- Gaius Plinius Secundus(better known as Pliny the Elder)
What is it that makes a place “home”?
Not just home (as in, a place where you rest your head) but HOME. The place you belong. The place that invites you in and makes you feel safe and secure. The place you long for and miss when you are away (home-sick). The place you know, and the place that knows you.
And it is a place – a location – and no one can honestly say they feel at home in more than one place. It is a single location. Like a monogamous relationship – you commit to a single location for life. For better or for worse. And you go through the ups and downs of life, together, knowing full well that you will be there for it and it will be there for you. Though you may travel the world and have many short lived affairs with other “homes” (aka, vacation) – you will always return to your love. Home beckons you, it calls you, and you can’t stay away.
I felt homeless, so to speak, for a long time in my life. Without a place that made me feel alive. Without that safety and security, the comfort of knowing that you fit in that place like you fit no where else. I grew up in the ‘burbs of Southern California, and although longevity can begin to feel like the commitment of a true home – living somewhere where your heart is not is but a shadow of the real deal. It is familiar, for sure, but it is empty. It is nostalgic when you return or see pictures, but it has no pull. No, for 26 years of my life I knew nothing of a home.
(Do not get me wrong, I had a good home growing up. Good parents, well off and provided for. I am strictly speaking metaphorically – I suppose. ”Home”, as I am using it here, refers to a personal location – a town, a city, a state – a place you choose and that some might say chooses you. Not necessarily the place you grew up.)
The Promised Land
I remember the exact moment we crossed the California / Oregon border in the summer of 2008. I remember the sign, welcoming us. I remember the trees and the clouds, the blue sky peeking through, whispering – beckoning. I remember transcending into the valley below, through Ashland, and thinking – I am close. Home is close. As we rolled through the hills and mountains of Southern Oregon, and into the flat lands full of grass farms as far as the eyes can see – my heart was pounding and my nostrils were flaring as I took in every breath – like it was my first. Something was indeed calling me. Somewhere beyond the forests and valleys, beyond the Umpqua river that kept following us as we inched Northward, she was calling me. She was Portland.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of transplanting yourself into a foreign place. Packing everything you have and leaving the familiar behind for the completely unknown. Leaving friends and family, good jobs and a peaceful house, for something new and unexpected. On the one hand, nothing could be more difficult. But on the other, when it’s “home” that you are headed to, nothing could be more magnificent and life-giving and freeing. To make a place your own, to call it home, to court it and fall in love… it is truly magical. Some may never experience it – but I am privileged to say that I found a home in Portland, Oregon.
People have lots of opinions about Portland. Portlandia (a comedy show) has definitely increased the attention Portland has gotten in recent years, in a good and bad way. But the bottom line, for me, is that nobody’s opinion or feelings about Portland really matter to me. It’s my home. It’s the place that calls out to me. It’s the place where I feel alive and connected – to the land and to the people. It’s a place I feel completely free. And no amount of pop-culture, or clouds and rain, could keep me from loving the place. It’s hard to describe it – just like you could spend years trying to describe what it is that draws you to your lover, your soul mate.
In August of 2011 – having lived there for three years – we left Portland to live in Santa Cruz, CA; Robin’s hometown. We moved for a few different reasons. For one, some key friendships had changed in Portland and we felt like we needed a change. But more importantly, we felt like we needed help in raising our young family. Having two young girls (and wanting another) – it felt like an impossible task without family nearby. So we packed our things, once again, and headed back down south. For me, it was a little depressing. It was an exodus, away from the land I loved, and into a place I already had mixed feelings about.
[ Paragraph where I bash Santa Cruz, taken out by editor. in other words, I don't want to bitch about Santa Cruz on here, it's not the purpose of this post... though I did spend 20 minutes ripping on it only to then delete it. ]
At first I really tried to make the most of it here. I tried to make friends, I joined a band, I started renovating the house we were renting from Robin’s parents. I tried to invision the next 10-15 years here, watching our kids go through elementary school and high school here. But the longer we were here – the more and more I could not imagine those things. The longer we were here the more depressed I got. Again, something was missing. Obviously it’s hard for my wife to understand this. This was her home for so long, and her parents are still here and she has found memories of this place. We would fight about how she just wished I would love it here – and I would concede defeat that I just couldn’t. I started to feel really trapped – like I had been put in a cage – and I started to dream of Portland. Again, it was calling to me.
It hasn’t been an easy decision to leave – to return back to the place we love – but it is the right decision. Everyday I long for our return. Everyday I am overwhelmed with the assurance that it is the right decision. Well, that might be an overstatement. It’s been terribly hard to decide to leave because of all the pressure from Robin’s parents. Deep down they don’t want to pressure us to stay, but what Grandparent wouldn’t want to live right next door to three adorable grand daughters (even if they had to put up with a grumpy son-in-law ^_^)? I understand how they feel – but if I am not right, if Robin is not right, if we are not right – then our family is not right. And this place, this location, this home – is not our home. We are resident aliens here. I think it’s clear, having left, and now longing for our home – that it is, indeed, home. It is clear where we belong, and although the journey home will be long and full of tears… journey’s end will be full of release and joy.
“I’ll be done with this post since I’m getting tired and my thoughts are not as clear and crisp as they could be. But in my next post, in the future sometime, I want to touch on how my beliefs have changed in the last 5 years, who has changed my mind on certain things, and where I find hope now. That last part, the hope part, is so important. Because I get that there are a lot of disenchanted Christian church people out there who might relate with some of this stuff – but still love Jesus and want to find something to believe in. I know. Me too. And I think I’m coming out of the dark cloud pillar… but only to realize I’m wondering in a wilderness for the rest of my life. (I love the Exodus story for Moses and all that if you haven’t picked up on that yet… brilliant writing. Seriously. Brilliant.)”
A little something for you to listen to while you read the rest of this post. ^_^
Leaving “The Ministry”
Sometimes I stare off and wonder where the hell I’ve been the last 4 years. I mean after leaving my job in the church as a Youth Pastor in Thousand Oaks. I wonder if it’s been worth it, or if I made some grand mistake. It’s not that I am not happy with where I am today, but it is easy to look back and wonder “what if”. For those who know anything about chaos theory, there are an infinite number of results to every decision made every single day. What if I went left instead of right? What if I went 65mph instead of 45mph that one day? A good example: just today there was a shooting at the Clackamas Mall (less than 10 miles from our house in Portland) and I can’t help but wonder… what if we were still there? What if we never left? Only God knows if we would have been there today… Ok, I encourage you to stop thinking about chaos theory if I got you started – it never leads to anything productive. But it is definitely interesting to wonder…
And for this particular post, I am interested in where I have come spiritually over the last 4 years as a result of leaving the church (and friends) behind and moving on to other things.
For a few people who end up reading this, maybe you have no concept of what my life was like while I was working in the church as a Youth Pastor. What the hell is a youth pastor anyway? Like a counselor? Teacher? Coach? Activity planner? Music Leader? YES. All of those. But what does a Youth Pastor do? Well – depends on the YP and the church. I would say there are a lot of hard working YP’s out there who give more of themselves than they probably should and who get very little in return (both monetary and in terms of instant gratification). Of course, you hope long term to have some sort of impact on teenagers and their lives, but, ultimately, it’s almost impossible to tell. And then there are some YP’s who barely do anything and collect on a pretty sweet gig and salary without very much sweat and tears. In the right church, YP’s receive almost rock-star like status and are liked and known by thousands of people in the church and are perceived as the coolest guy/girl around (especially to the attention hungry youth). Everyone knows who you are and wants to talk with you even if you have no idea who they are. It’s a hard role to be in and stay humble.
So there is a comfort in it. There is a warmth in the attention and “glory” you receive for “helping” teenagers and it’s just downright fun to “hang out” for a job. Sure there are times of serious heartache (death & violence, bullying and humiliation, family crisis and divorce) – but most of the time, compared to what I know of the work-world now, it’s a walk in the park. A stroll on the beach. Literally.
And for this very reason I find myself staring off in a deeply jealous state of mind, wishing I was back in the safety of that job, in the comfort of those friends, and the privilege of that place.
In Open Waters
I feel like moving to Portland was casting off into open waters. Blue waters in front of us and no idea where we might land. There have been storms and sirens, long bitter Winters, and cold lonely nights. There has also been rainbows and babies, deep content and happiness, and a healthy kind of tired only parents understand. We have been blessed with three beautiful, amazing children, and somehow we (Robin and I) are still together and working at our marriage every day. The open waters were tough, but I feel like we might be landing on solid ground soon. The first years of parenthood are nothing short of war. You just blearily put your head down and get through it, holding on to memories on photographs and 1 minute video clips. And then one day, you find solid ground again and the sun streams down on you and you squint and wonder – where the hell have I been? What have I been through? How did we make it?
And inevitably: Where are we?
Where I am
At this point, I could outline my beliefs and convictions as follows:
I strongly believe that love is the overarching answer to any question of faith, religion, or politics.
I also believe that love wins (and by wins I mean loses in the competitive sort of way)
I believe nothing is worth condemning someone over – no matter how evil or vile it appears or seems to be (even to the majority).
I believe God loves us, unconditionally, and will never stop pursuing us or loving us (and never has).
I believe there is no end, only new beginnings.
I believe that no one knows what happens when we die. It is the great mystery, and all we can do is HOPE.
I believe hope is equally as important as love. Especially the hope for love.
I believe that we all fall short – of whatever bench mark we have been given in our life – of God, of our parents, of our friends, of our partners and spouses, of our kids… at some point we all fuck up.
I believe that forgiveness is not something that you give or say with your mouth, but it is a letting go of the past.
I believe in equality. Men/Women. Straight/Gay. Black/White and everything in-between Christian/Mulsim/Jew/etc. We all have beating hearts made from the same materials and we all are searching for love, meaning, and significance.
I believe we are all selfish, which is both good and bad – and true wisdom comes when we decipher when it’s ok to be selfish, and when we need to put others first.
I believe that America is NOT God’s country, nor is any government God’s. God is not in the business of controlling people and setting boundaries and borders. God is in the business of acceptance and peace and love. Go figure.
We should never let anything own us: money, possessions, ideas, beliefs, people, etc. We were meant to live freely – and free does not mean having a lot of money. It’s an internal state of mind where we are completely independent from any strings or ties that might hold us down.
There are way too many people in the world (especially youth) who want to be cool. I wish more than anything that we could all just be the silly, stupid people we all are.
I suppose I could go on, but then it’s starting to feel a little like a soap box – and I definitely do not think that standing on any sort of elevated surface and yelling at people changes anyones mind about anything. Maybe there was a time for that, but not these days.
The Next Thirty Years
I have no idea what the next thirty years will be like, or if I get another thirty. But I hope they are filled with laughter and hugs and charity. I hope they are filled with an abundance of love, both given and received. I hope it is filled with super hard situations which blossom into beautiful perfect moments. I hope that I sweat more and teach my children how to work hard but not too hard. I hope it is filled with rain and just enough sunshine that I fully appreciate it. I hope it is filled with open fields and long walks. I hope it is filled with plenty of Robin, Amalea, Maya and Olivia – my girls.
And finally, I hope it is filled with you. All of you I have known over the years. I miss you. I’m sorry I have been a cast-away for so long. I look forward to seeing you face to face again and sharing a story or two. I hope you know I think of you, and I hope you think of me. I hope every effort has been worth it over the years, and that our breath has never been wasted.
I decided to write this post while jamming to Marley’s 1979 live version of Exodus, which he performed in Santa Barbara. I suggest you hit play on the video above while you read. If for no other reason except that it’s amazing and probably way better than what you’re going to read here on this page.
On with it!
“Ja come to break down oppression. Rule equality. Wipe away transgression.
Set the captives free! Set the captives free! Set the captives free! Set the captives free!”
- Bob Marley
It has been four years since I left the pearly gates of the church behind me. Well, four years since I stopped working in the church and moved from my home town to Portland, Oregon – which could have been described as an exodus.
Why I Left
Why did I leave the comfort and security (both financial and physical) of working in the church? I think there are a few reasons:
I did not intend to leave the church, but instead to leave Thousand Oaks (my home town) – the suburbs.
I was uncomfortable with getting paid to be a Christian. Christianity, whether I liked it or not, had become a job, and because of that it had lost it’s authenticity.
I was beginning to let go of my exclusive theology of my younger years, and was becoming much more inclusive -which didn’t sit well as an employee of “THE way” or some might say, “THE ONE TRUTH”.
Through my travels, I knew that there existed many types of people and lifestyles that were very foreign to me that I did not understand, and it was time to get “outside the walls” so to speak and explore the real world.
Throughout this exploration of my exodus from the church, I will probably reference, over and over, an escape from the “walls of the church”. This is a huge theme for me, because I really see the church as being a sort of jail for most of my life. Most of my younger life, I was dragged to church by my parents. We went every Sunday and sometimes one night a week. In my teenage years I went to church for the crazy hot girls (and because I was a good Christian boy, but I really just wanted to make out with girls – let’s be honest). Later in high school I fell in love with the celebrity of being good at contemporary or modern Christianity. Meaning: I learned to play guitar and played in the band (big time points), I knew the bible pretty well and would have good “theological points” in our youth meetings, and I have always been really forthright and honest – which I think made people feel like they were succeeding in witnessing to me and changing me for the better, when really I was just built to be a youth group god. Oh yeah. Youth group was my cult. I went to everything. I got involved whenever I could. It brought me meaning and significance – at least imagined if nothing else. And I felt worthy – like people needed me, wanted me, and utilized my talents. It felt good.
But let’s be honest, you can only take the same drug so many times before it loses it’s potency and you become immune to it. The well of emotional religion can only last for so long before it runs dry – and I can remember the night it did. I stood outside in the cold night with my youth pastor, leaning against my car, explaining that I couldn’t “feel God” anymore. Worship had lost it’s “magic” and I was floating in an open sea with no anchor and no direction. Suddenly I felt lost and confused, and even more so when I went to college and started being introduced to ideas that were so new to me. Other religions. Other ideologies and theologies. Other meta-narratives that, surprisingly, didn’t sound that crazy – at least, not in the least as crazy as Christianity. I began to learn the history of Christianity, the good the bad and the ugly. The really ugly. The nasty even. I began to realize that I would have to read more than the Gospel of John in order to understand Jesus and the gospel. And I began to realize that I really had no idea what life outside the church was like. I had no idea what life outside Christianity was like.
It was about this same time that I started to learn about oppression, reconciliation, redemption, forgiveness, racism, classism, inequality, etc. etc. Really heavy topics that…well… church in my early years never really wanted to touch with a ten foot pole. Up until this point, Christianity was ALWAYS about sin – and forgiveness. I was evil, God was not, I needed God, and I should feel guilty for how awful I am and I need to repent and pray. It was mainly about guilt and shame. But when Christianity stopped being about guilt and shame, and the fabric that was God and Jesus and Christianity became much more diversified and in depth – a whole new world opened up for me.
The Gospel became about freedom.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
At some point my theology and the gospel switched from strictly being about sin and the forgiveness of sins on the cross (and life after death and all that), to being all about freedom and the release of captives (all kind!) I began to read the gospel through a different lens. Suddenly Jesus was not hell bent on saving people from their sins – like some apocolyptic crusade to save the heathens from the burning fires of hell in some far off afterlife. But instead, Jesus WAS an exodus from captivity to freedom. He released the chains… yes… of sin… but also the chains of sickness, loneliness, and oppression. His main enemy? Satan? Hell no. The f’ing church. I think some Christians are confused because they look back through time – back through “Christian” eyes. But If you look at Jesus from “Jewish” eyes of the time, you see that he did not claim to be a part of a different religion. He was Jewish. And he was in direct conflict with the Jewish officials – the temple – and those who ran the business of the church at the time (the temple). Jesus was hell bent only one thing – evening the playing ground. Bringing those who had been thrown out – back in (thank you Professor Hauge for that great lesson). I could go on and on about this – but the point is this, at this point, it hit me like a ton of bricks to the face: the modern church was SO similar to the temple at the time of Jesus. It had become political. It had become uniform. It had become about who was IN and who was OUT. Jesus would not be happy with church. And neither was I.
I became very bitter with the current state of organized church. This was after we moved to Portland. We tried a few different churches and ended up at, what felt like in the beginning, a really cool church (not just cool in the sense of hip, but cool in the sense of promising to not just be about who is in and out, but about real honest things like redemption, feeding the poor, loving and accepting all people, etc.). But it soon became clear that this church, despite it’s cool clothing (metaphorically) was actually the same bitch underneath all that makeup (and beer). What I came to realize was that, nothing… not location, or music, or beer, or youth, can cover up inauthenticity. Nothing can cover up the heart of a church. And eventually, it comes out plain and simple that church is about a few main things:
The Church can be a Jail
1. Church is a business.
It has to be. Because most churches “employ” a pastor, or multiple pastors, and most churches meet in a building, which they must pay for. Even the smallest ventures (like the church that met in the pub and only had three paid pastors, and not paid well) need money. And if the numbers aren’t in the black month to month, the church becomes about pretty much exclusively, out of pure need, about money. They start having sermons almost on a monthly basis exclusively about giving (god, that’s the ultimate sign). They start campaigns to get people pumped about giving. They try and sell all their products and services. Because they have to. They are a business, and it takes money to run a business.
Can it not be a business? Sure it can. But it feels SOOO freaking weird to NOT be a business. Ever been to a home church? Yeah. I have, maybe once. And it was WEIRD. Not bad. Not evil. Not unethical or not biblical – just weird. Because, I have been born and raised in the walls of church inc. The company. The business. And it feels SOOO weird to not be in a building. To not have a band. To not have certain things (like a printed bulletin, or a kids program that baby-sits my kids). You know what it’s like? It’s like going organic or farm fed for food. You know it’s probably better for you and you want to try it out – so you go out to the farm, and you are completely weirded out by that culture because it is so opposite of the fast food culture you were raised in. It’s like moving from Southern Californian suburbs to Portland Oregon! SHOCK. HORROR. AWKWARD MOMENTS. HIPPIES! HIPPIES! HIPPIES!. Haha. You get the point.
We are so conditioned to think of church as… well – what do you think of when you hear the word church? A pastor? A building? A band? Pews? Bibles? Kids programs? Donuts and coffee? Etc. Etc. It all hasn’t been this way forever – but it is pretty much all we know.
2. Church is a Country Club
Look, I used to think that this was only true of churches in the suburbs – because most of their members were a part of some gated community or country club and treated the church as the same. But IT IS THIS WAY AT EVERY CHURCH. Let me ask you this? What is a country club? Why do people go to country clubs? To be taken care of right? For a cost you can “belong” to something that will provide you with “status” and “comfort” and “services”. You pay your dues and you get services – you get “perks”. Let me name a few of the perks of going to church (I started thinking of these as we church hopped a while back and wanted to make a blog about it, but a simple list will do for now):
Free child care
Free coffee, donuts, or other sugary/caffeinated drinks (unless its a big hip church that has its own coffee shop, then your screwed, you have to pay for that)
Free entertainment (worship bands, videos, pastors sermons)
Travel (and if you raise support, you don’t even have to pay!)
Free moving help (this is huge. I’ve moved almost 5 or 6 times in the last 8 years, and always had church friends to help – pizza and beer is way cheaper than paid movers)
Free or discounted services (you know, Bob at church? He’s a dentist. Jerry? He’s in construction. You’re in our club so they’ll help you out!)
Did I mention Child-care for a few hours each week!??! (Ok, I have three kids, this is a big one… in fact we go to church sometimes now, even though I don’t really want to, just to breathe for 1 hour)
I could probably go on but you get the point. If you are honest – you HAVE to admit there are perks for being a part of a church. As there SHOULD be. God fearing loving individuals who are all about community and helping others before themselves will get perks – BUT – most of the time, there is an unsaid rule that this only applies if you are a member of the church. Or at least you plan on TITHING. DUES BITCH. DUES.
(So I think I’ve cussed a few times so far which has probably scared off my parents and a few other devote followers of Christ. Sorry peeps! Santa Cruz will do this to your mouth! It’s not my fault! ^_^)
3. Church is a popularity contest
This actually makes me the most sad out of any other “thing” that the church is, that it probably shouldn’t be. Because like church being a country club, it falls in the category of creating a distinction between who is in and who is out – and that is SO SO SO counter to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But the church is a never ending popularity contest. You don’t really see it or feel it until you are on the outside, but once you are on the outside, it is so clear that Christians are trying to be… well… good Christians. They try and say the right words, do the right deeds, care about the right things, in order to score “church points” so that – I don’t know – they can feel good about themselves? They can feel meaning and significance? I guess it’s the same things I felt when I was in high school. It gives people an arena to be someone – maybe they are not someone else (work, family, school). So they worship hard, they volunteer, they say the right words, they meet the right people, they try and connect with the celebrity pastor, they stay at the church for a long time so they can be a sort of “local”. And worst of all – they pretend to care about other people (because that’s extra church points too). But these types of relationships are very, very shallow and surface level and eventually are shown for what they really are – and that is when people get hurt. Very hurt.
Authentic relationships happen when layers are stripped off of us and we are vulnerable with each other. If everyone is trying to appear “holy” and “together” and “Christian” – well, there isn’t much transparency. There isn’t much honesty. There isn’t much vulnerability because everyone is hiding under the “God is so good!” shell. And when they come out of that shell?!? Oh boy! P-Circle! Gottta pray for their ass. Because they are being tempted by Satan! They are satanic?!? And they need us (someone start up the movie “Saved!”!!) because we are the love of Christ and through our prayer warriors we will heal this doubt or bitterness or anger or whatever.
But just like those shallow relationships that “popular” people have in high school – popularity church relationships are shown for what they really are and people get REALLY hurt, like I said. It’s dangerous. It’s awful. So stop trying to be cool, church people, ok? Just be real. But don’t be real to gain church points – that doesn’t count! Frick. haha.
Anyway, I should circle back to my main thesis here: Exodus.
I’ll be done with this post since I’m getting tired and my thoughts are not as clear and crisp as they could be. But in my next post, in the future sometime, I want to touch on how my beliefs have changed in the last 5 years, who has changed my mind on certain things, and where I find hope now. That last part, the hope part, is so important. Because I get that there are a lot of disenchanted Christian church people out there who might relate with some of this stuff – but still love Jesus and want to find something to believe in. I know. Me too. And I think I’m coming out of the dark cloud pillar… but only to realize I’m wondering in a wilderness for the rest of my life. (I love the Exodus story for Moses and all that if you haven’t picked up on that yet… brilliant writing. Seriously. Brilliant.)
Ok. More next time. Peace be with you all (Kelsey. ^_^ and maybe Robin. Hi! Oh yeah, and maybe my mom like three months from now when she has the time and actually remembers I linked to my blog from her computer!)
Oh yeah, and here’s a link to Bob Marley’s entire 1979 Santa Barbara concert! Which I have been jamming to for this entire hour and a half of writing this.
I have not written publicly about these things as of yet. I have hardly talked about them publicly. It has been hard to find the right words, or if not the “right” words, the words that I feel do justice to what I have been through and what I feel about these things. But the time has come to at least begin to publicly explain my personal exodus from the church and organized religion in general. This, I am sure, comes as a shock to some people – and to others they have but assumed it was true. I feel that for even myself, it is hard to summarize what has happened as an “exodus from the church and organized religion” – but in fact, that is what it is. So I will try to use words to explain what has transpired, why, and how I feel now. Please have grace as you read (if you read) these words. I am not claiming absolute truth (although that may be some people’s main problem with my words… not enough claims of absolute truth), but what I am trying to do is make sense of my experiences – mainly to see if where I am at is a legitimate place, or if I am just scared and running away. Because running away is not the same as an exodus. One is caused by external forces, the other is a personal choice. We will see which it has been: an exodus or an escape; or maybe both.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Below I will post the last stanza of this poem, but I encourage you to click the link above and read the whole poem (it is not long). It ends with this:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Perhaps some people read this as inspirational to take the road less traveled (based on the final line “And that has made all the difference”, but I do not.
The key to the meaning behind this poem is hidden in the first line of this final stanza:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
I added the emphasis on “sigh”, for it is with this single word that I think the poem’s secret lies. There is a heaviness in this foretold recolection of having taken the road less traveled by. Just because it was this decision that made all the difference, does not make it a better decision by any means. In fact, I believe that by adding the word “sigh”, the other is trying to warn us of something… that road, the one less traveled… it’s not as easy. It is hard. And it is hard simply because it is less traveled by.
Some people want to be unique, special, an individual like no other. To be a rebel and go against the grain, to travel the road less traveled. But it is almost as if Frost is warning of the temptation to do what teachers are always telling kids to do – be an individual, don’t follow the crowd, stand out and be unique. Really? At what cost?
I’ve been down that road, and I too shall be telling, with a sigh, that because I chose the road less traveled, it has, indeed, made all the difference.
But I should stop, for a moment of reflection. Because my first reaction to the word “sigh” was to think that it was with some “regret” that the author reported that he took the road less traveled. But perhaps “regret” is the wrong feeling or emotion. No, perhaps it is simply what a sigh so often is… a pause, but a weary pause at that. A tired, reflective, introspective pause. It may not be regret at all. It may simply be a heaviness carried over the “ages and ages” from walking alone… seeing the woods around you in a way that the other travelers never did nor ever will.
It is like the man released from Plato’s cave – who sees the world as it is, outside of the cave of shadows, and returns to tell his friends that what they are seeing is not, in fact, real. And he is booed. He is insulted and told to leave. He is called crazy, among other things, because they walked the road that the others walked – they saw the woods from that angle, and anyone who says there is even another road to walk – is downright insane.
It’s a heaviness. A burden. A lonely journey, but not necessarily a regretted journey.
I suppose it is as you want to see it. Would you rather walk alone, seeing the world from a different perspective, having the masses not understand you or support your claims of a different viewpoint? Or would you want to walk the weathered road, step by step with friends and family and familiarity? A road where everyone agrees with you because you share the same experiences. It does seem nice.
But maybe there is a weight and heaviness to Frost’s “sigh” that is not a burden at all – but instead is just that – weight. It is full. It is complete. It is full of memories, experiences, stories, challenges, discoveries, disappointments, surprises, victory, defeat, loneliness, enlightenment, confusion, joy, sorrow, contentedness, beauty, darkness, light…. all the things life can and should be made of. It is the finishing a very long book sort of sigh. The finishing of a marathon sigh. It is full of adventure, perserverience and fulfillment.
That is the road I want to travel, no matter how lonely it may seem at times. And I hope the “sigh” in “ages and ages hence” is full of weight and fullness, and is not a sigh of regret or of giving up.
The older I get, the more I realize what “grace” is all about.
Perhaps the older you get, the more you personally realize how fucked up you are, and how – for most of us – we never intended to be so dysfunctional. When you are a teenager, or a young adult, you look at your dysfunctional family and lament how you wish your parents were “normal” and paid more attention to you and didn’t make so many mistakes. It’s an ideal way of thinking, really, because you have NO idea what it is like to raise a child (or 5 children in my parent’s case). It’s hard to forgive your parents (or whoever it is in your life) because you just assume they could have been better (and perhaps they could have been) but you never take the chance to weigh in the circumstances and the variables that played into why exactly they were how they were, or why a certain event played out the way it did.
As I grow older, and I experience lapses in patience, bouts of fatigue and sickness that leave me bewildered and hanging on by my fingertips (so to speak), all the while having to take care of toddlers whom I barely relate with, I am beginning to “understand” how hard it is to be perfect… how utterly impossible it is. And it is, perhaps, out of a desperate need of grace (mainly from those I let down) that I am beginning to understand it more and more.
There are so many problems with the assumption that someone is “bad” and can be “better”.
Well, no. Let me restate that. Because it’s obvious that a man or woman who takes advantage of children in some hurtful way is indeed “bad” and needs to be “better”. Or a man or woman who cheats and steals is in fact “bad” and hurting others and needs to get “better”.
No, that’s safe to say.
So let me try again.
There are so many problems with the assumption that the reason someone is “bad” is of their own “evil” doing and because they have brought this on themselves and they just need to “make a decision” and they will get “better” – the old “repent”, or “turn the other way”.
Any assumption is dangerous, as every situation is different… but that’s exactly my point – every situation is different, and grace is needed in all situations because the fact is – we just don’t know. You don’t know if the “evil” terrorist just loves hurting people and from an early age made a decision to hate people and hurt people (probably not) or if over years of misinformation, misunderstanding, prejudice, judgements and assumptions – they are acting not out of trying to hurt others or be “evil” or “bad” – but they are simply doing what they feel is right.
My point is this, the more you know about the history of a person, the details behind why they are exactly how they are, the more grace you can have for them.
I think this perspective comes from having kids. I look at my girls and think, there is no way any of them could grow up to intentionally hurt (even kill) another person… but I know, it’s possible. Because it’s happened before. Children grow up, and some children grow up to be awful human beings who take advantage of others and destroy other people’s lives. But I DO NOT believe that these people wake up one day and make this decision to hurt others. I would argue it is mainly other people’s influence and actions towards an individual that determines how that person will turn out. Now, I don’t believe that 100% of the time, because I’ve seen people react differently to similar circumstances. One child may turn away from their abusive parents and find peace in a life far away from the hate and pain of their childhood – while their sibling might grow up to resent and hate their parents and allow that hatred to infiltrate their souls and fill them with the exact same bitterness that they were shown.
Maybe what I am saying is that I am believing less and less in free-will. OMG. I can’t believe I just said that… but more and more I am convinced that people are not to blame for the decisions they make, but instead they are lost, confused and ignorant to what is causing them to act a certain way. We are so unaware, most of the time, of the stimuli that are affecting the way we are… our mental state, our bodies health, the shows we watch, the people we hang out with… Grace is needed… grace is forgiveness, it is understanding, it is letting go of the “facts” of someone’s actions and looking beyond that to the person they could be if they were free from all the chains that entrap them, that shape (have shaped) them into what they are.
I believe there is a God that understands all things. An all-knowing God who sees all and forgives all. A God who displays grace to all people because that God knows exactly WHY they are the way they are, and exactly what they could be if the things outside of their control were different.
I’m not saying that people don’t get better, and that ultimately it doesn’t begin with an acknowledgement of “sin” or wrong doing, and a turning around / repenting sort of thing. Sure. But there is no path back to perfection (at least in this life)… and some chains are permanent… and I believe that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be like him… to accept all people, no matter how they are, or how they are living, or the things they do – we welcome them and love them and accept them. It’s not a behavioral religion – Christianity – it shouldn’t be at least. It is a LOVE religion. And love, and grace, covers a multitude of sins.
Live with more grace today. Let things go. Try it. I’m going to.
I have no idea where to begin with this post. It’s hard, when you stop writing, to come back months later and attempt to unload all of your thoughts, feelings, and ideas. I can never summarize all that has transpired in the time between posts, so it usually ends up being about a specific, relevant thought, feeling, or idea. But you have to start somewhere. You have to reach down, through the muck, and pull the plug. And the draining begins.
I am so full of stress. It’s crazy how invisible and hard to diagnose stress is. But it’s heavy, super heavy. If a scale could measure stress as well as body mass, I’m sure my scale would be off the charts right now. Perhaps my greatest cause of unrelieved stress is that I never talk about it. I never pull the plug, and let it drain. I guess I never think I have to – like I said, this is some invisible stuff. But right now I feel awful, and it’s either a health issue – or its stress.
So what is so stressful…? Well, maybe I should make a list:
We just moved to a new town
… right next door to my in-laws
… a new town in which I have no friends
… and I know nothing about.
I’m working from home (if you don’t work from home, you don’t know how stressful this can be)
I’m running my own business
I’m parenting when I am not working
I’m working on the house when I am not doing one of the two things I just mentioned
I have no local friends, no one to call to go see a movie, go get a drink, or to bitch to about how stressed I am
Robin is pregnant. And I’m trying to be helpful.
Add all of this up, and add on top of it the guilt of feeling stressed, the inability to say anything because I feel like I am complaining – even now I want to apologize for making this list and say I’m not trying to complain. Sheesh.
There you go.
I feel sick. Literally. But I don’t think it’s a disease. I think it’s stress.
So what do I need? God, that’s such a hard question. I have no idea. Somebody help me out here… what do I need?
Our first session of marriage counseling, me and Robin’s counselor asked me: “Jim, what do you need?”
And do you know what I told him?
“I have no idea”.
Why is it so hard for me to admit to what I need? No. Not just admit, I can’t even think of what I need.
Ok, I think I know:
I need someone who cares about me. Is it bad to say, I need someone, who is not my family, and not my wife, to care about me. You know… usually we call them: friends. But not friendS – just
—————————————— UPDATE ———————————————-
Weird… I wasn’t done with this post and for some reason WordPress published it. Strange. Maybe I scheduled it without even knowing. Hopefully my site was not hacked.
Tracie, thanks for the response, even though I guess this post wasn’t ready yet. In a way I’m not even sure I was going to publish it…but I guess I’m glad it got published. I don’t even remember titling this “Will launch later” – strange. Anyway, more complete thoughts to come in the future.
There is a left turn red light I will always remember. It was the left turn that led into Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, CA – and the day was September 30th, 2007. I sat there, staring at the light, and then turning my head to glance at my very pregnant wife, and I could feel the butterflies in my stomach.
I had no idea what lie ahead.
I guess I mark that moment in my head as the last moment of my life before I had kids. Amalea was born the next morning, on October 1st, 2007. Maya came two years later, and now we have one more little girl on the way.
See the thing is, once you have kids – you always have kids. There is no going back, ever. See it’s different than having a friend or being married. Because those relationship status’ end. But kids… it does not matter if they were to pass away, you can never rip that relationship away, no matter what. They have your eyes. They have your personality. They have your sense of humor and your temper. They came from you and they are yours, forever.
And so you’re life changes, drastically, when your first child enters the world. You do not realize it until some time later, but everything changes and there is no way to return to the you-before-kids.
The moment… at that light. That was someone else. I was someone else.
But this isn’t really what I wanted to write about tonight, though it does serve as a good introduction. What I wanted to write about, is in fact this relationship – parent / child.
Having a child is unlike any other experience in life. It is exhilarating and terrifying. It is liberating and stifling. It is magical and it is mundane.
Kids… no wait, not just any kids, YOUR kids – are magical. They are. I say, YOUR kids, because people without kids hear the word “kids” and immediately think of something 1. small and cute and 2. semi-annoying. Which is true and all, but there is so… soo….soooo much more. And you can’t see past 1 and 2 unless they are YOUR kids.
Anyway, back to “magical”. They are. Think about it. They pop out all bloody and attached to their mom, kicking and screaming. They barf and crap everywhere and they suck the life out of you, literally. They demand your attention for every waking hour (and let’s face it, you can’t stop thinking about them after they fall-asleep either). But over the first two years, they develop into this little person. This little walking and talking person who has feelings (as primitive as they might be) and has thoughts (like remembering a person or place and stating that they remember). They play make believe with toys and live in this alternate universe sometimes. They smile, and frown, and cry, and laugh. They lash out when they are angry, and they passionately hug you when they are scared or hurt. In their most precious moments, they tell you they love you (even if it is the young 2 year old who repeats it “I wov you”) and they throw their arms around you and they laugh and scream and run towards you when you have been away from them for a long time. In some of their forgettable moments, they swing at you, bite you, and tell you “I don’t want to talk to you right now” or just “No. Nothing.” And there is so much going on inside of them. It’s such a mystery.
Where did this little person come from? Seriously, all I did was… well, most of you know what I did. (-;
Life is so strange.
In the course of 4 years I feel like my life has, in one sense, ended, and in another sense, begun. And this is how it is, I suppose. For most of us that choose to procreate, we have kids and there in lies the death of our purposeful, self-important life, and the beginning of a time when we live for our kids.
I suppose it is not this way for some… or maybe most. They have kids and it is more of a hurdle or a flat tire on their career path. They struggle through the young years, keeping the kid alive, and then engross themselves again in their pursuit of glory and forget about their offspring.
But that’s not how it is for me (I hope).
I suppose I should be a little more self-indulging and care more about the effect I am having on the world and how I might contribute to bettering the world outside of my family. But I can’t seem to rekindle my passions outside of my kids! It’s crazy, I know.
And it’s a little depressing at times, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I look at all of this and it feels like this big circle. Like, there was a time when you were preparing for something. You went to school and you prepared for the adult world. You learned how to get a job and support yourself – and for what? Well, to have kids and then to do the same for them. Feels small and insignificant – but I’m finding it actually just might be what it is all about.
Life that is, what life is all about: kids. No, seriously. Ok, I know, you’re reading this and you don’t have kids – you think I’m one of those nutso parents who have completely lost it… maybe. But I don’t think so (they all say that ^_^).
People make life out to be some grand adventure (and to some extent, it is) but what they really mean is they want to experience as much for THEM as they possibly can. And that’s fine and all, go be the “world’s most interesting man” but at the end of your life, what do you have to show for your life and all that you’ve done? Memories stuck in your head that only benefit you?
The ultimate fulfillment at the end of life, is knowing that you contributed in some small way to continuing life. And not just continuing it – but creating loving memories that you share with a family. Experiences that will be passed on long after you have died and are gone. You raise your children and you leave your fingerprints all over them (and in turn, on their kids and their kids and so on).
And this is what it is all about. Family.
I may have missed out on the club scene and getting drunk and going to crazy parties. I may never have lived in a fancy condo on the 30th floor of some exciting town, and have a big time job at some big time company. I may never drive a sports car or drink mixed drinks. I may never have sex with another woman for the rest of my life. And I’m ok with that, with all these things I may never experience… because I know, that when I am dying and ready to say goodbye – or even now if I were to pass suddenly – I know that my legacy (if you can call it that) lives on in my children. I know that I have created life and (hopefully) offered all of who I am to my children so that they may do the same for their children.
Having kids, it’s not the end. It is the beginning. The beginning of a meaningful life – a meaningful future for all my descendants. I am grateful for the opportunity to have kids and to be able to hold them, and love them, and nurture their curiosity. I am trying to keep my head above the smog that is the day in and day out demanding routines of a 4 year old and a 2 year old, so that I can relish in the overwhelming satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have created life – and a future.
Kids are so great. MY kids, are so great. And I would, in an instant, give up my life for theirs – because my life is theirs, and I hope someday they can pass their lives on to their kids.
My last post was about 3 months ago and it talked about how I moved to a new town, Santa Cruz, and started a new chapter in my life. In OUR life, I should say, as really it was a move more about family than it was about me.
So how are things going? How is this new chapter’s first few pages?
That’s what this post is all about.
Things are good. The family is healthy. We are living next door to Robin’s parents which gives us lots of freedom, breaks, and financial relief. Not to mention it’s just nice to have family near-by to go to dinner with, to come over and share a laugh or a memory with. It’s healthy. Robin is pregnant and we are having another girl, which, I am excited about. The girls are growing up so fast, and they are really enjoying being here and playing in the sun. We go to the park on a weekly basis (sometimes on a daily basis) and it is nice living so close to the beach. I’ve had a few projects around the house, so I have been working on those which has kept me busy and active. I joined a band. (-:
Life is good.
I’ve been working as much as I can, and work has been coming in steadily. Robin has been working and we have been sharing the parenting responsibility like we did when I was a youth pastor.
I guess I should say, life is fairly easy; comfortable.
I’m not sure.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, my girls are absolutely wonderful. My wife is supportive, loving, and a really great mom. I have no complaints or regrets when it comes to my family. That part of life, is perfect. (and I am beyond thankful for that)
But good? Like… if I died I would be satisfied good? I’m not sure.
See, my entire belief system, my entire paradox has shifted the last few years – and is still shifting. It’s unnerving. It’s terrible. It’s hard. And I wouldn’t change anything. I’m so glad that I have escaped the chains of the past; of conservative religion and dogmatic beliefs. The part of me that kept me from me – kept me from others – and kept me from experiencing most of what life has to offer. I am happy that I am not closed to different cultures and people. I am happy that I am not working in a church, expected to tell people what to think and how to act. But it’s not easy… it’s a long, dark, cold, lonely corridor. It feels like you’re a lone leaf blowing across the open sea with no land in sight, and wondering how long the wind will carry you, and unsure where it is headed. You just hold on and enjoy the ride. And if the ride ends in the middle of the open sea and there is nothing there to save me, so be it.
But, something is missing.
Charity is missing. But charity will surface again.
See, before, I think I did charity to feel good about myself. Which sounds crazy, because what I am essentially saying is that I am excited to get back into charity and giving to others so that I feel better – but it’s different now. Now, I know it feels good to give back to others – but that is NOT the reason I will do it. I will do it because I care about others. It’s a subtle difference, and most people do not even begin to think about it… but the last 4 years have been about refocusing on the heart of others, and not on the feeling helping them brings to me.
It’s hard right now, because most (if not all) of my charity goes to my kids right now. They have my hands and feet and heart and soul. They have my everything. I work – for them. I play – with them. And in my free time, I try to take care of myself so I don’t lose it on them. There feels like such little room for charity right now. But that’s ok. I think that’s ok. I’m living with the emptiness of not serving out there in the world – not building houses anymore, not feeding the hungry, not teaching kids to look past themselves – but it won’t always be this way. There will be a day when I reemerge and I – with my family – server the world again. The big and the small worlds.
This year I turn 30. 30! I will have three daughters. It’s a whole new world. A world I hope lasts for a few more seasons. I still have so much to learn and to experience.