Everyone is Everything

This last year has been one heck of a ride for everyone. I won’t get into exactly why because I don’t think I need too. On top of the obvious stuff, we all had our individual wins and losses as well. I’ve learned a lot. I hope you have too.

I spent a good portion of the year in a constant state of disbelief. Some of it was for the political climate. Some of it was for person reasons. I’m beating around the bush. I going to talk about the election for a minute, so stop reading now if you’re not into it. I’ve got a larger point, but I need to work through some of this for context.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump because I don’t like the man’s character. He brought out a side of this country that I’m not proud of, but now that he’s been elected I’m going to do my best to learn as much as I can about the people who voted for him. I’m probably not going to agree with them/you, but understanding is the only way I know to fend off bitterness and resentment.

I never thought this was going to be the outcome of the election. From the moment Trump began his campaign I wrote him off. In every primary I wrote him off. Even in the general election, I wrote him off. To me he seemed like such an extreme version of the social issues I stand firmly against. I didn’t think there was any way he would get the support he did. I was wrong. I’ve been wrong a lot this year. And in years.

I think this has been good for America. While I don’t respect or agree with Donald Trump on many issues, I think he is what we needed this year. Maybe not as president, but he brought to light issues I and many others thought were dealt with. I thought outright racism had been mostly eliminated. I was wrong. I thought needing consent regarding sexual acts was universally accepted. I was wrong. I thought America was pretty great and getting better. I guess I was wrong. Even if you like his ideas and voted for him, can we at least agree about the racism and misogyny? Trump’s campaign brought all these things out into the open for all of us to see. That is something we needed.

Now to the bigger point.

We spend a lot of energy and money trying to make thing appear ok. We buy things we can’t afford to make it look like we’re doing better financially than we actually are. When was the last time you asked someone how they were and their reply was anything other that “fine” or “very well” or some variation of that? We’re hiding our pain, anxiety, our sins. This isn’t healthy and it kills our hope for peace.

We are whole people. I have a mantra I like to tell myself when I start feeling too righteous. Everyone is Everything. Everyone has things that most of us would call bad. It’s ridiculous when you think about the way we try to hide the “bad” things about ourselves because we want everyone to think we’re good. We’re all just hiding from each other. I think I’m the only one, and you think you’re the only one. It’s really funny in the saddest way, when we zoom out.

We’ve done things we’re not proud of. We have thoughts that make us uneasy. Some of us are grieving. Some of us are angry. Most of us are walking around trying very hard to make our lives look like everything is fine.

During Christmas every year there seems to be an undertone of guilt and pressure. In line at the store I see it. Zoned out drivers trying not to make eye contact with the homeless guy asking for help. The unexpected gift that should be reciprocated. Gifts of unequal value. Many wish they could do more, but they make every penny stretch to get something for everyone on their list. And everyone goes to Christmas and acts fine. No stress on the outside. Dreading the credit card bills the new year will bring.

When we spent our energy on trying to keep up appearances, it should come as no surprise that peace has vacated the scene. By trying to push down and ignore or hide the “bad” stuff we are not doing ourselves any favors. We’re rejecting part of ourselves. There are no “good” people. Everyone is everything. The proportions are different from person to person, but I don’t think there is a pure soul on the planet. That gives me hope for me. And for you. And for Donald Trump.

We should embrace those parts of ourselves that we’ve labeled as bad. The more hidden they are, the more power they have over us. Talk about them. Explore them. When you catch your kid watching porn don’t go off the handle. Explore that impulse. Condemning them and trying to stop it only ensures they’re going to keep doing it, except now you don’t get to be part of the conversation. Take that and apply it liberally to all situations. Of course, there should be boundaries with who and where these things take place. The point is, hiding creates darkness. Showing our cards floods light all over our darkest corners.

This is a theme I’ve tried to explore in the Christmas story. It is in fact one of the most compelling themes in the whole bible. All the dirt got left in. Thousands of contradictions. This book is riddled with humanity. Beautiful, flawed humanity. The Christmas story is no different. The sinless son of God was born to what to natural eyes looked like either an adulteress or a couple of unwed fornicators. He was born in poverty. Some new age astronomers and shepherds (basically the scum of society) came to worship him. If this had happened today, Mary and Joseph would had to have been Kardashians to make the cut.

Despite the circumstances, we think of Christmas as a time of peace on earth. Peace can only truly come when we’re honest. We are everything. Everyone is everything. Let’s celebrate the good, deal with the bad, and mourn the sad. Let’s be honest. Let’s do it together. Let’s all find people we trust who we can be our whole selves with. Let’s make 2017 the year we air our dirty laundry and get it dealt with properly. Of all the things I’ve written this month, that sentence is the best first step to peace I can think of. I’ll say it again. Let’s make 2017 the year we air our dirty laundry and get it dealt with properly. That’s it. We’ve got work to do. Let’s get to it.

-Adam

Reminder From a Lake

I’ve said before that I think the default state of creation is peace. I’ve also said I think human beings might be unique in our ability to not see that. Today I want to explore that idea some more.

A couple years ago my family took out first vacation together. We’d been on other vacations with other people or as just my wife and I, but that year we took the kids and it was just us. We went to Warren Dunes state park on Lake Michigan and camped for a few days. We didn’t plan anything except being on the beach and walking in the park.

We got there on a Sunday afternoon so all the weekend crowd had pretty much cleared out. The weather was chilly for early June so the summer weekday crowds weren’t really very big either. We had our run of the whole place for the most part. There was rain in the forecast so I was nervous. I was the only one in the family who had ever been tent camping before, and this was the only chance all summer we were going to get. I had used almost all of my vacation days for this trip. I was excited but there was an uneasy feeling in my belly. I wanted this to be perfect.

The first day we arrived and got set up. There wasn’t a great place to hang a tarp over the picnic table and we forgot a couple things, but we were here. We headed to the beach. The campground is in the woods and there is a paved road to the lake. My kids have never seen any body of water bigger than a river or medium sized lake. When we pulled out of the woods and around a bend the sky is all we could see. The road leading to the lake comes out on top of a dune and the lake and sky split the scenery and the view is breathtaking. Everyone I. The car gasped and I knew we made the right choice in our destination.

After the initial excitement, the kids were swimming, my wife was relaxing and I was walking along the edge of the water. We were there until the beach closed at about 9:30. We went back to camp, had some food and fell right to sleep. Another thing I was worried about. We love our mattresses. I didn’t know how well the hard ground would go over. Enough blankets was one thing we forgot. It worked out though. My wife is hot blooded and it was cold at night. It was a rare opportunity for us to sleep like a movie couple, clung to each other.

The rest of our time there was the most relaxed I think I have been since our first daughter was born. There were no plans, nowhere to be, nothing to do. We swam when we were hot. We hiked when we were cold. We ate when we were hungry, and we slept when we were tired. There was not a care in the world. I hadn’t known peace like that since I was a kid.

When we got home the peace lasted weeks. The kids behaved, things didn’t get to me like they had. My wife’s anxiety was non-existent. For weeks.

Looking back, I put a lot of effort into planning for that trip. I planned for the perfect time of year. I looked for a place to stay that wasn’t too touristy or right on a highway. I planned all the meals, and bought all the gear. I even looked at maps and planned which trails we would hike on which day. I tried to make it perfect. As soon as we drove over that bluff and saw the lake I abandoned my plan. The sounds of the water and the trees and the smell of camp smoke and not wearing shoes for 5 days straight really melted off the stress. It was a real vacation.

That trip was the epitome of rest and peace. It reminded me that the default state of nature is peace. It was a turning point in my adult life. My wife and I discovered something on that trip. We can reconnect to that peace. And it is in fact less rather than more that makes it possible.

-Adam

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Let Me Get What I Want

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a narcissist. I don’t believe anyone does anything completely selflessly, but the amount of energy it takes me to get into a frame of mind that isn’t completely selfish is astonishing to me sometimes. I might be going out on a limb here, but I’m willing to wager that I’m not the only person who thinks if I could just get thing to go my way, I would have peace.

The thing that sets off my anger the most is being interrupted when I’m trying to do something. Be it kids, the phone ringing, my dog needing to go out, or the eggs burning while I’m trying to get the next batch of pancakes on the griddle. My first thought in those kind of situations is, “Why is this happening to me?” I’m sure everyone has a thing that makes them ask that question. I’ve come to really hate that question. It never leads to an answer that helps. In fact, it’s an enemy of peace.

Asking “Why is this happening to me?” like there is some sort of cosmic reason is dangerous. Behind that question are many other questions and assumptions that can easily take me places where peace is not welcome.

What have I done wrong to deserve this?

At the core of my being, I must deserve this.

Am I worthy of love?

Am I worthy of anything good?

These might seem a little over the top, but Im sure I’m not the only person asking these questions to themselves and God. “Why is this happening to me?” is the first event in a series that could destroy peace in anyone’s life.

I should say here that it is important to assess situations and do self reflection to see how our actions affect our lives, but I don’t think in the moment is the right time to be asking why.

When I take a beat and acknowledge what ever unfun thing is happening, then figure out how to react, things seem to go much better for me. The end result might not be what I want or what feels the best, but i make it through in one piece. Once I’ve come through, then I can figure out what I could do differently to avoid it in the future.

Sometimes peace is found over time. We all go through times when peace seems to be the farthest thing from reality. In a moment we can hope for peace only to find anxiety or another issue that seems to be blocking us from it. When we learn to move through those times and look back to get some perspective on the situation we can get to a place of peace faster and more readily in other similar situations.

The original point I was trying to make is that always getting things to go my way won’t bring me piece. When I get everything I want, it inevitably means someone else has given up their desire. I’m pretty sure I’m not a narcissist most days, but I do have desires and I would like to see some of them come to pass. I have learned that they aren’t the source of my peace though. More about that tomorrow.

-Adam

The Calendar

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in the Lutheran church. One thing I used to criticize and have now come to cherish is the Church calendar. The Lutherans follow it, as well as Catholics, Methodists and many other, more traditional denominations. When I left the Lutherans for Evangelicalism, I left the calendar behind as well. Pre-written prayers, liturgy and scripture chosen by someone in an office far away from my congregation seemed pointless to me. How could God work through the leaders of the church if they aren’t even free to pray from the heart or teach from scripture that God led them to? I had those kinds of thoughts about all of it.

I have a hard time looking back and regretting anything I did or thought over my life. All those things have led me to the place I am, which is a far better place. When I started to rethink my views on the church calendar I was playing on a worship band in a Methodist church and the pastor told me he was using liturgy everyday in his morning routine. I thought he was crazy. I did a little research and opened up to the idea.

If you aren’t familiar with the calendar, it starts with Advent. The four weeks leading up to Christmas. Then comes Epiphany, Lent Easter, and then normal time. It lays out the gospel in seasons throughout the year. Everyday there is are readings assigned from the Bible and different traditions celebrate different saints or people of notoriety throughout the year as well.

My love of the calendar, grew once I started using it to lead worship and teach at the church we started in Fort Wayne, Indiana. At first I treated it like anyone would treat a devotional. Everyday I read the scriptures and read about whatever or whoever the specific day was recognizing.

At some point it dawned on me that this was more than a devotional. This goes back farther than any devotional I’d ever heard of. It’s hundreds of years old. Not only that, it’s not just a years worth of lessons put together by some person. It is the course the Church follows worldwide, throughout the years. This is a tremendous tool of unity. I’m always looking for good metaphors as well. The calendar even serves well in his aspect. While I don’t keep up on a regular basis these days, it is grounding to know what season I’m in and that I’m not alone. The calendar has been my tether to the church in my absence from it.

The church calendar is a beautiful thing to me. The death of Jesus shows us what our false self(religious and political systems, the law, the human part of us) is capable of. It will kill an innocent man, God Himself, to protect itself. The veil is torn and God is nowhere to be found. We contemplate that and call it Lent. Then comes the resurrection. He shows us there is more to life than we knew. In his death and resurrection we have hope for more In this life and the next. We celebrate this and call it Easter. Jesus promised help before He ascended. He sent the Holy Spirit which basically gave us all a glimpse at our true selves. There’s a reason the church exploded after this. People knew who they were and how they were to live from the core of their being. We call this moment Pentecost. Of course preceding all this is Advent, the time when we anticipate the coming of Christ. The church calendar is what keeps me holding onto Christianity even after all I’ve been through in my faith. If ever there was a guide on the path to peace, the calendar has been it for me.

Advent (Hope and anticipation for a savior)

Epiphany (Knowledge of that savior’s arrival), Lent (My savior is dead as a result of my actions. Disappointment. Contemplation of my motives and expectations)

Easter (My salvation has come in the most unexpected way.)

Pentecost (I become aware of who I am in Christ, my true self. Abundant life is the result)

The calendar keeps us looking ahead. We know the hope we have in it, and we have a path to peace. We can also see the seasons and recognize their cyclical nature. That helps us endure suffering. We know there is an end to it.

May you find peace this Advent as we anticipate the coming of Christ. May you embrace the hope He brings as the revelation of what He has come to do is revealed in Epiphany. May it bring you peace and may you spread that peace through the unconditional love that has been shown to us and accepted by us.

-Adam

Self

Peace often comes through pain. Pain or struggle seems almost necessary to find peace, and has been a theme running though many of the posts since the start of this project. I’d like to offer my thoughts today on why that is.

In Romans 7 Paul makes a curious statement about doing things he doesn’t want to do and not doing things he wants to do. At one point he says it’s not him sinning but it is the sin that dwells within him. That’s strange isn’t it? We look at ourselves in the mirror and think of the reflection as “me”. We look at our friends and recognize them by their face or voice if they call us on the phone. When we think of our parents, we can see their face in our minds. So what is Paul talking about? How could his “flesh” not be him?

There is a dichotomy in our being. It’s a split that leaves a lot of people confused and one that cripples many people in guilt and leads others to fundamentalism. I think Paul is pointing this out to us through his letter. Where I have to disagree with Paul is when he says that his flesh is not him. Let’s get into this.

The split is between our true and false selves. The Christian tradition refers to these as flesh and spirit. Some call them ego and soul. I like false and true self, so those are the terms I’ll be using.

Let’s start with the false self or the ego. The flesh. This is our personality. I am Adam. My false self is Adam. I play music. I write for 25 days of peace. I am a father, a husband, a Christian. An American. That’s my false self. It’s not false in a way that it doesn’t matter or it’s bad. It just is what it is and it has a role and place in the whole of who I am (what I think Paul is actually doing is trying to get us to identify more with our true selves, which I’ll get to). You have a false self too, and it is the origin of the pain the search for peace seems to bring about. More on the false self later.

The true self is your spirit. It’s never changing. When we are hurt emotionally our true self is where we find the strength to move through it. It is a never ending source of peace and joy. I made an offhand comment in an earlier post that peace is the default mode of every person. This is why. I don’t believe our true selves are individual. When the scripture talk about the Holy Spirit coming on a person, what I think is really happening is they have been made aware of their true self. We are not separate from God in this realm of our being. “Nothing can separate us from the love of the father.” Sound familiar? True self. This is where our peace comes from.

I could write 50 pages on each self so let’s get into the roles of each.

The false self is like a car. Or an avatar if you are a gamer. It has limitations and it has no idea what it is doing by itself. Have you ever been in a situation where you have to make a choice and you just can’t? Chances are it’s your false self trying to decide. The false self is a hedonist, and it wants to run the show. Self driving cars ruin the analogy, but you get the idea. The catch is, without our false self we couldn’t function in society. Our false self is where we make judgements about things. It’s how we relate to each other. Our false self is what nails that interview for the dream job. Like I said, it’s not necessarily bad, it just shouldn’t be where we live from. The false self is just the car, not the driver (though many people let it drive). When Jesus said you must lose your life to gain it, he was talking about losing the false self.

The true self is a hard thing to describe in a tangible way. In the analogy is it’s the driver. We talk about seeing with the eyes of Christ or living a Christ centered life. Through the true self is the way we do that. This is how we can love even the worst people. This is why even the alcoholic, the racist, the Muslim, and the pedophile are all worthy of love and dignity. That’s your false self disagreeing with me right now. Our true self knows we are unable to disconnect ourselves from those people. Our true selves know there are no “us” and “them”. Our true self knows God isn’t far away. He’s right here. Our true selves know what we need at the deepest levels of our being. The true self is the deepest level. The eternal level.

I think it’s pretty obvious when we meet someone who’s in touch with their true self. There’s an ease about them, a peace. They are those people that seem to know where to be and what to do. They’re present. They’re light.

I think of Biff from Back to the Future as a good example of someone living completely from their false self. Or people obsessed with image and power.

The hardest lesson to learn once you get in touch with your true self is to figure out how to “steer” the false self (mind and body) with the true self (spirit). In this life we are both. We can’t separate them and be whole. They are both us, but if the two are not in their proper roles our lives become disoriented. Chaotic even. We can have what seems to be peace when our false self is in control, but as soon as the dopamine dries up, we’re looking for the next thing to get that fix. On the other hand if we live only from our true selves we are described as being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. An integrated person has found the balance.

The churches I’ve been in like to use the analogy of a God shaped hole in our hearts that we try to fill with sex, drugs, and rock an roll. I’d like to offer an analogy instead, right from the Gospel. The Jewish temple. The outer courts and the holy of holies. True salvation comes to us when we allow the veil to be torn. The veil was torn in the temple to reveal god had left the premises. In fact, I don’t believe he was ever there. The whole temple setup is an analogy to who we are and how we ought to live. Everything that happened in the outer courts was in service of the holy of holies. When power and greed take over the outer courts we see Jesus come and turn over the tables. This is Jesus’ call to die to ourselves. His death on the cross shows us how far the false self will go to protect itself, to hold control of the systems its built. His death tears the veil between our true and false self. His death is the addict’s rock bottom. It’s Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s Miracle on 34th Street. It’s “blessed are the poor in spirit”. It’s salvation. It’s true and lasting peace.

May you learn to live from your true self, through your false self, and always have hope that in doing so others can wake up and do the same.

-Adam

Grace Then Peace

Reading back through the last few days, I feel like I came across a bit accusatory. I wrote the words and found myself saying to myself “but what if I’ve been through X?” and “who does this guy think he is?” I’m always imagining how other people might be reading my words and telling me how I’m wrong. I think that way because I do that when I read other people’s work sometimes. It’s something I have learned to use as a way to word things so that people will listen, but it wasn’t always like that.

I’ve always wanted answers. When I was a kid I wanted to know the rules of life. How do I get into Heaven? I was an acolyte in the Lutheran church, and there was a crippling fear when it was my week to serve that if I messed things up, the whole service would be forsaken by God. I hated doing it for that reason. I wouldn’t do anything without the pastors nod first.

As a young adult I found the answer of how to get into Heaven. Well, one groups version of the rules. Every week I waited for the pastor to give step by step instructions to the unsaved in the crowd for how they could get saved like I was. Inevitably every week, I found myself having to stop myself from running to the front to clarify what he meant or add my two cents to each step. I also wanted a script for how to “share the gospel”. I wanted a flow chart for every way the conversation could go. I didn’t want to mess up message and damn someone to Hell because I wasn’t clear enough.

I had supposedly found peace through serving in church and knowing that I had eternal salvation through Jesus, but in reality my thought life was in constant turmoil. I was worried about messing it up. I was fine though. Or so I was told, so I ignored my feelings and pursued perfection to maintain my status.

Now I’m pretty open about the fact that none of that really matters. I could have lit the wrong candle or tripped up the stairs to the altar or even gone naked on purpose under the robe and God would even bat an eyelash. And now that I have tried so hard for so long to get people to understand why they need Jesus, I understand that there’s not really anything I can say or do to convince them. I don’t even think the rules I was trying to follow apply to everyone.

When I read back and see what I feel is an accusatory tone, I know that it’s ok. I think what I think, and I know some of what I think is wrong, and I’m open to hearing that. I also know that everyone is someone else’s heretic so I speak my truth and move on. The mind blowing lesson that I had a hard time learning, and am still learning is that the tone isn’t accusatory. I just have a hard time being assertive. Also, I take myself to seriously sometimes. Don’t we all?

What I’m getting at here is the idea of grace. Grace toward ourselves and grace toward others. It has to start inside ourselves. It’s a hard thing to identify and admit our own faults. The oldest game in creation is the blame game. It’s much easier to protect my ego by blaming the other for something I might have had a hand in. As an idealistic person prone to perfectionism, I get it. When I started to see that I did indeed have flaws, and embraced them, it was like a giant garage door opened up and let light into my soul. This is the act of confession. Penance isn’t to satisfy some bearded old guy up on a cloud. It’s a time of self reflection. It’s a mode of getting a place of grace. The moment of forgiveness. What feels like wrath to the ego, is freedom to the soul, spirit or true self, which lies just beneath. (More on that next time)

Once we have put ourselves through the ringer and finally accept the grace available to us, the next step of granting it to others is almost effortless. I’ve realized as my own worst critic that I was the only thing that ever stood in the way of grace in my life. Once I know that, it’s just a puddle jump to understanding that others people’s anger is just an exhibition of the self reflection they have yet to do. My reaction is detrimental to both of us. If I mirror anger back, I’ve probably taken what was said or done personally. At best we’re angry at each other. At worst it escalates, and you can extrapolate from there. Or I could disarm the situation by seeing through the anger into the person. Extend grace. I love copping to my faults when someone accuses me of them. They’re usually right, and it throws most people off enough we can get to the heart of the issue rather than compare genital sizes.

Grace is something accepted and then given away. It’s moves out in concentric circles with each person who gets it. It starts in me, moves out to you. Or vice versa. The more of us who get it, the greater the probability for peace. Grace then peace to you.

-Adam

Consent and the Illusion of Control

Peace doesn’t just show up without permission. Someone has to allow it. The caveat to that statement is human beings are the only thing it applies to. Nature is nature. Trees do tree things and wolves do wolf things. As far as I am aware we are the only things on earth pondering our calling, attaching to pain that has or will pass (unnecessary suffering), etc. When I say someone has to allow peace I mean some human being as to allow it.

Peace can be present in pain. Peace can be present in the wrong places. It can even be present in dire circumstances. The key is, the person experiencing it has allowed peace to permeate them. I’ve talked in previous posts about peace existing all along our journey through life. It’s just waiting to be discover and invited in. It has to be given permission. I think this is what I’ve been trying to get at by talking so much about empathy the last couple days.

Just like empathy requires consent, so does peace. There is something about letting go of control that brings peace. That’s not right. There is something about letting go of the illusion of control that opens a door for peace. So much turmoil inside us is caused when we try to micromanage every aspect of our lives and the lives of those around us. It’s all futile. I want my kids to play music. Not all of my kids are interested. I’ll make them while they are kids, but once they are teenagers there’s nothing I can do to make them do anything that won’t also put up walls in our relationship. The illusion of control is one reason we get so upset when politicians don’t fix our problems. As much as we love the idea of laws, in the big picture, their kind of imaginary, especially to those who don’t agree with them. The intent is usually good, but we can’t really legislate morality (prohibition, gun laws, anti-abortion laws, etc). They don’t work. The illusion of control is why “law and order” candidates scare me, and why lots of people vote for them. We need laws and governance, don’t get me wrong. I’m no anarchist. This is getting ranty. Let’s change gears.

The illusion of control is a burden we all carry to some extent. We suffer because we want to control and we cannot. We spend time with thoughts like, “I’m in pain. Go away pain!” or “I’m so happy! I want this feeling to last forever!” Instead of being present in both feelings with thoughts like, “I have pain” or “I am happy”. Do you see the difference. When we attach to feelings or experiences it closes the door to peace, which is like in nature, our default state. The very thing we want is the thing we push away by not allowing ourselves to move through our feelings and experiences without attaching to them.

When we don’t attach, we start to see that when we’re sad or in pain, soon it will be over. The same goes for pleasure. We attach to it because it’s good and we’re afraid there won’t be anymore. There is a phrase people use in hard times that’s conveniently overlooked in good times. This too shall pass. Life seasons are inevitable but with some hard self-work, peace can be found all along the way.

Our consent is needed for peace to exist. The illusion of control is a deadbolt on the door peace comes through. Unlock the door, open it, and take it off it’s hinges. Let peace in by allowing and being present in your feelings as they flow through you. Through being a key word.

-Adam

*Disclaimer: I don’t mean to trivialize anyone’s trauma. All of this is easier said than done. I have hope that every person, no matter what they’ve been through can and should pursue peace, with all they have. If that’s you, may you have the strength to find peace. When you don’t have strength, may you have people near you to hold you up. If you don’t have anyone, know that I am in your corner quietly rooting for you.

Space Exploration

As promised, more thoughts from yesterday’s post. I started getting into empathy vs sympathy yesterday, so go read that if you haven’t yet. I’d like to explore the idea of space in relationship as it relates to peace. This is basically stream of consciousness, so bear with me.

I’ll just jump right in. I’ve been married for almost 14 years. I’ve got some things to say about relationships. It’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson I am about to expand on, and I am still learning to incorporate it into my life. The idea is, I have to allow space for more than just me and my ideas in a relationship. Be it my wife, my friends, my kids, or other family members. I can trace most of the tension I have experienced in relationships back to the feeling that I wasn’t given space to exist in. I can also look back and see that at times I haven’t allowed other people to have equal space in our relationship. It’s true of almost every person I have known. I’m willing to say it’s what causes most conflicts. It’s a lack of true empathy. It’s an enemy of peace. It’s anti-Christ.

Think about the idea of being a human for a minute. What do we all want? What would bring us peace? We want to be known. We want to know others, to be close to people. You can say you are just fine being alone, but you and I both know that’s untrue.
Ultimately, I think we all want to know that our existence matters. The impact of our existence can be measured by our relationships, and so at the end of the day relationships are what matter most. Not things, or ideas, or beliefs. We have peace at the end of life by thinking back over the time we spent well with the people we love.

Where I fall short most often is wanting to fill the space in relationships with the things I think. I have lots of ideas and I’m eager to share them with someone. Rather than asking questions and listening, I offer my thoughts and ideas into the space and then get hurt when they’re thrown back with out the response I wanted. Likewise, if I respect a person and think they are smarter than me, I’ll hold back what I think for fear of being wrong, allowing the other person to fill the entire space by themselves. Either way, the space is only filled by one party at a time. Either I’m too forceful, or I hold back in fear of rejection, selling the relationship short. Healthy balance is where the magic is.

Conflict is not really the absence of peace then, is it? If both people are giving to the space and allowing and listening to the other, it is healthy conflict, which is fertile ground for peace. Many times I have felt deflated after an argument or conversation where I wasn’t allowed any space, and I didn’t even say anything the whole time. The balance is allowing everyone present to actually be present. When everyone is allowed in a space it expands. When one person tries to fill it, the space can feel cramped, like the walls are closing in.

Not everyone belongs in every space, but I believe there is a space for everyone. There are few better feelings than the peace of finding a space you don’t have to compete for. When your whole being is allowed to exist, good and bad, it’s bliss. To be a person who allows that space for others is to compound the feeling and create a realm of possibility drenched in peace. That’s community. That’s marriage, friendship, parenthood. That’s Jesus coming up out of the waters of the Jordan and hearing, “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased” as the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. He had just entered His space. May we all find and recognize ours.

-Adam

Whack-a-Mole, Consent, Space

The world isn’t a stable place. That’s not a judgment, it’s an observation. Peace would be easy if everything were static. If we could put things in order, and they would stay where we put them, peace would be easier to get a grip on. It’s more like trying to keep 1000 cats in an area you’ve taped off as designated the “cat area”. Holding onto peace can be like emotional whack-a-mole.

It struck me as I was falling asleep the other day, that even if I figure out how to keep all the moles in their holes, I find myself feeling guilty knowing that I’m about to sleep peacefully while my wife struggles with anxiety on a daily basis. That’s not really fair. We share a life, so why should I get to sleep soundly? Do I not care as much as she does about our lives together? And I’m back to wrestling my way into peace. Do I have to suffer as long as the people close to me are suffering?

I don’t have concrete or new answers to these questions. I can’t change anyone but myself. Of course I don’t believe anyone should have to suffer just because someone else is. Empathy, though, is a great thing to cultivate in one’s self. I think generally men are pretty good at sympathizing. We want to understand and fix the problem. Sometimes a solution isn’t the desired outcome. That’s where empathy comes in.

The differences between sympathy and empathy are subtle in definition, but in practice become very clear. Sympathizers show up at Standing Rock and provoke police, riot, and have loud parties at night. Empathizers show up, quietly take a place in the prayer circle, then ask how they can help and follow the lead of the tribes, even if the answer is to do nothing or go home. Sympathy is hearing and understanding the problem then moving forward by suggesting a plan based on one’s own feelings and ideas. It’s dismissive of the people or person having the issue. I’m learning through marriage and parenthood that sympathy alone a terrible husband a father makes. It’s not all bad though. Sympathy does have its place.

When empathy doesn’t come as naturally, sympathy is a good first step. Sypmathy is good at a distance. It’s good for giving people who feel a need to do something an outlet. Giving money, sharing a story on social media, etc.

When I’ve come to a place of peace while laying in bed and I’m about to drift off, then my wife starts talking about her worries, I have a few options:

A. Pretend I’m asleep and didn’t hear her. Guilt will set in, but I’m almost asleep and I’ll forget all about it. Don’t pretend you’ve never done this one, fellas.

B. Wake up, listen, and tell her how to fix the problem. Tell her she’s looking at it all wrong. Give her resources(books, bible verses, podcasts, etc) that will give her a better perspective on it. Let’s get this taken care of, I have work in the morning. Now she’s angry because I’m not listening? I heard the issue, and gave the solution. What else does she want? Great it’s 5 AM, we’re both wide awake and I don’t even know what we’re fighting about anymore. So much for shalom in the home.

C. Wake up. Listen. Ask if there is anything I can do. Listen. Do as I have been asked. Listen. Sure, it’s 5 AM and today is going to suck, but one thing I don’t have to worry about is if my wife trusts me with her heart. We are at peace. That mole is in its hole. Together we can help each other keep the other moles at bay.

The main difference between sympathy and empathy is consent. Unwanted actions will destroy peace in a millisecond, and intentions are only as good as the perception of the person who’s on the receiving endogenous them. It doesn’t matter if my intentions are to solve my wife’s problems because I love her if she doesn’t want me to solve them because she’s a smart and capable woman who just needs a listening ear or a hug sometimes. It’s a blow to my ego when she rejects my help, but I have to get over myself and try to empathize rather than sympathize. I have to destroy the hero complex I’ve been given by society. We can work together that way, not wasting energy on trying to solve problems we didn’t need to solve. We learn to support each other. We find peace when we can allow space for each other, rather than competing for it.

For the single readers, this idea isn’t just for marriage. It translates to all relationships. It works in politics, work, school, and so on, and so on, and as abtract as you’d like to get. Empathy always leads to more peace. Deeper, broader, and more sustainable peace. I might keep going on this track. I think there’s more here. We shall see…

-Adam

*Disclaimer: I talk a good talk, but take heart, I’m not a perfect person. More often than not, in the moment, I try to dominate spaces and solve problems without consent. I’m a work in progress, just like you. May you have grace and peace on your journey.

God Does Not Exist

 

That title is just good Christian click bait and I’m feeling frisky. I couldn’t resist. Read on.

Peace. It’s easy to conceptualize at arms length. Embrace it, though and it becomes abstract pretty quickly. At this point I’m not sure I can even say exactly what it is. Is peace relief? Sure. Is it rest. Yes. Is it quiet? It can be. It’s so much more though. It’s like asking which part of your body houses your consciousness.

There is an old way of talking about God that I had never heard of until earlier this year. We are used to hearing things like God is good and God is Love. God is a good father, God is our healer, our redeemer, etc. those are all positive statements about God. Those are cataphatic statements. Positive statements about God. The opposite of cataphatic statements are apophatic or negative statements. People have been talking about God like this for thousands of years. They say things like God is not good. God is not love. God is not our father. The idea is that those words, all words in fact, limit who or what God actually is. Sure God is love, but he’s more than just our understanding of love. My favorite is God does not exist. How could God exist? He created existence, so He has to more than exist. That one will take you to some beautifully weird places if you let it.

I’d like to talk about peace through some apophatic statements because I think it’s similar. Peace is a part of so many other ideas but it is more than the sum of putting all the pieces together. For now it’s easier to talk around it than directly about it. Use these statements as a meditation. I’m not going to say anything about them today. See where they take you.

Peace is rest. Peace is not rest

Peace is relief. Peace is not relief

Peace is absolute. Peace is not absolute.

Peace is fought for. Peace is not fought for.

Peace is easy. Peace is not easy.

Peace is a state of being. Peace is not a state of being.

-Adam