Suck less

I love this sign. 

We live in a world where the President of the United States opened his very first Cabinet meeting by having each of his Cabinet members praise him as the television cameras rolled. Then he praised himself by declaring himself the post effective President in history with the possibility of Franklin Roosevelt. 

Americans laughed at this demonstration of fealty. Ridiculed him incessantly. Even the President's closest allies mocked this ridiculous display.

What people like Donald Trump fail to realize is that actions like these do not project strength. In fact, they do exactly the opposite. They demonstrate weakness, desperation, a lack of self confidence, and the cloying need to be loved. 

If you want to appear strong, you must do exactly the opposite. Vulnerability projects strength. Honesty and authenticity project strength. A willingness to acknowledge one's flaws, foibles, and failures is the way to demonstrate to others than you are strong in both mind and self. 

We all suck. We can all suck less. And if we all sucked less, we might just save the world.

The first step to sucking less is knowing that you suck. 

I suck. You suck.

Donald Trump really sucks. The sooner he acknowledges that, the better off we'll all be.  

My children's personal ten commandments are beautiful, heart wrenching, and completely applicable.

My kids were studying the Ten Commandments at Hebrew School this week. As part of the lesson, they were then asked to come up with some commandments of their own. 

My daughter's commandments are beautiful. Much better than the Bible's ten commandments, which waste the first three on God's obsession with being the best and only God and forbid adultery (#7) but say nothing about rape.

Also, there's the commandment that orders that Sundays be kept holy (#4), which is ignored by almost everyone in America and is especially ridiculous during football season. 

Here are Clara's commandments. Nine in all. 

  1. Have fun!
  2. Let me tuck and kiss my brother at night.
  3. Eat good food.
  4. Have friends!
  5. Have a good education.
  6. Get good helf care. (healthcare)
  7. Do not bother me when the door is close (except at night).
  8. Be kind, respectful, and responsible every day. 
  9. Let me have flowers in my room. 

Charlie's commandments are fewer in number and much more like the commandments that his father would write. 

  1. Do not die. 
  2. Love. 

They also kind of say it all. At least for me. And brevity is the soul of wit. Right?

Simplify your life. Just love everyone. Even if you're a bigot.

I love this sentiment. Even as a reluctant atheist, I love it.

Not only would it make the world a much kinder place, but if you believe that Jesus was the Son of God (or even just a solid guy), the message on this church sign also adheres to one of his clearest and most repeated messages, stated most simply in Matthew 22:39:

"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

Take solace, bigots. If you think that same sex marriage is an abomination, or if you think transgender children should be forced into restrooms that make them uncomfortable, or if you believe that African Americans or Mexicans or the Irish (shout-out to old school racists) are sub-human, why not just leave everyone alone and trust in God to deal with these people in Heaven?

Eat some ice cream. Take a walk. Adopt a cat. Learn to play pinocle. Do something for yourself with the full knowledge that these terrible, rotten, no good, very bad people will be punished for eternity by someone more powerful than you.  

Just love everyone. It'll allow you to remain a bigot but will also allow you to enjoy your life a little more and shout a lot less. 

"Merry Christmas" is perfectly fine. But the existence of Jews should not be a secret.

Conversation between a cashier and me at a local restaurant on the morning of December 24:

Me: (handing over a signed receipt) Happy holidays!

Cashier: You know what? I'm going to wish you a merry Christmas! Donald Trump said that we need to say 'Merry Christmas' more often, so I’m going to do that... (leans in and shifts to a whisper voice) ... even though there are a lot of Jews in West Hartford. 

Me: (shifting to a whisper) Like my wife and kids over there? And lots and lots of my friends?

Cashier: (looking a little startled) Yeah. She wouldn’t be offended. Would she?

Me: Not nearly as offended as I am about Americans voting for a bigot and sexual deviant. 

Cashier: (stares) 

Me: Happy Hanukah.  

Elysha missed all of this, of course, but as she left the restaurant, she waved to the owner and shouted, "Merry Christmas!"

Icing on the cake. 

For the record, I have no problem with people wishing others a "Merry Christmas."

A "Happy Hanukah," "Joyful Kwanza," or "Blessed Eid al-Adha" either. 

It's slightly presumptuous to automatically wish others a "Merry Christmas" given that more than 20% of America is non-Christian, but I judge on intent. No malice is intended with a simple "Merry Christmas." It's a simple pleasantry that is occasionally off the mark.

No different, really, than people who say, "God bless you," to me when I sneeze. I could explain to them that I'm a reluctant atheist who has been unable to find faith in God (and I sometimes do), but I never take offense to their offer of Godly intervention on my part.

They mean well. 

Frankly, "Happy Holidays" is just as presumptuous given that about 20% of Americans now consider themselves non-affiliated to religion. Atheists. Agnostics. Secular humanists. For them, December is just another month, absent of any holiday whatsoever.    

If you're Jewish or Muslim or an atheist and are wished a merry Christmas, you can either accept the sentiment as intended kindness or take the time to explain your belief system. 

No big deal.

But when you feel the need to whisper about the existence of Jews in a town and base your seasonal greeting solely on the advice of bigot, I'm probably going to respond in a snarky manner. 

Ashes to dishes

In the spirit of my recent post about the Catholic's Church's edict against keeping or spreading of the ashes of loved ones comes Justin Crowe's Nourish dinnerware, made from the remains of over 200 people.

More specifically:

Nourish is a dinnerware series designed to infuse a sense of mortality into everyday moments. It was made using the ashes of 200 people, each with their own previous lives and stories, distilled into their elemental essence. It’s inspiration to celebrate, share, and live full while reflecting on our very existence. The series is functional dinnerware for daily use.

I strongly suspect that the Catholic Church would not approve of this method of disposal, either.

I'm not entirely sure I do.

nourish dinnerware.jpg

Catholics should be able to scatter their ashes wherever they damn well please.

My wife once said that amongst the many noble reasons that I became a teacher, it was also because I don't like to be told what to do.

This has never occurred to me before, but she's probably right. Teachers spend most of their day deciding how and when and what they will do. There is curriculum, of course, and procedures and schedules, but in the end, teachers dictate the course of each day.   

It occurs to me that perhaps this is one of the reasons why I struggle to find faith as well, particularly in light of the Catholic Church's recent announcement on how to handle the ashes of the cremated (though they continue to stress that burial is preferable to cremation):

Ashes must be kept “in a holy place, that is a cemetery or a church or in a place that has been specifically dedicated to this purpose. The conservation of ashes in the home is not allowed."

“Furthermore, in order to avoid any form of pantheistic or naturalistic or nihilistic misunderstanding, the dispersion of ashes in the air, on the ground, on water or in some other way as well as the conversion of cremated ashes into commemorative objects is not allowed.”

I'm not Catholic, but this still annoy me.

The words "is not allowed" repulse me.

The rationale ("...to avoid any form of pantheistic or naturalistic or nihilistic misunderstanding") is essentially admitting to a fear that cremation and the spreading of ashes might lead people to believe that religion need not be so codified, structured, and authoritarian. 

The decision over how a person's remains will be handled following their death should absolutely be made by the deceased. Death is hard enough without a church adding complication, unnecessary specificity, or guilt to the process by supposing that God would give a damn about how a person's atoms are returned to the universe.

I don't believe in God (despite my desire to do so). I don't speak or pretend to know God. But I am nevertheless fairly certain that if God exists, the disposal of a soul's earthly vessel is not on his radar.

And what about all the Catholics who have come before this edict? What about all the believers who have had their ashes spread over hill and dale? Were they given the stink eye by God upon their arrival in Heaven? Has their decision caused unhealthy levels of pantheism or naturalism or nihilism their loved ones? Have they doomed their family members to a lifetime of doubt?

This whole business strikes me as unnecessary, silly, and a little cruel. Also, Elysha is right. I can't stand it when someone tries to tell me or anyone else what to do.

These people don't know Jesus, and Jesus doesn't give a damn about toilets

A woman defending transgender rights at a school-board meeting in Horry County, South Carolina last week was interrupted by a roughly 500-person chorus of “Jesus Loves Me.”

Jesus may love these people, but these people apparently know nothing about Jesus. Son of God or ancient philosopher, I promise you this: 

Jesus wouldn't give a damn about where a person chooses to pee.

Serious question: Why isn't religious hypocrisy used more often against the opponents to same sex marriage?

For the last couple months, I've been writing the occasional post - titled #Biblebuffet - indicating the hypocrisy of people who oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons.

If you use The Bible to oppose same sex marriage, don't forget to execute adulterers, people who work on Sundays, and any woman engaging in premarital sex. All of these edicts are stated in The Bible just as explicitly as opposition to same sex marriage, and oftentimes within the same book of the Bible.

I was going to write another post today, but instead, I just have a question:

Why is this argument not made more often?

When someone like Ted Cruz argues against same sex marriage on religious grounds, why don't his opponents ask him why he isn't also stoning those who work on Sunday?

Or at least attempting to reinstate the Blue laws, making it illegal to conduct business on Sunday?

This seems like a perfectly logical argument to make, but I never hear it. And as someone who has read The Bible from cover to cover three times, I assure you that I could continue to write #Biblebuffet posts for years without running out of bizarre edicts and inexplicable prohibitions contained within the text.

Why not highlight the hypocrisy of bigots who hide their bigotry behind a religious text filled with equally clear prohibitions that no sane person would ever follow?

Seriously, what am I missing?

I'm also stunned that no one brings up Jesus when it comes to same sex marriage, because a complete reading of the first four books of the New Testament - the section on Jesus's life on Earth - makes sit abundantly clear that he never treat homosexual men or women with the same hatred and prejudice as people like Ted Cruz do today.

The man who opposed so many things in the Old Testament by advising his followers to turn the other cheek and "love thy neighbor as yourself" (also stating that there is no commandment greater than this) would never support these bigots and their crusade against same sex marriage.

No one ever talks about this. They allow religious zealots to treat The Bible like a breakfast buffet, picking and choosing convenient sections while ignoring others in order to support their own bigotry without ever challenging this hypocrisy. 

I want to know why. Seriously. What am I missing?

A broken lawnmower, a fifth grade boy, and CragsList.com make me wonder if God is real.

Last Saturday I spoke about teaching at a TEDx conference at The Country School in Madison, CT.

My talk was about the capacity of students and the importance of expecting more from them on a daily basis. As a part of the talk, I told the story of a former student named Jack Murphy who I had hired to be my classroom personal assistant. Throughout the school year, Jack strove to be my best personal assistant ever, constantly asking if there was more that he could do for me.  

One day, after Jack had asked me one too many times if he could help, I said, "Fine, Jack. I have a broken lawn mower in my shed at home. The town dump won't take it, and my wife won't let me illegally dump it. It's been sitting there for three years. Get rid of that lawn mower, and I'll be impressed."

By the next day, Jack had found a person on CraigsList.com who refurbishes broken lawn mowers and had arranged for pick up at my home. I left the lawn mower at the bottom of my driveway, and a day later, it was gone.

And the guy paid me $50 for the broken machine. 

Jack Murphy became the greatest personal assistant of all time. 

On the way home from the TED Talk, I took a bend on a country road and saw three lawnmowers at the bottom of a driveway not unlike my own. They had red and white "For Sale" signs affixed to them. They looked old, not unlike the one Jack had sold for me.  

I laughed. Less than an hour ago, I had been talking about a broken lawn mower at the bottom of my driveway. "That's quite a coincidence," I thought. "They need Jack Murphy to sell their lawn mowers for them."

Then I looked across the street. Directly across the street from this driveway was a garage. 

Murphy's Garage

I was so stunned that I had to pull the car over to the side of the road for a moment. I could barely breathe.   

I'm a reluctant atheist. I'm a person who wishes he believed in a higher power but thus far has been unable to do so. Faith has been elusive for me. God is someone I want to be real but simply can't accept. 

But moments like this - of unbelievable, seemingly impossible coincidence - make me start to wonder if someone is offering me a sign.  

#Biblebuffet

Protip: If you're using The Bible to justify your opposition to same sex marriage, don't forget to stone to death any woman engaging in premarital sex. And not just your garden-variety stoning, either. You must gather all the people of the town at the doorstep of the woman's father and kill her there. 

God is very specific about this (Deuteronomy 22:20).

Side note:

If you are a man engaging in premarital sex, fear not. God does not condemn you to death. However, if you were engaged in premarital sex, it must logically be with either with a woman who was also engaging in premarital sex (meaning you must now stone her to death, which strikes me as awkward given the intimacy of your relationship) or with a married woman, at which point you and the married woman must both be killed.

So caution is advised.

#Biblebuffet

Protip: If you're using The Bible to justify your opposition to gay marriage, don't forget to treat all adulterers EXACTLY the same way. God makes it abundantly clear that both are equally bad. 

And if you're really being literal about your Biblical reading, please remember that you must execute anyone who has cheated on his or her spouse.

Happily, God didn't weigh in on the method of execution for this particular sin, so no need to gather stones or look up the meaning of the word "smite" in the dictionary. The method by which you murder every one of the adulterers in your life has been left to your own discretion.
Leviticus 20:10

If you're using The Bible to support your opposition to same sex marriage and transgender restroom choice, you're simply obsessed with penises and vaginas.

It's not often that you can cheer on corporations for all the good they do, but on Monday, under increasing pressure from major corporations like Unilever, Disney, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and the NFL, Gov. Nathan Deal announced he will veto a bill that critics say would have curtailed the rights of Georgia's LGBT community.

House Bill 757 would have given faith-based organizations in Georgia the option to deny services and jobs to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. 

Also on Monday, a federal lawsuit was filed against the North Carolina governor and other state officials over a new law there that blocks transgender individuals from using public bathrooms that match their gender identity and stops cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances to protect gay and transgender people.

I can't help but think that if these conservatives would just stop obsessing over penises and vaginas, the world would be a lot better place.

And it really is an obsession. Same sex marriage. Transgender restroom choice. All of this amounts to where and how a person chooses to make use of their genitalia - even though said usage is almost never being done in public and does not impact the lives of these genitally-obsessed bigots in any way. 

It's an obvious and bizarre attempt to legislate the use of genitals, often based upon a religious text that also forbids the tattoos and the trimming of beards and calls for the stoning to death of anyone who works on Sunday. It's buffet-style Bible reading, and these people are choosing penises and vaginas over the pork tenderloin every time.

Let's put it this way:

If opponents of same sex marriage and transgender bathroom choice are basing their positions on religion - and in these cases, they have said as much - but these same opponents are also shaving on a regular basis, doing business with people with tattoos, and working (or even doing business with people who are working on Sunday), then this isn't really about religion or God or The Bible.

It comes down to a simple and bizarre obsession over penises and vaginas.

These people can't stop thinking about, obsessing over, and desiring command of our nation's genitalia. They are penis and vagina enthusiasts. They are seeking dictatorial control over the parts of the body typically concealed by underwear. 

All of this trouble because the conservative movement can't get their minds and hearts and heads out of other people's pants. 

Truly. It makes no sense.

My Jewish daughter understands Easter - and religion - perfectly.

Easter morning. My Jewish children scamper around the house, searching for Easter eggs.

Clara, my seven year-old says:

"I think Easter is about thinking sweet thoughts. Soft things. That's why we get candy. To make us think of sweet things."

Clara has also told me that she plans to marry someone who isn't Jewish so she can "celebrate lots of holidays and learn about lots of different stuff and know lots of different people."

If only everyone thought a little bit more like Clara.

A little less tribal. Actually, a lot less tribal.  
A little more openminded.
A little more willing to embrace difference.

I think she might have this religion thing figured out perfectly.

A simple geographic reminder to those overly insistent, overly-aggressive people of faith

When someone becomes overly insistent and overly aggressive about the truth behind their deeply held religious beliefs, I like to remind them that their deeply held religious beliefs are almost certainly predicated upon geography.

For the vast majority of people, religious belief simply correlates to where they spent most of their childhood. It is not a found or discovered belief but an inherited one. In the United States, for example, 56% of people affiliated with organized religion were born into that religion, and another 20% have merely changed church affiliation within the Christian or Jewish faith.

As a result, more than three-quarters of Americans espouse a religious belief because they were born in the United States to parents who had the same belief. 

But let's be honest: 

If these same people were born in Saudi Arabia, they would almost certainly be Islamic.

If they were born in Tibet, they would almost certainly be Buddhist. 

If they were born in India, they would likely be Hindu.

Considering that 23% of Americans are nonbelievers, this means that less than 3% of Americans are currently affiliated with a religious belief that they did not inherit upon birth and is not based upon their childhood mailing address. 

So relax, you overly aggressive religious interlopers. 

I'm not saying that your geographically inherited religious belief is any less important, meaningful, valid, or spiritually satisfying as a belief (or absence of belief) that is realized only after careful study and introspection.

I'm only saying that this is true if you are attempting to impose your geographically-based beliefs upon others through some political, legal, or economic means.

Your religious belief may be true to you, but just remember why you probably think it's true and let the rest of us believe what we want, absent of any judgment or persecution.  

Rose City Park Church: The sign is real, and the message is fantastic, despite my suggestions for revision.

I assumed that this sign was a fake when I saw it, but no. It's real. 

rose city park united methodist church

It's also both shocking and refreshing. As a person who would like to believe in God and an afterlife but has been unable to do so, a logical, sensible, rational message like this makes religion seem so much more accessible.

Bravo, Tom Tate and company.

I'm also a fan of the Rose City Park United Methodist Church's mission statement (even though I despise the notion of mission statements): 

The Rose City Park United Methodist Church …

 “Where we share God’s love Compassionately and Inclusively

… through Radical Hospitality.”

I could do without the ellipses (of course), but they aren't egregious enough to ruin the spirit of the message.

But it's close.

I also find it amusing that Rose City Park refers to itself as both a city and a park when it's neither. It's actually a small, overpriced (Forbes, 2009) neighborhood in northeast Portland, Oregon.  

As a person who has read the Bible cover to cover three times, I might also suggest changing the word God to Jesus on their sign. Based upon Biblical text, I am quite certain that Jesus would prefer kind atheists over hateful Christians.

The God of the Bible (and particularly the Old Testament) wasn't nearly as reasonable or rational.   

We encourage children to seek truth and knowledge in this world except when it comes to this.

A friend of mine posted this to Twitter a while back.

If any religion was real, we'd set kids loose in search of truth rather than trying to indoctrinate them into any "faith”.

As a reluctant atheist who wants to believe in a much more benevolent God than the one portrayed in the Bible, I wish this statement sounded like bunk, but unfortunately, he makes a damn fine point.

I actually came close to adhering to this model. As a child, I was set free in order to seek my own truth. I came home after my first CCD class declaring that I was done with Catholicism. "I'm not going back," I told my mother.

In response, Mom allowed me to choose my religion. She told me that I had to adopt a new faith, but it could be whatever one I liked best.

I chose Protestant Congregationalism. I liked the children's sermon, the lack of finery and ritual, and the Wonder bread and grape juice.

Unfortunately, it didn't stick.