Category Archives: life philosophies and other esoteric crap

Crock pot people in a microwave culture

It’s been about three weeks now, give or take, since Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade killed themselves. We’ve moved on. Their families and friends haven’t.

Five families are still coming to terms with the sudden holes in their lives and by yesterday, we’d moved on to whether one of the victims’ colleagues should’ve dropped and f-bomb on CNN. We’re a short-attention-span culture.

And yet it’s a valid story how children deal with their parents’ suicide (both Spade and Bourdain had children). But we’re off the to next outrage. Trump tweeted something. Kennedy retired. Your team made a bone-headed move. That other stuff is from yesterday. The cool kids have moved on.

Death threats are buzzing around like fireflies on a summer night. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Maxine Waters, and the employees of the Red Hen have all received them. People walk around wearing shirts that say things like “Rope. Journalist. Tree.” Somewhere along the line this stopped being shocking.

When Henry Aaron received death threats for hitting home runs in 1974, it was stunning. Now that same kind of news would be background noise.

I’m not saying to wallow in these things–that wouldn’t be healthy. But people are more like crock pots than microwaves. We evolve. For all our technology, we don’t like change. We like evolution. We make the same mistakes over and over again, but with effort, over time, the mistakes become fewer and we gradually become better.

We aren’t done in 45 seconds if you put us on high and rotate us.

I suspect that some of the rampant discomfort comes from the fact that our world forces us to go faster than we’re comfortable with. Our attention spans–and the content-providers’ bottom line–depends on there always being something new. A new outrage. A new tear-jerker. A new story that touches our hearts.

We think in bumper-sticker phrases because that’s all there’s time for. So existence become a meme battle and life is drained of its nuance and complexity.

I don’t have a solution. And even if I did, by tomorrow, something else would replace it.

But sometimes the hamster wheel isn’t the best place to be. And sometimes scouring the interwebs for that last piece of information about this guy who’s on your side or that guy who isn’t, doesn’t cleanse your soul.

I guess I’m just getting old. And realizing that most of it’s just noise–something you won’t remember in five days, let alone five years.

It all buries the important stuff. And maybe that’s part of the plan.

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Miracles

A friend of mine–a woman named Maria–recommended a book to me once. It was 2015 and things were tough. They weren’t I’m dying of cancer or I’m about to lose our house tough, but they weren’t easy.

She recommended a book, a quirky romantic comedy called Kumquat, by a horror writer named Jeff Strand. A really, really demented  horror writer named Jeff Strand. Never in a thousand years would I pick such a book on my own. And most demented horror writers wouldn’t write a book that could be called sweet and uplifting without a hint of irony.

The book is about a guy named Todd who’s in his early thirties, works a dead-end job, and is existing in a life that doesn’t consider the possibility of even quiet desperation. He meets a woman named Amy who may or may not die at any moment of an inoperable brain aneurysm. Together, because she convinces him to do it, they take a spur of the moment road trip from Florida to a hot dog stand in Rhode Island.

At one point, Todd does something good and decent that’s quickly forgotten in the unfolding plot. Later, he’s recognized by people. It turns out that the good, decent thing he did went viral.

At the time the book was exactly what I needed. It refreshed my soul.

A book about a forgotten event that picked someone up became a forgotten event that picked someone up.

I’m no saint. But when they used to collect tolls on the Veteran’s Expressway, once every few days, I’d pick up the toll for the person behind me. And then for a while, a men’s group I’m in met at the hospital cafeteria for St. Joseph’s North in Lutz, Florida. I’d always buy a coffee there before the meeting. And often, I’d pay for two and let the next person through have a freebie.

The things we do don’t have to always be grand and sweeping. Sometimes they can be small and insignificant. The extra toll. The next cup of coffee. A sweet book for a friend that has a hard time.

In Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey’s character talks a lot about miracles. One of the best quotes ever in a movie was from God. It’s a long one, not suited for a bumper sticker but it’s worth staying to the end.

“Parting your soup is not a miracle, Bruce, it’s a magic trick. A single mom who’s working two jobs, and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says “no” to drugs and “yes” to an education, that’s a miracle. People want Me to do everything for them, but what they don’t realize is, they have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.”

Miracles are often hard. But not always. Maybe someone picked up a toll for the single mom and it got her through a difficult day. Maybe the teenager was all set to give in until someone who cared let it show. Maybe someone saw a friend having a hard time and recommended a book.

Miracles aren’t limited to five-decades old baseball teams, or to Catholic saints, or to neurosurgeons.

The world is angry enough. It needs miracles. And God’s not gonna do them all.

Thanks, Maria!


I’m a hypocrite and that’s why I’m Christian

Today I read separate pieces about Christian hypocrisy and why it’s turning people off.

The first piece, by John Pavlovitz, says that there’s good news and bad news. In writing to church, he says there’s bad news–that it’s dying. But the good news is taht its dying and something better. Left open is whether that something better is secular.

Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne writes the second, which takes the same approach, but with a more political (and less snarky) tone. In general, the message is that Christians are kind of a pain to be around and more people are noticing.

I’ve proclaimed myself a Christian multiple times, so I should respond.

Yes, I am a hypocrite. I’m mean sometimes. I prejudge people more than I should.  I like the way leggings frame a woman’s butt and legs. I’m often stingy with my time, talent, and treasure.

And I’m currently listening to a song called Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced on Spotify (Dropkick Murphys if you must know).

No less an authority than Jesus would call me out on some of that. If you call someone a fool–if you judge them as unworthy, you’re in danger of judgement. If you check out the yoga pants, you’re just as guilty as if you schtupped.

I do all those things and more. And I know I shouldn’t. And that’s why I’m a practicing Christian. Of the Abrahamic religions, Christianity’s the one that isn’t dependent on your efforts. It’s central theme is that my Father can’t allow sin because it hurts his children. So in order to balance perfect mercy with perfect love, he came and paid the price so we can be reconciled.

We can’t–and needn’t–earn his love. I wouldn’t give my son a Miller Lite when he asks for a beer. And if I know how to treat my son that way, how much more will God treat us that way.

That kind of love is humbling. Except that the Father chooses to give it to me, I don’t deserve it. Mostly because I am all the things Pavlovitz and Dionne claim many of us are.

I don’t want to be those things. Certainly my Father doesn’t want me to treat his children that way. For half a century I’ve been trying to get better but it hasn’t worked all that well. So if my Father won’t give my son a Miller Lite, he’ll give me what I ask for, too–a softer heart.

The problem isn’t hypocrisy. We’re all hypocrites. It’s not hate. We’ve all hated.

It’s hubris. It’s the assumption that love makes agreement, that the Creator of the universe must agree with me.

Because I know what I am, I’m glad God doesn’t agree with me.

When Jesus met that woman at the well–a slutty whore if ever there was one–he didn’t judge her. He engaged her. He told her that she’d been through five husbands and was shacked up with a sixth man. But he never judged her. Instead, he offered her hope.

In his final days, Jesus took a low position–the position of washing feet. It was a servant’s task. One of the people whose feet he washed was the man who arranged his murder.

I fall short of that standard in a big way. In that, we’re the same. So the best we can do is the best we can do–together.

As for the church, it’s far from the monolith you might think. While the hard-asses of the world are getting the headlines, Pope Francis is trying hard to live up to his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. People like Father Richard Rohr are interpreting Christianity in new, challenging ways. Even Christians are included in the growing scope of people who don’t want harm upon gays.

So yeah, we’re a mess. But that’s kind of the point. We’re less messy together.

 


Thoughts and Prayers and Utes

My current church isn’t big on complacency. Over the past few months, the pastor has repeatedly called for us to examine what we’re doing, thinking, and spending time and money on–and challenging us about making sure it’s the right thing.

The latest of those challenges came this morning, in a call to have an unshakeable focus on the future, which is to say the utes.

The challenge was to consider strongly investing in the future with our time, talent, and treasure (the vaunted three Ts of pastorship) in supporting this church value, which he has identified as being the most important. Failing that, he’s also challenging us–very directly–to devote our prayers to the utes.

Devoting prayers is something that’s become looked down upon in the mass media most recently. It’s a sign of complacency, they say–and ultimately hypocrisy. If you really cared, you’d stick your worthless prayers where the sun doesn’t shine and freakin do something.

And while we’re at it, Chris, what the hell are you doing for the utes right now, other than throwing money in the basket?

I have in the past volunteered as a Scout leader, baseball coach, umpire, chaperone, and nursery monitor, not to mention driving three-quarters of the distance to the sun to ferry the utes to activities. But right now, I’m doing nothing. And maybe that’s a problem and maybe its not.

So I’m gonna pray about it.

Prayer isn’t a substitute for action, b–

But you just said you’re gonna pray rather than help the chillren.

I thought they were utes.

I like variety.

Whatever. You pray for a lot of reasons. One of them is because it’s all you can do. I have a friend who’s kind of antagonistic to the church. And yet my offers of prayers for her are always warmly accepted. I think they help. I personally believe in a God who loves her–and all the rest of his utes–extravagantly. But I also think they help her. Backed up with care and attention, they make her feel less alone.

Another is for discernment. I’d hope that all the people offering prayers for victims of gun violence, for instance, are also praying for discernment. In spite of the rhetoric from both sides on this issue–“it’s simple, you must agree with me”–this is complex. We do have a second amendment. And if you were to remove all legal guns from their owners, the bloodbath would be unprecedented. On the other hand, does the second amendment cover 30-round clips? Does it mean you get to keep the guns if you’ve had mental problems or domestic violence in your past? That’s just the barest surface of the issues to be worked through.

I’d sure as hell hope that any representative who believes in God is asking for divine guidance in performing his job. And that he’s humble enough to realize that God doesn’t typically agree with people. He’s a bit bigger than that.

So I’ll pray that the youtttthhhhs are taken care of. And I’ll pray that whatever my decision is in terms of involvement, it follows God’s wishes for me.

You may consider this silly, but it’s a free world and it’s the best I can do.


Dear Ted Nugent

Dear Ted Nugent,

I’m a Republican. I have been since my 18th birthday, more years ago than I care to admit. Among other things, I believe in border security, limited government, and freedom of expression. I believe gay people should have the same right to marry as straight people. And I believe that bakeries should be allowed to refuse to make their cakes, then take their chances in the free market.

I also believe in the second amendment.

In the picture below are my children. Only they aren’t children any more.

The woman on the left is Jennifer. She’s been working since sixth grade to make the most of her God-given talents. She was the best student in her International Baccalaureate middle school and the validictorian of her IB high school. She graduated from George Washington University Phi Beta Kappa. She spent a year in the Marhall Islands helping kids learn English. She’s now a doctoral student at UCLA. She wants to be an academic.

Since sixth grade she’s worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known to make her way in the world. I love her more than my words here can convey.

The guy on the left is Daniel. He currently attends Syracuse University. He’s worked hard, too, but in a different way. His life is chaos. He’s always working on something and he’s on track to graduate a year early from school. He’s a little surly sometimes, but he’s quick and witty and has a touch with people I’ll never understand. And I love him differently, but every bit as much.

For reasons I won’t pretend to understand, you went on Alex Jones’s radio show and called for the murder of my children, among other people.

If you were just some random nut case, I’d chalk it up as stupidity and move on. But you aren’t a random nut case. You’re on the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association. You consider yourself a spokesman for people in the party I’ve always belonged to.

I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton–a fact that caused strain in my relationship with my daughter for a while. And now a growing part of me wishes I had, because President Trump’s reckless, unpresidential public persona has encouraged people like you to say things like “There are rabid coyotes running around…every time you see one, shoot one.”

In the context of your remarks, you’re referring to Democrats, academics, media, and RINOs (Republicans in name only). I guess under the First Amendment, you have as much right to spout this horrific drivel as the Westboro Baptist Church has to show up and make asses of themselves at high-profile funerals.

But, Mr. Nugent, in your remarks, you called for people to shoot my children, along with approximately half of the rest of the country. Some of those people are very close friends of mine and better people than you could ever consider being.

You can have whatever political positions you want to have. And that’s as it should be.

But if one of your hair-trigger followers even considers harming my children because of your words, the so-called fake media will be the least of your problems. I will make it my avocation to make sure every second of your life–and I truly hope it will be a long one–will be filled with the realization of the effects of your reckless, ill-considered, murdrous words.

These are human beings, not some imaginary vermin you can put out of their misery and out of your mind. These are God’s children you want put down like a rabid dog. And two of them are my children.

I hope common sense will prevail and you will reconsider and denounce your words. Failing that, I hope the NRA will remove you from its board and rescind your membership. And should the worst happen to anyone. I hope the riches that you’ve worked for decades to attain are paid out as a poor, inadequate recompense for the cost of your verbal poison.

The God I believe in will surely forgive you for your words, should you ask it, and I’m happy for that. But my soul and my logic are weak where my children are concerned.

Sincerely,

Chris Hamilton


The fat guy you see running

A lot time ago when I used to be in shape, I was out in the car one summer Sunday afternoon and saw this big fat guy running by the side of the road.

He was going about the speed of a slug and it looked like someone had hosed him down. He was running with his head tipped back and his mouth open and looked like he’d rather have bamboo slivers stuck under his toenails while having a root canal and listening Bob Dylan sing hip hop.

At the time, I opined that he was more courageous in his workout than I was because I knew what I could do. This was a familiar thing for me. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t super duper hard, either.

But he was out taking chances. And his two or three miles was more impressive than my eight or ten.

This morning, I was the fat guy. Ever since I was sick, I’ve been trying to get back toward in shape. I started by running–far too much–and messing up my Achilles tendons. It took forever for that to go away and finally, last summer, I started to ease into things. I dabbled with it, but the habit never really stuck.

Then I got with these guys who pushed me harder than even Insanity did. I managed to get back up to five miles running. That’s when the injuries kicked in. Two calf injuries. A hip injury. Then I got sick. Then I was working a zillion hours.

Then I got back from a business trip and started running again. I got two runs in and got sick again. And then I messed up my back. And now my shoulder.

But yesterday, I walked. Things were okay, so today I ran.

For whatever reason, Runkeeper decided not to get GPS this morning, so I tracked by time. Twenty-two minutes of running, at which point the tank was empty. So I alternated running a minute and walking a minute for another twenty minutes and finished just on the edge of slight nausea.

I didn’t go super fast–even compared to my previous glacier-like pace. And I didn’t go very far–probably around three miles overall.

And if I’d jumped in the pool, there was enough sweat that the water level would probably go up half an inch when I submerged myself. (It’s not that gross; it’s a saltwater pool.)

But I was that fat guy. And it was magnificent.

A lot of the time, people who are two hard on themselves are much fairer with other people. So if that’s you, treat yourself like them.

The day I turned a certain advanced age, I ran 17 miles. I’d struggle to do 17 miles in a week now. And that’s okay, because that’s where I am.

In the words of the great Tony Horton, “He did his best and that’s always enough.”

God never expects us to do the impossible and He’s, you know, God. Who are we to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

 


Imagine there’s no hell

Pope Francis made the news earlier this week–Holy Week in the Christian faith–by saying that there is no hell. In an interview with Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist friend of his, which was published in La Repubblica, the Pope said, “They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

welcomeToHellMichigan

A little inside baseball for non-Catholics:

  • Both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Holy Scripture point out the existence of hell.
  • The Pope’s statement to Scalfari is just that–a statement. Papal infallibility does not apply to everything a Pope says. It’s used only twice–once to cover the Immaculate Conception and once about Mary’s assumption into heaven.

immaculate reception

With that out of the way, it’s always seemed to me that the overriding desire to attain heaven or avoid hell misses the point.

If God is the father in the story of the prodigal son, then what he wants is to have a relationship with us, and then for us to have a relationship with each other. Hence, he waits every day for his wayward son and runs to him when he returns. For a Jewish patriarch of the time to do that was unheard of. It would be like Archie inviting the Meathead to sit in his chair.

archie-meathead-chair

After the reconciliation of the wayward brother, he practically begs the responsible son inside to accept his brother back. There’s no reference to heaven or damnation because the story ends there. It’s entirely about relationships, not eternal reward or condemnation.

In the Christian faith, we’re taught the necessity to surrender ourselves to God, to give back to him the most precious gift he’s given to us–our free will. Not because he demands it, but because of his desire for relationship. Sort of like you give up your right to date when you get married. It’s a desire for union, not a harsh command.

Beyond that desire to enter into a trusting relationship is the desire for us to love his other children, or do our best. He’s inviting us into that larger union that exists horizontally. He wants us to join everyone else in the messy, sometimes agonizing party.

It’s another request to trust.

If that trust exists, then heaven and hell are beside the point. The relationship with the Beloved is heaven and its absence is hell.

I’m not sure of heaven or hell. I’m not nearly as sure as I’d like to be about that loving relationship of the Father. But if I were sure, heaven and hell would be the last thing on my mind. When a relationship that overpowering occurs, there’s no room for anything else.