Monday, August 31, 2020

The Inspired Word or Men with Agendas?

There was a time not too many years ago when I never questioned my faith or what would become of my soul once I'm gone from this life. Attending weekly services at Hosanna (the megachurch a mile from home) was oftentimes the highlight of my week. I had a reading plan that would take me through the entirety of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible within the span of a year and I did this for many years on end. I was all-in with my Christian faith. Jesus was the answer and the only way to receive the gift of eternal life. There was nothing more to discuss or consider, or so I thought. 

I don't know if I should feel sad or relieved, or possibly even angry, but I'm no longer that person. 

I've been slowly but steadily drifting away from the moorings of my faith for a number of years. Initially, it was realizing that the more I read my Bible, the more I questioned what I was reading—especially what's written in the Old Testament. I could no longer read the first 5 books of the Bible (those authored by Moses) without questioning if what I was reading was truly God-inspired or more likely, Moses's interpretation of how he deemed life should be. My first inkling of this occurred when reading Leviticus 18 where Moses writes about sexual sin. He lists numerous forbidden sexual scenarios but never once does he mention abuse of one's own child. This blatant omission seemed odd to me and caused me to begin to wonder about the authenticity of what I was reading—was it truly God-inspired? 

Easily the most troubling verse in the Bible for me is found in Deuteronomy 22, verses 28-29 where it talks about a virgin woman who is raped and how the rapist shall pay her father 50 shekels and she shall marry her rapist. My understanding of this scripture was that back in biblical times, a raped woman was considered to be damaged goods, whose prospects for acceptance by others in society were greatly diminished. Better for her to live a life of torment at the hands of her rapist than to die destitute on the street. I didn't accept that explanation and wondered why God didn't simply instruct the Israelites to not shun the woman and to make sure she was provided for. Wouldn't that make more sense? Apparently, not to Moses. 

There were many other instances in the Bible that flew in the face of my understanding that "God is love" and I couldn't help but notice them jump off the pages at me as I'd work my way through the ancient writings. Was I wasting my time continuing on in what seemed to be a futile effort to make sense of so much that seemed to disagree with my understanding of Christianity—with what I'd been taught about the faith I'd practiced all my life? King David was a revered leader who we're told was always seeking after God, yet he was a vile man who killed thousands of people and had hundreds of wives and concubines. I thought of him when the senior pastor at our church, Bill Bohline, fired his lead cook for being in a same-sex relationship. It made no sense when put in context with what's written in the book that embodies our faith while lifting up people within it for us to admire; King David being one of them. It was just another brick removed from the crumbling foundation of the faith I embraced.

I think it would be foolish to not question the motives of the authors of the Bible, especially when I see the way the church has been corrupted by conservative politics. Can you imagine the Bible being written by people involved in the church today—by the same people who hold up Trump as some sort of good and honest man who is fighting the forces of evil—the "deep state"—in our country today? Would they write about the way he gave tax breaks to the wealthy while taking from programs designed to benefit the neediest among us? Would they write about his dishonesty, his narcissism, and bullying? Would they write about his lack of leadership—how he played golf in the face of a global pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands in our country, all the while fanning the flames of hatred and racism that are tearing our nation to shreds as a way to help him retain power? Is he their King David of our times? Would they write about our bloated military and the obscene amount of money we throw at it while many go hungry and have little means to pay for healthcare? Would they take a pass on the story of Gideon because of its inconvenience to their narrative of the need for a strong military? 

When I finished reading my Bible for the 7th time, I was left with more questions than answers and decided I was done with it. I was no longer going to try and force the square peg into the round hole. Sure, I could just ignore those passages that are troubling to me the way the church ignores them but that seemed disingenuous. The Bible is either the word of God or it's just a collection of writings by various authors, all with their own stories to tell and their own agendas to put forward.

I have a fairly good idea that a Christian Bible written today would bear little resemblance to anything a loving God would inspire. And so I'm left wondering if the Bible used in churches and embraced by Christians around the world today was also influenced by men with an agenda who said they were inspired by God? I'm quite certain I know the answer. 

Pascal's Wager is intriguing but how does one pretend to believe in something?

Instead, I acknowledge that there's a higher power, unseen, possibly unfathomable from my perspective but out there. Reincarnation now holds a place in my ever-evolving belief system alongside my belief that there are powers of both good and evil at play in the world. 

I pray daily and in those prayers, I pray to Jesus. I don't expect that will ever change for me. It's part of who I've become and I'm not desiring to leave that part of me behind. My belief in a higher power, though, disregards a lot of the noise in the Bible. It's a book written by men, often for the benefit of men—literally, men. 

It's where my thinking is at these days for when I return here to what I've written years from now to see how my life has evolved.

Switching gears.

I've been getting in more golf than ever, sometimes teeing it up well before sunrise with Wally at CreeksBend Golf Course. I have to laugh because it's nearly impossible to follow to flight of the ball on the first tee but we've never failed to find our shots in the fairway, at least not yet. I never imagined myself being an early morning golfer but I've become one. It's the only way to go when the hot, humid air settles in by mid-morning. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's round of golf. Steve and I are meeting in Winona to play The Bridges Golf Course. It's an awesome course that I've played twice in the past, two years ago. The weather promises to be outstanding!

My riding has taken a bit of a back seat to my time on the links and I'm okay with that. I can ride year-round but golfing comes to an abrupt end in about two months. Here are a few ride videos since last updating my blog.

That's all I've got.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Goodbye, Uncle Norm and Voter Suppression in Plain Sight

Our monarch caterpillar chrysalis produced a beautiful butterfly. We set it free in our backyard garden with talk of planting more milkweed next year to attract even more of them. I had hoped to capture video of it as it emerged but I was on the golf course and forgot to check its progress before leaving home.

I was trying to imagine what it must be like for a caterpillar to emerge from its chrysalis where previously it spent its life among the milkweed moving at something less than a snail's pace, to now, able to flitter above the ground, taking in so much more of the world while trading a diet of milkweed for the nectar of flowers.

Our world is so amazing

My uncle Norm passed away last week at the age of 85. He'd been in poor health for years so when he recently contracted the COVID-19 virus he had little chance to overcome it. Norm was always our "cool uncle", several years younger than my other uncles and very active in golf, hunting, softball and other pastimes. 

One lasting memory I have of Norm was from 50+ years ago at my parent's farm in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where we'd spend a few weeks each summer. Norm had a small red and white motorcycle and he was giving rides to each of us kids around the gravel roads near the farm. It was my first time on a motorcycle.

I hadn't spent much time with Norm in the past several decades but I can still hear his voice and picture the way his smile lit up his face. The adjustments ahead won't be easy for my aunt Maria. They had been together for more than 60 years.

Tammy and I made it out to the Landscape Arboretum in Chaska recently. It had been so long since we'd taken the time to stroll the grounds there. Neither of us recalled the walking trails or the outdoor art. We hope to not wait so long before our next visit. Here's a collection of photos I took. 

I was more than happy with the nomination of Kamala Harris this past week to be Joe Biden's running mate. I can't recall a presidential election when I felt any amount of excitement over past VP picks. I said at the time that I think Joe Biden is setting her up for a run for the presidency in 2024—that he has no intention of serving as president for more than 4 years due to his age. His only goal is to stop the madness of the Trump administration with its assault on our norms and total reluctance to lead in any meaningful way in the midst of a pandemic. 

As I write this, Trump is actively and openly trying to sabotage the United States Postal Service to try and prevent any effort to ensure that people who want to vote by mail can do so. We're in the throes of a fucking pandemic! Why is this even a thing? Trump believes that the more people participate in the voting process, the less likely he and Republicans will win. This is voter suppression in plain sight. It's a crazy time in our country. I keep saying that nobody could've scripted any of this a few years ago and expected to be taken seriously. I gave up watching House of Cards on Netflix because it paled in comparison to what's happening in real life. But most disturbing of all is that there are still 41% of eligible voters who support this most imbecilic president. 

Sometimes you need to look for the humor. Last week we received a letter in the mail from the Trump campaign looking for a monetary contribution. The request even came with a stamped envelope! I gave it to Tammy because she loves this sort of thing. She crammed it full of whatever would fit inside it and I took it out to our mailbox. Mess with the cultists while helping the USPS. Win-win!!

My rear-facing GoPro camera has been doing a fine job of doing what I was hoping it would: capture video of dogs giving chase to me. I've started a collection of photos (screenshots, actually) of the pups it captures. Check it out!

It's a beautiful day out there and I intend to take advantage of it. Have a great week!

That's all I've got.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Butterflies, Eagles, and Norms

Tammy and I are keeping watch over a monarch caterpillar chrysalis that's metamorphosing in our den. It formed its chrysalis on the 24th of July—9 days ago. The monarch butterfly usually appears within 9-14 days. I'd like to capture some video of it as it emerges if I'm around so I can bookend this video I took of it forming its chrysalis. I was amazed at how quickly it changed from a caterpillar to a chrysalis. 

Tammy had ordered a dozen caterpillars from an online site but they were never able to fill her request. We needed to go only as far as our backyard garden where we'd planted a few milkweed plants to find what we were looking for. We figured one was enough and allowed any others to remain in the garden. We'll be planting more milkweed next spring to attract them. 

I've got a nice rotation of riding, walking, and golfing that's keeping me active outdoors. I like the variety. It wasn't all that many years ago when my only focus was road riding. How I never burned out on a steady diet of 300-mile (480 km) weeks or more I'm not sure. Those days are likely done, at least for this life. One thing I've noticed with my gravel riding: I sometimes get pounding headaches after a longish ride—headaches that develop later in the evening after a ride and oftentimes stay with me through the next day. I thought (and still sorta do) that the headaches were the result of not hydrating well enough during and after my rides but I'm not so certain that's the reason for them. I'm wondering if there's something in the gravel dust I'm exposed to that may be causing them?

I carded an eagle last week playing with Steve at Valleywood Golf Course on the 16th hole from 173 yards out with a 5 iron. We had to wait for the greenskeepers to exit the green before we could play our approach shots. They sat off to the side and waited for us. I knew I'd hit the ball well but I couldn't see how close to the hole it finished. When we came up to the green, I asked the greenskeepers if they saw where my ball landed because I wasn't seeing it. They both replied, "It's in the cup!" Haha! How fun was that!? The last eagle I made was on the 1st hole at Wyandotte Golf Course in Winona, MI at least 15 years ago. It's a par 5 and the group ahead of me waved me on. My ball landed on the green leaving me at least 30 feet for eagle. I somehow managed to hole it out with an audience. It's funny how those memories stay with me all these years later. I'm certain my most recent eagle will have its place as well in my list of memories. I'm a simple guy. 

The COVID-19 virus continues to plague the US while Republicans continue to downplay it and appear to want nothing to do with easing the financial burden on so many who are struggling to put food on their table and pay their mortgages, say nothing of utilities and car payments. I think their plan is to offer little to nothing in the way of assistance, forcing people back to work thereby giving the appearance that all is well and that we've put the virus behind us. It's ludicrous thinking and something the virus would laugh at if it could. 

It's not helpful that we have a president who can't tell the truth about anything. The thing is, had he been honest with the American people from the outset and led us through this difficult period by being honest about what we're up against, he would've been seen as a man doing his best for the good of the country. Instead, we have a president who is clearly only out for himself and will do anything imaginable and unimaginable to win the election and retain power. Who would've ever thought that a political party would force people to the polls to vote during a pandemic when they could've ensured a safe and fair election through mail-in ballots? This is especially concerning in high-minority areas where Republicans have drastically reduced the number of polling places, forcing people to stand in lines for hours on end to cast their ballots. 

I read an article in the Boston Globe a few days ago about what happens if Trump loses the election but refuses to concede the loss? Yes, that's the sort of thing that's actually being talked about here. What then? From the article: 
"Using a role-playing game that is a fixture of military and national security planning, the group envisioned a dark 11 weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day, one in which Trump and his Republican allies used every apparatus of government — the Postal Service, state lawmakers, the Justice Department, federal agents, and the military — to hold onto power, and Democrats took to the courts and the streets to try to stop it."
The article goes on to talk about how our form of government relies on norms, not laws for transition of power. What if a president takes it upon themselves to disregard those norms? What then? Here's a link to the article.  

I been using my rear-mounted camera to enhance my ride videos and have managed to record two dogs giving chase to me so far. Plus, I've been playing around with the TimeWarp feature on my GoPros to capture some time-lapse video. I like the effect it creates but I suppose I should be careful to not use it too much. It's pretty cool.

Edit: I nearly forgot! Tammy and I celebrated our 21 year wedding anniversary on Thursday. We took a nice drive up to Stillwater and bummed around the city for a few hours, enjoying a late lunch at the Freight House. How does 21 years get away so quickly? Our rhythm is off a little with the pandemic all around us. Still, it was nice to be able to celebrate in our own little subdued way.

That's all I've got.