So help me what?

My recent cringe worthy experience with courtroom oaths.

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Last month I was required to serve as a juror for a two week long federal criminal case.  Most people that I spoke with viewed jury duty as a task to be avoided at all cost.  I have to admit that initially I was in that camp of people as well.  I simply couldn’t get past the thought of being disrupted from the rhythm of my week.   As soon as I realized that I was one of the people chosen, I was immediately overcome with dread.  I’d envisioned myself hold up for hours in a dank room with eleven strangers arguing over the fate of someone whom I did not know.  But once into it, I found the entire process to be educational on so many levels. Everyone from the judge to the attorneys on both sides treated us with cordiality and respect, even going as far as holding a post-trial Q&A session in the deliberating room.  It was neat that they sacrificed some of their time to talk with us about their processes.  They even went as far as to ask us for feedback on the way they presented the case and how it played out in our decision at the end.

I also experienced another educational component to serving in the federal court system as a juror.  Prior to assuming our official duties, we were asked to stand, raise our right hands, and…well I’m guessing you probably know where I’m heading here.  The old “so help you God” phrase embedded in the oath.  Call me naive, but I still find it difficult to believe that in 2017, we’re still seriously using this tag line to encourage jurors and witnesses to govern themselves in respectable and truthful manners.  I did as instructed, however each time a new witness was being sworn in to testify, that old cringing sensation would kick into gear.  And each time that I heard those four words “so help you God,” my mind interjected five very different words in response- “separation of church and state.”  I suppose that most people would argue that I’m completely wasting my energy in hoping that someday the legal system will eventually omit those words from its practice?  An indignant part of me almost wanted someone to respond with the words of the little boy in the courtroom scene from the movie Miracle on 34th Street – “well gee, everybody knows you’re supposed to tell the truth.”

My response to this is nothing new.  I’ve always wondered about the initial intent around inserting “so help you God” into the swearing in process.  Was it based on an assumption that the witness may fear that they will invoke the wrath of God upon themselves if they tell anything but the truth? That knowingly misplacing the truth in their testimony would somehow invalidate their ticket to heaven?  As I said in my early posts, I try to be respectful of others’ beliefs and practices even if I don’t align with them.  But the continuing practice of embedding theism into the justice system is something that feels completely archaic in my opinion.

I’m grateful for the experience that I had serving as a juror.  I appreciated the cordiality which the judge and lawyers extended to us throughout the process.  The complimentary Dunkin Doughnuts and coffee that they provided for us every morning were appreciated by all to say the least!   But I cannot help but to be surprised that in this day and age, we are still operating under the assumption that each and every person who passes through the courtroom is expected to adhere to theistic based vows.

Quite frankly I don’t know what the answer to this will be.  What would be a happy medium for the court system to use to avoid mixing piety with executing the requirement that witnesses be truthful in their testimony?   In speaking with fellow non-theist recently, I was told that there is a provision for military enlistees to take an affirmation statement over an oath in order to accommodate non-theists.  Seeing that this was never offered during my 2 week jury duty tenure, I’m guessing that this same right is not offered in the court system.  It’s something that is sparking me to do some research so that I can become educated on my rights as a non-theist juror as well as inform others who also have troubles with the swearing in process using God based oaths.

In the full scope of negative events going on in our world right now, this is one issue that I may temporarily put on the back burner at least for now.  That it certainly will not kill us non-theists to comply with the legal system’s requirement that we take archaic vows, invoking the name of a smiting god if only for the sake of moving a trial along.   Even if we do pick and choose this battle, I would imagine that it may be a steep mountain to climb.  But hey, if I’ve adapted to swimming upstream as a non-theistic hospital chaplain, I can also join fellow non-theists in gaining the ability to climb the steep mountain on the path to changing outdated government practices.

Carpe Diem!

Jay

Abracadabra and away we go!

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Good day readers and fellow bloggers.  It’s a beautiful sunny day today in the midwest and I just spent part of it driving with my windows down to take in that awesome smooth breeze.  The sun’s out in its full power, there are beautiful people out making the most of the brilliant sunny day tossing Frisbees, spiffing up colorful perennials in front yards, and spandex clad cyclists whizzing past on their sleek road bikes.  For the most part, people are driving at reasonable speeds, which makes my journey even more awesome.

Driving along the busy strip filled with trendy restaurants, artsy stores and shops, I notice a large eye catching sign printed in ornate cobalt blue letters advertising free trial yoga classes.  The sign immediately takes me back a number of years to when I’d made the decision to leave the security of my job to become a full-time freelance yoga instructor and aspirations to open my own yoga center.  I’d been practicing yoga years before yoga had become the cool thing to do.  I’d felt a rush of enthusiasm at the thought of helping others with their yoga practice and reaping the gratification at seeing the looks of achievement on participants’ faces.  I dove in full force, obtaining teacher certifications, received my yoga teacher insurance from the California Yoga Teacher’s Association, and participated in countless intensives and seminars.  It hadn’t long before I had matched the salary from my full-time job as an Administrative Assistant at Columbia College.  I taught at least 25 classes a week at various fitness centers and yoga studios as well as taken on a number of private and semi-private students in my home.  I was in my element, even being invited to lead seminars in public libraries on the background of yoga. I enjoyed the autonomy, of meeting new interesting people, and making the science of yoga more appealing to those who would otherwise feel intimidated by media depictions of svelte, athletic models.

Conversely, the inception of my yoga teaching days was also during the time when I was still attempting to ignore the red flags about the religious world.   Even though I wasn’t involved in organized religion, the god language was still there.  I’d even written a few articles for Yoga Chicago, a local yoga publication which made reference to a god presence during sunrise yoga on the beach.  However the articles were never directed to any specific religion, simply presented as spirituality.  But even in doing so, I started to attract people who not only loved yoga, but also held tightly to their religious beliefs.  I’d learned about a number of yoga enthusiasts who had incorporated the practice into their Christian faith.  Of course it was aptly branded and marketed as Christian Yoga.  I found this a little surprising because there were some participants in my classes who were initially skeptical and feared that practicing yoga would require conversion to Hinduism.  But the tag line was that the goal of the practice was to bring praises to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through yoga movements.  This population even went as far as renaming the ancient poses to fit the Christian theme.  For example, the seated staff pose had suddenly been renamed the “Moses staff pose.”  Yet again I made the mistake of ignoring the internal cringing in response to such a thing.

Being a full-time yoga instructor, I felt compelled to stay apprised of current trends in the practice.  Even if I wasn’t in agreement with the direction of those trends, I would at least need to be educated as to what was out there.  I’d seen hip hop yoga, Motown yoga, Mommy and Me Yoga and a host of other derivatives.  As I decided to look into what “Christian yoga” was all about, I thought that a reputable resource would be a popular Christian bookstore chain.  Today as I was driving and noticed the advertisement for a yoga center, the memories flooded in like a tidal wave regarding the infamous experience I had as a yoga instructor walking into a Christian bookstore.  The middle aged male cashier seemed friendly and welcoming enough.  However his demeanor changed abruptly when I asked if he had any books or videos about Christian Yoga. His response still echoes to this day.

“What!?  Christian Yoga!?  Absolutely not!  We would never carry anything like that here.  That’s mixing the good news of the gospel with the dark arts!” he exclaimed his brow furrowed, the corners of his mouth drawing back in a blatant look of disgust.

Since that day, I’ve had countless exposures to yoga advertisements, yet for some reason passing by the grand opening of a new yoga center triggered memories of the Christian bookstore incident.  I could still harbor residual bitterness in response to the brash response that I received from asking a simple question on that infamous day.  Quite honestly, the response that I received in the Christian bookstore was a bit startling and it’s no surprise that from time to time it resurfaces.  But  I’ve learned to simply acknowledge the memory, then release it and enfold myself in gratitude for where I’ve arrived in regards to the sense of liberation and authenticity in living a life devoid of dogma.

I acknowledge that there are many others out there who share that cashier’s sentiments about their religious beliefs.  The religious zealots who have their judgments and damnations locked, loaded and ready to fire at not only yoga practitioners, but my fellow non-theists, or marginalized groups such as Secular Buddhists.  Responses such as the one from that cashier only continues to add to that smoking gun of stigma aimed at those who do not share their beliefs.  Whether it was for the sake of safety or cultural conformity, I spent too many years of making the mistake of sacrificing my authenticity by attempting to fit into that group myself.  However it was only a matter of time before the appeal of inner and outer peace associated with living a life of authenticity would override that tendency.  And because of that sense of peace, I released the fear of rejection that can unfortunately come with choosing to no longer lie to myself and others about religious beliefs and customs.  As a result I’ve had Facebook and Instagram friends disappear.  I’ve had relatives suddenly shut down lines of communication with me.  The sense of peace that I have in being true to myself is worth the lowered population of Facebook friends or being erased from relatives’ phone books.  The friends and relatives who have remained throughout the process are the ones who love and accept me as I am, someone who loves life devoid of faith in a god, holy books, or customs to provide a sense of security for me.

Yes, I’ve found peace and empowerment  in my secular life and I try to respect the fact that there are others on the other end of the spectrum who have also found peace be aligning with systems of beliefs and rituals.  So while placing faith in religion is not something that I align with, I know that there are many others who do find total solace in that world.  And if there are factions of the religious community who equate my being an Agnostic yoga practitioner with the dark arts then so be it.  I cannot change that view nor should I try.  But what I can do is continue joining other non-theists who want the freedom to live out our lives in peace and enjoyment without being subjected to unwanted proselytizing, conversion techniques, and arbitrary predictions about where we we go after we take our last breaths.  So if after all of that I’m labeled as being a practitioner of the dark arts, then I will respond with a resounding Abracadabra!

Carpe Diem,

Jay

 

 

 

Taking it one jellybean at a time

My Secular Humanist views on life and death

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Sometimes on those rare occasions when I have a little down time, I get a few laughs from television channels specializing in retro programs.  It can be a little interesting to step both feet onto memory lane and watch some of the programs that I enjoyed during different states of my life.  I shared this recently with an acquaintance recently who also chimed in with his own wish list of shows, one of which included the 80’s sitcom Gimme a Break.  I remembered that show well and for a very good reason.  First off, allow me to set up the show a bit for those who may not be familiar.  It was a show featuring Nell Carter as a live-in housekeeper and nanny to the three teen daughters of a Police Chief played by Dolph Sweet.  Both actors have been deceased for a number of years now.  But as I recalled sitting on the couch watching that program, there was one episode in particular which likely peeled back a layer to reveal the dormant Agnostic in me during my teenage years.

The episode was centered around the character Nell’s strained relationship to her dying father.  Later in the program, that situation became connected to the Police Chief’s youngest because of her fear that she would lose her own father to a work related death.  The scene which left a lasting impact on me occurred on the family’s porch between the daughter, Samantha, and her elderly grandfather during their heart-to-heart talk about death.  The grandfather fields the young girl’s questions about life and death and his advice is something that continues to resonate with me to this very day.  He explained that life should be lived to the fullest without the fear of dying.  That if we get so consumed with dying and what will happen at that time, we will miss out on the beauty of living.  He used her love for jellybeans as a teaching tool advising her to take time in order to savor the taste of each and every jellybean and all its individual flavors and sweetness especially when knowing that she only has a limited number of those delectable jellybeans.  And the result being, she would be consumed with enjoying those precious few jellybeans that she would no longer be afraid of running out of them.

Some may feel that I’m reading too much into this sweet innocent fictitious scene between an adolescent girl and her grandfather.  But for me, that porch scene perfectly captures my outlook on life and death.  For years, the fear of the afterlife was put into me by the church.  It began when I was in 11 years old and accompanied my mother to the funeral of a beloved choir member.  The minister’s words struck so much fear into me that I started to perseverate on the topic of death and the afterlife. Hellfire and brimstone messages can do that to a young impressionable boy.  So many years have gone by since I’ve seen that ultra cool scene from the Gimme a Break sitcom.  But as I continue to grow older, I’m no longer encumbered by the fear of not having enough time on this beautiful earth.  I try my best to live life savoring its sweetness of as many moments as I can.

I’ve never felt comfortable with the thought that life was meant to be lived  running toward a promise of the invisible dangling carrot called heaven.  I acknowledge that fairh works for some, however for me it falls short. For me, instead of living by faith, I would prefer to live by logic and reason.  I truly experience heaven right here on earth.  Such instances as savoring the refreshing spray of the Atlantic ocean on a beach in Key West was heaven to me.  Or the moment I felt standing atop a mountain in Estes Park taking in the exquisite panoramic view of Colorado.  I don’t hang my hopes on blind faith which assert that I will experience true pleasure in the afterlife nor do I place faith in a god that provides pleasures for me or smites me when I don’t live in a certain manner.

The opportunities for me to experience heaven increase with every sunrise.  Many who really know me, also know that I have a love for the ocean and everything tropical.  I also love to stand on the shores watching in awe as those who are so talented at surfing hit the waves putting on displays of sheer beauty, power and grace.  Although fitness is something that is still important to me, I would also imagine that being in my 50’s is a little late to take on such an activity.   However, for me the ship hasn’t completely sailed off into the sunset.  Instead of living in regret for the time that I did not learn to surf in my younger years, I am continuing to move forward by making plans to take lessons in standup paddle boarding this year.  My love for being on the water will be even more heightened as a result.  And it will be yet another instance of taking the time to savor the sweetness of each day.

As an Agnostic, I have particular beliefs about life and death.  That belief is that this life is all that we get.  That death is door which closes the chapter.  I’m not a believer in a celestial home or a place below where fires await us if we fail to obey guidelines as delineated in scriptures and stories.  Does this make me depressed?  Absolutely not.  Living life with the belief that this is all we get inspires me to live with a heightened sense of intentionality and mindfulness.  In empowers me to go beyond intrigue and instead savor the feeling of being out on the water with a community of others in the midst of beauty.  It shifts my priorities to take time to put mundane tasks aside to go hiking with my son or sipping a tasty Cosmo with my wife on the patio in the glow of the setting son.  So the writers of Gimme a Break did more than just elicit a few laughs with that jellybean episode.  It inspired me to live life with enjoyment and mindfulness, like savoring one jellybean at a time.

Until next time…Carpe Diem,

Jay

A little about me…

Loving life in my Secular Humanist Way

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Hello and a big thank you for taking the time to visit my little corner of the web. Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Jay, I’m approaching my mid 50’s, hoping to someday become a prolific, published author of creative nonfiction and I am also a Secular Humanist.  To continue my expression in writing I finally got up the nerve to venture into this whole other world called blogging.  I suppose it took something that I was clearly passionate about for me to dive into the pool.  That passion for me is life in general.  More specifically, living a life that’s centered on quality, not governed by fear of what will happen after I take my last breath.  A life that makes the most of each day in the here and now, devoid of dogma, the shalts and the shalt nots, nor ancient texts.

So yes, I am a proud Secular Humanist.  I always have been and always will be.  I was a Secular Humanist before I was equipped with the language to claim it.  Secular Humanism was likely in my mindset beginning with the steely gaze that Sunday School teachers shot at me for daring to ask questions instead accepting their advice to walk by faith, not by sight.  It was within me during the many years of my unsuccessful attempts to play it safe by parroting religious rhetoric, even from a pulpit.  Yes, you read that right.  I was even ordained a minister into a progressive form of Christianity.  But over time, I simply could not ignore the internal cringing I felt throughout that journey.  Of course I’ll expound on that in other parts of my blog.

Becoming a successful full-time writer is my ultimate dream, however currently I am a hospital Chaplain.  More specifically, I am a Secular Humanist Chaplain and this is something that I do not conceal nor should I.  To some that may sound like quite an oxymoron.  But being in this role I’ve also grown pretty adept at swimming upstream.  You can imagine just how tricky it must be to feel a total sense of peace as a Secular Humanist yet also perform the daily duties as a hospital Chaplain, which more times than not, is associated with organized religion and evangelism.  Instead of oxymoron, others may even use a term with sharper edges such as hypocritical.  This would undoubtedly come from the faction of people who still make assumptions based on the old model of Chaplaincy, which was predominantly young white males, wearing cleric collars and carrying Bibles and devotionals and saving the souls of the unchurched. I however am not a young white male, I don’t wear cleric collars, and instead of saving souls, I respectfully meet people where they are in life.  But I also stand up for the rights of the unchurched, the non-theists, and those whose expressions of spirituality stand outside of the mainstream.  Yes indeed, it can be a rigorous swim going upstream as I face the presumptuous public who simply can’t wrap their minds around an Secular Humanist Chaplain.

It also may not have escaped some readers that in my description, I used the word “currently” in relation to my job as a Chaplain.  Because as I stated earlier, it is my deepest aspiration to shift to successful full-time writing at some point…hopefully soon.  Chaplaincy is an avenue where I have fought for the rights of non-theists, in a setting where spoken prayers reverberate through the institutional white walls.  However, a Chaplain’s role is not one that I foresee performing for the remainder of my life.  Realistically speaking, the fact that I’m in my 50’s means that this is likely the last half of my life – or as some describe it, my Act Two.  I want my Act Two to be spent doing what feels the most authentic.  To honor that, in conjunction with my passion for living a meaningful secular life, I will move forward to the place where my inspiration lies – reaching others through pen and paper.  And beyond pen and paper, it is my hope to take this passion further by advocating for greener initiatives for the sake of our planet, equal pay for women, and equal rights for the LGBT community.  Whew…that might be a big agenda for Act Two, but I’m up for it!

I hope that I can utilize this powerful medium called blogging to celebrate non-theists who choose reason over blind faith.  I hope that through my writing, I can celebrate with fellow Secular Humanists in riding this ultra cool wave called life and emphasize human agency to inspire others to make the most out of each and every day.  Carpe Diem all the way!!!!  Through my writing I hope to contribute to dismantling the stigma placed upon non-theists and the unfair overarching assumption that we are self-centered, irresponsible, and lacking a moral compass.

Through this blog I will provide context, history, and current snapshots of my life journey to embracing the  Secular Humanist philosophy.  I will talk about ways that I advocate for the much needed separation of church and state.  As a part of that journey sharing, I will provide entries chronicling my efforts in advocating for the non-theist population.  And in particular, those non-theistic individuals who for whatever unfortunate reasons have been physically compromised, hospitalized, and at the mercy of those who feel compelled to shower them with their one-size-fits-all religious beliefs and prayers without consent. Through my writing and involvement in non theistic organizations such as The American Humanist Association, I hope to advocate for those not just in the hospital room, but also the pre-game locker room, the pre-performance backstage areas, the meeting rooms, and any areas where non-theists are marginalized and subjected to intercessory prayers against their wishes.

I realize that as I continue to explore the medium of blogging and mass publication, I may be opening myself to brash comments from members of not only the conservative evangelical world, but even some so-called progressive Christian denominations.  I’m not at war with either.  I’m simply a man who has found my peaceful home in a secular life.  I am a Secular Humanist and I also remain respectful of those who do happen to find hope in religious beliefs.  But for me, making the most out of life and maintaining authenticity go hand-in-hand.  I’m reminded of a quote by Kurt Cobain who once said “I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.”  Who I am is someone who is in love with life, with people, and with my truth which is that we possess the power to make life an amazing journey.  Who I am not, is a follower of blind faith and I choose not to pretend to fit into that camp.

So here I am, a 50 something year old man, cultivating a love affair with life, a lover of feel good reggae music, an 80’s music geek, practitioner of Classical Hatha Yoga and mindfulness meditation, and one who has found peace and contentment through living the life in all its wonder, beauty, challenges and even occasional setbacks.

I hope that you’ll come back to visit me and my blog and feel comfortable enough to hang out for here for awhile as I continue to explore this medium called blogging.  I’m aware that there may be those who could possibly relate to me and potentially love me for who I am and there will also be those who will hate me for who I am not – someone who believes that faith supersedes logic and reason. But as I said earlier, I’ve grown adept at swimming upstream.

Until next time…CARPE DIEM!!!!

Jay