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How To Silence Flat Earth Lunatics

Stephen Covey famously wrote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In the case of Flat Earth Lunatics, this sagacious suggestion falls flat on its face. In other words, I’m ashamed to admit that I cannot seem to win one single debate with FELs, despite putting the best success advice into practice.

If up until now you have avoided the pleasure of engaging an FEL, count your blessings. If not, then you will surely know my pain. I feel like I’m a fairly sharp cookie and yet I have always left the encounter a failure. So after much thought, and an even greater desire to not lose the day to these fellas, the following is the best I have come up with when it comes to silencing the recently mad.

Believe me when I say that, like you, I would have thought that, “Does your basement have a bathroom, or do you always have to use one of the one’s upstairs?” or, “A lifetime lived and still no friends?” or, “Okay, then where’s the end of the Earth?” would have had a much stronger affect on these folks. Unfortunately, experience proves that these approaches simply do not work. Regarding debate skills, it seems FEL’s might be the most potent group of lonely men in America.

(Before I pronounce the surefire strategy to silence them, I want to say one thing. When talking with one of these guys, my aim is no longer to win the argument. Instead, my desire is to simply bring them back from the edge. They have clearly been hurt, and I believe it is my duty–I believe it is our duty–to love on them until they release their stranglehold on sanity.)

The strategy is simple. It came to me while fabricating circuit boards at the A&D manufacturing factory where I work.

Step 1: ASK, “Can I ask you a question?” (Most FEL’s love to answer questions about their theory, so this will work flawlessly.)

Step 2: ASK, “Have you ever manufactured something, and then sold it for a profit?” (The outcome of uttering this question will be new and unexpected each and every time. Think ahead. It wouldn’t hurt to position yourself out of arm’s length beforehand.)

Step 3: ASK, “So what you’re asking me to believe is that the thousands upon thousands of people who manufacture and fabricate and test and assemble–not just the individual components of space-bound vehicles and satellites–but the materials of the buildings that shelter those people from the elements as they work, plus the materials that house the final products and their necessary rockets and all their parts and pieces, not to mention the specially designed railways, runways, and launchpads, and all their associated construction materials–including manpower–you’re asking me to believe that all of them operate apart from the otherwise observable influence of value?”

Step 4: SAY, “Noooo, I don’t have to answer your questions or explain anything to you. I have heard you and I have seen your animations. Now it is your turn. You said you would answer a question, so I asked one. Now answer it. Or don’t. But know that I love you and unlike people from your past, I am not giving up on you. I just don’t think you’ve thought through what you’re suggesting, and so I’ve now given you a very precise weak link to your theory that you need to answer in order for me to agree that I’ve been lied to my whole life.”

By my thinking, that should do the trick. They’ll have come across a question they can’t answer, and as they YouTube it, they should be able to imagine putting it into play against other FEL’s, which of course they’ll desire to do when they feel the joy of no longer disagreeing with everyone on the globe.

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The Divine Answer

I don’t know exactly where the time went, but the other day I just realized that I am thirty-seven years old. Wow.

After considering the matter, it occurred to me that I aged three years while at Seminary. (To be clear, this means I now have righteous reading skills, not major math skills.)

Additionally, I just realized that I finally have the clearest and most truthful answer to the question that has been nagging at me for some time.

The question: What did you do at Seminary?

The answer: I got older.

Boo ya.

Covering the Outside

The drawstring on my gym shorts has never retracted all the way into the band, but it seems like it may if I’m not careful as I put them on.

My forehead has a skin irritation that I do not believe I can cure with the limited amount of time and skill that I possess this morning.

The one on my upper left arm is prime for attention and now healing.

Remembering that I felt my big toenail snag on the blankets last night, I leave my anklet socks on the kitchen table as I return to the bathroom.

After clipping, the metal file is put to work.

Donning my shirt first, I then pull on my socks. Next, my glasses. One more look in the mirror to make sure that the additional light didn’t reveal any embarrassing and correctable flaws.

I’m good.

Well, my forehead still has the acute pain, but I’m good.

And I’m failing as I try not to think about the shooting, and what, if anything, it means, but I’m good.

My Hallelujah

“Why are they holding candles?” H-asked, looking at the laptop open on the kitchen table.

“To make it look pretty,” I answered.

Accompanying the recorded images of faux-candlelight, a lady’s voice sang, “But all I’ve ever learned from love/Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.”

“What do you think she means, H-?” I asked.

“Huh?” she asked, distractedly.

I began again. “The songwriter wrote, ‘But all I’ve ever learned from love/Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.’ I’m curious what you think that means. What did he learn?”

“Well,” she started, pausing thoughtfully, “it’s kinda hard to understand.”

I nodded to myself.

“It is, isn’t it?” I agreed. “I think he means that when someone tries to be mean even before you can be nice, the only thing that can stop them is love. But I may be wrong. That’s part of what makes it pretty like the candles.”

The voice continued, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”

“You know, Daddy, I was singing this in the shower,” she pointed out.

I shook my head in wonder. “I know. I heard. That’s why I put it on.”

“I only know the Hallelujah part, though. It’s in Shrek.”

“I know.”

The startling oven timer sounded to her left. She turned to look. Grabbing the oven mitt, I opened the oven. The cookies were done baking. Time for dessert.

Stay Terrified

Transmitted through my helmet’s CEP’s, the phrase “tail’s hit” will forever be connected to the word “fear” for me.

Immediately I wondered whether my formation lead’s pilot meant that the tail of his helicopter was hit or that his tail gunner–the human–was hit.

And immediately I began to scan the monochromatic green terrain one hundred feet below for shooters.

And immediately I was overwhelmed with the reality that they could be anywhere and if they weren’t presently firing, I would likely not notice them.

And at the occurrence of that precise thought I became afraid.

I felt fear for the first time in my life.

Eventually, in a matter of seconds I mean, it was clear that the tail gunner was the victim of the “hit” and our direct action mission was aborted in favor of flying him to the nearest ‘cash.’ (Combat Support Hospital.) He lived.

But me? I was incapacitated for a little bit and I had an overwhelming desire to cry. Let me repeat that first part: I was incapacitated for a little bit. Luckily, I was the inexperienced co-pilot at the time.

Years later, I was the instructor pilot on a night sortie at the schoolhouse, and one of our other Huey’s had stopped checking in with HUB–or on any other radio or frequency we all tried. (That usually means the crew had crashed.) Soon after, my student was on the controls and hover taxiing to hot refuel at Andalusia. He was all over the sky, as they say. Too high, over-correcting to too low. So as my aircraft commander did for me in Iraq, I took the controls without comment. The student was clearly going through the realization that his friends might be dead–that we might later die on the job–and he didn’t need any more input. (They lived.)

Dr. Ford (et al): Stay terrified–it lets me know that you’re not a leader, that you’re not worth following.

Or you could apologize for lying. Or you could forgive.

But I can’t/won’t/don’t want to join you in your fear. I’d be trading in every ounce and moment and piece of hard-earned experience I have for nothing–no reason, no action, no sound, no light, no nothing–for darkness. In other words, I’d be exchanging it all for fear.

And I am not afraid.

Ice Cream with a Muslim

To recap the last couple years: After the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June of 2016, I read the Koran. I was attending a Christian Seminary, and enrolled in a Master’s of Divinity degree. After that shooting I needed to read for myself just what the heck that book said about violence.

Instead of merely seeing the passages which call for violence, I saw something worse. Lies. Lie after lie after lie. But all the lies centered upon one big lie: the lie that Jesus of Nazareth was not the resurrected Jesus the Christ–the very Son of God.

So I blogged about the experience. Several of you were reading along, and one of you even asked, “Well, how should I address these issues with my Muslim friends?” I offered suggestions. But I also admitted that I had yet to know any Muslims myself, so I didn’t have first-hand experience.

Fast forward two years now and I randomly (or not) ended up working at a job with a lot of African immigrants, many who are Muslim.

One man in particular has engaged me in discussion about such things, but the conversations were always brief. Then, one day as we sat down on break, he said, “So you believe in Jesus Christ?” I got ready to finally chat on topic for a few minutes, only to be disappointed when another co-worker appeared and killed that conversation. But I invited my co-worker over after work. He accepted and a few days later he came over.

A- is his name.

The following is a highlight reel. It is intended to show you one example of how conversations can go. Keep in mind that we are co-workers. Not that I would do it much different if we were strangers, but this situation added pressure, I felt, to ensure that I didn’t say anything that would make the next day weird. And the next and the next and the next.

****

Pete: Oh, man. Thank you so much for coming over. It’s after midnight, and you came. I wasn’t sure you’d make it. Thank you.

A-: I said I’d come. I just had to finish up a few things.

Pete: No worries. Come in, come in. Don’t worry about your shoes. Can I get you some ice cream? I had a dinner party recently and one woman brought the best desserts ever and left them with me, and I was thinking you could help me finish them.

A-: Sure. It would be my pleasure.

Pete: Actually, do you eat ice cream? I had lunch with E- and his wife recently (another Ethiopian couple from work–Christians) and they went with H- and me to ice cream after, but they didn’t really like it. I don’t know if that’s all Ethiopians or just those two.

A-: I would like ice cream. I will eat it.

Pete: Cool. Oh, by the way. Answer me this. Sorry, I’m just so curious. How many white people’s homes have you been in since living here?

A-: (Smiling) Why you ask this?

Pete: I just am curious. I feel like everyone comes to America and then never mingles. How many?

A-: You’re my third.

Pete: Wow. Three? Crazy. We’ve got to do this again. Only three, huh? That’s no good. We’re not all the white devil, you know?

A-: (Smiles)

(Skipping ahead to good stuff).

A-: (Pointing at my white board with Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet, Hebrew alef-bet, and Greek alphabet written on it) Why do you study all this stuff?

Pete: Because it’s important to know about the people who wrote the Bible and what kind of life they lived and such.

A-: Well, I want to tell you I really appreciate that you study all this. You know, one of the five pillars is to believe in Holy Bible.

Pete: Hmm. That’s confusing to me. How can you believe in “Holy Bible” if it says that Jesus is the Son of God? And that Yahweh is the name of God? I was under the impression that these were not things that Muhammad wrote.

A-: You know, that is big confusion. We don’t really believe in Muhammad. He is not that important to us.

Pete: (Raised eyebrows in shock)

A-: You know, allah–or god–is so big and mysterious that we cannot know much about him. (Picking up a crumb from the brownie) It’s like we are this teeny-tiny thing. (Dropping it on the kitchen table) And god is everything else. How could the tiny crumb possibly know about everything else?

Pete: That’s what the Bible is. That’s what revelation is. Yahweh, the LORD, has been revealing himself to us through those prophets in the Bible and eventually in Jesus himself. It’s not like we know everything there is to know, but we know enough to know his name.

(Skipping a bit)

A-: I was raised in Adventist missionary school in Ethiopia.

Pete: I remember. You told me.

A-: But I came back to Islam. Have you heard of (some name I can’t remember or pronounce)?

Pete: No. What does he do?

A-: I could show you YouTube video. He used to be Christian, but as he learned more and more he converted to Islam. Can I show you video?

Pete: A-, here’s the thing. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you I hate watching YouTube videos. They send them to me all the time. “Pete- watch this.” I refuse. Ha. But if you want me to watch something, I will. But I’ll tell you this. I’ll make this prediction. I’ll try my hand at being a prophet here. The guy in the video is going to set up a straw-man and knock him down, but he is not going to talk about what the Bible says. Your man, these men, will not touch the Gospel. He is going to destroy the straw man, and then say Islam is the truth. It’s his only play. But he will not be destroying what the Bible says. He will not be talking about how Jesus got up on the third day. He will not be talking about how the war is over, how sin is defeated. He will not say anything about Jesus being the son of god.

A-: Holy Bible doesn’t say Jesus is the son of god.

Pete: (Eyebrows raised even higher this time) ((And here, reader, I ask you, what would you say? Keep in mind, I’ve never seen a conversion in my entire life. Never ever. Not once. But I believe I’m prepared to preach the Gospel and to finally get in the game.)) Tell me, what happens next if I go get a Bible and show you that it does?

A-: (Looking at his watch) Ah. It’s getting late. I should be going.

Pete: It’s okay. You don’t have to go. No worries. We’re just talking.

(Some half-hour later)

A-: Well, what about Mary?

Pete: (Simple confused look that grows to frustration) The Bible- Ahhhh, see I’m telling you. You have to read the Bible. You cannot go off of Christians. It doesn’t work like that. The Bible never says to worship Mary or that she is worthy of worship. That’s just a traditional thing that has no biblical foundation. Of course she is special because there is only one mother of Jesus and she was it, but she is not a god. Okay. It’s late. I’m kicking you out. A-, it’s almost two in the morning! Jeez. I have to get some sleep.

A-: Please let me help you clean up. When I am guest I help clean the dishes.

Pete: You really don’t have to. I have a dishwasher here. I can do it.

A-: Please, let me do this.

Pete: Okay, man. If you must. I won’t stop you.

****

Alright. There you have it. Biggest takeaways for me were:

  • He’s been here for years. And only three white people (presumably “regular joe Americans”, whether Christian or not) have invited him into their homes? How’s the Word going to get into his ears if no one talks to him? Where’s the love?
  • How many times do you think he’s told someone that “the Bible doesn’t say Jesus is the son of god” and that person has subsequently called him on his baloney? Will you be bold enough when the time comes? Did you notice how I did it without being arrogant? And did you notice that he didn’t get weird. At no time did it get weird or awkward. I was me. He was him. It’s called a conversation. You don’t like fake people. Muslims don’t either. Our job is not to be fake, it is to get the Holy Spirit in the game via the Word.
  • Mary?! Mary?! MARY?! Shame on you, Catholics. Shame, shame, shame. Read your Bible. You are feeding evil.
  • Did you notice that he used a defense of god that Christians teach each other, that Christians use to answer their children’s questions? I’ve never seen the “crumb defense” but I have heard it as, “Well, we’re 2D and God is 3D…” Did you notice that? Stop it. The Bible says no such thing. At best, you’re wasting time. At worst, you’re participating in evil. Instead of making foolish analogies that ultimately help no one, Preach. The. Word. Speak the Bible into people’s ears. They do not need an argument, they need the Word of God.

Cowboys Vs. Indians, A Review of Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner

To be honest, this is just a review of the first hour of the first episode. I cannot find the motivation to finish even that one, but rest assured, you can watch everything to date here.

You have to give props to Kevin Costner and all the other thespians who still believe in playing Cowboys and Indians at this late stage in the game. Unfortunately, while they certainly delight in donning the definitive costumes, they fail to remain faithful to the fanciful, if not now forbidden, fun of times past.

I recently picked up Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea with the intent of reading it. At the back of the edition I hold is a review of the book by my current beau author, Robert Louis Stevenson, that includes an assessment of Verne which is perhaps best summarized in the Scotsman’s own stinging words, “Of human nature, it is certain he knows nothing.”

The same can be said for Yellowstone’s team. Simply put, there is no hate. The fact is there must be hate (deteste for you Verne loving Frenchies) for these types of stories to work. Fighting over land isn’t enough. The cowboys must loathe the savages, and the savages must truly believe their tomahawks can stop a six-shooter. Put another way, I must be convinced that the cowboys actually believe the blood flowing through the red-man’s veins is an aberration of nature, and that it is their duty to cure the human race through genocide. The land must be secondary. It may be seen as the reward for such a virtuous act, but land itself as goal is too abstract, as grounded as it is, to make for good television.

The audience must learn, alongside the cowboy, to not hate these primitives.

Only if there is hate–then and only then–have they told our story. And our story? That’s one worth watching.

Ever, Ever Again

As a child I remember hearing and repeating one disparaging joke about Ethiopians. That was the breadth of my awareness of that people. As an adult I find myself working alongside them. Just before taking this job, for a different reason, a white South African friend shared with me that what he knows of Ethiopians is that they fight, meaning they still have backbones–regardless of which side they’re fighting for.

A seemingly unrelated second memory from when I was a child is that my dad owned his small business. One day he came home from work and shared with my mom that his secretary essentially gave him the what-for about how he didn’t know how to do anything right. I can’t remember all the details but I remember how angry my mom was that my dad didn’t stick up for himself. My dad would tell you to this day that he does not like or believe in confrontation, and that he intentionally searches for the way forward that includes everyone being happy.

So, here’s the memory merge. Just over one year ago I began this new job. Shortly after beginning in one department I was moved to another. The man that trained me in this new department, on day one, lambasted the workers in our department on the earlier shifts. (It’s a 24-hr factory.) I remember thinking, “If he’s saying that to me about them on day one, then what’s going to stop him from saying that about me if I’m ever on another shift than him?”

Suffice it to say my suspicion was correct. The minute another worker quit, I switched shifts and subsequently discovered that my former-trainer was talking shyat about me during the pass-down every morning.

Dread, in any form, is no fun. Over the course of time I shared the situation with my Ethiopian co-worker and friend, and at first he thought I was probably not assessing things accurately. After a bit of contemplation he changed his mind and said, “You know what? If you’re complaining about him, something is off.”

To my sheer delight, my Ethiopian friend later initiated the following conversation. He said, “You know what, Pete? K- and I used to argue and get into it with each other every day. Then one day I said to him, ‘K-, if you have a question, something work related, you can ask me. Other than that, do not ever, ever, ever, ever, ever talk to me again.’ After that he stopped talking to me. These days we talk, sure. But it was only after a long time had passed.”

The funny thing about the entire thing is that when it comes to watching someone else be attacked, I won’t stand for it for one second, and I will shed any and all concern for myself and my circumstances as I move in to defend. But when I’m the recipient, I just absorb it.

Other advice includes the following gems. My mom says, “Be happy there is only one.” One of the Reverends from church says, “A lady once told me she had a similar situation at work. She prayed that the LORD would bless the co-worker. In three days they were promoted to supervise another department and peace was restored.” A friend from school, also randomly South African, said the biblical course of action would be address the dude one-on-one, then escalate to supervisors and HR when he doesn’t change. He also exhorted that I ask the LORD to change both our hearts.

Here’s what I did. Well, first, you need to know this. One night at the club, one of the girls told me that some guy was getting a little too handsy during the lap dance and so she stopped and then he stiffed her on the money. She came to me because I was the manager at the time. I asked her what she wanted and she wanted both her money and him to be thrown out. After entirely too much talking with the dude, I got her the money, but decided that he could have another chance. When I reported this news to the woman, well, let’s just say that the look this woman gave me was something I would not wish on anyone. I said to her, “Okay. You’re right. He’s leaving now. I’m probably gonna get slugged though.”

Sure enough, I told him I changed my mind and his friend and him had to leave. While looking at his friend, I felt the dude’s knuckles against the back of my skull. After slight and inconsequential chaos he was then escorted out. (It never ceased to amaze me how the party never hesitated, no matter if fights were happening, or where–including on stage between girls. Customers just wanted to get wasted around women, girls just wanted money. But everyone expected these things to happen and the company to have staff that was able to handle them surely and painlessly.)

The lessons were many, but most notable for my current predicament was that I went alone. I should’ve had another guy with me. And I did from then on.

So I didn’t have the one-on-one chat with my co-worker last week. I prepared to head to HR and get the third person involved from the get-go, especially because the problem is exactly that this guy is a hot-head and totally unapproachable. Upon resolving to get HR, I decided I wanted one more instance before I went, and as these things go, the week went off without much drama, especially considering there’s a new trainee that keeps him occupied.

What’s so funny to me about it is that I know myself so well that I know I won’t refrain from answering his BS responses in words and tones that must-needs compel him to action during the consequently never-gonna-happen one-on-one chat.

Is this self-awareness what my dad felt? Is he a all-or-nothing guy that just chooses nothing? Who knows. Pretty sure we’ll chat about it after he reads this.

Okay. Not to be picky, but I’m really only looking for stories about how you got the person fired. We’re fooling ourselves if we think these people change. I can only think of one sure way, but I don’t feel like getting hit. Whatcha got?

On One Woman and One Other Thought

I sought work at the gentlemen’s club, in part, because I had never worked with women. Right after college it was Air Force pilot training (mostly men), followed by the last male-only Air Force flying squadron (must have balls), then several odd professions to include a car wash (mostly fellas) and the oil fields (oil rigs being the last bastion of actual men on the LORD’s good earth).

Despite, or in spite of, being married for six years, I had never really been around women, nor really even desired to be around them. It’s been three years since big-P-I-M-P-in and in a most unexpected change, these days I often seem to find myself around only women. Don’t get the idea that I am one of those creepy, sinewy older guys we all know at work who aren’t quite gay, but somehow are only able to be friends with women. For good or bad, that’s not me. With me, the situation is manifest in other ways.

For example, my beloved toastmaster’s club is gaining women by the droves. Six years ago it was the only place I knew of which had about a 50/50 make-up. But recently I went to a off-day meeting where the ratio was more like 80/20. The official roster has it 60/40–or 31/19 to be more precise. Where have all the cowboys gone?

Then there’s the last time I was asked to teach at church. Naturally, each Sunday I notice that most of the regulars are of the fairer sex, but that did little to diminish my astonishment as I was totally unprepared to speak to a group of two men and thirty black women. In answer to my reactionary inquiry, my pastor said, “Expect more like 80/20 in the future,” but that, “Yes, it’s more women than men.” Me, teaching women? Ha. What do I know?

Here’s what I know. After much deliberation on the matter and many years in school, I’m calling it quits on trying to learn about women. To me, from what I’ve seen and from what I believe I have been purposefully shown, that goal would be no different than trying to learn about the ocean. I don’t mean learning about the elements of one of Earth’s oceans that we can observe with our five senses. I mean that, for me, women as a group are like the ocean that is eternally beyond the ocean that we presently perceive. What’s more, even if I could learn about women, not one reason comes to mind as to why I’d want to.

Instead, I’m going to focus on learning about one woman. That’s right. My mind is resolved. One of you lucky women will soon gain a suitor. Get excited. And since I’ve recently also concluded that shame is probably the deepest sensation felt during the acquisition of knowledge, I’m pretty sure that my upcoming education will be exceedingly difficult for my prideful self.

As far as the other thought, I lost it somewhere by the ocean part. It’ll return some other day, I guess.

I will give you this, though. Just now as I walked by the dumpster in the darkest hours before the dawn, I saw the regular raccoon but also two smallish ones. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a raccoon family before. What about you?

Women Are Safe

For Matt

I’m just saying that Robert Louis Stevenson is masterful. Check out this little section I just read from his The Master of Bellantrae.

Let anyone speak long enough, he will get believers. This view of Mr. Henry’s behavior crept about the country by little and little; it was talked upon by folk that knew the contrary, but were short of topics; and it was heard and believed and given out for gospel by the ignorant and the ill-willing. Mr. Henry began to be shunned; yet awhile, and the commons began to murmur as he went by, and the women (who are always the most bold because they are the most safe) to cry out their reproaches to his face. The Master was cried up for a saint. It was remembered how he had never any hand in pressing the tenants; as, indeed, no more he had, except to spend the money. He was a little wild perhaps, the folk said; but how much better was a natural, wild lad that would soon have settled down, than a skinflint and a sneckdraw, sitting, with his nosed in an account book, to persecute poor tenants! One trollop, who had a child to the Master, and by all accounts been very badly used, yet made herself a kind of champion of his memory. She flung a stone one day at Mr. Henry.

“Whaur’s the bonnie lad that trustit ye?” she cried.

Mr. Henry reined in his horse and looked upon her, the blood flowing from his lip, “Ay, Jess?” says he. “You too? And yet ye should ken me better.” For it was he who had helped her with money.

The woman had another stone ready, which she made as if she would cast; and he, to ward himself, threw up the hand that held his riding rod.

“What, would ye beat a lassie, ye ugly—-?” cries she, and ran away screaming as though he had struck her.

Next day word went about the country like wildfire that Mr. Henry had beaten Jessie Broun within an inch of her life.

Makes me wonder. Where is the woman who admits her safe status today? Seems out-of-fashion. And if she is in danger, what factors contributed to the change?

I say you’re all still very safe, safer in fact than you were in the nineteenth century–and that this still explains your boldness.