5.06.2011

'Here it is. I am dead': Blogger Derek Miller's Graceful Exit


I became aware of Derek K Miller's blog, Penmachine, due to his widely circulated last post, simply titled, "The last post."  The Canadian musician, writer, and photographer died on May 3 at age 41. He had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2007 and had chronicled his illness online.

Miller arranged for a friend to post his final words posthumously.  His last post went live the morning after his death.

A few snippets:
Here it is. I'm dead, and this is my last post to my blog. In advance, I asked that once my body finally shut down from the punishments of my cancer, then my family and friends publish this prepared message I wrote—the first part of the process of turning this from an active website to an archive.

I haven't gone to a better place, or a worse one. I haven't gone anyplace, because Derek doesn't exist anymore. As soon as my body stopped functioning, and the neurons in my brain ceased firing, I made a remarkable transformation: from a living organism to a corpse, like a flower or a mouse that didn't make it through a particularly frosty night. The evidence is clear that once I died, it was over.

So I was unafraid of death—of the moment itself—and of what came afterwards, which was (and is) nothing. As I did all along, I remained somewhat afraid of the process of dying, of increasing weakness and fatigue, of pain, of becoming less and less of myself as I got there. I was lucky that my mental faculties were mostly unaffected over the months and years before the end, and there was no sign of cancer in my brain—as far as I or anyone else knew.

******************************

It turns out that no one can imagine what's really coming in our lives. We can plan, and do what we enjoy, but we can't expect our plans to work out. Some of them might, while most probably won't. Inventions and ideas will appear, and events will occur, that we could never foresee. That's neither bad nor good, but it is real.
I think and hope that's what my daughters can take from my disease and death. And that my wonderful, amazing wife Airdrie can see too. Not that they could die any day, but that they should pursue what they enjoy, and what stimulates their minds, as much as possible—so they can be ready for opportunities, as well as not disappointed when things go sideways, as they inevitably do.
I've also been lucky. I've never had to wonder where my next meal will come from. I've never feared that a foreign army will come in the night with machetes or machine guns to kill or injure my family. I've never had to run for my life (something I could never do now anyway). Sadly, these are things some people have to do every day right now.

******************************

The world, indeed the whole universe, is a beautiful, astonishing, wondrous place. There is always more to find out. I don't look back and regret anything, and I hope my family can find a way to do the same.
Miller's entire post can be read here, where you can also find his archive of posts. I'm thankful that Miller chose to share his thoughts with the world, including his very personal final thoughts on living and dying.  I wish that I had stumbled across his blog earlier, but he's left behind a great deal of wisdom, insight, and humor for us to explore. He will be missed.

How Many Gays Must God Create Before We Accept That He Wants Them Around?

Representative Steve Simon (DFL Hopkins/St. Louis Park) says a proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment is largely about religion. He asks how many gay people must God create before we accept that he wants them around.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill 8-4, with, all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.






5.05.2011

The More Money Americans Make, The More Jesus Digs Capitalism

Throughout the history of religion, people have found ways to reconcile views that might be at odds with their religious doctrine.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21)

He followed up with, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew:19:24)

A new Public Religion Research Institute survey reveals some interesting things about American's ability to reconcile their love of Jesus with their love of money.
Overall more Americans believe that Christian values are at odds with capitalism and the free market than believe they are compatible. This pattern also holds among Christians. Among Christians in the U.S., only 38% believe capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values while 46% believe the two are at odds. Religiously unaffiliated Americans look similar to the general population and to Christian Americans, with a plurality (40%) saying capitalism is at odds with Christian values, compared to 32% who say they are compatible; 14% say they do not know. There are significant differences by gender, party and income.
Some interesting findings:
  • Half (50%) of women believe that capitalism and Christian values are at odds, compared to 37% of men. 
  • A majority (53%) of Democrats believe that capitalism and Christian values are at odds, compared to 37% of Republicans.
The most interesting finding, in terms of illustrating our amazing ability to find ways to reconcile religious views with personal views, was the following:
  • Nearly half (46%) of Americans with household incomes of $100,000 a year or more believe that capitalism is consistent with Christian values, compared to only 23% of those with household incomes of $30,000 a year or less.
It's understandable that those with very little would agree with Jesus' words in the Gospel of Matthew. It's also understandable that those who are well off would find ways to interpret those words differently, or deem them as irrelevant in a modern society where we have charities and government programs to assist the less fortunate. (Rush Limbaugh seems to know precisely what Jesus would do.) At the end of the day, these surveys say more about human nature than anything else.

A few other findings worth noting:
  • Overall most (61%) Americans disagree that most businesses would act ethically on their own without regulation from the government. Less than 4-in-10 (37%) believe that they would. This holds true across political and religious lines, with the lone exception of those who identify with the Tea Party movement (53% agree).
  • Nearly 6-in-10 Americans (58%) believe that the federal budget is a moral document that reflects national priorities while 41% disagrees.
  • Overall most (61%) Americans disagree that most businesses would act ethically on their own without regulation from the government. 
There is a problem with static documents such as holy books and founding papers in that as the centuries go by, we find ourselves confronting an increasing number of ideas, conundrums, and complexities that the original writers could not have imagined in their wildest dreams. (Those who believe that The Bible is the infallible word of God would certainly disagree.)  We can no more imagine what the Founding Fathers would think about the regulation of agriculture biotechnology than we could imagine what Jesus would think of corporate tax loopholes. And when we attempt to distill the essence of a text for application in our complex modern world, we end up with wildly differing extrapolations. These extrapolations most often are self-serving and at odds with the basic philosophies exhibited in the text. 

While we can certainly look to founding documents and sacred texts for guidance, there comes a point where the text is limited by its place in time, and we start making our own rules to validate our own actions and desires.  Often a shoehorn is involved.

The PRRI media release can be found here (PDF).

Katy Perry's Born-Again Upbringing

Katy Perry opens up in Vanity Fair about growing up in an Evangelical Christian household:
“I didn’t have a childhood,” she says, adding that her mother never read her any books except the Bible, and that she wasn’t allowed to say “deviled eggs” or “Dirt Devil.” Perry wasn’t even allowed to listen to secular music and relied on friends to sneak her CDs. “Growing up, seeing Planned Parenthood, it was considered like the abortion clinic,” she tells Robinson. “I was always scared I was going to get bombed when I was there…. I didn’t know it was more than that, that it was for women and their needs. I didn’t have insurance, so I went there and I learned about birth control.”


“I think sometimes when children grow up, their parents grow up,” Perry says of her evangelical-minister parents. “Mine grew up with me. We coexist. I don’t try to change them anymore, and I don’t think they try to change me. We agree to disagree. They’re excited about [my success]. They’re happy that things are going well for their three children and that they’re not on drugs. Or in prison.” Perry’s mother confirms that she is proud of her daughter’s success, telling Robinson, “The Lord told us when I was pregnant with her that she would do this.”
Husband Russell Brand is into Hinduism and meditation, she states, but she's not locked in to any brand of faith:
“I have always been the kid who’s asked ‘Why?’ In my faith, you’re just supposed to have faith. But I was always like…why?” she says. “At this point, I’m just kind of a drifter. I’m open to possibility…. My sponge is so big and wide and I’m soaking everything up and my mind has been radically expanded. Just being around different cultures and people and their opinions and perspectives. Just looking into the sky.”


5.03.2011

Symphonies of Science: Ode to the Brain

As much as I tire of the overuse of auto-tune in pop music, I can't get enough of the "Symphonies of Science" videos.  I think what I enjoy most is the presentation of what is often considered dry, egghead-speak in the form of an easily digestible, radio-friendly musical compositions.  I'm always a fan of anyone who can communicate scientific ideas and evoke an emotional response.

Here is the latest in the series, "Ode to the Brain," described on the Symphonies of Science page as follows:
Through the powerful words of scientists Carl Sagan, Robert Winston, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Jill Bolte Taylor, Bill Nye, and Oliver Sacks, it covers different aspects the brain including its evolution, neuron networks, folding, and more. The material sampled for this video comes from Carl Sagan's Cosmos, Jill Bolte Taylor's TED Talk, Vilayanur Ramachandran's TED Talk, Bill Nye's Brain episode, BBC's "The Human Body", Oliver Sachs' TED Talk, Discovery Channel's "Human Body: Pushing the Limits", and more.

You can view all of the videos in the series here.  They're totally worth your time. 

Top Ten Bible Verses Quoted on Facebook and Twitter Following Bin Laden's Death

OpenBible.info collects realtime data on Bible quotes on shared on Twitter and Facebook. The following are the most popular verses quoted on the two social networks within the first 12 hours after the announcement of Osama Bin Laden's Death.

1. Proverbs 24:17 "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice."

2. Psalm 138:8 "The LORD will make PERFECT the things that concern me"(KJV). (NIV: "The LORD will vindicate me; your love, LORD, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands.") (Unrelated tweet by Rev Run.)

3. Proverbs 21:15 "When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers." (Rick Warren started this one):

4. Ezekiel 33:11 "Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?"

5. Ezekiel 18:23 "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?"

6. Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."

7. Proverbs 11:10 "When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy."

8. Proverbs 24:18 " … or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them." (The popularity of this verse is due to it finishing the sentence begun by the #1 most popular verse.)

9. Proverbs 24:1 "Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company;" (probably an effort to quote Proverbs 24:17)

10. Proverbs 28:5 "Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully."

Full list at Christianity Today


5.02.2011

Bin Laden's Ritual Burial at Sea Not Good Enough For Anyone

According to U.S. Defense officials, Osama Bin Laden was buried at sea within 24 hours of his death.  Initially, this raised questions on the blogosphere and in the news, as to why the U.S. would toss the world's most wanted man into the sea so quickly.

According to the official, the U.S. was ensuring that the body was handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition. "This is something that we take very seriously. And so therefore, this is being handled in an appropriate manner," the source stated. In addition, the choice to bury him at sea was due to several factors. There did not appear to be any country willing to accept the body. Secondly, burying him in the U.S. would have been a terrible idea for obvious reasons. Thirdly, any land burial site may have ended up serving as a site of worship for Bin Laden's followers.
The official described the procedure to NBC News as follows:
  • The deceased's body was washed and then placed in a white sheet.
  • The body was placed in a weighted bag.
  • A military officer read prepared religious remarks which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker.
  • After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased's body eased into the sea from the USS Vinson.
However, several Muslim clerics and scholars have expressed that the burial was not aligned with Islamic tradition, and that the U.S.'s handling of Bin Laden's body may only exacerbate anti-American sentiment and further incite attacks against U.S. citizens.
"The Americans want to humiliate Muslims through this burial, and I don't think this is in the interest of the U.S. administration," said Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical cleric in Lebanon.
"What was done by the Americans is forbidden by Islam and might provoke some Muslims," said another Islamic scholar from Iraq, Abdul-Sattar al-Janabi, who preaches at Baghdad's famous Abu Hanifa mosque. "It is not acceptable and it is almost a crime to throw the body of a Muslim man into the sea. The body of bin Laden should have been handed over to his family to look for a country or land to bury him."
And of course, many American conservatives are not thrilled with the fact that the U.S. followed any Islamic rituals at all when burying Bin Laden. Enter Glenn Beck:
"My problem with this is that we gave this guy a dignified burial at sea, or at least that’s what they said. I really would have put this guy in a meat grinder with a pig, sorry. Oh, you’re not going to get your 72 virgins? Sorry, that sucks to be you. Wrap him up in Hormel, pack him in a can of Spam, man."
The right wing blogs, as well as sites like World Nut Daily and FreeRepublic, seem to echo Beck, in that by taking the high road, the U.S. caved in to Sharia Law.

While we're pointing out the nitpicking from the right:
This is just the beginning. Enjoy the fireworks.