Innocence by Dissociation

There is this great Imgur album that makes me smile and is a fun reference for when you need to explain why an argument doesn’t work.

Ed Hochuli throwing flags at your logical fallacies.

Just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside for some reason, and I don’t even like Ed Hochuli (zebras = evil, just ask any NFL fan).  Anyway, I want to point your attention to this image:

fsi99rn

I’ve thought about this for much of this election cycle.  There has been a lot of talk about how two candidates in particular are not part of a large machine, blindingly condemning all the other candidates awful because they are part of the machine.

Maybe I should be railing against that, too, but I see a more egregious problem.  And also, just because somethings is a logical fallacy doesn’t not mean the evidence won’t prove it.  Thoughts for another day.

The problem I see is another fallacy that isn’t “officially” a logical fallacy but seems to happen quite regularly right now: the belief that someone is innocent simply because they are dissociated with the problem group.

“Donald Trump is not a politician, so obviously he isn’t the problem.”  “Bernie Sanders is an outspoken independent and truly radical so he’s the only good option.”  Do you see how they both are lifted up by the dissociation from mainline politics?  Has nothing to do with their politics, just that they aren’t obedient cogs in the political machine.

Dissociation is not proof of innocence.  I’m not saying anything about the guilt or innocence of anyone, just that this is not proof of anything.

The frustrating thing with logical fallacies is that they preclude something from being used as proof but don’t actually prove something untrue.  It may be quite true that Donald Trump is going to do something good because he isn’t beholden to anyone, or that Bernie Sanders radicalism is the cure to all the county’s ills*.  Just because the conclusion is come to through a logical fallacy doesn’t make the conclusion untrue.

Am I the only one that sees the problems rising here?  Do you see how broken our political system is that outsiders are lifted up as messiahs?  I realize Christ was an outsider, and a radical, but his actions were chosen by being correct, not by what would make him radical or different.

That’s my problem.  I took me writing this whole thing to figure this out.  We are voting for people because they are outsiders or radicals and judging them solely based on that.  Or also because they are doing things that we want, not what would actually be best for the country and all the people.

Just…stop choosing politicians like a 19-year-old rebel and start choosing them like hiring managers and call committees.  Who is actually qualified to do the job?  Who will seek to serve the will of the people and the needs of the people?  Who will actually serve the country and the world instead of serving themselves?  And who will do that in a way that is effective?

I don’t see an answer yet, and maybe that’s just me.

Breathe in, breathe out, lunch time!

– Robby

* Please, in the name of all that is good and holy, do not read this to say I actually believe either of these things – I don’t – but an example of how logical fallacies actually work in terms of proof.  The answer: they literally prove nothing without additional work.  No accusing me of being a Trump/Sanders 2016 ticket support….

Robby’s Rules of the Internet

I read an article today about race and “white evangelicals need(ing) to repent” for racism, and I got all hot under the collar and ready to fight and ready to write another long tirade about being tired of trying to be moderate just to be told I’m evil by everyone and tired of the co-opting of that word “evangelical” to mean “Crazy, Mean, Hateful Conservative” and tired of articles that proclaim the end of divisiveness actually creating more and tired of fighting and hating each other and tired of not being able to disagree with someone’s methods because somehow disagreeing with their methods, and not their message, is racist and then I decided I’m tired of all of it and I wasn’t participating this time.

But I needed to write because when I’m mad, that’s about the only thing that will calm me down that is even remotely productive.  So I decided today was my day to do a post I’ve been thinking about for a long time:

Robby’s Rules of the Internet

I’ve thought about this post for a while – usually any time I see something stupid on the internet, or people following something blindly, or a general lack of skepticism for things that you agree with – and today is the day I finally flesh it out.

Am I qualified to write this post?  Absolutely.  I’ve been internet savvy for longer than most, thought about the implications of social media for a while, actually researched how social media has affected our social interactions, and spent more time thinking about this than most because I could.

(If anyone wants to challenge my qualifications to write this article, I welcome that; but you must also point out why I’m wrong and present a reason why you – or someone else – is more qualified.)

Okay, now that I’ve provided my pedestal of judgement to stand upon, let us begin.

Rule 1: RUN EVERYTHING YOU POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA THROUGH GOOGLE

This particular rule bit me in the butt a couple of years ago, which is why it’s number one.  If you are going to post something, MAKE SURE IT’S TRUE AND ATTRIBUTED CORRECTLY (which is how I got bit)!  If someone says that MLK Jr. said something, make sure it’s all his and not partially an American school teacher working in Japan.  If you post an infographic or a political meme, make sure the facts are true (and not a horribly politicized interpretation of those facts).  If you post something scientific, make sure you aren’t just posting horrible clickbait.

Run everything through Google.  Just do it.

Rule 2: Anything That Attempts to Negate the Equality of the Internet is Evil

Period.  The internet is amazing because it is a great equalizer.  All information is equal, all people are equal, all data is equal.

This is a Free Speech Issue (just ask China), this is a Free Commerce Issue, this is a Human Rights Issue (just ask Saudi Arabia), this is a Freedom of Information Issue (ask any country that has filtered internet).

The reason that this is so important is that no one person, no one government, no corporation, no one gets to decide what is important, was is unimportant, and what is dangerous.  The internet allows all voices to shout, allows people to investigate and report on their governments and powers and corporations, and be heard despite the best efforts of those in power.

Anyone who wants to censor the internet or create a hierarchy of data has their best interest at heart at the detriment of the best interest of anyone else.

Rule 3: Don’t Feed the Trolls

Do you know what Internet Trolls feed upon?  People getting pissed off.  They feed on creating artificial controversy and getting people riled up against them and judging them.

Do you know that starves a troll?  Getting no response at all.  No getting angry, no getting angry at those who got angry, no even saying they are stupid publicly.  Give them nothing, and they starve.

This one came out of the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen – the stupid Starbucks cup thing that meant nothing.  A Christian internet troll got all indigent because Starbucks didn’t put…Santa Claus, a fun character that has become a consumer method of child control, and Christmas Trees, which are not at all Christian but an intentionally co-opted pagan tradition to convert pagans at the time.  I like both, I rather enjoy Christmas trees and figure parents can decide on Santa, but to say that it’s a war on Christmas from a Christian standpoint and using things like that might be the best trolling thing ever…

Rule 4: People Don’t Know You’re an Idiot on the Internet

…noting, importantly, that someone can be a troll even if they truly believe what they are saying.

The internet does not have the journalistic integrity checks that traditional media has.  In some ways this is absolutely the point – the internet is the great equalizer and every voice has the same power – but it pushes that responsibility to check the integrity of the author and the work to the reader.  Which is fine because we are at least running everything though Google, and should be doing more research if its important and the conclusions aren’t readily clear.

Unless you don’t do that, which most people don’t.  You can still find regularly updated “9-11 Truth” websites and people buying those conspiracies.  You can find out any fact about racial tensions in the country – any fact you want, just think it up and someone has said it somewhere about it.

In real life, we know the people who are idiots.  They are the ones who bait you into debates and then shut down and tell you are wrong when you approach their position with skepticism.  They are the ones that say things that are clearly untrue like they are gospel.  They do things that let you know they are stupid and their thoughts met with great caution.

(Mind you, we all qualify as this at times.  I got into an hour-long fight about the odds of winning the lottery that I was wrong about because simple math evaded me.)

The internet washes away our idiocy away and presents an image that we know what we are talking about.  Again, an equalizer – no one knows that the only descriptions I have of Scotch are “Hairspray” and “Piss” despite actually being able to describe bourbon and beer with some level of skill – but as susceptible to abuse, both intentional and accidental.

If you assume everything you read is written by an idiot unless otherwise proven, and you approach internet journalism with healthy skepticism, you will be much better off.

Rule 4a: …But Smart People Assume You Are

So address the smart people.  Resolve their skepticism if you can, address it if you can’t but still feel you are correct, and change when you are wrong.  And continue to be that questioning smart person; it makes you smarter and a better person.

Rule 5: Privacy is Not a Political Issue

Stop making it one.  If this was my major issue, I would protest outside of every event of every candidate because not a one of them has my interest – or your interest – at heart.  Their own power and control of the populace, absolutely, but not my actual interest.

And the multitude of times my privacy has been violated by the government has done nothing to protect me.  Stop telling me intercepting my private texts between my wife and me is making me safe because it isn’t.  If you are going to do something that can – and should – be interpreted as malicious for my benefit, you better be proving your benevolence and allowing people to decide.

I am not doing anything wrong, I have no plans to do anything wrong, I should be able to live my life as privately as I desire in terms of the government.  You don’t need to know what items are on our grocery list, what we are fighting about, or when we make up.

So now that we see that privacy is absolute, you can see that privacy is a “Government vs. the People” issue, not a “Democrats vs. Republicans” issue because both sides contain people who are complicit and who are malicious on this issue, and not really any who are benign or benevolent

These are the major rules.  There are others, but these cover 90% of your interactions on the internet.  Just don’t be a pirate if you don’t know that you are doing, don’t install free software you don’t know the source of, and keep your stuff up-to-date and that could cover 98% of the rest.

But maybe I’ll so some more rules when I’m angry again and just need to write.

Peace,
– Robby

Matches and Gasoline

Note: The featured image comes from here.  I know I can use it how I like because of the Creative Commons license but I want to support the people whose work I steal. 

I posted a great conversation between Pete Holmes and Richard Rohr on Twitter the other day (HERE) and in part of it, Pete talks about his faith room, deconstructing it, and then reconstructing it.  It really is a great illustration, and I have spent a stupid amount of time thinking about it since I first listened to it.

As I was showering (the best incubator for creative thought) and thinking about what I wanted to write this week, I got to thinking about the three stages of faith that they talk about in that podcast – construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction – and their discussion of getting stuck in one of the early stages.  I especially thought of getting stuck in the deconstruction phase.

A lot of people, out of anger or frustration or whatever emotion they are feeling that causes them to deconstruct, just stay in that second phase.  They just want to burn it down, burn their faith down and dance in the smoldering ashes of what was before.  Someone gave them, or they created, something that became matches and gasoline to their faith, and they combined the two in the middle of their faith room and burned the mother to the ground.

And that’s fine.  Sometimes you have to just burn it to the ground.  Sometimes there is nothing good or healthy – especially for you – in your faith room and deconstructing it peacefully won’t work.  Like some abandoned houses or barns, the best option is gasoline and matches.

There are two outcomes to this.  One is the healthy one; the violent catharsis did it’s job and you are able to put out the flames and rebuild.  Maybe your faith room is just a grass patch without a belief structure, or maybe you rebuild with something completely different but still a faith room.  That is fine, as long as you don’t just stay in that burning stage.

The other outcome is that you really liked when you burnt down your faith room; you really liked the violence of the fire destroying your beliefs.  It felt good, and you thought it was the most moral thing you could do.  So you collect your matches and gasoline and force them upon other people, trying to watch the whole house of all belief rooms burn to the ground.  You really push them on those whose houses have the same furniture and decorations that you have, trying desperately to make them burn it down because you needed to burn yours down and no one else should have that faith.

Some people will take your matches and gasoline and burn their faith rooms down because they were searching for matches and gasoline, but you can’t make anyone do that.  You can’t burn the faith rooms down of anyone, no matter how much you want to.  Even if their room causes you pain, even if you can’t stand the sight of what they have put in their faith room, you can’t burn it down no matter how much you want to.

I kind of want to talk about my deconstruction and (hopeful) reconstruction to illustrate this.  I was raised Christian – Presbyterian in fact – and I haven’t veered from it much.

Actually, that’s not true.  I had a time where I just started tossing everything organized out.  Everything.  I didn’t have violent or fast deconstruction, I didn’t move everything out in a day; I just started taking things out that I didn’t think made sense.  I really found myself with an old but wonderful couch – the Apostles’ Creed – and a mirror.

But I started rebuilding from there.  I believed that there is a God, that Christ was real, and that a Holy Spirit works within me.  Everything else was fair game.

It is odd, but I find that the things that have made their way back into my faith room aren’t all that different than the thing that were in here before, just better or older or more intentional and personal.  The couch of depravity of humanity was once a cheap, Walmart pleather couch that wouldn’t last; I replaced it with black heirloom couch that was melancholy but brought me comfort, and then replaced that one with a brightly colored custom couch that is comfortable and great for sitting and talking and be with anyone and being truly comfortable.  The computer of loving God with all of my heart, soul, strength, and mind was replaced by a desk, bookshelf, weight bench, heater, and better computer of loving God with all of my heart, soul, strength, and mind.  The end table of loving God was from the Dollar Store but know is built by my hands, imperfect and flawed but strong and personal.

The thing I think a lot of people who want to watch the faith rooms of everyone burn miss is that I have the matches and gasoline in my room, too.  Some of the matches sit in a cupboard, some are used to light candles and start controlled fires.  Some of the gasoline became kerosene for a lamp, some is gasoline that I left outside while I contemplate what to do with it, some of it had no weight and became water as it entered my room.  But it’s all there; I just didn’t use it to burn everything down.

The thing about the reconstruction phase is it’s kind of like remodeling a house; nothing is ever permanent again.  I’m reminded of my friend Nathan remodeling his kitchen; he took out ten layers of flouring, with wood over and under multiple layers, and wood again under everything (not exaggerating).  The process of changing and rebuilding is never done, and is never permanent.  If I were to put a timeline on it, my deconstruction started in high school and got stronger in the beginning of college, and my reconstruction started at the end of college, but then I started seminary and a bunch of cleaning happened and a bunch of stuff got replaced with stronger and better stuff, some made by me, a lot made by people who make faith furniture that I customized after the fact.  And I burned the hutch of condemning individual sins and judging people whose sins are different than mine in a glorious fashion with fireworks and dynamite that brought the spectators (liberals) and police (conservatives) alike, all whom were disappointed.

Only I can burn my faith room to the ground.  You are welcome to give me the matches and gasoline – much of which I already have – but only I can strike the match.  Kind of like only you could strike the match of your faith room.  And only I can put things in my faith room, build the walls, and decorate the room.  No matter how much you want me to have your couch or painting or rug, I alone can choose what comes in and what stays out.

Everyone would be happier if we stopped trying to control and build the faith rooms of others.  All we can do is give them access to elements and love them; they have to do the rest, and because the only way faith and love work is if people are free to choose.  Love can certainly help move things in if requested, it can certainly let up the gasoline puddles and open the gas valves, but it can’t strike the match or force things in.

Each faith room in individual and personal and can’t be made by anyone else.  So give access to furniture and matches and gasoline and water out of love, and stop forcing them on people.

I hope that all made sense.  Now to do what I actually need to do today.  This isn’t a sermon, I don’t think.

Peace,
– Robby

P.S.: If you like this and want to comment, do so below.  I love Facebook likes and comments, but they don’t really help in terms of a blog.  So if you want to comment on Facebook, duplicate it here, pretty please.  And if you like, share all over the place.  I can only share so many ways before I’m a bother or look like spam.

I did something pretty

One day I got distracted by Illustrator.  I had this concept in my head for about a week and I wanted to realize it in a real way.

It started with this first one:

AlienwmI liked it, but I guess I decided he was a bit exclusive.  Not only boys have broken hearts.  Thus:Alien2wmAnd I was pleased.  But then I realized, if they have identical hearts, and their both broken, maybe they can put them together and be happy with each other.  Because I’m sappy and all:

Alien3wmYeah, this blog is literally anything from day to day.  Thus, I have an “Irrelevancies” category, but this is relevant to nothing.  But I like it!

It made me smile.  I suppose this is my moment of delight this week.

To doing something fun, even if you are amazing at it…

– Robby

P.S.: Probably won’t be relevant but obviously these are my work and I reserve all rights to them.  If I see them off this blog, I better see/be able to click a link back here.

Brother’s Gaga

I had a roommate in seminary whose name was Joe Obermeyer.  We called him Jober.  He was a good friend.

We used to go on guy dates all the time.  Subway was an occasional spot but we found ourselves eating tacos and drinking margaritas as Los Aztecas quite a bit.  On weeks that Nora worked the weekend, we would have our guy time; when she was available, he would often join us for dinner.

I spent a lot of time in the Jober.  We were younger guys, I was unmarried and him single, our ministries were both local, and we found ourselves with a small amount of free time that others in our seminary community didn’t have.

Long story short, we spent a lot of time together.

All of that was to tell this story.  This was around the time that “Bad Romance” had gotten popular and we had a song that we sang together constantly that went something like this:

WOAHOAHOAHOAHOAHOAHOAHOAHOAHOAH!  Caught in a bad bromance!

It was our theme song. As we marched into the Mexican restaurant, cheap margaritas and tacos on our minds, this song was always on our lips.  I’m pretty sure our roommate Matt, Nora, and anyone else who had to hear us this these few lyrics sang over and over again wanted to murder us, but we sang it forever.

I miss my friend.  He is rocking it in North Dakota, living the dream and serving God, so we don’t get to see each other very often, but it is always a great time when we do.

I will always remember my “Bad Bromance” and the stupid song rewrite that we did.  I’m sure more than a view people had honest considerations of murder.

But it is such a good memory.  Nothing big, nothing crazy, just brings a smile to my face.

To cheap Mexican food and margaritas!

– Robby

Lost Art of Freedom

I’m a tech person.  I love tech.  I’ve argued for tech.  I’ve seen the social media revolution as a great thing for humanity.  I’ve watched the internet destroy barriers and connect people in a way that science fiction writers could not dream up.  I won’t go so far as to say the entirety of human knowledge is available as my fingertips as I write this, but I would say we are getting pretty darn close to that.  A good friend of Nora and I’s was diagnosed with MDS and AML and I was able to go from knowing nothing about either to having a pretty decent basic crash-course in both within a few hours, including bleeding-edge information and treatment options.  Even this blog, which would have been a journal of an unknown man in times passed, is now available for the world to see.

All of this sounds great, but it gets even better when you start to dissect is a bit more.  Information is power, and information is freedom.  The more you know and the more you have access to learn (or access as necessary), the more freedom you have.  If you are not reliant on the powers to know, learn, and grow, if you are not reliant on archaic structures for learning and education, if you can learn anything you want because everything is available, you are more free than someone who cannot.

The internet has also broken down social barriers.  Twitter, for all of its faults and negatives, has completely opened up the social sphere and leveled the playing field.  It has opened paths of communication and allowed people of different social classes to communicate in an honest and open way – and mean and funny, as well, but the communication is happening that would have never happened before.  YouTube has allowed people, not giant corporations, to determine what entertainment they want.  Netflix has given artistic freedom to movie and television creators that the industry has never seen before.  This talk by Kevin Spacey is worth the 46 minutes.

The internet has changed things, some for the worse but vastly for the better.  Something it has done is given freedom, and in a way that nothing before it could have possibly done and nothing since its inception has come close to doing.  The internet is freedom, period.

A major aspect of that freedom is the fact that every bit of data is equal.  The only thing that differentiates how data is handled on the internet is size.  No data, no video or service, gets a priority over anything else.  There are sluggish servers, bad connections, but that is a problem with infrastructure, not a deliberate structuring of how quickly data is delivered based upon who can pay and who is willing to pay for their data to be given quickly.  No one is given preference and the internet is a neutral ground that has never been seen before.

And if what the internet delivery companies want to do with our data happens, we are going to lose that neutral ground.  If we let the telecommunications companies like Comcast, Time-Warner Cable, Cox, Verizon, AT&T, and Mediacom to determine who gets to go quickly and who gets throttled based upon who pays them in addition to what they are getting paid from subscribers, we are letting them destroy this neutral ground that has allowed small people to grow and succeed, allowed people who didn’t have the resources to learn before to learn anything they want from anywhere, and allowed the world to be connected to each corner.

If net-neutrality fails, then we are losing our freedoms.  Period.

I entitled this post “Lost Art of Freedom” to fit in here and I fear that I’m stretching it but I think there is something to practicing freedom.  Living in freedom is an art form.  I have no idea how to define that, but I do know what it isn’t.  I know that just using the internet for things that do not grow you, allowing your life to be defined by the frivolities of the internet instead of the beautiful thing that is presents, and not using it to broaden communication and freedom that is affords you, you are not practicing the art of freedom.

Or maybe you are.  Part of freedom is really the right to slit your own throat if you so desire.  Now, I am not advocating real suicide, but if you want to use the internet for cat pictures and Facebook chat, who am I tell you you can’t?  That is the beauty of freedom.

I don’t think, though, that if we idly sit by and not use the freedom and neutrality that the internet affords, we have lost our art of freedom.  If we don’t stand up and fight for our freedom, if we don’t use the freedoms we are afforded, if we are just idle, we have lost the art of freedom.

So what do we do now?  How do we fight that money and that power?

John Oliver has a brilliant idea (NSFW/Cursing Warning: I don’t blush at it, but I can understand why you may not want to watching something of that nature).  Contact the FCC and tell them that this is a freedom issue, not a commerce issue or something that should be determined by the powerful and rich men to make more money at the expense of freedom and neutrality amongst all people.  That is something you can do.  Here is the link:

http://www.fcc.gov/comments – Proceeding 14-28

Do this.  John Oliver kind of pushes for this to be “trolling” in terms of how we approach it but I think if we are professional, say that it is hurting our freedoms, and point to why, they have to deliberately deny this by changing the rules.  Period.  In changing this rule, they are choosing the profits of giant corporations over the freedoms of the entire nation.  We must express that this is unacceptable.

After you are done doing that, do something on the internet that makes it beautiful and wonderful.  Chat with someone on a different continent.  Learning something about theoretical physics.  Communicate with someone famous and important on Twitter.  Do something that the internet made possible that was impossible before.  Use the freedom we have been afforded in this act.

Learn to practice the art of freedom.  Act in a way that requires freedom.  Do something that shows you are free.

To freedom,

– Robby

Coffee

Every morning that Nora doesn’t have to open, we sit and drink coffee.  It isn’t a ritual thing, or even really an activity that we do together – right now she’s enjoying her coffee and I’m writing while we occasionally say something to each other.  Nora drinks coffee every morning.  Sunday morning rolls around and, because the sermon is never complete early, I need that cup of coffee to not be yawning throughout the service.  A nice cup of fauxspresso and Irish creme is…well, it’s just heaven.

We love coffee.  I honestly can say that I think I am better for having acquired the taste for coffee.  There are three things to have conversations over – food, beer (or whiskey), and coffee – and not having one of those three in my back pocket would have made the conversations I’ve had over the last 4 years less.  Period.

Have you ever offered a coffee drinker a cup of coffee when they had none?  It is amazing how much that cup of coffee can warm that person, both physically and emotionally.  I don’t remember where I picked this up, but I firmly believe that you can any knowledge of a person you want if you just offer them the comforting drink of their choice that isn’t alcohol-based; for coffee drinkers, and especially caffeine addicts, a cup of coffee will more usefully loosen a tongue than a bottle of bourbon or vodka.

My grandfather went downtown every day until the day he died and had coffee with all of the other old farmers from Battle Creek.  It was at the gas station, but either the coffee price went up or they took out most of the booths so they changed to one of the bars.  Then for some reason that didn’t work out so they moved to a small collectible shop across the street that basically served coffee and sweets so they would have a place to drink coffee and eat sweets in the morning.  And they did until many of them had passed.

My grandpa was at a funeral the day before he died and someone snapped a picture of him drinking a cup of coffee; even now, ten years after we lost him, my grandma still has that picture taped to the wall and she still has coffee with him.

Coffee is a part of life for a lot of people.  I’m not talking about a mochafrapaccinolatte (yup, made that up) concoctions that mask all of the coffee taste; I’m talking about a pot of drip coffee, milk and sugar for those who want, sitting around talking.  Growing up, after church on Sunday, the kids went upstairs for Sunday School and the adults went downstairs and drank coffee.  The coffee pot in the seminary lounge had the worst coffee imaginable and yet there was always a group of people talking and preparing their coffee right before and in-between every class.

There is something about the warmth, the bitterness, and the ritual around it that just brings people together.  It’s an intangible, something I can’t put my finger on, but it’s there.  Coffee brings people together.

(Note before I continue: I’m not a coffee-elitist.  Tea is wonderful, as well.  As is hot chocolate.  Mmmmmm, hot chocolate.  I just one, grew up in a coffee-culture, and two, find drip coffee in coffee mugs to be a unique part of our culture.  Other parts of the country, and other parts of the world, probably have their own thing that has the same effect coffee has on people in rural Iowa and much of the United States.)

As wonderful as coffee is, and it is wonderful, it has a serious dark side to it.  Big, multinational growers of coffee had harmed people in the name of cheap coffee.  People have been killed, have been starved, have been hurt just to make cheap, bulk coffee.  I’m not a social justice warrior of any sort and I really understand how money works for people who are without, but there was a point that I had to be honest with myself and align my consumption with my beliefs.  I can’t remember when it was, but I remember drinking a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, enjoying the taste quite a lot, and then thinking, “Someone has hurt to make the situation correct for this cup of coffee to be placed in my hands.”  And mind you, Dunkin Donuts coffee isn’t a cheap brand of grind, either; more ethical coffee costs a bit more, but it isn’t cheap like a store-brand grind.  It just struck me that I was participating in hurting people, and for a cup of coffee that was good but cheap(er).

I didn’t get perfect right away; it took me a bit to get to that point where I drink mostly ethical coffee.  You will still occasionally find cheap, store-band coffee in our fridge.  We aren’t perfect, and I will still get a cup of coffee at a restaurant without asking about it’s sourcing, but I am trying to help the situation.  I am trying align my love of coffee with my love of humanity and doing the small part that I can to help people who are being hurt for coffee.

So what do we do?  I’m not a huge proponent of Fair Trade because, though I agree with the philosophy and the goal completely, I’m not sure I agree with the practices nor the price of certification.  I will never look down at someone who has switched to Fair Trade because every ethical option helps but that isn’t the route I’ve been following.  Instead, I’m a huge fan of a couple of smaller outfits who aren’t certified but do a lot of good.

The first one is Justo Cafe/Just Coffee.  What I love about this is that everything – growing, roasting, and distribution – benefits the actual people in the area.  It’s also organic and shade grown, which is good for the Earth and not just her people.  And it’s good coffee; the preaching professor gave us a bag for class and it was quite fantastic.  In honesty, learning about this coffee really planted the seed to start drinking ethical coffee in me and guided me into wanting to change my plans.

The second is More Than Coffee.  There are a lot of groups that have this name; the one I am talking about is at http://www.morethancoffee.info.  The coffee itself is delicious, sourced from Ethiopia, and the farmers are treated as well or better than Fair Trade farmers are.  In terms of ethics, they are solid.  What is cool about this group, though, is that the profits are put back into helping the orphans and widows of Ethiopia.  What is even cooler is that I actually got to meet the woman who started it, know people who work with them personally, and I can attest to their love of God and love of helping people.  I have faith in the goodness of people who do these things, but knowing the people who do this makes it the obvious choice for us in our coffee drinking.

Their Ethiopian Delight is also the only coffee I have ever had that stopped me in my tracks with how delicious it was.  It is just amazing coffee.

Do I think these are the only good options for ethical coffee?  No, absolutely not.  I just know about them and have done research into them.  What I’m saying here is that you should know where your coffee comes from, know how the growers are treated, and find coffee that aligns with the second greatest commandment – Love your neighbor as yourself – and isn’t a selfish choice for you.  Just do a bit of research and find a brand that you feel is doing good instead of harm in the name of coffee.

Small choices, small actions by everyone change the world.  This is a small thing you can do.

In Christ,

– Robby

Do No Harm

Writer’s block, you are just a horrible, horrible thing.  Not only do you prevent me from actually be productive but you also force me to play 2048 in hopes that something in my creative brain will spring a leak and I’ll finally get the ambition to either get up and leave or just write something.  And how fickle she is with what will spark the fuel.

Facebook.  I spend so very little on Facebook when I’m not working on SSEM stuff or trying to fall asleep and I get bored easily on it.  But I do like to post interesting things, and when I see Vince Gilligan is making a show that has the same name as my home town (Battle Creek, which I assume is Michigan because a crime show about Battle Creek, Iowa is going to be about as exciting as Corner Gas), I had to post it.

After that, I looked a bit and I saw a Methodist pastor friend of mine had posted a short guide to a Wesleyan approach to social media and the first rule was “Do No Harm.”  I’ve also been bingeing on House, M.D. (thank you Netflix) and that whole ideal pretty much gets thrown out the window constantly in hopes of diagnosis and healing.  I’ve also had the Westboro Baptist Church in my mind, both their hatred and some of the positive response to their hatred (and negative response), and I’ve wanted to address that whole method of evangelism.

I think it sticks in my mind so much because my goal with every sermon is, first and foremost, to “Do No Harm.”  Whenever I’m writing a sermon and I come up on something that is going to poke the congregation in the eye with a sharp stick – which I do like to do – I always consider the ramifications beyond forcing thought and questioning.  I don’t even really mind offending people but just offending people for offense sake is going to do nothing for their soul.  There is no reason for me to kick the souls of those who are gathered there to worship on Sunday just because I want to be edgy and whack all of the preconceived notions they hold in their hearts with a flaming sledge-hammer as violently as possible.  There is not point or reason for that unless those preconceived notions are actually harming them in a way that is comparable to the harm I am doing to their psyche by doing this.  I am not that arrogant.

The one big thing that I am always stuck on is the harm that can be done around death and mourning.  I tell people their being jerks, their being judgmental, or that their views on sin are all sorts of wrong with only a slight amount of trepidation but even mentioning death and dying makes me want to fall into that path of no resistance.  If I can just get “Jesus loves you” across without saddening anyone too much, I think I’ve won.  In that moment of mourning, it is so incredibly easy to lose faith; trying to use that moment as a springboard for a prophetic word is basically forcing people away from God.

But the prophetic words are necessary.  We have 4 major prophets and 12 minor prophets that get their own book in the Bible.  We are sinful and we need those who have a prophetic word to share to actually share it with us and guide us back to a path of righteousness.  It is necessary and good, but it also should be intentional, timed well, and should focus on the glory and goodness of God and not at all on the goodness of the messenger.  “You’re evil and I’m good!” is not a prophetic message, as much as those who preach would like it to be.

No matter the message, and no matter the messenger, there are times that a prophetic message will do harm and no good.  I think about the prophetic messages in the Bible and I cannot think of message that was given in a time of mourning.  There are plenty that came preceding and telling of times of mourning, plenty that basically told the Jewish people that what was coming was brought upon them by themselves, but it was never delivered once they were mourning.  People don’t hear those messages in times of mourning.  Christ taught a lot of prophetic things and yet he simply mourned at Lazarus’s death (then brought him back to life, but that’s a bit off topic).

A prophetic word given specifically in terms of a death will do nothing but drive people away.  Even if the person was (insert horrible, disgusting sin that the community believes will send them to Hell), that moment is not the moment to remind people of Hell and condemnation.  The funeral of a 14-year-old son of a minister and grandson doctor is certainly not the time to give a universal prophetic of how the United States is going to Hell because of homosexuality and holding funerals.

Trying to not get pointed but can you see the flaw in their logic?  This boy probably loved everyone around him, his father has dedicated his life to teaching Christ’s message, his grandfather dedicated his life to healing, and they were shot in cold blood.  The Jewish people mourned and held services to honor the dead.  Christ’s body was to be prepared by Mary Magdalene.

Disagree with the theology around having a body at a funeral?  That’s fine.  Think we worship the dead a bit too much?  I agree with you.  Think the funeral of a 14-year-old boy who has friends who need to cope with the senseless loss of life and need to see a body for their psyche to accept that his death is real is the place to protest funerals?  No, it isn’t.

Do no harm.  No matter what your theology is, what your message is, there is no where in the Bible we are called to do harm.  If we take Christ as an example, especially on this Maundy Thursday submitting himself to the priests to become the sacrificial lamb for humanity, we should also be submitting ourselves, sacrificing ourselves for others and looking to life them up, not tear them down.

Do no harm.  I’m also struck, though, at the hatred that is shown towards people of this nature.  I’m not surprised by it – heck, I’ve even joyfully participated at times – but I am struck at how easily we hate them because of the sins they commit.

Have you thought about what kind of room in Hell Fred Phelps is sitting in right now? Because I have, and I am shamed by that.  I have had a serious shift in how my theological stances express themselves in a practical manner and if I am going to stand by the ideal that there isn’t a sin that is uniquely capable to condemning you to Hell, I have to stand by that.  Condemning anyone, judging anyone, and glorifying yourself are each sinful, but so is gluttony and sloth.  If my sins don’t condemn me to Hell because of my faith in Christ and recognition of my sin, then I cannot begin to claim that he is in Hell when I am saved.

I posted this sign before but I am going to post it again.  I’m going to be working with the “What Not To Do” when talking about sin but I think we need to worry about what to do, as well.  So in practice, the inverse of “Do No Harm” is “Do Good.”  So if I wanted to do good with this, this would be my option:

Do good.  I wonder why people don’t offer them food and drink, feed them and make sure they are healthy.  I get the counter-protests, I get the desire to drive them away, but we should be like the Good Samaritan.  Even if they are the most detestable group of people to us, we should be loving them like we love each other.

“Do No Harm”

To loving each other,

– Robby

Jerks

I’ve looked them up twice in the last 72 hours and they’re stuck in my craw so anyone who reads this page is just going to have to deal with me complaining about them.

The Westboro Baptist Church makes me mad and it isn’t even because they picket funerals and sue people who even get a little bit aggressive with them for being jerks.  I get so frustrated with them because of this:

Source: WBC Twitter page. No Photoshop aside from cropping…

Even if their views on homosexuality, the US Military, and death are all true, they have no idea if I am a sinner or not. “You are probably an Esau.” That really just gets under my skin.

Part of why is because I personally think the bible calls us to humility.  Humble people tend to look at themselves and see their own flaws, understand they are below Christ, and act as people who are forgiven moment from moment, not people who have stopped sinning and are perfect.  But that’s just my personal bias.

I can say, without doubt, that humans cannot judge each other.  There is a list of scriptures that prove that; I’ll let James prove it specifically today:

Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other. Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it.  There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you?

– James 4:11-12

Did anyone that is a physical entity today create the law?  No?  Then stop judging one another.  I don’t care if you believe a person is sinning, you are not in a position to condemn.  Period.  So stop it, or stop calling yourself a Christian.

Yesterday I said that the call of the Gospels was to love radically, no matter the sin or shortcomings of the people you love.  Calling them names, dehumanizing them, and saying that they are going to Hell is the exact opposite of loving them.  And using the excuse “I want them to stop sinning” to justify your hateful actions is a lie; again, name calling and dehumanization aren’t loving, period.

Now, I’m not arguing that holding each other accountable for our sins is a bad thing and calling a sin a sin is actually a good thing, but there is a fatal flaw when we only look at the sins that make us uncomfortable and forget other sins (especially not loving our neighbor as ourself).

So instead of saying everyone but a select few people are going to Hell, do this instead:

Source: New York Daily News and KSHB Action News

Love radically. Period.

– Robby

Surviving Long-Distance

I saw this post today on Reddit and I knew, from the start, what caused this and why it didn’t work.  I know because Nora and I had similar things blow up on us.  I know it’s going to cause them to question if their relationship – and engagement as the case is in that story –  is worth the struggle and the pain.  I know how to prevent that.  I know, because I made the mistakes already.

So I decided to put my thoughts on the subject out there for all to read.  This is deviating from the norm of this blog, but yet it still seems relevant if I can salvage one relationship and prevent pain and hurt from anyone.

Note: Some of this is going to seem familiar if you have ever seen The Dating Doctor.  I will admit, some of it boils down to affirming what he says (and I try to give him credit where I can remember him saying it).  Others, though, are my own thought.

Note 2: This is just specific relationship advice to getting into, being in, and coming out of long-distance. There are times when I thought of just basic relationship advice to put but I’m absolutely not qualified to advice on general relationships and every relationships weirdly different, so I stuck to what I know.


Robby’s Long-Distance Relationship Rules

0. I do not ever recommend anyone getting into a Long-Distance relationship

I know one married couple that was successful long-distance. I’ve seen a bunch of couples try long-distance for a variety of reasons and fail. Notice a difference there? One (or two if you include me) vs Many. It doesn’t work most of the time.

0.1 If you are married, most of what I say is irrelevant, and I can’t recommend you ending your marriage because you have to be physically separated for a time.

Never done long-distance married for more than a weekend. If I pretend to know what I’m talking about long-distance marriage, then I am failing. Period.

1. If you are in Long-Distance, or getting into Long-Distance, the immediate end-game of that relationship has to be marriage/lifetime commitment or it won’t work. Period.

If you are just dating, testing the waters, trying to get to know someone more and see if the relationship progresses to a point where you could consider marriage, don’t go long-distance. Yes, that person may be great. Yes, that person may be a good match for a marriage partner. No, that person isn’t the only person you could ever marry successfully. As much as I believe in marriage and finding your soul mate, I’m not delusional enough to believe that out of 7 billion people (3.5 in your preferred gender), there is only one that matches you.  I believe that love is kindled, built, and maintained and part of what makes marriage is how good of a fire you build with what you two bring to the table.  I could meet someone nearly identical to my wife and I wouldn’t love them the way I love my wife because I haven’t built a fire with them.  I love my wife both because of who she is and the experiences we’ve had.

What I’m basically saying, there are other fish in the sea.  If you aren’t already planning on committing your life to this person, don’t go into long-distance.

2. Two years.  Period.

I know I stole this one from The Dating Doctor but I can affirm it 100%.  Nora and I were in long-distance for two years, three months.  The hardest time frame of that was the last 3 months, which was also the only time when we knew exactly when we were no longer going to be in long-distance.

If you look at the calendar that is your life and you plan on being apart more than two years, don’t do it to yourself.  How long past two years you have to go will have a lot to do with it – don’t jump ship for ten days after two years – but I will guarantee the hardest times you have in long-distance are after two years.

3. Surprise trips are for Rom. Coms. only. In real life, they all mostly all fail.

I’m going tell you a little story. I was living in Sioux City but I had a wedding to go to in Milford, IA. I had it on my calendar as the correct weekend; somehow, in telling Nora, she had it as the weekend after. As I’m preparing to go to this wedding (and leave within the hour I believe), I get a call from Nora saying she is on her way to Sioux City. She decided to surprise me for the weekend, and I wasn’t going to be there for most of Saturday.

If I were to pinpoint a point where I thought we weren’t going to make it, and it wasn’t in those last three months, that’s the point I would pinpoint.

The problem with surprise trips is that you are dating but you lead two completely different lives that happen to intersect occasionally.  To assume that you can force them to intersect without planning is romantic, thoughtful, loving, and stupid.  Really, really stupid.

Real life doesn’t work that way.  When you try to make your live intersect without planning and fail fantastically, it creates trust issues – especially if they are busy with someone that could be a potential mate if you weren’t in the picture – and pretty impressive delusions about commitment issues that the other party has even though there is probably no truth to it.

Plan trips.  It isn’t as romantic, it doesn’t fit into a romance movie, and it doesn’t blow up in your face.  You pick which one your are most worried about.

4. Talk to each other at least once between sleeps.

I’ve been in two long-distance relationships; one lasted 6 weeks, one lasted the duration and now we’re married.  One major difference between the two:

When we are apart, Nora and I talk every day without fail.

We do that even now that we are married.  The only time we didn’t do that is when she was on a cruise ship and I was in Southwest Iowa, and it was horrible.  She actually couldn’t make it the entire cruise and called me before they got back.

This needs to happen.

4.1 Though it takes work, talking every day should never be a chore.  

If talking every day to the person you are in a long-distance relationship with is a chore and you don’t want to do it, that is probably the best sign you should break it off. You aren’t committed to each other enough to make this work. That isn’t to say you couldn’t work if you were in close proximity but long-distance isn’t design for this relationship. Stop dating. Keep in touch if you want, but just stop putting yourself through the struggle when your heart isn’t into it.

5. Long-Distance requires more trust then marriage under the same roof.

I don’t know if anyone else will agree with me on this one, or if I just trust my wife an inordinately high amount because of long-distance, but I haven’t tested the depths of my trust for her since we got married, and we live two very different schedules and she works with men and drives some of them home sometimes. Long-distance, on the other hands, tested the depths of my trust on a nearly daily basis.

It’s the nature of the beast. If you are going to trust someone to live a completely autonomous life and yet remain loyal and faithful to you, it requires a level of trust that I don’t know how I did. I can’t even describe how much I had to trust her.

5.1 You also need to be trustworthy

About the only things in this world more loyal than Nora are labrador retrievers and Subaru wagons. About the only thing more honest than me is a voice recorder. We each have a laundry list of faults but in these two areas, we were set up to be perfect for long-distance.

5.2 Communication builds trust. You should be the best communicating

partners of all time to make long-distance work.
When we went through Prepare and Enrich, we got the highest possible score on communication. Kat was super-impressed. We have lots of other weaknesses, but by God we can communicate!

Successful long-distance relationships foster that naturally, but there should always be an effort to do improve communication at all times. Trust me, it can change breaking up over driving four hours to an empty house to shifting plans and making the most out of a bad situation. And increase trust and sense of commitment all at the same time.

6. Being a strong conversation partner is super freaking helpful.

The majority of your time together is going to be spent talking. In 2014 your can see each other while you talk, but that’s about all you can do. Maybe synchronize a Netflix movie and hope your internet connection is reliable enough to handle both at once. Beyond that, the bulk of your relationship is going to be talking. It’s probably a good idea to know how to have a long conversation with someone, and be with someone you enjoy long conversations with.

6.1 You are going to burn through most, if not all, of your stories while you are in Long-Distance.

Nora likes to have me tell her stories. I like to tell her stories. She’s heard almost all of my stories. The ones she hasn’t heard, I don’t recall without prompting of some sort. We’ve been married for nearly a year, been in the same city two years longer, and last month was the first time in those three years I had a story she hadn’t heard that wasn’t something that happened within those three years.

Just a heads up. No idea what to do about it besides get really good about talking politics, religion, and other hot-button topics so you can keep talking and not get bored (or let TV be how you interact).

7. It sucks.

If this weren’t a Christian website, I would have put a explicative on that, or maybe ten. It is probably the worst thing that you can do to your relationship. Here’s a few examples of why:

Like physical contact of any sort, especially the romantic kind? Once a month, if you are lucky. Like doing activities together? Once a month. Like cooking together? Once a month. Like to do silent things in the same room as that person (work, write, read, draw, etc.)? Never, because you are too busy during that once a month you have with each other having physical contact, doing activities, and cooking. you don’t have a normal relationship because all of your time together is distilled into one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Actually probably less than that. Yup, you have less time with your significant other than the Guard has with its people.

It sucks. Having a relationship that you can’t live without and is ending with marriage is the only reason to tough it out.

8. This is a short list.

This is just the stuff that is specific to being in any kind of long distance relationship. On top of all of this, you are also in a unique relationship that you have to foster in the same way that everyone else does. Long distance isn’t a special kind of relationship; it’s an additional hardship placed on a regular relationship. Relationships are tough; long-distance just is a specially level of tough.

Caveat: There are exceptions to every rule. For some reason, super-busy people who don’t have time to date tend to work really well in long-distance because they can have that connection, that permanence, and yet live an autonomous life. I’ve seen that more in marriages than dating but it applies. And it’s weird. But it works and their happy, so who am I to judge.

Caveat to the Caveat: If you feel the need to express that you are the exception to the rule, you aren’t. If you feel the need to defend your relationship, you aren’t the exception to the rule. If, though, your relationship works, you both are happy, and there isn’t resentment, you are the exception. Pat yourself on the back, give each other a hug when you see each other, and know I hate you for being an exception to the rules.


I hope this helps someone.  I don’t want to claim God status or to have supreme knowledge, but this is some stuff I wish I had known going in.  And don’t break up because some guy on the internet told you to; I don’t know you or your relationship. Take it with the grain of salt it deserves, weight what it means to you, and try to learn from the many times I messed up.

To love, happiness, marriage, and the blessing that Skype had on long-distance relationships,

– Robby