Monthly Archives: September 2017

My Beautiful Crutch

I’m attending an interesting Bible study on Wednesdays at my church.

Atheism came up in the conversation last night, and someone said how an atheist friend once told him, “People use religion as a crutch.”

I’ve heard that before, too. Then it occurred to me. Yes, religion — faith — is a crutch.

And that’s a good thing.

Would we tell someone with a broken leg to not use crutches to get around, or a paraplegic to not use his/her wheelchair? That would not only be idiotic, but insulting. Perhaps even cruel.

Just as anyone injured or handicapped can’t move around and be independent without their physical aids, people of faith can’t function at their best — be independent — without depending on God.

It seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? How does one live independently while depending on God?

Part of faith in God is admitting we’re weak. We don’t have all the answers, we can’t control everything, sometimes not even ourselves. That’s a tough one to admit, because especially here in the States, we are taught that we can control our destiny. We have so many choices whether it’s who we marry, who we associate with, schools, colleges, and career choices to name but a few.

Yet we can’t control when we get a cold, if we’ll contract a fatal disease, if someone decides to commit a crime against us, runs a red light and injures us, nature’s wrath, when our loved ones pass, when a friend breaks a trust, the list is near infinite.

Faith teaches us that control is an illusion. It teaches us that control is not what brings us hope, joy or courage. It’s God, and the decision to depend on him and his wisdom instead of our own flawed, human understanding of the world around us and beyond.

For instance, without my faith, I wouldn’t have had the courage to broach a difficult subject which resulted in the birth of our son (long story, that. I’ll tell it another time).

Without depending on God, I wouldn’t have the courage to write this entry, let alone seek an agent for my full-length novels.

So, yes, God is my crutch, and I shout it proudly.

He’s my unfailing, beautiful crutch.

Is There An Echo in Here?

The easiest temptation on social media is to follow people, blogs, websites, etc. who reinforce what we already believe.

More difficult is to follow those who have near the opposite point of view. The exceptions of when we do, it’s usually to laugh, scoff, or get offended by. We don’t do it to learn, and listen but to argue, sometimes in the hopes of convincing the opposition the rightness of our cause.

Too often, though, the opposition has no more desire to listen and learn than we do. In the end we give up, and return to our little echo chambers filled with people of like mind.

I don’t often read so-called news sites such as Vox, Slate or Salon. I find their news rife with too much bias for my taste.

Sometimes, however, I run into a headline that so intrigues me (and not in a good way), that I have to read it.

This is one such headline:

When I debate or discuss, I make sure I have truth and facts to back me up, otherwise, not only will I fail to convince, but I waste my time and that of my opposition. I don’t argue with emotions, because emotions are not rational or logical. Too often they are baseless, and fleeting. Too often they are based on misunderstanding of a smattering of facts, and can do more harm than good when trying to debate a specific point.

As Ben Shapiro likes to say, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

You can understand then, why I found this headline befuddling to say the least. Why would anyone give up facts in favor of emotion to win people to their side? It’s idiocy. And temporary.

Out of morbid curiosity, I decided to read the piece. Too many news websites love to write provocative headlines in order to get people to read it (such as me). Click-bait as it’s called. Often, however, the headlines can also be misleading to the point that the article ends up making the exact opposite point.

As a writer, I found a lot of the opinion piece objectionable such as using emotions as a weapon. It implies that the author doesn’t want to convince, but to manipulate. It read less like a professional article and more like a personal journal entry (kind of like this lovely blog entry). The author isn’t trying to make a specific point so much, but exploring his/her thoughts in order to discover that point.

Still, after weeding through the verbosity, I surmised the author’s overall point was not to give up on facts, per se, but to appeal to a person’s emotions with facts instead of presenting facts alone. It’s a valid point, because in this day and age, regardless of what side people take on an issue, they are so emotionally entrenched in their point of view, facts proving their contentions false won’t deter them.

The entire article can be found here.

It’s worth thinking about, and for me will be one heck of a challenge. I don’t argue emotionally. Only facts matter to me, because they’re immutable. Still, I have to see the other person’s emotional point of view, and try to understand it before I can debate a specific issue.

I have to learn how to speak their emotional language, otherwise communication will be near impossible.

If I hadn’t stepped out of my own self-imposed echo chamber, I wouldn’t have discovered, let alone considered the idea.

Sky Wizards and Flying Spaghetti Monsters

I have a few friends who are not only atheists, but are outright hostile to any belief in a higher power.

More than once, I’ve heard them describe God as a “Sky Wizard,” or “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Even as a Christian, I find those descriptions humorous, even though they’re designed to insult. The latter one is my favorite.

To a person who doesn’t believe God does — or even can — exist, to pray to a non-existent entity is beyond foolish. It gives an individual’s power away, and — according to them — is used as an excuse to not act so that they can be their own answer to prayer.

For instance, someone might pray for healing. The atheist assumes that by praying, the person isn’t seeking medical help for that healing. And if they are healed, that person should be giving the doctors credit, not some imagined creature who lives in the sky.

I’ve seen people complain how so many are praying for those harmed by the latest hurricanes and western state forest fires. They assume that since those people are praying, that’s all they’re doing. They’re accused of thinking God is going to wave his magic wand and fix everything, and those praying don’t have to do anything themselves to help.

First off, that’s false, because I know many who have prayed, but have also sent money, goods, and even gone down there to help. So, yes, we are often our own answers to prayer.

I and many others have also seen miracles that can’t be explained by science, but that’s an entry for another time.

And what about the times God doesn’t answer our prayers? Doesn’t that alone prove he can’t exist?

Truth is, God is not Santa Claus, nor is he a genie. He knows what’s best for us a lot more than we do. I have prayed for many things when God said no, and in looking back, I’m so glad he did. I could give plenty of examples, but that would make this entry too long.

Prayer is also not just about what we receive, especially when it comes to the material, whether it’d be our finances or our health. Prayer changes us, because we’re open to not only the possibilities, but it’s also our best way of communicating with God, and building a relationship with him. Every relationship we’ve ever had, and ever will have, changes us. Sometimes for good, sometimes not. With God, however, it’s always for our good, even if we sometimes hate him for it. For a time. Or maybe that’s just me . . .

Wouldn’t you get annoyed if the only time a person came around was to ask for something? Pretty soon, you wouldn’t answer the door anymore. But if that person also tried to build a relationship with you, and not ask for something in return every time, then you’d be more inclined to help when they are in need. I don’t think God is much different.

All of this, however, will fall on deaf ears to those who refuse to believe God exists, and that he cares enough to want to build a relationship with us. They first have to consider the possibility before it becomes a possibility.

For instance people used to believe the world was flat. Based on their experience such as looking at the ground and the horizon, it’s flat. Therefore, the earth is flat.

Yet some considered the possibility that the world was round, and then set out to prove it, such as Christopher Columbus. For him, the idea — the possibility — came before he could step onto his ship to seek out proof.

That’s how faith started for all of us believers in God, aka The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Location, Location, Location

Where do you come up with your best ideas?

I have two places:

  1. The bathroom. At least until my son started to walk. From the moment he started to walk, he followed me everywhere. I couldn’t use the toilet in peace for the next three years. Thankfully at nine-years-old now, he has no desire to watch me — do my business. It is once again one of my thoughtful refuges.
  2. In the middle of the night. I finally learned (mostly) to keep either a notepad or my phone near me at night. I used to think that when I get a lovely, profound thought, or interesting story idea while I’m drifting off to sleep, it would stick around until morning. Nope. Not even 2% of the time do I remember. It is gone. Forever.

There is one commonality between those two places where I get my best ideas. Silence.

We are surrounded by noise, whether it’s the television, our computers, the radio, or other people. We love noise, and the more technology we have, the more likely we are to use it. I see people walking with their head buried in their phones, and earphones drowning out anything else. Including natural sounds such as birds.

Why do we hate silence? What’s wrong with immersing ourselves into our own thoughts? What are we afraid of?

A psychologist could answer that question better than me, but I do think there’s an addictive component to sound and distraction. It’s not so much that we hate silence but that we crave noise. Silence can be scary. So much so, that when we have too much silence, our brains start to make us hear sounds that aren’t there.

Like everything else in life, moderation is key. Too much noise, and we can never hear our thoughts, the silly or the profound. We lose ideas, or they never get a chance to surface. Too much silence, and we could drive ourselves insane.

Writers especially need moments of silence. Like me, it’s during the silences that we find our best ideas.

“Writing is like meditation or going into an ESP trance, or prayer. Like dreaming. You are tapping into your unconscious. To be fully conscious and alert, with life banging and popping and cuckooing all around, you are not going to find your way to your subconscious, which is a place of complete submission.” — Carolyn Chute

Clarity of Rules

I once said that we often read articles or follow certain people, not because we want to learn new things, but to reaffirm what we already believe.

There are other times, however, we stumble across something we knew almost instinctively, but couldn’t articulate. There’s a sense of elation and even relief. Like we returned home after a long and arduous trek through a mountainous desert.

I see a lot of “questions” that present only two possible responses. For instance, I engaged in a discussion on Twitter about the “morality” of eating meat. Here’s part of the discussion:

Me: In short, I don’t think anyone should feel guilty ‘cuz they eat meat, anymore than a vegan should be made to feel guilty for not eating it.

B: Those are two very different consumer realities. One choice requires the funding of mass slaughter, the other does not.

Me: A bit tongue in cheek: Both require slaughter, because we also kill plants when we eat them.

B: Plants are not sentient. If you had to choose between eating your dog or eating a piece of corn, what would you pick? Prolly the corn, right?

Knowing this was an entrapment question, I nonetheless thought about it and responded:

Me: I’d use my dog to help me hunt for rabbit, duck, goose, and/or pheasant, and make a meal with that and the corn to share with my dog.

A lot of the arguments presented to Christians to either defend or condemn contain the same type of either/or options. They’re not designed to start a discussion, but to entrap. Memes like this one is an example:

Christians are supposed to study Jesus’ life so we know how to best live our own. That includes debating with Christians and non-Christians alike.

The Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus with their questions time and again, and he always found a “third way” that included scripture to show them their flawed thinking. He didn’t argue using their rules, and it is one reason they conspired to kill him.

The article that brought all this to clarity for me can be read here:

Statement on Critical Theory and Unity in the Church

If we Christians want to win people over, and avoid people entrapping us with our own arguments, we need to quit playing by mercurial societal rules, and instead play by God’s rules.

Limiting Idiocy

My son started the 4th grade, and soon he will have the opportunity to try out extra-curricular activities such as sports, music, band, drama, etc. I want him to try them all. Not because I want to live vicariously through him since I took advantage of none of them growing up, however. Grade school is the best opportunity for children to discover what they’re good at, what they’re not good at, and what they will enjoy enough to work hard and excel at.

For instance, in school I learned how good I am at English and math. Life sciences such as biology, and organic chemistry, not so much. Without taking advantage of all those classes available to me, I never would have discovered any of it, and I wouldn’t have the focus I do now on continuing to improve my writing, and having a career where I get to work with numbers every day.

I want my son to live a life as joyful and fulfilling as I do. One way he can discover his gifts and limitations early on is to try as much as he can while those opportunities are readily available to him.

“Half of being smart is knowing what you’re dumb at.” — David Gerrold

Finger Painting with Words

When I first started to write, I approached it much like a child with eight different colors of finger paint, and an unending supply of paper (and a patient parent standing by to clean up the inevitable mess).

Only words were my colors. I didn’t write stories at first, but poems. Most of them were free-form, because I knew nothing about poetic meter and rhyming. I loved to experiment with words, to see how they fit together to make unique, and often odd and discordant, pictures.

One of my other blogs is called “My Writing Sandbox”. Although I don’t write poetry much anymore, I still see letters and words as my toys, my building blocks if you will, and my blogs are my sandbox where I get to create. Sometimes I write for the fun of it, and often to keep me sane, but always to better understand people, the world, and myself.

I took a writing class in high school where we studied all forms of poetry including iambic pentameter (http://iambicpentameter.net). The poem I wrote for the class (well over 30 years ago) I still remember:

Yellow, yellow through the rainbow.

Color, color in a tight row.

Blue and red and orange yellow.

Makes this rainbow not too mellow.

Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment. — Carl Sandburg