Ramblings: The Undoing; and Wearing One’s Life Close to the Surface

I used to be more creative, or so it seems. Aging, living in extreme stress, and having gallons of chemotherapy pumped through my veins may have taken their toil. My loss of creativity also could be my misconception.

I don’t jog anymore. Okay, I’ve run three times, only a mile each. But I used to run six miles each Saturday and two miles on many other days during the week. Running is hard for me. It hurts. It hurts my knees, ankles, my entire body, except my teeth. I put up with those with the hope that running would let me live a long and healthy life. I guess that didn’t work out so well. But to run, I must put myself in another state of conscientiousness. Meditation may be a better term. Denise runs on tails in the woods. I run on asphalt because I run with my eyes closed and my mind deep in thought to escape the pain. If I ran on trails I would trip over a root, fall flat on my face, and knock out my front teeth.

It was during those prolonged periods of meditation that I had my most creative thoughts. I could solve car problems. I could design goat barns. I could write interesting narratives. I could have new thoughts about God or Quantum mechanics. I either need to get back to running or learn to meditate in a chair. Now, creative thoughts are precious, like the elusive four leaf clover that you press between the pages of a book once found. I must write these creative thoughts down so I don’t forget them.

My twitching came back this week (had never left) so it is hard to sleep. I awaken at two this morning with twitching in my legs, my back, and my tongue. I’m editing and adding color for my characters in my new book Retribution. I was searching for a better word for being authentic. What came to my mind at two in the morning was “she wore her life close to the surface.” I wrote that idea down on my phone beside my bed.

I got back to sleep, awakening at eight. I tuned my cell phone to NPR for the news. They reviewed the new miniseries, The Undoing, based on the novel, You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff. It is about a man who has a dark secret life, while pretending to be the perfect father in a perfect family. The opposite of the character in my book.

The space that one puts between their true self and the self they project has always fascinated me. I recognized early in my life that there was a space between who we are and how we project ourselves to the public. For some people that space is wide. For the authentic people, that space is narrow. People under 40 are far more authentic than my generation.

My example of the extreme phony is Dennis Rader. He was a college graduate, with a degree in justice. He was in the Air Force. He was a devout Christian (Lutheran) and taught Sunday school. His church elected him as the the president of their council. He was a Boy Scout leader. He had a wife and two children. He also had a “hobby” of kidnaping women or men, raping them, putting them in bondage, torturing them, and killing them. He had ten such victims. This morbid hobby was in his secret life, that wide space between what he projected and who he really was. His arrest shocked the people in his community. Yet, during the trial it came out that he had a different personal life that even his wife didn’t know about. He had captured and tortured animals since being a child. He wore women’s underclothes. He was a peeping Tom. He hid cameras in women’s bathrooms. But his example is the extreme. But extremes are good for staking out a point.

I had an aunt, Terri, who was notorious within our family for her double life. Not as bad as Dennis Rader. For one, she was a kleptomaniac. The first time this aunt was at my mother’s house she stole my mom’s best clothes. Mom was poor at the time and it was painful.

Terry lived above her means. Her husband had a blue-collar type of job, and she lived like she was Melania Trump (not quite). She also worked very hard to project the image of the perfect Christian, Baptist to be exact. She wore perfect attendance pins from her church (given if you don’t miss church for a year). She was a conniving woman. We suspect she stole thousands of dollars from her church and seniors in her town. She “kept money” for both, “because the banks weren’t safe.” She only got caught stealing razors from a grocery store. She claimed she was framed by godless people.

Dennis Rader.jpg
Dennis Rader, the BTK (bondage, torture, killer) killer

My mother was an authentic person. Maybe that’s where I got my desire for the same. She said exactly what she thought without regard of what other people thought. For example, She told one of my girlfriends, “You’re prettier than his last girlfriend, but I can tell he liked the other one better.” We were at dinner and I kicked her shins under the table. Then she said, “Ouch, Mike’s kicking me under the table because he didn’t like what I said, but it’s the truth.”

In my book Ristretto Rain, I created a character, Jamie, who had a brain injury that left him authentic. Some would say too authentic. I based his character on a real man I know. It is fascinating being around him.

Thirty years ago, I went back and studied the unfiltered life of the historical Jesus. I grew up in the Bible belt. I had heard about Jesus for decades. But I found this historical Jesus to be quite refreshing. He was simple. He had three things on his heart and agenda, truth, love, and justice. What he disliked the most, was the phony, especially the religious phony. I like this Jesus. He seemed to live his life on the surface and he invited everyone to do the same. Where’s there an plenty of grace, there’s an invitation for transparency. Where there’s a critical attitude, it is a fertile ground to be disingenuous.

As an evangelical we thought our calling was to be godly. Godliness was defined by acting in love, showing joy, showing that we live in peace, showing patience, and kindness. Our real calling is to be authentic. The clearer we see ourselves, the better we see the world, and God. Our calling is to shower those around us with grace and mercy, so that they too would have the room to live authentically.

Ramblings: Navigating the Bubbles of Realities; The Truman Shows

Disclaimer, this is not a rant against Donald Trump. It is simply an attempt to mark out the boundaries of both sides in a fair way and to look at the barriers to bringing those groups together.

I recently had yet another discussion with a Pro-Trump friend. In the midst of this discussion, I realized (once again) how we not only have different opinions, but live within bubbles of different realities. If you watched the movie, The Truman Show, it is a lot like that, but where we are living in completely separate worlds, not just cohabiting Truman’s with different opinions. In this posting, I will not attempt to describe which “reality” is closer to actual reality. I mean, Truman did eventually escape from the manufactured reality and into the real world. I just want to lay out the boundaries of those worlds in as fair terms as I can. Feel free to correct me via the comments if I did not capture it correctly. One caveat, there is a spectrum of perspectives within each buble, neither pro or anti Trump worlds are a monolith.

What I know about Trump is not “what the liberal media has brainwashed me” as one Trump supporting friend said. I have followed Trump since the 1970s. In the very beginning, I liked him as I (and I was an evangelical at the time) thought that he was a good role model of being very successful and having values such as not drinking alcohol. But that fondness quickly waned as I observed his narcissistic and womanizing behavior. I became much more opposed to him when I thought he was very dishonest and racist. I have watched almost every Trump rally, press conference from start to finish. I follow him on Twitter. I watched the impeachment hearings from gavel to gavel via C-span (no commentary, just the objective hearing). And, I have spoken to countless Trump supporters. So, while my description of the Trump world may not be completely accurate, it is informed. Again, you are welcome to correct any of my mis-statements via the comments.

Truman Show
Truman Finding the Escape from his Fake World

Welcome to the Trump World

Within this world, Donald J. Trump is the greatest president in the history of America. He has “worked his ass off” for Americans, giving them (pre-COVID) the greatest economy in America’s history. He is not a politician, which works in his favor. He is brutally honest, the most honest president we have ever had. This rubs many people the wrong way because he pulls no punches but tells things like it is. That’s one reason he is hated by the establishment.

Donald Trump profoundly loves this country, more than any other president. He fights hard to put America first. He’s pulled us out of all the treaties and agreements that were taking advantage of America. He has fought hard to throw out illegal immigrants who have come here only to mooch off our society.

On the Economy

Donald Trump has ushered in the greatest economy America has ever known. Prior to COVID, we had one of the lowest unemployment rates in history. The stock market was soaring to record heights. He was able to do this because he is a very smart business man and knows how the economy works. He is also a tough negotiator and has gotten much better deals for America than any other president.

On the Environment

Trump has given us the best water and air in the history of our country. Climate change is not real but only a lie by the liberal elitist to destroy businesses.

On Society

He is a bulwark against the rising tide of radical socialism of the left. The agenda of this radical movement is to take away ownership, first of guns, then businesses and etc. This radical movement is anti-American and anti-Christian, run by the socialist elites in Hollywood and media. Trump wants to lead America back to its patriotic and Christian roots as we were in the 1950s.

On Race Relationship

Donald Trump has done more for the black community than any other president by giving them jobs, growth in their 401 Ks and business opportunities. The Black Lives Matter movement, was instigated by the far left (mostly white) liberals with a Marxist agenda and most blacks know that there is no racism in America.

On Christians

There has never been a president that fights for the Christians like Trump. He has fought to bring back Christian values in a growing secular nation. That liberal society was trying to ban things like prayer in schools, flags, church gatherings, saying the pledge to the flag, and general religious freedom. No other president has supported Christian values so fervently. He has also appointed conservative judges and will the one leader who will eventually stop abortions in this country and end the countries devaluing of heterosexual marriage. Donald Trump is God’s chosen man for president ot led us back to being a Christian nation.

Donald Trump could have achieved even more but has a profound resistance from the Washington establishment (deep state or “swamp”) and the mainstream media. The mainstream media is liberal and have a coordinated effort to turn our country into an anti-Christian, even communist or Muslim country. The media and radical left Democrats have attacked him without cause since he was elected. The Muller Report was proven to be a farce. The impeachment found nothing.

Not only should we re-elect him, but if we don’t, America is in peril and if the radical left wing gets into power, the economy will be destroyed, guns will be taken away, abortions will soar, and we will be drifting towards a socialist, godless country.

Welcome to the Anti-Trump World

Donald Trump has a serious mental health problem, a narcissistic personality disorder. In this disorder, the self becomes the center of the universe and all actions and thoughts are self-serving towards self-elevation alone. However, Donald Trump is a very gifted man in persuasive speech and charismatic persona. That combination, narcissistic personality plus a persuasive personality are the basic building blocks of a cult leader and that’s what we have now. The first steps of any cult leader is to make you doubt all your sources of information, except what comes from him or his supporters. Then, the information from him and his supporters (right wing TV and media sites) help him to spread lies to demonize anyone who does not support him. He is profoundly dishonest, spinning false narratives that always make him out as the hero. These are some of the hallmarks of all religious cults.

In reality, Donald Trump does not give a damn about America, Christians, or anything outside of himself. He uses this projection of himself (patriotic Christian) to win support from those who do take patriotism and faith seriously, while in his private life, he mocks these people. He has attempted to destroy all good American institutions for the sake of self elevation, this includes our Justice Department, intelligence community, FBI, military, education and etc. There has never been a more anti-American president than this one.

On the Economy

In this narcissistic quest, he has opposed anything that could hurt his goal of making the economy look (artificially) good. The stock market rise is his greatest yardstick as is the unemployment rate. The quickest way to make these numbers (only a pinhole view of the real economy) is to cut the taxes of the wealthy company owners and to end all regulations. That is exactly what he has done. It is like a sugar high for an economy that has no lasting benefits. Regulations, while some are extraneous and hinders business growth and should be cut, many are there for good reasons; for example, to protect the workers, the consumers, and the environment. If you look at other indicators of the economy (eg. GNP, national debt, trade imbalance) it does not look so good even before COVID.

On Society

There is no liberal conspiracy to; take away guns, take government control of businesses, to ban religious freedoms, to introduce communism as a form of government, to elevate abortions as a stand method of birth control.

On Race Relations

Black Lives Matter is a legitimate movement started by and led by blacks. It is in response to 400 years of racism in America that still exist in our institutions. Rioting and violence is not condoned by the majority of the left and virtually all of that was done by opportunists (wholesale looting just for the selfish material benefit) or even right wind instigators.

On Christians

If you ever wanted to know what the real (un-Americanized) historical Jesus was like, look at Donald Trump. He is the absolute opposite to Jesus in every way. Trump is self-centered, arrogant, money hungry–full of greed, extremely sexually promiscuous, incessant liar, igoronat, racist, hater of the poor and downtrodden and with a total lack of intellectual curiosity. He spouts hate of all people who are not his supporters (and even despise them behind their backs). Think of the opposite, and then you have the real Jesus.

Those Christians who told me that they recognized Trumps faulty behavior, but held their noses and voted for him anyway because he opposes abortion, are, to use Biblical terms, straining at a gnat but swallowing a camel. While claiming to want to reduce abortions, they are actually increasing them by cutting funding to basic women’s health (including access to birth control) but far beyond that, they are condoning dishonesty, which is the greatest of all sins. All evil begins with a lie.

Conclusion

This is what we are up against, the two diabolically opposed worlds in which people live. How do we bridge this gap? How do we create a constructive dialog? Many say we can’t. But do we have a choice if we want to survive as a nation?

We need to find the exit door from the Truman’s Shows that we live in, and find factual truth, not information that just supports our own bias. Real truth should be the meeting ground. Conservative and Liberal “news outlets” and websites are dens of lies. The more we go there, the more we will be entrenched within our bubbles. For Christians, the real Bible paints a picture of a God who is obsessed with truth (not some religious truth but factual truth) and love for the real world he has created. Let’s go there.

Mike

Ramblings: Observations in the Season of Elections

The world will not end if Donald Trump is re-elected. It will not end if Joe Biden is elected. In the big scheme of things, elections come and go. While I agree, there is a lot at stake, life will go on after November 3rd. Sometimes each side overstates the value of an election to get more votes.

Most who know me, know that I’m not a fan of Donald Trump. It is not political. I was not a fan of Trump when he was a Democrat. I would feel no different if he was a liberal. Although I don’t agree with all of his policies . . . some I do agree with. So, it is not about policy. For me personally, I can sum it up in the issue of truth. I am profoundly interested in truth and authenticity of character and in my view, Trump is a failure at these. I value truth as a person because all evil, all ills of society, starts with a lie. As a Christian, I believe that if God is there and the more you are involved with real truth (not talking about “religious truth”), the clearer you can see God. The more you are involved with deception, you start to see a distorted world and a god created in your own, distorted image. This is about all I will say negative about Trump in this post.

Before I’ve said that I make comments about Trump and etc. in public forums because I believe in dialog. I compared it to the debates on Mars Hill in Athens 2000 years ago. But maybe I was naive. I love to have conversations with people when we talk in a respectful way about facts. Believe it or not, I enjoy talking to people with different ideas than my own the most. I find it intriguing that another person holds such a view and I am very curious to find out why. Sometimes they are so convincing that I change my view to theirs.

But in my attempts to have discussions about Trump, it has not gone so well. The reason is, the discussion quickly deteriorates into the emotional rather than the logical. I admit that I’ve been guilty of this myself. But, from my perspective, as soon as I have challenged a Trumper on something that I think is untrue (Biden is a child molester was one of those) they immediately come back with, “You are a libtard. You’ve been brainwashed by the liberal media. Your head is in the sand.” At that juncture, dialog ends. The worst one, and I’ve mentioned this interaction before, was on another forum when I recommended, as has the WHO and CDC, mask wearing and a Trumper, who I have no personal relationship with, said he would love to put a bullet in my head because I wear a mask. How can you have a dialog around that?

But I will make it clear that this is not just happening on the Trump side. I have also mentioned before that I live in a Trump world. I am from the south. My entire family are Trumpers. I was an evangelical for 20 years and still have many friends from that world and almost all are Trumpers. I am from a small town in Appalachia. I still have some friends there and that is deeply Trump country. I also worked in a medical practice in Mount Vernon and was working there during the 2016 election and all of them were Trumpers (hearing about how great Trump was every day). So, for the sake of my own sanity, only knowing my wife and kids as non-Trumpers, I joined two Christian, anti-Trump groups online. While it did grant me some sanity, soon I started to hear lies and hatred from that group as well. Many of them too could not have a logical discussion without resorting to the emotional arguments. They were often posting disgusting photos of Trump with exaggerated bellies, butts, etc. What does that have to do with a logical debate? It is pure emotional hate and doesn’t help the discussion.

I honestly don’t understand when people don’t speak up against evil, such as the mishandling of the COVID pandemic or the slaughter of the 23 people in El Paso. When I do, they see it as political. But they have their reasons. But one of them could be the personal, social cost of speaking up. That is what I’ve found and I’ve have stopped talking in such forums about Trump. For one reason, minds are mostly made up. I have given up my dream that I could say something that would change their minds. The reasoning as become emotional, not logical. With logical reasoning, you can discuss, debate and reach conclusions. I think of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia who were diabolically opposed in legal views, but profoundly good friends in life. How? Because they did not let their reasoning deteriorate into the emotional but left it as logical, fact driven.

This image of Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Ginsburg riding a elephant in India in 1994 appears in the book, "Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg."
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antony Scalia on an elephant

I have just finished my first draft of Retribution and it is in the hands of some readers (beta testing) so I am coming up for air after being consumed by the book for almost two months. I hope to write more. I was going make many arguments about why not to support Trump, but I will refrain. I’ve lost too many friends who are Trumpers including my family. I’ve had some hate mail here when I’ve said negative things about Trump. I do have an open letter to evangelicals about why not to vote for Trump. I may post it or may not. But America will go on after this election, despite the outcome. But my prayer for all people is that they pursue truth, real truth and at all cost.

Short Rambings: Death is Hard Work; a novel

This morning I finished yet another great novel. The book was written in Arabic by the Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa. The book is reminiscence of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, one of my favorite American classical novels. However, Death is Hard Work takes place in war-torn Syria rather than rural Mississippi. It takes you inside the Syrian civil war in a graphic way. It is about a family’s long and hard journey to bury their father. It is beautifully written, however, I believe the original Arabic would carry more of the writer’s poetic word smithery.

I used to speak and read rustic Arabic. I can now just enough to recognize some places (as I read the book in English) what the Arabic probably said. For example, the title doesn’t really translate to English very well. A more precise translation of (الموت عمل شاق) would be something along the lines of (Death takes a lot of Effort). Even that doesn’t do it justice.

But I would give it 5 stars in beauty about a ugly and morbid topic.

Mike

Ramblings: A Word on Writing

A small group of followers here have informed me that they are aspiring writers and that’s why I talk about writing here. I would say “young” but some are like me, coming to the writing table late in life. But, like many of them, I’ve been writing seriously since I was about 10. I’ve been published (more serious writing) since I was 26. But I’ve only been writing books for about 15 years. I’ve learned a lot and have so much more to learn. I wish I had studied creative writing more in college, but I was looking for a career through which I could support a family.

Rebtribution

I am halfway through my first edit for this book, and there will be many more. I have attended (online) seven creative writing courses by some very successful writer. Some of them have attempted to tell their students how to write. I think that is a mistake because we all have our gifts and our limitations. We are each unique writers and should approach it that way.

Early prototype of Retribution’s Cover

I’ve said before, my gift, if I have one, is a creative mind. I have never experienced “writers’ block” for a second. I have at least ten books in my mind, almost written, and my next book will be me just trying to decide which one to put on paper. My limitation, and it relates to my dyslexia, is gammerical or spelling mistakes, which my mind cannot see. I was pleased to hear Margaret Atwood share that she has the same problem. I would be a horrible professional proofreader. I read my Ristretto Rain twenty times. I had seven other people read the manuscript looking for typos. I then had a professional editor go over it for three months. Yet, I’ve heard that the published book still has two typos. Margaret Atwood (who has made a lot of money with her writing) can afford to hire a sharp-eyed proofreader to sit beside her, and they go over the final manuscript (after professional editing) word by word over about six weeks. I don’t have that luxury as I already spend about two grand for the one professional editing process.

So, the way I write is to not waste my time doing an outline (several authors say you must write an outline first). I sit down and start writing. I almost close my eyes and enter the imaginary world of my characters. I then work like a stenographer writing down the words the characters are saying to each other.

I write in layers. My second layer, where I’m at with Retribution, is reading it again, making major corrections for flow. Then in my next few readings I start to massage color into the text. I expand the personalities of the characters, and the texture of the places. My last 3-4 readings (editing) I start to reshape sentences to make them clearer.

My last few readings is simply looking for typos. When that is done, I turn it over to friends who are willing to read it. Then I turn it over to a professional copy editor. Then I usually read it 1-2 more times.

Sometimes, and I’m almost to that point now with Retribution, I have someone read a rough draft early on (which may be laden with typos) to see if my general idea is coming across before I move forward. If you are interested in reading it at this level, let me know.

I am really excited about Retribution and want to make it the best I can. I want to make it better than Ristretto Rain, which after 20 reviews on Amazon, it still holds a 5 star rating. But I can do better and will.

I gave up on the big house publishers ten years ago. The reason is I because very disillusioned with the process. If it were simply about the best written books get published by the big publishers, that would be one thing. But publishing is a business. It is the same in music or any other art form. What sells books, is the author’s persona and notoriety. I am clueless how to achieve those two, while I think I do know how to write a good book.

I have orphaned Ristretto Rain, meaning not making any efforts at promoting it at this time. The reason is, I really am at loss for ideas at this time, that don’t cost an arm and leg. I am happy that it is still selling, although not as brisk as at first. If you haven’t bought it yet, there is still time. If you have not reviewed on Amazon yet, there is still time for that too. I am still waiting on my first royalty check and it will not be impressive, due to how the business works.

I will once again approach an agent for Retribution and try the high road for publishing that work rather than a small indie publisher.

And lastly: VOTE!!!

Ramblings: A Non Partisan Look at How People Get Their News

I don’t normally do this, but I was so moved by this story by Ted Koppel that I thought it was worth posting here. A long time ago, I started a series of posts about the loss of truth. I ended that before finishing it because I could tell from readership, a growing lack of interest. So, this video is in the vein of this process of searching for truth. We are in trouble.

I remember the first night I went on the internet and I was amazed. I thought of how much good could be done by that new tool. However, all good things have a dark side. This is certainly a dark age based on the total loss of truth.

https://www.cbsnews.com/video/news-consumers-in-the-heartland/

Myeloma Update

Last night I returned from a long anticipated trip back to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I left there around July 20th, 2019, weeks after my transplant. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since. I had to go alone this time as Denise was starting her new job.

Feature Image

To be concise, There were a few positives and negatives. I think the positives won out in the end.

While the stem cell transplant did not give us the results we had hoped and prayed for, which was no trace of cancer, it did give me a “partial remission.” That was clarified by the specialist as one local oncologist said it did nothing for me. Depressing.

I had a big work up looking for “extramedullary lesions.” This means cancer lesions outside of the bone marrow. That is very common with Multiple Myeloma, indeed the typical first symptom is a broken bone from invasive disease. After 16 or so x rays and a full body MRI, we found no such lesions. That’s a good thing as those lesions are the most common reason for death.

The specialist reviewed my present treatment and made only modest modifications. She did say, which I had concluded myself, that my cancer cell count is low, just that it did a huge amount of damage to my kidneys when it first presented. She agreed that it was time that I start to think about living rather than dying. I’m not talking about my attitude, but as a clinical strategy. In the beginning I was told I was most likely dying within months. So, for example, we deferred my routine health. Why do cancer screens for colon cancer if I’m not going to be around in six months?

I had another careful kidney work up. My kidneys are continuing to improve . . . slightly. I’ve mentioned before that the best measurement of kidney function is GFR. Normal is >59. I started in Jan 2019 at 4. I came out of the hospital last summer, having just gone off dialysis at 18-19. I bounced around at 20-21. My tests in Seattle (24 hour urine) showed that my GFR is now 27. Not quite half of normal, but much further along and away from dialysis (which they start when the GFR is around 15-16). My electrolytes were right down the middle. They had been high since going off dialysis. As I mentioned before, not having an elevated potassium or sodium has given me the freedom to diversify my diet a bit. I’ve been able to eat tomatoes once or twice a week and I drank my first glass of orange juice in 14 months after my labs came back on Monday. That was a real treat.

My MM specialist did agree that I need to be under the care of a MM specialist in Seattle. We will schedule that soon. I had been trying to do this for six months but COVID-19 derailed that. While I may not need their expertise right now, eventually (if MM follows the typical course) my cancer will explode again and will need immediate attention as not to wreck havoc with my kidneys again.

Coffee with Ramsey

My long term future lies in the typical course of remaining in partial remission for 2-3 years (at least) and then having to start new therapies to tame any flare up, all hoping that one of the cures they are working on (CAR-T or BiTEs ) are proven by then. Those are getting really good results but with potential serious side effects and not durable (cancer comes back in a year or two).

I will probably not be doing more health updates unless there is something new. Thanks for taking this carnival ride with me.

Coffee with Daniel

It was nice to be in Seattle again and to have coffee with two of my sons. Fantastic city. Keep watching Fox News (where they show scenes from Bagdad and say it’s the carnage in “liberal” Seattle) if you want, so we can keep this glorious city for ourselves. Portland is a wonderful city too.

Mike

Ramblings: The Way of Laughter

You would think that the act of laughing would carry no controversy. But it does. I’ve been thinking about writing about laughter for some time. Actually, as I’m finishing my new novel Retribution, one of many possible next books, would be me trying to write a funny novel, a story about growing up in the south. But I haven’t decided yet. It could bomb.

But my thoughts about laughter got pushed up this week, as is typical, when a life event pushed it to the forefront. I had posted a comic piece, a satire about myself, of trying to put on a mask while on a hiking trail, meeting a large group of people, with my 120 lb Saint Bernard on her leash in one hand and a bag of dog poop in the other hand. The bag of dog poop bounced against my face when I was looping the mask around my ear. I thought it was funny, and I wrote about it. I had written several other funny pieces on that forum and most were well received. The administrator took one down because it did not mention anything about our town, and that’s a requirement for all posts.

I was quite surprised when I went to look at this posting hours later. A group of Trumpers, who attack people for supporting BLM and mask wearing pounced on my posting and personally attacking me for wearing a mask as an idiot and that I had “drank the Kool Aid” (speaking of which, don’t get me started about the real drinking of Kool Aid). One of them even suggested that because I was wearing a mask, I should be shot (literally) implying that I was too stupid to embrace the “truth” (conspiracy theories that they have, that COVID-19 is a liberal, deep state illusion). I should have seen it coming, but I will caulk up to my naivety, thinking that most people understand the science behind mask wearing by now and there should be no controversy. But their prophet Trump keeps sending this mix-messages, and therefore they still are opposed.

But it was painful. I defended myself and I never thought I would have to bring up the fact that I’m very high risk having a blood cancer and just having a bone marrow transplant. Then I took the whole thing down.

Having gone through a period of horrible suffering (2019), you can say that I’m hypersensitive to criticism. I think, when I am criticized, “You have no idea the hell I’ve been through . . . and yeah, where were you during it all.” But I suspect that everyone who goes through suffering think this. I’m sure that I’ve been on the other end where I’ve criticized someone who just went through the valley of the shadow of death and somehow survived. I deeply regret that now.

So, stepping back, it should have no emotional impact on me when a group of Trumpers, complete strangers, want to call me an idiot. Makes no sense if I “internalize it.” But I did. But have been estranged from my entire birth family who are all Trumpers and ant-BLM people. But most people from the south are in that same boat.

Speaking about being from the south, that’s where I got my humor. So, while the south may be wearing blinders when it comes to their own racism and bigotry, they excel when it comes to friendliness, especially when it comes to outsiders. Somehow, humor is woven into that culture as well.

My father loved humor. His sister, my aunt Helen lived with us much of the time. She was the funniest person on the planet and laughed at everything. She had suffered tremendously and still laughed. She passed away just a few months ago. But I did have the chance to interview her about her humor here. My brother, who just died weeks ago also was a funny guy. I didn’t always get his humor, maybe it stems back to the way he used to torture me when we were little.

But I had a pronounced sense of humor based on those influences. In a high school with a graduating class of about 400-500, I was voted the funniest. When I got to college, and had become an evangelical, I turned that humor into producing a series of “Saturday Night Live” type of skits, which we used at local and regional conferences. I toyed with the idea of trying to go into stand up or other forms of humor, professionally. But at that age, I toyed with almost all professions as an option for me. Maybe not hair dresser.

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I remember when I was part of this evangelical group in college, one of my elders came to me with a serious concern. We called these encounters “rebukes.” This was the same guy who I painted with and he kept telling my fear of climbing up shaky ladders or upon high metal roofs was a spiritual issue of not trusting God. Well, during this time of rebuke, he came down hard on me trying to be funny. I will never forget that encounter. He used the verse found in Ephesians 5:4 “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

I came out of that meeting feeling deeply ashamed and made a vow to myself to not laugh again. Fortunately, that vow did not last for more than a year. I went back to producing these skits in graduate school. I will not digress into the theology of humor here, but the Ephesians verse was taken out of context and misused.

I was happy to find that Christian writings the pre-date the Victorian age, were full of humor, even what we would find quite offensive today. Luther had a vile sense of humor, especially when it came to criticizing the Catholic Church. The first time I read Dante’s Divine Comedy, I saw no humor. But it wasn’t really humor. I later read that Dante, or his followers, wanted this writing to be in the hands of the average person. Since it was a theological book, the Catholic laws were that it had to be produced in Latin alone (rather than the related Italian, which the common person could read). In order to get around the laws, they called it a “Comedy.” We may call it a satire today. But it was simply Dante writing grievances against his personal shit-list of people in a poetic form.

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But I’ve noticed that the sense of humor is like the sense of taste. While natural, it is developed over time based on experiences and local culture. For example, my family with my dad, aunt, and some ways my brother, was my local culture. My mom, based on her local culture, including being abused as a young girl, was a nervous woman who did not laugh a lot.

My wife, and my kids, will be the first to tell you that often my sense of humor falls flat or is misunderstood by those who hear. I was thinking it was something wrong with me and the way I assemble humor within my brain.

Once I flew alone to Tennessee to visit my mother, before she died, and before my Tennessee family had but emotional distance between us (because I’m not a Trumper like them), I noticed something peculiar. Everyone got my jokes! I’m not talking about my family. Down south, even the stranger is considered family. That is their gift. But I could joke with people at the airport in Atlanta. With people at Starbucks in Kingsport, Tennessee. You would never, ever do that in the Midwest. Doubtful here in the Pacific Northwest.

Since I left home decades ago, I then realized that I was carrying this southern sense of humor into the Scandinavian worlds of the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest (not to mention my marriage) where the humor taste is different. Denise has never thought I was funny. I have never found the things that she finds funny, funny. I think we came to an agreement on humor with Garrison Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon.

My pastor warns people that my humor is “odd.” I’m not sure what that means, but I do trust that the warning is warranted.

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I thought the best way to stake out my sense of humor is to share those movies that made me laugh to the point of crying. I am also a big Far Side fan, but I will focus on movies. I will do that below. But my closing point is that I see our entire lives as part of this grand satire. Where things are so ridiculous, like the evangelicals who have championed their own self-righteousness of truth, martial fidelity, “Focus on the Family” attitude; and now have embraced with full throttle a man who has been known throughout his entire life as money-centric con man, screwing as many woman as he can regardless of being married . . . and regardless of if the women wanted him to screw them (aka sexual assault or rape), embracing racist attitudes, lying with almost every breath, hating the poor and helpless, shamefully attacking veterans, and my list could go own. You have to laugh . . . so you don’t go mad. Dante would have had a field day with this, as would Luther. Luther held nothing back with his crude criticism of the Church. He said that he could not tell if words, which were so bad, came from the Pope’s mouth or his anus.

Life is a satire. Let’s laugh about it! Cancer is so tragic that it’s funny. I find everything funny . . . if not I would fall into despair.

Mike

My funniest movies of all time:

  1. Airplanes, Trains, and Automobiles
  2. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World
  3. Young Frankenstein
  4. Airplane
  5. In Search for the Holy Grail

I will pause with those. I looked at a list and realized that some are so old that I can’t remember where they would fit on my list. Do you have some suggestions?

Ramblings: The Noble Jihad

When you hear the term “Jihad” what do you think? Most of the time it conjures up negative thoughts, such as about terrorism. Most people only heard this term after 9-11. But the original meaning within Islam is very different, and far more broad than the misuse in the case of terrorism. The same concept, of the struggle, exist within Christianity, Judaism, and many of the eastern religions. Atheist experience struggling, although they will not a offer an unifying theory for suffering, except for the inadequacies of evolution.

I will briefly mention the non-Christian views because my knowledge of them is limited. Feel free to correct me if I get them wrong.

Buddhism

The Buddha first came to his meditation after seeing suffering or human struggling. He had a vision of the answer of the struggle against suffering and this where there is a disconnect between desire and accomplishment. He proposed ways to avoid this suffering by having right desires (over simplified).

Judaism

The best explanation I found is a quote by Michaela Brown, the winner of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization Inc‘s annual oratory award, in her paper titled “What makes Judaism unique and why is it important to me?”

Struggle!! The Jewish community has faced its fair share of struggle over the millennia. Ultimately, we embrace struggle.  As Abraham struggled with G-d over the fate of Sodom; as Jacob wrestled with angels; as Moses lost patience with a stiff-necked People; struggle is what has molded and evolved our faith for thousands of years.
Instead of casting away these challenges, we are taught to welcome ambiguity and take risks – to appreciate the uncertainty in life – and come to terms with it, just as our ancestors did.

Islam

Within Islam, Jihad is the struggle that humans have on this earth. Historically, and from what the prophet Mohammed dictated, it means the following:

  1. A believer’s internal struggle to live out the Muslim faith as well as possible
  2. The struggle to build a good Muslim society
  3. Holy war: the struggle to defend Islam, with force if necessary against those who want to destroy it.

It was the latter cause that the terrorist used to justify their actions on 9-11.

I have been thinking about this concept for some time. Part of it is related to my own struggle and part of it to movies and books I’ve experienced in the past year. While I may talk about my own struggles as a jumping off point, the real crux of this article is about the human struggle, generically.

I’ve had two people say to me something like, “Mike, you get to talk about your struggles. A lot of us struggle in silence.” Certainly, I’m not here today to again talk about my struggles. Yes, I do share things openly. I talk about things I feel, frustration, elation, sadness, and pain. It is partially who I am, but also, I made a consciences decision about 25 years ago to talk honestly. But I certainly know that I’m not alone and that is really why I’m talking about this now, the global issue of the struggle.

Christianity

The key Christian Bible verse about the struggle is the following:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

Simply, within the Christian framework, the universe was created perfectly, then a great fall came and disrupted part of it. It is that disruption, that brokenness that causes us to have to struggle.

When I was 18 years old, I went from being a causal Baptist (going to church if that’s where pretty girl was, but not taking it seriously) to a card carrying evangelical. I remember in those days having a poster on my bedroom wall that was similar to one I posted below. It was exciting to an 18 year old to think I was in the middle of this crazy war between demons, angels, and all kinds of evil powers. It was like Lord of the Rings, but in real life.

Over time, when you start with such a premise, before long you become very superstitious. Every day is like an scene from the movie, The Exorcist, where you are in hand to hand combat (so your mind thinks) with these demons. So, if you trip and fall on the ice, it was because a demon did it to hurt you. . . wait a minute, maybe it was God doing it to teach you something? Anyway, pay your money and take your choice.

About 20 years ago, after I spent a decade studying history of philosophy, the history of the church and theology, I came to a very strong conclusion that the church made a big mistake by adopting a dualistic view (dual = two, two very different sides to reality, the spiritual and the physical), when it came to metaphysics. As I’ve mentioned before, in that view, there’s the material (aka physical) and the spiritual. The material is insignificant, maybe even nasty, and the spiritual is all that matters. The “spiritual” in that case, is always “supernatural” or above nature, because nature is bad. When I went back and studied the Bible honestly, I found a very different perspective.

This dualistic of thinking really distorts the way you see the world. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain that here, but it was the adoption of a secular, Greek philosophy rather than sticking to the simple Christian view of the universe, that it was created by God and that both the visible and invisible are good. The Bible, when you look at the original languages, divides things between the visible and invisible, not the natural and supernatural. Those later terms came more from Plato than the Bible.

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The word for “Spiritual” in this verse in the original Greek is πνευματικὰ (Greek meaning, that which is unseen such as air vs the material, visible things). So, rather than the interpretation that I had as a high school evangelical, and the same view that most evangelicals have, this passage is not about “supernatural” powers, but invisible powers.

I will pause and take a side bar to defend what I am saying because when I’ve tired to have these discussions in person, virtually everyone misinterprets what I’m saying. They accuse me of not giving God the power to be supernatural. No, that’s what I’m saying. Unlike most evangelicals, I believe in a universe that is highly complex, over 13 billion years old and more than 13 billion light years wide. With that, I still believe that God created all of that. They believe in a Bronze-age God that created a earth-centric universe that is 5,000 years old and not very big. So who has the bigger God?

My point is about being accurate and having fidelity to the original scriptures. I think God is offended (if that is possible) that we see this material universe as dirty or nasty and therefore everything has to be “supernatural” to have merit. Didn’t God created this world? I know it is more sexy to believe like I, the high schooler, believed where their were supernatural powers everywhere and everything of significance was about this supernatural world.

I will also defend against the misinterpretation that God is known in my view. . . and rather boring. While they (often meaning evangelicals) believe that God is mystical.

I will give a simple answer to this, where I am tempted to write a book about it. If your study physics, astrophysics, including relativity, and string theory, which I do as a hobby, even the atheist comes away in awe of something that is beyond words. We live in a mystical universe, where we know a small fraction of what’s really there. So, therefore, my God is mystical beyond comprehension. But I will not resort to simple phycological tricks to make the case to myself that God is supernatural and mystical. I did that when I was with a group in collage that pretended to have all kinds of bizarre experiences, none of which were true. When we stop living in reality, believing that God caused the clouds to form the shape of a cross just as a message to me (or to Constantine), then God because a trivial magician. It is very narcistic, where I’m the center of God’s universe. I’ve always said that the more we live within true reality, the better of a chance we have in finding God. The more we live detached from reality, we find a God created in our wishful image.

But I digress. Now, with it established (from my perspective) that this verse is talking about the invisible rather than the “supernatural” I will continue with this thought.

So, this verse (Ephesians 6:12) is saying that if those Christians think that the struggle is in the seen, disease, persecutions by the Roman state, economic failure, hunger, and etc., they are mistaken. The most brutal struggle is in the unseen.

I will use myself as a brief example. My physical struggle against cancer for the past two years has been brutal. I have suffered more than I thought the human body could bear without death. I have longed for death as an escape. Yet, with that said, the most brutal part of my struggle is in the unseen. Not that some demon is trying to take over my body and make my head spin around, but that I would not give up, emotionally. That I would still believe that God loves me (not a big problem for me). That I would not succumb to depression even to the point of taking my own life. That I would not see myself as worthless now that my career is over (big struggle for me). This is the battlefield, the place of the real struggle.

Getting away from me, I want to focus on you. Most of us have our own struggles, some life-long. In closing, and as an act of homework, I want to give a list of books and movies that explore different facets of this human struggle. These are NOT self-help books, but just take your via your imagination into the these worlds.

Depression: Melancholia (movie), The Bell Jar (novel), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (novel and movie).

Schizophrenia: A Beautiful Mind (book and movie).

Obsessive-compulsive: As Good As it Gets (novel and movie).

Anxiety: Five Signs of Disturbance (novel).

Alcoholism: Days of Wine and Roses (movie).

War: Beneath a Scarlet Sky (novel), Unbroken (novel based on true events), What Is the What (novel).

Obesity: She’s Come Undone (novel, but also addresses many other struggles such as rape), Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (novel).

Poverty: Behind the Beautiful Forevers (novel).

Racism / Social Justice: Kindred (novel), The Man in My Basement (novel and one of my favorites).

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