Tag Archives: Christianity

September (FALL/AUTUMN) is Here, and I Couldn’t Be More Excited

Pushups for Veterans

I was challenged by friend Shon Byrum, the Mayor of Winchester, Indiana, to a Facebook challenge. I don’t typically partake in Facebook challenges, because I fail to see how they do any good, since they focus on some effort that neither raises money for, nor provides a solution to, whatever problem the challenge is supposedly addressing. This challenge, though, raises awareness about a problem that I think is particularly important.

Why is it that so many of our honorable veterans come home, only to end their lives shortly thereafter?

For the particular challenge Shon invited me to do, the acceptor of the challenge is required to do 22 pushups for 22 days in honor, or memory, of the approximately 22 veterans per day who commit suicide because of PTSD or another mental illness. I’ve done two days worth of pushups, and I’ve challenged two other people to the same challenge, which is a part of it. They are then requires to pass the challenge on, so awareness is spread via the viral nature of social media.

Starting tomorrow, I’m raising the bar on this challenge for myself. I’m putting 50¢ in a fund toward a veteran’s charity that helps with mental health care services for members of the military who are returning from war. By the end of the challenge, if my math is right, which it may not be, I’ll be donating a total of $220 to help our veterans who’ve been damaged by the effects of war. I haven’t yet decided which charity I will chose, but I’m doing research. I’m leaning toward The Soldier’s Project; my only hesitation is that their help is only available in limited parts of the country.

Starting tomorrow, I’m also going to include a different link to a different charity each day in my post. I’d love it my friends and family would also make small donations to those charities in honor of this challenge. Then, I think, I’d feel like I’m doing more than just raising awareness of a problem, but I’d also be helping to provide a solution to the problem as well.

Goals

Running: I’m doing it, and I’m enjoying it more, so I guess that’s progress. I’ve also started swimming again. Merideth and I started with a four day a week pact, but four days is a bit daunting along with running, too, so I am shooting for three days a week from here until the end of October.

Compassion: I’m struggling right now to articulate my spiritual beliefs. On the one hand, I do so love the Jesus, but on the other hand, the things I love about Jesus feel more Buddhist to me than anything, so I am reading a lot about people who have a similar struggle that I do. And there are many of us.

I’ve slipped bit on the vegan front, and I even ate a bit of meat when I was in Texas for training for work. I regretted it immediately. I wanted to breathe the life back into the cow, but I couldn’t, so I just cried instead. Into my hotel pillow. How sad.

Looking back, I’ve lumped a bunch of things into this category of compassion and the one that doesn’t seem to fit is meditation. But it does. I mentioned the other day that meditation has helped me more in my adult life than prayer has, that isn’t really true, I suppose, except that meditation is helping me become friends with myself in a new way. By focusing on my very existence—my breath—  I’m able to recognize my absolute physical impermanence, and through prayer while running, I’m able to contemplate how to use my newfound settledness, inner-peace, or contentment to love in a new way. (I’m sorry if this seems a bit scattered or not really well articulated, but I’m trying to find a way to describe some feelings that are utterly foreign to me.)

To focus my meditation, I’ve been using a mala that I made from a bunch of beads I’ve had since college, but today I ordered a new mala made of jade. Because I use beads when I pray, I find to be especially helpful—but in very different ways—to use beads when I meditate. Meditating each day for nearly a month now has helped me to empathize with people more easily, to pause and give space in conversation, to not have to talk as much, to be able to listen more, and to be able to have unbridled compassion and love.

It’s really beautiful.

Social Media and Creativity: I came back onto Facebook, because I missed some of my friends. I’m learning to balance it and my other activities, so that I am not consumed with comparison (Facebook envy), anger, and an irrational need for feedback and approval. I haven’t done any art, and I’ve done little writing. I have done quite a bit of listening to Podcasts, which are feeding my imagination and making me think differently about the world in which we live. And I’m still reading quite a bit, so I’ll call this successful for now.

Finances: I’m paying things down. Slowly but surely. Not as fast as I wanted, but it’s happening.

Pay It Forward: I’ll be in Canada during the classes for the sexual assault advocacy, and now that I really think about it, there are probably other volunteer opportunities that will suit me better, ones that won’t cause me personal distress. I’m open to suggestions of things people might see me doing, so if you think of anything, I’d be happy to hear about it.

Fall and Autumny Things

Most people know that fall is my favorite season of the four. The air is crisp, the trees are filled with color, and everything looks and feels like it might just curl up and take a nap. Fall is filled with apple cider, hot chocolate, bonfires, and pumpkins; all of which make me extremely happy. I get to have impromptu coffee and writing time with fine people like Ico, and the drive to work doesn’t feel so bad with bright red and yellow trees guiding the way. Essentially, everything is more amazing in the fall.

The two most exciting things for me this fall are that my friends Julie and Alan are coming to visit this weekend and we’re going to an apple orchard/pumpkin farm, and then a couple of weeks later, I get to vacation in Canada with my beautiful wife and my amazing little brother. What’s most awesome about our vacation is that we’ll also get to spend time with Merideth, Josh, and T-Bean in New York.

The end. 

Basically, my life feels like it is on an upswing. I’m working hard to help this be a new way of life for me,

  • one in which I have a balance between setting goals and achieving them, or not.
  • one in which I have personal health, and a healthy way of interacting with other.
  • one in which I am serious, and also feel free.
  • one in which I respect those around me, but I also respect myself.

Peace. Grace.

Our Father?

I was inspired, by an article I read this week, to think about the divine feminine and to really consider my relationship with patriarchy and tradition in the Church. My relationship with the Church is tenuous at best, but my relationship with God is enriching and fulfilling. While I have a great reverence for historical Christianity, I also have a very suspicious eye aimed toward those systemic prejudices that are embedded within it.

I was then prompted to share this with you. I’m not really one to share my prayer life, since I feel that it could be much more deep and much more intentional, but I do think I’ve learned how to redirect traditional prayers in a way that feels more personal to me, while also maintaining the traditional aspects that I love so much.

cross

Traditional “Our Father”:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Amen.

The way I pray it:

“Mother-Father God in heaven, you are holy. Help me to practice your kingdom and your will here on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us what we need, our daily bread. Forgive us, as we forgive. Help us not to be tempted, but keep us from evil. Yours is the kingdom. Yours is the power. Your is the glory. Forever and ever, even unto the ages of ages. Amen and amen.”

There isn’t a huge shift in the language, but addressing my petition to a God that is called both Mother and Father was a huge leap in my faith and a difficult step when I first made it. The more I pray, and the more direct and intentional my inner spiritual life becomes, the more I feel secure in my choice and practice of viewing God as both feminine and masculine, both or neither.

If I am honest, I believe God exists outside of gender. Generally, I refer to God as [They] or [Them] in order to honor the three persons without prescribing a gender on an entity that exists outside of our finite understandings.

The Real New Year; Epiphany

Generally, I mark my time through the Christian calendar, starting my year at Advent and progressing through the days in celebration, mourning, centemplation, or whatever mood the the liturgical calendar calls for, or at least I am cognizant of the expected mood of the season.

This year, the first Sunday of Advent came with me doing exactly what I’d been doing all year long, so it didn’t feel much like a New Year celebration to me.  Thanks, Retail.

Then New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day came along, and I still didn’t feel that rejuventaing new-year feeling that I love, because it signals a new beginning where I get to shed my old, dry skin and grow a new, pliable, vulnerable skin for the clean new-year slate ahead of me.

This year, I guess, I was holding out for Epiphany, the holiday we celebrate in most Western churches as the day when the Wisemen appear bearing gifts for the baby Jesus (though most Biblical historians agree that the baby Jesus was already two-ish by the time they found him).

But more specifically, I was holding out for Epiphany, because I celebrate a more Eastern Christian understanding of this day, as the day when Jesus began his adult ministry by being baptized at the hands of John the Baptist. I need this yearly reminder that I am, in fact, the Church no matter where I go; I am a priest at all times with my words, and more importantly with my actions.

Maybe this year I was holding out for the sky to rupture and for me to feel like I was God’s beloved child in whom [They] are well pleased.

As I was running today, with my lungs burning with ashthmatic wheezes and my eyes watering against the cold, dry air, I was reminded, yet again, that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I was reminded that I asked for this, for time away from teaching, for time to rediscover the things I love, for time to get back to well.

And I am getting there. I have fewer bouts with depression, and they are shorter and further apart, so I can recover from them in a healthy way, instead of just sweeping them under the carpet, like I did for too long.

In this regard, my New Year this year, 2016, starts today, January 6, on Epiphany, while I celebrate the beginning of new year of ministry, a new year of peace, grace, love, and joy, and a new year of being well. It’s only fitting that I spend a bit of time considering those goals I set for myself before the new year rolled around. It’s been a month, so here’s a fair judgment of how I”ve been doing with this.

Veganism- passable, still needs some work, but things are going fairly well
Volunteerism- this one will have to be put on a back burner for a bit, at least until we sell our house, because I’m picking up some extra hours at Caribou to help make ends meet
Prayer and meditation- passable, still needs some work, and I’ve been able to work in some meditation while running, but I still need more focus on quiet time
Exercise- passable, but I need to be more consistent, so I can make my two big goals for this year
Alcohol and caffiene- passable, the caffiene is really easy to give up, but the alcohol is a bit harder, because I find it really nice to have a beer with dinner, so I guess I should get used to having kool-aid with dinner instead

Do good.

Do no harm.

Stay in love with God.

Practice peace, grace, love, and joy.

 

 

2016: Dream Casting and Goal Setting

Every year at this time I start thinking about how I can make the world a better place in the coming year. I reflect on the last year, both my accomplishments and shortcomings, and I envision the coming year and the possibilities it holds. For 2016, I am dream casting and goal setting in similar, but more realistic ways.

My biggest goal is to become an Expert at Apple and to help my store continue to be the best with an eye toward becoming better. This goal is certainly attainable, and I feel as if I am well on way toward it. I know what my strengths are, and I’ve named for myself a few areas of opportunity. I’ve begun working on those areas with the help and support of my colleageus, and I am confident that some time within the year, I’ll attain this goal.

I have five other goals that I will be focusing on for this year. Seeing as how I overshot my goals last year and fulfilled a grand total of none of them, I’m being a bit more realistic this year. And, quite frankly, some of my goals are the same as last year, because they are things I really need to do in my life, but I didn’t succeed at last year.

Goal: I will be vegan in my own kitchen this year. For my friends’ convenience, I am going to simply be vegetarian when it comes to going to other folk’s houses or out for dinner. I continue to desire to leave a less violent footprint on our world, and I continue to be pro-life in all regards. One way I can live out a peaceful and life-fostering ethic is to minimize my consumption of animal products. If you want to know more about why I am chosing this lifestyle, here’s a well-written article about ethical veganism.

Goal: I will volunteer one day a week. Going along with the focus on life and peace, I have requested to switch my availability at Apple to have Thursdays off, so I can volunteer at 360 Communties after I work at Caribou. I filled out my application for volunteerism on their website yesterday, and now I am just waiting to hear back from them about where they can use me, or whether they can use me at all given my limited availability. I plan to participate in some other volunteering opportunities with my colleagues from Apple, and I’ll still raise money for other causes like Polar Plunging for the Special Olympics and dedicating some of my bigger sports events I’ll be participating in to causes like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospitals or Mile in My Shoes.

Goal: I will to continue with prayer and meditation as an integral part of my spiritual life. These two practices center me and enable me to practice peace, grace, and love in a way that I can’t do without slowing down my brain to focus on my breathing or to focus on God. By doing either of these practices, I am allowed the time I need to be away from this world, transported to another place where I can just be.

Goal: I will exercise my body. I have two main goals in regards to this goal: Big Shoulders 5K Open Water Swim (September) and Afton 50K Trail Run (July). I enjoy swimming, biking, and running, and I’ve previously killed that joy by making an unattainable goal for myself of exercising every day or of trying to get in my two or three workouts of each type each week. This year my goal is simply to keep the joy in moving my body. I want to do each sport enough to be in shape, and I want to pepper my weeks with hiking with my love. I don’t want training to become a chore. Incidentally, my far-reaching goal is to finish Ironman Wisconsin in 2017.

Goal: I will abstain from alcohol and caffeine. This will perhaps be my most difficult goal. I’ve (nearly) succussfully abstained from alcohol and caffeine since October 10, drinking caffeine three times and having a couple of beers in that time. Those beers showed me, though, and I ended up hives both times. I am attempting this abstinence for no other reason than both alcohol and caffeine are powerful drugs. I’ve noticed in the time that I’ve been abstaining from them that my moods are more even, and that my sleep isn’t nearly as messed up. I can get on board with all of that.

Finally, though I don’t consider it a measurable goal, I want 2016 to be the year I live with grace, peace, love, joy, and kindness in all situations, in all ways. This year I will be more Christian, and more specifically more Wesleyan.

John Wesley said that Christianity could be boiled down to three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

 

Mystic Monday on Shrove Tuesday: Richard of St. Victor

Today is Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras or the day before Ash Wednesday. If you know anything about me, you know that Lent is the most important Christian season to me and Easter is my favorite holiday. I have been drawn to the penitence of Lent since a young age, because it gives me a chance to contemplate my shortcomings while also focusing on the grace that will come through Holy Week, Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This morning I asked Bec if she was going to go to Ash Wednesday service with me, and she said,”I know that’s important to you some years, but I don’t really need to go.” There’s a lot of truth in the first part of that statement, but it correlates to my closeness or desire for Christ and my ability to feel God’s presence in my church. Since the first Sunday of Advent when I stepped into Grace Episcopal, I have felt at home, more at home than I’ve felt in a church setting a good long while. The theology is right, the service is perfectly liturgical and monastic feeling, Fr. Tom is intelligent and challenges us, and the people are friendly and open to all folks. So, of course, this year I feel a draw to celebrate Lent in all of its capacities, starting with Ash Wednesday tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure how fasting and contemplation will look for the course of Lent this year, but I will do as led during the service tomorrow.

During my morning contemplation this morning I read a bit from The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism and I came across this quote by Richard of St. Victor a 12th century monastic who wrote The Four Degrees of Violent Charity: “So, we now have the four degrees of violence in burning love that I have set forth above. The first degree of violence is when the mind cannot resist its desire; the second degree is when the mind cannot forget it; the third degree is when it cannot taste anything else; the fourth and last degree is when that desire cannot satisfy it. Therefore, the first degree love is insuperable, in the second inseparable, in the third singular, in the fourth insatiable. Insuperable love is what does not allow other attractions; inseparable love is what cannot be forgotten; singular love is what admits no companion; insatiable love is what cannot be satisfied.” Richard applies this same set of four degrees to romantic love (which will create a deity of a lover), Christian love (which creates the most perfect union between a person and God), and familial love (which culminates in the parents’ love for the child).

What I am drawn to is the idea that perfect love is violent, charity is violent. With some quick refreshment of my biblical languages, I find that charity (caritas) is frequently the way that love (agape) is translated in the vulgate, so the idea of love being violent fits right in with the idea that we should simultaneously love and fear God. The idea of violence never really appeals to me, and yet, when I look at the biblical text, I see repeated examples of God being violent and God’s followers being violent. In fact, that violence looks a lot like the four stages or degrees of love outlines above.

1) Insuperable love: “For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.” —Deuteronomy 4:24

2) Inseparable love: “Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” —Deuteronomy 6:7-9

3) Singular love: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” —Song of Solomon 6:3

4) Insatiable love: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,  as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” —Psalm 63:1

While contemplating this ideas of violent caritas/agape, I began thinking of the ways in which each level is presented in the biblical text. I am convinced that every biblical concept can come back to a new testament woman, and this one comes back to the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair. Here’s the story

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Maybe it’s whimsical thinking, but this woman seems to exhibit all four degrees of love for Jesus in a way that humbles me and makes me wish I could put aside my self-consciousness and worldly concerns and fall at the feet of Jesus, only Jesus, and pour myself out until I can only be filled up with him. Total love, total grace, total peace, and total beauty. Four degrees of caritas/agape: insuperable, inseparable, singular, and insatiable.