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Work is Not Worth

When I was no longer working as a minister, I hit a downward spiral. I had to reconstruct myself without the foundation I had always had: my work. What I did became who I was, and anyone who knows that story knows it wasn’t a healthy situation.

Fast forward two years, and I have a son. I’m primarily a stay-at-home dad who does some personal training on the side. I love this boy, and I have never been as happy at a job as I am when taking care of him.

But.

When he cries or fights, when he is uncomfortable, I take it personally. I get upset and the self-flagellation begins. I feel like a failure.

In my head, I know that babies are just upset sometimes. I know you can do everything right and they will still cry. But in my gut, I still carry old “scripts” about the “job” reflecting the character and worth of a person. I still see myself in terms of how well I do things as opposed to simply valuing who I am.

This is a common problem. Lots of conversations between strangers center around what one does, as though that indicates something important about the character of a person. A person’s success is measured by their job, their education, their pay, their achievements.

On the surface, this makes sense. We humans like to quantify things for the purposes of comparison. This is great for buying cars, but it’s a lazy, cruel practice when it comes to relating to each other.

So at this point, my personal work is going to center on valuing myself. I, Jordan, matter because I exist, and not because I am the perfect father, husband, writer, or trainer. I am far more than the sum of my accomplishments or failures.

The same is true for you.

Peace be with you!

Virtuous Commentating

I was reading Mark 2 last night, and when I reached the teaching on the Sabbath, it snatched my attention. The text can be found here. In this text, Jesus’ disciples flout Sabbath protocol by picking grain to eat. This counts as “harvesting,” so they draw the ire of the legalistic religious scholars known as Pharisees.

I’ve read through this text countless times. The point seems clear, that the Sabbath is a gift to people, not a means of controlling them. This time, however, I was captivated by a thought that occurred around verse 24.

The biggest problem here is that the Pharisees would rather point and shout than help.

They could have offered food to the disciples if they cared that much. Instead, they’d rather just point out the problem with the intent of discrediting and shaming the hungry bunch.

How often do we humans do this?

We could help. We could take steps to solve the problem, offer support, act with kindness. Instead, we decide to shame and denounce.

Perhaps the best lesson we could all learn is to contribute good things when we are faced with evil things. The Pharisees’ problem was that they were legalistic about the Holiness Code without helping anyone actually achieve a greater level of holiness. Our problem is that it’s easier/more convenient to shame or insult via social media or conversation than it is to actually help create a healthier environment.

I plan to be more aware of this, watching my words, opting to take action more and more. It’s my hope that more of us will do the same. Virtue signaling does too little, and inaction costs too much.

Peace be with you!

Sometimes

I had a moment today. My son had some lightly bloody stool (it happens), and the “new dad” worry combined with my old wounds to form a monster of grief. When my mom passed away, I was 10 years old. I’ve recently learned that an ambulence came and got her from the house because of how sick she had become. She died on the way to the hospital.

The worst part for me, for all this time, has been that I didn’t wake up. I didn’t hear anything; I have one blurry memory before I fell back into deep sleep. The night before, I made her a toy boat that said “Get Well Soon” on the sail, gave it to her, and she said, “Goodnight” as she shut the door. That’s the last time I ever saw her face.

Reflecting on this today, after shedding some needed tears, I arrived at an important truth.

Sometimes you don’t wake up.

Sometimes life is hell. Sometimes there is nothing you can do, sometimes it’s all out of your hands, sometimes the whole bloody world just comes down on your head and there is no solution, reason, plan, or meaning behind it.

Sometimes life is just hard…

And that is perfectly okay.

As humans, we are subject to the laws of nature and the will of others. Sometimes this means we get extraordinarily unlucky. Sometimes that means we get broken.

I am of the belief that there is no divine plan in any of this. Suffering is a part of being mortal. It’s a consequence of being subject to death.

I do find divinity, however, in the fact that life goes on. The world doesn’t actually stop, and we don’t have to either. There is always the option, the hope, that what we go through in life can change us for the better. We can become stronger, more wise, more compassionate, more self-loving, more aware of the blessings every moment has to offer. If we decide to, we can tap into the power of Life and grow from our pain rather than remaining broken by it.

This is why I love the resurrection story of Jesus. The pain doesn’t have to be the end, and if we face the darkness with faith, hope, and love, something better will come of it.

That being said, sometimes this truth is hard to see or accept and that’s okay. My point here is that wherever you’re at, whatever pain you are caught up in, it’s okay to acknowledge and feel it. It’s okay to admit that sometimes, life just isn’t good.

Just remember, that doesn’t mean it never will be.

Peace be with you!

Forced Religion: A Change in My Thinking

So normally, I’d advocate for voting according to one’s religious values. Recently, though, I have been making a distinction between voting with love and compassion as opposed to “this or that” spiritual inclination. As I’ve reflected on this change, here’s the reason that came to me:

Theocracies are always oppressive.

Whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or any other historically theocratic society, governments based on religious principles always fail their people. At best, the majority of citizens fall under the correct religious umbrella and a minority are persecuted. At worst you have the Taliban, who don’t care about religion so much as control with a religious flavor.

The United States was established by mostly Christian/Deist men. This should not be confused with the idea that the U.S. was supposed to be a Christian nation. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have protections of varied religious practices and protection against the establishment of a state religion.

I bring this up because I realized more explicitly that there is something very unspiritual about voting for a government that would force one’s spirituality on other people. Both liberals and conservatives do this, and it is quite unnerving.

Anti-abortion advocates are heavily driven by religious ideology, usually Christian. The same goes for those who are pro and anti-marriage equality or immigration reform.To force such views on each other via the vote is actually one of the most un-American, unconstitutional, and unkind things we could ever do.

Our nation was designed with a secular bent, not because the founders thought religion was stupid or going away, but because they recognized the danger in government enforcement of religious doctrine. The citizens of this country were expected to vote according to secular principles, using education, reason, and logic to make national decisions. While I would and compassion and neighborly love to this list, I otherwise agree wholeheartedly with this approach.

Now we only vote every four years in terms of the presidency, but how often do we judge or criticize others because they don’t adhere to our religious or spiritual values? Far too often, I’d say. This is, in and of itself, an unspiritual, impious tendency that needs to be eliminated. The world is too big and too diverse for one religious clan or the other to go around constantly bitching at each other, as it only results in violence, whether physical or ideological.

Now I am a Quaker. I have principles that I will adhere to in my everyday life, and those principles may get me into conflict. I, however, should not attempt to shape the rest of the world according to my views. I should simply act in accordance with the principles of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality; the rest will work itself out.

If we were more focused on individually living our own spiritualities rather than trying to force others to do so, this world might be a better place. So I have made a vow to try and do just that. I pray you’ll join me so that maybe this country can fully become the diverse, beneficial, and tolerant nation it was designed to be.

Peace be with you!

Dare to be Fascinated Again: A Lesson from my Four Month Old

I think we tragically lose our fascination with simplicity as we get older. Caught up in the rush of an ever-changing world, our attention spans stay relatively short while the list of criteria for our admiration grows longer and longer. Then there are children.

Today, I was clipping my toenails (you’re welcome).

As I did so, my four month old baby boy was on his belly playing with some cloud thing that lights up when you smack it. I began to clip and suddenly, that little cloud took a backseat to what was clearly the most delightfully wild thing Aidan has seen to date. It was precious.

With every clipping sound, Aidan would get wide-eyed, squeal with delight, and flail about. He would then get still and watch, captivated as I moved to the next toe. I’d clip the nail, and the process would begin again.

Now, obviously, my point here isn’t that you should stare at people and giggle as they clip their toenails.

Weirdo. Unless you’re into that. Do you.

Anyway, my point is that we are so caught up in the rat race of life that we miss a lot of great things.

We miss the intricate cloud formations drifting across a blue sky.

We miss the nonverbal cues of loved ones we are barely listening to as we try to process our own day while eating dinner.

We miss the chill in an October wind that blows scattered leaves in swirls along the ground.

We miss the joyful feeling of laughter in our friends, family, and even ourselves.

I’m sure you can think back to a ton of situations today that you just “floated” through. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to do or be things that we forget to just “be.” I think it’s time we take a lesson from our little ones and find a way to see the miracles in life again.

Peace be with you!

Love in Conflict: Seeing People, Not Problems

A troubling trend that I have been noticing as the days go by is the punishment of individuals for the sake of a collective or institutional evil. When we are confronted with a person who espouses or represents an ideology we don’t like, that person often ends up on the receiving end of our (often malicious) disapproval. This is not a justifiable practice, as it is attacking symptoms rather than causes. Furthermore, we are unable to actually affect change when we go into “attack mode.” When one person attacks, the other defends, and a beneficial exchange is rendered all but impossible.

During and after the Vietnam Conflict, military service members were treated like garbage due to strong anti-war sentiments that surged through the American public. Nowadays, due in part to our post-Vietnam guilt, service members are at the very least paid vast amounts of positive lip service regarding the selfless deeds they perform for the sake of our nation’s freedom. Both of these instances forge an unhealthy connection between what is acceptable and unacceptable.

Military service members join the armed services out of a patriotic desire to make a positive difference for their country, as well as to provide for themselves and their families. Such intentions, however, are manipulated when our fellow citizens are inevitably wielded as extensions of the United States government and its various economic and political interests. Both of these statements are true and merit consideration. The soldier cannot and should not be blamed for the misuse of their devotion, and the Powers that Be cannot and should not be sanctified by the sacrifices of others as they rest on capitol hill.

Another example is seen in the world of law enforcement. Let’s say an officer pulls over a person who becomes hostile. Perhaps it comes in the form of a taunt, putting hands out the window and telling the officer not to shoot before an interaction has even begun. Maybe it comes in the form of shouting obscenities, reminding the officer that his salary is paid by the offender’s taxes. In other more extreme instances, officers have been shot in their cars while on break or ambushed on domestic violence calls.

In each of these interactions, the individual officer is seen as a representative of all that is wrong in law enforcement, even though that officer may have never abused the badge. The civil servant becomes the recipient of all the rage and frustration caused by a problem of systemic proportions, and this is as grave an injustice as the inequitable treatment of people of color in the American justice system.

These are two broader examples of something that can happen anywhere at any time. A prisoner can become the means by which a corrections officer violently vents his frustrations. An undocumented Mexican immigrant becomes the face of all that is economically and socially wrong in the eyes of Americans who need someone to blame for a world that scares them. Certain friends, family members, and even strangers become incarnations of racism, sexism, and homophobia to be scolded, maligned, and used to show how virtuous “we the enlightened” are by comparison.

Why is this wrong?

It changes absolutely nothing.

While we are busy laying into one another, the power structures and ideologies that affect us remain strong. Whether it’s killing a terrorist, antagonizing a soldier or police officer, racially profiling an individual, or swearing at loved ones or strangers, the lesson remains the same: violence of any kind toward individuals cannot undo collective or institutional evils. If anything, those evils are strengthened and rooted deeper into our world.

So what is the answer?

I am merely one human being, and I cannot prescribe a foolproof, universal cure for so diverse and widespread a problem. What I can offer is some “everyday wisdom” that any person can apply should they choose to do so. I believe Saint Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 16:14.

“Let all that you do be done in love.”

It is imperative that we take a stand for all that is decent, kind, inclusive, beautiful, generous, and equitable. We should stand against violence, bigotry, fear-mongering, greed, oppression, and hate. All of this, however, can and must be done with love.

Love can be firm and maintain boundaries. Love can call out that which is unacceptable or problematic. What’s more, love can do these things without contributing to the very negativity and violence we are trying to resist!

If we are driven by anger, fear, or hatred, no matter how justified we may feel it to be, our actions will only feed the world’s evils. Yes, we might “get some bad guys” here and there, and we might feel better, but none of that actually reduces the amount of violence and vitriol present in the world. We are just more comfortable with these negative forces because they exist in the name of our cause.

With love, however, we must take responsibility for our feelings. We must process them in a healthy way and recognize that the person in front of us matters. Just as we are shaped by our experiences, so are all other people, and this understanding should inform our actions. This allows us to be more compassionate, more loving, even in the midst of conflict. We can still stand in our truth, but instead of attacking the other, we can connect with them, putting a kind heart and face to their opposition (and our own).

Will this always be well-received? Or will it always end in some beatific vision of reconciliation? Of course not. Yet we cannot attempt to control how others respond to us. All we can do is make sure we respond in a way that best represents our own ideals, not allowing the darkness of the world to determine how we behave.

Imagine a world in which we voted, debated, donated, invested, legislated, and reformed with love in our heart. Imagine a world in which we were able to recognize the humanity in even our worst enemy, choosing to interact on that basis rather than on the basis of our animosity. Imagine a world in which the Powers that Be are starved of our fear and hatred, rendered powerless by our love for one another.

This is an idealistic vision, but pursuing it can lead to very real transformation in this world if we would only be willing to try.

Peace be with you!

Class is in Session

I was reading Matthew 23 last night, where Jesus says to his disciples, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.” You can find the whole chapter for context here. I know that the passage takes place within the Christ-disciple dynamic, but I can never help but expand things to a more universal perspective.

After all, we are all students, aren’t we? I mean, some of us are harder to teach than others, but we are all making our way through life not always knowing what we are doing. We are constantly having to stretch and grow and learn, and the only time we really fail is when we dare to believe that we know it all.

Everyone is at a different phase in their learning, and condemning someone for that is hypocritical, as all of us have areas in which we could make some improvement. Sure, there are ideas and practices that need to be called out, altered, and/or stopped, but too often we confuse ideas with people, taking out systemic frustrations on individual humans. What’s needed instead is compassion and empathy alongside righteous action, because God knows there isn’t a person alive or dead who “got it all right.”

By the same token, we need to be more gracious with ourselves. When we see our failures as indicators of who we are rather than lessons to be learned, we begin to define ourselves by those failures. We become self-fulfilling prophecies, caught in a horrible cycle of self-judgment and self-sabotage.

Life is one enormous lesson, and we are all students. We are each at different phases of our lesson plan, just trying to get to the next step. This should be a source of solidarity, not division.

Ultimately, every belief system, every way of being in the world is an attempt to understand the mystery of our existence. We may interpret this Mystery in different ways that don’t always agree, but the fact that we are all struggling and striving in this work in some shape or form should cause us to lock arms and march toward that Mystery together.

Peace be with you!