Sunday, November 5, 2017

It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

So this is all about me. Yet I suspect it might also be about you.

By the way, how are you? Fine, did you say?

That's right. You're fine. So am I. If you're reading this, you speak English and have access to the Internet. Which also means you probably have access to electricity. Those factors alone put you ahead of billions of others on this planet. You're ahead of the game. You're doing well. Relax. You're fine.

But back to me.

I've spent a lot of my years not being fine. The very excellent Dionne Warwick explained it this way:

A fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday

(If you need a boost, watch the video. We'll be referring back to Miss Warwick, but there will not be a quiz.)

Anyone who has been abused as a child will understand. You spend a lot of time looking back, trying to figure out what happened, who was to blame, what is to be done about it. You grieve over the things that were taken from you. You spend an unholy amount of time wondering what life would have been like had such things not happened. You see all your friends pulling out way ahead of you - because they're fine. But you're not. And you don't really know why. And you don't really know what to do about it. And you get counseling and you talk and talk and wonder if you've ever going to be fine, if all the bad guys are going to just go away and let you live your life in peace. You feel cheap because you were treated cheaply. You feel broken because you were, in fact, broken.  They broke your body, your spirit, your heart, your courage, your belief that the world was a good place.

Those who grew up rough know what I'm talking about.

Running this race you call life, you're limping along, way behind. Your friends are too busy trying to win the race they don't notice how far behind you are. You meet on the street, they ask you how you are, you say -- you're fine. But you're not. And you wonder if there will ever come a time when you are, in fact, fine. When you're fine and know you're fine and not just pretending.

A fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday

You ever waste some of your years this way? Yeah, I thought so.

And then, because that bit of self-torture just isn't enough, you waste more years worrying about the future. Are you going to "make it"? Are you going to be fine? Are you going to survive? Are you going to get better? Are you going to live a normal life? Will there be enough money to pay the bills? Are you going to get fired? Are you going to keep it together long enough to limp your way to some sort of retirement that doesn't involve living under a bridge or visiting a soup kitchen?

Are you going to be fine?

I don't know who said it, but sometimes we truly are our own worst enemy.

So, anyway, one day, after almost fifty years of "reaching back for yesterday" and looking to the future with a small pain in my gut, I woke up and thought -- I'm fine. I'm still here. I'm still not dead. I survived. And the past is so far behind it doesn't seem to matter much anymore. And the future ... well, the future is going to be whatever it's going to be. I got through the past; I can handle whatever else might be coming down the pipeline.

I realized, with a sudden, surprising clarity, that I'm fine. I really am fine.

I spent a lot of time being upset about the past; that time would have been better spent finding constructive ways to deal with the past. I spent a lot of time paralyzed by thoughts of what the future might hold; I would have been better off tending to my day to day business to make sure the future would be okay.

But, at the end of the day, I realized: I'm fine. It's okay now.

This dynamic gets explained in a variety of ways. If you were a Zen Buddhist, you might talk about the power of now. Of being here, in the now moment. Right here. Not in the past. Not in the future, uselessly fretting and worrying. But right here. Right now. In this moment. Because everything in this moment is fine.

If you were a Christian, you might cite Jesus:
"Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?  And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:  yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" (Matt. 6:27).

In other words, Don't Worry, Be Happy

(If you need another boost, here's the video.)

We could go a little bit further: There really is NOTHING but right now. The past is gone. That ship has sailed. The future isn't here and never will be. There is only RIGHT NOW. That is all we get. Right now. Right here. This moment.

If this current moment isn't fine, we have the power to do something about it. We can make decisions. We can make choices. We can shape our reality.

Are there people in your life giving you stress and heartache? Get rid of them. Get off the crazy train. Don't like your job? Take the plunge, take the risk, get a new one. Don't like what the future holds? Start changing it. Go back to school. Quit smoking. Go to the gym. Make changes. Shake things up. Try something new.

It's all in your hands.

That's another thing I realized. It's all in MY hands. No one else's. Not the bad guys. Not life. Not "circumstances." Not which side of the tracks I was born in. It's all in my own hands. My future depends on what I do right now.

Simple stuff, but like a lot of things in life, it takes a while to realize it. To really grasp it. To comprehend it. To internalize it, use it, lean on it, make it work.

But back to Dionne Warwick.

A fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday
I won't turn my head in sorrow if you should go away
I'll stand here and remember just how good it's been
And I know I'll never love this way again

And back to electricity:

I've got electricity. Do you know how many people can't say that? If you have electricity, you're doing awesome. If you have food on the table, you're doing more than awesome. If you speak English, you're part of the global elite. If you have access to health care, kudos. Got retirement funds? Good on ya. In good health, everything at work hunky dory? Hey, wow, aren't you lucky? Compared to literally billions of people, you're doing well. You're fine.

And so am I.

Count your blessings.

Maybe the past wasn't so great. Maybe the future looks a little worrisome. But right now, everything is fine. Right now the good far outweighs the bad.

Don't waste your tomorrows looking back at yesterday.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Are you a spiritual baby? For heaven's sake, grow up

Children go through stages of development - and so do religious/spiritual folks. And there's nothing quite so tedious as a spiritual baby pontificating to the masses on how things ought to be when all you want to do is yank the pacifier out of his mouth and tell him to sit in the corner and take a time out for showing his spiritual ass.

You know what I'm talking about. When an otherwise intelligent person starts spouting nonsense about how the latest hurricane is God's punishment for accepting homosexuality, you know you've run smack dab into a temper-tantrum throwing child with immature notions about how the world works, and what God does and does not do.

At each stage in a child's life, they are in the midst of learning something and trying to accomplish something. A toddler going through the "terrible twos" is trying to figure out that he or she is not actually the same person as his or her mother. He is trying to differentiate himself. He is learning to be an autonomous human being with his own wants and needs. Children in elementary school are faced with the task of finding out whether they can get things done - or not. It's all about industry and a sense of accomplishment, a feeling that yes, I can do things, I can be successful, I can put together a science fair project, I can read a book. Puberty comes along and suddenly they are aware of sex and sexuality and questions about who they are and who they want to be and what their place in the world is. They get rebellious because they are trying to separate themselves from their parents and learn how to stand on their own two feet. Their peers become more important than their parents because, to be successful as adults, they will need to work together with their peers.

If you know what stage of development a child is in, you can better help that child in his development.

The same is true in the religious/spiritual life. There are distinct stages that are plain as day to those who have gone through them and know what they're about.

Children go through stages of moral development, which have similar parallels with religious development. Younger children refrain from doing things because they don't want to get caught. It's not about right and wrong, sin or virtue, good or bad. It's about not getting caught and nothing more. If they can get away with something, they will happily do it and lie about it afterward and never have a single pang of guilt.  

But at some point a more mature understanding of behavior comes along, and children begin to understand the difference between right and wrong.

Older children often look to their peers for approval. They refrain from doings things which their peers consider "uncool." They follow their peers like sheep hoping to get their approval. Their sense of right and wrong depends heavily on what their peers think.

Younger children view their parents are god-like figures whose word is not to be questioned. Older children begin to ask questions - sometimes very uncomfortable questions. They have the uncanny ability to see how their parents don't always live up to their stated values. And they no longer view their parents as the final word on important matters. They began branching out to other forms of authority and insight.

As children grow up and move on to college and adult life, they stop worrying so much about what their parents think, or what their peers think. They began the process of figuring out who they really are, what they really believe, and what their values really are, as opposed to what they have been told their values should be.

All of this is Child Development 101 stuff and it is mirrored in the lives of religious/spiritual people. There is the believer who is caught up in authority and takes the pastor's or priest's word as gospel truth. There is the believer who begins to question, who begins to sense that the pastor's or priest's stated values aren't necessarily reflected in his or her life. There are believers who do whatever they want, but are careful to make sure fellow churchgoers don't find out - they're not concerned about the moral value of their actions, only that they don't get caught.

Thing is, as soon as a believer opens his mouth and starts talking, you can pretty much tell where he is on the moral development stage. Is he is his terrible twos and saying "no" all the time? Is he an elementary child who is trying to get away with things and worried about getting caught? Is he a brimstone kind of guy fixated on punishment and retribution and bowing down to authority? Is he one of those troublesome folks asking too many questions? Is he overly worried about how is viewed by the folks sitting next to him in the pews? Is he convinced he knows it all and has nothing to learn from his elders?

There was a time in my spiritual development when it was all about authority. The authority of the pope. The authority of the Catholic Church. The authority of the bishops and the priests.

There was a time when I was motivated simply by the fear of going to hell.

There was a time when I wanted to be like everyone else in the pews, when their good opinion and approval meant more than anything else.

There was a time when I began to see that what was preached from the pulpit was not necessarily what was lived in the pews.

There was a time when I did things merely to get a reward, when I thought of God as an ATM machine, when I thought I could manipulate him (or her) with prayers and rituals and pleadings.

There was a time when I was a self-satisfied, smug know it all who thought he had nothing to learn from others.

There was a time when I wanted God to prove his love for me. And then there was a time when I realized he had been doing that every day of my life.

There was a time when I was not satisfied with the answers that had been handed to me by authority.

There was a time when I rejected authority and went my own way.

There was a time when I was arrogant enough to believe that God loved me and a time when I was ever more arrogant and believed he couldn't.

And, eventually, there came a time when I realized that those who knew the most were not necessarily the ones who were the most talkative. They're not on the television screens trying to make a name for themselves. They're not trying to get you to buy their latest book. They're not on public speaking tours or holding forth in mega-churches.

I discovered the most authentic spiritual people are so busy doing their spiritual life -- living their values and beliefs -- that they have little time for talking about it.

Where are we on the spiritual development scale? Is our religion or spirituality based on fear? Or love? Do we do things in hope of a reward? Or because it's the right thing to do? Do we explain to God how things ought and need to be, or do we accept things as they are?

Are you a spiritual baby? If you are, then for heaven's sake, grow up.

  • Nick Wilgus is an award-winning author based in Tupelo, Mississippi. Check out his latest novel from Dreamspinner Press, RAISE IT UP, available in paperback and ebook formats.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I don't believe in hell and neither should you

I'll just say it out loud: I don't believe in hell. I don't care what the Bible may or may not say on the matter. I don't care what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches. The concept of hell is monstrously absurd -- and no sane person should believe it.

I don't need to argue my point of view by citing this or that scripture, or some or other famed theologian. I arrived at my conclusion that way most sane people do: By the use of reason and a dash of common sense.

The doctrine of hell -- the concept, the idea, the premise -- is that a loving God created a place of eternal torment for people (and angels) who refuse to love Him. To avoid this dreadful fate, evangelical Christians talk about taking Jesus as one's personal savior. Muslims talk about making their submission to Allah. Catholics stress the need to be baptized and die in communion with the Church in order to be saved. The basic idea is the same: Unless you jump through some hoops, you will spend eternity in a "lake of fire."

It's important to understand the idea, to dig deep into it, to genuinely comprehend it.

Firstly, it cannot be stressed enough: Hell is an utterly monstrous idea. It is a shocking creation. It's twisted. It's sick. The psychology beneath it is deeply abnormal.

Eternal punishment is ... eternal. And that's a very long time. No matter how many eons might pass in such a place, it would still be only the beginning. Millions of years could pass ... billions ... trillions ... trillions upon trillions of years ... but still , it would only be the beginning. The torment, the agony, the dreadful pains, would never end. Never. No matter how much time passed, the agony would go on and on for eternity. What could a finite human being do to deserve such an infinite punishment?

If you don't grasp the full horror of it, spend some time with it. Chew on it. Think about it. Dig into it. Immerse yourself fully into the idea of it. The more you think about it, the more you realize what an insane idea it is.  And not insane with a small case i, but INSANE. Sick. Twisted. Preposterous. Literally beyond belief.

But the really insane thing is to attribute the creation of hell to a "loving God." A great many Christians will tell you flat out that if you don't accept Jesus as your personal savior, you will go to hell. And they believe it. And they are genuinely distressed at the idea that you would prefer such a fate when all you have to do to "save yourself" is accept Jesus as your personal savior. They are quick to point out that this isn't their idea, that this is God's plan, that it's all there in the Bible.

As indeed it seems to be.

Here's the rub. A loving God created you, but if you don't love Him back, He will destroy you forever in the lake of fire.

How is this love?

You have to ask yourself. If I stood in front of you with a knife to your throat and insisted that you "love" me, how would you feel? If your safety and well being depended on loving me, would it be love? It's ridiculous, is it not? Yet we are asked to believe this is what God expects of us. This is "God's plan." Unless you agree to "love" this all-powerful entity, you will be utterly destroyed.

This is not love. It's insane to even have to point it out. This is not how love works. This is not how you treat someone you love. This is deeply unhealthy. This is perverted, sick, twisted, abnormal. And to attribute it to God is complete foolishness. It's insulting.

I'm not the first to arrive at this conclusion by any means, but it's always been a well-kept secret.

Something in us wants the idea of hell to be true. Right? We feel that people like Adolf Hitler deserve a place of eternal torment in the afterlife. We feel his crimes deserve it. We want him to be punished. The Jehovah's Witnesses have an interesting solution to this dilemma. They believe that people who have rejected God will simply wink out of existence when they die. God will remember them no more, and they will exist no more. No need for a place of eternal torment. Just a respectful acknowledge of a choice that a person made.

Different demonstrations have different ideas.

Hardliners will tell us that without the threat of the punishment of hell, people will not be good. What I've found is exactly the opposite. When you come to the realization that you are indeed loved by God, you will want to respond to that love, not from a place of fear, but out of a genuine sense of gratitude.

Our psychology does not allow us to love someone we fear. We cannot mix fear and love. It doesn't work that way.  And this attempt to try to force people to either love God or face eternal punishment, has done enormous harm.

Don't take my word for it. Look to your own experience. Can you love someone that you are afraid of? Does it work? Is it healthy? Or don't you get tired of being afraid?

  • Nick Wilgus is an award-winning author based in Tupelo, Mississippi. Check out his latest novel from Dreamspinner Press, RAISE IT UP, available in paperback and ebook formats.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Are You My Dad?

Are you my dad?

Are you the one
who's going to come
and take me home
so I don't have to be alone
so I can wake and always know
I'll never have to go
I'll never have to leave
but always and forever
THIS is where I'll be

Are you my dad?

My bed, my room, my toys
my food, my house
my yard, my life
my ... dad

Are you my dad?

He didn't say these words
his eyes - so full of hurt
said what he couldn't say
instead he looked at the stuffed bear I'd brought
his eyes wide
his fingers trembling
the fur so soft
the glassy eyes that shined
he put it to his face

Did you say thank you?
The social worker said

Thank you ...

Are you ...  ?