Frustrated with Where This Road has Taken Me

frustratedLast week I wrote in my journal for the first time in nearly 4 months. I think that’s the longest I’ve gone in 3 years. I don’t know why I stayed away so long. I enjoy putting words to paper. It gives me a safe place to share my thoughts. Somewhere that I can vent my anger and frustration and communicate with God and my soul.

I also noticed that I have found my frustration with my job, again. For at least the last half-year I’ve experienced a lot of ambivalence toward it. I mean, I haven’t been happy doing it. But, well, I really haven’t given a shit about it, either. I get up; I go to work; I come home. In the words of the famous sage, Garfield, “Big, fat, hairy deal.”

I found myself spending way too much time imbibing in my favorite adult beverage. Yeah, the pain and frustration diminished. But, so did my health.

So, what’s different now? I’m not sure, actually. I suppose part of it has to do with the season of my life. I’m pushing 60 and, looking back, I can’t see all that much that’s been positive. Yeah, there have been moments. The birth of my kids and watching them grow into incredible people. I’ve experienced some joy, (re. a little here; a little there), making music. But, by and large my life has been one bad decision after another. Shame, anger, frustration…these have all been my closest companions. Now, sitting at the cusp of another decade on this big, blue marble dancing in space, I’m not sure that I know who I am or what I’m doing here.

Some may simply blow this off as some kind of ‘mid-life crisis.’ Maybe it is; maybe not. I’ve been in the same industry, doing roughly the same thing, for 45 years. And, it was not my first choice for a career. I entered it as a convenience since my dad was in the same industry and opened some doors for me. My true love was making music. And, while my parents bought me my first guitar, they also made it very clear that playing would only ever a be a hobby. There was simply no future in music. So, it basically became a hobby. Because, you know, you’ve got to make everyone else happy.

As I entered into high school my interest in Christian ministry was piqued. I decided to go to Malone College in Canton, Ohio to begin walking the path to the pastorate. However, a month before I was to leave, I decided to go into the workforce. I had been working all that summer, had a new car and some money in my pocket. So, why bother with college? (Another bad decision.)

So, why am I sharing this? Well, I think that I’m not alone. I think that there are a lot of folks out there that experience depression, frustration, anger and regret because their lives have been something less than they expected. As teens and young adults we had great aspirations. I had the great fortune to grow up in one of the most idealistic times in history, the 1960’s. We witnessed, and were a part of, tectonic shifts in western culture. We were going to lead the world into a new reality that encompassed equality and justice. We fought against the horrific debacle that was Viet Nam. We pulled at the scaffolding that held up the political machines that oppressed African-Americans, women and other marginalized people. The so-called ‘establishment’ was vulnerable and we went after that vulnerability.

Since then, however, I’ve watched nearly all of those who stood with me for justice and equality join in the very establishment that we worked to get past. They have embraced the same white, privileged, patriarchal way of life that has placed it’s heel on the necks of the marginalized.

So, here I am. Looking back at lost purpose, missed opportunities and many, many bad decisions. I guess that I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel. Or else, I wouldn’t be writing things like this. Things to stir up shit. Things to make complacent people think about their own place in the cultural cosmos.

What do you think? Has your life been what you once dreamed it would be? What suggestions do you have for moving forward? Or, am I a total loon that has missed the point? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Thoughts for a Wednesday Morning

hd-nebula-wallpaperAll of us go through periods when the light seems to be far off and obscured. We spend time in introspection wondering what ever happened to the joy and innocence that existed so very long ago. Anger, frustration, hurt and shame seem to be constant companions. How in the world did my life turn out like this? This question is one that I’ve been asking myself. Why have I taken every opportunity to shoot myself in the foot? I look in the mirror and really don’t like the person staring back at me.

I approached God about this. “Why,” I asked, “haven’t things ‘worked together’ for my good?” Now, I know that some will ask me why I’m counting lemons when there are so many cherries around. So, yes, I’ll concede that not all things are a downer. But, those things are external. What I’m talking about here are the internal things. The feelings and emotions, thoughts and dreams that make us human seem to have fallen in the desert where they shrivel and die.

Then God began to show me the flaws and imperfections, some deadly, that existed throughout the Cosmos.

Tectonic shifts, volcanic activity, super-novas, meteors and asteroids crashing into planets and each other. The universe is a very dangerous place. Yet, look at the beauty that can spring forth from these ashes. Beautiful islands and majestic mountains are created by the natural ebb and flow of the earth’s molten core. Great nebulae expanding out from some great cosmic explosion. From these new stars or planets may even be birthed.

Then God said, “I love all of this! The forces, great and small, that work together to create and recreate reveal the life that I have shared with all things. Yes, some of the forces destroy. Yet, even in death there is the seed for new life. You are no different. With the darkness and struggle you find yourself in is a spark that promises creation of new things.”

Has this changed how I feel? No. It has, however, given me something to consider. Perhaps, in time I’ll be able to fully embrace who I have become and not mourn the loss of innocence. Perhaps, not. That’s tomorrow’s concern. I’m having enough difficulty dealing with here and now.

I really don’t know if any of this makes sense. Or, if it’s just more ramblings of a mad man. But, I suspect that I’m not alone in all of this.

Who’s Your Best Friend? Pt. 2

orkut_friends_for_ever_scraps3This is the second part of a series about the possibility of women and men building ‘best friend’ relationships. As I reflect and write about this topic I find that it continues to morph and grow into something more than a simple yes or no can address. Yes, there will be a part three. And, at this point probably a part four. We’ll see where God takes us.

Last week I began writing about relationships between women and men here. Particularly, on the possibility of them being ‘best’ friends. I stated some of the common objections to these relationships. And, I began to deconstruct some of those objections as having their origins in a particular, privileged male view of sexuality. I pointed out how this view demeans and silences women, as well as reinforces the image of how poor, weak men are bound to be ensnared by the sexual wiles of women. I feel that view of sexuality is pretty much crap talk. I’m not about to go along with any position that unfairly labels women as sluts or gives men a pass on their own, personal faults. What I am going to do today is try to unpack some of the issues regarding cross-sex relationships.

When I was a young boy most of my best friends were other boys. We played in the woods and climbed trees. We raced bicycles and played baseball. We prided ourselves as being true ‘He Man Woman Haters.’ However, I knew who the fastest kid in our class was. And, she could beat any one of us boys in a foot race. When teams for kickball were chosen, I tried to make sure she was on my team. In the classroom I spent more time with the girls because they were smarter than most of my guy friends. It always helped to be on their team during spelling and math contests. Many times outside of class boys and girls played together. (That is, as long as the girls didn’t want to play house. Yuk!) The point is kids know how to be friends with anyone, regardless of gender. But, something happened as we got older. Our bodies began to change. Hormones started messing with us. Parents and other adults started telling us that boys and girls needed to start preparing for marriage. Physical pressure, peer pressure and social pressure built to the point of bursting. I’m surprised anyone survives this! All of the sudden…the innocence is gone. Now, we have to learn a whole new way of relating to one another. The girl who once was one of my best friends has become a sexual object. Not because we chose that path. But, because others defined it for us.

I want to be clear about something before I continue. In this series I’m not addressing casual or professional acquaintances. These relationships are viewed as completely necessary and acceptable by most people. I am writing about the possibility for women and men to have relationships in which their hearts are knit together. In which they become kindred spirits who support and encourage one another. In essence, they are best friends in every sense that implies. However, they remain just friends.

Impossible? I don’t think so. Let’s take time to look at some of the issues.Please note that these are serious issues. Many good people and relationships have been shipwrecked because of them. So, I do not take them lightly. I do, however, want to place them within a context that may, perhaps, shed some light on them and offer hope to people who may feel lost and hopeless.

In my last post I shared a video clip from the movie, “When Harry met Sally.” Billy Crystal’s character said that it was impossible for women and men to be friends because ‘the sex part’ always gets in the way. I think there’s some truth in that statement. Whether it’s always an issue, I’m not sure. I do know that in many cases physical attraction and desire are potential deal breakers. I don’t want to belittle this issue, but I think that we need to understand that ‘the sex part’ is totally natural. As I wrote before, we are sexual beings. However, we tend to obsess over this. Especially, in the purity culture, sexuality is whispered about or it is ignored. This sentiment seems to have its roots in how the early church incorporated the Christian scriptures and Greek philosophy, particularly Plato. That view divides the unseen ultimate concept of things from their physical representation on earth. The physical is always something ‘less than’ the ultimate, non-physical reality. The church began to understand that the spiritual reality, therefore, is something to be sought after. The physical, or the ‘flesh,’ was something to be despised. Spirit=Good; Flesh=Bad. However, the folks who wrote the First Covenant did not seem to view humanity like this. Theirs was a wholistic view of people. It looked more like this: Flesh+Spirit=Soul. This view honors the whole person. We can accept and embrace ourselves as God’s image bearers in God’s Good Creation. I truly believe that grasping this is the first step in freeing ourselves from the prison of shame and false modesty. That freedom is necessary for openness and friendship to be established between women and men. Freedom can be won when a person admits and owns their sexuality. When I confess that, yes, I am attracted to this person, I don’t have to hide it or deny it. I can embrace it. After all, this ‘sexual’ me is part of who I am…who God has formed me to be. By not giving into shame and obsessing over my human nature I don’t empower it. I can simply admit that it’s there and move on. I do not have to gratify it. It took me a long time and some monumental failures to learn this. And, it wasn’t until I realized that one of my best friends is a woman that I began to understand that embracing who I am is one of the greatest safeguards against pursuing ‘the sex part.’

There is another potential hazard that I think is vital to understand. It is, perhaps, even more important than this one. But, you’ll have to wait for part three for that.

How do you feel about your identity as a sexual being? Is it possible to accept and embrace ourselves as whole persons and share that with others?

Who’s Your Best Friend? Pt. 1

Best-Friends-Closed-Friends-keep-smiling-9934190-1024-768This is part one of a discussion I’ve been considering for quite some time. And, it has been one of the most difficult pieces that I’ve attempted to address. At this point I can only say that there will be at least a part two. Maybe, more. I will publish part two next week.

A couple of months ago I read a post over at Rachel Held Evans’ blog. It was a guest post written by Alise Wright entitled “Not ‘Just’ Friends -Thoughts on cross-sex friendship.” Alise has her own blog here. The piece was a critique of the common assumption that when women and men get together, they cannot possibly be friends because the ‘sex thing’ will always rear its hoary head. I read the post and comments. I chased several links through many other similar posts by other authors. And, I noticed that this topic was addressed mostly from a women’s perspective. Other than a few comments, I did not find any posts written by men about this. While I thought this was a tad odd, I was not surprised. I find that, in a broad generalization, men are somewhat reluctant to discuss matters that touch on ‘cross-sex’ friendships. So, I thought that I would offer some reflections from my very male perspective.

I can only speak to those of us who live in Western culture. For much of the world, gender roles are specifically delineated. For instance, in parts of the Muslim world, women are totally segregated from men. Different clothing and different rules for appearing in public are written into civil law. In these instances the kinds of relationships I want to discuss are simply not possible.

However, in the West we are not subject to such strictures. Overtly, there is an understanding that women and men are equal and, therefore, are able to seek whatever companionship and camaraderie they desire. (Although, covertly there is still a long way to go before ours is a truly egalitarian culture.) But, are we able to simply ‘be friends’?

The embedded clip from the movie “When Harry Met Sally” is actually a pretty accurate assessment of what many people think. In the circle that I’ve been a part of for the last 30 or so years people will swear by this. It’s the gospel. Men and women cannot be trusted to be together outside of state and church sanctioned wedlock. And, to be quite honest, I have experienced the difficulties and consequences of relationships like this. They can be extremely precarious. As I was training for various ministry positions and even at seminary, we were often told that the best rule to protect oneself and one’s reputation was to simply avoid being alone with someone of the opposite sex. (Or, with someone who is the gender that one is attracted to.) This ‘necessary’ precaution would provide a barrier against ‘impurity’ or even the appearance of impropriety. In practice this would mean that pastors and counselors could not meet with these people behind closed doors. Or, at the very least, windows should be installed so that nothing could be hidden from view. Meetings with cross-sex colleagues and coworkers should be avoided. And, never, ever was it appropriate to go to lunch or spend non-official time with them. These rules were put in place to protect individuals from following their inherent ‘lust’ from spilling out and contaminating everyone.

This way of thinking has naturally grown out of what has become known as the ‘purity culture.’ In this culture two characteristics predominate. The first characteristic is that women are Jezebel seductresses who dress and act in ways that are designed to capture men’s imaginations and cause them to stumble and fall. Members of this culture decry the way women dress, particularly in the summer or in warm climates. I heard one church leader say from the pulpit that he hated summer for that very reason. This position not only objectifies women in a negative way, it opens the door for shaming that always demeans and silences women. The second characteristic is not unlike the first. This suggests that men are weak, carnal beasts who cannot control the sexual lusts and desires that the seductress women cause them to have. (Please note, it’s the women who bear the onus of this charge, not the men.) Both of these characteristics diminish people and marginalize them. The scriptures tell the story of humans created in the ‘image of God,’ as eikons who represent God on Earth. Granted, humanity is fallible. We are not far removed from other animals. We are, in a word, sexual beings. But, to reduce us to the two characteristics mentioned above is to caricaturize people. It also tends to cause folks to obsess over the issue of sexuality. Much like telling your child not to eat the cookies, continually telling people that they must avoid any kind of behavior that may smack of impropriety may, in fact, draw them into it. I think that there must be a better way to address cross-sex relationships. A way that not only honors marriage and family, but that allows people to express their love and friendship freely and without all of the baggage of the ‘purity culture.’

In my next post I will share some of my thoughts and reflections about how we may have and enjoy these relationships. I would also like input from readers.

How do you view cross-sex relationships? Do you think that it is even possible to have them and not engage the ‘sex thing’? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Therefore, What God has Joined Together…Sometimes Gets Broken

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” These words written by the apostle Paul to the folks who followed Jesus in Rome are included in his description of what a community of people who are being transformed from those who live according to the rules of human culture into a spiritual community. These people, he stated, were in actuality part of a single ‘body.’ They were a unified whole in which each part was dependent on the others for their very existence. This is a way of viewing our interdependence with others that has, for the most part, been lost to Western culture. It has been also lost in the one place that one would expect to find it…the Church.

We followers of Jesus have been known for a long time as one of the few groups who shoot their own wounded. When life gets tough and some of us struggle to move, barely able to put one foot in front of the other, we often accuse, shame, and shun that person. I’ve seen this happen in others. And, I’ve experienced it personally.

Please understand that my intention is not to bash anyone. I know these people. I have been these people. They have good hearts and desire more than anything to serve God. But, we all get caught up in a righteous fervor from time-to-time that makes it difficult to get past the letter of the law to the graciousness that God has exampled for us in Jesus.

With that being said, I am going to turn my attention to divorce. I am not going to quote statistics other than to mention that the divorce rate among people who follow Jesus is pretty much the same as those who do not. Some say that anywhere from one third to one half of all marriages end in divorce. Whatever polls are used, that adds up to a lot of hurting people.

How should we respond to this? Should we follow the letter of the Scriptural prescription? Jesus made it very clear that divorce was not God’s intention for people. He is recorded as saying, “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” There’s nothing ambiguous about that statement. Divorce is not an option that God desires. Many people in the church read this statement written by Matthew and conclude that divorce is therefore a sin. God said it. I believe it. That settles it. But, what does that look like in real life?

I had a friend many years ago who was in an abusive marriage. At times she feared for her safety. She and her husband went to church leaders for help. Much of what they received in counsel was that the husband needed to learn to love her sacrificially, just as Jesus loves the church. And, the wife had to submit to her husband no matter what. That meant that she was told to stay with him, abuse or no. At one time she became so afraid that she left to find a safe place to stay. She was commanded by the church leaders to return to her husband. Confused, hurt, and shamed she acquiesced and like a good little wife, went back.

After time, however, the fear and tension in that home became too much to bear. She moved out and began divorce proceedings. Shortly after this she received a letter from the church leadership stating that if she and her husband moved forward with a divorce they would be considered to be actively sinning and would no longer be welcome in the church. They did divorce and are now both remarried and seem to be doing very well.

The reason that I used this example is to demonstrate, what I feel, is a pastoral fail. Again, I don’t intend this to be a personal attack on any particular group of people. This kind of Biblicist action takes place in many churches. The thought being that if Jesus has apparently condemned some action or behavior, we must condemn it, also. After all, the Bible is God’s word and we don’t want to go against that.

Ok, well, let’s take a look at how Jesus handled a situation where the letter of the law, God’s word, was called as a witness. In the Gospel according to John there is a story about a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. A group of religious leaders dragged her before Jesus and explained, rightly, that the law demanded that she be stoned to death. After all, Torah was God’s word. Jesus realized that. At no point did he deny that Moses had written that adultery was a capital offense. He could have simply agreed with those men and righteously condemned the woman. But, he did not do that. Instead, he turned the issue into an opportunity to show all of the people that we are all fallible and subject to error. In essence he said, “Let the person who is without sin throw the first stone.” No one came forward. In fact, all of the accusers turned and walked away. In the end, no one was left to condemn her. Jesus, then, said, “I do not condemn you either.” He sent her on her way with an encouragement to stop sinning.

Jesus did not do away with the law. He set it aside in order to pour out compassion on a hurt and confused woman. He reinterpreted the text in the context of real life with real people who have real needs. Yes, the Bible is clear on Jesus’ feelings about divorce. We, however, need to recognize that what Jesus said is an ideal. How we apply that must be tempered with compassion. One commentator wrote, “Only an unjustifiable Biblicism will force the idealism of New Testament ethics in a cruel and heartless manner by an adamant insistence upon the teaching of this passage, (Mat.19:3-12), as merely a collection of detailed laws.”

Whatever position on divorce someone takes, we as people who desire to follow Jesus must look closely at the things that Jesus did, not just the words that he spoke. As the quote at the beginning of this post states, we must show empathy, not judgment when our sisters and brothers are hurting. We are, after all, sewn together in a glorious tapestry of humanity. Each joined to the other in the love of God through Jesus.

Shame on Me

Relationships are difficult for me. To begin with, most of the time I’m far more comfortable with books than with people. Books can transport me to other worlds; other eras. They do not have unrealistic expectations of me. Nor, do I of them. We can be friends. People, on the other hand, always have some expectations. They have their own agendas that may or may not be in the best interests of anyone else. These relationships are messy. I don’t like messes. I’m not comfortable sharing my space with others. Over the years I’ve constructed thick barriers around myself in order to protect me from the mess, the hurt and unwanted intrusions that invariably force their way into my life.

Yet, God seems to desire that we humans live within a community. At the very beginning of God’s self-revealing are the words, “It’s not good for humans to be alone.” I find that even in my solitude, my self-willed ‘aloneness,’ there is a place in my heart that desires companionship. Honestly, I try to fight that. I’ve fought hard. There are very few people that I let into my life, my heart, even a little. And, no one with whom I’m totally available to or vulnerable with. But, why? I know some people who seem to have no problems being open with others. They are the ones who can make friends easily. They are the ones who can talk openly about themselves. In some ways I envy them.

I haven’t always been this conflicted. I wrote a little about that here. There was a time when I was a happy kid who trusted people. I enjoyed being with friends playing at the rocky beach of Lake Erie near my home. We built forts in the woods and rode bikes. We raced HO gauge cars and built model airplanes. In those days, I would have never been caught with a book in my hands. I had to be outside with my pals.

As I reflect on this perceived paradox, both desiring solitude and companionship, there is one thing that continues to surface. As time moved forward I began to notice that sometimes the things I said and did hurt others. I found that my tongue was a useful weapon. Without thinking I would unsheathe it and cut someone deeply. And, I felt shame. Shame…that is the one thing that I keep coming back to. One definition of that word is stated as “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” Yeah, I can see that as a ‘catch all’ definition. Whether real or perceived, some word or action causes one to feel guilty. The shame gene kicks in and gives shame the emotional impetus to rise to the top of our consciousness. As Pink Floyd sang, “Another brick in the wall.”

Another definition that I found, however, I think gets closer to the issue. I read this quote on another blog recently. It comes from a book that I’ve not read yet. The author, Brené Brown, wrote in her book Daring Greatly, that shame can be viewed as the “fear of disconnection — it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection.” Fear? I thought we were talking about shame! I think that Brown has captured something profound. We hide our guilt. The shame emotion drives us to do that. We certainly don’t want anyone else on the planet to know what kinds of nasties are living in our hearts. And, we don’t want our dirty laundry hung up for everyone and anyone to see and judge our uncleanness. So, the fear of losing relationships or the connectedness that God built into humanity causes the shame that covers our guilt. But, shame also builds walls. The very fear of losing our place in the community becomes the thing that breaks community. No wonder I’m such a basket case! I feel like Dr. Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu.pushmipullyu

What to do? Actually, I’m not sure. That’s something that I continue to consider. There are some who would say that I just need to have faith and God will set things right. Besides being an overly simplistic approach, I’ve tried it. It doesn’t help. Others may suggest that confession is good for the soul. Yeah, but confession may also break community. Perhaps, practicing vulnerability. After all, shame tends to make one take great pains to keep from being vulnerable. We’ll look at this later.

What do you think? Are there any folks out there who can relate to these things? Or, am I the only person who has these issues? Please leave a comment and let’s think through this together.