What to teach your kid about the big G

[Looked for a picture of a female hacker but the world sucks and they were all sexualized]

LB (my daughter) is getting bigger, smarter, faster, stronger. She talks better than most kids her age and has surprising agility. Her imagination is off the charts and I couldn’t be more excited.

Enter today: She was registered for preschool at a church. If you know the deep south, then you can relate. This isn’t odd at all. Churches are (or were) the cornerstone of community in the south. That’s where you spent your Sunday and Wednesday, met your first crush, made friends and business connections, got into mischief, and—well, worshiped (at some point). With the experiences I had in church, the outright lies I was told as a child by church, I ask myself often: How much do I want to expose my child to that place?

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I had a decent experience in the Christian church as a kid (mostly Baptist), or so I thought at the time. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve reflected, and the more I’m not so sure.

In Sunday school I was told pornography would lead to death (and not the spiritual kind, but a literal, physical death). This not only skewed my perception of sex for most of my pre-adult life, but terrified me into thinking that if I lost my virginity I was heading down the road to ruining myself and that of everyone I knew. That’s a heavy burden to put on a hormone filled teenager.

In 1993, my mother started having nerve pain the result of a car wreck ten years earlier. The doctors thought she was a drug seeker and an addict, when she complained of chronic pain. For a long time medicine did no good. On the advice of a church friend, we went to a faith healer in backwoods Alabama (outside Dothan I believe), and in a dirty old dance hall the man laid hands on my mother. He shouted at her again and again, saying her faith needed to be stronger or she would never be healed. I swear, people in the rear were handling snakes. We left without a miracle, scared shitless, and on my mother’s back was a weight as great as a mountain.

Your faith was too weak to heal you. You are a failure.

There were other instances, long stretches of time in which I believed I was a horrible person for wanting sex and that the reason I couldn’t face those feelings without temptation or be more successful with finances was because I didn’t have enough faith. God was punishing me for being weak.

Then there's this. I was going to Hell for sure.
Then there’s this. I was going to Hell for sure.

Under all this pressure I became a sort of zealot, a Jesus freak (as the DC Talk song went). I was in and out of churches, part of a slough of varying denominations that had one central theme: Your relationship with God was a competition. You had to be more humble, more giving than the next person. You had to pray harder, fast longer. God became an excuse for every misfortune and equally given glory for all minutia.

But things have changed as I’ve grown up. I spent my twenties finding myself (and in the opinion of many church goers, falling away from God. Back sliding.). I did a lot of things I’m not exactly proud of, and many that just needed to happen. I learned to be an imperfect person, a “Jesus freak” no more. I learned to fuck up and be okay with that. This is a lesson I didn’t learn in a church or from pastor. I learned it from my friends, my family, those good people I hedged my heart with. I learned it from reflecting and connecting to my changing image of God.

I believe in God, yes, He is all around us, within us. I believe his son walked this Earth and died for our sins, and that his spirit persists. But is God only what a book, made of oral tradition and parables, passed down, edited, all he is? Is he more? Is He (And I say He only out of habit and without agenda. I believe gender is irrelevant to God), actually the sum total of every soul in humanity? Is God what we are made of? Or perhaps, God is the soul of all intelligent life in the universe.

We know we aren’t the only possibly habitable planet in the wider cosmos.

I can’t say.

What I can say, is that blindly subscribing to any religious doctrine, is as dangerous as believing every meme you come across without question.

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So much wrong I can’t even.

We live in an age of rapid change. We want things fast and easy, 140 characters or less, take this pill and lose weight, make money without doing any work. I see less people who have a deep relationship with God (in any form), and more Facebook feeds filled with self-aggrandizing statements (promoting how hard someone prayed or what they gave). And beyond that, a sickening narcissistic pride. Not to mention, a flood of narrow minded judgement. In my opinion, I’d rather be opened minded and later be proved wrong, than be stuck safe within a bubble of ignorance all my life. God does forgive.

Wisdom to live by.
Wisdom to live by.

Ignorance breeds hatred and misunderstanding. Ignorance is the space in which the powers that be can manipulate the narrative to their own ends. Muslims are no more evil than Christians or Hindus or Wiccans. Their religion is being used a scapegoat by evil people, an excuse to commit terrible acts, just as Christians did in the middle ages, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials… Take your pick. And let’s be honest, Pope Francis is working hard to change that image (at least when it comes to the Vatican).

If we would take a step back and look at humanity as one body, we would find that body cursed with an auto-immune disorder.

Sure, there are broken cells, viruses and organisms that need dealing with, but in our ignorance and hatred we are only hurting ourselves. The body is attacking its own, sending good organs into failure.

So when my daughter goes to school and learns a little bit about God, then asks me about it—what do I tell her?

This is the answer I came up with.

To follow the true, unadulterated example of Christ. To be giving. To love everyone as yourself, regardless of who they are and where they came from. To be willing to give all that you have, for the benefit of others. That many wolves come in sheeps’ clothing, and that money does not equal success. To question the world, not take what everyone says at face value. I will tell her that I am here to support, not to put a mantle of rules upon her so heavy it breaks her back.

To anyone reading this, just know that I love you. We are one species, one body. And even if we can’t agree on what form God comes in, or if at all, that doesn’t matter. All that matters in the end is love and connection.

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Living in exceptional times

Photo (from left to right): Dave Richards, Kevin Neely, Andy Hunter, Fitzpatrick Mauldin, Alex Bedwell.

I’m sure I’ve reached a point in life that almost everyone reaches, where the rate of the world seems to move faster than ever before. Change comes daily, and much of it not the kind of change you want. Then again, among that riptide of time you find things so beautiful you can’t help but be left in awe. Those are the things you hold on to like a life raft.

Three years ago one of my best friends, Kevin, died out of nowhere. It was the first time, other than a grand parent, I had had to face the death of someone close to me. It wasn’t and isn’t easy. Ever since his passing there has been a hole in my heart that I’m not sure anyone else can fill. Death makes you question your life and your direction. It brings up not only feelings of loss but of confusion. In many ways I have felt adrift.

The first thought I had when Kevin passed away was, “He’ll never get to meet my daughter.” That is a thought that hasn’t left me, despite everyone’s reassurances he would have loved her. A month after his death my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, to which I said after she was born, “Do we get to keep her?”

As one life left the world, another entered. The circle complete. Life and death and rebirth, it is all part of the human condition. I’ve swallowed down the pain of his passing. I’ve poured my heart and soul into my family. I strive every day to be the best father I can be, and that right time to time. I try to show my daughter the way as she grows and learns.

The past few months have been a challenge. I have pushed myself at my day job and in my writing. I have undertaken projects I would have never have considered before. And why? Because, ever since Kevin’s death, I am chronically aware of my own mortality. To use Terry Pratchett’s metaphor, there’s an hourglass hidden somewhere in Death’s robes with my name on it, and I have no idea how much sand is left.

I do all I can to make the best of every day. Every moment. I try not to weigh myself down with petty worries and existential fear. But I have a very active imagination. It’s not easy. I’m an anxious person, always thinking.

I’ve finished another book, The Two That Remained, worked through the edits, pushed through the day job, exhaustion, and being a father and husband. I find myself overwhelmed at times with all the expectations I place upon myself. I never wish to let anyone down. I never wish to let the memory of my friend down. There is just so much to be done. Important stuff.

Enter the political shift in America. If you know me, you know I am not happy with the direction of our country at this time. I hope for the best and will fight for what I think is right as I can, but I am afraid. Not afraid of terrorists or the economy, but of hate and of climate change, of ignorance and complacency. I feel so very small in this churning sea of madness. I look to my family for strength.

A week ago a close friend of mine, Alex, who was part of the same group my best friend Kevin and I sort of led, was murdered in a senseless argument over a girl. The jealous ex murdered him in cold blood. I went to his memorial today, surrounded by those who loved him, but hardly a face did I recognize. He was a complicated friend to have, as we all knew, but he had one of the best hearts I have ever seen, outgoing and unbridled. What I learned there, having not been near him in recent years, was how much he had changed for the better. The man they knew now, wasn’t exactly the same that I had known. There were different stories than mine, different jokes, different reactions, but still the same guy. And his throaty, deep chested, barks of laughter will never be forgotten.

Alex had been a man filled with hate and anger when we met, using smiles and a killer whit to cover the pain, but he had learned to let go of that pain. He had learned to move on. And just then, he was taken from us.

(Don’t solve your arguments with firearms. It’s not worth it. Please.)

I want to find meaning in his passing, just like any major change that occurs in life. I want to ask God what it all means. But the answers aren’t so simple, and perhaps there aren’t any. It was a senseless act and the man responsibly is out on bail. All that I know is that I am proud of Alex for making it as far as he had. Onward and upward. Excelsior! He died as he always was, a good man.

If there is anything I can say right now, that isn’t just rambling thoughts, is that I don’t know what to say. Being in my mid 30s, I have enough perspective to know things will get better. But that still doesn’t keep it from hurting. And so I smother my family in far more affection than they can stand. It’s all I can do to heal this empty heart. To look into my daughter’s eyes really helps too.

I’m down two good friends, ones that made a big impact on my life. I feel like I’m too young for this. We all had our crazy days, and we got past them. We survived. The two of them pulled my butt out of the fire more times than I can name. And we only had singed clothing as a result.

And so I leave you with this:

Love one another. Take care of one another. Spend time with one another, face to face. Take nothing for granted. Life entitles you to nothing, and nothing is fair but what we strive to make fair. Let grudges go. Find your happiness, and hold that happiness tight as you fall smiling into the abyss.

A father, a daughter, and the end of human life

No war. No demons. No zombies. Just a father and his two-year-old daughter trying to survive.

What began as conceptual tinder when taking my daughter for a “wagon ride” around the neighborhood quickly caught fire. An idea, a spark of inspiration in one bizarre moment became a first draft novel over the following eight months.

The day, a quiet Sunday afternoon in which it was cool enough no homes were using air conditioning. There were no cars passing by, not even the whoosh of vehicles on the highway. The air was  silent but for the song of nature and the plastic wheels of the wagon. The sun was warm on my skin, my little Lady Bug played with her doll and rode behind me, talking to herself.

She asked me questions. I gave her answers. I felt a sense of contentment that is not often found, and then, was struck by a dis-associative sense of otherworldlyness (is this a word? I don’t care). The “what-if” began to assault my waking mind. For days I couldn’t get the picture out of my head, of the lone father at the end of the world dragging his daughter through ruin. I wrote it all down and then forgot about it for a while. I let my sub-conscience do the work. I let my daughter grow up a little.

I treasured every moment that came, then sank into the story.

“The Two That Remained” is not your usual post-apocalyptic tale. There was no war, no zombies, no monsters crawling up from the depths of Hell. One day everyone is alive, and the next they aren’t. All that’s left, is a father who is not satisfied with his life direction and marriage (quitting his happy carrier to be a stay at home dad, wife becoming the bread-winner), and his two-year-old daughter who can’t comprehend what all has changed. This puts a massive burden of emotional weight on his shoulders as they attempt to survive in what’s left of St. Louis, Missouri, while unraveling the mystery of his wife’s involvement in the extinction event.

I wanted to tell a modern fatherhood and marriage story, of the struggles we face and the changing gender roles in the workplace. A story that, though it stands at the end of all we know, there is hope for a future. A story that, even in the worst of times, joy can be found, odds overcome, and moments treasured.

And as events unfold, the question is asked again and again. Are they the only two that remain?

Below are a series of excerpts I’ve narrated to wet your appetite for this project. Take a peek. Share with friends. If it speaks to you, please support! Those who contribute will get an advance eBook copy of the book after the editor is done with it and possibly more! But I need your help.

https://www.gofundme.com/editing-the-two-that-remained?pc=fb_u_g