A New Post … And Email!

I just put the linked post up at my website, lightsinthedarkness.net. Please go check it out!

http://lightsinthedarkness.net/?p=1387

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Too Much

too-much-mailI remember several years ago having a talk with my supervisor at the time about mail. Specifically, we were talking about the sheer volume of mail he received every day, and he said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget: “We get so much stuff, I just get overwhelmed with it. I’m sure there have been good things that I’ve thrown away, but it’s just too much to keep up with.”

I’ve thought about those words often as the world keeps changing to bring us better and better access to nearly everything imaginable. There’s just simply too much stuff out there to take in. It flies at us from every direction every minute of every day. From our televisions, from our computers, from our cell phones, from our radios. We can’t even blame the professionals anymore. Suddenly, it seems everyone is capable of producing anything they put their minds to – albums, books, apps, podcasts, websites, movies, videos. You name it, we got it.

overloadIt’s just too much. Links to links to links to links to links. Independent music websites. Independent book publishers. YouTube. Hulu. Web series. Daily podcasts of programs that have already aired somewhere else. Spotify. Pandora. Online sites for newspapers and magazines you might have missed. Reviews of reviews of reviews. And the blogs. Blogs and blogs and blogs and blogs…

A lot of you reading this have been kind enough to follow this blog. I can’t thank you enough for that. Every follow notification I get is a tremendous encouragement to me, and lets me know I actually have something worthwhile to say. In all honesty, though, I’m not reading your blogs. I’ve looked at some of them, and they’re very nice, but there’s only so much information I can stuff into my tiny brain in one day.

So I’ve begun to cut some things out. For instance, if you post a video to your Facebook or Twitter feed that is “amazing,” “unbelievable,” “touching,” or “astounding,” I will more than likely not watch that video, since 99 percent of those videos I have watched are neither “amazing,” “unbelievable,” “touching,” or “astounding.” If an article is billed as “mind-blowing,” I’m skipping over it. If a video is “must-see,” it ain’t gettin’ watched by me. If an album doesn’t have at least one fast song on it, it will not be getting added to my collection. And so on and so forth…

I fully realize I could be missing some truly great stuff this way. Then again, I could be missing some truly great stuff by focusing on all these other things, too. Either way, I just can’t take it all in. And, in an odd way, having this many options has actually caused me to limit my horizons in some areas. Take music, for instance. With options like my iPod, Pandora, and Spotify, I can tailor the music I listen to into whatever categories I choose, which means I can basically not try anything new or out of the ordinary if I don’t want to.

I didn’t think this was a problem until I thought back one day to all the music I listened to in high school. Now, I’m more of a hard bobby brownrock/borderline metal kind of guy with bits of Americana mixed in, but back then I also thought Bobby Brown, LL Cool J, Young MC, and Enigma were pretty cool, too. And as poorly as some of that music has held up, it broadened my sense of rhythm and wordplay and electronic music. But I heard it all in the natural flow of life – radio, friends’ cars, sporting events. It was just there; it just happened.

It’s hard to believe I actually feel this way. I mean, a world of infinite possibilities should be awesome, right? I should be more knowledgeable than ever, able to snap off information in the blink of an eye. Instead, I read a really wonderful and insightful article the other day on the relationship between teenagers and social media, and now I can’t remember the name of the book it featured, the author of the book, or the website I saw the article on. Whatever I got from it is crammed into all the other bits of data I’m consuming nearly constantly.

So consider this my apology for missing out on all the wonderful work some of you may be doing. Maybe one day I’ll give you the attention you so richly deserve. In the meantime, I’ll just be over here sorting through the day’s mail and trying to decide what I should keep and what I should get rid of. The trash can is looking pretty full already…

 

Sick Of Ourselves

Well, it finally happened last week: I became a narcissist.

I’m not sure if it happened all at once or just gradually crept in over time. I’ve never thought of myself as a self-occupied kind of narcissismperson. As I sat at my keyboard last Monday night, though, I realized I was three-quarters of the way into a blog post that had no real reason to exist other than to get people to visit the site you’re on right now (Isn’t it ironic? Don’t ya think?).

I wanted to think I was just following up a post I thought was pretty good from the day before (which can be found here, wink, wink). You know, generating traffic, building readership, providing enlightenment for the masses, etc., etc. After struggling through a few paragraphs, though, it became clear to me I was uncovering another uncomfortable truth about myself…

I really, really want you to like me.

When I first hopped on the Facebook bandwagon a few years ago, I was racking up “friends” like you wouldn’t believe. I mean, if you and I had even exchanged glances at the local Walmart, you were getting a request to add me. Even before the days of social media, though, I craved the praise of others. The internet has just sped up my journey toward being completely self-absorbed.

I’m making some of these statements tongue-in-cheek, but there is an element of truth to them as well. I’ve noticed lately I’ve been keeping a closer eye on my “likes” and checking in on the WordPress dashboard every morning to see how tall those little blue bars are. I still don’t get Twitter, but I always get a good feeling when someone acknowledges one of my tweets somehow. Sometimes it’s as if I’m building my own little cult of personality … and that is not a good thing.

I’ve noticed something else lately, too: Many of my social media friends seem to be posting less and less these days. They’re not talking so much about how they went to the grocery store or taking so many pictures of the food they’re eating or shouting as much about political matters. This kind of made me sad for a while, but then it hit me that maybe they all were starting to feel the same way I did Monday night. Maybe we were all getting tired of talking about ourselves.

So my lesson learned here is there is a fine line between self-promotion and just blatantly grabbing for attention. I dislike the idea of this space becoming my barometer for how popular I am or how well I write. I want to contribute something or help someone or make people think about things in a different way. That might sound too lofty for a little ol’ blog on the internet, but it’s the truth. Positive affirmation is great, but it doesn’t need to be the sole goal.

If you’d like to comment on any of this, though, I’m sure I’ll be checking WordPress every few minutes or so today to see how many views this post has gotten. At least I’ll be able to respond to you fairly quickly…

Crosses To Die On

For the second straight year, I barely watched any of the Super Bowl. I’ve just basically decided to stop even pretending I’m a football fan. A good game might draw me in, but a 35-point blowout like the one put on display last night definitely will not. Thankfully, though, social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook now keep on providing game-related entertainment long after any interesting aspects of the game have died, so I turned most of my attention there as the Seahawks continued to pound Peyton Manning’s big-game legacy into dust.

Bruno MarsSometimes when posts and tweets are flying by at a million miles an hour, you have to dig kind of deep to find an interesting angle. Halftime shows are always good for at least a couple of good lines, and last night was no exception. I guess Bruno Mars put on a good show; I didn’t watch that part either. Apparently a lot of other people did, though, including Christian music artists Bart Millard of MercyMe and Chris Tomlin. I only know that because they both posted on Facebook about it … and that’s where all the fun began.

Both Millard and Tomlin made complimentary posts about Mars’ (Or is it Mars’s? Whatever…) performance. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except Millard and Tomlin have both carved out careers singing about fairly virtuous subject matter, and Mars had just finished singing a song about someone’s sex taking him to paradise. Obviously, the comments sections on both of their posts went nuts, which highlights both the cool thing and the ridiculous thing about social media giving fans the opportunity to interact with artists.

I noticed that by today, Tomlin had removed his post, but Millard decided to come out swinging. I don’t know exactly what irked him, but he apparently felt that folks were being a little religious and judgmental in their assessments of his earlier comments. So instead of removing the earlier post, he took folks to task on the MercyMe Music Facebook page with a response that included the following:

“I’m a huge fan of music regardless whether Bruno misuses it or not. I’m a huge fan of sex, so is my wife…so is God by the way, regardless if the world abuses it. I’m also a fan of the word of God REGARDLESS if some of you people twist it to make a point. In other words, I’m no longer living my life based on what people say or think about me.”

The choice of what music to listen to has got to be one of the finest lines to walk for an American Christian. I can count at least three times I’ve cleaned out my “secular” library, only to gradually build it right back up again. I don’t let my kids listen to a lot of stuff, but a quick run-through of my iPod will find all kinds of heinous stuff, from profanity to, well, Bruno Mars. I do believe it’s important to not fill our minds with a bunch of lyrical junk, but the good stuff can just be so boring and dull musically that I eventually start looking elsewhere.

So do I blame Millard for grooving to a little Peter Gene Hernandez between halves of the big game? No, not really. What I do have a problem with is when people don’t know when to stop running their mouths. For instance, one person’s comment to Millard’s post today mentioned how family-friendly Mars’ performance was. I’m not sure what kind of family they have, but I don’t really want my kids listening to a song about sex taking someone to paradise. And, sorry, Bart, I’m pretty sure he’s not singing about a husband and wife.

It’s difficult to defend someone who earns their living preaching purity lashing out at fellow Christians the way Millard did today. mercyme-accident-august-8-2009That may seem like a harsh statement, but if you’re going to present yourself in a certain way, you’ve got to be prepared for backlash. Millard points out in his post that the scripture in James that refers to teachers being judged with greater strictness was actually directed at overly-religious people who liked to judge others for their behavior. I say it means if you place yourself in a leadership position, you need to be more careful with what you say and do.

Who’s wrong here? Well, we’re all wrong. I’m wrong for being a music hypocrite. Millard’s wrong because he doesn’t realize the responsibility of his position. Those commenters are wrong because they’re either operating under the assumption that anything goes or they’re getting ready to burn all their MercyMe CDs because of some words on the internet. We all just look dumb. I think we all just need to shut up.

This will probably not be a very popular post, but I’m okay with that. If we don’t figure out we can’t just shoot our mouths off about every little thing, we’re going to run into some serious trouble. Millard said we all need to “find a bigger cross to die on.” I’d rather mine not have anything to do with the Super Bowl.

To Duck It Or Not To Duck It

A week before Christmas last year, my wife, my 2-month-old daughter, and I found ourselves in a hospital room in Murray, Kentucky. My daughter had been hospitalized with pneumonia, and, needless to say, our circumstances had cast a pallor over the holiday season. Since there’s not much else to do in a hospital room, we watched quite a bit of television. With options running thin one night, we decided to see what all the fuss was about this Duck Dynasty show.

I know part of this could be attributed to feeling the need to laugh at anything just to take our minds off the situation, but my wifeZummo2 and I nearly had tears rolling down our cheeks by the end of the episode. I can’t remember all the particulars, but a major component of that night’s show had to do with family patriarch Phil Robertson buying an ice cream truck to sell his wife’s boudain out of. (By the way, I’m still not real sure what boudain is. I’ve seen it at Walmart, though, and it’s sort of scary looking.) I remember posting to Facebook that the show might be “the greatest thing ever on television.”

We don’t have cable television at home, and that particular episode is the only one I’ve ever watched all the way through. I cringe every time I walk by a rack of Duck Dynasty T-shirts or books or plush toys or beef jerky or whatever else someone slapped its name on. It still irks me that people call it a “reality show,” since it’s obviously scripted. Still, I have fond feelings for Duck Dynasty because of that one moment of relief it gave me last December, so I tend to give its secondary annoying aspects a pass.

Duck Dynasty Season 3It’s because of those feelings I feel like I should be writing about the controversy Phil Robertson suddenly found himself embroiled in this week. Just in case you’ve been living in a cave in the Himalayas somewhere, A&E – the network Duck Dynasty is broadcast on – suspended Robertson from the show “indefinitely” for comments he made in an interview with GQ magazine concerning homosexuality. (Quick question: What does it say about our society when a grimy dude like Robertson is being interviewed by GQ?)

To sum up quickly: Robertson is a Christian, and he believes homosexuality is a sin. He expressed this in the interview, even going so far as to paraphrase the apostle Paul’s well-known discourse on the subject from 1 Corinthians, and speculated on how acceptance of this sin could open the floodgates for others considered far worse by society, including bestiality. He also rather bluntly made some anatomical references to explain why men ought to prefer women sexually. The interview can be found in the January issue of GQ.

Of course, anyone who could string a sentence together and had an internet connection began blogging, posting, and tweeting all about the suspension as soon as it was announced. I think Facebook is up to about a billion “Support Phil Robertson” pages now, and it’s amazing how many people have suddenly become experts on the ins and outs of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. I’m not sure who’s benefiting more from all the attention – Robertson, GQ, A&E, news outlets, Duck Dynasty, or the internet in general.

On the one hand, I don’t feel like I need to give a crap about any of this. For one thing, I’m not so sure A&E overstepped its bounds by suspending Robertson. He is basically an employee of the network, and it seems to me they should have the right to terminate employees who they feel reflect poor on the company. Robertson also said back in July he didn’t think he’d do the program much longer, and I’m sure he’s not hurting for money right now. Plus, it’s a freakin’ television show, so it’s not like it’s affecting the world all that much anyway.

Then again, there are aspects of the suspension that trouble me. My main concern has to do with my own beliefs: I think what Robertson said was dead-on. He even cited the scripture he was basing his comments on, so, in essence, A&E told Robertson that not only was he wrong, but Paul was wrong as well. GLAAD released a statement condemning Robertson’s remarks and referenced “what true Christians believe,” attempting to set themselves up as an authority on the Bible. The suspension is also a clear endorsement of the “born this way” belief, which, despite what organizations like GLAAD will try to put forth as fact, has never been clearly scientifically proven.

So while I want to stay out of the fray and write this off as some silly entertainment story, I find it difficult to ignore the implications here. A man has, essentially, been fired for a religious belief I happen to share. None of this affects me right now, but might it affect me in the future? Is the fact that I’m even writing this creating the potential for problems for me down the road? Are there going to be repercussions for me one day if I express my beliefs the way Robertson did? Call me an alarmist, but these are questions I’ve thought of this week.

Duck Dynasty is just a television show. Phil Robertson is just a man. A&E is just a cable network. I’m just some guy with a blog. Take it all for what you will. Just don’t take it too lightly. This ain’t just a man driving around an ice cream truck full of boudain anymore.

13 For ’13

I used to be funny. No, really, I did. I used to write all kinds of amusing things, earning me a reputation as … um … that guy … who, uh, wrote … funny things (Okay, so maybe it wasn’t enough of a reputation to earn me a cool nickname…). It was cool. Well, I mean, I wasn’t cool, but it was nice to be able to claim some sort of talent people recognized me for.

As I got older, though, I somehow began to develop the notion that real writers didn’t waste their time on funny things. They wrote depressing literary fiction where con men steal fake limbs from unsuspecting women (“Good Country People,” by Flannery O’Connor. Look it up. Or, better yet, don’t look it up. It’s weird.) or sprawling analytical columns pondering politics and crime and economics or deep ponderings on philosophy or religion. Dave Barry may have won a Pulitzer and had a sitcom based on his life, but odds are you won’t ever hear him mentioned in the same sentence as names like Faulkner or Hemingway or even Grisham or Sparks.

As a result, I’ve found I’ve become sort of heavy-handed over the years. I realized that this week, after I had worked and worked and worked to no avail on a follow-up post to the one I did about Doug Phillips of Vision Forum Ministries. I may finish it yet, but for the moment I’m sort of tired of dealing with it. In my attempt to wring something profound out of myself, I discovered I wasn’t having any fun, and I already have to go through enough experiences every day that aren’t any fun. Maybe it’s time I switched gears.

Since I’m supposed to be doing a better job of being thankful for things anyway, I thought, “Why not try to come up with a list of things that made me happy this year?”. And since 13 For ’13 sounded like a spiffy title to me, I’ve compiled a list of 13 things that made me happy over the course of the past year. This is in no particular order, so let’s jump right in with…

13) The Winery Dogs

Despite my best efforts over the years to cast myself as a musical sophisticate by loading up my music collection with everything The+Winery+Dogsfrom Wilco to Stanley Clarke to Mumford & Sons to Johnny Cash, I always wind up coming back to hard rock and hair metal. When I was in high school, I listened to everything any self-respecting male would be ashamed to have in his possession today – Poison, Warrant, Slaughter, Winger… I even owned a Trixter album at one point, for Pete’s sake. This was also the time of my life I became acquainted with the bass playing of Billy Sheehan in Mr. Big, and I remain a huge fan of his to this day. When I heard he was making an album with former Dream Theatre drummer Mike Portnoy and guitar virtuoso Richie Kotzen, my ears perked up a little. When I heard their first collaboration as the Winery Dogs, I was hooked. Tremendous playing, sky-high singing, and surprisingly good songwriting taking me back to the glory days. My favorite album of the year.

12) Monroe Carrell, Jr., Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt

As a general rule, I hate hospitals. I hate the way they look, hate the way they smell, hate having to be in them. I’ve driven my wife nuts every time we’ve had a child because I always look for ways to sneak out of them. When we found out our then five-month-old daughter had a Ventricular Septal Defect (a fancy way of saying “hole in the heart”) back in April, though, I knew I was going to be spending much more time in hospitals this year than I wanted to. The Monroe Carrell, Jr., Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt told us the wrong day to show up for my daughter’s surgery, then proceeded to be the most awesome hospital I’ve ever dealt with. And an extra tip of the hat here to the Nashville Ronald McDonald House, which was a blessing not only to us but to others with children facing hospital stays.

11) The Basketball Jones/The Starters

The StartersI can sum up how I became a fan of these guys in two words: Dwight Howard. As he was busy turning the Los Angeles Lakers 2012-2013 season into an unmitigated disaster, ESPN decided to center every one of its basketball discussions on Howard and his poor fit with the team. One day, I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to go looking for a podcast to fill the void. Enter five goofy guys from Canada just hangin’ out and talkin’ hoops for about an hour every day. A little of the cavalier attitude that made The Basketball Jones so much fun has been lost now that the show has moved over to NBA TV as The Starters, but it’s still the best hoops podcast out there by far.

10) Marvel movies

Okay, so Iron Man 3 kind of sucked, but even a crappy Iron Man movie is still so much more fun than heavy-handed fare like Man of Steel (which I actually liked, even if the climactic battle sequence seemed to drag on for infinity). Thor: The Dark World brought the goods, and the trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier looks tremendous. If Marvel Studios can keep churning out Avengers-level fare, I’ll even be willing to overlook their questionable decision to make an Ant Man movie.

9) R. A. Dickey

So what if Dickey narrowly avoided a losing record and saw his ERA balloon to over 4.00 in his first year as a Toronto Blue Jay? HisphpThumb_generated_thumbnail autobiography – Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball – made its way into my hands this year and rocked my world. Sure, it was published in 2012, but Dickey’s story of personal hardship, moral and professional failure, and, ultimately, redemption is the type that will never grow old. If nothing else, Dickey’s book inspired me to work the words “owning it” into my everyday vocabulary.

8) Magazines, magazines, magazines

How deep did my love affair with magazines go in 2013? Far enough that I’ve fished a few out of the trash can at the post office near where I work. I may not read as many books as I’d like to over the course of a year, but I devour any magazine I can get my hands on. I’m especially a sucker for one-on-one, question-and-answer interviews. If anyone ever decides to publish a magazine of just those, I’ll be first in line to get a subscription. Heck, maybe I should start one myself.

7) Social media

That’s right, I said it: I’m a man, and I enjoy using social media. It’s taken me a long time to be able to admit that. A lot of men I know would consider Facebook or Twitter a waste of time. If you’re a writing-minded, extremely shy person like me, though, what better medium could there be to express thoughts and keep up with friends? Just don’t expect to find me on Pinterest. I might actually have to turn in my man card if I ever wound up there.

6) Glasses

Don’t get me wrong on this one: If I could afford LASIK eye surgery, I would go through with it in a heartbeat. I am not a fan of having to put on a pair of glasses every morning to see where I’m going. As I’m also not a fan, though, of attempting to insert small slivers of plastic into my eyes on a daily basis, glasses have suddenly become a more appealing option. I finally gave up on contacts last year in the midst of the spring allergy season, and I finally made peace with my spectacles this year. Transition lenses and everything. My eyes haven’t felt this good in years.

5) Rise of the Guardians

Article-Header-Rise-of-the-Guardians-ReviewTechnically, this movie came out last year. Also, technically, it lost a whole bunch of money for Dreamworks Animation. My family doesn’t do Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, so there wasn’t really a lot drawing me to the film when it was released on home video. As my children had seen, literally, every animated movie ever made except this one at one point this year, though, I decided to give it a shot. While they thought it was pretty good, it blew me away. Stunning action and animation combined with themes anyone could identify with. I’ve talked about it so much even my kids roll their eyes when I bring it up now. The blu ray may be going on my Christmas list anyway.

4) Mental illness

This might seem like an odd thing to be thankful for, but I think it’s already been established that I’m an odd type of guy. Being diagnosed with dysthymia was a blessing in disguise for me. I’ve learned a lot about being thankful, weighing my options, and learning how to own the decisions I make. I’ve been able to share on this blog some of my experiences, and that has opened the door to several discussions I never thought I’d be having. I still have my bad days, but at least now I know why I have those days. I’m just praying I can carry what I’ve learned this year with me through the rest of my life.

3) Smartphones

When my daughter was having her aforementioned surgery, I was still using a regular cell phone. Nothing wrong with that, but it seemed like every five minutes I was either having to call or text someone to give them a status report. Plus, there’s not a whole lot to do in hospital waiting rooms these days, so boredom was also an issue. My decision after that to try out a smartphone has been mostly a good one, although I think sometimes I’m getting a little too attached to it. There are times when I go all Gollum and get the thing out not because I really need it, but mainly because I just want to look at it. I expect to begin referring to it as “My Precious…” any day now.

2) Blogging

One day, I’m going to figure out a direction for this thing. One day, I might even learn to make some money doing it. Until then, I’m just going to keep throwing stuff out here and see who stops by to read it. I’m a writer. I may not be making my living doing it. I may not be doing it every day. But it’s who I am. And I can’t think of any better way at the moment to keep in practice. So, sorry, WordPress, I guess you’re stuck with me for a while.

And, last but not least…

1) God

God and I seem to be on better terms these days than we were for a while. I don’t seem to be angry with Him as much as I used to be. I guess when He spares your daughter from heart failure, your perspective lightens up a little. It goes beyond that, though. I don’t feel like He’s ready to drop the hammer on me whenever I get out of line (which is still, unfortunately, something that happens way more than I’d like it to). I’m seeing Him more and more in the bad times. I’m still a knucklehead, and I still get it wrong more times than I get it right, but I think maybe – just maybe – He was expecting that.

So, there it is. Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, everyone. What made you happy this year?