I’ll have my pie right now please!

My Secular Humanist views on quality life now, not later

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Today as I was driving to work, I wanted a little variation from just my preset radio stations.  So I decided to hit the Autoscan feature to get a little sampling of each station in the area.  It played a few seconds of varying stations from hip hop to smooth jazz and in between.  But then something caught my attention.  What I initially thought was a talk show, turned out to be a radio evangelist sharing his thoughts on the reward of heaven all while using quirky culinary metaphors to convey his point.  I’m not one to actively seek out evangelist programs by any means, however the Autoscan lingered just long enough for me to find some element of entertainment in his message.  The point that he was trying to drive home was about the importance of taking earthly life as it comes with both the pleasures and the hardships, fully understanding that at the end of it all, the real pleasures would await us on the other side.  That life was like sitting at the dinner table, not only enjoying the steak and potatoes, but also the less desirable Brussels sprouts.  And if we did a good job with our dinner, the reward would come in the form of that succulent, buttery crusted cherry pie!   It was also interesting to hear the minister posit his rather absolutist assertions about what to exactly expect in heaven. In doing so, he even went as far as saying that the foods that we love so much on earth are guaranteed to taste ten times better in heaven. This man was literally laying out the pie-in-the-sky system of beliefs!

Of course any time spent on the topic of beliefs about the afterlife by religious zealots would certainly be incomplete without mentioning their absolute assurance that upon death we are also guaranteed to be reunited with our loved ones who have preceded us in death.  And as I anticipated, the radio evangelist shifted from his talk about the buffet of sweet delicacies in heaven to the moments when we will rejoice greatly by grabbing the hands of our deceased loved ones and engaging in a joy filled celestial dance.

On the surface, for people who are struggling with grief and closure, this belief system brings with it a sense of comfort to assert that their loved ones are waiting patiently for them on the other side.  I respect that people will utilize this belief in order to return to some sense of normalcy in the aftermath of loss or tragedy.  I would be lying if I said that I was not devastated to sit at my parents’ hospital bedsides as they took their final breaths.  I would also be lying if I said that I did not experience shock and grief at losing friends in auto accidents and other untimely, undignified ways of dying.  I fully admit that while I was in the throes of those devastating experiences, I too entertained the thought that I would be reunited with them again in an afterlife.  The truth of the matter is, however, there was always that part of my consciousness where doubt, logic, and reasoning lived and breathed that questioned such beliefs.  And in retrospect, if I had to assess where I was during that particular time, the false sense of comfort that I found in visiting such beliefs were undoubtedly the result of my being racked with grief and insecurities.

Of course, losing loved ones is devastating, humbling, and heartbreaking.  Quite honestly, there are times when I still miss my parents, my sister, and a host of friends who have died over the years.  But I don’t feel as if I have to wait until I die to be reunited with my deceased loved ones.  I’ve learned effective ways that I can be reunited with them in the here and now.   I’m reunited with my mother each time I see pictures of her smiling face or whenever I hear her favorite Nat King Cole songs pouring through the speakers of my home at the holidays.  Memories of my dad crystalize in my mind each time I hear a broadcast of his favorite team, the Chicago Cubs or whenever I strap on my electric guitar and strike up a blues lick that he loved to hear me play.  I am reunited with my sister whenever I hear Motown classics playing on the radio. And each time, I feel joy, peace, and smiles.  While I often wished that I’d had more time with them, I steep myself in gratitude for the time that we did share together..

Aside from the topic of our deceased loved ones, I also think about what these belief systems are implying about life in the here and now.  I’ve grown up around this belief system of the heavenly reward.  As far back as I can remember I’ve always had troubles with the thought of being so preoccupied with that suggested “other world” past the pearly gates, that I would not fully enjoy all that life has to offer me in the here and now.  I remember many times sitting in church with those same old internal cringing moments as choirs would heartily sing, “I’m going up yonder to be with my Lord.”  I could be wrong, however my understanding of going up yonder meant that dying had to occur in order to get there.  But I also fully acknowledge the horrific history behind many songs such as these.  They were sang by oppressed people who, because the decks of their world around them were stacked against them, the only solace that they could muster was the belief in a beautiful reality of freedom through death. But there are still others who continue on with the belief that despite any worldly challenges or pleasures, no pleasure is comparable to the ones that will be experienced when the earthly life ends.

As odd as this may sound coming from an unapologetic Agnostic, I try to respect that there are others like the radio evangelist whose broad smiles are in anticipation and confidence of what they believe is yet to come at the end of their lives.  If this gives them the moral compass that inspires them to do good for others, then good for them.  But I can still be respectful of their beliefs without compromising my own un-beliefs.  My biggest contention is when members of  this population place non-theists in the crosshairs of their overarching judgment and condemnation.

As for me, I’m content with striving to live a full life, savoring all of life’s beauty, interesting people, and amazing memory making moments as much as I can without envisioning something even sweeter on the other side of my last breath.  Some people find inspiration in bible verses, I find it in the arts and song lyrics.  So in relation to this whole concept of a reward in the afterlife, I couldn’t help but to turn to the very relatable lyrics from Jimmy Cliff’s reggae classic, The Harder They Come.

Well the tell me of a pie up in the sky

Waiting for me when I die

But between the day you’re born and when you die

They never seem to hear even your cry

So as sure as the sun will shine

I’m going to get my share now of what’s mine

These words perfectly capture what I feel in regards to living a fulfilling life in the here and now in stark contrast to the beliefs that surrounded me growing up.  Maybe I have a problem with delayed gratification, but I simply cannot place my hopes in things that I cannot see, hear, touch, nor prove.  I will make the most of the time that I have with my loved ones without the belief that when it’s all said and done, the real joy is when we’ll ultimately be reunited in a place called heaven.  That being the case, I will savor true quality time with my family and friends as often as I can.

So I will NOT wait until the day I die to have my slice of pie.  I’ll take have it right now, thank you very much.  And being the island lover that I am, make mine coconut Key Lime please.

Til next time, 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