Friday, May 8, 2015

I've got everything I need; nothin' that I don't.

I turn 30 on Saturday. I've decided that I'm not going to fear or be embarrassed by my age. Age is nothing more than an arbitrary number based on the number of fingers on human hands (base 10) and the length of time it takes the Earth to revolve around the earth. But arbitrariness aside, it feels like a good time to reflect back over the past 30 and look forward to the next. 

I was never one to plan my future as a teen and young adult. I didn't graduate high school with much direction. I was working at a local grocery store and hadn't applied to any colleges. I think I figured that I would eventually go to college but didn't enroll in the fall semester. I switched to working over-nights after high school ended and was excelling; by the end of the year I was the #1 night manager. 

Luckily a couple of other things were happening in my life. First was my roommate. He was attending the local community college. I was seeing that he was going to school while working full time. The second thing was that my Mom worked at the same grocery store chain. She had worked there for nearly 10 years at that point but could hardly afford to live on her own. I realized then that I didn't want to get stuck in the grocery business and enrolled in the local community college the following spring. 

Around this time was when my wife and I started dating. It still seems a bit inconceivable that we two fell in love and got married, but after a year of dating I proposed and a few months later we tied the knot. In July we will have been married 10 years, 1/3 of my life and defiantly the best third. 

When she graduated college and got a grown up job, I left the grocery business and was able to finish graduate school by taking on a full load of classes plus some. I finished my 6 year degree in 6 years from high school, but I had to cram both years of graduate school into two semesters to get it done. But get it done I did and was quite satisfied with myself getting one of the first Master's degrees in my family. Both of my older brothers (probably feeling quite embarrassed) eventually went on to get theirs too--copy cats. 

During my last semester and through the summer I went on a half dozen interviews. Some of them went really well and others seemed to go poorly. The one that I felt went the worst was the one that offered me the job and since it was my lone offer, I took it. It turns out that it is the perfect job for me. The independent work complimented my aptitudes and the hours fit my lifestyle: 8-5, no overtime, every other Friday off. 

Six months into the job, we were expecting our daughter and by her first birthday we were expecting my son. I would have never expected it earlier in life, but I love having kids. I don't love kids in general, but my kids, I can't imagine not loving them and sharing all of their life experiences with them. I kiss them both before I go to bed and I want to always do this. Some nights I'm tired and already curled up in bed and don't want to get out of bed to kiss the most peaceful versions of themselves, but I do so that I don't fall out of habit. They are awesome and have taught me more about the meaning of life than anything else. 

A few years ago I had a goal to own a house by the time I turned 30. We moved to a lower income apartment and saved almost every penny. Last year we went house hunting and were discouraged as every house sold before we had a shot. We disliked our realtor and lender and seller but we were still able to find a house; our home. I love our crooked house and all the memories that we will make here.

So 18 year old me, without a formal plan, executed life the only way he could have to get me here to the place where I've got everything I need. I've got a wonderful wife, awesome children, a safe home, and a bunch of amazing people in our lives that love and care very much for us. 

One of my only regrets (and regret isn't quite the right word) is that I was unable to harness and grow relationships better with some of those whose lives drifted away from mine. In some cases I feel like I could have done a little bit more, but others were more inevitable. I've come to discover that the people in your life are the secret to happiness and you have to hold on to those that make you a better person. I've done a fairly good job, but could have done a bit better. 

Looking forward will be all about building on what we've got. I want to spend more time enjoying those who love us and less time worrying about the little things. I'd also like to keep in mind two pieces of advice from the Netflix show Derek. The first is "always get up." It's a simple solution for some of life's most complex problems. The second is "kindness is magic." The magical thing about kindness is that it makes you feel good, whether your on the giving or receiving. The world could use a little more of it and above all else, kindness is the thing I want to instill in our children. 

Thanks for reading. Here's to the next 30. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Poem: Being Gay

From Kyle, a member of one of my closed FB groups. It's a group for atheists, many of whom cannot be open about their beliefs due to the fear of reprucussions or being out in their families, communities and jobs. Kyle is one of the lucky ones who is able to be himself, but not without the judgement of others. 

Listening to stories from others increases my compassion for them and energizes my urges to do what I can to help. 

"As an out and proud "Gaytheist", thought I would share this poem I wrote a few days ago:

Being Gay

With difference comes aggression
A fear of the unknown
With disgust, they stare at us
We're in the crowd, alone

As children, we were taunted
We didn't fit their molds
We hid ourselves the best we could
We knew who may be told

We hide our love from the public
Visibility, a risk
Afraid of what could happen if
We shared a simple kiss

Our joys are much the same as theirs
Our sorrows follow suit
We laugh, we cry, our days go by
But all of that is moot

If the stares could see within
They would surely find
We're people, normal people
But through ignorance, they're blind"

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Moth

The other week I caught up on all my podcasts and went searching for another. I have really begun to enjoy podcast episodes where they let the guest tell their story. One of my favorites to date was Mormon Stories podcast episodes 518 & 519 where Clark Johnsen told his story from being raised in the LDS church, to his mission, BYU and then to identifying as gay and his time acting in the Broadway play The Book of Mormon. 

I get drawn in by the authenticity of telling one's own story and the raw, unabashed emotions. Letting others, complete strangers, be drawn in and embracing the vulnerability sharing personal and private details. I love how these stories allow me to reflect on my own life, my own experiences, drawing comparisons and identifying areas that I can improve. 

As I searched for a new podcast to fulfill this urge I found The Moth Podcast. The first story I listened to was told by a man who on a skiing mountain by himself caught a baby. The next was of a women who worked in the World Trade Center building with her mother. The next of  a school counselor who had to navigate an active shooter situation at his school. The next of a man who's parents burned his belongings and cut off all ties when he told them he was gay. 

I told myself that I would never go back and listen to old podcast episodes of newly discovered podcasts but I couldn't help it. But The Moth Podcast only keeps a dozen old episodes in there feed, so I have to listen to them off their website like a caveman. 

When I told my wife about The Moth Podcast she said, "yeah, they are on NPR every week dummy," or something like that.  So I may have been the last person to discover The Moth Podcast, I am enjoying it at least as much as the first. This week was a quick 15 minute episode. I can't wait until next week's!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Why Not Believe, Just In Case

Often times believers ask atheist, "why don't you believe in God, just in case." The rational behind this question is that there are two options. If you believe and God exists, you have everything to gain. If you don't believe and God exists, you have everything to lose. If God doesn't exist, there are no losses or gains. It seems simple enough by that logic that you should believe. 

Imagine that you, by no effort or action, gained credit with the local horse track and could place a bet for no cost. Even better, there was only one horse racing. If you place the bet, it seems that you are guaranteed to win. The only problem is that it is raining and the race may not run (these are no mudders). So if you place the bet and they run, you win. 

This argument is called Pascal's wager. It only calculates for a head or tails outcome and therefore the logic doesn't work in real life scenarios. In reality, there is more than one horse. Depending on how you calculate it, there are 20 or so major world religions and there are thousands of splits to these main religions. There are also many other extinct religions and many future religions. So while at the horse track, you are not really betting on the only horse in the field, but on one of many, up to an infinite amount of other horses. And there is still a very good chance of rain. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I Pledge Allegiance

"I pledged allegiance to [the flag of the United States of America], and to the republic for which it stands, one nation [under God], indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellmay. In 1923 the words "my flag" were changed to "the flag of the United States of America." In 1954 the words "under God" were added. 

The Pledge of Allegiance is recited daily at many schools however students are not legally required to stand, salute the flag or recite The Pledge of Allegiance. Sometimes students who refuse to perform these actions are punished by their teachers or administrators. These punishments are unlawful and unconstitutional. 

Those who do not recite the pledge are oftentimes bullied or name-called. They are said to be disrespectful to those serving in the military and veterans or unpatriotic. The Pledge of Allegiance has now become divisive and no longer promotes liberty for all. 

I would much rather pledge my allegiance not to a flag, but to all those who are working together to make this country and the world a better place. Those who fight for the rights of minority and non-privileged groups. Those who are brave enough to recognize and speak out about the shortfalls of societies and give their all to correct them. This includes members of the military, of congress, of the executive and legislative branches of government and of many more private citizens of this country and others around the world. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

On Faith and Trust

Matthew 17:20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Religious faith strikes me as a most peculiar thing; defined as a belief that is not based on proof. I think there are two primary ways to obtain religious faith. The first is to want to have faith. A natural causation to this urge may be to answer some seamingly unanswerable question. If the answer is baseless in evidence, then belief in the answer must be faith based. A want to believe in God in order to find meaning in one's life could be an example. The alternative way to obtain faith is through indoctrination. Through indoctrination along with the suppression of free-thought one could lack the necessary tools to examin their faith and identify potential flaws and fallacies. To teach a child that God exists and attribute natural human emotions and natural phenomenon to His existence is indoctrination. One could also have a religious faith in non-religious things such as Bigfoot or alien encounters or science denial based on "motherly instinct."

I was able to break free of my indoctrination during my "rumspringa" and eventually filled the need for answers with the scientific method rather than faith. I've lost all religious faith, but I've retained the more essential secular faith; defined as confidence or trust in persons or things. This faith is based upon observation and evidence. 

I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow. I have faith that the scientific community is providing the most reliable answers based on the information available. I have faith that my neighbor will let me know if something suspicious happens while we're out. I have faith that most people are good natured. 

All of these things could be wrong. The sun could burn out tonight, all scientist may be colluding and in the pocket of Big-[Industry], my neighbor could be a theif, etc. But all of these things are based on prior observations and evidence; astronomical evidence, scientific results and breakthroughs and social interactions. I trust that the observations are truly representative. 

Using the secular definition, faith and trust are interchangeable rather than faith and beief in the religious definition. So when I insist that I have faith in someone or something, it is an expression of trust, not belief. 

I think secular faith is essential because it is impossible to know and verify every bit of information while religious faith creates unverifiable fantasies of quite the variety. The only way I've ever known to move a mountain is not through religious faith in Jesus, but rather a secular faith in plate tectonics. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

My Personal Congregation

I was reading over Gina Colvin's blog on her reflection of the latest excommunication in the LDS church. 

She pointed out that we are no longer bound by the walls of any religious institution with the technology available today. We are free to pick and choose the voices we listen to from a near endless supply. She said that she has two congregations; online and a local ward. Both are important to her to grow her spirituality.

I just have one. I have created for myself an online congregation. It happened quite unknowingly when I listened to those first few episodes of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast and my once dormant spirituality was unlocked. 

Some of you may cock your head to the side when I use the term spirituality, but I use it as a metaphor for my yearning for knowledge and truth. Along the way I've found that it has also helped my discover my true philosophical identity and has helped me to better sympathize and empathize with others. 

As my spirituality grew I added more people and voices to my congregation. Some of the voices are from my podcast subscriptions and some are through various blogs and oftentimes the two intersect. These voices provide information and stories that both coincide with and challenge my own assumptions and beliefs and allow me to learn more about myself and others. Through social media I am able to interact as much or little as I'd like. I even reciprocate with this blog of my own.

So even though I'm not a member of any spiritual organization or group, I've got my own spiritual congregation and no one can take that away.