Tag Archives: truth

The kindness of saying no

I think I missed the memo. Somewhere, someone must have published a book, perhaps it’s called MissManners2.0 or some such thing, and within it we are told that the “polite” thing to do these days is to never, ever, say no.

It is now a reasonable expectation to be ignored when making a request.  Enough time goes by and we accept the answer was no. It is now common to send off emails requesting a response and simply never hearing anything. People will go to great lengths to avoid simply being honest and saying, “No, I’d rather not.” We run from any potential confrontation to the point of talking so much more about people than to them. We explain to others why we won’t respond and then simply don’t.

Then we tell ourselves we are being kind. On the surface, such dishonesty being labeled “kind” is laughable, which is why I must have missed the memo that declared it so. Laughable? What, too strong? I don’t think so. Without honesty, we can’t be kind. We perpetuate misunderstanding that ripples out in countless hurtful ways.

I ran across this little saying from something called “Peaceful Warrior” the other day.


The last line jumped out. We could save people so much trouble with honest communication. “Painfully” honest works when coupled with humility, which is why I think we decided it’s no longer polite to be honest. Humility is nearing extinction, crowded out by the epidemic of narcissism.

This might sound overly complicated, but perhaps it’s not. Perhaps its as simple as this: If I’m the star and cast of my own reality show, if other’s don’t play a critical role, then my decision to respond has nothing to do with them. It’s how I feel that matters. I feel responding to an email with a polite, “I’m sorry, but I’d rather not,” makes me uncomfortable. What will they think of me, I wonder?  If I just don’t respond, it’s easier for me. I can ignore it. I can ignore the conversation. I can ignore having to disappoint someone. I may even avoid conflict or further conversation.

I feel better.

And that’s what matters, right?

If I make excuses to avoid doing what I don’t want, it’s all the better than the truth because A) I don’t have to say “I’d rather not,” which might just be well, awkward… ick, but also, B) I tell myself they will feel better with my excuse, so I’m actually being nice! I like thinking of myself as nice. It’s a win-win.


Well, the star of the show is happy, so I guess so.

I’m convinced all of this must have been explained in the memo I missed, which is I am so hopelessly out of touch. Worse, because I keep breaking the 2.0 rules, I’m the one who is not very nice.

The irony is my entire life I hated saying no. I wrote an entire chapter of a book about my desire to say “yes” as often as I could.  In rehab I learned that saying no and saying it honestly would have helped me avoid some of the worst behaviors and worst outcomes of my life. I vowed to live sober and truthfully. I learned to say no. Yet, somehow in that transition, someone issued a memo and I missed it and once again I feel out of step.

But this time, I feel a foundation of truth under my feet. I may be 1.0, but I am comfortable in my skin. I am now an ardent fan of “the courtesy of a reply.” I still prefer yes. But I’ve learned no is necessary at times. Or just the best choice. Or simply OK. In every case it is far, far better than simply ignoring the need to respond or to respond dishonestly.

I am not the star of my own show. The ratings were bad and it got cancelled. I hope a lot of “shows” suffer the same fate. Maybe then we can rediscover the healing power of honest communication even when difficult.

EFfed up revisited: I am wonderful

I dove into a lengthy debate with myself recently following a guest blog I wrote for the truly captivating Dawn Pier. To get a good sense of the whole debate, I invite you to first click here and read up. I continue the discussion below. WAIT! Don’t click away because it seems like too many words. Dive in here and you’ll won’t have missed much anyway. I think it’s worth thinking about, a little bit anyway. Read on:

So the question is: Did we EFF up, or are we EFFed up? For all of you still holding out for option C, I AM NOT EFFed up and HAVEN’T EFFed up EVER, please check back when the angels wings have shriveled up.

Let’s continue to the discussion and try it a slightly different way: If I wreck my knee my playing basketball, I might say, “My knee is EFFed UP!”

No problem. It’s a fact. The rest of me and my OKness remains in tact. But if we change that around a bit it suddenly becomes a serious moral flaw and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. To wit:

“My ___ is Effed up.” Fill in the blank with words like anger, greed, racism, relationship, soul, attitude and our OKness is somehow comprised. We judge ourselves. We know others will judge us as well. We do it all the time, where one action defines a person. And this where Dawn and I agree. We are not what we do, even though what we do often colors how people view us and whether we are considered a laudable person or a scoundrel. People want everyone on clearly chosen teams. Bad actors, over there. “Good” people, over here. You can change teams, but you can’t be on both. Thems the rules and we have social media to SCREAM it home. “OMG!!! DID YOU SEE WHAT ______ DID? #asshole”

Life doesn’t work that way. We are all scoundrels to some extent or in some areas and all capable of being good to some extent and in some areas. Life is really hard, so I suspect we are all just doing the best we can.

Let’s take a notable scoundrel like Bill Clinton. His lack of discipline with women nearly ruined his presidency, but his standing as a global thought leader has been rebuilt. Rightly so. He may be the most adept politician of our age. We struggle to accept that when it comes to women, sex and self-control Bill Clinton is pretty EFFed up, but he remains a quality person, despite it. He’s flawed, very flawed (I’d say he’s pretty fucked up in a charming kind of way, to be honest), but still a person of value.

The same could be said for most everyone: MLK, Nelson Mandela, JFK, just about any sports star or movie star you can name, etc. People can be really good in some areas and really flawed in others. They are Effed up. Yet they spend countless time being coached how to hide all of that behind their “brand.” We demand our sports stars be good people too, even to the extent we simply want them to hide all the crap we don’t want to see. We beg them to continue the fantasy.

But when we consider who is most qualified for a political job or even the job as starting quarterback, we talk so much about character it drowns out the qualification. It’s an irrational way to elect the leader of the free world or choose a QB, for that matter.

Do you really care of your brain surgeon is a bad mother and cheats on her stay-at-home hubbie? Hell no. I want her to wield a scalpel like Mozart plays the ivories. The rest matters not a whit. The same can be said for so many jobs and roles and yet in choosing people for everyone one of them, we almost always assess character as if we can know if from the cursory view we have of people.

That’s EFFed up in my opinion. Because those that hide it better will do better and be liked better.

OK, after more than 2,000 words on this subject I’m well aware I’ve forced it into places that are somewhat indefensible. Some people are EFFed beyond repair. Some disqualify themselves from a future activity. I get that. Some are evil. A QB who is such a scoundrel he’ll end up in prison isn’t a wise investment. There are exceptions. But most of us aren’t that exceptional. We’re just people. And we are a mess but loveable and have value in some areas and stink in others. There’s no shame in that.

At long last, this is my point: In admitting our EFFedness, we become less so. We are more open about it. We get help. We begin to see the destructive patterns and put in U-turns on the road paved to destruction that we’ve gone down so many times before.

As an addict I know I’m EFFed up. Something is seriously wrong with me. I know this every night at 9 p.m. when I crave chocolate in a way that is just bat-shit crazy. I’m not entirely wired right.

But I admit it. I deal with it. I diffuse it through relentless truth, with others and with myself. In admitting this flawedness, I become less flawed.

Nothing in this world is so wonderful as coming before God with all our EFFedness laid to bare and knowing my creator loves me even still. That’s grace. It’s the grease that turns the wheels of this world, rather than the grist of the mills that destroy it. It’s what is woefully missing and why so many of us our fearful of our flaws. Fear of our flaws makes us more judgemental of others. It perpetuates the lies and the brokeness we all feel to some extent inside. It’s why I think this world is broken right now. It’s devoid of grease. The gears are bound up with us caught in it.

We are left to the live the script of our lives instead of our real lives and we are so, so very alone in our flaws.

I return to Jesus, who by reputation is the only person who isn’t flawed. Jesus told us two simple things that make all the difference to me:

Do not judge, or you will be judged, he said.

Uh, no thanks. I don’t ever want to be judged again. I’ll not play judge either.

He also said, “The truth shall set you free.”

I am EFFed up, but I’m pretty wonderful, too. I am loved. The truth of all of this has set me free. That’s what make me wonderful.

Effed up vs. Effed: More than word play

If I understand one thing from my experience on this Earth it is this: People are a woefully flawed creature. Or in simpler terms, we are a collective hot mess. We think we are a Lear Jet and really we are a broken down plane crash in disguise.

But this, to me, is not the problem. In fact, as I’ll explain, it’s the solution. The problem is our problem with our problems and how that leads to our big problem with other people’s problems.


We don’t care much for flaws.

I often wonder why we have such a hard time admitting this.

For those like me whose flaws are so apparent–and so prominent on Google (thank you Internet!)–I guess it’s easier to admit, accept, address, and other A words that all explain the process of human transformation. Why fight it, we think? But more than that, for most of us who screwed up in a really big way, the key that unlocked the door to recovery was honesty. By admitting our crap we could start cleaning it up.

But others feel the pressure of image. They must maintain a select few, tolerable, quirky flaws at best. Enormous pressure to be deemed as good or honorable or laudable oppresses and censors truthful assessment and truthful behavior.

The result is we live the script of our lives as we think it should be instead of living our true lives.

The other result is we feed the hypocrisy that is really the grist for our social mill. We only hire “good” people. We only date “good” people. We only praise and associate with “good” people. We classify all the time.

This became apparent to me in a recent email exchange with the writer of a good blog called Dawn Revealed. Dawn invited me to write a guest piece. She changed one line (with my permission). She did so because my wording went against a lot of important psychology about self-love. I told her the psychology was wrong. In the end, she opted in favor of the psychologists expert opinion instead of my rather knucklehead opinion. I can’t say I blame her at all.

AH BUT! Even if I don’t blame her, I happen to have a little blog of my own, which means I don’t have to agree with her either! How cool is that? So here I get to win the argument and write it the way I intended.

Let’s take a look back in time shall we? Shhh. Yes, we shall. It’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. The graph in question I wrote came out in the final version as:

In that dark turn of my life I found it. I became honest. In writing the truth, I discovered the empowerment of a truthful life. Instead of saying “I am fucked up,” I began to admit “I fucked up.” In so doing, I became less so.

But I wrote it as:

Instead of saying “I fucked up,” I began to admit “I am fucked up.” In so doing, I became less so.

See the difference? It might be easier to discuss and appreciate without all the F-bombs, but something about a well-placed F-Bomb gets right to the harsh of the matter.

It’s interesting if you replace the F word with a the one I opted for at the top of this blog. Let’s try it again:

Instead of saying “I messed up,” I began to admit “I am flawed.” In so doing, I became less so.

See the difference? It doesn’t sound so harsh, so it’s less objectionable. Nobody really wants to be EFFed up. We want to be OK–The old I’m OK, you’re OK thing.

Dawn had a great point, which is why I didn’t mind in the least her changing my wording.

“‘I AM….’ is really powerful and so psychologists recommend NOT saying that…unless you are saying “I AM LOVE” and other positive things,” she wrote to me. “Saying “I AM FUCKED UP” makes you MORE so, according to the experts. Saying I fucked up means that you don’t have to take it on as an IDENTITY.”

It’s a great point. I’m a huge believer is positive self-talk. I relentlessly pump positivity in my brain because my knotty soul needs it like a heart needs blood. But I do think the psychologists are wrong. Sort of, anyway. I think admission, or let’s use a Biblical word people hate, confession is a powerful form of authenticity and honesty that heals us. I explained it to Dawn like this:

The confession removes the burden of trying to explain every mistake. It also removes all doubt I think I have it solved. But in so doing I embrace honestly the process of growth taking place.  I made mistakes because I’m flawed. They are not aberrations as I’d like to think they are, but as I confront these flaws I am less likely to commit the mistakes that result. Thus, by admitting this reality of my less than perfect self, I become less fucked up than I used to be.

So I don’t admit I’m flawed as an identity, but a concession to the process of growing. I am not who I want to be yet or who I am becoming, but I’m sure as hell on the way. I am OK… and I am flawed.

We can be both OK and flawed, or to the point: EFFed.

Clearly this was one time the F-Bomb failed me. A different word, more carefully chosen would make this more understandable.

Nevertheless I think our back and forth is important and the right words are critical. It will remove the sheen of hypocrisy that plagues genuine relationship and human redemption.

I think a lot of people are sort of fucked up and I think there’s nothing wrong with that unless we won’t admit it. That’s when things go awry.

What I wonder about though, is why that thought hit such a nerve? Feel free to explain it to me and correct me in the comment section below. And rest assured, I have more to say on this, as you’ll see in my next post.

Mr. Potato God could disappoint at time of need

When it comes to spirituality, I am a lot of things, and a lot of labels. I best describe me as an Anabaptist Christian Liberal with Catholic leanings seasoned by spiritual mystics from various practices and faiths. My spiritual exercises include yoga, physical exertion, prayer, liturgy, meditation, Bible study and reading.

I guess you could describe me as eclectic. 

But here’s what I am not: God.

And I have no interest in the job.

You should all breathe a sigh of relief. If I were God, we’d all be screwed.

I worry however that The Nones, that 59 million-strong swell of people who don’t associate with any one religion, may trick themselves into thinking they are God. What may start out as an earnest search for truth may become a lazy default that defines God or rejects God based on personal needs and wants or something so banal as convenience. We are too lazy to find God, we don’t want to ascribe to someone else’s view of God, so we simply dismiss God or invent our own.

The end result is what I call Mr. Potato God, a bizarre concoction of our own making that helps our deluded selves feel a bit better, but matters not at all.

I trod a fine line here and one that’s hard to get right without pissing off a whole host of 59 million people who I would love to connect with.  Still, I think its important so I’ll try to get it right.

By all rights, I am one of The Nones. I do resemble them. Like many of The Nones, I am educated, under the age of 55 and spiritually curious. Rather than accept the dogma of a single brand of faith, I am guilty of picking and choosing a bit. From the above description of my faith it would be easy to think I just pick and chose my faith from a buffet, defining God however best suits me.

It’s a fair accusation and assumption, but I don’t  think it is accurate. I am not the one who decides my faith. I am not inventing a God that works for me. To be blunt, I don’t need a God I can create. Instead, I see God as something of a puzzle. When a piece slides into place it’s not because I cut it to fit, but because it belongs right there. I may not have a good grasp of the whole puzzle but I know when a piece belongs.

The problem is not God, it’s me: my limitations, my lack of faith and my moral decay that keeps me from living On Earth as it is in Heaven.

That’s what transformation is all about. Knowing God in truth. God is God. The ways we understand Her are as varied as the types of tropical fish in the ocean times a million. Spiritual roads are varied but in the end, if truth is sought and love is found, there is God.

It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Many times along my spiritual trek I have wanted to fit God in where I felt He should go. When my life hit bottom I pleaded, insisted and convinced myself the miracle would be a comin’ and I’d be given a reprieve. I couldn’t have been more wrong, time and time again. I learned to humbly accept that God is untamed and unbowed. I must discover Her, not invent her to suit my needs.

I found God more in my suffering than I ever did in times of so-called blessing. The Buddhists and the Christian mystics had this figured out long ago. It took so much pain to understand it. Believe me, if I were God, or even allowed to make God, I’d remove the suffering part of things. But I am not and suffering remains a part of the journey.

I am convinced the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was a prophetic gift from God. It’s power is in the spiritual truths the steps follow. It’s a spiritual program and has been since its discovery by a couple of desperate drunks willing to seek God and try anything to stay sober.

But the notion that a Higher Power is whatever we want it to be remains a difficult one for me. I understand the need from an addict’s standpoint to start with whatever we can imagine God to be. But at some point along the 12-step path, we must allow the Higher Power to unveil itself regardless of what we can imagine. That’s how the 12-step founders saw it and I think they were right. I think we’ve shape-shifted this idea into places it wasn’t meant to go. We’ve made a Higher Power that is little more than a Mr. Potato God.

In the end such a God will disappoint.

My default preference is toward atheism. Mentally, life would be easier if it were random and death final. It suits my built-in recklessness. It explains the epidemic of selfishness and arrogance I see today. It makes idiocy like anti-social media make sense.

But in the core of my being I know God to exist. I’ve met the spirit in certain moments. In times of acute suffering, disappointment, failure, injustice I have recognized the presence of God with me. In times of utter joy, grace, blessing and beauty I feel God’s touch and breath. Nothing else has ever so radically redefined my life.

The challenge for me over the past thirty-two year off-road trek with God has not been to decide if I believe, it has been to uncover who it is that has called me by name. I only want to know the real, true, creator God. I only seek truth.

I find puzzle pieces from many different expressions of faith. This is what makes me like The Nones. I’m confident that a vast number of that vast number of The Nones have experiences and spiritual journey’s similar to my own. They too don’t think they are God.

But we all must walk lightly. Too often our need defines what we insist God be. By definition God can’t be so minimized and remain deity. In those times it takes great courage and relentless honesty to search for the living God.

The Nones are wary of those peddling religious certitude and there I join them wholeheartedly. God is a mystery and will remain so. The puzzle is never fully filled until the other side of Heaven on Earth. So we don’t know everything. We don’t even know how much we don’t know. This is why we reject those who insist they do. This is why we pick and choose a bit. Not because we think we are inventing a God of our choice–each making our own Mr. Potato God–but because we think truth is worth discovering wherever and whoever has a piece of it.

But this difference, this central idea of God being God and not us creating Him, is a vital one for all spiritual seekers, Nones or not.

The Hardest Part of Writing a Memoir: The Truth

One of my writing buddies asked me to write a guest blog for her site Dawn Revealed, which chronicles her life as a Canadian ex-pat living in Mexico. She’s an environmentalist, surfer, spiritualist and writer, who has taken on the challenge of writing a compelling, truthful memoir.

The blog stems from our conversations over email about the arduous, yet ardor-filled, work of writing about ourselves.  I’d love it if you pop on over to her site and give it a read:

The Hardest Part of Writing a Memoir: The Truth.

While you’re there subscribe to Dawn’s blog. It’s a good one including an in-depth exploration of Dawn’s introduction to Huichol spirituality that has my thinking about little else since I read it.  Enjoy.

Mission statement: Where joy meets need

A  month ago, a spiritual advisor I rely on challenged me to find my joy.

She reminded me of a great quote by a great writer named Frederick Buechner, one that I’m not sure if it’s true, but I want it to be. True for me at least. It goes like this:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

But she replaced the word gladness with joy. What is my joy, she asked.

It serves to reason that I can’t know if my joy meets the world’s great hunger until I figure out the joy part.

She decided to check in with me, putting a reminder in her phone the moment she challenged me.

A month went by. A hard month in many ways. A frustrating one. I spent the month living like a finger that can’t stop scratching an itch. I was a living, breathing, annoying paper cut.

Then the reminder came. “Are you finding your joy?” she asked.

I stopped in my tracks.

Was I?

Not really.

Shit, I thought. It was the start of an eye-opener for me that I had lost my way.

It helps sometimes to give it a second thought. I felt critical. Too critical. I took the time to re-think my previous month. I didn’t come close to finding my joy, but I had pursued it.

Finding your joy isn’t all joyful, I realized. In fact, this pursuit contributed to some of the angst I felt that month. It brought to the surface of consciousness my own sense of discord with God, and sense of restlessness within myself, all of which is necessary if I am to find my joy. Because I know this: the seed of joy can only grow in the fertile soil of truth. Truth with myself, truth with others, truth with God.

I thought back to an interview I had with Dutch Bros. CEO Travis Boersma who oozed joy. I recalled how he recited word for word his personal mission statement. His focus and his relentless pursuit of it made him a success, but more importantly it brought into congruence his life’s ambition and life’s passion. He lives his joy.

I wasn’t living mine because I wasn’t sure what it is.

That simple act of accountability spurred my frustration into action. I met with a spiritual director later that day. The topic filled our hour. He sensed the inner state of unease.

“You touched your chest as you describe this,” he said. “I sense the tightness right there in the center of you.”

Yes, I thought. That describes it.

The next morning I decided to get back to basics. Joy, I realized doesn’t come in the future, it comes in the now. It comes from gratitude, from seeing life’s blessings where they are, instead of hoping for some other version out there in the future.  It starts with truth.

No great revelation, but day-by-day since, my first priority has been to find my joy. Day-by-day since I am getting closer.

My personal mission statement? It’s evolving, but I’m getting closer. I learned the first all-important piece. I want to write and work with other writers. Since then, I’ve redirected my efforts to do more of both of those things and less of the others things that keep from that.

I believe in the power of story over solution. I believe in the human connection as a means to improve the human condition. I believe writers do both. I want to do both.

My joy: a story well told.

My great joy: a story I have written well told.

The world’s great hunger: _____

That remains to be seen. I sense it has something to do with both the power of story and the human connection such stories bring. I think these stories help us choose a better, more honest, more joyous life.

My joy remains a work in progress, but the work is more joyful now than it was a month ago. It remains a worthy pursuit, one I have every intention of seeing through.

Tacking beats drifting when life blows against you

I don’t give into envy very often, but as much as I tried to describe the knot in my chest differently, it didn’t loosen until I did.

Truth sets you free. Even ugly truth.

Who did I envy? Not a who, but a collective what, a bunch of people who seem to roll sevens in life time after time. Guys like Buster Posey who win not one World Series rings, but three and an MVP tossed in to boot. Gals like Piper Kerman who write a book that does OK, but has a title that is pure gold and turns into a radically popular TV show. Not just the stars, but the kid whose idea goes viral and angel investors toss boat loads of cash at him or the blogger who writes about nothing and suddenly has a million subscribers.

In each case it’s earned. Most success stories don’t come from pure luck, even when it seems like that to us. Each person in this collective horde of my envy works hard and combines talent and opportunity for their big moment. I don’t begrudge them. I just want to join them.

But, I can’t deny it seems like the Universe smiles brighter on some. I envy that, I finally admitted.

Admitted to who? Barely to myself, then I mumbled it to God as well. Like this:

“What the hell?!!!”

I don’t mind the hard work, the rejection, the set-backs, the obscurity and the many stops and starts. I just want those occasional moments when the winds of life fill my sails and propel me to places I don’t expect. I want to feel blown toward the goals I have in life instead of so much time with an oar paddling away in what seems to be more like a circle than a line.

After admitting this frustration to myself, after bitching about to God, I eventually told a few people close to me. A few weeks back I checked in with a spiritual mentor. We discussed this new restlessness I felt as my life grew more busy, but less focused. She challenged me to view my life in a different way and to focus on things I hadn’t given enough attention.

I promptly went out and spent the next month in a complete funk doing nothing of the sort.

A month later she checked in, asking me how I’d done. I told her it was a struggle, but I was getting there. It took about 24 hours for me to realize I was full of shit. I hadn’t made progress, I had drifted. I put my oar down in a pout.

And that’s all it took. Honesty. The knot in my chest untied. The next morning I got up, rededicated myself to things proven to be important to my inner life. I made an intention of looking inward instead of outward. I made an intention of seeking God instead of running from her. I made an intention of productive work and balance with things like art and time with people and fun. I made an intention to be healthy again, inwardly and outwardly. Congruent.

Eleven days have passed. No wind fills my sails. But my mentor described it best: I am tacking, that sailing term of working the mast back and forth against the wind to make progress. It’s not near as fun as sailing, but it is headed in the direction I need to go.

For now, that’s enough. I can’t stir up the wind. I can’t control what I can’t. I can’t figure out why the wind hasn’t come yet. I can only keep the boat sailing instead of drifting, so that when God breathes into my life I am ready to take off.

Faith is knowing that the winds will come. Faithfulness is having the boat of my life in tip-top form so when they do, I will sail the bejesus of them in rip-roaring gratitude.

Don’t ask me if I love Jesus

“Do you love Jesus?” he asked me.

I sighed, but I didn’t answer.

Ordinarily I’d simply let such a question go as graciously as I could and move on. But the person asking is the closest friend I’ve had for the last 35 years. I wanted him to understand the damage of such words. A healthy debate ensued. Nothing, as is almost often the case in such things, came as a result. It was simply a massive 30-minute clusterfuck of ideas that changed neither of us. It was, as Ecclesiastes states about much of our best intentions: vanity.

But this question, and many, many others just like it (“Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and savior?” “Do you have God in your hear?”) drill deep into the depths of why the “brand” of Jesus so confounds and confuses those who might benefit the most from the personhood of Jesus.

Asking someone if they love Jesus is like offering a secret society handshake. If you say, yes, then you are in. If you hesitate even the slightest bit, not only are you not in, but you are in need: in need of “truth,” in need of Salvation, in need of Jesus. The person asking you will likely do his or her level best to give you all of the above so you can get in, while internally feeling sadden by your “lost” state. It’s a given: Those asking if I love Jesus are right and unless I give a gushy, enthusiastic, hearty “yes!” before time’s up, I’m wrong.

If only life and faith and God and love were so easy.

If you say, “why, yes… I do love Jesus,” it means you belong in their mind, and more importantly you believe as they do, which means you’d feel perfectly comfortable and fit in here:

Which I don’t. Not that I mind. I’ve been in those things and they can be very meaningful. I’ve had some wonderful experiences with the Divine amid all the sparkly, contrived, polished performances of ardent evangelicals. I’ve had a decent time connecting with God during what my best friend calls “the happy clappy worship” that has become so … what’s the word… canned, comes to mind… but I’ll go with commonplace.

ButthankyouNO, I’m not going to answer your question. I’m not doing the secret handshake and not going to assuage your concerns for my salvation and not for a minute going to allow this “brand” of Jesus–with all its arrogance and judgement and exclusion and wealth, and greed and yes, power, things the actually living, breathing person of Jesus spoke stridently against–to signify my faith or my devotion to the God of love who defines what my life means and how it is lived.

My best friend is not by a long shot the only person who asks me so brazenly this question. I’ve often wondered what I could ask them to similarly test whether their faith is sufficient for me to accept them, but see that’s the point. I’m not trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out; nor do I believe that’s my job; nor do I believe I have the gold-standard of “truth;” nor do I believe what I believe is the litmus test for knowing God; nor do I believe I’m in because I said four “spiritual laws.” (BTW, two points of digression, you know how I love digressions: I did say those “laws” back in the day, so if that gets me lifetime absolution then you all are stuck with me even though I won’t say I love Jesus. I also went into the National Shrine to St. Francis of Assisi, which gives me a lifetime absolution as well, sort of a double-whammy insurance for those who keep track of such things. Point two: Jesus didn’t write these “laws” nor ever ask anyone anything of the like. Billy Graham did, which makes them a tad bit less iron-clad than Evangelicals want to admit. Golly, what did all the billions of people who lived before Billy Graham do to prove they loved Jesus, for heaven’s sake?!)

Here’s the irony. My best friend is a gay pastor. The very people that he aligns theologically are the ones who mosts likely wouldn’t give a rats ass that he loves Jesus because he also loves men. This trumps saying you love Jesus to them, because you can’t do both. No way, no how. He’d rather vehemently argue the point that they got this wrong rather than question the whole house of American-made, trademarked, ready to sell-and-go-viral “brand” that excludes so many like him regardless of whether they actually love Jesus.

There is a second question afterall, no matter how much importance they put on the first. “I love Jesus” gets me in the door, but there are bouncers everywhere. Loving men if you are a man will get you bounced.

This is why I sighed before I dived into the debate with him. I love my friend and love his faith and love his sincerity and love his passion for helping troubled people find a better life by telling them about the power of Jesus to transform their lives.

I just wish he’d be more wary of the brand Jesus he aligns with because it’s too often like taking a charcoal pencil and smearing it all over the Monet-like art that God is doing in our lives.

Pull lens in tight for life’s best view

I’ve lived in San Francisco for a long time and yet never had any reason to go the Twin Peaks. I meant to and people rave about the views and it’s a cool twisty drive you see in car commercials to embody that wonderful feeling of the open road and… yet… eh. Never really bothered.

Then suddenly I decided I wanted to see it. So off we went on a clear day. It felt just a bit like being Chevy Chase in Vacation staring at the Grand Canyon, nodding my head saying, “Yep, yep, yep… now gotta go!”

It was… nice.

Then a few days later I watched the movie Boyhood, which was one of those too long, too slow, too moody independent films that by the end have your mind in a twist that takes about three days to fully untwist. In short, I (mostly) loved it. But what I really loved was a scene at the end when the boy pulls into a dumpy gas station in the middle of nowhere that you only find on those great road trips that let our minds and spirit truly soar on the open road. (My daughter who hates road trips texted me from one of hers recently asking, “Why is you love road trips?” to which I’d respond… that scene… that look and feeling and moment right there in that movie. That’s what I love). He pulls out his camera and takes the lens in tight, way too tight on single subjects: An old fire hydrant, a rusty lantern, a stop light. He takes beautiful shots of the most mundane things in life.

“That’s the art I love right there,” I told The Bride.

She looked up from her game of Candy Crush to see a too-tight shot of the stop light with its chipped paint and said, “huh?”

I started to explain, but let it drop. Instead I thought about it and compared it to the vistas of Twin Peaks. One was a nice view and sorta of beautiful, yet distant and removed. The other was an ugly old thing that emoted the artistic expression of life and the toll the hands of times take on a thing — even when its us who are the thing. I prefer the ugly old thing. In life especially, I’ll take the ugly old thing every time.

The temptation is to try to live above life as if we are entitled to lofty views far above the noise, pain and erosion of it all. We even envision our gods “up there” “looking down on us” and all those other ways of describing “removed.” We want to be removed from our own lives. We accept gods who would not be bothered to be among us, perhaps even taking comfort in the vain hope that someday we too can join them. We build edifices of removal, be they mansions or skyscrapers or retreats, or less literal notions of the same idea like emotional detachment to the point of addiction. What is alcohol and drug abuse if not escape?

But if the close up is so ugly, why do artists find it so compelling? Why is truth so alluring? Why is it so unsettling and provocative whenever we get close, be it to another, to a god or even to ourselves?

Perhaps because it’s real. I believe our soul hungers for what is real, not the streets of gold our mind imagines in an incessant urge to flee.

Perhaps this also explains why the story of Jesus is so compelling, a rarity in the library full of spiritual beings. Unlike Marduke or Zeus or even the enlightened Buddha, Jesus is the ugly, rusty god, the one with dirty feet who is at home with prostitutes and drunks who came through the birth canal to dwell “among us,” and even when he got here avoided the lure of the ivory tower, king’s palace or heavenly throne in exchange for the bloody, terrible, sweaty, tear-stained perch among two criminals on a cross.

This is the divine plan as the divine modeled for us in his own life. The closer we get to it, the more we learn to celebrate its beauty. The more we reject the notions of beauty others striving to live above life concoct.

Or as Thomas Merton wrote, “The logic of worldly success rests on its own fallacy–the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real.”

The more I work out of my spiritual slump, the more I find the joy I lack when I pull my view of life in tight and see what is truly, really, wonderfully, beautifully real.

Mindfulness is like living on the ocean shore

A few years back The Bride and I spent nearly a month in Mexico living along the Sea of Cortez. The beautiful seas could kick up waves and whitecaps and turbulence like most great bodies of waters. But its remarkable ability for morning stillness captures my memories most. I’d get up and that enormous, powerful, mystical sea would lie calm as a lake without a ripple across its surface. The pelicans would fly low, barely above the crystal clear glass with a perfect view of the breakfast swimming below. They’d fly up and with the urgency of Robin Hood’s arrow pierce the tranquility, snatch their prey and fly back up to the skies above. The water would ripple outward at the momentary disturbance but soon return to the silent calm.

Th hectic nature of the day would rise. Fishermen would crack the water’s surface with their boats and winds would stir up the waves and the sprinkling of tourists would splash up on its shores. By mid-day the waters would resemble their natural state, sea-like, with whites and foam and curling waves.

I grew up with the powerful Pacific nearby, always within a quick drive to visit. It’s relentless power never stilled. It’s slamming shoreline never quieted. So the stillness of Cortez showed me a stark contrast that offers a silent portrait for stillness, a power my mighty Pacific has never known.

Throughout my life my mind has been the Pacific. I’d stare incredulously at The Bride when I’d ask, “what are you thinking?” and she’d reply, “nothing.”

Impossible, I thought. The idea of a silent mind was as foreign as building a house on Mars.

I learned to drink to quiet my mind. For more than twenty years I took my medicine faithfully, never once letting a night go by without some measure of calming elixir dulling the crashing waves inside my head.

The Bride struggled with anxiety in those years.  I felt such compassion for her even though I was oblivious to the idea of “worry.” I didn’t really grasp it. She once asked me — during a particularly scary time in our life with the storms of life crashing powerful waves against our existence — what I feared.

“Nothing,” I said, fully meaning it. Because the alcohol had done its work, the relentless activity of my mind had dulled and even though a storm brewed outside our doors, my mind felt calm. Ah booze, you once made me feel like Superman.

It’s this reality that causes me to resist a gentle suggestion that I consider anti-anxiety medication. I’d love my mind to slow down, but I prefer to figure a way to do it naturally through the disciplines of silence, of yoga practice, of prayer, of relationship.

So now, both sober and finding far more common ground over our anxiety, we together pursue the mindfulness that keeps life in balance. The daily activity and winds through our life whip up a good internal storm now again, but the focus on that Sea of Cortez dawn-like calm remains a daily pursuit. Some days are more Cortez like than others. The Pacific routinely makes its presence felt on our shores. But we’ve learned a few things along the way that I consider critical for finding the balance that leads to a healthy emotional, mental state.

  • Relentless truthfulness — with yourself most of all — is critical. I read from the interesting book Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, that Jesus didn’t compare good and evil but truth and evil. We don’t overcome our evil with white-knuckled goodness but truthfulness. As Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.”
  • Honor the silence — Even if I can only go for a few minutes, the discipline of silence is worthy of practice just as I exercise my body physically. Few doubt any longer the health benefits of silent meditation. I am often ragged at best with my efforts, but it’s worth it, in particular, the intentional disconnect to the digital world this affords me.
  • Season liberally with grace — Peace is not a place we arrive to but a condition of life’s journey. We will storm through life often enough. We will, frankly, make a hot fucking mess of our lives even on our best days. I am so grateful for grace. The 11th step is the daily moral inventory, which is paramount in my life. It’s like letting the air out of the balloon that has built up all day. I still struggle with the practice of simply admitting it when I’ve screwed up. This step forces me to do so and the waves inside me calm when I do. God’s grace is so abundant. I need to be reminded of it daily.
  • Learning what is — A change in the weather often comes when I simply embrace the weather. I hear the storm inside my mind. My nerves crackle with the energy of a power line. I feel the disquiet in my chest and gut. I do best when I simply name it all. This is what is it is, I tell myself. I’m anxious. I’m pissed. I’m scared. I’m tired. Life feels shitty right now in this moment. I learn to see what it is. Because once I do so, the mother’s heart of God comforts me and reminds me, “All that is true, but your are OK. You are still here. This storm will pass.” And sure enough, soon enough, if does — and for the last 57 months, it has passed without me taking the drink I always want in times like those.
  • Avoid future tripping — Do you ever have a conversation with yourself about a future conversation coming up that you fear will be ugly? I’ve driven down the road playing out the scene I anticipate before me so thoroughly, I can’t recall the drive at all. But my body feels the experience as if it’s happened. The back and forth rehearsal, in which I’ve played all the roles, usually goes dramatically bad. I play out the future and it’s like a Shakespearean Tragedy — full of woe. Then the real event arrives and it’s rarely as bad as I anticipated. But my body went through the agony of the worst anyway. This future tripping feels real and I suffer it as real, even when I’ve done it all in my mind. Perhaps this is why Jesus gently reminded us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, today has enough troubles of its own.” Jesus never expected us not to feel anxiety, he only offered the advice of staying present, in the moment, so you only experience what’s real not the pain you envision.
  • Combine heart and head with yoga and prayer — too much of our spirituality is sedate, which gives little release to the physical needs of our bodies. Yoga has remained over the last five thousand years because it refuses to compartmentalize our souls but deals with us as what we are, a vastly interconnected human being that all needs to sync in harmony to run at peak performance. Yoga allows the body to lead the mind and connect with the soul holistically. When I couple it with prayer I simply feel better almost every time. I rib my oldest friend — a gay pastor who loves modern Evangelical church services (ugh..) — that all those antics would be better served dancing at an Ozzy concert. He tells me with a silly smile, “I love happy clappy services. I’ll admit it.” I suspect it’s like his yoga, when his body can match the worship in his mind, so maybe it’s not so bad after all.

If you struggle as I do with anxiety, and with mindfulness and the discipline of being present, I hope some of this will help. Please understand that for many — perhaps even me, who knows — the problem is a chemical dysfunction within the brain and could best be treated with medication. I don’t suggest anyone should feel bad for taking what makes them feel better, no more than a diabetic takes insulin. That choice is yours and you should do as you will. I just know that these things don’t hurt either and we all can benefit from them to a lesser or greater degree.

Namaste, God Bless, Peace, and may grace abound.