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Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires


Tales Told 'Round Celestial Campfires by Joseph CarrabisFor those of you who either didn’t know or forgot, I use to write fiction. According to my editors and readers, I was quite good at it.

Your writing is very moving. Tears came to my eyes when I read the last page of Dancers.

You have such wonderful imagery!

WOW! What beauty! I was completely hooked before I finished the first story.

You take readers on such wonderful journeys and your writing contains such wonderful lessons.

These stories have the flavor of an old sea tale, or something told around a campfire late at night. You have a wonderful distinctive voice.

After 20 years, I’ve decided to get back in the game. My first work of published fiction is Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires and you should all go purchase copies for yourself, everyone you care about, people you know intimately or just in passing, especially those you’ve either linked to or friended and have basically forgotten exist. Sharing your sense of wonder over Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires is a phenomenal way to get back in touch. Imagine the joy you’ll spread when you reach out to all those relationships both remembered and forgotten with “I’ve just heard about this amazing book, Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires, and it’s a must read!”

Your writing has a tenderness most men can’t master.

Wow! Terrific! Beautiful storytelling!

Your stories show the power of love.

Extremely powerful storytelling!

Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires contains fourteen stories. Most are love stories. Not romances, just love. Love in the form of acceptance. Acceptance of yourself, of others, of situations. Self-awareness is also a big theme with me. Even when self-awareness is painful or catches one unawares.

I love the way the reader gradually realizes what it is with your stories, and I love what it is.

I loved the feel, the tone of your writing – it is very sensitive, ethereal.

You’re a writer of genuine feeling.

Wonderful, entertaining and teaching. Amazing!

I really get the sense that I’m sitting down, listening to a storyteller weave the pattern of a story. That’s really neat. It’s a real pleasure to read your stories just for the beauty of the words.

Here are the first pages from four of the stories to give you an idea:

Dancers in the Eye of Chronos

Dancers in the Eye of ChronosHyphi and Gal parade onto the great hall’s floor, he half a pace ahead, she half a pace behind, their legs moving like a cat’s caught in headlights while their torsos remain straight and even. They pass the crowd among applause and hurrahs then pass the judges. Eyes focus on their clothes as well as their steps and the DJ looks to the judges for his cue. In mid-stride, the great hall rumbles as the DJ’s turntables engage.

Hyphi and Gal rumba. Gal wears a tasteful nuevo-Italian suit. Triple pleated frost brown pants with matching European cut jacket – no vent – brightly mottled red-and-yellow-on-black wide tie with double Windsor knot, ballooned creme shirt, pocketless, white gold with diamond eye studs, brown rattaned alligator Freeds – no Capezios here – frost brown silks, slightly darker than the pants and lighter than the shoes, easing the transition from one to the other. Tall. Broad shoulders, narrow waist, legs like tapered pillars and arms strongly anguine like boas, his hands and fingers long and graceful. His hair is salt&pepper, the salt like snow and the pepper like star studded night. His eyes are cyan iris against white orb like the sky seen through a cloud at sixty thousand feet. His skin is olive smooth, colored by a heredity so obvious it can’t be placed.

Hyphi’s head comes to just under his chin. Perfect for slow dancing. Perfect for sow dancing. Pale blue, three-ringed ruffle waisted skirt, line-thin lime green hip hugger belt, tight bodiced lime green blouse, ribbed and expanding beneath the breasts, showing the shoulders, white gold Bubo with emerald diamond eyes and hematite beak, tiny, clutching her throat on a slivered black band, finely silked scarf hinting at slipping from her softly muscled shoulders, pale earth tones of calmly pale earth scenes, dryads and naiads hiding and peeking as the scarf folds and unfolds to her dance, unnaturally natural blonde hair, eyes like his and skin the same, slightly lighter, yet the same. He smells of oceans and she smells of mists.

(also available on Kindle)

Those Wings Which Tire, They Have Upheld Me

Those Wings Which Tire, They Have Upheld MeCowan was walking in the woods the first time he saw Angel. He was really looking for a haunted house the real estate lady told his parents was back there and he’d walked further into the woods than he’d ever gone before.

There was an inch of snow on the ground except where the sun came through the trees for most of the day. In those places the ground was muddy. Cowan felt the crisping of the snow under his boot and looked at his footprints, trying to remember what they really looked like when he could really see them.

He took off the wrap-around sunglasses he wore to hide the holes where his eyes had been, thinking maybe the sunglasses stopped what he used to see from getting through. He still smelled the woodiness of the trees, still felt the cool air on his face and his breath misting as he exhaled. His breath didn’t look right, though. That was because of the Cap.

Dr. Hargitay said the Cap was best at least until they were sure the cancer didn’t come back. After that, Dr. Hargitay told Cowan’s parents, maybe they could transplant.

But until then it was the Cap. Cowan felt funny wearing the Cap. It itched.

Cowan’s family moved closer to the hospital that previous winter. Mom and Dad wanted to be with him more and this was the only way to do it. Cowan knew there were lots of other kids whose parents had moved closer to the hospital, but few of those kids ever came out.

He sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve.

When Cowan showed up in his new school after Spring vacation, Kevin, who wasn’t even in his class and had stayed back twice, followed Cowan all over the playground, just walking behind him and sing-songing “I can’t See, I can’t See” until Cowan ran back into the school. Ms. Flanders heard him in the boysroom and sent in Mr. Horly, the janitor, to see if everything was okay.

(also available on Kindle)

Canis Major

Canis MajorIggie dropped from the tree onto the fawn, his weight breaking its two hind legs. It tried to run anyway but its forelegs only clawed up the moist, dark forest floor, clouding Iggie’s thoughts as the rich earth aroma wafted into him. Iggie didn’t want the animal to suffer and bit into its throat, tearing out esophagus, jugular and various muscles. Still the fawn tried to escape. Iggie grew nauseous by the mix of his needs and the fawn’s attempts to break free. This wasn’t what he wanted. His father had told and taught him to make his kills quick and clean, to spare creatures any pain. Iggie curled one forepaw into a fist and punched through the fawn’s ribs, crushing the heart. The fawn stopped moving and Iggie, gazing up at the dark, star filled sky, let the blood trickle down his muzzle, dribble into his nostrils, and cover his fur from flews to belly as he dined.

TALL, HANDSOME, good build, good humor, able to stand on a rocking ship with my hands at my sides. Brown hair, brown eyes, black beard, white skin. Have been mistaken for a brown bear when I bathe in mountain streams, well educated (past 6th grade), still have all my teeth but not all my marbles. Looking for a well-rounded, buxom woman. Buxom men need not respond. Applicants should know by this that brains are more important than brawn. Dinners, dancing, demitasse, and dramamine. Send resume and salary history.

The ad sat on Iggie’s desk for two months. The first month he’d written it by hand and crossed out several portions. The second month he’d typed it into his computer, made several more edits, and returned to the forest.

He stared at the screen for some twenty minutes this time, ran the spelling checker over it four times, read the ad backwards to check for additional misspellings, and printed it out.

Winter Winds

Winter WindsIt occurred to me, as I sat watching, that the scene was not as it should be. The winds played oddly on the landscape, and even the patterns of the falling snow were different. However, it wasn’t until I turned off the floodlights, which are white, and turned on the ground lights, which are pink, that the entire scene was revealed to me.

You must remember that this was a very typical wintry night. The snow was falling in one of the worst – or best, according to my son – blizzards of the decade. But it was one of the heaviest snowfalls in the century, according to the weather service.

Anyway, my son and I stood by the glass doors that led to the backyard patio. we were watching the snow fall. He and I talked about skiing and sledding and tobogganing – I from memory and he from anticipation. As we talked, he pointed to something out in the field. We looked, but I couldn’t see anything. He wasn’t sure that he had seen anything, either, so we went back to a discussion of which broom to use to sweep off the pond.

We fell silent then, the late-night stillness of the house being interrupted only by the slurps of hot cider. We had pulled my big lounge chair around so that we could be comfortable. Suddenly David leapt to his feet and pointed out to the field. “Dad! Dad, look! What is that?”

His excitement startled me, and I jumped up from the lounge chair, nearly spilling my hot cider. I rubbed my eyes and looked. Then I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Something was moving out there on the field. Something…

“What is it, Dad?”

My first reaction was to take off my glasses and clean them. When I put them back on I saw the same basic picture. Only now the form – whatever it was – had moved farther across the field. “I’m not sure, Dave.” That was an understatement.

So please take a few moments to a) go get a copy of the book or Dancers in the Eye of Chronos and Those Wings Which Tire, They Have Upheld Me and b) tell all your friends about them. Link to this page, to my Amazon page, put it on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube and all the other social networks you’re on.

It’s appreciated.


Find me on Find Joseph on Amazon and Find Joseph on Goodreads (and write good things!).

Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th edition


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics It’s with great pleasure and a little pride that we announce Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat “4th EDITION” part is important. We know lots of people are waiting for Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation and it’s next in the queue.

But until then…

Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION is about 100 pages longer than the previous editions and about 10$US cheaper. Why? Because Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation is next in the queue.

Some Notes About This Book

I’m actually writing Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation right now. In the process of doing that, we realized we needed to add an index to this book. We also wanted to make a full color ebook version available to NextStage Members (it’s a download on the Member welcome page. And if you’re not already a member, what are you waiting for?)

In the process of making a full color version, we realized we’d misplaced some of the original slides and, of course, the charting software had changed since we originally published this volume (same information, different charting system). Also Susan and Jennifer “The Editress” Day wanted the images standardized as much as possible.

We included an Appendix B – Proofs (starting on page 187) for the curious and updated Appendix C – Further Readings (starting on page 236). We migrated a blog used for reference purposes so there may be more or less reference sources and modified some sections with more recent information.

So this edition has a few more pages and a few different pages. It may have an extra quote or two floating around.

You also need to know that Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History is a “Let’s explore the possibilities” book, not a “How to do it” book. As such, it deals with how NextStage did it (not to mention things that happened along the way). It does not explain how you can do it. This book’s purpose is to open a new territory to you and give you some basic tools for exploration.

There are no magic bullets, quick fixes, simple demonstrations, et cetera, that will turn you into jedis, gurus, kings, queens, samurai, rock stars, mavens, heroes, thought leaders, so on and so forth.

How to Do It starts with Volume II: Experience and Expectation and continues through future volumes in this series. We’ve included a Volume II: Experience and Expectation preview with a How to Do It example on page 302 so you can take a peek if that’s your interest.

That noted, I’m quite sure that you won’t get the full benefit of future volumes without reading this one because unless you’ve read this one you won’t understand the territory you’re exploring in those future volumes.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat’s Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION. It’s so good and so good for you! Buy a copy or two today!

You can follow me and my research on Twitter. I don’t twit often but when I do, it’s with gusto!

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Introducing NextStage Trainings


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics

NextStage has been testing some webinar trainings with various groups and the results are excellent.

So good, in fact, that we’re going public with our trainings. You can read about all trainings on our Schedule page.

Trainings cover topics such as

  • Building and Maintaining a Prospect List – NextStage demonstrates how some simple social mining can provide data on who needs you and how receptive they’ll be to your offer.

    This class is already sold out. Another will be offered sometime soon.

  • Know How Someone Is Thinking in 10 Seconds or Less Intro Webinar Training – a new one for us and already quite popular.
  • Email Pitches That Work – NextStage’s lowest email pitch success rate is 58% immediate and 608% pickup via social. These high numbers are achieved through selective audience development and a deep understanding of how an offering is percieved, by whom Want to learn how it’s done?
  • Webinar Introduction to NextStage Tools and Technology – NextStage has developed over 60 tools for various companies, agencies, businesses and governments, and many of them are available as part of NextStage Membership. This webinar provides an introduction to using NextStage tools and understanding the results. In some cases, participant provided material will be analyzed. The price of this webinar is applied to the Membership fee for anyone who chooses to become a NextStage Member.
  • Making Images Work – NextStage’s studies on the use of head and body images in marketing are used worldwide. Here’s your chance to learn directly from NextStage what images and videos to use for different audiences and when and where they should go on your digital properties.
  • Effective Newsletter Design – The email newsletter isn’t dead. It’s alive and flourishing if you know how to design for today’s mobile devices. This webinar shares NextStage research and results into crafting email newsletters that are opened and forwarded again and again and again.
  • NeuroDesign – NextStage’s Joseph Carrabis dissects ten websites chosen by participants and explains what works, what doesn’t and why. DMG’s Chief Content Officer Brad Berens said of Joseph ‘You are an expert in web usability, fast-paced analysis of how people’s postures and statements reveal their motivations, how color impacts decision making, and a lot of other things that I could list if I were about to take the time to go review websites and notes.’ Joseph, in 30 seconds, caught 10 out of 10 things Accuquote spent thousands of dollars and months A/B testing, according to Accuquote’s Sean Cheyney. Come see how it’s done!

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History
You can follow me and my research on Twitter. I don’t twit often but when I do, it’s with gusto!

Have you read my latest book, Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History? It’s a whoppin’ good read.

Learn the latest regarding NextStage blog posts, conference sightings,
whitepapers, tools, presentations and more via The NextStage RSS feed Subscribe to NextStage's RSS feed.

Would you prefer your Mother’s or your Grandmother’s cooking if you were at the end of your rope?


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral MetricsDid this post’s title stop you for a second? Maybe you had to read it once or twice to make sure you read it correctly? Maybe it confused you a little?

If any of those happened, good. Technically, the title is incongruous, meaning there is no logical connection between someone’s cooking and being at the end of one’s rope.

I hope so, anyway.

Also, the title is phrased as a question. Even better, it’s phrased as a question that involves emotional memory (the words “Mother” and “Grandmother” invoke emotional memory in most people) and psychological tension (being “at the end of your rope” is a colloquial English expression indicating tension and/or situational frustration).

Not bad, really. Emotional memory mixed with tension and/or frustration. Who among us hasn’t been there, huh?

The title is also indicative of something that occurs in truly good surveys designed to probe psychological factors (and I’ll explain my definition in a minute); they cause different brain regions to become active and go into resource conflict. That’s nerdspeak for “it makes you think”. Such questions in surveys are intended to make participants think before responding and therefore negate any test-taker bias that may occur in a normal online survey situation.

A Truly Good Psychological Survey…

… has covert and overt elements. The overt part is the survey’s look and feel, how it’s delivered, how it’s administered, how participants are selected, the questions themselves, so on and so forth.

The covert part is what the survey designers and developers are really studying about the participants. What is really under scrutiny, in a truly good psychological survey, might meld with the overt elements and is not necessarily mated to those overt elements in any obvious way.

Incredible Survey Systems…

…know that there’s gold in overt and covert conflict, that everything needs to be observed for the data gathered to be valid. For example, this survey uses some NextStage technology to determine if survey takers have strong or weak emotional memories and if those strong or weak memories are positive or negative.

For that matter, even if they don’t take it. All you need do is go to the introduction and NextStage technology will already have gathered enough information about you to advise stake holders precisely whether you have strong or weak, positive or negative emotional memories.

Amazing isn’t it?

Good thing we have patents on it, don’t you think?

And if you take the survey and want to know what we’ve found out, just let us get in touch with us or join our Friends of NextStage LinkedIn Group because we’ll be sharing it there.


(and thanks)

Please contact NextStage for information regarding presentations and trainings on this and other topics.

Sign up for The NextStage Irregular, our very irregular, definitely frequency-wise and probably topic-wise newsletter.

RVMsmallfrontcover.jpgYou can follow me and my research on Twitter. I don’t twit often but when I do, it’s with gusto!

Have you read my latest book, Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History? It’s a whoppin’ good read.

Reading Virtual Minds Volume 2: Experience and ExpectationAre you signed up to get my next book, Reading Virtual Minds Volume 2: Experience and Expectation? It’ll be a whoppin’ good read.

Learn the latest regarding NextStage blog posts, conference sightings, whitepapers, tools, presentations and more via The NextStage RSS feed Subscribe to NextStage's KnowledgeShop's RSS feed.

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There’s a name for people who work for the love of it: amateurs. The word now has such bad connotations that we forget its etymology, though it’s staring us in the face. “Amateur” was originally rather a complimentary word. But the thing to be in the twentieth century was professional, which amateurs, by definition, are not.

That’s why the business world was so surprised by one lesson from open source: that people working for love often surpass those working for money. Users don’t switch from Explorer to Firefox because they want to hack the source. They switch because it’s a better browser.

It’s not that Microsoft isn’t trying. They know controlling the browser is one of the keys to retaining their monopoly. The problem is the same they face in operating systems: they can’t pay people enough to build something better than a group of inspired hackers will build for free.

I suspect professionalism was always overrated– not just in the literal sense of working for money, but also connotations like formality and detachment. Inconceivable as it would have seemed in, say, 1970, I think professionalism was largely a fashion, driven by conditions that happened to exist in the twentieth century.

One of the most powerful of those was the existence of “channels.” Revealingly, the same term was used for both products and information: there were distribution channels, and TV and radio channels.

It was the narrowness of such channels that made professionals seem so superior to amateurs. There were only a few jobs as professional journalists, for example, so competition ensured the average journalist was fairly good. Whereas anyone can express opinions about current events in a bar. And so the average person expressing his opinions in a bar sounds like an idiot compared to a journalist writing about the subject.

On the Web, the barrier for publishing your ideas is even lower. You don’t have to buy a drink, and they even let kids in. Millions of people are publishing online, and the average level of what they’re writing, as you might expect, is not very good. This led some in the media to conclude that blogs weren’t much of a threat– that blogs were just a fad.

Actually, the fad is the word “blog,” at least the way the print media now use it. What they mean by “blogger” is not someone who publishes in a weblog format, but anyone who publishes online. That’s going to become a problem as the Web becomes the default medium for publication. So I’d like to suggest an alternative word for someone who publishes online. How about “writer?”

How Anthony Simcoe Taught Me the Difference Between Wisdom and Knowledge


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics

FarScape was a sci-fi TV show that originally ran from 1998-2002. It caught our attention back then although I don’t think we got past the second or third season because it got…well…it got wanky. We think it started to suffer from the Gilligan’s Dinosaur Syndrome and that’s what caused the wankiness. I mean, it was such a good show when it started.

Anyway, the Pivot TV network is now showing the series (along with other interesting stuff that we haven’t found elsewhere. They’re worth a look) and we managed to catch the premier episode one channel flipping afternoon (FarScape normally airs at 11pmET, Monday-Friday).

Anthony Simcoe as D'ArgoSkip back to 1998, Susan and I are sitting in our living room (I think it was a Friday or Saturday evening) and FarScape comes on. One character, D’Argo, is played by Anthony Simcoe. I’d never heard of Anthony Simcoe before and was immediately taken by his voice. Had this guy done voice overs? Was he a voice actor? What else had he done?

Most importantly for this post, What did he look like?

I’ve been visually challenged since birth and have always been fascinated by people’s sounds (voices) compared and contrasted to their physiologies. Sometimes I’ll hug men because they have such resonant voices I’m curious about the chamber that produces it.

For example, I’ve been told that I don’t look like I sound. I’ve been trained to modulate my voice, to throat speak, to rotary breathe, all sorts of things that allow me to change my voice, so I can understand people telling me I don’t look like I sound.

But Anthony Simcoe’s voice…it was deep, powerful, resonant. Was he a singer? He elocution was also incredible (considering the makeup he was wearing) and accentless.

What did he look like?

But back in 1998 there was no internet like we know it today (I know, only fifteen years ago. Oh, my!). You couldn’t type in “Anthony Simcoe” and get parsecs of info on him and everything about him.

And, of course, once we stopped watching FarScape I forgot about him.

Until I saw him as D’Argo again thanks to Pivot TV.

And now, if I wanted, I could type his name into my desktop, my laptop, my tablet, my mobile, … heck, I could probably fingerwrite his name onto the morning frost on my windshield and my car could tell me everything about him.

And before I did any of that, I stopped.

Did I really want to know?

I mean, I had and once again have this incredibly rich image of Anthony Simcoe sans D’Argo makeup in my head. He probably doesn’t look anything like what I imagine, but so what? It’s his voice I love. Do I really truly honest to god want to know what chamber it comes out of?

Hug him, sure, and with my eyes closed.

But look him in the eye and ruin everything?

Were You Disappointed When Richard Dreyfuss Boarded the Close Encounters MotherShip?Were You Disappointed When Richard Dreyfuss Boarded the Close Encounters MotherShip?

Remember Close Encounters, Special Edition? The one where Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary actually goes on board the alien mothership and we follow him onboard? And instead of having all those wonderful imaginations in our head of what it was like, we actually see what it was like?

Was that a freakin’ disappointment or what, huh?

I remembered that. I remembered going to the theater with a bunch of friends and Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy Neary goes on board and we all went, “What? That’s not what it’s like in there!”

Knowledge Isn’t Wisdom and Part of Wisdom is Knowing What’s Worth Not Knowing At All

Susan and I use to love Cirque du Soleil. I mean, we loved it. I first encountered it wa-a-ay back when I was hitchhiking through Canada and I got her hooked the first time it came to Boston. It was magic.


And we went to several different shows in several different places and then one night we were watching a Bravo tv show about what goes in to making a Cirque du Soleil and the incredible training and scripting and then we see right on television that two of the next stars of the next production, two headliners, are holding out for more money.

To heck with the fact that they’d signed contracts and everything, they realized they were main attractions in the new show and decided they could hold the show ransom because they didn’t want to honor their contracts, heck no, they simply wanted more money.

And the magic, at that instant, right at that moment, as Susan and I were sitting in the same living room where we’d watched FarScape, died.

I’m talking stake through the heart it ain’t never coming back dead. We’ve not gone to a Cirque du Soleil show since.

And whenever we think about Cirque du Soleil, we wish we’d never watched that Bravo tv show because knowing wasn’t as good as dreaming and wondering.

In short, the knowledge didn’t add any real value to our lives. In fact, it took value away.

Just like seeing the inside of the mothership.

If you’re thinking this touches back to Digital Divisivity, you’re correct. Knowing a fact doesn’t necessarily make you a better person. Sometimes it might even make you a lesser person, in the sense that the knowledge, recognizably trivial to your daily life, doesn’t make you happy and takes some of your happiness away.

It’s like being told that high school algebra will someday help you buy groceries. Really? It will? Can you prove that?

Back to Anthony Simcoe

So, Anthony, you big, powerful, broad chested, handsome as all heck, wonderful father and husband who is kind to animals and has that amazingly melodious baritone that makes me so curious about you, I never want to meet you face to face. You might not be who I think you are, and I’m big into avoiding disappointments at this point in my life.

Thanks for the wisdom in recognizing that, though.

I mean, you know what they say; “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

Right now, Anthony, you’re a happy fruit. Now stay out of my salad.

Links for this post:

Sign up for The NextStage Irregular, our very irregular, definitely frequency-wise and probably topic-wise newsletter.

RVMsmallfrontcover.jpgYou can follow me and my research on Twitter. I don’t twit often but when I do, it’s with gusto!

Have you read my latest book, Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History? It’s a whoppin’ good read.

Reading Virtual Minds Volume 2: Theory and ApplicationsAre you signed up to get my next book, Reading Virtual Minds Volume 2: Theory and Applications? It’ll be a whoppin’ good read.

Learn the latest regarding NextStage blog posts, conference sightings,
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That Question of Faith


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics My recent Arrogance v ignorance (Faith untested is only an opinion) post got lots of interest.

I’m always surprised by what others find interesting.

One thought-provoking email exchange occurred with an English as a Second Language speaker who was confused by the use of “opinion”, much like my confusion about “affair” when I was a child.

My correspondent’s questions got me to thinking, though. He wrote:

What is then faith when tested successfully? Faith. Yes?
The new connection for me now is made: opinion is a level of faith or belief but then we arrive to the differentiation between belief and faith, the question I dissected once in the past and cannot pull up my references that easily but if I recall correctly faith requires no proof, whereas belief is subject to change based on new data.

I offered that faith successfully tested is “belief”, more accurately “acceptance” and most probably conviction. Faith untested is, at best, “hope” and as my beloved Susan once said, “Shades of gray are where Hope dwells.”

But the question “How much data do you need before faith becomes belief?” got me to remembering a discussion I had long ago with another fellow. He was, earlier in his life, a devout believer, someone of great conviction. He wasn’t a gnat (like Paul in the Arrogance v ignorance post) and would only share his faith/belief/conviction when asked or questioned and then reluctantly (he wanted to be sure you really wanted to know before taking up your time). He truly demonstrated his faith/belief/conviction via his actions. I remember hearing some friends of his describe him with phrases like “I expect him to sprout wings and fly away when he goes around a corner” and “He has the most amazing spirit” and such.

Even though his convictions had changed greatly, nobody knew it. Such was his “walk” that his expression of what he believed in — which had greatly changed — didn’t alter how he demonstrated his convictions (even though they had greatly changed).

What I noticed (and it was subtle. I knew something was different and it took me quite a while to pinpoint what I thought it was) was an minor increase in melancholy when certain things happened. A loss of innocence, it might be called. To others, a wisdom and probably one that surpassed the Apostle Paul’s “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” requirement.

But what happened to change his faith?

In his own words:

I’d been a true believer for over twenty years. I’d been practically kicked out of my parents’ home because of my faith. I believed. I mean, I believed. I wasn’t a fanatic. I had an excellent reason to belief; a miracle. A bona fide, you can’t deny it, in your face miracle that happened to me and other people witnessed and by god if that wasn’t the blood of christ working for you nothing was.

And for the last seventeen of those twenty years, every time something horrible happened in my life, I thought back to that miracle and told myself that because that miracle was true, my faith was true, and therefore my belief in god was true. I’d been beatup, shot at, lived in my car, lived on the street — I use to joke that I was homeless before it was acceptable — abandoned by my family and friends, … oh, I gave it all up for christ because I had that miracle to hold onto.

You need to know the miracle to understand. All I had at one point was my car. One day I’m putting things in my car — I always had it locked — and I see a plain brown bag in the backseat. I open it and there’s a boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia, still in its wrapper, but no pricestickers on it, no sales slip, nothing.

This is incredible to me because I’d been reading the series book by book through a friend of three years who’d let me camp out on his living room floor and happened to mention that I’d been praying God would get me my own copies so I could mark them up and make notes.

Whenver I questioned my faith I went back to that simple thing just because it was so simple a thing and also because it was so personal a thing. It was such a direct answer to a prayer that it had to be proof, simple proof. Simple and undeniable, that’s how much it meant to me. I was a kid, understand, just twenty years old and the first time out of my parents’ house.

And there they are in the backseat the next morning. I ran back to my friend’s apartment and showed him the unopened set. I couldn’t believe it. I exclaimed that it was a miracle, an answer to my prayer, and that there was no way somebody else could have put them in my car because I always had the keys with me and who would break into a car to leave me a gift, anyway?

And he smiled and nodded and the other folks in the apartment smiled and nodded and we all rejoiced and prayed and thanked god for that miracle.

Flash forward eighteen years. I have gone through…hell…for my faith. I mean, hell. Things that only happen to missionaries in old movie type things. Things Tarzan, Superman and The Hulk together couldn’t get me out of, and I survived. That was another thing I use to tell people who were amazed at what I’d been through for my faith (he laughed here); I survive. When all others fail, quit or die, I survive. You can read my back like a roadmap from the beatings I took for my faith.

Because of that one…fucking…miracle.

Now eighteen years have passed and that friend and I are in my house. He knows what I’ve gone through. He’d seen some of it, he definitely heard about the rest of it and there were times he held me while I cried about it.

Now he’s looking at my bookshelf, at that same set of The Chronicles of Narnia, and I start up again about that miracle.

And my best friend of eighteen years says, “I put them in your car.”

“What?” I asked. I didn’t exclaim it. I didn’t yell it. I asked it. But now there’s a wee small throb starting at the back of my skull and I’m starting to feel sick.

“I put them in your car. You were asleep on the floor in your sleeping bag and I knew you weren’t going to wake up for a while so I went to the bookstore, asked for a set that was still unmarked, got your keys off the coffee table where you left them and put the books in your car.”

I’m really feeling sick now. “What?”

“I knew you wanted them and it seemed like a great gift to keep you going on your walk.”

I fell into a chair and I mean fell. “But when I asked you…”

He shrugged. “I didn’t want to spoil it for you.”

And I thought, “You let me believe in a lie for the past eighteen years? You let me get fucked over time and time again for the past eighteen years because you didn’t want to spoil it for me? You let me leave my wife and son because I thought my vision was true and she couldn’t accept it and because of that fucking miracle that really wasn’t, I thought everything else that happened was what god wanted so rather than fight for them I just rolled over and you didn’t say a thing? You couldn’t tell me the truth and let me decide, each time, if my faith was worth it?”

“And nobody ever told me? This is your testimony in Christ? Let somebody believe in a lie rather than allow them the right to make an informed decision?”

He shrugged again.

So my faith was based on a lie. Everything I did “in Christ” was a lie. The last eighteen years of my life had been a lie.

My faith had been tested and proven but it was all a lie. And god or christ or whatever had never tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, Phil, we need to talk about this.” Everybody I’d told the story to thought it was great and people converted and now I realized their faith, if based on my testimony, was also a lie.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

The real shame was that my friend took off. I haven’t seen him since. I don’t blame him. I’m not sure I could look a friend in the face if I’d been lying to him for their entire relationship. Imagine the shame he’d been carrying, allowing me to live that lie and knowing he’d allowed it? What a conflict of faith that must have been for him. It must have destroyed his faith, too.

But you want to know what was really funny? I forgave him. Yeah, it knocked the shit out of me for a few minutes and every once in a while I still laugh about it, but I realized that what really kept me going all those years wasn’t faith in some god or higher being, it was a faith in something inside of me that I called God or Christ or something because I didn’t have other words for it.

I think my forgiving him really destroyed his faith. I think he needed me to be ripshit with him and beat the shit out of him, but why bother? Who was the bigger fool? The one who believed or the one who lied? At least when I learned the truth I picked myself back up and continued on. That’s that “survival” thing, I guess. Yeah, I survive. Anything. Even discovering that what I believed in was a lie all along.

What I believed in was a lie but my faith never shook a leaf. I still believe in myself, just like I always did. People come to me for help now and instead of saying “Let’s pray over it” I say “Let’s get busy”.

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