Psychologists and Psychiatrists are notorious for wanting to niche their patients into categories. Some of us who follow these things know that the clinical reservoir for all these categories is The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The most updated version is the DSM-5.
For those of us who are merely observers of the human condition, however, the DSM-5 is a deeply troubling reservoir of clinical labeling. Such labeling has often allowed the pharmaceutical industry greater latitude in discovering new prescription drugs that can control a variety of psychological/psychiatric disorders.
Not entirely a bad thing, really. They’re just doing their job. Continue reading
“Love and do what you will,” says St Augustine. We are told in the New Testament to “Love thy neighbor as thou would love thyself.” And then the kicker: “Love thine enemy.”
Shakespeare tells us that love is the “ever fixéd mark,” the stable grounding to all our emotional vagaries. And what fool in his right mind came up with the notion of “two in one flesh” to describe the close bonding we’re supposed to experience in a committed physical and emotional relationship? (the two-in-one-flesh metaphor, by the way, is seen by many as a convenient mandate to suppress individuality. I’m just sayin’). Continue reading
As many of you know, I continue to be an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have been in the program for over 28 years. I am still hopeful that I will continue to learn more things about my own recovery, my relationships, and my psychological/emotional evolution.
As many of you also know, I am a non-theist. By that, I simply mean I don’t debate whether God exists. I am a product of Roman Catholic schools, and I learned all the alleged “proofs” for existence of God. Intellectually, they appeared full-proof at the time I learned them.
Over time, however, I moved away from the God debate. I also began to discover that many religions claim to know and experience their own sky-god divinities. I was no exception, even into my early adulthood. God, I was taught, was omnipotent and omniscient. He could, as the saying goes, “move mountains.” And there was nothing beyond his ken or capabilities.
On my sometimes eclectic spiritual journey, all proofs for the existence of God became less and less important to me. His existence or non-existence became moot since humans of every stripe, after all, still have to “deal” with the realities of life that are denied or given to them, regardless of whether a God exists or does not exist. And I see no reason to alter my behavior under any threats of after-life punishments or rewards. Continue reading
Free from desire, you realize the mystery
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
The Temporal and the Eternal
Okay, I think I get it. The opening poem (or chapter) of the Tao Te Ching is telling me that there are two worlds: the temporal, where words (names), “manifestations,” and “desire” exist; and the “eternal” where the “nameless,” the “mystery,” and serenity (free from “desire”) inhabit.
Just when I think I have nailed it, the Tao then tells me that the eternal and the temporal come from the same “Darkness,” or, better still, “Darkness within darkness.” Continue reading
“You are what you eat,” they say. If you believe advertisers, we are what we drive, what home we live in, what rental car agency we use, how manicured our lawns are. And, if ads are getting it right, a clean, sanitized bathroom becomes the wished-for goal of every woman (clean bathrooms appear to be the exclusive domains of women in America).
On a more personal level, a friend and I were discussing used cars. She is at a point in her life when she can’t afford a new car in spite of the “Only-$250-a month-and-$2,000-down” high-decibel ads blaring from the television every fifteen minutes. My friend painfully tells me that she sometimes feels embarrassed about her tired, thirteen year old Camry with its 190k odometer miles. And God knows what the suburban neighbors think about the small gravey-like oil pools in the driveway.
I shared my own concerns with her about driving my 2005 Corolla, which only has 61,000 miles. This from a guy who traded his cars in every three years. I still feel the draw of those bright, shiny new BMWs, gas-pedal to the floor, as I speed into the Interstate from my usual entry lane, not quite from 0 to 60mph in 20 seconds. After all, I blithely think to myself, I am still the thirty-year old metrosexual stud with a walkup fourth-floor apartment in Greenwich Village. Not. Continue reading
Roman Catholicism and the Marian Miracles
I grew up in a 1950s Roman Catholic culture in which I was taught that a virgin gave birth to Christ. I was later told that, several centuries later, the same virgin, Mary, appeared to a select group of barely literate, impoverished Portuguese children at a place called Fatima. Secrets were to have been revealed to these children, the specifics of which, to the best of my recollection, neither my elementary school teachers, nor my pastor ever revealed.
The dogma of the virgin birth was complemented by the infallible ruling of a nineteenth century pope that Mary was taken to heaven, body and soul. This dogma is celebrated in the church as the feast of the Assumption.
The Catholic Church, an untiring supporter of these Marian miracles, added to the repository of these mysterious events by claiming that Mary was to have been conceived without sin (the Immaculate Conception) and that she was to have received a visit by an angel announcing to her that she would be the mother of Christ, the Messiah (the Annunciation). Continue reading
Religion’s Dependence on Leaders, Credentializing Insiders, Myths
Throughout our 200,000 year existence on this planet, humans have never suffered from a lack of gurus, priests, imams, ministers, rabbis, popes, bishops, monsignors, and rinpoches. Or even, if I may be so bold, spiritual motivational speakers.
If history tells us anything, most faith-believers seem to have a need for religious leaders. They want to feel secure in a religious institution that has someone at the head of the class.
Growing Up in the 1950s: Be Vigilant, “Watch Your Step”
I was a teenager when I first saw and heard the adage, Semper Paratus (“Always Prepared”), the official Coast Guard motto. My two brothers joined the Guard back in the 1950s, and the motto became a kind of meme of the 50s culture.
Of course, those were the times of the Red scare and the Cold War. It was a time when school kids were trained to duck under the chairs during a nuclear air raid drill, and Catholics prayed every day to “save Russia.”
I was taught early in life that I had to be vigilant. I had to “watch my step.” I had to avoid temptation or, as the Catholics of my generation used to say, “the near occasion of sin” (Over time, I desperately searched out those near occasions as an antidote to my increasing repression).
And I was always told to “look both ways” before crossing a street. Continue reading
The Christian Soul and American Culture
In my Christian tradition, I was told that every human being has a soul. That soul, I was led to believe, is created by God and is comprised of a mind and a free will. And that soul, I was also taught by my church, would live on after I died. (I was not taught that, since I have a free will, I could choose the after-life habitat I wanted. That decision would be made for me based on my earthly track record and an omniscient God’s foreknowledge—a very tricky combination.)
Using that philosophical and theological model, Hitler, Stalin, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer also had souls. According to that same paradigm, they also had minds and free wills and therefore were to be held accountable for their actions (Christian theologians, to my knowledge, do not accept paranoid schizophrenia, psychosis, or bi-polar disorders as viable excuses for getting off the hook on the final day of judgment). Continue reading
Mystery and the Legacy of Christianity
I continue to be grateful for my Christian heritage. If I can thank that heritage for nothing else, it has deepened my affection for mystery and my need for the transcendent. Granted, I still may be experiencing the collateral damage of that heritage by holding on to a need for the inexplicable and the otherworldly. Perhaps I was conditioned all to well.
And yet, I truly believe that mystery and the transcendent can be experienced without the access to a panoply of myths and rituals that feed into what can’t be explained as natural phenomena. Continue reading
Evangelism, Psychology, Neurology, and Buddhism
And neurologists are getting into the act by having us face up to the reality that our behaviors are linked to certain parts of the brain. The neurological school is closely allied to the empirically proven conviction that pharmaceuticals can mediate and alter many neurologically based dysfunctions from anxiety to bi-polar disorders.
Buddhists remind us that all human behavior is about karma, the somewhat inexorable, but, we are told, “ripening” law of “cause and effect.” Whether that cause happened in another life, of course, is another matter. (The skeptic, Alan Watts, once remarked that he had no Buddhist friends who actually believed in reincarnation, the notion that we had or will have another life as an animal, a plant, or even another human.)
In any event, one of the commonly repeated clichés of Buddhism is that a “good cause” leads to “good effects”; a “bad cause” leads to “bad effects.” Continue reading
“You know he’s gay.”
That was a response of a friend of mine. His remark came after a young man walked out of his restaurant job as a waiter, leaving the staff stranded and several customers still waiting to be served.
Although the waiter may very well have been the object of some anti-gay comments by the chef, I was convinced that the original remark of my friend was a way of distancing himself from the young man by commenting on his sexual orientation. Continue reading
“Feelings,” I have been told by many of the old timers in the AA rooms, “don’t matter.”
I have always struggled with that notion because, as a kid, I learned very early in the game that I needed to be a silent observer in my family. If I weren’t, if I decided to confront my siblings or my parents, I would pay the consequences—a smack across the face, a sarcastic remark, or worse, just indifference.
In this early family environment, it would be safe to say that I had learned to shut down, not just as a defense against negative reactions from my family, particularly from my emotionally unpredictable mother, but as my way of surviving.
I thought for a long time that being detached from my emotions was, of course, a far more superior form of living than those in the muck of emotional tantrums. (I might add here, that I used to think that any strong emotional reaction related to joy, grief, or rage was a reaction “out of control.”) Continue reading
Theism as a Cultural Heirloom
As a non-theist, it is often difficult to talk about the God of Western culture without offending someone. Even if individuals aren’t theologians, there is a tendency to fall back into a default mode with any discussion about God.
In that mode, some go on the defensive trying to protect what is considered sacred and allegedly timeless, not because they are necessarily connected to a specific sky-god theology, but because the culture has committed itself to a belief in an exterior anthropomorphic deity.
Inside of this mind-set, any discussion of God can descend into a defense of a Western cultural norm, a societal commitment that must be protected because traditionalists often believe that a culture will lose its integrity if it gives up its theocentric beliefs. Continue reading
Every so often, I return to thinking about the Ten Commandments.
In those revisits, I continue to discover how far removed I am from those ancient Christian tenets I grew up with as a child.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me” says the first commandment. This is the I-am-the-leader-of-the-pack commandment telling humanity that there is only one God and, as my grandchildren would say, “He’s it.” Continue reading
Bartering for more time,
Slow, disgruntled goat
Among the sprinters.
A weeping clock,
In your own time,
To be the last
In the scorched land
Of stained notes,
Your aching bones
The coffee room,
Listening to your
Taut Monologues of
Of old age.
This blog-post is a kind of no-brainer. It is about money. But it is also about all the things that many of us encounter in our relationship with money: financial insecurity, freedom, autonomy, gratification, ownership, deferring payments, borrowing, owing anonymous institutions—unless we’re out on the street, we, in America, are all in on it
Money, it was once said, is the root of all evil. “Filthy lucre,” the medievalists called it. On the other hand, I was reminded many times in my youth that “money doesn’t grow on trees.” That was a statement that usually came out of the mouths of parents to remind their kids to give up even thinking about another handout from good ol’ mom and dad.
I think I first became aware of money when I was a Catholic elementary school student. “Second collections” were part of the Sunday-service ritual. I learned from that ritual that there were “needy causes” out there (usually in the Catholic Missions or in the Catholic Charities movement), that, no matter how poor my own church was, there was always some pocket change we could come up with to send to those we just assumed were more in need. Continue reading
This is not an atypical response of a caretaker. Someone asks the caretaker for money. The caretaker responds simply and to the point. And the response is positive. Caretakers are like that.
Suspend your disbelief for a few seconds, however, and listen to how another type of caretaker, the self-aware, over-the-top caretaker, might describe themselves: Continue reading
Insanity, some tell us, is doing the same things, over and over, expecting different results.
But what about expecting different results from other people, situations, or events—a brother-in-law saying something kind; a Verizon tech person avoiding jargon; an American movie not bleeding into sentimentality; morning commuters driving with less rage; a politician not speaking from an ideology; a cable news show understating a news flash; a doctor faxing a prescription on the same day; a bank mortgage department answering the phone with a real person; a muffler replacement being under three-hundred dollars; a teen-age son not saying “whatever.”
Several weeks ago, I was informed by my ophthalmologist that the cataract in my left eye had reached London-fog level. “We’ll remove the other cataract in a month,” he said.
I knew I was at a critical point with my vision. I could read most of the large signs as long as they had polar-bear-size white letters and arrows on dark green backgrounds. When the city decided that small flower-lined islands would beautify one of our major streets, I found myself cursing at their invisibility when I made left turns at night, barely shaving the blunt edges of the raised islands as I turned into the right lanes.
On rainy nights, I would squint at the front windshield trying to see through the patches of unstreaked clarity. The wipers would do their bump and grind, making vain attempts to clear away the glaze of film built up from the oil vapors unobtrusively spewing out of exhaust pipes at urban intersections. Continue reading
Some of us in twelve-step recovery programs have never belonged to a religious institution. Some once belonged but have left. Some are still emotionally connected to their religious heritages, even though they do not practice their religions.
There are a minority in recovery programs who have chosen Buddhism, a non-theistic sect. If they are practicing Buddhists they participate in daily rituals: chanting; silent, sitting meditation; or walking meditation.
Others in twelve-step programs have developed a very eclectic collage of practices, values, and beliefs they have gleaned from Pema Chödrön, Osho, Krishnamurti, Andrew Cohen, Deepak Chopra, Gurdjieff, among others
There is a vast number in recovery programs who remain attached to their Judeo-Christian heritages and continue to practice their faiths of choice.
I grew up in a family of screamers, duckers, fighters, and scramblers. If that didn't work, my family withdrew into icy silence. That's what we thought bedrooms were for: our little caves of isolation where we could get our way in frozen-lake invisibility.
If that didn't work, we could always go to plan B: smart-ass sarcasm.
At the same time I was watching the pro-active survival skills of my siblings, I was being taught in Catholic elementary school that saints suffered quietly. They accepted their lots in life with passive surrender. And many quietly walked the gauntlet of martyrdom with angelic resignation, assured of a first-class room in the heavenly kingdom.
In my little elementary school mind, Christ was the icon of emotional stability. He may have thrown the gambling rabble out of the synagogue in a fit of rage, but his life seemed more about waiting his turn in the queue of acceptance and surrender. He was the gentle fisherman, the quiet shepherd. Not the raging truck driver or the sweaty faced hockey player, fists thrashing the air.
In my childhood, adolescence, and throughout my adulthood, I constantly pursued the “key” to sanctity. At one time, I thought all I had to do was go to mass, receive holy communion, confess my sins, and read spiritual books. The world, over time, I thought, would adapt to all the higher spiritual goals I had set out for myself. Or, on my journey to sainthood, I would be above it all. Continue reading
This is the second in a series of blog posts in which I expand upon key concepts from my e-book, “A Recovery Journey: The Beginnings”
So, you have a great day at school. Your teachers laugh at your jokes. You get a 95 on your math exam. You talk to one of your teachers during lunch. They tell you are a remarkable young man. You leave the school at three and walk home. You’re in high gear. The world is your oyster.
Then you walk through the front door of your home. Your mother is screaming at your father. You duck as a frying pan comes flying across the kitchen. She’s yelling at your dad, “you took Janet to the drive in, didn’t you? I saw the popcorn in the back seat of the car. You’ve been sleeping with her again.” Janet was my red-headed Brenda Star look-alike aunt, my mother’s sister-in-law.
That was the daily routine: Great day at school. The Inferno at home. Kids, of course, learn to make connections, as irrational as they may be. When they are nurtured in one place and are dragged into the emotional muck in another, they begin to believe that, not only are there no guarantees in life, but that life cannot be trusted to offer any permanent security. They will always ask themselves, “when is the other shoe going to fall off?” And they view happiness as an occasional blip on the machine of life, more often than not, set on disappointment. Continue reading
This is the first in a series of blog posts in which I expand upon key concepts from my e-book, “A Recovery Journey: The Beginnings”
Knowledge has always been important to me. I grew up believing that if I knew things, I wouldn’t be invisible, especially in a family where high drama and chronic volatility were more the rule than the exception.
Knowing things gave me the kind of security I could not depend on my family to supply. If I had intellectual competence, I knew, at the very least, that my worth would be valued, that I would not be another cog in the machine of my family’s dysfunctionalism.
Little did I realize that, over the years, I often used knowledge as a substitute for living. I came to believe that my identity was exclusively defined by my ability to acquire information, know historical time periods, pass a college test, get a good grade on a paper, give a convincing presentation in a speech class, shape a college lecture. Continue reading
Now that I’ve got your attention.
It took me a long time to discover that I had learned, from early childhood, to be a detached observer. I was the youngest of five children. My family was in constant turmoil. My parents argued all the time. My two older brothers were always fighting. And my mother’s volatile and often violent mood swings continued to keep the family on pins and needles.
So, kids do what kids do. They protect themselves. They go to their rooms. They stay away from the chaos as much as they can. And when they are in the midst of the family tornadoes, they often withdraw into silent observers. They become recorders, television cameras, quiet witnesses. They learn, very early in the game to passively take in what’s happening and not to participate. It is the only recourse they have; it gives them some kind of order and safety in their lives.
Then they become adolescents and adults. They can’t figure out why others tell them they are “too analytical.” They find themselves observing again as they did when they were children. But the observation mode begins to implode when a friend breaks down after his girlfriend tells him the relationship is over.
The first instinct of the grand observer is to look around for the nearest exit. Continue reading
The reality of impermanence has always seemed a no-brainer to me. People and animals come into existence; they live out their lives; and then they die. Or, in the words of the bumper-sticker, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die”
More importantly, my own experiences with memorial services, funerals, hospice, suicides, emergency rooms, psych wards, and drug and alcohol rehabs have helped me to understand the fragility of life.
On the other hand, I was recently confronted with someone’s concern that, in being aware of life’s impermanence, there may be a hidden agenda to “glorify” it as a license for moral relativism, an excuse to bow out of commitments and responsibilities. After all, if nothing in this world is permanent, why bother to be loyal, to love, to be grounded in anything?
The ancient carpe diem (“seize-the-day”) philosophy was certainly based on the notion that, since the world and its pleasures are finite, we should wring from life every moment of pleasure we can get. Continue reading
“Abandon holiness,” says Lao Tsu. and “See with original purity.”
Although these lines are just fragments of Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, they are typical of the ancient thinker’s radical take on reality.
Who, for example, would “abandon holiness”? After all, Western culture prides itself on Christian values, especially those values gleaned from the Old and New Testament, saintly teachings, and church pronouncements. And, for those who believe in an afterlife, heaven, the “holiest” of places, is the ultimate goal of those on a Christian journey of virtue and sinlessness.
Lao Tsu challenges us, however, to give up the pursuit of the holy, for it is a goal fraught with other people’s notion of what holiness is. It is also a journey that can be riddled with self-righteousness and arrogance. And it can be a path that will often distract us from paying attention to what is in front of us. Continue reading
This is the second part of a two part series on “Owning Up, Emotional Honesty.” In the first part, I discussed the confessional-box tradition I grew up in and my many years of therapy.
In this part, I discuss the importance of what twelve-steppers refer to as the “rooms,” the meeting places where we go to “share,” as they say, “our experience, strength, and hope.”
Those of us in peer-group recovery programs like AA, NA,
OEA, and SA know very well the importance of hanging out in “the rooms.”
They are often cold, damp church basements with concrete walls that have been painted over so many times they begin to look like melting taffy. But they are the rooms where I go three or four times a week, if not more, to learn how to live in the real world.
As a recovering alcoholic of over twenty-six years, I take great consolation in knowing that others in these church basements are struggling with all the issues that normal, earth-people deal with every day: money, relationships, anger, a boss, an adolescent child, a new job, or Verizon tech support. Continue reading
This is a two-part series on owning up, honesty, and emotional transparency. In the first part, I discuss my confessional-box heritage growing up as a Roman Catholic. I then go on to cover the contrasting role of therapy in helping me to be more honest about myself.
In the second part of this two-part series, I will discuss the significance of recovery meetings in opening me up to my daily emotions and behaviors and my on going relationships in sobriety. As they say in the rooms, “it ain’t over until it’s really over.”
Governments will often hide its dirty little secrets behind the mantel of “national security.” Corporations and large institutions (including churches) seem to like silence because they fear a customer backlash, a class-action suit, or media exposure. Or they often cover up a questionable ethical policy with public relations departments which have mastered the art of linguistic subterfuge.
And, in the world of advertising, truth is often enhanced with glowing images of a product or service in order to dull the minds and senses of a potential customer.
Closer to home, families often hold on to their own white-elephant-in-the-living-room secrets to protect a family member or to defend their we’re-just-a-happy-little-family public image.
So, when do we learn to “own up” to our own truths? I’m not talking about a factual transcription of a mortgage transaction or a detailed “and-then-we-did-this-and-then-we-did-that” description of a cruise to the Caribbean. Or a lengthy machine-gun rant about how a husband “ripped me off of my alimony.”
I grew up in a Roman Catholic confessional-box culture. I was taught, as a child, to “own up” to my sins, to tell on myself in a dark box of a room with only a punctured out plastic window divider between me and the priest. And I was always in the kneeling position, my hands held in prayer resting on a small shelf as I weekly went through the “bless-me-father-for-I-have-sinned” Saturday afternoon ritual. Continue reading
In the first part of this two part series about where we learn our attitudes about good and bad, I discussed the “interventionist school” of Christianity, a narrative that teaches the followers of Christianity that all of our notions of good and evil are created or altered by an interventionist deity through grace, epiphanies, miracles, the handing down of the “ten commandments,” the incarnation of Christ, and a divinely inspired Biblical text.
The interventionist school of Christianity has been the guiding model of Western Christian morality for centuries. It is a model that relies heavily on a Church hierarchy and ancient texts (the Old and New Testament) as the icons of moral authority.
The Catholic Church goes even further in portraying itself as the recipient of powers to round out all of the intricacies of sin, morality, and faith-beliefs through a clerical hierarchy, which, according to the church’s narrative, is a direct descendent of St. Peter, the alleged first appointed leader of Christ’s followers.
There are many of us, however, who believe that morality can be gleaned from many sources other than a theistic or religious institutional model. Although most religions seem to adhere to some version of the do-unto-others golden rule, I believe that generosity is often at the root of all of our optimal behavior patterns. Continue reading
I never liked contact sports. Whenever I worked out, it was always a single-player engagement like jogging, swimming, or running frantically on a tread mill. Even today, I continue to exercise by myself, even though I am sometimes in a gym or in a park walking with others.
During my college teaching years, committees were, for me, the most difficult arenas to get anything done. Discussions were often endless, tangents seemed to be the norm, and listening levels almost non-existent.
Even my experiences with institutional religion, growing up Catholic and attending Catholic institutions right up to my Masters Degree, my notion of community was limited to Sunday services or singing in a choir. Continue reading
“You know, John, there’s another school of thought.”
I always loved that phrase, “another school of thought.” It seems less hostile, less likely to deteriorate into a conflict-driven debate. Especially, if the sentence comes from a close friend. It is even more poignant when the discussion is about religion.
I grew up in a very Catholic environment. In fact, my entire education was in Catholic schools—elementary, high school, and college. Unlike some of my friends, the experience, in general, I found rewarding and nurturing. I truly admired the clergy-in-the-trenches who taught me what it meant to live in the world of “service.” It has made a marked difference in my life. Continue reading
I have these recurring variations of the same dream. I am running down a school corridor, desperately trying to find my next class or I am in front of a class that is paying no attention to me. In yet another panic-dream, I am a substitute teacher in a Chemistry class (I was an English teacher).
And then there’s the dream where I constantly punch in the wrong phone number of someone I am frantically trying to call or I am darting through mazes of streets trying to find a relative’s apartment. Continue reading
“My ten year-old spends too much time on computer games.”
“Well, what you need to do is to ration his time. If he goes over the limit, you reduce the appropriate time on his next session. That’s what I do.”
Now, keep in mind, this might be the advice of your best friend, someone you have known for most of your adult life. You want to keep the friendship, but you know that your friend loves to give advice, to seep into the quagmires of your marital problems, to find just the right herb or vitamin for your rash, to come up with “just the recipe” for your Thanksgiving dinner. Continue reading
Buddhists tell us that desire and craving keep the wheel of samsara (suffering, the threat of mortality, the cycle of fight/flight, emotional/physical pain) in constant motion.
And desire can be both the cause and effect of suffering. As a cause, it can lead us into more suffering. As an effect, it can drive us away from suffering in the same way that we can dive into momentary pleasure to avoid pain. Continue reading
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Americans love instant solutions. Chris Prentiss, in a television ad promoting his book, The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure, does not claim outright that a cure for alcoholism can be acquired immediately. But there is no doubt that he views recovery as much less than a life-time endeavor. And there is little doubt that he views recovery within some kind of time-frame in which all the recovery/cure process will take place.
For all intents and purposes, once the cure process begins and the client surrenders to Prentiss’s approach, there will come a time when the addiction will be in complete remission (make no mistake about Prentiss’s model here; his time-frame for a cure is quite finite).
Prentiss’s how-to-reach-the-finish line approach is very similar to the world of television ads about instantaneous cures from headaches to menstrual cramps. The entire subtext of these pharmaceutical ads is all about the finishing line, the immediate conquest. Continue reading
I grew up in a Christian tradition. My education, all the way up to my Master’s Degree, was at Catholic institutions. I was steeped in Catholic liturgy, studied for the priesthood, wanted to become a Trappist monk.
Even though I have formally left the Catholic Church and its theistic tradition, I still think of myself as a cultural Christian—I discuss Christianity, I participate in dialogues about Catholicism, I make references to classical Christian music, I often refer to the role of Christianity in Western history. I do all of this with the inherited legitimacy of an insider.
I say all of this by way of an introduction to prepare my readers for the voice I purposely take on in this essay. It is the voice of a very secular “Mother Jones” writer who sees himself as a guerilla-journalist camping out in the hills of a very foreign institution.
I must also make it very clear that, when I question some of the outdated theology and dogmas of the Catholic Church, I do so as someone still culturally and intellectually connected to my Catholic heritage, even though I have officially left the Church. I also think it is important for my readers to know that I continue to be positively affected by so many of the nurturing and loving clerical servants within the Catholic Church who taught me so much about the need for self-examination and service. These humble and poorly-paid servants will always be in my heart. Continue reading
A few days ago, I was tail-gated by a woman in an SUV. As I looked at her face through the rear-view mirror, I could see the I-wanna-get-there-now look—squinting deep-set brown eyes glaring straight ahead, fingers of both hands gripping the left and right curves of the wheel, jaw jutting forward like the prow of a racing yacht, her entire face angled to the right as she appeared to bite off a thin slice of skin from the inside corner of her lower lip.
In that jet-stream moment, as I approached the red light, I was ready. My thoughts shifted into first, the power gear. She’s gonna slide into the inside lane. She’s gonna rev her monster tank-of-a-gas-guzzler. She’s gonna roll down her window for the duel, pin her hair back, tighten her seat belt, light a cigarette. Continue reading
Many of my friends are believers. They have faith in a personal, creationist God. They go to Church regularly. They have families who wed and die in these churches. And they see this life as a preparation for an eternal one. Some believe that only a select few will reap the benefits of their good lives. Others believe that everybody will have a shot at it.
Their deep faiths continue to nurture me, even though I have gently moved away from all theistic traditions. Continue reading
Imagine, for a moment, that you are overhearing a male neurotic narrator talking about his steamroller overconfidence. You are the listener and observer. Feel free at any time to interrupt him, to offer him advice, or, if you are willing, to identify with him. Be patient with him; he does manage to offer himself some gentle alternatives.
When I am overconfident and manically attached to an idea, a process, a value, or an opinion, I often don’t expend any time on allowing myself to settle back and let the world in. I am on a mission. I know what I’m about. I am convinced that a mere stream of ideas will purge the demons, settle the dust of my confusion. Continue reading
Before I started to write an essay on surrender, I went to my twitter page and tried to send another one of my many “What are you doing” twitter messages. Up popped a mysteriously serious black-and-white message, “HTTP Server Error 503.” I was back in Kafka land, the world of high-tech jargon, a cosmos that leaves old-timers like me speechless and cantankerous.
By doing some google research, I found out that my provider (whatever that means) is allegedly “working on the problem,” but that I should expect a delay. Given the fact that I have no clue about providers, I was forced to surrender to the land of technological obscurity (And, by the way, I’m from New England: I’m a guy who doesn’t like to be “beholdin’,” especially to some invisible “provider”).
After experiencing this mixed curse of temporary high-tech impotence, I felt gently nudged to start writing my essay for a twitter-friend in Vancouver. So here I am, my initial procrastination morphing into foxhole surrender.
Because I was well into my adulthood before I began to figure out who I am, it is difficult for me to see where the desire to know about myself could ever be a bad thing. The self-knowledge journey continues and, I hope, will be with me for the rest of my life.
On the other hand, there are those who would probably stereotype me as an effete, self-indulgent dilettante wandering around the ring of shamans and spiritual teachers, decadently immersed in questions rather than answers.
Sociologists have given us pretty accurate stats about the majority of us marrying or having intimate relationships, endogamously—that is, inside of our class, race, religion, and/or economic status. Exogamy is the exception, not the rule. Even if we know someone from another culture in the workplace, most of us still go home to our homogeneous and segregated communities.
The notion of marrying or living inside one’s own heritage and culture was constantly reinforced when I was growing up in the 1950s, an era that was in denial about how deep the racial and ethnic divides actually were.