Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven

Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven. Some gifts are of the Lord, but they are not intended to be sought first above Him. The beautiful cathedrals and pageantry of Christmas are often the things that were left behind by those who were busy seeking Him. But, somewhere along the way, people began to seek out these things first, and breeze in for a quick service in the chapel as a sideshow on the way to the main event: the gifts, the food, the drink the mirth and play.

Such as it is with life. Your immediate family, church family, community and reasonable abundance are all of the gifts and blessings from a merciful Lord who indulges His children with more than they ever deserved for their wicked ways. You should pray to the Lord for others who are less fortunate than you to soon be blessed with as much or even more than what you have.

I had this insight into how it will be when I die and go to Heaven. True righteousness and Love from the Lord will suddenly be overflowing beyond all comprehension. In my own world, because I am beset by a sense of linear Time, I think that I must continue to view my path toward becoming most righteous and blessed as one of incrementally getting better each passing year. But why should I wait? Of course, I shouldn’t be false to myself or God about the evil things inside of me that still need to be rectified. But, I should seize each moment as an opportunity to unite my heart and mind and soul with that Great Place beyond this one, and yield to it, making myself as righteous and holy for as long as I can. And when I backslide and say or do some sin, I should ask for forgiveness with a sincerely contrite heart and immediately return to attempting to be the most righteous man I can possibly be.

I also needn’t tell others that this is the business I am about. I hardly want to become a publicly vilified hypocrite at some point before I die. However, in my heart and mind and soul, I should always be looking to try to be the best.
The point is that my soul is not a project like a house that needs renovation. While some of its rooms are indeed in a state of disrepair, and it’s easy to see much that works in this analogy, the way that time works for God is different than the way time works down here. By accepting God’s grace to make me holy, righteous and clean again, I do not necessarily have to continue to remove the junk in my soul bit by bit. I can purge it completely. If it returns, then I purge it again with even more willpower and pure desire to know God and do His will.

No person on this earth, except Christ, has ever been perfectly aligned with God while alive on this earth. This will not happen until the new heaven and new earth come to be. But, I can start to see the results of human endeavor when communities did desire to be more aligned with God and when they did not. It is facile to equate the Roman Catholic Church during the Inquisition with the sincerely devout men and women who lived in monasteries and sought to align themselves with the Lord. Those who have wielded power in the Church for their own gain were no more seeking to do the will of God in their hearts than, say, Stalin or Hitler were.

I found it interesting when thinking about the history of Russia during the 20th Century that the monasteries survived but the Czar and his family and the Soviet party did not. The same thing will come to be with ISIS trying to purge other faiths in the Middle East and future atheist governments attempting to wipe out Christians. Yes, they will succeed in purging many of us, and some of us or our children may die as martyrs, but the pockets of truly God-focused communities will persist and rise back up when these secular governments eventually obliterate themselves. Yes, our own U.S. government today is far too focused on money and material gain as it has been for some time. Once so many of the more God-focused, simple men and women who survived the Depression and WWII are gone, our country will implode or be carved up by other economic superpowers that rise up near the end of this century.

This is, of course, only one scenario, and it may very well not happen if a new generation springs up that is less materialistic and more God-focused. But, I’m not holding my breath.

For me, then, it’s not about how much you profess the perfect Trinitarian doctrine as handed down to you by the Pope or Calvin, because you can pay lip service to it all day long and still be aligned in your heart with money, football, power, fame, sex, etc. Who is more aligned with God in their hearts? That is for God to ultimately decide and know.

It isn’t easy to be aligned with God in your heart these days, either. It was probably much easier in the Middle Ages, when the main source of excitement and entertainment was the Church and going there to sing and unite with other members of your community in prayer. The amount of distractions and temptations were far fewer than they are today. There is nothing inherently wrong with computers, the Internet and other modern technologies and media. They serve a purpose just like a mason’s tools or scrivener’s parchment did in the Middle Ages.

It’s hard to describe the feeling that comes over me during the phases of my life when I aligned more with material things than God. There is a certain sense of magic and adoration that comes for certain things of the world. It seems to put your mind into such a state as to believe that this or that thing, if you spend enough time focused on it and studying it–that thing will transform you in some way beyond what simple, steady work can do.

Books, new computers, technologies, new jobs, new relationships, new musical instruments–probably games and travel for a lot of people–even bottles of a new kind of beer–they all come with this promise and potential before they are consumed that they will be the ones to satisfy and make whole the places inside you that are empty, uneven, unwanted and make you unwelcome to others.

Some of these things lose their shine the day you take them out of the package. Their entire power lay in their potential, a potential that you created mostly in your own mind by contemplating a future in which you are transformed into a somebody far greater than the somebody you are today.

Sometimes, you can build up a “shine” simply by investing a lot of hope and dreams into an imaginary workout or writing schedule that you will begin enacting in the coming week or year. All of the glory, power and majesty that you can muster are but weak imitations of what the Lord can deliver. They are simply glimpses into the Greatness that is the Lord, and little guideposts along the way, that if used correctly, would allow more and more of you to be aligned with God.

But, even when you’ve made up your mind to align yourself completely with God at all times, you can find yourself failing miserably. Suddenly, you are more interested in scouring the Internet for new books about God–each one surely being that perfect book that will help you unlock a greatness from your own heart and place you forever more on the right path of God’s Will. You won’t spend a minute unhappy after you read that perfect book and sleep a perfect sleep.

The problems with this kind of thinking are many, but it kind of just creeps up on you throughout the week. Instead of investing more time praying directly to God and contemplating His Greatness, and attempting to contemplate how your own heart, mind and soul can be filled with it, without the help of anything other than the Bible, you invest more and more time reading reviews of books on Amazon and checking their page counts, for the books under 300 pages surely can’t offer enough in the way of a power to utterly transform you.

It’s easy to imagine the rest of the world

It’s easy to imagine the rest of the world snubbing you and disliking you when they meet you. It’s much harder to imagine people wanting to be your friend. When someone does make overtures to friendship, you aren’t sure what to do, because it’s been some time since you made any friends.

It is undeniable that you possess some inherent quality that scares people away. Even when you are at your most sincere about wanting only to get to know the other person better, and possibly make a new friend, you are met with suspicious eyes, guarded looks and gestures that indicate the other person wants to get away from you.

I woke up this morning craving a real autumn

I woke up this morning craving a real autumn like I don’t remember craving one since I moved down here. For most of the past fifteen years, I’ve delighted in the extended summer I receive each year living in Central Texas, and don’t miss the autumn chill and leaves at all. But this year, something was different. Going into the latter part of October with the highs still in the 90s just seemed pathetic and ridiculous. I even started romanticizing walking through the snow, and seeing a white Christmas.

I started to think about it a little more, and then began doing some math in my head. My dad moved us from Colorado to Missouri when I was six and a half years old. I moved from Missouri to Texas when I had just turned twenty-three, right out of college. Sixteen and a half years in Missouri. I am now thirty-nine and a half years of age, which means, of course, sixteen and a half years lived in Texas. Sometime soon, perhaps this morning, I will be waking up to the fact that I have lived in Texas longer than any other state.

The funny thing about Texas and Texans, though, is that even after I pass this mark of longevity for being dedicated to one state, I still won’t be a Texan. I will never be a Texan to Texans. On the other hand, my son, who was born here last year, will be a lifelong Texan to Texans. If I decided to pack us up and move us to Seattle next month, and L lived there for most of his formative years, and returned to Texas after college, he would arrive in Texas as a fully-fledged, certified Texan. If we decided to stay here the rest of our lives, I will never be a Texan to other Texans. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, of course, I became a Texan the day I stopped being a Missourian–and I am as every bit a Texan as, say, George W. Bush.

This is all a roundabout way of stating how much I miss MY home, where people accept without any sort of native qualification that I am wholly of that place. My home is, of course, not Texas, nor is it Missouri, or Colorado. I could probably move back to Colorado, and loudly proclaim to Coloradans how I was born there, that I am in fact, a native son of that state. But, it would require a fair amount of work. From what I’ve heard, Coloradans value their state nativity almost as much as Texans do, but would be highly skeptical of a man who chose to live in Texas for so long during his adult life.

Maybe I am completely full of shit, and nobody really gives a shit one way or the other. Perhaps I am overly sensitive to the loud clamoring of a few, pompous individuals who color my impression of the entire people they claim to represent.

I do know that Texas has never felt like home to me. I’ve tried it on in several times as a potential home, but it never took. Austin always felt too desperate to prove just how cool it was to other cities that were full of young, liberal and creative people, and the rest of Texas seems to be full of men trying desperately to prove they are every bit the men their grandfathers were, or more so, with the purchase of oversize pickup trucks, endless obsession with football, and no-compromise Bircher politics.

I am not completely sure that the home I am looking for is here on earth. I wouldn’t be shocked if I discovered all of the cities I’ve loved visiting as a tourist became every bit as oppressive and full of uninspired boors were I to take up residence in them. This naturally sends me into a fair amount of soul searching, as I try to discern whether God has a “best fit” place for me here on earth, or if any place will do, because all are full of imperfect people, culture and weather when compared to the perfect home of heaven.

I often romanticize certain places here on earth. The monastery, as I’ve read about it from Thomas Merton and glimpsed it in YouTube documentaries, is one of those places. Being a married father of a small son, I readily see that the monastery as it generally appears in Western culture, is not a place I can traipse off to for some extended period of time. The more I read about it though, like in books by authors like Kathleen Norris and articles online about the new monastics, the more I can see that there are plenty of people trying to access or create living spaces with many of the desirable qualities of the monastery.

The artist communes and socialist farms I read about as a younger man always seemed to end with a forceful personality becoming very manipulative to the rest of the group (if not an outright cult figure) until it dissolved, or the community simply never learned to function in a coherent sort of way, because nobody wanted to impose order or structure upon anyone else. These places also seemed to be too inwardly focused most of the time. They were a means of young people to escape responsibility and pretend to be immortal and star-kissed.

Perhaps some of the houses created by Dorothy Day start to resemble more what I would envision as being healthy communities that exist as alternatives to an “every man for himself” kind of world. Based on my limited exposure to these houses through her diary, I get the impression that these houses also lacked a fair amount of order and ground rules, which may have been for the best in relation to what the Catholic Worker Movement was trying to accomplish, but these houses don’t seem like places where contemplation and peace reigned most of the time.

Alcohol seems to be the primary factor in disrupting what otherwise might be an ordered communal life. As much as I enjoy it, I know full well the number it can do on me, and I’ve taken to imbibing it less and less. If I were to start my own sort of communal farm or house, I would be much inclined to severely limit the consumption of alcohol to one day a week, or even less.

I suppose the first thing I need to do is begin with some definitions about what I hope to accomplish as I move toward becoming a seminarian.

I very much would like to create or join a community of people who are grounded in a few, agreed-upon tenets of faith — say, the Apostle’s Creed, for example — but, are also very much full of questions, curiosity, doubt, wonder, and plenty of willingness to admit they may be wrong about many things they claim as Truth. This is probably not a very easy thing to find or make. It would seem that most Christian discussions tend toward either someone becoming very liberal in their interpretation of the Bible to the point that pretty much anything goes, or they are ready to defend to the death what they hold to be the correct and only interpretation of the Bible.

For me, I think I get more and more conservative the older I get. I am much more likely to refuse to allow for other interpretations of scripture today than I was even a year ago. However, I don’t think I could ever find myself becoming a hardcore Orthodox or Fundamentalist preacher, simply because the Bible “works” and “flows” best for me when it is approached as a living word of God and not a dead artifact. Also, I am happier when I can take a step back and proclaim that all men are changing and inferior to God, who is unchanging and perfect. And this means that no matter how inerrant a man may think he is, he is going to err many times before he dies when he attempts to correctly interpret the Word of God.

Furthermore, today’s so-called fundamentalist would probably be deemed far too liberal and permissive by a mainstream preacher from a hundred years ago. The kinds of lifestyle, music, movies, television most fundamentalist preachers permit their children to have today would shock most of our great grandparents. But on the other hand, the mainstream preacher who proclaimed that “scripture is inerrant” a hundred years ago was likely to permit a lot of racial persecution and look the other way (or even use scripture to justify it) when presented with stories of child labor, poor factory conditions for all workers, and spousal abuse and other horrors of the time.

This is where discussions of Jesus being a Liberal or Conservative completely fall apart. Jesus himself preached that he didn’t come to change the Law but to fulfill it. However, even in Jesus’ time, animal sacrifice for atonement had much abated and personal or self sacrifice was emphasized. Overall, Jesus spoke about the importance of seeing sin as being something of the heart to be ferreted out and removed, rather than a rigid set of physical activities to be avoided.