The Living Years

I got a phone call Tuesday from my sister informing me that my father is on his deathbed. Stage 4 bone cancer. This on top of the dementia that has been eating away at his mind for the last several years. The last time I spoke to him it was a struggle to form a coherent sentence. He knew me, but could not tell me who my wife or kids were. That was a year or two ago, so I have no idea how far gone he is now.

Some of you may recall a song by Mike and the Mechanics from the early 90’s called “The Living Years”. The song is all about the distance and disagreement between a father and his son. The first verse says:

“Every generation blames the one before, And all of their frustrations come beating on your door.

I know that I’m a prisoner to all my father held so dear I know that I’m a hostage to all his hopes and fears I just wish I could’ve told him in the living years

Oh, crumpled bits of paper filled with imperfect thoughts,

Stilted conversations I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

You say you just don’t see it he says it’s perfect sense , You just can’t get agreement in this present tense

We all talk a different language, talking in defense.”

 

That pretty well perfectly describes my relationship with my father. I did not listen to that song this morning on my drive in to work, but I heard it in my head nonetheless.

My father and I have been estranged for quite some time. So, as I type this post this morning I am not entirely sure how I feel about the news I have received. I guess, if I were a “normal” person I would have called in to work this morning, taken the rest of the week off, and rushed off to see him in his last moments. I didn’t do any of those things.

I did inform my manager of what was going on, simply because I am not sure how I am going to react. I wanted him to be prepared in case I abruptly left, or began sobbing uncontrollably, or something…

The thing is, I am as much a spectator in this situation as everyone else. I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know how I will feel. I have no idea how I will react when the anticipated passing of my father happens in what I assume will be the next few days. So I am, in many respects, watching a movie I’ve never seen before, and waiting to see what happens.

I think it’s entirely possible that when a new idea or concept strikes many of us we have a tendency to believe we have “discovered” something. Our epiphany is an epiphany for all mankind. I’m sure this is particularly true if we are considered (by ourselves or others) to be “smart”. But then you talk to someone else, or read something someone else wrote, and realize that there is nothing new under the sun.

Nevertheless, while exploring my thoughts and feelings on the matter I was struck by the notion that in the end our lives are really just a series of snippets in the memories of other people.

We are born, in many cases we procreate, and eventually we die. The circle of people who care about any of these things is relatively small. The number of lives most of us will touch is also relatively small. In the end, even if a whole lot of people know who we are, the people who actually feel our loss is a small subset of that number.

Who we were becomes a function of how we are recalled by those still living. Being forever silenced and unable to correct the record or defend ourselves, perception becomes reality. All the things we accomplished fade away. The awards and achievements, the degrees and certifications, all of the accumulated pieces of paper and plaques…all piled into a pine box alongside the husk of who we once were…and turned to ash and dust along with us.

All that remains are the smiles or frowns of those who knew us when, from time to time, we come to mind. The things we said or did traded in for the things people think we said or did. Nothing lasting, nothing permanent. In my case, having fathered two girls, not even my last name will carry on. All that will matter when all is said and done, is what those two girls think of me, when they think of me.

Lest I depart too sharply from my normal manner and thereby cause consternation amongst my friends, let me follow up by saying….I’ll be dead. So, in reality, I won’t know, or care, what anyone still alive thinks. It certainly does make for some interesting thoughts though…and no doubt quite a few tee-shirts and bumper stickers about how all that matters is how we treated others, etc.

Right now, in a house I’ve never seen, in a town I’ve never been to, surrounded by people I’ve never met…my father is dying.   When I imagined for a moment what going to his funeral might be like, and what I would say if I were asked to say something, I came to some conclusions. I guess it’s up to the reader to determine if those conclusions are sad, or insightful, profound, or ambivalent. I can’t rightly say.

For the record, and for those not familiar with the situation, I will briefly recap. My father left my mother in the most cowardly manner I could imagine. He was a pastor and he ran off with the church secretary. He married her shortly after his divorce from my mother went through because, as he explained to me at the time, they didn’t want to live in sin, “any longer than is absolutely necessary”.

My mother is, as are we all, a flawed woman. But she continually and constantly pounded one refrain into my mind from the time I was old enough to speak. “I hate a liar”. That can be translated over to, “I hate a hypocrite”. I did see, and still see, my father as a hypocrite. I believe he violated sacred covenants, abandoned his flock, led people astray, and committed a whole host of other things that his faith deems “sins”. Nevertheless, he did them. And he did them for the most base of reasons. I have never truly found it in my heart to forgive that.

That fact is in and of itself intriguing to me. I know women whose fathers sexually molested them, and they have found it within themselves to forgive them and attempt to repair the relationship. My father broke a vow to a God I don’t quite believe in, and (to be fair) he also lied to me in the process. But these things seem so much smaller than the things other people are able to see their way past. So I have to consider for a moment, is the failing his, or mine?

Not that I bear him ill will, or walk around with anger in my heart. I just added him to my internal list of people I prefer not to associate with. What that translates to is, in the last 15 years I’ve seen him once and spoken to him by phone 3-4 times.

I guess in my dad’s case what angered me was that he set himself up as a leader and an emissary of God, and then fell on his face. And he didn’t stumble over some unusual set of circumstances or extraordinary moral conundrum. He was tripped up by the same shit he lectured me on.

He demonstrated conclusively (in my mind) that Jesus isn’t changing hearts. He tore apart his own family, and the family of the woman he committed adultery with, and then he shrugged and said, “God forgives me, if you don’t that’s your problem”.

And now he’s dying.

What would I say if I were asked to say something?

My father was not a great man. Some would tell you he was a good man, and I wouldn’t rise to oppose them, though I would disagree. In the end, he was a man. He had his flaws. He had his vices. He had his shortcomings and failures. I do not begrudge him any of these things. We all have things about ourselves we are less than proud of. But he lacked honor, and was therefore not someone I chose to spend time with.

My father paid his bills, fed his kids, and served his country. He spent 4 years in the Air Force and the rest of his working life at NSA. He taught college courses, coached tee-ball, baseball, and softball. (An interesting aside, my dad was tried out to play Catcher for the Baltimore Orioles way back in the day.)

He gave to me my love of reading, chess, and debate. He taught me to think. And when he was younger and in decent shape, the man could play baseball.

He participated in the rearing of two moderately successful children. His progeny is no burden on society.

I hear that in recent years he got involved with child welfare and became some sort of court appointed advocate.

That’s it. That’s all I know about the man.

I recall a few ridiculous things like the way he would stick his tongue in his cheek when he was angry. I remember a few times we almost came to blows during my teenage years. I remember he was a bit of a clown, and enjoyed being the center of attention…which I suppose is the unspoken reason he chose to go into the ministry.

Mainly, since I hung up the phone with my sister, I have been thinking about more abstract things.

I wonder if he’s scared. I wonder if he’s even cognizant of what is happening. I wonder if he’s looking forward to “going on to be with the Lord”. Or is it possible that now that the question is no longer rhetorical, he has his doubts?

I wonder who has come to see him. I wonder, when I am in his position, who will come to see me? I wonder if he wonders if I will come…or if he even remembers my name. If he does remember my name, and does hope that I will come, will the last thing he feels be profound sadness? Is that my fault? Does it matter?

Assuming he has anywhere near a firm grasp on reality, I wonder does he look back on his life with regret, or satisfaction? I wonder how I would answer that same question.

In the end I am simply writing this because I am experiencing an event I will only ever experience once. I am not looking for pity or condolences. My father has not been an integral part of my life for a very long time. I won’t miss him more the day after he’s gone than I did on any given day last month.

I’m simply thinking about things, and seeing them, in a light that only shines once. So I’m capturing my thoughts and passing them on.

Maybe I’m just creating a snippet in the memory of someone else…

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Religion is a Farce

I awoke this morning to find two things.

1) Some moron in SC walked into a “predominantly black church” and opened fire.  The race industry got a new fundraising platform, black racists got a new cause du jour, and white people all over the country will have to say, “Some of my best friends are black” constantly for a week or so.

2) A friend posted a note supposedly written by a Christian telling a person with rainbow lighting in their yard that the “relentlessly gay” lights were a problem.  My friend and her friends expressed an appropriate amount of outrage at this slight.

I do not wish to focus on the deaths in SC or the bigotry in the note.  More than enough people will grasp at these obvious issues and write what they consider profound thoughts on those two matters.  They will publish these thoughts to the internet where it is at least possible that some temporary notice will be taken.  Their like minded friends will pat them on the back for bleating at the appropriate time and in the appropriate tone, and then all will go back to munching grass until something kills them.

No, what I wish to focus on is how incredulous I am at how incredulous other people are, and the abject failure of the Earth’s inhabitants to recognize facts displayed to them in living color and high definition on a daily basis.

First of all, people seem  unable to understand how religious people can be so intolerant.  This is perplexing to me.

Sure, you can pull out examples of good people from many, if not all, of the world’s religions.  But for every Mother Theresa or Billy Graham, there are hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of bigoted, hateful, evil assholes perfectly willing to kill people in the name of God.  Religion has been responsible for more death, cruelty, and bigotry than any other factor in the history of the world.  In fact, more people have died at the hands of others because of who they believe or do not believe God is, than for any other reason.

So why on earth would any thinking, rational human being be surprised that a “Christian” would hate on someone because they are gay?  And why would those same people be unwilling to state publicly that if that gay man were living in Saudi Arabia or Iran he’d have gotten far more than an impolitely worded letter?

Religion does not exist to spread love.  I don’t care what your particular prophet says in your particular holy book.  The fact is, your God’s followers (no matter who your God is) hate someone, for something.  It’s the nature of the beast.  It’s the same formula that has been used in every arena since recorded time began.  Choose a group of people you wish to control.  Chose a different group of people to blame the first group of people’s problems on.  Propose to resolve the first group’s problems by persecuting the second group.  Viola!  Hitler, Stalin, Mao, The Pope, the leaders of every Islamic state… all guilty of the same damn thing.

A small group of people controls a large group of people.  This is true in religion as it is in politics.  It is the nature of men in power to seek more power, and the nature of followers to yield more power to leaders.  This is how the world works…wake up!

Worse than this however, is the complete idiocy that is “belief” in the first place.

Some guy stands in some desert talking on a Youtube video about how he and his fellows will destroy the west “God willing”…and then a missile turns him into debris.  Because his God is not stronger than the United States Air Force.  A bunch of people go in to a church to pray, a gunman enters and kills nine of them…because their God is not more powerful than a handgun.  Wake up!

You are walking around mumbling to invisible people.  In modern western culture we call that “mental illness”.

You are espousing the same beliefs you laugh at.  The ancient Greeks and Romans also believed in people in the sky that controlled everything.  You believe they were a bunch of ignorant dupes, espousing fairy tales and folklore.  But if you’re a Christian you walk around talking about a Jewish carpenter you’ve never met, from 2,000 years ago, based on a book you read.  And you think the people who do not believe in your invisible friend are the ones with a problem.

If you’re a Muslim of the extreme sort you believe that your prophet is so frail that he needs you to kill people who draw his likeness.  Yet you pray for a God to help you, when your God clearly needs you to help him.  This makes sense to someone?

The further back I step from these belief systems, the more clearly I see how foolish they are.

People all over the world are killing each other in the name of God, while useful idiots all over the world are calling for peace…in the name of God.  Meanwhile, those same useful idiots believe that those who actually practice the letter of the law with regard to their faith are “extremists” and the apostate masses are the “good (insert religion here)”.  So if you’re a Muslim who believes in Jihad, or a Christian who thinks God doesn’t like homosexuality, you’re a nut job.  Even though that’s what’s in the book.  But if you’re a wishy-washy, blow in the wind, go along-get along type of believer, then you’re a good example of what we should all be.

Let’s do what we should have done a long time ago.  Cast off the chains of fear and superstition.  Stop following the guidance of inaudible, invisible, make-believe friends, and start living in a logical, thoughtful manner.

Fuck loving each other.  Man is not programmed to do that.  How about simply respecting each other, and acting like what we are.  A mammal.  Slightly more advanced than all the other mammals.  And instead of taking lessons from some bullshit holy book, take lessons from the world around us.

You don’t see too many dolphins persecuting each other over their religious beliefs…or killing each other for $10 for that matter.

For those inclined to pray for me, or try to “witness” to me, let me save you some trouble.  Don’t come to me with emotional stories full of personal experiences where your invisible friend made some difference in your life.  I have a Smith and Wesson .40 caliber pistol.  When you serve a God that can stop a bullet, I’ll hear you out.

Losing My Religion

In my line of work I am forced to come to grips with the thought process of radical Islamic terrorists.  Because the work I do and the people I support are tied in many ways to the war on terror, it is never far from my mind.  I think it would also be fair to say that the psychology of people in general has always been of interest to me.  I find myself fascinated by people who kill and die for various causes and reasons, and I endeavor to understand why they do what they do.  Serial killers, suicide bombers, mass murderers, genocidal despots, and others, are all of interest to me.

You may think, depending on your belief system, that religious zealots (suicide bombers) do not belong on a list with these others.  Religion is a belief while many (if not all) of these other groups commit atrocities due to a mental defect.  Megalomaniacs, racial purists, nationalists in the extreme, generally (in my view) are people whose minds fail to process things in a “normal” manner.  For instance, if we were to stipulate that I didn’t like a certain group of people, the “normal” thing for me to do would be to avoid them.  Perhaps I would make disparaging remarks about them in groups of like-minded individuals.  But there is no set of circumstances under which I would advocate for, or attempt to orchestrate, the genocide of all people in that group.  (Note, it is a bit of a stretch for me to claim to be “normal”, but with regard to genocide I’d say I’m “typical”)

Religion is in fact a mental defect however, if the person or object of worship does not exist.  If the “religious experience” some people claim is simply a hallucination or mass hypnosis, or the conversations had with “God” are a delusion, then religion is a mental disorder.  Without doubt the most costly mental disorder in the history of human existence in terms of human lives.  We have burned, drowned, beheaded, stoned, purged, cleansed, flogged and tortured our way through human history in the name of beings no one can verify actually exist.

The Catholics invaded the “Holy Land” to reclaim it from the Muslims.  The Muslims blow up things all over the world as some twisted method of preaching the Gospel (which in Islam is “Convert or die”.  http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/quran/023-violence.htm).  Protestants and Catholics kill each other, as do Muslim sects, over interpretations of various verses.  I think it’s safe to say that as I write this, somewhere in the world, someone is suffering and/or dying for what they believe.  If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is.

However, as I drove in this morning thinking about these things I was struck by the difference between western and eastern cultures with regard to adherence to belief systems.  From Samurai to Jihadists, Medicine men to Witch Doctors, from Asia to Africa to parts of Eastern Europe, there is a stark contrast with western culture.

First it is worth noting that I grew up in a Christian household.  After many years my father eventually retired from his government job and became a pastor.  I spent quite a few years as an apologist, arguing with atheists on the internet.  I was never an evangelist, but I could debate religion and religious belief all day long.  What set me apart from many of my associates was that when something I was saying troubled me I did not view that as a lack of faith and pray harder.  I viewed it as critical thought, and read harder.  I studied, and learned, and questioned.  As has always been the case in my life, music touched me and opened my mind to new thoughts and my heart to new feelings.

I concluded that the essence of Christianity was simple.  Jesus died and rose from the dead so that I might be saved from my sins.  There was supposed to be a life changing power in the blood of Christ.  We were called to be in the world not of it.  We were to cast off the world.  We were called to be a peculiar people.  But as I looked around I noticed that from Jimmy Swaggart to Pat Robertson; from the local pastor, to my own father, to the pedophile priests popping up on the news from time to time; there was no real difference.  Many of these people didn’t even have basic honor, dignity or integrity, much less a legitimate life-altering relationship with the almighty creator of the universe.  Then two important things happened.

Styx released “Show Me the Way“, and I met Eric Roux.  Eric is a molecular biologist and a brilliant man, with whom I disagree strongly on nearly every subject.  Which would seem to make me a dumb ass….  Nevertheless, after years of talking I finally came about 13/16ths of the way to Eric’s position.  He is an atheist, while I believe in intelligent design but I no longer practice any religion.

However, the thought that crossed my mind this morning was, “What if we really believed?”  What if we had the conviction in the western world that people in the eastern world have.  Not the conviction of those who obey under duress or threat of violence.  Not the conviction of those who are beaten or tortured in to conversion.  But true conviction.  What if we in the western world were all radicals and actually practiced the precepts of the most prevalent religion in western culture?  What kind of world would we live in?

I realize that this is a pipe dream, but bear with me for a moment.  While you ponder this please bear in mind that I am not talking about a theocracy like those in the middle east.  I am talking about people actually (voluntarily) living according to the precepts of the religion they (voluntarily) espouse, which is by and large Christianity in western culture.  What would the United States look like if we weren’t all hypocrites?

Rather than answer this question myself, and speak in to the ether… I will leave it open and let the reader comment.  I’d like to hear what YOU think the United States would be like.  What if we kept the 10 Commandments?  What if we adhered to the Golden Rule?  What if the teachings of Jesus were our guide, and we lived what we said we believed?

I await your reply.

 

 

The Progressive Catholic Church

Wow…I’m on a roll.  3 Posts in one day.  Amazing.

For some reason I clicked on a news article regarding the demotion of a Cardinal by the Pope.  The opinion piece in question can be read here:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/11/10/1343748/-It-s-Official-Pope-Francis-Demotes-Higest-Ranking-US-Cardinal-Over-LBGT-Issues?detail=email#

One of the excerpts that really caught my attention was this one:

 Raymond Burke is one of the pope’s strongest opponents. The 66 year-old Burke believes homosexuality is, ‘always and everywhere wrong [and] evil,’ and continuously questioned the authority of Pope Francis, now 77. Burke told Buzzfeed in October:“The pope is not free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the faith.”

Apparently the Pope is free, at minimum, to encourage change. This is one more reason why so many free-thinkers in America, and in other countries love Pope Francis.

No dear, the reason so-called free thinkers love religious people who abandon the doctrine of the church, is because they are no longer held accountable…and that feels good.

Oddly, it is wildly unpopular to criticize the Muslim community for suicide bombings, genocide, murder, barbarism, etc.  Even though these acts are routinely committed by members of the Muslim faith.  But it is, at the same time, very popular to criticize Christian leaders for saying what they have been saying for centuries…and in fact what the Bible says.  Can someone explain that to me?

Why is one religious nut okay, and another religious nut is not?

To be plain and forthcoming, I hold no religious views.  I don’t care who you bang, or in what orifice.  What goes on in your bedroom is your business.  Though I wish all the gay people struggling so hard to make it my business would stop.  I don’t need a parade marching down my street celebrating the fact that you bang some other dude in the ass.  I think that falls firmly under the “TMI” rule.

But what I cannot tolerate, from any quarter, is hypocrisy.  So explain to me how it is that the Pope demotes a Cardinal for expressing what has been Catholic Doctrine for the entire existence of the Church?  And explain to me how the hell religion can be real, relevant, AND progressive?  Did God say homosexuality was a sin in the Old Testament, and then wake up one day a couple thousand years later and decide that his position on the issue has “evolved”?  I mean what happened?  He heard an Obama speech or something and changed his mind?

This Pope literally said, “Who am I to judge?”  Really?  I don’t know…the freakin Vicar of Christ or something….  Isn’t that the title?  I mean this guy is like Obama.  He gets elected and decides he’s just going to make up the law, and enforce what he wants to enforce.  I thought his position was supposed to represent God on Earth.  last I checked, God doesn’t change.  Or so the stories say.

The woman continues…

Many of us love these new Catholic Church ‘inconsistencies,’ Burke denounces. They represent the over-due distancing of archaic religious dogma that drove many people away from the church.

As a pro-choice Liberal woman, I cannot end this diary, in good conscience, without conveying my hope that Pope Francis will vocally extend his progressive efforts to defend the reproductive rights of women, as well as women’s position in the church. One step at a time. Meanwhile, here’s to a great pope and a great man, who continues to be a breath of fresh air for many, many people around the world.

 

Yes, you are correct.  an institution which is supposed to represent the almighty creator of the Universe, is rightly being slowly changed by political pressure from a special interest group… and that’s a good thing.

Archaic religious dogma… like the death and resurrection of Jesus?  Like, “turn the other cheek”?  “Do unto others…”

No, those are fine, because they fit what you believe.  It’s just the parts of Christianity that call in to question your own personal issues that you want to see changed.  The stuff that makes parts of your life hard or even inconvenient.

So let me ask you this…when an organization stands for nothing whatsoever, what’s the point of being a member?  When the progressives have finally succeeded in tearing down every aspect of western Christianity and all that is left is eastern mysticism and Muslim fanaticism, what then?

This is a different symptom of the same problem I had with religion when I left it.  It’s about being popular, and therefore wealthy and powerful.  It’s not about being right.  It’s not about standing up and fighting for anything.  It’s about appealing to as many people as possible?  Why?  So you can save their souls?  Well no…saying their souls need saving would be “judgmental”.  So what does that leave?

Asses in seats, money in collection plates, and authority given to senile old men who lack the integrity to honor the God they (I believe falsely) claim to serve.  What a joke.

And the fact that people sit and applaud the erosion of values, traditions and beliefs, in an organization BUILT on values, traditions and beliefs, shows how far down the road to ruin we have travelled.

Fortunately for me, I can sit back with a beer, smoke a cigarette, and watch the wold burn with no care for what “God” think about any of it.

But then again..I’m not the “Vicar of Christ”, am I?

Being Beautiful

A very good friend of mine posted one of those feel-good internet memes to Facebook yesterday, and it inspired me to write.  While I hate bumper-sticker theology, philosophy or psychology, it’s been a while, so I’ll take the inspiration.

Here is what she posted.

The God Article's photo.

 

Now…I have never heard of Thich Nhat Hanh.  But that’s okay.  Because Thich Nhat Hanh has obviously never heard of Merriam Webster.  So, here then is the definition of beautiful:

: having beauty: such as       

: very attractive in a physical way

: giving pleasure to the mind or the senses                
: very good or pleasing : not having any bad qualities                

What Mr. Hahn is describing here is more accurately the definition of confidence, rather than beauty.  Mixed with some feel good nonsense with no practical application in western living.

Man is a social animal.  Man is a pack animal.  It is absolutely, 100% definitely, critical that we be accepted by others.  People who are not accepted by others develop disorders, anti-social feelings, destructive behaviors, and the like.

For more on the subject, from someone who more likely knows what they are talking about, please read: http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2011/110510WilliamsOstracism.html

Even rugged individualists (like me) need friends (like Thaeda).  This notion that if you can accept yourself all will be well, is utter bullshit.  This is akin to R. Kelly singing “I believe I can fly”.  Really?  Care to walk to the top of a building and test that theory?

I will grant that a person who does not like who they are is not likely to like who other people are either.  But I do not subscribe to all this psycho-babble about learning to love yourself.  Let me propose rather, that you transform yourself in to someone worth loving, you’ll find loving yourself easier if you do so.

This philosophy is an extension of our no-fault modern thinking.  Rather than take the input from our conscience, assess the things about ourselves that need to be changed and change them, we are encouraged to love ourselves as we are.  Thus, as an example, the morbidly obese, dying from high blood pressure, diabetes, and other ailments; unable to navigate a flight of stairs; having to shop for specially made clothing; and unable to fit behind the wheel of a mid-sized passenger vehicle; are not encouraged to look in the mirror, see a fat bitch and lose weight.  They are rather encouraged to look in the mirror, see someone worth loving, and love themselves as they are.  And die…

Our entire way of life is dependent on being accepted by others.  It’s why we wear nice clothes to church, job interviews, and ceremonies of all sorts.  It’s why we pursue things.  It’s why we form friendships, crave loving relationships, join social clubs, etc.

I find most often that the people who say these sorts of things are people who desperately want or need to believe them.  But in practice most fall far short of the ideal they claim to believe.

Mr. Hanh for example.  When I looked him up this is what the brief profile said:

“Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He lives in the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France, travelling internationally to give retreats and talks.”

Really?  You travel internationally to give talks…to others…from whom you need no acceptance?  But of course, there must be some acceptance, or the lecture hall would be empty…would it not?

Take it from me, as someone who actually does the things other people claim to do.  As someone who has stood up at an all hands meeting and told the entire company “I’m here to make money, not friends.  You do your job, I’ll do mine.  Other than that stay out of my face.”  As someone who has told my direct supervisor, “I have no goals or objectives as it pertains to this company or workplace.  I’m here to finance my life, that’s it.”  As someone who routinely writes off friends, colleagues, and even family members.  Because I truly do like who I am, and I truly am confident in what I can do and honest about what I cannot.  And I truly will not suffer fools, liars, cheats or fair-weather friends.

Even I, a person who actually lives this stuff, in a moment of honesty (this is that moment) will admit I need the acceptance of others.  I need my wife to love and support me.  I need my kids to love and support me.  I need the time and attention of a few (very few) loved and respected friends.  I need a certain level of cooperation, respect, and support from my workplace colleagues.  Without these things I cannot function…and neither can you.  And neither can Mr. Thich Nhat Hahn.

A writer, poet and speaker cannot do any of those things if there is no audience.  And there is no audience without acceptance.

I think we all need to just wake up, stop trying to live our lives by bumper-sticker, and start dealing with reality.  In my personal opinion, much of what is wrong with the world today stems from a lack of willingness to deal with things as they are, rather than as we’d like them to be.

You are not beautiful because you think you are.  By definition, you are beautiful because someone else thinks you are.  You can be ugly and confident…but your confidence doesn’t change your appearance.

As far as people who do not need to be accepted by others, let me give you some synonyms for those types of people.  Unemployed. Homeless. Lonely. Suicidal.

PhD. psychologists should not need to be informed of these things…

The Church

I wrote this as a follow on to the discussion I began on religion.  Mainly, it is a discussion of what I believe is missing in “the church”.

One thing I believe the church lacks, ironically, is an understanding of the people they are trying to reach. 

The building stands, and families attend.  The children grow and make more children.  Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends are invited, and eventually you find you are preaching to the choir.  Families, in their entirety attend.  People become “deacons” and “pillars” in the church.  Everyone knows everyone.  You are one big, happy, Lord-praising family.

When the beer drinking, leather jacket wearing, tattoos and earrings guy comes in to see what’s going on…. it’s kinda like some stranger walking in to your family reunion. 

He is not welcomed with genuine smiles and warm handshakes…he is viewed with suspicion, and in some (many) cases hostility.  He is an intruder, and he must immediately cut his hair, shave, change his clothes, accept Jesus, join the choir and show up next Sunday looking EXACTLY like everyone else…or he will be ostracized (except by the teenage girls in the youth group…who secretly think he is so very cool!) 

And because you have no frame of reference, you cannot speak to this individual in any language he understands. 

You are talking to him about some guy who died for his sins 2000 years ago…he wants to know where his next meal is coming from. He wants to know whether his junkie girlfriend can get in to a rehab program after she gets out of jail for solicitation and possession.  He wants to know how he’s supposed to pay his bills when he just lost his job.  He wants to know how to control the urge to kill his father who has been abusing his mother all of his life.  He wants to know what to do about the fact that his daughter has diabetes and he has no health insurance. 

“The Church” has become a building, not a group of people.  And it is, in many cases, a building full of smug, arrogant, elitists.  No longer interested in reaching the lost or transforming the nation.  They are content to sit in their pews (and make no mistake, many of them have “their” pew) and attempt to block out the rest of the world.

I am reminded of a time when a pastor of mine (and this was one I actually respected) gave a sermon called Living la Buena Vida.  He started by mentioning the song Living la Vida Loca by Ricky Martin.  The man in the pew in front of me looked at his wife and quietly, and accusingly asked her, “How does he know about that?” 

The temerity!  The pastor had listened to the radio!  He had partaken of “the world”.

And these people wonder why no one is “winning anyone to Christ”.

Let me ask you this question brother Pharisee…  how exactly can you lead me from where I am to where you are, if you have no idea where I am?

If the church wishes to be successful, you need a whole lot less saints and a whole lot more former sinners.  You cannot “stop by” the homeless shelter or the soup line.  You cannot “counsel” the abused, the addicted, the imprisoned.  These people must know and respect you.  They must believe you understand.  They need a friend, not a preacher.

You need not have been a drug addict to reach a drug addict…but it would help if you had some kind of idea what a “hard life” was like.  Your three piece suit and shiny new shoes give you away.  And you may catch up in your net those who wish to achieve the material success you have achieved, but you will rarely reach their spirit.

I am reminded of a friend of mine who is a bleeding heart liberal democrat.  He believes we must do all that we can to help our fellow man.  Obliterate the budget, raise taxes, explode the debt.  Whatever must be done to feed the homeless, help the unemployed, and elevate those less fortunate.  He had two daughters at home.  One went off to college.  I asked him when he planned on moving a homeless man in to her room.  He never answered that question…

Because it is always easier to feel things, and then wait for other people to do something about them.  It is easy to drop a $20 in the kettle at Christmas time, or volunteer at the homeless shelter (twice) in July.  It is a far different thing to move a homeless man in to your house…or be the guy standing out there with the kettle, hour after hour…in November…in Chicago.

Should God exist, and should Jesus be his Son, and should every story be the absolute truth…I can tell you this for certain.  God doesn’t much like talkers.  it’s doers he is looking for.  And when he says that there will be people who say, “Lord, Lord…” and he will say, “I never knew you, depart from me you workers of iniquity”, I can assure you there are people on the front pew of churches all over this nation who will be hearing those words.

And there will be some who, as the Bible describes, slip through the gate with the smell of smoke upon their garments.  Some of them are also sitting in pews…many are not.

Let me offer you this advice Pastor.  Go grab sister so-and-so, you know the one I mean.  The sourpuss.  The person voted most likely to use the expression “well I never”.  The one who comes in to your office to offer you the “word” the Lord gave her concerning last week’s sermon.  And drag her wrinkled old ass down to some place where people are hurting, and suffering, and in need of a savior of some kind…and tell her to get to work practicing what she preaches. 

Show her a picture of Mother Theresa ministering to the poor.  Living among them, ministering to them, and quietly altering the lives of thousands and thousands of people.  Show her a picture of Billy Graham, traveling the world, preaching the gospel, and living a life beyond reproach.

And then tell her that God has a word for her…but he didn’t give it to you, he gave it to Janet Jackson.

“What have you done for me lately”

Religion, Again

As I have alluded to in previous posts, I grew up in church.  First the Church of God, then the Assemblies of God.  Not the old-timey, backwoods, snake-handling variety.  The in town, dressed up nice, fiery sermons and healing services type.

I was recently asked by a friend of mine to critique and attempt to poke holes in a sermon delivered by his father.  In this sermon his father claims to have found the key that makes it all make sense, and validates the authority of scripture.  I gave a brief rebuttal on my Facebook page.  It is not my intention here to rehash that.  I intend rather, to address the larger topic as a whole.  Not as an a-hole, hopefully.

I believe it all starts with man’s search for significance.

I watched a documentary last night on the life of Carl Panzram.  He was a serial killer that was executed in the 1930’s for killing a civilian laundry room supervisor inside a federal prison.  He wrote his autobiography on notebook paper while sitting in prison, and the narration of the film was essentially the reading of those words.  One of the last things he wrote, while awaiting his hanging was that before he left this world he would like to know why he was who he was, and why he did the things he did.

This is a man that claimed to have murdered 21 people.  He claimed to have committed hundreds of burglaries and robberies.  Amongst his crimes he listed “having sodomized well over 1000 male human beings”.  And he claimed he felt no remorse.  In fact, he only apologized for two things.  1) the various animals he had harmed.  2) That he was unable to extinguish the entire human race.  He claimed to feel nothing but hatred towards all men, including himself.  He literally drug his jailers to the hangman’s noose, and while they put the hood over his head he said to the hangman, “Hurry up you Hoosier bastard, I could hang 12 men in the time you’ve been fooling around!”

This man.  This depraved individual.  This product of a broken home and an inhumane justice system.  This thief, rapist and murderer.  This man with nothing but hate in his heart…wanted one thing.  To know who he was, and why.

And so it has been since the dawn of time.  Since man first gazed at the moon and stars and saw gods in the constellations.  Since lightning struck and men supposed Zeus was angry.  Since tidal waves destroyed coastal cities and men prostrated themselves before Poseidon.  Throughout the entirety of time we have pondered the notion that we live, we die…and then what?

And since a man must take a piece of metal and heat it, and shape it, and pound it in to a sword…we see all the wonder around us and conclude that a being, interestingly a being who looks very much like us, made it all.  Because we lacked the capacity to understand how natural processes worked.  And so we discovered God, or gods.  And we formed religions.  And we determined that our fellow men, practicing other religions, were an affront to our Gods…and so we killed them.

There have been many saviors.  There have been many “holy” books.  There have been wars, and genocides, and all manner of atrocities committed in the name of various deities, including Christ.  The Catholic Church being one of the worst oppressors in history.  To this day the practitioners of various religions are still killing in the name of their god, though they claim (as do all) that the practice a religion of peace.

But now we have come to understand how elements are made in the hearts of stars.  We understand how supernovas blast those elements out in to the universe.  We understand how planets are formed.  And we find those particles of star dust in everything around us, including ourselves.

I will grant that I am not well versed enough in astrophysics to fully understand how “the big bang” worked.  But I recognize a con game when I see it.  Preachers, playing on the ignorance of their congregations, make arguments like, “The Big Bang says that first there was nothing, and then it exploded.”  Well yes, to the common man (including me) that’s what it says.  But if your mind works at all you are aware that there is more to it than that.

I will also grant that I am stuck on the idea of life arising where there was no life.  One of the basic concepts of biology is that life begets life.  And so, at this juncture of my life, I believe in intelligent design because I cannot fully comprehend anything else.  But I remain open to new ideas and a further refining of my position.

I am even open to the possibility that the Bible is true, that Jesus was the Son of God, and that every word written in that book is the infallible word of an all-powerful being.  But I doubt it.

We have put behind us the notions of the Greek and Norse deities.  We have cast aside the Roman gods and those of the Egyptians.  We have written them all off as fairy tales and fables.  We now celebrate them in mythology, movies, literature and music.  But we accept that Charon is not waiting for us at the Styx with hand outstretched.

Yet, for some reason, we remain fixated on the Hebrew God in western culture.  Still stranger, though the Jews, Christians and Muslims are all “people of the book”, we make war against each other, and underlying much of that conflict is religion.

I cannot explain why we cannot cast off two thousand-year old tales of water walkers and faith healers, though no one in our time is capable of these things (except Chris Angel).  Jesus said, “Why do you marvel at these things?  Greater things than these shall you do in my name.”  Yet no one actually CAN do any of those things.  No one is raising the dead.  No one is walking on water.  No one is turning water to wine or curing leprosy.  Yet we believe.

And we stretch credibility as science continues to advance.  As the “God of the gaps” finds fewer and fewer gaps in which to exist, eloquent men come up with ever increasingly more convoluted explanations for the things we can see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears.

We were told for decades that evolution is a lie.  Then we were told that it is the tool by which God brought things in to being.  We pay pastors to read to us what we can read for ourselves, and interpret it in such a manner as to silence that nagging voice in the back of our minds.

We are encouraged to “let go and let God”.  We are told that, “I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken, or their seed begging bread”.  Well… I have.

We are told, “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow”.  Yes, so do I.  I hold tomorrow, in the decisions I make today.

The list of clichés goes on and on.  But the simple fact is, much of Christianity in America is a cliché based, feel good, social experience.  It is about being in the company of like-minded individuals, and reinforcing each others’ beliefs.  And as stories are retold, the details slip away.  A pimple behind your ear turns in to a brain tumor, and you were miraculously healed…praise the Lord.

Music is used in church in the exact same manner as it is used “in the world”.

I have long contended that music is the most powerful force in existence.  It is able to manipulate the moods of men.  It can inspire or depress.  It can raise your spirits, affect your body chemistry and fill your mind with thoughts and visions.

In church it is used to open a service, and usually to end it.  The purpose being to open the mind and “spirit” of the attendees, to create an emotional experience, to in grain the message.  Much like the backward masking and subliminal programming that the church was so up in arms about 20 years ago.  But it is okay if you are being brainwashed, so long as the message is approved.

I am the person that ministers hate to run in to.  Why?  Because I read, and I listen…and I think.

I have seen the Bible used, and verses quoted to support diametrically opposed principles.  One example of that is the pre-trib/post-trib rapture debate.  And each side believes they have some divine revelation, and the other side is full of heretics.

In the end I think it all boils down to this.  We’re scared.

Man looks around and he sees the world.  And he fears leaving it.  If there is no life after death, then we are just another animal on the planet for a few years before we’re gone.  There is no “purpose”, no meaning.  Or as Rush put it, “Why are we here?  Because we’re here.  Roll the bones.”

We face a world full of undeniably harsh conditions, and arguably evil men.  We try to navigate our way through poverty, unemployment, the birth and death of children and parents, crime, corruption, and a whole host of other things…and we’re scared.

How can we, living in this moment, possibly lead ourselves to a better moment tomorrow?  Surely we are in need of guidance…from an all-powerful God who declares the end from the beginning.  The God who holds tomorrow.

When bad things happen to good people we’re told that we are being tried and tested, or “refined”  We’re told that “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord” (but they always leave out “and are called according to his purpose”).

When good things happen to bad people… “He maketh the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

When a child dies…”he’s in a better place”.  So…why are you crying?

The bottom line for me is this.  I am not afraid.

If God is out there then I want to know him because I want to know the truth.  And if he wishes to make himself known to me, I presume he knows how to find me.

I will be told that if he proved it, it wouldn’t require faith.  Tell that to Moses, to whom God revealed himself; or Joshua who asked for multiple signs and got them.  Tell it to Thomas, or the fisherman on the boat when Jesus went out to them on the water.

I do not desire to have “faith”.  Not blind faith.  Not foolish faith.  My daughter has faith in me because I told her I would do something and I did it.  I told her to jump, and I caught her.  Not because she read a letter from me, written 2,000 years ago, and though she had never met me she decided to have faith in me anyway.

David Koresh used scripture to lead a group of people.  So did Jim Jones.  So have countless other people who the mainstream church refers to as cultists.  Yet in the end, what is the difference?

Do we not give time and money to both groups?  Do we not sit under the tutelage of some appointed (usually self-appointed in the case of cults) leader?

Do we not sing and dance, praise the Lord, congregate with other believers in both instances?  I submit to you that a “church” is just a “cult” that has reached a respectable attendance mark.  And I for one am not interested in joining.

And so I say this.  When I witness with my eyes something that cannot be explained; when an angel stands before me; when the audible voice of God is heard; when God himself appears to me; when something supernatural in nature happens…. I will believe.

Until then, all the cliches and stories, eloquent sermons, and impassioned testimonies in the world will fall on deaf ears.  Because you are appealing to me on behalf of a being that you cannot demonstrate conclusively is even in existence.  And I must first believe that he is there before I will believe you have a message for me from him.

I do want to congratulate the Pastor in question however.  He put up this sermon on the internet and invited feedback.  Few men of faith are willing to do so.  Primarily because if someone were to dispute their beliefs in an irrefutable manner, it would destroy their faith and thus their lives.  So it takes incredible courage, and an unshakeable belief to do that.

I respect those things.