Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My entire life has been a spiritual journey. I've made a lot of mistakes, and taken a lot of dead ends paths along the way. I've been an idiot and looked foolish. But, I've learned.

(As the song says, ♪ ♪ ♪ "I promise you I will learn from my mistakes."♪ ♪ ♪ )

Here's what I think I've learned:
1 - Dogma doesn't matter. Speculation about heaven and hell and nirvana and reincarnation and immortality are born of our animal nature, which wants to categorize, organize, and predict.
2 - Guilt is not useful. Again, it's born of our animal, social nature. Wanna see guilt? Look at a dog that got caught tearing up the trash. Guilt does not bring us to the divine, excepting in those rare conditions where it inspires actual change. (I've seen this almost never)
3 - Judgement, of ourselves or others, is counter-productive. It creates separation where there should be oneness. Someone worse than me? Someone better than me? Separation. I'm not what I should be? Unrealistic and destructive.

The only practical path forward involves a regular practice, patience, and tolerance (for ourselves and others).

Regular Practice:

No one would expect to walk into a gym, pick up a dumb bell, put it back down, and look like Arnold in his prime. And yet the church I grew up in told us that we would kneel at an alter, say a prayer, and walk away *CHANGE-DAH*. No. It's great for making you want-to-want-to, but not for effecting real, internal change.
A regular practice is essential. You hit the gym every day. You grow and change. You learn. Your practice becomes more elaborate and effective, and your body and mind more conditioned to accept it.
The spiritual practice is the same. It must be done every day. It must be focused. If you're a Christian, read your bible and pray. If you're a Buddhist, read Holy Sutra, recite and meditate. If you're Taoist, do your standing meditation, your sitting meditation, your taiji forms, and read each day from the Taoist cannon.
They're all working on the same pathways. They're all working on the same intellect. They're all working on the same emotions and with the same ego. They're all working for the same goals.
What is important is this: DO. YOUR. PRACTICE. TODAY!!!


As stated, you will rarely see great change overnight. The changes come slowly, over time, with regular practice. At some point, you will find that it's not that you want-to-want-to be generous, but you are generous. It's not that you want-to-want-to be kind, but you are kind. It's not that you want-to-want-to avoid harming others, you are just all about not harming others.
To get there, though, requires patience because ...


... it's not going to happen overnight, and you're going to have to put up with a lot of failures along the way.

But, over time, you begin to find that your vision is more clear, your emotions are more in check, your generosity has increased, your genuine sense of affection for your fellows is vastly improved, you're not as growly, you're more at peace with life's difficulties, challenges, and changes, and you're more tolerant of the foibles of others.

This is the spiritual path.

Friday, November 11, 2016

I sometimes forget how extraordinarily fortunate I have been.

Everyday, I get to speak with people of a color different from mine, and people who practice religions that differ from my own.
Even better, over time, I get to know them well. I get to call them friend.

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is Muslim, where-in he told me how frightened his children are by the results of the election.

He has WAY more in common with you, my Nazarene or conservative Christian friend, than you seem to know. In every sense that would be evident to the casual observer, his beliefs are identical to yours.
  • Work ethic. (I’ve never seen better).
  • He never touches alcohol.
  • He’s against Homosexuality and abortion. (On this, he has more in common with you than do I.)
  • He is passionate about a strong national defense and a wise foreign policy.
  • He exudes loyalty to our company, devotion to this country, devotion to God and to his family.
If you left the divinity of Christ out of the conversation, there would be nothing to mark the two of you as different in any way, except, in all likelihood, that he puts you to shame on in all of the above things, by comparison.

He related to me, in our conversation, how terribly frightened his children are. He told me how he calmed his children, and reminded them that this country belongs to all of us. He pointed out the shops in the urban area where they live; how > ½ are owned by non-whites. He pointed to their white friends, who love them would surely remain their friends. He reminded them that, while there are surely people who would want them to leave, they are a tiny sliver of bad apples, and that there are far more people who love them and would want them to stay.

He also told me that he is hopeful. He doesn’t think Trump is a racist in any KKK, lynching sort of way. It will be fine.

He told me that every community he's ever lived in is full of really good people. Just a little wary of you at first. It’s just a normal, human way to act. Once you become truly a part of your community, people start to see you as a person rather than a brown person or a Muslim. Your qualities are known.

He told me that he’s hopeful. Now that Republicans have no excuses, maybe they will start to govern, and maybe some things will actually get done that I (Joe) was hoping for under Obama, since much of Trump’s message actually overlaps with what is wanted by progressives like Bernie and Senator Warren.

He agreed with me that Trump is hard to read because he will say pretty much anything, and has said pretty much everything at one time or another. But, our best guess is that he is less conservative in every meaningful way than is Hillary, and that it will be interesting to watch whether he delegates the real work of being president to Pence (in which case our government is very conservative, indeed), or forms a new kind of coalition, and makes deals with congress to get some actual help for working stiffs.

My Muslim friend is a good man, and he is a wise man. I’m fortunate to have discussed this with him.

In a larger way, I'm a far better person for having gotten out of my rural isolation chamber, and for having met so many wonderful people who are so very different from me, and yet who are so very much the same.

I've been extraordinarily fortunate.

Monday, November 7, 2016

But let's play the probabilities, shall we?

Remember the government takeover of the car industry?

The government takeover of healthcare?

Death Panels?

Remember how Barack Obama was a Kenyan? A Muslim? A terrorist? The Anti-Christ (literally, according to several at my former church)?

Remember how he was going to destroy America? Enact Sharia Law? Take your guns? Make you pray to false gods?

Yeah. Good times…

Look. It's quite possible that Hillary Clinton is such a brilliant criminal mastermind that she has successfully evaded prosecution for over 30 years while killing more than 90 people. Stranger things have happened.

It's quite possible that she just left people to die in Benghazi because she's inhuman, hates people, and hates America, and that in spite of being so smart as to do what I just mentioned, she is dumb enough to not realize how much backlash there would be against such an action, or inaction, or whatever. 

It's quite possible that those e-mails that she deleted contain something that matters and aren't just personal emails or others she deleted while being overly-cautious to prevent her political opponents from making hay in a witch-hunt that was obviously designed to take her down politically, like the investigations of Bill that eventually revealed that he was destroying America by being, in fact, a middle-aged heterosexual male who let a 22 year old woman give him a hummer.

Hell. ANYTHING's possible.
But let's play the probabilities, shall we?

Which is more likely:

A) that Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Terrorist who decided he wanted to be President of the USA to take it down from the inside?

B)  that Hillary Clinton is a master criminal / murderer who's been rubbing the collective noses of Republican bloggers and radio shock-jocks in it for decades?


C) that Republicans are really good at what they do and like to throw sh*t against a wall until some of it sticks in an effort to defeat their political rivals?

Let's play the probabilities, shall we?

Which is more likely:

A) that there really ARE death panels in the health care bill and we just haven't noticed yet because we're too busy not noticing how they're invading our houses to take our guns while they make us say Muslim prayers several times a day

B)  that Hillary let Americans die because she's just that malevolent and evil


C) that Republicans are really good at what they do and like to throw sh*t against a wall until some of it sticks in an effort to defeat their political rivals?

Let's play the probabilities, shall we?

Which is more likely:

A) that the government takeover of the auto industry proceeds apace, and we just haven't noticed because we're actually dead because our death panel wouldn't approve our treatment for some horrible disease we caught from the chemicals the government is putting in the air to control our minds?

B) that Hillary's deleted emails contain some real smoking gun about how she's actually the devil, the little horn, bringer of the apocalypse, rather than personal information or political fodder that she didn't want falling into the hands of the people who were able to crucify Bill for getting a BJ?


C) that Republicans are really good at what they do and like to throw sh*t against a wall until some of it sticks in an effort to defeat their political rivals?

Look, you wanna vote for Trump, great. Go for it. I quit caring years ago for reasons that I'm not going to bother to explain unless you care enough to ask.

But can we just stop with the histrionics? Can we seriously just calm the f* down? Can we stop hurling pejoratives at people who think that the sins Hillary has probably committed are probably less egregious than the sins The Donald has certainly committed, and are certainly less egregious than the ones The Donald has probably committed?

You wanna disagree, great! Disagree. Let's stop with the name-calling, though. Fair enough?

Glad we had this talk. Hope we're still friends.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The most important thing that Modern American Christians will ever hear

My responses to this video:

I'm going to address what he says point-by-point. If you want to read less, skip to the summary, where I say what I think is the most important thing that modern American Christians will ever hear.

Took Control of Health Care: 

That' just nutty. Obama implemented the republican rebuttal to Hillarycare that was the landmark achievement for the R candidate for POTUSA. It's market based. It relies on private insurers and does nothing to control costs. Liberals hate it, because it's not good enough at actually delivering true access to health-care. The only thing it really manages to do is create a risk pool for the self-employed or those working for small companies. And you're complaining, somehow in "Jesus' name", that it's a bad thing? Taking care of the sick? What's your great Christian plan? Yeah, that's what I thought. 
Utter nonsense. 

Eliminating Guns: 

Name one thing - ONE - that he has done to even slow down guns? Wanna buy a belt fed magazine of "cop-killers" you strap to your back? Don't even need a background check. And, again, what does this have to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Race Riots: 

Find me one historical reference to "race riots" in pre-ww2 Germany. I dare you. The Wikipedia listing of race riots throughout history doesn't even have an entry for Germany. They had riots, alright, and there were those who scapegoated Jews for their problems, but Jews didn't riot. Gypsies didn't riot. Blacks didn't riot.
Nonsense ...

LGBT Intolerance: 

Which side was it that was trying to pass a constitutional amendment against the other? I remember the conversation as going roughly like this -

We'd like to jointly file our income taxes, share assets and liabilities, have legal considerations relative to our partner, and be able to inherit property In general, we'd like equal treatment under law.

GOD WILL JUDGE US!!!!! ABOMINATION!!!! Let's have a constitutional amendment to make sure that people we don't agree with cannot live their life the way they want to, even if we think it's sin!

In Summary:

But that's not what's really sad about this. What genuinely just sucks about this whole thing is the way in which it's conflating Republican politics, rural social norms  and conservative views with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What did Jesus say about the politics or policies of Rome? Not a thing.
What did he even say about the politics or policies of the Jews? Not a thing, except when he turned a bit violent because the church looked too much like a business. (Ever hear a sermon on that? Yeah - me neither...)

He taught a personal Gospel. A hard Gospel. A devastatingly difficult, frustrating, contrary to human nature Gospel that demands that you walk 2 miles with someone who would force you to go 1. It's a Gospel that commands you to allow someone who hits you to hit you again, to lend money not only without interest, but without ANY REAL EXPECTATION that it would be paid back!!! It's a Gospel that, in summary, tells you to give someone who takes from you your coat the very shirt. off. your. back.

And we've somehow reduced it to something about Obama taking guns.

Guns. Taxes. Race.

It's a terrible, terrible idol right in the center of your sanctuary. Cast it down. Look inward. Take the plank out of your own eye.

Friday, June 10, 2016

On the rancorous TONE of the Bathroom debates

For years, I absolutely could not use a public bathroom. I still hate it. It's such a vulnerable feeling, sitting there doing your business with a bunch of strangers walking in and out and commenting about the miasma created by the odious exudates of your bowels; matched only by the concussive forces generated as the noxious gasses, vented, as it were, through the bodies pressure release valve, bursting forth into the atmosphere, their sounds cruelly amplified by the porcelain echo chamber into which they are released.

For those of you who have followed along this far, what I just said, put another way, is that I'm a 280 lb man who's come out on top in physical contests ranging from pillow fights at camp to football games in school to unpleasant encounters in bars and back-alleys (sadly), and yet I find it a terribly VULNERABLE feeling to use the bathroom in the presence of other men. Other men, incidentally, who's only interest in me is to probably to reach minimum-safe-distance before detonation.

I say all of that to say that I truly cannot imagine what it would be like to be 105 lb women who is now afraid that she is going to be asked to share a public bathroom with the man l just described.

For my left-leaning friends, I get that you're angry because this whole issue manifests as Christians who have been more-or-less defeated on the homosexual front waging a scorched-earth retreat by socking it to trans-genders.

I want to validate that. On some level, I'm sure it's exactly that.

And I'm not saying you shouldn't be angry, or frustrated.

I'm not saying your wrong.

What I AM attempting to do is two-fold.

1) To point out that gender roles are fundamental to everything we do and think, as human beings, and we're tinkering with them. We're asking people leave behind pretty clearly-defined mores to accept, not a clearly defined change to these social codes; but what, to many, feels like a complete blurring or dismantling of these rules. They're not clearly defined and comfortable. They're wibbly-wobbly-potty-wotty. People are uncomfortable. I don't know that they're wrong to be.

2) To ask that we (on the left) be kind to those on the other side.

We're defending the rights of people to live their lives in the way they choose insofar as they're not hurting others. That's what we are all about. That's America, at it's best.

Let's not lose the moral high-ground, or alienate people we're trying to sway, by resorting to name-calling. In all of our interactions with others, let's strive to be kind, and understanding, and patient.

Let's be careful about calling people bigots. Maybe they are. Maybe they've just got a very different world-view. Maybe they're just genuinely frightened. Let's be kind.

Buddhists calls this high-road non-discriminating virtue. The Christians would say do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The atheists would say don't be a d*ck.  ;-)

I've finally made some time to read some of these laws in question, and I actually think that some of their concerns really might be quite legitimate, although clearly related more to predatory heterosexual men than to actual transgenders.

How do we engage them?

Let's try to patiently acknowledge that predatory male sexuality definitely exists, and we get that they're afraid of it, and furthermore they're quite correct to be afraid of it.

Let's talk to them about the trans-genders we know, and what wonderful people they are, and help them to see the "great other" as a person, rather than a concept or a bogeyman.

And, yes: Let's also look at well-intentioned laws that may have been crafted too hastily, that really very well may put women in some sort of vulnerable circumstance, and see if we can shore these laws up in such a way that the rights of trans-genders are protected, but the concerns of women are addressed.

I think it can be done. 

Ultimately: Rather than dividing into us and them, loving us, and hating them, let's be one big us. 

Let's practice the compassion on which we pride ourselves, for all involved.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Loving Day


When I was growing up in the 1970's, I remember people - very serious, studious, well dressed, religious people, with bible in hand, standing in my living room and using the Christian scriptures as a basis for their very strongly held conviction that whites and blacks should not marry.

There were verses, somewhere. Important verses.  WEIGHTY verses, of the the most serious nature and imparting the gravest of warnings to those who would disobey.

And, my God, but they *believed*.
Earnestly, in their bones, with CONVICTION! They believed.
It wasn't a game, or a ruse, or some sort of misdirection designed to justify "hate". They were all-in. It was real. A battle for the soul of America.
In their hearts, they were utterly convinced that they spoke for Almighty God, and were defending the purity of the soul of a nation against the nefarious agents that would serve to corrupt it.

And they had ARGUMENTS!  Arguments, I will grant, that inferred racial context in old testament purity codes, but, still - ARGUMENTS!

Fast forward to 2015:
Those same sorts of people now use those same sorts of scriptures and arguments as the basis for their strongly-held position that gays should not marry.
They've got verses! Important verses.  WEIGHTY verses, of the the most serious nature and imparting the gravest of warnings to those who would disobey.

And arguments! Arguments, I will grant, that seem to largely involve animals and toasters, the occasional misreading of scripture, and a bizarre position that our nation is "Christian" in the same way that ancient Israel was Jewish.

But, still - ARGUMENTS!

It's real! It's a battle for the soul of America, and they're all-in.

They don't stand in my living room anymore, because after years of being defined as their enemy and characterized in the most vicious terms imaginable, as a representative of all that is wrong in the nation and world, I could no longer bear their presence.

BUT, they stand somewhere, even now, and proclaim in the same way as before the "truth" of their position. Not a quiet, personal truth about how "I" should live "my" life, in a "sinful" world, as a "stranger in a strange land", or a "pilgrim" passing through.

By No Means!
This is a truth for all! All of US! The elite, the exceptional, the *chosen* nation, blessed by almighty God to become the almighty Empire, triumphant!

And, oh ... ( a solitary tear rolls from left eye) ... you unbeliever ... if you disobey.
... the consequences ...

But, I've seen this movie before. I know how it ends.

A) Alienated people give up on a church that is more and more focused on, in this case, their naughty bits, and less and less relevant to their spiritual life. The church, in turn, becomes ever more isolated and cut off from any opinions that might challenge their apocalyptic and culture-war-centric world-view.
B) The rest of us will roll our eyes at them, and
C) Gays will get to marry one another.
D) Good, earnest, honest believers will continue be mislead by the idols they've erected in their sanctuary; Idols of culture, nationalism, conservative politics, militarism, and on and on, because no one they can hear will challenge those positions.

It's OK, though. They are diminishing in our national conversation. My children will live free of them. Those who pass laws to force others to abide by their beliefs will be defeated. Personal Freedoms, at length, will prevail.

And maybe, just maybe, quite in spite of them, we will learn to be one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for ALL.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Great - Have some food. On me.

Right. So ...

the other day, I'm at the local quickie-mart.

I'm there because I'm a shameless Pepsi addict, and I'm feenin'.  
All I can think about is the wave of joy that will wash over me when I get that first hit of my bubbly, burp-y, burn-y sugar-fix.

Day before payday. Multiple proms and band trips and a graduation and an unfunded bathroom project and some unexpected car expenses and dental work for two kids and hospital bills and Lord-only-knows-what other demands on my finances, as unexpected as they are unavoidable, have hit all at once, and they have drained my checking and savings accounts, utterly.

So, here's me, feeling very sorry for myself, indeed. Feeling like I'm working my life away and have nothing to show for it; hitting the soda-bottle for that sweet, sweet pick-me-up to get through another day of making some other guy really rich, and scoring my fix with change I scrounged from the change jar.  

And that's when I see her.

Right in front of me stands this girl; old enough to have a baby with her, but not beyond her early 20's, surely. She's wearing dirty pj's and buying that same Pepsi, and a slice of pizza as a bonus, with what appears to be some sort of government card.

I have to confess that, in that moment,  I was overwhelmed with this sense that I'm quite literally working my life away to pay for her Pepsi and Pizza when she couldn't be bothered to even wash her PJ's.

So, let me start by just acknowledging that I GET IT.

I really do get it. I get that impulse that I see so many of you expressing on a daily basis on the facebooks. Meme's like this one:

Government assistance isn't paid by the rich, it's paid by the guy working 70 hours a week who can't afford what you're buying, 

Yep. Spot on. I hear ya'.  

Frustrating! Irritating! Unfair! I get it.

I find that the conversation around this comes down to this:
One side wants Karma to work, and the other side doesn't. 


You make bad decisions, and you end up with a crappy life. Your parents make bad decisions, and you have either to work extra hard to overcome them, or you end up with a crappy life. Someone does something horrible to you and sets your world spinning off kilter, you have to overcome that, or live a crappy life. 

I get that perspective.

I just don't agree with it.  

In spite of the way I felt in that moment, I don't agree with the sentiment that we should not be feeding poor people. Even poor people who have made, and continue to make, bad decisions (such as wearing dirty PJ's out to buy soda and a slice of pizza).

At a fundamental level, here's why: 
And this: 

And, finally, because I believe that government is not this externalized beast that is up to no good.

Government is us. The government that I am determined to FIGHT for is not what's being done to us, but what we choose to do together!

I believe in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. 

Saying it is not the government's place to take care of the poor is exactly like saying it's not MY place to take care of the poor.  

No, it is EXACTLY saying that it is not my place to take care of the poor.

Are they undeserving? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows. Let's assume they are. And then, let's feed them, anyway.

In fact, in the list of all the things that a rich nation might give to the undeserving, I would think that FOOD would be at the top, wouldn't you?! Yeah, you're not the greatest, but here: let's not let you starve...

So, you're lazy? You're stupid? You're ugly? You have no social skills? You have a mental or physical disability? You have made terrible decisions resulting in a criminal record and no one will hire you? You continue to make terrible, impulsive financial decisions that lead to absurdities like you're owning an iPhone but not being able to buy groceries

You are completely unlovable and I can't stand to be in the miasma you create for more than a few seconds?

Great - Have some food. On me.

In Jesus' name, amen.