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. 

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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. 

Where to now?

Yesterday was a pretty big day. The 20th of this month seems to have came and gone without much fanfare, but the 21st, the #Womensmarch, garnered quite a bit more attention. By the latest estimates, somewhere close to the tune of 4 million people marching all across the country.

Pretty big deal it seems. My wife was able to go to the Denver march and was, for lack of a better phrase, completely overwhelmed not just by the sheer scale of the crowd, but the fact that so many people were gathered with the same purpose. ¬†All that to say, we probably should have joined her. There were families with kids, dads, mothers, a little of everyone there. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to kick this fear that seems to be wrapped up in our white privilege. “What if our kids get hurt?” “Is this something we should expose our family to?”

The truth is, we live in a bubble. There are people who have been struggling for years and years. A man on the bus with my wife and her friends yesterday took the time to ask about the sign she was holding and what it was for. He thanked her for participating. Without skipping a beat, my wife immediately responded, “Sir, I am not worthy of thanks. You have been blazing this trail long before I was even born. You’ve shown us how its done. So, thank you!” As they sat on the bus, this black man teared up and simply responded, “Thank you.”

I have a sense things are shifting. I hope that people beginning to see the necessity of shedding this tribal language, us and them, right and wrong. Things are a bit more nuanced than that. We need each other, that I’m sure of. The other bits, I’m not sure. Are we two easily distracted? Flashy, glitzy magazine articles telling us what will make us happy, LED screens constantly alerting us of things someone else thinks are important, I’m right and you’re wrong…

Ancient wisdom teachers, mystics and peace advocates of today all seem to tell us there is something more, something better. The universe is unfolding, growing, increasing in its depth, complexity and unity (thanks Rob Bell – Everything is Spiritual), though I couldn’t hope to understand it, I certainly want to join in the process.

I am hopeful of the places we are going. I am ready to be a person of true authenticity, living life with all humanity. We need strong men, as one sign I saw from yesterday said, “to grow a vagina.” I am privileged, being white and male, and I need to use that privilege not for my own gain, but to speak honestly, compassionately and forcefully for those groups who have been silenced over the centuries. We all need to stand for the greater good, because it’s right.

The world is a better place when we are all on the same team.

The middle ground

Today I can’t really find the right words to start. Often I can’t find the right words, so silence seems to suit me. 

I’m also not sure about a whole more stuff than when I was younger. If there’s something to be said about fundamental evangelicalism, certainty is at the top of the list. Without that construct, I’ve certainly got a lot more questions, within which I have become much more comfortable, even preferring a bit of ambiguity over certainty. 

I still struggle with church (largely organized religious activit) and politics. When I was young, my basic operating assumption was that America was god’s chosen country and its god-ordained method of leadership was the Republican Party platform, though we never had sermons about politics from our pulpits. It was kind of an unspoken understanding that all good christians vote republican. 

Of course my leanings now are quite a bit different. Now my struggle is not that I tend to err democratic, even socialist (gasp!), but that depending on what building you go to on any given Sunday morning, that becomes a rallying cry, a shouting match of us-versus-them. I hate to break this news to my liberal church friends, but you’re nearly as fundamentalist from the left side or the church sanctuary.

Now I realize currently that I am painting a you’re-wrong-and-we’re-right, which is now, the one thing that really turns me off about both the environment that I was raised in and the current system in which I’ve planted myself. It is very difficult to find people talking about the middle ground. Why do we all need to be on separate teams? And why, as spiritual followers of a 1st century Palestinian Jew do we think the American democratic system is going to solve all our problems? Isn’t that the system that killed Jesus for living a life that was other-centered, against the norms of his current system?

Maybe Gandhi’s age-old mantra, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” should actually be taken seriously. Maybe Jesus was serious when he talked over and over about looking out for the least, take care of each other (not drafting new laws, organizing committees or voting with a certain party), feeding each other, hosting each other in your home, providing for those who are without when you have plenty. As Rob Bell (I know my current library of inspiration is embarrassingly limited) says, “what kind of world do you see? A world of scarcity, or one of plenty?”

I’m ready to start seeing one of plenty, where I vote, but am much more interested in meeting actual, daily needs of the people within my community. Then hopefully they will do the same with their friends and family, and they will do the same, and so on…

That sounds like a much better place to be apart of, so that’s what I’m going to be working toward. I want to occupy the middle ground, where we are all partners, working for the good of us all,  not just good for a few.