Humor as a spiritual exercise; day 25 of Ramadan

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Proverbs 17:22 – A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

I like humor, I like jokes, I like elaborate stand up lines, I like simple but catchy one-liners… As of late I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts on my way to work; The Liturgists Podcast / RobCast / Drunk Ex-Pastors, and as of this week I will be adding You Make It Weird with Pete Holmes. I’m adding the latter because a friend suggested it and hearing Pete Holmes on The Liturgists Podcast and RobCast, I am liking his stuff more and more, plus he seems like a pretty cool human being.

The thing is, humor finds a way in to the parts of that make us laugh hardest and deepest, it also on another level it seems to let the oh-we-can’t-talk-about-that have a space that might offend us but at the same time it might make it palpable and more human. I think that when humor offends us we shouldn’t ignore it, but rather explore the reasons why; is it in poor taste? Does it hit home? Is it too personal? Is the subject matter culturally / religiously / etc taboo?

Personally I kinda like my humor to be smart but a bit profane; Eddy Izzard, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin are my favorites for leaving no stone unturned and there are no sacred cows left unbarbequed. I used to like to keep it under wraps, “bad” humor that is, but it is so freeing to not hide that part of me provided I have an audience can handle it. If some individuals don’t appreciate it I don’t dish it out, but if you can you’ll get that side of me.
I also like that humor dispels tension and stress so much of the time. Ever have a good laugh? One of those laughs that comes from the gut and you’re left laughing and laughing and it kinda hurts but at the same time doesn’t? Those kinds of laughs are my favorite, they kind of feel like a mini ab workout.

Humor is a good thing, it’s also a God thing, if you don’t believe me start with the platypus and move into other animals and make your way into human beings. There’s a lot to laugh about, just don’t at the expensive of others (unless they want to be roasted) laugh at others.

So with all that being said, humor was my keyword on this 25th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who has made a funny world; from human beings to platypuses (platypi?) to you and me to us to we. May we be thankful and offer up healthy laughter to God and onto each other.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Being present to death as a spiritual exercise; day 23 of Ramadan

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There’s no avoiding it, it’s inescapable, it’s inevitable, and some day we all will…die.

This week one of my students informed me that somehow (and I think I know how) a frog got into his room, and croaked (mea culpa for the bad pun). So I made my way to his room, looked about, and found the dead frog in question. I picked it up, offered it last rites (it didn’t answer so I proceeded) and I took care of it. I washed my hands, and that was that, the dead frog was no more than a brief hoppy memory.

Still it begs the question; how prepared am I / are YOU / are WE when it comes to dying? Whether it’s our own death or the death of others, is it something that’s present in our mind or something we hide away in our mental closet only to remove it when needed be. Death, the big D, can be unnerving as it seems…mostly…that it happens when we least expect it and we’re either left with regret for what we should’ve said or done with the deceased individual or we’re filled with memories and nostalgia for our time spent with that person, and perhaps at times we feel both.

I personally am not worried about death, well except when I start thinking about what I haven’t done with my life and what I want to accomplish (mainly be a husband to my June and a father to Nathanael Danger Jr., Savannah Grace, Amalia Faith, and Mark Shalom).
Then and only do I worry about dying, but all the more it drives me to take life as it comes and make the most of the days / weeks / months / years I might have, because again, I don’t know when I’ll shuffle off this mortal coil.

Yet when it comes to those who have passed away, eh, I can be-or-miss in being present to death inasmuch being present to those faced with the loss of life. I was able to be present at the time one of my former clients passed away but I found it too difficult to be present with one of my former youth ministry student’s and his family as they mourned the passing of their brother and son respectively. I think sometimes what keeps me from coming to wakes and funerals is that I sometimes talk myself out of it, sometimes I dwell too much upon myself and how I’m handling and not enough on the individual who has passed and their loved ones, and so my selfishness and ego get in the way. Oh and if you’re someone I know in real life and I haven’t been there for you in this way, let me know, I owe you an apology in real life.

Death leaves us with many questions, answered as well as unanswered, and for some people the main question is about the passing from this life (“here”) with the expectation of an unknown destination (“there”). Now I personally don’t know what awaits us collectively when we pass away, and while I align myself with views along the lines of Red Letter Christ-centric Universalism my perspectives in regards to heaven and hell are held with an open handed nuanced I-could-be-wrong posture. Heaven ideally for me would be one of all of humanity reunited with God and one another, having fun and BEing together for all of eternity, enjoying [after] life with one another in dynamic non-static ways.

I also hold a view of conditional heaven, and by that I mean that I as an employed white male in the western world who has the means to pay his bills and still live quite comfortably does not need a heaven but I still would like to be in the presence of my creator and all of humanity, but if it doesn’t exist I am okay with that.
But consider the life of a 7 year old working in a sweatshop in China, a kid busting his butt to help his family make ends meet, he needs a better place than what he has, I would hope there’s a heaven for him because he needs it more than I do! This is why I also hold a conditional view of heaven. But with that being said I could be wrong, and I am okay with that.

When it comes to hell, I believe we create hells for ourselves and others, but none in the afterlife sense exist. I also don’t believe in the existence of the devil or demons for that matter. But I also hold an early church view that said the fires of hell didn’t burn people for all of eternity (consciously or unconsciously) but were part of the process of redeeming others, that it stripped away the dross of humanity until we got to a place where we could go to heaven…but again, even when it comes to my views of hell, I could be wrong.

Death doesn’t have to be scary, and personally speaking I rather be ready for it than be in a place that avoids it. So live the life you’re living and strive to be the best possible version of you that you can be! It’s never too late to start a new chapter, it’s never too late to go back to school, it’s never too late to open up the restaurant with the ideas cooked up inside your head, because this life is the only one you’ll get. Make the most of it, make choices, live with the mistakes you make and strive to try try again! Because time and this one life you’ve been given is a gift, so treat it with care and live as though you were dying because that day will come eventually. Let this life be your drive to make the most of every situation and not your burden. I believe in you and so does God!

So with all that being said, being present to death were my keywords on the 23rd day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Giver of Life, who puts our life in motion but lets us make our own choices. May we embrace this life we’re given, moving forward but not being opposed to going backward if needed be, may we live life to the fullest but being mindful of others and helping to move others into their own direction of fulfillment.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Commitment as a spiritual exercise; day 22 of Ramadan

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When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.” – Howard Schultz
Earlier today I was hanging out with my bro Mark and we spent a good deal of time being and talking amongst ourselves. One of the things we discussed at length is the nature of commitment and how it seems that sometimes in our culture we sometimes have a reluctance to remain committed to a person, an organization, a place we worship in, and so on.
Commitment to someone or something is a good thing, it causes us to remain faithful and keeps us in check for the long haul. Because it is very easy to stick with something or someone in the good times, but what about the difficult and trying parts of life? Are we going to leave simply because we or it or they are going through a rough season of life? Would we want that to happen to US if we were in their shoes? Probably not and that’s why I think it is so vital to stick to something through all seasons of life- ours as well as theirs!

Now I realize that we all live self-defined busy lives and obviously we cannot commit to all things, which is why I propose we take the time to examine what’s on our plate of things we do and start clearing it; while it might all be good, it’s prudent to find the great and commit to that.

Why some and not all you might ask, very simply; time management and personal health. We are not defined by our jobs, our labels, our doings as well as our beings. And subsequently the multitude of things we might undertake feed into a false sense of who we are. Plus everyone who lives is given 168 hours of life per week, and if we’re fully committed to a LOT of things where’s the time we can call our own?

We should want to give of our time and our lives to others and causes we align ourselves with, but we also need to find space within all that to recharge our batteries lest we fall prey to compassion fatigue.
I work a job in the behavioral health field and I see compassion fatigue all around me, and if I am honest with myself I am in the throes of it myself, but I have learned (and relearned) over the years to detach myself from it all when I am not there.

Otherwise I am prone to think that my coworkers aren’t able to do as good of a job as I can and that shit will hit the proverbial fan in my absence. This is unhealthy to my coworkers and residents alike, and it fuels my ego in the most perverse of ways. So when I am not at work, I am not at work period! Life will go on without me, and all I can do is hope that all is well and if it’s not it will be rectified by those who are working when I am not.

So examine your life, your plate, and start the process of clearing it. Figure out what are the good things in your life and weed them out and commit to those great things instead! It might be frustrating to get to the place of identifying and pursuing the great things in life, but trust me it is well worth it to get to that place in life.
So with all that being said, commitment is my keyword on this 22nd day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Committed One, who is faithful and loving and compassionate to all of mankind. May we take time to figure out what’s worth committing to in our lives, to our personal benefit as well as to the benefit of others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Silence as a spiritual exercise; day 21 of Ramadan

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I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.” – Chaim Potok

Communication as you know isn’t only in what you say, how you say it, but in your body language, and to a certain extent in your silence.
Silence, it can be very unnerving to be intentionally quiet for a period of time; we check our watches, we scan our surroundings, we pick up the odd behaviors of others and figure out its pattern, we can’t sit still for very long…and so on.

Silence is one of those things that, if we can help it, we avoid like the plague. I think that the reason why it’s so difficult to do is because our cultures are ones that don’t intentionally allow for it; sure we might have moments in our places of worship and in our times of prayer where we’re quieter but truly silent…no noise or sound whatsoever…how many of us intentionally do that on a regular basis?

I got a taste of that on a corporate level when I went to a Quaker meeting a few months ago, and while I haven’t gone back it the intentionality of silence still resonates within me. I admit, I do not do well with long periods of silence, I fidget and find myself looking at my watch all too often.
I am aware that with some religious groups there are those who take vows of silence and I shudder to think if that was something I was to undertake. Not that I don’t think that I couldn’t, but it would be akin to the “quiet game” parents play with their kids when they want some silence; the clock ticks and talking happens and there’s a feeling of starting over, rinse and repeat several times over… I wouldn’t want to break the silence if I had to undertake a vow of silence, but I know it would be incredibly difficult for me to be that quiet for a long period. It also makes me wonder, do they build up to that moment or do they just stop talking cold turkey?

Still, silence from a good place in someone’s life is sacred and noble. Silence speaks louder than words sometimes and sometimes it’s the best thing we can communicate with others when they’re going through a rough patch of life. I know from personal experience that some of the best moments of healing in my life came from people in my life who opted to sit in the silence with me rather than extend some advice to me. Yes there’s a time and a place for giving others advice provided they’re asking for it, but there’s also a time and a place where silence needs to happen for the good of all who are involved.

So with all that being said, silence was my keyword on the 21th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The One Who Is Never Silent, who speaks to us in the loudness of life but also within the silence. May we take time to sit in our own silence as well as the silence of others, to be not to do.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Questioning everything as a spiritual exercise; day 20 of Ramadan

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Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

The other day my small group and I started a new book together; David Dark’s The Sacredness of Questioning Everything. I’ve read parts of this book before, but I am excited to go over it in a group context, for discussion and dialogue’s sake.

I have been in this community for a while now and I already have gathered that we’re from different places and perspectives in life. Different places and different perspectives aren’t bad things, it’s just part of life and it happens because we our experiences and perspectives make us inasmuch as we have influence (to a certain extent) to shape and create our experiences and perspectives.
One quote from the book that has resonated with me since reading it again is this:
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Questioning is okay, do you know it? Do you accept it as so or do you just let the chips fall where they may? Because whether you do or don’t allow room for questioning, even if you don’t there will be others who do! And how then do you live with that tension that might come out of questioning? Do you allow it or do you snuff it out before others start questioning as well?
I hope you allow room in your life to question and to allow others to question because it is human to question. Questioning spurs us on to seek out resolution, to not stay complacent and seek out better, it is what propelled us to explore the world and it is what still propels us to space exploration.
Questioning keeps things afresh, anew. It helps us to realize there’s more to life than just us, it helps us grasp that we’re not alone in this world, it points us to an interconnectedness between ourselves and others.

So with questions about life, question them, questions about where we’re going, question them, questions about heaven and hell, question them, question about God, question them, questions about whether God exists, question them, questions about what this is all for, question them, questions about love and goodness and beauty and hate and evil and why things go awfully wrong sometimes and other times it seems all so perfect, again…question all of them and question everything.

We might find the answers we’re looking for, we might not find the answers we’re looking for, and perhaps we’ll even have no answers to our questions…but regardless of what we may or may not come up with at the end of our questioning, we shouldn’t stop for anything, we shouldn’t feel like questioning puts us at a bad place. Questioning is human as I stated before, but it is also divine, and I believe God beckons us to question it all.

So with all that being said, questioning was my keyword on the 20th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The One Who Can Be Questioned, who instills within all of questions that further our existence as well as humanity’s. May we never stop questioning and pursuing answers, but within that may we accept that not every question has an answer, and we know that when the time comes.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael