Uyak Bay, Kodiak, Alaska, 2010

For many years now, I’ve been guided by the simple message of the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki who talked about the “Beginner’s Mind,” the mentality of approaching something in a fresh and new way, of letting go (as much as possible) of biases and fixed ideas.

For the beginner, there are many possibilities, for the expert there are few.

 

 

I am a writer currently concentrating on completing (then publishing) my first novel. I write nonfiction essay pieces and blog posts reflecting my engagement with culture and politics.

 

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My background is evangelical, “born again” Christianity. I grew up in something of a sheltered conservative bubble, eventually earning a Master’s of Arts in Theological Studies with an emphasis on biblical exegesis. I had originally intended to be an academic and a theologian but found myself increasingly discouraged and disillusioned by the stagnation and intransigence of the evangelical movement.

 

Somewhere in the Midwest, sometime before 2010
Somewhere in the Midwest, sometime before 2010

 

I am no longer a practicing Christian, but I maintain a daily practice of prayer and meditation. I study the teachings of the Buddha, particularly in the Vipassana tradition. I also still draw invaluable inspiration and wisdom from the teachings of Jesus and the other prophetic voices heard in the Christian Bible, and I am still active among the “emerging church” discussions, with young Christian thinkers and artists trying to salvage the faith and create spaces for spiritual growth that are true to the original vision of Jesus and his early followers.

Once I had made the clean break from evangelical Christianity, I began traveling, and for the last 8 years I have not stayed put for a complete year in the same place, finding myself trying to navigate the streets of Arusha as a “mzungu” to appreciating the serenity of Alaskan landscapes.

 

Kids of Arusha! Tanzania, circa 2014
Kids of Arusha! Tanzania, circa 2014

 

I have been involved with and support activist causes and the contemporary resurgence of leftist politics, and my blogging and writing on social media are part of my attempt to grapple with the evolving issues during these tenuous times.

 

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Whatever it is I am writing, I try to maintain that same spirit of Shunryu Suzuki. I try to approach the world and the issues and other people with an open heart and with the mind of an eager young student. Whenever I write, whatever I write, I try to write with a beginner’s pen.

 

Santa Cruz Mountains, 2016
Santa Cruz Mountains, 2016

I contribute film reviews and essays to Cinema Faith. You can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/erdman31

11 thoughts on “About

  1. I noticed that you say that you are sympathetic to the green party. I wanted to recommend a book (I know there are a gazillion new books printed everyday). It’s called: Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa by Robert Paarlberg. I used to be really into “organic” and green. But this book presents a pretty strong case for biotech (as well as subtly exposes the motivations and hidden agenda behind some “green” proponents.) When I read your bio, you seemed somewhat like-minded to me, so I decided to leave this comment. God bless you and your wife!

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  2. I’ll have to check that out. I am open-minded, and I can see the complexities of the various arguments, as well as the politics and manipulation, on both sides. Thank you for the recommendation.

    If you have a minute, I’d love to hear you expound a bit on the substance of Paarlberg’s argument. Also, I just read and reviewed Deep Economy by Bill McKibben. I’d love to hear your thoughts:

    http://theosproject.blogspot.com/2011/06/deep-economy-by-bill-mckibben.html

    Also, I see you’ve blogged a bit on the subject. I’ll check that out.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Jon

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  3. John, if you knew what the bible taught about punishing criminals then you’d know that nowhere does God ever say that prison is a just punishment for any crime. He only gives restitution, corporal punishment and capital punishment as just responses to crimes. Just those three. If prison were a just punishment for a crime God would have said something about it when He gave the criminal code to Moses.

    God knew that prisons existed. Prison is mentioned as far back as Genesis 39 which was quite a while before God gave the law to Moses. So, God knew prisons existed. He also knew that imprisonment is not a just punishment for any crime. [the Catholic Church insults its followers by claiming in its catechism that God commanded execution for capital crimes because prisons just weren’t an “option” for Israel – as if God thought “we can’t build a prison to keep them in, so we better just kill em” – how laughable is that!]

    All you need to get a good “faith community” for the good of prisoners formed is to stand on 3 facts about prison and its abolition:
    1) Prison is an unjust punishment – God never gave imprisonment as a just punishment for any crime.
    2) Prisons don’t work – the ricidivism rate for those who have served time in prison is very high (67% are arrested again).
    3) Prisons punish the family members of those put in prison – wives, children, etc. are harmed by their husband or dad being sentenced to spend years in prison since they are unable to work and make the money needed to help support their family.

    Also, the stigma of having served time in prison makes it very hard for someone to get a job and live a decent life ever again.

    Getting rid of prisons as a form of punishment would be REAL social justice. Think about how big a difference it would make if a guy convicted of stealing was simply flogged and made to make restitution over a short period of time. He gets flogged and then he can go back to work and continue supporting his family instead of being locked up and the family losing their breadwinner. That would be a humongous difference. They’d still be able to afford the rent/mortgage and the child(ren) would still have their dad around to care for them.

    So there you have it. A “community of faith” that you can be part of and promote AMONG ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCHES which have lots of people and money in them who will support your efforts. And they’ll support the effort because they take the criminal justice system that God gave in the bible seriously….along with the other main reasons.

    ****NOTE****
    Nutty leftist groups probably won’t be as supportive. The main reason being that they don’t have a good grasp of what is “just” or even what is “fair”. The most obvious evidence of this lately is those on the left screaming that someone who makes $1 million a year paying @ 40% in taxes and someone making $33,000 a year paying 15% in taxes is what they call “fair”. Not what the dictionary definition of the word fair is which would mean they both pay 15% or they both pay 40%.

    So, while those on the left love the idea of seeing people who try to blow up buildings and conspire to murder cops and other people being set free (like Obama’s close buddy Bill Ayres) they probably won’t be much help since they live in a drug-induced alternate universe where simple concepts such as “fairness” and “justice” are extremely skewed.

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  4. Quinn,

    Certainly we can both agree that prisons are bad ideas. I am right with you on that. Where I disagree with you is that I interpret the Law of Moses as providing the structure for a society that takes responsibility for one’s self but also for one’s neighbor, the “love thy neighbor as thyself” serving as one of the primary axioms of faith. In America, we have little or no sense of what it means for us to take responsibility for our neighbors. For the Hebrews, however, the law code clearly intended for them to view each person as being shaped and guided by society in such a way that s/he could be a healthy and productive citizen. From my studies, it was very similar in ancient Greece.

    So, why flog people? Why not focus primarily on creating a society where kids don’t grow up in ghettos or in similar conditions of poverty, crime, and abuse? Why not work toward better education and schools? Why not focus on providing employment to all people? I think we could take America’s incredible capacity for creative thinking and direct it toward eliminating the conditions that create crime rather than incarcerating or flogging people. This, I think, would square more with the Bible as I understand it.

    ****Note****

    I am one of those “nutty leftists” you referred to. In our defense. We view “fairness” as being closely associated with “economic equality.” If there is massive economic equality, as it exists in the U.S. today, then this will result in power and privilege being skewed toward the rich. We believe that money is power, so we seek to empower all people, not simply privilege the wealthy.

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  5. Why do you think that God was wrong to command flogging or corporal punishment as a just punishment for some crimes? How do you justify claiming that Hebrew society is promoting some specific good in obeying God who commands flogging as punishment for some crimes and then in the same thought stream claim that God was wrong to command flogging as a swift, just punishment for some crimes? That doesn’t make any sense at all. You may as well be anti-Christ and hate the God of the bible if you are going to talk that way about the God of the bible.

    If I understand what you think “economic equality” is then an example would be if you and Bill Gates were to have “economic equality” does that mean that you would take what you earn in a year and what Bill Gates earns in a year and then divide that total by 2 in order to arrive at “economic equality”? Because, if that isn’t what you have in mind, then I have no idea what you mean by “economic equality”. And if what I just described is what you mean by “economic equality” then I don’t really expect you to give a response along the lines of “Yeah, that is exactly what I am talking about” because of how completely unjust and wrong such “economic equality” obviously would be.

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  6. Quinn,

    I’m not sure you are quite understanding where I am coming from on the flogging issue, and I am certain that I do not understand your point about flogging. If you care to expand your thoughts a bit, then I’ll be happy to keep discussing it.

    What seems fairly obvious to me is that any form of violence is an inferior and regrettable means of correcting behavior. As the scriptures note in many places, violence begets violence, those who live by the sword (or flog!) will die by the sword. If society relies on violence to deal with social ills, then that violence will inevitably bounce back and hurt society as a whole.

    On to the issue of an equal society…..

    My idea of an equal society is not one of wealth redistribution. My ideal society is one in which the conditions of society are such that redistribution is not necessary. Wealth is simply distributed more-or-less equally as it is is created. Redistributing wealth centralizes power in the hands of those who are doing the redistributing. To my mind, this creates a clear conflict of interests and takes the power away from the people.

    Technically speaking, there are two types of socialists. The first is authoritarian. The classic case of this would be Soviet Russia. I am anti-authoritarian. I am what is called a “libertarian socialist.” This means that equality is achieved via the freedom of people. People, however, cannot be truly free unless society is set up in a more-or-less equal manner. So, I am against centralizing power, in any form.

    Most people are only familiar with socialism in its authoritarian form, as you indicated in your prior comment. Historically, though, socialism developed with many anti-authoritarian approaches. These approaches, however, were never fully implemented. Freedom is so difficult for most of us to put into practice.

    Thanks for keeping up with the conversation. I was wondering if you would return.

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  7. After reading your words in June 2016 on Forward Day By Day, I am so pleased that I will be able to continue to learn from you on this site. God bless your camino. P.S. We love Alaska! I hope to see Denali before I die.

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  8. While belated, I cannot thank you enough for your contributions to Forward Day by Day this past June. As I look through the pages I’ve flagged, the lines I’ve highlighted to give you a “for instance” I find even more treasure.

    “We are all called, in our own way, to walk the paths blazed by prophets and mystics before us, to become soft of heart and strong in spirit.” Amen.

    What a gift you have. Thank you for sharing your gift!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Chris! It was a pleasure to write for Forward Day by Day, a very enriching experience in the writing and very rewarding to interact with the online community to listen to further comments and reflections on the scriptures. Be well!

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