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“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Those are some the most powerful words ever put to paper and as an American with deep roots in this country and a family history of military service my pride and love of country swells when I read them. When the “Star Spangled Banner” plays it never fails to bring a tear to my eye and the lump in my throat prevents me from singing, much to the pleasure of those around me I’m certain, the beautiful lyrics penned by Francis Scott Key. Both of these served to help unite a young country that was diverse in just about every area from state to state whether it was culture from their parent countries or even religion and dialect. Regardless of the diversity in the end they came together as the United States of America… one country, under one flag, and one constitution that was designed to protect and serve all.

In recent years we have seen a surge in the religious among us, it was once just the ultra religious but they have since expanded their ranks, trying to push our government into going outside the protections set in motion by our founders and this wonderful document. Some have even gone to the extent, in great error mind you, to base their argument on their belief that we were founded on Christian principles and that we are a Christian nation when nothing could be further from the truth.  This personal blog is just that, personal and I have no intention of branding myself a Constitutional scholar or trying to denounce all religions or religious people as bad for our country. What my intention is however, is to voice my opinion as I see it as a private citizen who is concerned about one group trying to force it’s way into our laws and throw the balance of power in the wrong direction which would harm the rights of others. One of our most notable politicians in our own lifetime, Barry Goldwater, put it this way in a speech in the Senate in 1960:

“I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

Once more he makes a similar statement in 1994 as quoted in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience (2006):

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

My question then is if Barry Goldwater saw it as that bad in 1960 and again in 1994 then how bad is it really fifty-two and eighteen years later? Answer: even worse.

It’s 2012 and we have seen Christians get up in arms over kids at a high school being disciplined for “Tebowing” claiming religious discrimination, over a man who was arrested for preaching at a California Dept of Motor Vehicles office, the whole gay marriage issue, and most notably the case of Rhode Island student Jessica Alquist and her fight to have a prayer banner removed from her public high school’s wall. It has seemed to become common practice for them to say that it is hate and persecution and bigotry when the law doesn’t side with their point of view but you know what the great thing is about the law and the first amendment? It applies to all not just one group especially one group who wants to call foul every time it doesn’t side with them. The next natural progression is to rant against the ACLU as an anti-religion and mainly anti-Christian organization set on removing the rights of Christians. To that I say bull. The ACLU, while taking some stands I do not agree with at times, also has a history of standing up for the rights of Christians whose right of freedom of religion and free exercise have been challenged and they even list it on their site.

So what’s the fuss? It all comes down to the United States is obviously a morally deprived country who has apparently forgotten god and therefore must repent and get back to it’s Christian roots and turn it’s back on gay right, abortion, and other such sinful acts. According to people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and a handful of others America is being judged with hurricanes, tornadoes, and other disasters because of such actions. I don’t mean to offend, though I’m sure I will, but this is my opinion and mine alone… America is not a Christian nation nor does it’s citizens need to have a moral code forced on it via laws from one particular group and natural disasters happen whether you pray or not. That doesn’t deter the preachers, laity, or even politicians like Marco Rubio saying that god and creator is all we have. What about those of us who don’t agree? Are we not welcome? Are we no longer American enough? Are we and our opinions not to be represented? Barry Goldwater warned us and he was right and unfortunately we are seeing it come true. There is a group out there growing more and more powerful, whether on their own or via the Tea Party, that is seeking to get people in power that want to shape the laws of our secular nation to fit a Christian point of view. While I am all for freedom of speech, expression, and religion I am also all for having a responsibility that comes with that freedom and that is respecting and not trampling on the rights of those who disagree.

Our Founders had some very wise words on this subject that those who claim they were Christians, only John Adams was the rest were Deists, and that this is a Christian nation tend to forget namely:

“The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

An even better statement directly addressing the issue is a letter from President Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush:

“I promised you a letter on Christianity, which I have not forgotten…The delusion…on the clause of the Constitution, which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favourite hope of an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own…the returning good sense of our country threatens abortion of their hopes and they (the preachers) believe that any portion of power confided to me (such as being elected president), will be excerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: FOR I HAVE SWORN UPON THE ALTAR OF GOD, ETERNAL HOSTILITY AGAINST EVERY FORM OF TYRANNY OVER THE MIND OF MAN.”

All of that which has been said can only best be summed up in those beautiful words penned over two hundred years ago:

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
These words protect us all from the tyranny of one group, grant freedom to all groups and individuals involved, and guarantees our voice can be and will be heard when some would rise up with determination to silence it because they disagree. It allows the Christian student the right to wear their cross to school and carry their bible, the Muslim to wear their Burqa, the atheist to challenge a religious prayer at tax payer expense, and even the freedom to go to whatever assembly you deem worthy on whatever day of the week they worship. That’s only one aspect of this beautiful document but it still needs to be preserved and cherished so that all can enjoy their own version of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness regardless of their race, color, creed, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Is this a rant about and against Christians only? By no means certainly not. What it is, however, is a reminder that when one group seeks to force their will on others that is tyranny and something that our Founders fought against and our Constitution protects us from.
Worship who and how you wish to worship, love who you wish to love, and speak out to make your voice heard but please allow the rest of us the same right even when it disagrees with you, your religion, and your book.

Targeted for Conversion

So I’m sitting on my lunch minding my own business at work doing some personal email and looking at Facebook when my phone chimes… it’s a message on Google Talk from an acquaintance of mine. “Hey man, how’s it going?” he says as it’s Tuesday and a day that he normally has free at his work and at times we chat back and forth about general things but mainly the message board that I help administrate and he participates on. We go back and forth in friendly conversation and then out of the blue he hits me with wanting to talk about biblical doctrine; something I am very well versed on but I choose not to discuss. Being a friend and not wishing to be rude I humor him and answer a couple questions he has and then the real intent comes through… “You’re talking like a true Calvinist and deep down I think you still believe” he tells me. He continues with “You are where you are at because god wants to reveal the real truth to you and had to get that stuff out of your life that you grew up with; that Pentecostal doctrine is all feeling and emotion and I want to tell you about the real truth and right now you are raw material and god can use that to teach.”

Time out. Slam on the breaks. Did he just say what I thought he said? Reading between the lines and taking the spit and polish off of it basically he said I was raised wrong and all of that stuff you learned and studied and the life you lived was a lie but hey, I have the market cornered on truth and even though you’ve made it clear you want nothing to do with god and religion I’m going to tell you anyway. My mind instantly jumped back to “The Terminator” (1984) when Reese finally finds Sarah Conner as the Terminator is getting ready to kill her and, navigating wildly down the road fleeing from the cybernetic assassin, tells her “You’ve been targeted for termination.” It was clear that I was targeted for conversion and, much like Sarah, it was whether I wanted it or not. As in my last blog I make it no secret that I am not interested in all things christian and god and religion etc but I try not to be rude rather I try to be patient, respectful of others beliefs, and as a good friend put it, I try to be prudent and not hurtful. At the same time I expect the same in return.

The discussion ended well as I tried to be polite and he even thanked me for being open and respectful as well as for my candor and I told him that I also understood his position. I reminded him that I had given thirty years of my life to going to church, twenty as a baptized believer, and thirteen as a minister and I knew as well as preached the arguments he presented and engaged in them myself when trying to convert someone. However, his position as a Baptist minister didn’t mean that I wanted his beliefs pushed on me, I wasn’t interest, and he needed to sell crazy elsewhere. He knows me as blunt and truthful and took it as I meant it which wasn’t an insult but rather a “I’ve mentioned it nicely twice now I’m telling you” kind of thing and he backed off. I admire him for what he did, I don’t agree, but I admire him. Someone who feels passionately about what they are doing/living/believing needs to be proselytizing as Penn Jillette said:

“ I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

That’s exactly how I see it. He’s a Christian and a Baptist minister as well as a friend so he was doing what he knows to do out of concern and I don’t fault that but where I start to have the issue is when it is clearly made known that it is unwelcome but yet it continues to be forced.

In April of 2009 The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a poll on reasons why people leave their childhood faith. Of the 2,867 people polled 1,894, or 44%, are not affiliated with their childhood faith and broken down further 360 of those polled, or 7%, who were raised Protestant are now unaffiliated and as I was a Protestant that will be the area of the poll I focus on.  When we get into the why’s 71% say they just gradually drifted away, 50% just stopped believing, and 36% were unhappy with the bible’s teachings… check me on all of those. I have a deeper more personal reason why all of these happened which I do not feel the liberty to share outside of a certain group of people. Suffice it to say it was a very deep emotional decision and a hard fought battle that made me change my mind and, though I’m still looking for more detailed polls, I firmly believe that many who came to these same conclusions as I did probably went through the same battle I did.

Those of us who choose not to be religious are looked at as if we cook and eat babies, I’ve seen us referred to as liberals and communists (I happen to be conservatively libertarian actually), we are told we have no joy or peace, told we don’t know what we believe, and worse yet that we must be angry at someone be that a church member, family member, preacher/minister, or the christian god himself. None of these could be further from the truth and personally I resent it when people pronounce such on me or others who think like I do. Are there some unbelievers who are angry for some reason? Of course there are but I have equally met angry believers too. We have also been referred to as un American since obviously America is a Christian country (wrong) and our Founders were Christian (wrong again) so if we don’t want to be involved in church and we don’t want church and god involved and mentioned in everything that’s done in America then we must be un American and silenced.

We won’t be silenced actually. Most of us just want to live our lives as we see fit without others pushing their beliefs on us or being told our lives aren’t complete simply because we don’t believe what you believe. Worship your god, read your bible, give to your church and most of all live your life but in regards to the latter… let us do the same in peace and if we want to learn about what you believe we will ask.

The Blame Game

I tend to keep my innermost thoughts to myself in regards to religion but at the same time I make it no secret that I no longer attend church at all, believe strongly in church and state separation, and that I question religion as a whole. Living in the “Bible Belt” as it is affectionately called does present some difficulty as does the fact that my whole family is of the Christian faith so I tend to be the black sheep; not that I have been called that as I have a fantastic family & beautiful wife but it is what it is no sense in beating around the bush.

The thing that gets me the most, and unfortunately when I was Christian I did this too, is that when someone who is a believer finds out that you are not religious and don’t go then the spiritual diagnosis begins. Things like “you must not know what you believe” or “you need some peace in your life that’s all” or even better “why are you angry at god and/or the pastor” but even better still “perhaps we can talk about this when you’re not mad.” They all are extremely closed minded statements but the last one really takes the cake as far as placing the blame on the person who dares question religious beliefs. So, I answer these questions with a question… why must it always be the doubters fault? and to take it even further why do people feel the need to make it their fault rather than just let them find their own way whether that is back to a religious walk or of on their own.

Now before anyone thinks it, and certainly before they get made and say it, this isn’t an anti-Christian rant and I definitely don’t hate Christians and above all ‘m not mad I’m just musing. This short little blog is just to plant a thought: think before you speak and judge not lest ye be judged. Walk a mile in someones shoes and try to understand before you jump to conclusions about why they left church and religion altogether and above all love them. Don’t look at them like they have three heads and have begun eating babies and drinking blood because chances are the person that you are accusing of being angry or hating someone or something may have just had something traumatic happen that changed their whole point of view and shook everything that they were ever raised to believe.

This is coming from someone who has plenty of peace, is loving and living life to the fullest, and certainly isn’t angry at you or anyone else including your invisible friend. If you claim to be Christian or just religious for that matter then all you have to do is show it and live the love, peace, and thoughtfulness that your religion teaches you to have and let others live their life without your judging it.

An Ode to Dad

Well another Father’s Day is upon us and as I sit here watching my two kids run through the house, play with each other, and do whatever else normal three and six year old kids, do I can’t help but think back and wonder how many of those moments my own dad had. My younger brother and I are two years and five months apart so just about the same space between my two kids. There were times that I can remember dad moving the coffee table out of the way so that we could wrestle as well as when he would get on all fours and my brother and I would climb on his back for a ride. My all time favorite though was when he would lay on the couch with one leg on the seat and the other up across the top and one of us would get a pillow and lay between his legs and watch t.v. together. On some occasions we were even the “fortunate” recipients of a bit of flatulence; a natural father/son thing to some and we as kids found it amusing naturally.

There are so many fond memories growing up of dad that it’s hard to sit here and think of all of them without getting some tears and knowing that obviously I can’t remember or write them all down. On more occasions than I can count he would announce he was going to the store and want to know if anyone wanted to go. Stupid question right? So dripping with excitement we would hurry up and get ready and off we went to Vermont Drugs or another store for his paper, milk, or other needed household items and always leave with some candy or even some baseball cards. We had our bad times too resulting in part from his own childhood and some of that flowed into us causing me to resent him for many years for things that had happened. It got so bad that when I got to be a teen I even once told him I hated him and found the strength to push him down. A moment in my past that I deeply regret in some ways but in others I don’t because it marked a pivotal point in our lives together.

Something broke that day as I was a senior in high school and I looked inside and saw what I was becoming and I think he saw what it had done to both of us and the damage that it had caused. From that day on I began to see my dad in a different light than I ever had before. For the first time in my life I was grown up enough to, instead of judge him for being too hard,  stand in his shoes to see why he was like he was. I began to see the loving, powerful, and honorable man who had a hard childhood but was doing his best to be better but still found failures no matter how hard he tried. He loved his boys in a way that they couldn’t imagine and was doing his best to show an emotion that could be so hard. He did anything and everything for us and we never wanted for anything we needed and we always knew we were loved. He always worked the long shifts, studied through his apprenticeship to better himself, and put himself through hell to make sure that his family had everything they needed. What more amazing still is that through all of that he always had time for us no matter how tired he was.

Now it’s about thirty years later I’m the dad watching my two kids dance around, run to the door when I get home, and shout with excitement when I ask if anyone wants to go to the store. It’s me who is on all fours giving rides, tickling them until they’re out of breath, and teaching them to beware of the “claw” (index finger curved like a claw to tickle with). Unfortunately though it’s also me who can tend to get mad at the dumb things kids do and lose my temper just like dad but when I do I have an example to look back on to help guide my response and temper my temper. My hope is that I can be half of the man my dad was and still is because we wasn’t a father to me at all, as a matter of fact he was far from it. He was a dad, my dad to be exact, and any male can be a father biologically speaking but it takes a real man to be a dad.

I hope one day I can be half the dad he was and still is to me.

Happy Dad’s Day Dad. Your oldest son still and always will love you.

Our unique traditions

Pretty much ever since the founding of our country there have been drastic differences between the northern states and southern states. One has always been more rural and agricultural while the other busier with traffic, construction, and industry but there is one thing that has always united the two and stood as common ground… summertime and the front porch.

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I was born in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan called Taylor, affectionately known as Taylor-tucky due to the population of citizens with southern roots, and I had vivid memories of sitting on our small front porch doing whatever it was that five, six, or seven year old boys did in summertime. The porch was only about eight feet by four feet so not very big and it was painted,  such things were done in the early 80’s, what is known as Blazer Red according to what Google said the proper name was. It had two steps leading down to a short sidewalk connected to our driveway and the porch itself was lined with black wrought iron rails. We would sit there just playing, launching a new enterprise (I had an idea once to collect and sell maple tree “helicopters” and sell tree seeds), feeding squirrels that dad had taught to take peanuts, or just enjoy some occasional watermelon. Now everyone knows the best part about watermelon and thus we come to the whole purpose of this posting… spitting watermelon seeds.

Every year our family, dad, mom, my younger brother, and I, would take a trip down to see my dad’s parents in Monroe, Tennessee just outside of Livingston in west Tennessee where all of our family is from for a week long visit which almost always guaranteed a watermelon snack. Grandpa always grew a large garden with just about anything you could think of and among them was our favorite… sugar baby watermelons. This variety is perfectly round and dark green in color so dark in fact that you can barely make out the stripes that watermelons typically have and, like a kids dream come true, they were dark red and always full of seeds. Sometimes they would be ready by the time we came down but others they would be almost ripe and a day or so into our visit he would go and pick the first one. Warm or cold it really didn’t matter as it was grandpa’s watermelon and it was sweet and just the thrill of watching him crack it open on the corner of the porch overshadowed all of that. As we slurped and munched naturally, boys being boys, we had to see how far we could spit the seeds. It makes for awesome memories now that I’m close to forty and we don’t make those trips anymore.

All of this came to my mind the other day as I was working in my department, I’m a produce manager by trade, and the local school was having a watermelon seed spitting contest and several parents came in asking if we carried seeded watermelons. Unfortunately we don’t so as I tried to empathize with them I apologized and when asked if I knew anyone who did carry them I honestly couldn’t think of anyone who did. It seems that in the early 2000’s seeded watermelons just began to become a thing of the past and got replaced by their genetically engineered cousins of the seedless variety. At first the taste wasn’t that great and the sweetness wasn’t there but after some work I personally have actually started to like them though I still prefer a seeded one. Which leads me to this big question… what are we going to do when there are no seeds to spit? You laugh I know but this question is a serious one to me and has had me thinking on it for the last three days. So many of my personal memories were surrounded by such activities and it bothers me to think that in a time when everyone is trying to make things more convenient and easier to use what are we sacrificing and what great fun and awesome memories are we missing out on?

To me summertime was made for kids jumping in creeks not knowing or caring what else was in there, running around bat nuts crazy without a care in the world, staying on a bike from sun rise to sun set, and of course spitting watermelon seeds either for distance or at each other. You see when we look for them even the slightest things in our daily lives can bring back great memories and before you know it you’re smiling thinking of a simpler time or even better yet it inspires your mind to wander and get creative. Life is short to let such simple things pass by without enjoying them even if all it is is spitting a watermelon seed.

Letting go

What a better way to start my new blog than to begin it with the same post I began my first blog with. Reaching back to Monday 2 August, 2010…

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What is one of the most powerful things about life? If you look hard enough and really want to learn something it will teach you not one but many valuable lessons every day that you live. I can honestly say that as I’ve gotten older I have certainly tried to be more mindful of these lessons and look for my own teachable moments everyday. Like most of us the cares of life get in the way and we miss an opportunity here and there but today I soaked up a powerful one that I hope to never forget and I’m sure I will not because it is certain to happen again many times over. What lesson you ask? How to let go.

Today was a day in history full of significance for me. As a lover of ancient history today was the day that not only was the Roman army handed it’s worst defeat ever in 216 bc by Hannibal but also the day a couple hundred years later that Julius Caesar uttered the immortal words “Vedi, veni, vici”. There is only one event though that could over shadow that for me… my daughters first day of kindergarten.

Take a minute to compose yourself as I know this sounds crazy and over dramatic but if you knew me or my daughter you would know how close to reality this actually is. My little girl is everything to me and everything that any dad could ever want. We’ve been on “dates” together teaching her how boys should treat her, rolled in the floor wrestling, had tickle fests, read princess books, and yes even danced in the living room to imaginary music with imaginary gowns and suits in an imaginary ballroom. She was my princess and I her prince.

She is my world and my twin of a different gender. We share the same mannerisms, features, likes and dislikes, and can even be just as grumpy so when I let go of her to start school I felt like I was literally letting a piece of myself go. Nothing in this world can ever prepare a dad to let go of his daughter for anything and one should never listen to anyone who says that they have found the secret on how to do it because they haven’t.

It was a beautiful day and a joyous event knowing that she loves to learn and she is beginning an exciting stage of her life but part of me couldn’t help but feel like she was just put in my arms and I held her for only a minute before I had to hug her and tell her to have fun and listen and learn a lot like I did today. It literally happened that fast.

I fell in love with her the first time I laid my ear to my wife’s belly and began speaking to her and then, as if she could actually hear me, she gently pushed on my face as I spoke to her… I was in love from that moment and always will be. I know that she will be greater than what I’ve ever hoped to be and will shine and make us so proud but in order for her to do that I knew I had to do that hardest thing ever… let her go.

I love you Madalyn shine on and be the brightest star that this world has ever seen. You will always be my little princess and I your prince.