Category Archives: philosophy

Sunday Sermons in More Innocent Times

There are definitely tendencies in those of us who are really atheists and non-believers in our heads to look back fondly at a time when God and religion filled our childish hearts every Sunday Morning. I have been told that idiots like me with a penchant for writing humor ought not to indulge in making fun of religion and politics. But I look at modern humorists making fun of both those things with impunity and too often end up admiring their success. Because, not only does the the subject of religion provide an easy target for satire and mockery, but we can’t really keep something sacred in our porcelain and breakable human hearts for very long without making sure it is fire-tested. That’s why I intend to take a flame-thrower to it in today’s Sunday Sermon. And I don’t mean I will only make fun of belief in God, but making fun of belief in atheism as well.

Here is a piece of music that gives your heart peace that you might need to play in the background if you really plan to read this purple-paisley-prose post. It is Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, a very spiritual piece to play for peace of personhood and a pinch of paradise.

Now, of course, the first thing to acknowledge in this idiot’s Sunday sermon is the idea of God Himself.

Is there a God?

Remember, I pass the test for believing what atheists normally believe. That should disqualify me from making the following statement. But remember too, I also identified myself in this essay as an idiot. So, I will say it anyway.

There is a God, not in Heaven, but in us. There has to be. I talk to Him all the time, and He answers me. And I keep asking Him, “If you don’t exist, then how can you be answering me?”

“Well, Michael, you are an idiot. And things don’t have to make sense for you to believe them. But also, I am the part of you that never gives up on you even when you have given up on yourself.”

And I try to look as intelligent as I can as I say, “What…?”

“People, Mickey, my son, have a secret power inside of themselves that, when they are in troubled times and dire dangers, they can reach deep into their souls for it and pull it out to save themselves from the situation in the best way possible.”

“So, if people use this power correctly, say the right words and everything, they can save their lives in any situation and even live on after death?”

“I know you are an idiot, my child, but try not to be quite so idiotic all the time.”

“But people who are very religious believe in eternal life of some kind, don’t they?”

“You are not the only idiot out there, my beloved.”

“So, we don’t get eternal life for praying the right things and doing the right things and fulfilling all the elements of the Live Forever Spell?”

“There is no such thing as eternal life nor eternal torment. But you exist. And existence is eternal. There was no life before you are born, and there is no life after you die. But once you exist, you always exist, even outside of the time-frame of your mortal life.”

“That’s why I call myself a Christian Existentialist, right?”

“You are, indeed, that flavor of idiot, yes. But the Christian part means you have to adhere to Christian values. And not the ones Christian Fundamentalist idiots interpret from the Old Testament. The real ones based on choosing love over hate.”

“So, is that all I need to bring this sermon to an end?”

“Well, you should probably thank William Bouguereau for providing most of the internet images you illustrated this thing with. He died before you were born, but he still exists.”

“Thanks, Billy B. You paint lovely naked angels.”

“And you should recognize that this idiotic thing you have written is not a sermon, but, rather, a fantasy dialogue. And then stop adding more to it like a good little idiot.”

“Amen.”

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The Ending Inevitable

Wednesday night, I got to see the musical Hamilton as it was playing in Dallas at Fair Park. I am not sure how I actually got to see it. Tickets are reputedly astronomically expensive. I myself am bankrupt because of medical bills. My wife, however, is not bankrupt, a thing accomplished by separating our finances over disagreements about feeding the credit card monster. Bankruptcy court is helping me escape from the vampire powers of predatory banks. My wife, however, has apparently not heeded my advice about finances. As a Jehovah’s Witness, she is sure the Bible prophecies about the end of the world will rescue her from the credit card monster. Armageddon will happen any day now, and the credit card monster will not get to eat her. I hate to disagree with her about matters of religion. Her faith is sincere, if self-serving. But I think I know the inevitable ending.

Hamilton, the musical, ends with the inevitable death of Alexander Hamilton, firing his dueling pistol into the sky as Aaron Burr kills him.

Sorry about the spoiler, but it has been a recorded outcome for over 200 years. It was in Hamilton’s very nature that he would end his career and life in that way. It was inevitable.

I also took my two younger kids to see the Avengers Endgame yesterday after the Princess’s doctor appointment. Don’t worry. I won’t spoil anything. You already know somebody will die at the end of this movie. And I am not talking about this movie in terms of plot or outcomes. It is, rather, a pivotal point in my own endgame. A couple of years ago, when I knew my fate was sealed by poor health and even poorer affordable healthcare and health insurance, I resolved that I would somehow manage to survive at least until I had seen this movie which brings closure to Marvel Universe stories that I have been invested in practically my whole comic-book reading and movie-watching life. Now I have seen it. Technically that means that I am now free to die without regrets. I have, in fact, been at peace with the idea of my life’s inevitable ending for a long time now.

But if you are worried that I will now just give up and die, don’t be. It is not in my nature. I will continue to fight on. I am on the verge of self-publishing Fools and Their Toys, a critical novel that was one of the stories I most needed to tell before my life is over. But it is far from the last story I have within me. And the fact that nobody is reading my books is not going to deter me. They simply have to exist.

And the third movie in the newest Star Wars trilogy is due to open in December. I feel I am owed at least one more Christmas. So the battle continues. And I may win the war with my final act like you see in the movies. That would be a good and noble thing. I think I have to live longer now. There are just too many goals to be reached before time runs out.

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Rebuilding

The retaining wall that keeps the yard from flowing downhill into the park and down to the creek, is now growing back upwards, visibly straighter and better grounded than it was before.

In his poem “Mending Wall”, Robert Frost suggested that the wall dividing his property and the neighbor’s property is constantly falling down and requiring mending. He gets together with his neighbor and they replace the fallen stones, mending the wall between them. And then the neighbor says the oft-quoted line, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Ironically, the neighbor is not saying that having a wall between them makes them better neighbors. He is saying that their friendship is built on mending the wall together.

And so it is with me and number two son as we labor together to straighten the foundation stones and replace all the heavy stone bricks that we had to remove to get to them. It is hard work, slowed by heavy bricks, one arthritic back, multiple rainy days, cold weather, and fatigue. But slowly we have problem-solved together, discussed the state of the world, and mended the wall. We have also mended our working relationship as father and son. A good wall makes a stronger family in the Frostian sense.

And so, I have come to see how life imitates art, and work begets poetry. A little sunshine creeps back into the picture when you engage in a little rebuilding.

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Take the Midnight Train to Anywhere

 

Journey back with me to the 1980’s, and hear once again the music of escape.

There was a time when I was young when I did not know where I would be when the next new dawn came.  Yes, I once took the midnight train (except it was a bus) and I arrived in a teaching career in deep South Texas.  I crossed borders into another culture, another way of life, another journey made of words and pictures that hasn’t reached the final station yet.

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At the outset, we all take a risk.  Born and raised in South Detroit (although it was really North Central Iowa) I passed through established procedures, rules, and regulations to do things that desperately needed doing for people who could only help themselves in very limited ways.

Some spoke mostly Spanish.  Some lived in broken homes.  One boy lived for a while under the bridge of the Nueces River, but attended school every day because he was hungry to learn, and because free school lunch was the majority of the food he got to eat.  He got on a midnight train, and I never saw him or heard from him again.  His sister, though, lived with a tia who treated her like a daughter, and grew up to be a school teacher.  I let her teach the lesson for me during one class period, as part of an educational experiment, and it put her on her own midnight train.

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It was a train going on the same track I followed.  Not because of me and what I did for her.  But because she came to realize it was the right journey to take for her.  It was the perfect anywhere for her.

But there is danger inherent in getting on a midnight train going anywhere.  You don’t know who is waiting for you down the line, or what your circumstances will be at the next station along the way.  There may be strangers waiting up and down the boulevard, their shadows searching in the night.  I befriended other teachers, mentored some, learned from many,  even married one.  I had a run in or two with people who sell drugs to kids.  I had all four of my car tires slashed one night.  I had a car window broken out.  I had a boy once tell me he would kill me with a knife.  I later had that boy tell me he had a good job and a girlfriend and he was grateful that I talked him out of it and never turned him in to the police.

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And we end up paying anything to roll the dice just one more time…  At one time or another we have all been there, aboard that midnight train to anywhere.  There is a moment in everyone’s life when… well, some will win, and some will lose.  Some were born to sing the blues.  I have been there.  I have done that.  And it occurs to me, that song plays on in my head still.  I am still on that journey.  And I won’t stop believing.  Because it goes on and on and on and on…

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Flying the Magic Flying Carpet

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There are many ways to fly.  Airplanes, bird wings, hot air balloons, bubble-gum-blowing goldfish… well, maybe I am really talking about flying by imagination.  The more my six incurable diseases and old age limit my movement, my ability to get out of bed and do things, the more I rely on reading, writing, and the movie in my head to go places I want to be.

Wings of Imagination

Sometimes the wings I use to fly come from other writers.  I get the flight feathers I need not only from books, but also from YouTube videos, movies, and television shows.

This magic carpet ride in video form is by the thoughtful creative thinker Will Schoder.  In it he carefully explains how Mister Rogers used the persuasion techniques of Logos, Ethos, and Pathos to talk to elephants and convinced a congressman intent on cutting the budget to actually give Public Television more money for educational programming.  This is a video full of warmth and grace and lovingly crafted magic flight feathers that anybody can use to soar across new skies and blue skies and higher skies than before.  I hope you will watch it more than once like I did, to see how beautifully the central explanation spreads its wings and gives us ideas that can keep us aloft in the realm of ideas.

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It is important to stay in the air of fresh ideas and new thinking.  The magic carpet ride that takes you there is the product of vivid imagination, cogent thinking, and the accurate connection of idea to better idea.  So instead of falling from the sunlit sky into the darkness that so easily consumes us on the ground, keep imagining, keep dreaming, and keep flying.  You won’t regret having learned to fly.

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Things I Know For Certain

I think a lot of thoroughly thoughtful thuggish thoughts that build and build and build up an idea, and then turn around and knock it all down.  Let me demonstrate by knocking down that title right off the bat.  Rene DesCartes in the early 1600’s said, “Cogito Ergo Sum”, and he thereby totally disrupted the world as we knew it.  Didn’t get that?  Let me translate.  He said, “Je pense, donc je suis.”  Still didn’t help?  Okay, here’s the English, “I think, therefore I am.”  In other words, the one thing that I know for sure is that I am thinking this particular thought at this particular time.  If I am thinking, and I know I am, I must be here and I must be real.  So there is one thing I know for certain.  But do I know anything else for certain?  Uh-oh.  How do I know anything?  I have to rely on my senses.  And my senses lie to me all the time.  I am partially color blind, so I don’t see the world the same way you do.  I don’t see things in black and white, like Great Grandma Hinckley did in her 90’s, but the colors look different to my eyes than they do to yours and I will never know what things look like to you.  Forget politicians and all other people who tell lies, my own eyes lie to me constantly.  So can I know anything for sure?  Of course not.  All I have are firm beliefs based on imperfect senses and best guesses at what is true.  So what I am actually talking about is a list of potential essay ideas that I am merely asserting as true based on my imperfect goofy thinking of thoughtful thuggish thoughts.

Idea #1 that I think is certainly possibly maybe true; My brain was taught and I was raised to adulthood by the movies I saw when I was young.  I want to talk about this at length in another post.  The video is by a guy who was a kid in the 80’s, and he has some really awesome movies to offer as a way to delineate his rise to adulthood.

My list includes the movies of my boyhood seen in the Belmond Theater and on our old black and white Motorola TV.  My list of movies that raised me includes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and The Wizard of Oz.

Idea #2; Animals are people too.

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I mean, as a writer for young adults, I know for a fact that animals are relevant as characters.  They have a point of view, feelings, reactions, and complex lives that people rarely pay attention to.  I have to write about this some time in the future too.

Idea #3; The worst things that happen to us in our lives, are also the best things that happen.  Wow!  What a difficult essay topic.  But I not only think it, I can prove it… at least to myself.  But can I write about it?  Time will tell.

Idea #4; Silly thoughts and serious thoughts are two sides of the same coin.  And this will be particularly difficult to think about if thoughts are literally coins.  That would mean that my head is full of metal, and I know several people who would read that sentence and shout, “I knew it all along!”  Fortunately they are all too sensible to read this far in one of my blog posts.

So, at 600 words I still have lots more to say.  But people with metal in their heads often talk way too much, so my concluding sentence will be simply; “I promise to shut up for now.”

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Irreverence

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It is a difficult thing to be an atheist who believes in God.  Sometimes it takes an oxymoron to find the Truth.  And you often have to go heavily on the “moron” portion of the word.

The thing I find most distressing about faith is the fact that those who have it are absolutely convinced that if you don’t agree with them and whatever book of fairy tales they believe in and interpret for you, then you are not a True Believer and you do not have real Faith.

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I remember being told by a Mormon girl in one of my classes that I was her all-time favorite teacher, but she was deeply distressed that, because of my religion (I professed to be a Jehovah’s Witness at the time) I was doomed to burn in Hell forever.

Hey, I was raised in Iowa.  I have experienced minus 100 degree Fahrenheit windchill.  I am among those who think a nice warm afterlife wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

But I am no longer actually a Jehovah’s Witness.  So I guess that helps with the whole Hell-burning thing.  The Witnesses are a religion that claims to understand the Bible is full of metaphorical truth, and yet insist that it is literally true.  They don’t believe in Hell, which, honestly, is not actually mentioned or explained in the Bible as we have it now.  But they do believe your prospects for eternal life on a paradise Earth are totally contingent on knocking on doors and telling other people that they must believe what you believe or experience eternal destruction.  I have stopped being an active Witness and knocking on doors because I got old and sick, and all the caring brothers and sisters in the congregation stopped coming around to visit because number one son joined the Marines, and the military is somehow evil hoodoo that cancels out any good you have done in the past.  Being a Jehovah’s Witness was really hard work with all the meetings (5 per week), Bible reading (I have read the entire Bible two and a half times), door-knocking, and praying, and you apparently can lose it all for saying, thinking, or doing one wrong thing.

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According to the Baptist preachers, Jehovah’s Witness elders, religious zealots, and other opinionated religious people I have known and dealt with in my life, if I do not believe what they believe and agree with them in every detail, then I do not know God and am therefore an atheist.  So, okay, I guess I am.   If I have to be an atheist to believe whole-heartedly that everyone is entitled to sincerely believe whatever the hell they want to believe, then I’ll wear that label.

On a personal note, my favorite verse of the Bible has always been 1 John 4:8,  “He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love.”  That is why I claim to be an atheist who believes in God.  I know love.  I love all men, women, children, animals, sunrises, artwork, paintings of angels by Bouguereau… everything that is.  And I even love you if you exercise your freedom to tell me, “Your ideas are totally wrong, and you are going to burn in Hell, Mickey, you bad guy, you!”  Mark Twain always said, “I would choose Heaven for climate, but I would prefer Hell for company.”  I am not going to worry about it.  I will be in good company.  Some things are just bigger than me.  And trying to control things like that is nonsense. Sorta like this post.

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