The God Box

“You are not upset that we have different boxes. You are upset because my box does not match yours.” ~Rob Lester

MovingBoxToo often we place God in a box, whether it’s a box of our own making or one belonging to someone else that we’ve co-opted for our own designs. We lift up the flaps, place Him in, and think things will be fine from then on because He’s there. We’ve defined Him by placing Him firmly in our own concept of where He should be, of where we think He fits, and we leave Him in there.

And the craziest part of it all is that we don’t realize we’re doing it. You know what I’ve realized, though, after all this time? I see now that the whole time I was growing up I did just the same thing. I placed God inside that box, and it has a name: organized religion.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) (The Bible)

It is this grace that is the key, not anything else. By placing God inside a box it means we believe we can decide what happens. It means we think our works will mark us for salvation. Organized religion the world around is based on this assumption. If we do good works then God will reward us. And each one is different, yet the same. Christians say that God will reward those who have been faithful. Hindus say we need to be dedicated to ceremonies and rituals for a gift from a God in the afterlife. Muslims believe in a God who gives us what we deserve based on our deeds.

In this way too many organized religions place God in this box. It’s understandable, too, because we like definitions. We as human beings like to be able to visualize and define everything. Instead of taking it all in faith, instead of simply accepting that undeserving grace, we look for validation from others, then we translate that validation into a blessing we believe we will get from whatever our version of God happens to be.

“Did man emerge from non-being through his own devices? Was he his own creator? Did mankind create the heavens and earth? Certainly they do not know God.” (52:35-36) (The Qu’ran)

This idea that mankind can know what’s best for mankind is ridiculed by the Qu’ran. This passage is another way of saying God knows best, that we must trust in God, and yet the beliefs espoused by the religion itself shows a God who does not accept all. It is once again not an idea of grace and an all-encompassing acceptance. The only way to know this God is to follow the teachings of the prophet and of the holy book itself. It is simply another way of placing God in this box.

For some people this is the only way for them to be able to understand God, by placing Him in this box, by placing limitations upon a being who is above even the idea of limiting. Even by just saying Him we place restrictions on a being we cannot ever truly contain. Nor should we be trying to contain Him, trying to bend our will and actions to this idea of a God that organized religion imposes on us. For a time it’s necessary, even instructive, to see God through a childlike lens, through that rudimentary belief system, but as we grow in Him we can see more the individual nature of the relationship that has no limitations. Because He has no limitations.

Then we battle over it, as if one religion is better than any other, as if God esteems one more than he esteems all the rest. We are of the “one faith,” the “one church,” the “essential elementary understanding,” and everything else we do to place labels of differentiation and judgment on everything and on everyone, including ourselves.

“What religion needs today is not more flying with God, or leaping with God, or jumping up and down with God, or going into spasms and convulsions and epileptic fits with God. What religion needs today is more walking with God.” ~Milo H. Gates

This idea of walking with God is one espoused by many organized religions, or at least they pay lip service to it. They agree that we all need to walk with God, but they don’t make it a personal walk. Just saying that our walk with God needs to take place alongside others (who are on their own personal walks) undermines the strength of that statement.

I remember when my youngest was in kindergarten, and one of the comments from the teacher was that Madeline was good at “parallel play,” which means playing alongside other kids without playing with them. She said it like it was the worst thing in the world, but it was peaceful. Madeline was doing what she wanted instead of destroying what the kid next to her was doing. I was good with that. It’s how I feel about the idea of having to be with others, to share the “walk” with others. It’s unnecessary, and it can be detrimental. We are all on our own journeys with God, personal journeys that could be disrupted by thinking ours needs to be just like someone else’s.

People often ask me why I don’t go to church now, especially those who I grew up with in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. They ask me what’s going on with my personal relationship with God because they fear for me. They’re worried that my lack of fellowship with “true believers” will be detrimental to my soul salvation. And to them I say they should focus on themselves, on their own personal relationship with God, that instead of putting Him in a box, they should actually walk with Him, free of those boxes. Allow for His grace, for His mercy, and for His overwhelming acceptance to help you see that it’s not about organized religion.

It’s about you and Him. That’s all it’s ever been about.



Where Are You Now?

“Where are you now? As I’m swimming through this stereo, I’m writing you a symphony of sound.” ~Jack’s Mannequin [“The Mixed Tape”]

no_looking_backDo you ever wonder where they are? I mean all the people you’ve left behind, or the ones who’ve left you behind? I sometimes do. In the darkest shadows of the night, when I should just move on, I can’t seem to do it, because they come to me, like ghosts, vestiges of the persons they were when I knew them, when we were new and unblemished. But this distance, it blemishes them, it stains them with broad brush strokes that I wish I could unsee.

And I guess you can say I’ve been stained too, that I am not the same person I was either, that some of that is my own fault, or even if it isn’t, it’s fair to say me feeling that way makes it so. It’s even funny in a way because of all the things I could regret in life, some of the biggest regrets are the ones I don’t even remember, because something, in some way, alienated people from me. I shouldn’t even care. I should say that it’s their loss, but I somehow can’t bring myself to look at things that way. Maybe I’m a masochist.

I hear songs that we shared and I think of them. I listen to the melody and I can’t help but relive the memories that we still share, except now separately. When my phone vibrates I still think on some level that it might be them, that they might be texting to make amends, or at least to explain. Because the lack of an explanation is what makes it all so… incomplete. The lack of an explanation is the difference between the shadowed nights with ghosts and a good night’s sleep. When my phone vibrates I keep hoping that it’s the one line that will bring me closure.

“It was never you; it was all me.”

“It just wasn’t the right time for me, emotionally.”

“You never listened to me, and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

I firmly believe that some people are only in our lives for an age to teach us lessons, to be there for that moment, to be a brief impetus in our lives, and that these people inevitably move on. But I can’t bring myself to think when the time’s up that only one of us would know about it. Maybe I’m just not the kind of person who can move on to the next thing if something is left unsaid, even if I know the time has come to separate from whatever I’ve had with someone else.

Now that I’m older I’ve taken to reminiscing an awful lot. I find myself seeing time ago through some colored lenses, letting the blacks, whites, and grays blend together to form a kind of muted rainbow. I find that I think back a lot less, but that when I do it’s for those people I really thought would be around my life forever, either because they said they would or because, to me, it was merely understood. And for those ghosts I can’t help but hear specific songs and get brought back, every single time.

In spite of myself.


How I’m Doing

20180224_094000~01.jpgEveryone asks how I’m doing. As if they all have a stake in my happiness. I tell them I’m doing great. Because I am. I’m doing about as positively well as I possibly can be at this moment in time. It’s like my metaphorical ship has come in. But it doesn’t quite feel real yet. Maybe because I spent so much time in the desert, squabbling over a patch of sand in the midst of a sea full of the same golden stuff.

They ask how I’m doing because I seem different. Whenever people notice difference, when they notice anything at all, their brains can’t seem to make out what the change is. Did I get a haircut? Am I somehow taller? Is the tilt of my head the same, or have I begun to incline to the other side? All these questions chase themselves around in the brain of the questioner, and they settle on simply asking how I’m doing. Can’t go wrong with that, right?

I guess I’ve been so melancholy for so long it’s obvious that things have changed. I’m thinking solidly about the future for the first time in years. Perhaps that wistful look has returned to my countenance. Maybe that sense of peace is permeable, oozing through my skin to be vividly clear to others. Every “next day” doesn’t fill me with dread as it had for far too long.

I am here on the weekends. I cannot stress enough what a novel extravagance this is.

So, how am I doing? I’m doing about as well as I possibly hoped I would be doing at this point in my life, although I’ve taken a circuitous path to get here. How are YOU doing?



“Greater Atlantic Switchboard, this is Quinn,” proclaimed the slim girl behind the reception desk, headset protruding from her left ear, microphone poised at her lips.

“Hi Quinn!” the man on the other end of the line replied, rather loudly. “I’m calling to report otters building a dam across the road down Loving Lane, you know, where the Peavy Farm used to be?”

“Mr. Hanson?” she asked, adjusting her headset even though it was unnecessary.

“Yes, ma’am!” he screamed back at her. It was obvious he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, and it wasn’t the first time he had barked at her, but Quinn still found it sad.

“Mr. Hanson, there are no otters building a dam across the road down Loving Lane,” she assured him, but the man’s mind was stuck on autopilot, as it always was.

“Damn straight they are,” he said, a rustling sound gaining momentum in the background.

“No, sir,” she tried again. “Otters don’t build dams, Mr. Hanson.”

“Well, tell that to these two who are damn sure building a dam across the road,” he replied, gruffly. “I can see them outside my window, having a grand old time. Someone’s going to have an accident.”

“Do you have your glasses on, sir?” she asked, trying hard to stand her ground.

“Well, no, but…” he began, immediately defensive.

It was her daily exercise in using kid gloves, humoring the old man without embarrassing him, which was a thin line indeed. Their call center was inundated with real emergencies from morning to night, so she couldn’t stay on with him forever. Some days he was convinced possums were playing dead in that selfsame road, others he would swear to an earthquake rocking the foundation of his home, so the story of otters wasn’t very unique as far as his tales went.

“Now, I’m not saying you’re seeing things, Mr. Hanson,” she cut in. “But we both know there were no possums that time, and there was no earthquake, so… can you at least entertain the possibility that there are no otters building a dam across Loving Lane?”

“Hell no,” he said. “They’re there, and if you don’t send someone out I will take care of them my damn self.”

“Sir, there is no need for that,” she quickly replied, knowing he meant to get his shotgun out of mothballs. The last time Ed Hanson pulled out that gun he shot up Millie Gray’s peach garden. There had been peach juice running down the road for several hours, and poor Millie didn’t sleep right for a week.

“Good,” he said, properly placated. “Tell them to hurry, because it looks like these otters are fixing to have relations right next to that dam, and hell if I’m going to sit here and watch otters have relations.”

He hung up with a great clattering, as he always did, leaving Quinn with the disgusting mental image of otters having sex in the road. She sighed and switched over to the next call.



Tough Parenting

As a parent, I’m constantly asking myself if I’m doing the right things, if I’m making the right decisions for my children, if I’m helping them to eventually do those right things and make those right decisions for themselves. That’s the thin line, isn’t it, doing just enough to guide them in the right ways so that they’ll continue to go in those ways when they come of age? Sometimes I just don’t know. I hope, and I pray, and I act on what I feel is best.

Isn’t that all we can do, really?

Before I had kids I was constantly judging my mother for the sheltered life I lived as a kid, growing up with such stringent rules and restrictions. I thought she didn’t need to rule with such an iron fist, that I knew what was best for me. I was a kid, and then a young adult, who needed just that type of guidance, but I rebelled against it. I felt I knew what was best, and only when I came of age and made a series of mistakes did I start to realize just how much my mother had been trying to mold me and help me be better equipped to handle those things she knew were coming.

Now, I’m not saying to shelter your kids. Far from it. I think kids need to know what’s out there, that they need to be prepared for what they’re going to encounter, so that they’re better equipped to handle them in appropriate ways. It’s one thing I wish my parents had done more to prepare me for, but my mother did what she felt was best, my father was pretty much a specter, and I learned from those mistakes. I told myself when I grew up, when I had kids, I would be different, and in many ways I am. Fundamentally, though, I’m the same kind of parent my mother was to me, which is a good thing.

Yes Mom, I just said that.

Seriously, though, she was doing the same thing I’m doing now, trying her best to teach me to be a better human being, and to make my own decisions. When I was the age that Alexa is now she was fighting to make sure that, as a single parent, she gave me what I needed as a boy. I know that was tough, as I try to deal with Alexa and her issues now. There’s something to be said for having a partner who can deal with the “feminine” problems and feelings, and for that I am so grateful to my wife for everything she does to prepare our daughters for life. But my mom didn’t have that. I’m sure raising a boy by herself wasn’t a picnic.

I wasn’t easy. Kids rarely ever are. I was highly sarcastic (still am), a dedicated introvert (that sure changed), and a writer in the making. It didn’t help that my relationship with my sister wasn’t the best either, and having a largely nonexistent dad who was generally out of town (and out of the picture) just made things worse. But my mom taught me to be independent, to learn from my mistakes, that love doesn’t always win out in the end, and that being the bigger person is very important. She gave me all these tools I didn’t even realize I had until I needed them myself and they were there to help me.

My children have issues. Right now, in fact, Alexa is in her room screaming like a banshee because she doesn’t feel she’s being treated fairly, because she has the idea that this world is black and white when I’m doing my best to try to show her all its varied shades of gray. That was what I always loved about my mom. She didn’t sugarcoat things. If she wanted us to learn a lesson she talked to us about it. Nothing snuck up on us because we weren’t prepare for it. She didn’t let us wallow in our misery and perceived slights. She talked it out with us, even if we were still mad. It’s what I’m trying to do for my children as well.

But being a parent is tricky. Think about the number of kids who grow up to hate their parents. Think about the legion of kids who say their parents were never there for them. And while I do feel that way about my father, I have to say that my mother was as solid a foundation I could hope to find in this life. I hope I’m the same kind of solid foundation for my own children.



First Comes Love…

“I thought I knew what love was. What did I know?” ~Don Henley

01_Robert-Indiana_LoveI first told a girl I loved her in 4th grade, when she stabbed me with a pencil and decided to go out with my enemy. These three things were unrelated. Or at least I think they were. I never really asked her to explain. I was too busy drowning in my tears, in the relative safety of my room, trying to forget her. Trying to forget love.

Love means many different things to many different people, but to me it means being always appreciative. That girl who I said I loved, she didn’t appreciate my love. To her I might as well have told her I was an albino for all she cared, but it was 4th grade, and I gave her a mulligan for it. She never came back to take me up on the idea of a second chance, which was just as well.

To me, when you love someone you show it. Not by flowers and candy, because anyone can get flowers and candy, but by being there, by letting them know you’re there, whether they admit to needing you there. Love means coming through for someone else even if they don’t realize that’s what they needed. It’s doing the little things because there really are no little things when it comes to love.

I’ve learned that love needs to be patient…

I realize now that I didn’t really love that girl in 4th grade. It was never really love because I had no idea what love was back then. What I felt for her was sheer infatuation, that kind of Romeo and Juliet feeling that would have petered out had they not been in a volatile situation that pushed them toward each other… and toward the abyss. That girl was lucky she didn’t reciprocate my infatuation because I’ve always been prone to exaggeration of emotion. Thank god she looked the other way.

But I’ve learned a lot over the years, because of heartache and a plethora of other issues and mistakes, on both sides. I’ve learned that love needs to be patient, that it isn’t about the physical, that the physical comes along for the ride when it is indeed requited, that it’s better to have loved and lost than… well, not quite. It’s better to love and keep loving, because love can shift. It can change, not precisely with the wind but sometimes it is buffeted. I’ve learned that love is complicit, if just because it makes you more vulnerable than anything else ever could.

Love is revolutionary, no matter how often it occurs…

I’ve been sparing with the word itself. Even with my closest of friends it took a while before I felt comfortable enough telling them how I felt. Even with my closest of relationships I haven’t been the first one to say it, not usually, not because I’ve been afraid but because I’ve been resistant. I’ve been resistant to the way saying those words changes things. It doesn’t change things for me. I already know how I feel long before those words escape my lips. But it changes the relationship in subtle ways that only I can tell.

Or maybe they can tell too. Love is revolutionary, no matter how often it occurs, no matter how many people know the feeling. It acts. It doesn’t react. But love is worth it, even when it’s not returned, because without that feeling life is just not as good. And I don’t mean the romantic love. I mean all the many forms of love that can shift and change, that can undulate around you like a snake, but that can keep you safe and warm, secure in its comfort.

But what do I know?



I Am Sam. Sam I Am.

51N595qwKOL._SX360_BO1,204,203,200_Until I was 13 years old I would often get Green Eggs and Ham for a birthday present. It stopped being funny around age 2. I can only imagine the little chuckle that would escape the giver’s lips when he/she would see the book in the book store, thinking it would be so tongue in cheek, such a… perfect gift. But when everyone thinks the same thing, imagine me opening up six copies of the same book (a children’s book) on my 12th birthday.

It’s a valid point, though. I mean, what would I have gotten myself for my birthday any of those years when originality kind of went out the window? I honestly don’t know. I was Sam, and I had absolutely no clue what I was really into, no idea what would have made me happy if you had handed it over while I was blowing out candles. Let me recall the elementary me. I liked:

  • playing games of Hangman
  • taking apart alarm clocks
  • reading (a lot)
  • trains, and train conductor hats
  • sketching little caricatures of me that resembled stick figures
  • playing with Legos every so often
  • eating food (not cardboard. Real food. I swear)
  • imagining the world as a different place

Oh, and I had no friends. The adults in my life were often fawning over what they called my “adult tendencies,” which to me meant I wasn’t a proper kid. No wonder I had no friends. But as much as the adults claimed to know me, they didn’t realize any of the above, because I was pretty much a shadow of my current self. I was often seen but not heard. I was Sam, but in name only.

I finally let anyone who would listen know shortly before the 13th anniversary of my birth that I would no longer accept copies of Dr. Seuss’s epic book, that I had actual interests, that the joke just wasn’t funny anymore. It hadn’t been funny for years, even when I was laughing all the while. I was apparently good at being fake, at making others think their joke was worthwhile, when they were really just wasting their money, AND I was always disappointed on what should have been my special day.

“Why didn’t you say something before?” my mother asked me, and I honestly had no answer for her. I guess I felt like eventually they would realize it wasn’t funny anymore, or they would get to know me better so they didn’t have to rely on the old standby. I guess I thought that after a while they would start trying to be serious, because that was my always my problem, being deadly serious. My idea of a smile back then was easing up the left side of my mouth, then letting it fall back into a straight line. Eyebrow to follow.

The book-as-gift was funny in a way they never intended, though. One positive of having so many copies of Green Eggs and Ham was that I knew it backwards and forwards. I found it hilarious when they would watch me open it and they would say “You do not like them, Sam I Am.” You know, because Sam was the little guy speaking, not the big dude who didn’t like the green eggs and the ham. So Sam DID like them, and me… not so much. I was more like the large dude who just won’t be convinced despite the rhyming bonanza going on in the background.

Of course the book was also a catalyst for me to break out of my shell. It was the push to avoid getting any more of those books that allowed me to first tell how I felt, after all that time, that helped me become the vocal person I am today. It also led to many more interesting birthdays in the interim between then and now. Up until my 13th birthday I didn’t truly know what I wanted or liked in life. That book forced me to think about it, to ruminate upon it, and to let others know.

On my 13th birthday I received a bicycle and a train set.



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