This space intentionally left blank. No more thoughts to spare. Brain is mushified by packingpaintingliftingworkingnotsleepingorganizingtapinglabelingcallingemailingdriving payingandohbythewaydidimentionihavekids.
We move tomorrow. Amen.
I ran across this video this afternoon of a “really brilliant new talent” doing his take on…well, rock & roll, I think. The best part of the clip was when it was finished my daughter sitting across the room said, “I want that song again, Papa.” The humor of that statement will hit you about a minute in.
There’s a lot of conversation going around about a movement of people that’s been labeled many different things – you can take your pick from “the new face of religion in America”, or “a new way to do church”, or “A new kind of Christian“, or “the new Christians“, or the more socio-religious sounding label, “emergent“. I can’t claim to be up to speed on the different viewpoints and contributors out there, though I could probably name some names, but I can safely locate myself somewhere smack in the middle of that conversation as a person who’s become disillusioned with the popular expression of Christianity in America to the point that I avoid identifying myself as a Christian in mixed company.
I recognize that my stance has evolved reactively in some ways, as I’ve identified what kind of Christian I’m not and what sort of things I don’t do relative to what most people seem to believe or expect of Christians, including people who identify themselves as such. I wrote in a previous post how I’ve left the organized church recently as the center of my faith journey, and struck out on a new path that includes church as a habit and resource but which I hope opens me up to a more diverse and personally authentic experience of God in ways that looking to the/a church first and foremost in my pursuit of God precluded me from.
Communities have sprung up around this premise, exploring the possibility that the spiritual life proclaimed and ushered in by Jesus can be pursued outside of an organized and codified religion. It’s an extension in a way of Luther’s assertion that God can be pursued by individuals independent of the ministration of the ordained, where again there is a cultural recognition that there’s more to faith and finding God than is evident (or arguably possible) in the exclusive context of a local organized church. I’m not knocking organization itself, or leadership in the context of an assembled group of people of like pursuit. Without leaders and organization any movement is doomed to fail, whether necessary and helpful or not. Even rebellions or other causes that reject these establishments still have their de facto leaders and make efforts to share common beliefs. It seems though that faith that finds its source in an organization is lacking.
I read The Alchemist recently, a simple parable-like story of one boy’s pursuit of his dreams and exploration of spirituality. While not categorically a Christian book, it inspired me in my pursuit of faith at a point in my life when I needed it most desperately, when my general happiness was already forfeit and my dreams were in jeopardy. What struck me most was the tale’s straightforward view of the supernatural and spirituality, and the simplicity of the boy’s passion in his pursuit of what he felt mattered most. It seems to me as though the one is a catalyst for the other – when spiritual things are uncluttered by religion and unaffected by doubt or apathy, but simply allowed to be, and to be as real as gravity or love or time which are impervious to how fervently they are believed in, then apprehending and pursuing spiritual things and the deeper dreams and passions of life is as straightforward a process as living, and living with eyes open for the opportunities that inevitably present themselves. Life becomes rich and meaningful, and laden with daily significance.
I was about to write a paragraph relating this world view to Christianity but it seems paradoxical to the point of this post. It’s what I’m after – relating to God in a way that is uncontrived though it may involve habit or ritual, and significant to my daily life though the nature of the pursuit itself is unearthly. I don’t think this approach is incompatible with the Christian faith; I hope instead that it leads to a deeper appreciation of who God is and how then to live.
We closed on our house this week, our third time sitting around that table in three years. I remember the couples across the table each time, what the interactions were like, whether we thought we might have liked them or not given the chance to get to know them outside of buying or selling a house, which essentially precludes any other opportunity for relationship since by definition we’re moving away from each other, not to mention the awkwardness of getting to know someone whose house you now own.
Our week since then has been continuous remodeling, with the help of some generous friends. Our intention is to paint pretty much the entire place, with the exception of the closets and one small room, which in itself sounds like a task until you add to it the fact that the majority of the rooms came covered in some of the most hideous wallpaper available on the market, white paper with swirly swoopy spotted things that more than one of us looked at more than once and remarked – why?? How does someone look at this paper among all the papers on display and say That one, that’s the look I want for my kitchen. And then spend the time and money measuring it and pasting it and painstakingly making the room absolutely appalling.
So far that’s all we’ve really done – created cascades of drippy slimy paper that gather on the floor in shreds and piles. It feels like progress, but it looks only marginally better so far than with that wallpaper on. Next up: primer.
- I told you so
- You made me
- I’m not the only one who feels this way
- Well if you hadn’t…
- Shut up
and a bonus personal favorite…
6. I love you and all, but
I was up until 1am last night with good friends and movies (what am I, 24?). And then up again at 6:30 with the cute but firm reminder of the difference seven more years has made. It was all I could do this morning to keep upright on the couch downstairs and keep my eyes open and somehow attentive to Gianna as she motored around the basement killing time until she would yank on my leg and sign to me that she was hungry. It was worth it though, Chinese food and a fire and a movie and pillows and blankets and good friends for an evening that no one would have minded had it stretched to sunup.
Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before – I took off work to spend the day loving on Amber and giving her a day off from her job. It was strangely difficult to decide to do, but once decided it was the best thing I’ve done in a long time. The kids and I made pancakes for her, then I bundled them up and dropped them off at our wonderful excellent generous amazing (I haven’t used enough adjectives here but I should stop) good friends’ house for the day and returned home. We picked through paint swatches, we ate a leisurely lunch and took a nap, we hurried off to the theater and saw a film with love, a cute couple, a European landscape and Patrick Dempsey’s dimples (all of which are point-scorers in Amber’s book), and ended the day with Italian food. The evening commenced with the above stated elements, and was a perfect ending for a perfect day, to quote Parish and Anderson.
Mothers’ Day was a roller coaster day. We were going to go to the zoo, but as it turned out cold and rainy we opted for a day indoors in our PJs, only putting on jeans once to go out for ice cream. We had good friends over for dinner – delicious take out Mexican and Indian (yes, both), with a plethora of delicious homemade desserts left over from their dinner party last night. (Incidentally, I can’t say or write the word “plethora” without hearing it in a slimy Mexican accent as it is spoken in “¡Three Amigos!“. Same with “infamous.”) It was an extraordinarily relaxing day for everyone.
The evening, however, was another story for me. Certain events toward the end of the evening (including, surprise, interactions with my children) grated on me unexpectedly, and put me in a heavy funk. Not just a frustration or fatigue, but a tight-lipped, heavy-hearted, sit-in-a-chair-and-stare-at-the-floor funk. And then once the children were in bed (and had stopped calling out for one thing or another) while we were on the couch watching a movie, I began crying. And not just a little sniffling, but crying and sobbing, and muffling myself in Amber’s chest so I wouldn’t disturb the kids. During a lull I told her, “I don’t know why I feel like this.” There wasn’t an event that precipitated it, though as I said the evening had in part led to it. But if my emotions were at a 10, the events of the evening would have registered around a 3. Not congruous at all.
My mind could only go to the big picture frustrations in my life – ones that Amber and I have hashed to mealy bits many times in the wee hours of the night and fallen asleep only feeling worse. The years of loneliness and isolation since our move to a new city, the difficulties making friends, the disappointments of the churches we’ve tried, the emotional displacement of trying to leave and return to the east coast, the devastation of large passionate dreams cut off at the knees, and the waning and disappearance of the habits and contexts through which we once connected with God regularly. I hadn’t particularly been thinking about any of this recently, and though there have been things lately that have tapped into them in one way or another, the sum of those experiences again didn’t add up to the response I was having.
I suppose in the end it was the movie that set me off. A woman, driven and narrowly focused in her fast-paced life, gets a call, and suddenly no amount of her determination can keep her life from crashing to a devastating halt. I love movies where characters who are strong-headed and self-motivated or otherwise checked out of reality encounter a paradigm-crumbling expression of love that is simultaneously devastating and deeply healing. Mike Nichols’ Wit, for example, Shadowlands, Good Will Hunting, or even, one could argue, The Fisher King or Dead Man Walking. I’m drawn to movies like this, and I’m drawn to people who are drawn to this kind of love because it’s the kind of person I want to be. Granted, the character in this film hadn’t encountered anything that could be classified as love, and while I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of events heading that direction, what I identified with that night was the devastation. The pause in life that allows subdued emotions to find their way to expression. For her it was thrust on her by a phone call, for me it’s been the gradual peeling away of other things in life that were demanding more immediate emotional responses.
I used to have a job in a high-stress, hostile and oppressive environment where every day was an emotional melee and my response ultimately was to put on a thick skin and withdraw. My mantra became “I don’t care,” which on one hand kept me sheltered from much of the hurt being dealt, and on the other hand got me in the habit of, well, not caring. I don’t work there anymore, and over the last two months have put efforts into caring again.
I used to think I was leaving town any day now – heading back to Boston where we had family and close friends – and I had thrown myself into the process of getting a job that would support the move. That left me feeling displaced and in transition, not living where I wanted to live, and divesting myself of attachments and involvements in my current life. Then I got the new job, and last month we bought a house, and that pretty much put and end to that pursuit and the season of turmoil.
We haven’t had close friends since we moved. On the one hand we hadn’t felt like we found people who were like us in the deeper ways, beyond the having small children and going to the same church and maybe liking the same movies types of ways. On the other hand, we came to Cincinnati with tons of wonderful experience with vibrant friendships and developing and navigating relationships, so with most people we met we found ourselves expecting or hoping for more and being regularly disappointed. It all hurt quite a bit and left us feeling more lonely than we’ve ever felt for longer than we’ve ever felt lonely. And again, in the last two months we’ve met some friends who have blown our expectations out of the water in wonderfully unexpected and unique ways. One of them took me out for dessert this week because he noticed I had been down recently. And suddenly I find myself feeling loved again, and loved on, and part of something.
So with the crust of turmoil, stress, loneliness and pain dissolving, I’ve found another layer of suffering. A friend of mine was talking about suffering once and how to navigate it well, and one of the first steps was simply acknowledging it, not intellectually as I have been for a while, but simply to say, “I’m having feelings.” And giving those feelings validity and space.
Well, I’m having feelings.
Maybe at the bottom line it is grief I’m feeling that characterizes the tempest of other emotions that has lately been uncovered. Grieving the loss of good friends, of a context where I felt validated, supported and empowered to pursue life passionately, and the loss of the dreams I had of participating in relationships or communities where people’s lives are being gradually and dramatically changed for the better. Or at least the loss of those dreams as I envisioned they would come about and the context in which I expected them to flourish, if not the dreams themselves. And on another level, the loss of protection and safety. When I left Boston I left the umbrella of family and a community of people who shared my passions, affirmed my pursuit of them and provided support for me along the way. In many ways this is good – it forces me to negotiate my own terms in life and discover who I am without leaning on the character and actions of other people. On the other hand, it hurts.
A friend of mine has a variety of conditions for which he has been prescribed an endless string of medications, many experimentally. Some work well, some don’t, but the net effect is, well, he’s drugged pretty much all the time. When I asked him a couple years ago how he felt about it all, he said, “Imagine if your faith and everything important to you were suddenly ripped from inside you and you were left walking around with a void where your soul was.” At the time I thought wow, that must suck. But now, while I can’t claim to have experienced internally what he was talking about, externally, in terms of circumstances, relationships and my own pursuit of life, it feels like I’ve pretty much lost everything that was important to me and that I identified myself with, besides my family.
I’m able to see into the deeper well of my heart during the last few years. And what I’ve found there is sadness and grief.