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Year in Review 2013

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I had a lot ebb and flow through my mind this past year. But most of it didn't matter to anyone else. Here are the top five that did. 
1. Top 5 Most Influential Metal Bands
When it comes right down to it, people listen to the music that they do simply because they like it. I try to make lots of philosophical cases for why rap is terrible; but ultimately, it just bores me. And as much as heavy metal’s opponents can conjure up an army of strawmen against it, they just don’t like the way it sounds either...Read More

2. Atlas Stumbled

I grew up in the church. And as a homeschooled high school drop out, my entire social life existed at church as well. So you would think that it would feel like home to me. That I would share the same partiality and affection toward it as I do with the state of New Jersey. But it don’t. And the worst part is the assumption that I’m going through that rebellious, younger person phase, or perhaps “a crisis of faith.” Name your platitude. Either way, the exp…

Set the Bar High

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There are loads of personality tests out there. Probably because my generation is so patently narcissistic or some such nonsense. If you're into Myers-Briggs, I'm an INTP which--depending on the meme--makes me an owl or Yoda. But another simple test is to measure your expectations.

According to this understanding, there are four types of people in the world. People who have:
High expectations of themselves, high expectations of othersHigh expectations of themselves, low expectations of othersLow expectations of themselves, low expectations of othersLow expectations of themselves, high expectations of others If it wasn't obvious, I'm the first one (although I occasionally drift into the last). Either way, my personality isn't very cool right now because it's not popular to have high expectations at all. No one likes being set up for failure, so let's lower the bar and take a win, right? Or we could just accept that high expectations provide an opportunity for…

Gay Coffee, Straight Chicken, and Ducks

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If you're aware of the recent controversy regarding Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, then you probably have an opinion about his comments on homosexuality. Which, I think, puts me and my wife in a minority: we don't care about Phil Robertson. Or his views.
I remember feeling the same way when Starbucks' CEO, Howard Schultz, announced his support of gay marriage (good for you, get me my coffee). Not long after that, Chick-Fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, announced his support of traditional marriage (again, good for you, get me my chicken). I don't care where those organizations stand on marriage because I don't patronize them for their anthropological views.
Lots of people feel the need to publicize their opinions (yours truly not excluded). Which is fine. In America, we have freedom of speech. But as my wife astutely pointed out, we don't have freedom from consequence.
There's a consequence for everything we do. If you rob a bank, you'll get arrested. If yo…

Giving is not an Investment

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My wife often laughs at me when I use the word "investment." Not because she thinks finances and budgets are silly matters; she laughs because I use it as a synonym for "buy."

I rarely say, "we need to buy speakers for our tv." Instead I'll say, "we need to invest in speakers for our tv." Buying things sounds so materialistic and frivolous and I, for one, don't like wasting money. So I prefer to invest my money in things that I intend to see a return of some kind. Like a better television viewing experience.

We have to be careful this time of year. Those threats of consumerism and materialism are everywhere, and if we're not careful, we could deplete our resources on things that don't matter. That's why we're cautious about where we give.

There are literally thousands of charities and humanitarian organizations all with great missions and motives. But not all of them use their resources as wisely as we do. So we have to b…

Is Nothing Sacred?

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One of the things I've come to appreciate about my extended family is that it didn't matter to them on what day a holiday was celebrated. It was somewhat of a pragmatic decision; being one among fourteen grandchildren, there were lots of celebrations to coordinate. And my Nana thought it best to defer to the individual get-togethers of her five children and their in-laws, and simply celebrate as a family later. Often times, a week to two weeks later.

Now I know that this really matters to some people, but the one thing that I learned from all this (apart from the fact that one can never have too many turkey dinners) was that holidays are just human institutions.

I don't think most people would agree with that. For instance, a few stores will open their doors on Thanksgiving evening this year. Now I used to hear enough complaints about Black Friday years ago, but ever since this trend started, the backlash has been incessant. As if there are those who feel personally offend…

5 Ways Social Media Makes Us Better

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Technology bashing has been in vogue for some time now. Not by my generation, mind you, but by those who I can only assume are feeling left out of things they refuse to take the time to understand (reminds me of when our grandparents told our parents that movie theaters and rock music would destroy their souls).

Now I won't belabor the point that blaming the device is not unlike blaming the symptom of a disease. That should be evident enough. But what I will take issue with is the notion that the latest technologies are making us worse people. Such as the common argument that social media is making my generation narcissistic. No, people are inherently narcissistic and they'll take advantage of any opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Everything can be used for good or evil. And I think it's worth investigating how social media has actually championed good qualities in us.

1. Facebook makes us more discrete

We like to complain, particularly about other people. It's one o…

Consider It

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My biggest pet peeve is ignorance. When people don't know what I think they should (i.e. what I know), it makes me want to set myself on fire. Which should firmly establish that I'm both incredibly pretentious and a big, fat hypocrite (but at least I'm not ignorant of how ridiculously unreasonable that standard is).

Now, my second biggest pet peeve is being inconsiderate. And unlike the first, this is a standard I intend to hold my kid to, all but a month away. Because as far as I'm concerned, how considerate we are of others is the measure of our maturity.

Think about it. We all begin as a fusion of cells that lacks any self-awareness. Even as we develop inside the womb, for all we know, we're a part of our mothers who are incubating us. It's not until we're born that we gradually begin to realize that we have autonomy, that we're distinct entities. And with this knowledge comes the realization that there are other people in the world too.

Yet it takes…

Not Amused

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For a skeptical, cynical critic, few activities are mindless. And rest, being something I don't come by honestly, it requires diligence on my part to take vacations from thinking. Perhaps this is why I'm so drawn to stupid humor and physical comedy. Studies continue to pour in regarding the health benefits of laughter, and I've found that in those brief (but frequent) moments, my mind is silent.

Which makes sense as a friend of mine recently reminded me that the word "amuse" literally means "to not think" (a- = not/against, muse = think). This ought to bring new meaning to the phrase "mindless entertainment" and the therapeutic value it can have. We need entertainment. Just like our bodies need rest every night, our minds need entertainment every day to recharge from the daily grind.

I don't think most us need much convincing on this. Entertainment is championed in our society today. And for many, it's become the gold standard against …

Intellectual Terrorism

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Twelve years ago, America learned a new word: terrorism. The rules of warfare have changed from the days when men marched stoically across a field and prepared for the order to attack. Now, men strap bombs to their chests in public areas while others use women and children as shields. As if it wasn't enough before, war has gotten dirtier.

Most people think that terrorism is about fear, and this is somewhat true. A suicide bomber can't take millions of lives; but he can terrify millions. Fear, more than the bomb, is the primary weapon. A plain clothes man walking the street before leveling a city block means that such men could be anywhere. It sends a powerful message that any one of us could be next; we could all be sheep awaiting the slaughter. And this makes us victims already. Not of a bomb's detonation, but of terrorism's true purpose: coercion.

This should be easy for Christians to spot seeing that we point out manipulation everywhere. Science teachers are trying …

Unglobal

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I suffer from "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome. Ask any of my friends with whom I'm no longer in direct, daily contact. We don't talk (unless you count Facebook likes...I don't). Now there are a handful of dudes who I can just pick up with right where we left off, but most of the past people in my life I've largely left in the past.

Part of me wants to feel guilty for this. That I shouldn't discard friendships so easily and, instead, keep up with those folks. You know, invest the time. And a fine sentiment that is; it's just not realistic. Reality is my wife and I about to have a baby. Reality is closing on a house next week. Reality is having a full-time job that leaves me just enough time to decompress at the end of the day (media is a fast-paced industry).

In other words, I don't have the time. And if reality's taught me anything, it's that humanity was never meant to live globally.

That's not what our culture would have us beli…

The Cure for Cynicism

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With our first child less than 50 days away, my wife and I have been talking a lot about parenting. Particularly, we've been discussing what we anticipate will be our biggest weaknesses as parents. And one of my most notable shortcomings as a person is my cynicism. That's not to be confused with my skepticism. Those words are often used in place of each other, but they mean very different things. Skepticism is related to doubt, while cynicism has to do with trust.

When I described the difference to my wife, she indicated that skepticism was healthy (I've re-programmed her well), but she didn't see any redeeming qualities in cynicism. Puzzled, I replied that if such was the case, I didn't know how to combat my natural distrust of people and their motives. She thought for a second and simply said, "Give people the benefit of the doubt."

It's a handy phrase I've heard many times before, but it never carried the same weight before. You see, trust, as …

For the Sake of Argument

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One of the key principles in civil discourse is establishing common ground. Without it, there is little pretext for discussion as the parties involved will arrive at hopelessly divergent conclusions based on completely different knowledge criteria. Like when an atheist debates with a Christian. Ultimately, they must both admit that one places their trust in the reliability of science, reason, and empiricism while the other solely in the reliability of God. Thus, there's virtually no common ground to be found.

When Christians debate, however, there should be plenty as both would confess that the revealed will of God is their shared source of knowledge. Sadly, this is not often the case because most Christians are unwilling to concede any common ground. Even with each other.

That's because good Christians know their theology. They know what they believe, they've prepared their defenses, and they're fully convinced in their own minds. Having all the right answers and desi…

Sacrilege for Your Health

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One of my favorite places in Chicago is a heavy metal burger bar called Kuma's Corner. Not only does the joint rock those sweet metal tunes, but all of the burgers are named after metal bands. And all this month they've had a limited edition burger dedicated to the band, Ghost. For those who aren't familiar with the band, Ghost is about as sacrilegious as metal gets. The lyrics are absurdly satanic, the lead singer wears a skull mask and a cardinal's outfit, and the artwork is replete with historically blasphemous symbolism.

Now Kuma's has recently gotten some press over their char-grilled homage. For starters, the patty is made with both beef and goat. Then there's the red wine reduction. And if that wasn't enough, there's an unconsecrated Communion wafer that tops it off. Needless to say, many Roman Catholics are outraged. In fact, I've heard only criticism and scorn from most within the Christian community.

I have my own reaction to this, but it&…

No Need to Believe

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"The end of god-worship discloses itself at the moment when it becomes optional." Christopher Hitchens - God is not Great
Christians are afraid of science. Most won't actually admit that, but there is an undeniable mistrust of scientific discovery within Christian communities (there's also an unfortunate ostracism that occurs when Christians venture into scientific fields and don't condemn the work done there).

For many, it boils down to evolution. Christians seem to think that, number one, all scientists support evolution and, number two, that they want to prove that the world doesn't need God. Because that's essentially what Charles Darwin did--he developed a cosmogony, or origin theory of the universe, that didn't require the efficacy of a deity. As highly improbable as the big bang is, it's ultimately not impossible. Thus, as far as the natural laws that govern our world are concerned, God is optional. And with this, I find it hard to disagree…

Great Likes

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One of my favorite bands is a Swedish doom metal group called Katatonia. The vocals are droning, the rhythms are plodding, and the tone is like wading through a lake of icebergs. Granted, not everyone's cup of tea, but I like them. And not for any particular reason either.

Some people may like the singer. He's ok. Some people may like the lyrics, but they're rather bland. Some people may appreciate the musicianship; well, I've seen them live and they kinda suck.

To be honest, I can't really point out anything exceptional about the band at all. Even The Beatles had genre innovation going for them, but Katatonia has been playing off a tested and tried blueprint for years. They are, at best, mediocre. A few years ago, I wouldn't have wanted to admit that, but I've learned an important fact since then. Not everything we like is great.

Have you ever been disappointed by a "great!" movie that someone recommended? Or a "great!" book that either…

Theostasis

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That's not a real word (at least in English). Like many folks with an interest in theology, I made it up. My working definition for theostasis is, "the state of being resistant to revision as it regards religious dogma."

It's a word that could easily be applied to those who subscribe to things like conservativism, traditionalism, even fundamentalism. The idea is that no matter what, no matter the revolutions in thought or the insights into history, a theological idea or doctrine must never change.

I think the reasoning for this is fairly simple. God doesn't change. The God of today is no different than the God of Paul or Jeremiah or Moses. Therefore, to "adapt" to the whims of culture is to discard him for a cheap image of our own making. I agree. To a point.

Yes, there are certain things culture will never like about God and will always be at war with. No student of the Bible can dispute this. But I would offer a caveat to the aforementioned maxim. God…

Twilight People

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The soul is like the eye: when resting upon that on which truth and being shine, the soul perceives and understands and is radiant with intelligence; but when turned towards the twilight of becoming and perishing, then she has opinion only, and goes blinking about, and is first of one opinion and then of another, and seems to have no intelligence. Plato - The Republic
What does it mean to be human? How would we define human experience? We touch and taste our physical world. Is it fully human, then, to feel the crunch of fallen leaves beneath our feet or perceive notes of cinnamon and nutmeg in a Pumpkin Spice Latte?

We also think and dream in worlds yet discovered. Is humanity still greater for processing the equations of relativity or imagining the world of Narnia? Contemplations like this aren't made to slake the leisurely fancies of philosophers. For the way in which we view the experience of man will determine the course of our morality.

The natural man. Championed by science,…

The View from Babel

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Every single person has a worldview. On the surface, that just means that we all have a way in which we view the world. But on a deeper level, it addresses the philosophical underpinnings of our perspectives and opinions.

We might say that our worldview is the result of the various sources of knowledge we choose to trust. For example, the atheist has an naturalistic worldview because such a person trusts primarily in their senses--what they can observe. Likewise, the Christian would have a Christian worldview because trust is placed in the Bible as the primary source of knowledge.

Of course, the mistake could be made that the Bible is the only source, but this would ignore the fact that we interact with the Bible through our senses (a source of knowledge) and with God through our spirit or mind (another source of knowledge). Still, I think this mistake is often made intentionally to guard against an uncomfortable truth: there is no such thing as a Christian worldview.

Think about it. …

Hating Your Family For Jesus

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Full-time ministry isn't for everyone. Though some would say that it's the true calling of all Christians, I believe it's the calling of a select few. The elite. The exceptional. Because it requires a degree of commitment unparalleled to any other career.

Imagine being on-call, 24/7. Now laugh at those people. How lazy are they: sitting on their couches, watching TV, just waiting for their phones to ring. Full-time ministry is more than being on-call; it's about being ever present.

If you don't live on the premises of your organization, you only go home long enough for one REM cycle. You don't get to have a personal life because you are but a vapor to God. So make it count! No distractions, no entanglements, and no priorities higher than kingdom building.

That includes family. In fact, Jesus said to hate them compared to him. Do you really love him? Then tell your daughter to quit whining about her homework and help you do something that matters. Like stuffing …

You Don't Know Greek

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Have you ever noticed that pulpits are generally a few feet higher than the pews? I think it's so that everyone can see the pastor, and before sound systems, hear the pastor as well. Still, I've often felt that pastors, being so high and lifted up, were always looking down on me.

Especially as I got older and wasn't chasing Cheerio's under the pew, I found myself impressed by the things they could find in a text that I never saw before. They had this knowledge of the Bible and a command of theology that made me feel so small, no matter how big I got. You could sense it in the room too. As the pastor would say more uncomfortable things, the pews got squeakier and the scowls got tighter. But he could always say something that placated the growing discord: "In the original Greek..."

It was like magic. The scowls disappeared and were replaced with what seemed like lobotomized grins. The kind of look that says, "Oh, I see. I'm too dumb to understand. Cont…

Care Less

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On Tuesday, October 1st, 2013, the United States experienced its first government shutdown since 1995. A shutdown sounds scary and for good reason. Many government departments literally shut down including things like national parks and the Library of Congress (expect an episode of Parks & Rec in the near future).

But what's really scary is that 800,000 government employees have been sent home. Without pay. Who knows what this will do to our economy. And with our national debt increasing about $2,000 per second, it's hard to not be a little worried. Still, here's how I end up feeling about this: I don't care.

I don't imagine I'm alone in that sentiment, although I do think you're more likely to find it among my peers than anyone else. It's apathy. Plain and simple. Unfortunately, this approach to life and politics will most likely outrage my parents' generation, and garner sneers at our apparent ungratefulness.

Forgive me if I laugh at the notio…

Take the Second Shot

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If you've never played Around the World, it's a simple game played on a basketball court.

Each player makes a sequence of shots from one side of the basket to the other and back again. You have to make a basket to advance, but you can chance a second shot. The consequence of failing this little venture is losing your place, and returning to the very beginning--regardless of how far you'd made it.

And over the course of the dozens of games I've played, I have never taken that second shot.

I used to take pride in that. I thought of myself as the smart, consistent player, like the fabled tortoise. But the difference between me and the tortoise is he actually won the race. I never won one game. You would think after observing all of those stupid risks payoff, I would've learned something. Sadly, I've only recently discovered that consistency isn't the hallmark of good stewardship.

I wonder if the stigma against risks, particularly in the church, is related to g…