July 30, 2010

Standing Up for Christians

One of my dearest friends on Facebook sent me this message on my wall this morning: Hey! Mr. Writer look on my site and write for me an editorial on standing up for Christian religion that is being under attack. I'm not sure where to begin with this one. Those who know me well know that I say I'm not a "bible-beater" and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense. It's just that I don't go around quoting scripture or announcing my faith loudly, particularly in a forum such as Facebook, where so many people think it's not the place for politics or religion. On the other hand, I also firmly believe in freedom of speech in that forum so here goes.

The article she was referring to was a recent ruling on the part of a federal judge's decision in favor of a public university that removed a Christian student from its counseling program over her belief that homosexuality is morally wrong. U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh dismissed a lawsuit Julea Ward filed against Eastern Michigan University (EMU) alleging she was removed from the school's graduate counseling program last year after she refused to counsel homosexual clients about relationships.

One of the first things that "pops" into my head when I read this article was this, and it relates to my personal experience within the AA program and my overall personal beliefs: No one, and I mean no one, has the right to judge another, particularly when it comes to matters of freedoms guaranteed to us as citizens under the Constitution of the United States. While some would argue that this individual should have set aside her personal religious beliefs in exchange for providing counseling for another human being who is an admitted homosexual, I tend to disagree. Admittedly, I hold a bias against homosexuality in general, and though I'm not sure what Jesus would say on this topic or what the bible says, it is my belief that homosexuality itself is morally wrong. But that's not the point of this blog. The real crux of the matter is what right does a school have to impose its "student policies" on a counselor who is merely exercising her fundamental right of freedom of religion guaranteed to her under the Constitution? More importantly, this judge's ruling sets a dangerous precedent for further attacks against Christians in the workplace who express those rights of religious freedom openly.

It comes down to this. While I was incarcerated and the resulting humility I learned because of that experience, I have come to believe that no one has the right to judge another over ANYTHING, be it religion, political views, or whatever. Only God has that right. Now, one could argue hey, that's what the legal system is for. After all, the school DOES have rights too, you know. And this counselor should have known what those rights are, what duties she must perform to represent the school. May be. But here again, who is to say what takes precedence? The school's policies or the student's rights of religious freedom? A court? One judge? I don't think so.

As I wrote this though, something else has occurred to me. Given my own background with the legal system, the fact that I recently completed a paralegal program, and the beliefs I have stated here about no one having the right to sit in judgment of another, what is MY purpose in life then? An interesting question. Here's my own answer. I believe there IS a place for me to be a POSITIVE influence in law. To serve others who have been treated unjustly, at least from the perspective of a man who values common sense and basic fundamental freedoms such as the one which is the topic of this blog. The legal system has its place, of that there is no doubt, but in this instance, I believe it has crossed the line of violating basic rights under the Constitution, as well as plain old common sense.



July 28, 2010

The Internet and Being “Connected”

Back in late April, I wrote a blog about the Internet, Cell Phones, iPods, Computers, and Facebook. The main thrust of that blog was how our world these days is based almost entirely on being "connected", and how that phenomenon has led us to being "disconnected" in a way. One of the things I mentioned in that particular blog was an experience I had in the Dallas, TX. Airport in December, 2009. I was sitting patiently waiting on my flight and doing one of the things I love best: people-watching. Everyone, and I mean nearly EVERYONE, was either talking on their cell phones, texting, listening to their iPods, or simply sitting quietly working on their laptop computer, like the elderly gentleman sitting next to me. It was at that point when I noticed his distinguished wife sitting across from me doing…..nothing. Just sitting there. So I said, "What did we do before all these gadgets we have these days, actually TALK with each other?" I'll never forget what happened next. She just smiled broadly and seemed suddenly energized with enthusiasm to do just what I had mentioned. Talk. And that's what we did for the next 15 minutes or so before boarding our flight.

So, yesterday, I was working at my computer doing on-line course work for a new career opportunity that's come my way (imagine that, on-line classes!), and waiting on the assignment "timer" I was working on to hit zero, all the while moving from one "window" to the next on Facebook, when I noticed this post from an old high school classmate: "‎9 hours without internet - I tried to remember what it was like in the old days before the internet and was shocked at my realization." The comments that followed were very revealing. Basically, we've lost "touch" with one another like the "old days", the days before the internet, cell phones, etc. Days when we would interact with one another face-to-face. Days when we weren't all rushing around like crazed ants because the world today is at our fingertips and everything can be had in an instant. In other words, we've lost touch with reality and become disconnected with being "connected."

One of the focal points that's driving this latest blog chapter is because of my personal experience with a life-altering experience as a result of my own actions nearly 3 1/2 years ago. When one's freedom is stripped, and I mean stripped in nearly every sense, it CHANGES one's perspective on what that word means. I'll never forget what it was like the first time I sat in front of a computer after not experiencing that sensation for nearly 6 months. I was shocked. And I mean truly shocked at how much had changed. The speed, the additional information, the seemingly overwhelming amounts of data and news coming at me like a freight train. It was humbling. 

But it did something else for me. It gave me pause to really and truly appreciate the value of freedom and life. It's the little things that bring us happiness; the gentle touch of another human being, the ability to look into someone's eyes and listen to them as they speak, being in touch with non-verbal cues from their body language, watching birds fly and listening to them sing in the early mornings, experiencing the rush of colors of spring-time, the incredible feeling of love and intimacy for another; kissing, cuddling, holding someone close in your arms, and on and on. When we lose our sense of reality, the ability to stay in tune with nature and one another, it diminishes our capacity to experience life the way God intended it to be. Mankind has created these communication devices and the ability to stay "connected" with one another that keeps us "disconnected." It's up to us to see that this connection doesn't destroy what truly matters; human contact. 

So a resolution is in order. I challenge each one of you who has read this, to take the time each day and every day to turn off your television, your computer, your cell phone, your stereo, your iPod, your whatever that gives you “instant gratification”, and RELAX quietly. Go outside, look up into the sky, listen to the sounds of nature, smell the grass or the flowers or simply the air around you, feel the warmth of the one you love next to you, and breathe in deeply the beauty and the taste of LIFE. The one God intended for us to have.


July 12, 2010

Does God Give You Only What You Can Handle?

Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune and opportunity to meet and visit with a lady in San Diego County who is a professional counselor, one who has been in this profession, as well as teaching, for many years. This meeting came at the suggestion of someone special in my life, a woman I met recently, though we both feel like we have known each other much longer. Since that time, she and I have discovered we have many mutual interests and she's one of those people that have just "happened" to appear in my life like so many others over the past two years, though this is very different. Where this relationship is headed I'm not really sure. I do know this; she came into my life for a reason and I sense we are embarking on a journey together that will last a very long time. When she asked if I would be willing to see someone whom she felt might be able to shed a third-party perspective on where I'm going with the new life I've embarked on, as well as an objective view of our budding relationship, I immediately accepted her invitation. After all, it's not like the first time I saw a "counselor!"

When I met with this counselor, we talked for about an hour. I thoroughly enjoyed her and it was kind of funny in a way. When I woke that morning to go meet her for the first time, it occurred to me that this was the sort of thing I used to absolutely despise, "getting counseling." However, after looking back over the past several years and remembering the literally hundreds of hours spent in group counseling sessions, numerous private sessions, AA meetings, out-patient treatment, as well as interactions with others in various ways, and all the good that came out of that, I was eagerly looking forward to this encounter. For those of you who have been in counseling yourself and have seen first-hand the positive effect it had on your life, you will understand why I was so eager. For those of you who haven't, or who may simply disagree with this stance, I ask only for your patience and an open heart and mind in the message I'm trying to convey.

One of the things she and I discussed was the quote I frequently refer to as "God gives us only what we can handle." To be fair, that's not what most people think it says in the Bible, though everyone is familiar with this terminology. The actual quote is in Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." She was cautioning me that I had a lot of unfinished business to attend to; just finishing school, searching for work, finding my own place, taking care of my children, finding my own identity, and so on. What she was driving at of course, was whether I could handle developing and integrating a new relationship with the woman I had recently met, into my already full and transitioning lifestyle. My reply? "I've been saying for a very long time that God didn't give me so much as a plate, it's more like a cattle trough. He seems to think I can handle quite a bit and honestly, I can!" That's where she disagreed with me philosophically about what I had referred to about God and this plate business, primarily because it was her belief through counseling numerous people over a number of years, instances where she felt her clients had been dealt a bad hand when it came to senseless tragedies in their lives, such as the death of a loved one.

It was at that point when I held my ground with my beliefs. The death of my own mother at the young age of 39 immediately came to mind as a perfect example of what she was speaking of as a senseless tragedy. I choose to see our family's "senseless tragedy" quite differently. Enough time has passed since my mother's death 38 years ago, and although I cannot bring her back, I view it today as something I can draw positive motivation and strength from. Though I was a 13 year old boy at the time of her death, I can honestly say now as an adult, that my so called tragedies have helped me to connect with others in a more meaningful, spiritual, and inspirational way. I feel God can use me to help others in dealing with tragedies in their own lives, whether it's the death of a loved one they feel is unjust or unfair, or their own personal self-inflicted tragedy, such as the one I experienced with alcohol. Yes we disagreed, and honestly, it was minor and respectful, since the overall meeting went very well.

Here's why I feel so strongly about this notion of God and plate business. When I look at myself objectively, or at least try to, here's what I see. I see a 51 year old man who was born on a farm in Western Kansas, one of six children, and one of humble beginnings. I not only lost my mother in a tragic farm accident when I was 13, but witnessed it first-hand. I moved to California when I was 16 and finished high school, graduating in the top 10% of my class. I went on to get my Bachelor's degree in Business Administration when I was 23. I then embarked on a very successful career in banking for nearly 25 years afterward, earning the respect and admiration of my peers, all the while managing to get married, father and raise two children, several years by myself, and operate a 4,000 acre wheat operation at the same time. And then nearly dying, not once, but twice from seizures suffered from alcohol withdrawals. Spending 5 ½ months in a steel and concrete cage after catching my 3rd DUI in May 2008, 6 months in a house-arrest facility in Liberal, Kansas, followed by returning to where my life had spun out of control, where the big trouble had started, in Elkhart, Kansas. I felt I had to prove to God, myself, my family, and many others what I was truly made of. Completing an out-patient program in record time, being released from probation a year early, getting accepted into the University of California San Diego's accelerated paralegal program, and completing it successfully. Leaving Kansas in mid-March of this year and returning to California, bringing only what I needed to start over; just the bare necessities that one needs to survive. But mostly I brought a huge heart, an intelligent mind, a gigantic will, and my soul. A soul that simply won't give up on anyone or anything, including myself, and those that I love.

So, can I handle more? Can I handle the pressure of finding a job, my own place, taking care of my children again? Can I handle new relationships? A whole new life? You darn right I can. Never say never.

Next time you feel overwhelmed by your life, your family, your job, your finances, your whatever, look inside yourself and ask this question. How big is my plate? Is God giving me only what I can handle? Can I take it? Can I handle more? My belief is the answer is an emphatic yes. You never know what you're capable of until you're forced to. Your faith in God and faith in yourself; your heart, mind, and soul, will propel you to a life of enrichment, love, peace, and happiness that will astound you.