Have you tried turning it off and on again?

There has rightly been a lot of talk about systems over the last several months. Systems are an essential part of all aspects of life. They are meant to make our life efficient, stable, and functional. Biologically our bodies are made up of vast systems like the circulatory, nervous, skeletal, respiratory, muscular, digestive, and so on. Naturally they shape and enable our universe through weather, ecological, planetary, and solar systems. They are intertwining and interdependent mechanisms that produce and enforce a continuous cycle of predictability.

Systems aren’t meant to change. Change to a system causes problems; spurs disruptions, builds ineffectiveness, creates fractures, and provokes divisions. A system only functions when those elements within it conform. Any obstruction to the integrity of the system, either makes it less functional or completely broken. The obstruction must either be bypassed, repaired, or removed. Clots, blockages, pinches, tears, severs, or breaks, all automatically engage a signal for correction and healing.

Both consciously and unconsciously, we have developed and nurtured systems within our manufactured world. They are the basis and sustenance of our governments, our organizations, our institutions, and our corporations. They form our economies, communications, energy, healthcare, housing, and educational processes. They propel our hiring, training, building, aiding, creating, operating, paying, promoting, and benefiting practices. Stretching as far back in time as we can fathom, formulated on a path of a path of a path into the past.

Unlike natural systems, our fabricated structures are not involuntary or reflexive, they are neither impartial or neutral. Our constructed systems are paved with all our prejudices, our perceptions, our fears, our hatred, and our ignorance. The mechanisms for correction are implemented through rules and regulations, and laws and punishment. Yet just as inflexible, just as unchanging. They are systemic. 

Over time the processes originally meant to create and maintain consistency, comfort, efficiency, and progress, gradually turn into the opposite. They begin to obstruct, dominate, oppress, threaten, and control. They evolve, not into something new or progressive, but into something revised and similar. Resurfaced. Expanded. Widened. Cosmetic changes but with the same destinations. The ghost of the same path, the same outcome. 

Systems are important, essential even. But all systems break. All systems fail. All systems need restarting, rebuilding, reimagining, redoing. This is why new systems must be built within all our governments, organization, institutions, and corporations. With a new road, with broader and more inclusive perspectives, insights, compassion, and voices. Otherwise, yet again, the old operations will bypass, repair, or remove those not working within the rules. I’m repeating and repeating the same inequalities, injustices, intolerances, inequities, and failures to progress. 

Perhaps it’s time to do the very very very hard work, get out shovels, roll up sleeves, throw away excuses, and radically imagine systems that better for everyone, based on positive insights, equitable care, reasonable expectations, flexible processes, compassionate perspectives.

Permission to disappear

Was that the last time?

I find myself dwelling on this thought more often day by day. Not only because I turned 48 at the start of June, or that two thirds of my kids are adults, or that I — like so many other of millions — am purposely isolating amidst a global pandemic. But because I realize that so many moments are disappearing with my permission.

There is always a last time; a last hug, a last word, a last look, and I will fail to see it because I am not here.

Over time so many of us prioritized careers and tasks and busyness and distractions over relationships. And there is no right or wrong in that. They are just choices that have to be made. Things that need to be done, responsibilities that must be assumed, and food and clothes and shelter and security to provide.

But maybe somewhere, not to very far in the future, we will be without our kids, without our jobs, without our abilities and facilities to do what we once did, and we’ll reach out for a connection that has slowly withered to a faint memory.

Perhaps we will look back in regret that we chose an hour in front of a machine, in a car driving in circles, in making efforts to chase something imagined or maybe flee a ghostly fear of our failures. Will we wish that we found an hour to be in front of a friend, to find value in the being present, and delay the pressures of being reduced to lists and tallies and records of activity.

I am guilty, and I don’t want to be the last to realize there is no time remaining to grasp the moment.

Hammurabi was wrong

I’ve been thinking about something that is buried and nagging and screaming in the back of my mind. It’s related to what I feel might lurk in the actions and reactions of countless white people to what is happening right now in every major city across this country, and around the world.

It’s not a pretty thought. It’s not logical. It’s not just. It’s not fair. It’s not reasonable. It’s not comforting. But it’s there. At least I believe it is, even if we don’t actively acknowledge it. I will not use the words white supremacy, white privilege, or racism; despite those all being at the heart of what I want to bring out into the open. Instead I just want to say out loud what is usually kept inside.

I want to talk about the concept of equal and opposite. For every action, there is another action to counter-balance or equalize what was just done. It’s a mathematical probability within physics, also called Newton’s Third Law Of Motion. It’s a fundamental concept that most all of us are taught at some point In our schooling. And somewhere, somehow, in that propagation we begin to conflate physical laws with social expectations. We use ancient sayings, such as “an eye for an eye”, the Hammurabi codes, and turn them into some universal laws of retaliation and reciprocity, woven into our social fabric and concept of justice. Codes becomes inescapable rules.

But what happens to a society who builds themselves upon a foundation of justified inequality, inhumanity, and cruelty? What happens when the excuses and reasoning around owning, selling, segregating, isolating, incriminating, imprisoning, and killing others on the basis of race begins to crumble? When those subjugated to those enslavements, segregations, isolations, criminalities, imprisonments, and deaths begin to rise up in revolt? What do we do with those innate, immutable societal rules when we are confronted with our past behavior?

Let’s not be coy. The U.S. is built around the ownership of others through slavery. The buying and selling of human beings of color, that we took from their counties, put on a boat, chained together into pens worse than livestock, shipped to our country, to work for a white man to do work that he didn’t want to do himself. Not to mention the labor and exploitation of women and the poor to further do things that these white men just didn’t want to do; you know, like raise children or cook or work somewhere smelly or dangerous or tiring or laborious. And since these white man had the power, because they had the money which controlled who was allowed or not allowed to participate in decisions or work or ownership within communities, they were also the ones wrote and made the laws, and therefore could make “just” and “legal” all their actions. After all, this is what had been done for centuries before the formation of this country. But for good measure let’s make it ordained by God, with His infinite blessing, because it’ll end any arguments to what we’re doing. And let’s also say everyone is equal, even though that’s not entirely what we mean. Wink. So society fundamentally could not and would not see any other human being as equal to a white man.

But then we’ve had some issues – little disturbances like a “unrest” and small “riots” and a “civil war”’and what not – all in reaction to these systematic policies. And again, let’s be clear, when we say systematic, we mean a never-ending cycle of people talking and yelling and fighting about the words we should use about the things we do, so that people don’t feel bad about it.

And throughout these centuries, looming large in the reasoning and actions, built into the laws of these white men, is fear. Maybe not fully realized or articulated or acknowledged. But baked into all of their ideas of justice goes back to physics. Equal and opposite. An eye for an eye. It forms our societal acceptance of retribution, of retaliation, of justice. And that fear only exists because they must know what we’ve done is wrong and cruel and horrible. And to keep those masses from doing unto them what they’ve done to others, this system has to stay intact.

What I’m saying is that, we as white people fight so hard against the ideas of inclusion and diversity and equality, in how we educate, in where we have communities, in the way we hire and pay, in where we worship, in how we disseminate justice, in who we elect, in how we believe we are “reasonable” and “logical” and “fair”, is really because deep down somewhere in our psychology, we’re terrified that people of color, minorities, immigrants, the oppressed, the poor, could and would be justified in doing to us what we’ve done to them.

Whether that means taking our jobs, paying us less, kicking us out of our homes, arresting us for no reason, raping us and our children, hanging us from trees with a crowd to watch, burning us alive, putting us in prison, killing just because we’re white – it would be just and right because that is what we’ve done to them. The Third Law Of Motion. It’s math. Inescapable truth.

I know we’re afraid of this imagined possibility, because it is exactly how we justify the actions we use to protect ourselves, from letters we write into our laws, from the decisions make in our courts, and from the words we use to make ourselves feel better.

We fear that we truly will reap what we sow. We fear that what we have done to others, will be done to us. In a world of equal and opposite, a world of retribution and retaliation, a world we created to benefit ourselves, which have to be equalized. Maybe it is what we deserve. What I deserve. Live with that a little.

Now is the time to do all that can be done to repair, rebuild, renew, to make equal and fair and right and just, to make whole and well and healthy, to finally become country and people that we were told that we were.

I know for sure that love saves me and that it is here to save is all.

—Maya Angelou

Thursday, 10:02am, another day during a pandemic

There’s no way to know how to talk about the current time we’re living in. It’s both terrifying and boring. Mindnumbing and gripping. Everyday the number of people dying increases over the previous day. When will it reverse? When will it be safe? When will we know the danger has passed? How will I remember this time?

I guess the only way is to document it as best and honestly as I can.

I don’t know if I’m capable of setting aside my fears at any moment during this pandemic. Nearly every minute of the day, whether it’s light or dark, sunny or cloudy, I’m burdened by the thought of it’s presence. It’s lingering danger. It’s threat. I can’t sleep. I can’t relax. I can’t be consumed or paralyzed. And yet I’m left speechless and terrified. Every day. Full of fear.

Fear that one of us in this house will get sick. And then worsen, and be forced to go to the hospital, where they will be diagnosed with Covid-19, admitted to intensive care, put in quarantine, and forever be isolated, never to hold or hug or breathe in them again, as they die alone and scared and in pain.

I cannot bear the possibility of that loss. No matter the slight chances of infection, there are still chances, still possibilities for that nightmare to be real – as it is for many thousands and thousands of people right now.

So I’m plagued that every ache, every moment of exhaustion, every cough, that I feel is the start of the end. And I cannot escape that looming path. I worry about what we touch, and who touched it before we touched it, and what they touched and if they were infected, and chanting inside to not touch my face, and to wash my hands again, better and longer and with more vigor, and to wipe everything down to kill this fucking virus that is taunting the world.

I attempt to ignore it. To distract myself with work and projects and mindless entertainment. But the fear is like a chime, steady and loud, persistently torturing my peace. “I’m here. I’m here. I’m here”

I sleep terribly, besotted with dreams of this hidden invader. Of fevers and pain and isolation and drowning and dying alone – missing the chance to know who my kids become and accomplish.

What will the world learns from this? How will we move on? What will we recover and ignore and change and grow into? Who will we lose and who will we blame? How will we stop this?

So now as I write, lying in bed on a Thursday morning, yet again awoken at 2am in panic, I try to breath in as deeply as I can. Holding it in. Savoring the moment.

Right now, we are fine. That is all I can know. This moment is all I can experience. We are alive and ok.

So hold it, and stand up, and move on.

The smallest of things

I’d be lying if I told you I weren’t panicked about the spread of COVID-19. True, I have anxiety over many insignificant things — like flying or rollercoasters — cause immense and irrational fear. But there is something serious and menacing about a common but distinctly unique virus that spreads easily and rapidly, which has unknown causes and cures.

By now it’s a pandemic. Many events have been cancelled or postponed or altered, like SXSW, Coachella, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, and the remainder of the NBA season. And our first case of someone well-known and well-liked with it — Tom Hanks. All within a week.

That to me, doesn’t seem like something to take lightly.

People, as usual, react in extremes. It’s either nothing or it’s everything. The best and worst. It’s certainly not nothing, and it’s certainly not as bad as other viruses. But it’s not ignorable. It’s not insignificant. It’s not a Chinese effort to control its citizens. And it’s certainly not a conspiracy uncovered in 1981 by Dean Koontz.

What scares me the most is how utterly selfish so many of our responses seem to be. How myopic and foolish. Now ignorant and harmful. Anyone could be a carrier. And they could either get very sick and die. Very sick and not die. Somewhat sick and get better. Or not get sick at all. In every case, the likelihood that you come in contact with another person or a surface (where the virus can live) is almost 100%. Meaning you, every time you come in contact with a person or a surface, are spreading it another person; with the same variety of outcomes. And some of those people will die.

This is why the minor and temporary inconveniences of missing events, or working from home, or cancelling a party, or not shaking a hand, or staying at home for dinner, is not only wise, but life-savingly good.

A virus doesn’t care about our borders. It doesn’t know where one country ends and another begins. It doesn’t respect our boundaries or fences or walls. It doesn’t care if you’re an American. It doesn’t care if think it’s no big deal. It’s time to suck it up and stop just thinking about yourself and start knowing you’re hubris is idiocy.

If this turns out to be not as large as experts (yes experts, not Facebook posts, or opinion writers, not your friend’s friend mom who is a doctor), than thank God we took every precaution to make sure it wasn’t. Otherwise by the time we take it seriously, we’ll have been too late. That’s what I’m afraid of.

There are days when I forget that she’s not somewhere breathing, lost in foggy thoughts, trying to piece together pictures of a history without definition. More days than it takes to travel once around the sun have since passed, and yet I still am struck in moments of loss. This is memory, the unyielding weapon of tragedy.

The mystery

Before anyone reads any further, please know if you are a person of faith, I’m likely to say things you will disagree with and perhaps even make you angry. But understand it is in no way meant to attack you, because this is my story, not yours. It’s my journey, not yours. If you’re interested in learning about who I am and who I have become, please continue…

The last decade has brought me very far in my journey has a human. I’ve gone through all the high and lows that one can experience, other than maybe moving to another home. I am far from the same person I was in 2010 in many ways. One of the largest, if not most personal and private, is my slow and steady exploration beyond religion and my (former) Christian foundation.

For decades and decades and decades I dutifully sought answers to reaffirm and bolster my beliefs. To fortify my faith. I went to church every Sunday. I (tried) to read the Bible. I clumsily prayed. I devoured books expanding my theological and historical understanding of Christian foundations. But more than anything else, I consistently tried to convince myself God did not hate me (all the times I heard that God hated sinners, and that I was a sinner not worthy of his love, and whatever “but” followed in the form of forgiveness or blood sacrifices or whatever, never ever washed away my nearly life-long cultivated self-loathing that I was and would never be worthy of Gods love, let alone another human, and certainly never from myself). Any doubt I felt was used as a bludgeon to manifest more devotion, not a tool to explore deeper truth.

As a rule follower, and honestly someone terrified of making anyone unhappy, mixed with a hint of the desire to be a true and faithful believer, I unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) feared what wrath would reign down on me if I dared wandered outside the kingdom. Hell. Damnation. Separation from an all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal super being. Hardships. Destitution. Complete ruin. The root of all sin came about because Adam and Eve sought knowledge. Why should I or anyone within Christianity seek any honest truth?

I was told that doubt was welcome. The disciples all had doubt, and Jesus still loved them. That searching for the truth was necessarily. But underlining that claim was the unspoken warning that any doubt, that any search was only worthwhile as long as it didn’t combat what one already believed. All truth naturally leads back to Jesus. Back to faith. All doubts and searching take you to where you already stand. It wasn’t a matter if such searching or exploration reinforced faith and compelled deeper adoration, it was a matter of when. And if that didn’t happen, then it wasn’t doubt it was apostasy and unpardonable.

I felt like a fraud because I had no passion or connection to anything I heard or read. Life was grueling – a constant examination of my shortcomings and flaws that God observed and marked as to why I would not receive His love and care and provisions. I didn’t really read the Bible. I pretended. I told people I did. But I didn’t. And I prayed, not because I really thought God would change anything, especially for me (in my experience He didn’t, but that was always because He had bigger plans or maybe I didn’t have enough faith or there was larger purpose). I prayed because I desperately wanted someone to hear me.

The cycle of fear and faith worn on me for decades. Sundays were my least favorite day of the week since I can remember. I hated church. I’m not a social person. I just wanted to leave so I could go home and draw or play with my Star Wars figures or build something with my LEGOs. Hell, I even preferred going to my grandmothers house in Media PA to eat steamed lima beans and play in her creepy basement where I was certain a ghost wished to pull me into eternal torture. I couldn’t stand singing hymns, or being forced to happily greet someone sitting next to me, or chatting with strangers who were unreasonably “joyous” about life, after sitting through what is essentially a dull lecture on the same handful of topics thousands of times. None of it was comfortable or natural or remotely a positive experience for me, no matter the churches and denominations I attended.

I have always been a fairly skeptical person. But skepticism doesn’t always mean you’re mistrustful of the most equitable things. My personal skepticism carefully towed the line of healthy inquisitiveness and outright rejection. I was so afraid of being found out, or being on the outside, or of detaching from the only community and identity I knew from birth, that I thought it was the only option. One in which was believing in God and being forgiven, which gave life meaning and purpose, and then when I died I’d go to heaven to spend it with God eternally. The other option was not believing in God, which meant a life of hatred and hardship, of emptiness and pointlessness, only to die and spend forever in nightmarish torture and pain and isolation and fear in hell.

For years I was unhappy, and hated myself for my lack of faith. I always thought that despite praying for God to forgive me and to save me, that I must have done something wrong because I never truly felt His presence or love. I was a continual disappoint to God and myself. I passively let life happen to me, as I awaited some sort of signs and direction from this invisible, unknowable, loving, yet sometimes angry and inactive space being. I was far too afraid of the alternatives to move in any direction other than the one I always already heading. I thought “Sure, it might be bad now, but just wait till you die and go to heaven and everything will be great, despite it possibly being an eternity spent doing the things you hate most about church forever!” I really wanted die just so I could know what it might be like or if it was even real.

The cracks spread and spread and couldn’t be contained. My parents got divorced. My father was unfaithful, and the reactions to his actions were far from loving or forgiving or accepting, despite is attempts to seek forgiveness. I saw no Christ in these “Christian” reactions. But the act of accepting my father’s apologies, of showing any sort of forgiveness or mercy, in just wanting to maintain a relationship with my own Dad, threw me into some equally unforgivable position of ridicule. By trying to act Christlike was treated like a heathen.

So then we just stopped going to church. I stopped caring about reading the Bible, and only reading books related to Christianity. I stopped believing that there was or should even be a hell. The definition of what was and wasn’t a sin began to seem arbitrary, conceited, privileged, myopic and cruel. The thought of a literal heaven became ludicrous. And the idea of who God was or is or should be and how others defined and confined and refined Him was unappealing and growingly appalling.

I started to read books and articles, and listened to podcasts that were the antithesis of everything I once consumed. Atheists and mystics and agnostics and Buddhists and scientists started to say things that made sense and were not bound by the rules and fears and threats of my past. And oddly enough, I began to like and value myself, and the world around me became more miraculous and beautiful and purposeful. I no longer was depending on some future rescue mission to save humanity from its evils. No longer waiting on some unattainable idea of perfection, some magical transformation that would make all problems of the world disappear (as long as I believed things in a specific way). I began to care far more than I ever had before about others, in their stories, plights and journeys, the struggle of everyday survival, of being treated like a human, with rights and needs, not anchored to a system of this for that. I had true compassion because I wasn’t reliant upon a formula or a recipe or a checklist to a possible future solution, but started to see that here on earth, in the present, as the only chance to bring heaven to others.

Once I stopped fearing the actual search for answers to my nagging questions, my shackled inquisitiveness, and wandering through the fence of religion, did I realize the fence wasn’t for protection or empowerment or freedom, but for controlled truth and bound thought. My former beliefs did not want me to seek fresh answers, or develop ripe ideas, or embark on fruitful exploration. My old beliefs sought to make me more concerned with staying in the garden, in being isolated and kept and observed inside a fence of absolutes.

I have no idea if God is real, or if Jesus was an actual person, let alone the son of God. I don’t know so many things about things we don’t understand or can’t comprehend. I’m as much perplexed by the universe and gravity and space time and quantum mechanics. I’m no longer interested in convincing anyone they have to believe a certain way in a specific thing in order to understand life and existence. I embrace the unknown and the undefined. Faith and belief aren’t proprietary, they aren’t trademarked by a specific creed.

Sadly this journey has and will alienate me from friends, and I’m sure their are quiet a few others who feel compelled to pray for my soul and salvation. If I could survive and thrive and retain a modicum of authenticity and honesty about retaining my former beliefs, I would. It would be far easier in so many ways to stay where I was and not disrupt life. But I can’t and I won’t do that.

I will always appreciate anyone’s genuine compassion and care for me. I don’t hate Christians or anyone for being one. I do not wish to convert anyone away from their beliefs.

While I longer understand or want to participate within that system, it is never at the expensive of respectful and reasonable interactions with my fellow humanity. I need relationships. I need earnest connection and conversation, and intellectual honesty about the things we collectively participate and witness in this world.

I don’t need beliefs that support suppression and fear, superiority and subjection, hatred and shame, absolutes and regression, judgement and repudiation. I don’t need hidden purpose and motivation to try to save me (I know the thinking, I know the reasoning, I know what I’d think of me if I were me 10 years ago, I lived it for four decades). I don’t need saving.

I’m sure reading this might be angering, maddening, saddening, or infuriating to many, but my hope is that there are others to whom it will be honest and real and freeing and opening and meaningful in your own journey. None of us know what the next moment of life will bring. I don’t wish to postpone the beauty of now for an unreachable horizon.

I believe that what most of us want in life is a sense that there is a reason and purpose for our existence on this planet. That someone or something cares, is listening, is loving us because we’re all terrified of being alone and unloved and that our lives were pointless.

Our very universe is fantastical and miraculously, regardless of how you seek to define and understand it, and there are so many ways to do that, with so many different words. But at the core of everything is mystery, and I embrace that mystery because that is the essence of exploration.

Goodbye aughts

I will spend the majority of the next ten years in my 50s. My kids will grown – our youngest will stop being a teenager, while the oldest two will (hopefully) be out on their own. There will likely be 5-7 Spider-Man reboots. And Paul Rudd will look exactly the same age.

Goodbye 2019. So long Aughts. I value your lessons, but you are the past. It’s time to savor the present and embrace the future. I joyfully have no clue what might happen, but I’m excited for the jaunt.

I’m watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” and thinking about mom. I remember watching this movie with her (nearly) every year as a kid in Landenberg Pennsylvania. I’m sure it held a charm of nostalgia for her, which I suppose is the lure of all movies. It takes us to the time of who we were and where we were, when we watched it. But for me, I remember sitting on our olive green and gold and orange (the color of the late 1970s) patterned couch, watching a movie I didn’t fully understand, and enjoying it through the eyes of my mom.

I hope not

Hope is not a destination. It’s not a settlement. It’s not a place to live or dwell or wander forever. Hope should be a temporary state because it cannot be sustained. Hope is a bridge, a gateway toward something tangible and productive.

Hope is essential to living, but it’s power is limited.

Hope is unrealized potential, the thought before an action, a dream before a painting. It is not reality and not something to live for, but something to live beyond.