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Disturbing the Universe

The musings of author Christina Knowles

The Business of Dying by Christina Knowles

seidoryu       As an atheist, I shudder at the thought of a chaplain at my bedside when it’s my time to die. However, today I was privileged to listen to a truly profound and helpful chaplain guide someone close to me on “the business of dying.”

Shortly after being informed that she had very little time left, the chaplain arrived, and instead of a long dissertation on theology, endless prayers, or reading cliché bible verses, he merely accepted her word that she was confidant of her eternal life and moved on to the harder part, the present.

At first, I was concerned. He seemed pushy and inconsiderate. When he asked her what she was feeling, and she replied, “It is what it is,” he pushed, aggressively.

He led her through each possible emotion, explored them, talked about them, and acknowledged their validity. He said it was okay to grieve your own life, the disappointment, the lost time, the things that you will never be able to do, time with loved ones stolen. He asked about fear, not fear of the afterlife, but fear of the actual dying and fear about leaving loved ones behind. He validated all emotions someone might feel and empathized.

Next, he asked her what she wanted. He said she didn’t have to answer now, and that it didn’t have to be one big thing, but that she should think about that every morning when she wakes up and ask, “What do I want today?” He explained that he meant real things, good things like asking for a hug or asking to have a conversation about a memory or about what someone means to her. He encouraged her to go deep inside herself everyday to really get in touch with her heart’s desire. He said to not let these things go by undone. If she needs to say something to someone or just relive a memory with someone, ask for it. If she needed closure, to fix a relationship, or address a regret, she should have that conversation.

The chaplain told her that part of the business of dying was to celebrate the life she’s lived. He said to reflect on her life’s accomplishments, things she was particularly proud of, things she enjoyed, and things that she did right. He told her she lived a life that deserved acknowledgement.

He ended his counsel by asking her if she wanted anything else from him. She asked him to pray with her. He laughingly responded, “Is that what you want, or do you think that’s what I want to hear?” She said she did want it, and his prayer was beautiful, specifically saying that she was in control of her life and how she lived it to her last breath.

He was brilliant and profound, comforting and respectful. I thought, This is what a chaplain should do. So many times, I’ve heard the well-meaning pastor spout clichés and seemed more concerned with reinforcing religious beliefs than dealing with real emotions and concrete issues. I always cringed at the shallow recitation of the typical platitudes. Finally, a chaplain who knows what to say to the dying, what they need to know in their last days, what not to forget in the days to come. The compassionate and practical advice I heard today cut through all the nonsense of avoidance. People don’t need vapid dictums when they face the end of their lives; they need something real, something meaningful and honest to go about the business of dying. –Christina Knowles

photo via seidoryu.com

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So, You Find Cat Videos Annoying? by Christina Knowles

knowyouwantmeme Facebook is getting tedious, more so by the day. Constant misinformation, misattributed quotes, and fallacies run rampant on political memes. Facebook posts have reduced my estimation of the collective intelligence of our population, but worse, it’s reduced my belief in the basic goodness of humanity. Not only are these tedious to see, but it’s a full-time job posting Snopes and Politifact links to these comments, but I try to be a good citizen. But don’t get me started on trying debate an issue on social media. It’s a lost cause that sucks you in and won’t let you go for about twenty-four comments, two unfriendings, and a blocked participant. I’m not against all political posting. I love when people post actual news articles, thoughtful opinions or news that raises awareness, and links to insightful editorials. I like to have a calm exchange of ideology, as long as we adhere to facts for evidence and not tabloid headlines, but how often does that happen?

Then, of course, we have the “god blessed” me posts, crediting God with everything from parking spaces to the random luck of the wind failing to blow down a fence. (Wow! Aren’t you special! I guess your neighbors aren’t cozy with the big guy, huh?).

The next most annoying thing about Facebook is over-sharing, where people admit way too much, like how they were fired for stealing office supplies, to having gotten so drunk, they woke up with a total stranger. Really? This is information that only your best friend should have. Don’t force me to judge you, please. It’s not who I want to be. (Caveat: Sincere opening up and sharing who you are with the intention of self-expression and engaging in a relationship with your friends is not offensive, but someone never taught these people about the circle of trust.)

Then, there is the under-sharing, the ones who post some vague melancholy comment, and when someone asks what’s wrong, they say, “I’ll text/PM you.” If it was so private, why publicly build everyone’s curiosity by posting anything at all?

But, honestly, the most annoying posts on Facebook to me are the ones that try to manipulate me. I don’t surf social media to be guilted or forced to re-post or comment to feed your fragile ego. First, we have the chain letter post. The one where you are commanded not to simply share it; you must COPY and PASTE it into your feed, especially if you do not want to have your hair and fingernails fall out by morning. If you do repost in the proper manner, you will enjoy a landslide of money, blessings from Jesus, and all forms of good luck. If you don’t, well, you obviously don’t love your mother.

The other form of Machiavellian Facebook posting is compliment-fishing by pretending to hate yourself. I mean how can you really keep scrolling past a photo with the caption, “I look so (Insert word of choice: terrible, ugly, fat, old) in this picture.” I feel like I’m being forced to say, “No, you don’t. You’re beautiful.” Even if I mean it (which I often do—some of the prettiest people do this), I don’t like being manipulated into feeding your ego. But I have to on the unlikely chance you really mean it and are so depressed you are about to off yourself. I mean, someone would have to be a little depressed if they actually do mean it and want to draw these inadequacies to the attention of the world, right? Truthfully, whenever I see these posts, I can’t imagine why they think this of themselves or why they’d want to announce that they think it (again, over-sharing). Anyway, I feel manipulated because I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s low self-esteem resulting from my lack of compliment-commenting. It really is exhausting.

So, remind me, please, why were we complaining about pictures of dinner, glam selfies, recipes, and cat videos? –Christina Knowles

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Book Signing Event!

If you are in the Colorado Springs area on January 14th, please join me for a book signing party, celebrating my brand new release, Signs of Life, A Memoir in PoemsI’d love to meet you!

Copies of The Ezekiel Project and Signs of Life will be available for purchase, and I’ll be signing those and any you bring in. While you’re there, enjoy a wonderful homemade Mexican meal from the Hernandez family, featuring old family recipes from Señor Manuel, himself. You will receive a discount if you purchase a book or bring in one to get signed.

It’s sure to be lots of fun, so I hope to see you there at Señor Manuel Mexican Cuisine!

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10 Tips to Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions by Christina Knowles

img_1314Reflecting on life is common this time of year. Some feel as though another year has gone by and wonder where the time went and feel disappointed and unaccomplished. Not me. I like to reflect on the year in order to make plans for the coming year. I see each new year as a fresh start, a chance to stop and take stock, decide what’s really important to me right now, and to make sure I don’t waste a whole year without even realizing it. I reevaluate my goals and adjust accordingly.

 

Yet there are those who look upon New Year’s resolutions with disdain, suggesting that failure in realizing these goals is inevitable and merely contributes to frustration and disappointment. I don’t see it that way. I like to make lots of resolutions because I usually keep at least half of them, so the more I have, the more I keep. This year, I started a second blog, published a collection of poetry, gained a basic proficiency with Photoshop, and reduced the amount of work I take home in addition to several personal things I won’t mention. Did I complete all my goals? No, but I’m perfectly satisfied with what I did accomplish.

 

So, because I’m pretty successful in this area, I thought I’d offer a few tips that help me in keeping my New Year’s resolutions.

 

  1. Make sure your resolutions are things that you really want to do, not just what you think you should do, or what someone else suggests you do. It’s human nature to be inspired to work for something when you really want it. Sometimes, we try to force our desires to fit things that we think are good for us, but our heart is not in it. If your heart is not in it, you probably won’t do it.
  2. Make realistic resolutions for the things that you are slightly less enthusiastic about. Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 40 lbs.,” say, “I’m going to completely stop eating at fast food restaurants.” A change like this may inadvertently get you closer to the more difficult goal.
  3. Make small incremental changes throughout the year, rather than jumping in full speed. Start slow and create habits without burning yourself out. Committing to doing yoga twice a week for a year is better, in the long run, than spending five days a week in the gym for one month and quitting.
  4. Celebrate small successes and let them encourage you to think bigger. Instead of deciding to write your first novel after several years of not writing, start journaling or blogging or writing short stories. Practice writing short things and get used to expressing yourself regularly. Not only will the task of writing a novel seem less daunting after a while, but your writing ability and creativity will have grown, so your novel will be better. This concept can be applied to all kinds of goals. This sounds like the same thing as number 3, but here I am talking more about practicing something to improve proficiency and build confidence.
  5. Put your resolutions somewhere you will see them regularly. Re-read them at least once a month to remind yourself of your goals, to adjust your methods, and to get yourself back on track if necessary, or hopefully, to check off goals that you have met early. Checking things off your resolution list is not only gratifying, but inspires us to tackle the next goal. As the year-end nears, I find myself gaining a renewed determination to knock things off that list. It feels great!
  6. Tell someone else about your goals/resolutions and ask them to check in with you periodically to ask you how you are doing with them. Be sure they understand that you don’t want to be nagged. That’s different than just a friendly check-in, which leads to number 7.
  7. Do not ask someone to hold you accountable. A friendly check-in should be framed as interest, not accountability. It’s my understanding of human nature, that as soon as someone appears to be telling us to do something, we react by not wanting to do it at all.
  8. Reward yourself for every goal you complete, or for larger goals, you should treat yourself for completing significant steps toward the goal.
  9. Make sure these rewards don’t sabotage your goals. The reward should not be taking a break from the good habits you are forming, but should be something unrelated that you enjoy. Building a habit or routine that helps you reach your goals can be derailed quickly by associating reward with stopping or taking a break from working toward your goal.
  10. Don’t feel bad or criticize yourself for the resolutions you don’t keep. Praise yourself for the ones you do keep. At the end of the year, count up how many successes you had, re-evaluate the rest, and if you feel like you still want to meet the goals you didn’t succeed in, add them to your next New Year’s resolution list, knowing that you are bound to meet some of them, so you’re better off than not making resolutions at all.

 

Why risk feeling like you let a whole year slip unconsciously by, regretting inaction, and missing out on the things that are most important to you? Don’t let your life slide by, lost in the hypnosis of everyday life. Take the necessary steps to move toward accomplishing what really matters to you.—Christina Knowles

Signs of Life, A Memoir in Poems

Signs of Life is a revealing journey into the soul, a look at the inner self to which we can all relate.

Source: Signs of Life, A Memoir in Poems

Signs of Life, A Memoir in Poems

I have always wanted to write my memoirs, the story of how I got from there to here. Perhaps, I just need to explain it to myself or to those I love. Perhaps, I need to leave a legacy for those who knew me after I’m gone. At any rate, I find that whenever I try to express my deepest feelings and my most profound experiences, I do it through poetry, so here it is, my memoir in poems.

This collection of eighty-one poems is a series of reflections of moments throughout a life lived. Some are joyful, some tragic, but all are heartfelt and real.

“Christina Knowles is a poet who is not afraid of delving into the inner world of symbolism, emotion, and dream imagery. Signs of Life is a revealing journey into the soul, a look at the inner self to which we can all relate.”

Available in paperback and Kindle Edition on Amazon.com. 

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Stephen King’s Under the Dome, An Anti-Religious Right Political Allegory for Our Time by Christina Knowles

rennie-trump            I finally finished the 1,072-page Stephen King novel, Under the Dome, published in 2009. I started it over a year ago and lost interest about 400-pages in. I started watching the television show, which seemed nothing like the book and did not inspire me to continue reading. However, I am one of those people who cannot stand to abandon a book unfinished, so I recently picked it up again and started over from the first page. I am so glad I did, and I am glad that it was in the midst of this ridiculous election season that I completed it. I had no idea that it was a political commentary of the 2008 election season, and King’s criticisms are even more apt in this election year. Fair warning, this review contains spoilers, so read at your own risk.

under-the-dome            The super-short synopsis, just enough to paint a backdrop for this review, is that an inexplicable and impenetrable (except for a reduced air flow) dome descends suddenly over the small town of Chester’s Mill, blocking them off from the outside world. In a matter of a week, all hell has broken loose as one egomaniacal character decides, against democracy, to lead the people his way, which happens to be evil and corrupt. While some fall in line out of a false sense of security, others passively stand by, and a few actively resist.

Immediately, it struck me that King was influenced by two very classic tales and one dirty election season to write this novel. The first classic tale is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, wherein, a group of boys are marooned on an isolated tropical island with no adult supervision. Quickly, the island descends in to chaos when the democratically elected leader of the boys, Ralph, is challenged by a thug who decides he wants to be the leader, Jack. Ralph represents Barbie in the novel. Barbie is given leadership by the military leaders, who are monitoring things from outside the dome. Barbie cares about the people and is reluctant to take the leadership role, but takes on the responsibility for the good of the people. Jack represents Big Jim Rennie in the novel, an over-bearing egomaniac, who lets baser instincts rule and enjoys bullying weaker people around him, much like Jack bullies and finally kills Piggy with the help of his newly developed cult followers.

And this is where it begins to mirror the 2008, as well as the 2016, elections. In the novel, Barbie represents civil and intellectual leadership (President Obama), and Big Jim Rennie represents the Evangelical Republican Right. Throughout the novel, Big Jim Rennie talks disrespectfully about that president with the middle- eastern middle name and how he does not recognize his authority over Chester’s Mill. Sound familiar? Additionally, Rennie is a fundamentalist leader in the radical right wing church in Chester’s Mill. Rennie is corrupt, running a meth lab for profit, and justifies it by the good he does for the community and the church. Rennie thinks he and his cohorts are the only ones with a direct line to God and going to heaven, despite their heinous acts, including rape and murder. To Rennie, the ends justify the means, and he is able to excuse all his racism (his views on immigrants sound just like Trump’s), sexism (he treats women exactly like Trump does), and his disdain for the poor (sounds just like Romney and Trump). Oh, and Rennie makes fun of the handicapped and hates homosexuals too. Of course.

In Chester’s Mill, there are three main groups of people. The religious fanatics that resemble the Westborough Baptist Church. These people include Rennie and his misled and amoral followers. The next group are the members of the First Congregational Church of Chester’s Mill (the Congos, they are called in the community). This group is the “normal” religious folk, the ones who go to church and kind of believe, but are not dogmatic in their beliefs. They believe live and let live. The pastor is a woman who doubts the existence of God, but she continues to pray anyway. She is of one the good people, who eventually sides with Barbie against Rennie’s group. Also, in this group are the citizens who go to church outside Chester’s Mill, but are not fanatics. These include the Catholics. This is an obvious commentary on the Religious Rights’ influence on politics and their insistence on legislating based on their own beliefs, while the “normal” Christians are not so dogmatic, question their beliefs, and do not think they should force others to live by those beliefs. The non-fanatical Christians in Under the Dome, eventually side with Barbie.

The last group is the non-believers, of which Barbie, the protagonist, is one. The people who claim no religious beliefs and think the rules should be based on democracy and reason are the leaders on the moral side in Under the Dome. As a secular humanist, I really appreciated this divergence from mainstream stereotypes and its connection to recent politics. Barbie represents fairness and reason in the novel.

Julia Shumway, another protagonist and journalist, is the token “good Republican.” Barbie continually says to her, “You don’t seem like a Republican.” And she does not. She is reasonable, fair, and represents journalism. She backs Barbie and fights Rennie from the beginning. I believe she represents fiscal conservatives, who have reasonable views on social progress. Perhaps, she even represents Independents.

Rennie is willing to do anything to be in charge, and engineers smear campaigns to discredit Barbie and his followers over and over, and eventually resorts to violence. Finally, climate change and the environment become an important part of the novel after a fire breaks out, and the dome prevents the smoke from getting out and clean air from getting in. Throughout the novel, Rennie wants to keep the dome up because he likes his reign of terror and control over the people and does not want it to end, even though it’s killing them. He continues to deny that their environment is not sustainable.

Barbie constantly works toward solutions to conserve energy, maintain order and civility, and solve the environmental problem of the dome. These are obvious allusions to climate change deniers on the right. Rennie even talks about God delivering them and not allowing them to die from bad air. Barbie relies on science to work on the problem with Julia and another protagonist in the novel, Joe, a young sciencey teen. Do you think I’m imagining these political statements? No, they are very clear in many passages in the novel, but check out this one:

When Rennie is held up selfishly in a fallout shelter while people are dying all around him, one of his cohorts says, “’What if the air doesn’t clear. The TV said—?” and Rennie responds with a tirade of right-wing vitriol:

“’Oh, dear, the sky is falling, oh dear, the sky is falling!’ Big Jim Rennie declaimed in a strange (and strangely disturbing) falsetto. ‘They’ve been saying it for years, haven’t they? The scientists and the bleeding-heart liberals. World War III! Nuclear reactors melting down to the center of the earth! Y2K computer freezes! The end of the ozone layer! Melting ice caps! Killer hurricanes! Global warming! Chicken-dirt weak-sister atheists who won’t trust in the will of a loving, caring God! Who refuse to believe there is such a thing as a loving, caring God!’

Big Jim pointed a greasy but adamant finger at the younger man.

‘Contrary to the beliefs of the secular humanists, the sky is not falling. They can’t help the yellow streak that runs up their backs, son—“the guilty man flees where none pursueth,” you know, book of Leviticus—but that doesn’t change God’s truth: “those who believe on him shall not tire, but shall mount up with wings of eagles”—book of Isaiah. That’s basically smog out there. It will just take a while to clear out.’” But, of course, it doesn’t. Most of the town dies because of the air quality.

And under all this, there is another story going on, which relates to the second classic to which I referred earlier—The Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” by Rod Serling. In “Monsters” an alien race experiment on a town by isolating them, cutting off the power, playing with them by turning on and off law mowers, etc. The fear cuts through the town until they turn on each other, the town descends in to chaos, and in fear, one of them shoots one of their own people. The chaos in Chester’s Mill is much like this. People begin fearing each other and lashing out without due process. This is made most obvious when Barbie and a fellow kind and reasonable person, Rusty, are imprisoned on trumped up charges, framed for the rapes and murders that Rennie and his son, Junior, commited, are beaten, and are to be executed without due process. The townspeople go along with it because they hear Rennie’s propaganda and believe the lies even though they are concerned and doubtful.

Like The Twilight Zone episode, it turns out that the dome is caused by alien children, who are keeping them covered like an ant farm, for their own amusement. The realization of this causes Julia and Barbie and their friends to think back on times when they were once the bully and the bullied, like ants under a magnifying glass. They each recount the feelings of standing by and watching while someone else bullied someone and they did nothing, and the experience of children, pulling off the wings of flies and subjecting ants to heat under a magnifying glass. Barbie remembers stopping because he realized that the ants “had their own little lives.” Julia recounts a humiliating memory of being beaten and stripped naked by a group of girls as a child. One girl came back and gave her a sweater to put around her to cover her nakedness. Because of this, they decide to beg for mercy from one alien child looking at them through the dome. Julia convinces the alien that “they have their own little lives” and immediately the dome rises from Chester’s Mill. King ends the book by speaking of Barbie reflecting on Julia’s childhood memory of the girl who gave her the sweater: “Pity was not love, Barbie reflected . . . but if you were a child, giving clothes to someone who was naked had to be a step in the right direction.” Ending the book on this note seems to me to be a call to care for one another, to end the cruelty, the selfishness, and have compassion on one another, something characteristically absent in both the 2008 and the 2016 divisive election seasons.

So, although this book took far too long to tell the story, what a story it tells. The allegorical characters and the allusions to our current situation are all too poignant. Do we really want a Lord of the Flies political system? Do we want a society where fear and fanaticism overrule science and reason? Do we want a Big Jim Rennie bullying women and the handicapped as President Trump? Without kind, ethical, reasonable leadership, we, as humans, tend to follower baser instincts, especially if that is the group mentality. This is an important message, and I thank Stephen King for delivering it to us in palatable way without toning down his obvious frustration with the radical right. And I believe it is telling that the network version of this book happened to leave out all the political details that make this book great. So, if you’ve seen the show, but haven’t read the book, take the time. It’s well worth it. Five out of Five stars.—Christina Knowles

All quotes are from Stephen King’s Under the Dome. Published by Scribner, 2009.

Clinton Vs. Trump: How Do They Stack Up Against Jesus?! by Christina Knowles

what-would-jesus-do2Since many on the evangelical right of this election want the candidate who most shares their values, I thought I’d make a check list to see which of the two front runners most resembled Jesus. So, compare and decide for yourself, which candidate shares your Christian values:

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So, there you have it! Now, you can make the right decision according to your own Christian values because you’ve asked yourself, “What Would Jesus Do?” Do what Jesus would do this election season–Dump Trump!–Christina Knowles

Atheists on High Live-Streaming Event

atheists-on-highJoin me on October 12, 2016 at 7 pm (Mountain Time) as I guest co-host Atheists on High. According to host, Skeptic Bret, “Atheists on High is a four man wrecking crew, assembled to dig into the hard conversations that everyone has in their head when nobody is listening.”

This is sure to be a lot of fun, and hopefully enlightening, as we delve in to topics such as separation of church and state in our education system and any other topics that happen to inspire us at the moment.

This is a rowdy crew and tends to be explicit, so parental guidance is suggested.

Follow Atheists on High on Facebook to get notifications for the live-streaming podcast.

See you there!

 

 

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