Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Thankfulness: Thanksgiving Edition

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Having missed my normal shopping day because I was out of town visiting relatives and stuffing my face over Thanksgiving, I went to the grocery store tonight. As I pondered which type of beer I thought would work best as part of the “Becker Barbecued Shrimp” recipe I had picked out to try this week, I heard a faint “excuse me, sir”. From the way he asked, I don’t think it was the first time he had tried to get my attention.

He was a thin man with a taut face and scraggly hair. He was still wearing his work clothes, a pair of paint-splattered jeans and a too-small sweatshirt. It was hard to tell whether the patches of white in his hair were flecks of paint from today’s job or from years of hard labor. He softly said “Could you tell me if I need an oven for this pie, or if it’s already cooked? I can’t read too good.”, as he handed me a frozen apple pie. I turned the box over a few times, looking for the instructions. As I found them, my heart sank, and I told him “it says ‘pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees’, so I think you need an oven.” As I handed the frozen pie back to the man, he explained he didn’t have an oven so that wouldn’t work. He thanked me and walked away, not visibly upset.

As I reflected on my interaction with this unnamed man, it evoked more emotion then I’d felt in weeks. Here was a man with no stove at home, forced to resort to asking passers-by whether he would be able to eat what he’d picked from the shelves. Moved, I immediately wanted to do something to help him. But what? How? I considered trying to tell the cashier I would cover his groceries, but worried about how to do it discretely as I continued shopping, and the opportunity passed. I don’t know that paying for a day or two of his groceries would have helped him much in the long run, but it may have brightened his day. I felt thankfulness, pity, shame, and helplessness all at once.

Thankfulness that I wasn’t in his shoes. Pity for a man obviously knocked around by life. Shame for being born into the life I was without ‘deserving’ it. Helplessness because this man’s problems weren’t something I could quickly, easily, discretely fix by throwing a few dollars his way – my desire to ‘fix’ his life couldn’t be instantly gratified as so many of my other desires can.

The traditional American Thanksgiving involves sitting in front of a TV all day, devouring a meal so extravagant we’ll have to spend more money on a gym membership come January, and fighting in line with other people to buy the latest gadget we don’t really need. Apparently we as a culture think that sheer indulgence is the best way to demonstrate how thankful we are for our good fortune. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the value of taking a break from our labors and getting to see friends and family. It’s just that our traditional Thanksgiving behavior doesn’t exactly demonstrate the type of true humility I associate with thankfulness.

When the man approached me to ask about the pie, I had 10 cans of fruit and vegetables in my cart to be donated to a local food pantry. When I put them in my cart, I felt like I was doing more than my fair share, since my employer had only asked us to bring 4 cans each. After talking to this man, it seemed silly, futile even – my ‘generous’ 10 cans aren’t going to buy this man a stove or to teach him to read. They cost me $10, when I have plenty to spare each month.

This holiday season, I encourage you to be more than merely thankful, but to be helpful and generous to those you would rather forget about. I am going to do my best to do the same. Even if it means sacrificing a little more than my meager 10 cans.

I am Ashamed to be a North Carolinian Today

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage today. This is the most ashamed I have ever been of my state. Yes, much of what this amendment does was already law, but codifying bigotry more firmly into the law is a step in the wrong direction.

The amendment will add this language to the North Carolina Constitution:

“Sec. 6. Marriage.
Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

Though it is unclear if and how this amendment will affect heterosexual couples, it is clear that it firmly prohibits same-sex marriages and civil unions. Much campaigning against the amendment has been done on the grounds that it will affect non-gay couples and their rights also. Even if this is true (I’m not qualified to say), I believe this is a weak argument which entirely avoids the main issue. Below I address the popular arguments against same-sex marriage and the reasons I support it.

Separation of Church and State

Does no one care about this any more?

I am Christian, and am getting married in a little over two months. I am a firm believer that marriage is an institution of the church and a holy covenant. However, I am equally sure that the Bible says absolutely nothing about making sure only heterosexual couples can jointly file their taxes or have other legal benefits. We have conflated the religious concept of marriage with the state concept of marriage. Ideally, we might have the two separated – i.e. have a ‘civil union’ which is recognized by the state, and a ‘marriage’, which is recognized by the church.

However, for various cultural, religious, political reasons, this is not going to happen. We might just have to settle for the next best thing: the state allowing marriage between any two adults who wish to become legally married. In this arrangement, individual churches/denominations/religious groups are not forced to marry anyone, but are given the freedom to do as they choose. In fact, this is exactly what would happen if the amendment was repealed and the current law prohibiting same-sex marriage was stricken from the books. Your church doesn’t have to marry gay people if it doesn’t want to, but the state has to recognize such a union as a matter of civil rights.

On the “Sanctity” of Marriage

I have a very hard time accepting the argument against same-sex marriage on the basis that it destroys the sanctity of marriage. The sanctity of marriage is destroyed by those who get married before they are ready, abuse their spouses, divorce without trying reconciliation, and those who get married just for fun on a whim. The gay couples I know are just as committed and loving towards each other as any heterosexual couple (perhaps even more so because of all the hardships they have had to endure).

Furthermore, if you believe the value of your own marriage (past, present, or future) depends on whether or not others’ marriages are recognized, I pity you. Personally, I will value my upcoming marriage based on the love and respect we have for each other.

On Homosexuality Being A Choice

Homosexual teens suffer from a tremendous amount of bullying in today’s schools. The number of homosexual teens who have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide is much higher than their heterosexual peers. According to the various studies summarized in this brief from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) youth are between one and a half and seven times more likely to report having attempted suicide than their straight peers. I have witnessed this first-hand – it is real and it hurts. What, then, is the benefit to them of ‘choosing’ to be gay? If they had any sense at all, they would just start being heterosexual in order to avoid that stigma and embarrassment, right? Unless, of course, it isn’t a choice.

It has been shown that the tendency to be homosexual is affected by birth-order in males and furthermore that there are measurable differences in brain activity between people with different sexual orientations (see this article). There is an excellent movie entitled “For The Bible Tells Me So” which tackles the issue of homosexuality and religion together. Here’s a clip from its discussion on whether homosexuality is a choice.

On Marrying Your Toaster

A common argument is that if same-sex marriage is allowed, it might be a “slippery slope” which leads to people marrying their monkey, rhinoceros, tomato, or toaster. This is almost too absurd of an argument for me to comment on. In my experience, slippery slope arguments are usually the product of fear rather than rational consideration. Marriage (the state form, at least) is a legal contract between two people. Unless your monkey or your toaster is capable of consenting to marrying you and signing the marriage application/license at the courthouse, you won’t be able to marry it.

On Fear

This is why Amendment 1 passed. It is fear of something not understood. According to this article, the amendment’s “most visible patron”, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, notes that he thinks “it will be repealed in 20 years.” This attitude suggests that those voting in favor of the amendment know that equality under the law is surely coming, but they are personally intimidated by something they don’t understand and wish to put it off as long as possible. This attitude is unacceptable.

Shame on you, North Carolina.

A Poem and a Prayer

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I wrote the following poem at a recent LSM activity in 5 minutes. Bill King, whom I highly respect, thought it was worth sharing. So, here it is:

We see the sunrise over the ocean,
        but not your face.
We hear a newborn’s cry,
        but not your voice.
We feel the touch of our loved ones,
        but not your calming embrace.
We smell the coming rain,
        but not the majesty of your creation.
Help us
        to see your face,
        to hear your voice,
        to feel your touch,
        and to know that you surround us.

LaTeX Resume

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

I have been meaning to format my Resume in LaTeX for a while now, and finally got around to it. I found tons of LaTeX Resume styles online, but none of them seemed to be what I was looking for. Furthermore, most of them seemed overly complicated, when I just needed a few simple things.

So, Here is the .tex file and the result. Feel free to copy what you wish. I only ask that if you make changes that you email me with them so I can incorporate them into my own!

What is in the Health Care Bill?

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

I’ve been complaining for a while because no one in the news seems to ever discuss what’s contained in this new health care. They just talk about whether it’ll pass and who’s getting more support for it – not the actual content of it.

So, at last, I have found a good summary of what is actually contained in the bill. So, here it is (from Reuters).