Oh crap. The world is changing – again.

There is something new on WordPress. If you are seeing this, it worked. If not, I’m using bad words to describe my confusion.

The yellow vest movement is interesting for two reasons. One is that it amounts to a general protest against sacrificing one’s general well being, along with the well being of one’s family to the ideals of globalism. In that sense, the verdict is in. One’s own interests trump some pie in the sky attempt to make everyone equal and to make the elite richer and more powerful. Is this a surprise?

Two, the video game industry is serving as a grand example of how not to treat your customers, and is actually suffering as result. Let that lesson be learned. No video game is more important than the free market. Surprise!

Three, numerous platforms are yanking the rug out from under independent voices, notably Patreon, who has seen fit to enforce their standards, and arguably ignore their standards, against those with whom they disagree. As a result, prominent internet personalities are abandoning Patreon, and dragging their supporters along with them. In this is the definition of a platform, which should have nothing to say about what their members create, versus a publisher, which has everything to say about what their creators say. Patreon should decide right now whether they are a publisher or a platform. If a publisher, they can censor – and owe money to – everyone who has funneled money through their site. If a platform, they need to stop – STOP! – hamstringing those who use their system to make money for creating content. You can’t have it both ways, enlightened internet platforms. You are either a publisher and therefore responsible for your content and you – from your own accounts – pay each content creator for content, or you are a platform, in which case all content is okay by you and you make your money on the transactions and delay from collection to payout. Take your pick, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Which leads me to the simple fact that we cannot conduct business in a world in which literally everything is a cause. It’s a religion. Just like religion, a given stance is entirely subject to belief. Politics is now a religion. Racism is a religion. Sexism is a religion. Left versus right is a religion. How do I know? There is no proof. If we were simply talking about Christianity, there is no proof in which I would not need to jump into faith to finish the argument. Accept my faith and I win. Reject my faith and I lose the argument.

None of this is an endorsement of religion or condemnation of the same. I buy into the value of faith, whether our faith is the same or not. My point is simply this: If your logical argument relies on faith or a pile of people who happen to agree with your position, you lose. If your argument relies on objectively provable evidence, you win. Speculation is not a win. Belief is not a win. That being said, you can be entirely right based on belief, faith, or people supporting you. Failure to win an objective argument does not mean you are wrong. Odds are, you’ve lived in this world long enough to know the difference between sincere assertion and a pile of self serving BS. Just keep that in mind. In the grand scheme, I am no more informed about universal objective truth than anyone else, which means quite simply that I should give your beliefs the respect they deserve.

Since it would be entirely self serving to ask the question, “What do ‘we’ believe?” It’s far better to ask what “I” believe. The answer, depending on the particular question, is lengthy. The most general version is, “We know nothing.” Perhaps that ignorance is purposeful or perhaps we have just failed a test long ago and the answers are right in front of us. It’s also far better to ask what “you” believe, but if you are smart in this time and place, you will not answer.

This is a belief, which means that in a perfect world you could reject my beliefs without censure. In today’s world you are not allowed to answer without planting a flag somewhere. Someone, in some group, will find your answer offensive enough to internet assassinate you.

In the past year, I’ve been ideologically assassinated, and it’s not fun. It’s even worse when the ideals upon which I was beheaded are not ideals at all, but merely the expedient ingredients of a batch of power cookies. Like the Cookie Monster, a cookie can drive some people well past the bounds of agreeable terms into the realm of madness. Fine. We may believe that those people who can throw out common rules of moral decency can get away with it. We may believe that they will eventually come face to face with a higher and undeniable authority who will judge them lacking, or we may simply rely on amorphous Karma to put a highly convenient and immovable bridge abutment in their careening path. It doesn’t matter.

What matters for each of us in this holiday season, whether it’s a celebration of any particular ideal or not, is that we are winding down to the end of a ledger for 2018. Will we read that book later and feel good about who we are, or will we read it and understand that we could have been far better. If you’re like me, far better is always the answer, for one reason or another. And if there is a freshly sharpened point, the sheer judgment of others is probably that point. Yet, here we are, swimming in a sea of moral and every other kind of relativism, and it’s become pretty clear that it’s not working. Some immutable standards must apply, for the harshest of reasons. Every time we dip our toe into relativism, it’s starkly illustrated that we are all in it for ourselves and any sense of community or cooperation leap out the window. What are the standards?

In America, we believe in what? It doesn’t matter what I say if I were brave enough to lay it out; I can assure you it will not be progressive enough to avoid being targeted for some form of attack. There are plenty of courageous people who dive knowingly into the ideological fray, who also accept knowingly that they will be attacked for their effort. There was a time when we could accept different beliefs than our own without trying to literally destroy those with whom we disagree, and this was considered part of the responsibility of living in a free society. Now, at least from the extremes on both sides, disagreement is considered an excuse to get someone fired, to get someone de-platformed in the “making money from the internet” sense, to take away their livelihood, to show up at their favorite restaurant, office, or even their home, to attack their children with fear, to do literally anything to get them to shut up. What kind of psycho can justify this kind of behavior, especially when the same nut-job is usually spouting some one-sided nonsense about free speech?

My suggestion for 2019 is simple. Accept the very real premise that we each – ultimately – know nothing. No one knows everything, and we have no way of knowing whether the next person (myself included) offers some tiny piece of the objective truth or is speaking entirely to fulfill an agenda with which we would disagree. In other words, your beliefs matter. You get to decide what your truths and priorities mean. I’d humbly suggest that you keep a firm grip on yourself and your definitions of higher truth, because if 2018 has taught us anything, it’s that if you do not think for yourself, there is always someone out there who is more than happy to co-opt your reality for their own purposes.

That pile of lofty language comes down to earth in the form of those you love and what you think is important. Loved ones are easy and difficult. What you think is important ranges from difficult to darn near impossible.

For example, I love my family on the basis that family – back for generations – is important, which is a belief. Yet, no one from my immediate family has carved out enough time to call and say “Merry Christmas.” I typically approach the holidays with the notion that I make those calls. This year, largely due to a pattern of behavior from my closest family member, I decided to find out if anyone else would take the lead. The answer is no. What does that mean? Did I fail the entire family by refusing to fulfill my usual role, or did they fail me by refusing to pick up the slack? In your immediate family, would it be considered adequate that of the three remaining members, you received one Christmas card?

Ideologically, it gets remarkably hard to track. Let’s say that for you, Christmas is a very Christ-centered holiday. There have been open push-backs against the loss of a Christian based idea of Christmas for 50 years. Check out the hard push from a Charlie Brown Christmas to see it. There has been resistance to the loss of being able to wish someone “Merry Christmas” as a form of non-inclusion of other celebrations of the holiday season for years now. From a Christian point of view, it has been a deliberate effort to squelch that point of view in favor of a more open and inclusive idea of the holiday. I laugh at the entire concept of “open and inclusive” as a mask for pushing out the original concept for the season, and I do it with full knowledge of the historical development of Christmas as co-opting of earlier concepts of the celebration of winter solstice. This stuff goes back a long way. While a Christian concept, or Hanuka, or Kwanzaa, or any other label we want to slap on top of it, Winter Solstice is hard to get around. It happens whether we like it or not. Unless you are a flat-Earther, the math is undeniable. Around here, it translates to a lot of darkness. The fact is that we could have just as easily said that Christ was born on tax day, or Memorial Day, or the 4th of July, and no one would have been able to prove otherwise. It doesn’t matter. Christmas is still a celebration of the birth of Christ. If that is important to you, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The New Year, on the other hand, is remarkably free from debate, which is odd. Among all the calendars conceived in the history of humanity, the Gregorian calendar is far from the most mathematically clean. We throw in an extra day every four years for goodness’ sake! Why wouldn’t we just accept the definition of a second to account for the discrepancy for each day? As I write this post over the course of a week, we are running up against the new year, which will occur 7 hours and 28 minutes from now in Pacific time. I for one am happy to say goodbye to 2018. It was far too much hard lesson and not nearly enough celebration for me. I have a plan for 2019 that I hope will involve the culmination of a lot of work and planning, but there are no guarantees. We’ll see…

For all of you, especially those of you have have stuck with me for a remarkably long dry spell in publishing terms, I wish for you the best New Year. May your moral dilemmas be simple and your plans be fruitful. My thanks for reading to the end. Happy New Year!

Christmas Without the Hype

It has been over 18 years, and it’s not possible to experience Christmas without feeling the sharp loss of my mother.

You see, Mom was a profound Christmas elf and a button pusher of the highest order. For the last decade of her life, she pronounced each Christmas to be the biggest ever because it could be her last. Eventually she was right. It was her last. 1998 to be exact. She passed in August of 1999.

I remember decorating ever larger trees each year under her direction while my father literally yelled “Bah Humbug” from the other room. He was at least 50% joking of course. It is not possible to completely disavow someone who injected so much joy into Christmas, especially someone who could cook holiday food so well. I’m sure the price tag made his Januaries painful, but the late Decembers were worth it, probably even to him. I remember pulling feats of lopsided balance on a step ladder that was never intended to be used inside the house in order to decorate the top quarter of a 14 foot tree. My mom was not so much about safety as she was about some belief that involved a certain kind of faith and a certain kind of righteousness of purpose. At Christmas, the purpose was celebration and sharing. It’s probably safe to say that her faith kept me from falling off that ladder as I leaned way out to place the star upon the tree.

She had a great friend, Linda, whose value I completely missed until I was old enough to understand. As a kid, Linda was an interloper on our family Christmas, and I resented it. As an adult, I understood the value of her friendship with my mother, and I felt truly sorry for my childish reaction. As I write, Linda is somewhere in Kentucky, wrestling with her own struggles, and feeling the loss as sharply as I do. I have nothing for Linda these days except a deep gratitude for her support of my mother all those years. Linda has never embraced the internet, and will never read these words, but I have let her know that I finally understood, that some things are hard to understand, and yet infinitely valuable in this world.

It is not wrong to approach Christmas as a symbol of our relationship with our creator, no matter how you view that relationship, but the truth is that we are poorly equipped to deal with it on that level. For most of us, it is very hard to bring an infinite God down to our level of existence, but we always have the next best thing. We have the people who matter in our lives, who actually affect us, who move us with both kindness and cruelty, comfort and loss, lessons and support when the lesson is too hard to grasp. We have Christmas, as it exists, both in the strict framework of Christ and the broader framework of values in life. We don’t have to agree on the meaning; we only have to agree that there is meaning, that we all affect each other, and that today of all days, we choose to reflect on the positive meaning of our collective motion into a world that works for all of us and brings us closer to each other.

Some of you know I am speaking directly to you, and some of you don’t. On this day, I am speaking to all of you, with all of the meaning fully intact. If you think I have forgotten, I have not. I love you all.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Christmas Rambles on Faith

Have you ever had one of those moments in which you realize, all of a sudden, that a whole bunch of seemingly random and disconnected experiences fit together to form a coherent lesson? Wow! What a wordy way to ask it… It happens to me from time to time. I have one of those moments of connected clarity for a few seconds, and then I go back to being relatively confused. Although I would never torture you with the minute details of this quiet epiphany, I am going to try to throw the gist of it out there, just in time for Christmas.

I’m sure I am not alone when I say I get through the holiday season with the full understanding that a lifetime of good and bad pile onto the holiday. It’s a complex season.

I’m in Christmas recovery. I grew up as my mother’s Christmas elf partner-in-crime. We decorated the tree and generally had a good time overriding the cries of bah-humbug and indifference from the other room. A half-decade ago, a certain ex-wife managed to destroy the holiday spirit in me. It was vaporized when she invited her ex-husband to spend the holidays with us. Long story… No one died, ’nuff said. Now, I’m beginning to feel Christmas again, thanks to the bubbling joy in my new life, and thanks to the fact that a whole bunch of you read my story this year, which affords me the opportunity to celebrate properly. It’s a potent combination of Christmas spirit recovery.

Being excited about Christmas gives me the emotional energy to explore some of the deeper meanings of the season, and that’s where my nebulous point comes back into it – sorta. Not long ago, I was having dinner with one of the best friends I have ever had, and his ex. Another long story, and not mine to tell. Anyway, somehow the conversation turned into one about faith, in the spiritual sense. My friend looked very uncomfortable and stayed mostly out of it. Never discuss politics and religion, right? I found myself having the entire conversation with his ex, a woman I read as someone who has lost a great deal of faith in her life, and with good reason. Like many conversations of the sort, the main thrust was in the problems of religion versus spiritual beliefs. After listening to my friends, I gathered that religion and it’s various failings were standing in the way of some sort of belief and faith.

The thing is, I know my friend has some kind of faith. I just don’t know what it is. The other thing is, I don’t care what kind it is. For a kid who grew up in the Bible Belt, I have an open policy when it comes to the form of faith or religion. As long as you are not out there hurting people with your version of God, it’s okay by me. My basic take is that if we want to call God – or whatever you call the larger-than-yourself – the creator, the connector, and the infinite, then we should deal with God as infinite. Now, infinity is a tough concept, but for now, let’s just slice off a piece of the infinite and say that a truly infinite God would have an infinite number of ways to deal with any one of us – or anything else for that matter.

Religion, the organized kind, deals in limiting God. Before anyone gets offended, let me say it makes perfect sense. If we were all forced to live on the hairy edge of trying to capture a glimpse of something infinite every time we went to church, well… It would be very tiring. How do you organize around infinity? It’s much simpler for all of us if religion sets out some rules to follow, a community standard of behavior, and serves to reinforce those rules in a way that holds together. If it works, it’s a great thing to be a part of that community. If it doesn’t work, then people get hurt, and if that isn’t a definition of the human condition, I don’t know what is.

The point is, we just don’t know. None of us has a a real bead on the TRUTH. What we have instead is faith in our own truth. Some have strong faith, some need a weekly reminder, and some would rather ignore the whole issue. Some seek out a connection in the shared experience of a glowing community. Some prefer the compelled discipline of a demanding religion. Some feel it best while standing in the forest, or on a mountaintop. Some feel God while ringing the the Salvation Army bell, or serving food to the homeless. Again, if it isn’t hurting people, it’s all good.

Another recent exchange plays into my thoughts. I saw an unusual take on the conservative view of the Occupy movement and posted it on Facebook. One of my oldest friends, a very smart individual, jumped on it immediately. He disagreed with the facts of the post, and proceeded to argue against it entirely on the basis of opinion. I didn’t point it out at the time because I was more curious about where he would take it than to hold any particular position. I suppose he got bored when I refused to engage on the “facts” and left it there. In fact, one of the few points I did make is that there is no baseline of objective truth in American politics. Take any political belief and I guarantee you can come up with some “facts” to support it. You can prove this fact easily by simply having two political conversations, preferably with both sides of the party divide, and comparing the results. If I talk to most Western Washingtonians, it’s the Republicans’ fault. If I talk to the people I grew up with in Tennessee, for the most part, it’s the Democrats’ fault.

I think it’s everyone’s fault, but the point is that politics has become an article of faith, not fact. If you find yourself watching the news and become aware of the slant and spin – there’s always a slant – then you understand that we are being fed a set of beliefs, a faith, not anything that could be arguably presented as fact by enough people to yield even a general agreement on the truth. In terms of the functioning of our wobbly republic, it matters, but in terms of you, the individual believer, well… Your faith is your own, and it’s probably just as valid as anyone else’s faith, whether we want to discuss religion or politics – or cookie recipes.

Before this turns into a dark dive into the foibles of humanity, let me say that it’s Christmas. Like anything else, we can argue about the true meaning of Christmas forever. Instead of arguing, I would say that let’s take this holiday, at the very least, for it’s unadulterated symbolic value. Whether we believe in God, politics, science, nature, money, or family, let’s take the opportunity to gather all of those beliefs around us like a warm blanket this Christmas. Let’s throw in some loved ones, the best food we can muster, and all the happiness we can collect. Let’s practice love and forgiveness and sharing, because no matter what we believe, our beliefs matter. Our various faiths sustain us, keep us moving forward, and help us change the world.

May our collective faiths deliver a better future, my friends.

Merry Christmas.