Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Little Faith is Worth Something

Meditations on Faith after reading Colossians chapter 1
-Chris Gonzalez

A little faith is worth something, spotted and tattered as it may be. It is worth something because it exists. There is no better case against the forces of Evil than the existence of faith…faith in any condition or size.

Evil has a no tolerance policy on faith and therefore any little scrap of it is an affront. A little quivering, gelatinous splotch of faith is all that is needed to throw Evil into a four-alarm emergency. Faith is so much a threat to Evil that it cannot justifiably and comfortably exist if even one person has one ounce of it. The threat that faith poses to Evil is so striking and so profound that it is like a giant lumbering through a land of tiny, tiny people. It could crush evil, even without trying. Faith, its mere presence, even in its weakest form, keeps Evil awake at night, mind racing, fearful of what to do about the problem. Frantic, manic and paranoid, Evil scurries about for solutions to this impossible problem of Faith.

What lie can be told to diminish faith?

What distraction can be concocted to have faith forgotten, even for a minute?

And yet, all Evil can do is defensively try to put out fires, all the while perplexed and frustrated as to how it is that these fires keep starting.

Evil’s endless movement to extinguish faith is merely a desperate attempt to justify its own existence. One instance of faith pronounces all of evil for all time irrelevant and meaningless. Evil loses when Faith exists. It is all or nothing. Faith may be beaten and bloodied by the wild and reckless flailing attacks of Evil, but Evil is constantly playing defense. Faith assaults Evil by existing. Faith does not have to actually do anything but exist in order to do damage to Evil. Faith with a sense of volition and agency sends Evil into a frenzied rush for the nuclear button. Faith in action takes Evil by the throat.

Oh ye of little faith, you wield a mighty power.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Breaking deep down;
Time interrupted;
Heartsoul – cracking…crushing
Body fails;
Cries and wails flinging from chapped lips;
Pinned down, exposed, and afraid…
But not alone

…In the company of billions;
Time quarantined;
We gather at one table
Our chapped lips wet with wine,
Our broken bodies strengthened by bread

Bodies as Body sustaining each other.

Novice Mentor

Strained ahead to see
A path worn, but empty
Walking unlead unnerves
No stopping, not turning – must walk.

Walk as though lead
Is how my mentor lead…
But how?

Those young eyes depend,
And I am not yet old.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The World Suffers in Ignorance of You

If people of the world only knew you,
How better they would be,
At living their lives
At finding their lives
Useful and healthy and free

They’d find uses and meanings,
For broken down things,
Life in old tables and chairs and screens;
Repurposing spindles and windows and doors;
(re)Creating whatever they touch;
Taking so little;
Making so much,

Let nothing be wasted

They’d find flavor and taste,
In surprising places;
Neither bags, nor boxes, nor even cartons;
Plucked from trees and vines or dug from the ground;
Close to the source;
Delicious indulgence;
No remorse;

Let health be tasted

They’d break some rules and customs and traditions;
Innocent Rebels;
Meaning for performance and movement and action;
Dancing through life on common senses;
To move is to mean;
Parroting? Waste!
Morally clean.

The world suffers in ignorance of you;


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood #6

When my smalltalk words ran out, there was a silent pause in which we just stood there and looked at each other in the dim lights. It was my turn to talk, but I wasn't saying anything. It was then that Helen began to realize this was a different kind of conversation than we had ever had before. Her curiosity moved from light and playful to something more serious. She was reading my mind, and I knew it. I had to give her my thoughts before she just took them from me.

It was time for me to be courageous, even though the many opportunities for courage with Helen were long gone. This courage was about something different, though, like I was catching up on growing up. I was about to get the failure I needed, but had so skillfully avoided for so many years.

Since I didn't know how to be cool, courageous, smooth or even mildly attractive, not on purpose anyway, I mimicked what I believed to be those things. Images of other guys who were most certainly those things entered my mind, but not in an accessible way. These thoughts were stock caricatures of those guys. As I spoke, it must have sounded like I was doing impressions of Saturday morning cartoon.

"You know, Helen, I've been doing some thinking about us," I said with a confidence so obviously false it hurt. I played with a stringy piece of bark I had peeled off of a stick. It was something I could look at when it was too hard to look at Helen.

"Uh huh,"Helen replied as her folded arms tightened and posture shifted into defense. It was too late. She had already read my mind. The game was already over. Too bad I didn't know it.

"Yeah, you know, about us...about our future," faking a confident nod, "you know." I said having completely run out of vocabulary. I really didn't need to say anything more. I'd finally played my hand even though the game had been done for more than a year. Helen looked back at me as if to say, "Oh, you're still playing? You still think there's a chance? You poor, poor, thing. Bless your heart." But she gathered herself together quickly. She knew I was vulnerable, but she also knew there was no way this was going to work.

I'd just placed Helen in an impossible situation. I'd thrown my heart at her and she caught it, but didn't want to keep it. Reject me too hard and I am crushed and the friendship is in jeopardy. Fail to reject me and she falsely gives me hope and then her integrity is in jeopardy. Helen would never let her integrity go for so little, but she would not just let the friendship go for little either. She needed to thread a needle while balancing on a bowling ball and standing in a hurricane.

And somehow she pulled it off. We sat there talking as the fire died out and the mercury light flickered out. Helen was amazing. She let me down so gently, so kindly, so lovingly. With the skill of seasoned politician and the empathy of a gifted therapist, Helen gave me heart back to me uninjured. She was my friend. We talked some more, laughed a little, hugged, an went to our respective cabins.

I slept just fine that night, having accomplished what I needed to accomplish.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood #5

It was Helen. Unassuming and beautiful, she approached me with a curious little smile on her face, arms folded and hands pulled into the sleeves of her sweatshirt to buffer against the chill. The dew had fallen, but I hadn't noticed yet. But there is something about the dew falling - sooner or later, you will feel its chill in your bones. She was genuinely curious why I had asked her to meet me at the campfire.

I sat on a log and Helen sat on the log next to me. The fire dying, I tried to create some small talk, but it felt forced. The clock was ticking and I was stalling. Helen was patient - tonight. But she had lost her patience with me a long time ago. It was two weeks before Helen would go 800 miles away to college and I would go back for my senior year in high school. I wouldn't see her again until Christmas.

We had known each other for six years. Every summer we spent weeks together at camp. We had been to lock-ins, hay rides, and new year's parties together. We talked to each other on the phone and wrote letters to each other. At times she would show up unannouned at my summer baseball games. I called her from work one night during my break, complaining of how miserable I was, hated my job and missed her so bad. When I left work that night, there was note from Helen, sitting on the front seat of my car. I was worth her time and effort. It was like this for six years.

So no one was to be faulted for wondering when we would get together. She liked me, they say. She liked me. The thought of it confronted me - conjured up my fear. Failure. Rejection. My deepest inner dork exposed for all. Was I likable? I mean, as more than a friend. Could I be in a relationship? The thing was, we were friends, good friends - and that was the problem. I didn't know how to be anything else. The safety of our friendship was so comfortable. The idea that it could be more was enough to keep it exciting enough for me without the requisite risk.

Six years of wondering how to be more than friends, but being afraid to do anything about it, was about to time out, right there at the camp fire ring. I had to make one desperate effort at doing the one thing I didn't have the courage to do. Six years of chances ended tonight.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dissertation Insanity

I am giving every article, chapter, and book I read for my dissertation a code based on what kind of literature it is. I am struggling to organize myself, whcih is hard because I have hard time organizing my half of the closet at home. Here is my current coding system.

Type of Paper:
T = Theory (PYD theory and any other theory that is included in this paper)
E = Empirical Research Study
R = Review
X = Not specified

Topic of Paper:
C = Civic Engagement in general
R = Religion (Effects of religion and spirituality on Adolescent Civic Engagement)
P = Parent (Effects of parents and family on Adolescent Civic Engagement)
M = Media (Effects of Media on Adolescent Civic Engagement)
X = Not specified

C = Cross-sectional / Time (Snapshots – correlations, associations, and differences)
L = Longitudinal / Time (Effects of Time on adolescent Civic Engagement)
E = Experimental design
X = Not specified

1, 2, 3.....N

ERL1 would refer to the 1st article that was and EMPIRICAL study on RELIGION which had a LONGITUDINAL design.

ERL2 would be the second of the same kind of article.

I am holding to some kind of belief that this will help me when I return to the notes I am taking and have a clue as to what I am looking at. Anyone else have a system for organizing loads of articles?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood #4

I stood near the campfire ring as the evening summer camp activities wound down and the other campers started their procrastination routines – putting off going to back to their cabins for just a few more minutes. I usually joined them milling about the shower house and strategically pretending to forget my toothbrush back at the cabin. I would go looking for one last round of good night hugs – it was going to be a whole nine hours before we all saw each other again. It was bedtime, but we were juiced. The sugar and caffeine that had not worn off from canteen combined with a surge of adolescent hormones made the idea of going to bed sound ridiculous, even though it was nearing eleven o’clock. We would chase around the shower house hoping not to get caught by the camp director, hoping to play a lot and at the same time somehow appear to be getting something necessary done. It was an unstructured, yet highly ritualized, part of youth camp – a part that I never missed.

But tonight was different. I didn’t do any of that. Tonight I waited for Helen.

The embers of the campfire were still orange, but a darker orange. The festivities of crazy campfire had long passed and echoes of the whole camp singing silly songs faded into the shadows of the pine and birch forest. Smoke wandered out from the charred wood and slowly rose into the darkness. The last bit of color had left the sky and the stars were staring down in anticipation. I tried sitting on one of the logs that circled the fire ring as I waited, but couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit. I paced back and forth, but never too far from the fire. Besides the intermittent mercury light by the old craft house, which was no off, it was my only source of light. Once again, my flashlight was somewhere else. The lake was only about 20 yards away, but it looked like complete blackness. The lake was beautiful, my favorite part of the campground, but night had sent the lake to bed. I looked around for Helen, hoping to see her, but also hoping she would stand me up. I knew that an important conversation was about to happen, but I still didn’t know my lines. The spotlight was about shine and I had not rehearsed.

This was a conversation that I should have had a long time ago. No, it was a conversation that should never have had to happen. It was a Hail Mary pass in hopes of a miracle - the kind of miracle that would release me from the all of the social and romantic responsibility I had found ways to avoid over the past six years. Desperation, as it turns out, is the necessary experience of prolonged avoidance of the inevitable. But how was I to know that? No one told me actions and inactions were boomerangs. I thought when you avoided something you got away with it. It was a clean break. Each day was a new day. I had an intense loyalty that that which was convenient in the moment, even if it had no semblance of truth. That was one of my major flaws - I kept believing things that were not true. Experience, however, was merciless in its reminders of the realities of world in which I lived.

I heard the crunch of footsteps on pine needles and sand. Someone was coming. A shadowy figure was emerging from over by the girl’s cabins. Backlit by the dull purplish mercury light, which had flickered on at some point outside of my awareness, I could tell the person was female. My stomach squeezed and I wanted time to stop. Like a log to the buzz saw, I was about to be shaped into something more useful – through pain.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood #3

The summer moved along and I felt the weight of another school year encroaching on my ever more slothful summer. I’d get anxious every August, as I knew that fateful Labor Day was right around the corner. I always hated Labor Day because it was the sentinel of school. I couldn’t enjoy the day off because it felt like it was prolonging inevitable misery. I didn’t want to go back. The academic pressure, the social pressure, the getting up before noon pressure was all too much. The misery train was chugging down the tracks and blowing its horn ever louder as it neared. I would get so worked up about the upcoming arrival of school that I would lose 10 pounds at the end of summer just worrying about it.

Anticipating my senior year of high school made matters even worse. The senior year of high school is incredibly important both in substance and symbolism. There are certain benchmarks occurring in the senior year that everyone must meet in order to become a real live person. There was homecoming. There was prom. That darned Sadie Hawkins thing I did not understand. Who the heck was Sadie Hawkins? Sounded kind of hick to me. And of course there was graduation. That’s pressure I tell you – pressure. It was pressure and I didn’t want any of it. To some people these were exciting events that would result in lifelong memories. To me they were an academic and social house of horrors meant to expose and parade my inadequacies and demonstrate to people that without a doubt, I didn’t what the hell I was doing. When other people longed to shine, I just wanted to disappear.

Life is hard when you see your shortcomings through a magnifying glass and your strengths through binoculars, only backwards. Perceptions get all messed up. How does a reasonably smart, decent looking, athletic, morally sound, relatively humorous and generally nice guy see himself as inadequate? Actually, the older I got, the worse it got. My adolescent life was hard not because I was dealt a bad hand, but rather because I knew that if anyone ever figured out who I really was they would find that I was a monster. I was an unworthy, undesirable, and surprisingly scary thing. I deeply wanted other people to discover that I was good, but feared they would discover that I was a fraud, that I was a social malignancy.

My longing to disappear was thwarted by the reality that I had no place to disappear to. I could not run away from home. Running away is hard work. If you’ve ever tried it, you know. Plus, where do run-aways go? I didn’t know any of that. On top of that, my idea of running away well included a comfortable place where I could nap all I wanted, eat pizza all the time, never do any work, and everyone there liked me a lot. There may have been a hammock somewhere in that run-away fantasy. When I realized I didn’t have the strength to run away, I considered becoming invisible. It would be great. I could roam around the school hallways, but no one would know. I could go into the girls’ locker room and finally satisfy all of this built up curiosity. I could just have things because no one would know I was taking them. I could listen in on conversations, go home with anyone I wanted, and how fun would it be to drive a car while being invisible? But pulling off the “going invisible strategy” required more science classes than I had taken. Earth science and chemistry were a little light on the practice of invisibility. Beyond those two ideas, I had nothing. My two best ideas were currently impossible.

Once again this year, like every year before it, there was no way to avoid school. I was standing on the train tracks waiting for the school train to run me over. I was worrying, losing weight, sleeping poorly, eating badly, and just waiting. School was inevitable. Or was it?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood #2

Some people prepare for the transitions that occur in their life. I don’t. It is not that I don’t want to, but rather that I don’t know how. Something’s wrong my brain, I think. While most people anticipate, plan, and execute their plans, I tend to just show up, stumble in, or get thrust into transitions when I am not even ready – and then, after I am floundering pathetically, it occurs to me that I should have planned for this.

Most people anticipate a transition and adjust their lives for it. For example, by the time high school is over, they have already prepared for college. They know where they are going, when they will get there, their housing situation, where to get food, what courses they will take that Fall, etc. These people see the transition coming and understand that this is something that is going to happen in their lives. They have influenced the outcome with some sense of intentionality. For me, life just seems to happen – to me. Much of the time I watch my own life like it’s a movie. I see a plot unfolding, but don’t know what is going to happen. And even if I did anticipate what was going to happen, it’s just a movie. It’s like I can’t seem to operate such that the transition is actually going to happen in real life. All too often, I live as if it is not happening right now, it does not exist.

Many adolescents live in an extremely present-tense world. Part of adolescence, however, is learning about that part of your brain that is capable of mentally getting outside of the current bowl of Captain Crunch you’re eating and consider the future. The transition out of high school to college or work marks the first major rite of passage that requires some sort of future thinking. Many of the people I knew seemed quite capable of understanding the implications of this transition and made adjustments quite well. I, however, wasn’t able to think about the future in real terms. I could talk about the future, but not like it was really going to happen. It’s like I was using the imagination or fantasy part of my brain for planning for the future. What would occur in my life down the road was something fun to think about, but mentally categorized as inconsequential. It’s OK to use the imaginative part of the brain, but it is not OK to use it for planning – because no actual planning gets done. How sad that I had this incredible brain and used it all wrong.

Since I had apparently misplaced the users manual for my brain, I needed help. Unconventional help. Divine help. I needed to hear things in different ways – ways that would get my attention. I needed the kind of assistance that would by-pass my imagination addiction and move me forward in action.

It was 1987, the summer before my senior year of high school. It was a strange sort of summer. Unusual things were happening. These were the kinds of things that, when they happen, it should be telling you something. It was like God was really trying to tell me something important. But what was that message I was supposed to be getting? What was I being warned about?

In June, for instance, as anyone alive at the time in the Minneapolis area would recall, there was a tremendous flood. It rained seven inches on Monday and nine inches on Thursday. Monday’s storm set the stage by saturating the ground and Thursday’s storm came in for the kill. Hard and loud, the rain cascaded and splashed to the ground so heavy and steady it was like sitting under a waterfall - the ground just couldn’t drink it up. Rain pounded down in the night, lightning strobed like a house of horrors, and continuous thunder punished the earth. The sewers gave out and began vomiting up rainwater – the streets began to fill as water looked for alternative places to pool. Low spots began to disappear as the floodwater crept up our street, crept up our driveway, and injected our hearts with dark questions about means of survival.
When the spacious firmament had finally wrung itself dry, the streets were rivers, basements were murky subterrainian pools, and smart people used boats to get around. But the rain had stopped. People exited their dark houses to assess the situation. Neighbors wanted to talk to each other, but would need to swim across the street to do so. An eerie calm began to settle in as the lightning, now silent, continued to strobe off in the distance. Looking down the street and seeing the headlights of a submerged car dim and then go out completely was a fearful sight.
I was in a daze of excitement and fear. There was this voice inside my head saying, “go for a swim.” But my more sensible side conjured up images of what might by lurking under the water. Part of the image came from reality – debris, sharp objects, and the chance of getting electrocuted. Part of the image came from the garbage scene in Star Wars in which the walls were closing in and this strange, snake-like creature kept pulling Luke under water. I kept out of the water.

A flood of this kind happens maybe once in a lifetime. It is the kind of event that is so immense, so overwhelming, that it immediately imprints into the mind and occupies that part of the brain reserved for the unforgettable. It was the kind of event that deserved a name and a t-shirt proclaiming one’s survival. “I survived the flood of 1987” t-shirts did, indeed begin to appear shortly after clean up.

But was the Flood of ‘87 a universe message just for me? Was it God’s metaphoric communication for what was about happen in my life? Was everything I knew and expected life to be about to change? Was God giving me a heads up? Well, if God was speaking, I wasn’t really listening. I went on with life as usual, playing baseball, going to summer camp, sleeping in until noon, eating Captain Crunch and trying to find ways to slay the boredom. Little did I know that I was merely weeks away from one of the most dramatic turns in my life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Feedn My Starving Children

Last night was my first time volunteering to pack food for an international feeding program called, Feed My Starving Children (History - Statement of beliefs). It will not be my last. I was so impressed by this organization. Compassionate, innovative, connected, organized, humble and faith centered without being faith imposing.

COLLABORATIONS: FMSC packs and delivers vitamin and protein rich meals for starving (not hungry, starving) children around the world (including North Korea). They have collaborated with General Mills, Cargill, Pillsbury on the food production end, thousands of volunteers on the packing end, and hundreds of missionaries in 60 nations on the delivery end to make this happen. I would say they have collaborated with God as well.

PRODUCT: In each pack of food is rice, dried soy, dried veggies, and a chicken flavored, vitamin rich powder. When cooked together, it makes a balanced and highly nutritious vegetarian meal that even tastes pretty good. The food is durable and has a shelf life of nearly 3 years, though it gets eaten before that shelf life expires. A meal is one cup of this mix (with water added and cooked, of course). One cup of food for a person starving is actually excessive at first, until the body adjusts back to feeding on food rather than feeding on itself.

STORY: One story told in the orietnation nearly brought me to tears. An 8 year old boy in one of their new sites weighed 19 pounds when FMSC children arrived (My son weighed half that AT BIRTH). He was obviously near death by starvation. They had a photo of him that just hurt to see. After 6 months of eating their nutrition rich food, he weighed 73 pounds. The photo of him at 6 months was stunning. He gained over 50 pounds in 6 months and neared normal weight for an 8 year old.

VOLUNTEERING: This was a family affair for us. My immediate family, mother, sister, neices, step-sister, her daughters, and one of their boyfriends all got together to volunteer. What fun. It took just under two hours to get an overview of the program, get trained on how to pack the food properly, and then to pack the food and clean up. There were a total of over 50 volunteers that night. We packed nearly 10,000 meals in that short time. We packed enough food to feed 26 children for one year. Essentially, we played a role in saving 26 lives last night.

After we had completed our shift, my daughter said, "How cool was that?" My daughter and son are now scheming ways to raise money for FMSC. A mere 17 cents buys one meal.

WORK: The work is easy and children can do it. There are meaningful roles for people who are confined to a wheelchair.

OTHER: The dissertation I am writing for my doctoral studies is on adolescent civic engagement. There were many adolescent volunteers of the 50 volunteers there. It was so encouraging to see. This kind of service is so powerful and meaningful. I wonder if there is some sort of way to measure the nutrition for the soul that is received by those who volunteer in a similar way that there is a way to measure the nutrition of the food itself. hmmmmmm

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood

There used to be a time, so I’ve heard, when you knew that you were done being an adolescent and your adult life began. It was clear. You knew it. Everyone else knew it. The unsure, awkward, and “stormy” days were in the rear view mirror and you could kick back, confidently resting in the security of adulthood. Back in those days you knew what life had for you, knew it would be tough, but the pathway was clear. There were trades to be learned, manufacturing jobs to be had, farms to inherit, families to manage. There was a certain time when you’d buy a car, a house, and dream of a boat, but probably not get one. The scripts for becoming an adult were few and they were easy to read. There was certainty. Those were different times.

For me the transition to adulthood was supposed to transpire either during college or upon college graduation. It would be clear and I would know when it happened. I’m not sure what I was expecting to experience that would dub me “adult,” but I was just sure it was going to happen. Maybe I was expecting a brief rite of passage ceremony where I perform some task and then the adult community recognizes me as one of them. Perhaps I was looking for a celebration in my honor ending with some official and expert adult issuing me a certificate of adulthood. Maybe I was looking for some physical manifestation wherein just by looking at me I was recognized and respected as an adult.

None of these happened. When I graduated from college, I received my diploma, walked off the stage and felt the weight of a completely unknown future. It was the last act where I knew my lines. It was all ad lib from that point on. No one was providing the script anymore and I needed some lines. Where were those easy scripts? What were my next lines? At that moment, it had finally occurred to me that I should be planning something, or maybe should have already planned something…but what?

When I graduated from college, I did not feel like an adult, but I felt like I needed to act like one. At the same time, I had no clue what that meant. It was like needing to speak Russian – NOW. I could make sounds, maybe even accidently utter an interpretable word, but in no way was I speaking the language. It was the same with being a genuine and competent adult. There was nothing about me that registered as a genuine or competent adult. I did not know anything about the adult world, and now I was thrust into it because the adolescent world had had enough of me. There were no more contexts prescribed for me. I’d read through all my lines.

I had friends who seemed to know what it meant to be an adult. They were confident, groomed, and ready to join in. They fit into their business suits, had jobs lined up, were engaged to be married, and knew they would live in Dallas or Nashville or New York. They knew things. Important things. Important things like what their next step was, how they would pay for things and what they would be doing at 10:00 tomorrow morning. And if they did not know these things, they were very convincing that they did know them. So convincing that I believed them. Well, I believed that they believed them. Their confidence and apparent clarity about their entrance into the adult world did not resonate with me. How could they knew these things? I just went through the same college experiences that they did and I had nothing that gave me any sense of confidence.

Maybe I didn’t like their version of adulthood. No, there was an appeal to it. I guess it’s not that I didn’t like their version, but rather I did not believe their version. No, that’s not it either. I believed their version. It was not their version of adulthood I was skeptical about. It was worse than that, and more personal. I did not believe they belonged inside their own version of adulthood. I thought they were frauds. They would wear adult clothes and repeat things they heard adults say. They would produce facial expressions of the adult kind, like they were thoughtful or deep or knowing of something when I knew they just trying to get accepted. I’d seen them in the college dorm being complete idiots. I could not imagine that they had grown up so quickly. Maturity was certainly not the cause of their adultish behaviors. No, the only explanation was that they were liars. That was no other way to interpret them.

The problem with my interpretation of these frauds is that all thoughts and behaviors are in some way autobiographical. If I could create a story about these friends who had entered the adult world with some sort of measure of success, and the story framed them as frauds and liars, it would buy me some more time to avoid entering that world myself. I could extend my justification for having this huge burden of ambiguity in my life. They last thing I wanted to be was a fraud.

But here was the catch. Even though I thought that they were frauds, there was something enticing about their stories. I wanted to believe them. I hated my skepticism and cynicism. I longed for the confidence and certainty they had. Their adolescent ambiguity seemed to have been resolved. I wanted that. At least I thought I did. The way I wanted my story to go was that the ambiguity of adolescence would evaporate upon hitting the hot sun of adulthood and then life was clear. Easy? No. But clear. I wanted what they claimed to have. I wanted the illusion to be true and then to get in on the illusion.

The story did not go that way for me. The ambiguity of who I was or where I fit in this world didn’t get cleared up when I graduated from college. No, not only did it remain with me, it grew. And it grew teeth. The tricks it played on me were no longer humorous and harmless pranks; now they hurt. The story of my relationship with ambiguity took a strong turn after college.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Death and Stories

I've never believed in the oft spoken "they come in 3's" when it comes to people dying. When Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson all died recently, people started talking of people dying in 3's. The tragic murder of Steve McNair makes 4 in a week.

Death does not discriminate. It does not come in prepackaged numbers. It does not obey people's observations of it, nor does it conform itself to the beliefs people have about it. Death will not be contained, put off, or determined. Besides the fact that we all will experience it, little is and can be known about it.

Whether it is a death at a commonly accepted time (Ed McMahon), a death somewhat premature from disease (Farrah Fawcett), a death shrouded in mystery (Michael Jackson), or a death by murder born of jealousy and love/hate (Steve McNair), the finality is the same. It is over. The stories are not done being written or told. In fact, there will be a surge in stories written and told after death, but the autobiographer is gone. The story-maker is done making stories.

Also gone is the unique storehouse of history contained only within the mind and heart of the dead. There are more stories that died with the person than will even be told or written about the person.

Tell your stories. Write ytour stories. Perform your stories. Paint your stories. Sing your stories. Your story matters. Your story is a thread in the web of stories floating through life and culture. Parents, children friends, community, and culture in general deserves to hear your stories. Don't be selfish with them - let them fly.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jon and Kate

I have tried to ignore Jon and Kate, but the "news" outlets won't let me. Well, I guess they are "newsish" or "newsy," but not so much news.

I have never seen the show "Jon and Kate plus 8" and know very little about it. It all sounds so tragic what is happening. In short, the show is a reality show in which the couple has sextuplets (Super cute kids) and how life is with so many kids, but now they are divorcing. Ugh! Apparently Jon was cheating. The show has been suspended until August as the TLC tries to figure out what the heck to do. The story is sad. The reporting on it is sadder - from a cultural perspecitve.

This morning the "news" analysis was, "Now Kate is really going to be under scrutiny with the kids. Mothers are held to a higher standard and men get a pass. Everything she does will be seen through the lens of mother, but men have a lot of leeway - something she is not going to have."

That was the "newsish" analysis. Barf!!! How incredible that they simultaneously perpetuate the very stereotype that they criticize. I have to give it to them, it's job security. The underlying message is that men are less (morally, competent as parents, responsible) than women and we've all come to accept this sad, sad reality. We should feel for Kate because we all know that Jon is an ass (because he cannot help it, he is a man). If Jon is a jerk, it is because he is a jerk. We do not have to accept it and we do not have to implicate an entire gender based case study. What is so hard for me to handle is how smoothly this kind of nuanced sexism rolls off the tongue and how much it is part of the accepted vernacular. It is indefensible, and yet there is apparently no need to defend it because it manages to avoid critique.

This all on the heels of Obama's incredible Father's Day message about how valuable fathers are.
The kind of junk journalism is completely irresponsible as it adds another cultural particle to the vast cloud of cultural particles which marginalizes men and makes it harder for thems to see themselves for who they really are.

Gender wars are hideous. Women and men alike are treated so poorly - objectified (though in different ways). There is inherent value in men. There is inherent value in women. We must be about the goal of bringing about the very best in people, not expose the worst and then generalize it to everyone with some similar characteristics or the group from which they come.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let Go

You're so strong.
With all your might, you hold on;
With all your hope, you throw it all in;
With all your trust, you believe
This time it might be different;
You're so hurt.
With all your pain, you scream inside;
With all your shame, you close your eyes;
With all your failure, you deceive;
This time it will be different.
The one thing
You're afraid to do;
The one thing
That is actually new;
The one thing
That will heal wounds;
Let go.
Or didn't you know:
Strong in the wrong direction,
Might with a false intention,
Hope in a failed invention,
Trust in a cruel deception,
Is virtue poisoned,
At its very inception?
You can't be free
Holding on so tight,
You can't be free
Afraid to release,
You can't be free
When you're in control;
Let go.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Out of Context

If you think you are who you are no matter where you are, then I would suggest you've never been far enough out of context to know the difference. The meaning of everything is shaded by context - sometimes completely changed by context.

For example, if you have been a part of or associated with a majority of some kind (e.g. majority race, majority religion, economically powerful) and then find yourself as the minorty race, minority religion, or economically weak for an extended period of time, there will be stress. Although your character and personality may initially be in tact, you will find that the world around you no longer responds "like they are supposed to." Through a consistent strings of similar experiences you may find your jokes aren't funny anymore, that your assumptions about everyone apply pretty just to you, that certain language is forbidden, certain values scorned and other values lauded.

In this new and strange context, no one is going to tell you, "hey because your context changed, here are all the things that you are going to have to deal with." No, it is not that simple. And in general, no one really knows enough about it or you to be able to tell you much about what to expect. And frankly, if someone did tell you, you'd probably be offended. And because that is the case, you'll feel alone, isolated, and sometimes you'll feel insignificant.

It may take a long time to realize that this context you are in exists for real and is not going to change all that much because you are a part of it. Not only does it take way more strength to define yourself when you are out of context, but the very act of self-definition may incite the context to exert pressure on you to stop your act of self-definition. You will feel the extent to which your old and familiar context assisted your identity and how much this new context wears on it.

On the other hand, you may notice it right away, each assumption, each response, each custom - all different (wrong?). It may be obvious to you how impossible the task to single-handedly changing the context is. You may give in and change yourself, you may hole up in cloistered existence - who knows? Whatever the case, you cannot just be you in the way you were you when your context helped you be you. You are going to have to be a new kind of you.

And therein lies the rub. How can you be you differently than you were you? What about you must be marginalized in order for you to count in this new context? What must you lay down, hide, let wither in order to be found acceptable in this new place? What conversations can you never have again becasue you have arrived here? Which of your common expressions are now found obtuse or ecentric? What perfectly normal feelings make no sense to have here? How much of you can be lost while you remain yourself? Or ar you still you at all?

The power of context is immense. And, when you are in your context, that power is practically invisible. When you are out of context, its power is highlighted in blinding fashion - impossible to ignore. People whose lives are highly privileged live in their context always. If they recognize there is another context at all, they have the power not to be in it. People who are underprivileged live out of their context - inside someone else's power structure. They do not have the power to live in their own context. Or, they may not believe that they even have a context relevant to their identity.

If all there was to Heaven was that everyone genuinely treated each other like they belonged, that they mattered, that without them this place would be worse off, wouldn't that be enough?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gail in surgery: Ponderings

The Facts:
Gail is in surgery right now at Fairview Ridges Regional Hospital in Burnsville, MN. She is having a dermoid cyst removed from her ovary. The cyst being removed is the size of racketball. To me, that is large. Gail was calm and ready as she was rolled into the operating room. We talked for about an hour in pre-op as we waited for the surgeon to get done with the emergency c-section she got called away to do. We talked some, laughed a little, and just enjoyed being together. There was no need to discuss risks or fears or concerns. We've prayed and called on our friends to pray.

For Gail to enter surgery peaceful and confortable shows her faith. Although dermoid cysts are almost always non-cancerous, there is the very, very slight chance that one may be cancerous. Since cancer is in Gail's family history, the spectre of cancer does try to make its presence known when words like "tumor" are used by the surgeon. But that fear is not with us today.

The Kiss
When they finally took Gail back to the OR, we had to part ways. As it has been a habit of ours ever since either of us can remember, we kiss and say, "I love you," before parting ways. It has always been that way. No matter if we are mad at each other, this habit overrides the anger or hurt feelings. So, when they were about to take Gail back, we did out habit. We kissed and told each other, "I love you." It was a very sweet kiss.

There are many kisses shared by spouses. There are passionate kisses where the whole body is thrown into it. There are little kisses meant to take away fear or pain. There are reminder kisses meant to continue the story that there is love in this relationship. There are desperate kisses meant to draw one to the other. There are celebration kisses that serve no other purpose than to mark some important event was worth celebrating.

And I suppose that there is a certain kind of kiss reserved for that moment when one of you is wheeled into the OR - the "pre-op kiss." This kind of kiss affirms the one going under the knife that everything is going to work out. It is a kiss of confidence and hope and optimism. This kiss says, "I am with you no matter what." It says that this surgery is not coming between us. It is a down payment on the kind of care that will be waiting for them when the surgery is over. The pre-op kiss is vulnerable and hopeful, weak and strong, and one of the most trusting kises there is. And somewhere in that kiss is the reassurance that should anything go wrong, our last contact was special and represents the kind of love we have.

Gail and I got the blessing of the "pre-op" kiss.

The Waiting
I am waiting in the very nice waiting room...thinking. The room has a TV on no one is watching. A few people sit scattered about the room sitting as far as they can from each other. I am grateful for wifi.When someone you love is in surgery, there is this feeling of powerless anticipation. All you can do is wait. You can't press time forward. You can't make any imporvements on the surgery. The work of waiting, perhaps praying, is the task of the one waiting.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Research Creed

Research is a privilege.
With this privilege come obligations, responsibilities and personal truths.

My field is counting on me to be disciplined, focused, creative and productive.
My field deserves the best of me:
I will take care of my mind, body, and soul.
I will rest when I am tired.
I will eat healthy.
I will remain spiritually connected.
My field depends on me to learn and create knowledge.
I am forever a learner and therefore forever ignorant of many things.
I will respond to my own ignorance in humility.
I will respond to my ignorance in confidence.
I will be motivated to learn by my ignorance.
I will ask questions.
Critics and the critiques they offer are essential to my growth as a researcher.
I will receive, appreciate, and consider critique.

It is my responsibility to create knowledge

My current emotional state, whether high, low, or flat is not reason enough to change my mind, pursue different goals, or otherwise forsake my place in the field.
Complaining, procrastinating, making excuses and giving up is irresponsible. Such action is poor stewardship of my privilege – a squandering of resources.

I am competent.
There is no method I cannot learn.
There is no theory I cannot grasp.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Trajectory of Grief

Tomorrow marks three years since my father died. March 28th, 2006 is forever etched on my soul as the day my father's life left his body and went somewhere else - Heaven I believe. It is a heavy day for me as it marks a time when I no longer had direct access to him.

Since his death, my life has been practically nothing but graduate school. Although very hard (with more challenges to come), it has been a fairly decent context for grief. The rigor has forced me to work hard on it and at the same time given me something to be distracted by. However, I would have preferred to slog through graduate school while talking with him about it. He would have been interested. He would have lived vicariously through me.

Yes, my father was very intelligent, like many in his family. However, his intelligence was vastly underutilized. His potential stretched way beyond his performance and I believe he would have loved to have a front row seat watching me get a PhD. It would have been a sort of redemption for him. He would have been a participant in this journey of mine.

In fact, this journey of mine remains a redemption for him. The reasons he did not reach his intellectual potential are deep and painful and I will not visit them in this post. But I will say that he endured a lot of pain and took many blows so others would not have to - including me. Granted, he passed on some of those as well. But ion the end, I guess you could say that he watered down the poison just enough for me to be able to pursue some things in my life that might not have been possible otherwise. I am grateful to be where I am. When I hold a paper that gives me the title of "doctor", I will think of my father and feel I have done him right.


Now three years out from his death, I can see the trajectory of grief for me (thusfar). Today I am sad. I have occasional bursts of grief, but they are less frequent. When I think of his voice, when I see him in my mind, when smell his scent, it's like he is just out of reach. No, it's like he lives too far away and it is hard to visit. But then the truth is that there is no where on Earth to go where he is. All I can find of him is in my mind, in the stories family members tell each other, and the few scraps of pictures we have of him.


For the first two decades of my life, I had learned to hate my father. He was no saint, to be sure, and a quiet rage simmered within me (probably similar to the rage that boiled in him). Mine exploded at age 24. I was at a crossraods. I could either take the pathway of bitterness or the pathway of forgiveness. For many reasons I will not go into here, the pat I took was forgiveness. We had an unforgettable conversation filled with deep and loud weeping and hugging and words of love and reconciliation. It was the sweetest moment of my life to that point. It gets sweeter as I age.

I was finally able to talk with my father. The value of a son talking with his father is impossible to calculate. Where else does a boy learn who he is? Where else does he learn courage? Where else does he learn the balance of asserting himself honestly and giving proper respect? Yes, there are adequate substitutes and ways to patch together a social mosiac which compensates for the absent father, but there is no replacement for the real thing. A dry, cracked, and aching emptiness in me began to get filled...

...and I still had so much I wanted to say, to hear, to know. When my father died I lost the chance to get that filling up from him - the only one who could do it. I can't know some things now because he was the only source of that knowledge. It's gone forever.

My hope is that I am and will provide my children with those first 25 years of their life in real time and not have to try to make up for it later.

OK, enough for now.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I had a conversation with a respected professor a couple years ago about research. I struggled with crunching numbers and writing up a paper that would wind up in a scholarly journal. Who would read it? What would they do with it? Would it collect dust in library shelves and go unread?

Being trained as a therapist and having practiced for years, I have had the privilege of seeing an immediate response to my efforts. When I did my job in therapy, I got to be witness to the impact of my work. I confess, when I get to participate in a person's healing or growth, it is exhilerating.

Comparing the immediate response of therapy to the indirect and likely never known impact of research, it was hard to see research as all that relevant. My very wise prof said that I was comparing impact. Who is being imapcted? How are they being impacted? Who does what with the information I participate in creating?

Both therapy and research can contribute to changed lives. Is there irrelevant research? Yep. Is there impotent therapy? Yep. Either can add nothing or even be detrimental. The point is that whatever I do I should do it with integrity and with all my effort.

I am a scientist-practitioner who will also write some cool non-research stuff. My goal is to have multiple impacts on this world. But I desire to have impact no matter what.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Faith and Fear

If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.

Fear is the most important concept in that sentence, as I see it today. C. S. Lewis mentioned that grief was so much like fear. For me, his description rings true.

Fear is a paralyzing, destabliizing, and insidious force. Fear, rather than hate or indifference, may be the opposite of love. Whether it is love's exact opposite is irrelevant, fear is far from love. And yet grief enters in feeling like fear or perhaps bringing fear with it.

Fear cannot be negotiated with or thought away. Fear responds only to action. This quote is call to courage in response to fear to do something counter to fear. Fear left to ahve free reign occupies all emotional, mental, psychological and spiritual space. Action demonstrates to fear that it is not allowed to own a soul.

And yet action must arise from conviction, no matter how small or doubted that conviction might be. It is no small matter to take a single action in the presence of fear because it requires the extent of courage which exists.

Even little things, in the presence of great fear, are incredibly courageopus, even if objectively insiginficant. It is the relative sigificance that matters. No one can know the extent of another's courage until they know the extent of their fear.

Fear visits me as I am watching and sharing the grief of my friends. It calls for me to quit, to despair, to roll over. And the call has a convincing logic. The death of a child is a fearful and compelling argument. God's love is a tough thing to understand in this time. This is where the rubber of my faith meets the road of this world.

But it looks like the choice is clear, despair or believe. And I believe. I am in no position to make a great argument for the case of faith, but I believe that there is life after this life and that death is a mystical mediating process from this life to the next - like birth is a mediating (and from my observations a painful) process from womb-life to life outside the womb.

I lean on the story of Jesus raising from the dead and trust that being raised is the result for us all. In the conext of fear and pain, faith is much less easy to discern. However, having the story of Christ and all of the evidence of God all over the world does not disappear when a piece of the life we live does not make sense. It just places seemingly conflicting things right next to each other.

I think I'll end with this: faith makes at least as much sense as despair in the loss of a child. And to be sure, these will jockey for position. The work of grief is in large part the work of faith. It is the undoing of fear's imposition into life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I just do not understand

Some very dear friends of mine just lost their son. He got a MRSA infection and in less than two weeks he was gone.

I can't get my mind around this loss. The great desire is to ask, to scream "Why?" And yet there is no hope for an answer. And if there were an answer, would it do any good? No.

I am deeply saddened. My friend's lives are changed forever. A huge piece of their lives, with a million little strings attached to him, is gone, and now those million little strings hang, they dangle loosely with no tension.

I want to be with them, but they are 1000 miles away. I don't know what I could do were I to be there, but I know that is where I want to be. I thinking about making a trip.

The thought keeps piercing my heart...he's gone. I resist. My disbelief fights so hard for credibility, and yet sets itself up for pain. He is gone. Nothing in me wants to believe this, but I have no choice. It's like I want to say, "he's not gone, it must be something else," but it isn't ever going to be something else. Everything has come to a screeching halt.

Death is so imposing, unrelenting, and cruel. It only takes. It gives nothing - ever.

It is times like these that make the resurrection story so appealing. It is the only hope. If we could see things from the other side, it might look differently. We might see death as a mediator between life and LIFE. And yet we must cling to the life that there is here, for it all we have access to. And we must accept that death, for whatever reason, gets a say so.

God, please surround my friends with people who can tolerate their intense grief, embrace their souls, people who are tireless and wise. Put people in their lives who can take care of menial tasks, who will cook the food and clean their house. Bless them with hope. Let them lean on their faith with the weight of their pain and doubt...and find their faith bouyed by something true. Please show yourself to them in their darkest hour. Let them cry in your presence.

Friday, January 09, 2009


If there is one thing that I am learning in doctoral studies, it is this: balance. The demands of program are great. The rigor is more than I have ever experienced. The expectations are high. The rewards are intoxicating (at times).

And yet, it is not my professors, not my advisor, not my research mentors, and not my professional associations that I go home to at the end of the day. It is my family. My family holds trumps cards and veto power. I have just walked away from opportunities, some potentially great ones, for the sake of my family. I wish I could say it was always a no-brainer. I wrestled with many of them. But in the end, there are mnay people who can take advantage of these opportunities. I am the only one who can go home to my family.

My family does not measure my success by my GPA, number of publications, awards or fellowships. My success is measured in engaged time with them. End of discussion. I must not ask too much of my family, because they will probably give it...and I will lose out along with them. There is no award more rewarding than my family. Any break through research which is seemingly essential to humanity fails to match the importance reading stories with my family, eating dinner with them, reading the Bible and praying with them. My research, if I am very good, is likely to be obsolete a decade after it is in print. The memories made with my children will impact them and their children and their after them.

I want balance in my life. Neglecting my family for the sake of research would be to give in to an empty seduction.

Family first. And then there is the other stuff.