Screams

I’m going to be 30…

In less than a month I will leave my twenties and enter my thirties.

I’m not really one to get upset over the advancement of my age, as it’s inevitable, leaving me with no recourse to alter the outcome. I’m going to get older, and one day in the (hopefully) distant future I’m going to die. I’ll leave behind everything I’ve ever known, including the ones who have loved me most, and those I have (hopefully) loved adequately in return. Everything I have acquired in this life, every possession, every dollar and cent, will be dispersed amongst those who knew me best, and hopefully some who never knew me before but would benefit from something I had to give. I’ll be buried in a box large enough to fit my body, and there will perhaps be some weird doily clothe adorning the inners of my coffin. There will be makeup to keep my (hopefully) oldened face from giving any indication that my soul has already left my body, and therefore allow my loved ones to say their goodbyes to a corpse that makes them minimally uncomfortable. I may decide instead to go the route of cremation, saving my family the expenses of a coffin and burial arrangement. Perhaps everyone will be gathered around my ashes housed in an ornate urn or vase (I hope they pronounce it “vahz”, because I’d like my friends to either be pretentious or British). They’ll come to the shores of the ocean or cliff top to scatter my ashes; not because that’s how I wanted it to be, but because that’s the most dramatic way to scatter ashes, and I’m certainly one for drama. There will hopefully be a slight gust of wind as the ashes of my once proud and athletic body pour forth, carrying them out into the horizon. A paper lantern will float off into the sunset sky with bagpipes playing in the background, even though I’m neither Japanese nor Scottish. My loved ones will continue to mourn me for a few weeks, intermittently gathering for recollections and sharing of memories. They’ll laugh about the silly and stupid things I’ve done, and perhaps remind themselves of the powerful words I once spoke into their lives at just the right moments. They’ll avoid all the unfortunate things I’ve done and said to them, ignoring the pain I’ve once caused, because thankfully it makes people uncomfortable to speak ill of the dead. There will be a hearty collective laugh when speaking of my antics, with a subtle dying out at the end that turns into a breathy sigh, and someone saying, “I’m going to miss him.” Then they’ll go back to work and their everyday lives, occasionally remembering me on the anniversary of my death with a social media shoutout. I will one day be relegated to a Facebook status or Twitter mention, and then everyone else will die themselves.

In conclusion, my 30s should be fun.

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Screams, Uncategorized

I’m ready to do ministry again…

The other day I announced—to great fanfare—that I’m considering a return to ministry. And by “great fanfare”, I mean that at least three people took notice of it, while the rest of the world gave a sort of meh-ish shrug.

I’ve been working at Yelp for the past six months, and I don’t plan to leave that position. I love this job. That being said, I’ve felt the subtle tug on my heart to return to the pastorate grow into a full blown yank, and it’s time for me to accept the inevitable: the Church, while not an entity I’ve always agreed with on a number of social issues, is a vital part of who I am. I’ve taken nearly three years off from most things church, with a few visits thrown in since moving to Phoenix, but nothing really consistent. This hasn’t been an indication of the depth of my faith, or lack thereof, rather it’s more so been out of self-preservation. Lately, my interactions with Western Christianity™ can be summed up as:

It’s a funny thing when you’ve spent so much of your adult life working in ministry and suddenly aren’t. Since leaving and then moving away to a new land filled with new people, I’ve kept my previous vocation under wraps in a sort of subconscious way. I don’t care that people know about my past, but I avoid bringing it up because I don’t really thing it’s all that interesting. When the subject is broached, I typically get a reaction along the lines of, “Really?! YOU were a pastor?!”

This makes me feel good and bad at the same time. A sense of pride rushes over me that people would see it as surprising to find out about me. As in, I’m not so different from them, which tends to be the opposite of how a lot of Christians posture themselves. On the other side of that token is the feeling of guilt. Is my outward living so abhorrently off-kilter that they could never see me as a “man of the cloth”, a position that requires upright character and moral fortitude?

It’s no sure thing that I’ll even find a place to serve again, let alone full-time. Would I like to make it my sole vocational focus once more? Honestly, yes. I was at my best when involved with a community of people working out their faith and understanding of the world around us. I was at my best while having discussions with teenagers about the nitty gritty of growing up and starting to understand just a snippet who they were as people. I was at my best when working with other people in ministry that I didn’t actually agree with on a whole lot of issues, but still found common ground for love and acceptance to be the glue that holds the community together.

I know that I’ll probably disagree on a number of things with most churches, theologically and socially. However, I know that this is something the Church as a whole needs: diversity in thought. No, I don’t see myself as any sort of certain catalyst for change; that wishful thinking disappeared with my youth. In fact, I would say this diversity in thought is also something I need as much as anyone else. I don’t want to insulate myself with just my liberal-minded peeps. I don’t want to agree with everyone, and I don’t want everyone agreeing with me (although, duh, they’d be better off). I don’t want to only hear the same rhetoric that has me nodding in agreement every time. I need the accountability of my brothers and sisters who disagree with me in order to grow.

The next steps are going to be difficult, and the task of finding the right church will perhaps be arduous. I doubt there are many churches that would be open to someone like me who has taken so much time off ministry, let alone has the type of opinions I do. Perhaps that’s arrogant of me to think. Perhaps I’m not giving them enough credit.

I hope that’s the case.

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Screams

Why you should be a regular…

If you know me, you know that I spend an inordinate amount of my time in coffee shops. You know that the internet and coffee are two things I must have in my day, akin to water and oxygen. I’ve spoken to doctors about it, and I apparently have a physiological need for the two, so there’s just no getting around it; I might as well embrace it.

My favorite place to get my fix of these two necessities of life is at The Coffee Shop, which is perhaps the most literal and appropriate name one could name their business. I’ve been coming here since moving to the Valley two and a half years ago, and while I don’t get to come as often as I used to, I make an effort to stop by a few times a week, even if just to say hello and grab a quick cup on the go. It’s where most my creative juices tend to flow best and the bulk of my writing has taken place.

It’s a good thing—in my opinion—to be involved in the community of which you surround yourself. One of the most important ways we can do this is by frequenting local establishments on a consistent basis, not only to support them, but to also build relationships with the business and its patrons. Becoming a regular is a rewarding thing—for the business, and for yourself. However, there’s a bit of an art to becoming a regular; it’s something that takes time and effort to hone in on and build.

How to become a regular:

  1. Be consistent. Show up. Don’t make it once a month; make it once a week, at least. It doesn’t mean you have to splurge every time you’re there. Maybe you just want a soft drink or coffee. That’s fine.
  2. Get to know the staff. Know their names. Ask them how they’re doing. If the place isn’t busy, have a conversation with them. I guarantee you this will pay dividends in the future, which is something I’ll get into more here in a bit.
  3. Know the other regulars. You’ll soon see it’s not just you who goes there on a consistent basis. Shared experiences, even with strangers, tend to lead to an understanding, and can even lead to a new relationship. You don’t have to approach everyone in the place, but give a knowing nod, or a quick “hello” here and there. You’ll probably see each other at random places elsewhere, and that’s when the awkward “we recognize each other but we haven’t really spoken before so I’m not sure how to navigate this scenario” moment happens. It’s a good ice breaker. In fact, this is partially how my current roommate and I came to be friends, as we were both regulars here, and had mutual friends who were also regulars that introduced us. The world is more connected than you realize. Take advantage of it.
  4. Tip well. If they offer the chance to leave a tip, leave a tip. And leave a darn good tip. None of that paltry 10% junk. Heck, sticking to 20% is still being a bit of a stickler. Don’t break out a calculator so you can get the exact percentage. Figure out the estimate in your head as to whatever 20% might be, and then give a little more. A dollar extra goes a long way, and regardless of how the service was, you’ll see it brighten someone’s day.

The benefits of being a regular:

  1. Perks. Do you even know the perks of being a regular, bro? I get free refills, sometimes entirely free drinks, and occasionally they’ll throw in a cupcake or two.
  2. Easy ordering and less waiting. I’m a creature of habit at times, so my baristas almost always know what I want. In fact, it’s a shock to their system when I get something else to drink, and like a white girl, they can’t even. Because they know what I want I sometimes don’t have to worry about waiting in the insanely long lines The Coffee Shop can have, which is a testament to how amazing this place is. I can’t put a number on how many times I’ve been standing at the back of the line and someone will bring out my drink. They know I’m good for it, and when the line dies down I’ll return and pay. Which brings me to my next point…
  3. Trust. I’ve forgotten my wallet a couple times, and it’s always a little embarrassing when I get up there and order, only to find out I don’t have my debit card. No worries, because the baristas will either give it to me for free (never something I expect or plan on), or let me pay it back later. Thankfully, I live just across the street from this place, so I’ll quickly return in a moment to pay them back. And add an extra large tip.
  4. The people watching. This is one of my favorite things to do, because I’m sort of creepy like that. I pick a spot in the back corner, do my work, and observe the world around me. It’s a fascinating look into humanity and life, and I get to be privy to a certain number of situations that will honestly teach me a lot about people, as well as myself. I’ve been able to see the beginning, progression, and ending to a number of relationships, all without so much as even knowing the names of some of those people. This allows me to create elaborate backstories for all kinds of things, developing a live action soap opera just for me. Again, it might sound a little creepy, but who are you to judge, buddy? Get off my back.

Find that place you like so much that you keep going back, and make an effort to go there. If you’re not convinced by now to become a regular somewhere, there’s nothing else I can do for you. You’re a lost cause. A disappointment to your mother and me.

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Screams

Eleven o’clock on a Saturday night…

It’s eleven o’clock on a Saturday night and I’m sitting here at a community table in the middle of a crowded coffee shop that’s bordering on 90s club scene as Metallica plays loud in the background. I have headphones in my ears while I listen to a remix of some song I’ve never heard of, wondering if the original is as fulfilling as this one. I’m drinking an agave wheat beer because the simple nut brown ale I wanted was all out, even though it’s on the menu. Everything is always out here, so the alternative choices are all I get, even if I’d hardly consider many of them alternatives to their preceding choices.

I work a job during the week that keeps my bank account active but my body and mind inert. When I get home from work, I have two choices to make, both polar opposites on the spectrum of activities. I can stay at home and lounge on the couch with my dog, or go to the gym that my work subsidizes a membership for, play a game or two of basketball, run on a treadmill for a mile so I can feel like I did something productive. And then go home and lounge on the couch with my dog. If I go to the gym, I’ll have to deal with the social awkwardness of pretending I don’t notice everyone around me, and that I don’t care that they can see me. I’ll have to accept the fact that many of them are more dedicated than I’ll ever be to any one thing, potential future spouse and children more than likely included. I’ll either still be at home or finally get there after the gym and look at myself in the mirror, unhappy with the reflection before me. I’ll stare for awhile, trying to convince myself that I’m somehow getting in shape, whatever the hell that even means.

Is that a vein that wasn’t there before? Well, it looks like it, so I guess I can handle a bag of Doritos here this one time. Oh, great. It’s getting closer to ten o’clock, which is my self-imposed bedtime that allows me an arbitrarily healthy amount of sleep before I have to wake up and repeat everything all over again the next day. Didn’t I used to get excited about no bedtimes in adulthood? Wasn’t that supposed to be part of the allure of adulthood? Wasn’t that a thing?

I hardly know what things are things anymore, and what things I experience were things I hoped to experience in the past. Like the weekdays, it’s all a bit blurred together as I trek on closer to my far off weekends of respite and true fulfillment; those days when I’ll finally be able to come alive and enjoy myself, trying new and exciting things, meeting new and exciting people. Except…it’s eleven o’clock on a Saturday night and I’m sitting here at a community table in the middle of a crowded coffee shop that’s bordering on 90s club scene as Metallica plays loud in the background.

Well shit.

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Screams

An Open Letter To My Conservative Evangelical Brethren

First of all, allow me to make the requisite statements of how much I dislike open letters and blah blah blah please think I’m humble while also listening to me as I stand on my soap box blah blah blah.

So, here’s the thing. We don’t really get along too well, do we? And by “we”, I mean Christians who identify—or are typically identified by others— as liberal (me) and conservative (you).

How do you know we’re liberal? Well, you know us primarily by our fruits (love for the gays—heyyyyyooo for puns), our vegan craft beer, the non-conflict wool beanies we wear, and our hesitancy in admitting that President Obama is the Antichrist (sound minds know that’s actually Paula Deen).

How do we know you’re conservative? Well, we know you primarily by your big ass trucks, the Truck Nuts on your big ass trucks, your adorable obsession with Glenn Beck (who, in a delicious bit of irony, is a devout Mormon), and underlying displeasure with having to pay taxes for anything (who needs hospitals, fire trucks, and police cruisers?).

As you can see, there are a number of differences between us, even if the ones mentioned above are obviously overly simplistic, yet hyperbolic, sensationalized, and more than a little patronizing (this is where I iterate that I don’t actually subscribe to these silly little stereotypes; except for the Truck Nuts, because I’ve never seen Truck Nuts next to an Obama campaign sticker, which would make one helluva subversive statement).

In spite of all these political and theological differences, there is certainly one thing we can all agree on, and it’s pretty significant.

God is Love, and that Love was personified through Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for all mankind.

I’d say that’s a pretty good place for us to remain grounded while we discuss our varying opinions and beliefs on just what it means to interact with and be moved by that God of Love we proclaim.

It’s from that ground I speak to you today, so please remember that as I move forward and attempt to make my point, which is this:

You’re tearing down the Church.

I’m sorry if that hurts or angers you to hear, but history backs this up. Look at any point of progress throughout history (Church or otherwise), and you’ll see the conservative factions of each time fighting and clawing for what once was to remain forever.

Adulterers must be stoned, because that’s what the Old Testament tells us to do.

Gentile converts to Christianity must be circumcised, because that’s how we’ve always done it.

Only church leaders can read the Scriptures, because we can’t be trusted to interpret.

Africans (and a number of other races) work so good as slaves because God has blessed the white man with civility and intelligence.

Women? Stay out of the voting booth, and in the kitchen.

I don’t want openly gay and same sex married couples working at a Christian charity that does some of the hardest, most Christ-like work in the world because ewwwwww.

Ahh, yes. That last one. Surely you’ve heard of this whole World Vision fiasco. In fact, I know you have because so many of you voiced your concerns, and then more of you actually pulled your support from the organization (and subsequently a starving child, but that’s neither here nor there). Your voice was so loud and powerful that not even two days after World Vision announced it was opening up its employment to gays and same sex married individuals, it reversed course and took it all back. Nevermind the fact that World Vision’s CEO was very obvious in his original statement that this new hiring policy was not a condoning of the lifestyle, and that they still held a traditional view of marriage. You were upset that your openly gay Christian brothers and sisters could even be a part of this amazing ministry.

You think homosexuality is a sin? That’s honestly ok with me, because I used to think the same thing, and I totally understand why you think that. However, even though you’re quick to point out that you place no more emphasis on the sin of homosexuality than you do on the sins of lying, stealing, adultery, et al., your actions absolutely place more emphasis. Where’s the clamor against hiring divorced individuals? Or those who might have a history of lying? Well, then you say that homosexuality is an open acceptance of a sin, and is ongoing without repentance. To which I say I’m sure there are more than a couple gluttons who refuse to change their eating habits that work at World Vision (gluttony is a sin that’s far more corrosive to the American way of life, even if it sort of IS the American way of life).

Where’s the equal outrage for an equal sin?

I’m not going to keep focusing on the World Vision issue, because that’s not my overall point (although, it is what spurned this letter). My point is that your refusal to even be associated with the sinners of this world (and of our Church) is drastically diminishing our ability to even be effective in forcing out the darkness in this world. We have so many differing opinions, and you can’t stand that. Truth be told, neither can many of us liberals.

But the hard truth we have to deal with? That truth that’s so inexorably staring us right in the face? Neither of us are going anywhere.

I’m sure some of you are ready to pounce on my imbalanced shaping of this scenario; that I’m not paying credence to the number of you who have been harmed by liberal thinkers with unloving words and actions. In no way do I think the fault for this division lies in your hands alone, and I’m truly apologetic for the moments when my liberal posse members (we don’t ride horses; we drive Prius’) and I have done you harm.

However, let’s acknowledge the fact that the American church is predominantly identified as conservative. Effectively, you’ve won the position as kings (and queens, because I’m liberal and love that egalitarian stuff) of the hill. You’re pretty much in the driver’s seat of how the rest of the world is going to view the Church, and quite frankly, that makes me a little afraid.

Afraid because you’re missing out on us liberals, and we’re missing out on you. We NEED each other. We can HELP each other. The Church will not last as the cultural powerhouse that you wish it to be if it remains on its present course. You’ve forced out a large group of individuals, young and old, who love the ideas of thinking freely and openly, of trying new things and challenging old ways, of living a life so furiously loving that it causes a number of us to forsake the shackles of isolation and loneliness and dwell in communities so intimate it would make your heart burst with kale juice.

We aren’t perfect. We’re certainly really weird. But we’re your brothers and sisters, and you are ours. We want to come home. We long for home, but we feel we no longer have one. The last few days have only served to intensify that feeling, and that’s a perfect example of how the Church is being torn asunder.

I’m not asking you to agree with us. Hell, I certainly know we aren’t going to agree with you. But at least allow us to fight and bicker and love under the same roof, as siblings should.

We owe it to each other, we owe it to the world, and we owe it to our God.

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Screams

Depression, loved ones, and and how the latter can harm the former.

There are more than 17,000,000 people in America diagnosed with clinical depression, and I am one of them.

Those numbers would greatly rise if we were somehow able to quantify and take into consideration those not diagnosed, yet still affected by depression. It’s a very real and present thing in our society, even if it’s rarely understood or discussed by most individuals.

If you’ve read this space for a period of time, you’ve no doubt seen me discuss my past and current struggles with mental health. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to a point in my life where I’m not so afraid to talk about it openly with others, though that hasn’t always been the case; and sadly, that isn’t the case for a large number of people. There are innumerable and various obstacles and pitfalls for someone struggling with depression, but perhaps the most universal is that of explaining to loved ones just what the hell is actually going on.

I can give you countless examples of someone asking me what’s wrong and why I’m feeling this way. I can give you one answer I’ve given all of them: I don’t know.

That’s not easy to say, and it’s certainly not easy to hear from someone who’s depressed. As a friend and loved one, we want to help and aid the person we care about who is struggling. When we have no way of understanding what the central cause might be, it’s not so easy to digest. It makes the situation far more murky and difficult to wade through, like walking through a forest at night without a flashlight and compass to guide us.

I know this is a feeling most of my loved ones feel when we discuss my depression, and it increases my level of anxiety when I can’t provide an answer. While I’ve coped with and learned how to manage my depression over the last couple of years, I still have my days and weeks in which I am overcome with worry, anxiety, and outright dread. It’s during those periods I tend to pull away from society.

I don’t return calls or texts. I don’t reach out to my friends for company. I’m not as active on Twitter or Facebook (yes, social media is and has been a benchmark for my mental health, as it tends to be for most people who use it).

I don’t know specifically why I reject community and friendship when I certainly need it most, but that’s the common thread of depression: I don’t know why I do what I do and feel what I feel. I just do it and feel it. The best reason I can surmise is that I know how frustrating it is for them to hear me say these things, and I begin to sound like a broken record that never really played anything of value in the first place. I want to avoid having to apologize for what I feel, or at least feeling like that’s what I have to do.

As difficult as it is to hear that as a friend trying to help, it’s exponentially difficult to say it as someone who is depressed. Thankfully, I’ve been surrounded by a good number of people who understand that they really aren’t going to get a detailed answer from me regarding much of this, and they let that be enough. They let their presence and words of encouragement be enough, regardless of specificity. Which is good, because sometimes that’s all I need or want. Sometimes that is enough.

However, not a lot of people who struggle with this disease are as fortunate as I am. Their isolation is exacerbated by fear and worry wrapped in flesh and bone. They experience the personification of much of what hurts them as represented by their loved ones.

Worry begets worry. Anxiety produces anxiety. On and on it goes, and where it’ll stop nobody knows.

If you’re a friend or family member of someone struggling with depression, it’s helpful to keep this in mind. It’s important to remember that your actions can and do have a powerful role to play here, and to be ready and willing to accept that the answers we give aren’t really answers at all. Be mindful. Be considerate. And above all else, be gracious.

You didn’t start the fire, but you might be pouring gasoline instead of water.

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Screams

Your life? You didn’t build that.

The very idea that there are people who so firmly believe that most individuals who are poor and stuck in poverty are there by their own volition is absolutely astounding to me.

As I tend to mention, I’ve lived a very hashtagblessed life, and have been given opportunity after opportunity to redeem and further my lot on this Earth; even in the face of grave and serious mistakes, whether relational or vocational. While I’m by no means living like Kanye, one wouldn’t look at me and consider me to be impoverished, as I live just a shade double above the poverty line. Even with this truth in mind, I’m still stressed out of my gourd with financial difficulties, uncertainties, and responsibilities. Basically, all the “tees” you can think of have me freaking out left and right, and that’s for just a single guy with a dog.

There are others who are in far dire straits than I am, and you’ll sometimes come across an individual who believes it’s mostly their own fault. That they aren’t picking themselves up by their bootstraps and doing the work necessary to bring themselves out of their current predicaments.

It’s this self-help mentality that our country seemingly was founded on, even though it’s greatly mythologized and exaggerated. When President Obama was grossly misquoted as saying, “…you didn’t build that”, it was viewed by many on the political right as an attack on those entrepreneurial individuals who make this country the greatest country in the history of the cosmos, and he was thusly deemed socialism incarnate.

What a crock of shit.

When it comes to poverty, there are systemic problems at play, along with a litany of personal and individuals circumstances. Let’s not even get into the historical issues regarding socio-economic status, regional upbringing, and racial leg-sweeping from the Cobra Kai that is the overprivileged white male. (Oh look, there’s my self-aware liberal white man card. Two more stamps and I get a free blueberry scone during my next visit.)

I guess what I’m trying to say in my own roundabout way is that the next time you encounter a homeless or impoverished person (which is hopefully often, or else you’re not really following Jesus’ words all that well), take a moment to wonder to yourselves what brought them to their current situation. Ask what factors come into play, and how much of it is truly based simply on their own actions. Then seriously consider what factors came into play for the success you’re currently experiencing, or hope to in the near future. What kind of job did your parents have? How much money did they make? Are you white? Do you have a penis? Does your penis earn more money for the same job a vagina might have? (Unless you work in porn, I bet it does.) And even if after all that navel gazing you still deem poverty to be a self-caused problem, just stop giving a crap.

A person is a person, and that person is of the same species as you; experiences the same emotions as you; and deals with the same sad truths in life as you (death, taxes, and probably a terrible sex life). Maybe they’ve made some stupid decisions along the way. Maybe they even “deserve” what they’re getting. Maybe you’re a sociopathic moron who can’t empathize with anyone because that would require you to relinquish some semblance of control over those around you. I don’t know; we all have our shit, man.

The next time you have the opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life, don’t base whether or not you do on whether or not they deserve it. Help them. Because I can guarantee one thing about your wonderful little existence: you didn’t build that; at least not by yourself.

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