Non Vocati

I don’t know if it’s just my generation, or just my sub-population within my generation, or if this has been going on for a long time and with more people than I realize… but folks like me have a lot of trouble with concept of “vocation.”  You know, as derived from the Latin vocāre, meaning, “to call.”  What is my calling?

It’s a relatively new concept.  It wasn’t that long ago that people simply followed in the footsteps of their parents’ profession, building upon the work that they had already accomplished.  Exceptions were infrequent and caused familial strife.

I’ve known a lot of folks my age who wish this career-building model was still perpetuated in our society.  It is a wonderful thing to have the freedom to choose one’s path in life, but it is also immensely confusing for those of us with severely crippled decision-making skills.

I mean, we’re talking about calling!  It’s that particular topic or activity to which one is called to dedicate their entire life, and from which they are to earn a living!  We should not take it lightly, but the weightier the decision, the harder it becomes.

Take me.  There are a great number of things at which I have a lot of skill and which I enjoy.  The job I currently have does not have much to do with any of them.  But to choose a profession–to put everything I have into that one specific subject with which I have branded myself–is to deny all of the other possibilities.  Perhaps if there was one single thing at which I truly excelled and enjoyed above all the others, it would be a different story.  As it is, for as many interesting and useful skills I have, there are even more very good reasons I probably should not be pursuing them as a means to earn a living.

You can see for yourself.  For every skill or interest, just hover the cursor over the picture to find out why it should not be the focus of my career.

Primary Skills


Primary Interests


Secondary Skills/Interests


Am I being ridiculous?  Yes.  This is a self-defeating attitude, and symptomatic of a pathetic social disease carried by myself and my generation.  The perspective has become “This is why I shouldn’t do that” instead of “Oh, I think I could do that because of this,” and the only reason is because I am privileged enough to have almost any job I could imagine available to me.

But what’s the cure?  So far, I’ve been taking whatever position that has dropped into my lap (although, to be fair, with much thought, research, prayer, and counsel before accepting).  It hasn’t worked out terribly.  I mean, it did at first, but for the last two years I’ve been at a well-known and respected non-profit, doing work I find morally righteous, with colleagues I like, earning enough to support myself in my lovely studio apartment, and at a desk by a huge window overlooking a nice selection of New York City and the Hudson River.  I’m in a controversial environment, and I love controversy.  I’m just not doing anything at which I’m particularly adept or interested, and my generalist skills will only get me so far in this department (mostly filled with MDs, NPs, and MPHs, compared to my BA in Theater).

I have no right to complain… but is it wrong to think of this job as “the wrong place” when there’s no “right place” in mind?  Should I force myself to pursue further education in this specific field (which has a clinical component), or put myself back on the job market?

My predicament is not one deserving of much sympathy (“Oh, poor guy.  He has too many viable choices of how to earn a living and suffers from chronic indecision.”), but I find that it has become more and more commonplace.  Do I, and others like me, simply need to be slapped in the mouth for even thinking about complaining about this?

Or, because we are defined by our actions, does having options for how to earn a living (having the freedom to choose our actions) present a legitimate burden?

What I’m really getting at here is: can’t someone just pay me to write this blog?


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Etched In Tone

As modern society has become more and more reliant on the written word as a means of primary communication (e.g. text messaging, e-mail, online news, and this blog), we have, out of necessity, altered our expectations for these media.

Don’t worry; this isn’t another post on how 160-character limits have destroyed the art of writing, or a nostalgic complaint about how no one talks on the phone anymore.

This post is a dire warning that your future, and the future of all mankind, is fraught with dangerous danger!!

More specifically, it’s about the risks inherent in monotony.

I use “monotony” literally, as in one (mono) tone.

I have a personal history of being misunderstood over written communication, where an intended emotionless, matter-of-fact response has been received as antagonistic, or intended sarcasm is picked up as earnest foolishness.

This blog is no exception.  People think I come off as a jerk when my intended voice is a placid, inviting, smooth-jazz baritone.*  But in person, the actual sound of my voice supplements the words themselves, offering clues to their meaning.

I imagine that as time goes on, and short, written communication continues to replace other social interactions (as evident from this Pew report), humans are going to have to adapt.  I wonder if, a couple of decades from now, we will naturally become more adept at identifying subtle textual clues and intention more accurately.  I hope so, because I don’t think anyone’s learning how to write better.

Case in point: even about (just under) 2000 years ago, we have lines of Biblical text which I, personally, am not certain whether the speaker intended as a joke:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31 NASB)

The first few lines are an existential statement regarding the nature of G-d, and how He is directly involved even in the death of something so insignificant that you can buy two for a penny.  And then He basically says, “But don’t worry, you’re worth more than a number of these extremely insignificant creatures put together.”  One can easily imagine a slight lilt in the Messiah’s voice as He says the word “many” (or whatever the Aramaic word was), cracking a smile to the laughter of His disciples before continuing on to more serious matters.  Alternatively, maybe He gave a deadpan delivery, and the disciples started giving each other uneasy looks.  The point is, we don’t know.

But maybe–just maybe–the new skills our species develops in reading tone and intention will provide brand new insight into even ancient text.  If we don’t develop those skills, however, I think that’s pretty much the end of civility as we understand it.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but human beings love to get offended.  These days, publicly posting “I had the best pancakes for breakfast!” somehow results in anger and internet trolling.  If you give people an opportunity to take what you’ve said the wrong way, people will exploit it to the point that you will be defined by a belief or opinion you never had in the first place.  Perhaps it’s best to simply lead a quiet and complacent life, trying as hard as possible not to make waves.

Or maybe I’m being sarcastic.


*Just kidding.  I really am a jerk.
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Truth in Spectacles and Speculation in Tentacles

Warning: there are plot spoilers for the movie “Prometheus” in this post, below the awesome drawing I did of Sigourney Weaver facing off with an alien à la “Alien 3.”

But until that image, you’re safe.  And if you want to jump past the spoilers, a link will be provided at that point, enabling you to do so.

I have been a huge fan of the movie “Alien” for a long time.

I mean, it came out two years before I was born, so not that long.  But ever since I saw the famous gut-busting scene parodied in Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs” when I was little, it had my interest.  I think I even saw James Cameron’s “Aliens” before I saw the first one, and was confused because that scene was not in the movie.  I do remember “Alien 3” coming out in the theaters, and I probably saw “Alien” when I was… I don’t know, let’s say eleven or twelve.

“Alien” is science-fiction at its best, and horror at its best.  The sequels made the science-fiction more campy than intriguing, and changed the genre from horror to action.  They were fun, and Sigourney Weaver was awesome, but I preferred to think of the first film as its own story independent from the sequels.  Ridley Scott, the director of “Alien,” apparently felt the same way, as his new movie “Prometheus”–a prequel to “Alien”–only considers the first movie as canon.

But I’m not writing this post to tell you how much I like “Alien,” or even “Prometheus.”  This post is about truth, speculation, and the human drive to seek both.

And also about how awesome “Alien” and “Prometheus” are, I guess.

As an avid “Alien” fan, I hyped this movie up a lot in my head, and honestly did not think it would live up to my own hype.  I can’t remember the last Ridley Scott movie that I thought was great (although most have been decent enough), and the man is in his mid-seventies.  Nevertheless, the prospect of having a few of the outstanding mysteries of “Alien” unraveled by the creator himself was very exciting.

Most of those mysteries originate from the scene near the beginning of the movie (warning: spoilers for the original “Alien” ahead, in case you haven’t seen that yet), when they land on a harsh, uninhabitable planet, explore a crashed/marooned spaceship, find a large alien with its ribs having been burst open in a big chair in front a large panel (earning him the nickname “space jockey” for the next 30 years) and a machine that looks like a giant telescope, and a room filled with large eggs in neat lines.  The eggs, we quickly find out, still contain live creatures.

What that ship was doing there, what the space jockey was, and why there was a room filled with eggs (which looked like they were being farmed) were questions never asked by the crew exploring that ship, as the movie quickly became more about survival than exploration (although the means of the space jockey’s death became fairly obvious).  But fans of the movie have been asking those questions for decades.

“Prometheus” satisfactorily delivers on answers to all of those questions, but in doing so opens up an even larger can of speculative worms.  It was a fantastic homage to “Alien” (e.g. strong and unassuming female lead, similar-looking technology, and even smoking on spaceships) while being a very different movie in its own right.

(Click here to bypass the spoilers below and continue to the meat of the post.)

At some point in the second half of the movie, a verse of scripture popped into my head.  It is revealed that the space jockey from “Alien” was from a race of beings which look like giant humans with blue skin (but in “Alien,” he is in a spacesuit).  These beings (finally given an official name of “engineers”) have DNA which reads as human, are in some way linked with the creation of life, and clearly walked the Earth in the days of ancient civilization.  As the movie progresses, it appears that these beings also decided that mankind (for whatever reason) needed to be eliminated.  Giant humanoids from ancient civilization who eventually left?  Scholars of Greek mythology (who would also be familiar with the story of the mythological Prometheus) would call them “Titans.”  I’m not a Greek scholar.  I like to study Judeo-Christian scripture, and the word that popped into my head was “Nephilim.”

Genesis 6:4-8 (NASB):

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of G-d came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them.  Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.  Then the L-rd saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  The L-rd was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  The L-rd said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the L-rd.

You probably know the story after that.  The story of Noah’s Ark is one of the most discussed passages in the Bible by those with an agenda to disprove it, as the event seems impossible as most people read it.  That’s a discussion for another time.  But in connection with Prometheus, remember that:

1) the opening scene takes place in a flooded land.  One of the engineers appears to sacrifice himself (and it becomes unclear if his genetic structure disintegrates entirely or become building blocks of something else), while the others appear to leave the planet in a spaceship.

2) Ridley Scott portrays a future (2080s and 90s) where atheism is fairly prevalent, but there is clear emphasis on Elizabeth Shaw’s Christian faith (she does not discuss the details of her faith, but her cross is very important to her, and she is criticized for her faith by the android).  The pilot of the Prometheus also seems to have some semblance of Christian faith, as he is seen putting up a Christmas tree.

3) (and this is something I did not connect until I read this guy’s Live Journal entry)  whatever event occurred on the engineer planet/base which wiped out most of them appears to have happened about 2000 years prior to the arrival of the Prometheus… meaning right around the time of the crucifixion of the Messiah.

4) Virgin births with “G-d-like” DNA seem pretty feasible in the “Prometheus” universe.  That Live Journal entry contains other such speculation, not all of which seems as probable to me, but birth is a major theme in the movie.

It seems obvious to me that the writers and producers of “Prometheus” used Biblical scripture to inform the story.  On top of that, despite the overt atheism of some of the characters, one could easily make the argument that nothing in the movie contradicts the Bible.  One could even see “Prometheus” as a speculative interpretation of much of the Bible.  Just as there has been much speculation created by the original space jockey for the last 30 years, there has been wild speculation about the Biblical “Nephilim” throughout history, and there is now even more speculation about the science-fiction universe created through these films.

(Spoilers end here.)

When the movie was over, my friends and I went to a Chinese restaurant and began to discuss it.  None of these friends are exceptionally familiar with scripture, but they have all seen “Alien,” so there were plenty of other things in the movie to talk about and about which to speculate.  Our conversation became so fervent that the waitress had to come back to the table three times because we could not stop talking about the movie for even the brief pause it would take to look at the menu.

We, as human beings, just eat up this stuff.  Speculation, that is; not Chinese food (although, that too).  Even though we know it’s just a movie, and that writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof probably have no greater evidence or insight into the universe, or any answers to any mysteries, or any revelations into greater truths than the rest of us.  They are, however, likely much better at activating that part of the human brain that craves answers, by giving us just enough to make us feel like we’ve figured something out while simultaneously blossoming one mystery into countless more.  Once we’ve figured something out in its entirety, it is no longer of interest.

This is a pretty obvious truth.  Babies are fascinated by simple shapes and colors, toddlers by light switches, and adolescents by sexuality.  We’ve figured those things out, so while we might still have a favorite color, get a tiny pleasure out of pushing an elevator button, and have a healthy sex drive, those things no longer produce fascination.

When something gives us a partial answer, like scripture often does, we remain fascinated.  Whether you believe that the Bible is the word of G-d or the words of men, this appears to be intentional.  But just because something is incomplete does not mean that it does not contain enough information for us to know that it’s true (did you follow that sentence?).

Case in point; “Prometheus” intentionally leaves out information (Scott has stated this), but we still know enough to figure out what probably happened in “Alien.”  We know enough to know those certain things we need to know, while still leaving us yearning to know more.  Scripture does this, as well.  We know the important things we need to know, and we just love speculating about the rest.

The problem comes in when people start thinking of this speculation as truth.

It sounds ridiculous, but with all of the rampant speculation I’ve been doing in the past few days regarding a very fun and well-thought-out movie and its connections with the Bible, there may have been moments where I caught my brain assuming that the speculative story of “Prometheus” actually happened.

Something about the human brain wants to believe in speculation.

This happens all the time.  We daydream about a reality where we’ve won the lottery, and what we would do with that money.  Suddenly those dream-goals become our real goals, even though we do not possess the means to accomplish them.  We speculate upon our future spouses, informed by a mix of experience with our parents and Hollywood love stories, and then become disappointed when the reality does not meet the one we had built in our heads.

We speculate that voting in a particular (whichever) political party will lead to a series of events quickly resulting in apocalypse.

We speculate that an eisegetical passage of scripture might mean one thing, and become convinced that it is truth.

So this very thing which causes us to pursue truth causes a risk of belief in that which is likely not true.

But what I wonder is: do speculative endeavors such as “Prometheus” ultimately bring us closer to truth, or further from it?

I really hope it brings us closer to it, because it’s a lot of fun.


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Finding Common Ground

A friend of mine who is a longtime reader of my blog* pointed me to a very interesting article, published not long after my last post on perceptions of stupidity, on Why Smart People Deny Climate Change.  In it, the author points to a recent study which indicates that how people think society should be run is a better indicator of belief than scientific education and skill.  In other words, if a person identifies with the “government should stay out of our business” community, then having better literacy about global warming and better objective abilities to reason actually makes him** less worried about it, and if a person identifies with the “we all need to work together to build a better society” community, then having better literacy and ability makes him more worried about it.

Don’t you want to just hate people?!  I don’t care with which side of the political fence you identify; if you are choosing your beliefs based on culture rather than objective reason and truth, you are a disease to humanity.  Even if reason and truth agree with you, it is this subconscious, socially-centered method of determining decisions and beliefs which ultimately ruins our species.

But does anyone really think that he does this himself?  It’s something other people do, right?  What we do is led by objective reason.

No, we are all guilty at varying degrees.  We are human.  But what can anyone do about it, other than make an almost insignificant personal effort?

I was bullied in middle school.

I mean, we all were, to some extent.  Middle school is just about the worst thing you can do to a kid.  Whose idea was it that sticking a large group of sexually budding and confused pre-teens with raging hormones and very little knowledge or experience in anything besides knowing how to receive free parental care and affection in a building together for eight hours every day would be the most effective way to teach them Algebra?

I wasn’t bullied badly, per se, but I suppose it’s all relative.  No blood was drawn.  I maybe got punched in the stomach a couple of times.  Was teased and tickled to the ground incessantly.  In fairness, I was very sensitive and easy to tease.  Not only that, but I’m pretty sure that I was profoundly annoying and possessed utterly no self-awareness.  (I can still be pretty annoying, but at least now it’s a conscious choice.)

My parents asked me if I wanted to switch schools, and I declined.  I didn’t see what difference it would make.  People were going to pick on me wherever I was.

When I left middle school and started high school, an amazing thing happened.  People were suddenly really nice to me.  It seemed inexplicable.  People that I thought were cool actually let me hang out with them, and seemed to enjoy my company.  My self-esteem slowly began to repair itself, and I started becoming more self-aware.  I had a great time, and made a lot of great friends, many of which are still great friends.  I’m pretty sure I even learned vastly more in high school than I ever did in college, academically speaking.

What does any of this have to do with subjective, culture-based decision-making?

Years later, in retrospect, I identified what the big difference was which flipped my education’s social experience around completely.  Middle school was co-ed, and my high school was all male.

When women are around, men are cruel.  When they’re not around, there’s absolutely no reason not to get along with everyone.

Don’t worry; I’m not professing that we should segregate men and women for the good of mankind.  I don’t think mankind would last very long.  But while the author (David Berreby) of the article to which I linked suggests that the most effective way of dealing with this problem is by “filleting the cultural markers out of a scientific argument” (i.e. “let’s do what I want, but you should know that it’s actually going to be beneficial to you, and we can use some of your methodology if that makes you happy”), I don’t think that’s going to work.  And we can’t very well segregate self-identified liberals and conservatives, either (especially since those cultures have an inseparable geographic link, apparent from any demographic map which shows globs of liberal voters in highly populated cities and more conservative voters in the vast suburban and rural outskirts).

But I do agree with Berreby’s statement that science “is going to tell you why we are all idiots together…”  I think therein lies the answer; to stop thinking of ourselves as right and the others as stupid, but rather group us all together in the lump sum of human idiocy, from which no one is truly exempt.  The boys at my middle school were in constant conflict because they incessantly fought for alpha status, and there was no way on Earth that anyone could explain to them that they were only vying to be a king among fools, because that king still got to date any of the foolish girls he wanted.  The boys at my high school had no incentive to be king, and the recognition that we were all a bunch of fools was a foundation for celebrated camaraderie.

In other words, everyone simply needs to recognize the fact that he’s an idiot.

I’m pretty sure this will best be accomplished by telling everyone he’s an idiot to his face.

Who will stand with me?


*Relatively speaking, of course
**Apologies for my male-presumptive pronouns, now and going forward
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I’m Right and You’re Stupid

I read an article a few days ago discussing a recent Gallup poll conducted last month. The poll asked Americans whether they believed that humans developed over millions of years with G-d’s help, that humans developed over millions of years independent of G-d, or that humans were zapped into their current state of existence within the past 10,000 years.  46% (n=1012) said that the last option was closest to what they believed was truth.

I don’t want to make this about what canonized Jewish or Christian scripture actually says about the timeline of mankind’s creation, even though I could discuss that topic ad nauseum (but just FYI, it does not contradict long-term evolution anywhere).  Instead, I would like to talk about stupidity.

It’s a harsh word.  Even the most self-deprecating folks don’t call themselves “stupid.”  It’s a word most often used to describe other people; usually people who disagree with the person using the word.  It is not “I am right and you are wrong,” but rather “I am right and you are stupid,” which is funny, because stupidity is theoretically an intrinsic quality which cannot be helped (like a genetic disorder), while being wrong is a choice which the “right” (i.e. “correct”) person might be able to help correct.  There is nothing “wrong” (i.e. “immoral”) with being stupid.

And I see this statistic and my immediate thought is, “Wow, there are so many stupid people out there.”  And my next thought is, “Huh, I’ll bet all those people think I’m stupid.”

I once told a friend in college that I didn’t believe that people were generally stupid.  With the exception of those with actual mental handicaps which alter their higher brain functions (things you can find in medical textbooks), most people we tended to think of as “stupid” are not really stupid at all.  They live different lives and are very intelligent when it comes to the set of things with which they have to deal and about which they have to know.  They come across as “stupid” to our community only because they have a different knowledge set, and it’s human nature to see yourself and your community as “right” and everyone else as “wrong.”  My friend seemed very impressed with my optimistic perspective, mostly in how kind and forgiving it was.

It’s about ten years later now, and I find myself asking, “Man, are these people stupid or what?!”

The U.S. Census Bureau claims there are 311,591,917 people in this country, which to me means that if we can trust Gallup, 143,332,282 citizens of the United States of America have either a) not heard about the scientific evidence in support of the concept and theory of human evolution; b) heard about the scientific evidence supporting human evolution but have chosen to deny it based on beliefs founded in culture and tradition; or c) become quite well-versed in the scientific arguments for and against evolutionary theory and, after much research, counsel, prayer, and scriptural vetting, have determined that there are too many unanswered questions and logical holes to tip the balance in opposition to the perfectly reasonable idea that the Biblical “sixth day” corresponds to a time period roughly between six to ten thousand years ago when G-d almighty formed mankind independently from the other taxological primates.

I’m really hoping it’s mostly “a,” “c,” or some mix of the two.  But the thing is, in every case, it really could be “a” or “c,” and immediately labeling 46% of the population as “stupid” is simply egregious.  Heck, even if it’s mostly “b,” perhaps there are perfectly understandable reasons why someone might choose to deny scientific evidence (even if it’s the “wrong” [i.e. “immoral” and “incorrect”] choice), and there is a big difference between being misled and being stupid.

But my reacting to a statistic by judging almost half of the population of my country as stupid…  that’s pretty stupid.

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One thing is certain: my blog shall have pictures.

This might seem like a terrible idea, because I am a terrible illustrator and a terrible photographer.  But, while I’m honestly not the most avid blog-reader, I have to admit that my favorite blogs have pictures–usually drawn ones.

Hence, this seems like the perfect time to break out a simple, stylized comic template developed by a close friend and me back in college.  We never did anything public with it, and  I will give him the credit he is due, but I’m pretty much usurping the whole thing for my own selfish gain and, hopefully, your amusement.

This means that if I write a humorous post on the dangers of fly-fishing, you might see this sort of drawing:

Fly Fishing

And if I write a heartfelt essay on the dangers of nuclear proliferation, you might see one like this:

Nuclear Surprise

There will be danger.  There’s another certainty.

And there will certainly be certainty.

And also rampant indecisiveness.


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The Fatalist Marksman

I made a decision to take my writing more seriously, in effort to forge some kind of career out of it.

Not knowing exactly what kind of writing I might want to do for a living, nor having any clear ideas about to where I might be able to submit my work, a close friend suggested that I start a blog.  Other friends agreed, this was a good idea.

“But what,” I asked, “should it be about?”

“Whatever you feel like!” they responded in eerie unison, gathered around me at my weekly Matt’s Friends Convention.*

“That’s not very helpful,” I replied.  “My problem is that I don’t know where to focus my writing.  A blog wouldn’t really help that.”

“You’re wrong!” they shouted back, speckling my face with saliva and beer.  “You can just write about whatever you want to write, and it will naturally develop into something more focused.  This is just a launchpad for your artistic genius.” **

“Okay.  I’ll give it a shot.”

But while I do feel free to write about whatever I please, I feel I must make an early dichotomous decision which will affect the trajectory of the blog, as yet untitled.  Do I make it funny, or do I write about serious political and religious issues about which I am passionate?

Is it possible to do both?

The latter choice runs a risk of instantly driving away certain potential readers while simultaneously attracting others.  My positions are unabashedly, fervently, and extremely reasonable, even-handed, and moderate… so it might just work out that I’d drive away everyone and attract no one.

Since this first post will initially be seen by no one but my friends, I open the question to all of you:

Do I try to be funny, try to be serious, or do I fire my quiver willy-nilly into the air and hope that one of them hits that gem of a target that defines my very destiny?



*The Matt’s Friends Convention is accepting applications for exhibitors.

**My friends use the word “genius” sparingly and literally.***

***My friends did not actually use the word “genius.”

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