From the Darkest of Nights

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Nicole and I were just settling in to watch a movie. She had been working nights so having this evening together, thanks to her day off, was a gift. The movie had just started when one of Joshua Station’s teens knocked at our door in tears. She told us that her siblings had gotten into a fight and that the fight had turned physical. We spent the rest of that evening sitting with our friends, mostly in silence. Looking back, I think that they would point to this as representing some of the darkest nights of their lives. Very little about that night felt positive. It felt painful. It felt confusing. It felt as if there was no light in sight.

I remember this night with fondness. I know that might sound a bit strange, but I have the gift of hindsight helping me to see that night for what it truly was. It was a moment of new life being birthed from within our friends. Something happened from within the depths of what felt like the darkest night. The love the siblings had for each other overcame what felt like insurmountable odds. They each grew up just a little that night—a growth that sent each of them in a direction of health that beat the odds. I am so glad that we didn’t get to watch that movie.

This story of new birth from the depths of seemingly endless darkness is also the story of my spiritual tradition and our natural world this time of year. Winter Solstice is upon us. To many, it feels as if the darkness is smothering. It’s too much, and yet already the light is being born again. This is partly why Christians celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation on December 25th. The symbolism is powerful. The darkness feels like it will never end, and yet it is the womb which carries the light we all hope for. Christ, The Light of the World, not only illuminates the darkness, but redeems it. Just like that night in the life of our friends, the darkness is understood through the light and we begin to appreciate it for what it truly is. The truest light of our lives will always be born out of the darkest of nights.

It is my prayer that the mystery unfolding all around you this time of year will illuminate your own journey in a powerful way. May you find the flicker of light being birthed out of your own darkest of nights.

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.
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Afraid of the Dark

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I’m afraid of the dark.

I lust after the light.

I want more and more, so no darkness remains.

But despite my best efforts to avoid it, the light begins to fade. Darkness sets in.

I turn on my light, throwing my fist to the natural world and proclaiming, “I can be surrounded by light, even now!”

But then, maybe by accident, I find myself outside.

In the darkness with no light bulb in sight.

That’s when I see them.

The stars.

I suppose they’ve always been there, but the blinding light of the sun has kept my focus on my comparably small reality.

The stars are magnificent.

I wish I could see them in the light of day, but I know this is impossible.

They take my breath away.

The moon!

Where did that come from?

As I walk I notice something strange and disorienting, but also breath taking.

My shadow.

I thought it was pure darkness, but apparently, when my eyes adjust, I see that there is light within the darkness.

They are not enemies after all.

They are one.

What am I afraid of?

Am I afraid to see the stars?

Am I afraid to see my shadow thrown on the ground by the full moon?

Am I afraid of the light within the darkness?

The sound within the silence?

The movement within the stillness?

The communion within the solitude?

I am afraid of the dark.

But as it turns out, the light I so desperately long for today is that subtle one, seen only when my eyes adjust to the mysterious and unknown darkness.

Loving Is Not Fixing

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My wife is a Birth Doula. In her work she often has to bite her tongue. It’s a part of her job to make sure parents have all the information they need in order to make a decision. Her job is not to make sure they make the “right” one. That’s hard. It’s something I think about every time we talk about her work, and it’s also uncovering some difficult aspects of my own.

It seems that Joshua Station is filled with stories that include myself and other staff people having to let go of control and simply love our folks well. Recently a young lady from our youth program was forced to make the decision to move out of her home to live with another family member.

I have been struck by the difficulty of loving her well through it all. Loving her well, I am finding, doesn’t mean fixing things. The raw truth is that this cannot be fixed.  That’s really hard for me. I am the guy that wants to make sure that she never has to deal with this pain ever again. But still the pain returns. I want to make sure that everyone in her life makes only the healthiest choices for her, but then they don’t. It’s as if God is using a crowbar to pry my fingers away from the whole situation—asking me to take a step back and realize that this one’s out of my control.

Loving is not fixing. But what does it look like to love a 13 year old who has never known stability? If I can’t protect her, what does loving her look like? Today, maybe it looks like a prayer. Maybe tomorrow it will look like a hot chocolate and sincerely asking how she’s doing. Honestly, I don’t really know what it looks like. Love is like that. It’s mysterious and impossible to boil down to a formula. For now I feel like I am simply being invited to hold her story with intentionality. To pray. To grieve. Maybe that’s what love looks like after all.

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

I’m Still With Her

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Holy Shit. That pretty much sums up the sentiment I felt last night when I went to bed, this morning when I woke up, and at this moment as I write these words. I am usually not one to buy into “doomsday” rhetoric, but this time it’s hard.

Rather than going on a rant about what I am against (so damn tempting right now) I decided to instead make an affirmation, a deep affirmation of those who I believe need it most today.

I am STILL With Her. Yes I voted for Hillary, but this goes deeper than that vote. Today I am With my wife. I affirm her strength and power. I affirm her deep desire to live in a world that doesn’t grade her on a gender curve. I affirm her deep desire to be heard when she tells stories of sexual harassment & blatant sexism. I affirm her desire for a revolution of motherhood and womanhood in this country. I affirm her own recognition of the truth of who she is–a powerful force wreaking havoc on the dominant culture of this “Man’s World”. I’m With Her.

I am Still With Her. I am with my daughter. I affirm her sincere belief that absolutely nothing separates her from whatever she dreams of doing with her life. And yes, as of today, becoming the first Female President is on her list of “jobs”. I affirm that she will do it if that’s what she truly wants. I affirm her innate power. I affirm her ability to make a grown man weep by simply singing a song she created. I affirm her love of the natural world, the people around her, and her own femininity. I’m With Her.

I’m Also With Them. My friends. My friends who are undocumented, on DACA, have undocumented family, watch their backs everyday in fear that their family will be torn apart. I affirm that you are my neighbors. I affirm your humanity. I affirm your worth, and I commit myself to doing everything within my power to make sure your greatest fears after last night do not become a reality. I’m With Them.

I’m Also With Them. My friends. My friends who have struggled to face all kinds of opposition when they make their self-affirmation that “Black Lives Matter”. My friends who believe strongly that this result is a “White-lash”, America’s way of saying “Get back in your place.” I affirm that you won’t listen to that bullshit. I affirm your need and desire to keep fighting. I affirm your humanity. I affirm your struggle. I’m With Them.

I’m Also With Them. My gay friends. My friends who have felt personally attacked by the wave of support that followed every deeply disturbing stunt. I affirm your humanity. I affirm your rights. I affirm the gift that you are to me and my country. I’m With Them.

I’m Also With Them. My Muslim Friends. My friends who have felt that their presence in my country was never wanted and that they sometimes feel less safe here than in the war-torn country they came from. I affirm their hospitality, their gift to my family, their gift for creating amazing food–oh God that amazing food. I affirm your humanity. I affirm your right to live a life of peace without fear. I’m With Them.

So, President Trump. You made bold claims that you will be the president this country needs. I am not being sarcastic when I say that I hope you will be. It is my hope that you too will recognize the humanity, the struggle, the resilience, the gift, of all my friends. I hope you will be their president too. I have serious doubts that this will happen. I don’t often like to be proven wrong. In your case, I welcome your efforts to try.

Crossing Over Podcast

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If you are a faithful reader of this blog then you probably know that I am a pretty big fan of podcasts. There is something about listening to a 1 hour conversation with your favorite author and realizing that this less polished platform has shown you more than you have been able to see from reading several of her books.

This appreciation built up over time into a desire to launch my own Podcast.

Crossing Over is a podcast dedicated to exploring the Human Journey.

That’s how I start all my episodes. But what exactly does it mean? Why did I choose those words over any others?

Let’s start with the Human Journey. To engage with this term, I feel I should break down the 3 distinct ways that I have held belief. I am focused on the HOW rather than the WHAT.

Up to the second half of Highschool the way I held my beliefs is best captured with the label, “Without Conviction”. I was a sponge. I believed pretty much everything I was taught, even if it contradicted what I had believed the day before. If we think about the journey of belief as “The Box”, I had lots of pieces, but had not yet begun the process of putting that box together.

Through the second half of Highschool, college, and a few years after, I held my beliefs in a way that is best captured with the label, “With Stubborn Conviction”. That’s right. The pendulum had swung from one extreme to another. That box was built, and it was reinforced with steel.

After my wife and I moved to Denver I had an amazing and disorienting experience that brought to light all my fears that came from the second way of holding belief. I felt as if I lost my identity. I was no longer a part of the tribe that had felt like home for so long. This gave way to a new way of holding belief. It had to. After this experience, the way I held my beliefs is best captured with the label, “With Deep Conviction, and Sincere Humility”. 

I had no interest in becoming a sponge. But my experience of deep disorientation made it impossible for me to reinforce that box with steel once again. So I moved forward with conviction. I believe what I believe. I do not feel wishy-washy. But I also know that I could have life experiences, awakenings, disorientation, etc. that will totally shake it all up again. So I find enough courage to hold my beliefs firmly, while remembering how terribly wrong they could be.

This third way of holding belief led me to the term “Human Journey”. Unlike the second way, it causes me to stand with a posture of listening–even if I stand facing someone I disagree with on nearly everything. It has caused me to see that we are not on individual islands, but are instead journeying together as one species, on one planet, breathing air and receiving life from the One through whom everything was born. Said plainly, we are all in this together. So I want my podcast to be the kind of thing that we can all gain inspiration, challenge, and encouragement from, regardless of what labels we carry around day to day.

So what about the name? Crossing Over is a loaded term. As a Christian person, I understand that my tradition builds itself upon the foundation laid by another tradition–Judaism. In the Bible the word used to refer to God’s People (in terms of ethnicity) is Hebrew. One of the ways that word can be defined is, “One Who Crosses Over”.

Standing at the foundation of my religious tradition is this term pointing to a disorienting journey. This feels significant.

I am no longer very interested in drawing lines in the sand. I still do it often, but I am less and less wanting to do it. Instead I am interested in studying, communicating, relating, etc. in ways that are truly helpful to all of us on this journey of life. I am looking for something universal–as in something meaningful and helpful to everyone regardless of belief, ethnicity, race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.

That’s what I’m exploring. I’m digging into the stories of my friends in order to uncover this common thread of human unity–the experience of Crossing Over.

This is a literal experience. This moment is known/familiar, but I will (repeatedly) be crossing over into a moment that is entirely unknown/unfamiliar.

It is also symbolic. We cross over into new realities. We get married. We get divorced. We have children. We lose children. We fall in love. We experience deep heart-break. We get jobs. We lose jobs. We feel secure in our beliefs. Everything we believe falls to pieces. It is truly an unavoidable reality along the human journey. It is universal.

I hope you’ll listen. Below are helpful links to help you subscribe. Go in peace.

Visit the Crossing Over Website

Subscribe to Crossing Over on iTunes

Subscribe to Crossing Over on Google Play

“Like” Crossing Over on Facebook

Poop, Contemplation, and Pulling My Hair Out

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“Poop! HaHa! Poop! HaHa!” Carly was most definitely amusing herself as she lay on the floor repeating that word—erupting into laughter. A few of the kids weren’t able to contain themselves and began laughing along. Others were angry and started yelling at her to shut up. My volunteers just looked at me like deer in the head lights. And I just shrugged my shoulders, which in this case meant “Somebody please fire me”, which might have been a distinct possibility since my boss was observing Kids Club that night.

Despite how stressful it was, this scene makes me smile today. Carly is autistic and her presence in Kids Club has been difficult at times. But her presence also firmly placed a magnifying glass over our program and revealed the obvious need to slow things down a bit. Kids Club has always been chaotic—complete with running, yelling, cartwheels, flying kickballs, and no shortage of crying. Carly’s reactions became the catalyst we needed to say, “Something has to change.” She taught me a great deal about how to structure Kids Club, and she even joined a chorus of others—mostly my wife and a couple of books—in teaching me the importance of slowing things down externally for the benefit of our centeredness internally. In short, Carly became a sort of Spiritual Director for me.

Perhaps Carly’s influence on Kids Club has a significance for those of us pursuing a contemplative spirituality in the West.  Our culture is one of over indulgence, over entertainment, and over stimulation. All of these things form a loud static through which hearing the deepest rhythms of God in the Universe becomes nearly impossible. Carly began to do better in Kids Club when we reduced the level of intensity of our games, simplified our schedule, and offered the kids more predictability. My family began to feel the fog lift at home when we reduced the amount of stuff we had, created an intentional family rhythm, and sought a deeper connection to the natural world by getting our beloved hens.

My initial reaction to this wisdom was similar to that of the kids at Joshua Station. I panicked. I couldn’t imagine my life without the noise that had become so normal. I am grateful that panic eventually gave way to a sense of simply trusting the process that was unfolding. It’s a process that helped Carly stay engaged at Kids Club and it’s a process that allows me to hear more of that deep rhythm in the universe as well as within myself. It is a rhythm seldom heard in our culture, but it is nothing short of transformational.

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

8th & Wyandot: Be Fruitful & Multiply

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“What gives you life?” I am pretty new to this whole ‘be a chaplain to the youth’ thing, but that seemed like an important question to ask. “I write.” The answer was simple and yet took me completely by surprise. Becky has been a part of the Joshua Station community off and on for the past 7 years. During that time she had developed a reputation for literally falling asleep when I would start up a conversation in Teen Group that required any level of depth. I imagined her watching netflix. I imagined her taking multiple naps after school. But writing? Nope, didn’t see that one coming.

Since this conversation I have encouraged Becky to keep writing and she has graciously allowed me into that sacred space of reading the fiction tales she likes to put together. I have occupied that sacred space with many youth over the years. Karen and her painting, Juan and his color pencil drawings that looked so crisp we suspected it was ink, Robert and Kimberly with their spoken word, Emery with her music. There seems to be an innate desire to do more than just absorb. There seems to be an innate desire to create. To create something—anything that feels like it could cause a ripple in the world around us.

Our community recognizes that God invites us into the ongoing act of Creation. For some of us that invitation leads us to have children. For others it leads us to plant trees or gardens. For others it beckons us to allow the beauty of our inner voice to come forth through song, poetry, dance, visual art, writing, and the list goes on and on.  All of these things are expressions of what it means to participate in that ongoing act of Creation.

Understanding that we have the power to create also comes with an awareness that what we create has the power to be thoughtless, harmful, needlessly offensive, unjust, and counter productive to God’s dream of Creation. We have the power to create societies where there are none among us lacking essentials and dignity, and we have the power to create societies where some have and others have not. We have the power to speak words that serve to inspire those around us, and we have the power to speak words that cut others off at the knees. We have the power to create goodness, joy, peace, and love, and we have the power to create horror, sadness, war, and hatred.

What I love about asking the youth the question I asked Becky is that the answer is rarely something that serves to create the negative world I’ve alluded to. When they listen to what’s stirring within themselves, what wells up is almost always full of goodness, joy, peace, and love. May they listen to that stirring—and may we follow suit.

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.