3611– Wednesday, June 12, 2019 –  Fear of Death and Dying

 Have your ever cursed out an “old” driver for going to slow?  If so, I am sure that you are not alone.  I was once one of those who had no patience for the old folks poking along doing less than the speed limit on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Karen would always remind me that “You will be old someday.”  I did not believe it.  The problem is that I am now an old driver.  I probably drive slower and more cautiously then I did years ago, but so as not to offend anyone, I usually set my cruise control about 5 mph over the speed limit.  I figure it is too slow to get a ticket but too fast to piss off anyone who hates slow old folks behind the wheel.  Of course, my logic sucks.  I am beset by mortals who obviously have both no fear of death and no fear of getting a ticket.   Why are people in such a hurry today?  Where the hell is everyone going?

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The subject of my blog today concerns the poor old guys and gals who want to live a few years longer.  One would think that at age 70 or greater, the elderly would be reckless and carefree.  After all, I have had 72 good years on this earth, why should I fret if I die tomorrow.  The strange truth is that the older we get, the more cautious we get.  It is almost like thinking that if I give up smoking, drinking, motorcycles, wild parties and wild women or wild men, I will be able to live longer.  I doubt seriously if the time to be safe is after age 70.  It seems to me that logically, the time to be safety conscious would be when you were young and had many potential years ahead of you.  Why be safe, when your heart or brain might blow out tomorrow.  This is a paradox that I do not understand, but I observe it all around me.

I have friends who don’t want to travel because it might be dangerous.  I have friends who have concealed carry permits because they might get mugged and this even in Frederic.  I have a daughter who has security lights all around her house and is planning to install a security camera.  I have friends who live in gated communities with security guards.  I have friends who will not drive in the city or at night.

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In each case above, my friends would not have thought twice about it a few years ago.  But something happens as we age.  Suddenly, we worry.  We worry more about things that in the past would not have given us a glimmer of concern.  Now we want to know what the weather will be like before we go out.  We want to know if a neighborhood is safe before we drive though it.  We want to know if a chosen vacation spot is safe to visit.

Why again I ask, would anyone with so few years left to live, worry about their safety?  They say that growing old is not for the faint of heart.  I can see why.  The older we get; the scarier things are.  Is it simply a bit of DNA that ordains old people should die safely in their beds?

A little caution as we age is no doubt common sense.  Old people are more brittle and less flexible.  We do not bounce when we fall, and we can no longer put one foot behind our heads while standing on the other foot doing a Yoga posture (not that I ever could).  We do not have as much balance and we should rightfully be staying off of high ladders and roofs.  We take more time to mend and with less time left on this earth, we don’t want to spend our last days in a cast or hospital room.  We will probably end up in a hospital room anyway, but I doubt it will be because we did anything foolish like bungee jumping or wing suit diving.

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Aging, for many of us, will be a process of pulling our blankets ever closer and ever tighter.  The days of throwing off the blankets in wild abandon and streaking naked through our gardens are probably over.  Somewhere between the two extremes we must find an accommodation with growing old.  To die or not to die is not the question.  The question is how to die.  I always liked the quote in Julius Caesar by Shakespeare “Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant never taste of death but once.”  Or to paraphrase Patrick Henry, “I know not what course others may take, but give me a party or let me die comfortably in my bed.”

“You can’t possibly be afraid of death, really, you can only be afraid of life.”  — Carl R. Rogers

When I Die?

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“Every now and then I think about my own death.”  Martin Luther King was only thirty-nine years old when he said these words and shared his thoughts about what he wanted his life to stand for.  I think about these words a great deal these days but more in connection with my own life.  The thought that someone only 39 years old had to contemplate the ramifications and implications of death is alarming.  No one should have such worries until old age.

“It is necessary to meditate early, and often, on the art of dying to succeed later in doing it properly just once.”
― Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before

I don’t know when I started to think about dying but at age seventy-two, I suppose it is worth reflecting on.  Wasn’t it Socrates who said that the “Unexamined life is not worth living?”  Death is one part of life that many of us may put off thinking about until perhaps it is too late.  I have had ample evidence that death is inevitable.

My grandfather died at the age of fifty-six when I was only eight years old in 1954.  My father died in 1985 when he was 60 years old and I was not yet forty.  My mother died in 1994 when she was 68 and my oldest sister died in 2002 when she was fifty-five years old.  I have had many other relatives and friends who have already departed this world at an earlier than expected age.  I seldom am surprised anymore by anyone else’s death.

Every now and then I think about dying and how I will succumb to Charon.  Will I go willingly? Will I go honorably?  Will my life have meant something?  Will I have made a difference in the world?  The how, when and where of death holds fascinating opportunities for reflection.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
― Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Occasionally, I think about going out of this world, fast.  I had a Yamaha FZ1 up to 160 mph on the I35 going to Duluth one morning.  A crash at that speed might not have been going out in a blaze of glory, but it would have been quick.  I wonder if it would have been painless?  That would be a plus.

Sometimes I think about going out heroically.  I dive into some icy river or rush into a burning house to save some poor soul.  I don’t make it.  Will the world remember me as a hero or some idiot with heroic aspirations who failed at his hero task?

Part of me would like to die in bed.  I think of the remark that Clive Cussler made that the best way to go is in bed with your accountant telling you that you are ten dollars overdrawn in your account.  I would die peacefully with my beloved Karen and sister Jeanine at my side.  I would use my last breath to tell them how much I love them.  No pain but no heroic antics either.  Sort of a blah death in a way but it does have an appeal.

I was doing a morning run this week when the thought of dying kept intruding into my run.  I sometimes think about how long it would take a bullet to hit me when I run in the mountains and desert.  There are always some folks who seem to prefer shooting near the park rather than in the approved shooting ranges on the other side of the Casa Grande Mountains.  I can hear the boom of their shots echoing across the desert valley.  I wonder precisely how long it would take a stray bullet to strike me?  A friend of mine said much less than one second.  I count the seconds anyway after I hear a boom and wonder what my last thoughts will be.

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Death accidently shot while running in the mountains would no doubt be a fast but ignominious way of dying.  I am opting for something a little more glamourous.  I think about the headline in the Casa Grande Dispatch the next day.  “Man accidently shot while running trails in the mountains by MORON exercising his Second Amendment rights.”  Man and MORON would be linked for all eternity.  How will anyone weave this into my eulogy?

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”
― Banksy

Some of you reading this might be thinking “This guy is really morose, maybe even suicidal.”  The experts say that reflecting on death too much might not be healthy and might be evidence of suicidal tendencies.  However, (as you might expect) other experts say that reflecting on death is a normal and even important aspect of aging that may help prepare us for the coming trials of old age.  A quote I rather like goes like this “Old age is not for the faint of heart.”

My sister (who seems to know everyone in the State of Rhode Island) is five years younger than I am and manages to go to at least one or two funerals a month.  I avoid funerals, but I prefer them to weddings.  While funerals may be no more honest than weddings when it comes to the things people will say about the departed, at least funerals preclude any errant delusions of grandeur (For example, living happily ever after).  How many newlyweds will manage to live happily ever after?

I have always said (half-jokingly) that I want to go first.  I want Karen to live on long after I pass away and have a good life.  Many of the things I do today are in a sense to help prepare for that eventuality.  I had expected that Karen would no doubt survive me as women generally live longer than men.  Besides, my life has been lived much faster than Karen’s and thus I have used up more of my “thread of life.”  However, with old age I have had second thoughts on this expectation.

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
― Shannon Alder

A few weeks ago, I was sharing a bottle of Brandy and some cigars with two friends, when I said that I hoped that I would go first as I could not think of being alone in this life without Karen.  One of the other men astonished me when he said, “I want my wife to go first.”  I immediately assumed that he was being selfish but being curious I asked him why?  He explained very sincerely that his wife had been quite sick and that he had no one else to take care of her.  He did not want to leave her alone without his help.  I was moved by his charity and unselfishness which suddenly made my position seem quite the opposite.  Selfish!  Selfish!  Selfish!

Another joke I have often made was that I married a nurse so that she could take care of me when I was old and feeble.  I always thought this was funny.  In the last few years, I have had a different perspective.  My spouse (who really is a nurse) is getting older and frailer.  The wear and tear of aging is very visible in new creases, new lines, slower movements and lower energy levels.  The realization hit me like the proverbial brick a few years ago that I might be taking care of her rather than the other way around.

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I doubt that anyone who knows me would ever think of me as a “caregiver.”  But I have always been a pragmatist and so I have started taking some caregiver classes and classes on aging.   I have also taken one on the various aspects of Dementia and Alzheimers.  I will grow old along with my spouse and do what I can to take care of both of us.  I may not always believe that the “best is yet to be” but I will do my best to help make this possibility a reality.

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“To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils.”
― Socrates

I don’t want to glamorize getting old but neither do I want to disparage the possibilities that old age has for many of us.  I will never know the how, when or where of my dying, but I can live my life the best I can and each day try to be the best person, husband, friend, father and neighbor that I can be.  Each day life offers me more choices to grow old with dignity.  To face the difficulties of aging more boldly and maybe even heroically.  To paraphrase Martin Luther King, when I die:

  • Don’t tell them about my titles
  • Don’t tell them about my degrees
  • Don’t tell them about my jobs
  • Don’t tell them about the books I wrote or the places I have been
  • Tell them I wanted to be a good person and was honest enough to know that I usually fell short.

Time for Questions:

Do your ever think about dying?  What do you want to be remembered for? How would you like to die?  Do you think you will go fast or slow?

Life is just beginning.

“In the end, I won’t say that I have ‘NO REGRETS’ because that would be bullshit.  I have more regrets than I can count.” —  J. Persico

 

 

My Heroes Have Always Been Evil Geniuses!

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I know it is strange.  Most young men when I was growing up had cowboys as heroes, particularly the ones who wore white hats.  Men like Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger were the heroes to an entire generation of young baby boomers.

My heroes have always been cowboys
And they still are, it seems
Sadly, in search of, and one step in back of
Themselves and their slow movin’ dreams — Willie Nelson

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I guess I was always different because I liked the guys with the black hats.  They seemed to have more fun and less inhibitions.  You never saw the good guys kiss the girls, but the bad guys thought nothing about kissing them.  Bad guys were also early into bondage (think of all the women tied up on railroad tracks) which was taboo for good people back in the forties and fifties.  In fact, until 50 Shades of Grey, bondage still had a sort of naughty ring to it.

ming-the-merciless-tom-carltonMy first real hero was Ming the Merciless.  He had all the primary characteristics of an evil genius.  He was a megalomaniac who wanted to rule the world.  He was always smarter than Flash Gordon.  He had dozens of minions who followed his every order.  He obeyed no rules except his own.  And finally, he lusted after Dale Arden who was a pretty hot babe for the time.  Dale had wonderful blond curls, a great figure and was into bare midriff before it became popular in the 90’s.  Flash was a wimp when it came to Dale but Ming the Merciless knew what he wanted and really went after it.  I suppose tying women up today would not be proper but if you are an evil genius it is simply part of the expectations.

Ming the Merciless: “Flash, you stand in my way of my ruling the universe.  Not only that, but I want Dale for my bride and queen.  If you will give her to me, I will make you ruler of a galaxy of your own.  You can have more riches and power than you have ever dreamed possible.  If you don’t give her to me, I will destroy you, your mom and dad and all your sisters and brothers.  I will hypnotize Dale into loving me anyway and I will take over the earth and turn the earthlings into cockroaches and then step on them all.”

fu-manchuMy second Hero was Dr. Fu Manchu.  A character created by the writer Sax Rohmer.  Fu was as evil as they came.  He was a brilliant megalomaniac.  He obeyed no rules or laws except his own.  He was alleged to hold doctorates from four Western universities.  Unlike the wimpy college professors who one associates with a Ph.D. degree, there was nothing wimpy about Dr. Fu Manchu.  He would not hesitate to murder anyone who got in his way.  In the 1932 film, The Mask of Fu Manchu, Fu tells an assembled group of his minions that they must “kill the white men and take their women.”  Evil geniuses have a knack for thinking big and ignoring the normal bonds of propriety and civility.

Dr. Fu Manchu: “I hate Western imperialists.  I will drive them all from the face of the earth.  Together with my supporters, I will take over all of Europe and the United States.  I will have my pick of White blond women who I will make part of my harem.  I will destroy the capitalists and take over all the gold in Fort Knox and all the diamonds in the DeBeers Diamond mines.  If you Sir Denis Nayland Smith try to stand in my way, I will boil your friend Dr. Petri in oil very slowly and feed him to my pet crocodiles.  I will take your sister and put her in my harem.  I will spit on your mother’s grave.”  If you join me, I will give you your own harem.”

A few years after I ran out of Fu Manchu stories, I discovered my third hero.  He was none other than another brilliant Ph.D. named Professor Moriarty.  He was the arch nemesis of the world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes.  Dr. Moriaty was a genius with pretentions for ruling a large swath of the world.  Moriarty wanted to be the head of a vast criminal enterprise that would control all illegal underworld activities.

professor_moriarty_by_borbel-d2rstoyAs is usual with evil geniuses, Moriarty was always one step ahead of Sherlock.  Perhaps because it was still the Victorian age, Moriarty did not have much to do with lusting after women.  There was no kidnapping, tying women up or forced kissing in any of the Moriarty tales.  However, Sherlock was not much better in the womanizing category and seemed to be a confirmed bachelor.  His main relationship with a woman was with his housekeeper Mrs. Hudson which always stayed platonic.

Professor Moriarty: “Sherlock, you are one big pain in the ass.  You can’t outsmart me because your brain is too addled with cocaine.  I have hundreds of willing crooks who will help me to defeat you every time.  Why don’t you just take your friend Dr. Watson and spend more time playing your violin.  All, I want is to control the entire British underworld and you keep interfering with my plans.  I am warning you for the last time Sherlock, keep out of my affairs or I will eliminate your housekeeper Mrs. Hudson so that you and Watson will have to do your own cleaning and cooking.”

My next hero was from the Marvel Comic book universe and his name was Dr. Victor victor von doomVon Doom.  You must love someone with a name like that.  Dr. Doom was evil and ruthless and a certified genius.  He had many gadgets and inventions that enabled him to defeat an entire pantheon of superheroes.  When it came to bad, he took a back seat to no one.  Imagine, someone who would let his childhood sweetheart be savagely sacrificed so that he could gain the power to rule the world.  Yes, like most other evil geniuses, Dr. Doom was also a megalomaniac who wanted to rule the world.

Dr. Victor Von Doom: “Dr. Strange, you have thwarted me for the last time.  I am banishing you into the netherworld of demons and monsters from which you will never return.  Before I do, I want you to watch as I destroy all the other superheroes in the Marvel universe.  I will be ruler of the entire planet and there will be no one left to stop me.  I will make all the gypsies in Rumania into the leaders of all the countries on earth and everyone will have to learn how to play the violin and the accordion.”

a villains coloring bookI have not had time to describe all the evil geniuses whom I have loved and admired.  I have given you only a few of the ones who have punctuated my life.  I do not have the space to do justice (sic) to some of my other heroes such as Lex Luther, the Kingpin, The Joker, Green Goblin and of course Sauron.  By the way, recently we had a female megalomaniac out to destroy the world.  It was quite refreshing to see how Hela kicked Thor’s butt from one end of Asgard to the other.  But to bring you up to the present, I have now found perhaps the most evil genius in history.  He has all the truly great characteristics of evilness.  He is also a genius.

How do I know he is evil?  He grabs women by the pussies.  He incites violence.  He belittles disabled people.  He lies continuously.  He cheats on his taxes and cheats on just about anything he purchases.  He treats his minions with scorn and he has scores of servants willing to do his bidding.  His followers are willing to lie and cover up anything he does wrong.

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How do I know he is a genius?  That is easy.  The simple answer is because he says so.  But the real proof is in the mountains of money he has made.  He has property all over the world.  He owns humongous golf courses and houses.  He has plans to build a big wall to keep out all the immigrants who want to come to the United States to start a better life.  He is also smart enough to get congress to do whatever he wants.

destroying the world

Finally, we know that a chief characteristic of an evil genius is that they must also be a megalomaniac.  Webster’s defines a megalomania as:

1: a mania for great or grandiose performance

  • an outburst of wildly extravagant commercial megalomania

2: a delusional mental illness that is marked by feelings of     personal omnipotence and grandeur

I think you can easily see that Donald Trump is also a megalomaniac.  His rallies are key examples of the need for grandiose performances.  There is little question that he feels that he is omnipotent and can do anything he wants to do.  For example, he said:

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

He has also commented that he can get anything he wanted from a woman because he was a star:

“I just start kissing them.  It’s like a magnet.  Just kiss.  I don’t even wait.  And when you’re a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything.  Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Evil geniuses are real studs when it comes to women.  I never had that kind of success with women when I was growing up but then I was never terribly evil, megalomaniacal or even a genius.

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I guess I will just have to continue living vicariously through my heroes or at least until I get bitten by a spider or hit with some type of gamma ray and acquire super powers.  You better watch out if I do.  I will grab your mother, sister and wife by the pussy, maybe even your grandmother, after I take over the universe of course.

Time for Questions:

Who is your favorite evil genius?  What do you admire about them?  How come we have so few women evil geniuses?  Did Hillary qualify for one?  Who can you think of that you admire?  Why?  What is it about evil geniuses that seems to attract people?  Why do they always get the best parts in the movies?

Life is just beginning.

With the proper training, I could’ve been an evil genius.”  —  George Carlin

 

 

 

 

 

Emily and Robert:  A love story

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Our story starts in a bathroom.   Emily is brushing her teeth and thinking about her beloved husband Robert.  Emily is 85 years old and Robert is 87 years old.  Emily and Robert have had a long life together.  Often happy, but often tumultuous with the stress of family, money and work disrupting the natural harmony of things.  Through all the ups and downs, their love for each other was the one constant of their lives.  Despite all the cliches about true love and being made for each other and all the other tropes one hears about lovers, no two people ever loved each other more than Emily and Robert.

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For the past ten years, Emily had been taking care of Robert.  After he had his second stroke, Robert needed help to dress and shower each morning.  He was no longer able to take care of his house hold chores and he needed help to do the many activities that he had once taken for granted.  Robert was a proud man but Emily was also very stubborn and she showed her love for Robert in her dedication to helping him.  Robert was appreciative and demonstrated it by doing all he could to minimize the burden for Emily.  He never complained and he never forget to say thank you to Emily no matter how many times she helped him.

An-older-couple-sitting-i-0072Emily and Robert had been married for nearly 65 years.  They were both in their early twenties when they met in college.  It was love at first sight.  Their parents wanted them to wait to finish college but after a brief whirlwind romance, they simply eloped.  They surprised everyone when they came back to school and finished their college degrees.  Robert became an engineer and Emily was a school teacher for many years.  The careers they chose suited their personalities.  They were known as hard faithful workers.  Not once in over forty years did any employer ever have a complaint or problem with either Robert or Emily.  After forty-five years, they both chose to retire so they could spend more time together after Robert’s first stroke.

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The saddest part of their lives was their inability to have their own children.  However, they made up for this by becoming foster parents.  Over the course of their years together, they had helped to raise nearly twenty-five foster children.  The social service agency responsible for the placements always said that they could not have found two more loving parents.  As parents, they were strict with high expectations but they were always fair and compassionate.  They latino-couplewere loved by all their foster children who often returned home to visit or to simply stop by with a bit of news or something to eat.  Robert and Emily could not have loved any children of their own more than they loved their foster children.

 

Emily continued brushing her teeth and getting ready for bed.  The light was off in their bedroom and the bathroom adjoined the bedroom.  Emily kept up a running dialogue with Robert about her day and the trip she had taken to visit one of her sick foster children.  Robert never answered so Emily just assumed he was reading or perhaps had fallen asleep.  Even after all these years, they still slept together.  Robert always slept closest to the bathroom door and Emily slept on the other side closest to the window.

lady surprisedEmily finished brushing her teeth and then took her nightly pills.  She shut off the bathroom light and started out to the bedroom.  The light by Robert’s side of the bed was on and Emily started to say something to Robert when abruptly she stopped.  Her eyes fell upon an empty bed that was undisturbed.  The sheets and bed covers had not been moved.  Emily was surprised and shocked.  Where was bedroom at nightRobert?  Suddenly, Emily remembered.  Robert had died the previous week and had been buried two days before on Saturday.  Tears came to her eyes.  What would she do without her Robert?  She was all alone now.  No one to go to bed with.  No one to talk to at night.  No one who would regularly listen to her complaints and problems about the world.

Being the survivor of a pair of lovers is a terrible burden.  Most of us want to go first.  However, neither Emily or Robert had ever wanted to be the first to go for both knew how hard it would be for the other.  Sadly, someone must go first.  The survivor is left with a vacuum in their life and memories.  The vacuum can never be filled and the memories cannot be forgotten.  Events that happened many years ago seem like they just happened yesterday and events of a few days past seem like they happened eons ago.  Memories do not respect a correlation to physical time.

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Emily will die in five years.  In between today and her death, she will experience joy, sadness, pain and a certainty that life will once more resume for her and Robert.  She believes that somewhere in this vast universe, her atoms and Robert’s atoms will coalesce and the two of them will again be united.  As sure as you are reading this story, Robert and Emily will live joyfully ever after in a place where life and death can no longer challenge their happiness.

Time for Questions:

What is love?  Have you ever been in love?  How do you know?  Who was the greatest love of your life?  Why?  Is there anything more important than love?

Life is just beginning.

“The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It’s a choice you make – not just on your wedding day, but over and over again – and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife.” —  Barbara De Angelis
 

The Little Boy Who Believed in God

The following story was inspired by a Charles Dickens story called “A Child’s Dream of a Star.”

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Once upon a time there was a little boy who believed in God.  Every morning when he woke up, he would look out the window and thank God for his blessings.  He thanked God for the sun, the beautiful day, the flowers, the trees, the water, the birds and most of all for his mother, father, sister, brother and grandparents.  Every night when the little boy would go to bed, he would look out the window and again thank God for his blessings.  He thanked God for the moon, the stars, the planets and most of all for his mother, father, sister, brother and grandparents.

Now the circumstance of a little boy believing in God might not seem strange but in this case, it was very strange.  You see, the little boy’s mother and father and older sister and older brother and even his grandparents were all confirmed Atheists.  Not a one of them went to church or professed a belief in any type of a higher entity.  In fact, his father and mother were very worried about the little boy.

Father:  “Honey, I am very worried about our little boy.  We have told him that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and God are all myths.  He accepted the reality for these fictions except for the greatest fiction of all, a higher power called God who supposedly created the universe.  Where do you think he got this idea of God from?

Mother:  “I don’t know. It is very strange.  The schools do not teach God.  His brother and sister do not believe in God.  His grandparents do not believe in God.  None of our friends believe in God.  Most religions do not really practice what they preach.  Most people who say they believe in God are really hypocrites or liars.  I am as mystified as you are.

Believing in God might not have been a problem for the little boy as he had very accepting parents.  However, the little boy found out that whenever he tried to talk to any of his friends or schoolmates or even teachers about God, they did not want to discuss the issue.  The little boy would ask questions like “Do you think God is having a good day today?”  “Do you think God worries about the evil deeds in the world?”  “How can we help God to bring more joy and happiness in the world?”  His teachers and friends would puzzle at such questions and try to ignore him.  They would shake their heads and hope that he would stop asking about God.  His wanting to discuss God made most people very uncomfortable.  God was not a subject for polite conversation.

God-is-good-Article-TemplateAs the little boy grew up, he became an even more devout believer in God.  Everywhere he went, he saw the hand of God.  In the clouds, in nature, in the weather, in the oceans, in good times and in bad times he believed that God was present.  The little boy thought how hard God must have to work to try to keep life sustained.  Each night he would pray to God that when he grew up, he would be able to help ease God’s work somewhat and do his share to help make the world a better place.

The little boy became a social worker and devoted his life to helping other people.  He met many other social workers who became cynical and skeptical.  One told him what a fool he was for believing that a God existed who cared about the human race.  Another told him that if a God really existed he would not have allowed people to be so greedy and corrupt.  Most of the social workers he knew eventually quit to become investment bankers or insurance salespeople.

god is my salvation

Time passed.  Aging became more salient in the little boy’s life.  His grandparents died.  His mother and father died.  His sister and brother died.  All his friends passed away.  Every time one of them died, the little boy would thank God for the time he had been able to spend with his loved ones.  He would ask God to take good care of them until he could see them again.

Many years went by and eventually the little boy stood at death’s door.  It was his last hour on earth.  He had few breaths left.  A nurse and a doctor waited at his bedside.  They heard him say before he passed “Thank you God for the life you gave me.  Thank you for the trees and the sun and the moon and the stars and the oceans and the forests and the sky.  But most of all, thank you for all the wonderful people that you put in my life and who I will now meet again.”

Time for Questions:

What do you believe in?  Why?  What role does faith have in your beliefs?  Do you think that there is a God?  Does he/she watch over and take care of humanity?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable.  Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” — Gilbert K. Chesterton
 

 

 

Politics, Passions, Economics and Care Giving:  What is life really about?

Last week I turned 70 years old.  This was quite a milestone for a guy who once did not think there was any life beyond thirty.  This week, I attended the 52nd Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter Minnesota.   I would bet Minnesota has more towns named after saints than any other state or perhaps even country in the world.  One wonders why these early Scandinavians who settled in this area of the Midwest needed to pay so much homage to saints.  Knowing as many Lutherans as I do (My spouse belongs to this crazy cult of Christians) I would have thought that they would have named more cities after composers.  We should have dozens of cities with names like: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Praetorius, Vulpius, Schein, Schütz and of course Handel.  Is there a Lutheran who has not song the Halleluiah Chorus?  However, I digress.

Monday night this week, Karen and I watched the “Great Debate” live on Facebook or YouTube.  The debate featured the two presidential candidates for the USA in their first head to head confrontation.  The purpose of such debates is to demonstrate the candidates’ positions on key policy issues and to highlight their competency or lack of competency for the job.  However, everyone knew or expected that the debate might deal with everything from sex to gender and even past indiscretions of the candidate’s spouses.  The true wild card (besides Trump) was the moderator.  In the past, the moderators have been unable to control the debaters and this fault was even more egregious with Trump.  Thus this debate had the potential of a no-holds boxing much with no rules that would make an MMA (mixed martial arts) match look tame.

In round one, Hillary came out first and as Trevor Noah noted gave the first lie of the evening.  She said “Donald, it is good to be here with you tonight” or something like that.  The first round was tame with each candidate feeling the other out.  Like two boxers probing each other to see where the weak points were they were both careful to be courteous and to look presidential.

donald-trump-vs-hillary-clinton

Of course, as is now well known and thus shall not be endlessly repeated, the debate went downhill from there, as least as far as Trump was concerned.  If anyone thought that he could “stay on topic” or demonstrate an even rudimentary knowledge of policy and positions, I will be happy to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge.  His supporters must be either delusional or stupid.  Only sycophants or as we used to call them in school “ass kissers” like Giuliani and Christie would have thought that Trump looked anything but the sexist and bigot that he is.

Hillary won every round as Trump made a fool of himself in the following areas:

  • Appearing unprepared
  • Bragging about not paying taxes
  • Bragging about his bankruptcies being smart business
  • Continuing to insult women and call them names
  • Continually interrupting and shouting over the moderator and Hillary
  • Having no concrete plans or ideas that were practical or feasible

Subsequent polls now show Hillary back up by several points and Donald on the decline again.  However, it is too early to declare the game over as there are still too many people out there who flip flop every day and who seem to change their minds depending on which way the wind is blowing.

people-with-passion-can-change-the-world-for-the-better

People with Passion can Change the World for the Better

Traveling down to St. Peter on Tuesday to pick up my friend Vic who was going to the conference with me, I finished another one of the Great Courses by the Teaching Company.  This one was called “The Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions” by Professor Robert C. Solomon.  This was an audio course that you play in your car.  I have completed several of these now and the quality of these courses is very high.  The speakers are outstanding and the lectures are usually quite enthralling.  These courses make long trips much less tedious and as a bonus you learn something about life.  I learned about the importance of emotions and as opposed to my old idea that emotions (like Spock thought) were useless impediments in life.  I now appreciate how much they add to my life.  Life without emotions would be a world without color.

2016-logoOn Tuesday and Wednesday along with my good friend Vic Ward, I attended the 52nd Nobel Conference which was titled:  “In Search of Economic Balance.”  It featured many illustrious and highly respected economists such as:  Dan Ariely, Orley Ashenfelter, Paul Collier, Deirdre McCloskey, John List and several other well-known economists.  After every lecture, there was a panel discussion where the speaker and several of the other economists had a chance to discuss and interact.  Following these discussions, my friend and I debated, discussed and summarized what we thought were the most important points of each lecture.  I attended eight lectures, six panel discussions and numerous discussions each evening with Vic.

jims-apple-farmOn the way back from St. Peter, we stopped Jim’s Apple Farm when we saw a sign that said “Next exit, Minnesota’s largest candy store.”  I bought several treats for Karen and the guys at the library in Frederic. Jim’s lived up to its billing.  It may just be the largest candy store in the US. It is certainly the largest candy store I have ever been in.

I returned home late on Thursday and had a brief respite before traveling out again.  On Friday, Karen and I went to New Richmond to attend the 10th Annual Regional Caregivers Conference at the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College.  The theme this year was “Finding Hope, Humor and Heart in Caregiving.”  The keynote speaker was Elaine Sanchez, author and co-founder of Caregiverhelp.com.

Karen and I both attended Elaine’s keynote speech and then Karen went to a session on music therapy while I attended a session on “Coping with Anger and Guilt in Caregiving” that was also given by Elaine Sanchez.  I have to say that Ms. Sanchez was one of the best speakers I have ever heard in my life.  The major thrust of the conference this year was dealing with people who are getting old (Karen and I) and how to handle people with conditions such as Dementia, Delirium, Alzheimers and Depression with love and compassion.  My background as you might know has little to do with such medicine.  However, with Karen and I both passing the 7th decade of our lives, the future has an increasing probability that one or the other of us will sooner or later face a debilitating condition that will require the other of us to provide care and support.  Thus, the purpose of attending this conference was for us to better learn the basics of caregiving for the elderly.

2016-conference-banner-for-web_post-conference-version_thin-1024x248Karen having spent thirty years of her life in Home Health Care is much better grounded and infinitely more knowledgeable than I am in this area.  Many of the ideas in the conference sessions were basic for her but for me the opposite was true.  I had my eyes opened and many of my concepts about conditions such as Dementia have now been thrown out the window.  I cannot begin to describe how much I learned at this conference and how valuable the ideas were for me.

Perhaps even more important than the knowledge and theory I learned was the fact that Karen and I are both committed to continuing our journey through life together no matter what obstacles are thrown in our way.  Karen had a mammogram on Monday of this week and when we returned home from the conference on Friday, we found an envelope in the mail from the clinic.  The results were not entirely positive and she now has to go back to the clinic for some follow-up tests.  Karen’s mother died from breast cancer so this is a particularly threatening and scary area for her.  Each day seems to bring good news and bad news and a never ending challenge to stay positive in the face of the difficulties that growing old poses.  I am sorry to tell you but one does not grow old like fine wine at least in the physical domain and often not in the mental domain either.

The week is now coming to a close.  We have visitors from out of town today and Sunday may just be the first day this week where nothing is happening.  But looking back on the week, can anyone tell me what ties these conferences, debates and courses together?  What do the subjects of politics, economics, passions and care giving have in common?  Four seemingly very disparate themes, yet a common thread clearly run through all of them.  Like a mosaic or kaleidoscope, the more I journey through life, the more apparent the interconnectedness of all life is.

Donald Trump will soon be ancient history and like Joe McCarthy will be relegated to the garbage bin of American political life.  His supporters will disappear as the political landscape is placed back into a better equilibrium with life and nature.  Hillary Clinton will become the first woman in American history to be elected president.  The clown that called her a crook and liar will become a laughing stock and an embarrassment to the people that supported him.  Few people will admit that they voted for this bottom feeder.

Life will go on.  Baby Boomers will continue to age.  Many will suffer from some form of Dementia.  The major problem of American life will turn from dealing with economic issues to how we can take care of so many elderly people who have no money and cannot take care of themselves.  It is a question that politicians, economists and caregivers must all have passion about or we will have a national catastrophe of epic proportions.  If we do not pay attention to these issues, we will have a Great Depression but it will not be an economic depression but a Depression of Care and Love for our growing elders.

Time for Questions:

What did you do this week?  Was it a good week or a bad week for you? Did you learn anything new this week?  What did you learn?  Do you enjoy life or find it boring?

Life is just beginning.

I guess we have all heard that tired old bromide “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” but if it is not then what is it?  Today may not be the first day of life for some people, it may just be the last day.

 

The Tragic Deaths of Ananias and Sapphira:  What This Story Tells Us about the Decline and Fall of Religion.

ANANIAS_AND_SAPPHIRA1.280200851_stdIn the Acts of the Apostles (part of the New Testament) Chapter 5, there is the story of two members of the early Christian church which was thought important enough to merit inclusion in the Bible.  To summarize the story:  these two members (Ananias and Sapphira) sold some property which they owned and instead of contributing 100 percent of the proceeds, they elected to keep some of it aside for themselves.  This may have been in violation of a sense of community and common property that the early Church was fostering since the story seemed important enough to put down in text.  (You may enjoy listening to the following song while reading this blog “The Ballad of Ananias and Sapphira”)

After being confronted by the apostle Peter, both Ananias and his wife Sapphira died on the spot.  What I find most interesting about this story is the significance and interpretation that is given by many Christian leaders to this event.  I think these interpretations may tell us more about religion and why people are backing away from churches then any of the more common reasons given for the decreasing numbers of people who now belong to an organized church.  For instance, many theorists say that the lack of religion today is due to or at least correlated with a more highly educated work force. Others say, the lack of religious affiliation has to do with the sexual emancipation of men and women, thus freeing them from the demands and control of an organized church.  I think there are more fundamental reasons and this story illustrates them very well.  I would like to contrast my “heretical” view of what this story means with a common view espoused by one religious leader in an article called  “5 THINGS GOD TEACHES US IN THE TRAGIC DEATHS OF ANANIAS & SAPPHIRA” by  Pastor J.D. on November 20, 2013

Pastor J.D.

  1. In the church, there are two kinds of people, and it’s nearly impossible to distinguish them from the outside.

On the outside, Ananias and Sapphira look just like another church member named Barnabas (introduced in Acts 4). Barnabas had just sold his property and brought the money to the apostles, and to the casual observer, Ananias and Sapphira were doing the same thing.

But deep in their heart lingered a love of money and a desire for people’s praise.  So they conspired together to present a portion of their money while passing it off as the entire amount. This is worlds apart from the attitude of Barnabas, but looks very similar.

John’s Interpretation: 

ananisas gravesYou mean that there are only two kinds of people in church?  One good and the other bad?  Why are the bad people going to church anyway if they are bad?  How is the church helping these “bad” people?  People who have a love of money and a desire for praise are bad?  That means about 95 percent of the human race are bad.  If all that religion can do is condemn “bad” people, why bother to go to church?  To be “Good,” you must tithe, build churches, give large donations and upon your death leave large grants to your church.

Pastor J.D.

  1. We cannot hide from God.

It may be difficult for us to distinguish between a truly repentant heart and a seasoned faker, but nothing is hidden from God. The Holy Spirit knows our thoughts as if they were being played through a loudspeaker or being displayed on a screen.

That is why despite fooling everyone else, Ananias and Sapphira were still found out. There are no locked doors or hidden closets for the Holy Spirit.

John’s Interpretation:

god sees everythingGod is even worse than big brother. Big brother can be hacked and still has blind spots in his/her surveillance techniques.  God sees all and knows all.  Do not try to hide anything from God.  God has nothing to do but spy on us night and day.  24/7 God is spying.  Do not do anything that would offend God or he/she will know and your secrets will be shared with the universe.  Since your church is your organized representative of God on earth, you should not try to hide anything from your church.  Be sure to send copies of your annual tax returns to your local parish or pastor.

Pastor J.D.

  1. The closer we are to grace, the greater the offense of sin.

Not everyone who lies gets struck down immediately for their sin. So why did Ananias and Sapphira? A couple of reasons:

First, their deaths—like much in Acts—serve as a sign. God takes something that is true in the kingdom of God and puts it on physical display. We see this most often through the healing miracles, but it is equally true of this judgment.

God doesn’t do this with everyone who lies to the Holy Spirit today. But that should not cover up the fact that this death is a picture of how God feels about it. It is a glimpse of the future judgment for all who share in the heart of Ananias and Sapphira.

Second, Ananias and Sapphira had seen the activity of the Holy Spirit so closely that the seriousness of the sin increased. Think of it like the temple: the closer you are to the holy place, the more significant is every blemish.[1]

These people had seen the mercy of God firsthand. Ananias’ name, in fact, means, “God is merciful.” They had likely been witness to the death of Christ itself! And yet despite being recipients of such great grace, they spurned it for the praise of men. Do not take holy things lightly!

John’s Interpretation:

lying tonguesDon’t bother trying to be better; you can never be good enough. Furthermore, it is worse to screw up if you are better than if you had not even tried.  Whatever happened to forgiveness of sin?  In this story, it seems there is no room for repentance.  Tolerance is non-existent.  No one mourns the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.  Where is the compassion and forgiveness that Jesus preached?  It would seem that even at this early date, the newly formed Christian church has soon forgotten the key messages of Jesus.

Pastor J.D.

  1. Fear is a part of worship.

Unsurprisingly, these dramatic deaths caused a great deal of fear (Acts 5:5, 11). But we may be shocked to see that even in light of this, “more and more people believed in the Lord” (Acts 5:14). Fear is an integral part of worship.

For those of us familiar with the idea of an infinitely loving God, this is a jarring realization.  But God’s love only makes sense when we know the magnificence of his glory and the might of his power. That is why John Newton wrote, “Tis grace that taught my heart to fear.”  As the fear of God increases, so does the sense of his love, because we understand more fully what we have been saved from.

My favorite definition of the fear of God is awe mixed with intimacy.  We are invited into the closest possible relationship with God, but this intimacy must never overshadow the majesty of who God is.

John’s Interpretation:

god_hates_lies_button-p145912936367763508t5sj_400Wow, this is really hard to understand much less accept.  Fear is a part of God?  God wants us to be afraid of him/her because we are more likely to be saved if we are afraid?  As I am more afraid of God, he will love me more? What kind of crazy mixed up logic is this?  Where did Jesus preach this or say anything close to this?  What is it we will be saved from if only we are afraid?  Maybe, this is why psychopaths commit crimes that are so heinous? They have no fear so why should they give a damn?  If you are fearless, you have no problem with God.  This sounds like a good prescription for a fascist dictatorship.  Just keep the people scared and they will stay in line.  God and fascism according to the Christian church must have a lot in common.  No wonder most religions hate communism so much.  Ironic, that so many communist regimes have also used fear to keep people in line. What ever happened to the saying that “You catch more flies with honey then you do with vinegar?”  What many religions seem to be saying is that if you scare people to death, they will donate more to the church.

Pastor J.D.

  1. Sin is a deadly serious matter to God.

If we’re honest, many of us find God’s actions here offensive—but that merely reveals our ignorance of our sin and God’s holiness.  We shouldn’t ask the question, “Why did they die?” Instead we should wonder, “Why do we remain alive?”

Yes, God is patient with us and slow to anger.  But as R.C. Sproul says, we forget that God’s patience is designed to lead us to repentance, not to become bolder in our sin.  If Jesus really went through the tormenting hell of the cross to redeem us, and we neglect that in pursuit of our sin, what will it be like to stand before God? “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”(Hebrews 2:3)

 John’s Interpretation:

Sinner ParkingGod hates sin and hate sinners?  In this case, he/she hated sin enough to kill two members of the church whose sin was keeping back some of their money and lying about it.  Wow, this is really scary.  If God can just strike any of us dead for such a trivial offense, imagine what he/she will do to most of us for the daily offenses we make. When you think of the Ten Commandments or Eight Beatitudes, you should be really scared.  Any second now, most of the human race will be struck dead for failing to comply or live up to these standards.  When you think about how many people covet their neighbor’s property, commit adultery, or lack humility or charity, you may wonder that anyone on earth is still alive.

Conclusions:

Well, you may and will draw your own conclusions but my conclusions are to ask why anyone would belong to any organized religion that subscribed to a single one of the beliefs that were noted by Pastor J. D.  If you want to look for reasons why people are less church going or less religious today, you have simply to look at these five beliefs about God and sin that Pastor J.D. has noted.  Who in their right mind, would want to belong to any group that felt this way about humanity and sin?

By the way, these five beliefs noted are not atypical or unique.  When I was researching the symbolism and meaning of the story of Ananias and Sapphira, I found many similar interpretations by other religious leaders.  (See Dan Stevers – The Grim Tale of Ananias & Sapphira)

Most of the interpretations support the idea of an intolerance that was in the early Christian church from the very beginning.  This is not to say that all religions do not share similar intolerances.  My best guess is that any system of organized belief is by its very nature “intolerant” of competing or contradictory belief systems.   One can only hope that we are not all killed instantly for our failures to comply with whatever belief system we are associated with.  Most systems other than religion find it more expedient to kill by innuendo and ostracism then to have God strike you dead immediately.  You lose less members that way.

Time for Questions:

What is sin?  Who are the real sinners in the world?  Do you know any sinners? Are you a sinner?  What do you do to atone or repent for your sins?  There are three things we must do for forgiveness:

  1. Sincerely admit, apologize and show regret for our sins
  2. Listen to the pain and misery that our sins have caused.
  3. Make appropriate amends for our sins to the victims.

Life is just beginning.

If you think that anything under the sun is new, you have only to compare the story of Ananias and Sapphira to this recent headline about churches that plunder their parishioners:

How passing the plate becomes the ‘Sunday morning stickup’” by John Blake, CNN, June, 14, 2015

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