Jesus and the Buddha Walk Into A Bar…

Yes, this really exists.
(This is the third in the series “Erik can’t decide what the hell he believes in.” See earlier posts here and here.)

I wish I had read Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Naht Hanh years earlier. It had been on my reading list for ages, but I didn’t pick it up until a few months ago. Hanh describes, with a poetry that only a Zen master like himself can produce, how the teachings of Gautama Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth parallel each other.

I say this because I still flounder on this question: am I a Unitarian Christian who also follows the Buddha, or am I a Zen-leaning Buddhist who also loves Jesus of Nazareth? (The correct answer is actually that I’m a Unitarian Universalist; more on that below.)

I’ve explored my proto-Christian side for months now, and while it’s been fruitful, I still keep returning to the rituals and worldview of Buddhism. There are many complicated reasons why, but I’ll outline a few below.
Continue reading Jesus and the Buddha Walk Into A Bar…

Come and Take It

The Alamo church.

“Remember the Alamo” has two primary connotations, depending on the audience. It’s either a jingoistic rallying cry, a justification for the incursion of white settlers into Spanish-held territory. Or, if you’re a certain kind of Texan, it’s a reminder of the nobility of sacrifice, when things are worth fighting for.

Not being Texan myself, nor a believer in the peculiarly American kind of Manifest Destiny, I fall into the former category.
Continue reading Come and Take It

FFS (Weekly Update for 4/17 – 4/23)

I miss Scruffy. Our family dog, she was 18 when we had her put down last Sunday, Easter of all days. She was quirky in ways I could appreciate, affectionate, and gentle.

(CW: depression)

This has not been the only personal tragedy lately I’ve dealt with recently, alas. I have to be honest: I’ve been in the suck lately. (I can also swear again, as it’s long past the end of Lent.) But I’ve still had work to do, both literal and metaphorical. Next week I’m doing absolutely nothing, apart from the day job.

All this week I’ve been critiquing stories for Paradise Lost, the upcoming workshop in San Antonio, TX. I haven’t been to a writing workshop since Viable Paradise in 2012, and I’m really looking forward to it (even if imposter syndrome has come back to taunt me again). I’ll be learning with some incredible talent this week.

I noticed a few days ago that my body felt leaden, like a marionette with sticky joints. I never dwelled on my fatigue during my past depressive episodes, but it has a tangible presentation. I recall times when I’ve attempted to go for a run, when I would make it a quarter of a mile before my body refused to run another step. I thought it was just an issue of motivation. I wonder if J. K. Rowling was onto something when she created Dementors.

One helpful practice I picked up: writing in a journal, describing my emotions and what triggered them. I started this when I realized I don’t have an outlet for some of what I was feeling (yes, I’m thinking primarily about anger here). The act of writing longhand, in (nigh-illegible) cursive, also has a meditative effect. This is separate from my planner-focused bullet journal, for obvious reasons.

Oddly enough, despite a demanding schedule and a total lack of motivation, I’m doing pretty okay. I’m staying just ahead of my commitments, knowing what I can postpone and what needs doing now. And having a better understanding of my mental state keeps keeps me more even-keeled.

My next post won’t be until May 1. Until then, stay frosty.

Weekly Update for 4/10 – 4/16

Much of the week was concerned with some uncomfortable personal introspection (sorry, no details). And then this Sunday, on Easter of all days, the family dog had to be put down.

I wish I had something pithy to say.

Until next week, folks.

Proportional Response (Weekly Update for 4/3-4/9)

Recent events have been on my mind. Here’s what I posted to Facebook on Friday, when I heard news of Trump’s airstrike on a Syrian base:

Folks, I have some serious misgivings re: the airstrike on a Syrian airbase last night.

My own feelings regarding war have become rather complicated in the past couple years. I was, until a couple years ago, a strict pacifist. After a great deal of thought, I adopted a philosophy of “just war theory,” where war is permissible only under certain circumstances, which include self-defense and proportional response to acts of evil (emphasis on “proportional”).

Our country has a serious problem with proportional response. Al-Qaeda operatives bombed US targets, killing thousands, on 9/11. In response, we wage war in Afghanistan for almost sixteen years, even after we effectively decapitated Al Qaeda. Then, we invade Iraq on the flimsiest of pretexts — doctored photos of WMDs — that leads to a costly and ongoing engagement. So many civilians and US soldiers have died because we had to super-size our response to real and perceived threats.

Last night, in response to the use of chemical weapons, violating international law, by the Assad regime (which has the support of the Russian government), President Trump ordered an airstrike on a military base in Syria. A naive interpretation of this would say that it was a justified, proportional response.

But here are the complicating factors:

  1. The Syrian civil war is, in effect, a proxy war between the US (supporting the rebels) and Russia (supporting Assad). This is very similar to what happened in Vietnam, and we know how that turned out.
  2. Trump’s approval ratings are flagging, and this may be an attempt to boost those numbers.
  3. Trump acted unilaterally, and without the authorization of Congress. The airstrike could lead to something far bigger than a limited engagement, even a capital-W War. Even a polarized, obstructionist Congress should have been given a vote on the matter if it could escalate.
  4. To be frank, I don’t trust Trump’s judgment as a commander-in-chief. He’s a failed businessman who harasses women, who has no foreign policy experience, and who doesn’t like to read. Oh, and he still won’t accept Syrian refugees, despite acknowledging the crumbling conditions in that country.

(Oh, and Trump supporters. Before you say “But Obama did drone strikes!” or “But Hillary–” — as you keep telling us, Trump is the president now. The consequences are on his hands, and the responsibility is his. That goes with the job. As one president put it, “the buck stops here.”)

I sincerely hope this doesn’t lead to something far worse.

In retrospect, I equivocated a lot in the above statement, but this is how I feel. Further intervention would be costly, could escalate the conflict, and may not even be wanted by the Syrian people.


It’s holy week, which means little to a UU, but a lot to a Christian. I find it hard to be invested in passion stories, especially those that cobble together the four accounts in the gospels into something uncanny and stilted. The gospels’ accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus differ in many small ways, simply because they were based on oral tradition. It’s like cobbling together the origin story of Superman using the comics from the 1930s, a two-minute snippet of Super Friends, and the Bryan Singer movie from 2006.

Strip it down to its bare bones, and here’s what you get: Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on orders of Pontius Pilate towards the end of Passover, was entombed shortly after, and his body disappeared two days later. The Romans executed, in a manner reserved for enemies of the state, an iconoclastic faith healer and rabbi during a celebration of the liberation of ancient Israel. I wonder if Pilate intended to send that message, or if he just wanted Jesus dealt with after he antagonized the temple priests days earlier.

The passion narrative has so much baggage — including passages that inspired centuries of anti-semitism — that we UUs don’t address it for Easter. (At my church, we announced our annual flower communion with “rebirth, chocolate bunnies, and fertility”!) I think I’ll be struggling with it for some time yet.


I am so behind on everything. I haven’t gotten far into my reading assignment for book club. I have five stories to critique as soon as that book is done. My bathroom is half-clean because I didn’t get new sponges to replace my old ones until this afternoon.

And yet I’m watching the 1978 Superman film and typing this instead of getting something done. Sigh.

Weekly Update: 3/27-4/2

I took my first work trip this week, flying to Atlanta to visit our company’s office there. It was a productive and exhausting time, but it had one serious drawback:

Atlanta traffic descended into chaos when a portion of I-85 collapsed due to a fire.

The bridge collapsed on Thursday night. Friday was my departure day. Unfortunately, the office is on one end of the city, and the airport is on the other. With some preparation, and an obscene amount of time stuck in traffic, I made it to my gate in time.

I get now why people complain about traveling for work. I love to travel in general, but travel during the week can be disruptive. You’re also stuck in someone else’s office, which can interfere with your productivity. I also ate out every night with my coworkers, and was totally bloated by the time I got back. I found it hard to sleep on the plane during my red-eye flights, and it was too loud for me to read.

This weekend I visited the Bay Area Renaissance Festival on closing day with a few friends. I forgot just how much dust and dirt blows around, especially after a week or two without rain. I guess getting totally soiled in dirt creates a more authentic experience, har har.


So some ugly things came to light in my denomination this week, chief among them the revelation that our hiring practices don’t reflect our values as a multicultural, inclusive church. The president of the UUA resigned, three months before his term was complete, after a memo was leaked indicating he didn’t think much of these revelations.

This is also not the first time the UUA has been taken to task in regards to its fair-weather friend attitude with civil rights.

Incidentally, I’ve been involved with a social justice workshop at my church, specifically for learning how we can be better white allies, and this topic was discussed at our last meeting. We’ve been having some hard conversations with long-time members about generalizations, institutional racism, and personal bias. My experience in this workshop, combined with these revelations, leads me to believe that while our intentions are good, we still have a long way to go.


I will be attending a writing workshop in about four weeks. Having gotten through the gauntlet that was last month, I’m just coming to realize how much work I have to do before then. Writing and submitting a story was one thing, but now semi-pro and pro writers expect me to critique their work. Me, with two anthology sales and monthly articles written for an IT humor blog.

What am I even doing.

Weekly Update: 3/20-3/26

(CW: weight loss, mental illness)

Saturday afternoon, I posted the following on my Facebook wall:

Heed my lesson on overcommitment:
Today, I had three social invitations, but due to distance and time I could only pick one. I settled on going to Tampa Pride.
However, I got a surprise at the office yesterday: I’m being sent on a work trip next Wednesday to our Atlanta office. That meant that everything I would be doing next week has to get done this weekend. I’m still not done today.
So I’m missing out on Pride, a Rogue One re-watch, and a bouncy house party. All because I promise too much. Ugh.

It wasn’t meant to be a complaint. I’m genuinely happy that people trust me with this much responsibility — and that my workplace is willing to spend money on flying me to another office to meet the division there — but it did stink that I had to miss out on seeing friends.

A friend replied that this wasn’t overcommitting, it was just adulting. That’s probably true. On the other hand, over-scheduling is itself a kind of overcommitment, as any change in plans means things getting moved, bumped or passed on to someone else.

So what are my commitments right now? Well, here’s an incomplete list, in no particular order:

  • Work
  • Freelancing for The Daily WTF (I just submitted one this morning, in fact).
  • Chair of the Adult RE committee at my church
  • Story critiques for my writing groups at Paradise Lost
  • Running for the Board of Trustees at my church
  • Miscellaneous volunteering duties

And here’s a list of not-quite-commitments and commitments only made to myself:

  • Food journaling/calorie deficit for weight loss
  • Completing a modified C25K program
  • Reading Leviathan Wakes for book club

I’m feeling some resentment, and I’m not sure why. I don’t rationally expect any reward or positive outcome, other than pay (for work and freelancing) and improved fitness (for my running and dieting regimens). I’m not being taken advantage of, as far as I know.

Could it be the opportunity cost? Maybe that’s what irked me the other day, the fact that my obligations kept me from jumping in a bouncy house with my friends or watching a pride parade in Ybor City. In fact, I had another conflict earlier this week: I wanted to attend a monthly social gathering, but went to a social justice workshop instead.

Social events tend to be spontaneous. “Hey, let’s all go to the renaissance festival this afternoon!” But obligations are, with the exception of that surprise work trip, made well in advance. “Sorry, I’m volunteering for X today.”

I find less enjoyment in online communication than I once did, so much so that I gave up Facebook Messenger a few months back. In college I instant messaged all my friends, but now I only use messenger if I have to. These social engagements and real-life gatherings are much more important for me nowadays. That might be why it stings more when I have to pass them up: as some of the few times I get to hang out with people my own age, they’re much more precious than they used to be even a few years ago.

I think this week was a fluke. Most weeks I have more than enough time to fulfill these obligations, and still have time for silliness. In fact, I’m making a point to keep next weekend free, as it’s the last weekend of the local renaissance festival, and I really, really don’t want to miss that this year.


Oh, so about running.

I mentioned a couple weeks back that my food journaling/calorie-counting was partly in response to a desire for more high-impact exercise. Last July, I fractured a bone in my right big toe. The swelling was something awful at first, but it died down after I replaced my shoes with a sturdier, more cushioned pair. I carry a lot of my weight on my torso, so if I want to do anything that doesn’t ruin my knees or feet, I need to drop some weight.

Back in 2010-11, when I was around 180-190 pounds, I ran a 5K in 33 minutes. That’s not an awesome time by any stretch, but in comparison, my last 5K time was about 45 minutes. I’m not that much older (26 vs 32), but I’m 50 pounds heavier.

I think if people can be called to certain kinds of sports/activity, I’m called to running. I love getting lost (literally or metaphorically) miles in, and unlike cycling, I need very little equipment or any flat pavement to do so. It also has neurological benefits, which have been a great help for my struggles with depression.

If I’m going to continue running, I have to manage my weight, or it’s going to get harder as I get older. There’s no way around it, and I really wish there were, because losing weight is painful. But if I’m going to fulfill all these obligations in my life, I need to be healthy, and the best way to do so is with an activity you enjoy.

And just to reiterate: this, along with sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and signs of pre-diabetes, are why I’m losing weight. I spent a lot of time last year coming to accept my body and found some peace with it. I want to keep it — and by that, I mean myself — healthy.