Monday, July 29, 2013

One More Round

One More Round
By Bobby Neal Winters
He was born last Thursday.  Eight pounds two ounces with a head of hair and his mother’s eyes.  I got to hold him in my arms when he was only a few hours old.
Little babies are scary. They are small and fragile.  You  are so afraid that you will break them.
But you don’t.
Grandbabies, first grandbabies I think especially, by their very existence, transmit a message to you with crystal clarity that the universe has been trying to convey to you but that you’ve been purposefully not hearing.  My grandson was a mirror in which I saw the face of my own grandfathers and met an eternal truth.
I am going to die.
Don’t worry. This is not news; it’s just the one thing we know for a fact since the day we are born. This is a mathematical truth and not a statistical one.  The reckoning of the date is uncertain and has a margin of error, but the fact that the date will come is as certain as anything there is.  We know this rationally, but that’s not the same as knowing it in truth, knowing in our bones.
He lay there asleep on my arm with a look of peace on his face and the truth seeped into my body like rain on a garden.  It rose to my ear like a whisper.
You are going to die.
They would like us to think that we are a product of our genes, a product of our educations.  They would say that we are bags of mostly water, that we are just combinations of atoms and information.
We are made of dust to be sure, but also from the breath of God who blew into Adam’s nostrils all that long ago.  The breath has blown down to use through our parents, our grandparents, and so forth.  There are currents and eddies within it.  We are a product of our parents genes, yes, but make from their experience and all they ever encountered.  Our foundation is our parents love and all who loved them.
And so, I am going to die, yes. Yes. Okay.
But there is another soul breathing in the world today.  God voted that the world should have another spin.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
It’s okay.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Welcome to the New Age

Welcome to the New Age

By Bobby Neal Winters

I’m waking up
I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the New Age
--Imagine Dragons, Radioactive
Many of my friends have been confused as to why zombie movies and literature are so popular.  I’m not. The human race has been fine-tuned to look for apocalypse. Disaster to the point of near total destruction has been an ongoing theme in history and prehistory.  There’ve been plagues, wars, and famines taking us to the brink.
The Zombie Apocalypse is simply another metaphorical vehicle in which to carry the theme along.  Near-total destruction of the human race is a theme going back at least as far as the story of Noah and the Ark. We see apocalypse covered of course in the Apocalypse of St. John, also known as the Book of Revelation. We get the metaphor of the Four Horsemen: Conquest, War, Famine, and Plague. One could view it as the ravings of a madman or one could view it through the lense of what happened as the Roman empire eventually fell in the West and was conquered in the East.
Within the literature, within the stories we read in books or watch at the movies, there is usually some core of survivors. Noah’s family survived. Those whose name were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life survived.  There is a prize set of traits that help survival:
Rule 1: Cardio
Rule 2: The Double Tab
Rule 3: Beware of Bathrooms, etc.
Those who don’t pick up on these rules are selected out, winnowed like the wheat from the chaff. This brand of literature tends to focus sharply on survival.  I was deeply affected by wanting Steven Spielberg’s version of The War of the Worlds. It’s not a zombie movie, of course, but it is an apocalypse. Humans are faced with beings who simply want them dead. There is no misunderstanding; there is no negotiation; the aliens are using humans as fertilizer for their own alien flora.  Gardeners don’t typically negotiate with fertilizer, either bone meal or blood meal.  That presented the issue with a razor-sharp edge.
Rarely in life are issues presented with that sort of focus. In this genre, it is clear what is at stake and the stakes are high indeed: personal survival and the survival of the species. In the modern West, we are rarely allowed to see anything with this sort of clarity.
For example, currently one in five babies conceived will be killed before they are born.
I put that last sentence in a paragraph by itself to make it hard to miss. I leave out the absolute numbers for now because they are so large.  Stalin, the antichrist that he was, said the death of one person is a tragedy but the death of a million is a statistic. Twenty-seven people, twenty of them children, were killed in the Sandy Hook school tragedy. On that same day, a couple of thousand--yes, thousand--were aborted in the United States. That happens every day. The same people who are up in arms about Sandy Hook, don’t breath a word against abortion.  There are people who won’t eat chicken who will fight to the last to preserve a woman’s ability to kill a child up until the point it’s born.
But one in five children conceived will be killed before they are born.
If this were a disease killing that many people, we would be up in arms, and, indeed, many people are. The irony is that so many of the people who support abortion rights are otherwise gentle souls: they take good care of their pets; they are very fastidious with regard to the ethical treatment of animals; but the slaughter of the innocents, even when carried out on a truly apocalyptic scale, goes under their radar.  
No, that’s not true. It doesn’t go under their radar. They will spend their money, their intellect, and their time to maintain a woman’s ability to kill her unborn baby.
What hurts is that I was once on that side. Then, somewhere along the way, the scales fell from my eyes. My eyes opened, and I could see.
Blindness that is a good metaphor.  Or, better yet, think about I am Legend. The lone hero in the city doing his work in the light, while the vampire/zombies flee the light.  Of course, they do kill him eventually.
I see nothing that can change the current situation quickly. The apocalypse comes and there is a great dying.  The survivors struggle on afterwards because those who die take so much with them when they go: art, literature, and various other pieces of civilization.  Civilization does require people to keep it going.
But the survivors do emerge afterward, stronger.  Those who survive a plague will carry some sort of resistance. Those who survive a disaster carry some sort of knowledge of survival techniques.  Presumably those who survive a zombie apocalypse would take good care of their cardio and praise the value of the double-tap.
Those who survive the current apocalypse will also come through changed.  The culture will be changed. But the bulk of the apocalypse is ahead of us, and we must first survive it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I Ate a Butterfly

By Bobby Neal Winters
Howard Wolowitz is a character on the television sitcom The Big Bang Theory.  Howard is over-parented, over-sexed, and in over his head when he applies to be an astronaut on the International Space Station.  Before he can go up on the ISS, he has to go through survival training.  After undergoing the grueling experience of living on his own in wild, he skypes his girlfriend and is obviously the worse for wear.  Trying to be stoic, he speaks to her of the rigors of the training and the discomfort he’s had to endure.  Then he utters a non sequitur.
“I ate a butterfly,” he says.  “It was so small and so beautiful,  but I was so hungry.”
In spite of his appearing to be totally unsuited to any sort of adventure, he has been pushed to his limit and has found his strong core that does not want to die.  There is a fiber within him that will not break. It wants to achieve its goal.
It wants to live.
It has been written that nature is red in tooth and claw.  I don’t purely adhere to that; there is much else.  However, it does point to what might be termed as the great competition of life.  Carnivore eat herbivores; herbivores eat plants. Plants vie with other plants for their share of sunlight and water.  Species compete with other species within a particular niche.  Within species, individuals compete with other individuals.   Life itself is the impetus.  Without this competition, there is death--or maybe not even death.
Maybe there is nothing.
But in addition to the competition there is altruism.
Much has been written of altruism and I have no need to reproduce it here. Individuals can sacrifice for the sake of the group. We are in general for it.  Our sacred texts, myths, literature, movies, and songs are full of stories in which an individual gave his very life for the same of the group.  We honor this in every aspect of our culture from Jimmy Dean singing “Big John” to Good Friday services at church.
But it can be taken to an extreme. One heroic individual walking out into the blizzard to that the rest may have enough provisions to make it until help arrives is heroic.  The sacrifice of three hundred can save western civilization.  Everyone doing it is just stupid. It’s like O. Henry’s  “Gift of the Magi” without the implied sex at the end.
But the stories of everyone going out into the blizzard just don’t happen.  They don’t happen because within us we have a core.  There is something that says “I am!”  It is the will to live.
It is within us, at least in healthy individuals.
I chose to say “I am” on purpose.  In the Greek it is “ego eimi.”  It occurs within the Gospel of John for profound theological reasons beyond the scope of the current piece.  But that word ego is my real focus.  
We don’t like ego.  We talk disparagingly of those who have big egos, and often with good reason. Some ego is necessary, however, or we would just lay down and die.
Ego is to a human as patriotism is to a country. It can be overdone, but for continued existence it is absolutely necessary.
I say with no originality at all that it is a matter of balance.
Where do we find the fulcrum for the balance?

Grab Her Bootie and Pinch

A few years back I taught College Algebra.  This is a general education course that attracts students with a broad range of preparation. On one hand, there are the students who’ve successfully mastered the material in high school, and on other other hand, there are the students who’ve been exposed to it four times in high school and are now taking it one more time at four times the pace.
In this particular course, there was a young man who sat in the middle of the front row.  His face was round, and he sported a baseball cap atop his head. To his credit, the bill was oriented correctly.  His upper torso had the shape I’ve learned to associate with young men who are not unacquainted with beer, and he wore t-shirts.  One of them was a spoof of the Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirts. It said, “Grab her bootie and pinch.”
I am not very easily shocked, so it didn’t bother me.  More importantly it didn’t bother the young women who sat beside him who, by all appearances, seemed to appreciate the sentiment. He was regular in attendance and ultimately received a good grade.  
This is not what I remember about him.  I remember him because one day I was walking past the Newman Center and saw him in attendance, attired more or less as I’ve described.
My department chair is Catholic, so I related this story to him complete with character description.  This caused him to related a story the priest at the Newman Center had told about one of the young men there.
The priest had been warning the young man about premarital sex, and the young man had replied.
“This isn’t premarital sex,” he’d said. “I’m not going to marry any of these girls.”
My chair opined this was probably the same guy. Surely there couldn’t be two.
Surely not.
Regardless, the character is consistent.  
I bring him up in this piece because, whether he realizes it or not, the nothing less than the species desire to survive is housed within him and is driving him. Finding the right fulcrum of balance for that desire will be very important to his living a good and happy life.  In some manner--either through birth, seeking, or maybe just dating a Catholic girl--he has found a place that teaches a way to find that balance.

The School of Reality

I began with a story about Howard Wolowitz of The Big Bang Theory.  His character, not unlike the butterfly he ate, has undergone a metamorphosis. At the beginning of the series, even though he had the technical expertise of an engineer, he was very much ignorant of anything to do with real women.  This was in spite of a great curiosity about certain aspects to say the least.
This is being remedied. He is receiving an education in this area, as most men do, from a real woman, his girlfriend, Bernadette.
Tradition has a way setup for this education to take place.  The first step is to be born into a home with loving parents from which one can learn the roles of the sexes and how they interact with one another. One is then taught a framework about courtship, marriage, and fidelity.  Howard is missing big parts of that framework. His father left the family so he didn’t have a model to follow.
But, regardless, nature has driven him out of himself and to a real woman who is by no means a doormat.  This is important. Iron sharpens iron as they say.  While a marriage shouldn’t, by any means,  be a continual battle neither should one spouse simply be a ditto stamp. That core within Bernadette, that “I am” she has that matches his is helping him to become a full human man as opposed to the mockery of a man that he had been.