Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Monday, December 15, 2014

In defense of the word "thug"

Dear Hannah,

I've lived many places throughout my life, and this most recent one, situated in the South, happens to be the worst.  And I say this because, on the right side of me and on the left, I'm neighbored by a racist and a redneck.  The latter parks his trucks on the grass, plays his Luke Bryan well past ten at night, and enjoys getting into fights with his girlfriend -- who I'm starting to think is his sister.  The racist, on the other hand, presents a different kind of problem.  He hates everything to do with any race except his own, which is unfortunate for me because I'm a half-bred Hispanic.  He believes everyone other than his own race is against him.  The Asians have taken his child's place at college because they study harder.  The Mexicans have taken his job because they charge less and they work better.  And lastly, perhaps worst of all, he believes that whenever something bad happens between black people and white people in the national news, the black people are innocent, and the white people, whose minds he cannot read, are racists.  Oh -- I've forgotten to mention something.  This racist neighbor is black.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Hitler's art and functional alcoholism

Dear Hannah,

Walk through any bookstore in the United States, find the history section, shuffle your way toward "Germany," and you'll be treated to almost nothing but information about the Nazis.  It shouldn't be too surprising why.  Most of the Protestants I know aren't smart enough to study Martin Luther, and Hitler was the most exciting supervillain to have happened only yesterday.  Aside from these two periods, and maybe World War 1 and the invasion of Rome by the Goths, the rest of German history is a gigantic void to Americans. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The cheerful worker

Dear Hannah,

I don’t care what people say — I refuse to believe that a man who’s a drag at work is a good man in whole.  Eight hours a day are spent at work, at the very least; eight hours are spent at home, and eight hours, if you know what's good for you, are spent sleeping.  Work may only be a third of a man’s entire day but it's half of his waking hours, and if a man’s a drag to be around for half a day I say he’s entirely bad — especially if that’s the only portion of the day I see him.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Concerning Rick Grimes's beard

Dear Hannah,

I've been watching the Walking Dead for a few weeks now, and aside from the constant tension between ideals and survival, one thing that's stuck out to me is the undevelopment of Rick Grimes' personal appearance.  At the beginning he was a perfectly good-looking man -- clean-shaved, hair cut close, fit as can be.  You could say he was an ideal American in both way and form.  But then all of a sudden he grew his beard and hair a little longer and now he looks like a mess.  From an artistic perspective, having him look like a mess may have been a good idea.  People have a way of getting messy when they're falling apart.  As Rick's emotional state continues to plummet, his physical appearance follows right behind him. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

In defense of something I said at dinner last night

Dear Hannah,

You were too young to remember, but there was one time when my parents took us out to dinner, and everything was going fine until I opened my mouth.  I have a tendency to do this.  Sometimes I've been thinking about something for a long time, and when I end up speaking about it, I forget to explain it, and then I look like a monster.  I suppose next time I should make sure to explain it.  Better yet, I should keep my mouth shut.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How to safely be a heretic

Dear Hannah,

The other day I was accosted by the first militant Jew I've ever met.  I've heard of militant Jews for years now -- the ones in wide-brimmed hats and ridiculous curls who go around "shaming" people for turning on light switches and spitting on the Sabbath.  But I've lived long enough now to know that it's always better to meet religious people before making judgments about them. I heard terrible things about the Mormons for years, and then I found out they were some of the greatest neighbors in the world (at least, they are in Seattle).  But anyone who thinks he's morally superior for not eating shrimp or wearing polyester is already too obnoxious for my taste. Thankfully, I'm not alone.  Jesus seems to have agreed with me. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

On Calvinism

Dear Hannah,

I don't remember ever directly encountering the 5 Points of Calvinism in Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, but here they are, in case you aren't sure you remember them.

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

They mean, in essence,
1) That from the second you're born, you're in a position of damnation
2) That God chose you to be saved regardless of anything you'd ever do
3) That God only chose some of us, and then damned the rest
4) That you don't have a choice in your salvation
5) That once you're saved, you'll always be saved

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How to avoid tv dinners and a lonely death

Dear Hannah,

I'm sure you've heard me tell you about the way your great grandpa Don died, but I want to remind you about him because I think the story proves something a lot of people forget.  We can all theorize about ways we'd like to live; history reminds us that others have tried things and ended up a certain way.  And however much we loved him, your great grandpa was certainly such a case.

Monday, September 8, 2014

On menstruation

Dear Hannah,

My anthropology professor once told me that in certain bushman cultures, a menstruating woman gets put into a hut until she stops menstruating.  My first thought on the matter was that they locked her away because she was a bit of a nuisance, but I was wrong.  It turns out, according to my professor, they hid her because they believed menstruation made her too powerful, and thus too dangerous.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What kind of men are we?

Dear Hannah,

One of the strangest periods of Roman history was the period right before the republic collapsed and became an empire.  The Romans weren't known for losing, but during this period, they lost nearly everything they put their hands to.  Catiline nearly overthrew the republic by rallying losers, bankrupts, whoremongers, and drunken hipsters under the flag of rapacity.  A Numidian king named Jugurtha practically walked into the Senate, bribed a bunch of senators, and caused them to overlook his hostile foreign policy -- which cost a friendly kingdom its ruin. And beyond this pirates practically owned the seas, so that all sea trade had practically stopped.  Nothing was fought for, everything was bought.  Money, and not honor, was the currency; safety was lost for safety's sake. Jugurtha was told by the Romans themselves that everything was for sale in Rome, and he decided to prove them right.  Rome itself was plunder until Pompey arrived and in a moment of manliness and decision cleared the seas of pirates; the republic was lost to Catiline until Cicero shouted like an angry patriot and placed his own life in danger to save it.  Rome was bought until Metellus and Marius arrived, turned down Jugurtha's bribes, and actually decided to stand by their friends. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Against the Christian sourpuss

Dear Hannah,

The reason I've been having a difficult time wanting to be a Christian isn't because of Christianity, but because of other Christians.  To give a single example, Victoria Osteen recently made a silly speech about how Christianity and church and religion in general is about us being happy, which seems perfectly reasonable to me.  The problem is, the most "serious" Christians were quick to respond that Christianity isn't about our happiness.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On sin and sin nature

Dear Hannah,

As I've been watching you these past few weeks, I've noticed we have a lot in common.  Neither of us likes to be slighted, or ignored; neither of us likes to be laughed at, or to have to share.  Each of us enjoys doing the things we want to do, and neither of us likes doing the things that we don't; and we both enjoy asserting our own authority -- rules be damned.  And what I've realized from watching you for so long isn't that you're a horrible person for wanting to do things your own way. I've simply come to the realization that I'm a baby who's learned how to reason.  Twenty-four years ago I wanted many of the same things I want today; I simply learned how to reason to get them, and to do it in the most social way possible.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why papa drinks

Dear Hannah,

People drink because they want to feel things they otherwise wouldn't and to me this makes drinking strange.  It isn't just the numbness of a buzz that gets us guzzling; it's that drinking makes us like things we wouldn't otherwise like, have talks we might have missed, ignore things we might otherwise have feared, and celebrate people who most of the time bore us.  It makes us care about things we don't care about and give things away when we would otherwise keep them.  Some people even drink to be more comfortable with an aspect of themselves that they hate.  It adds a certain humanity we'd been missing all along.  A negative person might say that drinking allows us to live a life we wouldn't otherwise have lived.   A more sensible person might say that drinking allows us to be somebody we wouldn't have been. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

On Saints

Dear Hannah,

You're perfectly welcome to read books about the attributes of God.  I personally think they won't do you any harm, although on the other they're unlikely to do you any good.  The unfortunate truth about these kinds of books is that we're humans, and they ramble on about all kinds of things that are so far beyond our nature that we can't make any sense of them.  In a way, reading "attributes" books about how God is just and merciful and omnipotent and eternal is almost like reading fairy tales.  Virtues, after all, are the labels we give to the things that we see -- which is why the Gospels are essential to our religion, and why theology books are almost entirely nonsense.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A crisis averted

Dear Hannah,

You might be interested in knowing that had you been a boy, you probably would have been named Saul.  In retrospect it would have been a terrible idea, made during a period of religious fervor -- or maybe it was a period of fanaticism.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The problem with the Song of Solomon

Dear Hannah,

If anyone really wants to know what the most interesting thing about the Song of Solomon is, I wouldn't tell him, like our dear, late friend Mr. Caldecott, that it's interesting because of its physical position in the Bible.  It may be true that it's halfway through the Bible, and it may be true that God's passionate love for us is central to the meaning of the Bible, and that the Song of Solomon is a powerful allegory about God's desire.  But if anyone was to ask me why it's really interesting, I would tell them it's because Solomon was already married when he pursued the Shulamite.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

To catch a prince: a treatise on male sexuality

Dear Hannah,

I want to apologize in advance for this essay: it's certainly not anything a girl wants to hear from anyone, much less from her father; but I figure that if there's anything worse than an honest letter about male sexuality, it's a woman never being told how men think, and then finding out from experience.  One of the greatest cruelties of human existence is showing a girl lots of romantic Disney films and never acquainting her with Solomon -- or in other words, giving her an ideal picture of the beginnings of romance, and never telling her that men are sexually insatiable.  They say Solomon loved his wives, and this much may be true.  But it's very easy to love a beautiful woman and treat her well for a moment when you get to share the rest of your week with as many as a thousand other beautiful women.  For the rest of us who deal with one exclusively, loving your wife is an entirely more laborious task.  Solomon's love, however admirable, is really a matter of timing.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A great injustice

Dear Hannah,

I want you to take a good look at these pictures: really take a moment and study them. The one on the left is a portrait of Jonathan Edwards, quite possibly the greatest theologian who ever lived; a man who spurred an important religious revival and left behind him generations of doctors, lawyers, pastors and statesmen.  The portrait on the right is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, quite possibly the greatest and most dangerous author of the French Enlightenment; a man who spurred the massacres of the French Revolution, and left behind him scores of bastard children.

Ignoring their accomplishments and just looking at the two of them, who  would you rather be like?  Who would you rather be around? The frumpy sourpuss on the left, or the kind-eyed and handsome man on the right?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Kill a child, save the planet

Dear Hannah,

I've heard strangers say, perhaps a dozen times, that if the Native Americans had only kept control of the Americas the environment would be in much better shape.  I think this is only half a truth.  It's less that Native Americans were good at taking care of the environment, and more that they were really bad at taking care of their children. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

On Pharisees

Dear Hannah,

If you've spent any amount of time with Christians, you've heard them toss the term Pharisee around.  This means if you have a brain, you've realized that the term Pharisee is used by Christians as frequently and unfairly as the term Hitler is used by political activists.  In essence, everyone who's doing better than us, who's asking us to take God more seriously, or who's asking us to do things differently than we're currently doing them, is a Pharisee.  We'd do much better to recognize that the people most like the Pharisees -- or, in other words, the people with their same prejudices, their follies, and their theological silliness -- are the ultra-orthodox Jews.  But then I suppose we'd be in danger of being called Hitler.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fabius and Minucius

Dear Hannah,

As I'm thinking about the many different angles I could approach the topic of repentance, none seems more useful to me than an old story about a Roman general named Fabius Maximus.  Now, Fabius was an old and experienced man when Hannibal invaded Italy, and the Romans spent a lot of time deriding him because he refused to engage Hannibal's army.  Fabius knew that Hannibal's army was too experienced and too powerful to be defeated by the Romans -- he knew, almost by instinct, that the best way to beat Hannibal would be to avoid an engagement, and let the invading army starve itself to death, even though it meant letting Hannibal ravage the country.  But the rest of the Romans disagreed, thinking it was too cowardly to hide in the mountains like Fabius wanted, and they decided it would be better to risk an open engagement.

Symbolism and society

Dear Hannah*,

I haven’t seen any pictures, but I’ve been told that when my grandpa was a baby, he used to wear a fluffy dress.  Now, my grandpa wasn’t a sissy; he actually turned out to be a very muscular, very virile, very rugged machinist, and he happened to get a woman pregnant before he was even married to her (a woman who became my grandma).  But the reason that I mention his wearing a dress as a boy, is because nobody was ever concerned during those days that making him wear a little dress was going to in any way make him effeminate or give him gender confusion.  Today, making a baby boy wear a dress would either arouse a healthy amount of laughter or a deep sense of concern; yesterday, that is how we dressed a good portion, if not all, of our soon-to-be warriors, machinists, preachers, and neighborhood grocers.

Friday, June 6, 2014

On free will

Dear Hannah,

I know I just recently wrote you an essay about how people who discuss concepts like the freedom of the will are wasting their time; but my advice, as all general advice, is not always as simple as it seems.  The fact that there are some things we can't entirely understand doesn't mean that we shouldn't think about them; it simply means we should be careful we don't base our entire lives upon the speculative when there's a very high likelihood it can be proven false by what's demonstrative.

Our lives are really a mixture between speculation and common sense: our senses tell us all the causes and effects of the world around us, which become knowledge; our minds remember what we've seen and predict the future, and when they do so correctly, it's known as wisdom.  But when our minds apply these patterns to other things we haven't entirely experienced, and then we begin to think about things we haven't ever really seen, this is known as speculation.  You rely on either of these extremes too heavily, and you're a dolt.  Too much common sense means no dreaming; too much speculation means no wisdom.  Too much of the former means we never improve what we know, too much of the latter means we never maintain what we have.   Maybe Farmer Joe will never fall for an egalitarian ponzi scheme or become a practically retarded theologian, but I have a hard time believing he could have ever written The Federalist.  And maybe Einstein will invent all kinds of new things, but I have a hard time believing how this could be a real benefit to him when he let his family go to ruin.  The truth is that we need both kinds of men; but we should never try to be them -- although if I had to be one of the two, I would rather be (and be surrounded by) the simpleton with common sense. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The problem with theologians

Dear Hannah,

The more I think about the phrase common sense, the more convinced I am that the people who have least to do with it are theologians.  Common sense is, of course, an allusion to our hearing and sight, and an implication that if we're seeing and hearing the same things, then we must be coming to some kind of an obvious understanding about what they mean.  The theologian has nothing to do with any of this.  He spends his time arguing about things he's never really seen from Someone he's never really heard.  Even Job was honest enough to say, when he finally met his Creator, that all the while he'd been talking about someone he'd never really met (Job 42:5-6).  The theologian in this sense is slightly less honest: the more seriously he takes his profession, the more you'd think he got his creeds from God in person.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Remember to always shave your mustache

My dear Hannah,

I'm not joking when I say this: I have actually encountered a woman with a very wiry and very thin, but very real goatee.  The damned thing drives me nuts.  It drives me nuts first because it's ugly, and second because I know the power of a razor.  She could shave it in an instant, and within a few seconds be rid of something which is obviously an offense against everything we know to be aesthetic.  Even if it was fashionable for women to grow facial hair, it isn't even a good goatee.

Monday, May 26, 2014

On proof of divinity

Dear Hannah,

If you want me or anyone else to prove that Jesus is the Son of God, I'm afraid you're asking for something that can't be done.  It's been over two-thousand years since Jesus walked the earth, and people had enough trouble believing Him back then.  Thomas had to see the holes in Christ's hands before he even believed what the other Apostles had told him.  I don't see how it could be any easier now.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Transcending the politics of black and white

My dear Hannah,

I sincerely doubt that in America -- or anywhere else for that matter -- you'll be able to successfully avoid racial politics, so I'd like to give you a few tips on how to deal with them.  I'm writing this because there are people who think that we have a moral duty to avoid racial politics, and there are people who make their lives of them: the former I believe to be truly naive or stupid people; the latter have become nearly animals.  In different periods of my life, I have been both.  You must be neither.

Friday, March 28, 2014

In defense of fakery

My dear Hannah,

I don't know exactly who's been saying it, but this week a friend of mine confided that people at work have been complaining about me.  There are plenty of reasons to complain about me, of course: on the one hand you might complain I'm not good enough to be a Christian, and on the other you might complain that I'm too straight-laced to be a heathen. Depending on the time of the day, both of them may be right.  If we take both of these perspectives seriously, I may be a perfectly annoying person.  I'm also certain there are other reasons to complain.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On happiness

Dear Hannah,

It's four o'clock on Sunday morning, and I'm sitting down to write you about happiness.  I don't know why, but the UN has decided to have an International Day of Happiness, and I can't sleep because I keep thinking about it.  Maybe having a day about happiness makes them happy; writing about why they shouldn't works much better for me.

Bill Nye

Dear Hannah,

There isn't really any way to keep myself from getting into trouble with this letter, so I'll begin it in the most straightforward manner possible: if anyone tells you to take the Bible literally, it's important that you question that person's teaching seriously.