Thursday, May 14, 2015

Best Birthday Gift

My birthday was yesterday.

I'm not a big fan of this day but just like Christmas I think I'm starting to come around.

I still don't want cards, presents, or songs. I still don't like being singled out. I don't want people making a big deal about it because I still believe that every day is special, that birthdays are arbitrary, and that material gifts are a waste of time and money.

But my friends, God bless 'em, they know me better than I know myself. The way they went about it, the way they recognized my birthday in their own unique ways without making a big deal about it, was perfect!

And it got me to thinking: I am truly blessed to have such kind, thoughtful, and hilarious companions on this crazy journey called life.

Whether at work, on Facebook, or in my private life, I'm surrounded by amazing human beings. You guys and gals make waking up in the morning a treat and you made my birthday, a day I usually wish everyone (myself included) would forget, amazing.

So much so that I woke up this morning wishing it was my birthday again. Pretty sure that's never happened before. So thanks to everyone for your kind words, jokes, and undercover treats.

Ironically the best gift I received yesterday was from my parents. I say ironically because as Jehovah's Witnesses they don't celebrate birthdays, but then their gift was unintentional. In fact, it wasn't meant to be a gift at all but in a very twisted way it was the best compliment they could possibly pay me.

Here's how it went down.

They dropped by unexpectedly around dinner time and we hung out for a while, moving to the living room after dinner where conversation ensued.

Now anyone who knows me will tell you that my two favorite topics of discussion are, unequivocally, politics and religion.

Usually I avoid these topics with my parents (for obvious reasons) but yesterday something changed. Maybe subconsciously I decided to treat myself to a little birthday debate. Either way the conversation turned to the topic of homosexuality and it just progressed from there.

I wont bore you with the details. Instead I'll skip to the compliment.

At one point my mother asks me if I would study the Bible with a JW. Now I've studied a number of times before and learned a ton, but nothing to sway my beliefs in any way. So I make her an offer. I say, "I'll study your stuff if you study mine." I figure it's only fair: I'm extremely familiar with their beliefs but they know nothing about mine!

And that's when it happens: the best compliment they've paid me in recent memory.

It's my dad who blurts it out. When I make my offer his eyes light up, first with fear, then with realization. "Satan," he says in all seriousness, "is using you to test our faith."

Both of my parents sincerely believe that. by trying to get them to explore my beliefs, I am doing the work of Satan himself!


Satan, in my opinion, is the most compelling character in the Bible so it's a huge compliment to be associated with him.

His story-arch is fascinating.

First he helps Adam and Eve awaken from their state of ignorance, dragging them out of the perpetual Now of the animal world into the duality of good and evil, past and future, life and death, etc. Pretty awesome!

Next he plays the part of God's gambling buddy, placing bets on how poor Job's faith will hold up when they subject him to various tragedies and misfortunes.

Then, for the final act, he assumes the familiar role of scapegoat/big baddie. I suppose God was like "Well the Zoroastrians have their lord of Darkness. Think maybe you could fill that slot, Satan?" And Satan, being the champ that he is, was like "Yeah dude, of course!" Next thing you know he's testing Christ in the wilderness and stirring shit up here on earth.

Stay back, Oscar! 

Satan is the pivotal antagonist. Without him there is no Bible.

I'm sure my parents see him differently but that's besides the point. In their own misguided and roundabout way they gave me the best birthday gift possible.

When I asked how sharing my beliefs with them had anything to do with Satan, my dad delivered the perfect response. "Satan," he said, "wants us to question ourselves and our beliefs. He wants us to doubt and search for answers outside of the Bible."

And that's where my parents and I differ.

I believe true wisdom begins with doubt, open-minded exploration, and the knowledge that one knows nothing for certain; they believe true wisdom exists strictly within the pages of a single book. I believe Truth must be tested in order to verify its authenticity; they believe it should be coddled and hidden away, never compared or contrasted to potential alternatives.

Doubt is healthy. Questioning one's deeply held and cherished beliefs is a sign, not of weakness, but humility.

Mark Twain put it nicely: "It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows."

That's the pitfall of arrogance and blind faith.

In my experience, the moment you think you have all the answers is the moment you should go back to square one and start over because you clearly didn't learn anything.

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