My Redacted Education

The African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan has been called “the most important historic urban archeological project in the United States.” Yet I had never heard of it. The site was re-discovered in 1991, having been covered over by a landfill and then development for over 200 years. My last year of school was 2000, which means I attended school for 9 years and this never entered the curriculum.

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African Burial Ground National Monument

We continue to literally bury our past rather than teach our children our true history. This isn’t an isolated incident. Here’s another example. And another. I’ve spent the day reading up on this and similar stories and it’s a maddening rabbit-hole of information that has been excluded from our educational system.

Our white privilege allows us to cover this over, forget about it, and move on like it never happened while others suffer the consequences of our buried history. Those in power, that wrote the history books and owned the printing presses, had every motivation to hid as much of this as possible. Their power and fortunes were built on the backs of those they crushed and buried in their back yards. Realizing they were on the wrong side of history, they told a narrative they could be proud of, rather than the truth.

As I’ve mentioned before, I continue to struggle with how to engage with my privilege without perpetuating it. Whether I like it or not, I have benefited from this hidden part of our history. However, I know that the first step is to get over my shame and set aside my worthless white guilt. Then we have to keep our eyes open so we can catch glimpses of things in our blind spots, like this one. We have to educate ourselves and our children and learn to listen to those still affected.

Only then, from a place of knowledge and understanding, can we go about rebuilding our country in a way that acknowledges our past and rejects the systemic racism that was born when we labeled some as “other”, used them for our own gain, and then tossed them out with our garbage.

Then we can “Make America Great”.  Not “again”, but maybe for the first time.

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Sexual Harassment

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I was sexually harassed. Just the other day. I know, I know, our bullshit societal gender roles dictate that I should to be telling this story to my buddies over a couple of beers while we high-five and back-slap. But it wasn’t cool. I felt completely disrespected by this person that I know and have always treated with kindness and professionalism. It was a normal day, business as usual, and then there it was, out of the blue with no warning. I actually did a cartoonish double-take/head-shake thing out of sheer dumbfoundedness. (I’m literally making up words here trying to describe how I felt in that moment.) The details aren’t important. Suffice to say, it went from your cookie-cutter Wednesday morning to NSFW in the blink of an eye. Hours later, I was still in shock. I was honestly a bit traumatized. I got home, the shock wore off and then I got mad. I started venting to Robin and she listened and empathized. She got mad with me and validated the way I was feeling. We talked about what I could do and sorted out the best game plan. Then like some elaborate Rube Goldberg machine I suddenly realized several things in very quick succession:

I’m 38 years old and this is the first time this has happened to me.

I have a voice…I can almost guarantee that people will listen and believe every detail that I share with them.

I am bigger than this person and never felt physically unsafe.

No one will wonder for a second what I was wearing, or made me feel that it was my fault in even the smallest way.

And for those and many other reasons, what just happened to me is just a tiny fraction of what it must feel like when this happens to a woman.

I’ve always thought that I was sensitive to the sexism and sexual harassment that the women in my life face on a daily basis. But this opened my eyes on a whole new level. We all need to experience that unique cocktail of emotions that comes when the veil is lifted and we see an new element of our own privilege for the first time. I hope that I never get so calloused by life that I let moments like this pass me by without grasping them. As I’ve shared before, Pema Chodron talks about how we can allow the things that happen in our lives to harden us or soften us. It’s a choice we make every day. We can let hate and fear shut us down and close us off to those around us. Or we can keep our hearts open and soft and push forward in life motivated out of love rather than fear.

So, to the women in my life…I love you and you are so much stronger than I can even begin to understand. That you deal with this constantly and remain openhearted is utterly amazing to me.  I hope and pray that I can also stay openhearted and can be an advocate for you all. To all the men reading this…let’s do better.

Lastly, I need to acknowledge that even the very act of writing a blog post about this, that this event was newsworthy enough in the course of my life to make the cut, is a reflection of the privilege I hold as a man.  I still struggle with how to engage with my privilege in a way that doesn’t perpetuate it.

Good scars make for good stories…

I still remember laying on the back seat of the minivan next to my best friend in the world, my cousin Jacob. It was 5 in the morning, we were 10 or 11 and we were tagging along in the hopes of being able to stop at the store on our way back. Our mothers had said there might be time after our grandmother’s appointment. It was super early for us but we were in desperate need of some reinforcements for our days long miniature battle strewn across the basement floor. My grandmother was in the midst of a battle of her own. Her kidneys, ravaged by undiagnosed high blood pressure, had completely failed and this was the beginning of years of three times a week trips to the dialysis clinic. We watched our spitfire of a Granny’s life become engulfed by this battle, some days good, some bad, none the same as before. After over 10 years of this, thanks to a tiny box checked on a kind stranger’s drivers license, my Granny’s name finally came up on a list far longer than it ever should be. And for the final years of her life, we had her back.

For most of my life, I’ve been waiting for my moment to wade headfirst into this battle against kidney disease. Just last year, a Facebook friend liked a page called, “A Kidney for Jonathan Daniels”. I looked it up, saw I was a blood-type match, and sent a message asking how I would go about getting tested for compatibility.

Just over a year later, after innumerable sticks with a needle, giving countless vials of blood, and 2 trips to Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami, here’s the final result…

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Pretty awesome, eh? Almost fully healed after only 4 weeks (at the time of this picture).  I have kept this mostly to myself and my family until now because I have no desire to wear this around like a merit badge and proudly show it off like my dog does when she trots over to me with her latest find. But it’s time to share my story for a number of reasons. Most people can’t understand why I would give my kidney to a stranger, but this is an illness that is close to my heart. I also strongly believe that everyone should do what they are capable of. Some can give their time, some their money, some their mentorship, and for a small number of us who are healthy enough, we can give a part of ourselves. I gave a kidney I didn’t need and gained a life-long friend. It cost me a couple weeks of my life and some minor discomfort and the Daniels’ get their father and husband back. Jonathan doesn’t have to sleep connected to a machine for 9 hours every night. He can soon travel back to the UK to visit his mother. His wife, Barbara, won’t have to keep track of a list of over 15 medications. What I gave up is so small in the scheme of things and the experience has been more amazing then I ever could have imagined. Jonathan and I both want to get the word out about this life-saving/live-giving procedure. Too many people have misconceptions about living organ donation, too many people sit on waiting lists for far too long, and if we can help just one more person get matched with a donor, any amount of effort on our part is well worth it.

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So, in that vein, here are the Top Ten Little-Known Facts about Living Kidney Donation:

  1. After surgery, your remaining kidney enlarges and you return to 75% of the kidney function you had before.
  2. You only need roughly 35% of your current kidney function to lead a perfectly healthy life
  3. Your diet and daily life after the surgery doesn’t need to change at all (though maintaining your current weight and avoiding ibuprofen are important)
  4. The life expectancy of donors is longer then that of non-donors.
  5. The success rate for donors at Jackson Memorial is 100%. It’s about as dangerous as getting a tooth pulled.
  6. The recipient can almost immediately return to daily life without the massive restrictions of dialysis.
  7. A kidney received from a living donor is capable of lasting the rest of the recipient’s life, whereas a non-living donor kidney is likely to last only 6 years.
  8. If I were to have a freak accident and lose my remaining kidney, I would automatically jump to the top of the waiting list for a new kidney (though I haven’t seen any cases of this being necessary).
  9. Most travel and all medical expenses are covered for the donor.
  10. If just a small percentage of the eligible candidates were willing to donate, we could virtually wipe out the current waiting lists.

We don’t know what our next steps are, but this is just the beginning of our journey in the hopes of connecting as many living donors and recipients as we can. For now, if you have any questions, need someone to talk to who knows what you are going through, or would like to inquire about being a living donor, please contact us right away. We’ll keep you posted as we formalize the plans for our efforts in the future, but for now all we want is to do is get the word out in the hopes of helping others experience the same amazing journey we’ve been able to be a part of.  Stay tuned for Jonathan’s side of the story.

Last but not least, I have to take a moment to thank my love, Robin. She slept next to me in the hospital, kept my booty from hanging out of my gown, yelled at the staff to make sure I was properly medicated and fed, gave me a voice when I was too tired to use my own, and basically is and always will be more then I could ever ask for in a partner-in-crime during this wonderful adventure we call life. You show me every day what “To Blave” is. I love you!

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Finding Pema


8_pemaNot long ago, I discovered the writings of this amazing woman. Pema Chödrön is a Buddhist nun who has written books, lectured around the world, and shown many the beautiful teachings of Tibetan Buddhism.

I was reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown which was recommended to me a friend. While that was a terrific read which I highly recommend, its was Brené’s recommendation of Pema writings that I will be forever grateful for.

If, like me, you have never done any reading on Buddhist philosophy, I can’t overstate what you are missing out on. Even if you are a firm believer in what you would consider an opposing or simply different belief system, you will find their teachings, especially with Pema’s amazing gift for articulating them, to be challenging and life affirming. You may even find that it will enable you to appreciate your currently held beliefs in a new and fresh way as a result of the unique light they shine upon universal truths.

I’m currently reading Pema’s book The Places that Scare You.  While it’s a short book, I’m taking my time reading it a few pages at a time because its so good. Each page is packed with depth and wisdom. Like a fine wine, you have to allow it time to roll over your palate to catch all the subtle flavors and beautiful notes. To read it quickly would be a disservice.

Her presentation of the principle of bodhichitta is one that deeply moved me.  Bodhichitta is that soft spot that we all have.  That vulnerable, open, compassionate place that we all too often build up protective walls around to save ourselves from being hurt. A bodhisattva is one who choosed to be a compassionate warrior for bodhichitta.  One who choses to allow the difficult experiences in life to soften rather then harden them.  They fight to tap into the bodhichitta in themselves and all those around them.  The introduction of this principle into my life could not have been timed more perfectly and it has changed the way I do life on a daily basis.

Its my hope that we can all learn to see the beauty and truth in the wise  teaching of all those that have dedicated their lives to the service and mentoring of others, indiscriminate of the religious label under which Barnes and Noble choses to shelve their writings.

If you are interested in reading Pema, her books are published and available for purchase at Shambhala Publications.

Coming out of the (Agnostic) Closet

When I started this blog, I was concerned about what the reaction would be.  Obviously this is a subject that people have a lot of emotional ties to and I had no desire to be inflammatory or divisive. That said, I had come to the point where my need to live authentically far outweighed my need to avoid conflict or my fear of others’ disapproval, so there wasn’t much of a debate to be had.  It was time for me to come out of the closet.

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I think any time someone comes out of the closet, regardless of the closet, they are risking losing some relationships.  This is never the intention, but its always a possibility.  I know that some might find this to be an impossible hurdle to overcome and that saddens me.  But if the result of me being honest about who I am is that you reject me, then what have I lost?  And those that stand by me are my true friends because they know and love who I really am, not what they want me to be.

I know that there are those of you that are still searching for a way to respond because you wholeheartedly disagree with me. This might take a while for you to sort out, but I’m okay with that.  In the end, it isn’t a requirement that you agree with me.  I just hope that you don’t equate accepting me as a person with endorsing all of what I believe.  We can respectfully disagree and it doesn’t have to restrict our relationship.  Sure things might look a little different then they used to, depending on the context of our relationship, but authenticity is the life blood of all healthy relationships.

Overall the response has been amazing.  I really appreciate all of you that have commented, emailed, called, or found other ways to engage with me.  The feedback and conversations have been so great, much more so then I had hoped for.  I’m excited to continue the conversation.  Either way, there’s certainly no stuffing me back in the closet now.

***Update: In my final edit of this post, I didn’t catch that I missed one very important word in the title.  I knew something was going on when I saw that I had more hits in the first three hours then ever before in a full day.  Sorry for the confusion, but hopefully most of you understood that I was referencing the agnostic closet.  I must say though, that this is my favorite typo of all time!***

The Sinful Pursuit of Joy

Growing up, Christianity taught me to fight my instincts. If I wanted something, it was probably my sin nature leading me astray. I should never do something or want something only because it gave me joy or pleasure. Pleasure is evil. Seeking my own joy leads to sin. People that chase pleasure, that selfishly seek what brings them joy, are the ones that turn into evil dictators and self absorbed rock stars and drug addicts and child molesters. In fact, if I allowed myself to exist in my natural state, without constant upkeep of my defenses against my own desires, I would slowly and irreversibly degrade into some kind of Batman villain.

I couldn’t just be myself, I had to be BETTER then myself. Jim as he was born into this world was bound by his sin nature to seek only the wanton, evil fruits of this world. This, left unchecked, would lead to my ultimate destruction. I needed to remold my wants and desires to what Jesus wanted, not what I wanted. I couldn’t pursue happiness and joy and expect to come to the end of my life and have accomplished something praise-worthy. The more faith I had, the more successful my battle would be, and the more obvious it would be to all those around me. I would be a beautiful shining example of God’s work in my heart by being a selfless Jesus follower.

So, I studied my Bible. I got a Bible degree at a Bible College and hung out with other Bible-believers. I figured if I could just truly learn the Bible and live my life according to it, I would be happy. I learned to talk the talk and I became a good Christian and good Christians don’t mess up, so I learned to hide it when I did. But I wasn’t happy either, so I learned to fake that too. I learned to wear a mask to hide my failings and my lack of joy rather then confront them. And I became my very own Batman villain.

I was a douche-bag on the inside with a perfect pastor’s kid mask on the outside. My “mask” wasn’t scary like the Joker’s but it felt just as destructive. I had shallow relationships with nearly everyone because I couldn’t let them close enough to see beneath the mask. I was constantly exhausted from trying to be someone other then who I was. I was terrified of messing up because I was supposed to be better then that. It wasn’t okay to be wrong or not know the right answer. Jesus gave me all the answers and there was no excuse for living without joy or messing up.

But that isn’t how I find joy and it isn’t how I learn. I don’t learn by memorizing a set of rules about life or having other people tell me how it should be done. I learn by doing. I learn not to touch fire by getting burned. I learn what brings me true joy by following my gut, being true to myself, and doing what comes natural to me. I only learn by putting myself out there and trying new things and risking being wrong. Christianity taught me to avoid putting myself out there and risking the shame of screwing it up. It taught me to avoid the very thing that would make me a better person and bring me true joy.

Am I saying that all Christians are unhappy and joyless? Not at all. Nor am I saying that Christianity is intentionally set up to teach everyone to approach life the way that I did. I’m simply saying that, for someone that processes life like me, the idea of being born with a sin nature that will lead you down a path of self-destruction unless kept in check, didn’t work with the way I need to live my life. It left me a joyless fraud. I’m not interested in debating about universal human nature, but I can speak to my own experience and I can say this with certainty. I’m a good person. Left to my own devises, I eventually figure out what is best for me. When I do what brings me joy, when I’m willing to risk being wrong and learn from the process, that makes it the “right” thing for me and those around me. Sure, I touch a few flames from time to time, but I’m a quick learner and a fast healer. Chasing joy isn’t selfish or wrong, it’s the only way for me to truly live.

Isn’t an Agnostic just an Atheist without any balls?

All joking aside, what do I mean when I say that I’m an Agnostic? It’s a great question and one that I’ve been asked often. Different people have a different understanding of what the word means and it applies to each person a little different much the same as every Christian is not a carbon copy of the next.

First and foremost, I’m not an atheist and that is an important distinction to me. By definition an atheist would say there absolutely is no God and an agnostic would say that we cannot know for sure if there is a God.

…that felt very patronizing…we all know the basic definitions involved here…I apologize. Let’s move on and pretend that didn’t just happen.

To get back on track, the question was, what does it mean that I have chosen this label for myself?

Let’s start with what I’m not. As I mentioned, I’m not an atheist. Is there a God? I don’t know. But I have no problem with others believing that there is a God and choosing to live their lives based upon that conviction. An atheist, by very definition, is diametrically opposed to those that believe God exists. I’m not. My father and both my grandfathers are pastors and have spent their lives dedicated to the service of others and the teaching of the Bible. They are three of the most honorable and upstanding men I have ever known and I have the greatest amount of respect for them and the selfless love they have shown to me and so many others. They taught me what it means to be a man. They pray for me every day. They are true men of conviction and I would die to defend their right to live out their faith and share it with others. In short, I’m not anti-Christian or anti-God (and if you ever talk shit about my dad, I’ll kick your ass).

So if we covered what I’m not, then what am I? Anyone that knows me, knows that I am a person of conviction, morals, and integrity. That hasn’t changed. I’m also still the gangly accident-prone goofball that some of you had the pleasure of growing up with. What has changed is the basis of my moral code and the motivation for the decisions I make on a daily basis. As a Christian, I consulted the Bible and lived my life according to it’s teachings. While that’s no longer the case, I still agree with much of it and my worldview is heavily influenced by my Christian upbringing. For now, I won’t dissect that further. That’s the whole purpose of this blog, telling my story of what it means to be an Agnostic PK.

PK is slang for Pastor’s Kid…DANG IT…Why do I keep doing that! We’re not a bunch of idiots here, DIETZ! End on a high note with a pithy tag-line tying it all back into the name of the blog, not by insulting their intelligence…stupid…