Mute…

I stated definitively that I would never “unfriend” someone on social media because of their political views. I’ll block you in a hot second if you can’t manage to be at least civil, but never because of views alone. I have to confess that there are more than a few people out there who are really putting my determination to keep my word to the test.

The simple fact is I mostly don’t care what your politics are. It’s not the basis on which I pick my friends. I do however, judge people who simply decide to abandon the best available science and the rigorous application of reason because those two elements don’t quite jive with whatever particular world view they’ve staked out.

Look, I’m not even going to argue we should blindly follow along in lock step with the pronouncements of the scientists and doctors. We should at least acknowledge that modern medicine has a pretty good track record of keeping most of us alive well past the age when our distance ancestors were food for worms. At the very least, our decisions should be informed by science – even if we just use it to acknowledge that there’s a price in lives to pay for rushing to return to business as usual – and no, I’m not making a judgement there, just admitting that it has to be part of the calculus.

I know no one ever likes the smartest kid in the class. That’s practically the classic American trope. I’m not saying you even have to like the scientists, but history tells me that we’ll ignore them at our peril. I’m not going to unfriend anyone because they want to trust in the blood of Jesus instead of the shot of antivirals… but you can bet your ass I’ve been muting people with wild abandon these last couple of weeks.

The reason for the season…

Christmas is soon to be upon us. Yes, yes, it’s all about Jesus and Santa and shopping and family. I’m more than passingly familiar with what makes the contemporary Christmas season swing. I personally don’t have a thing against any of it.

Still, though, I think we’re all forgetting what makes this season really important… and that’s the simple truth that the winter solstice is about to arrive and that within a few days the amount of daylight we enjoy here in the northern hemisphere will start getting measurably longer. It’ll be an agonizingly slow process, but with a few weeks it will be really noticeable. Instead of darkness at 4:45, it will have pushed nightfall back to 5:00 PM and it won’t be pitch black when I take the dogs out for the last time before work.

I’ve never been the kind of guy who wants to lay out soaking up the sun, but I can certainly understand why there’s a thread running through ancient civilizations that finds many of them celebrating the Sun as a god. I’m not a particularly religious person by anyone’s standards, but you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be giving thanks this holiday season that the longest night of the year is about to be comfortably in the rear view and longer days are ahead.

Here I stand…

September 17th. It’s Constitution Day. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last half decade pondering the Constitution. That doesn’t make me a scholar or imbue me with expert status on the topic by a long stretch. I still like to think between reading and thinking and trying to digest just what the founding generation were up to, it gives me a better than average perspective on the fundamental taproot of our government and laws.

In my estimation, the men who wrote, argued over, and eventually signed the Constitution were a mountain taller than even the best politician serving in office today. The fact that the system they designed is able to even creak along under the guidance of the hacks we’ve collectively elected to office in Washington speaks to their ability to design a system that could be operated even by this bunch of strutting and preening empty suits.

Not so very long ago I was accused of “worshiping at the altar” of the Constitution, with the implication being that doing so was somehow “un-Christian.” I’m sure it was meant to imply something negative in my character, but in my mind the truth is precisely the opposite. I don’t propose to be governed any more by Christian theology any more than I’d accept being ruled by extremist Islam. You can bugger right off with that nonsense. A moral compass is a fine thing to have, but I’ve never found that you need to be overtly religious to have one of those in your kit bag.

I was raised and protected and have grown and prospered under the rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. As an adult I swore an oath to support and defend those rights and liberties against all enemies… and there’s not a force on earth or in heaven that could compel me to go back on that long held promise. I will walk this world cloaked in the protections and liberty afforded me as an American citizen and defined by the Constitution and its amendments.

Here I stand. Come and move me.

Giving up…

Someone, someone who clearly knows nothing about me, asked today what I was giving up for Lent. Well, look, while it’s all well and good for others who are moved by the spirit to give up chocolate, or booze, or sex, or social media for the duration, I’m not the type to willingly “give up” on anything really.

I’m the type to hang on to the things I like until my knuckles are white and my fingers shake with exhaustion. I’m the type to embrace my favored lost causes in a bear hug. I’m the type who takes his pleasures where he finds them in the here and now.

While I am those many things and more, what I’m not is the kind of guy who finds much use in fasting, penance, atonement, and self-denial. Hair shirts and self-flagellation just don’t fit into my view of the world and how I want to experience it. I don’t think, if there is an all knowing and all powerful God above, that He cares if we stop eating chocolate for the next 39 days. If I’m going to believe there’s a grand architect to this universe of ours, I have to believe that running it involves a little more focus on the big picture than worrying over what one individual, in one minor species, on a small planet, circling a insignificant star, in the outer spiral arm of a unremarkable galaxy is putting in his belly.

Argument nullification…

Although I’ve been disengaged from most of the week’s news and social media content, I haven’t been able to completely avoid the plethora of posts that insist “you can’t be a Christian if you do or believe ‘X'”. I also observe that this kind of comment is posted often by people who decry the influence of religion in government.

Maybe you see where I’m going with this. Arguing that elected leaders should “act like Christians” and in the next breath insist that religion has no role in government tends to nullify at least one if not both of your positions. If you’re going to criticize intellectual inconsistency from a place of intellectual inconsistency I’m going to struggle with your argument. But maybe that’s just me.

Mixed emotions…

The Pope is coming to the District tomorrow. I saw the previous Pope in his natural habitat the last time I passed through ye olde Eternal City. It’s quite a spectacle. It’s hard to beat St. Peter’s as a backdrop and you can well imagine that a two thousand year old organization has mostly worked the kinks out of its pomp and protocol. Even for a mostly non-religious guy like me it’s something to see. My inner historian eats it up.

Seeing a Pope in Washington, though, strikes me as something akin to seeing a jelly doughnut in health food store. It’s still tasty and good, but it’s not quite right. Frankly I’m not sure I trust my countrymen, particularly the Members of Congress, to avoid making asses of themselves on the international stage. If there was ever a chance to ramp up your notoriety in the press, heckling the Pope from the 17th row of the House of Representatives would rank right up there.

As religious leaders go, I like Francis well enough. Clearly I don’t agree with all of his messaging and I find his political bent deeply suspect, but among world leaders he feels like a good man trying to do an insanely difficult job. I’ve got mixed emotions when it comes to this Pope. I’m probably more a John Paul II guy when it comes right down to it – Democracy good; Communism bad. Simple and to the point. I’m not so sure Francis would so much stand up to a Soviet Union as he would give them pointers on creating a more perfect socialist paradise.

Even if I disagree with the man on issues of faith and politics, I fervently hope we can at least manage to avoid embarrassing ourselves for 48 hours. It’s a big ask, so say a prayer, or cross your fingers, or do whatever it is your supposed to do to bring on a bit of good luck.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Being robbed by the rich.” Based on what I see popping up from time to time on social media I should be furious because the money I’m supposed to have has apparently been stolen by the uber-wealthy. A quick look at this month’s bank statement will show without a doubt that I’m not one of them. Somehow I don’t feel like I’ve been the victim of theft, though. I started saving when I got my first job, made some good trades, and got lucky on more than one occasion. I’ve managed to stash a little back for the proverbial rainy day and for the far off day when I’m neither willing nor able to work any longer. Because there isn’t as much there as I’d like isn’t an indication that it was stolen from me so much as it’s an indication that I need to do a better job saving. There’s a vocal little group out there who apparently think the “rich” have snuck into my account and walked away with a bag of cash. Truth be told, I’m far more worried about long term inflation and the devaluation of the dollar than I am the “Wall Street Banksters” raiding me for pocket change.

2. Low grade crud. I’ve been suffering from some kind of low grade crud for weeks now. Some days are worse than others, but mostly it presents as a stuffy nose, occasional cough, and sore throat that sort of comes and goes of its own accord. It’s annoying, but not to the level of being worth having anyone check it out. Whatever’s in there coming and going needs to just go because it has more than worn out its welcome.

3. “Islamophobia.” Rest assured when I use the phrase Islamic terrorist I know exactly what I mean. I mean a terrorist who is either motivated by their Islamic faith or one who is using it as a justification for barbaric actions. Despite what some busybody old bat standing near me in line last weekend thinks, it’s not an indication that I am “Islamophobic.” I most assuredly don’t fear Islam or any other religion for that matter. I use Islamic terrorist to denote an asshat or asshats who claim to use one of the world’s great religions as justification for everything from petty crime, to mass murder, to acts of war. Rest assured, just as soon as a Methodist or Catholic shoots up Mad Magazine because Jesus told them to I’ll be among the first in line condemning them for it. I don’t blame a whole faith for the actions of a few, but I damned well do blame that faith when they don’t rise up in one voice to condemn those splinter elements who are pirating the name of their God for a decidedly ungodly purpose.

What Jeff Likes this Week

This week it’s a no brainer. What I like is the Winter Solstice. More specifically what I like is that from here on through mid-June the days are going to get longer. Even though Winter is just officially starting, the solstice comes with the promise that at some point in the fairly near future I’ll get to feel the sun on my skin on a weekday rather than just being able to looking at it through a tinted glass office window.

This might be a bit presumptive since this evening is technically the longest night of the year, but that’s just a bit of technicality. What’s more important is what comes after – the longer days, the warmer weather (eventually), the growing grass, and abundant critters. There’s still a long slog through the coldest months of the year, but the solstice reminds us that even in its depths, winter won’t last forever. The sun will rise, push back the darkness, and bathe the world in its glory again.

Hummm… I wonder if there isn’t a metaphor in there somewhere. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that so many of the religions founded in the northern hemisphere have some sort of traditional celebration this time of year.

Note: This is the 5th entry in a six-part series appearing on jeffreytharp.com by request.

Review me…

Retribution: Chasing Hearts and Minds has been out there in the wild for a little over a week now. I know from a few private messages and from the retailer’s weekly reports that a few copies are floating around. The individual feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – and trust me I never get tired of hearing good things about myself so I thank all of you who have taken the time to drop me a note. I do, however, have one small favor to ask of those of you who have already purchased your own copy (and those of you who plan to purchase your copy in the future).

It would be incredibly helpful for me if you’d go back to your retailer’s page and leave a review. I’d never presume to tell you what kind of feedback to give – either positive or negative – but as I’ve learned the hard way, when it comes to selling ebooks, nothing gets a no-name work noticed like good reviews and ratings. In addition to total sales numbers, reviews are a big part of the secret algorithms the big retailers use to decide what moves up the rankings, what gets featured, and what doesn’t.

Retribution will probably never make it to Amazon’s top ten in ebooks > sci-fi > dystopian, but if someone were to happen across it using a key word search, a few reviews could really help make the difference between picking up their own copy and moving on to the next alternative.

To pick up your own copy or leave a review, all you need to do is follow one of these helpful links:

Once you’re there, I’m sure you can figure out what to do without any more prodding from me. Now go forth and say great things!

Retribution…

Retribution - CoverGod watched His creation evolve since long before the written word. He watched even as the first vertebrate flopped out of the sea. He watched long before that. He had great expectations for this new world. This was the one He hoped would finally get it right.

Even though Man was created in His image, they possessed a particularly irksome ability to veer wildly off script. It didn’t help that God’s one-time right hand spent every waking moment for eons finding new and exciting ways to tempt them away from their pre-ordained course.

Once upon a time, a bit of flooding, razing a few misbehaving cities, a smiting here and there, and the occasional miracle had been enough to keep the masses on the straight and narrow. In an age of endless entertainment and short attention spans, even an omniscient and almighty God was apt to have trouble getting His point across.

Retribution: Chasing Hearts and Minds is the story of what happens when the Old Testament God clashes head-to-head with the modern world.

My virgin effort at fiction in a short story format is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.