I'm thankful for...

Here is some stuff I am thankful for this season: 

1) A wife I can grow with

A few months ago, I was having a conversation with a married couple who are more or less activists for American inspired Christianity, Evangelicalism. When the conversation turned towards religion, they both were sideswiped by my unapologetic godlessness, because they know me to be an encouraging person with a smile, who will help anyone with anything. They assumed a deity motivated me and when they found out the opposite, I no longer fit into their worldview. They both began rationalizing and when they found out my wife was still a Christian; they told me that my wife should divorce me if she is a “true” believer, arguing that light cannot mix with darkness. After I voiced my perspective that their religion has perverted what it means to be in a life-long relationship, they said they would pray for me and clarified that they would divorce if one of them changed their ideas on god. My wife knows that this conversation rattled me for days. I felt sad for them, and angry that religion had convinced them that their god needed to come first, before their spouse and family.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for a wife that knows our marriage is more than what any religion says it is. I am thankful that our relationship allows us to grow, change direction, political party, or religion (or lack of). I am confident that many divorces happen, because one spouse feels trapped. They feel that when they said vows on their wedding day they were also vowing never to change, which is unsustainable.  

2) My kids

I am thankful for my children, biological or not. They make me smile every day and offer much needed belly laughs. I am thankful for their strong sense of empathy for animals, human or otherwise. I am thankful for the (pretty much) universal love for silly songs that children have, and the satisfaction after a song well sung.

3) Godlessness

I am thankful that my meaning does not come from any of the great world mythologies. I am thankful I don’t have to call people sinners or lost. I am glad I no longer feel it my duty to scare little children with hell to get them to believe a certain way. I am thankful to be a godless influence in my children’s lives, and voice for reason in their ears.

I am thankful that I can say the past year was the best year of my life and I credit a large part of that to finding more peace within myself rather than in external lords. I am thankful that my hope is not in heaven or seeing any dead relatives when I die. I am thankful that I am not thankful to any gods. I am thankful there is no good reason to follow any religion. I am thankful that godlessness is a cold, refreshing glass of water.

4) The miscellaneous

Of course, I am thankful for the obvious stuff, like a good job, warms blankets, a home and tasty food.

Be thankful.


Magical Floating Zoos, Buddha and More!

With a children's bible in hand and a Loonie in the pocket, I'd pull open the heavy double-doors of my childhood church, walk up some stairs and then down some stairs, cross the children's worship area to my Sunday school room. My church had numerous rooms sectioned out by age group, sub-sectioned by gender, and sub-sectioned again for timeout areas for the kids who just had enough. In these holding areas I formed vivid memories of felt characters, sword drills, and stories that were comparable to the magical tales from my favorite cartoons: Noah's magical floating zoo; an enchanted garden with a taboo treat; a stone thrown by an underdog brother that defeated a big, bad giant; blood from a mysterious figure that I could symbolically drink to be a part of a brotherhood. During and between sips of the proverbial Kool-Aid, I was being groomed to wage a lifelong war against invisible enemies with the help of invisible allies, equipped the weird "truths" of these fables. Looking back, I can't help but think my time would have been better spent learning  something else.

SIDEBAR: If you are wondering what a "Loonie" is; it is a Canadian dollar coin, nicknamed a "Loonie" because of engraved image of a Loon on one of its sides. Before church indoctrination hours, my mom would endow me with one of these coins to put into the offering bag fleecing bucket during worship Kumbaya sing-along time. Also, a "sword drill" is a term used for a "game" to see who would flip to a specific verse in the bible the fastest - the "sword" being the bible. 

BACK TO BUSINESS: The truth is, I am a 28 year-old man navigating through life like everyone else. I have my ups and downs, twists and turns and I make an attempt everyday to be less angry, more compassionate and to learn something new. Additionally, I find my self with children of my own who look to me for validation and love; however, sometimes I fails at both. I try to show them the things I've learned so far and equip them with skills which will help them as they forge their own path. 

With that said, I find it difficult to believe that teaching my children kooky tribal legends from the bronze age is helpful, for me or them. I spent the last few days thinking over the decades I spent learning and living Christianity, and I couldn't come up with a single thing that I thought would be beneficial to pass along to my kiddos. I considered the stories of the Old and New Testaments, the popular quoted texts, the doctrines of redemption and even the community in the fellowship of believers. Nothing. I find a fault in all of it, and even the aspects that have a shred of usefulness can be found in a better form somewhere else. Does talking about an impossible boat story and a mythological flood or drinking grape juice from a plastic cup pretending it's blood going to help them mange their lives? I don't think so. Does being in a community of like-minded people benefit or challenge your intellect. No, it doesn't. I follow this with something I would have liked to have learned about instead of the ridiculous notions of atonement and wish-upon-a-star prayerology I was given.

Over the past few months I have been reading a lot about mindfulness and training myself to live more in the present moment. I've always been the kind of person to be deep in my own thoughts even when surrounded by people. So, being open to suggestions for how to get my head out of the clouds, so to speak, I checked out Buddhist books from the library. Before I investigated Buddhism for myself I've always blew it off a kinda silly idea with a Pillsbury doughboy as its Jesus. Although, there are some sects of Buddhism that are pretty wonky, the basic eight-fold path of Buddhism can be helpful:
      Right view
      Right intentions
      Right speech
      Right action
      Right livelihood
      Right effort
      Right Mindfulness
      Right concentration

All of these have the underlying concept of mindfulness woven into it. The benefits of quieting the brain and being present in the moment has shown to reduce stress and overall well-being, as well as increasing your ability to focus. Instead of being taught about end of the world falling stars, hearsay miracle trickery or useless sacrificial lambs in the Sunday school Jesus dungeon of my early years, I would have rather been given skills such as meditation and intentional mindfulness. Although I don't see any usefulness in becoming a Buddhist monk or a Buddhist at all there are some helpful practices that can be gleaned. Being a foster parent, I have had children in my home that I was utterly powerless to comfort and calm, so perhaps teaching my foster children mindfulness could be a skill  they could use the rest of their lives. 

Unlike Christianity, which attempts to answer questions of science as well as unanswerable questions with certainty and embarrasses itself, traditional Buddhism does not any such stabs in the dark. The Dalai Lama is quoted saying, "If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims." The respect for scientific truth is refreshing, and for individuals not interested sticking to a specific dogma at all costs, some aspects of Buddhism can be intriguing. 

A couple books I have on the way are The Mindful Child and Peaceful Piggy. I am attempting to find techniques for my children (and myself) to learn the skill of calmness and mindfulness and these books got good reviews.  Perhaps I'll do a post about what I learn.

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness - Dalai Lama

- Shawn, Father, Husband, Son, Brother, Friend, Atheist