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A Religious Journey: Searching for Faith

I’ve struggled with religion and faith my entire life. My studies began early and continue today. It started before I can remember as my Parents dropped me off at Church. Some of my fondest memories are those in a little Baptist Church as a child. Sunday school, church plays, and of course the plethora of Southern banquets featuring some of the finest dishes Grandmothers from around the county could muster.

Religion and the church community gave to me what everyone desires in life. An absolute truth, the warmth of love and affection, family, the kindness of a stranger smiling at you from a few pews away, and of course belonging. In a word: Comfort.

But from the time I can remember “believing” was always difficult. I would constantly struggle with the nagging feeling religion is make believe. I felt out of place and wondered how everyone else seemed to believe so whole-heartily and so easily while I struggled with my faith constantly.

I didn’t give up. As in life, the things that didn’t come natural to me (faith), I worked twice as hard as the next person to achieve. So I prayed daily for God to help me “believe”.

“Dear God – Please help me with my struggles in faith. Please help me find the evidence I need personally to find strength in my faith in you. I am sorry for my lack of faith and I am working hard to  find it.  Please put me on the right path.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

So my days would go from about the ages of 12 – 18. There were even times I believed strongly that God was there. Sometimes my hard work seemed to be paying off – though my doubts were never far behind.

Search for Faith

When I first arrived in college I decided to get serious about religion. I started watching videos that I hoped would strengthen my faith. I met a “preacher” who taught young people. And so intense self-indoctrination began – seemed to work – but eventually failed.

At one point I was ready to testify to my fellow college students on campus. I had almost convinced myself it all made sense. I painted an almost clear picture of what I had come to believe. But what I found mostly radicalized me and I saw in myself the symptoms of any individual induced to delirium.

Most of what I found I could not reconcile with my own personal thoughts and feelings.  Everything seemed overly radical, lacked evidence, and seemed almost loony. Though I learned many good lessons – those lessons were not independent to Christianity and proved nothing.

There were young earth creationist, those that claimed religion was about faith and not proof, those that claimed man and dinosaurs roamed the Earth together, and worse. Even those whom I admired failed in their efforts to provide reasonable evidence.

So, as a college student I decided to seek knowledge the best way I knew how. I enrolled in a few religion classes and finally I found what I was looking for, but not what I expected to find.

The scholarly approach to Religion was exactly what my personality craved. I learned about the history of the Bible, I found evidence of scholarly research, and was surrounded by people seeking the same information I desired. I had Christian Professors, Professors of different faiths and belief systems, and Professors with no beliefs at all.  I was truly left to gather the evidence and for the first time decide for myself rather than be told what I should believe by a Spiritual/Intellectual leader.

My Decision in Faith

I have become comfortably Agnostic. I’m an Agnostic because after years of searching for the information to strengthen my faith in Christianity, after giving it all I have to feel the right emotions, and after an entire youth spent in the indoctrination process of religion – it all failed.  I still came out hopelessly unable to believe.

I’m an Agnostic because I am a Scientist of sorts. Not a Rocket Scientist, of course, but a Scientist in logic and methodology. I am open to new evidence, new ways of thinking, and new interpretations. For or against religious belief.  Thus far all evidence points toward the non-existence of a God – especially the one described in Abrahamic religions.

I’m an Agnostic because for the first time in my life I feel like I am not lying to myself. I’m not struggling to force myself to feel a certain way or to believe a certain idea because that’s what I’ve been taught is right.  I think that’s something I can live with.

* I have written in length on religious topics on this blog.  You can check them out here.

Ying and Yang of Growing up Rough

From the ages 6 – 12 I lived in a predominately black neighborhood in South Atlanta.  To be honest it was the hood. Not just the kind of place where people claim they grew up in a rough neighborhood, but it was really just the suburbs – this was quite literally the ghetto.

Rough Neighborhood 

I was the only white kid, that I knew of, in my neighborhood.  I remember two high school guys fighting outside my house one day and even my dad was unable to break it up. I remember being a little scared that the one boy was going to kill the other.

He had a padlock in his hand and was bashing the poor bastard’s skull in.  His white shirt was drenched in blood. What’s even more fucked up is I remember rooting for him too.  The guy that was winning was from my section of the neighborhood and I kind of looked up to him.

Another time a young man was shot a killed at the beginning of our subdivision.  I remember walking to the bus stop for school the next morning and seeing his blood still staining the sidewalk.  It was strange – he was the first and only person I have ever known personally who was murdered.

There are times I look back on my life and relive it like a movie.  I can barely believe it myself.  I remember times my parents would have so many people over they wouldn’t notice and wouldn’t care when people slipped me shots of liquor, which I took proudly, just to seem cool.

I remember seeing pounds of pot stacked in my living room being packaged for sales.  Even back then I knew how many grams went into a nickel, dime, or quarter bag of marijuana to sell on the street.

I saw my Dad go to jail a few times, I saw my Mom on the brink of self destruction, and I saw enough young people come and go through our home that I’m quite sure both my parents will find a warm spot in Hell for all eternity for blindly instigating their addictions.

Ying and Yang

My life is almost a Ying and Yang.  On the one side I look back on events that seem surreal – some of which I’ve mentioned. Other events make me realize how I made it.  For example, my best friend, who I spent a lot of time with, had two of the best parents on the planet.

They were from Puerto Rico and devoutly religious.  I distinctly remember once suggesting to the Father that he lie to his daughter so we could leave to play basketball without her getting upset.  He looked me directly in the eyes and said: “I never lie to my children.”  That will stick with me for the rest of my life.

I also remember playing little league football.  It seems like every child who grows up in a rough neighborhood is absolutely convinced he will grow up to be a professional athlete.  I thought this too, without question, for my entire childhood.  I think that explains why so many excellent athletes come out of seemingly rough circumstances.

It’s kind of funny too.  While my Mom and Dad were terribly addicted to one drug or another most of my childhood I distinctly remember that my Mom would make me do all of my homework and write my spelling words down five times each until I was in the 5th grade.

If she did one thing right it was letting me know how important school was to her. Both my parents knew how to make me feel proud of myself and I think that has proven invaluable throughout my life.  If anything, I have never had an issue with self worth.

Moving Out

I’m not sure how I would have turned out had I not moved out of that neighborhood when I did. Man was that conversion interesting.

I remember going from a school where I was almost the only white kid in the entire building, where you had to be checked with metal detectors before entering the school, and security guards walked the hallways – then to a school with almost all white people and no security what-so-ever.

I had an accent, wore baggy clothes, and was completely oblivious that I was any different from the rest of the kids. In fact, it wasn’t until high school that I started to dress like a typical “white guy”.  It took a thorough lashing by all of my “friends” in high school until I realized I dressed like a black guy. I quickly remediated my wardrobe problems and slipped into the expected mold.

Somehow I found a place on the sports teams, made all A’s, and found a way to fit in. It is almost insane to me how resilient yet fragile the human mind is.  You can overcome almost anything or crumble because of almost everything.

When I take a careful look at my life over the past 25 years I am incredibly thankful for what I’ve overcome.  I’m incredibly thankful for what I don’t have to relive. I’m infinitely thankful for the future I see myself having and sometimes it all still feels like I’m remembering a movie I saw – not my own life.

Step Back, Be Reasonable

Sometimes it’s entertaining to be a little extreme. I find myself doing it all the time when I blog. Sometimes it helps me vet myself for the real world. I can work out ideas, write stuff down, and then look back on it and decide with a clear mind whether I agree with everything I wrote. Sometime I look back on something I wrote and think “Genius!”, but other times I look back over the words that came out of my mind in confusion or embarrassment.

That’s what this little blog is for – its a research and development portal for ideas. In real life I think I’m much more agreeable. I would never take on an issue such as healthcare, atheism, or the economy with an casual friend. People (including myself) sometimes get too emotional about certain issues.

I think sometimes we people get too caught up in an idea. An idea like “I support Romney” or “I support Obama” and forget the essential issue of taking care of you neighbor and doing the right thing. It’s ultimately not about Republican or Democrat. Realistically, those guys and gals running things (most of them) care little or nothing about our neighborhoods, our lives, or what we do from day to day. What we can control is how we treat each other.

Reasonable Requests

I want people to have easy access to healthcare. I don’t want to watch Americans (or anyone else) kill each other in war. I want every child in America to have the opportunity for an outstanding education. I want every adult to be able to marry whoever they want, engage in any activity they want, live anywhere they want, and act any way they please – as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else in the process.

I want people to be able to believe as they please and practice those beliefs, but respect those who believe differently. I want people to be able to spread those ideas, say what’s on their mind, and criticize those they think are wrong – as long as it’s peacefully. I want privacy in my own home, I want my tax dollars spent on projects that promote the longevity of this country, and I don’t want to burden the future of America with a debt that cannot be repaid.

There may be different ideas about how to get there, but I think all of these ideas are reasonable. We are all Americans – above that and more importantly we are all People. Let’s take care of each other.

Different Ideas – Same Goal

There have been many a time I have witnesses two intelligent, good people become enemies because of different ideologies. At our core most of us want the same things. We don’t think its fair when a kid goes hungry and another kid gets an iPad. We want every sick person to get better. We want everyone who has to live in project housing in bad neighborhoods to rise above it.

I was that kid, I know first hand it’s not fair! I’m thankful everyday for the teachers, people, and even Government that helped me get through it. I can testify to the fact that any one of those things on their own could NOT have saved me. I needed all of them. I think it’s important to remember that.

Maybe you disagree who or how we can get past these obstacles, but when you meet a person who cares enough about these ideas to do something about it – don’t discount them because you disagree about the politics of an issue – embrace them because you both care enough about humanity to do something to fix it.

People, NOT Government

President Obama will be our president for the next four years, the House of Representatives is still controlled by a Republican majority, and the Senate is still controlled by a Democrat majority. Nothing has changed since yesterday. This morning I still got out of bed, shut off my alarm, put on my clothes, and went to work.

For now, I’ll rake the leaves at the beginning of my neighborhood when no one else will, I’ll buy a homeless guy a meal and treat him like a person, I’ll offer to fix my neighbor’s front porch when they need help, and I’ll lend my friends a few bucks when times are tight after they’ve been laid off work. In the end, its the people that make a difference, not their Government.

Did you get that?

As a 25 year old man, with several decades left to live, I believe no idea is more important to perpetuate than our sense of responsibility to ourselves and our neighbors. We have to fight for it!

As it stands it seems we as a population have slowly come to rely more and more on Government. Not just the poor, not just as a social safety net, and not just for emergency – but to such an extent we are losing our sense of community.

Ask yourself: “What is my relationship with my community?” and “What do I think when I see someone in need?” Do you think “How can I help?” or do you assume the Government already is?

We text “Red Cross” during a hurricane instead of preparing a meal for our neighbor. We wait for FEMA instead offering water to the thirsty. We assume “they get food-stamps” instead of offering someone a way to feed themselves. Republican or Democrat this is a trending theme everyone must be worried about.

Help yourself, help your neighbor, don’t wait for anyone else to do it.

Three Important Truths I’ve Learned this Past Quarter Century

There aren’t many things I’m sure about – hell – there are less things I’m sure about today than at probably any time in my life. Having said that there are a few conclusions I’ve come to with some consistency that I think are worth sharing.

1. Stick to it

Anything I’m proud of in life, anything that I look back on and believe was worth doing, took time – and I stuck to it. Maybe this seems elementary, but I’ve always been the guy that would stick with something until the end. That has almost always paid off.

When I was playing high school football I started off as a third string guy. I was never going to see the field. Most of the other athletes were far superior to me via simple genetics, but I didn’t give up. A few hard workouts, a few guys quitting the team, and there I was – a starter. My senior year I didn’t come off the field. Not because I was the best, but because I just stayed on the team.

Almost anything else in life is that way too. Relationships, a career, obtaining an education, all require a lot of time and effort. My freshman year of college I really wanted to drop out and go to a local school near home – God I’m so happy I didn’t. So if you are thinking about quitting, maybe you shouldn’t.

The worst part is that if you make quitting a habit you never realize the fruits of sticking to it. That’s a bad habit to get into.

2. Feelings are chemical reactions

I’m an emotional guy even though people who know me would probably disagree. (I’m good at covering it up) I’ve been so angry that for an instant I could have killed, I’ve been so lust ridden that I could have cheated on my wife 100 times, I’ve been so depressed that I literally didn’t know what I wanted out of life. The one thought that kept me sane during those events was “these emotions aren’t real.”

Once you realize that emotions, no matter what they are, are simply the result of chemical reactions going off in your body causing you to feel a certain way – for me at least – they somehow become easier to manage. Anger leaves, that women you wanted so bad suddenly becomes not so special, and depression eventually fades.

The important thing is to make smart decisions based on facts and reality – not on your animalistic instincts. I think that’s why men like to get lost in sports so much. There is something incredibly natural about relying totally on guy reactions and knee jerk reflexes. A lot of that is a great release from our calculated and restrained lives.

Sometimes if you just take a step back and take some time (maybe blog about it) – things make more sense later.

3. If you think you know, you don’t

When I was 18 I thought I knew a thing or two. I was a smart kid, but damn looking back I realize just how dumb I was. That’s exciting too because I fully expect to look back on myself today and say “damn, I was dumb.” If you are constantly doing that – maybe you are getting somewhere.

The dumbest people on earth, in my experience, are those who think they have it all figured out – so they become stagnant. So the instant you find yourself thinking “I know a lot” step back and realize you have a really long way to go.

If anything, I hope I can always realize that I know almost nothing. I mean so far in life – I might know three things…

Lost in Translation – What I learned about Communication with foreigners in a Bar

One of the things I love most about travel and meeting people of different cultures and languages is the learning that takes place within myself. Here’s a quick example of something I learned – something that I think I already knew, but didn’t really understand the vastness of until last week.

I was out to dinner talking to a few Brazilian students who were at a conference for architecture here in the States. Each of them were either working on their PhD dissertation or already a professor.

These were obviously some of the most intelligent people I have ever met – and each of them spoke English to a varying degree. I speak some Spanish, but no Portuguese, so we stuck to English. I began having a conversation with a Brazilian woman named Rosane. Even in English I could tell she was quite intelligent though sometimes when my vocabulary became too complex, I used a common expression, used sarcasm, or spoke a little quickly I could tell she didn’t catch part of my meaning.

After a while she mentioned how it was difficult to articulate what she wanted to say – especially regarding philosophical or highly complex thoughts in a foreign language. That’s when it hit me – the vastness of language and communication.

Here sits two educated people with the desire to communicate complex and interesting ideas, but unable to speak much above a high school level. I love Language and this fact makes it all the more interesting to me – what things can two cultures fail to communicate – what things carry over? I noticed an infinite number of both in the subtleties of our conversation.

I can’t help but wonder how intelligent these people really were. What would that same conversation sound like in English or if I spoke Portuguese. I imagine it would have been deep and informative.

There was a indie rock band playing so on several occasions I tried to explain the metaphor in a lyric, or the meaning behind the title of a book, geo-political issues, etc. Some things I could tell they were instantly clear on, other things truly are lost in translation.

I am ashamed at the level of English other nationalities speak and my inability to speak a second language fluently. I think my new goal is to really master Spanish. I’ve sat on the idea long enough, used it briefly in my travels, but how can I really get to know a person and culture without speaking their language?

Communication, in all its forms, is the key to understanding.

Slipping Slowly into Madness

I hesitate to write this blog post. Usually my strategy in life is to stay positive, keep chugging ahead, and things will work out. By all measurable statistics that’s exactly how things are going. I have a job that pays well and is full of opportunity, I have a loving and caring wife, I have a house that is well on its way to being paid off, I have money in the bank, and based on pretty much anything else one might objectively and statistically measure success by I’m doing good. The problem is I don’t feel that way. There’s a gap.

I feel like an idiot and a selfish asshole for even complaining. So much is going good for me, but some days I feel hollow. It’s almost like a depression that I can usually get over in a few hours by changing my way of thinking or just forgetting about it. The problem is I’m tired of “just forgetting about it”, and I’m tired of this feeling creeping up on me. The conflict is horrible and it’s not fair for anyone who has to put up with it (mostly my wife).

Sometime this feeling effects my personal life too. There are days when I can’t even begin to give my wife the attention and love she deserves. I’m too selfish and too self concerned with some fucked up feeling of being unfulfilled. God it’s fucked. Worst still is that I am a master at covering it up. I can throw a smile on my face and make almost anyone think I am the most confident and happy person on the face of the goddam planet. Hell, maybe sometimes I am.

The Problem, the Uncertainty

The cause of these undefined feelings are hard to nail down. Is it my life, my career, genetic, mommy and daddy issues, marital, spiritual, or some combination thereof? I have no fucking clue. Sometimes right when I feel like I might have a solution or the culprit of my emptiness identified I realize the actions required to rid myself of those feelings are risky at best – stupid at worst.

Why does the human existence have to be so fucking complicated. Maybe it isn’t – maybe I’m just making it complicated. I don’t know…

Honestly, part of me is afraid. Afraid of making a stupid decision. Afraid of making the wrong decision – especially when my current existence by most people’s standards is pretty fucking good (see paragraph one). I wish someone would just say to me: “Do it. Take the risk. Do “X”. That’s what you should do and you will be happy for it.” I’m no idiot though.

There’s no magical person out there that can tell me what I really need to do to feel full to the brim with satisfaction. If I wanted that kind of lie I would buy a fucking Joel Osteen book.

Vegabond

Also, I keep coming back to this idea of selling everything I own and just traveling and working by doing whatever I can do. Of course I would do a lot more planning than that before I actually took the plunge, but the idea keeps falling back to the forefront of my mind. I haven’t fully developed a plan here, but it keeps haunting me. Is this common? Does anyone else have this?

Every time I meet someone from another country I feel like I become twice as informed. Just having the slightest insight into another person’s thoughts from another place is probably the most interesting thing on the planet. That is definitely a shortcoming of the American lifestyle, but I’ll leave that rant for another post.

What’s keeping me from just doing it? Comfort and the feeling I’ll be giving up so much, in such a good spot, for a big mistake. It could be the biggest mistake or the greatest achievement of my life. The problem: I’m not good with risk. I’ve been calculated and conservative my entire life, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m trading the security of mediocrity for the potential for a life worth living. Any advice?

Marriage

My marriage is rocky. I need to put in some work. We were married too early and been together too long. Sometimes I think that is both a lucky thing and simultaneously the worst thing.

To make things worse: I met a Brazilian woman while I was out of town at dinner the other night. She is 30, interesting, educated, had an amazing accent, eccentric, and was of course beautiful. We hit it off really well, too well, and I developed a shameful crush for her – and she for me. Those elementary school feelings will quickly leave and luckily she is going back to Brazil and I will never see her again, but sometimes I feel like being married so young to a women I’ve known so long has lead to missed opportunities. That’s probably the voice of ignorance speaking, but I know it is partially true. Maybe that’s a blog for another time too.

My wife is great and almost any shortcomings in our relationship are my fault. My failure to accept her for her own personality, my failure to give her attention when needed, and my failure to not marry her if that was the case. I’ve thought about this many times and even if I wanted to I could never bring myself to leave her. It’s the Irish in me, I’ve been told, we will live with something and be unhappy forever if that’s what it takes.

The End

This is getting long and I haven’t even read over it to see if my stream of consciousness writing makes any sense what-so-ever. I feel a little better and if you have bothered to read this far I appreciate it.