My Deconstruction

Yesterday I realized most of my experience and understanding of God has been through the lens of fear. Fear of going to hell, fear of punishment, fear of guilt and shame. I wonder how many people live their entire lives that way, let alone push their beliefs on their loved ones for the same reason.

I think fear keeps a lot of people going to church, making their kids go to church, and hoping/”praying” their efforts will essentially control a positive outcome – which is what our lives are all about, right? Ultimately, we want to be able to control our circumstances. I realized every time I pray for something to happen (as opposed to other kinds of prayers), it originates from the desire to actually be God. In other words, the goal is to control a situation or outcome of circumstances, usually positively, for myself or others.

Obviously, I do not want to pass down that legacy to my children. I also do not want to give them any preconceived notions about what to believe. I would much rather them come to their own conclusions about their faith when they can understand the consequences of their beliefs than push my own onto them.

I prayed every day for my Mom to get better when she had cancer. I cried myself to sleep every night for a year, being angry at God yet somehow also blaming myself. The declining health of my mother, now 20+ years later, is what makes me continue to question everything I was taught about God.

I only came to this realization after not going to church for the last five years. After seeing many people I once looked up to abandon their faith completely, I have felt some anxiety about “what comes next” after my own deconstruction. Will I eventually go back to church? Will I stop believing in God completely? But now I’ve realized I don’t need to fear anything that is not in my control, nor do I need to try to control it. My journey through deconstruction isn’t going to look like anyone else’s, and I don’t need to worry about what comes after it.

Sometimes I wonder what churches/religion would look like if people spent their time actually doing what they claim to believe; like loving their enemies and caring for the poor instead of judging them. To me, it seems like Jesus and other religious teachers were more concerned with what we do (and how we do it) than what we proclaim or tell others to believe.

Dear Grandfather

After my maternal grandmother passed away, I wrote this post almost immediately. So naturally, it was more viscerally emotional, as I was brushing away tears while typing.

I had a very different relationship with both of them. When I went next door to visit after school or on the weekends, Grandmother would get down on the floor with me to play Rummy or Uno. She taught me to shuffle playing cards by spreading them out on the floor and moving my hand in a circular motion on top of them, then collecting them back from the pile and having to get them back into the right position to be dealt. She would let me run around upstairs, going from the spare bedroom where’d I play on their stationary bike, through her bedroom to the attic stairs, where an unending supply of pennies in an enormous tin was waiting to be counted (thanks Amy for the reminder about this). When I got bored with that, I would wander up into the attic to explore hidden treasures until she called me back down. Before I returned home, she would give me a hug and say, “thanks for visiting.”

When Grandfather was home, he would almost always be found sitting in his chair in the corner of their living room, doing a crossword puzzle from that day’s newspaper or reading. If I stayed late enough or came after dinner, sometimes we’d watch Jeopardy. The other times I went to visit was to borrow one of his encyclopedias for a school project. He never asked what the project was about, but always let me spend as much time as I needed looking through his personal library.

The other place we would spend time together was in the basement of my parent’s house, where he had a small space set up for his workshop. I was always fascinated by his tools and would sneak down there by myself just to look around. I knew never to touch anything when he wasn’t there (except an occasional screwdriver when I was feeling brave). Sometimes there were projects in various stages of completion on his workbench, so I would inspect them to admire his handiwork. Other times I’d see drawings or just some tools laid out in preparation for his next project, which was always something someone in the family needed. But my favorite memories were when we worked on something together. Again, he didn’t say much but gave instructions when needed.

Once, I had to build a derby car to race against other boys at my church. He helped me build an awesome car, then I decided to paint it green and put puffy Eagles stickers all over it. Inevitably, the stickers created so much drag on the car that it couldn’t even make it to the finish line. I remember being upset that he hadn’t told me what would happen or keep me from putting the stickers on the car. But when I got older, I realized he wasn’t concerned with the outcome of the race. He enjoyed helping me do what I wanted and encouraged me even when my erroneous decisions drove me to certain failure. He understood the importance of letting me make my own mistakes, and not to fear them but to learn from those experiences.

When he was well into his eighties, he helped me put in new flooring in our house. Even though he couldn’t get down on his knees as easily or remember exactly all the steps in the process, we were able to figure it out and get everything done. During this time, he gave me a few of his tools by simply leaving them there and saying he had no need for them anymore.

When I got into writing and recording music in my teenage years, I knew he didn’t approve of the type of music I was playing. He never told me that himself; it was always second-hand information. Someone would say, “Grandfather doesn’t like drums” or “He doesn’t approve of dancing.” But he and Grandmother always came to my school concerts and sporting events, as well as similar events for all of my cousins. I always felt special knowing I had more than just my parents and siblings in the audience like most of the other kids.

Even though he was very traditional, he wasn’t afraid to try new things. I remember him asking me one day to accompany him to Best Buy and pick out a computer. He gave me the advice, “buy the best you can afford once and you’ll save money in the long run. And you’ll have better equipment.” He was eager to learn how to use his email and eventually we even helped him set up a Facebook account.

I see a lot of myself in him. People said he was quiet and I always wondered if he was deep in thought, and what or who he was thinking about. Or maybe he was sitting in peace, totally relaxed, simply enjoying his life.

Looking back, I wish I had asked him more questions. I wish I had gotten to know him better. I wish I had learned more from him. I wish I felt closer to him at times when I was younger, and again when he was much older.

But I know he was satisfied with his life and proud of his family he cherished so much. Perhaps my favorite memory of him is when we went to my youngest sister’s college graduation out of town. We all stayed at a bed and breakfast the night before, so we ate breakfast together with a few other families who were there for the same purpose the next morning. A man asked Grandfather about his family, and he told them how many children and grandchildren he had, and how most of them still lived close by and visited him often. The other man responded, “Wow, you are a very lucky man!” I looked over at Grandfather as he said, “Yes, I am” and could see how proud he was in that moment.

How We Know We’re Alive

I’ve been thinking a lot about consciousness recently, both in the context of ways to determine how we consider a human being alive (somewhere between a pulse and self-awareness) and comparing the types of our consciousness to other living things.

Thinking about how we evolved leads to thinking about why we evolved, as well as, what we are becoming. Will we be able to “read minds” or “see” each other’s consciousness someday? Will we be able to perceive time differently if our consciousness evolves further? What could a deeper level of self-awareness bring, both individually and collectively as a species?

So many questions.

The Attention Schema Theory (AST), developed over the past five years, may be able to answer those questions. The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence.

A New Theory Explains How Consciousness Evolved

13 Things

Since my oldest daughter is turning 13 today, I wanted to give her some advice that will help her throughout her life, avoiding modern-day cliches whenever possible.

1 – On Truth

Life is hard. As you get older, it will continue to get harder. The best way to make it not any harder for yourself is to always tell the truth. Ironically, the hardest times to tell the truth are also the times when it’s the most important. I can’t envision the exact scenarios you will find yourself in where you will need this advice, but I can guarantee you will find yourself in those situations sooner or later. Telling the truth will make you a trustworthy person.

2 – On Kindness

Be kind to people who don’t deserve it. I’m not saying you should let people walk all over you or abuse that kindness, but be generous to people who are less fortunate than you – with your money, time, and resources. It will never be wasted.

3 – On Bravery

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do.

4 – On Perfection

No one and nothing is perfect. Art is never finished or complete. Do what makes you happy and try your best. Learn something from everyone you meet.

5 – On Individuality

There is only one “you” and you’re it. Only copy other people when you’re learning a new thing, then find your own way. No one else can be you. Even though you are a tiny speck on a tiny, spinning ball flying through a tiny galaxy in the universe, you are a part of everything that happens.

6 – On Confrontation

If you learn how to resolve conflicts with others without ruining the relationship, you will be better at it than almost everyone. Then, you can write a book about it.

7 – On Money

A job is just a job. If you get to do something you love and get paid for it, great! But if not, do the best you can and you will learn something from every job you have. Learning the value of hard work has been a valuable lesson I learned at an early age. Save as much as you can and learn to get by on less than you make.

8 – On Hobbies

There’s probably nothing more important for your mental health than finding things you love to do just for fun. These things will change over the years, so don’t be afraid to try new things. People will judge things you like based on their experience with that thing, so don’t let anyone convince you not to try something that might seem weird.

9 – On Laughter

What someone finds funny is one of the most fascinating parts of their personality. Find someone who makes you laugh and who you make laugh, and you’ll have a lifelong friend – maybe even a spouse.

10 – On Family

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Yours will probably look different from most. But, the bond of family we have tried to create will hopefully give you a few lifelong companions. You won’t always get along with everyone, and you don’t have to.

11 – On Friendship

Some friends will come and go. You will find them in unexpected places and times, often just when you needed that person to come into your life for a specific reason. You only get out what you put into a friendship. The people I’ve considered my best friends are the ones who offer to help without expecting anything in return. Be that friend.

12 – On Love

It’s difficult for most people to know if they will love the same person their entire life. What makes relationships so hard is people are always changing. If someone breaks your heart, don’t let that stop you from loving someone else. Find someone who treats you as their equal by giving their whole self to you and give your whole self to them.

13 – On Beauty

Our society judges women on their appearance. How you look determines, in many cases, your worth and value to other people. But, it should not determine what you think of yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others, and don’t let what anyone thinks of you, or even what you think of yourself, stop you from pursuing your dreams and goals.


No Expectations?

Recently I’ve been thinking about my successes and failures in music. As a kid, I didn’t care about making a living or even a single dollar from music. I just played because I loved it. After a month of listening to a new album every day, I’ve begun to rediscover this joy.

Once I got into my late teens and had to start thinking about a career, I dreamt about playing on large stages and recording in expensive studios. This idea was the only version of success I could perceive from watching other bands because websites like YouTube did not exist yet.

Against that expectation, I have not succeeded. But today, success comes in many more forms. There are full time musicians who do not tour, making a living uploading videos or getting millions of streams on Spotify. Those are still exceptions, but there are many more artists creating and selling their work using this model.

In contemplating what “success” in music should look like for myself, the only standard I should apply is if I’m enjoying what I’m doing. Financial success will probably never be attainable, but it’s never really been my ultimate goal; just a means to the end of being able to do what I love.

Rereading the famous 1,000 True Fans article today, I’ve realized the takeaway hidden at the end is actually the whole point:

1,000 true fans is an alternative path to success other than stardom. Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum bestseller hits, blockbusters, and celebrity status, you can aim for direct connection with a thousand true fans. On your way, no matter how many fans you actually succeed in gaining, you’ll be surrounded not by faddish infatuation, but by genuine and true appreciation. It’s a much saner destiny to hope for. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.

Having no other expactions other than being able to play music and connect with people who enjoy it is the ultimate goal. Anything else is a bonus.