Morning of orientation

Morning of orientation for seminary. I have to keep myself focused on why I am here, and what I need to be about while I’m here. If I forget about the work I did with Love, and Thomas Merton, and the bigger Cause that encompasses more than just ministers, I think that I will be doomed. I will get caught up in just another attempt by my ego to find a career that gratifies it.

I need to keep in mind at all times that there will be people who are more gifted and talented than I am, in almost any area imaginable. People who write better, preach better, love others better, sing better, are more active in extracurricular activities–people who are more worthy and deserving of the big scholarships than I will ever be. My purpose here is not to compete with them.

I need to remember that everyone around me will be here for different reasons, and will have arrived from different ways of feeling and believing themselves to be called. Some of them will be so much more filled with Jesus than I ever will be, and some of them will have little or no Jesus inside of them, no matter what it is they outwardly profess.

There is the ever present sense of fear here. The fear that I will suddenly lapse into being the person I was any number of years ago when I arrived at a new workplace or school. It doesn’t get to claim a hold on me like it used to, though. It doesn’t get to be all-encompassing, and shut me down. I have to also keep in mind that I might have unique strengths and experiences that will help me, and hopefully help others. The past eighteen years since leaving college have not been spent in a vacuum, bubble, cave, rock, etc. They have molded and shaped me more than I will ever know.

I have to rely, for strength, upon all that is good inside and outside of me, whether it is the memory of my mother and the sense of a presence of her spirit praying for me, or my little brother, or even consider that the great ones like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Dorothy Day, etc. may also be praying for me to succeed, though I am hardly worthy of such prayers. I am, of course, not worthy to even be here and be alive with my young family. I don’t deserve any of this. I don’t need or want to think about what I should be getting if I were merely getting what I deserve.

I do have what I have by the grace of God, because God is good. And because God is good, His goodness transcends my petty notions of tit-for-tat, of karma, of a universe where there is always an equal and opposite reaction for every action and nothing greater and more powerful can come to fill a space that has been voided of its life force. God is bigger than and above all of our notions of how energy and matter should work, and this especially includes our pure heart Love energy, which we might incorrectly believe to be limited and only capable of filling to a certain amount, and requires a negative and opposite reaction after it is depleted.

God’s energy is infinite and infinitely transcendent inside, outside, above, beyond, below and any other space we might be able to detect with our imperfect senses and imperfect instrumentation (which was devised and built with our imperfect senses). As long as I remember to return to this, and meditate on this, how can I possibly go wrong? It isn’t something that I own or possess any more than I own and possess this solar system–it is there for me and everyone else whom God loves–which turns out to be all living things…

Reading artifacts from the past life again, I grab a sense of my attitude back then

Reading artifacts from the past life again, I grab a sense of my attitude back then. There was this constant sense of, “Of course, fame and fortune and connection with my tribe of people is right around the corner. Of course, one day, millions of people will be reading this and nodding along with complete understanding of what I’m talking about–except, what I’m writing isn’t so commonplace that just anyone could do it.” There was that feeling of the heightened expectation that any day now, I would be “discovered” by someone very important–like a local celebrity actor or director, and they would say, “Why yes, E, we’ve been waiting for you, come on up.” And then, I would suddenly find myself writing screenplays for movies and/or directing and maybe even starring in them (as an offbeat character actor with cameo roles in the vein of Tarantino’s appearances in his own films and others, of course). People would roll their eyes at the mention of the mild pain I had to go through for a few years, being in debt all the time and working in an office for a third-rate company, and they would commiserate with me over the loss of my brother, and they would agree that it was just so strange and not cool when so-and-so did such-and-such to me.

It was actually a healthy experience, in the long run, to be rejected by so many women or find myself in a terrible relationship or two that I couldn’t so easily extricate myself from. The same could be said for the places where I sought work or was employed. I needed years of being rejected, being told, no, you really aren’t that special, no matter how lovely you think some tiny little paragraph or poem you just wrote is. You haven’t traveled as much as us, you haven’t loved and lost loves as much as we have, you haven’t had so many one night stands and bad service jobs as we have, your parents weren’t as mean or absent as ours were. Your story isn’t the exceptional story of an exceptional young man, and your writing isn’t good enough to carry your accounts of a mediocre life by itself.

It was healthy for me to get gray hair early, and then start to see it thin. It was healthy for me to get out of Austin for awhile and go up to Waco, where people really do ignore you and think you’re special only in the sense of you sticking out like a sore thumb. I needed to feel the resistance and pushing away from both liberal and conservative people. I needed to understand that this world is not my world, but that the Kingdom to come is what I need to be looking forward to. Even in my search for a place on earth that I can really feel like is my home and community–it has been healthy for me to feel like I still don’t quite belong here in Austin, even at the church we call our home church. If I did start to plant roots that were too deep, then I would never want to leave, and I would end up making more decisions that were lazy and contributed to me burrowing down into a hole that never quite fit me well.

It’s healthy that I am not expecting too much of school or of my remaining time here in Austin, because I’ve been let down so many times in the past when I approached the next spring, summer, fall, winter, calendar year, birth year, etc. with these heightened expectations that things were going to be SO different for me (in absolutely stunning and joyful ways).

Positive change seems to always come with a lot of patience and hard, plodding work. Sometimes it never comes at all. Negative change seems to come rapidly and without any effort on the part of the person experiencing it. Maybe that’s just me.

Did I ever do everything I needed to do to become the amazingly famous and highly acclaimed man I envisioned I would be? Of course not. I relied on this sense of being special that was probably placed upon me by doting parents who did indeed find me quite special, and they desperately wanted to believe that they had the son with the golden ticket. I was mostly an agnostic and prided myself on being a hardened realist about spiritual things, and yet I continued to nurse a notion deep inside that Fate was on my side, and I would simply be “discovered” one day for some remarkable reason that was more or less the same as why Harry Potter went on to learn who he really was. I suppose every young person has some of that magical thinking that they carry with them into their adult years, but most young people at least take the time to go out and get kicked around by life a bit to learn just how unspecial they really are.

I, on the other hand, being terrified at the prospect of going down to a bar by myself and trying to pick up women, just assumed that my magnetic personality (as if there were such a thing) would shine through online on my little, pathetic personal blog and when I posted my profile on personals sites. What really was happening is that my huge blind side–the true aspect of my personality–was shining through in brilliant ways that I refused to try to comprehend.

It’s not that I wasn’t a terrible writer when I thought I was brilliant, or a stupid, callow man when I thought I was quite clever and worldly wise. Much of the writing holds a certain kind of promise about it–a kind of promise that might have got someone’s attention had I been ten years younger when I wrote it. My insights into life, while I considered them to be these great nuggets of wisdom that would stop everyone in their tracks and nod and say hmmm, were really pretty much commonsense observations that most intelligent people with college degrees were probably having. In other words, when I read what I wrote during those years, my B+ intelligence comes through quite clear, but so does my exaggerated estimation of myself.

Now that I am 40 and free of a lot of those delusions of who I really am or am to be, I can spend less time beating up on myself when things don’t go write, and I don’t have quite the same fierce outlook on the world–if people are ignoring me that’s just fine. My expectations going into seminary are not especially high. I have seen enough of myself to know that I do have potential to be more and do more than I’ve done so far professionally, but I am also still very much an introvert who has to really work at getting to know people and maintaining relationships with them. I suspect that if I do modestly well here, I will be called to preach as an associate pastor at a church much like the one we were at in Waco, perhaps an even smaller one. I might not get to be so particular about the part of the country where I preach–we may have to accept that Cleveland will be okay for now, or much to my disliking, I might have to swallow my hopes and dreams a bit and accept that we are going to be staying in Texas for some time to come (which is probably the most realistic thing that will happen).

I have to accept that there are going to be plenty of people along the way who will appear to be downright hostile to what it is I’m doing. Family and people from my past who hate God and Jesus and Christianity, and think that I am trying to be like Joel Osteen. Fellow seminarians who feel like they are in a highly competitive program and may at times see me as a threat to their futures in holding whatever they think are the choice posts in ministry or academics. Random strangers who hate Christians or hate liberal Christians or simply think that a grown man of 40 with a small child shouldn’t have pulled the plug on his career to go do something different.

This is where I am going to need a ton of faith, and I’m going to have to constantly ask myself if the faith is genuinely from God, and not my sad attempt to manufacture faith that isn’t really there. This is where I am going to have to listen for God to offer me novel solutions that I wouldn’t necessarily come up with just using the power of my own reason and imagination. This is where I am going to have to accept that the old me is truly dead, and that there is nothing left of me that needs to be esteemed, adored or gratified by other people.

I am surely not on a quest to one day have even a small group of people hold me up in high regard as being this utterly special and profoundly significant human being. The quest is one of pure self transformation, and learning to spot when God is pushing me to serve others. Service of others as it pertains to gratifying the ego is some of the worst kind of activity that there is. People who need to receive acclaim and praise for what they do, or even go so far as to look down on others who aren’t doing as much good as they are–these may seem like strawpeople, but I’ve encountered more than a few of them in the non-profit world. The truth is, I may find myself doing any number of things inside little moments where someone is being helped by me–either through tangible charitable works or through me having a deep, empathetic and caring personality that can simply take the time to listen to what they are going through. In these little moments, my face and name will be forgotten, and nobody is going to give me an award, but I have to be 100% okay with that. It doesn’t require much effort to look around you and see that almost everyone is behaving this way, and this is just part of being a decent, grownup human being. You reach out and help when you can, and you stop seeing everyone around you as being merely an opportunity to advance whatever it is about you that you are trying to advance.

Suddenly, memories of wandering around in the field behind our house after school

Suddenly, memories of wandering around in the field behind our house after school. Sometimes with my neighbor Eric, or with my dog Patch, or alone. There was the old barn next to the house that had burned down when we first moved into this neighborhood. Nobody seemed to know or care that I spent time back there, though my mom probably would have had a fit if she’d known. The people who owned the field–the children of the old lady who’d been forced out of her house from the fire–sometimes kept horses or cattle back there. Sometimes they shot clay pigeons and I would retrieve the intact ones and the shotgun shells.

Mostly, I left everything alone. I wasn’t one to pick up and keep other people’s things–a sense of what belonged to others has always been with me from an early age. I liked to be out in that field alone with my thoughts. During the late fall and winter, the field was about as uninteresting a field as you could imagine. Sometimes I would trek beyond it to another field owned by another family of descendants from a different farmer. That field had a large pond or small lake, whichever you preferred. I usually didn’t go that far out of fear of someone seeing me as a trespasser and shooting me, or more likely, collaring me and dragging me to my parents who would have been terribly upset with me.

I just needed to be alone a lot, once the seventh grade began. Before this year, I had been fearless with signing up for plays and standing up in front of class to perform for others. I had ignored my tendency to wander the playground by myself or with my friend Joe as simply being due to my lack of athletic ability–most of the rest of the popular kids were generally playing kickball or huddled together in mass conversations about the popular culture my parents weren’t allowing me to be exposed to. This is all to say that, while the seventh grade ushered in a whole new era of desiring solitude out in nature, it wasn’t completely new to me.

There was a lot of unarticulated misery. I couldn’t explain why I was so unhappy, or why I wanted to run away, or why I was caught up in endless escapist fantasies about some wise old Native American guy out of a later Louis L’Amour novel finding me while I wandered the fields. I was unhappy with life, and I knew there was something more to it than just being a teenager starting puberty, though that was generally how my father would dismiss it.

I was having glimpses into deeper things–I knew that there was more to life and reality than the one I was experiencing, and I wanted to gain access to it. I wasn’t sure if the deeper things were the things that the other kids were getting to see in those movies and shows that were prohibited in my household, or not. I think that I still sometimes get these mixed up, though I should definitely know better by now. I was having this sense of my origination being something bigger and older than the procreation of my earthly self–I knew my Father to be someone other than my dad. The bigness of the Universe was opening up to me, and I was convinced that I was the only person in my family, my town, who knew about this. Of course, this was to my detriment, to be so scornful of my own dad, who had likely had all of the same feelings and thoughts, and was simply unequipped to talk with me about much of anything in life.

My father was incapable of teaching me how to do something even as mundane as shaving. He didn’t want to take me fishing or play catch with me, except after I had worn him down with relentless begging. To his detriment, his refusal to participate in the common rite-of-passage things with his son led me to believe that my dad was someone who simply knew the world on a much more basic and bland level. He worked in an office programming computers and came home and read books. His life before my first memories was sometimes recanted to me, but this was rare and the details were few and far between.

I was surely convinced that at least some of the kids in my class were likely to be aware of the deeper things I was getting access to. For years (even until I was almost thirty and she was long out of my life) I was convinced that TC was full of deep and mystical things. It may have simply been because she was so exotic-looking, having a Cambodian mom and a white, American dad. She seemed almost completely inaccessible to me, but I was certain that given the right opportunity, my deeper self would one day connect with hers.

I suppose I should explain in more depth what I mean by deeper things, mystical things. I do think I had a brief period of being very touched by the spirit world, but I didn’t know what to do about it. The spiritual experiences my mom was having at our Pentacostal church seemed alien to what I was experiencing. My thing, whatever it was, seemed profound and mysterious, quiet and dark, but lovely and beautiful all the same–like gazing into a deep chasm or looking out at the night sky on a clear night far from the city. It was an ancient feeling, like knowing the Druids and knowing the first tribes to arrive in America and their shamans. There was so much meaning packed into all of it, that I was utterly devastated when trying to communicate to my dad why I hated school and our goddamn midwestern life so much. My mother’s spirituality was all about charisma–demonstrating just how noisy and gesticulating you could be in church. The more you waved your arms and danced around while singing the praise songs, the more you spoke in tongues, and the more you went up to be slain in the Spirit–the more authentic of a “spirit-filled” Christian you were.

Knowing what I know now about guys like Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Peter Popoff, Oral Roberts, etc.–the more I have to question the authenticity of so much of that. I know I should tread lightly on those things that I may just not fully understand, but I can see the reality of how those men live(d) their lives–the willingness to take much of their parishioners’ money and keep it for their own grand lifestyles while doing little for the poor in their community–the eagerness to fly around on private jets to save souls instead of fly coach and donate the money to those in need–it all makes me wonder how much of it really was and is an act for them. I think for my mom it was genuine and what she needed to feel like she was advancing in her walk with the Lord, but a lot of times I would leave church feeling vaguely nauseous and usually more than a little frightened. If the Holy Spirit was also the Comforter, these manifestations of the Spirit weren’t comforting to a young boy on the verge of manhood.

What’s more, I didn’t think anyone else in my class went to a church like mine except BD. I was mostly write about that. A few of the popular, preppy guys went to an Assembly of God-type church where much of the really wild Holy Spirit behavior was at least muted and kept to a nice hum of praise-song arm waving with the occasional laying on of hands. But, I was mostly feeling this great divide between who I was at school vs. church vs. home. It was like I was three completely different people. I sometimes wonder how I didn’t end up experiencing full-blown schizophrenia, as my self was so divided and I felt so hopeless when it came to knowing anyone to talk to about it.

My friends in Scouts were indeed my great salvation. They didn’t always have profound answers to match the things I was wrestling with–and why should they? They were my age and we were all also just as screwed up about girls and the changes our physical selves were undergoing. But, my scouting friends were more likely to sit up late at night around the campfire or in a tent and oblige me with a little philosophizing about what it all meant. If I hadn’t had the outlet of Boy Scouts during those years, I probably would have gone crazy or simply shut down to become someone completely incapable of functioning in society.

Of course, the monthly campouts and annual trips to southern Missouri for scout camp also fed my sense of the Universe being this much bigger thing than simply the physical world. All of those nights spent outdoors in many different kinds of weather and temperatures left me feeling much inclined toward spending a lifetime outdoors. The changes that would come with life, and my slow adjustment to being a regular member of society and peer groups would put an end to those woodsman fantasies, but I still have a place inside of me that longs to just live outdoors simply and without much more than a sharp knife and fire-making tools.

I think that some of this led me to have a fondness for monastic living, or I remembered much of the better times in scouts when I was alone with God in nature after I’d read about monks. My first encounter with the concept of monastic living probably came from the Brothers Karamazov, which I read over Christmas break my first year in college. I think I also read this book about an ex-Trappist monk during this time, but I’ve lost all memory of the title (much Googling finally returns who I am looking for — Dance of a Fallen Monk by George Fowler–found in the local public library while home from college–a very conservative town where it seems surprising that they would have carried this title, and carried it right after it was published). I suspect that if I’d read The Seven Storey Mountain at this time instead of this other book, I might have very well embraced the monastic life at that time.

My desire to now become a Presbyterian minister comes by way of Thomas Merton, rather through any parts of my previous life as a Christian, and certainly not due to some lifelong Presbyterian experience where I’ve always excelled in Sunday school. I would almost be inclined to state that if the Catholic Church started allowing married men to become priests, I would convert to Catholicism, even though I know that there are plenty of ways you can be a Catholic priest and be nothing like Thomas Merton. The overarching theme, which I often forget, is one of seeking a more profound and authentic experience with God. Being able to have a profession where I can spend a lot of time in church and with the Bible and theological books, as well as spend a lot of time having discussions about God with a large variety of people–this is the important thing.

In all truth and honesty, I think I will have a much harder time connecting with the lifelong Presbyterians who have never really questioned their faith much, and who probably prefer to be going to baby showers or golf games with their parishioners than sitting quietly in a church office or nursing home discussing what it all means with someone. The boisterous, animated types who are coming from Egelical backgrounds or are likely headed in that direction–I doubt I will connect with them much at all. However, I don’t think I will connect much with the quiet, “frozen chosen” who don’t want to think much about what it all means after seminary, and just like the comfort of the church more than anything.

For me, I will desperately need to connect with the ones who might have been shamans had they been born in a different time and place, or monks, or perhaps priests of a certain kind. I think anyone called to preach the Word of God probably has some of that in them, but we all probably have different ideas about what it means to grow spiritually, if we all even want to be doing that at all.

Even the summer camp chaplains and lay preachers have more of a romantic impact upon my mind’s eye and memories, if only because they talked about God in outdoor chapels or completely in nature itself. The idea of leading a team of young people in worship and with a brief sermon while they are in the open air of the outdoors–this has a great appeal as well. The almighty power of God is more often sensed in the outdoors when you are sufficiently removed from the noises of civilization, than it is sensed in your average sanctuary where hearts and minds seem able to overcome any attempts to be awed by the presence of God.

So, to be clear, I don’t think at this point in my life much of anything else would have made sense to me in terms of a life change. I could have struggled mightily in Waco with the local Catholic church, trying to connect the conservative minds that populated it with the words of Thomas Merton, and eventually perhaps I may have overcome so many obstacles to find myself a professional deacon in a larger Catholic church, even retreating to a monastery in old age if I outlive my wife. But, this seemed to be a choice that didn’t allow me to fully use my talents. I don’t even think the Catholics have the monopoly on being Christian, they just have a lot more history and practice at it, and have practices that are often more appealing–like contemplative practices and being singularly focused on helping the poor.

The American Protestant tradition comes to me as a mixed one–the church I grew up in, the churches I saw people attending in Waco, the attitudes people have toward it which are almost always skewed and warped in one way or another. The classic country chapel–need I throw in roughewn somewhere here to describe the church, pastor or parishoners?– with the humble, somewhat-stooped preacher carrying his well-worn KJV with him everywhere–it is, of course, a dying kind of thing. The old-timey Bible church, be it a Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran or Presbyterian one, is now deserted or filled with a handful of extremely old individuals who cling to memories of growing up there and have generations of family baptized, married and buried in the church. The slightly updated, suburban version of this church isn’t that much more alive, it seems, but does hold some promise and potential for me.

Aside from all of these trappings and notions of what should or shouldn’t accompany my mission and career, I have to relentlessly return to: praying to God about what I should be doing, remembering the utter beauty and simplicity of connecting with God in nature, and returning to seeing all souls as souls whom Jesus loves.

I have to keep reminding myself that I am not on some kind of perfectly linear journey, though it is helpful to have clear goals to share with others so that nobody thinks I am wandering aimlessly at this age in life. I may or may not become ordained in 3-4 years, be an associate pastor for 5-10 years, and then preach as a senior pastor into my late sixties or early seventies in the most perfect American community, following this career with 10 years of lovely travel and grandkids and deep contemplation and prayer out in nature. Likewise, I shouldn’t think of my spiritual progression as some kind of linear thing, either, and this is probably the more important thing to remember. God’s Love and Grace are all-abundant and here all of the time. Who God made me to be is the same person that I was ten years ago, whether I’ve bothered to look closely at who he is or not. I am not running a foot race alongside other spiritual athletes or climbing a perfectly inclined hill, becoming more and more righteous and “saved” with each passing year, perfecting my charity and kindness and love and ability to pray for others. All of these gifts are already awarded to me in perfect measure, as they are to others. I have to simply start accepting these gifts and using them, instead of pretending that I am the one in control who is making everything happen of my own accord.

The career arc that others have for themselves is not mine. The progress of the self is no longer a program of carefully checking my results each month and seeking where and how I will improve. The deeper my relationship with Jesus becomes, the more I see that He has always been there in the exact same way as He was yesterday, and I can rest and do the right sort of work under the light yoke instead of constantly stress and get myself bent out of shape doing the wrong work–which is really just the work of my ego.

I won’t wake up at 60 and look back down a long hill of gradually becoming more and more righteous. I won’t say to myself, man I sure was still a rotten soul at 40, but only half as bad at 50. I do believe that progress and change happen, but they happen on God’s timetable which isn’t a perfectly neat and linear one like I try to force it to be. Some years, I make astounding progress, but again, it’s not really me that’s making anything happen, except for perhaps the fact that I am finally taking more time to just pause and listen for God instead of trying to accomplish as many busy, worldly projects as I can get done. Other years, I may not seem to progress at all, or even backslide, and those are generally the years when I stop listening to God nearly as much, thinking that I can take it from here and get things done on my own without much input from God.

All of this has been said many times before, by many writers, but I am only now just beginning to realize how vital it is for me to see the clear difference between the self that measures progress on a worldly yardstick vs. the self that continually seeks to be renewed by God and lets progress happen on God’s terms.

Underneath my expectation that I am moving toward a specific, exulted state of being

Underneath my expectation that I am moving toward a specific, exulted state of being (which has never gotten me anywhere), there is a sense of things just going on as they go on.

Am I getting better, or am I just removing crap that got piled upon me, by me and others, during years when I thought I needed the crap?

What material things do I need?

I don’t need books. I don’t need the books I thought I needed. When we are ready to leave here, I am going to give almost all of my books away. The same with all of the art stuff. I love art, but I need to stop pretending that I will be an artist one day.

The public library and local college libraries, plus all of the interloan options online, can net me just about any single book I would ever want to read. And almost all the books I own should have remained public books.

With the books gone, this leaves me with almost nothing that I exclusively call my own–mostly, just the papers and photos that belonged to my mom and my own papers.

I have to keep running, writing and reading. I have to keep my brain and body active. I have to get back into helping others.

I am sitting here on the cusp of beginning a totally new thing, and it feels maddening, like it couldn’t get here soon enough. I can just feel myself getting older, day by day, with the idyllic life still just out of my reach. I know that I shouldn’t spend a lot of time in that state of mind where the idyllic life is somewhere else and somewhen else–the idyllic life should be the here and now, every second of being alive and healthy should be an expression of gratitude.

But, I am also keenly aware of just how easily the years can slip by if you sit around doing nothing, just taking life as it comes.

I desperately want A to find a new job here, not just so that our finances don’t feel so threatened, but also so that we can have a more stable form of insurance, and have another child. I know that if this isn’t God’s will, it simply won’t happen, but I really do hope that it is His will. I want us to have two young children when I leave seminary, and have the option of living in many different parts of the country. As I get older, the thought of living in a Midwestern college town becomes more appealing than going and living in NYC or SF or Chicago–big, bustling cities full of young people still caught up in trying to prove themselves and pushing hard everywhere they go is no longer the ideal.

I know that it will happen, but it does feel like time is running out, both with me and my aging as well as the kind of world we are living in, where one of the major political parties has completely dropped off the deep end of reality into this territory of being so markedly out of touch–the kind of territory that bred the Bolsheviks and the Nazis. It is not very useful to make direct Nazi comparisons, and I don’t think a Trump America would be exactly the same as a Hitler Germany, but it is certainly fair to say that the large groups of people who dropped out of touch with the greater reality of history and the rest of the world gave those countries the ecosystems to allow someone like the Bolsheviks and Nazis, who would be minor fringe elements in robust, well-informed democracies, to rise up and hold power for a dangerously long time.

All of this is to say that I don’t think the kind of stability I enjoyed during my childhood and early adult years is going to be around that much longer. I hope that I am wrong, but I am pretty sure that my grandkids will be experiencing a very different world than the one I knew, which was more or less about the same as this current one and the one most middle and upper-middle class white kids have known post WWII. I am not talking about a world that has changed to give more freedoms and freedom of expression to minorities, women and LGBTQ people. I am talking about a world that has changed to enable large groups of people to become entrenched in very different realities that don’t seem to be remotely close to each other. It’s really the people that are saying America is no longer great who scare me–the folks who hang on every word that Alex Jones says–these people have access to the same benefits I do, and are generally not very poorly off, but they are completely convinced that a NWO government is right around the corner and will likely be the ones who help speed up its arrival by way of their self-fulfilling prophecies.

Other people who scare me, or to be more general about the kinds of people who scare me–anyone who clamors for a revolution, a complete wipe of the way things are in favor of something new, where new is inevitably better just because it is some poorly thought out utopia in their own heads. The mindset of the younger generations, including my own, scares me. It is a mindset of not really caring much at all about what happens in Washington, except during a general election year, where they thing that one man or woman will be able to fix everything. It is a mindset that doesn’t want to think about the hard work of having a democracy, and just wants to believe that their are simple, silver bullet or magical solutions to problems that don’t cost us much of anything. This shows up on both sides of the political spectrum. Everyone has a panacea, be it a particular candidate or an ideology.

I want to just be a normal, average person, living a quiet life in a normal, average American town. I want to raise two kids, help a few folks, preach a few sermons and then retire to live another ten to fifteen years and travel a bit before settling down to die around the age of 85. At this age, L should have some kids of his own. If he doesn’t take as long as I did to get started, then his oldest kid might even be around fifteen when I die.

I suppose if I am really lucky, and the world remains a nice place for a bit longer–I’m talking about my corner of the world which is mostly nice–nicer than not, anyway–then, I might live to be close to a hundred and see a great-grandkid, but I am not counting on it.

Worst case scenario is, I am dead at 61 like my mom and grandmother from cancer, and L and his younger sibling are in college and high school. Hopefully, a little bit of my retirement and some life insurance will get them through the rest of their college years to see some remaining opportunities in this world before everything turns to shit. I can’t predict the future. I haven’t been given the gift of prophecy, yet. I am generally pessimistic about the future, but withhold some small amount of optimism as part of my faith that God will unfold a future that looks nothing like anyone today predicts it will be. After all, not too many people figured the world would still be in as good a shape as it is after WWII and the bomb and then AIDS. Somehow, people still got by.

We didn’t have a good war to fight

We didn’t have a good war to fight.
We were told to go back to carrying on with our lives,
Fight the terrorists by shopping, working, living as we did before the towers fell.
Then we were told nothing would ever be the same again.

I wanted to fight in a war, but I wanted a truly righteous war.
I wanted the good guys to be clearly defined, and the evil ones the same.
But, I was twenty-five, and could see that nothing was so clear,
No matter how badly Mr. Bush wanted it to be so.

I wasn’t such a good guy by then, either,
And I couldn’t bring myself to believe that fighting potentially evil men, possibly evil men, probably evil men, etc.
Would suddenly turn me into a very good guy.
But then, how could I have known the future,
Where indeed, many men with tales to tell of bravery
Who probably left our shores carrying with them a mixture of good and evil
Came back completely good, unquestionably good, undoubtedly good.
Only a seriously edgy, fringey, diehard, dedicated lefty would dare call them evil now.

Of course, only God is good, even Jesus said so.
If only God is good, then of course, we are all evil–if just a tad bit so.
If we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and we know God is the Almighty,
Then why do we need soldiers to protect us?
If the terrorists come to kill us and our families, so be it, no?

Of course, this is juvenile thinking, nobody thinks like this, men of faith have blessed millions of soldiers to go and defend the faith since Constantine.

Jesus has stood by, waiting, watching. Jesus watched men carrying his cross across the Atlantic, and murdering millions of so-called savages.

Jesus watched men re-cross the Atlantic to take other so-called savages from their families to be enslaved under so-called Christian owners.

Jesus watches as so-called Christian men and women live mostly happy lives, oblivious to the suffering of the rest of the world around them, except perhaps when said Christians feel a pang of guilt and pull out a checkbook or feel a hankering for adventure and pay to travel abroad and play missionary for a year or two.

The good war to fight begins with you.
If you haven’t conquered your inner demons…yes, it sounds terribly cliched.

So, you must be honest with yourself–have you killed all wrath, envy, lust, vainglory, sloth, avarice, pride, etc.?

Can you find yourself comfortable helping a neighbor in need, or visiting someone who smells funny? Are you comfortable around children, youth, young adults, middle-age people, old people? Are you at ease with soldiers returned from the last war we fought overseas, and able to converse with men and women of various gender identities, sexual orientations, etc.?

Chances are, you aren’t. You aren’t ready to fight the good war, the real war, the war that Jesus started.

It becomes easy to create certain scenarios of what the perfect life for me will be

It becomes easy to create certain scenarios of what the perfect life for me will be. I am talking about the rest of my life, the new life. Like always, I am highly proficient at creating scenarios that can’t co-exist with each other. For example, if you are looking for true love and also looking for a lot of casual flings, you will be disappointed because you’ll inevitably end up in relationships that aren’t quite either one. If you are looking for work that allows you to command a comfortable salary, but also looking for rewarding work, but also looking for work that will bring you great recognition among large groups of people–you are probably pursuing ends that are at odds with each other.

I can, on some days, envision us happily settled in a college town some place–a town not too big or too small, not too conservative or too liberal, a town that has plenty of nice restaurants and parks and bookstores and maybe a museum or two. I start out as the associate pastor at the main reformationist church there, and eventually become the senior pastor. We have one more child, and then, over time we become integrated with the community, attending fundraisers, Scouting events, Little League games, etc. Our church quietly and happily abides. I write competent, uplifting sermons that aren’t too challenging, but aren’t too boring. For the most part, I pretend that there never really was eighteen years between my undergrad years and my seminary years, or that I am roughly fifteen years older than you would expect a man with kids my age to be.

There is also the scenario where we join an intentional community of some kind, and go on to live radically different lives. We embrace shared living, as much as we possibly can, and we spend our weekends helping others fix up their homes and clean up their neighborhoods. We do food and clothing drives all the time, and actively petition our nearby cities to change their complacent ways. I never do preach in a traditional church, but live a life sort of like Dorothy Day did.

Neither scenario is probably very realistic, as the world has changed a lot since Dorothy Day, and what people in poverty need today is in many ways different than what they needed during her time.

What’s more, I am not so sure that I am going to change so radically over the next four years as to be ready for the new monastic kind of experience. I am still kind of learning how to just be a decent human being among other human beings. The odds that I will be called to the perfect reformationist church in the perfect little college town are probably slim to none. I had better be ready to find myself living in some town that is a lot like Waco, and know that it is going to take an enormous effort on my part to reach out and be sociable when I hardly feel like it.

I would say that I have mostly abandoned the big city parish dream. I don’t think I could survive in NYC as a pastor there, or even Austin, for that matter. The stress of having to support a family and make sure my child is out of harm’s way seems like it would compete mightily with the stress of managing an urban parish.

That said, I still yearn for change. I want to be radically transformed, if only so that I might be a well-liked mediocre pastor at a mediocre church in a mediocre town. I want to be radically transformed so that I don’t feel the least bit of fear or reservation when it comes to throwing myself into a new crowd of people (or even walking outside my door where the potential to meet new people exists all of the time). I don’t necessarily need to be the rock star of the group, but I am utterly sick and tired of being the marginal one, the quiet one, the one whose name everyone forgets and who people instantly peg as being shy and fit for working down in the basement. You have no idea how much my heart has broken over the years where, time and again, I desperately wanted to be involved with those around me but was so socially inept that I inevitably shut down, meekly accepting the role of the introvert who doesn’t like noisy crowds of people.

I can’t reiterate enough how much I am begging God to transform me, to give me strength in areas I never thought I would have strength, and to illuminate me when I don’t have the foggiest notion what the proper response would be to a challenging social situation. I want God to give me a much deeper and broader perspective about what it means to be a Christian, and why I’ve accepted this path. I am tired of providing pat answers to questions about faith when I am still greatly uncertain of so many things.

Yet, every time I go through a period of intense doubt and darkness, my faith seems to be renewed again doublefold. If my faith isn’t renewed as such, at least my will to have twice as much faith is renewed. I can’t exactly describe what it is that compels me to have at least one part of my focus remain doggedly set and reset upon an aspect of reality that all who would be purely rational and scientific would dismiss as superstitious hogwash.

It seems intrinsically tied with my will to live and survive. If given to my own rational sort of thinking, I can’t put forth a good argument for me living. Even if I were to throw myself into making as much money as possible, I would still leave behind less for L than I would if I died while possessing a hefty life insurance premium. Aside from supporting my family and leaving something for my child, the evidence is abundant that I am at best a mediocre person who will never contribute anything of value to humanity.

All of this is to say that it is as irrational for me to desire to go on living as it is for me to keep this faith. But, I thrive on being irrational, zigging when others expected me to zag, and rebelling at the moment when you were expecting a crowd pleaser. I enjoyed rebelling my way away from Christianity into Eastern mysticism, and I found it even more profitable to rebel against all of the smug atheists around me who seemed to be everywhere I went during a certain time period of my life. The Christ I have encountered seems to be less of a hippy (sometimes he is not very mellow or laid-back at all), and more of a man who would thwart whatever expectations and labels we try to apply to Him. There isn’t a man, woman or child on this earth who hasn’t called themselves a Christian while being more inclined to perpetuate the status quo that gives them a cushy life instead of live a life modeled after Christ.

To me, all of our churches, including the very new, non-denominational ones, seem to inevitably trend toward exclusivity–membership clubs where some feel at home and some don’t, and feeling at home is more about looking and voting like other members rather than feeling at home because of how Christlike we all are. Even the so-called progressive and tolerant mainline denomination churches have become little clubs unto themselves, and are just as likely to turn their noses up, if not outright reject, someone who isn’t dressed quite like them or someone who loves Jesus but is voting for Donald Trump.

It’s not so much the churches or Church that really give you a sense of where the Kingdom might be in the world today, no matter how nice it feels to sing with a praise band or kneel in an old cathedral. Without the worshipping community, we would all be islands unto ourselves and much poorer for it–but, I think the moments where unadorned, egoless souls connect with brotherly love are the moments where we witness the Kingdom still alive and moving. The moments are to be found in almost any church and in many places where there isn’t anything around that looks or feels like church.

There are, of course, many Sundays that do go by where I experience none of the Kingdom. This was especially the case in the small town we just moved from, and God bless their hearts, the frozen chosen up there were very insistent upon only bothering to say hello and converse with you if you were someone they had known for many years. So many of those individuals would look right through us, or re-introduce themselves to us time and again. They seemed terrified at the prospect of having to admit that the Kingdom might include people they didn’t know, and with their policeman parked out front for every church event to prevent the scary transient people across the street from entering, they likely will have their minds blown when they get to heaven and learn that they have to share the place with people who don’t look like them at all.

One fellow at this church just couldn’t fathom why a church would allow an atheist to join. He seemed to have completely forgotten that Jesus wasn’t a staunch reformationist who required all who sat with him to be the same card-carrying members. For my money, I would rather have an atheist come to my church and witness first hand the Kingdom in action. (Perhaps that’s why this gentleman was appalled at the idea of an atheist sitting in the pew next to him–he knew deep down that the atheist would see nothing special at our church, no “Kingdom in action” as souls reached out to each other egoless, with brotherly love.)

I am not so sure I believe in salvation by way of altar calls, dunking, and other radical moments of transformation where a deeply depraved sinner suddenly becomes as white as snow and stays that way. I suppose it does happen occasionally, but from having witnessed firsthand my own glacial change of self, I don’t think it happens very often. I also don’t think that all of the Predestined are necessarily cradle Christians (be they Catholics, Protestants, or whatever) and all of those slated for perdition are hopelessly standing outside the doors of the church. Plenty of examples of pedophile priests and wildly hypocritical telEgelists have demonstrated that you can be pretty solid in the Church and still pretty evil.

I think being Predestined means (and this will likely change after three years of seminary) that you are ultimately going to find your way to Jesus in your own way, on your own time. A seeker who is just as restless with pat answers given by atheists as she is the ones given by Christians may show up at your church one day and want to know why YOU have the faith you do. If he is impertinent and rude, and just looking to stir the pot, then of course he will be a thorn in the sides of Sunday school goers, and then go away. If she is blessed enough to find a church where the members are at least sometimes expressing the Kingdom of Heaven in its true form, she might begin to no longer feel like such an outsider to the concept and process of faith, and be compelled to come and see what it’s about on many more occasions.

Churches might think they have expressions of the Kingdom of Heaven in spades when they are really no different than a boisterous glee club. Others might luck at you as if you have lost your mind if you ask their members how they are going about expressing the Kingdom of Heaven to each other. The naked, egoless expression of brotherly love isn’t something that comes naturally to most people, including me. Most Sundays, we are arriving at church to participate out of a sense of duty, or we are looking to consume a liturgical experience as if we were dining at a nice restaurant. The notion of participating so fully that you are truly in communion with other believers is easily lost in the face of a million other pressing concerns that have little or nothing to do with church.

We might even think to ourselves that we have already given heavily of ourselves to our children and other people we serve and take care of, and we don’t owe anyone at church on Sunday anything other than our worshipful presence. And of course, we shouldn’t ever for a minute think that expressing the Kingdom should only take place at church. However, if we are Christians who have chosen to set aside an hour or so each week to be especially in tune with God, wouldn’t it behoove us to occasionally consider if we are taking this time to do our best to perpetuate the Kingdom, to keep the flame lit, to pass along the fire to others who may be coming with unlit torches (and are uncertain if they even want this kind of fire)?

I removed everything that I had currently published on the web

I removed everything that I had currently published on the web. I decided that I don’t need to have people coming at me over something I said some years ago, that may or may not have been what was intended. This is for the sake of my family–this new enterprise that I am embarking upon shouldn’t be ended before it has hardly begun just because I let my tongue slip a little bit yesterday or ten years ago.

One day, it might make sense for most or all of it to be published, but that day will be long after I am dead, I think.