Two months until I move back to Austin…

It has been almost a full year since I quit my full-time, professional job as a VP of Sales and Marketing to stay at home and take care of my son. To state that it has been absolute bliss would be hardly believable. However, it has helped me to clarify where my own character flaws are in terms of being able to be long-suffering with those whom I am helping. It has given me more insight into how often I may find myself living a different kind of life than the majority of my peers and neighbors, but how not to give in to the temptation to become like them for the sake of not standing out. Where I live now, it is definitely not the norm for a grown, able-bodied man to be pushing around a baby during the middle of a workday. A neighbor who shouldn’t have had any idea of my personal situation told me he was glad I had found work because he had heard I wasn’t working, after I mentioned in passing that I took on contract work now and then. At some basic level, I am sure that my presence as a stay-at-home dad who drives a Subaru and doesn’t sound like he’s from around here is an offensive thing to people in this town. There is a strong insularity in Waco, even among people who you might think more or less like you do. The ability to reach out and accept a stranger seems to be greatly muted. I don’t think I would want to really know what most of my neighbors think about Obama, guns, Muslims, the LGBT community, etc.

I’ve been fortunate not to really encounter anyone who openly talks like they might be perfectly aligned with the Westboro Baptist Church, though I suppose that is more born out of my careful attempts to avoid churches and places full of people who might think like that, and avoid making conversation with my neighbors, than it is born out of what the real sentiments might be. Most of the people I’ve spoken with at my church seem to strongly disagree with the way many fundamentalist Christians talk about the gay community, even if they are more tight-lipped and not as openly loving and welcoming of gay people as folks were at my church in Austin. This is, of course, to be expected, being in Waco and all.

On many levels, it simply doesn’t make sense to me why you would think/feel the way many so-called Christians do about the gay community, if you decide you are Christian. The way we choose to interpret the Bible does shift from generation to generation, no matter how much a fundamentalist would like to believe otherwise. My own mother, who was very much a Pentecostal fundamentalist and one who disapproved of homosexuality, would counter that many of the prohibitions in the Old Testament were part of the Old Covenant, and she based her beliefs primarily on what was in the New Testament. Like other like-minded people I have known, she didn’t seem to be hung up on Paul prohibiting women from preaching or his instructions on how slaves should behave, though she had inclinations to become a pastor herself and was very much against any bigoted or racist talk that might suggest more recent forms of slavery would be appropriate. While my mother was strongly against divorce except in very extreme cases of spousal abuse or adultery, I have been fairly surprised at the number of times I meet someone in this area who is a staunch Conservative, evangelical Christian and is on their second or third marriage. In my reading of the New Testament, the prohibitions against divorce ring out much more clearly and stronger than the ones against homosexuality.

All of this is to say that we Christians are very good at stating that the passages of the Bible we don’t like were written in a certain context of that time and place, while happily taking literally those passages that support whatever is our agenda. And, this is not right at all. Either you can be a grownup and come to terms with the fact that most of it (especially Paul, since Jesus said nothing about homosexuality) was written within the context of the time and place, or none of it was. And, if you truly believe that you are among the latter, fundamental group, and seek to literally interpret and apply the Bible’s teachings (even if primarily those found in the New Testament), you will find yourself bumping up against the impracticality of this, not to mention the realization that you have no business judging anyone and only the business of loving everyone. But, who is going to gouge their own eye out when it offends them? I don’t think even the staunchest, fundamental and literal interpreter of the New Testament would gouge his eye out if he found it following an attractive behind that wasn’t his wife’s.

The ability for a person to possess faculties of reason and compassion, and desire to be a follower of Jesus because Jesus offered us a glimpse at a better way that wasn’t simply endless war and tit-for-tat violence, is not an easy one to perfect as an adult. The older some of us get, the more we crave laws and rules that are precise so that we can know what we can and can’t do. Whether we our Christian or not, we like to have a neat set of boxes to check to state unequivocally “I am this and not that, and therefore I am good and not evil.” Such thinking I have witnessed among progressive Atheists as well. However, at the end of the day, when most people are given over to much deeper meditation and contemplation on how they would like to see the world become a better place, or when most people are put in a place where they really do wish for only Love to matter and nothing else, the majority of people still choose to be their better selves and dismiss those ideas which have only led to persecuting others and declaring them to not be fully human.

After all, I think that’s the really dangerous and evil place to reach in your mind whether you are able to see it or not–when you stop seeing all human beings around you as being fully human and worthy of the dignity and freedom you cherish. Perhaps you might even be in this dangerous place where you see yourself as not fully human, and only beautiful celebrities and the wealthy who have “made it” as being the fully realized humans of our species. It’s more or less the same thing. You have permitted there to be degrees of humanity, or more or less values to be placed on human life. Whether you are fully conscious of it or not, you might have had a knee-jerk reaction of dismissing the Orlando shootings as not quite as terrible as, say, the shootings in Aurora because most of the victims were gay and Puerto Rican. This is where I find Jesus’ actions and teachings the most powerful. For Jesus (and Paul, too), there was no distinction between Jew or Gentile, rich or poor. I see these teachings as an attempt to completely disrupt the multitude of power structures that existed between people who were citizens of the Roman empire. Is it incredibly ironic that Christianity was eventually appropriated by the Roman empire and used as a means of legitimating power for most of its history? Certainly, but I don’t think that diminishes the original intent of the teachings, and I do think there has been an undercurrent or subtext of a greater power moving through the course of history beneath the histories of kings and presidents and wealthy business owners.

Okay, I think I’ve rambled enough. I hope some of it made some sense. My hope is for seminary to put some structure and clarity into these things I’ve been reading and thinking deeply about, without changing me into any sort of hypocritical monster I don’t want to be. We shall see…

Thoughts on current events…

I am considering getting off of Facebook again, perhaps for good. I get depressed when I go on there, and see people that I am related to and care about promoting ideas and beliefs that are, in my opinion, un-Christian and grounded in fear rather than compassion or even reason. The problems of the past week seem to have created such a turmoil of various conflicting views about what is wrong with our country, that it becomes almost impossible to parse them out. The primary issues seem to revolve around gun control, Islam, and homosexuality. Most of my friends on Facebook, it should be said, seem to have their hearts and heads in the right place–but all it takes is a few comments under one of their posts from people I don’t know to make me sad that I live with Americans who are driven more by hatred and fear than compassion and reason.

Do I expect everyone to think and believe exactly as I do? Of course not. However, I do expect people to be willing to listen and entertain opposing points of view in a civil manner that is grounded in compassion and reason.

For what it’s worth, I personally have a hard time reconciling my own faith in Jesus and what he taught with a need to own a gun to protect my family. Jesus talked about loving my neighbor and turning the other cheek, but I can’t recall anything recorded about defending yourself and family with a violent tool whose sole purpose is to kill. Having faith in God the father to take care of you, having faith that ultimately you will be rewarded for your love of neighbor even as he might persecute you, this may be hard and may seem ridiculous–but you either have this faith or you don’t. Of course, there are plenty of zero gun law proponents who don’t care the least about Jesus or their neighbors.

That said, I am willing to listen to someone who is responsible with guns and trained to use them, and wishes to retain their Second Amendment rights. However, when someone states that they do not wish ANY infringement on their right to bear arms, they should be extremely crisp on what constitutes an infringement and what constitutes an arm. Listening to some gun ownership proponents, the logic would dictate that they should be able to secure access to ANY arms they like if they have the money to procure them. Clearly, nobody thinks like that, and doesn’t expect to be able to own weaponry that could take out half a city in their backyards. But, by agreeing to draw the line somewhere, you should be sensible enough to ask if owning a weapon that can kill 50 people in a matter of minutes is acceptable, regardless of whether it is technically an assault rifle or not. (I see this distraction come up a lot, I have to assume this is an NRA prepared talking point.)

If you still cannot come to terms with the fact that an AR-15 is not an appropriate tool for basic hunting and self-defense, and you argue that you are well-trained and responsible in your ownership of one, then why on earth would you have a problem with taking a test and being licensed to own one just like you do with vehicles, businesses, home improvement on public right-of-ways, etc.? The answer to this seems to run in the territory of a slippery slope argument, where, once the government knows which citizens own which guns, it will make it that easier for them to come and get ALL of your guns. I can recall in high school, in the early nineties, kids talking about how their parents were certain that Bill Clinton was coming for their guns. The fear subsided when Bush II became President, and then came back when Obama entered the White House. Neither Clinton nor Obama have come for anyone’s guns. (But, Bush did get the Patriot Act instated which was about as close to shredding the Constitution as we’ve come in the past thirty years…)

My opinion is that Donald Trump, out of any Presidential candidate from a major or minor party in recent memory, is the most likely candidate who would use some minor pretext to declare martial law and shred the Constitution. In spite of how much you might like to think Donald Trump cares about you and your rights, he doesn’t, and if he thought it was most expedient to maintain his dictatorship, he would be the one to come for your guns. Chew on that–the candidate, who almost every proponent of zero gun laws supports, is the most likely to come and take your guns. Regardless of whether you can possibly see this, consider how effective you would really be if a martial law U.S. government actually did decide to come and take your guns. You would not be able to organize rapidly enough with other fellow gun owners to put up more than a tepid standoff with a few shots fired. You might imagine you would be capable of getting out to your bug-out shelter with all of your guns. Assuming you have not left any tracks with credit cards, smart phones, car GPS, satellite images, etc., your bug out shelter likely doesn’t have the ability to avoid detection by infrared cameras, and you would be wiped out in a few months by drones.

This is all to say that in the best/worst case scenario, your guns will not save you from ANY sitting President who decides to declare martial law and shred the constitution. As for the more commonly raised argument for protecting your family from common thieves and other criminals, I would argue that if you are the responsible gun owner you say you are, then the odds of you being able to get to your properly locked-away guns and load them and ward off the intruder are very slim to none. You are more likely to have that (more likely) loaded gun under the mattress kill an innocent person than kill an intruder who wants to hurt your family. The guns are there for psychological reasons, and whether you want to admit it or not, you are scared shitless at the reality that you are not strong enough or in control enough of the outside world to be that effective in protecting yourself and your family from what evil may come. Your children are more likely to die on a college (or elementary school) campus from a mentally unstable person or known ISIS sympathizer who obtained access to a gun via our lack of gun laws than from an intruder in your home. The “good guy with a gun” response to public shooters is an incredibly asinine argument. How do we know who the “good guy” is in a movie theater full of people with guns trying to shoot the correct shooter? How many people who are “good guys with guns” actually bother to get properly trained to use their guns? And again, for those who do get properly trained, why shouldn’t they be okay with presenting some kind of evidence of training in order to procure firearms?

The other argument– knives and cyanide, etc. kill people as well, the terrorists will find a way. It should be obvious to a sane and rational person that knives and cyanide cannot kill masses with the same ease as an automatic or semi-automatic firearm. If you really believed that a knife or some other method of killing can just as easily kill people as a gun, then why bother owning a gun at all?

Somehow, proponents of zero gun laws seem to be incapable of understanding the lack of gun deaths in developed countries with stricter gun laws, and will throw out the argument that the bad guys will still be able to get guns. There may be a time period where guns still trickle into the hands of bad guys and the mentally unstable. I am realistic enough to see this happening, and naturally there are exceptions to every rule. However, if smart, tight laws are in place to make sure that guns are only sold to those who have demonstrated the ability to properly handle a gun (and even these said individuals are penalized heavily if they allow their weapons to get into the hands of those who haven’t demonstrated this ability), the amount of gun deaths will drop sharply, as has been demonstrated everywhere else that stricter gun laws are in place.

This leaves the extremely absurd arguments that are more or less emotional responses and hardly merit consideration, but I will address them briefly. “If you don’t like it, you can leave” is a standard favorite after a gun nut has been demolished by any sane person. An imperfect analogy: “my mother has cancer and a few whack jobs in the family don’t want to believe it or if they do believe it, they don’t want to treat her properly” –it is imperfect, but the point is that I love my mother, I recognize that the cancer is there and a responsible treatment is required, so no, I am not going to leave and desert her. Further, if you don’t like Obamacare, the law of this land (or any other legislation you don’t particularly care for that is the law of our land passed by and upheld by a Constitutional federal government), please leave. There is also the “come and take it” mentality, but most of these individuals generally end up bowing their heads and doing what they are told after the balloon of bravado is popped.

So, if it would seem that the majority of Americans are in favor of at least some greater restrictions on gun ownership, why doesn’t anything get passed? The NRA is a singular, disciplined organization with one policy goal: prevent any and all restrictions on gun ownership. Its members also have gun ownership as the single public policy issue that they care about. Sure, some of them get up in arms about abortion or gay marriage now and then, but they really only care about being able to own whatever firearms they wish to own, no matter the cost to others in their community. For the anti-gun lobby, the organizations are many and they all have various policy goals. Until there is a single, disciplined anti-gun organization under a single, charismatic individual, like a post-Presidency Obama, and this organization is tight and focused in its fundraising, messaging and policy change initiatives, the majority of Americans will not have their way. Also, most progressive and liberal-minded people who would support an organization like this have many social justice and public policy issues that they care about. It is extremely hard to obtain their full attention and dollars for this single issue the way that the NRA has with its members.

The solution is clear: a celebrity or politician with high visibility makes gun control legislation his or her single issue, and unifies many of the primary gun control lobbying groups into one umbrella organization that focuses on one single piece of legislation at a time, for example, closing the gun show loop, preventing people on the no-fly list from owning guns, requiring certain classes of semi-automatic weapons be sold only to licensed individuals who have demonstrated high proficiency in their use. This organization would have to have a strong grasp on the reality of our political system the way the NRA does as well–you have to buy politicians to get things done–a bunch of signatures on Change.org and calls to Congress people rarely accomplishes anything. A team of lawyers would have to be on board and prepared to defend the law in all of the courts after it is passed, where it will surely be challenged for its constitutionality. Unfortunately, it seems that most people who have become quite vocal about gun control of some kind can’t develop the discipline and focus needed to actually make gun control happen, and I will reiterate that you should be prepared to lobby politicians the way the NRA and big business does, or you are, pardon the expression, bringing a knife to a gun fight.

Good morning…

It is the Tuesday after Memorial Day Weekend, 2016. I must admit that I have started to become a bit of an ostrich when it comes to the news. The cable news networks no longer seem to air much that isn’t a special about one of the remaining presidential candidates. When they do deliver a breaking news item, it is more often than not something I read in my news feed several hours, if not a full day, ago. I suppose this isn’t best practice for someone who hopes to have more of a social conscience, but I get pretty bummed thinking about who is going to take the place of Obama. Obama has had his disappointing moments, but I can’t really make him out to be the utter failure that some conservatives want him to be. He was never going to be as great has his ardent supporters hoped he would be, but Obama was anything but a maverick or loose cannon.

I am getting old and less idealistic, and I tend to like a candidate that is mostly middle-of-the-road, and measures their words carefully before speaking, but not so carefully that they wait until they’ve consulted several polls and handlers. Kasich seemed to be the guy for me, but I guess I was in the minority on that. So much for politics.

The challenge of measuring one’s words carefully is worth further consideration, though. To master this challenge, both in written and spoken word, has taken all of my adult life (it wasn’t a perceived challenge when I was a child). I’ve stopped and started many blogs since 2001, and most of them were anonymous, simply because I didn’t feel like I could properly express myself, or have much to say, without being anonymous. When people I knew in the physical world discovered a blog I’d written under my own name, the responses were mixed and almost always unexpected. Being able to clarify what you mean and what you intend is incredibly difficult.

It’s extremely impossible to ensure that your intentions have been correctly understood when communicating in-person, especially when there is much banter going on around the table. I’ve been shocked too many times to count when someone thinks they are rebutting what I was trying to say, but had clearly missed entirely the point I was trying to make. Other times, like back when I was single and on a date with someone, I would find myself opening my mouth and letting words come out that I immediately regretted–words that were mostly designed to indicate that I have a sense of humor.

The choice becomes one of trying to further develop the skill of measuring your words, or becoming more and more reluctant to say anything at all–at a certain age people really do stop chiding you for not speaking up. However, the will to continue to improve upon an area where I am lacking is too strong. So, I made the choice to attempt yet another blog where I try to walk the line between sharing too much information about myself and not sharing enough for the blog to be of any interest.

The injection of emotional content into my communication also seems to be a tricky part of this challenge. To show no emotions or feelings at all for what you want to express gives others the impression that you are wooden or cold. If you let your emotions run freely throughout your speech, then you inevitably check your brain at the door as feelings (good or bad, but mostly bad) become all-consuming. Some of what has helped me with this has been the continued practice of “taking a step back from myself” so to speak, and getting a better perspective of the reality of the situation in front of me. My attempts at mindfulness as it is currently popularized inevitably see me caring too much about things that probably aren’t as important as I think they are in the moment. I don’t know if my practice of taking a step back from myself is necessarily lacking in mindfulness, but it seems like it adds an extra dimension of objectivity into the immediate situation.

 

Well, good morning…

I am coming up on the one year anniversary of when I quit my last day job in order to stay at home full-time with my son. Since then, I have learned a lot about how my ego was still quite huge, perhaps made even larger by the need to pretend like I was an important so-and-so at my job. My patience and humility were quite small. My son Liam has taught me a thing or too about what really matters in life, and I can say with some confidence that the “career persona” I had been carefully crafting for many years matters little, if at all.

I often revisit moments in my life where I was especially successful at accelerating personal growth, and changing myself for the better. (Of course, I probably revisit a lot of negative moments in life even more, but I am working on that). One thing that becomes clear to me is that I am most successful when I “put a stake in the ground” of sorts, and state unequivocally that I am going to do something different–something good, but uncomfortable, and try my darnedest to stop doing something lazy and what amounts to running on auto-pilot.

Such a moment took place when I lay around feeling sorry for myself in my tiny studio apartment in Austin on a queen-sized air mattress drinking too much and trying to write passable poetry. I had been turned down for the umpteenth time for a job I was well-qualified for, had recently broken up with someone I had fallen madly in love with, and had to send my dog off to live with my parents. I felt like I was going to be stuck at my longtime employer forever in a dead-end job.

I bought a book by Tony Robbins at the Half Price Bookstore, and decided to learn all I could about the industry that my employer was a part of. In a few short months, I’d convinced my employer to make me a salesman and had gotten a significant raise. I got back together with the lady who had dumped me, and we found a place in South Central Austin where we could keep our dogs and walk on the Greenbelt every day.

Unfortunately, I decided to coast on whatever it was I had started to do differently, and many of my bad habits came back, along with an awful sense of entitlement I would carry with me to other places of work. The fact that I had achieved some small success at the first company, and had also managed to hold a position of some importance on a political campaign (albeit a volunteer one), gave me this absurd notion that people I met in the future would simply know about these small successes upon first meeting me, and unquestioningly accept that I should hold positions of leadership wherever I went.

I think that it was already clear back in 2006, as I sought to find something to do with my life that more directly helped others, that I wasn’t cut out to be a salesman of services or technology. I landed at a non-profit that indirectly helps people through fundraising, and supposed that being their “web guy” was as close as I was ever going to get to saving the world. Of course, seeing so many people who were my age and younger obsessed with having careers and starting families made me think that perhaps I should make this my obsession as well, instead of some simple, maybe even naive notion of just “helping others.”

There is obviously a lot of story to be told for what happened between 2010 and today, but suffice to say for now, I put another stake in the ground in 2010 about being somebody different–somebody I’d secretly been wanting to become for a long time, but I was afraid of what friends or family would say. Surely, by the time one is 34, such things shouldn’t matter, except they kind of do–even still they matter somewhat now that I am 40. Regardless, it became too imperative–my own happiness was at stake, as I put another deep stake in the ground, and said “I am going back to church, in earnest, to get closer to God and Christ in the form of being part of a community, and all other past motives for going to church (like meeting a future spouse) will no longer be present.” If you know me at all, you know I met my wife the week that I did this–a week or two after Easter in 2010.

So, what then of being a Christian? My mom was an intensely devout Pentecostal. I rejected this  a long time ago. I wasn’t seeing a deep and authentic relationship with Christ among so many of the people who attended the church of my childhood, nor was I seeing it from the wealthy televangelists my mother loved so. I liked the idea of going off in the woods and being a hermit and communing with God via nature a lot better. I sought out Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age thought, etc. during most of college. I thought I had gotten God out of my life completely after my little brother died.

But at some point during my late twenties, I started to ask myself if I was living a life that I wanted to live, or simply living a life that I thought pleased anyone and everyone I met–parents, old college friends, present coworker friends, girlfriends, etc. Such a life is a miserable one, for sure, and believe me, I was pretty miserable. It took me a long time to realize that the faith experience I deeply wanted to have wasn’t the same as my mom’s, nor was it simply a rejection of hers, either. I simply wanted to find out what my own faith experience could be, with all sense of trying to impress and please other people pushed aside.

As it is, the personal and spiritual components of my life have become exceptional and I possess each day more happiness than I ever have in my adult life. Of course, it helps that I have the best young son and wife in the world, but from my experiences with returning to a life of faith, I can’t possibly separate out these blessings from the path of faith I have been on. Unfortunately, my professional life continued to flounder. I was unhappy just being the “web guy,” but I really didn’t care to have the kinds of careers most people in sales and marketing pursue. Always trying to prove to everyone that you are the smartest guy in the room, and should no doubt be the one running the company one day, is extremely exhausting.

When I quit my day job last year, I sat down and spent a lot of time meditating, praying, writing and reading when I wasn’t watching Liam. My primary goal was to completely isolate that “sweet spot,” that bliss which I’d refused myself to entertain in the past. Whatever came up as being that “one true thing” that could make me deeply happy beyond simple material satisfaction, that was the thing I was going to do. I allowed myself to visualize some of the happiest places I’d been, and consider what kind of work environment would give me great joy, even on days when everyone around me was being difficult and work just felt like work.

The vision of what I would be doing next started to materialize, and I began to plainly see that it had been with me for a long time, perhaps all of my life. It was waiting for me to stop obsessing over the needs of my own ego and see something bigger, grander that I could be a part of. You might suppose that I could find this new life in the non-profit world, perhaps in a position where I more directly helped others. But, I had been a part of the non-profit world professionally for five years, and had worked for and with enough non-profits to know that this wasn’t quite it for me.

I don’t think I fully accepted the idea of going to seminary as my only possible “next choice” until I went to Discovery Weekend at Austin Presbyterian Seminary. When we moved to Waco four years ago, I was pretty convinced I would never live in Austin again. I had lived there for almost thirteen years, and pretty much felt that it didn’t have anything left for me as an older, married man starting a family. Indeed, there is plenty about Austin that is most perfect for the single, twentysomething. But, there it was. Maybe I am embellishing on memories, but I would even propose that I had felt a pull to this seminary while living near it briefly and when bicycling or driving in the area. I didn’t even know the seminary was there until very recently. Of course, my sense of calling isn’t just about this one seminary, but the experience of seeing the campus and meeting the people there that weekend played a huge role in helping me clarify how the rest of my professional life was to be spent.

And I suppose that this is primarily what I want to express in this latest incarnation of a blog–that there really is a sense of clarity and purpose for me that has never really been there before. Yes, I still get distracted easily–I am just as likely to want to read a Russian novel, Japanese book of poetry or my Google news feed as I am a book on theology or the Bible. But, I no longer have this sense of “well, maybe I am actually going to end up a writer, programmer, VP of Sales and Marketing, professor of history, etc.” I have many interests, but none of them fill me anymore with a sense of vocation and professional identity.

As I sit here and write this, I am now only two months away from moving back to Austin. There are many things left for us to do to be ready for the move. You might think I should be stressed and trying to fill my free time with as many “getting ready” projects as possible, but I’m not. I’ve been getting ready for this new chapter in my life since November.

There is plenty more I would like to say, and probably a lot that I don’t need to, but that is all for now.