My prideful weekend

Before the cares and concerns of the workweek again come to consume me, I wanted to jot down a few notes about how fruitful this weekend was in terms of progress with my faith. I finally got around to watching a movie I’d been wanting to see–The Book of Eli–and watched it all the way through. I’d caught the ending a few months ago, and was looking forward to seeing the entire movie. I was disappointed that this blind man, guided only by faith, ended up relying on the usual heavily stylized “Matrix/Tarantino” kind of fighting to get him out of sticky situations with bad guys. It was certainly comforting to see even a graphic novel-style nod to the power of the Bible, but I think the creators went completely for the kinds of violent language we’ve come to expect in movies when they had the option to do so much more with this character. To be for sure, the Bible is full of its warriors who slaughter their enemies by the tens of thousands, but it also has its share of prophets and healers who walk and live in the desert by true faith, and not by sight.

I think such a simple phrase, while its probably been run into the brains of most of us Christians to the point of cliche, can still carry so much awesome power in it, once you start to think about all the ways that you are still walking by sight and not by faith. Indeed, the success and lifeblood of most of our culture now seems to depend upon people moving and living by sight, and not by faith. We still cherish those feel-good, Hallmark moments where the disabled kid is loved by his peers in spite of all that makes him different, because “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” But, at the end of the day, we almost exclusively gravitate toward visual cues, in our infatuation with beautiful pop culture icons, our deference toward the better looking people in the office, and our insistence on looking for signs of the times from the world itself, rather than from the deep wellspring of the kingdom within each of us.

I can’t speak for how society can possibly change its steady and sure course toward becoming one that is completely guided by sight, but for me, it must become an imperative to examine every situation with an askance as to whether I am really letting that which I see with only my eyes guide me, or if I’m injecting my faith into the situation so completely as to allow my faith to guide me.

I also got around to reading the much talked about interview with the Pope in its entirety. It made me extremely happy. One word that I picked up from it, “discernment”, is a lot like the phrase “guided by faith and not by sight.” In my upbringing, I heard it all the time. Not exactly in the Jesuit sense of “discernment of spirits”, but along the lines of making decisions after much prayer and discernment. It’s one of those phrases that you hear so much that you think you know everything about what it means, and so you don’t really need to bother examining it any more than you already have. Except, I came to realize that I probably don’t know everything about what it means. If a word or phrase is one that is highly valuable to the point of being almost mandatory for living well, and you aren’t putting it into practice each day of your life, then you probably don’t really know everything about what it means.

So, I read up a lot on these things.

I watched myself lapse into my angry behavior on a few occasions with the more clear, objective eyes of the diagnosing physician. My tendency to make every little social misstep or perceived slight from others into an entire complaint against how flawed society is–I could see it rising up and spilling out of me before I could stop it. The bad news is that I didn’t stop it, but the good news is that I could see just how immature I was being while it was happening.

The congratulations I have for myself are none. The gratitude I have for God showing me things in a different sort of light is abundant.

I’ve never confessed this to anyone, but I’ve often found myself agreeing with the Pope (going back ten years or more) than not. On matters such as war, the death penalty, abortion and homosexuality, I tend to align more with the decrees from the Vatican when I’m not hanging on to my old, misguided persona who cherishes the thought of being ultra PC and well-liked by those who are sophisticated and urbane. Which is to say that I’m often at odds with conservatives as well. I was very much against going into Iraq in 2003, even as everyone else was ready to jump on that bandwagon. I find that both the death penalty and abortion are almost never good choices made by those who decide to implement them.

I think that the church, before this Pope, has been excessively hard on gays. While never directly hateful toward them as people, the constant condemnation of their lifestyle makes it easy for young people who are gay or have gay friends to decide that the church is not for them, and gives perpetrators of hate crimes excuses to do what they do. However, I also think that most gay people have no interest in examining why they are the way they are, and considering a different approach other than succumbing to what our mainstream liberal culture has decided is best for them. Like any other subject that is heavily debated, the issue becomes one where either side decides to work with cherry-picked information to advance their own agenda without listening to the other side in open dialogue.

Gay people report going through periods of adolescence where they wished they were straight, and could change to be “normal” like everyone else. It seems to me that with a lot of people who have embraced the homosexual identity and lifestyle, that if science were to discover a means of slightly altering their brain chemistry or DNA which caused them to become straight in their sexual preferences, they would denounce such a thing, and decry it to be an attack on their freedoms.

Like so many other polarizing issues in today’s world, both “sides” have become so entrenched in what they think to be the absolute truth about the issue, that neither is willing to participate in open dialogue with the other. What I see in the new Pope’s words is at least the effort to do otherwise. Whether or not any people in the gay community will come forth and be willing to meet the church somewhere in the middle with an open dialogue remains to be seen. I certainly don’t think that the Catholic church will ever take the position of welcoming gays completely, and marrying them and making openly gay men clergy (even allowing their partners to live with them), but it could and should become willing to sit down and have a dialogue with disenfranchised gay Catholics.

The problem though, is that when someone on one side of an issue makes an attempt to meet the other side in the middle, they are pounced upon by extremists of their side, and met with contempt by the other side for not meeting them all the way. This is, at least, where the media has chosen to emphasize the story. You have to dig deep to find stories of opposing viewpoints in common dialogue with each other–and not the superficial garbage of cable news television that passes itself off as a conversation.

The change in weather seems to have brought on a bunch of memories of our vacation to Rome last year. It’s been my life story to get more out of a vacation or some other novel activity long after it has transpired. My entire fourth grade school year was spent pretty much stuck in a state of yearning to go back to Florida. I’d go grab the children’s “F” encyclopedia almost every single day off of the shelf in the back of the room, and look at the three pictures of Florida from twenty years before I was born.

The coolness of weather, has excited memories of a vacation that I didn’t spend a lot of time mentally unpacking from, and caused me to miss walking around in the city, and caused me to pull out all of my Catholic writers and Roman art/history books again. I recognize that a lot of it is simply escapism. I’m growing weary of my Rubicon reality, with no end of it in sight. I live in a town where you are anathema if you don’t pay attention to football.

I’m tired of thinking about it. It makes me depressed to consider what I’m immersed in. I don’t understand how or why so many people appear to have settled happily for “this is all there is to life, and life is good.” No more study of new subjects, unless something pops in front of them on the television. No attempt to understand the historical context of why the world has the problems it does. No more asking the really hard questions about death, and God and evil. No need for art, and no use for any music that they don’t hear on the local pop country station. The world outside of Rubicon is best left to be a caricature of evil, godless individuals who are constantly trying to come to our country to kill us. Or, if they are godless individuals already in our country, they are busy trying to spread their poison from LA and NYC to our children.

I was pretty sick of a lot of those godless individuals when I lived in Austin, and most of them were absorbed in the world in front of their own noses as well. Sure, they travelled outside of the U.S. more, and read a few more books each year. But, for the most part, they too were content to accept that life is what it is, without looking any deeper or farther.

***

I go and get up on my high horse, reading books about great men of wisdom and their teachings. I study up on the Bible, and read about the life of St. Ignatius. Then, I spend a few hours each morning thinking about how I really deserve to be living in a big city among elite, highly educated Christians, instead of living among the mostly rural folk like I do. Finally, I crash and burn, descending back into some of my worst vices, until my terrible sins appear to me in dreams. I have impure thoughts and I act on them in a solo fashion. I lose my temper at every single driver around me on the road.

Then, I wake up the next morning, begging to God to please tell me why I’m continuing to run this vicious cycle. I open a book about the Desert Fathers, and the chapter is on humility.

There is very little about me that you could call humble anymore. At one time, I was a humble kid, but I hated it. I think so much of me that was good and Christian by default–like not lashing out in anger and turning the other cheek–was there from the kind of programming my mother put into me. Underneath my autopilot way of reacting to social situations in a humble fashion was an enormous urge to do as everyone around me was doing (and urging me to do as well). Why aren’t you defending yourself? Stand up! Be a man!

I stumbled upon some show on PBS last night about a metalsmith who was trying to recreate a Medieval sword. The glowing orange steel looked to be an impossible brick that couldn’t possibly be good for anything except perhaps the head of a sledge. It took him an entire day’s work and then some to soften the steel into something he could shape into a sword, but he ran the risk of shattering the steel with every blow.

My adult life has been a fire that has sorely tested me and changed my mettle.

I’m like that sword-in-progress, constantly on the verge of shattering, but most definitely not able to go back to the unformed brick I was before. Whether I like it or not, I have to submit each day to the ways that God has chosen to shape and form me, and contend with the fact that I am still full of impurities like the slag that was yet to be pounded out of the steel.

During my years of work at the non-profit, I was humble in a contrived sort of way. I had already slipped out of the shell of my humble youth–the one that was a gift from my mother and one that I’d chosen to reject. In those years, I was trying to force myself back into being a pretend naive, humble boy, and it ended badly. This is because I was secretly full of ambition and pride. I wanted desperately to make a name for myself at something, but possessed an astonishing lack of clarity for how politics within the nonprofit organization (and the non profit community in general) really worked. Like every other human-created system, the nonprofit was going to see the completely ambitious rise to the top. Anyone possessing a modicum of humility and willingness to put aside their pride was going to find themselves struggling at an inferior post.

For some reason, I’d gotten it into my head that things would be different at the nonprofit than they were with the political campaign or with my previous, small-company employer. Within the nothing of a campaign I worked on, you still met endless groups of people who didn’t care about social or environmental issues as motivation to support the candidate–they simply wanted a little fiefdom in their county that they could lord over the other members of their party, and more than a few expected that in the remote chance the candidate got elected, she would do favors for them when she got to Washington.

The nonprofit, and its surrounding community of nonprofit careerists, was no different. If you wanted to get somewhere in the nonprofit world, you self promoted every chance you could, and paused as little as was required to pay lip service to the charity you actually served. If you happened to find yourself at a large enough nonprofit that could support your need to travel and attend endless community schmoozing events, you generally set up your own little business within the non profit to showcase your skills and talents. Ideas like serving the greater good, and being creative for the sake of the nonprofit’s success, were great ideas to mouth in conversation, but you made damn sure that every city council member and mayor in the county knew who you were. You took the time to build relationships with the media and wealthy donors or potential donors–not for the sake of the nonprofit’s success, but for the sake of your own career.

The fruits of such labors were pretty obvious when it was all said and done. If you took any one of these folks and were able to quanitatively measure how many dollars they raised or how many volunteering hours they spent in the community against how much name recognition they created for themselves, you would see that the exchange was almost 100% one-sided.

I was in this boat though I pretended not to be. I pretended that all of my efforts to make cool videos and website features were merely to advance the cause of the nonprofit and help them make more money. Deep inside, I was secretly seething with envy for every young college grad that slipped into the doors of my nonprofit and rose up the ranks past me. I was insanely jealous of the fellow getting all the attention and recognition in the papers.

I was trying so hard on the outside to be a humble person, and people who took me at face value either loved me or hated me for that. But, on the inside, I was secretly hoping that my faux humility would eventually reap great rewards.

So, I ended up eschewing all of the opportunities for greatness that God might have had in store for me as well as the ones that Man was making for me.

I had to take a step away from it all. I slowly wound down all of my volunteering engagements in Austin, as I went off to work for increasingly “bottom line” kinds of companies. I decided it was better to have no humility among people who were unapologetically careerist, than to have false humility among a bunch of people who pretended to be MLK or Gandhi. I slowly got more involved with my church.

Church, of course, can also contain the folks who just want to make a name for themselves. Some churches are like this, anyway. To find a church that is mostly full of truly humble people is like discovering gold. I think I found that church in Austin, but then we were Rubicon-bound within a year after we finally became members.

But, whether a church has the humble or it doesn’t, it still (in theory) has a book full of Jesus’ teachings about being humble.

I consider all the ways that my parents kept me from allowing me to become inescapibly immersed in the things of the world. While for so much of my adolescence and adult life, I’ve called it a hopeless curse as I try to get caught up on all the movies and TV shows I missed in childhood, I can see now that I was handed a true blessing. My mother tended to find evil in just about everything. I used to think so much of it was superstitious nonsense, but I’ve grown to have a more sophisticated perspective on what is worldly and what is spiritual.

There is nothing inherently evil in watching a worldly movie. It’s all in how you take the movie to heart, and how you choose to spend the rest of your weekend. I would argue that if you spend your entire weekend watching sporting events and obsessing over your fantasy sports team, you are probably tending more toward that which is evil than someone who watches one violent movie, is mildly entertained by it, and doesn’t think anything of it the rest of the weekend while they go out and help the poor, read their Bible, pray, and fellowship with other Christians. In other words, the way in which you spend your free time can ultimately be focused on either the things of God, or the ways of the world. You can even immerse yourself in an endless series of books that provide historical or philosophical insight into the Bible itself, and become more enamored and a part of the worldly ideas in those books–leaving God far behind.

And, in everything you do, you can keep God close or get as far away from him as possible. It’s all in your intent, and only you know the extent to which you are attempting to develop a deeper relationship with the Lord, or simply caught up in self-pleasing entertainment.

Sadly, I’m more likely to tend toward getting away from God when I start to read a bunch of Jesus books and then have neat insights and start to write them down. I start to write as if I’m some kind of preacher speaking to a huge congregation, and get caught up in the image of being adored by them as they hang on my every word. By the time I’m ready to return to work, I’m so full of myself and how important I am inside my own head, that I can’t bear to listen to anyone speak of their mundane problems. I’m so pumped up with pride that I can barely contain myself, and the notion of humility becomes nothing more than a wink and a nod–almost an ironic sort of endeavor.

My new beginnings

You hate new beginnings. That’s not exactly true. You hate kicking off new beginnings. You require help from someone else to get them going. Once they’ve been tipped to get underway, they are spectacular. Which is to say, they are great until they are no longer new beginnings. And then, you start to wonder: what the hell have I gotten myself into? After that, you are terrified of becoming the bad guy–the jerk who walked away from a relationship unexpectedly, or the asshole who left ten unfinished projects on his desk at work. But, the price you’ve paid for sticking with a relationship or job out of a misplaced sense of being honorable is a dear and heavy one.

You’ve lost a lot of your life staying in places with people who you know will take you nowhere. Once the honeymoon is over, and the booze wears off, you are left with a bunch of folks who don’t remotely think like you do. They have decided that their lives can be full and happy through endless partying and cheap, empty entertainment.

You hate kicking off the new beginning that is a book. You ask yourself: how do I make my 1583rd attempt as fresh and novel as my first attempt?

God knows I have a lot rolling around in my head. For someone who’s led a relatively boring life, the information and content that wells up inside of me after a series of experiences seems to be endless and ever present.

I am not lacking for content, but there’s a struggle to determine how best to roll out the content in such a way that doesn’t leave me running straight into my usual webs of obsessing over problems of the human condition that I can’t change.

There is a lot about past intense life experiences that simply never got put into words. In fact, it’s usually during periods where life has become rather predictable and mundane that I tend to pick at emotional scars until they become useful writing fodder. In such times as those I also seem apt at forgetting to mention all that was great and terrible about an intense experience.

So, there is next to nothing in any of my writing about the hellish job I had over the past year, the time of my life around my wedding, the political campaign I worked on, the first three months after my little brother died, or my first three months of college. Occasionally, I travel places, and I get insights from being there. I haven’t travelled nearly as much as I’d hoped I would when I was younger–which is primarily due to the fear I described in the first paragraph–but, I’ve travelled to a few places in the past few years that would probably be interesting to examine in depth at some point.

One thing that you’re really good at doing is finding a certain groove once the new beginning gets underway, but then running it into the ground with all of the emotional baggage you still carry around. Soon, you find that whatever you had embarked upon has simply become a whinefest, and a vehicle to fool you into thinking that somehow you can cook up a scheme of revenge upon everyone who’s ever slighted you in even the most superfluous sort of way.

You rarely ever even make a nod to objectivity, as if to say: why bother, I’m a hopeless case?

Believe it or not, I did have some idea of a trajectory that my life would take. The unfortunate thing is that it was never more than a vague notion that I somehow assumed was backed by what must be God’s will for me, and whenever I ran afoul of so-called friends who were more than happy to sabotage that trajectory, I simply rolled over and let them succeed.

My conceptualized trajectory probably looked a lot like a cliche to anyone who’s familiar with the culture of a middle-class, WASP from the Midwest. Study abroad or backpack around Europe after college. Pay my dues in NYC, SF or Chicago until I got a toehold in the publishing industry or art world, and then slowly make a name for myself as a writer, editor, artist or critic. Eventually, find myself surrounded by a circle of wonderfully enlightened, GenX beings who thought Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed, Khna and Atheists were all equally cool. Beings who had managed to syncretize every belief system into a happy family of deities and negations of deities. We’d visit used book stores, record stores and thrift stores in Manhattan and the surround burroughs, go to endless openings of artists and throw back round after round of expensive wine talking to famous people about fashion, art, ecology and making the world a beautiful, multicultural place of peace.

I’d borrowed most of my ideas for my trajectory from watching too many Woody Allen movies and episodes of Friends. I’d made almost no effort whatsoever during high school and college to be a sociable being, and so it was easy to assume that NYC housed these brilliant groups of people who were always in the know about what was hip and cool and cultural–and that they’d embrace me with open arms like no one else had ever done before. I turned my back upon my own loving family for the sake of immersing myself in a pretend world that would surely give me my new, proper family that I belonged with more than my own flesh and blood.

My little brother’s death was a complete shock to my system, one from which I never fully recovered.

In many ways it was as if the world grew dark and never regained its proper daylight. The trauma people felt after 911, that the world will never be the same again, was a trauma I was already all-too familiar with. 911 was simply an affirmation to me that the world had shifted in such a way where it would never again feel like the sun could shine completely as a summer noonday sun again. Of course, in many ways, this was all just ridiculous amounts of willfully taking one’s head and burying it deep in sands that ignored great swaths of history, and blew such events completely out of proportion from where they might sit on the grander scale of Time itself.

In the case of my little brother–people lose family members suddenly and without good reason all the time. In the case of 911–the US and NYC could have seen a lot worse, and it’s safe to say that we will. Did pop culture completely change its trajectory into awfulness and stupidity a la Idiocracy after 911? Did America decide to become less polar in its religious and political affiliations? Would my own personal trajectory have looked that much different had my little brother lived and 911 never happend? The answer to all of them is, of course, a resounding “no!”

Which is not to say that I don’t live every day thinking that life could be and should be about so much more than it presently is. I’ve put aside so much of my selfish tendencies which have gotten me nowhere, but I am still by and large a much more selfish person than most adults my age. My selfishness has simply taken on cosmic proportions, where I still can’t help but see myself as being somehow deserving by birthright to have access to untold riches and fame in this life. Would I suddenly feel completely fulfilled and feel as though my life was an epic life, if you were to pluck me out of Rubicon, Texas and drop me into NYC with millions of dollars in my bank account? If I had the opportunity to go to mix it up with the elites of America every single day in artsy, fashionable and chic environments–would I then proclaim that I was now experiencing life as it is meant to be lived?

Naturally, I would have little time at all for God once such a life got underway. I would mouth some words of thanks and ask for forgiveness now and then, but I’d probably break or come close to breaking most of the ten commandments every single day.

But, life here in Rubicon, Texas doesn’t fill me up in any sort of deep way, either. I am skating perilously around the edge of completely cashing out, and immersing myself in utterly escapist activities, like watching Netflix and reading books all the time. I watched my father cash out after he clearly could no longer deal with his two oldest, adopted sons that were in a constant state of rebellion. As the quasi-middle child, I caught the tail end of his mental absence from the family, and only got to see some of the rebirth of his re-engagement. By the time my dad decided that he wanted to be active in the things we were doing, I had already taken on the proverbial role of the walled off teenager who remains holed up in his room as much as he possibly can while at home. I didn’t really change this way of being much until the day my little brother died.

Here in Rubicon, Texas, the only art museum is one that consists of a single room inside a small university, and offers the visitor a snapshot of the museum experience. The music you will find in the community is mostly country and western, or classic rock covers. People around here quite vigorously oppose the idea of being tainted by the liberal programs of large cities north and south of them. Those cities are fun to visit now and then, but who would want to remain as neighbors with heathen hipsters or other urban ilk?

For me, it vacillates between being content with the way things are, and furious that my life has come to this. On one hand, it’s an opportunity to become more internally focused, and get things right with God, and raise children in a place where I know they stand a better chance of not growing up to become Godless zombies in search of the next sushi restaurant. On the other hand, I tend to like a lot of the same stuff the Godless zombies do. If you gave me a fair amount of cash and gave me the choice between spending it on a dude ranch getaway for a week, or spending it on a NYC getaway–I will take NYC every time. I happily resonate inside that packed-in environment of architecture and people much more than I ever will happily resonate among folks who pride themselves on being anti-intellectual.

Am I living my life with the kinds of expectations no one should ever have? Should I be a realist, and come to accept that where I’m at in life is the best I can do, and be happy with schlepping my way to retirement at one mediocre desk job after another? I don’t think that should necessarily be the case. I think that I need an attitude adjustment.

For one thing, I’ve had dozens of opportunities to pursue greatness of Self that I’ve passed up, out of fear. The same fear that prevented me from going off and travelling by myself, that’s made me drink myself into enough debt that I can use debt as an excuse for not travelling–this fear is also present as a way of preventin me from ever knowing greatness. At the root of my core self–or at least where my core self touches the roots of my waking self–there is implanted in me a certain kind of fear that says no matter how much I long and yearn for greatness, I should shun it. This is not a godly fear, either.

It’s not the kind of fear that would prevent me from becoming the kind of man who gains the world and loses his soul, though I might find it often to use that as an excuse. If that were the case, then I would still most certainly not fear becomin great within the Church–of finding a means to do great things for God.

No, I believe there is an intrinsic fear that is simply part of the general fear of the unknown. It’s much easier to pretend that greatness wasn’t meant for you, and avoid those invitations to meet and mingle with public figures. It’s easier to let a week go by where you run on autopilot at work and at home, and it’s often the source of me changing my focus on what I believe to be my life calling. I don’t ever have to become great at anything if I’m always changing whatever my passion is to be something else.

But, the most important insight here is that I will never even take one step down the path of greatness until I state once and for all that I am not the least bit afraid of being great. Being great means that you will receive criticism from others. Most people don’t care to waste their time knocking down the little guy. But, anyone who is in a position of authority over others must bear their share of criticism, fair or not. Until I can wake up and honestly say that I do not fear greatness, no matter what my greatness might be, I can never take that first step.

To even attempt to construct an outline of what my means of attaing greatness might be, is to embark upon another fruitless venture into studying and trying to connect with people.

I must spend the better part of six months repeating to myself every morning that greatness is not something I fear, but something whose fruits I was meant to have and enjoy. This is not wishful thinking, nor is it fantasizing about becoming a billionaire or movie star or whatever. That kind of activity is exactly what has killed my progress so many times before. I might decide that I’m going to become a great politician, and so I start volunteering with a campaign or my local party. But, immediately I become fearful of achieving greatness, even among a tiny circle of individuals. How can I possibly expect to be fearlessly great at something on a state or national level, if I can’t get past the fear of being a great man among a few old ladies?

So, the content of being great is not what is to be considered here. It’s the very idea of being someone that others look up to and listen to. It’s the idea of knowing that for every follower you will have a detractor or a follower of your competitor. Being unafraid of being great means being unafraid of the most basic aspects that come with being great. But, it most certainly requires an enormous “mind switch” that has never taken place. You must go from out-of-control fantasies of being adored by many (which turn into complete social paralysis at every meet and greet) to a calm acceptance that greatness is your birthright.

You can’t conceptualize the “what” that will make you great until you fully accept the honors and burdens of the great as being yours to own and bear.

The fear of greatness is often masqueraded by other fears that you allow to enter into yourself. You are often responsible for putting them there simply to cover up the awesome fear that is really the one true fear that holds you back. The push toward true greatness is often covered up by myths you build about yourself that disintegrate rapidly in the true testing fires of reality.

You’ve already settled in a lot of ways, avoiding so many opportunities in which the path to greatness might have been yours. But, in some ways you’ve successfully whittled off all of the false trappings of a pseudo-greatness that can never be yours.

For example, during your years that you embraced the attempt to do sales work, then joined a statewide campaign as a field coordinator, then walked away from the candidate’s invitation to join her post-campaign select group of friends, then joined a non-profit with a secret ache to be a public person again, hiding behind a humble demeanor that was mostly false–saying things like “I’m just the web guy” when anyone offered you a chance to do more for the organization. You created this enormously self-defeating process by which you’d set yourself up to fail at whatever you tried before you got too far underway, and then move on to something else that you convinced yourself was your true calling. In this fashion, you managed to go through this repeated cycle of working exceptionally hard to impress people and convince them of your potential, then getting assigned a greater position of responsibility, and then letting the fear of greatness be masqueraded by a fear of failure which was also often masqueraded by an effort to blame those around you for your potential failure. Then, you’d move on to something else before you’d fully realized whatever seeds you’d sown.

In all of this activity, you would alternately moan to God that he simply wasn’t providing you with a true calling, then brag to people you wanted to impress with just how many different things you’d done during a five-ten year period of your life.

To be certain, you encountered people along the way who hated you for no reason other than you gave them the impression of being someone they should hate. You used these people to your advantage, at times claiming they were under the spell of the devil himself, and could demonize an individual if it suited your myth about being thwarted every time you tried to do something amazing with your life.

Your endgame was to successfully craft a beautiful myth in which you could always have your ass covered by some unfortunate circumstance or terrible person who prevented you from using your talents to their fullest. For some reason, you actually believed that God would buy into this myth on judgement day, but now you understand that this kind of thinking is ridiculous. You will be judged by your final fruits and your final will toward accepting God’s grace and mercy for forgiveness of all the ways you made a mockery of his special gifts to you.

Hopefully, you can let the rest of your life consist of never letting another moment pass in which you play the role of the loser. The phrase “well, I gave it my best shot” becomes a meaningless trifle that quite often means the complete opposite.

What the past year or so has taught me is that I can only achieve so much success within these business environments that I embraced as a way to quickly get rich after college. By “success” I mean of course the true success of being able to reach a point in life where I am happy that I’ve done more of the Lord’s will than not.

What makes me great as a person cannot be defined by the kind of work I currently do, because it is ultimately always going to be a supporting role in the world of making money.

The empty-soul pursuit of making money and seeking praise and recognition of men is not the path I see me taking to greatness. As I’ve stated above, I shouldn’t fear opportunities to do great things and be a part of greatness when these opportunities come my way, but I should never see the pursuit of earthly riches as my true calling.

I made things harder for myself than they needed to be. In some cases, the office environment was so toxic, that it was absolutely in my best interest to get out of there. The first main company I worked for after college taught me that I should have left long before I’d found myself celebrating my fifth year anniversary there. I went on to tough it out for a total of eight years, and those were the eight years I should have been exploring other job options. I left the first software company I worked at just to spite my manager for being someone I’d come to find insufferable. Her endless diatribes against Christians and men–the clear favoritism she showed for her female team members–this wasn’t the best environment, but it was far from being as toxic as the one I moved into just to get away from her universe.

My father told me a long time ago never to move on to another job just to get away from the one you were at. You should always move toward a new job because you were attracted to it for all it would offer, rather than run from something because you despised it. Of course, it’s not always so cut and dried. In the instance where I left the eight year company briefly only to return, I should have learned my lesson. The new environment with the State was far from perfect, but there was absolutely nothing at the petty little company I’d just left that was really acting as an incentive to return.

Of course, once you leave a job for a new one, you spend a lot of time rationalizing why the new job was the better pick. You overlook all of the signs that it is going to be an awful place to work, because that would mean you’ve made a bad choice. Part of being a more mature individual means carefully reflecting on why you are about to make a choice before you do it. If you can’t be straight with yourself up front, then you are in for months or even years of hurt.

When my friend, who’d sold me on going to work at the creative agency, invited me to come meet my new team a couple weeks before I was to start, I got nothing but bad feelings from these people. They simply weren’t my kind of people. My friend had gotten himself a sidekick at this agency, who I could clearly see resented my intrusion. Nothing I was going to do or say could change that. I rationalized that this agency was going to be better than working at a company, because all of the political drama of the company wouldn’t touch me. I believed that I would get the chance to make a difference in giving creative and strategic input that I never felt I got to give when I had the boss who only listened to her female team members for that kind of input. I painted the rose onto my glasses but thick.

And, it became readily apparent that there were no such opportunities at this agency. They either completely ignored, excessively used, or downright hated the people who were working in my position. We were the operators of the email marketing technology that had gotten the agency the contracts in the first place. But, the agency wanted to be creative, and make pretty ads and run kewl social media campaigns. Even my friend’s hipster sidekick, feeling squeezed out of his role of sidekick by me, took it upon himself to declare that email marketing was dead, and a massive, pie-in-the-sky re-engineering of a client’s website was the key to their lead generation success. Guys like this hipster sidekick were primarily interested in doing something new for it’s own sake. This particular fellow had recently done a stint as a financial advisor, and had moved on to email marketing technology. It was boring, crusty technology for him, and I can remember being in my late twenties and wanting to embrace all that was hip and new. He was probably not even in college when I’d drank the “email is dead, blogging is where it’s at” koolaid at marketing conferences.

But, not to get in the weeds of my boring day job too much. The point is simply that I ran to this toxic environment to get away from a slightly uncomfortable environment, and sprayed my “air freshener” of mythical rationalization all over the toxic environment to convince me that it was the superior choice. Meanwhile, I continued to find myself completely ignored by my friend, handed projects that he’d left half-baked (that were NOT the kind of strategic work he’d sold me), despised by most of my coworkers, and stuck in a situation where I was driving up and down I-35 every week to spend two nights and three days away from my wife in the condo by myself.

Was it a life experience worth having? Maybe. Perhaps it gave me the perspective I needed to understand once and for all that the mythical, techie-yuppie-hippie lifestyle I’d wanted from Austin was a dead thing for me. I saw clearly and completely that I no longer needed my workplace to deliver me a foosball table and give me boat parties and at go-cart racing once a month. Quite frankly, I’ve never wanted a career in the sense that a lot of people do, but I’ve managed to create one for myself, at least on paper. However, once I find myself in a work situation where I’m being patronized instead of actually listened to as a respected colleague, I know that my work is only relEt in that I’m simply being used like a commodity. I am a replaceable cog.

So, at the end of the day, I made the only rationalization that really stuck: the software company I’d left had recently been bought by its larger competitor, and there was too much uncertainty hanging over my head for my job. I needed a job where I could work at home from Rubicon, TX at least part time, and the software company might soon deliver an ultimatum of work in the office full time or leave. It was a thin rationalization, and certainly not enough of one to sustain me. The people of the agency were simply not my people, as I’ve stated before. They were mostly much younger people with very different ideas about what makes work meaningful.

It was an odd way to finally leave Austin, spending over a year of my life going back there to work and trying to pretend like I still lived there part time. But, nothing much about Austin made sense to me once I’d decided to put the ways of the child behind me. In 2010, I spent an idyllic kind of summer dating my wife-to-be, and enjoying Austin like I hadn’t for many years. I was ready to get out. The hipster culture that had taken over so much of the downtown area, along with the latest crop of college grads moving in from other parts of the country, seemed to be part of a mindset that was never completely serious about anything.

Discovering the next great dive bar on SoCo or the East Side. Going to see the latest kewl band that sounded like every other band. Trying out the new sushi place for all who wanted to seem sophisticated in workplace conversation, and a cut above the slacker riffraff. Living from Southby to ACL and all of the festivals in between. It was a single, sociable person’s life, and I was really neither. I’d been longing to find someone I could call my wife and settle down for years.

Except, I was also tired of Austin for being so small. It seemed each year like I was just one job opportunity away from getting to work in SF or NYC. Instead, my wife found work in Rubicon, and I decided that I could work something out with my boss at the software company. And so, I forsook my dream of leaving Austin for a bigger city, and have tried my damnedest to be happy here in Rubicon. Some days, it just doesn’t stick.

Do I appreciate not having to take 30-45 min to get everywhere? Do I like being able to find parking when I want to go down to the lake or river to walk the dog? Do I enjoy being able to get a table at a restaurant a lot more quickly? Certainly. But, I also can’t stand hearing some loudmouth redneck blasting his opinions into my ear when I’m drinking a glass of wine, or feeling like I’m half a man for not participating in the fantasy football league at work. I get tired of the intensely conservative atmosphere as much as I was tired of the intensely liberal one in Austin.

There is something about a large city that neither Austin nor Rubicon can offer, though. Austin, of course, can deliver it in small doses, but you end up feeling let down after you walk a few blocks past all of the tall buildings. I’ve often wrestled with this love I have of being in a big city area that’s been sanitized enough for me, the tourist, so that I mostly don’t have to worry about getting mugged or knifed. Is it a love of a kind of artificial, manmade heaven that allows me to turn my back upon Heaven? If I’m kept happy by an endless set of walls and artificial natural areas, like parks and zoos and gardens, do I begin to believe that I’ve already found Heaven, and don’t need to look to the church and God anymore?

Or, is it simply a glimpse of what Heaven will be like? The true community of fully realized human beings who aren’t afraid to share themselves with one another for fear of being taken advantage of. Where all the highs provided by entertainment, booze and drugs will become as nothing to the high of being in the presence of God and his Son for eternity.

I will say that both big cities and nature make me very happy when I know I’m being kept relatively safe, but I haven’t been dropped into a completely sanitized environment like Disney World.

But, the happiness that comes from being surrounded by a manmade paradise is an expensive happiness. No trip to NYC or SF comes cheap.

The trip to a larger city, a city with deep history that bleeds out into its streets, is more than just a trip to look at art museums, eat good food, and go to shows. It is an opportunity to be unceasingly in close quarters with thousands of highly diverse people. You begin to fully appreciate where you stand in relation to others. Your preconceived notions about the universal in humanity get shattered quickly.

And, that is what is happening in Rubicon for me. I’ve been yanked out of a small city where diversity is often evident, if not fully embraced, by its citizens, and dropped into a large town full of people who do not particularly care to embrace diversity. People who sit in restaurants and proclaim loudly the virtues of football and mudding are people I am more likely to throw up all of my walls against. I’ve developed an extremely keen sense of being tolerant of other lifestyles and ethnicities living in Austin, except I’m probably least tolerant of the white, rural male and his ethos of coarse, country machismo. This is probably due to the fact that I lived from age 6-18 in a small town where I felt myself to be constantly harrassed by such males.

To suddenly find myself confronting the personas of my childhood that I liked the least has been almost too much for me to bear at times. I understand completely that I am letting a spirit of hate and division overwhelm me when I step out into the environs of Rubicon with a deep sense of revulsion for hearing blunt, coarse conversation and seeing camouflage printed on ballcaps and t-shirts.

It’s an enormous mystery to me that these individuals are more faithful and devout Christians than so many gentle, socially conscious people I knew in Austin: these men (and some women) who espouse complete freedom to own guns and destroy the environment as they see fit while displaying conspicuous consumption in the oversize trucks they drive and food that they eat. I don’t doubt that me being dropped into this environment is a gift from God to examine all of the stereotypes and assumptions I have about certain kinds of people. Indeed, I’d originally thought to name my fictional town that I’m living in Hayseed instead of Rubicon, but then I decided that I have to stop approaching my real life town with this kind of attitude. It will, in the end, only make me a shittier human being who tends toward staying holed up in his house instead of going out and trying to get to know people on levels beneath the personas they’ve created for themselves.

I woke up this morning feeling traces of that utterly hopeless feeling

I woke up this morning feeling traces of that utterly hopeless feeling. This is the one where you are pretty certain that you will die before you will ever get to do anything that you want to do.

I had a dream where I was moving stuff out of a dorm or apartment I’d been living in. One of the bureau drawers was full of water. I go for the easy and obvious interpretation: I still have too much junk in my life that I have to empty before I can move on. I’m still trying to put something pure and sanctifying, like water, into old junk that I can’t get rid of.

The dream moved on to me teaching an old man, presumably my father, how to do a clean and jerk–something I haven’t done since high school. I’m not sure I would feel comfortable teaching someone how to do it in the waking world–I would probably get it all wrong.

I spent the weekend reading random bullshit online, and though I told myself it was to enrich and edify my brain, it was likely just escapism.

I’m at this point in life where I’m absolutely ready to have children. Financially, things haven’t been any better. I am beginning to think that this is the only way I will derive any sort of acceptable meaning from the rest of my life.

I woke up with that exceptionally calm and peaceful feeling

I woke up with that exceptionally calm and peaceful feeling that comes when you know that the angels took great care to knit all that was frayed from the day before.

Yesterday was Monday, and I experienced all of the worst of the cultural shock I’ve had when I leave the house after spending a weekend peacefully meditating on higher things.

My experiment with 5-HTP, and Omega fatty oils has probably reached the stage where I’m starting to overdo it in hopes that whatever benefits I was getting with a little can be increased with a little more. So, I lived with a headache of the worst kind through most of the last half of the day, not really wanting to work at all.

I continue to visualize the rainy season memories of living in Missouri. It rained ever-so-briefly last evening, though the forecast hadn’t called for it. We are probably getting sad little wheezes from the gulf that were the remnants of failed tropical storms. They gasp and sputter, and sometimes make a fair amount of noise, but don’t produce much rain.

At one point in my life, I loved living in this dry climate, but that point passed long ago. Now, it just feels oppressive and hellish. Every Saturday, by the time the wife gets up to go for a walk with us, the naked sun is already showing no mercy. I have days where I’m actually missing Missouri simply because of the lack of rain and cooler fall weather.

I’m struggling all around…with everything. My worst vice continues to flare up and grab me, enticing me to sin. I get angry at the slow moving country people around here, and angry at my situation in life. I’m angry that I feel paralyzed and no attempt to move forward seems to alter this. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to discern God’s will, and tell the difference between it and my own will or the will of the devil. Does God even want me to study Math? Or, was that my own personal fantasy–to use the opportunity of a free college tuition to prove something that was lost long ago? Or, maybe the devil is distracting me with this, so that I won’t be able to see clearly what my true calling is.

I struggle with things that I don’t think most people approaching 40 feel the need to struggle with. Most people are worrying about how they will pay for this year’s round of school supplies, braces, glasses, etc. for their children. They are worrying about how to get the next promotion so that they can move into the upper manager’s seat, and be able to coast into a comfortable retirement during their last twenty years.

I’m struggling with wondering who I am and who I’m not, and trying to not do the same immature shit I’ve been doing since I was thirteen.

I may be more articulate, and have created a better series of layers over this juvenile self, but he’s always there, ready to flare up in a whiny, self-important and self-entitled response when he thinks he can get away with it.

I care too much about what other people think. Why do I let a few people in the office make me feel guilty for not playing fantasy football, or let a few random trolls in articles make me second guess my desire to lead a more Christian life–or just my life choices I’ve generally made to be and think apart from from the consensus of the crowd?

The first thing I learned in Journalism 101 was that the goal of the press is to sell newspapers, and therefore, advertising space. This was 1996. I dropped the class after two weeks. The class made no apologies about teaching the kind of fabled journalism that broke the Watergate scandal. The kind that does hard research, and gets under the skin of comfortable politicians. I am inclined to think that this has always been mostly a myth, with only a few journalists actually doing this kind of work. The current technology has made it paramount to seek out the scandals that make the readers feel better about themselves, and leave behind the scandals that may require them to look in the mirror and own up to their role in them.

And so we see counties reporting in their statistics actual dog attacks, with pit bulls not at the top of the list–but, reporters ferreting out every story of a pit bull going berserk after its thug owner has trained it through a mixture of fear and violence to be a violent creature. You’ll read stories of police officers identifying a dog as a pit bull, only later to see a minor retraction published weeks later that the dog was a golden lab/shepherd mix.

The same sort of thing is happening with the pedophile priests. Those who want to confirm a myth they’ve created in their minds that religion can do nothing but evil have gleefully pounced upon every story and raised it up as complete proof that the Catholic Church, and therefore all religion, is full of evil hypocrites. These same people are often great defenders of our public school system and universities, where it has been shown that the amount, by percentage, of educators who take advantage sexually of minors, is no less and no greater.

These people will conveniently forget how institutional power, sans religion, was abused beyond all imagination in the 20th Century. Collectively, all of the Communist and Fascist dictators who sought to eliminate religion completely from their states, enacted genocide and torture on the magnitude approaching one billion people.

The evil of the Catholic Church is played out and will continue to be played out for the rest of its existence because it is the evil of people who have been handed institutional power over others.

As long ago as the 14th Century with The Decameron, we see that this was the case, but we probably miss the moral of the story that describes how corrupt the church was back then–the old man is converted to Christianity in spite of the Church, not because of it. The power of Jesus was able to come through all of the terrible layers of power-grubbing behavior that had accrued in the centuries since the Church had risen up.

When I see each the Popes from the Iraq war and now the Syrian buildup calling for great peace, I can see that the power of Jesus is still reaching past the institutional corruption and petty strugggles within the Church to hold earthly rule over others. The election of Pope Francis gives me cheer that there may be hope for the Church and humanity yet, that we aren’t completely living in the end times under the awesome hammer of God, who will surely return to smash way all that is evil about each of us.

A man who tries to arrive at truth through pure reason and knowledge

A man who tries to arrive at truth through pure reason and knowledge, without the assistance of his feelings, becomes a lost soul. Feelings, of course, is an ill-fitting word for what we mean and so is emotions. But, that’s all we really have to work with in our lexicon, that everyone understands. I would argue that awareness of emotional intelligence is merely the entry into the battle. I’ll be the first to state that I hate to see overly emotional men. Men who like to hug and cry, or release their inner boys or whatever–that’s not what I’m talking about.

Someone who is really in touch with his feelings has developed a more sophisticated kind of power over them. Unfortunately, this usually amounts to a charismatic speaker that can bring forth his own emotions on cue to manipulate others. I’m not really talking about that, either.

I should probably also meet and dismiss feelings of anger and depression that are brought on by lack of food, sleep or over-stimulation from chemicals. While these certainly need to be addressed and controlled better by anyone who hopes to become a fully realized human, they aren’t the kind of feelings worth getting in touch with to gain a deeper understanding of the Truth.

——-

There is an inherent need in me

There is an inherent need in me to:
1. Have bad things that have happened in my life make sense within the context of some greater good.
2. Have assumptions I make about reality (that I pretend to be truths) be met with positive results that see me developing and growing as a human being.

But, there are days that flow into years where neither of these are achieved optimally or at all.

My goal is to try to break down what is happening with me internally, and try and make sense of why I continue to fail at making connections and going places in life.

1. There is a rather large disconnect between the reality I imagine will unfold before me when I attempt to cross a bridge with other individual, and the reality that actually does unfold.

I’ve tried to severely remove my high expectations of others from the equation, and have come to terms with the fact that most people are pretty much WYSIWYG people. Very few individuals are operating on multiple layers and considering approaches to situations from different angles. This is not to say that people don’t harbor deeper selves. But, they aren’t going to give you access to some area they’ve been mostly afraid to explore themselves. It also really damages your ability to build connectors with others if you are always trying to ferret out some deeper, older soul beneath the one that only talks of football and pop culture.

2. I bring to the table each day an entire host of poorly learned social behaviors that were probably developed around finding the path of least resistance to avoid conflict. Slowly, over time, I’ve learned to attempt longer conversations with others, but I’m often met with the strong sense that I’m wasting their time, and they’d prefer that I get out of their office or cube area–or get out of their lives altogether.

I see people have extended amounts of chitchat and banal conversation with each other on a regular basis, and both parties appear to be enjoying each other’s company. One would think that in this world, there are more people than just my wife who might like to hang out with me. Even my dad seems to be rather bored and dismissive of anything I would like to share with him, often letting the phone go completely silent or interrupting whatever I’m saying to get back to his stories.

I understand that part of me will never connect with people the way sociable people do with each other. I am never going to be a man who likes sports, unless it would appear to be a way to bond with my children, and give them cheer that their father is at least somewhat normal. I prefer classical and jazz music most of the time, and will occasionally dip into blues or world beat sounds. But, anything that has come out in the past twenty years as being “the next big thing” in music has tended to bore me after fifteen minutes of listening to it. It’s not that I don’t think pop and rock musicians aren’t trying to break new ground. It’s just that they are stuck in a rather one-dimensional rut, being confined to songs that can’t last more than three minutes, and an audience that doesn’t stay with them if they change the time signature and/or key of the song. This is all to say that my take on music mirrors pretty closely my take on my culture.

I don’t necessarily believe that we live in an especially bad or evil culture, although there is plenty of propensity for idol worship to become the norm across the board for all of us. It’s just that our culture has become a kind of trance culture. We like things to be predictable, and when we express our individualism we seem to end up homogenizing our aesthetic in spite of attempts to do the exact opposite.

3. I am quick to seize upon an idea that pops into my head as being the best idea or best approach for me to take in life.

Relying upon a process of extensive, objective analysis for why I’m doing something can leave me just as lost as seizing upon something that makes me feel kind of warm and fuzzy, though.

I end up throwing myself wholeheartedly into a pursuit that leaves me feeling a bit high and dry a few months later.

Math is a good, recent example. I feel kind of empty if all I do is sit around studying math.

While I might have been hoping for a peaceful weekend of contemplation

While I might have been hoping for a peaceful weekend of contemplation and reading Thomas Merton, this expectation was soon shattered around 10 AM. The in-laws had decided to come into town around 2 PM and stay until 8 PM. Apparently, this meant that we needed to clean house for the next three hours, and it also meant I was pretty much obliged to wach “the game” with my father-in-law. I supposed I didn’t mind it for the most part, except I’m starting to feel that my extended blocks of free time are more precious as my wife and I actively try to start a family.

So, a Saturday takes on more importance than just being another day to do nothing work-related.

What can I say about the phenomenon known as “the game”? It’s “bread and circuses” for Americans, and everyone seems to know it, but nobody wants to change it. I don’t think people really know how deeply rooted “the game” has become in their lives, because they don’t really have any reference points to work with. In some ways, it’s a wonderful thing to have. Young men who might otherwise be more inclined to shoot each other up in modern tribal rivalries (and I don’t just mean your stereotypical poor, inner city kid, either) are happy to work things out on a green rectangle in front of people who scream at them with the same intensity the Roman citizenry once screamed for the blood of the gladiators.

It’s not sport itself that bothers me, or even the idea that once a week you might choose to watch a gamer or two (although, seriously–one fast-paced football game = almost four hours of your time) — it’s the baffling mentality that says: “nothing else in this world matters except the game.” It’s the way the game has spilled over into the workweek, with more channels now available for someone to obsess about it when there is no game being played–fantasy football being a great example. The participants in this obsession would probably see it as some kind of mental disorder, if all of their friends weren’t obsessed with the same thing.

All of us who can afford a television and cable subscription now have access to almost all of the world’s knowledge in the form of Wikipedia, open courseware, and hundreds of thousands of free e-books–not to mention the “traditional” websites of the past twenty years. If we can afford the gas grill for tailgating, tickets to watch the game in person, and the extra cable sports package, we can surely afford to purchase as many e-books and online classes that cost money as we can find time in the day to consume.

There is not really any excuse at all for us as a culture to be so dumb, thick and obsessed with sports. If we aren’t obsessing over the game, then it’s other fantasies: the lives of celebrities, reality television, new cable channel dramas, and the lives of sick people like Jodi Arias. It’s almost like we are aggressively trying to keep from becoming smarter. We want to believe either that our government is some kind of evil entity that we have no ability whatsoever to change, or that it’s a finely crafted timepiece that runs on its own without any need for the average joe to pay attention to it. When things don’t go to our liking, we blast our opinions out on Facebook, lose a few friends who didn’t agree with everything we had to say, and then return to our football.

It’s pretty easy to blame the lack of new jobs on Obama. But, there are plenty of jobs available for someone with the right skills. A lot of them don’t require anything more than a few months of sitting at our computer doing focused training on a piece of software or reading up on how something like social media or content marketing works. If you spent all of your off time learning Photoshop and HTML/CSS, you would have skills that will be in demand for at least ten more years. You don’t have to get a BS in CS to acquire a skill that companies need right now. You just have to be willing to admit that your factory job is not coming back, and that you have to learn something that might seem a little to “cityfied” for your liking.

The idea that the situation of the economy is someone else’s problem to solve, is endemic to our present mentality. If you can’t find a job doing what you were doing before, then you have an abundance of choices if you’re willing to put in the time to find a new job that pays as well as the previous one. If you are sitting around watching football, munching on cheesy bread and waiting for Obama or Congress to come up with some new initiative that causes your old employer to call you, then you will be waiting for the rest of your life.

If you have a panacea solution for getting all of unemployed America back to work on the salaries they enjoyed as skill-less middle managers at factories and large companies, then everyone would like to hear it. But, you don’t, and neither does any politician.

The basic reality is that the global economy will continue to be unstable and our future as the #1 economic superpower will continue to be uncertain. If you are devoting your weekends to nothing but the game and other forms of entertainment with the expectation that you’ll have the same job waiting for you on Monday, then you are 100% to blame for why you are among the unemployed in 2-5 years. There is no downtime, no free time for us, anymore. Get cracking on something that will keep you sharp and useful, or STFU completely and enjoy watching the game and living on welfare.