The Latest

When I began blogging, bunches of years ago, this little site was where I started.  I cast a pretty wide net: theology, politics, culture, and poetry.

A few years ago, I mostly narrowed my focus in blogging.  I came back here, to Jeff’s Deep Thoughts, for a few things that did not quite fit into the Contemplace.  At the Contemplace, I shared my observations about meditation, prayer, and mysticism.

I continue to narrow my focus.  I have put a whole lot of sweat and tears (can’t honestly say I shed any blood) into The Faith-ing Project.  This site is intended to be a bit of a playground for the mind,  a training gym for the soul.  It is not directly about my journey at all.  Mostly, my hope is to assist others by exposing them to spiritual exercises and contemplative activities.

Why don’t you come and check it out?

https://faithingproject.wordpress.com/

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An Opportunity

One of the things I have learned over the last couple years is that spiritual practices like meditation can be life-changing.  This lead to me posting less here at Jeff’sdeepthoughts and more at The Contemplace.

The latest evolution in my spiritual journey and my online musings is the Faith-ing Project.  My vision is a place that can offer readers a new spiritual practice every day for a year.  I have been writing, organizing, and compiling for months.  I am just about ready to go!

The Faith-ing Project does not yet have a home or website.  But it does have a need.  And that need might just be you.  Are you:

  • Interested in spiritual practices?
  • Able to give these practices about 15 minutes a day?
  • Willing to offer feedback, criticism, and push back?

If this sound like you, please email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com   ask me your questions, or just let me know you are interested.

I am putting together a team of testers who will receive an email with each days practice.  In exchange for trying the practices out and sharing your experiences,  I will give testers free access to content that will eventually become paid on the site, and I will post thank yous, and links to content you might wish to direct others to.

Thanks for reading!

Jeff

Sitting in the Wreckage

We broke up with the Evangelical church.

For a while we tried to stay on good terms, but it didn’t appear that a friendship  was going to work out either. As I found myself further and further away from the church that helped me discover the importance of Jesus, I decided I needed to express myself publicly.

I suspect if you are reading this, you might feel the same way, at least a little bit.

To be honest, I wish that everything that I needed to say had been said here.

In some ways that was easy to write.  Those feelings are easy to feel. But that was an important place to begin.   I am proud, in a tiny little way, to step in line with a long line of Godly prophets.

Because Those powers and principalities around us needed to be named as anti-Christs.  But after this is done? I think it becomes time to focus on us. The folks who have broken up, the folks who have given up on the idea that we can be friends.

Because the thing is, most of the prophets did not do very well with introspection: Jonah clung to his prejudice even till the very last verse of his story.  Elijah had an emotional breakdown after successes and miracles. John began to doubt Jesus as his circumstances turned difficult.

 

Aspiring prophets in our culture have an extra challenge.  We are not very good at giving mourning and lament it’s due time.  Most of the time we try and rush these processes. But because we do, there is also a part of us that never moves on, never leaves the dead relationship in the past.  All of us just keep looking back at the destruction, no matter how many people around us are turning into piles of salt.

As recently as twenty years ago, the term ‘deconstruction.’ was saved for obtuse philosophy courses.  Now, it’s so much a part of our lexicon that we hear it on cooking shows!  Deconstructing is largely the domain of the prophet. But if we end in deconstruction, all we do is walk among the wreckage of the Tower of Babel, never willing to move on, to try and create something new.

It’s kind of sad.  I can describe myself as a post-evangelical.  But all that does is describe where I was.  It does say anything about where I am, or where I am going. 

Where, my friends, is our reconstruction?   

It may not be time for yours yet.  But I think it’s time for mine. And the truth?  The truth is I really don’t want to. It is easy and safe here in the wreckage.  But there is nothing there for me anymore. So let’s walk up and out of the dust together.

 

An Open Letter to the American Evangelical Church

Dear Evangelical Church,

It’s been three years since we stopped dating.  As you know, when we said our goodbyes, I had these hopes that we could still be friends.  I thought if we saw each other out and about it wouldn’t have to be that awkward.  Maybe we would exchange Christmas cards, or ‘like’ each other’s posts on social media.  I had this hope we could have mutual friends, after the break up, and they wouldn’t have to pick sides.  

Perhaps I am more disappointed than you to announce that this simply won’t work out after all.  I really wanted it to. It is out of a deep fondness for what we had, out of a deep respect for you, that I want to be upfront with you.

The problem is your hypocrisy.   

I don’t use that word lightly.  Nor do I mean it to suggest that this is just about us having our disagreements.  You know we never did see eye to eye, and that was ok. To be honest, I kind-of enjoyed being the token liberal in our little community.  Back when I fell in love with you, evangelical church, you actually made me feel like these differences didn’t matter! I hope you can pat yourself on the back a little bit, about that.  The whole “There is no jew or gentile” thing… You made it happen.

Back then,  when I watched you criticize Presidents Clinton and Obama, I was able to respect you.  I often thought you were wrong. But I could believe that you were coming from a place of good intentions.  When you made room in your congregations for people who were divorced, I knew you had to do some struggling with that.  After all, Jesus did have some tough words about divorce, and you always did your best to take his words seriously. I hope you won’t find it condescending if I tell you that I was proud how you looked at a wider context, you saw the big picture on this issue.

It was difficult to watch you fail to offer that kind of loving support to people who were gay, transgender, or queer.   And it became increasingly challenging to accept your views on things like heaven and hell because they were so incredibly selective on what parts of the bible they depended on.  I did love you once, though, and in the name of that love, I was able to put my discomfort away. For a while.

It became time for us to see other people.  But even as recently as the inauguration of Donald Trump I was still attempting to keep you in my life; a casual acquaintance who I had shared some good times with.  It didn’t bother me that you thought trickle down economics works. I could accept your idea America needed to be made great again. I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt on the militarism, and the flag waving.

It is when it came to his personal behavior that there was simply no way to write off your support as anything but knowingly, willfully hypocritical.   This man’s actions seem so much more egregious than Clintons. But suppose they aren’t. Suppose they are only half as immoral. I have not heard you once call out his behavior at all.  Activities which had been justification for removing his predecessor were suddenly not even worth talking about. Your sudden unwillingness to even consider personal morality relevant exposed the whole thing for a self-serving charade.  

This was the point I decided I did not want to be seen in public with you.  This was the time I began to think I would not be coming back to visit your highly polished, highly stylized, highly formulaic “worship experiences.”

For these last several months I had been quiet about this decision.  For a while, I did not even admit my feelings to myself.

When the #metoo movement began to gain momentum in the secular world, you, evangelical church were awfully quiet.  When your own idols began to fall, when your leader’s secrets were suddenlly, publicly disclosed, your layers of archaic rules, guidelines, and gender segregation looked awfully pointless.  

When the pastor I want to respect chimed in on facebook, defending the failures of the church…  this is the moment when I realized I could not sit by silently.

Because sitting by silently: that was exactly what the problem has been with the whole situation.

I believe that huge numbers of evangelicals do not support Trump.  They believe that morality matters. They worry about the widows, orphans, and foreigners who are among us.  They see sexual harassment and assault as the blights which they are.

But where are they?  So near as I can tell, the are like that pastor.  Too silent for to long. Neglecting the biblical tradition of the prophet, ignoring the idea that we ought to be looking within our communities and making sure they are rightous.  

The whole idea that we would call out someone for their sexual sin but not their greed is precisely the selective bible reading that is at the heart of this problem.

 

This is why I had to break up with you, evangelical church.  I am ashamed of what you have become. If you had stumbled into my life now, I don’t think I would even be attracted to you.  

I don’t get any joy out of telling you this.  Though I don’t think we will ever resume our old romantic relationship, I do know that there is some good in there.  Sometimes, though, it can be hard to see it.

Hoping that some day you can become what you once were,

Jeff

Valley

I woke up this morning.

And after work, and hurt,

and trying, so hard.

 

I finally, when I am at best,

Have reached, barely…

This place.

 

I don’t want to call it a precipice.

It is so much more like a deep valley.

I can reach out

 

and touch both walls with my fingertips when I stretch.

Walls that are damp with rainwater and soft with moss.

The breeze motivates the ferns springing up by my feet to carress my calves.

 

Here I am at last,

Ready to say the things that I am just beginning

To know how to mean.

 

Those stupid birds have it all so wrong.

I don’t want you to leave this nest and soar.

I wish you a most gloriuous fall!

 

I spent so long wanting for you to never hurt.

But this life is a bit of a multiple choice test.

And escaping pain is not an option.

 

So instead, my wish is that your pain is a reliable guide.

When you spread your wings, and you leap,

When you are lying in the dirt and the hurt.

 

I hope that your lovliness,

All the best parts of you…

I hope that they speed your recovery.

 

All of your mediocrities,

All the ways you are competent enough.

All those aspects of you which are fair.

 

They will be taken by life, and sorted.

Some will emerge as greatnesses.

And others will be eroded by time and foolish decisions.

 

You will walk, sometimes, on those bird-feet not meant for walking far.

You will try and fly, and sometimes, those wings won’t work.

You will, I expect, end up here, with me.

 

In a valley,

There is fresh water here.

There is a breeze that will lift the sweat from your brow.

 

Some Thoughts From The Classroom

So, you want me to carry a gun to school.

That’s a pretty interesting possibility.   Before I share with you what I think of that idea, let me tell you a little bit about me.

I have given over nearly half of my life to teaching.  I am a Special Educator.  I have worked almost exclusively with kids that are deemed “emotionally disturbed.”  I have spent a few years in public schools.  I ran a class for “behaviorally disordered” kids.  My problem was not to get the kids off their cell phones merely so I could teach.  Mostly, I just wanted the kids to stop making drug deals so they could focus on English.

Most of my career has been spent teaching at residential facilities.    I have been spat on dozens of times.  I have been throat punched and nearly passed out.  I have sprained my back breaking up a fight and spent a month recuperating.  Furniture has been thrown at me.   I have been in riots, bomb threats, and of course, countless lock downs.

I have worked with kids who have been prostituted by their parents for drugs.  I have worked with kids that have done drive-by shootings.  I have worked with kids who bore the scars on their arms because the voices told them to light themselves on fire.

I have learned four different methods of physical management.    Restraining kids comes with the job.  I have used leather 12-point straps to secure them to beds.  I have broken up countless fights.

Many days I love my job.  Some days I hate it.  I wonder if I am doing the right thing, working in a job where I watch co-workers get seriously hurt, burn out, and wrung out.  I have feared for my safety, questioned my competence.

In many ways my calling in this field is what grew me into a man.  If most people don’t know the challenges of my job, they  don’t know the thrills of it either: reaching a kid who seemed unreachable, connecting with somebody who has been so broken, watching the light in their eyes turn on when it would have been so easy to just give up.

I am not looking for thank you’s or sympathy.  I chose my job.  You chose yours.  I am sure there are days you love and hate your job.

I give this long introduction to establish that all these discussions about mental health, teaching, and what it’s like when you work in a dangerous environment, they are some areas I know some things about.

Teaching is funny.   Most jobs people realize they could not do without training.  The number of people who have never set foot in a classroom and feel qualified to pronounce what the problem is with schools today quite frankly blows my mind.

There might be things I am wrong about.  There might be ideas that you have that would work.  But I have to tell you, the confidence that most people make these pronouncements in, it is difficult to stomach, sometimes.  Because when you tell me I should carry a gun to school, there are some things that I think I hear underneath your statements.

One of them is that if you were in my shoes, you would sacrifice yourself with out hesitation to save your students.   To this, I say: bullshit.

Some of you would.  Some of you wouldn’t.  Unless you have been in that situation you have utterly no way of knowing.  When I think about my own biological children and the obligations I have to them, I don’t even know if taking a bullet for my classroom students is the right thing to do!

Another thing I hear, underneath your suggestion that I carry a gun to school is that you would do this right.  Safely.  With appropriate training.  I hope you will forgive me if I have some skepticism about this.

One of the shell games that happens in education is promises get made that we will do things correctly, and changes get made that simply save governments and tax payers money.  Then the follow through never happens.  Initiatives are implemented in exactly the opposite manner than the research demonstrated these things needed to happen in.  Immersion for English Language Learners, Incluision for special needs students, and standardized testing are the merest tip of the ice berg here: over and over again, there are promises that we will implement plans with follow through and fidelity.  Over and over again, at every level, this follow through fails to happen.   If we can’t support a general educator with the training they need meet the needs of their wide ranging classes, how can we possibly think that we will safely and effectively train and support staff with fire arms in the class?

The most absurd implication in the suggestion that I carry a gun to school is that the people making firearms available are just trying to solve the problem.  From where I am sitting, you are the cause!  If I went into your workplace and doused it with kerosene, you would be annoyed if my solution was to offer you fireman training as a way to handle the increased risk you are now at.  It would be reasonable for you so suggest I not douse your work place in kerosene.  You might observe that it is rather condescending to a fire fighter to suggest that I could make you into one at the same time as expecting you to do your job.  And I hope that you are engaged in work that is so worthwhile that you would resist the suggestion that your job ought to be diluted when the whole problem was avoidable anyway.

Of course, it all hinges on that question: Was it avoidable?   If AR-15s were illegal, would all those people would have died?  We won’t ever know.  But giving me a gun is not the solution to the problem that your policies created.