Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

29 July 2008

Love and Hate and My iPod

This will just go to show you how easily amused I am. I was playing around on iTunes this afternoon (buying more music, naturally) when I got to looking at the playlist on my iPod and saw how many songs have the word "love" in the title: 9 of 234. This doesn't count the songs that are about love but don't mention it directly.

It should come as no surprise that many of the songs are about love. It’s a favorite topic of songwriters. But when I saw the titles and how they were organized, it made me laugh.

So here, in order of appearance, are Bob’s downloaded songs about love:

”Love Epidemic” (The Trammps)
“The Love I Lost” (Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes)
“Love Is Blue” (Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra)
“Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word” (Joan Baez)
“Love To Hate You” (Erasure)
“Lovely To See You” (The Moody Blues)

You might conclude that I like sappy, albeit conflicted songs about love. Eh- perhaps. (Although my image as a hard-rocking, head-banger just took a serious hit, it pains me to notice.)

There are also the more up-tempo love songs:

“Burning Love” (Elvis Presley),
“I Was Made To Love Her” (Stevie Wonder) and
“If I Didn’t Love You” (Squeeze).

There is no accounting for musical taste.

Before drawing any conclusions though, I should tell you that at one time I had eleven…yes, eleven different versions of the Buddy Holly song, “Well All Right” on my iPod. Eleven. You didn’t think there were that many versions of one song, especially such an obscure song as that, did you? Neither did I. I don't think The Beatles' "Something" was covered as much (it was).

26 July 2008


Atheists puzzle me. No, check that, they bother me. They deny the existence of God. They say that the lack of physical, scientific evidence of God’s existence proves He doesn’t exist. It’s not a logical conclusion or assumption. One could say, “I don’t believe that God exists because I choose to see no evidence,” and leave it at that. But that’s closer to agnosticism. Atheists, on the other hand take it a step further: They actively deny any possibility of God’s existence.

Here’s the deal: You could say, “I don’t believe man ever landed on the moon.” Nobody could refute or argue with such a statement other than someone who was actually there…you know, like Neil Armstrong. (But even then, why would you believe him?) But an atheist would say, “Man never landed on the moon!” Which is quite a different thing.

Atheists do not like having religion “forced down their throats,” as they put it. Atheists absolutely do not like being told that their lives are “empty,” or “unfulfilled,” because they certainly feel that they’re neither of those things.

Atheists retaliate by putting the onus on Christians to empirically prove that God exists, and that failure to conclusively do so necessarily means that He doesn’t. What they don’t seem to realize is that it’s not true; the lack of physical evidence does not prove the non-existence of God.

In my experience, atheists tend to take an extremely negative view of faith and religion. Perhaps they do this to justify their own extreme and opposite view. In other words, they say, ”I believe that God DOES NOT EXIST! Because you can’t prove it to me. Furthermore, I believe that merely having such faith, and all religions are harmful to society.” Uhh…yeah…right. Whatever.

Atheists seem to hold the opinion that we who do believe in a Creator are not using our brains (or are perhaps using them improperly). They believe we are deluded, and we use this “God” as an unnecessary crutch…for help, guidance and strength – things that are already inside of us. Or worse, that we abdicate control of our lives to “God’s will,” instead of taking full and complete responsibility for our own lives. They say we are “disabled,” or a “mindless robot.”

I was driving to work the other day, eastbound along Interstate 10 across Pensacola Bay, and I was struck by what a bright, sunny, clear, beautiful a day it was. I was on my way to my job, which is one in which someone pays me big money to fly a helicopter – to do something that I love to do and in fact do as a hobby. It was one of those days that just make you feel lucky and thankful to be alive.

Wait…hold on – thankful? I thought about that. In fact, I keep coming back to this point. Why do I feel appreciative? Did all of this just happen naturally, or was this earth put here for our specific enjoyment? Why are humans appreciative? Where does that come from? Why do we have feelings and emotions?

Why do we laugh…or cry…or love…or hate…or get angry...or get embarrassed when we fart in public? Why do we kill for sport? And why can we express our feelings and emotions artistically…in art, literature, painting, poetry, dance, and music for example?

Because those things are part of being human.

We may very well be the “most evolved” of all the species on the planet. But if so, we have qualities and capabilities far beyond even the next-closest species. It’s eerie; it’s almost as if someone or something had an intelligent hand in designing us.

I choose to see evidence of God’s handiwork everywhere I look, even inside of me. As I’ve said, it gives me great comfort to think that this was all put here intentionally for us. And for that I’m thankful. Believing in God gives me someone to direct my appreciation and thanks.

But is it mandatory to even be appreciative? I mean, can’t this all just…you know…“be” without me having to be thankful for it? Umm, no, that’s not possible. Every time I see a sunrise there is a palpable sense of gratitude deep inside of me that cannot be denied or inhibited. I am inspired by it way down in my, well, soul. I didn’t have to be taught that feeling; it just is. That’s the human in me.

Well then, can’t we just be thankful and appreciative without wanting to direct it somewhere? Sure, I guess. But that would be like being in love without actually having a partner. …Which, even if that were possible would be kind of empty and unfulfilling wouldn’t you agree? And so I thank God, my Creator for my life, and all of the wonderful things in it, all the things for which I am appreciative.

This is what I mean when I say that God fills my otherwise empty life. I realize that it is He (although it certainly could be a She) who is responsible for all this. And that is the very core of my faith: The knowledge that there is something bigger than me…something bigger than man…something bigger than all of us. And my life would be very empty without Him in it.

Richard Dawkins is a noted atheist who's written a book called "The God Delusion." During the question-and-answer period after a speech, he was asked a simple question.

Notice how Dawkins sidesteps the question, doesn't answer it and turns on the questioner, belittling her. "What if you're wrong?" he asks instead after a bunch of silly analogies. Well ultimately, if we Christians are wrong, there is no consequence.

But answer the question, Dawkins: What if you're wrong?

To doubt God’s existence is one thing. But to claim that He absolutely, positively does not exist is quite another. It is an affront to your very humanity.

23 July 2008

Things They Don't Teach You In Flight School: How To Be Likeable

I’m a pilot, right. My job is to fly this here Bell 206, to take my boss wherever he wants to go. To do it safely, competently, professionally. To not crash.

That’s it, right? Ah, I wish! There’s more to it – much more! If skill in the cockpit were all I had to worry about, I wouldn’t have anything to worry about. I know I’m a good pilot; that part of the job is fine. But there is the personal aspect of the job. My boss and I work very closely together. He always sits up front and likes to be involved in the flight. Plus, there are many other people I have to deal with – in and out of the helicopter - people who have a real influence over whether I keep my job or not.

First of all, there’s the boss’s wife. I’ve flown her many times, and her friends, and her children and grandchildren. If she is not “comfortable” with me I might as well start looking for another job because sooner or later I’m going to be out.

Then there are the others: The boss’s main business partner; his CFO; his secretary even! If these people don’t like me, it might not get me fired immediately, but their cumulative comments to the boss can have a long-term negative effect.

Since my boss not only owns a large main business but is also an entrepreneur, he’s involved in a lot of other side-deals with people. Thus, whenever someone gets on the helicopter I’m sometimes not sure just exactly what their connection to him is. They might just be a personal friend…but they might also be in with him on some huge deal. Or they might be both. Everyone likes to ride up front and talk.

For many, flying is an unnatural act. When people board a helicopter they are understandably anxious and/or tense. Sometimes they’re downright scared. They often mask it in various ways. Sometimes I can see through it, sometimes not. Regardless of their personal anxiety level, passengers want to know that their pilot is someone they can trust, someone who’ll get them to the destination in one piece. It’s not as easy as you might think.

I’ve found that it’s best to not talk too much. But even this poses a problem. A pilot who’s aloof or silent could appear arrogant or preoccupied. Passengers will not be able to relax if they sense that their pilot is having to concentrate so intently on his tasks that he cannot even be sociable. And sociable, I am.

On the other hand, you cannot be too sociable either. Passengers need to know that the pilot takes his job seriously and conscientiously and is paying proper attention. So a balance must be struck – a fine line walked. I try to project an air of calm, relaxed professionalism. But there’s a lot of “stuff” going on as I fly. It’s not like cruising down the Interstate with three or four friends in the car where all you really have to do is steer. It’s tough sometimes to balance the needs of flying the helicopter with the needs of the passengers. Especially when there's more than one. Especially when I’m busy with Air Traffic Control or navigating around some trick restricted airspace.

But the way we act outside of the cockpit is important too. Because of my close working relationship with the boss, I often accompany him to social and business events: dinners, meetings, parties…sometimes places I really have no business being. It is in these situations that it takes some skill to blend in. I’m not highly educated (no college), nor do I have the kind of money or business acumen as the people among whom I often find myself. So I don’t want to come off as a doofus or a boob. Even the best pilot in the world won’t be perceived that way if he dresses and acts like a barnstormer, a hippy or a Hell’s Angel. So I try to dress and act appropriately.

I’ve also heard pilots pontificating about everything from politics to religion and the economy as if they were some big expert. My boss, and the people he hangs out with really are the movers and shakers of our local economy here: real-estate tycoons, bank owners, heavy-hitters of industry and such – maybe not on a national level (although in some cases they are). These guys are successful like I only dream of being. There is likely very little I could tell them about…well, anything. It’s not that I “know my place,” but I know that people are probably not inclined to view me as an authority on anything but flying. So I keep my mouth shut (or try to). I listen to conversations and ask halfway-intelligent questions that keeps the conversation moving forward.

Also, I’ve known plenty of pilots who always want to steer conversations their way (some of us do love the limelight). Some pilots assume that everyone in the crowd wants to know all about our job. While it is true that people are fascinated by flying, they surely do not want to hear all the technical details. Yet I’ve heard pilots use aviation-specific jargon as if everyone in the crowd understands what terms like “Translational Lift” and “EFIS” and “Vortex Ring State" mean. There is a word for these types of people: Bore.

I absolutely do not tell aviation “war stories,” mostly because I don’t have many. I’ve lead a fairly – and thankfully - uneventful career as a pilot. I only give fairly general answers to specific questions. Only if someone presses for details I’ll give more.

“Bob, what’s up with those sticks you use? How come there are two? What do the the controls do? What are the pedals for?”

“Well, think of the rotor as one big spinning disk. The stick on the left is the power lever. It controls the total thrust that the rotor disk puts out. The one between my knees controls the tilt of the disk. And whichever way the disk is tilted is the direction the helicopter is going to go. So if I push forward on the stick, the helicopter moves forward. If I pull up on the power lever, we go faster – or climb. And since the helicopter can fly in any direction…forward, backward or sideways…I use the pedals to keep the nose pointed straight ahead.”

Simple, right? This explanation usually satisfies them. Sometimes not. Sometimes they want more. Here I have to be careful. The technicalities of how a helicopter rotor works can make a non-aviator’s eyes glaze over in a millisecond. If I’m talking to someone one-on-one I might go into some further detail. If I’m in a group I’ll usually just say, “It’s magic, man. Even I don’t know exactly how all that stuff works up there.” Everyone chuckles appreciatively and we move on to other subjects.

Throughout my career, I’ve never had to work so closely with my passengers as I do now. (In Honduras my passengers were typically never in the ship for more than the three minutes it took to go from the airport to our island. It was sort of the same situation as now.) In the past, like back when I was a charter pilot, passengers were usually anonymous paying customers whom I could tell to “…sit down, strap in and shut up, and I’ll tell you when it’s safe to get out.” Such an attitude in this job would’ve gotten me fired in my first week. Now I need a whole bunch of other skills that I hadn't really thought of.

They don’t teach pilots this stuff in flight school - don't teach you how to handle passengers and juggle all of the things that really should be going on behind the cockpit door. That knowledge must be obtained on our own, and in fact cannot really be taught. I wish it were all about my "mad flying skillz." But it's not. In the end, it comes down to being likeable. You either are or you aren’t, and not everybody is. So far, through some incredible stroke of luck, I've been able to fake it pretty well.

But I'm telling you, man, it's tough.

20 July 2008

Just An Earthbound Misfit, I

I don’t like to consider myself a loner. The term has a ring of mental illness…that something just ain’t quite right about him kind of thing. I like to think of myself as a fairly social and sociable person - when I want to or have to be. I can do okay in a big group; sometimes I think I’m nothing but a frustrated stand-up comic. I can even speak in public before a large crowd without much distress or even having to picture the audience in their underwear. But more and more lately I find that I really prefer being by myself.

I like canoeing. Matt and I have canoed most of the rivers around here. The one exception was the upper Blackwater River at the very northern edge of the state here in the Panhandle. We don’t own canoes; too much of a logistical problem getting the car to the take-out point, not to mention lugging them everywhere behind the car. And we always take separate canoes. None of this two-man, push-me/pull-you jazz. So we rent. It’s just easier. There’s a canoe livery outfit that provides a 17-mile trip on the upper Blackwater. Matt had Friday free so he took the day off and we went.

Chuck, the lineboy at the airport is the son of Charlie, a pilot for the Alabama State Forestry Service. Chuck had never been canoeing and was eager to come along. Well, why not? He seemed like a good kid…

I’ll cut to the chase: It was the worst canoe trip I’ve ever been on. And it’ll likely be my last, at least in this area. With other people.

I like the wilderness aspect of canoeing, the getting-away-from-it-all. The rivers here mostly flow through state land, and it’s quite beautiful. Peaceful. Serene. None of the rivers are very fast, there are no rapids, and during the week there usually aren’t many other people around. You can relax, take your time, and just enjoy being as far from civilization as can be without going to an island off the coast of a certain unnamed country in Central America.

I canoe slowly, pretty much just going with the flow, taking my time and “communing with nature” as the hippies used to say. I’m not exactly Nature Boy, but growing up in New York City has given me an appreciation for the real outdoors. Up there, we had little enclaves like the Bronx Botanical Garden: fenced-in places set aside where you could go and be among the trees and almost not be able to hear the traffic going by on Fordham Road...almost not be able to hear the ever-present sirens and cacophony…places you could go and pretend you weren't in the middle of New York City. And even when we did go "out in the country," 30 miles north to Harriman State Park, say, it was typically so crowded that it spoiled the entire effect.

Now I live in a pretty sparsely populated area, and I don't have to go far at all to be way out in the wilderness. But this part of Florida, while fairly rural, lies underneath what we pilots call “Special Use Airspace.” The military is a large presence here, and aircraft of all types are always overhead. Always. In the very western part of the Panhandle it’s all Navy trainers – airplanes and helicopters. But the river we were on this past Friday was a little further east, which put us under airspace used by the Air Force.

Being under Military Operating Areas and Restricted Areas, you have to expect a certain amount of aircraft noise. It just goes with the territory. As soon as we got on the river, we could hear the baritone drone of a couple of C-130's circling overhead - at least two different ones that I could tell. Around and ‘round they went, never leaving us alone, neither ever completely out of hearing range. Finally, mercifully they departed but were immediately replaced by the aggravating whine of Navy T-34 and T-6 trainers. Added to them was the annoying staccato clatter of Navy Bell TH-57 trainers doing their low-level thing over the forest. Yes, I know that the military guys are wont to call it “the sound of freedom,” but it is still annoying, even to me.

The other problem was that the river was low. Really low. Most of the time, I could barely stick a paddle in the water without it touching bottom. It's very hard to propel a canoe this way. Stumps and deadfalls were numerous. When the canoe wasn’t hung up on a submerged tree, it was dragging in the sandy curves. Most of the time there was one single, narrow line that you had to navigate through. It was not seventeen miles of peaceful, serene canoeing, it was seventeen miles of hard work.

I realize that the canoe liveries have to make a living. But we really would have appreciated them telling us that the river was very low and that the shorter, nine-mile trip would probably be more acceptable. It’s not as if they didn’t know.

Finally, there were the cellphones. Ah yes, my favorite subject.

On a trip like this, cellphones are simply inappropriate. However, both Matt and Chuck’s phones rang incessantly. Some of Matt’s calls were work-related, and since he was playing hooky I really couldn’t begrudge him those. But his fiancĂ©e had to “check-in” numerous times too.

And teenage Chuck…I should’ve known better. The guy lives on his cellphone at work. You can be having a conversation with him, and he’ll interrupt it to take a call from some friend. Classy. On this trip, instead of putting his phone/watch, etc. in the “dry bag” that we had, Chuck kept his phone in a clear Zip-Lock bag on his lap. His girlfriend called him every fifteen or twenty minutes or so. I razzed him about it so much that if we were close together when it rang he’d pretend to not care (but always did look at who was calling). If he was around a river bend or even a little distance away from me he always answered it.

I know I sound like a broken record about this, but really. We’ve become a society which just cannot live without being able to be gotten ahold of…one that cannot bear the thought of someone being unable to get in touch with us, even for half a day. It seems that we cannot help ourselves. If someone is trying to talk to us, well by God, we must talk to them. It could be important! I just don't get it, and maybe never will. I think it’s pretty neurotic, but that’s just me.

My phone didn’t ring, of course. But you knew that. So confident was I that it wouldn’t that I neglected to even shut it off. It did beep a couple of times as it went in and out of service areas. I didn’t hear it, as the dry bag was in Matt’s canoe. One time it beeped, and he thought it rang and notified me. "Oh well," I shrugged. What if it’s your boss? "Then he can just leave me a message," I said. We were nine miles and a good three hours from the take-out point. There was nothing I could do anyway.

So between the constant airplane noise, the low water and the cellphones, the day-trip sucked. I’m pretty much done with canoeing. I canoe to “get away from it all,” to leave the internet and all the trappings of the civilized world behind, if only for a few measly hours. The next time I go it’ll be by myself, on a decent river far from any military bases. And just in case the airplane noise gets too intrusive anyway (airplanes - the damn things are everywhere!), I'll keep my iPod with me, programmed with some nice, spacey, calming new-age music appropriate to the situation. My cellphone? It'll be with me, for sure. But it’ll be shut off and tucked in a dry bag until I need it.

I guess I’m becoming one of those intolerant, cranky old people who want everything their own way – the kind of people I used to make fun of and ridicule. Heh- maybe I am becoming a loner. I’ll take the psychotic implication – if it means I can just have some goddam peace and quiet. I mean, is that too much to ask?

16 July 2008

Hearing Things (Revised)

Her name was Mrs. Washington. She was a beautiful, tall, statuesque black woman, and she was our ninth grade music teacher at Junior High School 143 in the Bronx, New York. She seemed way old to us, but in retrospect she must have only been in her mid-20s, maybe 30, tops. And she loved music, that much was clear. But I didn’t care, because I was a self-absorbed fourteen year-old among a classroom full of self-absorbed fourteen year-olds. I’ll say this, being a junior high/middle school teacher has got to be tough. You’ve got to be dedicated.

But Mrs. Washington was not deterred. Oh, how she tried to teach us. We did not listen. I don’t remember much about the class, just one thing. She said that really good music was that in which every time you listened to it you could hear something new. Hey, teachers say a lot of things to students. Most of it goes in one ear and out the other. But that phrase…her description stuck with me even if I didn’t think it was absolutely true.

And so it was that I was headed home from the airport recently, tired from a long day of flying (it is what I call “work”), and so preoccupied with other things that I was hardly listening to my iPod. I haven’t got quite 250 songs on it yet but we’re getting there (231 at last count). I leave it on “shuffle” and just let ‘er rip. There are very few songs I skip over, hand-picked as they were.

Ringo Starr’s “Photograph” began. Co-written by George Harrison, it’s one of my all-time favorite recordings, and I have rhapsodized about ad nauseum before. I’ve sung along with it countless times, holding my cellphone up to my ear and pretending to talk on it so other drivers will not think I’m crazy. (”Lookit that, Martha! That man is yelling into his cellphone…he must be crazy!”)

Bit of trivia: George used a little, descending-chord riff in “Photograph” that he later repeated in his song, ”Cheer Down" which was used over the closing credits of the Mel Gibson movie, Lethal Weapon II

But as much as I love “Photograph,” even this time I wasn’t paying attention, my mind a million miles away. The chorus played a second time:

”I can’t get used to living here
While my heart is broke...”

One small part of my brain focused subconsciously on the voices singing harmony. It does that sometimes. So clearly recognizable, it jumped out at me - George Harrison’s voice! Suddenly I was jolted out of my reverie. Not only had George helped Ringo write it, he sang on it as well. I did not know that. Alert now, I stopped the song and hit “replay.” As it began again, there’s this jangly acoustic guitar part that is also very clearly George playing. So he helped Ringo write it and sang on it and played on it too.

I wanted to slap my forehead with a Homer Simpson-like, “D’OH!” Why had I not heard this before? I’ve listened to this song countless times…I mean, literally, and I had never recognized George’s guitar playing nor his background singing. It just never registered. D’OH!

I’m stupid sometimes.

And with that revelation…not that I’m stupid, that’s no revelation…but the revelation of hearing something in a piece of music that I’d never heard before, I immediately thought back to Mrs. Washington’s music class and her telling us that bit about really good music. She was right after all!

Since graduating junior high I’ve tried to use that as a yardstick to determine whether I liked a piece of music or not. But to be honest, I thought it didn’t always apply. Sometimes, I thought, a song was just a song, the same song that I’ve heard a thousand times or more. The reality is that sometimes I just stop listening.

It was doubly odd then that I’d hear something “new” in a song that I wasn’t really even listening to.

And so it was in that spirit that I clicked forward until I found Kanye West’s “Stronger.” It’s one of the few songs I do skip over. I gave it another objective listen, hoping to hear something new. Nope, same crappy piece of waste-of-my-valuable-time crap song I thought it was the first time I heard it. Only its raging popularity caused me to download it (hey, we all make mistakes). Got home and, well, let’s just say we’re down to 230 songs on the old iPod now.

Sorry Mrs. Washington, it had to be done.

12 July 2008

One Of Those Good News/Bad News Deals

Okay, so I’m officially depressed.

I went to get my haircut yesterday. After I sat down in the chair, the woman stylist ran her hand up through the hair on the back of my head. “Ooh, you have such nice, thick hair!” she said. Which I do…in the back and on the sides. Not so much on top, I am unhappy to report.

This particular stylist was named Brynda…yes, with a “y.” A nice enough middle-aged woman, she said she’d been cutting hair for 25 years and although the money wasn’t all that great she enjoyed making people look and feel better about themselves. I’m not really one for idle barbershop chit-chat, so I was, like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s nice. Just don’t touch the sideburns, okay? Otherwise I’ll look and feel really badly about myself.” For some reason barbers and “stylists” always want to cut sideburns off above the top of the ear. It’s strange; they *all* want to do it.

So anyway, we get done – it doesn’t take long anymore – and I go up to pay.

”That’ll be nine dollars,” she says.

I look at the sign right above her head. “Adult Haircut - $11.00”

“Is that right? Nine dollars?” I ask, like a moron.

”Well, we have a...special rate...for customers...with…” She pauses here, looking at me with an expression that told me she was searching for the right words. ”…Umm, less hair.”


I see. I get a two dollar discount now because they have to do less work.

“Sweetie, is that your way of making me feel better about myself?” I asked, feigning umbrage. “You got it all wrong,” I said. “Instead of insulting those of us with thinning hair, what you should be doing is charging two bucks extra for guys with really thick hair - even if they’re totally bald on top. What guy on the planet would complain? I’d happily pay you more if you told me it was because my hair was so thick and long on the sides and back” (which it had been).

Brynda looked a little sheepish. ”Hey, I thought I was doing you a favor!” she countered.

From the back of the shop one of the other stylists laughingly called out, ”Charge him more, Brynda! Take his money!”

I laughed. Brynda with a “y” laughed too, finally realizing that I wasn’t being serious. (Well, not entirely.)

Bottom line: I took the discount. I grumbled and didn’t like it much, but I took it.

Now I ask you, does this head deserve the "Bald Is Beautiful" discount? I think not! Okay, maybe...

03 July 2008

The Bible: My Journey

Back in 1981 my parents gave Bibles as Christmas presents to all six of us kids. I was 26 at the time - I think I would have preferred the usual underwear and socks. It sat for years, pretty much unread. I still have it. (Friends will not say this odd; they know that I never throw anything away.)

As an adult I was all set to dismiss the Bible as a complete work of fiction…bizarre fiction at that. I mean, some of the chapters of the Old Testament just don’t make any sense, nor are they applicable in any way to life in the 21st Century. For instance, remember David of “David and Goliath” fame? Take a look at 1Samuel 18:22-27, the very disturbing tale of King Saul, David and the 100 (or 200) Philistines. I challenge you to read that story without going, “That is some pretty sick shit.” Because, let’s be honest, it is. The word “foreskin” meant the same thing then as it does now. But not only is it the product of a twisted mind, it simply did not happen. The hard part is getting to the point where you can admit that. At least, it was for me.

Before I summarily tossed my Bible into the trash, I decided to read more of it. I began in the beginning, which is always a good place. The Catholic Bible (New American Standard version) has pages and pages of instructions in the front. First there is the “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.” Then there is a chapter called very simply, “How to Read Your Bible.” These were written by the bishops of the Vatican Council II under the Pope. What they say is very illuminating.

For one thing, the bishops tell us very clearly that the Old Testament contains things that are “incomplete and temporary.” They tell us that there are numerous different literary styles in the writings: Everything from poems to history to historical novels, beast fables, allegories, parables and fiction of a type called midrash (coyly described as “the edifying interpretation of events”). To fully understand the Bible, one must know what kind of story you’re reading; that way you can keep it in the proper context. Are you reading actual history or merely a historical novel? A poem or a parable?

Catholics are cautioned to not take the Bible too literally – that it is not scientific fact, nor does it purport to be. Two people (Adam and Eve) did not sire every subsequent man, woman and child that makes up the entire population of earth. Instead, the bishops call Genesis is a “beautiful poem on creation.” They repeatedly tell us that the Bible is not the direct Word of God, but rather the inspired (guided) word. Inspired, as an artist creates a painting from his inspiration. We are told to not think of the Bible as something dictated by God as a businessman would dictate a letter to his secretary. We are told to take the meaning and the point of the stories, not the words themselves.

As for the New Testament, the Catholic Church admits that the writers of the Gospels may not have actually known Christ! Here’s exactly what it says: ”What did the authors of the Gospels do? In the congregations, mainly in the cities around the Mediterranean, they found scores of narratives about Jesus, the beloved Founder of the Christian faith. The writers took those narratives and frequently even remolded and refashioned them to bring out the lesson they wanted to teach.” The Church also admits that it is hard to know whether the quotes attributed to Christ are exactly as he said them.

If I were still a teenager hearing all this news after only hearing the Scriptures quoted over and over with such absolute conviction, my reaction would be something along the lines of, “Gosh!” (As a pilot, the phrase I would use is “WTF, over.”)

Finally, we are told that in reading the Bible we must strike a balance between those who take it too literally and those who interpret it too loosely. This is where the Church comes in, providing the guidance necessary for a better understanding of this hodgepodge collection of books (which aren’t even in any kind of systematic order).

I’m fine with that. The Bible was not written in 2008 English. It wasn’t even written in the same consistent language. I could not pick up any such translated book written so long ago by any author (Shakespeare comes to mind) much less a whole array of different authors and expect to understand it without some guidance of people who know more than I.

Reading the preface and introduction to my Bible was revelatory. Instead of chucking the book, I decided to keep it. Because I realized that the Bible is about me and what it means to me and how it applies to my life. It’s a first-person kind of thing.

At its core, our faith is intensely personal. I cannot tell you what to believe, or vice-versa. I just hope you believe in something. As Christians we should not be judging others but be witnessing about our own personal experiences with our faith – what God and the Bible mean to us...to me, individually. And I can do that!

Where religions fail, I think, is that they force you to believe in and adhere to a specific set of rules. “THIS is what we believe…what we ALL believe. And you better believe it too if you want to remain a member of our congregation and stay out of eternal damnation in hell!”

Well, okay. But maybe not.

It is strange, in a way, that in challenging the authenticity and veracity of the Bible, I have become more attached to it and at the same time more reconnected with the Catholic Church. While I have had many adult opportunities to join other churches, I’ve always resisted for reasons I could not explain, even to myself. But now I understand. And I like how the living, changing Catholic Church uses the Bible more as a guidebook instead of a hammer or club.

I believe now that if you read the Bible, you must ultimately draw your own conclusions from it. I cannot tell you what the stories mean to you. By the same token, you can’t tell me what this or that Scripture means. No one can. It might not mean anything in today’s world, as hard as that may be for you to accept. Nor can you force me to live by your interpretation. And as for judging me and my relative “Christian-ness,” or “heavenworthiness,” well, I’ll let Someone Else be the final authority in that regard.