Thursday, January 23, 2014

A vow of holy silence.

At work I joke a good bit about our roles as "Section Leaders." It's a typical retail scenario: we bring in product according to projected sales based on a percentage increase compared to previous sales...blah blah blah. It's all very technical, and not, at the same time. Essentially, I try to fill shelves, have extras to keep shelves full when they sell down, and push sales by having the right products in abundance. So when things sell better than expected and our shelves look cruddy, I like to say "it's a tough racket this whole 'predicting the future' thing." It's a good one, people love it.

As the parent of a 2 year old, I feel like I actually can predict the future sometimes. I make sure the cup of juice is in the center of the table...otherwise it will end up spilled on the floor. I put the cookies in the cupboard after a late night binge...otherwise they will be obsessed over when seen first thing in the morning. I put the safety on the that one's a joke! But you get the picture. There's a language that cause-and-effect speaks and parenthood allows you to decipher it in a way that perhaps nothing else can. Not just because getting juice stains out of the carpet is a pain-in-the-neck, but because consoling a child who's hurt herself doing something you could have prevented feels rotten.

The other day I was talking with a friend about her teenage daughter and the complications that have followed since that simple term teenager was applied. She was lamenting the paralysis she's felt watching her daughter make choices she doesn't see as best for her, but knowing any advice or consultation might be ill-received simply because she's Mom. Attempting every day to convey her availability, she patiently waits to be invited into the emotional whirlwind guiding her beloved's decisions; hoping to rejoice when they allow compassion and justice to prevail, console when they do not, or simply hold when these triumph but still break her baby's heart.

What happens when the person dearest to us asks for our silence when we can so clearly see the future of their decisions?

Years ago I brought a girl home to meet my parents over Christmas. I was clearly smitten with this girl and had just months prior uprooted my life and moved across the country to be near her. Convinced she was the one, I wanted my family to meet-the-hell-out-of-her and prepare for our inevitable future together. As young romances often turn out, she ended up breaking my heart and pulling tears out of me in a way I never thought possible. After I was able to function like a regular person again my parents confessed they immediately felt something was off about her, like she was hiding something. My sister felt it too. And as I learned, she was hiding something. Last night I called my folks to see if they remembered these early feelings and whether or not they wished they'd said something to try and help me avoid the heartache that eventually followed. My mom said she and Dad agreed they'd honor my freedom to choose who to love, regardless of their reservations. And so they held me when I chose the very path they'd suspected might hurt me.

Two years and five months into parenthood I can't begin to imagine holding my tongue when I see danger down the road. Likewise, I can't quite imagine the sorrow that must come with wiping away tears when that danger proves harmful. Luckily, I have plenty of time to listen to those before me who've survived their vows of holy silence.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Do you miss those things?

When I started thinking about doing this I wasn't sure how comfortable I'd be with actually putting it out there for others to read. Writing has always had a therapeutic quality for me, and part of me wondered if others would care or 'get it' (see 'Prelude' for conclusions I guess I came to...) or I worried about whether others reading might hinder my ability to write as the truest version of myself. (What is a true version of ones self? For future entries.) Another concern in using this avenue was that IF others found interest and wanted to engage in a back-n-forth about some of these things would I have time and wear-with-all to do that? Well, sort of.  So, Lily, here's a bit of a reply...hoping to respond to your question.

You said: "I occasionally lament my lack of spirituality; I envy the anchor, the path that God provides (do you miss those things?). But I can't convince myself to believe."

Last summer my dad came over to help finish painting the exterior of our house. We had lunch, I served him food he usually wouldn't cook himself, and he enjoyed it. Then he said something, something I'll never forget: "Son your mom and I were talking the other day about something you'll probably not want to hear; We feel that you won't find your niche' in your career and feel satisfied as an individual until you come back to the faith." Before you want to vilify my dad for this, that, and the other, know that besides this mis-step, he's always been extremely understanding and compassionate toward my doubts and ultimate renouncement of the faith. It must be hard to show grace as your son walks away as an adult from the belief system you've spent your whole life cultivating and believe IS the way, truth, and life.

Without expounding upon my reply, I can basically sum up my response with these words that I'll probably drive into the ground well before I should: Dad, it's much more complicated than simply returning to the faith.

Though I hated being unable to have sleep-overs on Saturday nights, I generally loved being a Pastor's kid. My dad was a bona-fied small scale rock star! He stood in front of 60-100 people every Sunday and shared his peace and wisdom about every issue applicable from the Word of God. Sometimes he pounded his fists for emphasis. Sometimes he glanced intensely at his audience over his glasses when he needed us to zero in on exactly what was at stake in his words. (This look still makes me shutter today because it's the same look I received when he needed me to know exactly what was at stake in his words.) Often he would tear up because the Word is about suffering and judgement, compassion and sacrifice, life and death. Not easy topics to bring new light to week after week and year after year. He sang solos in a high tenor on holidays. He greeted and got to know everyone who came through his doors.

On top of it, I had ultra-perfumed, grandmother figures kissing me at every turn, hand shakes from distinguished elderly gentlemen with wise eyes that reflected the joys that lay ahead for me as I grow up, and sprawling families hugging generously and welcoming me as one of their own. Both my parents sang in the choir, what they lacked in numbers they made up for in heart. The holiday crescendo to Christmas...forget about it! Of course a major role in why I get so pumped for the holidays. This was my life every Sunday and then some.

But amidst all of this, as the trust of youth began to shed itself, I started to realize that though I loved all these aspects of the community of faith, the reason to have faith no longer seemed real or made sense to me.

Do I miss it all? I miss the sense of belonging. I miss the idea of life having a purpose beyond the here and now. I miss the emotional vitality that faith seemed to provide.

But most of all, I really miss the sense of wonder that comes with youth. Youth is what really gives these ideas wings. How people transition into adulthood and maintain faith as their compass doesn't quite make sense to me. For me the foundation starts to crumble with what seem like the simplest of questions. Everything that once seemed true and right, even the absurdities that believing requires, all stem from the trust I put in those around me as a child. Were any of these ideas presented to me as an adult without the experience of my first 33 years I think there's no way I would even consider them as possibilities.

(If I were able to be an anthropologist I'd love to interview people who were raised without any semblance of faith and chose to believe in adulthood, I'm sure their stories would be worth telling.)

The only mantra I try to hold onto is a chorus I wrote that seems like ancient history in the life of my band:

Seek joy while breathing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Champion of Reason.

In the past couple months two people I love dearly have made wild, sweeping generalizations or accusations that have nearly put me in a violent state of mind. I won't get into what exactly the statements were, while I was inclined to then, now is not the time for debate. Within this debate, a question offered by the offending party, a reasonable question amidst the myriad of convoluted, un-evidenced, and downright stubborn rationales being defended, has stuck with me:

"Why do you need to change my mind?"

No matter how badly I would like to sit and scour for evidence and craft the perfect argument to bring forth grande epiphanies and be crowned the champion of reason, this question seems more important.

What is it about existence that beckons for us to prove ourselves right?

Could it be our nature? A biological inclination to outwit the competition? Is it an ingrained notion that being seen as right ultimately lends itself to the survival of our clan? What happens when these killer instincts show themselves to our kin and we turn on the ones we're supposed to be protecting?

Or can we point the finger at the nurturing village that raised us? Is it the result of not being acknowledged enough in our most vulnerable moments of development? Is it a reaction to the cruel world of popular kids and teachers who laughed at our best guesses? Or is it simply a moment in time when we need a triumph amidst so many tragedies?

Whatever the answer, or perfect hybrid of answers, the indirect answer to all these inquiries is grace.

This word comes naturally to me because it's in the language I was raised with. If that word is not familiar, let me elaborate. Grace implies mercy, it is a bestowing-upon and giving-away-of without pretense of personal gain. It is altruistic, if we can claim that anything we do is that.

Earlier I was listening to an audio track of a conversation between the members of a band called Between Earth and Sky ( about their songs. One of the members claimed that no matter how hard we try to impress that what we apply meaning to is important and worthwhile, after the people we know die, none of it will have mattered.  Even hundreds of years from now, he said, if somehow our existence extended beyond our grave to influence other generations, time will show that it never mattered. Even figures who have withstood millennia because time will keep moving beyond humanity. A rather bleak mentality, but one that resonates with me.

Why do I need to change your mind? I don't know, I just do. For Justice, For Reason, For Pride. For Sanity. None of which are reason enough to warrant the kind of frustration that bubbles inside.

The grace in this instance that I was unable to conjure would've been to simply say 'thank you for all you do, I love you.'

The same person who inspired this inquiry also once notoriously advised I not "sweat the petty stuff" but "pet the sweaty stuff," know that I'm trying.


This is the first of hopefully many posts where I share my thoughts on things. I'm going to leave it about as vague as I can because who knows where this thing will go? I certainly don't, but there are many moments littering mundane days where I think "I should write about this!", but then I don't. Sometimes because the idea is fleeting and life is busy, but more often because I remind myself I'm not important enough to share my thoughts nor would anyone like to read them. When everywhere we go we're bombarded with the thoughts and intentions of those who deem themselves all too important, I've decided it's often best to stay quiet. I've prided myself on my humility when surrounded by the airings of those who think they have the answers (how about that sentence?!?), but ultimately, it's just hard to feel like sharing matters.

I was born into 'the faith' as the son of an American Baptist minister. I know, BAPTIST! Well, to be fair, ABs try to distinguish themselves as progressives, meaning that they believe the 'word' to be true and truly inspired by God but not to be taken literally in every passage. While in doctrine they may be considered conservative I never felt, in our household at least, that it was a practice of conservatism. This is me trying to massage any knee-jerk reactions to the word Baptist.

One of the ideas my parents tried to ingrain in me was that 'God cares about me so much that even the hairs on my head are numbered.' There's a passage somewhere that refers to that, but I can't remember where. Unfortunately, this was paired with an idea that, from perhaps the first time pondering it at a young age, felt much more reasonable: 'There is nothing new under the sun.' We've all heard that expression before. It probably doesn't originate from Proverbs, but that's where I discovered it. It was touted in college here and there as inspiration to think 'outside the box' or....something.

As my faith waned, the former inclination was easily outweighed by the latter. And so, somehow, through a myriad of influences and realizations since, I've cultivated a real sense of futility about who I am and where I'm going in life. And of course, this affects my sense of whether my thoughts are worthy of sharing.

But, I've decided to write, regardless of what may be judged worthwhile by myself or others. And though I may find nothing new, hopefully the sun shines brightly enough to remind me, no matter how much wisdom I may think I've obtained: It's complicated.