Questioning Salvation with Langston Hughes

I really enjoyed Hughes, similar to O’Connor! After reading Seven People Dancing, I was confused. It’s the normal state I live in when it comes to nuanced social interactions, and the primary reason I’m an introvert. I am also like the uranium he closes the story with, I can kill a party with my questions and social confusion… so here goes…

After poking around the web to help me understand the party and Langston’s point, which apparently many don’t get, but one reviewer on Goodreads commented that “When seven people are dancing, that means one person is dancing alone…” That triggered something for me, and I’m going to take a stab at what Hughes was wrestling with. 

Like my roomate pointed out yesterday with O’Connor, the names might have something to do with it. Only Marcel the gay host, Joan the pretty, singular white person in the room, and Claude her handsome date  have names. The others are more and more deeply shadowed… one couple with a handsome, tall, dark mand and a tea-colored woman who didn’t like him much, and another couple of whom Hughes writes:

The other couple was just there. Had you been there yourself, you would not have paid them much attention. Some people are like that, like chairs in a room, taken for granted but not noticed, except when one wants to sit down. Nobody wanted anything from the other couple, because they had nothing to give. 

The practice at this party was that when the records changed off the stack, someone bought a round of drinks. Marcel had bought a round after the handsome dark man of the unloving couple had bought two rounds. After those drinks and more dancing, the energy is high. Even the reserved, single, and gay host Marcel is now pouring out energy into the room at 2 a.m. when noise is normally rare, as Hughes writes;  “And why did Marcel’s laughter stop being a ground cloth and start bouncing like a rubber ball, too, and a very hard one at that?”

The record stack stops, and then it’s time for someone to buy another round. The tall dark fellow says that he doesn’t have enough money to his date, but Joan says “Oh, but I do.” This changed the atmosphere from the hard-rubber balls bouncing excitedly around the room to spoiling fruit:

Claude looked startled. The tea-colored woman looked mean. The tall dark fellow said, “I been wanting to dance with that girl all evening. Come here!” Joan went. At that moment, a new record began to play.

…The music was uranium, and those seven people, had they been super-duper spies, could not have known more about atomic energy—that is, its reason for being a mighty way of dying, “Oh, but I do” being a component.

That made both of the colored women very angry. The one whom nobody noticed stopped still, grabbed the man by his lapels, and said, “Sit down, you clown!”

He sat down. 

So if I’m reading this right, (and it’s unlikely I am, but here goes…), Hughes is struggling with our wants for the world and the social restrictions that keep us from those wants. The party was going great. Everyone (except the tea-colored woman) seemed to be having a great time. This “outsider” comes in and seems to be the life of the party, breaking social conventions, drawing people to her with her unjudging generosity, her comfort among strangers, her generosity and desire to simply keep the joy of the party going for everyone. 

And then the social norms break through the wall. White women shouldn’t be in Harlem dancing with the men. They certainly shouldn’t be the one that other black men have “been wanting to dance with that girl all evening” with, even if that man’s date is unappreciative, demanding, and unkind. The “just there” couple even quit participating at this perceived social slight. 

But what was that slight? Why is it that the white outsider, the party’s gay host, and the tall unappreciated man who had paid for two-thirds of the night are the ones that in the end are left enjoying themselves when everyone else is angry? 

I suggest it’s because they’re present. They’re fully engaged in the party and not just using the party like a social crutch to boost their egos and their social standing. They are fully present in the joy of the evening, and in the end… we realize that the three enjoying the evening loudly at the end are those that are not there to find out who’s in and who’s out- but instead those that are “all in” and inviting others to be a part generously and kindly. They offered kindness and received cold shoulders.

I don’t understand why this happens, but in my experience it often does. I’m blind to the social expectations in the room, but I like to be generous, kind, and enjoy the moment without thinking about how it will affect my tomorrow, certainly not how it will affect other’s opinions of me then. When I can facilitate joy, I want to. I expect no repayment- I’m getting the payment in the moment! For many, however, this is perceived as some sort of Machiavellian scheme to uplift myself and disparage others. And all the unity that was built is quickly destroyed with bitterness, ego, and shame. 

I looked into some more of Hughes’s work and found this video of “Salvation.”

It seemed to me that this is similar to O’Connor’s work. It’s a struggle of someone trying to find the sinicerity and beauty in the world who can’t accept the hollow external reinforcements of our ego’s game as a substitute.

In the film, Langston is a young boy who is living with his loving Aunt and Uncle. His aunt is a “holy roller” type who is most excited when people get “saved” at her church’s revival. She pressures Langston to go and he is forced to sit in the front row with the other “unsaved kids.” The preaching gets going and the altar call starts, and the kids start walking up. Langston and a boy named Westley are the last two kids on the bench, not ready to make that kind of jump. Westley finally  says “God Damn… I guess I’ll just get up and be saved.” (about 20 minutes in)

Langston’s internal monologue says:

Westley didn’t see Jesus, he was just tired of sitting there. I felt so ashamed for holding everyone up. Where was Jesus, where was he? Where was this light I was supposed to see? What was I supposed to do? Pretend, like Westley? 

He walks up to the front of church and gets “saved,” making his aunt’s expectations and hopes seemingly fulfilled, but at home, he cries himself to sleep.  

Again, here is young Langston, like the three at the end of Seven People Dancing recognizing that we often substitute real beauty for our expectations, or reject real beauty because we think that it somehow diminishes our own. The other 4 people at the party could have kept dancing even if the “outsider” made contributions to the experience. In the same way, the “outsider” at the church service was more sincere in his beliefs than most of those who wanted a cheap outward display rather than the complex, confusing realities of faith and doubt. 

Like my favorite poet Bill Malonee once said: 

“Aw, Jesus this stuff I bought, I thought it was Jewelry.
I thought this stuff was  jewelry,
but I believe you died to take these chains off of me.” 

And as another popular speaker once said

” So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Too often we’re trading our joys for sorrow, but I think the secret of life might be to turn that pattern around, and instead as another author put it “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” 

Maybe finding beauty in the ash, the wisdom in simplicity, and joy in the moment is really what it’s all about. Again I’ll quote Cohen: “the cracks are where the light gets in.”

The Roots of Gluttony

Though the idea of being a part of one of the contests makes me feel a little queasy, I’m not bothered by it any more than I am waste and gratuitous overindulgence in general. It may be important in a plentiful society to celebrate the feast time when things are good, and there are traditions for doing so going back to the beginning of history. 

The actual biblical term for gluttony is the vaguely onomatopoeic word gluttire meaning “to gulp down,” and only appears to indicate the kind of overindulgence that leads to waste and brings one to poverty and laziness (Prov 23:20-21). Other verses warn of the self-harm caused by overeating without using the word specifically: “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.” (Prov 25:16). 

Considering the time that the bible was written, it’s easy to see why it was considered a sin. If you eat the limited food the tribe has without being able to use it fully, your neighbor can’t get his needed daily intake, and it makes you lazy and craving more, it’s obvious how this sin can hurt our neighbor and us. 

Most of us laugh off gluttony as a sin, but I think we’d see the wisdom of the warning if we were stranded in the desert with limited food and water to keep our group alive. If one member is eating more than their reasonable share, they endanger the rest of the group.

In a community with minimal resources, gluttony literally starves your friends to death while you choke on your own vomit. 

Paradox and Pride

Pride:

Aquinas is a primary source for Christian theology as we know it today, and suggests that it is the greatest sin because it is an attempt to resist subjugation to God “in accordance to divine rule.”  Dyson follows with a more nuanced definition pointing out that “the difficulty arises when love of God and country are fatally blurred and the theology becomes little more than a handmaiden of empire.” But I submit an uncommon (though still orthodox) view of sin: God hates sin because it hurts God’s children – and we are all God’s children. To get a clear understanding of the sin of pride, we must examine the ways it hurts us and our neighbor, and keeps us from getting the best out of our lives. If living without sin is the gospel, or “good news”, how is pride bad news for us?

A large part of the problem is the word “pride” itself. The word can mean both the state that is best and most life-affirming for us as humans- or the absolute worst of our need to try to fill inner wounds with external praise.

What the Sin Of Pride Isn’t

I suggest that pride in work well done is a virtue, as the bible makes clear in Galatians 6:4: “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.” (emphasis added) When we do a good thing for it’s own sake, exercise our gifts, and afterward experience pleasure in a job well done- this is virtue, not vice. It may be in this way that we can be most like God, who took pleasure in creation at the beginning of the story in Genesis 1. If we were doing the thing we felt most excited about doing, enjoyed the work to get there, and reached that goal for the pure pleasure of accomplishment, knowing that it was the best we could do, without concern for anyone else’s opinion- we were not only in bliss, but we were in holiness (“whole-ness”). This is exceedingly rare.

This experience has been researched rather extensively as a result of the work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His groundbreaking book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is recognized as the seminal work on this subject. Csikszentmihalyi uses the term autotelic to describe this feeling, “’autotelic’ derives from two Greek words, auto meaning self, and telos meaning goal.” This is the kind of joy that derives from the work itself- also known as intrinsic motivation. This is the kind of pride that is obviously best for us, for our livelihood, and for our own sense of satisfaction.

This kind of pride should never be misunderstood to be sin- it is in fact glory. It is the ability to move and engage in the world in the way we were created to, and this brings God pleasure as well as we fit into the great orchestra of life in tune and on time when we use your skills, gifts, and vocational passions. Those that would condemn another for experiencing the joy of being content and proud of their work in this way are themselves struggling with their own pride, and this often manifests as discontent or jealousy.

What the Sin of Pride Is

Paradoxically, the same verse I used to share what pride isn’t can be used to share what pride is. Lets re-examine Galatians 6:4: “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else. (emphasis added)” It is in the comparison of oneself to another, and the desire to come out ahead. CS Lewis makes an excellent point in Mere Christianity when he says:

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it that the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.”

This is why the sin of pride is so insidious. It not only asks the sinner to interpret his own life and his own joy as lacking, but falsely convinces him that the only way to obtain it is by reducing the joy they find in another person’s life to gain comparatively more. The sin of pride isn’t simple arrogance, arrogance is the result of prideful thoughts, habits, and feelings- or more accurately a prized collection of these thoughts. It is competition for the sake of the prize, not the joy of the struggle.

This is the consequence of the sin of pride: all of our stolen gifts will not only give us less reward than what we would have found in our own work. We will never have the fulfillment of work well done, but it creates an enemy or a competitor in our neighbor who might have partnered with us to create our own work and reward- and rightful pride in creating something new.

Pride is a stolen trophy. The scratches will always be visible where we removed the name of the original earner under our own, sloppily scrawled over the top. This so diminishes the trophy that we never have the joy that our neighbor did when we look at it, nor does anyone else appreciate what we actually do or who we really are…

But pilfered pride is no prize at all.


[i] Aquinas, Thomas; translated by Joseph Rickabay. Aquinas Ethicus: The Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, Vol. 1, Volume 1, Jazzybee Verlag, 2016, p. 139[ii] Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Michael Eric Dyson. Pride : The Seven Deadly Sins, Oxford University Press USA – OSO, 2006. [iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi[iv] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) (p. 67). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition..[v] Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 122). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.”

Self-Confidence vs Ego

Lama Surya Das in his article Self-confidence vs. Egotism and Pride  asks the crucial question, “Which self are we confident in, exactly, one might profitably ask and inquire into. Are you really better than anyone else, except at a few little tasks or skills?” Recently I’ve been wrestling with this question in therapy and meditation and realized that I had a shockingly inconsistent approach to the concept. 

One of the challenges we have is talking about ancient or traditional concepts with the baggage of organized religion. So many of the terms and ideals of faith and self-exploration and discovery for truth (which is what religion is ultimately about) are just loaded with manipulative messages intended to keep people coming back to the organization to donate rather than becoming self-sustaining people of faith. I once heard Fr. Richard Rohr explain that a study revealed religious leaders struggled with ego and pride more than any other career. The titles, the vestments, and the claim to speak for God to a congregation are difficult things to navigate for any person. The same trappings can cause us to elevate these people ourselves. 

Both Lewis and Das seem to be saying the same things to me, but this is admittedly because of a lot of exposure and questioning of these concepts over the years. Language often gets in the way for modern readers. “Pride” can most accurately be rendered “arrogance” in western texts, and reading religious texts on pride this way makes confusing scripture from all traditions easier to grasp.

CS Lewis on the “Great Sin” of Pride

CS Lewis is one of the authors that has changed my perspective more than any other over the years. Mere Christianity in particular was one of the books that most influenced me over 30 years ago. It was interesting to come back to the text after a hiatus, and this revealed a shift in perspective that I didn’t think I’d ever experience. I was surprised by joy to find that I completely agree with Lewis. I approached the text thinking I would not, ironically having some pride in my ability to see something I thought Lewis missed. 

Me overwhelmed at the Eagle and Child, the pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to meet to discuss their writing.

I struggled with the “greasy, smarmy” kind of self-loathing that Lewis describes in the 4th misunderstanding he addresses at the end of the chapter. I used to believe that it was a sign of my humility and a way to honor “God” by emphasizing my own lack and unworthiness. That kind of “humility” never works. It’s the opposite of humility, and therefore insidious. Sin always is, but pride is especially so. 

This is why Lewis calls all other sins “mere fleabites.” Most other sins are somewhat obvious. Lewis himself admits his struggle as he writes his chapter, and to some it may seem boastful to offer advice or criticism in this area. But perhaps in doing so we miss the point. 

Pride is not being sure or confident in yourself and your gifts, this is in fact, faith. It is faith that the God of the Universe is on your side and relentlessly pursuing us all- even our enemies. The desire to help someone struggling with their pride by calling it out is also paradoxically humility. 

And as I chucked at Lewis’s gaffe, upon reflection it turned out that the brother I was quietly rebuking was my own face in a mirror.

Two sides of the Seven Sins

After reading Belliotti’s chapter 7 on the sins in Dante’s Deadly Sins : Moral Philosophy in Hell– it helped me realize that it was Dante himself that sold the narrative of a firey, punishing hell to the church and common parlance. There is ample evidence that this view was influenced by Zoroastrianism and greek mythology, it might be better understood as a cultural reference rather than a theological one. If I were to say that “my addiction is slicing away at my resolve like Freddie Kreuger!” we would all understand the reference- though none of us would take it seriously, much less literally. (though we might rightfully question the clumsy prose)

We’re all familiar with Jesus and Socrates. But why aren’t any of us enamored with modern Christians or philosophers who are supposedly walking the same line? Why are so many of us confused about the simple idea of sin as we can see on the evening news and online articles like “Bless Me Father”- Catholic Sin Explained  on popular websites like the Daily Beast? Jesus, Socrates, and Nadeau all ask similar questions and present parallel alternatives to consider…

What if God doesn’t hate sin because it offends Him, but because it hurts us? Belliotti gives a small nod to this idea on page 218 when discussing Soctates: “Sin betrays the self, the community, and the divine… sin is it’s own punishment.” 

If there was no devil and no hell, then the idea of sin gets a major re positioning in our hierarchy of fear, which means the solutions to the problem become less important and powerful influences. For those that rely on those structures for power or wealth, these may be threatening ideas, indeed.

Ideas even worthy of murdering influential, wise men who simply pointed out the inconsistencies in the system and offered an alternative way.

The True Cost of Greed.

In the film The True Cost, Tim Kasser, a PhD in Psychology at Knox College states that hundreds of studies over the last twenty years bear out that “psychological problems (like depression, anxiety) tend to go up as materialistic values go up.” (33:28). He quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. at the close of the film who said that America “needed a revolution of values, needed to stop treating people like things.” Throughout the film there were vignettes from across the globe that showed how we’ve also done the opposite, treated corporations and profits with more dignity and honor than living, breathing human beings. This is why greed is a sin- it hurts our neighbor, and it hurts us.

Materialism and greed can seem so innocuous, but the consumerism we are accustomed to is like asbestos in the structure of our society and soul. This silent danger has reduced the livelihood of thousands of families in vulnerable places across the globe, but prolonged exposure will slowly steal our joy as well. It is already quite literally killing hundreds of thousands of workers in cotton fields and clothing factories globally.

Vandana Shiva is an environmental activist that summarizes the problem perfectly “For them (the seed/chemical company) it’s win, win, win, win win. For nature and people it’s lose, lose, lose, lose, lose.(32:05)” The farmers go into debt because the seed prices have gone up 17,000%, and when they can not pay the company their farm is seized. Losing their livelihood, they commit suicide by drinking the pesticides in the fields. There have been 250,000 farmer suicides in India in the last 16 years. That’s one farmer every 30 minutes, and the largest recorded wave of suicide in history.

There’s no such thing as a cheap hamburger if you’re a cow. And we’re all cattle to the corporations that place profits over people.

Canoe

Some things that seem so incredibly natural to me are obviously not the way the world sees things. 

Also obviously, I wish the world saw it my way. And maybe it should. Or maybe I’m naive. 

The problem I seem to have is that I am exceedingly loyal to my friends. Stupidly forgiving. Groping desperately for them to see me as generous and helpful. My friends are my heart, and my heart is big.

So when a friend uses anything other than a simple, direct invitation to help them solve a problem- it feels like a slap in the face. Spit in the eye. It feels like the most offensive insult. I feel like this should be such a common and deeply shared way of seeing things, but I am surprised at how many people try to do this with me. This must mean they are either intending to insult me, or they don’t feel the way I do. Since I don’t believe any of my friends would intend to insult me, I have to assume that they honestly don’t see things this way.

Perhaps as I’ve summarized it above- you may be thinking that I’m overreacting, and that is entirely possible. (I am a 4 on the enneagram after all, and I love drama more than I can admit, and probably more than I’m even aware of.) But please hear me out in all my dramatic glory before you make the final call. 

To me, this would feel like a friend giving me five bucks after hanging out for an hour to pay me for my time. That feels like it cheapens it, doesn’t it? Or like a family member laying $25 on the table to pay for dinner when you invite him over for thanksgiving. Or a husband getting out of bed to grab his wallet, take out 10 $50 bills, and lay it on the nightstand for his wife after sex. Or a dad sending his son a bill after spending a couple hours at the ballpark together for his time. It seems to me that as soon as you introduce something more than friendship into a transaction, you remove all of it and it becomes at best  a strictly business transaction , and at worst signaling the end of the friendship.  Bottom line, friends don’t use contracts, commerce, or coercion to move their friends… they use the connection.

When you add anything to friendship and friendly cooperation, it displaces the friendship for me. Friendship and business are mutually exclusive in my mind. Business is services rendered, contracts haggled, and we do the work because we are obligated. But I want to help my friends, I don’t need to be forced into it. I feel like that’s what friendship is all about. I get a lot of personal joy and satisfaction from helping my friends because they’re worth more than money to me.

Imagine a friend emailing your wife, pastor, and your boss to ask these third parties to push you to help him move in 3 weeks from 2:30-5:00. Obviously your friend is emailing these other people in an effort to coerce you into helping them rather than just asking directly. Doesn’t that change the whole dynamic for you the way it does for me? Doesn’t that change the way you’re thinking you’ll engage with this request? For me, I feel like I’d be less likely to help- and if I did help, I’d show up at exactly 2:30 and leave at 5:00 sharp like I said I would, even if there was another couple hours of work to do. But if a friend just asked for my help- I’d show up early and stay late until every box was unpacked. 

That’s the difference between how you address business transactions and friends. With business, you’re trying to get the best deal. You are trying to take as much as you can while giving as little as possible. The goal is to minimize your obligations while trying to maximize your personal profit, and you get it in writing because you want there to be the threat of legal ramifications if they fail to comply exactly as described. Let’s face it, contracts are just that… a statement of the limits and terms on the relationship. They exist because you come out of the gate saying “I want there there to be a legal way for me out of this, and to not have to do any more than this contract states.” It’s essentially a prenuptial agreement for business.

But with friendship you give as much as you can, as soon as you can,  without expectation for compensation at all. That’s how everyone is, right? Family and friends get all of you, and work gets just the hours and job they paid for, right? Sure, you may work past your hours when there’s a big project and the deadline is close… but if they continuously demand more from you than the contract says you owe, then you negotiate for the raise to cover the additional workload and responsibility- or you quit. There is no relationship behind the contract. 

But you never quit on friends and family even when the workload seems heavy. Because friendship is about helping each other toward your individual and combined goals. Sharing in the joy of helping another person you know and who you value. Not because of what you get out of it, but because the work IS the reward in friendship, isn’t it? Paradoxically in friendship, giving is part of the gift, right? It works because there is give and take to get to a solution to the problem, not to simply meet the demands of the contract only, even if improperly worded. 

Or am I still just an optimistic, naive hippie that is just waiting to be taken advantage of again by a selfish individual that knows how to schmooze and play at friendship just to take more than they give?

Do your friends and family get others to ask you for help or work on getting leverage to coerce you to help as the first step in making a request? Do they go “over your head” before just asking friend to friend?

I mean… that would be weird, right? 

Reflecting on Wild

Strayed’s memoir Wild explores the author’s descent and rise after the death of her mother. This was the event that set a girl who was moored to her mother adrift, to discover that she needed to stand on her own. After beginning to spiral out of control with extramarital affairs and flirting with heroin, she decides to take an impulsive leap into self-discovery by hiking the Pacific Coast Trail.

Strayed’s main desire on the trail seems to be the desire to find herself, a way of being herself without the anchor of her family, whether the one she had by birth or the one she had by marriage. She’s lost, and holding on to familiar things on the sinking ship of her life, and it seems to me she needed to get away from all of it to find her own way. She’s as woefully unprepared for the PCT as she was for adulthood, and overcoming obstacles on the trail became the metaphor for her life. As she learned to survive on the trail, she began to learn to survive in her mind as well, learning to survive when things don’t go the way you imagined. She starts her first hike on the PCT without experience or proper preparation- she hadn’t broken in her too-small shoes, so discovered on the trail that her shoes would break her, claiming 8 toenails along the way. She learned to trust strangers, even when at times it seemed that she was placing herself into exceptionally precarious situations for a single woman on the PCT. But through her perseverance, desperation, and the dumb luck that all of us enjoy if we can see it, she conquers the obstacles and realizes she just has to determine which way to go in order for everything to work out. Like the saying goes, “Aim for nothing and you hit it every time.” It seems to me what strayed found on the trail was her compass- the one made (one of my college professors so eloquently put it) “where hope bumps up against despair.” That’s where all of our stories begin.

The inciting incident for me was certainly my “Fuck You” prayer. I haven’t written about it here in this class because I wrote about it in another and wanted to not recycle existing writing. (Prof-You can find a copy here if interested- just re-read and my writing has definitely improved!.) All my life I just wanted a safe place, a place that felt like I wouldn’t get kicked out. Maybe that’s my fault, I’m not sure. I’m realizing a lot about my personality type I didn’t know before, and it’s certainly helping. I am “brash and hopeful” as one songwriter put it, but I’ve always been involved in families and organizations that were very controlling, dictatorial, and structured. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of freedom- totally unfettered curiosity that helps you discover your authentic self. It’s this- authenticity- that I desire most, but most of my family and even my spiritual life was about putting up a facade. I think I’m realizing now that most people are heavily invested in their facades, and I had learned to sure up mine as well over the years… but once they begin to crack, facades always break. The difference between this being simply traumatic and lifechanging vs devastating is the tenacity to move forward.

My dad was very invested in his facade, and my mother in hers. My dad built his with false optimism that belied his fears, and my mom with emotions and a gullibility to feed them. My involvement with the church revealed many people who maintained facades, and often forced them onto others with a structure of shame and fear that, truth be told, I also invested and participated in for years. Only when I started to see the masks, the contradictions, and the unintended consequences that were so much worse than the dangers these beliefs tried to protect from, did I start to move on myself, and started poking at the house of cards I lived in.

But I needed it. I needed to be true, and authentic. That’s my core motivation- to find and finally be, as well as help others find and finally be, their authentic selves.

So through doubts, questions, and conflicts coming to a peak when I caught my ex-wife committing adultery in our bed with the children home. I was shattered, as was my faith, and I was at the crossroads of hope and despair. I had to just sit there and cry myself to death at the crossroads, starving for meaning and joy… or I could move forward into deeper despair or hope. Moving into despair seemed stupid since I was already sitting in it and sitting is better than moving if you’ll end up in the same place anyway, so it seemed like the only real option was sitting forever in despair and staring down that road, or moving forward into hope.

So, fuck it… I’m moving forward.

Kickball and Milky Way

I was walking by the kickball field, just before passing “Ranger Rock” in front of the early-teen boy’s Ranger unit. I was in a particularly good mood, but I can’t remember why. It’s entirely possible it was about a girl, but I don’t think it was… I just remember thinking about how beautiful it was out there in the dark as I walked back after duty as a Camp Norwich Counselor in Training. One of my favorite parts of this job was getting to walk around camp at night with everyone asleep. 

I saw the sky above the kickball field where the trees had be cut to make room for our games- this was where we always set up the ‘poo slide (as in sham-poo, not poo-poo). I was always fascinated when I could walk back by starlight without a flashlight at night. In Florida where I lived, there was so much light pollution you could never even see that there were so many stars, but here there were literally millions. I took a slight detour and just walked up to the softball field and laid down in the grass to look at the stars. 

I’ll never forget how close they looked. It was almost as if I had an 18 foot ladder, I could climb up and touch one; they looked that close. I also remember that there were so many, and I could see that some were closer than others. There was a depth to the sky that I had never seen before; I could see that there were stars both closer and farther than the milky way clearly visible running through like a fractured streak in black obsidian. 

It was as if I could sense everything. I could smell the grass and the wildflowers around me. I had never smelled grass just growing… I only knew the scent of grass when ground into my jeans playing games in the yard. But this smell was the scent of growing, living grass- and I felt as if each breath synchronized my growing and living- even if only partially or hazily- with the earth beneath me. I felt a unity, a peace, that came with voluntarily submitting to be resting against the earth that I would one day eventually become. 

I don’t remember any specific thoughts, just a feeling of total awe. I also remember being surprised at the tear that I felt roll down my face- I hadn’t felt it sprout, and just like the stars I seemed to be able to feel every individual molecule of water and salt my tear left in a trail on my face. I could feel molecules of cold air bouncing off of my eyes and passing through my nose into my lungs, where I could sense individual molecules of oxygen sticking to and being absorbed by the alveoli. I pictured in my mind the illustrations from science books at school since I hadn’t ever seen them myself, but I felt them- individually- enriching my blood with oxygen. 

I remember praying that night, and just thanking God for the beauty of creation. That he made it so beautiful for us to enjoy I thought was a nice touch. Some say that things are beautiful to us because we need them to live, that the beauty is a biological drive making itself appealing, but I don’t think of drinking water as beautiful, though it’s the most important substance to my life. This was the thing beneath the water- the truth under all the realities and science of it all. This was the deeper thing that we can’t see unless we decide to look for it. Like those 3-dimensional pictures made of random dots, you’ve got to be willing to see it, to stop focusing on what’s there, and look beneath it… and then the depth of the invisible can be seen. 

This was the first night I ever experienced the bigger reality under my daily reality. The real world beneath the caricature we interact with daily created by our assumptions and groupings. This is when I first understood that if you slow down to see the world, you get to actually see the world itself. 

This was the first night I sensed the Truth under the facts.