Friday, June 20, 2014

Changing Devotions and Perspectives: The Calling?

Changing Devotions and Perspectives II
Tony Dillon-Hansen
May 2014

As life progresses, we encounter ideas and perspectives that shape our current being.  The question of what is God calling me to do today is a mystery in a couple ways. There is a question about the existence of God or the premise of the deity’s personal interest in my path.  If there is such, what does that “calling” request of me? Finding Des Moines’ Plymouth Congregational Church on that path may yield clues to that request.

Through martial arts, study of Asian philosophies, and experience of Catholic teachings, I grew in strength with a sense of compassion for all people. Yet, the experience of being bullied, understanding religious hypocrisy and losing a child has wounded my once naïve compassionate sense of the world into a deeply questioning position of worth and purpose. There was little place for justifying the worth of religion. There is a question of the existence of a being that is directing the efforts and pathways in this world on any sort of macro or micro level. I will not pretend to witness God other than life exists with no explanation given, and I would hope that being has much more important things to attend than my lonely, trivial requests.

Perhaps, the entity has no interest in lording over people’s behavior (that would explain the ugly historical atrocities committed in the name of God or even without invoking such), and nature exists just simply as a manifestation of events. Parents and teachers of all stripes can easily attest to this where the point of lessons is to learn how to be autonomous. That we are here, today, in this environment, and one’s “ego in this bag of skin and bones” is a realization of something, and that people display that idea with virtual autonomy over own actions. Nature has many opportunities to learn about action and consequence, and proponents of chaos theory might suggest that “nature” is always ready to teach new lessons. That much is clear.

For all that has been boasted about God and religion, right, wrong, proper or foolish action ultimately requires one to do something, even if that something is nothing. The existence of God is very real to some people and to consider the absence of such, or of Lording qualities, would negate personal existence. So I would not know if God is calling me to do anything, but the position of where I am and where I have been has set me on a path that will yet change. The question is what was learned in the time and what can be imparted to others if anything.

There is a reason that I had to endure some things because as the Tao and the Buddha might suggest, one cannot possibly know good without knowing bad (and thus begins the 4 Noble Truths.) I can only hope that my path brings me towards better things and better places.  Experiences have helped to identify a proper course, and of course, chaos is always waiting to challenge that idea. With respect to chaos, a good fighter will tell you that strategy, flexibility and skillfulness are more useful than brute force attacks.  

With these ideas and if there is a calling, I became an ordained minister because a part of me still believes in compassion and honesty within human nature.  If there is a calling in the path, that is still a mystery to me. Yet, I found a great convergence of good teachings at Plymouth Congregational Church. 

I met with cynicism the first time that I heard the words, “No matter who you are; No matter where you are on life’s journey; you are welcome here.” As I heard subsequent sermons and discussions within and around the Church, there are people with critical thinking skills and people duly interested in expressing the compassion of humanity rather than hypocritical dogma and corrupt rhetoric. I can have reverence for the works and traditions of Church once again. That brought me home.

With Plymouth Church, I realized, for myself, that the purpose of church is to be a part of something that is larger than oneself, and I found more ways here to serve the community since many other organizations also meet at Plymouth. This place welcomes diversity and the purpose is clearly conveyed in order “to grow in love of God and neighbor.”  Church can be a place where people go to understand more about life and to do good work for your neighbors and community.  Thus, partially due to the tradition established in my youth, I actively serve in this Church because this Church expands its work into areas of the community that are in need of compassion (e.g. prisons, homeless, GLBT, and more), and they do not ask for a test when you walk in the door. This is close to what were my youthful ideas of the Church and the teachings of Jesus.

I still question the integrity of organized religion and God. I cannot un-live my experiences that caused questions and non-acceptance of my own senses, but maybe, I am not supposed to un-live them. My faith in people has been somewhat renewed by those involved with Interfaith Alliance and Plymouth Church. The mind has become quieter, acceptance of oneself is better, and possibilities are more positive. There is still more for me to do, and in what capacity that will be is what I have to find. That is the universal truth for everyone.  If there is a calling, it will take me somewhere better than I was and to go there with good people. If there is a calling, it has brought me here to this moment for a reason, and that is only a start of the next journey. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Smiths 5 Keys to Safe Driving

A number of people have asked me why park my vehicle by backing into the slot.
When I worked at a previous company, that company spent time and effort on helping employees become better drivers, partially because many of us would operate company vehicles and having safer drivers insures less expensive car fleets.  In doing so they, introduced us to the Smith Driving System and the "5-Keys".  
I believe the system has helped me to become a better driver and have less issues with insurance!
Thus, I want to share this resource with you. While I am not associated with Smith System organization, if you have question, I will be happy to answer as much as I can.  You may want to copy the link for your home viewing if you like  
That document gives an overview of the points, of which backing into a parking slot is key to #1, 2 and 3.  There are more material available online, and so you may find this to be useful for yourself in your own driving habits.  
Here is a summary of those points:
The Smith System states that following these five rules can dramatically reduce the risk of major accidents on highways and roads.
1.   Aim High 
The first rule for this method is “Aim high in steering”. Staying alert of the dangers and traffic ahead not only avoids rear-end collisions, but it also alerts other drivers behind your vehicle to slow down. The driver should steer and focus their attention high, so as to view the road as whole and not just a few feet ahead. 
2.   The Big Picture
Be aware of your surroundings at all times” may seem obvious to say, but distracted drivers are just as dangerous as intoxicated ones. Erratic and angry drivers take up a large portion of the traffic we see daily, so avoid major accidents by noticing how other drivers behave on the road. Having the whole picture means that you are doing your part to keep your vehicle as safe as possible while moving 1000ft a second. There are a variety of hazards between your own vehicle and other drivers, and a keen awareness of these dangers will reduce these risks.
3.   Keep Your Eyes Moving
The third standard of the Smith System asks drivers to remain alert. Energy drinks can only do so much before they cause the body to crash, and any repetitive motion sends us into a trance. Consistent eye movement prevents your body from entering the trance state, keeping you alert to every driving condition ahead of you.
4.   Leave Yourself an Out
The fourth principle of the Smith System states to leave yourself a way out. This means ensure that other drivers do not box you in while selecting their lanes. Do not follow other vehicles too closely, and always anticipate what choices other drivers make.  Iowa driving manual suggests no more than 2 seconds between you and vehicles ahead of you, but Smith System recommends 4. When you pull up to a stop light with cars in front of you, be sure to be able to see their back tires. 
5.   Make Sure They See You 
The worst thing a driver can do is assume. Assume other drivers can see them, assume other drivers are not dangerous, or even assume that they will just get to their destination safely. The final rule for the Smith System is “Make Sure You Are Seen”. This rule prevents accidents by removing assumptions made behind the wheel. As a driver, make sure that other drivers can see you and anticipate your move. If you feel you are coming into another driver’s blind spot, use the horn to get their attention. Avoid getting behind high profile vehicles where you cannot see anything but that vehicle. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Devotions Yesterday and Today

Changing Devotions and Perspectives
Tony Dillon-Hansen
May 2014

Question was posed for the Deacons of Plymouth Church: "What was God in your life in your youth; what changed; and what is God calling you to do today?" As the question asks about experiences and how they have changed, God, in this context, can be described as religion, faith or the omnipotent being that one might call a deity.  A wide breadth of change in faith is most certainly the case for me. The wealth of positive and negative memories and experiences of my life to this question reverberated, and so, I pick to split an answer to the question into two parts. This part will reminisce of the past youthful gaze and also consider what has changed especially how I found myself in constant quarrel with religion and my sexuality.

During my childhood, I was raised as a regular, Mass-attending Catholic from a devoted Catholic family that also had strong ties to Missouri Synod Lutheran via my dad’s side of the family. Religion was never a delicate subject in the house, and church was a place of sincere reverence and worship. Attendance was not optional, and I personally witnessed how important one’s religion was. This was revealed to me at a young age when I tried to tell my dad’s mother (strong Lutheran) about our first confession and communion catechism, but Dad suggested that Grandma would rather not be reminded that her grandchildren were Catholic.

I remember vividly considering an awe of priesthood, and remembering the premise of the teachings that spoke of love, honesty, compassion, non-violence, service to the community and of leading a “good-life” that is the core of the Catholic teachings. With personal strong feelings of loyalty and willingness to serve, I thought that God might be calling me to the vows of Holy Orders. Therefore, I was dutiful to the Church as an altar boy and then in high school, my duties included cantor and reading scriptures at Mass.

Yet, there was something different about me in comparison to the teachings as I began to realize my attractions did not follow what seemed to be expected of me as a young man. I was not immediately attracted to girls and wanted so much to be a model son for my family but immediately felt guilty by my mysterious sexuality.  I could not why understand those feelings were so considered disgusting and vial by many leaders in the Church because those feelings were no less the reality of my being. I was at pains to ignore them for fear of discovery or worse for disgracing my parents.

During college, there was an effort to stay involved with the Church, but that soon changed for a variety of reasons (e.g. attending regular Mass was not convenient anymore, new town, and changing feelings in general). At this time, I started finding myself aligning with members of the college gay union (UI GLBTU) and studying martial arts.  Many would be asking why a person would hold onto such convictions and devotion to a Church that denied the one’s very existence. That was crushing, and especially when members of the family learned of my apparent change of hearts, the extended family quickly labeled me as supposedly inferior and unworthy.

All of the good nature espoused by the Church and all of the good will that God was supposed to be was utter hypocrisy. Words were used at me, lies told against me, and manipulations of religion as fictitious evidence was destructive to me and my family. A massive collision of faith, family and personal struggle lead to me truly understand bitterness and hate.

Yet, I pursued an aspect of martial arts via the underlying teachings of the techniques.  While my skill and technique grew, I found strength in the new abilities and also in the philosophies from Taoists and Buddhists, like Alan Watts. Partially in my mind, I was trying to understand how these correspond to my home in Catholic teachings, which they share many ideals despite their differences about religion. What these philosophies would do was to show me a way to meditate and to lessen the hate or bitterness that I developed. These philosophies also did not seem to ignore the natural way of the world.

I found solace in the meditations and learned better ways of connecting experiences instead of through bitterness.  Natural logic of the cosmos and infinity of what we do not know had a path. These no longer required to be controlled, and God was no longer the conjured image of an old, wise man sitting on a throne with perfect plans. There was a natural order to things, but the presence of thought and action rested securely with the person conducting them. Focus turns into the betterment of oneself.

Yet, I struggled because I was essentially exiled from the Church with strong animosity towards those that professed good but proceeded to inflict great harm on others in the name of a supposedly “Holy one.” The “holiness” of religion was ridiculed by this, and I turned to despair about any existence as a bag of ego and lies.

I rejected organized religion as a whole and the aspects therein, especially as these parts of society sought to push their sinister hypocrisy upon the whole of our legal system by conscientiously denying equal protections or even the right to marry the one we love.

The loving and compassionate God I learned about in youth was either a far-flung illusion or God was being mocked by what these people were doing and professing. There are a number of people that share this exact sentiment.

Yes, Christianity and Buddhism have perceptible differences of perspective, but they have in them core considerations of what all people seek: to find and to be peace. The leaders of organized religion seemed too often interested in disturbing that peace.  

May your June Pride be in Peace!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Taking Advantage of the System

Taking Advantage of the System
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

Most people can agree they would like not to be poor, underemployed, or unemployed.  When that does happen, we do our best to get out of those situations because we have bills to pay, mouths to feed and simply would like to not worry about how to afford our basic need, the next item or next meal. We would like to be able to work to have more than simple foods on the table. With wages as they are today and life's basic bills, these are real concerns for Americans, especially those trying to get started in the workforce. Yet, there are people that abuse the system for personal benefit, and as a result of some high profile cases, Americans have become suspicious about any government proposals that claim to reduce poverty.  Are the attacks on poverty programs warranted?

We know that there are some people who in those unfortunate situations feel entitled to milk any resources from where ever they are being distributed without care.  There is a plain lazy, selfish and greedy aspect that is driving that set of people.  They provide a great example used by the supposed righteous among us to paint the picture of what all people do with government funds (never mind the actions of those doing this painting.) Selfishness and greed is, however, not a feature only of the unfortunate and the destitute.

It is no mistake that some have hid behind religion to elucidate their motives for abusing the system. Those supposed righteous people then persuade large swaths of the American people (using conjured inferences of facts, distorted media and cherry-picked phrases from religion) to look at the other "sinners" while they pillage the public treasury.

The righteous want a society that is comfortable with exclusion from access or even from recognition. They will divert attention from the pillage by showcasing differences in society (race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.) They amass great wealth claiming the parable of talents as an excuse to hoard cash and while having contempt for the Sermon on the Mount by suggesting that poor people want to be poor and meek.

You have to wonder about these people doing the complaining because the loudest complainers are likely the guiltiest. There is little doubt that they are taking advantage of the system, but they are blaming the meager ones on the bottom rung of society for their mischievous actions.  There are farmers, landowners, businesses and corporate moguls that will use the levers they have in reach to squeeze out a little (actually billions) more for themselves. They, then, point fingers at families of the lower class that may claim collectively a mere fraction of what a single oil company or family like the Koch brothers will suck from the system.  They use these people that are grabbing after the scraps of society to scare the middle class into voting against middle class. They will have the middle class be more suspicious of the government, which is incidentally the only institution in our society that can guarantee equal access for everyone to quality education, health care, or even safe cars to drive.

Providing help to low-income (poverty) in America including the cost of Medicaid (which primarily goes to elderly and disabled citizens rather than people with children), Federal housing (WIC), TANF, child tax credits, SNAP, free lunch program, and the children's health insurance program (CHIP) combined are no match for the cost of oil subsidies, farm subsidies, and defense spending. Yet, the people receiving the large oil, farm and defense spending want to yell the loudest about others getting taxpayer money because apparently no one should benefit unless you have millions to spend.  The yellers are part of the richest and most powerful elites. They are part of country’s financial decisions, but they want to blame financial woes on those with the least power. Then, they scare the rest of Americans into thinking that supporting the poor will somehow make everyone poorer. Further, there are the people that are supposedly in support of the poor and meek are mishandling the programs, and that provides even more fodder for the critics of poverty programs.

In a capitalist society, no rational person would stop trying to acquire wealth. Regardless of an economic policy or social leaning, there is always an avenue to make money. People are able to become wealthy through strategic planning and use of resources (including people).  Without those resources, people could not get wealthy. The Republican establishment, along with many Democrats, realizes this and realizes that people with money in hand are likely to spend that money when they have some left over after bills. Major companies, like Wal-Mart, base their business model upon this premise. Volume sales require volumes of people with money to spend. The poverty programs help people have something to spend besides necessities of housing, food, education or health care. Additionally, those dollars turn into jobs. The programs also provide the safety net for those that get tossed out of the capitalist markets (e.g. unemployment.)

Further, educated people bring skills to work and tend to spend more money because they theoretically have more money. To deny the masses something like affordable, quality public-education through promotion of private and charter schools instead, like the TEA party proposes, means that families will be limited to basic needs and their children will not be able to afford proper education-the access to the ladder to success.

This can perpetuate a divide in our society between those who have and who have not. Yes, Americans should be cautious of more spending, but all programs should be scrutinized. If we are concerned about welfare fraud, we should be more concerned with the fraud, in billions, blown on companies that do not need the money.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What is Joy? Part II

What is Joy (Part II).
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
February 2014

Mental Illness and depression make people wonder what you do when you are depressed. Some wonder what to do when you are depressed and how to alleviate the affliction that no one sees. Part II of this exploratory means to explore some of the diverse ways people experience depression.  Again, I am speaking from my own experience, but hopefully, this dialogue will help others afflicted by depression to find opportunities.

We know that depression affects people of all stripes, stages, ages and opportunities. Yet, we compel ourselves to think of depression as dark, lonely corners and pin-striped attire with blank walls and motionless.  This is an image of the social stigma attached to depression.

Depression is often accompanied by withdrawing from activities, friends and family.  In severe cases, this can lead to total isolation and sometimes suicide.  Yet, in these moments, some of the world’s greatest minds have found unique, perhaps utterly artistic or genius, explorations of science, mind and body as a result (sometimes directly).  Some may consider this condition to be their “lot in life” as a result of poverty or some other tragedy in life and yet, do nothing to treat this. For many, these tragic experiences appear to come in multiples rather than as singular events.

I knew that there were different ways of thinking and treatment available. Depression could be a chemical or psychological condition, but there are emotional and spiritual elements that do not want to let go of the pain. I am also conscience of the idea that some of these professional “treatments” are destructive beyond the bad feelings to some people.

Aside from treatments, some believe that altering these feelings (specifically medicinally) as altering ones’ very being into some anatomic state of “normalcy”. Yet with this idea, we can wonder if the goal of treatment is to rid the world of ideas that could transform the society into merely something different.  Artistic expression and apparently un-orthodox ideas may provoke others to improve society when the person holding the ideas could not understand the value of oneself. When you can hear your mind debating the merit of basic activities, complex ideas of physics, social behavior, or political systems may seem easy to comprehend in ways that some have never considered.

For these reasons, among many, I have become willing to speak out about some things that should be said.  In some ways, I figured I had nothing to lose by issuing but I know the current process was making my condition much worse. The result has seen measurable process and management improvements. In my mind, maybe someone else or the whole company could find improvements rather than ignoring the issues.

The path of realizing one’s own pain journey may find many others also wounded as well because they happen to be in the path of the depression when the suffering person does not realize the pain they are pushing onto others.  I know that I inflicted pain upon people when they appeared to “attack” at the core of my wounds instead of relieving them.  Illusions can give someone many wrong emotions and impressions of what people are doing. Nevertheless, I cannot apologize enough to those whom I have injured regardless of how wrong or right I was.

I know, too well, what it is like to sit and to stare aimlessly and wonder if anyone cares or if anything matters.  I know that most people go about their business in life and do not worry themselves about these things. Worthlessness is powerful feeling that bleeds enthusiasm away from your soul and into despair. Whitman's words, "The question, O me! so sad, recurring-What good amid these, O me, O life?", but without an answer. Yet, depression seems as a way, if anything for those able to tolerate the impacts, have become somewhat “resilient” regardless of how much we hide from it.

I agree with Andrew Solomon in a TED talk where he states, “Depression is so exhausting. It takes up so much of your time and energy, and silence about it, it really does make the depression worse”. Without intervention or treatment, that time consumed by depression is more exhausting and extensive.  In his same address, he talks about how amazing that depression can be alleviated by people in most ridiculous ways “standing on your head” and only depressed people would understand or try just to alleviate their own affliction (that no matter how goofy the idea, you would be willing to give it a try.) Even an atheist may be willing to ask for divine intervention to escape from the torments, the horrors or from just being miserable.

I, like Mr. Solomon, agree to be grateful to be alive and that we live in the right time for figuring out depression. For me, I can see pictures of family and can see the pain in the eyes and wished I would have been able to help.  Maybe, I could have understood more about my own torment.

Depression has been here and is here. Depression is more than occasional bad feelings but is a perpetual perception of being lost and useless with nothing you can do to change direction. Everything seems to have more negative effort and events can provoke awkward responses. Intoxicants can amplify this impression and people around the depression (guilty or not may be injured.)

Again, if you feel you need help, do not be afraid to seek help. If you know someone who needs help, let them know who you are in their life. Life is meant to be lived and hopefully through the struggle that some of us with depression have, we find dignity in the simple work we conduct or simply that we have meaning in this world for the people that count upon us. Let your light shine (Matthew 5:16)!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What is Joy?

What is Joy?
January 2014
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

I do not normally write about myself or my personal experience, but perhaps in this case, someone may benefit from these words as they relate to them (maybe seek help). People often discuss depression and suicide as some vague, unattached problem with haunting numbers and tragedies without actually revealing the personal connection.  This may leave people, at the same time, without an avenue that may help in their struggle. The attempt here is to write something that will reveal vulnerability that in current society tends to carry negative stigmas. Yet, I know that I am only one of many that face this ongoing situation.  For people that suffer from depression, joy is a daily struggle.

Mental illness is not something one brags to co-workers or especially does not tell the boss why they need to call in sick for a day. The label is different from say a broken arm, influenza or even cancer. Yet, for those who suffer depression (chronic or severe), cancer may have parallels.  We may or may not want attention, but we would rather not want attention for being sick. Even more, the thing with depression is that there is a label attached to this that almost seems to offend senses of the apparently normal people.

Society has learned to lock people away for these kinds of things.  People are afraid to lose friends over perceptions of mental illness or for discussing these things openly. That becomes one of the major flaws in treatment. Thus, people with this condition, disorder, paranoia or this illness will do their best to hide the gnawing affliction inside of them and avoid treatment. Some days are better than others, but the reality is clearly underneath. Without discussion, journaling or at least some intervention, the depression can get immensely worse.

For me, I know that my pain of depression, with likely biological roots, surrounds painful decisions and several life situations that I have never fully let go. I sought out meditative practice with marginal success. I sought out avenues of relief through making other people happy even at my own expense because, somehow, that would lessen my internal pain. Yet, I also know that my attempts to quell pain with seemingly “better” decisions seem to result in more pain. A positive outlook on life and where I want to be seems like distant memories or evil (maybe childlike naivety) lies told to quiet your own mind. No matter how good the intentions or the presumptions are, something seems to come along and reverse that good.

I was drifting away from things that I wanted to do and hanging on to others.  I turned to alcohol in vain attempt to wash away those feelings but only masked the depression without solving any of the issues. I saw problems with drinking, and I stopped, restarted, and stopped drinking. Yet, I realized the depression is still here. Mr. Oblivious finally realized that the drinking was a symptom of the bigger issue that has not been resolved.  I write journals in welcome discovery of what that is, but to this day, I struggle to find and even more struggle to live with the core issues. I was still hanging upon things and so I talked to a doctor about medications and tried that avenue a couple times with moderate success. Yet, depression wants to rule.

When living with depression, certain moments in life can become more significant and for some, may trigger more severe episodes. A life event like death, recent stress at work, bullying, loss in sports, or even natural disaster can be toxic to the emotions. Normal people might feel bad, but a depressed person might easily attach guilt or shame to the emotions regardless of their part in the situation.

If you had enough of depression, one can turn to desperation. Desperation can lead to avenues that people are ill-equipped to handle.  This is where some have turned to mirages of the promised-land through suicide and pursued that end to completion. Especially as someone that has been hugely introspective, I know there is heavy suppression of the horrors deep inside. When everything seems to be collapsing in on you, people are willing to make desperate attempts to escape that dishonor, horror and pain. Thankfully, I have not realized the promised-land via suicide, but I know that some of my decisions may have been equally desperate attempts to resolve situations that could have been resolved most differently.

People know when other people are sick, and depression can make a person physically sick as well as mentally sick.  Yet, proper treatment without proper insurance may be difficult to receive. Depression and mental illness requires intervention.

I would not dare to write for all mental illness issues except merely my own experience with chronic depression. I do feel that I am taking a huge gamble in declaring my situation, but I hope that in some sense, verbal expression of my experience may help others to seek help where needed or their friends and family to be ready to intervene. Better treatment and better acceptance from society as a whole for mental issues would benefit our society.

The point then of this work is not to air out mind-numbing issues of personal misfortunes. If you have been able to live with depression, may you have many blessings. You might do well to share your insights and methods with others. If you currently are struggling with depression, know that you are not alone and chances are that good that people are willing to help. If you are thinking of suicide, find help NOW. The road may be tough for us, but we do not need to turn out the lights prematurely.