The Stories We Tell


Stories are what we use to organize information and remember incidents. Loose details are hard to corral; lassoing them together with a storyline makes them memorable. This is how we make hi“story” out of chaos.

This does not make for consensus, however, since people connect the same dots differently according to their mental biases, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in The Black Swan:

“When Arabs and Israelis watch news reports they see different stories in the same succession of events. Likewise, Democrats and Republicans look at different parts of the same data and never converge to the same opinions. Once your mind is inhabited with a certain view of the world, you will tend to only consider instances proving you to be right. Paradoxically, the more information you have, the more justified you will feel in your views.”

The same is true for the religious and nonreligious. Each fits the “facts” of physics, geology, biology, anthropology and a myriad other disciplines into a cohesive story—THEIR story.

The three main organizing systems the nonreligious use to understand reality are Platonic, Aristotelian or nominalistic.* The religious usually find blueprints in their sacred books. Even the same text can give rise to diverse faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have their taproots in the Hebrew Bible.

Some stories are truer than others but all are told with a slant. Admitting this to ourselves shows maturity. Admitting this to others shows humility. The world could use more of both.

“The very ink with which history is written
is merely fluid prejudice.”
Mark Twain

* The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Memory of Nature, Rupert Sheldrake

Borders


I recently finished a course on the history of Christian theology. I’ve concluded that most councils and creeds have been about defining borders. Borders are necessary; they encircle citizens and exclude foreigners. Those included are orthodox; those outside are heretics.

What I find interesting is the criterion used to demarcate the faith. They have nothing to do with following the example of Jesus or obeying his commands. They have everything to do with believing the right things ABOUT the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Belief in—and obedience to—the Sermon on the Mount, the Olivet Discourse, the Upper Room Discourse or any other of Christ’s teaching aren’t required by the creeds. What is essential are the correct beliefs about Jesus’ origin, nature, will and current disposition: subjects about which he said almost nothing.

Proper beliefs about the Father and the Holy Spirit are just as important, and just as esoteric. Case in point: Does the Holy Spirit proceed “from” or “through” the Father and the Son?

Therefore the Latin Church professes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (qui a Patre Filioque procedit) while the Orthodox Churches profess from the Father through the Son. He proceeds “by way of will,” “in the manner of love” (per modum amoris). This is a sententia certa, that is, a theological doctrine commonly accepted in the Church’s teaching and therefore sure and binding.
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/alpha/data/aud19851120en.htm

We need borders. Doctrine has to be defined. But let’s not lose sight of what Jesus focused on while he was here.

By their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 7:16

Still Here


I’ve been AWOL from my blog for a while. Publishing two books, getting married and writing for clients have filled my time.

I’m thankful I still have time as I start my 63rd trip around the sun. Check out these pictures from birthdays past and you’ll understand why.

Mary Beth doing the needlework

Got cancer for my 56th birthday – 6 rounds of chemo for presents. 30 more sessions to follow.

InfusionMachine.jpg

Bone marrow transplant for my 57th birthday. The gift that keeps on giving.

After-Surgery.jpg

Three shoulder surgeries during my 58th year. And I only have two shoulders.

IMG_0017.jpg

Neck surgery for new cancer shortly after turning 59.

Mike-and-Susan.jpg

Lost Susan along the way after 37 years together.

cropped-img_3291.jpg

Found a new soul mate to share the rest of the journey. Each day is a gift.

On Sale: My Point of View


Every writer must overcome a kind of shyness, putting out of mind the fear that we are being arrogant by thrusting ourselves upon you the reader, and egotistical by assuming our words are worth your time. Why should you care about what I have to say? What right have I to impose myself on you? … That is all a writer can do, especially a writer of faith; (offer) a unique perspective of creation, a point of view visible only from the point where I am.—Philip Yancey

Do you know someone in a life and death struggle with cancer? Would you like more insight into what they’re going through? Then Stumbling Toward Heaven:My Cancer Journey belongs on your summer reading list.

Do you have more questions than answers when it comes to your faith? Are you looking for more than platitudes and pat answers? Check out my spiritual musings in We Will Be Landing Shortly: Now What? 

Autographed copies now on sale for $9 (plus $2 postage). Email emtcom@comcast.net, or get the eBooks on Amazon:

Stumbling Cover sm
Landing cover small

We Will Be Landing Shortly

Flight 1549



We Will Be Landing Shortly

Remember, all of us will be landing shortly. My new book is about my spiritual musings in light of our pending physical death. It’s available on Amazon or you can get a signed copy from me for only $10 (plus $2 postage). Just email me at emtcom@comcast.net.

What I use as a metaphor was a reality to Ric Elias when Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River. He shared the harrowing event in his TED Talk “3 Things I Learned while My Plane Crashed”:

Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. … The pilot lines up the plane with the Hudson River. That’s usually not the route. He turns off the engines. Now imagine being in a plane with no sound. And then he says three words—the most unemotional three words I’ve ever heard. He says, “Brace for impact.”

Now I want to share with you three things I learned about myself that day. I learned that it all changes in an instant. We have this bucket list, we have these things we want to do in life, and I thought about all the people I wanted to reach out to that I didn’t, all the fences I wanted to mend, all the experiences I wanted to have and I never did. …

The second thing I learned that day … I regretted the time I wasted on things that did not matter with people that matter. And I thought about my relationship with my wife, with my friends, with people. And after, as I reflected on that, I decided to eliminate negative energy from my life. … I no longer try to be right; I choose to be happy.

The third thing I learned … I didn’t want to go; I love my life. And that sadness really framed in one thought, which is, I only wish for one thing. I only wish I could see my kids grow up. … Above all, above all, the only goal I have in life is to be a good dad.

What lessons would you have taken away from Flight 1549? What lessons do you take away from this reminder that life is short and death is certain?

Me? I’m leaning forward in my seat, eager for what’s next. I’m keeping my eyes and mind and heart open. I still have character to develop, dreams to pursue, mysteries to ponder, relationships to nurture, adventures to share, sorrows to endure, wine to bottle, dances to learn and books to write.

This book—We Will Be Landing Shortly—is done. I’ll leave it in the seat pocket for curious and unsuspecting travelers.

Vaya con Dios.

What The Doctors Say


These men helped save my life. Dr. Dax Kurbegov was my oncologist and Dr. Mark Brunvand was the hematologist who did my bone marrow transplant. Here’s what they have to say about the book recounting my ordeal, Stumbling Toward Heaven:

My life’s work involves shepherding heroic men and women through their cancer journeys. Every once in a while I find myself transformed by those I work with. Mike Hamel has been such a figure. Diagnosed with cancer in the prime of life, he has had to wrestle with his own faith while his body labored under the duress of chemotherapy. Mike offers us remarkable insights into the human condition and the capacity of the human spirit to triumph in the face of incredible adversity. —Dr. Dax Kurbegov

Mike Hamel nobly dealt with lymphoma that rapidly recurred and required a stem cell transplant to attain a remission. As he was recovering he was in a serious auto accident. He has persevered through difficulties that would destroy the faith of most people and is now even more thoughtful and gracious. We can all learn from his incredible struggles and triumphs. —Dr. Mark Brunvand

Order your copy of Stumbling Toward Heaven on Amazon or get a signed copy from me for only $10 (plus $2 postage). Just email me at emtcom@comcast.net.

Stumbling Cover sm