Monday, November 9, 2015


I've been reading the book Neurotribes.  I haven't finished it yet, but I've enjoyed it.  Or maybe enjoyed isn't quite the word.  I've been haunted by it.  I've been frightened by it.  I've been powerfully reminded of everything about myself that I grew up being ashamed of.  I've been reminded of my strengths.  To explain why this book has so much power to me, lets imagine you are reading a choose your own adventure book, where you choose when and where to go in a time machine and learn what kind of life you would have lived in a different time and place.

Imagine for just a moment, that you choose the time machine  switch to learn how it would have been like to have lived several hundred years ago in Colonial America.  You step off the time machine, and discover the alternate you who lives in this time line invariably ends up being imprisoned and tortured on the presumption of being demonically possessed.  Wow, that ending is scary.  Flip back a few pages and now instead turn the dial and try out about 75 years ago in many places in the United States.  That should be safer right?  Well, instead of being tortured to drive out demons, instead you are imprisoned in a home for the feeble minded and are forcibly castrated to prevent you from spreading mental degeneracy through your presumed sexual perversion which would presumably lead you to father more degenerate perverts like you.  Wait, who is defining perversion here?  Ok, 75 years can't be all that crazy maybe lets try Europe this time.  Oops, landed in Germany.  One day your mom drops you off at the local hospital because you're sick and the doctor determines you are life not worthy of life and human ballast to be thrown off the ship of state to allow the noble Aryan workers to have a higher average standard of living.  You die of starvation and exposure outside the back of the clinic, are secretly cremated along with hundreds of other "defectives" and then a note is sent home to your parents explaining you died of natural causes and a bill is given to them for your cremation.  Ok, so this time machine trip is getting kind of scary.  Try again and again and again.  Over and over, you are institutionalized, forced to endure absurd medical treatments like an experimental rat, and are abandoned by parents who presume somehow its all their fault and they need to let you go to move on with their lives.  Had enough with the choose your own adventure story?  Lets zoom back to the present.

But, you ask, how could that possibly happen to someone as bright and as accomplished as you?  Easy.  I was a very late talker.  Apparently I had such a need for perfection that I practiced talking in normal phrases in what I thought was secret and managed to keep the secret so well that I shocked my parents by moving from speaking no more than one or two words at a time to speaking in full sentences all at once.  I was a late reader, not independently reading much of any of the normal children's literature until the 3rd grade, when I immediately picked up the Hobbit, Asimov's Foundation Series, Lloyd Alexander, and C. S. Lewis.  I read compulsively from then on.  I had strong sensory needs, throwing tantrums if my clothes still had the tags attached, unable to eat foods with mixed textures, or pay attention in class if anything was wrong about my sensory environment such as being too hot or cold or too loud.  My special ed instructors and school counselors knew there was something wrong that made it almost impossible for me to hold normal conversations and that my ability to instinctively see things from other points of view was limited.  I was the little kid who sat in the same exact spot in the lunchroom every day even if the table was completely empty, which it often was, because I had few or no friends and changing my routine to sit somewhere else would break my established routine.  So yeah, the insane asylums with their unique loving brands of torture, castration, experimentation, or, in the case of Germany, euthanasia would have been waiting for me if I had been born in most of the past.

In the grand scheme of history, the science of autism is only more recently emerging from being a speculative endeavor filled with fads promoted by over sized personalities.  It is still semi normal for advocacy organizations supposedly working in my interest to spend time talking about how much better the world would be without people like me because I'm supposedly such a heavy a burden on everyone around me.  It's still semi normal to hear of religious leaders trying exorcise the autism out kids  It's only recently that I could receive a diagnosis that was terribly specific to my situation at all.  It's only recently that technology allowed robust communities to be formed for people like me.  It's only recently that those communities have fostered support networks that make it easier to develop any kind of positive self image.

As I'm getting further into Neruotribes the story keeps becoming more and more positive, with more emphasis of now society has improved.  But if a story like what I've ready read through doesn't leave you haunted and at least a little emotionally exhausted, you might not have read it the first time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alma Mater

People who only knew more recently just would know of me as a student and graduate of Utah State University.  Those who know me longer or more closely know I am also a graduate of George Wythe University.  It is with mixed sadness and a sense of good riddance that I saw the announcement today in the paper that George Wythe University is closing.  George Wythe was an amazing experience engaging with big ideas, big ideals, and big dreams.  It was a deep dive immersion in Clean Skousen branded Mormonism, as much Christian Kabbalah mysticism as the DeMille's could push on everyone, and many good books.  It is also well described by Connor Boyack in the article above as "in essence, a glorified book club."  I might also describe it as almost a survivalist cult that focused on politics instead of on camping and food storage- building leaders not for today, but for after the coming global collapse of the current political order.

Attending George Wythe University for a time in my life represented the best way I could imagine to pursue the idealism I formed as a teenager.  Studying a broad range of subjects including history allowed me to challenge the political and social radicalism I had formed at home.  The thoroughness of how ideas were pursued gave me a foundation to re evaluate other beliefs later on in life as well.  Although I understand the school often moderated people's political opinions, mine swung from radical conservative to moderate liberal.  Truly I can call George Wythe my Alma Mater, or my nourishing mother.

But in a sense, George Wythe was an abusive mother to my soul as well.  If I had known how much they were lying when they claimed accreditation was close I would probably never have attended.  My freshman year they claimed all they needed for accreditation was a bigger endowment and that supposedly they had all the donors lined up but the money simply evaporated when the financial crisis hit the nation.  Later I found out they weren't even fundraising and hadn't been actively fundraising for quite a long time.  I also discovered that the math, science, and language programs were nowhere near the standards for accreditation.  The math and science lectures I attended were generally not allowed to even assign homework so as to avoid distracting from other coursework and the language classes, while very intense, even in several years of study didn't make it past what would be considered first semester material in a normal college course.  Dr. DeMille once said he didn't even care if we learned the languages we studied, expecting us to become smarter just from trying to learn them.  I also discovered they didn't even bother applying for accreditation until my senior year and after applying, failed to continue pursuing the application.

George Wythe also was abusive in misrepresenting the credentials of their professors and graduates.  Oliver DeMille only ever received a bachelors degree that wasn't a life experience or diploma mill degree, despite claiming to have a masters, JD, and PhD.  While I was there he represented those credentials as being valid.  The school also represented a notable politician as being their graduate when in reality he took no course work from them whatsoever and paid for a diploma mill degree from George Wythe as part of an agreement to promote the school.

The school was also abusive by engaging in a culture of extreme academic irresponsibility- both in sloppiness and dishonesty on their own part and in failing to teach me the basic academic expectations by which one avoids plagiarism.  One of my first experiences with Oliver DeMille was a taped lecture he gave at a homeschooling convention wherein he promoted his concepts of numerology and Kabbalic mysticism.  To avoid the embarrassment of saying such things on his own authority he attributed them all to Einstein.  As a naive teenager I assumed he was telling the truth; now I know he was telling absurd lies to promote his numerology.  Other professors occasionally incorrectly attributed their own ideas to other authors.  Once a professor even claimed a book was mistranslated when the text contradicted the professor's beliefs about an idea.  Some of these incidents I believe were intentional "white lies" meant to bolster the authority of the professor.  Some I think were simply mistakes that are easy to make when there is no expectation to cite your sources in any kind of rigorous manner.  When I presented my senior thesis for defense it was one of the only papers I bothered to cite sources because it had never been required of me before.  I didn't even know which style guide to use.  When I was before the board and I apologized for unintentional sloppiness in my many citations the President of the school told me he wouldn't have bothered with citing sources so much if it were his own paper.

I'll always remember George Wythe fondly and also with regret.  It was the place where I grew incredibly in a very broad but shallow study of an incredible array of subjects and became a much more well balanced person.  It was also a school that ate about ten years of my life which I was willing to give them based on extremely misleading claims about who they were and how likely it was that they would have finished the accreditation process by the time I graduated.  With how much dishonesty and illegality were commonplace at the institution I believe the school deserved to end this way.  But on the other hand, I don't regret the growth I experienced and wish it had truly been the school of statesmen it claimed.

Friday, August 7, 2015

What is hardest about being down to one good leg?

My recent leg surgery is the first time in my life that I've gone for a prolonged period without being able to walk normally.  Before that the longest I'd ever gone was about 3 days- once after my first 10 mile hike and once after my first 20 mile hike.  So I'd never had a reason to use crutches or wheelchairs or anything of that sort before.  Around the house I've had to use crutches, though while out and about I might use the courtesy provided powered wheelchair at Walmart or a knee scooter.  I thought I'd record some of what were the hardest things for me.

First- clearing my own walkways.  With kids at home- there are always toys and childrens books strewn everywhere.  At first I felt I spent about as much time using the crutches to push things out of my way as I did walking anywhere with them.

Second- getting up in the middle of the night.  If I turned on the light, I'd wake up my wife.  If I didn't- you don't know what on obstacle course is until you try to hobble to the bathroom in the dark past a variety of laundry baskets, children's toys and books, fallen pillows, dropped or folded clothing, power cords,  etc...  It might be a small miracle I didn't injure myself trying to go to the bathroom.  Looking back I should have just turned on a light- I just didn't want to be a burden in one more way if I could do it myself.

Third- carrying anything.  If your arms are busy holding onto the crutches, carrying anything while walking becomes difficult and depending on the object, impossible.  Just the simple act of making a peanut butter sandwich requires getting up from the table, fetching a plate and a knife (if I'm confident enough to carry them both at once), then going back to the counter and getting the peanut butter which I grab carefully with all fingers of one hand except the thumb which is hooked around the crutches handle.  Then I repeat the process even more carefully with the jelly jar.  Hopefully either the trip for the peanut butter or the jelly also involved grabbing the bread, which I can dangle from the other hand that isn't holding a jar.  By then I've hobbled the distance between the table and the cupboard 6 times and it will require another 6 times to put all the items back away again afterwards on my own.  By that time I'd just as soon sit down and wait for help.

Forth- exhaustion.  Walking with crutches is very difficult work when your muscles aren't used to it.  The twelve trips between the table and the cupboard are exhausting. Much of what I couldn't easily do on my own wasn't I couldn't do it, but because the amount of effort involved was so high.  Of course, being tired and dizzy from taking prescription pain medications probably didn't help in this regard.

Fifth- little boy pounces.  My kids feel that a daddy lying down is an open invitation to pounce and play.  So all that time I tried to spend lying down to elevate my leg or to recover from walking around the room was largely eaten up being jumped on by little boys.  Given how difficult it was to stand up or to move to a new location, it was difficult to make them stop by just getting up and going away like I might normally do if they were being unmanageable.  So often I just had to put up with their antics, even if it meant I got very little rest compared to the amount of time I tried to spend resting.

Sixth- anything that requires standing.  Any optional standing becomes easy to throw out the window.  Taking a shower?  No, too much work if not impossible.  How about shaving?  Again too much work.  Brushing teeth?  When I get around to it.  When all you really want to do is lie down and elevate your leg, basic hygiene is a lot harder to maintain.

There were a host of other issues as well.  How do you go shopping on your own?  Can you fit as much groceries in a powered wheel chair as in a normal shopping cart?  How do you drive when every bump in the road causes a sharp pain in the leg?  How to make the children hold still in church if they just want to play with the knee scooter in the aisle?  But those six issues are probably the worst.  Even though I'm still very restricted, I'm glad I have a walking cast now that I can use to move around.  The end is in sight.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Killing For Conservation

Just the other day, I killed a fish.  Not because it was going to be anybody's dinner or because it was an inevitable consequence of something else I needed or wanted.  In fact, keeping it for dinner would have violated the permit I was operating under.  I killed it because it was a human mistake that led to the fish existing in the first place.  I killed it as one small act in an larger effort to keep the Bonneville Cutthroat Trout from going extinct.

It's an uncomfortable act killing just because it is scientifically desirable.  People who go into environmental careers do it because at some level, they love wildlife and the outdoors.  They want to see nature abound with life.  If we considered the fish as an individual with rights, killing an animal to save another just seems by itself like a hollow moral calculus, because western societies have generally decided that the rights of individuals are more fundamental than the rights of the culture you belong to.  However, in the pursuit of the preservation of species diversity, scientists value the species over the individual.  Killing for conservation is actually quite common.  In New Zealand entire islands have all their rats exterminated to allow the reintroduction of native birds and reptiles.  In Alaska entire islands have all of their non native foxes exterminated to preserve birds.  In South America, entire islands have all of their goats exterminated to halt erosion and favor native plants.  If the United States could find a way, it would exterminate all the Brown Tree Snakes in Guam, even if it meant parachuting in poisoned mice by the thousands.

Knowing all about it doesn't make it feel any more cozy.  I had been excited, it was my first day catching three fish in the trap at the top of the fish ladder instead of just one or even none.  I had been taking pictures to show my kids all the fun fish I was working with.  The first one I pulled out of my bucket had a reddish stripe on its midline.  It was a rainbow-cuthroat hybrid, descended from the short sighted government policy of stocking fertile rainbow trout in areas where they weren't native.  Generations and generations of forcing fertile contact between two species which don't interbreed in nature often forces one of them to extinction, its genetic identity swamped out of existence.  So, I told the fish that despite the heroic journey swimming upstream to the top of my fish ladder, its journey was at an end.  I walked with it to the opening of the fish ladder, squeezed it to death, smashed its head against a metal railing in case it was only stunned, and threw it back in the river.  Watching the silvery arc it made against the sky, I wished I didn't have to.  It was a mistake the fish ever existed in the first place.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

An Ecological Reading of the Sermon on the Mount

As I have completed my degree in Conservation and Restoration Ecology, some things in life I can simply never see the same way.  When I look at forests and fields I typically don't see wilderness.  Most often, I see a managed landscape.  When I look at a farm, I see the competing social priorities water can be devoted to.  When I see a bird, I think about transcontinental migrations.  When I see roads and concrete, I think about altered patterns of runoff water.  Unsurprisingly, when I read the Sermon on the Mount, I see something different as well.  One passage in Matthew Chapter 6 reads:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Growing up, I was taught that this passage suggested that those called by God to live without caring for their financial well being could expect to do so at no ultimate personal sacrifice to their physical well being.  As such, the passage was beautiful but mostly irrelevant since I had no expectation that I would ever be called upon to ignore my basic needs.  Taking care of my needs was something I viewed as an almost a spiritual obligation.  Early in my marriage even I viewed paying off my debts as fulfilling a divine commandment.  The whole idea of ignoring my well being while being miraculously and totally supported as I supposed this passage suggested had nothing to do with me.

Now when I read this passage, I can't help but think about actual birds and actual flowers.  The passage reads "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them."  Clark's Nutcracker actually does sow, reap, and store.  They eat the seeds of trees like the Limber pine, storing for the future in seed cache's.  If the bird forgets the seed cache or dies before eating it, the seeds are planted.  Many of the Limber pines you see were planted by a Clark's Nutcracker.  Similarly, the Acorn Woodpecker also stores acorns to eat later, although they couldn't be said to plant them.  So, although it may be poetical to consider birds as living an easy going lifestyle with manna from heaven supplying their every want, it is common for birds to participate in the stresses of gathering and storing food- even if only as a fat layer for migration.

There is a darker side to the comparison with birds and flowers.  It is common among many birds that the parents will drive the young away from their breeding territory to prevent the offspring from competing with the parents for food.  Young birds who have not yet learned how to forage often die at this stage of life.  Many species drive away their young when the survival rate of those young on their own for the first time is only 50%.  Those who survive the withdrawal of parental care may live a long time, considering their small body size, but generally their chance of death is about equal every year as they age until they are much older.  As for flowers, you can't learn about the effectiveness of techniques used for reseeding landscapes without realizing that most of the viable seeds you put on a landscape will never survive.  They will be eaten by ants, rodents, and fungi and sometimes seedlings are trampled or grow in poor soil.  Once they establish they must compete with other plants for light and nutrients.  While flowers might look pretty, most seeds never survive to be an adult plant.  And while plants may not make clothing for themselves their pretty forms have a cost.  Plants must balance their carbon and nutrient budgets in order to both grow and reproduce.  In poor conditions, the carbon and nutrient budget available to a plant may be too small for survival.  Similarly dark realities could be pointed out in any life form.  Such findings prompted Darwin's famous words: 
“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Christ's words seem to take this into account such natural destruction with the comment the grass is "tomorrow is thrown into the fire."  If our model of God caring for the living things in the world includes the possibility of sudden and seemingly meaningless death just like burned grass, then it makes no sense to argue that this passage means that those authorized by God to neglect their personal well being will suffer little want.  While I respect the claims of those who feel they received divine support in a ministry, I don't believe anyone is guaranteed an easy life serving God while neglecting their personal needs.  Instead, these verses seem to suggest that followers of Christ should take a philosophical view towards their own deprivations.  Despite all the nestlings and fledglings that die every year, there is no lack of beautiful birds provided for in the world.  Despite all the seeds which never become adult plants, the world has no lack of plants.  God cares and knows the needs of all of us, including the hungry and the well fed.  We can believe that God loves all of creation in all its endless cycle of destruction and rebirth, wishing and striving to redeem it in rebirth.  Even if our own needs fall short, the general order of life continues.  We should seek first to be part of the Kingdom of God, considering it a priority even over life itself, which will continue (or end) no matter how much we worry about it.  Living the good life is more than just having our physical needs met.

The imperative to seek first the Kingdom of God instead of consuming our lives with worrying about our physical needs does not inherently make a virtue of self denial or self care, but rather gives us priorities.  We should be willing to lose our life for Christ, in order to gain a life which is meaningful and full of striving for goodness in the world.  Worrying about the consequences of choosing to live to make a better world doesn't typically change anything- so don't worry about it and just enjoy living life as you can.  This is true no matter how brief or long your life is or how well or poorly fed you are.  Believing God loves all of us and wishes our well being but for some reason does not or cannot ensure it perfectly for all of us, we can still carry out that wish of love through our life.  Even if life is short and impoverished, in our own way and place we can live to help preserve and beautiful the natural world, care for the sick, feed the hungry, and restore the dignity of the oppressed.  Otherwise we risk saving our lives, only to find we lost living the good life.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

I speak for myself

This month is supposedly Autism Awareness month.  Believe it or not, I have not been keeping very in touch with the Autism Community over the last few years.  I've been very busy with being married and having two kids and being a student.  However for several years after being diagnosed, I spent a lot of time participating in the autism community and will always be grateful for the welcome and acceptance I enjoyed there.  I could just be me.  Of all the books on autism that I've read, those that have helped me the most were written by autistics to share their own experiences and coping strategies.  Books written by people like that helped me start the process of rebuilding my sense of self worth and sense of pride in who I was that had taken a terrible beating by growing up undiagnosed and without services.

One of the things I learned in the autism community was that there was only so much I could trust the parts of society that were supposed to be committed to helping people like me.  There are scientists who claimed that the bullying of autistics didn't matter because autistics didn't have feelings.  There were doctors who were refusing to refer autistics for services because they believed that no one could be autistic and have emotional attachments to their parents.  There is a problem in society of violence committed against autistics by their parents, care givers, and the police.  There are members of the public who didn't know the difference between autism and Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ie psychopath murderers and your worst nightmare used car salesmen) and are willing to believe whatever fears pop into their heads about autistics.  Finally, there are organizations who dedicate themselves to keeping people like me from ever existing in the first place and use fear mongering and demonization of people like me as a fund raising and lobbying tool.  To use an example from just a few years ago, I quote:

"These families are not living.  They are existing. Breathing – yes.  Eating – yes. Sleeping- maybe.  Working- most definitely - 24/7. This is autism. Life is lived moment-to-moment.  In anticipation of the child’s next move.  In despair.  In fear of the future.  This is autism." (emphasis in the original)

Hopefully it should be obvious where the problems are with this statement, the likes of which Autism Speaks has a repeated history of making.  My life and the life of my family may have been more difficult due to autism.  The life of my son is already becoming more difficult because of autism.  There is a whole spectrum of how severely autism affects the daily life of those who have it.  Some need many more services than others.  But we, collectively, are not the embodiment of living hell- forcing our families to live as lifeless zombies in total fear and despair of the tragedy that we might perpetrate on them at any moment.  I'm actually a husband and a father.  I'm an employee in a customer service company.  I'm a student.  I'm also autistic.  Anyone whose perception of autism comes primarily from statements by organizations such as Autism Speaks will be less likely to be willing to associate with me, hire me, or give me or my children a fair shot at life's opportunities because they will be in fear that we will suck them into our own private hell that I and people like me will inflict on the world until people like me stop existing because some cure will be found so that my personality and that of every other autistic person will be erased to the extent their personalities were caused by autism.

I had been willing to call a truce on criticizing Autism Speak's behaviors because while I participated in the autism community online I saw them make attempts to make outreach to our community and they even hired their first token autistic, John Elder Robison, on a scientific board which in theory should help guide them in their work and public presentation.  I figured they were getting better.  It turned out, after several years of association John Elder Robison resigned because he felt that he could no longer remain associated with them when they continued such behaviour.

If you want to support Autism this month, support autism acceptance, not simply awareness.  Please don't donate to Autism Speaks or help them spread their vision of autism.  They are trying to do a good thing and they do some good, but freakishly little of the money donated to them actually is spent on helping actual autistics or their families (4% in 2010 for example).  Instead they'd rather spend money on genetics and causation research (which is useful in the long run, but not to me).  They aren't mature enough in how they present their message to avoid doing harm to autistics while doing their advocacy work.  They might speak for those whose families lives are worst touched by the difficulty of obtaining services and have particularly harsh expressions of autism, but they don't speak for autism itself, which they'd rather simply didn't exist.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Heart Transplants and Easter

One of the recurrent themes in the Bible is of life created out of sterility or death.  With my nephew's transplant operation coming up in just a few hours, it just brings to mind powerfully the way's that we as a society working with modern medicine have worked to be able to perform acts of love to bring life from what otherwise would be only death.  That is so much more true in a situation like this- where a heart transplant is the kind of life that can only come tragically from another death.  In this season of reflection in preparing for Easter and in this shadow of waiting to see if my nephew will have a new lease on life, a hymn about death and renewed life seems appropriate.  Now the Green Blade Riseth is a favorite of mine.

In celebrating Easter I hope we can seek not just to celebrate the past, but to find ways to participate in the renewing of life and the world.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

It never rains but it pours...

Earlier this year our family all came down with the flu.  I was disappointed since I normally never get the flu and we all got the flu shots, but this year was just bad luck for the flu shots not working.  Ever since we got the flu our youngest son has been acting strangely.  At first we just assumed he had some post flu grumpiness or that he wasn't feeling all the way better yet.  But the behaviors never went away.  He became very clingy, wanting to be held by his mommy all the time.  He wouldn't even let me pick him up for a while.  He might ask me to pick him up, but the moment I tried to lift him he'd squirm away and go running for mommy as if he were frightened.  His behaviour became ritualistic and very concerned with things being the "right way."  He developed phobias of pooping in the bathtub (to the point where he didn't want to take baths) and of bees (to the point where he didn't want to go outside).  Finally we called the pediatrician and had a basic evaluation appointment.  The doctor thinks that either he has just had a regression event into autism or some kind of anxiety class disorder has just popped out of the blue on us.  His speech abilities seem unaffected and we don't know whether his socializing abilities are affected yet because he won't go outside to play with other kids these days because of his new found fear of bees.  Without knowing if his social behaviors have changed, the doctor isn't sure whether its an anxiety disorder like OCD or if he is autistic like his older brother.  We have a family history for both classes of disorders, so either are possibilities at this point.

I'm not sure what to think or feel about the possibility that I might have passed on being on the autistic spectrum to both of my children.  We always knew there was a possibility of this happening, but Taliesin had always seemed like the obvious one where that was playing out- missing communication milestones, ritualistic, shy, and very rule based from the beginning.  Lionel was always the easy going communicative one who wasn't shy of anyone.  It's painful to see the easy going nature suddenly disappear in favor of a very ritualistic and anxious one where Lionel painfully afraid of situations and things he used to enjoy very much.  Hopefully we can remedy much of that with proper intervention.

The narrative that autism is a state of merely being different rather than broken is easier to accept when the traits simply grow organically in place as the way things have always been.  Its easier to accept it that way.  You can't imagine things having been different.  But when things were different and become decidedly worse in very specific ways over a short period of time, you can imagine both ways.  It hurts more.  It doesn't make it any less part of the person that you love, but you feel a bigger need to fix it.  Striking a balance between providing opportunities for many things in life to not be as hard for him and providing acceptance and a compelling narrative of self worth is difficult at best.  We don't know what the future will hold, but at least we know to be looking to know what we can do to help.  Life could be easier and I wish so many hard things didn't happen so close together.  But that's life...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Take up your Cross...

The cross of Christ's Crucifixion is loaded with meaning.  Whether you look on it as a awkward reminder of Christ's pain and death when you'd rather focus on His life or whether you look at it with a focused intensity of claiming religious identity the cross is loaded with meaning.  So much of what it means to be Christian focuses on the meaning of what happened on the cross that when people read the familiar passage "take up your cross and follow me" what they take away is a message to work harder at following the ideals and social program of their own Christian community, which is largely a good take away message.  But I think it can miss the radical quality of Christ's call.  When Christ originally said to disciples to "take up your cross and follow me," Christ hadn't died yet.  There wasn't a symbol of an empty cross symbolizing resurrection, there wasn't an idea floating around that someone special would die on a cross and somehow reconcile God and man in some way.  The cross was simply a method of death by slow torture reserved for those who opposed to rule of Rome.  So to the people who heard it at the time, Christ's call would have sounded like a call to resistance against Roman oppression that could have no reasonable outcome other than death.

It's no surprise then that according to some interpretations, the Apostles Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot were possibly members of violent extremist political groups opposing Rome- with Zealot referring to a group known as Zealots that wanted to drive back Roman Rule and Iscariot possibly referring to a group of assassins known as the Sicarri who tried to kill Roman officials in Jerusalem.  While chronologically its possible these interpretations of the Apostle's personal characters might not be exactly correct, the New Testament is very clear the Apostles thought they were joining what would become a political opposition group.  As they state in Luke 24:21 "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."

Then, to put Christ's original call as His listeners originally heard it but put in modern terms, outside of the context of Christ's entire life it might have sounded like "Sign up for the firing squad and follow me.  We'll rebel against the government."  There is a sound of danger, of adventure, and of quixotic idealists itching to die a martyr's death.  It even sounds like a religious terrorist organization in the making- with promises of religiously charged glory, chances for martyrdom, and a simple message justifying violent direct action.

Living in an area where political extremism can be common, it's not uncommon for me to hear the grumblings of wannabe hero's fantasizing about murdering the US President, wishing that somebody would, or almost gleefully pondering how someone might do so one of these days.  At work I've heard idle conversation about how the government deserves to be over thrown.  While I feel that such grumblings are misguided to an extreme, I can also recognize that such people are trying to practice their morality the best way they know how, perhaps even similar to Christ's apostles who thought they were joining up to help lead an insurrection.  While contemplating or acting on such desires to resist evil can involve a certain type of courage and virtue, they don't fully represent the particular kind of courage Christ specifically called for.  Christ states:

"But I say, do not resist an evil person!"  (Matthew 5:39)

"And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also." (Matthew 5:40) which according to a commentary I've seen once, would have left the generous soul completely naked.

In the end, Christ's example show us the timeless "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:24)

Christ cared about Roman oppressions and it showed in kinds of people who joined him.  He just cares more about the internal state of the soul that becomes willing to bear anger, violence, or to contemplate evil towards others to resolve these problems.  So when we metaphorically "sign up for the firing squad" for Christ, I think we should be willing to be honest about problems that come from outside of us, our community, or our nation.  We should be willing to die to resist the evils in our world, but more willing to let the evils within us die.  Otherwise we become just one more tragic group of people seeking to save their live's from something external but lose their souls in the process.

In the whole, taking up a cross to follow Jesus isn't just a pledge to have certain opinions about Jesus, to deal with suffering with dignity, or to participate in church.  Its trying to achieve the delicate balance of pulling moral logs out of our eyes and working against social injustice at the same time.  And doing both despite the consequences.