Getting Good and Lost

This morning, I jumped in my car and just headed off. In a way, I was also headed to church–my church, the place I go to experience the awe and wonder I used to find sitting in a pew. Awe and wonder not in any supernatural sense; awe and wonder in a supremely natural sense. I rolled down my windows, cranked up the music (Evanescence, today), and hit the road.

The road, you see, is my chapel. It is where I worship (if worship’s the right word). And no, I don’t worship nature in some pantheistic, animistic way (although I do sometimes wonder whether primitive tribes were on to something we’ve lost, insofar as respect for the true identity and purpose of nature is concerned). I seek simply to immerse myself in this world of which I am an integral, inseparable part, and which is the extension and completion of my self.

But my purpose is not just communion with the world at large: it is to become one with that world, to atomize my being, if you will, and engage with existence at an essential, basic level. It is to do away with the line between myself and the other, to become other, to bond on a molecular level with the rest of reality.

You may be scratching your head or cocking an eyebrow at this point, wondering what in the world I think I’m playing at with all this mystical mumbo-jumbo. Obviously I cannot boil myself down to my elements and sprinkle myself across the landscape, or dissolve myself into a puddle of water and seep back into the earth. So what am I talking about? And is it safe to feed me?

I speak, of course, metaphorically, and in this sense I believe I can do all of the above. And what it comes down to, quite simply, is the willingness to get lost. Completely and hopelessly. My rule of thumb on these little outings: always carry a map, just in case, but never, ever use it unless you have absolutely no choice. Just…get lost. Or rather, lose yourself. Don’t even let it be an accident; do it with purpose, with gusto. Go out and…lose yourself.

(Oh, yes–and leave your cell phone at home.)

Our world is obsessed with locate-ability. How many “apps” are there for people who desire to broadcast their position at all times? “I’m at the mall”; “I just finished my meal at Cracker Barrel”; “I’m walking down the hall toward my kitchen and preparing to take a left at the den.” New cars come with GPS installed; we don’t even need maps anymore, or road signs for that matter, because some British guy or digital hooker (depending on which voice you choose) will tell us everything we need to know. We have cell phones with Internet access so we can be out of pocket without being out of range: I can go on vacation and still take my whole life with me. Talk about defeating the purpose!

We have, technologically, made it almost impossible to get lost, or to be lost. We are connected to everyone, everywhere, all the time. (Yes, I can more than likely hear you now.) And in this giant information superhighway we call life, our very connectivity becomes that which disconnects us from what matters: being.

When I am lost, I have, in a sense, no identity. I am no one. I just AM. I am in the world; I am of the world; I AM the world, and the world IS me. Time stops, in that it stops mattering; no one can reach me; nothing can touch me but the overwhelming presence of nature borne into my path on the breathing wind. I am an atom in a sea of fellow atoms, woven into the fabric of existence, part and parcel of life. In that moment, I have–I NEED–no other meaning than that.

After I’ve lost myself, I always find myself again, and the self I find is refreshed, redefined, re-formed. It is almost like I’ve chosen to put something back on that I once willingly took off–the sweater-vest of social identity, you might call it. And, counterintuitively, the act of intentional disconnection strengthens my connection, when it is resumed, to everything and everyone around me. I have ceased being myself, of my own free will I have thrown myself into the universe and been handed back, by the universe, a new person. And all is rediscovered, as if for the first time–the faces, the voices, the thoughts, emotions, relationships. All is new. All is adventure again.

Herein lies the secret of eternal youth. Forget the fountains and the chalices. Just. Get. Lost.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Curves

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The red sandstone arches of the 11th-century abbey on Lindisfarne (otherwise known as Holy Island). If you seek peace, this is the place to go. Some even claim that the spirits of long-dead saints still walk the ruined passages and pray in unison with the present-day pilgrim…

Contrariwise

My upside-down is inside-out, no doubt
Because I’m cattywampus. (For those of
You who’re unfamiliar, I hope I don’t come off
As pompous when I use such techno-
Babble, but I fear I might incite the rabble.) Anyway,
I feel today like turning topsy: all askew and filled with
Moxie, head awhirl and heart akimbo, brain all shot
To hell and limbo. And in this holy handful mess, a
Feeling of complete undress. What’s my name? I’ve clean
Forgot.
But bored I’m not.

SBC Houston: Discrimination 2013

For anyone who cares, the Southern Baptist Convention is about halfway through its 2013 annual meeting in Houston, Texas. This year’s theme? “Revive Us … That We May Be One!” I thought (for the hell of it) that I’d share a little bit about how this is playing out. So sit back, and prepare to roll your eyes, walk across the room, pick them up, and roll them again…

***

Item #1: In the interests of Christian unity, the SBs moved to remove Lake Shore Baptist Church of Waco, Texas, from fellowship with the convention. Characteristically quick on the uptake, they did this only 12 short years after Lake Shore did it for them in 2000, upon publication of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

(This one’s rather near to home, since my wife Tammy is Lake Shore’s office manager.)

The rationale behind this motion? Lake Shore supports Planned Parenthood. They even–wait for it!–give money to that evil, evil organization. Which, by the way, has nothing to do with an abiding interest in issues of women’s health. No, it can only mean one thing: these rogue Baptists are “promoting abortion.” Which as far as I’m concerned demonstrates a very shallow understanding of what Planned Parenthood does. Yes, they do perform abortions–I can’t argue with that; it’s on their web site (along with links to information on parenting and adoption options, by the way, for those faced with this difficult decision). However, if one bothers to read beyond that point, it turns out that they also offer comprehensive sex education programs for children, youth, and parents, facilitate access to birth control, and provide a number of important health-related services such as gynecological exams, HIV testing, and breast and cervical cancer screenings. They even assist with adoption procedures.

Obviously, no good can come from supporting this bunch of crazy-eyed, fanatical PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT WOMEN.

I’m no fan of abortion–let’s get that straight right here and right now–but it strikes me that the ones really “promoting abortion” are the folks who insist that groups like Planned Parenthood not be allowed to educate children and youth about the responsibilities of human sexuality. Also, it seems to me that to vilify this organization because of what amounts to three percent of their operating budget is to miss the forest for the trees. However, the abortion debate in conservative Christian circles is a zero-sum affair: it trumps every conversation, and it allows no room for other considerations. I was told in 2008 that my vote for Barack Obama amounted to a vote for abortion. Not for health care; not against environmental depredation; not in favor of social justice. For abortion. End of discussion.

Because they can’t see past this admittedly important issue to all the other equally important issues in its wake, the SBC feels it necessary to jettison their fellow believers, with neither inquiry nor debate (not to mention a decade too late), because Lake Shore’s congregation believes women should have greater access to vital healthcare services. Coming from a bunch of folks who just finished singing “Mercy said no, I’m not going to let you go, I’m not going to let you slip away, You don’t have to be afraid,” this seems a little odd…

Item #2: There will also be a vote on a resolution declaring that federal (read, Obamacare) contraception policies are a threat to religious liberty. ***See Item #1***

Item #3: A third resolution deals with Southern Baptist church sponsorship of the Boy Scouts of America. They’ve gone gay, you see. And any organization that’s a friend to gay kids is NOT a friend of theirs. SNAP!

Thus, on the heels of a long and fruitful relationship between the Southern Baptists and the Scouts, the SBC is proposing to encourage its affiliated congregations to end their support of the BSA. This is just a friendly admonition, of course…although one assumes that any congregation that chooses not to heed this advice will eventually find itself on the Lake Shore chopping block. And this is a bit strange, coming from a denomination historically based on the autonomy of the local church.

But let’s not forget that famous expression of Jesus’ love in Matthew 19:14: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. Unless they’re gay.'”

Item #4-5: In addition to their “no gays in the Scouts” stance, the SBs have decided to go all in and add “no gays in the military” and “no gays in the wedding chapel” to their list of unifying resolutions. It would seem that both the striking of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the legalization of same-sex marriage represent a clear and present threat to the religious liberty of Southern Baptists. The fact that the failure to take either action opposed represents a clear and present threat to many people’s civil liberties seems to be of little concern.

***

In sum, I think we should all applaud the SBC’s efforts to promote unity through cutting ties with anyone who disagrees with them in any way. Pretty sure they won’t be missed…

Road Trip 2013 – Any Thoughts?

It’s the Woods 11th anniversary this year, in honor of which we’re off to New York, the 11th state to be admitted to the Union, in 1788. (Our little twist on the whole “anniversary gift” scheme–we love to travel, and steel seems a little less than romantic.)

Anyway, thought I would throw out the question and see if anyone has any recommendations–sight-seeing, food (especially food), etc.–in the Lake Placid area. If so, please dish!

I await your travellers’ experience…

Just Be

My interest as I move through my life, day to day, is in doing right. Being right, on the other hand, concerns me less and less with every step that I take.

We waste so much time in this life trying to be right. We enter every conversation as if engaging in battle: communication is nothing; ammunition is everything. Politics, religion, social concerns–all the things that define us as individuals–there’s a reason they tell you never to talk about these things in public. There’s a reason they call them hot-button issues.

Don’t get me wrong: I make arguments for and against things as much as the next guy (possibly even more). But there is a foundational principle I seek to embrace in every conversation I have, every defense I undertake, and every explanation I attempt to give. It is a simple one: say what you believe, and expect to be wrong sometimes. Nay, even a lot of the time.

Now, I daresay my success in upholding this foundational principle is probably spotty at best. I am, after all, still human; I still enjoy the selfish satisfaction of a point scored at the expense of a mate or two. And I understand that the way I try to present myself and the way I come across to others may not be one and the same: as much as I want to value understanding over one-upmanship, the fine line between listening and pontification is rarely walked with complete balance, and this failure often determines whether I’m perceived as opponent or confidante.

Nothing kills heart-to-heart conversation so quickly as a participant who feels himself so justified in everything he thinks or believes that he assumes the other person has nothing substantive to say. This leads to the infamous one-sided argument (if you use Facebook at all, you’ll be quite familiar with this phenomenon): ripostes and parries fly with little or no attention paid to anything anyone else is saying; there is no chance for growth because the underlying assumption is made that my presence in this discussion can serve as corrective only, as I am right, which means everyone else–by definition–is wrong. So why listen, when I can talk instead?

I’m not pointing fingers here–we all do this, at least from time to time. And we often don’t notice, precisely because we’re all convinced that we have, a la Ben Franklin, overcome this particular weakness and moved on to the next. We all like to believe that we’re just a little better at attaining that “objective view” everybody talks about all the time, be it through advanced education, or spiritual discipline, or whatever. We all fancy ourselves paragons of humility. But, as a professor of mine once noted, humility is an interesting thing: the second you claim it, you lose it. Oh, yes–it is a strange thing but true: one of the world’s greatest sources of unadulterated (and destructive) pride is too strong a confidence in one’s own humble nature. If you don’t believe me, just ask Uriah Heep.

As long as conversation is perceived as contest, we are all just ships passing in the night, and tooting our horns as loudly as possible as we go by. We miss opportunities, not just to impact the lives of others, but to be impacted ourselves. We wear our opinions like bullet-proof vests, and fire them off like armor-piercing rounds. We never learn new lessons, and we teach them much more rarely than we often realize. We walk in a world of strangers, thinking ourselves kings.

So, let’s stop worrying so much about being right, and spend some time learning to just be. We might learn something else in the process.

Dream

I had the
Dream
Again last night.

Your face in place
Of mine, seated on an
Ass, I made a pass at life
And failed to catch its eye.

Windmills flailing, Captain Hook
Sailing idly by, while Peter Pan nursed
An artificial tan, and Tinker Bell went
To hell in a handbasket. Here comes Wendy;
Ask her why.

Bridal veil hiding upturned visage; Mad Hatter
Looking twisted as always, and that stupid hare just
Sitting there looking wise and telling lies to beat the band,
And in his hand a tiny, empty cup. Won’t you come and sup? he
Says. And falls asleep.
What a creep!

How Much Do You Really Want To Know?

Every day, they ask us: “How are you?”

What if we told them the truth? What if we let our guard down just once, and let them see what sort of darkness lurks silently inside, behind the plastered smile, behind the cheerfully (and artfully) concocted reply? What if we told them just how fine we’re not, just how much pain we’re in, just how miserable we feel?

What would they say? Would they stick around to say anything, or would they take the first opportunity to pull a Houdini and disappear, abandoning us to the next poor sap who bothers to show superficial interest in our state of being? Would they call the medics, a shrink, a priest, a cop?

Some days, I’m being perfectly honest when I tell people I’m doing “pretty good,” but lately, more often than not, my words reek of bullshit. Complete and total. They taste like it, too, even as I speak them, and the reality of the deception, and its inevitability, drag me down even farther into the slough. I begin to wonder whether anyone really cares about my actual condition, or if they just want to be allowed to think everything’s good with me, because then they are reassured that, maybe, really, everything’s good with them, too.

We cannot be honest with one another, because by doing so, we cull ourselves from the herd, and we threaten to drag those with whom we’re open and forthcoming down with us. And everyone knows what happens to the weak and the old: the lions get them. And we mustn’t fool ourselves: we’re surrounded by lions, everywhere and all the time. And when we’re not, generally we’re the lions surrounding somebody else. And we will all eat each other if given the chance.

How much do you really want to know, O ye caring multitudes? Do you want to know me, or do you want me to let you think you know me? Do you want to see into my shadows, or would you rather pretend that I have none so that your own don’t frighten you too much? How much do you really want to know?

Do you want to know that on most days, thanks to this irritable bowel thing I’ve got, I’m uncomfortable at best and in terrible pain at worst? Do you want to know that sometimes the entire tenor of my day comes down to whether or not I’m able to successfully take a crap? Do you want to know these things, or is it too much for you?

Do you want to know that, at 35, I feel like my life is stalling out? That I feel an unrelenting, frustrated, blind anger at the sheer amount wasted on student loans for graduate school, so that I can sit at a desk doing work for which only a high school education is required? That this lack of fulfillment often becomes so overwhelming that even the greatest of successes feel like monumental failures? That I want to punch all the shiny, happy faces who tell me to buck up, that “this too shall pass,” to “be happy with what I have,” never stopping to realize how hard it is for people who have what they want to understand those who don’t? Or is that too much information, as they say?

Do you want to know that everything I said in the last paragraph makes me sick at myself? That I hate how selfish it is to be unhappy with my job when so many people don’t have work at all? That I can’t stand how I feel about my life situation when I’m so well off compared to many? That I detest the lack of gratitude I show on a daily basis, and that I detest even more the thought that others might detest it, too? And that in spite of all this self-awareness, I can’t seem to break out of this cycle of ingratitude and unhappiness? Do you want to know, or have I gone too far?

Do you want to know that for a long time now, I’ve felt friendless and family-less, and all because I’ve tried to be honest with others about who I am? That it kills me that more people seem to care about my whereabouts on a Sunday morning than my ideas and principles and everything else that makes me Me? That I’m afraid of revealing myself too openly to people I once thought as close as family, because I don’t know how they’ll respond? That, deep inside, I’m furious at the people who are disappointed in me because they’ve never stopped to consider that maybe I’m disappointed right back? That I’m saddened at accusations of having “changed,” because they prove that some of my closest friends never really knew me at all? Have I stepped over the line yet?

Do you want to know that in the scheme of things all this barely scratches the surface, that there are fathoms of darkness left in me to explore? Do you want to know any of this, or do you just want me to help you feel secure by pretending that I’m secure, too?

Even as I write this, I shrink from the way my words may be received–words like crybaby, wimp, and panty-waist come to mind. It turns out that what I’m most afraid of is people finding out who I really am, even people such as you wonderful blog-fellows whom I will probably never physically meet. I am terrified of honesty. Like Pinocchio before me, I long to be a real boy…but I’m afraid of the consequences. I’m afraid of being hung out to dry, of being written off the page, of being discarded as second rate. Even more, I’m afraid of being ignored. I’m afraid of taking that step, of opening up and being completely, nakedly real, only to have no one notice at all. Of being silenced before I’m even able to speak.

But never mind all that. I’m fine.

How are you?

Fancy_Letter_F

Look, what I’m about to say probably serves no purpose whatsoever, and had I said it when I was a kid, I probably would have been grounded for a week. Scratch that: I definitely would have been grounded for at least a week, if not longer. But there are just days, you know? Days when no other words suffice to express the depth of…whatever…anger, despair, frustration, apathy. You name it; you said it.

By saying this, I’m also placing a huge red letter on the breast of my button-down. I’m becoming one of those people, the ones who don’t know that polite conversation is more important than honest expression, or who never read the Ten Commandments and insist on taking certain names in vain. To which latter I would simply remark (with the open sarcasm I both learned from and was punished for by my father) that I don’t recall this particular word being listed among the biblical names of God.

Finally (and in conclusion), to those who claim that the use of “such language” indicates a poor grasp of vocabulary: Keep reading–this is meant for you, too. Also, don’t be stupid. I (along with many of my fellow “expletists”) have a very strong relationship with words: writers of thesauri are kindred spirits of mine, and the prosaic, pedestrian, and pedantic tries my patience as well as yours, so please be so kind as to exit, stage left.

And, without further ado:

FUCK IT!