Morning meditation 11.24.14

Morning meditation:
It’s not fool proof, nor is it straight out fact, but I’m willing to venture that how we answer this following question shapes our outlook on the world and how we interact with it. Ready? Okay!

“The world is a _____________ world.”

This past Saturday I celebrated Shabbat with some Progressive Jews in my hometown. I found them while doing some searches online, and what appealed to me was their values statement, especially the part where they said the following;
“Our actions within this community nourish one anotherโ€™s spiritual growth so that we may fulfill the Jewish social justice imperative of โ€œTikkun Olamโ€ (repair of the world).”

I, as an individual, believe the world is a beautiful place. It teems with life and Godness and goodness and richness it sometimes makes me cry happy tears.
I grew up hearing that the world was broken, ruined, fallen, et al. and in some ways that dictated my perspective and conduct within the world. I left it alone, I gave up, I slumped my shoulders in apathy. As I’ve gotten older God has performed a bit of heart-and-mind surgery upon me. I see the world in a much better light, I see myself contributing to it and helping to be a part of change, restoring and reconciliation, pushing forward as we a human race move forward in the direction of perfect shalom.

I am not naive, I am not socially blind to the times when mankind hurts itself or others. But these setbacks does not sway me from pressing forward in doing good, it does not sway my thoughts and prayers of “thank you God for making a beautiful, wonderfully made, good Earth.”

So, what say you? How do your thoughts and views shape your world and the world at large?

Be blessed and continue to bless others, do your part in “Tikkun Olam” where you can with the strengths and gifts God has given you.

~Nathanael~

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Why I stopped being a Christian jerk

A couple of weeks ago one of my coworkers and I were talking and…religion (gasp!) became the topic for a while. She shared with me part of her story, where she came from and where she is now. I brought up how that when I aligned myself as an Evangelical it was very limiting, and at times I was downright legalistic on many a topic. She, at this point seeing how I work with my clients, grasped that I’ve changed and she brought up what caused me to start changing, to start loving more and legalizing less…and…well, here’s some of my story in that regard.

I stopped being a Christian jerk when…

I realized how much my faith is mine, but ultimately God through God’s grace and love, how much isn’t me. I have a work ethic that sometimes is off-putting and an amalgamation of cockiness and independence, the “trust me, I’ve got this” shtick is how I sometimes play (thankfully not all the time, I am very much a team player). Yet this is how I at times have conducted my faith, that “hey God, sit down, I’ve got this” and it…it ate me alive to be perfectly honest. I made it all about me, and in doing so I removed God from the equation and I sat down and called myself God. I didn’t do this verbally, but certainly my actions seemed as such, and with being a self-imposed God I made a list of do’s and don’ts of personal morality but I also tried to some extent to hold people to MY standards, and it bound me and blinded me, never once was I free.

But grace somehow made its way in. In my flaws and in my cracks, grace pierced my heart. Grace was followed by unconditional love, which was followed by acceptance and affirmation; that despite all the hell I caused others, despite all the hell I heaped on my head, God still loved me for me, not because…

I bring up the parable of The Prodigal Son frequently because I have been all 3 characters- the father, the older brother, and the younger brother at some time in my life. It was my self-imposed legalism that made me in my own way exclaim that “it’s not fair!” when people seem to get ahead despite me thinking they didn’t deserve it. It was the doing my own thing on my own terms and wanting to find my way back, if just to be back to occupy the lowest position. It was the seeing someone I love hurt and running to them and embracing them instead of letting them endure the long road back with a heavy burden of thoughts weighing them down.

Having been all 3, I want to say nowadays I aim to be like the father; to extend grace and unconditional love to others because this was extended to me, this is what set me free.

***

Because of grace and unconditional love I am at odds with the Christian community sometimes because of my outspokenness about the LGBTQ Community. For me it comes from a place of realizing what followers of Christ have said or done that have marginalized them, that have stripped them of their humanity and ultimately their Imago Dei-ness- that they are indeed made in the image of God. While the LGBTQ Community are not the only individuals who are being marginalized, it’s personal to me and something I am very vocal about, because I too had a hand in the marginalization by way of using the word “Gay” as an adjective for stupid and dumb.
It was while I was in college that a floor-mate of mine changed my thinking about so much about what I thought despite at that time my views were based on ‘well my father thinks/my mother thinks/my pastor thinks’, my floor-mate was what I needed in my life to jar me from my complacency and parroted views that were never mine to begin with, but I hid behind them nonetheless.

It was a 5-6 year journey of wrestling it all out. But I made it! ๐Ÿ™‚

***

If you are a follower of Christ if the Holy Spirit moves you and beckons you to new places that are outside of your comfort zone (she’s prone to doing that in my life) I encourage you to go and be not only the hands and feet of Jesus, but to be the ears and eyes as well. It was unnerving the first time I went to the Pride Parade in Chicago to be a part of the I’m Sorry Campaign, but God was already there, God just happened to invite my friends and I to be a part of something bigger, something better. God is already *insert place here* and with the grace and unconditional love he lavishes on us constantly, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same?

~Nathanael~

I like to think of myself as Dr. House – 27/28

And not for the witty banter, the snarky comments, the horrible bedside manner, or faking an American accent…

Doctor Gregory House is my [work] alter ego because I push for a client-centric approach paired with natural consequences every step of the way. In my line of work there’s a lot of mollycoddling and pandering, and I recognize when those in my care have had enough and either 1) stop responding to what’s being asked of them or 2) it starts a quibble, or perhaps even a power struggle.

I’ve mentioned before that I give it straight no chaser, but also I actively listen; I listen to what’s being said right then and there, what’s being said by way of non-verbal communication, but I also piece together what I know about particular types of mental illnesses. Some of those I work with have shared A LOT of what living with a mental illness is like, I have insight to things that probably could never be learned in a class or by reading a book, real first-person accounts. It’s because of this I’m able to write up very detailed case notes into the lives of those I work with, and if anyone were to ask “how did you find out?” I’d say “I listened”.

Now back to Dr. House; If you’re familiar with the show you might see him as a brash cocky SOB, a guy fueled on Vicodin and ego, but if you watch the show (and preferably to completion like I have, twice!) you realize that he’s human just like the rest of us. He has his breaking points, but he has tender points where the greatest elements of humanity shine through his cracks. Cracks as elegantly and accurately pointed out by Leonard Cohen; “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Dr. House has a lot of cracks, but he intentionally means well and his story is an ever developing story of redemption.

I don’t get it right with those I work with all the time, I have my good days and I have my bad, and yet I let my cracks shine through. I was taught to disclose what I feel comfortable with on a professional level with those I work with. Subsequently in a healthy/professional way I have let my cracks let light shine through, and instead of keeping where I have done wrong by those I work with to myself I own up and apologize where needed be.

~Nathanael~

My road out of martyrdumb

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(St. Bartholomew/Nathanael holding up his skin)

A bit more about me…

When I was younger so much younger than today, I was interested in martyrs. Martyrs by definition means “a person who is put to death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause” (dictionary.com). Growing up I heard about martyrs, primarily followers of Christ who, as written in Hebrews 11:37, “They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated” So the martyrs and martyrdom I knew came from my religious upbringing.

It’s no easy read, and some parts of it aren’t for those who are squeamish. I read this book, but eventually I was given a more contemporary book of the same nature, Jesus Freaks by dc Talk:

Once again I learned more about martyrs and what led to their martyrdom, and eventually this got [too far] into my head and I started thinking about living for God by way of dying for God. *disclaimer* – I do not think that intentionally setting yourself up for death is martyrdom, such as suicide bombers and related, so this was my fucked up mindset at the time.

I did not put myself and my life in harm’s way where martyrdom could be achieved, but there’s something very messed up to thinking about dying in such a way. I wasn’t thinking “all I have to go where *insert group of people who don’t like Christians* and then I’ll be martyr!” It was more of a dwelling on it and thinking of acclaim that I would get, postmortem of course. When you get so wrapped up into thinking about death and not the day-to-day, that in and of itself is a kind of death, and it’s a depressing and sad place to be. If you’re caught up in the hereafter and not focused on what’s going on around you life can and will slip by.

So what changed exactly that brought me back to living? What motivated me to put my strength and energy into something better than self-imposed martyrdom (which completely conflicts with what martyrdom is)? Life. Life got better, I became more open to those I trusted with real life shit that was going on in my life, and I stopped reading those books because it did no good to dwell on it. They’re a good read, don’t get me wrong, but reality checks and balances need to come into place when you’re still developing intellectually. Plus the people who have died for their beliefs did not set themselves up for martyrdom, that is, they weren’t doing it for kudos and accolades.

I am glad to be alive, and those days were some of my darkest. God has been good and keeps putting awesome people in my path. People I want to share life and community with, people I want to trust with my darkest deepest secrets. It is in living and desiring to follow God and serve others while I am alive got me back on track and away from the self-imposed road to martyrdumb.

~Nathanael~

Deo Gratias for Saints past and present in my life

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Happy All Saints Day! ๐Ÿ™‚

Consider this a tribute post of sorts. A brief recapturing of my story thus far and saints in my life, both in my past and in my present…enjoy!

Deo Gratias for…

My sisters 3; oh how I love them and don’t tell them it enough. Their uniqueness and gifts that they utilize, for their smarts and witty senses of humor. There’s also the dynamic of when we all hang out together, which lately has been seldom but we sure know how to have good times all together.

My parents who instilled in me knowledge and the desire to further my education; it hasn’t always been a classroom setting, as so much of life is learning through experience. It is because of them that I have cultivated my own passions and stand-up-fors; they started a pregnancy information in town, the abortion clinic has closed while what they started still exists to this day. I and my desiring to build bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community has roots in their drive many years ago. I have been a questioner my entire life, and I see that some of that comes from them as well.

My friend Mark. We have a hodgepodge history that had entwining before we actually were friends. We have clashed heads and hearts together, we’ve shared good times and bad times together, and last year I was in his wedding. I am glad to call him my friend, he has helped my sorry ass numerous times and he knows how to equally make me laugh, think, and cringe.

My youth pastor while I was in high school; I was a loner, an awkward troubled kid out of place, but he spoke into my life and encouraged me a great deal. He heard me out in my silent screaming, and loved me despite what I brought to the table as to the shit that was going on in my life at that time. I still feel called to youth ministry and helping students out to the best of my ability, and so much of it comes back to his influence in my life.

My youth ministry students over the last 10 years. I went from staying in lines that youth pastors walk, but when I stepped out on faith and did things apart from Sunday mornings and night, I stepped out onto something bigger than me. With my latest bunch of students I have dreamers, doubters, hopefuls, thinkers, processors, and intellectuals in my midst. I am glad to help facilitate the group and wish I was that way when I was younger. They think I’m teaching them, but I think there’s a symbiotic relationship taking place.

My pastor. He inspires me and believes in me despite me not believing in myself at times. I’m getting a better grasp as to who I am and what I’m called to do, in part some of that has come through his encouraging me in his own way.

My coworkers and my clients. Yes I do work with individuals who have various types of mental illnesses, but they are humans first before they are their diagnosis. There too with my coworkers and clients is a symbiotic relationship at play. Even when I was on vacation they were on my heart, I want the best for them as they deem the best. My coworkers are phenomenal at working with our clients, I have faith in their capacities to do a damn good job in my absence.

My grandmother who recently passed away. We didn’t get along well, it was very unhealthy, but I do have good memories of her. I remember her frozen yogurt place in the late 80s, I remember being at forehead height and arms length to the gummy worms and Whoppers ๐Ÿ˜‰ I got the earnest nature to her love for my father and his siblings. She had a wonderful flower and fruit tree garden, and there were plenty of nice days in Phoenix spent just being with her.

My grandparents on my mother’s side. I miss them and having seen them both pass away in the care of my aunt and my family respectively. I care for who they were out of their limitless kindness despite limited resources.

My online friends. It’s kind of weird at times to think of the internet as a community, but sometimes with certain eFriends there’s a community there that me feels like I am at home. I haven’t been home figuratively speaking for quite sometime now, but I’m getting there at making a home for myself as well as for others.

Mr. Rogers. I never met the guy but I wish I had. His cheery demeanor, his Agape love for his community of viewers across the tube, across time, and across the world. His optimism and unending kindness may have been written on a script first, but I truly believe he took it to heart.
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That’s all the saints that come to mind at this time, but there’ll be more opportunities for me to reflect at later times.

~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! ๐Ÿ™‚

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~

Hope renewed for my alma mater (part 1)

In (what I thought) was a publication put out by my alma mater Judson University I put together a bit of a statement about my defining moment at Judson. I proceeded to write the following:

My defining moment at Judson started in the first semester I attended; I befriended and got to know several Gay and Lesbian Christians. Up to that point I thought that the two weren’t compatible, that being a part of the Christian community was mutually exclusive from the LGBT Community. I was wrong, dead wrong. It was in my learning through life with these fine men & women that God started working on my heart and mind on the issue, to where it is no longer an issue for me; I accept, I affirm, and I love the LGBT Community.

It came to a culmination while I was praying on my drive to Judson one day. God pointed out that love requires proximity, and that I was to go to the Chicago Pride Parade to demonstrate that love, so I did. I had my ideas of what I was going to do, but by providence I found out about The Marin Foundation, in which some friends and I met up and accompanied them for the first ever “I’m Sorry Campaign”; a time to confess & own up individually as well as collectively for the damage that has done by the Christian Community against the LGBT Community. I have been attending and inviting family and friends for the last 4 years to partake in this wonderful event. God is already present in Boys Town; I go because I am called to be a part of restoration & reconciliation.

Since the Chicago Pride Parade is only once a year, I do what I can to be involved in my local chapter of PFLAG; to build bridges with the Gay and Lesbians who attend that group, both during the meeting and apart from it.

God freed me from my homophobic bonds, and it all started at Judson

Since the Chicago Pride Parade is only once a year, I do what I can to be involved in my local chapter of PFLAG; to build bridges with the Gay and Lesbians who attend that group, both during the meeting and apart from it.

God freed me from my homophobic bonds, and it all started at Judson.

It received some likes and I received some feedback, but since everything pings back to the commenter or writing on Facebook, I was slightly surprised when it dropped off…turns out my post on the alumni page was removed and I was booted from the group!

My friend Justin noticed both things and brought it to everyone’s attention, and since alumni can reinstate members he added me. It was shortly after my reinstatement the Director of Alumni Relations made a public apology for her actions per some flack she received from some alumni who was wondering if Judson was revising it’s views on the LGBT Community and related. Because she wanted to “avoid division, unclarity and hurt feelings” she booted me from the group and deleted my post.

It was shortly thereafter that statement that a revision of the page was put out, that the views of the alumnus don’t necessarily reflect the views of the school. I reposted my defining moment…and then it took off like wildfire going uphill! A lot of alumni started talking, started actual dialoguing with one another, stories were shared with me and my fellow alumnus openly and some privately! A dream came true to be honest!

I also put forward the why I put my story out there:

All I ever wanted was to share part of my story & create room for dialogue. Yes this issue may be an uncomfortable subject to some, but it needs to be addressed because it isn’t going away.

The current appearance of the church collectively appears to be a place of judgmental homophobic heteronormative individuals, but guess what? That’s the church, not God. God is bigger than that!

God has the first word, but also the last, something to consider during this time that my generation will resolve this issue. It takes a generation to resolve it, but future ones to sustain it.

So come one and all to dialogue and discuss this with me and others. Come, I promise not to bite. be a part of much needed change, come and be, come and listen, come and love.

That statement led to even more dialogue albeit with some debate, some battening down of hatches, some defensive and choice words…but dialogue is still happening, at this point it’s at 220 comments!

My hope is greatly renewed at what this could mean. It wasn’t that long ago when I was a student that I tried to start up a Gay-Straight Alliance on campus. It was shut down, and from what I was told the board members who shut it down were upset that their meeting lasted longer than they wanted it to. Then there were those who represented the student body who were afraid that students would turn gay or lesbian simply by being a part of the group, or that it would become a group where students would hookup…all sorts of lack of knowing nonsense.

Yet maybe, just maybe, this dialogue will help to aid in allies winning the war where I once lost the battle. Maybe, just maybe, this discussion will break down the walls of bigotry and heteronormative mind-think that at times is prevalent at my alma mater.

*to be continued*

~Nathanael~