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.

Growth

It’s a famous scene from Silence of the Lambs. After villain Hanibal Lecter dresses down the heroine Clarice Starling as “White Trash” with “cheap shoes”. Clarice responded in kind.
You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don’t you – why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to.” — Clarice Starling

It was powerful then and it remains so today because it raises an incredibly valid question…are you who and what you think you are?

If asked, most would say they are. Right or wrong, they believe it. Myself, I had to really dig to get the answer. The answer wasn’t definitive. What I came up with was that I needed some work. Not a ton, but I was getting a bit closed off. I got caught up in two things; the pervasive anger and division of society, and the failure to be myself.

With regards to society, I don’t have to tell you that with the division in our politically charged society many have been reduced to anger. It’s not enough to disagree now, you get attacked. Republican, Democrat, it doesn’t matter. Being attacked for a long enough period of time will make you defensive and angry. Some can compartmentalize it, many can let it slide. I applaud them. The angry ones, well I was one of them. WAS.

With regards to being myself, I can only speak for me but it’s harder than it seems and I believe many of us are putting up a front. Maybe a small one, but a front nonetheless. It is usually out of a necessity to maintain our stations in life. Bill Belichick is probably a very nice man in real life but he is known in the football world as a highly successful coach that would trade his mother if it meant winning. That is how he is known and he wants it that way.

I was once a Belichick in my career. I had a very difficult position that required that I make decisions that affected people. I was very black and white in my thinking because I only thought I was allowed to look at things in two ways. Sure, I achieved results but it wasn’t until I when my boss pointed out my rigidity that I applied compassion, kindness and original thinking to my process. I never would have done it on my own.

At first I denied it. Then I thought about it. Once I adjusted my thinking the results were amazing.

It took a long time but I learned to apply it in my personal life. I adopted a pretty simple philosophy. If someone told me something unpleasant about myself I forced myself to delay the initial instinct of denial until I could ask myself one simple but incredible difficult question,
“Is it true?”
Not for the lighthearted, this question opens a veritable Pandora’s box of uncomfortable scenarios.
Holy shit! Am I a racist?
Oh no, am I a homophobe?
Wow! Do I not like he/she because we have different politics?
Did I just get mad because he or she is right?
The list can be endless but you get the point.

Criticism and tough, uncomfortable indictments of ourselves by others are akin to sunlight to a flower. Once exposed, growth is inevitable. Denial and refusal to suck it up and make changes are the weeds that choke us out of existence.

No matter how old, established and successful we are…we must always continue to grow. If we refuse to grow we are just existing and I want more out of life than just existing.