The Symptoms of Our Common Humanity

Sometimes, I think that there has never been a time like this one.  Then I think about how How there is this line in  Hamlet, about how there is nothing new under the sun.  That, of course, is centuries old.  And then I think again, how Hamlet was quoting Ecclesiastes when he said that, a quote not only centuries but thousands of years old.

So to me, it feels like unchartered territory, as we enter into a world where physical “plumbing” can be different than how people identify.   I have known about these things in a vague and intellectual sense since adolescence or so.  But there is this growing acceptance of so many different ways of being a person.  That seems pretty awesome.  And it can feel pretty new.

And then I think about how the first baptized person, outside of the Jewish faith recorded in the bible was a eunoch.  He did not fall onto our either/or gender binary.  Hamlet and Solomon were right: there is nothing new under the sun.

The thing that has me thinking all this is a book.  I am reading The Symptoms of Being Human.  It is wonderful.  I am ashamed to say that perhaps it would not have made it onto my radar if it were not for the author.

The author is one of my favorite people.  He has been a dear friend since high school.   He has this amazing habbit of reinventing himself every five or ten years: actor/film maker/rock star/writer…  He has this infuriating habbit of being damn good at these things he does.  There are friends who you support because you want to be a good friend.  And then there are people like Jeff: if I did not know him, and somebody introduced me to the music of his band, I would listen to it.  If somebody introduced me to his book, I would read it, and I would love it.

But I digress a little bit.

I am thinking tonight about how there is nothing new under the sun.

I had been curious about the book, as he was writing it.  I was wondering how I would relate.  I feel a little lost, sometimes, in the world.  I don’t understand all the stuff that goes in with different ideas of gender and identity…  I couldn’t explain the difference between a bunch of the letters they put after G,L, and B.  I am lacking both a head knowledge and heart-understanding of some of this stuff.

The thing that I am thinking about tonight, though, is that there is nothing new under the sun because there is some fundamental humanity that we all just share: While it is true that I have never felt like my gender-identity switched from one day to another, while I have never felt like my biology is at odds with my psyche, I have felt like the world wants to prescribe certain beliefs and expectations on to me.  The world wants me to approach things like a multiple choice test: Answer A or B.

I so often find myself wanting to answer A and B.  Or I want to write an option C.

These are the reasons that I just jump into instant identification with this character, Riley.  That is the power of literature, and perhaps the last great hope of all of us, that we beneath the surface of things to our commanalities beneath…  Thank God that there is nothing new under the sun, because if there was, I suspect we would not be able to find each other, and find ourselves in each other.  This is a reason that you need to go out and find the book, right now.

There is another, perhaps more important reason that you ought to go out and find it…

It happens to be a damn good read.

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The Problem With Female Protagonists

Story matters.

Story provides us with this map of who we should be.  There is this understanding of story, where a hero begins in the world he is born into.  He glimpses a wider world, a bigger world, a magical world.  He enters into this world.  He fights.  He grows.  Eventually, he returns to where he came from.  But somehow, things are different, new, made magical even in the mundane world he left.

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When I wrote that above paragraph, it was so easy for me to slip into using the masculine pronoun.  Kind-of ironic, considering the things I am really focused on as I write this.

I was thinking tonight about the differences between the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey.   More specifically, the role of romantic love and attachments to the old world on these journeys.

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Frodo Baggins doesn’t much engage in romantic love on his entire quest.  Harry Potter has a couple girl friends but is required to leave them until his journey is complete.  Luke Skywalker (in terms of the movies) has only a brief (pardon the pun) flirtation with romantic feelings, and by the end of the original trilogy we find out the object of his affections is his sister.  Peter Parker recently made a deal with the devil himself to have himself un-married.  Bruce Wayne and James Bond prove there respective dedication to their missions through leaving the women they love behind them.  One of the first things Hamlet does, when he decides to engage in the mission of his ghostly father, is to terminate his relationship with Ophelia.

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Meanwhile, Bella in New Moon is largely occupied by choosing between choosing between the “safe” werewold and the otherworldy vampire.  Katniss is torn up between the man she came to know in The Hunger Games and the man she partnered with before she left home.  The protagonist of the “5th wave” sits in the middle of a similiar triangle.  Though they don’t generally have fantasy elements, romantic comedies and eighteenth centuries novels, and stories about women that were told before, and ones that are told after…  It seems like they inevitably are built around the trope of the bad boy.  Almost always there is the safe chance, a representation of the world that they have always known, and some other guy who represents the heroine’s entry into the larger world.

One thing worth being disturbed about is how often the message seems to be: Choose the safe one, young lady.  Stick with the world you know, young lady.  Don’t enter into adventure.  Play it safe.  Sidestep the journey.

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We would not watch a movie where the hobbits decide not to leave the shire.  We would feel cheated if Harry Potter ignored the owls.  We know that Luke needed his aunt and uncle to be killed so that he would be launched into the world.

But there is a deeper problem, a more fundamental thing.  It seems like our stories have this implication that women access the world only through the man they choose.  There is some sense in which women, in story, are not allowed entry into the wider world with out a husband, or worse yet, the doorway itself is which husband they choose.

I know that there are all sorts of problems with the stories focused on men listed above.  I know that there are great things in some of the stories about women.  I am not suggesting that these stories are the cause of sexism in our society.  But the fact that they are around, and that they are so hard to notice, is certainly a symptom of something which is not good.

 

The Symptoms of Being a Human

So, there is this guy.  He is a lovely and amazing person.  And he has this book coming out.  And it is going to be awesome.  I hope he becomes famouser.  Partially because I have some awesome stories about him as a misunderstood junior high kid.  And if you pay me a dollar I will tell them.  Also, if he pays me a dollar, maybe I won’t.

http://jeffgarvinbooks.com/purple-cover

Enough

I am learning that this

is a time of plenty.

an age of Jubilee.

 

And it does not matter what time this is.

And it does not matter what we are longing for.

This.  This is enough.

 

Speak to your deepest places.

Or if the world has rendered you mute,

would you let me?

 

There is enough and more than enough.

Breathe.

Breathe with me.

 

How silly is the time I have spent in my life

Against.

This.  That.  Or the other thing.

 

I think I will sing praises with the rest of my breaths.

I will write odes and love poems only

And though some of these will be elegies.

 

There

is

enough.

 

Reject with me.

This economy of scarcity.

This.  This is enough.

 

In This Together

We are in this together.

I am filled with this thought, right now: we are in this together.

We are suffering, and addicted, and sad and lonely.  But we are in this together.

I have been noticing, recently, how the people in the church reach out to those in the world around them.  We give these terrible lists of the things that must be done.  We make these promises of the things that will happen.  This morning, I saw this message that was well meaning… loving, in its own way.

It was aimed at addicts.  And it told the person reading– the addict– that the way past their addiction was to stop making excuses.  It instructed to deny fleshly desires.  It promised God’s power.

Is all this true?  It is true: true for people easily seen for addicts.  And it is true for me, who does not suffer from alcoholism, gambling addictions, or anything so easily categorized.  And it is true for the person who relayed the message on social media.  And it is true for the pastor he was quoting.  Surely, we all need to do these things.

But I suspect all of us already know this.  I am less sure that we know things that are more urgent, more necessary before we can get better, before we can get closer to God:

We are in this together.

The person in the church and out of it: we are in this together.

The person with the named addiction and the person with out one: we are in this together.

The person who made the updates and I: we are in this in together.

The body of believers with the polished performances and amazing light show, the body of believers with the single guy singing his heart out; the people with the lists and the promises, the cut and dried truths and the the body of believers who can’t, don’t or won’t see things so simply…

We are in this together.

 

 

 

Fresh Air

Breath is a funny thing.  It is at once the most physical thing we can do and also profoundly spiritual.  On the one hand, we are born knowing how to do it.  And on the other, the teaching of how to do it properly occurs not only in every religious tradition, but also in secular meditatiob practices.

Breathing has this special importance in my life, lately.  On both the spiritual and physical levels.

I suffer a combination of asthma and allergies that gets brutal under certain weather conditions.  It has been bad enough to lead to ambulances, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations.  I don’t need to bore you with the details of my ailments.  But I would like to tell you about how this feels.

Even when my symptoms aren’t acute enough to merit doctors’ care, it can take over my life.  For about a month each year, it gets to a point that it is exhausting to make it through the day.  Around the time the sun is setting, I am ready to collapse.  This is mostly because of the physical toll it takes on me, just catching my breathe through out the day.

Especially during these times, there is this fear.  It is terrible, to be on the verge of not catching your breath.   Many of us have had the wind knocked out of us; or we have been holding our breath, swimming underwater perhaps.  Have you ever got to that point where you rationally know that you will be able to catch your breath, but there is this panic, lurking just beneath, this fear that you try to push away that you just won’t be able to fill your lungs?

There are times that this becomes a viscous circle, and it is this incredible act of will to just slow down, work slowly.  If your lungs always work, I am not sure if you can understand how difficult this is.  Because when I am healthy, I know that when I just stop and slow down, I force my lungs to be efficient as I take these deep breaths.  When I am not well, this slowing down is only half the solution.  Even deep, abdominal breaths are only a little bit nourishing, there is this sense of something like betrayal from my body.

Please believe I am not looking for pity or trying to compare my burdens with yours.  There are a hundred kinds of suckiness in the world and it is a fool’s errand to try and rate and compare them.

I am trying to set the stage.  I want you to understand what happened on Sunday.

Sunday, I was at church.  Struggling to breathe.

I asked God to do something new, to show up in some way he had not before.  I was a little depressed.  (Partially, I think, because of the breathing stuff.  Chronic physical challenges just get so old!)  I gathered up what faith I had and gave it up to God.  I don’t have this sense that I had this huge quantity of faith (probably about a mustard seed’s worth…)  I do have this sense that I worked with all the faith I did have at that time.

My head started to feel warm, in a good way, as I was singing.  As I exhaled these deep, long breaths (deeper, and longer than I should have been able to!) I had this sense of exhaling something… bad.  Unhealthy.  Gross.  I was so glad to have it out of me.

I could sing!  Well, actually, the people around me would probably dispute that.  But they would certainly agree that I got louder.  I could breathe.

In the 3 days before church, I had taken over 30 puffs of my rescue inhaler.  Since Sunday?  An average of 2 a day.  My breathing is not perfect.  But it is way better than it should have been.

I am a pretty educated guy.  I understand the placebo effect.  I have babbled quite a bit about the emotional connection to breathing here.  And all of this is part of it.

But it is not all of it.  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  And this is frustrating.  There are lots of things I have prayed intensely for and it doesn’t seem like much is happening.  I did not specifically pray about my breathing that morning… And suddenly it was better.

The funny thing is that I am so convinced it is a God-thing that I am interested in sharing this awesome happening, but I don’t remotely have an interest in debating it.  May as well try to convince me that the sky isn’t blue.

There are lots of things that might be said about all this.  I don’t get it at all.  I guess the thing I am thinking about, most, though, is that it is December 22nd as I write this.  And the thing about Christmas that has just been on my heart, this year, is how part of the message is that God comes into the world in these crazy ways; he storms into our physicality and flips a script in the places we were so sure it was just going to be more of the same old, same old.

What about you?  Where are your stories of God showing up in unexpected ways, healing ways?  Where are the places that you’re struggling, that you feel like God is supposed to show, and he just hasn’t yet?

 

Earth and Sky

The Earth needs The Sky.

Deeper than via negativa

It is more than knowing the self by what it is not.

As once there was only me and then there was this breast.

 

Roots in the ground.

As Important as branches thrust in the air.

As important as these autumnal leaves withering in anticipation of this frost.

 

But more, That sky needs this Earth.

I am too old to long for a holiness and purity

unchallenged by the mire.

 

Fuck your harps.

My God plays an electric guitar.

That feedback screech thrum?

 

I have had enough of you priests.

Here comes the prophet.