A Huge Miracle…

I am still unfortunately sick with the flu, but I want to share a few thoughts… I don’t think I can stress enough or adequately put into words what a HUGE MIRACLE being delivered from all of that almost constant anger and rage really is! The FREEDOM from it is WONDERFUL!! I was a good person before I was delivered, but now I am TOTALLY FREE to be ME, and to shine my Light everywhere without reservation and without the possibility of getting caught up in anger again… It’s like a HUGE WEIGHT has permanently been lifted off of me… it’s just no longer there! And I want to press in and really get to know the God who did this for me… that doesn’t necessarily translate to a return to extreme fundamentalism again. I’m not interested in that… there’s too much stuff I would have to believe again that I know isn’t actually true… and I could never see the Bible as inerrant or infallible again… but I am interested in serving God as I understand Him with gratefulness and love in my heart… and I am spending time reading widely on both sides of the religious fence, out of curiosity and out of love for the faith that I once abandoned and openly ridiculed…

But to answer my friend Ryan’s question in another post thread, I don’t think having a religion is really necessary. For me, it works, but I think if there is a God, that He would care more about us being loving and kind toward one another than He would about us subscribing to a particular belief system. My Christianity is extremely liberal, and I view Jesus as more of a moral teacher than anything else, and if pressed to answer the question of his resurrection, I would have to say no, due to lack of evidence and due to my knowledge of how Jesus became God as outlined in Dr. Bart Ehrman’s book of that same name, “How Jesus Became God”. But what does impress me from the pages of that book is how Jesus was already being worshiped as God just a few years after his death… so I dunno… by beliefs are not settled, and I don’t think they have to be right now…

My Religious Journey

Man, what an interesting and incredible and amazing ride this religion thing has been! I was raised United Methodist until I was 10 years old, and then I went back for the Confirmation process in my early teens. And then I didn’t think about religion too much for a few years until we moved across town and I met my new fundamentalist Christian neighbors. Bob and Roxann and I had many interesting religious conversations and I even went to church with them at least once, but for some reason religion just didn’t “stick” at that point in time. I wasn’t convinced and I wasn’t interested. But I was spiritually curious. This was the early 80’s, and I read a lot of the New Age stuff that was in the bookstores and popular at that time, and as teens sometimes are, I was interested in the darker side of spirituality. I looked into out of body experiences and astral travel and I had more than a passing interest in Satanism. I have never been a big KISS fan, but I do like the songs “Lick It Up” and “Heaven’s on Fire.”

I can remember as a teenager imagining that I was worshiping the devil when I listened to that music, lol… it’s funny to me now because I knew and still know basically nothing about modern Satanism, whether the theistic variety or not. LOL… although several years ago I met a theistic Satanist online named Diane Vera and she seemed like a nice person and she was very intelligent but… kooky, lol… She was convinced that Satan existed and was worthy of her worship because a dish that should have been dirty with dust was somehow magically clean… or something… Oooookayyy…. LOL

But anyway… I do remember not liking Jesus or Christmas too much, and it was a spiritual dislike… Hmm…

But then I totally got away from any sort of religion or spirituality for a few years, until I went to college and met Michael Allen Dizmang in drama class. I had ZERO acting talent, but our teacher Mr. Kinney found a very small part for me in the play “Candide.” I was a pirate or something. My job was to scratch my body and make pirate noises, lol… 😀

I was only in the drama class for one semester, but it involved a lot of partying, which I enjoyed enthusiastically, being the young party animal that I was. Between all of this partying and attending classes stoned and staying with friends so I could party instead of living at home under my mom’s roof, Mike was talking to me about Jesus. My initial response was to tell him to “get away from me with that Jesus shit!” But Mike kept at it and he didn’t just talk about his faith. He LIVED his faith and put it into action, giving me a coat when it was cold and making sure I was fed when I was hungry. We didn’t know it back in those days, but I was severely mentally ill with Type 2 bipolar disorder that was years away from proper diagnosis. I was not getting along with my mom at the time, and I had moved in with some fellow party animal friends so I could smoke pot all day, and my job at the time was delivering pizza for Domino’s, and the boss was cool and didn’t care if we smoked pot on the job! As long as we didn’t get too stoned to work, lol… Hey man… HA HA HA HA…. here’s your, uh, pizza HA HA HA HA… LOL…

Anyway, Mike finally got me out to his car to read some Bible verses, and when we read Hebrews 4:12, I felt something stir and come alive in me, and I thought, “Hey, there might be something to this Jesus shit!” So, we prayed that day in his car. It was a Honda Accord, so we were all together in one Accord, lol… and I asked Jesus to be my Savior, and not long after that I attended a showing of the “Jesus Film” at a local Baptist church. That sealed the deal for me. I knew by the time the movie was over that I wanted what this Jesus had to offer! I prayed to receive Christ again just to be sure! 🙂 That was March 7, 1985. Yes, I still remember the date! 🙂

A few months later, it was off to East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, TX for more college. And we still didn’t know that I was seriously mentally ill. Mom and her friend Richard dropped me off at ETBU and unloaded my stuff in my dorm room and left, and I found myself in a strange place, away from home for the first time in my life. I didn’t know a single soul there, and I felt ALONE. I laid down on my bare mattress and cried. And then I went looking for someone to talk to, and within a few minutes I was making new friends. I remember Steve and Chuck and Tommy, but the rest of their names are lost to the mists of time now. It wasn’t too long before my friends found out that I could sing really well, and I got to sing a Michael W. Smith song, “I Am Up”, I believe was the name of it, at the local skating rink’s “Christian Night.” My friends and I also frequently drove across the border to Louisiana to attend numerous Christian concerts. We saw Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart one night, and I got to shake Mylon’s hand backstage! I had gone back for prayer, but Mylon walked up and we shook hands and I said something like, “That was fun!” and he replied, “Yeah, it was!” or something like that. I bet I didn’t wash that hand for a week, lol…

Anyway… the good times at ETBU didn’t last. The mental illness I didn’t know I had at the time raised its ugly head, and I started drinking and smoking pot again… at a Christian school! Needless to say, that didn’t go over well with the powers that be, and I was expelled. Technically, it was an academic suspension since my grades sucked, but the real reason they kicked me out was the partying…

I had no way of knowing it or realizing it at the time back then, but the back and forth yo-yoing of beliefs had begun, and I would be stuck with that cycling for 15 years of my life, swinging between periods of devout religious belief when I was manic and periods of doubt and unbelief and often severe substance abuse when I was depressed. I first started questioning my faith at ETBU, and I remember one of my friends using his wallet as an evangelism tool, lol…

When I got home from ETBU, I went into an inpatient hospital facility for alcohol abuse, but it didn’t work, primarily because they didn’t catch the mental illness and it remained untreated. And I kept drinking after I got out, and I thought AA meetings consisted of the longest hours in the history of the universe! Listening to older alcoholics tell “war stories” as they were called was usually boring as hell!

But anyway… I ended up finding a new church, the Shady Oaks Assembly of God, and there too my singing talent was soon discovered and so began several years of frequently singing solos at church. 🙂 I still remember Anna Jo Fortner shouting, “JEFF!!” after she heard me sing for the first time. She was impressed! 🙂

I have only vague memories of my time at Shady Oaks, but it was fun. At one meeting I attended, we got a laugh about God being able to handle the weight of our very obese pastor. I guess you had to be there, lol…
I soon followed the Fortner’s to their new church outside of Brazoria, TX, called Church on the Rock. I was in my early 20’s at the time, and that was place was fun! Yes, church was fun!  I was soon singing solos there and participating in the praise and worship choir, and I made many good friends. I have many very good memories of that church and of our pastor, Brother Watts. He trusted me enough to let me spend the night at his church on more than one occasion. I spent those nights seeking God and blasting Christian Rock music through the awesome sound system and just having fun, as young people know how to do! 🙂

I continued attending Church on the Rock even after I moved to Houston, TX though I often struggled to come up with the gas money. I made the move to Houston in 1988, and so began a seemingly endless stream of low-wage, dead-end jobs over the next few years. I got fired from Macy’s, where I worked an extremely boring job in the Men’s department, for disappearing from work and for poor job performance. But I thought it was a lot more fun to sneak out of the store and browse the nearby bookstore than it was to do my job. In early 1990, my mother hired me to work at her travel agency in Lake Jackson, TX. I entered the computer world for the first time there, and it wasn’t long before I knew enough to do at least some of the computer maintenance, and I also learned how to use now ancient versions of PageMaker and a program called Arts & Letters. So I did computer work and I did graphics design for her newspaper ads.

But back to religion… I found a new church – the Brazosport Christian Center. I made many new friends and I sang solos there too, though not as frequently as I had at Church on the Rock. In March of 1992, I sang Dallas Holm’s song, “Rise Again” at the Brazosport College Follies and won first place. I still have the video of that performance! I was SO very nervous, and I almost forgot the words toward the end of the song. I remembered the words just literally a second before it was time to sing them, and of course I credited God with the save! 🙂

After my time at the Christian Center, I entered a few years where I was still a believer, but I wasn’t nearly as religious as I had been in earlier years. I had many doubts about my faith and questions that I couldn’t find good answers for. And I was still dealing with a then undiagnosed mental illness. So… fast forward to 2000, and I got on the Net as it existed back then and went searching for information that was critical of the Bible or the Christian faith. I found a bunch of it, and my skeptical education began at sites such as www.infidels.org and www.rejectionofpascalswager.net. Let me back up for a minute and explain something. When I was 16 years old, a psychologist told my mother that I had a “free-floating anger” inside of me that could attach itself to anything. And as I read these skeptical atheist sites, that anger and rage attached itself to the fundamentalist Christian faith, and it didn’t let go for 16 years!! After I had absorbed quite an education from these sites, I decided to start my own. I purchased religionisbullshit.com and went to work! My friend Dave, who still runs www.exchristian.net suggested that I turn it into a blog, and the site took off and became popular! This was 2002, and blogs were new back then, and any site that was a blog was almost guaranteed to be popular… I was so ANGRY, and I look back on the posts I made to that site now and I can’t see how my site got any visitors, because in one form or another, my site was about ANGER and RAGE. I took the site offline in 2004 because I felt guilty about all of the anger I was expressing and about how I was portraying Christians on the site. I frequently used this pic to portray Christians as uneducated morons:

Christian

After I took that site offline I experienced one of many brief but intense swings back up into manic religious beliefs, but it didn’t last. It never does. But soon I was back to wanting to do an atheist site again, and I bought another domain name similar to the one I had had before and went to work and tried to regain my former popularity. Harsh reality didn’t take long to hit. It’s hard to build a successful site, and I got lucky with my first site since blogs were new back then. I tried several times over several years to build another successful site, but every effort failed miserably. And I know why now! It’s not because I didn’t have something of value to say. It’s because once again my sites were about ANGER and RAGE, and I delivered my message in probably the worst way possible to actually get it heard. People don’t generally like to read anger and rage, lol… If I hit a site that is angry in tone, I’ll click away too!

So… long story short, I spent several years as a very angry atheist, and I made my views known on Facebook too. I spent a long time there posting some very angry rants against belief in God and against the Bible and the Christian faith. And I deeply regret all of that now. My anger has cost me some dear friends over the last few years, and that includes my band directors from my junior high and high school years.

But my atheism wasn’t consistent. I mentioned earlier that I spent years swinging between devout religious belief and periods of doubt and unbelief. I have also tried different forms of spirituality on for size over time, and one of the spiritual teachers I discovered was Eknath Easwaran (www.easwaran.org). He took the best from the world’s major religious traditions and created an 8-Point spiritual program that I still find very uplifting and very beneficial. I meditate frequently on the beautiful Prayer of St. Francis, and I have written a book on putting that prayer into practice in daily life.

So… now 15 years of fundamentalist Christian belief and 16 years of inconsistent but very angry atheism are over, and I am happy with the spirituality that I have embraced now, which is a blending of very liberal Christianity and Eastern religious thought, that being primarily the works of the above-mentioned Eknath Easwaran. Reading his work is like breath of fresh air. And I feel the same way about some passages from the Bible.

So that is where I’m at now… but I do have what I consider to be a miracle to report! That free-floating anger that I mentioned earlier that has plagued me for so many years is… GONE!! And it’s like an enormous weight has been lifted off my shoulders and like a veil has been lifted from my eyes and this blind man can see again! I feel like I’ve been born again… again! Lol…

My Thoughts on Happiness

My friend Garnie recently shared his thoughts about creating more happiness in his life, and I’d like to share my thoughts on the subject as well. Garnie shared his thoughts in a video, and I applaud his thoughts and approach, but I’m better at writing than I am making videos, so I’m happy to share my thoughts in written form.

Happiness… everybody wants it and everybody deserves it. But what do we have to do to be happy? Do we have to do anything to get it? What, exactly, is happiness? Is happiness a destination or a journey?

happiness

If you Google “happiness”, you’ll find it defined simply as “the state of being happy”.

Before I share my thoughts on happiness, let me share with you the fact that I spent years of my younger life suffering from severe mental illness. I was deeply unhappy. I was miserable. I drank heavily and I used drugs to numb the pain and the deep unhappiness that was my life. I spent years trying and failing to get through school, and I spent years working low-wage, dead-end jobs. My life sucked and my self-esteem was basically zero. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to be me or anyone wanting to live my life. I would look in the mirror and hate what I saw — a broke loser who could never manage to get his life together. I tried and I failed to commit suicide several times over the years. I desperately wanted to die so the pain would stop, but I also desperately wanted to live, in spite of how bad my circumstances were.

Let me share what life is like now in the here and now of 2016. I am on Disability for the bipolar disorder that was finally properly diagnosed in 1998, when I was 32. I have lived with my father in Alaska for 12 years, and in that time I have not needed to work. I have responsibilities around the house, and for quite a while I regularly attended NAMI meetings here in Anchorage. The few times I have had to be hospitalized for severe bipolar depression, I have gotten the help that I needed. Alaska has a fantastic mental health care system in place, and I think it should be a model for the other 49 states to follow.

Over the years, I have experienced several bouts of deep bipolar depression that was so bad and so painful that it made me want to end my life so the pain would stop. I know how awful depression feels. I know how awful deep sadness feels.

Now… let me share some thoughts on happiness.

Happiness to me is a journey rather than a destination. Happiness is not something to be chased after or to be obtained. Happiness isn’t something that’s for sale. It cannot be bought with any amount of money or with any material possession.
Happiness is… a state of being. Happiness is WHAT WE ARE. Happiness is our natural state of being. Happiness is our birthright. As the famous mystic Hafiz famously said,

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”

My happiness is not dictated by circumstances. Feelings come and go. Thoughts come and go. Life situations come and go.

But deep down inside, in the very core of my being… I am happy 24/7. I am not just happy, I am ecstatic! This is not emotion I am talking about. It is WHO I AM, and it is WHO YOU ARE.

I feel happiness as a state of being burning brightly inside of me all the time. 24/7, non-stop.

I suffer from mental illness. I don’t have a job. I don’t have many material possessions. I don’t have very much money. I don’t have a college degree.

But I no longer see happiness as something to be pursued or worked for or worked toward. Happiness is simply WHO I AM as a human being. And it is also WHO YOU ARE as a human being. Real, lasting peace and real, lasting happiness is to be found deep inside at the core of your being. EVERYBODY has access to happiness free of charge. Again, you don’t have to pursue it and you don’t have to work for it. YOU ARE HAPPINESS. It’s yours as your birthright as a human being.

My greatest wish for you is to realize the happiness that you already have available to you for free deep inside. It’s there. It always has been.

Purpose is the Knowledge of Fulfillment

Purpose is the knowledge of fulfillment, and of us.

We live, we grow, we are reborn. Nothing is impossible.

We are in the midst of an endless awakening of choice that will open up the dreamscape itself.

Only a visitor of the world may leverage this paradigm shift of wonder. Yes, it is possible to destroy the things that can confront us, but not without interconnectedness on our side. You must take a stand against illusion.

We are at a crossroads of stardust and turbulence. Our conversations with other messengers have led to a maturing of hyper-consciousness-expanding consciousness. Who are we? Where on the great myth will we be reborn?

Aromatherapy may be the solution to what’s holding you back from a jaw-dropping reimagining of curiosity. You will soon be reborn by a power deep within yourself — a power that is intergalatic, perennial. Through the Law of Attraction, our brains are nurtured by nature.

You may be ruled by selfishness without realizing it. Do not let it eradicate the healing of your mission.

Although you may not realize it, you are quantum. The nexus is calling to you via bio-electricity. Can you hear it? How should you navigate this magical quantum soup?

The quantum leap of will is now happening worldwide. Eons from now, we lifeforms will exist like never before as we are guided by the cosmos. We must learn how to lead ethereal lives in the face of selfishness.

Living the Prayer of St. Francis

This post contains my thoughts on living the Prayer of St. Francis. I wrote this about five years ago, but I still feel the same way, and I invite you to consider my words. 🙂

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so
much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

For the past couple of months or so, I have been meditating on the Prayer of St. Francis as suggested by Eknath Easwaran as a part of his Eight Point Program. To say that meditating on the prayer is life-transforming would be putting it mildly. And, of course, I have had a desire to make this wonderful, beautiful prayer an integral part of my life. As I was meditating this morning I asked myself, “What if I actually did it?” “What if, instead of just giving mental assent to this prayer as a wonderful ideal, I actually put it into practice in my daily life?” “What if we all actually did so?”

I have, of course, been inspired to live a more compassionate life and to consciously show more love toward others since I began meditating. But how much more life-transforming would it be to really put this prayer into practice in my daily life?

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

On a daily basis, at least on an intellectual level, I deeply appreciate the fact that God — who is the Lord of Love — is enshrined not just in my own heart but in the hearts of all. But I would love for that knowledge to move deeper into my heart and to become more real to me in my daily life. I would love for the knowledge that God is all and is in all to be so deeply ingrained in my being that it informs every thought that I have and every action that I take. I would love to be an instrument of God’s peace in the world.

And where there is hatred, I would love to sow love. There are so many places in our world where hatred abounds and love is desperately needed — for example, in our political and religious discourse. There is so much hatred and vitriol present on both sides of the fence and on each topic. I am ashamed to say that I have been a part of participating in and spreading that hatred and vitriol. But I am only human and have just been blindly going with the flow of what is sadly normal now in our political and religious discussions and debates, allowing my emotions to run free and for the moment ignoring the fact that my opponent on the other side of the fence or on the other end of the religious or political spectrum is a living, thinking, feeling human being who in all likelihood loves God and country just as much as I do.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

What if all of us made a conscious effort to put aside the emotions that can inflict so much damage and chose instead to listen to and hear the other group’s point of view with an attitude of love and did our best to understand instead of criticize? To those who would say in response, “Well, that would be nice, but it’s not the real world” I would ask, “Why can’t it be? Why shouldn’t it be? What, besides a cynical, jaded attitude toward the idea and a lack of willingness to make a positive change is keeping you, me, or anyone else from it?” Every one of us has the freedom to choose how we will respond at any moment to any given situation. We can respond to those whom we disagree with either with anger and vitriol or with an attitude of understanding and love. The choice is ours to make. It really is just that simple! As Eknath Easwaran relates in his powerful book entitled Passage Meditation: Bringing the Deep Wisdom of the Heart into Daily Life (Essential Easwaran Library):

It may seem old-fashioned, but I would recommend

standing guard over the gate of

the mouth to ensure that only the right kind of words come out.

It is another form of sense training. Vulgar speech, sarcasm,

gossip, even pointless chatter, should all be denied exit visas.

The Sufis capture this idea in a splendid metaphor. They

advise us to speak only after our words have managed to issue

through three gates. At the first gate we ask ourselves, “Are these

words true?” If so, let them pass on; if not, back they go.

At the second gate we ask, “Are they kind?” If we still feel we

must speak out, we need to choose words that will be support-

ive and loving, not words that embarrass or wound another

person.

At the final gate, we ask, “Are they necessary?” They may be

true, even kind, but it doesn’t follow that they have to be uttered;

they must serve some meaningful purpose. Do they clarify the

situation or help someone? Or do they strike a discordant or

irrelevant note?

All of us understand what blows can do to someone, but we

do not realize that words can create a more painful injury, one

that can last for many years. Nor do we understand the terribly

destructive impact words can have on the consciousness of the

person who uses them.

What a change there would be in our political and religious discourse — and in our discussions on many other topics as well of course — if all of us took the advice of the Sufis to heart concerning our words!

where there is injury, pardon;

When we are injured, our natural conditioned response is to react with anger. When someone does something bad to us or says something bad about us, our natural response is a desire to retaliate. But the much better way to respond — the way that promotes peace and that helps bring love into the world — is to choose to pardon those who have offended us. As the famous Twin Verses of the Dhammapada say:

Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.

“He was angry with me, he attacked me, he defeated me, he robbed me” – those who dwell on such thoughts will never be free from hatred.
“He was angry with me, he attacked me, he defeated me, he robbed me” –those who do not dwell on such thoughts will surely become free from hatred.

For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law.

Like most people have, I have encountered some bad people in life who have hurt and used me. One person named Rebecca stands out in particular. It’s a long and very embarrassing story and some of the details I prefer to keep private, but suffice it to say that this woman – whom I met over the Internet — lied to me about who and what she was and she used me for the Web skills I possessed that she had need of and when my usefulness was over, she got rid of me in a very cruel way. It made things all the worse that she knew that I had developed romantic feelings for her and she used that knowledge to full advantage. Needless to say, it made the hurt of being used as I was much deeper.

I have bipolar disorder that is very well controlled now, but back in those days I was very ill and very angry. Although violence does not normally come naturally to me at all, I was so enraged by the way Rebecca had treated me that I thought I could probably kill her if the opportunity ever arose. Haven’t we all experienced angry thoughts that we would never actually act upon? It’s just an unfortunate part of the human condition. But now, if I was to encounter Rebecca again, I would give her a big hug and let her know that I forgive her. How she would choose to respond to that would be entirely up to her. The important thing for me is to do the forgiving. Continuing to hate Rebecca and continuing to feel anger toward her serves no purpose except to make me miserable. Responding with love and forgiveness brings healing not just to me, but to the whole situation.

where there is doubt, faith;

Who hasn’t doubted their abilities, their worth, or their faith in God at some point in time? The highest and most wonderful service we can render to anyone who is experiencing those painful times of doubting is to lift them up, give them encouragement, love them, and remind them that even in our times of questioning and doubting God is always present and that He will never leave them or forsake them.

When we are responding with love and compassion, there is no room for judgment or criticism.

Jesus hugging

where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;

Before my bipolar illness was diagnosed and successfully brought under control, I spent years experiencing a great deal of despair and depression, and I went through some really dark and miserable times. I feel a tremendous amount of gratefulness toward my loving and supportive family, my knowledgeable and compassionate physicians, and everyone else who helped me regain my health. There are many people in this world who are suffering for any number of reasons. We live in a troubled world, and problems such as hunger, poverty, disease, crime, alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, racism, physical and mental abuse and many other serious issues afflict far too many of us, causing tremendous suffering. There are no easy fixes to these problems, but again the highest service we can render those who are suffering is to love them, to assure them that there is hope and when we have the power to do so, to offer them a way out of their suffering. Love brings healing, and when we are busy loving others and serving them, it is impossible to criticize them and judge them at the same time.

where there is sadness, joy;

There are many reasons for sadness in this life, too. Who of us hasn’t experienced the pain of the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job, for example? When we encounter someone who is experiencing sadness in their life, the highest and greatest service we can render to them is to comfort and console them and do what we can to bring joy back into their life.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The whole thrust of this wonderful prayer is to inspire us to live life in such a way that it brings transformation not just to our own lives, but also to the lives of others. When we put our own needs aside and choose to live a life of service toward others we unleash the incredible power of love, and the joy of seeing the lives of others positively transformed because of our efforts in their behalf is ours to enjoy. What better way and more joyful way of life can there possibly be than to dedicate ourselves to the task of transforming hatred into love, injury into pardon, doubt into faith, despair into hope, darkness into light, and sadness into joy? As St. Francis so truthfully has said, when we give to others we receive, when we pardon others we too are pardoned, and when we die to ourselves we are born to eternal life — a life of peace, love, and joy that will never fade away. As Jesus said:

25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25, New King James Version)

This is the prayer that guides my life and if you haven’t already done so, I hope you will consider making it yours too. St. Francis gave us the formula for a happy, joyful, fulfilled, and deeply meaningful life centuries ago. It’s up to us now to put it into practice in our lives and then watch as the love and compassion we share with others ripples out from us and our entire world is transformed.

Namaste.

Empire State Building 1936

Empire State Building 1936

I love looking at old historical photos like this. This photo was taken in 1936 at the Empire State Building. All sorts of thoughts… who was this man? How long did he live? What did he live to see during his lifetime? What was his daily life like? Did he smoke? Most men did back in those days… what did he die from? Did he have a family? If so, how many children? Who was his wife and how long did she live? How many of his descendants are alive today?

And then there’s the fact that all of those drivers of all of those cars in this photo are dead now. Who were they? What were they all doing on this day back in 1936? Where were they headed that day, and for what reasons? What were their concerns? What were they thinking about as they went about their business that day? What were they happy about? What were they sad about? What were their religious beliefs? What were their political beliefs? What were their daily lives like? How long did they live? What did they get to see and do during their lifetimes? How many of their descendants are alive today?

And those cars, trucks, and buses have long been in the junk yard, except for a few that might remain in private hands and might still be decent condition… But how long were those vehicles on the road and what are their histories? When were they purchased? What make and year model were they? Where were they purchased? How much did they cost? How many owners? How many vehicles stayed in the family over generations and how many of them were sold to other families? How many fun family vacations were taken in those cars? How many miles were on each before they had to be retired or junked? What maintenance had to be done on them?

Do those buildings still exist? How much have they changed in the last 80 years? Are there newer buildings at these addresses now? How much have those streets changed in the last 80 years? How many businesses have come and gone at those addresses over the last 80 years?

What became of the clothes this man was wearing that day? Thrown away when they wore out? Passed down in the family? Donated to the needy? So much to think about in one photo taken 80 years ago of a window washer in New York City… what became of his tools and equipment? it’s fascinating stuff! 🙂

Gene Kelly Dance

This dance routine by Gene Kelly on roller skates from the movie “It’s Always Fair Weather” is awesome! This was filmed in 1955.

50 Years of Life…

I have lived all of my adult life with mental illness. I’ve had bipolar disorder since I was a teenager, and I also live with borderline personality disorder. Though I tend to focus the most on the bipolar illness, both illnesses have caused me many problems over the course of my life.

My mental health issues actually started when I was 10 years old, but the trouble started the day I was born. I was born breech, which put my mother through hell, and it also caused brain damage that ultimately caused a very serious seizure when I was ten years old. Before that seizure happened, I was a normal, happy little guy. After the seizure, I was different. That seizure changed me and it brought my bipolar illness to the forefront. I wouldn’t have full-blown bipolar disorder until I reached my teenage years, but the course of my life was changed forever. What made things even worse is the medication I had to be on. The best anti-seizure medication available in 1976 was phenobarbital. I was on it for six years, and it caused me major behavioral problems. And, of course, that led to problems getting along with the other kids at school. Just like any school aged kid, I wanted to be liked and accepted by my peers. But unfortunately, I went about it in all the wrong ways. I was always trying to get attention because I felt so unsure of myself, but the things I did to get attention backfired. Instead of making me friends, my actions alienated me from others and I was soon one of the “weird kid” outcasts. That lasted throughout high school. I had very few friends and no romantic life at all. I had zero success with the girls, and I went through the entire four years of high school without going on a single date. The only things that made my high school years tolerable were friends like Doug who accepted me and liked me as I was and my involvement in the marching band. I played the tuba and had a lot of fun doing it. 🙂

High school was difficult, but I brought a lot of my troubles on myself. Yes, I mentally ill and we know that now, and we know that that was responsible for my behavioral issues. But at the time I was also obsessed with Star Trek. I think I must have been the world’s most die-hard Trekkie. I loved that show so much, and I wanted so badly for it to be real. I watched the show every time I could when it was on TV. I read Star Trek novels all the time. I daydreamed about being beamed up to a wonderful new life in the Star Trek universe. In my mind, the crew of the Enterprise were my best friends. I didn’t have a sense of belonging at school, but I fit right into the Star Trek universe. I was such a Trekkie that I frequently greeted my classmates with the Vulcan salute, which of course just helped to solidify my status as one of the “weird kid” outcasts. There is no question that Star Trek is one of the greatest science fiction franchises ever created, but for me it was an escape from the unpleasant reality of my high school life.

We all know how cruel kids can be. I put up with a lot of it getting through school. But there is one instance of cruelty that stands out in my memory that I will never forget. This happened over 30 years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was so unpopular at school that I was never invited to any of the beach parties or the gatherings at Dunbar Park or any of the other fun stuff that the cool kids got to do. So, when I got a phone call from a couple of girls inviting me to a party, I was thrilled. I got directions to where this awesome party supposedly was, and drove off to find it. I wasn’t able to, so after a while I gave up and went back home. The girls called again. My mother knew that they were not serious and that they were playing a very cruel joke on me. She tried to tell me, but I wouldn’t hear it. I drove off again to try to find this party, and my mom was left at home to hurt for me while I tried to find a nonexistent party. I finally gave up and it finally dawned on me that my mother was correct. I couldn’t believe that anyone could hate me so much or that anyone could be so cruel. It was a hard life lesson that I had to learn the hard way. There are people in this world who take joy in causing others pain, and that’s as true in the teenage world of high school as it is in the adult world we all live in now…

I was severely mentally ill by the time I graduated high school, but at the time we didn’t know it. I had serious substance abuse issues while I was in school. Drinking and smoking pot were the only ways I had to deal with the symptoms of the bipolar disorder I didn’t know I had at the time. There were many nights when I was so manic and so agitated that the only way I could sleep was to drink. I would either wait until my mother went to bed and then hit the liquor cabinet as quietly as I could, or I would sneak out of the house and drive to a couple of convenience stores nearby that I knew would sell me beer. I drank until my mind was calmed down enough that I could sleep. Other times I was so depressed that I cried myself to sleep. Sometimes my mother would hear, and she would do her best to comfort me. We didn’t know what was wrong with me at the time that was causing me so much pain. I didn’t know that the real reason I was in so much pain was that I was mentally ill. So I always managed to find some external reason for why I was crying myself to sleep. Usually that involved a fear of my mother’s death, though at the time she was in her early 40’s and she was healthy. She always assured me that if something did happen to her that she had lived a good life and that I would be okay.

After high school, my struggles continued. I went to the local community college, but because I was so ill and I had such serious substance abuse issues, I never did very well in my classes. But one class I did enjoy was Drama, though the truth is that I had basically zero acting talent. But Mr. Kinney found a small role for me to play in “Candide”, and I remember really enjoying it. I made several friends in that class, including Mike. He was a devout Christian, and he frequently tried to share his faith with me. I had been raised United Methodist and while I was in high school I had some good religious conversations with my Baptist neighbors, but by the time I was in college I had lost all interest in religion. I didn’t want to hear it. But Mike was persistent and he showed me a lot of kindness over the course of the months we were together in drama class, so he finally got me out to his car one day to read some Bible verses. As I was reading Hebrews 4:12, I felt something stir inside of me, and I thought “maybe there is something to this Jesus shit”. 🙂 I prayed to receive Jesus as my Savior in Mike’s car that day. Needless to say, he was thrilled, and not long after that I found myself in Brazoria attending a free showing of the “Jesus Film” that was being put on by the local Baptist church. I was 19 years old, and I didn’t realize at the time that my emotions were being skilfully manipulated by religious propaganda. By the time that movie was over, I was deeply moved, and I knew that I wanted what this Jesus had to offer. Even though I had prayed to receive Christ days before with Mike, I prayed again just to be sure. I wanted to KNOW that I was saved! 🙂 And so began my Christian religious journey, which lasted for 15 years. I threw myself into my new-found faith with all of the energy and enthusiasm that a 19-year old could muster. I quit drinking and I quit using drugs, and with Mike’s help and guidance I was rapidly transformed from a troubled teenage party animal into a very religious Christian fundamentalist. I was so dedicated to my new faith that I ditched the awesome 80’s Rock that was usually blasting from my stereo for much mellower religious music. I discovered Sandi Patti, Twila Paris, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and especially Keith Green. I loved Keith’s music, and I loved his total commitment to his faith. I wanted so badly to see him in concert, and when Mike informed me that Keith had died in a plane crash in 1982, I was devastated.

My mother arranged for me to go to East Texas Baptist University, and I arrived there for the Fall semester of 1985. I was so excited and I was so looking forward to attending school with fellow Christians. But as devout as my faith was at the time, I did have doubts that I was struggling with. When I went to this school, I was expecting a very religious, church-like atmosphere. What I found instead was a college full of average young people who happened to be nominally religious. I had a great time at that school. I made friends, and I enjoyed participating in the clown ministry and attending Christian concerts across the border in Louisiana. I saw many of the Christian stars of the time, including Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart. I loved their music, and after one of their concerts, I went backstage for prayer. While I was back there, I got to meet Mylon and shake his hand! I said something like, “That was fun!”, and he said, “Yeah, it was!” I got to meet one of my Christian Rock idols, briefly though it was, and it was awesome! 🙂

My initial experience at ETBU was good, but my grades were suffering, which I now know was because I was struggling so much with mental illness. I often look back at those days and wonder why I had such a hard time succeeding. All I had to do was make good grades! I had plenty of spending money coming from my father, and I didn’t have to work. All that was required of me was to make good grades, and I couldn’t even manage that. But it’s because I was so mentally ill at the time, though none of us knew it back then. By the time the Spring semester of 1986 came around, I was in trouble again. My bipolar illness had raised its ugly head, and I started drinking and using drugs again. And I was also smoking cigarettes. All of this at a Christian school! Needless to say, when the school authorities found out, they were not happy. I attended school through the first summer semester of 1986, but after that I found myself suspended for poor academic performance.

I came back home to Lake Jackson, and my mother arranged for me to get treatment for substance abuse at the Alpha Center, which was located at the hospital. It was an inpatient facility, and I was there for a while. I stayed for at least a month. I did well and when I was ready to come home, my mother was very grateful to them for “giving me my son back”. But thanks to the mental illness that hadn’t been diagnosed yet, I didn’t stay sober long. My friend Doug and I went to see Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which was in theaters at the time. It was my 21st birthday, and after the movie we got plastered drunk. 🙂

In 1987, I moved to Houston, and so began a lifetime of working low-wage, dead-end jobs and trying to survive. And so began 15 years of swinging between periods of devout religious belief when I was manic and periods of severe substance abuse when I was depressed. When I was depressed, I would come home after work and drink until I passed out. When I was manic and religious, I would come home after work and engage in prayer and worship, always pursuing the next religious high. Either way, I realize now, I was just trying to feel good. And something as basic as just feeling good, which so many people just take for granted, is so difficult for those of us who are mentally ill to achieve. We spend our lives fighting for what others just take for granted…

I have always wanted to be famous and I have always wanted to be popular. I know that I’m never going to experience fame the way Hollywood movie stars do, for example. But I spent years wishing that I could get my life together and be successful. When I was religious, I dreamed of being a famous evangelist or a famous worship leader. I loved Charismatic-style praise and worship music, and I wanted so badly to be a worship leader so that I too could record worship music for the Lord. I craved that fame and that recognition. I wanted to be a famous evangelist so that I could win many people to Christ and enjoy having others look up to me for that. When people like Jesse Duplantis visited our church, I wished to be just like him. I wanted to have a similar dynamic and miraculous faith in God, and I wanted to be just as talented and funny as he was. When I went to see Christian artists such as Michael W. Smith and Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart, I was wishing that it could be me up on that stage enjoying all of that fame and recognition. But it never was to be. I’m just me, and my life isn’t like theirs. While they enjoy success and the adoration of millions of fans, I am a totally unknown guy struggling with mental illness. I happen to have a good singing voice too. I’m just as capable of belting out Christian Rock music as Mylon or Michael. But I had to settle for singing solos at church.

By early 2000, doubts and questions about my faith had built up to the point that I could no longer ignore them or write them off as tricks of the devil. So, I got on the Net as it was back then and went looking for answers. I discovered sites such as www.infidels.org and www.rejectionofpascalswager.net. I spent hours daily reading and thinking and learning. I finally realized that the beliefs I had cherished for 15 years of my life actually had no basis in reality. And I realized that the Bible was deeply flawed in many ways, and that it was not and could not be the “Word of God”. Over a period of months, I lost my faith and I eventually lost my belief in God. I made the journey from devout Christian belief to atheism. And at the time I was extremely angry that I had devoted 15 years of my younger life to a pack of ancient religious myths and lies, and I was devastated to realize that God didn’t actually exist and that the Heaven I had so looked forward to for so many years was just an ancient myth.

In 2002, I chose to make the anger and the rage I was feeling public. I started religionisbullshit.com, and started putting my thoughts online. I believed that the truth about the Bible and the Christian religion needed to be told, and I was determined to do it. My friend Dave soon suggested that I turn my site into a blog. Those were new at the time, and soon after I did that I started enjoying success. Many of my posts back in those days were filled with anger and rage that I think was justified. But even so, I built a significant audience, and my site was active and lots of fun to do. I got so much email from Christians that my responses became a regular part of the content of the site. I loved hearing from Christians and I loved publicly responding to them. I was very good at it, and it was fun to watch my atheist/ex-Christian readers respond to what I had written. But, the way I did my site was not without issues. While I did use my site to vent my emotions, I also used it to belittle and ridicule Christians. I frequently characterized them as the dumbest people on Earth — slack-jawed, knuckle-dragging morons who didn’t possess two functioning brain cells to rub together. I was so angry that I was okay with doing that for a while, but eventually I started to feel really bad about it. I knew that the way I was portraying Christian believers on my site was not right, and I also knew that I was a better person than that. But, instead of choosing to change the way I was representing Christians, I chose to abandon my site altogether. In August of 2004, I shut down my very popular “Religion is Bullshit” website and tried to move on with my life. But it wasn’t long before I was missing it, so I decided to go back online with another similar site. I bought a new domain name and put another site online. I honestly expected to just pick up where I had left off, and I expected to have another large and responsive audience of readers within a short period of time. It didn’t take long for harsh reality to hit! My new site did not enjoy anything close to the popularity of my original site, and nothing I did to try to regain that popularity worked. I chose to remain online, but I was constantly frustrated with how dead the various sites I tried to do were, and I complained about it to anyone who would listen. I still have a site online at www.alaskanatheist.me, and if I may say so myself, I think it’s a great site. I’ve put up a lot of writing that I think is very good and very insightful. But… most of the time the crickets chirp. I simply cannot compete with the much better known atheist bloggers who are online now. So, though it’s 12 years in the past now and in terms of the Internet it is ancient history, I have to live with the fact that I destroyed the one thing I ever did that brought me some measure of fame and recognition. I had a very popular site, and a lot of people loved me respected me, and looked forward to whatever I was going to have to say next. I so wish now that I had just made some changes to my site so that it was something I could be proud of instead of taking the drastic step of taking it down and destroying it.

I have a friend named Kate who is a much more talented writer than I am. She is a fellow ex-Christian, and I have to admit that I envy the online success she is currently enjoying. She is a successful blogger, and she also co-hosts a skeptical podcast. In addition to that, she has authored some religion-based fiction that I think is very good. She and others seem to find success online so effortlessly. I have to wonder why it hasn’t ever happened again for me, despite my best efforts to put something of value out there…

I have considered giving YouTube a shot, but I suck at making videos, and for some reason the videos I have made in the past have never gotten very many views. I think I pissed YouTube off some years ago, and I think they are purposefully suppressing my videos. I have no proof of that at all, but I think it makes sense…

I have been on Facebook since 2009, but I am giving some thought to leaving it behind for a while. The only thing keeping me there now is the fact that it is the only way I have to stay in touch with many people that I really care about. But I do have major frustrations there. Almost everything I post either gets only a few “likes” or comments, or most often, it gets totally ignored. This is true regardless of what I post. Nobody enjoys being ignored, so I’m thinking of moving on to other sites where my thoughts are more welcomed and appreciated. I also find it very frustrating that my Christian friends refuse to engage with me on the subject of religion. It’s true that I used to post angry rants and I have no doubt that I alienated many of my religious friends doing that, but these days I’m much more interested in productive conversations. But it doesn’t matter how nice I am, my posts on religion routinely get ignored, and I’ve grown very tired of that. It is so frustrating to feel so passionate about something and to have your efforts to communicate and discuss go totally ignored!

Well, I suppose this post is getting long enough. 🙂 I’m sure some of my views and my frustrations and my wishes for fame and recognition reflect the mental health issues I struggle with every day. Nothing I can do about that. But I do hope that this post has given you some insight into my life and some understanding of what I have gone through in the past and what I am going through now here in the present. It’s true that I do crave some measure of fame and recognition, but even more important than that is the fact that I always have and I always will want to make a difference in the lives of others. I want to leave this world a better place than I found it. Thanks for reading all of this and thanks for your friendship. 🙂

Book About My Cat Wife Tasha

My beloved cat (I called her my cat wife) Tasha passed away on February 5, 2015. She was 17, and I had had her since 1999. I knew her time to leave this wonderful world was coming months before she died, but losing her was still extremely difficult, and six months later I am still grieving her loss. I have decided to write a book about Tasha as a memorial and a way to remember the amazing, loving, affectionate cat she was. I honestly wrote the book mostly for me, but I have decided to make it freely available to my friends. Hope you enjoy it and hope that in some small way you get to know what an amazing cat Tasha was. 🙂

[embeddoc url=”http://smokeyinthebox.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/mycatwifetasha1.pdf” download=”all”]

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