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The Bells And Whistles

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It shouldn’t surprise us that in American culture we’re drawn to bells and whistles: the bright shiny things. After all, we’re bombarded by advertisements and marketing all the live long day. You can barely turn your head without something vying for your attention. And so little of it holds any real value, too. It’s all around us, and sadly, people are attracted by bells and whistles. We love the bells and whistles. But the reality is that we should be wary of the bells and whistles for a few reasons. 

1) The bells and whistles are usually meant to camouflage defects. Those defects may be by design, or by general oversight, but a lot of time the bells and whistles are there because the “product” simply has little value without them. Something has to grab your attention, so toss on a few bells and whistles. They are decoration; lipstick on the pig–as it were. 

2) The bells and whistles may, in fact, be warnings to a potential tragedy. However, some folks can’t help but be drawn to them. As poet John Donne once wrote, “…for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” In a fair number of cases of this modern age, the bells and whistles should not be regarded as signal to come and enjoy, but a cry to flee and head for safer ground. Sort of a, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

The reality is that for some they’ll never realize point 1 or 2 until they realize the product they’ve been sold is cheap and disposable, or it’s ruined you to one degree or another. In our age of slick marketing and state-of-the-art spec sheets a mile long, be sure that what you’re getting yourself in to holds some real value, and isn’t just something worthless draped in bells and whistles.


Evil, Meet Everyone. Everyone, meet ISIS/ISIL/The Islamic State

If you ever needed that final piece of evidence to convince you that evil does exist in the world, then ladies and gentlemen may I provide exhibit A: ISIS/ISIL, or otherwise now simply known as, the Islamic State. 

Chances are you’ve see or heard the title ISIS being tossed around a fair bit lately on TV and social media. If you’re still not on the up-and-up on who/what ISIS/The Islamic State is, here’s a brief overview. 

They have been identified by several over the last few years, original the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), then the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), before everyone seemingly coming to rest on the Islamic State. You’ll find different news outlets and government agencies picking one and sticking to it. They are widely considered/classified as a terrorist organization. Originally is was comprised of Sunni Arab terrorist insurgent groups, with close ties to Al-Qaeda In Iraq as well as other groups part of the Iraqi Tribes that profess Sunni Islam. They grew significantly during the height of the 2003-2011 War in Iraq, before playing a significant part in the Syrian Civil War. They are known for their extreme interpretation of the Islamic faith and sharia law. Oh, and their utter and perverse brutality. They’ve cut a swatch of extreme violence everywhere and anywhere they have traveled. Shia Muslims, Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians, Armenian Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Shabakis and Mandeans have experienced their brutality more than others. Let’s put it this way—the Islamic State is so brutal that even Al-Qaeda seems to have cut ties with them due to their brutality and because they aren’t easily controlled and when issues arise, they are apparently unwilling to easily resolve issues. 

If Al-Qaeda did cut ties that’s essentially the same as Hitler and his Nazi henchmen walking away from another mass murderer saying, “Wow, man… that’s crossing the line. We’re outta here, c’mon guys.” 

They’re big fans of taking prisoners, beheading them, posting the video to the Internet, and then saying things like, “We will drown all of you in blood.” One ISIS member even went so far as to claim in a video interview that he/they would raise the ISIS flag over the White House. And then he died in a U.S. airstrike. Oops. Their latest stunt has been organized through social media as a means of trying to provoke President Obama using captured journalist Steven Sotloff as bait. It’s cruel, sick, and insane. 

I realize that all seems pretty crude, but that’s the reality. That’s who they are. They have a blatant disregard for human life. It’s their way, or certain death. They’re pure evil, inhuman even. They truly have no humanity. I’ve done my part to better inform myself of who these people truly are by doing a little Twitter research (because ISIS members and their supporter ilk are all over Twitter) and to see read the stories of the violence they have perpetrated on the innocent in their path makes me beyond angry. What’s more aggravating is how they and their supporters have truly adopted the faux-martyr complex. They blame their course of action on unprovoked Western actions that have led to the death of their loved ones. If there is one thing about the historical record in the modern age, it’s the reality that they are the aggressors. They irrational clinging to a false ideology that they have mired in their own demented ambitions. They want blood. Whose blood? Doesn’t matter, whoever they have deluded themselves to believe has crossed them at the moment. 

Just this week the world was yet again alerted to ISIS’s brutality when they uploaded video of one black masked ISIS member, who was speaking English in a heavy British accent, beheading an American journalist, James Foley, who has been held captive since 2012. British Intelligence has apparently identified that man as Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a hip-hop artist from London. He is apparently not good though as no one in the hip-hop community has ever seemingly heard of him. Foley, a reporter for GlobalPost, was in Syria covering the Syrian revolution when he was taken captive in 2012. His only “crime” being that he was born and raised in a Western democracy, and that he didn’t believe as they do. By all accounts I’ve read, Foley was brave to the unfortunate end. 

The reality is that a rather large segment of Americans cared very little about ISIS… until Foley’s death hit the wire. One funny man Twitter user I follow, Tom Siedell (@badbanana), jokingly remarked a couple weeks ago, “I guess we'll know ISIS militants have reached America when we start noticing them in the background of our selfies.” This tweet being less a joke and more a jab at our evermore increasingly self-absorbed society. Stories of ISIS’s violent march into Iraq started popping up several months ago with a lot of folks asking, “How are Americans unaware of this happening? They are taking over entire Iraqi cities!” Additionally, one particular segment of American culture has recently become very aware of the actions of ISIS— Evangelical Christians. 

ISIS had been chasing around Iraqi Christians (of various traditions) for weeks and, like everyone else they consider infidels or “the enemy,” they were beheading them, crucifying them, stoning them, or whatever horrible means by which they could end their lives. Facebook feeds have been ablaze with the plight of Iraqi Christians losing their lives at the brutal hands of ISIS. 

The truth is… Christians should be up in arms. Everyone should be. But here’s the problem: ISIS has been going all medieval on people in Iraq and Syria for quite a while now. They’re not just targeting Iraqi Christians, either. They’re not specifically targeting Westerners and leaving everyone else alone. Everyone and anyone that doesn’t share their worldview, religion, or ideology loses their life. Some are simply made an example of. Foley, sadly being one of them. The realities of this terrible evil known as ISIL/ISIS/IS, or whatever abbreviation we assign them, is that our outrage over their alarming inhumanity and evil actions shouldn’t be limited to those in our own tribes. Evangelical Christians should be up in arms about all loss of life in that region. Americans, in general, should all be outraged about the lives being lost in that region. Regardless of whether or not you supported or disagreed with the decade long engagement in Iraq, at some point your humanity has to take over and say, “This shouldn’t be happening in the world we live in. Life has value, and ISIS doesn’t not value life.” Christianity should be doing whatever it can to see the lives of those who are not believers in Syria and Iraq spared, these are, after all, the very people that we should be serving and ministering to, right? I’m sure Ann Coulter would disagree, but who cares? 

I guess my plea would be for all Americans, regardless of race, religion, tribe, or whatever to be outraged by this and not let the international community be quiet as ISIS rolls on, taking more and more lives in the process. A concentrated effort by said international community would bring an abrupt end to the sound of their death knells rather quickly. I don’t understand the silence by some nations. Is it because right now ISIS’s concentration seems to be on Iraq and Syria while simultaneously threatening the United States? 

“Well, they haven’t named us yet, so let’s just stay out of it. Maybe they’ll forget about us.”

That’s not an sound approach to handling the evils of mere men. 

I value lives, even lives that do not believe as I do. So much so that I would support defending the lives of innocent people. Would you stand by and let an aggressor hurt your family? No. You are well within your moral and legal (and certainly, biblical) rights to defend them against such evil. And I don’t think it should be an issue of whether or not they are the same nationality, religion, race, or whatever as we are . ISIS is evil, and they mean to disregard and dispatch every human life that disagrees with them or wishes to disrupt their plans for world domination. Such evil exists in the world, sadly, and it always will. This fact, however, doesn’t mean we have to agree with it, much less tolerate it. 

One thing is clear: ISIS is well-funded, reasonably well-organized, and unbelievably brazen. I have no idea how capable they are, but given the idea that we never thought that terrorists could commit such a terrible act against us in 2001, we would be ill-advised to believe ISIS wouldn’t take the opportunity to hurt us or anyone else in our homelands.

If you are a praying man or woman, don’t just pray for those in our particular tribe. Pray for all those whose lives are in jeopardy in that part of the globe. We don’t harbor mercy, we seek it’s extension.


It's How They Look At You

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There was a point today during the time I was cradling my little girl here in my arm, trying to get her to take a nap, and she was just looking up at me. My son has done this 1000x over before, so I'm used to it. However, tonight, my little girl who is growing now like a weed looked at me, and it was different. It was different because even though my son has stared at me before from the very same position, she looks at me different. If you're a parent of more than one child, I'm sure you can attest to this very same occurrence. My daughter looks at me different, even at just 2 months old, than my son ever did. 

For now, it serves as a subtle reminder that sons are different than daughters, and as such, require us to adapt our parenting accordingly. This is the joy, and the struggle, of parenthood: the balancing act. I'm well aware of it, but don't want to forget it. I want to lead my children well, and shepherd their hearts as best I can. Children aren't a one-size fits all hat you can just slap on. Each child is different, regardless of how much it's sometimes hard to tell their baby pictures apart. 

Just some odd observations. It's nothing earth-shattering or new, but I'm sure anyone who has been the parent of a both son and daughter can relate. And, agree. 


Making Your Mark By Way of Moonwalking

So this kid will be able to forever look back on his days in high school and say, "Oh yea... that day I crushed the moonwalk in front of the whole school. And won." 

A Word to "Bro" Culture

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If you're a guy and you do not have a girlfriend, wife, and children... please read the following words carefully. If you are a guy who does have a girlfriend (whom you respect, I hope), a wife, and children then I'm sure you'll relate to the following. 

I recently became the father to a darling little baby girl. She's gorgeous and precious and very important to her mother and I. I can also assure you that during her formative years I'm going to do my best to love her so well that it wrecks any chance some young kid thinks he has with her. If some kid wants to win my daughter over he'll have to really out-do her daddy. I want the best for her, and some dude is going to have to that as well. Too many girls settle for dudes who will treat them like garbage in the end, and that's sad. What's even more sad is that there seems to be an ample supply of guys who are really just perpetual teenagers running loose out there. Some of them even have drivers licenses. 

Case in point: a while back, shortly before my little girl was born, I followed the most curious gentleman on my way to work. He was driving a Ford F-250 that he himself, in what I can only imagine was  a moment of sheer boredom (?), had given a customized paint job by way of spray paint. It was a really horrible abomination of automotive customization, but that wasn't even the most offensive part. No, that title would go to the sticker he so proudly displayed in his rear window. The sticker read, verbatim:

MY OTHER RIDES YOUR DAUGHTER

Yup, that's actually what it said. 

In what way is such a thing even remotely acceptable? Sadly, someone running a two-bit sticker printing operation thought it was funny enough to make, and someone with disposable income decided it was funny enough to purchase. 

Let's call a spade a spade here: such a thing as this is pure stupidity, and I'll tell you why. 

For starters, a guy driving a poorly spray painted truck probably knows very little about women beyond a simple, "Hey... that's a girl." So we'll give him a couple points for that at least. However, any man with at least a shred of dignity would never display such a sticker in a crass attempt to be witty or clever. It's neither of those things. It's pretty gross if you really think about it, champ. 

Secondly, it's pretty offensive to those of us with daughters who don't even know the person with such a sticker. What particular joy would one get out of someone with a little girl seeing that sticker? If you're a grown man and believe so foolishly that such a sentiment is hilarious, congratulations, you're still working from a frame of reference that is equivalent to junior high locker room humor, at best. The 1% of people who will find it amusing are the same people who also have one on their vehicles as well. I hear they're giving out badges to all members of the Mutual Admiration Society for Fools Like You. Go on get'cha some, bruh!  Here's your free tickets to the Nickelback concert next week. 

Lastly, you just make yourself look like a goon to the world around you. No one admires that behavior. If someone rolls up to my home to call on my daughter and I see that sticker in their car window, they'll know the feeling of having a door jammed in the face and the sound of sirens coming to investigate a prowler. I don't have time for that...

So let's just cut to the chase for all you darling young fellows out there who believe "MY OTHER RIDES YOUR DAUGHTER" stickers are awesome: get yourself together. No self-respecting girl wants anything to do with that sort of thing, and there's a contingency of hostile dads just waiting to run you off the road. You don't want that sort of heat, guy. 

Put yourself in the hypothetical situation of having a daughter of your own and how you would feel upon seeing such a thing from another drive. I know, it's hard to think about anyone but yourself, because that's how we got into this predicament to begin with, but try hard. The world doesn't need one more boy trying to wear man pants. The world needs more grown-up, responsible adult males who respond to the rising of each morning's sun with respect and purpose to their lives. Much more, there are a legion of girls out there waiting to be treasured, respected, encouraged, and loved. If you continue on a track as such a sticker would indicate, you're going to wind up wrecking someone's little girl and assuring yourself a place in the Hall of the Worst Human Beings Ever. There's no glory in that, so why try so hard? Try harder to be a person worthy of respect and admiration and worthy of imitation by other men around you. People see your truck and your sticker and they Instagram/Tweet/Facebook a picture of it in an attempt to mock you, not celebrate you. 

I know for some my words will seem self-serving since I just brought home a little girl of my one, but bear in mind that I was once a teacher to middle school students. This isn't something that I'm only attuned to only now because I have a daughter. No, I've seen it happening for years now. Fathers, love your little girls well. I cannot implore you enough to love them well because, as a I stated earlier, there seems to be no shortage of dudes out there who have no interest in loving your daughters well. They intend to disrespect them, and ultimately, ruin them. Spoil them not in the materialistic sense, but in the way you treasure, lead, honor, and love them so gents such as the one described above don't have a chance. Empower your little girl to have a standard for their future boyfriend/husband. 

And also, Fathers with sons: Teach them how to love, honor, and respect women. If you see this truck and this sticker, take a few minutes to teach your sons why such a thing is just stupid and that you better never catch them engaging in such a thing.