The books that I am not getting to read–that’s part of the problem

The books that I am not getting to read–that’s part of the problem. I am returning from the library with a new stack every time something in one of my classes prompts a greater interest in a specific subject or angle that is only tangentially related to what we’ve been assigned to read.

The books that sit on my shelf from the days before I got here–they, too, are calling to me, including the ones that my wife mostly calls her own. I try not to spend too much time in the school library because of the seduction that inevitably comes while browsing the stacks, and I have completely avoided the UT library, which I have access to with my seminary card, and have tried to keep myself away from Half Price Books and the Public Library for the most part.

The state of being able to freely read whatever I want vs. the class sessions of only having the time to read what I’m being told to read–you would think that someone would invent a way to strike up a happy medium. Maybe I spend the next ten years in grad school while working full-time and reading a lot of stuff on my own. Maybe I can convince someone to let me have a self-directed, independent study class during the summer. Then again, I am not really sure I will be on very good academic standing after this semester, given my strong inclination to find a regular old job and get back to being an office schmuck.

I suppose I could go online and scrounge up the syllabi of the various professors out there who are teaching classes I might be inclined to take and audit, and try to continue to give myself some semblance of a structured education. I don’t really think that my self-discipline is that strong, though. Once I am no longer having someone impose a “you must do this or else…” on me from the outside, I tend to languish and drift. But, right now, the very act of languishing and drifting into my old age sounds so utterly appealing. As long as I am putting on a show during the regular workday hours for a company/boss somewhere so that I can rake in enough savings to get my son through college and keep my wife and I out of the most despicable of nursing homes at the end, then I could probably be okay.

Part of me was turning my nose up at a high school friend on Facebook, back when I was on Facebook–he had become such the well-adjusted family man with a nice job that was mostly behind the scenes but still pretty cool for an organization that is a beloved one in KC. He posted lots of pictures of relaxing on a boat in while on vacation in a Southern Missouri lake with a beer–and I would think to myself, how generic and utterly conventional. Yet, as I grow into my full middle-age years with a young son, the concept does have its appeal. My bliss is probably never going to be a boat with a generic beer while I listen to NASCAR, but it might come fairly close to it. I suppose you could argue that he was being overly demonstrative of just how happy he was–but he was the kind of guy who would unironically wear one of those “Life’s Good” t-shirts or put a similar bumper sticker on the back of his car. His life probably is pretty good, and he has no real interest in making it exceptional.

Of course, the counter to this is poor BN from MCE days who seemed to be every bit this kind of dad back when I knew him. He had a happy little boy and he seemed to be the perfect suburban dad’s dad–a man destined to teach his kid about Star Wars and baseball and Jesus, and probably in that order, too. But, somewhere along the way, MCE fell apart (it was really falling apart ever since it began, but the GM somehow managed to keep the myth going that it wasn’t) and BN lost his job and couldn’t adjust to searching for a new job because it was the only job he’d had since college, and his wife was probably harping on him for not trying harder to find work, and life was just feeling a bit too much out of whack. He probably OD’ed on pain meds/muscle relaxers/sleeping aids/whatever after being prescribed them for a breathing condition, and it was really just a bad, emotional decision made after a few too many beers. I’ve been there. But, somehow, my body has always managed to reject my bad, emotional decisions and cause whomever I was living with to spend half the night with AJAX and a mop and bucket. But, not poor BN. With his consumption of the pills and his breathing issues, he didn’t wake up.

He’s probably the only person outside of family I have really truly missed when he died. I can’t explain why, since we weren’t especially close, except that I think we could have been a lot closer, and I think he’d tried to be my friend on a few occasions, and my socially stunted self just couldn’t pick up the cues. I can’t say if BN would still be alive if I’d reacted differently to the conversation we last had together, but I do know that you can start to think people are perfectly happy when they are pretty far from it.

The same sort of thing applies to SB from UW, though I knew her even less than BN, and her suicide was completely shrouded in mystery. I had to kind of piece it all together from reading various things online and following up on what happened to her husband after she died. SB from UW also seemed quite happy with the business she’d started with her husband after leaving UW. She’d seemed pretty happy when I first met her–she was pregnant and didn’t strike me as a person who got depressed–someone pretty close to my age who had her life together a helluva lot better than I did, that’s for sure. She was the leader of the women’s group at UW, and seemed destined to go on being a leader at various organizations in the community. I actually thought she was five-ten years older than me, based on how she carried herself, not necessarily on how old she looked–and was surprised to learn she was about a year younger than I am. But, people wrestle with all kinds of demons that you know nothing about. I don’t feel nearly as bad about her death, because she’d never made any great attempts to be my friend–it would have been too awkward, which is a damn shame in our society that men and women can’t be friends without it inevitably implying something else to others who look in on those friendships. Anyway, she was recently married with a child on the way, and even if I had tried harder to be friendlier to her, I doubt she would have expressed an interest due to her busy life.

People in their twenties and thirties are so caught up in their busy lives. They have no idea just how unhappy and unsatisfied most of that busy-ness will make them later, and they all believe that they are exceptional in their busy-ness and the payoff will be worth it. It probably is, sort of–several of them get to be directors, managers and the like when they enter their forties, but even then, it really doesn’t mean much or matter much. Then, most of us in middle age start demanding that life mean something more, when all the while we could have been spending more time making it mean something more instead of simply making life into a goddamn resume/LinkedIn profile or exceptional article in our alumni magazine. A huge chunk of the so-called satisfaction expressed by those who are convinced they have “made it” is nothing more than rationalization and self delusion to hide the chasm of utter bitterness and disappointment for all of the happiness and meaning and friendships that were sacrificed along the way for the sake of the payoff.

Incidentally, the person who replaced SB at UW was one such person in her mid-twenties who thought she knew everything and was dead set on going places and leaving us bass-ackward yokels behind. She could barely hold her contempt for me and my slowness the last few times I spoke with her. After scooting off to get her MBA and go work for some fancy firm in DC, she appears to be getting everything she wasn’t getting by hanging around a slower, less-driven bunch of people. However, I wonder if she is really happy, or if in about ten years she will be like so many of those career-driven people–seeking all of the same shallow New Agey help programs in search of “something more.”

Who knows? Even then, she’ll probably just snort and sniff and say–but look, look who I’ve become, and what have you done? As if that is the entire point to being here on this earth–becoming someone and doing much that can be accounted for on a piece of paper. And, there is really no convincing of someone otherwise, because it would be too traumatic for them, anyway. You would be removing such a giant shell of delusion to expose an utterly unexamined true self underneath–a vulnerable, pathetic self that wouldn’t even know where to begin without the cover of a well-received life story.

For those of us who would prefer to have jobs just be jobs, and make our lives be about living beyond the professional realm–whether we want to sit and read books or sit on a boat in Southern Missouri–we are destined to be despised by the people of the here and now, and beloved in our aged years for our great wisdom on what life is really about–but never really listened to and followed. Almost every person seems to be innately possessed with a surety that they will be the person who finally obtains a true kind of immortality of name–their name will be remembered by billions for thousands of generations, and remembered as more than simply, X wrote Y, or A did B. And yet, every single person dies destined to be forgotten by almost everyone except for a few family members or angry commuters who have to figure out on a map why this stretch of highway is named after some random schmuck who did god knows what–who cares–to get their name on a stretch of highway.

I could roll up the last twenty years into a little ball

I could roll up the last twenty years into a certain kind of little ball (obviously hiding some things and exposing others), and not see much difference, if any, between the me of 1997 and the me of today. At 40, almost 41, I am still a restless spiritual seeker. I am not happy with the answers that get provided to me (by just about anyone). I return to whatever amounts to my core self, and find that I can never completely get away from Christ. If you knew me in 1997 you would be surprised to know that it was the same thing back then, too. I simply hid that part of me from you better. What makes me happy at the end of the day is really simple and unexceptional–but, I am so prone to getting caught up in other people’s notions of what a career or God’s will for my life should look like. When I am by myself and farthest removed from what other people think I should be doing, I find myself returning to the basics: spending time with family, being out in nature, reading books, drinking beer, going to museums, listening to music, writing, and occasionally attempting to make art or music. As someone who is currently attending seminary, shouldn’t I put church in this list? I don’t, perhaps because I think I am still looking for the perfect church, although I am close to abandoning this Quixotic pursuit.

For a long time, I think that trying to make something more out of my life was about pleasing others and proving something to those who had invested a goodly amount of their time and money into me. I didn’t want to be doing the same thing at 40 that I had been doing at 30. But now, I look back on several of those so-called office schmuck/button pushing jobs and I think, as long as I wasn’t overly concerned about people younger than me rising up in the ranks above me, and didn’t spend too much time worrying about having a so-called career, most of those jobs were decent, happy jobs. My salary might have never crested above about $120K tops, and I might never have really gotten to be a true manager of others and continued corporate ladder climber, but I was mostly content to manage websites and build out HTML emails, making sure they looked okay in people’s inboxes.

I also tended to conflate the usual BS everyone encounters in their day-to-day professional lives with being signs that God didn’t want me to be doing this-or-that with my life. Every collection of people outside of your family, and often within your family as well, inevitably sees the kinds of politics and personal drama unfolding between personalities that don’t play well together. No amount of discovery of the perfect vocation could have possibly prevented this stuff from arising or being present in the daily work. And, on most levels, I knew this, but I would say to myself: but when I discover my true calling, I will be so happily caught up in my life work, that none of that stuff will matter. Only, I have a much more accurate picture of the kind of person I was. The fact is, I held back a slight and unrealistic hope that I would find the perfect workplace or profession full of the most joyous, happy people, and I also was unwilling to see just how deeply I allowed day-to-day drama get to me and eat away at me until its relevancy to my personal and professional world had been blown all out of proportion. I could argue that this has happened pretty much everywhere I’ve participated in group activities outside of my home–so, the need to provide an example seems to be minimal.

Moving forward, I have come to realize a whole helluva lot that still needed to be realized. Insights and wisdom do not happen simply by contemplating, meditating and reading lots of books, and then declaring that you are an enlightened being called to save the world from its suffering. Personal growth is only realized in community. If you kick against the lessons that community is trying to teach you, then you will end up retreating into your own private space of stagnation. The more you embrace the growth that is wanting to happen when you are connected with others, the more you will grow and change. But, you don’t need to be in perfect environments with perfect people for this to happen, either. You can be surrounded by a lot of very flawed people, who, if they generally are trying to be good people, will teach you something.

What’s more, this kind of personal growth largely goes by unnoticed by the people who are participating in it. On one level, what I said is an utter cliche–nothing novel here–but, on some much deeper level, we are all changing and shaping each other fundamentally in ways that are mostly hopefully trending toward the better, and this kind of change can’t happen superficially. For example, when I left MCE for UW, I realized just how stunted some of my social growth had become. I was spending most of my time around people who were happy with me being just the way that I was, and occasionally going to conferences where I witnessed behavior from other people my age who had spent time working their way up at much larger companies in much larger cities. I began to believe that my insights from those brief encounters were sufficient enough to mature me to the point where I could obtain many of the things that are desirable to a young, single person in his early thirties. Then, I realized that I wasn’t nearly as mature or grown-up as I thought I was. The same thing happened again when I moved from UW to C. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people my age or slightly older who had spent the last ten years of their lives in hardcore, tech/corporate environments, and I REALLY saw just how much growth I still had to do. But, the growth wasn’t going to happen in just a few months’ worth of exposure. Sure, I was able to ditch my cheap pay-as-you-go phone for a shiny new iPhone, visit Starbuck’s more, and learn the lingo of the corporate sales/marketing world. But, my deeper social skills, the ones that were less easy to pin down and articulate, were still clearly lacking when I attempted to develop deeper relationships with my coworkers.

I think it is Tony Robbins who talks about modeling the behavior of the people you aspire to become, if you want to develop yourself into being a better person and more of a leader. However, simply picking up some of the outside character traits and habits of successful people is only the beginning. You can’t stop there, and you can’t be defeated the first time someone treats you like more of a leader than you expected to be treated, but you soon find yourself crashing and burning after flying closer to the sun than you ever have before. Aspiring to be the next Steve Jobs might see you acting less like a Pauly Shore character, but if you have been acting and living like a Pauly Shore character for most of your adult life, you are just Pauly Shore in a Steve Jobs suit. Of course, I should probably update Pauly Shore to be whatever Judd Apatow manchild character is more contemporary and relevant, but I am mostly writing this for myself, so, who cares?

All of this is mostly to say that I think I am finally reaching a place of resolution in understanding that: in spite of what parents and teachers may have told me when I was aged 5-8, I am not destined for greatness and being recognized as a Wunderkind. I am now 40–the time for flashy showings of prodigal talent has passed; I am not possessed with a particular calling or vocation–at the end of the day, I am more and more convinced that God just wants me to be happy and raise happy children in a safe and loving environment; I am not a leader–I don’t like telling other people what to do, especially when it is clear that all of the group resents me before they’ve even gotten to know me–I don’t need to have a career arc where I go from marketing email guy to Director of Demand Gen to VP Marketing to CMO to CEO. I don’t need to prove to anyone that I should be a leader or am better qualified than my boss to do my job. I am not a single guy still trying to impress single women at how much I am on the verge of becoming quite successful and a great catch. I am a happily married man who feels loved by his family, even as someone who won’t retire from his professional life as a manager or head or director of such-and-such. This is not to say that I wouldn’t welcome a career arc if it began to unfold naturally, and I came into it in an environment where my leadership and expertise was highly welcomed and desired. But, I am no longer going to pursue anything with an eye to hopefully running the company in the next ten years.

The things above that I said truly make me happy–spending time with family, being out in nature, reading books, drinking beer, going to museums, listening to music, writing, and occasionally attempting to make art or music–I am perfectly fine with these things never making me money. I am past the age where I hope to be a somebody at this-or-that creative activity or business. Does this mean that I am hopelessly stuck in more of a consumer than a producer mode? Probably. On the other hand, I could argue that those who create stuff are of no value to the world unless they have someone out there to appreciate what they create. I can be that someone. I can be the person who reads mostly-forgotten poetry and looks at mostly-forgotten art and listens to mostly-forgotten music with a simply appreciation. Perhaps my appreciation isn’t going to be on the level of someone with an MFA, but I can walk into a museum and be happy.

What this really is for me is an incredibly freeing feeling. I have been growing more and more unhappy and more and more guilty since we’ve moved down here. The kinds of stress and moves I’ve put my wife and now my son through in my search for the perfect calling–all for me to realize that there really is no such thing–of course, I bear the burden of the responsibility. Why couldn’t I have just accepted who I was back in 2011 and remained happy with that? That’s a great question! I’ve tried to answer it, more or less, in my above musings, but I still think that I have a lot of work to do. I will come clean and say that I have been kicking and screaming as I was dragged into my 40s–both in my resistance at becoming just another happy, oblivious white male who cashes out and accepts the good life in the suburbs, and in my endless looking over my shoulder at all of the moments when I surely was on the verge of becoming someone great, and those moments just never bore fruit.

But, here’s the thing. Right now, I am catching hints of a vision of how I can truly become happy. Not happy in any shallow or cheap sense of the word, but happy in a way that sees me cease this endless prattle about trying to find myself, my calling, my career, etc. Just happiness in the form of contentment that also knows I’m not going to be sent to hell because I didn’t follow Jesus more perfectly. I can’t continue a belief in Jesus/God and also maintain the impression that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have their collective finger on a button that drops me down a chute into hell the moment I lose my life, if I die having not lived up to their perfect expectations. I am sensing a lot of love coming from some place I can’t explain right now. Love perhaps from those who have departed before me, and love from the universe itself–just this kind of love that says, yes, it’s okay to stop beating up on yourself for your past mistakes or failures to make something more out of this or that time in your life. Love yourself, but not in a narcissistic or cliched way. Don’t go buy a “Life is Good” bumper sticker, but be content if someone you love does.

Be happy. Be loving, be blessed. Stop wallowing in this guilt and misery that you are somehow responsible for your little brother’s death and therefore your mom’s too-early departure. Stop trying to somehow also make yourself be responsible for your older brothers’ estrangement from your parents. Stop beating up on yourself when you say something that causes someone to raise their eyebrow or be offended. Stop killing yourself through an endless cycle of falling into lust and anger, giving into it and then wallowing in misery over how much God probably hates you.

Sure, some of these things I just wrote are an exaggeration–or are they? Am I simply putting into words what has been happening all along? Couldn’t I really just be happy walking into an office environment like the one I did back in 1999 when I first moved to Austin, back before I had any aspirations to make more money or do anything bigger with a professional career–where I was just going to sit and correct Word documents all day long for something above minimum wage, while I found my true happiness with my girlfriend, dog, nature, books, etc.?

I think I could be just as happy as I probably should have been so long ago, but I certainly shouldn’t be sitting here endlessly beating up on myself for not having permitted myself to let go and be happy back then. I should just let myself go and be happy today. If this means that I end up doing work that isn’t so glamorous around people who aren’t constantly talking about Jesus–so what? The pursuit of true happiness should never be denied or disparaged. For sure, the pursuit of happiness in the form of exceptionally shallow activities or an exceptionally shallow kind of happiness that is really just self deception–that needs to be questioned constantly. But to dismiss wanting to be happy as an invalid desire due to the fact that it is a bit of a cliche–that seems to be a kind of denial and hurting of self of the worst kind.

Go to your happy place

Go to your happy place. If you are hurting and feeling like the world isn’t listening to you, then you need to travel to your happy place. Go to a place far removed from childhood, and don’t just travel back to the start of a great relationship before it went bad. Go to a place that is truly a happy place–a place that is all you, and only you.

Take comfort in this place, lick your wounds, and heal.

If you don’t have a happy place in mind, I will try to create one for you. Imagine that you are living inside an utterly androgynous, asexual human form, whose age is roughly 30. You are not sexually attractive or attracted to anyone at all. This means that anyone who attempts to strike up a conversation with you when you are out in public will be doing it for a motive other than to seek a sexual exchange. Likewise, you choose clothes that are utterly lacking in being clothes that will get you attention.

An intense love of pieces of things

An intense love of pieces of things. Take the moment and break it up infinitesimally until it gleams from all the tiny shards of reflected existence. Can you build more from a thing that has been broken up into many other things?

Dissecting, disassembling, deconstructing–this is what has made us great while other parts of the world fall behind. We have created wonderful things from having the relentless drive to atomize something and rebuild something new from the ground up. These days, though, we mostly just tear things apart, and create a lot of garbage.

You might think that the better approach would be to try to make something whole again, but can you ever turn a broken thing back into what it once was? You are the product of five hundred years of deconstructing, DeCartes-ing, destroying native habitats and Native Peoples. You can’t just go pull your favorite brand of Eastern mysticism off the shelf and get busy re-building until one day the Earth looks like what God intended it to be.

You can’t do the same with yourself, either. You are a broken soul, cracked open with the hopes that this means you can now let the light in, but maybe that kind of thinking hasn’t resonated with you enough. You want to lose your pieces of self inside various important projects, grand activities, and escapist places–to pull yourself out of this time and place and reside temporarily in a happy time and place far removed.

This tends to bring a 1-1 input/output of satisfaction. The amount of happiness and enjoyment you get out of vacationing and reading light fare seems to be close to what you put into it. The work and money involved to get you to your destination so you can relax, and then a few days later start worrying about making all of the connecting flights for the return trip back–not to mention any inconveniences you endure while you are there–it ends up yielding you about as much joy and happiness as it costs you discomfort and misery. Of course, you also work overtime to try to rationalize away all of the cost involved, telling yourself that it is worth it. Of course it’s worth it, but is it JUST worth it–or more than worth it?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was an activity that brought you exponentially more joy and peace and happiness than the sorrow and pain you invest to make it happen? A true investment in happiness, a righteous fulcrum that yields great fruits for your tiny labors. That, of course, is subjective. Some people say that they get this already from church, socializing with friends, sex, etc.

But do they really get something bigger and more intensely wonderful out of their investment than what they invested? Or, is the yield ever-so-slight, and like money in a mutual fund, you have to wait for decades before it starts to make sense for why you delayed your gratification? Is there no instant gratification that comes in great abundance? Probably not. At least not for most of us. Sure, there are the lucky few Lotto winners who get much more out of something right away than what they ever put into it, but most of us are not life’s Lotto winners.

Even seeds you plant require constant watering, care and attention. Too much water and the plant dies, not enough, the same. Too much sunlight or not enough can kill it. The wrong kind of food in the soil will kill it. A disruption like a transplanting will kill it. Fifty years later, you have a fruit-bearing tree, or five years later, you get something like a strawberry plant. After many years of hard work and little to show for it, you get a few years of great yield that you can somewhat enjoy before you die.

Such is the world, at least the world we’ve been led to believe is so. Or, it could be, that we have created the world to be this way, because infinite abundance from slight investment seems to be evil or simply impossible.

But, what if it is possible for those who begin to believe that it is? The ones who have the mindset that they will reap and yield much great fruit from their modest investments? Then what? What if believing that you are a Lotto winner is the first step to winning the lotery? That starts to sound like a lot of New Age programs–but maybe there is some hard truth to this, some kind of intense practicality about it that isn’t just fluffy, magical thinking.

I have been having interesting conversations as of late

I have been having interesting conversations as of late, but I haven’t had any conversations that have made me think “wow, God, really does want me to be a pastor, and so-and-so validates it.” I love teaching people–formally or not, professionally or as a volunteer, I love showing people something new. But, no one has ever asked me to lead a Bible study class or other Sunday school class. Churches have never asked much of anything from me, really. Both pastors at my previous church were utterly surprised when they heard I wanted to come to seminary, and underneath that surprise was a ton of skepticism and general unwillingness to help me know what I needed to know to be successful–or, what could have been most helpful, a courage to give counsel to me to help me discern for certain that this was the right move.

I deeply enjoy the subject matter here, but enjoying the subject matter doesn’t necessarily add up to a calling or even a strong aptitude for it–note my foray into mathematics for awhile. Which, by the way, I’ve started to miss–I’ve really started missing being able to go down to the public library and decide for myself what I want to read about for the next several months.

Aside from all of the negative feedback I’ve received from: my former churches as well as the level above my church for my denomination, and the psychiatric tests required by my denomination, and the personality tests from the school–aside from all of that negative feedback, I’ve gotten a strong feel for people who really do have caring, pastoral qualities. People who really are Christ-like and turn the other cheek and seek to help others. I am not one of them, though I have tried.

There is also the whole eagerness I had for being in great theological discussions and discussions about the Bible, and I have gotten the strong impression every time I open my mouth that I am coming from a place of white, male privilege (never mind my attempts just to be one human speaking to other human beings) and I would be better off just shutting the f up and letting people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and anyone else who isn’t a heteronormative, neurotypical, middle-to-upper class white male do the speaking. Sometimes people have just flat out said it–we don’t need the voices of any more white males in the conversation.

But, of course, if I try to assert myself at that point, then I am implicitly admitting that I am coming from a place of white-maleness, and therefore, I must be secretly a racist who has joined or is on the verge of joining the alt-right movement. As a human being, I can see that the old attempts to understand racial oppression in terms of seeing someone as less than human have given way to a flat-out war where one race can openly declare on another race (you’re privleged, you’re exhibiting microaggressions, you can’t say anything at all that is valid, your experience can’t inform me because it is completely from a place of white, maleness, therefore shut the f up), and if someone tries to counter with an argument that sincerely attempts to come from the place of one individual human being speaking of his own individual human experience, he might as well be a card-carrying klansman.

So, what am I supposed to do? Slink back to a nice suburban white community and forget about all of this, pretending that the world is still more or less like it was in 1986? Let everyone push me around and shut me up?

I am leaning toward the first option. My goal was to follow Jesus into a deeper relationship with Jesus–to find myself around people who loved the Lord and wanted to become more righteous and holy and pious in all of the best senses of these words when they still meant striving for a closer relationship with God. My goal was to come upon others who found that they needed to be talking and thinking about what it means to be a Christian and their faith journey all day long. People who begin and end their day with their faith, and what they do in terms of helping others and social justice is an outpouring of their life with Christ.

Instead, what I’ve mostly encountered are a lot of people walking around with chips on their shoulders, excessively sensitive to the next terrible thing a Republican or really any white male does or says that somehow indicates a micro-aggression or even a flat-out expression of racism. People wearing their sensitivity and preciousness on their sleeves. And by sensitivity, I mean sensitive to any and every un-PC thing that gets said or done that could possibly construed as offensive and turned into a blog or Facebook post that gains a boatload of sympathetic likes and commiseration. People who already have their minds made up about who God is or isn’t–a lot of them are borderline atheist, and an astonishing number of atheists are alos here.

The trend seems to be that the more eclectic you say that your post-seminary vocation is, the more likely you are to be held in high esteem for wanting to do some amazing, save-the-world alternative ministry with the most marginalized of peoples. Anything related to BLM and silly online tests that unveil you are a closet racist after clicking on a few faces gets unquestioningly accepted as the right and most virtuous thing to do and say, and way to be. It reminds me a lot of my old days at UW where the community organizer thought leader could basically say whatever he wanted, to the point of saying offensive things about Christians, and it went completely unquestioned for the most part because he was not to be critiqued or questioned in any way.

In short, Christianity has, for a lot of these folks, become a contest to see who can be the most virtuous in the worst kind of liberal, PC way. They unquestioningly and unhesitatingly connect their words and intentions to what Jesus said, and are certain they are just as right about who Jesus was and what he would have wanted us to be doing as any of your Bible-belt fundamentalists. What’s more, there really isn’t a huge amount of discussion or conversation in public forums about loving Jesus and praising him and developing a more meaningful spiritual life.

Are evangelicals, charismatics and Pentecostals really the only ones who seek out a more reverent and fulfilling and closer relationship with Jesus? Perhaps a few Catholics who attend most of the masses or have entered monasteries do as well. I got the impression from reading Dorothy Day’s journals that her relationship with Christ went hand-in-hand with her social justice initiatives. I couldn’t say from reading them which one came first in her life, but she certainly never seemed to neglect one in favor of the other.

After that, you have a lot of people who I think are more or less hanging on to the faith of their childhood out of fear of completely abandoning it, but aside from that, they really aren’t much different than the atheists I worked with for so many years in the non-profit world who were so adamant about proving how they, too were on the right side of history when it came to being moral and good, and were even that much more righteous and eager to save the world because they didn’t believe in God.

Our culture seems to have created all of these people with something to prove to others about themselves, and nobody with any real particular desire to just accept who they are with a fullness of knowing and not needing to prove a damn thing–just going and doing.

Maybe it’s the age differences, or perhaps I have been out of touch with the liberal, academic world for too long. Maybe it’s the fact that almost everyone you bump into over the age of twenty-two who is in the workforce or in grad school is now a millennial. The millennial generation isn’t probably as unique as a lot of marketers would like to think that it is–what people say about it is not that different from what people said about Baby Boomers and Gen Xers when they were in their twenties and thirties. But, when almost everyone around you is in their twenties and thirties, the qualities of the twenty or thirtysomething become indistinguishable from the culture itself. With Baby Boomers retiring and Gen Xers not being as large of a generation to begin with (and having a much higher suicide rate than the generations that sandwich them), you are inevitably going to be seeing many more people who are younger than you who act and think like you did when you were that age–you think you are the most special, virtuous person on the planet destined for great things and you have to be constantly proving it to everyone you meet. You think that you are epicly righteous by railing against the hypocrisy of your elders and established institutions.

My opinion is that everyone is a hypocrite if they believe in or stand for something strongly. You are inevitably not going to be capable of completely living up to your ideals. As long as you don’t egregiously commit hypocrisy–like preach against gays while having a gay relationship–then you should be free to do good and be happy as best as you can, and not be constantly wondering if someone is going to come along and condemn you for being some kind of a hypocrite.

In final thoughts for this post, I am simply faced with too much criticism and negativity everywhere I turn. Most of it isn’t directed at me, although there has been a lot more lately than I would have expected. I can only deal with so much negativity, especially when there is so very little constructive recommendation for improvement tied to it. Am I perfect? No. Do I sometimes end up behaving in ways that I criticize others for behaving? Yes. Could I have tried harder, said more, done more, here or there? Of course.

The fact remains though, that the experience of being here and growing into my perceived vocation has not really ever come close to what I expected it to be. If you expect me to shoulder all of the blame for why that is the case, I am okay with that. It doesn’t change my argument that says I simply don’t belong here. At the end of the day, whose fault it is or who could have done better doesn’t really matter if every single sign is pointing toward the EXIT sign.

If I was ten years younger, perhaps I could still see enough of a runway in life left for me to change and get better, and try harder and hang on longer, but I am not. I am forty, almost forty-one. I have a little son to think about. I am running on the final fumes of my one-time belief that God wanted me to be here, and the car is puttering on the verge of stalling.

Dream last night — another dream that included floppy disks

Dream last night — another dream that included floppy disks. Weird to have the same theme/item in dreams two nights in a row. My dad was telling me about how he’d repurposed my old computer from college for various things, and about how important/and valuable it was to hang onto the electronic help information for using Windows 3.1, which was the OS for that computer. In the dream, somehow, my dad was able to extract a hardcopy Windows 3.1 manual from the computer, as if it were inside the shell along with the hard drive. I asked about the floppy disk drive, knowing that this computer didn’t have the older kind of floppy disk drive, and my dad went into some kind of convoluted explanation for how I could obtain such a drive to read all of my old floppy disks.

Again, I haven’t put a whole lot of thought into old computer storage media in the recent past. I am not exactly sure what kind of “old thing” these dreams are trying to represent in my dream quests to find old floppy disks and extract some kind of long-lost information from them. Are the dreams saying my special focus on OT texts right now is misguided? Are they saying that my renewed effort to explore returning to my old career is misguided? Is my effort to find a more authentic form of worship and a church whose rituals resonate with me deeply the misguided thing? Or, just my general tendency to spend a lot of time analyzing past memories and actions the thing that is misguided? Of course, answering yes to any one of these could lead me down a completely different path.

Right now, the idea of going back to work for a random technology company as a straight-up 8-5 office schmuck who pushes buttons inside software for a group of marketing people is very appealing to me. WYSIWYG — no surprises. A cookie-cutter house in the suburbs. Reading science fiction books on the weekends. Taking drips to Disneyworld. Getting fat and happy. Is it a sellout, a copout, an abandoning of God’s plan? Or did God even want me down here doing this in the first place?

Right now, selling out seems so right. The past six months have been incessantly awkward, uncomfortable and ill-fitting for me. I don’t have the backing of anyone, really, saying “yes, you should be here.” Oh sure, someone occasionally drops a word of encouragement in a class–people who mean well and want to say and act pastorally. But the tests have all shown me to be hopelessly self-centered and lacking in leadership qualities. I have witnessed myself just completely not caring about doing the Christian thing with my neighbors, but wanting to just be a regular man with all the warts.

I think the floppy disks represent more the quest to return to an idyllic childhood moment–the moment is gone, if it ever was idyllic to begin with–and it is no longer applicable to the present situation. There is nothing useful about an old floppy disk, unless, perhaps it contains some information that was never saved anywhere else. Once the information is extracted, the disk is worthless to people in the present world. What’s more, the disks represent a fluid time in information technology–they were a relevant and useful storage medium for at most a decade. Even cassette tapes had a longer life of usefulness. My search for the authentic within what is old and traditional is a shallow one–one that has gotten me back to the 1980s rather than the 80s or earlier in human history. My search should be for a way of living and being that has been tested throughout many variants on human civilizations…the focus should amount to me being the kind of person who is an exemplar in just about any era of Western Civilization–or even more of a core, basic human exemplar.

If something I am doing or saying is essentially a product of my time and place, then it really isn’t approaching the right kind of value a tried and true human truth holds. If I am only capable of swimming in the shallow end of truth when I write, then my writing should become restricted to being purely journalistic–I did this, this and this–and not quasi-philosophical in nature.

immortality is not for me

soon it will be time for me to pay the reaper his due.
i’ll have to stand before the LORD and ask that classic question:
“am i my brother’s keeper?”
(and if i’m brave enough, i’ll add: “or were You supposed to have been there?”)
was i supposed to know that my adolescent descent would reach its nadir
on that night in january 1999?

but that, of course, is just the beginning of the list
(assuming st. peter starts with the worst)
and then, there will be all the names of those i knew
whom i forgot to forgive, and lived with the grandiosity of an exquisite grudge–
my grudges were the most epic and important and insistent for satisfaction.

and then, there will be all the names of those who knew me
and remembered how i did them wrong, intentionally or otherwise–
in the end, at their end, is there really any difference?
now can you see why immortality is not for me?

can you imagine how excruciating it would be
to live endlessly among memories and men and women who continue to wreck you
if you don’t get to them first?
immortality would be the worst
possible curse you could curse someone with–
may you continue to accrue trespasses and debts, and write karmic hot checks,
slowly making enemies out of each soul you meet who inevitably
reaches that saturation point where they know you too well
and owe you too much and you owe them even more.

even locked away inside the most mountainous monastery imaginable
you would somehow manage to enrage your brothers or sisters
when you pass them coming and going from your cell.
even cast away on the most distant desert island all alone
you would encounter so many demons and imaginary friends
who would quickly come to know the real you all too well.

so, no, immortality is not for me.
i’ve already made enough enemies.
my trespasses, debts and sins have hopefully been forgiven
by all of those poor souls i’ll probably never see again
(at least not before judgement day, anyway),
but, who am i to say?

it could be that they, each and every one of them, has made a special case
of remembering my face (if not my name), and saying the LORD’s prayer
with extra special care, to make a clear exception
for that one fool they find to be entirely unforgivable.
or, (and this is more likely the case),
i have buried an exceptionally unholy grudge against some past
classmate, coworker, teacher, boss or family member
and it’s festered and oozed like a gangrenous cancer
in some area of my brain that is mostly inaccessible
and entirely out of reach every single time that i make time
to say the LORD’s prayer.

in fact, such a terrifying, soul-killing grudge has graduated
from being a mere misplaced thought-form,
and now roams about the underworld with other unhappy demons and devils,
waiting to be summoned on judgement day
to stand as a witness against my otherwise utterly forgiven and forgiving soul.
oh LORD, please let this not be so!
and, LORD, please may you also know
that any immortality in this life, this body, is not for me.