My son brought home a plastic puzzle toy from the dentist last year

My son brought home a plastic puzzle toy from the dentist last year. It was kind of in the tradition of the Rubick’s Cube, in that you had to reassemble the pieces just so, or at least one of the pieces woul be left out, and the sphere would be incomplete. I broke the damn thing trying to jam one last piece in after I swore I was close enough that I didn’t deserve to have to go through taking apart the entire thing again for the umpteenth time to try to get it right.

Sometimes, I think that this is how humanity is supposed to work on Earth, with the particular talents each of us are given, and the ultimate goal being to discover the right combination of technologies and then work together to build them correctly in order to make it out of the solar system and begin successfully exploring and populating the rest of the universe. Right now, we are in a stage where we have most of the pieces assembled correctly, but as long as we have men like Trump, Putin and Kim Jong Un in charge, and as long as we have widespread poverty, disease and conflict, we aren’t going to make it off of this rock intact. Eventually, almost all of us will go instinct, and our DNA will embed itself in some hibernating life form that will rise up again from the deep after the earth has replenished itself, or a meteor strikes to reboot everything.

Or, we will simply fail, and that’s it. We are like the team of coworkers you were with when you went and tried to make it out of the Escape Room–you almost made it out, but you did not. And, that’s it. On some other planet, somewhere else in the universe, a group of humanlike creatures are doing a better job of it than we are–or perhaps in a slightly altered parallel universe.

This might seem like a grim prognosis, and the truth of it all is probably not nearly as simplified as this. It could be that the humans who have actually figured out how to make it out of this dimension and off of this planet have figured it out, and they are not coming back again.

Every time I try to run toward a perfect way of being, I get sidelined, sidetracked, or readjusted. I try to become a saint, reading my Bible all the time, praying all the time, trying to turn the other cheek all the time, praying for others instead of wishing bad things against them when they mistreat me–the whole shebang. I even volunteer. Heck, I even went to seminary for an entire year of my life. But it doesn’t take long before I start to realize how unsaintlike I really am, still. I would argue that I even become less saintlike in my responses to others over time, the more that I try my damnedest to be an exceptionally virtuous and really nice person.

The same goes for anything else, be it a health plan or a plan to just eat and drink myself silly. Once I start going too far and too hard in one particular direction with something, I feel like something or someone starts to pull me back–or the Universe just begins creating equal and opposite reactions to my actions. For every good deed I do, I must commit some kind of bad deed. For every smart person book I read, I must go read some trashy gossip website or watch some dumbass reality show. The process doesn’t cease by having me simply seek moderation in everything I do, either. Seeking moderation is it’s own kind of extreme–extreme moderation–and this causes me to swing wildly away from it toward extreme immoderation of just about anything.

I can’t think of two ways of being that are generally considered opposites of each other that I haven’t in some way tried to embrace (more or less, within reason and civilized/moral decency, of course)–the feminine and masculine, the intellectual and the anti-intellectual, the spiritual and the scientific, the workout man and the couch potato, etc. The important thing to note is that something inside of me pulls me away from embracing any one particular extreme, even the extreme of being quite Christian and loving of Jesus and God and my neighbor.

Sometimes, I’ve declared that it is merely the devil, or bad, old habits that won’t die, which are keeping me from pushing past the pendulum of having an opposite force pull me back in the opposite direction. However, I am old enough now to wonder if it isn’t God himself, working precise universal laws inside of me, and the ultimate purpose is to prevent me from descending into a deluded state of idol worship that I only think is true worship of God.

In spite of my supposedly more mature approach to my internal pendulum, I am still not too old to want to give it the old college try–and find some random stupid thing that I try to push hard enough on that I push past whatever forces are trying to pull me back–and keep pushing until I end up someplace other than a middling, nowhere sort of state in life, which does seem to be my lot more often than not.

Most days, I don’t feel very powerful

Most days, I don’t feel very powerful. I don’t relate to people who hold power and wealth. I spent a small portion of my life trying to succeed like I saw people my age trying to succeed. I liked the idea of climbing a corporate ladder, finding myself managing a team of technology, marketing or salespeople at a well-known company. I liked the idea of having the next big thing–creating my own startup to become another Facebook or Twitter, or even a non-profit big thing like Wikipedia or Craigslist. Mostly, I wanted people to look up to me as being especially important and smart, and touched with some kind of cosmic greatness–but not too touched, because obviously, I wanted to be known for having accomplished much of it on my own by using my own gumption and bootstraps. I liked watching CNBC, and wanted to know more about playing the markets so that I could be like the guy who took $10K of his bar mitzvah money and turned it into $2 mil playing penny stocks every day.

I didn’t really pay much attention to my whiteness or maleness or middle-class upbringing during those years, because I worked in a lot of environments that were mostly managed by women, and I never felt as if my own individual voice was the most powerful voice in the room. I was raised by a mother who had a strong personality, and was very much against the concept of self esteem, preferring to believe that God gave you all of your gifts and strength.

I would rather not have my voice even in the room, if my voice is simply heard as another voice of privilege speaking. I’ve always wanted to talk about my own self from the perspective of being a spiritual being trying to discover what it means to be a human being. I don’t suppose that I worked nearly hard enough to listen to what other people have to say, and come to a new understanding about what it means to be human when you are not white and male.

I could blame my lack of attention to the other on my culture–I was raised in the eighties and nineties to believe that the world would more or less always run like the universe of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton–the action heroes would look like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and families would be either like the families of Growing Pains and Family Ties or they would be like the Cosbys or The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Perhaps, some of the more redneck and working class families would look like the Simpsons, but for the most part, everyone would agree that this particular America was the best America we could ever have.

I probably complained more than a little in my teens and twenties about the world not being fair and perfect, but I mostly saw the unfairness of things through the lens of someone who was just a little too bookish and shy to fit in properly, rather than opting to open my eyes and see why other people from very diverse backgrounds might see things as being not quite right.

I for one have never really seen Mexican immigrants or Muslim immigrants as being threats to my jobs and way of life. I have never felt like any particular job I was seeking was denied me due to an undocumented worker stealing it away from me. This, too, could be due to my privilege. My education has enabled me to gain access to white collar jobs during almost any kind of economy. I may not have gotten the kind of degree where I can pack up and take a six figure salary, but I have enough skills and education to be gainfully employed when I need to be.

I don’t think that the American way of life is threatened so much is that it will inevitably shift into being something else, something other than what it looked like during the Reagan and Clinton years. My gut says that Trump will ultimately do more to harm the American way of life than help it, but I hope that he proves me wrong. I am not someone who hopes that Trump wrecks the country, because it would be very bad for me and my family if he did.

The reason that I write so much has less to do with being ever hopeful that my voice will one day be heard by many, and more to do with this sense of it being an inevitable and necessary thing to do. A psychologist might argue that I am writing purely for comfort–that I feel a warm and cozy feeling when I see my thoughts appear as words on a screen, and I feel some kind of validation when I re-read something I wrote and believe that it is of some quality. There is probably some truth to this, but I think there is also the sense of needing to do something, rather than nothing. Just sitting around the house picking at books and articles and contemplating my existence or trying to meditatively purge those character flaws that are still within me is not enough. I want someone out there, either now or in the distant future, to know that when I lived on this earth, I did something.

I do feel like I am mostly powerless against the forces of change that are taking place in the world right now. I don’t feel like my voice is really welcome in the liberal circles I mostly associate myself with, and I look back on my attempts to do something socially active for change during the Bush years, and see just how little of a difference any of my political activity really made. Yes I was hyperinformed, and I wrote letters and I volunteered with political campaigns and parties, but the charisma of Obama is what swept in the change that was needed. It was rather daunting to see all of the faces that turned up for Obama rallies who were mostly absent from the political arena during most of the Bush years. Who are these people, who get excited for someone like Ralph Nader, Howard Dean, Obama or Bernie, but then go back home when they realize their candidate can’t possibly win, and do nothing to change anything until the next magnificent would-be savior comes along? I should know, I was one of them, back when I knew nothing at all about politics and thought that Ralph Nader and Howard Dean were pretty great.

What is it about us humans that makes us feel like we need some kind of messiah or savior or single man or woman to come along and be our advocate, our voice? For a society that has mostly become non-religious, we certainly do like to hold up individual humans as being demigods–we like to assign so much more power and authority to single individuals than they really deserve. Another characteristic of humans may help explain this. We weep openly when we see an individual child or mother suffering in a commercial for a non-profit, but we just sigh and shake our heads in disbelief when we read about the genocide of hundreds of thousands of people. The same sort of thing must be at play when we seek out agents of change and those who we would give our assent to rule over us–it is much easier to think of a single, wise and noble king ruling over us and being our advocate than a large group of people. So many movements end up going nowhere without a person like MLK, Obama or even Donald Trump taking it upon themselves to be the spokesperson for and embodiment of the movement. If all of the women who had marched recently had connected themselves in a similar concrete fashion with Hillary, and Hillary had taken it upon herself to embody the movement rather than simply be a “her” we could opt in to be with, we might very well have seen Hillary elected, or at least have seen her win a few more states. Hillary Clinton may have been too utterly incapable of seizing this charismatic mantle, though–as much as people accuse her of lying and being duplicitous, I think she may have just been an average, boring politician and not enough people could get excited about that.

I still don’t think I am even close to understanding what it is about the charismatic individual that can connect with a particular movement and get people deliriously excited and willing to do more than they thought humanly capable to support that person. Is it really the case that we are endowed with a “god sense” inside of us, a need to worship a deity-as-human? Or, is it simply that evolution has seen us benefit time and again from having a strong tribal leader become the face and voice of all of the dreams and hopes of the collective group?

I can’t say as I was ever completely swayed in the sense of becoming a true believer about Ralph Nader, Howard Dean or Barack Obama. I could see the effect their words and actions were having upon the crowds who listened to them speak, and then went home and took up volunteer positions of blockwalking and phonebanking for these people. By the time 2016 arrived, I was pretty immune and indifferent to such charismatic characteristics, and I could only sort of understand why Bernie and Trump became so popular and Hillary didn’t. I know that it is a well-known truism in sales that people buy emotionally and justify rationally, but I guess I am just too far removed from my youthful emotions to have the kind of radar I would have needed to understand just why Trump was going to win the general election and Hillary wasn’t.

I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about what the world could look like for me and my child(ren?) in ten to fifty years. I have tried to envision all kinds of scenarios for the United States–where we end up like Great Britain during the post WWII years, or Germany between the two World Wars, or Russia from 1900 to the end of the Stalin era, or perhaps Japan of the past ten to twenty years, or maybe even a flat out apocalyptic scenario for when a bunch of countries, including the U.S., start lobbing nukes at each other. In some scenarios, it makes perfect sense to flee to Canada or New Zealand, in others it doesn’t. If things get really bad, they will follow us to those countries, if things are moderately bad, I probably won’t notice them much, being a person who has never known especially great wealth. There is a kind of sweet spot for how bad things could be which dictates leaving the country. Obviously, I don’t want to be tattooed or microchipped to participate in the economy, or renounce my faith, if it were to come down to that. I would rather see myself and my family die as wretched martyrs for Christ, than to curse Christ for the sake of a few years of earthly comfort. I don’t know if my wife feels exactly the same way or not–but I argue that there is no point in having Christian faith if you are unwilling to express it in an extreme circumstance. Why not just be an atheist, agnostic or Buddhist if you are unwilling to die for Christ?

Who knows what Trump will do? Perhaps he doesn’t know himself. Perhaps a bright and shining light will emerge forth from the ranks of the Democratic Party, and this individual will be super-charismatic and smooth talking, making Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan look like stuttering yokels. Such a person would most certainly be adored by many, but I would probably trust him or her very little. People really need to have their innate need for a king or demigod to be met and dealt with and annihilated, in my opinion, and I think both liberals and conservatives still hold too many individuals in their corners who crave a savior.

I would almost argue that the myth-making around the creation of the United States has saved the world and prolonged it from seeing an anti-Christ spring forth. But, too many of us have not bothered to pay attention in our history classes and learn about how this country was founded on principles of not having a king rule us. Historically, it seems like every republic or democracy inevitably succumbs to the people’s desire for a king. It is deeply ingrained in our nature. Maybe we are just lazy and don’t want to take on any civic responsibility, or maybe we our simply too fearful of the Other who would come to invade our pristine civilizations. The threat of the Other, coupled with people’s complacency, seems to always be the winning combination for the crowning of kings, ceasars, czars, etc. Yessir, please come and rule over us, because we are too lazy and fearful to face each other head on and work out our disagreements as civilized adults. Also, we are too lazy and fearful to muster up a response to the invasion of the Other–whether the Other comes to us in peace or not, we are frightened by how the Other will take away our cherished customs.

It is antithetical and completely against what it means to be an American to ask for a king, but each presidential election in my lifetime seems to have seen its winner be the one who would most closely be like a king for us, who would prefer to feel safe and comforted knowing such a person is ruling over us, representing us, and fighting our battles for us so that we can go about our business without worry of any sort of Other invading it.

And, it seems like we never run out of an Other to blame for all of our problems. Some Others may be legitimate threats, but most are not. I think that when we die and go to heaven we will be shocked at the variety of people who join us there. Those of us who are white may very well be among the minority of faces we encounter up in heaven, if God even bothers to clothe our spiritual selves in recognizable human forms.

I sit in endless expectation, waiting to be radically transformed

I sit in endless expectation, waiting to be radically transformed. I age. I forget almost everything I read and dream.

I hope for magic, for adventures into mystic realms. I nap. I wake up refreshed mentally and physically, but there are no big revelations, no cosmic interludes, just asleep and then awake.

I barge into the group at the table with a big grin on my face hoping to make new friends. Soon, the conversation is ping-ponging around me and I can’t keep up. I walk home alone.

I sign up to volunteer here and there, hoping to change the world. I am asked to fetch things and stand around patiently, waiting, just in case they need me, the extra.

I sit down with coffee and pen and paper or computer and word processor, and hope that the words will just flow forth in gorgeous prose. I complain about my day, my life, the people that are in it, and all of the things that are wrong with me that I can’t seem to fix.

I beg the Lord for signs and wonders, for surefire proof that I am being called to take up the Cross and join the disciples and preach the Word and feed the hungry, clothe orphans and give comfort to the widows. The Lord says nothing, and I get the sense that perhaps the Lord just wants me to be happy with the things he’s given me and stop asking for more.

Maybe there are enough workers and fishers of men. Maybe the world of the Anti-Christ and tribulation really did come and go with the fall of the Second Temple and the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. I don’t know.

I do know that I have done what I could in terms of trying to get my childhood spirituality back, and add my adult sense of social and familial responsibilities to it. I do know that I have called out much and listened much, and mostly what I’ve heard is the sound of my own voice. Maybe one day I’ll be asked to beg for forgiveness for polluting the world with so much of my own voice. I hope at least a few words here and there came from some place far above and beyond my selfish brain, but then, who knows?

wake up

wake up. the time to wake up is now. there is no other time than this time. there are no other days than just this day, today. the time has come to stop the self. the self doesn’t know anything. the self needs everything and never gives back a damn thing. the self is born and dies in poverty.

the self is in a cage and wants to be free. outside it sees people in 3D. inside it sees a dripping black watercolor with the occasional patch of gray or white. the black watercolor paint is endlessly dripping on this shallow 2D canvas trying to describe the moments the self almost broke free.

is being nothing more than a series of prisons, endless choices you make to discover new masters who will gladly take your money and then bend you over, and then ask you for more?

I see you down there, trying to reconstruct an old copy of a deconstructed self.

I see you fighting to maintain control over the precisely administered feelings. You take your pain and pleasure in measured doses, and you think that’s the way to enlightenment. It is time to imagine a space outside of yourself, where you are not.

Imagine a space where you are not permitted to go, and so the only way to get there is to become something or someone other than yourself.

Inside this freedom you suddenly find out how a whole new host of entities want to keep you captive.

If words ever could mean anything at all other than a series of impressions in the brain, then now is the time to resurrect some words and make them mean something, do something. Offer a blessing or two for the people who are hard at work doing real work. Offer a prayer for enlightenment and illumination to come over all the souls who are marching toward the darkness without a second thought.

Make your mind and your words blend together and then connect with the sun, so that you might shine upon this earth for a few more centuries past the one in which you’ll die.

Envision ways in which the Creator has sprung forth Creation, and can continue to create as long as He pleases. The Creator needn’t be anyone in particular, as you might have guessed, He probably isn’t very much a He, but is he or she a committee?

Why most we always think of the Destroyer when we think of the Creator–one who would annhilate everything in sight that is held up by Providence? Why must we think that the Creator possibly would be the very same One who would destroy us–or leave us for eternity in a perpetual state of destruction?

Every single state that I can imagine myself falling into is hardly enough to save me from falling into a state of perpetual amnesia, where I can’t remember what it was I did or said the day before.
Every word that I put forth might be but a sad gasp of lame wheezing, an inauthentic attempt to stay awake, stay alive.

Every breath that I consider taking place from my figure is a precious gem. The next breath and the next one are great gifts. Should I be imagining only the best to come, and putting first the dreams and hopes of others–letting all of their lives play out in my head as magnificent and grand lives of utter beauty and truth? Would simple prayers like mine for the souls of others be enough to change the courses of all of their existences?

I believe that these prayers might be a starting point for something grander–a real project of projected consciousness upon the earth. If my love can’t completely shine forth like I would like it to, then that’s okay, at least I’ve begun to change the course of the selfish stream that has been constantly flowing upward into my overly magnified and pumped up pride.

The beginning of the new kingdom will not take place anywhere near Washington D.C.

Permit me some time to indulge myself in escaping from the things that are in front of me

Permit me some time to indulge myself in escaping from the things that are in front of me. Laid out before me are decades of work doing things I can’t imagine. Peace is my prayer. Please, Lord, let there be peace, but the kind of peace that is joy and opportunity for everyone, not the peace of voices silenced by repression and extermination.

Let me walk the streets of a small city I once knew well, though it never knew me at all. Allow me to walk again as a young stranger, expectant of a perfect spring that would bloom into a million opportunities where I could see and know and possess the world. Don’t let me be stalled or waylaid by the vampires lurking in the shadows of these streets–the ones who snatched my youth away from me the first time around.

Oh, to be young again but not half as naive. To be full of hope for anything that could happen but not deluded into thinking everything would happen. Then, I can smell the first flowers of mid-March. I can feel the warm mist of the first spring precipitation. Within that humidity and greenery, my bones are softened where they had grown stiff, and some lusty young individual beckons to me to join in sweet fun.

I wouldn’t want to come back again if it meant my memory was completely wiped, and I had to start over with someone wiping my butt and teaching me how to read and write. Such a return would be almost hopeless–is there not anything I’ve learned in this life that I can take with me and apply it to a delicious, young life full of promise and backed by some means?

Isn’t that what most of us would want–the ability to waltz in and out of this or that life–sucking out all of the savory memories and flying away when things become old and rough? When governments become tyrannies of complete evil, or parents or lovers or friends do much the same. Then, it’s time to move on and live another life of ease and glamour inside another decade or century. Only the happiest moments and best times of the greatest lives for me. I don’t care if I am man or woman, as long as the pain and suffering are brief and mostly felt during periods preceding times of great glory. Sure, send me into battle in a great war, as long as I am one who makes out alive with only scars and stories to tell. Make me into a wealthy woman who travels and dines and drinks when and where she pleases, but don’t leave me to age or become the punching bag of the man who pays for my lifestyle. Once the awfulness starts up, please lift me out of that life, and drop me into another.

There is something about this present time period that feels fake and inauthentic–like life is only being lived halfway seriously. Is it the automation of everything, the connectivity of everyone, the abundance of information, the ease with which we can do so many things that once required effort? We don’t need to worry about film being developed, or a painful process of editing video across multiple tapes, or finding information using reference tomes and card catalogs. We don’t need to delay our gratification when connecting with others, and things and food and drinks are delivered to our doors almost instantly and cheaply.

The time period before WWII seems to be too rough of a time to live, at least for most people in most places. Too many diseases like polio and smallpox don’t have vaccinations. Dental work is crude and painful. People are mean and unforgiving in ways that are hard to imagine. Too much is expected of you, and too little is given in return. You die young and you receive next to nothing for your work and service. The time period after around 1995 seems to be too easy of a time to live–especially after the smartphone came along. Nobody has to work too hard for their entertainment, and everyone is rewarded for pressing a few buttons and sharing their picture or idea with their friends. Perhaps we will come to take all of it for granted too much, and forget the old ways. Nobody will remember how to fix a car, or boil coffee, or repair a pair of pants.

I feel most days like my life is inauthentic, but I think there is more to it than just the instant gratification technology, or my disconnect from common people and the land. Perhaps its the larger mentality of a throwaway culture–where everything including music and art and literature is consumed and forgotten. Maybe it’s simply my own consciousness, or the way my memories are bolstered and confused by digital images of ten to twenty years ago instead of fading film and photographs. Or it could be I’m experiencing would everyone living sedentary lifestyles has always experienced–unless I really make an effort to go run or work out, and unless I look closely at myself in the mirror, I really don’t feel the effects of aging deep inside of me. My internal clock says that I could be ten or even twenty years younger than I am, even though there are plenty of people younger than me who remind me that this isn’t so.

Of course, this is at least partly why we humans seem to be fixated on immortality. We are conscious of the idea of it, the possibility of it, and there are too many days that go by where we don’t struggle too much with thinking about what it means to be mortal. We live huge chunks of our lives as if we are going to live forever, until something serious comes along and lets us know on no uncertain terms that the end will come and come sooner than later. We don’t intentionally lie to ourselves–it is almost impossible to go around with the sense of one’s own mortality constantly present. It seems so much more natural to kind of forget about it until someone our age dies or we have a moderately serious health issue trip us up for a few days or weeks.

When faced with so many daunting tasks and future moments of uncertainty

When faced with so many daunting tasks and future moments of uncertainty, I can sense my mind automatically seeking out places of comfort. It is such a natural reaction, that I don’t think it could be described as escapist idolatry–unless, of course, I were to completely throw myself into it and never look back. And I must say, the temptation is strongly there.

The instinct is to find a place of refuge that is bulletproof. The instinct and ensuing drive could see me wallowing in memories, books, music, art, architecture, nature, movies, shows, etc., or find me dreaming of travel to find that perfect community where I can spend the rest of my life living simply and being just fake enough to stay friends with the neighbors.

So many things present themselves as being potential foes of the perfect place of refuge: strangers, new places, new things to do, new presidents, any number of unexpected life changes that are beyond my control. Of course, there are times like when I decide to travel where I willfully take on a certain amount of newness for the sake of hopefully discovering some greater place of refuge and comfort. Most of the times when I was unhappy with my life circumstances I was probably experiencing the very refuge and comfort I would later crave.

I was no different than anybody else. If I was experiencing something good, then surely there was something better than this to be experienced somewhere.

Are these mental habits that can be changed through much prayer, meditation and discipline? Can I simply sit and try to change the direction of my will, from being self-centered to Other-centered, from being a taker and consumer to a giver and producer? Life certainly tries to change this direction. Being a husband and father naturally means that I must be less self-centered to some degree. However, there are many days where it feels like I am trying to make the needle of a compass stay pointed in the opposite direction, and it just flips itself right back. I don’t know if this is due to habitually learned behavior, lingering childish inclinations, or my intrinsic nature. I hope it is not the last one, but at this point in my life, I am not completely sure.

It doesn’t make me feel especially great to think that I am sitting on more wealth and material possessions than I really need. The things that I do have I keep around mostly out of sheer laziness–I don’t want to think about the effort required to meaningfully give them away to someone who really needs the stuff. I have many times over just filled up boxes and hauled them off to Goodwill, but I don’t know if that’s the best way to make sure your stuff makes it to someone who can really benefit from it.

Then, I also think about my intellectual possessions–the knowledge and wisdom I’ve obtained. While I may not always be the most exemplary individual when it comes to putting such wisdom into practice, I yet feel compelled to share it with anyone who cares to listen and benefit from it. I especially wish that I could offer comfort and solace to people who are contemplating suicide and ones who are suffering from the abuse of others. I wish that I could give them a safe space, both physical and mental to where they can begin to feel like they will be okay.

I have tired of paying excessive attention to what is happening in our government and in the Christian community. Our country has a history of being inhospitable to the Other, and at times genocidal, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we have favored someone who will continue to be inhospitable for the sake of making ones who are now in the minority feel a little safer.

Part of me insists that I may be going about my will toward comforting things in a completely incorrect fashion. I may not be honoring this need and providing the right kind of self care to address it. It could be my endless attempts to be a tougher, more outgoing person who tries to get out of his comfort zones are what is preventing the itch from ever being completely scratched. Maybe there is a yin and yang or some other duality within me that needs to be properly addressed. Moments of pure comfort seeking and self indulgence should be sought as such, without any guilt or shame or looking over my shoulder at work that I should be doing for others. Likewise, when I throw myself into doing something where I am in the role of the giver and servant, I should be immersed in it completely without secretly yearning or longing for a vacation.

However, I would argue that when considering the majority of my attempts to accomplish anything at all in this life, I have been mostly prone toward retreating into my world of comforting memories and ideas. The idea of spending a weekend walking in the park, going to the public library and rummaging through books, and throwing back a few beers while watching a movie is much more appealing than a weekend of volunteering in three different places, going to church, working on homework or other work, jogging and going to the gym, etc.

I’ve been sitting and laying around a lot the past few days

I’ve been sitting and laying around a lot the past few days, picking away at a paper that’s due next Tuesday, and trying to put something together in my mind that resembles a clear sense of purpose for moving forward. I’m afraid I lost that pristine sense of a call some months ago when it became abundantly clear that no one outside of my own head was really convinced that I was called to be a pastor, especially within my particular denomination. They are looking for women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and perhaps a handful of young men who have been with the denomination their entire lives. I thought perhaps the more rural churches were eagerly awaiting someone like myself but I suppose I could have been wrong about that as well. My conversation with the current pastor of my church sent me into a tailspin, and the way I’ve been passed around like a hot potato from one church to another and mostly ignored by the committee one level above the church has all contributed to me feeling mostly like I don’t really belong here.

After so many conversations with people in my classes, this became all the more clear to me–my voice, experience, and eagerness to dive in and help where I might be needed are not enough–I am simply not what this denomination wants or needs right now. I get the impression that many folks who have “gotten theirs” and now have voices that matter, are of a mind that the older, rural churches of a more traditional demographic should all either die out or schism off and become part of a more conservative version of the denomination. Those who are to be a part of the ministry moving forward are the young (millennials and younger), women, people of color and LGBTQ people. For someone who is too old to be a millennial and too young to be a baby boomer, there just isn’t much of anything here for me.

As far as the broader sense of calling and purpose goes–that too has become difficult to ascertain and revive as being something crystal clear and clearly from God. What is God’s purpose for me in the next several decades, as a husband and father who is trying to raise a young son and perhaps another young child–when our country is about to be beset with so many difficult challenges that will likely bring about conflict like we haven’t seen since the Civil War? Why would God allow someone like Donald Trump to win, and allow so many so-called Christian conservatives to be blinded by the kind of man that Trump is? Am I just completely duped by a mainstream, liberal media bubble, and we are on the verge of seeing a deeply flawed man in the tradition of a Churchill do great things for this country? God, I really hope that I am wrong about Trump, and he turns out to be okay–but, none of me is feeling that great about it.

And, what of it? If I am right about Trump, then it changes everything about what the future means for me and my family. If I am wrong about Trump, then it means I probably haven’t been nearly as close to God as I’d hoped, and all of my so-called sense of having a calling to ministry has simply been my own misguided pride. I would much rather be wrong about Trump, and he turn out to be an okay president, no better or worse than the last few we’ve had.

Except, what that ends up meaning for me is that there is no special calling, no purpose, no mission, no vision. I would have done just as well to have stayed at C/B after they merged, and kept my head down and worked from home as long as I could, and then gone back to Austin or gone to Charleston to work, if they determined I needed to be in an office working for them. It means that I was full of so much ego and pride over how much more I could do for a company or an organization, when really, my fullest and true capabilities were just in the area of putting my head down, doing what I was told, and socking away money into a 401K.

There are two visions: helping others and helping myself. They can seem to be like oil and water, and yet each of them depends on the other. I can’t help others until I’ve removed the beam from my own eye. Once I become immersed in trying to do so many things to make myself better physically, intellectually and spiritually, I become more compelled to give of myself and help others benefit from the good things that I’ve obtained.

However, there is the simple fact that a life must be lived with an emphasis on one or the other. As much as you might like to be a perfected being in some classical sense of the word–all full of culture and smarts about a lot of things and really healthy as well–and also be the consummate philanthropist and community volunteer, you really have to reach a point in your assessment of self where you allow yourself to obtain a realistic picture of your talents. I may simply not be capable of being the kind of man I’d like to become. On my death bed, I probably won’t have an entire community gathered around me weeping.

Right now, I am just trying to remember how to pray. I think that I was walking on water for a little bit, and then suddenly remembered that I couldn’t–and I had also forgotten about my faith. I have to keep my faith or the darkness is too much. I may not be able to do a whole lot right now, but I can certainly cry out to God in prayer–prayer for peace in this land and illumination for myself. I need some light to put my next foot in front of me.

I realize that I am not the one who is creating the future. What’s more, I recognize that my idea of what I think would make for a perfect future isn’t necessarily God’s. However, I am with some hope that God is still with me, in spite of how many times I have taken the opportunity to wander off and do my own thing and assert my voice in such a way as to drown out God’s. I also hope that God is still with my country, in spite of how terrible things look from where I sit. The potential terror that could come with a madman declaring martial law for some petty reason is almost unthinkable but still very much within the bounds of being a probable outcome over the next 4-8 years.

When your mind starts creating these scenarios of how bad the world could get to the point where you are envisioning yourself in a post-apocalyptic world, you become reminded again that you are not really in charge of as many things as you’d like to be. You are not in charge of when you die. People get cancer all the time at any given age, and so could you. You could have an undetected heart problem, or some deadly hibernating virus hanging out in your gut. A car could come out of nowhere tomorrow when you are crossing the street. Or, anything else you want to think of. The point is that comfort and satisfaction need to reside in something bigger, or you will walk through this life always skating over a chasm of terror. If you are capable of having great peace of mind about what happens when you die without needing a higher power, then you obviously draw on resources I can’t.

I have to return again and again to the resource of a higher power, and I have to have some hope in the fact that even though I haven’t done everything Jesus asked me to do, I did believe in him in a more fundamental way than merely believing in his existence. I realize that I have been for the most part a self-centered, selfish individual and that I have mostly myself to blame for this. I could blame my culture or the way I was brought up, or others who acted as influences during my formative years, but at the age of 40, I can’t really blame them for more than a fraction of a percentage of my present actions.

It is simply more comfortable to return to a state of adding more to myself–more knowledge, wisdom, food, drink, experiences, etc.–instead of being in a state of giving of myself. It is my default mode, my comfort zone. I have to make myself quite uncomfortable to go out and give of myself to others. Much of my anti-social tendencies and introversion comes from simple selfishness. I feel better about doing something that adds to myself instead of gives of myself, in the short term. Of course, when I get out of my comfort zone and give of myself, and devote blocks of time to doing this, it feels awkward and not quite right in the short term, but makes me feel much better in the long term.

I realize that as a father and a husband I can’t just sell all of my possessions and give the money to the poor and then go live a life of being a mendicant preacher. I must fulfill my obligations as a householder, and find ways within this construct to give of myself. At the end of the day, my family is doing for me what I never seemed to be capable of doing for myself–they make me give of myself all the time. Though, I do recognize that this probably isn’t enough in Jesus’ eyes. Jesus expects me to give of myself to the ones I love as a matter of course–he has asked me to love enemies and neighbors and strangers and pray for those who mistreat me.

And, maybe that’s all I can do right now–pray for those who seem to see the state of things in such a radically different way than I do. They may not necessarily be my enemies, but they are certainly opposed to me in many ways politically and intellectually, whether they know it or not. All I can do is pray for them–not to pray that they come to think like I do, but pray that they receive vision, guidance and clarity from God as much as I hope to. And in the end, we will hopefully come around to having a clearer picture of the world to come that we can agree upon and look forward to together in a peaceful way. This may be asking for a lot, but I still do believe that with God, all things are possible.