The certainty is gone

So, if you’ve not already discovered a showed called The Last Kingdom on Netflix, it’s definitely one of the better shows we’ve found recently. Though I must say, Netflix is doing a pretty stellar job with their original content. 

Back to The Last Kingdom. Among the long list of things that make this show particularly good is one theme, a common thread that runs through the show, that offers a great critique of the struggle that seems to be an ever present battle in my own mind: the certainty of the church and the freedom of a more wholistic spirituality. 

For a small bit of background, the timing is the late ninth century England, during the Danish invasion and occupation. The main character is born Saxon, but is taken as a prisoner of war at the age of 10 and raised as a Dane. The ninth century English were a pious bunch, with God being the strength behind ALL endeavors of the tribal kings. Contrast that with the Danes, who practice a spirituality through which all things are in the care of “god” or the gods. God is not found in a building or accessed through a priest, but is experienced through living life, communing with the land and people. 

Of course this is a horribly violent time in history and I’m not convinced on either side whether violence is ever the answer. The English kill in god’s name and the Danes kill as an extension to living fully. 

I digress. Of particular interest to me is the ever present struggle in the main character. He is for all practical purposes Danish, but by blood, he is English. So he is being pulled by both worlds and both views of spirituality. I resonate deeply with his Danish upbringing and the freedom of spirit and spirituality, as well as the tugging of those around me who think I should be “following god,” not the hethens. 

What I find is that the certainty of my fundamental upbringing is no longer present, and I’m perfectly okay with that. I don’t however think that my conservative family and friends are in any way okay with leaning into uncertainty. They are in fact (at least it seems this way) trying to bring us back into their own false sense of security. 

I for one, prefer to engage fully with life. I haven’t made it there yet, but I am on the journey. Perhaps that’s the whole of it, a journey. As for the certainty that once existed, I wouldn’t trade it for the place we are now, no way in hell (if there even is such a place). I choose life and all it has to offer. 

The ebb and flow of life

It’s been nearly two weeks now since the last post. Not that I’m boiling over with things to say, but it certainly seems like I write more when I’m a bit agitated. Though today, I feel pretty good all the way around. I guess that’s what happens when you have a great date night with the wife and friends, sans kids. 

It is also interesting that recently my wife and I were talking about the different states we often find ourselves in, the ebb and flow, if you will. There was a time not very many weeks ago that we were devouring books left and right, plowing through all sorts of thoughts and musings on life, our goals, what kinds of people we hope to be. Yet now, we have slowed down significantly in many ways. We are much more contemplative, silent, perhaps even slow. 

And in this slowness, we have discovered something that we’ve been, in a sense, searching for, but haven’t had language or expereince to describe it. My wife and I have been in some surface-y conversations with my family about purchasing land together and pooling resources. For years this idea has been simmering on the back burner, but this past week things became pretty clear, and clear in ways I’m not sure we were expecting. 

We realized through a pretty difficult conversation that we aren’t in the same place as my family. In fact, we are in very different places spiritually, emotionally, politically, even the prominent drivers of our existence are in completely different places. Having put all the pieces together  for the first time, we are ready to head a different direction. We’ve spent a great deal of our lives orienting them around a family that is fundamentally on a different plane than ourselves and we have finally been able to admit that truth, and it’s been awfully freeing. 

There will likely be more difficult conversations ahead, but we are following the path that best suits our family and that seems right and good. 

Maybe I can start writing a little more out of a sense of peace and calm than anger and frustration. That would certainly be a flow I’m not used to. I’ll see how it goes. 

Anyone, anyone?

Another of our ongoing conversations centers around the notion of community. My wife and I both grew up in pretty conservative Christian homes, of which most of that ideology we’ve since left behind. 

Something that sticks around however is the fact that no matter how crazy, off-base and completely out of touch with the reality of most living people conservative Christian theology is, they are pretty damn good at the living life together, supporting sick families and gathering regularly. 

What’s been unfortunate for my wife and I is that when we shed the ridiculous weight of the American evangelical church, we’ve almost completely lost the support we once had. Now, don’t get me wrong, we have great friends who would do anything at the drop of a hat if something catastrophic happened to our family, but it’s the daily, mundane stuff that is missing. Like when my wife, who struggles with autoimmune deficiencies, doesn’t feel well and can barely get out of bed, there’s not a group of people who take care of us like we used to have. 

The crazy part is, we live in the same town as my family, who are still fully immersed in that archaic conservative ideology, yet since we’ve moved on to (hopefully) higher levels of spiritual existence, we’ve been cut off. I understand being cut off on a church basis, that seems legit, but family? Just seems a little skewed, especially if someone were to take seriously the teachings of that first century Arab Jew whom they claim to follow. 

Back to this moment. Is there such a thing as a spiritual, enlightened Christian, Buddhist, peace-loving, ___________ (fill in the blank) community of people who are just regular folks, young families with kids, retired folks who are somewhat interested in mentoring relationships over traveling the world 9 months out of the year? I don’t know, maybe just some people who are interested in true authenticity, engaging the divine (however you like to describe that), caring for a community of people rather than just yourself…

Sounds pretty ideological, but my sense is that there are other folks like us who are searching for that sort of deep connection with other people, we just haven’t found them…yet. We’ve been to all sorts of different churches and we either can’t stomach all the talk and songs about blood, or the democrat process is the answer to all life’s ails. We don’t really fall in either of those camps, more in the middle, or more likely someplace else entirely. 

I’ve thought about writing up a craigslist ad to see what happens. All I know is that this search is kind of exhausting and I’m not sure it should be…

“Heaven has extreme vetting”

I saw this church marquis sign today that said, “Heaven had extreme vetting.”

My first thought was, so does that mean no one gets in? Or maybe that if you’re white and male you get an automatic front-of-the-line pass and everyone else has to stand in line and recite Hail Marys and Our Fathers as long as their skin isn’t too dark or they call God, God and not Allah, or Universe, or Ground of Being?

Let’s just say, if heaven is a real place, somewhere else, far away, I would certainly hope that the god running the place wasn’t as absurd as we are sometimes when it comes to choosing people to build community with. Further, isn’t that kind of god awfully small, especially if one claims that that same God was the match that lit creation into being?

I prefer a different view, one that doesn’t separate me from this beautifully evolving and expanding created universe. I have come to enjoy life much more when I take time to consider the connections I have with my fellow humans as well as the environment that I depend on for life. It seems like an utter waste of time to segregate ourselves into us-and-them camp, pointing fingers and constantly blaming someone else for the shit in the world. 

As so many ancient mystics suggest, suffering is a part of this world. And no, we can’t escape it by way or heaven, nor can we build walls or institute bans to avoid suffering. That’s just part of the deal. And my view is that my task is to figure out real, measurable, tangible ways to LOVE people out of their suffering, which means I have to engage in it, not ignore it. That also means I must be okay with my own suffering, working through my own turmoil and baggage and being honest with myself about who I am, my limitations, gifts and desires. 

I cannot function out of fear. It causes me to point fingers, take sides and erect walls around my physical and emotional life. I have to actually do the hard work of Jesus and figure out what I means to LIVE a life of love, not just talk about it. 

So no, I don’t believe there is extreme vetting in heaven. Heaven is now, and as my (I wish he actually was) pal Rob Bell says, we can choose to build a heavenly realm here, as Jesus prayed, or we can choose to continue to live in our own prisons, hell, and insist that others be as miserable in this life as we are. I prefer the former, so that’s what I will do. 

Parenting 102

So I have to write this down because there is a certain level of brilliance that I don’t want to forget. 

As part of an ongoing my wife and I are having based around Rob Bell’s (and I’m sure others’) notion of an expanding universe, creativity, spiritual life, etc., my wife, in a moment of pure clarity and self realization, massively busted our own parenting chops. 

Here’s the story:

Our boys are probably some of the most creative kids I know, of course I am a little biased because they are my boys, I see a lot more of them than other kids. Not two days ago I was expressing to my wife how frustrated I sometimes get with our oldest son and his seemingly continual “upgrading” of his creations. He makes things all the time, costumes, lego stuff (rubber band shooters, Star Wars ships, candy dispensers, etc.), hand puppets, you name it, he’s probably made it out of something. Which is awesome, right?

Absolutely! But my frustration, pretty ridiculous now in hindsight, is that he never plays with the stuff he makes. He just makes it, then makes it better, then changes it, then starts over…

So fast forward to yesterday morning where my wife spends nearly two hours making a dinosaur train costume for our youngest son. Of course wants to add to it, because that’s what our boys do. He’s great until yesterday evening, when he wants to make another dinosaur train costume, to which my wife replies, rather sternly to both boys, something along the lines of, “I’m sick and tired of you boys making stuff, and remaking it, and changing it, and…” Then curiously, she stopped and said, “fine.” To which my boneheaded self completely missed the reason she stopped, so I stepped in to continue the sermon. I probably droned on for at least 5 minutes, until dinner was ready.

The fast forward again to last night as we are laying in bed, decompressing the day, as we typically do. My wife looks over at me and says, “you know what? We’ve spent a lot of time talking about an expanding universe, how creation is itself expanding, growing, getting better, improving upon itself. You know what else? We just railed on our boys tonight for being too creative, for doing the exact thing they have evolved to do: create, make things better. That’s what this whole thing is doing, right?”

To which I replied, “Shit! Are you serious? We just spent the evening telling our boys to limit themselves. Don’t do what you’re created to do… Wow, we can be real dumbasses.” We spent the next 15 minutes or so laughing at our own ineptitude and yet again, struggling through what it means to be a parent, a parent who gives a damn about what kind of kids they raise. 

I think my wife spent a good part of the morning talking to the boys about how mommy and daddy screwed up last night and that at the core of our being, we do not ever want to limit who or what they can be. I think honesty and some authentic self evaluation can go a long way. 

That said, I’m not sure that second dinosaur train costume is going to get made…

Energy

What sort of energies am I putting into the world? What is my role in this greater cosmic scheme? How can my space, my self, my existence continue to expand and in what ways can I make that expansion a real and lasting reality?

I don’t really have any answers and as is usually the case, the more answers we seek, questions bubble to the surface in abundance. If however, I become a person who surrenders to the flow of this cosmic sea, understanding that all things are connected, then maybe true goodness is within reach. Many scholars and mystics alike suggest that words have power, not just the power of persuasion or converting anger, but actual, physical power. 

Again, if all things are connected, including my desires and the pulse of the universe, what happens when I align those things? If my hope for life is to become a being who is fully awake, wrecklessly loving and infinitely generous, why would I not speak those things into my present reality and begin to live as if those things are actually true? With that in mind, maybe I should start operating under the assumption that in our intimate connectedness with the ENTIRE universe and all that is created and continually evolving, that these desires are not in fact a selfish desire, but a movement toward good that envelopes my wife, my kids, my neighbors, friends, family and hopefully, the whole world. 

If something is truly good, it must be good for everyone, the whole of all that we know. Likewise, I agree with Rob Bell in that, if god is love and love is good, it must be a good for everyone, not just the ones who make intellectually decisions about what to believe and what not to believe. That love must in fact penetrate into every crevice and corner of the universe, covering everything. In a sense, we are swimming in a massively interconnected ocean of love, expansion, growth and plenty. 

It is in that sense that the pin cuts to my very core to see certain leaders of an enormously rich country… choosing not to live in love and compassion, but rather divide and label, it’s us and them and thankfully we are the good guys… Really?

My Christian upbringing taught me that if I say the correct prayers, read my bible enough, attend church enough and intellectually decide that Jesus is my own personal savior, having achieved all those things, I would have a place in heaven when I die, somewhere else (yes, it was as bad as it sounds). That mindset released me of joining the life and movement of this world for so many years. But now, I could never go back. The current that I am caught up in is taking me forward, yes into suffering, of course into pain, obviously into places that scare the hell out of me, but that’s life. I can’t ignore the Syrian refugees because we are connected. My heart aches for the native tribes in the Dakotas because we all are created from the same stuff. I can’t turn off that pain with a prayer, and frankly I don’t want to. 

So coming back around to energy. My desire is to be fully integrated into this thing we call life. I refuse to bury my head in the sand. I deeply desire good for ALL people, not just a lucky few. I hope for the freedom and the resources for my own family that we can be in a place where we join our family, friends and neighbors both locally and across the globe, in life, the be love and compassion for the “least of these.”

What is happening?

Of course we all have political leanings and ideally, we celebrate the diversity of thought because it adds value to life for all of us. 

That being said, I have some thoughts. First, my heart is heavy. Over the past week or so, I feel like I’m kind of staggering around, a bit disoriented, having just been clubbed on the head by a dude telling me he did it to keep me safe. 

Here’s the thing. I’m a white male, the archetype of what supposedly “makes America great.” I really don’t have much to worry about (yet…depending on how much longer one is allowed to voice dissent without arrest, or worse), but that is not true for a vast number of people both in this country and those trying to get into this country. Of course many will and are arguing that this is not the soul of America, while others believe that banning certain people from this country will keep us safer. 

This leads to my next point. Many have said and even still maintain that this is a Christian country. Let me be clear, no it isn’t. There are things that we do, either in smaller communities or token charity from the federal government, of course, but there simply is little-to-no biblical precedence for the current set of policies, and specifically the current barrage of executive orders. 

Which leads me to my third point. Early on, being a follower of Jesus (as Christians claim they are) was never a safe, state sanctioned activity. As I understand him, Jesus was not interested in creating an alternative political party to topple the Roman rule. His interests were primarily focused on the people who were under the boot of the empire. In our current context: refugees and migrants, LGBTQIA folks, minority groups, black lives matter, women, federal and state prisoners (many of whom I fully understand have committed atrocious crimes), among many others. These are the people Jesus was interested in. 

If one were to say to Jesus today, we are doing this to keep America safe, I imagine he would say something like, “Safe? The very work I do is not safe. In fact, it’s probably going to land me in prison. Are you still willing to follow me, because if so, get ready. Shit’s about to hit the fan.”

We can talk all day long about being loving, Christian people, but if we’re not willing to take an honest, authentic look at that person and still follow, let’s do everyone a favor and drop the Christian badge. We’re entitled to believe whatever we would like to believe, but if the way we behave, interact and participate in the life of this world isn’t wrecklessly compassionate, dangerously loving and fully aware of “the least of these,” then our god is misguided and the Jesus we say we follow is quite obviously not the one the Bible paints a picture of. 

As the great line from a Gungor song goes, “If it’s us or them, it’s us for them.” The world I see painted through such beautiful stories in the Bible is not one of separation, but of connection. There is no us-and-them. There is only WE and we are all in this together. We all are part of this great story of love and it is up to is to realize that story and make it happen for ALL OF US. 

Be political. Stand up for human rights. Speak out against injustice. But don’t let that be all. Follow the divine into the real, actual lives of people who are in desperation, hoping someone will speak for them, stand up for and with them, and give them a taste of what compassion is in a real, tangible, touchable, smellable way. 

Parenting 101.1

It seems like there is an entire library of information about parenting that no one really knows about. Now don’t hear me wrong, I love being a dad and I wouldn’t change it for anything…but still, this gig is a surprise every day. 

Let me highlight a few parenting gaffs, childhood wonders and some just plain crazy moments in our home. 

I mentioned in the last parenting post about the rivaling chorus of Tron Legacy and Star Wars. Now, the latest sliver the boys keep pushing under our fingernails is singing a single line of the music playing under Sam Flynn’s first trip to the grid. (If you haven’t seen Tron Legacy, it’s a great movie with a fantastic score composed by Daft Punk.) not only have they been attached to this single line, they sing it over, and over, and over, and over… when we say, “please stop singing that,” or “okay, time to choose a different song,” they sing that much louder with a giant goofy grin smeared across their “innocent” little faces. 

Or here’s a good one. You know when you ask your kid to do something and not only do they not do what you’re asking, they in fact do the complete opposite. For instance, we have a no video policy during the week, especially in the morning when our oldest is getting ready for school. What does my wife find when she gets out of bed yesterday morning? Both boys glued to YouTube, our old hasn’t even gotten dressed, eaten breakfast or made his lunch… needless to say, he got a sermon, and not a snoozer like my old church. 

One of my favorites as well is when my wife and I are in the middle of a conversation trying to work out some important details and the youngest asks a question. Understandable, right? Until we say, “just a second buddy.” Then he proceeds to increase the intensity and frequency by which he is is asking the same question, blatantly ignoring any previous requests to wait. And the stuff that’s not written in any parenting book is how I’m supposed to respond when I’m basically arguing with a door. Usually ego wins out and one of us explodes and the moment between us is lost and we are supposed to try to carry on our conversation 4 hours later when the boys are in bed…yeah, nothing to it. 

Some of the good stuff though, that no one tells you about, is when they put on costumes and march around like house like they really are in a storm trooper battle or ninjas sneaking around the house shooting is with poisonous darts. Or when we have a fleet of paper airplanes that cover the floor. Indoor snowball fights, wrestling matches, crafts, food in every nook and cranny, boogers on every piece of furniture, clothing and bedding. 

Oh the stuff off parenthood that no one tells you. It’s the toughest job I’ve ever had. Hopefully they turn out okay because I feel like I’m wrecking them most of the time. But the responsibility and joy we share as we raise these two boys into loving, compassionate (we hope) individuals who will grow up to have a positive impact on the world, is something I will always cherish and take very seriously. 

These kids are awesome and all I’m really doing is hanging on for the ride, trying my best to learn the things they are teaching me rather than the other way around. 

Spilling the beans

My wife and I have been on quite a long spiritual journey that has, so far, brought us to our current space via a pretty rough road. We both were raised in gerally fundamentalist, evangelical homes in which our particular religious sect was right in God’s eyes, thus we’d cornered the market. 

Long story short, my wife is far more spiritually and mystically open because she has actually spent a significant amount of time reading, practicing yoga and meditation and largely preparing herself for divine encounters. Me on the other hand, I’ve chosen a much slower evolutionary path that is essentially, “I don’t want to invest that much intellectual and mental capital, so I’ll just punch the cruise button and fall asleep for 3 or 4 years. 

Now, I’m starting to come out of my self induced bout of ignorance and have really found the spiritual practices my wife has been apart of to be extremely valuable. Not just for myself, but in creating a deep sense of love and compassion in my cold heart for the community and world around me. Thankfully my wife has been massively supportive as I floundered around her intentionality for the past four years. We’ve always kept open the lines of communication which has proved to be an asset that we will continually invest in. 

Something has recently come up in our discussions, though, about how we maintain familial relationships with people to whom we view the world quite differently, especially when it comes to matters of our understanding of Creator/God/Wisdom/Universe, (however we choose to describe the ground of being) and how that…thing… interacts/interacted with the world in new or old, measurable or mystic, real or imagined ways. We have a fear that when and if we spill the beans about what we really believe about those things which they hold so tightly as foundational to their very existence, they’ll just cut us off completely, which is most certainly not something we are interested in. Nor are we interested in causing a crisis of faith for those family members. But it seems like we are approaching a tipping point where we aren’t able to as easily sit quietly and disagree. 

Our silence will likely continue for the time being as we haven’t come up with a good way to open that can… However, something I was thinking about this morning gave me a little bit of pause. Am I taking myself too seriously? Where’s the humor? Is there really not room for both of our viewpoints at the same table? Why does it have to be either we tell them and we’re cut off, or we don’t tell them and we’re miserable?

Again, middle ground. There has to be a place where we exist that isn’t concerned about the poles. Why must we choose to be separated? Of course we will disagree, on a great number of things I imagine, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still eat together, vacation together and let our kids play Star Wars together, right?

I’m not sure what it looks like yet, but I feel like something good is brewing, so I’ll take some intentional time to let it simmer. 

Ignorance is…

I never understood quite what the phrase “ignorance is bliss” meant until I’d hurdled around the sun 20 or so times on this little blue ball we call earth. 

Even then, in my early 20’s, I think I assumed ignorance meant a lack of knowing details of sorts, that might cause worry or concern. My mother always used the phrase in the context of health or politics. “Ignorance is bliss,” she would say… “If I don’t go to the doctor and find out what this lump is, I don’t have to worry about it.” Or, “if I choose not to uncover the causes for suffering in the world, I won’t suffer as much.”

These are paraphrases of my early childhood, but they never sat well with me. Most would agree that suffering is part of the human condition, but one must not turn a blind eye or refuse to accept the part it plays for us. If we choose not to enter into suffering, that’s not really a defendable position for ignorance being bliss. That seems more to me to be an unfortunate choice not to engage with humanity. 

Healthcare… that’s an entirely different story. I’m not sure I can tell another person their methods for self care are flawed, at least not unsolicited. But I am the kind of person who would rather have all the details and make plans from there. 

However, I do think there are times when a bit of conscious ignorance is quite helpful. For instance, the current presidential administration. If I were to continue in my addiction to NPR (as unbiased as it is… or so we like to tell ourselves) I could not be present and, for example, enjoy my four year old’s birthday, because I’m might end up being too worried about the possibility that he won’t even have a place to live when he’s my age. 

Sometimes then, I will choose ignorance, I will choose when and where to consume news so that I can be here, in this moment, enjoying the peace of a lunch break and the view of the snow covered mountains not ten miles from my home. 

I don’t know what’s to come of this current administration, and if I’m honest, I’m pretty skeptical about the good that will come of it. I am not however going to be paralyzed by my fear of possibilities. I must make a conscious, deliberate, intentional decision to live in this moment with my two amazing boys and fantastically loving and compassionate wife. 

So, am I ignorant? When it brings me into this moment to love more fully and engage more authentically, absolutely.