Monthly Archives: December 2013

900 Words or less…REALLY???

900 words or less

 

by Kenneth Justice

~ “So what now?” asked my friend sitting with me at coffee the other day. We were talking about the fact that the upcoming New Year will mark the one year anniversary of my blog, “So where do you go with the blog from here?” he asked.

I hate New Year’s resolutions…..so last year in a moment of utter hypocrisy I made the resolution to start a blog….I was worn out from counseling, human service work and taking college classes; after seven straight years of a non-stop obsession with the field of psychology I was feeling burned out.

I had worked in so many different facets of human service yet at every turn I kept seeing so many problems and very few solutions;

—) massive amounts of people being given prescription drugs (70% of all Americans)

—) too many people struggling with depression and loneliness….and a medical community that has no answers

—) a total failure in the psychological community at combating chemical addiction dependency (no psychological theory or program is very effective)

I kept coming back to the same realization; the problem in Western Culture is not that we need a new psychological theory, better schooling or a new type of prescription drug. The problem in Western Culture…..is Western Culture itself.

So in January of 2013 I created a blog account…..but I didn’t know what to write about. For an entire month the blog sat vacant……

On February 1st, I finally came up with a simple outline for my blog;

—) Articles should be 900 words or less

—) Topics should relate to some element of Western Culture

—) I will be transparent but not personal (something I was taught by one of my professors)

—) I will precede each article with a photo I’ve taken (an article I wrote about blogging encouraged this)

When I finally began writing and publishing articles I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing. For the first few months I felt that the blog lacked coherency; everything was too disconnected and I spent countless hours trying to ‘find my voice’.

In February, my first full month of blogging, I had a whopping 620 total hits to my Website….March was a bit better at around 2000….but many of those people were friends of mine in real life who were kind enough to check out what I was doing. I was a bit discouraged. Had I really made the right decision to put aside my lifelong desire to earn a PhD in psychology for the whim of a blog that seemed to lack coherency and was barely noticeable in the world of the Internet?

Then in April I wrote a series of articles related to my frustrations with the way the subject of sexuality is treated in the Western World……I also wrote a couple articles about some of the difficulties I’ve been having with Western Christianity……….apparently people noticed the articles.

stats

By August the blog was going pretty well but I was starting to feel a bit concerned. From the very beginning of the blog it was never my goal to write opinion articles as much as I merely wanted to share some of the things I think about….

—) things that I am wrestling with

—) issues that I haven’t made up my mind about

—) topics that perplex me

And in August I was concerned that the blog was moving in the wrong direction; I felt that I was walking along a slippery slope of becoming a blog where people came for ‘answers’……yet merely being in my thirties I didn’t want to presume that I have all the answers.

And then one day in late September I noticed that traffic to my blog increased whenever I wrote about the people I meet at coffee; the strangers, acquaintances, and friends who sit with me at coffee each day were apparently something that interested a great many people. This was quite shocking to me because I never knew or had any inkling that the random daily conversations I have; were something that people would want to read about.

By October I finally felt that my blog had become something…….it seemed like I finally knew who I was as a blogger; I’m that dude who writes about the people I meet at coffee. Am I proud of that distinction? I’m not really sure….but I’m okay with it……because finding out who we are can help give us a sense of meaning , identity…and purpose.

Most of all….I’m glad I found this direction for the blog because it allows my readers to supply the opinions. By merely conveying the conversations and topics I’m thinking about….the blog has become an opportunity for others to give the final word in the comment section. I’ve never thought I was the smartest person…..I’ve never thought I had all the answers….so I’m thankful that I have a little place in the world to share what I’ve experienced.

So Kenneth, what are you going to do with the blog in 2014?” my friend at the café kept asking me

Well actually” I said, “I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this and I really want to do something a bit different. I want to do something that only a few bloggers out there have ever done or have ever even considered doing…..so that’s why in 2014 I’m going to…..” but at that point a stranger asked if he could sit down at our table and I didn’t get to finish what I was saying…….fortunately, we had a really nice conversation with the guy. Turns out he used to be part of a hardcore religious cult and a few years ago finally found the courage to leave. It’s a really good story and perhaps I will write about it some day.

For now, I think I will have another cup of coffee

Kenneth

BTW) If you got a few minutes to spare on New Years Day swing by www.culturemonk.com for my big announcement.


Losing track of time…REALLY???

losing track of time

by Kenneth Justice

~ “Kenneth, I feel like its simply too late for me to do anything more…my body is just so worn out. Some days its all I can do just to get out of bed

I was sitting at coffee recently talking to a friend of mine who just retired. He is getting older in his years and worn out. His career for the past thirty years or so definitely took a toll on both his physical body and his mental faculties. He had to deal with a lot of stress in various forms and retirement which he was looking forward to for so long……is now something he is beginning to see as nothing more than another exhausting issue he must think about.

At least when I was still working it forced me to get up every morning. Sure, towards the end I really started to hate my job….but at least it gave me some type of purpose and it helped me ignore all of the pain I am in” he said

With New Year’s day fast approaching its hard for me to not think of all the time that I’ve lost in the past year. Like it or not, there were so many things I had hoped to accomplish yet I simply ran out of time. Of course, while I don’t like to spend too much time dwelling on the negative…its hard to ignore the fact that I’m not growing any younger.

It’s funny the way us people in the Western World make a big deal out of particular dates. It’s not as though January 1st is any more or less important than March 3rd or August 10th…..but because we’ve designated it the “New Year” many of us use this time to look back at the past year and weigh our various accomplishments or lack thereof. For many of us turning 16 or 21 were ‘big’ years; it meant that we could finally drive a car or here in the U.S. it meant we could legally order an alcoholic drink (although by 21 most Americans are already seasoned drinkers).

A lot of people look at their 40th year as a monumental year; if they haven’t accomplished what they want with their life by age 40 then it can cause some people to get really depressed or it can stir others to generating an even greater passion and drive to meet the goals they have set before themselves.

I’m barely in my mid-30’s and yet I have felt a strong pressure to do something more with my life for a long time. When my father was alive he was one of the most successful businessmen I’ve ever known. By his mid-forties he had created companies in numerous states and had more employees and contractors than I could count……..But I’m not a businessman. Never have been and never will be…….I always preferred sitting in my library studying Plato or Aquinas……I’ve always been nothing more than an armchair philosopher who enjoyed a nice cup of coffee. Thus, when I think of all that my father accomplished and weigh it against my meager existence I tend to think that I am simply not doing enough with life…..and so with another New Years day coming it is simply one more reminder to me of how little I’ve accomplished with my life.

My friend sitting with me at coffee has accomplished a lot with his life. He doesn’t realize it but he’s been one of the most important people in my life for the past five years. He’s also touched a lot of other peoples lives, “Look dude, most people would be thankful to have done half of what you have done” I told him, but he just smiled and brushed it off. “Kenneth, its all taken such a toll on my body. Some days the pain is unbearable…..so all I can say is that I just don’t know“.

Nobody can really tell us what our life amounts to and what it is worth….its something that each of us must figure out for ourselves. My friend who died last year was well into his eighties when he took his last breath. He was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known and touched more lives than most people could do in ten lifetimes. He was a high school counselor for thirty years and a minister for 35 years…..Yet as I sat next to him in the hospital as he was dying he gave me the same old look through his tired eyes, “Kenneth, I wish I had done more“. I recall getting into an argument with him while he was still in his seventies, his wife was still alive at the time and she was taking my side, “You should quit blaming yourself because you’ve done so much good with your life…it’s not your fault that the world is getting crazier all the time” we told him. But he wouldn’t listen to us, “Kenneth” he told me, “Don’t ever let others define you…….you have to decide for yourself who you will be” he said

So I guess as New Years day comes on Wednesday I will be thinking about all of this…..I’ll be wondering what my life is really all about. I’ll make myself a cup of coffee and look out the window……I wonder what the New Year will bring?

Kenneth

 

BTW) If you are wondering what the New Year will bring come back to my blog on New Years day for my big announcement!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sometimes you have to speak up…REALLY???

do you really believe

by Kenneth Justice

~ A couple months ago I was sitting at coffee with an acquaintance of mine who in recent months had been whining quite a bit. Born into a relatively wealthy family, the young man had earned his college diploma but since his graduation three years ago he hadn’t even worked one job thanks to his parents who were still sending him a monthly check to cover his expenses. The young man was living in the world of ‘idealism’ because he refused to work a job that required him to work hard…..he was holding out for a management position or something according to his words in which, “I can use my mind and not my hands. I’m too smart to be working a menial job” he said.

The young man had become enchanted with various aspects of socialism and believed capitalism was the “greatest evil that has ever befallen society” and while I do not want to even begin getting stuck talking about socialism and capitalism in my blog,….I couldn’t help but marvel that this young man was the very essence of what he was against; he was a white kid born into a family of privilege who provided him with a college education and he didn’t work because he was still living off of his parents money!

After a couple months of listening to him whine about what was ‘wrong’ with America and the Western World I couldn’t take it anymore; “dude, I’ve had enough! I sit here each week listening to you sit at my table and complain about how bad America is but you’ve got it so good! You’ve got nothing to whine about you damn spoiled brat!

Perhaps, I went a little bit too overboard with the young man…..but as patient as I try to be with people, sometimes my patience has limits because I’m hardly a perfect person. The simple fact of the matter is that this young man’s perspective is entirely out of whack. Every day I talk with single mothers, single fathers, couples of young children, homeless people….and others from all walks of life who are barely making ends meet. People are struggling financially, emotionally, spiritually……and for those of us out there who have been born into privilege……we better damn well be sure that we truly have something to whine about.

Because I was born into an intense Christian culture that went overboard on condemning and judging others I tend to spend more of my time biting my tongue and demonstrating patience and grace than I do telling people what I’m really thinking. Because I spent too much of my younger years being a judgmental a**hole, I’m trying to spend the second part of my life learning how to listen and love others without condemnation.

However, this doesn’t mean I should never speak my mind…does it? Sometimes, it is necessary to speak up…..and of course, my highest priority when I do speak is to do so in a spirit of gentleness….but it doesn’t always work out that way.

The truth of the matter is that for the last six months I had been trying to ‘gently’ talk to this young man about how good he has it in life; as long as his parents are alive he doesn’t have to work and that is a rare commodity in this day and age. Most people don’t have the choice between working and not working. Many people have to work dead-end jobs or rely on government checks in order to buy groceries. And so after many months of trying to gently explain to the young man that he really doesn’t have anything to whine about; I tried a different approach; the confrontational style.

Unfortunately, just as my gentle approach didn’t work…neither did my confrontational approach. The young man simply got pissed off and I haven’t seen him since.

Should I have kept listening quietly to him complain about his views of injustice and social inequality (many of which I happened to agree with him on)? Should I have bit my tongue once again and ignored the hypocrisy of the life he is leading in which he is a college graduated-silver-spoon fed kid from the suburbs? I don’t know.

I don’t always know when I’m supposed to speak and when I’m supposed to listen. There is no guidebook that gives us exhaustive answers for every single situation in life; there are principles we can use but sometimes it is difficult to know when it is appropriate to speak and when it is better to listen.

I guess I’m a little sad regarding the whole experience. I really enjoyed the conversations with the young man (when he wasn’t whining) and I’m a bit disappointed that he doesn’t come around anymore. But I guess that is life; there are consequences to all of our actions…..and regardless of whether or not I used the right approach with him or not I guess I found out what the true measure of our connection really was. As my good friend always told me; “you don’t really know the true character of a person until conflict occurs, its then that you find out if you are really friends or not

I’m glad that I’m sitting at a café as I write this because I could really go for another cup of coffee right now,

Kenneth

(BTW, if you find yourself a little bored of looking at the same old videos on YouTube, come back to my blog on New Years Day for my 2014 announcement)

 

 

 

 

 


All I want for Christmas…REALLY???

all i want for christmas

by Kenneth Justice

~The day after Christmas I was sitting at a café early in the morning when one of my really close coffee friend’s came in…”What are you doing here? I thought you were going out of town for Christmas?” I asked

My friend had a frown on his face, “Kenneth, ya know how I told you I bought the airline tickets to New York a month ago to spend Christmas with my sister and her husband…..she died 10 days ago” he said

It turns out his 65 year old sister had a heart attack two weeks ago and died upon making it to the hospital. And so my friend and his family spent the week leading up to Christmas at the funeral home mourning her death. Both of my friend’s parents are dead, and now with the loss of his sister….the only close family he has left are his older sister and brother.

Life is so very strange……because as I was spending Christmas Eve enjoying the beauty and wonder of the holiday at Christmas Eve Mass, my very good coffee friend was spending it mourning the death of his sister. As children all across the Western World were waking up in delight as they opened presents on Christmas morning…..my friend was waking up with the hollow feeling that the death of a loved one leaves in your heart. My father died in 2008 and rarely a day goes by that I don’t in some way remember him……in fact, I think of him more now that he died than I probably did when he was alive.

Each morning when I write my article I’m torn between the subjects I can choose to write about…..in any particular week I meet people at coffee who share with me the joys of new found love or the happiness of a new job they got…..but I also talk with people who are suffering heartache connected to past abuse they have suffered, the loss of loved ones, or those who are struggling financially. The world around us is filled with thousands of stories overflowing with joy and happiness, yet there are just as many stories filled with sorrow.

One of my favorite novels is The Count of Monte Cristo. Between the ages of 13 and 15 I must have read it at least six times. The story starts out chronicling the passionate and exuberant love that the hero Dante’s is experiencing with the beautiful Mercedes….yet in the flash of a moment Dante’s life comes crashing down as he is tossed into the pit of hell, sentenced to an eternity in a dungeon prison for a crime he never committed…..Dante was on the top of the world riding high on the waves of love, yet in a moment everything he held dear in life came crashing down.

So much of our own lives parallel the joy and agony which Dante experienced. While sometimes we bring tragedy upon ourselves when we make poor decisions…. more often than not we have no control over the bad things that come at us in life; sexual abuse, gossip, death, economic struggles, emotional abuse, the list is endless. Every day we are surrounded by people who are experiencing tremendous amounts of joy, yet also sitting next to us are people who are going through trials and tribulations that run the gamut of emotions.

For those of us who don’t want to live in the dark, for those of us who want to talk about the things that matter most; we have to find that balance between being fully aware of the bad things that exist in this world, while at the same time retaining a level of joy in order that all of the evil doesn’t overwhelm us. So much of this world doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes bad things happen to good people; “The rains falls on the just and the unjust alike“. Sometimes there is no explanation and no logical reason why some of us are spared from suffering….and yet others seem to spend their entire lifetime dealing with one tragedy after another.

I was born into one of the most affluent cultures in the world. Yet on the other side of the world are children living in abject poverty that seems almost unthinkable. The AIDS epidemic has ravaged so much of the African continent and coupled with the wars, racism, and poverty all across Africa I often feel ashamed that I haven’t done more with my life to reach out to my fellow humans on the other side of the globe.

I’ve often thought that worst thing we can do in life is to live in a bubble; to close ourselves off from the true reality of life around us. It’s far too easy to say that we ‘have no control over things’ and to shrug them off as someone else’s problems. Because the simple fact of the matter is that some of us can do more. For those who of us who have been blessed with opportunity; it is our responsibility to give to others, “To him who has been given much, much is required“.

—-) There are so many single mothers out there who are struggling to keep their head above water

—-) There are so many people suffering heartache who need a shoulder to cry on

—-) There are so many people out there who have lost their job

With the New Year approaching and many of us enjoying the happiness of parties and revelry; there’s nothing wrong with being joyful. But we must always stay grounded and aware of the realities of life which often involve sorrow and heartache…for if we do not, than what kind of person do we really amount to?

For now its time for my morning coffee,

Kenneth

 

(btw, if you’re bored and looking for something to do on New Years Day…check back on my blog for my New Year’s announcement)


Hiding our true self can be good…REALLY???

wearing masks

by Kenneth Justice

~ Last week at coffee I ran into an older gentleman who has become a somewhat regular reader of my blog this past year, “Kenneth, I really enjoy reading your articles but I feel that you keep quite a guard up regarding your personal life….have you ever thought about writing more openly and intimately about your personal life?” he asked.

For those who are regular readers of mine, you know that I’m not a big fan of ‘wearing masks’ i.e. putting on a fake face when your at work, at church, or wherever…and trying to be someone other than who you really are. People tend to ‘put on masks’ in order to try and impress others;

—-) People put on masks to make others think their lives are perfect

—-) People put on masks to try to mask emotional pain that they don’t want to face

—-) People put on masks to hide the scars from their past

Thus, on many different levels putting on a mask is a way to deceive others; to make others think that you are someone else other than who you really are……..and it would seem to me that if you’re wearing a mask to deceive others than you may want to consider reevaluating your priorities in life.

However, not all instances of ‘wearing a mask’ are necessarily bad………

During my first month of working as a substance abuse counselor a couple years ago I had a client who would come to my group counseling session twice a week and would never talk. He didn’t want to be there but was court mandated to be in my group session. It was around the 9th or 10th session that he finally opened up and it was then that he shared the story of his life long addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine and his most recent crime that had landed him in prison; he had tried killing his wife by stabbing her five times in the chest. After sharing his story in the group he asked to meet with me in a private session where he expounded on the story and asked me quite seriously, “Kenneth, what I’m here to ask you is how you think I can get back together with my wife after what I have done?

Of course, this was a difficult position I was in because if the wife was sitting across from me privately I would of probably told her to run as far away from this guy as she could; don’t let back in your house a guy who stabbed you five times! However, because of my role as his counselor I didn’t believe it was any of my business to defuse this guy’s attempt at reconnecting his wife; the final path I chose was to gently change the conversation away from his wife and back to his own problem of chemical addiction.

Working as a counselor forced me to wear masks; I had to often suppress what I really wanted to say to someone.…and instead listen to them or tell them what was ‘best’ for them to hear. In a way; because I couldn’t simply tell my clients what my opinion was on every single issue in their life…….there were many times that they weren’t really seeing my true self.

On the same token, because I was often working with people who had dangerous past lives; I also had to suppress many details of my private life. There was no way I could ever open up in such a way that could lead these people to being able to find out where I lived, worked, or hung out….because my highest priority was to protect all of my friends, family and loved ones.

I recall one evening that I ran into an ex-client of mine from the jail I used to work at…..I was hanging out downtown and felt someone tapping me on the shoulder. “Kenneth!” the stranger exclaimed. And although I didn’t recognize him I had a good idea that he was likely one of the ex-inmates from the jail, “I just wanted to thank you for all that you did for me, I’ve been clean for two years now” he said. Thankfully, that incident turned out okay, but for a singular moment I was a bit concerned due to how that situation could of turned out for the worse.

Thus, as I sat there with the older gentleman at coffee I explained to him many of the things I’ve written here today, “When it comes to my close friends I’m actually an open book. There’s really nothing I hide….but due to the nature of writing articles to so many people that I’ve never met and have no idea what they are like……out of safety I have to keep certain details of my life private

Yet even though I keep the details of my private life off the table…….I nonetheless strive to write as openly and honestly as I can.

.We live in a strange new era….

—-) Through Facebook people share some of the most personal elements of their lives

—-) Through Twitter some people give a 24/7 constant streaming update of what they are doing at the moment

—-) Through Instagram people post pictures of themselves naked

We live in an era where personal lives are right out in the open. People even post videos of themselves on the Internet having sex with their significant others for the entire world to see.

And while I want to be careful not to criticize or condemn anyone who chooses to do those things……I guess I simply want to explain that I’m still a little bit old fashioned when it comes to sharing the intimate details of my personal life. What I’m trying to say is that you won’t see any naked pictures of me on the Internet any time soon….

I really need another coffee,

Kenneth

p.s. if you are on the Internet New Years Day stop back by and check out my announcement for the New Year :-)


Sometimes silence is sweet…REALLY???

s54

by Kenneth Justice

~ “Kenneth, I just love the song The Sound of Silence” said my friend sitting with me at coffee the other day, he was referring to the Simon & Garfunkle hit from back in the day. I really like that song as well but even more so; I really enjoy the simple philosophy behind the title; ‘the sound of silence’…..of course we know that ‘silence’ is not a sound, but rather its the lack of sound.

I was thinking about that song the other day and it dawned on me; one of the reasons I love getting up so early in the morning is the silence….the quiet calm of early morning is refreshing in many ways and I find that I’m able to get more writing and more thinking done early in the morning.

I like sitting at the café when they first open. I’m usually the second or third person to arrive since the homeless people are also early risers;  they too love coffee. I sit at my little table and write my articles or read whatever particular book is on my reading list for the week, I sip my coffee….and I enjoy the quiet.

So much of our lives here in the Western World are overwhelmed with noise and busyness;

—) Cell phones buzzing all around us

—) Automobiles pounding down the pavement

—) Bosses yelling at us to finish our work by the deadline

—) Taking care of crying babies or driving our children to soccer practice

Noise, busyness, rushing around…..our lives can be so hectic and fast-paced that it’s amazing that more of us don’t go nut’s from all the craziness. It’s no wonder that 70% of all Americans take some kind of prescription drug; with the fast paced nature of our lives we are probably overwhelming our senses and we turn to drugs in order to ‘chill out’.

When I used to sit with people I would get uncomfortable if an awkward pause occurred in the conversation; I somehow thought that it was my responsibility to keep the conversation moving and so I would try and think up something clever to say……..fortunately, my time working as a counselor helped teach me that silence can be a good thing. Sometimes it is a beautiful experience to be with another person in silence and to simply enjoy the view of the sun rise or to people-watch the various men and women walking by…..sometimes it is through silence that greater thoughts can be attained.

On Christmas Eve two nights ago I attended Midnight Mass which is one of my favorite services of the year; at various intervals during the liturgy the colossal ancient sanctuary becomes totally silent. Its an intense experience to be surrounded by hundreds of people while sitting in the 150 year old cathedral; in total silence. It becomes so quiet you can hear the slightest cough or the smallest scuffle of feet on the wooden floor…..and then when they turn all the lights out and everyone is handed a candle to hold during the singing of Silent Night its a pretty special moment.

Silence can be a beautiful experience two people share together……….and it can even be a special experience shared by hundreds of people on Christmas Eve.

My life is very hectic. To be honest, I have a lot of responsibilities and much of the time I feel as though I am behind on work and family obligations. I have quite a few friends and acquaintances so my schedule is often overflowing with appointments and people to see; my life is filled with a ton of busyness and noise………and so the older I get the more I am beginning to really value the sound of silence.

This morning I woke up at 5:30 A.M to find that it had snowed all night…..the world outside my house was entirely blanketed with a beautiful cover of white. As I walked my two dogs outside this morning I enjoyed the extra-special sound of silence. Snow has this way of making the world feel even quieter…..I’m not sure if it is merely something I imagine or if snow really does make things more quiet; but either way my two little dogs and I walked down the path in the snow and enjoyed the beauty of the moment.

Sometimes its important in the midst of our busy lives to enjoy the silence…to enjoy the beauty of the moment. If we aren’t careful, it is easy to allow the busyness of Western Culture overwhelm us. There are so many things in our society that can distract us from enjoying the moment; there are so many things that are screwed up that If we aren’t careful its easy to end up spending much of our life getting pissed off all the time; because there is a lot to be pissed of at;

—) The economy in much of the Western World sucks

—) Joblessness is rampant

—) A lot of people still live in poverty

—) There are still too many men out there who abuse women and treat them like s**t

The list of the world’s ills are endless…….and sometimes its important that we just take a moment and enjoy the sound of silence,

For now I will have another cup of coffee,

Kenneth

p.s. if you’re not too hung over from New Years Eve partying…come back to the blog on New Years Day for my big announcement!


Happy Holidays…REALLY???

happy holidays

by Kenneth Justice,

~ On Christmas Eve yesterday in the midst of running a few last minute errands I stopped off at one of the little café’s I hang out at to get a cup of coffee…..as I was standing in line the young woman in front of me said to her boyfriend that she wanted to stop by one more store before they headed home,

No way, are you out of your mind?” he said to her, “I have to work all week long and I’m not wasting anymore time going into stores….you’re stupid for not having finished your Christmas shopping weeks ago” he said

The entire exchange was rather brief, but those few words the boyfriend spoke came out sounding very cruel. It was obvious she was upset because when he tried to grab at her in an awkward attempt to hug her and apologize for the way he talked to her; she back away from him.

We are all prone to misspeaking and at times not being sensitive in the way we talk to others….hell, I have been guilty of that kind of behavior all my life. And with the frenzied pace of the holiday season I’m sure the boyfriend was mentally exhausted from all the shopping and wishes he could go back in time and take back what he said to his girlfriend.

There is so much that I wish I could go back in time and reverse;

—) Nasty words I’ve said to people in the past

—) My holier-than-thou attitude which I carried with me for a long time

—) Poor decisions I made in the past that led to even worst decisions

Ultimately though, it was all the bad decisions and all that I have learned which has helped me to become who I am today. And who I am today is an imperfect young man that is still trying to figure out his way through this world.

There are a lot of things in life that I simply don’t understand;

—) Why do so many children around the world suffer at the hands of child abusers and molesters?

—) Why do so many people live in extreme poverty?

—) Why does so much of society ignore the needs of single mothers?

The list of questions I mull through my mind is endless. I’m still searching for answers and I will likely be searching for many more years to come.

As I listened to the nasty way in which the young man talked to his girlfriend it reminded me a lot of the way I used to be; insensitive and brash. I used to believe that in order for me to be ‘righteous’ I had to walk around and constantly tell people what I thought was ‘wrong’ about them or about their behaviors…….I had this whacked out notion that I was the moral police…….but I don’t think like that anymore.

The boyfriend probably did think in his mind that his girlfriend was ‘stupid‘ or at the very least ‘not smart’ for having put off her holiday shopping till the last minute….but so what; just because we think something doesn’t mean we should say it out loud.

I don’t like the way I used to think and I definitely don’t like the way I used to interact with others…..and in many ways I still don’t like certain aspects of my behavior. I still have a tendency to be self-centered and forget the needs of those around me……but I’m working on things.

I went to Christmas Eve mass last night and enjoyed the service. I like sitting in the massive ancient cathedral surrounded by all the decorations….it gave me time to think. I enjoy the stillness of sitting in silence and pondering the deeper meanings of life…the things that matter most.

So much of Western Culture is simply too fast paced and it seems like there is only one speed at which life in our culture moves; full throttle. So I am thankful for the quiet times in my life where I can sit and mediate on all that is happening around me; like when I’m sitting in a worship service or when I’m sitting at a little café enjoying a cup of coffee.

To my Jewish friends I want to wish you a Happy Hanukkah,

To my Muslim friends celebrating Eid ul-Fitr I wish you peace,

To my Christian friends Merry Christmas,

And to everyone else, whatever you are celebrating or even if you are celebrating nothing, I wish you the best!

I have a special announcement coming up on New Years and I hope you stay tuned…..for now though, its time for my morning coffee,

Kenneth

 

 

 


It’s that third place…REALLY???

that third place

by Kenneth Justice

~ Christmas Eve 2013

Late last night one of my close friends called me, “Kenneth, what are you doing? Come hang out at the coffee shop with me” he said….he’s the guy I wrote about yesterday whom I met five years ago via him observing me get cussed out by this random old dude who didn’t like my taste in music.

Though it was too late for me to have any caffeine, we hung out for a couple hours late into the evening and talked about the usual sort of randomness that flows from our table; the various people he and I met at the coffee shops over the past week, Christmas even services at church, how his ailing mother is doing…..and all the other various things that friends talk about over a cup of coffee……

I learned a long time ago that coffee shops were for me that ‘third place’…psychologists have known for a long time that throughout the history of the industrialized world; humans have always had a ‘third place’…..here’s what Wikipedia says,

The third place (also known as third space) is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book “The Great Good Place“, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.”

Our home is the first place in our life, our job/vocation is the second place, and the third place has varied throughout history and changes from one person to the next;

—) The general store

—) A barber shop

—) A tavern, pub, or bar

—) A coffee shop

For me, when I was a teenager I quickly learned how much I enjoyed hanging out at little café’s and coffee shops. I enjoyed the laid back social element, where there was the possibility of meeting someone new and having an interesting conversation…..or simply hanging out in a quiet atmosphere in order to read a book or study.

When I made it to Europe years ago I remember how excited I felt to be on the shores of the ‘Old World’ and visit café’s and coffee shops and meet people from so many different walks of life.

When I first visited Central America I was amazed at how much the coffee and café experience was a part of the culture there. Everywhere I went, from one city to the next, I would stumble upon the coolest little café’s where I could sip coffee and learn about the culture from the various patrons who were hanging out and who were excited to talk to me, an dude from the U.S. who came from thousands of miles away.

The landscape of America is definitely changing. With each new year comes the publication of more books by authors who describe the higher level of disconnectedness that Western Culture is experiencing. Gone are many of the small towns….having been replaced by mega-strip malls….gone are many of the local independently owned coffee shops…replaced by corporate chains…….

Also sad has been the number of corporate chain coffee houses which has decreased as places like Starbucks have been less interested in building physical brick-and-mortar buildings in favor of putting new franchises inside grocery stores and department stores like “Target”……For me,  hanging out at the Starbucks in Target simply isn’t the same as hanging out at a real coffee shop.

Of course, Western Culture has been changing long before I was born…and I am sure that ‘change’ is nothing new to the shores of the Americas and all across Europe and other parts of the world. Change is inevitable.

I’ve always been slow to the party when it comes to accepting ‘change’. I really enjoy my little routines…..I remember when my favorite coffee shop closed 18 years ago how sad I got…..I was only a 17 at the time but I had so many great memories from the place and when the owner sold the place and moved to Florida I remember feeling as though part of my family disappeared.

Because I enjoy the little ‘routines’ in my life….it also explains why I still enjoy things like Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Every year, no matter whether it was a good year or bad; I look forward to the Christmas Eve service at church, seeing the way the building is decorated for the holiday, seeing the nativity scene, listening to the choir, and even though I’m now in my thirties I still find it to be a special moment when all the lights go out in the sanctuary and everyone holds a little candle and sings “Silent Night”.

Last night as I sat with my friend at the café I told him that there were a lot of “church moments” this year that really bothered me, like when I ran into some really intense Christians on the street one night who told me that because I didn’t go to their church and believe exactly what they believe….I was going to hell. My friend empathized with me, “Kenneth man, I know what your saying, sometimes being a Christian means we have to put up with a lot of s**t from our fellow Christians” he said.  And that is okay…..because nobody is perfect….and life moves on.

I hope each of you have a wonderful holiday. Whether you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Agnostic, or whatever….I wish you all the best, and perhaps if you have a few moments you can tell me what your ‘third’ place is…..

For now, the sun is close to rising and I’m realizing it is time for my morning cup of coffee,

Kenneth

 


Conflict at Christmas can be good…REALLY???

 

christmas and conflict

by Kenneth Justice

~ Its two days before Christmas and many people are gearing themselves up for the wonderful aspects of the holiday while others, are not necessarily looking forward to family dinners with cranky relatives. This past week at one of the coffee shops I hang out at, a friend of mine was complaining to me, “Kenneth, if you only knew what it is like to be in the same room with all my siblings and their spouses for a holiday dinner you would understand why I hate the holidays so much” he said

While on one hand I can totally relate to cranky relatives….as I have had my share of experiences during the holidays with relatives who aren’t very pleasant and somehow know just-the-right thing to say to piss people off…..there is another side of the coin that we should consider; conflict can often be a good thing.

For instance, five years ago I was sitting at coffee studying for a class and this older gentleman sat down next to me and started talking to me about music. I was only half-involved in the conversation and at a certain point he started rattling off his favorite musicians and asked me if I liked one in particular, “Actually” I said, “I really don’t like that musician very much, I’d rather listen to Bob Dylan” I remember saying….Well this started off a firestorm with the older gentleman because he either did not like Bob Dylan or he was offended that I didn’t like the musician he named and the next thing I knew, the old guy went ballistic and cussed me out calling me an f***ing idiot….

At first blush you might think the conflict that occurred between me and the old guy was a pain in my arse (especially since I was in the middle of studying) and you are right……but actually, the dude sitting at the table next to us witnessed the entire exchange and after the cussing old guy left, the dude next to me started up a conversation, “Wow, I actually know that guy who was cussing at you and I’ve never seen him like that before…..” he said. The two of us ended up talking for awhile and then when I ran into him the following week we had coffee again….its now been five years since that encounter and thanks to the cussing old guy, the person who witnessed the encounter has now become one of my closest friends; he’s been over to my house numbers of times, we get dinner together all the time, and we have coffee with each other at least once or twice a week.

One of my closest friends who died nearly two years ago taught me that conflict is good because it allows us to see what people are really like. Do you remember your high school years and how you thought one of your classmates was your ‘best friend’ but it wasn’t until some type of conflict occurred that you really found out what types of bricks your friendship was built upon.

This isn’t to say that I like conflict…not at all! Actually, I hate conflict. I tend to be one of those people who pushes conflict and confrontation off to the side in the hope that it will simply disappear. There have been some situations in my past; that because I kept putting the confrontation off to the side, I ended up allowing bad situations to go on a lot longer than they should have.

Back in college I took a lot of Literature and Writing classes and I found it interesting that conflict is almost always at the centerpiece of stories. Whether it is a memoir, a novel, a Hollywood movie, or fill-in-the-blank….every good story has at the heart of it some type of conflict which the antagonist must overcome…and it is the conflict which often contributes the most interesting elements of plot.

—-) In A Christmas Carol Scrooge must deal with all sorts of conflict, many which he brought upon himself

—-) In The Count of Monte Cristo, Dante is thrown into prison and loses the love of his life

—-) In the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold must deal with all the conflict brought by his crazy relatives who have come to spend the Christmas holiday at his house.

Too often we think of conflict as being bad….and in a way it is; but that doesn’t mean that we can’t end up using conflict for good, because it is how we respond towards negative situations that allows us to grow and mature and can in many ways bring us closer to our friends and family.

I hate conflict; I always have and I probably always will…..I simply don’t enjoy getting cussed out, getting drawn into an argument, or being treated like s**t. What else can I say other than that I’m human and I am often idealistic and wish everything could be beautiful and perfect. But life isn’t always beautiful and harmonious…..and that is okay. Because perhaps conflict exists in order for us to learn who we truly are…..perhaps conflict exists in order for us to figure out who our true friends are….

Then again, perhaps the truth of the matter is that conflict simply sucks.

I need another coffee,

Kenneth

 


Don’t be a know-it-all…REALLY???

 

 

by Kenneth Justice

~ I noticed that his eyes had started to wander and I knew he had clearly lost interest in the conversation….

With Christmas just days away, many of the people at the café’s I hang out at are talking about all the various things related to the holiday and yesterday was no exception; a young man sat down at my table in the morning and was telling me about his various ‘beefs’ with Christmas, “Kenneth, I can’t stand the commercialism of it, Christmas is nothing more than a time when the stores can make a ton of money off of innocent people who don’t even have enough in their savings to be buying that expensive Hi-Definition T.V. or some other ridiculously over-priced item” he said

Our conversation did not escape the attention of the older man who was sitting next to us…who from past experience I knew to be a minister from one of the local churches, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but hear what you two were talking about” the older man said….now, if you know me you would know that I’m not bothered at all when other people join my table conversations……unfortunately, this particular minister was one of those, know-it-all types….do you know the kinds? He doesn’t really have back-and-forth conversations but rather more-or-less gives long monologues…..for about fifteen minutes or so the minister told the young man that Christmas was indeed not supposed to be about materialism and talked about the pagan origins of Saturnalia and all the other rigmarole which many of us are familiar with…….it was somewhere around the 8 minutes mark of the minister’s monologue that I looked over at the young man and I noticed that his eyes had started to wander and I knew he had clearly lost interest in the conversation….

This article is definitely not meant to attack the kind old minister who simply wanted to give a little historical lesson about the origins of Christmas; he really is a nice old guy. Unfortunately, he’s not all that aware of where people are coming from…….the average person at a coffee shop (or anywhere really) doesn’t want to sit down with some stranger who gives them a lecture similar to what they remember from their school days. There is a time and place to be a know-it-all and when your hanging out in casual conversation with others; is clearly NOT the time.

The truth of the matter is that most people simply don’t want to be lectured. Do you remember what it was like when you were younger and your parents talked down-at-you? Children don’t usually like it anymore than anyone else does, and the conversations I remember liking the best from my youth were the ones in which my mom and dad talked to me in a simple back-and-forth manner; as though they were talking to anyone of their friends……do you know what I mean? It feels good when people treat us like ‘equals’….we tend to be more interested in the conversation when we feel as though we are more apart of the conversation.

When I was younger I tended to talk to people like a know-it-all….and this was one of the hardest habits I have had to break. There are so many times in conversations where I feel as though ‘I know the answer’ or ‘I know what to say’…but learning to bite my tongue and convey my thoughts in a way that other people will best receive them has been a tricky art that I have had to learn.

Nobody really teaches you the art of conversation; some of us are raised in better environments than other, where we are surrounded by adults who are really good at holding conversations with others…..but there are many of us who were raised by people who simply talk-at others, and we have to figure out the art of conversation all on our own.

I’ve been thinking about the art of conversation a lot lately because of the upcoming Christmas holiday. A lot of people think that Jesus was some dude who walked around talking at people…and lecturing people everywhere he went. But when I read the gospel of Mark I don’t get that impression at all. The image I see of Jesus has more to do with a guy who really knew how to relate to other people,

—-) he felt the pain that people in abusive relationships feel

—-) he understood what it was like to be a single mother in a world that ignores you

—-) he related to the poor and the people at the bottom of the economic chain

For me, when I read the gospel of Mark I see this guy that didn’t simply walk around talking at people…but rather he was first and foremost an expert listener; he had the ability to truly listen to people and understand where they were coming from and that was why when he finally did open his  mouth to speak; people were totally willing to listen to what he had to say…..

Well, after the minister talked for a  few minutes longer the young man who was sitting with us thanked us for the conversation and took off……perhaps he and I will have coffee one day in the future….

until then I will be sitting here with my coffee,

Kenneth


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