1

Matt in Three Acts

14 Jan 2013

1. Breaking Brenna

Matt is sitting on the couch with a tablet and headphones as I enjoy my blog reading in peace. He removes his headphones and looks at me with sorrowful eyes.

Brenna, say I was a high school chemistry teacher. And say I got cancer and the prognosis wasn’t so good. And say that we didn’t have the money for treatment. And say that I didn’t want to take money from the wealthy friends that offered, because it’s a complicated relationship. And say instead that I got into making drugs (say meth, for example) and working with one of my students to sell it on the street. And say I lied to you about it for years. But I didn’t expect to lie for so long because I thought I wouldn’t live very long anyways. And then say I decided to come clean to you and tell you everything and then never lie about it again. Then would you leave me?

I looked at him. Blinked.

Yes. I would. Don’t do that.

2. Sweater Snipe

Matt and I watched this funny and vulnerable video of Lindy West telling the story of internet trolls finding out she is fat, and then making her cry every day. Some of trolls Lindy was dealing with came from the PUA community. Pick Up Artists. As in guys who spend time on internet forums figuring out strategies to pick up women. As you can imagine, this is a really emotionally healthy bunch of fellows.

You know what I had to do next. I had to read PUA forums for the next few hours, and recount to Matt scripts that will guarantee he goes home with a woman’s number. Don’t worry, I stuck to the classy PUA forums, and only the most tame comment threads. Some of the strategies were actually pretty good. Like how to start a conversation with a woman who has headphones on. Ask her what she’s listening to and then when she inevitably says some cheesy pop song say, “then it’s a good thing I interrupted you.” Sure, it’s lame, but it’s harmless and I can see it leading to a conversation.

Of course, most of the threads had a clear undertone–or overtone–of misogyny and aggression. Like all the women described with number ratings. Or the liberal use of “feminazi” referring to women who refused to pass out their number to men who sounded like creeps. Or just the whole concept that women can be easily tricked into sleeping with men they would not otherwise be interested in through subtle manipulation.

And then there is the concept of “negging,” a tactic used to knock confident, beautiful women down a peg in order to make them insecure and eager to boost their self-esteem by gaining your approval. Now, negging should only be used on women who are 9′s or 10′s. Although you may also need to use it on a girl who is especially self-confident, or is in an area where because of the context she might be the prettiest girl around. The headphone example above was actually gentle negging, knocking the girl’s taste in music. You could also do the “oh, you’ve got something right here” move, indicating the woman has something stuck in her teeth. Or, “You have really big ears. Don’t worry, I think it’s cute!”

This is all a super long intro to Matt and I manning the visitor table at church Sunday morning. Service had started, so we were waiting for stragglers before heading inside.

M: I’m going to try to “neg” you.

B: Okay, go for it.

M: *thinking*

M: That’s a nice sweater you have on, is it wool or synthetic?

Ouch! How dare you you damage my self-esteem by questioning my…clothing fibers.

3. Feeling Lucky

Matt scratches my forehead.

B: What are you doing?

M: You’re a lotto scratcher…I WON!

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1

Houses and Pilates

06 Aug 2012

Here are some things:

1. Matt and I spent Sunday afternoon looking around open houses. “We should do this more often,” said Matt after house two, “it’s fun and free!” “Yes, until it becomes very, very expensive,” I said. I wish I had pictures of the least expensive (still very, very expensive) house that we looked at. There was the mismatched linoleum floor and the rotted out cabinets. The sink was covered with rust and filled with steel wool, its faucet covered in duct tape and a sign that read, “DO NOT TURN–sink leaks.” The agent showing the house explained that the bathroom sink and toilet also leak. Oh, and the wiring is all original. Inside one of the bedrooms I peered into an open, empty closet, “Are those…dead cockroaches?” “They’re some kind of large dead bug,” Matt assessed. Upon further inspection, “Yes. Cockroaches.”

2. I started taking pilates a few months ago. I’ve wanted to try it ever since I nannied for a pilates instructor back in college and saw all the cool machines and bands and other toys. But I always feared making an utter fool of my uncoordinated self. I finally ponied up for private lessons so that I could make a fool of myself in front of only one person instead of several. Matt had to practically push me out the door for my first lesson. After I was deemed ready for groups sessions, he had to push me out the door again to go to my group class. Now the class time I’ve been attending doesn’t work for me, so after my last class I signed up for a session with a different instructor. I was telling a friend how the new teacher will probably think I’m terrible and will be mean to me. What’s the normal advice you get in response to a ridiculous irrational fret like that? “Oh, you’ll be fine. I’m sure you really aren’t that bad.” But instead she said, “Well, you might be terrible, and they might be the strict/push you kind of teacher, but they will be nice to you because you pay them. They couldn’t keep clients if they weren’t nice.” Awesome.

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2

How to be a Person

28 Jul 2012

Six months ago I got a new job, and everything else went away for a little while. Life was stripped to the mission critical tasks: eating, sleeping, (occasional) laundry, (shoddy) cleaning. Over the last few months I’ve slowly emerged from the fog. I love my job, or at least wholeheartedly like it, but it’s really nice to feel like a person again. Things that make my personhood list:

  • Cooking dinner. Healthy-ish dinner. Made out of ingredients that don’t cost a million dollars because I’m too tired to chop vegetables.
  • Reading books. Blog reading is so low energy that I manage to keep up that habit no matter how crazy life gets. But book reading, that’s another story. The Hunger Games series were the first books that I could manage to keep my eyes open for. I must be making a full recovery now, because I’m sailing through Hillary Clinton’s memoir. I’m also sailing over the boring parts, but still, progress.
  • Having friends. Outside of work friends. The upside and downside of working from home was that I became close friends with lots of moms, who tended to be available during the day. Those friendships take a bit more flexibility now that I’m 9-5 (or 8-6). A coffee date here, and an early morning walk there, and suddenly I’m feeling like I’m not the last stop on the life-info train.
  • Baking. I’m fairly sure I feel like the truest version of myself when there are cinnamon rolls in the oven. Although…maybe it’s a good thing this one decreases, because…
  • …Running. The only thing that kept this from going entirely out the window was the fact that I was in the middle of training for a race when I took the job. Once the race was done, so was any tenuous commitment to exercise. So I signed up for another race.
  • Writing. Hello, again.
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1

More Sugar

01 Dec 2011

Confession: I’ve already eaten three chocolates from the Advent calendar that my mother sent home with me at Thanksgiving. Technically Advent started on Sunday, so really the problem lies not with me, but with the Advent calendar that starts on December 1st, which is the fifth day of Advent. And further, I am *mumble mumble* years old and if I feel like eating chocolate that tastes vaguely of plastic before the day appointed by a tiny cardboard door, then by golly I’m going to do it. AND NONE OF YOU CAN STOP ME. Maybe I’ll even start eating some of the chocolates out of order.

Here’s something vaguely related: my sister Kelly and I share a technique that helps curb our sugar consumption, which is the mantra “There is Always More Sugar.” I’m unsure whether the fact that we share a sugar coping mechanism speaks more to our joint upbringing or our linked genealogy. Nevertheless, it seems to help us both.

We were allowed to have treats when we were young. Compared to some of today’s gluten-refined-sugar-artificial-dye-trans-fat-free-youth, we were practically buried in oreos and moose tracks ice cream. Still, we were limited to one serving size per day, and only after consuming three fruits or vegetables. Now I’m feeling like I’ve written about this before, but oh well, you get to hear it again.

So, my point is that sugar existed for us, but in limited quantity, as it was for most children. And yet, here I am at age *mumble mumble* with no one to tell me how many servings of sugar I am allowed to consume. That’s where the mantra comes in. I can have however much I want! If I run out, I can buy more! I am not deprived in any way! There will always be more sugar snacks! Since these are facts that are true, how about some nice carrots? Or maybe an orange? Oranges are so nice.

I suppose the intersection of these two stories is the fact that by eating my way through that Advent calendar before the appointed time, I’m just living out my sugar values. Today I want three Advent chocolates. Tomorrow I might want zero. I can have either of those amounts.

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1

Show Her You Care

27 Nov 2011

This past Thanksgiving weekend I found myself scanning my parent’s upstairs bookcase for a something to flip through as I fell asleep. Amongst the stacks of Dorothy Sayers mysteries, every C.S. Lewis book ever written, and a copy of How the Irish Saved Civilization, was a small book entitled How to Be Your Daughter’s Daddy: 365 Ways to Show Her You Care. All together…awwwww.

As I flipped through the pages, I laughed to see my own loopy initial marked in pen next to many of the suggested ways to dole out love on your daughter. One glance at those wobbly “B’s” and I remembered the origin of this book. I think it was supposed to be a Father’s Day present for my dad. My mom was going to have each of us (his three girls) mark down the things that sounded fun. Apparently this project was never completed, because there are no “K’s” or “M’s” in the book, only “B’s.”

And so, if you’ll indulge my navel gazing, I give a sampling of the items that I claimed:

Possible Ways to Show 7-Year-Old Brenna That You Care

  • Volunteer at her school.
  • When traveling in two cars, use an inexpensive set of walkie-talkies to chat back and forth.
  • Give up something for her (golf, television, smoking, etc.). She may not appreciate it, but it will remind you of her great worth to you. [Uh, I have no idea what I wanted him to give up. Occasional Sunday football?]
  • Take her with you when you play golf. [Hah! Yes, be sure bring me on that once every ten years or so game, dad!]
  • String popcorn for your Christmas tree.
  • When she wants a dog, give her a hamster. [Or five.]
  • When she takes good care of her hamster, give her a dog. [Or after five hamsters.]
  • Let her have any loose change she finds in your home.
  • Help her make homemade potpourri with dried flower petals.
  • Know her favorite color.
  • Keep crayons in your office so she can visit and have something to do. [Note to 7-yr-old Brenna: Your dad works from home, bring your own crayons upstairs you lazy child.]
  • Look through a clothing catalog and ask her what she likes and doesn’t like.
  • Ask her to help you wash the car. [Boy did he take me up on that one!]
  • Paint a special message for her mother on a wooden cutting board.
  • Make sure her winter coat is her favorite color, so she will be more likely to wear it on the marginally cold days. [Marginally cold being anything under 70 degrees for this So-Cal child.]
  • Make a snowman together. [Meaning: drive me three hours to the nearest place that gets snow, and then make a snowman.]
  • Call her from work when she gets home from school just to see how her day went. [Again, your father works from HOME child. Go upstairs.]
  • Ask her to help you pump gas.
  • Get personalized stationery for her. [Next to this I had written, "If you can please." "Brenna" items were hard to come by. One time when I was six or seven my mom had a personalized rubber stamp made for me. She had the sales clerks at the store put it out on the shelf with all the other "name" items so I would think that it was just routinely sold there. Years later I discovered her grand deception and lost my mind with rage. Now I think it was a pretty cute thing to do.]
  • Help her start a baseball card collection (unless she likes football or basketball better!). [Actually, this is apparently a way to show me that you don't care. Next to it I had written, "BOO -->".]
  • Buy cars with bench seats in front so that she can sit next to you.
  • Find a way for her to ride a pony.
  • Give her a personalized gift each Christmas. [I didn't need to ask twice. "Special" gifts have included: an egg slicer, a pack of batteries, a pumpkin creme brule mix, and a giant ball of rubber bands.]
  • Don’t display valuable, breakable items in your home. She will inevitably bump and break one. The pain and guilt are not worth it. Your home can become a museum after she is grown.
  • Ask her how her dolls or stuffed animals are doing.
  • Make maracas with layers of papier-mache. When they dry, gently break the glass and paint them. [Does this not sound like an incredibly dangerous craft?]
  • Give her a quarter every time she catches you driving without a seatbelt. [Child, you are going to be waiting a long time for that quarter.]

So there it is, now you know what made me happy at age seven: potpourri, spare change, washing cars, and paper mache maracas.

A bonus item that didn’t make my list at age seven: “When she’s a pre-teen, take her on a tour of the county jail. Talk about the issues this raises.” Hah! That’s right dad. No better way for your 12 year old to learn about sexual harassment than with her old man at the county prison.

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How Shall I Know This?

22 Nov 2011

Let’s just pretend I have some legitimate reason for not writing for a month and a half. We did have that one earthquake a few weeks back. I’m managing to water my lettuce plants daily, and goodness knows that takes up a lot of mental energy. Also, the internet is full of lots of things. I’ll get to writing later, first I just need to finish reading…everything interesting on the internet.

This morning Matt and I were reading while we ate our eggs and toast. I started laughing.

Matt: What are you laughing at?

Brenna: The Bible.

Matt: Brenna, you are not allowed to laugh at the Bible.

Here’s what I was reading:

“Now while [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’”

How shall you know this? How shall you know this? I’ll tell you how. Because an angel just popped out of thin air and told you so. You’re an old man and your wife is advanced in years? Is that really the most startling part of this whole encounter? The fact that your wife is going to have a baby when she’s old?

I know that for someone who is unconvinced by Scripture, this is probably reads like either interesting story or ridiculous fairy tale or something else entirely, depending on your perspective. But even putting truth or fiction aside, I very much love the humanity of this account. Here is Zechariah, the priest, entering this holy place where he is expecting to have a powerful encounter with God. As he has done his whole life, he is offering up the prayers of his people along with his own most fervent prayer, that God would give him a son. But even this righteous man of God does not truly believe. The miraculous appearance of an angel is not enough to convince this priest that God is the God that Zechariah had always hoped he would be.

I’m grateful that at this point, at the point when the priest’s faith is tested and found wanting, that the angel’s response is not, “Well, you would’ve known when the baby showed up nine months from now, but never mind. I’ve decided to instead strike you dead because of your lack of faith.”

No, the angel’s response is, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

In the end it doesn’t come down to Zechariah’s righteousness. Even this man who “walked blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” didn’t have his act together enough to truly believe. The thing that ultimately matters is the truth of the message, not the actions of the ones who receive it.

How shall you know this? Because it will happen.

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0

Fresh Choices

02 Oct 2011

There are probably ten restaurants in a 3 mile radius of our apartment where we could plunk down $20 in cash and get a plate full of goodness cooked by the little old couple who owns the place and served to us by their cousin or niece or grandson. Pho, ramen, kebabs, bibimbap, tacos, it’s all there.

Last night Matt and I ate dinner at Fresh Choice.

I hadn’t eaten at a Fresh Choice in probably ten years, but walking in those doors and seeing the two salad bar lanes filled me with deep nostalgia. Fresh Choice was our family’s go-to restaurant when I was little. We ate there for nearly every birthday, every last day of school celebration, every extended family get together, even several holidays (okay, maybe just one Easter, but still).

I was pleased to see that nothing about Fresh Choice has changed in the last ten years. They had the same salad toppings, the same pizza and muffin bar, the same tiled walls, the same giant vegetable prints hanging above the same green booths. I eagerly explained to Matt the best strategy for navigating the restaurant. “Pile on the salad toppings because you won’t go back through that part. Then go to soups. You can go set that down and I’ll get your water.” I’m usually intimidated by anyplace that has a “system”, but I navigated Fresh Choice like an old pro.

I can see why my parents picked it as the family spot. It’s cheap, marginally healthy, and chaotic enough that our parents could let us roam free. And roam free we did.

When I was little My lunches never contained valuable trade-ables like fruit roll-ups or cheetos*. My little fabric lunch sack was full of carrots sticks, raisins, and sandwiches on whole wheat bread. Now, this is nothing compared to the quinoa and non-GMO organic tofu salads that kids eat today. But back in my day, my mom was the “health nut.” We were allowed one “sugar thing” a day, which was determined as one serving size of our chosen treat. At seven I knew how to compare the nutrition facts of cookies to see which would net me the biggest serving. Thin Mints ranked pretty highly with a serving size of four cookies.

My point is, my mom tended to keep a close eye on what we ate. There was an exception, however, and that exception was “use your own best judgement.” Usually when we were out at a holiday party or potluck she’d set a sugar limit, and we were expected to stick to it. But every so often, and almost always at Fresh Choice, she’d tell us we could “use our own best judgement.” I’m fairly certain she knew what the “best judgement” of a five year old looked like when it came to desserts, which is probably why she didn’t let us exercise that judgement very often. She never said it outright, but we sensed the undertone of “I don’t care how many cones of frozen yogurt you eat, just don’t let me find out about it.” This was the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of sugar consumption.

And we didn’t. “Kelly!” I’d shout with glee, “Mom said we could use our own best judgement**!”

“YES!” She’d give a fist pump and then we’d be off to the dessert station layering swirls of frozen yogurt onto brownies.

Last night as I ate my second cone of frozen yogurt I watched an elderly man bring a stack of brownies to his wife, who had a walker by her side. She carefully wrapped the brownies in napkins and buried them in the pockets of her oversized sweater. The man smiled at her.

“This place feels so small compared to my old Fresh Choice,”  I said to Matt. “Of course, I was a bit smaller then…so.”

“Yes, I think that could have something to do with it,” he laughed.

“Do you want to go watch some John Adams?” I asked.

He laughed again, “Yes. Yes I do.”

I left feeling six years old. And 85.

*My mom is going to protest that we did so have those things. I concede that she eased up when we hit middle school, but until then it was all whole grains and fresh fruit.

**When I explained this policy to Matt, he responded, “Maybe that’s why you have such bad judgement when it comes to sugar.” I gave him an angry jab…but he might have a point.

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0

Free to a Good Home

21 Sep 2011

I have suffered a tragedy. It’s not a real tragedy, so don’t get worked up. Here’s a real tragedy.  No, my tragedy is of epic-ly inconsequential importance. You see, I bought some shoes on Saturday. These shoes:

Aren’t they cute? Yes, they are. And they can be worn with black or brown. And they have a flowery inner lining that no one will see when the shoe is on your foot, but makes them extra adorable when they are strewn in your entry way.

I decided about a year ago that I was going to start dressing like a grown up. In my mind, this consisted of wearing flats instead of flip flops most days. I’m pretty sure that attempting to dress like a grown up is a clear sign that you haven’t reached full grown-up-hood yet, but never the less, flats it was. A year later, my cheap pairs of flats are all looking a little decrepit. Actually, my nicest pair was destroyed while sliding down concrete slides at Seward Mini Park in San Francisco, further proof that dressing like a grown up doesn’t make you one.

So, I set off to Nordstrom Rack to find some comfortable, versatile flats to wear into the ground. After digging through piles of disorganized shoes, I stumbled upon the above pair of Seychelles, a brand I recognized from shoe shopping with a friend who is more stylish than I could ever hope to be in preparation for her honeymoon in Italy. They felt comfy on my feet, were marked down from $100 to $50, and had that cute flower lining. Sold.

And then I wore them to church the next morning. I was helping out with the service, so I was up on my feet more than average. But still, I was whimpering by the end of the morning. It wasn’t “breaking in a shoe” kind of pain either. It was, “these shoes cut into my achilles heel after about 20 minutes of wear and it feels like someone is digging into my foot with a blunt metal object.” I’m usually an 8.5. These shoes are size 9. I just googled “Seychelles run small” to see if anyone could confirm my theory, but apparently the internet thinks they run big and you should order a half size down. Thanks a lot internet.

See how the shoes are kind of scrunchy? I truly believe that for this style shoe, you need to go up about a size and a half for them to fit comfortably and not put pressure on the heel. If I were a 7.5 I think these would be brilliant. So, my question for you is, are you a 7.5 (ish)? Do you think these shoes are adorable? Would you love them and welcome them into your shoe pile with deep affection? If yes, I very much want you to have them. Just tell me, and I will send them right along.

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3

Soup From A Stone

25 Aug 2011

Matt co-opted the menu again. This time he wrote:

  • Gruel
  • Porridge
  • Stone-only soup
  • Cardboard

See what faith he has in my cooking ability?

Actually, his appetizing menu was written in protest of my dogged determination to squeak under our grocery budget for this month. Stone-only soup. Heh.

For me, budgeting is a game. Going over in certain categories isn’t going to leave us homeless or anything, but as Matt says, saving money is my hobby. I’ve already talked at length about my strong belief that budgets are worthless unless they accurately represent your spending. This part is pretty much exactly what we’ve been doing for the last few months:

When you are living with an inaccurate budget it’s easy to brush off failure. You can say, “Well, we had those people here from out of town.” Or, “It was off because we had a flat tire.” It doesn’t matter if the budget is off, because it’s never been on. With an accurate budget, you are held accountable.

So this month, I looked at the sad little red marks marring our grocery budget for the last few months, and I bumped up the “groceries” category by $50. I also moved money from the “clothing” and “everything else” budgets in order to give Matt a designated “hobbies” budget. That way Mint can be the one to tell him whether or not he can buy that $15 four pack of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. And fancy beers don’t have to count towards my grocery budget.

And still, even with that upward adjustment, I was dismayed to find last Saturday that our grocery budget only had $67 to go, with 12 days left in the month. So began the August 2011 Cupboard and Freezer Stretch Competition. I was the only competitor, with Matt as a begrudging bystander. I took everything out of our cupboards, and dug through our freezer, and then wrote out all the meals I could think of that used as few extra ingredients as possible. Aside from the gruel and cardboard, here’s what else our menu consists of:

  • Saturday, August 20: Beans & cheese, broccoli, and barley.
  • Sunday, August 21: Oatmeal buttermilk pancakes, fruit, and eggs.
  • Monday, August 22: Bulgur, lentil, and chickpea salad, and beets. (No joke, we ate this on our way to help out with a friend’s event at Cal Berkeley. It felt so themed. All we needed was a few wheat grass shots to wash it down.)
  • Tuesday, August 23: Salmon, rice, and salad. (Had salmon in freezer. And guests coming for dinner who might not have appreciated the bulgur and lentil salad.)
  • Wednesday, August 24: Red lentil dal, rice, and broccoli.
  • Thursday, August 25: Beans and cheese, rice, and bell peppers.
  • Friday, August 26: Pasta with vodka sauce.
  • Saturday, August 27: Out.
  • Sunday, August 28: Egg scramble, spinach, toast.
  • Monday, August 29: Teriyaki chicken, veggie, and rice.
  • Tuesday, August 30: Salmon, veggie, and rice.
  • Wednesday, August 31: Beans and cheese, veggie, and rice.

I also picked meals that would have leftovers so we could eat them for lunch. We eat oatmeal for breakfast pretty much every morning, so that was covered. For snacks we have a random assortment of items buried in the cupboard: dried fruit, popcorn, chocolate chips, handfuls of flour, bay leaves, salt, etc..

Stone only soup indeed. I have no idea what he’s talking about. By the time we make the stone soup we’ll still have a whole smorgasbord of condiments and salad dressings left to consume. Maybe even a carrot top or two.

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I was in the car listening to NPR a couple days ago when this story started:

“Penn Jillette describes himself as a ‘hardcore atheist,’ which he defines as not even believing that other people believe in God.”

Penn, half of the magician pair Penn and Teller, has just published a book titled God, No! Signs You May Already be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales. Here’s the prologue:

If God told you to kill your child, would you do it?

If your answer is no, in my booklet, you’re an atheist. There is doubt in your mind. Love and morality are more important to you than your faith.

If your answer is yes, please reconsider.

First, I haven’t read Penn’s book. I’ve only heard the prologue and this 16 minute radio interview. But I have thoughts even on those small snippets, and I have a blog, so here we are.

Second, I really respect Penn Jillette. I think he chooses his tone carefully, and that he is a smart and relatable person. I respect that he’s willing to lay out his worldview and let other people challenge it.

Third, I think his argument comes down to objective truth.

Last night Matt and I watched Inception, which is all about the shifting nature of reality. What does reality consist of? Is it internal or external? In the end, do we get to choose our own reality? Christopher Nolan, the creator of Inception, covers this theme in a lot of his movies: Memento, The Prestige, Following. It’s part of why his movies can dig down into your brain. After watching The Prestige for the first time, Matt pretended that he was a “fake Matt,” an impostor. He eventually came to regret this joke when I kept him up half the night because I was so spooked.

Inception is a world apart in its ability to wriggle into your brain. Really, it’s a movie without an ending. [Interesting: The movie has no opening title or credits. The word "Inception" flashes at the very end of the movie.] To some degree, the audience is “incepted.” The top spins, and then wavers, and then boom, done. Can you ever really know truth?

A friend who watched the movie with us described the scene that really struck him, where the main character rejects the false reality he has created in this dialogue with his dead wife:

Cobb: They’re not real, Mal. Our real children are waiting for us.

Mal: You keep telling yourself that, but you don’t believe it.

Cobb: I know it.

Mal: And what if you’re wrong? What if I’m what’s real? You keep telling yourself what you know… but what do you believe? What do you feel?

Cobb: Guilt. I feel guilt. And however confused I might get. However lost I might seem… it’s always there. Telling me something. Reminding me of the truth.

The thread that ties Cobb to truth, that prevents him from picking his own subjective reality, is guilt. He could choose the world where both his wife and his children are alive, but ultimately he realizes that it’s a world of his own making. You can choose your own reality, but then you lose the only truth that exists.

So back to Penn. If God told me to kill my child, would I do it? No. Does this mean love and morality are more important than my faith? Yes. Does this mean I’m an atheist? No.

Faith is just the thread that ties me to truth. If there is no objective truth, then my faith is worthless. And if there is objective truth, then that objective truth itself is far more important than my faith in it. So the question is not “do you trust your faith?” But “do you trust your truth?”

Penn seems to be arguing that there is an objective and universal truth that exists in love and morality, but where do love and morality spring from?

It’s interesting to me that the only parent in Christianity who was truly required to sacrifice his own son was God himself. Looking at the story of Abraham and Isaac that Penn was referencing, it would not be a startling story to an ancient person for the fact that God asked Abraham to kill his only son. In the time of Abraham, child sacrifice was common. Many people groups incorporated it into their worship. The story would be startling for the fact that God intervened, stopped Abraham from killing his son, and provided the sacrifice himself. “So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide.’”

And of course this story was just a pointer to God’s true provision, His own Son on a cross.

Earlier this week, Matt was watching a Tim Keller clip from an event at Colombia University. I was half listening until the last question from the moderator, David Eisenbach. Eisenbach asked Keller how he reached the incredible level of peace that he seems to have about his beliefs. Keller talked about how he’d been a pastor for years and years. If you asked him if he trusted the doctrine he taught, he would say that he absolutely did. And then he got thyroid cancer and had significant downtime while he was recovering. Being Tim Keller, he used his recovery time to read an 800 page book by N.T. Wright (the Bishop of Durham) called The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Keller: I read through this 800 page book and while I’m reading it I’m thinking, ‘It really happened. It really happened. It really happened.’ And then after four weeks I put the book down…you know I was just getting over thyroid cancer–and I didn’t know if I really was getting over thyroid cancer, like all cancer patients. So I put the book down and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it really did happen. Oh my gosh it really happened.’ And I felt the certainty go down three more levels, levels in my heart that I didn’t even knew existed before that.

Eisenbach: So you didn’t realize how conflicted you were until you became less conflicted.

Keller: I think that’s true.

Eisenbach: And this was how long ago?

Keller: Seven, maybe six years ago.

Eisenbach: And you were a minister all that time, and you still had doubts that you didn’t even know you were having?

Keller: Yes, of course. Because you see there’s faith, reason, and doubt, and they’re all mixed up together. I have more reason to believe than ever before, like I was saying about reading that book. And as I have more reasons to believe, I have more faith, because it takes faith. It’s not just knowledge. And were there doubts there? Ya. And there still are. More peace than I’ve ever had, sure. But there’s still more to go.

See, Keller is at peace with his doubt, because he knows that whatever doubts he has cannot negate the reasoned out truth that he’s chosen to trust through faith. It’s an external reality that exists beyond his ability to alter it. It doesn’t matter if he doubts, it matters if it’s true.

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