There's almost always a church youth group at the soup kitchen. I have yet to see an atheists' youth group. Yeah, I know, religious people don't have a monopoly on doing good. I'm sure that there are many agnostics and atheists out there slinging mashed potatoes at other soup kitchens. I know the world is full of selfless secular gropus like Doctors without Borders. But I've got to say: It's a lot easier to do good if you put your faith in a book that requires you to do good.
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I've taped a list to my bathroom mirror. It's my Most Violated List... Anger. I gave the finger to an ATM. You see, the ATM charged me a $1.75 fee for withdrawl. A dollar seventy-five? That's bananas. So I flipped off the screen. As Julie tells me, when you start making rude gestures to inanimate objects, it's time to work on your anger issues. Mine is not the shouting, pulsing-vein-in-the forehead rage. Like my dad, I rarely raise my voice. My anger problem is more one of long-lasting resentment. It's a heap of real or perceived slights that eventually build up into a mountain of bitterness... get some perspective... I ask myself the question God asked Jonah. 'Do you do well to be angry?'... The world will not end... Mute your petty resentment.
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Think of negative speech as verbal pollution. And that's what I've been doing: visualizing insults and gossip as a dark cloud, maybe one with some sulfur dioxide. Once you've belched it out, you can't take it back. As grandma said, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. The interesting this is, the less often I vocalize my negative thoughts, the fewer negative thoughts I cook up in the first place.
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Each cherry took about three seconds to eat. Three seconds to eat, but at least five years in the making. It seemed unfair to the hard-working cherry tree. The least I could do was to devote my attention to the cherry in those three seconds, really appreciate the tartness of the skin and the faint crunching sound when I bite down. I guess it's called mindfulness. Or being in the moment, or making the mundane sacred. Whatever it is, I'm doing it more. Like the ridiculously extended thank-you list for my hummus, the fruit taboo made me more aware of the whole cherry process, the seed, the soil, the five years of watering and waiting. That's the paradox: I thought religion would make me live with my head in the clouds, but as often as not, it grounds me in this world.
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I think there's something to the idea that the divine dwells more easily in text than in images. Text allows for more abstract thought, more of a separation between you and the physical world, more room for you and God to meet in the middle. I find it hard enough to conceive of an infinite being. Imagine if those original scrolls came in the form of a graphic novel with pictures of the Lord? I'd never come close to communing with the divine.
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The Bible's "it's better to give than receive" was not the raving of a lunatic. It goes back to a recurring theme that I've found in almost all my experiments: behaviour shapes your thoughts. My brain sees me giving a gift to Julie. My brain concludes I must really love her. I love her all the more. Which means I'm happier in my relationship, if a bit poorer.
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