Fishers of men

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In a small crowded living room my back leans forward, forearms on my knees. We are early on in John and for moments I am reminded of myself. Of my prayers to be like the disciple whom Jesus loved. Of journal writings of daily prayers of feeling changed and on fire and of the weight of the realization of how it feels to be at the other end of that spectrum I have nestled into. Of the numbness. Of the distance. Of how among the impassioned declarations I am prone to be the outstretched arms; the hands up, ingrained  muscle memory of all the ways I push Jesus away. Of the love that I fight.

And then a voice rolls into the room. A warm dialect telling of how each day he doesn’t go home without sharing the gospel with someone. I sit up off of my thighs. He says that he picks one person and tells them about his story and Jesus. I feel my skin crawl and push my back against the wall as if that will stop the emotions from moving. I strike against it all and encourage him to be careful out of assumption that he is just like everyone else. As I speak I feel the burned in memories of those who tried to evangelize me. I feel my whole body tighten up, still unable to see the beauty and ignorant of the significance. His words roll around some more and fill the room like holi powder in the air, his voice like the warmth of the sun. I still feel annoyed. I still feel taken aback. I still feel Sylvia and how she asked me point blank in the parking lot in our uniforms in the morning coolness “have you found Jesus yet Emily?” and how she offered to tell me about him. How although I had listened to her for 25, 30 minutes I couldn’t listen anymore because somehow it scared me. I recalled how I fled suddenly aware that we should be working. That an hour had passed in mere moments. That I didn’t know Jesus. That I had the familiar comfort of parking citations to write. How my eyes welled up, enraged as I drove away from her brown skin and crooked teeth in that lot not wanting to think about Jesus and all the ways I didn’t know him. I hear voices encouraging him for sharing. His dark eyes say that he is going to be at Bart approaching people. I think of the mid-30’s man who worked at CVS. Of the blue eyes. Of how he wrote his phone number down on receipt paper. Of the awkward first few dates and all the ways he reached for me. Of crying in his car, of a rush for Jesus. Of asking him what Yahweh means in the bible he gave me. Of the deep pull of him finally kissing me. Of how his demons crawled out of him and stood around us. Of feeling like I couldn’t escape his grasping arms or the things he intentionally just happened to have left behind. Of the unevenness of my ignorance and feeling taken advantage of. Of the sadness of a born again touting Yahweh. Of giving him his bible back outside the expansive glass library. Of how a few weeks of knowing him scared me so much that I stopped letting my friend take me to church. Of the first time I told God that I needed to do things in my time. Of the peace of hands that could control and again rise up. Lifelong fists protecting my face, elbows turned in against the bad. Their voices don’t hear me. They popcorn around and talk more about the bible and how he isn’t wasting his time. I breathe in still annoyed and think back to Ventura. Of coffee with the man I loved more than myself. Of the beauty in him, of how I never saw his chair as anything beyond him or in place of him. Of how it would be years before I could realize the significance of loving a man who can’t walk. Of understanding his world I had entered. Of finally being able to see God in the intimacy of self-sacrificing love.  I can still feel the way my neck craned up at the stranger who approached us and asked the man I loved if he could walk. “No man, I can’t,” he said, with his hands resting on thighs he only felt through memories. Of how the stranger wanted to pray anyway. Of how he told us eagerly. Of how baffled I was at again the word Jesus. “New legs,” he said. Of how all the prayers in the world couldn’t touch him. Of how certain I was in that moment of a lack of tact and how my heart went out to my man as he said “You’re making me real uncomfortable man.” Of stares I never felt always lingering in our direction. Of again how we rolled away from Jesus. Of how years later I still don’t believe in the healing of the pick up your mat and walk. Of the faithful and the ways I cannot touch their faith with my clenched fists. And then their voices again. And they’re still telling him, still encouraging. Then one of them says that the people who didn’t listen, they weren’t ready and that people will shut out his efforts and be against Jesus. I think of my numbness and how tired I feel. Of the ache. Of the ways I am still against Jesus. Of the comfort of my thumb locked over my closed fingers of how they feel against the inside of my palms. Of my tear streaked face seeking prayer. Of the reliability of the ways I internalize the broken things I have yet to give fully to Jesus. Of how she looked at me and asked, “What do you want?” of Jesus hanging by his palms. Of not realizing I have power over my thoughts and the stories I tell myself about things I lack.

Influences: the best book series-the book that pulled me under-The Story of B

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I unpacked many things while reading this book. Put ideas of my faith on the ground in front of me, threw in memories of science, held patience tucked away in my pocket, as the whispy thoughts of that man I felt meant for swirled in the air around me.

The Story of B took me some time to settle into, like talking yourself into your homework or cleaning your room, so stick with it. Surface level set up for you is that F. Jared Obsorne (a Roman Catholic Priest) is sent to report on the one they call B so as to investigate him as the antichrist and report back on the messages B is spreading that threaten the human race.  It takes him a while to find B, but he enters the circle and begins learning from him. At some point, early on in the story, we learn that B stands for blasphemer. But it’s more than that. B is the alleged antichrist. B is always in danger. B is a target. B is the conflicting ideas. B is the one providing lectures, spreading ideas that lift the veil on what people have believed for longer than they’ve been alive. At some point B shifts.

I can’t quite remember when, but eventually, the story pulled me deeper. Although I believe in Jesus, the idea of religion is challenging for me at times. In the Story of B, there is a moment, where a summary of Salvationist religions is given, with the main running theme being that salvation is not something you can do for another and that your sole responsibility is to your salvation, whether it is a success or failure doesn’t matter as much as your obligation to it. I felt immense comfort at the simplicity of it. It also felt nice to see religion presented as a construct, while that would bother many Christians I know, I felt so connected knowing this is something that has been developed over time.

While reading B, one day I read Ecclesiastes and also felt so much peace. I saw numerous connections and realized how badly I want to believe in many things. I felt liberated by the “meaningless” life and held cradled in the arms of the things we’ve given meaning to. I can’t deny those moments of enlightenment or the quiet sigh of reading about how Shirin pats the earth in front of her and says, “here,” in that, “this is where storytelling began.”

The truth is it’s hard to read such a ground breaking book and not feel things shift around inside of you. I mean, how do you deal with the fact that we are not humanity. The realization of reading, “Because we imagine that we are what humanity was divinely destined to become, we assume that our prehistoric ancestors were trying to be us but just lacked the tools and techniques to succeed.”  I had never considered how much we put ourselves above history, above our beginnings, above tribes, and think that because we have rules and laws and all of these things that we made up, we are somehow better.

I found myself identifying strongly with the protagonist, Fr. Jared Osborne on the ways this new knowledge collides with faith. The book jumps between one on one teachings Jared has with B and lectures. I personally loved being taken from a conversation, to the back of the book to read a lecture directly from B. Similarly to Ishmael, there is a twist that changes the course of the protagonist’s experience. It adds urgency and again, leaves the reader a little heartbroken.

I urge everyone to try to read this book. Regardless of religious background, it will move you. It is one of those books you need to read. You will feel empowered, maybe even changed by the authentic and earnest study of the things we have told ourselves about ourselves for thousands of years.

It’s amazing to me the things people measure out their lives in. For me it is books. This post is a part of a series of careful reflection in homage to the best books I have ever read.

you and me and God

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“So I read that little book you gave me,” he says, and further comments that, “it’s religious”.

“Kinda,” I say, as he rings up my groceries. He asks me what religion I am, and I mention Christian and then he asks which denomination. And I want to tell him denominations are stupid but instead I say protestant. He replies, “What do you like about it?” And I’m still at a loss for how quickly we’ve begun talking about religion because I don’t really talk to people outside of church about my faith. I find myself just saying, “Jesus,” to which he moves another item and says, “Well yeah the J-man is cool.” Instead he shifts and asks how long I’ve been doing it, I reply since summer, “something you found your way back to?” he asks. “It’s a long story,” I say, “but a well written one,” he replies. And I feel hopeful.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about denial and how the first time I read about Jesus’ prediction about how Peter will deny him I felt stunned. After the first time I read it, I re-read it and prayed to never deny Jesus. Yet there are moments where I feel like I minimize my faith. How do you find the balance between steadfast love and tolerance?

You see for years there were moments before I accepted Jesus, moments of people swooping in and trying to evangelize me. I don’t want to be the kind of Christians I have met; the ones who invest in the journey of another person’s salvation for themselves. I feel bad that religion scares some people but at the same time, I totally understand it. Religion is scary. Anything different can be scary.

I attended a conference this weekend. Glocal. Keynote speakers to present ideas and important narratives on missions. I walked in on Friday evening and sat in a pew. They presented a slide with a simple illustrative diagram of the words you me and God. There was a line drawn diagonally and on one side me and God on the other side of the line the word you. I realized I had spent a lot of my life feeling like the you. Especially in my time being around Christians during the height of my struggle to accept Jesus, it was always them and God, it was always what I had never had. I felt like such an outsider, like the other. I’m figuring out how to avoid making others feel that way.

We are invited to turn to someone near us and answer the question of what we think about when we hear the word mission. I immediately think of colonialism, of the last resort, of us and them, of things falling apart, of power, and the wind blowing the grass across the land, of the evangelical pastor talking about global Christianity, of how I walked out of the sermon, of the born again trying to talk his way into a seat on the bus to go to mexico, of the man in the writing group who visited Africa and passed out salvation flyers that read, “there is an answer.” As these memories crept in, I knew I was in the right place. I turned to Paul, the worship leader who read psalm 46: 4-6 three years ago as I listened and cried and felt the possibility of being cracked open.

I spoke with Paul about colonialism and my aversion to mission trips, my lack of understanding, the poor examples I’ve seen. He says he identifies with my struggle and I feel surprised.

The wheels in my brain continue to move as I return the next day and learn about culture and what influences it and how culture can limit our ability to connect to the other. Rev. Sunitha Mortha walks us through a moving presentation on narratives and culture and what influences our interpretation of the other. I shake my head in awe at the dialogues I’ve never heard in a faith based setting but college lectures. I feel impressed. Understood. At peace. I also feel an obligation to use these ideas to further understand my quiet story of faith and how to go about sharing it.

 

Influences: the best book series- The book every 18 year old girl should be required to read-he’s just not that into you

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It started with a case of beer. And two mutual English classes, because when you’re in college and twenty-two that’s all you need to start a relationship with a boy. I had invited myself over to his dorm room, stomped my way into his life. I sat cross legged on his couch, with my third bottle of Heineken in hand and listened to his stories of the Inland Empire, his friends, and how his dad makes good, “grub.”

After we kissed, I was all in. He wore fedoras, and smoked too many cigarettes, and walked the world in black converse sneakers. There was something about him that I thought was great, he was different, he was quiet but friendly; I liked this world I crawled into when I was with him. I liked how far away from myself I was. To be honest I was never sure what I had with him. I met him after breaking up with the only man I ever loved. I didn’t know how to date, didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t know that I deserved better than binge drinking on the weekends, and playing with his friends, and naked and wrapped in his bed sheets, and riding my bike back to my own house, and never actually entering the real world together, and lost on an island.

After I read He’s Just Not That Into you: The No excuses truth to understanding guys, everything changed.

Eventually, I broke up with the boy but was still stunned from all of it. The non-relational feeling of the post-relationship blur. I walked into work one day and my friend Kaitlyn had brought me a book. It was pink and sitting there starring at me. “Here,” she said, as she handed it to me.

I sat down and flipped the small hardcover book open. It was immediately easy, from the inside pages, to the picture of an answering machine on the front cover with zero messages. Easier than dating at least. Each chapter is broken down into a simple title, that begins with, “He’s just not that into you if…” The first thing I did was begin to read the chapter, “He’s not just that into you if he only wants to see you when he’s drunk.” I looked up and to my right and told Kaitlyn how much this chapter was my last relationship to a t. I went home that day and read the book from the beginning and it was riveting. Life made sense. Everything Greg had written made sense. It was as though someone had taken the “stupid goggles” off my beautiful cried out face.

The other chapters cover everything from Jerks who bully you to married men to the guise of a man who gives you his phone number. Each chapter comes full circle and focuses back on you, the reader, the intelligent successful woman who deserves better and is reading this book for a reason and should never ever “waste the pretty.”

Two years later, I read the book again. And it was still immensely comforting. At some point, some idiot decided to make a movie with the same title. So whenever I tell a girl she should read the book, she replies, “I saw the movie,” with exempt authority. To which I have to rant that the book is nothing like the movie and way more applicable to life, at least for me.

And here is where I have to say, yes human beings are complex. And yes, men process many things when pursuing you, but a majority of these situations are just that simple. It’s a book written for women. The women who make excuses for the men they are waiting around for and wasting their time with. It bothers me that men argue against this book when they’ve never experienced hours of talking to their friends about their current dating situation till they’re blue in the face. Yes, human beings are complex but so are you feelings. And if someone is going to swoop in and explain with liberating simplicity why a man is not dating you, that has nothing to do with you personally, I’ll welcome it. Because the answer “he’s just not that into you”, is one I’ve come back to for multiple situations in my life (because women make the same mistakes). And just to warn you, this book and the lessons are easier to apply to your friends in their situations because no one sees clearly through the frustrating experiences they have with men. Boys. Whatever.

So yes, read this book, push it on your friends. I have a younger friend who spent a good part of a year invested in a boy who was unavailable and had a girlfriend and broke up with said girlfriend and still wasn’t into my friend. For all the times I tried to get it through to her, I couldn’t, so I bought her the book for Christmas and she finally gets it, finally sees her self-worth. Which is always worth every penny of a well written lesson.

It’s amazing to me the things people measure out their lives in. For me it is books. This post is a part of a series of careful reflection in homage to the best books I have ever read.

 

 

corpse pose

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I saw pieces of my future again last night, focused on it from shavasana. Kept my eyes closed real tight and breathed in and out and fixated on every moment. The baby on the hip, the kiss before going into church, the barefoot walk across the backyard in my purple sundress. The man was just a figure, but the calm accompanied by his presence was undeniable.

deep end love

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Sometimes I get so swept up in the earnest desire I have to fall in love again that I overlook the ways I already am in love. This past year, in 2016, I fell in and out of love numerous times. First with a bearded man I met on retreat who opened my heart to true vulnerability and taught me how a man can love Jesus. Then with a broken girl who instinctively walked across the room and hugged me after I had seen Jesus. A glimmer of hope from the quiet girl in the bathroom as I was wiping away my tears and hating my resistance. And then the still and steadfast one who gave me strength in her wisdom and encouragement.

I fell intimately in love with the entire book of John. No reservations. No comparisons. The idea of fearless love. I felt reassured at building a relationship with an older couple, and knew, this is how in-laws should feel-this is the type of relationship of spiritual sharing I want to have with my spouse’s parents. The further I fell away from seeing every man as an option, I began to appreciate each unique quality in a person and how that challenges me. Inclinations towards sin became easier to identify. I still grapple with holding feelings of emptiness in my hands. How I can count on both hands the moments of feeling so much desire for anything other than a disconnect in my soul. What to do when you feel nothing and everything all at the same time. What would Jesus do. Wanting to be out of the wilderness. Feeling to no end.Feeling like you’re “too much.”

And then, there’s something in that other man. The one I am drawn to. The one who lights up my soul and my mind. I long for the simplicity of being around him. I enjoy everything I know to be true about him. The way he stands. Those subtle moments of him slowly handing me his ugly. How he smirks at me. How I feel like every moment has led up to looking him in the eyes.

And then there’s the love I’m building in myself. In the waiting. In the hope. I’ve always been persistent but not always hopeful. It’s not a word I would use. It’s not a fair word. People tend to keep it in their pocket and pull it out when they need it. They say look what I have. I say look what I lack. How do I get those things? What do people say about me? About the ways I hand them pieces of truth like presents on Christmas Eve.  For all the observations, do I let myself be seen?

influences: the best books series-the book that made me want to be a writer: Dry

Every now and then, a book comes along that really opens your eyes. Shocks you. Lights a spark deep down. For me, that book was Dry, a memoir by Augusten Burroughs. At age 14, it was the first piece of non-fiction I’d ever read. I felt uncomfortable while reading it. Writing had never previously gripped me in that way. Made me laugh. Made me cry. Made me cringe. Made me think. Solidified the desire to write.

10 years later, an anniversary edition was released and although I’m not one to re-read book- I read it again. I was still moved but this time everything resonated from a more visceral mature place. I saw the darkest parts of my adult self in the struggle.

I’ve read almost every book Augusten Burroughs has published. I’ve yet to read Sellevision, because I am too enamored with his non-fiction. And A Wolf at the Table reached out and choked me about 4 pages in, so it is still in a box in the basement.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to meet Augusten Burroughs. I spent about a week preparing for how to act around him. I sat in a booth with my friend, B, and rambled on about what I would say to him. I told her about how my ticket got me priority in the signing line, so I’d be standing right in front of him at some point. I’d read that celebrities don’t like to be acknowledged for one piece because they’ve done so much more than that. I knew I didn’t want to fan-girl out, or be obnoxious, or get up and babble.

I arrive in Menlo Park intentionally early and in my favorite sundress. I loiter in the book store where the event is to take place. I use their bathroom and ask them about the reading. They tell me I’m hella early. I know that, I think, and, I want to get a good seat.   I spend time reading the first chapters of select books until the seating area opens up. They start checking people in and I feel relieved that I’m not the only person who has arrived well ahead of schedule. They write my name on a yellow sticky note and slap it inside on the title page of the hardcover book. I’m also handed a match book and told to sit in the priority seating section.

While I wait, I begin reading. I have to re-read every few sentences because I am so distracted by the eclectic people around me. Finally, a man gets up on the microphone and welcomes us to Kepler’s books. And then he’s here. The man I feel like I’ve known since I was 15 comes swooping in, wearing a t-shirt, and a fringe leather jacket. And I want to tell him I have that jacket, it was my Dad’s and I wore it for most of 8th grade while I was finding myself. His glasses sit perfectly on his nose and I am in awe of his masculinity. Into the Q and A portion, someone asks about resiliency, he thanks them and replies, with a thorough answer about being “dropped off” at his mother’s psychiatrist’s house as a child, and how he grappled with feeling as though he feared he might die without his mother. He stated, “Parents are a luxury,” and tells of how he eventually coped with the abandonment and the crazy house and the fact that he might never get out of it. He cocks his head to one side and explains, “Writing helped a lot. And the reason that writing is useful is not so much reporting what happened but getting to the actual truth and sometimes the truth is the thing that hides behind the thing you think is true or have been told your whole life is true or that you desperately wish to be true or that you assume to be true. Sometimes the thing that’s really true is behind all of that and it can be tricky to find because you don’t think to even question the thing that’s true, you don’t think about it.” I think of all the things I think I know to be true. I think about why he changed his name. A person standing near the Sci-Fi section asks him about rehab and alcoholism and how he began to write afterwards. Augusten comments that rehab is like “alcoholic college,” and explains the necessity of replacing one addiction with something else. I admire the man for falling into a way to fill his emptiness and wonder what I accomplish through my own desire to write. He continues that writing became everything alcohol had been in terms of a complete escape of something else to focus on and “ignore my own life and just focus on the work.” He mentions how he would lose track of time. I sigh at the shared secret, of losing track of time. I think about how he relapsed and nearly died.

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“Thinking about writing is not relaxing. Thinking about it is horrible. Starting it is horrible. When I’m actually in it, I like it. But that’s like everything. Every horrible thing I’ve been through, when you’re actually in it, it’s okay. Even when it’s horrible-moment by moment it’s okay-it’s there-you can survive it.”

Eventually, they have to take the final questions. I marvel how the people with their hands still raised will wonder on their drive home, “what would he have said?” We clap and after a few minutes rise as a group and look to the man shuffling us to the signing line. Almost each person in front of me spills their guts out to him. Augusten graciously takes it all in and listens. The girl I was sitting next to is up, with her mom. “I’ve read all your books,” she says. “All of them,” the mom chimes in. The girl asks to take a selfie with him. I roll my eyes and think a selfie, with the #1 best-selling author and cringe for my generation. And then I’m up. Time hangs in the air above us. “Are you Emily?” I hear him ask. “Yes,” I say and add, “You’re my favorite author.” “Thank you,” he replies. I take the hardback and he thanks me again for coming to the reading. I walk out of the store feeling accomplished, knowing how surreal that all just was and how I can’t wait to do it all again.

Author’s note, if you enjoyed this piece, and would like to listen to an audio recording of Augusten Burroughs from April 7, 2016, comment and we’ll arrange it. Augusten Burroughs announced an upcoming tour in March 2017 for the paperback release of Lust and Wonder, dates to be determined.

Want to read his work but unsure where to start? My favorite order: Dry, Magical thinking, running with scissors, This is how, possible side effects, lust and wonder.

It’s amazing to me the things people measure out their lives in. For me it is books. This post is a part of a series of careful reflection in homage to the best books I have ever read.