Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Biggest Shock of My Life

Last week, on the same day as the 5.8 earthquake that shook the eastern seaboard of the United States from Boston to Atlanta (with Washington, D.C. getting the biggest impact), I received my own shockwaves. My dad had sent me a letter that I had received on Tuesday. All the letter said was that I now had a relative who was a Mormon. That relative was my brother, who had gotten baptized on July 30th. Wow...and I'm just now finding out about it? I had just talked to my brother on Sunday and in our short conversation, he did not even mention it. When he called back and left a message, I didn't bother listening to it until this past Saturday. The message was also a shock. Basically, my brother disowned me, saying that I was officially dead to him. At the end of his nasty diatribe, he said: "One more thing. I'm a Mormon now so ha-ha-ha!"

Ha-ha-ha?!? He said it as though he would say: "I won the lottery and you're not getting a penny so ha-ha-ha!" Had he told me this in conversation, I would've replied, "The joke is on you, Chris!" And it is. I don't know his reasons for joining, but I have my theories. However, because my brother has a long history of falling for every get-rich-quick scheme, this is just one more "scheme" that he has fallen prey to, so I shouldn't be surprised.

The reason this news came as a complete shock to everyone is because out of all of my dad's side of the family, if anyone was likely to join the Mormon church, everyone would suspect that person would be me. I've been the most fascinated with Mormons since elementary school. I even partook of the LDS sacrament when we visited a Mormon ward when I was in the 2nd grade (while my brother abstained). I've had Mormon friends since elementary school and at every stage of my life experience (high school, the Navy, college, internship, and post-college jobs). I get along with Mormons for the most part and share some personal values. I understand Mormons and am a great defender when evangelical Christians call them a cult or say that they aren't authentic Christians.

So, if I'm such a "Mormon lover", why did I not join their church? Well, I actually came very close to doing so in 1994 when I was meeting with Missionaries in Italy. The Missionaries were the same age as me and they shared my morals, which I found lacking among the sailors I served with. Then they made a mistake. They asked me to pray which church was true (the LDS or the RLDS church?). I did as they requested and I received one of the most profound and clearly unmistakable answers ever. The answer came back: "Do not join the LDS Church. The RLDS Church is your home and if you stay with them, you will never regret it." When I shared with the Missionaries the answer I had received, one of them automatically dismissed the answer as being from Satan, playing a trick on me. I was put off by that answer, because it did not feel like a trick. In the years since, I can say without a doubt that I am glad that I did not join the LDS Church. I have met so many awesome members of the RLDS / Community of Christ that I would not have met had I switched. Of course, I probably would have met plenty of awesome Mormons, but I'm not really interested in trading all the fellow RLDS I've met since 1994 (which includes my best friend Nathan and his awesome family, Jenet, Christine, and everyone in YAPS and MAYAs).

My experience at BYU allowed me to "peek behind the curtain" and learn LDS doctrine without having to join. I'm sure that the admissions board thought for sure that accepting an RLDS student to their school would result in a conversion (a loss in the RLDS column and a gain in the LDS column), but they were wrong. Even getting to know a woman who was everything I was looking for in a wife was not enough to get me to convert. I had seen a few non-LDS students who went to BYU because of their Mormon significant others end up getting baptized into the church for the sake of love. I guess I'm just wired differently. I'd rather be single for the rest of my life than join another church for the sake of a woman. Because I believe in the Golden Rule, I would never expect any woman I dated and wanted to marry to join my church and I expect the same courtesy. I can attend church with her half the time and appreciate her traditions, but I won't give up the church of my family heritage. That's what a strong loyalty gene does to one's psyche!

So, why did my brother join the Mormon church? This is a baffling mystery. For as long as I've known my brother, he has leaned more towards evangelical Christianity. When our dad made us attend the protestant youth group meetings at our base chapel when we lived in Germany, I hated it while my brother loved it. I questioned the views of the youth group leaders, especially when they tried to get us to give up our secular music in favour of cheesy Christian pop (this was back in the 1980s when Christian pop was horrendous. By the 1990s, though, it actually became pretty good). My brother went along with whatever while I was in open rebellion. To this day, I have a longstanding hostility towards evangelical Christianity and it always baffles me when fellow church members try to incorporate evangelical Christianity into their teaching curriculum or worship styles. This is especially the case at the Atlanta North Community of Christ Congregation. Its a Community of Christ congregation in the Bible Belt, competing against the Southern Baptists and the Methodists for relevance. I'm of the opposite view. I feel a spiritual bond with other marginalized churches, such as the Mormons, the Quakers, the Unitarian Universalists, the Buddhists, and even the Jehovah's Witnesses. Evangelical Christians seem to hate us all, for being false Christians or cults or whatever derogatory, judgmental falsehoods they believe us to be.

In Portland, my brother had fallen into such a group. I attended my first three Sundays in Portland in 2006. I admired the number of young people who attended each week. I loved that they had a live band to sing contemporary praise songs (well, except for the one: "There Is Power in the Blood of the Lamb" or something along those lines). But when the sermon came, it was filled with hate-hate-hate. The first week was directed at Mormons being false Christians in cahoots with Satan. The second Sunday I attended was the claim that ALL Muslims wanted to kill each and every one of us! The third Sunday I attended was a knock on Buddhists and another hateful comment about Mormons. After that, I was done. My brother was disappointed that I did not see this church how he saw it. But around that time, an issue of Willamette Week (an alternative weekly newspaper) had a cover article on fraudulent people. One of the featured rogues was the pastor's husband! They had his photo, which is how I recognized him. Basically, he had pled guilty to committing fraud against undocumented workers, getting paid money to help them get legal documents to work in this country, then claiming bureaucratic red tape when they did not get such documents. What a scam.

When I pointed it out to my brother, he naturally got defensive. In fact, it became very difficult to discuss anything with my brother because he would always get upset. He even got upset over the movie The Da Vinci Code! When he moved apartments, a young couple from this evangelical church helped him move. The young lady kept trying to get him to throw away his dream catcher (with a wolf picture on it) because it was "New Agey" (her words). Wow...this church was crazy! During the three weeks I had attended, I asked questions to the pastor about their affiliation. They claimed to be an independent, non-denominational church. I know some evangelical types who take pride in belonging to a non-denominational church because they seem to think something is wrong with a denomination. However, for me, a part of the reason why I love the Community of Christ is because we have congregations all over and members are well connected with one another. Its easy to feel part of a community no matter where you move to if there is a congregation nearby. Non-denominational churches do not have that national or international network. Though, I learned later that this non-denominational church had some kind of tie to Pat Robertson's organization.

My brother often brought up Pat Robertson's name in conversation in the past few years. Even if I tell him that I'm not interested, he keeps bringing him up. Unfortunately, though, my brother's obsessive talk about Pat Robertson got my mother curious and she began watching the 700 Club and sees nothing wrong with it! My mom, though, is unaware of Pat Robertson's political agenda, which makes him one of the wolves that Jesus had warned his followers about. Robertson is less a religious leader than a charlatan and a political propagandist. He is a shady person with his hands tied to dictators in Africa, who have no problems committing genocide. How can anyone mistake Robertson for a Christian?!?

What my brother probably does not know is that Robertson had published a book where he answers people's questions. I read it when I was in the Navy. Someone had asked him about marrying a Mormon. His response was "When you marry a Mormon, you get Satan for a father-in-law." He then explained what he meant, but that phrase always stuck with me.

So, how does my brother go from this Mormon-hating evangelical church to getting baptized as a Mormon? That's the ultimate question. Something happened to my brother last year. He won't tell me all the details. All I know is that someone he knew stole a thousand dollars or more from him, which caused him to not pay his rent and he got evicted from his apartment and had to move into the apartment of some guy he knows, who he owes a lot of money to. It didn't sound like a good living condition. When we last saw each other over New Year's, I was shocked by how "dark" his disposition was. He was so unhappy and he ranted on about everything with a kind of hatred I've never seen in him before. It was too much for me. I had just gotten out of a negative office environment, so I am unable to "absorb" anyone's negative energy anymore. I don't want to be around negative energy. Its very damaging to one's psyche. Maybe some might not think I'm a good brother, but I just couldn't deal with him anymore. Especially when he hasn't been truthful about his situation.

My theory is that my brother was seeking the kind of family that the Mormon church promises, which his life experience has failed to deliver on. Our family isn't a great one and even I have my frustrations with it. I feel like an emotional orphan and a lot of the reason why I'm such the independent type is because I've had to fend for myself. The Mormon Missionaries were also nice to him, but that's their job. People shouldn't mistake a Missionary for an authentic friendship because their goal is to get a baptism. My brother's friends are so horrendous that he truly needed a good friend. Someone who won't take advantage of him. I think the Mormons will be that and more for him. He'll now have a place to go for Thanksgiving and Christmas. He'll have the kind of support and structure he needed. Mormons, for the most part, are good people. They are more likely to help him than hurt him.

I'm actually fine that my brother is a Mormon. But there are a few things that I hope he does not do. #1) He has no right or authority to baptize our dead grandparents. They were devoted members of the RLDS Church and had no interest in the Mormon Church. Baptizing the dead by proxy is offensive, not to mention irrelevant (as I don't believe the LDS Church is "the one true church"). #2) I don't want Missionaries sent to my door. I'm not interested. These kids are substantially younger than me now. It was different when they were older than me or the same age, but now that I'm old enough to be their father, not to mention that I know their scripts, it would be a waste of everyone's time. They want baptisms and they won't be getting it from me!

The final concern that came to mind is...wouldn't it be ironic if he ended up meeting "School Marm" at a Ward function and they fell in love with each other and got married? That would make her my "sister-in-law" and that would truly be hell! However, the chance of that is very remote. I don't think she would be attracted to him nor do I think he would be attracted to her. However, knowing that the universe sometimes works in mysterious ways, I would never say never on that possibility. It's likely to be remote, but if such an event happens, I'd have to do everything I could to sabotage it.

My biggest theory on why my brother joined the Mormon Church is that he was likely promised an eternal wife. We'll see if that comes to pass. Not sure when we'll talk again (he did disown me, after all), but I really wish that he would've asked me first about Mormon theology. I can't see this lasting very long. My brother is like a yo-yo. He can only tolerate so much of other people's control of him before he rebels. He may have taunted me with his childish mocking laugh, but the joke is truly on him. He joined an authoritarian church. He'll have to give 10% of his income and be interviewed by the bishop every year, who will ask intrusive questions. He'll be given callings / duties and be expected to attend the three hour church service every week (one hour is the sacrament meeting, one hour is the Sunday school class, one hour is the Priesthood meeting). He'll have to wear Temple undergarments all the time. After a year, if he lasts that long with their demands, he'll be eligible to get his Temple Endowment, which is a ritual that I simply cannot see him enduring. Yep, the joke is on him. If he joined the LDS Church to "spite me", he had the wrong motive. I got to see what Mormonism was all about when I was at BYU and I walked away. As much as I love Mormons on a personal basis, as much as I had wanted to be a Mormon for a brief moment when I was 22, their religion simply fails the test of logic. The diagram below shows just how absurd the concept of men becoming gods of their own world truly is. If I never speak to my brother again, I wish him well in his decision. May this be the last scheme you ever fall prey to!




Monday, August 29, 2011

Girl Groups, Part 7: Spice Girls



In 1997, I started my college years by enrolling one quarter at Georgia State University, even though I had already gotten accepted at Brigham Young University. It was spring and I heard the most addictive new song on the radio. It screamed out, "I'll tell ya what I want, what I really really want..." The song was an instant hit to my ears. How could I resist the infection of "I really really really wanna ziggazig-ah"? That debut single, "Wannabe" put Britain's Spice Girls on the radar of pop culture. They came on to the scene a year earlier in the United Kingdom and already hit it big across Europe. That spring, the Labour Party came back into power after nearly two decades out of power with the charismatic young Tony Blair, who proved his hip youthfulness by supposedly being able to name each one of the Spice Girls. Well, I guess its like in the United States. The Conservative Party is like the Republican Party: crusty old, rich white people who have no clue what the masses like, while Labour Party (along with the Democratic Party in the United States) is made up of the more common citizen.

Naming the Spice Girls isn't too hard. This was the most fabricated band, ever. Auditions went out and thousands responded. When they whittled it down to five, with one getting replaced after the selection was made, the producers set about creating the perfect pop melodies to ride this Spice wave into reality. The individual personality quirks made them all the more marketable for young girls looking for glamourous role models in the music industry. There's Ginger Spice, the leader of the group. She has what the British call "ginger hair" (when my family vacation in the U.K. in the summer of 1987, I thought it was hilarious when people described someone as having "ginger hair" or "fair hair").

Sporty Spice is the most athletic. She's kind of tomboyish and I don't think she was among the most popular of the girls. Baby Spice can be cute, but almost entirely so. I never found infantilism to be all that attractive, so she comes across as annoying (no woman beyond a certain age in adolescence should wear her hair in pigtails!). My favourite Spice Girl by far was Victoria Adams, also known as Posh Spice, and better known as Victoria Beckham: the lady who landed the most popular athlete in the world: soccer star David Beckham. Posh is gorgeous and knows style like no one's business. Plus, I've always had a thing for women who have the kind of hairstyle that Posh displayed in the early videos. Though I did love Posh at the time, a few years ago when I saw pictures of her in a magazine, I was stunned by how "plastic" she looked. She is probably one of the most shallow people on earth, which is a shame. Just because one is beautiful doesn't mean that they should let their minds go to waste.

My second favourite Spice Girl was Scary Spice, the black lady with attitude and all that hair. When I was in college, one of my roommates (the one who was disfellowshipped from the LDS Church for having "same sex attraction" and who also suffered from manic-depression) really loved The Spice Girls and thought they were the greatest band, ever! Though I liked their first three singles, I never really could get into them because they just seemed so fabricated and their chosen personalities were just bland. I had suggested to my roommate that Japan should create "The Rice Girls." He thought I was being racist, but I think a bunch of Harajuku Girls acting like Asian Spices for their own Rice Girls group would be kind of hilarious.

You know the impact a group has made when the name has entered the American political lexicon. When Sarah Palin gained national attention after John McCain selected her name in his VP lottery, many liberal / progressive bloggers dubbed her "Bible Spice." Yeah, I suppose in some twisted way, Sarah Palin would've made a fine addition to the Spice Girls line-up.

Their first three singles were "Wannabe", "Say You'll Be There", and the ballad "2 Become 1." I lost interest after that. A second album was released shortly on the heels of their debut. The second one was called Spiceworld, with an accompanying movie that I saw once with my sister, but remember nothing about it. I can't believe they got a movie deal but not TLC! I'd rather see the ladies of TLC on the big screen than the silly Spice Girls.

As seems often the case, as soon as the girl group hits it big, the cat fights begin. Ginger got too big for her britches, so she left the group for a solo career. The Spice Girls released their third and final album in 2000, called Forever. Ha! They wish. They all went on to record songs and albums as solo artists, to varying degrees of success. Posh is the only one who really transcended the group, though. She's been in a high profile marriage to the biggest athlete in the world. Through her savvy business and fashion sense, I think she helped create the idea behind "metrosexual." I don't follow the tabloids and know very little about "Posh and Becks" (as the British tabloids refer to them as), but my guess is that Victoria is probably the boss in that marriage. David seems along for the ride.

When the Spice Girls were big on the radio and fans were calling them the greatest band ever, I had to laugh. I knew they wouldn't last. As I've said in previous posts in this series, there seems something about females together that does not lead to longevity. Every single Girl Group seems to suffer from internal cat fights which ultimately break up the group. Sure, a reunion tour with a Greatest Hits album that features a new song or two might always come up every few years, but I think the track record is a given. At most, a Girl Group can expect three or four albums before they're done. Here's a running tally on the studio albums recorded by the Girl Groups I have featured this past week (I'm not including Greatest Hits, remixes, live albums, Christmas or EPs):

The Go-Gos: 3 albums (between 1981 and 1984), plus one in 2001.
Bananarama: 10 albums (between 1983 and 2009)
The Bangles: 3 albums in the 1980s, 2 albums in the 2000s
Expose: 3 albums
Wilson Phillips: 2 albums in the 1990s, 1 album in the 2000s (of cover songs)
TLC: 4 albums
Spice Girls: 3 albums

The clear winner is Bananarama. They've continually recorded music without a decade long gap since 1983. Of course, only two of the three have stuck with the group, which isn't bad. As Meatloaf once sang, "Two out of three ain't bad." However, according to Wikipedia and Billboard magazine, Spice Girls are the best selling female group of all time and their debut album holds the record as the best selling album by a female group (with 23 million sold, 1 million more than TLC's CrazySexyCool album). Despite their success, though, they sure as hell ain't the female Beatles!

Hope you enjoyed my review of the major Girl Groups. Now it's back to my regular random postings!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Girl Groups, Part 6: TLC



Sometime during 1992, I happened to a hear a song that I loved instantly. In fact, I listened to this song a lot during my first Eurail trip in October of that year. The song was "Baby Baby Baby" by TLC, a young Girl Group from my home city of Atlanta. They were part of the new record label that was based in Atlanta: LaFace Records, founded by L.A. Reid and his wife Pebbles (of "Mercedes Boy" and "Girlfriend" fame), and Babyface. TLC was a trio of hip-hopping young ladies whose gimmick was wearing condoms on their clothing, like jewelry or accessories. One member, known as "Left-Eye" even wore a condom over the left lens of her glasses. This was the same year that another gimmicky young hip-hop group made everyone "Jump, Jump." Yep, that would be Kriss Kross, whose gimmick was wearing their clothing backwards (a trend that did not last long, thank God!).

What was it about "Baby Baby Baby" that captured my ears? I don't know. The melody and the smoky vocals of lead singer Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins were nothing I had heard before. I loved the combination. I bought their debut album (on cassette) based on this single alone. They had a couple of other hit songs, "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" and "What About Your Friends?" The debut album became a hit in the U.S. and the group also contributed their vocal harmonies to a song on the Boomerang soundtrack and their version of "Sleigh Ride" is my favourite one. I really could not get enough of their sound, which was a mix of R&B, soul, hip hop, rap and what was called "New Jack Swing" (or in their case, "New Jill Swing"). Another soulful Girl Group emerged around the same time: SWV (which stood for "Sistas With Voices", who had only one song that I liked: "Right Here", which sampled Michael Jackson's "Human Nature"). Okay, there was also the quartet En Vogue, but I never got into them (nor SWV). TLC was different because they had a sound that proved irresistible to my ears and all three of the members were very attractive.

I was still living in Italy when they released the new song from their sophomore album. The song was "Creep", which I did not like at first. In fact, it was the video (seen above) which caused me to like the song eventually. The song has what a character I created for my still unpublished novel calls "bounce." That's where the music makes you feel like dribbling a basketball. Watch T-Boz's hands and the way she moves her head in that video! What I most love about this video is that T-Boz looks absolutely perfect. I had a major crush on her after watching this video. I love her hairstyle, her beautifully alluring face, and her ultimately cool vibe. She was in every single way, "HOT!!!" That's not to say that the other two, Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas, are "chopped liver." They were also adorably cute (Left-Eye) and attractive (Chilli). This clearly was the most attractive of all the girl groups and they had an amazing dynamic.

There was no "sophomore curse" for TLC. In fact, CrazySexyCool went on to outsell their debut, Oooooooohhh...On The TLC Tip many times over. All told, their sophomore release sold 22 million records worldwide (half of it in the United States). They really showed growth and maturity between the two albums. With the first one, they were gimmicky with the wearing of condoms (still in wrappers, of course) and the tomboyish clothes. With the "Creep" video, they graduated to silk night-time wear. The follow-up single was the sultry and seductive ballad "Red Light Special". By the time summer rolled around in 1995, the single "Waterfalls" proved itself an enormous hit with a motion picture quality music video. I especially love Left Eye's rap in the song. Its hard to understand because of the way she pronounces words. Interestingly, though, adult contemporary stations play a version of the song that does not have the rap portion, which is like eating pumpkin pie without whip cream! I was crazy about this song that summer and it became my favourite song of 1995 (they lost out on my Best Video of the Year to Janet Jackson's "Runaway" and they lost out on my Best Album of the Year to Adina Howard's "Do You Wanna Ride?"). For quite a few months, I had wanted to do a Flashback Friday post on the year 1995, because for me, that was the year of the black women. I was really attracted to a lot of African American women that year and they dominated the music for me that year.

TLC didn't just dominate the music charts and radio play. They also made tabloid news when Left-Eye supposedly "accidentally" burned down her boyfriend's (Andre Rison) house in Atlanta. She claimed to have set his shoes on fire in the bathtub, not knowing that the material in the bathtub was not porcelain. The group also filed for bankruptcy, even though their album had sold millions upon millions of copies. This opened the public's eyes to how the music industry operates (there has been a long history of the artist getting screwed out of their rightful royalties).

Their video to "Diggin' On You" features concert footage, which is pretty exciting. Their second album definitely secured their superstar status. As I was familiarizing myself with this band to write about them, I read the entry on Wikipedia and was stunned to learn how they formed. In 1990, a teenager named Crystal Jones put out an ad to form a singing group. Tionne Watkins and Lisa Lopes answered the ad and were selected by Crystal. They auditioned with Pebbles, who decided to rename the band from 2nd Nature to "TLC" (based on the initials of their first names) and put them in contact with her husband, L.A. Reid for his new label. Reid liked Tionne and Lisa, but not Crystal so he replaced her with Rozonda Thomas. How messed up is that?!? After all, it was Crystal who initiated the formation of such a group. I wonder how she felt when she saw the three of them achieve amazing success. She probably didn't have talent, though. Perhaps had she grown up a decade later, she would have been one of the rejects on American Idol. Its just one of those strange twists of fate. I've heard stories of actors who got their start because they had accompanied a friend or sibling to an audition and managed to capture the talent scout's attention instead of the person they came with.

In 1999, they released their third album, FanMail, in which they printed the name of every person who joined their fanclub on the CD's cover booklet. They had a few more hit songs, "No Scrubs" (with its music video that appeared to rip off Michael and Janet Jackson's "Scream" video), "Dear Lie", and "Unpretty." The song "Unpretty" was pretty profound, as it calls men to account for making them feel "unpretty" by not honouring their internal qualities but focusing on the way they look. Aw, seriously? Maybe they didn't meet the right men! Hey, T-Boz, I would've treated you great! Yeah, I had a crush...but I definitely appreciate a lady's intelligence and personality.

Things seemed to start unraveling for the group, though. Left Eye felt marginalized and issued a challenge through Entertainment Weekly magazine in which she asked that all three of them agreed to release their own solo albums and allow the fans to judge which one was the best one. The challenge was not taken seriously, but it wasn't a bad idea. I would have enjoyed seeing that. Ultimately, though, they have done solo projects and none of them panned out well. The truth remains that they are far better together than they are apart.

They were working on their fourth album, 3D, when tragedy struck. Left Eye was in Honduras when she got into a fatal car accident. This was in 2002. A huge memorial service at a MegaChurch in Atlanta brought out the fans. I had thought about going but didn't know anyone else who wanted to go. I was surprised when I heard my mom talk about Left Eye, as she has never been good with names of celebrities nor really cared about celebrities. This young lady made an impact.

Without Left Eye, TLC has pretty much run the course. There have been talks of possibly replacing Left Eye and even a reality series proposed to select her replacement. However, it would not be the same without Left Eye. The three of them had a dynamic that is hard to find. This dynamic is why they hit it big while a group like SWV did not. Sure, T-Boz and Chilli should continue with their music careers if they feel inclined. Perhaps they can continue as a duo and change their name (how about T-Boz 'n Roz?). But, without Left Eye, there is no TLC.

And who am I kidding? Do I like Bananarama or TLC more? They are both great Girl Groups and I love them both. However, as much as I love TLC and find them attractive and their sound amazing, I have to give a slight edge to the British ladies because they came on the scene first and had more time to make an impact on me. The final Girl Group I will feature in tomorrow's post is one that I consider to be the most fabricated band ever. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Girl Groups, Part 5: Wilson Phillips



When this Girl Group's first single hit the radio waves in the last few months of my Senior year in high school, I was hooked. I loved their sound and the message of their first single ("Hold On", an anti-suicide song). They were considered "rock royalty" because Chynna Phillips is the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of the 60s band The Mamas and the Papas. However, while Chynna was tearing up the airwaves with this song, her mother was the sleazy villain on the CBS drama, Knots Landing. The other two thirds of the trio are Wendy and Carnie Wilson, the daughters of Beach Boy Brian Wilson.

Other hit singles followed: "Release Me", "You're In Love" and "Impulsive." Their sound was clear by that point. Just a hint of the 60s in them, which is befitting the offspring of famous 60s band members. In the summer of 1990, I got to see Richard Marx in concert at Six Flags Over Georgia. Wilson Phillips was the opening act. They weren't too great, though. I remember them singing "Eyes Like Twins". When I was in my last few weeks of Navy Basic Training in May 1991, I got to hear their final single from their debut album. The song was the appropriate "The Dream Is Still Alive", which in my mind is associated with my Basic Training experience and company-mates. Some of the lyrics are appropriate for what I experienced during those great 9 weeks of my life, though the song is a tribute to the 60s generation and ideals.

When I was in YN "A" School in Meridian, Mississippi in the summer of 1991, I decided to buy the Wilson Phillips cassette tape, which I listened to a lot that summer...to the point where I now associate that album with my "A" School experience. In the summer of 1992, they released their sophomore album, Shadows and Light, a much deeper album and intensely personal. Unfortunately, they forgot to pay attention to the melodies. It was a major disappointment and did not sell very well. There was only one song of noteworthy importance: "Flesh and Blood", which is amazingly profound with a great melancholy melody and I consider it their best single. That's what I'm featuring as the video selection for today. The song is obviously about Wendy and Carnie's father, Brian Wilson. I wonder what he thought of the song. When I first heard it in the summer or fall of 1992, the lyrics made me think of my own relationship with my brother.

After that album fizzled, the group went their own ways. Chynna married a Baldwin brother (William). Carnie became known for having her stomach stapled to lose her weight (I always thought it was interesting how she was able to "hide" her obesity in the videos. Out of the three ladies, I thought Carnie was the best looking, with Chynna a close second). I think they did release a Christmas album last year or maybe it was the previous year. However, in 1992, their star was fading and a new Girl Group emerged on the scene. This new group would come to "threaten" the status that Bananarama holds with me as my favourite Girl Group of all time. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Girl Groups, Part 4: Expose



Today's featured Girl Groups is the fabricated trio, Expose. They gained radio play in 1987 with the songs "Come Go With Me" and the one I really liked: "Point of No Return." When I say "fabricated", I'm not joking. This female trio was formed by a DJ. They were kind of the Hispanic Bananarama. The line-up of the women even changed. I know very little about this Girl Group because their songs basically could be sung by any Girl Group. Put three attractive ladies together who can sing decently and presto! Instant Girl Group! All the other groups I featured so far this week actually formed themselves out of a friendship. They weren't hand selected by some music producer to put out dance-pop creations. Expose was such a group, though.

They scored their biggest hit in 1988 with the single "Season's Change", which is my personal favourite song of theirs. They had a few other hits ("Let Me Be The One", "I'll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me", and "When I Looked At Him"), but the impact they made on the music scene is rather minimal. However, along with Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, Expose helped expose the Miami sound, with its dance club ready mix of exotic beats from Cuba and the Caribbean with 80s pop sensibility. As I listened to some of their hit songs again after a long time of not hearing it, I'm amazed that I don't like their songs as much as I did when they first came out. Like I said, nothing really remarkable about this fabricated group. Another fabricated Girl Group would make a larger impact, though. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Girl Groups, Part 3: The Bangles



In 1986, a female quartet hit the charts with a Prince-penned song, "Manic Monday." This group is called The Bangles and they became huge for a couple years, then faded away. Earlier this year, I featured their video "Walk Like an Egyptian" for one of my Music Video Mondays, in solidarity for the Egyptians who rose up against the Mubarak regime this past spring.

The Bangles scored a hit with their second album, Different Light, which spawned four singles. Along with the two mentioned above, they also released "Walking Down Your Street" and "If She Knew What She Wants" as singles. They remade a 60s song ("Hazy Shade of Winter") for the Less Than Zero film.

When bands find success with an album, it's always interesting how the follow-up will do, as the anticipation is usually pretty high for their next release. In 1988, their album, Everything, managed two singles that charted in the Top Ten: "In Your Room" and the huge hit "Eternal Flame" (my favourite of their songs). After that, I never heard from them again. I find it interesting that female bands don't seem to achieve longevity like male bands do (such as The Rolling Stones and U2). I hate to bring up the cliche of "cat fights" but female bands do seem to have more problems with group dynamics. I'm sure it was not easy for the band members when Susanna Hoffs got most of the attention (she was the most attractive member of the band, even though they were all pretty attractive to begin with). Though I liked the band, they seemed far too influenced by the 60s sound. Perhaps that's why music fans got tired of them after awhile. But, 7 hit songs is nothing to scoff at. In a hypothetical battle of the girl groups, Bananarama definitely beats The Bangles.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Girl Groups, Part 2: Bananarama



The second installment of this series on Girl Groups features the trio from the British Isles, Bananarama. They are actually my favourite girl group of all time, slightly edging out another girl group that I will feature later in this series. The reason why I give Bananarama a slight edge is because they were instrumental in my personal development. Also, they happened to score a hit song in a critical summer. 1984 was a big summer for me. Los Angeles was hosting the Summer Olympics, which was the first time I watched the Summer Olympics on television (I was too young to remember Montreal in 1976 and we boycotted Moscow in 1980). The summer of 1984 was also the summer of Ghostbusters and The Karate Kid, two of my favourites. But most importantly on a personal level, 1984 was also the year that I moved from elementary school into Junior High, which is a huge transition for a kid. I was excited about the change because I did not really like elementary school. The idea of changing classrooms seven times a day and having a locker was pretty exciting for me.

For me, the summer of 1984 was not "cruel", but this Bananarama hit song captures my feelings of that summer. The melody is infectious 80s pop with a cool xylophone sound. The ladies had a unique look that I became familiar with when my family moved to Germany the following summer. Its because of Bananarama that I found European women so attractive. Interestingly, this music video shows the ladies wearing coveralls, which were the fad back then. Everyone seemed to own a pair (not just farmers or painters) and both boys and girls wore them to school. Even I managed to convince my parents to buy me a pair to wear during my seventh grade year in the fall of 1984. This significant year is also notable for being the year that I met the classmate who would become my best friend. That would be Nicholas Smith, who is currently serving in Iraq. So, this song has a lot of good memories tied into it, which is why I selected it, out of all of their hit songs, for this post.

Bananarama had more hit songs, though they were far more popular in Europe than in the United States. In the summer of 1986, they scored a huge hit with their remake of Shocking Blue's "Venus." Also that year, they released their True Confessions album, which shares a word with two other releases that year: Madonna's True Blue and Cyndi Lauper's True Colors. I was living in Germany at that time and was excited about the True Confessions album. The lady who worked at the PX where I bought the cassette tape was familiar with me because I was in there a lot buying or talking about music. She asked me one day how I liked my most recent purchase. I told her that it was great, because if you like one song, you like them all. Bananarama had a certain sound and all their songs did sound alike. That might not be great for artistic purposes, but if you like a particular sound, then more of the same can't be a bad thing!

Other songs they eventually hit the charts with include: "I Heard a Rumour", "Love in the First Degree", "I Can't Help It", "I Want You Back", and "Love, Truth, and Honesty." My personal favourite video is "I Can't Help It", which I featured as a Music Video Monday selection in 2008 on my blog. They are absolutely attractive. I still have crushes on all three of them! However, I don't know much about them because I don't recall ever reading an article about them in Rolling Stone magazine. They have had articles in the German music magazine called Bravo (which I still have a few copies as), but I can't read German. Its actually refreshing to like a music group without knowing their personal details or tabloid dramas. You appreciate them for their music and how their music makes you feel. The 80s simply wouldn't be the 80s without the contributions of Bananarama's music. They epitomized the sound of the 80s that many critics complained as being shallow or sugary, but is irresistible to our ears. If you watch 80s era music videos on YouTube, read the comments people leave. I'm stunned by how many people who have grown up in the post-80s commenting how they wished their music was as great as the 80s music. There aren't a lot of breezy, happy pop songs these days. We who grew up in the 80s are spoiled!

As for "Cruel Summer", the song was featured in the film The Karate Kid, which was a perfect choice. The song plays during a scene in which Daniel LaRusso adjusts to his new school and all the awkwardness that it implies. The movie helps anchor the song firmly in the summer of 1984. While there have been plenty of "Girl Groups" before and after Bananarama, only one other Girl Group comes close to the feelings that they invoke in me. However, this other group was far more successful than Bananarama. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Girl Groups, Part 1: The Go-Gos


Despite some eventful occurrences (the fall of the Gadhafi government in Libya, the 5.8 earthquake that shook Washington, D.C. and New York City, and the news that my brother had joined the Mormon church in July), I'm still going to commit to a week of reviewing Girl Groups, with accompanying music videos. I did it last year for Boy Bands, so now, its the girls' turn.

The first Girl Group I'm featuring are The Go-Gos, which was a late-70s / early 80s band. The youngest of my dad's brothers is only ten years and ten days older than me. Because he was a teenager at that time, I was exposed to The Go-Gos, one of the groups that he liked (Rush and Devo were the other two bands he liked). I remember how he loved to give me a ride in his Pinto, speeding up the hills of Atchison, Kansas, turning the volume up just as we got to the top of the hill and started the descent. It was wild and I loved it! He would do this with The Go-Gos "We Got the Beat" song.

I find that song only mildly okay. They had a few other hits, though: "Our Lips Our Sealed", "Vacation", and my personal favourite: "Head Over Heels." This girl group had five members and they played their own instruments. The two most famous members were Belinda Carlisle, the lead singer who enjoyed a successful solo career in the late 80s; and Jane Wiedlin (my personal favourite because she's absolutely adorable) who scored a hit single in 1988 with "Rush Hour" (one of many songs that helped make 1988 the best year in music for me). Jane Wiedlin also played Joan of Arc in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Watching some of their videos, its amazing how tame (or lame?) they are. I remember seeing signs on bars that said "Go-Gos" while we drove around Bellevue / Omaha in the mid-80s and I actually thought the band was performing there. I had no idea that Go-Gos was a term for dancers / strippers, so I'm sure it horrified my parents when I spoke of liking the Go-Gos.

While they are the first all-female band that I was exposed to, they weren't my favourite. The more fascinating Girl Groups would hit the charts shortly afterwards. As a bonus, I'm including Jane Wiedlin's awesome "Rush Hour" video, where she swims with my favourite animal: dolphins! Wiedlin is absolutely adorable in this video. Then again, I'm a real sucker for pixie-ish women with short hair (but still remain quite feminine). I think she is considered a "one-hit wonder", even though she had a great album with Fur, in which several songs could have made it on the charts.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Music Video Monday: Falco



Twenty years ago on this day, I was in Norfolk, Virginia undergoing the Navy's shipboard firefighting training, which I quite enjoyed. We didn't face the furnace with a real fire in basic training like I had hoped, so this training was educational and enjoyable. When it was my turn to lead the hose team, being the first man in to the fire, the instructor said afterwards that I was a little too eager! I had also forgotten that I had a Starburst candy or two in my pocket. That made a gooey mess in my pockets!

Ten years ago, I had the most significant spiritual experience of my life. It happened exactly the way Buddhists, Mormons, and New Age spiritualists said that it would! The intensity was so powerful that I really worried that my body would explode! It was better than any sexual orgasm or moment of euphoric bliss. My experience happened on 22 August 2001 and continued for a few weeks, until the events on a certain Tuesday in September brought me back to earth. In that time, though, I managed to land a new job after a search of a year, and I found an apartment to move into, in a neighbourhood that I love: Buckhead (known as "The Beverly Hills of the South"). Ironically, it was less expensive to live in Buckhead than it was in the liberal / trendy Virginia-Highlands neighbourhood, where I really wanted to live.

According to some spiritual books I've read, the purpose of life is self-discovery, so we are constantly moving from one question to another. As Trinity whispered to Neo (if I remember correctly), "Its the question that drives you." The questions you ask could (and should) lead you down the path to your destiny. My experience was unique for me because several factors had to come into play at that precise moment in time. If any were missing, I doubt that I would have experienced what I did. What were those ingredients? Well, I was in a job that I hated (which in comparison to the one I had during my first four years in Portland, it wasn't that bad) and frustrated by a year long search for a better job (imagine that...a year to find a job!). In my frustrations, I kept having a coincidence with the number 22, which lead me to buy a book on numerology to try to understand why this number keeps appearing in my life. None of my personal numbers add up to 22, though, which baffled me even more. However, it was because of the coincidence with the number 22 that led me to numerology, where I learned about the actual numbers in my name and birthdate. Also during this time, I decided to give in to that whisper I had heard for more than a decade. The whisper always happened when I was in a bookstore: "Read Kerouac." I always ignored that whisper. Until August 2001, that is.

I bought Vanity of Duluoz, Satori in Paris, and a biography on Kerouac by Tom Clark. When I read Satori in Paris and then Vanity of Duluoz (Kerouac's last published books while he was alive), I had so many coincidences between Kerouac and myself that I started freaking out. It was like reading my own life in someone else's books. So much of Kerouac's personality and life experience were similar to my own. I felt like I was a character in one of his books! This got me into an obsessive Kerouac phase, where I read practically every biography I could get ahold of. I have also read most of his books in the decade sense. Each time, the coincidences between him and I continue to amaze me.

Also at this time, I had received Falco's Greatest Hits cd. He was my favourite male singer in 1986, when I was a teenager in Germany. I had never heard his song, "Junge Roemer" before, even though it was released in 1984. I loved it instantly and still do. In fact, this song is the one I associate with that period when I experienced the greatest euphoric bliss I've ever felt. In the decade since, I have sought a repeat of that experience but never came close. Like I said above, the right ingredients have to come into play, I suppose, for such an event to occur. And if and when it does, its best to enjoy it for however long it lasts.

The best way to describe what I felt during this period, is to watch a scene from the movie Cocoon. The reaction of Steve Guttenberg's character when he is in the swimming pool and hit with a beam of light, and then he laughs as he feels the bliss...well, that is exactly what I felt at the time. For almost three weeks straight. When I was in this euphoric blissful state, I really did feel "at one" with the entire universe. The feeling was the most intense love I had ever felt. I understood this to mean being touched by God. Because of this experience, whenever I hear religious people going around hating people, I know that they couldn't possibly feel this way if they had the same experience as I did. Buddhists call it an enlightenment experience, and it is. But just because I was blessed to have such an experience does not make me special in any way. I rather like the philosophy of: "Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water." When you have a peak mountain experience, you still have to descend into the valley. For me, the experience was a glimpse of God and the nature of our universe. In fact, the lyrics of my favourite church campfire song is quite appropriate for my experience: "the Lord of love has come to me and I want to pass it on..."

Another aspect of this experience that I appreciate was that it validated some ideas I had learned about at BYU. When I attended BYU in the late 1990s, I had to take a religion class each semester. I remember a lecture and discussion on the idea behind being "translated" or "transfigured." I forget the differences between the two. However, I remember at the time that I thought the professor's explanation was ridiculous. Basically, the Mormon religion professor in one of the classes said that no human could face God and survive. The intensity of God's love is too much for the human body to withstand, which is why humans would have to be "translated" from bodies of flesh into beings of light. This ties into the idea behind rapture, where evangelical Christians believe that they will disappear into the heavens to meet Jesus in the last days of our planet. These are all interesting theories, but I dismissed the professor's ideas at the time.

When I had my experience, though, the intensity was such that I really did think my body might explode. A good example of what I mean is when sports fans, in their euphoric bliss over their team's win in a game of "importance", they riot or destroy property. They are trying to discharge the excess energy from their bodies because it truly is too much for the body to handle. Especially for people who don't know what to do with the excess and overpowering energy.

Also during this experience, I understood why people took drugs. They wanted to experience a moment of euphoric bliss. However, even a drug-induced high does not compare to the intensity of my experience. Drugs do attempt to get you to that place when you want it, but there's also a crash at the end and the body builds up resistance to the drug, thus it requires stronger or more doses to achieve the same level of intensity. Its a fool's errand, though. Unfortunately, my "enlightenment experience" can't happen on demand. It has been ten years now and I've never managed to repeat that experience. I've tried meditation, and that does put me in a blissful state, but not at the same level of intensity. I'm curious to see if it really is that much easier to manifest my desires when I'm in that state, since I was able to find a new job and an apartment during that blissful period.

I was hoping that something special might happen for me on this day, but the only thing that comes close is the news that the government of Muamar Gadhafi has finally fallen to the rebel forces. The tyrant is no where to be seen, but Libyans are claiming a victorious end to their six month rebellion / revolution. I'm very happy for them, because I supported President Obama's decision to help provide air cover for the rebels, even though many people in the U.S. (my liberal and conservative friends, as a matter of fact) were against it. There were moments when I doubted that this was a good decision because it was taking too long, but this is definitely a great resolution.

Tomorrow, I'll start the week long focus on girl groups. Hopefully, the week will not be eventful, so I can spend the next seven days writing about my favourite girl bands, with an accompanying music video.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

More Frustrations With Brother

My brother called me on Sunday evening. This was the first time we talked since New Year's Day! The conversation didn't last long, though because it brought up the same issues as our last conversation. I kind of expected it, because my dad had warned me about my brother's latest "scheme." The most unfortunate thing about my developmentally challenged brother is that he is so gullible. He has fallen for every get-rich quick scheme that comes around. I wonder how many thousands of dollars he had been swindled out of by shrewd and unscrupulous money-grubbers in the past twenty years.

His latest thing is "Pre-paid Legal", a multi-level marketing company that has been around for thirty years and even has public stock on the New York Stock Exchange. I did some Internet research on this group, and it falls into a gray area. There have been complaints, but as far as I could find, there is no law against multi-level marketing. The brilliance of such a company is that you can blame the people for not doing enough to bring people under them so that they can get a cut of the money they bring in. That's the whole point about multi-level marketing. You don't really want to sell the product or service. You want to recruit other people to work for you and get a cut of their pay, and they will do likewise, creating a "never-ending pyramid" that sucks money to the top of the pyramid.

When my brother called, he engaged in friendly questions for a couple minutes. But, because I know him too well, his questions are annoying because he asks them in such a rapid fire manner. Its not as though he's really interested in my life or views. He's digging for information. This happened during Christmas 2009 when he asked non-stop questions about Christine, whom I did not want to talk about because I was still emotionally wounded by her sudden departure to Europe several months sooner than she had planned. Whenever I ask my brother to back off with the questions, he never listens. He just keeps pushing the issue, which makes me angry.

The same occurred Sunday evening. He wanted to know how much I got paid. I didn't want to tell him, mostly because he runs his mouth to everyone. He's always telling everyone about my business. I noticed this in college, when church members back in Atlanta would ask me strange questions. My brother apparently told church members that I had a free ride scholarship and other untrue things. Its startling to have people come up to you and congratulate you on something that did not happen. My brother, unfortunately, has a tendency to get his facts wrong a lot of the time.

When I refused to tell him how much I make an hour, he kept saying, "But we're brothers!" I guess in his mind, because we're brothers, that we are close and share info. However, I have not felt close to my brother since childhood. Probably not since we were 11 or 12. Or maybe as late as when I was 17. Once we graduated high school, though, I moved out of the house, had my Navy and college and White House adventures, all the while, my brother was living at home and falling into one scam after another. My brother sadly assumes that being brothers means we're close, but for me, I consider only a few friends of mine close, where I'm comfortable sharing my life's experiences with them. The closeness is related to compatibility and having a shared understanding. For example, one of the reasons why Nathan is one of my best friends is because he always knows the exact thing to say to get me to laugh. He really knows what will make me laugh because we have an understanding of how each other thinks about things, what we find funny. My brother, however, often tries to make me laugh with lame jokes found in children's joke books. Its not my kind of humour, but my brother is able to get other people laughing at his corny jokes.

When it comes to gifts at Christmas or birthday, I always tell my brother not to get me anything, because he usually gets me things I don't need or not interested in. Its always some random thing that I can't use. If someone doesn't know what to get me for a gift, my feelings won't be hurt by not getting me anything. Besides, I consider other things "gifts." Such as when my D.C. roommate volunteered to help me photocopy the D.C. memory book I had put together, early in the morning on the last day of the program! We were at Kinko's at 2 a.m. trying to get that thing finished. Matt sealed his friendship forever with that "gift." Another "gift" was when Nathan offered to let me be roommates with him in 2001 to get me out of my intolerable living back at home experience. Though I did not take him up on the offer, the fact that he offered it was a gift enough.

My point is that I feel like my three closest friendships are my true "brothers" (in a spiritual sense). Both Nathan and Matt have referred to me as "uncle" in regards to their children. And they don't even know each other!

Unfortunately, with my brother, it is becoming more and more difficult to communicate with him because I have little tolerance for him anymore. I feel bad about it, but the honest truth is, whenever I see him, I feel very depressed about his life situation. He truly got a bum deal in this lifetime and its made much worse by his gullibility and the predators around who see him as an easy victim. Whenever I try to tell him this, he gets angry and defensive, defending the very people who are ripping him off! I just can't be a witness to it anymore. Some people try to guilt trip me with the, "He's your brother!" mantra, but I've read enough psychology books about people who get sucked into a co-dependency relationship or who act as enablers. You're not doing the other person a favour when you stick around and endure or be sucked into it. When we went to see Tron: Legacy on New Year's Day, I just felt my energy drain being around my brother and I'm not strong enough to be there for him when he can't see who is trustworthy. If I learned anything at all at my JOB FROM HELL, its that another person's negative energy can suck you into a very dark place. I really was in a dark place for too long and I don't want to go there again. I was almost not strong enough to survive that ordeal.

When my brother tried to talk about Pre-Paid Legal, I kept cutting him off, calling it a "get rich quick scheme." He got offended. I kept telling him that I was not interested in his latest scheme but he kept trying to pitch. It got so annoying and finally, I said to him: "You've been stuck in the same life since high school!" I just can't be a witness to it anymore. I'll take the "bad brother" criticisms and condemnations, but it breaks my heart to see a person so deluded and trusting of people who don't deserve trust. I really, truly hope that every con-artist who fleeced my brother will burn in hell someday! I know its not a very Christlike or Buddhalike statement, but it is just EVIL what they do to naive and gullible people. I wish my brother had my sense and skepticism, for it would have saved him a lot of money and grief.

The phone call ended sooner than I expected. I heard a click and thought that he might've hung up on me, so I hung up. As I thought about it, perhaps I hung up first. He's making it harder to have any kind of relationship with, though. I probably won't invite him for Thanksgiving, and I'm going home for Christmas. A lot of this has to do with my push to be in a relationship this year. I know from past experience that if I tell my brother about my plans, he will want to go on the first date with me to meet the lady and if things don't work out, he'll want her number. Or he may obsess over the lady and want her number even as I date her. This is all stuff that he has done since I've moved to Portland. Its very bizarre. Just because we live in the same city does not mean that we have the same interests or lifestyle.

My frustration is mostly that my brother does not listen to our parents or myself about these scam artists and he gets defensive about it. Also, he's obsessive in that is all he wants to talk about, even if I don't want to talk about it. As I told him in the phonecall, "I don't care about your scams, I don't care about your church, I don't want to hear about it. Its not interesting to me." At some point, I hope it sinks in, but I doubt that it will. If he's not willing to see who is trustworthy and who isn't, then I really cannot help him at all. I know that this phonecall will probably get back to my parents and be just one more example about why I'm such the bad and mean son / brother. Oh well. We all have our choices in life, and I'm choosing to not be around negative energy, even if its my own brother.

In 1996, I had my own experience with a multi-level marketing scam. I was looking for a job when I responded to an ad in the alternative weekly newspaper. I set up an interview and the person asked what time and day was good for me. When I told him, he asked if I was okay with another time and day, which he told me. I thought that was odd. Why not tell me the day and time first instead of having me pick a day and time?

When I went to the place at the appointed time, there were quite a few people in the lobby. This was another negative impression on me. At the appointed time, well dressed people came into the lobby to greet those of us who were waiting. I met the guy I had set up an interview with. We made small talk and then all of us were ushered into a conference room to watch a video presentation. It was so bizarre. I got a strong cult vibe. The video talked about sales and marketing, and how successful employees were able to buy the mega mansion of their dreams, luxury sports cars and exotic vacations. After the materialistic video finished, a young man spoke to the group. What he said offended me. He said that he was in med school but wasn't happy about it. He prayed to God for direction and the answer he received was that God wanted him to drive a Porsche, so God supposedly led him to this company, Equinox International. I nearly walked out.

After the presentation, I went with my host back to his desk while he explained the particulars of the job. It involved selling environmentally-friendly products. He gave me sample toothpaste to try out, which was awful. The more he explained, the more uncomfortable I felt. He revealed details like, he had to rent the desk from the company. They had to go to training seminars every month at their own expense, sometimes in other towns / cities. You not only sold products, but you needed to recruit others to sell product as well so you could get a cut of their pay. It didn't make sense. Why couldn't everyone just get the profits on the product they sell, without all the pay-outs to people above you. I didn't know about multi-level marketing at this time. I had heard about Amway and Tupperware for years before, but Equinox International was my first exposure to such a business scheme.

I basically had so many red flags that I left without any good feeling. It felt like a cult to me. I had asked my host how he sold products. He said that he sells to family and friends, and whenever he's out, he'll engage strangers in public and make the sale. For me, I could never see myself doing that. It violates a core principle about my life. Namely, the Golden Rule. I absolutely hate when people come up to me with an ulterior motive or a hidden agenda. I don't like being initiated in a friendly conversation and then being sideswiped with a pitch. I believe it is ethically wrong to do such a thing. Its especially wrong to hit up family and friends to fund your revenue stream, unless they really want the product. But, as I asked an intelligent friend of mine afterwards, he asked the magic question: "If the product is so great, why don't they sell it in stores?" Exactly! Why the elaborate scheme of sales people and recruiting people to sell for you? So many products are available in stores and people know what they need and want.

So, I don't have a good opinion of multi-level marketing companies. I've known people who got into all kinds of stuff: selling telephone cards, selling herbal medicines, selling cosmetics...always selling stuff for a commission. Nope. Not for me. If you have a product to sell, leave me alone. I know what I want and pitches don't work. Well...except for the ones that I do like: authors giving a lecture at Powell's City of Books. Most of the time, I don't buy the books, but a few have been able to move me from hesitant to shelling out bucks (Christine Wicker and Alicia Silverstone are two that come to mind).

I don't regret going to the Equinox International presentation, though, because it taught me quite a lot of things. The most important is that I know what it feels like when "red flags get raised" within my body. I know that my logical mind works. Its a great lesson to learn how your body reacts when the warning bells go off. Also, I got to learn how this scheme works, which makes me scrutinize other companies with similar modus operandi. A year or a few after my session at Equinox International, I learned that the company got into some major legal problems with accusations of fraud and if I'm not mistaken, the founder of the company went to jail. I hope so. I had never heard of the products before or after. Is my life lacking? I think not. If the product is that great, I'll find it in Target or Walgreens.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I had another interesting debate on Facebook. The dialogue went off in a different tangent than I expected. I had posted about being proselytized at work by an evangelical Christian. One church member posted a funny comment: "I'll attend your church if you'll attend my coven." I got a laugh out of that one. Yeah, I bet the evangelical would freak out over that. When I mentioned not liking Wicca very much (like Scientology, I just get a negative vibe from Wicca), one church member started harping on me. She and I have gotten into it plenty of times in the past, previously on the webboard she had started after several liberal church members were banned from the church's official webboard. The problem, quite frankly, is that she is a hardcore feminist, so despite having similar political beliefs, her feminism comes across as extreme.

She wanted to know about my aversion to Wicca and was pretty defensive about it. However, it was difficult for me to articulate what it is about Wicca that I do not like. I even tried a New Agey response: "Wicca simply does not resonate with me." I did not condemn it nor called it Satanic or evil, just that I was not interested in it. I even mentioned that there have been a few women who had a romantic interest in me and something about their personalities did not appeal to me and eventually, I learned that they were Wiccan. Of course, it may be unfair to judge an entire belief system on such a small sample, but I don't think so. My impression of Wicca is that it is not an authentic religion. It seems to be an invented belief system that tries to tie itself to the Salem Witch Trials and the massacre of women accused of witchcraft back in Europe for centuries. Wicca seems to appeal to the type of person who reads too many fantasy novels and attends Renaissance or Medieval Faires, and mixing up their cultural understandings. The clothing style of preference may be Medieval, but the nature worship and the moon worship and the spell casting is pure pagan. While I have no problem with Druids or Celtics, the idea of Wicca as a religion just seems bizarre and outlandish as Scientology. Its a reinvention of history to appeal to "magick fantasies" of some mythological "Middle Earth."

I did not say it in the lengthy dialogue, but the three ladies who were interested in me (one in college, one when I lived in Atlanta, and one in Portland) were all "pushy" / demanding. There was little compatibility with me. I don't know the stats, but it seems like Wicca appeals more to women than men. I guess the preference of worshipping the "goddess" or honouring the goddess is tailor made for feminism. Or at least, the man-hating form of feminism. Outspoken women in history have often been accused of witchcraft and I wonder if that's what the appeal of Wicca is to modern feminists. Christianity doesn't have to be male-dominated, though.

This Wicca-loving church member, though, kept trying to find out what it is about Wicca that doesn't appeal to me and I know I did not do a good job explaining myself. The problem is, I base my opinions on it through the murky, undefined feelings. It really is true when I say that Wicca does not resonate with me at all. In New Age spiritual thought, there is the belief that each idea, word, deed, religion has a certain vibration. If you resonate with an idea, you are a "vibrational match." If you don't, you are not a vibrational match. This is the basis behind the Universal Law of Attraction concept. Thus, Wicca and me aren't a vibrational match. I can't explain why, really, because I'm not basing it on logic. I'm basing it on my core feeling. She tried to win me over by telling me certain beliefs of Wicca that match my belief, such as believing that reincarnation is real. Well, a lot of belief systems have reincarnation (such as Hindu and Scientology) but that doesn't mean much. I find the prancing in the woods beneath to moonlight to cast spells on other people to be a serious problem. Paganism is something I'm glad most humans have evolved away from.

To make it clear to my readers, I'm not saying that Wicca or Paganism is morally wrong or that believers are bad people. I would have no problem being friends with someone who considered themselves as such. However, there is a huge difference between friendship and a relationship. So, when I said that I would not date a woman who was a Wiccan, this lady really got on my case. She had posted a comment, then deleted it. I can see why she deleted it, though, because it made no logical or consistent sense. She was comparing an orange to an apple. This is what she wrote:

"Sorry but this just makes me _furious_ when someone preaches 'open mindedness' patting themselves on the back for it, and then basically says the equivalent of 'I would never date or be friends with a black person... I have known a couple black people and I just didn't like them much. Their culture just seems wrong to me.' "

There is a difference between race and religion. I responded (even though it had already been deleted) that a person's race was inherent, but beliefs are not. It is wrong to discriminate against a person's inherent qualities (though people do have their preferences) but when it comes to something like beliefs, compatibility definitely matters. Especially for someone like me who rates spirituality as one of the top qualities I seek in a wife. If I don't find a woman in the Community of Christ to marry, I would need to marry a lady who belonged to a religion that interests me, particularly a liberal and mainline Christian church, such as Methodist, Quaker, Unitarian-Universalist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or others in that vein. Buddhism, Hinduism, Secular or Reform Judaism, humanist / agnostic, and New Age spirituality would also be acceptable. Anything else would be problematic (such as Assemblies of God, Jehovah's Witness, Southern Baptist, any fundamentalist or charismatic evangelical church, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, Scientologist, Christian Science, Muslim, Wiccan, Satanism, atheist, etc.).

As I tried to explain it, spirituality is very important to me. Unlike most people, I will bring up the religion question on the first date because it goes to the root of a person. I have a whole life experience of dealing with various religious people who were controlling or demanded conformity of belief or basically made my life hell. I have no objection if a person's religion helps them be a better person. That's a good thing, no matter what guise it comes in. The problem is always in how accepting they are of another person maintaining his or her own beliefs. Many churches expect a married couple to have the same religion (this is one aspect of Mormonism that I do not like. I could marry a Mormon lady no problem, however, because her salvation depends upon her husband being a temple-worthy priesthood holder, there is simply no way that'll happen with me). I've brought this issue up with people before, who try to claim that I'm not open minded or liberal just because I know that there are certain religions that are deal breakers for me. I read an article before that whenever there is a disagreement in a married couple, the conservative partner will win and the liberal partner gives in. This is true, because conservatives tend to be more controlling and in need of things being a certain way. A liberal is more accommodating, possibly to maintain the peace in a relationship and because the issue isn't worth a prolonged fight over. I don't want a relationship like that!

If I marry a lady who belongs to a different religion than I do, I am willing to attend her church half the time. I actually enjoy attending other churches, even as I remain loyal to my own. The Clintons actually inspired me, because Bill is Southern Baptist and Hillary is Methodist, so they raised Chelsea in both religions and allowed her to choose when she was old enough. If I remember correctly, Chelsea chose her mother's faith. And now she's married to a Jewish guy, so the interfaith marriage continues for a new generation. So, when I'm married, attending a different church / religion half the time would be fascinating for me. However, I know myself well enough and I'm a bit more traditional / establishment than I care to admit. The Community of Christ began during the spiritual revival going on in the United States in the early 1800s. Several churches were born in this time. Its a heritage to which I can relate and appreciate (Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were part of the Transcendentalist of this period).

But if I met a lady who was into Wicca, a relationship would be a non-starter. Especially if she was into "casting spells." Though I don't believe that stuff is real, I also think it reveals too much of a person's psyche who believes in such things. I once came across a spell for women to cast to attract the guy they want. I read it and laughed because of its ridiculousness. Namely, the spell called for getting a pubic hair from the guy and putting it into a blender with other ingredients and feeding it to him. Supposedly, it would make him fall in love with the spellcaster! What a croc! I much prefer the New Age spiritual belief: to attract love, you have to visualize the kind of internal traits you want the significant other to possess and to bring those qualities into your own life before the person appears. There is no spell to cast, no chasing after people who may not even want you.

The last Wiccan lady I knew who was so blatantly obvious in her crush on me claimed that she was going to cast a "binding spell" on everyone who worked at our dysfunctional office (at the place that shall not be named). I don't know if she ever cast a spell or not, but if she had, it did not work. I was not trapped there forever. I managed to escape. Having getting to know her, though, I can understand why Wicca appealed to her. She had issues with men and perhaps the male-dominated view in Christianity of God being a male was something to rebel against. Though I refer to God as God, I do not believe God has a gender. When people refer to God as "goddess", they are assigning it a gender just by their language alone.

The second Wiccan lady I knew was obsessed with the fantasy genre and used the spelling of "magick" for magic. She was a writer and her short stories were all in the fantasy genre. I've never gotten into fantasy. I admit that I can have kind of a harsh view of people who are into fantasy, to the point where they incorporate it into their lives. I can see how Wicca would appeal to such people, because its just one more aspect of continuing their literary fantasy tastes into their lives. Whether Wicca rituals are true or not probably depends on the person. Then again, there's a quote that I like that says: "Your focus determines your reality." Again, an example of "Law of Attraction."

So, we all have our interest and what appeals to one person won't appeal to another person. It is not wrong to say that I don't want to be in a relationship with someone who is into Wicca. I'm a loyal and fair guy. Is it wrong to desire a woman whose spiritual interests are more compatible with my own? I don't want to go to late night gatherings in the woods by the moonlight to engage in rituals I may not understand. I don't want a woman who believes that she can cast spells to get what she wants in life. I don't want a house full of pagan imagery, which includes the pentagram. I don't want to read fantasy books or see them on my bookcase.

Spiritual compatibility is important in romantic relationships. But when it comes to friendships, I actually like having friends of all kinds of beliefs. However, I'm not in contact with any Wiccan. I think they understand quite well that we simply do not resonate at the same vibrational level. This lady who critiqued my comments on Facebook sounded a little too defensive about it. I often suspected her of being a Wiccan, even though she's also a member of the same church that I belong to. My personal belief is that she is Wiccan or at least partially Wiccan because she likes the worship of the goddess, since she has issues with men and the idea of "God" being a male. God is just a word to define the unknowable. There should not be a gender attached.

Oh well. To each their own. "Blessed be."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

She's Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

Teabagger sweetheart and losing candidate for the U.S. Senate in Delaware Christine O'Donnell is back in the news in a big way. This week, she appeared on Piers Morgan's show to promote her book, which is titled Troublemaker. Gee, I wonder if she took a page from Sarah Palin's Going Rogue? Its an unfortunate title, and probably quite inaccurate. Did she really cause trouble? She was hardly taken seriously. Her gaffes were worse than Palin or Bachmann. The biggest being the news that she had told Bill Maher on the Politically Incorrect talk show back in the late 1990s that she had "dabbled in witchcraft" when she was younger. This revelation automatically branded her as the Sabrina-type witch and late night talk show hosts had a lot of fun with it.

Even though Christine O'Donnell is now part of the "Tea Party" and through this astroturf movement that came into existence one month after the inauguration of our first black president, she is associated with Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, my personal gut feeling about O'Donnell is that her heart is in the right place. She has neither Palin's vindictive diva streak nor Bachmann's emotional coldness and rigid ideology. Yes, O'Donnell is a Christian activist and a conservative, but she is completely adorable and likable and doesn't appear to have a mean bone in her body. She's the epitome of sweetness and "the girl next door."

In college, I watched Nightline and Politically Incorrect religiously. I remember her on the show because while I did not agree with her views, she came across as a likable lady who had the Katie Couric cuteness factor going for her. She wasn't a raving ideologue like Ann Coulter, who has always scared me by her harshness (I've read that Coulter has a following among single, young Republican males who just love her and for the life of me, I can't see what they see in such a gangly, ugly-looking, unfunny, lying propagandist). O'Donnell was someone I could see being friends with, despite our political and religious differences.

Last year on the campaign trail, Bill Maher wanted his old friend to appear on his weekly show. He used blackmail, which did not work. He said that he would release an old clip of one of her kookier comments each week until she appeared on Realtime with Bill Maher. That's how the public came to know about her views on masturbation (that she considers it adultery if a married person does it) and her dabbling in witchcraft where she had went on a date with a Wiccan priest where they had a picnic on "Satan's altar" with blood all over the place. Bill Maher did the country a favour by exposing her and rendering her unelectable. All her candidacy did was prevent the Republican Congressman Mike Castle from a promotion to the Senate, as everyone expected him to easily do. Congressman Castle's popularity in Delaware (which only has one member of the House of Representatives since it is one of our smallest states in both size and population) practically guaranteed a promotion and it was enough to scare off Beau Biden (the son of the Vice President) from seeking the Democratic nomination to face him in the general election.

The extremist views of the Tea Party meant that they were able to affect the Republican primary and elevate O'Donnell over Castle. Because of the ignorant strategy of these teabaggers, Democrat Chris Coons became the unlikeliest Senator (everyone had expected him to lose to Mike Castle in the general election). That's cool, though, because what I learned about Coons, I like. He was a Reagan-loving college student who did a study abroad program in Kenya and based on what he saw and experienced in Kenya, he returned to the U.S. a committed Democrat. Rush Limbaugh tried to paint Coons as a "bearded Marxist" based on a college editorial he had written for his school's paper. I'm certain that Senator Coons has no hard feelings at all against O'Donnell. He owes his promotion to her and the teabaggers.

Christine O'Donnell made news for walking out of the interview after Piers Morgan asked questions she did not want to answer. His first question that "offended" her was about her views on gay marriage. To O'Donnell's credit, she said that she did not want to talk about it because there was no current legislation about it and she was not an elected official. Fair enough. However, Piers kept pushing the issue and Christine got more irritated. She wanted to talk about her book and Piers claims that gay marriage is in her book, though she did not seem to verify that. She called him rude for pushing the issue.

Remarkably, she actually asked him: "Don't you think as a host that if I say that's what I want to talk about that's what we should address?"

He responded, "Not really, no."

When he asked about her views on gays in the military, she decided to end the interview, saying that there was some other event she was planning to attend at the same time, so she bagged out of there.

Wow. I'm almost speechless. This represents how deeply ingrained the Fox Propaganda Network has become for rightwing candidates. They expect softball questions and deference, even a fawning media (such as Palin's relationship with Greta Van Sustern). If someone asks a question they don't like, they pack their bags and bolt out of there like children at the neighbourhood sandbox.

Why couldn't she just answer the question? Politicians spin answers all the time and the press gets bored and moves on. But refusing to answer the question, she was only encouraging the interviewer to press the issue even more. Maybe O'Donnell figured that because ignoring questions worked for Sarah Palin in the V.P. debate, that she could get away with it to. She was there to promote her book and Piers was supposed to be a fawning promoter, asking softball questions, not controversial ones!

I'm sensing a trend. Palin, Bachmann, and O'Donnell have all gotten annoyed by the media asking them questions about issues they don't want to discuss. They don't seem to understand how the media operates. Just answer the question and if you can answer a question in a humourous way, you actually score points. Reagan was masterful of cracking a joke when asked a tough question. That was part of what made him a beloved president. These female Republican politicians all aspire to carry the mantle of Reagan, yet they lack his sense of humour. If they developed their wit, they just might be able to charm the media. Storming off the set only guarantees that O'Donnell will be remembered as a quitter who couldn't handle the heat.

I'm pretty used to questions and I love being asked questions. If I had a political career, I'd love to be asked questions about whatever the interviewer wants. I would see it as an opportunity to be creative in how I could respond. Cracking a joke often diffuses any tension or discomfort. It puts people at ease and it wins fans. People respond to humour. O'Donnell should try it next time.

The one claim that I most object to, however, is O'Donnell claiming that we are on the verge of a Second American Revolution and that the Tea Party are leading the charge. Really? If these teabaggers really believe that they are carrying on in the spirit of our Founding Fathers, they truly are as deluded as I think they are. Our Founding Fathers would roll in their graves if these imbeciles manage to sweep into power their ultra right wing agenda. The America we love would cease to exist. The teabaggers are less like the Founding Fathers and more like the people that participated in Iran's Islamic Revolution of 1979. This historical revisionism is disturbing. Our Founding Fathers were men of the Enlightenment and they valued lofty debate and compromise. Intelligence was considered a highly prized virtue. The teabaggers pride themselves on their ignorance and religiosity. They are about as opposite as you can get from our Founding Fathers. America doesn't need a second political revolution. A spiritual revolution is more important. But this doesn't mean a theocratic police state like the teabaggers seem to want.

I dream of the day when ignorance is not viewed as a badge of honour, but as a disease to be cured of through serious study. Christine O'Donnell is not a leader who could pull off another revolution. She should return to private life as soon as possible. I predict that her book will barely make a ripple. I intend to read it someday...but I won't be buying it (unless she does a booksigning at Powell's City of Books). My wish for her is to get a thicker skin. Don't be a Palin clone when you can be so much more. Your sweet disposition should be used as a force for good, rather than as a tool for the teabaggers. Best of luck to you, Christine O'Donnell.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Witnessing at Work

At work today, during my lunch break, I had set down on the table a book I am reading during my lunch break and went to microwave my lunch. A co-worker that I don't know too well decided to sit at the same table as me. Usually, I prefer to eat by myself, even though there is a group that sits at the table to discuss movies, music, and all kinds of things. This co-worker who invited himself to sit at my table is the second replacement to the job of the guy who died this past March. I haven't taken a liking to this guy for some reason (I liked the previous guy and the guy who died). Now, this co-worker gives me a reason to keep a weary eye towards him.

I noticed him reading the cover of my book. It's a book about people's experiences with coincidences / synchronicities. Its called Soul Moments by Phil Cousineau. This book is perfect for my lunch half-hour. The stories of people are about a page or two in length. I can read several of them without getting too into a lengthy chapter and the stories offer a dose of inspiration. I guess the co-worker saw this as his "in." Little does he know, though, that I am well versed in the whole "leading questions."

He started asking me religious questions. If I went to church. What church I went to. Did I believe in God. Etc. I was completely honest and open about what I believe, so this always gets me into trouble. Why, you ask? Well, because it goes something like this: "I belong to the Community of Christ." When they ask what some of the beliefs are, I tell them, "standard liberal Christian views similar to the Methodists and other mainline protestant churches." When asked, "Do you accept Jesus as your saviour?", this question nearly always trips me up, because the honest answer is that I do not view Jesus as a personal saviour. Evangelical types always pounce on this. It is "opportunity" to "witness" to me. But, the joke's on them.

Because of my views regarding Jesus are a bit...um...unconventional for a Christian, at this point, I have to "distance myself" from the Community of Christ so I won't make the church I'm a fifth generation member of look bad to the Evangelicals. So, I told this co-worker that while I love the church I belong to, its a family heritage and my own personal experience tends to fall more towards "New Age spirituality." He then asked me what classifies as "New Age." I told him that it ran the gamut, without going into specifics about what I believe. When he asked if I ever had a religious experience, I said that I did and shared my most profound one of ten years ago, telling him that it happened exactly as the Buddhists said that it would. He asked questions about that. Then he tried so tell me that Jesus and Buddha could not be at the same level. That one man was more superior to another, to which I disagreed. I told him that they were "spiritual brothers" who shared similar messages.

He told me that he belonged to a church, called "Trinity" which, from the way he described it sounds like a recent "start-up." He called it a "back to the basics" type of church. Great, an evangelical start-up! That's a huge strike against it. I know that a lot of evangelical types love "non-denominational" Christian churches, but I don't. I'm more of an establishment person and at least the church I was raised in has a century and a half to draw from. Granted, many churches have centuries or even millenniums to draw from, but I'm not picky. I'm all about heritage and I belong to the Community of Christ and the larger Latter Day Saints movement. One of the best things about the church I belong to is that we have members all over the country and around the world, so it does feel like an extended tribe of about 200,000 people. Its a good base to build a lifetime network. A start-up church simply has none of that. They have to work to expand, which means pressuring members like this co-worker to evangelize at every opportunity, including at work where it is risky.

I plan to walk a delicate line with him in any talk about religion / spirituality, but if it gets uncomfortable and he doesn't back off, I could complain to our supervisor and that'll be the end of that (she and I agree on politics and I have shared my religious beliefs with her when she asked before because she thought I was a Mormon). For now, though, I'm okay with answering his questions even though I definitely feel like he's discreetly trying to push his religion rather than having an open conversation that is more about sharing than converting. He has no clue how knowledgeable I am, with a lifelong inoculation against evangelical Christianity.

My dislike of evangelicals stems from my teenage years in Germany. Because the nearest RLDS congregation was several hours drive from the town we lived in and not to mention spoken in German, my dad still wanted my brother and I to have a Christian background. So, he made me attend the protestant youth group offered by the Army base's chaplain services. These weekly events made me miss one of my favourite TV shows: Casey Casem's Top Ten (which showed the music video clips of the week's top ten). Yeah, I was big about the pop charts as a teenager! Anyhow, the youth group meetings also featured fun and games where one of the leaders was a GI who didn't care who he hurt on the basketball court. He had pushed me quite a few times. There was something wrong about a grown man who cheated to win in a game with teenagers. This was a new experience for me, because in all the games I played with fellow members of the RLDS Church, no one seemed obsessed with winning. The point of playing any game was about bonding and fun. So, that was one contrast. Then came the devotion part and it was very difficult for me to set aside my feelings of being pushed and trampled on and accept the "spiritual lesson" of the week told by the win-obsessed GI Jerk.

If that was not bad enough, at youth rallies where I met teens from other bases in Germany, there always came a moment after the fun and games where they asked people to give our lives to Christ. I was very uncomfortable with such public displays and when I mentioned being baptized as an 8 year old, I was asked which church and when I told them, they would say that it didn't count because my church was a "cult." I had no idea what a cult was, other than what my mom had told me about several years earlier regarding the Jim Jones mass suicide. To compare the church I grew up in with something like that was just rude and ignorant. So, if evangelical Christians want to know why I don't like them, it boils down to their ignorance and their judgmentalism, not to mention their hypocrisy.

I have seen from the church my brother attends that nothing has changed. There is something about the evangelical mind that simply does not get it. They lack the comprehension gene. Its because I know something that they don't. I know and understand exactly how deceptive the human ego is. The impulse to convert others to one's religious views is nothing but egotism. How do you know its ego? When you have the audacity to walk up to someone you don't know or don't know well and think your view of religion is what they need to be happy, successful, or fulfilled. Evangelical types never make a point to get to know the person, because if you get to know someone's history and views, that means you might have to accept them as they are...including how their religious or non-religious views contributed to the person they are at that moment in time.

Here's a huge difference between evangelicals and myself. For as long as I remember, I've always been the kind of person who wanted to learn from other people. In elementary school, I had a friend from Pakistan that no one else in the class wanted to befriend. I knew he and his family were of a different religion and it did not matter. That was in the second grade and I've been consistent ever since (save for my senior year when I tried to "save" my favourite teacher, who was the first atheist I had ever met). Ironically, I don't have issues with my atheist / agnostic friends today, but they have a problem with my spiritual worldview. If you can't be allies with people with different views than you, then you're still under the rule of the ego.

So, if this co-worker continues to go in the direction that I am expecting it to go, it will end badly for him. I could end it easily by asking him to respect my beliefs if he pushes the issue, but the problem is, I have a mischievous streak. I want to toy with his beliefs and see if my logical means of analyzing consistency will plant seeds of doubt into him. The evangelical worldview can't hold a candle to the universal view. In fact, he even asked if I had a universal view and when I said yes, he seemed to imply that this was the wrong view to have. Perhaps for him, but it has done wonders for me. Once you've expanded your mind to the possibilities of the universe, it is very difficult to force yourself back into the tiny box of narrow-minded evangelical Christianity. Or, in another comparison...once you've been to college and received your degree, it is very boring to go back to Kindergarten. The amount of knowledge between a Kindergartner and a college grad is about the scale of distance between an evangelical Christian and myself. Its a gulf that cannot be bridged.