Losing my religion

The popular 90s song of the same title by the band R.E.M. was apparently not about anything religious but thinking about it always evokes for me the idea of giving up things that have defined me for most of my life.

Not so much an active throwing away of labels like Republican or evangelical Christian or other similar terms but a slow release. A letting go as forces and changes and realizations finally take one to the point of loosening his grip and finally saying “goodbye, Label.”

Because the labels no longer fit. Not when I can’t reconcile the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity with the political parties, religious groups, and others warring against and amongst each other.

I’m sure it’s my fault, having back slid into unbelief in the political and religious realms. My fault or no, I don’t have the stomach to align myself with groups claiming piety on one hand and adamantly supporting political leaders who demonstrate no moral standing on the other (yes, I understand it’s subjective).

I’ve looked for other labels to adopt but nothing fits these days. Life’s too busy to fight all the time. Align oneself with a party or movement or religion and it immediately pits one against those who align differently. The art of civil dialogue and compassion and compromise appears broken and I can’t and don’t know how to fix it.

I understand that letting go of labels sets one adrift into a sea of uncertainty and (some would say) being blown about by the winds of this thing or that thing. I’ll take my chances because I don’t want to be associated with certain groups, parties, or belief systems.

Will I become a Democrat? A Buddhist? An atheist? A Green Partier? Nah, I’ll just wear the label “human being” and attempt to navigate life with a smile for strangers and a kind word for neighbors no matter their color, religion, politics, gender, sexual orientation, etc., etc., etc. The approach may land me in heaven, purgatory, or hell (if they even exist) but I’m okay with that prospect.

And I’m thinking I just might find a growing crowd of human beings in that mix who’ve walked away from their labels in search of something different too. And maybe that’s where the conversation will really begin…

 

Happy 31 on 31!

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Tomorrow is our 31st wedding anniversary. 31 on 31! (If you know me, you’ll know I’m a bit sappy and yes I cry in movies and at The Voice performances…so with that disclaimer out of the way…).

Bella bullied me into walking her tonight (sometimes I need her persistent side eye to force me off the couch). As we walked I enjoyed the sky, flowers, Bella’s antics, baby bunnies, and the pleasant temperature but our big, old cottonwood trees stole my attention. I thought about how they’ve persisted decades upon decades no matter the changing weather or other dynamic forces. Sure, they have dead branches that require pruning and they’ve lost some bark along the way, but they stand tall and provide shade in summer, let the sun through in winter, and provide beauty year round as they live through life’s arc.

It’s like a long-term marriage as the partners grow gray together, endure challenges, and attempt to stand strong despite the winds of change around them. I don’t take what we have for granted and know that year in and year out new challenges arise. Sometimes trees and marriages don’t survive. I acknowledge that reality and appreciate the paths others have walked. But I also know that for us love abounds, through sickness and health, and I’m thankful for the path that Jennifer and I have trod.

To quote a John Denver song sung at our wedding (Annie’s Song),

“You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again.”

Happy 31 on 31, Jennifer!

For Mom

Here in this year of firsts since your passing, I thought about letting the day go by with just remembering you in my heart. And I’m doing that as I give thanks for your life and your love. But something’s missing and I realize it’s the fact I didn’t give you flowers today. And last year on Mother’s Day, in the whirlwind turmoil of your condition, I failed to give you flowers and I’m sorry. It was our thing over the years, my sending you flowers and you gushing over them. I missed that today, and so I’m sharing pictures of flowers from our yard with you, knowing our spirits are intertwined forever in love and beauty. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

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Learning to see

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Some time after I’d caught the photography bug as a means of expression, my wife put me into photography boot camp. It was a time as an apprentice, or learner, if you will. My early photographic attempts had focused more on gear (who doesn’t love gear?) and pretty colors and the sharpest images possible (because a sharp picture is a good picture, right?). My wife at first encouraged me to look beyond the obvious and to use that approach in my photography. But my left-brained mind struggled to understand visual concepts so she put me in black & white photography boot camp to limit my choices and make me work within a set of parameters. For a year, I could only take and post photos in black & white. It was the best thing that could have happened to me as I began to move away from photographing a flower or a bird or a mountain as just objects and began to understand how lines, shapes, contrast, and so on could be used as tools to tell a story or evoke an emotion.

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During that time of restriction I fell in love with black & white photography. Not that I mastered visual storytelling (I still have a lot to learn) but it helped me see things better, or differently, by focusing on shapes and not on what something is or isn’t.

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Over time I’ve migrated away from black & white photography, opting again for the color world. But when I do that, I often slip back into bad habits and it helps to go back to black & white for a time as a challenge. I find rainy dreary days like today difficult to capture in black & white. And yet, the challenge of walking through our yard and attempting to see beyond color is always a fun and rewarding experience as I look for shapes I normally don’t “see.”

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Sometimes I need the discipline of restricted choices to help me see other options. And I’m thankful my wife helped open my eyes to more than just color and objects as photographic choices.

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However, sometimes I still take pictures of birds (in this case, a bird cutout) just because they’re birds.

 

Letting go

I’m a lifelong overthinker. At times it seems like a good thing to dwell on matters, giving them a thorough vetting. The problem comes when the thinking takes me to unhealthy places. The places where I doubt myself in spite of giving a solid effort to most things. The places where I allow myself to think I’m no good, not worthy, or less than acceptable.

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I’m a human being and therefore not perfect. I don’t know where my perfectionism came from, perhaps a byproduct of overthinking (or the cause?). A half century plus of living and I continue to wrestle with it in my daily life.

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Regret accompanies the overthinking lifestyle. And regret is not helpful as it keeps the mind and soul mired in the past. I’m working daily to live in the moment, one decision at a time. When I do that, I move forward with positive energy and synergy toward my life goals. I’m also working to forgive myself when I make mistakes because beating myself up serves no useful purpose but sets me onto the treadmill of regret.

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Freeman Patterson, in his book, “Photography and the Art of Seeing,” wrote in the preface to the third edition, “Letting go of yourself is an essential precondition of real seeing.” When I let go and stop overthinking I allow myself to relax into the awareness of beauty created by light, water, and soap suds. The pictures don’t have to mean anything. They can simply be.

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And in my daily life, I don’t have to fit into every society-defined box or perfectly meet every external expectation. If I allow myself to relax into awareness of other options, I find myself pushing past self-imposed limits. And that’s a thing of beauty.