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.

Tumbling into tumblr.

tumblrIn July I was introduced to tumblr. Mostly, because Rachel Held Evans started a blog there. (Ok, I pay attention to what she does cuz she’s successful and I’m not.) Many young folks have migrated there because Facebook has become the hallowed grounds of the Old and Unknowing. I don’t understand how young folks don’t get that wherever they go, the old and infirm are sure to follow.

Anyway, I’ve become addicted. I never thought that social media could grab me and drag me in…but, tumblr. has. CRAP! The tumbr. world is diverse. There are people posting images, poems, short prose and quotes. Some of the blogs are designed to enable writers and artists to share their work and to learn from one another. Some of these allow others to submit their work for online publication. Others simply offer tips and encouragement. And, actually, much of the art, photography and writing is quite good.

There is another side to tumblr., however. Many of those who blog there, perhaps most of them, are young adults. This particular medium offers them a venue where they can explore and expand on the conflicts that they experience as they journey, the best that they can, from the safe world of childhood to the unpredictable world of adulthood. I think that part of the allure of tumblr. is that it allows people to post pretty much anything and everything. Someone may post an image of a forest stream one minute. In the next, they show the scars where they have cut themselves. Another may post kittens and unicorns followed by images that suggest drug abuse. The whole universe of teen angst is on display for the world to see. Shocking? Yeah, some of it is. And, I think that’s the purpose for much of it. Through images and words that press against social morés, many of these people are clearly seeking attention. This is nothing new. Young adults seek to find an identity that they can live with. By drawing attention to themselves they can test and find that which will, in some way, make them ‘acceptable.’ There are others, though, that seem to be stuck. For them depression and sadness have led to self-harm and other self-destructive behavior. These are the people that I can empathize with.

I am, as one friend puts it, “a sensitive musician.” He usually says it as a kind of fun pejorative. But, he’s right. In a brain dominance test many years ago, I was the group’s ‘space cadet’ because I live in the right side of my brain. As a young person I felt misunderstood and marginalized by family and friends. I experienced deep depression and sadness. At times I fell so far into myself that I didn’t realize that I had just scratched the skin off of the tops of my hands so that they bled. I found some solace in drugs and alcohol. Yet, this only seemed to help for a short while. I have always had a sense of unworthiness. Unworthy to receive good things…including love. Imagine my surprise when I learned that there is a person who can love without condition. This person understands the alienation and pain that I know so well because he experienced it himself. Yeshua ben Yosef…Jesus son of Joseph…is that person. Am I well now? Hardly. I still deal with depression, self-loathing and some self-destructive activities. But, I am not alone. And, I have a relationship with Someone whom I am confident ‘gets’ me. More than that, however, I have a connectedness with others who, like me, have hope for the future. Perhaps, this is why I’m so drawn to the young people who inhabit the tumblr. universe. They are me. We are a community of hurting misfits. We think and reflect deeply about our world and how we can be a significant part of it. We desire to be understood, yet, in a way we take pride in knowing that we can’t be understood. We refuse to be categorized, preferring instead an enigmatic life. But, we appreciate your presence more than you can ever know. We receive life from you when you notice us. The God who I follow has fashioned us to be a community. We are all interrelated in ways that my puny, little brain cannot ever hope to fathom. I can only share my small spark of life with those who need it. tumblr. is a place where I can do that.

I Am a Rock

island_moon

One of my favorite songs of all time is “I Am a Rock,” by Simon & Garfunkel. When I hear it, I hear a description of me.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I’ve always envied people who, at least from my perspective, seem to have no trouble opening up to others. They have many friends and enjoy spending time with them. I am not one of them. Yeah, I have several people whom I like and get along with. We socialize and sometimes work together. But, they are not folks with whom I share myself. I’ve built walls, a fortress deep and mighty.

Over the years there have been a few people that I have let in. I’ve escorted them inside of my fortress and showed them the tapestries and paintings on the walls. I’ve opened the secret cabinets holding the silver plates and gold-rimmed chalices that I keep there. I have exposed my heart to these. But, like my cat who is socially handicapped, I don’t know when to close doors. In my exuberance to be accepted I hold nothing back. Soon, I find that my exposure is too costly. Either my emotional offering is not returned or, like Hezekiah who revealed his entire treasure to the Babylonian delegation, I find my treasure plundered and carried off.

Don’t talk of love,
But I’ve heard the words before;
It’s sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

One would think that I would remember this. But, emotions tend to awaken. They open one eye and gaze about. If that eye spies something interesting, suddenly they become alert and search for ways to sate their desire to share themselves. You see, emotions must be shared. They cannot exist in a vacuum. While one may experience them in private, there is always some object that they are attached to outside of themselves. Taking on a life of their own, the emotions push all other considerations out of the way and present themselves with all of the false modesty and flattery they can muster. After all, one must offer oneself as perfect so that the other person will be impressed. There cannot be any warts or blemishes showing. We cannot risk rejection. Once disturbed from slumber, however, the inevitable journey toward tears begins.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I’ve written in other places that most of the time I find the company of books preferable to that of people. Books offer refuge. They are worlds in which emotions can live safely. I can wake them and let them out for a little fresh air and sunshine. They really don’t seem to care that books are not reality. They see relationships and trees and flowers and butterflies. They are given a safe environment where they can laugh and cry. And, no one gets hurt.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

“I Am a Rock” lyrics: Copyright: Paul Simon Music, Eclectic Music. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/simongarfunkel/iamarock.html Accessed: 8/12/2013.

Why Should We Even Care About Forgiveness?

A few days ago I wrote about forgiveness. I have continued to reflect on this. And, like so many other things, the more I consider it I realize how much I neither know about it nor practice it. I have read about it. I have thought about it. I’ve spent hours praying about it. Why does it seem so elusive? Why is it so hard for one person to offer forgiveness to another? Why do we even care?

A lot of years ago I was in a band. Ok, so I’ve been involved with a lot of bands over the years. But, this one in particular was my baby. I had always been a sideman following someone else’s lead. Not so with this one. I worked hard at it. I had great guys playing with me. And, we sounded pretty good, if I do say so myself. After several months I was approached by one of the guys and another person who was kind of an associate with us. They had decided that they were going to leave and put together a project of their own…sans me. I pretty much saw this as a coup. I was devastated. I had poured myself into this band and these guys were dismissing my work and ripping my heart out. Immediate anger, hurt and a desire to reciprocate. I decided to shun them. (Oh, wow, that’ll show ‘em.) It didn’t take long for me to realize that they were doing quite well while I was steeped in anger and bitterness. Hmmm…this payback stuff wasn’t working so well. I shared all of this with a friend and we found that at the root of what I was experiencing was unforgiveness. Oh, Crap! I couldn’t even blame those other guys for what I was feeling! Eventually, I arranged a sit-down with them and we talked and I was able to forgive them. Freedom! The bitterness began to melt away. Over time, we were again able to work together and today one of them is one of my closest friends.

This episode in my life revealed to me that relationships that are meaningful and important are the ones that can cause the most pain. I really don’t care about mere acquaintances. These people can say and do things to me that don’t affect me. I can simply ignore them and they’ll go away. Truly meaningful relationships, on the other hand, have an element of trust built into them that can easily be bruised. Trust defines our vulnerability. It determines how much of our heart we will expose to another person. Deeper trust means that we will bleed more profusely if that trust is violated.

In my reflection, I’ve discovered that I am one of those people who can be hurt easily. Part of that is because I really, really don’t tolerate rejection well. (And I want to be a writer? Sheesh!) The larger reason, though, is that although I try to keep a façade in place to protect me, (one dear friend said that I should wear a sign that says, “Hides Behind Humor”!), I do let people affect me. I want to trust. I want to be trusted. While I hold on to my desire to trust others, I, myself, am wholly untrustworthy. I know that, because there are times when I allow a thoughtless word to escape from my mouth that crushes someone I love. I am untrustworthy because I do things that seem good to me, but are deeply hurtful breaches of trust for others. And, I lie. I say that I trust others, when deep inside I really don’t. Maybe, this self-revelation will help me to understand my need for forgiveness and my need to forgive others.

So, why should we care about forgiveness? Throughout the Hebrew Bible God’s followers wrote about the forgiveness of God. The Psalms and Prophets are full of examples of God’s character as One who is patient and quick to forgive. (e.g. Ps. 65:3 & 86:5, Jer. 31:34.) But, it took God’s actions to prove it. It’s recorded that Jesus prayed for those who had beaten and crucified him. “Father, forgive them…” And, the Father did. The Good Creation and all of humanity were freed that day. Freed from the anger of God and from the chains that bound creation with bitterness and unforgiveness. We were set free from the old ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ system of retribution. We were set free to forgive. It doesn’t matter whether we are wronged through the careless uttering of a single word in a meeting, or one of the greatest breaches of trust. We have the freedom to choose to forgive.

 

Let’s Walk Together

With your indulgence, I’m going to continue writing about these messy things called relationships. I’ve already written about how I’m pretty good at screwing them up. Yeah, I don’t play well with the other children. Also, there is the fear that leads to shame. I want to play with you….No, I don’t….Yes, I do….No, I don’t, (cue Dr. Doolittle, the animal whisperer).

Today, I’d like to walk awhile with woundedness and broken trust. I think that these two things are not only closely related, but may be at the root of broken relationships.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a low threshold for being unaccepted. Actually, if someone looks at me the wrong way my brain sees that and interprets it as a personal attack. I remember a man that I used to meet with fairly regularly. We’d talk about life and family and relationships. He used to like giving me advice on these things. (Meddle is a better word.) One time he told me that he could tell when he had gotten too close and I was about to close down. He could see it on my face. (Funny how our thoughts, those quiet little neuron firings deep in the recesses of our mind, can sneak out and play with us physically.) He was right, of course. As far as I was concerned the topic was now out of play. A foul had been committed and I was walking off the field.

Many of us use speech to figure out what we think and believe. By that I mean, we process our thoughts out loud. This can be a dangerous practice for those of us who are easily hurt. Several years ago I was reflecting on some matter of religion. I don’t remember what that was exactly. I was speaking with another person, trying to make sense of the topic in my own mind. Soon the other person said, “I get really offended when you talk like that.” Uh, What? That person had just established an ‘unsafe zone.’ This was now a place where I could not be open and share my thoughts or feelings. Here I am, bleeding again.

The results of these interactions were small, but significant, wounds. These were no longer ‘safe places’ for me. Safety is necessary for trust to grow. If we perceive that a person is no longer providing a safe environment, trust cannot exist.

I wrote a couple of days ago that God desires humans to live with others and the Good Creation in community. Maybe, then, God has also built into the system a way to maintain our relationships.

I have been fortunate in the last year and a half to have hooked up with a Spiritual Director. This is a person who is not a counselor, but someone who ‘walks alongside’ me on this journey with God. One of the tools that he has brought with us on the path we share is something developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the mid-sixteenth century. Ignatius developed “Spiritual Exercises” that have been used through the years to assist people to experience a closer relationship with the Divine. A recent lesson has opened a discussion on woundedness. This particular lesson discussed the wounds that Jesus received at the hands of the Roman soldiers who crucified him. Of special interest to me was the observation that Jesus’ wounds were still visible after he returned to the land of the living. The writer of the lesson shared, “Jesus rose with his wounds still in his hands and feet and side. His wounds do not humiliate him but give God a chance to show the divine power. So can yours.” (Italics mine.) Ok, how? Wouldn’t it have been a better show if Jesus had received a ‘glorified’ body that was strong and without mark or blemish? No, I don’t think so. Here’s why. The lesson continued, “Jesus kept his wounds in his risen body as a means of consoling his friends. Whenever one Christian lovingly lets another know his or her woundedness, the Holy Spirit consoles them both.” In experiencing woundedness, God, through Jesus, was enabled to identify with God’s Good Creation in a way that had not been possible before. In a way, Creator shared in our suffering. I believe that, because of this, we, too, are empowered by God to share the suffering of one another. Does that mean all of my hurts and mistrusts are miraculously transformed into some kind of cosmic Neosporin? No. There are still walls that have deep pilings holding them in place. It does, however, allow me to understand that you…the one who hurt me…are also wounded. We share that part of the human condition. Together, maybe…I’m not sure, vulnerability can grow between us and we can begin to build that community of the walking wounded that God shares with us.

What do you think? Is it possible to live together as damaged people, sharing our woundedness?

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.