Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts

10 October, 2017

Perpetual pilgrim, Part 1: introduction to the off-the-road edition

God is at home, it's we who have gone out for a walk.~ Meister Eckhart

Home life is no more natural to us than a cage is natural to a cockatoo. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Lately my goal has been to try and apply the basic rules of the road to my everyday life.

It's not that I'm going to be out and about anytime soon... work and other responsibilities make this impossible... but it occurs to me that I've been living like the things I did out on the road had no relation to how I was living my life now. The problem is that in my most natural state, my mindset is that of a permanent traveler. It's not that I don't love the home I have with Amanda and Stella and Will; but I also know that as much as I love home... home as family, home as a place I'm comfortable... I'm not, in my natural state, much of a homebody. Yes, I like to maintain my space a certain way. When I travel I'm a tediously organized packer, too. So really, it's less about being domesticated and more about the aforementioned particularness ... whether home is on my back or four walls and a roof that needs to be re-shingled.

But I think part of my problem has been that I've still been trying to tackle this domestic bliss stuff the way I was socialized to by small town culture, by television, by mentors and heroes -- none of whom ever suggested, even remotely, that I orta do things the way they do things.**

In trying to figure out how to do this stuff  My Way, the only conclusion I've come to is that I have to live at home the way I live out on the road. Certainly there are some modifications. But overall, it's more about spacial awareness than a shift in awareness. Or, that's what I'm going with now.

My road rules went through multiple drafts and notions, but they boil down to something like this:

  1. Read and write everyday.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings.
  3. Leave things as nice or nicer than you found them.
  4. Etiquette makes society, not the other way around.
  5. Be grateful when things are good. They won't always be.
  6. Keep your head up when things are bad. They will be more often than not.Show appreciation and articulate love. Daily.
This isn't always easy, though I often think it should be. With four adults, three dogs, and two cats living under one roof, sometimes it feels like it's a little hard breathe. And I LOVE these people. But generally, if I keep my art at the center*** and tether myself to being essentially humane and focus on trying to be the best husband, father, and father-in-law that I can be, I believe I'm doing my part in helping maintain our conglomerated family unit.

Even if it's not altogether natural feeling sometimes.


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* No less than every girlfriend I've ever had and two ex-wives have pointed out/accused that I have an antagonistic relationship with the world. But clearly, the world started it.
**All of them actually said the contrary, on multiple times. A wise mentor will never tell you to do what they do, exactly how they do it. That's how you tell the difference between a mentor who has your best interests at heart and a megalomaniac who's interested in feeding his ego.
*** There's a reason why "Read and write everyday" is the first rule.


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02 February, 2016

Working out: faith, floundering, and the limitations of mixaphors

 If any man make a vow to the Lord, or bind himself by an oath: he shall not make his word void but shall fulfill all that he promised. -- Numbers 30:3 (DR)

I want to live the real life/ I want to live my life close to the bone. - John Mellencamp, "The Real Life"

 When I was 14 I gave my life to God. It's important, for what comes next, to understand what I mean by that. I don't mean that I was baptized. Actually, I was dunked, by choice, at the age of 9. Church leadership was so skeptical of my sincerity and earnestness that I was required to participate in a series of tutorials with our minister, Dan Pence.

This experience isn't unusual; many protestant denominations require some kind of confirmation classes prior to being baptized. Though this process was never really explained to me, I've come to see it as one of those few, formalized echoes of a rite of passage -- something else I was never really told about and had to learn about through the books I read as a kid, through literature, and through my own study as a teenager and adult.*

The decision to go and be baptized, to make the confession of faith, was something I did with as much honesty and sincerity as I could -- though I later came to the conclusion that it was as much about finding a level of acceptance in some community or another rather than religious inspiration.**

When I was 14 I attended a Christ in Youth Conference in Tennessee with other kids in my church youth group. The experience was designed to be intense, focused, and, I think, intended to manipulate those attending to embrace a conservative style Christianity that has borne dangerous and distinctly unChristlike fruit.

The night I walked forward and committed my life to God, the sermon focused on Ephesians 6. They focused mostly on verse 13:

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (KJV)

Even then, I wasn't entirely sure that my reading and understanding of this man Jesus had any similarity to the medieval reflection I was being presented. Jesus the man I found in my own readings hung out with the botched and the despised*** -- with lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors -- with the same sort equanimity as he had with religious leaders and the powerful. The only sin he raised his hand to was greed, when he forced the money changers^ out of the Temple.

For me, the part of Ephesians 6 that stood out to me was not all the sword and armor metaphors -- but the previous verse:

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places (DR)

This made sense to me, and it seemed more like this man Jesus I was trying to emulate and learn about. He did not covet power. He did not want power. He questioned power. Central to his teachings was a code of behavior that included not only being kind to one another, but questioning those who claim to have a better idea of what's right and wrong than you do.

When I felt compelled to walk forward and commit my life to God, I was not entirely sure what it meant. But again, it was honest. And while I have rejected the formal religion of my childhood, I am finding myself more and more comfortable with calling myself a christian -- i.e., a follower of Christ. I'm increasingly less interested in worrying about the state of my soul than I am the state of the life I'm living and whether I'm doing anything of use to others, although I have had my own journeys and made my own mistakes and done more out of selfishness than any of the few little bits of hopefully good work I try to do.

That's not to say I'm embracing all the notions that often get attached to the label "christian." I disagree -- sometimes vehemently and with a lot of passion, cussing, and carousing -- with nearly all of the positions taken by mainstream conservative churches.  What resonates for me on this journey is this:  I am far more interested in the actions of the man Jesus than I am in praying for the salvation of my soul. My soul probably has too much demon in it^^ to bother, and anyway, I'm not interested in embracing a life of faith out of the same fear-based need for acceptance that, in part, drove me to baptism before I was ready for it.

 I am far more interested in trying to do good and have a positive impact on my world. I'm still trying to figure out how to do that. But I suspect that's the point.



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* Other than every Marvel/DC hero movie/TV show I watched as a kid, I was first really keyed into the notion of the hero's journey and other rites of passage by Stephen King's The Dark Tower books. After that I started seeing it everywhere and even recognized it in the imaginative play I engaged in when I was younger. Then I And then I found Joseph Campbell and was introduced to epic poetry like Gilgamesh and The Odyssey. And other than in narrative theory books, and in the occasional fiction workshop, it was not much discussed during my formal education.
**This proved to be a problem later when I found my own faith lacking in the absence of how I had come to think -- in very reflective ways -- about the nature of grace. It eventually led to my separating myself from formal religion entirely.
***The church I grew up in worried less about this man Jesus's humanity than whether the Methodists or Baptists were going stealing away future congregants. Yes, Blair Pride. I remember ye.
^Think credit cards -- where you borrow money and then pay it back at a high rate of return to the lender. Sometimes called usuary.  
^^One of the things I've learned is that I have to embrace that, too. If we really are made in the image of God, I suspect the likeness is more about the soul than God looking like Gandalf, the White Wizard. And if that's true, then God wrestles demons, too.

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11 September, 2011

The Three Tenses: Some thoughts on 9/11, Football, and The Sacred Long Memory

I rolled out of bed this morning to get some work done before the Cincinnati Bengals play their first regular season game against the Cleveland Browns -- because, in fact, all work does stop for me when there's a football game on. I realize this relegates me to a stereotype, but I don't really care. That I was never an athlete doesn't change the fact that I enjoy being a spectator. That the Bengals are trying to recover from a lousy season, the departure of a whiny quarterback, and an owner who's head is permanently planted up his own ass doesn't change the fact that I'm wearing orange and black today. In spite of the past, in spite of everything, life and faith goes on.

After feeding the cats and taking a shower and making coffee, I made my way upstairs to my desk. The weather is starting to cool off enough that I will be able to spend more days up here, writing. (Old house, the physics of heat, and the inability to afford an air conditioner all played a role in what I am now thinking of the Ennui '11: The Summer That Nearly Killed My Soul.) I need this space -- some kind of space -- where I can simply sit and write and be alone with all the muck that goes on in my head. This morning, part of that muck means doing the day job. Tomorrow morning's newspaper deadline is looming already, and there are public officials to expose, lampoon, and embarrass into doing the right thing. (Save all your objective media bullshit, please. The Fourth Estate is rarely objective. And when it is, no one reads it, listens to it, or watches it, because it's as dull as the list of contents on the back of a box of Hamburger Helper. You want your journalists to be honest, ethical, and merciless, not objective... which means that Fox News is not really a news outlet, but a well-funded propaganda machine -- since they've proven they are neither honest nor ethical.)

The thing I am faced with when I get online, however -- because I have to check my email and Facebook before I can do anything... damned digital age -- are people's thoughts, remembrances, and tributes to 9/11.

And while I remember precisely where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the planes flying into the World Trade Center Towers, I will not pine about that here. Any attempt on my part to insert myself into a momentous and tragic historical event would be pointless.

The focus of such remembrances should be on the people who died, their families, and the subsequent  responders and Ground Zero workers who have and continue to sacrifice a decade after the event. The focus ought to be that even though it has been 10 years, that we shouldn't lull ourselves into junking the events of September 11, 2001, into some kind of convenient decade package -- which is what pundits and pseudo-historians tend to do. Decade packaging is a myth. The events that shape us as individuals and as a society do not stop and start at 10 year intervals.

Remembrance is not a word I use lightly. The very word itself has a kind of religious resonance for me. It reminds me of the religious zealotry I hid behind in my youth. "This do in remembrance of me," was what Jesus said, according to Luke 22:19, as he ate with his disciples at Passover. And while I have since rejected the metaphor for God and spirituality I was raised on, that specific word retains a particular resonance that never fades.

For me, though, remembrance continues to take on a larger, longer, and deeper view. Responses to the 9/11 attacks are a part of what I have come to think of as The Long Memory. This collection of stories, songs, and poems provide the permanent under current that keeps humanity moving. The Long Memory exists above, beyond, below, and outside of history. History is an abstract collection of events that are generally told with a specific narrative in mind. The Sacred Long Memory -- indeed, it may the one and only sacred thing -- ties together the past, the present, and the future. This Do In Remembrance Of Me. That is the purpose and the meaning: ensuring that the past stays with us and informs our present, and takes us into a better future.

The tragedies and travesties that have occurred as a result of the those horrific events are as much a part of the event as the planes flying into the towers and into the Pentagon and the crash of United Flight 93. Wars and rumors of wars. Torture, the silencing of dissenting voices, the xenophobia and all too familiar brand of Nationalism (think Hitler and Mussolini) that some people mistake for patriotism and "defending democracy." The soldiers who have sacrificed life and limb to keep Halliburton in business and to maintain the high price of a barrel of oil are just as much a part of those events as well. Gitmo Prison, Abu Graib, and the various crimes against humanity committed in our name are a part of those events, too.. and they continue to this day. President Obama has managed to continue most of the same war tactics that horrified rank and file Democrats during the Bush II regime. We're still fighting an expensive war in Afghanistan that no one talks about. We're dealing with a lingering recession here -- that, admittedly, Obama inherited -- but given the intransigence of the GOP, the tomfoolery of Tea Baggers, and the sheer spinelessness of the Democratic Party, there's no end in sight that doesn't hurt the poor.

And when I speak of remembrance, I also speak of the fact that 3000 + people died on 9/11 as a direct result of years of hawkish and exploitative American foreign policy. (Don't forget, Osama bin Laden was CIA trained to be our proxy during the Cold War to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Also, maybe one of the reasons the Bush/Cheney regime was so sure Saddam Hussein had WMDs was because WE GAVE HIM SOME when he was our proxy against Iran, which was backed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.)

These things, and the stories and songs and poems that have come as a result, are all a part of the Long Memory.

There are those who would make 9/ll a national holiday, and I can see their point. But it's not an idea I support.  How many people really know why Memorial Day is a holiday? Or Labor Day?  Did we immortalize December 7th, 1941 with a day off of school and work? (The answer is no. After all, it's too close to Christmas, the high and holy day that celebrates consumerism and egg nog.)

Remembrance means moving forward and carrying the Long Memory with us every single day. Adding to it every single day. Passing it on every single day. This Do In Remembrance Of Me. Part of engaging in Remembrance means that life and faith -- faith that some good can still happen -- must go on.

And the last time I checked, "to do" is an active verb. It means to perform a specific act, as in DIYDS. (Do It Your Damn Self.)