I have nearly 3,000 songs on my iPod, and the Little River Band’s Reminiscing shuffled into rotation today for the first time in over a year. It was oddly suspicious timing considering where I am on my life journey because music carries such strong memories for me.

Hearing this song took me back to my ninth grade Homecoming Dance in 1978, where I spent the evening dancing with a petite brunette, a seventh grader, I had taken as my date.

We had such crushes on each other and hung out together nearly every school day in the fall of that year. There were no real dates. No movies. Just talking at lunch and sometimes after school.

The innocence of the times made the Homecoming Dance a magical place for an awkward ninth grade boy and a girl at her junior high school dance. We danced all evening, doe-eyed and love-struck, sticking together on the song breaks while we drank punch.

Ten o’ clock came too quickly. The music stopped, and the dance was over. The dancers filed out of the gym and to the front of the school where everyone waited in line, while, one-by-one, parents pulled up to take their children home. My mom arrived in the family station wagon, and we climbed into the back seat.  We held hands as we rode silently to her house. I caught mom glancing in the rear-view mirror from time to time.

We never kissed. I was too nervous.

The holiday break came soon after and we didn’t see each other for two weeks. When we returned to school, it just wasn’t the same. The Homecoming Dance became our only evening together, and this one song captured a memory of a moment in time better than any picture ever would.

I think memories are much better than pictures.

While over time our memories may fade, they become what we need them to be and not always a crystal-clear or true snapshot of what once happened. I sometimes believe this is better when it comes to matters of our heart. The reality of the truth is often too painful for us to relive. We need these softened memories to allow us to reminisce and dream about what could be again. Too much clarity prevents us from even trying.

Here’s to you, my dear friend, wherever you are. If you remember this one night so long ago, I hope you have good memories, too. I think of you every time I hear this song, and it reminds me of sweetness and innocence, now forever lost.


Reminiscing was originally written December 16, 2010.

Photo Credit::2-2005 White Picket Fences 064 by chatwithGod

Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor, posed this question Tuesday via Twitter: Where was God in the Aurora Massacre? On the CNN Belief Blog, he added, “It’s a fresh take on an age-old question: Why does God allow suffering, natural disasters or – if you believe in it  evil?”

I saw the Tweet yesterday and got around to reading the blog this evening. The key responses ranged from it was God’s punishment, to God’s will, to the devil at work. There were a few other viewpoints in between. It was odd to read, and it troubles me that so many people abdicate their individual responsibility for humanity.  I guess some people need a way to absolve mankind, or maybe themselves, from such actions in our world by placing the responsibility on some greater power.

In my opinion, the shootings in Aurora were simply a desperate act of a disturbed individual. Neither God nor the devil had anything to do with seventy people being shot and wounded, and twelve people dying. This is about a man and his actions.

The concept of free will—man, is free to make decisions that coexist with a higher power and is morally and ethically responsible for those decisions—is at the core of my beliefs. Others will most certainly disagree with me, but I cannot believe a higher power punishes, or even allows such horrific happenings. It would be difficult for me to believe in a God so vengeful—what parent wants to see their children suffer? This is man’s work.

I also don’t believe a supernatural creature with horns, or with cloven hooves, who eagerly await opportunities to infect our thoughts, directs evil in the world. I do believe evil exists; I just think the root of it is buried within each of us. We all have the capacity to think about doing bad, or even evil, things to others. Some may choose to act on these thoughts. Should they do so, I believe the responsibility of the actions rest with individual—whether the reason is poor judgment, uncontrollable rage, or mental defect. I don’t believe there’s anything else behind it—certainly not some sort of supernatural dark force. It’s the free will thing again.

I do believe this: A higher power, God if you will, was in the Aurora Massacre. God was at work in the heroic actions of others in the theater; carried through the hands and voices of those who cared for the injured and dying, and; found in those positive words and deeds of friends, families, and even strangers who offered them as sympathetic gestures for the victims and their families.

Yes, God was most definitely present in the Aurora Massacre.

The whole town was alive with the spirit of a living God.

Please note: I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist, theologian, or a member of the clergy. My opinions above are based only on my lifetime in the church, my personal study of Christian teachings, and my admittedly incomplete and imperfect understanding of my own faith. For context, I’ve been a member of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. since 1985, although I spent much of my youth in both non-denominational and American Baptist churches.

I’ve often attributed the way my brain works for my life’s successes. It’s also the most significant contributor to my failures. This is especially true in difficult life situations when instead of fostering deliberate thought, my brain allows me to fall easily into old habits of coping, or thinking without effort. It may appear as if this is a conscious decision on my part, but often it is not. From time-to-time, my brain just puts itself automatically into this “default mode” of thinking so it can help me find a mental place of safety and security. My brain does not like me to feel insecure or unsafe.

This default mode is when my brain says to itself, “Hey! I don’t like this situation. How can I change it? Hmmm….this looks sort of like that time when we…No. This is not really the same, but…..What the heck, it’s close enough. It will make us feel a little more secure. So…recall pattern. Check. Engage default operations mode. Check. And….warp speed ahead!”

When my brain calculates a success rate of at least 45% while in default mode, I assuredly will hear a voice inside my head say, “This is clearly the approach to use, dude. Go!” My brain is not naturally risk adverse.

Whether you realize it or not, this probably happens to you, too. Our brains know there are differences in every life situation, yet they work overtime to find enough parallels between some past situation and a current one to weigh the odds of a positive outcome, and then take the necessary steps to give the illusion we’re in control of the whole situation. They do all of this within a fraction of a second. That’s just how our brains roll.

We’re rarely in control and our brains are keenly aware of this fact. Our brains also know we have survived similar situations in the past and odds are good we’ll survive this one, too. It takes a lot less effort for our brains to gear down into default mode, than it does for them to power-on to figure out a better approach to the situation. Our brains can be quite lazy, too.

Our brains have adapted to these patterns and routines over a lifetime. The designated approach worked for us the first time, and then we reinforced the approach each time we let our brain move into default mode. We became comfortable with the rules and patterns our brains create while in default, so we gave them the authority and the responsibility they desires. For their parts, our brains simply see a process for a successfully resolved situation that must be stored until needed again. Our brains are big on self-defined measures of success.

My attorney friends are fond of the phrase, “It depends,” meaning even though two situations appear significantly similar, the facts of each may dictate a different approach for resolution. This is the problem with our brains in default mode—they see two highly similar situations and simply forget, or chose not to, consider all of the facts. Our brains, in default mode, rarely consider the concept of “it depends.”

Life events of the last few years have forced me to stop letting my brain go into default mode as much as before. I discovered my  brain’s margin of error on successful decision making was hovering at +/- 30 points and with a 50% success rate trigger, my odds of making any smart decisions in default mode were, let’s just say, far less than desirable.

I still consider myself a creative thinker. I still make connections with bits of unconnected information, and I still trust my intuition. The difference now is I force myself to slow down and become more deliberate in my thinking, and with my resulting actions.  My brain is working harder now, but I can tell it aches for an easier life.

Sometimes, very late at night, I can hear my brain whispering, “Dude….there’s a 47% —wait, make that 51%—chance this is the right thing to do. Want to do it?”

I listen, but I don’t respond. I no longer take such low probabilities seriously. At least, not before dawn.


Photo Credit::okay, this is, like bad? by Robert Couse-Baker