Talk on a Country Path

“Good morning.”

“Good morning.”

“What brings you out here?”

“Just running a few errands. Care to take a walk with me?”

“Fine, but I have to be back at the hospital in half an hour. Does that work for you?”

“That’s perfect, I was heading that way myself.”

“So let me ask you a question.”

“Yes.”

“I was surprised to hear you talking about immortality the other day.”

“Oh really? Why?”

“Well, for one thing, you’re an atheist. Or has that changed?”

“Ha. Not to my knowledge! But I think I see what you mean.”

“Which is what?”

“I think you’re wondering how an atheist can talk about immortality without invoking the notion of a divine or supreme being.”

“Yes. Care to explain?”

“Sure. Let’s find a park bench around here so we can sit down for second.”

“Sounds good.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Okay let’s sit down.”

“Fine. What now?”

“Listen quietly. What do you hear?”

“Well, I hear a lot of things. Should I pick one?”

“Sure.”

“I hear a bird chirping, which tells me that it’s spring. Finally. A finch, I think.”

“Perfect. Describe exactly what you hear.”

“I hear a chirp, chirp, chirping sound. It’s high-pitched and kind of sweet.”

“You hear intermittent bursts of chirping.”

“Yes.”

“How do you know they’re intermittent?”

“Well, because there’s silence in between.”

“Exactly. And would you have noticed the chirping at all if it happened against a background of noise? Especially if or close to the same frequency and intensity?”

“No, not at all.”

“Right. In order for you to perceive any sound at all, it has to exist against a background of silence.”

“Okay.”

“Another way to put it is that you hear silence punctuated by a series of sounds that are not the silence. Now we could go just a step further, and say that all sounds are born from silence and die back into silence. But that the silence not only precedes every sound, but makes them possible.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“No pun intended, but I’m dying to find out where you’re going with this.”

“I’ll wrap it up quickly since we’re almost at the hospital. Let’s just call the sounds individual things, beings, and lives, and let’s call the silence from which they come and into which they die eternal or immortal.”

“Immortal because it never dies.”

“Not quite; immortal because it is neither born nor dies. It plays outside of birth and death. Immortal in the sense of immutable. But far from empty; you could even think of it as eternal presence.”

“But it’s not a person for you.”

“Nope. But it is for you, and that’s fine. You’re in very good company historically.”

“Well. I see the Jesuits had quite an effect on you.”

“Ha! Yes indeed. Now may I scandalize you with one more comment?”

“Sure, why not.”

“There’s a tradition of Zen that refers to the same thing, the undying, as the Unborn.”

“Aha. Okay then.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, yes, that’s fine. This just raises more questions I have for you. You’re not off the hook, you know.”

“I would expect nothing less. How so this time?”

“I still suspect you’re a closet theist.”

“Non-theist. That’s different than being an atheist.”

“Sounds like a perfect place to pick up our next conversation. Next week?”

“Sounds good. Talk soon.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

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Date Satisfaction Survey

Dear [Date]:

Hello and thank you for our wonderful [day / afternoon / evening / evening and breakfast] together! If you would be so kind, please help me make the next one even better by taking a few minutes to fill out this survey.

Thank you!

Sincerely,
A. Rascal

1. Age:

☐ 20-29
☐ 30-39
☐ 40-49
☐ 50-59
☐ 60-69

2. How often do you typically date?

☐ Once a year
☐ Daily
☐ Weekly
☐ Once a month
☐ Every 2-3 months
☐ 2-3 times a year or less often
☐ Never

3. How often do you date Latin men?

☐ First time
☐ Maybe once in high school or college
☐ No idea
☐ Rarely
☐ Often
☐ ¡Ay, papito!

4-9. How important to you are these qualities in a date?

Not Important Somewhat Important Rather Important Dealbreaker
Looks
Charm
Sense of humor
Maturity
Financial stability
Ability to keep it in his pants

10-15. Overall, how did your date perform?

Miserably Somewhat Satisfactory Very Satisfactory Delightfully
Punctuality
Appearance
Grooming
Light comedy
Napkin origami
Famous impressions

16-21. How often did your date:

Rarely Sometimes Often Quite a bit
Hold your hand
Share feelings
Compliment you
Wiggle his eyebrows
Use vulgarity
Attempt to dry hump your leg

22. Overall, I am very satisfied with the way my date behaved himself.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

23. My date was knowledgeable, courteous, and respectful.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

24. My date made me feel comfortable and at ease.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

25. My date refrained from making eye contact with other women.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

26. My date refrained from conversing with other women in a manner that could easily be construed as flirtatious.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

27. My date refrained from using hand signals with other women to communicate phone numbers in my presence.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

28. My date refrained from asking me how attractive I thought other women are.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

29. I am down with threesomes.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

30. How “handsy” was your date?

☐ Cold and distant
☐ Cordial
☐ Appropriate
☐ Casper the Friendly Ghost
☐ Casper the Very Friendly Ghost

31. If there was sex, it was (choose all that apply):

☐ Amazing
☐ Incredible
☐ Ecstatic
☐ A work of art
☐ I saw angels and they gently took my hand and walked me back to earth

32. Considering how much time, energy, and money you spent preparing for this date, would you call it:

☐ An exceptional value; more than worth it
☐ A good value, I got about what I expected
☐ A poor value, not even close to worth it

33. Compared to how you felt about your date before, what are his chances of having another one with you?

☐ Ha!
☐ Ok but we really have to have a talk about his behavior first
☐ Depends what I’m doing that day
☐ Fairly good
☐ My ovaries say yes

A Funny Divorce Story (fiction)

Not too long before my wife and I separated, we sat down and had the talk. No, not about where the kids were going to live. Not about what school or what church they’d attend (we decided on 50-50 custody, the schools in my new town, and her church).

We talked about dating again.

Both of us knew the divorce could take forever, and neither of us wanted to wait until then to date again. So we kind of checked in with each other, to see where we were at with things.

After realizing both of us were not just ready but kind of eager to move on, we agreed we’d both start soon. We also agreed that we didn’t have to tell one another when or who we were dating, but that we’d talk to each other before introducing the kids to a new romantic partner.

About a month later, well established in my new home, I met someone. We were kind of taking it slow, both agreeing to wait and see how things progressed before introducing her to my kids. But my kids and ex knew that I was dating, and they even knew her name.

Now I hadn’t heard if my ex had started dating yet. I assumed she had, but didn’t want to pry. And I certainly didn’t want to ask the girls, as I didn’t want to put them in the position of informing on their mom.

Anyway, I’ll never forget one day when my girls came home from their mom’s. They were unusually silent in the car; when we got in the door, I immediately asked them what was up. My 12-year-old looked at my 10-year-old. My 10-year-old looked back at her sister. “You tell him,” she said. “No,” her sister replied. “You tell him.”

I thought this was my moment to jump in. “Girls, is this about your mommy dating again?” They both nodded, somewhat relieved. “Look, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact it’s wonderful. Your mommy and I spoke all about it a long time ago, and we both agreed we’d start seeing other people.”

“That’s not it,” piped my youngest.

“So what is it?” Immediately my mind imagined the worst. He was a gangster. A drug dealer. Someone wanted in several states for armed robbery. In short, someone horrible and menacing, who was scaring my kids at a distance.

I could hear myself screaming in my mind. How could she do this? What the F was she thinking? Right away, I wanted to call her and give her a piece of my mind.

Then my mind raced in another direction. What if the new boyfriend was a girlfriend? I knew from clinical experience that a number of straight folks discover new or underlying sexualities after years of therapy, and wondered if my ex was one of them. If so, I couldn’t wait to get on the phone and congratulate her.

It was neither. “Daddy, we saw a picture of David.”

“Is that your mom’s new boyfriend?”

“Yes,” they said, almost in unison.

“So?” I waited. “And?”

They looked at each other again. My oldest one spoke up. “Daddy. He looks exactly like you.”

“Yeah,” her sister added. “Just a lot older, like with white hair and everything.”

I smiled, knelt, and hugged both my girls. “That’s fine, kiddos. Hey, why don’t you all go upstairs and do your homework while I get started on dinner?”

“Sure thing, Daddy.” They ran up the stairs. Once I was sure they were out of earshot, I dialed my ex.

“Hey it’s me.”

“Hi,” she said. “Is everything ok?”

“Yes, everything’s fine. The girls are here with me, and we’re about to have spaghetti and meatballs in a bit.”

“Oh good, their favorite.”

“Yes. I was calling just to let you know that they told me they saw a picture of David.”

“Oh. Hope that’s ok. They were curious, so I showed them his official portrait.”

“It’s fine. They told me he’s amazingly good-looking.”

“Well he is. And that’s sweet of them to say.”

“Well, you deserve the best.”

“Aw thanks. How are things going with your girlfriend?” She never could bring herself to say her name.

“Great. Anyway, I was just calling to congratulate you.”

“Thanks. I’m sure that if he and I ever get serious, the girls are really going to like him.”

“Of that I am certain.”

My First Date Rules (guest post by A. Rascal)

As many of you know, I started dating again several months ago. Time and again, however, I found myself having the same conversations with women, over and over.

After a while, I decided to just print up a set of rules to hand out before or during the date. Believe me, it’s really helped clear the air so we can move on to other things like enjoying the movie, art gallery, concert, or even getting to know one another.

I’ll update the list as needed. But for now:

Rule 1. No kissing on the first date.
Absolutely not. I wish I had a nickel for each time a woman either closed her eyes and puckered up, as if expecting me to plant one, or tried to surreptitiously graze her lips on mine while coming out of a hug. No.

Rule 2. No incidental touching.
Women are wily creatures. On dates, I’ve noticed they begin by lightly touching your arm with a finger, ostensibly while trying to make a point. However, their nefarious purpose becomes clear as soon as they then place a hand, as if to see how far they can go. Before you know it, they’re rubbing your back and (this is embarrassing to say) sometimes even more.

No. I am not middle-aged male candy.

Rule 3. No Staring.
Ladies, my eyes are up here. I’m sad I even have to say that. Just no, plus ew. Gross.

Rule 4. No Whispering In Ears.
It took me several dates to catch on to this, but I finally got wise around the twelfth time. Especially in crowded bars, women motion to you to come closer, as if they have a secret to share. You take the bait, and bend your head towards theirs. Then, while whispering in your ear, they plant a kiss. Sometimes tongue. Again, ew and gross.

Rule 5. No Sharing Park Benches.
It begins innocently enough, with a request to go for a walk that almost invariably ends close to a secluded park bench. “I’m tired, do you want to sit down,” they ask, and, wanting to be a gentleman, I always say yes.

That’s when the trouble starts. Sometimes I’ve been quick enough to notice the fingers walking along my back to alight on my shoulders. Sometimes I don’t even see it coming, as when women yawn, stretch out their arms, and suddenly one of them lands on my back. No.

Rule 6. No Dancing.
This is a hard one for me, as I love to dance. However, time and again, I have found myself surrounded by women, forming a circle, clapping, whistling, and saying disgusting things like, “woah hoah, Rascal! Shake it! Shake what your momma gave you!”

Honestly, I have no idea what my poor mother has to do with any of this. Except to say, of course, that she would be appalled to see how poorly I get treated on the dance floor sometimes. Shame on you ladies and no. Anyway, this brings me to:

Rule 7. No Stuffing Dollar Bills In My Pants.
Again, it pains me to have to even say that. I don’t care that they’re neatly folded. I don’t care that you lightly perfumed them. I don’t care if you wrote your phone number on them in red lipstick.

And I don’t care that I need the money. No, just no, full stop.

And yes, that goes double for all your friends.

Rule 8. Hot Sex.
Hot monkey sex on a first date is fine, just ask first.

Angel is a Xenophobe

Does she walk? Does she talk?
Does she come complete?
My online Twitter angel
Always pulled me from my seat

She was pretty centrist
A very agile brain
The memory of my angel
Could never cause me pain

Some weeks go by I’m lookin’ through a right-wing magazine
And there’s my Twitter angel on the pages in between

CHORUS:
My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is a xenophobe
Angel is a xenophobe
(Repeat)

Some nice DMs, a text burlesque
While I was thinking about her dress
I was shy I turned away
Before she caught my eye

I was shakin’ in my shoes
Whenever she would retweet Fox News
Something had a hold on me
When angel got online

Her wit, charm, and language
So magical and such
To see her win at Words With Friends
Was really just too much

CHORUS:
My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is a xenophobe
Angel is a xenophobe
(Repeat)

Na na na na na na na na na (x4)

(Now listen)
It’s okay I understand
This ain’t no never-never land
I hope that when this Cheeto’s gone
We’ll Skype again real soon / anon

They took your mind, yes they did
Took your mind, deprived it
I’ll take it to a motel room
And there I shall revive it 🙂

A part of me just gets ripped
With every Breitbart line that’s quipped
Oh no, I can’t deny it
Oh yeah, I guess I gotta buy it!

CHORUS:
My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is a xenophobe
Angel is a xenophobe
(Repeat)

Na na na na na na na na na

(Alright, alright)
(One two three four)

Na na na na na na na na na (x4)

CHORUS:
My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is a xenophobe
Angel is a xenophobe
(Repeat)

(Na na na na na na na na na…)

Gaslighting

Two hypothetical employees, Amy and Barbara, are working together on a project that requires a great deal of coordination. Each enjoys their job, and they share a close working relationship, in addition to a social one.

One day, Amy discovers Barbara doing something odd. After Barbara leaves, Amy turns on the work computer and finds, much to her shock and horror, evidence suggesting Barbara has been secretly undoing her part of the project for quite some time.

Amy finds herself beset with feelings of intense anger, hurt, and betrayal. Why would Barbara do this? The only reason she can imagine is for Barbara to make herself look better than Amy to management. But how could Barbara do this to her?

Amy prints out the evidence, goes home, and thinks about it. A lot. After several sleepless nights wondering what to do, she decides to have a meeting with Barbara.

When they meet, Amy tells Barbara what she saw, and then shows her the printout.

Imagine Barbara responding in one of four different ways.

Response 1
Barbara immediately bursts into tears. Crying almost uncontrollably, she demands to know how Amy could think such a thing. She goes on to say she is nothing if not loyal and honest, and that she had cared for and respected Amy so much until that very moment.

Barbara adds that she’s devastated, having never felt so hurt or betrayed in her life. She tells Amy she can’t stand to hear another word, is too upset to work, and is going home. She then storms out the door.

Amy feels incredibly guilty. As she leaves the meeting room, she wonders how she could have misconstrued the situation so terribly. She also worries that she’s done permanent damage to what had been a wonderful working as well as social relationship.

She feels this is all her fault.

Response 2
Barbara responds with outrage, demanding to know how dare Amy accuse her of such things, especially after all that Barbara has done for her. For what’s probably only a minute, but feels like an eternity, Barbara shouts and yells at Amy, calling her all sorts of names she’s never been called before.

She ends by telling Amy she’d better prepare for dire consequences if she ever makes an accusation like that again.

Amy leaves the meeting so terrified of Barbara that she not only forgets how she felt beforehand, but actually destroys the evidence, fearing it could provoke Barbara again.

Days later, in therapy, Amy discovers that she is more afraid of angering Barbara than losing her job.

Response 3
Barbara responds by saying Amy’s got it totally wrong: that Amy only thought she saw what she did, and that what she really saw was something else. Barbara adds that, based on that misperception, Amy went on to completely misconstrue the “so-called evidence.”

Barbara then painstakingly goes over what Amy saw, as well as the printout. Step by step, she shows Amy how and where she kept leaping to conclusions, always on the flimsiest of evidence.

Amy leaves the meeting completely convinced by Barbara’s narrative. She feels embarrassed, yet deeply relieved to know she was wrong. She tosses the printout into a wastebasket without a thought, and begins to wonder what in the world is wrong with her.

Response 4
Barbara replies by saying she’s shocked, but not surprised by the accusation, as she’s long suspected Amy of the very same thing. Barbara goes on to share observations of her own that Amy has been undermining her for some time.

Barbara adds that she’s spoken to other co-workers about Amy, all of whom agree that Amy is not only rivalrous and petty, but childish and immature to boot.

Amy leaves the meeting feeling devastated, confused, and utterly demoralized. Could Barbara and everyone else really think that about her? Even worse, could they be right?

For the first time, Amy thinks about leaving her job.

Response 5
Barbara replies by admitting to the behavior in question, but then tells Amy she deserved it, given the fact that Amy had been undermining Barbara in subtle ways for quite some time. Barbara goes on to cite numerous examples of times when Amy has one-upped her in front of bosses and co-workers, all of which comes as a shock to Amy.

Amy had never thought of herself as anything but kind to Barbara, remembering many times when she went out of her way to help her. And while Amy recalls the incidents Barbara mentioned, she had never seen them as one-upping anyone.

Until now.

Suddenly Amy finds herself feeling very sorry, and apologizes to Barbara. Barbara replies that while she accept’s Amy’s apology, Amy is going to have to work diligently to regain the trust she lost with her one-upping behavior. And that, until then, she can expect Barbara to continue undermining her behind the scenes.

Amy finds herself feeling angry and bewildered.

What’s going on here? And how do we help Amy?

Existential Christianity

“Oh hi! Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.”
“You don’t sound particularly enthusiastic.”
“I’m not. As you know, I lost what little faith I had this year.”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks.”
“How come you never had that much faith?”
“Well, because I’m a scientist. We don’t care much for supernatural explanations of anything.”
“Of course.”
“In your world, you kind of have to.”
“Ha! Yes, it is kind of a job requirement. But you know, sometimes you say things that make me think you actually want a little faith.”
“Oh you have no idea how much, especially now.”
“But let me guess: you’d be violating your oath as a scientist if you allowed yourself to believe in God.”
“Right.”
“It would be like a betrayal.”
“Well that’s putting it a bit strongly, but yes, that’s right.”
“Yet at the same time you see people of faith using that faith to help them cope with losses like yours.”
“Yes.”
“And some part of you wishes you could believe like they do.”
“Well I did. As a child.”
“As a child.”
“Why are you making that face? Did I say something wrong?”
“No, you said something wonderful. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure.”
“Let’s talk. But not here.”

“Why’d you bring me here?”
“Well, I’m always visiting you at your office, so I wanted you to come visit mine. Is it making you uncomfortable?”
“No, no, I spent a lot of time in church as a kid. Remember, my parents were both Catholic.”
“I remember you told me that. So this is home to you.”
“Well it was.”
“Yes, I remember that too. I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, what can you do.”
“Anyway, I have an idea to run by you.”
“Yes.”
“It’s an existential challenge.”
“What? I thought existentialists were atheists.”
“Sartre was. But Kierkegaard, Marcel, and Buber were most definitely not. I think.”
“Ha! Yes.”
“Anyway, the challenge goes like this. Do you enjoy movies?”
“Of course.”
“Now in order to do that, you have to take en existential risk.”
“How so?”
“Well, we don’t often talk about it like this, but suspending disbelief is an existential risk. To leave the world you know and not just enter into another one, but to let yourself believe it enough for it to move you. Perhaps even change you.”
“Ok.”
“So: are you the kind of person that can suspend disbelief enough to enjoy a movie? Or are you the kind that sits outside the theater with arms crossed, refusing to go in, saying, ‘this is all bullshit, those are just images on a silver screen.’”
“Ha! Of course not. Who does?”
“Oh I don’t know. Some scientists I know.”
“Very funny. But I still don’t see where you’re going with this.”
“What’s your favorite one?”
“Star Wars, probably. Saw it when I was 10.”
“Me too. Amazing movie, changed my life.”
“Really? Me too. Well, we’re about the same age. Love that story.”
“I bet you do. Now could the movie had any effect on you at all, if you weren’t capable of not just believing in, but fully inhabiting, for two short hours, a world in many ways the reciprocal of your scientific one? A world where there was an Empire chasing a Rebellion, with Jedi and Sith?”
“No.”
“Here’s my challenge. You ready?”
“Ok.”

“Can you let yourself believe in — let’s call it a Force — powerful enough to take on human form?”
“And die for my sins? No thanks.”
“Hey you’re getting way ahead of me.”
“Ha ha. Ok.”
“First, a kid has to be born. A very, very special kid.”
“With all sorts of Force powers.”
“Yes.”
“But not enough to save him. He gets betrayed and then killed in the worst possible way.”
“By some of those closest to him.”
“So the Force turns out to be a big fat joke.”
“But is that really how the story ends?”
“No.”
“Right. What happens to the Cosmic Kid after he gets killed — or allows himself to be killed — by his own protégé?”
“He goes on to fight in another dimension.”
“Let’s just say he beats the Sith at their own game. They tried to defeat death, you see.”
“Yes, through the power of hate.”
“And he does it, this kid—“
“This Cosmic Kid.”
“Does the same thing, but through the power of love.”
“Pretty amazing story, huh?”
“I only wish it were even remotely possible.”

“But is it plausible?”
“Of course.”
“Then can you take a chance? Put your scientific world view on the table for a moment, and let yourself get into the story, as you were just now? Just for two hours? Maybe just enough to let it change you a little, like the original Star Wars did?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Think about it. What would it be like to live in a world where such things were possible?”
“It would be the end of my scientific career.”
“Or maybe just the beginning. Think of the very special birth of a very special child as a new beginning.”
“Ha. Ok. I’ll think about it.”
“Great. That’s all I ask.”
“Thank you. This has been interesting.”
“My pleasure.”
“Merry Christmas, Reverend.”
“Cathie.”
“Merry Christmas, Cathie.”
“Merry Christmas, Frank.”