebody you know can really use, or that they really want. You give it to them, and you get to see their face light up and you get to bask in the gratitude and feel that glow that says ‘Yeah, I am a pretty great guy, after all. Look at me being all thoughtful.’

But receiving? Receiving is the exact opposite of that. It means that I have to let someone else do something for me and that is humbling. And being humbled, even momentarily and/or inadvertently and with the best of intentions on the part of the giver, is unpleasant. It’s often necessary, like having a rotten tooth pulled. But like having a rotten tooth pulled, it’s also not an experience I seek out. And then I feel that sting, that sting that says pride is messing with me. But if there is one thing I learned from ‘Pulp Fiction’ other than that you should stay out of pawnshop basements in L.A., it’s that pride never helps, it only hurts.

Generosity also demands a response. I’m not saying that the giver is necessarily demanding a response(although they may)but that even if they don’t, the act itself demands a response. Gratitude. An acknowledgement that someone else is better suited, more qualified, more experienced, or just better placed than I am. An acknowledgement that I was deficient in some way, that I failed to measure up some way, that I needed some measure of grace.

I think this is because every act of temporal generosity is a reflection of God’s generosity to humanity. Every bit of grace that someone extends to us mirrors the grace that Christ showed us at the cross. And much like how humanity instinctively feels the pull of that act, that from us Christ’s sacrifice demands a response,  so too do the little acts of grace that mirror it demand a response.

And that’s maybe why receiving is harder than giving. Because it brings us back to the cross, and reminds us of our need for grace and, maybe, reminds us to forgive as we have been forgiven.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Sorry, Andy, This Is The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

I loves me some football. I love it like a fat kid loves cake. I love it almost as much as I love pro wrestling. Despite what you might hear from Andy Williams, this is the most wonderful time of the year. On the other hand, as anyone who has ever been married or had kids will tell you, nothing can piss you off like something or someone you love. The following are things that have pissed me off about football at one time or another, in no particular order.

Ricky Williams – How hard is it to not smoke pot? You don’t even have to do anything for it. All you have to do is not do something. It’s easy to not do things, I don’t do stuff all day. Plus, at the salary he was getting, it’s like getting paid millions of dollars not to do things. I don’t do stuff for free, there’s no telling what I’d not do for millions of dollars. Plus, every stoner for forty years has been telling the rest of us(ad infinitum, ad nauseum) that pot is non-addictive, so he doesn’t even that half-assed wretched excuse.

Terrell Owens – I put Owens’ name here because he’s the most egregious example that springs to mind, but you can sub in whatever overrated RB, WR, or QB you like. I’d love to buy T.O for he’s worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth. Nobody would have to pay me to not smoke pot then, I’d already have a metric crap-ton of money. In the ‘Wasting the Talents the Good Lord Gave You’ Sweepstakes T.O comes in first. It’s a crying shame he can’t just keep his damn mouth shut and play the game. If there were any justice, he’d be quickly forgotten and the next time he touched a football, it’d be because he was tossing one back and forth with his co-workers at Foot Locker after the mall closes.

Red McCombs – I think Red missed his calling as a blackmailer. He did have balls of solid brass though, I’ll give him that. First he passed off a bunch of perennial choke artists as a football team. Then, despite being able to drop the price of a stadium and not even notice, he told the city that if they didn’t build him a stadium for his Keystone Kops out of their (and by ‘their’ I mean ‘my’) pockets, he’d move the team. The Vikings can’t find the end zone, what makes him think they can find the highway out of town? This tactic has proved so successful that I have since been dunned for a Twins stadium as well. How about y’all build decent teams before you build stadiums?

That Guy Who Was On Fox Sports With Jim Brown, Terry Bradshaw, And Howie Long; I Think His Name Is Chris Something. – You remember that game they used to play on Sesame Street called “Which One Of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong Here?’ That’s what you’ve got here. This guy was the Potsie of Fox Sports. Plus that stupid grin he had made me want to shove his face into a box of tacks.

Randy Moss – I think he can be summed up in one sentence. ‘I only play when I feel like playing.’ Great job, Randy, way to cornhole every other guy on your team. Dick. And am I alone in thinking the afro is one of the stupidest hairstyles in history, second only to white guys with dreadlocks?

John Madden – Hey, I was as big a fan of Brett Favre as the next guy. But Madden seemed to take it to a whole ‘nother creepy level. He seemed like he was a hair away from having a shrine in his basement and dancing around it Silence of the Lambs style. “Would you pass it to me? I would. I’d pass it to me so hard…” And speaking of No. 4…

Brett Favre – Dude, I loved watching you play. You’re one of the reasons I’ve been a Packers fan for as long as I can remember. But you made the same mistake that the X-Files made: You stayed on one season too long, and by then, it was just kind of embarrassing. When it came to retirement, you should have gone out like Shawn Michaels, and not like Ric Flair.

That One Guy At My Bar Who Wears A Team Jersey And Paints His Face To Sit On A Barstool and Watch Monday Night Football. – That’s just sad. It’s almost as sad as people who dress as wizards or Jedis to go to the movies. Oh, and buddy, just FYI, they can’t hear you through the TV so you don’t need to holler at the top of your lungs. I, on the other hand, am not deaf, so you don’t need to yell ‘CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT SHIT? at me from half an inch away (or 95.7 deciliters if you’re using metric)

Janet Jackson – It was thanks to her(well, her and Justin Timberlake) I had to listen to a deafening cacophony of back and forth bullshit for six months. The only thing worse than the ‘American Family Defense Organization’ maundering on about ‘the children’ are the people who take the bait. Football isn’t about politics, it’s about hitting some receiver so hard he forgets his own name for a minute. Besides, half time shows are perennially and legendarily lame. The only reason you should be watching the half time show is so that later you can make fun of whatever one-hit wonder making the most of their fifteen minutes shows up or the geriatric rockers they dragged out and propped up.

Bandwagon Fans – If you’ve ever been a fan of a sports team, and I mean a real fan, and not a Facebook “fan”, you know why bandwagon fans are on this list. And if you don’t, you probably are one(and wearing a Patriots jersey). The Beer-Seller – Six bucks? For two dollars more I can go to the grocery store and get six beers. But wait, if I do, I can’t bring them into the stadium. Damn. Guess I’ll have to watch the game in the comfort of my living room where I can lay on the couch and, when the commercials come on, flip it over to oh, I don’t know, all of the other football games that are on. And speaking of commercials…

The Guy Who Pioneered The ‘Clever’ Commercial – Because for every Budweiser frog, there’s a score of ‘WASSSSSUPPP!’s and for that alone he deserves to rot in hell. Plus, it’s given rise to people thinking it’s acceptable to admit that they only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Watching the Super Bowl for the commercials is like ordering a 25 oz porterhouse for the parsley they put on the side of the plate when they bring it you.

Wild Cards – Bah. What’s next, you going to replace the Lombardi Trophy with participation ribbons that everybody gets in case someone gets their feelings hurt? If you’re not good enough to get into the playoffs based on your regular season record, you don’t deserve to be in them. You shouldn’t get an extra chance based on someone else’s efforts(or lack thereof). This is the adult real world, you don’t get prizes for trying hard, or for almost making it.

The NE Patriots – Everything about the Patriots annoys me. The only thing worse than a Patriots fan is a Raiders fan. Tom Brady is a vacuous black hole of overrated smug and Bill Belichek is a cheater. I’m actually glad they went undefeated right up to the Super Bowl. It made watching Eli Manning come into the Super Bowl a 20 to 1 underdog and embarrass the living hell out of the Patriots one of the best Super Bowls I can remember.

People Who Take Fantasy Football Too Seriously – Remember earlier in the list where I talked about guys who paint their faces to watch televised games at a bar and how it was the jock equivalent of those sad clowns who dress up to go the movies? This is right there with that. Guys who take fantasy football too seriously are right up there with people who talk about their World of Warcraft character like it’s a real person. Dude, it’s a game. It’s even more of a game than regular games because it’s a game about a game. Nobody cares about your pages and pages of stats. Football isn’t about stats, it’s about heart and unpredictability and that anything can happen on any given Sunday. If you want to jerk it to numbers, that’s what fantasy baseball is for.

10 Books

I was tagged the other day for one of those ‘challenges’ that seem to float around social media whenever people’s brain space isn’t occupied by being Outraged by whatever Bad Thing is popular that particular week. Normally I would decline to participate(cue strains of ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’)but this one is something I actually have thoughts on being that it enjoins me to talk the 10 books or authors that have most influenced my life. Plus I thought I could make it serve double duty as a post. So here we are.

The Bible – First and foremost, number one with a bullet. No other book ever written has influenced my life the way this one has, either by it’s presence or by it’s absence. There is not a single word in there that is not true, and there is not a single word in there that will not be relevant to your life at some point. It handily answers the old philosophical question “How then shall a man live?” Recommended works: All of it. But if you’re pressed for time, start with James, or Romans and move on from there. 

William Shakespeare – Classics are classics for a reason and Shakespeare is the classic. Shakespeare is so famous, he’s made other people famous. The only reason Marlowe or Bacon are remembered to the extent that they are is because they were his contemporaries. He had such a grasp of the fundamentals of human nature that his works are just as relevant and accessible to modern audiences as they were to Elizabethan ones. You add to that the beauty and the poetry of his language and it’s no wonder his works have survived for 500 years. If you ever get a chance to see one of his plays performed live, take it. If not, you’ll have to settle for just reading them but as second place finishes go, that’s about as good a one as you’re ever going to find. Recommended works: Henry V, Macbeth, Coriolanus

Rudyard Kipling – When I was about eight or so, my father gave me a collected edition of Rudyard Kipling’s works. This began my love affair both with collected editions and Victorian literature. I read that book cover to cover more times that I can count. Then I looked for works of his that weren’t in my edition. I found that he had written poetry as well and that began my education in poetry(as well as solidifying my distaste for poems that don’t rhyme.) Looking for similar authors led to me to at least one other author on this list. Recommended works: Stalky and Co., Plain Tales From the Hills, Barrack-Room Ballads 

 A.C. Doyle – Someone I found thanks my interest in Kipling was Doyle. I started with an ‘illustrated novel for children’ version of ‘The Speckled Band’ and took off from there. I went through all of his Holmes stories and novels and then looked around for what else he had written. I read his historical fiction and his short stories about the medical profession in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and his non-fiction work on the Boer War and spiritualism. These last lead to related works on the subject and on the phenomenon of the latter in Western civilization. Recommended works: The White Company, The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard, The Great Boer War, A Study in Scarlet.

H. Rider Haggard – When I was twelve or so, my parents rented a movie called ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ from a video store. It starred Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone. I was absolutely enthralled and watched that movie so many times I could practically recite. Having since gone back in my adulthood and revisited that movie, it is truly terrible in almost every respect but it did lead me to the book it was made from(well, shared a title with, anyways). Haggard spent most of his life in the Crown Colony of S. Africa and it shows in his writing. His writings were the archetypal Victorian adventure novels, full of Great White Hunters, Lost Cities, Noble (and Decidedly Un-Noble) Savages, Sudden Reverses and Daring Escapes. Like Kipling’s India, Haggard’s Africa comes out through the page via his prose and it’s a shame he’s not more widely known.  Recommended Works: King Solomon’s Mines, She, Allan Quatermain.

The Screwtape Letters – I come back and re-read Screwtape every year or so and there is always something new in there, or some point that Lewis makes that I had forgotten. Although on the surface it appears to largely address the problems and concerns of pre- and mid war British society, once started it will reveal itself as still relevant to a good deal of modern society. If you pick up a copy, make sure you get one that also includes Screwtape Proposes a Toast.  

Republican Party Reptile – When I was 13 or so, I spent a dime and bought a book from a library sale that had an alligator wearing a suit and holding a drink on the cover and it was entitled ‘Republican Party Reptile.’ In terms of value given for money spent, that was one of the best dimes I have ever spent. The book in question was a collection of satirical essays by P.J. O’Rourke. Written from a libertarian perspective, that book blew my 13 year old mind. I went and looked up some of the people he mentioned and then some of the people they mentioned. It was though that collection that I found and read F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and J.S. Mill. It’s also how I found William F. Buckley and National Review

P.J. O’Rourke – Republican Party Reptile deserves special mention, but once I found that I also looked around for what else P.J. had written. A good many of his books are still on my shelves and they have gone a long way in shaping my own thoughts on politics and the general role of the government in society. And like I said up above, his books proved to be, in the way that all good books do,  gateway books to other authors and other books. Recommended Works: Republican Party Reptile, Parliament of Whores, Eat the Rich 

Robert A. Heinlein – One of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction. Heinlein is one of those authors that you can read when you’re 13 or so and enjoy it for all the space opera heroics and then you go back and you read him as an adult and you discover whole new layers to his writings. What you thought was just pulp fiction space opera is still that, and still enjoyable on that level BUT it also becomes an elaborate illustration of a philosophical point or a treatise on how a society might be ordered. Recommended Works: Starship Troopers, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Glory Road, The Puppet Masters  

Bernard Cornwell – I wouldn’t say he’s influential in the same way that Haggard or the Bible has been, but I’ve read almost everything he’s published, so he makes the list. Cornwell is quite possibly the best author of historical fiction writing today. His books are always meticulously researched and his bibliographies always lead to other interesting books as well. He writes through several different eras and viewpoints and his books are always worth the read. Recommended Works: Richard Sharpe series, The Saxon Chronicles 

Hopefully I’m Better At Sticking To This Then C.F. Kane Was

Y’all remember the bit in Citizen Kane where Kane sets out to be a crusading journalist and publishes a ‘Statement of Principles?’ regarding how he’s going to run his newspaper? This piece here is my nod to that great movie, and that scene, although hopefully without the foreshadowing and irony. 

A few years ago, I used to write a blog. It was a general mish-mash of politics, movies, books, and stupid jokes. Some of the political articles were knee-jerk reactions to immediate events and were maybe a bit more strident and lacking in nuance than was absolutely necessary.

What with one thing and another, I stopped updating it and let it slide (further) into irrelevance. A while back, my father told me that he always enjoyed reading the stuff I wrote and that I should pick it back up. I’ve had a couple of people(chief among them my wife, Kate) since then echo him and I figured it couldn’t hurt.

I can always use a new hobby and if I put a little thought and care into this instead just winging it out there, who knows what will happen to it. I figure I can still maunder on about books and movies like I usually do, and about cooking, which is another hobby I’ve picked up in the last year or two, and general life stuff.

I think I might steer clear of politics as far as ‘current events’ goes because those posts, by their very nature, quickly become dated. And because they have a tendency to cause people to get shouty. If/when I do write about politics, I’m going to try and limit it to a ‘foundational principles’ sort of perspective – because that’s what’s important, not the knee-jerk response to a specific event. And because there are more important things in life than being mad at whoever happens to be President for doing/not doing whatever the hell it is he’s done/not done.

I’m shooting to update this at least once a week, hopefully more. The title won’t ever change, but the stinger underneath will, depending on what it is I’m writing about at any given time. This week’s is a quote from Archer that seemed apropos when I couldn’t think of anything to put there. Feel free to leave a comment about how brilliant I am or, alternatively, detailing my various spiritual and moral failings but do me a favor and try to keep the language PG-13-ish. My mother might read this and she’s a God-fearing lady who doesn’t like bad language. Plus I’d probably wind up having to explain some of it and that’s just awkward.