Seminary has been good for me

Seminary has been good for me, though I am loath to consider myself as one of those individuals who come to seminary looking to be fixed. I don’t think of myself as being any more or less broken than anyone else. I may never be the perfect sort of pastor, but I don’t see why I can’t become successful in at least a small capacity of loving and helping others in a disinterested sort of way–by disinterested I mean something like being altruistic, not concerned with how I am paid back, if ever.

Maybe I won’t ever be a pastor or chaplain, but I certainly would like to find that church which really does need more helpers to sustain its life and community and presence in the world. I don’t need to be the star of the church recognized in every bulletin or seen at the front of the church every Sunday with my hands in everything, sitting on every committee and trying to help out in every single way imaginable. But likewise, I don’t want to raise my hand fervently as someone who wants to do more and be a part of more and then get called upon once a year to deliver a bucket of ice and few jugs of tea to a committee of the really important and recognized people of the church. It’s kind of the same thing with life and places I’ve worked at–if you ask to help too much people become suspicious of you and either avoide asking for your help or they decide you are a subhuman worthy of being used up in every imaginable way.

Seminary has taught me a lot about slowing down and meeting people in various modes of time and space that aren’t necessarily set to a calendar full of blocked-off meetings and walled-off moments where they are deigning to give you thirty minutes of their extraordinarily precious and valuable time. There are still people out there who will pause and have a human conversation with you without tapping their foot impatiently because they have somewhere more important to be.

I think that I will come out of here with my faith much stronger, because it has been so rigorously and thoroughly tested. What remains is a deep love for Christ and a desire to be in a more profound relationship with Christ and have a receptivity to how the Spirit moves. What is gone is my sense of a need to be a part of a given denomination, or carefully build up a social justice resume by being seen on Facebook doing highly visible things. What only lingers a little is a sense that I can somehow find something of deeper meaning by reading more and more books. I do think that books are ultimately just distractions if they become the go-to when you are seeking to have a more meaningful and thorough relationship with Christ in your everyday life. Books before prayer, books before communion with others and taking communion, books before worship, books before the Book, books about everything tangentially related to the time and place of the appearance of Jesus Christ, but never a moment of just putting all of the books aside and talking plainly and directly to Christ while reading some of His words from the Bible.

The honest and immediate nature of the act of being seized by the face of the other–Levinas–is a great gift from the seminary. This is much closer to how I think Christ intended us to respond to and interact with others as Christians. Being a better Christian is ultimately about becoming a better human being in all of the most virtuous and ethical ways imaginable, without getting caught up in human-generated laws, norms, codes and straitjacket ways of being that can drive you crazy no matter which side of the political aisle or what brand of Christianity you attempt to align with.

I am thirty minutes out from my third quiz before Spring Break

I am thirty minutes out from my third quiz before Spring Break–mid-term, really, even though the teachers call them quizzes. I still have a paper to write and notes to take for a class where you are made to feel weird if you don’t participate. There is only about 5% of me left that really wants to be doing this. The rest of me wants very badly for the week free of classes to be here already, even though I will have a million householder duties, like doing taxes, getting the car serviced, etc. piled on me by the time the break gets here.

I am wanting very badly to turn around and put my hand back on the plow, even though I know that this will be a clear signal that I am not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven. I am not saint, though. I tried to be. I couldn’t hack it. I don’t have the patience required to put up with difficult people outside of my family. I am allowing myself to be seduced by endless visions of the happy, suburban life in all of its perfect glory–weekends at Chuck E Cheese, bowling, Gattitown and camping at the lake; trips to the public library to check out science fiction; Netflix binge watching–there are probably ten or more well-known series of shows I’ve been meaning to see one day in their entirety from start to finish–Lost, Breaking Bad, Sopranos, Game of Thrones, etc.; church at that perfect suburban church (yes, it’s mostly WASPs like me) that doesn’t make you feel too guilty about not being Christian enough either in the social justice sense or in the “are you saved” sense of the word; summers to Disneyland, Disneyworld and all-American places like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Yoesemite, etc.; every few years, trips to Europe or Mexico; brand new cars in the garage more often than not; a garage for both cars; you name it, I’ve probably dreamed it.

Does this mean I am seeking my reward here on earth? Perhaps. It could also mean that I have obtained a much more realistic picture of just who God is and what God expects from me. In reality, most of your American pastors since there ever was such a thing have been men and a few women who more or less live the same lives as the suburban office schmuck–the difference may be by degree–most tend to be poorer than their middle-class counterparts, a few much richer, but at the end of the day, you can’t drive down the block of the suburban communities in just about any middle size town to large city and say: “Gosh, that house must belong to a TRUE disciple of Christ–it’s temporary and ramshackle, and clearly exhibits Christ’s exhortation not to be concerned with the morrow.” Of course not! So then, why am I letting myself feel so guilty about my potential ending of my seminary career?

Because I’ve already bitched and pissed and moaned to my wife and anyone else who will listen how unhappy I was being a button pusher for a marketing crew, and how much I needed to be on the path toward a vocation, and how important seminary was for me. I will be letting down so many people, and pissing off a few. I will be burning a bridge that says I can never really seriously attempt a return to grad school again.

It’s not that I’ve completely made up my mind to move back into the marketing world–but, if the right offer comes along, I am not going to turn it down at this point. I’ve reworked by LinkedIn profile to make it attractive again to recruiters, and have started getting recruiter hits. I’ve sent out a few applications. I am having conversations with people about what getting back into all of that world would look like. It is a world that can have a tremendous appeal to it–going to conferences in places like Vegas, San Francisco and Orlando–sometimes NY and Boston when you are especially lucky—all on the company dime, so that means you can drink it up at the airport and hotel bar for free and sleep in the finest hotel rooms and be treated like a king when you step onto the Expo floor and you aren’t attending as a vendor. The world of pretending like you give a shit about sales and marketing strategies for generating leads is such a fancy, special one, that you start to forget that you are just spending a lot of time getting drunk and bs’ing your way from one conversation to the next.

Actually, it’s kind of amazing how just about any profession seems to require a certain level of bs’ing to prevent you from showing your true hand to the world. At the end of the day, I would rather be bs’ing my way through a secular career where work is work, a job is really just a job, and lives and souls are not at stake, than find myself in the state of bs’ing my way through a vocation where I am faking my piousness to prevent people from seeing a human being living underneath.

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.

With the removal of my pride and ego comes a deep sort of apathy

With the removal of my pride and ego comes a deep sort of apathy. It’s not that I no longer care about others, it’s that I realize I had been caring about them for the wrong reasons. My cares and concerns came from a place of worrying about how I would look if I stopped appearing to care. What remains when all of that is removed is a more or less blank slate that waits for a spontaneous call or urge to move charitably.

If I choose to imagine myself digging down deep into the well of my soul for nourishment, I find a lot less busy activity happening. The need to be going about some type of business or endlessly reacting to what is happening in the world isn’t there anymore. There is a reminder of how important it really is to remove the beam in my own eye before I start fixing other peoples’ motes. There is no longer an insistent need to control things: to control the narrative of what is happening around me, to control what I will be doing when I die, to control how my son will end up.

It’s not a leaving off of responsibility, but a leaving off of an illusory sense of control where there never really was any. I don’t stop acting as a being in this world, but I do stop acting unless I am deeply moved to act in the moment. Furthermore, I can’t expect everyone to always understand why I am behaving the way that I am. Sometimes, people may grow disgusted with me, and expect me to act more responsibly. Other times, people may question why I chose to act when I did.

So many of the things that I have constantly worried about over the past few years don’t need to be worried about. Concerns about who is or isn’t going to hell, especially concerns about my own soul. My quest to find a welcoming community in the form of a church or worship group, my longing to make a few new close friends who I am as much their confidant as they are mine–such as the ones in high school and college were, but these are people of God–can now be seen as a disturbance in the waters of a much deeper well. The part of the well in which I need to be spending my time is much deeper than all of these frothy temporal concerns that used to be the objects of so much of my obsessions.

I woke up today, and the sore throat had abated some, but not much

I woke up today, and the sore throat had abated some, but not much. I may have had another cold, but I think I was just breathing heavily through my mouth a few nights ago, and the throat became quite sore to the point where it especially hurt to swallow. The nasal issue was probably due to cedar fever, which is common down here, and especially prevalent this year. Each little burst of physical activity, getting back into running and eating healthy foods, has resulted in some kind of illness knocking me down: hand-foot-mouth from the baby last summer, two colds last fall, and now cedar allergies. When you are young, you have to work very hard to make yourself sick, and even then, you are hungover for hours instead of all day. Then, you bounce up and run, play sports, party, get drunk and do it over and over again.

I did my walk for health down through UT campus today, passing by multiple scenes of construction and a few families visiting or moving in for spring semester. Aside from slight changes in car and clothing styles, and a few new buildings here and there, I doubt the scenes I passed by would have looked much different twenty years ago. Perhaps thirty or forty years is when you would start to see significant differences in the demographics of who is attending, and notice significantly fewer buildings or automobiles that were especially dated. Maybe I am speaking from a poor frame of reference, but it seems like by 1995, we Americans had built the world we want to live in, and had little interest in making it any better or changing it around. The styles and fashion trends continued to change, but they were mostly recycled elements from previous decades. The technology improved, but mostly by degree. Socially-speaking, there has been somewhat of a shift in our behavior–we smoke less and spend more time absorbed in our mobile devices; we are more accepting of homosexuality and probably more aware of what is going on in other parts of the world (maybe)–but, by and large, the world I passed by today wouldn’t probably have looked that different twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, I don’t think anyone would have paid me a second look, either. I wasn’t wearing VR glasses, or a bluetooth earpiece or riding around on a hoverboard or segue.

Actually, I probably would have gotten just as many looks for wearing or operating those things today–people by and large don’t seem to have any interest in drawing attention to themselves in order to use some type of technology that only marginally improves their lives. If I’d taken my smartphone out and started talking on it, I might have gotten a few looks in 1995. I can remember a friend in the dorms who spotted a woman talking on a car phone and riding her bicycle some time about that year, and he thought she was completely ridiculous for doing so. But, in 1995, there were people using cell phones.

The point is that I would tentatively argue that the society which has been built to look the way it does is by and large the way Western culture will look until it implodes or erodes. People are okay with not being able to get to another city a few hours faster, or have cars that can fly, or be able to visit the moon or mars as tourists. People are fine with their food being ready to eat at the time/cost it currently is ready to eat when served from a fast food restaurant or heated up from the grocery store freezer. People are by and large happy with their selections of entertainment–as they should be, the access to literature, music and movies for the cost is nothing short of miraculous. To be for sure, you have purists who say that the sound quality of this song isn’t as great unless it’s heard on vinyl, or the film should be seen as a film, and the book should be read in the form of a first edition hardback book, but most people are happy with what is available.

So, why this great unhappiness that has come over the land, and caused enough people to vote for an incompetent asshole that he’s on the verge of fucking everything up? There are probably a dozen theories for why this is, and they are probably all contributing factors. People have it too good, and they can’t remember how bad even their grandparents had it after WWII, which is to say that the creature comforts of today beat hands down the ones of the fifties, and most people, even the ones living in poverty, have access to many of these creature comforts–refrigeration, air conditioning, television, microwave, etc. People have been told that they should have things better–or that people who are living in this particular area have it better, and the ones who have it better didn’t have to work as hard for their nice stuff as these other people did. Maybe there is even yet a lingering sense that humanity in its entirety could be something better, but we are too scared to ask that question, and so it’s better to simply compare how we and our immediate neighbors are living against some hotshot techie limousine liberal living on one of the coasts.

Or, it could be that the idea of American being something less than it once was is an utter fabrication–by all standards of measurement, almost every demographic is doing better than members of the previous generation in that demographic did. For sure, you can always find counter-examples to a rule–there will inevitably be generations of people who do worse or have it worse than their parents did–but, statistically speaking in the sense of an aggregate of people coming together to vote in a democratic republic–all demographic groups have it better than their parents and grandparents did. This may or may not be the truth. There may be pockets here and there in the country where manufacturing or mining jobs persisted into the early 2000s, but those pockets shouldn’t have been enough to make a difference in determining who became president.

For my money, it mostly looks like people were fed a certain kind of myth for eight years–that things were shit for them under a black president, and now you’re going to let a woman president (who is the most diabolical witch ever) take over from there? It doesn’t matter if Joe Blow now makes three times as much as his daddy did, while working at a desk job in IT support, and drives a truck that is three times as big as his daddy’s and lives in a similarly-sized house. Joe Blow can somehow just sense that things are not quite right unless a white man is in the White House.

For most of us, the result is going to hopefully be a valuable civics lesson in what happens when someone like Trump is permitted to make it into the White House. I would suspect that after a few years, the so-called powers that be are not going to what the man around anymore, and neither will the little people. Trump will have blundered and blustered his way through enough near misses on seeing the country completely destroyed, that no one will want to see Trump or anyone like Trump anywhere near the White House again.

I will not be terribly surprised if the U.S. sees some kind of terrorist attack on the order of magnitude of 9/11 at that point, and most people will cower and state that we need to go ahead and re-elect Herr Trump to protect us–for the good of the country. At this point, he will declare martial law and crown himself king. Some people have argued that we have too many checks and balances and people in places of power that wouldn’t permit such a thing to happen. Let’s hope so. What the Republican Party has demonstrated recently, is that they don’t care if the U.S. has been compromised by an old cold war enemy, as long as their team is winning. They have effectively demonstrated that they don’t have any scruples when it comes to maintaining the U.S. in whatever form it was that made it appear to be a free, democratic republic. No one in Joe Blow’s America seems to be bothered by this. Any attempt to make something of it seems to result in the individual being dismissed as either a sour grapes partisan or a washed up RINO.

I am not sure how I ended up on such a lengthy political rant. I was hoping to come home and ruminate on the way the world never seems to change, but then I started to get riled up and worried that it will all change too much, too soon. What I really want is to be walking through a college campus almost twenty years from now with my son and having him be just as excited about college as I was, and see everything as being more or less the same as it was when I was in school. I don’t want him to have to worry about pledging loyalty to the fascist Trump state, or be required to have an embedded chip put into his forehead or hand in order for him to attend a state school. I don’t want my son worrying about where he is going to eat tomorrow, because we are living on the fringes of a nuclear wasteland. I want his concerns to be completely about which school to attend, which major to pick, which girlfriend is worth bringing home to meet mom and dad, etc. I hope to God he’s smarter than I was about booze and getting involved with activities on campus that will help him get places in life.

But, if he is completely bound for a trade school or the army, that’s okay too. As long as the world is more or less the same–with the biggest changes being ones that come gradually and in an expected fashion as part of a natural progression of advancement in human understanding about the universe.

There will come a day when most of what you are witnessing

There will come a day when most of what you are witnessing will be dismissed as being frivolous and of little consequence.

I am no prophet. I sit and try with my best intentions to gaze out into the future. The future in 1999 was just as black as it is today. As much as I thought all of the lights would go out, I didn’t quite believe it enough to do anything about it. The only lights going out in the future that I can be sure about are my own.

I wish I could find the face that I am speaking to. I will never know you, at least I think that’s true. Maybe we will come to know each other on some distant, timeless plain.

The isolation required by this human form is maddening. People treasure their privacy like nothing else. After all of the layers are stripped away, you are left wondering what someone was so carefully hanging onto. It is easy to see a future kingdom of heaven on earth as being highly social and communal, but it is hard to immerse myself in social things. The more fragmented the conversation becomes, the higher the noise to signal ratio. Of course, some signals are hiding behind coherence brought about by the right overlapping noise waves. If you are always focused on seeking out the signal, you might only catch a few trivial signals and miss many more significant ones gleaned by those who toughed it out in the arenas of conversation.

Or, you might perfect the only few signals you ever really needed to know.

There is an instinct to get home. There is no home, but simply shards of what home used to be. I could go visit the places I once called home, and I could attempt to return myself to the state I was in when I metaphysically left home, but it only does some good. It does good in that there are little pieces to be found that I’d forgotten and can’t describe succinctly.

If life was a jigsaw puzzle, it would be a jigsaw puzzle numbering in pieces approaching the hundreds of thousands. The picture on the box would be blacked out, and too many of the areas of the puzzle would look similar and unvaried. I’ve gotten the edge pieces all in place, and I’ve more or less grouped everything by color, but I am still trying to figure out how these different areas of similar pattern and color go together. If life was a jigsaw puzzle, for all I know, I could be about to put in the last piece or I could still have tens of thousands of pieces to go. I just don’t know. Of course, I could run the metaphor into the ground, and talk about how I should be getting more help putting the pieces together while helping others put their pieces together. I could even assert that all of the pieces are already in place, or that the picture on the box has always been there, and it’s simply my own stupid desire to be putting fragments back together that enables the picture to look fragmented.

The urge has been to find a talisman–something to touch and hold that would set off a million memories and insights. But then, the will is also to get away from things, as things tend to clog everything up and make it hard to breathe and do something new.

When trying to jump spontaneously into just any memory, or remembering a random dream, I find myself in the backyard of the house in which I did most of my growing up. Sometimes it’s dark, sometimes light. Sometimes I am young, or my present age. Other times it’s winter, fall, spring, summer…or the backyard has become mostly unrecognizable as a dream place.

Perhaps I assigned some kind of psychic ownership to this place. I wandered around in it more than anyone else in my family did, as far as I know. I longed to uncover something magical about it–an old Civil War relic, a Native American artifact, a precious gem, a portal to another world. Alas, the back yard yielded only what its previous owners had left in it–garbage buried everywhere, a shack we eventually tore down, the remains of fry daddies, salon equipment, an engine block from a ‘74 Plymouth, tons of old boards covered in wire from the electric fences they had tacked up for their horses. There was nothing magical there–only the remains of a marriage and business partnership that had gone south.

But, it was also my retreat from the horrors of junior high and high school. It was a place to dream and pretend that I was going to be transformed in a few short months. My older brother had rarely gone back there, and only went back there to smoke when he returned home from boot camp. My little brother had yet to develop a curiosity about the outdoors. My parents worked and went about their adult lives, only occasionally going back there to tend to the garden, mow, trim brush and tear down the old shack.

While I never consciously claimed it as my own particular place, that’s what it became for me. It was a place that belonged primarily to me. Others were allowed to venture there, but they never went during my prime time hours of before/after school and summer weekdays. My neighbor friend across the street generally insisted on doing something when he hung out with me, and so wandering around a trashy, weedy back yard wasn’t really his idea of fun.

Maybe this is what every human needs: an acre patch on earth that he or she can all their own. It doesn’t have to hold any intrinsic worth–the mineral rights can be possessed by others, but that might defeat some of the purpose of getting to have full ownership. If each person was guaranteed a single acre to live and die and be buried, then they might not be as inclined to fight for particular patches of dirt in the Middle East. What makes a patch of dirt so special is the psychic shine you put into it.

I don’t mean anything terribly mystical or voodoolike, either. Just psychic shine in the sense of how you spend so many hours there, focused on it as your land and nobody else’s, during various seasons. You become attached to it not because it is beautiful or yields rare gems and treasures–you become attached to it because it is a significant enough amount of physical space you can claim as your own and nobody else’s. In your mind, you can erect anything you want to on this land.

Maybe it’s not for everyone. Some people have done amazing things while living out entire lives in cramped, urban spaces. Many people have done nothing with millions of acres of land. But, if you were given one unremarkable acre of land, what would you do with it? Would you try to farm it? Build on it? Put in a swimming area and create a fake beach? Start a business? Make a parking lot? Find as much native vegetation as possible to fill all but a tiny middle patch of it where a little green lawn and gazebo sit?

Obviously, the mind wants to turn this into a metaphor for the physical self. If you are given such-and-such body and brain–not terribly smart, sexy or strong but not especially stupid, unattractive and weak, either–what do you do with it? Most people abuse their little acres for the first part of their adult lives, and then become hyper-conscious of how little time they have left to maintain their acre and therefore begin obsessing about perfecting the acre: it gets it all–a garden, a business, a parking lot, a swimming pool, a home, a chapel. But, none of these are cultivated especially well, and the owner of the acre spends only so much time developing each one. No one is there to help them, because each of us have our own little acre we are working on. Perhaps two of us join our acres together, and attempt to bring forth another acre or two from the joining–and we quickly realize that we don’t own any of the other acres but the original one that was assigned to us.

And really, what is there you can do with one acre of land that would impact the rest of the world when you die? You could plant a bunch of trees, but they might get cut down for timber. You could erect a library and fill it with uplifting books, but what if no one comes to read them? You might install a windmill or two, or some solar panels and generate a few kilowatts of electricity–drops in the bucket.

Or, you can do what any younger person would wish to do, as they pay no heed to buried power and gas lines or mounds of dirt falling in upon them–they start to dig.

You dig, and you dig and you dig. Occasionally, you come back to the top to see just how far you’ve dug, and to make a note of how the soil looks much the same at 30m as it does at 330m. Sometimes you hit water, sometimes oil. But, you insist on digging until you can dig no more. Someone says you’ll get to the earth’s molten core, others claim that you’ll run into Indonesia, and a few think that you’ll reach the weird land of the hollow earth people who see down as up and up as down and get their light from an unknown source near the center of the earth.

Too many people to count have urged you to stop digging, as your hole runs so deep that the earth will surely collapse in upon you and crush you during your efforts. But for you, the only way to obtain anything approaching a happy ending is to keep digging until you can dig no more.

I wish that I could report on my present condition

I wish that I could report on my present condition as being one where I am full of great certitude about being on a path. I love the idea of being on a great path guided by God, and having it be the perfect path for me–a unique one that was custom tailored for my special self. I would really like to report to you that every single day sees me waking up feeling like I am part of something epic, real and perfect for a future biopic about a really interesting fellow.

But, most days of the week, I see only my own peculiar face looking back at me in the mirror, and I feel more inclined to stay in bed reading books and writing random thoughts then getting up and pretending that the life I am living is part of a miraculous plan. I am particularly defeated when I hear that there are people attending this school with me who have already been doing what it is that I came here to do, but for whatever reason the need for an MDiv and ordination was terribly important for them. It’s not for me. If I had found the opportunity to serve at a given church in a way where I really felt like I belonged and was needed by the people of that church, I don’t think I would have felt the need to go any further with my so-called calling.

I don’t need to have an acronym for a Master’s Degree after my name. I don’t need to be a Reverend or be ordained to administer sacraments. I felt the need to serve and wanted very much to do so much more than any church I’ve been to in the past six years has asked me to do. I wanted to be part of those folks who go on retreats, both in and out of state. I wanted the t-shirt or ballcap from the event. I wanted to be a part of some warm and fuzzy Jesus-y thing that included a conference center and outdoor retreat and lots of discussion about the future this or that in the church. Most of the time, I was invited to help a little bit here, a little there. Nothing much. Nothing particularly more than anyone else who happened to raise their hand and remind their church that they have a pulse. Fetching ice for a meeting. Standing at a station on the last day of VBS. Sitting in another Bible class. A lot of times, I had to invite myself. Really, that’s how I ended up here. I was always a little puzzled by the request from the school and others to talk about how much others recognized the calling in me–well, nobody ever did. Not even my mom. She thought my little brother was going to be the pastor, and I was going to be the politician.

So, I guess it was all just another head fantasy. I suppose there really is nothing in particular that God has called me to do. God may not even really care that much about what I do, period. I may just be a passthrough dad, slightly more involved with the process of DNA transmission than Joseph, but not by much. My purpose on earth is to keep my son alive until he’s old enough to look out for himself, and make sure he’s educated enough to support himself and a family, and that’s it. Such is the purpose of most men, as it has been for all time–it is the kind of purpose that doesn’t look that much different from the perspective of Darwin or the especially patriotic or tribal-oriented.

Be a man, have a family, raise the family, keep it from being harmed by the outside elements, make sure some of the offspring can bear offspring of their own, die.

If this is truly the case, then the best thing for me to do would be to find the most pure kind of work–honest work that sees me doing something necessary, valuable, and something that doesn’t require a lot of dishonest buttkissing or time spent trying to learn too many new things. Work, I can do. For some, that might mean going to work on a construction site, hauling lumber, building things, tearing things down. For others, it’s saving lives and helping people as a first responder of some kind. For me, those things are either just not me, I am too old to do them or too old to learn them. For me, being an IT guy is the most honest work. At all of the companies and organizations I worked, the IT person was the most honest, along with the lower-level bookkeeper/accountant types. Everyone else had to sing and dance for their supper, if only during team meetings or when their reviews came up. Even the mostly technical work I did in Sales and Marketing required me to put on a show of how much work I was doing–making to-do lists of to-do lists to show how swamped and necessary I was, when I knew all-too-well that I wasn’t.

Of course, ask me how I am feeling and what I am thinking in two weeks. Maybe you will get a different response. Right now, I am of a mind to get some kind of low-level Linux certification and be a reboot monkey for a web hosting company or the IT guy for a random firm, but not the main one–just a junior-level dude who sits in the basement rebooting servers and telling users to reboot their PCs all day. Nothing exceptional or fancy, nothing that would demonstrate to anyone that I have tremendous potential to lead, manage, schmooze, advance, grow, etc. A hard worker who does what needs to get done–punch in at 8 AM sharp, punch out at 12 PM, then back in at 1 PM, and then out at 5 PM. Every weekday, except for the 2-3 weeks a year I get the vacation time to go drive to national parks and fly to Mexico. No longer do I wish to be distinguished, intellectually curious, hungry, growth-hacking, koolaid-drinking, etc. All of those true-believer characteristics that get you promoted or make people think you are going places–I’ve tried them out and tried them on–I’ve tried on many different suits though I’ve only had the one interview sport jacket that came from a thrift store in 1999. All of my suits have been metaphorical, of course, and none of them have fit quite right.

Companies love the career-minded, but I am certain that there are those places and people out there who are looking for solid, honest IT pros who only keep up with the current literature of their trade enough to do their job and not cause the company’s collection of databases to get hacked.

Am I wrong to even be thinking like this? Is this just a passing phase that will end once Spring semester begins? I don’t know. I’ve pretty much felt like I’ve been faking it until I make it since we got down here, and the faking it part has grown tremendously but the will to participate in it has shrunk to next to nothing.

I may seem like a wishy-washy, paradoxical sort of person who can’t get on board with doing much of anything. But, there is an underlying hardness and consistency. There is, more importantly, an underlying truth that I am still in the process of seeing clearly. When I remove all the times I changed jobs because other people told me I shouldn’t be happy staying in one place doing one thing that didn’t pay as much, and when I remove all of the times I stayed at jobs unhappily because people told me I should be happy or should stick with things a little longer, a different sort of picture emerges about what I really would or wouldn’t have been happy doing.

I’ve struggled from the very first job out of college to find the right accord where I am either mostly absorbed with work and spending little time doing very little outside of work or I am mostly absorbed with activities outside of work and doing just the minimal amount of work necessary to not get fired and collect a paycheck. Occasionally, I’ve even tried to do both–be very active with work and with things outside of work, but that never works.

The person who can do a solid, honest day’s work (but is never recognized beyond stock and trade employee recognition programs–no promotions, no mention in trade journals, etc.) every workday of the year except for vacation time, and cultivates a rich and varied life outside of work–that is an admirable, respectable person. So is a person who joins all of the associations, wins all of the awards, becomes the thought leader, and is seen as the top of the best in their field–and their life outside of work is pretty minimalist if not completely spartan–such a person can also be admired and respected if they are striving in a way that isn’t unethical or duplicitous.

But then, there are people like me who have tried to do both or none or one or the other, and have found ourselves always unhappy with whatever we’ve tried.

However, I must say that the real difference in how I am feeling right now from how I’ve felt many times in the past is that I no longer believe that there is one special and important thing I was made to do, that I am not on a path that is significantly more magical than your average Joe Plumber’s path. In fact, the sense of there being a great path, or a future time for greatness (be it doing things that are noble and great or being recognized as being great or both) is gone. The feeling of being especially chosen or called by God just isn’t there. God isn’t calling me to do anything at all, other than be happy and not mess things up too much. I am not any more divinely favored than the plumber or janitor, when it comes to a particular “mission” or calling or vocation or path.

This might seem on the surface to be atheistic or defeatist or depressing, but it really isn’t. It is actually quite freeing. I feel free to go about a life of just being me in all of my good and bad characteristics, and no longer feel like I am set apart by God or humans. I don’t need to drink the fanciest or most local beer. I don’t need to get excited about the important and relEt things that could keep me in the running as an important and relEt person. God is not going to send me to hell if I decide that I wasn’t cut out for the life of a preacher. God is not going to send me to hell if I decide that I am a mere man and a slightly below average Christian. Some Christians might want to do such a thing, but thank God they don’t get to decide. I am not in charge of running the government. If Donald Trump decides to declare martial law and make himself a dictator, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. All of the work and ideas of great men is utterly beyond me–beyond me to affect, change or contribute to. What I can do is live a life that is honest, even if that means it might be a boring life and even a life others find to be disappointing. But, an honest life lived moving forward could very well be a more freeing life.

I no longer feel like I have to wear some kind of smiley, Jesus-y suit around others. Too many people I encounter in the Christian world, be they liberal or conservative in their politics, are impossible for me to connect with–they are full of a lot of self-righteousness and smugness for how virtuously they live their lives, and not interested in bothering to be merely human and happy. Maybe this is an exceedingly broad brush or the act of projection of self, but I do know that I am failing to connect with people even at this late hour, and it would seem that I am made a certain way and incapable of changing that. If I am made to be such a way, then it seems sinful to try to change how I am just to appear to be a nicer, more outgoing person.