Monthly Archives: October 2013

For the Next Month, I Will Be Doing This

Posting may be a little bit light around here for the next month.  After all, it’s November, also known as Nanowrimo month.

I’ll be happily playing around with a novel that I’m tentatively calling, “Kill the Puppy, Save the Planet”, which, I promise, is not as evil as it sounds.

In the Haverhill area, we also happen to have an amazing group of writers that organize write-ins almost daily, have parties at the beginning and end, and even give our emergency rations to aspiring novel writers.

If you’re looking for something ridiculously fun to do this month, I highly recommend it.

See you all one month and fifty thousand words later!

Small Acts of Kindness Are Sometimes Just Small Acts of Kindness

A couple Sundays ago we did a small thing out in the Mount Washington neighborhood.

For those of you who don’t know, the neighborhood is one of the darkest in my city, and it recently has been hit by a rash of violent incidents, especially highlighted by a stabbing death on one of its most traveled streets last year.

A small group of us went into the neighborhood to hand out free water, free Halloween candy, and talk to residents about what would make the neighborhood a better place to live.

It was fun. We had several good interactions with passersby. One child kept coming by with her dog, Milo, and wrote a few encouraging words on the sidewalk very seriously in pink chalk. Other people looked at us suspciously when we offered them free water and candy (I think they thought we were probably up to something.)

Nothing profound. Nothing earth shattering. Just a little good in a hurting neighborhood.

As part of my job, I’ve become an expert at wringing profundity out of the most mundane events. I can make a failed bake bean supper fundraiser sound like the second coming, if you give me a couple minutes. But, truth be told, sometimes free candy is just free candy, sometimes a couple decent conversations are just a couple decent conversations, and a few slogans written in chalk on the sidewalk are just, only, simply that.

These, of course, aren’t the stories that get passed around. We generally hear only the remarkable ones. Someone comes across a brilliant idea, and, like magic, it instantly changes a whole neighborhood. Someone does a good act that they think is anonymous, but soon it spreads like wildfire across the city. Someone goes out on the street to do something odd and beautiful and saves several lives in the process.

We like these stories. I like these stories. They’re beautiful, they’re inspiring, they make great reads.

However, they are not normal. And, if we expect them every time we serve others, we will be disapointed.

Most of the time, nothing groundbreaking, earthshattering, newsworthy happens.

Trash gets picked up. Flower beds get weeded. Candy gets handed out. Conversations get had.

All of them, on their own, pretty normal, simple, everyday things. Nothing to write a story about.

Truly great things do end up happening, but generally that’s because they’re just a lot of small things piled on top of each other, year after year after year, until they can amount to something noticeable.

Most of the time, doing good is much like anything else; sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail, sometimes you make an outsized difference in someone’s life, and sometimes a free bottle of water is really only just that.

I try to keep that in mind. I hope for the big successes. Sometimes I make the mistake of even expecting them.

But significance only comes through hard, long, persistent, often horribly mundane efforts – and just because I didn’t change the neighborhood through a small bag of skittles didn’t mean that my time was poorly spent.

I consider our time spent in that neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon to be well spent. After all, we’re not expecting to swoop in like Superman and change the neighborhood in time for dinner. We’ll just keeping serving, keep loving, keep blessing. We’ll count our time there in years, not in days or in months.

And who knows? Maybe, someday, all those accumulated acts of kindness will turn into something great.

Silence

Questing, searching restless fingers,
Wander now across the band,
Seeking stimulation, meaning,
Find a place to rest, to stand.

But instead of slowly stilling,
Of a measured oscillation,
Instead my fingers find a speeding,
Growing, creeping agitation.

From each station hurling, flinging
Screaming, dancing melody,
Reaching, praising, frantic, driving,
Unrelenting harmony.

Can I slow my questing fingers,
As they race across the dial,
Each small moment coalescing,
Resting silent for a while?

Turn the volume to a whisper
Finding moments to remember
Hear the quiet silence singing
To the stillness I surrender

You Are Not Your Feelings

Just a brief thought for the day: you are not your feelings.

I woke up this morning feeling angry, anxious, and judgmental.

Does that mean, in order to be “authentic”, “true to myself”, or “transparent”, that I need to inflict all that negativity on the people around me?

Of course not.

I drank my coffee. I bit back several biting comments about small annoyances that really don’t matter. I took a little extra time to be alone, to breathe, to read, and to pray. I double checked my words before they left my mouth.

Does that mean I wasn’t being honest? Does it mean that I wasn’t being true to myself, just putting on a front, just keeping up appearances?

I don’t think so.

I am not my feelings. They do not express my truest self. What I felt this morning was nothing more than a product of the end of a long, slightly overbusy, slightly overpeopled workweek, and a lack of good sleep.

I don’t need to act that out in order to be true to myself.

Having emotionally diarrhea doesn’t help anyone – it just makes everything stink.

Because, beyond all those emotions, which come and go in ways that have very little to do with me, are deeper truths about the self I want to live into – to be loving, generous, compassionate, and willing to treat others with kindness, even when I don’t feel like it.

That’s truly who I am, not whatever I’m feeling at this particular moment. 

On mornings like this, I’m really grateful that’s the case.

 

 

I Don’t Like to Forgive People

I feel the need for a bit of confession today.

I really, truly, struggle with forgiveness.

I feel comfortable confessing that, because, I think that you all might be in the same boat as well.

It’s not entirely our fault that forgiveness is not exactly at the top of our to-do lists. Our culture doesn’t actively value it (not that many have.)  However, what might make us more unusual is that many of us have come think of forgiveness itself as immoral.

Most of us won’t admit to this, of course, but it’s embedded in what we think the “right” response is to people who harm us or harm others.

What is the correct response when someone bombs us? We, of course, should bomb them, (and far more besides). To do any less would be show weakness.

What is the correct response when someone kills someone else, especially if it was heinous? We should kill them, of course. To do anything less means that they won’t “pay” for their crimes.

What is the correct response when someone wrongs us? If we have the power to do so, we should find a way to “balance the scales”, of course. If we don’t, we’ve somehow lost the battle.

What is the correct response when we don’t get our way, in politics, in relationships, in life? We should make sure that even if we “lose”, that the “winners” should still stuffer.  After all, if you can’t win, you should at least take them down with you.

Notice how, embedded in each of those responses, is the assumption that forgiveness means weakness, means losing, means not being strong, means rolling over. If we want to show strength, to act like adults, to be secure, then revenge (which is what “balancing the scales”, “paying for their crimes”, etc. actually means) is the only ethical way to act.

I can’t live what that line of thinking, especially not as a follower of Jesus.

Jesus is unambiguous about this. He says, “You have heard it said, an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but I say, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute”, he teaches “do not resist those who do evil to you”, he tells people “turn the other cheek” when someone hits them. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, when he himself was being murdered unjustly.

There’s no wiggle room for me when it comes to this.

None.

Period.

I don’t like that.  You see, I, like most people, have a list in the back of my head of people who I feel have wronged me. And, when I get in a certain mood, I can chew on those wrongs as contentedly as a cow chewing their cud, until I’ve worked myself up into such a righteous lather than I’m convinced that they deserve almost anything that comes to them.

It is much harder, to let go of the wrongs that other people do to me. It is much harder to love people for who they are actually are, rather than for who I want them to be.

But, that is the hard and fast, no exceptions requirement that I’m presented, when I pray, every day, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us“. (And incidentally, it embarrasses me to think of the number of people in my own tribe who pray those words every day and then advocate violent vengeance on those who they feel have wronged them.)

I still don’t know how to do forgiveness well.  I struggle how to forgive without enabling. I struggle how to forgive without playing the blame game (for myself or for anyone else). I struggle how to forgive while still asserting my own integrity as a human being. I struggle how to forgive while not practicing relational amnesia.

When I struggle with forgiveness, its puts me into contact with some parts of myself that I’d rather not acknowledge. It exposes me to the fact, that, despite the best appearances I put on, for others and for myself, that I have a place of darkness within me that prefers hurt, revenge, violence, and hatred, even when it is ultimately self destructive.

And how much harder is it to overcome that darkness, when our culture not accepts it as inevitable, but says that it’s positively moral?

It’s no wonder we struggle so much.

It’s no wonder I struggle so much.

I’m getting better, with practice, I think, but if you have any advice, I could use it.

We probably all could.

I’m Not Cool Enough to Go To Church

I often don’t feel cool enough to go to some churches.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience – and it’s possible you’ve not, either because you’re not interested, or because you’re better dressed and better looking than I am, but occasionally, when I’ve visited a church, especially when it’s a hip, new, fast growing church, I immediately feel out of place. Everyone dresses better than I do, is in better shape than I am, has better style hair, better grooming, and is, in short, to all appearances, more put together than I can be on my best day.

The worship is always shockingly competent. The videos put most production companies to shame, the band somehow takes really trite three chord praise songs with lousy lyrics and makes them sound awesome (while looking like they really love doing it),and  the preacher is either really a) funny b) hip c) earnest in a way that connects with the audience.

And I think – damn, I’m not cool enough to be here.

It’s a good thing I don’t belong to a cool church.

We were having our monthly worship gathering a few weeks ago in a our friend’s backyard a month ago, when I looked around at the people.

Most of us had left the slim section of the clothing store years ago.

None of us, (okay, maybe just one or two of us,) would look particularly at home at the Gap or Abercrombie and Fitch.

Our one child, who happens to be autistic, happily ran around during the entire service, upending my friend’s front lawn, as we took turns chasing after him.

Some of us stutter.

Many of us talk with Mass accents so broad that you could drive a mac truck through them.

Some of us are scarred, from bad luck, or violence, or self-violence.

Many of us can’t carry a tune in the bucket.

Some of us struggle with addiction.

Some of us obviously need to see a dentist.

Put us all together, it’s very clear that we are not a cool community.

There are days that I wish we were cooler – that we were younger, hipper, richer, but I’ve come to realize that it’s not us. And, I’ve decided, I’m glad about it. For, although I realize that many cool, hip, happening churches are doing great work, and I realize that my feeling out of place perhaps has more to do with my own insecurity than it does with them, I can’t shake the feeling Jesus and his crowd weren’t cool either.

After all, that first community was really just a bunch of disreputable, morally questionable, socially unacceptable outcasts following around a day-laborer turned homeless itinerant teacher: definitely not the group of people you’d put on a flyer or a billboard. I’d expect they were also, taken as a group, rather grubby, somewhat profane, rather awkward, and, generally speaking, not the type of people you’d want to invite to your next party.

I think that’s good to keep in mind, in a culture that’s filled with small enclaves and microcultures, where it is now entirely possible to be with people who almost exactly like you. It’s easy to forget that we need each other: the have’s and the have not’s, people from all walks of life, from those who have the resources to shake the world, to those who should really get a parade if they manage to get out of bed and successfully tie their shoes in the morning.

We need each other, in all our glorious uncouth uncoolness.

And that way, I know there will be at least one church that I’m cool enough to be a part of, too.

The Art Of Procrastination

I’m sitting in the library right now, having carved out a very precious hour for myself so I can write.

So – what have I done with the first half of my very precious hour?

1) Found and checked out two books from a favorite author.  (Score! I didn’t even know he hadn’t written two new books!)

2) Wandered around the biography section looking at the introductions to memoirs. (Important research for my novel, of course)

3) Checked weei.com, grantland.com, and cnnsi.com. (Just in case, you know, something important happened in the world of sports since I got up this morning.)

4) Read article about the Pirates-Reds game. (After all, my cousin is a big Pirate’s fan, so reading the article is kind of like family loyalty, right?)

5) Check my rss reader for updates on goverment shutdown. (Being an informed citizen! Yay for civic engagement!)

6) Checked weei.com again. (In case, you know, anything else important happened in the last ten minutes).

7) Looked up T.S. Eliot (Because he’s a cool poet, and I’d like to read more poetry.)

I’m truly amazed how, whenever I sit down to write, I procrastinate instead.

I’m becoming really great at it. My excuses for why all those other things are really more important are getting more compelling all the time.

There’s a hard truth I haven’t found my way around though:

In order to accomplish the most important things in life, you have to, well, start doing them first.

So, from one procrastinator to another, (You’re reading my blog, right? Are you sure there’s not something else you should be doing right now?) just go out and do it.

Now.

Don’t think about it.

You don’t even have to read to the end of this post.

Write that novel. Start jogging. Start painting again. Open that book.Make that phone call. Have that tough conversation. Ask that person for forgiveness.

Take that risk you know you should, but always can find reasons not to.

That’s the only way it will happen.

And there’s no better time than now.

Trust me.