Where do I go from here?

October 30, 2008

I’ve been told and read over and over that goal setting is key for a person like myself to keep focused, not only for the long term, but also for short term. More mundane, everyday tasks that everyone seems to – for me, the mundane, everyday tasks are as hard as a fourth grader completing a physics equation.

I’ve been reading a book that has been equally both enlightening and terrifying. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life is a book for those who struggle with things like depression, ADD, anger, obsessive-compulsive behavior – to which (if I can be transparent) these things are not foreign.

Through this book, I am beginning to see, for the first time in my life, why I think the way I do, and perhaps even why I struggle in the areas that hold me back from achieving my potential.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my potential – what am I going to do in six months, a year, five years down the road. My pastor, and personal hero Erwin McManus always says,  “the decisions you make today, affect your future tomorrow, what type of future are you creating for yourself?” I’ve been asking myself that very same question. What future am I creating for myself?

Lately as I begin to look forward into the future through the lens of my past choices, I have become sobered by the reality that eventually, at some point I am going to have to deal with some of the issues that I have been burring in the deepest caverns of my soul.

I am writing this from the old Fort Myers Army Base in San Francisco, California. I am on a cold cement rest area that over looks the bay.

From here I can see old army barracks where the paint is fading, a third of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, the infamous prison island that was created to be the most secure penitentiary in the country.

It’s almost ironic that from the outside all of these things are interesting places to see. Tourists with fanny packs and moms with strollers come here by the millions every year and yet below the shallow surface of tourism all these things have a past, a dark past that don’t look very good in the three by five.

This army base, the very base where I am at right now, trained the soldiers to assonate Japanese during World War II. The Golden Gate Bridge, as magnificent as it is, is the very sport where dozens of people every year come to in their deepest moments of despair to step into one final act of passion to end their life.  Alcatraz Island harbored some the most dangerous criminals in the area, the place where no one could escape, the place where dreams and hopes and futures faded away and human lives were reduced to the life of a caged rat – kept alive by food and water – but the soul was executed a little bit more everyday.

Just as to look at these attractions and not fully understand the history that surrounds the stone and steal that make up such extraordinary structures – I believe it’s hard for people to understand who I am based upon my outward appearance alone. We all have a past, a struggle, passions, and a uniquely shaped worldview that is a catalyst to how we not only observe the world around us, but also how we engage it.

I would also go as far to say not only how we engage the world, but also how we engage our own self-worth even our own future. If it’s the choices that affect our future, I would say that our worldview is how we arrive at our choices.

If all this is true – if it is possible to shape our own future by the choices in the now, then that leads me to believe that I am not bound and enslaved to the mistakes and faulty worldview of my distant and even not-so distant past.

What if I just decided to start over? What if I decided to try and escape the pattern of choices that I find myself in? What if I step into a life where I can achieve my potential – the potential that I believe God is calling towards? To accomplish such a thing would require a radical and unbelievable step in a new direction.

The book that I keep coming back to in my thoughts are a book that I mentioned in a previous blog. The Shack, by William P. Young is probably, by far the single most thought-provoking book I have ever read. Not only is it an amazing piece of literature that has raised the bar for modern Christian narrative, but it has ministered and will continue to minister to my soul in unbelievable ways.

Right now, as I step into a new season, a transformation in my life, I find myself in The Shack. I am finding myself having to face fears; struggles examine my own choices and think about my relationship not only with God, but also with other people.

I have to come to grips that I am an extremely selfish person that demands that Christian’s must think and act like I do in order for me to respect them. I am dealing with my own insecurity, pride and apathy. I have lied, manipulated and deceived.

Some of you might not have known that I have struggled in such areas, some of you know all to well. I guess I am at the point now where I am placing all my chips on the table and totally trusting God to see me through this.

My favorite question when people (especially Christians) say things like this is “Okay, well what does that mean exactly?”

The past month or so I’ve been really trying to reflect and process what I want to accomplish over the next year. These aren’t small, insignificant decisions that won’t require much effort.

Last week, while in Arizona my coworker and I decided to go camping near the Grand Canyon National Park. The first morning I was there, I grabbed a yellow legal pad and a pen and before the sun had risen I snuck off west down a two lane windy road towards the canyon. Under the cover of the moon, I made my way to the park entrance and parked at the first look out. There was an older couple; they looked my way as I approached – then returned their gaze to the dark abyss. I walked a little further and found a rock that extended beyond the cliff about four feet or so. I walked out and sat Indian style on the cold, damp rock. The condensation from the desert night rock sent shivers up my spine as I pulled my dark grey Cornerstone hoodie up and put my hands inside of my sleeves.

The air was cold, damp and I could faintly see my breath under the yellow glow of the moon and an orange parking lot light off in the distance. I sat quiet, while my teeth began to chatter, I began to shake as my body temperature began to decline.

I sat there a few minutes before the first glimpse of light began to peek over the horizon. The light began to paint the sides of the canyon with different hues of red and orange. Light filled the canyon like water flowing into a bucket. As the dark submitted to the majestic glow of the sun, the first chapter of Genesis came to mind.

I imagined being there at creation, when light was first created – the dark, vast emptiness of the universe gave way to light and the first colors began to surface. Shades of blues, reds, yellow began to splash across the canvas of the cosmos illumined by the dark contrast of the light-years of distance that separated the painter’s strokes of creativity.

As the sun hit my face, warmth wrapped me in its arms like a protective mother – millions of small indentations formed all over my arms and extremities. As smile washed over my face as I sat in awe of the majestic spectacle that was appearing before my eyes.

As I sat and focused my eyes on the bigness of the canyon, a sudden breeze from canyon jolted the bright yellow pad and silver pen. I picked up the pad and pen and stared at the blue parallel lines on the page. I took the cap off and placed it in my hooded sweatshirt pocket and touched the tip of the pen to the paper.

I wrote at the top in capital letters:

“MY GOALS FOR THIS YEAR.”

I looked out over the canyon, and said a prayer, asking God to guide my thoughts and my pen. I gave him this year, this list and asked him to give me the strength to accomplish everything he desires for me.

Five minutes later I had nothing. The pressure of this moment began to make me anxious. I thought about getting up and leaving but I felt a strong sense just to start writing.

“I’ve never been good at goal setting,” I wrote on the clean yellow page. “I guess I don’t have the discipline. I also think that if you don’t set goals, you don’t fail yourself either. I can think of more times than I failed then succeed in my life.”

I continued.

“Like the time when I was 11 and I asked my little league coach if I could be a pitcher. He gave me a look and said, ‘we’ll’ see. I started to practice with my dad in the back yard and I finally that day came when the coach called my name in the top of the fifth inning to pitch relief. I stepped on the mound feeling like a king, Nolan Ryan, Pedro Rodriguez – that was I. I grabbed the chalk bag, tossed it up and down then dropped it behind me. With a wad of bubble tape in my mouth, I took the stance, began my wind up and released the ball as hard as I could towards home plate. As I completed my follow through I looked up to see my first pitch of my career hit the batter right in the shoulder nearly missing his neck.”

The rest of the game wasn’t much better. I think I threw a total of five or six strikes and walked three batters.

I guess over the years I have learned that goals are away of setting yourself up for failure. When you write it down, when the ink soaks into the pulp, it becomes permanent, sure you can crinkle the page up and toss it in the garbage, but for that moment you are held accountable by the strokes of your own pen.

As I began to write out goal after goal, my insecurities came rushing in like a flood through a broken levy. Failure after failure surface in my mind as I try to convince myself that it’s in the past.

I guess in this moment looking down, staring at a list of task after task that seem so much bigger than the small letters on the yellow page. I feel like giving up, cashing in my chips and taking one final passionate leap into the vast abyss.

Where am I going? What am I doing? Why can’t my soul be satisfied in my present place? What is to say that when I step into these goals that I will find myself at the same place, wanting, wishing and hoping for more.

I was — in this blog; going to list out my goals for this year. Goals of pursuing my dreams and creating this romantic life of nomadic and creative wonder. A life of abandoning the American dream and trying to better the world in which I live. I guess though in this moment, I just want to make it through the next 7 months of my job and still have my soul intact.

The more I try to create a future for myself the more over whelming it all seems. Honestly tonight I have had thoughts of going back home to Dubuque, and getting my old job back and trying to pick up where I left off. I miss my family, friends and my church. I miss stability.

I am not sure of what I want until I get what I don’t want. And when I step into those moments where I achieve and accomplish, I doubt the goal in the first place.

So what is wrong with me? What am I lacking? Should I pray more? Read more?

There is a fire and burden deep within my bones to move forward but I have no idea where I am going. I have a thirst that is not quenched, a hunger that has not been satisfied.

“Good evening and welcome to our church,” said small, middle-aged women whom forcefully reached for my hand. Her hand was sweaty and small; the sharp nails of her small fingers dug into my palm as I firmly grasped her hand, simultaneously moving up and down.

“Good evening and thanks,” I said with a half smile, all while trying to retrieve my hand. I began to move past her as she stepped forward blocking my path.

“You’re new here aren’t you,” she said still smiling.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said mustering up my smile again. I didn’t want to talk to her. I didn’t want to know her name or where the bathrooms were, I just wanted to go into the auditorium, find a seat, sip my Fiji water and enjoy the service in solitude.

I could tell that wasn’t going to happen.

“What’s your name?” she said as she stepped in front of my path once again. Instantly I felt like I was in the mall, and I just got suckered into a soap sales pitch by one of those gorgeous Israeli women. Although this woman was neither gorgeous or Israeli – she was a greeter who was trained to make people like me feel welcome.

She was failing – miserably.

“My name is Patrick,” I said. “And yours?”

“Marilyn,” she said never breaking from her smile. I was beginning to wonder if she practiced smiling at home, training her cheeks for hours to never break from the facial posture. “And where are you from?”

I know if I answer this question it was going to open the shallow conversation floodgates. Granted, from the outside, I have an interesting life and it was sure to invite a plethora of probing questions.

Now I totally understand that a church is a faith community coming together to celebrate, grow and serve.  I guess what I don’t understand is, is why do churches think that welcoming visitors has to look like this.

Let’s shift gears and deviate from my story just for a bit.

I travel a lot, everyday in fact. Every night I find myself in a different hotel room in a different city. There are few places these days where I can just go to relax and let my guard down.

Bookstores are my home away from home. That’s right, I am a nerd.

I love bookstores. I am a bookstore addict. Borders or Barnes and Noble is a holy place for me. The sights, the smell, and the conversations — I love it all.

I feel at home the moment I open the large wooden doors. With my large, soy cappuccino warming my hand – my soul begins to rejoice in this literary and intellectual paradise.

I spend hours here, reading and having conversations with the most random people. Sometimes I slip my iPod in my side pocket, sit and read in solitude; sometimes I join in on conversations about business, poetry or politics.

Anyway, back to Mrs. Church Greeter.

“I’m currently living in Los Angeles,” I say making a half of a step towards the auditorium.

“Wow that’s a long way from up here,” Marilyn said stepping in front of my path once again.  “What are you doing way up here?”

“For my job,” I said. “Nothing exciting really.”

“And what is…” she attempted to ask me the usual follow-up question before I interrupted her.

“Well, it was nice meeting you Marilyn, looks like the service is starting,” I said extending my hand once again. She paused, glanced in the direction of the auditorium and in a moment of confusion her smile faded into a brief look of disappointment.

“Looks that way,” she said. “Enjoy the service then.”

I walk into the auditorium and found my seat near the back. The purple, plush auditorium chairs felt nice as I sat down enjoying the solitude. The band began their set and I began to relax, spending some much needed time with God.

After three songs, the worship leader approached the microphone as the rest of the band scattered in different directions.

I knew what was coming. I could feel it in my bones and I mentally prepared myself for what was about to occur.

“Thanks for coming tonight, and stand up and meet at least three people.”

“Here we go again,” I thought to my self while I wiped my moist hand off on my jeans.

“Hi there, I’m Patrick,” I say to one person. I recieved a nod and a firm hand shake back from a man in his fifties.

“Hi there, I’m Patrick,” I say to a teenage guy who gives me a dead fish and turns away.

“Hi there, I’m Patrick,” I say to a cute girl in her twenties. Maybe this won’t be as bad as I thought, I think to myself.

“Hi there, I’m Beth and this is my husband Chris.”

Frick.

“Hi there, I’m Patrick,” I say to him. He shakes my hand and we all sit down.

As I sit and try to wipe the germs from strangers off on my jeans I question why do I put myself through this every week.

Why can’t I just walk in and attain the same anonymity as I do in bookstores. I mean sure, if I want to talk to someone at Barnes, I feel totally comfortable to do so. Whether the café worker or a bookseller or sometimes even a total stranger – I feel socially safe in bookstores. I have no pressure for forced social interaction.

I mean could you imagine this situation going down at Barnes and Nobel. A woman with a plastic smile who greets you at the door, asks you your name and all these probing questions about what you do and won’t allow you to do what you originally came to do, read and relax.

Then after you do escape greeter girl, after about 10 minutes into your coffee and latest copy of ‘Wired’ you hear the following announcement over the store intercom.

“Good evening Barnes and Nobel guests, we wanted to take a few minutes and have you greet one other, so go ahead and shake three hands of people you don’t know and ask them what their favorite café drink is, which by the way is located right near our travel section.”

Churches need to learn that you can’t force community. And as absurd as the Barnes and Nobel situation is, this happens every week all over the country, most likely at your church.

Community happens in the form of small groups and above all relationships that form naturally. These relationships don’t stem from 30-second awkward meet and greets in a large group context. Community happens in living rooms, over a dark brew, a dark roast or around a kitchen table. Nowhere else in my life — but the church am I expected to engage in such of awkward social encounter.

Church marketing isn’t just about advertising or your web site, it is about the overall church experience. Companies like Apple Stores and Starbucks place a huge priority on customer experience and what they do isn’t revolutionary or cost a lot of money. They achieve a balance of customer service and being respectful of personal space.

Here are some ways your church can improve your marketing by way of visitor experience:

1.    Do away with door greeters and install a welcome center.
Let people approach volunteer staff with questions. Provide the visitor center with campus maps, bibles and general church information. People are used to approaching store personal with questions, this extends to the church.

2.    Give people space.

This doesn’t mean you can introduce yourself, but be conscience of body language. Some people want to be alone, be respectful of that.

3.    Avoid any sort of forced social interaction.

It just plain sucks to have to be forced to shake hands with people you don’t know, didn’t want to meet and don’t (let’s be honest) care about. Never force visitors to do anything.

4.    Never, ever single visitors out.

Never have the visitors stand up. This is a sure fire way to have a zero return rate for visitors.

5.    Throw a 10-minute party.

After the service have a 10-minute party exclusively for visitors. Visitors won’t mind being around other noobs. Have some free coffee, resources and be around to answer questions. But don’t be pushy, mirror body language and don’t be afraid to ask deeper questions. And as long as visitors have a choice in attending, they will probably check it out within the first couple times of checking out your church.

Just be real, promote an authentic atmosphere by letting people have their space. Spend sometime in a bar or a coffee shop, do some research and observe how the environment is set up, how people interact.

And above all, wash your hands before you shake my hand.

Christian music does suck…

September 19, 2008

Christian Music Sucks

So that might be slightly presumptuous to make a blanket statement to say that all Christian music sucks, however for me, as I peruse “Christian and Gospel” section of the iTunes store I am utterly/shockingly disappointed.

Where is the creativity? Where is the originality, the authenticity and the artistic integrity? God can save me from hell, but can he save me from Christian music?

As an artist I am hesitant to discount any creative endeavor as “sucky”. Good music, like a good painting is in the eye of the person viewing said art, or in this case listening the cut.

Moreover though, I would go as far to say that over the years my own musical pallet and overall musical understanding has grown and there-for looking at (or listening to) Christian music as a whole, I can pretty much conclude that it pretty much blows.

Or maybe it’s like this; to the extent you like, or dislike a piece of music is solely dependent on your understanding of what truly great and creative music is.

For instance, if you grew up listening to old Porter Wagner records and, let’s say as a 34 year old rock virgin you heard Britney Spears or maybe David Hasselhoff’s single ‘Hooked on a feeling’ you might think it’s amazing. Your conclusion (what good music is) might in this case be somewhat justified due to your narrow musical field of vision.

When I was fourteen I decided to step into a relationship with Jesus Christ. It was a big deal, I really enjoyed my young faith community and I was eager to acclimate to the culture of the group.

There was a fall night of my freshman year where one of the youth pastors presented this message about music and it’s influences on our relationship with God. He said things like, “There is so much good Christian music out there, and there is no reason to listen to secular music.”

That night we had something they called a sin burn where I proceeded to burn all of my secular music. Strangely enough my older brother who was in college at the time, had me hooked on eighties music. I through disk after disk of such bands as Depeche Mode, The Smith’s, The Cars and I watched them melt before my very eyes.

To me it didn’t matter, to me this was holiness. I was separating myself from the world and listening to music that glorified God. With every wiff of burning plastic, I could sense that God was smiling in approval.

In lieu of Polygon Window and Beck, I started listening to DC Talk, OC Supertones and Audio Adrenaline. At the time I loved these bands, I loved them because my friends loved them. I memorized the lyrics, I learned to play covers on the acoustic – Christian music was my ticket into Christian community.

My dad almost cried when he heard what I was playing out of my old Sony stereo system that had been past down from my two older brothers. Instead of blaring Pink Floyd or Hendrix these old 12 inch speakers were now amplifying ‘I Don’t Want It’ – a song by DC Talk that was all about the sin of premarital sex.

I was raised in a very musical family. My parents always had really great music playing growing up. From John Coltrane to the Stray Cats, from Mozart to Huey Lewis, we always had music on and you could imagine the shock of my family when I started listening to worship albums.

It’s a phase they said.

And after about eleven years of denial of said phase, I am ready to admit that I think Christian Music Sucks.

It is my belief that Christian music is just another way for Christians to escape culture and indulge in the spiritual masturbation that is Christian pop culture.

As Christians, we should be the most creative people on the planet. My pastor Erwin McManus whom greatly look up to — when talking about church relevancy says this, “I am sick and tired of being relevant, relevant means that someone else got their first and I am trying to connect, we need to stop being relevant and start leading the way.”

The music that represents God should be the best music on the planet. The music that is represented by His bride here on earth should be music that the world stops and listens to and wonders where such art comes from.

I sometimes get the idea that Christians think that heaven will be one big Chris Tomlin concert, or Michael W. Smith concert, or Bill Gaither concert. We love our music don’t we, we love our music so much that we develop Christian radio stations, start Christian record labels, open Christian bookstores to sell only Christian music and attend Christian concerts where only Christians attend and only Christian bands are allowed to play.

I want to know of the latest and best music out there right now, not because I want to be cool or hip, but because I want to know the culture that God has placed me in. Music is a creative expression of where people are at, what they are saying and how they are feeling. We have a great tool to understanding the minds of those whom we are called to reach — it’s called an indie music store.

Show me a Christian who only listens to Christian music, and I’ll show you a Christian who has lost touch with the culture in which we are commanded to reach.

For a biblical understanding of what I am talking about, read Acts 17. Paul observes and learns the culture in which he engages. He quotes the culture’s poetry back to the philosophers and intellectuals at Mars Hill.

Paul was a rocker, and so am I.

“We need to turn around dude.” I sad to Boone. Boone is my traveling partner for the semester. He is a quiet southern guy from Kentucky. “I’ll pull in this access road and we’ll start heading back.” “Um dude,” I said with some anxiety on my voice. “The ranger has his lights on and is blocking us in.”

“I think he wants you to turn around,” Boone said in his usual calm state. “We are in an authorized vehicle road.”

“I was just turning around, he has to know that”

Driving from Phoenix, Arizona to Joseph City, Arizona we needed to kill sometime before we could check into our hotel for the night. So turns out there isn’t much to do in the middle of the desert in Northern Arizona.

At one point we saw signs for the largest crater in North America. We both looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders and took the exit.

As a kid my dad never let us go to tourist traps. We would see a sign for the largest ball of twine or a two-headed dog, and my brothers and I would beg and plead but my parents would just tell us to sit back and stop begging.

I am twenty-five now, if I wan to see the worlds largest ball of twine I should be able to. So we drove, and drove and arrived at a parking lot where old men with black socks and sandals where digging through their luggage for batteries for their cameras and the old women were packing their ham and cheese sandwiches.

We hopped out of the van with all of the enthusiasm that we can muster. We walked up the hot cement stairs to the gate where a middle-aged woman in a ranger uniform was selling tickets.

“Fifteen bucks..!” I said shockingly. “There is no effing way.”

Boone didn’t say much, just mumbled something about wanting to save money anyway and we hopped back in the van.

“What a rip off,” I said as I adjust the radio. “So much for tourist traps, they blow.”

We continued driving east towards Albuquerque till we saw a brown sign that said “National Petrified Forest 10 miles ahead.” Brown signs were safer. They weren’t hand painted and they usually didn’t cost much money.

We made the jaunt to another gate where another ranger poked her head out of a small brown shack.

“Good afternoon boys.” The ranger said with a grin. “You boys wantin’ a day pass?”

“Yes ma’am,” I said.
“That will be ten dollars,” she said and began to reach for a map and some other information.  I looked at Boone and he said sure and handed me a crinkled, moist ten-dollar bill. I took it from him and handed it to the lady ranger.

She handed us various paper work and we begain our drive into the park. I have to admit I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. As we drove in there were large shops and a tourist center, a large parking lot and a road that exceeded into the park.

“Let’s keep driving,” I said. We followed a minivan into the park and watch them slow every five hundred feet or so and stick their arms out of the window to snap pictures.

As far as we could see and both directions we looked at what looked like a huge valley of white mounds, and large brown rocks. We kept driving till we found a pull off and we slowed and parked.

We got out of our white van, and I opened the side door to reach my suitcase. “Kind of hard to hike in flip flops,” I said to Boone as started walking away and taking pictures.

I changed into my Converse, chucked my wallet and phone into the van and jogged over to where Boone was at.

“Huh, we’ll I’ll be,” I said in my Gomer Pile voice. “Let’s go look at some wood.”

We slid down a small ravine to where the valley of white mounds and large brown rocks and begain our Petrified Forest Hike.

It really was pretty cool I have to admit. As a guy who is more impressed by an Apple store than a natural wonder these fallen trees/rocks were intriguing. I mean after all, it looked like wood, but to the touch and the weight told you it was a rock. I must have missed petrified wood week in science class.

After a long and adventurous hike we made our way back to the van. On the way back I saw some small rocks that I thought were pretty sweet so I picked up a couple and put them in my cargo pockets. I also grabbed a small, petrified piece of wood and proceeded to the van. Boone had grabbed some rocks to and we compared our findings when we got in th van. We drank some water, shook the rock and sand out of our shoes and begain our way back.

“Can we get out this way,” I asked.

“Not sure,” Boone responded.

“We’ll, let’s have a looks see,” I said.

We began to drive in the same direction as to which we came. “That was fun Boone,” I said. “Now I think I am going to have to turn around.”

Boone broke out the folded map that the ranger gave us and he said yeah it doesn’t lead anywhere.

“We need to turn around dude.” I sad to Boone — my traveling partner for the semester. “I’ll pull in this access road and we’ll start heading back.” “Um dude,” I said with some anxiety on my voice. “The ranger has his lights on and is blocking us in.”

“I think he wants you to turn around,” Boone said in his usual calm state. “We are in an authorized vehicle road.”

“Please pull forward so you’re off the shoulder.” A loud, monotone, stoic voice came from the white and black Chevy Tahoo that was blocking us in from behind.

“He’s getting out Boone,” I said growing more and more nervous. “What does he want? I wonder if it’s because we are driving an unmarked, white, commercial van with California plates.”

Boone was silent.

As the Federal Park Ranger approached the van he looked it up and down. He stopped about half way to my door and yelled at me to get out of the car.

I slowly opened the door and from my years of watching cop shows I knew to keep my hands in the air where he could see them. I moved slow as he told me to step about 10 feet away from the van, when he ordered Boone to do the same thing.

He walked over to me and asked me if I had anything on me.

“Um no sir, I mean I have my wallet and my phone,” I said completely intimidated.

“Sir spread your feet and place your hands behind your hands behind your back,” The medium build Ranger told me. He was about 40, shaved head, goatee an a pair of black wire framed sun glasses. “Place your wrists and knuckles together.”

“Um, sir, am I being arrested,” I asked with now an all out quiver in my voice. The thought of blowing my shows flashed through my mind. Then having to be bailed out of prison by my parents…”

“Not yet,” The Ranger mumbled under his breath as he began to pat me down.

“NOT YET, NOT YET?! What does that mean?” I thought  to my self as he continued to reach in my pockets.

“Would it be a problem if I searched your van.” The Ranger asked in a serious manner.

“No, go right ahead.” I replied.

“Do you have any firearms, drugs or petrified wood, rocks or any wildlife,” he asked.

“No…no,” I said almost laughing. “Wait, did you say wood or rocks?” I asked.

“Yes” he said. “So you’re saying you do.”

“Umm, so we kind of picked some up while we were hiking,” I responded.

“Where are the rocks and petrified wood at in the van?” He asked.

“Um, in the center consol.”

With that he went right to the center consol, pulled out the rocks and disappeared behind his truck.

“They really take this serious don’t they Boone?” I asked. Boone was silent, again.

“You’re not a talker are ya Boone,” I said. “Jeez, you would think we were smuggling crack or something, I think we should make a break for it, I can haul ass in flip flops.”

Nope not crack — rocks. We “stole” a total of 6 small rocks that between each of us totaled about a pound.  He then proceeded to search the entire white van, meticulously searching ever bag, box and compartment.

After about twenty minutes of standing there watching him pull out our clothes, laptops and show gear we ordered us back in the van.  Another twenty minutes he came back to the drivers side window with two yellow tickets and our drivers licenses.

“I take it those aren’t speeding tickets,” I said trying to calm my nerves with humor.  (No response from Ranger Joe)

“Good thing we didn’t steal picnic baskets,” I whispered to Boone. Boone chuckled the slightest bit.

We drove away humiliated, annoyed and humbled. Boone took a glance at some of the literature and noticed an entire half sheet devoted to warning you not to take rocks, petrified wood or wildlife from the park. The warning was amplified by (in red letters) minimum fine $345.

“I guess we should have read that before we found our souvenirs,” I said

“Guess so,” Boone responded.

“Brilliant,” I said, “Simply brilliant.

I haven’t written for a while; so much has happed, so much is different. The contrast between life now and life six even two months ago is unbelievable to me. I stepped into a new job, in a new city and have found myself surrounded by completely new people.

People – I am learning to love them. For the past year I have been in island, separating myself from community and relationships. Being a freelance designer, I would sit in my empty apartment, sit behind the warm glow of my mac, work on projects and listen to music. For the most part it was beautiful, wake up when I want to, watch any movie I wanted when I wanted. Never had any conflict with anyone. Never needed anyone for anything.

I would leave my island only to meet up with friends, go to church or go shopping. However these actions were on my terms, in my own time. If I wanted to leave, escape, venture back into my cave – row back to my island…the ores were always they’re waiting for me.

My life is much different now. I live in community, I work in community and I am learning to once again work and play well with others.

All of the time.

Sure there are moments of escape, but these times are disproportionate from the times where I am interacting, engaging and connecting with people.

I am reading a book right now that has been paradigm shifting. A book hasn’t made me reflect and process more than this narrative has. The Shack, by William P. Young is a New York Times best seller that has been a Christian book anomaly. I don’t think any Christian Fiction has ever done this well. And as much as I hate to be a bandwagon jumper, this book has gripped me. I am reading it and I am hanging on every word.

This book is about a man [Mack], who through a series of events lost his daughter to a serial murder on a camping trip in Northern Oregon. The quasi-fictional narrative journeys with [Mack] as he comes to grips with his daughters death and his feelings of personal responsibility, and as a man who has always believed in God to some extent you watch Mack view his grief, sorrow and anger through his spiritual world-view.

Through a series of events Mack returns to the place of his daughters death and meets God there, but not God in the sense that our western, sons and daughters of middle-class parents world-view has taught us. He meets the triune, human reflection of God and to see even a fictional portrait of God like this is mind-blowing.

Even though I’ve been a Christian for over 10 years now, it’s been difficult to view God anything other than a (I am going to be honest here) huge, hard to understand, theological concept who seems sometimes to be involved in my life and at other times to be as distant and non-existent as any other religious deity.

This book has painted a picture of the humanity of God.

I mean in Genesis we read that we are created in the image and likeness of our creator. We read that, but it’s hard to wrap our heads around that statement.

The older I get, the more I grow in Christ the more questions I have and the things that I have been taught early on don’t seem so simple anymore.

Is it wrong of me to shy away from simplicity when it comes to Christian spirituality? As complex and as infinite as God is, to read a few passages in the Bible and draw unfounded and ungrounded conclusions, is not only presumptuous but also darn right ignorant I believe.

I might even go as far to say that knowing truths and concepts must submit to relationships.

I hate that I just wrote that, because I don’t want to believe it.

I am comfortable with truths and concepts. I can handle talking about theology and dissecting a passage of scripture. However getting involved in someone else’s life, working with someone day in, and day out. Extending grace and latitude to others. Putting my pride, my experience, my intellect on the back burner and submitting all that to serve others.

That sucks! Are you kidding me?

There is a conversation between “Jesus” and Mack in The Shack that I haven been chewing on, it goes as follows:

(This is Jesus talking to the lead character, Mack.)

“Have you noticed that even though you call me Lord and King, I have never really acted in that capacity with you? I’ve never taken control of your choices or forced you to do anything, even when what you about to do was destructive ot hurtful to yourself or others.”

Mack looked back at the lack before responding. “I would have preferred that you did take control at times, it would have saved me and people I care about a lot of pain.”

“To force my will on you,” Jesus replied, “is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful or healthy.”

“That’s the beauty in my relationship with Abba and Sarayu[Holy Spirit]. We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and will always be. Papa is much as submitted to me as I to him. Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not about obedience; it is all about relationship of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”

Mack was surprised. “How can that be? Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?”

“Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves of my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.”

“And that’s how you want us to love each other, I suppose? I mean between husbands and wives, parents and children, I guess any relationship,” Mack questioned.

“Exactly! When I am your life, submission is the most natural expression of my character and nature, and it will be the most natural expression of your new nature within relationships.”

The place where I am at right now, I am finding myself having to look past my accomplishments, my experience, my education and serve in ways that quite frankly suck. When I am in these moments of serving everything feels unnatural and waves of my pride come into my thoughts telling me that I am to educated, experienced, creative to being doing such mundane busy work.

Even when it comes to relationships in my life that I didn’t choose — the same pride comes in and tells me that I am to cool, or intelligent to be hanging out or living with such people. Everything in me wants to lash out, become cynical or even angry with people.

Things like ‘submission’, ‘love’ and ‘respect’ have been the farthest things on my mind. To me, this job, these people don’t deserve this. It seems unnatural to extend acts such as this to these people.

I wonder if Jesus ever dealt with thoughts like this. I mean he knew he was a Rabbi, a prophet even God and yet he stepped into human history and worked as a carpenter and walked with a group of people whom we learn from scripture that weren’t the brightest or best people to work with.

Pride is such a bizarre thing. Pride is one of the few sins that make you miserable right off the bat. Pride is the thing that always wants more, to be recognized more to be given more attention for things that don’t matter in the long run anyway. Pride is the thing that keeps you miserable around people because you think you are better than them. Pride keeps you frustrated at work because you are under a constant belief that you are more important, to intelligent to do such menial superficial work.

Pride is so hard to let go of.

For the proud, there is a constant fear of becoming nothing, going from first to last, being lost in the shadows of others.

And that’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

This is Christianity.

The theology, the conversations, the attention, the success are all an afterthought to loving, respecting and submitting.

This is what I am learning. This is my struggle. This is where I am.

Homosexuality and me.

June 18, 2008

To write two blogs in one day is highly usual for me, however because of a conversation that I had with a good friend tonight, I felt a need to write as I have a lot on my mind.

There was an article in Details Magazine this past month that I found to be extremely interesting. “Does Everyone Think You’re Gay?” is a witty, feature piece that takes the angle of the straight man that is commonly confused for homosexual.

Details humorously called these men “Stray”. Details explains it this way, “…a straight guy who sends out gay signals like he’s shaking a tambourine even as he proclaims himself– and in fact is–100% percent heterosexual.”

Details later goes on to describe it further. “The phenomenon shouldn’t be confused with that of actual gay men who masquerade as straight. And we’re not talking about the metrosexual, that embodiment of a played-out consumer mega-trend that involved slim-cut pants and moisturizer.”

And I guess there is actual scientific evidence that supports this idea that men can be “stray”. Researchers have studied behavioral traits such as the “hip sway” and “voice quality” and even physical traits like the hair-whorl patterns and finger length ratios.

I’ve been thinking about this issue for along time. There have been people that I have interacted with both in a social, corporate and even church context that have made comments that have alluding to my sexuality. The first time I ever encountered this was when I was around 20 and I was working an a larger, high-end clothing store in Grand Rapids where I was going to school. I was a pretty conservative Christian at this point in my life so I would get really offended and embarrassed when a customer or coworker would make a comment or just flat out ask.

As I have gotten older I have matured and I really don’t care to much what people think about me. Most of the time people are formulating opinions based around what I wear or other shallow superficial reasons.
I’m not sure as I should say or get into this, however I sometimes think about if I didn’t decide to become a Christian when I was 15 which formed my worldview, I have a feeling that I might have been swayed and began to walk down the path of homosexuality.

I know how that sounds. So many homosexuals would have issues with that statement. They would say there isn’t choice involved, that either I’m lying to myself about who I truly am or I never would have been homosexual.

I beg to differ.

I was a lonely, insecure kid who was terribly confused about so much of life. I was surrounded by a culture that defines a man that loves sports, likes to kill things and drive big trucks. I was raised in a family that had sports on constantly. My brothers and I were thrusted into competitive team sports by the time we were five. It was just a couple years ago where I arrived at the place where I could admit to myself and others that I don’t like sports, I don’t like playing or watching. I mean I would rather watch CNN over SportsCenter any-day. I am an artist, I love being creative and I love picking out color for walls. I love writing and reading. I love clothes and buying clothes and I don’t really care what people think. I know this sounds shallow and small but it was a big deal to me. It has taken a long time and it will take me a long time for me to be truly comfortable in my own skin.

There was a book that I read couple of years ago that helped shape my identity. Victory Over Darkness by Neil Anderson is a book that send the powerful message that if we are in Christ, we are no longer to be defined by what we look like, or what we were, moreover we are only to be defined as how God sees us. I know who I am in Christ, I know that I am made new, I know that God sees me as pure, holy and called out.

Homosexuality is such a tough issue and my heart goes out to anyone who struggles with this. I can honestly say there have been points in my past where I have questioned my sexuality and really had to pray through some thought patterns.

An issue like homosexuality isn’t an issue that is as black and white as most Christians think. Sexuality is very fluid and is very much formed out of so many complicated things.  I know that I would be crucified in a lot of christians circles for saying things like this, but I have shifted my position on homosexuality so many times. I guess when you get to know someone who has dwelt with an issue like this, and even dealing with it myself, answers don’t seem as black and white anymore.

My friend tonight asked some tough questions, questions that no one has ever been bold enough to ask me. I commend her for that and I thank her giving me the opportunity to talk it out with a trusted friend.
I guess I am at the point in my life where I find being authentic very freeing. The pattern I’ve seen in my life has pointed to the more transparent I become, the more growth and maturity comes into my life.

This is me being authentic. I am a man who has struggled with a thought pattern that leans towards homosexuality. I have struggled with identity issues not only in my sexuality but also with who I am in Christ and how valuable I am as a human being. I have struggled with giving and receiving love.

I don’t like secrets in my life and this for so long has been hidden under layers of insecurity and embarrassment, but I’m ready to move past all that.

I am who I am, and I’m cool with that. So toss me the paint swatches and Gap gift certificates I am a Stray male who loves women but also loves looking good and cool looking walls.

I thank you ahead of time for not reading a whole lot into this. These again, as with all my blogs are thoughts and ponderings. They are he seepage of thoughts that surface from my soul. Ideas, beliefs, worldview change, and I am not afraid to admit that I am wrong or admit that I still have growing to do.

You guys rock,
Grace and Peace.
Patrick.

I saw an old man fishing at the park.

It is June here and everything is green, perhaps more green than usual. After a long, cold and snow-filled winter the nitrogen rich soil is proving beneficial for plant-life. As I sit on a newly installed park bench I recline and stare at a murky, muddy creek that is a little bit higher than normal.

There is an oak tree that is just large enough to provide me with adequate shade. It’s cool, lower seventy degrees and it’s a perfect day. Clouds thrown randomly through out the sky and resembles a an art project where a child glues white cotten onto a blue piece of construction paper.

There is an old man who is about twenty or so yards away. He sits on a blue camping chair holding an antique fishing pole in his hands. As he stares at his bobber he tugs the pole ever so gently to try to entice something to bite. He has a pair of those giant sunglasses on, the large plastic ones that you never see someone under 50 wear. His white tee-shirt and worn in jeans are nothing special. I would imagine he is retired, most likely from a blue collar job where he put in 30 or so years.

His wife sits about twenty yards away on park bench that resembles mine. She has the same sun glasses but is a little bit more eccentric in her dress. She has a black pants and a shirt with a over sized butterfly on it. Most likely she choose the shirt for this particular occasion. Tuesday could be the day they go to the park. He fishes, she sits and watches. “Any bites yet,” She yells. He simply shakes his heads no, tugs on his line and reals in some slack.

The park is a good place to ponder. A seemingly natural oasis from the mundane lives we seem to find ourselves in. As the cool breeze comes in off of the creek it blows in a slight hint of flish and plant life. The smell is nostalgic to me. Growing up I would spend summers here; fishing, baseball, canoeing this was my my oasis from my house, from school, from my family, they all just seemed to float away.

It has been less than a week since i’ve been home and I have mixed-feelings about being here. I do like spending time with the family, however there is an underlying feeling in my soul that tells me that this is no longer my home.

In about a month and a half I will be heading back to California where I will be spending two weeks in Las Angeles training for my new job followed by 10-months of touring the country speaking in schools and churches. I am not really sure why I took this job, I mean don’t get me wrong I love speaking to students and folks but I guess when it comes to the big picture I am not sure how this will fit.

It’s scary you know when you get to the point where you begin to realize that you will be old someday. That someday I will be sitting in a blue chair staring at a bobber. Granted hopefully my wife won’t be wearinf a fanny pack of any kind, but to think of your self as being that old is a foreign thought to say the least.

I wonder if you asked the old man fishing if he had any regrets or is he happy being old, what might he say. I guess he might say something about family or his nice home or the trip that he is planning for his upcoming 50th wedding anniversary.

When I think about what I want my life to look like I presume that I want a life of a vagabond, free of any emotional or financial ties. A life where I can take off at a moments notice, where I can hike the Appellation trial or live in London for a year — but then I see a father yelling at his sun for leaning to far over the bridge and I think to myself that someday I want to yell at my son someday about leaning to far over the bridge. That I want to sit next to my fat wife when I am 70 and stare at stationary red and white bobber in a dirty, muddy creek.

Where is this happy medium between living a life of spending my Tuesday nights at the park with the family, and living a life of reckless abandoned? Can my life be living in Africa for a year and fishing at the park in a blue camping chair? Can I live in a cool urban sanctuary all while having the 2.5 kids and a dog?
I mean this is going to sound strange, but part of me wants the minivan full of kids that smashes french fries into the seats all while drinking Guinness with friends on the weekends and not having to worry about paying a mortgage.

The older I get, the more confusing and strange my life becomes. I am 25 and I am about so spend a year traveling the country in a van. What am I thinking?

I’m going to miss this place. I am going to miss waking to the sound of the palm caressing the side of the house in the morning. I am going to miss the sifting the bleached white sands of Coronado between my fingers and watching the strong, rhythmic waves of the Pacific Ocean. I am going to miss the fish tacos at Fred’s on Tuesday nights where my friends and I gather weekly to laugh, drink cheap tequila and enjoy the Southern California breeze filtering through the patio.

In two weeks I am going to packing what little possessions I have in my silver Volkswagen Jetta and driving North East making my way back to my home town in Illinois. I have experienced a lot of transition in my life. Perhaps more transition than security and permanence. I have moved from Illinois, to Michigan for school, then back to Illinois, then to Iowa and then lastly to California where I have been earning taco and tequila money by designing graphics for people. Hoping every month that I have enough money to pay the rent, pay my car payment and the other various bills I have in my life.

I feel as though I am a nomad, I am a wanderer. I am a person who can’t quite figure out what home is anymore. Strangely enough I feel most at home and most at peace when I am creating and when I am standing in the midst of believers worshiping a God who looks upon my life with infinite patience and grace.

I feel as though I am directionless. The life that I once wanted I don’t seem to want anymore. I have stepped into a moment that is filled with confusion, disappear and loneliness.

There isn’t clarity in my mind. It’s as if my thoughts are trudging through thick wet sand. My mouth is filled with empty words, rather than creating hope, my mouth is filled with confusion, destruction and pain. My words do not awaken the human spirit nor do they shine light into darkness. My creative paralysis is exposed in moments of chaos, confusion and stress that fill my life so much of the time.

I feel as though I am window shopping on life. I watch TV and get lost in the artificial lives of the actors in the painted studio parking lot. With a cold, diet coke in my hand and a tub of buttered popcorn in my lap I sit and stare blankly as the only light in my eye comes from the flat-screen in-front of me.

I am groping and flailing in the dark hoping to reach out and touch something I recognize. When I get out of bed I look in the mirror and I don’t like the person I see staring back at me. He is a stranger to me most of the time, he doesn’t smile, just stares blankly back at me with an apathetic, tired and weak look in his eyes. He is thinking that my creativity isn’t worth a nickel. He accuses me of being worthless and I will never become a husband, a father, a leader. He is bitter, tired and the only energy he has is anger at himself.

My faith has been reduced to an empty hollow theology that pays homage to an incredibly distant, impersonal and passive God that has now fallen into a deep slumber.. A God that once spoke through prophets and raised men from the dead, but now his voice is quieted and his hand has stopped moving. I sit in the same chair that I sit in every week in a upbeat church north of San Diego and as the words of the pastor echo through out the auditorium I look down at my bible that I brought mainly to fit in and think to my self why do I do this anymore.

And as I sit and listen to the zealous pastor my soul cries out. “My God my heart and soul is as as hard and stiff as the chair I am sitting on. I am an empty shell of the person you created me to be. Please someone show me the way. I cry out to the Creator to show me a direction, to guide my steps and to make something useful of these hands that remain idol so much of the time. Strengthen and guide my hands to create the visions that you have placed deep with my soul. Do something in my life to give me hope that this is all worth it. Give me light, set me free, flow like a river though me. Set me free to be your light in the darkness of this world.”

I have big feet.

My new Chuck Taylors (plus a little ankle)

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