Thoughts…

So here’s just a little bit of what I’ve been thinking about/wrestling with today:

  • I truly do feel like a “rat in a cage.” I feel quite trapped, unable any longer to bear the dichotomy between the life I feel called to live and my life as I’m currently living it. This is really an integrity issue for me. The “me” I present to the world each day through my choices, mannerisms, words, and actions is largely inconsistent with the “me” that rages within, yearning to become what it might. I want my life to be burned up in “the holy flame” of which Abraham Joshua Heschel speaks; yet most days that flame quietly flickers within, threatening to be extinguished by the monotony and pressure of middle-class USAmerican mediocrity. I’m tired of having it both ways- paying lip service to a life of radical discipleship through loving service to God and humanity, all the while bemoaning my lack of local partners who might help me live such a life, while at the same time I secretly covet all the technological and other toys that my privileged life affords me. I accumulate books that I want to read, but never quite find the time to, knowing that they mostly serve the purpose of padding my ego, inflating my self-confidence so that I can make a show of caring (at least to be informed) about “the issues;” yet all the while I do little to respond and make change regarding all the challenges those issues represent. The fact is that I’m fully aware that nearly everything about my life- from the food I eat to the house I live in and the stuff that fills it to the “leisure” pursuits I engage in- all of it comes at much too great a cost to my neighbors around the world and to the world itself. My wealth and the energy required to sustain it along with the waste that is its by-product are possible on a finite earth only because most of the people around the world have so little. I get fat while they starve. I worry about my commute, and my retirement fund, and the home repairs I need to make, while they decide which of their children can eat today. I know the problems that caused all of this are much, much bigger than me, and that my efforts alone will do little to change all of this. Yet the fact remains that there is much I can do, much change I could make even in my own little life and that of my family. So every moment that goes by in which I fail to make that change that it is within my power to make, however hard it might be, is a moment stolen from those who suffer because of my refusal to do what I can. I know too that I am both much weaker, and much stronger, than I think I am, and that when I combine my efforts with like-minded fellow revolutionaries the whole of our work together will be much greater than the sum of its parts.
  • I have to admit that I’m tired of trying to be a Christian, and I don’t think I can do it anymore. I’ve long cried out against what passes for “Christianity” in USAmerican culture, and I suppose I’m growing tired even of my own shtick. I’m not ready to give up on Jesus, though, because I’m convinced he hasn’t given up on me or the world yet. I just don’t want to get into another argument about the Bible, or the doctrinal efficacy of substitutionary atonement, or whether or not there is a literal Hell. The world that so many people get up to every day is so very hellish as it is that I yearn to see redemption break forth like the dawn; I long to see reconciliation get loose and run free through the streets. Anyway, I just don’t care anymore who says what about which way Jesus would vote, or whether or not he favors capitalism as the least evil economic system humanity can imagine. I’m not interested in the culture wars, and I’m sick of all the oil wars and other wars waged to preserve our way of life, because I’m sick of our way of life, and I think Jesus is too. If the gospel is true, if Jesus is who he claims to be, then I have to believe that he’s doing what he said he is- reconciling the world to himself and each of us with one another. In this case, it’s also quite true that everything indeed must change- starting with and most especially me. So I yearn to “be” that change- for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the world. If the gospel isn’t true, then none of this shit really matters anyway.
  • As has been well-documented here, I yearn for community. I yearn to be part of something bigger than me, to know my place within a whole and holy community of world-changers. I want to be part of a family that transcends natural bonds, that bridges customary divisions of race, class, etc. I know that if I am to follow Jesus rather than the Mammon-god of USAmerica, I need help, and I’m not afraid to ask for it anymore. I know that in this culture it is only through sharing resources and limiting the needed number of houses, cars, and jobs among a large group of people that time and energy and money can be freed up to love our neighbors and change the world, at least as we find it right in front of us- on our block, around the corner, down the street. I’m ready to be part of such a community, and eager to do what I have to and go where I need to in order to find it.

Gandalf Cometh!

So, this morning I awoke full of excitement and hope for the first time in a very, very long time. If you’ve read my recent posts on this blog, you know our sojourn here in NE Ohio has been long and difficult. We’ve struggled to make connections with folks with whom we could build genuine community in the way of Jesus, with just a handful of exceptions. We came here for all kinds of wrong reasons, and even the few good ones proved to be illusions. So, especially lately, it’s been nearly unbearable to get up and face each new day while feeling so terribly “stuck” here and having no hope for the future. Last night, that all changed, and now I think it will continue to be nearly intolerable to get up and face each new day here, though now because I do have hope for the future and I’ve located the kind of community we want to be a part of. We just have to move across the country (again) in order to be a part of it, and I’m eager for that to happen ASAP. So what am I so excited about? Well- this, and this, and most especially this (click the links). The fact that all this happens to be in my hometown that I mostly have avoided at all costs for the past 16 years is a serendipitous, perhaps even providential, turn of events that I’m extremely grateful for, especially given the fact that in those 16 years and in the 12 of them that we’ve been married we’ve mostly ignored my family of origin that is still there. That family includes my dad, who is getting on in years and doesn’t have the greatest health history, and my much older siblings, some of whom also have significant health issues, plus my niece and her twin boys. So, in quite rare fashion I’m excited, and hopeful, and eager to get to work to make this change. I only pray that God will speed our way.

Oh, and Gandalf? You may know him as the (eventual) white wizard in Lord of the Rings, one of the truly wise and inspiring heroic characters in all of literature. There’s a pivotal scene in The Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers in which all seems lost for the forces of good, until Gandalf appears on horseback, in blazing white, charging down a hill with reinforcements (at least as it’s pictured in the film). You might call this moment a “Eucatastrophe,” a term coined by Tolkien to describe “the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which result in the protagonist‘s well-being.”

(Tolkien) …formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the “unraveling” or conclusion of a drama’s plot. For Tolkien, the term appears to have had a thematic meaning that went beyond its implied meaning in terms of form. In his definition as outlined in his 1947 essay On Fairy-Stories, eucatastrophe is a fundamental part of his conception of mythopoeia. Though Tolkien’s interest is in myth, it is also connected to the gospels; Tolkien calls the Incarnation the eucatastrophe of “human history” and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation (from wikipedia).

Anyway, I came across the term while exploring the faith community in Ft. Worth by the same name, and though I hope my story is not at an end, I’m finding the hope engendered by all the radical Christian community I’m finding in TX to be quite eucatastrophic in my own life. Speaking of literary revelations, I’m probably most excited about Tolstoy House, the neo-monastic community I found in Ft. Worth that is linked above. I know a fair bit about neo-monasticism from my days in Philly with Circle of Hope, out of which Shane Claiborne, founder of The Simple Way, has recently arisen as a signifcant voice for such communities and for a “radical, but ordinary” way of life with Jesus. Anyway, curious about why Tolstoy House would have named themselves after the famous Russian author, I did some research and was pleasantly shocked and surprised. It turns out Tolstoy was a bit of an “ordinary radical” himself and it was his writing and influence that started Gandhi down the path of nonviolent resistance, and it was of course Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance that influenced Dr. King to adopt it here in the U.S. It’s pretty cool, inspiring stuff.

(Roughly) 25 Intensely Non-Random Things

So if you use Facebook you may know that there has been a “25 Random Things” list going around in which you’re supposed to write, well, 25 Random Things about yourself and then “tag” some of your friends in it to get their response or have them write their list. So I finally succumbed to the pressure and came up with a list of my own. As you might guess, it isn’t short, and it isn’t random. Here it is:

1) I’ve been told I can be a fairly “intense” guy, so much so that at times, again I’m told, it can be off-putting to people.

2) I skipped two grades in elementary/middle school. In one year I completed half a year of fourth grade, and then half a year of fifth grade. In seventh grade I took three eighth grade classes and then went directly into ninth grade the following year. I was on pace to graduate when I was fifteen before deciding to repeat my senior year “to be more well-rounded.” Truth be told, though, I did so partly because I was terribly depressed and had stopped caring to complete any schoolwork (or, more often than I care to admit, even go to school). I discretely chose to repeat just those classes I needed to in order to preserve my perfect GPA. Oh- and I did all of this in Texas at a couple of small “Christian” schools (and all you non-Texas friends I’ve made since then can stop smirking now).

3) So I’m a reasonably intelligent guy- smart enough to do pretty well at most anything I set my mind to, but not so smart in any area that it would take me extremely far, which is part of why I wonder if I’ll ever complete that long yearned for PhD. I am a fairly decent writer, though, especially when inspired to write about something I’m passionate about.

4) Oh, and there’s another issue regarding the above. I’ve been accused on the graduate level at least of liking the “idea” of school more than school itself. That is, I love to read and write, but don’t like being told what to read and write (I’m not a big fan of being told what to do generally). Now, if I have the privilege of taking a class about something I care about, and the required books are ones I would have wanted to read anyway, I’m good. But require me to read something I’m not so interested in, and I can become a model of efficient productivity- at reading something else. Having said that, I did go to seminary and completed most of an MDiv before graduating with an MA in the ever-marketable History of Christianity. I’ve also started an MSW and Master’s in Counseling program since then, but am not in school currently.

5) Related to the above, I get bored fairly easily- not because I lack the ability to attend, but because I pick things up pretty quickly and often want to move faster or go farther than I can. So, in my 33 years of life I’ve held (are you ready?) 32 jobs. In my defense, most of them were when I was a teen, or perpetually in school, etc. Still, that’s a lot. Because you’re so intrigued by this and have nothing better to do, here’s a list:

  • Albertson’s- TX (grocery store bagger)
  • Jon’s Donuts- TX
  • Kmart- TX (stock guy, my friend Chris worked there)
  • Pizzeria Uno- TX (line cook)
  • Dairy Queen- TX (shift manager)
  • Six Flags over Texas- foodservice (one day; my friend Chris worked there)
  • Radio Shack- TX (my friend Chris worked there)
  • D/FW Airport (security screener)- while working for Radio Shack
  • Radio Shack in MA
  • Radisson Plaza Hotel in Ft. Worth (where JFK stayed before being shot; my friends Chris, Jeff, and Scotty worked there)- room service, then waiter
  • Sylvan Street Grille in MA- waiter
  • Gordon College- Pizza Shop, Cleaning Services, Security
  • Warner Brothers Studio Store- MA
  • Red Lobster- TX (waiter)
  • Musicland- TX (while working at Red Lobster)
  • Sunday River Ski Resort- Maine (I was hired but they never called me back after my drug test, which kind of makes me wonder…)
  • Campisi’s- TX (pizza delivery)
  • Spaghetti Warehouse- TX (waiter)
  • Pizza Hut- Philly (shift manager)
  • Super Fresh- Philly (overnight stock guy for two weeks while working at Pizza Hut full-time)
  • Coffee World- Philly (assistant manager, then Store Manager)
  • Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery- Philly (assistant manager)
  • Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery- MN (assistant manager)
  • St. Joseph’s Home for Children (Youth Counselor)
  • Luther Seminary- mail room
  • Pinnacle Services- MN (habilitation counselor- while in seminary and working at St. Joe’s)
  • Children’s Choice- Philly (Home Study Worker)
  • Bethanna- Philly (Kinship Social Worker)
  • United Communities SE Philadelphia (Case Manager, Mentoring Program)
  • Adecco- Akron (various Temp. jobs)- including Rexel (Electrical Company- office temp.) and Charles Schwab (office temp.- Retirement Services)
  • Blick Clinic- Akron (Group Home Manager)
  • Summit Academy- Akron (IEP Coordinator)- I’ve been there for nearly 3 years. See? I can hold down a job.

6) In our 12 years of married life, Kirsten and I have moved approximately 12 times, including to a different state 4 times (with some repeats). The good news, in some ways at least, is that we’ve stayed put now for 3-and-a-half years. Home ownership in this economy can do that to you.

7) In 1998 I had the privilege of being the only one awake as my father-in-law took his last breath after a relatively short battle with brain cancer (it was a privilege, of course, because I had the honor of witnessing his passage, not for any other reason obviously). When I talk about this part of my story, I often say that it’s as if he waited for everyone else to go to sleep that evening- first my mother-in-law, then his three daughters including Kirsten, leaving only me with him in the room. Then, finally, he could rest too. Little more than a day later my mother in Texas died too. I obviously was not there for that but did attend both funerals 3 days apart, I believe. Again, when I talk about this part of my story I usually describe what a study in conrasts those two deaths were. My father-in-law, the Baptist pastor, was really mourned by many people. He had hospice care and his entire extended family came to spend time with him during his final day. Everyone had their own moment to say goodbye. His funeral was well-attended and clearly folks knew him and loved him. My mother, the immature, unhealthy abuser, died somewhat suddenly after years of ill health, much of it brought on by her own bad choices. Her funeral was sparsely attended except by my immediate family, one set of dear friends of mine (Chris and Gina, bless you), and some church folks who said kind, but dishonest (if they really knew her) words about her.

8) I have three half-siblings, all much older than I am. They are each 2 years apart but the youngest of them is 17 years older than I am. They are all the product of my dad’s first, happy marriage. In the wake of his first wife’s death, he married my mother less than two months afterwards, thus beginning his second, unhappy (in my opinion) marriage. My mother, having been terribly abused herself as a child and with little knowledge regarding how to give or receive love and participate in a healthy family, proceeded to quickly wreak havoc on my dad’s existing family (and abused me as a child). All three of those kids got married young and divorced fairly young. Today, all three of them live with my father. More on that below…

9) In the tiny single-wide Texas mobile home I grew up, my nearly 77 year old father lives with his other three adult children, all 50 or older, his adult grand-daughter (my niece who is six months younger than I am), and her twin boys. That’s right- there are 7 people living there! My niece and her boys sleep in the tiny master bedroom. My oldest sister has another tiny bedroom, my brother has the remaining tiny bedroom, my youngest sister sleeps on the couch, and my dad has a makeshift “bedroom” in the corner of the living room. One of my siblings, at least, thinks it a marvel that I “escaped,” that I’m not still enmeshed in all that (or at least not physically). Still, is it any wonder I haven’t been to TX in nine years?

10) Growing up, I had always been closest to my youngest sister, Lee. She was in high school when my dad married my mom after her mom’s death, and this move on my dad’s part was hardest on her. She dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and never went back. She had my niece when she was 17. Anyway, in some ways, she was the proverbial kid “who never grew up.” She’s very fun-loving and made a real concerted effort to get me out of my parent’s house whenever she could- at least for an afternoon to grab a burger and go hike some trails. We formed a special bond during those years, which has not stood the test of time very well. As an adult, I’m educated, mildly articulate, with liberal sensibilities- your basic born-too-late, wannabe Yuppie (sans the wanton consumerism). So Lee doesn’t understand me. She doesn’t get here I got here from there. It’s actually kind of sad.

11) Speaking of growing up, coming from that abusive home like I did- and then skipping grades and being overweight and having a stuttering problem too- I never would have made it without people like my sister, Lee, and one particular family in that “Christian” school I attended. The girl in this family, Mandy, was a superb athlete and very popular. For reasons that to this day I can’t really explain, she and I became friends. Her mom was one of the “lunch ladies” at school at the time; so I started to get to know her too, and as time passed, I became friends with Mandy’s younger brother too. One time they were moving to another house and their mom had me over as one of several other school friends to help. On moving day I simply out-worked everybody else (I was pretty angry then; some say I still am. So let’s say I was particularly angry then- and for good reason, and channeled it into such “work”), which really cemented my relationship with their mom. From that point forward, she treated me just like one of her boys. This became crucial in my efforts to survive my teen years in my mother’s home, as Mandy’s mom gave me my own key to their house and I could come and go as I pleased. I would spend weeks at a time there and probably wouldn’t have made it otherwise. At best, I’d be living in a closet in my dad’s Texas trailer, at worst, well- let’s not talk about that. Anyway, I owe a lot to them and am sad that I’m not in touch with them like I once was (with a notable, obvious exception). I think Mandy’s mom had designs for my life (and once acknowledged such) and was sad, at the very least, to see me bolt to New England for college at the earliest opportunity, largely to never return.

12) Perhaps not surprisingly, I once ran away from home. Mine was the classic 10-year-old sneaking out the window with a little bag packed but no real plan tale, except I was closer to 16. I was a senior in high school (I forget which senior year), and I waited until just before dawn before bolting. I did, in fact, go through my bedroom window, and I just walked, and walked, and walked, and walked some more. I made it pretty far from my little trailer park through a desolate suburban landscape of endless cul-de-sacs, McDonald’s, and cookie-cutter homes. I remember hiding in a storm tunnel at one point and going into a fast-food place to use the restroom before finally sitting down on a curb on some residential side street miles from home. So there I was, minding my own business, resting my sore feet, when suddenly a cop pulled up. It turns out some jackass in one of the homes nearby didn’t like the looks of me- real ruffian that I was. I ‘fessed up and he took me home. My mother, in tears, apologized (still not sure for what, exactly) and promised to change, which meant she left me alone for the rest of the night.

13) I went to Gordon College, in Massachusetts on the north shore of Boston, for three of the best years of my life. I did pretty well academically my first semester, but then my grades tanked as I realized what a learning curve I had to make up on regarding the business of “life” itself. One of the most important experiences I had during those years came the summer after my sophomore year, when I did a program then known as Kingdomworks (KW). KW brought in college students from all over the country and placed them on teams in inner-city Philly congregations for a summer to live in and serve the neighborhoods in which they were placed by reaching out to the youth. So I was a part of a team of 8 college students, and we ran a day camp, Sunday school, and youth group for the neighborhood kids.
Quite simply, of course, it changed my life. I always say that during that summer I was able to “build a bridge between my own personal suffering and the suffering that’s out there- in the world.” I saw some crazy stuff that summer, like a man wailing and lying down on the trolley tracks in front of the church building we slept in, trying to end his life. Apparently I was a magnet for suicidal people as one of the (gay) teens that I was working with started giving me all his stuff and then gave me a suicide note and took off. That’s a long story. Anyway, KW has now become Mission Year as its founder, Bart Campolo, realized that you just couldn’t build the kind of relationships necessary to change a neighborhood in a summer (and for that matter, a year probably isn’t long enough either, which is why he and his family now live in a disadvantged neighborhood in Cincinnati and run an incredible ministry called the Walnut Hills Fellowship). That being said, one of the biggest objects in both KW and Mission Year, I think, was not just to change the lives of the the disadvantaged, often minority folk who lived in the neighborhoods people like me came to serve, but also to change the often rich(er) white folk like myself who came to do the serving. Needless to say, it worked, as a year later I left school without graduating, got married, and moved to Philly. Before all of that, though, I had to process my experience doing KW. At the end of our summer they had us write notes to each other, and this is what our team leader, Holly, wrote to me: “With your intensity and passion comes such an honest outcry for your Creator that you cause people around you to wonder. I often wonder what it feels like to be you. Each time I look at you that way I see King David- and it helps me understand you. You do not let yourself get away with anything and your honesty before God breaks your heart so often, but I do not worry. Because I belive you are a king. And I see you behave like a king. You make the hard decisions to set yourself apart. You love ’til it hurts; you hurt ’til you love. You stretch and grope for His hand when you’re in the dark.” Holly also wrote me during that crazy, crazy year after KW. It was a really tough year for me because I couldn’t reconcile the affluent, pastoral “Christian” environment I found myself in back at Gordon College with the simple fact that poor kids were dying on the streets of Philadelphia. Anyway, Holly’s letter said: “At present I desire to high-tail it back to where we belong. Back on the streets where our feet are always dirty and the tears sting. Back where each drop of sweat has a purpose and every smile is a slice of heaven.” She also said that when we went back, we would do it “for them this time”- for those kids and people like them, rather than for us (to open our eyes to the need for such a life). In many, many ways I’ve been trying to high-tail it back to where I belong ever since. I despair to report that I have not made it yet, but the so-called “king” in me won’t give up yet.

14) So getting notes like that from Holly sort of made up for the ones I would get later on. Like I said, my last year at Gordon was tough and intense. I was an RA (Resident Assistant) on my floor, was slated to go to Ireland the following summer for a mission trip, and yet was in the middle of going back to “square 1” with God as I asked him “Who the fu** are you, really (based on my life and everything I saw that past summer), and why should I want to serve you?” At the same time my sister, Lee (see above), had been missing at that point for over two years. She had brought my niece over to “temporarily” stay with my dad and mom (Lee’s arch-enemy) shortly after I left for school as a freshman, and then Lee just vanished. It would be nearly four years before I hired someone to track her down and in the meantime we had no idea if she was dead or alive (she was alive, as you know if you read the above). In the midst of all this Kirsten and I began dating. Our relationship progressed quickly and we met, left school, and were married within nine months (no significance to that timing, thank you). Along the way I left school at one point to live with her parents and work to support Kirsten staying in school when she didn’t think she had the money to stay. To do so, I had to resign my leadership positions at school. To make a long story short (ha!), we figured out a way a few weeks later for me to come back to school, and I did so, though in some disgrace. Upon my arrival, I found the following anonymous note in my campus mailbox: “For one who supposedly maintains such lofty aspirations of maturity, behaving like a spiteful infant is remarkably immature and hypocritical. This paradox, which can not be reconciled, sheds much light on the truth which underlies one’s real motivations. I’ll be praying for you. Romans 2:17-24.” You know, good ol’ Romans 2:17-24, that much loved passage that says, among other things, “on account of you the Gentiles curse God.” Oh, silly Apostle Paul, never one with much tact, was he? But he meant well, I’m sure, and no doubt so did my anonymous accuser. Right.

15) So Kirsten and I got married and moved to Philly, where she went through nursing school and I worked as a Pizza Hut shift manager for $7.60 an hour, our only income. Those truly were, actually, fun times. Once there, Bart Campolo introduced us to this great congregation that had just started called Circle of Hope. Circle was unlike anything we had ever experienced in our “fundagelical” (fundamentalist/evangelical) upbringing. It was made up of “young people” just like us. It met on Sunday nights and you didn’t have to dress up. The band was frickin’ awesome. They didn’t have a building but met instead in the upstairs of a storefront in downtown Philly, and most importantly, they had these “cell groups.” This was a little before every congregation in America had “small groups,” and cell groups definitely weren’t a small group. Unlike the small group craze to come, cell groups weren’t just another program run by an institutional church; instead, as Circle of Hope’s pastor used to like to say, “Cell groups are the church,” because we are the Church. The idea is that the church is a people, not a place, and so you can’t “go to church.” Like the cells in a human body, the church is made up of cells that work together to form the whole and that multiply to make the body grow. The point was that following Jesus should matter. It should truly, really, deeply change your life. Of course, you can’t “go to church” but even if you could, doing so shouldn’t be about getting re-charged spiritually so that you could be ready for another week of pursuing the American dream like everybody else. Instead, you and those with you who are working to somehow follow Jesus should have a “life together” that matters to you and the world around you. Relationships- right relationships with God, one another, and the world are what it’s all about. So at Circle of Hope there was no program for helping people in need or for doing anything else for that matter because all of that stuff happened naturally and organically in the cells. In your cell group you had a chance to tell your story and really be known. In your cell you were empowered to discover your gifts and use them, and so the “priesthood of all believers” became a reality. Each cell had a leader, an apprentice leader, and a host. The leader was always mentoring/discipling his/her apprentice leader to be ready to lead a new group herself. Because the members of the cell really did have this “life together” that mattered to them and those around them deeply, the cell members told people about it- friends, neighbors, co-workers, loved ones, everybody really, and in this manner each cell grew. When a cell group reached about ten members, it “multiplied,” with the apprentice leader leading a new group and the original leader leading a new group and so the whole process started over. So people didn’t “invite people to church” at Circle of Hope, they invited them into the life they were having together as the church. Consequently, this is how the conregation itself grew, and boy did it grow. Circle has gone from one congregation with a few cell groups in 1996 to 3- almost 4- congregations in Philly and Jersey and close to 50 cell groups today. Along the way all these “young people” have bought and re-habbed buildings and started thrift stores and counseling centers and a “shalom house” (an intentional community for “pro-active peacemakers”) and done countless other untold, incredible things. So we were part of Circle of Hope from ’96 to ’98 (until we moved to be with Kirsten’s dying dad) and again from ’03-’05, and obviously it too changed our life.

16) When we lived in Philly and were part of Circle of Hope the second time, we spent some time in an “intentional community” of our own- made up of “6 adults, 3 cats, a dog, and Jesus.” We lived in a big, old house with these folks and shared resources (had a common checking account), had a weekly meal together, and fully intended to grow old and raise our children together, or at least so we hoped. In fact, it lasted less than a year and was a spectacular failure, mostly because we didn’t keep up our end of the bargain after Samuel’s extremely premature birth- another long story. When I told a NE Ohioan about this experience, he said, “oh, so you lived in a commune?” Maybe so, but suffice it to say, this communal ideal is one I still aspire to, and I pray/yearn that God affords us the opportunity to try it again “for them this time.”

17) I can wiggle my ears without using my hands.

18) We moved to Ohio because of everthing that happened when Samuel was born four months early. For more on that, go here: http://www.godhearssam.blogspot.com and check out the archives. There’s also a little bit at my blog: http://www.robertbuck.wordpress.com.

19) On Samuel’s second night of life we were told he wouldn’t live through the night. By the grace of God, he did, and nearly every night I’ve put him to bed since then I’ve prayed the same prayer: “Dear Jesus, thank you for Samuel. Please carry him safely through this night, as you have all his others, for which we praise and thank you.”

20) By those in the “fundagelical” circles in which I was raised, I am probably regarded as a “flaming liberal.” I don’t believe the Bible is inerrant, for instance, especially since I know historically that the doctrine that says it is developed as a knee-jerk reaction to the Catholic assertion of the infallibility of the Pope. “Jesus is the lens through which I see the Bible,” and much of the crazy, hard, oppressive stuff that can be found in it doesn’t make much sense to me except as a minor plot point to the bigger story of Jesus. I think, by the way, that the Bible is story. That’s what it’s for- for telling the story of God’s wooing of humanity through the ages, culminating in the story of Jesus. I don’t think being a Christian is about how you dress, or whether or not you smoke, drink, cuss, etc. I don’t think being a Christian is about being able to appropriately check off a list of behavior or belief. Quite simply, I think being a Christian is about having right relationships with God, one another, and the world. It’s ALL about relationship, really, and so….

21)…I have a little axiom I came up with: “Rules are for relationship.” I don’t tell Samuel not to touch a hot stove or play in traffic because I’m power crazy and like bossing him around. I do so- I give him those “rules”- because I know they will protect him and preserve his relationship, in the two examples just cited, with his body. Likewise, God doesn’t tell us not to lie or fu** around because he’s power hungry and dictatorial, but rather because those rules are designed to facilitate right relationships with those around us and our spouses, for example. The important thing, though, is the relationship, NOT the rules, and so there are times when the rules can and maybe should be broken. For as long as Christianity has been hung up on the rules (“fundagelicals,” I’m talkin’ to you!), it has been majoring in the minors and missing the point- God’s point!

22) My allegiance to Christ prevents me from “pledging allegiance” to anyone or anything else, including this country or any other. I am appalled by the behavior of this country over the past 8 years and hopeful that things are changing. If my citizenship really is with Christ and his kingdom, I have more in common with fellow Christ-followers around the world than those in this country who couldn’t care less about most of the rest of the world-not even for Christ’s sake. I believe it to be painfully obvious that most of the rest of the world suffers as much as they do because the standard of living and way of life of USAmericans is so completely unjust, absurd even. We are the richest country in the history of the world, and so long as we go on using a grossly disproportionate amount of the world’s resources and creating far too much of its waste much of the rest of the world will go on living in utter squalor. We don’t need to help the rest of the world achieve our standard of living; that’s impossible! We need to be helped to achieve a standard of living that is much closer to everybody else’s; as Gandhi said, “There is enough for everyone’s need, not for everyone’s greed.” So I yearn for peace-with-justice for all of the “least of these” in our world today: for the poor and dispossesed around the world, for Palestinians and Jews, for the GLBT community, for everyone. Moreover, I recognize that as “least-ness” goes, we rich Westerners are perhaps most lacking of all, because our wealth prevents us from recognizing how truly empty we are inside, how much we truly need- not in the way of more “stuff” of course, but in terms of love and laughter and service and purpose and the fulfillment of the best of our very humanity.

23) In high school I once asked a girl to “go with me” in Spanish- you know “Vas conmigo?”

24) My sisters used to work for a donut store (so did I! See above) as bakers. My friends and I (you know who you are) would go there in the middle of the night sometimes and get old, hard donuts to throw at mailboxes, stop signs, etc. One time this donut store had a sign out front that read “Santa here Friday.” We changed it to read “Satan here Friday.”

25) I was told a few years ago that I’ve been “mildly depressed” for over a decade. Can you blame me?

26) A long time ago someone said to me, “Do you drink coffee, Robert? I figured you did because you seem like someone who stays up late and gets up early?” I aspire to be that kind of person for lots of good reasons, and along the way I’ve become that kind of person for lots of bad reasons, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

27) I have a well-honed “script” that I use for the kind of disclosure I just engaged in. I’ve done it enough times that it creates the illusion of deep vulnerability without really making myself vulnerable. In fairness to myself, though, what I’m doing now is a variation of that script that took me in some new directions. In any case, I’ve been accused of “hiding” behing this script, especially as of late.

28) I’m kind of long-winded, and as noted multiple times above I don’t like to play by “the rules,” but hey- have a nice day.

Blown Away

I have indeed found myself blown away by the following series of posts on Jenell Paris’ blog:

Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 1)

I discovered Christian Wiman, poet and editor of Poetry journal, when The Christian Century excerpted his forthcoming book, “My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.” I’ve read the excerpted article several times and am finding much there for reflection.

“So long as belief is something that withstands the assaults of reason, experience, secularization, or even simply (simply!) the slow erosion of certainty within your own heart and mind; so long as that verb accurately describes the dynamic between your belief and all that seems to threaten it, then faith is an illusion in you, a dream that weakness clings to, rather than the truest form and fruition of strength.”

Occasionally I see my tendency (usually I hide it from myself) to project my ideals and longings onto God. God is perfect love, perfect friendship, perfect intimacy, and perfect closeness. No wonder, then, that I can’t find those things — I’ve defined them as just out of reach. Let the illusion go, let the beliefs go, acknowledge the slow erosion of certainty without embracing it or rejecting it, and you might just find yourself not having faith, but doing it.
 
Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 2)

Again, from Christian Wiman:

“Pascal: ‘We must keep silence as far as we can and only talk to ourselves about God, whom we know to be true, and then convince ourselves that he is.’ This is the fundamental vanity of the intellectual Christian, the belief that faith may be forged within oneself like a little spiritual pearl, which one may then present to the world as a rare treasure. In truth this encounter never happens, for this personal pearl is not simply a currency the world will find worthless, but, when exposed to the air of actual existence, a dull, ersatz thing which you yourself do not quite recognize. Faith is forged not by the mind alone but by the mind’s risky, messy encounter with the world at large. Faith is not something you have; it is something you do.”

1. Why, if I’m evangelical, am I an intellectual Christian? Evangelicalism is all about having a heartfelt relationship with a living God. But then we socialize converts into an intellectual religion based on rational assent to correct belief. The drama of evangelical conversion could enliven the entire life of faith.

2. How about, with respect to homosexuals, we start evangelizing in silence? We ought to evangelize to sexual minorities — sharing the good news of God’s love with them. How about we stop using words altogether, and only use actions? We could try it first for just a little while and see how it goes. It would help us sift out the moral education, the boundary maintenance, the politics, and the culture warring from the evangel.
 
Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 3)

more from Christian Wimans

“You continually seek something that will resolve your anxieties once and for all, will push you over into a consistent and comforting belief. You read book after book, you seek out intense experiences in nature or in conversations with people whom you respect and who seem to rest more securely in their belief than you. Sometimes it seems that gains are made, for all of these things can and do provide relief and instruction. But always the anxieties come back, are the norm from which faith deviates, if faith is even what you could call these intense but somehow vague and fleeting experiences of God. You have forgotten, or perhaps simply will not let yourself see, what true faith is, its active and outward nature (as opposed to active but inward, which is what all of those activities above are). Do not pray to be at peace in your belief. Pray that your anxieties be given peaceful outlets, that you may be the means to a peace which you yourself do not feel.

Does this mean that we’re condemned to be always anxious in our belief? Insofar as our efforts are directed inward, at appeasing or pacifying our own anxieties, the answer is yes. But when we allow our anxieties to become actions, when we perform concrete things in the name of faith, then we gradually begin to find ourselves inching forward on a rope ladder of action strung high over the abyss of unbelief, and our gaze becomes focused on what is ahead of us rather than forever staring paralyzed down.”

I’m afraid I’m not loved enough, so why not just kiss my son?

I’m afraid certain people don’t like me, so why not just start liking them instead?

I’m afraid I can’t finish the book I’ve promised to write, so why not just write?

I’m afraid my faith isn’t good enough for my children, so why not just share it with them?

God is not vague or fleeting. God is there in the rope ladder of action and in the courageous edge of anxiety that empowers a step toward concrete action.
 
Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 4)

Last one from Christian Wimans

“Religious despair is often a defense against boredom and the daily grind of existence. Lacking intensity in our lives, we say that we are distant from God, and then seek to make that distance into an intense experience. It is among the most difficult spiritual ailments to heal because it is usually wholly illusory. There are definitely times when we must suffer God’s absence, when we are called to enter the dark night of the soul in order to pass into some new understanding of God, some deeper communion with him and with all of creation. But this is very rare, and for the mos tpart our dark nights of the soul are more pathetic than tragic, wishful thinking. God is not absent. He is everywhere in the world we are too dispirited to love…

Pain has its pleasures, not the least of which are its reliability, immediacy and even, in a strange way, companionability.”
I mistook the daily grind for despair. Truth is, I’m tired of sippy cups, diapers, wet beds, suffixing words with “ie” and “y”, talking about potty (see, there’s a “y”), having food taken off my plate, drinking toddler backwash in my water glass, vacuuming the same carpet, folding the same clothes, and living in this same sticky, cruddy house with the shitty kitchen floor and tiny yard that slopes at a 45 degree angle. And I’m tired of being tired of it, because truth is, this is the life I always wanted. I was complaining to a friend recently and she said, without sarcasm, “Funny how hard it is to have the life you wanted so badly.” I replied, without sarcasm, “Yes it is. Funny, that is. And hard, too.”

I felt a little better when I recast the matter as existential despair, loneliness, religious uncertainty, and a need to rethink the major life decisions of the last several years. Indeed, pain has its pleasures. But really, God is everywhere in this sticky, cruddy house I’m too dispirited to love. Naming the daily grind for what it is, instead of imagining the drama it could be, somehow makes it a little more loveable (except for the backwash).