Monday, March 27, 2017

Reflections on Mormonism: Introduction to a CUlt

Reflections on Mormonism: People who questioned: Jerald Tanner and Earl...

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Reflections on Autism: Achieving Independence

Transcript from my video published on YouTube 3/23/2017

Many year ago, my second child was a little boy who could not communicate his most basic thoughts and needs.  He seemed to exist in his own bubble at times.  Gabe was so non-responsive that we thought he must not be able to hear us.  Even a partial hearing loss would make sense of some of his behavior and his isolation.  For a while, I hoped that was the cause.  At least I could understand hearing loss.  I understood how the ear functions.  If it wasn’t his hearing, what could it be?

Gabe’s hearing was tested.  It was fine.  In reality, his hearing is much better than average. 

Just shy of his 3rd birthday, Gabe was evaluated by a team of developmental disability specialists.  The decision was unanimous and undeniable.  Autism.  That horrible word that strikes fear into the hearts of parents everywhere.  I am not exaggerating.  I was terrified.  My son’s future was a giant unknown.  His older brother still had an entire world of possible futures.  What future could Gabe have?

Recently Gabe asked me if the specialists that diagnosed him gave us any information about how far he would progress or what his future held.  No.  Nothing.  The range of developmental issues are so vast that the experts can give no indication of how far he or any child with a diagnosis of autism might progress.  There are too many unknown factors involved.  No one can look at a three year old who does not communicate and predict that he will qualify for a national DECA competition in high school that involves a lengthy interview and verbal presentation.  I certainly didn’t.  We didn’t know if he would ever be able to live independently.

For many years the list of things that Gabe couldn’t do but should be able to do was lengthy.  It still makes me cry when I think about it.  Fear for his future was overwhelming and, at times, paralyzing.  If he never learned to talk or take care of himself, what would happen to him when I am gone?  This fear drove me to action.  My son needed to become as independent as possible.  I had no idea what that meant or what limits we would hit.

My son had a major advantage over most children with a disability.  Many people say that this advantage was me.  They are wrong.  My son’s progress and his success stems not from me but from his grandparents.  My parents have spent their entire careers educating children with disabilities.  They both understood the challenges he would face in school and in life.  Without them, we would have floundered.  Without them, we would not have known what questions to ask or where to look for answers.  Without them, we would have listened to the naysayers and we would not have pushed him as hard.

People in our small town marvel at his progress.  They have no idea.  We moved here when Gabe was entering 2nd grade.  He still couldn’t read, couldn’t count, and couldn’t sit still.  However, he could and did talk at times.  Most people have no idea how far he progressed before they met him.  He was essentially nonverbal until he was 6 or 7 years old.  He never spoke unless asked questions.  Even then information was not easily obtained and often I didn’t know what to ask to help him explain his thoughts.

Fast forward a decade.  My 18 year old son Gabe is finishing his first year living in a dorm at a fairly large public university where he is studying business and finance.   He finished high school with almost a years worth of college credits.  He played football, ran track, wrestled and qualified for the national DECA competition.   This may look like a miracle.  It isn’t.  It was hard work.  Many nights of tears and frustrations. 

Gabe’s accomplishments are amazing but not miraculous.  Gabe is an amazing person with an internal drive that leaves me breathless.  He wasn’t born with this drive.  None of us are. He developed that internal drive to succeed as he grew.  I watched it develop throughout the years.  He was challenged and learned to overcome those challenges because we always believed he was capable of progressing. 

Others can learn from Gabe and his story.  I finally convinced him to let me share his story only because he knows others might benefit.  He doesn’t want my writings and talks to be about him.  Instead, I am to focus on the wisdom that we learned from his grandparents and many others.  So, Gabe is the central character in my writings but he is not the focus.

When I think back to the time when Gabe was first identified as having a disability or when I think about some of the problems we have overcome, I remember the paralyzing fear.  At times, I felt like I had blinders on because of that fear.   I could not focus.  I could not think.  I no longer worry about what will happen to my son when I am gone.  Freedom from fear is the gift that I want to give other parents. 

Reflections on Autism: Achieving Independence

Creating My Legacy

Creating My Legacy

How will I be remembered?  I have no illusions or desire for the world at large to note my life or mourn my death.  My name will not be included in history books.  Fame has never been of interest to me.  However, I do want to have an impact on people and the world.  The fact that I lived should matter.

During my senior year in high school I took a class called “Philosophy and Literature”.  We studied to works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, especially “Self-Reliance” and the “the Divinity School Address”.   We also read a poem attributed to Emerson called Success.

It goes as follows:
“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived- this is to have succeeded.”

The words of Emerson have stuck with me and guided me through more difficulties than all the facts I stuffed into my brain to pass exams.  The last line of this poem helped me keep a healthy perspective during difficult times.  To know that one life was better because I lived- that was my mantra.  I have never had a high powered job where I have an impact on multitudes for better or for worse.  I live my life on a much smaller scale.

My obituary will not be published in newspapers around the world, across the country or even throughout the state.  Social media will not go viral with the sad news.  The news stations will not even mention my passing in their broadcasts.  If they do, it means I died a violent or unnatural death.  That is not the legacy I want.  I want to be truly mourned by those whose lives I touched.  My family.  My neighbors.  My friends.  Those I have helped even in small ways.

My true legacy consists of my three sons.  Rising them has not been easy.  It never is.  Our lives have not been blessed with abundance or perfect health.  Like so many, we have faced multiple job losses, relocations, surgeries, and autism.  My oldest two boys are now in college.  They have grown into caring, independent, and productive members of society.  I know if I die today, they will survive and thrive.  My youngest is still in middle school and needs my guidance.  Every day I notice that he is growing more independent and self-reliant. 

Today I am starting what will, by the Grace of God, become a new part of my legacy.  Today I am recording my first video sharing the wisdom that helped us through tough times and helped my son overcome his diagnosis of autism.  No one may watch this video or read the words I write but I will share my knowledge in the hopes that some day someone who needs the information will find it and someone will benefit. 

If information dies with me, no one benefits.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New Project: Foundations of Faith

For years I have been kicking around the idea of writing a book about faith, religion, and early Christianity.  I have been studying the foundations of Christianity, Judaism, and myths for decades.  However, I have never felt that my voice was unique enough or important enough to be recorded and shared with the world.  My studies have been independent and I am not accredited by any academic or religious institution in these areas.  I am a researcher by nature and by training.  I have multiple college degrees in a wide range of fields.  In other words, I have been trained to think and to analyze.
I started studying the foundations of Christianity as an undergraduate student.  I can remember taking a history class that covered early Christianity.  The topic of my research paper was Origen.  I wish I still had that paper somewhere. All I remember was misspelling his name on the cover sheet and probably multiple times throughout.  Keep in mind I typed this paper in the old days on a manual typewriter.  Word processors were just appearing and personal computers were too expensive for me.   Since that time I have continued my casual interest in religion.

With the advent of the internet, channels of learning opened.  iTunesU became my favorite site.  Since my internet connection was slow, I was limited to audio only files but I still managed to find whole courses on religion and Christianity.  I listened to courses from Stanford, Duke, Harvard, and many seminaries from different denominations.  Many of the courses I had to hear several times before I could follow the conversations.  Hermeneutics is still one of the most difficult for me to understand but that is the nature of biblical textual interpretation.  I learned enough to know how much I don't know.

I could spend the rest of my days happily researching and studying.  One topic leads to another which leads to another.  I love learning.  In the past few years I have learned more than in all my previous decades combined.  I am like a sponge soaking up the knowledge and thriving on the quest to learn more.  There comes a time when I must share what I have learned or risk all the learning dying with me.  What I write may not change the world or have any impact what so ever.  Or, it might.  I am not writing for anyone other than me.  I am writing to organize my thoughts and my knowledge into a coherent form.  When I am gone if my boys miss my "fact of the day" or my earth shattering revelation, they can read this and remember all the strange conversations over the years.

Structure of the Project-
For the past couple years I have been in a series of bible studies with several ladies from the community.  This is the first time I ever participated in these popular small group bible studies.  I didn't know what to expect and I would have been wrong if I had hazarded a guess.  I come from a different religious and academic background than the target audience of these small group bible studies.  While I greatly enjoy the social interactions with my new found friends, I find the bible study itself to be lacking and in some cases heretical.  Current historical scholarship is ignored and the context of scripture is rarely considered.  Pop psychology and wishy-washy theology is promoted without any thought.  A single line from the bible is analyzed and often given significance beyond anything that is rational when the same line is studied with the rest of the passage in the context of history.

In our highly charged times, people need to have accurate information about religion.  Theologians learn different information than what is taught in parishes.  We can't afford to have misinformation muddy the waters of religion.  My mind was blown when I learned that Jesus never would have answered if someone called out "Jesus".  That was not his name.  How can I have gone to church for over 40 years and studied Christianity for decades without this becoming obvious?  How could I have not known the actual name of the person we call "Savior" and "Lord"?  If we don't know the most basic information about Jesus (Yeshua), how can we have a real discussion about Christianity?  The first part of my project will address some of these basic historical facts.  Without context, text is useless.

My pledge is to write for at least 2 or 3 hours every day during Lent.  I will post summaries on my blog but I plan to publish the final version on Amazon.  I am far from independently wealthy,   In fact, I am the opposite,  I need to money to pay bills just like everyone else.  I will establish a Patreon account if anyone would like to support my efforts.