Tag Archives: Religion

A Marriage Alternative: How Considering a Shift to Temporary Marriage Might Benefit Your Relationship

Temporary clock art

(Image/ART + marketing)

My brain and gut recoiled in disgust at the two words: Temporary Marriage.

They were hyperlinked in my email to an article I was certain I would disagree with—A Temporary Marriage Makes More Sense than Marriage for Life.

But then I read it.

I’m a lot a better at admitting when I’m wrong and checking my biases at the door today than I used to be, since doing it the other way is literally the reason me and so many others are divorced despite wishing we were not.

Whenever a philosophical conversation is happening about The Way Things Should Be (politics and religion, in a nutshell), there are two things to consider:

  1. The best idea in an ideal world under optimum conditions.
  2. The best idea based on its implications in the world we actually live in.

Which isn’t a small thing. The worst events and conditions in human history usually begin with two people or two groups with opposing opinions regarding this nebulous concept of The Way Things Should Be.

I was surprised at how unoffended I was by author Vicki Larson’s article championing the idea of temporary marriages.

Like a pro athlete’s contract. Something designed to last maybe two to five years, before the terms of the agreement are revisited and renegotiated.

A marital arrangement where neither the husband nor wife OWES their spouse any type of support emotionally, financially, or sexually beyond the length of the marriage contract if one or both of them should choose at that time to NOT renew their marriage agreement.

Like most things in life, there are pros and cons to the idea itself, and THEN, on top of that debate, there’s all the fine print no one is reading or paying attention to.

The Pros of Temporary Marriage

It’s not all bad.

People would never feel too trapped in a horrible marriage. People who WANTED to stay married would be more motivated to behave accordingly, and less inclined to take their spouse for granted.

People who are super-into variety and novelty would have it.

What people want in their 20s is often different than what they want in their 60s. A partner who is awesome while you’re in your 20s but who WON’T be awesome in your retirement years, won’t be an unpleasant surprise later. You’ll both see it coming and NOT renew your marriage contract once the time is up.

Shitty husbandry? At least the way I often characterize it? You’re in a contract year, fellas! Better play your ass off if you want to keep her!

Let’s not underestimate the power of deadlines and a fundamental shift in human psychology RE: positively impacting how people behave within their relationships and marriages.

I honestly believe a lot of measurable good would occur in a Temporary Marriage arrangement in which both married partners fully accepted the terms of the arrangement heading in, and WANTED them, and had the support of their families and social networks.

The Cons of Temporary Marriage

According to the most recent U.S. Census data I could find (2012), there are about 115 million households in the United States. A ‘household’ is defined as everyone (even just one person) living in a housing unit.

Of those 115 million households, more than 76 million of them are “Family households,” which doesn’t take into account people who USED to be in family households (divorced parents, widows/widowers, empty-nesters, etc.)

That’s the bureaucratic way of saying MANY people like to have sex and/or have babies and raise children.

There’s a debate to be had about the merits of reproducing little, ungrateful parasitic humans, but I’m totally glad we do. I’m in the Pro-Human Race Continuing to Exist camp, so it’s neat that babies are a thing. I’m happy I was born, so I’m grateful to my parents. And I’m the father of a rapidly growing little man in grade school and he is the center of my universe. I didn’t even know it was possible to love something the way I do my son.

It’s not a math equation. You can’t measure that. Parents don’t love OTHER children as much as their own children. Most parents would do UNTHINKABLE things to protect their kids, or in an effort to provide them a means of living a good life.

Larson barely mentions children in her article, saying only that the idea was INTENDED for people who did not have children, and planned on NOT having them.

I’m glad, too, because in my estimation, a “temporary marriage” could ONLY work effectively without the introduction of children to the equation.

One group of people won’t put a lot of stock in how children are impacted, because they don’t have any. Makes sense. Seems tone-deaf, but makes sense.

And the OTHER group will stop at nothing to protect their children.

Because of this, I don’t think this is a debate that’s ever going to gain much traction, culturally.

The Fine Print

Larson is proposing an idea. As someone who loves thinking about and proposing ideas that challenge the status quo, I’m inclined to cut Larson a little slack for glossing over the fine print in her short article. I’m sure she and co-author Susan Pease Gadoua go into much greater depth in their book The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels.

Here’s the fine print:

Statistically speaking (just in the United States, but these numbers hold up throughout most of the world), 95 out of 100 people will get married, or are planning to.

Why?

Because we all grow up—and even if our parents are divorced (mine were)—it seems like EVERY adult is married, or dating with the intention of getting married, and that all of our friends are planning to get married one day.

We all know someone in the 5 percent. The “I’m never getting married!” people. And what do we think of them—even if it’s bullshit and unfair? We think they’re weirdos. Or, that they’ll sell out and get married anyway (which is pretty common, because—95 percent).

We have that reaction for the same reason that I thought I was going to get all pissed off and self-righteous about this Temporary Marriage article and idea.

We BELIEVE THINGS. All of us. We believe things.

Sometimes what we believe is pretty innocuous, like which team will win the football game, or how many ‘S’s are in the name Mississippi, or who is responsible for leaving those presents under the Christmas tree on December 25.

Other times, what we believe carries more weight. You know—the scary stuff. God. Climate. War. Afterlife. The value of an unborn human. The value of people who live in other parts of the world. The value of people who don’t believe what we believe. The value of people who don’t look like us.

What we choose to do with THOSE beliefs determines the fate of the world on a macro scale, and on a micro scale, determines the fate of our personal lives.

I used to believe that everything I was taught and believed was TRUTH. All caps. Truth. And that anyone who believed other things was wrong.

You know who else uses that same logic to make important life decisions and justify doing or saying things that might hurt others? Mass murderers and terrorists.

When I finally realized that much too late into my adulthood, I pledged to stop.

Here’s why this is important to marriage—temporary or otherwise.

BILLIONS of people believe marriage is more than just a government-sponsored contract. They believe it’s SPIRITUAL. Divinely influenced by an all-powerful creator. By God, essentially, even though many of those people believe radically different things about God.

Various religious groups have been trying to convince OTHER religious groups that their beliefs are WRONG for—well—a really long time. Humans have only been writing things down for about 5,200 years, so it’s tough to know just how far back religious arguments between people or groups actually go, but I’m pretty sure in 5,200 years, there is no documented evidence of THAT practice working out well for all involved.

Don’t Be So Quick to Dismiss it Just Because it Looks Different

The concept of “temporary marriage” flies in the face of so-called “traditional marriage,” which is a trash term, but we all know what it means.

It’s a trash term because so few people honor what it ACTUALLY MEANS to enter a traditional marriage, and that includes myself back in 2004.

I was 25 years old. I was a moron. And worse, I was a moron who BELIEVED myself to be smart.

Those are the scariest people.

Here’s my quick and dirty take on marriage (leaving spirituality out of it, because that’s super-personal to everyone and well above my pay grade):

What people need to succeed in marriage is PHILOSOPHICAL ALIGNMENT. It helps to believe the same things, want the same things, share the same goals, and speak the same language. (Metaphorically, I mean – you need to be able to accurately interpret what the other person is saying to you. Most people suck at this, which is why couples always have the same fight.)

I think almost ANY belief system can work, but it’s so important in a life-long committed partnership that BOTH people share it. Differing beliefs create conflict. Conflict creates negative emotions. Negative emotions provoke shitty marriage behaviors and all-around bad feelings.

And then toxic marriage and/or divorce happens. All the traditionalism in the world can’t stop that from being true.

I don’t think “temporary marriage” is super-practical, but it’s damn sure a superior option to toxic marriage and divorce.

I’m not likely to become a “temporary marriage” advocate any time soon, but I think the POSITIVES of a mutually agreed-to temporary commitment to one’s life partner can’t be dismissed.

Because near as I can tell, THAT would solve so much of what I believe ails modern marriage.

So, I guess if you’re unable or unwilling to have children, and brave enough to tell everyone who thinks they know what’s best for you far more than you do to piss off, check it out.

Thinking and asking questions never hurt anyone who wasn’t being violently oppressed.

So think.

Ask questions.

And maybe stop doing things simply because someone without any skin in the game told you that you should.

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The Secret Way Sex and Faith Collide to Destroy Your Marriage

secret

(Image/OCD Life)

Before we begin, let’s address three truths everyone should understand:

  • No matter your spiritual beliefs, Christianity’s reach and impact has been enormous through the centuries, and likely affects your life in ways you’ve never even considered. While only 33 percent of people globally identify themselves as Christians, the VAST majority of the English-speaking world (the only language in which I write and speak fluently) are Christian. That’s 83 percent of Americans, 76 percent of Europeans, 80 percent of South Africans, and about half of the population of Australia and New Zealand.
  • You’re probably going to get married or be involved in a long-term relationship which approximates marriage. Humans crave connection and companionship. In the United States, 95 percent of people 18 and over are either married, formerly married, or planning to marry. That’s 9.5 out of 10, which any statistician will tell you is basically everyone.
  • Sex is like, totally a big deal to people. It’s easy to prove. “Sex” and “s e x” are the top two Google searches every day out of the 3.5 BILLION that people type into the world’s top search engine. More than 250 babies are born every minute worldwide. (Sex-ed spoiler alert: Most pregnancies occur from a man and a woman doing the hibbity-dibbity, and most hibbity-dibbity sessions do not result in pregnancy.) Lastly, the pornography industry earns about $100 billion per year globally (if you believe the stats I read on the internet). The Hollywood film industry releases about 600 movies per year, and makes about $10 billion in profit. The porn industry produces 13,000 films per year, and makes about $15 billion in profit, which means the adult film industry makes more money than the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball combined.

I think Christianity might be negatively affecting young men in ways that has produced generations of guys who hide their sexual desires or activities out of shame, which then leads to relationship-destroying trust issues in marriage.

NOTE: I am NOT saying Christianity is bad. So don’t even, please. I’m saying in its current form culturally, modern Christian teachings might be accidentally creating a human condition that I believe fundamentally harms marriages.

And I think this might lead to a wide-range of commonly occuring marriage-killing conditions, including:

  • Secret pornography use.
  • Sexual anxiety that can adversely affect performance.
  • Discomfort discussing sex with their wives, which can prevent intimacy building, and lead to wives questioning their own desirability and self-worth.
  • A belief that all sexual thoughts and desires and activities are taboo outside of marriage, which can create a psychological condition where forbidden sex becomes a turn-on in a way “approved” sex with one’s spouse never could. The negative implications of which should be obvious.

…..

Is porn messing up your relationship?

If so, I made new friends yesterday who I think can help you. They’re a husband-wife team who I hope to do a lot more work with.

…..

Burn in Hell, Sinners

Let’s start at the beginning.

Me and all of my friends were taught growing up that any sexual thought or action we had was sinful (if we weren’t married, and none of us were because we were little kids).

I don’t mean sinful like “That’s naughty!”

I mean sinful like “If you die—which could literally happen any minute—Jesus is going to be so disappointed in you that he might send you to Hell for eternity!”

Have you guys ever spent a couple of hours in a hospital waiting room? Stood in line at the DMV? Got stuck in bumper-to-bumper vehicular traffic when you were in a huge hurry? That’s just hours.

ETERNITY is FOREVER.

No end. Holy crap. Have you ever contemplated eternity before? You probably haven’t, and you shouldn’t, because I’m pretty sure everyone who does has an aneurysm and dies.

Nobody talks about this, but we need to, because it’s a thing that’s destroying people’s marriages, but the root causes (fear, guilt, and shame) are never dealt with in healthy or productive ways.

A HUGE number of young men are growing up with naturally occurring sexual urges, and believing that if they act on them, there’s the chance they will spend FOREVER experiencing the worst-possible pain and suffering imaginable. Perpetual shitty days. Not regular-shitty. Mega-shitty. Forever.

Sexual desires, thoughts, and certainly actions (the ultimate sign of weakness and low self-control when you consider what’s at stake, right?) produce SHAME. Not a little. A lot.

And profound feelings of shame can cause men to do some very funny things, almost all of which can lead to divorces nobody wants.

English-speaking countries, where Christianity is prevalent, has NOT made it safe for ANYONE to discuss the human activity that MOST people think about, and want to do more than anything else (depending on individual circumstances, of course), every day.

I’m 99 percent sure that isn’t Jesus’ fault. I don’t think the New Testament writers ever quoted him saying the things I was taught.

It’s a condition that crept up organically. No one set out to create generations of sexually dysfunctional men and couples. It’s a consequence of teaching billions of people that they’re doomed to an eternity of fiery torment if they have an orgasm before they’re married, or even think about it too much.

Do Guys, or Their Wives, Understand the Impact of Sexual Shame on Their Marriage?

I grew up like this, and while nobody meant to screw me up, I think that’s what happened anyway.

Sex was forbidden, so maybe I craved it even more than I would have simply because I was a person.

Sex was forbidden, so maybe every time I didn’t succeed at saving myself for marriage, I felt fear that I would be punished for eternity, I felt fear that I contributed to jeopardizing the spiritual health of someone else, I felt ashamed that I wasn’t strong and disciplined enough to do what’s “right” or to be a “good” person, that I’d let down my parents, and the people I used to go to church with, and that I failed to live up to the behavioral standards all the adults around me seemed to demonstrate.

When I get married someday, everything will be okay.

I wouldn’t have to be afraid, or be ashamed. I wouldn’t be “bad” anymore.

But then I got married, but I didn’t feel any different.

I’d already felt guilty thousands of times because of sexual thoughts or activities. I didn’t know how to shut it off.

I didn’t know how to talk about it with my wife. I didn’t want her to know that I was “bad.” That I was “weak.” I didn’t want to poison our marital bed with shame.

I wanted my wife. Lovely woman, she is. But there were so many times I avoided being honest with her about things I thought and felt, either because I was trying to “protect” her from dirty, evil things, or because I was trying to conceal things about me that I was worried she might consider perverse or offensive or otherwise undesirable.

And I’m left with a couple of simple questions:

  1. Did my fear and shame and embarrassment related to sharing my true thoughts and feelings about sex impact my marriage negatively, and was that a major contributor to my eventual divorce?
  2. If I never felt fear or shame or embarrassment while discussing sex with my wife, is it possible we could have built intimacy, and created a relationship-strengthening connection in that way?

I believe the answer to both of those questions is: Yes.

I’m almost 40 and I don’t know things. I just think things.

Today, the only thing I’m sure of is that I don’t know anything for certain.

I know that SOMETHING is true. Something is Absolute Truth. But I also know that I currently don’t know what that Absolute Truth is. Maybe nobody does, even if they believe they do and tell you that they do.

And that’s a scary thing, right? Uncertainty?

Because I used to KNOW things. And there’s comfort in certainty. There’s comfort in a foundational belief system that guides your decision-making and calibrates your moral compass.

I was raised in a small Ohio town, where almost everyone went to church and believed that Jesus wanted you to vote Republican.

We’re not going to debate theology here.

I’m not here to be an advocate for, nor discourage, a faith-based life.

I think Jesus and his core message are all kinds of rad, but I sometimes have doubts about some of the people who claim to follow him.

I don’t claim to know the mysteries of the universe. I’m just pretty sure divorce is bullshit, and messing up all kinds of lives in all kinds of ways.

And sex—or a lack thereof—can be one of the greatest influences on divorce.

And if we continue to heap shame on young men because of their sexual desires in the name of Good and Evil, or Faith and Love; and we never create a safe environment for them to discuss it without being judged, mocked, or rejected, how can we realistically expect the success rate of long-term relationships to improve?

I don’t pretend to know what’s right or wrong.

I don’t pretend to know how to reconcile helping children to not feel fear and shame because of things damn near EVERYONE thinks and feels while trying to impart on them a deeply held spiritual belief.

I don’t pretend to know what God or Yahweh or Jesus or Allah or anyone—all-powerful or otherwise—wants us to actually do, think or feel.

But I do know that if we don’t start having this conversation, nothing is ever going to improve.

So many silent sorrows you’ll never hear from again,
And now that you lost tomorrow, is yesterday still a friend?
All the bridges we built were burned
Not a single lesson was learned
Everything that mattered is just a city of dust covering both of us.

The men who grew up like me may never find the courage to talk to their wives about how it might be negatively affecting their relationship.

And their wives, missing critical pieces of information, may never know WHY something is happening or not happening.

But maybe if he did, and maybe if she did, something amazing would happen.

I don’t know.

I just think.

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Maybe Jesus Was a Lousy Carpenter

bad fence

“Thanks for building our fence, Jesus. We promise to leave you a fair review on the Angie’s List bulletin board next time we’re in town.” (Image/Home Services by Gary)

I don’t know whether things like building inspectors or mechanisms for people to leave positive and negative customer reviews existed in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.

But maybe in the Nazareth town square there was a bulletin board of some kind where townspeople could leave reviews.

“Ezekiel the shepherd did an amazing job! He took our goats and pigs from Town A to Town B in just a few weeks’ time and he only ate three of our goats to survive! If you need a shepherd/goat herder for a cross-country flock transfer, Zeke’s totally your guy!”

Or maybe.

“We hired Ishmael to help us harvest figs and grapes. He was the absolute worst. He showed up late every day, collected the fewest figs of any hired farmhands, and he was always walking around the property naked with nothing but fig leaves covering his privates! Gag me. Ishmael is a dirty, fig-stealing nudist, and we will NEVER hire him again!”

And, just maybe, Jesus of Nazareth was a subpar carpenter. Maybe in today’s online-review terms, he had a 2.3-star rating.

“Our family hired Jesus the carpenter to help us build a barn. And we feel morally obligated to say what an absolute gem of a guy he is. Literally, the most kind and patient person we’ve ever met. I was giving him crap about being late half the days he worked here, and Jesus calmly explained how he’d stopped on the way over to help some sick and hungry people, and by the time he finished explaining, I wasn’t even mad anymore! He’s amazing. But, we’d also be doing our neighbors a disservice if we overlooked Jesus’ work. I mean, the guy’s a BRILLIANT philosopher and demonstrates impeccable character… but good God, his miter joints and tongue-and-groove work are about as shoddy as we’ve ever seen. Forty-five-degree angles, Jesus! Amiright? Goodness. We’re going to have to redo half of the barn next year, and when we call Joseph, we’re going to politely request that he not bring Jesus along with him. The entire back-half of the roof is leaking water every time it rains! I’ve got buckets of water everywhere! Anyone know a guy who can turn it into wine? I need a drink!”

No matter what you believe about Jesus, I encourage you to consider that he might not have been an amazing carpenter.

I’m a long-time Jesus guy, so I had a little trouble dealing with the idea when I first considered it. But I think your life will suck more if you run away from discomfort all the time, so I hope even if you’re also a long-time Jesus person, you’ll let the idea roll around your mind a little.

It’s amazing the stuff we don’t think about. REALLY important things.

For many people in the world, Jesus is the focal point of their spiritual lives. PERFECT. SINLESS. DIVINE.

For many people, Jesus = God.

I insist we not have any religious or theological discussions on the matter. Because that’s not the point.

The point is: You’re a human being. And you’re a miracle. And you’re amazing. And you’re capable of doing incredibly beautiful and inspiring things, and I couldn’t believe in you more.

But you know what you also are? Thoughtless. Wrong. Confused. Misinformed. Misremembering. Flawed.

Those aren’t value judgments. Those are simply true things that come along with each and every one of our Welcome to Earth gift packs when we arrive.

And I think this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for people to understand about themselves—this idea that no matter how intelligent or healthy or functional we are, we get things wrong a lot.

When you KNOW you’re right and are disagreeing with someone else who also KNOWS they’re right, bad things tend to happen—especially when you’re in a romantic relationship or marriage with them.

I don’t think I’m going to blow the minds of anyone in the relationship counseling or family therapy space by identifying THAT as the root cause of the vast majority of relationship dysfunction and human emotional suffering.

And I can only think of two things that might help:

  1. Encouraging smart and healthy communication techniques.
  2. Encouraging people to start questioning their beliefs and holding them to the same level of scrutiny they’re applying to others’.

Every instinct in your body is to avoid doing this. You start rattling your inner Beliefs cage, and your whole world can feel unsteady.

But it’s what we’ve got to do. We must.

Uncomfortable Truths > Comfortable Wrongs

It’s the difference between being a slave in the Matrix, or living free in the Real World.

What Might You Be Wrong About?

I want to be SUPER-clear on something. I am NOT trying to challenge your core beliefs. Never. I promise. Those are for you and no one else.

But I think calling attention to things—VERY serious and sacred things for many of us—and then pointing out how thoughtless and careless we are with some of those beliefs can help illustrate how silly we can be. Ultimately, that silliness can cost us healthy relationships with those we love most, and lead to the most pain we can ever feel. The pain of breaking on the inside after your family or marriage or friendship is torn apart can feel infinitely more uncomfortable than can the process of challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.

NEVER FORGET—the truth will always hold up to intense scrutiny. Truth is truth. It CAN’T be proven false. So rest easy, truth seekers.

Santa Claus is my favorite example for this conversation.

I was wrong about Santa Claus. I believed totally and completely for about five or six years of my life that an overweight, bearded, jolly man in a bright red suit flew through the air in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer, and delivered Christmas presents to every well-behaved child on the planet in one night.

I believed that even though I woke up on various Christmas mornings in Iowa, in Ohio, in Missouri, and in Florida when I was little that Santa magically always knew where I was.

I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but Santa could keep track of things like that. I was too young to realize that’s even more improbable than flying reindeer.

Santa was real. And there wasn’t a damn thing you could do to convince me otherwise.

Finally a holiday season came along where by that time I’d heard enough rumblings from friends via their older siblings enough times to finally have the breakthrough: Ugh. Our parents are playing Santa. That’s not a shot at parents. Nor a call to destroy childhood innocence, or a sense of wonder which we should all demonstrate no matter what.

But I have to deal in reality. I believed in something I felt certain was true. I later discovered it wasn’t.

Want your relationships to be awesome? Be mindful of the fact that you are capable of wholeheartedly believing in things that aren’t true. That realization allows us to demonstrate the humility necessary to experience healthy intimate relationships and cultivate meaningful, unbreakable friendships.

Jesus Might Not Have Even Practiced Carpentry

Thanks to white European artists becoming famous, having their work spread far and wide, and then having Europeans bring their homeland’s artwork across the Atlantic ocean 250 years ago, I grew up only seeing the images of Jesus I imagine most of you think of when you hear the name “Jesus.”

White guy. Long hair. Piercing eyes.

But Jesus was a Nazarene. He was Middle Eastern. I’m not pretending to know what he looked like. But I think we can safely assume it’s NOT like the images we all grew up seeing in the United States.

I had trouble with that at first. That was a little bit like the Santa thing.

Do you ever think about that no one ever even called him Jesus?

His name was Yeshu’a ben Yosef. After all of the translating from Hebrew-Aramaic into Greek, then to English, you end up with a name that’s the equivalent of Joshua or Jesus.

Christians grow up learning about Jesus working as a carpenter. Despite my juvenile jokes about him possibly doing shoddy carpentry, Jesus was likely not a contractor doing a bunch of framing and finishing work.

The original Greek word was “tekton.” Which is more like “craftsman” or “builder.” And when you start digging into all the word stuff, it’s not hard to see that Jesus may have always been more in the philosopher/teacher/Rabbi line of work “crafting” and “building” the following that evolved into Christian faith.

And if the image of a Middle Eastern man named Yeshu’a not practicing actual carpentry, OR maybe so, but not at a high level, can be so radically different from my lifelong image of Christ, ISN’T IT POSSIBLE THAT HUMAN BEINGS WHO DISAGREE WITH ME ON ANY SUBJECT AREN’T WRONG?

I’m not asking you to doubt your beliefs. I’m not asking you to abandon confidence or faith. And I’m NOT suggesting that your most sacred personal beliefs are like childhood beliefs about Santa.

I’m only asking you to allow yourself to be wrong.

About EVERYTHING.

I’m asking you to ask good questions with a curious mind and heart.

Not to create doubt and disconnection. To seek Truth and create lasting connection.

Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. With yourself. With others. With Life that we see and feel on Earth, as well as the Life beyond these bones.

Sometimes there’s Right. Sometimes there’s Wrong.

It’s hard to choose a path when we can’t tell the difference.

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The Ism Theory: Maybe There’s Less Hate Than We Think

Remember the Titans screenshot

They didn’t like each other. Right up until they became friends. Then, wouldn’t you know it? How they were different didn’t matter at all. (Image from “Remember the Titans”/listal.com)

ism — a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement.

I had a mild case of homophobia growing up.

Gay people were “weird” and different. Kids threw “gay” around as meaning the same thing as stupid.

I use the term homophobia when I really mean something closer to bigotry. I wasn’t afraid. But I was something akin to intolerant.

But it didn’t matter! Because I didn’t know any gay people!

I also didn’t have any close black friends before college.

I didn’t know anyone who didn’t believe in the Christian God of the bible.

I didn’t know any feminists or really even understand why there was a gender-equality conversation to be had.

I wasn’t exposed to anything except one story about right and wrong growing up. Fortunately, I was raised by kind and decent people, so any ugliness stemming from my core belief system was always rooted in a general love for human beings, rather than having people teach me that certain groups of people were evil and warranted my hate and discrimination, as many less fortunate children are taught.

I was an only child, so I gravitated to my friends, but one of my closest friends was a cousin about my age. At family gatherings for holidays or weddings, he and I were mostly inseparable.

We spent countless hours talking about girls, playing video games and playing basketball.

Years later, I was the best man in his wedding where he married an awesome girl I’m not sure I’ve seen since.

They fairly quickly divorced, and my cousin—one of my lifelong best friends—moved to another state.

Turns out, he’s gay. Which caused a bit of strain in the intimacy department before everything broke.

What was different about my cousin between all of those years he was among my dearest friends, and after coming out?

I thought about that for a bit.

The answer was simple: Nothing.

“For in spite of itself, any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.” ― John Dewey

The Kinda-Racist Old White Guy & the Young Black Kid He Adores

Maybe (if you grew up anything like I did) you remember the old prejudiced guy in your personal circle who predated The Civil Rights Movement.

The guy you could count on to say something super-racist at Thanksgiving dinner or while watching an athlete showboat on TV after a good play. Maybe he even dropped an N-word or two now and then.

And because you KNOW him, you know he’s a pretty good person, if a bit out of touch.

But here’s where it gets interesting:

This lovable old guy (who you’ve NEVER seen mistreat anyone short of using offensive or insensitive language about a group of faceless strangers in private conversation) doesn’t BEHAVE as a racist.

A group of black people who committed a crime on TV might earn a foul label from him, but as he goes through life, he treats the actual individuals he meets with kindness and respect regardless of their skin color.

Maybe he meets a nice kid named Daryl because Daryl is a waiter at the old guy’s favorite breakfast spot, and Daryl is working hard to save money to go to college. Maybe Daryl is also a star on one of the old guy’s favorite local high school teams.

The old racist guy loves Daryl after getting to know him, and you can’t help but notice how he still speaks in (unintentionally) offensive ways about people of different races or cultures, but he sings the praises of Daryl.

Daryl – the hard-working, intelligent, well-mannered, kind kid from the restaurant who always makes sure the old guy’s coffee is full, and who delights the old man when he’s sitting in the stands cheering on Daryl’s team.

“So. Old Guy. I gotta ask: You periodically say things about black people we see on TV which is racist by every known definition and interpretation of the word. But then over here, you’re always raving about Daryl. Daryl has the same skin color and is from similar communities as all of the people you are categorically speaking ill of. It’s inconsistent. What gives?”

And then maybe the old guy responds: “Daryl’s a great kid! He’s not like the others.”

But the real truth is, if he spent the same amount of time with any of those others, getting to know them on an interpersonal level, he’d feel the same fondness for each new person.

If he didn’t? It wouldn’t have anything to do with skin color. It would have everything to do with the same personality conflicts we have with People Like Us.

Did you ever see films like “American History X,” or “Remember the Titans,” or “A Time to Kill,” or “Gran Torino,” or “Crimson Tide,” or “Men of Honor,” or “The Help”?

Do you remember when former vice president Dick Cheney’s daughter came out as being lesbian and he changed his entire tune on homosexuality as a U.S. social issue?

I don’t believe people actually hate one another to the degree the social narrative suggests.

I believe everyone simply hasn’t gotten to know each other yet.

When People Meet and Develop Relationships, It’s Never Skin Color, Gender, Sexual Preference, or Creed That Fosters Dislike

There are clearly notable examples in history where people really do hate as much as they say. They behead innocent people on video, and they violently attack through word and action people who belong to some group they’ve identified as being Different From Themselves.

I think a lot of people subconsciously think (especially when young and unexposed to different cultures): I’m me. I belong to this group. We are good. I am good. Those people over there don’t belong to this group. They are different than me. We have competing interests sometimes. They must be bad.

But when we ACTUALLY spend time around other people with diverse beliefs and backgrounds, we are regularly exposed to the fact that human beings share so many commonalities, and mostly have the same goals.

It’s not a black football player and a white football player. It’s teammates who play for the Titans.

It’s not a black defendant and a white attorney. It’s two fathers who love their daughters and demand justice.

On Sept. 11, 2001, it wasn’t “That stupid idiot Bush fighting his daddy’s war over oil!!!” Or black or white or Hispanic or male or female or Christian or Jew or atheist or gay or straight or New York Yankees fan or Boston Red Sox fan.

It wasn’t even American or “foreigner.”

Because for a moment, it was only about humanity.

When we realized that fiery explosions kill people no matter what tribes they belong to, or what beliefs they have.

When we meet human beings where they are—or when we meet each other where WE are—we work together or play on sports teams together or fight battles together or laugh together or pray together, and then we collectively grow together.

I felt weird about gay people because I didn’t know any.

But then I found out that I did, and there had been nothing weird about it at all.

Every one of us is a minority somewhere.

Every one of us is different in another part of town.

Every one of us has an accent.

Or. Just maybe.

No one is a minority.

All of us have a million things in common.

And underneath all the nonsense, everyone actually speaks the same language: Human.

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BREAKING: Someone Called Me ‘Jesus-Like,’ My Mother’s Head Explodes

humility

Humility is worth striving for. I hope I don’t come across as lacking it, because that will be a major failure on my part. (Image/blog.adw.org)

“I’ve got nothing against God. It’s his fan club I can’t stand.” 

— Unknown athiest

I was having a nice time with a small group of friends gathered for my 37th birthday before everything went sideways.

It’s one of those speakeasy-styled places with super-legit handcrafted cocktails. Good company. Good drinks. Good everything.

And then one of my newest friends (who was promptly downgraded to ‘acquaintance’ status after this) stopped in with two of her girlfriends from work, one of whom my friendquaintance was trying to set me up with.

God.

An Interlude

“When you live what you preach, you don’t have to say much.”

— Abdul Nasir Jangda

Something you might not know about me since most of you only read things here and it’s sometimes difficult to convey tone with the written word: I am an animated person.

I’m gregarious. A tad loud sometimes. And I have a reputation with some people as having really strong opinions about seemingly inconsequential things, which is well deserved, but ONLY within the context of trusting that I mostly have my priorities in order.

For example:

Maybe I have strong opinions about some facet of religion or about a particular politician or divisive political issue. No matter what someone believes and no matter how much my opinions might diverge from theirs, it’s generally “safe” to discuss sensitive things with me without any risk of fighting or offending one another.

That’s because I work hard at NOT, A. Judging, B. Trying to convert someone to my way of thinking, C. Being impolite, offensive or unkind, and D. Assuming of every mathematically possible answer that exists in Life, that little old me somehow has all of the correct ones. It’s all part of my master plan to be less of an asshole.

HOWEVER, to the uninitiated, listening to me go off on the relative inadequacies of Mounds or Three Musketeers candy bars, or debating the merits of crunchy versus creamy peanut butter, or some other random personal-preference thing, can seem like I’m going off the rails about something inconsequential.

It’s because I foolishly believe that no rational human could ever think I’m ACTUALLY that passionate about something stupid like peanut butter, just like I foolishly believed that no rational wife could ever ACTUALLY believe that I didn’t love her based on my well-documented Shitty Husband behavior.

When someone dangerously cuts you off in traffic, and you’re pissed about it, the difference between whether they were recklessly cutting you off “just because!” or because they were rushing their deathly ill child to the hospital is likely to influence how we feel about it.

Context matters.

Back to the Birthday Thing

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

The three women walked in, we shook hands while they wished me a happy birthday, then they ordered drinks, before somehow, some way, religion and church attendance became the topic of conversation.

Among the churchgoers, I think everyone attended Christian services of various denominations.

As a Catholic (not a very good one), I counted myself among them.

But I was quickly derided by the girl my friendquaintance wanted to hook me up with. She didn’t attempt to conceal her disgust with my personal choices, informing one of her coworkers that “Catholics aren’t real Christians because they don’t believe in love and forgiveness.”

Attempts to politely correct her were met with assurances that she knew better. As a baptized Catholic, I firmly rejected the concepts of love and forgiveness. That was her take. She looked me in the eye and said so.

I have zero problems with people not believing what I believe. Because in the context of their individual life experiences, it almost ALWAYS makes sense that they believe what they believe.

But there’s a point where that stops being true. And that’s when an ignoramus opines on a subject she knows nothing about, is politely corrected by someone with more than 30 years of personal knowledge on the subject, and STILL insists she knows before repeating something ridiculous.

This was an opportunity for me to behave with patience, with kindness, with humility, with perspective in a way someone might consider Christ-like.

But instead, I did the Matt thing where I get a little pompous and outraged—NOT about the religious aspect of the conversation nearly as much as how irrational and bitchy the Birthday Ruinator was.

Out of context, it probably looked and felt like I was being super-non-Jesusy in a moment that probably called for walking a higher path.

I don’t know.

Maybe it was super-Jesusy that I didn’t call her a big, fat stupid face who sucks at all things, which is reasonably close to how I felt about her in the moment.

The Last Thing I Want to be is Preachy

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

—St. Francis of Assisi

In a comment, a reader asked whether I was a practicing Christian, but I unintentionally never answered it. In response to that comment, another reader wrote this, which could legitimately cause my mother to have an aneurysm or actually explode when she reads it. (I hope not, mom. Please let me know you’re okay!)

In agreement with a previous comment, Catherine wrote:

“I was thinking this. Matt, you are very Jesus-like in the way you preach. Perhaps you should start a Church for Husbands! They do not want to go with us, maybe you could start one on TV? HeHeHe…”

I can’t emphasize this strongly enough: I don’t KNOW anything. I lack the knowledge of those with more education, the experience of those who actually have healthy relationships, and the wisdom of the people with the requisite education and experience.

I never want to come off (even though I have many times failed at this in real life and on this blog) as if I think I KNOW things.

I just THINK things.

And I like to tell the stories of my life and marriage as a cautionary tale to others because I perceive (correctly or otherwise) my life and marriage story to be fairly average.

I think most people accidentally break their marriages, and I think I mostly see how.

But none of that means I’m capable of walking the walk in a future relationship. That remains to be seen. There’s certainly no reason to assume I will.

And regardless of what you might believe about Jesus, there’s EVERY reason to believe I have little in common with him.

I believe Catherine meant well and was mostly being playful.

But my alarm went off when I read the word “preach.” Because I can’t think of a more off-putting way to be than to PREACH. As if I—some divorced jerkoff on the internet—is in any position to PREACH to any one of you.

I apologize for any time you felt as if I thought I was some super-smart and wise person who you should listen to. (About things that matter. You should TOTALLY listen to me on things that don’t matter, like food, music, movies and all of the other things about which I have exquisite tastes.)

I only hope that if you ever recognize yourself in the stories that you ask yourself whether there are better choices to be made or better ways to live, so that good and beautiful things happen for you and your children.

Because they don’t make tequila strong enough to salvage the kind of sideways birthday parties I had. And even if I start walking on water or turning said water into wine, you can be damn sure no one will confuse my behavior with Jesus’.

Even if I do believe in love and forgiveness.

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A Crooked Soul Trying to Stay Up Straight

(Image/nature.com)

(Image/nature.com)

I’d like to tell you I’m a man of deep, unshakable faith. I’d like to tell you I know the real, actual truth about the universe and meaning of life so I could share the secret with you.

That’s a big deal when you’re a Christian. Certainty. Certainty wearing a “Hello, my name is Faith” sticker.

Maybe it’s a big deal for Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and Atheists, too. Maybe you’re only a good member of your faith community if you believe everything you’re taught.

Understand something about me: I only saw good, kind, decent versions of Christians growing up—loving and charitable people who I only witnessed doing good things, and never doing bad things. I think that’s why I always felt ashamed when I was younger for wanting to make out with the cute girl in the church pew in front of me, or for questioning whether I’m literally supposed to believe that God once lost His temper and intentionally flooded the entire world killing every man, woman, child, animal, and plant which wasn’t on a giant wooden boat built by Noah and his family large enough to house two of every type of animal on Earth, followed by Noah’s family incestuously repopulating the world.

I nonetheless had mountains of evidence that Christians were good people. And since I knew a bunch of them, and had no reason to doubt them, I grew up believing all of the finer points of Catholic Christianity.

And let me tell you, that’s not an easy thing. I was just a kid. A pretty good and nice one too.

There wasn’t any ambiguity in our rules:

Any orgasm outside of marriage?

Going to Hell.

A hit off a joint or one too many drinks at a party?

You’re gonna burn.

Profane language?

Holy shit! An eternity of torturous fiery terror and torment!

That’s a lot to handle when you’re a 16-year-old boy, and your life revolves around girls, friends, sports, and daydreaming about going off to college, in that order, where you assume you magically become an adult and figure out what you’re going to be for the rest of your life, and maybe stop getting erections for no apparent reason.

Maybe Muslims and Atheists experience it differently. I hope for their sake that they do.

‘You Have an Obligation to Write About Your Faith’

People tell me that, sometimes. I always disagree with them, and then try to explain why.

I usually write about divorce, marriage and sustainable relationships, and I’ve earned some credibility with a group of people who think maybe I have a bunch of it figured out.

Here’s the thing: I can spit out a nice little playbook for how a man can make his wife feel loved, safe, secure and desired, and not want to divorce him as much as most women want to divorce their shitty husbands. I can. I’ve had THOUSANDS of wives, and even some husbands, write me to say so.

That doesn’t make what I believe true.

It just makes me confident.

Certain?

The only path to a good, forever-kind-of marriage is vigilantly practicing love—the verb—every day. It requires a healthy understanding of human psychology—how husbands’ and wives’ minds and bodies operate differently, and having the tools necessary to keep things from breaking.

For years and years, everyone was smoking. Even doctors. A bunch of people were dying from cancer and heart disease and we couldn’t figure out why. Eventually, we did. And now we know smoking invites sickness and death faster than not smoking does.

There are three kinds of people now.

  1. The kind who do not smoke because they want to do what’s best for themselves and the people they love.
  2. The kind who smoke because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
  3. The kind who smoke, know it’s bad and want to quit, but struggle with the addiction or habit for a variety of reasons.

On the subject of marriage and relationships, we are—as people—nowhere near as enlightened and educated as we are about the health ramifications of smoking cigarettes. Every day, people are accidentally and carelessly ruining relationships, damaging children, and tearing families apart.

There are three kinds of people who are married or in committed relationships, and unlike with smoking, the largest group has NO IDEA that what they’re doing (metaphorically smoking circa 1960) will invite sickness and death into their relationships.

  1. The kind who get it and do things the right—and frankly, only—way. Actively choosing to love their spouse and family every day, applying information they’ve learned about what makes their partner feel good to their daily lives. Proactively nurturing their marriages.
  2. The kind who abuse and lie and cheat and neglect because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
  3. The kind who sometimes fall short, understand that they can do and be more, want to, but struggle in their hearts and minds for a variety of reasons.

Let’s call it doubt. Maybe a person doubts that monogamy can really work. Maybe a person doubts they can trust their partner to not abandon them. Maybe a person GOT EVERYTHING THEY WANTED IN LIFE AND STILL DOESN’T FEEL HAPPY.

That last thing happens to decent, intelligent people all the time. They were certain this was what would finally make them happy, but then it didn’t, and now they want more.

There must be more to life than this.

Life in the Margins

I don’t write about God and/or Jesus because I think it’s an ineffective way to communicate with strangers. People don’t like being judged or preached to.

It automatically divides and makes people feel unwelcome. Not only that, it’s a bullshit thing to do.

And the answer to this question is why I think so: When is the last time you witnessed two human beings with deeply held spiritual, theological, philosophical or political beliefs discuss their differences pleasantly or otherwise, and afterward hear one say: “Gee whiz. You’re right. I reject all my previous beliefs and agree with you now.”?

Even once? Ever?

I mean, yeah. I’m Catholic. Kind of a rogue, miscreant one. I believe many things unique to Catholicism. I’m a regular churchgoer.

But I also have a bunch of stuff I’m not sure about. I used to feel guilty about that but now I don’t.

I don’t murder, because that makes sense. I don’t rape, because that makes sense. Can I really be damned for eternity for using birth control during married sex because money’s a little tight right now?

I’m tired of people acting like they know. No one knows. Zero people.

We know precisely dick.

We’ve had the world’s most-intelligent and thoughtful people trying to get to the root of what’s true about life and the universe since before the words “science” or “philosophy” were ever uttered. And no subatomic-particle physicist, pastor, atheist, teacher, scholar, prophet, rabbi, tribal chief or jungle medicine man has solved it.

Their argument and evidence would be convincing if they had. Like when the doctors proved to us that smoking caused cancer, and we believed them and made new choices.

We all want to feel certain.

I want to feel certain. I don’t want to believe in fairy tales. And I don’t know how to believe in nothing, Lebowski. I need meaning and reason and purpose, or I can’t make sense of anything. If the entire point of living is hedonism before the lights inevitably go off, why aren’t we all shooting heroin, hosting orgies and encouraging everyone we know to do the same?

But I’m NOT certain.

I don’t know.

Not for sure. Is what I feel faith and belief? Or is it just 36 years of habit reinforced by like-minded people within an unchanging faith community?

If no one ever told me the truth about Santa and someone kept sneaking “From Santa” gifts under the Christmas tree every year, might I still believe in him?

If Carl Sagan was my father and nothing bad ever happened to me for believing everything he taught me, would I look at the world completely differently?

If I didn’t have a father, money, education, enough food, or experienced love from family or friends, might I be willing to join a violent group of religious militants intent on spreading mayhem and murdering innocent people who believed a different God story than me?

The Shadow Proves the Sunshine

When you strip away all the bullshit, we’re all just a bunch of people who behave the way we do because of our beliefs and habits.

That’s why we usually believe whatever our parents taught us, so long as no negative consequences came from doing so. When it felt bad, we did something different than them.

I don’t know anything. I never have. I just believe things which make sense to me.

I don’t know that what I write about in terms of love and marriage actually works. I just believe it strongly because I’ve read, discussed, and thought a lot about it and it made sense to me.

Maybe some really good guy out there has been married twice and did everything right both times, but in both marriages, his wife took advantage of him financially and slept with his best friend. Maybe now that guy can’t believe what I believe anymore.

I’m done pretending I know what it’s like to be another person.

Maybe some people can’t believe in God because they watched their mother die of a horrible disease she didn’t deserve to get, or because they lost family on Sept. 11, 2001, or because their parents told them there is no God, and since thousands of children die every day in Africa from asshole warlords and no sanitary water, that story made sense to them.

Something is true, and I don’t know what it is. But I like trying to figure it out.

The only thing I really know is what it’s like being me.

A flawed, broken, uneven human being who can feel joyful and grateful one day, and a little bit sad and empty the next.

A guy who does all kinds of things my faith community warns me could send me straight to Hell.

That might be total bullshit. Or 100-percent true.

I won’t know until I’m dead. That’s when we will all learn the truth OR when the lights go out and our consciousness insta-shuts off, and the book of our life ends, maybe mid-sentence and unresolved.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you I don’t believe in God.

Do I doubt some of the details of thousands-year-old religious texts which include mountains of symbolism and metaphor? Sure!

But do I doubt God’s existence, goodness, or power? How could I? Why would I want to?

Some people don’t like God and religion. But it’s not because of God and religion. It’s because some religious people do heinous, horrible things in the name of their faith, thereby making every sane person on earth despise them and reject their beliefs.

That makes sense to me.

If the only Christians you ever knew screamed “God hates fags!” at your gay friend or family member, or staged protests at the funeral of your neighbor killed in military combat, or bombed women’s health clinics because they’re somehow convinced God’s preferred solution to ending abortion is murdering people with guns and explosives, would you like them or want to practice the same faith?

Isn’t that what many Muslims deal with now? Judgment and squinty-eyed suspicion based on the actions of a few?

Life has clearly demonstrated that one size does not fit all.

I think everyone feels the emptiness sometimes. Every faith. Every walk of life.

Things just feel off, sometimes. We can’t figure out why because when we write it all down on paper, our lives are exactly what we think we want.

I HAVE EVERYTHING I WANT AND STILL DON’T FEEL HAPPY.

I love my wife and I want to be married, but I don’t always feel like sacrificing for her. I don’t always feel like not putting my penis in others I’m attracted to. My marriage didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, so what’s the point?

There will always be that third group. The group too damaged to love themselves or others. Who just want to watch the world burn.

Then there’s the rest of us. With all our doubts. All our ignorance. All our guilt. All our shame.

Crooked souls trying to stay up straight.

The longer we live, the more bad things we experience. We collect more scars. We lose more innocence.

It’s so easy to embrace the cynicism now. To abandon hope while the politicians scream, and the fanatics shoot, and greedy abuse, and our friends fail us, and our marriages burn while we cry.

But here we are. Still trying.

We pray and we hope. We try to be good, for the sake of being good. We do things that are difficult or inconvenient because it’s what’s right.

People keep waiting for a blinding light. For God to speak thunderously from a mountaintop or burning bush. To feel certain again. Like when we were kids and less afraid of everything.

God doesn’t yell. We’d all know if that were true.

He whispers. Whispers are hard to hear.

I think when people have everything they ever wanted and still don’t feel happy, or genuinely love their spouse and family and want to be married, but still feel empty?

I think that might be a whisper.

I think that’s when we’re supposed to cede control. For God to fill the gaps. I think God likes working in the margins.

I’m never going to suggest you need to be saved. That you should believe what I believe. That I have some answer you don’t. I don’t know. And I think most, if not all, people who say they know are mistaken or lying.

I will always try to ask the right questions, though.

When it seems as if all options have been exhausted, is it possible the only thing you’ve never tried is a legitimate leap of faith? Is it possible that could make the pain and fear go away?

I’ll always say what I believe and why and let others form opinions about it. To decide for themselves whether the nagging emptiness we don’t usually talk about might be a whisper. A nudge to wake up inside.

Maybe there’s no love without hate.

Maybe there’s no hot without cold.

Maybe there’s no light without darkness.

What do I believe? That the shadow proves the sunshine.

 

(Thanks to Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman for writing this beautiful song, and inspiring this post.)

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Something About the Gay Marriage Ruling Doesn’t Feel Right

justice-peace

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

Because I grew up in a little Catholic school in a little Ohio town in the 1980s and ‘90s where boys played football and zero people were (openly) gay, the entire concept of homosexuality was foreign to me.

We all used the word “gay” the way you’re not supposed to. As a substitute for “stupid” or “lame.”

I was a little homophobic. I know because when a group of friends took me to my first gay bar in college, I made a big deal of the fact I wanted to stay near the girls because I don’t want anyone to think I’m gay!!! OMG!!! Even though 90 percent of the crowd was.

None of that ever felt mean or cruel to me, though. Stupid and ignorant? Sure. But I can’t think of a single instance when I set out to be either mean or cruel.

Then Matthew Shepard was killed my sophomore year of college. Shepard was a gay 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, and two other kids tied him to their pickup truck and drug him down a road. Head injuries killed him six days later. Signs pointed to homophobia as the motive for the killing. The case gained national (and probably global) attention, and hate crime legislation became a thing.

I thought about all of the openly gay students I’d gotten to know and befriended since moving away from home to a relatively large and diverse public university. Not one of them deserved even a sideways glance, let alone harm.

I liked every gay person I met, without exception, and quickly stopped using that as the thing by which I labeled them.

And I thought back to my conservative, small-town upbringing where most people believe God once destroyed a city with fire from the sky because a bunch of gay people lived there and had lots of gay sex.

What is everyone so afraid of? I wondered.

Time Marches On

Here we are, 17 years later.

And it’s different now, right? Maybe that’s easy for me to say because I’ve never had to be gay in an old-fashioned small town, or as a member of a church that frowned upon such things, or had to deal with anything that felt discriminatory from an equal-rights standpoint.

But from my perspective, it seems most people have slowly pulled the sticks out of their asses. Surprise! People are gay! And until they break into your houses and start having gay sex in your living rooms and making your kids watch, let’s maybe try the live and let live thing!

Of course, there are plenty of people from my conservative past who didn’t like that “progressive” stance.

“It’s just WRONG!!! It says so in the bible!!!” they scream.

Yeah. Maybe. After all, I subscribe to The Purple Shirt Theory. Anything’s possible. I never pretend to know for sure.

But you know what else is wrong, outraged people? Rape and murder and theft and being a hypocritical, bigoted, prickly cock.

Priorities, folks. Honestly.

It generally seemed over the past 10-20 years like the national tone shifted from: Those weirdos who aren’t like us need to just stay in the closet! to Gay people are totally the best at fashion and fun and parties, but I hope they don’t think I want to do gay stuff with them! to Whoa. Gay people are exactly like me except they are attracted to the same gender. *shrug*

And I liked that.

I like it because when I imagine a pie graph to visually represent all of the things that make up who and what a human being is, who they are sexually attracted to represents a very tiny sliver. Sort of like skin color. And gender. And faith.

There’s just a hell of a lot more to being a person than any one of those individual silos.

Who people choose to have sex with SHOULD NOT be the dominant metric by which we evaluate them.

Which brings me to my problem with what happened Friday.

I Didn’t Join the Party

The popular thing on Friday was to jump up and down: “I’m so cool and hip and with the times and love gay people, so I think it’s AWESOME what the Supreme Court did!!! Love wins!!! Equality for all!!!”

And I didn’t do that popular thing.

I didn’t take to Facebook with instant analysis either for or against the verdict. I read a bunch of those and thought every one of them was a little bit bullshit.

The consensus among the pro-gay-marriage crowd seemed to be that the ends justified the means. That because they wanted equal marriage rights for homosexual couples so badly, it didn’t matter how it happened.

There are 50 states in the United States. On Friday morning, gay marriage was legal in 37 of them already. Because people in those states banded together to raise awareness for their cause and convinced enough people to sign petitions to get the gay marriage amendments on ballots, and then drum up the necessary votes to democratically change laws.

I LOVE that. It’s called freedom. And it’s beautiful.

And I’m 100-percent speculating and speaking out of school here, but I believe strongly that if I was gay, and wanted to get married, I would want to do so in a place where the majority of people said: “YES! You are loved, respected and welcome here.”

I’m not an attorney. I can’t make an informed argument for or against what happened Friday from a purely legal standpoint.

I was genuinely happy for every gay man and woman who felt as if this ruling somehow validated their relationships or made them feel more respected. That does matter to me.

But I didn’t just see Love Winning, or Equality for All when the Supreme Court took its action.

I saw five members of a nine-member court force the hands of 13 democratically elected state governments. And THAT concerns me. Because while granting marriage licenses to whomever is fine, I’m not even close to comfortable with sweeping, overnight legal change at the decree of a few people in Washington D.C.

Call me old fashioned, but I like when laws are formed this way.

Because what happens when a future judicial decree isn’t about freedom, liberty or equality, but about taking those things away?

And because I don’t believe the end always justifies the means.

The Accidental Hypocrisy

While societally we have grown more accepting (rightfully so, in my estimation) of homosexuality, we have collectively turned on organized religion and made that the enemy. And I get it! I’ve spent years growing more jaded toward religious organizations, including my own—the Catholic Church.

I think it’s because of people like Sarah Palin, and Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty, and the Duggar kid who diddled his sisters.

Because of the Catholic Church covering up its own sex-abuse scandal.

Because of all of the war and death and destruction as a result of religious-based fighting.

People claiming to love and follow Jesus Christ do and scream vile things to people who disagree with their beliefs.

People see and hear all of this bullshit and think: If those people represent Christianity or any organized religion, then I want nothing to do with them. They’re all stupid and evil!

We look at .000001 percent of the population openly practicing a particular faith, and then apply their regular dumb-ass humanness to everyone else in that same demographic. Sound familiar, equal-rights proponents?

I’ve spent my entire life around small-town conservative Christians, and while I’m going to have a different take on the occasional political or social issue and probably not like the same music or speak similarly (I’ll use way more bad words like “shit” and sometimes even “fuck”—don’t tell my grandma), I will defend them and ride with them on the VAST majority of life matters.

Remember that human pie chart thing? Loving Jesus or voting Republican (which have become VERY ugly things to some people) only make up a tiny sliver of who a person is.

And I care about EVERYTHING. We should all care about everything.

The people I know from my small, conservative town are kind, decent and generous. They don’t hurt others. They NEVER hate. They lift people up. They’re exceedingly charitable.

It now seems like we live in a world where if you go to certain churches that teach certain things you can’t be a good person anymore. It means you’re a “bigot” or a “hypocrite.”

And I think it’s an unfair and bullshit characterization.

Not unlike some people’s mischaracterization of the gay population and about what it REALLY means to love another person.

This may NEVER come up. I’m not psychic and some of the legal nuance escapes me because I forgot to go to law school.

But the question I asked myself when I learned about the ruling Friday was: Do we really want to live in a country where the government can force states and churches and religious organizations to do things the government’s way, and/or be punished if they don’t?

I want gay people to be gay. And I want people to love and accept them, and if they can’t, to at least not cause harm.

And I want religious people to be religious. And I want people to love and accept them, and if they can’t, to at least not cause harm.

Because if BOTH of those things can’t happen simultaneously after Friday’s verdict?

Love and equality most certainly did not win.

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The Purple Shirt Theory

Maybe Bruce Banner will get a pass since he's a fictional character. Maybe actor Mark Ruffalo is going to burn for this. I don't know. But isn't it worth trying to figure it out?

Maybe Bruce Banner will get a pass since he’s a fictional character. Maybe actor Mark Ruffalo is going to burn for this grave offense. I don’t know. But isn’t it worth trying to figure out?

Is there a God?

That’s not something I ever asked myself growing up because I was raised in a pretty religious household and pretty much only knew other religious people in my small Ohio town.

I never asked it until I was older, divorced and felt like dying.

It’s a question that makes us feel something on the inside. Maybe comfort. Maybe discomfort. Most of us don’t talk about it because it has become impolite to talk about such things. Some people will kill you if you don’t believe what they believe. Others will hate you.

But you’re safe here.

I won’t kill you.

I won’t hate you.

I just want to tell you about the Purple Shirt Theory, because I think it’s interesting.

Relativism n. – the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.

I’m guilty of engaging in relativism from time to time. It’s one of the ways I justify some bad thing I’ve done, or justify not doing some good thing I should be doing. I think everyone does it once in a while.

We think: Well at least I’m not like [insert person you think sucks here]! What an asshole!

And all the sudden we feel better about the times we were assholes because it was less assholey than the times that suckier person over there was.

I’m Catholic.

There are a lot of rules and frankly, I’m not the best Catholic in the world. I don’t mean I might be second place, either. I mean, I’m probably in like 118 millionth place.

The reasons I’m not a great Catholic generally revolve around sex and drinking, which is likely the reason most people aren’t great at being one.

Here’s what people like me do. We look around at the world and we see all the people who are bigger assholes than we are. (Which might not even be true. We just think it is.)

Guys are married and their wives are pissed at them, but sometimes they think: At least I’m not like Roger! That guy cheats on his wife all the time! At least I’m not like Larry! That guy gambles his paycheck every week! At least I’m not like Freddy! That guy gets drunk every night! At least I’m not like Michael! That guy hits his wife and kids!

And because we don’t cheat, and we don’t gamble away our savings, and we don’t drink excessively, and we don’t physically abuse anyone, all the sudden we feel morally outraged because our wives or whoever are criticizing us about something. And it could be so much worse! we think. They should be grateful!

Because we’re getting a C on our report card while other people are getting Ds and Fs, we sometimes feel like we’re doing a good job.

It’s because people like to lie to themselves in order to feel better and sleep at night. I’ve done that before.

Getting Cs isn’t so bad!

It kind of is. C grades are shitty.

There is much debate about what’s right and what’s wrong. People disagree all the time about what is okay and not okay to do. It’s at the very heart of the cultural and political wars being waged globally.

I don’t know what’s right.

I don’t know what’s wrong.

I only know how certain things make me feel. I know some things seem okay to me. And some things do not. And that’s how I decide for myself.

And this is the part where it gets scary.

The Search for Truth

The following is indisputable: SOMETHING is true.

What I mean by that is, if you knew everything there was to know, you would know all of the true things from all of the false things. And for the purpose of this conversation, I’m mostly talking about what’s good or bad, or right or wrong. No ambiguity. No guessing.

There are people—many of them—who believe everyone gets to decide for themselves what’s right and wrong. That’s relativism. And I promise I’m as guilty of practicing it as anyone.

But what I’m absolutely sure of is that SOMETHING is true. Something is right. Something is real.

And that anyone on a quest to live the best, most-fulfilled life possible is OBLIGATED to seek it. We must seek truth. 

The Purple Shirt Theory

There either is a God. Or there isn’t. If there is no creator and everything is random and there is no such thing as right or wrong, then life is meaningless.

The Purple Shirt Theory only matters for people who believe in God, or believe it’s possible there is a divine creator or supreme being that started this whole life thing.

It goes like this:

IF you believe in God, then you believe there is an all-powerful creator who made the universe. Yahweh. The Boss. The Artist.

Ergo, what we think or feel or believe doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is whatever the facts are. Whatever the truth is.

If God is true and God exists, then God makes the rules.

Sometimes, humans say that God made some rules and I don’t always agree with them. About things I should or shouldn’t do. About things I should or shouldn’t say. About who people choose to love and live with.

And we argue and we bicker, and maybe some of us are right, or maybe all of us are wrong.

I just think it’s REALLY important to always keep the truth in mind.

And the truth is this: IF there is a God. God makes the rules. Not us. Not the ants.

And no matter how unreasonable or incorrect or unfair we consider a rule or law or truth to be, our feelings and opinions on the matter mean precisely dick.

There is truth. Something is true. Something is certain. Something is real.

And it might be (it might!) that God says the greatest sin or moral crime you can commit is: Wearing a purple shirt.

We think it’s silly. OF COURSE it’s okay to wear a purple shirt! we all think. It doesn’t make sense to me that God would punish me for that! If that’s the kind of God he/she/it is, I don’t want to know him/her/it anyway!!!

We’ve all heard, said or thought that.

But we’re wrong—dead wrong—every time we resort to our feelings and opinions to justify an action or belief.

If life has no meaning… then I guess life has no meaning, and this is the most-pointless thing I’ve ever written.

But maybe it does have meaning.

Because SOMETHING is true.

We are wise to pursue whatever the truth is. We are foolish to not.

Maybe it’s okay to wear purple shirts. I think it probably is. But I wonder what the truth is.

Because maybe it’s not.

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The Eye of the Beholder

“La Lecture” by Pablo Picasso

Little-known secret: I’m not particularly cultured or well-educated.

Sorry to disappoint you.

I mean, I have some refined tastes and I’m well-mannered when you’re not the shitty driver next to me I just muttered murderous things to from the safety of my vehicle.

But I don’t know about things I should know about.

I have a reasonably high IQ, so I can learn things quickly and fake people out. But because I committed most of my youth to athletic pursuits and wasted almost all of my reading and viewing hours on fictional escapism, I’m now more ignorant than a person who writes things as often as I do, and is raising a human being, should be.

I think we can all agree our Trivia Crack percentages paint a pretty distinct picture of our education and should be listed on our resumes. Yes, I’m ashamed that while I win the vast majority of my games due to my nearly 9-out-of-10 correct answers in Sports and Entertainment, my scores in Geography (79%), History (77%), Science (77%), and Art (76%), leave something to be desired.

What kind of a fraudulent writer gets 25 percent of his questions wrong in the Art category? This guy.

You see, I’m guilty of wanting to be the guy at parties that knows everything about everything, but I’m evidently not willing to put in the work to do so.

I love film.

But I’ve never seen Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, or The Shining. But I’ve watched Back to the Future and Office Space and Terminator 2 a combined 14 million times.

I love music.

But I’m not obsessed with Elvis or The Beatles (though I acknowledge their greatness), and I don’t really get why everyone loves Bob Dylan and The Clash. I dig The Doors and Robert Johnson and Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, but I almost never play their albums over the new music I get so much joy out of discovering and sharing.

I love books.

But I’ve read so little of Twain and Orwell and Salinger and Hemingway and Dickinson and Vonnegut that I literally feel shame when I think about how much I’ve ignored the best at what I aspire to do. I just always liked reading Dean Koontz and John Grisham and Michael Connelly novels so much, I never stopped until I was old enough to gravitate to non-fiction.

Am I wrong, or bad, or dumb for making those choices?

I don’t know. Maybe.

What does it mean that I know Chandler’s last name on Friends and the specific date Marty travels back to in Back to the Future and that I’m close to a walking encyclopedia on the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan years, but that I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye or Fahrenheit 451?

What does it mean that I generally prefer cinema to stage performance, and photography to oil on canvas?

I started thinking about cars.

About fashion.

About architecture.

About food.

About wine.

About politics.

About religion.

Ask a hundred people about those things, and it’s almost certain no two people will align exactly.

Heidi Klum married Seal and I was like, what the-!?

Emmy Rossum married Adam Duritz and I was like, what the-!?

Tom Arnold married Roseanne Barr and I was like, what the-!?

But maybe there’s nothing to understand.

Maybe trying to is a big waste of time.

There are people who want to live in desert mountain caves and kill people who don’t agree with them because they believe in different versions of the same story.

I don’t understand why they wouldn’t rather be nice to people and attend fun parties on Saturday and hang out on the beach and go to a great concert and watch a ballgame on television more than blow something up. But they wish I was dead, so it doesn’t matter that I don’t get it.

Kim Kardashian is the most popular person on Twitter. Her stepdad is now a woman.

So is one of the Wachowski brothers.

I adore this painting by Pablo Picasso.

I don’t like the one above at all.

But I bet most art fans do.

Just like most music fans love The Clash.

Just like most literature fans have read the classics.

Just like most film buffs have seen Casablanca.

Whatever I am needs to be okay. Whatever I am IS okay. I secretly think all the things I like are better than all the things you like, but I’ve learned enough to finally understand that input gets filtered and measured so differently from human to human.

The diversity should be celebrated because it’s anything from boring.

Maybe so long as no one’s getting hurt, we just let people be themselves, no matter what.

We know what we know. Love what we love. Want what we want.

And most of the time, there isn’t any “right” or “wrong” attached to it. It just is.

Every day more things are created. More things to get to know and love and want.

Things you get to make and put out there.

Things I get to make and put out there.

And not everyone is going to get it or love it or want it.

But some will.

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