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What Gets to You?

There is a gap between aspiration and implementation that needs to be filled. If my effort doesn’t reduce the chasm, then the goal is merely words. If my personal mission, for 2017, is to significantly influence 100,000 people this year but I sit quietly on my hands waiting for the best time to make a perfect appeal, I will likely get comfortable with the waiting rather than the action. I am an impatient imperfectionist with a serious action bias so I am more likely to leap before assessing how far I need to jump or how far I might fall. The specific metric isn’t as important to me as the doing. I would sooner fall 50,000 short while taking some for of action to inform, encourage, incite, provoke and coach rather than 100,000 short perfecting a perfect message (nonexistent). I blog, podcast, tweet, post, coach, speak, present, propose almost every day. The analytics I am using suggest that I have legitimately reached 300,000 unique individuals so far this year. More than 2000 have replied, commented, shared, challenged, celebrated. But how do I measure the in-betweeners? Between reach and engagement? Between engagement and action? Between status quo and change? Does it matter?

I am also an extrovert who uses the outside of my head to ‘mull’ and ” reflect”. The above paragraph leads me to a reflection that I need to define significant and influence before worrying about #’s to improve the decisions that I make. If I believe significant is measured by any engagement ( is a Retweet equal to a comment, is a question better than a like, are criticisms an improvement over exposure?) (my initial answer would be no, yes, yes).

What moves a reader from passive consumption to engagement? What can I do to foster more questions? Does it matter if the engagement is a sidebar to the initial medium? How do you accept or welcome someone’s influence in your life? Do you realize and recognize when and how your views, approaches, and opinions are being shifted? Is logic a contributing element? numbers? stories? depth? brevity? clarity?

Are you more likely to shift positions with a preponderance of evidence or an abundance of confirmation? Does a 300-page case study sway you more than 300 people aligning with a specific idea or trend? What influences you? Is there something that I could say or do or some way I could express my ideas that would be more likely to resonate with you?

Do you comment when something triggers a reaction (positive or negative)? Do you share through your network? Do you follow bloggers, tweeters? for their content? or just friends?

Still trying to figure this out after 600+ posts,

B

Uncategorized

Are You Happy Now?

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Buddha

“Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men, is he who would conquer just one — himself. Better to conquer yourself than others. When you’ve trained yourself, living in constant self-control, neither a deva nor gandhabba, nor a Mara banded with Brahmas, could turn that triumph back into defeat.” – Gautama Buddha

Choice is a social construct. It seems that the consequences of choice and range of options to choose are dictated by the circumstances of life. If I have limited income and very little financial resources my options for transportation solutions are different from someone who has significant margin in resources. But we can still make decisions within our personal menu and in the area of values and worldview, we can expand our menu (by choice) to include a wider array of selections.

I have written here about trust as a choice; one that once made becomes invisible. I have expounded on curiousity as being a frame we opt for. There have been numerous posts on how courage is a selection we are able to make many times each day. While the consequences of these determinations aren’t equal among different people and different cultures, the choice is still available.

I was volunteering last week at Calgary Reads Big Book Sale (100,000 used/donated books) and was sorting and curating the Health and Wellness section. I noticed that there were 11 books, written in the last 6 years, that had ‘Happiness’ in their title. Skimming the pages, I was struck by the focus on environmental and external forces and their impact on my happiness. The authors suggest that my happiness is a consequence of my where, when, how, and what. If I am unhappy, it is because of the circumstances in my life. I am in the wrong job, wrong relationship, wrong city …
None of my skimming revealed a thesis that my happiness is mine to choose or even that I have any serious influence on the happiness I feel.

Simply, happiness is a choice. A difficult one sometimes but still a personal choice.
Recognizing the situations and dynamics that bring you joy is important because it makes the decision to be happy easier. But the experience doesn’t create the feeling. The conditions are more like a placebo that requires a commitment to the generate remarkable impact. If I believe that going to Disneyland would be a trying and frustrating experience (I do) then arriving at the gate in Anaheim would likely be a disappointing and troubling day. If I have a medical appointment and decide to joyfully live in the moment and commit to exuding happiness throughout the session then I will see the good, the opportunity, the possibilities and feel less anxious (if not pleasantly surprised).

It may just be a delusion or a reframing of my conditions but I have taken the path of happiness under less than ideal conditions and found that my disposition changed the situation or at least changed how I perceived it.

I am embarrassed to say that I have allowed the opposite to happen. In a fit of ego or self-pity, I have chosen unhappiness and it festered into unkindness, unforgiveness, anger and despair in a place and time where I should have been overcome with glee. I think the term nocebo applies.

My mind (yours too) is powerful enough to alter reality, change perspective and revise the past and future so it shouldn’t be unimaginable that it can bring happiness into existence regardless of the swirling negativity or potential chaos.

Choose to be happy, act as if you are happy, see the world through happy eyes and speak happiness into the world and keep your eyes open to see what unimagined joy manifests.

Make Today and Tomorrow Remarkable,

B

Uncategorized

Happy Pi Day

Pi Day 3.14 π

A small symbol π provides us with a glimpse of an ordered world and a view of beauty and efficiency that is unrivaled. 3.14159265358979323… goes far beyond mathematical calculations. After all how often do I need to know the circumference of a circle. Pi shows herself in our DNA and the spiral double helix. She predicts the path of a river and the total distance traveled. She foresees and designs our communities and helps us understand our reciprocal relationships. Pi wasn’t a Eureka moment. Archimedes carefully calculated her value based on 2000 years of other’s estimations. About 2000 years later we are still enthralled with her power.

In honour of Pi Day, I am offering you the opportunity to make your own calculated discovery – about yourself and your larger world. If you are struggling to understand the meaning of your life and are hoping to discover a personal purpose, this opportunity may be for you. If your circle of influence and relationship is skewed or broken, this proposition can help you redraw boundaries and recalculate your position.

Remarkable coaching will uncover your greatest strengths and assist in finding alternatives to weaknesses. Through feed forward solution-focused sessions, you can discover specific intentions and actions to move you on your adventure.

My Pi Day Offer.

I am opening up 10 spots in April ( the start of Q2 2017) to clients who are interested in creating a significant change for themselves (in work, in life, in love, in health). The Pi Day Offer provides 3 – one-hour remarkable coaching sessions (either in person at our office or on the phone) where a commitment, that is the highest and best use will act as our guide. You will discover what immediate, relevant and concrete first step you can take and how to intentionally calculate and recognize when you complete it. You will be held accountable for your first, second, third … commitments and coached to recognize and reduce barriers that impede your goal. In recognition of the importance of π and your courage to take the next big step in your journey, we are offering this package to the first 10 adventurous and courageous clients for $314. If you respond before March 23rd, I will make you a pie.

Please let us know that you are interested and we can find 3 dates and times that works best. Contact Bob McInnis 5872271449 or bob@remarkablepeople.ca

Uncategorized

I Don’t Understand

 

curious

I am a prideful guy and I think that I am a pretty sharp pencil. I like it when people think that I am clever. Sometimes I am clever, and sometimes I wing it. I rarely say, ” I don’t know” or ” I don’t know”. I am choosing to make Thursdays my “I Am Just Trying to Understand’ day each week. Thursday will be the day that I proudly declare my ignorance. I won’t synthesize what I do know and try shape it to fit an unrelated question. I won’t bluff my way through conversations. I will just say ” help me understand” or ” tell me more, so I can understand”. I am trusting that by being transparent and inquisitive, I will learn more about the subject under discussion and the person or people I am in conversation with.

Here are different ways I can say “I do not understand”

“What did you say? What do you mean? Ca you tell me more? Can you say more about that? I don’t understand. Excuse me, I didn’t get it. Excuse me, can you please repeat it? Sorry, I did not catch that. I missed that. That went right over my head. Can you please speak slowly? I don’t get it. Do you mind explaining it again? I’m afraid it is not clear what you saying. Would you mind clarifying what you said? I am sorry, but I don’t follow what you are saying. I don’t catch what you said. Sorry. I am not trying to be smart, I just don’t get it.”

Even writing those words makes me a bit uncomfortable. There is a script, in my head, that tells me that I should know everything or at least not disclose any lack of awareness, experience or education. It doesn’t matter where my scripts came from. I just need an awareness that the foundation informs my decisions. I can’t change yesterday and the actions or inactions that are embedded in my nature but I can move forward, slowly and subtlety altering how I choose to react to familiar and unfamiliar stimulus. Today, I recognize my desire (need) to be right and to be seen as clever and I challenge myself to be open and transparent by asking awkward and clumsy questions to clarify and learn.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

Seems Bill understood that we need to accept that we don’t understand everything/anything. Where we see certainty Hamlet saw other possibilities. I am excited to see what Thursdays bring and whether my horizons will expand beyond what I am comfortable knowing.

Make Today Remarkable, by allowing some confusion,

B

Uncategorized

The Enemy

At the height of the cold war, most of us in the west; Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, Christian or atheist, had a common enemy. And when President Reagan said, in 1987, in Berlin “I’d like to ask the Soviet leaders one question […] Why is the wall there?” and “I call upon those responsible to dismantle it [today]”.

Thirty years later, many of us in the west; Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, Christian or atheist, have a common enemy. And when President Trump says, in 2017, in Washington says about his wall “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful.” It is time once gain to learn from history. Isolating ourselves and our misguided ideas is a disservice to the world and harmful to our people.

Under the old common enemy; Communism, a few benefited greatly. Members of the party elite built dachas, statues, monuments and amazing wealth. Oppression was necessary, so the officials suspended freedoms and disappeared citizens. Views contrary to the party line were ridiculed, writers and artists who challenged the regime faced imprisonment and anyone who wasn’t pure white Russian was relegated to secondary and tertiary citizenship.

Thirty years seems long enough for our collective memory to have faded. It seems many of us have forgotten that we opposed the era of Khrushchev through Gorbachev. A time when the ordinary people of the USSR suffered shortages in the most basics of life. A time when ruthless, cynical opportunism flourished and the best liars and fabricators made a mockery of truth.

It seems that Russia forgot the path and hope of “Demokratizatsiya” and have again accepted the iron fist holding sway while stuffing a wallet with gold. A bare-chested leader with bravado and little else, riding bareback isn’t a knight in white armor and cooperation with a bear is a fools game.

When held to public scrutiny and criticism, the power was sapped and the wall did come down.

We have a responsibility and an opportunity to shine a light with voice and deed, calling out narrow-minded protectionism and parochialism whether in Moscow, Washington, Ottawa or London or in the provinces, states, cities and towns.Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, Christian or atheist, have a common enemy and she is overconfident that we will surrender to the dismantling of values and the construction of barriers to keep ideas out. Show her that she is wrong.

B

Uncategorized

The desire to fit in is the root of almost all wrongdoing

Imagine that one morning you discover a ring that grants you magic powers. With this ring on your finger, you can seize the presidency, rob Fort Knox and instantly become the most famous person on the planet. So, would you do it?

Readers of Plato’s Republic will find this thought experiment familiar. For Plato, one of the central problems of ethics is explaining why we should prioritise moral virtue over power or money. If the price of exploiting the mythical ‘Ring of Gyges’ – acting wrongly – isn’t worth the material rewards, then morality is vindicated.

Notice that Plato assumes that we stray from the moral path through being tempted by personal gain – that’s why he tries to show that virtue is more valuable than the gold we can get through vice. He isn’t alone in making this assumption. In Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes worries about justifying morality to the ‘fool’ who says that ‘there is no such thing as justice’ and breaks his word when it works to his advantage. And when thinking about our reasons to prefer virtue to vice, in his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) David Hume confronts the ‘sensible knave’, a person tempted to do wrong when he imagines ‘that an act of iniquity or infidelity will make a considerable addition to his fortune’.

Some of history’s greatest philosophers, then, agree that wrongdoing tends to be motivated by self-interest. Alas, I’m not one of history’s greatest philosophers. Although most assume that an immoral person is one who’s ready to defy law and convention to get what they want, I think the inverse is often true. Immorality is frequently motivated by a readiness to conform to law and convention in opposition to our own values. In these cases, it’s not that we care too little about others; it’s that we care too much. More specifically, we care too much about how we stack up in the eyes of others.

Doing the wrong thing is, for most of us, pretty mundane. It’s not usurping political power or stealing millions of dollars. It’s nervously joining in the chorus of laughs for your co-worker’s bigoted joke or lying about your politics to appease your family at Thanksgiving dinner. We ‘go along to get along’ in defiance of what we really value or believe because we don’t want any trouble. Immanuel Kant calls this sort of excessively deferential attitude servility. Rather than downgrading the values and commitments of others, servility involves downgrading your own values and commitments relative to those of others. The servile person is thus the mirror image of the conventional, self-interested immoralist found in Plato, Hobbes and Hume. Instead of stepping on whomever is in his way to get what he wants, the servile person is, in Kant’s words, someone who ‘makes himself a worm’ and thus ‘cannot complain afterwards if people step on him’.

Kant thinks that your basic moral obligation is to not treat humanity as a mere means. When you make a lying promise that you’ll pay back a loan or threaten someone unless he hands over his wallet, you’re treating your victim as a mere means. You’re using him like a tool that exists only to serve your purposes, not respecting him as a person who has value in himself.

But Kant also says that you shouldn’t treat yourself as a mere means. This part of his categorical imperative gets less publicity than his injunction against mistreating others, but it’s no less important. Thomas Hill, a philosopher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, notes in Autonomy and Self-Respect (1991) that servility involves a mistaken assessment of your moral status. Crucially, the servile person is guilty of the same root error as the person who deceives or threatens others – namely, denying the basic moral equality of all persons. It’s just that the person you’re degrading is you. But servile behaviour neglects the fact that you’re entitled to the same respect as anyone else.

Now, maybe you’re thinking that lying about your opinion of Donald Trump to placate your parents so you can eat your cranberry sauce in peace is no big deal. Fair enough. But servility can cause much graver moral transgressions.

Take the most famous psychological study of the 20th century: Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments. Milgram discovered that most of his subjects would deliver excruciating – and sometimes apparently debilitating or lethal – electric shocks to innocent victims when an experimenter told them to do so. In ‘The Perils of Obedience’ (1973), Milgram explained that one reason why the typical subject goes along with malevolent authority is because he ‘fears that he will appear arrogant, untoward, and rude if he breaks off’. The subjects’ commitment to politeness overwhelmed their commitment to basic moral decency. And a lot of us are more like Milgram’s subjects than we’d care to admit: we don’t want to appear arrogant, untoward or rude at the dinner table, the classroom, the business meeting. So we swallow our objections and allow ourselves – and others – to be stepped on.

The pernicious consequences of servility aren’t confined to the lab, either. Indeed, Milgram’s experiment was motivated partly by his desire to understand how so many ordinary-seeming people could have participated in the moral horrors of the Holocaust. More recently, the military violence at Abu Ghraib has been explained in part by the soldiers’ socialisation into conformity. These examples and reflections on our own lives reveal an underappreciated moral lesson. It’s not always, or even usually, the case that we do wrong because we lack respect for others. Often it’s because we lack respect for ourselves.Aeon counter – do not remove

Christopher Freiman

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Original Thought · Uncategorized

Memories

Blink and it is gone. The fleeting moment of 7 seconds ago is chased by the hurtling moment 7 seconds ahead. We hold ABCDEFG at once and then A is gone to the past and H is rolling forward. The pace of time ticks on and without holding onto the now and filing some rendition of it away, we find our minutes, hours, days and years spent without value or purpose. Memories are the economy of experience without which life has no currency.

140seconds

Our memories can represent numerous meanings of the word currency.
According to Miriam Webster;
Currency
a : circulation as a medium of exchange
b : general use, acceptance, or prevalence <a story gaining currency>
c : the quality or state of being current : currentness <needed to check the accuracy and currency of the information>
d : something (as coins, treasury notes, and banknotes) that is in circulation as a medium of exchange
e : paper money in circulation
f : a common article for bartering <Furs were once used as currency.>
g : a medium of verbal or intellectual expression < … neither side possessed any currency but clichés … — Jan Struther>

My memories act as a repository and a filter for the life I have led and a shimmering lens to the highest and best tomorrow. They contain and create truth, marketing both to my ego and anyone else who will listen. They become the chapters and volumes of the Book of Bob and in modern parlance ‘they fabricate my brand’.

As the story develops and is retold, by me and those who have heard them they begin to seem plausible and possible. When I remember a meeting with a colleague and relate the experience to them on the next encounter, it infiltrates their story just as their recounting finds room in mine. We both remodel and adapt and accept the altered version as today’s truth.

The moment I recognize as now slips past so quickly that I would miss it if I didn’t shape it as part of a bigger picture. William James gave currentness years of thought as he raced ahead of his world. His brother Henry once said, after his passing; ” William is always around the next corner.” He mused ” Time itself, comes in drops”. or in fuller exposition; “All our sensible experiences, as we get them immediately, do . . . change by discrete pulses of perception, each of which keeps us saying ‘more, more, more,’ or ‘less, less, less,’ as the definite increments or diminutions make themselves felt. . . . [All our sensible experiences] come to us in drops. Time itself comes in drops. (PU 104)” His thesis seems to suggest that only the current memory can quench the thirst for understanding, but only for a discreet pulse ( a drop).

‘I don’t know if this really happened but I know it is true’ a paraphrase from Marcus Borg’s post-modern apologetics suggests that memories (stories) can be profoundly true without being factually true. It is in that ether that we construct our reality – a recipe of factual, literal, and imagined to concoct save our sanity and a delicious cake that we can offer to those who are proximate and intimate.

What we use as a token of exchange, either memories or money are merely and intrinsically a social agreement. I accept your story and assimilate it into a trust matrix that I use to decide whether to share some of my life and time with you. Or, I receive your script or a digital version as remittance for goods or services and complete the transaction because we have agreed that the $, €, £, ៛, ₽, that we trade has some value that is factual, literal and concocted. In either case, if the agreement fails, the transaction ends without satisfaction.

Sitting around a campfire, standing at a water cooler, or in a pulpit, applying for a job, courting a lover is an exercise in bidding, accepting, and rejecting. We barter for relationship, status, position, power, and love with the memories we share and the clarity we imagine and bring to our storytelling. If my memory tales align with yours, we begin a dance. You offer a version of an event and I add or adapt to it and offer some of it back. When I say ” I love you” and hear ” I love you, too”, my understanding is framed by how I have experienced love in the past and how I desire to feel it in the future. Your words are interpreted through my arbitrary moment in time position that is informed by my recall, recognition and reflection and my unspoken desire to be loved.
Back and forth the stories go and for some, an agreeable, intimate, long-lasting relationship develops.

My ego and delusions of grandeur are both a great asset and a devastating liability. I assume my memories and their articulation exist to be a medium of verbal or intellectual expression, cherished by all who hear them. I realize that the 1000ish words of this post offer my intellectual expression, somewhat convoluted by the act of writing and the fact of reading and the faculty of recalling. My fallibility can seem either charming or troublesome because your memories, your ego, and your delusions play into the understanding; factual and interpretive, of the exchange. I trust and expect that some of this will resonate and some will provocate and I am okay with both. I would be distressed if it fell flat.

Make Today Memorable,

B

Self Improvement · Uncategorized

What’s left? If you aren’t sure about God, what do you believe? If you don’t see the bible as a complete and inerrant set of instructions, how do you guide your life? If there isn’t anything after this life, how do you keep going? When you stop believing, what’s left?

I flippantly and defensively said “everything” when I was asked that question a few months ago. But the word stuck with me and the idea that I had the world at my doorstep began to grow. If I wasn’t bound by a history and tradition that had been an important part of my life I was free to explore a range and diversity of ideas, opinions, and traditions. I could undertake rituals and readings that were outside the canon and liturgy of my faith community without feeling guilty. I was able to hear the same scripture with new ears and either embrace it or reject it without reprisal. There wasn’t a 6-course meal in front of me with the clear instructions that I needed to swallow it all. I could order a la carte and if I wanted only have soup or desert. I could even fast and not eat anything that was on the menu. I could even go to another restaurant or make my own meal at home. While that freedom isn’t the reason I have become an agnostic, nor should it be, it was an unexpected and beneficial outcome of standing firmly in doubt and curiosity.

When I was asked by someone who was/is concerned about my soul ” what’s left”, I am sure that they meant that there is nothing left worth living for and I discovered that there was everything to live for and live with.

In a world where for the first time political realities and armed citizens have made me uncertain about freedom, I find myself free to be uncertain. The next statement is about me and not pointed at anyone else. I think I am smarter because I am uncertain. When I had easy answers, I asked questions that conformed and confirmed. Now I ask myself and others better questions out of a sincere desire to understand. My queries are framed differently and use softer language that seems to elicit more open and thoughtful responses. My conversations have been ranging because, in my desire to understand, I get to pause and wait for others in the discussion to reflect, find their voice, and craft a response.

Tim Ferris, in “Four Hour Work Week” says that “most people will choose to be unhappy over uncertain”. I think he is referring to an addiction to a weekly paycheque and the choice to stay doing a job that enslaves you and offers no autonomy or purpose rather than make changes that allow you to live a life of meaning. Making meaning is a choice too but when you are constricted by rules, rituals and reasons from the minds and swords of others, you can’t see the choice. As the world changes and when we are conditioned to be fearful that if we don’t put a forkful in our mouth and swallow, we might starve, it is convenient and easier to suck it up and stay the course.

Right or wrong, I am choosing to risk it all. My brand, my reputation, my soul to discover what is out there if I can only wait and listen for the whispers.

 

B

Uncategorized

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

heisenberg1

I am not a scientist and I don’t play one on TV but here is my simple understanding of the Uncertainty Principle.

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is a rule. It says there is a limit to how well you can simultaneously know the position and momentum of a particle.  This means if you know the position very precisely, you can only have limited certainty about its momentum and vice-versa.

heisenber2

Besides a bit of Charlie Brown’s teacher going “Whaa whaa whaa”, I hear that even the most empirical things are dependent on externalities and perspective. If we delve into the esoteric, the certainty should be impacted more by what I know, where I am standing (literally and metaphorically), how I got to the narrow moment, why I want an outcome and who is watching.

This applies across a range of subjects including humanities, religion, politics, enjoyment, health and medicine, law, and meteorology (maybe everything). That is what interests me the most. How do I appear so certain, act with confidence and stake my reputation (some would say my life) on a conclusion that has so much of me in the criteria and process?

As I move forward, researching, thinking, discussing and writing about uncertainty this year, I am going to hold onto my explanation of Heisenberg and use it as a reminder to stand on one foot, tip my head and squint so I see a different point of view.

How do you lean into uncertainty? Are you sensitive to the perspectives of others? Is your curiosity strong enough to keep you searching?

 

B

Uncategorized

Uncertainty

uncertainty

Much of today’s post comes from a message I have delivered to two different churches. This version has shades of skepticism that lead to me realizing that I am firmly and comfortably ensconced in agnosticism.

There are stories in most ancient text of groups build towers and walls to either keep people out or people in or to demonstrate their self-aggrandising worth and status. In the Christian text, the Baylonians were showing the world that they/we awesome by building a tower to the heavens. They flabbergasted, disappointed and incredulous when it tumbled to the ground.

Like the Babylonians, the people of Jericho were shocked when the bricks that they laid didn’t provide the strong foundation they anticipated. In the Joshua v Jericho story most of us take the view that we are more closely associated with the Tribe of Israel, crusading righteous defenders of the good, but I realize that on many occasions, I am more like the Jerichoites. They were complacently self satisfied with their lot and their complacncy made then lazy and over confident. Over the millennia, the Israelites have had their certainty tested in almost every generation.
I spent years building my own reality placing bricks of belief beside and on top of other bricks. If the new bricks confirm what I already understand to be true, they are added, even if the mortar sticking them together isn’t quite right. I have worked through faith, politics, justice, economics, culture, relationships and chipped away at all the stuff that was killing my curiousity.

I expect that many of you have built a solid foundation through years of service, worship, essays and indoctrination. We all add blocks that hang loosely with our confirmation bias and then if necessary we seek evidence that supports what we want supported. I am going to talk about my latest ‘adventure’ in deconstructing my faith.
Often in times of struggle or tragedy we are made aware just how fragile our walls are. The trumpet blare of an illness, a loss, a financial challenge can reduce the wall to a pile of rubble.
My first disclaimer is that I am a recovering post-modern fundamentalist. I believed that the Bible was the complete and inerrant word of God exactly as it was written, without any consideration for who, how or when it was written. As you will hear over the 40 minutes, that isn’t what I belive today. In 1999 I was in Poland ‘sharing’ my certainty with Catholics. Warning them of their idolatry and giving them the four steps to salvation (from Peter’s first sermon) and letting them know that in no uncertain terms they needed to do them all in the order I was prescribing. On the plane back to Edmonton after 3 months in Warsaw a miracle happened. Somehow my head and heart were made aware of the exclusiveness of everything I was saying, doing and trying to accomplish. Exclusive as in keeping others out not as something special and rare.
Over the years, since 1999, I have willfully chosen to deconstruct my faith wall and examine why each belief brick is important, is it still valid, or is it just there because it was the right shape for the wall I wanted to build. Twice when I went through the painful process of questioning and doubting my presumptions, I realized that I had created God in my image and the wall was so high with my addendums and philosophies that I couldn’t see God anymore. When I use God, you can substitute Guide, Consciousness, Life Force, Each time I was weakened by the process and found my way back to refuge.
This time, I was invited by Peter Rollins, an Irish theologian and philosopher , to participate in Atheism for Lent. That was last March. If I thought letting go of bricks was hard in the past. This was excruciating. I learned a lot about myself, my faith, my constructed representations, church politics and a remarkable amount about ethos – meaning “character” that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. I will come back to that journey but first the Jerichoites. They had built a pretty amazing wall to protect them from foreign invaders; different ideas and customs, different ideas about marriage, child rearing, money, work, elders, children … and the wall served them very well. It kept unwelcome/unclean people and their unwelcome/unclean ideas out. Everybody thought much the same and they shared the same expectations of each other and distrust for outsiders. They were pretty sure that their way was the right way. Turns out they were in for a shock. I wonder how you would do if you faced that kind of new found ambiguity? In many areas of our life, religion, politics, sports teams, child rearing, exercise and nutrition, we are quick to grab onto a familiar package.
Some social psychologists would have loved a sample as large as the city of Jericho but two 21st C social psychologists Roets and Van Hiel developed a 15 question test measure our individual comfort and discomfort with uncertainity .
2nd Disclaimer everything I say no matter how confident I sound or sure I seem is only my opinion. Certainty is one of the3 c’s along with comfort and convenience that are eroding creativity, courage, and curiousity and replacing it with the mire and muck of complacency . In my opinion we need more uncertainty, inconvenience and discomfort, I plan to only speak about certainty and uncertainty.
Back to Roets and Van Hiel and the 15 questions,
I am going to ask you the questions and ask you to quickly score yourself on a scale of 1-6 with 1 being completely disagree and 6 being completely agree. If you can keep a running total by adding each question’s response, we can get a sense of how much you and the person beside you need closure. I will also let you know what I scored when I was getting close to the end of Lent. Again give yourself a 1 if you completely disagree and a 6 if you completely agree and if somewhere less than completely 2345 – Ready

Short version of the revised Need for Closure scale:
I don’t like situations that are uncertain.

I dislike questions which could be answered in many different ways.

I find that a well ordered life with regular hours suits my temperament.

When dining out, I like to go to places where I have been before so that I know what to expect.

I feel uncomfortable when I don’t understand the reason why an event occurred in my life.

I feel irritated when one person disagrees with what everyone else in a group believes.

I hate to change my plans at the last minute.

I don’t like to go into a situation without knowing what I can expect from it.

When I have made a decision, I feel relieved

When I am confronted with a problem, I’m dying to reach a solution very quickly.

When I am confused about an important issue, I feel very upset.

I would quickly become impatient and irritated if I would not find a solution to a problem immediately.

I would rather make a decision quickly than sleep over it.

Even if I get a lot of time to make a decision, I still feel compelled to decide quickly.

I almost always feel hurried to reach a decision, even when there is no reason to do so.

So how did you do? More than 57? More than 65? Less than 45? Less than 30? Less than 20? ???????????
I scored 23 when I was nearing the deconstruction of my wall but it seems that the more we practice swimming in ambiguity, the more comfortable we become.
The Atheism for Lent project began with me standing on some pretty solid ground; different foundation than years ago but nonetheless solid. – Likely a bit different than yours because I have a different set of experiences from faith and life. I began with a seed of doubt and rather than denying that I wasn’t sure and didn’t have all the answers, I slowly became open to the doubts. As I read the selected authors my ethos incrementally changed. I decided I could either approach this exercise half heartedly or with conviction and commitment. One of my favorite quotes is from Johan Wolfgang Von Goethe “
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. ”

With that in mind, I threw myself into the project. Commited. It was helpful that we were in California and I was able to run every morning. I find the physical effort refreshing and exhausting and somewhere after 5k I begin to shed some of the blocks and concerns in my head and heart. Running a couple of days a week in the sand was a great exfoliant and my feet were cleansed of all the dead and useless stuff as my mind and heart was being wiped clean.
The first week we began with readings Epicuris from 3rd C BCE . Reading
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God? “ I begin wondering about the brick labeled “God”. Again I am not saying that I was an atheist or agnostic at this point but I was letting go of God in my image. If God isn’t able or willing what is it about my understanding that is flawed. Was the all powerful/all knowing doctrine important or could I pull it from the wall?
Day 2 week one was David Hume. In his Dialogues concerning Natural religion, he is less direct but more forthright (because he was writing from the voices of fictional characters).
Reading Anthony Fluw, Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens the remainder of week one convinced me that the big brick of all knowing/all powerful was unstable and I pitched it aside.
It was like a kick in the gut. If I no longer am sure about Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence (all powerful, all knowing, all present) then dozens of other bricks didn’t have any mortar to connect to the structure.
If. God’s power isn’t infinite, or limitless then does God have power over wind, water, gravity, physics, me, us?
I almost retreated to certainty on this one but was convinced by a whisper that if I was going to remove the wall between me and God, I needed to wipe the slate clean and then wait on him. So I plowed ahead. Releasing the idea that God is all knowing challenged the principles of free will and predestined future. If He wasn’t always present all the time tore out the smaller bricks of immanence and disconnected transcendence.
The bricks were already falling on their own. Every morning I would run and toss more into the Pacific Ocean. As my feet were scrubbed so was my faith.
Week two started with Feuerbach and move to Marx and Hegel. I am not going to give you the blow by blow of the struggle I went through each week and the mental gymnastics I tried to hold onto some of what I “knew to be true” because we would need to be here for a couple days and I am not trying to convince you or unconvince you of anything. I am not urging you to step into the den and slay some of your tigers, lambs and sacred cows. I hope that by relating the experience and sharing where I am today that you might see God (hear whatever word you put here) the way he wants you to see Him. While I have talked with some of you about this journey and other faith topics, I don’t know you well enough to suggest anything about your faith and relationship with God but if you are like me, the God I was seeing was a caricature of God, God as I want him to be, God as my current interpretation revealed, God as a factor of my current state and mood, and God of my circumstances. Just like the caricature artists at the stampede , some features were exaggerated beyond plausibility and made a mocking cartoon of Him. One day an ATM, the next a scapegoat.
Back to Feurbach for a moment. For me, there was a refocusing in some of his writings. “It is theology, that has wrenched man out of his relationship with the world, isolated him, made him into an arrogant self-centered being who exalts himself above nature. Originally religion expressed nothing other than man’s feeling that he is an inseparable part of nature or the world.” This allowed me to detach the workings of Church from the realities of God. I was and had been using Church as a cloud to keep my distance from the mystery and mysticism and majesty and more likely responsibilities. Just like Moses, I shielded myself from seeing Him. If I created rules and laws that defined and contained the Force I could keep it locked in my head and out of my heart. I have dug deeper into this idea and now believe that church, as I understand it, requires certain certainty. It is the commodity that church sells . In my opinion, we aren’t even expected to believe or use the message and still be part of the club. This revealed to me that certainty whether ideology, theology, aplogetics, partisan politics, … facilitates and justifies bullying. We just witnessed 10 months of cruelty spawned by surety that I am right. Trump, Clinton, Cruse, Sanders, James Dobson, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell JR betrayed their characters with the corruption of certainty and slurred and blurred the lines between debate and debasement. Unfortunately that sad age isn’t nearly over and it as raging full force here in Alberta.
The process of Atheism for Lent went on for more than 6 weeks and I naively assumed/ presumed that on the Sunday of resurrection that God would manifest himself to me and say something profound, something just for me. I suppose I thought, hoped, that there might be a Damascus Road experience where God would knock me off my donkey and send me on some grand mission. The burning bush didn’t happen, there was no amazing revelation, no I AM conversation. I have been hearing faint whispers – I had a physical this week and told my doctor that my partner thinks I am suffering from some hearing loss. He asked “ if I had any pain, any leaking fluid, any buzzing or ringing” I said “no” but it occurred to me that I should have told him that I have been hearing whispers when there is no one around. They aren’t quite startling but they are always a surprise. That is probably because I haven’t heard them before. If the whispers are from God, it has been a very long time, maybe never since I heard Him. The whispers aren’t full sentences, maybe not even words just a sense that there is something I am supposed to be paying attention to – right now. Like “ look here” , “ did you see that?” I interpret through my lens ( again with my view rather than His) anyway I interpret that Consciousness (with a capital C) wants me to notice how it is active in the world and continue to be curious. My impatience gets in the way. My seriously strong action bias gets in the way. But my stubbornness and commitment to see this journey through (after all if I stop now, all the confusion, anxiety, and pain will have been for not). I don’t know how or if you encounter your Guide. I think I have created a metaphor for what I needed God to be by reading scripture, commentaries and the latest books. I expanded my version with retreats, music, and slogans always chasing the next icon that would fill a hole in me, in my heart I think the expression is. The hole would be filled temporarily by the acquisition of some more stuff, different ideas, another sermon but like all decisions that only lead to consuming more it returned very quickly. The new God smell faded after just a few uses.

Somerset Maughn said “Tradition is supposed to be a guide not a prison” so I challenge all of you to be observant today and throughout the week for opportunities where you are certain of your position or conclusion and then lean into uncertainty and see how uncomfortable it makes you. – Stay curious.

B