I’m afraid for the lives of my students

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It has been less than 24 hours ago that police killed Alston Sterling and Philando Castile. It has been over the course of my shift that I started thinking how I am afraid for the lives of my students.

One young man, a kind demeanor, playful and articulate, this is what I’ll remember him for, but what if for some reason he gets singled out by the police and pump him full of lead? They don’t know him like I know him, they won’t have the reach that I do with him, are they going to “shoot first and ask questions later”?

What about another student of mine, a guy who wants to go to college, who wants to make a difference, who wants a wife and family some day. Doesn’t his life matter?

I used to be concerned about my students not adjusting to life in the community, or in a group home setting due to not taking their treatment and individual plans seriously, or just plain old learned helplessness. Now, if anything, I’m concerned that they might become another killed by a cop statistic!

I’m not fearful, police violence has always been around, but now with technology it is more at our front door than it was before. I don’t want to read about my former students shot by the police, especially when I know them and I know some of their families, that kind of hurt I’ll carry with me forever. God forbid they’re found to be innocent and the cops walk free.

The system isn’t successful, the system is corrupt, and no newly elected President will solve anything. Change starts from within, change starts at the grassroots level, and until those changes occur there will be no overarching change within our society.

No justice, no peace!
~ Nathanael~

Church Incognito; Social Awareness and Social Justice, my experience at a Church of the Brethren

A couple of months ago I went to church at a Church of the Brethren, a denomination I knew that was known for conscientious objectors and being very verbal when it came to issues of social awareness and social justice. The Sunday I went to was no different as the church shooting in Charleston was brought up and discussed at length (which I for one think is a good thing). It was very encouraging to hearing this issue brought up as well as police shootings of recent brought up in church, as I think that these are issues that people face all too often and I think that the church should foster discussion about this more often. The church does already, but I think more is required, and not just by pastors but by the congregation as well.

The congregation was multi-generational; it was encouraging to see kids with their parents and grandparents coming together to worship God together. When it came to worship music it was very hymn based, and I enjoyed that because I don’t worship in a setting where we don’t sing hymns. I tend to fall in the middle when it comes to contemporary worship music and hymns, I like a good deal of them and appreciate the sentiment expressed.

After church I struck up a conversation with one of the parishioners. He shared with me what being a follower of Christ meant to him as well as what being aligned with the Church of the Brethren church. He had been a member of the church for a long time, and for him faith kept him following Christ but also the memories tied up in attending that church for so long. All the while he had a nostalgic look upon his face and I gathered that with the stories he shared with me.

I was also encouraged by their posture in reading the Bible, that for the most part they read the Bible seriously but not altogether literally. Marcus J. Borg’s Reading The Bible Again for The First Time comes to mind when followers of Christ choose to do this, and I for one agree it must be done in this fashion.

I too can say one of the reasons that keeps me coming back to The Orchard every weekend is the memories I have associated with it and yet I realize that it’s not a bad reason to go but I realize it shouldn’t be the only reason I go. Yet we all go through seasons of life, and sometimes a church works for a while and there are times where your best bet is to leave on good terms and find something else (not necessarily better in all occasions).

Overall it was a good time communing with the people who attended the Church of the Brethren. I appreciate followers of Christ who exemplify the beatitude of “blessed are the peacemakers” because it is one of several things I want to align myself with and practice in my faith system of a Red Letter Christ-centric Universalist. I want to have a hand in Tikkum Olam / Healing The World, and it starts with my individual efforts that ripple outward rather than inward.

~Nathanael~

Forgiveness as a spiritual exercise; day 29 of Ramadan

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To err is human; to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” – Matthew 6:12

Truth to be told, I am able to forgive others easier for big offenses than small / petty offenses. Today was no exception, and while I won’t get into it, when the offense was committed I was pissed off…and for several hours afterwards I spent time ruminating on what was done and I was nowhere in a better state of mind.

The quote,“In fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die” (Anne Lamott) came to mind when I was in the throes of self misery. It didn’t set me free, but it did aid in the slow and arduous task of pushing the toxic lack of forgiveness out of my system. It was no easy feat, but after some time spent in prayer and also napping I was able to free myself and forgive the other, but also the ability to forgive myself.

I am human (surprising insight, eh?) and subsequently I act in human ways and sometimes the worse part of me comes to light; I hold grudges, I don’t forgive, I cut people down verbally and sometimes I passively cut them down in my head…among other things. But despite being all things at sometime or another, I remember that I am human, and that it is part of the human experience to screw up time and time again. And yet as we struggle through our humanity, we are at times compelled to do more and do better next time around; sure, some of us are quick to toss in the towel to make changes in our lives, but theoretically we might be in a better place for having done so instead of simply letting the chips fall where they may.

Within the forgiveness of others we are able to find some forgiveness for ourselves for what was done and how for a brief eon in time we forgot our humanity and divinity in others inasmuch we forgot the humanity and divinity within us. I think that’s why it’s good to forgive others inasmuch as well as ourselves, because if we don’t do the latter there’s a possible possibility that we hold onto something that is better off letting go.
So free others, forgive, free yourself, forgive!

So with all that being said, forgiveness was my keyword on the 29th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Great Forgiver, who forgives us. May we learn to forgive others and forgive ourselves when the occasion call for it, and may we learn from what we’ve done to make better choices to, if at all possible, not commit those offenses again.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

I wonder (had I been born in a kibbutz in Israel)

Prior to my birth my parents considered moving to a kibbutz in Israel. I don’t know the ins and outs of it except to say that I believe it had to do with an odd and somewhat twisted eschatological (end times) view on how things were going to go down in the Middle East and then on to the world. So with that in mind I wonder how I would’ve been shaped by the events that are currently unfolding there, the issues that have been for the longest time been erupting over there, the tit-for-tat bombing and killing, essentially “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”…

I wonder…

I wonder if I was indeed born and raised in Israel how would I find my identity. Perhaps I would side up with Zionists claiming that the land was ALL theirs. Maybe I would be on the side of Palestinians whose land shrinks more and more, being pushed back further and further. Maybe I would take the stance some Evangelical American Christians have in thinking that if I take Israel’s side God will bless me…but it’s a lot of speculation as to how I would truly take a stand, but all I can is as that as a follower of Christ the side I do take in this issue is one of being Pro-Peace.

***

This idea of being pro-peace didn’t come to me on my own. I admit I am somewhat biased and not level when it comes to the issues of what’s going on in Israel and Palestine. Yet it is the prayer of my heart to be pro-peace, and it also stems from a statement St. Mother Teresa made;

I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.

I too want to live out this perspective, on a global-local level, to make peace with people who agree with me but also with those who disagree with me. I think it is more Christ-like to take this stance than to be swayed by ideologies and perspectives and twisting of Bible verses to suit my personal gain. Since this is an issue that concerns people it can be emotionally challenging to see anything BUT peace, to formulate and perpetuate the “us versus them” paradigm as a means to bolster a means to exclaim why “I’m Pro-Israel / Pro-Palestine” and yet when we have take that kind of side we choose to have no love in our hearts for “the other” whomever they might be.

Peace might not appear to be obtainable, but I believe in my heart that someday it will prevail across all lands…all people…and through all hearts. It takes time, a whole lot of time, but there’s no time like the present for it to start.

Pray for Palestine,
Pray for Israel,
Pray for Peace.

~Nathanael~

Today I am an obstacle to myself

Today I have come to a wall in my job hunting and even to a large extent my life, and that wall is myself. I am an over-analyzer, an over-thinker, and these attributes aren’t necessarily a bad thing and yet I have spent way to much fucking time dwelling on my last job and my role there. I had identity in what I did. I loved what I did. I realize that the trappings that people get bound up in when it comes to “work” weren’t issues for me and it wasn’t work per se to me, but finding ways to make the lives of others better to the best of my ability on their own terms.
But that chapter is closed, and I am somewhere between bargaining and depression when it comes to the 5 stages of loss and grief. It’s an odd thing, this up and down feeling, it exists/persists/insists one day and the next day I have the drive to give it my all when it comes to looking for work. I have looked for work today, but I admit it has been half-assed as I’m caught up in thinking about what was and is no more.

Hope is there, I get it and see it as a twinkling in the distance, that someday..hopefully soon (provided I get my ass into gear) I will be able to continue on in this line of work, as I know this is where my aptitude for work lies. Yes I will look for other types of work if it comes to it, but I know myself well, I know most of my strengths and weaknesses, and some jobs I’m not cut out for simply because of what I know about myself.

Writing has and always been a source of comfort for me. I wrote in journals when I was younger and still do time-to-time, but I also don’t mind exposing myself in writing here. It does seem that I have solace in what I have to write, and perhaps ripple effects of me-too’s will come from putting my thoughts out here…time will reveal all things, not just some things.

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As much as I don’t read the Bible on a regular basis, I am reminded of Psalm 40, in particular the first 3 verses:
I waited and waited and waited for God.
    At last he looked; finally he listened.
He lifted me out of the ditch,
    pulled me from deep mud.
He stood me up on a solid rock
    to make sure I wouldn’t slip.
He taught me how to sing the latest God-song,
    a praise-song to our God.
More and more people are seeing this:
    they enter the mystery,
    abandoning themselves to God.
(The Message)

I know I am not the audience David wrote to, but regardless I resonate with this, me too David…me too. I hurt, I ache, I “waited and waited and waited for God”; that longing, that suffering, that’s where I am now and yet I say God be praised in my suffering not despite of. Yes I will weep and wail in my own way, I will probably be an obstacle to myself yet again some other day, but God is with me in my own ditch, my own deep mud circumstances. Some days I will take hope in these words and other days I will tell David to leave me the hell alone, but through all these things I realize down to my cellular level that God is here and he loves me and he is guiding me through all this.

Somehow, someway, onward and upward!
~Nathanael~

Getting raw before God – part 1

Raw is defined in many ways, but the one that sticks to me when I step into a posture of prayer is this one; c :  not protected :  susceptible to hurt <raw emotions>.

The other day I had a raw moment where I spoke honestly and succinctly to my mother. I answered some questions she had and I thought she would have done the same, but it didn’t happen. I was very tired having been up 20 hours running on caffeine and pizza and 4 hours of sleep. I felt betrayed, heartbroken even, that my questions weren’t answered but skirted. I also realized that within her lack of answers, she wasn’t ready to face the truth herself let alone share it with me. I left her with some advice, to clean the shit out of her ears because it was leaking into her brain.

And on the drive back to my apartment I had another raw moment, but this time it was with God. I put out to God what has been hurting me lately, what had been hurting me, and I got a sense of peace that doesn’t make sense.

All too often I get things with my head but not always my heart as well as I get things with my heart but not always with my head. So when I wrestled with my thoughts leading up to driving with God it was all on me, I took it ALL on. I’m the rock-em-sock-em disciple Peter and I am the doubtful-and-forgetful disciple Thomas, what some remember from day-to-day I need to be conscientious and conscious, breathe in and breathe out.
I meditate, as well as pray, but even in the stillness I realize that I am able to focus on God’s Godness. That God loves me, that God loves all of humanity, and it was in my raw and fragile state before God I found peace. A “I got this so you don’t have to go at this alone” wave of calm in my self-created tempestuous sea. I go with the ebb-and-flow sometimes, but this time as I drifted off into deeper currents, I was okay in my floating, I was okay with not being able to touch the rocky bottom, I was okay with being without land to draw security from. God and me out in the deep blue sea of life, of fragility, of rawness, of being okay with not being okay…

I need to allow these moments to occur more often, because too often I want external securities; a good job, a paycheck, friends, family, a roof over my head, etc. Yet sometimes I realize I leave God out of the equation, not vocally but in my actions, my be-ing as well as my do-ing.

I have more to say about this, but it’ll have to wait till next time.

~Nathanael~

Making peace with my past

“If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it” ~ Richard Rohr

It hasn’t been too long now that I have made peace with a part of my past.

It hasn’t been that long that out of anxiety, out of not wanting to get past it, not wanting to move forward in my life that I still dreamt and dwelt upon a future that’s never going to happen. A future with my ex-fiancee (she has a name, I address her as such in prayer, but only there I speak her name out loud) and her sons.

My pastor Scott has shared with me some of his story, and how some things he had issues with had come to a resolution to a point where he pronounced peace and blessing over that closed chapter in his life. Now I hold on to a lot; I could say some of it stems from seeing parents who don’t resolve much, and if anything the enmity between them have made a rift ever-widening. Seeing and hearing a mother who is good at forgiving but not forgetting to the point where areas of contention past are brought to light in the form of verbal ammo. I grew up hearing 1 Peter 4:8 when it says that “love covers over a multitude of sins” but I have never seen it lived out in my family life.

So with that sociological tale of woe in my life, what was I to expect when it came to holding down a healthy relationship (at that time, nowadays I have a better idea, thanks to healthy people in healthier relationships)? Love is a verb, it needs to be acted on daily and even secondly, but I in my younger years knew how to love…but then I switched on cruise control and moved forward but with no work on my part. I failed at loving my best friend, and I paid for it by our relationship ending.

I probably have pinned more blame on her for it coming to an end. It sometimes can seem like the one calling it quits is the one to blame, I mean c’mon, if you’re willing to get out and not fight for love’s sake then you sir/ma’am are the loser…perhaps I had this kind of mentality at one time, but it didn’t make it any easier.

I didn’t rebound after that relationship into another relationship for nearly 3 to 6 months later. It wasn’t healthy and it was over quickly. I was in another relationship since that relationship, and it was none the more healthier; when you get wrapped up in dopamine and oxytocin, sometimes it is what it is, and for me that doesn’t equate to stability and the bedrock of a good relationship. In the moment it feels good (it really should) but it doesn’t feel right, at least, not to me.

So with 3 relationships failed in my life’s rear view mirror, some kind of resolution needed to take place; either I could squirrel away my emotions and what I feel and what I think and stay there, or I could shake off my emotional baggage, forgive myself and forgive my ex-fiancee and get here. I chose the latter, and let me tell you, it is freeing! 🙂

Unless you’ve gotten to this point in your life having gone through a similar if not the same experience, freedom doesn’t seem attainable. Your mind wanders, you remember and reminisce healthier moments in a particular relationship and dwell there. But if you’re dwelling there you are not in the present, you are not here, and it sucks to be caught in flux like that because I think at times people want to be both there and here but you really can’t, you’re a whole person in either environment but you can’t be healthily divided in both.

Here I am, broken and healing man, typing away to the tunes of Steely Dan whilst drinking some black Columbian coffee and eating some pumpkin bread. That’s one thing I have been doing to get here, exercises of mindfulness per what I am learning in DBT. Here I am broken and healing man who is able to pronounce blessing on this part of my story, here I sit smiling at making peace with my past. It needed to be done, I am glad that time is now.

~Nathanael~