Posted in Beauty, Health

The Deep

This is one of the oldest, most natural and primitive of human fears. It is the tohu wa-bohu (Hebrew: תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ‎) that was in “the deep” better translated as chaos than “formless and void” in the Genesis myth. It is why ancient myths predating that had gods carving up the world out of conquered sea monsters or serpents.

It is almost always true that when I am not writing as much as I would like on the interwebs, I have not been writing enough elsewhere: In that journal that sits by my bedside and in my poetry journal. I have a tendency to forget the importance of processing life as it happens. Really, it’s not so much that I forget. It’s more like I am afraid of what I’ll write. As a species, we humans have conquered the void. We’ve sailed to the “edges” of the earth. We can board a plane and sail on wings, high above the sea, and travel to another continent in a day. Most of us believe, we even put a man on the moon. What I think a lot of us are really afraid of – what I am really afraid of – is the sea of chaos that resides within: the anxiety, the fear, the painful memories, the wonder, the mystery, our great potential to both heal and destroy.

My eight years of academic training in religion primarily consisted of writing research papers on some topic of dispute in Christian circles. I was trained to do weeks of research and reading, weighing and considering three sides to every story, before I sat down to write. I would evaluate all of the possible data and opinions I could find. I would read twelve different translations of a single Bible passage or study multiple theological positions about everything from “predestination” to human sexuality. And then I would sit down to tentatively write a paper. Almost everything began with a title that hung my weeks’ of preparation, investigation and my hesitancy out for my professors and my peers to see. Everything was: Towards a Theology of… [fill in the blank with divisive theological or social issue].

I can’t fully blame the training. It only reinforced a fearful and hesitant predisposition. My professors always encouraged me to argue more, to take more of a stand on an “issue.” But when I did it seemed to get me in trouble. Like when I turned in an “extremely well written” final paper exploring the instructions for warfare in Deuteronomy 20. I contended, and still do, that there is no way a god of love would ever command “holy war” or instruct for women and young girls to be taken, listed right next to livestock, as spoils of war. My professor found me to be “treading into heretical waters” but still gave me an A for arguing clearly and concisely.

Fortunately and unfortunately for me, writing is the primary way I process life. And I have often approached life, and my writing about my life, the same way I approached those papers. I stopped writing when I met my ex-wife. I didn’t write through our engagement. I didn’t write about our wedding day on or remotely near the time it happened. Instead, I found myself 6 months after we had been married, cracking open my journal and writing about the events of the year and a half that had past. My children were each at least a year old before I reflected on their births in my writing. The same with my subsequent divorce. My lifelong friendship with Amanda, that blossomed into something new and beautiful, yet deep and rooted. My ordination. My 2 year struggle to find placement in a church. My expulsion from the first church I served. And deconstructing a lot of things I believed for the first 35 years of my life, about god, the world, and myself. Much of this showed up in series I wrote last year around this time. It’s no wonder that in much of my writing, I am still wrestling with the positive and negative impact of my mother’s life on me, nearly a decade and a half after her passing.

A few months ago, something in me snapped. In October, my daughter who had been expressing suicidal ideation since July expressed it for the first time in front of me. I came home and wrote about it that night. While my heart was broken (and still is), I think the change within me was less of a breaking and more of an autocorrect to a lifelong pattern of dealing with and processing my surroundings. In December we received the results of her extensive psychological evaluation. And I have sat on them more than long enough:

We have known since she was four years old that my daughter – like me – has the neurological disorder, Myoclonus Dystonia. This disorder primarily affects the muscles, causing sporadic twitches and muscles spasms. We have known for nearly as long that she has some sort of “mood disorder.” The severity of that has increased with time. Over the last several years, that has been complicated and exacerbated by divorce and living in between two households.

What we didn’t know – what I didn’t know for ten years – is that my daughter is on the Autism Spectrum. She is a High Functioning Autistic little girl, a “pattern consistent with Aspergers.” What we didn’t know – what I didn’t know – is that this whole time this has heightened and intensified her mood disorder. Or as the doctor who performed her evaluation informed me and my ex-wife, more likely, the Autism could be a primary driver for her anxiety and depression.

I worked for a year as a social worker with at-risk teens, struggling with depression anxiety and suicidal or violent tendencies, when the search for ministry placement wasn’t going anywhere. After my short time serving as a pastor, I work another two years, serving adults with developmental disabilities, many of them on the Autism spectrum. And yet I felt utterly ill-equipped and unprepared for this diagnosis.

But, I have spent more than enough time in my own “deep” battling the monsters and serpents that have reared their ugly heads and have raged within me. I have spent hundreds of hours in therapy recounting and learning coping mechanisms for my own crippling social anxiety. I have spent the better part of the last four years boxing with my own demons publically in the arena of spoken word performances.

Last year during Lent, I aired out a lot of that struggle and triumph in this space. The theme that I explored that I come back to most often, is the concept of the ripples. I never want to underestimate the impact of my own words and actions on the world around me, especially those closest to me. I have undoubtedly – and often unknowingly – fucked up. I have yelled, cried, begged and pleaded with my daughter to tell me why she is feeling a certain way when she literally cannot do so. I have often thought she was being willful and obstinant when she was rather frozen by going into a social situation with family she doesn’t often see or making a transition that from her mother’s house to mine or back, that her neurotypical brother seems to (in relatively little time) learned to do with ease.

Yet, I am not utterly ill-equipped and unprepared. I have those years working with troubled teens and adults with cognitive and emotional disabilities. More recently, and perhaps more importantly, several young adults on the Autism spectrum have found a home in the open mic community that I have the privilege to facilitate and host each week. I am learning from the fearless public performances of these brave souls and in private conversations, what to say and do and what not to say and do, when it comes to dealing with a child on the Autism spectrum. One friend and amazing poet who is on the spectrum, upon learning of my daughter’s diagnosis sent me several helpful websites and gifted me with a book for Christmas: What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew. With each passing day and week, I am learning a little bit more about “life on the spectrum.”

We often don’t like to see in others – especially those we love – things that remind us of our own “deep,” the monsters we fight, the things we don’t like about ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to project my own inner world on those people, and thus fail to see them. I want to see my daughter. Her deep is not mine. Her parents did divorce. But her father is not largely absent from the equation like mine was during my most formative years. I know about my own anxiety and depression, that developed in a dysfunctional home and was compounded by a lot of toxic by religiosity.  But everything I am learning about Autism is from doctors, books, websites, and most importantly from the friends dealing with it that the universe has brought my way. I need to be careful and more mindful of the ripples I send out. But I am also deeply and profoundly thankful for the ripples the universe has sent my way, preparing me for this, for the beautiful yet complicated gift that is my daughter.

Posted in Beauty, Health, Poetry

A House Divided

I have recently been going through a lot of my writing from the last decade, both poetry and prose. I am working on assembling poetry by theme. The goal is a poetry chapbook of some sort. I am also trying to actually work on the memoir that I have been talking about working on for the last two years.

Seven years ago to the day, I wrote this. At the time, I posted it for all the world to see on my blog, this very site. For various reasons, all posts between 2004 and June 2015 have been deleted. Still, I posted it for the world. And still, things still lingered on for another 5 years, to the day.

Assonance or Resonance?
So desperate, I need some respite, in this place of war
I need a place to say some things I haven’t said before
A place to say the names of the bones behind the door
Voices echo in this headspace as you creep across the floor
Just like that broken record I picked up discounted in the bins
Only one side ever plays and the last song never ends
The last word gets repeated ’til I lift the needle from the skin
Mixing metaphors with my dopamine, like whiskey with my gin
Should we exit like we entered with no input from our friends?
Or give them all one more chance to peer around the bend?
If this ship is really sinking, they could be our rising wind
Can’t help but thinking…
They’d love another chance to play pretend
Maybe in this pool of listlessness, they’d be quick to condescend:
“Can’t comprehend why she didn’t leave him long before she did
Of her own volition, no contrition and no cognition turned to shit
It was painful to watch her dying from all those wounds she hid”

It would be far too easy for me to be angry: Where were my friends, family, seminary colleagues, professors, pastors, mentors, people who declared their love for me and my ex-wife while we were both crying out for help, each in our own way?

I think ultimately there is a twofold lesson for me: First, I have to write for me, for my own “salvation” and mental health, come what may. No matter who reads it, or how many, or how they respond. And secondly, I have to learn to separate those who appreciate my writing whether on a blog, in spoken word performances, or hopefully someday, in a book from true friends. And I have to do my part to hold close to the latter.

Jesus and Lincoln both purportedly said, on their respective campaign trails, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Most of my life I have been a house divided: A free spirit, free thinker, trying desperately to cling to the dogma of the past to save me from the flames of hell. A self-proclaimed “extrovert” who took a Myers-Briggs Test, scored ENFP but has struggled with life-long social anxiety. I have worked just as vigorously to shut people out -who would love to love me – as I have to draw them in.

But I am changing. Good gawd, even at the ripe old age of 40, I am changing for the better. For most of my life, I have suffered from a simultaneously self-hating and self-aggrandizing fear that the eternal fate of others might be inextricably-intertwined with my words: my excelling or failing to say, “Jesus loves you.” But now I know that I have to be able to look myself in the mirror in the morning and say, “I love you.” My “salvation,” my mental health depends on it! And others depend on me. They wouldn’t be lost or hopeless without me. But I contribute to their happiness and well being right here, right now. So I continue to work towards casting out my own demons. I continue to work towards my own mental and emotional emancipation.

I am a house, perhaps in a permanent state of remodel. But I am no longer closed for repairs. Welcome to my living room. Take a seat. Or don’t. I have many stories to tell.

Posted in Beauty, Health

The Aftermath

25 years ago today, a jury acquitted Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno, and Timothy Wind on charges of assault and use of excessive force in the now infamous caught on tape beating of Rodney King. In some ways not much has changed in 25 years. Now the footage is captured on iPhones instead of camcorders. But police brutality, especially against people of color, is still rampant in the United States. Victims of police brutality are still scrutinized and blamed. Rodney King certainly wasn’t an innocent man. Amadou Diallo was! But in either case – or any of the plethora of like cases we have been inundated with over the past quarter of a century – the narrative is always similar. It always becomes a story about how much the victim did or did not deserve the severity of force rather than primarily about those who abuse the power of a badge and a gun.

These are things I have been thinking about, at least since the fall of 1992. Ice Cube released his third solo album, The Predator. From beginning to end it was a scathing indictment of police brutality and race relations in America. And from “We Had to Tear This Mothafucka Up” to “Who Got the Camera?” it was a completely different commentary than what I got from the Evening news with Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and drastically different than what I heard from my parents. I am not being hyperbolic or speaking flippantly when I say that listening to that album with my headphones on was a large part of why I ended up going to seminary. I just no longer see the church pulpit as my avenue for trying to be an agent of change in a sick and heartbroken society.

What I haven’thought a lot about is the aftermath of a highly publicized event on a city and all of its inhabitants. From the violence that erupted in L.A. to the mostly peaceful demonstrators and vigils in Ferguson, there is some level of violence, lots of civil unrest, negative impact on local businesses, whether from looting or the enforcement of curfews. Already tense relationships between law enforcement and disenfranchised communities are heightened. And in this state of affairs the media descends on a city and saturates the entire country with coverage of their story… until the next big headline. I say none of this to minimize the importance of the people being heard. It is more of a judgement about our poor listening skills, about how we only talk about ugly truths when the worst things happen, we turn people and whole cities into talking points until there is another headline about a President’s tweet, or the unrest in Syria or a viral video of a bluegrass band covering AC/DC diverts our attention.

I am thinking a lot today about what the aftermath must be like for the communities affected. I am thinking about it largely for two reasons. Yesterday I listened to a heartbreaking report on NPR on how L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley and sports and business mogul, Peter Ueberroth’s attempts to Rebuild L.A. were in large part a failure. And in many ways the city is still reeling from the aftermath of the verdict and the subsequent civil unrest.

I am also thinking about it because one year ago today in a much less publicized case I was a “defendant” for the first time in my life. The plaintiff was my ex-wife. We stood in front of a judge. There were no lawyers. He didn’t even bang a gavel. He simply pronounced us divorced. We had already been separated for 6 months. We had been growing apart for years, creating a void that was almost unbearable for all, including our two children. People find all sorts of ways to cope with the dysfunction of an unhappy home. I was distant and drank too much. I threw myself headlong first into the search for ministry placement. Then after a heartbreaking two year search and a very short lived time as an underpaid “resident pastor” I threw myself into being an online, Christian “social justice warrior.” My family suffered, I suffered, my art suffered. But divorce, while many things, is not a cure for dysfunction or broken hearts. The civil unrest of divorce creates a vortex of new pain and an aftermath that requires a lot of rebuilding.

I am working my ass off to rebuild. I am working to resurrect a bridge of communication that was completely dismantled between my ex-wife and myself, so that we can successfully co-parent two children whose dreams of a happy home and a white picket fence, with both parents together were shattered. I am working on reestablishing a relationship with the two most important people in my life, my 9 year old daughter with trust issues and clinical anxiety and my wide-eyed, usually optimistic but heartbroken 7 year old son. Some days the effort seems futile and fruitless when my daughter calls me the night before a “daddy’s weekend” and says she is not coming to my house anymore and hangs up on me. There are lots of fits, temper tantrums and some trying to play mom and dad against each other. But there is also a lot of precious time spent playing baseball in the yard, letting my son get unlimited turns at bat to kick my ass and letting my daughter make up her own 15 strikes before your out rule. There is ice cream and hugs and snuggles. And I cannot let myself forget things when they break my heart or during the void I feel, the 10 out of every 14 days that they are not here with me.

The aftermath is hard. Somethings take a lifetime and constant effort to rebuild. Time certainly does not heal all wounds. But love – love and tireless effort – can bandage those wounds and hold us tight as we walk through the flames and sift through the ashes and strain towards compassion, growth and new ways of navigating life and finding joy.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 34

I finally made it back to Spring Park in Middleville with my kids today. It wasn’t as epic as I wanted  it to be in my head. Last spring we had the park to ourselves. Today there was another family there with several kids. My two are always a little bit bashful and shy in such situations. Then after about 30 minutes, my daughter was “bored” and wanted to leave. Last year it was this whole thing! We spent a couple of hours there. Then we went to “downtown” Middleville and looked at the river, walked the boardwalk and concluded with going to Mount Hope Cemetery and visited my mother’s grave. Daddy was looking for another deep, cathartic experience today. But kids were just being kids. And they were more than a little eager to get to their Uncle’s house to have an Easter egg hunt with cousins.

Conversely, I was really nervous about my time with my family today. But it was a really great time! I woke up with a bit of a vulnerability hangover after yesterday’s post. This morning I was doing some self-interrogation about about sharing things that make some of my family members uncomfortable the night before I am going to spend the day with them. I had these ideas in my head about how bad conversations might go. You see, while my brother and sister know about the whole bisexual thing, my dad still has no clue. It was hard enough for him when, as a pastor, I told him I was accepting of LGBTQ people in all of their beautiful variety. That conversation went really bad. Really, really bad.

Other conversations have been difficult since I stopped pastoring, and eventually stopped going to church. He calls to tell me he is praying for me and worried about me. He says things like, “You think you’re fine now; but when you die…”

There was none of that today. He did start to talk about Trump (he is a supporter) and Syria. My brother and I (who agree on a lot of things socially if not “theologically”) just ignored it and moved on. My dad and Stepmom are really excited about a weekend trip to a log cabin resort next weekend, that we all chipped in and got them for Christmas. They are going on the one year anniversary of the car accident that my dad survived last year. So we talked about that. We watched the kids play. My brother shared some music with me that has been inspiring him. It was a nice time.

I am still working on not having those preemptive conversations in my head that make actual flesh & blood conversations more difficult. Sometimes we have to just be present in the moment, not in our heads about the way we think things could or should be.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 33

There are certain musical artists whose music left such an indelible mark upon me in my youth, that I can only listen to them on rare occasion. The music takes me back, sometimes too far back. Besides church and my Mead Composition notebook (where I poured my heart out to Jesus and wrote poetry) music was my only other place of escape from anxiety and depression, which was was seriously exacerbated by dysfunction at home, being picked on at school and generally scared of the world. Many (but not all) of these artists who still have the ability to take me to a different time, place and state of mind are dead. Kurt Cobain is one of them. Tupac Shakur is another.

There was a time when I always turned the radio up in my car as loud as it could go if Smells Like Teen Spirit or California Love came on over the FM airwaves. Now I almost always turn the radio station. I’d rather listen to anything from Nirvana’s Unplugged or Tupac’s Me Against the World anyway. I always have been – and still am – a bit of a sucker for the softer side of “hard” artists.

By the time I was in seminary, I had already over-cultivated the practice of avoiding the music that took me back. I avoided a lot of emotions back then. After a friend of mine died, something in me snapped. I am still putting it some of those pieces back together. He took too many prescribed pills and swallowed way too much whiskey on December 27, 2009. He wore his broken heart on his sleeve, where it was colorfully represented by a tattoo rendition of Jakob von Steinle’s “Jacob Wrestles with Angel.” He struggled with anxiety and depression too. He had also struggled with his weight and body image. We both had bariatric surgery. And he didn’t like to talk about his, at least with me. In his final year or so of life, he abused copious amounts of alcohol. Being gay and feeling rejected by the church that he loved and longed to serve wasn’t his only struggle, to be sure. But it certainly fanned the flames of his depression exponentially.

After he died, something in me began a long slow and painful death. It was my internalized homophobia. I didn’t become an overnight activist. But I did slowly start to tell more and more people about my own bisexuality, my “experience” with that older boy at youth group when I was a teenager. And little by little my theology shifted from closeted and “concerned” to “open and affirming.” It would still be nearly another 6 years before I would “come out” publicly in cyberspace and on local public radio.

In retrospect, little about my slow, painful and increasingly vocal transition was “fair” to many of those around me, not least of which was my ex-wife. She had married a man who was theologically conservative, closeted and a willing participant in reparative therapy. She wasn’t the bigot it is sometime easier to believe she was. She simply didn’t recognize me anymore.

I didn’t do much to help that. I dove headlong into my shallow pool of depression. I wasn’t drinking a lot back then, in seminary. It was a weekend thing. It was an almost every weekend thing. I threw the best parties on seminary campus. But most nights, I settled to immersed myself in my adolescent place of escape. Over the shared high speed WiFi connection on campus, I went to the torrents and downloaded the complete discographies of Kurt Cobain, Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone), the genius Shannon Hoon (Lyricist and vocalist for Blind Mellon and author of the quote across the top of my blog), Biggie and of course Tupac.

I became a bit obsessed with dead artists who had sad stories. And while I sat alone with my headphones on, I added the new habit of swimming in articles and books about their sad lives, the sometimes mysterious circumstances and conspiracy theories that surrounded their deaths and helped form the mythologies that enshroud their legacies. In between watching Tupac Resurrection and Nick Broomfield documentaries, I was reading contradictory theories about how Tupac was killed by the Illuminati because he refused to have sex with his sometimes girlfriend’s father, Quincy Jones, how the US government had orchestrated both Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.’s deaths or how Suge Knight was behind it all (I think some of these might have more validity than others). One of the songs I listened to a lot on repeat back then was Tupac’s Runnin’ from the Police.

Tonight I listened to for the first time in a few years. On it’s own it is a sad and rightfully angry song about police brutality against the black community. But when you add to it the fact that it is the only song Pac and Biggie ever recorded together before they became bitter enemies, it makes it a tougher listen. When you start dwelling on the fact that four of the artists on the song – 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Yaki Kadafi (then known as Young Hollywood) and Stretch – have all since been murdered, well holy shit it is can be a really depressing listen. Start reading around the inter-webs the various theories about how all of the deaths were connected by gang members or police or the FBI or all of the above working together and it can be a recipe for a tailspin. It was for me.

But it was a headtrip that I sought out. I was doing anything I could to avoid my own thoughts. If the world and the church hated my friend for being gay, then they hated a part of me. Harder still, I hated that part of me. Also, pieces of the great mysteries and myths that had marked my whole life (and to some extent still do) were beginning to crumble: god becoming a man, the devil hiding out in the basement. It was easier to think about the sad death of a celebrity than process the death of my friend. Believe it or not it was less disconcerting at the time to think about crooked law enforcement officials and gang members in collusion to kill some antihero rap stars than it was to think that the devil was literally all around me, trying to entice me to masturbate, or drink heavy, or eat too much.

Please do not misunderstand my intentions with this series of Lenten inspired posts. I am trying to write – better and more often – and in doing so finding much healing for myself. I am doing what I was born to do, even if for now, it is just pouring myself out for a few eyes who give me 5 minutes of their time on a busy internet where every story is sensational. What I am not trying to do is co-opt Lent to convert others to some sort of agnosticism with a deep sense of wonder and deep sympathies for religious faith (in particular Christianity) and atheism alike. I have spent way too much of my life as an apologist, trying to convert everyone to believe what I believed about the the world, about the divine and about myself.

Because I was so deeply afraid I was wrong! Now, I am just trying to avoid joining Tupac and my old friend in the ether before living as long and loving as much and as deeply as I possibly can.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 32

On my way outa work I was listening to the old people Best of 80’s, 90’s and Today station. I heard Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream followed by Rod’s Stewart’s Forever Young. I had to turn the station before I heard Jack and Diane.

What is with all of our fetishizing of youth? I can appreciate Alphaville and bob my head to the Jay-Z remake of that other Forever Young (and we still haven’t even tapped Dylan). So many songs with the same theme, same name for crying out loud!

I am sorry Bob Seger, but I’m glad I know now what I didn’t know then. I wish I could have learned a few of life’s hardest lessons by osmosis. But it simply doesn’t work that way. I want to take what I’ve learned about myself, about the world, life, trust and doubt, hate and love and wear it on my sleeve. I realize it still won’t cover my whole arm. I have so much yet to learn, so many areas in which to grow.

I was a handsome little guy. But there was no simpler time. Just simplistic understanding. I want to allow the world to continue to stretch my heart and imagination longer than Yao Ming’s wing span.

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 31

Since Lent is the season of “repentance” let’s talk about it. Religious faith that is useful, constructive towards a better life, a better world might rightly proclaim that we indeed are fragile and maybe at times even broken people. And sometimes, we do horrible things to each, to our planet and to ourselves. Sometimes we can be downright vicious and self absorbed. Other times we can be utterly blind to the way we hurt others, our surroundings, or ourselves. Church folk sometimes call these things “sins of omission.”

But I am not a monster. Neither are you. We are not refuse. We are not garbage. We are not objects of wrath. If it offends your sensibilities when I say that god does not hate us then perhaps you do not truly know anything resembling a god of love.

Unfortunately it is sometimes hard for me to hear anyone say I love you. And sometimes I have to force the words out of myself to others. Because somewhere deep inside my whole life I have believed that I am just trash. And I have so closely aligned this feeling with the plain truth that we are all imperfect. I really thought god wanted me to hate myself. I have confused the self hatred that is a product of what Christianity calls “our brokenness” with the anxiety of growing up in a broken home. I mistook the disposition of my father or mother for the disposition of a divine being towards me. This is a tragic distortion of whatever might be good or true about the world’s religious faiths.

I have done many things in my life for which I am sorry, “repentant” even. But true repentance means a true effort towards different behavior. Guilt and shame and “worm” theology almost always perpetuate cycles of undesired behaviors and characteristics. It has become hard for me to hear some of the hymns and Christian songs that were my favorites growing up. Songs that were so attached to my “spiritual formation.” Amazing Grace just doesn’t sound as sweet anymore, when I hear a congregation singing in unison “a wretch like me.” I can’t listen anymore to Sufjan Stevens compare “The things under his floorboard” to John Wayne Gacy Jr.

I am not a wretch! I’m not a monster! Are you?

Posted in Beauty, Health

Lent 29

I am exhausted. And I am sitting down to tackle two pieces of daily writing with an hour left in the day. Tomorrow we have an 8 am doctor’s appointment for my son. Then I have to be to work at 9:30. The kids are spending the day with Amanda. Then tomorrow night dinner, a little play time, then back to their maternal grandparents early Wednesday morning before I am off to work again. I imagine myself, roughly in this same place again tomorrow night. Though, hopefully an hour earlier.

Tonight we played the kids’ favorite game “hide the stuffed animals.” It’s just like it sounds.  When it was my son’s turn to hide things, he lost his own Pikachu (the replacement we just got him because he lost one at school on the playground). He started to freak out. Showers were delayed. We overturned couch cushions, looked in every drawer, the shower, refrigerator and oven (these are all places our plush little friends have went to hide before).

You don’t have to be the most intuitive reader to sense the cliché coming right about now. I found Pikachu when we all gave up looking, in a place we had already looked 10 times. He was behind my son’s box of Hot Wheels cars and tracks. Technically we had only looked frantically inside of the box, digging through piles of tracks and mirco-sized hot-rods, El Caminos and fire trucks.

Such is the way of life. People often find this true with possessions, with contentment, with finding the right job, with finding true love and on and on. We give up, we let go and then poof: we find what we were looking for in all of the wrong places. Such was certainly the case in my life when a only a month after my ex-wife and I split up, I asked Amanda on a date. I have known her since 1996. She is one of a very few people I have had a sustaining friendship with, throughout my whole adult life. I can count them on one hand. I thought about asking her out once in 1996. But a mutual friend at the time beat me to it an before I knew it, I was in their wedding. She came to my wedding.

Then things fell apart for us both around the same time. We started hanging out more to commiserate about our common experiences of heartbreak and failed marriages. Then the unthinkable happened. She took me to See “Inside Out.” She took me because she knew how much it meant to me on so many levels. I had seen it just a few months earlier on opening weekend. It was the last movie I ever saw with my children and there mother, the four of us together. I was crying – like snot running down my nose crying – throughout. This was not the first date! That was yet to come. This was a friend who decisively does not love all things Disney-Pixar the same way I do, going to see an animated film with me on a Saturday night, at the cheap theater, right before it hit Blu-ray and digital release. We could have waited a couple days and rented it. But she took me just because she deeply cared about me. People don’t just do that kind of shit. They really don’t. It is a lucky person who can count more than one friend that is so willing to forgo their own interests on a Saturday night to watch you blubber during a children’s film. It’s the same kind of person that a year or so later, gives up their Saturdays off in exchange for Tuesday to pick up your kids from school, so you can continue to have one night with them each week. She’s a keeper for sure!

But there is a danger when we take these amazing, life changing kind of experiences, moralize them and couple them up with a phrase from Jesus or Buddha: “He who loses his life will find it” or “He who envies others does not find peace of mind.”

Sometime you don’t find Pikachu. Sometimes you can give up, let go, be as relaxed as possible about the job interview and still not receive the call back. Sometimes you can give up on looking for love, friendship, happiness and still find yourself lonely and depressed. There is a danger in making moral lessons out of our good fortune. Because it is just that. I don’t use the word blessing often anymore because of a lifetime of negative connotation. But I am hard-pressed to find a better word to explain the way I feel about the second chance at life and love and fatherhood, all with this amazing partner I have by my side. I no longer want to tout my good fortune/luck/blessings to others like ‘If you’d only _________ everything would be okay.’ I lived that way most of my life and still found myself in what seemed like a bottomless pit.

I am thankful we found Pikachu. I am thankful Amanda and I found each other. But I never want to stop looking. Not for another Pikachu. Not for another partner. But for all of the many ways I can be a better father, better partner, better friend, a better human being.