Latest entries

Who is God? What’s objective truth? All I know are my own experiences

by David McElroy

Who speaks for God? Who has the knowledge, wisdom and authority to say, “In the name of God, this is The Truth”?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that this week, but few people would find my thoughts satisfying. That’s because people want certainty. They want to say, “This is who God is and what happens after death,” or they want to say, “There is no god and nothing exists outside of the physical world.”

And whatever people believe about God, most of them are eager to tell you that you ought to believe what they believe — or else you’re a sinner or you’re a fool.

How can we even talk about what’s true and what’s not? Everything we believe is built on subjective experience and assumptions. Some of those assumptions are shared with others, but very few of them are specifically defined.

You’re not in my head and heart — and I’m not in yours — so we have very little way of truly understanding the core of what other people believe or experience. In fact, the evidence suggests our minds are so complex that there isn’t even a unitary “me” inside each of us with anything approaching consistency of belief. Some of the parts of our brains literally can’t communicate with certain other parts — and those parts frequently have different needs and wants.

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Pursuing transcendent meaning is rebellion against modern culture

by David McElroy

You’re sitting in front of a television screen and you absently switch from channel to channel to channel with a remote control. You’re distracted. Bored. Your mind is elsewhere. But before you know it, you’ve spent an hour or more watching things that were only mildly interesting — and you don’t know why.

I’ve done that. I suspect almost everybody has.

The pervasive power of television to take over my life was one of the factors which led to me eliminating TV programming from my life for the most part years ago. (I’ve written about that before and talked about the influence of Neil Postman’s book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which I still strongly recommend.)

After I quit watching television, I thought I had taken permanent control of the “media ecology” around me and that I had control of which messages were going to bombard me, but I was wrong. I didn’t see social media coming and I had no idea what the web would evolve into as a whole.

Today, I don’t sit in front of a television with a remote control. I sit in front of a MacBook and go through a dizzying array of websites which make what I watched on television seem manageable by comparison. Once again, I find myself struggling against a pervasive popular culture — coming to me through a wildly popular medium — in an effort to control my time and my thoughts.

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Goodbye, Courtney Haden

by David McElroy

When I received the rough cut of my short film 10 years ago from an editor in Los Angeles, it still felt woefully unfinished and I was afraid I didn’t have anything that really worked. Inside, I was panicking. The guy in LA had bailed on the project right before it was finished, so I had to figure out how to finish locally.

I went to visit Ed Boutwell, the legendary founder of the local Boutwell Studios, down at his home in Shelby County. He watched my rough cut and told me I had something great, even though he disagreed with my libertarian satire since he was a progressive left guy. Because he thought it was good —and because he was eager to help a wannabe artist — he agreed to help me.

Ed told me I could get a local video editor to easily make the final picture cuts and credits but I mostly needed someone good to work with me on the audio recording, music selection and final audio mix.

Ed was retired, but he set me up to work with Courtney Haden, whose voice I had heard on Birmingham radio for years — mostly notably on Kicks 106 when it ruled local rock radio — and who was now co-owner of Boutwell Studios. Courtney had been a star of local FM rock morning drive radio at a couple of stations — and he still had the voice and personality I recognized.

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It often takes the approach of death
to wake us up from a dead-end life

by David McElroy

What does it mean to live? Are you alive as long as your heart is beating and your brain is functioning? Or does really living require something more?

In 1952, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa addressed those questions in an ambitious film he called “Ikiru,” which translates “to live.” (Click the title for the trailer.) The film makes it clear from the beginning that Kanji Watanabe is going to die. We know this before he does. Watanabe is a lifelong bureaucrat who’s the section chief of the Public Affairs Bureau of a large city.

Watanabe has been living his life in the same way for decades. His wife is dead and he has devoted his decades to saving money and giving a good life to his ungrateful son. But after he realizes he’s going to die, he feels empty and alone. He realizes his life has been meaningless. With the help of a couple of other people, he explores what meaning life can have. He first pursues pleasure in a hedonistic way and then afterward realizes he feels a sense of life in a young woman who has worked under him.

Using her as his example, Watanabe suddenly figures out how to give meaning to his last weeks and months. Nobody knows he’s dying, but he throws himself into this purpose — and he finds redemption for himself just before he dies. The last scene in which we see him — which is part of the flashbacks in which co-workers are figuring out what happened to him — is a touching picture of a man at peace with himself after finding purpose. He tenderly sings a song from his youth about life being brief. (The picture above is a frame from that scene.)

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To stay sane and fight life’s battles, we aliens need places of sanctuary

by David McElroy

But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God….
— Psalm 73:16-17 (ESV)

As I listened to the people around me squabbling with each other Monday night, I felt a vague sense of unease. They snapped at one another. They were petty. On the surface, things were almost civil, but you could feel the hostility of unhappy people taking their feelings out on others.

I felt completely out of place.

I felt as though the boiling anger in these people’s spirits should be obvious to everyone. Much of what I was seeing seemed to be outward projections of internal rage at self. The tension in the air felt emotionally painful to me.

Once more, I felt like an alien among creatures who made no sense to me. Once more, I needed to find peace somewhere. I needed sanctuary from the world. I needed a person, a place or a loving spirit which made sense — which gave me refuge from the storm of this world’s banal and routine hatred.

Again and again, I’ve tried to make sense of this world — and of the people of this world — and I’m left frustrated and feeling alone. What’s more, I can’t find a sense of peace. And like the ancient psalmist, I found myself needing sanctuary — where there might be refuge and understanding.

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Christmas stands for quiet truths: love, faith, community and family

by David McElroy

In my dream of Christmas Yet to Come, I see a loving mother and I see our children. I see us in a church service together on a Christmas Eve.

I see bright and curious faces experiencing the wonder of something transcendent. I see two parents who love each other and are eager for their children to feel the wonder of something bigger than themselves — to feel the joy and love and connection of Christmas with people who know there is some mysterious power bigger than themselves, something which binds a community of people together through some wisp of spirit inside each heart.

I grew up in churches where the brain was more important than the heart. Nobody would have said it that way, but what mattered was doctrine and rational explanations, not experience or any powerful sense of wonder. We were vaguely disdainful of people who felt too much or expressed too much from the heart.

We quietly extinguished the transcendent from the sacred in most respects — and I believe we lost something important as a result.

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Reality frequently doesn’t match fantasy when you know full story

by David McElroy

I hate wedding photos.

It’s not that I hate marriage or the people in the pictures. I just don’t see the glamour or fantasy or happiness that so many people associate with those photos. Instead, I associate them with shallow fantasy and excess spending by people looking — consciously or not — to paint a false picture for the world.

I’m often asked why I don’t make money on weekends by taking wedding photos, but I could never be a wedding photographer unless I could take the photos the clients want and tell myself I’m doing parody instead. My over-the-top satirical take on cliched “life event” photos would be exactly what many others truly want and find meaningful.

I’m really big on symbolism and finding meaning in metaphor. I find that wedding photos tend to be shallow expressions of fantasy to cover up the reality of relationships that are shallow and unhappy. Those photos let people lie to others about their marriages for years. More importantly, those photos let people lie to themselves.

My friend Keith Hall shared a story Sunday that neatly illustrates the unintended irony of the American obsession with the wedding facade, which I see as representative of the marriage facade.

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Tools don’t make you a great artist, but great tools change how you feel

by David McElroy

It happens all the time. Someone sees a photo I’ve shot that he thinks is good and he says, “Wow. You must have a really great camera.”

Many people believe great photos come from great cameras and that good art of any kind comes from superior tools. I never know quite how to respond to such people, because that attitude reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between an artist or craftsman and his tools.

A good photographer can make the most of a cheap camera and an untalented person can make horrible images even with a great camera — but that doesn’t mean a talented photographer doesn’t crave a great camera. And it doesn’t mean he can’t do better work with great equipment.

There’s an old adage that says, “It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools.” And it’s true.

On the other hand, a good craftsman doesn’t use lousy tools for his work, at least not very long, because he knows the difference. So which matters to doing good work? Is it the artist’s talent or the tool which matters?

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If an election can destroy your life, your priorities are out of whack

by David McElroy

clinton-supporters-reaction

Much of the reaction to Donald Trump’s election can be described only as mass hysteria.

I’m never happy about any president and this one is no exception. I would have been disgusted with either alternative, of course, and I’ve made it clear that I see Trump as especially dangerous. But some people are acting as though the world has ended for them and there’s no future to live for.

This is insane.

I’m seeing a lot of such mass hysteria and I’m appalled at it, because it shows a lack of perspective and a lack of understanding about which things matter most in life.

There are dozens of examples, but a piece in Monday’s Washington Post exemplifies it best. In a personal column called Trump’s election stole my desire to look for a partner — seriously, that’s the headline — a mother of two in Montana says she’s lost interest in finding a romantic partner. She tells of having found a man she was interested in — and who seemed interested in her — but how the election changed everything.

“There is no room for dating in this place of grief,” she concludes. “Dating means hope. I’ve lost that hope in seeing the words ‘President-elect Trump.’”

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Smart people and profit motive have made world better place for all of us

by David McElroy

fedex-plane-loading

I ordered a camera lens Monday night on Amazon.com. It was a pretty standard order. It’s not an expensive item. I didn’t pay a nickel extra for shipping. It’s pretty routine.

But this order reminds me how much our lives have improved — and how much we take those improvements for granted.

I got a shipment notification for the lens Wednesday morning. I had no idea where it was coming from. I didn’t care. But when I clicked a button in my email to track the FedEx package, a light bulb went off for me.

On the tracking page, I noticed the package was picked up by FedEx in Seongnam-si, South Korea — which is a satellite city near Seoul — at the end of the Wednesday business day there. Somehow, it will be delivered to me in Birmingham on Thursday.

An untold number of people are involved in getting my routine order fulfilled from the other side of the world all the way to me — and I never had to give a second thought to how any of it happens.

It’s a modern form of magic we call logistics.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

Contact David

David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

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