Monday’s Poem


Contrasts in life

Listen to the sounds of the calming sea
Hear the cries of the sea birds
Marking the time of sunset, the end
Of another day, a time of contrasts.

See the beauty and feel the call
of tranquility and peace, calm and
the inevitable cycle of life.
Be the fish, the birds, be all creatures.

Let nature bless you with life,
Soon enough she will take you back,
Back to the beginning, to the circle.
Soon enough, life becomes death.

And death returns to new birth,
Let the contrast calm you.
Allow this sunset to mark you now as
did the sunrise mark you then.

Let the awe and beauty of nature
give you peace in the wonder,
in the contrast of day and night,
and in the inevitable cycle of life.

As we play our role, all
connected to the cycle
each doing our part for
birth, life, death, and rebirth.

© Bill Reynolds 7/23/2018

Look both ways, to the past, to the future, and to the future’s future.
Mind the gaps here and now.

Words: Synchronicity


I like words – some more than others, but I enjoy all words. I may not use some words often because we communicate with other people using words. When someone doesn’t know the meaning, or has a misunderstanding, stuff can get weird. I also wouldn’t want to be thought of as being too hoity-toity.

I confess to owning and reading dictionaries while hidden in the closet. Books about troublesome words written by Bill Bryson entertain my curiosity, as has everything else he’s written.

I blame my aunt Lorry for the freaky word-love thing. She’d send me the word of the day from the Washington, D.C. newspaper, along with cutouts of Dennis The Menace cartoons. When I was nine or ten, I didn’t care as much as I do now. Thanks, Lorry.


Synchronicity is polite. While I much prefer saying shit happens or it is what it is, those are not accurate definitions or even quite synonymous. My online dictionary says it’s “a simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.” We can use the word like that, but it’s an even deeper theory proposed by Carl Jung in the 1920s. One of Jung’s definitions was “the simultaneous occurrence of two meaningfully but not causally connected events.” Over the years, his definition moved around a bit. I suppose his theory clarified with time.

synchronicity-2Sue’s excellent blog (An Artist’s Path) on this topic back in April can be seen here. She gives a good personal example similar to the experience of having someone calling you just as you are thinking about them. “That’s weird, I was just thinking about you.” It’s not weird, it’s synchronicity. It happens and always has. Sue tied synchronicity to a conspiracy of the universe. That works for me.


Serendipity is a similar and related word: it refers to events happening by chance in a happy or beneficial way. The key word that we would often use in casual conversation is coincidence. That works okay with serendipity, but not as well with synchronicity because the latter invokes elements of spirituality.


Jung seemed to think there was a relationship to ESP, while others associate synchronicity with deities, universal forces, or some other intelligent spiritual forces or entities.

Remember, there must be no identifiable earthly cause to the event. I don’t assign human events to spiritual entities, but I’m willing to listen to reasonable, albeit unfounded, theories. The two events must also be meaningfully related, or at least appear to be. If there is a cause or reason for something to happen, it also will not fit the definition.

Synchronicity happens often enough so that many of us have experienced several such events. Usually, we charge it to coincidence, then we move on with our lives. But many of us, especially spiritual searchers and people who enjoy unexplained magical events, will focus on the event and may label it synchronicity.

One article I read that discusses both synchronicity and serendipity, posted by Dr. Joe Dispenze, can be found here. I neither agree nor disagree with anything that he said in that piece, but it is longer than what I write.

I’m grateful for the words we have available to define our human experiences and our nature, what we have in common, and how we differ. They enable us to share everything about our brief existence, to understand each other, and to make our lives better.

As things happen in life, we must pay attention,
learn, look both ways, and mind the gaps.

Morality Series: Sloth

Intentions Count

Intentions Count

Other than writing about it, does anyone ever use this word except for the animal or when referring to the sin? Do we know what sloth means? Is it laziness?

Sloth is the most difficult of the seven biggies to define precisely. An old-fashioned definition might sound like defiant sorrow turning away from God’s good intentions.

Is it really a bad thing? Is the problem its tendency to lead to other problems? I knew it fit with laziness, but it also goes with apathy and a list of other goof-off words.

Thomas Pynchon wrote a great piece about how sloth is tied to writers. Read it all here. I like this paragraph:

“Writers of course are considered the mavens of Sloth. They are approached all the time on the subject, not only for free advice, but also to speak at Sloth Symposia, head up Sloth Task Forces, testify as expert witnesses at Sloth Hearings. The stereotype arises in part from our conspicuous presence in jobs where pay is by the word, and deadlines are tight and final — we are presumed to know from piecework and the convertibility of time and money. In addition, there is all the glamorous folklore surrounding writer’s block, an affliction known sometimes to resolve itself dramatically and without warning, much like constipation, and (hence?) finding wide sympathy among readers.” ~ New York Times, June 6, 1993, “The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee”, by Thomas Pynchon


If this is a sin, it’s not one we commit. In fact, it seems we commit nothing, we do nothing, and we don’t much give a shit about anything. As I understand it, sloth refers to our mental, physical, spiritual, and pathological states, usually with a strong religious twist. Even the Buddhists have their five hindrances, of which Sloth-torpor is one defined as a heaviness of the body and dullness of the mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression. That sounds like it needs a DSM IV diagnosis.

With greed, I wrote that we know it when we see it. I’m not sure sloth is as easy to identify. I don’t take the word sin seriously, but sloth is one item that may not get enough attention. Like the others, it is not healthy if it’s a person’s choice for a way of life. I can accept go with the flow, but like many of the big seven, it can be unhealthy when taken to a wrong extreme. And, it can lead to other behavior that is even more damaging. I think that much of what we might perceive as sloth, in others or ourselves, is either a medical problem like depression, or an existential crisis. Here is another example from Mr. Pynchon:

“Any discussion of Sloth in the present day is of course incomplete without considering television, with its gifts of paralysis, along with its creature and symbiont, the notorious Couch Potato. Tales spun in idleness find us Tubeside, supine, chiropractic fodder, sucking it all in, re-enacting in reverse the transaction between dream and revenue that brought these colored shadows here to begin with so that we might feed, uncritically, committing the six other deadly sins in parallel, eating too much, envying the celebrated, coveting merchandise, lusting after images, angry at the news, perversely proud of whatever distance we may enjoy between our couches and what appears on the screen.” ~ New York Times, June 6, 1993, The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee, by Thomas Pynchon

I like saying that I’m lazy, or that it’s a lazy day. I should say relaxed or comfortable, but lazy adds a pinch of ironic guilt. That troubles some folks, but I think it natural. On my calling card, the leading skill is Leisure Aficionado; a reference to many of my goals in retirement. It got less attention than Pleasure Seeker did.

Sure. Sometimes.

Sure. Sometimes.

The opposite of sloth is said to be diligence: careful and persistent work or effort. I have always liked persistence, and for a long time, I liked some work. Maybe it was the doing that I liked – my ability to make something happen; or maybe it was the fruit of my labor that was my reward. My writing is kind of both, but mostly my reward is the result. That is also my motivation to do it again. For about five years, I ran – anything from five kilometers to marathons. For marathons, diligent training and persistence are keys to success without much injury. I’ve met no slothy runners. To endurance runners, any day with less than five miles is slacking off.

Is it sloth or depression?

Is it sloth or depression?

One more issue regarding sloth: this whole concept that people who choose to be lazy or sloth are deliberately committing sins is nonsense. People want to feel good, to contribute, to have purpose and success. That is what is normal for humans. We’re unaware of other’s mental, physical, or spiritual health. So, we should focus on ourselves and what’s best for us. If anything is a sin, it’s judgment.



The song Alphie by Lily Allen is a hoot, and refers to the pot induced lethargy of her younger brother. Yes, the Game of Thrones actor – same guy. But it could be sloth. This Youtube version is a bit edited, but worth a look, nonetheless.

We should look upon our own sloth with a critical eye.
Too little or too much may be unhealthy.
Live life to the fullest as long as possible; always look both ways and mind the gaps.

Pray for What?


If I’m your guest for dinner and your family tradition is to hold hands or bow your heads to pray, or we’re at a restaurant, and you want to pray; I’ll respectfully observe your tradition. I don’t say grace nor will I ask your God to ‘bless the meal;’ however, I’ll not be disrespectful. If you’re my guest, you may expect the same courtesy. I don’t pray, but if you do, it’s ok.

In Catholic grade school, we recited Grace Before Meals before lunch, and Grace After Meals when we returned. I don’t recall saying it with my family. As an adult, I said the short prayer you can see on virtually any episode of Blue Bloods. If you take too long and the food gets cold, I may pray for an end to your jabbering.


I consider some, perhaps most, prayer to be harmless and it maybe even good for you. That’s right. I said some or most. Openly expressing gratitude, which is perhaps the least felt of all human emotions, should be a good thing. But, in my opinion, not always.

Thanking God for the touchdown is silly. So is divine gratitude for a political candidate winning or for scoring in the lottery. These examples are nonsensically selfish and may be harmful. While I’m good with being grateful, I’m not okay with all forms of prayer. I shouldn’t care, but I’ve long held my opinion.

I’m fine with prayers of worship like God is Good, but if I hear God is Great yelled in Arabic, fight or flight may take over. Back as far as I can remember, I had issues with asking God for anything. It made no sense to me — still doesn’t.

My parents told me that God helps those who helps themselves, or a similar form of the phrase. I’ve never given up on the basis for that idea. For example, I went to see a house being remodeled and found the painter sleeping. After inquiring about his health, I asked if he worried about being fired. He said, “The good Lord will provide.” Raising eye brows, I said, “Oh. I see.” Lucky him. I wasn’t the owner.

prayer-4As often happens following severe droughts in South Texas, the many weather gods provided too much rain. Severe damaging floods came after the months of virtually no rain. As Father Conor McGrath was reading announcements from the Parish Bulletin in his wonderful Irish brogue, he adlibbed a joke by saying, “And would the gentleman who is still praying for rain please stop.”

Another time McGrath told us the joke about the man named Thomas, who continuously prayed to win the lottery and began to lose his faith. The gambler blamed God’s failure to grant the prayer as promised. I can still hear Father Conor deliver the punch line from God, “Thomas, I need a wee bit of help here. You’re needin’ ta buy a ticket first.” We must do our part.

Valerie Tarico made some good points in her post about why some prayer is neither valuable nor innocuous. It encouraged me to make my own case.

She said, “Atheists, agnostics and other secular activists may think prayer is hogwash, but a lot of other people like praying and they like to think that it works. So, why not just leave the habit alone? It seems harmless enough.”

Later, after she highlights some of the perks of prayer, she presents her case against the troubling hidden costs of petitionary prayer. This is her list of 7 problems, with comments that are mostly mine.

Petitionary prayer:

  1. Suppresses critical thought. During our meal, if you begin to choke on a turkey bone, would you prefer that I pray for your recovery, or would you like me to perform the Heimlich Maneuver to dislodge the culprit?
  2. Undermines agency and responsibility. Let go and let God, right? We are not responsible for anything this way. Remember the painter? I agree that sometimes it’s good to let go of things. But, we need to do what we can (think Serenity Prayer).
  3. prayer-2Promotes a habit of self-deception. If God is right, why bother? Wouldn’t he do that same thing even if we didn’t explain it?
  4. Distracts from more promising endeavors. This is one of the most profitable things sold by TV preachers. What else might those resources do? Feed the hungry or clothe the naked?
  5. Promotes victim blaming, including self-blame. If God grants requests from some, what does that say about those who get no response? If God heals your wart, but not mine; something must be bad about me.
  6. Teaches people to mistake abuse for love. Deferring to Ms. Tarico, “Being forced to praise and adore a powerful person who requires vulnerable dependents to beg for what they need…and who then grants or denies these requests in some inscrutable pattern, is not love. It is abuse—and as many former Christians have testified, it primes people, especially women—for further abuse.”
  7. Replaces compassionate action. There are times for inaction and times to act. We are all in this together and helping one another is what we do best. Tarico refers to Julia Sweeney’s monologue, “Letting Go of God.” I watched it. It’s well-done and funny, but two hours long. If you’re of the Free Thinker persuasion, watch it — especially if you were raised Catholic.

As I’ve implied, some types of prayer, like contemplative meditation, gratitude, and communing with something greater than ourselves, may be useful even for non-believers. But, Valerie Tarico said it best.

“It’s time to get off of our knees and take care of ourselves and the people around us. We’ve long passed the infancy and adolescence of our species. Regressive fantasies can be delightful, but at some point, clutching a teddy bear and squeezing our eyes shut and lisping “Now I lay me down to sleep” ceases to be sweet. The world needs adults who, in Sweeney’s words, are willing to get up in the morning and mind the store.”

May we all live in the real world and acknowledge that we need each other more than invisible fantasies born from the minds of men.
Mind the gaps, the store, and look both ways.


The inevitable & unavoidable conclusion to life.

The inevitable & unavoidable conclusion to life.

During late October many cultures begin preparing for the first days of November. They remember the dead, acknowledge the end of harvest, and prepare for the dark days of winter. It begins with Halloween, then All Souls’ or All Saints’ Day, The Day of the Dead, and Samhain. Many believe it’s the time of year when we’re closest to the other world and death itself. The Fairy Tree story that ends this blog tells a wee bit more.


It’s our only certainty—we die. Beliefs about what follows the end of human life range from nothing to Paradise and 72 virgins or reincarnation. Let’s not forget the whole Dante’s Inferno thing. Our beliefs about an after life affect our choices while living.

While no one has told of their experience following permanent death (we have near death accounts), there are stories with bits of information. Little of it is dependable or useful. Theories abound, but the database of the deceased is void of demonstrable facts. Only the dead know, and they’re not talking.

Efforts to resist death seem logical, but are eventually fruitless. While many consider death a condition leading to afterlife, most people (not all) avoid dying as long as possible. An exception is when living prolongs a life of hopeless suffering. Others choose death through martyrdom. We disagree about our right to die (whole other blog) and we normally work hard to keep living.

death4In the United States, more than two-million people die each year. The CDC reports the top four causes as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and accidents. I say, smoking, smoking, smoking, and driving plus illicit drugs because they are the major producers or triggers of those four “causes.” The root cause of most preventable premature deaths in the USA is smoking (so quit).

It can be difficult to determine the difference between a still living or recently deceased person. Without more information, we can only define death as an absence of life. Our legal descriptions require a physician to certify the time and cause of death. While absence of all brain activity normally defines death, court cases fog the legal definition. When there are uncertainties, we gain information through autopsy.


While we’re fascinated with death, many of us avoid serious discussion of it and find it morbidly unpleasant. The death of friends, loved ones, and people we hold in high esteem represent the ultimate, painful loss. Our own death signals loss and aloneness, which is sometimes comforted by religious beliefs.


Yet, we sing of death, we write about death, and we (should) discuss it. We often honor death’s inevitability with both art and science.

Since first hearing it, I’ve liked Ralph Stanley’s (died, June 2016) rendition of the song, Oh, Death, which is a plea with the Grim Reaper for another year of life. It was made famous in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Hear a short version by clicking here.

From a list of ten poems about death, I selected two by famous poets. All ten can be found here.

“Death” by Rainer Maria Rilke (died 1926)

Before us great Death stands
Our fate held close within his quiet hands.
When with proud joy we lift Life’s red wine
To drink deep of the mystic shining cup
And ecstasy through all our being leaps—
Death bows his head and weeps.

From Queen Mab, by Percy Bysshe Shelley (became famous after his death in 1822)

How wonderful is Death,
Death, and his brother Sleep!
One, pale as yonder waning moon
With lips of lurid blue;
The other, rosy as the morn
When throned on ocean’s wave
It blushes o’er the world;
Yet both so passing wonderful!

death1Life is the time made precious by our inevitable death. May we fully enjoy the many pleasures and loves discovered and experienced while living. And may we all “…lift Life’s red wine to drink deep of the mystic shining cup…” because death is next for each of us.

Life is uncertain, look both ways.

Why be Atheist?

Disclosing as atheist is personal. Each person’s circumstance and disclosure story is different. The real question is: why should anyone publicly acknowledge being atheist? For some, it’s best kept private. There are legitimate reasons to hide not accepting the existence of any god. The reason is always the same: believers.

coming-out2For many of us, the importance of religion is stressed from a young age–religion must be taught. Logically, we are usually taught that our religion is the correct one and all others are wrong. While atheists have a similar conviction of accuracy, it’s not the same since the basis is no god exists, and consequently no religion is right.


Regardless of the religion or denomination, it seems that most believers don’t understand or accept atheists or atheism without extreme prejudice. Unitarian Universalists are a possible exceptions, as well as a few others such as some pagan groups and Buddhist schools, divisions, or sects.

From my teenage days, I recall my mother telling me that she didn’t care what religion I was, as long as I had one. Mom was raised in a multi-denomination Christian family. I don’t recall Dad saying anything about it. I think he’d approve any religion as long it was “Cat-lick.” I wouldn’t risk telling him anything he might not agree with, certainly not that I didn’t believe in god.

coming-out3I haven’t had to deal with negative family or friend issues regarding my public atheist disclosure, which was fairly recent. Other than a hint or two about someone praying for me, it’s been quiet.

After reading my spiritual memoir blog, Free from Religion, my wife said, “I could have written that.” Her experience was like mine, but she remains a theist. While supportive of my decision, she wonders what our religious friends think.

I’m old and can be cantankerous, but I’m usually laid back, quiet, and friendly. I’m retired, and have outlived many of my friends and family. While I want to be liked and loved as much as the next guy, I stopped caring so much about what anyone else thought of me long ago. At least I no longer care in the foolish manner that I once did. By remembering that what others think of me is none of my business, I find that I function much better in life.

For me, accepting my atheism involved learning, personal analysis and self evaluation—all done on my own over many years. Deciding to go public required me to think deeply about it. I wondered, why bother? I’m out, but I still think about it.

coming-out4While my disclosure has been inconsequential, I’m concerned for anyone struggling with it. While the decision is personal, I think atheists should disclose (come out) as soon as they’re ready. But, preparation and timing are important, if not critical.

We should not disclose when angry, arguing, or with any motive other than share something about ourselves. Even simply answering a question, as in my case, should be at the right time.

My answers to the question about coming out, posed in the first paragraph are:

  • Honesty is the best way to deal with some of the challenges. Experiencing guilt from being deceitful is an unnecessary burden.
  • Support. Depending on where one lives, there are groups of other atheists willing to provide advice and support. Being open allows us to take full advantage of such groups. On line groups are plentiful and helpful. The names and contact information for these groups are available through blogs and books.
  • Mental health. It feels good. Along with the lifting of a mental burden, many of us feel a new enthusiasm for embracing atheism. My experience is like that.
  • Social contribution. It is good for the individual, good for society, and good for atheists and believers alike. The stereotypical view of atheism and atheists is unfair, damaging, and wrong. By allowing others to know we are atheist, it helps them to know the truth. While I’ve been incorrectly labeled an exception, my openness is beneficial to every atheist.

To deal with the idea of disclosure, I recommend the following.

This book: Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist, by David G. McAfee

Good blog article: 3 Doubts Closet Atheists Should Have Before Coming Out (And 3 Reasons To Do It Anyway)

And another one: Why Come Out As An Atheist?

coming-out1A second book that I’ve not read, but looks promising, is Coming Out Atheist by Greta Christina.

Each of us should stand up for our rights. To do that, we need to be out of the closet. Being honest with ourselves and others isn’t easy, but there’s abundant testimony regarding the lifting of a burden that we can only achieve by letting the truth be known.

Making life changing decisions can be difficult.
Look both ways.

Who Am I?

who am i2

Why should anyone want to answer this question? I was asked, then immediately told no answer was expected. It’s not a rhetorical question.

When others ask my name, that’s easy enough. What do I do? Also simple. What are you? begins to get more personal. Who are you? Who am I? In terms of what? Our relationship? Am I your friend, enemy, son, father, or husband? I’m the son of, the father of, the grandfather of; but is that who I am?

I’ve always been willing to allow my pastimes to wrap with my identity. For example: I am a runner, artist, writer, dreamer, reader, etc. I’ve been less willing to do that with my profession. I know people who took their livelihood as an identity, only to feel lost when they could no longer perform at their vocation. I no longer run. When I was forced to stop, I was mildly depressed for two weeks. After that, I was fine.

Do I need all the answers?

Do I need all the answers?

Apparently, some folks think going public as an atheist raised my IQ, my awareness, and my general knowledge—all by some large measure. Other atheists and believers alike seem convinced that I now must provide answers and solutions, understand deep metaphysical mysteries, and know myself better than ever. It changed nothing about me—certainly not who I am.

Admitting atheist does not inflict anyone with knowing the source of the universe–certainly not me. Of this I am certain: if there is a god, I am not him, her, or it. On that, we must all agree. There is scientific evidence to show that my intelligence is now less than it was in the past. Admittedly, I know more trivia and I should have greater wisdom than when I was younger. My answer to life, the universe, and everything is: 42. (You get bonus points if you know why.)

I am two things. I’m the biological result of generations of genetic selection. The other thing I am is what I’ve become (maybe you’re becoming) as a result of the past 70 years of life, social and physical interactions, and learning. I have no idea why I’m male, bald, mildly pudgy (okay, the beer), or have blue or green eyes (depends who you ask). I’m also one of y’all. We’re exactly the same, yet completely different. And we both know it. But that’s not who I am.

Who do I think I am?

Who do I think I am?

As a writer of stories with human characters, I know more about my characters (everything) than I do about any other person. I understand them better than I get myself. I’m their god. I give them life, and sometimes death. I give them pain and pleasure. I know what they’ll do tomorrow. I know what happens when they enter those secret places where they don’t tell others what happened–I know their secret thoughts.

Last night, before going to sleep, my wife asked, “Are you going to walk in the morning?” I said, “I don’t know.” I walk virtually every morning. Today, I did not. My characters are much more dependable.

Some answers are simple

Some answers are simple

I am who I always was, and who I will be. I’m the sum of the past. I am part of you, as you are of me. I know who I am at this moment. Right here and now, I am who and what I am. If any deeper, more esoteric, philosophical, theological, sociological, or scientific answer is required, then my answer shall remain forever insufficient.

I don’t know everything about me, but I know enough. We’re gunna have to live with that.

To you, you are who you say you are, what you believe, and what you do. To me, you are who I say you are—it’s my opinion–subject to error and change.

But, is “who am I?” the critical question? I think the most important question is: who are we? How do we define us? We may add layer upon layer of humanity, and layer upon layer of nature, then layer upon layer of the universe. We are still in this together and we need each other.

As me dear departed Irish fadder often ass’d meh, “Whoda hell d’yeh tink ye’re?” Since that usually precipitated me being in a jam…Exit stage left!”

Who am I? Look both ways.