Showing posts with label spirituality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spirituality. Show all posts

22 February, 2019

Reading the Grounds


Mick Parsons, #wellwornboots
Embrace the break in weather where you can. True, there are months when the last time you saw the sun feels like a dream; but when the rain break and there is a clear path, take advantage of it the best you can. [from Field Notes]

Even though I'm not bound to foot travel -- there is the bus, of course, and most recently, Mule -- I still like to walk. True, I could start up Mule and drive to a park and walk around a pre-designated track. I see merit in it, certainly for other people, because it's difficult enough to get exercise in a society that depends on us sitting in front of a computer, or staring at our phones, buying things. True, if you look long enough, nearly every aspect of the constructed reality we experience every day depends on commerce of some kind: whether it's the cappuccino I bought at the coffee shop today or the smiles my wife and I exchanged this morning before she left for work. But when I am not in motion in the world, there are fewer opportunities to see the world as it truly is instead of the filtered commodity that trickles in through my phone or my computer. When I am not in motion in the world, I'm not even certain the world exists.

Living as I do along the Ohio River, a once major artery of commerce of all kinds from coal, to slaves, to settlers, in a city whose very existence depended on commerce and The Falls that created a natural choke point for people to have to slow down and walk their boats through (Once Upon a Time), the metaphor and myth of commerce are a foundation upon which many myths have been  built.

But it's easy to let that take over... which is to say, it's easy to let that constructed reality dictate our
Mick Parsons #rubbertramp
Mule
our entire lives. And if the materialists are correct -- both the Capitalists and the Communists -- and we are simply matter in motion, then really, this constructed reality is nothing more than an increasingly complex maze we spend our days and nights in until one day, we stop moving and the maze moves on without us.

Unless there's something more. And when I walk around my neighborhood, or anywhere, and take in the sounds, the feel of broken cement underfoot, the vibrations of the coolish February air here in the grand divot that is the Ohio River Valley, I end up thinking of commerce as something more than buying and selling, more than money for sweat and blood, more than blood and bone in the name of man's most majestic and dangerous machination -- Contemporary American Society. 

This is why, I think, I am bound to travel whether I think I want it or not. A warm wind kicks up, the currents shift, and nothing is set right until I feel this world moving under foot. Because it's only in motion that this constructed reality shakes loose and the world opens itself wide for eyes willing to see, for ears willing to listen, and for hands willing to embrace it on its own terms. 


As old mystics read tea leaves
I flip my empty cup
open the heart, examining
the dark grounds and find
one more map towards
the river mouth and the sea.

Mick Parsons, #wellwornboots
The past is gone, the future is full.



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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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03 September, 2011

21 Anno Domini



Ken Parsons, 1955.
The picture I chose of my dad was taken in 1955... 18 years before I was born. Although I have pictures of him from my childhood – the way I remember him – but I like this picture of him more than any of those. This is him in his youth, in his prime. There's a cockiness in his stance that grew into something larger, into a mental and spiritual indefatigably, which lingered, even when his health and his body began to fail him. The stamp on the back of the picture indicates that the picture was taken – or, at any rate, developed – in November of that year in San Antonio, Texas. The only thing I know about my dad being in Texas was that after being in that state with two other friends – he in the Air Force, and one friend each in the Navy and the Army – my dad received a letter from the governor asking him to please never return to the state or risk being incarcerated.

At least, that's the way I remember him telling the story. And while I'm sure that there was probably some exaggeration involved – the men in my family are prone to exaggeration – I have found there's an element of truth in all forms of exaggeration.

Today is the 21st anniversary of his death. Some years it's easier for me to handle than others. This year seems a bit more difficult than I've experienced in a while. Maybe it's because lately I've been acutely aware of his absence. There are times when I still want to ask his advice, still want him to make everything better. I'd ask him what he thinks about my life. Silly, really. I think maybe the reason I care so little about the opinions of other people is because his opinion was always the one that mattered – and in its absence, there is no one who's opinion can act as a substitute.

That he is gone doesn't mean I don't still learn from him. That I can't remember the sound of his voice doesn't mean he still doesn't speak to me. It is the blessing and the curse of children to carry their parents with them, in their bones and in their hearts. The imprint is a permanent one. I continue to learn from him because the core of what I learned continues to apply to my everyday life. He teaches me that being honest counts for more; that convictions are worth standing up for; that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity until they've proven otherwise. He also teaches me that I am not less deserving of respect than others so long as I remember these three things.

I miss you, Dad. Give'em Hell.

19 August, 2011

Mick's Rules For Living: Another Revision


I've been working on this list, trying to whittle it down to something simple. The first list was ambitious, and not unlike the inner workings of my brain, a bit abstract. Not that there's anything wrong with abstract thinking. But, abstract ideas only work when they are tied to something concrete... that is, theories that can only remain theories are pointless. 


So, here we are. The updated list.

1. Do No Harm. Ever. I don't know how to simplify this. Violence begats violence and never creates anything lasting or positive. And the use of violence -- either actual or implied -- to force your ideas on other people helps to create stupid people.

2. Wear Clean Socks. I can't recommend this highly enough. If you must wear socks, either because you have a job that requires it or because it's cold, make sure they're clean. You can be a week beyond the need for a good bath, your clothes can be rags, and you could look like an extra from a zombie movie. But if you're wearing clean socks, you just feel like better. Trust me.

3. Read something non-essential everyday. People who read are less likely to develop Alzheimer's later. They're also less likely to be stupid.

4. Don't live any further from a bar than a 20-30 minute walk or 40 minute bus ride, unless you know you have a ride. Seriously. And if all else fails, drink at home. It's cheaper, anyway.


5. Never offend a bartender, secretary, or janitor. They run the world. Deal with it.


6. Be kind to all critters smaller than yourself. 


7. Only apologize when it's sincere, and never subjugate your will to the whims of others. Another consolidation of two previous rules. The only thing a person has in this life that's worth a damn is integrity. Let the bastards take that and nothing else matters.

8. Be honest. Even if it hurts. It often does.

9. You know you had a good day when you can sleep that night. Really. Any other qualification is false advertising.

10. The only thing you have to do in life is die. Everything else is an option.