Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Poem: Awe

I wrote this poem over text to a friend one night when I was walking the dog before bed and looking up at the stars.

The airplanes flying overhead
In contrast to my waiting bed
Bespeak no comfort, only awe
And ‘mind me of the sight I saw
The night before, when in the chill
Of falling Winter I stood still
And contemplated yet once more
The wonders which remain in store

The Maker of the stars above
Has promised to bequeath in love
To those who hold him dear at heart
A grander world in which t’ take part

If knowing how enormous all
The stars are makes you feel so small
As to be speechless at the sight
Of brilliant pinpricks in the night
Then let your wide eyes squint in light
Of Him who made both day and night
And whom, like stars, we know in part
Because of the surrounding dark

For that which makes you stare amazed
Is not the spots that color space
But what they say about the source
Who placed and set them on their course
If nature so strikes awe in men
That they revere it, even when
It proves itself an unfit king,
Then what of Him who made all things?
Should not the God of nature too
Strike awe in hearts of men like you?
And unlike nature, God does not
Consider us a ‘pale blue dot’
It’s true He wants you to feel small
When you are deep in nature’s thrall
It’s so that you’ll depend on Him

Since power comes not from within.

I've noticed that the Orion constellation now contains the "scabbard" stars, but when I looked for them all summer I couldn't see them. I wonder if there's an astronomical explanation for this? That perhaps the sky is clearer in the winter and the longer nights means that there is less light and dust pollution that obscures fainter stars. At any rate, despite the cold, I'm enjoying my nighttime walks a lot right now, since the sky is rarely overcast.

~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Video Post: Discernment & Duck Dynasty

I used to pray for wisdom, in my mid to late teens. I was inspired by the way that God responded to Solomon's request for wisdom. Clearly the better thing to ask the Giver for is not things, but the correct understanding of how to utilize the things you have. I was amazed, years later, to consider that the end result of all the theological, historical and scientific education I'd gotten with regard to Biblical truth online had been an answer to the prayer I had made a habit of praying on night walks by the road. My mind is bursting with valuable, helpful information about an extremely wide and deep assortment of topics concerning the Christian Faith, and my concern now is how to best use this knowledge now that I have it, so that the last word won't be that all of the facts I knew were simply random trivia.

Discernment is the next step of wisdom. Whereas wisdom is the proper application of knowledge, discernment is the accurate and consistent application of wisdom. Let's say you could wisely conclude that a course of action is appropriate. But if you never took the time to reach that conclusion, and never acted, then your wisdom was in vain, because you didn't use it. Suppose that you know that certain song lyrics are not appropriate for your children to hear, but you don't know that your child is listening to a singer who employs such lyrics. You have the knowledge to determine what the lyrics are. You have the wisdom to determine that your child shouldn't be influenced by such music. But you lacked the discernment to identify the bad lyrics under your nose so as to take action against letting your child listen to them. This 'last step' is what I want to improve on, because my great fear is that I won't successfully identify and separate what's good from what's bad, and everything "in between," and reap the consequences of that inability.

My new prayer is for discernment. And to show an example of what I mean by drawing a distinction between "wisdom" and "discernment," please watch the following video. I have the knowledge of what is orthodox soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). I have the wisdom to know that I shouldn't promote people as Christian brothers whose doctrine is heretical on the topic of soteriology. But I am uncertain that I could identify, on my own, that a certain person is espousing a heretical soteriology, if it wasn't directly and obviously stated.

That's where men like Todd Friel come in. I discovered him first when I investigated whether Roman Catholicism was authentic Christianity or not, and someone had uploaded a video of him comparing Catholic and Christian positions. I liked his style and the information delivery in each of his short video uploads I would find, so I've eventually come to consider him an online, impersonal mentor figure in my Christian walk. Every young person ideally should have an older, more mature Christian of the same gender from whom to receive advice and take cues from as they model the Christian walk for you, so that you can grow in the faith, etc etc. I'm still working on finding such a relationship in person, but thanks to the Internet, I've been able to benefit from Todd's podcasts and video clips from his show, Wretched, and continue to polish up on my theology and practice. He has seemed to me on more than one occasion to serve the purpose of a theological watchdog, on the alert for errors, heresy, and other dumb-but-not-damning silliness that ought to be avoided. Following is a video clip of him helpfully analyzing a segment of Phil Robertson talking about salvation. Phil is one of the "Duck Dynasty" characters, which is the most popular reality show of all time, and their family's faith is bound to be a huge influence in America going forward. So just what do they believe? The nuance is very important, and Todd explains it below. Please check it out.

~ Rak Chazak

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stay Away From My Penis! What the Government Has Against Uncut Guys (Pics)

                This is shamelessly titled to hopefully show up in search queries by people looking for internet pornography. And yes, there are pictures. Here’s one:

                This is an image I created in Photoshop myself so as to avoid potential copyright issues, which I’ll use to identify posts which will discuss sensitive or personal subject matter. It will alert people who may be discouraged from reading something that they think is “TMI” (too much information) or that would make them feel awkward or uncomfortable. For extremely intensive (one could say ‘descriptively explicit’) blog posts, I’ll utilize a different image, one with an exclamation point instead of a period. 
                Today’s discussion will require the latter identifier. From the title, you may have guessed that ‘uncut’ refers to someone who has not been circumcised. Circumcision is the process of cutting off the foreskin of a penis. For those who may not know what a foreskin is, imagine the texture of your cheek, inside and out, but with the thickness of the thin edge of your ear. It covers the whole glans penis (the purple/red part) but can be pulled back to completely uncover it, where it then can sit rolled up against the back edge of the head of the penis, quite similar to how a rolled-up pantleg or shirt sleeve is prevented from unfurling past the knee or elbow. The immediate benefit of a foreskin is that it protects the tip of the penis like a sheath protects a knife’s blade, or a cap protects lipstick. Both by reducing sensitivity and to a lesser extent by keeping dirt out. This is great for a guy who doesn’t want to use a restroom and have something splash back up and hit the vulnerable parts. That would be like getting something nasty on your eye, rather than on your eyelid, wherefrom you can then wash it off, since it just hit the skin.

                Now that the stage is set, with the reader understanding why the presence of a foreskin is more sanitary than the lack of one, it’s time to get to the point. Apparently some educated idiot has gotten the bright idea to claim, in alarmist tones, that having a foreskin makes you more at risk of STDs. The solution, they promise, is to promote circumcision among males, particularly in Africa (because of the HIV epidemic there).

                But wait. How does the presence of a foreskin make one more at risk of STD transmission than a ‘snipped’ guy? Doing a little digging reveals that the science behind the claim is thus: the foreskin has a lot of blood vessels, and since it has very thin and tender skin on the inside, small tears from sexual activity would allow infectious agents to enter the bloodstream and make the person sick. But wait. Where would these infections be coming from? An infected person. And how are they transmitted? Through sexual activity. So what is really going on here?

                A foreskin is only going to “put” a person at higher risk of contracting a disease if the uncut guy is having sex with someone who has a sexually transmitted disease! If you’re not having sex with STD-positive people—for example, if you’re not having sex with anyone at all—then no problem! It’s the wanton sexual activity that’s the risky behavior, having a foreskin isn’t what makes it risky. Snipping yourself is a non-solution that doesn’t make you immune, just reduces the chance that you’ll get what’s coming to you for doing the wrong thing. In that way, it’s just like a condom. It doesn’t make your unsafe behavior suddenly become “safe sex.” It just slaps a 98% chance rating on what was previously a 50/50 or 100% guarantee that you would become a victim of the consequences to your own bad choices. There is absolutely no need to get snipped if you aren’t, just like there’s absolutely no need to ever use a condom, if you’re doing it right. If you’ve gotten married to someone, after years of knowing them, and being totally confident that their sexual history is either nonexistent or at least hasn’t left them with a disease, then there is no necessity to adopt “risk-reducing” behaviors, because you aren’t “at risk” in the first place. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to be afraid of that? That’s just one of the many wonderful benefits to submitting to God’s rules for human behavior. Sexual purity and monogamy. Risk-free sex with no strings attached.

PS So what did the government have to do with this? They’re promoting short-term fixes to a problem that requires a spiritual and not a medical solution. This government would NEVER recommend Biblical morality, that is to say, abstinence from promiscuous sexual behavior, as a way to avoid the spread of STDs. Instead they would recommend “safe sex,” which is code for minimizing, but not removing, the inherent risks that are part and parcel of sexual promiscuity. The only 100% guaranteed way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases is to not engage in sexual activity outside of a marriage that fits the Biblical model. This isn’t popular or politically correct. But people have always hated the truth when it gets between them and their personal gratification. This is nothing new. What would be new would be if people started rebelling against the norm and chose to refrain from the things that they weren’t expected to refrain from. Imagine the attention that such a divergence would garner. 

~ Rak Chazak

Proof I'm not making stuff up, with regard to the government-promoted circumcision program:
http://open.salon.com/blog/judy_mandelbaum/2012/07/27/africas_male_circumcision_crusade_boon_or_boondoggle -- hah, this site even criticizes the methodology of the tests that led them to conclude that circumcision reduces risk!
I kinda wanna leave it there. But here's the rest of the results of the google search:

See, I gave you links favoring circumcision and links critical. That's what it means to be unbiased. Not that you have an objective view, but that you considered all views without prejudice, before making your own decision.

Is the Name Redskins Really Racist?

My university forum is bringing up a lot of articles about racism these days. The most recent one was about the apparent (I don't watch football) controversy over the name "Redkins," where the media has found some representative of an American tribe to demand that it be removed because it's a racial slur.

Here's two of my responses. I figured they were concise and thoughtful enough to be worth a blog post.

What about the Vikings? That's racist against people of Norwegian, Danish and Swedish heritage.What about the New England Patriots? That's racist against white Americans above the Mason-Dixon Line.What about the Bengals? That's racist against Bengalis. We all know it's not about the tigers.What about the Texans? That's racist against white American southerners.Or the Cowboys for that matter? That reinforces stereotypes about white American westerners.Why is "Redskins" racist but "Chiefs" isn't?What about the 49ers? That's racist against poor white working-class gold-diggers.
No one seems to care. I declare selective outrage. 
Look at it this way: football teams pick a name that they wish to identify with in order to project an image of unity, strength and skill. Calling themselves "Redskins," as with calling themselves "Lions," "Eagles," "Giants," or "Titans," is a sign of HONOR and RESPECT of the namesake. Whoever the redskins were, clearly they were perceived as badasses who would strike fear into the heart of their enemies and achieve victory through strength and merit. That's why the name is chosen. What part of that is racist? Doesn't racism require denigration or negative implications about the supposed object? If everything said or implied is honorific or at least positive, it is the exact opposite of racism. 
and then in response to someone saying that it was a racial slur,

What makes it a racial slur? Is it because you assume that all native-american people have red skin, so that it's referring to them? Isn't that a racist assumption itself?
I want to challenge people to question themselves with this: "what IS racism?"
Is it a word? Or is it hatred and prejudice toward a group of people? If there is no prejudice, hatred, or negative connotations of any sort whatsoever, then what makes it racist except that you have personally placed the name "redskins" on your banned-words-list?

~ Rak Chazak

Friday, October 11, 2013

Near-Future Plans

Yesterday I watched Oblivion which I got from Redbox. $1.27 is way more worth it than $7 in the theater. It's probably $1.35 with tax. I've gotten used to quickly trying to tack on sales tax to the cost of things, since the prices of food at the fast food restaurant aren't the same as the final price the customer pays. I sometimes have to explain why the cost seems so much higher, so quickly figuring out a round number of how much tax they paid is helpful. The movie reminded me a bit of Terminator and Independence Day, with a little bit of Transformers and Battle:LA elements in there, too. Probably one of the few movies I've seen in a long time that didn't have an obvious religious theme in it at all (although the evil-alien-robot says "I am your God," to its human creation at the end, but that came across more as a demoralizing insult [like the pivotal point with the Reaper in Mass Effect] rather than a metaphysical claim about God's existence).

Last week and this week, I've been working on getting a number to call, or a link that would give me some solid information on what my loan repayment amount will be starting in November. I finally found a loan calculator on a website that has my information (but apparently isn't who'll be servicing the loan--servicing means to be the one to send the bills and acquire the repayments; they aren't necessarily the same people who "hold," i.e. own the loan), and I ran some income numbers to see what the differences are between the following:

Standard Repayment
Graduated Repayment
Income-Contingent Repayment
Income-Based Repayment

I need to do some more research to find out what the "catch" is for any of these and then weigh my options. I have a feeling I have to do some "exit counseling" before the loan repayment starts. No one told me. 

That's the responsibility part of maturity. Your situation might not be your fault, but it's your responsibility to take care of effectively.

In the meantime, I'll keep working, and in a few months I'll be up for a promotion. By late Spring, I could potentially be in a low-level manager position so long as I keep getting better at handling the things that the store needs taken care of for it to run properly. And by that time, I should have raised enough money to buy my own car for the first time. Then I could use it in my spare time to drive farther when looking for work, or going in for interviews. Next summer could see me with a number of different doors opened for me. Just gotta be faithful and diligent day by day until then.

That's what's going on with me. Keep the faith :)

~ Rak Chazak

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Errands of the day

Today I went for a flu shot and visited the post office. When I got to the library I had a debate about evolution with the brother of someone who's my 'facebook friend,' and I gave him this link. Downloaded some Wretched podcasts with the aim of listening to them at home. It's been raining a lot, mostly in the evenings, so that when I walked the dog yesterday I actually needed to grab the umbrella.

The television lies to you. Nora O'Donnel is one of the anchorladies on CBS This Morning, and when they were interviewing a Republican congressman from Utah last week, he corrected her to say that many businesses are exempt from Obamacare, but she reiterated the lie, phrasing it thus: "businesses are already moving to comply with the law." If I didn't already know about the exemptions, I wouldn't have known that she was deceiving me.

And today I discovered that Baroque architecture is a Roman Catholic response to Protestant minimalism. Protestants, when they took over old Romanist cathedrals and chapels, did away with what they considered idolatrous decorations, and the passive-aggressive response of the Papists was to effectively say, "oh, so it bothers them that our churches are decorated with false deities? Let's really lay it on thick, then!" An excessively bombastic Eastern Orthodox person on my university's website justifies what I expect the mindset of those who commissioned the architects was. It's essentially 'short-man syndrome," where a person overcompensates with elaborate cars, houses, clothes etc to make up for something that is lacking in his life. The Roman Catholic Church decorated their churches to such a ludicrous ('baroque' means 'bizarre') extent because their physical edifices were all that they had. Their religion is empty, so they compensate with large cathedrals, acts of charity and take up offense when they feel that their religion has been disrespected. The protestants didn't have to boast in the ornamentation of their churches, because the focus of their worship and faith is their God, not any earthly thing. God doesn't need defending, so protestant worship centered on God-righteousness and not man's righteousness. There was no need to make a big show of things to impress people, because they had no insecurity--they were secure in God, and His grace was enough for them. 

~ Rak Chazak

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Still here

Just letting any readers know I haven't abandoned the blog. I just don't have the time to write a post today. My schedule at work has gotten more regular, so I now have Thursdays and Fridays off. Blog posts will for the foreseeable future, then, be made on these days, so now you know when to look!

~ Rak Chazak