My friend, my family, I love you; please don’t do this…

13567_tallTo my friends and family who are supporting Donald Trump: I love you. Which is why I’m writing this open letter to you. If you continue supporting this man for president, you are putting a strain on our relationship. You are jeopardizing our connection to each other. And I want to tell you this before it is too late and our bonds are broken.

I believe we are in each other’s lives because, at some point, we connected deeply. Whether it was through genetics, things in common or a shared experience, you are more than just a random person on the bus or a person I’ve just met in a bar. I saw something amazing and awesome in you and you saw something similar in me. This spark has allowed us to share our lives in intimate ways and I know it’s still there. Which is why I feel it is crucial I tell you this now: you are supporting a very dangerous hatred and it is causing me to question our relationship and friendship.

This is more than just a political disagreement. Most likely we’ve disagreed with each other in the past over a lot of unimportant and very important issues. Whether it was about economic policy, taxation, or parenting styles, we’ve had our arguments and our connection has survived. We’ve shared food and drink and debated religion and are still able to hug each other. Our bonds of friendship make it possible that we survive deep divides. And I think it is healthy to disagree and still love each other. It shows that we can be vulnerable with each other; listen to and perhaps even understand each other a little more each time we’re together. Our disagreements have made our relationship stronger.

But this is more than just a disagreement in politics or religion. You have made this about us; or rather, what you think of me and people like me. By supporting Donald Trump, you are telling me that you are a racist and a bigot who overtly supports racism and bigotry.

And your first reaction is probably, “Bullshit! How dare you call me a racist! I’m not racist! I have black friends! I treat everybody equally!” But you’re lying to me and to yourself. You see, I’m a racist too. I was socialized in a society that was built on slavery. I am aware that I have an inherent bias that equates white with goodness and black with evil. I have inherited racism from my family system and I have participated in it with thousands of macro and micro aggressions. It’s inside you and inside me because we were raised in the United States and in systems steeped in racism and bias.

The fact that racism is a part of me and most likely will never go away terrifies me. But I am committed to challenging it with every fiber of my being because I believe racism is wrong. I believe bigotry is wrong. And you, my beloved friend, are wrong. By supporting Donald Trump you are telling me that you believe every Muslim is an American hating terrorist, every Mexican is a rapist drug dealer, and that every African American is a lazy welfare criminal. That you agree Russia should have a role in our political system and that Hilary Clinton should be assassinated because she is a political opponent. These are the policies you want for our country. This is who and what you are willing to vote for. This is what you want for the United States of America.

By supporting Donald Trump, you are telling me that you are a racist, a bigot and that on some level you hate me and people like me. You know that I am a person of color. You know that my grandmother was a Mexican immigrant. You know that I am not a Christian. You know that I support Black Lives Matter. You know that I am a feminist. You know who I am and for the life of our friendship you’ve been willing to accept me and love me even if these are all things you haven’t agreed with.

Yet when I see your support of deporting Hispanics and Muslims, I see your support of deporting me.

When I see your support of abuse against Black Lives Matter protesters, I see your support of abuse against me.

When I see your support of an America that would hate me, I see your hatred of me.

I see where this political narrative is going. I paid attention in history class. My friend, my loved one… you are beginning to sound like a Nazi. Which terrifies me. Not only because I know that this isn’t you, but I can envision a day when you would support my arrest, detention, and execution. Just for disagreeing; just for dissenting.

Perhaps you think this is a bit hyperbolic; perhaps you think this would never happen in the United States of America. But take a long, hard look at the candidate you are supporting. On what he has said. On what he wants to do. My beloved, this is not you. Please tell me this isn’t you.

I get it. You hate Hillary Clinton and what she represents. You hate the idea of another Democratic administration. You hate progressive politics. You hate marriage equality. You hate taxation. You hate Black equity. You hate gun control. These are all issues we’ve struggled with in the past. But it has become bigger than just the issues.

This now involves people; specifically people like me. This is a deep wound you’ve created and most likely will deny. And I don’t want to believe it either. But your actions and words are like cards on the table; I see your real hand and in this game, nobody wins. So please, try to understand what I am saying to you. I love you. I want you to be a part of my life. But you’ve proven to me that you hate me, you hate people who are like me, and that you want us beaten, arrested, deported and dead.

So I’m writing you this letter. Please don’t do this. We loved each other, or at least I thought we did. And I’m willing to keep trying. My hands and heart are open to you. Please turn away from your hate. Please, my friend, my family, my beloved: will you not stand on the side of love with me?

I pray we can learn how to love each other again. Amen.

First, they came for the immigrants,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an immigrant.
Then they came for the Muslims,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Muslim.
Then they came for people who were Queer,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t Queer.
Then they came for the people of color,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a person of color.
Then they came for the protesters,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a protester.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me…
-inspired by the words of Martin Niemöller

 

Posted in Life, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Vocare

“Vocare” originally appeared as a sermon delivered to University Unitarian Church. The associated readings that accompanied the sermon were from three sources: Tess Baumberger’s meditation “Let us Make This Earth a Heaven,” Rev. Theodore Parker’s sermon “Justice and the Conscience” and 1 Kings 19:7-13 from the Hebrew Bible.
Click here to listen to the audio recording of the sermon.

To my siblings in faith and action. I say these words in the spirit of love and I pray that you receive them in the same spirit. These last two weeks have come with more reminders that our world is in desperate need for justice, peace and most of all, prophetic love. With Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five police officers killed in hateful violence (in addition to the attacks in Nice, France, the attempted coup in democratic Turkey, and this morning’s events in Baton Rouge and so many other similar news stories coming almost every day), it seems to me that no matter how many loving steps forward I take in pursuit of justice, our shared path keeps getting longer; increasing in grade with the summit seeming to always be on the horizon. I am angry, heart broken, frustrated… and I am ashamed to admit it but I am also exhausted by it all.

I am ashamed because I take pride in being strong; physically, mentally, emotionally. Yet I continue to fail at the responsibility I put on myself of holding the weight of being an ally to people and communities who are so much stronger than I am. Not because they want to be; but because they have to be. Yet just like the Hebrew prophet Elijah, I hear their voices in that quiet whisper of God, questioning me: “So Justin, now tell me, what are you doing here?” And I have to cover my face and look away because this is HOLY work and holy ground to which imperfect I, and we, are summoned.

The Latin word meaning to summon or to call is Vocare. And it is from this word that we get Voice, Vocal, and Vocation. And I say all of these words with a capital “V.” Because they are calling out to me from the wilderness saying “prepare ye the way!” And yes, they are demanding. They demand my time, attention, money and hands. They demand that I use my Voice to shout “ENOUGH” alongside our siblings of color in all public places. They demand that I be Vocal, calling out in love both strangers and friends who persist in their rose colored glasses that #AllLivesMatter. They demand that I use my Vocation, as a person pursuing the ministry, to challenge the powers that be to dismantle and reform all our systems of inequity and oppression.

In essence, Vocare demands my being. And so here I am, proudly a Unitarian Universalist, responding to the summons of our time; saying from this pulpit that Black Lives Matter. Because not to respond, to let that phone continue to ring just to keep leaving a message on my machine, would be to reject that which I call most sacred; my humanity.

Not just my individual humanity but my shared humanity. Which I never really understood until I found Unitarian Universalism. You see, I grew up Catholic in a mixed race family. My miscellaneous brown skin and my social location in a mostly white suburb gave me the privilege that I didn’t have to think about race. And I was a progressive liberal Catholic who believed in equality and inclusiveness. I believed in hate the sin and love the sinner. I believed that non-Catholics (and even non-Christians) could also go to heaven. But in my heart there was always an “us” and a “them.”

Because I was the religious type I even went so far as to pursue the ministry, which at the time meant to study to become a Catholic priest! But nobody told me that seminary is a dangerous place. That it may end up razing my faith to the ground before it would even start to build it up again. I lasted two years before leaving. Still cowardly identifying as Catholic even though I was already doubting everything that the Church taught me. I was afraid to announce my apostasy. Because, what would the members of my Church community who I had known my entire life, say? What would my family say? If I were to suddenly come out and say “I do not believe in your systems anymore!”

It wasn’t until years later when I found the courage to go my own way. It took travelling half-way around the world and back again to finally step through our church doors and sit down in these pews. But I can say that the experience of US filled me with such a deep resonance. With our values as a community; focused on the dignity and worth of every person, a commitment to spiritual growth and democracy in the world, and a deep connection to the Earth and all living things. I immediately knew this would be my community of faith; the spiritual foundation for my future.

But, siblings, Unitarian Universalism did not offer me a soft, safe, carpeted foundation. Yes, I found fellowship and friendship; I found a family and community. But I also realized the radical kinds of responsibilities that came with my choice to identify as a Unitarian Universalist. This is a faith with a history of powerful reformers like Michael Servetus; suffragists like Susan B. Anthony; free thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson; and abolitionists like the Rev. Theodore Parker! Many of our spiritual forebears were burned at the stake for daring to proclaim their truth to the powers that be. And even though they were afraid for their lives they still fought church and state, whether it was in the rejection of hell or in the demand for freedom. No, I believe that ours is not a faith of comfort. To me this is a faith that answers that quiet voice among us asking “what are you doing here?” by saying “we are here because we see too much corruption in our government” and “we are here because the blood of the Earth cries out” and “we are here because too many people are being killed” and “we are here because Black Lives Matter!”

Which I believe embodies so much of our own prophetic history and work. In the words of Alicia Garza, one of the cofounders of Black Lives Matter:

“#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole.   When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free.  When Black people get free, everybody gets free.  This is why we call on Black people and our allies to take up the call that Black Lives Matter. We’re not saying Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways.  We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.”
“When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”

I’ve never been a part of a radical community like ours before. I found a faith in which I am constantly challenged to break my binary habits of “us vs. them” and “either vs. or” and to accept that at our best we are a people of “both/and.” We are Universalist and Unitarian. We are black and white. We are theist and atheist. We are trans and cis. We are gay and straight. I feel that at our best we have room enough to even be liberal and conservative. Siblings, you have inspired me to be a human being of radical action and prophetic love who is committed to rejecting the binaries.

And yes, I have made newbie ally mistakes along the way. In my very first Black Lives Matter march in downtown Seattle I tweeted out “All Lives Matter” with all the good intention in the world. And I was quickly educated that my good intentions had subversive impacts; that in reality by saying All Lives Matter as a response to Black Lives Matter both unintentionally and intentionally erases the Black experience. That the truth of our country and systems of today is that Black lives don’t matter; not as much as others. And I listened, learned and I was changed.

And a few weeks ago before our UU General Assembly I was asked a question that nobody has ever asked me before: “Do I identify as a person of color?” And I did not know how to answer. Yes, my grandmother emigrated from Mexico. Yes, my father is Mexican American. And while living in the Northwest has bleached out my melanin you would be very surprised how dark my skin can get given enough sun. But being asked this question made me realize two things: first, that yes I am a person of color who, due to my social location, has had the privilege of not having to identify as a person of color unless I want to. And second, that my privilege was bought and paid for without my permission at the price of my family in terms of culture, language and identity. These my grandmother sold away when she came to the United States. Even though she never spoke English herself, she concluded, accurately, that the only way for her children to succeed was to remove their “Mexican” and replace it with “American.” And it worked because I am only now learning what it means to be an ally to my Latinx siblings. From deep within I am educated that my grandmother’s good intentions have had subversive impacts. And I listen, learn and I am changed.

Now, in this time and place of social unrest and societal change, the challenge is to keep going. After the service today our Racial Justice Team has two places set aside to help us. First, honoring the practices that Black Lives of UU has called for, we offer downstairs in Howe, a sacred space for our Black siblings to gather in caucus. Second, members of the Care Team will be available in Nathan Johnson Hall for anyone who wants or needs to meet one on one with a member of the Team to discuss issues of the heart, mind and spirit. They will be wearing orange tags that say “Standing on the Side of Love.” Next Sunday after the service, we will have a Black Lives Matter stand in outside of the church along 35th Ave NE. Finally, we are responding as a community to a call to action, committing to provide for Black community organizers meeting and healing spaces here at UUC free of charge. In these ways, and in many more, we will continue to listen, learn and to change.

And believe it or not change is happening. Just last week, as I was considering deleting about half of the people from my social media connections because I was sick and tired of them not “getting it” with their Blue Lives vs. Black Lives vs. All Lives and their “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a bigger gun” a friend of mine made a simple statement on his Facebook page. He said,

“I’m ashamed to admit it has taken me this long to get it. The concept of Black Lives Matter isn’t a rallying cry to say that the life of an African American has more value than any other, it’s simply a reminder that the life of an African American has the same value as anyone else. Saying Black Lives Matter is just another way of saying Stop Valuing Black Lives Less.”

If my friend, a cis gender white male in his late 30’s married with children who lives in the suburbs who works in the tech industry who considers himself an enlightened liberal yet refused to accept the legitimacy of this most current Black movement can have a conversion of heart… it recommits me to keep doing the work. To keep speaking out on my social media channels. To keep engaging in loving dialog with those who disagree with me. To keep working in existing ways and finding new ways to not stop with the message that “the status quo has got to go.” And it is working; one person at a time.

Siblings, Vocare is a dangerous verb. It both summons the small voice inside and calls out through us as a louder voice in the world. To me Vocare is a powerful verb of Unitarian Universalism. We are an educated and privileged people with a history of justice and change, who do not let dogma or doctrine stand in our way, and who at our best have truly been one of the only real welcoming communities religion has to offer. Yes, I, and we as a denomination, have made so many mistakes along the way.

So what? We are a people who show up to listen, learn and to change.

I choose to believe that we are committed, whether we like it or not, to that prophetic vision that has spanned time from before the Rev. Theodore Parker to beyond the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and is present in the now through the words of prophetic Black organizers like Alicia Garza. That we are part of an arc in creation that has been bending toward justice from the very beginning. And each and every hand placed on that arc, through word and action, through my imperfect ally-ship and our collective imperfect ally-ship, will keep bending toward justice for as long as it takes.

Do you hear that? That small, quiet voice, full of the potential of justice and peace and freedom?

“So Justin, now tell me, what are you doing here?”

I am here because “things refuse to be mismanaged long.” I am here because I was summoned. I am here to answer the call. We are here to keep answering the call.

Amen.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

At the end, a moment of sacred…

aloneOn Thanksgiving I was approached by a friend with a particular question. She knows that I’ve been volunteering as a chaplain and that I’m in seminary. She asked if I would be willing to visit a friend of hers who was in hospice. He has stage four cancer and doesn’t have much time left. And while he was not a religious man, his mind had been turning toward both the past and the future. She felt that he would benefit from having someone to talk to; perhaps I could offer a presence that would help his transition between life and death.

I explained that I wasn’t an ordained minister. I’ve only been volunteering as a chaplain for a short time and that was with youth who are incarcerated. She said that was probably for the best; her friend was a devout agnostic with secular Buddhist leanings. He didn’t want credentials or conversion. She felt he just needed someone who knew how to talk about spirituality. So I said yes; that I’d be happy to sit with her friend.

Hombres de Negocios discutiendo sentados

So last night I sat.

For a little more than an hour I listened to his story. He didn’t have any questions and not many concerns. His story always hovered on the edge of faith but never crossed the threshold. For a man with perhaps only weeks to live he seemed accepting of his reality. And yet he acknowledged that he probably hadn’t really accepted that he was going to die soon. But until then he wanted to read St. John of the Cross and Thomas Merton. He said that they seemed the most accessible for an agnostic who was looking for possibilities without being sold a bill of goods.

Our conversation wasn’t hard. But it was difficult to walk the tightrope between detachment and empathy that the active listening of a chaplain has to balance. I was reminded in many ways of my own grandfather at the end of his life, as well as the recent passing of my father-in-law. However, in order to be in his moment, I couldn’t be in mine. Also, in him I saw my own mortality; and it was uncomfortable and unsettling.

Footprints-In-The-Sand1Which is why I believe it was also holy and sacred. In this season of “thinness,” I was able to share a space and moment with another human being as he approached his own veil. In doing so, I was an intimate part of a Spirit of mystery and miracle. In the pauses between words, there was the weight of a life. A life in which I was able to share, if only for a moment. And I am grateful.

Posted in Life, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How heavy is this season…

winter (1)This Autumn has been tremendously heavy on my heart. I usually enjoy this time of year. I love how the days get shorter; darker; deeper. Spiritually, it’s a thin time for me. Like an event horizon, my soul cannot escape from being stretched by this time and space to consider its internal workings. However, this year there has been no time to be slow and gentle and contemplative. There has been nowhere to hide. There has been too much work to do.

When the terror attacks happened in Paris, all I could do was stay away from my newsfeed. It seemed like the tragedy in Paris wasn’t about lives lost but by how to use it to further a political agenda. It was hard to find people talking about how to further peace and justice in our world; more so was the reaction to “buy more guns” and “launch more missiles” and “mobilize more ground troops” and “blame the refugees” and “close our borders.” All I could do was just pray for peace and keep working for justice and remember to say hello to the people who attend the mosque down the street from my house. Did you know that when they greet each other, they say “peace be with you?” I wonder what it would be like to do that to everyone I meet, and mean it?

On Black Friday, I joined the #BlackLivesMatter movement in downtown Seattle. The theme: Black Lives Matter, Not Black Friday. This consumer high holy day is an orgy of capitalism. And yet, capitalism has not found a way to empower those people who live on the margins; the poor, the migrant, the homeless. Capitalists have told them all: “God helps those who help themselves.” And many of them have worked their souls raw with this promise. Yet the only pockets lined were the shareholders and CEOs saying “It will trickle down. Trust us.” And God seemingly remains silent, no matter how hard a black mother works; no matter how many job applications a homeless man puts in; no matter how many cherries a migrant worker picks.

usa-raceI came out because to me, black lives are more important than Black Friday. Period.

So I joined people at Westlake Center to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with the people of my community. The scene was decorated as a Christmas wonderland village. They had a merry-go-round and a performance stage and Christmas decorations. And as protestors gathered, organizers began the hymns: “Who’s lives matter? Black lives matter!” “Black lives matter, not Black Friday!” “We want our liberation! Fuck your assimilation!” “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”

Then the organizers began a litany of names. Every name of a black life taken since Trayvon Martin. Then the music from the stage began to get louder. Westlake Center was trying to drown out the voices of the organizers; the voices of people calling out for justice; for peace. And I will probably never forget the joyful carol of Frosty the Snowman as it was used as a weapon to protect the status quo. I turned to my friend Patrick and said, “This is the most surreal thing I’ve ever witnessed.” And I marched.

151203-ny-daily-news-cover-jpo-440a_6fe5537b92e70148a37fd6e6e94afcd3.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Then there was the mass shooting in San Bernardino. Once information was released about what happened the pundits began to use Islam and Muslims and terrorism to try and distract me from the issue of our culture of violence. And then a few days later as I attended a meeting at my church, gunshots rang out just outside of our windows. It was the first day of Hanukkah; there was a white supremacist rally scheduled in the city; we have a Jewish temple next door to our church; we had children in our building.

And my coworkers and I locked down our church. It breaks my heart even more not just because we, a church community, have a plan to respond to gun violence but that we had to use it. And for what seemed like forever we didn’t know what was going on, until we were told by police that it was a high speed car chase coming to a violent conclusion outside of our church doors. We told ourselves “it could have been so much worse” and yet everything up to that point had us believing that it was. Still, we all were able to go home safe; yet I cannot shake the feeling that so many people do not have that privilege. And why is that a privilege?

This Autumn has been too heavy; some of its issues too close. I cannot take refuge in the carols of my childhood. There have been gunshots in the spaces I call sacred. I have been in the streets with people crying out, “no more killing!” And I remember that of all times in the year, that this is one that has proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) It makes me wonder then, is God pleased with me? I look around and think that, with so many choices toward violence and anger and war and hatred, that if I were this God I would not be pleased either. And like this God, I look at my own son and wonder, “can he make this world a better place? Will this world let him?” And I hold out a ridiculous hope that it will, even knowing how powers and principalities have answered in the past.

My heart and spirit are so heavy right now. All I want is to just relax into this season and enjoy it like I used to. But there is too much work to do. God helps those who help themselves, right? I’m helping God; I really am. So where are you?

o-LANTERN-IN-DARK-facebook

Posted in Life, Politics, Religion, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Finding Life in Detention

(Finding Life in Detention was originally written for the BeZine, an online “e-zine” produced by the Bardo Group. Please check out the other amazing writing found in this and other issues of the BeZine!)

SEC Logo copyI’ve only been working as a chaplain with youth in detention for a month. I could have chosen a number of different seminarian internships; campus ministry, church administration, advocacy. But I chose chaplaincy on purpose because I felt a “call.” It is why I’m studying an MDiv; it’s why I stopped running away from ministry.

In this month I’ve heard stories of rape, assault, grand theft, vandalism and trafficking in narcotics. There is something fundamentally disturbing to hear the voice of a child talk about getting so drunk and high that carjacking an elderly woman sounded like a way to “have fun.” All this from the mouths of youths who should be worried about their SATs rather than their next court date. So I’ve been asked the question, “How do you do this?” My answer is, “Because my faith demands it of me.”

fhouseAs a Unitarian Universalist, I believe that salvation is IN my life. My faith as I choose it requires me to work towards the inherent worth and dignity of all people and all creation, not for heavenly reward but for humanity. Which means pushing myself to be in places and meet with people which make me uncomfortable. To speak truth to power. To give witness. To expand beloved community. To be where the Spirit of life needs me to be.

Yes, it is hard to sit in active listening, asking questions, attempting to sift through the psychic refuse to find the innocent child underneath. But let me be clear; there is an innocent child underneath! Because I have also heard these same children’s voices ask for mercy, beg for forgiveness and plead for a fifth, sixth or seventh chance to turn away from the paths well worn by their incarcerated fathers and addicted mothers and economically and educationally depressed neighborhoods. These children’s eyes reflect back at me; “Help me! Heal me! Love me! Save me!” And my faith and my humanity will not let me say “no!”

seedEven though a minister’s trade is in miracles, I expect none here. My ministry is to listen. To be present. To plant seeds of hope. To challenge my world to change for the sake of it’s children. And to push and pull with all my might to bend that arc of history just a little bit further toward justice. It is in this hard work that I find the Spirit of life seeking reconciliation and my own salvation.

In this way, working with youth who are incarcerated is life giving! It reminds me of who I should be. It wakes me up from the soma of my off-white middle class American social location. The work allows me to be so filled with gratitude for my family and baby boy that I have to respond in thanksgiving. And because I did very little to deserve my blessings and privilege, I must pay it forward. Which is where I am confronted by mystery and miracle! The more I give, the more I find that I am being transformed by these youth into a better human being.

Posted in Life, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Feelings. Complicated, they are.

i-woke-up-like-this-36I was infected with some grumpiness yesterday. It started around 1:30pm with me feeling lethargic and then turned into a general irritability. It’s like those commercials where that little grey cloud follows somebody around everywhere. Except my little grey cloud only comes by once in a while, unannounced and usually drunk. The frustrating part is I haven’t figured out why I’m grumpy, which makes me grumpier.

It’s not something that happens often. But when it does, the effects linger. I don’t like how it feels; this unexplained emotional and physical frustration. But it’s crazy to think that I’m immune to “waking up on the wrong side of the bed.” I am human after all. I’m allowed to be grumpy once in a while.

baby led weaning

I’ll admit, when this was happening, it was hilarious.

It’s the not knowing that frustrates me. One thing I’ve been trying to do, as a spiritual discipline, is be more mindful about the what and why that I’m feeling. I want to be more aware of what is going on in my mind and body. If I find myself feeling frustrated (say, because we’re introducing solid foods into Toby’s diet and his eating style doesn’t play well with the freshly cleaned floors on which I worked pretty hard) I can check in with that frustration, name it, acknowledge it, and then come back to center.

Of course, easier said than done. While I’m finding this technique works most of the time, sometimes the feelings linger. Like right now. Why am I feeling grumpy? It is because of the stress I’m feeling looking for a new job? It is because of the multitude of demands on my time and attention from Toby and Heather and friends, all of who require (as they should) a significant commitment of intention? Is it the constant pain underneath my right shoulder blade? Is it the feeling that no matter how hard I try to keep the house in order, I never seem to make any headway?

acd0122aeaf8e0ec5a907f6f2e3cc5a8c9c4acb493c3b668efb5fbb3f29acb2fThe list can go on ad nauseum. None of it is overwhelming or horrible or even dire. In fact, my life is blessed in very significant ways which is part of the problem. There is the lingering guilt of “I shouldn’t be grumpy because look at how awesome my life is” which is an attempt at shaming myself into not feeling grumpy but actually adds to it.

Part of this discipline is reminding myself that I have a right to my feelings, as irrational as they can be. However, I want to respond to my emotions, rather than react to them. Part of that means I have to be more open to expressing them; talking about them when they happen, rather than keeping them hidden away from the world (and myself). If I find myself annoyed at the way things are piling up in my computer room, I need say that I’m unhappy with that pile, then to do something about it rather than just be angry that it exists.

motivator64e3dfd83fced12df166cbb2aaThis goes again my nature. I’m an ENFJ and a type 9 which makes me extremely conflict averse, and dealing with conflict means expending a ton of personal energy. Especially when it comes to being in conflict with myself. At my most healthy, I am the peacemaker that brings healing, balance and justice to tense and dangerous situations. At my most unhealthy I avoid conflict at any cost, whether it is through ignoring the problem, zoning out, or doping myself with food and binging on Netflix.

Looking into the future, I want to be healthy Justin, which means doing the hard work. So here I am, letting myself feel grumpy and NOT giving in to anesthetization. Naming the grump; giving myself permission to just be this way for right now. But also checking in with it; walking with it through the day, hoping it’ll tell me its story when it’s ready. Until then, I have work to do and people to love.

Posted in Life, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sometimes I fail at being a parent, and that’s ok.

Tobias has officially put himself to sleep. Radio Paradise is playing in the background. The living room is dim with filtered light from the window shades. I think I can squeeze a blog post out before he wakes up. Let the contest begin!

Tobias is a little more than seven months old. In that time, Heather and I have received a tremendous amount of support from friends and family. Our friend Meghan organized a meal train when he was born, which for a few weeks unloaded the burden of trying to figure out what to eat. I think it was more for our own safety. In our sleep deprived states we shouldn’t have been handling sharp objects or cooking appliances anyways.

Both Heather and my parents visited. They gave us some time to go out by ourselves and remember what it was like to be adults. I knew newborns were a lot of work. I didn’t understand just how immensely time consuming they are. I admit that I was incredibly naïve as a new dad; of course a baby eats spacetime for breakfast. They’re like little black holes which consume all the chores and intentions within their event horizon, which I figure is around 50 meters or so.

We joined a PEPs (Program for Early Parent Support) group. Eight couples within our general neighborhood all with babies around the same age came together to reassure ourselves that we are NOT going crazy. I highly recommend this program for all new parents. It was crucial for me to connect with other people going through a similar immense life transition. We were able to share advise, tip, tricks, or just be able to vent our frustrations.

The most important rule was no judging. There are a lot of resources out there for new parents. Support groups, meetups, internet forums; you name it. However, I found that these resources come with hazard signs. Warning: Judgement Ahead! It makes sense that people become incredibly invested in their parenting styles. It’s hard to admit doing something wrong when it comes to my own child. Because if I do something wrong, then I’m a horrible parent, right?

However, Heather and I have noticed that even with all the immense research, resources and advice available, much of it is contradictory and only applies to what “may” work, not what “will” work. My limited observations lead me to believe that like people, babies are complex individuals. Yet people dishing out advice seem to think that their own baby and parenting style is the end all be all of what a parent “should” and “shouldn’t” do.

Our baby has tongue tie. We “should” get it fixed. (we didn’t and Toby is fine) You shouldn’t be using that carrier, you’ll ruin his legs and pelvis. (Toby’s legs and pelvis are fine) You should be feeding your baby “only” breast milk; if not then you’re a horrible parent. (we do feed Toby only breast milk, but know other people who don’t and their babies are happy and healthy) The list goes on and on. It seems that parents are sometimes the most horrible judge, jury and executioners of other parents. My opinion is it’s because we somehow believe that if we’re making “different” choices, then we’re making “wrong” choices.

I’m not saying that with babies, anything goes. Obviously there are many things a parent shouldn’t do. But it seems to me that parents deserve more compassion than judgement, more “You’re doing awesome” rather than “I know what you should do.” I know I make mistakes and bad decisions every day. Heck, before writing this blog I plopped Toby in front of the TV with a bottle and Sesame Street so I could take a quick 10 minute shower, get dressed and finish my coffee. But I did this only after we played for 2 hours and he was getting hungry and fussy. It’s all about balance and survival.

Now he is fast asleep. And he is a happy, healthy, loved little boy. Despite my mistakes. As horrible as parents can be to each other, my little boy seems to be the most capable of forgiveness. When he smiles and babbles at me, I pretend he’s saying “I know you’re doing the best you can dad. I love you.” I know I need this much more than “If you keep doing that you’re going to ruin your child.” Let’s all try to be cool to one another. We’re all in this together and we need as much support from friends, family and other parents as we can get. One thing I’ve learned is that it really does take a village because sometimes I fail at being a parent. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Posted in Life, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments