Wednesday, December 9, 2015

November and December 2015 Reading List

For some reason, I’ve been really into reading recently. That may sound obvious coming from me. But I mean: really into reading.

The weird thing, though, is that almost everything I’ve read recently has been very out-of-character for me. (Not every single book, but most of them.) Many of the books I’ve read are not books that I would normally ever have considered reading before. Since Halloween, I’ve foregone the high quality I usually aim for in literature, and just devoured some much more silly/just-for-fun books. I guess I’ve just being reading…guilty pleasures(?) Something like that, at least.

Oddly, since Halloween, I haven’t read any books unless they were mass-market paperbacks (with the exception of manga, which have their own size to them). Even books that sounds appealing to me right now, I won’t read unless they’re in mass-market-paperback form. Weird. I can't explain it.

* * *

So then. Since Halloween, I have read:

Novels & Novellas…

Shutter Island by Denis Lehane - 5/5
Of all the books I’m listing here, this is the first I read. And, at this point, it’s still by far the best of them all. I had already seen and loved the movie. The movie is actually very faithful to the book—rare. The book is very well written. Strong, believable characters. Absolutely great pacing—something you really don’t want to put down. And, of course, it remains a twisty, wonderfully psychological story.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut - 4/5

Congo by Michael Crichton - 3/5

The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad - 4/5
I actually read this once before, I believe about 8 years ago. I don’t remember having much of an opinion of it back then, but I thought it was rather interesting this time around. Very eerie. Good use of setting, and, of course, Mr. Kurtz remains a deeply interesting character.

Batman Arkham Knight: the Riddler’s Gambit by Alex Irvine - 2.5/5

Lost Horizon by James Hinton - 3.5/5
I was attracted to this because it takes place in Tibet. It’s nothing at all like the real Tibet, but it was still a cool, unique story. And the main character is one of the most well fleshed-out characters I’ve encountered in quite a long time (definitely the strongest character from all the books in this list, at least).

47 Ronin by Joan D. Vinge - 4.5/5
Now here’s an interesting one…this is, in fact, a novelization of the recent Keanu Reeves movie, which was universally panned. Keep in mind that this means the book came after the movie. I, on the other hand, actually read this book before seeing the movie. (I’ve since watched the movie.) That said, the book was GREAT. Very strongly written. Despite being the longest book out of this whole list, I breezed through it in about two days. A cool story, all about honor and integrity. Good emotional impact. The movie was...pretty bad. It didn’t go into the characterizations nearly as well as the book, and much of the emotional impact was lessened, or absent altogether. The movie was just an excuse for action; the book was a powerful story. Definitely—perhaps surprisingly—the second best book (after Shutter Island) in this list.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm by Greg Keyes - 1.5/5
Not very good. Also, it had more typos than possibly any other published book I’ve read. My goodness, that editor should have lost his job over this.

Batman Arkham Knight by Marv Wolfman - 2/5

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King - 3.5/5
The writing is good. The story is good. But, surprisingly, the movie is actually better. Much more satisfying, and the arrangement of the scenes is a bit better structured. Still a good plot though, and the characters are probably equally strong (in both the book and the movie).


Final Fantasy Type-0 - 3.5/5

Final Fantasy Type-0: the Ice Reaper 1 - 4.5/5
Final Fantasy Type-0: the Ice Reaper 2 - 4.5/5
These are pretty fun, but if you’re not a fan of the Final Fantasy games already (or of manga), then there probably isn’t much here to appeal to you. I’m excited to continue the Ice Reaper series though.

Wolf Children by Mamoru Hosoda - 5/5
Absolutely, positively wonderful. Beautiful. Not much to say about it beyond that. A great manga for people who may not really care for manga.

Another by Yukito Ayatsuji - 4.5/5

Books I started but didn't finish...

Mortal Kombat by Jeff Rovin
Yes, this is a novel based on the video games. Bizarre tidbit about me: of ALL the books I own, this is the book I’ve owned the longest. Very weird, I know. Of all books, why this one? I read it when I first bought it (1993), and remember liking it. I dug it out of the closet last month, gave it another go, and, after about 60 pages, decided I’d rather just leave it as a fond memory.

The Thousand and One Ghosts by Alexandre Dumas
Read about half of it. Pretty interesting and well-written, just not what I’m currently in the mood for. 

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Read the first 30 or so pages. Even for Jane Austen, this one is especially well-written. Rather humorous, too. I only set it aside because, like Thousand and One Ghosts, it's not what I'm in the mood for right now.

Borderlands: Unconquered by John Shirley
Read about 30-40 pages. Horrible. Just…horrible.

Vampire Hunter D 3: Demon Deathchase by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Read about half. Meh.

Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami
Read about 30-40 pages. The setting is very visual, eerie, and well-developed. However, there are a few things about it that bother me, of which I will only mention two:
1)      Personally, I don’t like biographical fiction. I don’t want to read about a fictional character’s entire life. Just isolate the days/months/years most relevant to the overall story and give me those.
2)      If you’re ever going to read it: absolutely, whatever you do, SKIP PAGE 1. Just start on page 2. It’s okay; you won’t miss out on anything important to the story. Trust me. The images described on page 1 are just…not okay. I really wish I could unsee them.  I sort of feel angry that Murakami included them at all; I haven’t quite forgiven him for that yet—hence why I decided to set this aside for now.

Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrams
Read 30-40 pages (I guess that’s about how long it takes for me to come up with a basic opinion on a book…) Fun and quirky. Well written, but a little too cutesy for me right now. 

Again, this is everything I’ve read just since Halloween. I’ve been very, very busy.

Currently, I’m reading…

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan
A little over halfway through so far. Interesting, intense story. Different spin on the vampire mythos. Not very well written though. The characters aren’t terribly well-crafted. And Chuck Hogan likes his thesaurus a little too much. I’m interested enough in the story to check out the other two books in the trilogy, but I’m not in a hurry to do so. (And no, I haven't watched the TV show based on these books.)

And, finally, my next book will (probably) be…

Shogun by James Clavell (I just ordered it though, and it’s possible it may not arrive until a few days after I finish the Strain. In which case, I may read one other book in the meantime. Not sure what…)

* * *

So there you have it. :) 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Secret Garden

I remember that, one day when I was younger, my great-grandmother took me to see the movie The Secret Garden in a theatre near her house in Palm Springs. I seem to remember it being a rather small theatre—certainly much less grandiose than the monolithic cinemas we are surrounded by today—and that you had to walk through a small, lattice, ivy-laced archway and into a simple portico to get to the theatre’s front door. I have no idea if this description of the theatre even remotely resembles the truth about the place; it’s just what I envision now, for whatever reason.

If I recall, I believe I stayed the night at my great-grandmother’s house the night before, and she had explained that this was going to be our plan for the next day.

For some completely inexplicable reason, I simply knew that The Secret Garden was going to become my favorite movie. I think I may have even told my great-grandmother this. I was, of course, very excited the night before, to be going to see my favorite movie for the first time.

I have no idea why I had simply decided that this movie was going to be my favorite. I knew nothing of the story at the time. I hadn’t read the book – probably, at the time, I didn’t even know it was based on a book.

But I was eight years old. So of course I was excited; of course I could predict the future.

I think something about the idea of a magical garden appealed to me. Though I had not yet seen enough of the world or of the forest or of trees to realize how intimately spiritual they can be, still, I think that somehow I was vaguely aware that plant life had some sort of near-magical quality to it that was worth pondering, and certainly worth making a movie about.

So The Secret Garden was going to be my favorite movie, and that was the end of it.

The big day came, and we saw the movie. I remember liking every moment that the main characters were in the garden—the “secret” garden—exploring, wandering, giving in to its magic. And I thought Colin seemed like a rather interesting person, someone I might even like to know, even though he was quite grumpy at first.

Once the movie ended, however, I remember thinking that the whole movie felt like it was leading up to this surreal (a word I, no doubt, did not know at the time) climax (another word I did not know), but that it sort of just fizzled out. (Did I know “fizzle” then? – probably not.) There was something about a fire towards the end, I believe. (Or was that fire in the beginning? Now I seem to recall the movie pretty much starting with a fire…)

Anymore, though, I can’t remember a single other thing about the climax or the ending. Also, I remember that I thought most every moment of movie outside of the garden was actually kind of flat. (I don’t think that, at the time, I’d have considered using the word “flat” synonymously with “boring” – movie scenes are not deflated balls, after all.)

But I had already decided that The Secret Garden was going to be my favorite movie; there was no changing that now.

I don’t remember what we did after we left the theatre—back across the patio, back through the lattice archway—but I believe that at some point before we even returned to my great-grandmother’s house, I had to admit that, actually, The Secret Garden was probably my second favorite movie. I mean, sure, it was a great movie, but it wasn’t actually the very best. There was, after all, Jurassic Park, which came out two months previously and which I saw a total of seven times in the theatre. (Was it really seven whole times? I say that number now, but actually I really can’t say if this number is exactly true. It was certainly several times, at the very least.)

I only saw The Secret Garden once in the theatre. In fact, I’ve only seen The Secret Garden once ever.

I can’t say precisely how long I continued to say that The Secret Garden was my second favorite movie, but I’d be surprised to find out that it was longer than a week, two at most.

How could I possibly have known that my prediction of the future would be wrong? I was a mighty eight years old, after all. I knew everything else.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Halfway Between Europe and Emily (or, “On Turning 30”)

When I was in my teens and early 20's, I would often say that “I knew for sure” that I wasn't going to die until I was at least 30. Somehow I just knew, I would say.

As of about five hours ago, it turns out that I was right.

I've done plenty of reckless things; this “for sure” was always my justification. Of course, now that I've actually reached 30, I see how silly the whole thing was. Surviving isn't always easy. It isn't always optional. Some people make it to 30. Many people don't.

I'm one of the lucky ones.

There was a day in my early 20's when I was having what felt like the worst day of my life. Everything was going wrong. It felt like a few of my closest friends were all betraying me simultaneously. I was being accused of a few things that were hurtful and untrue (nothing illegal or anything like that; just a few curious things that were enough to make me feel victimized and down on myself).

I was going to CNM at the time, and, that particular day, I had some business to take care of at their main campus. Some of those aforementioned things kept unraveling for me throughout the day until, at last, when it was time for me to leave the campus, I honestly hoped that I wouldn't survive the 30-minute car ride home.
I wasn't going to do anything dangerous myself—fundamentally, I've never considered suicide to be a viable “option”—but I remember very distinctly just hoping some other driver on the road would happen to be not paying enough attention, or driving selfishly, or just plain stupidly.
That drive home, of course, went by without incident. And, perhaps it's needless to say now, I'm happy that it did.
This day was about a month or two after my trip to Europe. You'd think that someone who just got back from—what should have been, but wasn't really—my “dream trip” wouldn't have had so much to complain about or be upset about. I went halfway around the world. What was there to be so unhappy about?
But, of course, that's not how life works, it's not how hurt works, and it's not how our hearts work.
Part of me wants to look back to that day now and think the whole thing was just plain silly. So what if some of my friends were being ridiculous? So what if people were being hurtful or selfish or un-understanding? It's how people are; this shouldn't be a surprise, and it shouldn't hurt us more than we can allow it.
We're so critical of our own pasts, though. It's easy to look back and think of how wrong or dumb we were at various moments or times in our lives. And sure, of course we do some wrong and some dumb things. But, when we judge our pasts like this, we belittle ourselves. We act like we should have known better, when the reality is that, at the time, we were trying to do the best we could with the pieces we had. We act ashamed of those moments, even though the fact is that they were all part of the grand narrative that brought us to where we are today.
We do not live in a vacuum. There is very little way to know how things will all turn out. We have to live momentarily, and I think it's unfair of us to look back on ourselves as if we knew then what we know now.
Who's to say on July 31, 2025, I won't be looking back on this moment, this time of my life—maybe even this very blog—and thinking how silly I was being today?
So please, let us not be so critical of our pasts. And let us not be so critical of people younger than us who are “just being silly” or who “just don't get it yet.” They have their own pieces they're sorting out, their own narratives that they're working through, and we have ours. “Let no one despise your youth,” and all that.
I said that this terrible, no good, very bad day I was describing was about a month or two after my trip to Europe.
It was also about a month or two before I met Emily.
It turns out that beauty is where you make it; it's not only in any other corner of the world besides the one you're in. And it turns out that life is always more worthwhile than our heart lets us believe sometimes.
When I was in my teens and early 20's, I would often say that “I knew for sure” that I wasn't going to die until I was at least 30. Somehow I just knew, I would say.
I was right, but this is coincidence.
I'm one of the lucky ones.
And you—whoever you are who has stumbled into this longer-than-I-intended-blog-post—please do everything you can to be one of the lucky ones, too.
It's worth it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Answer, part 2

After posting my previous blog (The Answer), a coworker left me a comment on the blog. I, in turn, wrote an answer to him, which, it turns out, far exceeds the character count allowed for comments - ha! It is, for that matter, significantly longer than the previous blog (ha! again), and being such, it seemed to me that I might as well make it its own new blog...

I truly hope that my response comes off as nothing but friendly - not at all a challenge to my friend's comments, but rather, an invitation to look at this topic from a different perspective.

First, then, his comments, in case you missed them:

"I think that the question that so many try to answer is not so much just Life? but What is the purpose/point/meaning of life? Why am I alive? What is my purpose/point? What is the meaning of my life? Does life have significance?

"These are all answerable questions, and the answer that you come up with has drastic implications on your experience of life.

"From a Christian perspective, yeah, I believe that God is 'The Answer' because I believe that Jesus is 'The Life,' and therefore, if I truly want to experience life to the fullest, if you want to truly experience life to the fullest, it must be within Him, because He is the answer to a different question, What IS life? and within Him is pure unadulterated life.

"'...I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.' -- John 10:10"

* * *

In my post, I more or less tried to anticipate the points you brought up – my apologies if I did not do so effectively enough (or perhaps you are aware of this, and are merely trying to express another point of view on the matter? - perhaps you are trying to kindly express that you disagree?).

At any rate, I suppose I could say that the point of The Answer – though I didn't state it directly this way – is that I am trying to express an alternative to our western dualistic mode of thinking (and yes, I am aware of the irony in calling dualistic philosophy “western,” meaning: “as opposed to eastern” – haha).

Yes, we could say that “what is the meaning of life?” is the question most directly on the table here. What I am trying to show in my post, however, is that, it seems to me, this is a non-question. Understand, I'm not saying that there is no answer. Rather, I'm saying that perhaps there is no question.

I would not say that there is anything inherently wrong with wanting/looking for “something more.” And this idea – of “something more” – is, I think, where the meaning-of-life question originates (this is what you're saying too, I believe).

When we treat life as though it is a question, however (by asking things like “what is the meaning of life?”), we are belittling the experience of life. We are assuming that there is another side to the coin.

We are, in all actuality, saying, “life is only half the story.”

What I am proposing is that, it seems to me, life is the full story.

This does not mean that there isn't “something more,” or that nothing happens to us after we die – maybe, maybe not.

But life is one thing, and that “something more”/that place we may or may not go after death is another thing. They are not different sides of the same coin. They are different coins entirely.

Life in and of itself is the entirety of the experience. It has no opposite, no mirror-image, no symmetry.

Though I did not intend to bring a Christian angle into this topic, I will happily meet you there on that point:

You said that Jesus is “The Life” (clearly, of course, referring to John 14:6 - “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life...”). This is a fine interpretation of the matter. It's not what everyone believes, of course, but I can respect and appreciate that this is your – and many millions of other peoples' – stance.

A mathematical way to look at it, if you don't mind:

If, to you, Jesus = Life, why bother turning Life into a question?

1. As I've expressed, turning life into a question (such as “what is the meaning of life?”) = “life is only half the story”
2. Jesus = Life (see John 14:6)
3. Therefore, Jesus = half the story.

I assume (if you don't mind me being so bold; of course I don't mean to put words into your mouth) that you do not believe item 3. And yet, it is the conclusion of parts 1 & 2.

So then:

If Jesus = Life, and Jesus is not only half the story, then Life cannot be only half the story either.
If Jesus is the whole story, then Life is the whole story. Which means that, by extension, Life is not a question.

But of course this is only a way to frame this topic within the realm of Christianity; there are many, many other frames, many other realms.

And really, my larger point isn't meant to be attached to any one religion:

By making life into a question (such as by asking “what is the meaning of life?”), we are bringing a dualism to life that, I believe, is not naturally a part of it.

Rather, I propose that life is the entirety of the story, nothing more or less or other. It is the breath you take in, the moment you realize that watching the sunset could never be a waste of time; it is all of the love and frustration you feel for your children all in one instant, every single day; it is how you treat other drivers on the road, even when they're being unfair; it is the song that gets stuck in your head when you really don't want it to; it is where you are between your thoughts.

I have a tattoo on my arm which reads “the kingdom is now or never.” Because life is an experience, not half of an experience.

It is the experience of looking at a tree and saying “Ah!”

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Answer

Often, you hear people say things about looking for – or finding – “the answer.” What they mean, I suppose, is that they are looking for – or believe they have found – the answer to life.

Christians, for example, like to say that Jesus is “The Answer” – with a capital ‘T’ and a capital ‘A’, of course.

This is fine, I guess. Many people believe they have found “the answer” – whatever it is to them – and I don’t really want to take that away from them.

But, at the same time, when people talk about looking for or finding “the answer,” I can’t help but wonder:

What, precisely, is the question?

Again, what they want is the answer to life, I guess. And yet, life isn’t a question, is it? It doesn't start with a "what" or a "why" or a "how," and it doesn't end with a question mark.

Rather, it seems to me that life is an experience.

The problem, then, is that if we treat life as though it were a question, we are taking something away from it. We are turning life into something semantical, trying to turn it into something more knowable than it really is.

Joseph Campbell once said, “God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying ‘Ah!’”

There is no tree, of course. And, according to Joseph Campbell, there may or may not be a god, either. Rather, what he means is that “God” is something that is meant to be experienced.

Life is the same, I think. If we spend our time assuming that life is a question, then we can’t help but try to understand it. That’s what you do with a question, right? – you try to know it, try to find out its answer.

But maybe the point is to spend less time trying to understand life, and more time just doing life.

Certainly life has many mysteries that are worth unraveling. But it seems to me that – most probably – the only way to really unravel life is to just experience it. It’s not that we shouldn’t wish to understand life. But of all things, life certainly is something that you can’t know until you try.

So try it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Freedom of Religion & Gay Marriage

Before reading, hopefully you already know what you're getting into by reading this post, just from the title. And that's your only warning...

* * * * *
I think the problem with the gay marriage debate is that it is entirely missing the mark.

First of all, I feel it’s important to say:

I’m married. And my wife and I do not feel that allowing homosexuals to marry will somehow cheapen, belittle, or “ruin the sanctity” of marriage. The reason for this is remarkably simple: it is because our marriage is not based on other peoples’ beliefs, nor on other peoples’ marriages. In fact, our marriage is not even based on what governments and churches and religions and people consider “marriage” to be or to mean or to look like.

Instead, our marriage is based on what my wife and I think marriage should be.

And that’s it.

Other peoples’ marriages have no bearing on ours, because our marriage has nothing to do with them. If it did, this would be allowing a lot of people into our marriage that don’t belong there.

The sanctity of my wife and my marriage depends solely on the two of us. It is how we treat each other, how we speak to each other and about each other; it is how we handle each other when one of us is having a bad day; it is how we make it a point to always put the other first; it is how we are sure to not withhold love or joy from each other for any reason; it is the things we do and learn and experience together.

Our marriage is sanctified because we sanctify it. Governments and religion have nothing to do with this.

That said: Whoever else is married does not concern me.

Whoever else can get married, however, concerns me quite a bit.

It concerns me because who we allow to get married says something about our country, about the state of the government and the heart of the people.

And when people oppose gay marriage, it tells me that people are willing to violate the United States Constitution to support their own ideas of how the country should be.

To be clear, what I’m saying is: Any way you look at it, to oppose gay marriage is to oppose the United States Constitution.

That this is not being discussed more often is remarkable to me; this fact seems quite self-evident to me. But here we are.

Many people in favor of gay marriage argue that it’s a violation of homosexuals’ equal rights. That may or may not be the case, but that’s actually not the main violation against the Constitution that I see or that I’m interested in discussing right now.

Rather, what I’m more interested in is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Mostly, for our current purposes, I’m thinking of the first bit before the semi-colon: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Very often, people simply phrase this as “Freedom of religion.” So this is what the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees us, all the citizens of the United States: Freedom of religion.

And, of course, freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.

What this simply, literally means is that the government cannot make any law which is based on the teachings of any one religion, nor can it hold any persons accountable to the teachings of any specific religion. The government cannot favor one religion over another, nor can it favor religion over atheism or non-religion.

Again: simply, literally, this means that if a law is made based on a Christian belief, then everyone who is not a Christian loses a piece of their freedom of religion.

That said, my impression of Christians’ opposition to gay marriage stems from their beliefs, from what it is they understand their scriptures to mean, what it is that they believe their God wants and expects from them. This is fine; I’ve no interest in debating whether or not homosexuality or homosexual marriage is “sinful,” nor “what the Bible actually says about it,” at least not in this piece. 

What interests me, however, is that there is not a single argument against gay marriage that is not, ultimately, based on religion.

To reiterate: I’ve never once come across any meaningful, relevant, logical argument against gay marriage that does not, at its core, stem from religion.

If such an argument is out there, I haven’t heard it, and I have yet to imagine it on my own.

So it is that when people use their religion to argue against gay marriage—which, again, is the only basis for arguing against gay marriage—what is happening is that they are indicating that their beliefs should overrule the law. They are asking the political leaders to make and enact laws based on their religion. They are pushing the government to favor their religion over any other.

In short, they are asking the government to take away the freedom of religion from everyone else.

To say that your religion’s beliefs on gay marriage should dictate the laws of the land is to say that people outside of your religion do not qualify for freedom of religion—or at least, they do not qualify for it as much as the people inside of your religion.

Any way you look at it, this is a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Any. Way. You. Look. At. It.

If your religion says gay marriage is not okay, but my religion—or my lack of religion—says that it is okay, you cannot require or expect me to abide by your religion over mine. The United States Constitution does not allow for this sort of requirement or expectation or, especially, for this sort of law.

Again, whether or not homosexuality is “sinful,” “natural,” or even “okay” doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is that the United States Constitution is being violated, because:

Based on our Constitution, gay marriage should be a self-evident, freely-granted right, which neither religion, nor even one political party or another, has the ability or the right to take away from the people.

You do not have to believe that gay marriage is “okay.” I am not asking you to believe or to think or to feel this way. You are absolutely entitled to your thoughts and beliefs on the subject—in fact, that’s the beauty and the importance of the First Amendment.

However, whether or not you agree that gay marriage is “okay,” this does not give you the right or the privilege to override or violate the United States Constitution—at least, not without undermining the core of our country’s very definition, intention, and spirit.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

In Response to a Query on “Blessings”

A friend of mine recently asked (on Facebook), “Christians (though non-Christians are welcome to be friendly contributors): Do we have any hope while living in this world? That is, does God promise any good while we're here? I understand 'in this world you'll have trouble,' but can we expect God's tangible goodness in the present?”

By the time I got around to this post, he’d already received several responses from some of his friends.

In response to one of those replies, my friend further commented, in part, “I mean, we're here now--we aren't later yet. And God has a plan in the present. Does His present plan include understandable blessings, or are all of His blessings retrospective (i.e. we only recognize them as blessings later)?”

Here, then, is my answer (which, characteristically for me, is MUCH too long for a Facebook comment):

* * *

If you're only looking for blessings in the past, you will find them. But that is all you will find: history. A nice story. Something you can read about and say "Isn't that nice" or “How special.”

Conversely, if you're looking for blessings in the future, you will never find them. This is because blessings aren't there. When you look to the future for blessings, you can't do this without having already decided what those blessings will be. "If I get a raise, that will be a blessing." "Wouldn't it be nice if I started dating a wonderful person." “All I need is that new car…”

Sure, a raise would be nice. And dating a wonderful person is a pretty great thing too. But these are blessings that you've pre-defined.

Isn't the point—at least, the point from a Christian perspective—to let God do the defining?

Since blessings, then, don’t have much to do with the past or with the future, they must be momentary. They must be here and now, now or never.

According to Luke’s writings, Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is within you." He didn't say it was in us (past tense). He didn't say it will be in us someday (future tense). He used the present tense.

The kingdom of God is within us. Right now. As you read these words, the kingdom of God is within you.

Perhaps blessings are the same way. Perhaps all of the blessings of God are already within you right now.

What I mean is that, it seems to me, you choose what is a blessing and what is not.

Is having food on the table a “blessing”? – It is if you look at it that way.

Are having a loving family, a good job, or a roof over your head “blessings”? – They are if you look at them that way.

They say “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and I’m quite certain that blessings are precisely the same.

In a letter to Revd. Dr. Trusler, dated August 23, 1799, William Blake said, "The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity … and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself."

Similarly, some people see a sunset and think about how lovely it is that God put it there for us.

Other people see a sunset and think about how marvelous it is that all of the elements of the universe have coincidentally come together just precisely so, leading up to this moment where a rational human being with a seeing eye is able to be sitting here at all, contemplating this beautiful, happy accident.

Still others can’t be bothered to look at the sunset at all.

Who amongst these is the most blessed?

Feel free to answer differently if you’d like, but my answer is both persons 1 and 2, equally. And it has nothing to do with if one, either, or neither of them is a Christian. It only has to do with that person’s perception.

To take this a step further though—and an important step at that:

I said we “choose what is a blessing and what is not.”

But then again, maybe things are blessings not only if we choose to see them that way, but also perhaps they are only blessings if we treat them like they are.

Is having a wonderful spouse a “blessing”? – It is if you look at it that way, and if you treat him/her that way.

I will give you an example:

I used to very often pick fights with people in my mind. It's no surprise, then, that sometimes I would have tense moments with those people in reality. Of course I did. That’s how it goes. This was true of all my ex-girlfriends as well. You will not be surprised to hear that I used to fight with them constantly (yes, in reality).

When it comes to my wife, however, I make it a very conscious point to NEVER pick fights with her in my head. Never. We have been married for six years, together a total of almost eight. And we've been in maybe five fights. Ever.

I've had girlfriends that I've literally fought with more times in one day, than I've fought with my wife in eight years of a relationship.

Unmistakably, my wife is a blessing. But she is a blessing because I look at her like a blessing, and because I treat her like a blessing.

Does it matter, then, where the blessing came from? Does it matter if God played matchmaker and intentionally put Emily and I in a room together so that our sparks would fly, so that we would fall in love and create our beautiful little family?

How could that possibly be relevant?

For whatever reason—God or not—we were in that room together. For whatever reason—God or not—we started talking. For whatever reason—God or not—we started dating. Then we got married. Then we had our son Emerson.

And now, today—right here, right now—I am blessed.

So it is that no matter how these circumstances came about in the first place, I am blessed.

But remember that we choose what we see as a blessing. And remember that things are only blessings if we treat them that way.

And so, inevitably, the most important thing that’s left to say is this: no matter what is a “blessing” and what isn’t, no matter where—if anywhere—“blessings” come from, it is our job to keep the blessing going.

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