I am a Disciple of Kurt Vonnegut and Jesus

Modern Christianity could learn a lot from Kurt Vonnegut. This is a bit ironic because Vonnegut was a Humanist who at the best of time might have been Agnostic. But the morals in his novels might as well have been included in the Biblical canon.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Kurt Vonnegut, in addition to being a Humanist, he survived the firebombing of Dresden, Germany as a prisoner of war in World War 2 and then became a bestselling novelist.

9780385334143I am currently re-reading his book, Mother Night, and I wanted to share some thoughts. It doesn’t take long for Vonnegut to tell you what a book is going to be about. Often, he gives his own spoilers in the Introduction. But you don’t read his books to find out “whodunnit”, you read them because he was a brilliant writer who understood the human condition and he cast light on “the least of these” in the most humanizing ways possible.

Mother Night is a first-person portrayal of American Nazi war criminal, Howard W. Campbell, Jr., who is on trial for his crimes against humanity in Israel. Campbell claims early on that he was acting as a secret agent on behalf of the Allies while at the same time actively working in propaganda for Nazi Germany. The book is Campbell’s memoir as he awaits the verdict of his trial.

This is from the Editor’s Note at the beginning of the book:

Before seeing what sort of a book I was going to have here, I wrote the dedication–“To Mata Hari.” She whored in the interest of espionage, and so did I.
Now that I’ve seen some of the book, I would prefer to dedicate it to someone less exotic, less fantastic, more contemporary–less a creature of silent film.
I would prefer to dedicate it to one familiar person, male or female, widely known to have done evil while saying to himself, “A very good me, the real me, a me made in heaven, is hidden deep inside.”
I can think of many examples, could rattle them off after the fashion of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song. But there is no single name to which I might aptly dedicate this book–unless it would be my own.
Let me honor myself in that fashion, then:
This book is rededicated to Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a man who served evil too openly and good too secretly, the crime of this times.

I love that line, “a man who served evil too openly and good too secretly”. I also completely understand the concept of someone doing evil while assuring themselves that they are good deep down inside.

Now, contrary to popular belief, Humanists don’t believe that people are inherently good. Rather, they believe that humanity is capable to both good and evil. Christianity differs here in that they say that humanity is inclined toward evil and goodness can only be accomplished with divine help.

In the preface to the book, Vonnegut writes:

This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don’t think it’s a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

Christianity would disagree and say that there are plenty of people who pretend to be good, but are quite evil inside. And while that is true, Christians also shouldn’t be worrying about the evil inside of other people. God is the only one with the authority and knowledge to judge accurately in these cases. Besides, I don’t think Vonnegut is writing with these people in mind.

Mother Night is more of a warning to people who do evil in the name of good, not the other way around. And there are probably a lot of Christians out there who are willing to treat people in less-than-loving ways because they are sinners. But does the Bible really tell us to be mean or treat people badly because they are sinners? Doesn’t it tell us that we should do good to those who hurt us? Doesn’t it say that we should love as Christ, a guy who hung out with prostitutes and turncoats, loved?

Anyway, I know that there are some areas that Humanism gets wrong, and I’m more than prepared to admit that Vonnegut wasn’t a saint, but there is this to say for him that can’t be said of the Modern Church: He loved people without judging them.

I only hope I can do the same.

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Birthday Gift Report 2012

I had a wonderful 30th birthday.

I took the day off to spend with my family. We got to sleep in (and with a one-month old, this was a miracle in itself). We went out to a wonderful lunch at On The Border. I had my best day ever on my blog (104, just saying). And I got a pile of wonderful gifts, courtesy of my wife and my extended family.

Let me offer a disclaimer to the rest of this post. The best part of my birthday was being able to spend it with family. The gifts are all wonderful, but mean less than a toot to me in comparison to that. I just don’t want anyone thinking that I’m being braggy about my new stuff or that my priorities are messed up.

Okay, now you can look at my awesome gifts.

Here’s the rundown.

On Writing by Stephen King – Many writer’s have talked about how influential this book has been on their lives as writers. I look forward to finding out what all the fuss is about.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin – The second in the Song of Ice and Fire series following A Game of Thrones. By the way, the book discussion for A Game of Thrones is happening this Thursday. Drop me a note if you are planning on coming and haven’t told me yet.

While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut – I didn’t even know that this book existed, and Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. While Mortals Sleep is a collection of his previously unpublished short fiction. I’m only about 80 pages in so far, but I have no idea why this was not published until now. I’ll do a full book review later though.

Cuisenart Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Coffee Mill – If you are going to get a coffee grinder, a burr grinder is the way to go. It is the best way to have uniformly ground coffee beans for use in making any kind of coffee.

Black Crema Coffee Press by Bodum – This is an 8-cup french press to go with my coffee grinder. I’ve been spending too much time and money by going out for coffee when I could be staying at home for writing nights. This is the perfect way to fuel my caffeine-driven writing fests.

Meijer Organics Whole Bean Coffee – To use in the grinder and the french press. Pure Arabica beans means a smoother, less acidic cup of joe. Good stuff.

Homestead Cobs-a-Twirl Squirrel Feeder – My wife knows how every year I put a squirrel feeder on my birthday list and every year I don’t get one. Well, I didn’t put it on my list this year, but this is the year that I got it. I have it installed already, but so far, the squirrels seem wary of it. Anyway, I can’t wait to watch them figure out how to get the corn from the feeder. The box says it is fun for squirrels, but I am inclined to believe that the only one getting any fun out of this contraption is me.

Biggby Gift Card – For those nights when I want to go out for my very favorite coffee drink, Biggby’s Frozen Mint Mocha. Oh man, they are good.

On The Border Gift Card (not pictured) – Already used it and took advantage of the fact that I am on the OTB email list and get special deals for my birthday. My wife and I got free queso and a free dessert and the gift card covered the rest of our meal.

I could not have asked for a nicer birthday, nor a nicer set of gifts. I can’t wait to read all of my new books and report to you my thoughts. Thanks again to all of you who wished me a happy birthday on here or on my Facebook page. All of your wishes came true.

Two Days or Less

In two days or less, my wife and I will be officially adding one to the number of people who occupy rooms in our household.

We are obviously very excited, but in any crunch time you also think of the things that you are not going to accomplish before the main event happens.

For instance, in the next two days, I’m not going to finish my WIP, which means that I’ll need to find (make) time to work on my novel once we have two little mouths to feed and four little hands to keep from harassing the dog.

I’m not going to build the cool book lamps that I thought about building in the next two days.

I’m not going to design and build the toy chest that my oldest daughter needs. Her toys are everywhere, just everywhere. Not that having a toy chest would help much because she likes her toys to be everywhere anyway. I’m just saying, it isn’t going to happen.

I may not even get a chance to finish writing out my thoughts on my friend’s manuscript even though I’ve had if for months (sorry Bob).

Knowing that certain things are not going to be done on my schedule can cause me to act in one of two ways. Either I can freak out and try to accomplish all of my wants or I can accept the disparity and try to plan how I will accomplish them in light of my future additional responsibilities.

Yesterday, I wrote about how I’ve felt grown-up ever since I got married, but I realize that I still have room to mature. I think accepting my limitations and planning accordingly is part of that process.

I am smooth.

Since I started thinking about my college days again for last week’s post, I thought I’d share another college story.

When I first moved to Kalamazoo in order to attend Western Michigan University, music was something that was still primarily enjoyed by listening to the radio (that makes me feel very old all of the sudden). Illegal file sharing was yet to be made illegal, and the iPod was only a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye. While searching the dial for a station worth listening to, I stumbled across my college’s radio station, WIDR, and instantly fell in love.

WIDR | Radio EvolutionI still get nostalgic for WIDR and many’s the time when I wish that I could get the signal where I live now. All of the DJs were students, long awkward pauses and dead air were not uncommon, and I had never heard of most of the musicians they played, but it all worked. WIDR had the perfect mix of loveable amateurism and exposure to the underground music scene.

But enough of my gushing and on to the story.

I learned where the station was located after being invited to speak about the Valhalla Norwegian Society, of which I was president at the time. As it happened, WIDR’s studio was located in the same building as the registered student organization mailboxes, so in the weeks following the interview, I would stop in at random to say hi to the DJs who interviewed me with whom I had struck up a friendship.

On one such visit, rather than ask if my DJ friends were available, I stepped up to the main desk and said, “I’m here to pick up my prize pack.” Now, there was no prize pack waiting for me, but I thought that on the off chance that I could get a free t-shirt or something, I’d try my luck.

“Prize pack?” said the receptionist. “Did someone call you and tell you that you won something?”

“Um,” I replied. “Well, no.”

“Then, why did you come in?” asked the receptionist, and rightfully so.

“Um,” I replied. “I just wanted to see if I could get something. Maybe a t-shirt or something.”

“Oh,” said the receptionist. “Well, I can’t give you anything.”

“Okay,” I said. “Would you mind telling John that I’m out here then, if he’s not on-air at the moment, I mean.”

“Actually,” said a woman sitting against the wall who I had completely missed, “I was about to go record an interview with John, so he’ll be busy for a little bit.”

“Oh,” I said. “It’s cool. I’ll just check back later.”

“Wait a sec,” said the new woman. “I heard what you were trying to do with the prize pack thing. Clever and ballsy of you. If you wait around until after the interview, I’d love to give you a couple tickets to my show tonight. Maybe you could bring a date.”

I waited. True to her word, this mystery musician put my name down for two tickets to her show that night.  This turn of events gave me sufficient reason to ask out a girl that I’d been interested in a for a few weeks. What a great first date story that would be, I thought (isn’t it funny how we want to make our lives fit into clever story arcs?). To my surprise, the girl agreed and off we went.

The seats were prime. The music was good. My date and I were enjoying ourselves. And then, around the middle of the set, the musician stops and says, “Where’s Josh? I met Josh earlier at the college radio station and he told me that he was going to be on a first date tonight. Josh, are you here?”

I raised my hand. People from all directions stared at me… and my date. I should probably say that the girl that I brought to this event was a shy girl who didn’t like the spotlight.

“How’s the date going so far?”

I looked over at my date. She gave me a thumbs up, but the look on her face was not happy.

“Um, great!” I lied.

“Cool,” she said, and then she finished her show. The first date became the last date, and that was okay. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Afterward, I stopped back into the radio station to thank them for doing the interview with the musician that led to me getting free show tickets. My DJ friends invited me to talk about the evening on the air. I told them that it was a good evening, but that things didn’t work out.

That was when they decided that it would be a fun show segment to have girls call in to the station and go on dates with me (WIDR would be footing the bill) and then I would talk about my experiences the next day. At the time, I thought nothing of being pimped out by my college radio station and thought it would be a fun way to see concerts and such for free.

The promotion never came together however, and now I’m really glad that it didn’t. Now, I’m married to a wonderful woman (a bit on the shy side, I guess I have a type). And though I’m sure that my wife would never have left me when confronted with a spotlight on us, I’m glad that our story started differently.

I love my wife more than old people love racism and talking about diseases.