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.

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.