"What's Next?"

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Writing/thoughts/opinions are my own.


President Bartlet: When I ask 'What's Next?' it means I'm ready to move on to other things. So, what's next?
-The West Wing


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    In about 5 days, I will be going to Kalaupapa, Moloka’i for my first religious pilgrimage and service trip. I haven’t admitted this yet, but in addition to being excited/joyful/grateful, I am a little terrified.

    Let’s back up though. A few weeks ago, I randomly saw in my church bulletin that they were doing a trip to Kalaupapa. Most of my knowledge of the area had been from the novel “Moloka’i,” which was one of the first books about Hawai‘i I read when I moved out here. There was loss, grief, journey, salvation, and an overwhelming sense of grace and joy within the novel. It meant a lot. So, when the opportunity to come and not only serve a community but take time to immerse myself in a place where so much spiritual heartache and redemption had been, I felt immediately like it was a place that could help me find answers to questions I have been asking.

    Let’s back up again, since it’s been a while since I’ve written in long-form. Things have been… good. I mean, my life is good. I am generally a happy person. Still, I would be lying if I said things felt as settled as I wanted (a common problem I have). I would be lying if I said the path I was on in my life felt as sure as it did, say, 6 months ago. I feel God pulling me closer to Him in some way, but I can’t figure out what it means or how to actually live that out beyond thoughtful prayer and continuing to try and actively live my life with love and grace. That’s good, but I keep getting this overwhelming sense of “There’s more. Keep looking! Keep digging!

    And that’s… terrifying! It is. I keep thinking each year will bring me closer to contentment, only to be continually reminded that even if I found it, I’d never be happy in it. It’s also scary to know that this could mean big, audacious changes in my life. I sat on the beach the other week praying to better understand how I’m supposed to best devote my life to His will. What does that mean? I wondered. Am I being called into a vocation? Should I be working in a church? Should I be helping me lead a youth group in my spare time? What do you want from me, Bro?! (Ok I don’t really call God “bro” but you get the idea). This idea isn’t foreign to me either: my best friend from college became a nun a few years ago, so it’s not like I haven’t been exposed to that idea.

    I think some things are getting clearer (no, I don’t think I’m being called to a convent, btw). Still, when this trip to Kalaupapa opened up, I immediately felt this deep sense of reassurance. This. This is good. I should be doing this. This past weekend was the feast of Fr. Damien, the main priest of Kalaupapa, and his focus on truly standing in the margins with the community he served struck a real cord in my heart.

    So, in a few days, I’ll be headed off. I think what’s scary is both sides of the possibilities for grace in the trip. On one hand, grace could come and bonk me on the head and enlighten me in a way that will be awesome (in the awe-inspiring sense of the word) and powerful and completely throw me for a loop.

    On the other… I could feel nothing. Well, not nothing, since I really do believe that grace lives in the soil of some places, and is so deep you can’t help but be moved by it. Still, I could be putting way too much import on this trip. I know there’s a part of me that, even though I am trying to quiet it, wants this trip to open wide a spiritual door that will somehow reveal God’s plan for me for the rest of my life. I’m scared I’m expecting grace to slap me in the face, when sometimes it’s quieter than that. It’s not always fireworks, and I am scared if that feeling doesn’t come I will have, in some way, failed the spiritual aspect of this trip (beyond the obvious fulfillment that comes with serving others).

    I’ve been re-reading James Martin S.J.’s My Life with the Saints. Last night, I happened to be on the chapter about Fr. Martin’s time on a pilgrimage to Lourdes to the home of St Bernadette. It’s message hit so close to home and was exactly what I needed at that time. This struck me in particular:

    Bernadette has become for me a smbol of the need to stay true to your own personal vision…She is a powerful model of fidelity, and a witness to the importance of trusting one’s experience, no matter what the consequences. Bernadette is, in her own way, a prophetic figure.

    God often comes to us in places where do don’t expect, and finds grace in the most unexpected of places—the stables, the grotto where pigs came to forage, a desert. All we can do is try and be open enough to find grace in all things, and be open when it comes. 

    Mr. President, Christianity is not demonstrated through a recitation of facts. You’re seeking evidence of faith, a wholehearted acceptance of God’s promise for a better world. ‘For we hold that man is justified by faith alone’ is what St. Paul said. ‘Justified by faith alone.’ Faith is the true… shibboleth. Faith is the true shibboleth.
    The West Wing, "Shibboleth"
    The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.
    Pope Francis, being awesome.

    You remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town, and that the all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, “I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.”

    The waters rose up. A guy in a rowboat came along and he shouted, “Hey, hey you, you in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.” But the man shouted back, “I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.”

    A helicopter was hovering overhead and a guy with a megaphone shouted, “Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I’ll take you to safety.” But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety.

    Well… the man drowned.

    And standing at the gates of St. Peter he demanded an audience with God. “Lord,” he said, “I’m a religious man, I pray, I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?” God said, “I sent you a radio report, a helicopter and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?”

    Father Tom Cavanaugh, The West Wing, “Take this Sabbath Day”

    Grace | Mercy

    I really like reflecting. I’m one of those people that makes resolutions, then will do a progress check at the end of the year (blame Teach For America for that). I also tend to create a charge for myself at each birthday. Look, I really like goal-setting, okay?

    So, the new year is coming, which (as usual), has been an entire new opportunity for me to reflect on what, frankly, has been kind of a crazy year.

    I honestly am a little mind-blown that we’re already here. It’s an old tenet that I have oft-written on here, but time has flown by so quickly since, well, leaving the classroom. Sometimes, I just want to dig my fingers into the the ground and try and slow the moment down so I can breathe for a second. Alas, until time travel exists (#oneday), the best I can do is take the quiet moments of my life to stop, pause, and look back for a moment.

    Last year, I was hoping to… 

    1. Find Forgiveness in Anger, and Joy in Pain 
    2. Love Without Fear
    3. Fail Gloriously, Be Weak When Necessary

    Honestly, the only one I can comfortably say I feel successful at is that I fail gloriously. Pretty often. That ALSO means, though, that I’m more willing to talk about it, grow from it, and laugh about it later. I’m also immensely blessed to be at a job that allows for me to, frankly, jump into the fire and see what happens.

    In retrospect, I think I’ve made a lot of progress towards number 1. Given the circumstances, actually forgiving a few people in my life will likely be a life-long process. There’s this great moment, in The Descendants, where a character says to another, ”I have to forgive you. Even though I want to hate you." Is the forgiveness I’ve found without selfishness of needing to forgive someone for my own sake? Nope. But it’s a process.

    Then there’s 2. Oh Love. You know what “Loving Without Fear” was all about? It was about “hey-I’m-in-over-my-head-relationship-wise-but-let’s-make-this-work!”. I certainly tried (in my own way) to live this out, but frankly, I think it was misplaced intentions. That’s what happen when you don’t give yourself enough time to think through these things.

    You know what I will say? I think the three places I succeeded in this were loving myself a little more (OH, THE CLICHE. IT BURNS SO BRIGHTLY IT STINGS), consistently having a generosity of spirit about other people’s intentions, and at the end of the year, loving my Creator a little more completely (but more on that later). 

    ______________________________________________________________________

    So, here we are on the cusp of a new year. I’m 25 now, and like I wrote on my birthday, I think my big win of the year is that,  for one of the first times in my life, I’m really and truly happy atmy job. I love the organization I work for, and my career-path feels clearer because of it. Considering the amount we read about twentysomething career-discontent, I’m pretty lucky to have found that.

    Let’s get down to business. Here’s what I’m challenging myself to do in 2013:

    • Seek God, Learn Spiritually, Live Blessed. On Gaudete Sunday, I went to mass on my own for the first time since moving to the islands. I won’t get into details here (though, if you’d like to know more, you’re always welcome to ask), but I had a pretty deep spiritual revelation and experience that morning. Since then, I’ve been reading a ton, praying daily, and having some awesome conversations. After some wandering and trying other schools of thought, I think I’m finally ready to recommit myself to God in the way I always felt was right for me, but never felt strong or impassioned enough to do.

      This means, for me, a recommitment to relationship with God, and finding a faith community that helps me do so. It also means living my life in a way that best serves that relationship (including consistently exuding love and grace, being a better friend, etc.). Finally, it means making a conscious effort to surround myself with people who somehow serve my relationship with God. I don’t necessarily mean people who are religious. Basically, I just want to make sure I’m living this key tenet as much as possible.

      I’ll likely write about this more in-depth at some point, but I do want to note that this has not changed my beliefs on social policy (for example, LGBTQ rights) or acceptance of other people’s religions/beliefs. At this point, this is an internal and intensely personal journey
    • Narrow Your Focus to Find Expansiveness. I have a horrible tendency to get so swept up in the big-picture-long-term of projects (or my life) that I’ll begin to multi-task. This leads me to not finish the things I start. That’s not awesome.

      Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart urges us to narrow our focus on Christ to gain entry to the vast expansiveness of God’s love (pgs 31-32). I think this mindset can apply to other aspects of our lives as well. If we narrow our focus on who or what is before us, we open ourselves up to the vast expansiveness in that experience that actually exists.

      I am in a job that asks me to do the things I struggle with (being crazy-detail-oriented, etc) on the daily. This is a HUGE opportunity to learn how to focus on the task at hand, finish what I start, and marinate in the lessons and blessings that provides me for that big-picture-long-term. 
    • Find The Courage of Your Convictions. I swear, I’m not trying to cop out by using my charge for 25. I just think, for the sake of streamlining and actually DOING these things, it makes sense for me to only focus on the things that feel super important. This is one of them. It’s time to stop being afraid to speak up when I think it’s necessary.

    There you have it. There are some other small things too: hopefully (doctor’s-fingers-crossed) complete my fifth marathon (at any pace), get my RYT 200 Yoga Teaching certification (eep!), work my butt off to get back into pre-accident shape, and travel as much as possible. 

    So, 2013: Game. On.

    We have grown accustomed to think that loving as God does is hard. We think it’s about moral strain and obligation. We presume it requires a spiritual muscularity of which we are not capable, a layering of burden on top of sacrifice, with a side order of guilt (but it was love, after all that made the cross salvific, not the sheer torture of it).

    - Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart (seriously guys. Read this book).

    Great excerpt from “Tattoos on the Heart” by Greg Boyle

    It is precisely in the light of God’s vastness and acceptance of me that I can accept the harm I do for what it is.
    Gregory Boyle, “Tattoos on the Heart”

    Lego Bible, you exist and it makes me pretty happy.

    puppy

    (me and Penny, my cousin/aunt/uncle’s dog)

    There are 20 million reasons to love dogs. They are cute and fuzzy. They take HILARIOUS pictures. They always look great in sweaters.

    One of the reasons so many of us love dogs though is because dogs love unabashedly, without question, and without judgement. Dogs don’t really care what you look like, where you went to school, or if you lied to get out of a parking ticket. They just want you to give them snuggles, and they will love you. When you’re having a horrible day, they seem to inherently know that that’s a great time for them to lie on your chest and just love you too.

    Babies are a little like that too as, frankly, are most kids. Kids are pretty pure-hearted, especially at an early age. Sure, it’s not a given, but for the most part babies just want you to hold them, feed them, occasionally change them and generally care about them. Not saying it’s not a ton of work, but it’s not like babies are asking you to spell out your beliefs of economic policy to earn their trust.

    And that’s how Christ comes to us today, and for the entirety of the Advent season: as a baby.

    Read More

    People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.

    Pope Benedict XVI •  Denouncing same-sex marriage in his annual Christmas speech today. Benedict has long been viewed, dating back to his ascension to the papacy, as a staunch traditionalist on the Catholic Church’s longtime social positions, and his views on homosexuality have proven no exception: “When freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God.”source  (via shortformblog)

    Darnit, Pope Benedict XVI. Is Christmas, when it is time to renew our faith, really the time to spend denouncing things?

    Beyond that, the social-issues-struggle of the church is why so many of us (including myself) struggle with our identities as Catholic-Christians. I want so desperately to engage fully with my community in faith, but I can’t accept or stand by when the church perpetuates policies I feel so strongly are just wrong. 

    newsweek:

    nwkarchivist:

    The Historical Jesus?  Yeah, We Got That Covered.

    And Don’t Miss Our Latest:  “What Do We Really Know About Jesus?”

    This Jesus guy has graced our cover a few times before…

    Time to start research. #advent 

    newsweek:

    Andrew Sullivan writes this week’s cover story on the crisis in Christianity in America, which has been overrun and destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists. Sullivan’s argument? Ditch all that and just follow Jesus. Here’s an excerpt:

    We inhabit a polity now saturated with religion. On one side, the Republican base is made up of evangelical Protestants who believe that religion must consume and influence every aspect of public life. On the other side, the last Democratic primary had candidates profess their faith in public forums, and more recently President Obama appeared at the National Prayer Breakfast, invoking Jesus to defend his plan for universal health care. The crisis of Christianity is perhaps best captured in the new meaning of the word “secular.” It once meant belief in separating the spheres of faith and politics; it now means, for many, simply atheism. The ability to be faithful in a religious space and reasonable in a political one has atrophied before our eyes.

    Keep reading!

    [Photo: Brooks Kraft / Corbis]

    Yes. x100000