The epiphany

I am not, nor have I ever been a “man of science”. By that, I mean that I’m not a person that has to have everything quantified and verified. But I am, to a certain degree, a person that needs to see some kind of empirical evidence in order to believe in something. This was a major influence on my failure to embrace religion as a logical pursuit. It wasn’t until I embraced the notion of “faith” would I be a bit more accepting of that which I couldn’t put my fingers on and wrap my mind around. Faith is inherently difficult, hence the reason it is often associated with a “giant leap” of it.

For most of my life my associations with the notion of faith would be in having trust that airplanes wouldn’t fall out of the sky, oncoming traffic wouldn’t cross into my lane and kill me, and those that I love wouldn’t hurt me. These are all tangible things that can and do go wrong. The notion of putting my trust in something that I can neither see nor touch never entered my mind. In addition, I openly rejected the idea of a kindly, benevolent man in a flowing white robe, pulling the strings of mankind from a puffy cloud in the sky whenever I was faced with the unacceptable instances of good people dying young and babies getting cancer.

Three distinct events in my life pushed me incrementally from open detractor to cautiously spiritual.
My Kidney Transplant in 2011.
The death of my father in 2013.
Joining the fraternity of Freemasonry in 2013.

My transplant was an incredibly formidable event in so many aspects. Obviously, it saved my life. I was very sick and on the verge of dialysis. Maybe it’s inaccurate to say I was going to die, it would be more accurate to say that any quality of life was escaping me. Then, a co-worker that I barely knew stepped forward out of nowhere and offered to donate to me. And then finding that she was a perfect match…well, that made me challenge the notions of luck and coincidence.

The death of my father initially reinforced my anger and frustration about bad things happening to good people. But my thinking evolved a little bit when I acknowledged my gratitude that he was no longer in pain. I had (I think, still not entirely sure) some unresolved issues and I talked to his stone a lot. I missed him terribly and suddenly the idea that he may be in a better place, free of pain and waiting for me, his beloved wife, friends, and every dog that ever sat at his feet to join him appealed to me. So I begrudgingly allowed the notion of an afterlife into my zeitgeist. In short, it was a nice idea.

I joined Freemasonry several months before my father passed away. I had always wanted to join it and I finally petitioned a friend for membership. It was a big move for me because I knew that Freemasonry is a faith-based organization. When it came time to interview, I pre-empted the gentleman interviewing me and asked what the parameters for belief are. I was pleased to learn that no statement of denomination or actual designation of a deity other than a higher power/driving force in the universe was required. You simply had to believe that there was something bigger than your own self. It was of short-term comfort because I still hadn’t really gotten even to that point. I was dancing with it, entertaining it even (which was a big step for me in and of itself) but not sure. This was problematic because I am not the type of person who would join a fraternity with the intention of being a better man, father, son, friend, and citizen on a lie. So I told my interviewer my concerns. The problem is that he knew my story and deftly said to me, “You happened to get a job at the one company that would connect you with the person who would one day soon save your life. A perfect match of all things. Since then you have dedicated your life to being a better person and paying forward your gift. Do you honestly think that all of that is a big coincidence or is it possible that all of this happened for a reason?” I really couldn’t argue with that logic.
I began to evolve.
But I was still spiritual at best. It was a Masonic lesson that moved the needle just a bit more. When discussing the structure of Freemasonry the Lodge itself, while it implies a building, is actually the members, the building is just that. Well, isn’t that what a church is?
The building is a building, but the members, followers, parishioners, and believers are the actual body. So according to the tenets of Bill logic (it’s a thing), Church is just a building, religion is a label, and God is everywhere. It may not sound like much, but it was quite an evolution for me, even if I really only evolved to the point of acceptance that I am not an atheist, and the person that I referred to in the first paragraph, the man who wants something tangible to see and touch, opened himself up to the possibility that there was indeed something out there and I was lucky enough to not have to define it.

Here’s what I came up with. It was church, organized religion and all that goes with it that I had a problem with. I wasn’t an Atheist. Atheists are convinced that there is nothing. They are their own church. My problem with Atheism is that I believe it is arrogant to believe that they know that there is nothing out there. This is such a uniquely arrogant human notion. I will never assume to know such a thing. Enter more Bill logic, if you reject the notion of nothing, then you therefore accept that there is something. That, my friends, was enough for me at that point in time.

It is no understatement to say that I have been looking for God everywhere and in every thing ever since. I have looked everywhere except within the walls of a church.

the Pilgrimage

I have struggled with the idea of god for most of my life. From a very early age, I was more than encouraged to attend Church. While I respect that to this day, exposing me to something that was wholesome and positive, it never really stuck. I didn’t believe in it, I didn’t understand it, and sadly I felt no need for it. In addition, I found myself highly annoyed by a good number of the people in attendance. Even as a young boy, I had a keen eye for hypocrisy and Bullshit. My church was rampant with both. For every person who dutifully stood and sat on command, recited tired and canned responsive readings, and paid respectful attention to the sermons, there were ten who were all about appearances and acting judgmental. They annoyed me to no end, but not as much as the theatrical ones who swayed during hymns and constantly yelled “Amen” for all to hear to show all in attendance what a wonderful fucking Christian they were. Add in the assholes who raised their crisp 100-dollar bills into the air to examine it and of course, make sure that everyone saw it before they dropped it into the collection plate. I never felt comfortable with any of it, the only redeeming quality was watching my Dad, who really tried to do what I always believed it was all about; cleansing his soul of the awfulness of the past week and spiritually bracing himself for the upcoming one.
As soon as my parents stopped forcing me to go, I stopped. It just wasn’t for me. My Dad was cool about it, my mother was mostly fine with it but she engaged me often over it. She told me that I was unhappy with the people in particular of our church, not religion in particular. I assured her that it was both.
Between the ages of 17 and 46, I never entered another church unless it was a wedding or a funeral.

It wasn’t enough for me to not be a churchgoer. I actually danced on the verge of outright atheism. Shamefully, not only did I not expose my own children to church, I foolishly shared my beliefs of nothingness with them. Kids are impressionable, the Dad’s influence is a powerful thing, and I did them a terrible disservice. Ideally, I should have done what my parents did. Expose them to it and let them make their own decisions. I took the asshole route. I used the bully pulpit of my position as influencer of young minds and abused it.

I know in my heart of hearts that I meant well, I was just the kind of father that taught the harsh realities of life to ensure that my children were knowledgeable about the world as it is, despite whatever hopes and dreams they may have had about what it could be. Along that vein, I felt that religion was a dangerous construct; that more war and death occurred in the name of it than I could justify, and that it was largely a waste of time. In addition, I felt that God was just a nice idea and that the Bible was just a collection of moral lectures that could easily be replaced by actual values, Good vs. bad vs. good vs. evil. I went as far as to share my belief that the afterlife is a pipe dream, that we are mortal and temporary residents of this planet and when we’re gone…that’s all folks. I could argue these points endlessly and successfully with anyone. I feel it is important to point out that I did respect the belief systems of others, but I really had no interest in it all.

Then I had an epiphany. It wasn’t God that I rejected. It was organized religion. Once I embraced that I embarked on a spiritual journey. One that I would love to tell you about if you will indulge me.

Footprints

Nice idea right?

I’ve always been a lover of the “footprints” meme above. It was shown to me early in life and the message resonated with me. It’s a nice idea. The whole Jesus thing. Walk beside me, keep me company and hey, while you’re at it can you carry me through the rough terrain?
The problem is that I am not really a big “Jesus guy.”
I am not going to go too much into the religious and spiritual beliefs of Billy Mac. I’d done it in previous blogs and I just can’t do it again. I will give a brief synopsis for the sake of understanding what exactly the fuck I’m trying to say in this entry, but that’s it.

Here goes…I’m not an atheist because an atheist believes there is nothing. You’re an arrogant bastard if you believe that there is nothing else out there in the immeasurable vastness of the cosmos. Deductive reasoning therefore concludes that if you can’t say there’s nothing then there has to be something. With that in mind, I reluctantly accepted the possibility of a higher power. Sure, let’s call it GOD. As for a bearded guy in a flowing white robe judging and condemning everyone, I’m not so sure. As for his son, I can’t wrap my head around that part. It’s a nice story but it doesn’t fit my paradigm. But again, it’s in the nice idea department in my world.

But back to the Footprints. There was once a day when I would have resented the notion that I would have had to be carried anywhere, by fictional deity or by any man. Strength mattered the most to me and I swore that the day that I couldn’t deal with the weight of my life that would be the day that I would no longer want to engage in this dance. For the longest time I was able to pull it off.
It’s getting harder every day.

I’m failing in so many ways. My body is simply breaking down. Sure, there are physiological forces at work, understandable ones, I have a disease. I’ve had it for a long time and I have done a pretty impressive job of fooling everyone, especially my family. Until now, now I’m showing the cracks. I’m walking slower, in need of more recovery from the most basic of tasks, uninterested in making plans for fear of not knowing how I will feel when the day comes, I am becoming what I have always feared. Weak.

This morning I tuned in to my church’s online service. I’m not sure why, I rarely do so. The Reverend, a young family man with a fresh perspective, was just wrapping up the musical segment when I tuned in. He welcomed all of us and said, “let’s talk about Footprints.” I knew exactly of what he was speaking. I put my head in my hands and I listened. It was as if he was talking directly to me. I became emotional. I even cried a little. Why do I feel this way? I don’t want help. I hate asking for it. I don’t want to burden anyone. So why?

I have a great support system, I really do. Great friends, amazing family, my Masonic brothers and the resources of the entire fraternity. But I never ask them for anything. I swore that I would never be that guy. But I’m not in a good place lately and maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I let someone carry me for a couple of blocks.

It might allow me to garner enough strength to go back to trying to convince people that I’m ok when I’m really not. Or maybe I can grow the fuck up and acknowledge that Plan A is just not working.

Faith

With eyes closed, slowly swaying with her right hand to the sky, she sings with a passion and conviction that I can only look at with admiration and longing. My eyes close, my skin bristles, a small tear forms in the corner of my eye. The music makes me feel vulnerable, open. She begins to freeform, she breaks into a rambling tearful prayer. I’m mesmerized…

The Holy Spirit is what she’s having. And I think I want it.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have had a complex and difficult relationship with God. Once “Born again”, or so I thought in my teens it wasn’t long before I lapsed into a state of agnosticism which later devolved into what I can only call Atheism. I rejected all of it. I have no problem telling you why; I saw too many people praying for themselves and their own advancement, and I had a very hard time understanding why a kind and benevolent God would give babies cancer. While tolerant of other’s right to worship and willing to engage in a debate with anyone, and I could argue my side as good as anyone, I didn’t budge for years.

Much ado was made about my atheism when I got married. We got married in a hotel. A Justice of the Peace presided. It was a civil ceremony and I told the J.O.P. quite definitively that I wanted no mention of G.O.D. My wife, a non-practicing Jew and me a Atheistic angry ex-Protestant…well we sure pissed off our families. That, the pissed-off thing reached new heights when we failed to introduce our kids to religion. No baptisms, no Bar or Batmitzvah’s. No church or temple. I do regret teaching my children my views, as impressionable children I may have ruined it for them.

I wouldn’t begin to come around, and I only came around a small bit, until I petitioned for membership in Freemasonry. Freemasonry is a organization known for making good men better. I was by all accounts a good, if not flawed man and I was a good candidate by all standards. But I was required to acknowledge a faith in a higher power. No specifics required as to denomination or name, but no atheists. I had to really evaluate my stance because one thing I did not want to do was enter a faith-based organization characterized by worthy men on a lie.

Hard questions followed and if not for a good friend I wouldn’t have started on the path that I am now discussing.
“A good friend came out of nowhere and gave you a kidney, saving your life?”
“Yes.”
“And that was just a accident or a coincidence?”
“No.”
“You know for certain that there is nothing out there?”
“No. Nobody can honestly say that.”
“Then if you dismiss nothing, then you logically have to ackknowledge something?”
“Yes.”
“Isn’t it possible that you don’t need to know why things happen, that it’s beyond you?”
“Yes.”
That was the conversation that opened the door for me to acknowledge that maybe there’s more to it. My compromise was to call it Spirituality.

Then my father died. My father was a Godly man. He lived by a strong moral code and he loved Jesus. Especially towards the end as Parkinson’s ravaged his once strong body and spirit. When he died I started doing two things I never did before; I talked to a granite gravestone, and I began seeing shadows in my house.
The Paranormal is a great indicator of God. The shadows, hopefully my father, seemed benevolent but I had heard enough stories to know that not all are. You can’t believe in evil without acknowledging its polar opposite and that is something holy.
Still, that one incident aside, I really didn’t move beyond the label of Spiritual.

But I began to open myself up a bit more. I began to find the chirp of the bird, the deer sightings, sunsets, mighty storms and reflections on the water as particularly beautiful and less of a coincidence of nature. I found God outside the walls of a Church. I adopted the “Kayaking” doctrine.

“Kayaking” worked for me. But the selfish praying for a football victory, a winning lottery ticket and the hateful vitriol or outright fucking hypocrisy that I had witnessed in past “Church” phases was still with me. And I still had a hard time with the whole dead baby thing.

Recently I have been talking a lot with a lovely woman who has shown me what I had been missing. She is kind in her actions and her prayers. She prays for others, not for personal gain. She is humble yet strong, she controls what she can and has faith in that which she cannot.
She has shown me what I have been missing and didn’t know I was searching for.
Faith.
People have a hard time with control and I am no exception, letting go of that white knuckle grip is a daunting task. And I’m not quite ready to fall in lockstep with the old “Everything happens for a reason”, or “It’s all predetermined”. But I am coming around to the possibility that I will learn someday, not today the reason for the triumph, or calamity that has just occurred. It’s called FAITH and I’m starting to come around to it.

The people of faith that I have been watching with a keen eye have a special walk. A special smile. They are not acting better than you and I, they just convey a feeling that something has their back. That everything is going to be ok even if they don’t know how, why or when.

I think I’m on a journey that will take me there. I think that my hardships, lessons, and scars have happened for a reason. I may be a vessel, placed on this earth to help one person or many. I may have to hold on to my questions for a while to see if they ever get answered. In the interim, I want to spend more time around people of faith.

I want what they’re having.

A reluctant conversation with God

Hey God. It’s me, Mac.

I’m in your house now, one of many I suppose, sitting in the back taking a hard look at my life. I rarely look for you in a building, instead I often search for you outside these walls, in nature. As I walk this earth I am on high alert for signs of you and in the process the purpose of that which I observe.

Now, I sit elbows on knees, asking for help finding my own purpose. This is a new thing for me, praying. If you are indeed all-knowing then you know this already. I was a bit late to the party.

I reluctantly accepted your existence because, like most mere mortals, I refused to believe that the beauty which surrounds me is a mere accident or cosmic anomaly. I decided that I was not atheist because they are certain that there is nothing, while I do not possess the audacity to be sure of such a thing. Logic dictates that if you rule out nothing then there has to be something. I therefore came around to believe that there has to be a higher, driving force in the universe. But I still can’t quantify or define you.

Are you the mighty, smiting God from the Old Testament? Are you the forgiving, benevolent Grandfather type with a flowing white beard and a staff in your hand? Are you to be found in the beauty of the setting sun, the awe-inspiring power of the crashing wave, the melodic chirp of the bird or the wondrous, innocent smile of a child?

I don’t know if you are a God that cares about who wins a football game, or grants requests for promotions and lottery jackpots. That’s what I think a lot of people ask you for. I also don’t know why you allow babies to get Cancer, bad people to live long lives, good people to suffer and assholes to thrive. But I suppose that’s the essence of faith. The faithful have to believe that there is an answer to every question and a reason for everything.

One thing I know about faith is that if understood properly, it reminds you of your place in the scheme of things. The mightiest of men are no match for the raw power of the tide. Should he survive he will recognize his smallness. He may resent it, I myself embrace it. I value my smallness.

Which brings me to the point. If it was your will, a pre-ordained event, or simply a plan to prematurely remove me from a life of chasing status, personal wealth and achievement and render me the most humble me I’ve ever been, then would you enlighten me as to what I am to do next? I’ve learned so much in the last 2 years. I’ve learned the value of humility, kindness and charity in the face of crushing circumstances. I’ve been to the very bottom and clawed my way out time and time again but my victory laps (with a modicum of humility of course) were short-lived as I am hit with yet another setback. I’m a fighter and I always found motivation to push on.

Until lately. I’m not feeling the fight. I’m taking knockout punches and choosing to stay on the mat until the count of 9. I’m looking for a reason to push on and simultaneously looking for reasons to give up. If you agree that my earthly journey has been wholesome and moral, that I am doing your work then would you please give me a sign? A sign that I am indeed on the right path, that I may be infused with the light to carry out what I think is my true calling. To be an inspiration to others. Not as a bigshot, but as someone who says or does the things that helps others with their own earthly journey. Shine your light through me and illuminate my future journey.

Please.

Well God, Yahweh, Mother Nature, Supreme Architect, Big Guy, whatever you go by, I’m not sure how to wrap this up other than to say thanks for listening. Please remember that I rarely ask you for anything, if I do it’s never for me. I’m in need here and my eyes and ears are open for your answer. Take care and if it’s not too much, tell my Dad that I miss him more than anything.

Mac

Be open to the experience

I woke Sunday morning feeling compelled to go to Church. That was unusual for me because while admittedly spiritual, I’m not particularly religious. I call my faith Kayaking…

Religion is sitting in church thinking about Kayaking. Spirituality is sitting in a Kayak thinking about God.”
Author Unkown

In short, I’m an Omnitheist. I believe in multiple faiths and their version of God. I believe that a higher power is everywhere and I spend a fair amount of time looking for him. The place I spend the least time looking for him is in church. Irony?

But Sunday was different. I had someone on my mind and I stooped to the level of the opportunistic Christians that I normally detest and I went to pray for something close to me. Not entirely a selfish act, I was praying for the health and recovery of a very special lady and I was feeling helpless. I was exhausting all options.

I got there a bit late and I was fortunate enough to find a seat in the very back pew. My late Grandfather taught me this, in case my presence causes the plaster to crack and the ceiling to fall, I’m close to the door. That aside, there are several good reasons that I sit in back. First of all, if a person wanting to cause trouble comes in, I have my trusty 9mm and a great vantage point to stop an incident before it starts. Also, I’m not a real big “responsive reading” and hymn lover. I don’t do ritual of any kind so echoing unoriginal prayers is out for me as is singing those dreadful Hymns. I know the writers meant well but to me they are just insufferable. Finally, in the back pew, nobody is behind me to look at me in disdain because I’m not fitting in by playing along nicely. I like to sit in back and pray my own way, in a room full of positive energy and well-meaning people.

I suffered through the first 3 hymns and responsive readings and when it came time to pray, I broke from the ranks and said my own. I really don’t know how to pray. But I sometimes talk to the Universe and in this case it went something like this…

Dear big guy, you know who you are. I’ve been living a straight forward life that I think you approve of, can I ask you to watch out for my girl? She needs a little help right now and so do I. If it’s not too much trouble, while you’re at it can you tell me what you want from me? Oh yea, would you please grant the man in front of me the wisdom to trim his ear hair? And could you have the big guy in the choir tone down the “holier than though” look on his face? Take care of the meek. Punish the dicks. Save the children. Thanks big guy, has anyone asked you how you are today? Peace brotha…

When the prayer was over it was time for my favorite part of the service. The sermon. Our pastor always delivers a good one, relevant and timely. He didn’t disappoint on this day. He spoke of a young man, Jesus, walking into a village only to be shunned and ignored by the people of the village. They had been taught to be skeptical of strangers and the moral of the story was closing yourself off to that which is unfamiliar can limit your experiences in the world.

This particular sermon resonated heavily with me, for the very person that I came to pray for has caused me to open myself up to a myriad of experiences and phenomena that I previously dismissed as, in the words of Sheldon Cooper, “Hoakum.” She has made me a believer in destiny. In past lives and loves. A believer in providence and the existence of empathic connections. In the short time that I have known this magnificent lady my “horizons”, as it were have broadened exponentially. And none of it would of happened if, when asked by her “do you believe?”, I said no. I started with “I’m open to it.” Which evolved to “that can’t be a coincidence”, to “Holy Crap I can’t believe what just happened.”

I didn’t necessarily need to be reminded that an open mind is the portal to growth. I did need to be shown that it has fundamentally changed my life. Good things happen when you simply allow yourself to be open. When I joined Freemasonry I learned that I needed to believe in a higher power, any higher power no specification required, to join the sacred fraternity. At that point I was a agnostic (never an atheist, I am not arrogant enough to tell you that I know for sure that there is no higher power) I decided to open myself up to a non-denominational, outside the church approach to faith, which is essentially Spirituality. Since that time, I have found “God” in everything. The laughter of a child, the gait of a beautiful woman, the chirp of the bird and the magnificence of a sunset.

I went in to pray for a person. I left with a deeper appreciation of what she has brought to my life. All it takes is to shake off your initial reaction and say “I’m open to it.” Seems simple enough doesn’t it?