Friday, January 17, 2014

3 Realizations From My First Year of Fatherhood

One year ago tomorrow (January 18th), my wife was due to have our son Owen.  As is often the case during parenting, things didn't go exactly as planned.  He decided to grace us with his presence on the 22nd, and chose an emergency surgery as the way to enter the world.
Having a kid changed many facets of my life.  It is one of the best learning experiences I've ever had.  Nothing has prompted me to grow in compassion, mercy, respect, and responsibility like having a child did.  I look back at who I was a year ago and the difference shocks me.  It's like looking in a mirror that you would find at the circus.  It resembles you, and you know it's you, but so much of it is different that it hardly seems possible.  The following three realizations during my first year of fatherhood have changed me a great deal:

1. Babies are helpless, and so am I.

This might seem obvious, but I had never contemplated the implications of how helpless human children really are.  Owen, without constant care and frequent attention, would not have lived past a few days, maybe hours.  This is in stark contrast to many of the other creatures on earth.  Giraffes walk within two minutes.  Zebras are capable of running within one hour.  Many sharks are born with a full set of teeth and immediately hunt their own prey.  We are one year in and Owen can finally walk, is working on his third tooth, has no idea how to find or prepare his own food, and is unable to extract himself from his own waste.  The care required from human parents is not one hour, one day, or even one year.  It's about a decade to basic self-sufficiency, and in modern society it's common to last 22 years (through college).  And yet, we are the most dominant species on the planet.

Obviously the top of the food chain:



This thought, of our complete dependency on others, caused me to ask, "why?".  What sort of spiritual growth can we come to as a result of the fact that we are entirely dependent upon others for so long?  

The answer is simple.  In our natural order, we are quickly taught that survival is dependent upon others.  It's a standard which we take for granted even though it underlies our very existence.  We would not be alive but for the care of those around us.   We are programmed early with the understanding that little, if anything, is within our own control.

But what about when we become seemingly self-sufficient, capable of generating an income necessary for our own care?  Even then, we rely on the specialties of those around us to produce goods that we are incapable of producing ourselves, to invent new items that we would never consider, and to work so that society can function.  Very little in our adult life is actually within our absolute control.

The Bible has revealed all of creation is created ex nihilo.  It's a Latin phrase that means "out of nothing."   And because we are of nothing, we have no property intrinsic to our being that requires we exist.  God must actively hold us in being.  We are all entirely helpless and dependent upon God.   Perhaps our seeming helplessness in this world is a physical representation of a greater Truth.  It should come as no shock to us that the entire time we existed, it was because of another.

Owen, joyously depending on his parents:


2.  Parenthood develops compassion and mercy through sacrifice.

I've always been kind of a manly man.  I grew facial hair early (8th grade), I was stronger than most people around me, and I was emotionally impenetrable. In addition, as I grew up in my Protestant faith, I considered myself a good Christian.  I mostly did the right things. I regularly said I cared for others.  I often prayed for them.

I'm not saying it was necessarily a lie.  I really was trying. I just never realized how self-centered I was.  It's probably something most people don't realize until they have somebody else whose life entirely depends on them.  

Parenthood was the first time I was challenged to put somebody else's life before my own (probably because my wife is amazingly self-sufficient).  Parenthood requires regular sacrifice.  For example, for several years prior to fatherhood I got wings and beers with the guys every Wednesday night.  After having a kid, that was much harder. In order to be a good parent and give Owen the care he deserves and needs, I have been forced to regularly miss something I loved.  And, at first, it was really frustrating.  As another example, instead of getting 6-8 straight hours of sleep every night, I'd get 5-6 hours in three different chunks.  That's uncomfortable.  It requires patience and self-control not to get frustrated.  And, due to lack of sleep, it could effect my attitude and actions when I was with others.  I had to begin actively thinking about patience and self-control.  It became a habit for those things to cross my mind during the regular course of the day--and it never was before.  Lack of sleep, and inability to just get up and do something were only a few of the challenges I experienced.  But, every challenge led to something better.  It's an ongoing development project: me, and who/what I live for.

The results have been mind boggling.  A year of sacrifice helped develop some incredible and positive habits.  I think, due to having Owen, I'm more patient with ineptitude (something that really got under my skin in the past--and it's still a work in progress), I am more willing to take the initiative to help others without the other person's initial request.  When I imagine the suffering of others, I'm able to give it a human face: Owen.  Movies full of injustice have brought me to tears when I never would have given them a second thought in the past.  Driving by homeless people during a cold Nebraska night makes me feel ashamed that I have an unused guest bedroom in my apartment. (I still don't bring them in for safety concerns of my wife and child--as much as I want to do so). During my first six years in Lincoln, I never fed the homeless or gave money to them on the street.  The number of times is now growing every week.  And it's all because I see the face of Owen on every beggar.  He has humanized the entire race of humanity for me through his helplessness.

And when you're seeing this, who could say no!?
Children do this to most parents because life stops revolving around themselves.  You develop the habit and spiritual awareness that life is about others.

I have become especially sensitive and soft-hearted to single parents.  Raising a kid with two of us means we get to split the sacrifices--not always equally, but we still share the burden.  Single mothers (and fathers) are frequently without the emotional, physical, and spiritual support of other people.   I can't even begin to imagine what that's like.  The thought nearly brings me to tears.  The devotion and sacrifice single parents put toward their children is absolutely incredible and inspiring.  God bless single parents--if you aren't praying for them regularly, please start.

Side note:  Thanks mom and dad for everything you did for me.  It's true, you never understand the sacrifice of parents before you have kids.  As far as I can remember, I never had a dirty diaper.

3. Children help us all re-experience the little joys of life and draw out the beauty in this world.

Most people love babies and very young children (especially when they are other people's).  Sure, they are cute and cuddly, but even moreso, they are bewildered with all their new experiences.  Consider the following example:  It snowed in early December.  Miranda and I absolutely had to get Owen out in the snow to experience it.  We laughed and enjoyed the wonder on his face as the snow fell from the sky and speckled his cheeks.  Generally, snow doesn't really excite me anymore.  If anything, I first think about how much of a burden it is to remove and drive in.  I'm too caught up in everyday life to consider how amazing something like snow is--but, due to Owen, I was caught up in how beautiful and spectacular such a simple thing in life was.

Situations like these aren't rare.  In fact, they happen almost every day.  Owen learns to wave at people and we celebrate like we invested early in Berkshire Hathaway and Facebook and Twitter.  You get the picture.  Simple things in life that we generally take for granted become very big things again.  Everyday things become occasions for joy.

He even made Halloween more complete...


Joke aside, children help us all see the beauty in the world.  Their innocence and inexperience draw out things we have been numbed to and re-invigorate our minds.  It's a breath of fresh air, and probably the most positive thing I've ever experienced.

Conclusion

Having a child is a big deal, and it's taxing.  But, every second of it is worthwhile.  They say nothing good comes easy, and that definitely applies to children.  Owen has changed my life in almost every way imaginable, and yet I'm incredibly thankful he was here to shift my focus outward more frequently.  Kids are good. They bring value and joy to the world.  Owen is intrinsically valuable beyond measure, and when you have your own child, you begin to realize everybody else is valuable too.

So much changed in the first year, I can't wait to see what the rest of our lives bring!  One thing I know for sure, it's going to be incredible.

Monday, September 2, 2013

5 Tips for Baby Bargaining (Guest Post by my Wife, Miranda)

NOTE: My wife wanted a place to refer people to when asked about her experiences shopping for our son. I agree with her, and appreciate her efforts and abilities to save on everyday purchases.  She has saved our family and business thousands of dollars (probably tens of thousands) over the years. Her tips and tricks are very valuable. Enjoy her post as follows:

Well, it seems like more and more friends are expecting these days! If you know me well, finding ways to save money is my thing! Several friends have asked for tips, and I thought I would put together a list of my top 5 in order of the baby’s birth/needs. #5 is my favorite!
    1. Don't find out the sex – Don't get me wrong, I'm a planner. Some might call me crazy because of how much I plan. Secrets and surprises are not my thing, especially one that lasts 40 weeks AND one I can ruin by just asking the doctor. Finding my presents before Santa came was one of my favorite things. Not finding out what Owen was going to be, was not easy for me.

      Many say it's the best surprise in life; I would definitely agree. But, the surprise was not the only reason we didn't find out. When nobody knows, you get practical gifts at your showers. We ended up with diapers that lasted until he was about 4 mo old, wipes until he was 7 mo, a swing, high chair, stroller, car seat, bottles, toys, nursing supplies, etc. All of these things are whites, yellows, and greens, which are colors baby 2, 3, 4+ can use, no matter the sex. (No we are not pregnant).

      We had some friends who found out they were having a little girl while they were pregnant and ended up with 40 tiny adorable pink newborn dresses. They registered for all of the practical things and hardly any clothes. But, what person coming to your shower can resist the uber cute outfit. Burp rags just aren't as fun. Also, everything is pink or blue. If a future baby is the opposite sex, it means a lot more shopping.

    2. Don’t buy a ton of clothes – Our friends that ended up with 40 newborn dresses still had the tags on ½ of her clothes when she had to move to the next size.

       I know it’s super tempting, but don’t do it. Don’t buy all of those super cute little clothes. They grow out of them so fast and don't have many opportunities to wear them. For the first couple of weeks, or so, Owen and I rarely left the house. We would dress him up for church and a few occasions when family or friends came to visit. Really, they only need 4-6 of those super-cute spiffy outfits.

      I curbed my shopping needs by searching for the perfect outfit to take our little one home in. I bought one girl and one boy outfit. Owen looked like a stud coming home from the hospital in his collared shirt and sweater vest.

      But really, they spend 12-14 hours a day sleeping. Jammies and onesies are ideal! Plus, when many friends and family come to visit you for the first time (or for my mom and mother-in-law for the 100th) they can’t resist but to bring you a new cute outfit they saw in the store.

    3. Breastfeed for as long as possible – If you’re looking to save some dough, breastfeeding is huge! We had some friends that have resisted having a little one because of the expense. We have told them, “God gives you 9 months to save up and prepare.” On top of that, if you are breast feeding, things are relatively expense free until 6 months or so--when they start eating real food. If you can pump, stock up your freezer. Just when you think you have a lot frozen, keep on pumping. You will be shocked how fast that supply depletes. If you're needing a pump, some insurance companies cover a breast pump. Give them a call and ask. If not, used pumps work as well as old.   

    4. Formula is expensive – Well, this kind of goes with #3 and is pretty obvious for most. Formula is CRAZY expensive! Stock up on the free samples that your OB and the hospital give out, or any you can sign up for through Enfamil or Similac. When those run dry and you have to buy, SamsClub is where you want to go! If you don't have a membership, find a friend that does. Their generic brand formula is $.44/oz compared to Walmart’s generic brand formula at $.54/oz. Don’t buy the name brand stuff. It’s something crazy like $.98 or $1.14/oz, even at SamsClub. The difference in generic brands will save you a couple hundred dollars a -year, choosing the generic over the name brands could save you $500.

    5. Amazon Mom – Amazon mom is the best thing ever! If you are familiar with Amazon Prime, it is basically that, but you get it FREE for 3 months!  Sign up. With amazon mom, you get FREE Two-Day Shipping and save 20% on diapers, wipes, and thousands of other family essentials.

      Plus, you may be eligible for an extra $25 off select diapers when you join. They also send out a ton of great coupons. So far, I have gotten some for $10 of free baby food, 20% off baby toys, $3 for a movie through amazon video (a free rental). All of which I have already used. It's been great. If you ever had an amazon prime account or an amazon student account don't use that same email/login and you should be able to get the 3 months for free.

      Here are the items that we have gotten a lot of:
      You get - 20% off diapers and wipes. I have found these to be the cheapest I could find at $.12/diaper. I haven't had to buy wipes yet because we got so many at my showers.

      For baby food: I found it for $.10/oz or $.12/oz compared to Walmart's price of $.15/oz. You will want to subscribe and save to get the price of $.10 or $.12/oz. Look around at all their options. They have a lot. (I would just cancel the reoccurring order after the first month of getting them to get the discount, but not have to reorder.)

      The membership has been nice to use when attending other baby showers. It's cheaper, less shopping is involved, and they deliver in two days.

      Prime is also great for any other purchases you need. Brock had to get the new Madden game for x-box, which came with a subscription to NFL Sunday Ticket so we could watch the Chiefs games every week. Best part is, we just ordered it one week before NFL games start and it will be here in time for us to watch all of the games. WARNING: Prime might cause you to spend more money than save because it's just so awesome and convenient! (If you sign up through my link, I get a referral bonus.)
While I might be giving what some think is helpful advice, others might hate it. My biggest piece of advice for new moms is do what works and is best for you. Everyone has advice. Most of the time it's contradicting. The more you read or hear from others the more confusing being a mom can get. Just do your thing. Trust yourself. You'll be great!

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Single Prayer Can Make All the Difference

I didn't grow up in a church.  My parents, coming from different religions, decided to let us find our own route. In 2001, when I was 13 years old, my 11 year old brother asked me to attend a group called "Cool Christians" on Wednesdays after school.  It was a fun and social event that roughly 100 kids from my middle school attended. We played in the gym, had snacks, and spent 30 minutes listening to worship music.  It wasn't long before my brother made the decision to attend church there with some of his friends. I went with him.  Six months later, the rest of my family followed, and my brother and I were baptized.

After a few years, I became upset with the direction of the church, and I left. I found my new home at Northland Cathedral Assemblies of God. I loved it.  However, when I left for college, finding a church that felt the same seemed impossible.  I tried a new church every week for four months.  Finally, I decided to settle with my girlfriend's (she's now my wife) church, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Newman Center in early 2008.

It was boring, and I disagreed with their theology.  There weren't doughnuts, live bands, testimonials, or Sunday School classes.  I went for the community, which I was sorely missing.  Although I often disagreed with them, they respected my beliefs and were always willing to discuss our differences. I was a part of their community without being a part of their Church.

Three years later, in 2011, I spent a weekend at a regional Fellowship of Catholic University Students conference in Minneapolis. On the Saturday evening, in the middle of a talk, I had an urge unrelated to the talk to begin a research project examining the beliefs of the early Christian church.  I thought, if anybody knew what Christ wanted, it would be the people who lived near the time He lived, right? It made sense to me, the practices of early Christians ought to reflect most closely what Christ intended.  I spent several months reading more than 100 documents written by early Christians.  In the middle of Against Heresies by Irenaeus, I realized that early Christians did not believe what I believed about the Eucharist. Irenaeus spelled out, explicitly, the modern Catholic teaching on the Eucharist.

I remember thinking, literally, "Shit, I'm Catholic."  I called a pastor back home and pleaded with him, "Help me, I think I'm becoming Catholic."  We talked through my reasoning about the church fathers and then through what Irenaeus had written. He didn't have sufficient answers for me.  As I continued reading writings of other early Christians, it became more apparent which church they most closely resembled--the Catholic Church.

I converted in April 2012.


But why did it happen? What caused my overwhelming urge to read the church fathers? What started my year-long intellectual journey to Rome?  Why couldn't I stop reading them--even in the middle of law school classes?

The answer shocked me.  I attended the Minneapolis conference with Miranda, my girlfriend of roughly 10 years.  On the Saturday of the conference, hours before my obsession began, Miranda prayed for the very first time that I would make the journey into the Catholic Church.  Over the next year, she never expressed this desire in person.  I never felt pressured by her to join the Church.  She merely prayed for me.  After making the decision to join the Church, she told me about her prayer. I had no clue.

Here's the deal folks, I strongly believe that without her prayer earlier on that Saturday, I wouldn't have begun reading the church fathers.  That single prayer, started my journey home.

Pray for the conversion of souls, it works.


P.S.  Thanks, Miranda! I wouldn't be the person I am today without your prayer, love, and support.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Modern Lie About Humility


The Modern Lie About Humility

In second grade, I lived down the street from a set of twins that were my classmates.  One day, they told me their parents thought I was too boastful.  I was upset about it. I actually remember crying myself to sleep! Since that day, I have been self-conscious about humility. Figuring out how to be humble has been a struggle for me.  My entire life, people have regularly considered me “headstrong”, “proud”, “boastful”, and “confident”.  There are likely situations in which I go overboard, but here is the deal: the modern concept of humility is a lie.

I Have Accomplished Some Awesome Things

I could make a mile long list of the things I have done that get me excited, make me smile from cheek to cheek, or rustle up feelings inside me that make be believe I could take on Ndamakong Suh. For your sake (and possibly mine, since Suh is huge), I will refrain.  However, I will say one. My most recent accomplishment that makes me proud is finishing the law school portion of my joint degree.  It is an amazing feat! I am excited to join a club that includes many founding fathers, great philosophers, and a host of modern scholars/businesspeople.  There is a sense of dignity, respect, and trust associated with those who have received their jurisdoctorate.   People expect a level of knowledge and wisdom out of you that they do not expect from others.  It is awesome to achieve!

The Lie—False Humility
I noticed many of my fellow law students shrugging off my congratulations to them, as if it were no big deal that they had just finished law school.  Often, people receiving compliments for doing awesome things shrug them off. “Thanks, but it was really nothing” or some variation of that lie comes out of our mouths.  This is what society has led us to believe being humble is.

It is a lie.  Finishing law school really is special.    Working two jobs as a single mother to support your family really is special.  Giving up 5 hours of your week to volunteer really is special.  Living a chaste life really is special.  Fighting for a good cause really is special.  Spending every day teaching our youth really is special.  People are how they act. The diminishment of action is a diminishment of the human person. Lying and diminishing your accomplishments, diminishes your worth.
You probably get the idea.  Everybody has something to be proud of—and it is not humble to downplay it. It is a lie.   You damage yourself and anybody who hears it. 

Real Ways to Be Humble

1. Pass on the credit
When somebody else deserves some of the credit for your accomplishments, make sure they get it.  My parents, my wife, my friends, my professors, and my classmates all deserve a portion of the credit for my completion of the jurisdoctorate.  I would not have wanted to do it without their love and support. In all instances, I can (and probably should) also pass the credit to God for breathing me into existence, holding me there, and endowing me with the gifts necessary to make it through law school. While passing on the credit might diminish my role in the accomplishment, it does not diminish the accomplishment.

2. Celebrate Everybody Else’s Accomplishments
The biggest struggle I have with humility, and often the least practiced/contemplated, is the expression of excitement over other people’s accomplishments.  Many of us are arrogant, “that’s good, but I would have done better.”  Some of us are envious, “good for them, but they started from a better position than me.”  Arrogance (pride) and envy are the true enemies of humility. How would you want somebody else to celebrate your accomplishments?  That is how you should be celebrating theirs.  Do not let your big head get in the way.  Celebrate in joy and happiness for whatever great thing they have done!

If somebody is continually pointing out good things to you that they have done, they are probably just in need of some affirmation.  Give it to them. Seeking this reassurance is likely indicative of a lower self-esteem, rather than high self-esteem.  If you are the person that is continually asking for affirmation, start looking for places to celebrate other people’s accomplishments.  When you start to give value to the actions of others, it is inherent that you will start to see the value in your own actions. If you are in a place where you do not think you do anything awesome, find two awesome things a day that others are doing and congratulate them on it.  It will change your life.

3. Forgive People
True forgiveness requires a person to forget the sin.  “I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget” actually means the forgiver is not “forgiving” the other person.  I think it takes a lot of humility to forgive others for their wrongs.  The logic behind forgiveness requires you to first admit your own sin.  None of us are perfect, thus forgiveness is necessary in our relationships. 

Conclusion

There are two good responses to, “Wow, great job!” and similar compliments:

1. Yeah, you know what! It really was a great job…let’s go get a beer (unless you are under 21, then ice cream should be used)!

2. Well, I can’t take all the credit…[insert where credit is due]. (Still admits it was a great job).

If somebody has accomplished something great, or deserves some recognition, let them know what a good job they are doing. That is real humility.  Being able to forgive people that have done you wrong also requires a great deal of humility.    

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

God Exists, You Don't Need Religious Texts to Know It.

You and I exist, but we might not have.  Humans exist, but they might not have.  The earth and other planets exist, but they might not have.  Our universe exists, but it might not have.  Phew, that's enough. Seemingly, everything that exists might not have.

Neither we, humans, the Earth, or the universe is the explanation of its own existence. My existence was contingent upon something else--my parents.  I am a receiver of existence. So are my parents.

It is impossible to conceive of a universe in which all things are receivers of existence. It's easy to realize this when we put it into terms.  If all things which existed were receivers of existence, it would go on forever.  One might ask, "What's the problem with this? Can't there be an infinite number of events before right now?"  The answer is simply, "No."  That would mean we counted through an infinite number of events to reach right now. It is impossible to count to infinite.

The Need for a Giver
Logic requires a starting point, or a giver. Contingent existence requires that something exists in its own right.  It "is".  For simplicity sake, let's refer to this being as the "giver".

Often, I hear, "But, what accounts for the giver's existence? Where does the giver come from?"  The answer is something you will have to follow closely.  Since this giver is not contingent, the source of the giver's existence is contained within the giver itself. This means there is something about what the giver is that requires its exist. "What" something is refers to the nature of a being.  My nature is human, which means I possess certain qualities.  One is that I am contingent. We may, or may not exist.  The giver on the other hand must exist. The giver cannot not exist. The giver, is existence.  This is the Primary Truth about "the giver".

(As a side note, it might shock some of you to know philosophers realized this 5 centuries before Christ).

What This Tells Us about Our Giver
Some of you are saying, "So what?  That doesn't mean a whole lot.  So there's a reason we all exist.  It doesn't tell us anything about this 'giver person'."

One thing we can know is that the giver exists without limit. There is no deficiency about being. Deficiencies are that which are not. The giver exists to the fullest of existence.  The giver is infinite.   This means the giver exists in the perfections of all things.  For instance, the giver could not make something exist that the giver is not.  Since we can see and hear, we know that the giver can see all and hear all.  Furthermore, knowledge and charity are found in created things.  This means the giver must know all and love all. That means the cosmic being, far away from us in the order of existence, is also close and personal with us. It knows and loves us.

For Today, This is What We Know
1. We are contingent, and contingent beings require one who is not contingent.
2. A being that is not contingent has a nature requiring that it is existence.
3. A being that is, must exist to the fullest extent of that which are.
4. Perfections which exist in nature, must exist in the giver.  (ex: love and knowledge).
5. The giver of our existence knows and loves us.

Let that sink in for a moment, this much is knowable without Sacred Scripture, and was developed by people that did not know or follow the Judeo-Christian religions.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What You're Worth--And How You Treat People

What are we really worth, and how do we decide what others are worth?  There are three ways to give something value.  We can value something by examining what it does for us.  We determine value through the materials making up an item.  We can also give something value based on who made it.

How we determine a person's worth is often displayed by our actions.

You're Worth What You Produce
One option is that you're worth what you're able to provide to society.  This is one of the major criticisms of Capitalism.  We (including myself) tend to view people as means to an end.  What can they give us? What skills, talents, passions, and work ethic do they possess?  If it's not something that we can use, we often discard them and move on.  This doesn't just happen in business though, it happens when picking friends.  How funny are they? Are they cool enough for me?  How much better would they make my flag football team (okay, that's mostly me)?  If most of us don't see any value in their addition to our groups, we don't bother talking to them.

This obviously brings us to a sad conclusion: those that don't bring any value to the table are worth nothing.  This has very bad implications for the sick, lame, disabled, and downtrodden.  What do you do with something of no worth?  We toss it.  Americans do this on a daily basis.  One study estimates upwards of 90% of children with down syndrome are aborted.  Several states not only provide euthanasia, but are now pushing for Dutch Reform which allows doctors to make the decision to end lives of the sick and elderly.

It shouldn't be a shocker though, aborting and euthanasing those that would not contribute is an easy extension of this view.  If you've ever read The Giver, Lois Lowery extends the philosophy a bit farther--and it's terrifying.

You're Worth What You're Made Of
Imagine for a second a cabinet maker.  (S)he is about to make a cabinet.  (S)he has the option of selecting several different types of wood to make it with.  Obviously, the type of wood that is chosen is going to impact the value of the cabinet. Often, this value depends on the qualities and rarity of the wood.

The same could be said for us.  But, of what are we made? The truth of the matter is that we are merely a collection of atoms and elements.  We likely come out of some primordial goop.  It's not pretty to think about what we are.  Furthermore, how rare is a human? Well, humans seem to do a pretty good job or replacing themselves. Humans are composed of the same material and quality.

What will you give me for a collection of atoms that came from goop and could be replaced 250,000x in Lincoln, Nebraska alone?  Probably not much.

Here's my favorite part.  Most modern physicists and Christians believe the universe was created ex nihilo. That literally means from nothing.  There was nothing, then the Big Bang happened, and there was something.  Moses told the rest of us that 4000 years ago in his first sentence of Genesis.  But what does being made from "nothing" imply?

Well, for one, let's think about the cabinet.  The cabinet maker can make the cabinet and leave it alone. It will remain a cabinet because of the qualities of wood.  What would happen if the cabinet maker had made the cabinet from nothing and (s)he left it?  It would disappear.  Nothing does not have the quality to retain it's shape.

The same is true of us. That which is of nothing, is really worth nothing when it's valued is derived from that which it is made--nothing. Phew, say that 5x fast.

You're Given Worth Based On Who Made You
Picture a painting by Pablo Picasso.  Quite frankly, I've never been a big fan of his works.  I don't find them beautiful like I do works by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Dali, etc. For those of you that do find his work beautiful, just imagine his ugliest painting.  What's it's value?  Even I'd take a Picasso merely because of the name associated with it!  Often, things are valuable merely because of who makes it.

We could be quite literal about it and ask who our parents are.  Often, that's how society views our worth.  You likely possess more skills, qualities, and options if you are born to wealthier parents.  We have to ask ourselves though, what does that mean for individuals born to the poor?  Are they somehow worth less because of who their parents were?

Here is where Christianity provides the most insight on how to determine a human being's worth.  We are all conceived with the help of God.  He brings us into being, and knows us before we are born.  He spends every second holding us in existence (because we are made of nothing).

Rich, poor, strong, weak, smart, dumb---it doesn't matter!  We're all made by the same Being.  We have intrinsic value because of Him.  He calls us to treat others, especially the weak and the poor with charity and respect.  Our human dignity is derived from this Being.

Here are Your Options

1. Treat people as if they are worth what they produce.  This leads to huge inequalities.
2. Treat people as if they are worth what they are made of.  A few answers to this are muck, water, air, and even worse--nothing!
3. Treat people as if they are worth that which made them.  This implies we all come from the same Being.  We are all endowed with the same rights.  We are equals, and every human deserves love/respect.

The way we treat others often indicates how we derive their value.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thinking is really hard and exposes an individual to being wrong!

Thinking is hard.  I mean, it's really hard--and if you do it, sometimes you'll be wrong.  I find the lack of emphasis on logic and reason among my peers mind boggling.  I began reading Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis two nights ago (for a 3rd time).  Here are a few reflections he has on the topic along with my additional thoughts:

Thinking=Doing

"At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it.  They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as a result of the chain of reasoning."

Many of us don't want to change.  We want to go with the flow.  Our life ought to reflect what we think and believe.  It's much more convenient for us if we don't hold any opinions or viewpoints--because then we can do whatever we want. 

Determining What to Think is Complicated

"[We have] been accustomed, ever since we [were little] to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside [our] heads."

Sometimes, it's really difficult to think about all the moving parts involved with different issues.  Take for instance the current gun rights/control debate.  I've been on 20 different sites and read editorials from probably 40 different individuals with various political affiliations and beliefs.  Many present compelling cases, and mutually exclusive cases.  It's often difficult to reduce their editorial into the positions the author holds.  Does one reject gun control because (s)he believes human dignity requires the freedom to defend oneself, or does (s)he reject it because (s)he believes the 2nd Amendment protects it.  Does (s)he reject it because human dignity requires better protection of innocent lives often killed by individuals using guns?  Does (s)he reject it because (s)he believes the 2nd Amendment no longer matters?  Do both parties accept it or reject it merely because their leaders tell them to do so?

To complicate matters, most of the facts on issues aren't released or presented in individual articles.  For instance, the recent legislation voted down by the Senate wasn't merely about background checks--but that's all people seem to be talking about.  Some democrats and republicans flipped (totaling 9) because they believed the bill was actually pro gun rights.  Wait, what? A bill restricting one's ability to purchase guns is pro gun rights?  Yup, because there were plenty of additional provisions that actually gave gun owners additional rights.  That's the political game.

Merely finding information on a topic is difficult.  Figuring out the political slants, underlying beliefs/assumptions, and biases is even more difficult.  Where people are coming from is an important frame of reference, but we rarely have access to it without spending a lot of time searching.

Thinking Requires that Shift Our Focus
Demon says, "Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experience."

By stopping to think about something, we have to shift our focus from the "now" into something that seems to have less substance.  We are no longer capable of using our time to pursue present desires, but we must reflect on how we ought to manage our lives.  Removing ourselves from the stream can be very difficult.

So What Can We Do?
[Demon says,] "By the very act of arguing, you awake the [individual's] reasoning; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?"

1.  If you're Catholic, check your viewpoints against Hers.  The Church is our bastion for Truth, Justice, and Charity.  Figure out if She has an official stance on an issue.  If She does, it's right--you just need to figure out why, and be able to explain it.

2. Discuss your opinions with others, but don't force the conversation on people. As you can see by the Lewis quote above, merely engaging in the discussion might lead them (or you) to Truth.  Practicing our "thinking" abilities will get better at it in the future.  Remember not to have an unwanted conversation with others.  Forcing the issue will likely push them away from your views, even if they ultimately agree with you!

3. Be open minded, and be willing to be wrong (if She has no official stance). Engaging yourself in formulating opinions requires testing them by discussing the issues with others.  This means that you might be wrong--and that's okay!  If you're wrong, change your opinion.  That's admirable and respectable--not something to be looked down upon as it's presented by the modern media and politicians. Sometimes you might be correct about the issue, but incorrect in how you present it. Be open to changes in that regard.

4. Be charitable and loving in your discussions with others.  Even if they are of a different opinion, commend them for their thoughts.  It's difficult to be courageous enough to disagree with somebody and voice it.  "Crossing the aisle" and mending gaps requires respecting the other side.  If you can't respect their opinion, respect what they are doing.  

5. Find role models that exhibit the above behaviors when making and addressing views. Instead of having to parse through all the information, let them do it for you. Remember though, they aren't going to present all the facts.  Find somebody that does the same thing on the other side, and read that too. This will help you formulate holistic views, and protect you from saying something ignorant in discussions with others.