Forgiving & Forgetting

This is one of my favorite Christian stories. I use it from time to time to illustrate a number of things, all of which revolve around what I take to be a critical distinction between forgiving and forgetting.

A child steals some candy from a store and is suddenly seized with an overhwelming feeling of guilt. Raised under strict Christian parents, this person is convinced that Jesus saw everything. Immediately he kneels by his bedside, prays, and begs Jesus to forgive him.

Nevertheless, the feeling of guilt follows him all his life. So much so, in fact, that he’s driven to live as good a life as possible. He misses no opportunity to treat others fairly, help a stranger in need, or give generously to charity.

At the end of a long life, he dies and goes to heaven. Jesus is there to greet him.

“Hello,” Jesus says, “and welcome.”

“Hi.”

“May you find eternal life, rest, and happiness here by my side.”

Suddenly the individual is wracked by a very familiar guilt. He knows Jesus knows what he did as a child, and this anguishes him. “Lord,” he says. “Thank you, but I don’t feel I deserve of any of this.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well you’re God and know everything, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then you know what I did as a child.”

“No, what?”

“Um, I shoplifted some candy from a store. Remember?”

Jesus laughs. “You must have prayed to me for forgiveness right afterwards.”

“Yes, of course. What does that have to do with my sin?”

“My child, when I forgave you, I forgot too.”

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On the Road (Again)

Three years ago, I wrote a piece about finding a Catholic Church that felt like home. Well, quite a bit has happened since then.

I thought of appending the original post, but then decided to just write another one. Here it is.

I imagine some of you may be interested to know what became of this story since I wrote it some three years ago.

First thing, I became a regular. It was a considerable drive or train ride away, but I attended, rain or shine. I even took my children there once.

I did all the right things. I attended a social for newcomers, during which I made it a point to remember names. But I never saw those people again.

Most of all, I never felt welcome. I wanted to, but I never did.

I kept this feeling to myself as much as I could, but it would intrude upon me constantly during Mass. Do I belong here? Am I really Catholic? Do I really believe?

And then, one gorgeous Sunday, something happened that I’ll never forget. A stunningly attractive woman entered the pew in front of me, smiling at me as she took her seat. Right in front of me.

When she knelt in prayer, I noticed she was wearing black leggings so thin as to be transparent, and white underwear beneath with some kind of design. Throughout the Mass, I struggled to keep my attention on the altar, the priest, the hymnal, everything.

I even looked at the Crucifix in a desperate plea for help. And while I didn’t understand everything Jesus said back to me, I most definitely caught the words, “dude, you’re on your own.”

Soon relief came in the form of Communion. For those of you who don’t know, that’s whene everyone who can receive Communion gets up out of their pews in a highly organized manner, goes up to the altar, receives it, and goes back to the pew to pray.

I was immensely grateful as, for at least a few minutes, I wouldn’t have to expend every ounce of energy to stop from growing a snout and four paws right there in Church.

Then, as I prepared to receive Communion, I got a look from one of the Eucharistic ministers that I’ll never forget. 

It was one of utter disgust and anger. I turned to look behind me, to see if she could have been looking at anyone else. But no, it was me. Immediately I was reminded of the expression “if looks could kill.”

Thank God I received Communion from the minister next to her, as I’m not sure she’d have done it.

At this point I was simply astonished, wondering how Church went from being a delight to an intense inner struggle, to somewhat of a horror show. I had never been looked at like that, and I hope I never will.

When I sat down I found out. Once again, my eyes found my new favorite fellow churchgoer. And when I looked up, I saw the scornful eyes of the minister on the altar. She must have been watching me for some time.

Anyway, once Mass was over I walked out the door and never came back.

But of course there’s more to the story. Stay tuned.

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.”

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…)