Welcome visitors! This is a blog I haven't updated in over two years it seems. Enjoy reading old posts. Assume that much of what I say here is "present-day me" and that some of it is not "present-day me." But that's kind of how it works, right?
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Friday, April 5, 2013
Easter week has come and gone. Easter is arguably the height of Christian remembrance and practice of the essence of our faith. It’s also a reminder of how mysterious this all is—that in which we put our faith. There’s so much I understand, but don’t really understand.
I don’t really understand the incarnation. The significance of the birth of Jesus and presence of God on earth. God became a human? God became someone that appeared to be a human but was really much more than a human because that man was actually God? God sent someone on God’s behalf, an ambassador of sorts?
Or maybe in Jesus, a person was born who would later become “adopted” by God? A person was born who would later grow to embody everything that God is and stands for? Was this incarnation profoundly unique, or very unique but not that unique?
I don’t really understand the life and teachings and acts of Jesus. Was he a pacifist? Did he expect us to successfully follow his teachings? Was he doing away with Judaism or just offering a corrective to it? Did he believe the end of the world was coming soon?
What’s the “Kingdom of God/heaven” and the best way to express the character and import of this Kingdom? Did he preach a future judgment based on our good actions or lack thereof? Did he fully understand his mission and the significance of what he was doing and saying?
I don’t really understand the death of Jesus. What happened in/on the cross? What changed? Must Jesus have died? Or was his death not necessary but simply the inevitable conclusion of the life he lived? Is the cross the centerpiece of our faith, the element on which everything depends?
Does his death reveal a defeat of the devil? Or, a kind of substitution, as if Jesus suffered what we would have suffered? Did God kill Jesus? Did Jesus die to inspire us? Did God die on the cross? Did we die on the cross?
I don’t really understand the resurrection. Was the corpse of Jesus literally resuscitated and found wandering around for a time? Was he more like a spiritual, ghost-y figure that could walk through walls? Was it more of an existential resurrection, a resurrection in the hearts of the first Christians? Is the Holy Spirit the resurrected form of Christ?
Was it a literal resurrection but not in a sense we can understand, given our mental limitations and the reality that scientific study increasingly reveals more complexity to what we call “matter” but is really so much more than matter? Is “Jesus is alive” a trite Christian phrase whose meaning we can’t articulate very well or can we not articulate it well because it points to something we know but can’t really put into better words? And, what does the resurrection—whatever its nature—mean for us? Is it about our potentialities here and now, or does it point to something in an undefined future moment?
I’ve heard the explanations for these things, and like all Christians, I make choices. You might not think you’ve made a choice from among various ways to articulate the doctrines and events of Christian faith, as if you simply believe the right thing, or what “actually happened” or “is.” If so, I don’t know what to say to that.
As for myself, I make choices and, with faith and not certainty, lean toward various understandings of the four above components of the person and work of Jesus, and try to trust God on the rest. God is trustworthy, I think; human ability to articulate mystery and the divine in concise, timeless, easily-digestible formulas is not as trustworthy.
I don’t understand these mysteries very well. But I think maybe I understand my daughter a bit better. My daughter, through her actions and simple existence teaches me so much. Clara is a symbol of mysteries beyond herself. Clara is a glimpse of life in all its glory.
Life was incarnated, several months ago, in my wife’s womb. Life came to dwell inside her. I don’t really understand how it happened, though I’ve read the books and seen the instructional videos (and probably giggled watching them) and get it.
But I don’t get it. How friendship could lead to courtship could lead to lifelong commitment could lead to intimate but kind of primal actions that could lead to a sperm’s quest for "the holy grail" that could lead to the simple beginnings of a person, tiny but packed with the ingredients for something much more.
Life lived and in a sense, taught. Life was very much alive inside Joann, making its presence known. Life, for whatever reason, didn’t get along flawlessly with Joann’s body, which caused us a lot of problems that we didn’t take as seriously as we should because, as the now-obnoxious (to me) saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Life grew, developed, became. Life helped us grow, develop, and become as well, as individuals and as a married couple. Life was inextricably linked to Joann, one with her, their bodies influencing each other, part of an interdependent reality.
Life died. At least it seemed like that was the direction things were headed. My tears of confusion and horrific fear flowed that night, the night that it all happened so fast. I was told my wife might die. I was told my daughter might die. I’m optimistic, and tend to hope for the best.
But my personality bent could not defeat the looming possibility that threatened to destroy my world, and so I broke. I feel anxiety this very moment as I think back to that night. We really didn’t know what the outcome would be. Things were dark.
Life endured. Life was born early the next morning. Healthy. Screaming. Kicking. Covered in baby goop (I haven’t read all of the books I probably should have). Joann’s body was rocked by it all, but she gradually recovered; once Life was born, Joann’s body began to heal itself, with proper medical “nudges” from doctors. Life was beautiful. Life was mine. And I was Life’s. Together we’d both grow, one playing the role of Father, one the role of Daughter.
Life, or Clara we call her now, laying there in her little hospital bed or on my chest, looked at me. I looked in her eyes, and saw so much potential for goodness, beauty, creativity, for life in abundance. Since that day I have enjoyed the benefits of my profound experience of Life in Clara, and our story is only beginning…there’s so much more Life to come.
There is a lot I don’t understand about God and the meaning of life. But when I look at Clara, these things make a little more sense.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Being asked for small amounts of money by people on the street is a bit bewildering for me. I don’t think I am the only one who struggles with discerning a right response in these cases, but I’ll try to speak for myself here and not generalize.
Three recent episodes (recreated as precisely as I can recall) to explain where I’m coming from:
At a Chevron, while pumping gas:
Man, carrying gas can, walking toward me: Hey, I’m not going to ask you for money.
Me: Ok. Hi.
Man: I just need $5 to get some gas, we’re all out.
Me: No, sorry.
Man walks around, asking several people for gas, all obviously denying him. To me: Hey, I just need some gas, could you buy me some?
Me: No, sorry.
Man stands behind and uncomfortably close to me while I pump gas, looking around for other people to ask. He eventually finds someone to put some gas in his tank.
At a drive-in Dairy Queen:
Man: Hey, man how you doing tonight?
Man (closer): Hey, how you doing man?
Man, to DQ attendant: Yeah, let’s see, I’ll get (looks in wallet)…oh man, I thought I had a five (opening wallet wide so I can see he’s only got two ones)…oh that’s right, I spent it on a haircut. Hey man (to me), do you have a dollar?
Me: No, sorry.
Man: Alright (to attendant), I’ll be back in a while. What time do you close?
Me, playfully: Don’t come back at 9:03, they’ll be closed. I learned that the hard way. They take their schedules seriously.
Man: Oh, alright. Hey, can you buy me a hot dog? I’m homeless.
Me: No, sorry.
Man: Alright (walks off).
In Santa Cruz on Pacific Ave:
Man: Hey, do you have some spare change?
Me: No, sorry.
“No, sorry.” I don’t think I invented that line. I feel like it’s the polite way of saying “I do not intend (nor want) to give you money at this juncture.” Right? And people asking are intelligent; I would guess they know the euphemism. Though, I’ve never verified that with someone asking for money. I should. I will say that most people asking if I can give them money, when I say “no, sorry,” are very polite and don’t pester or challenge the veracity of my response.
There is so much involved in this; I'm not sure where to start. The topic on one hand provokes righteous anger and, on the other hand, guilt.
I’m doing some research on Dorothy Day and exploring her obsessive use of the “works of mercy”—a Catholic teaching based on Scripture (notably Matthew 25) that includes fourteen corporal (bodily) and spiritual practices that all have an element of social concern: feed the hungry, visit the sick, instruct the ignorant, forgive all injuries, among others.
Day is very serious about the centrality of these practices—this is the heart of the Christian life for her. She at one point even says “our salvation is at stake” in the successful practice of these merciful acts. Whether she’s being literal, semi-literal or rhetorical, she persistently calls people to practice these works and practices them herself. She calls readers (of her Catholic Worker editorials) to practice them, at a personal cost. She calls readers to sacrifice. She calls readers to recognize the humanity of the poor, to dignify them, to recognize their personhood.
Joann and I tried to meet the needs of others with a short-lived “project” when we lived in Olympia. We didn’t like giving away money to people on the street for philosophical and practical reasons, but we wanted to offer something. So we bought a bunch of bottled water and bulk food and made “snack packs” to distribute when asked (mainly while in the car at intersections). But I think we (at least I) just became undisciplined and would forget to add new packs to the car and so our project faltered.
We also used to budget a small amount of money each month to have on hand, available to distribute in person to whomever and to be given away by the end of each month. This was a good practice for us. Though I guess both these practices got lost in the birth of Clara and subsequent move to California (as well our very different financial situation now that I'm a student again).
But so many thoughts race through my head in (and shortly after) these kinds of interactions.
One is “make sure you dignify the person. Don’t ignore him/her.” So even when I do not give out money but I drive past someone at an intersection or walk past someone sitting on the street, I make a point to smile and say hello. They are already ignored in so many ways. They make us uncomfortable. Sometimes it even feels silly to say hello, but I do it. They probably think I’m weird because of how overly friendly I am, at least in terms of saying hello. Though maybe when I subsequently deny them a donation they think I’m less friendly.
Another is, “I don’t have money to give.” I might literally have money in my wallet. I might not. The point is more an overall feeling of “I really, especially as a husband and father with dependents who is already taking out student loans, do not have the money to spare.” But even a dollar? I can afford to buy that new shirt, even though I have plenty of old shirts that still fit fine.
Another is, “Pressure, confrontation, ah!” It’s an awkward thing to be asked for money. Sometimes I wonder if maybe my response is really just an immediate reaction to the situation, as if “no, sorry” really means, “I don’t like this conversation, make it stop.”
Another is, “well, I give in other ways.” I don’t know how true that is. Maybe if you define “giving” broadly. I pay for friends’ lunches occasionally but I don’t give to charitable organizations. I give love, time, prayer, healthy meals, encouragement, and work hard now so I’ll be in a better place to financially give later. But…I don’t know. Seems like self-placation.
Another is, “this potential donation will bring about no systemic change, and this person will continue in this course of life. I’m not helping them.” I think there’s truth to this; while charitable giving in isolated incidents might be effective in making a giver feel good about themselves, may be a good spiritual practice, and may meet an immediate need, it likely doesn’t make much of a dent in the larger social and structural problems causing this person to be in such need that are not being addressed (or are being addressed but the powerful aren’t listening).
Another is, “forget the previous justification…what about the simple joy of human contact, of giving, of connecting with someone by buying them a hot dog, or gas, or a cigarette, or whatever they think they need (not what I patronizingly determine are their actual needs.) What about the simple grace of giving someone something when they ask, without hesitation? Jesus spoke to this.
I don’t have a good answer. I don’t think a consistent “method” would work for me; I think discernment in the situation is appropriate. I think remembering that they are people with names and stories and not just nuisances interrupting my flow/trajectory/expectations is important. Perhaps I’m lacking compassion. Being selfish. Being disrespectful. Perhaps I need to go back to snack bags. Perhaps I need to think more about what it means to give, to be generous, to have a proper relationship to money...what it means to call something "mine."
No easy answer.
An addendum: since I wrote the above, the following conversation happened, while we were sitting in our car, windows down, Clara asleep on Joann:
Man: Hey, do you have any spare change? I need something to eat.
Me: Can I give you an apple?
Man: I don’t have any teeth.
Man: It’s okay, never mind (walks away).
Monday, March 25, 2013
I’m now thirty years old (and one+ week). I haven’t yet really taken the time to decide whether or not that means anything to me. I don’t feel much different. Maybe I do feel a small degree of pressure to “be” something or to have “accomplished” something, as if there’s a universal expectation of what a thirty-year-old should look like. But, not surprisingly, I did not feel any kind of ontological shift on the day of transition to my thirties. Nor did anyone give me a jacket and a cigar signifying admission to an exclusive club. So far, thirty just feels like one more than twenty-nine.
But the change in not one but two digits has caused me to reflect back on my twenties and consider all that transpired in those years. For example, I...
- Went skydiving (thanks to Joann’s prodding).
- Taught English in Xiaogan (near Wuhan), China for a year.
- Got married. Still married.
- Had a daughter. Still have her.
- Tried to co-pastor a church plant and was eventually asked to leave for not being theologically conservative enough.
- Tried to win the hearts of several girls and failed. (Even picked flowers for one girl from five different European countries, pressed and dried them in a picture frame and gave them to her. She was “flattered” and that was about it. Should have just bought her coffee. Wouldn’t mind getting the flowers back, actually.)
- Had four (that I'm aware of) seizures in my sleep over a two-year period. Been free of them since 2008, thanks to chiropractic (who knew?) and God knows what else.
- Remained obsessively and fanatically loyal to a baseball team that missed the playoffs every year of my twenties.
- Stayed in a tiny hostel room in Prague with two gorgeous Argentinean blonds in their skimpy pajamas. And talked religion. I have ambivalent feelings about whether or not I made the most of that experience.
- Completed a BA, started and finished an MDiv, and began a PhD.
- Did two months of grant-funded research on the Latin American “emerging” church, traveling to four countries and learning a ton. Also, while there, visited Machu Piccu and talked a drug dealer out of shooting me.
- Took two trips to Europe—study trip in Western Europe, backpacking in Central Europe.
- Buried my childhood dog after 18 (exclamation point) years.
- Jogged on the Great Wall of China.
- Spent a month in Africa in service and safari.
- Watched my Grandpa—heavily involved in my childhood—decline with Alzheimer’s and eventually pass away.
- Became a cult legend at Tumwater High School for my masterful chaperoning and for wearing a stuffed lion on my head.
- Bought an engagement ring from my then-unofficial-fiancée (in hundreds) that she had bought on her parents’ credit card earlier that day. Gave it back to her three days later. I mean, "proposed."
- Cried three times (all in the last ten months…damn, almost made it the whole decade...I'm breaking).
- “True, honorable, unsurpassed nobility, duly (dually?) existential as we realiiiizzeee…” (Inside joke, forgive me).
- Had my first kiss. Didn’t happen as a teenager…probably due to some combination of being prudish, awkward, "religious", shy, a pansy, or being unattractive to the girls I was attracted to.
- Worked a short stint at Starbucks right after college (as every good northwest college grad should).
- Ran a marathon.
- Started wearing vests, V-necks, and converse (Joann’s influence). Wore “Boswell shirts” (last inside reference) with great frequency.
- Two Disneyland visits. It gets better the older I get.
- Wrote timeless classics such as “Flee-ber” and “I Want All of Your Clothes to Be Off of Your Body.” One for children and for my wife. Please correctly discern which for whom.
- Had a profound work experience as a direct care worker for three developmentally disabled men. Had a less profound work experience installing outdoor lighting systems (well…digging trenches for a guy who installed outdoor lighting systems).
- Worked for EF International with a team of fabulous teachers. Taught English to a community of Venezuelans, Germans, Saudis, Libyans, Vietnamese, Koreans, Russians, among many others. Occasionally learned English from fellow teacher and word artist Dave.
- Participated in the weddings of Chris, Ron, Brad, Mark, Pat, Vic, Trevor, Dan, Ian, and Matt. And my own wedding, of course.
- Remained thoroughly Jesus-centered but experienced a gradual shift in theology and values. As a 20-year old I felt pity for all those people who didn’t know the Truth. As a 29-year old I felt pity that I knew so little of it. As a 20 year old I thought men should be out rescuing “the beauty” wherever she might be (John Eldridge terminology/thought). As a 29-year-old I thought those same men should be allowed to rescue beautiful men too.
- Faced the scariest moment of my life as I nearly lost my wife to HELLP syndrome (would have had we lived a century earlier).
- Played alto saxophone as a guest artist on a jazz album.
- Moved to the Bay Area. Began referring to our home with the more inclusive term "Bay Area" because San Francisco isn't quite accurate, Berkeley is where our academic and social life are, and no one really knows where Vallejo is, and the part of Vallejo we live in is really not all that Vallejo-ish.
- Tweeted. Once. On July 22, 2012. I wrote: “Clara grunted.”
It was a good decade. And my thirties are off to a good start: turns out I left my car door open all night! Nothing missing, car started fine. No indication that anyone or anything (our neighborhood is known as “Skunk Hill”) slept there last night.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
I have a question for all who pass by this blog. I welcome any responses you might have, either in the comments section of this post or in response to the Facebook link that may have brought you here. I will likely learn something from you and your response, so…feel free to take a moment and be my teacher. Or you can just ponder the question for a few moments without responding...that might be valuable, too.
My question is this: is there someone whose spirituality—a term I’ll purposefully leave open and undefined—you deeply admire? Is there one particular person, maybe a mentor, maybe a friend, who comes to mind when you think of a really “spiritual” person, someone who has some quality, attribute, way of life, philosophy, pattern of behavior, formal or informal commitments, whatever—who you look to and say something like: “that’s the kind of person I’d like to be.”
I’d love to hear from you. Whether you are spiritual but not religious, religious but not spiritual, spiritual and religious both, or neither. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, or one of the many other religions or spiritualities with which one might identify. Is there someone, other than a particular “founder” or “centerpiece” of a tradition (so not Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, Nietzsche, Elmo, etc) who possesses a spirituality that you find inspiring or impressive or worthy of emulation? Someone you’d call a “model”? Someone who makes you think, “if more people were like (this person), the world would be a better place!”
If you don’t want to share their name, that’s fine…I’m more curious as to the why. What is it about this person that makes them a spiritual guide, an exemplar, an ideal? For example, maybe they possess astounding generosity. Maybe they sing songs in church with an inspiring level of passion and abandon. Maybe they live an extraordinarily simple life, free of attachments, material goods, etc. Maybe their prayers inspire you. Maybe they are in touch with beauty in a way you could only hope to be. Maybe they spent countless hours helping people with some kind of need. The list could go on.
They could be someone you’ve never met but only read about. But they might be someone you know personally, someone you brush shoulders with, someone whose life, values, actions, etc. you can vividly draw to your mind because you've seen them in action. What is it about them that makes them a spiritual exemplar, that is to say, a model of what it means to be truly spiritual? Is there something you can point to and say, “that’s it—I want more of that in my life?”