Losing my religion

 

I guess I wouldn’t say I lost it, so much as I shed it.

Like most white Americans, I was born into christianity. My dad was never what you would call steadfast, or devout, but he claimed to be a Christian and as far as I know, still does. My mother on the other hand, was a christian fundamentalist, through and through. She was fanatic about her faith, and tried to instill that fanaticism in my brother and I. When we were little, it worked. It was easy. Why wouldn’t it be? We were little kids and we believed anything our mother told us.

We grew up right in the thick of the satanic panic, and man, that shit had me and my brother terrified. I can remember, very clearly, the fear that any talk about “the devil” invoked at the time. We were afraid of everything. Cartoons, toys, movies, games, you name it. It all had the power of satan behind it.

When mom told us the smurfs were satanic because there was magic in the show, we believed her and we became afraid of the smurfs. When she told us He-man was satanic, the same went there, enough that when I would see a He-man toy at a friend’s house, I would be afraid to touch it or even be near it. The same went for Dungeons and Dragons (kind of a given), rock music, MTV, you name it. If someone at church, or on the 700 club, said something was satanic, my mother was all over it, and it was banned from the household.

My brother and I saw the movie “E.T” in the theater when we were kids, and of course we loved it. We had the books, the toys, the story cassettes, the stuffed animals, the posters, the t-shirts… E.T. was huge to us. Then one day, I believe in the third grade, it all just went away. I never saw what happened to it all but the murmur about the church was that it had all been burned.

When I was four or five years old, we lived in a little trailer park on the outskirts of Casper, Wyoming. My parents had somehow decided to take in a foster child. She was a teenager and her name was Claudia. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be a permanent situation or if she was just staying with us for a while, but the situation was volatile right from the start. Somehow, my mother had become convinced that Claudia was practicing witchcraft. My mom claimed to have seen a demon in the living room, and that Claudia had made the vacuum cleaner move on it’s own. Again, being a small child, I believed all of this without question. I would go on to repeat the stories my mother told me about Claudia, to my friends growing up.

At some point, Claudia packed up her things and ran away in the middle of the night. I never did find out what happened to her. Looking back, I feel sorry for her. I have no idea what kind of family situation she came from, or how she ended up in foster care, but to get dropped into our family… that had to be awful. I haven’t thought about her since I was a kid.

The rest of my childhood, up until high school, was a parade of incidents like this. Not knowing anything any different, I never really thought much about it all. It was the world I knew. Demons, witches and satanists were every where. The devil was constantly trying to influence us, and he had followers sacrificing kids, and raping babies in day care center basements, in his name. God was around, but you had to spend a lot of time looking for him.

The turning point for me started in high school. I got a job, a car, and started making friends and having a life away from the church, something that didn’t go unnoticed by my mother, and by the church. It wasn’t as if my friends and I sat around picking apart christianity, quite the opposite in fact. My friends all thought of themselves as christians. The difference was that their christianity was not the focal point of their lives. It was peripheral. It was something they believed, but that belief did not occupy every waking moment of their lives.

This did create enough distance for me to start seeing things just a little bit differently. I had time to start actively contemplating some of the things in the bible that just didn’t add up, and to take a step back and actually, critically think about some of the things I was being taught in church and at youth group. I started to notice patterns of behavior in the church that bothered me. I remember standing in the church one day after a sermon, looking around the room and listening to what people were saying about homosexuality, and thinking to myself “This is not love, this is hatred disguised as love, and no one here can tell the difference”.

Pretty soon I was asking who Adam and Eve’s children married, if there were no other people around. I wanted to know how we knew that so many other civilizations existed in the world, at the time of “the flood”, and yet they were not wiped out, and apparently failed to even notice the raining for forty days and forty nights, and the subsequent flooding. Egypt was a perfect example. They kept impeccable records of everything they did, and yet somehow this flood is never mentioned, and their civilization was untouched by it.

I had a lot of questions. The answers were usually something along the lines of “I don’t know, but god does”, an answer which somehow satisfied everyone else in the room, all of whom were more than happy with the non-answer, and who felt comfortable with the idea that god knowing the answer was good enough. It wasn’t good enough for me though. Eventually my questions were brought to my parents’ attention, and what I was told by them and the church elders, was that I should spend more time meditating on god’s word, and less time asking questions. They didn’t put it like that, of course, but that’s what they were saying.

It wasn’t just the unanswered questions, it was my increasing awareness that all of these people, not just in my church but every other church I had dealings with, were incredibly judgmental. They were spiteful, and hateful, and yet utterly convinced that they were the exact opposite of all of those things. By the time I hit college, what was left of my faith was hanging by a thread. The only thing that kept me calling myself a christian, was fear of the unknown. Christianity was all I had known, all my life.

I was twenty five when I was finally comfortable saying out loud that I was not a christian. Nothing monumental happened that lead up to this, just more little experiences. Lots of little life lessons that showed more and more, that everything I’d learned growing up, was wrong. Not simply factually incorrect, but often morally wrong, and even harmful. I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.

To say that I have some lingering anger at christianity doesn’t really describe it. Yes, I am angry. It’s an internal struggle that I deal with every day. I’ll admit that when I learn that someone is a christian, it colors my view of them immediately, and they have to work harder to earn my respect. I know this is wrong. It’s difficult to shake.

The de-conversion process was mostly about learning to recognize old behaviors, and eventually to see them coming so that I could choose to behave differently. Things like attributing every good event to god, and whispering a prayer of thanks under my breath, or a prayer of forgiveness when I did something I thought I shouldn’t have been doing.

It took a while to shake attitudes toward women who behaved, or dressed in ways that the church taught me were unacceptable. It became this game of asking myself why I felt the way I did about certain things, and boiling it down to one simple question.

Is a behavior harmful?

That simple question became the litmus test by which I judged everything I did, and everything I saw other people doing. If I couldn’t find some harm in an action or behavior, then I could begin to see it differently, and think about it more critically. This was quite different from what I’d grown up with, which was simply “because god” or “because the bible”. It took years to change my thinking. I still look back at old behaviors, I look at the way I judged people, and I feel utterly foolish, even ashamed sometimes.

I’m now forty-one years old. I no longer look at anything through the lens of christianity. I also no longer have to consciously play that mental tug of war with my old, christian beliefs. I don’t live in constant fear of the devil and satanists anymore. I no longer spend all of my time wondering what god thinks of what I’m doing at any given moment. In general, I think I’m a much happier person, and to be honest, much less of a judgmental ass.

I’ve been coming back to this post every day for about a week now, and I can’t seem to come up with a good way to gracefully close this post. So here is a shot of Laure from a recent photo shoot. 🙂

 

 

Summer seems to finally be here

We had the first actual BBQ of the summer yesterday. We invited some friends over, several cakes were baked. Chicken, salmon, bratwurst, burgers, various types of rice, and some excellent pasta salad were prepared. Later on, Catan, and Cards Against Humanity were played. Pandora was being a real bitch, so Spotify provided the music.

We finally called it quits about 11:30 at night, on account of three of the friends having to drive an hour to get home. We offered to put them up in the spare bedroom but they were intent on sleeping in their own bed.

One of the attendees is from Australia, she was an absolute sweet heart, and I’m a little sad that we’ll likely never see her again, except perhaps on Facebook. Never the less, we made a friend. 🙂

The sprinkler company that I paid to supposedly winterize our sprinkler system last fall, fucked something up, and when I cranked on the water to the yard a few weeks ago, the pipe that feeds the yard is burst in at least two places.

The van needs a new radiator fan assembly which took some troubleshooting to narrow down. They’re ridiculously expensive, and you can’t simply replace one of the fans, you can only buy the set. Which is a load of horse shit. I keep forgetting to call the local scrap yards to see if they’ve got anything that’ll work.

I got the nerd cave all moved, which took nearly an entire weekend, but the new space downstairs is really great. I broke it in officially early yesterday afternoon, with a our third session of a game of Beyond The Supernatural. You can check that game out, and find the playlist for that series, below.

 

I’m also getting ready to resume our D&D game, which has been stalled since last summer. We decided that it would be easier to play on Roll20 for most of our sessions, and then meet in person every so often. It took some notes review, but I remembered where we were in Lost Mine Of Phandelver, and I’ve about got the game ready to play. We’ll be nailing down a date soon.

We’re also working out a camping trip with our good friends up in Kalispell, which I assume is fairly imminent.

Needless to say, I’ve been pretty busy, so there hasn’t been any movement on the Teardrop in a few weeks. I’m hoping to resume that project this week.

Busy, busy, busy, but nice.

Your very own pile of shit

There is a pretty good chance that you’ve heard the term “maker” or “maker movement”, in the last ten years. The maker movement has been around for a few generations, under a lot of different names, but it’s seen a serious resurgence since the recession in ‘08 (us old cusses call it “ought eight”). Makers have become a thing for many reasons, partly because it’s just fun, but also out of necessity, since it’s much less expensive to build and modify your own stuff.

I got to thinking about this last night, standing in my garage, staring at a set of shelves built into the wall in the corner, which I refer to as “the pile of shit”. On these shelves is a bunch of bits and pieces of old, broken shit. I have to keep it under control, because the tendency is to keep hoarding stuff, and that can become a problem, especially if you’re married. It’s also kind of a pain in the ass to move with.

The pile of shit is a practice that I picked up from my grampa. My grandfather would have been ninety-one this year. He was a great guy, and a really good role model for me. I spent a lot of time puttering around in his garage with him. He taught me many invaluable lessons about self sufficiency, and tinkering with things to either improve them, or keep them running for years passed their normal life expectancy.

My grandparents lived through the great depression, during which, if you didn’t learn to re-purpose and repair things, you simply went without. I’m not just talking about mechanical stuff here, this applies to everything. My grampa repaired, re-purposed, and re-used everything, and my grandmother, my dad, and my aunts, NEVER went without. He was a damn genius when it came to fixing or improvising things around the house.

A perfect example of this is an old refrigerator that sits in my grandmother’s basement. I have no idea when they bought that fridge, but they owned it in 1964, when a nearby river overflowed, and flooded the entire town of Evergreen, Montana. I have seen photos of my grampa standing on his roof, with his little aluminum boat floating next to him. When the flood waters receded, grampa pulled all of the appliances out of the house, took them apart, dried them out, repaired them, and most of them continued to run for years. That fridge is the last of those appliances, and it’s in their basement, keeping soda ice cold, right now.

Granted, nobody builds things like that anymore. That fridge is a fucking tank. Regardless, it would not have run for as long as it has, if not for my grampa constantly tweaking and improving the thing. He’s been dead for almost twenty years, and that fridge is still humming right along.

Something else to think about here, is that nearly all American manufacturers have adopted a policy called obsolescence. People joke about it. They think it’s just an entertaining rumor, and that everything is just built shitty now-a-days. I’m sorry to say that obsolescence is a real thing, and it’s almost always a design consideration for most modern manufacturers.

Obsolescence is the practice of intentionally building things to stop working after a certain amount of time. The idea being that if you build a fridge that runs for sixty years, everyone who buys it isn’t going to buy another fridge for sixty years. Depending on your business model, this can be really bad for business. So in the early 1970’s, obsolescence was born. It took a while to catch on, but by the late 1980’s, it most certainly caught on. Unfortunately, it has resulted in today’s rampant throw-away culture, which has our land fills over flowing, our oceans and rivers and streams filling up with garbage, and it has the vast majority of us trained to needlessly buy, and re-buy, a lot of cheap shit.

Anyway, getting back to the pile of shit in my garage. I have repaired our stove, our dishwasher, our refrigerator, two of our toilets, and built and modified a bunch of random doohickeys around the house. Our family vehicle has reached that age where every few months, I’m out in the garage screwing with something on it. In such instances, when ever I need a part, the first thing I do is go out to the garage and dig through the pile of shit. It’s rare that I can’t find something that I can improvise to fix whatever it is that I’m working on. When the pile of shit fails me, I hit the local home resource center, which is one enormous pile of shit that the whole town contributes to. Buying new should be a last resort, but I get it. Some times you just have no choice, especially when dealing with complicated electronics. You would be surprised though, how often electronic components can be fixed if you spend enough time pestering people online for information.

Also granted, is that I’ve been a tinkerer, under the tutelage of a master tinkerer (grampa) since I was a kid. So I’ve had a lot of time, and a lot of expert guidance, building up a skill set. I’m telling you though, don’t let a lack of skills or experience get in the way of trying to fix something. Believe me, most of the crap you buy at Walmart is not as complicated as it might seem, and the internet is an endless resource of information. Once you fix one thing, you’ll be proud of that thing, and you’ll feel more confident fixing another thing. Pretty soon, you’ll be staring at a thing that works just fine, thinking it would work better if it only had this one minor tweak. You’ll be standing in your kitchen and notice that your fridge is making a weird, whirring noise, and a day later you’re popping in a used compressor that you found at the local community pile of shit for $15. Eventually, you have a pile of shit in your garage, but you’re spending a hell of a lot less money on cheap shit at Walmart, and you have a house full of things you’ve fixed, that you can brag to your friends about.

You’ll find yourself standing in an aisle, looking at a new thing, getting a feel for how sturdy it is, and how fixable it might be if it stops working. You’ll either put it back on the shelf because it just feels too flimsy, or dropping it into your cart because you feel confident you can get it going again if it breaks.

Maybe the things you’ve fixed aren’t shiny anymore, and they probably don’t have all the latest gadgets and doohickeys, but they work. You fixed them, you saved your family money, and those things will be points of pride for you for a long time.

Seriously though, don’t shop at Walmart. They’re evil.

Fuck Walmart.

May is a busy month for us

I’ve been pretty preoccupied with politics lately. It’s taken over my twitter feed, and it’s made me more active on Facebook than I have been in a long time. I’ve been signing petitions like a mad man lately, and making phone calls, and emailing representatives. I’m trying to find a balance between staying informed and letting it keep me perpetually pissed off all day long

Still working on that one. It might be time to do a politics purge again.

On a related note, my game time has taken a serious hit. Between the politicsing and working on the teardrop, there hasn’t been much time for gaming. I fired up Steam and played a few hours of DOD last night. Still a really kick ass game. A few weeks ago, one of my RPG groups verified that Roll20.net finally has their A/V issues sorted out, so last night I reinstated my account and I’m hoping to start playing at least one game a week. I’d really like to run some one shot games, on various systems, but the time just isn’t there. That may be more of a winter activity. I do have three active games right now and I’m playing about every other weekend.

The teardrop is coming along. It is progressing much slower than I hoped but I’m making slow, steady progress, and I still expect to have it done in plenty of time to be able to camp it this summer. I’ll give a proper update on that this weekend.

Heather is moving back in with us. Her teaching job did not pan out like she’d hoped, and the experience has been… unpleasant for her. So she’s in the process of selling her house and will be moving back in with us, probably some time in June. This means I’ll be moving the nerd cave, again. Fortunately, not into the garage. We’re playing a game of musical bedrooms in the house right now. CJ moved out when he went off to college, so Evan moved into his room. Shortly after that, Heather moved away, so I moved my nerd cave out of the garage and into her old room, which was originally the nerd cave. So now, Heather will be moving back into that room, and I’ll be moving the nerd cave downstairs, into Evan’s old room.

Make sense?

Laure and I spent a Saturday afternoon taping up and priming the nerd-cave-to-be, then a few days later I got two of the walls painted. Sometime in the next week or two, I’ll finish painting down there, and then start relocating all of my crap.

Evan’s birthday is next week, but we’re celebrating it this weekend, since the following weekend is Memorial day weekend, which is always spent at a lake about an hour north of here, with lots of family, food, music, board games, and napping.

It’s a busy month for us in general, right now.

Laure, in one of the cabins where we stay every Memorial day weekend.

The Step Dad

My kids are not technically my kids. They are Laure’s kids, from her previous marriage. When I entered their lives, they were three and seven years old. I’d like to say that we formed a really great bond, I tried to, but a step parent is almost always at a serious disadvantage in that regard.

I had several step dads growing up. I never had a bad relationship with them but never really had a father and son type relationship either. This is partly because growing up with a schizophrenic mother teaches you to stay on your toes, all the time, and to never trust anyone’s mood. This is something I still struggle with today. It also doesn’t help that I am a diagnosed schizoid, which is nothing like schizophrenia, just for the record. The first few paragraphs here sum it up quite nicely. In general, I have a difficult time forming emotional attachments, which explains a lot about me. I think it’s also contributed to my difficulty in bonding with the oldest.

But back to the boys.

The youngest and I are good, I think we have a great relationship. This is in part because he has no memory of his biological father, so I wasn’t forced to compete in that race. The oldest, on the other hand, that has been an uphill battle from day one, and it hasn’t gone well.

I won’t go into all the details, but Laure’s ex-husband was not a nice guy. He went away to prison for a particularly heinous, and violent crime. There were also physical and emotional abuses at home, toward Laure and the boys, as well as a complete disinterest, and outright neglect, toward the youngest boy. One would think that this would be enough to color the boys’ view of their father, but kids don’t really work that way. Memories are funny things, and more often than not, a child’s desire to remember their father in a particular way can over ride anything anyone tells them, and even their own memories.

The oldest has always had a very idealized and unrealistic view of his father. He blames the incident that ultimately sent his father to prison, on any number of other factors, and has always insisted that his dad is this great guy. This has been particularly difficult on Laure, who was forced to deal with the realities of an abusive husband, and a small town police department that all but ignored her pleas for help and sided with the father time and time again.

It was a nightmare for her. The oldest though, remembers things much, much differently.

The oldest has always seen his mother as the enemy, because that’s how his dad taught him to see her. He would make it into a game where it was he and the oldest on one team, and Laure and the youngest on the opposing team. That view has stuck with the oldest his entire life, and it has been the source of many problems at home.

There isn’t much you can do about that. I accepted pretty early on that I would never be able to live up to the standard that he saw in his dad, so I just tried to be a good dad to him and at least have a good relationship with him. Things seemed to go alright until we hit the teenage years, and then everything pretty well crumbled between me and the oldest.

I introduced them both to a lot of my hobbies, including pen and paper RPGs, which the youngest has really latched on to. Naturally I introduced them to all of my family traditions, and all the special places and things in my life. Most of the time, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing but in retrospect, I think all parents feel that way. For the youngest, many of the things that were special and important to me as a kid, are now important to him. We’ve bonded over a lot of the things that were and still are a big part of my life, and it makes me feel pretty great to have passed those things on to him.

He’s now in high school, and while we’ve hit all the usual teenage speed bumps, things are good. We have a pretty solid relationship. Sadly, things with the oldest have gone in an entirely different direction. He’s finishing up his first year of college, in a town several hours east of here. We don’t talk much, even when he comes home to visit, we tend to avoid each other in the name of maintaining familial harmony.

I take a little bit of comfort in that it isn’t just me. Laure has had a difficult time maintaining a relationship with him as well. She has a lot more patience than I do but I suppose being his mother makes all the difference in that regard. We both agree that he’s a troubled kid. He seems lost, like he’s struggling really hard to figure out his place in the world. He exhibits a lot of his father’s behaviors and views, which has solidified my belief that a child’s first few years are the most important. His father was paroled two years ago, and the oldest had never shown much interest in getting to know him. Laure even offered numerous times, against both our better judgement, to take him to visit his father in prison, but he never took her up on those offers.

We both suspect that he was worried that reality would not line up with his view of his dad, and he was afraid that meeting him would shatter that view. About a year ago, he did make contact with his dad, and has even been over to visit him a few times. Laure and I both agree that this has done even more damage to our relationship with him. Again, I won’t go into specifics, but his dad is very good at getting people to like him. He is very charismatic and knows how to manipulate people to get what he wants. The oldest is most definitely under that spell now.

We’ve been to family counseling, and no matter how bad things got financially, even during the out of work, foreclosure years, we always found ways to do things as a family. We always worked at that. While it did greatly reinforce the bond with the youngest, the oldest has always been a little bit on the outside of things, just on the edge of the circle. I think he always felt like getting close to me was a betrayal to his father. So the few times that he and I did start to get close, he always eventually made a U turn and I quickly became the enemy again. The same things went for his relationship with his mom.

He’s legally an adult now, out there trying to figure out the world with the rest of us. He’s not doing well at it, unfortunately. The only help that he’ll accept from me is in the form of money. Anything else, it seems, is strictly rejected and avoided simply because it came from me. There is nothing I can do about that. Laure insists that he’ll eventually come around, and learn to appreciate me when he’s older. I don’t know, I really doubt that.

Meanwhile, I’m glad that the youngest and I have a good relationship. He’s going through the usual, raging hormone, teenage shit that we all do, so things are up and down around the house but overall, we’re good. He plays RPGs with his friends at least once a week, usually more. He and I have a private Minecraft server that we spend a lot of time on together. We go to the comic book shop and out for lunch every Sunday, and we have a pretty good laugh together at least once a day. I think things are going to be fine between he and I.

Being the step dad is tough, for so many reasons. I like to think that I’ve met the challenge well, time will tell though I guess.

Delays, delays, delays…

They’re never ending.

So I went to the local lumber place yesterday and they had a pretty good assortment of marine plywood, they also want an arm and a kidney for it. $82 a sheet for 1/2 inch marine plywood. The reason I wanted to work with them is that I prefer to buy local when I can, and I wanted to get started on the floor as soon as possible. But I can’t pay that much for lumber, so Lowe’s it is.

Of course, our Lowe’s doesn’t carry any marine plywood on hand, it has to be special ordered. It’s $50 a sheet though, plus another 10% off with my veteran’s discount, and another 5% using the Lowe’s credit account. That’s a little less than $43 a sheet, damn near half what the other place wanted. I’ll call in my order later today.

So we went to lunch at Red Robin.