February 3 is the 32nd anniversary of Hot Springs’ Wednesday Night Poetry, the poetry event (sometimes including music) held every single Wednesday evening since its inception in February 1989. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to become virtual for as long as necessary, but it will emerge again as a live event one day. I hope that emergence will occur at its most recent host venue Kollective Coffee. But for the 32nd anniversary, it remains a virtual open mic night. Kai Coggin, currently the host, has invited a number of Arkansas poets and writers of poetry (there’s a difference, in my mind) to provide a video to share for that evening. I am among those she asked and I agreed to write and record a poem for the celebration. I haven’t finished my current poem yet, but if I read the one I am writing at the moment, it will be an exploration of pain and regret.  That seems to be a consistent theme in my writing. I suppose I’ll keep doing it until I get it right. Wednesday next week is yet another obligation, but one I treasure.


This morning, I’ll participate in my first grief support group, orchestrated through my church as a virtual event now, as most of them are. Yesterday, I participated in another UUVC virtual event, Articulating Your UU Faith. Both activities reinforce my appreciation for accidentally overcoming my utter and complete rejection of church in all its forms. But I’m still reeling from my surprise at engagement with a church. Nonbelievers don’t do church. But they do, I’ve found. We do.

Yet I’m still struggling with some of it. The word “faith,” for instance. My faith? Some of the definitions of the word prompt me to reflect on what I am attempting to articulate. For example: 1) belief that is not based on proof; 2) belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion; and 3) a system of religious belief. Yet all three definitions apply in my case. My belief, in the absence of a divine being, is not based on proof. My belief in the teachings of the Unitarian Universalist “religion” confirms my “faith” in those teachings. And, by definition, Unitarian Universalism is a system of religious belief—I grudgingly admit.

I could argue that Unitarian Universalism is not a religion but a philosophy, instead. I could argue the same with respect to other “faiths,” though. I freely admit I have had a bias against church teachings since childhood. My bias was not against the core foundations of morality upon which the various religions rest; it was (and is) against the supernatural elements and the hypocrisy of the content of religious texts and their interpretations. I’ve always thought the Bible was a book of myth that contained substantial amounts of valuable endorsement of moral positions that mirror my own. But it was only relatively recently that I was able to articulate that. During yesterday’s virtual conversation, one of the other participants said it very clearly; I think she said it is a text that teaches through mythology. My difficulty, from as far back as I can remember, has been with the belief that every word of the Bible is to be taken literally. In my view, that’s akin to madness.

I wonder how many people “out there” are like my wife, who silently and without fanfare readily accepted what she considered the moral lessons of the Bible and dismissed the rest? Unlike me, she did not argue vocally and forcefully against those elements of the book that are clearly impossible and in opposition to one another. For her, the arguments were not worth the energy they required. “Live and let live” could well have been her motto. I miss her so much this morning. I want to ask her questions and hear her answers. I miss long, silent embraces that say so much, proving that words sometimes unnecessarily infringe on communication. Embraces that say, “I understand” or “It’s okay” or “All that matters is that we have each other.”


I’ve allowed my emotional state to spill onto the floor. Suddenly, as I look around at the piles of paper that need to be sorted or recorded, my energy slithers away like a snake shedding its skin, leaving only a dead dry shell that can accomplish nothing. I need to get things done, but I cannot even imagine moving a pile of paper from one corner of the desk to another.

No, it was not sudden. I did not change the HVAC filters yesterday. It would have taken too much dedicated attention; all of fifteen minutes. Perhaps I’m just inherently lazy, after all. But, then I think, maybe if I had someone here to help urge me on, I’d get things done. No, I would not want to work; I would only want to sit and drink coffee or wine and engage in mindless chatter or philosophical explorations. Work is for another day. Always for another day.


In spite of my lust for an empty calendar, yesterday afternoon I willingly added another obligation to it. I invited my elderly neighbors (he’s over 90 years old) to visit tomorrow afternoon for some wine, hors d’oeuvres, and conversation. They have been very kind to me and they are just delightful people. Plus they share my political leanings. They have always seemed to have only a few visitors and they spend most of their time in their house (but they do go on walks on occasion). They had me over a few weeks ago and it’s time I returned the generosity. I want to do the same with other neighbors and church friends, too.  But I am conflicted. On the one hand, I enjoy them all, but on the other I enjoy social interactions on a rather limited basis. But, on yet another hand (one of many), I don’t want my desire for solitude to override my interest in enjoying their company. And on another hand, even in solitude I have an abiding interest in the company of some people in particular. Maybe all these arms are, in fact, legs. I think I may be an octopus. Another arm (or leg) wants to have my sculpture instructor back for wine and conversation. Schizophrenia may be at play here.


I am in favor of modular housing that can be expanded or made smaller with very little effort and money. As families grow, smaller starter homes could expand with the addition of modules such as bathrooms and bedrooms. Then, when the kids leave home or spouses find greener pastures, modules could be removed. Tax structures would need tweaking to adjust to the “living” home. Zoning in many place would require some flexibility, as well. The concept of modular housing would fit well with the practice of building co-housing communities, too (a concept I’ve favored for many years). The co-housing community could start small and grow as people see how attractive and appealing privacy and simultaneous social support, going hand in hand, are.

One of many things I would like to do if I could relive my life again would be to become an architect with a specialty in co-housing design. Oh, and I want to be a sociology professor. And a professional rodeo cowboy. And a lawyer. And a singer/songwriter. So many wishes, so few lives to live.


It’s nearly 7:30. Between drinking cups of coffee and writing more mindless drivel, I’ve managed to waste more than an hour and a half. I have to get going. There must be energy somewhere in this house. I just have to find it.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Searching

  1. Thank you, Pat. I think your suggestions about perspective are spot on.

  2. Pat Newcomb says:

    What if? — you called “faith” your “world view” ? — you considered “religion” to be the human endeavor of forming and maintaining a particular subset of people who share a common faith? The Unitarians and the Universalists came alongside those radical notions that kings and popes and bishops might not have a divine right to tell us how to view the world and the relationship to our maker. Your questions cut right to the chase.

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