Hello Again, Bible

Shoot, I don’t even know where to begin.

I’m reading Rob Bell’s latest – What Is the Bible? – and I’m digging it. In it he explores the human side of the Bible, looking at it for what it really is (from the cover): an ancient library of poems, letters, and stories.

witb-cover.png

It’s so easy to treat it one of two ways: 1) as a holy, sacred text offered from on-high that is infallible, untouchable, inerrant and practically perfect in every way. Or, 2) to just completely reject it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been treating it as #1. Over the years though, particularly in recent years, I’ve been sliding more toward #2. There’s an internal check, though, which keeps me from going all the way into #2, but as time goes on I see it’s not that I’m sliding more and more toward junking the whole thing, but more toward junking my understanding and reading of it.

The Bible is something I’ve had with me ever since I was a kid. I remember trying to read it on my own as a kid and not getting a thing from it. Then, in the mid-90s, when I had my first real Jesus moment, it came alive to me in a new way. I still have the Bible I got around that time; maybe ’96 or so. It’s an old, beaten up NIV Study Bible. It still has this SUPER long list I wrote in the back of it, naming as many people as I could who I knew or had known. There were times I’d pray for chunks of the names each night over the course of a couple weeks.

Anyway, the systems of Western theology have failed me time and again – on varying levels and to varying degrees – over the years. Or, again, perhaps just my interpretations and implementations of them. In the most recent years – last five or so – I’ve learned that giving up worrying about getting it right has been the best thing for me to improve quality of life.

You see, during that aforementioned Jesus moment, the huge thing was this immense burden of guilt I felt lifted from my soul. For the first time in my life, I felt truly loved, truly safe, truly free. I had never gotten that feeling from anyone else before with perhaps one or two exceptions… It’s that feeling which accompanies the receiving of unconditional love. It’s that feeling that comes along with realizing you’re just enough, you’re just fine the way you are and there’s nothing you need to do to improve yourself except keeping on being you.

I wanted to share that feeling with as many people as I could; I wanted them to be able to feel what I felt. Part of what was taught from my sources of teaching (and what I still hear from time-to-time to this day) is that all who receive Christ’s love have a special gift; they have a cure to the cancer of sin dwelling in the hearts of all who live on the planet. If they don’t get that cure, if no one goes and tells them, then they’re doomed for an eternity in hell.

Over time I came to see a few fundamental flaws in that thinking, not the least of which is the immense guilt complex put upon eager believers wanting to do the right thing. It’s super easy to reach the conclusion that YOU are these peoples’ ONE AND ONLY HOPE for a shot at salvation. Some folks jump on that line of thinking and run with it. Good on them – we all have our journeys. But that’s not mine. Mine is not one to be motivated by guilt; for my understanding is that Jesus takes our guilt away.

For some reason or another, be it genes, inherited disposition, or something else altogether, I find it incredibly easy to be sucked into guilt and flesh that out with some masterful self-loathing. Every time I’d go back to the trough of the Church, somewhere at some point that kool-aid would come up again. So, after my divorce I junked it all again, throwing it into a fire and seeing what remained.

God always remains. You can’t burn the Infinite.

I know there’s more to it all – God; the Bible; faith, love, and hope… Getting out and seeing a fair amount of the world has helped me see this. Getting out from under the burdens of rules and guilt have helped. A very wise man told me that you can choose how you feel in a situation. All depends on how you look at it. Though I rarely believed him or understood him early on, I get it now.

Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the LORD and lean not on your own understanding.

Don’t trust in rules; don’t trust in things just because a lot of people do; QUESTION AUTHORITY. Question religious authority.

Around that time (going back to the time shortly after my divorce), I heard the story of Mike McHargue on the You Made It Weird podcast. On the episode, he talks a lot about the brain, neuro science, and his story of how he grew up Southern Evangelical, became an atheist, and then a believer again. It spoke to me on so many levels.

Since then, I’ve been actively skeptical, trying to stay out of cynicism for extended periods, and trying to find what’s real and what’s BS; or what’s deeper than the mainstream, common understanding of things.

I’ve come to really appreciate Rob Bell. As I mentioned at the top, I’m reading his most recent book, this one about the Bible.

I just read chapter 13 in which he talks about the story of Jonah. Did a fish actually swallow Jonah, then spit him out three whole days later? Does that matter? Bell says it doesn’t matter because the bigger part is the heart of the story: Jonah going to Nineveh to preach a message of salvation and upon a magnificent success, he wants to kill himself, he wants to die.

In the cultural context, Jonah going to speak to the people of Nineveh, the King of Assyria, is like Elie Wiesel going to speak a message of salvation to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Bell’s point is that it’s easy to get caught up in whether or not a literal fish literally kept Jonah in its stomach for three days, literally spitting him up on some beach approximately 72 hours after swallowing him and miss that deeper part of the story – forgiving and loving your enemies.

Could any of us forgive and offer a similar message of hope to our greatest adversaries? Could we do it for democrats? For Trump supporters?

For Trump himself?

Or for Hillary Clinton, for that matter?

Could we offer a message of hope to members of the KKK, to bullies, to the members of ISIS?

Could we offer such a message to ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-spouses, to family members who do nothing but criticize you day after day? Just telling them that God loves them and wants the best for them?

I’m not saying anyone should; just asking if anyone could.

In that regard, I believe the deeper meaning of what I now believe to be a parable, at the time, wasn’t to encourage Israelites to plan mission trips to Nineveh. Rather, it’s important that we remember all of us on this planet – from the saintliest saint to the most despicable, vile asshole – are human beings. There should be no Us vs. Them – we’re all in this world together. And we’re all loved by God.

That’s something I never got from the Bible before. Twelve years on since my first meeting with Jesus I reckon it’s about time and better later than never.

2016 Reflections

It’s been quite a year.

A lot of folks think it’s been a terrible year. The world has lost many worldwide famous entertainers as well as close, personal loved ones. Even now, as the clock ticks down to midnight on the east coast, I’m seeing new Facebook posts pop up from folks whose relatives or family members have passed on to the next life.

I’m not going to say how people should grieve or handle loss, but for me 2016 wasn’t a terrible year, though it certainly hasn’t been without its fair share of new challenges and hard lessons.

I’d say the most significant event for me was Stormy’s birth back in April. He came a couple weeks ahead of schedule and has changed everything, and I’d change nothing back.

The second most significant event for me was transitioning out of the military and back into being a full-time student, this time in my dream major: filmmaking.

Losing that job security has had its share of stressors, but Jenn, Stormy and I are doing okay so far, and the future’s looking good so long as we’ve got each other.

I’ve learned that there’s a difference between knowing the world isn’t black and white and viewing it as such and acting accordingly.

I’ve learned that if I truly believe I am as worthy of respect as the next guy, I need to stand up for myself and understand that sometimes people will be upset when I do that.

I’ve also learned that standing up for myself doesn’t mean I get to or have to be a dick about it ( – baby steps – ).

I’ve learned and experienced a newer, deeper level of selfless love since Jenn and I became parents.

I’ve learned that though I may have missed out on friendships available over 18 years ago, under the right circumstances it’s never too late to reconnect and enjoy the good old time now rather than lamenting the previously missed opportunities.

I guess I’ve learned that redemption is divine and the mundane is sacredly profound.

I’ve learned that I have a whole lot more to learn before it’s my time to go.

Here’s to another 365ish days hurtling through the frigid vacuum of space in solar orbit on our homey pale blue dot.

Anchors Aweigh Part 11 – A Stone’s Throw

boy throwing a stone into the water at the beach
boy throwing a stone into the water at the beach

PART 10 (click here)

So, I did check those boxes because I’m 95% honest and to ensure Big Navy that I was okay, I had to provide documentation from the respective service providers indicating I was indeed okay and fit for duty.

The counseling part was easy. I was recently in contact with my therapist and she gladly provided a clear and concise letter explaining my situation and that I was A.J. Squared Away. The kidney stone part…that caused a bit of a hold up.

First, I had to look up the hospital that I was admitted to; well, the hospital of the emergency room I was admitted to. Ugh. I still remember that time; physical pain on a scale I’ve yet to match. Finding the hospital was easy enough, but then I had to get the documentation from my visit.

I called up their records department, talked with a nice lady who was able to help me out, and actually got the records to me pretty quick. I gave them to AM1 who skimmed them and said he’d submit them and see what would happen.

Now, during this time we were also discussing job possibilities, or what rates I might try to go for. The first time we talked about it I told him about the survey I had taken on Navy.com and how it said I’d be a good photojournalist. He explained that was part of the MC rate, or Mass Communication Specialist. He asked if I was interested in it, I said kinda, but I was more interested in exploring other possibilities. He wanted me to be a Nuke, a nuclear engineer. I asked what that entailed and he explained it takes about two years of training after boot camp but that it comes with some sweet financial bonuses.

He wasn’t lying.

Looking over the literature he gave me on the subject, I was indeed tempted by the thousands of extra dollars a nuke gets, but it was very math-heavy. I hated math. I hadn’t taken math since my senior year of high school, more than 12 years. Thankfully, the cut off age was something like 25 or 26; I was about to turn 31.

TO BE CONTINUED…

END OF TOUR

Five years.

In retrospect it all just flew by; things always seem to have gone faster once you’re on the other side of them. Yet, I feel like getting to where I am now has been in the works for many more years than just the last five.

Part of me thinks I should have enlisted right out of high school or college. Of course, had I done that, I wouldn’t have had the experiences I’ve had; I wouldn’t be who I am today. While I’m not 100% proud of the choices the who-I-am-today makes, I’m on pretty good terms with him and we get shit done.

So yeah, it couldn’t have happened any other way. My experience in the Navy wouldn’t have been the same, I think. I wouldn’t have the same appreciation for life and the gifts it brings that I have today. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the same worldview, either. Maybe close…the more time that passes, the more I’m convinced I was on the right track when I was 17, 18, but for whatever reason I lacked that inner core of confidence to just freakin’ go for it.

Shucks, I am 100% positive I wouldn’t have gotten this assignment to Hawaii with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (neé JPAC) 18 or so years ago had I enlisted then and I would have missed the incredible experiences and interesting people I’ve met and worked with.

From Laos to Greenland it’s been one hell of a ride and a privilege of which to be a part.

First time ever in Laos - last day of the mission surrounded by such incredibly lovely people.
First time ever in Laos – last day of the mission surrounded by such incredibly lovely people.
Greenland - amazing mission with quality people. No one makes 'em quite like the Coasties.
Greenland – amazing mission with quality people. No one makes ’em quite like the Coasties.

Now it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, but the ups sure outnumber the downs and in the end I’ve learned to stand up for myself and for others – not perfectly, and hardly ever gracefully, but everything is a work-in-progress. I only hope I can pass what I’ve learned on to my son, as my father hoped to pass certain things on to me.

So what’s the next step? Who the heck knows?!

I’m about halfway through my first semester at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in the Digital Cinema track (modern filmmaking); working on a couple novels; working on my filmmaking portfolio; raising a baby with my wife; loving the crap out of my wife (we keep each other regular); and meeting each challenge as it comes. We started working on our plan more than a year ago and continue to work on it. Life changes things. Plans change.

Adapt and overcome.

So yeah, I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life and blam-o, here I am in the thick of it already.

Zing.

What living on a glacier for six weeks can do to a man. Desperately trying to get this look back...
What living on a glacier for six weeks can do to a man. Desperately trying to get this look back…

Weaks to Weeks

I first felt it last Thursday: a scratchiness in my throat, a developing cough, and the occasional minor headache. By Friday night I was coughing and mildly hacking and by Saturday I was fa-reakin’ sick. The Uncommon Cold, I like to think of it.

It continued to grow Sunday and into Monday. The severity seemed to wax and wane, but I knew I was in its clutches Monday night.

This past week has been three parts hell, two and a half parts heaven.

It’s just so frustrating. You can’t do what you normally do. It makes me feel weaker; when my head is all stuffed and aching I can’t focus or concentrate on anything other than the pain and trying to make it go away.

I’m also afraid of getting Jenn and Stormy sick. As a matter of fact, poor

The sun peeking over to campus.
The sun peeking over to campus.

li’l Stormy did get sick. He has this terrible, occasional cough now and sometimes he goes into little coughing fits. It just breaks Jenn’s and my hearts as it sounds so awful and he doesn’t know what’s happening. Fortunately, he also seems to be on the mend after a doctor visit yesterday. We’ve treated him with saline drops (which he hates and I hate administering them), a Vicks Vaporizer and tonight some BabyVicks ointment.

By some miracle Jenn hasn’t gotten sick.

I think the ailment is starting to leave me, too, finally. After this crazy week, today all three of us finally got a chance to catch up on our rest and I started using the saline mist. Not a fan of it going down the back of my throat, but it seems to help.

So then there’s Sunday – a day to catch up on work and cleaning and such, and then Monday all over again.

And soon – very soon – I’ll be out of the Navy.

While this past week kind of sucked, and while the preceding weeks were remarkably challenging, the groundwork is being laid for life after October 31, and it’s starting to pay off.

Work on The Frozen Wastes has all but stopped, but not on the saga as a whole…more on that in another post.

My meager production company, Phazon Media, is starting to see more action.

Other opportunities continue to arise, too.

And by now, if you’re a regular to this blog, you’ve seen my series, Anchors Aweigh! with new installments being posted every Thursday. Thursdays will be my days for serial stories. Soon I’ll be starting one-shot stories every Tuesday with a weekly check-in thrown in there somewhere; perhaps on

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So that’s it for now – thanks for stopping by!

Anchors, Aweigh! [Part 6 of my story of making the best decision of my adult life]

PREVIOUSLY…

The company of friends is a great thing, and when you’re at your lowest, nice strangers are good stand-ins until they become friends which is what happened for me. I was connected with a small group Bible study from another church. Being near about the oldest person in the group – by a margin of a few years – was a bit strange for me at first, but they were just cool, nice people who accepted me as I was.

I’m pretty sure they didn’t know of the recent emotional devastation I was coming out of, and that was okay.

These new friends helped me smile again. With make-up.
These new friends helped me smile again. With make-up.

They were younger so their faith was younger, more fresh – zesty, I daresay; and by faith, I guess I just mean their outlook on life. In addition to just being younger in age, some of them were younger in the faith, and I needed newness, freshness, different perspectives to help me heal and move on.

Things were starting to look up. I wasn’t going to the bathroom at work to cry as much, I was generally feeling better, and since I wasn’t dwelling so much on the past I was able to start thinking about my future.

That was when I realized, I had no freakin’ clue what to do about it.

At that point I was qualified to be a schoolteacher, work in middle management, or just management in retail. But I had no drive, no real motivation.

Over the years I had considered becoming a pastor, but that would require more school.

I briefly considered returning to video/filmmaking, but I felt grossly underqualified and clueless about the whole thing.

So while I was feeling better about things in general, I was rudderless, directionless, feeling no push or pull in any given direction, and that got me feeling antsy.

During another phone conversation with my surrogate mom, I expressed all this to her. She said to pray about it, so I did. A few days later during another conversation she said she had been talking to her husband, who among other things is a Marine who served in Vietnam during the war. He suggested I look into the military, the Air Force or something.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Connecting With the Past

We shouldn’t live in the past, but by all means we should be connected with it.

Tuesday morning I went into the gym for my daily Fit By First workout. It involved jumping jacks, situps/crunches, planks, and other things.

I took my place in front of the mirror.

I jiggled.

I wiggled.

I shook and shimmied involuntarily as I put my body through the paces.

And I watched.

Never have I seen me in such a state.

I’ve weighed this amount before, but I’ve never put myself in front of a full-body mirror and tried doing full-body exercises.

A few years ago that would have been mortifying. Now it’s…well, while I’m not satisfied with my metabolic status quo I realize it’s not going to change overnight and I’m not going to lose anything of value while I’m in it.

According to the Navy, for my height I’m about 30 pounds out of regulations. I think it’s fair to say it’s not all muscle; it’s not even 50% muscle, I think. I’d say it’s probably more significant than I think, but nowhere near what I’d want it to be. Well, maybe near; I’m not obese, but I am rambling, so to the point:

A lot of change has been going on in my life.

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I became a father this year. I went back to school. I’m getting out of the Navy after five years of service. Jenn and I moved and she went back to work. I have to drive Stormy to his grandparents at 0530 every morning (If we leave on time) and be back at Manoa in time for my 0730 class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I’m writing a book and getting coached in how to publicize it and sell pre-orders to get it published by Inkshares. I’m working on a prospective project for my side business. I get 4-6 hours of sleep most nights.

And while I don’t want to stay 30 lbs out of regs – even after I separate – I’m not super-ashamed because look at my life.

Crazy? Frenetic? Hectic? Abso-toot-ly.

But then tonight, after Jenn finished feeding Stormy – his last before bed – I was carrying him, gently burping him, and he had his head on my shoulder, facing toward me, but eyes shut tight, breathing deep, falling deeper into sleep.

Skinny Cliff would kill for such moments.

I thought back to when Jenn first told me her pee test popped positive; when we got our first ultrasound of him; the first time we saw his little body developing and he had limbs and as soon as the camera was on him he stretched out all the way, all of a sudden – a real live critter, just starting out; strong heartbeat, good vitals, our future son.

And that connection, that memory of the not too distant past (though it feels like a world away) flooded me with appreciation and emotion for this moment tonight.

I thanked God for this life, portly though I may currently be, and I’m just…happy. I’m content. I prefer the abilities of skinny Cliff and am working to get back to that, but to keep my spirit. Same body, a little leaner; same spirit, always growing.

Living the dream, baby.

 

Buy my book?

Doors

Lotsa doors, yo...you can only go through one at a time, though.
Lotsa doors, yo…you can only go through one at a time, though.

Three Months…!

Good-ness.

THREE MONTHS!

It’s been three months since one world ended and another began.

Two days old...
Two days old…
Just shy of three months in this'un.
Just shy of three months in this’un.

Dadgummit…makes me misty already…

He’s been with us for three months. I remember thinking three days was a big deal and then three weeks.

His personality is definitely emerging (as are his vocal talents) and…it’s just amazing.

Life just keeps barreling on.

Jenn started back at her job this week after taking off a whole year to aid in Nightstorm’s conception and to allow her a little more time with him.

I’m taking this and next week off from work to help a bit with the transition as well as furthering my own career transition out of the Navy in just a couple more months(!).

And this week we’re getting an idea of what it’s like to have someone else watch our kid for the day while we both work. Spoiler alert: it’s weird.

It’s good in that it’s her parents, so the boy is already getting some good multi-generational exposure in there, but still. To think that he’ll be spending the majority of his days now with people other than his parents.

Jenn felt the melancholy more than I did, at first, because she’s been with him all day everyday (with the exception of a couple date nights and a spa day) since he popped out of her very own body. And her body continues to nourish him, day in and day out – talk about an intimate bond…

But then, this morning I felt it, too. Getting him ready, putting him in the car seat, driving him to his grandparents’ house. A part of me wanted to call and cancel, to say that I’ll be spending time with my son today and everyday the rest of my vacation time. Thing is, it’s just not practical.

Even though I’m off from my day job, I’ve got to hustle a bit to ensure that my next step is ready and generating income. I mean, I’ll have income from the G.I. Bill when I go back to school at UH, but in trying to supplement that with the dream I’ve pursued since I was in middle school in trying to get published through crowdfunding; it’s taking a lot of work – work I can’t necessarily do with an adorable, yet needy, little/big munchkinboy hanging out with me. And then first full week of August I’m back in the office again anyway.

I don’t know about Jenn, but I think what I’m feeling is a sense of failure. Our family unit is unable to stay together throughout the day; Stormy has to be with someone other than his nuclear family because we can’t afford to be a single-income family.

But then I realize that this is actually the norm – the state of the American dream, I reckon. It’s how I was raised, by babysitters and daycare supervisors before I was in school and then afternoons after school, waiting to be picked up; during the summer months, too, until I was old enough to be a latchkey kid.

And for the first time I really understand what the debate about paid family leave is all about and I have a sudden urge to relocate to Iceland or Sweden.

Nevertheless I am grateful for in-laws who love their grandbaby and spending time with him, so for them it’s no chore.

I look forward to a time where it doesn’t have to be this way, but if grandma and grandpa can babysit so mom and dad can have lovey-dove fun time that’d be great.

Some days these next couple of weeks I will be staying home and looking after Stormy all day to get a feeling of what it may be like to work from home should my writing or video production career take off.

Sometimes when he starts getting fussy or needy and clingy I want to teach him independence and how to lay the ju-do smackdown on feelings and such. But then when my picking him up calms him, or when he flashes that precocious, half-smile my damn heart melts to gooey-gooey blood sauce confections.

Three months…where will he be in three years? In three decades?

Making the world a better place, I hope.

Four Years

Four years ago to the day my life was about to change in ways I never imagined.

I boarded the plane in Baltimore, had a six hour delay in Chicago, and at 11ish PM Friday, July 13, 2012, I set foot in Honolulu for the first time in 23 years.

When I was eight years old my family spent our summer vacation here for just shy of two weeks, I think. We landed in Honolulu, spent the night here, then flew to Maui the next day for a few days, then to the Big Island for a few days, then back to Oahu for the last few days before heading back East.

I have a handful of solid memories but mostly just impressions from that trip:

Marveling at the lava flow on Big Island.
Running around a golf course at midnight on Maui and helping bullfrogs learn to fly.
Sparrows flying into the rooftop restaurant on Oahu.
Being afraid that the roof of any of the inter-island Aloha airline planes we rode would come off like it did a few months before.
Chewing sugarcane for the first time.
Watching my first Indiana Jones movie – The Last Crusade – at a drive-in movie theater.
Marveling at the hula ladies…

Even then I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something magical about this place.

Twenty-seven years later, after four years of living here I still can’t.

The Aloha Spirit.

Ohana.

The verdant landscape.

First scenic shot. Taken on my birthday, July 29, 2012.
First scenic shot. Taken on my birthday, July 29, 2012.

The very earth itself brimming with life and vitality.

There’s just something magical, mystical; old yet fresh about this place.

While I’m not a fan of the population density on Oahu, I always feel like I’m back home whenever I return from a trip somewhere else (with the exception of The Big Island – I always feel like I’m going back home whenever I visit there).

Four years ago today, I had no idea what I was getting myself into; what with my assignment at a joint command, my first duty station usually reserved for no lower than E-5s, maybe an E-4 soon to be promoted, yet there I was, an E-3.

2013 shot - doing background work for an episode of Hawaii Five-0
2013 shot – doing background work for an episode of Hawaii Five-0

And little did I know how much of the world I was about to see.

I thought boot camp and “A” School busted open my worldview…

Cumulatively six months in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

A month and some change in Europe and then a couple months on a couple glaciers.

I feel as though I’ve certainly aged, but I also feel as though I’ve gotten a little younger somehow…

Started making real-life grown-up decisions on my own, being as far away as one can be from friends and family before you start going back around.

In 2014 I met, dated, and married this gem of a lady. Best initiative I ever took.
In 2014 I met, dated, and married this gem of a lady. Best initiative I ever took.

Knowing what I know now there are some things I wouldn’t have done, but I don’t really regret anything. It all goes into that worldview I was talking about before.

I’ve learned not to grasp things too tightly for too long, so I’ve learned to cherish the present moments even more.

Entering the service and giving up many freedoms have helped me appreciate and value freedom even more; I feel more a free man than I ever have.

Nov. 2015 - Barking Sands Beach, Kauai. Living life and learning to live with Jenn. Loving almost every second of it.
Nov. 2015 – Barking Sands Beach, Kauai. Living life and learning to live with Jenn. Loving almost every second of it.

I met my wife and my kid was born here.

Where will I be in four more years? No clue.

Probably still around. Maybe about to head elsewhere; who knows?

Until then I just keep doing what I do everyday: take it one day at a time.

There is A LOT going on this year, but the arrival of this little guy is by the far the most epic.
There is A LOT going on this year, but the arrival of this little guy is by the far the most epic.