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!

Walking Contradiction

I’ve reached a point in my life where I have stopped caring about how I am perceived by others because of my interests, thoughts, or hobbies. I pray, read the Bible, and read Tarot. I am a Quaker, but practice martial arts. I live with hope and idealism yet my all-time favorite artist is Nine Inch Nails.

You get the idea.

Back in the day (up to a few years ago, actually), I never wanted to catch hell for being a hypocrite or “out there.” I wanted to be accepted, normal. It was always implied that variatious aspects my life was inconsistent with what others expected of me, and that such a disconnect was worrisome, a “bad witness,” or just plain strange.

So I buried things. Music I loved, opinions I held, beliefs that bothered me, all packaged and sorted according to whatever criteria would get me through the situation at hand with as little damage as possible. All the while, I was only suffocating myself. No one knew (all of) the real me.

The truth is, though, that contradiction is part of life. It comes with experience. I’ve experienced relentless love and hope, but also abuse, loss, and despair. These realities are all a part of me and my story, so I find ways to express them.

I’ve experienced the power of Christ, and over the past five or so years I’ve also experienced an expansion in my view of God’s activitites in various traditions all over the world. Ergo, my spirituality is hybridized, yet powerful and effective. Some criticize this by saying I’m crafting my religion according to my own rules, but what’s the alternative? Let someone else do it for me? Thanks, but no.

My point is that people are complex. YOU are complex. You have beliefs, hobbies, and insights that are unique to you and your life experience. Further, I bet you have also felt the need to stifle or cover up those unique aspects of yourself for the comfort of others.

But…

What if someone needs to hear you?

What if someone needs to know they’re not alone and you have just the words or interests to make that happen?

What if what you have to contribute could be just what’s needed to add depth and insight to a conversation?

We all have a story that’s supposed to be told. With every story that’s fully expressed and shared, the narrative of humanity gains more depth and meaning. This is indispensible work, as we are constantly being sold oversimplified narratives that serve the powers that be.

So how do we tell our stories? First, we must accept them ourselves. Stop denying the things that make you… You! Secondly, we have to let go of the idea of normality. For every place we “fit in,” we will be alienated from ten others, so outsider opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. Finally, we must live out loud. Share what gives you peace and passion. Embrace what makes you kind, what makes you feel. what makes you think. Take your place as a member of the human family and contribute to it in your own way.

Don’t be afraid of contradiction. Embrace tension and mystery. After all, it’s in the midst of these things that life is found.

Peace be with you!

Last Night

I need my alone time to recharge and process. My parents and brother visited this weekend, so the apartment was full of people, life, sound, and love. It was awesome, but I needed to carve out some “me” time.

My wife took my son to my in-laws’ home for dinner, so I took the opportunity to visit the prayer labyrinth at SMU. As I walked the winding path, I had a lot of distracting, cloudy thoughts. Once I reached the center, I finally asked God to focus my mind and speak to me.

Now, I have prayed this for years. It’s almost a formality. This time, however, I looked straight up to the sky. There, directly overhead, was Vega, the brightest star of the Lyra constellation.

In my mind’s eye, I saw Vega as though from “orbit.” A blindingly bright, burning body of light and energy and pull. There was the expanse of space and the knowledge that all of this is eternal. The same materials that make up this star, this universe, are within me. When I die, those materials will be released and go to form someone or something else. There is an energy, a movement that enables and comprises all of life and to me, this is what we call “God.” It is the Source of all being, ever-contracting, ever-expanding, ever-transforming, and ever-present.

I was overwhelmed with humility, gratitude, and the driving need to dive back into my life. As spiritual and “out there” as this experience was, it grounded me and gave me a renewed appreciation for the time I have. I want to spend the rest of that time loving everyone and everything in my life with all that I’ve got, because just as it is a miracle that I get to exist and be a part of all this, so it is a tremendous blessing to have the people in my life that I do.

I get that not everyone will agree with my perspective on God. Some will say this “force” isn’t conscious, others say this description is blasphemy. Think what you like! For me, this force of Life is always tending toward itself, producing and creating and calling for us to participate in its activity. For me, this participation is what we see in Jesus, embodying the power of life, death, and renewal in a way that is inspiring and delightful.

Am I nuts? Maybe, although people who are psychotic don’t usually think they could be psychotic. I do have a rich, imaginative inner life, but all I can do is use my experiences to shape my understanding, so that’s what I am doing.

Life is a gift, and it is a gift to have you as a part of it. I hope you can learn to see things this way. Further, I hope you will take advantage of every opportunity to share your gifts, love your people, and live your life.

Peace be with you!

Security is a Lie

Maaaan, we humans like to feel safe and secure. Alarm systems, pistols, baseball bats, confirmation bias, the 2nd Amendment, doctrine, prejudice, all of these things are means by which we try to ensure our sense of security. This sense can be emotional, intellectual, or physical.

The problem is that true security/safety is impossible if you actually want to live your life. There is a nothing wrong with taking some basic precautions or having a solid bit of confidence. However, there is a difference between that and living in fear of difference because it threatens to shake up our foundations. Too often, we tend toward the latter.

Life is not conducive to safety. It involves risk, taking chances, and being subject to influences and powers external to ourselves. To try to control or eliminate this often leads to an existence based on fear or suspicion. Ironically, such a lifestyle is fertile ground for more issues, not less.

It’s true that our sense of fear and security can be healthy and definitely helped our ancestors survive. We had to be careful about strange sights or sounds, as anything could potentially kill us.

Today, these instincts manifest in a variety of ways. When our core beliefs or opinions are challenged, we get defensive or even aggressive. Many carry weapons with them everywhere they go. Fear of strangers leads to prejudice, racism, or classism, resulting in isolationist or avoidant social behavior. When our financial prosperity is infringed upon, we hoard our resources and will often pay any price (moral or, ironically, financial) to keep our status.

None of these behaviors are healthy. They might make us feel better, but the tangible, positive results they produce are minimal at best. Furthermore, life isn’t made any less dangerous or unpredictable!

So what’s the alternative?

Acceptance.

I sometimes find myself terrified. I’m scared I’m going to lose my wife or son or friends or family. I worry about our finances, my training business, or my impact on this world.

At the end of it all, though, I have to choose between fear and acceptance. Fear feeds itself and leads to a limited existence. Acceptance, however, allows me to feel what I feel while also pushing me to live my life.

Sure, it all could end tomorrow. I could lose everything, be shot in a Wal-Mart, or I could die in my sleep… but none of this is in my control. All I can do is handle what is within my power to handle, leaving the rest to whatever powers may be.

This may sound like indifference, but it actually allows me to live a life of reckless love and delight in the people God has brought into my life. I kiss and hug my son every chance I get. I flirt with and embrace my wife daily. I check in on my family and friends, eat the delicious food, put down my weapons, give of my resources to those in need, and do my best to leave the world better than I found it.

Security is great in theory, but it just doesn’t exist. Life is wild, unpredictable, and extends beyond the grasp of our control. We can either respond out of fear or acceptance, and I hope we all can chooe the latter. Past that point, all that’s left is to jump in and LIVE!

Peace be with you!

Walking the Winding Road

Someone may plan his journey by his own wit, but it is the LORD who guides his steps. — Proverbs 16:9, REB

Every week, I visit my former seminary in Dallas and walk the courtyard prayer labyrinth. Few spiritual disciplines afford me the same peace, meditation, and insight as my weekly pilgrimage to its center. An ancient method of moving meditation and personal transformation, the labyrinth has brought me peace in some of the most tumultuous times in my life.

For me, the labyrinth is a replica of life. Many of us would liken life to a maze, full of intentional deception culminating in dead ends unless your just lucky or persistent.

Life, however, is one path from beginning to end, and that end is certain.

The labyrinth has taught me that although life includes many winding turns and potential obstacles (especially when it’s under construction, as in the photo), we will always find our way through them if we only continue on. Choosing to stay still is the only way to become trapped in a labyrinth, and so it is in life. If we decide to stay put in a miserable, bitter, hateful, or pitiless way of living, it’s about as useful as hitting a turn in a labyrinth and just plopping down for good.

I don’t know what kind of journey you’ve had, but I can tell you that all those sharp turns, huccups, and obatacles are completely okay. They’re normal. Life isn’t a straight line, but it ends in the same place for us all, and the best thing we can do is keep walking, experiencing and appreciating all of it.

Peace be with you!

In Hot Pursuit

The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves the one who pursues righteousness. — Proverbs 15:9, NRSV

I used to think being transformed by God’s grace was a passive act. Time after time, mistake after mistake, and prayer after prayer I would wait for that magic moment that I would no longer be subject to my bad habits. I believed there would be this “place” in life that would signal my spiritual maturity and official station as a disciple of Jesus.

Welp.

Needless to say, that is not the experience I have had, and I thank God for that. I was denying my agency in life, missing my part in God’s story, and setting myself up for failure in trying to hit a “moving target” of salvation that doesn’t exist. As the well-beaten Emerson quote says, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” and the same is doubly true for the life of faith in Christ.

Scripture speaks often of pursuit. The Scripture above from Proverbs expresses God’s approval for those who pursue righteousness. Psalm 34:14 encourages us to “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” In Philippians 3, Paul speaks of “straining forward to what lies ahead” (verse 13). Jesus exhorts His followers to “strive first for the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). This theme of effort, pursuit, and striving is consistent throughout all of Scripture, and it is a vital lesson for us today.

The quality and holiness of our lives depend not on all we manage to achieve, but all that we decide to pursue with our whole heart. Faith is a journey that takes us to the end of our time on this earth. Salvation is the way in which we live, and not a static place to stand. If we spend our time chasing after accomplishments and accolades while remaining complacent in our faith life, we have veered off course and lost “the narrow path.” However, should we decide to pursue God in every moment, and if we see ourselves, each other, and all this world has to offer as sacred, we will be re-oriented toward God’s kingdom, and we will hasten its coming.

This is not a check-list, finish line kind of race. It is one of endurance, one that will have many obstacles and pit-falls, one that will sometimes involve us getting lost and needing to be re-calibrated. But it is also a journey of transformation. In making the effort to recognize what George Fox called “that of God in everyone,” and in striving to live a Christ-like life, we do actually change and grow in our connection to God. This in turn has a positive impact on those with whom we interact, creating a chain effect that makes the Kingdom of God a current reality.

We all have a part to play in God’s story. We all have the freedom to choose what to do with the love of God and the relationship He offers us. I pray that as we go out into this, we will choose to act on that love, honoring it in our thoughts, our words, and our various doings. In this way, we both pursue and live out our salvation.

Peace be with you!

 

Balance

the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away. — Ezra 3:13, NRSV

You’ve probably heard it a million times. “Life is about balance.” Whether it’s off-setting your diet with a cupcake, your exercise with a day of sloth-like relaxation, or your attempts at holiness with the odd swear word, it seems balance is something we appeal to more and more frequently.

When reading Ezra 3 this morning, I was struck by the last paragraph. The Israelites have returned to rebuild Jerusalem, specifically the temple. Having been in exile, you can imagine there are mixed emotions when confronted with the reconstruction of God’s house.

Many of the Israelites raise a shout of praise (3:11), while the older generations, “who had seen the first house on its foundations,” began to weep (3:12). What struck me is that this is all that is said.

No one corrects the mourners.

No one rebukes those who celebrate.

All of the emotion, whether joyous or grief-stricken, is held in a single, glorious tension. The entire mash up of sound rises on the air and simply… is.

To me, that is the balance of life.

It’s not how often you nap or do goat yoga. It’s about fully experiencing the broad range of emotion and beauty and pain that this life has to offer. To live a balanced life is to find peace in the tension between our greatest joys and deepest sorrows, knowing a well-lived life is comprised of both.

We are in a world afraid to feel, and afraid to hurt. Our culture forces down “negative” emotions in favor of the “sunny side up” approach to everything, not realizing that to paint pain as abnormal is to reinforce unhealthy emotional processing and coping mechanisms.

My prayer, then, is that we will instead accept this Scriptural representation of balance. I hope we will be bold enough to feel, to sing, to laugh, and to grieve. I hope we will decide, no matter the experience, to just “be” in it. After all, we only get one chance.

Peace be with you!