Category Archives: Christianity

The Real New Year; Epiphany

Generally, I mark my time through the Christian calendar, starting my year at Advent and progressing through the days in celebration, mourning, centemplation, or whatever mood the the liturgical calendar calls for, or at least I am cognizant of the expected mood of the season.

This year, the first Sunday of Advent came with me doing exactly what I’d been doing all year long, so it didn’t feel much like a New Year celebration to me.  Thanks, Retail.

Then New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day came along, and I still didn’t feel that rejuventaing new-year feeling that I love, because it signals a new beginning where I get to shed my old, dry skin and grow a new, pliable, vulnerable skin for the clean new-year slate ahead of me.

This year, I guess, I was holding out for Epiphany, the holiday we celebrate in most Western churches as the day when the Wisemen appear bearing gifts for the baby Jesus (though most Biblical historians agree that the baby Jesus was already two-ish by the time they found him).

But more specifically, I was holding out for Epiphany, because I celebrate a more Eastern Christian understanding of this day, as the day when Jesus began his adult ministry by being baptized at the hands of John the Baptist. I need this yearly reminder that I am, in fact, the Church no matter where I go; I am a priest at all times with my words, and more importantly with my actions.

Maybe this year I was holding out for the sky to rupture and for me to feel like I was God’s beloved child in whom [They] are well pleased.

As I was running today, with my lungs burning with ashthmatic wheezes and my eyes watering against the cold, dry air, I was reminded, yet again, that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I was reminded that I asked for this, for time away from teaching, for time to rediscover the things I love, for time to get back to well.

And I am getting there. I have fewer bouts with depression, and they are shorter and further apart, so I can recover from them in a healthy way, instead of just sweeping them under the carpet, like I did for too long.

In this regard, my New Year this year, 2016, starts today, January 6, on Epiphany, while I celebrate the beginning of new year of ministry, a new year of peace, grace, love, and joy, and a new year of being well. It’s only fitting that I spend a bit of time considering those goals I set for myself before the new year rolled around. It’s been a month, so here’s a fair judgment of how I”ve been doing with this.

Veganism- passable, still needs some work, but things are going fairly well
Volunteerism- this one will have to be put on a back burner for a bit, at least until we sell our house, because I’m picking up some extra hours at Caribou to help make ends meet
Prayer and meditation- passable, still needs some work, and I’ve been able to work in some meditation while running, but I still need more focus on quiet time
Exercise- passable, but I need to be more consistent, so I can make my two big goals for this year
Alcohol and caffiene- passable, the caffiene is really easy to give up, but the alcohol is a bit harder, because I find it really nice to have a beer with dinner, so I guess I should get used to having kool-aid with dinner instead

Do good.

Do no harm.

Stay in love with God.

Practice peace, grace, love, and joy.

 

 

2016: Dream Casting and Goal Setting

Every year at this time I start thinking about how I can make the world a better place in the coming year. I reflect on the last year, both my accomplishments and shortcomings, and I envision the coming year and the possibilities it holds. For 2016, I am dream casting and goal setting in similar, but more realistic ways.

My biggest goal is to become an Expert at Apple and to help my store continue to be the best with an eye toward becoming better. This goal is certainly attainable, and I feel as if I am well on way toward it. I know what my strengths are, and I’ve named for myself a few areas of opportunity. I’ve begun working on those areas with the help and support of my colleageus, and I am confident that some time within the year, I’ll attain this goal.

I have five other goals that I will be focusing on for this year. Seeing as how I overshot my goals last year and fulfilled a grand total of none of them, I’m being a bit more realistic this year. And, quite frankly, some of my goals are the same as last year, because they are things I really need to do in my life, but I didn’t succeed at last year.

Goal: I will be vegan in my own kitchen this year. For my friends’ convenience, I am going to simply be vegetarian when it comes to going to other folk’s houses or out for dinner. I continue to desire to leave a less violent footprint on our world, and I continue to be pro-life in all regards. One way I can live out a peaceful and life-fostering ethic is to minimize my consumption of animal products. If you want to know more about why I am chosing this lifestyle, here’s a well-written article about ethical veganism.

Goal: I will volunteer one day a week. Going along with the focus on life and peace, I have requested to switch my availability at Apple to have Thursdays off, so I can volunteer at 360 Communties after I work at Caribou. I filled out my application for volunteerism on their website yesterday, and now I am just waiting to hear back from them about where they can use me, or whether they can use me at all given my limited availability. I plan to participate in some other volunteering opportunities with my colleagues from Apple, and I’ll still raise money for other causes like Polar Plunging for the Special Olympics and dedicating some of my bigger sports events I’ll be participating in to causes like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospitals or Mile in My Shoes.

Goal: I will to continue with prayer and meditation as an integral part of my spiritual life. These two practices center me and enable me to practice peace, grace, and love in a way that I can’t do without slowing down my brain to focus on my breathing or to focus on God. By doing either of these practices, I am allowed the time I need to be away from this world, transported to another place where I can just be.

Goal: I will exercise my body. I have two main goals in regards to this goal: Big Shoulders 5K Open Water Swim (September) and Afton 50K Trail Run (July). I enjoy swimming, biking, and running, and I’ve previously killed that joy by making an unattainable goal for myself of exercising every day or of trying to get in my two or three workouts of each type each week. This year my goal is simply to keep the joy in moving my body. I want to do each sport enough to be in shape, and I want to pepper my weeks with hiking with my love. I don’t want training to become a chore. Incidentally, my far-reaching goal is to finish Ironman Wisconsin in 2017.

Goal: I will abstain from alcohol and caffeine. This will perhaps be my most difficult goal. I’ve (nearly) succussfully abstained from alcohol and caffeine since October 10, drinking caffeine three times and having a couple of beers in that time. Those beers showed me, though, and I ended up hives both times. I am attempting this abstinence for no other reason than both alcohol and caffeine are powerful drugs. I’ve noticed in the time that I’ve been abstaining from them that my moods are more even, and that my sleep isn’t nearly as messed up. I can get on board with all of that.

Finally, though I don’t consider it a measurable goal, I want 2016 to be the year I live with grace, peace, love, joy, and kindness in all situations, in all ways. This year I will be more Christian, and more specifically more Wesleyan.

John Wesley said that Christianity could be boiled down to three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

 

Prayer and Meditation

This may be the strangest thing I’ve said in a while, but this Lent was really good for me. While Lent is supposed to be a period of suffering and wandering, I’ve always viewed the liturgical season as a time of renewal and deep thought. Since I’d been in a period of serious self-evaluation for a few months prior to Ash Wednesday this year, I decided to add something to my life rather than to take something away. Quite frankly, I’d had enough suffering. I’d grown tired of contemplating my humanity, and I didn’t want to focus for one more minute on giving up some earthly pleasure.

I decided, since my church attendance had been pretty hit or miss for about 9 months, to add in going to the 8AM service at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. No matter what I decided, at the Ash Wednesday service as I was reminded that I’d come from dust and I’d return to dust, I would attend every Sunday morning, even if it meant getting up early on the only day I had to sleep in.

As usually happens when we obey the nudging of God, I was blessed in my obedience. I look back and recognize how the small act of going to church every Sunday helped me move from a place of hopelessness to a place of hope. Was the 40 days some sort of mystical balm for my aching heart? No. Has my transition from hopelessness to hopefulness been easy? No. But I can say that today, the Monday after the third Sunday of Easter, that I have a strong hope that my life has changed for the better.

One positive thing to come from the 40-day Lenten season was my recognition of how self-centered I had become. I had spent so much time wallowing in my own misery and just clinging to my own concerns, that I failed to realize how shallow and internally focused I’d become. I suppose you could say that I had fallen into survival mode where I was focused on my own getting by, so much so that I was unable to see how people around me were suffering. And there’s a lot of suffering in this world.

In light of that, I’ve decided to cut everything out of my life that seems like work to me, things that feel like they go against my ethic or against my conscience. I’m cutting out racing and getting back to the pleasure of exercise, trail running, swimming, and disc golfing with no particular goal or destination in mind. I’m decreasing the pain I bring into this world by being vegetarian. I’m consciously trying to relax and breathe through situations that might cause me stress or where I might say or do something that doesn’t bring peace to this place.

Most importantly, however, I am trying to focus my energy toward helping others in whatever ways I can, which could include just helping folks out, not talking about people (which I try to avoid anyway), being alongside people when they need me, and just loving folks no matter who they are. The biggest way I see to put other people first is to pray for people and when you pray for them, you’re really changing yourself through those prayers. This idea is wholly embraced by the writers of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

I typically believe that whenever I think of someone, those thoughts are similar to praying for them, but during Lent, I felt moved to have a more concerted prayer time wherein I conscientiously pray for the needs of my friends. I’ve decided to visit either St. Paul’s Cathedral or St. Mary’s Basilica on one of my days off each week, and I’ll simply put aside some time to pray for people by name, along with praying for whatever concerns I know are on their hearts or whatever they share with me to pray for. Is there a better way to spend time off than in prayer for family and friends surrounded by beautiful art and architecture?

I’ve learned that if I am more concerned for others, my concerns work themselves out on their own.

Writing and Art; Cranes; 70.3; Eating Vegetables

I spent this past weekend with my friend Sarah A. Chavez while she was up here in the Cities for AWP 2015, and I sort of hung around the conference wishing I’d have spent the money for admission to it. I was thankful I was able to attend so many offsite events, since the readings are really the best part anyway. Sarah and I met and had breakfast with our friend Ahyicodae (Ico), who lives up here, and with whom I get the pleasure to have writing and workshop days now that we’ve made that connection. For me, these connections are the writing equivalent of my artistic connections with Lyn and Tish.

I get all fired up and excited about writing and art when I am around other people who are passionate about being creative, so once again the creative fire is lit under my smoldering and lackadaisical behind. I’m not making excuses, but it’s easy for me to become complacent about art and writing (they are a lot of work!) when I am not making art, not talking about art, and not feeling inspired. I am blessed to have many, many creative friends, both writers and artists. I am blessed to continually meet folks (like Nell, who was one of the first non-work people I met up here) who make the world more beautiful through their creativity.

I know I am flash-in-the-pan and have almost zero stick-to-it-ive-ness (what a word!), but I wrote a rough draft of a poem today and I started a short creative nonfiction piece this morning as well. I have the ideas for some artwork, and I know I just need to do it. The theme I am currently stuck on, and I blame the liturgical calendar and where I am in my life, is resurrection, rebirth, and reconciliation. I feel like I’ve died and come back to life, like a cliche little phoenix.

*

Here’s part of the CNF piece I started this morning: “Whenever I wash the dishes, I always look out the window toward the Mississippi River, which is about two blocks west of our house. Sometimes if I strain, I can hear the barges pushing their freight, and sometimes if I pay close attention, I can see interesting water fowl low in flight as they land or take off from the water, even though I can’t really see the river. Today I was standing by the back window in front of the sink washing the dishes from last night’s culinary success while thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish today. I noticed a hawk and a couple of other birds flying in an odd pattern over the neighbor’s house. I wondered why the birds were behaving so sporadically and scoured the ground for the neighbor’s dog, which sometimes runs along the street in front of their house. No dog. I traced the flight pattern up into the sky and was humbled by what was making the local birds behave so strangely. The sky was marked with the unmistakable giant white bodies and long, black-tipped wings of the whooping crane, a cast of about 50 of them in fact. My day became glorious in that minute of awe, and I continue to thank God that I am still here and that I am so blessed.

*

The thing I am struggling with the most in my life right now is the desire and energy to train for this half-marathon in June and the 70.3 in July. Neither race is going to be pretty. In fact, I think they are going to be very, very ugly. More factually, I think I’ll be lucky to finish them both. I am having a difficult time with running. I have the desire. I can remember what it felt like to be able to run 9 miles at a stretch with virtually no difficulty and no soreness the next day. I can remember what it was like to run 15 miles on a Saturday, being sore the next day, but not dying from it. My body wants to be there again, but with everything is so psychological. My mind says, “Remember how bad your legs and feet hurt after work and standing for 8 hours at a time. You can’t run after that. You need to go home and put your feet up and watch 97 hours of Murder, She Wrote. You don’t need to write or do art or run or swim or do anything but be a slug. You’ve earned it by working so hard.” I’m trying to focus my meditation and prayer, now that Lent is over, on positive self-talk in regards to triathlon-related and creativity-related pursuits. Today, I am going for a three-mile walk. Tomorrow, I am going for a swim and run. My goal is to never turn on the TV or open a book until I’ve accomplished my goals for the day. That sort of relaxing is my reward. I don’t read for a living anymore.

*

I’ve been vegetarian again for two weeks now. Psychologically, I feel 100% better. I always forget how clear my mind becomes when my life isn’t held in a balance based on killing creatures for sustenance. Physically, I feel about the same. My body is still store from work, and I still think I need to just lay about (see above). I think it’s worth being a kind-hearted eater to not have dreams about dying animals, and I think it’s worth it to be adventurous in the kitchen again. We’d gotten in the rut of eating the same five or six meals over and over again, but we’re shaking it up a bit these past few days. Yesterday, I made my first batch of saag paneer, and it was delightful and filling. And, I am mostly past a point in my life where I am willing to do pretty much anything to lose weight. I’m not. I’m more interested in living a consistent ethic of life, and a life lived well and not on the backs of innocents.

*

Now I am off to buy a cheap table to use for my printmaking lair upstairs in the attic.

Weightlifting and Ground Kissing

The last time I lifted weights was just after college. I was trying like mad to lose weight to get into the military to become a medic and to eventually go to medical school, because the military was the only way I could think to follow that path. I needed to lose about 40 more pounds than I had already lost, so I did the only natural thing to do. I starved myself and exercised a lot. I was teaching at Garfield Elementary then and living in Hartford City in the downstairs of a haunted house that had been made into an apartment. I would wake up most days really early and go for a 4- to 6-mile run, then I would head into Ball State Recreation Facilities to either swim or lift weights, then I would teach all day, and finally I would come home and go for a 20-mile bike ride or so. I lost weight, but not enough, so I ate less. The eventual side effect of all of this was not acceptance into armed forces; the eventual side effect was dark circles, little to no energy, hair loss, and some permanent damage to my body.

I was, as some would say, a hot mess.

Today I start weightlifting again. I’ve found a plan called the 5X5, which uses five simple, full-body lifts (deadlift, overhead press, bench press, squats, and Pendlay rows) to condition the entire body over three workouts a week. Their goal is to lift heavier weights in succession, but my goal is simply to build and balance my muscles. Truth be told, I would love it if I could bulk up my muscles a bit, but my goal here is simply fitness, so I can swim, bike, and run more efficiently.

In order to be held accountable on my goal of moderation, I’m posting my general workout schedule here:

Monday: Run and Swim
Tuesday: Lift and Cycle
Wednesday: Run and Swim
Thursday: Lift and Cycle
Friday: REST
Saturday: Weights, Run (LSD), Swim (LSD)
Sunday: REST

I mentioned that my goal is to eat more protein, because even when I was eating strictly paleo, I didn’t eat enough protein, so I have started adding a protein supplement into my breakfast. I also plan to buy a bit more meat to eat throughout the day. My problem is that I love fruit, which contains lots of sugar and almost no protein. I guess I just mention this to say that I am trying to balance my body with exercise and the tools it needs to repair the muscles, so I can keep going.

*

Over the weekend, Bec and I watched the movie Unbroken. If you know me well, you know that I hate watching movies in the theater, and this makes the second one we’ve seen in three weeks, the first being Into the Woods. Unbroken was a beautiful, traumatic, hopeful, tragic film. The scene that moved me the most was when Louis came home from Japan and got off the plane and kissed the ground. Again, if you know me well, you know how I feel about the US, that we have pretty much as many flaws as we have positive attributes, but for some reason that scene struck me. For me, that scene wasn’t so much about the US as it was about being alive, safe, and at home. I am sure for Zamporini, the kiss was about the US, at least partially, since he was a soldier. (I just want to make a side note here that while I have little to no respect for our penchant for war and military might in the US, I do have the utmost respect for our military personnel. I love and adore several current and former sailors, soldiers, marines, air(wo)men, and guardians, and I appreciate the work they do and the sacrifices they make.)

That scene, when Louis returns home, reminds me of one of my favorite sayings by Thich Nhat Hanh: “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” Though it seems strange to pair a movie about war with the writings of a peace activist, there is a perfect connection between the two in my mind. If we could walk as if our feet are kissing the earth, we would have no need for war, because we would be so busy appreciating the beauty of our own lives and the sacredness of this earth. We would each revel in our own mysteries as we’re connected to this land, to each other, and to ourselves.

I’ve been noticing that many people function from their areas of insecurity and shame, instead of from their feelings of pride, worth, compassion, and love. We are a hurting people who keep continuing the cycle of hurt. By metaphorically kissing the ground, or imagining we are doing it with our feet as we walk, we move from a state of injury, shame, and hollowness to a state of appreciation and grace and love. Be mindful, like Zamporini, that you are alive.