Thursday, May 31, 2007

in that Man's service

i am a man. i have everything i need. i am more than enough. i have the power to say No to my shadow and make it sit and behave, like a dog that's been chewing my furniture while i denied that it was there.

you do have a dog. we all do. we all have our shadow. it is a gift. it teaches us. in knowing the dog, the shadow, the voice in my head is there, i become empowered to stare it down, to decide for myself what and Whom i serve ... and how my shadow can help ME in fulfilling my mission. knowing my shadow's mission, i become empowered to say, Okay, it's there. and that's alright. it is what it is - and it for sure IS. so, i get to decide. i am deciding anyway; it is better for ME to decide INTENTIONALLY.

Jesus to every single person: "What do YOU WANT?" he comes and shows us our shadow. then he says, "Let me show you how it works when you serve the King of the Kingdom of God. You are God's Son. Step up. Your faith will make you well. Your decisions are your business. I will help you if you want me to." and he heals, and empowers, and cleanses us of shadows and addictions and stupidity and mistakenness, and then says, "Here, I'll show you something about being on the threshold -" and dies, with his body outstretched, hanging between heaven and earth, between a faithful man and a cynical man, loving everyone, thanking everyone, forgiving everyone, saying in one moment, "God, what is it? did you leave me?" and then saying, "Father, cancel that. i know you're there. i put my spirit back into your hands." and he cries out with a loud voice - "It is finished. I did my work." and then he is willing to go all the way down into the shadow ... and then comes back and says, "Hey, guess what: it's just shadow."

i am in that Man's service, and if you are in that Man's service, then you are in that Man's space. you serve Him. He empowers you. You have everything you need. Your faith makes you well, whole, powerful.

the dog will just do what we tell her. like children, she takes a lot of consistency and discipline and it's not a one-time fix; it goes on; it has to be resaid and resaid; and finally, it sinks in and we get it and the shadow gets it and we can move on and know it is exactly what it needs to be.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

okay, but, i'm not that kind of christian

check out this link.
this person suggests that the idea of god being someone/something we pray to, and things happen, is The Greatest Illusion In The World.
what is not upsetting to me about this, is that that's not what i think about god. god is not a vending machine. god is not a magic trick. god is not a formula. surely god is much, much more amazing and overwhelming and Other than that.
i agree with the people at that the conceits and arguments made by christian thinkers that attempt to "prove" that god exists are flawed. i don't believe in god because of intellectual or logical proofs or formulas. i'm not sure i even "believe in" god - god is too big for that.
i have oriented a great portion of my life, my decisions, my priorities, around a deep sense of mystery, and a level of existence much larger than my to-do list, worries, the monkey chatter in my head, my fears, my busyness. i have deep trust in something i cannot define or prove or explain. it's not in my head. it's much much much bigger than anything i can imagine.
and i believe it is love, reconciliation, unity, holding all things together. that's what it does in human beings. in the rest of the universe? hell i don't have a clue, except that i guess it is doing the same thing with mathematics and galaxies and the deepest places in space and time.

read this

read this. it's called It's a Bird... and it's the story of a young man dealing with a crisis: he's a writer, his genre is comic books, and he's been asked to write the Superman title. it's overwhelming for him - and in his meditation about why he's so bothered, he discovers some things about himself, and has to face them - including deep family secrets. it's mind-blowing. i absolutely loved it.
my experience is that when we choose our assignment, and it comes to us because we chose it, little ones just give us something to do, but the big ones cause something to happen within us. words by Steven T. Seagle, art (and i do mean art, not cute drawings - this is a book of powerful paintings in many different styles) by teddy kristiansen.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

let god in, or not?

my dad emailed about wanting to support his pastor. i said to go for it. he mentioned that he'd been told that the last pastor to want the church to get out of itself and get into the community, the world, had been fired. that was the late 60's. jesus. so here's what i wrote to my dad, in response:

Okay, so, you're getting excited about doing what Jesus did. Mind-blowing ain't it. And isn’t that what fires pastors and prevents the Spirit from having some room? Just like it happened with Jesus. No shit, I’m not kidding.
There’s a cynical side of me – a Shadow – and I know it and own it – that says, Stupid-ass Christians, they're all alike, they kill everything good. They suck. They don’t understand God’s love … like I do, since I’m so awesome and I get it. (welcome Shadow! glad i know you're there. glad i know you're not the truth.)
There’s a more realistic and in fact hopeful side of me that says that people are just people, and they react sometimes out of love and courage, and often out of fear and the need to control and feel safe. Just like me. And let’s face it, when God is really at work, things aren’t so tidy or in control. And that’s scary. And I don’t blame people for being scared about it. For real. I have compassion for them. I believe Jesus felt the same way, that his railing against the religious system of his time was flowing with tears and compassion for those caught in the system.
And God keeps on being present, keeps on loving, knowing that a lot of it won't soak in, but some of it will. And keeps on doing God stuff.
If the pastor is worth supporting, do it. Every pastor needs support – even, no, especially, those who are lost or have forgotten or are being assholes and i swear they wouldn't choose that if they were in their right minds.

What KIND of support is the issue … accountability? Nurture? A kick in the ass given with lots of love? A friend to confide in? someone who won't judge him/her? we pastors need all of those and more. someone just to be there week after week, looking at us, sending us the message “Yes, I’m here. You are not alone. If you cause trouble by opening people’s minds and threatening their safe space, I will be with you.” that’s as good as it gets.
So, let's say your pastor causes trouble, lets God in, sends the Church out into the world. So the pastor gets fired, or punished, or sent somewhere. That’s up to the pastor to figure out, regarding her/his calling from God. Shit, there are lots worse things than getting fired. Losing one’s soul is much, much, much worse. "What good does it do anyone to gain the whole world - power, control, a great resume, a great salary, job security, a pension, happiness - and lose his soul?" Jesus said that and he meant it big time. He knew.

And religion is just neutral, just a tool; it’s the people who at some point meant well and then were seduced by the dark side of the force, or maybe they just don’t know that they're doing evil and thwarting God’s work (Jesus to his best friend and head of the class, Simon The Rock: "Shut up, dammit, Simon! You're speaking the words of my Enemy!"). And if a pastor or any other person begins to be prophetic, a problem, a mirror, and the people aren’t used to it? They’ll kill the sonofabitch. For real. It happens every single day. Either they’ll kill her/him slowly, by degrees, or all at once.
There is always resurrection in this story, because God is always present and always at work.
So, it’s up to the pastor to decide.

If she/he is lucky, there'll be a group of people, in person or far away or in the present or in the future who will want to hear the words of God, who will want the doors opened, who will want trouble. they'll be the poor in spirit, they that mourn, the hungry and thirsty for something.

i have that.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The List

sorry to have been offline for a week.
i don't know why i have been. i would do The List -
my lower back's a wreck.; lots to do at journey; time with family; laundry, dishes, cleaning.
notice that all of these are chores - even "time with family," which The List can't list as fun; it has to be work, if it's going to do its job.
the feeling of being inadequate, for me, is connected to worry that i'm not doing What You're Supposed To Be Doing. for decades i have worried that i'm not doing what i'm supposed to be doing - that i'm not being good, pleasing people, working hard, keeping everything together. it really, really sucks. it's like a low-grade fever, or a not-bad-enough-to-have-to-stay-in-bed flu, or a bruise on my heel. it keeps saying, "you can't rest."
you can't rest because something isn't right. so, don't relax. be hypervigilant. you're not doing a good enough job. if you were, things wouldn't be so fucked up. don't sit down. don't rest. there is no such thing as rest for you; you deserve to take breaks, because you work so hard. but you can't afford to let your guard down for long.
this fever, flu, bruise, is, as Morpheus says about The Matrix, "like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad." the madness? is in not resting. feeling like there's always more that has to be done. that it's not enough. that i'm not enough. that i've blown it. AND out of that? comes resentment.
You can't possibly expect me to take on THAT project on top of what i'm already carrying! I don't want to come and help you but i feel way too guilty to say No. so ... You are being unreasonable and putting unfair burdens on me. what, haven't i been a good enough person?
Which then, for me, has translated into not feeling empowered to say No to anything (without first becoming really pissed off, or feeling really sad), either what i did or didn't want to do or take on. and so, immediately, The List would jump into my head.
Oh, I'd love to help you, but - i've got to do this, this, this, this, this, this, this. that's different from saying, "this is where i'm going to be Friday" - that might be important to communicate for whatever reason.
this, on the other hand, is, "let me prove to you why it's okay that i'm not being there for YOU TOO!" and just under the surface?
a. god i am such a loser - that person needs something/that person isn't happy/that situation is wrong and i'm messing up by not fixing it. [but i'm not a loser.]
b. what is it with everyone? when do i get to rest??? what about ME? you jerks! i'll SHOW YOU how burdened i am and then you'll know. [but you're not a jerk.]
c. if i list it then maybe i'll believe that i'm not a bad person just because i can't be there for this, that, and i need to convince myself - if the list is long enough, maybe ...
here's the thing:
The List does not work.
what it does, for me, is keep me distracted. it's a focus on something that's not the point. the point, for me, is love. love for god, love for self, love for other people. learning to love and trust and forgive. The List is a distraction from that - it's not about the truth. the truth is, "Rest. Be Still. Work when there is something to do that actually deserves your effort and time. When you choose to. But you don't have to. You don't have to do anything. Breathe. Be still. You're the beloved, no matter what you choose."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Poor David Letterman And Me

so, last night i had a really hilarious and also disturbing dream.

leslie (my wife) and i were invited to new york to appear on "the late show with david letterman." i like letterman better than leno - no particular reason, except that letterman's a little more snide, which i like. i still have no idea why l and i were invited to the show.

1. it was a long drive. we drove all the way to new york. some adventures happened along the way - some country folks, a park, camping, i can't remember those parts. not important.
2. we got to nyc and it was hilly and night-time. my daughter and i, in real life, drove around downtown austin last night for fun, and that may have been part of what this part of the dream was sorting. but anyway, in nyc in the dream it was confusing. trying to find a parking place. feeling like maybe we were late but not sure. it may have been daytime too in the dream at the same time as it was night.
3. found a parking place. ran to the studio, unsure of where we were going.
4. got there, backstage entrance. turns out, when we got there, there's a whole grocery store in the back, and it's laid out sort of funky and turned on itself in a warehouse, with shopping carts and people all over. no instructions. so, we loaded up a cart of stuff.
5. we got to nearly where the stage was, we thought. still backstage - concrete, cinderblocks, big industrial building. stairs. hard to get around.
6. we get to a huge open area. tall ceiling. to the left are lights and what looks like backstage at a concert. a middle-aged lady who is obviously in charge comes up to us and bitches us out. very demeaning. "when i have a guest come to this show, i expect that person to get here on time, and already be checked into the hotel, and ready to perform." turns out, the show is already ready to tape.
7. we didn't get any such instructions, or, if we did, we don't know what she's talking about. nor did they provide us with a hotel. i say - "oprah has a hotel her people stay at -" but she cuts me off. i find this odd. it hadn't occurred to me until just then that they should've provided us with a hotel room, car service to the studio, etc.
8. we are backstage and it reminds me of Waco Hall on the campus of Baylor University - only we're not backstage, we're in the back of the seat area, next to the sound booth, and there's Letterman, standing there. he seems extremely nice. easygoing. (i know that this is not real life.)
9. the audience are here and there, not crowded like on tv. very laid back. turns out, it's more like a taping in that the audience is part of the crew making it happen - everyone's part of the family. l and i are the newbies.
10. we don't have anyplace to put our groceries, and the milk is going to spoil. we pile it all into a cart, smushing the bread, trying not to impose on this mean woman, who is telling us we're way behind.
11. we miss the time we're supposed to come up to the stage. it occurs to me that i have no idea why we're there or what in the hell we're on tv for.
12. there's a commercial break and l and i are rushed up to the stage. i look at my watch; we were supposed to be on much earlier; there are four minutes left. the music is playing; the commercial break is almost over. the mean woman projects disapproval toward us.
13. there are two old-looking microphones on stands, headphones, little music stands. stagehands come up and give us our mikes. mine doesn't work. it screeches. breaks up. letterman asks us something. l gives an answer, i do too. i got nothin'.
14. letterman is quite nice, takes it in stride. we're done. show's over. smattering of applause.
15. we go off stage. some of our friends are there. they comfort us. they tell me my texan accent was quite pronounced and odd. they tell me it's okay that my microphone broke up, it wasn't my fault - and the implication is that it WAS my fault. i'm like, well shit! sadness and shame wash over me.
16. we go backstage. i try to get our groceries. we're in a big hurry. turns out we have to be somewhere. l runs across a busy street. i try to catch her.
17. i say something to the mean lady about coming back sometime; she says that's reserved for other people.
i really love dreams. i used to be much more scared of them, but now i like them. i know it's just the soul's way of sorting our experience, feelings, unresolved emotions and ideas. i believe that everything in a dream is code for something we feel or wonder about and can't get worked out during conscious hours.
what is this one about? feeling rushed, inadequate, judged, blamed, stupid.
funny. i've been relaxing a lot lately. i think i'm slowing down enough to know that those emotions and old tapes are in there all the time - so, thank you, my soul, for giving me the gift of knowing to continue to pay attention to those feelings and learn about them. they're there - so, best to look at 'em, stare 'em down, welcome the shadow, see what's in there. and then let the light in.
leonard cohen says the broken places are where the light comes in. yep.
and, thank you, david letterman, for being so kind.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

content, container

my friend brandon and i are talking about legalism and what it means to follow the guidelines of religion. he's asking cool questions. this is a response i gave him about part of that conversation.

I am not a legalism kind of guy, at all. Part of that is I’m just too old to put up with people telling me how I should or should not be, and a lot of my inner work is clearing the decks of those old tapes from shaming/repressive parents and school and teachers and coaches and all that crap, and shaming/repressive church structures, and knowing that I am the beloved child of God and a grown man and full of healthy God power. It’s a good thing to be learning.
But what's funny about that is that while I am against false and artificial legalism, I’m deeply committed to what I believe is fundamental and important. one of my teachers, Leonard Sweet, says that he is a fundamentalist about content and a total libertarian about containers. For him, the content is the Gospel of what God does in us and what God did in Jesus; the containers are all the things human beings have built to hold/deliver/share/display the content. We human beings, Sweet says, are often way too concerned with making sure our containers are the best, the brightest, the rightest, the most righteous and important and godly. The point is to know what the true content is.
And that’s what Jesus came to say – y'all are so focused on the containers that you’ve forgotten what the content is. The content is the Kingdom of God. The containers are all these freakin’ rules and regulations and laws. The content is what inspired the containers, and I know a lot of y'all are trying really hard to be faithful by following the guidelines. But you're missing it. So wake up. Giving, forgiving, loving, being healthy and strong, honoring commitments, loving God and others, confessing, serving, being open, following – those are and have always been the true content, all throughout the Law of Moses, the prophets, all of it.

a mirror ... a little trailer ... nothing to do but say yes

this is an email from my strong and beautiful friend mike.
"westsider" refers to those who live on the nice side of austin; east austin is where those who have fewer means live. all of that of course is bullshit because it's outward and god sees what's on the inside - but that's info for reading this.

Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave,
No One Was Saved.

"Eleanor Rigby" - Paul McCartney

Just east of I-35, Austin Baptist Chapel sits on East 2nd Street, bustling, bristling downtown Austin just to the west, boozed up, burned out barrio just to the east. Consistent with the geography, ABC sits precariously at the border of civilization and an abyss.
In back of ABC, there is a made-over storage shed. This is the place where, during the week, Jose, the “director” of this place, keeps his big dog. The shed is refuge for old clothes and miscellaneous living supplies that people from the west side drop off from time to time. On Saturdays, some of the westsiders come in and, for one hour 9:30 to 10:30, they unlock the metal bars, open the window and pass out the clothes and supplies to the people who line up there.
For the past year or so, I am one of those westsiders. The first and second Saturday of the months, I have gone to that shed, and many times, have been the man behind the bars and in the window.
My first impression and humanitarian response is, “My God, this is terrible. We need to fix this place and these people. We’ll raise money and build a better place; we’ll buy new and better clothes and supplies, and give these people a better life.”
With the passing of the Saturdays, my attitude transforms. I notice that week to week, month to month and even over the course of a year or so, many of the faces are the same – the scars, the stories, the needs, the problems – all seemingly unabated by my earnest concerns and modest efforts.
“What happened to the pants and two shirts and underwear that I gave that guy last week?”
“Why is he back here?”
“Why are they all here?”
There is this epiphany in me, as I come to understand, no, to feel, about the looks in these peoples’ eyes, the sights, smells and spirit of this place.
It is not an epiphany of hope, of fervor, of belief in God, or grace or redemption, or anything so grand or important…It’s like seeing a ghost that I want to run and hide from.
Yet, I am compelled to return, to ignore my westside sensibilities and responsibilities to accommodate that one hour twice a month so that I can be there.
I tell my wife, “This is stupid.”
I tell myself, “I’m not doing anything good.”
I struggle with the fleeting ideas of my superiority and the distinctions that make me, me and them, them.
“Surely, I can make a bigger difference in some other way…”
I look in the mirror every morning, and, come the first Saturday of the month, I find myself looking into those eyes from the window, through the metal grate, in the storage shed at the back of ABC…
There is no ambiguity in the act of handing a penniless, homeless man a pair of pants that he needs to have something to wear this week, or of handing a hungry woman a sandwich a bag of chips and a chocolate bar. There is no transaction, no quid pro quo. It is utter simplicity, not about what I mean or what I stand for, but just about what I do – as mindless, small, pathetic, ineffectual and imperfect as that may be.
So, I say to myself, if I am to do something important, then I must find a way to connect with some truth about importance. I believe that the truth about importance is a strange and often scary mystery, something like that ghost of my epiphany, something that doesn’t have much to do with social hierarchies, conventional wisdom, afflictions, addictions, east or west. I believe that you can see it when you look in the mirror and in those eyes at the various windows, and off in the distance in the stars in the skies. I would ask you as a brother to find it within yourself to take your own look.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

the bible and whateverthehell

I don't know anything about how much anyone "should" know the Bible. I don’t mind digging around in it and asking questions about it, as you know – I like that. It enriches my reading of the Bible to think about its background, etc.
For instance, I don’t believe in a guy in a red suit with goat hooves and a tail and a pitchfork – those are all metaphors that over the years were pieced together from various sources to try and get at what evil is. There are two or three traditions that come together in the Bible around the idea of what Satan is – there’s the ha-satan of books like Job; he’s a member of God’s heavenly court and he is the messenger or “accuser,” which is what ha-satan means. There’s the Baal god of the Canaanites (the residents of the Promised Land, whom the Israelites defeated in order to move in, after their time in Egypt and the desert) and the Egyptian gods, who are the enemies of Israel’s God because those countries are Israel’s enemies. “Baal-zebub” is one of the names for the Baal god. Plus, there were Babylonian ideas of the spirits, good and bad, picked up in the Exile, and Greek ideas of the spirits, good and bad, and Paul picks up on both of those traditions, using the Greek word daemones which we translate as “demons,” but which just means “spirits.” Now, having said all of that, I know that stuff about the background of the Bible and yet that doesn't invalidate what obviously is a theme in the Bible, which is, there’s a struggle going on, and loving and reconciling the world to Himself isn’t easy for God or for us human beings. What is Evil? I’m not sure. But I know there is Evil, or darkness, or whatever you want to call it (I always say that at its roots, it’s Fear) in the world.
Just because the Bible may have lots of things that it says instead of just one thing doesn’t mean that it’s less – I see it as MORE. give the Bible a break, right? It was written over hundreds and hundreds of years by hundreds of people in many many traditions and contexts. I’m amazed that it makes as much sense as it DOES, not the other way around! (I can do a similar discussion of the biblical and historical traditions around the idea of Hell, or Hades, or Sheol, or Gehenna – all related but not the same things, and understood differently in different parts of the Bible and in different Christian traditions – but I think you get the idea.) I don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater – but I did some of that when I was a younger man. I had had a traditional upbringing and then I got to be a young adult and didn't have to go to church anymore and then I got really educated and smart and figured I knew everything and I was more enlightened than those churchy people, and I decided I didn't believe any of that crap anymore. I was open to ideas – but not trust and faith.
And then what I found as I continued to grow in my adult years and my philosophy of life was that without trust and faith, what's the point? I realized that I wanted my life to be meaningful, and that meant love, and trusting God, and healthy relationships, and knowing that God is a lot bigger than me.
What was cool about that was that the more I learned about history and religion and theology and the Bible, the more interesting it was to me – and instead of thinking I was smarter than all these people who believed this stuff I believed when I was a kid but I was smarter than now, I respected my fathers and mothers in the faith. I respected other people’s beliefs. I respected other denominations and traditions. And I knew that there’s plenty of room for lots of ways to understand God. And that made room for me NOT to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but just to know that there’s a lot of stuff that may not be true the way it was for me when I was a kid, but that didn't mean it wasn’t true – I just had a different understanding of it as an adult.
C. S. Lewis was one of the people who helped me through that. So is Anne Lamott. Not bad company.

stumbling toward faith

i have to tell you about this book and give you a quote from it. renee altson writes about her fundamentalist/baptist/whatever christian father. and how he sexually abused her when she was a girl. and how the fundamentalist/baptist/whatever christian church was just another voice of shame and unworthiness. i was reading the first section yesterday and got so sad and angry - i mean, really angry - about the role that the church played in this girl's life. i mean, just fucking mad. i wanted to go to the temple of the fundamentalist church that's about sin and shame and unworthiness, and turn over some tables. lots of them. and tear the walls down.
maybe that's what jesus felt. i bet it was.
that's a big part of the book i'm writing now: that jesus told people that love is all that matters - and that anything that keeps people from experiencing and living in that love, has to go. to be dismantled. to be resisted. and i'm sad to say, but it's true, that much of christianity keeps people from experiencing and living in that love. it imprisons them in shame and dogma. it makes me very sad. and mad. fighting mad. like, really.
read this:
"i wandered through various religions, particularly the ones with strict rules and definitive boundaries. i was baptized a mormon, a jehovah's witness. i flirted with scientology. [altson was raised baptist.] in the end, i came to one conclusoin: the warm acceptance i felt in each of these groups was only there because i was conforming to that group's ideals. the people only loved me because they had to, because it was written in their religion that they treat others well. they only had faith in me because i shared their faith, too.
"the moment i doubted, or strayed, or showed independence, they became vultures. they told me i was unworthy. ...
"i don't even know what 'home' means, except that i long for it. i long to heal, to have this yawning chasm inside of me filled, to believe in something bigger than me, holier than i dare to imagine, more gracious and full of kindness than i dare to wish for."
thank you renee.
i'll let y'all know how it goes as i continue reading renee's book. you may have to help me through it.