Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs


Photo courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.
As an experiment, writer: A.J. Jacobs attempted to obey the laws of the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He followed the Ten Commandments, ate Kosher, wore a full beard, avoided wearing clothes made of mixed fibers, and loved his neighbor.  The result was the book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs .

I've spent the last few weeks reading this book, and generally speaking I liked it.  The chronicle was full of humorous moments and thought provoking questions concerning the concrete nature of God's law.

Much of the humor was centered around his wife's reactions to the experiment.  According to Leviticus 15:19-20, “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean."

When Jacobs' wife became frustrated by not being able to see R rated movies with A.J. on date night, she decided to torture him by sitting on every seat in the house, on the first day of her menstrual cycle, forcing him to stand during the entire week.

While the book is filled with this kind of humor, the over all message of the book concerns the impracticability of obeying God's law in modern times.

One can't read a book like this without comparing it to their own beliefs.  I'm no exception.  In my opinion, adopting the laws of the Bible, without accepting God as real, misses the point of the Bible.  The first commandment is, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2-3)  Without accepting that, and Jacobs made it clear that he couldn't, the other laws become meaningless.

One of the most detailed commandments is found in Exodus 20:10, "but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates." 

While God seemingly left no wiggle room within this commandment, Christ himself broke the rule in order to let his hungry disciples pick grain (Matthew 12:1-8) and to heal the disabled  (Luke 13:10-17).  By my way of thinking, these examples demonstrate that God's laws are guidelines for defining our relationship with God, rather than a set of absolutes to be blindly adhered to.

Jacobs didn't get this distinction.  During the year in question, his wife gave birth to twins.  Once the first baby came out, Jacobs would no longer hold his wife's hand because Leviticus 12:2 says, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean."  He obeyed the letter of God's law, but sacrificed its compassionate spirit.

While Jacobs and I are on different theological pages, I'm glad I read The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. In addition to being entertaining, it forces readers to think about why they believe what they believe.

I give The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Quick Question Of Happiness

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap)
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap)
If you're happy and you know it, and you really want to show it,
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap)

Most people grew up singing this diddy in school and summer camp.  Few people think about the words though.

The song implies that it’s possible to be happy, but not know it. If you’re happy and you don’t know it, are you happy?  I’m not sure.

If happiness is simply the lack of sadness, fear, and anger then it may be possible to be happy and not realize it.  This view implies that happiness is a default baseline emotion, which we revert to when we’re not feeling something negative.

I’m not sure I entirely buy that though.  I think many people wander through life in a blah state of neutral, neither happy nor sad.   Happiness, real happiness, may be a conscious choice.  If so, and I think this is likely, then knowing you’re happy may be a necessary part of the definition of happiness.

If you’re happy and you don’t know it, are you happy? Leave your thoughts below.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

News Burnout

ABC Television Promotional Photograph of Ron Cochran presenting the news program Ron Cochran and the News
Subject: BC Television Promotional Photograph of Ron Cochran presenting the news program "Ron Cochran and the News" | Date: 01/31/1953 | Photographer: ABC TV | This work is in the public domain in that it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice.
"There's a local paper rolled up in a rubber band,
One more sad story's one more than I can stand,
Just once, how I'd like to see the headline say,
Not much to print today can't find nothing bad to say,
Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town,
Nobody OD'd, nobody burned a single building down,
Nobody fired a shot in anger...nobody had to die in vain,
We sure could use a little good news today."
~ "A Little Good News" by Anne Murray, August 1983

A good friend recently informed me she had watched her last news broadcast.  She said that within a five minute span she learned a manager of a KFC kicked out 3 year old girl, because her facial scars, from a pit bull attack, were too grotesque looking and radio icon, and voice of Shaggy, Casey Kasem died at age 82.  Before that, she had been inundated for days with rehashings of the recent Reynolds High School shooting and reports that John McCain, and other legislators, want us to go back to war in Iraq.

I can't blame her for being discouraged by the abundance of negativity being broadcast by the news.  We seem to be flooded with stories of cruelty, death, tragedy, and loss on a daily basis.  Heck, with so many rumors of war filling the airwaves, I often wonder if John wasn't catching glimpses of CNN when he penned Revelations.

It's hardly a new phenomenon either; Anne Murray was singing about the trend thirty years ago.  Before her, Sidney Lumet was mad as hell, and wasn't going to take this anymore, and made a movie about the subject.

As I write this, today's news stories are:
"Iraq asks for U.S. air power," "Texas Republicans call for repealing the Voting Rights Act," "Iraqi militants claim mass executions," "George Will trivializes sexual assault," and "Sheriff's deputy sought crazed vengeance after his car is egged by teens."

I can't blame my friend for feeling bombarded with depressing news stories.  There's a very real temptation to shut out national & global concerns, and to focus on our own microcosm.  It's tempting to tell ourselves, "I'm busy enough making sure my kids pass algebra and have three meals a day.  I don't need to care about what's happening in Washington D.C. and Iraq."

While I understand that way of thinking, and am often tempted by it myself, I can't help but remember the words of Ben Franklin.  "It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active.  The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

In other words, if we don't pay attention we deserve what we get.  He was right.  Not keeping track of the news deprives us from knowing which politicians want to cut food stamps & healthcare, who wants to send our soldiers oversees & why, and how our climate is changing.  Trapping ourselves within tiny spheres of global ignorance robs us of the ability to advocate for issues and vote in an intelligent way.

As much as I understand the appeal of blocking out the news of the world, the price of such bliss is simply too high.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Punching Boxing Fans In The Wallet

Anyone who's read this blog in the past knows that I'm a big boxing fan.  I  listen to boxing news & talk all week, rent boxing documentaries from Netflix, research the upcoming fights, make my picks through a free boxing pool/challenge, and watch the bouts intently each weekend.  While I love the sport, I must say I hate the business.

NBC, CBS, & FOX have sports channels which are trying to gain a seat at the boxing table, but ESPN2, HBO, & Showtime dominate a typical televised boxing weekend.  The weekend begins on Friday evening with ESPN2's Friday Night Fights, which mostly features minor bouts with up and coming fighters looking to make a name for themselves.  Occasionally, Friday night will also see an episode of Showtime's ShoBox featuring "the next generation" of boxers.  Saturday evening is the big boxing night though, when HBO and/or Showtime show the big fights featuring well known fighters. 

My gripe is that HBO and Showtime save the best fights (Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Saul "Canelo" Alvarez,  Manny Pacquiao vs. Tim Bradley 2, Cotto vs. Martinez, etc...) for expensive pay per view cards.

Max Kellerman after the Pascal Vs. Hopkins fight
Subject: HBO's Max Kellerman after the Pascal Vs. Hopkins fight | Date: 05/22/2011 | Photographer: Muriel Leclerc | This file is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
For a pay per view boxing match, Comcast charges a residence in my area $54.99 to watch it in Standard Definition, or $64.99 to watch it in High Definition.  Keep in mind, the monthly package that includes HBO & Showtime, which I get in order to watch boxing, costs $219.95 per month.  To charge another $65 to watch a match being broadcast by a network one already pays for seems outrageous to me.
According to ESPN, the fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez generated $150 million in revenue from 2.2 million Showtime  pay-per-view buys.  Since then, the April 12th rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley brought in between 775,000 to 800,000,  approximately $49 million, pay-per-view buys on HBO and the May 3 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana generated an estimated 900,000 pay per view buys earning around $60 million.

I have no problem with boxers trying to make as much money as possible while in their prime.  My problem is with networks and promoters hitting fans with a double whammy.  People, in my circle anyway, can't afford $65 each month, on top of their cable bill, to watch fights, no matter how key those fights are.

Granted, I could pay a low $20 to watch the fight at my local movie theater.  If I want something to sip & snack on though, I'd have to buy their food and soda, no beer allowed, at the marked up theater prices.  It's a better option than spending $65 to watch it at home, but it's still inconvenient.

Boxing is the only sport that nickels and dimes its fans to this extent.  In the fall, you don't see the NFL saving Seahawks games for pay per views because their the Super Bowl champs.  Fans don't have to pay through the nose to watch Basketball's Final Four, The World Series, The Indie 500, or The Masters on TV.  Even the joke sport WWE gives fans free access to pay per views if they already subscribe to the network.

There's no reason HBO & Showtime couldn't give free fight access to their subscribers and sell individual fights to non-subscribers.  They'd make a few million per fight, but the be ensuring the survival of an ongoing fan base.  If common people have to shell out top dollar, in order to watch headlining fighters on TV, they're going to lose interest in the sport.

Below  is a comprehensive list of sports that survived after losing their fan base.
Whoops, nothing's there.