Friday, October 30, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
This lyric essay was for my English class. I find that writing non-fiction stirs up some old memories, and the more I write, the more I remember. Perhaps some good will come from all this writing...
On March 23, 2008 I became a dad. Standing next to my wife after 30+ hours of labor, we were anxious to greet this new baby into our family. I stood by my wife's side pushing, pulling, comforting and coaching her long into the night and into the early morning of my best Easter ever. When the midwife asked me if I wanted to catch the baby I quickly responded that I didn't know, but that did not stop her from telling me how to cradle his little neck into my hand and prepare for the next push. My son, a beautiful gooey mess of purple skin and slimy hair, slid into my hands at 1:11am, and my life changed forever. I held him as he took his first breath. I held him as he cried; shocked at the cold air that now surrounded him. I held him as he nestled into his mother's arms. I was a daddy.
When I was eight I didn't know how to ride a bike. This wouldn't be a problem if my friends didn't like to ride, but we were living in Louisiana, where every street and vacant lot had an adventure to be explored. I tried to blend in with my training wheels keeping me upright, but how could any self-respecting lizard hunter and tadpole collector go on safari with training wheels? My parents had divorced several years earlier, and despite my mom's best effort to give us everything we needed, I still needed a dad. That is where my French speaking friend Felix stepped in, and taught me one of the most basic lessons in life. We hijacked my sister's training wheel free bike and started practice. I fell, and I fell a lot. When I wanted to quit, I was told that the only way to learn was to get back on and fall some more. Felix patiently helped me off the ground and on the bike every time I fell. Finally the moment came when I was pedaling faster than he could run. I was on my own! I wish I knew the words that Felix shouted as I made my way down the sidewalk and across the street. I wish that I knew the words in French to thank my friend who stepped into a role that wasn't required of him. I wish I knew where he was today.
At thirteen I was the fat, white, Mormon kid in a school where I did not fit in. Tennessee was not a great place for me to attend junior high. Really though, is there ever a great place to attend junior high? Up until this point in my life, basketball was played on a six foot hoop with friends late into the evening. This concept of a ten foot hoop played in a gym with a bunch of large strangers seemed foreboding at best. Not knowing any rules, I hoped to avoid detection by just standing to the side and letting the other boys work their magic. I was great at standing. In fact, I was so great at standing that they let me stand under the hoop and took turns driving down the key and slamming their massive frames into my prepubescent body. Since they all seemed to enjoy this, I must be doing something right. So in spite of the pain and embarrassment I remained under the hoop to serve as the "dummy" for their practice. It would have been nice to know the rules of the game, but I did not have that option. Life dealt me a hand free from the education of sports and the knowledge of how to stand up to a bully. I didn't like it. I didn't know any different. I thought that this is just the way life is.
My son is still growing. At 18 months, he has life figured out. He knows how to eat. He knows how to communicate as he makes the signs for "food", "milk", "more" and "diaper." He even knows where to find my wallet and pull out all of its contents. The other day we were in the backyard, and I was watching him play on the slide. Climbing up the ladder and then going down the slide, he spent his time enjoying the beautiful day. After a few climbs and a few slides, he lost his balance and was close to falling off the slide. I watched from a distance knowing that he was only two feet from the ground, and that as much as I wanted to help him back into place, it was important that he learn life lessons like this on his own. He eventually climbed back into place. Looking around the yard he saw me and smiled. Taking a break from his toys, he climbed into my lap seeking comfort and love from someone who will always be there to give it. I love my son. I enjoy every moment of watching him grow. I am a dad.
Friday, October 23, 2009
The Great Delusion
Among philosophers from different backgrounds, the free will problem continues to create debates and stand in contrast with the omniscience of God. If one supposes that God is a perfect being, all knowing, all good, all powerful, then how can man act independently of God's will? Wouldn't the will of an all-powerful god have power to force the human race into submission? From the Determinist to the Libertarian, many conflicting views create the uncertainty of our role in the world.
In order to come to an answer about free will, we must first understand the three schools of thought in regards to the nature of God. By understanding the theology and definitions of God, we can then define our relationship with Him.
I claim that free will does exist and does not take away any traits from a perfect God; rather the existence of free will proves that not only is God omnipotent but also merciful and loving—traits that should be held by a Supreme Being.
A classical theologian like Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) subscribed to the theology of determinism which is: "the view that everything that happens is uniquely determined to happen by prior events and states of the universe (Shatz, 556)." In other words, God has already set life into motion, and everything that will happen has been decided by God before any person came into existence. A determinist believes that God is the source of everything. If anything happens, then it happened because God wanted it to be that way. All of our actions, past and future, have been decided, and we are not free to act on our own.
This philosophy is strengthened when one considers the omniscience of God. If God is all knowing, then He knows how we will act. A perfect God must possess this attribute of knowing everything in order to be supreme. If God knows that something will happen, then it must happen or He will no longer be omniscient— and no longer worthy of our worship.
While this form of belief may bring comfort to many who look for order in a chaotic world, this notion of God eliminating our ability to choose unsettles many. For those looking to have a personal relationship with deity, the deterministic view is cold and subservient. According to William Hasker, a professor at Huntington College, this relationship with God can be compared to a puppet tied by string to a puppet master who controls all movements and voice (Shatz, 56). In following the deterministic philosophy, a person surrenders all autonomy to this higher power and acknowledges their station in life as the will of God.
The critique of determinism continues with the issues of sin and evil. If one supposes that a benevolent God is the source and cause of everything, then where does evil come from? How could a perfectly good God create evil? How can a person sin when God has decided that choice for them? To answer these questions while keeping with the deterministic philosophy, all things are done because that is the way God had planned it. This answer does not provide any clarity on the questions of evil and sin, nor does it help the believer build a personal relationship with this God. In claiming that God is the source of all suffering, the believer cannot seek comfort or refuge, or plead for help from this being. This callous thinking comforts only those who want to have a concrete explanation for the mysteries of life.
The philosophy of the Compatibilist closely resembles that of the Determinist in that a person's free will is real and in harmony with determinism. A person can act according their own will and desire if it is true for them to act at that time. A person can only make a choice if that choice has been approved. With compatibilism, God retains all His power, knowledge and goodness while still allowing humans their freedom to choose.
The compatibilist argument satisfies both the need for God to be perfect and the human need for independence. Each and every person is able to act according to their own will. However, this idea of free will cannot be real if our choices are contingent on the need to be "true" for us. We have two choices when waking up in the morning: get out of bed on the right side, or get out of bed on the left side. We could choose either option, but the perfect omniscient God would already know what side we will get out from. This perfect God cannot be wrong. Therefore, our action must comply, and be "true" for us. The only choice we can make will be the choice that God already knows. While we may think that we have options, God knows that we have only one action—His action; thus causing our free will to be nothing more than an illusion.
This illusion of free will may still give comfort to people who look to God for answers to life, but there are many still that do not see how an illusion of free will is the same thing as being able to choose. We are still trapped inside of a prison even if we do not realize it.
Libertarians, or incompatibilists, argue that free will is real. According to Hasker: "an agent is free with respect to a given action at a given time if at that time it is within the agent's power to perform that action and also in the agent's power to refrain from that action. (Shatz, 55)" A person can act however they desire if they are able to and if they can say no. We simply can't try to fly and then claim that God is restricting our free will because we are not able to avoid the law of gravity, but we could choose to jump off a cliff, or choose to not jump off a cliff without any determined outcome. In this view of free will, we are truly free agents to according to our own desires.
This libertarian view of free will also eliminates the problem of sin and evil. People are free to choose—to sin or not sin. If a person is considered "evil" or a "sinner" they have chosen that path; God did not decide this for them.
However, the problem with this idea arises when talking about the power of God. In the libertarian philosophy, God is no longer all knowing as there is no way that He can know how we will act if the choice is left to us. If God does not know something then He is no longer perfect. The Libertarian now must tweak the concept of God to fit with his definition of free will.
God is still omniscient, but that does not mean that He sees the future. Rather as an all knowing God, He knows everything that can be known. He cannot be expected to know things that have not occurred as they have not yet happened. Strengthening this argument further, the Libertarian then asserts that God knows all the possible outcomes for any situation we are in. While He may know our many options and their outcomes, He allows us to make that choice for ourselves.
The Determinist vs. The Libertarian
In comparing these three views, we can quickly eliminate the compatibilistic argument as they eventually revert back to the deterministic view that the outcome is already known to God and therefore must happen. The remaining two arguments both have strengths that appeal to the believer. The God of the Determinist is all knowing; there is nothing unknown or surprising to this God. The Libertarian will admit that there are things that his God does not know.
The Determinist takes comfort in knowing that all problems and sorrows come from God for some unknown reason, but by faith they accept this as divine. The Libertarian cannot answer for the calamities that fall upon the human race. However, the Libertarian can claim to be a free agent in respect to God while the Determinist can't. The Libertarian takes comfort in building a personal relationship with this Supreme Being whereas the Determinist's relationship with God remains distant and cold as they have no claim on their own actions of good or evil.
The libertarian argument remains the stronger of the two as it clearly allows for a more intimate understanding of God. In their argument of God's omniscience, they do not take away from His power and glory, but they still are able to explain the problem of evil and sin. The deterministic view creates a rigid unbending law that can only be explained by denying simple logic. One must deny that free will exists, and also they must deny that God is able to change.
I agree with the libertarian view also because of my desire to act as an independent agent. Clearly there is a selfish reason to this thinking, but the evidence of their argument also allows for God to still know all possible outcomes. Isn't that knowledge still worthy of worship? The assertion that free will is just an illusion still remains a possibility, but clearly delving into a debate on relativism in regards to this will only lead to more questions and fewer answers. In believing in free will and the existence of a loving benevolent God, we must subscribe to libertarianism as that theology allows for both the perfect God and the free man.
Shatz, David. Philosphy and Faith: A Philosophy of Religion Reader. 1st ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2002. Print.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
This is my most recent paper done for my Creative Non-fiction class. I chose to write about the first date I had with my wife. Enjoy.
So much to do and so little time, throwing my work clothes on the floor and jumping into the shower, I make a mental list of all the things I need to do for this date: 1) dress nice, I need to impress this one because she is something special, 2) drive from my apartment in Queens to her office in midtown, 3) find parking, 4) find her office, 5) most important, don't screw this up!
What is there to screw up? It really isn't a big deal if she likes me or not, so why do I allow myself to get so caught up in the game? Who is this woman that she can have such sway over my sanity without my permission? My jumbled nerves only add to the stress I feel, and I quickly come to the conclusion that the sooner I accept the reality of a failed date, the sooner I can go on with my life. The date hasn't even begun and I throw up the white flag pleading for mercy. Of course years from now I will look back at this small moment and laugh at the stress I felt, and I will smile when I tell my wife how nervous I was that she might not have liked me.
What makes her so special? I could tell you about her intelligence and determination to attend and graduate from Princeton University and then go on to Graduate School in New York, but that wouldn't describe her people skills. I could tell you about when I saw her teaching a horde of hungry twenty-somethings easily transitioning from Spanish to English so everyone could understand, but that wouldn't describe her beauty. I could tell you about the first time I saw her in New Jersey, and when she came through the door I noticed a glow surrounding this exquisite Latina with a sincere smile and a welcoming aura, but that wouldn't suffice to describe my date. She has become the subject of every thought as the ever-present butterflies fill my body during every encounter I have with her.
At 6pm in NYC, traffic is my greatest foe. Fighting through the masses of commuters struggling for the last inch of roadway, I map out what I hope will be the quickest way to cover the 10 mile drive. 78th Ave. to Myrtle; Myrtle to Woodhaven, take Woodhaven to the Long Island Expressway straight into the Queens Midtown Tunnel and then with any luck I can avoid the congested corners and arrive at her office by 7.
Of course traffic won't be as difficult as getting her to agree to a date with me in the first place. Why is it that at 26 years of age, I still have problems asking girls out? I sat at my desk looking at her number that she gave me, I questioned myself as to if she really would go out with me. I bit the bullet and dialed. She answered, but was too busy to talk; she will call me back later. I watched my phone all afternoon up until it was time to go home. At home she called me and I gathered the courage to ask her to dinner? What kind of dinner? She asked. The kind with food, of course! My humor helped little to ease the awkward tension I felt as she questioned my motives. I settled on the "just friends" kind of dinner that crushed my hopes of romance, but offered me a glimpse at the chance.
Thankfully, I find parking one block north of her office in a construction zone left empty by the homeward bound workers. With 5 minutes before my deadline I get into the elevator that will lift me even higher than my elated state. Upon reaching her floor I exit anticipating her welcome as we start our evening together, but I find an empty desk where a receptionist should sit. I call out and she responds from around the corner that I should enter. She has some more work to do, but if it is alright, I can wait for her in the lobby. With a heart that won't slow and legs that won't stand still I put on my façade of the "cool guy" who thinks that this evening is nothing more than a casual dinner between friends, but secretly I watch her face and body for clues that she really doesn't want me around in case I need to run away and salvage what little pride I have left; she smiles.
She wants me to stay.
I take some time to evaluate myself in the mirror. Spiky hair? Check. No food in my teeth? Check. Cool plaid shirt that everyone but me thinks is dreadful? Check. I look great! When we are on the street, she mentions a place she enjoys that is trendy and affordable and I quickly approve; the less time I spend talking, the less time I spend looking like a fool. At Republic, a hopping scene with fresh and tasty Thai food, we are greeted and I scan the restaurant hoping to find something on someone's table that I recognize and like, so that I can order without scratching my head like a giant ogre staring at the menu.
I spent several hours at work trying to find a great place that would be perfect for this date. I love diners and thought that she just might enjoy a large plate of cheese fries as much as me. I sent a few text messages with the hope of being on her mind, but found that I received much more—she flirted back. It wasn't overt, but I got a hint of maybe just a little crush for me when she said that she was looking forward to tonight and maybe we could do something after dinner. Maybe—that means if I don't screw up over dinner and keep her happy, I get more time with her.
Oh shit, there's a problem.
The tables in this place are fancy picnic tables with multiple parties sitting at one giant plank of wood. I have never had luck with sitting at any table that I couldn't move a chair far away from to get my massive 300 pound frame nestled into comfortably. With a couple "Hail Mary's" I squeeze and twist and plop onto the bench while holding my breath to save me a couple inches and hoping that I didn't look as stupid as I just felt.
I have a history of breaking chairs. The first happened in my parent's backyard leaning back in their outdoor cassock on a nice summer evening. The wood split. Without warning, I found myself on the ground with a sore butt and laughing family. With splinters still gracing my behind, I was at my grandma's birthday party sitting on what I thought was a stable metal folding chair—it wasn't. After standing up, I inspected the chair hoping to find evidence of foul play, but the facts don't lie; popped rivets and bent steel proved my guilt. Tonight would be a bad night to add another shattered chair to my collection.
She sits across from me and we begin the enjoyable conversations that I am "pro" at. Say something smart- check. Say something funny- check. Say something to make her smile—I am on a roll. When the menus come, I have no fear and I am starting to feel invincible; especially since the meals are described in English so I didn't need to ask what dish had chicken. The conversation continues and I am convinced that I am Adonis; captivating in every way and the true desire of her heart. Then the food comes, oh shit.
We have another problem.
Chopsticks! Really, chopsticks? I can't eat with chopsticks; since I was a young kid I had tried and tried again, but thankfully we lived in a country where forks were standard and people needed to ask for chopsticks. I have three choices at this point: 1) admit being a fool and ask for a fork, 2) hope she won't notice what I fool I am for dropping noodles all over my shirt, 3) run out of the building and back to the car and hope that I never run into this girl again. I choose the second, but only because people had sat down to my left and I am unable to get out of the table to make my escape. I find that if I take my bites while she is taking hers, I have one or two seconds in which I can stab my food and slide it into my mouth without her seeing. Crisis averted.
What is it about those early days of love when passions magnify the most mundane aspects of our lives? Feeling the undeniable butterflies of having a crush on a girl makes me giddy, and imagine a younger world where I needed multiple "cootie shots" to survive the square dance lessons of elementary school. How have I matured into becoming a dopamine junkie not wanting to release the dragon's tail even in the face of certain death? This evening's roller coaster ride of emotion is almost complete. I don't want to get off this ride just yet.
Fortune smiles upon me and we finish the meal without incident, and I find myself wishing for some more time with her. I had convinced her for dinner, but now I see a snapshot of myself standing outside the restaurant trying to keep conversation alive with rapid questions and uncomfortable puns while not wanting to admit the night is over. What is she going to do now? I asked her. She wants to see a movie. I pause, with me? Yes, with me.
She wants me to stay.