a cup of cold water

Many people believe that to live according to the faith and to fulfill the will of God is very difficult. Actually — it’s very easy. One needs only attend to details, to trifles, and try to avoid evil in the slightest and most trivial things. This is the simplest and surest way to enter the world of the spirit and draw near to God. A man often thinks that the Creator demands great things of him, that the Gospel insists on complete self-sacrifice, the abolition of one’s person hood, etc., as a condition of faith. A man is so frightened by this that he begins to be afraid of becoming acquainted with God, of drawing near to God, and hides himself from God, not even wishing to look into God’s Word. “If I can’t do anything important for God, then I’d just better stay away from things spiritual, stop thinking about eternity, and live ‘in a normal way’.”

There exists at the entrance to the spiritual realm a “hypnosis of great deeds”: one must either do some big thing or do nothing. And so people do nothing at all for God or for their souls! It is very strange — the more a man is devoted to the little things of life, the less he wishes to be honest or pure or faithful to God in those same little things. And, moreover, each one must adopt a correct attitude toward little things if one wishes to come near to the kingdom of heaven.
“Wishes to come near”… In this is summed up all the difficulties of the religious life. Often one wishes to enter into the kingdom of heaven quite unexpectedly, in some miraculous and magical way, or, by right — through some kind of great feat. But neither the one nor the other is the right way to find the higher world. One does not enter God’s presence in some wondrous manner while remaining indifferent on earth to the needs of the kingdom of God and its bright eternity, nor can one purchase the treasures of the kingdom of God by some kind of eternal act, however great that act might be. Yet good deeds, holy deeds are necessary for one to grow into a higher life, a bright will, a good desire, a heavenly psychology, a heart that is both pure and fair…
“…Verily, verily I say unto you that whosoever offers one of the least of these but a cup of cold water, in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward.” In this saying of the Lord is the highest expression of the smallness of the good. “A glass of water” — this is not much…
…In every communication between people there must without fail be a good spirit. This spirit is Christ, openly manifest or hidden.
“In the name of a disciple” — this is the first step in communicating with another person in the name of Jesus Christ Himself. Many people, not as yet knowing the Lord and the wondrous fellowship in His Name still have among themselves an unselfish, pure and human fellowship which brings them ever closer to the Spirit of Christ…
…As a matter of fact, the lesser good is more necessary for mankind than the greater. People can get along with their lives without the greater good; without the lesser they can not exist. Mankind perishes not from a lack of the greater good, but from an insufficiency of just this lesser good. The greater good is no more than a roof, erected on the brick walls of the lesser good.
The lesser, easier good was left on this earth for man by the Creator Himself, who took all the greater good upon Himself. Whosoever does the lesser, the same creates — and through him the Creator Himself creates — the greater good. Of our little good the Creator makes His Own great good. For as our Lord is the Creator who formed all things from nothingness, so is He more able to create the greater good from the lesser…
Through such lesser, easy work, done with the greatest simplicity, a man is accustomed to the good and begins to serve it with his whole heart, sincerely, and in this way enters into an atmosphere of good, lets down the roots of his life into new soil, the soil of the good. The roots of human life quickly accommodate themselves to this good earth, and soon cannot live without it… Thus is a man saved: from the small comes the great. “Faithful in little things” turns out to be “faithful in the greater.”
Lay aside all theoretical considerations that it is forbidden to slaughter millions, women, children, and elderly; be content to manifest your moral sense by in no way killing the human dignity of your neighbor, neither by word, nor by innuendo, nor by gesture.
Do not be angry over trifles “against your brother vainly” (Matthew 5:22) or in the daily contacts of life speak untruth to your neighbor. These are trifles, small change, of no account; but just try to do this and you will see what comes of it.
It is hard to pray at night. But try in the morning. If you can’t manage to pray at home than at least as you ride to your place of employment attempt with a clear head the “Our Father” and let the words of this short prayer resound in your heart. And at night commend yourself with complete sincerity into the hands of the Heavenly Father. This indeed is very easy.
And give, give a glass of cold water to everyone who has need of it; give a glass filled to the brim with simple human companionship to everyone that lack it, the very simplest companionship…
O wondrous path of little things, I sing thee a hymn! Surround yourselves, O people, gird up yourselves with little works of good — with a chain of little, simple, easy and good feelings which cost us naught, a chain of bright thoughts, words and deeds. Let us abandon the big and the difficult. That is for them that love it and not for us for whom the Lord in His Mercy, for us who have not yet learned to love the greater, has poured forth the lesser love everywhere, free as water and air.

St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai * Taken from Missionary Leaflet 129.


His Majesty the Baby

Certain aspects of the infant's psyche may be usefully examined. There are three factors which should receive mention. The first is, as Freud observed in his priceless phrase "His Majesty the Baby," that the infant is born ruler of all he surveys. He comes from the Nirvana of the womb, where he is usually the sole occupant, and he clings to that omnipotence with an innocence, yet determination, which baffles parent after parent. The second, stemming directly from the monarch within, is that the infant tolerates frustration poorly and lets the world know it readily. The third significant aspect of the child's original psyche is its tendency to do everything in a hurry. Observe youngsters on the beach: they run rather than walk. Observe them coming on a visit: the younger ones tear from the car while their elder siblings adopt a more leisurely pace. The three-year-olds, and more so the twos, cannot engage in play requiring long periods of concentration. Whatever they are doing must be done quickly. As the same children age, they gradually become able to stick to one activity for longer times.

Thus at the start of life the psyche (1) assumes its own omnipotence, (2) cannot accept frustrations and (3) functions at a tempo allegretto with a good deal of staccato and vivace thrown in.

Now the question is, "If the infantile psyche persists into adult life, how will its presence be manifested?"

In general, when infantile traits continue into adulthood, the person is spoken of as immature, a label often applied with little comprehension of the reason for its accuracy. It is necessary to link these three traits from the original psyche with immaturity and, at the same time, show how they affect the adult psyche. If this is done, not only will the correctness of the appellation "immature" be apparent but, moreover, a feeling for the nature of the unconscious underpinnings of the Ego will have been created.

Recognizing Immaturity

Two steps can aid in recognizing the relationship between immaturity and a continuance of the infantile elements. The first is, by an act of imagination, to set these original traits into an adult unconscious. The validity of this procedure is founded upon modern knowledge of the nature of the forces operating in the unconscious of people of mature age. The second step is to estimate the effect that the prolongation of these infantile qualities will have upon the adult individual.

This attempt should not strain the imagination severely. Take, for instance, the third of the qualities common to the original psychic state, namely, the tendency to act hurriedly. If that tendency prevails in the unconscious, what must the result be? The individual will certainly do everything in a hurry. He will think fast, talk fast and live fast, or he will spend an inordinate amount of time and energy holding his fast-driving proclivities in check.

Often the net result will be an oscillation between periods of speeding ahead followed by periods during which the direction of the force is reversed, the brakes (superego) being applied in equally vigorous fashion. The parallel of this in the behavior of the alcoholic will not be lost on those who have had experience with this class of patients.

Let us take the same trait of doing everything in a hurry and apply it to the word "immature." Few will deny that jumping at conclusions, doing things as speedily as possible, give evidence of immaturity. It is youth that drives fast, thinks fast, feels fast, moves fast, acts hastily in most situations. There can be little question that one of the hallmarks of the immature is the proneness to be under inner pressure for accomplishment. Big plans, big schemes, big hopes abound, unfortunately not matched by an ability to produce. But the effect upon the adult of the persisting infantile quality to do everything in less than sufficient time can now be seen in a clearer light. The adult trait is surely a survival from the original psyche of the infant.

The two other surviving qualities of the infantile psyche similarly contribute to the picture of immaturity and also, indirectly, help to clarify the nature of the Ego with a capital E. The first of these, the feeling of omnipotence, when carried over into adult life, affects the individual in ways easily anticipated. Omnipotence is, of course, associated with royalty, if not divinity. The unconscious result of the persistence of this trait is that its bearer harbors a belief of his own special role and in his own exceptional rights. Such a person finds it well-nigh impossible to function happily on

an ordinary level. Obsessed with divine afflatus, the thought of operating in the lowly and humble areas of life is most distressing to him. The very idea that such a place is all one is capable of occupying is in itself a blow to the Ego, which reacts with a sense of inferiority at its failure to fill a more distinguished position. Moreover, any success becomes merely Ego fodder, boosting the individual's rating of himself to increasingly unrealistic proportions as the king side eagerly drinks in this evidence of special worth.

The ability to administer the affairs of state, both large and small, is taken for granted. The belief that he is a natural executive placed in the wrong job merely confirms his conviction that, at best, he is the victim of lack of appreciation, and at worst, of sabotage by jealous people who set up roadblocks to his progress. The world is inhabited by selfish people, intent only on their own advancement.

The genesis of all this is beyond his perception. To tell him that his reactions spring from the demands of an inner unsatisfied king is to invite incredulity and disbelief, so far from the conscious mind are any such thoughts or feelings. People who openly continue to cling to their claims of divine prerogative usually end up in a world especially constructed for their care. In others, the omnipotence pressures are rather better buried. The individual may admit that, in many ways, he acts like a spoiled brat, but he is scarcely conscious of the extent of the tendency, nor how deeply rooted it may be. He, like most people, resolutely avoids a careful look because the recognition of any such inner attitudes is highly disturbing. The unconscious credence in one's special prerogatives savors too much of straight selfishness to be anything but unpleasant to contemplate.

And so, for the most part, people remain happily ignorant of the unconscious' drives which push them around. They may wonder why they tend to boil inside and wish they could free themselves from a constant sense of uneasiness and unsettlement. They may recognize that they seem jittery and easily excited and' long for the time when they can meet life more calmly and maturely; they may hate their tendency to become rattled. But their insight into the origin of all this is next to nothing, if not a complete blank. The king lies deep below the surface, far out of sight.

Inability to Accept Frustration

The last trait carried over from infancy is the inability to accept frustration. In an obvious sense, this inability is another aspect of the king within, since one of the prerogatives of royalty is to proceed without interruption. For the king to wait is an

affront to the royal rank, a slap at his majesty. The ramifications of this inability to endure frustration are so widespread, and the significance of much that occurs in the behavior of the alcoholic is so far-reaching, that it seems advisable to discuss this trait under a separate heading.

As already indicated, on the surface the inability of the king to accept frustration is absolutely logical. The wish of the king is the law of the land, and especially in the land of infancy. Any frustration is clearly a direct threat to the status of his majesty, whose whole being is challenged by the untoward interruption.

Even more significant is another aspect of this inner imperiousness. Behind it lies the assumption that the individual should not be stopped. Again, this is logical if one considers how an absolute monarch operates. He simply does not expect to be stopped; as he wills, so will he do. This trait, persisting in the unconscious, furnishes a constant pressure driving the individual forward. It says, in essence, "I am unstoppable!"

The unconscious which cannot be stopped views life entirely from the angle of whether or not a stopping is likely, imminent, or not at all in the picture. When a stopping is likely, there is worry and perhaps depression. When it seems imminent, there is anxiety bordering on panic, and when the threat is removed, there is relief and gaiety. Health is equated with a feeling of buoyancy and smooth sailing ahead, a sense of "I feel wonderful!" Sickness, contrariwise, means lacking vim, vigor and vitality, and is burdened with a sense of "I'm not getting anywhere." The need to "get somewhere" to "be on the go," and the consequent suffering from eternal restlessness, is still another direct effect of an inner inability to be stopped or, expressed otherwise, to accept the fact that one is limited. The king not only cannot accept the normal frustrations of life but, because of his inordinate driving ahead, is constantly creating unnecessary roadblocks by virtue of his own insistence on barging ahead, thus causing added trouble for himself.

Of course, on some occasions, the king gets stopped, and stopped totally. Illness, arrest, sometimes the rules and regulations of life, will halt him. Then he marks time, complies if need be, waiting for the return of freedom, which he celebrates in the time-honored fashion if he is an alcoholic: he gets drunk, initiating a phase when there is no stopping him.

The immaturity of such a person is readily evident. He is impatient of delay, can never let matters evolve; he must have a blueprint to follow outlining clearly a path through the jungle of life. The wisdom of the ages is merely shackling tradition which should make way for the freshness, the insouciance of youth. The value of staying where one is, and working out one's destiny in the here and now, is not suspected. The 24-hour principle would be confining for one whose inner life brooks no confinement. The unstoppable person seeks life, fun, adventure, excitement, and discovers he is on a perpetual whirligig which carries him continuously ahead but, of course, in a circle. The unstoppable person has not time for growth. He must always, inwardly, feel immature.

This, then, is how the carry-over of infantile traits affects the adult so encumbered. He is possessed by an inner king who not only must do things in a hurry, but has no capacity for taking frustration in stride. He seeks a life which will not stop him and finds himself in a ceaseless rat race.

All this is part and parcel of the big Ego. The individual has no choice. He cannot select one characteristic and hang on to that, shedding other more obviously undesirable traits. It is all or nothing. For example, the driving person usually has plenty of energy, sparkle, vivacity. He stands out as a most attractive human being. Clinging to that quality, however, merely insures the continuance of excessive drive and Ego, with all the pains attendant upon a life based on those qualities. The sacrifice of the Ego elements must be total, or they will soon regain their ascendancy.

Harry M. Tiebout, M.D.


This is Water

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how's the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

If at this moment you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude-but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let's get concrete…

A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self centeredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real-you get the idea. But please don't worry that I'm getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called “virtues.” This is not a matter of virtue-it's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.

By way of example, let's say it's an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired, and you're stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home-you haven't had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job-and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the workday, and the traffic's very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store's hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it's pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can't just get in and quickly out. You have to wander all over the huge, overlit store's crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the ADHD kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough checkout lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can't take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.

Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your check or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn't fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV- intensive rush-hour traffic, et cetera, et cetera.

The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to foodshop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it's going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I've worked really hard all day and I'm starved and tired and I can't even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid goddamn people.

Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious form of my default-setting, I can spend time in the end-of-theday traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUVs and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just twenty stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks, and so on and so forth…

Look, if I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do-except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn't have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default-setting. It's the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: It's not impossible that some of these people in SUVs have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to rush to the hospital, and he's in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am-it is actually I who am in his way. And so on.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you're “supposed to” think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it's hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you're like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat-out won't want to. But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line-maybe she's not usually like this; maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who's dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Department who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible-it just depends on what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important-if you want to operate on your default-setting-then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren't pointless and annoying. But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars-compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship…

Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship-be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles-is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things-if they are where you tap real meaning in life-then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already-it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power-you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart-you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race”-the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don't dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to thirty, or maybe fifty, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness-awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

Sincerely, David Foster Wallace


Skin in the Game

I have been thinking about getting older recently, how I am ultimately more out of touch with the times. I am having a harder time speaking the language of current culture.

Paradoxically there is also a stronger longing to reach the next generation, but my ideas seem too traditional, to “deep” or intellectual for the times.

I have thought of late maybe I need to eschew this way of being to have more skin in the game.

Maybe it is like that moment when God decided to descend to earth to reach humanity, in an act of great humility and humiliation.

Paul explains the act of God descending to earth as Jesus in Philippians.

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

I think of the evangelical pastor who buys hipster jeans and fashionable clothing so the ancient message of Christ can be made known to a younger generation. Reaching the lost through whatever means.

Other things come to mind like a story about an Orthodox monastic that dispensed chocolate to young kids as a gift of love, it rotted their teeth, but it was the only way to get their attention.

Or a father who takes a job as an engineer at the refinery, really an artist at heart, he puts it aside his passions to keep his family afloat financially.

Tonight I will watch the Bachelor because it is one of the few opportunities I get to spend one on one with my wife.

What is this common idea here?

The culture of frivolousness, the vanity of vanities, used as a means to share time with one another.

Skin in the game.

Jesus could have easily presented ultimate truth in one final blow. But instead, he steeped himself in the essence of the culture, the simplistic forms of life on life’s terms.

He offered a cold glass of water to someone with a parched throat.

Broke bread and ate fish to commune with his best friend Peter.

It is like the time I offered a dirty Halls lozenge in my pocket to an elderly woman having a coughing fit at the airport.

Or when my friend who was a celebrity pastor got into a horrible car accident and was laid up in bed, unemployed and without purpose. He told me it was an agnostic heroin addict that came over consistently and played video games with him, that ultimately led to his emotional healing. His congregation flooded him with platitudes and theological propositions, but none knew how to simply pass the time with him.

It also happens to be the clearest indication of mastery for most of the great filmmakers. The aim of my greatest vocational aspirations. Concealing ultimate truth and subtext, the art of subversive communication through symbolism, metaphor and common storylines.

One could easily stand justified, separated and purified from such a lower existence, but then they might miss the connection with others.

How does one do this without becoming convoluted, trite, insincere? Corrupted by the corrosive secular materialism of our time.

Especially when the current postmodern agenda and everything 'of the moment' seems to be antithetical to God, almost apocalyptic.

Stand on the outside and throw stones? Surely as great prophets have done in the past...

But what about love, the love the meets people where they are in the mundanity of their everyday lives, the place they spend most of their time?

This is the realm of communion and connection.

People are not transformed by truth bombs, it is usually slow and nuanced, they experience healing inside of relational dynamics.

When they are being helped with simple things, frivolous things one might presume.

Today I was getting coffee at a hipster boutique intelligentsia spot. I felt like crawling out of my skin, the absurdity of it all, a whole community of people working, carrying on and dialoguing around an 8 dollar cup of caffeine. But again, it was a community of people, vibrant, connected, I was on the outside, partaking reclusively, casting stones.

This thought ultimately brings me to the connection with my own children. At the moment they are watching looney toons, Disney’s best, mindless simplistic distraction… one could argue it is their teacher in this season of life. It is essential as a father I find a way to experience what they are experiencing, to understand the stories they are absorbing. Otherwise, I will remain on the outside of their lives. I must learn the sports they love, the songs they sing and the things that keep their attention.

So I can love them fully.

So I can have skin in the game.

I still loath Disneyland but they love it.

The humility of God descending to earth as Jesus is striking.

I pray one day I might experience a peace with it.

For now I am struggling to find a way in.


MEMENTO MORI

I am disillusioned with the fleeting comfort nostalgia endlessly promises yet is unable to deliver.

In the hope to, yet again, escape my present, I flutter between past and future fantastical pasts I’ve yet to experience in the fullness of time. 

‘Will I feel as numb as I do now and have for a while in 5 years time?’ 

‘Is this all life has to offer?’

I think I’m coming to the end of childhood, and early adulthood saying, and thinking deeply  ‘humph... this is it? This is as good as it gets? If it is, why don’t I feel better?”

Why am I so scared to consider who I once was, terrified to find a me long lost in pages of past emphatic journal entries riddled with passionate zeal. 

I feel like I am blindly backing into or stumbling across fleeting memories of me that, as soon as I attempt to relish in their inherent nostalgia, a hiraethian wave takes the mental wisps from me, and with them the potential glimmer of hope that a deeper comfort was nearly tangible...

Christmas morning in the 90’s. My first sunrise at 30,000 feet. The gentleness of a childhood kiss. The bellicose trauma of searing loss. In the mass cacophony of deep emotions there remains a constant through them all: feeling. They remind you you’re here, you’re alive, you matter.

But when that is taken, or hidden from you for so long you’ve forgotten.... then what? Our prayers become kin to Wendy and Pan, for a reawakening, for the sobriety to show up to your own life, for the wherewithal to soak in fully the scent of sweetgrass, for the capacity to respect death, and mourn its takings... what then? 

Shame. Mountains of shame heap shame upon their shameful selves to push me further into....? Shame. I feel bad and ashamed that I don’t feel as deeply, widely, often and fully as I one did. And the fear-ladened prospect that I might never again is a thought that, if realized, will surely lead me to despair.... what then?

When a man cannot feel nor remember how to, holding onto a waining hope that makes his heart sicker day after endless day... what then? Is it wrong to crave death? To cry out ‘MEMENTO MORI’?! To want to just be home forever, where the lost comforts of bliss in childhood are no longer a fleeting nostalgia but are the realized beauty of the kingdom of God?

I, like I used to tell my mom in moments of childhood assimilation, ‘don’t feel like home. I just want to go home’.

I want heaven so badly. And I want to be there far more than I want to work for it to be here. I thirst for a day when my wife can run, when she is free of pain. When my sister knows love. Where my mom's abuse is healed. Where my dad’s homesickness is salved. Where my sister's unbelief is undone. Where my brother's fears are subsided.

 


I am in Exile, a Sojourner

I am in exile, a sojourner

A citizen of some other place

All I've seen is just a glimmer in a shadowy mirror

But I know one day I'll see face to face

I am a nomad, a wanderer

I have nowhere to lay my head down

There's no point in putting roots too deep when I'm moving on

Not settling for this unsettling town

My heart is filled with songs of forever

A city that endures, where all is made new

I know I don't belong here, I'll never

Call this place my home, I'm just passing through

I am a pilgrim, a voyager

I won't rest until my lips touch the shore

Of a land that I've been longing for as long as I've lived

Where there'll be no pain or tears anymore

My heart is filled with songs of forever

A city that endures, where all is made new

I know I don't belong here, I'll never

Call this place my home, I'm just passing through

(Poem - Dustin Kensrue of Thrice)

(Image - Christopher McCandless)


Sacred Ugly Power Lines

Father,

It seems to me that it would be easier to perceive that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” if I didn’t encounter such constant suburban sprawl on a daily basis. When I see the visual beauty of nature, or of our Church buildings, or of Buddhist temples in foreign lands, or in primitive settings like I might see in a National Geographic magazine- then such a declaration in the Psalms makes sense; the world is perceptively symbolic. In such settings, it is as though Christ can be felt invisibly present, standing within the material world, making an offering before the Father.

But here I sit in a grey cubicle at work, in front of a computer monitor. And to get here, I drove past miles of suspended power lines, and some pretty run-down parts of town. Maybe, with some difficulty, I might be able to come to perceive that this part of “the earth [where I live] is the Lord’s”- but it sure feels like I just have to take such a statement on ‘blind faith’. The whole suburban way of life feels like a barrier- not only choking off awareness of God’s presence but a barrier to just simply being alive.

I am very seriously considering exiting the whole American scene- taking the family to live somewhere remote and quiet. If it were up to me, I might choose the middle of a jungle somewhere, I think, but my wife does have her limits. But what I am wondering is whether such a drastic move toward a primitive life is just escapism- maybe it would be more beneficial in the long run to keep grinding along here, hoping to one day come to perceive the true symbolic character of this modern world (which is presently hidden from me), a world that does seem to me to be mostly secular or profane.

Todd,

A few thoughts. What you are describing (and I understand the frequent ugliness of our landscape), is essentially an aesthetic judgment. Not an incorrect one. But to perceive that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof is not an aesthetic experience – it is “theoria” – contemplation – the perception of what is true. The faculty of judgment (rationality) gets in the way of such perception. It is done from the heart (nous).

I had such an experience recently. I was on my morning walk, and was praying as I walked along. I purposely opened myself up to perception, rather than judging. The streets of my neighborhood have a certain beauty, but the housing is not so good in many places, and people are not always that careful about things. But I did not see things that way. Even the wiring – which runs everywhere in the upper storey of the streets didn’t bother me. Instead, I began to think of the wiring as relationships – the connectedness of our shared existence. They were a community that is often not expressed in any other way. And I began to pray for the neighborhood, seen in this new way. It didn’t make the wiring prettier or pleasing. But just that slight “side-step” a small adjustment in my viewing, allowed me to see something I had missed.

Beauty – the beauty perceived in theoria – is present everywhere at all times. It is only occasionally present aesthetically. If we live in an aesthetic mode – we will find peace nowhere, for sin will manifest itself as ugliness and will find us out. For sin is present everywhere. Theoria is not only for the few, but, can be, on some level, a normative part of the Christian life. (From a private confession between Father Stephen Freeman and a layman.)


Heaven bound but no Earthly good

“Do you thirst for a heavenly realm, a place beyond the hard, brutal existence of life on earth? Have you encountered glimpses of the other side through deep meditation, prayer, near-death experiences, ayahuasca, dmt, lsd or other out of body experiences? Do you assume it is a kind of 2 story universe we are living in, only passing through, heaven up there and us down here? What if you found out it was a one story universe, heaven on earth, and your unquenchable thirst for another reality was merely escapism? Would it change how you were showing up and committing your life to the relationships, responsibilities, and hardships that besiege you? After years of struggling to become more spiritual so I could transcend the material world and all of its illusions I nearly lost my marriage and my job. The disembodied experience had lead to a type of reclusive disassociation with all of reality and ultimately non-being. I was heaven bound but no longer any earthly good.” From a recovering @hyperspiritualhobo 


The Kingdom of Mint Juleps and Sugary Beignets

A few days ago we attended Disneyland for the fourteenth time this year with my 2 kids and my wives parents. Earlier in the year, my wife was adamant that I buy a $350 season pass in an attempt to save us some money. "Fuck," I thought, "Really?" I remember feeling the same agitation when Carlos at Circle Audi was manipulating me into an extended warranty on new brake pads for our leased vehicle. "Well sir, if you don't get the extra coverage you will end up paying twice as much after you return the vehicle." It was one of those lose-lose situations when there is neither fight nor flight but a silent defeated resignation. "Where do I sign, here is my credit card, take my soul now, why don't you…" The kids were screaming and the depression set in, the heavy eyes, the longing to want to roll over and go nap somewhere. "Is this our life now, is this where it is all headed, honey?" I asked my wife, in a not so Disneyland ‘honey' kind of way. "People are starting to look at you, just give the woman your credit card." She loved to use that ‘people are looking at you’. 

I have watched my son and wife thoroughly enjoy the luxury of a swinging door at Disneyland. From a yearly tradition, it has now become a place of consistent respite and rejuvenation for them. I tag along when I can because I don't want my family to think any less of me. That scrooge, anti-fun disorder has been a heavy weight around my neck since I can remember and I want to shake it off for the sake of my kids and seasons to come when I will have to participate in other horrible mythological adventures like celebrating Coka Cola’s version of St. Nicholas..look it up if you don't believe me, its the birth of Santa Clause. But if I am being really honest, maybe I kept showing up at Disneyland to find some kind of spiritual breakthrough or renewed innocence of my own. 

After many hours that day, staring at hundreds of women's asses in black yoga pants to spike my serotonin and shoving oversized corn dogs down my throat I realized my irreconcilable despair around all of it was leading me to the edge. I couldn't carry the untruth of it uphill anymore. My existential pain surrounding the blind unconsciousness of it all was unruly. It was disgusting to think Walt Disney and Monsanto were pandering, advertising and campaigning their way into the hearts of young innocent children. Forcing an allegiance and manipulating them into sold out consumers for the rest of their lives. 

After a father wearing a Captain Hook hat almost ran over me, pushing his leashed son one step closer to a Buzz Lightyear statue, I had had enough. I think I had been on my phone trying to figure out more important things like the reason Brazil voted a right-wing homophobic nationalist into office. I wanted to bring it up to my wife and passive-aggressively punish her for not attending to more important apocalyptic things in the world. But first to handle this fucking unconscious idiot who hit my leg. My fist was clenched. It was then my three-year-old son suddenly looked up at me "Papa, I love you, Buzz Lightyear, Buzz Light Year…" It was painful, like when your dying grandmother attempting to use your iPhone notices your porn search history. So much evil and anger illuminated by the tender fragile presence of innocence. 

But my repentance only lasted for as long as the next ride and then I sunk back in. Angry, irritable and discontent. Internally I was conflicted, I thought maybe I should just surrender to an easier nihilistic framework and become stoic to mitigate the absurdity of our human existence, or remain somewhat Christian continuing to pray for a way through this pigpen of American delusion. It was so clear to me that neither God nor Truth nor anything redeeming existed at Disneyland. It could only be a place to simply survive.

My youngest was asleep in her stroller, my phone was dead, I flailed onto a bench to rest my feet and pout a bit. The rest of the family carried on across the park to Winnie the Pooh, surely having enough of my shit.  It was a moment to get quiet and honest with God finally. So I prayed, "You know Father, you and I haven't spoken candidly recently and you know how I feel about this place, as I am sure you feel the same way…but if there is something I am not seeing or not coming to grasps with, can you throw me a bone here, help me please?" 

In AA I did what we call a second step, I often forget it is the foundational tenet in a program that saved my life as an alcoholic. It comes after the first step of surrender and a life not working out so well on your own terms, in your own strength. Step two (Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.) It had been a long season of my own will power not working out so well and I was ready for help. 

Suddenly, and it really was that swiftly, I felt a nudge, a kind of answer to prayer, which wasn't something dramatic but a simple idea to do the next indicated step. I had a kind of knowing that if I simply got up at that moment and walked towards Winnie the Poo, the rest of the family would be done with the ride and ready to go. So I followed the feeling and honored it. Sure enough, I turned the corner and they were right there, getting off the ride. The timing was perfect.  It was a fairly big deal because my phone had died hours previously and I had no real way of staying in touch with them. 

Next, my wife's stepmother suggested we get something sugary for my son because he was falling asleep; immediately I spoke up and resisted. My non-GMO righteousness eclipsed the state of grace… "Now that is the worst thing we could do for him right now…" I felt that seething cauldron of hate bubbling up again.  

Then suddenly that God's presence feeling happened again. Pulling me towards something else. My wife and the rest of the family headed towards the train for one last circle around the park. My eyes dashed left and I saw a kids face smeared with a sugary beignet. I beelined towards the window, bought three and doubled down with two mint juleps. Just before the train was leaving I raced with my daughter still sleeping in her stroller and delivered the sugary request. It was a little like an out of body experience, I could not tell if I had simply given up or there was something else moving me. 

There was a peace that overcame me in that moment, a kind of acceptance. I noticed another family pushing a quadriplegic girl, another overweight child who had fallen asleep in his mother's arms. There was something magical and transcendent about the moment that hadn't been there before. I thought maybe the Kingdom of God wasn't a physical place, or a thing to figure out but instead it was a way of perceiving reality when we surrender our cognitive, rational will. 

After the long day, my wife turned to me and said how highly her stepmother had spoken of me and the gracious gift…that I was a real man of God who served his family well. Now, we know the holes in that statement but all that being said, I was less angry that night leaving the park, less concerned with whether or not it was a delusional pursuit of hedonistic escapism or something to be blindly enjoyed. I was simply more interested in the joy of my kids. I felt a little more whole, a little smaller, average, and right sized knowing that maybe I had been wrong.  Knowing God had intervened and done something through me that I could not muster up in my own strength. I was happy to see my family happy; it was quite simple. Like a mustard seed. It reminded me that Jesus wasn't so concerned about the type of bread and wine at the table but was more interested in the love shared and the time spent together. More and more I'm realizing my refusal to accept life on life’s terms is just my pride, arrogance and a refusal to accept my ordinary averageness. Sometimes, rarely, I’m smart enough to rely on divine revelation, most of the time if I am being honest need to be in enough pain to truly let go. For now, what else can I say, God Bless Disneyland and the Kingdom of Mint Juleps and Sugary Beignets…. 


Intellectualization, my defense mechanism

You should see the pile of books in my garage, many only half-read. Some highlighted with pens and sharpies, mostly obsessive research down rabbit holes that lead nowhere when I was unemployed and looking for work. When my eyes were bleeding I might throw on a podcast and just let Rogan or Petersons wash over me. Only to relieve me of my powerlessness, or help me escape the season of great emotional distress. 

Like Adam in the Garden, I grabbed from that Tree of Knowledge ruthlessly, to avoid the shame, the nakedness, the vulnerability of being fully human. 

And it has come with a great cost, this defense mechanism, intellectualization.  I have missed many seasons of life, detached from the full experience, lost in my head, void of any connection to my emotional state and simply because I willed it that way. Insensately trying to get the answers and live above the fragility of my true nature. 

I don't even know where I picked it up, this way of coping, maybe it was in therapy somewhere around the age of 8 when my father had run out of ways to help me. Often my unhinging sadness, fear, and sensitivity made him nervous, that sea of emotion was overwhelming. 

Inside of therapy for many years to come, I learned that the way out was not through any of it, not to be with any of it, no it was a trick of rumination and hanging out in the loftier rational realms that allowed me a form of escape.  

Eventually, I mastered myself, until alcohol worked a little better, then obsession with women, then work and more work and workaholism and eventually I couldn't read anymore about panic attacks because the more I tried to figure them out the more they owned me. A long season of depersonalization and mental collapse lead me straight to my body where I eventually would have to surrender. All that was suppressed came up and out of me.  It was the first time I wept tears compressed from childhood. I simultaneously was able to smell and taste and feel the wind on my face for the first time, in ways I hadn't since I was a little kid. There, broken and filled with emotion, I had a type of communion with life again. I wouldn't be surprised if they eventually figure out depression is a type of response to anyone that refuses to feel their feelings. 

We all use psychic defenses when we're hurt or scared. Especially for those of us that have grown up sensitive and learned that it was weakness. Intellectualization does not mean we're smart. It means that, instead of the terrifying act of listening deeply to our own pain or fear we try to think and talk our way out of it. We therefore isolate our emotions from our intellect. It is the ultimate escape.