The Brain Is A Big Fat Liar

One of my favorite shows is called “Brain Games.” Each half-hour episode shows volunteers and the viewers audio and visual games that show how our brain interprets sensory input. In short, the brain doesn’t merely hear, taste, smell, or see anything as it is, but tries instead to interpret what it senses. Even then, it’s not a true representation of the real world.

Let’s take a look at the ear. Sound waves flow into the ear canal which causes little bones to vibrate inside. The brain then interprets the bones’ vibrations as specific sounds. Even then, we’re not hearing the sound itself, but the ear’s response to the sounds. The brain also tries to attach meaning to those sounds. Where it’s coming from, and what’s causing it. For instance, that roar we hear isn’t simply a roar. It could be a lion, a fierce wind, or an airplane flying overhead. If it doesn’t sound immediately familiar, we will continue to listen until we can say, “Oh! I know what that is. That’s a train going by.” We’re not like a tape recorder that doesn’t care what the sound is. It simply records it. Humans, on the other hand, try to give every sensory input some kind of context.

We went traveling one day and I saw a big orange blob in the middle of a cultivated field. My first thought was school bus, because the color was similar. But then I thought, “Why would there be a school bus in the middle of the field?” I stared at that thing for as long as I could, but I never did figure out what it really was.

How often do we look at clouds and find shapes and faces in them? Because the brain wants everything to be familiar, to look like something it’s seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt before. It’s a survival mechanism, so that way it can quickly determine if it’s harmful or beneficial.

And because it tries to give everything context instead of accepting that there may be no context, or the context is beyond our current experience – like the orange blob in the middle of the field – it sometimes lies to us. My brain grabbed the first object from my experience that matched closest to what it saw – a school bus – so that’s what I thought I saw at first. And yet, it probably wasn’t a school bus. My brain lied to me.

Some other examples are optical illusions and magic tricks.

Here’s a video (excerpt from “Brain Games”) to further prove my point:

Note: You can watch the first four seasons on Netflix.

Idling

Not moving forward or back. Looking around me, but no desire to travel in any direction no matter how tantalizing the paths before me seem.

Not sure why, and barely curious enough to find an answer.

Recently I looked at all the writing contests I’ve participated in, and I’ve either won or placed second in all but two. How is it then that I’m still uncertain?

Perhaps I’m fatigued. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, but it’s still not enough. I’m not where I need to be. In spite of my successes so far, the encouragement I’ve received from friends and family, and an undeniable push from God to keep on keeping on, I doubt if I should. What’s the point? My own edification, God’s glory, what? No matter the end result, will the blood, sweat, tears and years be worth it all? Or is it a case of diminishing returns – if there will be any returns other than knowing that as I learn more about my craft, I will continue to discover I will never know enough?

Ugh. I hate stagnation. It’s smelly, and no amount of deodorant helps.

It’s a phase. I know that. Perhaps it’s due to hormones (or lack thereof). With winter in full swing with too little exposure to sunlight, maybe I’m suffering from a slight bout of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Perhaps it’s another symptom of my slight mid-life crisis. Perhaps a combination of all the above.

Whatever reason or reasons, it’s temporary. Maybe I should enjoy the “downtime.” Who knows, maybe it’s God’s way of forcing me to rest, because I’ll be entering another phase in my life when I can’t rest as much. Downtimes can be just as necessary as uptimes, I think. Each presents its own unique opportunity for growth.

In other words, it’s okay to slow down at times, to sit idle and absorb life instead of pursuing it.

Off The Deep End

Other than needing a killer query letter and super-awesome book to attract agents, many people suggest going to writers conferences. Not only can they help a person build a network of fellow writers, agents, and publishers, but they offer a lot of classes during those 2-4 days. I’ve gone to several already, and although I’ve sold nothing, yet, I always learn so much my brain is mush by the time it’s over.

After four years, I decided it was time to go to another writers conference. I signed up for the annual ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference in August. This year it’s in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve never been there, so I’m looking forward to it. I won’t see much of the city itself, because the conference will take up most of my time. But the hotel is close to downtown, so perhaps I’ll take the time to visit a few interesting places.

Don’t ask how much it costs, though, especially after adding the flight and hotel to the conference fee. Yikes.

Even though I’ve been concentrating on my mainstream novel, there’s no reason I can’t try to gain interest in my other, more Christian sci-fi novels. I perused the agents and editors who are scheduled to be there, and several are open to sci-fi. One of the agencies is even on my short-list for my mainstream novel. How’s that for cool?

I’m looking forward to the classes I signed up for:

  1. How To Build A Platform When You’re A Nobody: “How to build a platform when you’ve never been published, no one knows you from Joe Schmo, and you don’t want to look or sound like an absolute narcissist.” Other than not knowing how to promote and promote well, part of my fear of promotion and marketing is coming across as self-absorbed, and that I’m only interested in connecting with people so they’ll buy my books. I don’t want anyone to think it’s all about the sale for me, and that I’ll lose interest the moment they buy my books.
  2. How to Write for ABA While Keeping Your CBA Values: Part Two: “As opportunities for fiction writers within CBA [Christian Booksellers Association] are shrinking both with publishers and with the CBA stores, how to write the kind of story you are committed to but for the general marketplace.” I apparently missed part one, but I doubt it’s crucial that I know Part One. I signed up for this one because I want to use my gifts — my writing — for God’s glory and not my own. I’m still a little concerned that by going the mainstream route, I’m instead writing to glorify myself. This class will help me get over that angst. I hope.
  3. How To Think Like Your Editor: This class is designed to teach writers how to avoid common mistakes such as flat, unsympathetic characters, and bloated passages that don’t advance the plot (to name a few). I like to say that just because I think I’m a good writer, it doesn’t mean I am one. I’m hoping this class will either show me my worst mistakes, and how to fix them, or perhaps show me I’m at least doing some of it right.

Do I expect an agent or editor to take my novel on the spot? Nope. I went to a conference with that expectation once, and I refuse to put myself through it again. This time I go with the expectation that I’ll meet some great people, and learn more about writing and marketing than I know now. If someone finds my manuscript interesting, that’s mere icing on the cake — to use an old and tired cliché. But hey, if it works, it works.

 

 

I Wrote That?

Since I’m ready to submit my novel to literary agents, I figured it was time to update my website. I didn’t realize until I started that it hadn’t been updated in four years. You read that right. Four years.

One page includes links to individual poems, articles, and other items I’ve written over the years. As part of the update, I made sure the links still worked.

Some I re-read to see if they were still any good. One in particular actually brought me to tears, both because of its profundity, and because I couldn’t help but marvel that little-‘ole-me wrote it.  Yep. It’s that good.

It doesn’t really fit into a particular category. It’s not a poem or short story, but more of an exercise in the senses.

It’s short, so instead of linking it, here it is in entirety. I hope you enjoy it:

———————————————-

On The Wings of Smoky Air

Playing my second set on the black grand piano, I begin to wonder if anyone hears. Behind the perfectly tuned notes being carried off on the wings of smoky air throughout the lounge, the murmur of quiet conversations and the clinking of glasses reach past the music to echo in my ears.

I block out the noise and let each note embrace and resonate within me. My fingers, so familiar with the tune, skip across the ivory. The cool unblemished keys warm to my touch. I breathe deep, filling my lungs with air rife with stale cigarette and cigar smoke. But I hardly take notice. I reach the crescendo and the last note fades away, leaving me once again exposed to the present.

With a sigh, I reach up to stretch my stiff white collar to alleviate the chafing. I grab my wineglass, emptying it with a large gulp. The deep red wine, while initially sweet, carried a sharp and bitter aftertaste. Every taste bud on my tongue stiffens and tries to retreat in protest. With a grimace, I set the glass back down, wondering what I should play next.

Then I see her.

In the middle of the dimly lit room, an old woman nurses a glass of white wine. Her wrinkled face speaks of untold hardships and sorrow. The candle on the small, round mahogany table only deepens the creases in her wizened face. A single tear eases down her cheek. The candle’s flame glints in the drop, making it appear like a smooth, polished gold nugget.

My gaze inches up the trail left by her tear until it locks with her clear blue eyes alight with a half forgotten memory of joy.

I smile, remembering what my teacher told me long ago, “If the adulation of the crowds fade or never appear, try instead to bring joy to one person at a time with your gift.”

I remove the yellowed and brittle sheet music off the stand to replace it with another. I nod to the lady and begin to play for her and for her alone.

My teacher was right. Bringing joy to one is enough.

 

Taking the Fork

I gave my hands to God when I was sixteen for him to use as he sees fit. It’s the talent he gave me, and I understood at that moment that everything I write is for him and his glory.

The main reason I wrote my first novel came from discontent with both Christian fiction and mainstream science fiction.

Christian fiction at the time was all geared toward the “middle-aged Christian housewife.” Most of what was on the market could only be categorized as Christian romance.

Most science fiction I’ve read — especially futuristic/space travel — is written with the premise that there is no God, or it’s some form of uncaring and ethereal “universe” or “force.”

I lamented my frustrations to God one day, and he responded with, “Then you write it.”

So I did.

Ten years later I find myself at a crossroads. Even though many Christian publishers are taking science fiction, few will touch mine. Why? Because my characters, even the protagonists, do things that the publishers simply won’t accept. Many drink, some are drug addicts, two are gay, and almost all of them aren’t virgins. They also swear. (Why that’s “bad” is described in the linked articles below).

I also wrote two other novels that are geared more toward the mainstream market. God plays no central role (if he plays a role at all).

I want to see them published, but with that desire came confusion and a real spiritual struggle.

By writing secular fiction where God makes no appearance, how can my words, then, glorify God? Am I instead using the gifts he gave me for my own selfish purposes, thereby thrusting God into the back seat, if not outright kicking him to the curb? How is that right?

But then I read this article by Simon Morden, a British author: http://www.simonmorden.com/about/essays/sex-death-and-christian-fiction/

He wrote that in 2005, but revisited the subject in 2011: http://www.simonmorden.com/about/essays/where-are-we-now-sex-death-and-christian-fiction-revisited/

Both are long, but more than worth the time. By the end of the first article I wanted to cry. The author’s words were exactly what I needed to hear. He also expressed my own frustrations with the Christian book market much, much better than I ever could.

In short, he said one can still be a Christian — to write for God — without writing specifically for the Christian market. They’re not mutually exclusive.

That’s not to say I’m giving up on my Christian novels, because I’m sure there is a publisher out there willing give them a chance. I believe those stories need to be told.

But neither is God asking me to pigeon-hole my writing, to restrain myself and my passions, to silence one story or character in favor of another deemed more appropriate by a certain publisher or specialized market. I can write for both Christian and mainstream markets — even if it means using two nom de plumes. Based on those articles, and many other “signs” I’ve received in the last two weeks alone, I know I’m on the right path. Or should I say “paths.”

As Yogi Berra said (as a play on words, originally), “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I’m taking it. Them.

Lackadaisical Snow

Sitting at work this morning, medium-sized flakes of snow fall, but fall in such a way as if they’re in no hurry to settle on the ground. Pure contentment.

Hence the title.

Yesterday I received an email.

Yep. An email. The epitome of excitement right there, I tell ya.

I know I’ve piqued your curiosity enough you are literally sitting on the edge of your seat, nose almost touching your screen in electric enthusiasm awaiting what’s so exiting about one little email.

The subject gave it away: “2015 WWPW Winners: Here’s your eBook redemption code!”

Last October I participated in the 8th Annual Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photowalk (WWPW) with other local photographers. That day was cold and dreary, so fewer than 10 people showed up. Each participant was encouraged to submit one photo from the walk for a variety of prizes. One photo was chosen from each participating city to win an eBook. Looks like my submission won. I could give myself a huge pat on the back, but it’s not that big of a deal. Considering so few participated this year, there wasn’t much by way of competition. It was more a lack of options than actual skill, or outstanding photo. Much like winning an election when you’re running unopposed. Here’s the photo:

21947542051_b42c2e8b31_z

But, hey. I got a free eBook!

The book is called “The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC book for digital photographers” by Scott Kelby.

I don’t know how many people read the Acknowledgements in a book, but I always do. You get a glimpse into the author and those who are important in his/her life. Not once have I ever choked up because of an acknowledgement, nor do I ever expect to. Until now.

This is what Mr. Kelby wrote in his (in part):

I start the acknowledgements for every book I’ve ever written the same way — by thanking my amazing wife, Kalebra. If you knew what an incredible woman she is, you’d totally understand why.

This is going to sound silly, but if we go grocery shopping together, and she sends me off to a different aisle to get milk, when I return with the milk and she sees me coming back down the aisle, she gives me the warmest, most wonderful smile. It’s not because she’s happy that I found the milk; I get that same smile every time I see her, even if we’ve only been apart for 60 seconds. It’s a smile that says, “There’s the man I love.”

If you got that smile, dozens of times a day, for nearly 26 years of marriage, you’d feel like the luckiest guy in the world, and believe me — I do. To this day, just seeing her puts a song in my heart and makes it skip a beat. When you go through life like this, it makes you one incredibly happy and grateful guy, and I truly am.

So, thank you, my love. Thanks for your kindness, your hugs, your understanding, your advice, your patience, your generosity, and for being such a caring and compassionate mother and wife. I love you.

Secondly, thanks to my son, Jordan. I wrote my first book when my wife was pregnant with him (19 years ago), and he has literally grown up around my writing. It has been a blast watching him grow up into such a wonderful young man, with his mother’s tender and loving heart and compassion way beyond his years. As he heads off to college this year, out-of-state (sniff, sniff), he knows that his dad just could not be prouder or more excited for him, but he may not realize just how much I’ll miss seeing his big smile every morning before school and at the dinner table every night. Throughout his life, he has touched so many people, in so many different ways, and even though he’s so young, he has already inspired so many, and I just cannot wait to see the amazing adventure, and the love and laugher his life has in store for him. He, little buddy — this world needs more “yous!”

Thanks to our wonderful daughter, Kira, for being the answer to our prayers, for being such a blessing to your older brother, and for proving once again that miracles happen every day. You are a little clone of your mother, and believe me, there is no greater compliment I could give you. It is such a blessing to get to see such a happy, hilarious, clever, creative, and just awesome little force of nature running around the house each day — she just has no idea how happy and proud she makes us. She is awesomeness wrapped in a layer of chocolate with sprinkles. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I know it’s a bit lengthy (and I shared only half of it), but dang! As a writer, I can appreciate what he wrote (my only criticism is using “just” too often). The love he has for his family pops off the page with every word. I found it inspiring; not so much that I feel much of the same for my own family (which I do), but to motivate me to learn how to write as good.

The Widow and The Orphan

Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.

Ps 82:3-4

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Jas 1:27

There are many arguing for bringing Syrian refugees into the United States. Some suggest that not everyone escaping Syria are terrorists, and we shouldn’t allow fear to drive us from being compassionate (or “being Christian”). On the fear part, I wholeheartedly agree. We can’t allow any fear to drive us to act or not act. We need to step back and be a bit more rational and pragmatic about any solution, without fear and knee-jerk reactions (yet with a great deal of caution). That includes taking into consideration compassion, economics, and national security. The first two I will expand on, but national security I will leave alone for now.

As the two scriptures above say, we are called to take care of the orphan, the widow and the oppressed. By those two verses alone, you’d think I’d be all for allowing the refugees in.

And you would be wrong.

Does that mean I’m a bad Christian? No (well, not entirely anyway), and here’s why.

The United States of America is a great country. In many ways we are rich, and we have a lot to give. And we do. Whenever there’s a crisis, Americans are usually one of the first to step up. And I’m not talking as a country through the power of government, but as individuals, charities and communities. Therein lies the rub.

Our country is $18 trillion in debt and it’s growing by nearly $1 million a day. Our overall unemployment (counting those who have quit looking for work) is over 90 million. Many who are working are struggling to pay the bills, because the only work available is at minimum wage or slightly over. Women abort their children at an astonishing rate, either out of convenience or because they don’t think they have a choice. Too many of our veterans are homeless and dying before receiving the treatment they need, because the government has refused to keep its promises to them.

Sometimes, as individuals and as a nation we have to take a step back, and fix our own house before inviting others to join us. How can a person who can barely feed and clothe his own children be expected to take care of strangers — without sacrificing the well-being of his children and himself in the process? That’s what many people are asking — no, demanding — Americans do, and that’s not right.

Yes we are to take care of the widow, the orphan and the oppressed. But nowhere does the Bible say we must turn to our government to further its own debt (and take more money out of our pocket) to do it. That’s not Christian compassion. It’s quite the opposite in fact; first, it’s shirking our personal responsibility and making others do it for us. Second, the government has to forcibly take from one person to give it to someone else, because government produces nothing on its own. That’s thievery. (Note: I’m not against paying taxes. They are necessary, but there has to be limits).

There are many widows, orphans and oppressed right here in our country. Why are we not doing more to take care of them?

All that said, if any American wants to sponsor a refugee person or family, and take them into their home, I’m all for it. If any American wants to fly half-way around the world to help refugees, I’m all for that, too. That’s the definition of Christian compassion. I am simply not for any government telling me I must pay to bring refugees over here, house them, clothe them, and feed them when there are so many already in this country who also need that.

I also think there are many other people and countries who are equally (if not more so) capable of taking in refugees, and they are much closer to the problem than we are. Whenever someone is closer to the problem, they can more easily find a solution. We are over 3000 miles away. Many countries are stepping up, such as Germany and France. Good for them. Telling America to take care of it is like me begging the California government (who is also millions of dollars in debt) to pay for my house because I lost my job. Especially when there are agencies, charities and individuals in my own town who can help me — and who can afford it.

It’s like I said in a previous blog: We can’t save the world, but we can make a difference a little at a time much closer to home — figuring out what we, as individuals, can do instead of trying to do what everyone is telling us what we should do.

Paul wanted to preach in Asia, but God told him no. He then tried to enter the province of Bithynia, but again God said no. God wanted Paul in Macedonia instead (See Acts 16). At one point Jesus told his disciples not to enter certain towns, because they were needed in their home of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6).

Far be it for me to tell anyone who they should or shouldn’t help, because the Holy Spirit is the one who should decide. Where I am meant to help is different from someone else. I believe, however, there are times when we must exercise our compassion at home first (like in Matthew noted above). This is especially true for the US government. Our nation — our house — is a mess, and it will continue to fall apart if we ignore it in favor of people and problems across an ocean thousands of miles wide.

Now for the meme that started it all:

Joseph and Mary As most of you know, I despise memes. They too often present a complex problem and “offer” a simplistic solution. In this case — as in many others of this type — it’s all designed to make Christians look like hypocrites, and try to shame them into doing what they think Christians should be doing to avoid looking like hypocrites.

As far as this meme goes, the entire premise is incorrect. Joseph and Mary were not refugees. They were returning to their hometown, because they needed to be counted for a census. The only reason they had no place to stay is because so many others also had returned to be counted, and all the inns were full. Joseph and Mary were neither homeless nor escaping from oppression (Luke 2:1-6).

The innkeeper took compassion on the couple and let them stay in his stable, because that’s all he had left to give. Neither he, nor the young couple forced a government official, or another innkeeper (with the help of a government official) to take care of the problem for them.

Yet this is exactly what the meme is implying. If you want to solve a problem, do so. It’s unfair to demand the rest of us do it by trying to make us feel guilty, or by using the government to make us do it.

If you think I’m heartless and as “un-Christian” as ever there was one now, stay tuned. My next entry will show you just how heartless I really am.

Illustrating Absurdity

The other day, Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) wrote on his Facebook page about all the to-do with the Miss America contestant who gave a monologue on being a nurse, the subsequent apparent offense taken by a few on “The View” and the subsequent offense taken by fellow nurses and others that lead to multiple apologies and pulled sponsors.

You can read all about it here (If you want to see good writing, this is it):

https://www.facebook.com/TheRealMikeRowe/posts/1058465054163637:0

He concluded the entire episode is a mere reflection on how easily people are offended and feel the need to tell the world how righteous their offenses are. All in fewer than 140 characters and hashtags galore.

I (tried) to help illustrate his point by adding my own absurd comment (as Rush Limbaugh likes to say, “Illustrating absurdity by being absurd”):

I am offended by your phrase “140 Characters or less.” The correct word is “fewer.” I expected more from you, Mike. So disappointed. #stopbadgrammar :p

Most people got it — including Mike who graciously and with his usual and incomparable wit responded:

It shall be corrected forthwith. And in the future, I vow to make lesser mistakes!

(For which I responded “Ha! Well played.”)

Others, not so much:

Get a life people. Now we’re offended by grammar and typing mistakes. Crazy.

I’m sick of grammar police, please embarrass someone in private and not on a public forum.

You all made Mike’s point for him – pooping in your panties over minor stuff. Nobody’s perfect.

(I thought, but didn’t add: “Um. No. You did.”)

And the Coup de Grâce (at least in the responder’s mind, I’ll wager):

Well, I will offend the grammer police, by sa ying” Are fu*&Ing kidding me??” Look at the bigger picture, Ms. Grammer!!

I learned a bit about myself during this episode.

First, I felt an explosive dose of pride when the Mike Rowe responded to my comment, and by the amount of likes I got (yes, I watched them increase like a lotto ticket holder squealing every time one of her numbers is called out). I wanted to scream all over Facebook, “Look, look, a celebrity talked to me! Look how many likes I got! I’m so special!” The bane of my existence, pride.

I also learned that there are times my skin is so thin, a sideways glance is enough to send me into a tailspin of self-loathing. Other times my skin is so thick, I laugh at those who respond to my words not so kindly.

The latter was my response in this instance.

Granted, when strangers pounce on my words, I don’t care all that much. They are strangers, after all. Sometimes I will try to clarify if they misconstrued my comment. Other times I leave it alone, because the detractors are actually proving my point.

How can I not laugh?

My skin thins when someone I know attacks me or my words, and I think that’s quite normal. The opinions of friends and family should matter more. At the same time, I shouldn’t allow anyone’s opinion determine my self-worth, stranger or friend. Should I listen to criticism as well as compliment? Absolutely, because each can make me a better person. In the end, however, that shouldn’t determine how I feel about myself as a whole. One critique doesn’t make me a horrible, evil person worthy of the death penalty anymore than one compliment makes me perfect.

Each should be weighed honestly, rationally, and on their own merit. Neither should make me love myself more, or hate myself more. I can (and should) love myself regardless of my imperfections. And because I love myself, I should be honest about the good as well as the evil in me, and continue to work on doing more good and less evil. Sure, I will fail at times, but that doesn’t make me less lovable.

Don’t ask me how I got from bragging about Facebook comments to self-love, because I have no idea. Regardless, I hope you found it at least entertaining. If not, you will find me in my closet, rolled into a tight ball, and questioning God’s wisdom in creating me.

Not really.

Because Mike Rowe replied to me!

One Time Only

With the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, I am going to express my view on it once and only once, because to many here my view will be considered not only unpopular, but I may even be labeled homophobic.

I’m not going to preach the morality of it, because we’ve all seen enough of that. Nor will such arguments sway those for or against gay marriage.

There are instead long-term practical consequences we will have to face. I was going to share what I believe they will be, but it’d be mere conjecture that some will brush off as just that.

Instead, I want you to read the following article about what happened and is happening in Canada after it legalized gay marriage in 2005.

Expect to see the similar in our country. Or should I say more of the same considering what florists and weddings hosts have gone through in the last few years. It’ll only get worse now that SCOTUS has declared it constitutional.

www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/04/14899

The Horse’s Mouth

There’s been a lot of talk about Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed and signed by the governor on March 27th. Much of the anger is based on the idea Indiana has given the citizens of that state blanket right to discriminate based on sexual orientation or differences in religious belief and affiliation (or lack thereof).

That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, here’s the entire bill’s text:

First Regular Session 119th General Assembly (2015)

SENATE ENROLLED ACT No. 101

AN ACT to amend the Indiana Code concerning civil procedure.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana:

SECTION 1. IC 34-13-9 IS ADDED TO THE INDIANA CODE AS A NEW CHAPTER TO READ AS FOLLOWS [EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2015]:
Chapter 9. Religious Freedom Restoration

Sec. 1. This chapter applies to all governmental entity statutes, ordinances, resolutions, executive or administrative orders, regulations, customs, and usages, including the implementation or application thereof, regardless of whether they were enacted, adopted, or initiated before, on, or after July 1, 2015.

Sec. 2. A governmental entity statute, ordinance, resolution, executive or administrative order, regulation, custom, or usage may not be construed to be exempt from the application of this chapter unless a state statute expressly exempts the statute, ordinance, resolution, executive or administrative order, regulation, custom, or usage from the application of this chapter by citation to this chapter.

Sec. 3. (a) The following definitions apply throughout this section: “Establishment Clause” refers to the part of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Indiana prohibiting laws respecting the establishment of religion.

“Granting”, used with respect to government funding, benefits, or exemptions, does not include the denial of government funding, benefits, or exemptions. This chapter may not be construed to affect, interpret, or in any way address the Establishment Clause.

Granting government funding, benefits, or exemptions, to the extent permissible under the Establishment Clause, does not constitute a violation of this chapter.

Sec. 4. As used in this chapter, “demonstrates” means meets the burdens of going forward with the evidence and of persuasion.

Sec. 5. As used in this chapter, “exercise of religion” includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.

Sec. 6. As used in this chapter, “governmental entity” includes the whole or any part of a branch, department, agency, instrumentality, official, or other individual or entity acting under color of law of any of the following:

State government.

A political subdivision (as defined in IC 36-1-2-13).

An instrumentality of a governmental entity described in subdivision (1) or (2), including a state educational institution, a body politic, a body corporate and politic, or any other similar entity established by law.

Sec. 7. As used in this chapter, “person” includes the following:
An individual.

An organization, a religious society, a church, a body of communicants, or a group organized and operated primarily for religious purposes. A partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association, or another entity that: may sue and be sued; and exercises practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by: an individual; or the individuals; who have control and substantial ownership of the entity, regardless of whether the entity is organized and operated for profit or nonprofit purposes.

Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

Sec. 9. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding. If the relevant governmental entity is not a party to the proceeding, the governmental entity has an unconditional right to intervene in order to respond to the person’s invocation of this chapter.

Sec. 10. (a) If a court or other tribunal in which a violation of this chapter is asserted in conformity with section 9 of this chapter determines that: the person’s exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened; and the governmental entity imposing the burden has not demonstrated that application of the burden to the person: is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest; the court or other tribunal shall allow a defense against any party and shall grant appropriate relief against the governmental entity.

Relief against the governmental entity may include any of the following:

Declaratory relief or an injunction or mandate that prevents, restrains, corrects, or abates the violation of this chapter.

Compensatory damages.

In the appropriate case, the court or other tribunal also may award all or part of the costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney’s fees, to a person that prevails against the governmental entity under this chapter.

Sec. 11. This chapter is not intended to, and shall not be construed or interpreted to, create a claim or private cause of action against any private employer by any applicant, employee, or former employee.

I want to pay particular attention to Sections 9 – 11. All the bill does is constrain government entities from over-burdening private individuals and enterprises from being sued by said government entity for practicing their religion. That includes all religions, not only Christianity. That means the state cannot force any person or company to do something that goes against their spiritual beliefs.

Section 11 specifically states that this bill does not cover private lawsuits of discrimination. It merely states that no person or company cannot be forced or otherwise over-burdened (such as being forced out of business) by the state to do something they find morally wrong. For example, Hobby Lobby’s suit fell under the 1993 Religious Freedom Act signed by Bill Clinton (for which the Supreme Court ruled in their favor last year).

Do basic discrimination laws still apply, such as not hiring, or serving them food because they are black, gay, or a woman? Yes. Does that mean a cake maker can be forced to participate in a gay wedding? No. Muslims are also covered by this law in that the government cannot force a Muslim company to cook and serve pork to their clients, or hold an event at a strip club. It also means that an atheist photographer can tell a client they don’t want to participate in a full Catholic wedding if they don’t want to, and have to worry about the state government going after them and their livelihood for saying no.

It’s time we drop the memes, rumors and rhetoric, and start doing our own research before we throw out accusations.