Friday, July 30, 2010

A Trip to Disney

Most of you already know that I took a trip to Florida last week. After all, the majority of my readers are also my Facebook friends. What I haven't done though, is talk about the details of my trip. There are a lot of stories for me to tell. I haven't started before now because as soon as I got back from vacation, I went back to work, and have been once again putting in a lot of hours. I certainly won't complain about that... after all, I have a vacation to pay for.

We spent our time in Orlando, known, of course, for Disney. We stayed at the Hilton right outside of Downtown Disney, and we hit Magic Kingdom and Epcot. With this trip, I can now say that I have been to both Disneyland and Disney World. The first time I went to Disneyland was in the early 1990's, and then I went again around four years ago. I was impressed with Disneyland on my first trip (despite the fact that Snow White refused to have her picture taken with me), and the second trip was even better. They did a great job of expanding and improving the park. With that said though, Disney World blows Disneyland out of the water. I'd often heard this, but reserved judgment until I experienced things for myself.

There are a few reasons that I like Disney World better. For starters, I really like that Downtown Disney is a completely separate entity from the theme parks. This affords people the opportunity to focus on shopping while at Downtown Disney, and concentrate on the rides and attractions at the theme parks. This was a stroke of genius. With that said though, if you're short on time, or aren't wild about commuting to a completely different location for shopping, Magic Kingdom and Epcot both had plenty of opportunities for shopping. My point is that Disney ironed out some of Disneyland's kinks when they built Disney World.

My favorite feature of Disney World, however, was the tickets we purchased. Certain hotels have some sort of partnership with Disney that allows the hotel guests to buy discounted tickets to the theme parks. In our case, the discount basically worked like this... you buy the discount ticket, which allows you to enter the park late in the day, but you get to remain in the park after it closes to the other ticket holders. This was a quintuple win for us. 1) The kids got to sleep in. 2) Many early birds had already departed by the time we arrived, so the lines were shorter. 3) Lines were significantly shorter after the park closed, because there are very few hotels that offer this deal. 4) We were NOT at the parks during the hottest part of the day. 5) We got a DISCOUNT for the four aforementioned perks!

With this all said though, the hotels that offer these perks are a select few, and they're not budget hotels. However, I would ABSOLUTELY do the same thing again if I were to hit Disney World. I'll talk a bit more about the parks themselves, and other aspects of the trip in later posts.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Faith vs. Religion

I've got to say that Paulius has been very flattering to me lately. He mentioned me in his inaugural podcast, and he gave me credit for influencing a change in his attitude toward religion. While the former is kind of cool, it's really the latter that I'd like to discuss a bit more in-depth.

Paul's post started off by talking about the Westboro Baptist Church... you know, the "God Hates Fags" idiots that protests at the funerals of military personnel who were killed in combat. He then used these morons as illustrations of larger issues. In fact, you should just take a moment to read his article, and then come back when you're done.

Okay, now that you've read his post, and gotten a bit of background, you should have a better understanding of where I'm headed with today's words, which are going to discuss the differences between faith and religion. The words are used quite interchangeably, but there is really a cavernous difference in their meanings.

Religion, as Paulius' reference to the Westboro haters illustrates, has been the cause of a great deal of suffering and oppression throughout history. The Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Salem Witch Trials are three glaring examples of evils that the Christian Religion alone can perpetrate under the right circumstances. This is because religion is not faith. Religion is religion.

My definition of faith is the belief in something that cannot be definitively proven. My belief in God is, by definition, faith because I cannot create and recreate an experiment that can provide sufficient evidence of God's existence. My inability to prove God's existence has absolutely no bearing on whether or not He Is; I am simply unable to prove things one way or the other. With this in mind, I would like to point out that atheism is technically a faith, when using my definition of the word. Paul, a self-proclaimed atheist, cannot prove that God doesn't exist any more than I can prove that God does exist. Absent this proof either way, we simply have different preconceived notions regarding this existence. Both of us have an equal amount of faith. It's simply that we have faith in different answers to the same question.

With this in mind, I will freely concede, from an intellectual standpoint, that I could be absolutely wrong about God's existence. It's completely possible that my communion with God is nothing more than neurons firing in my brain under the right circumstances... that these neurons release serotonin and other chemicals, causing a feeling that I interpret as feeling God's presence. Science has talked about the process, but it has not yet found a method of addressing causation, which means that science hasn't come any closer to proving or disproving God's place in the universe.

But enough about faith. I hope that I've sufficiently defined and illustrated what faith is. It's now time to talk about religion. While faith is the core belief, religion is the set of rules, traditions and rituals that are associated with this belief. Taking communion, the premise that the Pope is infallible, and going to Church are examples of some of these rules. In other words, religion is the set of dogmatic principles that an individual follows in the practice of faith. Faith is the core belief. Religion is what happens as a result of faith.

For example, some people believe that if they behave in a certain way on earth, they will receive certain rewards in heaven (or punishment in hell). They follow certain rules with the expectation of a certain outcome. Atheists have a belief system that’s not incongruent with the belief of people with faith. Atheists are convinced that there is no God, so the only consequences for their actions are here on earth. Their belief system is self-imposed, and by society.
With this in mind, an atheist can be a good person while someone professing faith in God can be an absolute monster. My friend Greg doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe in being faithful to his wife, loving his children, honoring his parents, not stealing, and taking care of his friends. These are all tenements of the Christian religion, and by my definition, Greg is a good person. As for evil Christians?!? I think that we can all agree that the Westboro idiots are not a shiny happy example of people practicing a healthy faith in God.
So the next time someone talks to you about your religion, maybe you can bring up the possibility that they’re talking about the wrong thing. Because what they’re interested in is not the set of rules, but the belief itself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fun in the Sun

I'm going to start off today's post by making a small apology to my best friend Greg. You see, Greg and I have a kind of unofficial ritual where I drop by his house every other weekend and hang out for a couple of hours, and I haven't done so since our annual boys' trip, which ended in early June. Two weeks ago, I went to Des Moines for the 4th of July. I had a great time, seeing some of my high school classmates friends, so I missed him that weekend. Yesterday, I went on a poker run, so I missed yesterday as well. And next time I'll be on family vacation, so by the time I actually get around to dropping by, about two months will have passed. Sorry, Greg.

Now, for the poker run. I'll start out by saying it was a blast! I've never been on a ride with anywhere near the amount of riders I saw yesterday. There were about 150 bikes, and I estimate that the line of bikes stretched for about a quarter mile!

To make it even cooler, we had police escorts part of the way, who blocked traffic so we could stay together and ride without stopping. I also got to see a couple of friends that I hadn't seen for a long time. In fact, one of the guys helped organize the poker run.

I also took my older daughter with me, so we spent the entire afternoon together... hanging out, and chatting about nothing in particular. Since she's almost 18, and has a life of her own, I particularly cherish these times together, because I know that they won't last forever.

At the end of the run, a guy walked up to me and commented on the Marine Corps T-Shirt I was wearing. He was in the Corps as well, and it turned out that we served during the same years, and were even at the same base for a while. Talk about a small world!

I had a great time yesterday, and I'd like to thank Dan for inviting me on the run. It's definitely something I'd do again if the opportunity presented itself.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

...And Life Marches Forward

I suspect that by now everyone who reads my humble blog has noticed that I haven't been writing as much as usual. This is due to a combination of a lack of fresh material, and because life has kept me engaged in reality. There's a teeny piece of me that misses the blogging, but for the most part, I find that my other activities provide plenty of fulfillment.

Work is work. I've been putting in many hours, effectively becoming a full-time employee. Since I'm paid by the hour, I can hang with this. I must admit though, I sort of miss having some down time to do stuff around the house. For example, I started refinishing my kitchen cabinets over four months ago, and I'm still less than half way done. And I've started even more projects. I could spend a lot of time working on them, but hanging out with the family takes precedence... a choice I happily make.

With the summer season upon us, my garden is in full swing. But this year, it's the weeds that are prospering while my tomatoes, broccoli and so forth fail to yield. This one is a bit beyond my control. The garden was placed in an area surrounded by trees, and the trees have grown to a point that the garden doesn't get enough sunlight. I may simply replant grass there next year and have a deck garden instead.

I'm spending some quality time riding my motorcycle, but mostly it's commuting to and from work. I wouldn't mind some more weekend rides with the kids, but they're coming to an age where they want to hang out with their friends instead of dad. That's okay though, like I said, I've got plenty of stuff to keep me occupied. Last weekend, I did a ride to J&P Cycles with my younger daughter and some friends. It wasn't a lot of miles, but it was a lot of bikes, and it was an all-day event, so it was all good. Next weekend, I may do a poker run. I've never done a huge ride with a lot of other bikers, so I'm kind of looking forward to that.

Church is keeping me very busy. It seems that sometimes it's almost overwhelming. When I joined the church, I wanted to become involved... it's something that I'd been missing. It was a good way to serve God, expand my circle of friends, and do something for my community. I'm getting what I've asked for in spades. Every now and then it seems like too much of a good thing, but not to the point where I feel the need to withdraw... I don't want to do that, so I simply set limits, and say 'no' when I can't do what they ask. Fortunately, they understand my limits, and in the end it's all good.

I guess what I'm saying here is that life is life. Some days, I'm overwhelmed. Others, I'm content. Either way, I'm living the dream. And it's a funny thing about dreams... in a single dream you can go from bliss to despair to confusion to the surreal, but the dream continues. This dream is my life, and I'm not in a hurry to end it.