Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sorry, No Magic Genie

“I do believe in God. I do believe in God. I think God has given so much power to people, and intelligence, and said ‘Well, you are on your own. Maybe I’m tired. I need a nap. You are mature. Why don’t you look after yourselves?’…and I think he’s been sleeping too much.”
- From Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder (page 186)

There are parts of the God I used to believe in that I wish were actually true. Having a God that is external from humanity and unaffected by free will and human desires means God has the potential to actually be all powerful. It means miracles really can happen. And that means I have a wishing well - a real life genie - on whom to cast all my desires. And maybe, if I pray hard enough and long enough and if I'm good enough and believe enough, God will actually throw me a bone. I never realized how much solace I found in that - not until I finally came to understand it as a lie.

The affect of this belief can be devastating. Faced with a difficult situation, people often turn to prayer as a means to rid themselves of the circumstances.  On a similar note, one of the most despicable outcomes I've seen from religion is using God as an excuse to absolve personal responsibility.  I know people who voted a particular way during the last presidential election because the church told them to.  Imagine how many days and weeks they saved by not having to educate themselves and make their own decision based on their personal values!  In the same way, I am personally guilty of praying for financial freedom while continuing to rack up credit card debt because "God will provide".

The truth is, when the going gets rough, hope can be a powerful tool.  Our culture uses prayer to manifest hope, because our logic requires that it come from somewhere.  Remove God and hope dissipates.  This is what I used to believe anyway.  I used to think of my atheist friends and wonder why they even bothered to get out of bed in the morning.

But, cut out the magic genie and what are you left with?  Well, as it turns out, the hope is still there. The difference is I have a greater sense of my own contributions and responsibilities around the problem, which may sound like a burden but is actually quite liberating.  I means I'm not at the mercy of waiting on some giant untouchable guy in the clouds to cast down his predestined end game.  It means I actually have a choice in the matter.  It means my decisions have consequences, good and bad.  And it means I have the opportunity to learn from those choices...that I will always have the opportunity to try again and learn more.  Which brings me back to my earlier post, that each experience is a step in the never-ending evolution of humanity - the epitome of divinity.

And the hope?  The faith?  In the light of this being an infinite process towards a perfection that is constantly being redefined...it's stronger than ever.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thoughts on God

“…I feel it’s time to start exploring beyond the boundaries of my current faith place. If I feel so stuck by the bible – so much resentment, disbelief, guilt and shame – then what’s preventing me from exploring past it? Oh, right – resentment, guilt and
shame!”
- Excerpt from my journal, February 20, 2010

I was raised to imagine God as this omniscient, omnipresent force external to mankind; like a giant human figure that holds the world in his hands. This giant, intangible being holds also the rulebook to ethics - the truth and absolution between right and wrong. He dangles it before us as individuals, so that if we believe and obey and do everything just right we will be awarded his favor. And, if we fuck up, it's because we gave into temptation. It's because we are weak and imperfect and will never be good enough to earn his full favor - at least not until death. Becase, in death, we are separated from our humanity. Only in separation from humanity can we be truly holy. Because, as we all know, humanity is inherently evil.

I believed in the concept of calling. I believed that God had a road paved for me to individual righteousness - a more fulfuilled and meaningful existence. Love. Pray. Take risks. Have faith. Trust. Believe. I did these things. I did these things and met a sadness and suffering I had never experienced before. But, they said, keep praying. Accept the consequences of your sinful behavior. Focus on authenticity but it must be holy. If it includes desires and choices that are inherently "bad", it must not be authentic. Pray for transformation. Pray for healing. Pray for purpose, to rid yourself of sinful desire, for freedom from patterns. Pray for love.

Two years ago, I thought I was just leaving a relationship in search of something more compatible. But I feel like I've lost everything. My prayers, if they worked at all, were answered opposite from what I had expected. Most surprisingly, my prayer to connect more deeply with God has driven me farther and farther from the God I was raised to believe in. It has driven me to reject Christianity altogether. Moreover, I am disgusted by Christianity.

I'm coming to understand God - if there even is one or if that's even the right word - as the culmination of all creation rather than the creator. It is not a separate entity that continues to exist even if all life fades. Rather, it is an energy. A force that moves towards a benevolence via the beautifully imperfect process of evolution. There is a driving, striving force for what is right - I do believe this. But it is not separate from humanity, rather it lives within each of us. Each thought, feeling, experience and intuition is like an atom and each one of us like a blood cell that floats alongside the whoe of creation to form one, cohesive network that is divinity. Divinity is the culmination of all existence as it is today, and it is different today than it was yesterday and will be something changed again tomorrow. It is not absolute. It is growing. Our individualism matters only in that we are each a part of the whole.

The beauty - the perfection - is in the process. It is not a test or a goal to be achieved, but available to each of us today...right now.

There's immense freedom and grace in this. But the crumbling of 34 years of ideaology and values has been devastating. I've lost so much on my way to discovering my own truth, including (and most painfully) the connection I felt with family.

I'm happy for my life and grateful for my process. It's just that, just as I begin to understand community and connectivity as a key component of divinity, I have never felt so alone.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Rememberance...And Still Pondering My Answer

I'm still sorting out how to answer the "am I a Christian" thing - which has turned more into a "do you believe in God" kind of discussion I think. In the meantime, I have moments where the question burns deeper and feels more critical than ever.

10 years ago, I was late to my first college class, glued to the television screen with my Aunt in horror as we watched the twin towers fall. Today my heart feels heavy in remembrance of that moment, grieving for family members and heroes lost in such a tragic event.

And in these moments I am reminded of the problem with evil. How could a God that is - by definition - omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly benvolent allow such events to occur?

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm the first person to ask such a profound question. All joking aside, has anyone - EVER - been given a satisfying answer?

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the fallen today. Lest we forget...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Recap Response: Are you a Christian?

I know I promised to at least attempt an answer to this question, but this is not that post. I would like to share a response to my post from August 24 from my cousin's wife, Christie, who also struggles with finding an answer to this question.

Check out Christie's response to the question.

It's definitely given me more food for thought as to how to best formulate my response, but I have more to process first.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Trusting the Unknown

As I headed out of my driveway on my morning run this week, I suddenly had the impulse to turn left where I would usually turn right. As I began to ascend a familiar hill up towards Montecito, I was rerouting my course in my head. I had been on this road before, so I knew the road forked up ahead and a right hand turn would dump me right at my former college campus, and I could find my way home from there. But, as the fork came into sight, I was hit with yet another impulse to turn left.

At this moment I was on completely unchartered territory. Still, in my head, I had expectations about where I was headed. There will be a right hand turn at some point, I thought, and I can reconnect with the campus there. But before long I realized this road was climbing an entirely different hill, separated more and more from that familiar place by a ravine to my right, growing deeper with every stride. As my expectations were challenged, I was acutely aware of the recalculation taking place in my head with each change. For a moment I felt my brain completely separated from my physical and emotional body, as though it were an on-board GPS system that could only compute "when possible, make a u-turn."

But, though unfamiliar with this particular road, I am intimately familiar with getting lost on the unmeasurable network of roads that wind through Montecito. Many times, I have had the experience of missing a turn only to think I'll get another opportunity to make up the route, only to end up miles from my intended exit - but exited nonetheless. My understanding of this experience, and the mystery of these roads, left me in complete, 100% confidence that I would get "there". So much that, by the point every one of my assumptions had been proven incorrect, I didn't know where "there" was, and was totally and completely at peace with that.

My route continued for a full 5.5 mile loop, passing by familiar places without any idea how I had gotten there previously. At every turn I had a strong pull in one direction and I'd take it. There was something exciting in the adventure of not having a clue where I was. And, when my route finally landed me on that road right near my old college campus I smiled graciously. I knew I'd get "there", and what a pleasant surprise that "there" was "here" all along. I don't really expect it to make perfect sense, but there was something strangely comforting and insanely satisfying in the end result. I got home, climbed my driveway, and with that smile still on my face I looked back and spoke aloud "awesome."

Ready for the metaphor? Here goes...

Two years ago I chose to leave a comfortable place in search of one more fulfilling. I took an unfamiliar turn, but the journey I was embarking on was clear to me. The path to take and the resulting outcome was certain. Those were high expectations that, along the way, have been relentlessly worn thin. Worn into nothing, I would say - to the point where I can't claim to know or understand or predict any outcome. It's nothing like I thought it would be. I stand now on an entirely different hill, a vast and deep ravine where I thought all along my turn would be. I just keep pushing forward, winding along, and the ravine gets wider and wider and that hill farther and farther away.

Why is it that I had 100% confidence in the roads of Montecito, but every day I am fighting the fear that the direction of my life isn't where it is supposed to be? What purpose does that doubt and fear serve...other than cloud my experience with, well, doubt and fear?

But this is the essence of faith. To know these windy roads that network through life may get me lost, but they will always get me "there". And just because I have no idea where "there" is doesn't make it an inherently bad thing. In all times of trials and grief, though difficult in their uncertainty, life has actually never let me down. I always end up at home. And, in every case I've looked back on that uncertainty and the adventure out of it and thought to myself...

Awesome.

Even though I question it at times, I'm sure glad I didn't take that u-turn when I was tempted to.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Faith Experiment Update, Part I: Recap

Posted, deleted, and reposted. It's hard to be real.

A little over two years ago, I set out on a journey - one I intended to document on this blog. Today, I'm surprised to learn that there are still a handful of folks reading my infrequent posts and some even visiting for the first time. For those in the latter category, I always hear the same questions:
  1. Who are you and what's up with this blog? Why do you write here?
  2. Are you a Christian or what?
In the spirit of renewing my own personal commitment to post here more frequently, I thought I'd start by revisiting why I started this blog in the first place.

In May of 2009, I quit my high-powered corporate job without having anything else lined up. Having reached the ranks of an executive position at a time when the economy was tanking, I was privy to many unpleasant conversations - all involving how to make more money and usually involved exploiting the poor and under-educated. These conversations wore me thin over a period of just a few months. I reached a point where I became completely jaded. No, I was disgusted. I high-tailed it out of there and sought an experience that would help restore my faith in human kind. A month later I traveled to Africa, where I would have a life-changing experience building friendships with the Batwa of Burundi.

While the storm of my career ambiguity stirred into a rage, I was also nearing the end of a 7 year relationship with a man I loved very much. We were best friends, hands down. But we were terrible partners. 7 years weighs heavily on someone who has always just wanted to be married. We tried everything but could never agree on an "appropriate" level of commitment. So, gut wrenched and heartbroken, I left. I moved out exactly two years ago, and was living in transitional environments with family and friends until just a few months ago.

So, in 2009 I quit my job, left the safety and comfort of my home and my relationship, had my values and lifestyle challenged while getting to know the poorest of the poor in Africa, and on top of it all my 18-year old cat died in the midst of everything. To say change is "hard" would be a massive understatement. Change fucking sucks.

But two years ago I was bursting with faith and hope. Having been raised in the Christian tradition, my faith in God and the teachings of Jesus flared brightly. I clung intently to the promise of a better life - a better job, a man who could love me the way I deserve, a safe and secure home, butterflies and cartoon birdies helping me with the laundry, dogs and cats living together, world peace, and...well, you get the point. I believed, whole-heartedly, that all these decisions would land me in a place where everything was picture-perfect and I was genuinely happy. And, at the time, I felt that it was my calling to share the experience with others who may be too afraid to take the risk - the leap of faith, if you will - that I had embarked on so that I could prove to the world that the promise was real. I set out to prove that we don't have to settle for less - that true happiness and living with passion and purpose actually exists.

I wasn't completely delusional, mind you. I also understood that reaching that destination required some major - and guaranteed painful - transformation. Knowing that, I decided the only way this blog was going to work towards my goal of making everyone happier, I had to be completely real. I had to expose even the darkest aspects of my journey and inner turmoil. Why have I shared some deeply personal experiences and insights on this blog? Because I felt it was necessary to (a) build credibility and (b) hold myself accountable to the journey.

So, why did I start this blog? Because I felt called to do so to bring faith and hope into the lives of people who may have lost heart. Without going into too much detail just yet, however, I can't say I see it as having the same perspective and purpose today. The outcome thus far is quite a bit different than what I had originally hypothesized. But, ultimately, this is a good thing.

So why am I still writing here? Because we all experience grief and loss and transition and existential crises at some point in our life, and I'm still very much in the midst of these things. I write about my journey because I process externally anyway, and as long as I'm doing that maybe someone else will be able to identify with my experiences. Who knows, maybe putting this out there might actually help someone?

As for the second question, "Are you a Christian", well - I kind of cringe at that one and there is not a simple answer. It's really a whole other story…so stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Primates or Dust (via Brian McLaren)

This post from Brian is just too good not to share.

"...the Bible...is not a science textbook. So if I have a disease, I'll consult a medical library. If I am getting sued, I'll consult a legal library. If I'm having trouble in my garden, I'll consult a horticultural library. If I'm interested in the origin of species, I'll consult the literature on evolution. And if I'm on a spiritual journey, I'll consult the biblical library ... They aren't in competition at all - unless we erroneously try to turn them against each other."

A-Freaking-MEN!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jesus, Faith and Doubt (Part II)

Take this cup...

Even Jesus felt fear, despite his faith.

My God, why have you forsaken me?

Even Jesus had doubt, and lost faith.

It honestly makes me wonder if Jesus was forsaken. Nobody talks much about this dying exclamation. Was Jesus hanging there, suffering, realizing, "shit, this was all for not??!" What if, in that moment, he realized there was no God? Or, at the very least, that God is actually nothing like we've personified him to be.

I was raised to understand God as some magical, unrestricted creature. With God all things are possible. I am, very seriously, doubting this statement. No, I am coming to believe that God's power - if "power" is even the right word at all - is limited. It's limited by things like human free will. It's limited by time...changing hearts just can't happen overnight.

In my experience, God is limited by the presence of things. Hurt. Fear. Desire. You can pray and pray for these things to go away, but are sure to feel frustrated months later when they continue to burn as hot as ever. But, with a shifted perspective, it becomes evident that the circumstances around these things are what seem to be divinely orchestrated. There is hope, grace and promise in the divine. But there is no magic wand. Winning millions in the Lotto might set in motion a series of events that leaves you even more broken, hurt, and fearful than you are today. The divine understands this, and instead puts a different set of circumstances in motion to lead you closer to promise. However, today, those mortgage payments that are three months behind are very real and agonizing. The problem with using circumstance to mitigate things is that it is almost always painful in the present.

I have spent months praying for a specific solution. A prescription that I orchestrated in my head that would lead me to my blissful destiny. This "prescription" has been shut down in so many ways it's actually become hilarious. There's a calm freedom in finally realizing it's time to let my own prescription go and be aware of the other circumstances that are setting the stage for something different...something better.

"No," I hear loud and clear, "I won't let you!"

Because I was promised.

We need to change our perspective. Instead of praying for our own prescribed solution (winning the lotto, working for that company, bringing him/her back to us), perhaps it's time to open our hearts and minds to the idea that there is an even better prescription that we can't even begin to understand.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jesus, Faith and Doubt (Part I)

I know it's been a while since I've used the ol' "J word", but as life continues to ebb and flow I am constantly reminded of Jesus' response to his disciples' fear in the Bible. In all my exploration of the concept of faith in various traditions, methodologies and religions, these stories still strike the deepest chord within me.

In one story, Jesus is sleeping on a boat during a raging storm and the disciples wake him, asking "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" (Mark 4:38). Jesus gets up...and though it certainly isn't described this way I can picture a groggy-eyed, disoriented, and somewhat pissed off Jesus, having been woken with an abrupt start. After calming the wind and waves he asks, most likely pretty grumpily, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

Then Jesus has this whole slew of amazing miracles that the disciples witness, again and again, including the feeding of four thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish (Mark 8:1). Immediately following this, the disciples realize they had forgotten to bring the leftover bread (you know, from the seven loaves that fed four thousand), and they start freaking out about not having enough food. And I love Jesus' response, "Do you still not see or understand??!!"

O.K., the exclamation points are mine but I'm pretty sure it depicts Jesus' emotion and amazement at their wavering faith more accurately than a simple question mark. It so poignantly calls out mankind's obsession with a constant stream of affirmation. This isn't about the validity of the biblical stories themselves, and it doesn't matter whether you or I or anyone actually believes it happened just as it was described. It reveals the simple truth that once we've successfully overcome one fear or challenging circumstance, we always are met with another and we almost always meet the new fear or challenge with the same doubt and apprehension we felt previously. Even though, time and time again, the outcome of each situation has eventually brought us over that hill.

Do you still not understand?

Jesus said this in response to men who were experiencing a deep and terrifying fear. The danger - the fear - was imminent and that was all they could feel or think about. But even in the midst of rough seas and grumbling stomachs, Jesus so desired for them to find solace in promise. Their fear was unnecessary and wasted energy. It pained him to see them torture themselves with worry.

What situation are you facing right now where fear and doubt has taken over? You can you use past outcome and the constant flow of promise to mitigate those fears and let it all go?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Humbled by New Thoughts on Greed

"We suffer, often unknowingly…from wanting to experience more than one person can. This is a form of greed, of wanting everything…But being human, we can't have it all. The tension of all this can lead to an insatiable search, where our passion for life is stirred but never satisfied. When caught in this mindset, no amount of travel is enough, no amount of love is enough, no amount of success is enough. 
…Greed is not restricted to money. It can work its appetite on anything. When we believe we are behind or less than, we somehow start to want more than we need…as if the thing we haven't tasted will be the thing to bring us alive. The truth is that one experience taken to heart will satisfy our hunger to be loved by everyone."
The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo
February 8

For almost two years now, I've adopted (and more importantly, stuck to) starting off each day with reading something that stretches me and, when time permits, writing about it. Most days I am lucky to be just a little bit more inspired, or perhaps sent deeper into contemplation about a particular topic or idea. But some days I read something that strikes a chord of profound relevance in my life. Some days I am left rattled - like reading an eerily accurate horoscope even though I'm not big on astrology or somehow picking just the right fortune cookie with a message that seems like it was written for me alone.

Yesterday was one of these rare moments, and I can't shake the discomfort that the new perspective has evoked in me.

Lately, life has left me in a state of elation. I have been feeling so fortunate and blessed and have begun to finally feel the trickling of affirmation from some of the very difficult decisions I've made over the past two years. I have an awesome support system - family both locally and remote who I am fortunate enough to be very close with. I have friends, old and new, who encourage me, and I keep meeting new and amazing people who inspire me. I am involved in music. Singing, which has always brought me joy and had previously no outlet, has been integrated as a weekly practice and I routinely have the opportunity to perform publicly. I have an amazing job that I love, and I get to work with smart and passionate people on a great product every day.  I am literally in the best shape of my life. Health, fitness and lifestyle goals that date as far back as high school have been met and exceeded. It seems like every day I learn I am capable of doing something I previously never would have tried - the most obvious example would be doing a heavy lift or 40 perfect ring dips - but this experience has extended beyond the gym. All these things have invoked an excitement and urge for more. Do more, experience more, live more, love more, laugh more…the list goes on.

The Feb. 8th reading in 'Awakening' has paused me. In the moments when life was feeling heavy, ambiguous, and full of burden I often had to remind myself to 'just be'. This meant being present - not distracted by past or future but available in the current moment.

Being human, we can't have it all.

What if, rather than pushing, striving, and driving for more, I took some time to sit back and enjoy the present? What if what I have, who I know, what I can do, and how I feel right now is enough?

When I really think about it, it's actually more than enough.