Friday, December 6, 2013

The Talk I'm Giving this Sunday (Wish me Luck)

In my church we don't have paid clergy, and every week two or three people are asked to speak in our main meeting.  I've been asked to speak this Sunday, and this is what I've prepared.  It seemed like it would be a pretty good blog post, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone.  Hope it all makes sense.

Good afternoon.  I can't tell you how grateful I am to have the opportunity to speak to you and to be standing with so many people who believe as I do. For today's talk I'll be pulling from three speeches that have greatly helped me find comfort and happiness in my life.  "Come, Join with Us" by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Lord, I Believe" by Jeffery R. Holland, and one that might never have been spoken from an LDS pulpit until now: "This is Water" by David Foster Wallace, a professor and novelist.

I'll actually start with paraphrasing a little story he told.

There are these two guys sitting in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness.  One is religious, the other's an Atheist, and they start arguing about the existence of God with a special intensity that comes after a certain level of inebriation.  Finally, the Atheist gets frustrated and says, "Look, man, it's not like I haven't tried the whole God, and prayer thing.  In fact, just a few weeks ago I was stuck in that terrible blizzard and I couldn't see a thing, so I dropped to my knees and cried out, 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost and alone in this blizzard and I'm going to die if you don't help me.'"  At this, the religious guy says, "Well, there you go, you must believe now, because here you are, alive."  The Atheist just scoffed, "No, man, God didn't save me.  There was a group of passing Eskimos who happened to be walking by and found me, and helped me get back to camp."

It's really easy for a big group of believers like us to laugh at this Atheist.  It seems obvious in our minds why the group of Eskimos happened upon the Atheist in the blizzard, but I'd like to discuss today the idea of belief, where it comes from, and posit to you the idea that the Atheist really isn't so much different than you or I.

Faith is described in Hebrews as, "...the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  So, faith is something that comes from things hoped for, not necessarily thing known.  But what is the substance Paul speaks of?

I think Alma lets us know when he lays out how to develop faith, " 27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge."

So, first we choose to believe, then we work as if what we believe is true, and see what comes of it.  The work is the substance.  The work is the evidence.  The work is faith.  Our acting on our beliefs is what faith is, but when I was told to "talk on whatever you want" (a decision the Bishopric may regret after hearing my talk) I didn't choose to talk about faith, I chose to talk about its predecessor:  belief.  Because I think understanding that principle has helped me come so much closer to God, closer to the church, and helped me understand those not of our faith.

The best way I know to illustrate this principle is by telling you a few vignettes of how I came to believe.

When I was young, I went to church every Sunday.  On one particular Sunday, when I was ten or so, my teacher gave a lesson on the atonement of Jesus Christ.  I don't remember what they said, or even who they were, but I remember thinking, "Jesus, who could have stopped it, chose to die for me."  Even talking about it today gives me a feeling like nothing else dose.  It's a rush of emotion, a shortness of breath, a gratitude.  I remember going home in tears and explaining what happened to my parents, who showed me some of their favorite hymns about the atonement, and shared with me that they had similar feelings.  It was my first remembered experience with believing.  I believed, that day, that Jesus chose to die for me.  It's a feeling I'v never gotten rid of.

When I was fourteen, or so, I felt something similar to one of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes:  
"I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go."  I was supposed to get a cavity filled, was in the waiting room, and felt I had nowhere else to turn.  So I begged God that I wouldn't have to get my cavity filled.  As it turns out, my name was supposed to be on the calendar, I mean, my mom set the appointment, but my name was not there, and they were packed.  I didn't get my cavity filled that day, or the next time we went in and I prayed.  The third time, I didn't pray, and got it filled.  I believed that God answered my prayer, not once, but twice.

In my teenage years, I won't say I 'fell away', but the whole God and Jesus thing just didn't appeal to me.  I still went to church and I never really stopped 'believing', but, let's just say the 'substance for my hope' wasn't very compelling.  At this time I also suffered some pretty serious depression.  I honestly thought no one loved, or cared about me.  It was at this time that I went to get my patriarchal blessing.  Patriarch Peay put his hands on my head and the first thing he told me was that God was aware of me and that He loved me.  I felt a warmth surround me.  An unseen pair of arms, and I sobbed in the Patriarch's living room.  In that moment, I believed in God.  It seemed obvious to me that He was there.  How else would the Patriarch know to say that, let alone how would I feel arms around me, but not see them?

I wish I could say I turned that belief into action, but if I did, I'd be lying.  I went through the rest of high school believing God existed, but not really acting on it, not until I turned 19 and finally started thinking seriously about going on a mission.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to go.  If I'm being honest, I didn't see a difference between our church and other Christian churches.  Why would we spend two years talking to Christians about our church?  Why would God want me to go?  So, I prayed about it. I mean, if God can get me out of dental work, He should be able to let me know if He wants me to go on a mission, right?  And there came a strong thought to my mind:  You know it's right to go.  So, go.  In my opinion, a thought that never would have come to my mind.  So, I went, and I found out why our church is different.

I have lots of stories like this, but, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to tell you about just one more.  A couple of years ago my incredible wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.  I was a father.  And, as I held our baby in my arms, and looked into her great big eyes, I felt as if I was looking into the face of God.  There was a warmth, and a joy, and a gratitude that was very much out of the ordinary.  She had her own personality, and curiosity from the moment she came into this world.  I believed, in that moment, more than in any other, that we lived before we came here.

Like I said, I've had many other experiences that have led me to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Doctrine of the LDS church, but I do only have so much time.  These experiences, and the fact that I can't seem to keep my mouth shut, led me to get into a great many arguments on the internet with Atheists.  I knew what I was saying was true.  I'd had experiences, that proved, at least to me, that they were true, and if those Atheists would just take Alma's advice and experiment then they'd believe too.  I did this for years, until I finally started listening instead of talking.

And that's when I found "This is Water".  David Foster Wallace laid out, with the story I told in the beginning and others how belief is a choice.  That the reason why people of different denominations can't seem to get along is that they are absolutely certain that the way they see the world is the right way and everyone else is completely blind.  That the big choice we can make in life is what to believe in.  Now, considering I'd read Hebrews and Alma many times, I probably should have already known this, but I didn't.  Paul and Alma had already explained to me that what I believed in could only be seen through the actions of others who believed in it, that they were things I hoped for, and that it was my choice to not 'cast them out by my unbelief'.  It was my choice to believe, and that proving God to anyone was futile, because our belief was a choice.  We choose to assign meaning to our experiences.

For example.  Maybe I only felt those things when I was ten because that's what I was supposed to believe.  Maybe true or not, once we think about someone giving up something amazing for us we feel a sense of love and gratitude.  Maybe "You know it's right to go.  So, go."  Is something I would think to myself.  And, I know this is going to shake some of you, maybe there was just a scheduling mix up twice in a row at the dentist because they were in the middle of training someone and she's the one who made the appointments.  You know, maybe the Eskimos would have passed by that guy whether he prayed or not.

This idea stuck with me and made me wonder if I could stay in the church.  I know that's shocking, but this was my logic:  if I don't really know.  If I can't really know, then how can I keep doing this?  How can I give ten percent to an organization that I don't know is God's?  How can I raise my girl with a set of doctrines that I can't prove?  As President Uchtodorf said, "Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question."  Only, my question wasn't about something that happened, it was about the whole thing.  Was any of it true?  Was there any way I could know?

For several months I listened to "This is Water" over and over again, I finally, really heard something else he'd said, " the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship--be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles--is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you...Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out."

I didn't "know" the church was God's, but there were things I did know.  I knew that when I went to church, when I followed the doctrines, when I believed, I was slowly becoming the man I hoped to be. Brielle's family is probably tired of hearing about him, but I want to be like my Great Grandpa Paul.  He was giving, loving, hard working, community minded, and kind.  And, he was almost completely deaf by the time he died, but in his later years he kept going to church, and one Sunday someone asked him what the talks in church were about that day.  He said he didn't know, he couldn't hear.  Then why do you go, the person asked.  He answered, because that's where my family is, and where my family is is where I want to be.  I may not know, but like him, with my family, moving in a direction to be the man I want to be, is where I want to be, and this church does that for me.

That wasn't the end of my journey though, because, like my mouth, I can't seem to get my mind to quit going either.  And I heard so many people say in Fast and Testimony meeting that they "knew".  They "knew" so many things that I couldn't say that I knew.  Did I belong in an organization with so many who "knew"?  It was literally a few weeks after thinking this that I heard Elder Holland speak in General Conference.  "I said I was speaking to the young. I still am. A 14-year-old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, “Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.” I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for “only believing.” I told him that Christ Himself said, “Be not afraid, only believe,” a phrase which, by the way, carried young Gordon B. Hinckley into the mission field. I told this boy that belief was always the first step toward conviction and that the definitive articles of our collective faith forcefully reiterate the phrase “We believe.” And I told him how very proud I was of him for the honesty of his quest."

It was okay that I didn't know.  I believed, and not only was belief enough, it was a precious thing.  People had done great things because they believed, and I could too.  I belonged in this church even if I did not know.  And I believe that I always will belong, so long as it keeps helping me become the man that I would like to be, and even more importantly, the man I believe God wants me to be.

Now, I'm a big believer in the "so what" of talks.  Meaning, I've given you a bunch of scriptures, quotes, and my own ramblings to glue them together, but so what?  What am I hoping to really convey?  If someone were to ask me, "What should I get out of your talk?"  What would I tell them?

If you're someone who hasn't had these questions,  please don't think that my questioning came from the devil, because I can tell you that my resolve to follow the teachings of the Savior is stronger than it has ever been, because I questioned.  Because I realized that I cannot prove my belief to myself or anyone else, and that means that no amount of evidence against the church will keep me from living in this way, because it is so good for me and my family.  I'm not saying you need to start questioning, just that it helped me.

If you're like me, know that you're not alone.  I can't say that I know either, and, at least according to Elder Holland, that's okay.  You and I, we belong here in this church.  Like I told a friend who, after finding out his wife was pregnant, was thinking about maybe getting back into the church, but wasn't sure if he really believed:  True or not, the gospel teaches a good lifestyle.  Doesn't it help a family to stay away from drinking and drugs?  Doesn't it help a family to take one day out of the week and spend that day almost entirely together?  Doesn't it help a family to believe their relationships last longer than just this life?  Doesn't it help a father to believe that the effects of his parenting will last long after this life?  110% true or not, it's a good place for us to be.

And for all of us believers, I hoped that my journey through doubt will help us see those of different beliefs with a little more understanding.  As President Uchtdorf said, "One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?”

Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations."

I wasn't offended, or sinful, or lazy, but questioning.  I sincerely wanted to know what I should do, and there are thousands like me.  Some come to my same conclusion, and some come to others.  My own journey has led me to listen to their stories.  All of them were good people doing what they felt was right, and I couldn't help but respect that.

Which is what made this quote from President Uchtdorf stand out so much to me: "In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves."

I believe there is a God.  I believe that He watches over and loves us.  I believe families are ordained of God, my evidence for that comes mostly from my wife, whose faith is so much stronger than mine, but has been so very christlike and patient with me and my questions.  I believe this church was created by God, mostly because whenever I follow its teachings I get closer to being the man I hope to one day be.  I believe that Jesus is our friend and savior.  Whenever I say it, whenever I think about it, I get a feeling that I simply cannot deny.

And it's in His name that I leave this with you.  Amen.

Monday, November 25, 2013

His Name is Bingo

June is eating her french toast sticks while I sit on the computer, when she walks up to me.

"My pet is right over there."
I look into the living room where she's pointing.  "Right over there."
"What kind of pet is it?"
"A doggie."
"What's its name?"
"Bingo" I seriously didn't even see where this was going.
"That's a good name for a dog.  What color is it?"
"It's gray."  Her hands are now stretched out as if she has her hands on a little Jack Russel.
"Oh, yeah.  How big is it."
"It's BIG." Her hands get wider and higher.  "He's very tall."
"Oh, he seems tall."  My hands go up with hers.
"Yeah.  And will you sing with me?"
"What?  What do you want me to sing?"
"Sing it with me."
"I'm sorry hon, I really don't know what you want me to sing."
"Once a farmer had a dog, and Bingo was his name-o.  B-I-N-G-O.  B-I-N-G-O.  B-I-N-G-O.  And Bingo was his name-o."  To which she ran back to her breakfast.

Punked by my two-year-old.  I've got to work on this before she gets to be a teenager.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why I Can't Sign the Opt-In Porn Petition

I know that my posts lately have been little vignettes about June and that they've been really fun, but I have decided to do something a little more serious tonight.

Over the past few weeks I've seen this link, petitioning the White House to require porn to be an "opt in" feature with internet service providers rather than a standard feature, on my facebook feed several times, and after some thought, I've decided I can't sign it.

Now, at first (like I assume many of you were), I was really excited to see it.  I'm LDS, if you don't know our stance on porn you can look here.  I'm also someone who believes pornography as degrading to women and men, and that it contributes to the very odd way our society thinks about sex.  I'm against it.  So, I thought, "Hey, if we get enough people to sign this we won't have to worry about porn on our computers in the future."

And then I thought, what does this actually mean?  What would this petition do?  And I came to the realization that I was against it for the same reason I'm against Obamacare.  And because I have a blog and an opinion, I feel the need to share.

The reasons I don't like Obamacare isn't because I hate people, or like people to be sick, or enjoy the idea of people going bankrupt because of medical bills.  I'm against it because of how I (and, I would argue, America's Founding Fathers) think the Federal Government should run.  I don't think they should have anything more to do with the private sector than make sure they aren't poisoning us and aren't abusing their employees.  I certainly don't think they should have the power to force companies to offer services.  Them forcing companies to do so either force taxpayers to compensate the companies for this loss, or forces the companies to pass that cost onto the consumer (hey, we get to pay for it no matter what!).  Obamacare forces companies to do things that are not cost effective, and forces us as consumers to pay the difference.  The government needs to say out of it.

Now, what I find really interesting about the petition I linked is that those who are posting it are often the same people who have posted "Anti-Obamacare" memes and articles, but I really don't see a difference between the two.  Both are (allegedly) for the purpose of protecting people, especially children.  Obamacare is to protect people from crippling healthcare debt and the petition is to protect people from stumbling upon hurtful porn (again, this isn't to argue if porn does or does not hurt people, suffice it to say I believe it does).  Both of these are ideas people can get behind.  But that isn't where their similarities end.  Both would force companies to offer services without any compensation.  Both put the government's hands in one more thing (giving them the ability to screw it up).  Both hurt companies, especially start up companies (imagine trying to start an internet service company with the responsibility of making sure porn doesn't pop-up on 'opt out' computers).  Both are one more expense to try and fit into our already very unbalanced budget.

I hate porn as much as the next guy, but our Federal Government needs to get smaller, not bigger.

Now, maybe you're one of my friends that I'm talking about, but see a difference between the two that I don't.  Please let me know in the comments on here or on facebook.  Maybe there's something I'm missing.  Please let me know.

Even if you can't articulate why you think they are different, know that I don't hate you (or even think you're stupid).  I still love you and respect you; we just disagree, and that's fine.

To both groups, I'm actually kind of happy (in a way) that this petition exists.  Hopefully internet service providers see it and offer this service for a fee (assuming it works better than a filter).  I, for one, would gladly pay a little extra to keep porn off my computers, but I have to be honest and say that I hope it doesn't get any further than the petition.

If you agree with me (or are just for meaningful conversation about government's role in our lives) please share.  Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

And on the Docket Today: Destroying One of my Daughter's Dreams

I hurt my back about a week ago... again.  Well, I don't think I rehurniated the disk or anything, but I tweaked it (not to be confused with twerked).  So, I've spent the better part of the last week on my back playing Diablo III on my Xbox (my wife got it for me, you should be jealous).

It's close to being back to normal (hence, why I'm able to blog), but I was still on my back playing this afternoon while my daughter watched Barney on the Kindle.  While watching a loading screen I looked over and saw June standing with her toes at the edge of the Kindle with her fingers grabbing those toes.  This brought on  a question I ask her at least once a day, "June, what are you doing?"

"I'm going to jump into the book.  I'm going to jump into Barney."

"No, no.  June, it's super fun to see people jump into books on shows, but if you do this all you will do is break the Kindle.  Please don't try it."

She looked befuddled.  It was obvious she'd seen this several times performed by various people.  Why couldn't she do it?  "Okay."

"Sorry.  Do you want to check the fire with me?"


I'm sure it won't destroy her forever, but I wish I was one of those super creative dads who knew how to make her dream real without destroying a tablet in the process.  As it turns out, all I did was reinforce her lover for building fires...

I messed up bad today, didn't I?


As I wrote this I heard a clatter in the kitchen and my wife yelling, "No June, those are Grandma's knives!  We don't touch knives!"

So there's your piece of sage advice from my wife today:  We don't touch knives.

Monday, October 7, 2013

It Smells Like... Poop

We've been potty training June for a while now.  Months, in fact.  We've tried a few different approaches with varying levels of success and a couple of months ago things were going well.  Did she still pee in her diaper?  Yeah, she did, but she didn't poop in them anymore.

And this was great with us.  Did we want her to pee in the toilet?  Absolutely, but if she didn't feel it, she didn't feel it.  We don't wan to put expectations on her that she literally can't live up to, that's not fun for anyone.  Along with that, I don't mind the peed in diapers.  Easy off.  Easy in the garbage.  No real smell.  I can change those all day long.

But the poop ones, those are a different story.  You have to wipe a bunch and it smells awful, and when she started pooping on the toilet I was a happy guy.

Well, I was not so happy yesterday.  I was near her and smelled a horrible smell.  Yep, she'd went poop in her diaper.  As I changed her we had a long talk about how I don't like cleaning up poop, and how it smells yucky, and how if she did it again she was going to time-out.

As sure as the sun sets in the west, she pooped in her diaper again today.  So, she got time-out, and I had the brilliant idea to let her smell her diaper so she could smell what I smelled every time I changed a stinky one.  Her reaction:  Big inhale, "It smells like... poop.  Yummy." The giggle that followed let me know I'd been gotten the best of.  The next 16 years are going to be hard.  Pray for me.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Olly Olly Oxen Free

I'm sitting at the computer checking my facebook when I look up to see June (my daughter) climbing off her barstool.  "What are you doing?"

No answer.  She continues to walk through the kitchen to hide in a little nook in front of the pantry.  "Are you hiding?  If you're hiding and Dad finds you he'll get you with tickles."

No answer.  Okay, so this is a pretty regular game for us.  June really likes hiding, well, let me be more honest, she likes people looking for her and calling her name and has found that hiding gives her that.  Up to this point, we've been lucky.  She's not particularly good at finding good spots.  The scary part is she is SUPER good at holding very, very still and being very, very quiet.  One day she'll find the good spots and we'll be in trouble.

After waiting a while I finally go over to the nook.  There she sits, her turquoise, polka dotted, footsie pajamas topped by her mess of blond hair and hands holding two pink apron ties up to her eyes.  "Where is that June-bug?  Is she behind the blue apron?"  I pretend to look and she suppresses laughter.  "Nope, not behind the blue one... is she behind the pink one?"  I pull on the ties but June has them in a death grip.  "My, the strings sure are heavy... and hey, there are two little hands holding on to them.  What's behind those hands?  It's a June-bug."  I then tickle her on the ribs and below the  chin while she giggles in my arms.

"Okay, Dad.  You hide.  You have to hold the strings and put them to your eyes."  I hold them and peek out at her while she walks around.  "Is Dad over here?  Nope.  Is Dad behind the blue one?  Nope, not behind the blue one.  Is Dad by this machine (not making this up, she said that while looking at the Kitchen Aid behind me).  Nope, not by the machine.  If I turn these nobs (on the toaster).  Nope."  She proceeded to climb over me to get to the cookies, but only made it about half way.  "Is he in here?  Nope, not in here (meaning, inside the box of cookies).  Is he behind the pink one?  There's Dad!  Tickle tickle."  As tiny fingers moved beneath my chin.  It's not too bad being Dad.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

What's to My Right?

It happened again this morning.  It's happened every morning for about three weeks (or more), but today was especially bad.  My eyelids lifted to the grinding of our alarm clock and my wife mumbling, "Paul, are you getting up? It's 7:03."  I tried to lift my head and my neck let me know, in no uncertain terms, that my moving was not going to fly.  I tried again and pushed through my body's protests.  "I don't think so, my neck is killing me."  "Oh, okay."

I tried going back to sleep with my neck in a better position, but the pain was so lopsided that I couldn't be sure if my neck was straight.  Every time I tried to readjust it would only feel more like my head was leaning to one side or the other.

Finally, in frustration and agony, I got up, slathered on some Icy Hot and put the long bean bag in the microwave.  And sat in front of my television, trying to keep my neck as still as I possibly could while occasionally rubbing it.  Eventually, it got a little better.  Better enough for me to freeze some peaches, so long as I moved my body and not my head, but I still don't feel good enough to go running.  I can't imagine it would actually do any damage to run, but it sure feels like it would, which makes me think I'll  not go through the pain and just eat a little less today.  Anyone know any cures to morning neck aches, because they seem to be getting worse instead of better and it's getting old.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I'm a Heartless Murderer

I've been approached by a couple of people (my mom and sister) who said they want me to start blogging again.  What about you ask?  My daily/weekly life.  I told them it was boring, but they said that's what they wanted to read... so here it goes.

When I was on my two year religious sabbatical I gained a firm belief in God and his love for His creations.  Even down to centipedes  that we found in our shower who I took outside in a cup to set free, and spiders, to which, if they didn't crawl on me, I also released into the wild.  I'm still a pretty firm believer in that.  I believe life, all life, is precious, and I want to defend it... except for flies.

I went out into the mud room to weigh myself (trying to lose weight so I don't hurt my back again) and found - I would guess - 50 flies on the window of the door going outside.  I immediately turned around, closed the door found the fly swatter (a tool that was made for literally one purpose), went back out and began hacking away like a blind-folded kid swings at a pinata.  When they were all gone from the window (who knows how many I actually hit) I turned to the ceiling, where I assume several went for refuge, then I was more like a little-leaguer swinging at balls well above the strike zone.  Back to the window, back to the ceiling, window, ceiling, window, ceiling, until none flew around me anymore.  Up to this point I'd only been working with the light coming in through the window, so I turned on the incandescent and found several more that I missed, "swing away, Paul!  Swing away!".  I didn't count, but the floor was littered with flies.

Somewhere in the frenzy, and especially after I'd seen my handiwork, I thought, "Why don't I care about flies?"  I care about spiders, centipedes, humans, and even small dogs to a degree.  Why don't I care about flies?  They help in keeping our planet from filling up with waste, they have very short lives, and I really don't think they cause as much disease as we all think they do.  And still, I killed dozens of them today in the mud room, basically a mass-murder, and I feel nothing.  Let's just say that if God cares a great deal about flies' lives, I'm pretty much screwed, but I'm pretty sure all of you are too, so I'll have company.

See you two, boring.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The True Gamer

So, what is a 'True Gamer'? How often do they play?  What do they play, and maybe more importantly, what don't they play?  What hardware do they use?  How long do they have to have played to be in the 'True Gamer' club?  Super Nintendo?  Earlier?  Should they have to know about Indie games, or are the heavy-hitters enough?  Does genre, difficulty setting, multi-player or single player matter?  If you don't play Dark Souls are you even in the running?  And the question I'd really like to put forward with this post:  Why do we care?

I've been heavily gaming for about two years now.  I'm talking a few dozen games, most of which I've beat, some I've beat multiple times, several forums about specific games and gaming in general, listening to developer interviews, spending a good deal of time on Gamespot, and a program on my computer called Raptr that tracks my gaming progress.  And in these two years I've noticed something about the gaming community as a whole that baffles me: Elitism.

I would say that the majority of people whose sole or primary form of entertainment is playing video games have an earned stereotype (I can say this because I've earned it too).  We were outcasts in school because we were interested in things that no one else was.  When we talked we noticed that no one knew what we were talking about (both about entertainment and academia) and how we noticed it was that people would make comments about how they didn't know what we were talking about, to which most people would laugh.  Those of us in this category did one of two things, either we kept talking how we wanted and told ourselves we were just smarter than most people (though the ridicule got worse as time passed and while our minds felt superior, our hearts sure didn't), or we realized that people don't like smart people and dumbed ourselves down so we wouldn't be made fun or anymore, hiding our real interests from everyone except our true friends (this was me).  It was like people were part of these clubs that we were either not invited to, or that we faked our way into and then felt uncomfortable once there, because we could tell our kind weren't supposed to be there.  It was a struggle, or at least it was for me.

And then, after I got married, I found gaming, and more importantly, I found gamers on the internet.  It was like all of us found each other and became friends online.  There weren't many of us in our own communities, but when we made a worldwide community there were really a lot of us, and that idea intrigued me.  Finally, a large group of people who shared my interests and knew what I was talking about, and it wasn't just my group of friends I was honest with, there were a bunch of them.

After a few months though, I noticed how little gamers learned from high school.  I started seeing cliques.  The first I noticed were the hardware cliques (mostly PC vs. Console).  "Games are made for consoles, which are really just old computers so we never get to use our rigs to their full capabilities."  "Consoles are for casual gamers."  ('casual gamer' is an insult in the gaming community)  and, "Real gamers play on PCs."  I was originally a console gamer, I have some games on the PC, but when it comes to shooters, I need my paddle, I just do.  So console gamers would come back with "If it wasn't for consoles we wouldn't have the quality of games we have because there wouldn't be as much money in the industry."  "People with PCs just need to stop getting such powerful rigs, as it's obvious they don't need them for the games that exist."  but I never heard console gamers say PC gamers weren't 'True Gamers', but I think that comes from the fact that games started on the PC.

Which leads into the next clique:  "'True Gamers' have been playing since Atari."  or Nintendo, or Super Nintendo, or started on the PC and have never left it.  Somehow, having played for twenty years just makes you better than other people, kind of like being Vegan.  It just makes you better.

Then there are the genre wars.  Mostly it's people saying that those who play Call of Duty (or other multi-player shooters) aren't real gamers, even if they play something else.  The other big one is making fun of those who play facebook games because, you know, they aren't 'real games'.

I could go on, but my favorite are the Dark Souls/Deamon Souls players.  If you don't play and enjoy that game you aren't a 'True Gamer' in their minds.  I don't know what it is about that fan base, but I remember staying away from that game literally because the fans were so bat crap crazy that I didn't want to be numbered with them.  I've decided to try it eventually, but if you talked about any other game to any of them it was as if you were a twelve year old boy in Victoria's Secret, you just didn't belong talking to the grown ups about video games.

It's all so childish though.  It's as though we've finally found our way into a club we belong in and what's the first thing we do?  Try to keep as many people out as possible, by saying they aren't as good as the rest of us because of what they play, or how often they play, or that they don't play every single game on the hardest difficulty possible.  Don't we remember what that was like?  They mention a game on facebook and because that's not our cup of tea we make sure they feel like they don't belong, or because they haven't spent hours reading every book in all of Skyrim they aren't really playing the game.  Why aren't we better than this?  Why can't we seem to be better than this?  A gamer is anyone who enjoys playing video games with some or all of their free time.  We all have different tastes, and that's okay.  All of our tastes are valid, and all are invited to enjoy at least a facet of our past time.  It's brought us a lot of happiness, and we believe it can bring others happiness too.  So, lets invite them in, and make them feel welcomed instead of shunned.  I know we can do it, and we owe it to our fifteen year old selves to at least try.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Little Too Much

The lines on the tiles aren't perpendicular to the floor board.  This room isn't square... no, not square and the tiles are moving.  I know they are.  I can see them... move.  Why are they moving?  Oh, no.  The tiles aren't moving.  Squint my eyes, see what's real.  There, back to normal.  I shouldn't have taken that much; I just wanted to impress her.  Her.  What was her name again?  Dammit, I've been dating her for three months.  What is her damn name?

Amber.  Yeah, that's her name.  Amber.  Oh, squint again, oh man, the room's not moving, but it is.  I've got to focus.  Focus on something that won't make me feel so sick.  This tile's like ice on my butt.  No, nothing painful.  Ugh, there, what is that?  A hole in the sheet rock.  Just, yes, it's just big enough for my fingernail.  I wonder if I could see behind it?  Dig.  Dig.  Dig... yeah, something's behind here, something red.  More.  A little more and I can fit my whole hand in.  There it is, and, yes:  A big piece.

It's not just red; it's... furry... soft.  What... what's behind my wall.  Let's see.  Grab more pieces.  Pull.  Pull.  Pull... Oh.  Oh, no.  Dammit, I didn't know that's where it was.  Shit.  Amber will see it.  Cover it up, but, its eyes beg me not to.  "You're mine."  Shit, I'll wake up Amber at that volume, "You're mine.  I'm not sharing you with Amber.  She'll dump me if she knows about you."  There it stands as a perfect oxymoron, the pleading, the soft red fur, the cushiony belly, all thrown around the gaping mouth full of yellowing spikes and horns jutting out of an over-sized head.  The monster.  The lovable, cuddly, soothing, shaming, hating, embarrassing monster.

"I have to cover you up."  Shit, the alarm.  Oh, Amber's going to be here any minute.  Um... okay, maybe she'll be too tired to notice him.  "Be cool, man."

"Mmmhmmm, what?  What in the hell are you doing in here?  After what you did to me last night I thought you'd be sound asleep."

Stand as big as I can, maybe she won't notice it behind me.  "Oh," laugh... oh, not like that, she'll know you're hiding something, "I just went to the bathroom right before the alarm went off."

Good, she's popping zits in the mirror, maybe she won't see him.  "Hmm, okay, well, I'm going back to bed.  You're more than welcome to join me."

"O-okay.  Yeah, I'll be there in a minute."  She didn't notice it, thank heaven, but what am I going to do with it before she wakes....

"Hey, you haven't been doing drugs again have you."  Shit, she's staring right at us.  She has to see him now, we're so screwed.

"No... no, of course not.  I told you, I gave that up a year ago."

How can she not see the monster standing right behind me?  "Okay.  You just seem a little weird this morning.  You'll tell me if you ever do, right?"

"Oh, absolutely.  But, that won't ever happen because I am so done with that stuff."

She doesn't look convinced.  "Okay.  Well, come to bed would you?  We stayed up late last night."

"Yeah, just a minute."  Good, she's gone.  "Look, buddy, you've got to go... now, don't look at me like that, Amber will leave if she ever finds out about you... Okay, you can stay, but you've got to stay out of sight okay?  I have no idea how she didn't see you this time.  Stay in the closet or something.  Somewhere she won't go.  You know I love you, I just can't let her know you're still around.  Now, I'm going to bed; you fix this wall before we wake up.  You've done it before; do it again.  Goodnight."