I Wanted Them All

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transformers[1]When I was a child, I didn’t just want one item for Christmas. I wanted them all.

I was a big Transformers fan.

But I also was a huge G.I. Joe fan.

My brother and I would go through the toy catalogs with a pad of paper, and we’d write down every toy we wanted. The list for our small family would be sometimes pages long.

We tried to make it simple. I would select the “bad” guys (The Decepticons and Cobra) and my brother would have the “good” guys (The Autobots and the American Hero). Sometimes there’d be a random other toy named, but our lists usually compiled of these two brands.

And of course, when Christmas time came, we’d open up boxes and boxes of shirts, pants, scarves, and socks. I was courteous and would thank my family members for the apparel, but I’m sure the displeasure of money spent on non-fun items showed.

That didn’t mean we didn’t get some of the things on our lists. We’d get some cool toys, but some of the ones we were really looking forward to weren’t present (no pun intended). But we did have that one uncle that would get the one big, expensive thing on the list, so we’d always look forward to that one toy he would get us.

One thing my brother and I always wanted was the G.I. Joe aircraft carrier. Obviously, this sucker was huge and probably expensive. But we never got it, no matter how many times we’d request it.

How unappreciative we were, looking back on it, but hey, we were kids.

If were told to stick to ten items instead of a hundred, we would have been taught to be more selective. I say this, because long lists have carried into my present life. I still struggle to keep things to the necessities.

Free ebooks are plentiful, and I’d download a book I will never read just because it was free. A digital library, which takes up no physical space in my office, can be amassed easily. Got to have them all, you know?

I did the same in my twenties with bands I liked. Having all of the major releases on CD wasn’t enough. I had to have the CD singles with the B-sides and live or acoustic versions. I had to get the cassette single with differing b-sides than that of the CD singles. I had to buy soundtracks and other compilations which would the one song that I didn’t already have by the same band.

Things like this get out of hand, being a collector of anything that interests you. They not only cost money, but they also take time to accumulate, even if your time is building Wish Lists on various retail websites. Got to have them all.

Recently, I’ve toned things down, and even got rid of a few things. Trying to change from the wants in my life, I was able to gain a few of theneeds.

I have a better car than I used to be able to afford. I have a house now. I am able to invest into my small business. I can now have the bigger things in life now that I don’t hoard the endless list of small ones.

– Originally published at GoodMenProject.com

I Could Have Been an Active Shooter

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497948131-gun-violence-student-shooting-gettyimages[1]I stole from my dad often, things I felt I needed.

I took coins to buy candy. I took a bottle of liquor for playing hooky. I took various things to build things like insect boards, a skateboard, and many other things.

But I never stole my dad’s gun. Reason? He didn’t have one. If he had had one, I might have taken it.

You see, I was a little guy in middle school and high school. And a little guy with a big mouth doesn’t exactly earn friends easily. I tried to be intimidating, to scare off the bullies. But it wasn’t of avail. I tried to be into sports, but I found watching it boring and participating unexciting.

I either listened to heavy metal—or gangster rap—depending on what crowd I was trying fit into. I didn’t want to be common, boring or known for being intelligent. But I didn’t want to be a loser, loner or nerd. All of my music and TV idols were raw, rowdy and rambunctious.

I got a lot of flack for it. I’d get sneered at, mocked, laughed at, teased, pushed around, beat up, and even had my life threatened.

I’ve been chased home.

I’ve been cornered and jumped a few times. And I always vowed revenge. I hated my peers. I hated my teachers for not saying anything when they saw it. I hated my dad for also putting me through similar things at home. And I hated myself.

  • Fortunately, I never brought a gun to school.
  • Fortunately, I never used bullying to set an example of classmates and my abusive father.
  • Fortunately, I was able to move on with my life, go to other schools, become an adult, gain employment, and seem to be liked by my current peers.

Seeing things in perspective when you’re younger is hard to do.

The brain is still growing and developing. Philosophy and worldview are a constant change, as well. A younger person does not understand permanence. One decision, no matter how “courageous,” could change absolutely everything. Sure, eliminating a few headaches seems tempting, but there’s no returning after the long term consequences happen.

My life, I would have right now. If I had access to shooting up a classroom, I could be dead now. Or I could be in prison for life or on death row. I wouldn’t have the wonderful things I have now.

I have a wonderful wife who cherishes me and encourages me in all I do. I have a nice house with tons of great books. I have an adorable, intelligent cat that I had rescued as a kitten. I have a few small businesses that are exciting, as I deal with collectibles, vintage goods and antiques. I write books and articles, also, which is a good way to channel pent-up feelings, memories and problems.

My life is good, and I wouldn’t have had what I now have if I became an active shooter.

– Originally published at GoodMenProject.com

This is Not a Bill

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bill[1]Things change as you age. When you’re younger, your major purchase of the month is the new Spider-Man comic book.

But as you get older, you have rent to cover, a couple of utilities and your Netflix bill.

After that, things start getting more complicated. You have mortgages and health insurance to worry about.

And some of these things don’t straight up come to your house saying, You owe XX amount. No, that’d be too easy. There are variables. You owe XX amount, but we’re still deciding on what to charge you for 1-2-3.

Okay, so what is this? A discretionary amount? It’s like they’re saying, Your firm amount for services one and two are This, but service 3 is to yet be calculated. You will either be charged $4.00 and/or $400.00. This amount will be determined and reflected on your bank statement.

Whoa, what the hell is that? This amount or that amount?

And they also send you things like, This is NOT a bill. Okay, what is up with that? Especially when the envelope clearly stated, Enclosed is your bill.

This is like what magazines are starting to do—send you an invoice for something you haven’t ordered, with an invoice that has a box that you can check that says, Bill Me, but the envelope says, Invoice enclosed.

And you get like four of these This is not a bill letters sent to you, meticulously itemized for all the services rendered at the hospital listed. The return address is for a state that is not even your own. You ever notice that?

You get like five of these things, and you’re bracing for the actual bill. Will it ever come? You’re like trying to budget for this, too, setting aside a portion of this $4 or $400 variable. It’s like trying to save to pay off a mobster. How much do I owe? And will he break my legs if I guess wrong?

You start getting nervous about these notices when you get home.

Is my electric going to be cut off?

Will I have AC?

Will my other car still be sitting there or will it be repossessed?

Over a repeating $4.00 This is not a bill.

The Daughter You Didn’t Know I Had

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* NOTE: This article was published merely months before my daughter looked me up, and now we have an awesome long-distance relationship!

This would be a surprise to many that know me, but I have a daughter.

145083489-close-up-of-teenage-girls-eyelashes-gettyimages[1]This is a surprise, because I don’t talk about her. I don’t really have pictures of her. I don’t talk to her. I don’t see her. I don’t refer to her, because I’m embarrassed—I don’t want to be that guy, the absentee dad.

I do think of her often though, almost every day. She had just turned sixteen. So I imagine her driving in her car. I imagine her going on dates and dances. I imagine her in school plays, and maybe playing softball like her mom did years ago. I don’t know if she’s doing those things, but I imagine she’s having a good life. After all, don’t we all deserve a good life?

Sometimes, I feel like I shouldn’t have the good life I have. I’m married, own my own house, run several small businesses, and I make money doing what I enjoy. I have great pets, have decent health, and eat balanced meals my wife and I prepare. But do I deserve these good things? Perhaps. But in mind, I feel like I got a cake-walk.

I wasn’t the single mom, I’m not the sacrificial step-dad, I’m not the hurt grandparents. I wasn’t the one abandoned to pick up the pieces. I wasn’t the one trying to make ends meet to provide for a child.

My daughter was conceived with my ex-girlfriend after we went to the mall with her friends. It was essentially a one night stand with someone familiar. I liked her, and I enjoyed dating her, but I was pretty much a drunken asshole at the time.

I was fiscally irresponsible. I used people. I kept having my utilities cut off. I lost jobs. I was a loser. I was resentful that in my early twenties, I was going to have to settle down, trade in my wild ways, and provide for a family. I couldn’t do it.

We broke up after trying for a year. After that, I got even more wild, and lost yet another job.

I moved three-hundred miles away from my college town back to Chicago, my childhood hometown and place where I still had friends and resources. I got my old job at an ice cream shop and moved in with friends from my church. I had to get my shit together.

As soon as I moved, my daughter’s mother married someone new and he adopted my daughter, saying I abandoned her. This wasn’t really the case, as I had moved to get my life back on track so I can build a better life that would include her. I’ve sent cards throughout the years, and mailed letters to my ex pleading for some level of involvement. I never got one response.

While I hit some more bumps in the road, causing me to again realize that simply moving to a new location doesn’t necessarily mean that old demons stay put. Long story short, I had a wake-up call, and completed my transformation into adulthood.

My ex’s family still keeps in touch with my grandmother, where I hear secondhand how my daughter is doing, what she’s up to, and how good of a step-father my ex’s husband is. They have built a life together, and seem to be doing well. And it makes me feel horrible that I brought a child into this world, and not be the person I should have been at that time.

It also hurts that she knows about me, knows I had left, but probably doesn’t know my side of the story. She probably doesn’t care what my side of the story is. All she knows is, she was born and I left. She might know more, but as this piece started out with, I tend to imagine.

I do hope that someday she and I could reconcile on some level. She’ll probably have a lot of venting to do, but that’s okay. I can deal with that; I’ve earned that anger, I know. But I want her to know that I always wanted the best for her.

My biggest regret is not having had a child, but for thinking that I could do better by her by leaving town.

Originally published and relunctantly retitled in 2015 at: http://goodmenproject.com

Vacation Hangups

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iStock-13234958_toilet-orchid-orange-tile_s4x3.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.1280.960[1]How many of you have weird things about going on vacation?

Are there traditions that you have? Or something you always have to pack? Maybe it’s something you just simply don’t do that you usually do. Maybe you don’t smoke on vacation or drink every day? Maybe you have that road-trip mix CD.

For me, I can’t go number two. That’s right. Usually cannot go. Maybe it’s the muscles within; maybe I can’t relax them, because I’m not completely relaxed everywhere else. Maybe it’s my diet when I’m away from home. Maybe I just like to use a room that is comfortable.

I don’t like using friends’ bathrooms. I’m not big on sitting on a family member’s throne. I certainly won’t use gas station toilets or outhouses (aren’t they essentially the same?). Just can’t do it.

However, this doesn’t mean I haven’t. If I’m at your house and I use the toilet for number two, either I’m super comfortable at your house, or I’m in dire need for a doctor’s visit.

Gender Wars: Truce from the Male

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556336069-man-and-woman-in-office-having-a-meeting-gettyimages[1]Women are a necessity. They possess grace. They have wit and humor. They have an alternative perspective. Women are essential.

I don’t just mean in a marital sense. I mean in any relationship, whether as a mother, daughter, boss, co-worker, friend, best friend, acquaintance, superhero, or songstress.

Coming into manhood at the magical age of eighteen, I discovered Tori Amos. Shortly after that, I discovered Bikini Kill, Joan Jett, the Indigo Girls, Alanis Morisette, Sleater-Kinney, the Dixie Chicks, Ani DiFranco, and Terri Clark. Recently I’ve discovered Lorde, Peaches, Jess Klein, and Pussy Riot.

Some of these artists’ songs could be seen as “girl power,” while some would say that they are anti-man. Though some of the lyrical content was controversial, I never really felt threatened by songs about shooting down unwanted advances, vigilante justice against rapists, or even equal rights for women.

I felt that these songs showed something stirring within women. Maybe the lyrics were a push-back against the degrading songs about women that I grew up with, mostly within the lyrical content of 1990’s rap and 1980’s heavy metal. Maybe these songs were needed, to show that women can’t—and shouldn’t—always be “in their place.”

Your input and output is important, ladies. The man who thinks the female side of our species isn’t important should read a book or two.

In many cultures, the woman dominates the clan—the woman calls the shots. Current examples would be the in north-east India, parts of Costa Rica, in West Sumatra, the Ede villages of Vietnam, the Akans in Ghana, the Mosuo near the Tibetan border, the Native American Hopis, and the Chambri of Papua New Guinea. Not that women should always be on top (no pun intended), but in some areas of life, it has worked out well for civilization.

However, it does take the right woman, in the right sort of climate, just as it does with men being able to lead and be led.

We men can do women a service: end the war.

  • We can help uplift our female counterpart by not putting her down.
  • We can raise her confidence with more than a slick compliment.
  • We can elevate the leader to her position if she is qualified.
  • We can praise her not for her looks or aroma, but for her convictions and compassion.

But first, we need to be not so proud. Just as a brown-eyed individual is no more important than a blue-eyed person, neither is a man more important than a woman. We are all needed. We are all equal. Since the suspicions are strong against us men, let us first be the ones to fly the white flag.

But it isn’t a surrender; it’s a joining of arms.

– Originally published at: http://goodmenproject.com/

Eight Things to Nail at University

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456509471-college-chairs-gettyimages[1]I’m a college drop-out.

I didn’t mean to be. I was going to be a professional. I was going to help others, and get paid for it. I was going to make a lot of money, have a big house, drive a fast car, and have the perfect family.

We’re told this by the world. Go to college and the keys to the “kingdom” will be handed to you. But this isn’t the case for many of us, even to this smart-mouthed intellectual. And it might not happen to you.

However, the odds can be in your favor. Avoid the mistakes I made and follow these pointers that I banged out for you:

  1. Avoid the Fraternity or Sorority – While making and developing relationships is important, I found this one the most helpful and would recommend it to everyone. Don’t do the frat house. While these are supposed life-long relationships with your “brothers” or “sisters,” they can very distracting and unproductive. Have fun in college, but too much partying, noise, interruptions, lack of sleep, messes, fines, fees and arrests can become a burden. It might even be better just to do the community college for the first year or two—after all, the first couple of years are mostly general education classes, which will cost you a fraction to take, locally.
  1. Utilize Your Freedom – Manage your time and productivity. College might be the first time that no one is breathing on your neck or looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re cleaning your room, doing your homework, or coming home by Midnight. While you are free to do what you wish, make sure you are being responsible about when what is done where. This can mean a world of difference, especially if you eat well and are rested – It’ll give you the endurance to run a more fun race. Also, living off campus can be very beneficial, as can doing your own laundry.
  1. Use Student Perks, and Shop Online – Most places, especially around campus, have discounts and even freebies for students. All you need is a student ID. Also, one of the best ways to save while at school is on the essentials: books. Avoid the student bookstore—buy from Amazon or another online retail outlet.
  1. Study Smarter – and stay on track. I rarely studied in high school. I didn’t have to. If I paid half attention in class, and banged out a few pages of homework, I would pass tests. But please keep in mind: college is different. Tons of pages to read, and tons of pages to type out, you can possibly have more hours of homework to do than you have hours outside of class. There are hacks you can do. Don’t read every word as if you’re reading aloud. You can ramble a bit in your papers. There are more ways to get a passing or excelling grade in your classes without sacrificing hours of social opportunities or emotional health. Last thing, if your major isn’t any longer your interest, change it. If need be, change it often. This is your life and your future, not anyone else’s.
  1. Get a Job and/or Internship – You’ll need the cash and experience. Books my Freshman year cost about $500, which almost maxed out my new credit card. A brand new adult, and already in debt to a credit card, a college and the government. Nothing could benefit you more than getting a job, if at least to help pay for movies on the weekends with friends, or dining with a hot date. Getting a job is almost a necessity if you’ve never had a job before – trust me on this. You’ll need to learn how to do something menial and deal with customers.
  1. Keep an Updated Resume – Develop a professional social profile, and develop professional skills. LinkedIn is the thing now, and many employers are hitting social media for employees. Keep this in mind when posting events, views and photos on Facebook, Instagram and Kik. There are many people not hired when they could have been, but something tagged on Facebook or tweeted on Twitter was the deal-breaker. Why pay tens of thousands of dollars and put in tens of hours of studying in only to have all of that halted (or at least, put on hold) because of displayed youthful immaturity.
  1. Develop a Spreadsheet of Contacts – Be friends with everyone. Everyone you meet is a potential contact and reference. I messed up and recently deleted from my life everyone from my past that isn’t involved in my life right now, and I regret it. Phone numbers, Facebook friends, out-of-state addresses—all can be useful in the future. Even if you’re shy and aren’t buddies with your old pals, and even if you have a list of strangers in your database, they can all be a possibility for a business contact, a decade-old reference, or someone to squat with on an emergency trip to the coast. While I rarely used OPEN OFFICE HOURS, most will say it’s one of the most useful things, even if it’s to have a name placed to your face.
  1. Explore and Experiment – College is a place for growth. For myself and most others, the biggest life lessons and good memories are outside of the classroom. Get out and enjoy life while at college. See the countryside, hit the local shops, hang with the locals, do Thanksgiving with a college friend in another state, and go abroad for the summer. Go to concerts, festivals, parks, walks, and train rides to nowhere in particular. Live it up. Meet people. Kiss randomly. Eat exotically. Show love unhindered. Speak confidently and listen humbly. These can be awesome years and don’t let a closed mind and loose wallet hold you back.

Originally published at: http://goodmenproject.com

Death to Peacekeepers

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Someone close to me has this bumper sticker and it bothers me. Not that certain bumper stickers bother me to the point to where I write about them. This one bothers me more than others because I don’t know if the owner of the car realizes exactly what they’re insinuating.

I won’t mention her name, as she doesn’t read my writings, so she wouldn’t be able to defend herself, but I will address this issue, as I’m sure there are many people who have a similar bumper sticker.

The sticker: “If you don’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.”

troops-on-electiondayzoom[1]

This sticker disgusts me, as many bumper stickers do. But the idea that a loved one has this on her car bothers me. I go to her family’s house frequently, and have to look at this sticker all the time. I can’t help it. I’m drawn to it. I guess I hope that it had been removed. Or that it has been replaced. I like to think it was on the car when she bought it, and just hadn’t gotten around to removing it.

But it’s still there. I picture myself in front of the car, as if that sticker is saying that if I’m not pro-military I might as well be ran over. By her.

On top of the message that I dislike, I also feel that she might not really realize what it is saying. More likely, she doesn’t know much about what our military does, or what is going on in the political realm. Her family knows little about foreign affairs, or where their federal tax money goes, as I’ve had some brief conversations with the family. Chances are, it’s a sticker that she has adopted, endorsing it, based on her fellow church-goer friends say, or what the general view of the town is on political matters.

I don’t judge her, but am tempted to bring it up. I’m not formally anti-military, but I am against wars. I assume she and I are a lot alike in matters of utopia: We want to live in peace, we love our fellow man or woman, we want the best for other countries.

But I feel her views are distorted, based on hear-say dialogue. Perhaps they’re based on a typical nationalism pride that most Americans have. I too am proud to be an American and love my country, but I hate that goddamned sticker.

I don’t stand behind the troops. How can I endorse our military?

I don’t endorse random civilian killings. I don’t endorse the fact that American soldiers have killed 2.7 million civilians in Iraq (far more than Saddam Hussein could ever have dreamed of killing). I don’t endorse that 1 out of 3 female soldiers are sexually assaulted by their own fellow male counterparts. I don’t endorse that we have U.S. bases in most foreign countries. I don’t endorse that 54% or so of my federal taxes fund weapon development, soldier salaries, and foreign invasion. I don’t endorse that serving in the military is so non-transparent and hypocritical, that a soldier is twice as likely to die from suicide than enemy warfare. I don’t endorse that once you’re out of serving, you’re ignored as a Vet. I don’t endorse that the homeless in America is not only uncared for, but 1 in 4 of the homeless in America are veterans. I don’t endorse that the U.S.A is the shot-caller of the world.

No, I don’t support the troops per se, because that would be supporting the horrors that they do, or have to go through in lands they shouldn’t even be in.

I’m all for democracy and choice. I’m all for defending invasions. But when the American military branches are the dictators, invading other countries, I wish I can take that sticker and set it afire. The “Support the Troops” mentality is a brainwashing, setting one up to say YES to any American-made horror and atrocity.

I hate that goddamned sticker.

Originally published at CounterCurrents.org

As a Religionist: You Versus the World

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normal[1]People are people, and events happen. There is nothing you change or prevent, within reason. You accept people how they are, and hope that they will choose on their own what you dislike about them.

I felt this way about others’ musical and film choices. I felt this way about people’s sexuality. I felt this way about other choices others would make, about not having children, about donating time and finances, about habits like smoking and drinking, and about other things that lie within the boundaries of “ethics” and “morality.”

It didn’t matter what my view was. I was taught by my mentors to love the sinner, hate the sin, and I wanted to practice that sort of accepting love. Sadly, however, I honestly didn’t see much of this among my church or college peers.

This idea of trying to be like Jesus, hanging out with sinners, was admired by some and detested by others within my church circles.

Not that I was pure in thought, and was only intending to go out to evangelize. I liked to drink. I liked my smoke. I liked pool halls and goth clubs.

I lived my life to a certain degree of what I wanted, not being legalistic about the biblical commands to not do some of the things I was doing. Some might call this moral relativism, but honestly I was getting exhausted from trying to be one thing in front of more legalistic friends, and another in front of my less religious friends.

I became a more take-me-as-I-am person, telling others that God accepts all where they’re at.

The idea of trying to change someone by force angers me. Coercion, manipulation, threats—all of these forms of forced morality is in itself immoral. And I felt that by trying to change someone before you lead them through some magical “Lord’s Prayer,” was like trying to give birth to a 5-month old fetus.

I figured I would be myself, not hide my religious beliefs, and if people wanted to invite Jesus into their hearts, I would be there for them.

I wanted to primarily be everyone’s friend, with an ear to listen. And if they needed spiritual advice, I was trusted by them to speak into their lives, as I had already been faithful to them in simple friendship and acceptance.

The trouble with being friends with people who live a life you might not theologically agree with is (not that you necessarily become like them), you actually start to see how normal they are.

Gays don’t have an agenda. Drinkers aren’t forcing anyone else to get drunk. Consensual, casual sex doesn’t mean people will become rapists. People simply start to resemble people.

If you’re the type that loves and enjoys people, then no matter what the ethical or moral views that they may have that differs from yours, you’ll see these people as you see others at church: as beautiful. You’ll see them as lovely; with purpose and promise.

The lines between the forgiven and the forsaken start to blur, and you start to lose the us vs. them mentality that usually accompanies religious people’s minds.

One of the first god-damned questions Christians have about other people when they talk to you: “Are they saved?”

My answer: “I don’t know. Maybe someday. For now, I like their friendship.” And I understand why it is so important to Christians that people are saved or not, but division and walls aren’t exactly the best way to get people to open up to you. And it surely isn’t a way to exemplify an accepting god … by not being accepting.

I’m unsure if Christians (or Muslims, or any other organized religious group) can not see beyond the divisive wall of us vs. them. There will sadly always be a guard up when it comes to people groups and individuals of a different mindset. And here is why: You are sheltered.

While community is important, religious groups place themselves in cozy little ghettos. With people who are carbon-copies of themselves, they feel comfortable, safe, and agreeable. There’s little room for having their feathers ruffled, their ideologies challenged, or their emotions toyed with.

Once one feels safe and secure in their little religious community, any outside difference or challenge feels like an attack. It could be simply a question about your belief. Ask for the evidence of a god and watch a religionist’s muscles tighten and their eyes dart. If one if so secure in their belief about something, there shouldn’t be such a fear.

Sometimes, you’ll see the other end of the spectrum. When they’re questioned, or even debated, the religionist’s whole persona changes. It’s like they become a whole different person. Their eyes either start to glaze over or widen, their voice either starts to boom or become hippie-like, and their stance or posture changes. Simultaneously, their word choices change; a whole new vocabulary.

I used to chalk this up to “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” feeling that Jesus was moving through me, or something to that effect. But let’s call it what is. An altered state.

Just like the keywords used in “The Manchurian Candidate,” if there are key phrases used or sights seen, the Christian or Muslim or Hindu will alter their stance, their eyes, their voice, and their vocabulary. This is classic brainwashing.

For if there were an actual spiritual or soulful change from a god, the whole being of a person would stay constant in its delivery of words or body language. There would be no gear-change.

I’ve seen it happen myself, and recall instances of when it happened to me. Change the topic and the person goes back to his or her normal self. It’s actually quite fascinating—almost to the point of frightening.

From a very young age, boys are taught the duality of the Us vs. Them mentality.

As far back as I remember, I would play “Cowboys and Indians” or “Cowboys and Robbers” with my friends. While my peers and myself chose each side without much thinking about it, we usually chose according to how we chose sides in other games or toy-playing.

It was like choosing sports teams. You rooted for your own, for your favorite. And you rooted against those from another place, of another team, of another culture. For whatever reason, the same kids chose to be the cowboys, and others chose to be the Indians or robbers.

But seriously, look at the choices in just that simple little game of “Cowboys and Indians.” You can either be a rugged horse-rider or a thief on the run. It’s funny, almost. The perfect match between the good vs. the bad.

And if you didn’t wanna play robbers, you can choose the lesser “evil,” by choosing Indians. Indians in kids’ minds are barbaric, uncultured, different, rowdy. You remember the old TV shows? How did the cowboys look? Clean-shaved, feared, manly, respected, with a handkerchief tied neatly.

Of course, there were movies that showed a more rebellious, violent type of cowboy—the outlaw—but those movies weren’t really made for kids, so you wouldn’t have exposure to a less black-and-white idea of what it was to be a cowboy, a robber, or an Indian.

I was quite young, and I remember watching “West Side Story” with my dad (and perhaps with my mom and brother). I asked my dad which were the bad guys. Like all young boys, and probably most adult men, I wanted to know who to root for in the movie.

My dad responded something like, “They’re both pretty bad because they’re both gangs, but if you had to choose which were ‘good guys.’ I’d say the Jets.”

That is, the white gang.

This left quite an impression on me. If there’s an us vs. them situation, and both were in the wrong, you chose the lesser of the two evils. You usually chose what is most like yourself.

If you have two friends who were dating, and they were in a fight, you chose to side with your guy friend if you were a guy, and you side with the girl if you were a girl.

If you have two teams playing each other, like the Chicago Cubs vs. the Chicago White Sox, you chose the team that had the stadium on your side of town.

If you had two friends who were Christian, and one was Catholic, the other being Protestant, you felt closer to the one that shared your own version of Christianity.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, income inequality, nationalism—all forms of bigotry are born and raised from us vs. them mentalities. If two are not quite good, or if two aren’t quite bad, you chose which is most like you, if you had to make a choice between the two.

I always liked to side with the underdog all my life, which means now that I tend to speak up for those with little to no voice. I stand up for the poor. I feel compassion towards the struggling. I like to see the one with the odds stacked against her rise up.

But this also meant, that as a youngster, I liked to be the robber in the game. Or the Indian. I rooted for the Sharks in “West Side Story.” When collecting toys, I chose to collect the Decepticons of “The Transformers” brand, while my brother collected the Autobots. Same goes with G.I. Joe: I collected the nemesis: Cobra.

There was a little rebel in me. An outlaw, if you will. I liked the bands that got into trouble all the time: Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, and Two Live Crew. I tended to also like the actors that had a troublesome life, and who usually died earlier than their time.

But there were some assholes in music and film that I had no use for. These clearly were evil people, and though I tended to lean towards gangster or horror movies with villains or anti-heroes (or listen to heavy metal or emerging LA rap groups), I knew I never wanted to be someone no one liked.

I didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, let alone a menace to society. I had a good heart, and I knew there was a difference between collecting the Transformers’  Decepticons and being something that only wanted to destroy mankind.

When it came to real life, I wanted to choose good. I believed that there were black-and-white choices, though I didn’t understand the ramifications of long-term consequences, I knew that I wanted to end up in Heaven and not Hell.

In Sunday School, we’re taught about a god who wants mankind to choose him, and we’re taught about a devil who wants keep us from choosing to serve a god. Bad things happen because Satan causes them, and Jesus wants Satan to be stopped … eventually. So it goes.

Originally published at ExChristianNet

Breaking Up with Jesus

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heart[1]Growing up as a Christian in various worship forms and levels of dedication, leaving all that I know behind wasn’t easy. It was not unlike going through a breakup, or even perhaps more similarly to experiencing the death of a loved one.

All my life I have been taught about God, Jesus, the Bible, the Ten Commandments, the Holy Ghost, and the stories of the Apostles, Disciples, Prophets, and the Kings. No matter how the stories were told to me even as a child, I had a decent grasp of the Bible. Its textual understanding and personal application were a different matter, but as the mind develops and grows, there’s only so much one can comprehend on such a thick subject matter.

One cannot disagree that the stories usually had a morale—Jonah and the big fish, Jesus and the cross, David and the giant, Daniel and the lions, and the feeding of the multitudes. Each was selected for a reason, and could be applied by a Sunday school teacher to our young lives. This can also be true for other stories we all know and tell outside from the Bible.

Reference, application, and understanding—this is how we work. When we read something that we can identify with, or find something we dislike, this is consciousness.

Consciousness is the awareness of our existing. And to exist is to live. And to live a good life, we assume that we are all good … individually. We might be suspicious of others, but not one person feels that they are a horrible gift to humankind.

When Jesus rebukes the religious people, no child, teen or adult wants to identify with the ones being rebuked. We want to be the one who hears, “Good and faithful servant,” as we get a pat on the head.

Rejection is horrifying, and no one wants to be rejected, especially if his or her intentions were good. To the religious leaders that Jesus often rejected, they thought they were doing the right thing—obeying the Law of Moses. Nothing wrong with trying to obey one’s God, if it is sincere.

Besides, the religious were probably confused with Jesus. In one breath, he condemns the Law and tells the legalistic people off. And then in the next, he says that not one punctuation mark will disappear from the Law.

While I did not see this discrepancy with quotes until much later on in my religious walk, there were things like this in the Bible that stood out ever since I was a child. Though I tried to ignore these contradictions, their frequency brought me to where I just couldn’t.

Originally published at ExChristianNet