Monday, August 20, 2007

Summer gone

I’m not sure how to begin, or how to end for that matter. I feel like I am saying goodbye to an old friend. How to move on from this summer, it really is like saying goodbye to a wise old friend, one who has been there for me, whispering wisdom in my ear for the last few months. But I will start with this: I am convinced that everything I have seen and everywhere I have been and everyone I have met has in some way been a reflection of God. And if God is in these things than God must be good. It’s quite beautiful when I think about it really. I have thought long and hard and there really is no other way of understanding or quantifying the travel, people, and places that have been this summer, and the overwhelming goodness of people that I have borne witness to.

A quick, or not so quick, recap. (There really is something therapeutic about this for me).

In Boston I met all kinds of people from all over the world, all of them in some way just like me. And I was blessed to be able to talk with them and discover what their lives were like and how different yet similar we were. I was able to see quickly the depth of my ethnocentricity, and quickly it was impressed upon me that this summer was not about me, it wasn’t about my story as much as it was about a story being told to me. I learned a lot about economic theory and practice, and about libertarianism and government theory and how far from perfect the world is. I learned that fun is not something that only Americans understand, I rode around the entire city on a bike in a toga, I laughed a lot, I thought a lot, then I thought some more. I also saw first hand how smart some people are, and I realize that I may never achieve the intellectual prowess of some of these people but I am really glad that these people exist, that a lot of people know a lot more than me. I made three really great friends in Boston, one of whom was kind enough to let us stay in her apartment near Harvard for a few days while we saw and did everything there was to do in Boston. (My friend, though she may refute this, is one of the smartest people I know, she is one of those people who is so smart and has such a love of people that it blows my mind.) And there was one night that we sat on the steps of this church that is on Harvard’s campus, and we talked late into the night about all kinds of things as the stars above sang and danced, and it was all so perfect and lovely and it was easy to get the feeling that maybe this was what life was ultimately about. Experiencing people, experiencing life, experiencing God.

As I continued my journey to New York City I began to embrace the kind of freedom that comes with solo travel, that is, going and doing whatever you want whenever you want. I have to tell you, for someone whose life ordinarily revolves around a schedule, it was heaven. There I stayed with one of the kindest most generous families I know, and had a lot of great conversations with my cousin and my friend Patrick the freelance photographer. Patrick moved to NY a couple of years ago and literally lives paycheck to paycheck, hoping and praying that he will be provided with enough work to pay the rent in his apartment. But I have to tell you, he is one of the happiest, most fulfilled guys I know. Just talking with him was encouraging. He loves what he does, and, though things are sometimes hard, he wouldn’t trade his job for anything. For him there is something in the uncertainty, in the good times and the hard times, that he has grown comfortable with, almost in love with. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Moving on was hard by this time, as I had grown to resent all the goodbye’s I was constantly forced to give. But I did leave, hard as it was, and moved on to meet my family at our 110 year old cabin in upstate NY. I have to tell you, I can’t think of any place more serene, quiet, and perfect. The cabin is on a three-mile lake in the mountains, and the word beautiful doesn’t do it justice, not by a long shot. I came here as a kid almost every summer, and the place is filled with memories and beauty as far as the eye can see. It was the perfect place to hang for a few days and collect my thoughts, reflect on what the last few weeks had held. Each morning I would paddle out in our wooden canoe and chase the loons and fog across the silent water, hearing nothing but the sound of my paddle breaking the water’s surface. This place held a kind of peace that most only read about in books.

As this may be a bit longer, I will postpone the rest of this reflection until another date, but, in the meantime, here are some of my favorite pictures:

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

God and me: why I don't get it and why that's ok

Life is a funny thing…I know, tell you something you don’t already know…but its full of contradictions and problems and triumphs and sadness and regret and all kinds of other things. I have been feeling these a lot lately, the different elements of life that is, and its got me all confused. Since getting back from Europe and the east coast I have been wondering at what God has for me, what I should be doing, how my life’s story is supposed to be told. And I am not sure how it fits, but lately I have been thinking a lot about God, and what an abstract and ridiculous concept the whole thing is. I mean really, there are times when I talk about God like he is a vacuum that I am trying to sell, like he is this incredible invisible product that all my friends need. And then I think about things like the enlightenment, and the whole scientific reason thing, and I think, “there is no way to absolutely prove God, to absolutely prove what I have been selling all these years.” I mean, my faith is by no means blind, or untried, but what it comes down to is that scientifically you can prove many things, but you can’t use science to get to or prove God. And if you ever did, God wouldn’t be God. I think that the nature of God is mystery. I can’t explain why I have the capacity to understand beauty, or why I feel pain or anger or joy, I just do. And so in a way, this is how I understand God, and my relationship to him; that he is on a vertical plane of existence and I am on a horizontal, and you can’t prove the existence of anything on the vertical because its not quantifiable, its not measurable, it doesn’t add up to enlightenment principles. Well, anyway, that’s that.

And I have also been thinking a lot about the Bible lately, and how I read it. I heard someone say the other day that Jesus didn’t come to start Christianity, and I thought that this was very beautiful and true because that means that Jesus didn’t have any agenda or hidden motives other than loving people. He wasn’t out to start a major world religion, he came simply to tell people and show them that God loved them. And I think that we get so caught up in reading each verse in the Bible like it has some secret magic in it, a key to unlocking some passage of our hearts, that we miss the overarching message that is screaming to be heard. Notice that Jesus tells stories, he talks in metaphor, he speaks in poetry and prose. He doesn’t give us lists or formulas, although sometimes I wish he did. So why? I wondered, if the sermon I hear in church on Sunday comes with a list or a formula for living a happier life why didn’t Jesus just give us that himself? Why did he always respond with questions and tell stories? But I think that his message isn’t a formula, it isn’t a four-step program to happiness, it’s a story about God loving people. The Bible, I think, is nothing more than stories about people’s encounters with God. So I realized that I have been reading all wrong, that I have been thinking about things all wrong, and I took some time to read through stories and not perform literary surgery on each verse. I can’t tell you how freeing that was. It was freedom from religion and boxed in formulas, it was simply relational, and I loved that.

So being back here is weird, its back to my job, school, responsibility, stuff like that. But I once heard someone say that life is like fine wine, it won't appeal to children. And I think that is true, life is what it is, it is difficult, and at some point in time I will have to come to terms with that. But I also think that life is full of adventure, and hope, and truth. And the truth of it is that you and I are deeply spiritual beings, deeply spiritual people, and whether we acknowledge it or not doesn't make it any less true. So I don't want to deny that to myself any more, because embracing spirituality, not religion, has made my life more complete.