surrender

Super-storm Sandy left us here in Manchester, NH, with few if any obstacles to climb over on our way back to life as normal.  But before the storm left, she gave us a picture of something worth holding on to.  As the storm moved itself into our space, Leah and I turned off the lights in our apartment before the Sandy could turn them off herself, and walked outside onto the porch, to sense with as many faculties as possible, a power that is so grand and beyond anything we could pretend to control.  We stood on the porch laughing in wonder and anticipation about what would be.  I remember the wind blowing the trees back and forth and back and forth in a way that we were convinced they would snap and consume our neighbors house at any moment.

We didn’t stay outside long.  The sideways rain was pelting and drenching us.  We stayed out long enough, however, that when we turned to go inside both of our hearts and minds were full of a sense of wonder and gratitude and smallness.  We walked into our modest apartment feeling so thankful for a place so warm and dry and comfortable.  In the face of something that has so much potential to tear apart everything (and for many did); and us, with no protest, just surrender and awe.  We want to work to keep this perspective at the front of our consciousness.  This (wonder)full disposition of a recognition of our smallness and the universe’s bigness and power over us.  Yes, who am I?

Four or Five years ago I was in North Carolina for a wedding when a hurricane, whose name escapes me, told us all about who she was the night before the wedding celebration.  We had rented a house on stilts on the water so we were there to experience it all.  We went outside as she raged and found the beach had become part of the ocean and the waves would roll themselves right to the foot of our abode.  We stood into the wind and could lean, it seemed, at a 45 degree angle as the wind held us in it’s embrace and told us a similar story to Sandy about our powerlessness and insignificance.  I remember walking up to the foot of the breaking waves and tempting fate as we cautiously let the waves crash into our bodies and knock us over.  We would stumble to our feet only to have the next wave roll in and take our breath away in the same powerful motion.  Again and again and again showing us something we could never fathom or control or come close to understanding.  I remember laughing out loud because I didn’t have words for anything else.  The whole wedding party witnesses to something so big and powerful and mysterious that it can teach life-long lessons of surrender and humility in only moments if we would only be aware enough to pay attention.

This blog post is part of a great creative effort.  Click here to see other peoples contributions.

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politics

One of the best parts of election day in America is the reminder that everyone’s vote counts the same. Bill Gates’ vote counts the same as mine. There is this strange level playing field where some 18 year old punk can vote on his way to his high school geometry class he has failed 2 times already. That same punk kid’s vote, informed under the influence of LSD in some cornfield, matters the same way as the vote of an 85 year old WWII vet who put everything on the line and watched his 2 best friends lay it all down in some cornfield somewhere in France so their kids who they hadn’t seen in 18 months could grow up under a veil of freedom we all take for granted everyday.

I haven’t voted since I moved to Manchester so I had to register this morning before I voted. As I was filling out my registration form, a woman sat next to me that spoke really broken English. And I hate myself for this, but the thoughts started immediately. “Is she even a citizen?” “Can she read the ballot?” “This can’t be!” Forgive me world for being so…um…racist. I am embarrassed but you have to know that it is real. And it wasn’t just me. The person working our table was thinking the same thing. I know because the first question she asked was, “Are you a citizen?” And she was. And we both voted and chose together who gets to lead for the next four years. Like it our not, this is the way it is, and has always been. I left the voting place trying my best to forget my shame and asking myself questions about who in the world I thought I was. Dear God, help me kill the arrogance.

Not only that, but my vote really doesn’t count. I mean that no ones vote really counts singularly. Our vote only ever matters in the context of the whole. We can revel in our collective insignificant significance. I was thinking about this in the shower today after work and couldn’t think of any other institution that has submitted itself so completely to the collective opinion of a people that shouldn’t be trusted.(I have purposely built a strong case that I should be lumped in first and foremost with the rest) These same people who are responsible for the most powerful nation in the world, watch on average 5 hours of TV a day. It is a beautiful mess, this political system we are all a part of. And we collectively count ourselves blessed and lucky and also, a bit cynical about it all.

We make election day about a lot of things. And whatever the outcome may be, democrat or republican, my sense is, somehow, collectively we’ll overcome whatever it is the future holds. Or maybe we won’t, but it won’t be because of this or that president. This year, for me, election day is about the value of each and every person, and how what they think matters just as much as what I think. Even if they can’t speak English, or planned on spending this sunny day putting off geometry homework so they could get high is some cornfield pondering the deeper questions of politics.

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The sage story.

Some days I come home disorientated and lost. Thoughts running on about what I’m doing and how much I hate it or at least I can’t believe that this is my life. That it was actually me that brought me here. On days like these, I grab a banana and smother it with peanut butter. It is my favorite snack. Some days I head off on a run to get lost in some loud music and some endorphins. Some days I sit down on the couch and waste time on the internet. Some days I just try and get alone as possible with a book and let it take me somewhere different.

These are just coping mechanisms. My ways of coming to grips with life. Life and all its banality.

I heard a story once that goes something like this: there was an old sage walking late one night along a path. At some point the sage lost his way in the dark and was surprised to come upon a gate tower blocking the entrance to a great castle. As he approached, a guard in the tower said sternly to the sage, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?” The sage paused and thought for a minute and responded to the guard, “I will pay you twice what you make to man that tower if you will come home with me and ask me those same questions everyday.”

I have been asking myself quite a bit about “who I am and what I am doing here”. It is so easy to forget your reasons for doing whatever you do. Or to find yourself just going through the motions, unconscious in life. Somehow in life, it seems, we have to find a way to keep who we are and what we are doing here at the front of our minds.

In regards to my work as a carpenter, I’d give myself a seven out of ten.  I’ve been trying to get real honest with myself about who it is that I am.  And this is just an honest assessment of the kind of work I do.  On good days, or put up against a task that I happen to really excel at, I am probably an 8, maybe an 8.5.  Maybe.  The 8.5-10 range is for others.  People who are just generally better, more gifted, passionate individuals.

With that said, I’ve been blessed enough to stay busy all the time.  People still ask me to do work for them for some reason.  Probably, because, for most people 7 out of 10 is 10 enough, or they just don’t know the difference.

I bring it up because of something that happened today. A customer made a comment about how it was “looking good”. I said, “Well, it isn’t perfect, but it is probably good enough”.  She said, “Well, we’re not interested in paying the money for perfect.”  It is a strange conversation to have a with a customer.  I left the conversation feeling like she knew exactly who she had hired and what she was going to get and that was fine with her.  But, is it fine with me?

It is strange to write a story of 7 out of 10 with your professional life and live with eyes mostly wide open to it.  I work myself to the bone most days, so this isn’t a criticism of work ethic.  But still, It makes me a bit ashamed to be mostly run of the mill.  But the truth is, I don’t have the passion, or drive, or talent to go to the next level.  I’ve peaked.  I know a bunch of guys who are on the next level and I can never be them.  I don’t even want to be them.  I know because I don’t feel any sort of envy or jealousy towards them.

It is hard to know what to do with a mediocre professional life.  BUT…I have a vision of an evolution of sorts.  In my vision, I take my learned skills and self knowledge and place them down as a sort of foundation that helps me build and grow to the next thing.  But, alas, it is so hard to leave the run of the mill life behind.  There is a certain security in it.  A comfort.  A seven yes, but a comfortable seven!

For me change always comes slow.  The boat I am sailing my life on has a slow leak.  Drip…Drip…Drip it goes.  I know about the leak and I have my eye on it and if I can fix the leak I will but I may have to abandon ship.  I think in terms of metaphors that was also a seven.  I think you are tracking but I did almost completely blow it there.  What I want to say is that when we build a life, we don’t always have to throw it all away and start over.  I am thinking that knowing that I am a seven in certain things and then saying it out loud gives me a bit of an advantage.  Mostly, in that I can stop pretending and move from there.   Here’s to movement!

7 out of 10

Chicago Hair

My brother has long hair.  He can put it in a pony tail.  My hair was that long once.  Well, not quite that long, but long enough that I felt wild and free.  I told him he should get it cut cause he looks ridiculous.  That is just my opinion though and  he will most likely end up doing whatever he wants.  Unless he feels like it is standing between him and love.  Then he’ll do what she wants.  Like we all do.

We were talking this weekend and looking back a little bit and talking about how far we’ve come.  See, he decided a few years ago to make a change and moved to Chicago.  It was a practical choice.  He had a scholarship to do grad work and was in what, looking back, I consider a dead end job.  While there, he made a few choices about where he was going to live,  what he wanted to help build, and who was worth spending time with.  And it has made all the difference.  He doesn’t look the same to me anymore.  My wife agrees.  And I am not talking about his hair.

When I look back at the last year and how everything is changing on me, I am struck by the innocent nature of all my choices.  How life has made its course in the mostly mundane.  I read a book, have a conversation with a friend, or get up the courage to make a change.

That is what we were talking about this weekend.  How all these small little seemingly meaningless choices add up and seem to be the brush strokes that make up the picture of who we are.  So, choose wisely friends.  On second thought, just live.  Live thoughtfully.  We have no idea where our choices are going to take us and who can possibly know what’s best.

This blog post is part of a greater creative effort.  See the rest here.

Best!

some thoughts on authority

I have a picture of authority seared into my mind by my mother.  I wasn’t more than ten years old and a friend was over and in an attempt for approval or at least an opportunity to grow up a little, I said, SHIT!, after something negative happened.  My mother was in the room next to ours and walked over, looked at me, and said “what did you say?”  She grabbed my by the arm and threw me into the bathroom and began squirting hand soap into my mouth.  If my memory has served me correct, she actually tried to stick a bar of soap in and wash that way, but it was new and not used enough to fit into my young mouth.  I was humiliated.  And I submitted to her authority.  It would be years before I swore again, and only then with a deep sense of guilt and the memory of who I was defying.

Life, it seems, is best lived under authority.  Unless you live in communist China,where authority has the audacity to tell you what you can and can’t read or say or believe. That isn’t an affirming picture of authority.  Or unless you are a Jew in Poland in the 1940s.  Then authority begins to devalue your humanity.  Or a child who is under the authority of an adult who thinks you are a sexual object.  That isn’t life well lived under authority either. Authority abused is like some present version of Hell.  Be careful with yours.

True authority doesn’t lie with money or position or fame.  There is a form of authority there, but it is a lesser form.  It is the authority that too many times takes its form in that present version of Hell I was talking about.  It is authority out of context and it leaves us many times disillusioned and shattered.

True authority takes its root in love and trust.  Without love and trust, authority is left to force its way in and demand its own way.

Most days I forget about the authority I wield.  I go on running my  mouth about this or that forgetting how sharp and cutting my words can be.  Someone once said that there is nothing more important that who we are.  I like that a lot.  Authority doesn’t have a chance unless we are willing to be something better first.

This blog is part of a greater creative effort.  Read my fellow synchrobloggers here. Seriously…

religion goes nowhere.

What I am trying to do is to place all of my identity in God and His life.  I just want to know and experience God.  Very little else relative to religion and Christianity and church interests me these days.

I get sidetracked and miss it so easily.  And it is scary how easy it is to worship myself while convincing myself it is all sacrifice and worship for God.  So I stopped going to church to worship myself until I could go to church to worship God.

I want to live from a pure place.  If that is even possible.

I call myself a Christian.  I go to church on most Sundays.  I believe Jesus died for my sins.  I am a part of a small group/bible study.  I am really nice.  This is my religion/worship as it plays itself out most weeks.  And if it sounds irreverent, that is because my life is.

I hold very strongly that Jesus is offering something deeper than what I possess.  I don’t want to miss it.

And so when I identify myself as a Christian, I am offended that the first thing that pops into your mind is what I do on Sundays.  Except do I give you anything else to think about?  And when I identify myself as a Christian, I am offended that the second thing that pops into your mind is the rules I live by.  Except, do I live in a way that leads you to believe anything else is important.

Do I identify myself as a Christian because intellectually I am convinced it is right?   I would rather speak to something real in my soul than right in my head.  I can’t escape the thought that if Jesus was alive in my life, there would be no need to defend him with words.

I kept walking out of church talking about the things I liked and didn’t.  I thought that song was a bad fit there…but oh it was really moving to sing that song…oh and did you see her on stage?…and, well, I wasn’t really connecting with what he was saying…I know I am really hungry and exhausted too.  or I am here now, save me or at least move me.  Do something I like and while your at it, go deeper.  Soo, I am a consumer of Christianity.  Like I am shopping for belief every week. I can’t do it anymore.

Our Identity is in Christ. Our Identity is in Christ. Our Identity is in Christ. Our Identity is in Christ. Our Identity is in Christ. Our Identity is in Christ. Our Identity is in Christ. Our Identity is in Christ. Our Identity is in Christ. Our Identity is in Christ.  I keep saying it again and again to myself.  Then I go get in some theological discussion, fighting for the semantics of some dogma leaving the life of Jesus for some other day.  Except that day never comes because I keep trying to make Christianity about what I believe not how I live.

When we talk about our Life in God I don’t want to talk about church.  Or that sermon.  Or that organization that is doing really cool things.  or whether we agree with what that pastor said.  I’d rather talk about some redeeming love lived out.  Or some deep peace within.  Or a limitless grace given.  But it is hard to talk about what we know nothing about.

This post is part of a syncroblog.  Every other week me and my fellow syncrobloggers all write on the same topic.  This weeks topic was “Identity Crisis”.  You can read the others here. Thanks for reading…