To Serve Man

A day before my 25th birthday, having been accepted to graduate school, my new bride and I packed up all our belongings into a smallish U-Haul trailer and left town. We had spent all our cash on securing an apartment, and we had no wiggle room for the unexpected, which was bound to happen. With no credit cards and an empty bank account, we took a leap of faith, being assured that some grant money was coming in and we had at least a place to land once we got there.

We arrived later that afternoon and checked in with the apartment manager. She confirmed that our rent was paid up for the duration of our lease – six months. Relieved, we asked for the keys. The manager informed us that we couldn’t move in yet because the apartment was not ready. It seems the carpet needed to be cleaned or something. After a longer-than-was-comfortable episode of pleading she pointed us to a few hotels in the area. We explained that we (unwisely) arrived with no money. Our best bet was the local homeless shelter, a ministry run by a local church group. Reluctantly, we made our way to the inn, as it were, for, at the very least, some sleep.

Years later I would repeat this story with the message that everyone should deign to have that experience, letting go of pride and humbling oneself. Yes, it was only for one night, but my student ID photo the following morning would capture the gravity of the situation. There we were, newlyweds, separated by floors – women on the second floor and men on the third. The accommodations were meager, as you might expect. It was a cold night, and sleeping in the car was out of the question. We were grateful, and a little terrified. The whole shelter was entirely chaotic; people were shouting and having conniptions. I was constantly worried for my wife – that concept had still not sunk in. Was she okay? Was she scared? Then came the delousing.

Many years later (actually, I think it was only 6 or 7) we attended a church in an upper-middle class area. The gentry that made up the congregation formed a shelter ministry group. Those familiar with church-going folk of this mostly white, suburban, middle class ilk will be familiar with the over-achieving endeavors to reach out to the community, or even beyond it, in keeping with several places in the Bible where Jesus tells the people that they should heal the sick and feed the hungry, visit those in prison, and so on. Basically, things people in their 20’s don’t think about, outside of hearing sermons and seeing ads for charities bringing some relief to famine-struck areas in the world. Our particular church’s mission was, in teaming up with other churches in the city, providing a hot meal on Sundays, and making sandwiches that would last until the next weekend. It was unclear just how far those sandwiches went, but the hot meal we ported down there was fully consumed by the men, women, and sometimes homeless children in the shelter by the end of the night.

My wife and I signed up, being the social realists that we are, hoping we were doing enough, inasmuch as we would be returning to our comfortable, if modest, suburban home later that night. As much as I knew it was a good thing, I often would dread it. How much I would rather have been enjoying a Sunday evening, watching TV or some equally banal activity. This was before the web was prevalent, and much before social media and streaming video arrived on the scene, if you can imagine it. Late in the year, it was already dark when we would set out, so it was kind of a drag. But the experience was so fulfilling. I think about how it must sound: schlepping hot food in minivans to an unwholesome district across town to assuage our need to be redeemed. I don’t know why most others did it. But to this day I think I made a difference. The shelter had a couple hundred “beds”, but on cold nights there were close to 300 people. One by one they came through, extremely grateful as they received some hot food and a sandwich. Some of them looked like they could be anyone. And a lot of people in the ‘burbs are one crisis away from such a fate, which is pretty damned scary.

Like I said, I used to tell people they ought to spend a night in a shelter, if only once in their lives, to understand how fortunate we are. But I’ve changed my message over the years. Those bedrolls, cots, and mats are at a premium. Taking a spot from someone who really needs it isn’t proper. If you have a place to stay, go there. I still think we could learn a lot by walking in another’s shoes, but shelters need the space. So, give money. Serve a meal. Donate time and talent. Raise awareness. There is always going to be great need among us.

Married to a Medium

My wife is, for lack of a better term, a psychic.

Unlike Allison Dubois, the main character in the long-running CBS television series “Medium“, she does not solve crimes. And she also can’t pick next week’s winning Lotto numbers. But, like Ms. Dubois, she receives signs. Some are obvious; others somewhat obscure and ambiguous. But she has learned to recognize these signs, and she’s getting more accurate about interpreting them. At first, about 25 years ago, I was very skeptical. But over time, I began to see how real this ability was.

Oh how I wish she could pick those numbers, though! But it has now dawned on me that there’s a difference to being a psychic medium and a prognosticator, which may also be a thing, it turns out. The particular and peculiar ability of my wife is that she seems to be able to “hear” from what I can only logically describe as another quantum reality – another dimension, or an alternate universe, if you will.

In physics, the principle of quantum superposition suggests that particles can be in two places at once. Many people may scoff at this notion, and certainly there are many skeptics. But we need only look back a few generations to find a time when the idea of microorganisms seemed just as mysterious and preposterous. A century before the Civil War, people still may have blamed certain maladies on witchcraft. Indeed, things we take for granted in the 21st century would definitely have been attributed to sorcery, like listening to music from a mobile device, or traveling to outer space.

I’m confident that it’s just a matter of time before we reach a greater understanding of the universe(s). Quantum physics is still a relatively new field, and scientists are making new discoveries often. Someday, I predict, we will be able to explain psychic phenomena just as confidently we can explain a thunderstorm. What used to frighten people, making them think they had angered the gods, is now a quantifiable, measureable, even predictable event.

Psychic ability, ESP, telepathy, whatever you wish to call it, could be just an acute sensitivity to energy waves or loose electrons, just as hay fever is caused by a heightened sensitivity to one or more types of pollen. When I start sneezing and my eyes water, I look up the pollen count – something invisible to the naked eye, but is indeed there – to verify what I am reacting to. Granted, subatomic particles are much, much smaller. (Check out Scale of the Universe to see how different objects and organisms compare in size.) My point is, just because something can’t be seen or detected by our modern-day instruments doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

So now I am a believer. And I trust my wife’s ability to interpret the information she receives. As for me, I can’t tell you what my reaction to ragweed means, if anything. But if it’s possible that our electrons are traveling to the other side of the universe, or to other universes, and mingling with other protons there, who knows what is possible? Perhaps there are infinite parallel dimensions, copies of our own, or ones where weird and impossible things are commonplace, like dividing by zero. Maybe there is a universe where zero doesn’t exist. Just be careful that you don’t get burned as a witch if you should stumble into that existence.

 

 

Purpose

We all arrived on this plane essentially the same: naked, cold, and outraged beyond our ability to communicate our complete displeasure with being forced from the only comfort we had ever known. Mother was at a distance of eternity compared to where we had spent the first ten months, albeit mostly deaf and blind and therefore unaware what our world even looked like. And then, suddenly, there we were. Welcome to the world; this awful, horrid, dirty, smelly, noisy world.

Since the first moment any of us drew breath, we’ve been suffering. Now of course some suffer more than others, and if you live in a part of the world where you can read this nonsense, perhaps your variety of suffering is what may be commonly adorned with the hashtag #firstworldproblems. This response usually accompanies complaints about not being able to find good help, having to park in a remote lot, or not enough foam in your latte. People like to bitch about a lot of things, and our tendency to complain is not abated by our elevation in socio-economic status. There simply is no end to our suffering.

Except, there is real suffering all around us. We would notice it if we would just look up from our smartphones and tablets. Suffering is a system default of humanity. We are born suffering, and we will live with it in some degree, and people die. Some of us are lucky. My degree of suffering – I shall refrain from using that term, because I really don’t endure much – my burden is nothing in comparison. I have tmj, chronic sinusitis, hypertension, and a few other ostensibly preventable afflictions, some, like seasonal allergies, are manageable. So, I try not to complain too much.

So what shall I do with myself? As I have mentioned previously, I am quite fortunate, and undeservedly so. I didn’t earn my genetic gifts. I had nothing to do with the fate I have. So I try to be thankful all the time. Others have not been so lucky, and I don’t know what to do for them beyond treating them the way I would expected to be treated. A few generations ago, people with afflictions and disabilities were shuffled off to asylums or worse. Autism and mental illness were viewed as something of a curse, and still are in some communities. If we are all God’s children, God should be irate with us for treating the “least of these” worse than we treat stray animals. That’s the most troubling thing about our society right now. All the wars and conflicts and arms buildups are atrocious, but the way we treat people who can’t take care of themselves is deplorable. And we should all be ashamed of ourselves.

A few weeks ago, I was daydreaming when I thought about what the purpose of my existence could be. Why are we all here, I asked. What’s the reason for all of this? If God was lonely, he had his angels and all the other creatures he made who weren’t afflicted with free will. Why did he have to make us? We’re a disaster. We’ve currently got a presidential candidate who is stirring up a nationalist fervor, and radical religious groups have killed and kidnapped innocent people, destroyed ancient cities, and displaced millions in the name of God. And I’m positive God does not approve. In the meantime, there’s more suffering than ever before, mainly because there are more people now living that have ever lived on this earth. It stands to reason that if there ever was suffering, it was never to this degree.

So what are we doing here? We are born, we live, and we die; and the cycle continues. And the population increases, more people fighting for less of a stake, more hunger, more diseases. I could see no solution to this equation. Then it hit me: our purpose is simple. Not why were put on this planet. That’s still a bit of a mystery. But while we’re here we might as well do some good. And what better good can we do than to bring comfort? Our purpose can’t be simply to feed our faces and leave a mound of waste for someone else to toil to clean up. I look at the producers of society, instead of its consumers. Those who have given more than they had taken. The artists, the poets, doctors, nurses, mothers, and pastors – the good ones. Nobody’s perfect, mind you, but it’s about quality, not quantity.

The mission is to soothe, to console. We are here, all of us, to ease others’ suffering.

Who are they, those who suffer? Like I said, we will not fail to notice them if we would just look up once in awhile. This coming from someone who was obsessed with Infinity Blade II. That was addicting. Had I not been so consumed, I might have come to this conclusion years before. I gave away my Ipad, my XBox, and my video games. That was a liberating experience, even though I still have a strong desire to play Skyrim (nerd alert).

I’m not telling you this because I want to be lauded, or that I want others to do this. It was something I needed to do, because I realized it was consuming me, devouring me. I still spend hours in front of a computer, if not working to manage huge amounts of data, then to continue to write about the things I think about when I am able to capture a moment to myself. And in between all those minutes of the day that are crammed full of the ephemera of living in the 21st century, I am able to look around me and make discoveries around me. I see people, instead of looking at my phone. I notice individuals on the verge of breakdown. I see worry and fear in people’s faces. I hear trembling in a person’s voice.

How can I possible ease their suffering and pain? It’s something I have learned to do, and I am in no way an expert. But I do make an effort to not make things worse. I have often said entirely the wrong thing. I’ve laughed when I shouldn’t have. I have looked uninterested, yawning, being distracted. But I learned. And I suppose it was because I was to endure some hardship, small though it would be. It is through suffering that we become empathic. You would think this ought to be universal, but some people are complete assholes, and they have suffered much. Still others are complete jewels. Go figure.

Want to make a difference? I do. It’s kind of a passion of mine. I feel compelled to make some impact on humanity through my writing or photography. I dream of becoming a journalist, traveling and hearing people’s stories, learning about their plight or their joys. I did photograph a wedding once. It was very festive, even if a little unconventional. I loved being part of the experience. If I were a full-time wedding photographer, I would like to photograph unusual weddings, celebrations of people rather than exhibitions of wealth. Those seem to be a little sad to me. And I don’t understand why. I guess it’s because it cost so much, and the stress was about to kill the bride’s parents.

How can we ease this suffering, this first-world problem? Is it worth any effort? Perhaps. I intend to make a difference wherever I am able. Maybe it’s not in being a writer. Maybe I can make my impact just being around people and bringing them happiness. Can we spread joy even if we are not joyful? Have you ever tried to make someone laugh and not laugh yourself? The easing of suffering would therefore be reciprocal, and hat better reason would you want to spread some cheer?

Since we are all in this together, why not make the best of it? I see people who are miserable fucks. And I ask myself why they would want to be in that state. Many people feel stuck. They feel like they can’t escape their circumstances. Perhaps that is true for some. But I have seen some really cheerful people in desperate situations. What then is happiness, and how do we find it? Well, that’s a topic for another time. I’ll sign off now, but I will visit the idea of happiness, and perhaps I’ll write a book on the subject.

In the meantime, be joyful, and don’t cause any harm. The world is already a better place just by our thinking about it.

 

The Enemy Family

Sometimes I hate people.

I recently submitted DNA samples in a project to discover our human ancestry. There are several organizations out there that will, for a fee, analyze one’s DNA and provide the customer with information about his or her genetic past. The results will allow me to see into the distant past and possibly discover where my family came from and how we got here. Many people have paid for this analysis to be performed on their cheek swab material. Evidently, enough genetic material may be collected by scrubbing the inside of your mouth for 45 seconds to give scientists a detailed picture of what you’re made of. As it turns out, genetic researchers, along with historians and anthropologists and archaeologists, have traced human migration patterns to a precise spot in East Africa. Over a few hundred thousand years, Homo Sapiens moved from there to all points on the globe to where we find ourselves now.

It is clear to me that my ancestors came from Europe. One path will undoubtedly trace back to England, then further, to Central Europe and beyond. Another path will connect with the Iberian Peninsula, then to North Africa. Perhaps. But recent discoveries have identified a significant amount of Neanderthal DNA mixed in with some of us, the ones who descended from early Europeans. It will therefore come as no surprise to find 3-4% Homo Neanderthalensis in my sample, which is about average for people of European descent. It is much lower with Asians, and practically nonexistent among Africans.

Neanderthals have had a pretty negative reputation since first appearing in popular culture. They’re seen as ogre-like cave-dwellers with low intelligence and a knuckle-dragging posture. But a lot more is being learned about them and how it is they vanished. Well, they didn’t disappear entirely, it turns out. They are us (some of us, anyway.)

I don’t know anything about early humans, but I like to think part of who I am, my psyche, my physical attributes, I can trace back to those Neanderthal roots. Nevermind that I have a natural talent for music. I don’t know where that comes from, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily an inherited trait, but many members of my family have similar talents.

I was raised a certain way, and my family is not prone to violence or aberrant behavior (although there have been a few alcoholics). As a man, I am, however, fiercely protective, especially where my wife is concerned. When she feels threatened by someone, my instincts start working through my primitive components, and I become angry. No one causes my wife more harm more than her family.

My wife’s siblings are all very protective of her, especially her brothers, about whom I should refrain from drawing ancestral conclusions, but there are a lot of people who would be quite surprised to find that they have sub-Saharan African genetic roots. But the main problem we have with our families is not with siblings, but with in-laws. It is for this reason that I am a proponent of arranged marriages. Who better to pick your mate than the people who know you better than you know yourself? But I digress.

These in-laws, ex-in-laws, as it were, of my wife’s siblings, are not bad people, but they are hurtful and cruel. It is their upbringing, I suppose. Just as most people would find beating their children repugnant, they see it as part of life, a necessary affliction. Their parents abused them, therefore abuse begets abuse. But say anything disparaging about their family, no matter how horrible growing up was for them, and you will find yourself ostracized if not assaulted both physically and verbally.

It is enough for me to beckon my Neanderthal 3% and smite these people with the efficiency and thoroughness of the berserker. I feel a little like Bruce Banner, struggling to hold back this juggernaut within me. In reality I have nothing of substance to administer as a rebuke to the injury brought upon my family. And I consciously know that violence is not an answer. But there is rage, Neanderthal notwithstanding, inside me knowing how my wife is being punished for no reason.

People like to think that, above all else, family is the most important thing. Family trumps everything. Well, kind of. The Civil War rent families beyond reconciliation. Brothers fought brothers. The entire country was ripped apart. Family is not the strongest bond, it appears. It is my opinion that one’s family is made up of the people who care most for us, those who will stand by us, who will be with us no matter what we’re going through. These “relatives” of my wife are not family. They will not come to our aid if we are in need. They will not comfort, they will not defend us. They are the enemy.

I know how to treat enemies.

My Neanderthal ancestors probably had similar problems with in-laws. But their solution was probably a lot more gruesome. My solution is to cut them off entirely. Not so easy for my wife. And the struggle persists. But we do have family. Real family. Our friends who have always stood with us, who would travel halfway around the world just to see us. That’s family. Anthropologists like to remind us we are all one big family of humanity. Well, they haven’t met everyone, have they?

 

Friends and Losers

Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more allow people from across the planet, and above it to connect, collaborate, commiserate, and consume the produce of our information age. News now travels faster than reason, even though most of it is meaningless drivel. But these sites and many more like them are a new world to be explored and conquered. The essence of social media are the connections among the people who use them. On Facebook, they are called “friends”. This is a misnomer, since one doesn’t have to be a friends to be a contact. Unfortunately, these sites have redefined words like “friend” and “relationship”. In fact many new words have been added to our lexicon. “Unfriend” is a word I wish never existed. It just seems such a dissociative and antisocial action, not, say, as degrading as public shaming in the town square. But being unfriended is demoralizing, until you’ve experienced it – or actually done it to someone – enough times to the point of becoming desensitized, jaded of the information age with an overload of social media. Friends used to be harder to discard. We were miserable when we lost a friend, but the pain would subside. Before the internet ever hatched and crawled out of its pod, writhing, unaware of its awesome and terrifying potential, humans had to meet face-to-face in order to deal with each other. It was considered bad form to deliver bad news over the phone. Nowadays, you’ll just get blocked. That’s nice. Blocked. Like being constipated.

In 1992, while living in a college town in Texas, doing less than my best at graduate study, I had, basically, no friends. I was studying English lit, working evenings in the VAX lab (think mainframe computing), and adjusting to being a husband. I didn’t have time for friends. Looking back, I’m a little surprised at this. But we didn’t stay there long, and we moved back closer to where we started out. By then, people were talking about the new worldwide web. For those of us who were already “online”, it didn’t sound like much. Within a few years, however, things began to pick up dramatically. I was now in the software side of computing, having abandoned a graduate degree in 18th century English novels. The “web” as it was being called was beginning to emerge as something more useful than the old BBS system we were used to. Then came search engines, then Geocities, blogs, websites, web stores, social media sites, and the rest.

Here we are, now, well into the 21st century. Mobile devices are everywhere, so there’s never a moment when a person can’t be reached. It’s convenient, but at the same time, annoying. Sometimes I don’t want to respond to a text message or an email. I like to go to movies without having to see little rectangles of light everywhere. And it seems like everywhere I go, people are more interested in recording an event than actually experiencing it.

If you are living life on a screen, perhaps you should get out more. I know people who have hundreds or perhaps thousands of online “friends”. I firmly believe that it is not possible for a person to have more than 20 actual friends. My social media rule for “friending” someone is that they must be an actual friend, such as I have been to their home or they to mine. Sharing meals, helping someone move, giving him a ride from the airport. These are things friends do. It’s important to know that just because someone has been to my house doesn’t mean we are friends. The UPS driver is not my friend. This might apply to certain members of my family. They may have been at my table for Thanksgiving dinner, but we are not friends in any sense. I’m sorry that it has to be that way.

I occasionally disable my Facebook account due to my exposure to so much hateful shit. There are people who say things that a reasonable person would never say to your face. If they do, I would imagine they get punched in the face a lot. Facebook and the rest seem to have killed real social interaction. We have forgotten our manners. We don’t know the truth, only proliferating rumors and interjections from blithering idiots. Of course, people are free to say whatever they want, within reason. But civility and courtesy have been replaced by loud-mouthed blatherskites, trolls who just want to draw attention to themselves.

I’m not alone. Digital detox is something I heard about recently. People are beginning to see what the last 20 years of rapid technological advancement has done to our society, but my wife already sees it. She is electro-hypersensitive, meaning when she is around electronic devices – mobile phones, microwave ovens, and laptops – she feels intense pain and becomes temporarily disoriented and impaired on a cognitive level. This is not a rare condition anymore, with more and more people reporting an array of symptoms from headaches to unexplained rage. For her, going without a mobile is not only an option, it’s an absolute necessity.

I’ve re-enabled my Facebook account since my last post. And I’m slowly venturing back into that world. But it’s too easy to get list in the social networking doldrums, staring at a stagnating news feed, looking for someone to “like” what you just posted. It’s an exercise in narcissism, and it appears to be enabling a world of dreary loneliness.

I mean to reconnect with an old friend soon. It’s been far too long. And Facebook is not a substitute for sitting next to someone and catching up. I recommend it. Leave your phone in the other room.

Douchebag City

Sometimes it’s great being a man. One of my favorite aspects of masculinity is that we guys are constantly evolving – that is, if you’re paying attention and giving half an effort. You see, some of us actually give a shit. I warn my nieces that they need to avoid any serious relationships until about age 36. I speak on behalf of all men that we’re complete idiots at least until age 36, often much later. And there are guys who never grow up. It’s okay to be in touch with your “inner child”; I still like breakfast for dinner once in a while. But we all need to grow up, and men need to act a certain way.

This does not have to mean that guys are supposed to be interested only in sports and swimsuit editions and Barbecues. That’s not what being a man is anyway. You can be into football and be a complete douchebag. You are not a man if you don’t treat people with respect even though you have testicles.

A man does not resort to violence in response to a dispute or to resolve conflict. A man does not verbally assault someone or bully him to make himself feel superior. A man does not allow someone to suffer by doing nothing. A man rinses off his fucking plate after dinner. Hell, a man cooks!

It’s good being a guy, but you have to do it right. Men don’t have babies, and we don’t have cramps. Men are paid more for than women for doing the same job. There are a lot of things we should be mindful of, but we aren’t, and all around the world, it continues. Things could be better.

I was spending some quality male-bonding time with a friend of mine, and he told me about some health concerns he has. He said, “maybe I should see a doctor,” to which I replied that my wife would agree. Men are not really good at taking care of themselves. I think pride is to blame for a lot of this. It’s hard to explain, probably because we are still using our hind-brains to make decisions. Admitting that he is not invincible means a man can’t continue to hold his present place in neolithic society. The realities of human evolution are that, behaviorally, we have outpaced our physical adaptations. While we are not living in caves, we still have that part of our brains that allows us to be constantly on alert, whether it’s a predator or a burglar. Men evolved to be something they needed to be for the last millions years, but the rapid advancement of human society in the last 15,000 years took us all by surprise.

What men are needed to be now is still changing. Fifty years ago, women could not establish credit accounts or open loans on their own. Men had to cosign for their wives. Wives were expected to sacrifice their own dreams and wishes for the sake of their husbands. It wasn’t until the late 60’s that things started to change. But change takes time, even though we’re talking about radical, fundamental changes in the ways that men and women interact. By contrast to the 15,000 years that preceded it, the last half of the 20th century was remarkable.

Back to my point: men are above their instincts. Men are able to think and be thoughtful, to be kind and honest, and to be honorable. Children have to be taught to use words to convey their thoughts and resolve conflict. Men should know this. If you still use your fists to settle a dispute, you are not a man. You are a douchebag, a lesser organism. Unfortunately, men can still act like idiots.

I wish that young women would pay attention. I wish that young men would stop being stupid for just one minute. I wish that the cycle could be broken. The answer is for fathers to be good to their children. Children will learn by example, but we continue to think they listen to our words. They are intelligent, and they develop their social skills early, but they do this by imitating our behavior. If fathers are acting like morons or being horrible people, their kids will grow up to be horrible people, too. If you get drunk and slap your wife around, do not be surprised if your kids do the exact same thing when they get older. You are responsible. You must show them the way. You are the man.

 

A Step Toward Perfection

This is an interesting time to be alive. I’m pretty sure someone said those exact words in 1971, 1939, 1918, 1877, 1859, 1789, 1775, 1650… You get the idea. Actually, watching the world change is really cool, and quite terrifying at the same time. Islamic State fighters have taken over towns in the north of Syria, disguised as Kurdish soldiers. And Myanmar’s military has retained veto power over that country’s parliament. This is some pretty serious shit! Nevermind that for now, because in the US, the Affordable Care Act has been upheld, especially regarding subsidies, and the Confederate flag is being taken down in many places in the Southern US. Also, marriage equality was made the law of the land. So, a pretty interesting week.

This last thing, though. A lot of people were pretty upset about gay marriage being a thing. And they’ve been complaining that it “attacks the sanctity of marriage” for years. Notably, people like Newt Gingrich were extremely (and hypocritically) against the rights of gay people to marry. He himself having been divorced twice! Well, I won’t judge him, even though I can, justifiably, on the grounds that my wife and I have been married nearly 24 years. Well, I said I wouldn’t do that.

The main argument many people have against the homosexual lifestyle, as they probably imagine it, is that the Bible calls it a sin. Well, actually, it doesn’t. I’m no Bible scholar, but I have read a lot of this book. Interestingly, it’s not a single work – rather, it is a collection of many holy texts that were circulating in the Mediterranean region for centuries up to the formation of a first canon of scripture. In fact, there are at least ten bibles currently in use. The point is, if you are going to cite scriptural references for an argument, it helps to have some bearing of what those scriptures mean. The meanings of passage after passage are intensely debated by scholars – people who actually know what they’re talking about – not the average Facebook user.

But in my Zen-Christian approach to this world, I have always stepped back from the issue and just sat and observed. I see that change is inevitable, like the seasons or the movement of the planets. It is a juggernaut, unable to be stopped. It will ease your soul to accept that. Many years ago, people with brown skin (like my dad’s) were not served in restaurants, and they could not participate in elections, and they had to use separate toilets and go to separate schools. Many people who had slightly lighter skin believed this was all part of God’s plan, and that it was preordained and right. Fortunately, there was justice, and even though the people descended from African slaves and people descended from Native Americans are still marginalized and denied equality and fairness, progress is still being made. Change will come.

My Christian upbringing taught me that no one is perfect except God. But other teachings lead me to believe that perfection is attainable, perhaps not for ourselves as individuals, but as a race, a species. I look at other organisms on our world, and I see they are perfect. The blue whale. The Queen Victoria agave. The Mexican free-tailed bat. The king cobra. Humans are not perfect, but this assessment comes from ourselves. We are harsh judges. Sure, we have a lot of frailties and some pretty unattractive qualities, like greed or jealousy. Other creatures seem to possess these, too. But it doesn’t mean they are not perfect. We may be perfect someday. First we have to get rid of some trash. Get rid of things we don’t need or that are cluttering up our lives. It will take generations to achieve, but I can see that it’s already happening.

What really determines how you think goes back to how you were raised. You have the power within you to reach farther and break out of your conditioning. Your parents and their parents and the people in their community may have told you it was wrong to be left-handed or that you shouldn’t like someone who is the same sex. They might have said you shouldn’t swim right after you eat, and that is based on old wives’ tales. Interracial marriage was still banned in the South until 1967, within my lifetime! Some so-called Christians are still opposed to it to this day. I’m sure they can find some Bible passage that says how it is an abomination. Well, so is wearing blended fabric and cutting your sideburns.

To my Conservative friends and family: I want you to know that I do not perceive a threat to “traditional” marriage. By the way, some of you might want to look that term up. It might surprise you. If you feel threatened, I suggest you talk to somebody. Change can be a scary thing. Many of my friends and my family are celebrating today. Around the world, people seem to be focusing on the ISIS massacre and Syrian refugees and other injustices. I think it’s great that we have marriage equality in the US. When the party’s over, can we start working on ending homelessness and hunger and poverty? Contrary to what the Bible says, I think we can do it.