When my little brother Tom was very young, less than five, a friend of his grew annoyed that Tom wouldn’t share his toy. The boy countered by calling Tom stupid. My brother came home crying. It really affected him, for years. Of course it didn’t help that my brother’s “loving” sibling would bring up this incident time and again. Tom didn’t draw from the good deck when it came to older brothers. I was reminded of this story the other day when my granddaughter suffered through a tragic day at kindergarten after someone called her stupid. That’s a label that really hurts.
For the first forty years of my life I was considered by many to have above-average intelligence. Advanced degrees and numerous successes in the workplace being clear indicators. I could also more than hold my own in Trivial Pursuit.
Then my life changed. I became a Christian. It wasn’t an overnight thing, but a process where I came to the realization that I was living for all the wrong reasons – a boat drifting in a tumultuous sea. The whole ordeal took place over almost two years. It was often painful. And do you know what the hardest thing was for me in this monumental change? Dealing with society as born again believer. I knew I would be labeled as stupid. Yes I know karma suggests I deserved this on some level, but that wouldn’t make it any easier to swallow. If only this was the last time fate came back to laugh at me. Maybe some of those moments can be covered in future postings?
My ego wanted a compromise. Wasn’t there a way to still be smart, acceptable to my scientifically minded peers and yet embrace this new belief that was pulling me in ever-faster? The answer I have discovered over the last ten plus years is no and yes. For many folks religion equals weakness. The opiate of the masses don’t you know. I was destined to wear the identification card, “Hello my name is Leo and I’m terminally stupid.” As an aside, they make these ID cards in different colors and styles so they can go with almost any outfit. At least I can still look good as an idiot. “For a fool, he’s not half-bad looking.”
But I’ve also found a large group of under-the-radar supporters. Some are Christians who wear their ID cards beneath their overcoats. Others accept us as long as we don’t rock the boat too hard. It’s amazing how “acceptable” we Christians become when hard times hit. If a non-believing colleague has just lost a dear one, it’s alright for me to say I’m praying for him, but don’t use the p-word if his trial is limited to his son being bullied, his wife leaving him or if he just received notice that he’s being laid off.
Here are some random things I have ascertained during my transformative period. Please keep in mind this is the work of a stupid man, so don’t expect much here:
• Religious men were once considered the brightest minds in society. Some argue that this is only because the clergy and Biblical scholars were the majority of people who were literate. I don’t bring this up to debate the causality, merely to point out how the pendulum seems to have swung to the other extreme. Such a dramatic shift in society’s appraisal of a group of men feels like it is more based on external factors than actual intelligence.
• The great religious leaders who were once worshiped by society have been replaced by scientists. Although it’s hard to pinpoint a date, some have suggested the late nineteenth century as the beginning of the end of this epoch. Scientists are now treated as the carriers of the Truth. Their work in medicine, chemistry, space travel, and other fields has allowed mankind to surpass numerous monumental hurdles. Traversing these hurdles seems to suggest that we don’t need a Creator. That we have the ability to know everything and given time, solve every problem. The conundrum for me is that I have worked behind the curtain in the applied-science world for over thirty years. Let me bring you in on a secret from back stage. We’re not that good. The amount we know is dwarfed by what we don’t know.
• Having been on both sides of the believers/atheists fence, I have to say the non-believers tend to be much more aggressive about their views. There are of course exceptions and my conclusion is not based on a scientific study. This conclusion is formed through my personal observation of the written and verbal comments of folks when the mere topic of religion comes up. I can say this because I too was guilty of this behavior in my pre-Christian days. Why is this? If we believers are as stupid as the non-believers say, are we likely to become “smarter” because they’re mocking us? Can you shame someone into being more intelligent?
• There actually are some believers who say and do things that are embarrassing to us. We call this spiritual immaturity. Just like there are some adults that never stop acting like selfish kids, there are believers that never seem to quite get it. Maybe they’re a big reason for the anger expressed by the non-believers I mentioned above. If so, I can’t say I blame the agitated non-believers too much. The immature believers can frustrate us too. There is a verse in the Bible that says, in effect, truth shared without love is like clanging cymbals.
I tried to write this post in a fashion that was fair and not overly critical of those who see things differently from me. It would be nice if this writing would generate a healthy, constructive discussion, but such hope would be stupid on my part.
Ever wonder why some conversations stick in your head for seemingly no reason? Almost twenty years ago, I was having a beer with my boss, a German man who was probably in his late forties at that time. He had worked in the US for many years and was well-respected by his peers. I don’t recall how we got on the subject, but he began to compare Americans with his countrymen. He started by listing the things he liked about us and how grateful he was to have had the opportunity to work in our country. Then he dropped his wisdom on me.
The difference, he said, was that in his country you could have a conversation about anything, religion, politics, whatever, with someone you had met for the first time. It was okay to share your beliefs with no fear of starting an argument. The whole concept of our being overly careful, politically correct, struck him as odd for a country created by men not afraid to thumb their collective noses at a king.
Maybe I remember his words because I had no good reply? I felt like I couldn’t defend my homeland? Or perhaps his words stuck because I recognized they were intentional and pointed at me? He was my boss and I think I was weighing a position in Munich at the time. Like I said, almost two decades have passed and the words are still with me.
I’m an author now with one book published and another in development. I also have this blog, for what it’s worth. Why do I put myself through this toil? It’s the same as any author. There are things inside me that I simply must get out. Whether my goal is to entertain, teach or some variant of these, my soul is not well unless I share. Fair enough, I now have a channel to be heard. What should I do with it?
A couple of years back, a writer friend of mine instructed me to stay away from controversial topics on my blog. She said it would hurt the sales of my book – alienating potential readers. Since she was a published author with a good blog that I follow, I took her advice. My other writer friends said this was wise. Just focus on your novels, write “nice” posts and build a following.
But this has left me unsettled. Those who are forced to be around me, know me as a person who uses humor in conversations to go places where the intrepid fear to go. I don’t do this to be mean. I just hate elephants. The ones in the room that people won’t talk about. Our time on this planet is so short, it feels like a crime against humanity to stay clear of these “forbidden” topics. Such timidity diminishes our very existence! Herein lies my problem. The blog, part of the channel that is meant to provide a relief to my writer’s voice, is blocked. I cannot be true to myself in one venue and a liar in another. I don’t do milquetoast.
The solution is obvious. But those are often the ones that we try are darndest to avoid. I need to write what’s on my heart and in my mind. I should do this in a way that isn’t meant to hurt anyone. Some folks might get emotionally charged, positive or negative. Hopefully this leads to discussions. The kind that changes one or both of us. Like a talk over beers with a friend.
So this is my goal from now on with this blog. I’m going to speak my piece about things that stir in me – religion, race, politics, business and yes, the most controversial, what’s wrong with baseball. Why am I telling my readers this, all six of you? Because I need to be held accountable. If you see a post that has the odor of vanilla, that shows no courage, call me out. Ask me where I left my spine. Remind me of this promise I am making to myself and you – I will give no thought to the rocking of the boat when I write in this space.