Solutions, but not Good Ones.

For nearly half of my life, I have worked with kids that are locked up.  I noticed right away that they did lots of destructive things: Self-mutiliation, sexual acting out, physical assault, profound aggression.  There are something like twenty teachers and sixty aides that I work with.  Not a single day goes by when we are not literally assaulted on, spat on, head butted, sworn at in the most loathsome of ways.

It didn’t take all that long to see that the reason that many of these behaviors have gone as because they worked for the kids in the past, at least in some limited sense.  A twelve year old who makes sexual advances on men might not feel like she can be raped; in some sense she has taken the power that was lost when sexually abused.  A ten year old who ends up sending somebody else to the hospital in a fit of rage has protected himself from being bullied.  A fourteen year old who manages to infuriate both his parents has managed to unite them after weeks of watching them be at each other’s throats.

Of course they are not aware of this.  Of course these attempts are hopelessly misguided and create more problems than they solved.  But the thing is: these behaviors are a sort-of solution.

It took me a little bit longer to see how we perpetuate these behaviors everywhere, including my place of work.  If I am looking at two kids and one is more prone to violence, it is very difficult for me to treat them equally.   And it took me even longer than that to realize that a good part of what seems to be going on in the class is actually going on in my mind.  I work with some incredibly gifted people.  To me, the interesting thing is that there are very few kids who none of us can reach.  And there are very few kids who all of us can reach.  There are lots of reasons for this.  The thing I am still learning is that a huge part of this is really about the ways that we are all messed up and broken.

So often, it is not really about the kid, it is about the ways they trigger my own brokeness, my own weaknesses, my own insecurity.  Thank you God that I am messed up in different ways than my co-workers, between the bunch of us, we can take care of most anybody.

I am reading The Divine Magician by Peter Rollins right now.  One of the things it opens my eyes to is the way that all this plays out on a sociological level.  This is not just an individual thing.  It is a group thing.

Just as I as the brokeness within me can tolerate certain types of kids, and work with these kids to make them better, while proximity to other kids just create this destructive feedback with my own brokeness, so it is with societies.  There are certain groups and ideas that a certain society can make healthier, and other types that just feed back and forth, in this destructive domino effect.

Put a little differently: nearly everything that happens within a society is a reaction, even a solution, to a problem within that society.  It might not seem and feel like a solution.  It might not be a good solution.  But it is a solution.

When we, as a society, grow hateful in response to a terroritst attack, it is a solution to the uncertainty and fear.  When we elect a destructive or ignorant leader, it is a solution to political questions we can’t find answers for.    When we grow consumeristic and materialistic, it is a solution to our attempts to fufill ourselves…

Solutions, not good solutions.  And not different than the sexually acting out, or agressive, or argumentative child…

There is a theological side to this.

Because these bad solutions create scapegoats: victims we want to pin the blame on.  The acting out children have scape goats including myself and my coworkers.  I have scapegoats: the kids I want to blame, when really the troubles begin with me.  The groups that society thinks are the problem.

First off,  Jesus aligned himself with the oppressed, with the powerless, with the alien, the widow, and jailed, the orphan.

Maybe his sympathy was because he had something in common with these groups.  Jesus was a scapegoat, too.  Problems that weren’t his were put on him.  Punishment that wasn’t deserved was inflicted on him.

My students have this idea that just one thing needs to get better, and then everything will be fixed.  I have this idea that I just need one kid out of my class, and then it will be easy to teach.  Society thinks that they just need to banish the “illegals”  or they just need to oust the Republicans/Democrat or they just need to buy the latest computer/car/house/outfit and then everything will be better.

I am confusing the metaphor a bit, and perhaps that is partially my point.  We are all Rome, and we are all Jesus.  We are all crucified, and we are all crucifier.  We are all in the process of discovering that this problem or that problem is not really what the problem was at all, because we were too busy looking outside of ourselves; and we are all busy discovering that when those enpower unleash their power on us, all that they can take from us is our life.  But when society has had it’s way with us, there will be something of us left.  When the worlds power has come down, we too will die, but we too can rise again, victorious.

Naked Dreams

I had one of those naked dreams last night.

I don’t often get those, but it seems like they are so common, they are almost a cliche.  All I have to do is describe it as a naked dream, and everybody instantly knows what I am talking about.  Mine was a naked-at-work dream.  It seems like the other variety is a naked-at-school dream, even for people who have long since graduated.

This got me to pondering one of the other cultural examples of nakedness: Naked-Adam and Naked-Eve, in the garden of Eden.  When something pops up in both our dreams and our religion(s), it seems like it is worth paying attention to.  Further, I think that our religious understanding can actually be shaped by our understanding of dream understanding.

It’s interesting to notice the places we don’t seem to have naked-dreams.  We don’t have naked dreams about being out in nature.  We don’t have naked dreams about being at home.  It could be objected that these dreams would be less awkward and remarkable, and perhaps even less remembered.  But the thing I am thinking about now is that we also don’t seem to have naked-dreams about places we have never been.  If such a place were full of people, it would be at least as wierd/awkward/humiliating as a naked dream in somewhere we are familiar.


To me, this suggests that naked dreams are really about our fears of being caught vulnerable.  Perhaps clothes are a sort-of metaphor.  They stand for the things we accumulate in life.  Knowledge.  Attitudes.  Learned behaviors.

If I am right, then these naked dreams are about our fears of being found out.  This is nearly universal, this idea that we are faking it in whatever role we take.  I remember when I became a driver, a legal drinker, a husband, a dad, a teacher.  Each time I was sure someone was going to swoop in and say “You don’t really have a license!  Stop driving!”  or “You only think your 21, get out of this bar!”  Or “We changed our mind and revoke your marriage license.”

(There is probably hours of things that could be said about the ways in which I — and maybe you– allow others to define us.  But I think maybe that’s a different thing.)

Naked dreams are about sneaking around, fearing that we will be exposed, knowing that we have been faking it, being terrified that everyone else– all the people with clothes– they actually are doing “it” right, they actually know what is going on.

Adam and Eve were thrust, awake, into a naked-dream.  It happened after they ate from the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.  I think we spend a lot of time thinking, arguing and debating about the second part, Good and Evil, and wondering what it might have meant.  We gut stuck on this idea that Adam and Eve suddenly understood morality, and try to piece together why this could be a bad thing.

There is a different implication of the Hebrew words, however.  Apparently it is a Hebrew literary device to pare a couple of opposites as a way to imply everything.  Elsewhere in the bible, God is described as the Alpha and the Omega, implying, I suppose that he is also everything in between.  My elderly grandfather sometimes says “from soup to nuts.”  Which I think means everything.  Apparently, the same can be said here.  Everything falls somewhere between good and evil, and therefore, the tree of knowledge of good and evil can also be understood as the tree of knowledge of everything.

“Everything” is such a wide topic that even my endlessly babbling self doesn’t have much to say on the topic.  I do have some things to say about the idea of knowledge.

In the last 300 years, knowledge has become a bit of an idol for our civilization.  Knowledge isn’t the only form of understanding, but somewhere along the way, we have decided it is the only one that matters.  It seems that we took the first step toward this idol-ization of knowledge back in the garden itself.

This is why it suddenly mattered that Adam and Eve were naked.  This is why the world turned suddenly cruel.  Because our meaning and purpose was no longer defined by our acceptance of God’s love and authority, now it was about what we know.  Our instinct and emotion suddenly counted for nothing.  The things we can learn were suddenly the only things that mattered.  Adam and Eve?  They had no knowledge.  They were naked.

I suspect that this is all tied into the highly un-biblical idea of earning God’s love.  We started down this road to knowledge, of things we have to aquire, and so we feel like this is the way to get to God’s support, God’s peace, God’s desire for us to spend our eternity.  But that, my friends, is another topic for another time.

I have been hoping to generate some topics and discussion.  Asking you about your naked dreams is probably pretty wierd, though…  So if you have read this far, perhaps a safer topic is this: what is your understanding of the meaning of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Just breathe

What if every time we breathed, we were saying God’s name?

Richard Rohr just exploded my brains with this possibility.  (It was quite messy.  Sorry about how my brains splattered the book case, by the way.)  It begins with the word that we often translate as Yahwew.  In ancient Hebrew, vowels aren’t written down; the reader is left inferring whichever ones go in.  So as it is written, God’s name ends up being something like ‘YHWW’.  Apparently, in Hebrew, these are the only consonants that don’t employ the tongue or allow the lips to close; making the sounds is an imitation of breath itself.

This is a small, thing.  Perhaps even a stretch, to go from the sounds to the idea that it is a breath.  But…  BUT!  If it is right, there are so many incredible ramifications of this idea…

Rohr begins with the idea that the first thing we do, when we leave our mothers’ wombs, is to say God’s name.  And the last thing we do, before we leave this world, is to say God’s name.  And the thing we do, millions of times, forever, over and over in our lives: we say God’s name.

He is way smarter than me.  He has probably spoken about the following things, which also seem to flow out of the idea that God’s name is something like breath itself.  But the following observations are my own:

The thing we all know to do in times of panic, is to breathe: we say God’s name.  The foundation of nearly all the great contemplative prayer, meditation, and mindfullness traditions is the breathe: God’s name…

The bible is filled with God breathing into things.  In chapter 2 of Genesis, God brings life to Adam by breathing into him.  How awesome and crazy to think that God would say his name, and that this would bring life to our original ancestor.  One of the things that makes me reel, about this possibility, is the way it paints a picture of God’s self existence; the way it points to the idea that God creates out of nothing; it is only his own very name which gives birth to man.

Going backwards a bit, into chapter 1 of Genesis, there is another event.  It was one of those wierd times when a bunch of translations of the bible all went to have a steel caged wrestling match to determine who’s right.  Because God is hovering over the waters, and sometimes it is God breathing, and other times it is God floating, and sometimes it is the wind.

And this leads to the possibility of the wind!

Wind is a sort-of breathe, of course.  Often a symbol of the holy spirit.  And Jesus is of course a word, a primal word from God.  What word could he be?  Could he be anything other than God’s own name?  Here, maybe, is a snap shot of the trinity, one and three, distinct and indistinguishable: God’s self, God’s wind, and God’s breathe/name…  Am I grasping yet?  Maybe, but I have this whole idea about the verse that says all scripture is God-breathed, or (divinely inspired) Because this leaves us with the paradox that the bible itself is in fact just a thousand-page long statement of God’s name, over and over and over…

Sometimes I feel dizzy and awestruck and just amazed to be in the middle of this crazy creation.

Words, words, words, let’s sing it one more time…

The first time we sang the words, I thought about them.  I analyzed them, and thought about them.

The second time, I heard the music of those words put together.  The sounds of the syallable, the rhythm of the way the accents fell.

The third time that we sang that same line, I heard the way the words played with the guitar, with the drum beat, with the singer’s voice, with the voices around me, with my own voice, more eager than particularly good at singing.

And then,  I meant them.  I sang them up to the maker of everything.  I know all this stuff about what faith is really about.  I know that it is not about rules, I know it is not about guilt, shame and obligation.  Yet I so rarely connect God on an emotional level, except to tell him about how upset, angry, or cheated I feel.

And then, the words, repeated as they were, they started to lose their meaning.

Except that they also gained meaning, too.  Because this thing happens, when you sing, or even say, the same words over and over again.  On the one hand, they lose their meaning.  When my attention is not drawn to it, I have this idea that there is some connection between the sounds “huh” and “ah” and “tuh” and the thing I put atop my head.  But it’s arbitrary, those specific sounds, and the idea that they mean a “hat.”


It’s one thing to consider this truth about a single, insignificant word.  But to realize that the connection between every single word and what that word “means”; that gives me some sort of soul-vertigo.  And to realize that written words add a whole other layer or arbitrary-ness; the idea that a cross-shaped letter might mean the “t” sound, and so I can read, and write…  it’s a miracle we can communicate at all.

I think most of us forget this.  I usually think in words, and so I cut out the middle-part.  I forget that the words are just constructs.  I suspect, some times, I am limited by this…  repeating a word, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over…  or a bunch of words, a phrase… It connects me to the raw thoughts, something more primal than the words.  For me, this is part of the power of those great times in worshipping through music, where, to an outsider, it just seems like a pointlessly extended bridge, but for me, there is this immediacy, this connection to God…

It’s like we are connected to God, in this really fundamental place.  It is a place more basic than even words.  And so when we can get past the words, operate in that more fundamental place, something magical happens.

Ironically, as I write this, there a bunch of different words that are coming to mind.  I want to fill this page with words connected to this.  Words wondering about the neurology of all this.  Words exploring the meaning or the WORlD…  Words exploring the meaning of the fact that Jesus is described as the word…

But I am working on cultivating silence and quiet, now.  I am working on listening.  Sometimes, it is so good to listen to nothing; other times it is so good to listen to silence.  But also, it is good to listen to people.  And people have so much that they should be saying.  I can learn so much from the people around me.  I wish we were not so afraid to share the truths that weigh on our hearts.

So dear reader, my blog stats tell me that you are out there.  There are some folks who are reading my babblings.  :)  Leave me some wisdom, leave me some truths.  Comment below with the things that are on your mind.  Perhaps it is some observations of worship.  Perhaps it is about the nature of language, words, and thought.  Maybe it’s just a good recipe for chocolate cake.  Share something, will you?

It’s about to get awkward up in here.

This is going to get awkward.  But hopefully, along the way, it will be interesting, too.

(By the way, I think that sentence above is pretty much my lifetime motto.)

When I tell the kids that their mom and I are going out on a date, we get inevitable groans and complaints.  Because I have an inner seven year old who likes to provoke, sometimes I promise the kids that I will be sure to kiss their mother repeatedly, while we are out.  Sometimes I demonstrate in front of them.  Inevitably, louder groans of annoyance, disgust, and irritation.

The awkward irony here is that the kids we have created: they are living proof of our passion for each other.  If it were not for our sexuality they would not be here.  I am not unsympathetic to their position: to recognize that I am living proof of my own mom’s and dad sexuality is pretty gross stuff.  But nonetheles, their is something self-contradictory in complaining about your parent’s attraction to each other.

Certain thinkers, who can seem almost as awkward as me, right now, equate eros, and sexuality with a kind-of creation.  It sometimes even gets attributed to God “him”self, this eros.  God running around creating the world, and it’s not different than a couple making love and making a baby.

It’s not different.  Except for the fact that it is exactly the opposite.  Because, of course, we just start the life making process.  We are not actually doing the creating: the fusion of sperm and egg, the crazy mitosis that occurs as the single cell becomes a zygote, then a fetus, then a little tiny person… we are pretty much out of the loop on that.  Also, God does the whole thing with out even a partner.  Except for the trinity.  Except for the fact that one third of the trinity is his son.

This all gets very confusing.  Is the Holy Spirit and God the Father a bit like a man and a women?  Is Jesus a bit like the child made through this whole affair?  Yes.  It is exactly like that.  Except for the part where it is exactly the opposite.  For example, Jesus is also uncreated and was around since the beginning of time.

Sex, of course, does not always yield a baby.  But a powerful romantic relationship?  It is always an act of creation.  Something is being built in the space between two people, and then it is built up and around them.  Not only the material of a life, but also, a way of understanding the universe: a way of being.  When two people are in love, they create a new understanding, together, of how to be the individuals that they were meant to be.

Eros, then, is a creative energy.  One of those crazy places that God invites us to co-create.  This is primal, powerful stuff.  Of course there are so many ways it all goes so terribly wrong.  I don’t know about you, but I am a mess.  Broken in all sorts of ways.  The possibility of my mistakes writ large is daunting.  No wonder so many of us struggle with intimacy!

But there is something good within us.  A reflection of God himself.  The possibility of bringing that out…  That is pretty awesome.

My Body

God, thank you for this body.  The one I have right here and now.  I complain about the aches, allergies, digestion problems, limitations, hair line, fat content, beady little eyes sinking slowly back into my skull.  I complain about how my sense of smell has never work, how my eyes need these glasses to make the world something other than a blur; thank you, God, for my singing voice, as pathetic as is, for my shakey hands…

Thank you God for this vehicle to navigate your creation.  Thank you for wiring to feel the breeze on my skin.  Thank you for a mouth that can take in a warm tortilla chip, laden with chunks of tomato and onion and cilantro…  God, thank you for cilantro.


And for the sweet stretch that tugs the muscles and ligaments in just the right way and brings about such a release.  Thank you God for the network of neurons in my brain that draw this map of the world, give me thoughts and feelings and memories.  The very existence of memories is amazing.  People who are gone are not gone, they are always with me, in this body that you gave me God.

Thank you for the sensuality and sexuality and also for child-like pleasures that are anchored in my body.  Thank you for the ways in which I am not exceptional, and thank you for the things I am proud of.  Thank you for the aches and pains that are accountability measures: when I do stupid things, I hurt.  And God?  Thank you for that.

Thank you for the growing humility that comes with aging.  Thank you for curing me of the pride I once had in stupid things, shallow things, things that really had nothing to do with me in the first place.  I remember being seventeen, and just being obsessed with the way I looked.  It boggled my mind that my body was becoming a man’s body, that I had so much… dominion… over how I appeared.  That was probably good for me in its season.  But it would be a little creepy decades later.

And there are other challenges… we all have them.  Ways that I am made that are, in some sense, not ideal.  Struggles and dispositions and wiring that are not connected to my life choices.  Even these, God, in this early morning light, as I sit here, writing out this prayer.  Even these, God…  Thank you.

They have grown me and shaped me, these challenges you put into this body of mine.  If these challenges had never been, ironically, my life would be the worse for it.

Trinity Within

I am forty three years old.  I don’t know how this happened, but it seems pretty much undeniable.

I am past the halfway mark of the average life expectancy.  I have devoted my adult life to a single career.  I have chosen a wife.  My kids are all well beyond the halfway mark through childhood.

There are lots of things that I thought I would have by this age.  Many of them…  didn’t happen.   I have lost some of the blessings of youth and early adulthood. And there has been suffering.  In some sense, I have been absurdly and miraculously free of the sorts of things that can really break a person.  But all the same?  Nobody told me, or maybe I just never listened…  Sometimes, life can hurt.  Sometimes things can such.  There are pains that I was so woefully unprepared for.

Life is not what I thought it would be.

And yet!  Yet!!!

There is this freedom.  And there is this thing like joy.  I am starting to have this understanding.

When I was a kid, I thought when I reached the advanced age of 20, I would feel like an adult.  I thought I would have it all figured out.  As I neared 20, I started to suspect that this was just a tad optimistic.  But 25 came and went, and I still felt like a kid playing dress up.  And then came 30, and I still feared somebody was going to find out I was just pretending.  Thirty five came with something like desperation.  I think this was the time I started to fear that I wasn’t ever going to grow up.

And here I am, now.  Sad and joyful and disapointed and hopeful and forty-three years old.    The understanding I thought I would have at 20?  I am finally getting there.  I seem to be about as good at predicting timing as the Windows Downloard Manager.

Tonight, I was listening to this incredibly talk by Richard Rohr.  He was talking about this process of becoming an elder.  And how the second half of life, it is all about going deeper than the words and plattitudes we spout off through the first half.  He used the example of the trinity: “Do you have an experience of the trinity deeper than the motions you are making?” He asked.

I am not sure that he meant for it to go in the direction my brain did, but I had this flash of understanding, just then.  I realized that I am a symbol of the trinity.   Or it is a symbol of me.  Or both and also, i suppose, neither.

The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.

I am a trinity unto myself, as I move into the second half of my life.

I am a father in many senses of the word, and longing to be one more so.

I am a son.  I am still a son.  In some narrow senses, I am less of a son than I have been, in that I am less dependent on my earthly father.  (Some of the time.)  My mom has passed away, I do not directly depend on her in this world.

And yet, I am the summation of my son-experiences.

In other words: I am grown.  I am working at being wise, I am working at being an elder.  I am working at being, ultimately, a father.  I am able to do this because I grew.  Because I was a son.  Perhaps this is similiar to Jesus’ entry into the world:  God the father is in some sense justified as father because he was a son, because he set aside his God-hood.

And the Holy Spirit?  Just as it is with the trinity outside of me, it is with the trinity within.  The Holy Spirit is the between place, the mystery place, the place where words begin to come short…  But I can point to some things, hint and suggest.

There are experiences that are between my fatherhood and my sonhood.  There is a boundary, a bleeding over, a bleeding through.  There is a need to stitch these two opposite sides together, just as the head-side of a coin must be joined to the tales-side of the coin with the width of the coin.

And just as there is this mystery outside of me, there is this mystery within:  I, and you, are the father and the son and the holy spirit.