Is Life in Black and White or in Color? Is It Real or Just a Dream? What was Before and What is Beyond the Vanilla Sky?

At point does “real” become imaginary?  Or does “real” never become imaginary, but instead, is “real” sometimes unseen and not yet understood?

What initially begins as blue skies which we can literally see above us does eventually become the dark, black, mysterious outer space where we assume God and the angels are.  And maybe even aliens and time traveling holes in the universe. While the past simply begins at one second ago, which we all can verify quite easily, if we continue going back in time, we eventually find ourselves in stitched-together memories of high school and even childhood.  Keep going, and we were not even born yet.  Travel further back in time, and we would see Abraham Lincoln, whom we all agree was a real person.  Go still further back to the life of Jesus, whom some proclaim is the Son of God, some proclaim was simply a great teacher, and some proclaim was never actually a real person. Go back to the days of Abraham, the earthly father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Finally, we get to Adam and Eve and before that, the beginning of the Earth and the Universe.  But at what point in reverse time do you stop believing in reality?  At what point does it become hard to believe?

What started out as simple look around us ended up becoming one strange trip. It’s easy to recognize what exists right before us in our own time and space.  But very quickly as we extend the frame of perception, we have to admit we can not literally prove anything.  Faith is unavoidable, for every single person alive today and every single person who has died in the history of the world.

While I am definitely a self-proclaimed black and white kind of guy, as I love things to be simply laid out before me in a practical way I can follow and understand them, I am just as equally an abstract, neon colors kind of guy as well. I am a cross-breed.  I am a hybrid.  And I believe that life is as well.

We can not separate the mostly relatable first episode of the TV show LOST from its spiritual, heavenly series finale.  Our existence is both real and a dream.  It is both tangible and invisible.  It is both reality and a fairy tale.  Until we reach the limits of outer space, and until we travel completely back and forwards in time, life is something we can not truly begin to figure out or understand in the smallest degree.

Life is both black and white and color.  Life is both real and a dream.

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dad from day one: Influence and Individuality

Thirty-one weeks.

Parenting is one of the few institutions where brainwashing is not only allowed, and a given, but it’s also sort of the whole point.  Like a duo-dictatorship, two people (the parents) have so much influence over another human being (the child) on so many levels.  Freedom of religion?  Nope.  Freedom of speech?  Not so much.  The rules that matter are enforced by the parents and accordingly, the child learns his or her moral code and adopts his human culture largely from how the parents choose to raise him or her.

Will I be a strict parent?  “Strict” has such a negative connotation these days.  It evokes thoughts of having rules for the sake of having rules, yielding a teenage kid that is either so nerdy that he thinks getting to stay up until 11:00 at night to watch Battlestar Gallactica is an idea of a good time, or he’s so rebellious he gets a DUI and a huge tattoo by the time he graduates high school.  So I’d rather not use the word “strict”, but instead “consistent and practical”.  Like my parents were to me.

I have always been very close to my parents; I knew I could talk to them about anything and they would listen, without being judgmental or condescending, yet still guiding me in the right direction.  They gave me a little responsibility at a time, and when I proved I could handle it, they gave me more.  I never had a curfew, nor did I need one.  But had I responded differently to the responsibility I was given, I know for a fact the rules would have been stricter, as they would have needed to be.

I think it’s funny when I hear parents of young kids say, “Well my Brayden won’t eat what I cook him.  He only eats chicken nuggets and pizza, and he only drinks Coke from his sippy cup.”  I smile and laugh with them, shaking my head like I know how it is, when really I’m thinking, “It’s not up to your kid!  It’s up to YOU!  YOU’RE the parent!”

Just like I’ve heard other parents say, “I’m not going to force any religious beliefs on my kids.  They need to figure out what they believe on their own.”  (Which is always a clear indication that parent has no solid religious beliefs, otherwise they would pass them on to their children.) It will not be the case for my kid.  He will know who Noah and Abraham and Moses and Jesus and Peter and the Apostle Paul are.  He will know the importance and relevance of John 3:16.  Just like my dad read to me from my kid’s Bible every night, so will I do for my son.

And when he grows up, I will have influenced who he is.  Yet still, he will have his own personality and make his own decisions.  Truly though, that’s how it was for all of us.  Even if one or both of our parents were out of the picture, they still influenced us- negatively or positively.  So I am choosing to make a conscious, solid, positive influence in his life.  And I will be very deliberate in doing so.

Here’s what The Bump says about Baby Jack this week:

Baby’s energy is surging, thanks to the formation of white fat deposits beneath the skin. (Have those kicks and jabs to the ribs tipped you off yet?) Baby is also settling into sleep and waking cycles, though — as you’ve also probably noticed — they don’t necessarily coincide with your own. Also this month, all five senses are finally functional, and the brain and nervous system are going through major developments.

http://pregnant.thebump.com/pregnancy/pregnancy-tools/slideshow/how-big-is-baby.aspx?page=21

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com


How Race and Religion are Connected and Why Isaac and Ishmael are behind It All

This is me in a video I made for you, which explains all this in a 5 and a half minute video, in case you prefer that over reading the 1378 word blog post below it, which I wrote 7 years ago.

Meet your great-grandfather Isaac.  Or Ishmael.  Or maybe even both…

How do you determine who ethnically is a “white person” and who is not?  Are Jews considered to be white?  What about Greeks and Italians?  And though Central and South Americans typically have tan skin, why is it there something about them still seems sort of white, as opposed to a person from India or China? These are some of the “side effect” questions that will be answered as I explain my theory on the origin of race and religion.

No, this theory doesn’t start with Adam and Eve.  Nor does it start with Noah and his family repopulating the world after the Great Flood.  It starts 20 generations after Adam, and 10 generations after Noah, with Abraham (the father of the Jewish and the Arab people), being promised by God that he would have a son in his old age.  After waiting and having no sign of this coming true, Abraham’s wife Sarah convinced him to sleep with their Egyptian maidservant Hagar, in order to have a son to carry on the family lineage.  At age 86, Abraham goes with his wife’s plan (like the way Adam ate the fruit after Eve convinced him to) and has a son with his maidservant- the son is named Ishmael.  However, 13 years later Abraham’s wife Sarah gets pregnant with a son, as God promised, and this son is named Isaac.

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Abraham eventually sends away his maidservant Hagar and his son Ishmael into the wilderness (Genesis 21:14), and raises Isaac his as true first-born son.  Today, thousands of years later, it is through Ishmael that Arabs and Muslims link their heritage through.  Accordingly, Jews and Christians trace through heritage back to Isaac.  Now we are in the meat of my theory.

As generations passed and both families migrated from their Middle Eastern homelands, the descendants of Ishmael moved south and east- to Africa, Asia, and America (becoming the Native American Indians in North America and the Aztec Indians in Central and South America).  In fact, the angel of the Lord told Hagar that Ishmael “will live east of all his brothers” (Genesis 16:12).  Meanwhile the descendants of Isaac moved north and west- to Europe, Russia, and eventually to America (killing off, running off, or marrying the Native American Indians).

Notice how today the countries that are represented by the descendants of Ishmael are generally practice religions that do not involve the Judeo-Christian God (worshipped by Christians, Catholics, and Jews) but instead are tied Hinduism, Animism, Taoism, Buddhism, Communism (Atheism) and Islam.  And of course the descendants of Isaac are matched to the Christianized nations: For example, Scotland is mainly Protestant, Ireland is mainly Catholic, and England is mainly Anglican (Presbyterian).

Almost 2,000 years ago thanks the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys to preach Christ where the Jews had already settled (in Europe, specifically the Mediterranean areas) and also the birth of Christianity as a whole, the countries that were already familiar with the Judeo-Christian God were basically the first to get introduced to Jesus as the Messiah.  As far as all the Ishmael-descended areas, like modern day Africa and Asia that were less familiar or not familiar at all with Christianity, they were not and have not typically been as generally open and accepting to “our God” as Isaac’s descendants.

The Ishmaelese Middle East

Ishmaelese Africa

Ishmaelese Asia

I do believe that whether or not a nation (or individual person) is a descendent of Isaac has much to do with their religion, race, and culture.  However, there are obviously exceptions.  One of them is Russia, which had been mainly Christian up until the point of its embrace of Communism.  Another exception is African-Americans, whom most identify with Christianity, as opposed to most Africans living in Africa.

And then there’s the “half breed” nations that make up Central and South America.  For the most part, their blood is mixed of Indigenous Americans (Native American, Aztec, etc.) who migrated from Asia through modern day Alaska, and European lineage from those who “discovered” America.  So in essence, the inhabitants of modern day Central and South America are half Isaackian, half-Ishmaelese; though they have accepted the religious beliefs of Isaac’s descendants (largely Catholic).  Read more about this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_peoples_of_the_Americas

Yes, I did just now make up and use the words Isaackian (to describe the descendants of Isaac who are prone to believe in the Judeo-Christian God) and Ishmaelese (to describe the descendants of Ishmael who typically do not).  And now that you hopefully understand what those terms represent, I will begin using them frequently.

What started much of this thought process was when I recently began “Climbing the Family Tree” and realized that so many of my ancestors had last names that are Jewish (Schell, Klaar, Ullman, Wiseman, Vite) yet there is no solid proof that I actually am- only family rumors and tradition.  If I assume that none of the people in my family tree were Jewish, well, still, I have Jewish names in my family tree.  So that got me thinking, Jewish people and “white people” are essentially the same thing, coming from the same common ancestors.  Whereas someone who is Japanese (Ishmaelese) wouldn’t have last names in their family tree that would resemble a Jewish last name.

So going back to one of the questions I asked in the beginning, are Jewish people considered to be white?  Yes.  Though their homeland is Israel and though they are a Middle Eastern people group, they blend in with us Americans so well.  And that’s part of my fascination with pointing out which celebrities are Jewish.  Half the casts of Friends and Seinfeld are Jewish (The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast of Friends and Seinfeld) as well as The Wonder Years (The Ethnicity of the Cast of The Wonder Years), but the fact that most of us don’t know which ones are or aren’t shows that despite most of us being a mix of European blood, those Middle Eastern descended Jews are still our cousins.

Of course ultimately, it doesn’t matter which of us descended from Isaac or Ishmael or how much blood we have of either (I’m around 12.5% Ishmaelese); it just predicts the tone of our skin and our traditional religion, according to my theory.  By no means do I see the Isaackians as superior to Ishmaelese for the fact that I myself worship the Judeo-Christian God.  But what I do recognize is what God himself proclaimed to Abraham regarding Isaac and Ishmael:

But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac, and I will establish my everlasting covenant for his descendants after him,” (Genesis 17:19).

“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I will bless him, and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly.  He shall become the father of 12 princes, and I will make him a great nation,” (Genesis 17:20).

What’s most important from those verses I just quoted is that God promised to establish his covenant through the line of Isaac.  In other words, the savior of the world would come in the form of a Jew.  Not to mention that the Isaackians coincidently would hold the responsibility of sharing their God with the Ismaelese- that’s why Christian missionaries exist.  That’s why Christianity is now the largest religion of the Ishmaelese country of South Korea, for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Korea#Religion

We all have the same great-grandparents at the tops of our family trees.  I try to imagine how different the world would be if Abraham wouldn’t have had a son with Hagar, if he just would have waited another 13 years for his own wife to become pregnant.  But he jumped the gun and changed the course of history (for him, it was the future) forever.  Though if he didn’t, I wouldn’t exist, being that my grandmother is Mexican.  Not only would I have not written this and you wouldn’t have read it, but there wouldn’t have been any of this to write about.

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Easy Like Sunday Morning: Christianity in a Nut Shell

Ah, the good ole days of flannel boards and McGee & Me.

Flannel boards will always remain in the warmest parts of my heart and childhood memories.  Nothing brought those Biblical accounts to life more than a cloth cut-out of a generic bearded Jewish man who could play the part of Moses parting the Red Sea, then less than a minute later he could be Abraham ready to sacrifice his son Isaac, or even Noah gathering all the animals on the ark.

And when the teacher was lazy or absent, we got to watch one of thirteen McGee and Me tapes, featuring Nick Martin and his crazy cartoon sidekick.  Lesson learned- you CAN beat the bully in a skateboarding contest, if even he cheats.  Also, if you sneak out to see a scary 3-D movie with your best buddy Lewis, you’re parents are going to find out and ground you.  And of course, it’s never a good idea to try to impress your friends by telling them that your Native American Indian neighbor eats rabbits.  Because he just needs a friend.

But eventually, my faith had to be able to grow beyond the entertaining and miraculous stories I heard each Sunday morning.

I admit.  It’s not easy anymore for another human being to “challenge me” in my thinking, regarding my faith.  I can spit out a hundred cliché Sunday School answers whenever I’m asked anything Christian related.  Because for those of us who “grew up in church”, we do know all the answers.

At least all the answers for the questions we are tiredly asked again and again by Christian leaders in a church setting.  You just can’t go wrong with “God”, “Jesus”, “the Holy Spirit”, “Heaven”, “good”, “bad”, “Satan”, “hell”, “pray and read the Bible”, “invite them to church”, or “tell them about Jesus”.

Typically, I don’t spend money or time on Christian marketed items.  Books that generically tell me I need to stop being “downtrodden by the world” and “stand on God’s promises” to “expand my territory”.  T-shirts that illegally parody business logos and make them “cute” by throwing in the name of Jesus.  A sticker to put on the back window of my car that arrogantly boasts “straight pride”, picks fights with atheists and Pro-Choicers, or announces that God is Republican.

Besides, I think most Christians know by now that God has switched His allegiance from the Republican Party to Ron Paul.

Just kidding.  Sort of.

But thank God, in the past two years, I have been challenged in my thinking, regarding my faith, more so than any other time in my life.

How?  1) I got married.  2) My small group from church read a book called The Hole in the Gospel.  3) I was asked an allegorical question about a bicycle.

Getting married to a faithful Christian has helped me to mature not just because of her confidence when mine is sagging, but also because marriage shows me how selfish I can be with my time and space.  Two years later, I’m much more easy-going about stuff that only mattered in The World of Me.

The Hole in Our Gospel is the book that my Wednesday night small group (Bible Study) decided to read.  Seriously, it is the most life-changing book I’ve ever read.  The Bible is the most influential.  But the Hole in Our Gospel has actually helped me to personally identify what the Bible and my purpose in my life are all about.

For me, my faith had always come down Ephesians 2:8-9 in the Bible: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one may boast.

That Bible passage has everything a Baptist likes to hear, regarding one’s spiritual wellbeing: “grace”, “faith”, and “gift of God”.

It doesn’t say anything about helping other people, doing good works, or giving away our time, money, and energy.  Because as long as we splice in “Jesus loves you, died for you, rose from the grave, and will give you eternal life in Heaven if you say this three sentence prayer…”, then we are fulfilling our duty as a good Christian.  Get people to say a prayer and go to church.  Get them to stop cussing, drinking, and smoking- because that improvement shows their “spiritual fruits”.

As a Baptist, I had always been leery of the phrase “works”.  Because it had been engrained in my brain fibers that God’s salvation couldn’t be “earned”.  I understood from the book of James (2:20) that “works” were necessary to prove that my faith to be sincere.

The problem is that I, along with many Protestants just like me, naturally had been led to believe that “good works” means “good behavior”; and “good behavior” is a list of things Christians don’t do- including watching R-rated movies (unless they’re war-based: What Movie Rating Does Real Life Get?) and drinking anything with alcohol (both vanilla extract and Nyquil are approved, fortunately- and though participants should keep it on the down low, drinking wine is permitted for special private events like wedding anniversaries: Water into Wine).

But what really opened up my mind was reading (and eventually memorizing) the verse that directly followed my convenient “faith is all you need” Bible passage.  The next verse, verse 10, says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared behforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Created for good works?  Not good behavior?  It’s a lot more serious if I truly take the words of Christ seriously when in the Gospel of John (13:34), Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

And finally, it hit me: Oh, Jesus actually cares about people starving in poor countries, despite their “wrong religious beliefs” and “stupid civil wars” and “corrupt governments”.

As hard as it was for me to process, God cares just as much that I as a Christian do my part to physically help those people as He wants me to in some direct or indirect way (supporting missionaries) learn about Jesus.

That financially helping these random, dying, desperate people across the world actually equates in God’s eyes as me loving them as He loves me.

With that being said, I no longer believe that a person goes to Heaven just because they said “the sinner’s prayer” when they were at a Vacation Bible School when they were in the 5th grade.  I believe, like Jesus’ half-brother James wrote in his book (2:20) that faith without works is dead.

And works means that I help people who are less fortunate (even if they themselves in deed got themselves in that situation), because that shows them God’s love, and I don’t necessary have to preach to them as I’m doing it.  I just need to start by helping them.

True, no one can earn God’s love or salvation.  Nor does believing in Jesus mean a person doesn’t go to hell.  Jesus himself said in the Gospel of Matthew (7:21): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.”

So what is the will of God for us?  What does He want us to do besides obey His law, read the Bible, pray, and tell others about Jesus?  (All of which are “Sunday School answers” I referred to earlier.)

For a start, my wife and I knew it meant sponsoring a child named Gueslin in South America.  So now we have this postcard hanging on our fridge with a picture of a sad-looking 5 year-old boy who I wish I could take care of myself.  We send him money every month and pray for him and his family as we think about him.

We know that raising our own child (due in November) in our faith is what God wants.  We know that helping anyone in need is what He wants.  And we know that we can’t always wait for those opportunities to come to us.  I’m working on making it a new obsession: Finding ways to help people.  Because God likes that.

So where does the bicycle come into the picture?  A few months ago someone showed me a Xeroxed copy of a bicycle and asked me: “Which tire is faith and which tire is works?

The back tire is associated with the power while the front is associated with balance and steering.  Both are very important and necessary.  But if a bicycle would only work if one tire was faith and the other was works, which tire should be the front and which should be the back?

I was actually asked this in a group of people.  Half of us believed one way.  The rest, the other way.

My answer: The back tire is works, the front tire is faith.

Because if faith is dead with out works, so is a bike immobile with no one to actually pedal the thing.  The front tire only moves because the back one does.

And basically, if I’m actually understanding what Jesus said, loving God means loving other people the way He loves me.

I can’t rely on reading the Bible and praying to move me anywhere in my faith.  That’s what steers me.  Instead, I actually have to move my feet.