Tag Archive: Faith and Doubt


Upon waking, I marvel at how my back feels, how natural the rhythm of the first few hours are, and how naively I think I could do it forever. Such feelings last an hour, maybe two. After that, I quickly relearn the cumulative effects from an early February tumor removal and Parkinson’s diagnosis. 

In the cool of the pre-sunrise morning, when I’ve had a good night’s sleep, all seems well. As the day wears on, weariness smolders the day, and that beautiful early morning feeling evaporates. Life becomes weightier, and every step begins to take its toll. My neck and back hurt, I fiddle with chairs aiming for a stable fit, and comfortable position. Yet no matter how much I tinker, I remain uncomfortable for the day.

Most cancer follow-up appointments remain canceled. As the W.H.O. noted, many patients with cancer are struggling to receive treatment due to hospitals canceling or delaying surgeries and other procedures. This includes those patients who are otherwise healthy and have curable diseases that require the timely implementation of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Contracting COVID while undergoing treatment is too high a risk as opposed to cancer slowly eating away your life, one day at a time.

I have the utmost respect for my medical team. When I’ve texted (usually about medication), they’ve responded and provided care. However, it seems strange to be standing in the cancer wing of the hospital, updating their applications, with full knowledge that I cannot gain access to very services that can verify my prognosis. No matter how much I understand Coronavirus’s impact, I feel caught in a Rod Sterling “Twilight Zone” episode.

Walking the hallways, working from home, or looking out to the lakefront, I notice how the world has stopped. Driving through the subdivisions, I note, “… even in this place where time stands still; it seems like everything is moving. Including me (Heinrich Harrer).”

The ‘new normal’ is strange: things once marking the days—commuting to work, meetings, projects, and having a drink with coworkers, vanished. Time appears flat, seamless, without structure.

Before COVID, I needed to believe each day would get better. I needed to feel my doctors knew my tumor would abate, and that if I gave everything to treatment, I would be delivered more life opportunities, something I fully don’t deserve. Such needs are gone. I am too comfortable with the sharp edges of my reality. I accept my tumor, my back, and Parkinson’s will have its inevitable conclusion. 

On these days, when it all stands still, I no longer feel the need for bravado. I give up my self-delusion. I hesitantly embrace the knowledge that no matter how many stairs I climb or ellipses I travel, no matter how hard I push my heart or how much weight I lift, neither heart nor head will be healthy enough to pump meaning into COVID.

And in these ‘still’ moments, I reclaimed missed opportunities. I love strangers with an intensity I never knew. On this day in mid-May, as the night begins, I walk and find silent streets: no restaurant lines, no children riding bicycles, no couples strolling in the park. It had taken the combined will of thousands to love one another so much that time stopped. Millions ultimately accepted the immense challenge and silenced life, their life. 

I feel so grateful for the sacrifice. And for this moment, I am so profoundly proud of everyone that nothing more critical exists for me … neither cancer nor a lousy back.

My AAA Map

After posting the ‘AAA’ blog, a reader privately asked if I had a map, “Did I, in fact, ever get my own map?”

Before Google Maps, almost everyone went to AAA. However, my first response came out of nowhere and quoted Ralph Emmerson Walden, “Nah. It’s the journey, not the destination.” Pausing for several minutes, I decided this required a more authentic response. So, I deleted my quick ‘on the fly’ response and tried again.

Looking over the lakefront below, I realize just how overused Walden’s quote is. During my first colonoscopy, my father said, “Remember, it’s about the journey.” The same quote was uttered before February’s tumor surgery. And almost every spiritual guru I read (Chopra, Dyer, Ziglar, and others) used a similar version, somewhere, sometime. In the world of instant selfies and ghoulish cartoon meme’s, overuse has weakened its meaning, and truth has faded from intent.

I knew nothing of the journey upon which I set out. It’s a pilgrimage, not a trail.

My first spiritual teacher claimed my path as “… the intentional act chosen to the unwilled rhythms of the body to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being, and doing.” Elated by the teacher’s description, I told a friend. It turns out my teacher repeated the same to him.

Years later, I learned my map was unique only to me and remains harmonious to the rhythms of my body, and beating of my heart. It’s balanced. It’s a psychiatric highway of redemption, filled with ups and downs, cold and heat, tears and anger, peace, and tranquility. It changes daily. One day is unfamiliar; another, I intuitively know where I’m going.

Similar to the flowers of a garden, the smell of jasmine breathes during Spring. Summer is surrounded by endless wheat fields, and gnarled oak trees. In the Fall, men prepare the harvest. Winter’s frost nips at my lips, and hot coca fills my stomach. Life is an endless path.

Knowing that conquering challenges leads to transformation, I kept moving through the good and bad. There were times of homesickness, days of sadness, feeling lost, and moments of exhaustion. But these moments, these tests and trials, all taught something. The sun will rise again. Just keep walking.

Our map (i.e., your path, my path) cannot be borrowed. And, if it is to be real and personal, it has to be something that lasts through trials and stands through doubts, questions, and worries. The map is about finding meaning in the challenges and feeling joyful regardless of the pain. It’s faith.

If you think about it, someone has gone before us. In the movie The Polar Express, the conductor says: “It doesn’t matter where the train (map) is going. What matters is that you choose to get on.” Most already know their map. The choice is about getting on the train.

My map is the AAA’s version of ‘faith.’

Closing Thought

Desperate for help, the people of the village held a meeting under a huge oak tree in the village  square.

Let us pray,” said an elderly woman. “Only God can save us now.

Since the village had citizens of different faiths, town leaders held their prayer in the open, late that night, under the open sky. Suddenly, two young travelers entered town decided to join the prayer and opened umbrellas above them.

“Why did you bring umbrellas? Can’t you see there is no rain? That’s why we have come to pray?”

“Yes,” chimed the travelers. “We are travelers, and the map used by our forefathers brings us through this town. Therefore, we will pray with you.”

“We don’t know your forefathers. Who were they?”

“Our forefathers come from the family ‘Faith.’ And we’re positive our prayer will be answered. That’s why we have umbrellas.”

So … Who had a better map?

Our forefathers knew the path. They’ve been there before, and they’ll get you home.

Mak’n It: Day-by-Day

I was on a conference call yesterday when a friend asked, “How come you’re so damn F•••king calm?”

Fair question. 

Does anyone remember Y2K? You know, the event where the world was going to die. I lived in downtown Los Angeles during the year of Y2K. I had just returned from Santiago, Chile two days prior, and pushing aside constant fatigue, a neighbor walked up to a closed pool, pulled out some lawn chairs, sat and awaited impending doom. 

My neighbor asked the same question. 

“I emptied my bank account, stored up months of provisions, ensured my car had a tankful of gas, and you come up here with what? $18 bucks and a six-pack (beer)? 

“Yup,” I smiled.

“How do you do it?”

“Do what?” I countered.

“Stay so f•••ing calm?”

Part of it is training. Being in the military, at least my specific position, meant training to keep emotions in check. Should panic set in, people tend not to make the best decisions. The other part is an innate understanding of life. 

One doesn’t have to be Buddhist to know that ignoring severe problems or thoughts doesn’t make them go away. More so, it is that no matter how alone I may have felt, I always felt part of something bigger and that I was at my best when taking care of others. 

Religious faith, can at times, be idiotic. Vivian Yee (NY Times) reported that a prominent Myanmar Buddhist monk announced that a dose of one lime and three palm seeds — no more, no less — would confer immunity. In Iran, a few pilgrims were filmed licking Shiite Muslim shrines to ward off infection. And in Texas, the preacher Kenneth Copeland braided televangelism with telemedicine, broadcasting himself, one trembling hand outstretched, as he claimed he could cure believers through their screens.

In times of hardship, people think either, ‘How can God do this to us?’ or pray for protection and guidance. In the name of faith, people unknowingly spread the Coronavirus.

“I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus. You can quote me on that,” said Bishop Gerald O. Glenn.

In the western film El Dorado, the character Nelse McLeod made a prophetic statement. “Faith can move mountains, Milt. But it can’t beat a faster draw.” Yeah, God is bigger than Coronavirus. Unfortunately, we are not. Glenn learned the hard way — death by Coronavirus. Glenn’s daughter, Mar-Gerie Crawley, said in a Facebook post days later that she, her husband, her sister, and her mother, Marcietia Glenn, “are all currently fighting this virus.” Faith is great. It’s powerful. Yet, Glenn’s experience proves it unwise to get into a gunfight. 

Coronavirus is similar. One can claim a mountain of faith. But if you don’t maintain social distancing, wash my hands, avoid touching my eyes, nose, and mouth, and wear a mask, you’re most likely on a path to visit God – in person.

I close with the following story.

One day, the prophet Mohammed saw a man leaving his camel without tethering it.

Mohammed questioned him as to why. The Bedouin replied that he was placing his trust in Allah and had no need to tie the camel. The prophet Mohammed then replied: 

Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.”

So, why am I so calm? Faith. But, I tie my camel. 

Good Friday 2020

I happened to see Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s memorial to Charlotte Figi, a child with a catastrophic type of epilepsy who went on to inspire a CBD movement. Ms. Figi passed from complications to Coronavirus-like symptoms.

I commented to myself about the irony of why we find the unexceptional exceptional only after passing. Why is it we never see those qualities when they are alive.  

Shelly is not unlike Figi. I didn’t know her well. I don’t recall ever personally meeting her. If I did, she was too unexceptional for me to note as exceptional. I certainly don’t remember what she looked like, the color of her hair, what she wore, eyes, or the way she carried a laptop or cup of coffee. I don’t know about her life story. Neither did I understand the challenges she overcame, the obstacles tossed her way, accomplishments, nor tears. 

Shelly worked in our west coast office. We interact several times each week, separated by the Central to Pacific coast time zone. Occasionally, Shelly would call during the early evening to gather advice or discuss strategies in handling a difficult manager.

I learned Shelly was a Star Trek fan, including Kirk, Spock, The Next Generation, and others. Spock would be proud; she lived the mantra, “The needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few.” Like crewmembers on the U.S.S. Enterprise, she willingly gave up many parts of her life for others. 

Shelly fought for what was right. She wasn’t afraid to poke holes in the politics and beliefs of our times. There was no perfect life, where all the world would walk in peace. Even I, the great Unknown Buddhist (my sarcasm), was challenged to look at my own culture and ask what was right. And maybe in real life, Picard, Charlotte Figi, and Shelly pushed others to eliminate personal hunger, excessive want, and need. More importantly, all of us were pushed to grow out of intellectual infancy.

And like so many others, just like Figi, Shelly was attacked by Coronavirus symptoms during the early hours of this morning, Good Friday. She’s in intensive care, barely alive.

If there’s a lesson, Dr. Gupta laid bare that our world dialogue has become disorienting. Should there be a second lesson, it would be that our life can only succeed by the quality of our bonds, not by the height of our walls. We must find a bridge between otherwise irreconcilable cultures. Maybe that bridge is love.

Good Friday is about love and transformation. In remembering Ms. Figi and Shelly, I must recognize that their lives do not end this week. Instead, it begins anew. Love triumphs death. And like so many others, love continually transforms me as well. 

Ms. Figi and Shelly are exceptional. I regret not making either ‘exceptional’ during my living years. I should have; we should have. In their way, each gave me a tremendous amount of unconditional love. How do I know? I call it faith. We may not understand it, yet it exists nonetheless.

It’s the same faith Christ calls us to live. It’s what Good Friday’s about.

While the surgery was a breeze, I was surprised by some low-level anxiety. Anyone saying otherwise is more than likely in some form of denial. Mine deepened when surgery was pushed back several hours. Similar to ocean waves before a storm, light bouts of emotions rolled and rolled.

I didn’t experience tomophobia, the fear of surgery. I did not fear my surgeon would mess it up and hit the spinal cord. It was always the same two questions: Should I have proceeded alone and What if something goes wrong? What if? What if?

The good news, I’m not alone. 

I was reasonably jovial in the pre-surgery check-in.

“Any allergies?”

“Yes,” I deadpanned. “Parachutes that don’t open, lightning strikes and bullets.”

“Are you sure what to attempt this using only local anesthetic.”

“Yes.”

The MRI indicated the tumor was about the size of a walnut and led the surgeon and I discussing (during surgery) why food is ‘the comparable.’

“Oh,” she hypothesized. “Mr. Patient, the tumor was the size of a radish … an orange … a baby carrot.”

I know why. Patients can relate. Patients can digest the size of an orange but cannot understand 9 cm by 6 cm by 19.5 cm. I envision her saying to a friend, “I ate a 9 cm by 6 cm by 19.5 cm tumor for lunch.

The surgery revealed my tumor was not the size of a walnut; it was more significant. Mine also had several roots or offshoots not detected by the Lipoma. That explains why my symptoms were degrading, but the scans didn’t reveal it. These roots were hidden. Unfortunately, the tumor inside the spinal cord remains. Just have to wait and see if this surgery will lessen spinal pressure. (It’s a bid to buy time. I’ll take what I can get.)

Twenty-four hours later, I feel pretty good. I met the surgeon this afternoon.

“You have eighteen stitches. Since we left a gaping hole, had we had to sew it shut. Otherwise, it would go a cavity of blood or potential infection. The surgery entry point will close in a couple of weeks. The stitches on the inside won’t dissolve for months, and the healing time will be about seven months. You’re likely to experience side effects. A hand may not work as well before surgery. You may experience headaches. Some of these will diminish. The tumor will be biopsied, and that should help us confirm the initial diagnosis and future treatment of what’s left.

“You know that cane you came in with?”

I nodded.

“Take it everywhere you go. Go to work? Cane. Go to a movie? Cane. Use the bathroom? Cane. Got it?”

I nodded.

So…that’s it for now. Back to monitoring. Here’s to another day.

Lastly, I wish to thank ‘Cosmic Traveller7’ for her thoughts and best wishes – meant a lot.

As I write this, I have not seen the final Star Wars film: The Rise of Skywalker. Yesterday I saw its latest theatrical trailer. After viewing its sequence, I placed my pen on the nightstand, took off my eyeglasses, and rubbed my forehead. 

I winched.

I watched these characters from late high school through near retirement. Each trilogy was, in effect, a story. The prequels were of Anakin Skywalker. The original trilogy seen in late high school was of Luke, Leia, and Hans Solo. And the remaining sequel is of Rey. 

I winched not because the movies were terrible. There weren’t. My anguish came from the bowl of my soul. It came from the fact that in forty-years of watching, what good has “The Force” produced? 

Yeah. Yeah. I get it. The movie is of good over evil — lightsabers, and light versus darkness.

I told a friend of my thought during lunch. 

Without hesitation, she stated, “Indirectly, perhaps you’re asking what does the belief in God produce?”

Perhaps,” I replied.

Maybe I’ve come to these conclusions after having only two, three, years of life. If the characters had been real, what did belief in “The Force” produce? Did the technology provide any benefit to life? Many people died. People on various planets suffered interminably, and several planets were destroyed, meaning millions, if not hundreds of millions, died. By all accounts, there is no Shangri-la, no affordable healthcare, technology is used to versus cure and idiot leaders. 

At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the villain Thanos acquired the infinity stones that let him snap his fingers and turn half the population (universe) to dust. In doing so, Thanos believed he achieved his goal, a universe free of suffering. If any one of us held such power, why is it that the first creative thing we must do is kill? 

Hey! The same holds today.

Maybe Huffington Post Contributor Anamika Ojha was right. She once wrote, “The most crucial lesson that Star Wars taught was that there are heroes and villains in each of us.

You’ve seen God,” my friend stated. 

Yes. I have.” 

“I haven’t,” she replied.

And it’s true. I have seen God. I have seen heaven, a darker side courted me, and yet embraced by beauty. And by God, I continue to question today what the hell is going on.

Yet, I believe.

Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” Maybe that’s the lesson. Belief. 

The final shot of Star Wars: The Rise of Sky Walker, projects a gorgeous image of Rey. She’s the new icon of hope. Daisy Ridley becomes our sense of hope. And the voice from elsewhere in the room (or maybe from beyond) echoes some memorable lines from the first film: “The Force will be with you,” says Luke. “Always,” adds Leia.

Yes, Luke. I believe.

pastor-andrew-hamblin-of-tabernacle-church-of-god-in-lafollette-tenn-preaches-while-holding-a-snake-above-headCable television is filled with stupid shows, from The Kardashians, truTV’s World’s Dumbest …, Bill and Giuliani, Housewives of Beverly Hills, Atlanta or whatever city, Bad Girls and a host of others. Accordingly, someone at the National Geographic Channel decided “stupid” was good TV fodder, so they started airing “Snake Salvation,” a reality based television show oozing in “double stupid.”

The promo reads accordingly,In the hills of Appalachia, Pentecostal pastors Jamie Coots and Andrew Hamblin struggle to keep a 100-year-old tradition alive: the practice of handling deadly snakes in church.” Snake Salvation pastors are one homily away from being another Darwin Award winner, a website recognizing individuals contributing to human evolution by self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool via death or sterilization via their own (unnecessarily foolish) actions.

The series follows Pentecostal Pastors Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., and Jamie Coots of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church of Middlesboro, Kentucky. Coots has been a long-time mentor to Hamblin and inspired him to start his own snake-handling congregation. (Note to self: be sure to always get a good mentor.)

From what I understand, these whack jobs believe God commands them to dance around with Diamondback Rattlers and other assorted venomous snakes, following the Biblical teaching of Mark 16:18:

And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

I believe these types of pastors are missing, that in theory, we are not to put the Lord to the test (Exodus 17:2; Matthew 4:7). Yeah. I know, I know. The human race seems to challenge that concept on a daily basis. However … just as Jesus refused to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, so we are to not intentionally put ourselves in situations requiring God’s miraculous intervention. First Corinthians 10:9, while not speaking directly of snake handling in churches, says it best: “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes.”

The Buddha never placed unconditional demands on anyone’s faith. And for anyone from a culture where the dominant religions do place such demands on one’s faith, it’s simply wrong. We read the Buddha’s instructions, which advises testing things for oneself and seeing it as an invitation to believe or not.

One does not have to go looking for a snake in an effort to prove their faith. I don’t believe that’s what God’s about. Live your faith by helping the unemployed get employed, feed the hungry, help the homeless, help a child study for a difficult math test, love your wife and honor your employer and coworkers.

For snake based faiths, pastors and members alike, your actions are deeply rooted in ignorance.

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