dad from day one: A Baby’s Sixth Sense

Week 6.

It’s a sort of eery feeling getting up at 1:30 AM, 3:30 AM, and/or 5:30 AM every morning to feed and change Jack.  While it’s still dark and quiet, while I’m only “awake” enough to put the word in quotation marks, and while my memory barely records the routine actions taking place during the twilight, I’m sure I’m subconsciously looking for something out of the ordinary.  As I hold Jack in one arm and his bottle in the other, the dimly lit room casts a strange shadow on his face.  Sometimes when I look at him during this time I get a little creeped out.  In this situation he reminds me of a baby version of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz (played by the Jewish actor Bert Lahr); that movie and the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, though they are both wonderful classic movies, have always freaked me out a bit.  On a similar note, it also seems like I’m taking care of a little old man, with his receding hairstyle (Jack Nicholson style), his chubby cheeks, and his baby-version-of-cussing-somebody-out cries when he’s really hungry and his diaper is wet.

To make matters more theatrical, there are times when I am taking care of him during the middle of the night when it’s like he peeks around my shoulder and sees something and gets this calm yet curious look on his face. Does he see something?  A guardian angel?  Jesus?  Maybe the ghost of Bert Lahr?

I wouldn’t be surprised if babies can see into the spiritual realm.  It could make sense in a way; babies are completely innocent.  They are unaware of damning traps like pride and greed.  I could see how a baby is naturally closer to Heaven than we adults are.  Sometimes I envy the things my baby may be seeing.  But then again, it would be just another thing to spook me in the middle of the night. It seems every account I can immediately think of in the Bible where an angelic being spoke to a human, the angel always had to start the conversation out with “Do not be afraid…”  But Jack isn’t scared by whatever he is seeing around me that I am less aware; if he’s actually seeing anything supernatural at all.

Bert Lahr as The Cowardly Lion:

The Hipness of Jesus Christ: Why the God of Christianity is Cool in Modern Culture

Jesus is not my “homeboy”, but He is pretty cool.

It seems that while growing up in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, the name of Jesus wasn’t really common (or acceptable) in mainstream entertainment.  Maybe it’s the fact that we as a nation are more aware now of the infiltration of different religions such as Islam in recent years, so we’re becoming more outspoken about Jesus than we used to be.  Because if we still are indeed a “Christian nation”, it’s Jesus we would need to be down with.

I do believe that the name of Jesus will always be offensive in the sense that He is the main factor that separates Christians (Protestants, Catholics, Messianic Jews, etc.) from other religions, including Judaism, as well as distinguishing those who simply “believe in God or a higher power” (theists).  However, I believe we are at a point in history and culture where “Jesus awareness” is at an all time high.

From Carrie Underwood’s 2005 number one hit, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, to Kanye West’s 2004 hit “Jesus Walks”, which only peaked at #11, but saw great commercial and critical success, to Mel Gibson’s (yes, he has gone crazy since then) 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, which become the 8th highest grossing movie of all time (at the time), the highest grossing R-rated movie ever, and the highest grossing non-English movie ever, America continues to prove that even in our desired choices of entertainment, Jesus is in demand.

Whether or not the average American truly believes and trusts that Jesus is the Son of God, it’s safe to say that the average American has at least a basic understanding that Jesus was put to death on a cross to redeem the sins of mankind, past and present.  And that He came back to life three days later.  And that during his lifetime, He performed all kinds of miracles, like walking on water, healing blind men, speaking dead people into existence, and feeding thousands of people from just a couple fish and loaves of bread.  Whether or not the average American believes all this to literally be true, they at least are familiar with these basic concepts.

Even if to the average skeptic, Jesus is nothing more than a respectable movie character played by forgettable non-Jewish actors with blue eyes, this black sheep of the Jews ultimately puts us all in a position to whether we have to either recognize Him as the savior of mankind, or dismiss Him as either a good intention or completely irrelevant to life.  Either Jesus is who He said He is (God), or He’s not.  Either we associate Him with the meaning of life and the afterlife, or we don’t.  And especially in modern America, we have so been made aware of who He is at this point; it’s just a matter of what we do with that knowledge.

I’ve thought about it, and honestly, even apart from the fact I truly believe Christianity is the answer to all our “meaning of life questions”, and that out of all the religions, it’s Christianity that is the “right one” for me (because let’s face it, out of all the religions in the world, only one can be right in the end when we die, so it’s important to pick one and stick with it while we’re still alive), apart from all that, even if I wasn’t a Christian, I still would vote Jesus as the “coolest god”.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (not a man) and a virgin.  Right off, that’s so scientifically impossible.  So I like it.  He never sinned; which is spiritually impossible.  I like that too.  His first miracle was turning water into wine at a really nice wedding. Cool.  He instantly stopped a really bad storm out at sea by saying, “peace, be still”.  The fact that Jesus went against the rules of nature is a major selling point for me.

Jesus came in the form of a Jewish man, who pretty much was a hippie type, who rebelled against the established religious culture of His day, challenging them to show their love for God to be authentic by taking care of the poor, the widowed, the unloved, and the sinners.

And based on the unproportionally high number of popular American Jewish actors and writers who we make rich in the name of entertainment, and based on the fact that just as many Jews who actually live in Israel who live in America (both Israel and America each contain about 40% of the world’s Jewish population), I’d say we Americans are known for embracing the Jews, whereas so many nations throughout history have rejected (understatement) them instead.

According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth to set up His millennial kingdom, in which all of us who believed in Him get to be a part of.  The way I see it, Jesus is not only the real deal; He just happens to be pretty cool too. But at the end of the day (and our lives), we will have made it clear through our words and actions just how relevant Jesus is to us personally.  And no matter how hip or popular (or uncool or unpopular) He may seem, we still choose in this life how important He is to us, for eternity.

“1985 I missed a plane, which then disappeared, never seen again.  You came to me Jesus, stood right in my way. You flew down from Heaven to save me again. Hallelujah, hallelujah.” -excerpt from “Stay with Me, Jesus” by Guster


Unnecessary Bonus…

Classic Books that Americans Love which were Written by Jewish Authors:




Blue Skies Eventually Become Outer Space: From the Real World to the Heavenly Spiritual Realm

“Is there a God?  Why is He waiting? Don’t you think of it odd when He knows my address?  And look at the stars- don’t they remind you of just how feeble we are? Well it used to, I guess.” –John Mayer, “New Deep”

Though it may be difficult to grasp, neither the Wild West (in the past) nor Outer Space (in the future) in fictional entertainment have ever really interested me.  In fact, they have actually turned me off from certain franchises.  Back to the Future, Part III was a Wild Western, as was American Tail: Fievel Goes West.  And though it was before my time and marketed to the opposite gender, before being cancelled, the Saturday morning cartoon Josie and the Pussycats went to Outer Space for their final season.  Going into the Wild West or Outer Space both come across as “jump the shark” moments to me.  (Star Wars is an exception because it happened a long, long time ago, which is weird to think about.)

Here in the year 2010, the Wild West has been replaced as modern-day Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Dallas have more trouble with violent gangs than they do misbehaving cowboys or Indians.  However, no matter what year we survive to, there is still an unseen future- and an unexplored Outer Space will always be something we remain fascinated by.  Even if we can shake off the possibility of other life forms out there (see Do Aliens Really Exist?), the scientific fact remains that there is no end to the Universe.  Space never stops; it literally can’t.  The ultimate great wide open.

A cliché idea is that when you look up at the stars you realize just how small you really are.  It’s true.  Even right now if I look up at the sky, I think how if only I could see far enough, I would see Outer Space.  And part of the whole “you realize how small you really are” doesn’t just account for physical size, but also for our spiritual relation to this Universe.

I am not convinced that Heaven is millions of light years away from us, way out there past Outer Space, like I have always unquestionably assumed.  God doesn’t fear that we humans will become so smart and efficient with our space travel programs that we will physically be able to fly to Heaven and therefore force our way in, despite our spiritual condition and relationship with Him.

For all I know, Heaven is actually so physically close we could throw a rock to it.  But our inability to see the spiritual realm prevents us from seeing it now.  Even when it somehow becomes easy to forget the relevance of God and eternity and how everything really is spiritual, Heaven isn’t that far away.  We definitely don’t have to travel past the blue skies into Outer Space to find the place.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on outer space, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

Finding Favor is Better than Being Lucky

Luck vs. destiny.

Here in Nashville, a phrase that pretty much instantly started annoying me the first time I heard it was “networking”.  “It’s all about networking”, say the people who claim to know how struggling musicians become stars.  And they’re right.  It’s all about who you know.  Of course talent and experience have something to do with it too. 

But it’s one thing to know the right people, and another to find favor with them.  To stand out and to be special in their eyes.  By doing a quick Google search of the phrase “found favor Bible”, it becomes pretty apparent that finding favor with the right person, or with God, dramatically altered a person’s life throughout Jewish and Christian history:

Joseph found favor with Potiphar.  Esther found favor with King Ahasuerus.  Daniel found favor with the Babylonian king.  Noah, David, and Mary found favor with God.  In all of these people’s lives, their careers as well as their social and spiritual roles would never the same (in a good way) after finding favor.

Therefore, a staple request in my daily prayers is to find favor with the right people(As well as for wisdom!)  While I do believe it’s important to pray specifically for my future life plans, I also am adamant on trusting God in all the unseen blessings, detours, and surprises that come packaged with them.  Because those unseen elements in life often carry the most weight, more so than the ones we plan or have any control over. 

Finding favor with people doesn’t necessarily mean being charming, suave, or slick.  I think back to a much underrated movie I admit I really like, despite the fact it’s technically a “chick flick” and it seems no one else has ever seen it: Little Black Book, starring Brittany Murphy and Holly Hunter.  A certain quote from this movie really sticks out in my mind and conveniently ties in to the current subject matter: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” 

What others may see as luck, I choose to see as divinely ordained favor, where God appoints a person in our lives to grant a good opportunity.  That’s my version of luck. But of course, in all the Biblical cases where someone found favor with God or the right people, the favored person had already done their part to be qualified.  Noah was already a righteous man.  Mary was already a righteous woman.  Then God used them for great things. 

They may not have had the proper experience yet, but they had the right relationship with God and had paid their dues in the mundane stuff of life.  Then, it happened.  The Big Event began and they finally became active in the role they had prepared for their entire whole lives to fulfill.

Do Aliens Really Exist?

Or more importantly, could they even get here?  And could they survive our living conditions?

Being a kid in northern Alabama in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, I was convinced that at any moment aliens could be on the verge of flying over me as I rode my bike, especially as I was heading back to the house as the sun was beginning to set on a crisp, eerie October evening.

There was a hysteria/fascination with UFO sightings where I grew up, as more and more families were able to afford camcorders. In the back of many peoples’ minds was the hope of filming one of these banana-shaped alien spacecrafts made famous on the local news, courtesy of some good ole boys in a town called Fyffe, who kept submitting their shaky footage of either a light pole or a plane at night.

Evidently I seem like the kind of guy that would be knowledgeable on the subject- in the last year especially I have been randomly asked by so many people the dreamy question: “Do you think aliens exist?” Good question. I have a good answer.

I truly want to believe in aliens, but there are two major issues with humans ever making contact with them. The first is how they would get here. Planet Earth is light years away from any other solar system. (A light year is the distance light travels in a year. For an idea of how far that is, light can travel around the Earth 7 times in one second.) If aliens were able to create a device that enabled them to travel to all the way to Earth, it would have to work similar to a teleportation device. Because that’s the only way to feasibly move a living creature that far in so little time.

And even if aliens invented a teleportation device to get to other universes, the chances of them finding our planet are literally astronomical. The universe has no end. So if there really is life outside of our planet (other than spiritual) then we surely can’t assume it’s just us and them. Surely there would be thousands, if not millions, of other planets with intelligent life forms. Chances are, they would discover countless other universes before they ever found us.

The other problem is that they most likely couldn’t breathe our air or survive in our climate. For example, human life can not survive on any of the other planets in our solar system. We would either freeze or burn within the first day of being there. Plus there wouldn’t be enough, if any, oxygen to breathe. The aliens would have to be coming from a planet that was almost identical to Earth in terms of its life sustaining qualities.

Do aliens exist? If they did, they couldn’t get here. And if they could, why would they choose Earth out of all the universes? And if they did choose Earth, they would die within the first day from our natural environment. I have always held this hidden hope that ET really would come back to Earth. I’ve been waiting since 1982.

Sometimes life is disappointing. This is one of those times. The chances of humans ever meeting aliens on Earth are… (unavoidable pun) …out of this world.

“Hey Mr. Spaceman, won’t you please take me along for a ride?” -The Byrds (“Mr. Spaceman”)

Mixed Reviews

Being a movie critic would be a fun job, but it would be the epitome of the phrase “you can’t please everyone”. Reviewers of movies ultimately are bias to a certain degree. Professional critics base their judgments more on artistic values, along with production quality and script. Whereas when random Joe’s like me write up a review, it’s based more on the factors of likeability, “re-watchability”, characterization, and comedic elements.

And then there’s that intangible element of “offensiveness”, which transcends both my reviews and professional ones as well. A few months ago my friend Jake sent me a link to this article that referred to the concept of the “Christian disclaimer” that is commonly given by Christian movie reviewers. Here’s one I’ve heard several times: “The Wrestler is great movie, focusing on the depravity of man, loneliness, and not giving up on your dreams, but there is a lot of bad language and his girlfriend is a stripper so there are some scenes you may need to close your eyes and cover your ears.” What it comes down to is the ability to separate the counter-Christian content from what makes a good movie. And for many people, understandably, that’s not easy.
http://stufffchristianslike.blogspot.com/2009/05/543-throwing-out-disclaimers-before-you.html

In recent years I’ve had several people half-jokingly tell me that I only like movies with a lot of swearing and nudity. I do admit that R-rated movies typically have more depth to them and speak to me more than the typical PG-13 movie. Among my personal favorites are Trains, Planes, and Automobiles, Garden State, I Love You, Man (obviously), Fight Club, Vanilla Sky, Lost in Translation, and Pineapple Express. All of which are rated R and most of which contain some nudity.

My ability to separate what many Christians find offensive in R-rated movies comes from my inability to blacklist PG and PG-13 entertainment that goes against my spiritual beliefs to the same or worse degree, as I would feel I would be using a double standard to judge entertainment based on the obvious offenses versus the subtle offenses. Most of my favorite sitcoms, like Friends, have a constant occurrence of casual sex. I strongly disapprove of the way the writers and actors make it seem normal, guiltless, and… well, casual. And I strongly disapprove of the phrase “oh my God” that is constantly used in dialogue.

Part of me actually thinks it’s worse to be exposed to a daily stream of the more family friendly sitcoms which subconsciously tell us these things are okay as we overlook the “smaller stuff”. Because they are more easily accessible, less offensive, and such a staple of everyday American culture. They’re not as blatant as an intentionally crude R-rated movie by Judd Apatow. But I see the real threats to our spiritual lives being the quiet, common subtleties, not the obvious threats that we are already distancing ourselves from.

rated R

The Similarities Between Science and Religion (SCIence + FaIth = Sci-Fi)

 

 

In a year of history when pretty much anyone who will ever join facebook is now on facebook, those seemingly out-of-touch souls living without it most likely see it a different way:  They don’t want to be found.  The facebook search proves empty.  But not everyone who is lost wants to be found.

And while some people never find what they are looking for, some simply aren’t trying to find anything.


I am not one of those people.  After thinking about it a lot, I’m convinced that even if I wasn’t raised in the Buckle of the Bible Belt, I would still end up where I am today in my spiritual beliefs.  I’m intrigued by this mysterious Middle Eastern religion based on an ancient book that explains the origin of the universe and ancient mankind.  That predicted the life of a man who would wreck the traditional religious laws as he died for his radical and offensive beliefs, then brought hope to his followers by strangely coming back to life after his body was mangled beyond human resemblance.

 

The way I view Christianity is similar to the concept of the show LOST.  It begins with normal people trying to adapt to living in a less than perfect land.  There are struggles for power, unseen dangers, continued plans for rescue and escape, and supernatural occurrences that can not be explained.  Time goes on and they begin to realize their dwelling place has a history which is cursed from whatever it was that happened in the past, mysteriously involving ties back to Egypt.  The more they look, the more they find.  What began as a drama and action show in the first season evolved into a sci-fi show as seasons went on, losing many of its original viewers by the time the ancient Jacob was finally revealed last season.


While many people do enjoy sci-fi, many do not.  It either repels or attracts a person.  Sci-fi is abstract.  It’s imaginary until proven literal.  This train of thought led to the realization:  Christianity is about as sci-fi as it gets.


The following paragraph is how Wikipedia defines science fiction:  “A genre of fiction. It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically-established or scientifically-postulated law of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”.  Science fiction is largely based on writing entertainingly and rationally about alternate possibilitiesin settings that are contrary to known reality.”

 

Again, as I put it, imaginary until proven literal.  But my spiritual beliefs are not built on fiction, they are based on a book translated from the ancient Latin and Greek scrolls of Moses, Paul, and Co.


 

Christianity is comprised of so many sci-fi elements:  An alternative story of how the universe was formed, countless scientific miracles (Noah gathering all the animals on a giant boat for a year as the rest of the population is destroyed by a world-wide flood, Moses parting the Red Sea, the Seven Plagues of Egypt, Jesus’ birth, life, and resurrection, etc.), a realization that a person’s spiritual condition and relationship with their Creator affects both their current condition and their eternal one, a future life outside this universe.  Very bizarre.


It should be no surprise that “the Force” in Star Wars has been compared so much to elements of Christianity.  Sci-fi and religion are ultimately inseparable.


So why is Christianity so popular, not just in our country, but across the world?  With sci-fi being such a stumbling block for so many people, why are so many people okay with the fact that to an outsider the entire concept of Christianity can seem like a weird fairy tale?


The major element that sets Christianity apart from all other major religions is the fact that God actually loves people and wants a daily, personal, eternal relationship with him.  I’ve studied all major religions and the rest seem to feature a distant god that a person can only hope to be in good standing with by following a list of do’s and don’ts, void of love, mercy, and grace.  I simply need an involved God who loves me and has a plan for my life.


It has been said that religion is for the weak.  Yes, that’s the whole point.  I am weak and can’t save myself.  That’s sort of the whole idea behind serving God.  Humility was a major part of who Jesus was when he lived on Earth.  That’s the example to follow.


But interestingly, it’s not just Christianity that is laced in sci-fi.  All religions are.  Even for those who are truly atheists and believe that when a person dies, that’s simply the end and there’s nothing else, they still have to address the fact that the universe had to come in to existence somehow and miraculously support intelligent life.  To answer that question, it takes faith in a sci-fi concept that no living person was around to see happen.


One of the major religions of the world that tends to slip under the radar is what I call “Good Personism”, which is completely different from Christianity.  Based on the spiritual outline drawn in entertainment media such as Disney’s baseball movie Angels in the Outfield, if a person is good, they become an angelic being when they die and go to Heaven.  If a person is really bad (mass murderers, rapists, people who slaughter seals and whales, etc.), they become a demonic creature and go to an unmentionable hell.

 

The reason this religious concept is so popular is because it’s one of the most non-offensive religions, while appearing to resemble whatever the popular religion of that culture is.  Here’s how.  The creed of followers of this faith is the following:  “I’m a good person.  At least I’m not as bad as (enter the name of a known felon or war tyrant).”  The problem though is that creed itself shows an acknowledgement that morality should be confronted by a worthy judge.


This concept is non-offensive because it is quite vague about what exactly it takes to be bad enough to be cursed and how good a person has to be to be saved.  It groups all gods together so that as long as a person believes in some sort of higher power, at least, then that makes everything okay.  The origins of this faith are based on elements of Christianity, Buddhism, national tradition, and a general, innate understanding that mankind is corrupt.  In this religion, Jesus is simply a “good teacher and a good man”.  (Even though a good teacher and a good man wouldn’t base his teachings on lies, claiming to be the only way to God if he wasn’t.)


What if the physical, tangible life we see around us was all there really was?  And we didn’t have to think about bigger things outside of that?  But then someone we know dies.  And it crosses our minds for at least a few minutes that there has to be something more.  That leads to faith in something.  Even if it involves a person unknowingly converting to Good Personism.


 “From emptiness to everything, everyone believes.”  -John Mayer (“Belief”)

locke