Tag Archives: Childhood

All Or Nothing

I’m taking a little break from work (working on my mythology). I need to let it sit for a few minutes. Last week I finished one of the longer stories in the collection, and I was a bit stuck on where to go from there. Right now I’m trying to finish up a story I put on hold a while ago instead of starting completely new material.

I procrastinated for quite a while today because it was so nice out. That’s the beautiful thing about being a writer. I also just wanted to talk things over with God, though. We had a really good conversation, actually. As we were talking I realized something. When I was a kid, all I wanted to be was “different.” I didn’t want to be like all the other kids. It wasn’t as simple as that, though. I wanted to be a rebel. I was, in thought if not in action, anti-establishment, and firmly against anything that was popular, whether it was policy or pop music.

While we were talking, though, I realized something. Anti-establishment and against-what-is-popular is normal now. I still want to be different, and I realized that being outwardly Christian and proud of it makes me different. I was never good at the different I thought I wanted to be, but the different that I know I really am; the different that I strive to be is a different that I love. The different I thought I wanted was about making noise and breaking rules. The different I really want and the different that I am is about love. It’s as simple as that.

I watched a talk by a priest named Father Mike (I forget how to spell his last name) about when Jesus says to take on his yoke and learn from him. Basically what that means is that we have to walk beside him and learn to imitate him. We have to learn to see people like he sees them, and we have to learn how to act so that people see him when they see us.

Being like him–being different–has always seemed like a huge responsibility to me, and at times, it seems impossible. In particular, telling people about him and about his Kingdom has always seemed to be a very difficult and intimidating task because to a lot of people it sounds at least crazy, if not offensive. I’ve read a lot of advice about how to pray effectively, and everything says to listen. I’m usually not good at this, but today was different.

I asked a question. “Were you ever afraid to say what you had to say while you were here on Earth?”

I waited for a moment, but the answer came pretty quickly. He said, “Of course I was afraid. I had to defend something that sounded crazy and blasphemous to a lot of people, and I knew I was going to get killed for it. I am God, but I’m also a regular person. You’ve read about how scared I was the night before I died. What you feel is normal and okay.”

Of course his fear was different than my fear. A large part of my fear is simply not wanting to be thought of as a weirdo. The truth is, though, that I’ve gone too far to turn back now. This is the different that I want, and I can’t just stay where I am. With Jesus, it’s all or  nothing.

Holy Week (Wednesday)

I saw something on Facebook that said today is the day Judas decided to sneak off and agreed to give away Jesus’ location; a decision that sent history and spirituality in a drastically new direction. Tomorrow is the night of the Last Supper, and the beginning of the Passion where Jesus stays up all night and prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s not afraid of dying. God can’t die. He is afraid of the horrible pain that the human part of his nature is going to have to endure, though.

Death is a very weird part of life. My dad and I listened to a story on NPR a few weeks ago about a woman who trains forest rangers on what to do when they find a dead body in the woods. She talked about how people generally want to see the body and say goodbye. For some reason, this wasn’t the case for me when my dad’s father died several years ago. I never saw his body. I chose not to. I’m not sure why that was.

I’m really comfortable with the idea of an afterlife. I never knew my mom’s dad. He died when I was only about a year old. I just figure I’ll have a lot of annoying questions for them both when I get to heaven. The thing is, it’s fun to think about heaven or eternity or paradise, or whatever one wants to call it, but nonetheless, death is weird. It’s weird for the people who are left behind.

My dad’s father was seriously sick and stuck in a nursing home for two years. By the end, though it felt wrong, or strange, or both, I found myself praying that God would take him. Then I found that I didn’t feel as sad about his death as I thought I should. It was, what I would call, an unfortunate relief.

The other night my epilepsy was acting up, and I found myself praying nearly the same thing that Jesus did on the first Holy Thursday: God, if there’s a way that you can get rid of this, please make it go away, but if it’s meant to be for whatever reason, I pray that your will is done. Shortly after that I fell asleep. There is nothing better than sleep when dealing with epilepsy. I am hardly exaggerating when I say it feels like dying and coming back to life. It’s strange and scary, but it induces the deepest sleep.

I try to envision myself as one of Jesus’ friends, and I wonder what they must have been thinking this week, and particularly over the next few days. Beyond the question of whether or not he was or wasn’t the Messiah they had been waiting for, their friend was in a terrible emotional state to begin with, but then he had to be tortured and executed. Just reading or hearing the story makes me angry and sad, and I can’t imagine what they must have been feeling.

I imagine that Saturday was the worst, though. The initial shock was over. Everyone was hiding and waiting. Probably some of the Apostles had forgotten about what was supposed to happen on Sunday. They were probably thinking more about what on earth they were going to do next. Their leader was gone, and with that, they probably felt like their purpose truly was, or may have been lost. On top of all of that, all but one of them had abandoned Jesus, and they now had to deal with the self-incriminating emotions connected with that.

What I do know is that they had hope. Jesus told them that they were going to mess up, but that they were also going to turn back. They didn’t initially know what they were doing, but once they did, they had something to hold onto. And still, death is a weird thing. I may have hope that I’m going to see my grandfathers in heaven, but for years now they’ve been in a place I can’t get to. When I was in middle school, I remember being vaguely familiar with a girl who had cancer, though I didn’t know it for a long time. I was not particularly religious at the time, and all I can remember thinking when she passed was, “Now what?”

Whether we’re talking about the wait for heaven, or the Easter Triduum, there is always this feeling of “Now what?” It’s this strange, irreconcilable jolt of separation that even the most hopeful have to deal with.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

 

 

Complementary

I had an interesting conversation with a new acquaintance a few weeks ago. I haven’t really thought too much about it, but I thought it would be worth sharing. Our conversation, of course, started with small talk, but for some reason, we both felt very comfortable with each other, and I found out in a fairly short amount of time, that this person was also Christian.

The interesting part of this is that she and I had very different views of things like science, philosophy, mythology and logic going into the conversation. It also turned out that she and I came to faith through very different means, had different upbringings, and were part of different denominations within Christianity. All this being said, I want to explain, in particular, my view of science and logic, as well as some broader sociological issues from my personal Catholic point of view.

As I mentioned in a recent post, there was a time (mostly through middle and high school) when I was Catholic in practice, but Agnostic in belief. I went through the motions without actually knowing what any of it meant. A lot of this has a lot to do with where I grew up, who I hung out with, and what my education was like.

I grew up in a suburban town in Massachusetts where the political standpoint on many issues tends to be relatively liberal, and the line between church and state is drawn boldly. When I was a kid, the most important things in my family’s life were our extended family in Maine, and my education, including the cultivation of my imagination. Often, these things superseded God entirely, so our church attendance was infrequent, and we didn’t really talk about God at home.

My education as a kid was delivered from an atheistic standpoint. I went to public school, and no one, kids or teachers, talked about God. Therefore, my initial understanding of Truth was from a scientific and mathematical standpoint. 1 + 1 = 2. The Big Bang created the Universe. God was there somewhere, sure, but at the time it didn’t really matter to me. Then when I got what you might call the equidistant of an internship in high school developing a disability advocacy program, I ended up working with a devout Jewish guy, my brother’s age, and a Muslim woman,  who I’d guess was in her twenties, and it was interesting to work with people of other faiths who were also far more invested than I was.

Then I went to a Christian college, as I have previously mentioned. Although we were saturated with the culture and Christian worship, I ended up taking a few philosophy classes where the whole point was to think logically and atheistically. All of this comes back to my conversation a few weeks ago. My acquaintance was surprised that I put so much faith in physics, for example. However, this also relates to another question she asked me. She asked, “So how do understand Greek mythology, since it was once an actual belief system?” I told her that this was a belief system based on what was inferable and observable at the time. I put faith in science because it can prove what is inferable and observable to be true. I also explained that I have never thought God and science were at odds, and that God often works through, natural, scientifically verifiable means.

One last thing I would like to add is that I have come to understand that a belief system has stages, and is personalized invariably by everyone. What I mean is that the primary stage of one’s belief system informs their secondary, their secondary informs their third, etc. Specifically this refers, in my case to my understanding of science through Christianity, my understanding of politics and culture through both, and my understanding of economics through all three. In other words, certain beliefs hold priority over others, but they all inform each other to some degree. If science can help me understand what God is doing, then great.

A Shared Story

When my mom and I got back to our neighborhood from running errands, my friend was outside his house, so I had my mom drop me there. We hung out in his yard for a little while, and then we went for a wander. Somehow we ended up talking about Mythic Island. It had nothing to do with what I’ve posted over the past few days, but by the time we got back to our neighborhood we had decided to go back. We used to play Mythic Island with a huge group of friends, but we’ve decided to keep it between the two of us. We’re going to treat it both as a story and as a real, significant world, as if it really does exist. After every adventure we’re going to talk about what happened and record our conversations so we can post it as a podcast.

This got me thinking. When we played Mythic Island, we treated it as real. We would bring things from this world into that world and vise-versa. We agreed that it would probably be a bad idea to allow things from that world to come into this one. This is really just for logistical reasons. We want to be able to shut the game off, as it were. We didn’t close the door to this world when we were in middle school, so we would often see dragons flying around on the highway and such.

For weeks now I’ve been trying to get my friends together to play through a D&D campaign I’ve been working on. We just can’t seem to get everyone together at the same time. I suspect I will be in charge of coming up with a lot of the Mythic Island story because I have more time, and I think I can use a lot of the same ideas. I’ll probably have to alter the plot quite a bit because my friend and I are largely coming up with the new chapter of the story together, and we’re basing it off of where we left off about ten years ago. Can you feel the nostalgia?

The idea of my D&D campaign was that several hundred years before the characters even come in, there was an epic war. The children of two brothers who were very prominent nobles became the rulers of two opposed kingdoms, and at one point, one of the kids killed his uncle. His father cursed him and created the Darkness. That kid’s soul was then tied to the Darkness and was not allowed to die. The ultimate goal of the campaign was to first find out that there is something more abstract called the Light, and then to find out that there is a soul tied to the Light. Once they learned this, the goal of the campaign would be to find the soul of the Light. That soul would then lead you on a mission to either destroy the Darkness along with the soul that is attached to it, or to convince the soul of the Darkness to befriend the Light, thus destroying the Darkness, but not the soul.

Of course I’m over-thinking the whole thing. I think the idea of playing a story instead of simply writing it is strange to me. When we played Mythic Island as middle school kids it was only natural. It’s like it’s foreign to me now because I haven’t done it for so long. I’m going to have to get used to it again.

We stopped playing this when we went to high school. That year I took an acting class, and I felt like I was terrible at it. I guess I never equated playing the story with acting, and if I had, I still don’t know how I would have graded myself. Granted, in that case I was playing myself in an imagined situation. D&D definitely has an aspect of role-playing, but we really don’t try very hard at it. We spend a lot of time just trying to figure out what the heck we’re supposed to be doing. I think the Mythic Island scenario will be interesting because we’re the Dungeon Masters as well as the players.

When we played it as kids we spent a lot of time running from the bad guys. We made our own lives difficult, but that made the game more fun. We know what’s going on in Mythic Island now, and once again, we’re intentionally making our lives difficult. The battles will be harder, and the bad guys will be scarier because we’re older, more sophisticated, and more creative. Of course this also means our solutions to problems and our schemes will be more complex. I’ve been wanting to do this and I’ve been trying to talk my friends into it for a year now. I’m so happy we’re going to be doing it.

I’m still going back and forth a little on how I feel about keeping it between the two of us. At one point in time we had a small army of friends with us. At the same time, we were the most invested in the story, and sometimes our other friends didn’t take it seriously enough. The nice thing about it is that this friend and I don’t often hang out without other people any more. The truth is, we really don’t have that much in common other than our shared obsession with Star Wars and our history with Mythic Island. The game started with just the two of us anyway. I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that I started thinking about this more, lately.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Look At The Sky

The other day I realized just how much I stare at my phone. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I realized that for the longest time, I had not looked at the sky. After realizing this, I realized just how much I don’t pay attention to as an adult that really seemed to matter when I was a kid. As a kid I would just sit and stare at the sky and think about a million things and nothing. It seemed like there was so much more in the world. I didn’t notice when I stopped doing that. I didn’t notice as the world became smaller and faster.

I’ve been trying to make a point to look at the sky now. I still don’t always remember. I think it’s important. I used to see pictures in the clouds. I don’t see pictures anymore, but I still think the sky is beautiful. I think it’s important to appreciate the things God made. If it wasn’t important, he wouldn’t have made things beautiful. The world could have been black and white. As an artist, I don’t always know why I make things or write things. I just can’t help it, and even though I don’t have an explicable reason for them, I love the things I make. I imagine God feels the same way, particularly about people who can love him back.

It’s funny that a lot of things in the world can keep you alive in one case, and can kill you in another. I like fire. At one point in time, fire was integral to the survival of the human race. In fact, for several years we’ve heated our house with a wood stove through the winter because it’s been cheaper. Fire is something I can still stare at for hours and think about nothing and everything. I like to play with fire. I like to watch stuff burn (yes I know that sounds weird) because it’s interesting and beautiful.

I’ve said this before, but I have over one hundred cousins of various removes, etc, so I just call them all cousins. Anyway, at camp this summer my mom had to explain to one of my cousins who has some form of developmental problem that he couldn’t touch fire. He understood that it would hurt him, but he thought he could run to the lake and put it out before it got too hot. Like me, he thought fire was beautiful and interesting and just wanted to understand it better.

Two years ago, when we had a record-breaking winter, my dad went hiking and made a video. It was snowing and sub-zero on the mountain, but my dad had the time of his life. He loves cold and snow. When I was a kid I liked it. Listening to the weather forecast and hearing seventies and eighties instead of eighties and nineties makes me a little sad these days. At the same time, a part of me is hoping for another record-breaking winter. If it has to come, I’d rather it come in full force. When we got Seamus, we tried to give him some snow to play with. He was afraid of it. He’s a really stupid bird.

I wonder if it’s easier to appreciate things when you think about how you relate to those things, or when you project yourself into a story or an idea or a situation. In my last post I talked about Mythic Island. There was a specific way in which to get there. You had to build a fairy house. Fairies would show up and live there, and in return for building them a house, they would do things for you. In particular, they would create a magical portal that would allow you to get to Mythic Island. A fairy house is a tepee made of sticks and leaves and things. The better the fairy house, the more fairies it would attract. The more fairies you had, the more they could do for you. When we hung out in the woods as kids we would think about these things, and we would build fairy houses just to be nice. We had more of a reason for being there.

I think it’s harder to relate to the world when our worlds are our computers. On Facebook and WordPress and wherever else we “exist” we create the versions of ourselves that we want that particular world to see, and we see the manufactured versions of everyone else. We can look at pictures of clouds and fire, but they’re no substitute for the real thing. When I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, it was like going back to Mythic Island. At the time, though, things from Mythic Island would come into the “real world” and we had to help dragons get back home. I guess maybe that made the world seem a little bigger, too.

What I didn’t realize as a kid was that the world is really big. It’s just my little piece of it that’s small. In Mythic Island we could ride our dragons hundreds of miles in a day, we were powerful, and time didn’t make sense. It was our world, and that’s why it seemed so much bigger than the “real world.” I guess I just kind of miss being amazed by the sky. The world really hasn’t changed. I’m just more easily distracted, and ironically, I think I’m less patient in some ways. For the longest time I didn’t want a cell phone. Everyone my age (eleven or so) had one, but I didn’t care. Then when smart phones became a thing my mom practically had to force me to get one. And a few days ago I realized that I forget to be amazed by the sky.

Don’t forget to be amazed. Even if you’ve looked at something a million times, look at it again. Listen to that song you love again. Smell those flowers. Climb that mountain. Eat that cookie. Go back to Mythic Island.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Free Will, God’s Plan, Faith And Unbelief

I read something interesting for class the other day. A guy named Gerald Sittser said–not a direct quote–that if we seek God’s kingdom first, then our choices become his will for us. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It feels too simple to me. I tend to think that God is really complicated. Maybe complicated isn’t the right way to describe him. In some ways he’s no more complicated than any average person. Maybe it’s more that what he does and controls is complicated. In fact, he’s more one-track-minded than most people. He’s not emotionally volatile for one thing, and he never sways from his plan for the Universe.

People tend to fall off the wagon. A lot of us have no idea what we want to do with our lives or what we’re supposed to be doing. It seems to me that if God has a grand, master plan, and if we’re part of that plan, then wouldn’t it follow that he would want us to do certain things? A lot of people talk about God’s calling; what God calls them to do. How does that relate to free choice? Obviously people can ignore God’s calling, but I think it tends not to end well–at least not as well as it otherwise would. This is coming from personal experience.

Is there a best way to go? Sittser used the analogy of a road trip. He and a friend had a set destination and a date they had to get there. They planned their road trip around these. They decided not to follow any highways if possible, and instead, meandered along seemingly random back roads. Is this like how we choose what to do with our lives? He said that we can see how God had a plan for us in what we chose if we look at it in retrospect. Is this just conjecture, or is this God’s way of showing someone how they’ve progressed towards their destination?

I believe that I was destined to be a Christian and maybe I was destined to be a musician, but for a long time I chose not to be. For a long time when I was younger I decided that while I believed in God, I didn’t believe in Christianity, partly because I didn’t understand it. However, I believe that God made me so that I would need him, emotionally, among other reasons.

I do think that people are a product of their environment, upbringing, etc, but I also believe that God makes people in specific ways, and I think he makes people for other people. I also think that people can choose to be whoever they want to be. This is just an idea I have, but I think God presents us with choices throughout our lives and I think he probably wants us to choose certain things, but he also gives us the option not to. Furthermore, I think there are certain choices we make that God probably doesn’t care much about either way–like if we want chocolate or coffee flavored ice cream.

I was thinking about my friends last night. Many of them don’t believe in God partly because they don’t see any reason to; they haven’t seen any evidence that he even exists. I wonder if they think I’m crazy. I think I always believed in God; at least I’ve always believed that he exists. I’m not sure why. I guess because I was able to imagine it. For a while it didn’t really matter that much. He was just there. I guess it might have something to do with the fact that prayer saved my life when I was a baby… Which is a long story for another time.

The point is, I’ve always felt like he’s just been around. I can’t even understand not having that feeling. I know I choose to believe because I think I have good reason to. Can someone choose to believe without thinking they have good reason to? Isn’t that kind of the point of faith? If someone doesn’t have faith in God, what do they have faith in? Not believing in God sounds as crazy to me as believing probably sounds to my friends.

A large part of the reason I believe in free will is because some people don’t believe in God, but many people change. I don’t think God would intentionally create people who don’t believe in him. I’ll say it here because very few people I actually know read my blog, but I’m closeted universalist. I believe that Jesus died to redeem everyone. My belief is that at the second coming, everyone will be rejoined in the same place and we will all finally be on the same page. I don’t like talking about hell, but I do think that nonbelievers and really terrible people spend different amounts of time there for different reasons. This is why I desperately want my friends to be saved.

Would I give up free will to make this happen? Not a chance. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? I think God gave us free will for that reason, though. I think he wants us choose to believe in him. Are some of us destined to? I don’t know. Maybe. I think actually, some of us are made in such a way that it’s easier for us to believe. God gave me a crazy imagination, which made believing easier.

What about when it comes to music? Was I destined to be a musician? I’ve always loved it. There’s always been music in my life. When I was 14 I came to the realization that my friends were all good at something, and I was okay at writing poetry, but I didn’t think that counted. I told my dad that I wanted to learn to play guitar, but I didn’t think I could because of my disability (I can’t turn my hands over). He told me not to worry about it and took me to guitar center. It turns out I can play guitar upside down. Now I want music to be my career, partly because it’s wicked fun, and partly because I can use it for God’s glory. Was this all part of the plan? When I first started playing guitar I wasn’t Christian, and I intended to play in a punk-rock band. When I became Christian I was conveniently getting good at songwriting.

Something we talked about in one of my classes is that maybe God has an overall plan for humanity but not necessarily for every individual. At first I kind of liked the idea, but now I don’t think I do. I think God definitely had a plan for people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela. The only way I can see free will and God’s plan working together is that he gives us the option not to operate according to plan. It’s sounds sort of weird to me, but then I think I know what God’s plan is for me, and I like it.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Good In Things

I’ve been trying to write this song for weeks and for some reason it wasn’t working. It will probably need a few changes in the future, but this is what I’ve come up with. At the moment I like it as it is.

Remember when we built castle walls
With colored bricks to the ceiling of our sky?
Our friends and brothers came and knocked them down
But we built something better from the wreckage somehow
And we made peace as we made a bigger mess
And that was how we learned to forgive and forget
I believe that we are all forgiven
And I believe that we are all redeemed

I will sing Hallelujah
‘Cause there is good in things
And I believe it
I can see that it’s true
And it’s beautiful

I’ve heard you say that we’ve seen better days
And you’re just waiting for the right time and place
You’re seeing shadows dance before your eyes
And what you’re looking for is passing you by
So let it go if you want something to hold
And you will have a treasure that can’t be bought or sold
It won’t go away like a taste in your mouth
It’ll go to your head and erase your fear and doubt

Chorus

Count to six and start again
And slow down time ’till you hear the refrain
Memory and hope will be a harmony
Yo might be surprised at the things you will see
‘Cause there is beauty in black and blue
Walk far enough and you’ll wear down your shoes
You’ll find good in the places you go
God made the world and he said it should be so

Chorus X2