Year End Thoughts (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.

2 Timothy 3:1-5

This past weekend, I sat down and mulled over these verses as a form of self-evaluation. Then, on Sunday morning, the pastor asked the congregation to take a moment and reflect on what needed to be put in order in our lives. It was sobering for God to deal with me personally and reinforce that generally. It might be said, and not without merit, that the end of the year is a time for reflection and resolving to do and be better in the year to come. Be that as it may, these verses have stuck with me and I felt I should look more intently at those that troubled me; the descriptors that made me pause and ask, “God, does this describe me?”

The first is lover of self. Looking up the word, it basically renders to selfish. And I can be. I am not always, but I do catch myself being selfish. Let me then mark this is as a growth area.

The second is arrogant. The word renders poorly, but basically means “with an overweening estimate of one’s means or merits, despising others or even treating them with contempt.” As I think on it, it seems that I have a mostly realistic view of my means and merits, though I do hold some individuals in contempt. Growth area.

The third is ungrateful. Coming out of the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is easy to feel that I am ungrateful. I also catch myself not feeling very grateful for things from time-to-time. This is an area that merits further inspection.

The fourth is without self-control. I find myself struggling to keep from having one more coffee drink or one more snack or hit the snooze bar one more time or … that gives a fair sampling. There are more serious areas where self-control is lacking. My mouth sometimes runs of its own accord. My temper is sometimes a struggle to keep in check, despite years of God working on it with me. And there are more areas. This is the place where I must stop and confess to God that I have fallen short. I do not consistently bear the fruit of self-control and this is a thing which should not be.

The fifth is lovers of pleasure. This causes me to pause before I even get moving on it. Who doesn’t love pleasure? It’s pleasurable. It’s pleasant. But the phrase is not lovers of pleasure by itself, rather it is lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. The problem, it would seem, is not in loving pleasure but in loving pleasure above loving God. Does my desire for pleasurable things conflict with my love for God? If so, which one wins out in the conflict? Yet again I must stop and confess that I have fallen short. There are pleasures that interfere with my devotion to God and these hold sway in a way that they should not.

The last one that troubles me in these verses is holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Almost every person that calls him- or her-self a Christian holds to some form of godliness. The word used for hold is “echo.” For those familiar with Greek mythology, this will ring a bell, as in Echo and Narcissus. Echo is an excellent example of the idea of the word. She holds to Narcissus, despite his morbid self-love. She holds to him so much that her own physical form wastes away. But that is not the part that gave me pause. We all cling to some form of godliness and, like Echo, we will waste away holding to it if nothing renews us. And that is where the power comes in. The power spoken of is dynamos; dynamic power – the power to change. My wife and I discussed this and concluded that the key word in this phrase is denied. The word used could mean to deny in the sense of refusing to believe in or admit something. But it also carries the — in my opinion, sadder — meaning of rejecting. The power is there for the taking, but these people reject it; they want no part of it.

And, I confess, that I am somewhat frightened of God’s power to change. I fully admit that He can make all things new — Jesus tells John to write that exact phrase down when John has his Patmos visions that we call the book of Revelation. It is not the existence of the power that I fear I have denied. I fear that I have rejected the power and have therefore not changed. Over and over in The Bible, God states His goal as my sanctification. He wants to make me holy as He is holy. And that is frightening. To be utterly self-controlled means that I have no excuses for my behavior any longer. It is habit or knee-jerk reflex no more. To love God more than anything else? I can mentally admit the desirability of the goal, but it troubles my mind to wonder what that would mean in a practical sense.

I think that this phrase is the pivot on which the rest of this turns. If I reject the power that God offers, then I will not change or will change so slowly as to be imperceptible. If I accept the power to change, then I will change and this list will, one item at a time, cease to apply to me.

Father, as the new year looms, thank You for causing me to pause and reflect. Not to condemn myself, but to examine myself and see where I fall short. It is a non-destructive testing of the self You asked of me and there are indications; areas of concern. Though I admit to fearing what it might mean, please apply Your power to me and make me like You: holy. Nothing less will satisfy either of us.

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Thoughts on Abortion

Foreword

Before I get started, there are a few things that need to be pointed out.

First, I am a Christian. This means that I oppose abortion on “religious” grounds. The Bible seems to indicate that God starts the life clock ticking before birth. God speaks of Isaac as a person before he is even conceived, making promises that Isaac will inherit everything that belongs to Abraham. God tells Rebekah that there are twins in her womb. There is a fair bit about how God addresses people not yet born that gives the impression that personhood is not conferred by being born, as far as God is concerned. Since that line of thinking is only a valid line of reasoning if one already agrees with me that there is a God and about Who He is, this line of reasoning will be set aside for the remainder of this piece.

Second, I am male. It is therefore often asserted that I have no business holding an opinion about abortion, since I cannot ever have one. While I hold this view to be absurd on its face — there are plenty of women who hold opinions about male circumcision and lack the gear to undergo the procedure themselves — my intent in writing this piece is not so much to convince people to legitimize my opinion — it is as legitimate as any other reasoned opinion — or to sway anyone to my view, but merely to express thoughts on the subject.

Third, I do not intend to write a persuasive piece. If you are here looking for someone to cite in trying to convince your friends that abortion is wrong, you are in the wrong bit of writing. I just wanted to dump some thoughts into the blue nowhere and be done with those thoughts.

Fourth and finally, I intend to posit some hypothetical situations in this piece. I will be rather specific and the situations posited may be a bit much for some. You have been warned.

Abortion and Legal Inconsistency

There is a strange bit of legal inconsistency that sometimes troubles me. For a brief summary of what I am thinking of, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures website — the article on fetal homicide laws, in particular. Allow me to illustrate.

In Case A, a man whose certifications we will leave vague approaches a pregnant woman and does some violence to her abdominal area. This violence, for the sake of consistency, is intentional and premeditated. The result is that the woman’s pregnancy is terminated.

In Case B, a man who happens to be a doctor approaches a pregnant woman and does some violence to her abdominal area. This violence is intentional and premeditated and has the goal of terminating the pregnancy. It is successful. The pregnancy is terminated.

Both Case A and Case B involve the same basic elements: a person doing something violent to a woman’s abdominal area which results in a terminated pregnancy. In about 38 states (maybe fewer if the Tennessee law lapsed), Case A can result in criminal charges being filed against the man for terminating the pregnancy while Case B will, as a rule, not. The man in Case A will be charged with assault on the woman in just about every place I can name.

If a woman goes to a doctor for an abortion, she chooses to end her pregnancy and the end of same is her desired outcome. If she is assaulted on the street or gets in an automobile accident and the violence results in a terminated pregnancy, the other person can be held criminally accountable for the death of a person.

Why the disparity?

The only reason I can see is the woman’s choice and desired outcome. In one instance, she wants to end the pregnancy and in the other she does not. If the only difference between a crime and an elective procedure is a person’s choice, then there are some very interesting court cases on the horizon (and already have been, if the above linked article is any indication).

Abortion and Evolution

Disclaimer: I do not believe in evolution on the macro scale, but do find it a useful tool with which to conduct thought experiments such as this one.

I hear often about how human beings are supposed to have evolved from some less evolved life form, the hubris-riddled implication being that we see ourselves as somehow superior to other creatures. Abortion, to me, represents a potential flaw in this line of thinking.

The idea of “survival of the fittest”, as I understand it, is to survive and to pass on one’s genetics to as many progeny as possible. This is, to my recollection, meant to be in service to evolution, as the fitter creatures will tend to pass on their genetics more while their weaker counterparts will not. Abortion interferes with this (as do birth control and monogamy, to be candid, but I am not considering birth control or the validity of monogamy in this piece … maybe another time). Abortion interferes in one of two basic ways that I can see.

Way One: Abortion terminates the development of a potentially superior creature. While I do not think that the X-Men are coming any time soon, I do believe that geniuses of every type and kind have potentially been prevented from entering this world by abortion. The real trouble is that there is no reliable method of knowing. All that can be known is that a pregnancy was terminated. What may have happened is that humanity may have been robbed of its next great physics genius or musical virtuoso. Humanity may also have been relieved of several de Sads and Bathorys, but there is absolutely no way of knowing.

Way Two: Abortion, when used by eugenicists, selects the traits that the eugenicist (or those controlling them) determine to be desirable. The founder of Planned Parenthood was a eugenicist and thought that abortion could be used to remove elements from the populace that she deemed undesirable. I will not comment on whether or not the organization she founded has adhered to her agenda (because I do not know), but point her out particularly because she illustrates the point well. There have bee others who had eugenic agendas, but most often pursued their goals by other means.

Whether by selectively removing traits that some controlling group or person deems undesirable or by potentially quashing the birth of geniuses and virtuosos, abortion interferes with evolution as well as inhibiting the biological imperative. It is, in short, unnatural. And also makes those who adhere to a belief in evolution potentially inconsistent. Unless they are eugenicist, I cannot reconcile believing in evolution and survival of the fittest, then interfering and/or permitting others to interfere with the process.

Wrap Up

I could probably go for pages, but these have been the two thought processes rattling around in my head since panicked people began to run about as if the sky were falling after the last election here in the United States. We Americans are legally inconsistent in our treatment of whether or not the result of terminating a pregnancy is murder/manslaughter or a removal of tissue. And abortion seems to me to be interfering with evolution’s work, if you buy into that sort of thing.

I am sorry if this thought dump is a bit more rambling than previous — my Thoughts on Hell piece is more organized, I think — but I am a bit rusty at writing anything non-technical and not a morning devotion.

Thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Candidates, Part II

I have, largely, been silent about the candidates. It may not seem this way to others — those not privy to the hurricane of thoughts in my head — but I say very little of the rather vast amount that I have to say. I am going to attempt to distill my thoughts down to a manageable dose. I will write more at a later time.

If you are an atheist or agnostic or any other faith, this is not directed at you, but you are welcome to read on.

Dear Fellow Christians in America,

Allow me to cut to the chase.

Stop it!

I do not care which candidate you are voting for or what your reasoning is, just stop excusing their deplorable behavior.

Trump is a walking stereotype of masculinity gone wrong. Swagger and smug self-satisfaction might as well have copyright Trump on it. Has he done some good things over the years? Possibly. I am not concerned with people pointing out good he has done. That is laudable. Stop making excuses for his behavior. He certainly does nothing of the sort. Did he say what the recording records him saying? Here is a hint: yes. He has said atrocious things and shown no remorse for them. He dismisses them as “locker room talk” and expects everyone to accept that. Do men talk that way? Some men, sure. That does not make the behavior any less wrong. Stop making excuses for him. God does not excuse our sins, He forgives them when we confess them and repent.

Clinton is just as bad. She is just differently bad. She has perjured herself. She has mishandled government documents. She is a caricature of everything people hate about lawyers and politicians. Now, you can vote for her and you can give me your reasons and that is fine. Do not deny that she has committed criminal acts. The FBI director said that what she did was criminal and that they would not be pressing charges. Not pressing charges does not obviate criminal activity, it only tells me that the person not pressing charges has insufficient evidence to convict or that some other, more sinister thing is at play. Since I lost my tinfoil hat, let us operate on the “insufficient evidence” premise for the nonce, shall we? Stop excusing her actions or writing them off in some way. She is as unrepentant as Trump. Stop trying to excuse her. Let her repent or not. It is not our place to repent on others’ behalf.

My fellow American Christians, if we are ever to be salt and light, then we must stop making excuses. Trump is an example of everything that every feminist has ever said is wrong with men. Clinton is an example of why so many of us think that 10,000 lawyers or politicians — or, better yet, both — chained to the ocean floor would be a good start. We should pray for both of them, absolutely. We should look at what merits and strengths they might bring to the office of President. But we must stop excusing their transgressions.

Vote with your heads, since we all know that the heart of man is deceitfully wicked.

You may dismiss what I have written and that is your prerogative. Just know that those who do not believe in our God are watching and if we excuse the crassness of Trump and the untrustworthiness of Clinton, then we are no different than the world in which we live.

And they see that.

And the Name of our God is maligned by our actions.

Let us speak the truth in love.

 

Your brother in Christ,

DC Dowd

Thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Candidates, Part I

I have, largely, been silent about the candidates. It may not seem this way to others — those not privy to the hurricane of thoughts in my head — but I say very little of the rather vast amount that I have to say. I am going to attempt to distill my thoughts down to a manageable dose. I will write more at a later time.

 

My Dear Fellow Americans,

I write to you to ask you one question: Have we learned nothing?

There are two Major Party candidates promising that all our wildest dreams will come true if they are elected. That does not bother me quite so much as that some of us seem to believe them.

POTUS — the President of the United States — does not have dictatorial or unilateral authority to make things happen. While the current POTUS has done much and more with Executive Orders, this is a misuse of the thing and could easily be unraveled by a POTUS with opposing views or a Congress with chutzpah enough to draw a line and hold it. Both candidates — because calling them what I really think of them requires words I would rather not use — are offering things that they cannot possibly do without unilateral authority or dictatorial power.

There are Minor Party candidates making much more reasonable claims. The Libertarians claim to have worked with others to get things done and ask for the chance to do that on a larger stage. Both the POTUS and VP candidate for this party have a record that supports what they claim about working with others to accomplish things. I am not saying that I support them — I find some of their views distasteful — but wish to note that the promise of “working together with Congress to get things done” is the most realistic promise that can be made by anyone. Congress, after all, is the Legislative branch of government, and therefore makes the laws and creates and approves the budgets and such. POTUS and the Executive branch’s responsibilities extend to enforcement of the laws.

My dear, deluded fellow Americans. Neither of the individuals currently dazzling minds with promises has the power to deliver on them without the help of Congress and  of SCOTUS — the Supreme Court of the U.S. All it takes is a few votes in Congress to derail the works. All it takes is one “justice” dissenting or recusing themselves to tilt the scales. POTUS does not have the authority to make all of our wildest dreams come true any more than we have the power to fly to the moon by flapping our arms.

Please, I beg of you, think very carefully about whether you actually want either of the Major Party candidates to be the face that America shows the rest of the world for the next four years. There are other options and those options stand a chance if we all decide that we are done with being sold snake oil by oligarchs. Look into the Minor Parties and vote with your head, not your heart. If we all vote our hearts, we will vote for the Major Party candidate we hate less than the other. If we all vote our heads, there is a very real chance that neither one of them ends up elected. Because I like to believe that we, in our more level-headed moments, do not think either of the sad specimens of reprobate humanity nominated by the Major Parties fit to represent us to the world.

At least, I like to credit us with that much sense. Perhaps I am the deluded one.

 

Yours in hope,

DC Dowd

Aside

Fruit – Thoughts on the Fruit of the Spirit and the Tree of Life

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve [kinds of] fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Revelation22:1-2

This is less a mini-essay on these verses than it is a request to other believers on the internet who might read this to engage in conversation.

Last Sunday, my pastor was teaching and mentioned Galatians 5:22-23 and the often-mentioned fact that fruit in Galatians 5:22 is singular. Into my mind sprang the verses from Revelation that speak of the tree of life and of how the tree bears one kind of fruit each month. I wanted to speak with my pastor about it, but no opportunity presented itself. I will try to talk with him about it tomorrow.

I began to wonder if Revelation 22:1-2 shed light on Galatians 5:22-23 and whether the list of things (fruit) was meant to be understood as being fruit that shows up in its season, i.e. when it is needed. What I mean is that some situations call for patience while others require self-control. Does the Holy Spirit produce fruit in my life that is appropriate to the situation at hand? I do not know. And I do not want to misinterpret scripture.

Pity, Part of One: Thoughts on Self-Pity

I was recently called out for a time of self-pity, despite the fact that the person who called me out did not intend so to do. I also had occasion to observe someone else in a state that struck me as self-pitying. It may not have been, there are always things that I simply do not see, but it gave me leisure to practice a little meta-emotion — i.e. organized thinking about my own emotions and those of others. It is, after all, difficult to ruminate on my emotions as I feel them. If I stop to consider them and examine them, I have ceased to really feel them and have begun to study them instead.

Self-pity is, perhaps, the least attractive emotional state. It has been noted — accurately, I think — that pity parties only have one guest. I may feel sorry for that person, but I cannot truly enter in to their Pity Party.

Having grown up with a sibling whose regular refrain was “You all hate me, don’t you?”, it might seem odd that I have not given this more thought before now. But this instance involved the necessary elements to make me take a step back and focus not on the person who I perceived to be pitying themselves, but on what things bothered me about their behavior and what that means in terms of the areas in which I most wish to grow with regard to my own times of self-pity.

First, self-pity does not permit anyone to really help us. Others might want to; might make valiant efforts to help us leave the Pity Party and find something better to do with  our time and our energies. But self-pity involves a sort of “No one understands” motif. It may be that we feel that someone might understand, but that someone is almost invariably the one person who seems to be ignoring us at that precise moment. When I am caught in a moment of self-pity, it would do me good to reflect that I am not a special snowflake and that many others have been in situations so similar to my own as to be identical except for the cast of characters.

Second, self-pity isolates us. I think this is hinted at in the idea that we cannot really be helped, but it goes further. It extends into that “special snowflake” mentality. When I pity myself, I think that no one has ever had to endure those adverse circumstances in that severity before. And I may be right. Others may have had it much worse. Self-pity makes me think that I am the Only One Who has endured what I am enduring. I encountered this temptation recently with regard to how I felt about certain circumstances at my place of employ. The enemy of this isolationist mentality is communication. I learned that if I can communicate, I will often find that others feel precisely the same as me. The particulars will differ, but the feelings evoked are the same.

There is another side to how self-pity isolates. It makes our company distasteful to others. I have yet to meet the person who revels in the company of self-pitying individuals. I suspect it has much to do with how they remind us that we, too, are disagreeable company when we pity ourselves. Then again, I am no psychologist. I only know that the person who pities themselves is a person who is simultaneously pushing others away while lamenting the perception that others just do not understand or care and this combination of factors drives would-be helpers away. I know this because I have had the luxury afforded me of thinking about self-pity and being able to consider my own while I am exiting and to consider what I perceived to be the same in another.

Final thought: Self-pity serves no useful purpose. Initially, it prompts the pity of others, but it seems that the Pity Party can only have one attendee and those who would have commiserated are driven away. Essentially, it destroys itself. It is like the old symbol of the snake eating its own tail.

Thoughts on Selling Music

As readers of this blog may or may not be aware, I write music. I produce this music as best I am able and post it to sites like Bandcamp in order to distribute it. As one who writes and produces and makes available music, I find that articles often crop up on both sides of a particular coin. That coin: Whether or not music should be sold and paid for.

There are those who point out, rightly, that music has a long tradition of patronage and money being given to those who create music that people enjoy. Bards once wrote songs about history and embellished stories about heroes’ adventures and were given, in exchange for songs, food and shelter and sometimes some money to be able to get more food and shelter as they traveled to the next place. Musicians in periods like the Renaissance and classical periods (Baroque and such) were often patronized by either the church (reference J.S. Bach) or wealthy individuals.

In more modern times, record labels have become the “patrons” of music and have marketed the product to the masses. In lieu of individuals patronizing musicians, the masses paid money to labels who, in turn, paid musicians. This system seemed to work for a time.

Then came MP3 and services like Napster and its ilk. Suddenly, music could be traded on a large scale. Mix tapes had been a possibility for more than a decade, but MP3 changed the game. Digital distribution channels began to crop up and every mediocre garage band could distribute their recordings to the world. I ought to know, I was in one of those mediocre garage bands that did precisely that.

Now that the extremely condensed history lesson is over, I return to the question: Should music be sold and paid for?

The answer to the first part depends, I think, on the musician’s intent. If I write music so that people can hear it and have no concern whatsoever about whether or not anyone pays me for it, then there is no need — on my side — to sell the music.

There may be, however, the need on the part of someone who enjoys the music to express that. They could send an e-mail or post a positive review of the music and this does happen. However, there are people who want to express their appreciation in remunerative ways, i.e. they want to drop some cash in the metaphorical tip jar. It requires less of their time and seems, to some, a far more tangible expression of their appreciation.

Places like Bandcamp strike an excellent balance here and allow musicians to release their work in a “Name Your Price” format that allows folks to download for free or to drop something in the tip jar. I have seen both happen with the music I have made and I appreciate both. To know that someone is listening to and enjoying the music is humbling and encouraging. To receive remuneration for the work that went into making that music is immensely satisfying and encouraging.

The second part — should music be paid for — depends on whether or not payment is asked. If the music is being sold, then the answer is yes. Musicians may rely on revenue from music sales to support themselves. Some may be trying to get that sort of thing up and running and can ill afford to have their work redistributed without receiving payment. Even established artists may rely on sales to repair the tour “bus” or buy new strings for their guitars.

If the reader is a musician, I offer the following thoughts on whether or not to sell music. If you want to make music your job — Read: it is about grinding out your next record or arranging the next tour or designing the merch in order to keep the bills paid — then you should definitely sell your music. If you are trying to recoup the cost of producing and studio time, feel free to sell it. If you are like me and have a day job and produce most of your own tracks on your own equipment and do not really need the money, I suggest allowing the listener to determine whether or not they should pay for it. Offer it, by all means, but offer it through places that allow for free downloads as well as paid downloads.

If the reader is a music listener, I suggest the following. If you like the music, consider paying for it — payment encourages future production of similar things. If you can afford to pay for it, then pay for it. If you cannot afford to pay for it and the musician is like me, then take it with our blessing. If you cannot afford it and the musician’s livelihood is wrapped up in the sale of their music, then you probably should ask someone to give you the music as a gift so the musician gets paid and you get the music you want (and potentially get more, down the line, since the sale encourages the musician to make more).

And, my final note before closing out this entry. If you like industrial in the vein of VNV Nation and Assemblage 23, consider giving my stuff a listen and feel free to download if you are so inclined. I am stoked when I see either a download or a purchase. I just add being stoked that I can buy a coffee to fuel my next bit of writing to the normal stoking of a download when I see a sale.