Parenting Spirituality

For the first time that I can remember, I went back and read a couple of my posts, specifically about parenting. There is an unnerving gap in not only my own thoughts, but popular culture as a whole, concerning parenting with a comprehensive, inclusive spiritual mindset.

I can’t stomach the establishment religion anymore, so I won’t be making references to such practices as prayer, personal bible study and/or acts of penance. I’ve spent the last 6 years trying to peel off the crusty, fossilized layers of my conservative christian upbringing, and at this point, I am far more interested in spending a Sunday morning playing Uno with my kids than powering through an antiquated, misogynistic sermon that is a mildly fluffier version of one delivered not two weeks prior.

I can say with a relative amount of certainty, that it is most quite possible, even preferable, to raise children, good, loving compassionate children, without the aid (or hinderance, later in life) of religion. That’s not to say that I remain ignorant of spiritual practices and activities that make my family and myself better people. We take many liberties in poaching practices from the wealth of knowledge in spiritual practice throughout the world. So, contrary to the argument I regularly heard growing up, it’s not enough to just “read the bible” for all moral and spiritual questions, with the footnote; *don’t ask any questions.

In the scope of human history, significant on it’s own merits, yet pathetic on a cosmic scale, there are most certainly moral people who have evolved outside of a religious incubator. I would argue pulling back to gain a larger view in order to absorb more rather than less is exponentially more beneficial.

Quick detour in the never, yet strangely predictable existence that is parenting. While writing about parenting with spirituality, as is most often the case, I’m interrupted, mid thought. “Daddy! Im done!” And I must go wipe my kid’s ass. In all of my parenting fantasies, not once did I think to myself, “I can’t wait to be a dad and stick my face and hands so perilously close to so many steaming piles of shit, produced entirely by the tiny, ever changing, always smelling, growing changing bodies that are inhabited by the minds of my two boys.”

I seem to be building an argument for a rather simple way of being a parent that seems so difficult to actually implement in an actual existence. First, be true. As a parent, I will make a treacherous mess of an alarmingly large number of scenarios throughout my parenting career. The sooner I admit that, the better off we will all be. Second, love the hell out of your kids. As more and more sunrises and sunsets get filed into the appallingly boring history of my own existence, the best I can do for my boys is to love them with such reckless abandon that they have no question of their place in the world, how they can change it and love it back.

Shit, I’m losing my train of thought. Between wiping asses, breaking up fights and pouring cereal, this post seems like a mild case of projectile vomit, starts off with such force, but leaves behind a terrible taste in your cheeks with the added bonus of a sore stomach.

I’ll try again later. I’m pretty sure there’s some good stuff waiting to come out.

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Discipline and lists

Just noticed a rather significant amount of time ha passed since my last entry: September (unless I count the last public post, March. Even more grotesque) yikes! 

Separately, I express myself best in writing. As with any barbed social media post, writing allows me, as well as many others I’m sure, to precisely curate my thoughts in order to paint myself in a more favorable light. Trouble is, the perfect syntax is in no way a true representation of my everyday reality. 

I may come across, at times, in my witing as one who is fairly well spoken, clear and concise. When in person, staring into they eyes of another person, I’m just as regular as the next bloke, fumbling for words, sweating profusely and largely unaware of the direction of the conversation I’m engaged in beyond the next couple words. 

That’s not to say I don’t have options about life, parenting, politics, cycling, meditation, gluten free foods and the like, I just have a mental block when trying to express those options and build coherent arguments on the fly, with another human being’s gaze leading me to believe they are waiting to pounce on any holes in my argument like a lioness on the Serengeti. 

I guess that’s where one should exercise discipline and as many authors and spiritual teachers have said, “do hard things,” and face head on the very things that trip me up. 

Until I get that nailed down, here is a list of other topics I aim to pen some thoughts about in the near future:

The #metoo social media campaign. (Spoiler alert. My feelings in short: men, quit thinking and speaking with your dicks. You well know if you’ve violated a woman’s body, admit it! When your answer is exactly the same as every other dudes answer, it seems pretty obvious to me that the ladies aren’t “fishing for publicity.”)

Parenting. As in, the real stuff my wife and I and our friends screw up every day in regards to our kids. 

Meditation/spirituality. Not the bullshit perpetuated by organized religion, but the real life, how the hell do I meditate when I’ve got a lego jammed up my ass from the tornado that is my living room, with my kids fighting about food and who stole who’s Pokémon cards? And, how does one square conservative politics with religion, Christianity specifically in the US?

Art. Likely a lament on the fact that I just don’t make time to create like I used to. 

That should keep me going for a while. A couple of those streams will more than certainly lead to a river, or to steal the far too often used metaphor, open up a can of worms. Should be fun, or at the very least cathartic and in the mean time, move me toward, or at the very least in the general direction of, that other title thought, discipline. 

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.