Gym Philosophy: return to normal

“I dunno, I think this is all ok. We got the first black president out of the way. We got the first woman out of the way. Now we got a billionaire president out of the way. Maybe soon we can get back to normal again.”

– some dude at my gym one morning

So I’m changing in the locker room and this guy says that to his buddy. At first, I could feel my face flushing with anticipated righteous anger at what he might say about our first black president.

But then it teeters to worse as he segues to, I presume, Hillary, though she doesn’t quite fit in the list as she wasn’t elected. Perhaps for this guy’s ilk, just running for president — and getting libeled to no end — is good enough for a woman?

Finally (and here is where the guy’s perspective tilted a bit in my mind) he includes Trump in his list along with the prologue: maybe we can get back to normal again.

Indeed, good sir. Maybe one day we will.

But problematic in that hope is the idea that this is all just an aberration, from which we can hope to return. It assumes that “normal” was some time before, and whatever this is now must have sprouted in error.

Is it? I would agree that things were more “normal” only a couple years ago. Further still “normal” was the election cycle and administration before that. Remember when Republicans were saner in the time of Bush 2? I never would have imagined saying that I miss Cheney, but there you go.

No, I’m afraid “normal” is a pipe dream now. This is the new normal, Mr. Gym Guy. Better get used to it.

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’m so enamored with Alfie’s work. It’s validating to hear researchers coming to progressive conclusions about child-rearing.

But what struck me the most about this book was how practical and actionable the advice was, how very non-progressive it is. For instance, if most adults reject autocratic rule, why would we want that for our own children (“Do it because I said so”)? For that matter, why do we (particularly if we’ve been raised in such an authority structure) feel threatened by the idea of seeking compromise or rational discourse with our kids?

I was also very fascinated by the intersection of Kohn’s psychology concepts with that of faith and religion. There are so many points of intersection with fundamentalist or Evangelical notions of authority, image of God, masculinity, punishment, shame, love and forgiveness — most of which have toxic baggage for those of us who have escaped.

I can’t recommend Alfie Kohn’s work enough.



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One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon by Tim Weiner

One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is truly a staggering work. It was a tower of details, geopolitical intrigue, espionage, statecraft, deception, and of course corruption.

Not having lived through this period in history, I think my biggest takeaway is that everything I’d come to accept as “culturally” true about the Nixon era is every bit warranted. In other words, a kid like me in the 80s grew to understand that Nixon really was a crook, despite his claiming otherwise.

And in fact, thanks to Weiner’s incredible tome of a work, he was much worse. He was arguably a war criminal, a narcissistic felon, an egomaniacal tyrant.

And yet, he went to China. He started talks with Russia. He turned the U.S.’ policy course from domestic to foreign.

Nixon’s a complicated character for sure. But he was absolutely guilty of every crime he wasn’t punished for. And his own words prove it.

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The Goblins & the Forest

Netflix has really gone all-in this Halloween.  They’ve produced tons of original content for the holiday. But over on reddit, they sponsored an interesting little campaign. They asked for users to tell their childhood nightmare stories and an artist would volunteer to illustrate the dream.

I submitted mine, but I think it was just a little too late to be picked up by an artist.  But here it is anyway…

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The Language of God review

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for BeliefThe Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really loved this book. Collins helped me wrestle with the very real possibility of “a third way” to be a spiritual being and yet also fully endorsing of material science.

The false dichotomies in humanity (science vs. religion, good vs. evil, Left vs. Right, etc.) are exhausting. They lead to burn-out and disenchantment. The Language of God reminded me that it’s possible to navigate two worlds in harmony.

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Letters from a Skeptic review

Letters from a SkepticLetters from a Skeptic by Gregory A. Boyd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was incredibly helpful to me during my faith deconstruction, long before I even had the language to call it that.

What struck me the most about it was its compassion. Boyd has this rigor in his delivery somehow without being dogmatic. So instead of being exhausting, as most Evangelical religious treatise are, he comes across as being earnest and loving.

I have so many underlines in my copy, I can’t possibly get rid of it. Which is a very good thing.

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Life After God review

Life After GodLife After God by Douglas Coupland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have an embarrassing number of highlights, underlines, and margin notes in this book. I’m a picky person with picky tastes, and yet this is one of those few books that just resonated with me deeply.

It’s format is unique, which I think hooked me from the beginning. It’s structured like a diary, so it feels extremely intimate. It’s confessional and raw. It’s philosophical and meditative. It’s spiritual and contemplative.

Life After God was one of those stepping stone books for me. It came to me at a time in my life when I was beginning to branch out of Evangelical Christianity to discover what it was that I really believed.

Needless to say, this thing will be on my bookshelf forever. Thanks, Douglas.

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