The new Me — who is he?
He doesn’t have a lot to prove. The ambition wrought from the sense of needing the approval of others or to prove something to himself is gone.
I don’t need to be given high honors, great titles, special privileges, awards, accolades, etc. Would I find it especially wonderful to be preaching at a church in downtown Manhattan in ten years, with rent heavily subsidized, and culture everywhere outside my door? Of course. But, I am not going to approach the seminary as if it were the starting point for a career arc that sees me needing to use a lot of people to get where I want to go. Rather, the seminary is where I am called by God, and God will also call me where I need to be after the seminary. I can breathe a sigh of relief and relax when I consider this.
I woke up this morning with my heart in the wrong place. I was going to hammer out a bunch of things and anyone who got in my way be damned. I wasn’t nice to people who were trying to help me. I thought that I needed to let my asshole ego run rampant in order to get things done. My excuse for doing it any other way is that I get lazy, careless, forgetful and start to miss deadlines and opportunities if I am not running a pseudo Type A persona on top of my usual personality.
But, I know this has to change and isn’t sustainable. The new Me shouldn’t be like the Me who once upon a time sauntered back home after college wearing knock off Birkenstocks and acting like it was all good no matter what. That Me was so out of tune with the rest of the world as to be of little or no value to it. But, the old Me did have something special going for him that has all but been lost–he met people where they were. He didn’t expect anything from others, except what was presented to him. For some, this was maddening because they wanted a young man who had it together and was going places. For others, it was appealing because I was so non-threatening…I was chill as they say today.
But, it was also to a fair degree an affected chill. I was still holding grudges for people who mistreated me in high school. I was still getting down on myself too rapidly.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been as kind to myself as I should be. In order for me to be kind to others, I must be kind to myself in an authentic sort of way. In order for this to happen, I must accept God’s mercy and love. I must let Jesus be kind to me. If I am unable to let God be kind to me, then I won’t ever be completely kind to myself, and certainly not to others.
I still need to push myself to work hard, study hard, stay on top of deadlines and bills. I still need to make every effort to be the best I can be at what I will be doing–but, with it should come a great easing up on myself. No more tensing up every muscle in my body, stretching every nerve and turning into a ball of manic energy that will always spin out and become an angry mess.
I need to meditate more on love–not a great profound Love that is God. I am starting smaller, with just a spark of that. Easing up on myself and others. Loving them, in spite of themselves and their ways.
The process of discovering one’s real strengths and limitations can be one of the most helpful things about growing old. The word “real” is most important here, because it is the mark of the younger romantic to consider himself the next Pollock after throwing some paint on a canvas or the next Hemingway after he writes a novel. Such an endless will to self delusion comes from the same fear that prevented you from actually going out and meeting people and risking the unveiling of the truth about who you are.
The new Me will write a lot because he has gotten past the stressful cycle of thinking that all of his words will one day be cherished by billions, and then the crushing despair that follows when no evidence of this presents itself. I can sit here and write because it makes me happy, it benefits me, it enables me to clarify my thoughts in a way that just sitting around and thinking does not. I don’t have to expect that my writing will do anything at all for anyone past the moment that it takes place and helps me.
There have been a lot of fears lately that after I reveal I am a student at a seminary, some of the people from my past will come out of the woodwork to make things uncomfortable for me. Those who don’t like religion, those who don’t agree with something about my particular faith and denomination, those who don’t like me but have connected with me for some perverse reason only they can tell you about.
These are stupid fears. They are associated with the same fears that have kept me from doing anything at all in life–what will so-and-so say? Most of the time, those so-and-so’s don’t say anything, or they are so unimportant as to be generally dismissed and ignored.
The return to the things that matter, the things that contribute to this decision to go to seminary:
The enormous sense of being at home during the year we went to the Baptist church in the home town–not because it was Baptist, but because it felt traditional, comfortably so, and the church was integrated with the people we knew in the community.
The spiritual work I did in college, including the love writings that prompted me to fall into one of the most pleasurable yet mystical states I’ve ever known. No drugs or sex have every come close. Though I have failed to replicate this brief moment, the connection with the higher planes of existence in a profound and positive way was enough to make me continue to return to spiritual things.
Mom’s death. Little Brother’s death sparked an anger at God that rarely subsided, Mom’s death renewed or restarted my faith.
Thomas Merton. I wouldn’t be continuing to try to pursue a vocation in a more traditional church without the writings of Thomas Merton. The fact that he was able to write and read what he did while living under the constant censorship of the Catholic church was remarkable, and what a Hindu teacher said to him about staying with his spiritual roots made a big impact on me. Presbyterianism isn’t my roots per se, but Christianity is, and the expression of it and the opportunities available for a married man to preach are much greater in this tradition than the Catholic tradition.
The events of my life when I did decide to return to church. In spite of my insistence upon mucking up the path so much over the past six years, I can still see God clearly at work in how he brought me together with my wife, brought us to a smaller town to gain perspective, and has pulled everything together with the sale of the houses and moving arrangements thus far.
I don’t know that I’ve ever NOT felt a need to be on the RIGHT path, whatever that is. The degree to which God needed to be participating is, I think, the difference. The ability to strike a balance between always following the rules unquestioningly and always trying to break them is the tough thing to perfect as an adult–it is different for each individual. No two people will succeed by striking the exact same balance. For some, the breaking of more rules than following them will land them in the movies and make them billionaires. For others, it will land them in prison and make them dead before their time. Some people intuitively know just what the right balance is for them, and set about doing their lives correctly. Others, like me, have separated ourselves so far from being connected to our inherent groove, that we struggle on an almost daily basis to strike the right balance. But, I do feel like I’ve gotten much closer since I started following more rules than not. I’ve at least succeeded at doing more of the normal things that are expected of a man in this time and place.
So, the most significant thing about the new Me isn’t how much he follows or breaks the rules, but how much he has learned to strike the balance between the two that is just right for him.