On Being and Becoming

I now rest comfortably in that liminal space between Being and Becoming. 

It was a space that didn’t exist in the spiritual practices of my youth.  Becoming.  We were always Becoming.  No doubt the careful framing of our religious language allowed for the muted outline of loving ourselves as we were–but our brokenness was a persistent theme.  Carnality.  Moral listlessness.  The destructive power of sin that would ravage our fragile constitutions if we weren’t ever vigilant.  Aware.  

Wednesday evening services existed as a spiritual filling station between the expanse of Sunday sermons.  The natural consequence of a missed service was the slow, exhausted crawl to the next one. Spiritually barren. Exhausted.  We required an infilling so we could face down the terrifying specter of a world ready to destroy us with the degraded whispers of sex, rock and roll, and alcohol.  

The signposts of my youth would eventually transform into the iron shackles of my adulthood.  Though they’re beginning to fall away, there was comfort in those shackles.  Their icy, cold weight a reminder of my need for protection.  Unfettered, with the world as my playground?  Inevitable spiritual and physical destruction.  

My journey has been illuminating and disorienting and unnerving–yet valuable clarity has emerged:

Becoming is impossible without first learning to Be. The exhausting, siren song of Becoming often leads to self-loathing.  Posturing.  Inauthenticity.  Fear.  And after the persistent reminders of your inadequacy, how fertile the soil for the promises of religion.

Convince people they are incomplete. Offer them completeness.

To be clear, I’m still Becoming; pursuing aspirations and goals while striving to become more unified with my moral system.  But I do so from the comfortable resting place of Being, refusing to view myself as unwell, unwholesome, and undeserving–without the old constructions of Becoming lurking just beyond my reach.    

I now rest comfortably in that liminal space between Being and Becoming.  The world is my playground, where I move freely–and morally.  The shackles were unnecessary all along.  

The (Im)pending Inauguration

To those approaching Inauguration Day with dread, who feel a sense of foreboding tightly wrapped around them like a cold, wet blanket:

The fabric of this nation is strengthened by and woven from a million diverse threads.  Our daily interactions.  The work in our neighborhoods and communities.  Our willingness to fearlessly live out our values.  Donald Trump can’t affect or alter that.

To those looking forward to this new chapter with hopefulness and elation:

The fabric of this nation is strengthened by and woven from a million diverse threads.  Our daily interactions.  The work in our neighborhoods and communities.  Our willingness to fearlessly live out our values.  Donald Trump can’t do this work.  Only you can.  

So in a time that’s increasingly polarized, we can all still find common ground in the meeting place of our shared humanity.  This isn’t Trump’s or any other politician’s country.  It is ours.  Through the triumphs and the successes.  It is ours.  Through the national tragedies and uncertain times, we share a common purpose.  To give of ourselves. To love freely. To comfort the despondent.  To offer our voice to the voiceless.

Together.

There will undoubtedly be factious skirmishes and principled disagreements over the coming years.  There are voices that will loudly decry the Trump presidency while others bask in its perceived glow.  When his presidency fades into the history books, our efforts will still reverberate; our engagement will still be felt.  The interconnected web of millions of committed, passionate citizens is impenetrable.  The foundation built by the tireless toil of the resolute will not be shaken.  The hopes that are whispered, stuttered, or shouted into the shapeless void will not go unheard.  

An Open Letter to Government Parasites

Discussions of government benefits often follow very predictable lines, the narrative shaped by the social elite as an indictment of the disadvantaged.  When’s the last time a massive, corporate subsidy has been loaded onto a welfare card?

At a personal level, what is the monetary benefit of the infrastructure purchased by taxpayers that preceded us — yet we’ve utilized?  How does the cheap goods and services we access — created by political policies we’ve never considered — impact our wealth?  Equally important, what is the absolute value of government benefits received — those benefits hidden behind the carefully crafted rhetoric on mortgage interest deductions, capital gains tax rates, and the estate tax?  

One of the most overlooked considerations in discussions of one’s “fair share of taxes” is a cursory examination of who most benefits from past and current political policy.  Looking at income shares and tax percentages tell only a limited part of the story — and often ignores decades of policy decisions that have deeply altered wealth and income stratification.  It also ignores the sophisticated terminology that frames welfare payments as a government benefit — while ignoring government payments for the affluent that dissolve into an indiscernible mist of complex rules, financial protections, and policies.

There is a pervasive, self-serving idea — that any increase in national debt pays for benefits not our own — and welfare programs are funded by our anguished toil.  We’re persecuted givers; propping up a society of takers; never considering that we are embracing simplistic narratives designed to keep the attention on society’s disenfranchised — and away from those who quietly leverage their power and profit the most from government intervention.    We ignore the possibility — that we ourselves are takers, our taxes not covering the entire spectrum of benefits we receive.   

We are all reliant on a deep web of interdependence, our privileges purchased before birth.  If we could see this reliance, could more fully grasp the unspoken and invisible advantages we’ve been granted, we would be more reticent to attribute our social standing to merit — while we criticize those we’ve been socialized to condemn.  

This isn’t to suggest there aren’t valid debates about merit, work, or welfare policy — but it is a call for introspection, for asking questions that may be uncomfortable to answer.   When we’re the heroes in our own self-talk and our social opponents are the villains, it’s possible we’re puppets on a string.  A string unseen because our attention is being cleverly directed toward horizontal conflicts — as we fail to look up.   

Always and Forever

Isaac was always our snuggler. Then toddler-hood descended and he became a beam of light in a room full of mirrors; a bowling ball shot out of a cannon.  This didn’t mean we could no longer hug or hold him — but that it was often like catching the wind in a fishing net.

Bedtime. That’s when our child, this barely contained assemblage of chaotic energy, sat on our laps quietly while we read.   It was my time to hold him close.  Several months ago, he climbed into bed for the evening — but chose to sit beside me for his bedtime story.  I wonder if he heard my voice crack as I read to him?

You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.” (Dr. Seuss)

Sometimes what we’re certain will last always and forever — happens for the last time. Parenting is a series of those transitions:  The adorable mispronunciation that fades into maturity.  The assistance they no longer need.  Some tiny loss of an innocent perspective. Yesterday’s memories slowly dissolving into the mist.   

The lesson however isn’t to grasp too tightly — or to live in fear of what we’ll lose. Today’s changes lead to tomorrow’s discoveries — and an endless array of new horizons. I often want to freeze some moment with my children — but if that were possible, I still may be crawling around my childhood home, my parents themselves willing time to stop.

 
Sometimes always and forever does happens for the last time — and I’m learning to be at peace with that.  To cherish each moment — but to hold on loosely.  To enjoy the metamorphosis — and even their faltering, uncertain steps toward autonomy that serve as stark reminders that we can’t hold on to them forever.  

Isaac -- Timothy

 

Bernie Sanders, Inequality, and Poverty.

Is it more noble to assist the victims of injustice — or to fight the root causes of injustice? Similarly, it is more beneficial to help the impoverished — or to fight the systems that perpetuate poverty?

As I’ve spent the last several months engaging in conversations about Bernie Sanders, inequality, and poverty — these questions seem to bubble just below the service.  The answer serves as a Rorschach test of our values — and is likely best answered by some combination of “both” versus one or the other.

It reminds me of the quote from Hélder Câmara, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

There is no doubt that a focus on “changing the system” can become a replacement for charitable giving — but it’s also true that charity can assuage our conscience when we neglect to “ask why they are poor” — or are uncomfortable criticizing a system from which we benefit.

One of the most recurrent myths about those troubled by inequality and poverty is that they are simply seeking to redistribute other’s money — but this fundamentally misunderstands the critique that is being leveled.

May we all be charitable, but never let us think it’s a replacement for fighting against systems of power and those that leverage their advantage to the disadvantage of others.

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A Refusal.

After nearly four decades of life, I’m ready to share my wisdom with the generations that follow.  I’ve studied widely, encountered various religions, wrestled with divergent views, and have attempted to think deeply.  

To be clear, all of this has only produced one piece of advice, though it has the potential to change the world.  We often think global change demands a sophisticated plan or an approach born out of millennia of aggregated wisdom. It doesn’t.  While not original to me, the following is the distilled knowledge of a myriad of experiences, thoughtful introspection, and listening to the wisdom of others.  

Refuse to rush.  

We bemoan lost years and the passage of time — yet the speed at which we live makes us culpable.  We’re constantly chasing an illusion and the promise of tomorrow — while neglecting to slow down enough to see what it’s front of us — right now.

What would it mean if we refused to rush through our meals, mindlessly over consuming food we hardly taste? What would it mean to our waistlines and the earth’s resources?

How much could we reduce our carbon footprint if we refused to drive aggressively — thereby saving countless gallons of gasoline and reducing our dependence on oil?  How many accidents could be avoided — and fewer lives lost?

How many years could we add to our lives if we slowed down, took a breath — and stopped the flood of cortisol into our bloodstreams?  How many health benefits would we realize?  How much would our medical costs be reduced?

Rushing is the great distorter.  I vividly remember playing basketball at night inside an abandoned high school in Michigan.  When the basketball bounced sideways and went downstairs into the darkness of the old cafeteria — the faster I ran back up the stairs, the more terrifying the dark unknown felt.  We can’t see clearly or have emotional clarity when we are constantly in overdrive.  Even when done in the service of others, rushing can be self-centered and blind us from the needs of those around us.  

I’ve lost hours of conversations with my children because I wasn’t listening and focusing on a list of tasks I was hurrying through.  My tone with them often suffers because they are impeding My Schedule.  I’ve lost countless moments with my wife because I was feverishly chasing down an illusion of what it meant to have A Clean House.  

There is something remarkably inefficient about stress inducing efficiency.  There is something tangibly misguided when the cost of progress is stumbling backwards.

When the world feels like it’s spinning hopelessly out of control — perhaps it’s because we are running in circles. If our schedule demands an unsustainable pace — we need to change it.   

Life isn’t memorable because of how many activities we pack into each day, but how many we slow down enough to enjoy — and embrace.  Make dinnertime more intentional.  Take a leisurely walk through the woods.  Schedule pauses into your day.   Refuse to let social pressure dictate the speed of your life.  

Refuse to rush.

Smith Rock 

I Don’t Have to Listen to You.

I don’t have to listen to the voices of African-Americans — because of Al Sharpton.

I don’t have to acknowledge the voices of Christians — because of Pat Robertson and this hypocrite I once knew.

I don’t have to listen to the voices of the impoverished — because I once saw a person with no initiative taking advantage of the system.

I don’t have to acknowledge the voices proclaiming their anguish or pain — because there are those that flourish in worse conditions.  

Our modern political and social discourse is little more than an exercise in justifying our refusal to listen.  There are bloggers and political pundits whose entire approach is to frame their ideological opponents as so extreme that brazen indifference toward them is justified — even noble.  

There are a myriad of ways a reluctance to listen is manifested:

1)  One of the most prevalent is finding a voice within a defined community to hide behind.  “Even Carefully Chosen African-American/Christian/Muslim thinks that . . . ”  So we embrace that voice because it mirrors our own, then pat ourselves on the back, disregarding that we still haven’t opened ourselves up to the experiences of others, while living in a meticulously defined cocoon — carefully avoiding anything that would challenge our identity or induce dissonance.  

2) Stephen Covey noted, ” We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.”  It’s a perfect formula for venerating ourselves to a position where our disregard seems warranted.  

3)  We confuse applications for principles.  Imagine my wife loves fresh flowers every Friday — and because I love her and know it’s meaningful, I do my best to consistently bring her the freshest flowers I can find.  If you don’t deliver flowers to your significant other on Fridays, does it mean you don’t love them?  Of course not — but it’s the same underlying template used in political and social debates.   Because you disagree with an approach, you must disagree with the underlying principle.  

“Politician X hates America because his policy differs from mine. “

“Tim must not care about Y because he’s going to vote for X.”

We often care deeply about the same things, but because of our education, background, and experiences — we  diverge on the appropriate path forward.  Yet it seems our discussions never advance to a point where we witness the faint outline of common ground — and is rather mired in shouting past our opponents, ridiculing their perceived misconceptions, and never pausing long enough to actually hear them.  

To be clear, xenophobia, sexism, and racism exist — and many people are indifferent to efforts to find common ground.  There are those who have willfully corrupted the Bible for political or corporate gain.  There are liberal appeals that are simply mechanisms to assuage the conscience and to avoid meaningful sacrifice.  I’m convinced however that many of the discussions we have involve well intentioned people that want to see society progress.  

I have a well worn groove in my brain that can respond to any argument that differs from my own — and while I hear just enough to respond, I often fail to listen adequately — justifying it because I avoid name calling and attempt to remain civil — or remain steadfastly focused on the veracity of the argument.  But it’s not enough.  

Like everyone else, I’m going to be tested this election cycle.  There are issues I am intensely passionate about and can feel my impatience with the lack of progress boiling just beneath the surface.   I am deeply committed to logical coherence, healthy skepticism of claims, and the scientific method.  I detest propaganda and linguistic charlatans who can make up appear down or introduce confusion where none needs to exist.  But does it matter?  Is this self-ascribed virtue of “caring about the truth wherever it leads” another sophisticated mechanism to avoid listening?  

What if we weren’t so concerned about being right and asked more questions?  What if we gave others the grace we expect for ourselves?  What if we just listened?

I’m off to read my daily e-mail of scientific facts and political research, then argue with some woefully uninformed soul on the Internet.  And seriously, if anyone conflates Bernie Sanders with communism and the Soviet Union, it’s clear they’re uniformed — and want to see the United States become an oligarchical wasteland where the poor are trampled and puppies have no viable future.