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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Losing My Religion

The past few years have caused me to really take a long, hard look at my life, who I am and what I believe.  I've come close to kicking the bucket four or five times in the last three years, and coming face to face with one's own mortality is a horrifying but enlightening experience.  Revelatory, if you will.  It's forced me to look at the carnage of my existence, the joys of being on this planet, and try to solidify just what it is in my heart that I believe.

And it has not been easy.

I was raised in a Baptist home, but it was really my mother who was the driving force spiritually.  My father was, at best, a recreational Christian.  It was only after I had joined the Navy and got together with a group of Christians on the ship that I really started to see what I believed, to begin to have an apprehension of what it was my mother believed and why she believed it.  I dove head-first into the faith, purchasing commentaries, different translations and the like with the hope that I'd learn more, understand more.  A few years later, pursued a seminary education and thought I finally had it figured out.

I didn't.

One thing I learned and have experienced is that religion as we know it today is not at all what the early Christians believed or practiced.  It's a weird, watered-down and funky version of what we think we're supposed to believe and experience.  Since this is my blog and it contains my thoughts, I decided to share with you a little bit of what I believe and have learned about faith over the course of my 50 years on this planet.

I believe that love really is the answer.  When we truly love, we forgive, we have the ability to see the flaws in others but also realize that they are not the sum total of those flaws.  True love sacrifices, it doesn't judge, it doesn't hate but it does get pissed off once in a while.

I affirm the Creeds of the Church.  The Nicene and Apostle's Creeds have meaning and are great barometers to determine whether we're on track or not.  Or if we need to reevaluate our belief system.

Pharisees exist everywhere and sometimes, they reside in our very hearts.  The Pharisees were real jerks back in the days of Christ.  They were the political/religious leaders of the day who used their position in the faith as political leverage - they hounded Christ his whole time on earth and they were ultimately responsible for His death.  Today, their impact on the political landscape is undeniable - with the passage of religious laws that have no place in the Constitution, whose motives are to recreate a theocratic culture that cannot nor will not every come to fruition.  They will fight, kick, scratch and destroy whomever gets in their way of this quest, and more often than not, it's those closest to them that are the casualties in their holy war.  We've all known a few of these people and sometimes, if we're honest with ourselves, we know that they reside in our minds as well.

I no longer believe in the death penalty as we know it.  Don't get me wrong - if we catch someone in the act of a heinous crime, or if we have completely irrefutable evidence, I can understand swift justice.  But if I am going to say that I'm pro-life, I can't intellectually ascend to the acceptance of the death penalty when there is even a slight chance that we may be getting it wrong.  I just can't do it.

Politics should never hinder our ability to fellowship.  Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian...those are just labels that define a political world view.  It does not define us spiritually.  Never should we find ourselves in a position where we refuse to break bread or to have fellowship with someone because of their political proclivities.  That's just stupid.

The beginning of spirituality is the end of self.  To truly have a relationship with the Creator, we have to die to ourselves.  I've not accomplished this task, but I know it to be true.  The absolute embodiment of our love for God lies in our self-sacrifice for others - and not just for those who we know intimately, but even those we don't.  I was once told that the homeless were God's wedding invitation to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and I'll tell you, I don't know that not to be the case.

We've gotten it wrong for so long, it may be impossible to get it right again in the macro.  Televangelists, get rich quick schemes, name-it and claim-it, false healings and of course, the Joel Osteen mega church malarkey has so permeated the fabric of our faith community that we've lost sight of what really matters.  What used to be a place of worship, fellowship and love has turned into a retail establishment wherein we can purchase emotional indulgences and walk away feeling as though we've experienced something spiritual.  It is going to take nothing short of a dramatic reformation of the Church to see these problems go away.

We're approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, followed by Christmas and to me, in many ways, Thanksgiving signifies more than contemporary Christmas does about faith.  At the end of the day, we are to approach all things with a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness.  And before you consider me anathema, remember that I do believe, I just don't believe in the fecal matter being dished out today and called "Christianity."

Merry Christmas!


Friday, November 21, 2014

It Never Happens That Way

Every single day of our lives, we're bombarded with images of how our lives should be.  We see elegant homes, filled with expensive trappings and of course, the beautiful people to go along with it.  On television, men and women who look like they need a sandwich and a big dose of additional brain cells parade across our screens, enticing us to envy them, taunting us to desire to be like them.  Billboards show us the answers to many of life's problems ranging from hemorrhoid cream to pest control - which is somehow related, I'm sure.  These images, these messages are just unrealistic and we know it in our heart of hearts.  But that doesn't matter because we lust, covet and strive to attain the unattainable.  

It never happens the way it is portrayed in media, but we don't care.  Blindly, we march ever forward.

I know.  That seems depressing, doesn't it?  The thought that most of our dreams will never come true, that we're stuck with ourselves as we are tastes so bitter.  But there's a bright side to not getting all that we dream and the revelation that the images we see are little more than images depicting fantasy world.  

Low expectations mean less disappointment.  It doesn't get any more simple than that.  If you expect to be hurt, the happiness that follows when you're not is just that much more exciting and titillating.  

No such thing as "happy endings."  And I'm not talking about massage here, I am talking about the fact that you're just not going to ride off into the sunset with your Prince/Princess Charming.  More than likely, you're going to fall asleep in a lawn chair while Ambassador Average snores next to you.

They aren't coming to your funeral.  Usually, about half of the people who say they love you, that they adore you will even show up to say goodbye at your funeral.  The ones who will show up, however, are the drama queens who will gnash their teeth and proclaim how much they loved you while you were alive - but they were rarely there when you needed them most.  I remember going through a pretty wicked bout of depression where producing even the energy to take a breath was met with another temptation to jump off a bridge. Very few of my so-called "loved ones" actually gave a shit, and even fewer did anything about it.  You're no different than me - we're all in the same boat and there aren't enough life preservers.  Better learn to swim...

Our struggles contribute to our identity.  Like it or not, we are the sum total of our experiences.  The losses and the joys we experience throughout our lives define us, mold us into the persons we are right now.  Even as you read this, your inner struggle is at its very core, aftershocks of those defining moments.

Go to the gym all you want and tell the world about it, but, you're still a fat ass.  You are not your weight, you are not the breadth and girth of your muscles.  You are who you are on the inside and if the inside of you is evil, it doesn't matter how you try to dress it up - you're a douchebag.  Those who love you, who love the very essence of who you are won't give a damn how many hours you spend at the gym, so just stop it.  Sure, stay healthy, but don't be an asshole about it.

Little things matter.  Forget the vacation in Belize, the yacht club, the diamonds around your neck - what matters is the feel of that person's touch when the diamonds were placed there.  That simple smile from across a crowded room that made your heart flutter.  The smiles of those who truly, passionately love you...these are the things that really matter.  I've been with a lot of people in those last hours and my friends, they didn't give a damn about the outcome of the Superbowl, they cared that someone was there, holding their hand and that they didn't have to make the journey to the other side alone.  I know it sounds morbid but close your eyes and really think about it.  You know I'm right.

Being alone sucks.  We all strive for those intimate moments with ourselves where we can do a little personal inventory - some self-exploration.  Bullshit.  Being alone is horrifying, lonely and depressing as hell.  When given the chance, spend your time with someone or some folks that you care about and who care about you.  This introspective pabulum that is spewed in our direction is bile, it's useless.  Solitude stinks.

Reality is one great big bitch with warts on her nose and breath like a dragon.  But living in reality is insanely more rewarding than living in a dream world, trying to attain something that will never be in our reach.  

When we allow this revelation to engulf us, our food tastes sweeter, the air smells more clear and fresh, and people begin to really matter.  After all, that's what counts. It doesn't matter if you're the perfect cook, the perfect wife, the perfect husband because anyone who thinks and expects you to be is completely insane.  Even the Christian faith itself is predicated on an apprehension of the knowledge that, in essence, people suck and left to our own devices, will never be able to do shit about it.  There's freedom there, friends.  Real freedom.  

Of course this is just my opinion and I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt it.


Gorilla



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cop-Bashing: The New Dance Craze

He wakes up every morning long before the sun even considers rising, dons his uniform and heads out the door.  The senses alert when others would still be wiping sleep from their eyes, his focus is both natural and trained.  He knows where he's going, he knows that at any given time throughout this and every other day, he faces the specter of death - his own and others.  The uncomfortable and queasy feeling in the pit of the stomach that began on the first day on the job never really subsided, but instead a numbness, a tolerance has blanketed those feelings because he must survive and in the process, save the lives of others.  It's a job few want and even fewer could handle.  He took an oath to lay down his life if necessary to protect the innocents and that oath drives him, pushes him to survive yet another horrifying day. Today could be his last.  But he goes to work anyway.

So, I ask you:  Am I talking about law enforcement or am I speaking of a service member standing a post?

The trend today, particularly in communities overrun with poverty, it has become trendy once again to hate "the man" and "the man" wears a uniform, puts his life at risk every day so the same people who hate him may live under the blanket of safety he and his fellow officers provide.  Whether it be the destruction in Ferguson or even the outcry over parts of the O.J. Simpson trial, people are lashing out at authority and doing so with no thought whatsoever of the consequence.

As a member of the United States Navy, I had the privilege of seeing foreign lands, to experience a piece of different cultures and I assure you that our law enforcement infrastructure is nowhere near as terrible as what I've seen.  Granted, it's not much to compare to, but if we are to take the issue of law enforcement misbehavior seriously, we have to measure it against the reality that yes, the vast majority of officers are good people, doing a good job.  We live in the greatest country in the world, experience the greatest freedoms, and we have the best trained law enforcement officers as well.

Here is an example that should put to rest much of this new dance craze of cop-bashing.  Take the case of Daniel Holtzclaw in Oklahoma City.  He is a young law enforcement officer who has been charged with some horrific acts of sexual assault and the most recent woman to come forward was 17 years old at the time.  And she was allegedly assaulted on her front porch.  From Newsok.com:
The 32 prior counts against him include rape, sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy, burglary, stalking, indecent exposure and procuring lewd exhibition. There are a total of 13 victims reported in court documents.
Why is this case significant?  Because the officer accused of these crimes was handled by his coworkers and the chain of command by the numbers - it was a textbook example of how law enforcement didn't clamor to protect one of its own, but rather allowed the process that they themselves are a part of, work itself out.

What's the bottom line here:  Before one begins to partake of this trend of cop-bashing, get the facts and not some contrived bullshit from some obscure website on the Internet whose owners wear tinfoil hats, and run around in the grandmother's basement playing Minecraft.  We have access to the truth - we just have to apprehend it and allow ourselves to be apprehended by it.  When this happens, we see the light and we realize that police officers do a job that most of us don't have the balls to even consider.

Are there bad cops who have done bad things?  You bet your ass there are.  But are we so stupid as to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?  I pray not.  A few bad cops do not speak for the rest of the law enforcement community nor should they be the poster children for law enforcement.

Of course, this is just my opinion and I could be wrong.  But I seriously doubt it.

Gorilla


Monday, November 17, 2014

Domestic Violence. Against Men?

Domestic violence.  We have laws to protect victims of domestic violence.  We have mandatory arrests being conducted on a daily basis of perpetrators of domestic violence. Thus far, the attention has been focused almost exclusively on women as victims.  As you'll see very soon, there is research that indicates men are, in fact, victims of physical domestic violence and that women are just as likely to be emotional or psychologically abusive to their partners as men.

As most of you know, I am a big music fan and I believe that music is an art form that often directly reflects the attitudes and acceptable societal norms.  This video, this song from the amazingly talented artist, Pink, makes light of the issue of domestic violence and psychological abuse of men.  And it's widely accepted as funny, as entertaining - but imagine for a moment it were a male artist performing this song about his female partner...


The message is that women can go completely insane on their lovers and at the end of the day, it's only for entertainment purposes. Get a load of this stanza:
"How did I become so obnoxious?
What is it with you that makes me act like this?
I've never been this nasty.
Can't you tell that this is all just a contest?
The one that wins will be the one that hits the hardest.
But baby I don't mean it,
I mean it, I promise."
Again, if this were a man signing this song, there would be incredible outrage.  But let's say for the moment that you're not convinced by cultural displays of attitudes towards abusive women...let's look to hard research.

Here is a quote from a respected source (British Psychology Society) on the problem of domestic violence and in particular, violence against men:
While aggression in heterosexual relationships is believed to stem from men, a recent study presented on June 25 at a symposium on intimate partner violence (IPV) at the British Psychological Society's Division of Forensic Psychology annual conference in Glasgow, found women are more likely to be “intimate terrorists,” or physically aggressive to their partners than men.
But wait, there's more and this time from a completely different source:
Women engage in psychological aggression more than men (Muñoz-Rivas, et al., 2007) and their use of physical aggression is nearly equal to men (Parity, 2010)."
Let's take yet another look at the British Psychological Society's Division of Forensic Psychology and see what they have to say - pay attention (emphasis, mine).
However, when it came to terms of high levels of control and aggression, there was no difference between men and women. There was a higher prevalence of controlling behavior seen in women than men, which was found to significantly predict physical aggression in both sexes. In other words, the more controlling behavior a woman displayed, the more likely she would become an “intimate terrorist,” or physically aggressive to her partner.
What have we learned thus far?  Well, we have learned that the stigma affixed to domestic violence against men is ill-placed and the societal viewpoint that "men just can't be victims," is dead wrong.  The myth of the "weaker sex" is also hereby debunked as fantasy and perhaps should even be considered folklore in our contemporary culture.  Women are equally capable of psychological abuse and by some studies are even more likely to be "intimate terrorists" - I prefer the term "emotional vampire," but the impact is still the same.

It doesn't matter whether the woman is a 6' bodybuilder with a Black Belt in Karate or a 4'11" mousy little secretary with the temper of a dragon, women perpetrate violence against men and unfortunately, men just won't report it:
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, men and boys are less likely to report the violence and seek services due to several challenges such as the stigma of being a male victim. Sixteen percent of adult men who report being raped or physically assaulted are victims of a current or former spouse, cohabitating partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, or date.
Yes, it's true - men are abused emotionally and physically and can experience depression and in some cases, even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  You're probably thinking that this is more than outrageous, perhaps even laughable.  But consider this:  The stigma of being emotionally abused or physically abused by a woman is immeasurable. In our culture, men are to be the standard bearers of strength and emotional disconnectedness.  That pressure of cultural norms coupled with the internal struggle the abuse itself often pushes men into a deep depression and post traumatic stress.  Just like women who are abused, men experience the physical manifestations of the emotional abuse by withdrawing from friends, spending more time isolating one's self, a decrease is sexual function, and in some extreme cases, career choices are made in order to eliminate the stress associated with abuse.

And then, there's this:


There are those of you reading this right now who are probably thinking that men who allow their partners to abuse them are "pussies" or "wimps" and aren't "real men."  But yet, when a woman is abused in the same manner, God help you if you call into question the legitimacy of her claims.  And if you think that the legal system has caught up with the societal norms, you're wrong.  Day after day in family courts across this land, lawyers are using the gender bias to their advantage for their clients and the men, well, they have to bend over and take it just like they have had to in the past - but now it's court sanctioned because a judge put his/her seal of approval on it.

While the laws are steadily improving at addressing various types of domestic violence more specifically, we, as men, are still not willing to accept the label of "victim," yet men are victims as well.  As a society, we outwardly frown upon physical or psychological abuse and rightly so.  However, behind our closed doors, the sad result of our ignorance on the issue is that we are teaching our children by example.  Our kids are bearing witness to the insane ideology that "if Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," when we should be teaching them, "If Momma is an abuser and has her head up her ass, it's unacceptable."

As parents, we thought we were doing the right thing by teaching our sons to control their tempers, and we were.  We have taught them that it is never acceptable to hit a woman.  Unfortunately, we have also taught them that the smartest thing you can do when dealing with angry women is to keep your mouth shut and wait for the storm to pass.  The only result is that the abuser feels vindicated, justified in their ridiculous behavior and the storm increases in intensity and depth - before you know it, you're dealing with an emotional disaster that would even make Katrina blush.  In the process of attempting to reduce domestic violence incidents, we have taught our daughters that they can behave however their emotions dictate without fear or consequence.  It is a swinging pendulum, folks.  Look, I am NOT suggesting that you go smack your wife around.  What I am suggesting, is that it's time to take those skeletons out of the closet and teach them to dance.

Here are some things that men can do to protect themselves.  Of course, these are just my opinion, filled to overflowing with commentary...

1.  Listen to friends.  If your friends tell you that she's batshit crazy, listen.  No circumstance is so bad that you can allow crazy to rule your life.  I've done it and it damned near killed me.  Don't make the same mistake.

2.  No third chances.  If she screws up once, that's fine and we should forgive.  There will be clear evidence if it was an honest mistake or the harbinger of abusive behavior in the future.  If she is abusing in the beginning of the relationship, you can rest assured that it's going to only get worse over time.  Not only that, but staying in that situation will only serve to weaken your defenses until finally, that one day, you explode.

3.  Call law enforcement.  As the research shows, men are less likely to report cases of physical abuse, but it has to be done.  Don’t waste your time calling friends or family because they are limited in what they can do and if you are calling a member of the abuser's family, you're an idiot and should probably stay where you are.  The fact of the matter is that law enforcement has their hands tied by the law - when they arrive, if there are injuries, the other person goes to jail.  So, it's critical that you remove yourself from the situation and THEN contact law enforcement before she has the time to fake injuries.  Let the truth speak for itself.

4.  Get your kids to safety.  Whether it be blended families or biological kids, if they see abuse of the physical or psychological nature, get them the hell out of there.  Not only is the situation volatile, but it's setting a horrible precedent.  If you have daughters and the abuser is a female, they will learn that men are pussies and there is a chance that the emotional scarring will be carried into future relationships.  In most cases, abuse is a learned behavior and not a genetic flaw.  Sure, some have the propensity for violent outbursts, but let’s be honest – our behaviors impact our kids more than we will ever admit.

5.  Do not hire a female attorney.  Forgive me for saying so, but it is virtually impossible for a female attorney to ever think that a man could be or would be abused and she will simply NOT represent you or your best interests.  They deal with male abuser after male abuser and more often than not, will consider your mental anguish and distress as bullshit.  And if your attorney doesn't fully get behind you, you have lost before you started.

6. Document everything. If you're married and it's too late to escape cleanly, you've got to have your shit together and that means documenting everything. If it's physical abuse, take photographs of the abuse and distribute to your closest friends to hang on to for you. When the psychological abuse occurs, write that stuff down and keep it in a journal.

The problem isn't going to go away.  It's part of our culture, part of our societal DNA and it's only going to get worse.  There are a few good resources out there, but the best thing men can do is share what they are experiencing with those who love and care.  Typically, they will support the victim and provide valuable insight as to where to go and what to do.  In the midst of the psychological blood-letting, it's hard to make reasoned decisions so the victim must, at all costs, surround himself with like-minded individuals.  Abusers, in some cases, are so caught up in their own egomaniacal bullshit that it doesn't even register that they are hurting someone.  If we don't change, we are going to end up with a nation filled to overflowing with pussified men who are afraid of their own shadows.  If we can't defend ourselves, how in the hell will we be able to defend our nation?

This is just my opinion (accompanied by hardcore research) and I could be wrong.  But I seriously doubt it.


Gorilla