A spiritual purge

A spiritual purge. An utter cleanse of all the crud. A renewal. A new beginning. A new man. Born again, but born again with entirely new systems of approaching reality, negotiating social situations and defending moral/truth views.

All of the old grudges gone. Being as sharp as a serpent for those who would take advantage of me, but as innocent as a dove in how I respond to their intentions. Knowing clearly when someone has good/bad/neutral intentions at heart.

Freedom from fear of death and punishment in the afterlife. A mad desire to know all that is good about God, the angels, Jesus, the Spirit, the saints, and that can be anything that is spiritual and good. No fear of good or evil, but merely a re-focusing, re-alignment, constant re-orientation to the moral north. Evil is easily detected and avoided. Things that are meant to be purged, but aren’t necessarily good or evil are purged.

Love, yes, for sure, but only when it is without sentimental baggage, self-interest baggage, human-defined (especially of the cultural here and now) baggage.

Don’t let go of Jesus, but do let go of beating up on yourself and others when you and they aren’t keeping close to Jesus. Those who would worship Allah, Buddah, Khna, animal spirits, etc. can be met and loved on commong ground without any sense of a crusade. Beware of anyone who is carrying around a crusade with them–even, and perhaps especially, atheists. Crusaders might seem harmless enough–they just want to have a conversation–but their intentions can be seen clearly in good time. Conversion happens on an individual level, due to great shifts in one’s perspective of reality, and it is between the individual and God. True conversion doesn’t take place most of the time after someone has been proselytized, if ever. Those who are highly suspicious and averse to proselytization are often carrying around their own agendas and crusades.

The New York Dream is what it is. It doesn’t cease. It lives on in you, and you should be open to any particular opportunities that may come up while in school to go back to NYC, even to live, study and work there. Stop trying to purge it and resign yourself to life in Texas, only to find the NY Dream persisting and you being unhappy, especially on those Sunday mornings when nostalgia and what could have been hit you hard.

Assume you are not being understood when you speak. Assume that you do not speak with great clarity, both in articulating concepts and enunciating words. Assume that people think you are mumbling. Assume that you are the one scowling, and have set off the adverse chain of sharpening countenances poorly. Assume that surprises are still to come, both good and bad, but especially good.

Accept that God might have many good things in store for you that align with your own dreams. Your dreams may not be so far off from God’s will, after all. Begin to see God as a partner and a friend, instead of an angry, distant father who never notices when you do something good and always pounces on you when you do something bad. God the Father is not your earthly father. If you continue to go through life expecting the worst while only hoping for the best, then the worst will continue to happen as much as the best.

Be new like a new morning in summer before everything gets too hot. Be calm, and listen. Be loving, be attentive, be happy and grateful for what is good. Be kind to yourself, stop beating up on yourself. Stop beating up on others. The world of everyone coming at you with malicious intentions is mostly in your head and magnified by an unwillingness to create a new world.

Know that you were created and formed as you are for a reason. Once you can truly put aside anything about you that might still smack of a desire to please others, you can discover yourself in your honest glory. You can love yourself, then love others as you love yourself. You can’t live out this commandment if you don’t know who you are and you still hate yourself.

Always be open and ready to accept something unexpected. You never know when you will suddenly meet people who are ready to help make your dreams happen. Be open to gracious people who do not want or need to be paid back penny for penny. Be, of course, the gracious person who doesn’t need to be paid back as much as you can.

This business of trying your damnedest to be and become your genuine self while remaining open to things that could change you in a good way–it is tricky and you will need to continually re-examine yourself and where you are going. But, you can’t become overly analytical in moments of sublimity, and you must remain steadfast and grounded in moments of the terrible and the mundane.

Don’t approach this with a foolish notion that you know exactly how to make it work. You might come up with a strategy that appears to be keeping you sane, but it might not be the best strategy or even a fair one. Becoming someone much better than who you have been is a nice goal, but if it is too narrowly defined, you will lose your sanity always kicking against a universe that is trying to pull you this way and that. If it is too vaguely defined, you will be pulled this way and that by the universe without ever reaching your goal.

Start with the basics. You are not the nicest person anyone has ever met. Assume that you are scowling and need to smile more. Assume that you haven’t done enough to engage someone, and try to engage them more in conversation that isn’t trivial. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t think of anything to say, that just makes everything worse–you end up making conversation for its own sake, and confusing the other person–or, they start to like something about you that isn’t really you.

You are not interested in having sex with other people, but women (and some men) are going to assume that by default you secretly want to sleep with them if you chat with them in any way that isn’t trivial, regardless of the ring on your finger. Remind yourself that you are a pastor-in-training, and conduct yourself as such. This should be a go-to for any social situation, especially the ones where people piss you off.

Assume that you are not doing enough to make friends, and ask God for suggestions on how to find the right thing to say to connect with more people in an honest, wholesome way. You must assume that you haven’t done enough up to this point in your life, but you should never give up in believing that things will change. Things can and they will change. You will make plenty of friends, some close, some not as much. You will build a network of relationships. The Lord will help steer you in the right direction. Count on it. Thank Him for it.

Make sure that you remember at all times that the world is not entirely your random collection of so-called friends on Facebook. Likewise, the world won’t just be the people you befriend at seminary. The world won’t just be people who agree with you politically and religously, and the world will become people who live outside of your immediate physical area. If you encounter a person in a news story or on a website or blog that you’d like to reach out to for an honest, wholesome reason, then ask God for what to say to do it.

Don’t deny the great sadness, but don’t wallow in it, either. Don’t deny yourself joy and euphoria, but don’t lose yourself in it, either. Don’t deny yourself when you are mad at somebody, but give your anger over to God and pray furiously for Him to give you patience and guidance to resolve your anger.

The mundane, the accedia, the boredom, the noonday demon, etc.–that’s what always takes you by surprise. Being full of words to write down, things to do, people to contact–that may seem like a lot of stressful hurdles and mountains. But, the mundane, the time of day when you need to be watching your son and it is too hot outside to do anything, or you need to be washing dishes or some other chore–such a time is when you really start to fall apart and doubt such a thing as a path to be on, a way of being and becoming someone greater than who you presently are. The mundane is death valley, a place where time stops.

As such, you can almost always be sure to have your prayers ready to go for when you are in a difficult situation that has you terrified or angry or confused, but prayer never seems quite enough when you are faced with the mundane. The mundane is where you will finally find God in His most authentic form. Reality unvarnished with hopes and dreams of future trips to museums and cities. Reality naked and plain without all of the plans and activities of the day. Reality that is asking you to simply get done the things you need to get done. Reality that says maybe you should stop seeing a path to God as some fairy tale and start seeing it as the gift of extra time that it really is. Most people throughout history have not been given a chance to start things over at 40–40 is when they were getting ready to die.

You are incredibly impatient. You are impatient for L to grow up a little bit so he is talking and potty-trained. You are impatient to be out in the world at a dream church preaching as an associate pastor and learning the ropes to one day be a senior pastor. You are impatient for that time and place when you live in the great little community with your family and everyone knows you and you do Little League and Scouts with L, and you don’t feel like an outsider. You are impatient to be traveling someplace grand again. You are impatient for more profound insights to come your way, and for you yourself to change and lose all of the things about yourself that you hate. You are impatient to be out of Waco and down in Austin back in school. You are impatient to see this or that happen, because you have the false notion that there will be the perfect moment in time that stands still while you walk a thousand beaches and city streets around the world with your wife and kids or just your wife after retiring.

Remember that you will look back twenty years from now wistfully on all of the fun times you had with L and possibly child #2, and you will have some remorse that the times are gone, and your kids are adults or almost adults, off to live out their own lives. You will be sad that your second career is now mostly over, and that soon you will be starting to consider retirement and how you will stay afloat financially for the rest of your life. You will be full of many aches, pains, ailments that you never had in your forties, and you will not find the post-retirement travels nearly as rewarding as you’d hoped they would be, what with no kids along to share the experiences and your senses and movements greatly diminished. Perhaps L will grow apart from you–maybe not in any openly hostile way, but in a way that makes the two of you not have much to say to each other when you do see him.

There is so much that you will lose and wish you could get back, just because life is that way, and impatience to get on to the next thing is only going to make the loss that much worse. Be patient. Trust in God. Put your faith in Jesus. Call upon the Holy Spirit to fill you with insight and love, and to push out the bad stuff that needs purging. Pray for others. Ask others to pray for you. Stay grounded in your faith of choice, but remain open to the universe that functions in ways no mortal can even imagine.

Will magic ever come back?

Will magic ever come back? Will days of believing that the air was infused with endless potential ever be the days I call my own again? I try to scan my inner light for anything at all about the future, and I find that there is no revelation, no clues, no angels imparting glimpses of hope. I keep seeing an angry God, hellbent on destroying us all for not loving His son enough, or maybe destroying most of us who just weren’t predestined to spend eternity someplace nice.

All I can see of the future are more angry men like Donald Trump rising up and destroying good things. The norm being much more like a perpetual WWII than a perpetual happy 1990s. If I do end up returning in another human body to this world, all I can see is horror for whatever man or woman I might become. The men are bred to fight and kill, the women are bred to breed and die.

My faith in God waxes and wanes, and right now it is waning like it were almost non-existent. My faith in my fellow man is even less. I suppose that’s why I don’t understand and could never be a humanist atheist. I think of God as being an angry old man who couldn’t care less about the souls that spawn forth under his own system, and I think of human beings as being one step above being devils and demons. The Enlightenment was full of men who thought that men were one step away from angels, and history has proven them true, except the angels those Enlightenment men had in mind weren’t the right ones.

Lord only knows I can’t post this kind of thinking on a blog under my name as I move closer toward seminary and become a good, “plays it safe” pastor–meek, mild, slow to wrath and quick to forgive. I need to be a pastor so I can have an excuse for why I take it and and keep taking it without ever fighting back. No longer a pushover but a man of God, is he, is what they will say of me.

The best and wisest and most well-intentioned of men seem to me to be lost souls–sucked up in love of mammon, sports, guns, and an idolized notion of Country and Constitution that has taken the place of any God. But, I am not so certain that God doesn’t love these men a lot more than He loves me. I think a warring, raping, murderous man, ready to exact revenge on anyone and everyone, and ready to kill and die so he can keep around weapons used solely for killing–I think that sort of man isn’t that different from the God of the Old Testament, and the God of the New isn’t really that much nicer once you strip away Paul and Jesus on a good day.

Matthew 10:34Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.…

Luke 12:51
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but division.

Revelation 6:4
Then another horse went forth. It was bright red, and its rider was granted permission to take peace from the earth and to make men slay one another. And he was given a great sword.

I am not sure what these men will get from God–but it is clear that they are needed as much as we disciples are needed. Of course, we are not to be like that at all, if we are true disciples…

Be ye harmless as doves. Not only, do nobody any hurt, but bear nobody any ill-will.

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

27But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic as well.…

Love your neighbor as yourself.

This is hard business. I have never met a single Christian who can rightly claim to follow these commandments perfectly. Most of them will defend their right to bear arms, and believe they are completely on the side of right and good by going to other countries to kill people who may or may not have had anything to do with flying planes into buildings they sort of call their own (when they aren’t claiming that NYC got what it deserved because of its permissiveness of homosexuality).

I am not trying to be a difficult person or controversial or anything, but I honestly cannot see any convincing argument for Christians to own guns and/or participate in warfare. In fact, it would seem that Jesus’ instructions and our own faith would require us to die at the hands of anyone who persecutes us before we defend ourselves. Christian apologists for gun ownership appear to have taken very thin scriptural examples extremely out of context and ignored the obvious teachings of Jesus that prefer the poor and abhor violence of any kind. Yes, there is certainly a place for violent men in this imperfect world, but not for disciples of Christ.

I also am unable to get to any sensible understanding of a moral atheism. I can believe that some will be moral without God. Theirs is a morality based upon what they feel is the right thing to do, but not on something they can prove to be a universal truth for all mankind anymore than I can prove that God can exist. A person who is certain they will receive no greater retribution for their violence against others might very well be inclined to be nice to people only as long as it is convenient for them. I would think this would be the norm for anyone who wishes to merely perpetuate their DNA. If I am convinced that God doesn’t exist, and perpetuating MY DNA is the most important thing, my mission in life would be to impregnate as many women as possible before I die. Of course, no atheist would want to claim such a person as one of their own, and so they tend to argue for morals based on the fact that other humanists have made good arguments for morals. All the while, I think they do indeed have good consciences that are due to more than simply perpetuating the species or their own lives or families, as they themselves would attest–and they might strive to find a rational means to argue for why their good consciences are by default universal in humanity sans God, but their arguments aren’t convincing and they certainly don’t PROVE the existence of a universal morality sans God anymore than I can prove the existence of God. We know what we know and love who we love because of experiences first, and then we rationalize why we come to believe what we believe later.

I will never be convinced that humanity can be good, generation after generation, without a call to some form of SOMETHING that is bigger than merely what we all can agree that we experience collectively. That something, for me, is God, and I am not the least bit ashamed to state that my God has all of the best parts of many religions, and I am most at home worshiping this God of mind under a Christian system, albeit one that has inevitably changed as people have changed. I for one do not thing that the God of fundamentalists in 1916 is the same God of fundamentalists today, much less the God of mainline, liberal Protestants and Catholics. I don’t believe that humanity can be good everywhere all the time without God, because I don’t believe that all people see things the way an atheist humanist does and can. The atheist humanist has a well-formed conscience from a particular social milieu that was informed, whether they want to admit it or not, from religious morality. That individual’s grandchildren, assuming they continue to grow up in increasingly non-theistic societies, may or may not have the ability to develop a similarly well-formed conscience. The morality, drives and vicissitudes of any human being are formed mostly by experience, below the surface, from emotional encounters of loving and non-loving people, from peer pressure, from psychical manipulation through advertisers and marketers, etc.–and yet so many so-called enlightened atheists who should know better think that the bulk of humanity would be capable of simply cutting all of that adrift and working off of a purely rational and scientific mode of thinking and being. Such expectations of others, when one probably hasn’t realized them either, are absurd to say the least.

In short, humanity will need God for a long time to come, because we are not nearly as evolved in our thinking as atheists would like to think we are.

Pray for me. I am busy praying for you.

Pray for me. I am busy praying for you. I am praying for you who mistreated me. This is something new. I used to fantasize about killing you, now I pray for you. Maybe it won’t change the world, but it is changing me.

I can’t go five minutes being around a new person or new people without finding so many ways in which I am being misunderstood and mistreated. People default to trying to figure out the power dynamics and assuming their appropriate roles. People often seem to see me as an easy target to lord themselves over, or perhaps an easy foe to overcome to make themselves feel better. I am praying for all of the ones I am sure to meet in the near future, as well as the ones I’ve known in the recent and distant past.

In my dreams I am trying to go back into my past and fix things and it is like I am trolling through a million alternate universes. I have this sinking feeling that if I were to go deep enough, my waking, physical body would die and my soul would indeed transmigrate to some reality that might somewhat resemble the one I used to live in. Except unless I had God has a guide, I would inevitably continue to spin through chaos, leaping from world to world, and most worlds and alternate universes would be hells compared to this one.

Hell in some ways may not seem to be as scary as the Church used to make it out to be, now that we’ve had Eastern religions give us the possibility that it isn’t completely absolute, but a timeless world outside of this one where we are recycled, which is its own kind of hell. But, perhaps hell is even more pernicious and terrifying than anything any priests and poets, even Dante and Milton, ever could have imagined.

My own special hell isn’t other people, but this life of endless encounters with people who don’t ever quite connect with me completely. Nobody I once knew is sending me Christmas cards and wondering how I am doing, because nobody I once knew ever got to know the real me. Now that I am letting the real me come forth in ever greater amounts, I can see just how hard it will be for me to ever connect with people in such a way that will make them want to come by my house for barbecue and beer and the game on a Sunday after Church.

I am not even that weird or strange. If you’ve bothered to read much of what I’ve written in the past several years, you can see just how boring and mundane I am. If anything, I would be the perfect friend because I am easy and agreeable to whatever people want to do as long as it isn’t sacrificing goats and dancing in a pentagram form late at night.

I am sitting here on the first morning of summer

I am sitting here on the first morning of summer after a long walk up and down the trail along the Brazos. The sun wasn’t too hot yet when we left, but it was getting there. A summer morning can seem like the perfect thing just about anywhere when you are mostly disengaged from thoughts about responsible things. A summer morning hearkens back the early days of summer after a brutal school year where I was certain that this would be the summer I built up my muscles and got tanned instead of burned, returning to school a perfect jock ready with fists and retorts to ward of any would be bullies.

One such summer fell after the seventh grade, which was probably the single worst year for me in terms of getting kicked around by adolescence. Perhaps I deserved some of the bullying I’d received, since I’d dished out much bullying upon a friend the summer before, but I was so hollowed out by the end of the year, so beaten down by all of the changed people who used to be at least nice to me. An especially large old oak tree had been felled by lightning during the spring storms, and was to be the centerpiece of my massive get-in-shape summer program. Carrying my little boombox out to the tree with only a handheld hacksaw and the Tom Petty tapes I’d recorded late at night when the radio played full albums, I began at the very top of the tree where the thinner branches were.
Remarkably, I was able to cut up most of the tree using only the handsaw. It was only the thickest part of the tree at its base that I left to my dad to cut up with the chainsaw. However, I couldn’t seem to keep up with my other initiatives around running, walking the dog, working out with tiny barbells and using my dad’s rowing machine. I was still caught up in a lingering childhood obsession with baseball, and felt the need to play little league, only to discover that at least a few of the kids who’d picked on me during the school year were on my team. Of course, I was terrible, I’d seemed to have gotten worse with each passing year I played baseball.

I suppose that my lackluster performance in little league, coupled with a scout camp trip filled with more guys who seemed ready to bully me, were enough to leave me mostly uninterested in doing anything but watching TV and reading books the rest of the summer. Or, maybe I didn’t need anything at all to cause me to give up my workout program. It was easy enough by July 4th to completely forget that the same bullies and angry teachers and other awfulness would be waiting for me in less than two months.

Summers stopped meaning much of anything after the first summer down here in Texas–the first summer after I graduated from college (I had to take catchup classes all summer after most of my classmates had graduated, so the first summer in Austin was my first post-college summer). That was the summer of 1999. My little brother Hersch had died only a few months before. I was incredibly excited about getting to start over a brand new life with a new girlfriend in a new town, but I was also chock full of guilt over abandoning my parents in Missouri in their grief, and general guilt over having gotten to live while Hersch died.

Then, during the summer of 2000, I think the reality of being an adult started to really set in. The fact that there were no lengthy breaks might seem to be a superficial thing that we all just resign ourselves to and learn to live with. Except, summers with their extended time away from school did provide something that I wouldn’t realize until much later is very helpful and important to my renewal and ability to see life as meaning something in terms of progressing along toward a next stage.

All of that to say that after 1999, life just seemed to kind of drag on without any hard, clearly defined next steps. Sure, I kept trying to learn more at my job and grow and get better and find new work elsewhere. Yes, I was dedicated to finding someone to spend the rest of my life with, and saw marriage and children as obvious next steps. But, those were all things I was expected to find and figure out for myself, where school was always just put in front of me by parents and teachers. The safe feeling of knowing that I was going to be progressing to a definable stage at a certain date was something I had so much taken for granted.

I think that for awhile I didn’t really believe I needed that safe feeling anymore. I was glad that no one was telling me it was time to go back to school, and I could stop and start any program of self improvement any time I wanted to. Maybe if I had joined the Army I would have gotten some of what I was missing, but that inclination had mostly been removed through parents telling me I most definitely would NOT join the army, and then me being convinced I was more of an artsy, creative type. Both my unexamined assumptions about myself and my willingness to let my parents decide my future to some degree were actions I would later come to question more thoroughly, if not outright regret.

As I prepare to return to school this fall, summer has suddenly started to mean something again, in an unexpected way. This summer will be the last summer I am “off” as I dive into school, where I will be taking classes most summers for the next three-four years to come. But, even though I will be attending summer school, I will have before me similar stops and starts around summer that I did the last time I was in school.

Only a mere seventeen years have passed since the summer of 1999. Much of the time, it is quite easy for me to compress these seventeen years into a few highlights (and lowlights) and not really believe that seventeen years have actually passed since I moved down here to Texas. Other than more lines on my face, white hair and less hair on top, I can’t really see myself as having changed that much. Yes, I’ve gotten wiser about a few things, but I don’t really have any “great and wise adult” feeling. I see other men and women out being very much adult-like and responsible, and I am always astounded to remember many of them are younger than me. Sometimes “adult-like” is simply the tenor of someone’s voice–a voice that sounds like a real grown-up, while the voice in my head and coming out of my mouth seems to be that of a twenty-year-old. Or, it is just a sense that someone has experienced so many more things–perhaps with the military, work, being a parent, etc.–than I have or ever will.

In fact, I am only really reminded that seventeen years have passed when I look hard in the mirror or am reminded that I am indeed 40 years old and not in my twenties. Time on the inside just never really synced itself with time on the outside.

How do I stop finding myself getting away from God?

How do I stop finding myself getting away from God?
How do I keep close to God?

Nothing good ever comes from getting caught up in a flurry of activities and thoughts while forgetting to pray and read the Bible. Yet, I do it time and again. It’s almost like breathing. I have to exhale because I have converted the good oxygen into carbon dioxide. But then, I forget to inhale. So, I start to try to gasp for air like a fish out of water or a person under water. And then, there God is, to put me, the fish, back into the water.

One of the most prevalent things that comes forth when I am no longer with God, is the anxiety. Anxiety primarily about the future and how things will turn out, and am I doing everything I need to be doing to prevent something good from escaping me? Shouldn’t I be up attacking a to-do list instead of sitting here writing, and listening for God as I write?

It’s not like I am going off an utter deep end away from God anymore like I used to. I am not waking up months later from a hundred benders and a dozen creditors knocking on my door. It’s more subtle than that, but perhaps in some ways more insidious, because I am fooling myself into thinking that I can put God aside just a tiny bit while I get some important things done.

I always feel better when I realign myself with God. I mean, of course, my own personal relationship with Jesus, and the desire to drink from the deep well of life. I begin to perceive again a kind of renewal, a profound satisfaction colored by something more than mere progress.

There is this increasing understanding of how I can begin to align my will with God’s in such a way where the two are not at odds with each other. God doesn’t want me to be completely miserable doing something I’d rather not do. And, the fact of the matter is, so many of my short-term, instant-gratification choices really aren’t things that have made me happy in any measurable way. How many vacations have I forfeited due to all of the booze and dining out (and all of the interest paid on the credit cards that took the hit for these activities)? It has never really been something I want to think about, but the important thing to understand is that God may not be actively trying to prevent me from living abroad or living in a place like NYC, but I am the one who is doing the preventing.

Beyond this, I may also be coming up with endless declarations of how it is utterly impossible due to this or that obvious reality. There is, of course, a difference between living in a fantasy world all the time and dreaming of something bigger while full of faith that God will bring about a way to make it happen. After all, a year ago I was very skeptical about how this whole seminary thing would actually work. I am still walking around with some disbelief–I am suppressing scenarios of getting down to Austin and discovering that all evidence of being accepted at APTS has been lost, or someone sent them a letter strongly recommending not to admit me, or some other thing comes up that prevents it from happening.

All of that kind of thinking is what inevitably causes me to end up thinking and doing only the ordinary. There is nothing wrong with the ordinary for a little while. The ordinary is an excellent cure for ungrounded fantasies that have no chance of becoming reality. But, the ordinary is the place where the bulk of humanity remains. The ones who achieve greater things, and leave behind lives that are more interesting stories are those who are always seeking something beyond the ordinary.

Can I see presently how I could possibly get from seminary to NYC in five years? Of course not. I don’t even see, with the way our finances will be, how we could even spend two nights there over a weekend. Do I stop belieiving that it could happen? I suppose I could, but I also know that I have pocketed this dream many more times than I can count, and yet it always resurfaces.

When I wake up in September of this year on the first morning of classes

When I wake up in September of this year on the first morning of classes, it will be my first attempt to go back to school in seven years, and my first serious, dedicated attempt since I graduated from the University of Missouri almost twenty years ago. I say “serious, dedicated” because I have asked my wife to quit her job and am selling our house to move down to Austin with our little son. Unlike my pursuit of fantasies in 2009 where I thought I could become a superhero by taking some health classes and becoming an EMT, I am putting everything into this. I have already quit my job–having stayed at home with L for almost a year. I am not keeping one foot in the tech world or sales and marketing profession. I have that as a fallback, for sure, but things will have gone incredibly wrong for us financially for me to find myself working full-time pushing buttons to send out emails for people who think mass email marketing is still a terrific medium.

 

Recently, I pulled up a few random songs that I used to like on YouTube, one of them being the Gin Blossoms’ Hey Jealousy. I probably saw the video a million times when I was in college, but I honestly don’t remember ever watching the video before. I always pictured the artists being a bunch of super-sensitive artsy types, and their music all sounds like a real weepy guy who gets used by women a lot because he’s too sensitive to speak up for himself. I had kind of hoped when I was in high school that I would get to live out the songs on the Gin Blossoms album and be that guy, but I was too socially retarded to even be some kind of emo type. The video is surprisingly uninspired and uninteresting, which is probably why I dismissed it. I couldn’t for the life of me believe that the lead singer would be grinning and goofing off in their pad while smiling at fish and generally being a good sport about having to lip synch the words he’d already sung a thousand times. His haircut was pure early-mid nineties alternative hair–which has more or less come back in the form of more cleanly shaven sides and back with a man bun to hold things in place. It is more or less the same hairstyle of 80s skater punks and 70s folk rockers like James Taylor and all the men with one hit who wanted to be James Taylor.

 

All of this to say that my memories of the emotions wrought by the Gin Blossoms popped up–the album came out during the summer after my junior year in high school, and I couldn’t wait at all to get to college to start living the cool life of the laid back dude who plays in an indie band but also does college like Pauly Shore and John Belushi as well.

 

It seems weird that I am now living out my last year of an era of life that could be described as a kind of school of life, where I had to learn lessons about playing nice with others and getting burned by others and pocketing so many insults to avoid blowing up in an unseemly way. The school of life outside of the academic world is one that I think has its limits as to how much you can learn about yourself and grow. You can wake up five years after some especially insightful period in life and find yourself starting over again, doing many of the same things you were doing before, and feeling like you’ve gotten absolutely nowhere.

 

Then again, maybe it’s just me. It has been rather easy and comfortable to seek out the feeling of turning over a new leaf and starting a healthier, more pro-active and goal-oriented life only to realize that you are simply caught up in always being on the cusp of becoming somebody bigger and better. Diving into things without reflection and revisiting original purposes isn’t healthy, but neither is endlessly writing and thinking about the point at which you are beginning a new path.

 

What I want to get out of my trip up to Missouri is a definite sense of perspective–for how much I have probably changed even since I went there last some eleven years ago. But, I don’t want to get caught up in the mere mental process of wistfully reflecting on what might have been and what has passed. I want to hopefully bring forth some memories that have been forgotten–good ones, and most of the good ones were of me being alone.

 

The best memories of college were of time spent by myself, away from friends and so-called friends but also all of the loneliness and isolation I felt during classes, though I might have been elated at the fact that I was on my own and away from home for the first time learning things that were sometimes quite interesting.

 

The years of moving like a ghost through places have mostly gone away, now that I am married and have a little boy. There is always the temptation to declare this way of being to be an awful one, clear evidence that I have failed in many ways to connect with others. For sure, the areas I need to so desperately improve myself are not so much academic, intellectual or even spiritual, but in the ways in which I attempt to connect with people beyond the superficial. However, I can’t completely declare the times spent in solitude to be a wash. I didn’t discover what a latte was, for instance, with others. I had to decide for myself that I needed to stop waiting for that time my close friend might be interested in going to a coffee shop instead of a bar and just go. I also made new friends, at least for a little while, when I had to break away from my old friends to get a job at McDonald’s to pay for a DWI. Unfortunately, and much to my regret, I chose not to keep in touch with any of them after I quit working there, and I remember none of their last names–they are probably gone forever unless I win the lottery or something.

 

There were the trips down to the Katy trail on the bike my landlord gave me, the nights walking through campus and downtown Columbia during a break when the only sound was a lone music student practicing piano from an open window. Every spring semester came with a sense of renewal that I would in fact end up connecting with someone. Every fall semester was much the same, it was like a new beginning. It was more than just finding a girlfriend, all though that was always hopelessly pressing upon me. I wanted to find a gang of friends who were comfortable doing things other than drinking, getting high, trashing musical instruments and watching videos. I wanted to go camping and go on road trips and maybe even experience a spring break as a normal college student.

 

I knew something inside me wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t know how to fix it. Sometimes, people would insinuate that I was gay, but I knew in my heart of hearts that wasn’t it. Maybe I had Asperger’s undiagnosed, or perhaps I was just socially an infant from not really participating that much in anything in middle and high school. I knew I had expectations from my endless and abundant fantasies spawned by an overactive imagination–expectations that would never be realistically met by actual people. And yet, actual people terrified me, and I couldn’t process how to handle the unexpected.

 

It has taken me perhaps these entire forty years to finally realize that the norm with people is the unexpected and generally speaking, any social group you get involved with will have people in it that don’t like you and you probably won’t care for them much, either. It goes beyond different politics and religous beliefs. Some people are just on different wavelengths and they are wired differently. You can’t be friends with everyone but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t therefore say “I can’t be friends with anyone.”

 

I can’t describe the sadness I feel when I think about what was lost or missed. The people I hung out the most with in college are people who I don’t know at all anymore, though I am still connected with a few of them on Facebook. I was dishonest about who I really was back then to gain the approval of people I thought were cool. And, the people I thought were cool were the ones I thought my older brother would have considered to be cool, though I hardly can believe now that he would have.

 

So, in an enormous effort to lie to the world and lie to myself about who I was, I lost the chance to be a part of really good, wonderful things and make lifelong friendships with people. The people from college I would love to be in touch with today are long gone and almost impossible to find. I know I could dig a little deeper on the Internet than I’ve tried, but it would start to seem like an obsession, and my intentions wouldn’t be well understood.

 

I am left with what I have today. Two of my brothers and my mom are gone, and my remaining brother is estranged and seems uninterested in having much to do with me. We are completely different people, anyway. My dad has drifted off into some place that I don’t understand and he grows more and more estranged from me each year. I have my own family now, and this is an amazing thing, but I do long and yearn for friendships that could turn into lifelong friendships. People who will go to my son’s wedding. People who will visit me when I’m in the hospital. People who will stay in touch and occasionally go on a vacation together with my family and me, and if we live in the same town, be available for borrowing things, giving rides, helping with kid sitting, etc. People who may not be exquisite soulmates, but they aren’t completely distant and inaccessible, either. I see people like my wife’s parents who don’t seem to be particularly talkative or overly sociable–and they have lifelong friends. I see people come to places I live and work and worship after me and move in and establish closer ties than I have been able to, and I want that, and I don’t even know where to begin.

 

I don’t expect seminary to fix this problem of mine, but I do know that I will be making as much effort as possible, even knowing how many times it has failed in the past, to try to make those connections that will last longer than the time I am in school with them.

 

Spending too many years living slightly beyond my means

Spending too many years living slightly beyond my means. Too much red meat and fat, too much beer. Not enough exercise. Too many books I don’t read. A few weeks off from all of this, and I find that I don’t really care for red meat that much and a soda can be a treat again. A root beer, which I haven’t had in forever, brings back memories of Florida. Or perhaps the beginning of summer brought back Florida, and I always had root beer or cream soda down there. Being an adult who commands a middle-class paycheck means that you can do pretty much anything you wanted to do as a child, but couldn’t. But then, you stop trying to do much of anything. You forget the simple pleasure of riding a bike or running or going to the swimming pool.