Thursday, November 20, 2014

If I Believed in God Part 2: The Death Hour

     I used to think I was unique for having an anxiety disorder... generalized anxiety disorder as my charming grandfather-like psychiatrist specified quite nonchalantly to the sixteen year-old version of myself.  I thought it was slightly glamorous and comforting, an excuse to let my brain off the hook.  The dark weight, though, rolled in and reminded me that it's always been pretty sickening. I stumbled upon my own mortality at age six, while bouncing on a trampoline and cried to my mom that I couldn't believe a day will come when "I don't have any thoughts".  The terror of this weird realization haunted me until last year when I finally mustered up the willpower to go to a "cognitive therapist". With some characteristic rambling to a man I didn't know outside of the confines of that bleak-looking room and a whole lot of work... I conquered this death obsession for now. I am uncomfortably conscious of my reality, that this obsession will likely be replaced with something new, but in this moment, my mind is peaceful.  I'm pretty damn thankful.  Now I'm trying to find some meaning... to find out why God would have implanted this debilitating obsession with life's brevity in my brain for so many years... and the truth is screaming, reeling around in my eardrums.
     If I believed in God... he would want his followers to plant themselves firmly in the here and now... on the dirt of this Earth with the people it sustains.  We are supposed to be here.
     The sacred texts I learned in church regarding the after-life are mythical... airy words, romantic promises of a future we hope for but can't really feel.  Less vague and more tangible?  The calls to action in this life... calls to love one another, to work towards justice, to withhold judgement, to protest on behalf of the poor and the oppressed.
     Our obsession with the insignificance of this temporary life threatens to convince believers that the betterment of life on Earth is futile, insignificant in the light of eternity.  In this strain, where is the drive to feed a starving child?  If what awaits the impoverished is a life in paradise after their quickly impending deaths... then all we must do is convince them to claim Jesus? No... if I believed in God... we feed them and protest the hoarding mentality that sustains poverty.
     I think a lot about the scripture, "Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven".  I want to live and work for justice like this life I have on Earth is the most divine thing I will ever experience, because it feels immensely sacred.  How do we conquer death? We live... because it's really fun.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

If I Believed In God Part 1: Camp Nelson

     My grandfather, Duane Damron, recently turned 80.  At his charming birthday party, I cried as my family and I sang Buck Owens songs with him, loud and giggling in his house perched high on a Bakersfield hilltop. The gifts his life has given me danced along in my mind to to the sweet melody of my singing family. One echoing over and over in my soul... my Papa taught me to love nature.  Not remotely a conscientious environmentalist, my Papa's fondness for the Earth is one of tradition and divine respect.  My Papa and Grandma Frances raised only boys and bought a simple cabin high in the Sequoia National Forest as soon as they could afford it, a wilderness untamed enough to wear out the energy of three hyper little boys. As my divine luck would have it, my cousins and I ventured to this same haven every year of our own childhoods.  We caught salamanders, fell in rivers, buried ourselves in snow, and trekked mud through the carpets of the cabin for years... all the while I fell in quiet love with nature.

     If I believed in God... this God would inspire his followers to recognize his existence in these quiet places and require of them the prioritization of its reverence and conservation. If God didn't intend for humans to marvel at and fight for nature... how can we possibly justify the beauty that exists on this planet? I have to believe the Yosemite Valley and the peaks of Patagonia serve more of a purpose than to remind us that God is talented... they must be a call to action: to seek to make God's "will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven".  If Yosemite is God's will... then damn I'm all for it.

If I believed in God, I would believe that every time a Christian supports the compromise of nature for the idol of financial gain... his heart breaks.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

If I Believed in God... The Preface

For the first time in years, my brother and I live in the same house.  I’m kind of giddy about it.  We’ve spent countless nights over the course of the past few weeks sitting on our parents’ patio late into the night. Illuminated by candles and the moon, we’ve drank one too many glasses of wine, sang songs way too loudly, and reacquainted ourselves with each other as adults. This moment in time feels like a very intentional blessing as I sense his life is about to transition into something big and magical, making these evenings together so sacred. 
Where I’m chatty, Cooper selects his words carefully. While all of my thoughts tend to grow into passionate lengthy run on sentences of which I can’t quite control the speed, Cooper speaks softly and more selectively.  He’s the kind of guy that when he decides to enter into a conversation, people really focus. So when Cooper told me at our most recent patio party that I should reconsider how I approach my spirituality… I cried because I’m sappy and I agreed because I respect him. 
I resigned myself from Christianity a few years ago. I haven’t been to church since, I haven’t read the Bible, and I haven’t prayed in the way I tried pretty desperately to for the first eighteen years of my life.  However, I still sense within myself a love for an admittedly nameless God, mostly manifested in an overwhelming sense of love and responsibility for the universe and for humanity.  My resignation from the Christian faith had less to do with God though, and more to do with people.  
I hate offending people.  I have an intense respect for religion and appreciate how sacred and intense those beliefs are to people to whom I owe everything.  Hence, when I realized my beliefs about God and scripture had potential to seem combative or contrary… I decided to separate myself altogether. I wanted to give people permission to dismiss me.  If I wasn’t a part of their group, people I had potential to offend could stop listening to me. I desperately wanted that freedom because I needed reprieve.  The life of a rumored atheist seemed like a warm and relaxing cave in which to dwell for a while. 
However, my brother has summoned me from my years-long vacation.  There is a chance, I suppose, that the thoughts about God that plagued me as a child were planted in me for a purpose: to spark up a freewheelin’ conversation about the divine with the people I love, to encourage vulnerable discourse around patio tables about faith and fear. Our lives are pretty short so we might as well take that risk… I’ll go first. 

To force myself to stick with it I’ve thought in advance of a few perhaps not politically correct beliefs I hold about God.  I plan on latching onto one per week… a little blog series if you will. I’m pretty apprehensive but… here goes nothin’. Each week I’ll introduce the God I could commit myself to, the potential aspects of a possible Creator that seem the most beautiful to me.  Forgive any guaranteed accidental blasphemy… we’re all just little specks searching for truth to love and I for one can use all the help I can get. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014


As cliche as this may sound, I am the kind of person that regularly asks myself “what are we doing here?” And by that worn out question I imply the obvious… why are humans… here? Is there a reason?  If so where can I, Crosby Damron, find it? This uninvited question has sat quite annoyingly at the base of all of my anxieties since I was around six. I was given an answer when I was young: “We are here to glorify God”… but that didn’t assuage my fears. 
As I matured and sought comfort among seemingly likeminded people, I encountered a new answer.  These people told me that humans are not here for any sacred reason, that we are a biological accident, and that ultimately all intelligent people accept this.  I was shocked to find however, that still… I wasn’t satisfied. I tend to find that when my mind encounters truth, relative as that may be, it feels at rest. I now use this resting sensation as some kind of truth radar: If I feel peace, my mind’s truth must be near. Here, then, is the closest I have come.. the “purpose of life” in which I feel most at home and most honest: we are here to build and experience relationships. Life altering. This purpose, though, is not a passive means to float through life unfettered. The conscious cultivation of relationships is a MASSIVE responsibility. Hence I introduce to the world my new goal: conversation sensitivity
My junior year of high school I was at friday night football game, reveling in nostalgia I wholeheartedly celebrated.  This particular game took place at a wealthy Catholic school on the opposite side of town.  Sitting amongst my classmates and strangers, my life felt remarkably movie-like.. shallow and easy… a fantasy I often longed for. Just in my periphery, though, I noticed erratic movement, a transient women walking frantically in front of the bleachers.  Intensely emaciated and smoking a cigarette, the heavily made up woman mumbled to herself as she made her way erratically in front of the crowd.  Not surprisingly, the people around me began to chat quite uninhibitedly about the spectacle. “What is she doing here?” “Smoking on a high school campus?” The woman’s appearance, her movements, her indecipherable chattering… nothing was off limits from the small talk of strangers. It was then that I looked down at the cheerleaders and caught the eye of my panicked best friend.  This woman was her estranged mother and she was terrified. In this moment I powerfully realized the true weight of our conversations.  Many of the people I heard taking about my friend’s mother were close friends of her daughter, entirely unaware of the heartbreaking connection, and only an earshot away from making an uncomfortable situation devastating. I am entirely aware of how many times I have perhaps been the talker in similarly heavy situations, loving the sound of my own voice more than I actively love the humans around me. 
Our words are so very powerful.  They can and do unavoidably change the lives of those around us as well as ultimately the entire world we live in. I feel it is so important then, that we consciously practice using our words to invite more humanity into our individual lives. 
For me, this starts with trying tirelessly to adopt the belief that.. chances are… the next person I meet’s life probably looks nothing like mine. He or she probably grew up in a different neighborhood, with different family structure, different religious teachings, different political beliefs, different taste in music, different social boundaries, a different human experience. Under this assumption.. it becomes intensely important to avoid killing a potential relationship before it starts with ostracizing phrases. With every utterance of:
“I would never…” 
“I don’t understand people who…” 
“I hate…” 
“I am against…” 
I simply increase the possibility of convincing a potential friend that I am incapable of accepting him or her, informing them passively of what they cannot confess to me. 
The next lesson I am learning in conversation sensitivity is one of diction. In literature, diction implies the specific choice of words by an author to evoke a certain tone. Day to day life can show our word choice informing strangers of our “tone” dangerously accurately. In potentially controversial conversations our word choice is capable of inadvertently informing others that there is no need for discussion. I truly value the opinions of others too highly to allow myself to (however accidentally) dismiss a conversation before it begins. Time with other humans is simply too sacred. Imagine, yourself discussing the ethics of abortion with a very new acquaintance. In your first sentence, an immediate statement of opinion, you use the word “murder”.  It would be alarmingly clear to your acquaintance exactly how you felt about abortion, after the utterance of one word, and the conversation has either escalated to an argument or has ended. A tragic loss of a potential meaningful conversation that could have exposed light on the intricacies of life. Similarly, racial, ethnic, and sexual slurs used casually, jokingly among a group of familiar faces run the risk of hitting someone sharply, isolating a newcomer inevitably. Is it worth it? 

In my day to day life, I am striving to practice conversation sensitivity in ways that are challenging for me. Time in conversation spent laughing, drinking coffee under the stars, crying, and discovering the beauty of being human alongside all kinds of people… convinces me that holding onto each other is worth putting in a bit more effort. 
We owe it to each other.