Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Blind Trust

 Let me tell you a story. 

Just after the release of "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire" I had a discussion with a co-worker that was unsettling.  She had red hair and three red haired sons.  I made the comment that they
were like the Weasley family in the Harry Potter series.  I had expected maybe a laugh out of the comment.   Instead I was hit with a stern rebuke.  She told me that Harry Potter was not something
that she and her family would read or even allow in her house.  Her pastor had preached that it promoted witchcraft and that in the latest book there was even the sacrifice of a baby.

Having read the series and the latest book, I was deeply and utterly shocked.  I told her so and that there were in fact no babies sacrificed in any of the Harry Potter books.  She argued that her
pastor had even given the page number.  Had she read it, I asked.  She responded that she didn't have to, she trusted her pastor.

I read the page she gave me. It was the graveyard scene where Voldemort is resurrected.  Taken out of context, I could see some confusion.  What really struck me was her complete blind trust in
what her pastor at a conservative evangelical church had told her.  [This church was part of a larger religious network that sent talking points for the pastors to preach.]  How could she just blindly
trust whatever this person said?! How could she not investigate it herself?  Simply reading the book would have shown her that this claim was blatantly false. What other lies had this organization,
through her pastor, pressed her to believe?

No matter how I tried to explain she would never believe me over what her pastor had told her.  She refused what was truth.  She gladly accepted these lies.  She never looked at me the same again.  It broke me a little because we had been friends up until that point.

After this encounter I could never trust an evangelical church.  If they were willing to tell an easily disprovable lie about a book, what else were they willing to do to control those in their
congregations?  I found it to be dangerous and insulting to God to spread these falsehoods.  If you are a true Christian you would not have to lie about something to bring others to your belief.  If
you are a true Christian you should not have to mold society to follow your belief system in over to avoid temptations.  You should be able to work through anything and still hold your beliefs.

Membership to churches has declined over the last few decades due to societal shifts.  It's not that Jesus isn't cool anymore.  It's that many simply don't see those attending church as following His
Words.  I stopped attending church due to all this hypocrisy.  But it's not just that, there is this underlying current of misogyny that bothers me - women are lesser, weaker, bringers of sin who need to obey their husbands and church elders (men) in all things.   I felt as if they were saying that women must be controlled by a man or she'll make sinful choices/become corrupt.  I've been controlled before when I was a child in an abusive home.  I never wanted to be in that situation again.  So I worship on my own. I also noted an undercurrent of prejudice against anyone not white, not the right type of Christian, or not  American.  I once heard a pastor preach about a landslide in a Central American country that had killed many people and he lamented about all those lost souls.  I sat there thinking about how many of those who died were probably Catholic and wondered how they were lost when they believed in the same God.  What is not an undercurrent is anti-intellectual/anti-
science that is prevalent in these churches.  These are direct threats to the control of their congregations, to the way they think and believe.

As I reflect back on that encounter with my friend, I see a larger picture emerging.  Evangelical Christians are not satisfied with simply controlling those in their churches.  They are indignant that
their power is shrinking.  There's been a campaign to spread their control nationwide.  Like a pyramid scheme, those below see themselves as defending the faith and spreading the Word, while
those higher up know the truth that the end game is to control society on a larger scale.  In public office these evangelical Christians put religion above the law of the land, the common good of the
people, ignoring those they are supposed to represent if they don't share their views, and try to change laws to fit their religious beliefs regardless of any other religions that may be represented in
their area or science that disproves their beliefs.  If they had their dithers everyone would believe as they believe or they would at least follow the evangelical expected norms without complaint
(hide your differences and be silent).  These people would turn back the clock to the 1950's McCarthy era or to the early 1900's.  Those who are different/don't follow the "accepted way" of thinking
are ostracized and have fewer opportunities/paths in life.

Not everyone who pushes for this return to another era is doing this out of love of Christ.  There are people with money, full of hypocrisy who simply want to make more money and limit those who can have money/power.  Keeping the workers down, keeping women in their place, keeping the minorities as second class citizens.  It's a type of slavery that these people appreciate.

The seeds of lies planted year after year by conservative evangelical Christians have come to bloom.  Today we have a divided nation.  We have a group of Republicans and others in leadership
positions who are more than willing to go along with what the Evangelicals want because it solidifies their power (and makes them richer).  They are willing to pedal lies to the masses.  They are
so proud as their lies and their actions erode the true foundations this democracy was built upon. I fear that the very religion of those who built this country will be its downfall.

Like in the Harry Potter series, due to fear of Voldemort lies are preferred over truth because it maintains a status quo and then because it solidifies the power and control exerted by Voldemort
and his deatheaters when they take control.  I can only hope that life does not repeat fiction.  I have no answers as to how to fix this erosion that is damaging our country and our freedoms except to
continue to press the truth, to check the truth of things others push, and to not lose my own faith. Like in the Harry Potter series we must fight against the darkness to again gain the light.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Psychology of Financial Health

I'm at that stage of my life where I've plateaued and I'm looking back to see many of my life's questions/mysteries explained.  Looking into the future is like peering into the void with only death as a certainty.  I sometimes feel extremely lost, something I never thought I'd feel at this age.  I thought by now I would have figured it all out and have done some spectacular things with my life.  Instead I feel very behind. 

When I was growing up I knew we were poor.  From where I stood middle class look like rich, like over-whelming wealth.  I looked at my peers and they had more than me and better stuff than I had. Their clothes were not hand-me-downs or homemade.  Their shoes did not wear until there were holes.  They did not need reduced lunches.  They had the latest toys, watched the popular shows on TV, did stuff after school and on the weekends that didn't involve work.  Everything they had, that they were able to buy, made me feel "less than".  I was regularly taunted for just this.  I was a weird kid anyway but I was also poor, unable to follow the latest fads, unable to participate much with after school activities.

When I was older and obtained my own money, I bought whatever caught my fancy.  I was over-compensating for all I felt I lacked as a child. As an adult I had access to credit which stupidly made me feel like I could spend more freely on the obsession of the day.  [I regret that I'm unable to get back all the money I most foolishly spent on all those needful things.  I wish I could be reimbursed for all those things I bought that I no longer even own!]  Nothing ever fulfilled me for very long.  I would move from one obsession to another to another.

It wasn't just for myself that I was over-compensating.  I made sure my children had all the things their hearts desired - toys, games, clothes, foods/eating out.  None of this was healthy for them or for my family's financial situation.  Even when we were financially strapped it was heard to stop.  It put a strain on the marriage and on our relationship with our children (how do you suddenly say 'no' when you've been a near-constant stream of 'yes'?).  I stayed stressed out over our finances.  I juggled credit card balances until the economic crash of 2008.  Then we just had to bite our nails when the bills came due each month.

Another realization came when we moved.  All that "stuff", all those things "that weren't causing me happiness (after the initial purchase) were literally weighing me down.  So many little knickknacks, keepsakes, collectibles, obsessions had to be packed/unpacked for each move and it was physically wearing me down.  In my mind they became not only a financial but a physical drain.  It was easier to let them go.  It was easier to not buy new unneeded, unnecessary thing to begin with.

My children are older now.  My eldest watched us struggle and in her adult life has avoided credit cards like the plague.  Her only debts are college loans and a car loan.  I'm very happy for her and relieved that at least some good came from my very bad example.  My youngest, who is autistic, has unfortunately grown up able to get most of what he wants.  He doesn't fully understand financial planning and I know that's partially my fault.  If I could talk to my past self, I'd tell her that she's creating a huge problem for her future self and , more importantly, for her son.  I have a lot to work on with him so that he understands.

We were able to correct our financial standing after I finally learned that these things I was surrounding myself with didn't help me, nor did they make me happy after that initial purchase rush.  I stopped eating out as much.  Resisted those impulse purchases.  Made extra money by selling off those now unwanted impulse purchase items.  Learned to say 'no' to the kids and explained why I was saying 'no'.  I began paying down the cards one by one.  Each balance moving closer to zero gave me that same high that I used to get from buying stuff.  Each card that was finally paid off was a super rush.  I'd then double down on the next card and pay it off even faster.  Once they are all paid off, I shifted my focus to building up our savings.

It was hard to change one set of habits for another.  I could only have done it because I reached that plateau in life.  I saw that I couldn't move any further towards my future if I was stuck in my past feeling deprived.  I didn't want to feel deprived again in my old age because I destroyed my financial future due to a ton of debt.

I'm in a better place now.  At least, I'm not lost financially.  We're not rich.  We're middle class, but that is more comfortable than where I came from.  Barring any major disasters, my family should be okay into our golden years.  I'm happy about this.  I just wish I'd learned this lesson when I was my younger.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Daily Mire

Turn on the news, view Facebook, or worse, Twitter, open any form of media today and you are blasted with some sort of negativity.  It is more than overwhelming to some (including myself).  Unlike some other creative types who thrive in hostile environments, I have come to a complete stall.  Every day is a struggle to tear myself away from different areas of social media.  I tend to hop from one to another afraid that I'll miss some bit of news (international, national, local, among family and friends) that will end up impacting me.  I have been unable to complete large creative projects for almost two years now.  I work on them a bit here and there but I can't bring them to fruition.  It's degrading.  It's depressing. I'm stuck.  I know that I'm not the only one experiencing this - social media and the news outlets tell me that I am not alone (yet, oh my God, how alone do I feel).  I've considered taking a break from social media, the news, the computers, but then I start to feel anxious, really anxious.  The best I can do is to cut down on my time spent in the virtual world.  I'll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime I'll work on every day things like getting my house put together from our recent move, re-establishing services for my disabled son, and trying to take the time to get to know this new area/new town (weather permitting).  Taking deep breaths and traveling through life one hour, one day at a time.  I wish us all luck.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Books and Stories Read in 2017

2017 was a rough year to get through.  Aside from all the political upheaval in the USA, my personal life went through a series of changes as well, not the least of which was a move.  I still made time to read though.  The great escape from my childhood came through during these turbulent times as well. 

Stories Read

The Egg - Andy Weir (re-read)
Clay and Smokeless Fire - Saladin Ahmed -
Bear Language - Martin Cahill -
Dancing Princesses - Roshani Chokshi -
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? - Joyce Carol Oats (1966)

Books Read

Six Scary Stories - Selected and Introduced by Stephen King

Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach

Dexter in the Dark - Jeff Lindsay

Cycle of the Werewolf (Illustrated) - Stephen King

You Are Here - Jenny Lawson

Hungry Ghosts (Eric Carter Series) - Stephen Blackmoore

Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

Cemetary Girl: The Pretenders (Graphic Novel) - Charlaine Harris/Christopher Golden

Cemetary Girl: Inheritance (Graphic Novel) - Charlaine Harris/Christopher Golden

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography - Neil Patrick Harris

Under the Empyrean Sky - Chuck Wendig

The Mystery Men (Graphic Novel) - David Liss/Patrick Zircher

Deadly Valentine - Carolyn G. Hart

Deep and Dark and Dangerous - Mary Downing Hahn

The Family Plot - Cherie Priest

A Study in Scarlet - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Next of Kin - Dan Wells

Crimes By Moonlight - Editor, Charlaine Harris

A Ghostly Light - Juliet Blackwell

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Graphic Novel) - Oscar Wilde, Ian Edginton, I.N.J. Culbard

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie/Ellen Ferney

Chessie - Ruth Carroll (vintage book written in 1936)

Gypsy - Kate Seredy (vintage book written in 1951 - amazing illustrations)

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis - Anne Rice

The Bride Striped Bare - Nikki Gemmell

The Devil's Only Friend - Dan Wells

Over Your Dead Body - Dan Wells

Sleep Like a Baby - Charlaine Harris

Inked - Eric Smith

Sam or Our Cat Tales - C. Louis Schaffner (vintage book written in 1913)

Vicious - V.E. Schwab

Nothing Left to Lose - Dan Wells

The Royal Diaries: Isabel, Jewel of Castilla - Carolyn Meyer

Shit My Dad Says - Justin Halpern

Dead Trees Give No Shelter - Wil Wheaton

Shakespeare's Landlord - Charlaine Harris (re-read)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas and Chaos

It's Christmas and we've moved... again.  In my 29 years of marriage, we've moved 16 times.  This time has been harder for me.  I think my body is just getting to the point that it can't handle the physical requirements to actually move all of our things around.  There seems to be an endless amount of boxes to unpack. Not just the placement of furniture but all the artwork, knickknacks, books, and technology. There just seems to be so much of EVERYTHING. 

It's not just the material things.  It's the emotional baggage as well. It used to be exciting when we moved - the idea of redecorating, of making new friends, of discovering new things to do.  This time however, I don't know what to do with it all and it's overwhelming.  It's winter and where I've moved gets even more snow than the last place we lived.  My background level of anxiety/depression ratchets up a bit during the winter months anyway and with the move as well it's a bit higher than even the normal.  Between the unpacking and the weather and my own personal emotional rollercoaster, I've barely gotten out of the house in the last month and a half aside from grocery shopping and doctor appointments.

This is not a whining session.  I know that six months from now everything will be in place.   All the furniture, the knickknacks, the artwork, the books, the technology will all have found a place.  All the closets will have been sorted out.  We will be able to park the cars in the garage.  All of our doctors and services will have been re-established. That's not just my hope, that's the reality from my own experience.  

The only thing that will still be out of place is this Christmas.  It just doesn't feel Christmas-y to me at all.  I've put a smattering of decorations out (the ones I could find easily and then easily put up again later).  I've bought and wrapped most of the presents and sent out most of the Christmas cards.  But I just feel lost in this season. Separated from family and friends both physically and emotionally.  

Everything feels chaotic but I know that it will settle down.  I'll get through this - the move, Christmas, and this emotional upheaval - I am a survivor.  It's just the waiting and working to get through to the other side is exhausting.


Here's hoping for a much happier, much healthier, less chaotic new year!
May 2018 reign free for all.