Tuesday, May 26, 2020

An Unenthusiastic "OK"

This week’s post, over at Medium, is An Unenthusiastic “OK.” Check it out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The First Time

I’ve moved to a new blogging platform to maybe reach more people. It won’t let me have the same material here and there, but I can put a link here to where it is over there.

So here it is: When Was Your First Time

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Life on the Other Side of the Bubble

All this social distancing, all this not touching and hugging each other, all this super-sanitizing everything and acting like Lady Macbeth after we’ve touched something that anyone else has touched...while it will help get most of us through the immediate COVID-19 crisis, it absolutely can’t go on forever, and there are a number of good reasons why.

First of all, because it makes us less human.

Let’s face it, we humans are social creatures. We need to be around others like us, we need to be near others like us, we need to hold and touch others like us; and while this whole six feet apart thing may be good for us medically, it’s absolutely horrible for us psychologically. It not only distances us from those we want, or need, to be with, but it trains us to think of others as things, as walking vectors of virus that could kill us, and should be avoided at all costs, rather than as fellow humans who are also suffering through this and need human companionship and touch too.

I think of the kids who can’t play with each other, and who after we slowly get back to whatever “normal” will look like, won’t be able to sit next to each other at school and interact with each other as kids do. I think of the simple act from my days in kindergarten, of having a “line partner” who you held hands with as you walked to the playground for recess. Will we have kids do that anymore? Will we let kids do that anymore?

And speaking of holding hands, what do we do about budding romances? Will holding hands be seen as something two people need to be as cautious about as they would having sex? And, oh my goodness...kissing! Are we really going to put our mouths on someone else’s mouth after all this? Are we really going to put our tongues in someone else’s mouth after all this? Heck...having sex with face masks on might just be considered safer than kissing!

No...at some point we’ll have to get past this and return to what makes us human again. Maybe...and I shudder to say this...but maybe we’ll sadly just have to let this thing burn through enough of us so that those of us who are left don’t have to worry about it, and can go back to being human...but will also have a greater appreciation for being human.

The second reason we can’t go on like this forever is because, ironically, there’s such a thing as being too clean. Yes, you saw that right...too clean.

If we’re too clean, we don’t get enough early exposure to the many germs out there that we need to build up our resistance to. I’ve seen articles that suggest that our obsession with cleanliness over the past 60 years could be one of the reasons we’ve seen so many food allergies. I’ve also read that polio didn’t become a big problem until better sanitation meant that children weren’t exposed to it earlier, and with less harmful effects.[1]

With that in mind, there’s something to the old saying that you have to eat a pound of dirt before you die...and maybe even something to the 5-Second Rule.

Yes, now we’re painfully aware of how many germs we spread every day, but most of them don’t do us any harm, because our exposure to them builds up our immunity to them. We just happened to have stumbled onto a really bad one.

But the simple fact of the matter is that we can’t go on eating alone forever. We can’t sterilize every basketball, library book, doorknob, or restaurant table. People have to be able to go back to sitting next to each other on buses and trains, having college roommates, and kissing and hugging each other.

Especially kissing and hugging each other.

And I want to be able to do that again soon!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Just Because Your Heart is in the Right Place...

...doesn’t mean you’re doing or saying the right thing; or that it will be taken the way you intended.

Now, before I go on, let me make it perfectly clear that this is not a “poor pitiful me” piece about how I’ve become another male victim of changing times and social expectations. Far from it. Rather, it’s about how I wish I’d known certain things as far back as over 40 years and as recently as within the past year…not just for my own benefit, but for the benefit of those I thought I was being kind to and thoughtful of. So if I see any accusations of that in the responses, you will be ignored.

There’s an old Scandinavian saying that goes “We are too soon old and too late smart.” Ain’t that the truth! If I knew then half of what I knew now, I wouldn’t have made so many mistakes, and unintentionally hurt so many people. On the other hand, if I knew then what I know now, I might not have ended up where I am now with my wonderful wife and two very quirky daughters. So I won’t spend much time on regrets.

And yet…I do think about the many things I’ve done or said with the best of intentions that weren’t received the way I meant them to be, or that I discovered years later might have been hurtful rather than helpful.

One of the problems is that I’m a very sensitive person, and I often tend to project on to others how I might feel in a similar situation. As a result, I try to do or say what I’d want said or done to or for me. Ah…lesson number one, the Golden Rule doesn’t always apply. Sometimes people don’t want to be treated as you’d want to be treated.

In one case, I remember roughly 40 years ago, working with a woman, slightly older than me, who I thought was really wonderful…but who, as far as I knew, didn’t have anyone. My friends from grade school will tell you that I’ve been an incurable romantic since at least then, and the incurable romantic in me thought that this person deserved to have someone think she was special, which she was. So I did what I thought I’d want someone to do for me…I had flowers sent to her at work anonymously.

Boy, did that cause a commotion in the office when they arrived; and everyone was wondering who they came from. I managed to keep a poker face throughout this whole thing, and I thought, “There, she must feel good now, knowing that she has a secret admirer out there somewhere.”

Oh, how incredibly na├»ve of me at 20-something. 30 or so years later the little light went on over my head, and I realized that far from making her feel good, it might have made her feel bad, and it might have given her attention that she didn’t want. Sigh. I did my well-intentioned best with what I understood, and how I processed the world, at the time.

Another issue is my 19 years teaching…my 19 years teaching teenagers…my 19 years teaching teenaged girls, who often need to be reassured that they’re fine just the way they are. I’d like to think that I did a good job at that; of letting them know that they didn’t need to be one clothing size smaller, two bra sizes bigger, and spend hours on makeup that hid their natural beauty. However, what works when you’re the trusted and admired teacher of teenagers doesn’t always work, and isn’t always wanted, when you’re the colleague or friend of adults. I’ve learned that the hard way a number of times. Oh, my heart was definitely in the right place, but a lot of awkwardness ensued as a result of my not understanding that.

If only I knew that before opening my mouth!

I could go on…and maybe I will…some other time. I figure this is long enough for now!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Shit Happens

A few days ago I saw a post in response to a YouTube video, from a woman who swore that while COVID was real, it was a weaponized virus created in a lab in China to take out the western world.

I'm not sure which is worse, people like her or people who deny that it exists in the first place, and is just a huge worldwide hoax to make Donald Trump look bad.

Let me explain a few things.

I think that one of the big differences between now and 1918...the flu pandemic that killed 50 million people...was that people then had a "shit happens" attitude about life. They were used to death and pestilence. There were no antibiotics, and people regularly died from a simple infected cut.

Shit happened, and they didn't need to blame anyone for it. Shit happened, and they saw it every day. Shit happened, and they knew it. Shit happened, they saw it, and tried to deal with it as a community.

I was going to say that we moderns have lost that ability to understand that shit happens, but then I remembered the Salem Witch Trials. That shit happened when those people couldn’t understand that shit happened, or that there might be perfectly logical reasons that they didn’t understand behind the shit that was happening...and decided that there was a conspiracy of witches to blame for it. Ah...one of our first big conspiracy theories.

In any event, we moderns can’t seem to handle that shit happens. We need someone to blame. We need something to blame. We need there to be a conspiracy we can point to. We can’t accept that while the truth may be out there, it may be mundane and boring. We can’t accept that the “somebody” whose “fault” this was may just have been someone who carelessly handled an exotic animal, and then didn’t wash their hands properly. That’s a lot less exciting than someone creating a biological weapon in a lab that accidentally got lose. It doesn’t make as good a story.

And I know a thing or two about stories. As a librarian, I see a lot of books checked out that are thriller novels about some sort of conspiracy. A lot. And I believe that you’re shaped by what you read. Just ask me about the old girlfriend who read a steady diet of Harlequin romance novels.

If you read a lot of conspiracy thriller novels, you’re going to think that everything’s a conspiracy. But you’d also be wrong. The real world is much more complex and random than the fictional world is. In the real world a virus we’ve never seen before can be spread by something as random as one bad interaction with an animal. We’ve seen this before with AIDS. And no one’s “to blame” except for maybe the person who got messy with that animal.

But the world of fiction...in the world of conspiracy thriller fiction...is very tightly controlled...by the author. There’s not a thing in that book that they didn’t put there for a reason. Not a random item in there at all...except maybe to intentionally throw a curve ball at you. Everything in those novels was written that way because the author wanted it to be that way. It was written that way to give you an exciting story.

In a special episode of Mythbusters, James Cameron was shown all the ways that Jack could’ve been saved in Titanic, and at the end of the episode, he simply said that Jack had to die because it was his story, and he could do anything he wanted with it.

And don’t even get me started on all those crap conspiracy theory books about actual historical events.

We need to remember that shit happens, and spend more time trying to deal effectively with the shit we’re going through right now than trying to find someone to blame it on.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Reconnecting in the Time of COVID

Buzzfeed recently posted an article about how this pandemic is causing many people to try to repair broken relationships...or even confess to secret crushes.

The idea seems to be that, all things considered, a lot of people are looking at what destroyed their relationships as being small potatoes, and want to try to fix things before one of them dies. Not that they necessarily want that person back in their lives again, but that they wanted to get rid of any bad blood that may have existed between them. In many of the cases this has gone well. In others, the person who received the olive branch said, “Nice, but I really don’t need to deal with this person anymore. I don’t really care. There’s no bad blood, there’s just no blood.”

I can understand both sides of this. On the one hand, there are people out there who’ve hurt me who I’d love to contact and say that all is forgiven. In fact, there’s one person out there who I’d like to tell that not only is all forgiven, but I wouldn’t trade the two weeks we had together for anything...regardless of how it ended. There are people who I’ve inadvertently hurt, that I’d like to apologize to; but they’ve been out of my life for so many years...decades even...that to try to contact them for this might open up a wound that had been long since healed and forgotten about.

On the other hand, there are people I’m perfectly fine with not having in my life anymore. Or as I said before, not so much bad blood as no blood. Sometimes I’ve even forgotten that they existed until some little thing jogs my memory. Years have gone by with me having no reason to contact them, and I figure they have no reason to contact me. I figure we’re both fine with blessed nothingness.

But those “secret crushes.” Oh...they can be ever so tricky. Sometimes what you feel you need to say “before one of you gets hit by a bus” comes out the wrong way, is taken the wrong way, and makes things very awkward between the two of you for quite a while. I know this because I’ve been on the giving end of the awkwardness. But do you tell someone how much they’ve meant to you while they’re still around, and risk the awkwardness that may come from that, or do you hold it in, with that person never knowing that they were special to you...something they may have wanted to know...before one of you goes to your grave?

This reminds me of that one special friend from many years ago, who I loved dearly, but didn’t tell for many reasons, including not wanting to risk ruining the friendship by making things awkward if she didn’t feel the same way. To this day, even though I know we weren’t right for each other, I still regret not having told her how I felt.

Will I be writing her during these unusual times, to finally let her know how I felt all those years ago...before one of us gets hit by a bus? No, I don’t think so. But if she wrote me, I’d be thrilled. 

Just not to death, I hope.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Being People in the Time of COVID-19

One of my coworkers has a saying that I’m fond of. She says, “Being people is hard.” She’s right. Being people is hard.

And being good people is even harder. Especially in times of crisis. There’s such a conflict between what we know we ought to do and what we want to do, between what we feel and the way we know we should think, that being good people is incredibly hard. None of us is perfect at it, despite our best efforts. And the sooner we face up to that fact, and admit that we all have ugly little thoughts that we do the best we can to mitigate, the better.

Why am I saying this? Well, with this COVID thing upon us, and people scrambling, panicking, making bad decisions, and acting downright horribly, I thought about the fact that Passover is also coming, and thinking of the ten plagues of Egypt, I posted on Facebook:

Suppose the coronavirus could be guaranteed to pass over your house if you painted your doorposts with the milk of human kindness…

Some of which you had partaken of first.

As of this writing, I had four likes, and not a single dislike.

Of course, the dark, implied back side of this was that if you weren’t able to demonstrate that the milk of human kindness existed in your house, then you were screwed. But still...no one took me to task for that sentiment.

Contrast that to the response I got to my comment on a friend’s post about people who were making this whole thing worse. I said:

I know this is an evil thought, but wouldn’t it be nice if the only people taken out by this were the idiots, assholes, and deniers?

I got immediately slammed for wishing a horrible thing upon people. But really, it was no different from what I said about painting your doorposts. I attempted to clarify the situation by saying that I wasn’t wishing this on anyone, but if we know that, barring a miracle, some people have to get it, I’m pretty sure that there are some people we’d rather see get it than others.

Slammed again.

But let’s be real folks. I may try to be my most logically Spock-like at all times, but I’m still human, and I have emotions. And emotionally, I don’t want good people to suffer from this. And knowing logically that a certain number of people are gonna get this thing, I would much rather have it be the person who’s gonna try to shoot up a school or house of worship than some little old lady who never harmed anyone in her life.

Of course, the Grim Reaper is gonna pass right by Margaret, the lady who gives out full-sized Snickers bars at Halloween.

You may not want to admit this, but we all do this kind of moral calculus. We do it every time we ask “Why do the evil flourish while the good are cut down like the grass?” We all implicitly say that if there’s any suffering to happen, it should be to those people.

Not that we want that anyone should suffer. Ideally, no one should. But if there is suffering to be doled out, let’s be honest, and admit that we’d all prefer it to be visited upon the evil, the selfish, and the mean-spirited.

Because we’re human. We’re people. And being people is hard.

And being good people is especially hard.

Now as for me and my family, we’re gonna start painting our doorposts.

And we’ll help you paint yours too.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Religious vs Political

Two Sundays ago I preached a sermon on Transfiguration Sunday that talked about our need to be transformed. I talked about the kind of people we need to be transformed into and the kind of people we need to be transformed from. I didn’t talk in bland generalities, but rather, gave specific examples of how we needed to be transformed in order to show the love of God through Jesus to the world more clearly.

And when the service was over, at least one person complained to two people I know...but not to me directly...that my sermon was “too political.”

“Too political.” Funny...I knew that someone was going to say that. Even though I mentioned no specific names in my sermon, I knew that someone was going to say it was “too political.” Perhaps it was “too political” because it sounded like something “those damned liberals would say.” But my wife astutely pointed out that had we visited a conservative church...conservative both in the way they interpreted the Bible as well as the political views of the pastor and most of the congregation, and heard a sermon from their particular point of view, where they were specifically political, and where everyone else was enthusiastically shouting “Amen!”, this person probably wouldn’t have complained at all.

And actually, nor would we. We would simply have chalked it up to differences in how we interpret the Bible, and how those differences inform our daily lives. Indeed how those differences inform our political lives.

So the question here is when is something religious and when is it political. Or perhaps more precisely, does our religion inform our political views or do our political views inform our religious beliefs?

I know how I think things work with me, and because I firmly believe that my religious beliefs inform my political views, I can comfortably say that my sermon of two weeks ago was not political...although it definitely made some people with opposing political views very uncomfortable.

But wait...there’s more!

Ash Wednesday was last week, and in the liturgy for the service that evening, I found the following words in the confession of sin:

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, we confess to you.

Our neglect of human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, we confess to you.

Our false judgements, our uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, we confess to you.

Our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us, we confess to you.

Restore us, O God, and let your anger depart from us.

I saw these words in the liturgy for the day, and felt vindicated. This was everything I had said three days earlier, except that instead of trusting people to connect the dots themelves (which we often don’t), I came out with a big black Sharpie and did it for them.

Why? Not because my politics inform my religious beliefs. But because my religious beliefs inform my politics…as well as the rest of my life.

Religious beliefs which I’m always re-examining in the light of new data.

Which is as it should be.

In both cases.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

What Price "The Kingdom"?

Today is Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or whatever you want to call the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, and Lent is key to what I want to talk about today.

In those churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary the Gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Lent is Matthew 4:1-11. This is the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. And one of the things he’s tempted with is being given all the world if he’ll just bow down and worship the evil one.

Jesus refuses and tells him to begone. I want you to hold onto that thought for a bit because we’ll come back to it after I tell you another Bible story.

This one comes from the book of Isaiah, from the Hebrew Scriptures, and is about how King Cyrus of Persia was annointed by God to end the Babylonian exile, and send the Jews back to Israel to restore the kingdom. Even though he wasn’t one of them, and even though he didn’t worship their God, he was widely praised for having restored the kingdom to Israel.

And of course, someone who restores your kingdom to you, with all the power a glory you had before is worthy of praise, aren’t they? As is someone who promises to restore the kingdom to you as you knew it...or thought you knew it, right?

And this is exactly why 81% of Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the last election. Notice I didn’t say 81% of Christians, but 81% of Evangelicals...because they felt that he had promised to “restore the kingdom” to them. They felt that he had promised to deliver to them the power to put “real Christians” back in charge, “real Christians” who would stand up and defeat the LGBTQs, the people who were pro-choice (which is not the same as pro-abortion), and the people who believed in science rather than the Bible...to name a few. And they even went so far as to say that they believed that they were dealing with a Cyrus, who, while not one of them, was chosen by God to give them back what was rightfully theirs.

But there were two things they didn’t realize.

The first was that they weren’t dealing with a Cyrus, who gave them back the kingdom with no expectations of anything back, but with the evil one who expected to be worshiped, and who Jesus told to begone. And they figured that having the kingdom, as they understood it, restored was worth the price of making a deal with the evil one. They saw it as a good thing brought about by evil means.

Do I really need to say anything about that?

The second is that they didn’t realize that their idea of restoring...or bringing about...the kingdom may have been very different from what Jesus had in mind. 

But that wouldn’t have been the first time that happened. 

Jesus constantly confounded many of his followers, as well as the Jewish authorities, whose expectations of a messiah were of someone who would lead them to kick some Roman butt, and “restore the kingdom”...that is to say restore it to its “glory days.” And yet, in thinking about a little biblical history, one has to wonder if there really were any “glory days.” Seems that God was always getting after them for one failing or another, and that if there were any glory days, they lasted for about a week and a half before they screwed up again.

But Jesus didn’t come to “restore the kingdom”, he came to bring the kingdom...a kingdom that was much different from what the anti-Roman zealots and the temple authorities had in mind.

And perhaps much different from what the modern day Pharisees and Zealots among at least 81% of Evangelicals have in mind.

It sure would be nice if we all came out of not only Lent, but through November, having soundly decided to reject the evil one and all his empty promises.[1]


[1] One of the baptismal and confirmation vows used in the Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and other liturgical churches

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Maybe It's the Population After All!

There’s a running joke in my family that when I die, my obituary is going to start off something like this:

Keith Edward Gatling, of Syracuse, NY, has died, and no longer has to deal with the people who wouldn’t listen to him the first time...when he was right to begin with.

Actually, that’s not a joke. I’m going to write my own obituary, and it’s gonna start off just like that. You know why? Because it’s true. There’ve been way too many times when I’ve said something which has been either ignored or discounted, until...well...it actually turns out that I was right, and that other people were stubborn.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s post.

Many years ago...like about 40 or more of them...I was very concerned about increasing population. I knew enough about Malthus to be dangerous, and was concerned that sooner or later...maybe sooner...we’d end up with more people than we could feed; in which case the whole population thing would take care of itself because half of us would starve.

This idea was pooh-poohed by some friends of mine, who optimistically said that we’ll figure this out. And that one of those “too many people” born in the future will figure out how to feed us all.

But it wasn’t just that. I had friends who believed that having children was a moral imperative. We should all have children, whether we wanted to or not, because children are an intrinsic good, and people who didn’t want to have children were just plain selfish. And even the reasons they gave for not wanting children (like concerns about the population) were just masks to hide their selfishness behind.

Me...I figure that these people wanted children so badly that they had to justify it by saying that everyone should have them. They couldn’t let there be “different strokes for different folks.”

Then there are those who worry that if we don’t have enough children, two very bad things will happen. The first is that the Ponzi scheme called the economy will collapse. The other is that there won’t be enough young people to take care of people to take care of an increasingly aging population. I believe that both of these concerns, however, are very short-sighted and selfish.

And so where are we forty years after I first voiced my concerns about increased population? In a situation which may well have been caused by too much population growth over the past four decades. Human-induced climate change and new diseases that spread much more quickly are but a few of the possible results of having reached a certain population threshold.

I can’t recall where I read it, but I saw somewhere that if the world population was around what it was in 1915, we’d probably be doing just fine. But now there are too many people wanting and needing too much stuff; and while there’s enough food (for now), we’re strangling ourselves in other ways.

But what about the economy? What about taking care of the elderly among us? Do we really need to keep pumping out more and more of us in order to deal with those issues?

Maybe not. Maybe we can be more creative. Maybe our economy can be based on something other than increased consumerism, and become something more sustainable. Maybe there are ways to take care of an increasingly aging population without having to pump out more babies to do it.

Maybe we need to take a look at how other cultures did this in the past.

And maybe we should take seriously the idea that maybe we should slow down...and even reverse...this population growth.

Because...maybe I was right in the first place.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

What's in a Name?

Over the December break, my two daughters, 17 and 26, were discussing a Quebec law that said that a married woman couldn’t take her husband’s last name, and how unfair it was. They felt that these women should at least be given a choice in the matter.

As I marveled at the Christmas miracle of these two actually getting along, and holding a civil conversation with each other...finally...I decided to look this up to see if it was true, or simply some urban legend they were responding to. And you know how many of those there are out there!

Turns out that it was true…and not only that, but it wasn’t even a new thing. This law has been on the books in Quebec since 1981. This means that almost two generations of women have grown up with this, and you’d think that they’d be used to it by now. I mean really…39 years? On the other hand, if their mothers and grandmothers changed their names, they still have examples of the old tradition to go by.

But wait…according to an article from Time, Quebec isn’t the only place that has this rule. It’s been the case in Greece since 1983, and in France since 1789.

1789? When I read that, I was like “Whoa! So that means that Marie Curie wasn’t really Marie Curie?” Well…yes and no. Legally…on all official documents, she was still Maria Sklodowska, but socially and publicly she was Marie Curie. And we’ll come back to that later.

Indeed, in many countries and cultures, that thing about taking the husband’s name went the way of the dinosaurs with the dinosaurs themselves…if it ever existed at all.

But let’s get back to Canada…and the States…and this particular law in Quebec.

When I looked it up, I was surprised at the strong opinions I found not only in favour of it, but  also harshly against those women who wanted the ability to change their names; asking why any modern woman would want to go back to such an archaic system and lose her identity like that.

Well, I’ll tell you one reason that a “modern woman” might want to “lose her identity” like that. When I was in college, I knew a girl with the last name of Boring, and she said the despite her devotion to feminist causes, she couldn’t wait to get married and ditch that name without offending her family. She was tired of being one of those “Boring girls.”

Another reason might have to do with going from a hard name to an easy one. When my wife and I were planning our wedding, I asked her what she wanted to do about her name…take mine, keep hers, hyphenate, or make something new. She said, “My last name is Kutscher. No one can pronounce it. No one can spell it. Yours is Gatling. It’s phonetic. Done.”

But there’s another reason, and it’s perhaps the same reason that Maria Sklodowska became known as Marie Curie…love…and signaling the relationship to others.

One of the Canadian opinions basically said that while legally, and on all official documents, she still Ms MacDonald, that doesn’t prevent her from publicly and socially being Mrs Makenzie to show the relationship she was in.

Interestingly enough, this whole issue came up in our house at the same time that one of my former students was getting married for the second time, and was wondering what to do about her name. Should she become Mrs Allen to signal the new relationship that she was proud to be entering into; remain Ms Siegel, which is the name she had used professionally for years, and that her daughter shared; or take this opportunity to go back to her original status as Ms Scott? Her intended didn’t care what name she used, as long as he got to have her, but she was still thinking about it.

Finally, after much discussion back and forth about it, she decided to remain Ms Siegel officially, socially, and publicly, but her relationship name…in those hours when they were together all by themselves, and as a pet name…would be Mrs Allen.

Different things work for different people.

So to all of you who are in any kind of relationship, and no matter what you’ve decided to do with your name, I wish you a happy Valentine’s Day!

And a special congratulations to the new “Mrs Allen.”

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

What We Say

I was thinking earlier about things that girls can say to guys, and it’s just fine, but if a guy were to say it to a girl, it would be seen as incredibly creepy. And then that got me thinking about the thing that a number of you, who don’t see the forest as a whole, but instead, focus on the one tree you have an issue with, have probably already seized upon.

I said “girls” and “guys” instead of “women” and “men.” And, of course, to refer to any female over the age of 18 as a girl is “demeaning.”

But linguistically, it’s so much more complicated than that. We have the legality of adulthood mixed up with perception of youth (or relative youth), and the whole alliteration thing to deal with. How do we handle this?

I don’t know if I can work this out to everyone’s satisfaction, but I’m gonna try as best I can; knowing that some people will still disagree with me.

Yes...technically, at age 18, you’re no longer children (although you have to wait until 21 to buy beer), and thus, no longer girls and boys. But do the terms “girl” and “boy” of necessity only refer to children? What about “girls’ night out”, or “boys’ night out”? Some of those girls and boys are in their 40s and older. But more specifically, we don’t tend to use “boys” all that often when talking about males in general. We use the “ageless” term “guys.” This gets us to that alliteration thing.

With girls and guys we’ve got two terms that both begin with the letter “g.” It’s a parallel structure. It trips off the tongue more easily. And so we use it.

So now we’ve got girls and guys. I’ve already mentioned that “guys” is a pretty much “ageless” term for any male. Is there something similar in regular English for females? Well yes...and it just happens to be “girls.” Why isn’t there a totally different term for ageless females like there is for ageless males? There used to be...it was “gals” (there goes that alliteration again).  But for some reason, it’s fallen into disuse over the years. And as linguist John McWhorter will tell you, language doesn’t always behave logically.

But why not just use “women” and “men” for anyone over the age of 18? This brings up issues of youth, and relative youth. I don’t know about you, but “women” and “men” makes me think of older people...people who are at least in their 30s. And actually, when I looked up discussions of “girl vs woman” and “guy vs man” online, I found that each of the former terms is generally used to refer to young women and young men...with young being defined as under 30. Fascinating...no one ever actually teaches you this distinction, but it’s one that most of us instinctively know.

But another article pointed out something so obvious that most of us don’t even notice it…”girls” and “guys” are informal terms we use for talking about people. They’re the terms we use when referring to them colloquially. If we were talking about someone past high school or college age formally, we’d likely refer to them as women and men. But while they’re in school, it’s girls and guys. Referring to a person on a college campus who is a student, and not a faculty or staff member, as a woman or man, seems kind of affected and pretentious.

And then comes the thing that makes this whole issue so darned difficult in the first place...there’s not even agreement among women about what they want to be called and when. It’s not like there’s one monolithic voice out there saying “We always only want to be called women.” There isn’t, and there are enough women out there who use the term “girls” to refer to themselves that you just never know when you’re going to hit that nerve with someone.

But getting back to my original point, did you ever notice that there are some things a girl can say to a guy and it’s just fine...and even cute, but if a guy said it to a girl, we would all just go “Eeew”?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

What We Don’t Know

It was an amazing, perfectly timed coincidence of arguments from two different sides of the fence. Arguments from two different sides of the fence that proved my point.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

It started with a Facebook post from my wife about who gets to decide what a symbol or action means or stands for. Is it the people using it, who claim it means for one thing; or the people who are offended by it, who say it means something different? As examples, she gave kneeling during the National Anthem and the Confederate flag.

When she mentioned that despite its origins over 150 years ago, many modern southerners see it simply as a symbol of regional pride, sweet tea, and all that, many modern non-Southerners called “bullshit” on that; saying that they should know better, and that they’re being willfully ignorant of its history.

One non-Southerner in particular, a friend who majored in history as an undergrad, said that he watched the films of the marches in several Southern cities, and in those cases, that flag was most decidedly not about sweet tea and regional pride.

And yet, two things are important here. The first is that this friend was a history major, who knows a lot more than the average person. The second is that we have Southerners 50 years old and younger for whom that was ancient history that they had nothing to do with.

So that was the first argument. The second, from the totally opposite side, was also a Facebook post. This one said that Martin Luther King Day is here again, the day on which we pretend that he never said certain things about the evils of capitalism. 

Now hold on there! “The day we pretend he he never said”? How about the day that we find out for the first time that he did?

Whoever wrote that obviously knows a whole lot more about Martin Luther King Jr than the average bear. This person has probably read everything he ever wrote...and falsely assumes that the rest of us have too...and are being willfully ignorant of it.

Let’s face it, do you think that in their History classes, Southern kids are being taught any more than the standard “dates, places, and battles” that the rest of us are? Do you really think that teachers go into great (and potentially embarrassing) detail about the causes of the Civil War, and what the secessionists really believed in? For that matter, are they calling it the Civil War, or are they still calling it “The War of Northern Aggression”?

With that in mind, are modern Southerners who, if they took another history course after high school, probably didn’t take one on either the origins of the Confederacy or the Civil Rights era, being willfully ignorant of the origins of that flag?

I don’t think so. I think you only know what you know; and don’t know what you don’t know...until you’re told it. I think that my friend’s statements are an example of an expert on a certain subject expecting too much from “regular people.”

And what of those of us who “pretend” that Martin Luther King Jr never wrote about the evils of capitalism? Are we being willfully ignorant, or is this another case of our simply not knowing what we didn’t know? Was this simply one of the things he said or wrote that didn’t get as much attention as the things we remember him for?

Is this another case of an expert expecting too much of us regular people?

And there are so many other times when this happens. So many times when we only know what we know, and only understand what we understand...which may be much different from what an expert on the subject knows and understands.

In my own life, in my study of religion, I learned that the Church of England was created when Henry VIII broke off from the Catholic Church because the Pope wouldn’t annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Well, at 24, I thought that was a piss poor reason for starting a new church, and that’s why I’m a Lutheran now. But almost 30 years later, while reading a book on the history of marriage, I discovered that things were a little more complicated than I thought, and that Henry’s decision was a political one, about the political power of the Pope. Had I known at 24 what I learned at 50, I might still be an Episcopalian. But I only knew what I knew, and not what the experts knew.

I think that the “experts” should cut a little slack on us normal people who don’t know quite as much about their topic as they do, and not be so quick to accuse us of being “willfully ignorant” when, for many reasons, we just didn’t know.

The big question now is what do we do once we do know?

But that’s a question for another day.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

On Christian Anti-Semitism

Last month a set of stabbings occurred at a rabbis house that desecrated both Chanukah and Christmas, and I figured that it was time that I took some time to talk about anti-Semitism.

Historically, anti-Semitism comes in two varieties. The first one boils down to simple xenophobia, where you don’t like “those people” because they’re different from you, and living by different rules within your culture. If you’re one of those anti-Semites, then I have nothing to say to you that’s any different than what I’d say to any other xenophobe…and it’s not pretty.

The second variety, the one I find most horrifying, and the one I’d like to address today is Christian anti-Semitism. That’s right…anti-Semitism as practiced by Christians…people who have no business being anti-Semitic, or anti-anyone, at all.

Historically, Christian anti-Semitism boils down to “getting the Jews back for what they did to Jesus.” But let’s take a careful look at the situation here.

I first heard the old “the Jews killed Christ” thing when I was about 11 years old. It was mentioned briefly in the classic British movie Hand in Hand, about a Jewish girl and a Catholic boy who were best friends. When I heard this, I thought it was the stupidest…and most obvious…thing in the world. Of course, the Jews killed Jesus! He lived in Israel. Who else was there? That was like saying the Americans killed Kennedy.

It took me a few years to see things a little differently.

I was about 13 or 14 when Jesus Christ Superstar came out, and then I understood that it was the Jewish leaders, and not the masses, who had it in for Jesus, and who turned him over to the occupying Romans (remember that part, it’ll be on the quiz). So right there, blaming all the Jews for the actions of the leaders seemed a little much.

But as you listen to the lyrics more closely, you’ll find out that he was turned over to the Roman authorities because as someone who didn’t deny that he was a king, he was a threat to Roman power, and a threat that would cause the Romans to come down hard on the rest of the Jewish population of Palestine. Can you say “Masada”?

Years after that, I learned something else very important…crucifixion was a Roman form of execution, not a Jewish one. And it was a Roman form of execution usually used on political prisoners (remember what I said before about Jesus being a threat to Roman power?). There was a particularly Jewish form of execution…it was stoning. This wasn’t used on Jesus, but it was used on St Stephen according to Acts 7 by the Jewish leaders (and again, not the masses), for the crime of blasphemy.

So now that we’ve covered history, let’s talk about a little theology. According to standard Christian theology, and especially things that Jesus said himself, he had to be turned over to the Romans and executed…as a sacrifice for our sins, following the example of the bull sacrificed in the temple at Yom Kippur…and was intended to be the final sacrifice for all. Did you catch that…his death was necessary in order to atone for our sins, and then to be raised again. Necessary, I say. So with that in mind, who is there to “blame”? If none of the parties had played their part in the events leading up to his crucifixion…Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod…where would we be now a Christians?

So with that in mind, anti-Semitism as a form of “getting the Jews back for what they did to Jesus” makes absolutely no sense at all. And theologically, everything that happened had to happen as it did.

There’s so much more I could say, but I’ve already gone past 600 words. But suffice it to say that “Christian anti-Semitism” makes absolutely no sense, and is something that Jesus himself would not be happy about.

So, for Christ’s sake, lay off it already!