The Narrowness Of Our Thinking, or, A Message To Zort 137

The Narrowness Of Our Thinking, or, A Message To Zort 137


As I, like you, surf the waves of this interminable election season, I am once again disappointed at the relative nearness of the horizon for which even the most progressive candidates are aiming. Yes, we have a socialist running for president, and yes, he seems to be doing fairly well (though nearly guaranteed to lose). But even the Great Septuagenarian Avenger can’t or won’t say what needs to be said about the system in which my children will grow to an increasingly despairing adulthood.

As a people, we have narrowed the scope of our thinking and limited the range of our compassion until any crumb dropped from the master’s table seems like manna from the heaven we mostly don’t believe in anymore. We’ve fallen so far that even the ideas of a patrician such as FDR seem like the radical ravings of a revolutionary compared with what we’ll now accept as progress.

Companies don’t send hundreds of thousands of jobs to distant lands (like Canada) because they otherwise stand to lose money. They offshore the work to make even more obscene profits than the merely profane profits they’d make if they kept those jobs here at home. The idea of ever-increasing profit is no longer even questioned. It’s taken as a given, like sunrises, death, and private health insurance. It’s been so long since the charter of any corporation was revoked – an act which, in these days of corporate personhood, is murder – that most citizens don’t even realize that’s an option. Corporations are here to stay, they must be profitable, and they may use any means necessary to achieve that end. The recent release of the Panama Papers is shocking only for the utter lack of surprise contained in those pages. We might have a few proper names that we previously lacked, but we certainly have no new information about the way our system works.

There is more than enough food to feed every person in the world. There is more than enough money to clothe and house and educate every person in the world. We have the technology and the resources to cure – or at least ameliorate the symptoms of – most illnesses. We know the kinds of food people should eat to remain healthy, and we know how to grow them with relatively little harm to the planet on which we live. These are not opinions. They are facts. That they seem like science fiction is only because we’ve lost the ability to think beyond … well, beyond. Here in The West, we’re raised to consume, taught to obey, and steered away from thoughts that might rock this leaky dinghy on which we’ve staked our meager survival. In the global south, the fight for survival is so clear and present that there aren’t extra hours in the day to imagine a world better than this, and even fewer hours with which to act upon such daydreams in any case.

Any sane observer of this planet – the aliens, say, that we have to hope won’t show up to marvel at our ineptitude – could only conclude that we are so hateful and lacking in compassion that we choose to let children starve while we build bigger weapons, bigger cars, bigger factory farms. Because otherwise how could the human race let this much suffering happen? The argument against the Biblical god is that He couldn’t possibly be all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving, because babies die of malnutrition and innocent children are beaten to death. But using that same logic, it becomes harder and harder to believe in the existence of humanity. Perhaps we’ve been replaced, without our knowledge, by seven billion perfect copies with the hearts taken out.

In these debauched and dismaying times, it’s incumbent upon all of us to work to lessen the suffering of our fellow travelers on this spaceship. That’s an inescapable truth. But that lessening suffering is the apex of our hopes is the surest sign that this experiment – human life on earth – has failed. When the aliens do, inevitably, arrive, the best we can hope for is that we’re already gone. Zort 137 and its comrades can land, take a few selfies in front of moss-covered mounds that used to be skyscrapers, then head back onto the spaceways to meet up with other creatures who spent more time focusing on improving the lives of everyone than on poisoning and bludgeoning and short-changing and enslaving as many of their fellow beings as possible.

Zort 137, if you’re reading this, we’re not sorry. Most of us never really even realized we were doing it.

Updates on my road to the ministry


Last June I wrote an essay called “Charting a course for the next part of my life” about my desire to finally pursue my dream of being a religious leader in an intentional community.

Several things have changed since I wrote that essay, and I’m further along the path than I was when I had the epiphany I mentioned back in June.

First, I changed jobs. I’m now the program director and morning show host at a great radio station in State College. I really love my job and it’s a much healthier, more fulfilling place to be than where I was. So that’s good news.

Second, I recently had another of those setbacks that’s really a step forward. As I mentioned in the June essay, I have student loans in default. They’ve been that way for years. Two weeks ago, I got a note from a collection agency that they were going to start garnishing my wages, which they now are. However, this kick in the pants caused me to finally start a loan rehabilitation program, which means that by this fall my loans will be out of default, clearing the way for more school.

Third, my partner (another great change!) and I are now attending the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County. We’re only a couple weeks in, but we both feel good there and I think we’ll become members. That’s another step in the right direction, because…

Fourth, I’ve narrowed down my goals. In June, I said I wanted to be either a Buddhist chaplain or a Unitarian minister. I’ve thought about it a lot since then, and I’ve decided that I want to be a Unitarian minister. I have so much respect for chaplains, but that’s not the work I want to do. I want to build and nourish and challenge an intentional community, and that means being a minister in a church with a congregation.

I have a long way to go. I need to finish my BA, get accepted to a Master’s of Divinity program, find a way to pay for all that and, hopefully, do it without moving while working full-time. So there’s a lot left to figure out. But after half a year of stasis, I feel like I’m moving forward. I’m happy about that, and grateful for the support of my friends and family. Keep me on the path, OK?

The podcasts I’m listening to these days


I love podcasts. I host a couple (here and here and another on the way), and I listen to many. Here’s a list of what’s in my gPodder these days.

My Main Squeezes
These are my favorites. The podcasts from which I never unsubscribe. The shows that have seen me through the good times and bad. You get it.

  • Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review: The BBC’s flagship film review program, and one of the best things you can possibly put in your ears. I wrote about it at length here.
  • Star Wars Minute: Pete The Retailer and Alex Robinson go through each Star Wars movie one minute at a time. The concept is brilliant, the execution even more so.
  • Poetry Off The Shelf: Curtis Fox interviews poets in a way that makes the listener feel included and welcome. This podcast has sent me to the bookstore more times than I can count.
  • The Longshot Podcast: Four people from the world of comedy sit around a table, often with guests, and talk about life. Pretty soon, they feel like family.

Other Great Shows
Many of these shows are also close to my heart, and all of them are worth your time. I subscribe to all the shows listed here. I’ve included the shows’ own descriptions where available.

Tell me your favorites in the comment section. Thanks!

Fighting the internal critic


Recently I’ve discovered an insidious creature who lives inside me. Fighting this beastie has now become a daily habit. No, I’m not talking about demon possession or an alien slowly growing in my chest. I’m talking about the internal critic.

The internal critic is that voice in my head that says, “You’ll never be good enough. You’ll never be loved. You’ll always be abandoned. You’ll never succeed. You’re a failure.”

The critic has been with me nearly my whole life. I think I know why, too, although I’ll save that for some future essay. For now, let me just say that the critic goes hand in hand with a variety of types of mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, both of which I’m dealing with.

Recently my life has taken several turns for the better. I have a job I like. I live in a nice apartment. And I’m in a healthy relationship with someone who loves me very much. I’ve noticed, though, that the critic is shouting louder than ever: in moments of silence; in moments when my partner is away or busy or with other people; in moments when I’m alone in my apartment; and in some moments when I’m with the person I love or doing something I enjoy. The critic has no boundaries and no sense of decorum. It attacks with no provocation and gives no quarter.

Ah, but there’s something not quite right about that last sentence. Because the critic does in fact have provocation. My happiness is what most angers the critic. Joy is its kryptonite, and so it must strike against any sign of contentment.

My friend pointed out recently that it’s when I’m at my happiest that the critic is most fearful. Because if it’s true that someone is in love with me, that my friends care about me, that I’m good at my job, that I have a safe place to live – if those things are true than the critic is wrong.

I’m only just beginning to explore the causes of the critic’s existence. I’ve known about my depression for several years, and I’ve been working on it. But this new wrinkle, PTSD, is still mostly unknown to me. I’m learning, though. Soon I’ll have health insurance and will be back in therapy. And I have a good network of friends and family, and a supportive partner who is not afraid to deal with mental health issues.

So watch out, critic. I’m coming for you.

(But in the meantime, thanks to all of you for reminding me each day that the critic is wrong.)

Trust vs. Vulnerability

[Photo source:]
[Photo source:]

My default mode is to trust people. I tend to think the best of people and to believe they are who they claim to be. I like living my life this way and want to keep doing it.

In the past few years, though, I feel like I’ve been overly trusting. Not protecting myself enough. Part of this is my habit of being too revealing of my thoughts and emotions. I talk to people about my hopes, my dreams, my plans, my misgivings, my desires. Sometimes these same folks then talk to other people, and I find my confidences coming back to me in the form of recriminations or gossip.

As a result, I’ve been slowly shrinking the circle of people in whom I confide. It’s a small enough group now that we could all fit comfortably in a car together. These people have become precious to me as a result. I need – absolutely need – people in my life with whom I can talk about the things that matter most. People who get my story, who know how I work, who understand the way I talk and act and feel. Without them, I descend into an inner monologue that’s unhealthy and limiting.

I was unpleasantly surprised recently to learn just how few people I really do trust. Even some to whom I’ve told my deepest, most intimate stories have then passed them on to others. Is anything more disappointing than learning that those you love and depend on don’t place the same value on the situation?

I wonder if there are people who I’ve disappointed in this same way. I hope not, but I expect so. I love to gossip. It’s the thing I work hardest on changing about myself. Every version of the Buddhist precepts, which are guidelines for living an awakened life, mentions wrong or false speech. The Buddha understood that loose lips sink ships, so to speak. Gossip weakens communities, strains friendships, and makes it more difficult for all of us to engage with one another without fear and suspicion. I’m trying hard to eliminate unskillful speech. It ain’t easy.

This is tough territory to navigate. How do I keep an open heart but also take care of myself? How do I build community without leaving myself too vulnerable? Is “too vulnerable” even a danger?

Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments on this topic. Oh, and here’s “Trust” by Prince from the one true Batman film:

BATMAN 1989 VS PRINCE TRUST from Denis Gilbert on Vimeo.