For those who don’t know much about my background, I was brought up in Biblical unitarianism, which means I was taught Jesus was the Messiah but not God incarnate. It was a denial of the Trinity. To most of Christianity, this is a serious heresy.
For those who don’t know much about where I’m at now, I’ll be studying under a Trinitarian friar and mystic for the next two years. To my previous belief system, this is a huge divergence from The Truth™.
I also have a lot of important friendships with people who are agnostic, atheist, practicing a faith besides Christianity, or another blend of spirituality and mysticism. I, myself, have plenty of days of not knowing where I land.
It’s a strange thing to float in and out of these spaces where the worldviews are so vastly different and, honestly, contradictory to one another. I’ve learned to gauge who and what is safe to share my honest thoughts and questions. I never lie, but sometimes I stay quiet if there’s nothing fruitful to add to a conversation or if a person is demonstrating that they will not consider other viewpoints no matter what.
I’ve observed 3 patterns as I’ve reflected on this weird navigation of different ontological worlds:
My intent here isn’t to point fingers or criticize anyone.
But at the same time, I’m done watching people feel cripplingly lonely because their sense of belonging and value is so tightly cinched to existential truth claims that they eventually cannot reconcile with their lived reality, and the human relationships associated with them atrophy in turn.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
It actually is possible to value relationships over agreement.
It actually is possible to give yourself patience and compassion in knowing you don’t have the world figured out.
It actually is possible to change your mind about a thing.
It actually is possible to leave an unhealthy system if it comes to it.
Or to stay for a while if you know the time isn’t right yet.
Or to ask for help if you’re not sure.
It actually is possible to find healing in a kind of church you used to denounce.
Or in a break from church altogether.
God is not bound by walls and pages and statements.
God is in the walking trails and
coffee shops and
therapists offices and
internet friends and
food markets and
local elections commissions and
bored moments at work and
afternoon naps and
sleepless nights and
panic attacks and
clumsy, failed meditation attempts.
All of it.
God is especially in the people who are different from you.
All of them.
After all, if we only love people who think and live exactly like we do, we don’t actually love them. We love the reflection of ourselves and we love our idols.
So what does this have to do with the Trinity?
I’m saying that the kind of love that integrated people talk about when they talk about Jesus can reach you whether or not you believe in the Trinity, whether or not you question God’s existence, whether or not you go to church.
The Trinity has been the biggest example in my life of people trying to draw lines of “in” and “out.” And while I think God-as-relationship and God-with-us are important tenets of the Christian tradition, using a singular belief as a litmus test of where God is or isn’t working is, frankly, bullshit.
No matter which side you’re on.
God will always disprove our systems. If we build up walls to keep the “weeds” out, she’ll surely be raising a vibrant garden on the other side and we will go hungry on our own account.
I’m also saying that it’s okay to listen to your body about what you actually need to do or stop doing.
Even, and especially, if doing so disappoints someone else.
Maybe you have to leave some beliefs behind at some point. Thank them for being scaffolding to stand on when you needed it.
If they didn’t serve you at the time, you wouldn’t have stayed.
And most of all, I’m saying: Stop trying to figure things out in order to find connection with “the right people.”
Instead, find connection with loving people.
In that freedom and healing, you might actually figure some things out. Even if it’s just how to live a full, human life without having 100% of the answers all the time.
You don’t need a verse to tell you matter. You just matter.
Let that be your dogma for a while.
Green chile everywhere. Hot air balloon festivals at dawn with a thermos of hot chocolate. Dry, blistering summer days. First swim lessons. My second-grade guinea pigs mating and reproducing while I cared for them on a school break.
I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico from age four to eight — those are a few of the memories that stick out from those years. I haven’t been back since I was a child. Now, it looks like I’ll be returning at least 3 times over the next two years.
Last week, I was accepted into the 2019-2021 Living School at the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) that is based in Albuquerque. The CAC is a center for spirituality that merges contemplative practices with an equipping for service and justice work.
The Living School is a two-year program, mostly online with three in-person extensives, that admits 205 students per cohort. It is in its essence a Jesus-centered program but incorporates genuine good-faith exploration of perennial wisdom including other religions, honest historical studies, and academic psychology.
The Living School is a “third way” answer to prayer for me — as someone who frequently finds myself at intellectual odds with religious paradigms but still feels a deep call to divine love and service, I didn’t know if there was a place for me. Father Richard Rohr’s work has helped me find common ground between science/humanism and childlike faith, both of which can fluctuate between helpful and stunting, both of which tend to be dead ends without the other (at least for me).
I’m honored and excited for this opportunity. But, I’m also nervous.
For one thing, this is the first time I’m really committing to something since being hurt by systems and people for not fitting in correctly. It’s hard to trust again.
For another, I’ve recently been working through some childhood traumas that have affected me way more than I realized until making therapy a priority this past year. I won’t go into detail, but one was repeated sexual abuse and another was a period of bullying at school.
Both happened in Albuquerque. Both when I was just six or seven years old.
Going forward in my spiritual maturity means literally going back to the place of my earliest traumas.
I’m a little bit terrified of going back to the same roads, the same landscapes, from a time that my brain has worked so hard to block out.
Yet… there’s something redemptive and beautiful about it. Like, of course this is the way forward.
In grad school and in my personal time, I’ve been studying a lot about trauma. I’m working on some longer writing projects that will go into more detail. The science that is emerging about the way our brains and bodies store trauma is complex, fascinating, and sometimes daunting.
The traumatic things that happen to us don’t just disappear with time and distraction. They are stored inside us, and they can affect us from the inside out until we deal with them.
That sucks, man.
But that’s not the whole story.
For me, this is such a powerful evidence for the inherent value of life.
I think in simple terms, the God I imagined growing up was transactional and formulaic.
If I pray and believe and study the Bible and take believing action, everything will work out how it’s supposed to.
I tried so hard to make Life fit into my view of God. Now, I learn about God by actually looking at Life.
Life is resilient and redemptive.
Life is tenacious.
Life is designed to let us learn from our past, not to be trapped by it.
Therapy has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, and it’s not because my therapist is magical or anything. Therapy means I’m devoting consistent time to checking in with myself and staying accountable to re-wiring bad habits and thought patterns. Therapy means I’m investing in my own well-being. Therapy means I don’t have to be scared of my emotions or experiences because I can learn how to work through them.
I’m of the opinion that everyone from a strict religious background (times 1,000 for women) should consider seeing a therapist because most of us have been taught not to listen to our own bodies in order to fit the narratives and doctrines we were taught.
This is just a friendly reminder that God created all of you. Your emotions, your intellect, your sexuality, your capacity for joy and pain alike.
They all belong. All of you belongs. It’s possible to live as a whole human, guided not by exploitative legalism but by sincere values. Personally, I think that’s exactly what God wants.
Therapy is just one of the conditions that helps me heal and flourish — there are others like supportive relationships, exercise and nutrition, reading constructive books, and making time for things I enjoy. But for the person feeling increasingly trapped by thoughts or emotions, therapy might be the place to start.
I remember feeling nervous about the idea of opening up to someone in such a vulnerable way. If it’s your first time, consider asking a friend to drive you for your first couple of sessions so you can talk about the experience afterward and make sure you feel comfortable there. The 3-session rule can be helpful: by the third session, you should feel generally positive about your therapist or counselor. If not, you can find someone else. And you can build trust over time, at the pace you are ready for.
Most cities have subsidized counseling programs that are inexpensive or on a sliding, need-based scale, so please don’t ever let resources keep you from taking your wellness seriously. You deserve compassionate care. There is always a way.
I’m definitely excited about the learning and the community that the Living School will bring. If I can manage it, I’ll stay in my Master’s program as well — I’ve decided on a Counseling Psychology concentration which will hopefully pair well with the contemplative aspects of the Living School.
But the thought of going back to Albuquerque is still complicated.
In this case, it seems like the way forward is to go back.
The Story of Sex will be a series about sex/gender and sexuality in culture and relationships.
By now you’ve probably heard of Gillette’s new commercial that calls men to hold each other accountable for what it means to “be a man.”
The response has been mixed. Many are praising how the company is engaging important topics like sexual assault and harrassment, bullying, and the treatment of women in the workplace.
But there has been a backlash as well. For instance, Piers Morgan on Twitter:
“Absurd virtue-signalling PC [politically correct] guff.”
“Let boys be damn boys.”
Morgan has consistently taken on this mantle of the edgy conservative voice-of-reason in recent years, so his response isn’t particularly surprising. He is in a class with people like Jordan Peterson who have stoked a base of mostly white males, their common grievances centering around perceived threats to the natural order of things. Rather than criticizing Jordan’s faulty intellectual premises, which others have already done better than me, I just want to take notice: people like him and Morgan are saying something that resonates with a large base of men.
The objective reality is that many white, western men are feeling attacked. Rather than judging that right off the bat, maybe we can just acknowledge it.
The rise of Peterson and far-right cultural watchdog publications online that breed extremism (including literal Men’s Rights Activists) demonstrate it.
I read Morgan’s longer response to the Gillette ad, which I personally found to be a lot of cheap, incendiary bombast. But the idea that he kept coming back to was that movements like Gillette’s commercial are “man-hating,” “feminist assault[s] on men and masculinity” and send a “subliminal message [that] men, ALL men, are bad, shameful people.”
See, Morgan himself reveals a serious dilemma in this kind of attitude. *Not all men* and *Let boys be damn boys* are paradoxical arguments.
Either toxic masculinity is a problem but only for a few men, or we need to let this kind of masculinity be what it is because it’s only natural.
It’s just a few bad men. But also, it’s all men — it’s in our genes.
No matter which one it is, apparently, feminism is to blame — Morgan and Peterson agree there. Because reasons.
I think reasonable people can agree that we have a problem of male violence in the United States without much controversy:
But the extreme violence isn’t what I want to focus on here. There’s another consequence of contemporary masculinity that has reached epidemic levels.
It’s also deadly.
Tragically, more men are dying by suicide, too.
This crippling lack of connection is well documented: NBC // Men’s Health UK // Upworthy // Boston Globe // Psych Central … and that’s the tip of the iceberg. The central theme is that emotional repression and fear of coming across as gay (don’t even get me started on the homophobia yet) are robbing young boys and men of deep friendships.
It is not a cheap shot at men when health experts and social scientists (many of whom are men, incidentally) bring the conversation back to masculinity. The core of these issues lies in the question: what are we teaching our children it means to be a boy or a man?
Discussing masculinity can be a spiraling rabbit hole, because many people will talk about what they think is inherent or “natural” to men when they’re really referring to social constructs and cultural norms. But biology plays a role, too. It’s complex to say the least.
We can make the conversation simpler, though. We can boil it all down to two questions:
1) What story were you told about what it means to be a boy or a man?
2) Does it have to be that way?
There are plenty of men like the ones I linked above who can recount the stories they were told about what it means to be a man — and the effects on their lives — much better than a woman like me. And the questions are rhetorical, anyway.
What I can tell you is that growing up with two brothers, in a tight-knit church environment, with a majority of male friends — I didn’t witness many emotionally vulnerable friendships between guys. As my peers and I are making our way towards our 30’s the non-romantic friendships are even more rare… and exponentially more important.
Defining masculinity in a healthier way is not only about women or violence.
Don’t get me wrong — gendered violence should be enough to make all of us care.
But men are struggling, too.
And if the caricature of feminism in your mind doesn’t account for that, then it’s probably not real feminism.
I follow and read a lot of feminists (both women and men).
Not a single one of them hates men.
Not a single one of them thinks all men are bad and shameful.
All of them — literally all of them — want men to experience more genuine connection, acceptance, and meaningful relationships.
It doesn’t matter if you like sports or trucks or fantasy novels or video games or music or art or gardening or photography.
It doesn’t matter if you are naturally an “alpha” or more reserved or the resident comedian.
It doesn’t matter if you look like an Abercrombie model or if gyms really aren’t your thing.
Masculinity means “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of men.”
What if we defined masculinity by character and not personality style or appearance?
Gillette’s whole point is that every generation gets to decide what kind of qualities or attributes it wants to be characteristic of its men.
Violence is toxic. Bigotry is toxic. Misogyny is toxic. Emotional repression is toxic. Social isolation is definitely toxic.
Masculinity is not. Not if we define it better.
In upcoming posts: dismantling damaging ideas about gender and sexuality specifically within religious ideas about marriage.
We all know the routine…
We start with the best intentions, don’t we?
I want to be a better person, a better partner, a better employee… Goal setting is noble. Resolutions are an expression of intention towards a goal.
Then as life slips into the inevitable competing demands for time, energy, and resources, I find myself “failing” at my resolutions — I lose interest in the gym, I miss a week or two of reading, I fall into the same lousy sleeping patterns, I don’t feel social enough to make new friends, I get discouraged that I can’t solve the world’s problems.
Eventually I just stop thinking about my resolutions because thinking about them makes me feel like a failure.
And yet, I do it all again the next year.
Or maybe I give up on improving myself altogether. Not because I’m really accepting who I am, but because it’s easier to imagine that I’m powerless to change.
What if there was a totally different way of doing things?
What if it starts with a different way of looking at things?
The resolutions I set, pretty much by definition, come from what I think I need to change about myself.
….What I need to change about myself.
……..need to change.
My question is, according to what? According to whom?
To what end?
To be successful? To be accepted?
To be more lovable?
I’d like to offer a premise that I hope to flesh out with a series of posts this year: a different way of looking at yourself and the world. I’m not even asking you to believe it’s true.
I’m just asking you to entertain the idea for a little while. If it helps you, you can hold onto it. If it doesn’t, then you can go back to the old way of doing resolutions anytime. The gym will already be less crowded for you 😉
Here’s the proposition: You actually don’t need to change ANYTHING about yourself to be good, accepted, worthy, lovable, or successful.
You *are* good. You are made of goodness.
You *are* loved. You are made of love. You were made by love.
You are worthy of taking up space, breathing air, living your life, and sharing that life with other people.
Already. Right now. Without losing any more weight or reading any more books or saving the world or solving your struggles with faith.
You are already enough. Right now.
What if this year, we start there?
What if you just held that idea in mind to start 2019, even if you don’t really believe it?
“But… that sounds like new age wish-wash and a lot of complacency.”
I promise — if you still feel that way by the end of the year then you can go back to the old way.
Here’s a spoiler… I’m not suggesting complacency. What I’m saying is that
“Change all the things!” > *Fail* > *Fail* > *Fail* > Give up.
I’m suggesting we subvert the pattern altogether: we work from the inside out.
We work on the engine, rather than the hub caps (did I just make a car mechanics analogy?! Weird, but it fits here).
I’m suggesting that 2019 can be a year of slowly building sustainable habits instead of trying to flip a switch by sheer willpower.
In this alternative way, stumbles and mistakes will be seen as an opportunity to adjust the approach, rather than a failure. Part of the process. Expected. Welcomed.
But for that to be possible we have to work with our bodies and minds instead of trying to forcefully override them, feeling like failures when we can’t.
“I am made of goodness. I am enough.”
Today, maybe we just sit with that. Even if we don’t really believe it.
At the very least, it’s a protest against a broken system that ultimately wears down our sense of agency over our lives and our self-esteem.
It’s about intrinsic growth instead of extrinsic comparison and manipulation.
It might actually work.