An intense love of pieces of things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dream last night — another dream that included floppy disks

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

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

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

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

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

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

My dream last night saw me enter this weird electronics store

My dream last night saw me enter this weird electronics store that was like a Half Price Books for all things electronic and electronic storage media. In the dream, I was apparently a big collector of old floppy disks–the larger kind that really were floppy. I found a stash of them in one area of the store that had much older computers and a variety of old sporting good gadgets–fishing depth gauges, game cameras, etc. I then walked over to the store that had the more recently-retired electronics and like new goods, and found another stash of floppies, opting to not pick up the later, smaller kind of floppies that really weren’t floppy. One of them clearly had printed in handwriting the name of some guy’s biology homework or thesis. I wasn’t interested. Then, I discovered a used Canon digital video camera that was only five to ten years old–probably an SD one. There were plenty of Mini-DV tapes available for it, and I started to play around with it. Some guy was trying to sell back his DV tapes that the store didn’t want, and he was reprimanded for trying to place them directly on the shelves. I woke up while fooling around with the features of the camera, which seemed to keep increasing the more I played around with it.

Since I don’t hang on to a lot of old things or technology in real life, I am not sure what the dream was trying to say to me. Perhaps it was just supposed to be an entertaining dream, though I am not so sure, since the layout of the store and the features on the camera were very vivid and detailed. Maybe the store was meant to be a metaphor for my old writings or perhaps old ideas that I tend to collect. My tendency to appraise an idea and its worth or value isn’t based on its inherent value to others–ie, like collecting a bunch of worthless floppy disks when I don’t even have the proper disk drive to access them or use them. Something might be really cool to me and a lot of fun to play around with, but it is no longer seen as having any usefulness to most people–like an SD digital video camera that writes to mini-DV tapes.

But, what’s the lesson? I need choose between seeking out older, more traditionally pure ways of thinking and being or embracing the utter newness and popularly-lauded forms of human thought and activity? Or, that my so-called attempts to seek out a more classical mode of being by going to seminary and learning about church history, the Bible, liturgical practices and the like is nothing more or less than thinking I am getting into ancient human ways of being when I really am just regressing to the 80s and 90s?

Or, perhaps a more useful interpretation of the dream could be that it is a cautionary tale around what might happen if I take my nascent career arc in a direction that is akin to collecting technology from the 80s–seeking out ways of thinking and being that are neither especially old and tried nor new and considered to be highly relevant. What I need to pay close attention to are the things of this world that are clearly tried and true–be they in life, thought or spirituality–and ignore all of the fads of the present and similarly faddish attempts to reclaim a past that came and went rather quickly.

I tend not to think of myself as a fragile person, but I do have my limits

I tend not to think of myself as a fragile person, but I do have my limits. If I feel like the entire world is trying to tell me something, I am going to sit up and listen. I don’t believe in only doing things that please everyone or even most everyone you care about, but I also don’t believe that most everyone you care about is going to be completely incorrect when they seem to mutually assess something about you.

I came down here because I was certain that God wouldn’t leave me high and dry with my only life purpose being to pass on my DNA, or even leave me with no life purpose at all. I have been convinced from before I even left my undergrad years that I could find the perfect thing that I was supposed to be doing, a thing that fit me like a glove; and when I found it, I would give up a lot to go back to grad school in order to do it for the rest of my life.

I took the LSAT while still in school. I thought of continuing my English studies–of course, you get asked that: so you want to teach? question as if teaching were like scrubbing toilets with your tongue or something–surely you don’t want to JUST teach!? I got into computers. Of course, I loved the idea of going back and forcing myself to learn mathematics and computer stuff. I started down the road toward getting a master’s degree in international relations–because Bill Clinton did in My Life, if I remember right. There was the whole non-profit thing–and the political campaign, and going back to be an EMT, and my getting accepted to start school to get my BS in Math, and then this… why this? My dad was perplexed, so was my wife–my pastor seemed to be, too. You, really, a pastor? Are you sure?

Of course, the admissions people wanted me to come down here, that’s what they are paid to do. Then you get this “we don’t accept just anyone, no matter what their academic credentials are,” and you also hear “think of all of the people in your life who have been affirming your call…” um….yeah, crickets. Even my own mother was convinced that God told her my little brother was going to be a preacher and I would be somehow involved in government. Well, I did volunteer in politics for a summer. Maybe my little brother is preaching up in heaven. He’s been up there for a while.

What’s really strange, is that I actually have grown to love church the way I have at times loved Austin. But, like Austin, I don’t feel like it has especially loved me back. Church, at least in my denomination, is for lifelong members of the denomination and marginalized people. Why am I bothering with even wanting to be an X,Y,Z mainline Protestant–surely, I should be going for a nice, bland evangelical church with a rock band or a motivational speaker pastor, or getting mixed up in something like the Landmark Forum.

Am I just trying to design a fantasy based on a cobbling together of the best that childhood, books, movies and personal cooked-up expectations have to offer? Will every community inevitably disappoint in some fashion, every church fall short of expectations, and any given attempt to pursue further formal education result in this kind of directionless malaise? Probably, the answer is “yes” to both questions.

On the other hand, by giving up on a lot of preconceived notions and expectations of what being down here would be like, I have been able to move through my days more freely, and have started to have more interesting conversations (for me, probably not for the other person). Who really cares where I end up? As long as I don’t put my family in a situation that sees us out in the streets, I think things will work out to be okay. Who cares if I end up a Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, or nothing/everything sort of spiritual person at the end of the day? Probably not even God.

What really matters is what is happening in the dynamic with me and others (especially my son) in the straight up here and now–not the “some day.”

Go now, you who would not be tamed

Go now, you who would not be tamed. Stop trying to seek a life that wasn’t made for you. You don’t need to live out the life of someone else who was supposed to have lived that life, but died before he even made it to college. You don’t need to live the life of your mother, father or older brothers, or imaginary forms of who you might have been if only you had been a better young man. If you were made to be tamed the way you keep trying and failing to be tamed, would you not have been tamed from the beginning? But, yours is not the path of the tamed, the disciplined, the rigorous. You don’t need to develop systematic philosophies and theologies from first principles, and then prove magnificent houses of cards from these first things.

It’s like this. You know who you are the moment you stop asking who you are and enter the flow of who you are. On days like today, you are dreaming of business conferences held in places like San Francisco, where you can wander about the city at your ease in between the sessions. Of course, you are an attendee and not a presenter or a vendor, and so that means that you have the red carpet rolled out for you. You have your choice of the biggest bagels slathered in sumptuous cream cheese (not the lite variety, please). You have the finest coffees poured into endless recyclable cups that you can toss in the trash half consumed when they grow cold. And then, of course, there is the eye-candy–young people dressed in their business best, shining and full of dreams of launching their own unicorn start-ups.

Evenings see you at the social mixers sponsored by the host of the event. You get a few free drink tickets, and ask the bartender to mix up something strong, like a Maker’s on the rocks, or just a spritz of vermouth to make it a respectable Manhattan. Your tongue loosens, and you talk with random people endlessly about how the marketing world is on the verge of becoming capable of predicting the future long before the future arrives, using data science and magic trickery of only the finest, wizarding minds.

There is nothing better than stretching out across a king-sized bed that you have all to yourself, and grabbing all of the pillows, including the throw pillows off the love seat and easy chair, and piling them around you, and sipping on your fourth drink of the night–a house bourbon neat–while you slide into a fuzzy, lovely haze of feeling like an important high-tech business traveler in the middle of a big city.

Get up early the next morning when light is just pushing through the cracks of buildings. Your night has been restless and full of that jittery, achy feeling that comes from having had too much booze. You throw up a little bit after the first tiny pot of warm water flavored by coffee compliments of the hotel coffee maker that brews two small cups per thin filtered-wafer package. You head down to the Starbuck’s in the lobby, and get an orange juice to replenish the vitamin C, a greasy sausage breakfast sandwich to coat your stomach and a strong Americano with multiple extra shots of espresso in it to jolt you awake enough to stumble through some conference sessions. By mid-day, you need a nap, which causes you to sleep through the second half of the first full day of the conference, and wake up just in time to wander the streets of San Francisco for an hour or so before sunset.

There is nothing better than being in a big and popular tourist-attraction city while on the company dime. Knowing that everything you eat and drink will be paid for by the rich owner of the company, you can toss away a stale Starbuck’s cup of coffee for another one, or leave a beer half-full in pursuit of a glass of wine or more whiskey. You can wander up and down the hills through Chinatown to the Wharf, and have those weird guys from the other side of the world call out to you and try to sell you tours, because you look like a young schmuck who doesn’t know any better. Sometimes they plant beautiful young ladies down there to try to get you to give up some of your money as a response to being flattered. Usually, you ignore all of this, and wander around until your legs ache, stopping to order a large seafood pizza and a pitcher of beer to wash it down. You turn your nose up at any panhandlers, because you are an important businessman on an important business trip.

But, what were we talking about when we launched this tale? Ah yes, a tale about you who would not be tamed. Stop trying to make your life into a telos of great meaning, ultimate truth, big stories, grand meta-narratives, heroic efforts spent on attaining perfect righteousness. You are just a man, a small piece of creation, designed to do and be and reproduce and launch a copy of yourself into the adult world, and then die. Enjoy television shows, fiction, booze, art, sports, music. Stop trying to purify yourself because you are killing yourself to become someone you are not. You are hating things you love in hopes that God will love you a little more than you think He already does. You are going about seeking God’s love all wrong–love the Lord with all of your heart, soul and might, and then let everything else follow from that. Love your neighbor as yourself. Pray for those who mistreat you. But, don’t sell all of your stuff and become a wandering, homeless monk if it means that it will turn you into a murderous, ravening monster.

The more that you try to tame yourself, the more the untamed pieces rise up in anger and hostility at the efforts to evict them. It is as if you are trying to starve yourself so that you might become pure and uncontaminated of anything in your bowells, but in the process you simply wreck you liver, kidneys, blood pressure, heart, etc. Your self needs a certain this and that to maintain equilibrium, and you should know by now that you were not made to be an ascetic warrior of infinite discipline and a cold, unremitting marcher toward a pristine, perfect Truth. You were made to be a sloppy, ravenous lover with a great big appetite and no real sense of a telos or a linear path in life, wandering aimlessly in the arms of a Truth that never departed from you.

You were made for these times, this place, your body, your gender, your face. Stop feeling guilty about having too much privilege or angry about not having enough brains or opportunities. When you were silent, they constantly urged you to speak your mind. When you spoke your mind, they told you to be quiet, because people like you had said enough. You were derided for being just another white male, and deemed a racist if you focused too much on your whiteness and maleness, or out of touch with the plight of the oppressed if you didn’t focus on your whiteness and maleness enough. When you didn’t work hard enough and speak up enough, you were called out for such laziness and told that any success denied to you was due to you not working hard enough and speaking up enough. When you did work hard and speak up, and start to get somewhere, you were called out and told that anything good you got was merely due to your privilege and nothing else.

You wanted to follow Christ, or so you thought, but what you really wanted was to just become an average white, middle-class dude like the ones you sort of knew once upon a time. Not too into Jesus, but you go to church fairly often and read your Bible when you can. Of course, you follow sports more closely than you follow Christ. You just want to be a regular guy who knows how all of the main sports teams of his alma mater, home town and present town are doing, and generally goes down to a bar when he can to watch the game and drink light, American beer, but not too much unless everyone is drinking too much.

You want to be the fellow who follows a group of friends, somewhere safely in the middle, not too mighty to have to fight with other alpha males and contend for the top dog role. Nor do you want to be the clown of the group, the constant butt of their jokes, the little scrawny guy who never got as big as the rest of them, but always seemed to amicably agree to their gentle, persistent persecution. Just a middling, mild man, not too talkative, but not too quiet, either. Not too athletic and competitive, but not too bookish and cerebral, either. A real average guy’s average guy, not a man’s man or a geek’s geek.

I have this distinct feeling washing over me

I have this distinct feeling washing over me that I will be moving back around again to some of the concepts that preoccupied my mind the last time I attended college, namely, a much deeper and broader quest for understanding the Spirit outside of the confines of what is laid out for me in most teachings of my church and commonly accepted readings of the Bible. I have this sense that Jesus taught his disciples so much more than what we have chosen to keep in our canon–and even within that there might be many instances where words were put into Jesus’ mouth for the sake of advancing a cohesive set of beliefs in the early Christian church following the main councils. Primarily, I think that the straitjacket I’ve been imposing upon Christ has led me to greatly reduce the amount of Love that Christ really wants to make available for me and the rest of the world. By getting too caught up in worrying about whether or not I am following this or that specific teaching or parable from the Bible, I have forgotten how to simply love others, and also most importantly, to love myself (in a wholesome, ordinate way, of course).

I’ve become too caught up in all of the requirements of my denomination for ordination, and hoping to properly dot my i’s and cross my t’s to demonstrate that I am a good and proper member of my denomination. Meanwhile, I have completely lost sight of the original delight and love I felt when I returned to following Christ. Moving forward, my agenda will be to follow Christ, not to follow a teacher, pastor, or other leader of a sect or denomination. If this means that I never end up being a true pastor, then I am okay with that.

What is especially unfortunate is that most of my fight originated in a struggle against all of the add-on BS that seems to accompany what we do in the church, but it soon permeated every aspect of my life, including my relations with loved ones and friends, and even my relationship with Christ. Christ, of course, did not say, go get your MDiv, then pass your ordination exams, get your head checked by a shrink, and then come follow me after so many internships and associate pastoral positions. He just said, come follow me.

Where I have to begin again is right there–I follow Christ and see where He is leading me, and that could mean any number of churches, denominations or the negation thereof. It will once again mean focusing on His people, and loving them. But, I think that first, I have to get my head, heart and soul right again with God. I have to inherently understand why the concept of following Christ brings me so much joy, and then go from there.

Strangely enough, I don’t feel nearly as concerned about spending eternity in hell as I once did

Strangely enough, I don’t feel nearly as concerned about spending eternity in hell as I once did. Further, I don’t feel the flames being quite the motivation they used to be to prevent me from sinning or make me feel guilty for sinning when I did sin. I also don’t have very many days where I am outrageously gung-ho for Jesus, but I don’t have as many low days where I question whether or not the whole thing is worth my time and faith, either.

The motivation for being more righteous and less sinful seems to come more from a practical concern–most sins and vices do not accomplish whatever lasting pleasures they promised, but many righteous acts and thoughts seem to yield longer-lasting consequences of happiness.

Obviously, the simple fact that I am growing old and my flesh is less lively than it used to be could be part of the list of reasons for why I am not nearly as compelled to sin as I used to be.

But, the real focus for me comes in the yardstick of having someone or something promise what they deliver. The era of following myself and the world, and trying to become successful on the world’s terms saw me succeeding very little and being miserable most of the time. The era of following God and going regularly to church saw me more successful with finding a life partner and finding work that was more satisfying and paid better. There is an honest practicality to my faith that is hard to prove to anyone else, but I know that it works for me where not practicing my faith does not work, therefore, I am going to keep practicing it.

I tend to think that the kinds of people God will hold up in high regard as being especially wonderful human beings are mostly unknown to all of us. The mothers and grandparents and doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. who made exceptional sacrifices and greatly changed individual lives are the ones God will place near the front and center when we get to heaven. The quantity of lives won’t always matter, either, which is why I am always a little taken aback when Mother Teresa is criticized for having fed fewer poor people than other organizations. I am not completely dismissive of quantity, but I don’t think it will be everything.

Your average globally known name, be it a Shakespeare or a Ceasar–these kinds of folks may or may not be God’s favorites. Who knows, really–my point is just that we will likely be astounded at who God gives preference of place to in that heavenly seating chart that the disciples fought over in the Bible.

I for one will be happy just to be there. I will gladly accept a tiny, ramshackle nothing of a dwelling on the outskirts of Heaven–as long as it is on the desirable (I’ve changed this word a few times, but most definitely want posterity to know that I see the right side as the heavenly side) side of the great chasm between Jesus and the flames of hell, I’m good. It’s fun to sing AC/DC Hell’s Bells when you are young and pretend that it would be cool to be a star in hell vs. a slave in heaven until you really sit down and think about what that means. No, hell will likely not just be a rather warm and dark place, but still very cool and full of lots of heavy metal and sex and drugs. It will likely be the most exquisite torture that you can’t imagine, coupled with the deep and certain knowledge that you are there for eternity. Or, so I am inclined to believe as I write this.

I mean, I am not completely one to discount alternate ideas about hell–that eternal damnation is based on a certain conception of time and that hell is really the hell of eternal birth and death as understood by the Buddhists. However, as I get older, I don’t find a lot of comfort in keeping an open mind. Is comfort everything? Certainly not, but it can be a starting point.

But, more importantly, as I stated at the beginning of this, I think that a desire to serve the Lord and be immersed in righteous things–be it prayer, worship, the Bible, learning about the history of the biblical world, or helping others–this is the desire that nets a lot more profitable life changes over a simplistic desire to simply avoid being burned in hell for eternity. For me, the Lord and his Son Jesus are wonderful and amazing beings who are every bit worthy of my praise and adoration, and the unsavory bits about Yahweh in the OT and Jesus in the NT are born more out of the wishful thinking of humans who would have these powerful deities on their side doing their killing for them, than the true nature of these deities. After all, if someone is as powerful as Yahweh–why would he waste his time killing these people or those people, just out of some grim satisfaction? Of course, I see Jesus and the Lord as one God, and am good with the 1-3, 3-1 descriptions of the Trinity as understood by most Christians. But, I do see them as separate deities or beings where the emphasis of what they do in relation to this world is different, which is why I can get just as excited about the OT as the NT.

I do think that it is incredibly difficult to completely discount the religions outside of Judeo-Christianity as having no merit or being incorrect, simply because the individuals who are caught up in adoring God in their particular way are every bit as certain as I am of my faith, and their traditions are every bit as ancient and richly developed most of the time. I also have a hard time seeing an almighty God be so quick to put so much of humanity into hell for eternity–it doesn’t make sense when you concede that he is indeed almighty and all-loving.

Of course, I’ve said similar things a million times, but I think it bears fruit to occasionally touch base with some of the core things that I believe and understand to be drivers for why I am here, doing what I am doing, vs. being a Systems Admin, or something else secular. There is a path, and I have chosen to follow it, and I generally feel that I profit from it in ways I was never able to profit from trying to be the best secular human I could be. I am intensely devoted to this path, but sometimes, I too, need a reminder of this. The path of playing in the world with worldly things has long since lost its shine, and it only remains as a backup plan if it means choosing between it and seeing my family starve.