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.

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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.

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Today, love won.

Rally-for-Marriage-Equality-Brisbane-2012_25_Photo-Charlyn-CameronToday I woke up to the arc of history bending just a little more toward justice. As I left the gym at 7am my Facebook feed started blowing up with hashtags: #SCOTUS #equality #pride2015. I sat in my car for a moment to let the information sink in. I had a feeling it would happen; that this was on the right side of history. But hoping and praying and advocating doesn’t make equality real… this, right now, today. This was real.

I didn’t always believe in marriage equality. When I was a Christian I toted the line on “one man and one woman.” I bought into the “hate the sin but love the sinner” mentality that churches use to describe their gay and lesbian congregants. I thought that because Church teaching rejected homosexuality, I had to reject homosexuality.

4ecf8071d6f9d389bb_kym6bxvfxUntil my friends came out as gay. Until family members came out as gay. Until I started knowing and loving people who were gay. Slowly, what I had been taught in church began to feel wrong. On one hand, I was taught love and tolerance and community and forgiveness. On the other hand I was taught to reject, condemn, and exclude. Spiritually I felt the dissonance of what I knew was right, love, and what I knew was wrong, condemnation. Eventually, I had to make up my mind.

I chose to stand on the side of love. This meant that, for me, church teaching about homosexuality was wrong. I struggled with this for a long time, but it formed a crack in my spiritual life. And like a chip in the windshield, the crack just kept getting bigger. I began to question women’s role in the Church; beliefs about other religions; contraception and life issues… eventually my windshield had to be replaced. Choosing love had a snowball effect that eventually led me to the Unitarian Universalist church; a faith that doesn’t teach that homosexuality is inherently evil; a church that affirms the dignity and worth of EVERY person.

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(Stephen Masker/Creative Commons)

The recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage has huge civil repercussions. However, as many rainbows as I see in my newsfeed, I also see the mostly religious dissent of “NO!” “SINFUL!” “DAMNNATION!” Which frustrates me. The ruling doesn’t force churches to marry gay couples. It doesn’t change church doctrine. It doesn’t rewrite the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t force people to become homosexual or even like homosexuality. All it does is guarantee rights to a group of people who deserves them; not because they are special but because they are human.

We live in a country of diversity. Almost every ethnic and religious tradition on earth today resides in the United States. This means that we are bound to find people who are unlike us in tradition, faith, physical appearance and language. We will most definitely disagree on a whole bunch of issues. But one thing we should all want is the acknowledgement of our own humanity; which comes with certain rights that go beyond pen and paper legalities. One of the most important being the right to life and dignity.

Supporters of gay marriage fill the rotunda as they gathered to rally at the Utah State Capitol Friday Jan. 10. 2014, and  deliver a petition with over 58,000 signatures in support of gay marriage to Utah Governor Gary Herbert.  (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)

 (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)

To live freely, openly, with kindness and compassion and community and without fear. Today the Supreme Court helped remove just a little bit of fear and replaced it with love. And for that, I am thankful. Because today is a day about which I can tell my son, “I remember when I came home, looked you in the eye, and said, ‘Toby, today your world just got a lot bigger. Today, love won.’”

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What can I teach my son about violence?

3811620119_american_flag_gun_xlargeWith another mass shooting by an armed white male, I am once again reminded (as if I could ever forget) that I live in a society with the potential for murderous violence. And no matter what the NRA and Fox News or any other pundit tells me, I agree with President Obama’s assessment: “Now is the time for mourning and healing, but let’s be clear: at some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”  It doesn’t. Not with the frequency as it has been happening. Not with the body count. There is something wrong with us as Americans.

I’m at a loss, because I don’t know what else I can do. I already work for a peace and justice non-profit. I am studying in ministry so I can work and preach out against violence and promote systemic change. I try to be an active part of my neighborhood and community. But it is not enough. None of it seems to stop the killing; not in a park or a school or even a church. I confess, I am afraid not for my life, but for the life of my partner and son.

flat,1000x1000,075,f.u2No amount of armed escalation on my part is going to keep them safe. I cannot be with them 24/7. I am also not arrogant enough to believe, should I ever own a gun, that my preemptive killing of an assailant will make things better. One thing I’ve learned through studying ancient texts; violence only begets more violence. So what else is left other than being a man of peace? I can raise my son to be a man of peace, too.

I will teach my son that Black Lives Matter.

Tobias will also be taught that all lives matter. But in particular, he will know from an early age that specifically, black lives matter. Because it is black lives that have been put through our cultural meat grinder. I will make sure he understands, at least as much as he is able, what the black community has gone through in our country. I will not sugar coat the history or the reality of the killing and the incarceration and the lack of educational and economic opportunities his black brothers and sisters have had to endure. I will raise him to acknowledge his own prejudices when he finds them, and to challenge the prejudice around him.

I will teach my son to respect Women.

I want Tobias to learn the history of patriarchy and the importance of equality. He will learn about women who have shaped the world through religion, science, literature and politics. I will work to make sure he sees women as partners who are just as capable as he is in everything from sports to education to work to family. I will make sure that he understands that a woman’s body belongs only to her and that he has no right over it at all. I want to show him that taking away the rights of women and girls only hurts our world. I will raise him to be a feminist ally.

I will teach my son to respect Sex.

I can teach my Tobias to respect his own sexuality and the sexualities of others. He will be shown a healthy respect for his body and that the bodies of other people are just as sacred as his. I want him to see himself as beautiful, and acknowledge that the beauty in others comes not from their appearance but from their humanity. I will teach him that sex is good and fun and healthy and so very special that he should never be ashamed of sharing intimacy with another person.

I will teach my son about his Privilege.

Not the kind of privilege that makes him better than other people. I will teach him about the responsibility that comes with his access to education, a safe home, new clothing, clean water, healthy food, electricity, and access to computers and information. I can impress on him that, because he was born to my partner and I, he has already won the lottery and lives better than most of the world. I hope he can understand and accept the guilt that comes with receiving what he has not earned. I pray that he uses that guilt to change the world; to understand that with great power comes greater responsibility. I will raise him to know that his privilege requires him to be a servant leader.

11406657_709812235797484_1988572270914461636_oThis seems like an impossible task. He has everything working against him, from history to mass media, education to religion. And as much as we want for our children, I know that I can only do so much; he is his own person. But if I can make the world a better place through my son, I will. Along with my partner, through gentleness, love, guidance and prayer, I will try to shape his young mind toward justice. I will teach my son how to be a better man than I could ever be, for him and for his future.

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Life isn’t (un)fair…

universe-hd-photo95-JPGA long time ago I stopped believing in a fair universe. From everything I’ve observed, life is a mix of intentionality, chance and inevitability. I have a small amount of agency; I work hard and pay my taxes and volunteer all of which come with their own rewards. But for the most part, life is just as likely to kick me in the balls as it is to let me win the lottery. Nature has no sense of justice outside of its laws of cause and effect. It is up to me to create fairness from an otherwise apathetic life.

When I believed God was in charge of everything, I had mantras like “it’s all part of God’s plan” or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” to fall back on whenever undeservedly bad things happened to good people. (let’s be honest, bad people deserve it, right?) Eventually they all became platitudes. Because as more curses and blessings stacked up, most of which without any catalyst, God’s plan began to look like trying to read tea leaves and God had a funny sense of what people could handle vs. what they should have to handle. In the end I was forced to reject the notion of a just God because a just God wouldn’t stand idly by in the face of so much injustice.

free-willNot just the kind of injustice that people intentionally cause; not crime or war or corporate greed or any of the millions of ways we dehumanize each other. I’m talking about the stupid everyday injustice, like car accidents and slipping on a patch of ice and breaking your leg. Accidents with horrible consequences. The butterfly effect of causality that reaps human life. I can’t even buy into the “free will” answer: God doesn’t intervene because he loves our free will more than he loves starving children. It’s bullshit, because that’s not love or justice, that’s an excuse. Therefore, I was left with either rejecting my preconceptions about God or believing in a lie.

Recently, my father-in-law passed away. While he was not perfect, he lived a good and clean life. He didn’t smoke. He drank less than occasionally. He was a runner. He attended church, was married more than 30 years and was an overall good man. He was diagnosed with throat cancer, which spread to his brain and eventually to the rest of his body. The doctors originally gave him 6 months to live. He fought for over 4 years until May 11th, 2015. There it is; blessings and curses all wrapped up in a whole ball of intentionality, chance and inevitability. If a just God did exist, this wouldn’t have happened.

BristleconeThe ironic part is I wish I still believed in a just God because right now I could really use something to blame. I want to look God in the eye and say “You are wrong! You did this! This is your fault and how dare you proclaim love and justice and mercy and compassion when you let good men suffer and die!” I am angry because Andy didn’t deserve to die. Not this way; not like this. He deserved better from his God than he received. There are millions of other people in the world who are more deserving than he was to die of cancer. This is a horrible statement but right now I feel horrible and selfish and hurt and confused and broken. And tired.

Right now I am just. So. Tired. Because what is the point? Why should I work so hard for ideals that go against the very fabric of the universe? Why should I care? In a just universe I’d be able to look at my son and tell him that life will be kind. But right now all I can tell him is that he will never know his grandfather; that he was robbed of having a good man in his life because life isn’t fair.

Life just is.

It is a hard lesson and I’m left with one lonely realization; if there is going to be justice in this world then I’m going to have to be the one making it happen. It’s up to me to create justice where it doesn’t exist. Because that is what I want to do. The responsibility has been passed from God to me and it’s a heavy load. 11238228_10153338843751934_1951030714927036305_nFortunately I know a whole lot of other people who are working to lighten that load. I know miracle workers on the margins of society who squeeze justice from life like blood from stone and I want to be just as strong and powerful and tireless as them. And maybe if I can just keep trying, keep believing in love and justice, I can make my father-in-law’s death mean something.

Because I think that’s what he would have wanted. And it’s what I want. Rest in love Andy. I’ll keep working on the justice.

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Walking in their Footsteps: A Call to Solidarity

(This post was originally written for the Faith & Family Homelessness Project. I highly recommend checking out their resources and learning more about how to experience and volunteer with their Poverty Immersion program.)

I’ve never personally experienced poverty. It’s an obstacle that inherently separates me from people living on the margins. I’d like to think I’m in solidarity with the poor because of the way I vote, the money I donate and the time I volunteer. I’ve built houses in Mexico, volunteered at food banks, and even served two and a half years in the Peace Corps in Romania. I’ve spoken with people living with dirt floors and tin roofs and have shared meals with families with no running water or electricity. I even work at a peace and justice non-profit organization. But I’ve never lived on the margins.

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Which is why participation in the poverty simulation offered by Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry made a difference. It brought me one step closer to personally understanding the stigma, barriers, and hurdles people on the margins face on a daily basis just to have access to food, shelter and healthcare. I was reminded that our “welfare” system is a punitive one, punishing people for needing help.

I played a small part; a day care provider. However, I was forced to turn people away because of overcrowding, funding, and health issues. Participants needed a safe place for their children in order to go to work and pay their bills. I wasn’t able to help everybody, even though I wanted to. I watched as participants became increasingly frustrated with their experience. In the end, everyone had a small glimpse into what daily life is like for our brothers and sisters without food, shelter or resources.

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Afterwards, we unpacked the experience. There were plenty of opinions on how to “fix” the welfare system. Two comments stood out. One participant mentioned that when we give to the poor, we should ask their forgiveness. It is the poor and marginalized who have been failed by our society and system and we’re all part of the problem. Another person said we need to stop judging people for being poor; we need to change our system to make it easier for people to get the help they need. As much as possible, we should eliminate the piles of paperwork, agency signatures, hoops and rules we make people go through. Sure, some people might take advantage of the system, but how many more people would be helped and brought back into self-sufficiency.

These opinions made me rethink my behavior. I’ve never thought of asking a person for forgiveness when I hand them a dollar outside a supermarket. But it makes sense. By asking for their forgiveness and blessing, I’m reaffirming their inherent worth and dignity by treating them with respect; I’m asking them for something only they can give. And I need to stop caring how they ended up being homeless. It’s not my place to judge and I’m not qualified to ask.

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All I know is that as a man of faith, it’s my responsibility to respond with compassion. This is the hard truth of faith; this is where conversion of the heart takes place. When we stop punishing and start forgiving. When we stop blaming and start helping. When we treat our neighbor as ourselves. This is why I’m grateful for having been able to participate in the poverty simulation. It reminded me yet again of the humanity of the poor, allowing me, if only for a brief moment, to walk in their footsteps. That is where solidarity begins.

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Celebrating a time of thin-ness…

EquinoxAutumn is my favorite season. I love the crispness in the air, trees changing color and how nature begins to slow down. It seems to me that the world is responding deeply, as if letting out a long breath that has been held since the arrival of spring. The days grow shorter and colder. Yet nothing is ready to give up the joy of summer.

Speculaaskruiden_mThere is an urgency to get ready; to prepare. In the same moment, there is time to celebrate. Embracing the harvest, life says thank you to the sun for heat and growth and innocence. I begin to make my heavy beer and cider. Heather begins to can and bake. It is the time for strong flavors. Clove, cinnamon, licorice, nutmeg… these are the mellowing agents that ease the cutting air and early sunsets. They spice my coffee, chocolate, wine and whisky. They are the soft glowing embers that somehow remain long after warm liquids are consumed.

Today is the Autumnal equinox. Today for Mabon I am encouraged to reap what I’ve sown. To give thanks for blessings and to offer penance for sins. Because in three months, winter will come. In three months, we will be in darkness. In three months, my son will be born.

48899a6a49d91b417310cd3e07552089There is a term called “thin places” where supposedly the boundaries between the physical and spiritual become permeable. Perhaps there is a wisdom here, as a day that marks both balance and transition can draw the mind towards contemplation. Today is a “thin day;” a day for giving thanks, for letting go of regrets, for forgiveness and for friendship. Truly, it is a special day as much as any day which has the gift of meaning and intentionality.

So to embrace the thin-ness of the fall equinox, I am giving thanks for my bounty! A life full of richness and wealth, love and life. I am thankful for my time and place, opportunity and situation. I acknowledge that I only had a part in my blessings. That everything I have was helped along by friends and family and church and coworker and taxes and infrastructure and institution. My blessings are not an island, so I give thanks for the help I’ve been given.

autumn-leaves-wallpapers-photosI ask for forgiveness from my parents, for not calling as often as I could and for not being as appreciative of them as I should. I ask forgiveness from my friends for not giving you as much time, love, support or attention as you deserve. I ask forgiveness from the homeless man on the corner for not looking him in the eye. I ask forgiveness from my dog for choosing Netflix over walks, and laziness over dog-park time.

Green Man autumnI celebrate the food we’ve grown in our backyard! For the 18 pounds of raspberries and countless tomatoes and potatoes and peppers and kale. I celebrate the land for its soil, the rain for its water, the sun for its energy and life for giving food to eat.

Today I celebrate Autumn.

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