Monday, May 27, 2013

Freedom Isn't Free

My apologies for the cheesy and played out title. I'm not usually one to jump on the holiday post bandwagon, but I wanted to throw my two cents of appreciation in. The obituaries in newspapers remind me, on a daily basis, that America's greatest generation in slowly dying away. Yet, they are not forgotten.

Regardless of your political party, religious preference, or other typical means of dividing groups of people up, we all crave freedom. So, today, I am reminded that I have friends who have fought and are fighting to help ensure that freedom. Although I may not support every military endeavor carried out by America, I do support those who have dedicated their lives to work to keep this country safe, secure, and free. It isn't easy to follow orders you may not agree with or to potentially face death at the hands of hostile foes. Since the founding of our nation, men and women have died to ensure that we have the right to disagree, to speak up, and for our very survival as a nation. Some of these men and women have been neglected and forgotten over time. We forget that many have sacrificed their lives to allow us to be where we are today and enjoy the freedoms that we do. May we remember their sacrifices, and not forget them, so that we understand how painful it is to send sons, daughters, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, grandchildren, and friends into harm's way. The choice to be selfless is a difficult one. Wars have robbed us of many talented, courageous, and deeply reverent men and women. Their talents and gifts have been lost to the beaches of Normandy, the farmlands of the American south, and the jungles of Vietnam. Many additional brave men and women have been gravely wounded, maimed, and psychologically scarred. Since the beginning of history soldiers have been tasked with bearing many burdens that many of us would never want to face. I have never had to shoot another man to save myself, or watch my peers die in front of my eyes. I haven't seen prisoners of war, and I've never seen the damage caused by bombs with my own eyes. These are horrors I wish that the world could remove. However, I know that without them, many of us may not realistically be here today or would live in a dramatically different world. 

With that in mind, today is Memorial Day. We remember the dead and salute the living. Thank you to all those that are currently serving in the military and to those who have previously served as well! I am incredibly grateful that I'm able to have the freedoms that I do as a result of your service. Take the time today, or in the upcoming week, to tell those that are serving how much your appreciate their service. Because, when it really comes down to it, freedom isn't free--even when we'd really like it to be.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

War on war

I'm temporarily scrapping what was supposed to be my follow-up post to the one I wrote on choices. In its place, I'm writing one on war and guns that I'm sure some of you will hate--which is ok. This has been something I've become increasingly frustrated with, so I wanted to take the time to address it.

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook this past December, suddenly the entire country has wanted to debate the merits of gun control. Everyone seems to be pretending that this issue came out of nowhere, rather than recognizing that destructive mindsets about the issue have been simmering for years. The main issue being the negative rhetoric of the N.R.A. and gun manufacturers on the issue. We should be asking, why are these things happening and how can we prevent them in the future? Instead, the sole focus has centered on 'the right to bear arms.' Basically, gun owners and supporters have argued, "I have the right to own guns, lots of guns, and take them anywhere, and if you try to take them away I won't hesitate to use them." I'm not sure when the USA government declared its stated goal was to ban all weapons and subsequently work to enslave its citizens by stripping their freedoms, but gun owners seem to believe this will occur if guns are taken away. Last time I checked, citizens running around doling out vigilante justice via concealed handguns, if anyone threatened them, was not the purpose of the second amendment. Also, where my well regulated militias at? Oh that's right, militias nowadays have a different name: see white supremacist groups. Lobbyists with the NRA are ensuring that these fine folks have access to firearms so that they can carry out hate crimes, intimidate people, and create problems that require the government to physically engage them. Don't forget, gun manufacturers are reaping all the profits and don't particularly care if people will mental illnesses, histories of violence, or any other glaring issues purchase their products. As a result, we've created a system that provides no accountability and attacks anyone who disagrees. In fact, I believe that this system is, in many ways, responsible for the post WWII notion that the U.S. should police the world. 

If asked to sum up the typical attitude of a gun owner in the U.S. towards those they disagree with I'd describe it this way: convert, or I'll force to convert, and if you don't I'll kill you. For many, there's no longer a place for those who hold differing opinions. You're either with us or you're a terrorist. Apparently, after 1945, we've determined that the world needs our approval to do anything. We bring democracy, we bring prosperity, we replace dictators that don't listen to us with those who do. Somewhere along the way we dragged God into it. Suddenly, we have decided that America is the only Christian nation. Apparently Jesus was a Republican, who owned guns, and came to rid the world of liberal influence. I have heard people say that America is the only hope for the world. How sad it has truly become if we believe that. America was founded on religious tolerance and freedom, but apparently we've decided that only extends to Christians and white people with Western European heritage. Now, don't misunderstand me, I believe in the certainty of what Jesus has done and its eventual fulfillment. I am a Christian, I believe the Bible in its entirety, I don't believe that all religions lead to the same truth. There's one truth, in my mind, and it's Jesus. However, that doesn't mean that I believe people should face discrimination, be mocked, or hunted down as terrorists because they believe differently. I want to love people I disagree with, because it's the right thing to do. Hate is easy, it doesn't require sacrifice, it reduces people to stereotypes, objects, and it dehumanizes them. We need to stop dehumanizing people. This isn't a video game. Our lives are not expendable. The last truly just war America fought was WWII. We do have a moral imperative to act in defense of those actions which are indefensible. The actions of Hitler were indefensible, he took lives willingly and without remorse, and he ordered others to do the same. However, since then, we have fought wars that were not just and were not noble. Our men and women have been sacrificed so that defense companies got rich and that we could proclaim our own greatness. And along the way, we've managed to suggest that God would support our exercises in 'righteousness.' How dare we. Now, disagreeing with how a country is governed, is viewed as our right to bring freedom to that country. In the world we live in, we've determined that America is now God. But, we are not 'slow to anger, and quick to forgive.' In fact, I'm betting there are people ready to quickly forgive me, with a gun to my head, at the end of this.

To all of those out there that disagree with me I'd like to say this: I may disagree with you, but that doesn't mean I think less of you. I'd encourage everyone (myself included) to reevaluate your positions on these issues. Try loving people instead of hating them. Leave the judgement to God. Honestly, it's incredibly comforting to me to realize I don't control the fate of the world. I would never want to, that's a war you just can't win. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I have no choice

"I have no choice!" How many times have you heard a friend proclaim this out of desperation? Choices are something we all make on a daily basis. You woke up late. Do you eat breakfast or not? Traffic is bad, which way should you take to work? Should you eat healthy or not? Most choices are relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things. In addition, there are a fair amount of choices we have absolutely no say in. Many of our most defining characteristics were decided without any input from us. Think about it.

Did you have any say in what you were named? I don't think so. What about where you were born, what elementary school you attended, who your family members are? These are key elements to our development as individuals, yet we had little to absolutely no control over them. Sure, if you have kids, you get to exercise control and name them, raise them, etc. Still, you can't control what the weather will be on the day of their birth, if they'll grow up to be successful, or even when they'll be born. We are powerless to the inevitability and uncertainty of events beyond our control. It is inevitable we will die, but it is uncertain when that will occur. Now, this shouldn't cause us to live in fear, but it should make us mindful of what limits us. Also, in other cultures and countries, some things that are choices in our own country are not. In some parts of the world marriages are still arranged. Something that many fundamentally believe should be a choice is decided by parents, tribal councils, or worse. As a result, two people that may be completely incompatible are forced together for better or, most likely, for worse. Imagine having little choice in your career, you know you'll be doing exactly what your father did and his father before him. It can be hard to find joy, fulfillment, or any measure of success when you feel like everything in your life has been forced.

Of course, this naturally leads to other questions that deal with the notion of choice. Should women be able to choose to abort their unborn children? With the father's permission, without? Along with that, is a fetus even a child? At what point should something be considered a child? These are heady questions without easy answers. They have divided our nation, and led people to assert ridiculous positions on both sides. The current question of strongest opinion, is being gay a choice? Should gay people be allowed to adopt children? If gay people choose to get married, should states recognize it? These and many other questions are currently debated across our nation and worldwide. Now, my goal is not to create debate about who is right or wrong, or pick sides, but simply to examine how influential choices are.

Ultimately, this is the beginning of a larger thought I've been having about privilege, rights, and fairness. Some questions I will be addressing in the following post are: do some people deserve special treatment or privilege? Why do we expect other people to follow laws, rules, etc, but then get angry when we're held to our own standards? Are we entitled to make our own choices? Do we have any fundamental rights as Americans, as humans? Does freewill mean that we can do whatever we want, within the law, or are there limits to our choices?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

For Pitt's Sake?

I decided to bring the blog back, because I've been thinking through a lot of things and wanted to put those thoughts on paper (virtually speaking). Vocalization is a good way to process ideas, and I wanted to share them with you wonderful people as well.

Idols are a dangerous thing. However, even more dangerous are unrecognized idols. These are the idols that creep in when we are focused elsewhere. The obsession with a tv series as a way to cope with stress from a difficult job. Focusing on finding a romantic relationship while neglecting friends and family. The desire to focus on 'church' (perfect worship, perfect sermons, perfect fellowship) at the expense of focusing on our creator, God. Suddenly, before we know it, our well meaning pursuits have consumed our lives and become debilitating idols. Friends: I have a confession. Over the past 6 years Pittsburgh has become my idol. 

It was a difficult thing to acknowledge, but it became particularly evident this past year. Around the time of my junior year at Pitt, I began to start framing my decisions in terms of staying in Pittsburgh at all costs. It became an obsession, in most respects, one which I denied. I needed to find a job in Pittsburgh, live in Pittsburgh, and nothing else would suffice. When that didn't exactly pan out, I became convinced that grad school at Pitt was where I should be. Sure, I was able to stay in Pittsburgh the past two years, but things never seemed completely right. I began to realize that I had been asking God to do something in my life, but I had essentially told Him leaving Pittsburgh wasn't an option. Gradually, it occurred to me that staying in Pittsburgh might be why nothing had happened. The ultimate realization came this spring, after I had applied and gotten into grad school at Pitt. I was split between doing a program that I wasn't actually interested in, but would only take a year, and a program that I was interested in but made little sense economically or practically. Both programs would force me to incur large amounts of additional student loans, and honestly were just not good fits for me. Undeterred, I was convinced that I needed to just choose one and suck it up. However, after many conversations with thoughtful, amazing, friends, I realized my idolization had blinded me to the absurd reality of doing either program. 

In addition, somewhere along the way, I had become convinced that the only girl for me would be a Pitt grad or native Pittsburgher. As a result, having a relationship work with one of the two became a direct accomplice to my stated goal of staying in Pittsburgh. Ultimately, this led me to consider a massive variety of girls regardless of how unlikely the relationship or different our personalities. I ignored these glaring issues, because I viewed a successful relationship as key to staying in Pittsburgh which was my ultimate desire. In the process, I created some awkward situations, that I regret, and never got a relationship to work out anyways. In fact, it was ignoring one large difference, with a girl very similar to my self, that made me finally realize it was a problem. Sometimes it takes an amazing person to help you see your own faults, which I believe was certainly the case here. Fortunately, it has resulted in a great friend who I'm extremely thankful for. Regardless, it made me see that no matter how badly I wanted to make things work out that sometimes they just don't. God had been waiting for me to stop trying to control my circumstances. Finally, with some help, I was willing to accept Pittsburgh may not be the place I was meant to be. 

So, where does this leave me in the meantime? Honestly, I do not know. I will be applying to programs for Higher Ed for Fall 2014, beginning in August. Some are reasonably close (Ohio St.), while others are much further away (Colorado State). I'm seeking a program that's funded, in an urban area, and that will allow me to focus on Student Affairs. I recognize that those plans could change and that I may end up doing something else. And that's ok too. God works in miraculous ways, and I understand that what happens may end up being something I never considered. Actually, when the dust settles, there's always the chance that I could end up in Pittsburgh after all. However, I do know one thing, it's not easy to be away from Pittsburgh. Although not a native of the 'Burgh, I have come to identify it as my home since starting at Pitt. I miss the sites, the people, and the passion. It's hard to not be able to walk through Schenley Park, eat at Primanti's, or listen to the sounds of crowded Oakland streets buzzing with excitement. Still, I believe that God is preparing me for something greater than I currently can imagine. Sure, maybe it won't be pleasant or fun initially, but I believe it will be rewarding. I'm no longer idolizing Pittsburgh, and staying there, but I still have a deep love for it. No matter where I go I will root for the Steelers, Pirates, and Pitt (even when they inevitably break my heart). I will remember the people that have touched my heart and changed my life, and I won't forget all the great times I've had. Now, as a new chapter begins, I will move forward and embrace it. The road goes ever on and on...