on spiritual poverty

My engineer brain wants to cure all material scarcity.

While climbing a long staircase up a mountain to the Savitri Temple in the holy city of Pushkar I encountered a man whom I believe lived in the forest and collected firewood to sell to the villagers. Didn’t know if he was an ascetic or perhaps an untouchable. But I did conclude, without evidence beyond educated guess, that I make more money in a day than he makes in a year… or a lifetime.

I own X number of hats and Y pairs of shoes.

Suppose we did cure all material scarcity: Everyone is fed, housed, and clothed. Everyone has smart phones and computers and transportation to the farthest reaches of the planet. We can accomplish this with little additional technological innovation, and I think it a noble goal.

Then we’ll all want art and meaning. We’ll want to convince each other we are right. We might annihilate ourselves. We’ll create new scarcity with intellectual property—we might all be clothed but some of us will get haute couture—we’ll still use our plumage to create rank.

Stars upon thars… We might annihilate ourselves.

My communist soul wants a leveling revolution. My Christian soul wants the Golden Rule to underpin material society.

But we might annihilate ourselves in attempt to create that world. And I can’t argue with the fact that capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than communism or religion combined.

My anarchist soul just wants to love God. No popes, no trips to Mecca. Just ecstatic prayer transmitted from the RV that I live in.

I own X number of hats and Y pairs of shoes. I’m a fashion legend in my own mind. I’m more creative than most. My IQ falls in the 98th percentile.

But God can raise a 1,000 of me out of the dust. I don’t mean much.

My favorite holiday is Dia de los Muertos; reminds me that rich or poor, we all snuff it in the end.

My engineer brain wants to cure all material scarcity. But does God really care about that? We are spiritually impoverished in the Global North. Spiritual malnutrition is destroying us.

Spiritual malnutrition is destroying us.

I don’t give a rat’s ass who you fuck, what you drive, or who you pray with. I just want you to talk with God.

new song: “3Jane”

Lyrics

Growing a new philosophy
is it grand design, or subtle folly?
The serpent was anything but…
…but this was an engineered forest,
its fruit a postmodern delight

Recording

Explanation

Wrote this sometime in the late 1990’s while working through my gender dysphoria (and identity and bipolar disorder in general) as a young adult. It is about humanity’s ability to hack everything, including our bodies. Changing one’s sex is a postmodern experience from a certain point of view, and it might be complete folly (but I don’t think so).

Artifact is nature.

I think starting my life as a man and becoming a woman at 39 was by God’s design. Don’t think any serpents are whispering in my ear.

Live Performance

god likes scientists

I don’t believe in astrology, but I do firmly believe in the Resurrection. As far as scientific evidence goes, both prove equally absurd. WTF? Why accept even one of them? Why not both? I have no good answer for this!

I could say that “events” in my life confirm my Christian experience, but that might be pattern recognition bias—seeing confirmation of my faith in patterns that my brain constructs out of non-patterned signal (because brains do that [1]).

Similarly, because I’ve never bothered to look for confirmation of astrological interpretations of my life, I’ve never “found” them in my life narrative. Again, pattern recognition bias.

Perhaps—and I am so completely unfamiliar with astrology to know for sure—astrology is about finding comfort in the universe’s design—that there is a “plan”. Is there anything in astrology that is meant to be uncomfortable? I don’t know!

The Christian experience is not comfortable; at least I don’t seek it out for comfort with regard to my place the universe. If God asks me to, I’ll perform God’s work in Hell.

Maybe its about love: I do not perceive that the universe as expressed as stars, planets, mass, and energy “loves” me. But I need to feel love and the Christian narrative offers that. The Resurrection itself is a love story.

Perhaps I created God in my image—an image of a human who needs love. And the need for love comes from evolutionary psychology; human-to-human attachment driving tribal cooperation, driving survival, driving gene propagation. The selfish gene [2].

“What is truth?” retorted the Pilate [3].

I’m going to continue trusting God and continue trusting my faith in God, even without these questions answered. And the God I believe in wants us to wrestle with these matters; God gave us brains and expects us to use them critically.

God likes scientists: “Doubting” Thomas just wanted evidence. He was not rejected for asking for it.

“Faith” and “belief” mean different things. I see “belief” as getting hung up on the facts—where science and logic matter to defining reality. “Belief” has its place: For example I believe in “F=m*a” at appropriate velocities and definitely believe in God’s existence and love.

But I do not emphasize belief in my spiritual practice, which is where “faith” comes in. “Faith”, in my book, is trusting the divine deep within my soul without needing to understand all the particulars about where things are headed.

Sometimes faith doesn’t even require much commitment to reality. I tell a story in my article “an allegory of affection from a Hindu goddess” about a visitation by Durga that I experienced during a dream. I do not worry about whether this visit really happened or not; the experience enriched my faith in the Christian god while enhancing my understanding of Hinduism. I’m not going to argue about what is “real” in this situation. Rather, I’ll just accept the personal growth that came of it.

This is the embrace of faith.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Selfish_Gene
  3. John 18:38 (New International Version)
  4. The image below is copied from https://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Good-Scientist.

transgender people love

Lost in the ongoing ecclesiastical debate about whether transgender identities hold validity in the eyes of God [1] are interactions between (cisgender) Christian thinkers and transgender individuals themselves, particularly those of faith.

Many faith-leaders and Christian scholars intellectualize us into sub-humanity:  Their idea is that God made humans male and female strictly in God’s own image and that to be fully human therefore requires full embrace of one or the other polarity, the polarity matching one’s genitals. (We are ignoring the intersex population in this argument for convenience–however the body of Christ will have to come to terms with intersex individuals’ existence too). Because transgender individuals cannot live healthy lives under the constraint of this particular sex/gender model—a model believed quintessential to the construction of a human by many Christian thinkers, we are regarded as having rejected God’s gift of humanity.



However, one knows a tree by its fruit [2]:

God gave humans the ability to love. And transgender people love. We love deeply. We love just as much as as cisgender people.

The fruit therefore is the love produced, and only a human can produce it.

It follows then that we fully received the gift of humanity.

References

  1. https://www.ncronline.org/news/people/transgender-issues-next-battle-culture-wars
  2. Matthew 12:33 (NIV)

on love

Thought it time to write an essay (of sorts) on the nature of love:

Here I specifically mean Romantic love, partnership love; not other kinds. I won’t throw Greek words at you to differentiate between the types of love as many writers do (e.g. C.S. Lewis), except I thought I’d decide to use the term “eros” at some point, but didn’t. I’m going to use the imprecise English word and we’ll make its meaning clear from deconstruction and context. We are talking about the love that drives madness and rock songs. We are also talking about the love that, when steered wisely, channels into successful marriages.

Why am I writing this? Not entirely sure. I’ve spent much of my non-child life in a state of unrequited love and, being rather introspective, have consequently thought about the subject a good deal. Moreover, I remained in an abusive relationship for 14 years (seven of which in marriage) and stayed primarily due to my choice to continue loving, rather than out of fear or insecurity. Naturally, I’ve thought deeply about that choice, both during those years and after the divorce.

Furthermore, roughly 2.5 years ago I publicly became a woman (I’m biologically male) and having been living and loving as such since then. Among the intelligentsia where gender is considered a social construction this matter may not seem to pertain much to a discussion of love, but I can now tell you from personal encounters that an individual’s experience of romantic love is shaped by patriarchy and heterosexism, no matter what that individual’s gender identity and sexual orientation.

I’ve also written seven love songs in the last two years. So take the intellectual out of me and I’ll still sing about the matter.

Two Basics

When I tell someone I love them for the first or second or tenth time, I really mean two things:

  • I love them.
  • I’m in love with them.

Note the difference: The second is a state of the brain caused by heightened dopamine receptor activity. It is transitory. It fades. This is why couples often complain about the “spark” disappearing in their relationships (if they don’t nurture the first item on the above list).

The first uses love as a verb. It is something you do. It is a choice you make. It is a gift that you give. But you have to commit and continually recommit to this verb form of romantic love to achieve benefit from it. And of course in this form of partnership love, unlike the dopamine receptor form, both parties share the benefit and pain, where as the psychological state of being “in love” is actually quite selfish—driven by the lover’s desire for benefit and, for lack of a better word, acquisition.

The verb form leans altruistic. Consider lyrics from my song “Waste”:

This hope seeks recognition, connection, resolution.
And its more about the love I wanted to give,
than that I wanted to receive

Admittedly the first line could apply to either form, but the second two lines clearly apply to a desire to give love. An activity. A decision. A verb. Not entirely altruistic though, because one hopes to receive the verb form of love just as much as they might desire to give it.

Madness and Estrogen

Here we return to a discussion of romantic love as elevated dopamine receptor activity. All feels well and good until the rejection or the breakup. Then one’s brain chemistry walks through the depths of Hell. In my case, due to bipolar disorder, I go just plain “mad”—engage in reckless behavior and become dangerously suicidal. This condition might last years over one incident of heartbreak. Not a good thing.

I’d even call it addictive. Idolatry.

Estrogen made this experience far worse for me soon after I started taking it. Before then I could channel my reckless behavior into socially acceptable activities. But I lost this ability (for a considerable period of time) once I started taking the hormone, as the hormone drove my emotions to far wider extremes than anything I’d ever experienced before.

Fortunately, I’ve now become accustomed to estrogen’s impact on my emotions, and now make better decisions.

What I’m trying to say though is:  We should never underestimate the damage long-term unrequited love can inflict on one’s spirit.

Back to the Good Stuff

And now back to discussing love as a verb:

When I love someone I do everything I can to ensure they know their intrinsic value. Not their value to me as a lover or potential lover, but their value in the universe, their value for simply being human. To be clear, I also express their value to me, especially when a rich friendship underlies whatever else we might create, but that is a secondary activity. Its their intrinsic value that matters, not my valuation. Another way of saying this: I’m fleeting—we must promote valuation in light of things eternal.

Currently, there are three women in my life I would take a bullet for. Two have been cruel to me (one extremely so)—and neither of these two will have anything to do with me. But I still actively love them (verb form) in the only ways I can, through radical forgiveness and continued prayer for their well-being. Furthermore I keep the door open to them at all times.

Authenticity and Self-Expression

Anyone who knows me knows that concern for authenticity in all things drives me. That explains why I present romantic love divided into the two distinct forms discussed above. Doing so enables clarity—allows me to demonstrate to a partner or potential partner exactly what they are getting when I say I love them. Authenticity resides in the understanding transmitted—my beloved realizes that I’ve thought deeply about the meaning of love and therefore am trustworthy with regard to that dangerous word.

Self-expression matters too. I can’t be anyone other than the stylish femme I project to the world. One has to live according to their soul to love successfully. Sure one can suppress themselves to pay for the short-term dopamine high, but to sustain the commitment of verb-form love throughout all the challenges it brings one must practice alignment (and continual realignment) with their core identity. In other words, the strength generated by a quality relationship flows both from the genuine within and from the genuine in the beloved.

This mandate plays out too for one’s treatment of their beloved: One commits to loving them for who they are, knowing they will evolve and, if nurtured, grow. While conflict comes inevitably and must be worked through faithfully, trying to fundamentally change one’s beloved is a fool’s errand. Besides, their spirit holds intrinsic value as it is and one can easily lose good love by neglecting that truth. The exception of course regards abusive situations, where change on both sides proves necessary. (Not just the abuser must change, the other party must learn not to participate in the dynamic).

Control

A lot of this comes down to control, and the choice to cede it to positive vulnerability. Note that we are not talking about ceding discernment here.

As my narrative above indicates, the dopamine high-driven form of romantic love often involves perilous loss of self-control. I frankly become a slave to my passions. Bitch owns my heart.

But the verb form of love retains control; the decision to give love, to support and promote a quality relationship, is exactly that: A decision. Good decisions only emit from a position of self-control.

And good, well-grounded decisions to love actively enable wholehearted surrender to positive vulnerability, the state where things really blossom in a relationship.

Patriarchy and Heterosexism

Now that I’m a woman, I feel a pressure to date men that I can’t put my finger on. I do like men, and occasionally engage in romantic behavior with them, but I don’t like the subtle nagging feeling that that is the way things are “supposed” to be.

I watched “Sex and the City, the Movie” last night, which I absolutely loved for the fashions presented. But the story made me feel inadequate for not being in a heterosexual relationship (or any relationship for that matter!). It made me feel that my excitement for highly expressive dresses and my bisexuality stand at odds, as if a stylish girl like me should be guy crazy and exclusively so. The movie also reinforced the patriarchal model that a woman’s path to economic prosperity is through a relationship with a man.

Now I’ve experienced a few nights of passion with men, and enjoyed them thoroughly, but these experiences lived out the most base of the dopamine-high form of romantic love. If pressed by social expectation to only commit to verb-form love with men, I leave out a whole segment of the population that I resonate highly with. This is intolerable. To give love one must stand free to give love.

To give love one must stand free to give love.

Heterosexism and the patriarchy constrain that requisite freedom.

Giving God the “Finger”

When unrequited love drove me to madness roughly 1.5 years ago, I wrote a song about giving God the “finger” to express my angst. No regrets! Here is the song, titled “Prayer (Say Nothing Again)”:

See Also

the currency of love

radical forgiveness (video)

the pedagogy of love

how to validate someone who won’t talk with you

Fortuna audaces iuvat

I’ve done everything I can to cultivate courage in my character. It took substantial bravery to become Emily. I apply that same courage in love and business too.

I live by Virgil’s motto “Fortune favors the bold.” But I prefer the original Latin form, “Fortuna audaces iuvat”, where Fortuna is personified—as a goddess. This adds a spiritual competent to my bravery ethic.

There is a bipolar component as well: Sometimes I confuse intelligent risk and reckless behavior. This usually accompanies the highs and lows of my mood profile. (See my post “scoring my MMPI-2 assessment for both sexes” for a discussion of my absurdly high level of disconstraint for a woman). To attenuate this situation, I’ve learned to make decisions involving risk a little more slowly. But immediately upon concluding a risk is prudent, I execute with full audacity.

Back to the spiritual element: I firmly believe God helps those who initiate action. Helping one’s self means stepping into and staying in motion when there is a problem, letting God illuminate the path as one goes. It takes courage to take each step. It takes faith. To me faith and bravery tightly link.

I’ve burned bridges with my audacity; made mistakes. But for the most part my development of nerve as a major feature of my character enriches my life beyond measure.

And sometimes there is nothing to lose. I needed to become Emily, whether I possessed the daring to or not. So I claimed the requisite daring.

At work, I coach my interns and mentees in the following formula for risk-taking: For 90% of the risks you take, nothing consequential happens. Null program. 5% of the risks you take result in falling completely on your ass. Badly. Close to losing your job or reputation bad. (This is mitigated through development of diplomacy skills, but that is another discussion). But the outcome of the remaining 5% is so beneficial and so powerful that it makes that other 5%’s outcome worth it.

Courage is a skill. Practice it. Cultivate it!

Do this before you change your gender. (You’ll need it). Continue doing it after.

prophet with a lowercase “p”

‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. – Acts 2:17 NIV

So I don’t believe these are the “last days” as the above verse implies. But I do believe that God speaks through each and every one of us, essentially making us prophets in the barest sense. I call those who embrace this experience “prophets with a lowercase ‘p’”. (Uppercase “P” is reserved the big ones like Moses).

But let’s look at two individuals that I view as modern prophets with a capital “P”: Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

I visited the Baha’i faith’s Lotus Temple in Delhi last December, and engaged in a fascinating discussion with one of their holy men (every one of the many spiritual leaders I spoke to in India was a man). He said that God regularly sends (capital “P”) prophets as needed to respond to changing times and to correct humanity’s course. So I asked him if he considered Gandhi and Dr. King prophets. He said no because they did not work miracles—they did not control the elements. I argued back that their social achievements were much more important and much more miraculous than controlling the elements. But I guess people want fancy signs from the supernatural before they’ll see direct evidence of liberation.

In my work to write in support of the transgender community, I’m going for lowercase “p” here. I’m not trying to be Gandhi or Dr. King, but I am working hard to courageously deliver some of our community’s truths to the world.