Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 40

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

I have stalled all day. I intended to have something written before noon. I finished my morning coffee. Late morning turned into early afternoon. Early afternoon turned into midday.

I thought I knew what I was going to write today. And I had it all wrong. I used to write for a Christian blog called, “That Reformed Blog.” Hell, I didn’t just write for it. I started it with a few friends. I wrote the “About” page. I spearheaded things, brainstorming with others, divvying out writing assignments, occasionally editing for others. I called upon a lovely band of misfits: LGBTQ affirming pastors and chaplains, women ministers in a tradition that has been anything but kind to women. I was trying to create an avenue for progressive theology, through the lens of the Reformed tradition that I was trying so hard to anchor myself in. But in retrospect, I realize it was my last ditch effort to try to change the way people think in hopes of changing the world, rather than changing myself, the way I lived and the way I approached the world.

Over the course of the last 40 days, I have revisited my last contribution to that site a few dozen times. At least half of those visits were today. It was a poem I wrote for this day, Holy Saturday 2015, called Where We Live. I still think it is a fine poem. I just can’t live there anymore: In that space where one hopes against hope that god did this thing once and is coming back to do it again.

Our lives are already a sometimes deafening cacophony of anguish and beauty. And millions of voices – some of them true sages, some of them charlatans, most of them a mixture of the two – are clamoring to be the clarifying voice of reason and truth above the noise. Trying to be the loudest voice at the party, never brought me any sort of inner peace. It did bring me occasional pats on the back for being being ‘loving, caring, or so open and accepting.’ Or it brought moments of temporary satisfaction when I won an argument with a “conservative” Christian that I saw as an opponent. But that satisfaction was fleeting. And living in that contradiction: self appointed spokesperson for a softer, gentler, more loving god and the need to make others see things the way I saw them nearly made me blind to all of the ways I needed to improve myself by becoming a softer, gentler, more loving me.

For me it obscured the tiny deaths and resurrections that happen all the time throughout the dizzying cycles of life on this planet. I don’t think it is necessarily the same for everyone. I can only speak for myself. I never really heard other people when I tried to speak for everyone, speak for god. Over the course of this last 40 days, I have recounted some of those tiny – yet not so tiny – resurrections. The change I have seen in my dad. The ways I have sought to become more loving and patient and break cycles of anxiety in my own parenting.

As I have looked back on my life and especially on the last two years – meditating on these things for more than a month – I guess I have looked at it all through the lens of Holy Saturday and that last poem I wrote as a spokesperson for god. It was enshrouded with genuine doubt and tremendous fear. Looking back now, is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. Within a few months after writing that poem, I wrote my friend April, a fantastic and gracious human being, and passed the blog domain, passwords and spearheading onto her. I told her I couldn’t write in that space – within those limitations of orthodoxy – anymore because I didn’t believe in the resurrection anymore. What I didn’t realize was that was the beginning of my own resurrection.

It all had to happen! My becoming honest about my cognitive dissonance with orthodoxy. My coming out publicly about my own bisexuality. And yes, even the divorce. I was sucking the life from those around me by living in my own extended state of slumber, my own unending “Saturday.” I was shouting at the top of my proverbial lungs in cyberspace to get my atheist friends to believe in god, to get my conservative evangelical friends to believe in a more tolerant god, to get everyone to accept the LGBTQ community, to get everyone on board with women in ministry like they should have been hundreds of years ago. In doing so I wasn’t dealing my own projection of a tyrant, bloodthirsty god who was crushing me, my own internalized homophobia that was killing me, or my own misogynist and patriarchal tendencies that were sucking the life from those around me. I ignored my ex-wife. I ignored my children. I poured all of my energy – when I wasn’t punching the clock at the factory or the gas station – into trying to change the world instead of changing myself.

I look back at the person I was, and I want to hate him. But I can’t. That’s what got me to that state of constant anger and depression in the first place. I can only say, I forgive him; for he knew not what he was doing. After the series of excruciating death blows that came in church after church rejecting me, through my divorce, and finally – on a mattress on a floor in a rented room – through whispering, quietly to god and to myself “it is finished” maybe my Sunday has finally come.

Posted in Health

Lent 39

Most of my life this was the most important day of the year for me. I was trained and ordained in the Reformed tradition. But my religious lineage is decidedly evangelical. More precisely, it was revivalist and nearly on the fringe of evangelicalism. I have talked more about the blood of Jesus in my life and in my prayers and in my private journal entries than I have probably any other topic under the sun.

It wasn’t until I had started training in the Reformed tradition and was working at a progressive (though highly apathetic) Methodist church, that I realized this. I was a youth director, in charge of the Easter Morning Sunrise service. My friend, roommate, and boss at the time remarked that I had picked more songs about Good Friday than I had about Easter, for us to sing at 6 am, at the top of the hill in Mount Hope Cemetery.

Over the course of the next few years, my “theological orientation” shifted considerably! Easter became my jam. I traded John Wesley for John Calvin. I traded John Eldredge for Jürgen Moltmann. I was becoming.

I guess I am still becoming. Call me a “none” or “spiritual but not religious” if you wish. When pressed I call myself an agnostic with deep, deep sympathies for Religious faith and atheism alike.

But I prefer not to say it. Who doesn’t prefer not to pressed? I think all of this labeling, “othering” of each other and of unexplained things that we call god or the devil, is part and parcel of what it means to be flawed or “sinful” human beings.

I believe in good. And I believe in evil. I don’t know if I believe in relational spiritual entities that have the power or will to intervene or posses. Some days I think the good and the evil that is in the world is just us, the sum of our actions. And some days I think it is more than the sum of our parts.

This used to be the most important day of the year for me.

Posted in Health

Lent 38

This is the night it purportedly all went down. Betrayed with a kiss. Abandoned by his followers. Peter denouncing his connection to him three times.

I remember the first time I felt truly and deeply betrayed. As I’ve mentioned in several of these post my parents fought a lot while I was growing up. My dad would move out of the house for months on end. Without fail, I always saw things from my mother’s point of view. I always took her side.

Then when I was 15, during one of my father’s long absences, my mother kicked me out too. I was already double grounded for listening to rock and roll music while my mother was at church and I was supposed to be, well… grounded. Now the stakes had doubled. My mother was in her bedroom crying away the weekend about the problems between her and my dad. My brother and I were given extra household chores, on top of chores to keep us busy. I made my brother laugh. That was my crime. I was supposed to be grounded, not enjoying myself. And the house was supposed to be filled with sadness.

My brother and I were dusting the living room and I was singing songs from Beauty and the Beast with the candlesticks. At the sound of our laughter, my mother came raging out of her bedroom. She told me that I was in denial. I was in denial about the pain, sickness, and “sin” in our household. It was the only time I remember her ever really laying hands on me. When I was young she had spanked me with boards and belts across my ass. On this day she set me down in a chair plummeted my chest with her fists.

I had always taken her side! Now she was sending her demon seed to live with his devil of a father. Over the course of the next couple of months, I began to believe my dad’s account of things. He said that he had not been drinking again. He said that my mother was paranoid and imagining things. The pastor and the youth pastor of the church we attended reinforced his narrative. I was a believer! I jumped at what I felt like was the first real opportunity in my life to really connect with my dad. Over the course of a couple of months, we had some nice time in the sleazy little one-bedroom apartment that he rented for us.

Then one morning I woke up to the smell of alcohol permeating the apartment. I saw the back of a man’s head with his arm around a woman passed out on the floor. How Could my father do this? It was the only time in my life I ever thought seriously about harming another individual. I thought about it intensely. I imagined violently attacking the man on the floor.

Then a man that I recognized as my dad’s old drinking buddy Carl pulled the covers off and said “Good morning Wayney.” He told me my dad was in no condition to drive home and sent him to look after me for the night. My dad made it home later that night. We sat in darkness as he told me that everything my mother said about him was true, the drinking and worse things.

I came home from school a few days later to see my mother and my father holding hands in living room. In retrospect, I am glad they made up. I’m glad my dad finally stopped binge drinking for real. I am glad that my brother and my sister knew a somewhat happier adolescence than I did. And I am glad my dad was there during my mother’s final days. It is a really shitty way to learn to be a better man. But the experience of my mother’s death changed my already sobered up father into a better man. A good man.

But on that day, in the shitty little apartment, having defended them both, having found out their allegations against each other both proved to be somewhat true, my mom was a little neurotic, my dad was a drunk up until that very day, I had never felt more betrayed. None of my teen angst, or justified hurt and anger at their lack of apology for what they have put me through could keep them apart. Maybe it was true love after all. My mother never apologized until two or three years later. My Dad apologized for those difficult times when I was a young man in my twenties and took him out for breakfast.  I told him I love him, and confronted him about the hurt and the pain.

I have hinted at this story once before and public writing. I have shared it over beers with friends. It has made appearances in poetry committed to memory that I’ve never written down. But here it is as bare and open as possible. I think my parents really loved each other. But up until that day much of their loved had been toxic. I packed my bags and my dad and I drove home that weekend. There is a picture my mom took of us in the doorway on our return. It wasn’t Calvary. At the time it felt more like Gehenna. I might forever hold inside of me the tension of wishing things were different, and being glad they happened the way they did. But on that day all I felt was betrayal as I watched my father kiss my mother and a new chapter in our life began.

Posted in Health

Lent 37

I sometimes miss Tenebrae. Tenebrae is a service is held during Holy Week. Most often, it has been observed tonight, on the eve of Maundy Thursday (the day of the Last Supper) or in the early hours of the morning on Thursday. Practices vary widely. But traditionally, the lights are gradually dimmed or candles extinguished until the room is completely dark, but for one candle. The “Christ candle.”

Holy Week is often a difficult time for students and pastors, devoting much of their life to the Bible. Sure it is one of the busiest weeks of the year. Yes, the whole week centers on Jesus betrayal by Judas and the passion narrative. But it also difficult for other reasons. For close readers of the text, it is natural to come to a point where you say what the hell happened? According to Matthew and Mark this is the night Jesus was anointed by an unnamed woman with expensive oil. On his head (Matthew, Mark)? On his feet (John)? According to John, the anointing was by Mary the sister of Martha (and Lazarus) the day before Palm Sunday. According to Luke the anointing was much earlier in Jesus ministry – unconnected to Holy Week – and done by “a woman who had been sinful all her life.” Elsewhere in Luke, Jesus visits Mary and Martha for dinner. The story is completely unrelated to Jesus’ anointing or Holy Week. Jesus uses it as a teaching moment to say Mary had “chosen what is better” by sitting, adoring Jesus instead of running around busting her ass to make a nice meal, like Martha.

It was a busy night! According to Matthew and Mark (and seemingly Luke) this is also the night that Judas agreed to betray Jesus. Poor Judas, Jesus said it would have been better for him had he not been born. I guess so. He might be the only person to ever commit suicide twice: Hanging himself (in Matthew) and and ‘falling headlong, and bursting open in the middle of his bowels’ (Acts).

And then of course, Jesus is tried and crucified on the day of preparation for Sabbath (Matthew, Mark, Luke) or was it on the day of preparation for Passover (John). Matthew, Mark and Luke have Jesus eating Passover with the disciples on Thursday, while John has Jesus washing feet and dying on a different day.

Even the joy of Easter day does not come without a few nagging questions. How many women went early in the morning and discovered the empty tomb? Was it just Mary Magdalene like John has it? How many angels were there? One or two?

Maybe you can see why a relaxing service with ever dimming lights and some low melodic singing or chanting was a welcomed reprieve during this week when I was a pastor in training, a budding theologian.

I cannot reconcile all of these accounts. I have no desire to. I have read some pretty silly attempts to do so. But neither do I think discrepancies alone invalidate the Christian claims about Easter or Jesus’ divinity. That is a complex “argument” that involves other messianic figures around the same time period, the omnipresence of evil and unspeakable tragedies and the long overdue delivery date of “the second coming.” What I can tell you is that the more I feel like an outsider looking in, it doesn’t necessarily lesson the anxiety of this week for me. Blame it on social conditioning, religious guilt, my anxiety disorder or some combination of all of the above. I don’t know.  Maybe I need to think a little less about god, Jesus the Bible and how it all seems to help some people become better versions of themselves, while in others it only seems to intensify the ugliness of their hearts. What I can say is that I find myself missing Tenebrae. I need to relax. Tonight I’ll settle for a whiskey & coke, taking a stab at a short poem and being in bed before 1.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 36

“It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. Makes you wonder what else you can do that you’ve forgotten about.”

I’ve always loved that quote! If your familiar with the source, Kevin Spacey’s character, Lester in American Beauty, don’t worry, I am not about to embark on a midlife crisis. I have already had enough crises for one lifetime. But it is day 36! I have written everyday. I set a goal. I stuck to it. I am digging deep, evaluating, reflecting, offering up the heart that is usually on my sleeve to loved ones and strangers in cyberspace. In doing so, I am remembering things I have forgotten about myself. Chief among these things I am rediscovering is my tenacity.

I don’t give up easily. I have a few times in life. I’ve had momentary lapses. But I certainly posses a strong ability to push on and persevere through perceived and sometimes very real barriers. I am reminded that with my familial history of anxiety and depression, it really is amazing how time and time again I have found the ability to pick up shattered pieces of myself and move on. My mom – despite her shortcomings – was an anchor in my life. When she died, only a year into that married life that is now behind me, I really wondered if I could go on. A decade after that, the divorce knocked my ass to the ground, left me feeling like Judas and Jesus at the same time. Trust was shattered on both sides. I had never felt so alone or betrayed. And I had never felt like so much of a failure, not only as a partner but as a human being. For a moment, I was left waiting with bated breath for life to destroy me. But here I am.

And there are the more positive instances of this tenacious spirit. I graduated high school with a C average. Right after high school, I was rejected from Cornerstone College when I applied for the youth ministry program. I entertained going to community college. But my mom was more overwhelmed and intimidated by the fucking paperwork for FAFSA than I was. So I spent the next 7 years, working in retail and trying to become a rock star. I probably didn’t try very hard. And I didn’t have the heart or voice for it. But people kept saying I could write.

After a long lull, I became the first in my family to go to college. At age 26, I did start at community college. Then I transferred to a small Bible college. Then I transferred to Calvin College for a more rigorous and academic study of religion. Then I went to seminary. People unfamiliar with seminary don’t always realize, it is still a freaking Master’s program. It may not be the hardest one. But difficult is still an understatement. 96 credit hours! Reading complicated Fourth Century Christian writers, Medieval mystics and often extremely dense contemporary theologians. It is not a 3 or 4 year Bible study with campfire songs. It is paper after paper and exams, while balancing an internship. And I did it in the midst of having two kids and life changing surgery. I kept on after the death of a close friend. I graduated with a high GPA.

Then I had to jump through all of the hoops of denominational examinations. You don’t just get a piece of paper and then start a church. You graduate and then still have to pass the church’s closest thing to a Bar Exam. And then you still – at least in the Reformed tradition – do not get ordained until you find your first “call” or job at a church. That took me another 2 & half years after seminary. While I am not in ministry anymore, I don’t regret any of it. While people find many ways to become many things – from ministers to co-founders and CEO’s of Fortune 500 technology giants – without a college degree, it was something I needed to do for me. I don’t give up or give in easily.

It is day 36 of Lent, day 36 of a writing series I wasn’t sure I would start, let alone finish. It is day 14,687 of my sometimes tumultuous, often nauseatingly dizzying, yet wonderfully dazzling journey. The journey is long and hard and marked by struggle and some real tragedy. But I see beauty all around me in the midst of it. I know I am not alone. And I may not necessarily be all that unique. But for any and all of us who have been able to pull off such a feat, it takes remarkable fortitude. It is day 36 of me rediscovering my voice and my ability to surprise myself while doing so… yet again.