Sunday, March 24, 2019

Following Sisyphus

A message given to West Hills Friends on 3/24/2019
To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries.  Avoid all engagements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable.  ~C.S. Lewis

In January, one of Stephen’s closing queries was “what is your true north?” 

I think that’s a really interesting question.  For me, like many of you, the Bible once served as true North, but has since failed to live up to the task, or taken on a different role.  But for those of us who grew up with a source of objective morality, when that loses its power, where are we to turn for guidance?   When asked what my true north is, I interpret the question through the lens of someone who had one, and has lost it. 

Pondering true north during silence, the images that kept rising for me come from the book I’ve returned to most often since college.  The book is called The Myth of Sisyphus and other essays by Albert Camus.  It contains essays on a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about: how difficult life is, and how it’s so much easier to quit in the face of hardship than to push through it.   With so many ways for life to be difficult, how does a person maintain joy in the face of everything trying to take it away. 

To begin a bit of my story as of late, I’d like to quote from one of the early essays in Camus’ book:

“Like great works, deep feelings always mean more than they are conscious of saying.  The regularity of an impulse or a repulsion in a soul is encountered again in habits of doing or thinking, is reproduced in consequences of which the soul itself knows nothing.  Great feelings take with them their own universe, splendid or abject.  They light up with their passion an exclusive world in which they recognize their climate.”

One of the battles I’ve faced in the past few years is how to be a functioning rational person while also having an emotional landscape that isn’t a flat line.  Halfway through college, between the end of an engagement, my parents’ divorce, and the loss of my childhood faith, my body decided it was done having a wide variety of emotions.  I spent the ages of 20-34 mostly content, fairly peaceful, and completely cut off from emotions like romantic love, joy, and anxiety.  My days were routine, my jobs were routine, my marriage was routine. 

As a teenager, my emotional landscape was just the opposite.  I was nearly obsessed with the idea of having a soulmate.  I’d sit in my room listening to Jars of Clay albums, halfway singing worship songs to Jesus, and halfway sending those same words to whichever person I had a crush on at the time.  Christian music is funny that way.  I was nearly always anxious, anticipating the next youth group event where a crush might be present.  I loved Bible camp, then fell into deep depression after coming home, where there wasn’t any more worship music or campfire story time.  My journals reek of desperation.  Desperation to be seen completely, to see another completely, to bond souls with someone who would do the same with me. 

My shift in college took all of that desperation away.  I was no longer concerned with finding a soulmate.  I wasn’t much concerned with love at all.  I came to value consistency as the ideal goal.  Consistency did not move me up and down like a small boat in the ocean.  It didn’t cost me sleep, or cause deep depression.  The highs weren’t very high, but the lows also weren’t very low.  I was satisfied with the trade off, though I wasn’t aware that’s what had happened.  If Bono couldn’t find what he was looking for, what hope did I have?

The summer of 2012 sent the first meteor into my emotional walls.  I lost my job in unceremonious fashion, a job I had planned to retire from.  All of a sudden my sense of security, and consistency, was gone.  My entire financial future now rested on the job market, and my pregnant wife.  During this time I could barely get off the couch.  I spent hours staring at the wall, full of dread.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t find motivation to do much of anything.  After 2 weeks of this, we moved from our home into Vancouver into my mother’s basement.  That move allowed the shock to subside, and I slowly found the ability to function again.  I had to run away in order to move forward.  2 months into this period of my life, I first visited West Hills Friends.  3 months after that, my son was born.

The second crack my emotional walls came in the summer of 2016.  My wife had been on her own journey during this time.  First, she realized she was bisexual.  Not long after, she came to identify as polyamorous.  Those of you present in this meeting around that time may have been present for her messages on these topics.  Our marriage had suddenly become much more interesting.  We would spend night after night processing her discoveries, and what it meant for us.  As I am prone to do, I read all the books I could find, and eventually came to find that I agreed with the principles of polyamory, even if I wasn’t sure it would ever happen for me.  I wasn’t much for emotions, after all.  And without the emotions, what’s the point?

It’s a strange thing to hear that your one and only doesn’t necessarily want you to be her one and only.  I managed pretty well.  But then I met someone who saw me for who I was, and now I wasn’t sure I wanted to be my wife’s one and only.  That’s when emotions broke my brain again.    I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I could barely get off the couch.  The emotions were too much for my brain to handle.  The only way out was to walk away from the stress point. Once again, I had to run in order to move forward.   I did, and my ability to function returned again. 

I want to return to Camus for a moment.  In the myth, Sisyphus escaped from the underworld in order to castigate his wife, who had wronged him while he was alive.  As punishment, the gods forced him to roll a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll back down once he reached the top.  He was to perform this menial task for eternity.  Camus uses this myth as a metaphor for the struggles of our daily lives.  We too have boulders we push up mountains every day.  And every once in awhile, there is a pause.  The stone rolls down the hill, and we turn to look down upon it, then begin the walk back down the mountain. 

Camus is fascinated by what must go through the mind of Sisyphus as he returns to his stone.  If this is his fate, his body has no choice about what it will do.  But his mind does.  In his mind, there are no chains, or boulders, or mountains.  The power to be peaceful, or loving, or joyous, still exists in the mind.  And if our boulders are never going to stop, perhaps the only way forward is to find a way to love our punishment.  To quote Camus again:

“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burdens again.  But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates gods and raises rocks.  He too concludes that all is well.  This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself towards the height is enough to fill man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

As of now, I’m 3 months in to a new battle against overwhelming emotions.  It too has left me full of dread and anxiety, unable to eat or sleep.  But over the last few years I’ve learned through experience that I am capable of setting self-improvement goals and following through on them.  When the dreaded anxieties have arrived, I’ve always run away.  This time, I decided I’m not going to run.  This time, I’m already in the process of finding out what’s on the other side.  I’ve begun therapy for the first time in my life.  I’m practicing having and expressing emotions every day.  And I’m following Sisyphus’ lead.  I too will find a way to be happy while I’m rolling my boulder up the hill.  And when I get to the top, I’ll appreciate the view before walking down and starting all over again.  There must be joy to be found in pain and difficulty.  I’m determined to prove this true.


What parts of yourself feel too difficult to change?
What would you gain if you managed to change them?
What would you lose?
Have you ever surprised yourself by accomplishing something you’d previously believed was impossible?


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Everything Eternal

Right now I’m on the couch, listening to the wailing voice of Adam Duritz, whose songs with Counting Crows have helped me cry for 25 years.  I’m thinking about time, and love, and how little glitches in the brain keep us from living a joyous life.

Last night I sat with someone I love inside an idling car, staring at eyes, and then snow, and then eyes, and then snow.  The feeling was temporary; as temporary as the snow. It felt like eternity, but it wasn’t eternal.

I realized I don’t know how to process this life outside the lens of eternity. 

Everything used to be the long game.  The sell for the next phase of existence.  The mortal coil was the pre-game.  It made pain more bearable.  Suffering could be understood because it would end.  Eventually, all would be made right.

I still process things through the lens of eternity.  When I love, I don’t know how to view it as anything but forever.  It puts an unrealistic weight on every feeling I have.  An “I love you” is forever.  Rejection is forever.  Indifference is forever.  All things are for a single purpose, the endless melding of souls with the ultimate. 

Bazan once wrote, “the crew have killed the captain, but they still can hear his voice.” 

I no longer have a captain, or a boat, or a crew.  But the voice of eternity is still haunting my feelings every day.  I don’t know what it’s like to know someone I love is a temporary love.  That a hobby won’t last forever.  That friends will die.  None of it makes sense to me. 

I’m beginning to feel that I’ve lived too safe a life.  I think I’d like to little less safely.  Take more risks.  Enter conflict voluntarily.  Kiss someone I know I’ll never see again. 

I have to learn to live a temporary life.  The weight of eternity is souring the best things I have without my permission.  I need to hold the people I love with a weaker grip.  Learn to detach from places and people and things a little more, to give them the freedom to come and go without it meaning so much to me.  With attachment comes suffering, and I am tired of suffering. 
Following the time in the car, I returned home, picked up a guitar, and sang songs to a small group of people who had taken mushrooms, were sitting near the fire and watching the snow fall. For a moment, I knew how to live in the temporary.  Here's to more moments like that in the near future.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Other Side of the Door

I attended Quaker meeting by myself today.  The past 18 months I’ve attended maybe 3 times, never alone.  I’ve been feeling the pull to come back recently.  Not sure why.

The meeting has an interim pastor I hadn’t heard speak before.  I liked her style.  Scattered thoughts, loosely connected, but full of interesting questions.  Today, she asked us to imagine that outside the church door was a surprise, just for us.  It’s the thing you’d be willing to climb over pews, and shove people out of the way for.  And when we think of that surprise, what comes to mind?

I had various things come to mind as what kind of surprise would prompt me to scale the pews and run.  Most prominently was a mind that contained joy and peace, but was not susceptible to anxiety or fear.  I would climb mountains to reach those heights.  I considered a life of no responsibilities, where my days were spent in conversation with people I love, or was curious about.  I’ve always wanted to retire early so I could pursue that kind of life.

It took about 20 minutes before I realized the thought that hadn’t crossed my mind; An existing God.

When the absence of that idea dawned on me, I’m pretty sure I froze for several minutes.  And then I hid my face with my hands, and sobbed for several minutes in the back of a church, by myself, hoping nobody would notice.

I’ve been fighting the good fight with atheism for a long time now.  The pursuit for something outside the natural world has been a good friend to me.  It sent me on long, wonderful journeys.  It introduced me to new people and ideas, and provided several of my best friends. 

But I’ve been aware for over a year that I needed to let that question go.  Searching for God had stopped making my life better.  I once wrote a poem about sitting on top of a flight of stairs, always hoping God would show up and open the door (link here).  I used to imagine I’d be on those stairs forever. 

Today, I realized I’m not there anymore.  The question, and the need for the question, have left me. 

In my tears today, I held that question, the question that had tormented me for so long.  I gave it the respect it deserved, thanking it for keeping me company on some painful and dark days. 

And by myself in the back of a church, I let it go.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

On Rational, Consensual Suicide

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”

-Albert Camus, opening line of The Myth of Sisyphus

Not one of us chose to become alive. From our conception, our existence has been involuntary, subject first to the whims of nature, and then to the determination of our parents. Our violent exit from the warm into the cold was the first of many instances where stress, pain, and simple existence were handed to us without our consent.

Consent, once one is old enough to be capable of giving it, is a shared social value. Depending on one's political compass, consent is sacred. For some, the consent of bodily touch is holy, not to be infringed. For others, consent over the seizing of money and property is holy, not to be infringed. For most, continuing to live, even against one's will, does not seem to be a matter of consent. Is this well reasoned?

Following birth, where we become breathing beings without consent, we grow and are given names we do not choose. We are handed ideologies we do not choose, and attend schools we do not choose. We enter puberty, and develop social and sexual preferences we do not choose, fall in love with people we did not choose to develop feelings for, and sometimes enter into marriages, the form of which was decreed normal long before we had a voice. The entire outline of our lives, it seems, is forced upon us without our consent.

And it's worse than that. The structure of our towns, churches, relationships, families, and beliefs systems were formed long before we had brain matter. They're so ingrained in us, we aren't aware none of it has to be the way it is. We didn't start with options, so we don't develop the awareness that options exist.

And all of it, from birth to grave, hurts. Every day we live is full of pain, and stress, and worry, and disagreement. On occasion, it is also full of love, and relief, and catharsis, and pleasure. The array of human experience is vast and varied, but there are only two certainties throughout: you didn't choose to enter into this life, and this life will end.

The end of life, inevitable and final as it is, is the last footprint a person gets to leave on this rock we inhabit. And perhaps the most cruel social convention that is thrust upon us without our consent is that the end of our lives must be left up to nature and circumstance. The thought that an individual might decide that the pain of this life is not worth it anymore – few ideas provoke such unanimous disapproval.

Social reaction to suicide is predictable, even if it's without intellectual scrutiny. A selfish act, they say. They had so much more life to live, they say. They should have lived for others. What a shame.

The pain of others is often used to shame people away from suicide.  The older we get, the more responsibilities we take on, the more people we know, and usually, the more people we love.  The love we have for these people, and the love they have for us, is supposed to eliminate our agency; To take away our consent over life and death.  But to give others this power assumes we could have predicted the future.  We are assumed to have known, when we married, or had children, or took a job, that the future would remain as painless as it was in those moments.  None of us have that power, and even if we did, why do others have more claim on our lives than we do? 

I submit that suicide is neither selfish, nor anyone's action to judge. If a person must live without their own consent, of what value is it? Every day, every single person we interact with is someone who decided, on that day, not to die on purpose. And once a person realizes their life is their own to continue or not, how brave a statement it is to trek on, choosing to bear the pain life brings when any number of simple actions could put a stop to it.

Today, wherever you are, whatever you're doing, you are experiencing some kind of pain that exists because someone else brought you into this world. You know that you will die, but it won't be today. Others will not make that choice. Their pains, also existing because they were born without permission, were not worth it anymore. For those people, the magnitude of their own power finally dawned on them. They don't have to feel this way anymore, and choose not to. I propose that this is not only rational, it is their right as involuntary people. Death will come for us all. If we are allowed to choose anything in this life, it ought to be whether life is worth living. May we do our best, each day, to live on purpose, until the day we can no longer give this life our consent.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Hope has long been a friend of mine. As a depressed teenager, the thing that most kept my spirits up was the anticipation of the next youth group event, or date with a girlfriend. Whatever the reasons for my current sadness, the future was a question mark, and sometimes question marks are amazing.

As a young adult, my hope was smaller in scope. During long days at work, my hope was in an evening of video games, or the dinner I planned to make later. My life was a series of small hopes followed by small victories, and nearly all the days were good days.

My early thirties expanded my hopes to the distant world, and the supernatural. Maybe God could be found again. Maybe the latest social justice cause had a light at the end of the tunnel. Each day had the possibility of far-reaching improvement, and I looked forward to participating in it. When social justice asked me to shun people who thought differently than me, my hope in people led me to put my efforts elsewhere. For a long time, I thought my hope was well placed.

These days I struggle to find hope most of the time. Because humans are as weak as we are, we betray our better intentions. We'll abandon real people in our physical lives in favor of idolized people thousands of miles away. We'll repeat the mistakes of our ideological opponents, changing the labels, but keeping the logical errors. We'll allow ourselves to be emotionally affected by the sorrows of people we can't help, and will never meet, but we'll never learn that our neighbor has a lost a partner, or that our postal carrier got a promotion. It's as if our technological evolution has surpassed our mind's ability to cope with everything our eyes can see, and we're paying the price for it. I don't know how to process daily doses of disappointment. In myself. In others.

I want my hope back. I want to believe that events and people and organizations matter. I want to believe that light is real, and that I'm capable of finding it. It seems absurd to be hoping for hope. But maybe recognizing the circular motion of it all is the first step in making it real.  

Friday, December 9, 2016


The star takes center stage
the planet falls in orbit
circling the center of gravity
With this balance of power
there can be no trading places.

At the time of the great explosion
when atoms and gases and minerals rebelled
against their original form
who decided the pecking order?
Did planet say to star,
"i will follow you"?
Did star say to planet,
"you will do my bidding"?

The nature of the universe demands equality
Pushing and pulling, in search of equilibrium.
Between planet and star, no such parity
Action precedes equal reaction
But as the permanent rotation begins
The planet says goodbye to its freedom
And hello to its permanent, miserable assignment

One wonders, if foreknowledge abounded
would planet have orbited star
would star have drawn in planet
and when "I do" was spoken
did you want to be a
planet or a star?

Monday, November 7, 2016



the slow, simmering ache within
the round hole in a sea of triangles
like watching santa skip my chimney
I am permanently homeless
and constantly homesick

what is this?
do we all yearn for the unreachable peace?

I look for ways to make it useful
if I must hurt, can I soothe another?
if I must cry, will another feel needed if they see it?
is this how we heal?
by bearing it all to each other
until we close our wounds together?


the mind and the heart are at war
always at war
mind knows only I can own the emotions
emotions are furious, stabbed by naivety and deception

heart says forgive, intentions matter,
that the foolish don't know any better
mind says cut and run
that if who you are is destructive to who I am
both mind and heart are best focused elsewhere.

History says I will side with mind every time.

today is no different.
Mind will soothe the heart
Information will win out over zealous feeling
And perhaps tomorrow won't feel so homesick.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


All is quiet on 5th street tonight
too much, too soon, a bittersweet disaster
He lost his composure
she lost a friend
and I'm tired of talking third person.

I summoned emotion from the grave I left it in
but it came at a greater cost than it was worth
To feel an ocean of love
with nothing but deserts to spread it over
while those who are thirsty scarcely catch my eye
I threw a treasure down a well
And I want it back.

The thing about mirrors is
if you don't see a reflection
it's not really a mirror.
Sometimes withholding information is
an act of aggression.
And of all the things I deserve,
I didn't deserve this.

“You deserve better,” my center tells me.
And I do.
From that grave, my love abounds in new and different ways
Friends have talents I've never noticed before
Kids have songs to sing I hadn't heard
It's easier to speak love to those who deserve it
though I'm new at doing so

I turned older this week
and among those who remembered,
a favorite friend inscribed
“we are more than our ideas” on beachwood,
quoting me to myself,
words to live by all the more.

And I will be more than my ideas.
I will love in new and more vulnerable ways
I will share with those who will share in return
I will hope for brighter and more peaceful days.
Because I am more than my ideas
And it's time for my life to live up to my ideal way of being.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

First Word 10/9/2016

delivered to West Hills Friends on 10/9/2016

When I began attending West Hills four years ago, I was taught two things about open worship. First, to speak in open worship, a person should feel compelled to speak by a higher power. Second, the message should not only be something a person needs to say, but should also be words that are likely to be meaningful or useful to others who are present. Because I believe in rules and form, I've been faithfully silent in open worship. I'm hoping this will be the last time I feel like I have to share with you from up here.

What I want to talk about are feelings. Namely, that I don't like them. When I was in high school, I felt things strongly almost all the time. I wrote sappy poetry, made mix tapes, all variety of emotive things. Mid-college my personality changed quite a bit, and most of my life experience since then has been in my head, presenting as an interest in facts and things that can be quantified. Feelings didn't show up much anymore, and as a result, I lost my ability to deal with them on the rare occasions they do show up.

Earlier this year I finally listened to my intuitions, and left social media. Since that time, the world, and my place within it feel much smaller. I can't be invited to anything my group message, and I can't communicate to hundreds of people at once. All incoming and outgoing communications are direct and personal, and as a result, all my interactions have become more meaningful.

With the world being smaller and quieter, I've started to feel things a lot more often. I feel regular emotions like gratitude and embarrassment stronger than I have in awhile, but I'm also feeling bigger things like heartbreak and anxiety. These feelings present like a Kraken springing out of water, and I'm powerless over them.

One of the feelings that's new to me is what some might call the presence of God. In my youth, God was a series of answers and equations. God was a fact, a wrapped package of truth to be accepted and shared. What I feel isn't those things. It's not concrete enough for me to be sure what it is. But it's close enough to what I would want God to feel like that I've become willing to use the word.

Last week Peg spoke to us about hope, asking what our hopes are. This question produced a bit of a crisis for me, because I have an answer, and it scares me. I used to believe in a God who knew everything, could do anything, and who knew everything about me. And believing in those traits, I talked to God all the time. I haven't believed in, or talked to, that God in a long time. But as I've begun to feel a presence I can't explain, an experience that some might call God, I've realized that even if I become sure that God is what I'm feeling, I have no idea what to say to it. My hope is that it is God, and that someday I find the words to re-introduce myself.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Who says to the wind,
"I am weak, blow me over?"
Who says to the hangman,
"Take this rope, I tied it strong and true?"
Who says to the flames,
"Come closer, I'm barely warm?"
Who says to peace,
"I don't need you, you may go?"
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
is just to love, and to be loved in return."
In the mountains rests a door                                 
Retinal scans and 14 codes                                       
Buried 'neath miles of soil                                                                                          
The urns of things most true
Laid softly side by side
Known only to one,
Meant to always be so.
Toohey: "Mr. Roark, we're alone here.
Why don't you tell me what you think of me?"

Roark: "But I don't think of you."
Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
As treasures go in one by one,                                  
Roark's words ring within,                                        
a paragon of serenity                                                
Repeat it, repeat it, it might come true.                     
All of them, any of them                                                            
Like vapor through my frame                                     
To be invincible.
ahbe fights the whole way
the siren of ache and honesty
but surely he must be wrong
for what is love at the cost of peace
or being loved at the cost of...

if I lose my eyes
if I lose my codes
may they rot in the surrounding earth
may the way of peace and horizontal lines
win out over knots and bursts of abandon
this urn is meant to be mine
every fingerprint reminds me
to cling harder
to think harder
to say to the wind
I am not weak, you will not blow me over
and to the flames
the cold is where I belong

Monday, September 26, 2016


Set 'em down on these wood gallows
Fumble the fears of the end
smiling all the way
I'll smile right back and we'll
Say it's alright that our pains are so cold and so intimate

If two is good, then three is better
Life only moves one sip at a time
if we say it does
Futures scroll across lines
of a tree that once gave shade to lovers
who knew better
The clock on the wall says
this time is sacred, and for once
we treat it like it is

Wheats of variety, friend to the nervous
tease out the truth from my padlocked tongue
like digging my grave
i lay the cards down in a row
and hope they paint a coherent picture
We leave them there, sprawled in order
Unsolved but exposed, a nail plucked from
feet tired of running

So next week I'll set 'em down on those wood gallows
Fumbling my fears of the end
smiling all the way
You'll smile right back and we'll
Say it's alright that our pains are so cold and so intimate

Thursday, September 15, 2016

If You Build It

She doesn't have to be real
He doesn't have to be listening
It doesn't have to have Platonic form
If you call, speak, listen or scream
You can build your own God.

A neurological model
Formed of longing and optimism
Crafted by the prayers of the heartsick,
crying out to know that which cannot be greater
Form it in your mind
Focus on its love
Talk as if not alone
And there you will find your lost friend


He tells me these things in sound and print
Celebrating the return of his lost love
while I wait inside with the porch light on.
I've forgotten the voice I once knew so well.

It seems so easy
Allowing the mind to do what it does
Forming avatars of hope and surrender
Yet..I can't.


I saw my essence from above today
and grieve what I found
The whole being is on permanent defense
Losses of the past have formed speared walls of preservation
The body insisting, "you will not hurt him!"
while the mind wants to give up and accept companionship
Even if it isn't real.
It's not the fear that Love will show up
It's the fear that it won't

Losing my Jesus
that death by a thousand cuts -
this body won't let it happen again.
So while the mind longs to quit fighting,
to pray to whatever will absorb those prayers
and offer that sweet illusion of safety
The body is winning the fight.
God, whatever that might be
is losing to these walls of self-preservation.

inspired by Finding God in the Waves, by Mike McHargue

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Confession and Self-Improvement

The fog has lifted, the air is still, and on the inside, there is peace.

For most of the last year plus, I've been yearning to reach the place I am now. From this more peaceful place, I can see the road traveled more clearly, and reflect on what's been learned.

The end of 2014 brought a lot of pain.  Some of it, regrettably, I have written about here.  This regret is something I think is important for me to talk about now.  It has been my good fortune that most of life has been free of long-term, deeply emotional pain.  There have been patches, for sure.  My experience of the puberty years were confusing and mostly filled with depression and self-loathing.  The months following our miscarriage were acutely painful.  But mostly, my life has gone pretty well.

Because my life has gone so well, I hadn't learned how to go about my day to day life while in pain.  My enneagram personality type is type 5, which includes a tendency to run and hide in the face of conflict, and more importantly, the ability to repress emotional to the point that when I can recognize that I'm feeling an emotion, it can be a devastating experience.  Emotions simply aren't a regular part of my internal monologue.

So at the end of 2014, with all its pain, I panicked.  I behaved in ways that are not consistent with the person I want to be; The person I spend a lot of energy trying to show to others. In my pain, I wrote publicly about things that did not concern the public. I shared an email with the public that was not written for public consumption, and I painted a church community with broad strokes over actions that very few of them were involved in.

In my head, I think I justified what I was doing by comparing myself to what people do all the time: emote publicly over perceived injustice.  Liberal culture rewards people for calling out bad behavior, and in my head, I had been wronged, and being wronged warrants public shaming.  Perhaps sometimes it does.  In my case, it did not.

Looking back on it now, I can name a few ways I've harmed myself in the name of catharsis.  Firstly, by showing a willingness to speak publicly about things that did not concern the public, I showed myself to be a person who cannot be trusted to be disagreed with.  If I am willing to go public with my disagreement with you, you will learn to avoid any topics in which we might disagree.  If I show that I am a person who might put your email to me on my blog, you will learn not to send me emails.  Both of these things are violations of trust, and I want to be a person that can be trusted.

And it wasn't only me who was harmed.  Things didn't go the way I'd planned within my church community, that's for certain.  But entertaining the notion of having an atheist be a member is going out on a limb for any church, even a liberal one.  And by acting outside my own values as a civil person, I lessened the incentive for the church to go out on limbs.  If my behavior is the reward for such a risk, it would be reasonable to circle the wagons and give less leeway to people whose ideas fall well outside the accepted norms.  That's not to say that the community will react in that way, but if they did, it would be understandable.

I am taking my failures over the past year as a challenge.  It is a challenge for me to practice civility in times of pain.  It is a challenge to live up to my values even when it's easier to abandon them for a quick atta-boy or a cheap signal to my in-group.

I am the only person who will be there for all of my life events.  If free will exists, the person over whom I can exert the most control is myself.  Therefore, if I want to be the happiest I can, with enough emotional reserve left over to focus on others, I have to view myself as an ongoing project.

Friday, February 26, 2016

the most real illusion

...light filtered through the moving glass, and it all came back.

1980-1992 a three-legged race, in all i did, you were there.
you turned when i turned,
smiled when i smiled,
cried when i cried.
you were all i was given,
and all that i needed


..we turned the corner,
removing the leg strap,
and walked for awhile.
i told everyone about you;
more than they wanted to hear
but i loved you so much
i couldn't keep you to myself

...running now, we set off for bigger things
leaving home, then finding love after love
a seamless sequence of data and advertising
certainty about certainty
you didn't warn me of the road ahead

...i didn't notice when you left
turned my head one day
realized you'd been gone a long time
the mind can numb the heart
and it did.
oh, how it did.

...then i felt what i knew.
you weren't there; hadn't been there
all along.
i searched trees and rocks,
finding only me, my family,
my friends.
they are everything, but they will not live
a funeral without end
your death in me

and so i stopped running
went home and shut the door
leaving the porch light on
just in case you simply got lost

...when i cried for no reason
when i heard that old song
when the sky seemed to have a fourth dimension
when i can hardly contain my joy
when my boy holds my face
and my girl sings her songs
and it feels like all of existence is winking in my direction
i hear you

you are not what i named you
you are not nameable at all
but the echo of a voice is ringing everywhere
and the antenna i left on that old house
picks it up more and more
this beautiful illusion
the most real of illusions
is good enough for me.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Stockholm Syndrome

This blog has been mostly off-topic lately, as things related to faith and atheism have been far from my mind for awhile, but I had an a-ha moment today that IS on topic, and seemed worth saving.

It's been about 16 years since my last experience of leaving church.  The first time, it was the result of going off to college, followed by a slow unlearning of my childhood faith.  The second time was recorded here.  Since then, the emotional cycle has involved feelings of loss, anger, disappointment, and regret, not necessarily in that order.  But today I've felt a bit of relief in realizing that it was probably inevitable.  Somehow I think inevitability might be a pretty good pain reliever.

If I put myself back into my pre-college believer mindset, my mindset looks something like this:  I believe certain things about God and Jesus.  These things are important to me, and are the most important aspects of who I am.  They influence everything about how I live my life, including my values, friends, voting habits, and ethics.  I gain a lot of validation from those who are like-minded.  Part of the value of going to church is that I'm surrounded by those who value what I value, and believe what I believe.  At church, we worship God together, gaining strength to face the outside world.  The world is an adversary, but here, among other believers, there is life and community.  We can relax here.

From this perspective, it's no wonder that an adding a non-believer to the mix would cause problems.  No matter what song we sing, or verse we read, or testimony we speak, the non-believer is out there, not buying any of it.  The non-believer doesn't have to say anything, or argue with anyone.  Just by virtue of using the word atheist, the non-believer reduces my most cherished things to little more than a fairy tale.  To the non-believer, my prayers are to an imaginary friend.  My songs aren't falling on the ears of anyone but the church attenders, and the only thing guiding my behavior is my conscience.  The non-believer insults my core being without having to say a word.  And no matter how watered down we make the concept of God, or The Word, or Light, to the non-believer, it's all the same: As far as they can tell, it's not real, even if they wish it could be. 

From this perspective, a lack of trust is easy to understand.  It makes sense that to be part of the club of believers, the person should actually be a believer.  It also makes sense that it would be difficult to be vulnerable around the non-believer, or care much what the non-believer has to say.  Why trust someone who thinks my most cherished beliefs are no more real than Bigfoot?

From this perspective, showing up was a mistake.  But it's a mistake that's easy to remedy for all involved.  Nobody should have to feel mocked by implication.