It Wasn’t Faith That Kept Me Going to Church For 13 Years, It Was Loyalty.

This is a bonus chapter for my book that I hadn’t considered when I wrote it but after the fact I wanted to put this aspect of what happened down on paper, so to speak.

It’s about why I continued in the church, and religion, for as long as I did though I had been unhappy for several years. I suppose the reason is loyalty. I am a very loyal person by nature and quite possibly loyal to a fault it would seem. I’m not quite sure when the characteristic of loyalty started gaining a hold in me, whether it was growing up or after joining the US Marine Corps. If there is any doubt, I would bet on it coming about in the Marines over anything else. Loyalty in the Marines is a big deal as we have a long and very proud tradition of the Corps and the battles it fought through the centuries.

Loyalty being a strong feeling of support or allegiance toward someone or something is by definition one of my strong characteristics. Once I left active duty in the Marines and came back home, I joined the Baptist church at the behest of my friends, which you can read all about in my book. This was another organization to which I pledged my loyalty and which contained my friends and soon-to-be new friends including the pastor.

After some time of being involved in the church and becoming friends with many people there my loyalty grew strong toward the church, just as it had the Marine Corps. I think though that after enough time passes, obligations formed and that loyalty turned into a lasting expectation of my contributions and support of the church. After becoming involved in the sound room, running the microphones, the camera’s and the recordings, I had an obligation, a job even, in which I was expected to be there every time the doors were open for service. I wasn’t being paid for my duties, but I wasn’t expecting or asking for it either. But it did feel like a job I had to be at for sure. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing per se. But if you’re unhappy or don’t believe in it anymore, it’s a problem.

I’m not so sure that it was faith that kept me going for much of the time I was involved with religion. I think at first it sufficed, maybe for 2 or 3 years, but after that it became a chore and expected which translated into loyalty. It didn’t take too long for me to see what was going on and how many things we did, or were expected to do and believe in were ridiculous. I couldn’t have faith in some of those things that defy logic or make no sense whatsoever. I have a real hard time believing in superstitions and irrational delusions and I find that pretty much all religions fall into that bucket. But I stuck with it not because of faith in it, but because of my loyalty to the people I was friends with. Some of the concepts of religions are so irrational that they might as well be Hollywood movies (and sometimes they are). In the end it’s more like entertainment. An escape from reality or what we call a suspension of disbelief in order to go along with the plot and enjoy the ride.

Religions in past times seem to me to have been a way to explain the unexplainable of the world around us. As we became more educated and learned what things really are, how they work and where they come from, we developed the sciences to explain things. Science explains things with fact based evidence and peer review. It questions everything and leaves nothing sacred. Religion to me is no longer needed to explain things that we don’t understand. Science doesn’t explain everything yet, and probably never will explain it all, but it’s come a long way to dispel a lot of erroneous beliefs. Didn’t humans once think the Earth was flat? It was loyalty to an idea that if you went too far in one direction, you’d fall off the Earth. That was based on our limited view of the Earth, stuck on the ground and unable to see the curvature of the planet and to realize that it’s a sphere and not flat – you won’t fall off. It was just a lack of facts and perspective that lead to that idea for so long. But we learned, we tested, we experimented and we questioned the sacred.

As the years passed, that job of running the sound room became very boring and I didn’t particularly enjoy doing it anymore. But I did it because I was expected to do it. I did it because I was loyal to the church and the pastor and it was what I was supposed to do. I was loyal to my friends as well who expected me to be there with them. Even when some of them left the church on their own, later came back or left to move to another location. I was the vanguard; always there, always doing the job even as others came and went. But the unhappiness settled in, not just in performing the sound room job, but in religion and church as a whole. Yet I persevered and kept going to church and kept performing my expected duties as well. I didn’t want to let down the people of the church, the pastor or my friends, even after most of them had all moved away for various reasons. They expected me to stay and to keep on doing what I was doing because it’s what God wanted. Of course, no God ever actually told me that is what he wanted. But that’s another story for another time.

I was expected to continue going to church because everyone else was and because God says you’re supposed to. But what happens when you don’t want to do that anymore? What happens when your faith waivers, or your belief in the supernatural wanes? Then there is no purpose to going for you. Why keep going? Why keep doing what makes you unhappy if there is no benefit to you and only a detriment?

I go to work to earn money to live and take care of myself and buy the things I need and want. While I enjoy the work that I do, I do it for the money. Like many people, if I were independently wealthy and had no need to work for money, I wouldn’t. I’d spend my time doing other things that I enjoy more, and would do them when it pleased me. After all, going to work is giving your time to an employer to do a job they need done, hence the expression ‘time is money’. We give our time to earn money to use as a tool for the rest of our time that we have on our own. If we have enough money to last a lifetime, we don’t need to give our time to someone else to do a job – unless we want to and it makes us happy of course.

I wasn’t happy at the church anymore and I certainly wasn’t being paid for my time. As I said earlier, there was no expectation of being paid for going to church and running the sound room. For a long time I gave of my time to do that because I liked it and enjoyed the work. But after a while that interest faded along with my faith in God. But why did I keep going? Again looking back over the time, it was loyalty. I kept going to church and doing the job because I was loyal to the people and the pastor of the church. I wasn’t being loyal to a God or the concept of Christianity anymore. While that stuff faded, I still had care and concern for the people there and didn’t want to leave them in a bind with the sound room either. There really wasn’t anyone else there that could do the work. Or those that could, had other duties in the church or due to work demands couldn’t always be there when church was in service. So I kept at it for years until I was able to train one of the teenagers to run everything. I believe I mentioned it in my book, but I’ll say it again here. When I trained the teen to run the sound room, my intention was to have someone as a backup in case I couldn’t be there and to give me a break once in a while and to allow me to sit in the congregation and enjoy the service, as it were.

That went on for many months and it wasn’t until the end of 2014 that I realized that I had to change something. I didn’t enjoy the experience of church, religion or God anymore and it was time to change things. I was glad that I had trained someone to do the sound room job so that I could leave and when I did I wouldn’t leave the church with a void in the sound room and scrambling to find someone to take it over. I would have felt much worse than I already did for leaving anyhow.

The loyalty that I have toward things and people in this situation kept me in a place of unhappiness for a long time. That’s where I say that I am, or can be, loyal to a fault. I should have ended things there several years earlier than I did. Once I became unhappy, the misery and sour attitudes I carried around grew every week. Every Sunday and Wednesday, especially Wednesday evenings, I dreaded driving the 40 minutes or so one way to church, sitting through the preaching that I didn’t really believe in anymore and then driving back home and getting in late. Why was I torturing myself like this for so long? It was loyalty.

What I have learned through this experience is that I need to be more cognizant of how far my loyalty takes me. I’m still very loyal to the Marine Corps and I’m loyal to the county that I work for. I’m loyal to my friends as well. But I need to be careful sometimes where too much loyalty can take me. It can make me unhappy, such as with church and religion, or it could take me to a dangerous place that I don’t need to be in.

My advice is to evaluate where you are, where you want to be and to ensure that whatever it is you’re doing, that you’re happy or as happy as you can be in doing it. We only have this one life on planet Earth and then that’s it (I don’t believe in the irrational notion of an afterlife). Make the best of the years that you have available to you and try to be happy while you can. If your loyalty to someone or something is getting in the way of happiness, then perhaps it’s time to sever or cut back ties to whatever negative thing that might be.

Life, to me anyhow, is always changing and evolving with each passing day. There is no reason not to evaluate things and make adjustments where needed to keep you on track to your life’s goals. Life isn’t black and white and it’s not always a case of right or wrong. Life is what we make it for ourselves and each day, each situation is different and needs to be observed objectively with your goals in mind. Life isn’t a one size fits all baseball cap either. What’s right and what’s important for me may not necessarily be what’s right and important for the next person. It’s up to them to determine those things for themselves.

I’m pleased to say that I am very happy with my decision to leave the church and religion behind at the end of 2014 and that since the start of 2015, now two and a half years later, I am in a better place all around. I’m not letting my strong sense of loyalty take me too far down the wrong path any more.

Apple Watch Series 2 Review

About two and a half weeks ago I went to the Apple Store and bought an Apple Watch. I bought it with the full intention of using it on a trial basis during the two week return window allowed. If I didn’t like it I was going to return it.

After trying it out for the two weeks I decided that I like it enough to keep it. In the past I always considered the AW but declined to pursue it for two reasons. Most of what it can do I can do on the iPhone and aesthetically, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I do the round face watches, like my Skagens. Point number two still stands however. I still do like the round faces on watches over the square ones, but it’s a minor thing overall.

I went with a series 2, aluminum in space gray. I also bought an extra band, the Nike green and black one. I didn’t buy the Nike edition watch however as I’m not a runner and didn’t need the subscription that came with it; I just liked the band design.

After a while of figuring out the settings and how I wanted them to work between notifications and other functions, I think I have it all settled.

Some of the things I do enjoy, and enjoy more than I had previously thought I would, are the text and email notifications. With the AW I can easily see what is coming in and decide to or decide not to pick up the phone to look at it, or can get a preview of it on the AW. It is rather convenient.

I find that I use Siri a little more than I used to, and it’s mostly to set timers when I’m cooking or doing laundry and for use with my Philips Hue lighting system and HomeKit. I often feel like David Hasslehoff as Michael Knight in Knight Rider from the 1980’s when I hold my arm up with the AW to “hey Siri..” with it.

I’ve used the native workout app for outdoor walking and outdoor cycling and it’s pretty easy to use and works well. My gym also recently came out with a new app that has a lot of workouts and pre-built programs to choose from and it’s very well done and elegantly designed. It also has an AW app and I’ve been using that at the gym to track things and see what’s up next. I can do my whole session without having to pickup and unlock my phone like I used to do after each exercise and set.

Regarding the Activity app, Apple takes a very different approach to goals than Fitbit does. Fitbit makes steps per day the main focus of activity and for achieving personal goals. Apple’s approach is totally different with the idea of closing the rings of stand, move and exercise. Your steps are still tracked and shown at the very bottom of the app, but they’re not a focus of anything in particular. It seems as if they’re philosophy is more about just being active regardless of what you’re doing. With the Move ring its dynamic and adjusts each weeks active calorie goals based on the previous week’s numbers and will try to keep it attainable and challenging at the same time. My gym app integrates with Activity so all of that gets logged automatically. I like how the AW will remind me to stand at 50 minutes past the hour if I haven’t been up yet; this is something neither of my Fitbit’s had, although I think some of their newer models now have it.

One thing the AW doesn’t do is track floors climbed and relies on the iPhone to track that. I find this to be a bit odd that Apple didn’t incorporate this feature into it. With all the things it can do, up to and including swimming, why can’t it sense air pressure so it can measure floors climbed like a Fitbit? But at the same time, steps taken and floors climbed aren’t considered a focus of the Activity app and it’s goals.

The Breath app is nice too and I use that as well. It’s helpful to calm down at times and reset the mind when needed.

I like the integration with the Health app as well and my gym’s app also integrates with it so I can track a lot of health data in one spot. I still have and use the Fitbit Aria smart scale which measures weight and body fat percentage. That integrates with the Fitbit app obviously, but not with Apple’s Health or Activity apps. So I downloaded the third-party Workflow app and set up a workflow on the iPhone and AW app so I can punch in those two metrics on the AW and log them into the Health app quickly as I’m standing on the scale looking at the day’s measurements.

The comfort of the AW and band is superb, especially compared to the FitBit Surge. I get up at 4am each day and put the AW on and wear it all day until about 9pm, save for a few minutes in the shower when I take it off. (I know, it’s water resistant and could wear it in the shower, but I don’t). With the Fitbit Surge by the time I’d get home from work, maybe wearing it for 10 to 12 hours, I couldn’t wait to take it off as it was irritating me something awful. The LED sensors for measuring the heart rate protrude from the Surge in a more abrupt and narrow fashion which digs into my arm throughout the day. The LED’s on the AW are more spread out and tapered which do not dig into me at all and I have no problem wearing it for up to 17 or 18 hours.

So far at the end of each day I’ve been averaging 30% battery usage which is better than I was expecting. Of course it all depends on personal habits and usage too. I could probably get two days out of a charge but I’ve not tried to yet. The Fitbit Surge would give me 5 to 7 days on a charge, but it doesn’t do a quarter of what the AW does, nor does it have a nice display. That’s just some of the tradeoffs you have to consider between the devices.

So I suppose I like the AW better than I thought I would, but I still do love my traditional Skagen watches design a lot better.

Scrappers at MCAGCC 29 Palms

I had a random memory float into my mind the other day about a training area safety brief I had one time while on active duty in the US Marines.

It was common, if not mandatory, that everyone received a safety brief before departing for major training operations and even some weekend or holiday liberty. Someone, usually one of the battalion command officers or perhaps someone from regiment would conduct the briefing.

The training safety briefs would usually include topics about firearm use and safety, hydration, what to do if you get lost and separated from your unit, how not to get lost or separated from your unit, and it would include a high level overview of what the training mission was all about and some of its main objectives. Then there was the part about scrappers.

Scrappers are civilians who sneak onto the military base to collect steel and other recyclable material to bring to a recycling center and get some money. The material often came from exploded ordinance like artillery shells, bombs dropped from jets and rockets launched from helicopters as well as mortars and TOW missiles or shells from tanks.

MCAGCC (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center) is 932 square miles of installation. It’s far too large to put up a fence and a sign saying keep out or to have regular and effective patrols to guard against intruders. The majority of the base is just open desert area while a very small, town-sized, area is called Mainside where everyone lives, plays, shops and works. This area is patrolled by the MP’s or military police just like a regular town is patrolled by civilian police. I believe there are some signs in a few places around the perimeter of the base indicating that it is a military installation and trespassing is illegal, but they’re hardly effective and probably only serve to be a technicality for legal reasons, like the warning not to use a hair dryer in the bathtub. So there is no real way to prevent people from entering the training area of the base.

I suppose the only deterrent for someone who is thinking of coming onto the base would be the off chance of getting shot, having a bomb or artillery land on them accidentally (and yes, I mean accidentally in this instance).

Sometimes the ordinance found out on the desert floor of the training area remained unexploded either because the detonator failed to trip or the ordinance was a dud. Part of our safety briefs also included unexploded ordinance. If we happened to come upon a shell that had not exploded we were to quickly move away from it and notify our chain of command. Someone would then mark it’s location and put a flag near it and EOD would be notified. EOD is Explosive Ordinance Disposal. It was their job to go out to the unexploded ordinance and blow it up in a safe manner.

I recall when Super Bowl XXXII in 1998 was played in San Diego, California. Local officials had asked the Marine Corps to provide additional security at the stadium to supplement local law enforcement efforts. Marines from MCAGCC and Camp Pendleton were selected for the detail and were given civilian attire to use during the game. I was not one of those Marines.

Rather, I was selected for an exercise on base, TrashEx, or Trash Exercise. So while some of my friends were providing undercover security at the Super Bowl and meeting celebrities, I was out combing the desert floor for trash to pick up.

We ain’t found shit!

It was a week long event and every morning we had to meet up at the 7th Marines Regiment headquarters to be trucked out to some random place in the training area and walk along picking up any trash we found. Once again a daily safety brief was given which included what to do if you came across any unexploded ordinance. We did in fact find some from time to time and we marked them with flags and noted their locations so that EOD could come back through and dispose of them. We even found a TOW missile one day which was kind of exciting because that is something you don’t usually see laying around on the ground. Usually it would be artillery shells or small MK82 (500lb bombs) that we’d find. It was a pretty boring week with a lot of walking around picking up random garbage and even some TOW missile wire which was very thin and deceptively strong. If you weren’t careful you could seriously injure yourself with it.

Now the part of the story that actually came to my mind recently involves probably one of the very first training safety brief’s I ever had as a young PFC. I recall it was late one evening and we were to assemble on the soccer fields a block or two away from the barracks for the brief. The usual stuff was said about safety, hydration, getting lost etc. Then the officer giving the brief added a bit about encountering scrappers. We were told that if we spot a scrapper in the training area to notify our chain of command and/or the base MP’s. The MP’s would be dispatched to investigate the trespassing civilians. We were told not to approach them and to simply call it in. If we were to approach them, the officer said, it could lead to a violent encounter where the scrapper was probably more heavily armed than we were. Yes, you read that right; we were told the civilian scrapper might have outgunned us, the US Marines. That is neither a lie, nor an exaggeration on my part, he actually said that.

I remember hearing that as a young 19 year old PFC, fresh into the Marine Corps being told that I might be outgunned by a civilian trespassing on our military installation. I looked down at the name tapes on my uniform to make sure it said US Marines on it, and it did.

While I don’t doubt that some of those scrappers might have had a pistol or two, maybe a shotgun in their truck or car, but to be told that the Marines might be outgunned was absurd. I’m thinking we have M16’s, M203 grenade launchers, mortars, artillery, attack helicopters, fighter jets, tanks, LAV’s, snipers, machine guns and all sorts of armament. How could we possibly be outgunned by one or two civilians in a pickup truck trying to steal metal for money? I don’t know, but that’s a true story and I nor anyone I knew ever came across any scrappers.

Looking back on the story I can understand better now why we were not to approach them and let the MP’s deal with them. I think it was less to do with “being outgunned” per se, and possibly more to do with legal issues if a gun fight were to ensue.

I’m not a lawyer by any means, but I now know having worked in public safety and very closely with law enforcement that there are issues between military and civilian encounters. If we were to actually shoot or kill a civilian on our base for simply stealing scrap metal that would be a very bad thing for us. Would it have been worth injuring or killing someone over the scrap metal, no it wouldn’t. It would be, among other things, very bad PR for the Marine Corps and they take that stuff very seriously. We don’t want stupid mistakes marring the image of the Corps.

It would be a different situation if a civilian were attempting to gain access to secure facilities on military installations that house sensitive information or weapons such as nuclear devices. To my knowledge we didn’t have anything like that at MCAGCC or in the open desert of its training area. So the use of lethal force would not be something that you could justify and that I think is what the real intent of not approaching scrappers was about in those safety briefs.

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