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?”

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Frog in a Pot

The human body does not always respond to pain as quickly as it should. The other day I was cubing up chicken and sliced off a small piece of my left index finger before my mind could tell my body, “Wait a minute Hoss, that’s not chicken you’re cutting anymore.” I felt the pain instantly, but it took some time for the “cease and desist” order issued by my brain to reach the muscles in my hands and arms. It may take a while but usually our brains respond to pain.

Sometimes though, we can be in pain and never even realize.  If the pan is always there our brains will compensate.  Like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of water which is slowly brought to boiling won’t jump out, we humans can be placed within painful situation and never get the message we need to hit the eject button.

     While not literally true, the boiling frog metaphor is an example of something real which happens to humans called desensitization. When it comes to constant dangers our minds can betray us. Sometimes, instead of getting out, we adapt. I spent 33 years as the frog in the pot of fundamentalist religion.  I was in terrible pain and I never even knew until a few years ago.


I knew as soon as the phone rang and it was a colleague from the church I worked for calling, I was in trouble. It was a holiday (Labor Day, maybe?) and he would not have called unless something was wrong. It could have been any number of things, being a pastor to the homeless was loaded with calls at inconvenient times to deal with emergencies, but I knew in my gut the call was about me.  Maybe, I had been expecting it. Maybe, I was psychic (I’m not psychic).

“Brent, I am gonna need to come to my office and talk with us.”

“Okay. Can’t we just talk over the phone?”

“No, I need you to come here to talk with us.”

“Well, can you at least tell me what it is we need to talk about?”

“I really can’t.”

I heard the distress in my colleague’s voice and I knew I was to be hauled in for an inquisition. Even though I had been expecting this moment my mind bounced around like a fishing bobber on a windy lake and my stomach felt like I had been eating metal shavings for breakfast instead of Kashi Go Lean. I was nauseated and panicked. I was a paper cut awaiting the lemon juice.

I drove to the meeting nervously wondering which specific heresy they would castigate me for. It really could have been any number of things honestly. Almost everything I had taught during that time period was “heretical”. I had taught against the doctrine of sacrificial atonement, denied hell was a place of eternal punishment, disavowed the belief only Christians would go to Heaven, publicly said I saw nothing wrong with homosexuality, and to put a nice cherry on top of my apostasy sundae, my wife and I had begun broadening our sexual horizons together.

We both had grown up under the oppressive weight of believing there was something bad about sex, with added damage from both of us being survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  After years of counseling we both decided could be a very good thing and we had been missing out on just how good it could be. We wanted the freedom to explore our sexuality and redeem what had been taken from us in childhood. I will not tell you exactly what we did in our sexual exploration (this is not that type of story, sorry.) I will tell you everything we did was responsible, legal, and done together as a couple.  However, what we did were definitely not things fundamentalist pastors and their wives are allowed to do.

I had given my accusers plenty of ammunition for their firing squad. In truth it did not really matter which of my “sins” they would castigate me for, the results would be the same. I was not going to be a pastor much longer. I had made my heretical stands and now I would pay the heretic’s price. I would burn on a pyre.

I paused in my minivan when I reached my destination and tried to calm my nerves before heading in.  Eventually, I realized the futility of this attempt. There would be no calm for me and I knew it. Like a lemming to a cliff, I headed to the office. Two of my church colleagues were there waiting. They told me they were worried for me because they were aware of some things I had been participating in which were “ungodly”. I did not deny the charges.

I did for a brief foolish moment try to defend myself, try to show my point of view, but I spoke a foreign language. They had, what they believed to be, the inerrant words of God on their side. How could I argue with such thinking? I became a monolith, not moving or speaking; just waiting, listening. They wanted me to repent. I thought of my ancestor John Proctor who was murdered by zealots in Salem. Maybe this was fate. I desperately wanted to tell them to go fuck themselves.  I wanted to stand my ground and burn. Instead, I told them how sorry (I wasn’t sorry) and repentant (I wasn’t repentant either) I was. I had a wife and kids I needed to care for. Heretics do not make much of an income.

Because I repented, I was not immediately forced out. They allowed me to retain my position in name only (clearly they could not trust me to teach anymore). They gave me a few months to find a job. The young man I trained to take my place (I had already made plans to leave the church) would just have to step in about six months earlier than expected. I got up to leave, and thanked them for their “mercy”. They begged me not to lose sight of who I once had been. I left. I stepped through the door and into the sun.

I stood, shocked. I had give all of me for ten years. Ten years, I cleaned up after drunks who would stumble in and piss on the floors. Ten years, I broke up fights. Ten years, I helped addicts try and fail, and try again. Ten years, I put their God before my wife and children. But, now I was only broken rules and doctrines, a “sinner”.  I realized the scales upon which religion judged were imbalanced. I felt the cut of religion thirty-three years too late, and I finally recoiled.

I realized when it came to religion people were of less importance than God. Religion often hurt people, who undeniably exist, for love of a God, who may or may not exist. Humanity is Isaac, and religion is Abraham. People had too often been placed on the altar as a test of faithfulness.

I hadn’t hurt anyone.  I had loved people deeply and helped many. I hadn’t embezzled funds.  I had sacrificed immensely monetarily. I had broken no laws. I had simply thought and behaved differently. Religion had not seen me, it saw only my sin. The unfair judgment had woken me, and I finally jumped out of the pot. I am lucky, many frogs never make it out.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Bit of Fiction

I had to write a short story in one page for my writing class, this is the result:

“Shut up you little fucker!  If your crying brings the coach, next time we will make it much worse on you.”   Blue wakes with a start. He lays his face against his rolled up coat and tries to dam up his tears.  He used to call this “making a Hoover” with his son. He wonders if it will hurt forever.  He wonders if his son still exists somewhere other than here in this cold place.  Blue hopes he is happy.  He wonders if all these memories will forever haunt him.  The dam breaks.

  Blue sits up pulling his knees deep into himself.  He must go to Tiny’s and get some shit, but knows he cannot. He owes Tiny and Tiny lacks compassion; “Heartless fucker.” Blue’s hands shake as he stuffs his life deep into his dark dingy backpack.  He must think of something. He steps over Zero, still sleeping. Blue stops midstride, sees the smiling gleam of the blade peaking out beneath Zero’s pillow.  Blue smiles back.

“Bitch, gimmee everything in the register” Blue howls, wielding his sharp metallic savior. “Freeze!”  Blue wheels and sees the cop, gun drawn.  “Drop the fucking knife.” “I caint; knife’s gonna save me.” The gun shouts twice.  Blue feels searing heat as his chest is two times torn. Blue cascades to the ground. His pain sprays, and then pools on the floor of the Circle S. Mr. Cop stands over Blue remorsefully.  Blue laughs a gurgling laugh and smiles, says “Thank you, it don’t hurt.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Fiction of Theology

I find theology to be a very interesting topic.  I love looking at and talking about all things religious and spiritual.  I know people who have devoted their entire lives to the subject of God and studying the various interpretations of God which men have come up with.  I have to say though that I find the very word theology to be funny.  Theology simply means the study of God.  The problem for me with the word is how does one actually study God? 

If you are a biologist you study life.  Life is all around us.  It can be seen, felt, tasted, touched.  Biology studies that which can be known.  Astrology studies the cosmos.  The cosmos is a known thing even though it is vast and much of it is not able to be seen with our current technology, but we can look up in the sky every night see the stars and know for sure that there are planets and suns to be explored.  Proctology is the study of...well, maybe we should not go there.  The point is that if you slap the ending "ology" onto a word it means the study of that particular word which you have added "ology" onto.  Thus, as I said earlier Theology is the study of God (derived from the Greek word theos which translates as God).

This is where things get a little bit confusing for me.  How does someone study something which may or may not be there, and cannot even be proven to exist.  Now please don't get really pissed at me here; I am not at all saying there is no God.  What I am saying is that even if there is a God, he/she/it is not present and accounted for.  Where does one go to "study God"?  What tools have been made for exploring God?  How can theories on God be tested?  What evidence will a theologist present to prove his theories upon God to be accurate?  How does one truly study what cannot even be seen?  When was the last time some busted out the old Godoscope and had a look-see?

If one wanted to become a Brentologist at least this would make sense, because I am physically present and can be watched, explored, poked and prodded, and studied.  I would not recommend studying Brent as I am scary and you might not like what you find, but if you really wanted to, you could.  My point is that you cannot really study God, because God (if there is a God) is not corporeal and therefore cannot be studied.  The best anyone can do really is guess.  So, for all the different teachings on God, and all the different books and theories on the subject, none of it is verifiable.  At its very best all theology is fiction.

Wait, before you freak out and try to kill me, understand (again) that I am not saying there is no God.  I am not saying that God is fiction, I am saying that the study of God is fiction.  If someone were to say they were studying God they would not be being entirely truthful, because even they would admit (I hope) that God cannot actually be studied.  Theologians do not study God, they theorize about God.  They should  not call themselves theologists because they do not study God.  Theology is a misnomer. Theologists should call themsleves God theorists.  They think a lot and come up with ideas which sound plausible to them and then they write those ideas down and share them with others.  They literally create works of fiction.  Now, there is nothing wrong with fiction.  Fiction is a wonderful and powerful tool which can motivate and inspire people and change humanity.  Fiction is also often true.  Just because someone comes up with an idea does not mean that the idea is false.  There can be truth in fiction.  But, fiction is not fact.

So, what is my point?  My point is simply this,  fiction is not worth killing over.  Fiction is not worth preventing homosexual people from marrying over.  Fiction is not worth making people feel guilty, worthless, or valueless over.  Fiction is not worth judging other people over and saying my version of fiction is better than your version of fiction.  People fight and bicker over things which cannot even be proven true or not.  Something has really gone wrong with us when our fictional theologies become more important and valuable to us than the tangible people on the planet whom we know are here and real.  Something is really wrong when we will cause real hurt and pain to real people over made up theories about God.  Even if God is real, are man-made theories really worth hurting people over?

If you have found a theory about God which works for you, I am happy for you.  I have no desire to take your theories away from you (unless those theories are causing harm to you or others, because I like people more than theories).  Your theories may carry truth for you which works in your life and I celebrate that fact with you.  But, never forget that while they may be true and valuable for you, they are still just theories.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Softening Our Religion

It has been a while since I really wrote anything on here.  I am back in school so most of my creative energy gets sucked into other endeavors.  I am sure many will be happy to not have to hear from me so often.  But, I will try to get on from time to time just so the world knows that I am still alive and still questioning.

I am deeply troubled today.  Seeing the news about Americans being killed in Libya in response to a movie about Islam sickens me.  I cannot help but wonder how many people will need to die in the name of God and religion before we as humans wake up and see that something is terribly wrong.  What is the point of religion?  What is religion truly achieveing for humanity?  Is the world any better off for having religion? 

In theory, I guess relgion could be fine.  I have no problem with people believing there is some sort of divine force.  I have no problem with people worshipping said force.  It seems though that most times people have to take their seeking of a god to a very sick and unhealthy place.  If we could all just simply let our views on god be our views on god, and let others be free to believe and think differently, then religion would be no problem for me.  Sadly, the ability to let others think differently than us is not very common among many religious people.  Why must so many humans become so fanatical about their spiritual beliefs?

I think a lot of it has to do with with how inconsistent and scary life on this planet can be.  Life is unpredictable and just when we feel like things are making a little bit of sense we get thrown another curve ball.  Our brains have a natural tendency to want to make sense of all the chaos we see around us.  Our brains, in an effort to keep us alive and whole, tries to find patterns to make life safer and more manageable (this has been scientifically proven).  We naturally seek out order.  In our desires for order relgion can make a lot of sense to people.  Religion gives us an answer to the tough questions, and that answer is God (in whatever form).

The problem is for there to really be order in the chaos your religion (order) must be the right one.  If not, then it is all still just chaos, and chaos is scary.  So, it is no wonder people get so freaky when it comes to religion. To threaten someone's religion is to threaten the very thing which makes life make sense to them.  Threatening religion threatens to push the mind of the religious back into chaos, and chaos is just flat scary. 

I understand fully the desire for life to "make sense".  This desire is why I stayed in religion as long as I did.   If you need God and religion to get you through, fine.  If you need to think that you are right, that's okay as well.  Just know that others are having the very same struggle as you; they are trying to make sense of all the chaos they see around them.  If they find a different order in the universe than you do, just take a deep breath and remind yourself of what makes the world make sense for you.  Don't freak out.  Don't judge.  Don't fight over whose answers are the best.  Just enjoy your anwers and let them have theirs.  Who knows maybe both of your answers are somehow right.  Maybe you are both wrong.  No matter what, our answers are not worth hurting, fighting with, and killing each other.  In the end, for me I am uncomfortable with answers.  I think I will stick with questioning and just ride the wave of the chaos around me, but I do understand the desire for religion and order.  Let's just try to remember that we are all in the same boat; we are all looking for comfort and security.  I do not begrudge you your answers.  Please do not begrudge others theirs.  In doing so maybe we can bring a little bit of our own order into the chaos.