Sunday, March 31, 2013

Some thoughts for Easter Weekend

I was living in the Northwestern United States on May 18, 1980 when Mt. St. Helens erupted.
The eruption was a very strange event for everyone in the Northwest.  We were on our way to
church the morning of the eruption.  When we left our house, it was light outside, but by the time
we arrived at our church, the sky had grown completely black and there were frequent lightning
strikes.  I’m sure many people in the vicinity thought at first that Jesus was returning for the Day
of Judgment.  I remember my father turning on the radio in our car to get news about what was
happening.  The announcers on the radio reported that St. Helens had erupted and that citizens of
our town should immediately head inside because scientists were not sure what effects breathing
in the ash would have on the human body.   
For the first and last time in the history of my family, we immediately left the church without
attending services and went home.  As we headed home, ash began falling out of the sky like
snow.  Over the course of that day, my hometown received six inches of ash.  My child’s mind
had a difficult time processing what was happening.  I wasn’t scared at all simply because I was
too young to understand the danger of my situation.  I found the whole event exciting and
interesting.  Since the day of the eruption, I have had a deep interest in geology. Eventually,
despite the ash, we got home safely and locked ourselves inside our house as the scientists had
At some point my mother realized there were probably homeless people out in this seemingly
apocalyptic landscape, so she loaded us all into the car, and we went looking for people who
needed help.  We eventually found two drunk, homeless men and took them to our house to wait
out the eruption until it was declared safe to go outside.  While we were driving to our house,
one of the young men asked my mother why she was helping them.  She replied she was helping
them because she was Christian, and she believed God wanted us to help each other.  Even
though I was barely five years old at the time, I will never forget the homeless guy’s response to
my mother’s statement.  His response was something to the effect of how he could not follow
Christianity because he could not follow a God, who was so violent as to require the death of His
own son in order to forgive people of their mistakes.  I found his statement shocking because I
had NEVER heard someone question Christianity or God.  I remembered being worried for this
young man because obviously he was going to go to Hell.  Up to this point I had felt like my
mother was crazy for bringing strangers into our home, but now I realized she was right.  If she
hadn’t brought this young man into our home, he might have died as a non-Christian, and then he
would have gone to Hell for sure (at least, this is what I thought at the time). We all stayed up
that night watching the news together, and eventually when it was declared safe to go outside
with a mask on, my father dropped these two young men off at the local shelter.
As I grew up, I simply accepted that God must be an angry God.  If God were not angry, then
why was He/She always wiping people out in the Bible?  If God wasn’t an angry God, then how
did you explain Uzzah, Sodom and Gomorrah, Nadab and Abihu, and all the other stories where
God was getting pissed and striking people dead?  I knew God had a violent temper.  I had heard
it preached over and over as a kid, and as I got older I read about God’s anger for myself.  I was
thankful Jesus had died on the cross for me to protect me from such an angry God because I
didn’t want to have to be punished by the God I had been taught about growing up.  I never
questioned the belief that Jesus died for our sins in order to keep God from wiping us all out and
sending us all to Hell; I was simply thankful somebody was willing to take my punishment.  I
never thought about what it meant about God that He/She needed a human sacrifice in order to
forgive humanity. 

For the majority of my life, actually, I never really thought about the crucifixion and what it said
about the God I followed.  I preached for years the same things I had heard growing up.  I
preached God was a God of love, but He/She was also a God of justice, who cold not just let our
mistakes go unpunished.  God wanted to forgive us, but He/She also required justice.  So at some
point along the way, Jesus and God came up with a plan for Jesus to die in our place as a human
sacrifice so that God could forgive us and yet still get the justice He/She demanded.  I remember
even preaching at times about what the conversation must have been like between God and Jesus
before God even created humanity.  I spoke of them discussing creating humanity, knowing
humanity would mess up, and realizing that something would have to be done about all of our
mess-ups.  At some point in the conversation, Jesus (motivated by his love for us), said, “I will
die for them when the time is right.”    

I loved teaching and preaching about this conversation because I loved the picture it painted of
Jesus as this loving, self sacrificing God, who would do anything for us.  We as humans are so
desperate to be loved that the message of Jesus being willing to die for us is very comforting. 
We want to feel loved and important, and what better way to feel loved than to have someone
willingly die for you?   If Jesus died for me, then his love was perfect; it knew no bounds.  And it
was the only consistent love I had ever experienced in my life.  I never thought to look the gift
horse of Jesus dying for me in the mouth.  I needed for the story to be true.   
As I began to heal from my emotional scars and self-hatred, I learned how to love myself and
forgive myself for not being perfect.  I also learned how to forgive others for their imperfections. 
Eventually, I even learned to see humanity’s imperfections as a natural, beautiful part of who we
are.  I wondered if we were actually ever meant to be “perfect” people.  I grew to love myself as
I was, and I grew capable of loving others for who they were, too.  I didn’t take my new-found
love fest as an excuse to not work to be a better human, but I could finally love myself in my
imperfection while I learned to be a better human being.  I learned over time that I was a good
person. For the first time in my life I loved me and “liked” me, as well.  I guess feeling loved
allowed me to begin questioning the only other source of love I had felt before: the love of Jesus,
which was proven by his death on a cross.    

Like the young man my mother had rescued from the eruption, I began to wonder what kind of
God would be as violent and abusive as to require the sacrifice of one of his children in order to
be able to forgive His/Her other kids’ mistakes.  I knew I was treading on dangerous ground for a
pastor and a Christian, but I could not shake the feeling that something was wrong with the
picture of God painted by the crucifixion.   
Suppose a father, who is supposed to be the epitome of love, comes home to his house one day
and walks in on a party at his house where there is drinking, dancing, sex, and even drug abuse
going on.  In his frustration, anger and “love,” the father stops the music and sends everyone
home except for his own kids.  He tells his kids they have been behaving unacceptably.  He
explains to his children how he loves them very, very much, but because he is a just Father, he is
going to have to kill them all because they have made themselves impure.  He says he deeply
regrets the fact that he has to kill them, but really they have left him with no choice.  He pulls out
a gun and takes aim at his children.  At this point the oldest brother, who has been at work
instead of joining in on the debauchery, steps through the door.  After finding out what has taken
place, the oldest brother falls on his knees before his father and begs the father to be merciful to
his brothers and sisters because . . . after all, they are only human, and they “know not what they

The father explains to his oldest son how he would love to be able to forgive his children, but he
cannot unless at least one person dies in order to appease his anger and his sense of justice about
the wrongs, which his children have committed against him.  The oldest son says, “Well, if
somebody has to die, then kill me.”  At this point the “loving” father turns the gun on his oldest
son and blows his son’s brains out.  The high velocity blood spray from the blast covers all of his
children in blood.  Upon seeing the blood, the father’s anger and sense of justice are appeased. 
He embraces his children and tells them how much he loves them. He tells them that from now
on if they mess up, they can just show him their brother’s blood when he is angry at them, and
their brother’s blood will appease his anger. 
What kind of Father would do such a thing?  Any of us in our right minds would say the father in
the story was at the very best crazy and at the very worst just flat out evil.  But most Christians
worship and proclaim this type of God as a “good God.”  It has become no shock to me that
Christians can be so harsh, judgmental, and cruel to each other . . . because they serve a harsh
and cruel God.  
Jesus taught us we should forgive people unconditionally and at the very minimum up to 490
times per person (Jesus seems to be calling for infinite forgiveness, actually).  Jesus’ followers
are expected to be forgiving people; yet their perfect, omnipotent God of love can’t forgive us
even one mistake without bloodshed?!  What type of sick, abusive God are people following? 
Jesus was a forgiving person, and he claims to have been the fleshly representation of what God
is actually like.  If this is true, then why is God incapable of forgiving me and you without
somebody dying?  These questions troubled me deeply.  Eventually, I just decided like the young
man from my childhood that I could not follow such a violent God.  I didn’t abandon faith of any
kind; I just didn’t believe in the God taught about in the majority of Christian churches. 
Historically, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified because he was a threat to the religious and the
powerful of his day.  The truth of the matter is this threat is likely the only reason Jesus was
crucified.  He was most likely killed not to appease God, but to appease the leaders of his day. 
This statement creates problems for people (like me, actually), who believe Jesus was more than
just a historical figure.  If Jesus was God’s son or even God himself in the flesh, then his death
had to have served some sort of greater purpose, right?  Surely God’s son wouldn’t have died on
a cross unless he had chosen to do so for some significant reason.  

If you need a reason for the divine to be found hanging on a wooden cross, let me paint for you a
different picture of the cross, which fits more with the character and nature of the good, loving,
forgiving God, whom Jesus himself taught about.  Imagine again the conversation in Heaven I
used to preach about, except this time we’ll change a few things.  God comes to Jesus and says,
“I’m thinking about making a whole planet full of children for you and me to love.”   
Jesus smiles and says, “Sure, I would love to have several billion brothers and sisters.  It gets
kind of lonely being your only child.”   
God then says, “I think I will make them imperfect, though.  It’s not all that fun to love
something perfect.  The best part of love is being able to forgive and seeing the beauty in
Jesus responds, “I agree with you completely.  Perfect would be boring!  The only problem with
them being imperfect, though, is they are going to hurt each other and treat each other badly. 
The pain will be hard for us and for them to deal with.”   
“Yes,” says God.  “I had thought of the pain, both for them and for us.  But there will also be
great joy when they love each other!”   
“Yes,” Jesus replies.  “It won’t be easy, but I think you are right.  And the beauty of the good
will outweigh the bad.  But I see another problem, Father/ Mother.”   
“What is the problem you see, son?”   
“Won’t they feel insecure in their imperfection?” Jesus asked.   
“Yes, you are right about that, as well, my son.  They will feel insecure, and they will often feel
unloved by me.  They will invent all kinds of crazy ways to try and make themselves acceptable
to us.”   
“Like what?”  Jesus asks.   
“Oh lots of things.  They will sacrifice animals to us.  They will try to give us their children,
crops, and money.  They will starve themselves for us and spend hours in prayer begging for us
to love them.  They will invent laws and rules, which they must follow, in order to be pleasing to
us.  Many will feel they must sacrifice everything just for us to care about them.  It is sad
because all we would want of them is for them to love each other and for them to take care of the
Earth and the things on the Earth, but they will not understand this.  Many of them will be
convinced they must live to serve us.”   
Jesus frowns.  “Why would they think a God, who could create them and the universe they live
in, would need anything from them?”   
“I know; it does seem silly, but it will happen.  They will commit terrible atrocities, both against
themselves and others, simply to try to please their creator.  They will come to view us as terrible
task masters, to whom they must sacrifice everything. The more I think about it, the more I think
maybe we should not create children; it is not worth it.” 

Jesus’ eyes light up once more.  “Maybe I could go and show them that we are not task masters. 
I could show them how good and loving we are and how precious they truly are to us.  If my
teaching them and trying to show them how much we care doesn’t work, then I could actually
serve as their sacrifice for them.  I could take all their laws and rules upon myself.  I could die
instead of some animals.  Then maybe they would be convinced of how much we love them.  I
could die in order to prove to them once and for all that they are okay in our eyes just as they
are.”  Jesus pauses and then continues, “It would suck to die, but you could just bring me back to
life, anyway, right?”  
“Of course I could bring you back to life, but son, that’s a lot for you to undertake.  And even
after that, many will still not understand.  Do you really think this will be worth it?”   

“Yes, I do.  Let’s go create a universe, Mom/Dad.”  

Is this scenario what really happened?  The truth is I have no idea.  This theory is simply
something I thought of on my own.  But if Jesus is truly divine and not just a historical figure,
who died at the hands of the powerful, then it seems much more likely that the God he
represented would be like the God I’ve depicted than the God I was shown as a child.  In my
version the cross becomes not about appeasing an angry God, but about a God, who sacrifices
part of himself in order to appease our own fears and insecurities about our identity . . . and our
value.  I like this version of God much better.  This God seems much more like a God of love to
me.  Upon reading this book, many will accuse me of trying to make God into man’s image, and
to some extent the accusation is true.  I am trying to make God into the image of one man: Jesus
of Nazareth.  Such a God is clearly a God of love, forgiveness, and tolerance. 
Whether or not my version of the cross is truthful and accurate, I hope it inspires people to
question a God, who demands death in order for forgiveness to take place.  Loving parents
discipline their children in order to help them have safe and happy lives, but they would never
kill someone so their own senses of justice could be appeased. In the story from before, about the
father who caught his children in a “debaucherous” party, a loving father would have many
options for dealing with what his children had done, but killing one or all of them would not be a
loving response; it would be an evil one.  I believe that if Christians and other religions are going
to have any God, then He/She should be a God, who is never evil.  Unfortunately, the God I was
taught about is not a good God; He/She wouldn’t even make a good person!  
People should look at the Gods they serve and determine if those Gods behave in good ways
before we mindlessly label them as good.  We should look at our Gods and see if they behave in
loving ways before we call them love.  If our Gods do not behave in good ways, we either need
to stop calling them good, or we need to find a God, who is truly good.  I challenge you the
reader to look at your God and His/Her actions.  Are those actions truly good?  Allah may indeed
be a good God, but the Allah of Osama Bin Laden is not a good God; I can tell by Osama’s
beliefs and actions.  God, the Father of Jesus, may be a good God, as well.  But the God of the
Church, who orders the crusades and calls for death in His name, is not a good God, either.  Just
because the Christian God orders the killing doesn’t make it any better than when Allah does. 
Like I have said before, if a behavior is evil, then it is evil—no matter what God or group of
religious people does it—nobody is exempt.  If killing my own son is evil for me, then shouldn’t
it be considered evil, as well, for God to demand the death of His/Her son?  I believe that either
we have made God up, that God is a twisted, abusive force we need to rebel against and not
blindly serve, or that we have simply misunderstood Him/Her (which I hope is the case). 
Self sacrifice is a beautiful thing.  The sacrifices of Oskar Schindler to save Jewish people were
beautiful, but if he had been forced to sacrifice in order to save his employees, the beauty would
also be tainted.  Gandhi gave up his life for peace in an amazing way, but if he had felt like he
had to give up his life in order to appease one of the many Hindu Gods, then his sacrifice would
have been deeply disturbing as well as beautiful.  What if we said that Martin Luther King Jr.
gave himself as a sacrifice so God could forgive African Americans of their many sins?  We’d
probably get lynched.  As Dr. Stephen Finlan points out in his book Problems with Atonement,
"The problem is not what all this says about Jesus but what it says about God: if God wants to
save, why is such intercession necessary? Why should Jesus' pleading for humanity only be
effective after he had been murdered? It does us no good to perceive Jesus as heroic if we are
forced to view God as sadistic." 
There is no significant historical question as to whether or not Jesus of Nazareth died on a
Roman cross.  The million dollar question is why did Jesus die on the cross?  He either died as a
martyr for his cause against the rich and the powerful and their oppression of the outcast,  he
died to show us how much God cared about us to convince us we are okay with God, or he was
forced to die in order to protect us from God’s wrath.  No matter what, Jesus was an amazing
person, who should be praised for his life, but if he died in order to keep God from destroying us,
then there is also something very dark and sick about his death.  We should question whether or
not a truly good God would need bloodshed in order to forgive our mistakes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mass Murder and Mass Insanity: What's the Problem?

There is something desperately wrong with our country.  In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I have been calling for change on my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  The problem is people are so entrenched in their positions on either side of the gun control debate that they cannot have frank and honest discussions.  We can't seem to honestly look at anything. All of the "conversations"  I have seen go something like this, "Guns are bad, Guns are for killing."  "No, it's not guns, it's people.  People are bad. We have lost our moral compass because we have turned from God.   In fact, we need more guns to protect  us from the Godless heathens."  Then both sides go round and round making the same old tired arguments and nothing changes.  While we argue our children, our mothers, and our brothers die senseless deaths.  The truth of the matter is both sides are very much wrong.

The truth is guns really are not the problem. There are other countries with as many guns and they do not have these types of issues.  Switzerland proves that the issue is not just a gun issue.  They have tons of guns and very little gun violence.  As we have all heard over and over (ad nauseum), "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."  There is a logic to this statement which cannot, and should not be ignored. Many, many people own guns their entire lives and never have any violent events occur.  Policemen carry guns their entire careers and the majority of them never even draw their weapons in the line of duty.  So, let us all concede that guns themselves, while they may be scary, are not the cause of the problems (I will get back to the issue of gun control in a moment though.)

The flipside of the "guns are not the problem" argument is, if guns are not the problem then they cannot be the solution either.  I have heard several people say we need to arm our teachers to protect our children.  I will admit that arming teachers would likely reduce the amount of school shootings and would very possibly reduce the severity of a shooting if one did occur.  There is a reason these gunmen choose schools and theaters, and not biker bars and gun shows.  My wife is a teacher and after the recent shooting she said, quite candidly, that if she were allowed, she would carry a concealed weapon at school now.  Twice a year my wife is asked to go through drills, with her children, for how to deal with a shooting when, not if, but when, one of these shootings occurs.  The school district has taught her to be prepared to die to save the lives of her children, and she would.  My wife believes in non-violence and hates guns, but she would rather be armed than to have to face a gunman with nothing at all.  I cannot blame her. This is the situation our nation finds itself in.  The problem is where does it stop?  

So, we arm our teachers.  But, what happens next?  Then the gunmen just go somewhere else and commit these heinous acts at movie theaters, hospitals, old folks homes, and anywhere else which is easy pickings.  I can hear the response of the pro-gun lobby now.  "Great, then we will arm everybody!"  Fine, but I don't want to live in a country where everybody has to carry a weapon just to feel safe.  Please ask yourselves if that is really what you want the United States to become.  Are we really so far gone?  Other countries do not need to carry guns for safety!  Countries which do so are countries at war.  I don't want my kids going to schools where teachers are armed.  Our kids are stressed out enough as it is.  Now you want to add guns into the mix?  Is this really the best solution? I wouldn't be able to relax in a classroom where I knew the teacher was carrying a weapon which could kill me or seriously injure me.  Each year some five hundred kids are killed by gun accidents.  If everybody is packing, these numbers will rise dramatically.  Arming everyone is no solution, it is simply giving in and accepting the evil.  Guns may not be the problem, but they are not the solution either.

So, what is the problem?  I have heard lots of answers, but I do not think any of them are right.  The first answer I have heard is that the guns themselves are the problem.  I have already said that I do not think guns are the problem. Having said this, let me now say, I actually am in favor of stricter gun control.  Just because guns are not the problem does not mean we should just allow them to be purchased by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Guns are dangerous.  Guns may not kill, but they sure as hell can make it easier for a mentally unstable person, or a criminal, to kill more quickly and  more effectively. Yes, I understand that regulations will not completely fix the problem.  Guns can be gotten illegally.  I am not ignorant of this fact, but let's not use that as an excuse to make it easier for lunatics to get guns.  Please people, let us all at least support making it harder for someone intent on doing harm to innocent civilians to get a gun.  More gun regulations are necessary, period.  Having said this, I do, once again, admit the root problem is not guns and even with stricter gun laws these events will still happen, but hopefully not as often.  But, in the end I do admit, guns are not the problem.

The rest of the answers I have heard as to what is causing the violence in our country are utterly ridiculous, but I will still address them briefly.  Here are a few of the things I have heard as the causes of the violence in our nation: 1)  We have turned from God.  I hate to break it to you, but the United States is one of the most Christian nations on the planet.  European nations long ago rejected God and have way fewer Christians than the U.S. Yet, they do not have even close to the levels of violence which the United States has. So, we must look elsewhere for our answers. 2) It's because we have lost our morals and allow things like gay marriage and marijuana usage.  Sorry, but other countries allow gay marriage, and the smoking of marijuana and they have not seen any rise in violent crimes.  3) We allow abortion which teaches us to devalue human life.  While I agree that we Americans do not value life like we should, this is not the answer either.  Other countries allow abortion as well and they have way fewer violent crimes than the U.S. 4) It is our violent TV shows, movies,  music, and video games.  Nope.  Other countries play the same games, watch the same shows, watch the same movies, and listen to the same music. 

So, I ask again, what is the problem?  I think the problem is the United States itself.  If you are still reading after that last statement, please do not get so offended that you stop reading now.  We Americans have got to be honest with ourselves.  Our country is not doing well, and it is time for us to take some honest, hard looks at ourselves.  Simply saying our nation has wandered away from God is not going to fix anything and is ignorant of the realities of the rest of the world.  The United States has the second worst rate of poverty for children of any industrialized nation.  We have some of the worst education of any industrialized nation.  We have some of the worst healthcare of any industrialized nations.  We are the third most violent of industrialized nations behind Mexico and Estonia. The gulf between the rich and the working class is growing at an alarming rate.  There was a time when most families could make it on a single income, but that time has passed us by.  Both parents are having to work and sometimes work multiple jobs and our children are being left to raise themselves or being left with strangers.  Middle class people can barely make it, and the rich just keep getting richer.  The problem is not guns.  The problem is socioeconomic.  People are going massively into debt to go to college to get a job, and then when they get out they cannot find a job making enough to pay off their debts.  We cannot even afford to make sure we can stay healthy.  

The majority of people in our nation live on the edge of constant economic collapse and we are starting to buckle under the pressure.  The stress of not knowing  we will be okay tomorrow is wearing down our psyches, and many are snapping.  Once we snap there is nowhere to turn, because we don't take care of our mentally ill any better than we take care of anything else.  We must stop thinking the United States is the greatest country in the world.  We may have been at one time, but we are not any longer.  Other countries take better care of their children, provide better healthcare, keep their citizens safer, and provide better educations than we do.  About the only things I can say  we do better is let the rich hoard money, play sports, and buy guns.  These are not things to be proud of.  We must look at what other countries are doing and fix what is broken in our country.  They have less violence than us, because their people are happier, safer, and live less in fear of tomorrow.  "We have met the enemy...and he is us."  We can fix our nation, but we have to stop focusing on peripherals and get to the real problems.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

You might be a conservative if...

The other day I got a post on my Facebook news feed which I really took exception to.  This post was called "You might be a liberal if..."  The post went on to list several things about liberals which conservatives see as ridiculous and dichotomous.   The problem was most of the "jokes" were not accurate and some were just plain offensive.  I even admitted at the time there was some validity to a few of the points made in the post, but most were wrong and some were offensive. I showed the post to several liberal friends and most felt the same way I did.  They acknowledged the logical failings of some liberals (and even themselves) but they also felt like most of the list was ridiculous and even offensive.  In the spirit of examining logical fallacies I (a former conservative pastor) have assembled the following list of conservative fallacies of thought.  I asked my liberal friends to help me and they came up with some wonderful ones (and they did), but those do not belong to me so I will not post them here.  I do open the floor to you as well, my reader.  In the comments section please feel free to add any others you can think of.


1. you 'pray to end abortion', but fight against birth control which actually prevents abortions.
2. you believe the US government spends too much money and then vote for a candidate who wants to spend 2 trillion more on defense.
3. you watch Fox News and think it is actually "Fair and Balanced."
4. you whine about socialized medicine and then send your kids to public school, collect your mail, and go to the public library all in the same day.
5. you think people who use drugs are evil, shiftless criminals while you are popping valium and drinking martinis.
6. you don't want the central government telling you what you can and can't do, but do want them telling LGBTQ people what they can and can't do.
7.  you talk about freedom of religion and then put a "vote out the muslim" bumper sticker on your car.
8. you believe God has called you to be "a good steward of his gifts" and then fight against environmental concerns and deny global warming.
9. you get your undies in a bunch about people being "unpatriotic" and then when you lose the election you say, "Screw the USA. I am seceeding."  (A friend helped me with the wording of this one)
10. you think teachers are lazy and overpaid, but think the wealthy need tax cuts.
11. you follow a Jesus who said, "Render unto Caesar, what is Caesar's" then accuse the government of extortion for collecting taxes.
12.  you are for protecting the health of children up until they leave the uterus after that they are on their own.
13.  you follow a Jesus who said "love your neighbor as yourself" and then you chant "let him die, let him die" when asked what to do with someone who does not have insurance.
14.  you vote for a candidate because they are pro-life and they go and kill 100,000 innocent Iraqis.
15. you "support the troops" but yell at begging vets to "get a job" when they are homeless with PTSD and ask for some change.

My friends and I came up with well over fifty of these and I am sure we will come up with more.  The point here isn't just to bag on conservatives though (althought I can't deny it IS kind of fun).  While doing so can be fun for me it really doesn't achieve much.  I once was a very conservative person who thought I knew everything.  Now I know I really don't know much.  Things I was so certain of 5 years ago, things I would have offensively argued over, are now things I don't even believe anymore.  So, before you rudely attack someone stop and take a good look at yourself.  What inconsistencies of thinking do you have in your life?  Even if you don't have inconsistencies do you really want to hurt people over ideas which you may not even believe in a few years?  Ideas and politics are all well and good, but people are more important.  Treat them well, even if they are crazy conservatives or wacko liberals. ;)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Free Stuff

I cannot count how many times I have heard recently the latest elections were about free stuff and not freedom.  When Democrats won heavily recently, I heard the reason they won was  because most Americans simply want free stuff.  Rush Limbaugh said, we Americans are just like kids waiting for Santa Claus.  According to Rush, we went to the polls looking for handouts like children go to their trees on Christmas morning.  This election had absolutely nothing to do with free stuff, and it angers me to hear people say it was.

Last night I had something strange happen to me.  We got a call from the local Rotary club letting us know that our youngest son had been chosen to receive $100 dollars worth of free clothes.  Apparently once a year they go through the list of children who receive free and reduced lunches at the local schools.  They then randomly select fifty children to receive the clothing.  While very nice of the Rotary club, I did not feel like we had hit the lottery.  I wasn't thinking "alright, finally I get my free stuff."  I am incredibly thankful for what the Rotary club did.  Our child did need some clothing but there was nothing about this event which felt like Christmas.  In fact the whole experience made me a bit sick to my stomach.  It made me feel like a failure.

Most people do not like to be in positions where they are not able to fully take care of themselves or their loved ones.  I personally hate it.  I am not a lazy person.  I did not choose to get into a financial situation where we need help, nevertheless this is still the position which I find myself in.  I got sick and lost a year. Once I got healthy my son was diagnosed with cancer.  I had to stay home and take care of him.  He needed twenty-four hour care and nobody was going to pay for a nurse, so the hospital trained me to do the job.  Our children were placed on Medicare to take care of the immeasurable amounts of money it was going to take in order to save our son (I have blogged about this before so I won't go into too much detail here.)  We also racked up a lot of debt from dealing with tons of hidden expenses which came along with the diagnosis of the cancer, the treatment, and the recovery. 

Once our son was placed on medicare we were really placed in a terrible situation.  I wanted to go back to work, but as a former preacher, with a youth ministry degree, who was having a faith crisis, my job options were very limited.  I was offered a few positions doing menial labor (which while not ideal would have been fine), but the pay was so low that to take the job would give us enough money to be kicked off of Medicare, but not enough money to be able to pay for the insurance we would need to make sure our son stayed cancer free.  He requires frequent check ups as there is always a chance the cancer could return.  It was actually financially better for us if I did not go back to work, so I went back to school to get a second degree (one which will be more marketable).  Once I go back to work I will be happy to pay for my children's insurance, but right now, I can't.  I need help.

I voted for Obama not because I want free stuff, but because I have been in places where I was not able to do it on my own.  In those times I needed help.  I am so thankful there were policies in place to help my family and I.  I am doing everything I can to get our family to a point where we will no longer need any assistance.  I will graduate in a year and a half and I plan to go immediately back to work.  When that time comes I will be more than happy to pay for my family.  I will also be more than happy to even pay a little bit more in taxes to make sure other people get the help they need in times of trouble.  This seems only right and fair to me.  There may come a time where you will find yourself needing help as well.  I voted for Obama because if that time comes I want to make sure you and your family have all the help and support you need.

This election was not about free stuff, for me it was about caring for your fellow people (women, men, children.)  The very best way to do this is for us all to pitch in and help out.  There is something wrong in our country when we we praise people who squirrel away millions and billions of dollars made on the backs of the poor and then when those same poor people need help we make fun of them, call them lazy, and say they just want a hand out.  They do not want a hand out, they simply want enough to know they will be okay.  Let us not attack the poor.  Instead let us take a lead from the Jesus so many Republicans claim to follow and "not store up for ourselves treasures on earth."  It is evil for some to have billions and others to work just as hard and not be able to make it each month,  Some people need to sacrifice a little to make sure we are all okay.  As Gandhi said, "there is enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed."  This is why I voted for Obama.  This election was not about free stuff, it was about fairness, equality, and making sure all people get the help they need when times are tough.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Some Poetry

I had to write poetry for my Creative writing class, these were the result.  Keep in mind poetry is not really my genre.


I sat myself down today,

And gave myself the news

“We have narcolepsy, friend.”

“Narcolepsy?  What’s that?”

“A disease where we cannot keep,

Ourselves from falling asleep.”

“Wake up!” “Huh? What?”

“We’ve just done it again!”

“What happened? I’m confused.”

“We fell asleep again.”

“The Narcolepsy?” 

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Wow, how long have we

Been sleeping these sleeps?”

“Forever I think, not really sure.

It’s been a common occurrence,

That much I know.

Just look at our home.

Air conditioner busted

It’s getting so hot

Looks like several storms

Have come through as well

And maybe a fire or hundred.”

“I see it quite clearly now

Our home is falling apart.

All because we can’t stay awake?”

“Yes, exactly so.  Narcolepsy, see?”

“Wait, where are our people?”

“Well, They got in quite a row.

Several of them got killed.”

“What? Where the hell were we?

Oh, wait.  Asleep, huh?”

“Yes, it’s the curse of narcolepsy

We sawed logs, while Rome burned.”

“This cannot keep happening,

We must keep our senses. 

No longer can we indifferently sleep.

But, How do we stay awake?”

“We must fight, struggle

Strive to remain conscious.

We must realize the danger.

One, two Freddy’s coming for you.

Wake up, my friend, wake up!”



He was quite young when it happened.

So young he didn’t even know,

It was ripped from his hands.

Had he only been older, he would’ve known.

Would’ve fought, screamed, kicked, bit.

Instead he let it happen, not knowing

The consequences. The pain. The loss.

The child felt shame and guilt.

The adult feels anger, bitterness, longing.

Longing for what could’ve been

But will never ever be.  Too late.

Some things, once stolen

Will never, can never, be replaced.



I’m not asking for much

But to simply be touched.

And perhaps to be heralded too.

Like Jordan, have my name on a shoe.

Being quite rich would be nice

To have a billion bucks twice.

A yacht, a car, a nanny, giant house,

A maid, Paulette, and a butler named Klause.


I’m not asking for much

But to simply be touched

And perhaps to be heralded too.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Misfits: Chapter 1

In honor of National Novel Writing Month I submit to you the first chapter of a novel I am working on, but will not finish by the end of this month.

Jason Gregory had not been sitting in Eric’s diner, on Fifth and Viola, long before he knew he was falling in love.  He was not falling in love with a waitress, or the cook, or any other person in the diner, but with the diner itself. He rarely allowed himself to think about concepts like love.   He simply had too much time for such things.  But, Jason could not help let his guard down in this diner. Jason was simply amazed by the perfection of this restaurant which he had, up until yesterday, never even heard of. Normally things which seemed perfect scared Jason, but not Eric’s. As soon as he had stepped into Eric’s the aromas of perfectly seared beef, fried chicken, French fries and gooey, sticky, sweet, crimson cherry pie did a jig in his elated olfactories. 

The enchanting waitress with the licorice rope hair and the Emerald Isle eyes said, “This way, Hun.”  Jason chuckled and muttered, “Hun…perfect.” He loved when women he did not know called him pet names.  Maybe hearing those words filled just a little bit of the gaping void of human companionship he so desperately needed but would never again allow himself to have. “What’s that sweetie?” the waitress asked.  “Oh nothing,” he replied. Jason smiled a Cheshire smile at the words “hun” and “sweetie” and drank in his surroundings. He was shocked at how impossibly nice this diner seemed. 

The very word “diner” normally brought forth images of greasy fry-cooks with two-day stubble and stained aprons which look like the inside of a toddler’s underwear, waitresses with Iguana skin from years of smoking and hard living, torn naugahyde booths, a slightly sour smell caused by using the grease in the fryer about 100 too many times, and a thin layer of what can only be called “muck” blanketing every possible surface. Eric’s was nothing like the prototypical diner.  The booth seats were genuine leather, the lollipop red tables were spotless, and all the chrome was clean enough to check your hair in the reflection. 

On the surface Eric’s was perfect, but Jason decided to reserve his final judgment of this place until he had tried the food.  Jason wished he had found this place earlier in his stay in Bakersfield. He knew he would likely be leaving today one way or the other.   It was probably for the best he had not happened upon this paradise earlier in his sojourn.  Jason hated making connections, to a person or a place, only to have those bonds torn away every time he was forced to move on. 

As Jason plopped himself down into the booth seat he had been led to and picked up his menu, he actually hoped the food in Eric’s diner would be awful. He realized if he fell in love with this place, he would have an even harder time leaving Bakersfield. Whether he wanted to or not, he was going to have to leave, he always had to leave eventually.  His proverbial winter had arrived and it was time to fly south. He was tired of his perpetual motion. It hurt too damn much. 

Jason had learned, through his years of solitude, when you deny yourself human connections for a long enough time you find yourself much more easily attached to places, foods, even smells.  Sometimes, Jason would find himself becoming misty eyed  over a missed smell, the damp woodsy smell of Lufkin, the smell of cherry blossoms in Hood River, the smell of freshly tilled soil and dried corn stalks in Ames. He had decided humans for whatever reason simply needed something to ground them, to remind them they are real, they belong.  Jason was no longer sure he really was human, but he knew he still had very human emotions and needs to be a part of something.  He needed to belong. Jason wondered how many more times he could possibly be displaced, uprooted.  The thought made him shudder.

“Have you found what yer lookin for yet, Hun?” 

Jason looked up and saw his redheaded waitress had returned. 

“Looking for?” Jason asked in a puzzled tone.

“Yes, have you found what you want to eat in that menu you have been staring at for the last five minutes?”

Jason panicked for a second when he realized he had become lost in the labyrinth of his own thoughts and forgotten to actually look at the menu.  He had picked the menu up and stared at it, but his brain had never engaged its contents enough to make any type of decisions as to what he would eat. 

“Uhhh, What’s your biggest burger?” 

“The Destroyer.”

“The Destroyer?”  Jason asked through a chuckle.

“Yep.  Two half pound patties, four slices of thick cut applewood smoked pepper bacon, two slices of American and two slices of smoked gouda, and then each layer is covered in sautéed onions, mushrooms, and jalapenos.”

“Well, it sounds like it lives up to its destructive  moniker there.”

With a gleam in her eye the waitress looked at Jason and smiled.  “Yeah, I told Eric he should call the damned thing something different.  I said he might as well call it the ‘The Myocardial Infarctionator,’ but he told me that men have a need to feel like they are facing up to some danger or challenge, or they simply do not feel alive.  I guess he must be right, because people order it more than any other item we sell.  Apparently, this burger is one of the only dragons some men can find to slay anymore.  They come in here in groups after work or a softball game, and challenge each other to see who can finish one of ‘em and a basket of fries off the fastest.  Maybe they feel like they are not only beating the burger but death itself.  I don’t know. Men have never made any sense to me.”

“Myocaradial Infarctionator?” Jason asked with a furrowed brow.

“Yeah, it’s just medical terminology for heart attack.  I was in Medical school at the University of Houston for awhile.  That’s where I met Eric actually.  He was just finishing up when I was starting.  I never finished.”

“So, in your professional opinion this burger could kill me?”

“I didn’t finish remember?  I cannot legally have a professional opinion,” she said through a smirk. But, I would say if you ate it like once a year or so you should be fine, but if you ate it very often, then…maybe.  You look like you are in good enough health. I don’t think a a young gentleman in his mid-twenties or so should have anything to fear.” 

“There are very few things I fear anymore and myocardial infarction is nowhere on the list. So, after your wonderful sales pitch there Red, I think I am going to have to mount my trusty steed and face up to the Destroyer.”

“Feeling the need to take on a Dragon, Hun?”

“Not really, dragons got nothing on me.  I have beaten the worst they have to offer.  I just like a good burger.  Go ahead and give me the fries as well…and how are your milkshakes?”

“They are way too good.  I have to limit myself to one a week, so I don’t turn into the Michelin Man… or Michelin Woman, I guess.  The best one is the Mama’s Mountain Berry Medley.”

“That sounds perfect. Lemme have one of those as well,” Jason said has he handed her the menu.

“Alrighty, Sweetie. I will be back with your food in about ten to fifteen minutes, ‘kay?”

Jason nodded and thanked her.


“Red,” as Jason had taken to calling the engaging waitress, came back with his food even quicker than she had promised. Jason closed his eyes and offered up a mock prayer to a God he did not believe in, “Please let this food taste of dung and cause Exorcist-like projectile vomiting, Amen.”   Eric smiled over his insane prayer.  He did not understand why he still felt the desire to pray at times even though he had lost faith in the existence of any type of divine being many years ago.  Some habits die hard he guessed.  His mother had made him pray before he could eat anything as a child, even just a snack. He guessed subconsciously after all these years, somewhere he still wanted to please his mother.

Unfortunately, the food was more than good, it was heavenly. The burger had proven to be a St. Helens of juiciness as soon as his teeth had pierced its seared skin.  The beef was perfectly cooked and seasoned. This was one of those burgers where you have to wipe your chin after every bite, because it is marking its territory. Jason moaned a little with each bite.  “The Destroyer,” was not simply food it was art.  The shake and the fries were every bit as good as the burger.  They were masterpieces. Jason wondered if Eric had sold his soul in order to be able to create food of such caliber. 

The food was so delectable Jason imagined husbands and wives had probably divorced from the arguments over who got to eat the leftovers when they got home.  With each bite of burger and fries, and each pull from the straw of the shake Jason felt a sense of calm sweep over him. The food was having an ambrosia- like effect upon him. He was being washed clean and redeemed by “The Destroyer.”  Jason laughed at the irony.

The burger, shake, and fries even washed away the very reason why Jason had come to Eric’s Diner.  Jason’s memory was soon ripped back into reality.  When Jason was halfway through his conquest of The Destroyer, the door of Eric’s diner opened and two mismatched men stepped in.  Upon seeing the two men Jason was torn from the security of the Diner’s womb.  Jason’s stomach suddenly became the Gordian Knot. These had to be the men whom he had been summoned to meet.  He had received a cryptic e-mail a day previous which said, “We know who are and we would like to talk to you about an opportunity to belong to something worthwhile.  Please meet us at Eric’s Diner on the corner of Fifth and Viola on the 28th at 7 p.m.” 

Normally, Jason would have simply packed his bags and moved on.  These types of meetings never ended well for him.  The people who tracked him down always wanted something from him, something “only he could do.” He was tired of being used.  Tired of being told about his duties to humanity or whatever other bullshit pitch they used to convince him he would be a terrible person if he did not accept their offer.  The word “belong” had entrenched itself in his mind and even as he packed his bags, he could not help but heed the siren song of belonging.

And so, he had come to Eric’s, despite his trepidations, to meet, he assumed, the two men standing at the entrance. The man on the right was tall, impossibly skinny, with wiry dirty blond hair stuffed under an old dingy fedora. His hair shot out in all directions from under the hat as if his hair was trying its damnedest to escape and find another head to place itself upon.  He was dressed in an ill-fitting wrinkled olive green suit. Jason immediately thought of the villain “The Scarecrow” from Batman as he absorbed the sight of the man. Jason laughed as he looked at the second man despite feeling sick and angry.  The second man looked exactly like a penguin to Jason.   He was short and round, dressed in black with white cuffs. The penguin man even rocked from side to side like a penguin as he shifted his weight repeatedly from one foot to another.  Even though the man did not really resemble “The Penguin” from Batman (no top hat, no umbrella, no impossibly long pointy noise, no monocle) Jason decided henceforth these two men would be known as “The Scarecrow and The Penguin.”

As Jason looked more closely, he realized The Penguin’s outfit was actually the garb of a priest. Jason pursed his lips and gritted his teeth wondering if it had been the Catholic Church who had tracked him down.  Maybe, the offer to belong was just some religious ploy.  He cursed himself for his frailty.  He could not fathom what the Church might want with him.  He didn’t guess it really mattered, for he wanted nothing to do with them.    

Were these really the men who had summoned him to this Nirvana?  Jason found himself wanting to hate both of the men.  They had briefly given him the gift of escape by leading him to Eric’s, and then they had untimely ripped him back into reality, simply by their arrival at the door. Jason laid his burger down and fought back the nausea which was quickly overtaking him.  He watched as they scanned the room looking for him and stopped when their eyes alighted upon him.  They both began their trek towards his booth.  The Penguin still rocked back and forth even when he was walking. Normally, Jason would have laughed at the site, but he could taste the bile in his mouth.

The Scarecrow reached Jason’s table first and attempted to fold himself into the opposite side of the booth table. The Penguin did his best to insert himself into booth next to The Scarecrow but do his rotund stature it was a tight fit and took a little effort. 

“I am glad to see you here Mr. Gregory.  I calculated the odds of you showing up at 32.89 %.  We have already beaten the odds simply by getting you to show up. I am pleased.” said the Scarecrow with a smile.  The Penguin said nothing.  He only sat and glared at Jason.  “I am Dr. Emil Christopher. But, you can all Emil or simply “M” as the others do. I will allow my associate to introduce himself.”  The Penguin turned and glowered at the Dr., Jason could see the muscles in his jaw twitching. After a moment of staring at the Dr., The Penguin turned his gaze back toward Jason and continued staring. Jason squirmed a bit under the stare, The Penguin made him feel anxious. “My apologies to you on behalf of my associate, Jason.  He is not really a very happy or nice person.  He also seems to have taken some sort of vow of silence sometime within the last week in another vain attempt to get his God to remove his abilities.”

“Abilities?”  Jason asked.

“Yes, Mr. McCann he is like you, well at least somewhat.  He is able to do things which most humans cannot.”

“What do you mean by abilities?”

“Jason, you know what I mean.”

Jason stared mouth agape for a moment shocked to hear there were others beside himself. He collected himself and said, “I wouldn’t call what I have an ability,” Jason said as he crossed his arms.

“Oh, what would you call it then?”

“I don’t know. For me, I would say it is more of an inability than an ability.”

“That is very true, Jason.  So, tell me.  How many times have you actually died?”