Thursday, October 20, 2011

in which i visit a church, visit with my aunt, and see a doctor

I went to church with my wife. This is not the first time I have darkened a church door since I was a child but it was the first time in a while I actually attended a service that wasn't a funeral or a wedding. It has probably been over 20 years. My wife wanted to attend church and has been attending on Sunday mornings and Sunday nights. I opted for the Sunday night but it was still tough to get me to actually stop putting it off and go. :)  I will now actually probably go again and again.

At any rate, I decided that indeed, this church service was not that bad after all. I felt happy in a safe place with friendly people, and there was a spirit that cannot be matched anywhere else. I understand the concept.

However, sitting in the pew, I felt a little like I did when I went to economics class in high school. I have related this before that I learned economics by reading the book because my teacher was so bad at the subject. I read the book over and over. I would sometimes read paragraphs many times to make sure that I understood each word and all the possible meanings. I compared text from one chapter to the other because of my familiarity with the book. It was actually the best class in the world because the tests were based on the book and I knew everything in the book. I would only have trouble on a test when I over thought it. The teacher would chide me once in a while for not paying attention. At first I was doing crossword puzzles, then I found out that while he could stop this behavior, he couldn't stop me from reading my textbook. I remember him asking questions which I had not heard while I was concentrating and reading. I asked if he would repeat the question. He did, I answered correctly. I went back to reading. I'm not exaggerating but he was so awful that I think he did not make up his own tests and went with standardized questions from the book. This teacher gave me a lesson that I was never to forget. Some people do not have a clue about what they are doing and other people may miss or ignore this fact.

(One observation that I found fascinating was the fact that when singing a hymn the "I" and of course all the pronouns referring to God are capitalized. It is really an irony that we cannot give proper respect to God even in our hymns. Perhaps I am over thinking this but I often sign my emails with "michael" or "mike" on purpose. I wish that it was always possible to do so. )

Now this pastor was certainly not my economics teacher, but there was something that reminded me of how far I had come in that economics class by setting aside an hour a day to study. But since I had not attended in the morning, I was in part 2 of the day's lesson. I read the morning verses quickly, then read the verses he was teaching about as I read. At first I didn't really understand what he was saying because he was overlaying a teaching structure on the text. Perhaps this is a theme he uses to teach but it didn't seem relevant to the text. Eventually he started talking more directly about the text itself. The text was about the question of the relative importance of faith and works, something I was fairly familiar with. It was from the relevant portion of the book of James. The guy was pushing the need for faith, saying that faith was necessary despite a verse or too that could trip you up in James. Well, I didn't think James was all that unclear. It was unclear if taken out of context but basically it supported the pastor's words without much argument necessary. That being said there was much spirited argument about something I took for granted. That faith usually came before works. Perhaps I'm too trustworthy but the words sort of spoke for themselves anyway so I was guessing by the amount of time needed to discuss this that they must not be as clear to others in the congregation.

My belief is that faith and works are equally important. While the pastor put emphasis on faith coming first in the equation. I must disagree. Children are often very good and faith in the specifics that churches want faith in, really takes an adult mind. Someone may do very good works, and later come to realize or not realize that it is really an underlying faith that has led to this. A person may not think it is a faith in God, when it actually is. Then there is the obvious problem of a person who is born in another country that does not have a chance to get this particular churchly brand of faith. Well, it is all so difficult to ponder really.
Despite the fact that I disagreed on a few points the pastor made, I felt comfortable there and it was a throwback to my days as a youngster. I enjoyed it. I wanted to speak up like I would often do in class. I remember correcting my Psychology teacher in high school that he had the "id" and the "superego" mixed up in Freud's theory. He dared to say I was wrong without even considering I might be right. I maintained my opinion valiantly and the next day, he went over it again, this time correctly. It wasn't a very good apology, but then he wasn't a very good man. He hated me after that when all I had tried to do was make sure the class was getting it correctly. After that I was fairly silent regardless of mistakes. I remember putting down on the test "you said (such and such) in class but I believe it is (such and such)."  :)   I had studied a lot of psychology by the time I took a class in high school, I was probably pretty full of myself. But I did know a lot about the subject.

I wanted to speak up when the pastor denigrated "doubt" saying it came from the devil. I wanted so much to raise my hand and have a discussion. "Sir, doubt is the beginning of all learning. A good intellectual doubt of something may, when investigated, lead to a strong faith in that very thing if the doubt is proven wrong. If it isn't proven wrong, then there is more to learn. There are subtleties to learn. If I don't doubt you once in a while, I am not doing due diligence to understanding the Word." However, "doubt" here had only one basic meaning, doubt of God. As I have said before, I'm not in doubt in this basic area. But it has only come through a lifetime of experience, a lifetime of doubt which led to reconciliation, a lifetime that has led me to this particular place and time. It took a lifetime of attempting to do good works. And it was ever so that I would come away from a church service thinking "The [dude] doth protest too much, methinks, " or whatever is the contra positive of that. :) When churches are so passionate about this one aspect of Christianity, belief or faith in God, a basic I-wouldn't-be-here-if-that-was-not-understood concept for me personally, I don't learn much.

I enjoyed the experience and will go back. I may want to switch churches but for now, this man intrigues me. I want to learn the things that he thinks other people need to learn, and just perhaps there will be something that I need to learn as well. Regardless, I learn about an aspect of the world I have mainly known from my childhood.

All this was well and fine. I was feeling pretty good about life. I understood the Bible verse and hadn't actually read it before. I understood a lot of nuance about what was happening around me and it was comfortable and safe.

Then I called my aunt on her birthday the next day. My aunt described symptoms similar to my Mom's and asked me whether I knew what disease my mother (her twin sister) had 30 years ago before she died. In her head was the idea that my mother had had the symptoms only in her mind. I tried to explain the disease we know so much more about now that they did when my mother got it and they knew nothing. I tried my best to understand my aunt but she is hard of hearing, it is getting harder for her to speak, and it is just plain hard to communicate with. I gave her what knowledge and advice I could. I hoped she would be able to see the right doctors and be taken care of. But a little bit more of my faith in humanity disappeared. There are varied reasons I cannot discuss this further but I cried for hours after I managed to make it straight through the phone call I was angry for a while, and then I just let it wash under the bridge behind me. I cannot fix the world. Even if I had the knowledge, I couldn't.

So, while I was looking up how to spell the disease my mother had to answer my aunt's question, I looked at a page with a new list of medicines that can cause this problem. The disease is a man-made disease caused by certain medications. Then I saw it. My main medicine was on the list, albeit, not in the primary list.

I went to see my doctor the next day and here, basically is what transpired:

1. There is a small chance of getting [disease redacted] but it is very small and many times smaller than with the drug my mother was taking.
2. There are no other medications for my problems that do not contain this very small risk.
3. He worded things so carefully as he got really close to me, "I am not God but I do not think there is much risk. If you get the disease, I will be there to help you with treatment." He had a small tear in his eye.
4. He said, "You are doing spectacularly on your medication now. There is much more risk of other problems without these drugs."

I patted him on the shoulder and said, "I trust you."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


See Things for What They Really Are
Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.
Open your eyes: see things for what they really are, thereby sparing yourself the pain of false attachments and avoidable devastation.
Think about what delights you – the tools on which you depend, the people whom you cherish. But remember that they have their own distinct character, which is quite a separate matter from how we happen to regard them.
As an exercise, consider the smallest things to which you are attached. For instance, suppose you have a favorite cup. It is, after all, merely a cup, so if it should break, you could cope. Next build up to things – or people – toward which your clinging feelings and thoughts intensify.
Remember, for example, when you embrace your child, your husband, your wife, you are embracing a mortal. Thus, if one of them should die, you could bear it with tranquility.
When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.
What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.
Stop scaring yourself with impetuous notions, with your reactive impressions of the way things are!
Things and people are not what we wish them to be or what they seem to be.  ~Epictetus

Lucky Today

It seems like so long ago that I felt good all of the time. It rained today and of course my allergies got better. Experience in life is all relative. Since I have been feeling bad for a while, I really appreciate a day that all the headaches and trouble goes away. I felt very productive today at work and on my breaks. The need to exercise really seems secondary to the need for cleansing rain.

Avatar is playing on HBO2 tonight and I must say it looked so much better in Blu Ray. I'm sure it was awe inspiring in 3d depending on your theatre. On the cruise I watched one movie and it was truly wonderful. It was "Lion King" in 3d. Nothing beats a brand new Disney theatre with 3d technology. The Lion King was a totally different experience. Sometimes I wonder about my prediction, that 3d will ultimately fail as a broad based consumer phenomenon. 3d has never failed to disappoint before and I can't imagine people wearing glasses to watch most normal television. I have surround sound speakers and rarely turn them on. So at least I will probably be left out of the 3d group for a while.

I did not like Avatar when I watched it before. The effects were the best I had ever seen, but the story is what I enjoy the most and it was not strong in Avatar. I guess in the end, the lowest tech form of storytelling is printed text, and that seems to be more of a passion to me lately. I have not had the time I wanted to read books and I plan on changing that soon.

I have finally gotten my blogs straight and now if I post about one blog entry a day, they would be weekly. I just need more time to read. Reading short articles of news has been very enlightening during this time of immigration laws and the protest against Wall Street. But all is well. Alabama will most likely suffer great economic setbacks and other states will be slow to follow it's lead. And Wall Street has to be worried about the future of it's endless greed.

Before I was reading economic texts one after another but lately, before I fall asleep, I have just been reading pulp fiction. Relaxation is what I need. Unfortunately, I fall asleep rather quickly, but I will set some time aside, relax and read. Right now I'm going to turn off Avatar at about the same place I decided to give up in Blu Ray. Maybe the ending is spectacular and maybe I'll find out someday.

Avatar does make a nice movie to play as a sort of background movie, like a fireplace. :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Well it was up to me.

"Up To Me"

Take you to the cinema
and leave you in a Wimpy Bar --
you tell me that we've gone to far --
come running up to me.
Make the scene at Cousin Jack's --
leave him put the bottles back --
mends his glasses that I cracked --
well that one's up to me.
Buy a Silver Cloud to ride --
pack the tennis club inside --
trouser cuffs hung far too wide --
well it was up to me.
Tyres down on your bicycle --
your nose feels like an icicle --
the yellow fingered smoky girl
is looking up to me.
Well I'm a common working man
with a half of bitter -- bread and jam
and if it pleases me I'll put one on you man --
when the copper fades away.
The rainy season comes to pass --
the day-glo pirate sinks at last --
and if I laughed a bit to fast.
Well it was up to me.


My youthful interpretations of the Aqualung album ring true today. Ian Anderson once introduced this song as a bit of nonsense. And so it is, just a song of nonsense, and I have always loved it. My interpretation as a child was that this is the song of a mad man, which fits very well with the other Dickensian characters on side one of the album. I thought the song to be a comment on society and freedom. Everything in our world really is dependent on one person's thoughts, one's own.  As long as our thoughts stay within the norms of society, then we are deemed to be sane. But if we come to believe that everything is totally dependent on how we think about it, and we are free to believe whatever we like, then we either arrive at a grand realization of the nature of God and being, or have gone mad. It is another of Anderson's songs that tweaks the listener into thinking by forcing interpretation of difficult lyrics, and it does this with the literary tradition of nonsense. It is beautifully arranged, as are all the songs on Aqualung. It would widely known as a classic, if it were up to me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What the Hay

My God

People -- what have you done --
locked Him in His golden cage.
Made Him bend to your religion --
Him resurrected from the grave.
He is the god of nothing --
if that's all that you can see.
You are the god of everything --
He's inside you and me.
So lean upon Him gently
and don't call on Him to save you
from your social graces
and the sins you used to waive.
The bloody Church of England --
in chains of history --
requests your earthly presence at
the vicarage for tea.
And the graven image you-know-who --
with His plastic crucifix --
he's got him fixed --
confuses me as to who and where and why --
as to how he gets his kicks.
Confessing to the endless sin --
the endless whining sounds.
You'll be praying till next Thursday to
all the gods that you can count.


Again, the album Aqualung made me think, not just follow blindly. I had just been through the bitterness of believing so deeply, only to have those I followed display hypocrisy of the highest level to justify their personal racist beliefs. Not only is this song not an attack on God, it is a defence of God. And it appeared in my life just in time to stop my spiral into non-belief. I owe a lot to Ian Anderson. I never misunderstood the meaning, but you can guess that those who were as thoughtless as the leaders of my church would have surely misunderstood. I used to sing this song bitterly, especially the line "Don't call on him to from your social graces..." It reminds me of Bob Dylan's famous pronunciation of "Suc.......cess" in it's cleverness at exposing hypocrisy. Yet, Anderson's pause is made just a bit more musically satisfying with the beginnings of the hard guitar movement, which serves to give reason for the pause, and yet to also highlight the descent into the bitterness that follows.

Sometimes I get the feeling that the reason I'm still here is only because it took this long for me to put together the belief that now lives so strongly and deeply within me. Only the entirety of my life could have brought me to this understanding. My recent struggle with sickness...perhaps there has been more guidance than I have ever realized.

I don't doubt at all that it began when I lay down on my parents bed and picked up that book off of the vacuum cleaner box that served as a nightstand and read "In the beginning..."