The Flammable Heart

heart-on-fire

I used to be homophobic, an unabashed litterer, and so pro-life that I would argue passionately against the idea that women should have a right to choose whether to abort babies.

I used to believe all illegal immigrants should be deported. I used to believe that any system rewarding racial or gender quotas was shitty and unfair. I used to believe racism wasn’t a problem in the United States and was limited to a few uneducated rednecks with nothing better to do than hate people.

I used to think that if you didn’t believe Jesus was God, you were ignorant, uneducated and doomed to a life of dissatisfaction and an unpredictable afterlife.

And if you didn’t agree with me, you were wrong.

I don’t like to write about religion or politics or any controversial subjects where, afterward, you might decide you don’t like me because we don’t agree on the same things.

Because that happens.

Really conservative people find out Matt Damon and LeBron James stumped for President Obama and all the sudden both guys are morons and “I’m never watching Good Will Hunting or the NBA again!!!”

Really liberal people find out Gene Simmons is conservative and that Ted Nugent is a gun advocate and enthusiast and all the sudden both guys are morons and “I never liked their shitty music anyway!!!”

I don’t want to write things that cause division.

I don’t want to write things that cause anger.

I don’t want to write things that could lead to you thinking I’m a bad or stupid or foolish person.

I like exploring all of the things that connect us and not the things that divide us.

But today? I want to write about what I think and why.

And I want to write about the process of believing one thing and then changing my mind, and what that might mean.

Maybe I’ll offend you. Maybe you won’t like me afterward. I hope that’s not what happens. And if you do disagree I hope you’ll tell me why because I love to discover other perspectives that help me evolve.

That’s So Gay

Maybe it’s because I was raised in a really conservative, Catholic environment in a small Ohio town where boys played football and never wore pink. But I was always homophobic growing up.

As far as I knew, I didn’t know any gay people, but they probably all had AIDS and wore leather chaps. And if they were guys? They all probably wanted to shower with me naked and touch my penis and convert me to gaydom.

I was also taught that God got soooo angry at gay people during Old Testament times that he destroyed an entire city with fire where everyone was apparently having gay sex. It was soooo bad that if you turned around and looked at the city while it was being destroyed you turned into salt.

Being gay must be REALLY bad!

And then I grew up and met a bunch of gay people. Not ONE has mistreated me or displayed a tendency for unkindness. Ever. Not one ever wore leather chaps in front of me. No one ever tried to hook up with me except for creeper Giovanni that one time.

EVEN IF you subscribe to the premise that the act of homosexual sex is sinful because the Bible says so, it dawned on me one day that a bunch of straight people have sex all the time too even if they aren’t married and that THAT is also a sin, according to biblical teachings. Yet, we don’t see this huge groundswell of anti-premarital sex opponents boycotting organizations or forming lobbying groups against pre-marital sex rights.

Want to know why?

Because basically everyone thinks about sex all the time and wants to do it and most people actually do even if they’re not married. And because people are hypocrites and capable of justifying damn near anything, they think their straight sins are less bad than gay sins.

I don’t like hypocrisy. And I don’t think I’m in ANY position to start “ranking” sins. So one day I stopped.

And now? I want people to do what’s in their heart. And to love who they love.

If the God I believe in exists, that all-powerful creator will sort out all the nonsense in the next life.

If my God doesn’t exist, my consciousness will simply shut off like a light bulb when I die and I’ll decompose in the ground and worms and insects will eat me, and being unkind to people because they liked to have sex with people of the same gender will not have done me any good.

Oh, Those Environmentalist Whackos!

I used to litter all the time, mostly by chucking cigarette butts out my car window. But I would also sometimes throw out empty cans or used napkins or whatever else. Garbage that would end up in a country road ditch.

This lasted until I was 22 and moved to Florida and started hanging out by the whitest sand and clearest water I’d ever seen.

I’d find cigarette butts and discarded trash on the beach. How could they do that!?!?, I’d think.

Then I realized what a hypocritical douchebag I was being and stopped throwing cigarette butts out the window for someone else to clean up or to wind up in that beautiful water.

I was also a newspaper reporter and I covered the power companies in Florida. I began to research and report on stories about certain power plant emissions into the air and discharge into nearby waters.

The mercury levels in fish got so bad near one power plant that people couldn’t eat it. I learned about how high mercury levels in your body are virtually irreversible and can cause serious illness over time.

I started to think about how the planet was here long before me and how it will be here long after I’m gone. I started thinking about how our ancestors were such good stewards of the land, and how we’re so shitty at it. We just mow down trees and wipe out various species because we want to build another strip mall, or build a new deck from exotic Brazilian hardwoods.

I decided it was bullshit. I’m not for punishing businesses based on incomplete science. But I am absolutely for erring on the side of taking good care of the world around us. And I’m absolutely blown away that it has become a political issue.

There’s a place in the Pacific Ocean called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” because it has so many plastic particles floating on or near the surface. I want to know what political party is in favor of that.

The Right to Choose

Is there a more divisive topic? I don’t think so. It scares me to talk about and write about. Especially because I’m a guy and believe my opinions are worth about 20 percent of what a (potential) mother’s opinion is worth because I will NEVER be faced with some of the very difficult choices pregnant women sometimes face.

For all my life, I believed abortion isn’t a whole lot different than killing a baby.  I’ve never understood the argument that an eight-month-old baby in her mother’s womb is different from a two-week-old baby outside the womb. I have a couple cousins in their 20s who were born premature. After six or seven months.

And my brain is simply incapable of coming to a conclusion that we MUST protect that baby outside the womb, but that deciding the fate of the child still in the womb is somehow optional, even though, mathematically, the child in utero may actually be older.

It’s all very messy and confusing.

I’ve come to believe that Roe vs. Wade is unlikely to ever be overturned, and that even if it was, it wouldn’t stop abortions from happening.

I have made a choice to not debate it. The only pregnancy that is any of my business in the history of the world is the one that involved my wife and son. The rest are not my business.

Some people are so passionate against abortion that they protest outside of abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood buildings and intimidate young women who might be scared and need help. They usually do this in the name of Christianity despite acting NOTHING like Jesus ever did. A few of them have even bombed clinics or killed doctors who perform abortions. I can’t stand with people like that.

The Immigration Issue

Because I was ignorant, I used to think of immigrants as only being poor people from places like Mexico or Cuba. I never took any time to think about the fact that my great-grandparents immigrated to this country in the 1930s, and opened a bakery in Cincinnati, Ohio before getting freaky and making my grandmother who loves Liam Neeson and remains alive and well.

Did my great-grandparents do it all legally and pay taxes? Yes. And is there a difference between that and the way some people sneak across the border and live undocumented in the United States and other countries? Sure.

But imagine being a young child growing up in Mexico. And your grandfather and your father and your uncles and your older brothers all snuck into the United States and worked for cash and sent money back home so your family could eat food. Imagine if that was the only thing you ever knew. How could you ever believe it was wrong?

While I very much want people working in this country to pay taxes and contribute because our country is essentially a failing business right now that needs to find a way to become a profitable one if we’re going to survive into the future, I have to be a human being first.

And anyone who thinks money is more important than people will never find themselves on the same side of a debate as me.

People have to matter most.

No Racism Because Obama, Jordan, Hendrix!

Because I was obsessed with Michael Jordan and most of my sports heroes were black and Eddie Murphy was the funniest man alive, there’s no way racism was still a problem in America.

Lincoln freed the slaves in 1836!!!

I used to think that when I was a kid. Want to know why? Because I’m white and despite growing up a little poor, I STILL was able to attend private school and almost never had anything really bad or dangerous happen around me. Because police never once suspected I might be up to no good because of my skin color or because of how I dressed.

I’m a white, straight man. As the hilarious Louis CK once said: You can’t even offend me. That’s how good straight white guys have it. I’m trying to think of a time someone discriminated against me and I thought it was unfair and was somehow denied an opportunity because of it.

I’m drawing a blank.

And if you’re like me? And you can’t think of a time like that either? Maybe it would be wise to join me in my quest to be less of an asshole and pretend like I understand what it’s like to be black or female or gay or an immigrant in the United States.

I Have Faith, But I Don’t Know

I have believed in God my entire life but I can’t and won’t say that I know there’s a God.

I’m sorry. I can’t do it.

I don’t know.

I believe, based on my personal experiences, that there’s a God. God makes sense to me. I look around at all the miracles and intricacies that make up this amazing and awe-inspiring world and universe we live in. And I see purpose. Intent. Design.

Other people look around at war and kids with cancer and injustice and ask: How could a benevolent God allow such things?

It’s a fair question. And I don’t have any answers. Some of the best people I know are tested the hardest. They don’t deserve it. Other people are heathens, and they seem to have everything in life go their way.

Why?

The most important thing to happen to me as an adult is when I realized and admitted that I just don’t know.

Don’t know, what?

Don’t know anything. Not in any sort of big-picture sense. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I die. And I’m not going to act like a lunatic and pretend that I do. It’s foolish and a time-waste.

But I know things about how my mind and body respond to things that happen around me.

I know that injustice makes me feel rage.

I know that tragedy makes me feel sad.

I know that being helpful and giving more than I take gives me meaning and purpose.

I know that love—not just romantic love—but the love I feel for us, for people, sets my heart on fire.

And if that isn’t a good compass to follow for how we should live, then I’ll never know what is.

I don’t have any answers but I have a whole bunch of questions.

Sometimes, things make me feel shitty. I’m going to try to not do those things.

And some things make me feel awesome. Like I really am connected to you and him and her and them, no matter what they think and no matter who they have sex with and no matter what color skin they have and no matter who or what they pray to.

We’re all going to die. But not today.

And the things we used to do or think that were wrong have no bearing on who or what we are now.

None of us can change the entire world.

But every one of us can change our own.

Maybe go tell someone you love them. Right now.

Then do something about it.

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23 thoughts on “The Flammable Heart

  1. The story of your journey to greater wisdom through compassion was inspiring.

    Like

  2. frankregan17 says:

    Succinctly and very well put. Great post.

    Like

  3. Well said Matt. I hope people aren’t turned off by you sounding like a reasonable human being.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you very much.

      Everyone has a different take. 15 years ago, I might have thought this sounded unreasonable.

      We evolve.

      I certainly don’t begrudge people thinking I have a bunch of things wrong. Because I’m absolutely aware that I don’t know anything for sure.

      Like

      • C.C. says:

        Yes! We evolve, thankfully. Your journey resonates with me….the only thing I know for sure these days is that I don’t know anything for sure.

        Like

        • Matt says:

          It’s VERY liberating. When you realize you don’t have to know everything and that we’re not necessarily meant to.

          I liked it when I realized EVERYONE was a human being, and that I wasn’t the only one thinking and feeling and being scared of all the things I think and feel and occasionally am afraid of.

          Changes everything.

          Like

  4. Yvonne says:

    This is one of your very best posts.

    Like

  5. girlseule says:

    Wondferful stuff, it’s lovely to see people can and do change their views…. though I guess I feel that way because I agree with what you changed your mind on. I’m sure there are people who feel as about these issues the way that you used to and would read this post with a very different set of eyes..

    Like

  6. swo8 says:

    Sounds like you are coming around to full enlightenment. It is a journey and we all must go through it. Life is based upon a lot of intangibles. You have to come up with your own thoughts and beliefs that you can live with even if others don’t agree with it. It is when those thoughts and beliefs deny others their thoughts and beliefs that it becomes problematic.
    Leslie

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  7. I really enjoyed this but it did make me a little nervous when I first started reading since you linked back to me😄 I wondered if I had offended you.

    Like

  8. ttravis says:

    Nice work Matt! Some might say this has nothing to do with divorce or single parenting, but I think the connections are clear: we question, we re-think, we hope that in doing so we grow.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      The only way I can be a good father to my son is I’m the kind of person who can always grow and change and evolve when it’s called for.

      I hope I can always be that.

      Like

  9. An inspiring and well written post. Thank you Matt.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you Lisa. So nice to see your name pop up. Just caught the third installment of The Hobbit last night. Anytime I see New Zealand I think of the few extremely kind people I’ve met from there via this blog. Such a beautiful place.

      I wish you much joy and peace this holiday season, miss. Thank you very much for saying hi.

      Like

  10. garden2day says:

    This was another really good post…really, really good :) . Some might say you have come to the point of enlightenment–if I can borrow that saying–but I think we get to a point where we need to look around and see where we are in the world and what we are doing–if it is positive or negative. I call it accountability–being responsible. I think you did this the ‘right’ way–taking the risk and the way you gave your thoughts on each. I wish we all would respect each other just a little more. I still don’t know why everything must be categorized, politicized, or ‘religionized’ :D . I have had to say goodbye to some friends because I changed and it’s sad but sometimes people don’t want to change. I liked this very much.

    Like

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