Will power, vice, and kicking the habit (Aristotle)

So think of any kind of physical appetite: sex, food, alcohol, candy, video games, social media, gossip. Okay, People relate to these appetites (or vices) in one of four ways. Take social media, for example. The TEMPERATE person abstains from social media simply because he has no desire for Facebook or Instagram or whatever’s in. The temperate person is like the one who truly hates alcohol — she abstains from drinking because there’s just no desire.

The second person is the CONTINENT person (sorry, that’s the way the word is translated). This person also abstains, but only with great will power. He stays off of Facebook by deactivating his account, or deleting the app off his smartphone. He white-knuckles his way to kicking the habit.

The third person is the INCONTINENT person (again, I didn’t make up these words). Like the content person, he wants to kick the habit, but his will power just isn’t strong enough. He has the second piece of chocolate cake. She has “just one last” shopping spree before she starts her new budget. The incontinent person might sound familiar to a lot of us. Guilt is always lurking in the back (or front) of our minds because we are constantly failing to master our appetites.

Finally, there is the INTEMPERATE person. This person has no guilt, no shame, and no sense that his addiction is probably hurting many people.

Who did it? You or God?

Who’s responsible for your achievements? You or God? The following tale helps answer the question. A neighbor was once passing by St. Francis of Assisi’s home. He commented, “you must have prayed very hard to produce such a wonderful garden.” The wise saint answered, “yes, I prayed, and then I picked up my hoe.”


Coolness. Being “hip," trendy, fashionable, stylish. What do these words even mean? Who determines who’s cool, and who’s not? Today I spent 20 minutes observing people at a coffee house in Newport Beach. And the issue of “coolness” and “style” hit me. I saw fit moms decked-out in their fashionable workout gear. Some of them had inflated (“full”) lips. Some of their faces looked shiny and like wax. Their teeth were super white. There were the high school students, all seemingly very intentional about the brands and the various positions of the pants and hats and hair. There were the businessmen — one guy tailored and trimmed and just so neatly tucked-in, casting and air of poise and and confidence and nonchalance. (The college students didn’t seem to care that much about their looks; they were just nose-down, reading and writing.) There were a few surfer/skater types who looked slovenly—but their slovenly style seemed remarkably intentional (did I use "slovenly correctly?).

Some people just didn’t seem to care that much about their clothes and hair and image. These were the regular looking folks who seemed interested in getting a cup of coffee.

I started wearing skinnier pants a few months ago because a friend told me that all my pants were too baggy around the legs. And then I went to this new barber who gave me some hair product and told me how to comb my hair. I never thought I could have straight-looking hair without a huge effort (as a kid, after afros were no longer cool, I used to sleep with a ski cap on and every morning blow-dry my resistant curls). Anyway, the lady gave me this new kind of water-based pomade. No longer do I have the puffy hair (that you can see in some of my earlier pictures). It’s all slick and parted (see profile pic) and people are starting to tell me that, between my narrowed trousers and my hairdo, I look cool.

I look cool? Me? Who says? What does “cool" mean? And who decides? What is the measurement? One thing for sure, there are a lot of people way cooler than me (you know who you are).

I have a bunch more questions about coolness that I want to write about soon, and hear what you have to say. One thing for sure. Whoever invented cool knew what the heck he (or she) was doing. It seems here to stay.


Grammy weddings and weirdness

The Grammy weddings. That’s what I’m thinking about today. It all seems weird to me. Legal? Yes. Acceptable in terms of free speech? Certainly. But still, weird. Seems like the more bizarre something is — the further out of the ordinary — the better. And if you’re doing things in conventional ways, the old fashioned way, you’re just “narrow.”

Some of my friends who work in secular higher education (all liberals) are now starting to scratch their respective heads, and are calling this crazed culture “weird.” One of these friends, a professor at a large prestigious university (who just happens, to be male, white and heterosexual), is regularly harassed by African Americans and gays and people that are angry about his “high salary.” He’s like “I’ve given my career to tolerance and inclusiveness and promoting the progressive causes…and to more and more people of this new subculture, I’m considered a right-winger, just because I’m white, male, married, and have a good job.”). He’s harassed all the time. He says he’s been “written off.” Because of who he is.

What do you think?

Was Jesus Mean?

Was Jesus mean? I’m thinking about the virtue of kindness. And peace. And tolerance. And acceptance. All good virtues. But I am also thinking about honesty. What happens when being honest is seen as being “unkind”? And if you’re a Christian, what to do with the countless passages where Jesus is outright harsh? What do we do with the passage where Jesus says “…don’t think I came to bring peace…”

Was Jesus mean?

Narcisism? Nothing new.

I hear a lot of people talking about this horrible narcissistic world we now live in. I’m not so sure. People have always been selfish, self centered, hedonistic. There’s nothing new under the sun. Yes, ways of communicating are quickly changing. We can now present ourselves to more people, with the click of a mouse.

But people are no more narcissistic today than they were in ancient times.

“Christian” is good enough for me

Lots of frustrated Protestants today are splitting hairs today about names. Some are calling themselves “followers of Jesus” but not “Christian.” Some are calling themselves “disciples” but not “Christian.” And some (like me) are happy calling themselves, well, “Christian.” (Romans Catholics don’t have this problem. They call themselves, “Catholic.”)

Paul (not me) warned about this kind of sloganeering in 1st Corinthians. There was a bunch of division back then, too. Some believers said they followed Paul; others said they followed Peter; other that they followed Apollos.

Some really clever ones claimed to follow “Christ.” (Those first century elitists remind me of people today that protest using the name “Christian,” so have to use other names to point-out to everyone how radical or real or early church or more organic they are than everybody else.)

This oneupmanship has been around for 2,000 years. C.S. Lewis understood the temptation all of have to want to stand out. Different. Better. More radical. Elitist.

So Lewis used the name and idea of being “Merely Christian” to basically point out the undeniable fact that most of us are about the same: self centered, broken, hypocritical. Very few us are saintly like Jesus or Mother Teresa or St. Francis of Assisi.

In any given moment of time, every one of is either acting Christlike, or we’re not. So I’ll go with the name “Christian” for now, unless I come to the conclusion that I’m better than you.

I’m sure that won’t be happening though.

Vacating Memories

Vacating Memories

There’s something wrong with any parent who doesn’t love family vacations. If I had the time and money, I’d vacation all summer long. Getting out of town clears our heads from the ordinary. Vacations have the ability to etch fond memories into the minds of the young.

Just take your kids out of town and they’re bound to remember stuff.

Those of us who love summer travels should consider ourselves lucky. We’d all be staying home had it not been for man named Edward Jarvis.

Jarvis was the US commissioner of education in the mid 1800’s. He published a report called the “Relation of Education to Insanity.” In the report he concludes, “Education lays the foundation of a large portion of the causes of mental disorder.” His work produced a startling “finding” — mentally ill people had had too much school. Their minds were over stimulated. Their brains needed a vacation.

So in order to reduce insanity, kids across America were given the summer off.

But very few families traveled in the 1800’s. Traveling was costly. Public transportation was for the elite. Credit cards hadn’t been invented. So kids stayed home. By the mid-1900’s, however, most families owned cars. You could now drive to your desired destination. You could travel. And most families did. The golden age of the family vacation had begun.

I remember one summer when my parents rented a mobile home and took my sisters and me to a private trailer park, about 30 miles south of Tijuana. It was the late 1970’s. A few years later they purchased that mobile home. Summer after summer we all came back, usually for a weekend, but sometimes week or two.

I remember always visiting a fishing village called Puerto Nuevo (we all called it “Newport”). Everybody fussed over the fresh lobster. I resisted. The more I resisted, the more they’d all bug me to try some. So one day I threw a few chunks into the freshly made tortilla. An hour later I broke out in a rash, head to toe. My eyes were swollen shut and my mom (who always opted for home remedies) rubbed warm salt water all over me. I wouldn’t try lobster again for very long time.

I remember the dusty curio shops dotted along the roads in Rosarito beach, and the firecrackers and skyrockets and switchblades that my dad would never let me buy. I remember the self-serve Mexican bread shop where you use tongs and a stainless steel platter. Each of us kids were allowed to have our own platter and pick out whatever we wanted. I remember going to Mass, which, of course, was done in Spanish. I never understood why my parents made us go, since we understood almost nothing the priest said.

I remember always wondering why it was so much easier getting into Mexico than it was getting out.

When I became a parent and started taking my own children on vacation I remembered something else. I remembered how I never realized how much work my parents went through to take my sisters and me on vacation.

The whole business of vacationing requires big investment. Half of Americans in a recent poll said they were more exhausted after going on vacation than they were before they went. Choices must be made. Lists must be made. We have to reserve things with our credit cards. We have to stuff suitcases, and squish everything into the car. You have to wait in lines. Kids end up getting bored and cranky. So do the parents. There’s usually bickering. Getting there takes a longer than you planned. And if you’re like most people, you’re always thinking about what everything costs.

In French the act of moving from one place to another is travaille. It’s also the French word used for “work.” When the French talk about traveling, they are expressly talking about work.

The greatest paradox of family vacations? We all love them, but getting back home can sometimes be the most relaxing part.

Liberals and Conservatives: Stop whining and blaming

The case against George Zimmerman is over. The jury has decided. As President Obama said yesterday, “we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”

It’s bizarre to me how much blaming and whining there is going on. Right wingers blaming the president for stupid remarks he made. Liberals whining about the system.

Can’t the liberals not accept that government (which includes the president) is imperfect? Can they not see that the judicial axiom “innocent until proven guilty” is the best system in the world? And can’t the conservatives shut about about how Obama “handled” this sad story?

In the end, Zimmerman was deemed innocent by a group of citizens that were selectively chosen by both the defense and the prosecution.. That jury heard the entire story. They heard Martin’s lawyers present every shred of evidence they had, for as long as they wanted.

In the end those six women didn’t even convict Martin of the lesser crime of manslaughter. There was reasonable doubt.

It’s a tragedy that a young man was killed. It’s horrible. Crime is horrible. But I think it’s time for liberals and conservatives to stop whining and blaming, and move on with life.

Doing nothing is hardest

Doing nothing is hardest

What’s harder, doing stuff, or doing nothing? I’m convinced that it’s way harder to do nothing. Here’s an example of why. I practice yoga. In my practice there are 26 active postures, postures where you have to do certain things to you body (see photo). In between each posture, there’s a “do nothing” posture. It’s called “savasana.” During the 90 minute session, the instructor will give direction. For example, “keep your spine straight” or “keep your heels together.” But during savasana, you’ll hear “relax your entire body and breathe.” I find that during savasana the instructor will keep having to say things over and over: “relax,” “don’t move a muscle,” “just stay still,” “no movement of any kind except breathing.” And you’ll also be encouraged to keep your mind “still.” You’ll hear, “let go of all your thoughts and anxieties…just let go.”


I hate it. It’s for more excruciating to stay still, than it is to move. Physically, I want to scratch or squirm or wiggle. Mentally, I need to think about stuff that is bugging me. If I can’t think of something that’s bugging me, I’ll get bugged at the instructor who trying to get me to stop thinking of things that are bugging me.

In the yoga studio, doing nothing is way harder than doing something.

And what’s hard in the yoga studio is also hard in life.

It seems far easier to do stuff, to go from here to there — from the computer to the yard to the kitchen to the laundry pile to the phone to the phone to the phone to the magazine to the car to the store to the thing I need to clean — than it is to stay still. Mentally, it’s the same. I go from money worries to kid worries to friend worries to health worries to scheduling worries to reputation worries — it’s hard to do nothing with your mind.

I really have to go now.

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