A Theology of Resiliency: A Reflection

When distilled into its finest pieces our universe has no mechanics to ground the depth of human experience. Powerful emotions, such as love, or existential desires, like justice, have no elementary particle. There are no atoms of hate or quarks of mercy. Yet human beings have evolved into creatures of symbol and creativity that participate every day in acts of spiritual creation; namely, a will to meaning which elicits a physical difference in creation. Facing a clockwork universe, “I rebel, therefore we exist.”[1]

In the context of a spiritual humanist theology, when I choose to wake up in the morning motivated by a radical agape impacting others, I take the invisible (love) and make it visible (charity). This does not happen through magical or miraculous intervention, but through a recognition of and participation in an interconnected reality.[2] My caritas emerges as a holy act that shifts the course of the universe: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, forgiving the enemy – none of which makes sense in a mechanistic reality. This is at the core of spiritualities like the Christian call to love my enemy and do good to those who hate me.[3]

And it is the root of a spiritual humanist theology of resiliency. It is a panentheism of participation where the ground of being exists in all creation and is at work in active partnership through all creation. When my belief and faith in justice bends the arc of history, I engage with the holy. Because through my will for justice (which exists in concept) I have breathed new life into the world (by creating justice). I become a conduit for an underlying divinity that isn’t outside of space and time but intimately connected to it. God is in and of the machine.

Neurologist Victor Frankel, who survived the holocaust, wondered how some human beings held hope in the depths of the worst of suffering. He found it was rooted in an unwillingness to give into despair. That despite even the horror of a concentration camp, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.”[4] A refusal to accept the terms of the universe and rather create something new.

Human resiliency then is a psychospiritual practice, rooted in our DNA and cultivated in community.[5] It resists passive and active events of oppression and harm. It grounds powerful prophetic action, like Rosa Parks refusing to relinquish her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama sparking the civil rights movement in the United States. And Sophie Cruz, who at five years old had the courage (and community) to deliver a letter to Pope Frances in his visit to the White House, advocating for a change in immigration law and becoming a face of the immigration reform movement.[6] It embodies a range of spiritually motivated events of resiliency, even from the smallest of decisions like waking up in the morning committed to being a force for good in the world.

Because it is only through my actions that good, or love, or justice, or mercy, will ever take place in the world. They will not emerge from a metaphysical beyond, or be captured in a neoplatonic form made manifest. My actions exist as a sacrament: an outward symbol of an inward grace. Grace being my recognition of my own existence and inheritance as undeserved and unearned, which inspires from me a stance of gratitude paid forward into the world. A theology of resilience recognizes the worth and dignity of all, inspires empathetic action in the face of suffering, and is grounded in the psychospiritual power found in all creatures of symbol and creativity that will benevolence into existence.


[1] Camus, Albert, and Anthony Bower. The Rebel An Essay on Man in Revolt. Vintage Books, 1956.

[2] King, Martin Luther, and James Melvin Washington. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: HarperOne, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.

[3] Luke 6:27, NRSV

[4] Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning

[5] Levine, Saul. “Psychological and social aspects of resilience: a synthesis of risks and resources” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience vol. 5,3 (2003): 273-80.

[6] The Washington Post, “Meet Sophie Cruz, 5-year-old who gave the pope a letter because she doesn’t want her parents deported,” September 23, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/09/23/meet-the-5-year-old-who-gave-the-pope-a-letter-because-she-doesnt-want-her-parents-deported/?utm_term=.c823f004272d

Giving masculinity The Works

I want to break free from your lies, You’re so self satisfied I don’t need you…

I came across Gillette’s new ad a few days ago. It’s the kick off of a re-branding campaign. No longer “The Best a Man Can Get,” the Proctor & Gamble subsidiary is now saying, “The Best Men Can Be.” They are using their power and privilege to send a message that men can be the better angels of our nature. And to sell shaving products. I watched the video. I cried.

I cried because I’ve been that guy in the video. And that kid. Because I remember the hurt and anger on my father’s face when I told him in my sophomore year that I didn’t want to play football anymore. I remember the pain I felt inside by believing my identity and worth depended on me playing football. I remember the ostracization from peers after I quit. I remember being afraid.

I remember being afraid of my father’s anger. His physical size. His violence. Of being a small boy running down the hallway fearing that my father would break me with a patada. Even after it had become a family joke. And while my father never did hurt me or abuse me, and I remember his life with love, in death his anger scares me. Because his anger is inside me.

I cried because I remember using homophobia as a weapon. I used words like “gay” and “fag” and “queer” with hate. I buried my emotions deep inside. Everyone, including myself, forced me into a script I never knew I had the option of rejecting. I wore a mask every day of my life. And for years I internalized the shame in hating myself by being attracted to men as well as women.

I cried because I never had the courage to publicly say that I was attracted to men as well as women.

I cried because I’ve hurt women and I’ve been hurt by men. That I will spend the rest of my life transforming the toxicity in all the identities I carry as someone who walks through this life being seen as a “man.” And knowing that my truth underneath layers of propaganda is fluid and flexible and loving and fabulous.

I cried because I have a son who told my partner and my mother last night, “One day I’m going to be strong like daddy.” And I knew he meant my physical size and strength. Not my compassion. Or my vulnerability. Or my ministry. Or my love.

I want my son to look at me and internalize that strong means more than big muscles. That the word means believing survivors of abuse. It means confronting abuse in the moment. It means refusing to accept a culture that centers supremacy of any sort. It means resisting and loving and working and bending the arc of history toward justice.

I want my son to learn that being strong means getting out of bed in the morning to make the world a more just, loving and compassionate place for all people. To do what daddy does in the hospital: show up to help. And to know in the depths of his heart that “masculinity” and “femininity” are only old and outdated stories, and that he gets to write his own story. Just as I work on rewriting mine.

I want to be free. I want release.

Joshua trees

I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside…

I feel like a Joshua tree today. Reaching toward the sky, rooted in sand; prickly. I’m ready to survive my forty days and forty nights. Even if it’s a different kind of desert. Sinai and Mojave would have a lot to talk about over drinks.

Toby recently said that he missed “Papa.” I wasn’t there when he said it. But I agree. I wonder what he misses. Maybe a laugh that would shake the house? Or sitting in the recliner wrapped in long arms of copper skin and copper tubing? Perhaps it’s just the general feeling that something in life is missing and when feelings are bigger than a tiny forty pound body can hold, those are the only words you can say?

I look at Toby and see my my father. I look in the mirror and see my father. My sister, my nephew, Facebook; pictures are everywhere. Like photocopies reproduced one too many times. Everything is a little blurry around the edges. “Did you know your grandfather could make it rain by dancing in the backyard? When I was your age…” I think dad would agree with the apocrypha.

I imagine Joshua trees dancing along the old sixty-six. Waving their spines at the heavens. Waiting for a window to open and let in some rain. Not being disappointed when it’s another day of wandering through the desert. Yucca have the patience and faith of prophets. Eventually the drops will come.

There always has to be a release.

Man in motion

All I need is a pair of wheels…

Part of my graduate degree involves classes in psychology and therapy. These skills are important for working with people who are in psychospiritual distress. I’m not of the notion that human beings are inherently broken. I also experience my own woundedness. I am not someone who needs to be fixed. I am looking for support.

The path through psychospiritual trauma is an individual journey made in the context of caravan. My father is dead. My heart is broken. For now I am engaged in grief. Nobody else can do this for me. And I am not alone.

There is a dynamic tension between my need for growth and my taking time with my transition toward wellbeing. I come to church because I want community: nurturing, support, a sense of mutuality and interconnectivity that inspires me to live into the best of my humanness. And I hope that I am held, in the moment, as I am. Which for now means fragility.

I do not sit with woundedness easily. I don’t know too many people who would describe me this way. For the last six weeks I’ve shown strength, love, and resilience. And I secretly know that I am holding it all together with masking tape. I am internally distracted. I have two papers due that I haven’t been able to start. I look back to before November 27th, and wonder where that person is, because it’s not who I see in the mirror.

Two schools of thought: “Just get over it,” and “Just be who you need to be right now.” They both feel insufficient. How do I just get over losing somebody who I loved deeply, who was here one day and gone the next? I am not so heartless. And I don’t want to sit with this pain any longer than I have to; my life has to continue because that is what life does – it moves on.

I am left with just living well in this tension. Which means being broken and being strong. In community. I find comfort with Rumi’s wisdom:

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come.”

Perhaps in this caravan, I can safely experiment with release.

Never surrender

Just a little more time is all we’re asking for…

I know I’m not promised another minute. My experience is one of rebellion. A denial of a universe that moves whether or not I agree with its motives. Most of the time I don’t mind feeling small in the face of creation. But right now I want it to notice me. To provide answers that my work has taught me don’t exist. To provide concise data, not that it would change the outcome. How does one yell at boulders? Or expect windmills to care?

At least I find a comfort in their enormity; they are big enough to take it. Trees and rain absorb everything I’m willing to throw at them. The Mountain promises to be here whenever I need her. This landscape’s wisdom and solace just waits for me to wring myself out. The squeezing is the hard part.

My anger isn’t because my father is dead. It’s because things didn’t go how I imagined they would. We all thought he would live to be a hundred. He probably did too. We were the only ones who cared about things like that. Life had other plans. Sackcloth and ashes aren’t for the dead but the living; it makes no difference to the old gods. It’s up to me to learn something from all of this.

“No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” Dorothy Day has no time for my bullshit. But I’m not hopeless. There is a difference between surrender and release. The woods tell me letting go isn’t closure. It’s acceptance. I need to remember to walk in them more often in these days.

Never surrender. Release.

Lose my Illusion

Cause nothin’ lasts forever, even cold November rain…

There is a funny thing about illusions. When uninterrogated they exert gravity. When dissected, the integrity becomes a choice. Like pretending my father is still alive. The thought experiment is sanguine. Lots of coulds and woulds and shoulds. Saying goodbye in a “proper” way. Or just thinking, “I haven’t called home in a few weeks…”

The real real always wins.

I find grief holds plenty of illusions. I wake up, go to the gym, shower, come home, make coffee, then realize: my father is dead. I remember the hospital room. His body. His face. The tubes. The machines. The goddamn TV blaring in the background on Fox News.

“Dad would have hated that.” Past tense.

There’s a quip we use at the hospital: “cannot be unseen.” Reality crashes in like the Cool-Aid Man; uninvited, destructive, terrifying. And offering a sweet cold drink on a hot summer day. My illusions are born of holding onto an old normal. The transition is made up of two competing narratives; one a little less painful than the other. The new normal isn’t habit yet. Life is pretty thin on this rainy Seattle day.

A breathing exercise my therapist taught me. Hold my grief, anger, sadness, frustration, pain. For a second. One breath. And release. Didn’t work? Try it again. Breathe deeply because one second is relative and for a moment the emotions are bitter sweet and delicious and seductive. Maybe I’m not ready and this is what it feels like to fight against reality. These emotions are the strings attached to the illusion.

And suffering is born from attachment. One breath. Release.

Closing time…

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Last call aside, 2019 will be a year of transitions. My last year of classes. My last year working at the church. A year of challenge and growth; receptive to newness. A chance to really love into my vocation as minister and chaplain.

My 2018 word for the year was “enough.” It was appropriate. I struggled to be enough: of a father, a friend, a partner, a student, a human being. Most of those received passing grades. It has been a journey coming to terms with realistic agency. Prayers helped.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. ~Reinhold Niebuhr

I also had enough of 2018. I resisted as my country plunged deeper into fascism. I chose to be the person who answers the call of the dead and dying. My father was taken from me without warning. I have been stretched thin. My heart broken six ways for Sunday.

My word for 2019 is “release.” Because enough is enough.