Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Winter Fly Fishing Part 2

My long time readers (come on, you know you're out there--all three of you) might or might not remember my attempt at winter fly fishing a couple years ago.  That day, I got skunked.  And very, very cold.

Last weekend, I had another go at it, with guide service provided by my friend Mike, a fishing guru if ever there was one.  That know-how, and a loaner set of waders, did the trick.

Here is the smallest one I caught:

And here is one of the bigger ones:

I landed about five or six roughly this size; I was too busy laughing and hooting to keep count.  They were all browns, though I hooked one monster rainbow that got off after a fairly epic, ten-minute battle.  The fishing was so great, we almost forgot how miserable the weather was.  Good thing I was wearing more wool than the average sheep.

We let them all go, so they're still out there.  And no, I won't tell you where "there" is...unless the price is right.  But you probably can't afford it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thai (ish) Veggie Stir Fry

A nice picture of Thailand.

I made up this recipe for my wife.  She can't eat meat and wasn't in the mood for stir fry, but all we had in the fridge was stir fry-type veggies, so I decided to try something different.  I used this as a starting point, but heavily modified it from there.  It ranks 4/5 on the coveted Wilson Recipe Scale, losing one point only because it doesn't include chocolate, bacon, aged cheddar, or onion rings.

As-is, it is vegan and gluten-free (the latter being accidental).  It would be nice with the addition of some thin-sliced beef, shrimp, or chicken.  And like most recipes, it would be INCREDIBLE with bacon added:  just a slice, fried crisp, finely crumbled, and added to the sauce.

What you need
For the sauce:
*1/4c peanut butter, preferably a smooth, all-natural type
*2 T Hot water
*The juice and zest of 2 limes.  If you don't know (I didn't until today), zesting limes is really easy:  Just scrape them over a fine grater until the white rind starts to show.  You don't want the white stuff--it tastes awful--just the paper-thin layer of green on the outside.  You won't end up with much.  That's OK.  It's potent stuff.
*2 T soy sauce
*1 tsp tahini (sesame seeds or sesame oil will work fine, too)
*1 fresh hot pepper, finely chopped.  There is a lot of room for variation, here.  1/4 jalepeno, with the seeds removed, will barely register on the heat scale.  A thai pepper or a couple serranos, seeds intact, will give you a more authentic, fire-shooting-out-the-ears Thai experience.

For the veggies:
*a splash or two of the oil of your choice.  I used  a small gob of tahini.
*3 carrots, peeled and sliced
*1/2 medium onion, diced
*2 cloves garlic, chopped
*2 c broccoli florets
*1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
*2 c mushrooms, sliced

What to do
For the sauce:  Pretty simple.  Combine all ingredients.  Run through a food processor or, if you're old-school, stir the daylights out of it until it's reasonably smooth.  Set aside.

For the veggies:
In a large pan--or a wok if you're lucky enough to own one--warm up the oil over medium-low heat.  Add the carrots and onions; stir-fry until the onions are starting to look translucent.  Add the garlic, broccoli, and pepper.  Keep a close eye on things from here on.  When the broccoli looks bright green and juicy, it's time to add the mushrooms.  Cook for a couple minutes, stirring frequently.  Then add the sauce.  It will look all goopy and extremely unappetizing, but trust me.  Keep stirring until the sauce is spread over the veggies.

And that's it.  Serve over wild rice.  Greatness.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Care Bears Always Care for Freedom and Haggis

Sarah and Katie have been reading Care Bears books lately.  They decided I was "Braveheart Bear."  I guess I can live with that.  But the original Care Bear in question wasn't really my style.  So, a bit of fun with Gimp...

They can take our lives, but they'll NEVER TAKE OUR ENDANGERED STATUS!!!
Aye.  Much better.  ARE YE READY FOR A MAULIN'?!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Archery and Reality: A Primer

Try again, Kevin.

I love my bow.  It is one of the few physical possessions that actually sort of matter to me.  I'm no expert, but I love shooting, and I love watching others make great shots.  Over the years, I have had a good time watching the many movies which prominently feature archery.  Among my favorite archery-intensive movies have been various incarnations of the Robin Hood story, Braveheart, The Lord of the Rings, King Arthur, Avatar, and assorted dystopic/post-apocalyptic action flicks, most recently The Hunger Games.

Let's face it:  Archery is one of those pursuits, like combat driving or sky-diving, that is inherently, universally cool.  Movie goers can't seem to get enough of bow-and-arrow wielding heroes and heroins.

As an archer myself, however, reality matters, too.  There are many more wrong ways than right ways to shoot a bow.  Most archery movies bug me, at some point.  With that in mind, I offer the following list of archery movie cliches and goofs, in approximate order of how much they annoy me.  Writers, directors, and actors, please take note.

1.  You don't draw your bow and hold it drawn while waiting for the deer/orc/fellow gladiator to present itself as a target.  First of all, it's unnecessary--drawing and firing a long bow is pretty near instant, anyway.  Second, holding a bow at full draw for more than a couple seconds will cause your bow arm to become unsteady, which shoots your accuracy right down the toilet.  Unless, of course, you're trying to hit the toilet.  Then it will probably shoot right down the bathtub.

The only exceptions to this rule are 1.  if the archer has super-human strength, or 2. if the bow in question is too weak to kill anything bigger than a mouse, or 3.  if the bow in question is a compound bow, with all those wheels and pulleys and doohickies on it (these are almost never featured in movies because, let's face it, wheely bows just aren't that cool) or 4.  if the director is trying to build drama by making the archer work a whole lot harder than he/she needs to.  Otherwise, it's draw, anchor, and shoot, in one fluid motion.

2.  Cool as Legolas looked zapping three arrows into that mammoth's neck, one would have done just fine.  In fact, a real archer would never try to shoot two or more arrows off the string at once, except maybe as a goofy trick shot.  I'm sure it's technically possible, but even if he avoided breaking a string, an archer would lose so much range and/or penetration that it wouldn't be worth it in any combat or hunting situation.  Actually trying to hit two targets at once, a la Costner's Robin Hood?  Forget it!

3.  Speaking of Costner, here's a good place to begin:  You aren't going to get very good arrow flight with the cock feather pointed toward your bow.  No one else noticed this?  Robin Hood would know better.  Of course, Robin would know better than to speak with an American accent, too, so what do you expect?

4.  Ah, Prince of Thieves, there is so much, so very much I could say, but how about this one:  Azim, you really can't blow out a flaming arrow with your breath.  Do you think flaming arrows might have to endure wind while, oh I don't know, flying through the air?  Hello.

5.  And finally, the observation that inspired me to get started on this rant in the first place:  Assuming Katniss' bow was strong enough to kill something bigger than a mouse, which of course it was, her arrow would have passed straight through Cato's hand and skewered Peeta as well.  And considering it was a point-blank shot, it probably would have gone straight through Peeta and killed Cato, too.  I suppose both outcomes would have saved everyone involved a lot of trouble in the long run.

That's it for me.  If any fellow archers are reading this, do feel free to add your own observations in the comments.  Until next time, shoot straight and try not to do anything incredibly stupid and/or impossible.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Aut Pax Aut Bellum

Being a meditation on a Scottish Clan, a Wyoming Distance Race, and the Deeper Meanings Thereof

In the extreme northeast corner of Scotland, there is an area of quiet farms and ranches, towering sea cliffs, and tiny fishing towns, where the sea is a constant presence and the wind is more a part of the landscape than a mere meteorological phenomenon.  These hills and coast-lands were once the home of a rather fierce group of Norse-Celtic people who called themselves clan Gunn.  And descended from that clan is a family called the Wilsons.

My connection the Gunn clan is sketchy at best, more a matter of choice than historical certainty.  Even my brother, the history teacher, has been thwarted in his efforts to trace our ancestry:  "Wilson" is an absurdly common name, and there are simply too many on the books to sort them all out. 

For all this, the Gunn lands felt like home when I visited years ago.  The story of the clan--from its Viking origins, to the gradual encroachment of its lands and rights at the hands of the Scottish kings, to the resulting conflicts with neighboring clans, to the final betrayal under the brutal policies of the highland clearances--is worth looking into, even if you aren't Scottish.  There's conquest, heroism, battle, revenge, tragic romance, betrayal, courage in the face of heart-breaking injustice, and some cautionary tales from which our modern world would do well to learn.

Also worth considering is the clan's motto: Aut Pax Aut Bellum, In Peace or War.  Most modern clan members relate this with a sort of good-natured bellicosity:  You want peace?  Good.  I'm happy to be your friend.  You want a fight?  You won't be disappointed--and you'd better bring a friend.

I take it a little differently than that.  To me, Aut Pax Aut Bellum speaks of constancy, faithfulness, integrity.  It speaks of convictions that are too strong to be changed by prosperity or poverty, of friendships too solid to be diminished by familiarity or distance, of foundations that are laid too deeply to be moved by the shifting tides of fortune.  No matter what happens, some things don't change:  Faithfulness keeps steam-shoveling those mountains.  Hope does not disappoint.  Love never fails.  In good times or bad.  In peace or war.

* * * * * * *

Yesterday, Sarah and I finished our first "sprint triathlon" together.  I'm confident it won't be our last.  For those of you not in-the-know about this latest fitness craze:  Distances vary, but Lander's sprint tri features a 750 meter swim, a 13 mile bike ride, and a 5 k run.  Races of this sort are catching on all over the country, with good reason:  A sprint tri is big enough to be a truly impressive accomplishment, but small enough that normal people--people with jobs and families, people like us--can do them.  Last summer about this time, Sarah happened to be passing by the finish line at city park right at the end of the race.  She came home, described the scene, and said, "We belong there."  So it began.

Training was a roller-coaster.  There were spectacular successes--common when starting a fitness program from less-than-zero--and discouraging setbacks.  As late as last March, Sarah was suffering from frequent, severe abdominal pain, and her doctor was gently telling her that this pain was probably permanent, and that the tri was probably not going to happen...maybe not ever, definitely not this summer.

Well, we didn't take that sitting down.  Telling Sarah that she can't do something...that simply isn't done.  It's something we have in common--neither of us has much use for the "c" word.  Before long some drastic dietary changes were putting a dent in the abdominal pain, and training proceeded.  It wasn't smooth and it wasn't pretty, but it proceeded.  A day came when I arrived home from work and found Sarah smiling and sweaty, telling me that she had run 20 minutes without stopping.  Inspired, I went out and did the same.  That's when I knew this thing was on.

And so we rose yesterday morning for a very early, very cold, very dark bike ride to the pool.  After setting up our transitions, we passed the time pacing around the pool (it was warm there), talking with fellow racers, finding volunteers to count laps for us.  Sarah and I shared a moment of prayer and heartfelt thanksgiving together.

At 7:30, our heat finally started with my hardest leg, the swim.  Sarah is the swimmer in our family; it is not much of an exaggeration when I tell people that I swim like a cat.  A few sessions this past spring with the amazing Ann Lehmkuhler, and a whooooole bunch of time in the pool over the past several months, had shored up my technique and confidence enough that I knew I could finish my half mile with body and soul still in one piece.  Good enough.

Sarah finished her swim a couple laps ahead of me, but as planned I soon caught up to her on the bike leg.  Just a couple miles into it, she was already having some asthma problems.  It was a perfect, gorgeous day, though, and Sarah was determined, and we pushed up those long, long Squaw Creek hills, past a couple aggressive dogs (a chance for me to do my husbandly-protective thing), past distant herds of mule deer, through that crystal clear, golden, Wyoming morning light.

We finally reached the top of the loop, and it was Wheeeee time:  Five miles or so of almost constant downhill.  We had ridden this loop many, many times, and with that familiarity came a sense of anti-climax:  Instead of race-day exhilaration, I had to remind myself that this wasn't just another workout.  The hard-core athletes whizzing past us every few minutes helped drive the point home, but it felt more like a fun weekend outing than a race.

When we finally hit town again and turned the corner onto Smith Street, we heard a very familiar voice yelling, "Go Go Mommy!  I Love You, Daddy!"  Grandma and Auntie Liz told us that Katie cheered on pretty much everybody that went by--GO RACERS!--to the great amusement of several bike-riders who were not, in fact, in the race.  As Katie's voice faded out, we turned back toward the pool, and the certainty hit me:  We are going to do this.  We are really, really going to finish this thing.

The run was harder than we thought it would be.  There were more hills than we expected, and we had to walk several times. Both of us were having sort of an off-day, athletically, and that was frustrating.  But people were encouraging, runners cheering each other on, all of us in this together.  We actually passed someone who was struggling even more than we were, and it was our turn to lend some cheer.  Our strategy had been to finish, erring on the side of going slow to ensure we would get there.  That was surprisingly difficult.  But Sarah ran a smart race, taking her time, controlling her asthma, not giving in to the urge to push hard.  I might be just a little bit proud of her.  I can admit it.

Then we turned the corner and saw the finish line.

I have always loved finish lines in long-distances races--the drama, the competitiveness and camaraderie, the feeling of accomplishment.  This one was all the sweeter for the long journey that led up to it:  Months and months of dreaming, planning, and hard, hard work.  Doubts and fears to lay aside.  Injuries and hurts to heal.  Baggage to shed.  Reservoirs of courage, faith, and strength to rediscover.

Not so very long ago, my wife could not get out of bed without help.  Most of you reading this were with us through that long, grim time:  Months of excruciating pain.  HeartbreakDeath.  Separation.  The only thing between us and despair was faith in God, love for each other, and the care of some amazingly stalwart friends.  Times like that either blow a marriage completely apart, or cement it forever, because there is no other option.  You either bail, or you stick it out.  We did the latter, and here we are.  In peace or war.

I remember walking beside Sarah as she pushed her IV stand, slowly and painfully, through the halls of P/SL hospital, desperately trying to gain enough strength to go home, as our beautiful daughter cheered her on.

That image, from just a short year-and-a-half ago, was vividly in my mind as we jogged side by side up and down those Spriggs Street hills.  As we turned onto Fremont Street, spotted the finish line in the distance, and finally gave in to the urge to kick up the pace, I could not keep a smile off my face.  It is exhilarating, sometimes, to juxtapose the past with the present.  We have come so far.

We finished the race strong.  And we crossed that line hand in hand, exhausted and hurting but grinning with the joy of what we had just accomplished.

And that is how we will continue to face the distance run of life:  Hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder.  Exhausted at times, but hearts filled with God's love and joy.  Struggling at times, but smiling with the joy and peace of God's hope.  Sticking together and holding on to what matters, come what may:  In good times or bad, in triumph or disaster, in sickness or health.

In peace or war.  Faithful to the end.

See also Kelsey Dayton's beautiful write up on our story for Wyofile. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

To All of our Friends from The Terrible Winter

I am supposed to be taking a nap right now.  But I can't.  There is something I have to say.

I have been mining my Facebook records for fun Katie quotes.  That is the only place I have recorded them, and I want to get them saved somewhere else before FB decides I don't need them anymore.  There are many, and they are hilarious and heartwarming, and I will share them once I get them compiled.  But while looking, I came across the story of January-March, 2011.  The worst time of my life.

But that isn't what I need to tell you.

I read all of the posts, and all of the comments, mine and yours, from the time Sarah first got sick until the memorial service.  I have laughed and cried a lot this afternoon.  This one entry sort of sums it all up:

February 11, 2011
Feels like I'm riding down a raging river--nowhere to pull out; just have to ride with it until it's over--on a lifeboat made of friends: Their prayers, love, hope, and acts of service. Love to you all. We're going to get through this.

But that isn't what I need to tell you, either.

I don't quite know how to say how I feel about that analogy now, a year and a half later, now that the river has long since become nice and calm again.  But there is something I have to say.  So here goes:

In less than a week, if all goes as planned, Sarah and I are going to finish a sprint triathlon together.  Saturday, starting around 7:30 a.m.  And we're going to do it for God, for ourselves, for David and Katie, and for all of you.

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Trouble with Being Right

...with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
--Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, 4:2-3

Here is something that has been really driven home to me recently:

The trouble with conflict is that everyone involved thinks they are right.  That is so obvious it seems rather hare-brained to even point it out.  But consider the implications:

Since I am right, I feel justified hardening my heart, manipulating, bending the truth ever so slightly, raising my voice, or whatever else I need to do.  Because I, after all, am right.  But if the other person does any of these things, they are being unreasonable and unworthy of my efforts.  Because they, after all, are wrong.

Since I know my motives are good, I must assume that the motives of the other person are bad.  Having decided that, I form conclusions about not just what the other person is doing, but why.  I feel justified--perhaps even obligated--to share these conclusions with others, so people will know the truth.  I am right, after all.  Therefore, they have to be wrong.  My motives are good.  Therefore, theirs have to be bad.  I do not need to understand why that person acts or believes the way they do.  I do not need to hear them out or look past their many faults.  They are wrong, wrong, wrong, and they must be stopped, and that's all there is to it.

This is how wars start.  This is how friendships end, families fall apart, and churches split.

The solution:  Really listen to what the other side has to say.  You don't have to agree, but make an honest effort to understand.  Maybe get really crazy and actually make an effort to really love and appreciate your enemy.  Remember that mistakes, mixed motives, and selfishness are common to us all (Even you!  Even me!), but truly evil, intentionally destructive people are fairly uncommon.

If I want to get past the pitfalls of being right, I must give the other person the same consideration I want them to give me, no matter how wrong they are or how difficult they are being.  Because here's the thing I have to remember:  Even as I think I am right, they think they are right, too.

At least one of us is wrong, and there's no guarantee that either of us is right.  That means there is a better-than-average chance that I am wrong, too, at least on something.

Remember that.  Don't be wishy-washy.  Just listen, try to understand--no matter how wrong the other person is--and be open about your own faults.

I am not stepping on anyone's toes here.  This is something I struggle with.  But I really believe that most of the problems in the world could be solved by that one thing.  And God demands no less of his children.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Salsa Verde

The first thing, here, is don't get too fussy about exact amounts of this or that.  My recipes are more like guidelines, anyway.

What you need:

--10-15 Tomatillos.  Cut into halves or thick slices (if they're big ones) and remove the stem cores.
--2 Jalepeno peppers, stemmed and cut in half lengthwise.  Don't remove the seeds and membranes.
--2 Ancho peppers, stemmed and cut in strips lengthwise, so all outside surfaces can be exposed to heat (see step 1A below).  Don't remove the seeds and membranes.*
--2 Large Anaheim peppers, prepared the same way.
--1/2 white or yellow onion, cut into 1" thick slices.  (A handful of green onions would also work.  A purple one might look cooler.  Let me know how it goes.)
--2-4 cloves of garlic
--A handful of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped.
--Juice of 1 fresh lime.  You can use the bottled stuff if it's all you can get.

*This will give you a good "medium" to "medium hot" salsa.  For a hotter salsa, substitute 2-3 serranos.  For milder salsa, remove the seeds and membranes and/or substitute an extra ancho pepper.

Step 1:  Cook.
Fire up your oven to low broil.**  You'll be using the top rack.

A.  Place the peppers on your broiler pan.  Broil on low until the skin of the peppers is getting brown and blistered.  Remove from pan; set aside to cool.

B.  Place the sliced tomatillos, onion, and whole cloves of garlic on your broiler pan.  Broil on low until the tomatillos are beginning to get brown, blistery spots on them.  Keep an eye on the garlic:  Remove it as soon as it starts to turn brown.

C.  Peel the cooled peppers.  The peels should come off quite easily.  If there are any spots that the heat missed (you'll know because the peels won't come off), you can microwave for 30 seconds and try again. If the missed spots are small, though, I would just proceed to step 2 and not worry about it.

D.  If your house is smelling rather wonderful at this point, you are most likely doing it right.

**I haven't had the nerve to try this over charcoal yet, but I'm sure the smoke flavor would make this even more amazing.  If you try it, I would advise using a grilling basket or two, go easy on the charcoal, and keeping an eye on things very carefully, because all these ingredients burn quite easily.  And let me know how it goes.

Step 2:  Chop, Blend, Mince, Mangle, and otherwise Pulverize
A.  Put all ingredients in your food processor or blender (don't forget the lime juice and cilantro!).  Let 'em have it.

Step 3:  Chill. 
Put the salsa in a covered bowl.  Chill in the fridge for several hours.  This salsa tastes best to me cold.  You might disagree.  It's all good.

Step 4:  Eat it.
Try it with tortilla chips.  Enchiladas.  Tacos.  Dump it on an omelette.  Spoon it straight from the bowl.  I love this stuff.  I am drooling as I type this.  Honestly.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

National Ice Cream Day

Now, HERE is an exercise of federal power I can get behind.

"I call upon the people of the United States to observe these events with appropriate ceremonies and activities."

Get out there and do your patriotic duty, everyone.  The United States is counting on you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Mom

My mom is pretty much the most amazing person I know.

As many of you will know, she has been very sick.  A few weeks ago, her kidneys shut down, bam, unexpectedly.  She spent almost a month in the Casper hospital, undergoing dialysis to keep her body going while the docs try to figure out what on earth happened.  They have mostly ruled out cancer.  Other than that, they are still scratching their heads.  My mom gets that from doctors all the time.

What many of you might not know is that today was her birthday.  She is spending it in a nursing home.  For my mom, thank God, this is a temporary arrangement.  Despite my initial gut feeling, I believe she is going to pull through this (silly gut feelings).  The home is, for her, just a less-expensive place where she can have nursing and rehab care until she is strong enough to go home.

Still, nursing homes are difficult.  As annoying as a hospital can be, with the constant activity, noise, lack of privacy, absurd scheduling, and interruptions, it is those very things that make it a hopeful place:  This is a place where things are happening.  This is a place where change is constant.  This is a place where people come to get better.

Nursing homes are not like that.  They are permeated with an air of exaggerated calm.  Everything seems to happen on a schedule, daily, weekly, monthly.  Interruptions and activity are alarmingly uncommon.  The residents, those that are out of bed, are mostly dozing in chairs, ignoring the muted TV.  The care, loving though it is, is geared toward comfort, quiet, and predictability, not toward recovery.  Because when you come right down to it, no one recovers from old age.  With a few exceptions, this is not a place people come to get better.

Into this environment comes my mom, very sick but feeling very much like there is a great deal of living ahead of her.  It is a hard move.  The lady with whom she shares a room is, the nurse tells us, seldom awake, and mostly unresponsive when she is awake.  I mean this lady no disrespect, but the first time I saw her, I thought she was dead, and during my visits nothing happened to convince me otherwise.  This is not the kind of environment that fosters hope, joy, or optimism, all so important for healing.

So, it was a hard move, for my mom and dad both.  But my mom just adapts to things, and before long she was praying for God to give her a reason for being there.  And late that first night, she found one.  Mom's roommate came out of her sleep, unable to talk, crying, confused, afraid.  Mom started praying, and the song "Edelweiss" came into her mind.  Not having any better ideas, mom started singing.  Her roommate immediately stopped crying, and within minutes was sleeping peacefully.  But she soon woke again.

And so my amazing mom, sick and desperately in need of rest, spent the night singing, off and on, for this poor, frightened lady whose name she didn't even know.  Happily giving up her own rest to help someone else find it, like the child of God that she is.

Because my mom, you see, is pretty much the most amazing person I know.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage: A Few Thoughts from an American Christian

It is old news now that President Obama finally came right out and admitted what we all figured anyway, that he's in support of gay marriage.  I say "admitted" because I don't think he really wanted to say anything about it, at least not just yet.  Now, it looks like the argument, in various incarnations, is headed toward the Supreme Court.  I would hate for the Justices to have to debate this topic without first being made privy to my wisdom on the subject, so here it is.

I have kicked this issue around for a long time, wondering how to reconcile my Christianity, which tells me that some things are right and some are wrong, with my libertarian streak, which tells me our country was founded on liberty, and people should pretty much be able to do whatever they want as long as they aren't hurting anyone else. 

I have reached some conclusions, but I too am still "evolving" about what they mean.  Here are some of my thoughts.  As always, I would be interested in hearing yours.

Everyone deserves their basic rights.  No one should be treated with hatred or cruelty.
That's pretty self-explanatory, and hopefully self-evident.  Unless someone has committed a crime which requires their confinement for the protection of society, people should be free. 

This statement applies to the naysayers as well.  If I believe something is wrong, I should be free to say so without being accused of hatred or bigotry.  Thus:

Lots of things are morally wrong.  Homosexual practice is one of them.
I believe in the Bible, and the Bible is clear that God does not approve of homosexual practice.  This is not my interpretation; it is plainly stated in numerous places, in both the Old and New Testaments.  Jesus himself defines marriage as a union of husband and wife.  I frequently read claims of the Bible's ambivalence about homosexuality; these come across to me as a mixture of conjecture, wishful thinking, and intellectual/scriptural gymnastics.  It says what is says, folks.  Take it or leave it.  God is not interested in being politically correct.

It may well be true that the homosexual impulse is a result of genetic, cultural, or experiential circumstances over which the homosexual has no control--it seems that the jury is still out on that.  If that is the case, homosexuals have my compassion, as I would hope to have theirs.  The reason is that one could say the same for the desire to commit fornication, to be unfaithful to my spouse, to abuse alcohol, to lose one's temper, to tell lies, or to be lazy.  A few of these are temptations with which I personally must struggle, and probably always will.

The desire, the temptation, is often not a choice.  The only choice is whether to act on it.  God says there is Right and Wrong.  Homosexual practice decisively fits in the latter category.  All of us, gay or straight, alcoholic or teetotaler, hot-headed or even-keeled, are dependent on God's mercy.  If would be well for those of us who do not personally wrestle with homosexual desires to remember that.

Homosexuality does not need to be illegal.
As much as we Christians wish it were otherwise, not everyone in this country believes the Bible to be what it claims to be.  It is unrealistic, unfair, and counter-productive to try to force unbelievers to act like believers.

One thing we can learn from reading the Old Testament is that theocracy doesn't work.  You cannot save people, individually or as a nation, by forcing them to do the right thing.  Individuals change from the heart and mind, from the inside out, not from the imposition of rules.  Nations change from the bottom, from individuals, not from the top down.  In other words, Governments make lousy instruments of moral or religious revival.  Always have, always will.

It appears that our founding fathers understood this.  Contrary to what many on the "religious right" would want us to believe, the United States was not founded as a Christian nation.  Yes, many of the founding fathers were Christian.  They often cited Biblical principles in designing how our country would work.  Many of them, in their speeches and correspondence, spoke forcefully about the importance of faith and religion in public and private life.  Many of them expressed their perception that our country was dependent on God's blessing, and their grave concern that, if our nation turned away from God, we would be doomed.  I am convinced they were correct in these concerns.

But when it came to writing the law--and by that I mean the U.S. Constitution, the supreme law of our land--they made it very clear that the government is to remain strictly neutral in matters of religion.  Read the First Amendment again...and please try to pay attention this time.

Thus, there are many things that are wrong, but legal.  This is as it should be.  The government's job is to unite us as a people, to ensure that justice is done, to keep us safe from external and internal threats, to promote the overall well-fare of the nation, and to "secure the blessings of liberty," so that all of us can be free to live in peace, to believe what we choose, and to basically do our thing. 

What all this adds up to is that it is not the government's job to enforce morals, except when bad morals endanger the property or person of another.  There are many, many things that are morally wrong but not illegal:  Alcohol abuse, fornication, greed, and on and on.  It has to be this way, if we are to be a free country.  We don't need the government to monitor what happens in people's bedrooms or back yards.  Don't get me started on seat-belt and helmet laws, or we'll be here all night.

As a committed Christian, I must vote my conscience, of course.  But I must also consider this:  Jesus did tell his followers to change the world.  But the weapons he gave us to accomplish this task are gentle ones:  Love.  Hope.  Faith--in him and in his teachings.  Joy.  Patience.  Sharing the good news.  Kindness.  Humility.  Confidence in Salvation.  (against such things there is no law...)

Neither Jesus nor his apostles ever said a peep about using political might to accomplish his aims.  The New Testament says nothing at all about trying to install a government that will enforce our (or his) will.

So no, I don't think making homosexuality illegal will accomplish anything, legally or spiritually.  If we want to change the nation, let's do a better job teaching people about Jesus, and living like his true followers.  Change enough hearts, and the morality of the nation will pretty much take care of itself.

All that said, when it comes to gay "marriage," I do have a couple of very serious reservations.  Strangely enough, they both have to do with freedom.

A problem:  Changing definitions
Simply put, the government, acting on the will of a small but vocal minority, should not have the power to change the definition of a time-honored institution.  Those who express worries about the possible effects such a change might have are popularly portrayed as modern-day bigots, on the same level with those who opposed the civil rights movement a generation ago.  But as much as I value equality (and as much as I hate being considered a bigot), I share this concern.

Marriage is a respected social, legal, and religious institution that has stood the test of time and changing cultures.  Even the ancient Greeks, who were seriously into homosexuality, didn't mess with the definition of marriage.  Until the past couple decades or so, in pretty much all of western (and most of eastern) civilization, "marriage" meant a committed relationship between a man and a woman, simple as that.

These days, the popular term among supporters of gay marriage is "marriage equality."  This term would correctly apply to interracial marriage, marriage between members of different social classes, and marriage between citizens of different nations.  But marriage between two men or two women is more than "marriage equality."  It is a drastic change to the very definition of the word, to the basic concept of what marriage is.  I don't think having such a huge change change forced on us is going to produce satisfactory results for anyone.

I'm not saying we should deny gay people their basic rights...I just don't think we should call it marriage.

Before I close this thought, allow me to make one thing clear: I am not saying that homosexuality is the only, or even the biggest, threat to the institution of marriage.  Don't get me started on promiscuity, selfishness, financial irresponsibility, adultery, and divorce, or we'll be here all night.  But allow me to point out to my Christian brothers and sisters that the Bible--especially the New Testament--has much more to say about those issues than it does about homosexuality, and I think we have done a mighty poor job of picking our battles.  Last time I heard, the divorce rate among professing Christians is exactly the same as in the world at large.  We would do well to focus more on getting our own collective act together, and less on how we can fix everyone else.

A much more serious problem:  One freedom at the expense of another
My second concern involves those other great First Amendment rights, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

I recently witnessed an online exchange in which a friend, recently graduated from medical school, expressed her opposition to gay marriage.  A friend of hers strongly rebuked her, saying that this young doctor's opinion would render her unable to provide compassionate aid to LGTB patients.

Of course, both friends have the right to their opinions.  But I wonder how long it will take before such disagreements start finding their way into the courts.  Based on what is currently happening, it will be sooner rather than later.

If same-sex marriage is universally legalized, will this doctor lose her right to practice if she expresses her convictions about homosexuality?  As a teacher, will I be required by law to publicly recognize same-sex marriages?  As a musician, will I have to freedom to refrain from performing at same-sex wedding ceremonies?  Will my church be penalized if we refuse to perform such ceremonies?  Will the Christian youth camp at which I have worked, off and on, over the past couple decades be required by law to employ LGTB counselors?

There is nothing remotely far-fetched about these concerns, as this excellent report from National Public Radio documents.  Our legal system is consistently moving toward increasing gay rights at the expense of religious rights.  If you think this is as it should be, check out that First Amendment just one more time, remembering that this Constitution is the supreme law of our nation.  The government, as the definer of marriage, is in a bit of a tough spot, since it is forbidden from either respecting or prohibiting religious belief or practice.  Interesting.

If homosexual people want to call their relationships marriage, that's their business--they can think and say whatever they want, and I don't have a big problem with that.  I do have a big problem with the government requiring me to lie about my beliefs to avoid being penalized.  I do have a big problem with being forced to support and condone something that I believe to be morally wrong.  (Don't get me started on the immoral and wasteful ways the government uses our tax dollars, or we'll be here all night.)

I think that in the long run, setting a precedent that forces people to either lie about or abandon their deeply held convictions is going to be a bad thing for everyone.

What's Gov got to do, got to do with it?
There is no simple solution to all of this, but I tend to think we should get Uncle Sam out of the marriage business altogether.

This isn't as crazy as it might sound as first.  Think about it:  I don't need the government to sanction my marriage to Mrs. Badger.  Our vow is between us, before God, and we will stick with it whether the government recognizes it or not.

So, why is the government involved in defining marriage at all?  There are three main reasons, three main types of legal benefits derived from marriage:  Financial (inheritance, tax breaks, SS benefits, etc.), medical (insurance, visitation, information sharing, etc.), and family (joint adoption, immigration and residency benefits, etc.).  I am oversimplifying for the sake of brevity, but these are the basic ideas.

Do any of these benefits inherently require institutional marriage?  Probably not.  There would be a thousand details to work out, but I really think that by getting the government out of "marriage," we could make it more fair for everyone.

For example, I see no reason I should not be allowed to declare anyone I please to be my next of kin, heir, beneficiary, and/or "immediate family."  This person would then be allowed to share my insurance policy, visit me in the hospital when I get sick, share information with the medical professionals who are taking care of me, then get my stuff after I die anyway.  I am fairly sure that many of the laws for this are already in place.

I see no reason why one should not be able to file taxes jointly with anyone with whom one shares a residence.  After all, many married couples already maintain separate bank accounts, and many unmarried room mates share expenses.  It seems only fair.

Such arrangements could be strictly legal, not implying any sort of sexual or emotional relationship.  It could be two college students, sharing an apartment but romantically uninvolved, who decide it would be temporarily, financially beneficial to file taxes jointly as a household.  (Allowing for this sort of thing might also require considerable streamlining of the tax code.  Don't get me started on that or we'll be here all night.)  It could be as simple as a patient wanting to grant visitation benefits to a best friend during a long hospital stay.  

Or, it could be two people who want to go the whole distance and enter into a complete legal and financial partnership.  If they want to add an emotional and sexual commitment, go through a religious ceremony, and call it "marriage," that is between them and God.  No government necessary.

Churches would thus be free to act like churches, not fearing legal reprisals, because there is no legal status at stake.  If gay people (or polygamists, or close relatives, or whatever) want to consider themselves married, they would have a First Amendment right to say that.  And if someone chooses not to recognize my marriage for some reason, they have that right too:  No skin off my nose.

I'm no legal expert, but it makes sense to me.  I don't need you to condone my marriage for it to be real.  Grant me the same consideration.  Keep "marriage" personal, not legal.  That way, everyone's rights--religious, financial, medical, and free-speech, whether they agree with gay marriage or not--can be protected.

This solution, such as it is, is not completely acceptable to me on several levels--I am especially concerned about how it would work with children and adoption, although I'm not sure it would make things any worse, with the divorce rate we have these days--and I am sad and disturbed that it has come to this.  But it seems the best we can do at this point.  If we leave it for the government to keep defining marriage for us, someone is going to get burned.  Most likely, in the long run, all of us.

And that, Your Honors, is one American Christian's opinion.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

So Long, Rocky Dog.

So passes Rocky (2003??-2012), known in his younger years as the Indestructible Mountain Dog.  He was a good buddy.  He lived a good life.  It was time.  So long, Rock Head.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lament for David

One year ago today.

Treasure the ones you love.  Never let them go.