High School Reunion

As a motivator and a happy tradition, I’ve decided to start going to Gailey’s Breakfast Cafe the morning after doing server updates. On Saturday, I finally went to bed around 5 a.m., then woke up around 8:30 a.m. for my breakfast pilgrimage.

While I wasn’t sure I recognized her at first, it turned out I was eating at the bar next to a girl I knew in high school. Talking with her was like the blessing I experienced last summer when I ran into a different old friend at a house party. She just seemed happier, and healthier, and wonderful, and I love seeing that in people.

Last night was our 10 year high school reunion, and I had kind of expected it to be like breakfast at Gailey’s, or the house party last summer, and I did experience a bit of that. There were a couple of people who seem to be doing well, and I was glad to see them and catch up. But last night also brought back some unpleasant memories and emotions.

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The First Time I Read Isaiah

I met a Mormon girl at History Bowl my senior year of high school. There were three Mormons in my school, but what made this particular girl fascinating was that she actually knew something about her religion. I had always been interested in studying other religions so I’d read a fair amount about Mormonism, and the ones I knew at school were largely clueless. They spent time with their families, went to church, and did some of the social stuff, but they knew surprisingly little about their religion or its history. The girl at History Bowl was educated.

What’s more, she was also cute, and I was determined to talk with her about her faith because I found that intelligence so exciting. I asked her out for coffee, and when she said she didn’t drink it, I quickly changed my suggestion to tea or hot cocoa. We ended up making plans to go ice skating, and when I went to pick her up at her parent’s house, her dad shanghaied me and we ended up talking about religion for several hours (and eating dinner) before we could get out the door.

One of the things we discussed was the book of Isaiah, which they (as a family) had been studying for quite some time. The father of the family had a huge book that attempted to explain Isaiah, and he said it was the one book in the Bible with which he really struggled. It just didn’t make any sense to him and was really difficult to read.

I was perplexed by this. Having just read the entire Bible for the first time, I blew through Isaiah without any problems. The Holy Spirit had acted as my interpreter and educator and I hadn’t stumbled for meaning. I’ll admit a few things here: I was young, foolhardy, and prideful; I may very well have been wrong and subsequently only thought I was understanding Isaiah; my Zondervan Study Bible was a big help in this endeavor. However, my circumstances led me to believe that my teaching was from God and my understanding of the Bible was solid.

During my senior year of high school, God took me in a powerful way and compelled me to read the Bible. I sat down in our living room one night and started in Genesis, shaken and enthralled. There was nothing else I could do, nothing to which I could turn my attention. When I tried to read for class, I would be distracted after a few sentences or a paragraph and have to pick up the Bible again. I’d read for six hours at a time, sleep, and then wake up and read more. I was inspired.

In six weeks I had read the text. Isaiah had seemed no more a challenge than any of the rest of it.

Since that time, the Holy Spirit has acted as my interpreter less. For the first couple of years after I became Christian, God held my hand and led me through whatever I faced. He taught, comforted, and 100% took care of me. Around my junior year of college, though, he let go. It was time for me to stand on my own, to make my own way in the world, and to put what I had learned towards making my own decisions without influence. God wasn’t going to tell me what to do anymore–he wanted me to decide for myself based on his teachings.

I don’t expect this reading of Isaiah to be as easy as when I was in high school. However, I’ve also learned a lot since then (my degree in religious studies, only six credit hours from completion, hasn’t been an entire waste), and my in-laws just bought me a new study Bible for my birthday, so I’m feeling pretty good.

I’m not going to try and explain all of Isaiah, nor am I going to write about every verse or even every chapter. I’m just going to read and, when something jumps out at me that I want to write about, I’ll say something.

I’m still not sure where to fit the podcast into all this. Doing a dedicated podcast without writing something for those who prefer to read feels odd to me. I think what I might do, vis-a-vis podcast, is take notes throughout my reading and then once a week do a sort of review. “Here’s what the last week of my study has been like.” I’ll write about specifics and podcast about the general overview. Sound good?

Not sure it does to me, but it sounds feasible. We’ll see if it happens.

On Adventure and Job Security

He had spent years in search of boredom, but had never achieved it. Just when he thought he had it in his grasp his life would suddenly become full of near-terminal interest. The thought that someone could voluntarily give up the prospect of being bored for fifty years made him feel quite weak. With fifty years ahead of him, he thought, he could elevate tedium to the status of an art form. There would be no end to the things he wouldn’t do.

– On Rincewind from Sourcery

“Matt, would you walk me to my next class?” Erin asked me breathlessly, her eyes wide with fear behind her slightly oval-shaped glasses. We had sat next to each other most of my freshman year of high school in geometry, but hadn’t begun speaking to each other until relatively recently. To be honest, I hadn’t even noticed her until last week.

Despite having been in close proximity to this girl for over a semester and a half, she always avoided notice by wearing big flannel shirts, keeping her hair over her face, and never saying a word. But when she walked into the dance the previous Friday night, it was like beholding an angel. I swear she shone with a pure white light, and her laughter swept me from my feet. She was enchanting, and when she told me that we had a class together, I was flabbergasted.

Today she was hiding again, though. Boots instead of high heels and flannel rather than lace, the only distinguishing mark about her the fear that was plain on her face. Of course, I agreed to walk her, and gently cajoled the story from her as we crossed the campus.

A band of pagans (not true satan worshippers, nor actually powerful witches) had forced her to a shrine they had built with the intent of harming her. Whether it would have come to rape or murder is hard to say, but Erin was terrified (she had escaped by kicking one in the groin and bull rushing past the one with the knife), and being the gallant witch I was, I vowed to protect her. For the next several days, I ditched out of classes early so I could walk her from place to place, and cast guardian wards wherever and whenever I could to keep her from harm.

I served as Erin’s bodyguard for only a week before she disappeared. Finally tracking her to Texas, I learned that she had fled the state out of fear, but was thankful for my help. Helluva reward.

***

Over the last couple of days, I have had a somewhat sobering and comforting realization. Despite my frustration at being unable to write due to the muddled nature of my mind on pain medication and the constant throbbing of my jaw, I have found myself uniquely blessed. It has occurred to me how truly wonderful it is to have a real job.

Not that writing isn’t a real job, for those who make an income from it, but in this moment, I’m kind of glad it isn’t my real job. I have a secure position at a major university which provides me with sick leave, vacation time, retirement benefits, and a steady paycheck based on the work, services, and knowledge I provide.

Writing is, to my mind, kind of like adventuring. You put yourself out there, go out on a limb, and pour yourself into something. You do it out of love and excitement and perhaps a certain amount of naivete. Sometimes this pans out and you make a paycheck here and there, but it’s not steady or secure.

Being unable to write for the last few days, I’ve felt a bit like a failure. I haven’t been producing, and subsequently my self-worth has faltered. But now it occurs to me that, at least at this stage in my life, that’s OK. My job isn’t writing; writing is a hobby I enjoy, but it’s not what pays for our house or our food. I have no obligation to a muse or a mission, I’m just (supposedly) doing this for fun.

***

I met a lot of people when I started college who wanted to go on a big adventure. They wanted to get out and see the world, to “start their life,” and to see what it all had to offer. I thought they were fools.

Adventure always found me whether I wanted it to or not, and it was never truly pleasant. Rather, I sought boredom, because boredom meant nobody was trying to kill me or mine.

I didn’t find boredom until I became Christian, and even then, not until after my first year or so of college. Once I placed myself under Jesus’s banner, I found that I no longer had to fight everything on my own. God takes care of me.

This was kind of a depressing realization at first. Part of me still thirsts for adventure, for the thrill of cheating death, for striding where so few go and daring everything for the next great leap. There was no point in keeping myself in good physical shape anymore, in pushing myself in certain academic pursuits, or in preparing for the great battles. There were no more great battles, and there was no more adventure of the sort I knew.

But there is certainly joy, and the last few days has highlighted that most dramatically. April has been truly wonderful, taking care of everything for me with love and gentleness. She has done the dishes and cleaned, cooked for me, catered to my every need, and somehow not resented my listless and constant napping.

All-in-all, I’m fine to be rid of the adventures of my youth. I could fill a book someday with them, and I probably will, but I’m not anxious to repeat them. I’d rather have this comfortable bed and our kittens, my beautiful wife and our home, and a secure job where I am valued and sheltered in the warm bosom of the university’s bureaucracy. I know from experience that there’s simply no end to the things I wouldn’t do.

Moral Permissibility

Last month I had the honour to judge at the Hillcrest High School Speech & Debate Tournament (yay for long titles!). I couldn’t judge finals of policy (CX) debate because I had already judged one of the teams earlier in the day, but I was able to judge finals of Lincoln-Douglas Debate. LD differs from CX in that it focuses on values and morals rather than legislative or policy changes/solutions.

The topic for the debate was as follows

Resolved: It is morally permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people.

There are two debaters in each LD round, an affirmative and a negative, with one defending the resolution and the other attacking it. The affirmative had some fairly common sensical arguments, mostly centered around utilitarianism, or doing the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. She maintained that it was inarguably better to sacrifice one person to save five, and that we must weigh the greater good in all circumstances. That sometimes sacrifice was necessary to preserve more lives.

I felt like the negative debater made a much more interesting argument, however. He claimed that the resolution was specious in its very wording, and that the affirmative’s argument of necessity (her value was “harm” but her focus was that it was sometimes necessary to sacrifice an individual) was flawed. Just because sacrificing an individual was sometimes necessary, the negative argued, that didn’t make it moral. His value was that of deontology, or “A non-consequential approach to evaluating ethics, whereby the degree of ethicalness depends on the intentions behind the decisions rather than the outcomes or actions that result.” (Esomar Research).

The negative went on to say that we simply cannot view human life as a means to an end, and that by the value of deontology we must evaluate the means rather than the ends. If it is immoral to kill one innocent person (as he convinced the affirmative to admit), then it does not magically become moral just because more people might be saved. Both options (letting the majority die or killing the single innocent person) are immoral. Necessity does not equal moral permissibility.

I voted for the negative, first because I felt like he made a strong argument that was correct, but also because the affirmative never replied to his attacks. I won’t debate for someone, so if she’d made a good response, the round would have gone to her, but she didn’t. Regardless, after reading a blog post about Jack Bauer from the hit TV show 24 and his willingness to kill, it got me thinking about this topic of moral permissibility again.

This blog entry is, essentially, by way of introduction; it’s already long enough as it is. Chew a bit on it, and I’ll extend tomorrow to discuss the valuation of different human beings, comparing the hale and healthy to the mentally or physically ill or impaired.

Reflections on Blogging

After this week, I intend to publish a post once a week for the next 5-6 weeks exploring why I do or think some of the things I do. I’ve received a few challenges over the last month questioning why I have this website, why I blog, why I write in general, why I value transparency, and some of my other philosophies in general. Therefore, I will answer those challenges as best I am able with more writing.

April and I watched a movie a week or so ago that really resonated with me because of its focus on speech & debate, primarily policy (cross-ex) debate in high school. I’m assuming the director and/or writers were debaters, because it was spot-on about so many things, and I really enjoyed reliving those times through film. What was particularly interesting, however, was the lead female actress in the film.

She had the role down solid, and as I watched her performance, I realized that most of the girls I knew in high school were all debaters. As such, their personality was very much like this character’s: forceful, arrogant, self-centered, knowledgeable, intelligent, well-read, well-spoken, etc. That was the type of girl I was attracted to, but I don’t think I quite understood that until last night. For most people watching however, she was probably abrasive and it would be hard to understand why someone might like her; she was clearly the antagonist. But to the 15 year old me, she was pretty ideal.

It reminded me of my days in debate, and watching the movie highlighted that there are aspects of that world that someone who didn’t grow up in it, didn’t experience it first hand and really buy into it, could understand. Lines like “debate is life,” and “you don’t take sides, they only prevent you from arguing them both effectively” still have close places in my heart, but non-debaters probably just find it an interesting idea. For us, it was a maxim or a mantra.

I say this to introduce this series by way of referencing academia. My philosophies and life are no longer influenced so strongly by speech & debate, but they are influenced heavily by my work and life in academia. I will talk more about this throughout the series, but the truth of the matter is that people who have bought into the dream of higher education, who really believe in what we are doing here, will understand what I’m talking about. For everyone else, it will likely be just an interesting idea.

I don’t know what day these posts will go live, but they will be tagged and titled appropriately. Look for them in the coming weeks.

MySpace is CrrrrrrrR-azy

I decided tonight to see how many of the people I graduated with (Hillcrest High, class of 2003) have MySpace pages. Specifically, I was looking for my old friend [Matt] Wilson from whom I haven’t heard in years. I tried to catch him on instant messenger once and I mailed him a wedding invitation, but since he attended a Christmas party I held in 2004, I haven’t seen/heard from him.

What surprised me is that there are not only eleven pages of people I graduated with, but that I have no idea who most of them are.

I neither recognize nor really know who 90% of those people were. Is it that my old friends are of a different, non-MySpacey demographic? Conversely, perhaps my memory is just that bad and/or I’m a jerk who doesn’t remember people.

I’ve never done anything with MySpace beyond making a profile and typing a brief paragraph about me (ending with a link to this site), nor do I intend to now. MySpace is one of the worst designed websites I’ve ever seen, and I can’t stand working with it. But the ability to connect with old friends (particularly if it can get me back in touch with Wilson) is really valuable.

In other news, I’ve spent some time this week writing emails to people and keeping up with my correspondence. I’m going to start developing an online presence more like I had a few years ago, if for no other reason than to read more (and more diverse) work than I have been recently. I’ve already been subscribing to some poetry LiveJournals, which has been really good, and I look forward to connecting with a network of writers in the near (3-6 months) future. I need to get back out there and both talking to writers and writing.