I’m probably overreacting. It’s probably no big deal. This too shall certainly pass. Still, I’m genuinely concerned about the direction our country is heading. What direction, you ask? Increasing violence? Decreasing human rights? Social security running out? Healthcare in limbo? The economy? The threat of terrorism? These are all extremely valid concerns, but I’m most troubled by how we seem to be losing any interest in kindness and mutual respect, and seem to get off on being hateful. 

For the record, I’m not attacking or blaming any one group. I can point a finger at Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, Jews, athiests, jocks, freaks, nerds, and geeks. Oh, and even me. We all seem to be on the bandwagon of hate — even if we don’t see it, or worse, somehow justify it. Is this magnified and blown out of proportion by the media? Definitely. However, is it real? You better believe it. 

We live in a time when our president tweets hateful messages on a daily basis, religious leaders post discriminatory messages on Facebook, and the news media is on the constant lookout for any controversial, disappointing, or downright hateful news. We are possibly as divided nationally as we’ve been since the Civil War, and there is little evidence indicating improvement anytime soon. I truly fear that in the not too distant future it will be considered acceptable for bank tellers to look us in the eyes, smile, and say, “Thanks so much for banking with us, and go fuck yourself.” 

Despite our very serious problems, all hope is not yet lost. I know for a fact that there are great people doing incredible things every day. We may not all share the same political, religious, or economic views, but there are people putting kindness first. Every single day. It’s not sexy, it’s not popular, but it’s happening, and it needs to get noticed. It needs attention so it can gain traction. This matters — maybe more than anyone realizes. 

It’s not always easy to be genuinely kind and respectful. In fact, it’s damn hard. It’s far easier to lash out, to try to prove a point, to try to make someone feel small, while we make ourselves feel clever. I struggle with it regularly. Taking the high road is sometimes an agonizing climb, but I’m always proud of myself for getting to the top. What people forget — or maybe haven’t learned — is that it feels good to be kind, even to people you disagree with or simply don’t like. If we truly gave everyone a chance, we might just discover that we get along with far more people than we thought. 

I think I was born a realist. I know we will never see eye to eye on everything or be just like one another. Man, I’m glad because life would be awfully boring. I’ve chosen to be an optimist, partly because it just feels better, but also because it forces me work at being a better person. I hope we (and we includes me) can put an effort towards being kind and respectful, because we are all in this together. This is life people, it’s not a drill. Can we agree to stop judging those who are different? Can we let people — as long as they are not directly harming anyone — do what makes them happy? Can we not only accept those who are different from us, but actually wish them the best, and then expect the same in return? 

We all think our opinion is right. We all have beliefs we think others should follow. Many see this as conviction, a positive, the only way. I will continue to do my best to make my conviction kindness. When I’m kind and respectful I always feel like I’m doing what’s right. 

If we care about our nation’s well-being, I hope we will not just agree to disagree, but learn to sincerely respect each other and be honestly kind to one another. This isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight. It takes practice. It requires trying to see the world through the eyes of others, even if we don’t always like the view. We can choose kindness. Don’t jump ship — we can change our course — it’s not too late. However, it’s a big ship, it’s a pain in the ass to steer, and we all must have a hand on the helm. 

A Few Words on Blasphemy Day

September 30, 2016


Today is Blasphemy Day, an international “celebration” of speaking up against religion and religious laws. I am all for the separation of church and state. I’m against any laws based on religion — laws are made to protect citizens, not promote any agendas. I’m also very glad I live in a country that allows people to stand up for what they believe in, whatever those beliefs may be. However, I don’t like any religious ideologies being shoved down my throat. Similarly, I don’t need to have non-believers shouting about how ridiculous religion is, which is what Blasphemy Day has become in many cases.

Religion is probably the world’s leading cause of war, hate, fear, guilt, and anxiety. I can’t imagine a God who would willingly put His creations through the suffering that we humans are suffocated by on a daily basis. Are we all just some school project that the Lord is working on? Are we rats in a cage being tortured by a Master, seeing what lengths we will go to in order to receive a piece of everlasting cheese? I don’t think so, but it isn’t my place to criticize those who believe. It’s counter-productive. I have better things to do.

There’s a thought that’s been regurgitated by philosophers for thousands of years, which basically states: a wise man realizes he knows nothing. This belief is paradoxical and somewhat self-deprecating…and pretty damn perfect. Count me in.

Today, like every day, we have a choice. We can criticize those who believe differently, or we can accept it and move on to fight more useful battles. Some will put their faith in religious texts, some will put their faith in science. Both of these leave plenty of room for error and modification. I will choose to put my faith in those of any religion, or lack thereof, who use their energy towards making the world a bit better for everyone living in it. If there is a God — and I can’t say that there isn’t — I think it’s what He would want; taking care of each other and our world. Let’s be good to each other. Anything else seems like blasphemy to me.

Hating Isn’t Helping

March 22, 2016


More sickening, heartbreaking news. This time it’s a terrorist attack in Nice, France. Tomorrow it could be in Rome, London, the Middle East, or even the middle of America. Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” She of course was referring to ripples of kindness, love, and compassion, but right now it seems the only ripples most of us see and feel are those of hate, fear, and chaos. These ripples are becoming waves, dividing both our nation and the world.

Let me remind some of you — I worry a growing number of you — that the creation of hate, fear, chaos, and division is exactly what terrorists lust after. I’m in no way suggesting that we turn a blind eye, but we must not allow hate to breed upon itself. We can’t allow ourselves to wrongly assume that all Muslims hate Christians, and we must let it be known that the majority of Christians (and the rest of our diverse population) do not hate Muslims. Remember who the enemy is. It is a relatively small group of extremists, cast out by friends and family who once loved them. These people who have turned their backs to terrorists are now being judged as inherently evil by too many Americans. Let us not get caught up in the hatred. If we decide all Muslims — or any other group of people as a whole — are bad, we are only playing into the hands of terrorism. We are literally making new enemies out of innocent people, many of whom are living peaceful, productive lives in the United States.

The division of our country is as dangerous to us as terrorism; possibly even more so. Obviously there is media sensationalism, but the rift between our political parties, races, religions, and nationalities is truly a widening fissure. It is a gap that will soon become difficult to bridge. Anyone reading this has heard the phrase Make America Great Again. If we sincerely want America to be great again, we must stand together. We can (and will) disagree, but we cannot disrespect. We must believe that most people — at home and abroad — are inherently good, then fight against evil, terrorism, and oppression as a united front. Only then will we be great again. Only then will we have a chance to succeed.

Some will say I’m naive and dreaming of some unrealistic utopia, but that is not the case at all. In fact, I’m a realist. Hate is a strong force that will never completely cease to exist, but adding more hate — even under good intentions — only strengthens its power. Please join me in casting stones of kindness and compassion. I alone can only make small ripples, but together we can make a mighty tide. Hating just simply isn’t helping.

“Vacation Bible School is pretty cool.  First, we get to sing songs on a stage, then we play games, then we have a boring class about Jesus, then we have another boring class about Jesus, then we have drinks and snacks.  I can’t wait to go back this summer!” ~ Recent quote from my five year old daughter

Although I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of organized religion, I’m a big believer in the good values that Vacation Bible School can teach kids.  I grew up going to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.  I didn’t always (or maybe ever, really) look forward to church, but I always enjoyed that one week of VBS each summer.  It didn’t feel like going to church, but instead was just fun.  Like my daughter does now, we too played games, sang songs, and ended each day with drinks and snacks.  Along with the fun, I remember one recurring theme year in and year out: to love and be nice to each other.

Despite not being big on religion, I definitely think there are positive messages in the Bible, just as there are in the Tanakh, Qur’an, Vedas, Tripitaka, and every other sacred text.  I’m far from a religious scholar, but I know one message consistent throughout almost every religion is the ethic of reciprocity, or what Christians commonly refer to as the “Golden Rule.”  Paraphrased, this means to treat others as you would like to be treated.  Regardless of your brand of faith (or lack thereof), it’s hard to argue with this ideology.

Growing up in a Protestant Christian church (Nazarene, to be specific), I remember numerous sermons focusing on hellfire and damnation.  I’m not saying that this was always the subject, but there was plenty of fear and guilt to go around.  Sure, there were times when the pastor spoke about something funny or lighthearted.  I don’t recall the topics, but there were certainly occasions when the nave was full of laughter.  Even on those days, though, our orator would usually end his speech by asking everyone to accept Jesus into their heart, and therefore avoid spending the rest of eternity in a bottomless pit of fire.  Fear and guilt…  Luckily, however, this has not been my experience with Vacation Bible School.

Paraphrasing the Golden Rule a bit more, you could say it simply means to be kind.  This is what I remember being taught when I was at VBS, and it has been the gist of what my kids seem to be learning as well.  I’ve seen firsthand that, although my daughter describes it as a “boring class about Jesus,” she is actually learning about being nice to others, making new friends, and playing (and praying) together.  My kids are being taught about kindness and compassion.  I can only hope that the majority of churches run their summer youth programs this way.

It’s odd, considering every religion stresses the importance of the ethic of reciprocity, that there is still so much hate in the world.  If we are honest with ourselves, we know that being kind to others is very rewarding, and no rational person is going to say they don’t enjoy receiving acts of kindness.  Why, then, does it seem to be so hard for people to be nice to one another?

One of the songs we sang back when I was a kid was “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”  Jesus loves the little children, all of the children in the world.  Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight…, the song insisted.  I think Jesus would still love the children when they grow up, right?  Maybe we need VBS for adults, or should at least shift the focus of church services away from scaring congregations or causing them to feel bad about their actions, and instead concentrate more on human relations.  That means (good) relations with all humans, not just those who view the world the way we do.  Some will disagree, but I personally can do without any extra fear and guilt in my life.

I think the Dalai Lama puts it best when he says, “My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.”  Because at the end of the day, isn’t being treated kindly about as good as it gets?  I know it’s what I want.  Oh, and drinks and snacks, of course.