Doubling Down and Drowning

clint with tulips final

In the wake of yesterday’s turkey shoot in San Bernardino, which eclipsed last week’s Planned Parenthood shootings, does anyone even remember the community college in Roseburg Oregon? It was exactly two months ago. My friends on the left rage that meaningful gun control must happen. My friends on the right demand that an armed citizenry would diminish bodycounts. From my perspective they’re both wrong.
The raw facts on sheer numbers of weapons in the U.S. dictate that it is no more possible to limit guns in America than it would be to follow through on Trump’s half baked idea to round up and deport 11 million illegal aliens. They’re here, they’re queer, get used to it.

The concept of a good gun owner taking out a bad gun owner is why nearly all of us have a pistol in our castle to protect our family. The right likes to trot out an occasional incident where that actually worked out for the home owner but they’re quaint when put head to head against the huge numbers of accidents, suicides and domestic violence killings they’re actually used for. The strategy of conceal carry is already an unmitigated disaster in every poor gang turf in America. Sadly our movies and television reinforce the fantasy that we’re all potential antihero bad asses, exacting righteous one to one head shots against hapless, aimless storm troopers. Newsflash Mister Eastwood: It’s. A. MOVIE!!! (Or tv show or video game). We’re fed that imagery a dozen times a day. Never the reality of being so coursed with fear and adrenaline that you lose coordination, can’t hit the side of a barn and probably run out of bullets in your panicked first five seconds. Stop it.

From where I sit the enemy is fear.

As a citizenry we’ve always had guns. That’s a constant. The real variable is hope and the lack of it. Always a constant in poor areas where killing is a regularity and doesn’t make the news is a perfect microcosm of what “normal, white America” is sliding towards and we’re freaking the fuck out in the worst possible ways.

I grew up with a small dog named Burgie. She was an unusually well tempered Dachshund. She got along with everyone, four legs or two. She even showered our Culligan man with kisses every month. As she got old and couldn’t walk well, went deaf and her vision was clouded by cataracts she became increasingly snappy. Everything started scaring and threatening her. She didn’t feel safe and felt helpless to cope with her circumstances.

My childhood pet is a perfect corollary for America. The middle-class is being choked out into a paycheck to paycheck existence. Far from the idealistic dreams of Babyboomer bra burners choosing to have careers outside the confines of “Domestic Engineer”, no one has a choice anymore. The traditional fabric of a stable family and neighborhood is all but gone. Everyone is from somewhere else and no one has time to get to know their neighbors. My last decade of employment was with a company who stubbornly held onto the classic 40 hour workweek, health benefits and retirement fund blueprint. We were small so it was easy to watch in real time how, through privatization, increased shareholder over worker focus, pressure to jettison classic employment packages for temp, contract or part time workers not qualifying for benefits increased anxiety. Job security was replaced by “be grateful you even have a job”. I watch it play out louder and tighter, at every level. Thank goodness the media is here to point at our neighbors as being the culprits and cause of our personal collapses. Out of neurotic frustration and pent up impotent rage we’re all too happy to buy in and lash out. At the exactly wrong thing.
My friend Kevin posted a comment last night suggesting 2 Chronicles 7:14 as our hope. I’ll spare you the peek at google.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

As an atheist it would be super dooper easy peazy lemon squeazy to roll my eyes and dismiss any verbiage from my favorite fiction fantasy book. But Kevin is a christian and that passage provides direction, focus and comfort for him. My decidedly irreligious eyes read this as hope. Inner reflection. Reinforced by better action. Toward myself, you, and my neighbors. What influences you in a positive way? When was the last time you fed your heart by reading, practicing, and expanding your better self? What do you do to be a part of any sense of community? How do you help yourself by helping others? These aren’t fluffy, esoteric questions. They’re the only things that keep the claustrophobic terrors of day to day life from killing hope.
Another law, another gun, another person or people to blame won’t make me feel safe. Only hope. And hope comes directly from what I think, say and do every day. Fear or Love – which am I worshipping right now, this very second? Because that thought, idea or action is the life I’m choosing moving forward.

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The Vilification of Virtue

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As Pope Francis parades across D.C. I am reading a resurrection of hatred for the man across my news feed.
By Christians.
It disgusts me.
As an atheist I have no dog in this fight. But as an outsider looking in I have a great deal of affection toward Frank because though we surely don’t see eye to eye on everything (not a prerequisite for my admiration btw) he does espouse the spirit and ideals of what I understand to be the core of Jesus’s philosophy; Love, Tolerance, Humility, Compassion, Service. Principles that, for myself as a Humanist, are just as imprinted on my heart. Principles and ideals that seem to be, in practice, anathema to what worshippers of Republican Jesus preach. A sort of hate-filled, paranoid mantra of fuck you, I got mine, wealth ministried, god hates poor/brown/gay/foreign/liberal devils because they’re ruining God’s Chosen Country… in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Seriously. What the actual fuck. That’s some serious Through The Looking Glass shit.
I understand the cynicism of some of my fellow unwashed heathens who decry Frank as a propaganda pitchman for a corporate brand that’s been tanking for 20 years looking to rebuild it’s stock. I don’t agree with it but I see their point. My own perspective is that even if this were true, he is the CEO of the world’s largest social services conglomerate on the planet. Public displays of washing female muslim prisoners feet, holding the disfigured in prayer, defrocking high ranking clergy who harbored child molesters or used church funds for lavish personal excesses, personally discarding the plush environs normally availed to a Pope/CEO for modest furnishings and clothes – as he apparently has done his whole life, offering olive branches to gays, atheists, women who’ve aborted, acknowledging their humanity, these are all ideas worth living up to, whether you’re me writing this blog, a single mom raising a family, a 30something middle manager at Walmart in Tallahassee, or God’s celebrity pitchman. Whether he’s looking to refill pews and coffers or not, he’s setting a tone of brotherly love and inclusion that has to affect 1.3 billion people. The fact that so many old guard Catholic practitioners and bishops are pissed off by this to me shouts volumes about how much they’ve forgotten what Christ’s message was in lieu of their own personal security and power.
I admire Frank because his message is double dog daring me to love you whether you’re like me or not. And people hate him for it. Jesus was said to have been considered a radical. Frank must being doing something right.

10 Things I Hate About You

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I was sitting around our fire a couple of evenings ago when someone mentioned the popular sentiment that no one is born racist. A buddy of mine chimed in that he heard someone recently, he couldn’t quite remember who, actually trying to tell him that this wasn’t true at all, that more recent “studies” showed small children preferring dolls and playmates that looked like them over those that didn’t. “It was ridiculous” he scoffed.
“Who was this?” I asked.
“I’m not 100% sure, but I have my ideas”.
A wry smile came across my face as I reminded him that it was me.
Then I went into a little bit of the study I’d watched sometime back by University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer that replicated the research done in 1947 which was eventually used in Brown v. Board of Education to, at least on paper, end segregation in schools.
This led into my segue on Robert Wright’s research on Darwinian psychology and our unconscious predispositions toward any and every way we make choices all day long to improve our odds of propagating our genes with the best possible compatible genes.
His eyes glazed over as he tried to disagree without being disagreeable. I understood his dilemma and didn’t take it personally at all. It’s a reaction I often see when I try to bring this stuff up because it’s utterly anathema to what we’re told everyday in books, tv and every media flavor on the planet. That our nature is love, that hate is taught. That with Jesus, or Buddha or this self help book, I’ll be able to reconnect with My True Self.
Which is all great and good except it’s bullshit. And it does you and I a great injustice to sell us that. My True Nature is not Love. It’s fearful as fuck. Love is actually pretty damn hard to attain. Everything you aren’t telling me but that I’m watching with my lying eyes tells me so.

Every job I’ve ever had has a built-in disdain for anyone not in my department, or in my group, or in my company. Workers dislike management and visa verse. People in my home group talk trash about other home groups as sport. Or the way “others” work steps, or don’t work steps. Families talk shit about one another, and other families, other towns, states, countries, cultures and races. Sexual identity factions tear at each other, jockeying for status. Insert any and every sliver of society into that sentence and it’s no less true. Just not in public. Only with certified cosigners of our particular point of view. And we’re horrified and betrayed if they break that unspoken pact by disagreeing or exposing my secret squirrel real opinion on something. It’s everywhere and all encompassing and so ever-present that “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” or the next Maryanne Williamson best seller doesn’t stand a chance of buoyancy.

Unless.

Unless I am first honest about being the supremely fearful, self-serving asshole that I am in the first place. That this is not some character flaw that I must discard in order to get back to My True Self (which is the Self Help version of the old adage stating that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince us he didn’t exist) but that fear IS my nature.

As an animal this instinct is reflexive, from the amygdala portion of the brain that processes survival threats and also signals the presence of food, sexual partners, rivals, children in distress, and so on. It’s connected into most other portions of the brain. (interestingly, this little portion of the brain is larger in conservatives – but I digress) It’s literally how we’re wired.
But we’re evolved! Enlightened! Self aware!
Well, barely.
My ego gives me much more credit than I deserve. It’s actually pretty stunning just how not those things most of us are 23.5 hours of any given day; running on autopilot responses and reactions to life all the while thinking we made a choice, a decision, took a stand. Naw. You probably did and said what you always do and say. And patted yourself on the back for it. We build stories and books, erect statues and laws and traditions celebrating our evolved nature, lining the streets to worship… the Emperor’s New Clothes. And in an awkwardly uncomfortable way, we all know it but cheer anyway.

Ever notice how truly happy people stand out? That’s because they’re the exception, not the rule. Fucking well regulated serotonin levels. I hate em!

I don’t go on about all this to harsh your mellow. I say it because being honest with myself about where my feet are really planted is an absolute requirement if I want to walk forward without walking into walls or off cliffs; Further pissed that I’m a sinner or that the steps are bullshit or that I’m a horrible Buddhist because I shouldn’t be angry so I’ll just be passive aggressive. Fear IS my True Nature. The principles of altruism; brotherly love (not directly toward someone that will benefit me), hope, courage, openness, faith, integrity, willingness, kindness, joy – these are hard! They aren’t reflexive traits, for anyone! They take practice, especially when they are inconvenient. Not to make me a better person, or to bring me closer to God, but to create larger, more defined pathways in my brain for serotonin and other “happy” chemicals that trigger those feelings and responses to flow through.

I am no fan of the term “Miracle” or “Spiritual Experience” as they are the thinking version of magic. That word often invites the equivalent of a bill in congress packed with pork before it gets passed and signed off by the president. All kinds of half baked shady bullshit slides through under the guise of “magical” that was really just code for “I just got a super killer dose of endorphins or serotonin!” But when I try to replicate it for further Scooby Snacks it fails. And then I’m bitter. What a gyp!

The truth about me is I’m a hater. So are you. There, I said it. Now I can actually move on towards something better.

Aim Low, Shoot High

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When I had a few years clean and had already worked the steps a couple of times, Emmet Fox’s Sermon on the Mount had become all the rage around the rooms. As it turns out, that book was an integral influence on the original writing of the Big Book and after reading it I could see it’s stamp all over Bill’s words. But that’s an interesting side note. What’s in my head this morning is the profound effect Fox’s book had on me as an Atheist. (which is only to say it could probably have a profound effect on *anyone*!)
You see, studying Sermon on the Mount changed the way I saw recovery in AA in a most fundamental way. Fox talks about principles in terms of absolutes. That Honesty, Humility, Courage, Integrity, Willingness, Brotherly Love are perfect ideals. At the time I was a very angry young man, though my two runs through the steps had provided me some relief from that particular bondage of self. Just enough relief that reading Fox’s ideas on practicing principles in all my affairs struck me as something I needed to pay attention to; it mattered not that when I threw a rock [principle] at the east foothills [ideal] that I didn’t hit the east foothills [ideal]. What mattered was that by trying as hard as I could in the moment – I made progress.
What I read in that book was that being human meant that I could never achieve perfection regarding these principles but that every bit of suffering in my life was directly connected to the degree by which I worship my exceptions to practicing them in each affair of my life. My serenity is inversely proportional to my “yeah but’s…”.
Mind blown.
On a very core level I thought to myself, “fuck.” because I knew it was absolutely true even as my mind came up with several favorite, well polished, lifelong trophies of justified rage that I loved (in a Stockholm Syndrome sort of way) to hold up regularly as my righteous burden qualifying me to treat you badly.
Thus began my going on 25 year snipe hunt to eradicate my “yeah but’s” regarding practicing principles. Not because I’m a saint (as all of you who know me know for damn sure!) but because I’m practically Don Quixote when it comes to trapping my own hypocrisies and hoisting them up to be mocked! Sometimes they’re vanquished. Sometimes they’re accepted as being a quirky part of me that I may not be ready to let go of yet. A catch and release program of sorts. But acknowledging my “yeah but’s” means they no longer scurry around ruining my happiness without my permission. Which starts making them look and feel kind of silly.

“12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” never looked the same to me again after that.

You don’t need permission; its not a prayer – it’s a choice. Exercise your power!

You don't need permission; its not a prayer - it's a choice. Exercise your power!