Sunday, June 20, 2010

Burn and Regrowth Reprise

Gazing up at the, now, colorless landscape that marks the burn areas of the Santa Barbara front country, I became aware that I was experiencing the contrast of old and new much differently this morning than when I wrote about it before. Spring has departed, and the rains have ceased. The warmth of the summer sun has dried out the landscape and the new growth is dying. The foreground of the foothills that caught my attention with its vibrant green only weeks ago has reverted, more or less, back to a scar of lifeless brown.

My new experience with the landscape actually started a couple of weeks ago during a hike up Rattlesnake Canyon. I had a sense of the growth metaphor again, but found it more discouraging this time under the canopy of blackened branches.

We rested at the point on the trail when we reached the fire damage. Mangled and wretched branches of blackened oak, eucalyptus, and manzanita reached out lifelessly to the sky above. But, at our feet, lay a brilliant blanket of green amidst an array of multi-colored flowers. I tried to focus on that green, ever-so-slowly invading the gray. But those trees still dominated that landscape. In the slight breeze the branches rubbed against each other with a shrilling sound like nails on a chalkboard. The ground cover showed no sign of feeling the affects of the wind. It was almost as if the green was visible, yet still separate from the elements the dead trees faced.

As I moved forward on the trail, my eyes and ears fixed on those branches, I became overwhelmed with the sensation that I was taking a journey through my own heart. The metaphor became so real I was eerily convinced that this is what I must look like from the inside. Ravaged by fire, cleared out, with a hint of brilliant regrowth and renewal eager to outgrow the deadness that continues to stand tall and firm. Every element - every experience or emotion - hits the blackness first because it continues to tower over the regrowth. It is still preventing the newness from absorbing and experiencing the fullness of life.

As I physically wandered amongst those trees, I became almost enraged. Suddenly, I was desperate to knock them down, force the hand of nature to completely destroy any evidence of fire. How long, I wondered, until these trees finally give way? Fall to the ground? Decompose and become food to the new life below? Years, I suppose. And that thought is discouraging to my impatient self who desperately longs for all memory of destruction to just disappear.

If the sight of renewal filled me with hope, how am I to react to witnessing its death - the landscape once again dominated by evidence of the burn? I find myself resentful, feeling as though I have been robbed of the metaphor that brought me so much hope. I have a very linear relationship with growth and hope and burn and grief. Is my relationship with the ebb and flow of life supposed to be more dynamic than that? How does one learn to shake off disappointment in the ebb, and does it mean we should also not be quick to feel the joy of the flow?

"...The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away..." (Job 1:20). Pardon my french, but what the hell is that about anyway? Why give and then take? How can that even be remotely connected to a kind, just and loving God? Is there a message here to heed, and am I completely missing the boat?

Or is it actually o.k. that I am disappointed? Is it possible that my hope was a gift for a time and a season and my disappointment is the gift for this time and this season to be taken in and pondered?

What I do know is that the regrowth is engaging in a dance with the dead. Slowly, yet intentionally, the new roots will strengthen. As they grow stronger, they will begin to suffocate the roots of old. Regardless of the time it will take, the fate of those dead trees is inevitably clear. They will all come tumbling down. One by one. As long as there is a will to regrow, they must fall down to make room for that renewal.

And, I suspect my disappointment is just something new to sit with and equal opportunity to the hope, grief, joy, and ambivalence I have experienced in this growth-journey. I cannot help but judge circumstances in my humanity, because emotions are a key component of being human. But I can accept the emotions themselves are all cumulative pieces to the wholeness I seek. And, in that realization, hope remains.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grief...Get Over It

It's been several months now since I intentionally decided to give up fighting my grief and just roll with it. I wanted so desperately for it to be over, to the point where I was obsessing over it - waking up every morning wondering "am I over it yet?"

Let's recap my last year, shall we? I lost (well, quit) my job, lost my relationship, my home, my 18-year old cat, my lifestyle, my things (that's an interesting one), my best friend, my comfort, and my security. Let's see...ummm, nope. Still not over it.

"Getting through this."

What does that even mean, anyway? Getting through what? The grief? The longing? The sadness? But there's lots of times (more and more frequently, thank God), when I feel joy, acceptance and happiness. Doesn't that imply that, in some ways - or at least at some moments - I've gotten through it? It is today, and yesterday is no can't I say I successfully "got through" yesterday as well?

I am also beginning to think there's an inherent lie I'm believing in the concept of "getting through this". It implies that life is a drudge -- something that warrants "getting through". But, the truth I want to believe - or the perception I am hoping is truth - is that life is a gift. It is something to breathe in, savor and experience. And, that it's all a gift, regardless of how it feels or how we biologically react to it.

While there are many aspects of my life that I seek clarity in - or areas in which I seek closure, or elements where I desire contentment - I'm feeling more and more that the pure, simple gift of life supersedes all of these things. This world does not exist to provide me with clarity, closure and contentment. And I don't need these things in order to interact with the world. I can live in it, participate, perpetuate, activate and advocate - regardless of my personal circumstances. Not to devalue my personal and intimate growth, as its necessary for learning how to interact with the world. Just that there is a careful balance, and I miss the beauty of the bigger picture when I obsess over the details.

It's not about "getting" through it, it's about "moving" through it. What's interesting about holding awareness of my joy alongside the awareness of my grief is that I'm beginning to realize I am believing a lie that I have to be perfect before I can say I've "gotten through it". Today, I can step out into this world - loved and lonely, confident and insecure, laughing and grieving, amazing and broken - all at the same time. Moving, not manifesting. Living, not setting expectations. Accepting, not seeking. Without motive or judgment or expectations...just to live.

I am not drudging, I am moving. Liquid, Fluid, free.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Guest Post: "Our God Isn't An Awesome God"

Ironically, in my ponderings over humanity's need to place life into neat little boxes, I ran across the following post from a friend. So good (and relevant), I had to repost.

Our God Isn't An Awesome God
Mike Todd |

In fact, I don’t think our God is a god at all

Well, you’re still reading, which is a good sign… although it might just be me and you and my mother at this point (and even she’s a little nervous with where I might be going with this). But, either way, thanks for giving me the chance to explain myself.

We are a people who generally love boxes. Want to know my politics? Here’s the box. My faith? I’ve got a box for that too. And I’ve got you placed firmly in a box too, thank you very much. There are several problems with life in a box though. Boxes don’t allow much room for flexibility, for individuality. Often what’s not in the box becomes more important than what is. In other words, the box itself, as a border, as a barrier, as a divider between what I like and don’t like, who I am and who I am not, becomes more important than the contents of the box. Ever witness one of those YouTube moments where the kid on Christmas morning falls in love with the box and ignores the gift that came in it? We’re a lot like that I think.

OK, I know what you’re asking. “What does any of this have to do with the potentially heretical (but not blasphemous, in my opinion) statement above?”

I’ve been very slowly reading and rereading my way through our friend Brian McLaren’s latest A New Kind of Christianity. On p. 104 he asked a question that jarred me, as it resonated with something I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

“What if people who live in the second-grade world of polytheism [The Old Testament world where everyone had a god] need to learn about one God as superior to others before they can handle the idea of God as uniquely real?”

Let me unpack that thought a little and show you where it takes me.

It seems to me that by labeling God as, well… God, we’ve placed him (this God is almost always male) in a box of our own creation. Not that I don’t appreciate how it all started. Brian hints at it above. God chose to reveal Godself in a world overpopulated with gods. It made sense at the time. People understood the concept of gods, they just didn’t know the one true God. But I wonder if we’ve locked God into that mold—picture the old man with the long flowing beard; I’m thinking of Flannel Graph God, or God on The Simpsons —and have been incapable of truly letting God be more of who God is.

As we’ve said though, it made sense at the time. Check out this famous “name” passage from scripture:

Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"
God said to Moses, "I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation. (Exodus 3:13-15)

“I am who I am.”

I love that response. I’m tempted to translate it like this: “Moses, you wouldn’t understand it if I told you, so lets not go there.” Yes, the label “the God of your fathers” was used, but I see that as more of a continuity thing, tying in to the already established Jewish story that Moses would have been intimately familiar with.

In a polytheistic world the shelf space for deities was crowded, and gods needed names to distinguish themselves from the competition, so our god, the one true God, became the LORD, or Yahweh, so the people could be clear about who the object of their worship was. Made sense.

Still, it’s a box.

Our friend Tim King likes to use the term the Unnameable, among others, and that works well for what I’m trying to say here.

When we place the Unnameable in the god-box, we’ve signed him up (remember the box comes with a gender preference) for a theistic cage match.

“My God is better than your god.”

“Your god is false, but my God is real.” Which leads us right to, “Your religion is false, but my religion is real.”

It becomes a beauty contest. We lower the Unnameable to the level of all the other gods, and then we are left to argue that our God is the only real god.

But what if, instead, the Unnameable is wholly other (or even Holy Other)? Not the One True God on a crowded playing field of false gods, but the creator of everything, who is above everything, who cannot be explained, or grasped, not by the title “God”, or even “The Very Best God”.

If the Unnameable is not a god, not even a God, and if aligning your life with the mission of the Unameable is not a religion but is instead the purpose of all life, well, that can cause problems too. This kind of thinking will not be popular with those who are in the God and religion business.

I’ve made no secret of the influence our friend Bruxy Cavey has had on my thinking in this regard. I’m in agreement with Bruxy when he says that Jesus came to teach us how to live and to shut down religion. (Of course I’m using the word religion in the negative sense, defining it, as Bruxy does, as any system of rules, rituals or regulations that we use to try and “get right” with God.) To me a natural consequence of discarding the religion box is the notion that the god box cannot be far behind. A deity requires a context within which the deity is situated, understood, and worshipped. In other words, a deity requires a religion. Get rid of the notion of religion, and our understanding of God must change. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be to say that without the restrictions of religion our understanding of God is free to change, to evolve. I’m not sure Bruxy would go this far, but hey… he’s the one who got me started on this path! Is this heresy? Most definitely. Blasphemy? I don’t believe so.

As humanity continues to evolve, our understanding of the Unnameable must evolve to.

In her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle talks about the church having a rummage sale every 500 years or so, and I agree completely. The thing is, I think it’s our view of the Unnameable, and not just our idea of church, that is changing at these points of inflection, and causing such turmoil.

When you start to think this way, examples appear all over, including in scripture.

Jonah is one of my favorite biblical prophets. We could spend a lot of time looking at his story—I happen to think he was a wonderfully flawed, bigoted son of a gun—but I want to make another point here. What if the Jonah story was meant, among many other things, to mark that God could no longer be contained in the box that said God only cared about the Jews?

Fast forward to Jesus. What if Jesus was God busting out of the box that said to follow God was to keep the Law? “You have heard it said… But I say…” Sounds like a major point of change to me.

Reality Check Time: As much as I’d like to think that we have broken the Unnameable out of the box, I can’t. As I said earlier, our understanding of God is undergoing evolution, which is an ongoing process. At best what we are doing is moving the Unnameable from one box into another. But if the new box is bigger than the old, we are moving in the right direction, and our understanding of God can continue to expand.

In a polytheistic world the Unnameable had to present as a god—yes, the One True God—but a god nonetheless. I wonder if we are still stuck in that place.

I also wonder how the Unnameable would choose to unveil in an atheistic world.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

More on Truth

Each day I am acutely aware that, if I had to use one word to describe my intention, that word is truth. Often not easy to seek, to learn, or to heed, truth is critical to the journey of contentment.

My reflection today is thinking about how many of us live our life as if it were black and white.
Fit it in a box first, then I will try to understand it. Because life is neat, it all fits into one box or another. If it didn't, that would mean I could never absolutely understand it. It would mean I can't control it. But that certainly isn't true, therefore this box theory is infallible.

Truth is the fullness of life. It means admitting that life actually doesn't fit in neat little boxes. It means admitting you don't have a fraction of the control over it that you think you do. And, that means you can actually just let it go...let it be. You don't have to understand it or control it or even be afraid of it. This is how the truth will set you free.

My Choice
Jaimi Kercher | June, 2010

I choose Truth.

I choose to love myself for all that I am

I choose Growth
      And Freedom
           And Awareness
                And Compassion

I choose to be conscious
           To Live

I choose Truth.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Burn and Re-Growth

A couple of months ago, as I was driving south on Highway 101 in the heart of Santa Barbara, I was drawn to the hills of the front-country above Montecito. Our winter was unusually blessed with ample rain fall, and in the late afternoon light of that day it occurred to me just how green those hills were.

You may remember that Santa Barbara was plagued by a series of disastrous fires within just one year between 2008 and 2009. The July 2008 Gap Fire torched the front-country of Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara, and thankfully left little damage to homes or other structures. But that sigh of relief was cut short when the Tea Fire lit up the hills above Montecito in November 2008, when 200 families lost their homes. Six months later, in May 2009, the city watched in helpless horror as the Jesusita fire consumed the area between the previous two fires, burning an additional 90 homes to the ground and leaving the entire vista of the Santa Barbara hillside lifeless and without color. It was devastating.

The whole city mourned - with a population of under 100,000 everyone knew someone who had lost their home. As a community, we faced the devastation wondering how we would ever recover. The signature, mountainous backdrop of Santa Barbara lay dull, colorless and dead.

On this particular day in late April, however, it wasn't just the green of the hills that attracted my attention, it was the contrast of different colors of green. In the distance were the familiar dense and dark tones of the foothills, but in the foreground was a bright, vibrant, and almost neon-looking green. It stood out from the background, and as an avid hiker, I found myself thinking "I want to go explore there!" The newness of the color and rebirth of the landscape was far more inviting than its familiar background. Suddenly, the front-country I know like the back of my hand is a whole new place to explore.

Thus is the cycle of life. Burn has to happen to allow for regrowth...for new opportunity. It is all a part of the dynamism and movement of life, in perfect harmony with the divine. In this epiphany, I began to imagine the regrowth already taking shape in my own life. And, in shifting my focus to the green that is peaking its way up amidst the colorless landscape, I realize just how much I have to be grateful for in all of this. And I'm realizing how much I have learned, how much I have grown, and how many aspects of my life are such a blessing in this time. I have surrendered myself to time, anxiously anticipating the "end" of my grief. But the newness I already recognize inside of me is a reminder of how much I have already overcome. I am reminded that, despite the grief, I remain the same vibrant woman with a unique taste for life I have always been; yet I've never been so aware of those things that make up who I am:

Faithful and Faith-Driven.

These are the things that define me. Not my job, not my house, not my finances or any of my stuff. And, definitely not my grief, which happens to be a by-product of my intention and ability to love freely and deeply.

Without the burn I never would have had the space to acknowledge these things. How many more truths are there to uncover in this space, separated from comfort and monotony and false security?

Summer is here, and restoration is in progress in Santa Barbara. Not just the landscape, but residents are beginning to rebuild and reconnect with their home and grounding that has hung in ambiguity and transition for over a year. We are going to get through this. No, we already have gotten through this.

With summer comes my once-a-week hikes with a fun group of local folks connected through friends, work, name it. I've lead these hikes for six years now, but this is by far the best year and the most beautiful I have seen these trails. Regrowth. Renewal. It is all an adventure.

Jesusita fire, hours after it sparked at Inspiration Point (a popular hiking destination).

Within days, the Jesusita fire had consumed the foothills immediately above Santa Barbara; nearly 60% of the population was evacuated. The hot spot to the right in this photo is Rattlesnake Canyon, another one of our favorite hiking destinations.

Trail to Inspiration Point, May 2010.

A beautiful display of flowers near Inspiration Point.

View from Inspiration Point, close to ground zero for the Jesusita Fire. Two years ago there was so much thick chaparral you had to stand on your tippy toes to really get a glimpse of the view. This is by far the most beautiful trip I've taken up to Inspiration Point!

Hiking Cold Springs, West Fork trail in the fog, May 2010. More flowers, more adventure!

I look at this landscape, rejuvinated and reminded of the inherent goodness of my journey. Just think...had I not been willing to face the discomfort of the loss I've experienced in the last year, I would have missed out on all these flowers. To everything, there is a season and a purpose. I love that exploring Santa Barbara's brand new front country reminds me of that.
Flames and smoke climbed out of every window
And disappeared with everything that you held dear
But you shed not a single tear
For the things that you didn't need
'Cause you knew you were finally free...

~Death Cab for Cutie, Your Heart is an Empty Room