Category Archives: Religion

Behavior Prevails

Online therapy isn’t as satisfying as in-person therapy.

But cognitive therapy from a practical focus is amazingly effective for me.

One of the things I loved about in-person therapy was having the things I’d said or written repeated back to me.

It’s a stunning thing to SEE my own rationalizations exposed and repeated. It’s part of the reason I softened toward my dad. To recognize a small part of him inside of me was not a welcome realization. This kind of insight takes a while to accept, much less deal with.

There’s a huge difference when you’re talking or writing to someone who has dealt with hundreds of people and has heard every rationalization under the sun. Unlike friends and family, they experience your version of truth for what it is.

Mostly bullsh!t.

I can recap and summarize the difference quickly: I know an awful lot about human psychology and have learned a book of insights and lessons, yet, my biggest failing is not applying them to my life.

If you focus on behavior and set aside your thoughts and words, everything gets distilled to its essence.

It reminds me of one of my favorite examples. If a person never tells anyone that he or she is Christian yet lives a love-and-compassion-filled life, observers can see that your worldview is in action through your behavior. Because lovingkindness is the essence of what Jesus taught. One of my biggest problems with evangelicals is their certainty and rigidity – and focus on dogma and judgment. Live the example. That applies to me, too, in case you think my hypocrisy is something I don’t see in myself.

Likewise, if you are a loving and insightful human being, people over time should easily find that behavior consistently and clearly evidenced in your life. The things you do will be reflected in your daily life and mirror what’s in your head and heart.

When these things are not reflected? That disparity signals a problem with either your self-perception or a significant failure of behavior. If you know your motivations and what you value, the best practical approach is to examine your behavior critically.

If you are what you do, then when you don’t, you aren’t.

If you want to be satisfied or happy, you must work to remove behaviors that interfere. Happiness isn’t a realization; it’s a constant process of doing the hard work of choosing to spend your time and life finding a way to live the way that you know you want to be.

When you are closer to the sunset than the sunrise as you age, everything just looks different.

Otherwise, it is all talk, smoke without fire, and pretense.

Ugh.

But also, yeah!

Love, X
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The Beginning Of The World As We Know It (A Dream-Story)

The Beginning Of The World As You Know It

Before: I’m not one to engage in dream recounting. This one, however, was beyond hyper-realistic. I woke up and expected to be in the world and The Event precisely as I dreamt it. I sat down shortly after waking up and wrote it feverishly, without edit.

I derived the title after hearing Justice Carradine singing “How It Ends.” The melodic syncopation strikes a literal chord in my head and heart.

Here’s the story, unchanged from when I sat and wrote it…
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I’m not sure why I’m writing this. You were there the day it happened. That Tuesday started like any other. We all started our day drinking coffee, working, or taking care of our kids. At 10:03, everything changed forever. The news started trickling in that navigation systems were malfunctioning. Planes scrambled to make emergency landings all over the world. Scientists believed that the sun emitted a massive electromagnetic flare that interrupted communications. The military went to DEFCON 1. Every talking head with an opinion emerged from their lairs to spout a theory.

By noon, most major communication networks, except the rudimentary ones, failed. No internet, no radio, no cellphones. Covid had amplified the paranoia of so many. Even the worst conspiracists felt like something significant was happening. No one could explain it, though.

Fifteen minutes later, vehicles stopped working.

We didn’t know at the time that all these things transpired to keep us safe.

At 12:46 p.m., an odd feeling of fatigue washed over me. I sat down on the floor at work. Within a minute, I was almost catatonic. Flickers of indistinct images began to fill my head. Galaxies, models of atoms, time-shifting rainbows of complicated mathematic formulas. It didn’t alarm me. I felt peaceful. This was followed by a voice in my head, a melodic androgynous voice, lulling me into calm.

“We’ve done this a million times. Don’t be afraid. We have perfected our first contact. You’re safe, all eight billion of you. It’s time you joined us if you wish. You will experience a flood of images and information. After which, the choice is yours.”

The images were dozens a second. Yet, I felt my brain envelop them without effort—exotic planets, technology, art, languages that required no voice, faster-than-light travel. Finally, images of alien races, some of which no longer required bodies. I’m not sure how long this really lasted. Some people later said it only lasted a few seconds.

At 12:50 p.m., I woke up, my legs crossed on the floor. I felt full of energy and enthusiasm. I did not doubt that an unseen alien presence offered us a gift, forever telling us that we weren’t alone in the universe.

All communications were restored. Vehicles and navigation systems worked perfectly again. My co-workers joined me in the upstairs conference room to watch the network news channels scramble to explain what every living human had just experienced coherently. It was chaos.

We all held our breath, assuming that whatever had just contacted us would do so immediately. It didn’t, though. You were there.

Within minutes, several world powers began to threaten military action against one another. We watched as Russia and China fired nuclear ballistic missiles. The United States launched almost all of its missiles in response. The news host shouted in disbelief, warning us to take cover.
“From what?” we all whispered. We were in shock. Most of us felt as if we’d just experienced a whisper of the meaning of life. Seeing our militaries respond in a way that might end all of our lives didn’t feel real.

We waited. Nothing happened. None of these missiles exploded or made contact. It was as if they had disappeared. News reports came in that the missiles went off the radar—all of them. Most countries began firing any available hardware they had remaining. None exploded.

Within two minutes, the President of the United States pre-empted the news channel. Joe Biden was obviously inside a bunker below the White House.

He immediately began to speak.

“We don’t know what has happened. All of our defense systems are down. You must prepare for further attack. Effective immediately, martial law is being declared.” As he cleared his throat, the monitor went blank.

A blue square filled the screen.

Words began to cycle across it in large indistinct letters.

It started with the word “No,” in multiple languages.

Images of entire fields of corn and oats and clear streams filled the monitor. They were followed by the same photos with towering alien structures behind them. We somehow knew that those same images had been transmitted to us while we were almost catatonic. Those structures were solar and wind generators, desalinators, and communication hubs.

“You failed the first phase,” the monitor said, again in multiple languages.

“We assume control of all threats against one another for the entire planet. No military can harm another. Any country trespassing its borders will be rendered incapable of action. We wish you could have figured this out for yourselves in the last hundred years. Humanity is a collective. Life will never be the same as you know it. We mean you no harm. We are not gods. We were once like you. We owe our origins to a common ancestor. Please go about your lives without fear.”

The screen went blue and then returned to the President. He was standing slack-jawed and in shock.

The screen went dark.

I stood with a dozen co-workers, trying to grasp what had just happened. It felt like God had finally intervened in our lives.

When the network news channel returned, it was chaos. Nothing similar had ever happened. The younger news anchor motioned for the camera to focus on him, and he began to speak.

“I don’t know what each of you experienced this morning. I feel like the meaning and purpose of life were just handed to me. I’m glad that whatever is doing this took control of the world’s military forces. We can’t trust people with power to make good choices. I ask that each of you take a moment and wonder if the future we glimpsed is worthy and attainable. For the first time, we don’t have control. I don’t think we ever did, frankly. Be calm if you can, and take a minute to hug and talk to the people around you. If you…”

The station cut to a digestive health commercial.

We turned to one another in the conference room and hugged one another. It was eerily silent except for the blare of the monitor on the wall.

“We have to go back to work. That hasn’t changed.” I don’t know who said it, but his voice propelled us to walk out and quietly back downstairs to our department. Nothing seemed important. Oddly, everything seemed monumental. You were there and might understand what I mean. The minutes and hours passed in a blur.

By the time I finished work, people were coming out of their shock. Almost all the major churches in the world were reacting to the morning. The Vatican issued a statement indicating that whatever was communicated this morning wasn’t godly and that such interpretation violated the church’s canons. Most of us felt like it had been, though. Whatever it was that had talked to us individually in our heads felt like a universal presence. Church attendance increased dramatically in the first week. By the second week, it dropped constantly. Within a month, it had fallen to less than 10% of what it had been before The Event.

In the following weeks, there was no more overt communication from whatever had contacted us. Reports began trickling in of scientists, engineers, botanists, and doctors having sudden breakthroughs in their fields. An engineer from NASA figured out a way to increase solar energy generation by using living organisms as a living battery. The same batteries could power vehicles and homes with no emissions and harmful byproducts. A doctor in Mexico City researching viruses discovered that most cancers were caused by previously undetected DNA structures hidden inside cells. A graduate student in Oregon invented a desalination system using no outside energy, which returned the extracted salt to the ocean without affecting the environment. Linguists in Japan wrote an AI that could learn and translate any known spoken or written language to any other almost in real-time.

World governments continued to bicker and argue over laws and resolutions. Canada proposed a new direct democratic system that required no governmental body, using a new AI that allowed every citizen to formulate ideas and submit them. China and Russia attempted to invade several countries. All involved equipment became inoperable.

One morning, I realized I was only sleeping about two hours a night. Many of us gradually began to sleep less, thinking it only affected us. We found ourselves with more free time and energy. Most of us read more, exercised more, and spent more time with friends and family. Though the world seemed to be in turmoil, the truth is that most of us were slowly becoming happier and at peace.

Unfinished… because something stirred me into wakefulness.

The Curtain

I’ve written personal stories about my dad Bobby Dean. He was violent and loved alcohol. He went through at least a few years smoking marijuana, too. As did mom, who would be mortified to see me write this. For people with multiple DWIs and violence issues, it’s still odd to me that they were worried about something like that. As I’ve aged, a lot of the hardness I had toward dad dissipated, in part because of the human overlap I share with him. Including base emotions. He was responsible for a lot of carnage. Paradoxically, he infected me with a sense of humor that I like about myself. There were times he genuinely helped people. The same is true for mom. It’s a struggle to separate the dichotomy of that realization.

Especially because of my multiple and ongoing surprises with both DNA and genealogy, my belief that it’s stupid to fight the disclosure that history drags with it. It doesn’t change history; it merely mirrors it. Talking openly about someone or what they did or didn’t do doesn’t change history. Revelation should not be shunned because of the possible ramifications of needing to adjust your viewpoint or opinion. Truth is truth. You can turn away from it, but it remains, whether to illuminate or to tarnish.

No matter what personal mistakes a person makes, they might otherwise have monumental or mundane accomplishments. Dumb people sometimes say intelligent things. Someone might surprise us with their dedication toward a social or religious cause. Smart people? They are the worst about careening into the abyss in their personal lives.

Behind it is a human being. They have vices, anger, sexual issues, or be terrible spouses and parents. When we get to know someone, we go beyond the easy socialization and familiarity we have with people. There’s a lot hidden behind most people’s curtains.

Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world in so many ways. Yet, as history peels back like an onion, we discover that he had numerous affairs. He was with another woman the night before, and the day he was assassinated. He smoked and didn’t like the image it portrayed, so he kept it a secret. Times were different back then, and though the FBI violently tried to tarnish his reputation and mitigate King’s accomplishment, news outlets didn’t take the bait. Because he was also a minister, it adds a level of incredulity to most people’s heads when they dive into everything hidden behind his public persona.

JFK followed the same trajectory. He was a political visionary but also had a torrid personal life.

Gandhi? He had some wildly racist views. History indicates that he had some strange views on sexuality and was undoubtedly bisexual. You can find reputable sources and look them up yourself. When you read these words, please remember that I’m a liberal. If people are consenting and wish to live their lives the way they choose, I am without criticism. Gandhi didn’t always express his life with consenting people.

Mother Theresa? It’s almost sacrilege for most people to hear reminders that she had so much baggage that I don’t even know where to start.

I wrote earlier in the week about Dr. Seuss, a writer who gave the world a love of words and fundamental poetry. He was not his public persona.

We all write our biographies each day with the choices we make, the words we say, even the things that we believe to be hidden.

I don’t have a premise, theory, or moral to this post either.

Just thoughts piled on the floor like laundry.

X
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Imperfect Union. Of Thoughts.

As a middle-aged white guy in the South, I would like to remind everyone that I am not what you see. Most of us aren’t. Most people aren’t even really the idea of them that we hold in our heads. If we have a fundamentally different worldview from someone else, we tend to vilify their beliefs or motives. We have to be on guard about that. It infects everything. There are a lot of evil people in the world, but most of us want the same things. No one likes other people interfering in their lives, yet so many do exactly that. People are surprised to discover how calcified their belief system becomes as they age.

I’m no Chicken Little. Despite the appearance of continuity, we’ve faced a lot of major upheavals as a society. I used my Handmaid’s Tale picture from years ago because it is a go-to symbol of a possible outcome if we don’t get our crap together. I made mine out of humor. It’s easy to see that we need a buttload more humor lately. It’s easy to succumb to cynicism and frustration.

Everyone’s social media is going to be flooded with opinions about social issues. Women who’ve had abortions, especially those who did so for their own reasons and often without others knowing, are going to learn a lot about their peers and loved ones. Some of those women did so for medical reasons or in cases of rape. Most of them didn’t choose abortion lightly. As I grew older and shared my personal life, I can’t tell you how many women told me stories that would shock you.

Most of the vocal celebrants of the supreme court decision are past the age when abortion is a viable concern for them individually. Old wounds will open and new ones will arise as people spew words. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I’m not worried about the next generation finding new ways to fix some of this. Old ideas don’t serve as well as many would like to think.

I have my own abortion story, one that tempers my interpretation of others’ opinions. Many of your friends and family members have them, too; most you’ll never know. Human sexuality is a constant drive, one that leads to consequences and turmoil. If we are going to limit other people’s ability to mitigate the consequences, we have to step up and provide a better social structure to support one another. It’s not about condemnation or judgment.

Women outnumber men.

I’m liberal, speak Spanish, and am in favor of just about every social program that helps people. Even if it reduces the defense budget, even if outliers take advantage – and even if the systems we put into place aren’t perfect. I’d start with universal health care, which, despite its flaws, would cost each of us less than our current system. Knowing that everyone around me could get at least basic health services anytime they are needed is something that seems stupidly right to me. For whatever reason, people disagree with me. My principal argument is that the rest of the modern world agrees with me. And universal health care is cheaper than our current system.

I anticipate a firestorm across the board.

Entropy is at play on a societal level. We are never going to be at a fixed point on any social issue. No matter which side of a particular issue you’re on, no issue is safe from review, even if you’ve achieved a momentary victory. If you galvanize a particular group, the system can be destabilized to such a degree that it no longer serves anyone. These issues are far from settled. They might even permanently rupture the system of government.

Politics is a dirty, specialized, and selfish game. If you play it correctly, you can achieve almost any objective, especially if money is involved.

So, I am a middle-aged white guy.

But I’m not responsible for the prevailing conservatism of my age group or those who look like me. We look alike but definitely don’t think alike. Despite that, we share a lot of the same ambitions, wants, needs, and desires. We have to learn to stay out of each other’s way as much as we can as we pursue our version of the dream. Conservatism in its purest form is sound; the evangelical version of it makes me cringe and shake my head.

So many of our problems result from those who “know” what is best for everyone else. Certainty breeds callousness. I try to think of all the things I once knew and believed, only to discover I was wrong. Which surely means that I’m mistaken about things now.

Railing about politics on social media is a fool’s errand unless you tell it as a personal story, one which reflects your life and who you are. You are not going to change anyone’s mind – nor should that be your goal.

Whichever side you’re on, remember that we are all human beings and got to our beliefs by inconsistent trial-and-error. Adding anger won’t change anything, even if it is justified. Like all of you, I admit that sometimes the burn of anger is a welcome relief, even as it short-circuits my humanity. It almost always makes me lesser.

I know that people are legitimately scared because the abortion ban will allow states to foolishly prevent abortions even in cases where it’s medically recommended, necessary, or a result of involuntary conception. That’s fiendishly diabolical and evil in my opinion. It ignores science and human decency.

No matter what changed, anything can be changed again.

Literally anything. With the right lever and effort.

Look for your lever and try to avoid adding to the woodpile of words. Find a way to convert your anger into action. Anger or fear is an immensely powerful motivator.

I know that being a middle-aged white guy contains a certain privilege of thought. I see that. But I can worry along with the rest of you, the ones who see a weird arc of conservative social ideology creeping into places that have little to do with fiscal policy or public health. Most of us think we have a singular plan and path for everyone else to live by. Imposing it only leads to no one having autonomy or happiness.

Love, X
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A Time For Sundays

I commented on my sister’s social media. Ecclesiastes is my favorite book of the Christian bible. I still have the hand-written copy a friend’s daughter transcribed for me a few years ago. I asked my friend Mike to tell his daughter I’d pay her to do it; instead, he paid her. I like to think the beauty of some of the passages stuck with her as she sat and patiently copied the words onto the pages of the special journal in which she noted them. I’m lucky to have it after it temporarily escaped from me last year. I’m not much into possessions but this one hits most of the notes for something worth keeping. Having said that, I know that one day I will again find someone who needs the words and I’ll gift it to him or her. It’s likely the recipient won’t know the story behind it. I’ve had my eye out, waiting. Somehow, I know I’ll find the right person one day. Given that the person who transcribed it for me will probably be a well-known author one day, it will undoubtedly become priceless – and then I’ll regret it. It’s odd to me that I know several people who would be phenomenal authors.

I’m not into religious dogma at all. So much of it is transparently created by men with foolish purposes. But it is foolish to skip over wisdom where you can find it. Anything that makes me think and be introspective is always welcome.

If such things interest you, look for “Time Of Our Lives” by Paul van Dyk. He’s a German DJ and musician. This song evokes the message of Ecclesiastes and yet also infects your head with a catchy melody.

“Light is sweet,
and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
However many years anyone may live,
let them enjoy them all.
But let them remember the days of darkness,
for there will be many.
Everything to come is meaningless.”

Regardless of ‘who’ wrote it, people still argue whether the book Ecclesiastes is optimistic or pessimistic. I like that. Modern people who pay attention to their inner voices and the world struggle with the same themes all these centuries later.

It isn’t that life is meaningless. But if you don’t feel purposeful, it gets that way quickly. And if you don’t find pleasure in the simple moments between the Kodak moments, you are definitely doing life wrong. ‘

Sister Monica Joan, from Call The Midwife: “If there’s one thing the religious life has taught me, it’s that it’s impossible to love too much. What’s needed is taken up, and what’s not needed hangs around somewhere, looking for a home”

Who is that in the picture, you ask? That’s a possible genetic outcome for me, if the road had forked in that direction. AI algorithms are becoming amazing. It’s strange that the person in the picture doesn’t exist. She looks familiar. 🙂

Love, X
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hallelujah, hallelujah

I haven’t finished the melody, but I wrote this song, something I haven’t done in a long time. When I finished, I realized that it could be both spiritual plea or a personal promise. For those whose lives are filled with God, let that be your premise. For those who love, may this be your optimism and purposeful promise of anticipation of another day. And for those souls who have both? Stand together and watch the sunrise, if you can.

Or the sunset. And be renewed. – X
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hallelujah hallelujah

I shall never know if you’re listening
only that I’m whispering the words

That my life not be made easier
only fuller and always in anticipation

I don’t want to know the obstacles
nor the slap of who will precede me

only that I’ll have one more variable day
before the shadows grow feet and approach me

I make this unrequested promise to you
let me arise and see the sunrise, anew

just one more time, one more snapshot
another measure of loving enduring optimism

and if you do, I vow to sing

hallelujah, hallelujah

not for me, but for you

hallelujah, hallelujah

I shall never know if you’re listening
only that I’m whispering the words

hallelujah, hallelujah
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Love, X
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P.S. The picture is two superimposed pictures of a man celebrating both sunrise and sunset. Because the sun never sets upon the Earth, only upon our eyes. So much of us is limited to our narrow perspective, and we grow to trust only the things we can touch – instead of the things we can feel and experience.

Someone’s Story About The Divine

For anyone who wants to read an intimate and personal explanation about their experience with God and the divine, this is for you. A friend shared it with me. It touched me beyond words.
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Recently you posted about how you seemed to wish you were certain of God’s love for you.

I feel the need to share a painful personal story with you.

Let me preface it by saying that faith is a gift I was given as a young child. I don’t know why or how; I only know that I have always had faith. Not just faith in God, but also faith in other people. It is hard to describe the certainty.

Fast forward to my early 30’s. My daughter was 2 years old. She reached childhood milestones early and was speaking, singing, and whistling. In 1996, she had her first seizure, and it was as if the computer in her brain was wiped clean. Rebooted, blank slate. All forward progress was gone. We started over with teaching her to speak and do the things other children did. Each and every seizure took some progress. It was awful. The seizures were poorly controlled, and we were desperate for answers. Which led me to the public library for information. I found several books covering seizures. The one that provided the most information was by John Hopkins University. From that book, I figured out that based upon her seizures, she had one of two conditions. I read that book midday, and it upset me. That was the day before Easter. I went to work that evening, but I was unable to concentrate to transcribe because I was too upset. So I left early. I cried all of the way home and had a VERY angry one-sided conversation with GOD. When I arrived home, I dried my tears because I still had Easter Baskets to make. I made the baskets and went to bed. That night I had the most amazing dream.

It was raining, and we were walking into an unfamiliar building. As we approached the building, the clouds parted, and a face poked through the clouds and said, “You will be ok. It will be difficult, but you will be ok.” Then the face disappeared. That is all that I have ever remembered of the dream. I awoke with the most complete sense of peace. A few weeks later, we took my daughter for an appointment at ACH in Little Rock. We pulled up and discovered the building from my dream. I burst into tears. We were at the right place for her treatment. I also knew that everything would be ok. It has been. She was placed on the correct treatment during that visit, and her seizures became better controlled.

It may sound like sentimental blabber, but I am certain that it is real. I am also certain of GOD’s love because he made certain I had what I needed when I needed it most.

Throughout my life, when times became difficult, there has always been someone new to bring a positive perspective and to show me the way through the pain.

I don’t expect you to grab onto this and suddenly feel GOD’s presence in your life. It is there; you identify it every day in the stories you write. So many of your stories include some form of Divine grace. Open yourself to the possibility that you are worthy of his love because, my friend, you are worthy.

Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves before we allow the best stuff to enrich our lives.
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Love, X

P.S. Imagine someone sharing this kind of story with you? This is the stuff of a life well-lived and appreciated.

Want To Perform Weddings?

If you’re getting married, or your son/daughter is planning a marriage, one of the most personal things you can do is to have a friend or loved one officiate the marriage. It will create a memory that everyone will share.

Something that a lot of people tell me is that they are surprised that I can perform marriages. It’s profoundly easier to be a licensed marriage officiant/minister than you’d think.

Arkansas, like many states, does not get into the murky waters of “who” ordains you as a minister. This fact also surprises most people.

If you’re interested, I recommend that you go to the Universal Life Church website. There are others, but this one is tremendously easy to navigate: https://www.ulc.org/ It is not expensive.

Here’s a link that will take you to the State of Arkansas’ information. https://www.ulc.org/wedding-laws/arkansas

Once you obtain credentials, all you have to do is take them to the county clerk and register them, usually for five dollars. Your credentials are permanently recorded; you’ll need the book and page number for each time you sign a marriage license.

Another misconception is about how complicated the ceremony has to be. Legally, both people marrying only have to be in the minister’s presence and sign the marriage license. The ceremony itself can be five seconds or five hours, involving anything you’d want to say in the middle.

If you’ve ever been interested in this, I recommend that you check it out.

Although I don’t claim to be a minister, legally I am. I almost got to perform a marriage ceremony a couple of weeks ago. It’s also fun to put people on the spot when they talk about getting married. “Oh yeah, well let’s go do this right now.”

Personally, I wish people wouldn’t spend so much getting married. The act itself can be highly personal and creative. Spend the money on a down payment on a house or take a trip and create memories. IF you truly love the idea of an elaborate wedding, go for it. And if you’d like to make it more personal, get licensed so that you can directly involved in your friend’s or loved ones’ ceremony.

Again, for anyone who has wondered how to go about being a marriage officiant, go ahead and do it. You won’t regret the very little bit of money and time it will take you.

Love, X