Monthly Archives: February 2015

More Good Than Ill.

I’m going to jump off from only one small part of David’s most recent blog and I hope that in doing this I don’t unintentionally appear to be firing off shots in a debate I’m not actually engaging. ¬†ūüôā ¬† ¬†My body has been so full of processing my own journey these last couple of weeks that I have not found anything that I wanted to blog about here, but reading David’s blog did spike one thing I love saying and and never get tired of saying.

I reject categorically the idea that humans are inherently “sinful”.

Indeed I reject categorically the term and concept “sin”.

Let me be clear here, ¬†I have a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and was a student of Christian theology for the first forty years of my life. ¬†I was deeply invested in fixing what I believed was the huge problem of sin in “the world” and in people. ¬†I am not an outsider throwing rocks at a system of belief that is somehow threatening or alien to me. ¬†I am an ex-insider who’s identity developed within the christian system of belief and within a family and social networks entirely self identifying as “christian”.

I am no longer the least bit interested in fixing the church or challenging christians to think differently than they want to think, my gaze is outward, inward, connectionsward and to honour the intent of that gaze I do feel free to challenge “christian” concepts and theories that impact people in our societies who have nothing to do with church or christians beyond being unconsciously impacted due to the way “Western” culture has absorbed ideas and frames from the christian system as if they are self evident truths, which they are not.

The idea that humans are intrinsically and fundamentally “bad” is one of those ideas which I find both disgusting and far from self evident.

Humans are clearly imperfect, we all fall short of our highest aspirations, we also often achieve magnificent goodness in pursuit of our aspirations.  Why make a particular focus of either aspect?  No logical or rational reason to do so.

Humans make horrendous and depraved choices and we make glorious and generous choices.

Do most humans make selfish or generous choices more often?

People often offer the opinion that if more humans acted better the world could be a far better place with far less needless suffering.  I agree with that idea.

Do you agree with that idea?  If you do, then you could notice that you think humans could make things better on this planet.

Do you also recognise that humans could make things worse on this planet?

Most of us recognise that places in the world we identify as truly awful and overflowing with suffering are that way because people (Usually overwhelmingly men with power.) constantly make the most egregiously selfish choices in pursuit of power and money.

Such places are instructive in one particular way Рthey illustrate how the world would have been thru all of human history if all humans had acted aggressively and systematically selfishly at every turn.   Indeed I think it likely that there would not have been much human history if we all behaved constantly selfishly and destructively.

In case my point is unclear, here it is again – if humans were fundamentally sinful/bad/evil/selfish how do we explain human progress? ¬†Before a christian readers suggests that “god” and christianity are the explanation, please go and read “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond first. ¬†You might also consider the long history of Chinese civilization that had no “christian” influence.

Anyway, moving away from a theoretical approach to illustrate my point, ¬†I’ve worked in counselling roles for almost thirty years and in that time I’ve listened to a great many stories from people who have been treated in the most horrendous ways by other human beings, including members of their own family. ¬†I have learned that the goodness of the human sitting in front of me always far FAR outshines the selfishness, malice, depravity of the human(s) who hurt them.

Most people do not return “evil with evil”, because if most of us did that we would not have the world we now have, we would ALL be living in a literal hell, or we would have wiped out our own species already.

The only way humanity could have prospered and advanced, and that is what has happened regardless of the religious beliefs humans have shared in various places at various times, is if humans and human societies are more good than bad, more safe than unsafe, more creative than destructive.

Most people I’ve met have been motivated to be good and to do good. ¬†All were also selfish and self interested. ¬†Do you know the fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs? ¬†If you want the golden eggs to keep being laid you need to keep the goose alive, self interest ensures you care for the goose. ¬†Self interest in humans is not a problem, its a fundamentally rational and necessary stance. ¬† It is self interest that makes me disinfect a cut in my skin, or makes me step away from the angry person with their fist raised in my face. ¬†Nothing wrong or bad about that self interest – the opposite – self interest, the way most of us exercise it most of the time, is healthy, sensible and desirable.

If you, gentle reader, worry about your self interested ways just do one thought experiment and see if it helps you work out the difference between ethical self interest and destructive self interest.     Imagine that everyone in the world was going to adopt the attitude or choice or principle you are thinking about adopting or enacting.  Would you want to live in a world where everyone did what you are about to do?    This is not a foolproof thought experiment but it can help you see that many of your self interested choices are entirely healthy and legitimate, nothing bad or destructive about them at all.

MMMMMM, ¬†I’ve been chewing this over here for a thousand words and am probably starting to repeat myself, so I’ll call it quits for now.




Longer Than Usual…

So, I was writing this reply to a comment Amanda made on a previous blog I had written. And suddenly I was past a thousand words and thinking…I’m not going to have time to write my blog for tomorrow. So, if it’s OK with you Amanda (Too late!) this is tomorrows blog. Or, should I say todays. Thanks for letting me get more of this stuff off my chest. It’s an important subject for me. PS…I’m not anti-faith, and would never want to destroy something that is so important for so many.¬† I am, however, very into challenging some of our dodgier memes…

Hi Amanda. Sorry, I’ve been meaning to reply to you, but couldn’t find the time till now.

As you said,¬† I do know that you are a Christian, as was I, and as are one or two others, in our Small Word. I sometimes find the need to talk about my “stuff” when I blog, but I promise this was not aimed at you, nor was I expecting you to respond. But thankyou for responding anyway. This is a massive subject and hard to do any kind of justice but…

1. Of course I agree with you about curiosity. It should go hand in hand with a certain amount of caution.

You ask “if curiosity leads us to hurting others should this be left unchecked”. No. Your examples are fairly extreme hypotheticals, but of course the answer is clearly, no.

But there is a vast difference between the way we would deal with a child (who may well not be aware that there curiosity would lead to pain in another) and the way we would deal with a person who was aware of this. In the latter case, punishment/treatment are necessary. In the former then the adult should be wise enough to be able to prevent the pain being caused without any restriction of curiosity. It might be through keeping the source of potentially dangerous attraction away from the child (as per my suggestion that God could have kept the Tree of Knowledge out of the reach of Adam and Eve). Or it could be through simple distraction techniques. Replacing one source of curiosity with a more compelling one. Or by demonstrating to the child through play acting how the action they are trying to carry out would cause pain.

2. I’m curious Amanda. If you had no prior knowledge of the concept of the original sin theory, or the Genesis story, would that be an explanation you would come up with independently for your nieces behaviour? I mean apart from the fact that it doesn’t reflect well on a Parent-God to create humans with curiosity and then put them in a place with something that was going to cause so much pain, and think that a simple warning (for which they clearly didn’t understand the implications) was going to stop them. I’m a foster parent, and the reason foster parents exist is because of parents that behave exactly like God is said to have behaved in the garden of Eden. i.e. By negligently and knowingly leaving children in a situation that would cause them harm.

But anyhow, there are many possible explanations for your nieces behaviour, none of which involve her being inherently inclined to be bad. If you would be interested I would be happy to use my imagination and a bit of conjecture on that one, but for now I’m more interested in your observation that psychology implies that we are inherently selfish and self interested.

The fact is that on one level, this is true. I realise that in terms of Christian theology self interest is seen as a bad thing, but that is because it is almost inevitably and very mistakenly aligned with the kind of behaviour that is definitely not in our self interest. The kind of behaviour that, like a cancerous cell, ends in the death of it’s host.

Babies are totally into themselves. BUT, and this is a massive but, they have not got an inherent tendency to carry out behaviour that will cause their demise. On the contrary, there behaviour, as a general rule, is shown to enable them to flourish. So, firstly, they have an ability to gain the protection and sustenance they need by appealing, and being appealing, to their parents. Selfish?  Well, yes, but I think it would be a stretch to call this sinful.

Secondly, they have a desire to live in harmony with those around them. (Let’s leave your niece out of this for the moment!). But seriously, I refer again to the stress that a baby shows when the significant others in their lives are showing signs of stress. They, we, reflect a lot of the environment around them as a matter of course, of nature. When this doesn’t happen there is something wrong. People can lose empathy, and there is often a heavy correlation between this loss and a life of crime,¬† but actually the seeds of empathy are there from the very start. Again it is normal. It’s absence is the abnormality.

Thirdly, babies, as we have spoken about, are curious. They want to learn. Boy, do they want to learn. To the point where most of them have learnt to speak at least one language fluently by the age of 5. They have largely mastered control of their own bodies. And they have become, to all intents and purposes, amazing little scientists. And then they go to school….ooh, don’t get me started on that.

But clearly, despite my¬† description¬† of what normal mini-humans are like, still we have the problem of how the human race have managed, seemingly, to make the world quite a messy place to be. When cute little nieces do¬† bad things,¬† we are shocked, and suddenly wild theories¬† (like the fairly dominant Garden of Eden story) don’t seem so wild.

My own big picture theory¬† is that these stories we have of upsetting God or the gods, are actually an enormously significant cause and contribution to the fragile state of our world and of our species today. They resulted in the rise of authority figures (mainly men) who would use (whether for good or bad) the fear of God as a way of maintaining control over people. They resulted in the notions of inherent sinfulness, and dangerous states of being like Unquestioning Obedience, Unearned Authority,¬† Relinquished Responsibility. There were benefits to some of these concepts. We got organised and became more established and dominant in our environment. We became more connected as a whole. Less dependent on immediate tribes and communities. But there have been some bad side effects too, and we haven’t yet gained too much of a skill at distinguishing the baby from the bathwater.

So even in this relatively liberal age, we would rather be told what to do, and have it all fed to us on a plate than take responsibility for our own futures. The Pope is still here. Ayotollahs are still with us. Evangelical Preachers still have influence. Corporations and Internet Communication Gurus (our more modern secular religious powers) are able to freely monitor and feed off us without us raising too much of an eyebrow. The Media can feed us The News. And we are naive enough to think that it actually IS the news.

Which takes us back to our little baby. Who will cry when something is wrong. BECAUSE she isn’t sinful. Who will question limits and boundaries. BECAUSE he instinctively knows that this is good. And who will cling, selfishly, to the parent who is there to protect her and nurture. Because she knows that this is the path to survival, growth, and ultimately, maturity.

Until, that is, we parent starts getting all “This Is The Way, Walk Ye In It” on his sinful soul. Until we call inconvenient curiosity disobedience. Until, in other words, we start perverting, in minor or major ways, the normal path of growth. We really aren’t wise enough to know the things we claim to know. Calling our children Sinful is just a way of trying to take a shortcut in this messy business of parenting. I know. I’ve done it. And it inevitably ends in the kind of behaviour in children that PROVES we were right all along.


Perhaps we would be better off¬† humbly acknowledging our own infallibility, in a world which has evolved all sorts of fantastic, odd, weird, miraculous or thoroughly unpleasant outcomes. From Birds of Paradise to some more gruesome creatures. It’s no real surprise that we human beings have developed in a variety of strange ways.¬† Perhaps we should see our children as simply fellow explorers in this journey, rather than our own personal creation who need to learn obedience.¬† We only need to read the Genesis story from a slightly different perspective to see how that one back fired.

yours earnestly

David Fee

Today is Tomorrow’s Yesterday

IMG_1660Kudos to Mikel and David for their faithful blogging week after week. I am impressed by your dedication and delighted that you still welcome me when I occasion to drop by, which is almost never on a Wednesday, even though that was my originally designated day.

A word on being “present,” which is a big concept in the spiritual (and not-so-spiritual) circles in which I run.

Americans (at least the ones I know) are busy. They always have lots to do and lots to get done. I think this is human. I know that it is at least “upper-middle-class-American” (which is the bracket that I tend to fall into even as a grad¬†student living below the poverty line). This busyness is one of the things that keeps us from being present. Because we are always thinking about what we need to do or what we didn’t do and very rarely about the thing we are doing. Even as I am writing this blog I am thinking about a call I need to make, a book I need to read, an e-mail I need to send, and the tea that is brewing in the kitchen (Licorice Spice). Keeping my head in the “here” or “now” (whatever exactly that means) is something I’m still learning.

On top of that, there is the matter of my own personality and perception. In a previous life I was diagnosed by a spiritual director as being “chronically discontent”. At the time I was a year out of college, recently relocated, looking for a job, looking for a place to live, and not at all doing what I wanted to be doing when I finished my degree (which was living in Europe and teaching ESL and having a terribly romantic life). I had also just gotten a flat tire and I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful. I spent so much time wishing for what had not yet happened and longing for what had already passed that I saw nothing good in my present situation. This wasn’t true “100% all the time,” but it was true “over 50% most of the time”. And it had been for a large part of my life.

One of the reasons that this happened is that I have a terribly vivid memory. I can play and replay pieces of my life like tracks on a CD or scenes in a movie–over and over and in rose-colored detail. And because the past is often rose-colored, it often¬†seemed ever-so-much-better than the present. I didn’t appreciate the present until it was a memory. At some point I realized this and decided take on a new perspective. If I regularly projected myself into the future and looked back on the present moment as though it were the past, then maybe I could appreciate in the “now” the things I knew I would miss later.

It’s strange, I know. Like something out of Alice in Wonderland or a time-bending tale of travel, but it had a surprisingly positive effect, and is a practice I come back to every now and then, especially when the “now” seems particularly dire. For example, as I am writing this, I am sitting at a desk watching the sun stream in through my bedroom window and onto the clothes that are still hanging on my drying rack. The window wears ¬†curtain that used to hang on a shower rod in my parents’ bathroom. There are piles of paper everywhere and books in stacks on the bed stand, the dresser, the desk and the floor. My life feels haphazard. My life feels messy. But my life will never again be the way that it is right now. In four months I will be moving out of this apartment, I might even be leaving Oakland. I will return the desk to the faculty member who loaned it to me 18 months ago. My clothes will be folded up and shoved into boxes and suitcases and clear plastic tubs. I will not be workshopping essays or showing up for internships. I will not be making tea midday in my kitchen¬†and running around the Marina on a Monday afternoon. And when I remember that in the future all of these things will be a piece of the past, I tend to hold onto them just a little more tightly. I am present to them now, because I never will be again.

It might seem a little mind-bending to continually shift perspective, but it’s something that has helped me to be a more grateful and graceful person. It has tempered my chronic discontent, replacing it with a genuine presence, giving me the ability to crystallize memories and the desire to share experiences.¬†If I remember that today will be yesterday’s tomorrow, I spend more time in today, wanting to take it for all that it is.

Distraction Parks

We famously live in an age where short attention spans skim the shallow earth in search of ever new vistas to which they pay increasingly less attention. But enough of that.

Restlessness. The condition of being without rest. When a person (he might be called Fred) is not really concentrating on his conversation with you. Because he is there but not there. Doing something, but¬† not really doing it. Fred’s head¬† is in some other place. Possibly Kampuchea. Or The Galapagos Islands.

More often than I would like, this is not just Fred’s state of being. It is mine too. As hard as I try I can’t stand still or focus. And I don’t like it. Because being “in the moment” is a wonderful thing when you are there. I mean that’s got to be what heaven is surely. You know what I mean. So into what you are into that literally nothing else matters. Time flys, or stands still, or both.¬† And the angels sing.

But what does it actually mean. I mean…i’m trying to be, really BE, in this writing. The words¬† that I am typing at the moment. But part of being human involves living with complexity. Explaining it. Understanding it. Living it. In writing these words I’m having to think ahead and¬† let my conscious mind become distracted.¬† Distraction is the door to other possibilities. And other possibilities are exciting. I can’t possibly say anything interesting without veering away from the predictable. So a part of being in the moment isn’t really about standing still. It’s about movement and constant choices. In reality rest, perfect rest, is the state of the corpse. So perhaps a certain sort of restlessness is good.

And now I’ve lost my way, because in between this sentence and the previous one there has been a phone call¬† from one of my sons. Just checking that I’m still alive I suspect. That I haven’t “entered my rest”.

Anyway, you know what I think it is. It’s pretty much the same thing I’ve been wittering on about to myself frequently in these little self addressed pep talks disguised as blogs. It’s that we just get on and Do It and stop worrying. Take the step of committing to what we want and doing it without recrimination, worry, guilt, or compromise. Wholeheartedly. Unless, it’s something harmful of course. But if it’s not, then… well,¬† just keep moving onto the next distraction. And let the moments take care of themselves.

Because, Life, and I’ll have to¬† forgive myself for sounding a little bit more nihilistic than I would like,¬† does often seem to be one enormous, unequal, unpredictable distraction. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the more completely distracted we get, the more we live. Perhaps we simply need to start totally committing to these distractions. And learn the art of¬† good quality distraction selection.

Oh, excuse me. People, family as it happens, just came in through the door. It’s broken my focus. No really, I’m not just saying that for effect. But before I go here’s something I’ve found. When your brain starts jumping around like a flea on a bouncy castle, it’s good to have a body, a human body, a real body…anybody…to hold onto. If only for a moment.

Fred (or somebody very like him!)


David’s Songs

“News Cycle”, Memory and Trivializing Importance.

When I was a youngster the “news” in Australia, print and tv, still had a quality of ethical focus related to accuracy, avoiding political influence and covering events that actually qualified as being locally significant or globally significant. ¬† Though back then Australia was still pretty parochial and there was not much global news coverage.

When I was a young adult “news” in Australia, under the influence of the power of visuals on tv, a slow shift started, the best example of this shift was the pattern of tv news starting to report burning buildings in far away countries, but only if they had really dramatic visuals of the actual flames.

“News” producers started making the decision that film (Back then it still was film, or video, nothing digital yet.) of big flames would improve ratings and so any time they got really good footage of fires, they would cover it as if it was relevant news.

Of course it was in no way relevant to Australians if a big building in the US or the UK burned down – it was not ‘news’ here. It was entertainment and News producers knew it would up their ratings and ratings pressure became more important than ethics, integrity or actual news.

Then came constant “news” coverage on tv and eventually the internet……add a massive increase in the demand for “content” to keep things fresh on these constant news feeds and the pattern continues – ¬†entertainment presented as news.

So this trains us to unconsciously devalue EVERYTHING that is labelled “news” because we know most of it is presented to entertain us and information that is not entertaining, not diverting, does not get covered.

This all makes it much tougher for us to discern what to notice and it trains us to pay shallow attention to “news” and to forget “news” very quickly.

So one question I often ask about systemic matters that bother me – ¬†“Who does this situation benefit?”

It might be worth asking that question about the devaluing of “news” coverage – who benefits from the effects of the this trivializing of “news coverage”? ¬†Who benefits from the general population getting less actual news and from the general population ignoring ‘news’ more and more and forgetting what they do notice? ¬†I’ll let you find your own answer to that question.

I’ve presented this train of thoughts for a very particular reason.

My recent friend and co-blogger here on itsasmallword – Marziye recently shared here about a very serious situation that was happening in her city, in her country.

Marziye shared that women on the streets of her city were being violently attacked in broad daylight.

We read Marziye’s blog, we empathized, we felt outrage, we felt compassion…….if you are like me, then, pretty quickly, we forgot about that situation….just as we have learned to do.

So I noticed that I had forgotten those women in Iran, women being attacked on their own streets by men from their own communities.

I noticed that in forgetting about the deaths of these Iranian women and in forgetting about all the living Iranian women who most surely have been made to feel unsafe on their own streets by these attacks I was trivializing the lives of those who are dead or grievously wounded  and the lives of those who are still living in fear.  I was trivializing the situation of my friend Marziye and her fears and concerns.

I apologise for forgetting so swiftly Marziye.

You don’t owe me anything Marziye, but if you wish to, I would welcome another blog about that situation, about your situation on the streets of your own city. ¬† I welcome being reminded of how important your life is, how important the lives of all Iranian women are.

With Respect,

Mikel O Azure.


13/2012 sermon: The dying snake

It’s nice to be nice. I was born nice actually, though I shouldn’t really blow my own crumpet. I was (maybe I still am) a very sensitive boy. Very¬† sensitive to how my own predicaments affected me, but also usually very sensitive to the way other people felt. This was a blessing and a curse. Empathy is a particularly human condition. A sign of our development and maturity as a species. But like any characteristic it can have downsides. Feeling, really feeling your own pain, can be a hard cross to bare. Feeling other peoples pain, or feeling as though you were feeling it, can be totally exhausting, and actually dangerous to a person’s well being. Over heated feelings can lead to meltdown which, to be honest, doesn’t help anybody.

As the years have passed, I have developed what can only be described as a tendency to care less, which has been very good for my health, and made me a better person I believe.¬† I have also seen enough of life, through the years, to cause me to become, to a lesser or greater degree, angry about certain issues. Many of the things that make me angry are things that should make a boy angry. Some less so. This anger, if cultivated correctly, can be a driving force for action and also a kind of protection against being hurt too much by all the pain. So it is not necessarily a bad thing. But of course anger is a particularly dodgy characteristic when it is used incorrectly. You should probably have to get a license for “the correct usage of pent up rage”. Blogs though, are one good place for them to surface, as this space is simply a little soap box where people can choose to listen, or walk right on by.

So, if you want to stop for a minute and have a listen to that irate ranter fella over there near the fountain, talking about one of his “issues”…

…the concept of Original Sin. An idea which still has an indirect, but very strong influence in my country and culture. A manufactured guilt used for the purpose of psychological manipulation by all of us insecure, wannabee authority figures.

The idea that a child is born with an inherent tendency to do wrong I find abhorrent. As a parent I’ve witnessed how children have a compulsion to learn, to be part of, to communicate, to touch, to explore. If these tendencies are encouraged with love, patience, and protection then there is no reason why they can’t thrive. When a crawling, exploring baby reaches to touch the plug socket there are plenty of creative ways in which we can both protect the child and encourage it’s desire to explore.¬† Or¬† we can simply make sure that the socket isn’t a “findable” thing.¬† When, instead,¬† we choose to call touching the socket “bad” we take a shortcut and sow the first seed for making everything that looks interesting or exciting sinful. We then go and compound our mistake by linking the not doing¬†¬† “bad” with unquestioned obedience to WE who must be obeyed.

And there we have the beginnings of unhealthy authority relationships and genuinely bad (harmful) behaviour and actions.  All stemming from repressed desires, fear of new things, confused concepts of right and wrong. Waiting to errupt, over millions of years and billions of people into a trillion fanciful names for Sins. Some of which actually deserve the name.

In the garden of Eden story through which the concept of Original Sin most familar to us originates, God, the creator Mum and Dad, does some fantastically magical stuff (In the bedroom! Instinctively! After a nice bottle of Red!) and Life is born. But then Mum and Dad go and do that archetypal bad parent thing, and start looking to escape their parental responsibilities. Don’t touch that! Aye, you can touch that. But don’t touch THAT! Instead of moving the bloody tree out of the way until the kids know and understand the language and implications of consequence properly. It’s lazy shortcut parenting, oblivious to the can of worms that will be opened. And the rest of the Book, as they say, is History.

I can, however, actually identify with that God, because I too have made some howlers as a parent. The first step (in my book) of good parenting is: If You Make A Mistake (Haha!) Own Up To It. No charge Big Fella!

David Fee

ps….In my various ramblings this topic has come up before. I hadn’t intended for it to come up this time. It just did. And it will come up again no doubt. You have been warned. I’m nice like that.

pps…other theologies are available.

David’s Songs