Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.


My favorite quote from the Harry Potter series is spoken by Dumbledore shortly after Harry has been struck down by Voldemort.  Harry is experiencing the afterlife and he asks his former headmaster if any of this is real or if it is all just in his head.  Here is Dumbledore’s brilliant reply:

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

I think the essence of this quote is what I need to successfully navigate step 3 in my 12 step recovery from compulsive overeating.

As far as I can go back in my childhood memory, I had faith in God, specifically Jesus.  I can recall with clarity talking to Jesus as an imaginary friend.  He was always looking out for me and I loved him.  I prayed to him at meals, in church and at bedtime, but only because my parents made me.  But we talked constantly.  Whenever there was no one else in the room, we would talk and talk and talk.  We sang.  I showed him my art.  We were pals.  Sadly, I continued to go to church and that simple faith got all bollixed.

I learned about the Old Testament.  I leaved about Revelations.  I learned about the Devil and I learned about hell.  At the point those seeds were planted, my faith was doomed.  As long as things went relatively well, I was able to cling to my faith.  I was a really rotten Christian, but a Christian none-the-less.

Then I doubled down by going to Bible College.  Ish!…make it stop.  I made the colossal mistake of learning theology.  I learned that the Christian Faith was cobbled together with some very outlandish claims.  I was compelled by peer pressure to tie my spirituality to my political views.  I accepted a very narrow world view and avoided anything that might lead me to a contrary point of view.

At a certain point, it all became too much and I had to moderate my views.  I changed denominations and embraced my liberal views.  But I still tried to keep my teetering world view intact.  This helped for a while.  I even began to think of going into the ministry.

But then I experienced true tragedy.  I felt real pain and I began to really empathize with the pain of others throughout the world.  My narrow world view could not explain what had happened to me; nor could it explain the suffering of others around the world.  In the span of a couple of years, my faith utterly collapsed.

I briefly tried to revive it with a program called Imagine.  But ultimately that turned out to be just another money making scheme ran by a corrupt minister.

So here is the big question:  How do I turn my will and my life over to someone or something I am not sure is real?

This is where I must turn to the great theologian Albus Dumbledore.  “Of course it is happening inside your head…but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

I love the way step 3 is worded.  It does not say turn over your lives to the God of the Jews, or the Christians, or the Muslims or the Hindus or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  It says God as we understand him.  That leaves space for even me.

I cannot, nor can anyone for that matter, empirically prove the existence of a god.  They cannot prove their point of view or their system of theology is right.  No one can even prove that god does not exist.  God in any way shape or form is not open to the scientific method.  You can debunk stories, dates, and miracles of all kinds.  But as to whether or not there is or is not a god is open to debate.

Here is what I do know.  That kid, the one who talked and sang to Jesus, he felt safe, loved and protected.  It may have all been in my head.  But it was right and good.

So that is who I will ask for help.  S/he may all be in my head, but that is also where all the food goes.  So if it works, I think I will give it a shot.

Network Marketing


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When I was about 25, my boss invited me to a breakfast with “local business leaders.”  I was kind of honored.  I thought he might be sponsoring me for the Rotary or Elks club.  Everyone was dressed in business attire.  We arrived a few minutes late, but the guy who was speaking was very inspirational.  I was trying to figure out what “club” this was.  But since I was late, I put that question aside.  I figured I missed the introduction. 

The next guy got up and was equally dynamic.  He was talking about how he had made a substantial fortune using something called “network marketing.”  That was the first time I had heard that term.  I was intrigued.  He was drawing diagrams with concentric circles.  When he got the last circle, he used the dreaded word…Amway!

But my boss assured me that Amway was an outdated concept.  This was not that pyramid scheme my parents had warned me about.  This was a new paradigm.  I bit.  I should have run.  My parents told me it was a waste of money.  But I knew better…  

…Six months later, I moved.  I did not leave any forwarding information. 

It was in fact: a pyramid scheme.

But I am nothing if not naïve.  Fast forward twenty years later.  I was burned out on religion.  I was twisting and torturing my mind to hold on to my faith, but failing miserably.  Then a friend came along and started talking to me about the “nones.”  People who were spiritual but not religious.  Really?  Go on…

And so it began.  My 2 year attempt to re-brand my Christian faith into a new paradigm.  But wait you say, “Isn’t that the same ‘Ole Time Religion’?” 

Why no!…

…No, this is completely different…

…The clergy are not the drivers…

…This is about people…

Until…

…until its not.  At the end of the day, it is still about putting butts in the seats.  It is not about building up people.  It is about drawing a crowd and getting their money.  And if you do anything that threatens the bottom line, you will be tossed aside like a bad penny.

It is my own fault.  I let the parasites in.  I believed the hype. 

It stung like hell, but I think I am getting back to some sense of normalcy. 

Next post….12 steps to free your mind.

Eleanor Rigby


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Last Sunday, I attend a new church for the second time. During the sermon, I found myself thinking, “Why do I do this?” 

Why indeed.

I can think of dozens of “Why nots.” But I am running short on “whys.”

The only thing I could come up with is that I am lonely. But is it worth the emotional investment?

No answers…just questions.

Of Santa’s and Saviors


Desire

I am not feeling it this year, Christmas that is.  Secular or sacred, it does not matter.  I just want December to be over.  I just want 2014 to be over.  I just want winter to be over.

I wish life came with a Tivo remote so that I could fast forward through the unpleasant part and replay the good stuff.

There I go, desiring stuff again.  Second noble truth ignored.  I suck at being a follower of at least three religions and several philosophies.

I should go eat something.

Sky Cake:  The Middle Weigh


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Before reading this entry, watch the video that inspired it.

I love cake.  My middle can attest to this fact.  Red velvet in particular is very tasty.  But as I am sure you can already guess that this posting is not about actual cake.  Rather it is an appreciation of Patton Oswald’s routine on faith.

I love this act, not just because it is funny, but because he articulates something that I have not heard.  Christians and Atheist often behave in similar ways.  Too often the rhetoric we hear is that the world would be better off if one of these ways of thinking were annihilate.  I am not comfortable in either of these camps.  Like a growing number of people, I find myself somewhere in the middle (where the cake is stored).  I do not take the bible literally, but I see value in many of its passages.  I accept science, but I do not pretend to know all the answers.

That is why I love Sky Cake.  It recognizes the societal value of religion while poking fun at its excesses.

I don’t know if there is a creator.  But the universe as a whole does behave like a living thing.  Whether or not that thing has consciousness or not is unknowable, at least to me.

But it has become quite fashionable in the last few decades, to blame all of society’s ills on religion; while completely ignoring the good and civilizing influence religion has brought.  Blaming religion is just (to use a religious phrase) a scapegoat.  Wars, poverty, disease, hatred, etc…these things are not caused by religion, but by a scarcity of resources.  Religions and gods are often the mascot war, but the absence of religious sentiment would not make these problems disappear.  People will always find a convenient banner to march behind (brown eyed people unite!).

My problem has always been what to say to people when they displaying intolerance.  Thanks to Patton Oswald, I now have a concise response, “Oh sky cake, why are you so delicious?”  If they care enough to google the phrase, they’ll know what I mean and hopefully take the hint.

…or possibly be they’ll be horribly offended and kill me.  Guess we’ll see.

 

Attachment and Engagement


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Here are thoughts for a rainy day from a practicing agnostic Christian Buddhist. I have been struggling of late with the third noble: suffering is the result of attachment. I think what I got hung up on was the antonym of attachment: detachment. Detachment denotes aloofness. Visions of a monk in a cave come to mind. That mode of being for me is completely unattainable. I cannot follow in the footsteps of the Buddha and just dump my family and traipse around the countryside searching for enlightenment. That kind of behavior would not only increase my own suffering, it would inflict it upon others.

Upon further reflection and a bit of poking around others blogs, I think I see the flaw in my logic. The opposite of attachment is detachment. That kind of thinking is dualistic, which Buddhism frowns upon. In all things, it is good to look beyond the extremes and focus on the “middle way.” Attachment is grasping, making a fist to hold onto what one owns or desires. It is not actively fleeing from anything; instead, it is not trying to possess what belongs to no one.

The reason I bring this up is because of issue my family is going through. My wife’s tenure at her job is coming to an end. To say it is a messy transition, would be an understatement. I have been raging for weeks and not really understanding why. I have been living in a pattern of avoidance. I wanted people to “do the right thing.” I kept expecting to behave in a typical “by the book” fashion. The more things degraded, the angrier I got. I had convinced myself that mine was the only way of seeing the situation and those holding a contrary view were just selfish. I thought in my arrogance that if I could just get people to see “the big picture”, everything would be resolved. The more I wanted to be understood, the angrier I got. The harder I tried to meditate the more my thoughts focused on perceived injustices and my own view of the situation.

On top of everything, her resignation had to be kept secret. This made the whole situation intolerable. We had to tell many half-truths and avoid other people all together. I felt dishonest in all of my interactions. But finally last night, the damn broke and the principle participants were told.

I feel like a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders. The secret is out. And finally, I can focus on my own spiritual shortcomings. Upon reflection I can see that I have been wrapped up in how I expected others to behave…grasping, clawing. I had to let it go. I can’t fix things. I cannot make people see things my way. Things are what they are. And that has to suffice. This is a fixed point in time. I will probably always remember it. But this moment will pass. The lost relationships will hurt. But new relationships will be forged. I have to release what was never mine and wish all involved peace.

I am not there yet. But I am well on my way.

Noteworthy


Seeger

I stumbled onto an old album by Pete Seeger at the Sing-along Sanders Theater. The album covers many traditional and folk songs. As the name would imply, the audience sings along.
One song in particular just released waves of pent up emotion coursing thought my veins. It was “Amazing Grace.” I was at my desk, trying miserably to focus on my work when the track started. He holds out the second note of the song, Amaaaaaaaaaaaa. My eyes welled up with tears and I was on the verge of weeping.

When I hear amazing music, I wish that I could be transformed into that note or phrase. I want the separateness of my being to melt into the whole of universe. It is music that gives me insight into the notion that there is no “I.” There is only we.

Hilarious


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When my son is in the hospital, my wife and I take shifts staying overnight with him.  That way there is always one coherent parent present when Drs and nurses come by.  In this last 6 day stint, Monday was one of my nights off.  When I got home I was so keyed up, I had to watch TV for a while before my mind would relax enough that I could sleep.  I watch several comedy specials on Netfliks.

One of the specials I watched was Louis CK’s “Hilarious.”  One of his bits was about Americans and their insistence on complaining while living in paradise.  He was joking about what a miracle cell phones are; but that Americans constantly gripe about them being slow or not working properly.  You have an amazing piece of technology.  But instead of being in awe, you nitpick over slight inconveniences.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I realized how whiney I can sometimes be.  When my son is in the hospital, I bitch and moan to myself about how seeming unfair the universe is.  But I miss the lesson of how incredibly lucky I am.  I have access to a world class health facility.  I have amazing doctors and nurses working round the clock to transform my son’s broken body into a working whole.  I have great insurance that pays the bulk of my costs.  I have a job with generous vacation that allows me to be present at all of his surgeries.  I have constant access to the internet where friends and family show their love and support.  I have a strong marriage with an incredible woman.  I have a caring extended family.

In short, I have nothing to complain about.  Nothing.  Yes, my family was dealt a rough hand, but we have all of our bases covered.

I found my gratitude.  Thank you to my family.  Thank you to my friends.  And thank you to the dedicated professionals that work at Children’s National Medical Center.  I am in debt to the generosity of others.

Kinda Prayin’


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I must preface my remarks today with an observation.  Love has become an almost meaningless word to me.  It is so ubiquitous in our lexicon that it can refer to hamburgers, sex or a lifelong commitment.  So I am going to stop using it.  For today’s entry the word I will use to convey my thoughts is kind.  Kind in this context is wanting the very best for another person.

As I have mentioned in previous postings this week, on Sunday my family will be going to Children’s Hospital so that my son can undergo two surgeries.  Now there are a whole host of people that will be wanting to convey their sympathies for my son.  Most of my family and childhood friends will express that sentiment by saying  they will be praying for us.

Do I believe in prayer?  Yes, but it took a very circuitous route for me to come back to belief in prayer.  What I believe prayer is and what it does has radically changed over the years.  Here is what I no longer believe:  rayer is not the Jerry Lewis telethon.  Whatever your concept of God is, I am quite sure her/his eternal plans are not impacted by the number and sincerity of “calls” that come in.

“Little Billy got the requisite number of 900 prayers to cure his cancer, but sadly his Aunt Suzie’s prayer did not seem genuine enough leaving him one short, so it’s death for him.”

I just don’t think the universe works that way.

Here is what I do think prayer does:  When someone says they are praying for me, they are reaching out with kindness and expressing that they want the very best for me.  That does two things in my book.  First it gives me a psychological boost knowing that someone has got my back and is partnering with the most powerful concept they can conceive of, namely God.  Secondly I think praying for someone else makes the prayer more in tune with the pain in the world.  I bet it makes them act just a little bit more kindly towards other people in their lives.  That gives suffering meaning.  Even if the subject of prayer has a tragic outcome, knowing that their suffering made other people act just a little bit more kindly gives some meaning to otherwise meaningless outcome.

So do I covet prayers for my son?  You betcha!

The Winter of My Discontent


VACTERL occasionally gives you a little break.  Though you may have an onerous lists of tasks required to keep your child happy and healthy, you get into an offbeat rhythm that mimics normal life.  You find a place of serenity and you think that you have beaten back the deadly predators.

But really you are kidding yourself.  The minute you think you have it whipped, it knocks the shit out of you and leaves you breathless.  VACTERL is an evil minion of death that is desperate to get its talons into you and your child.  If it does not kill, it ravages both parent and child alike. 

But you keep plodding on.  Because that is what you have to do.  You have to force yourself out of bed every day and go through the life-giving rituals that allow your child to continue.  There is no quitting.  There is no time for quiet contemplation.  There is just the continuing dance in the quicksand.  You flail about to keep your heads above the sand.

Peace will never come, just an end.  Whose end is unclear.