2016 may well be a dumpster fire equivalent of a year. There have been a lot of horrible things that happened this year. There has been a large loss of life; human, animal, and other. Some things that we thought would never happen, actually happened. For many of us, some personal struggles finally came to a head. It certainly doesn’t negate the good things that have happened, but sometimes the bad is a lot easier to feel.
This year there has been a large number of celebrity deaths. Some of our most iconic heroes and artists passed away this year. John Glenn, Muhamed Ali, David Bowie, Prince, and Carrie Fisher to name a few. I have seen a lot of posts on social media talking about how 2016 is the worst or how people are complaining too much about 2016. It’s completely natural to mourn the loss. With a few exemptions I feel we celebrate those who have shown us what humanity is capable of. Artists, and Athletes that remind us of the divinity that resides in all of Creation. It makes sense for people to mourn the loss of those glimpses of the divine.
It is natural for those of us who grew up learning how to communicate digitally to share how we feel on social media. It releases dopamine when we get likes or responses on social media. It has become our norm. We millennials tend to live our lives digitally. It makes it very hard for us to have analog relationships and conversations with people. There has been a great video going viral recently that explains this phenomenon. There is a massive danger in this I think. The problem is that we who have become addicted to social media have begun to dehumanize each other.
I’ve talked about this issue before last year on arguments and other sprinkled references throughout my blog. I think that it is very easy for us who live our lives online to tend to see others as statistical views, likes, clicks, comments, and so on. We’ve become names and pictures, not real human beings on the other side of the internet. We can no longer see the forest for the trees or the internet for the people who make up the world wide web. This makes complaining a lot easier to do. Complaining about things like people venting feelings or needing some comfort because someone they looked up to passed away.
I think in so doing we not only dehumanize the other, we have dehumanized ourselves. We forget about the validity of the feelings of the other in so doing we are trying to protect our own feelings. By protecting those feelings we shut them down. I know that we do this because I’m guilty of it too. I have been guilty of getting involved in the shutting down discussion because I disagree with someone. I have been part of arguing with digital people because I thought I was trying to enlighten them. It’s tough. I don’t know what the answer is, truthfully. What I do know is that we have a big need for actual conversation. We need to stop dehumanizing and start talking… Just a thought.
A few years ago I was obsessed, like many people my age, with the television show Scrubs and Zach Braff. I particularly enjoyed his movie Garden State. He put together a wonderful mix of songs for that movie and there was one that particularly stood out to me. Still, to this day, it wells up “the feels” in me. It is Frou Frou’s hit “Let Go”. If you wish to give it a listen here’s the first youtube video that pops up when you search it:
My life, as one of my friends puts it, certainly wasn’t the one I signed up for. I have had several breakdowns emotionally, spiritually, and physically along the way. I could have let any one of those stop me along the way, but still, I persisted. There is one thing that through it all I’m reminded of. There is beauty in the breakdown. I can quote any number of things that kept me going throughout the years, but that’s not what this post is about.
On Sunday, my family and I attended a church service. It was only the second time we had gone since another such breakdown. Something there reminded me of this. The moments came together to suddenly bring me back to a place where I felt comfortable again at a small “c” church. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first time we had attempted to go back to a worship service. I broke down during the Eucharist. I felt unwelcomed and unwanted at the table. Because of this, I got very angry and upset. I realize it wasn’t rational. I know it is nobody’s fault. But it was something that just took me aback. I realize there are things that I could be justifiably bitter about in my life, but that would go to serve nobody. It doesn’t help me, and it certainly doesn’t help other people for me to hold on to grudges. It was almost enough to make me never want to go back to church again. But I made a promise to myself, my wife, my therapist, and my blog readers (Hey! Look you got a mention!) to try to find a way back.
Anyway, This week as I was sitting there preparing for the worst, as I am wont to do, something beautiful happened. Now, this may seem silly to a lot of people, but to me, it was one of the most beautiful and endearing things that have happened in a worship service in a long time. People kept missing their marks, there were misspellings in the bulletin, and the lectors read the wrong thing. Some may take offense at that, but to me it was beautiful. It was beautiful because nobody seemed to care. We were all just honest, real, and authentic human beings coming together to worship the Divine.
I think that is one of the reasons, out of many, that Millennials are leaving organized religion. It’s become too polished, too much of a show, and so much about the “entertainment value” that worship has become a shell of what it was. I did a youth group project a few years ago asking people why they go to church. One of the top answers was because my friends are there. I’m sure if you ask people what they love about a church, aside from disingenuous answers of the music, or the preaching, you’ll hear because they are family or some variation on that. Now let me ask you something, are your friends and family perfect, polished, and “showy”?
One of the things that Millennials value most is authenticity. I think that this is why I felt there was so much beauty in this breakdown of the service. It suddenly felt real to me again. It was a family muddling through the issues to do the traditions and rituals before us. We didn’t let the small things stop us. Maybe that is what the Divine intended all along for us. To be messy, to be real, and to be authentic.
What about you, reader? Do you find beauty in the breakdown? Is it easier to let go when others do? Am I way off base?
When I look into your eyes, it is almost like staring into a mirror. I see my own eyes looking back at me. In some ways, that terrifies me. In others, it fills me with hope. I don’t want you to have to face and see some of the things my eyes have seen. I also know that you will see a world much different than the one I grew up in. Though, every time I look into your eyes I still get an overwhelming and almost ineffable sense of joy and pride.
You look at everything now with a sense of wonder and discovery. You are just now starting to recognize things and how they relate to you. I love the look you get when I pull out the cracker box. You like to look around and observe everything around you. Right now as you play on the floor, you have to keep turning your head to look around at everything. I may just be reading this wrong, but you seem to be very curious, just like me.
There are many sappy songs that I could quote and refer you to at the moment, but by now I’m almost certain that you’ve heard them a dozen times over. one line keeps replaying in my mind, though. It’s from the first lines of Lee Ann Womack’s classic I Hope You Dance,
“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger”
I don’t ever want you to lose this wonder, this hunger you have to discover everything around you. There is so much in this world for you to learn and understand. I know you will encounter that brief period when you think you know all there is to know in the world, but I pray that passes quickly. I hope that I will always see that look in your eye of wonder and amazement at all the world has to offer.
I also hope that you never stop seeing things around you. I hope you see the needs that you can fill, the comfort and support you can supply to your fellow human being who is hurting, the small gestures that you can do to make someone’s day better, and how big of an impact those small things can make. Your little eyes will see a lot of things as you grow. I pray that I will be able to help guide and support along the way.
One of the things I’ve been struggling to come to terms with recently is the fact that my experiences aren’t linear or based purely on a defined path. If my life were to be described as a video game it would be more like an open world game where you can take tasks when you want to, or go waste time on side quests before ever working on the main story quests. Through a lot of help, here’s the big secret: I’ve been going to therapy for a while now, I’ve come to see my life as a mosaic.
Mosaics are artworks that are made up of different, usually broken, pieces of other things to make up a whole. I’ve always found mosaics particularly beautiful. Especially in the form of stained glass windows. Stained glass windows have always held a very significant role in my life. So that is why this image held particular resonance for me. Every little seemingly random moment or experience in my life comes together to form a much larger and grander picture.
I had a very difficult time with this because I have come to the understanding that suffering doesn’t hold meaning. Growing up in the church I was told that everything happened for a reason; good or bad it had a reason. Still, even now parts of me want to assign meaning to the broken parts of my life. The big problem with that though is I don’t think we are meant to know the meaning. I think on one level, yes, they are right. Everything does happen for a reason, but it is on a much grander and cosmic scale than we can possibly fathom. We try to figure out the reason for our suffering or the reason for the suffering of those who endure much greater hardships than our own (IE Syrian refugees). But the horrible and awful truth of the matter is that there is no meaning to that suffering on our level. It’s just suffering. If we can do something about someone else’s suffering, we are meant to. That is where we get our meaning, our reasons for being. Everything happens for a reason so that we may better see how we can alleviate the suffering of our fellow man, not our own suffering, but sometimes shit happens.
This has been on my mind recently as I’ve been noticing that here in this country we celebrate towers. I mean we celebrate those who stack accomplishment on top of accomplishment of the same type and fashion. Often times it is very hard for “normal” everyday people to live up to this because I’m pretty sure life isn’t structured in this way. We aren’t meant to be towers. I think there is a much bigger lesson in this and it might also be the start of a much bigger metaphor if I were to dig into it, but for now let’s leave it at the stacking of accomplishments.
We have become a tower society, celebrating the stacked accomplishment of those around us and looking at our own lives and wondering why we can’t be towers too. I think if you were to ask the “Towers” about how they got to where they are, they wouldn’t point to the stacking as their main purpose. Instead, I think our lives were meant to be mosaics. Every little moment in our lives is meant for something bigger and grander. A beautiful piece of art that is still in the process of being made. Our pieces coming together and separating in beautiful and unknown ways. The colors of the other people that come in and out of our lives helping to change our own colors. The experiences that shape us and reform the other pieces of our own experience. I think we have lost sight of the purpose of this art of life. We are mosaics, not towers.
What would it look like if we lived our lives this way? What if we took our experiences not just as training for something else later, but as a beautiful tile in itself? Life, in my opinion, isn’t stagnate. It’s ever moving, ever evolving, ever changing into something new, something different, a bigger picture. It is a grand mosaic made up of smaller mosaics.
My name is Miguel. I’m a human being. I struggle. I fall. Sometimes I think of beautiful things, sometimes my thoughts are bogged down with darkness. I am. I exist. That is all I can claim is true in these moments. Recently I have set out on a quest to rediscover who I am, this is no easy quest. It is one that I’m often reminded has no end as our true selves are constantly in flux. But I wanted to really figure out what makes me, me. Finding the truest me that there is. So here is where I begin.
The Truest me
Recently I’ve been trying to clear myself of fluff. Both metaphorically and literally, I put on a few pounds during the pregnancy and first months of my son’s life. I decided to start cutting things out of my life that didn’t need to be there. I have been trying to very hard to figure out this question for myself “Who do I want to be?”. On the basest level, I discovered a few things that I want to be known of me:
A Loving Man
A few years ago my friend in his best man speech said of me that I was one of the most loyal and loving people he had ever met. Granted, it may have just been flowery language to pep up his speech. But a few years later a teenager who I had been working with at a church said in her goodbye speech to me that I was the embodiment of the love of God I so often taught them about. Both of these instances have told me that even if I’m not those things that I want to be those things. I want to be a loving man. I want it said of me that I loved with my entire being. That the love they saw caused me to be fiercely loyal to my friends and family, if you have met me you are one of the two to me.
A Safe Place
Recently the symbol of the safety pin has gained popularity. Despite it being another form of slacktivism, it is meant to show those who feel oppressed that the person wearing it is a “safe person”. Meaning that they will come to their aid in time of distress. This is another thing that I want to be said of me, that I am a safe place for all people. That no matter your age, race, gender, creed, orientation, mental ability, economic status, history, type of pie you love, or even if you hate pie (but really who hates pie?) that I will be a safe place for you. That when I am around I will come to your aid and defend you, even if you hate pie.
An Encounter With the Divine
More than just coming to the aid and defense a safe person is someone you can talk to without judgment or condemnation. I will talk more about my faith in a moment, but I want to be somebody who embodies the Imago Dei or for you non-latin speakers the image of God. That when you meet me or have a conversation with me that you can somehow through me have an encounter with the Divine, whatever the Divine looks like to you.
Out of everything else in my life I want those three things to be true of me. That in Miguel you will have a loving and safe encounter with the Divine.
The name comes from a few things. I’ve been told that I was just trying to copy the popularity of the honest trailers on YouTube. But it’s really been something I’ve been considering for a long time. I tried to do some through my writing in here, an odd youtube video there, and all that I did in my career before. But I never was able to sort out what it was I wanted from this.
Back in my college days, my theater director gave me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received in my life. She said that whenever I was on stage I portrayed the truth. I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve always wanted to be the most honest that I can be with myself and others. I haven’t always succeeded at this, especially when I feel cornered and trapped. Writing and theater are two things that I have been told that I’m good at. I want it said of my art that I’m honest. I want it said of those things that portray me the most are as real as they can be.
One of my favorite quotes is one from Frederick Buechner:
Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.
In a talk that I gave to teenagers a few years ago, I likened it to being homesick for a place you have never been. There are so many of those things in our lives. There are so many fandoms nowadays that you can take your pick for a place you are homesick for that you have never been to Hogwarts, A galaxy far far away, the starship enterprise, Narnia, Tamriel, Westeros, Middle-Earth, the fringe division, S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, the hall of Justice, and on and on… I think that’s a form of faith, in fact, there is a wonderfully funny video about how religion is just the biggest nerdom of them all. I have been to many of these worlds through books, movies, tv-shows, and comic books. I’ve brought back many important lessons for life, and I think they are the relics and stories of our times. The divine is revealed to me in these things as well as Scripture, so all of my faith stuff is going to have a bit of a nerdy twist to it. It’s my movement toward the Divine in all things
I want my art to reflect these things both honesty and my own nerdy sense of faith.
My Honest Faith
I am a man that has been kicked by the small “c” church a bunch. Sometimes it was my fault, others it wasn’t. I’m not going to go into specifics because honestly, I think that would do more harm than good. But I have just about given up on the small “c” church because I know what the large “C” church should look like and have encountered it only a select few times. Recently, I haven’t been on the best terms with the small “c” church. I had given up on practicing for a while, but now I’m taking a journey back into faith with a newfound sense of purpose. I’m going to be encountering the small “c” church in a new way than I have before and I will write about that as well. I figure if I’m going to make true art, it would probably best be told from my true to life struggles finding my new place in the small “c” church. I want to share my journey with you, and I hope you will tell me about your own honest faith journeys as well!