Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Down Syndrome as Superpower

I remember when Down Syndrome used to be considered a disorder or a defect.

The March of Dimes apparently still thinks so:
"Down syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that includes a combination of birth defects."

But recently, to my great surprise, two very trusted Anglican priest friends each posted this meme with an Albert Mohler quote, which paints Down Syndrome as something that makes one infinitely more beautiful than other people.  It is in fact (according to Mohler's logic) something of a superpower.

I'm not sure that I trust a Southern Baptist to define or delineate the Christian worldview for me.  But this quote is wrongheaded any way you look at it.

Can any one person be "infinitely more beautiful" than another human being, when we are all made in the image of God?  Mohler robs cover models of the Imago Dei.

"But," someone will object, "surely he is focusing on the airbrushing, and not the model."

Doubtful.   But let us yield, for sake of argument, that airbrushing blurs or mars the image of God in us.  Do not aging, incapacity, defect, and disability mar it also?  The God whose right arm is not shortened cannot be perfectly modeled by a man whose birth defect is to have no arms.  The God who sees all cannot be perfectly reflected by a blind man.  But just as these defects do not take away the image of God from the disabled, so airbrushing away of wrinkles does not take away the image of God from a cover model.  Or, it ought not.  It apparently does for Mohler.  How else to explain the fact that another human being is "infinitely more beautiful" than she is?

It's a funny thing about blindness.  When Jesus confronted it, he healed it.  He did not stop, upon seeing a blind man, and say:  "Behold, a blind man!  His face is infinitely more beautiful than the faces of the sighted."  No.  He saw a defect, and he fixed it.  He healed it.  He remedied it.  He undid it and reversed it, like the effect of the Fall that it really is.

Would Jesus heal the defect (only quoting from the March of Dimes, mind you!) we call Down Syndrome?  I say he would.  Moher must say no, because to do so would be to rob that individual of infinite beauty!

In sharp contrast to the spirit of Mohler's quote, I was always taught that the Christian worldview demands that we "love the unlovely."  And now that Mohler has informed me that airbrushed cover models are the unloveliest people of all ... I intend to dedicate the remnant of my life to loving them.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A New Movie - Killing Poe

A friend of mine, Nathan A. Jacobs, has directed a new film, Killing Poe.

Take a look at the trailer!

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Real Live Flannery O'Connor Character!

You never know what or who you will find on facebook.  This morning, I found a real live Flannery O'Connor character.  His peculiar concoction of God-hauntedness and sin-blindness was amazing, and I ended up reading his entire timeline.  I will call him Dwayne (not his real name).

Consider a few facts about him, and try to make them all fit into one person:

1.  He talks about his own recent failed suicide attempt.  He failed this time (if he even really attempted it), but promises to do better in future.

2.  For several hours in a row, he posts the one photo he possesses of himself and his (ex?) wife, begging her to "come home".  Because he is lonely.  Because he is horny.  Because he is so incredibly needy.

3.  Worked at:  Disabled.  Studied at:  Didn't.

4.  Frequent admonitions (to us readers, or to himself?) to "pray."

5.  Blames the "dirty, nasty cops" for breaking up his home.

6.  Says the cops run the church.

7.  Says all Christians are mean.

8.  Has about 3 dozen facebook Friends, all of them are scantily clad women half his age.

9.  Says he "really needs to get stoned."

10.  States that people need to be nice to crazy people, because he is right on the edge, and if people don't learn to treat him nice, some people are going to get hurt.

11.  Can't spell to save his life (e.g., cercomstances for circumstances, camit for commit)

12.  Posts memes with Scripture verses.

13.  Claims to be a defender of the downtrodden, especially strippers and models.

14.  Posts memes about trusting God.

15.  Says that Jesus is a whore who has stabbed him in the back.

16.  Claims he is going crazy without his wife, then adds request for his wife to bring him cigarettes at the loony bin.

17.  Posts the pic of him and his wife (for the hundredth time), pleading for her to come home.  Then immediately posts a photo of "my favorite model" in a bikini, seductively pulling down her bikini bottom.  Mixed messages?

Well, you get the idea.  He's not very bright, but he's very angry.  His career, for a long time apparently, has been to be Disabled.  Lack of productive work will do terrible things to a person.  We may think it's great collecting money we didn't work for, but it rots us from the inside out.  Deep inside, we know we are slackers.  Deep inside, we know the wife is very wise to stay away.  But we need someone to lash out at.  So we befriend pretty models on the internet, hoping that one of them will make the mistake of getting close enough to hurt her and (maybe) make the anger go away for a moment.

I start off trying to be very compassionate to such people.  But you can tell from his Timeline that a lot of people have already tried that (the church, women, law enforcement, Jesus).  He rejects them all.  They are all losers; only he is vindicated out of all humanity.  Compassion is sadly lost on such a person.  In the Bible stories (e.g., the sinful woman washing Christ's feet), there is a difference.  They had shady pasts, but in the present, they admit their wrongness, and own up to their own wretched dirtiness.

But what is one to do with one who has sinned more than any of them, but holds his head up high, strutting like a peacock in his pride?  Who (unlike the humble man in the story of the publican and the sinner) confesses sin, but only the sin of others against him?  Such a man is very like some of the characters in C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, who instead of merely doing sin, have in the final end become their sin.

Monday, February 16, 2015

My Martyrdom, Booty Pics, and the Musée des Beaux Arts

Bear with me, and I will show you how these three things are related.

Let's begin with my possible (future, of course) martyrdom.  Everyone who cares already knows that the "Islamic State" just martyred 21 Coptic Christians in the name of Allah and of Islam.  I won't link to the video of the beheadings; I suppose that anyone who wanted to see that has already done so by now.

I used to read a magazine called Touchstone - A Journal of Ecumenical Orthodoxy.  I enjoyed it quite a lot until I realized that what some of the editors meant by "Ecumenical Orthodoxy" was that all Protestants and Catholics must convert to the Eastern church.  I even had several cartoons of mine published in this journal.

One time, perhaps 20 years ago, I attended a conference held by Touchstone in Chicago.  Nearly all the speakers predicted a coming wave of martyrdom for the church.  Triumphalist Reconstructionist that I was at the time, I thought to myself, "To hell with that!"  I rejected the notion.  But it is now clear that they were right and I was wrong.

So now I come to look at the martyrdom of these Coptic Christians, and to look forward to my own possible martyrdom.  In the past, I've always liked the quote from a Flannery O'Connor character (in A Temple of the Holy Ghost), who opined that, "she could be a martyr if they killed her quick."  But the martyr-makers don't always give us that luxury.  And so I picture myself at the moment of death, picked out for especially inhuman treatment because of the large and glowing Christ tattoo on my back.  I wonder if I'll go calmly.  But I also wonder what the world will think.

Or, anyhow, I used to wonder.  Now I know.  I know from watching the internet response to the brutal murders of the 21 Copts.  Most people of good will are shocked and saddened, of course.  But, we go on.  We get past it, and mostly pretty easily.  And I had reason to know this, even before watching the response to recent ISIS murders.  In the 1974-75 school year, I took AP English, and our teacher spent a day on W. H. Auden's poem, Musée des Beaux Arts.  It is a very important poem, as I am learning.  It has much to teach us, none of which I really comprehended back in 11th Grade.

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W. H. Auden

And so I know just how my martyrdom will go.  There will be a nice, high-definition video of the thing, and a lot of good people will post in on facebook and elsewhere on the internet.  And other well-intentioned people will click the "Like" button beneath the video, presumably not Like-ing the fact that I've been offed, but rather to thank the person who posted it.  And then, just as the figures in Breughel's Icaraus, they will move past it, to the next item in the facebook feed.  Maybe it will be a macaroni-and-cheese recipe.  Or possibly a meme about the opposite political party.

But I think it highly likely it will be a booty pic, a sexy female derriere, in tight yoga pants.  A most fitting stand-in for Auden's horse, scratching "its innocent behind on a tree."  And the soul who just recently mourned my passing at the hands of the jihadists shall click "Like" on this magnificent photo, and pass on.  It's what we humans do in the face of suffering.  And I'm kind of okay with that.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

More Paul-Hating from the Arch-heretic.

I can't believe I wasted 14 minutes of my Sunday listening to the Archheretic preach. But I did.

If you skip to 6:45, you can hear her explain why St. Paul had a completely wrong attitude in Acts 9:22 - "Saul became increasingly powerful and confounded the Jews, by proving that Jesus was the Messiah."

"Yet the sad reality is that others soon began to tell his story as one of reversal, of trading violence toward one group for power plays over his own people. What originated in an expanded awareness of truth gets narrowed down again to a tale of winners and losers."

"That's the story told by a people who still feel afraid and anxious. See how powerful our leader is? How thoroughly he conquers the unbelieving?"

She goes on to say how it is not Christ-like to be successful at apologetics.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Steve Works Out (obsolete novel chapter)

This was to have been a chapter in my (as yet unpublished) novel, Love $ick.  But it became evident that the character Steve did not contribute to moving the story forward, so he ended up on the editing room floor.  Since I won't be using the chapter, I thought that I would share it with you all.

Steve Works Out

"TGIF", Steve thought, as he dressed to go to the gym.

Everybody liked Steve.  What was not to like?  He had a good car, a good physique, a good head of hair, a good job, and no major vices to speak of.  And he had the gift of gab.  It was the greatest weapon in his arsenal.  Everybody liked it when Steve talked, everyone!  Other lifters in the gym, colleagues at work, random supermarket shoppers, postal clerks, waitresses, literally everyone.

It was partly his deep, mellifluous voice, of course.  But it was more than that.  It was his easy facility with words, his eagerness, and his general joviality.  He knew how to put his listeners at ease.  He knew how to tell a story, too.  Timing was everything, and he had a great sense of timing.  He could also read a room better than anyone else he'd known.  He could work a crowd.  He'd even considered a career in politics, where he could have put these talents to better use.

Today was chest day for Steve.  He had chest day and arm day.  They were really the only two body parts he cared about.  He cared about arms and chest because he knew that chicks liked pecs and biceps.  There was no need to waste precious physical resources training legs.  How many times did he go into a bar with shorts on?  That's right, never.  Who cared if his legs were a bit spindly.  He could set his jaw, puff out his chest, and the cuties would come running.  It had always been this way, and he planned to keep it this way.

Steve downed a quick protein shake, pulled a sweatshirt over his head, and palmed the keys to the pride of his life:  a dark maroon Chevrolet Trailblazer SS.  His Trailblazer made him feel better than every other man in the gym.  Hell, better than every other man on the planet!  It was going to be a great day.  And, then, tomorrow was Saturday.

"Live for the weekend," was another motto of Steve's.

He would begin his Saturday by detailing the SS.  But now he turned the key, brought it roaring to life, and backed out of his driveway.  Steve lived in a little rental house, split into two units, each with its own driveway.  He didn't have a lot of stuff, so he didn't need much space.

"The girls can't see my place from the bar, anyhow.  But they can see the Trailblazer in the parking lot!", Steve mused, punching the throttle.

The SUV scooted happily down the street toward Steve's gym, the Body Blast.  He parked it in his regular space, all the way in the far corner of the lot, so that it could never have a chance of receiving a ding from the door of the vehicle of some mere mortal.  It was well worth the extra hundred paces to the door of the gym, to keep his baby pristine.

Steve winked to Kristi, the morning desk girl at the Body Blast.  Kristi really liked him, he knew.  They had sometimes talked for more than two hours.  She never got tired of listening to Steve talk and dispense fitness advice.  He would just chat with her a few minutes this morning, to keep her up to date on his life and workout progress.

He headed for the locker room.  His ritual here was very precise, and he allowed himself no deviation, no matter how slight.  He placed his lock in a certain orientation on the bench, set his gym bag down just so.  He unloaded it in a precise order.  He gave himself three generous splashes of Aramis cologne.  It made him feel powerful.  He even imagined that he could get a few extra reps with the cologne.  His next step, after stripping down to his boxers, was to admire his physique in the full length mirror at the end of the row of lockers.  This was an important passage in his liturgy, and it occurred twice: once when changing into his workout gear, and a second time just before showering.

Steve looked himself up and down in the mirror.

"Handsome devil," he thought.

He noticed some belly fat, at the front and sagging around the sides of his abdomen, but he gave it little attention.

"It's not fat," he assured himself.  "I'm just holding a little water, that's all."

He donned his workout gear, laced the left and then the right shoe (it didn't feel right doing it in the opposite order), and fastened his leather lifting belt around his waist.  He tightened it two notches tighter than snug, to hold in his waistline.  He needed to present his best image, especially in the gym.  All the lifters were always jealously checking each other out, even if they would never admit it.  Every male in the gym felt a  rush of exhilaration when he spotted someone punier than himself.  And every man felt a horrible, disabling despair when he spotted a gym member more muscular than himself.

In some men, this despair took on such severe physical manifestations that they felt the blood draining away from their muscles, felt they would faint, and had to cut short their planned workouts.

Others, however, had developed coping mechanisms to deal with the possibility of meeting superior male specimens in the gym.  Steve had this mechanism in place.  It had several layers of programming, and is best illustrated using the following flow chart.

This is, of course, a simplification of the Steve's mental process.  In reality, there are more decision points.  For example, he can declare his rival an inferior specimen if one body part can be seen to be clearly undeveloped.

"That guy has no traps whatsoever!  What a pencilneck!"

As he got ready to step out of the men's locker room, Steve checked his posture, puffed out his chest, and pulled his shoulders back.  He held his clenched fists at his sides, about a foot to either side of his hips, to make himself appear wider.  He was ready.  He pushed the locker room door open with a firm blow to the stainless steel plate on it, and nearly knocked over a scrawny man in his thirties.  The man was startled, and cowered a bit until Steve had marched past him.  He looked back over his shoulder at Steve, as he was entering the locker room.

"Loser!"  Steve muttered to himself.

He proceeded to his home-away-from-home, the flat bench press station.  It was one of two in this gym, not counting the Smith machines, and they were in high demand.  He hated it if he had to wait for someone.  Sometimes, he had even stormed out of the gym and skipped a workout if both benches were taken.  But both were available this morning.

He slipped a 45-pound plate over each cylindrical end of end of the Olympic bar.  Forty-five pounds for the bar, plus ninety pounds for the two plates, made 135 pounds, his warm-up weight.  He positioned himself on the bench and looked up at the weight.  Even with a light weight like this, Steve did a lot of preliminary huffing and puffing before carefully grabbing the bar at the exact place on the knurling.  He pounded out fifteen very rapid repetitions, with nearly full range of motion.  He brought the bar down all the way to touch his chest on each rep, but did not go all the way up at the top.  Close, but not quite full reps.

He let the barbell clang down onto its resting posts, and jumped to his feet victoriously.  It was going to be a good workout, he could tell.  He loaded another 45 on each side of the barbell, and then celebrated the good warmup set by walking to the front desk to chat with Kristi.

"Miss me?" he asked?

Kristi smiled at him with what he took to be a very sweet smile, but said nothing.  Steve knew it was his signal that she was lonely and wanted to talk.

In actuality, Kristi's tortured smile was a prayer for help, for deliverance from this loudmouth and his gift of gab.  He tortured her every day this way, and if she had not feared losing her job, she'd have long ago told him to take all his talk and shove it.  But she couldn't do that.  She had to be polite.  A careful observer of the smile in question would have looked not only at her mouth, but at her eyes, filled with fear, pleading:  "Please, please go away, you wretched old man!"

But this was not a message Steve was inclined to accept.  Besides, he had some really good stories about cars he had raced on the street with his Trailblazer.  After those, he would tell her some more of his old football stories.  They were always a hit with the desk girls.  After that, they could talk about country music for a while.

Kristi's eyes glazed over.  She thought about the routine maintenance tasks she was supposed to be taking care of at this moment:  vacuuming the carpet, cleaning the restrooms, and moving stray weight plates back to their proper positions on the weight trees.  This guy's constant talk was really setting her back.  At this rate, she'd have to stay after her shift to get all her tasks checked off.  Couldn't he see that she was not interested?

No, he could not.  One of Steve's other weapons, along with the Gift of Gab, was a defensive one.  It was the Inability to take a Hint.  It served him well.  It was only on extremely rare occasions that anyone would say anything explicit to him, asking him to alter his behavior.  Almost always, they dropped hints.  But he did not have the ability to pick up on hints.  Or, rather, he had a useful and powerful inability to take hints.  This was a beauty thing:  it allowed him to maintain his original course of action in nearly every situation, unimpeded by the thoughts and feelings of others.

It was 42 minutes before he returned to the bench press, his 225-pound Olympic barbell still waiting for him.  He lay on the bench and performed another set.  This time it was ten slower, more controlled repetitions, still not going all the way up at the top of each rep.  He racked the weight, stood up, and reached for his water bottle.  He loosened his leather belt between sets, to give him the ability to breathe a little more deeply.  His eyes scanned the perimeter of the gym, looking for the next person to talk to.  He saw Philip.

"Phil, baby!"  he called over to where Philip was in the middle of a set of T-bar rows.  "Lift big or stay home!"

He chuckled loudly to signal to Philip that he was in a good mood and therefore, Philip was also required to be in a good mood.

Philip was a very knowledgeable nutrition expert in the field of fitness and bodybuilding, but he had a quiet, understated personality.  Though he knew fifty times as much as Steve, it was always Steve who advise Philip on dietary matters.  It was strictly a matter of Steve being a completely confident blowhard, and Philip's time being too precious to him to bother correcting Steve's every clueless statement.  He saw the path of least resistance as being:  feigning interest, nodding his head, and then excusing himself to do the next set.

This was not always completely efficacious, however.   Steve often stood alongside Philip while Philip performed his next set, still talking about his latest theories.  Philip took it all graciously, as far as any visible signs showed.  But inside, he was seething.  Early on in their lopsided relationship, this had ruined many sets of cable rows, squats, pulldowns, calf raises, incline presses, laterals, and leg curls.  But, then, he'd gone through a paradigm shift.  It happened during a set of wide grip pulldowns.  Philip was trying to concentrate on his latissimus muscles, to feel them as he moved through the full range of motion of the exercise.  He had a death grip on the iron bar that hung suspended from a cable.  The cable ran over a pulley at the top of the machine, and attached to a stack of weights.  The stack of weights could be anything from 10 pounds to 250 pounds, depending upon where a pin was inserted between consecutive weight plates in the stack.  When the pin was set for a lesser weight, there was a polished steel shaft with a pointed end that was visible below the weight stack when you pulled down on the bar to lift the stack.  The end of the shaft was pointed to help guide it back through the holes in the unused plates.

Philip had been working out with 140 pounds when the new idea came to him.  Steve had been chattering at him about distilled water and positive nitrogen balance, and Philip's blood was boiling.  He suddenly had a vision of Steve's fat head, sitting on its side atop the unused weights.  Each time he lowered the 140-pound stack, he pictured in his mind the pointed steel shaft plunging through Steve's head, sending blood everywhere, and leaving Steve's mute tongue lolling out of the lower side of his mouth.

It was a powerful vision, and Steve's incessant nutrition and workout lectures only enhanced its power.  Somehow, the momentary imagination of Steve's head pierced by the one-inch shaft gave him a superhuman strength for the next downward pull on the bar.  The 140 pound stack fairly flew up to the top of the apparatus.  At the end of this set, Philip bumped the weight up to 180 pounds, more than he had ever used to that point.  Steve kept up his monologue, Philip kept visualizing Steve's head being impaled, and ten perfect, clean reps were accomplished.

This was the paradigm shift.  Philip had packed on five pounds of solid muscle since he had begun to impale Steve with the weight stack shafts.  Of course, variations had to be devised for free weight exercises, but Philip's mind was nimble, and he found plenteous ways to link his lifting performance to the successful dismemberment and silencing of Mr. Gift of Gab.

He still would have preferred never to have heard Steve's voice again, but this new inspiration Steve gave him, and the muscle derived from it, was certainly among the best silver linings he'd ever found behind any dark cloud.

Steve was oblivious to all of this.  He reasoned that his pal Phil kept silence because it was simply the proper thing to do in the presence of a superior.  His physique and knowledge, he felt, were far superior to Phil's.  But he would help Phil catch up to him … a little bit.  Never all the way.

Soon, it was time for his next set of bench presses.  He added a 25-pound plate to each end of the bar, bringing its total weight to 275 pounds.  The increased weight required that he perform more gyrations on the bench, making sure that his back was symmetrically located, and that his hands were not even one millimeter off to either side of their appointed places on the knurling of the Olympic bar.  If he doubted his hand placement, he took both hands off and started again.  He wiggled his but to get it centered on the bench.  Finally, he was in position.

Steve took eight deep, rapid breaths to fill his bloodstream with oxygen.  He unracked the weight.  At this weight, his form was different.  He bounced the weight off his sternum at the bottom, using his ribcage as a spring to reverse the momentum of the falling bar.  For the first three reps, he was able to keep his butt on the bench and get the weight up.  But beginning with the fourth rep, he arched his back and lifted his butt off the bench, to bring his stronger lower pectoral muscles into play.  He managed five reps in all.  That was Steve's chest workout.

He headed over to the treadmill.  He punched in his desired speed and incline, along with his body weight.  He added ten pounds to the body weight number, because it made the automatic calorie counter go up faster, which made him happy.  He walked briskly for two minutes, jogged at a quicker rate for one minute, and then did a two minute cooldown walk.

He paced to the men's locker room, making sure to hold his fists out from his side to make himself look wide.  He puffed up his chest.  He loved chest day.  He showered and shaved at the gym, and put his work clothes on.  The world was his oyster.

Friday, January 23, 2015

1955 Cadillac Print for Sale!

I completed this oil painting of a 1955 Cadillac near the end of 2013, and it is now available as a Limited Edition print (100 prints total).

Here is the link to purchase the print on ebay.  The cost is $30, shipped to anywhere in the United States.