Not Cease from Exploration

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Maybe We're Just Not Listening

I've often wondered if, how, and when God actually talks to us.

I'm probably not the only one wondering that too, I suspect.

Maybe though it's the wrong way to go about it.

Maybe God talks to us all the time, it's just that we aren't listening very often.  I know, this can get very new age-ish very quickly, and I'm not suggesting that we all need to go to Walden and spend a year in a cabin seeking enlightenment either.  What I am suggesting though is that in our arrogance, we expect to receive things in nice little burning bush packages, lightening bolts, or edicts from God-professionals who also just happen to drive nicer cars than we do.  We want God to talk to us like we want fast food:  Quickly and without it costing too much of our time.

Somehow I just think we're getting it all wrong.

I'm not claiming, by the way, that God talks to me...all the time or even any of the time for that matter.  What I am claiming is that I'm pretty horrible at listening.  Or watching.  Or even noticing.

As a younger person, I was far too busy for such stuff.  I just wanted a dose of God on Sundays (which I mostly didn't get) and maybe someone to pray too as I ventured out during that snowstorm.  What I wanted was one-way communication (me to God) and a few favors (God to me) in return.  Age, however, has its benefits, none the least of which is a larger lifetime of perspective.  Somehow I think I got the communicating with a higher power thing wrong.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Senator Warren vs. CEO Stumpf (Wells Fargo)

Submitted without commentary; watch, read, and draw your own conclusions.

You can find CEO Stumpf's official statement to the U.S. Senate HERE.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Making October Great Again

In theory I should be loving October:

The weather isn't too hot, nor is it too cold.

I like the changing Fall foliage.

The non-summer routine has taken hold.

It's a photographer's dream.

It's a great time to ride the bike.

I love taking a trip out to the pumpkin patch.

I like preparing the yard for winter.

Yet over the years, October hasn't been so good for me.  I have 8 years worth of blog postings to prove the point.  What to do?  Well, starting next month I am going to take October back.  Yes, I'm going to "Make October Great Again".  All of my postings in October will be positive reflections on the world in and around me.  It's the perfect time really, especially given the fact that the media will, by the time October actually rolls around, basically just be saying the words "Trump" and "Clinton" over and over and over again anyway, to the point where blood will be flowing from all of our ears.

Oh, and yes, I am stealing a certain political candidate's slogan.  The above graphic is really just a cheesy modification of a bumper sticker you can find HERE.

Making October Great Again...coming to a blog near you.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Treading While Whispers Become Shouts

Friday Evening, September 9th
I'm sitting here, basically treading water, and I'm not sure why.  Now in theory, this just shouldn't be, as I'm physically doing well, including wonderful little gems such as... last check-up yielded a blood pressure of 120/72
...I'm power-walking on the treadmill for 45 minutes now 5 days as week...on an incline...for an average speed of 4mph (but getting up to 5mph for a stretch)
...I'm still losing weight
...I've dramatically moderated my caffeine intake

I'm married to a wonderful woman who literally saved my life and that I love dearly.

My daughters are all doing what they love, living more or less independently.

I'm closing in on my last two graduate classes.

I'm doing some things I enjoy, such as continuing to write this blog.

While not necessarily religious, I have been working on being more Spiritual.

So, why the treading water?

Well, thinking about the listing above, something is missing.

Should I even be writing this?  In point of fact I'm going to stop writing this now and abide by a time honored rule of people who write (as opposed to "writers", as I'm not at that level):  I'm going to put this down and come back to it later.

* * * * * *
Sunday, September 11th
It's not lost on me that today is the 15th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks.  As  the John Lennon song (#9 Dream) goes, "So, long ago, was it in a dream, was it just a dream?".  Sadly though, it wasn't a dream.  God bless all those who have been impacted by those horrible events.

Back to Friday's thoughts.

* * * * * *

I spent much of yesterday doing two things:

1) Tearing down a coal bin that we are no longer using.
2) Thinking.

I've always found that physical labor helps me quite a bit when I'm perplexed and/or feeling like I am in a rut.  Yesterday was no exception.  Unfortunately, in my professional life the tasks at hand seldom to never allow for the combination of sweat and pondering.  Well, if they do, Security is called and you're taken to a hospital, lest a caring co-worker thinks you are having a heart-attack.

I think part of the challenge for me, at least in my professional life, is that there is always something going on around me, which creates so much mental data to process.  The result is that I get caught up in a kind of mental vortex, where mental whispers become mental shouts and the definitely benign can become the seemingly malignant.  I can lose perspective easily.  Rarely to never though is this ever apparent, as I try hard to always be the consummate professional in the office.

For the record, is it "career suicide" to admit the above?  On one hand, maybe it is.  On the other?  What I say may in fact be what others feel as my crime...if you want to call it giving voice to reality and being honest.  Anyone who wants to criticize me for being honest can do so.  Bring it on.

Anyway, in pondering these things while using a Craftsman 8 amp reciprocating saw...for which I burned through two wood cutting blades...I began thinking about two books I've read by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  I'm not going to bore anyone, least of all myself, with a book report, but here's a central point, of sorts:  I think that God speaks to us not in the "big" ways that Hollywood or tele-evangelists portray, but rather in the quiet moments and odd circumstances we find ourselves in as we go about life.  We're given these opportunities in life to experience the lesson we're always being taught...or on the other hand...we drown after failing to see that we need only pick our heads up out of the water.

Part of it, for me, is ego.  I think, in my recent challenges, I'm being taught to not allow myself to get caught up in mindless mental swirling about how and where I might stack up on some imaginary listing that likely exists nowhere else but inside my head.  I'm being taught it's okay to stand up and be counted, but it better be something actually worth the accounting.  Better yet and better still, maybe it's more important to think about just why an ego might be bruised in the first place, rather than a simple and mindless gut-reaction attempt to defend myself.  Sometimes defending yourself is the worst thing to do, as it only lends credence to an otherwise imaginary foe.

I'm not declaring any kind of victory or even deep insight.  I very well may, in fact, might start the work-week tomorrow and almost immediately be back to square one, fighting to stay out of a mental vortex that I've mostly created for myself.  What I am declaring though is an attempt to listen for those quiet moments and see the odd circumstances as opportunities given to me to grow, not as challenges to an ego that doesn't exactly and hasn't historically served me very well.  I plan on picking my head up before I drown.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

In the end, you never get away with it.

An actual conversation with someone battling significant substance abuse problems.

"Why do you do it?  Why lie about [your drinking and/or drug use] it?"

Functional Addict:
"Because I can get away with it."

It's easy to get angry in cases like this, and I'm not going to claim that I am somehow un-phased.  Granted, there's background here that I am not going to tell, but in terms of raw emotion, well, I think you can understand how this kind of thing can gnaw at someone (re:  Me).  In fact, I began this posting a few months ago, but thinking clearly enough about the situation to be able to articulate myself in a way that actually makes sense has taken a while.

The bigger story here isn't how I or anyone else would react to a statement such as I've noted above.  No, I think it's that someone could be so desperate that they are left evaluating things in terms of what they can "get away" with.  Now I'm told by someone far smarter than I (when it comes to this kind of thing...) that addicts are basically ashamed of their behavior, and lying is just a defense mechanism to somehow attempt to shield themselves.  Seems reasonable, but misdirected.  I have to remember though that feelings...especially mine...seldom neatly follow logical rules.  This brings me back to the fact that the functional addict probably couldn't really help themselves in the truth-saying department at that moment, but nor I could I help myself in the anger at being played a fool either.

I got the better end of this stick though, as handling anger for me is a very rare affair (as I've noted in other postings), and even when the feeling is overwhelming, it is always temporary.  The functional addict though has bigger fish to fry.  They have to battle the source of their behavior; I only have to deal with an outcome of their behavior.

You see, in the end, you never get away with it.

* * * * * *

I've been thinking about anger a lot lately.  Now I haven't been a rage monster, so it's not a case of having deal with feeling anger at the moment, but rather I've been reflecting on those things that have made me angry in the past.  It's all a part of my "empathy as a super-power".  I feel guilty about those times when I have been a small way, somewhat ashamed.  Ironic, huh?  I talked about how an addict may lie because they are ashamed, and here I am feeling slightly ashamed at feeling angry.

Part of it is that I just don't want the attention that being angry seems to provide.  I really, truly don't.  I don't want people thinking " careful, it will make him mad...".  I don't want to be that "him".  Heck, I don't even want to be in that sentence, period.  I only want people paying attention to me when I'm in control, when I say, under my conditions.  Anger seems to wrestle that control away in a visceral kind of way, and that's why it bothers me so very much.

Another angle to all of this anger stuff is the fact that I grew up with a very angry parent.  I tell people that for most of my childhood (and all of my adult life) my mother basically had two emotions:  Pissed Off and Not Pissed Off.  Yeah, there were the occasions where she would be happy, but they were few and far between.  Growing up it was frightening.  Having grown up, it bothered me tremendously.  It made me angry at the notion of being angry.  I wouldn't see myself becoming my mother whenever I got angry, but rather I would see just how toxic anger is (as it was to her), and it repulsed me.  Make that "repulses" me.

People have asked me how it felt when my mother passed away, and while I know I've written about that in the blog (and I'm too lazy to look up the postings from back then), I'll note it again now:  Relieved.  I was relieved when she passed away.  Not saddened, but relieved.  It was a weight taken off of my shoulders.  Yes, I loved my mother, but I did not love being around her, a fact that I had to deal with almost constantly when she was alive.  While it was incredibly difficult being around my mother for the most part, I never shied away from my responsibilities as her son.  I'm proud of that fact, but even prouder of the fact that, when it was clear that my mother was not ever going to get better, I took the lead and made sure that she was allowed to die with dignity and in peace.  At that moment in the ICU at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, I was finally able to stop my mother from being angry.   

Sunday, August 28, 2016

There's a thin line between naive and empathetic... fact, sometimes the line is so thin that I can't even tell that it's there.

Sometimes I'm just slow on the uptick when it comes to certain things.  It's my natural place to give people the benefit of the doubt.  All people.  I don't know where this particular trait came from, as it wasn't parental in nature.  I do know that it's there, all of the time.  In fact, after a particularly rough day at work a week or so ago, one of the conclusions I came to is that if I did have a super-power, it would be empathy.

Sometimes these things do gnaw on me though.  Like most folks, for example, I have an instinctive need to be liked, despite what I may claim some most of the time.  Some emotions are particularly difficult for me to process, most especially anger.  I've written about that before.  There have been times over the past few months where I've been very angry, and it didn't feel good.  Now good did come of it though, especially the fact that, while I am still baffled at certain situations, the initial anger has not festered inside of me like a bad chimichanga.

Sometimes I do learn.  See above.  It's nice to spout stuff about the corrosive effect that ego has on the human condition, but it's even nicer when you put it into action.  In my case that has been realizing that holding onto anger, even when it may very well be deserved, speaks more about my need for gratification than any kind of functionally useful end product for my greater life.  Granted that I've never been an angry kind of guy, but that's more so of the daily variety.  The better test is when you get hit with the neutron bomb kind of situation, you know the one specifically designed to do mostly internal damage; that's when you know just what you're made of.

This all sounds so nebulous, so preachy, so new-age-ish, so not me being the practical one-time engineer/scientist wannabe.  Yet, it's really not.  These kinds of things, you know, the ability to actually ponder that which seeks to poison us, seem as practical a skill-set as anything.  There are also incredibly difficult to put into practice, at least sometimes.  As I said, the anger-management stuff comes easy for me, but that comes at the price of always having myself open to a perpetual notion that "well maybe they are right".  While empathy is my super-power, it is also my Achilles Heel.

What to do?  Nothing.  While another super-power I possess (well, actually I only think I have two anyway) is the ability to learn, some things I am not going to learn, ever.  It may be naive to be in an almost perpetually in a state of empathy, but I'll take it over the alternative.  Yes, I'll take "kind" over "tough" any day.  Anyone can pretend to be tough, but pretending to be kind?  That never, ever works out very well.

(Longwood Gardens)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Road Apples, #169

Eye Freckle...In the "news of the weird" department, my annual trip to the eye doctor's office yielded the fact that I apparently have what is commonly (well for something relatively uncommon) known as an "eye freckle".  The technical name is a "choroidal nevus".  I knew something was up when, during the "shine a bright light into your eye" phase of the exam I kept seeing this purple pill-ish looking thing floating in front of my left eye.  Apparently it's nothing to worry about, provided that it doesn't turn into eyeball cancer on me.  My wife warned me that, if horribly this does turn into eyeball cancer, I eventually have to get a glass replacement eye.  I would have gone strictly for the patch.  Kicking it Moshe Dayan style.

On a related note, I really dislike wearing sunglasses.  I find them to be annoying and uncomfortable.  Yet, given the eye freckle, I really do need to engage in some better eye care, especially from the sun.  To that end, I actually broke down and bought a good pair of sunglasses.  Now to see if I actually wear them.

Speaking of the Eye Doctor...I am supposed to go every year, which I do mind you, but the timing is somewhat variable.  This year the impetus was the fact that I stopped wearing my glasses, left them in my truck for a week or so when it was 90+ degrees outside (and hotter inside the truck) and effectively baked the lenses.  The odd thing is that I can go without wearing them as much as I like; I do see better with glasses, especially at night, but I can muddle by without  them.  Anyway, new glasses have been ordered, and this time I have to remember not to bake them in the truck.

Donald some accounts, is polling at 1% in the African American community.  That may sound bad, but I can make it worse:  Mitt Romney, quite possibly the whitest American alive, got something like 5% of the African American vote in 2012 (source HERE).  Let that sink in for a moment.

Hillary Clinton...I was talking to a colleague about Hillary Clinton's speaking style the other day.  Now I think I am a fairly good public speaker.  Certainly not up to Presidential standards, but pretty good.  By virtue of that, I feel like I can offer constructive feedback when I hear others speaking.  All of that is window dressing for the following:  Why in the Heck does Hillary Clinton basically engage in monotone yelling when she speaks at rallies, etc?  It's like fingernails across a chalk board.  I know that Ms Clinton can speak well; if you doubt me, just what her hours long performance in front of Congress a few months ago.  Simply brilliant.  On the stump?  Not so much.

A-Fib and Energy Drinks...I came across this a week or so ago:  Energy Drinks & Heart Problems.  The more I read about this stuff, the more convinced I am that my sudden heart issues earlier this year were mostly the result of poor sleep and the consumption of energy drinks (you know, because I didn't sleep so well).  Needless to say, I don't touch the stuff now, although I do worry about generations of younger folks who are growing up drinking Red Bull and Monster drinks.

Kathleen now a convicted felon and former Pennsylvania Attorney General.  I'm not the most connected person in the world, especially when it comes to politics, but I did get the impression very early on in Ms Kane's initial campaign for AG that she's difficult to work with; to that you can also add "vindictive" as well.  This is the part where I'm supposed to say "...she came so far, how could she have fallen so fast?" or something like that, but I won't.  Instead I'll simply note that former AG Kane is a great example of just how toxic of a force ego can be in our lives.  Maybe she'll have some time to check out Eckhart Tolle while she's in prison.

Religion and Class...I found this on the intra-webs the other week.  Seems to at least partially make sense to me.

Maybe it's not the intention of religion, and I am not anti-religion by the way, but I think religion has been used as a kind of governing agent for centuries.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Not Made For These Times

The obituary of a local young lady who died as a result of mental health issues has been getting national press, including an article in the Washington Post (you can read it HERE).  Read it at your own peril, as it's about as difficult a story you will come across these days, which says a lot.

I read it over a week ago, by the way; well I didn't really read it in as much as I just skimmed over it.  A kind of cursory review that we all do when faced with something we know to be uncomfortable but yet required.  I still haven't read the entire obituary.  At best I did read the Post article.

I'll not claim some degree of discomfort or pain at this story, as that does an injustice to the suffering of this young lady's family.  I will claim though having had people in my family suffer from some very severe mental health issues.  I will claim more than a few visitor trips to in-patient mental health facilities.  If anything, this story hits me in a difficult spot precisely because of those memories (and other related experiences) that I have instinctively learned to think about in the most detached manner possible.  That's my self-defense mechanism at work, a tawdry excuse itself for coping, long ago over-taxed.

I don't know what I would say to this family if I were to see them (again...I knew them from church, many years ago).  Words, especially your own, can be so hard to come by in times like this.  Was does come by is a certain song that would occasionally pop into my head, back many years ago when I faced some of these issues more directly.

Back then, as I desperately searched for some kind of logical explanation for that which is, by its very definition illogical (mental illness), I inevitably came to the conclusion that some folks simply aren't made for these times.  It's a insightful sentiment coming from a songwriter (Brian Wilson) who himself suffered from many challenges.  That's one of the beautiful things about music by the way:  It  has this wonderful way of giving voice to something that is very difficult to explain otherwise.

"I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" is the musical, mental picture in my head of those who suffer.  For myself, I had a different mental soundtrack song pinging through my head.

For the record, I don't have blue eyes.

Rest in Peace young lady.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Difficult Questions for a Difficult Age - Biblical Authority and Hillary Clinton

I do wonder, from time to time, whether or not some conservative Republicans (of the religious type) actually object to Hillary Clinton's candidacy for President on grounds that have nothing to do with policy and her seeming ability to be malleable with the truth.  Granted, I don't consider myself to be a big fan of the former Secretary of State, but given the two major party choices for President, she's got my vote.  Anyway, and back to religious objections to Hillary Clinton, I think the central issue for some folks is the very basic idea that she is a woman who would hold authority over men.
In support of the above, I offer the following sample of Bible verses:

"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."
(1 Timothy 2:  11-15)

"Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands."
(Ephesians 5:  22-24)

"The women should keep silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they deserve to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."
(1 Corinthians 4: 34-35)

I could go on, but the point is made.  It's actually pretty frightening when you think about it.  Islam, for example, gets a fair amount of grief over the treatment of women (a tactic Donald Trump disastrously tried to use against the Khan family; citation HERE), yet the Christian Bible is full of language that seems far out of step with reality.  Maybe that's the point, by the way, namely that the Bible paints a reality that is supposed to be not of this world.

Deep ponderings concerning the nature of sacred scripture aside for a moment, my point is this:  Some conservative Christians in this country will not vote for any woman to hold an office such as that of President.  Let that sink in for a moment or three.  A related and interesting question is this:  Why aren't more religious conservatives more overt about this basic objection?  Could it be that even they realize how toxic of stand this would be, especially given the large percentage of the voting population that doesn't subscribe to the notion of women as being best for "silence, subservience and baby-making"?

Taking this to a deeper level and noting the rise of "religious freedom" laws, what if some folks actually claim that they have a right to disobey any laws created and/or signed by a female President?

Difficult questions for a difficult age.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Melania Trump

Melania Trump is not running for President.  Arguably, she is a public person, but she isn't the one seeking elected office.  As I've written here numerous times before, I strongly believe that the family members of elected officials...and those who desire to be elected officials...need to be exempt from the very public scrutiny that befalls those in (and those seeking) public office.

It was true with Barbara Bush, and the myriad of negative comments directed towards her.  And her granddaughters, the children of George W. Bush.  And Chelsea Clinton (when drug addict Rush Limbaugh mocked her appearance on a national television show) as well.

I've seen numerous stories about Ms. Trump's biography, her immigration status, and the like.  I also understand the desire to paint her husband as a hypocrite on the issue of immigration.  But Melania Trump didn't ask to run for office.  I am sure that with Donald Trump's wealth and influence, she has received many forms of privilege, but that's an all too common perk of being wealthy in this country, regardless of political affiliation.  At best criticize his actions, but not hers.  This goes, especially so, for her former modeling career.

Was it fair to criticize her speech at the Republican National Convention?  Sure, because that was her speech.  She put herself out there, and with that, she opened herself up to the feedback that goes with taking that kind of chance.  Fair enough.  But this is far different than the notion of "attack via association" that's going on now.

By all means, let it rip against Donald Trump, even to the point of noting that he changes wives like some change cars (trading them in for a newer model every few years).  Criticizing Melania Trump just because she happens to be wife #3 for "The Donald"?  That's simply wrong.