I’m lying on my back in bed right now. 2:50pm, Sunday afternoon. I feel the weight of obligation in my shoulders, and the tenseness of a mind on edge.
I laid on a bed feeling this same way a few years ago in Bolivia. I was taking online classes, and was in the middle of a philosophy course. I loved the subject, but poured myself into it heavily, and found myself lying on a bed, on my back, uneasily.
I was on vacation with my Dad. He and I were spending a few days in the old colonial town of Sucre. Whitewashed buildings, cobblestone roads, typical Latin American plazas. I remember a teacher’s union striking, and their march through the streets. I also remember stumbling upon the right music through my headphones at that time when I was lying on the bed. I listened to some songs that brought back a sense of clarity and stillness- a sense that things were right and it was good to be alive. I think I fell asleep.
And awoke to my alarm. Which meant it was time to head out to town for the evening. We walked through the open-air hotel corridors and into the night, took in the fresh air, and roamed the streets until we found a hole in the wall worth eating at. I remember the meal (stuffed steak, possibly the finest thing I’ve ever eaten). I remember thinking about the European backpackers who came in. I remember pondering the philosophy texts I had been poring over. I remember just being there with my Dad. And it was so good.
So good to simply be there, in Bolivia, with him. And to think that earlier that afternoon, I had had a tired mind, as I do now.
Or did, I guess. It feels more like thankfulness now. And hope. And looking forward.
The plane drifted in its slow-motion descent, but once we’d touched down, I moved even slower. Making way through the small modern airport, I glanced up in time to notice what seemed to be old-world wooden accents. A man, his daughter and their dog greeted me from the luggage bay. I collected my belongings and we walked out into the first piece of Alaska I’d ever know- a parking lot.
The first thing noticed was the sheer number of Subarus and Toyotas, as well as bumper stickers to match. They looked like they’d been places; as if they’d seen more than asphalt and tar. The second thing noticed was the light. It was eleven P.M. The air was heavy and sky was shaded deeply, but it was certainly still awake. It seemed to me a junction between two states, and I had to ask whether the sun was about to set or about to rise.
It hadn’t yet set. In fact, nearly a month and a half later I have yet to see the night sky. But I hear it comes. I hear it comes with a seeming permanence, and brings with it a halt to the summer rush. I hear folks spend more time inside, Blaze Kings ® blaze longer, books grow thicker, and skis and dogs, sometimes together, fly trails like you can only imagine. The time is full, but its fullness is of a different sort than that of the summer. It almost sounds to me like a time of rest. Fallow, if you will.
Over the winter, Calypso’s soils seem to be dormant. This period allows for future vitality. Things are going on, however. It’s more than inaction. This distinction is patterned in the pace of some of our activities here in the Farmer Training Program, while others mimic a different pace. We can be found working our hands into soil, reflecting on readings, tearing down trees, building up buildings, etc. There is time alone, and there are times of community. Some moments are frenzied, others are meditative. The sun heats. The cold bites. And, as with the plants that thrive in the fields after having been hardened by their intentional removal from the singular set of greenhouse conditions that they’ve known, we’re bettered by the contrasts.
This evening, most of us have returned to our respective abodes. Solstice comes in two weeks, and with it slowly will come darker nights. Rain falls and dings on the roof- a living stillness. I rest my head on my pillow and am drawn to think about what comes next. What will June of next year look like? I have to remind myself, though, that I’m here now, and here for a reason, and when I’m there, I’ll be there for a reason.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
Thirteen Stars on an Ink-Smudged Page (June 19th, 2015)
Last night I wrote down thirteen bulleted phrases. It was my weekend to do list.
This morning, however, I heard from a friend, and her words prompted me to add one more. Albeit more a reminder than task, at the very top the words were added, “Everything in Light of What’s Most Important”. With that in mind, the list read much differently.
Some tasks were removed in total. Others were reworked and reoriented. Without exception, all were put into perspective.
Part of the Farmer Training Program consists of a Whole Farm Planning exercise. Throughout this process, we’ve been encouraged to think not only about potential production methods, farm locations, and resources that might be available, but also about bigger questions.
These bigger questions, ranging from visions of what a better world might look like, to unique aspirations within one’s own individual life, have the effect of reorienting our specific farming ideas to deeper drives and currents that are easy to lose track of in what can be busy, tumultuous times.
Beyond that, I myself am thankful simply for the space to work out those ideas. Taking the time to reflect on not just what one can and might do, but why one might do so has the possibility of not only affecting future choices and actions, or even the decisions of that very day, but the lens that one sees the world with that very moment, or so I’ve found.
I’ve found a lot of things on this farm and amongst our community to be very humbling. So much to learn. So much to do. This reminder, intentionally worked into our curriculum, has served, possibly beyond its intended use, to put myriad ideas, opportunities and convictions in the right place. For me, a restless one, this is important. Less frantic action, more moving forward. Aiming not only to do things, and not only to do things well, but aiming instead to do the right things well.
Unfortunately, as of 10/22/14 or so, my phone is kaput. I’m not sure if I’m going to try and work something out to get another or not, but in the meantime, I’m sorry for not responding to texts or calls. I haven’t received them. I can still be reached by email or correo.
On the other hand, I’m looking forward to sharing some words and stories from time spent here. Expect the first “ROAST LOG” soon.
All too aware, I found myself anxious. I didn’t want to do much of anything, but felt the need to do something, something to redeem myself.
“But why? Hadn’t I done enough? What am I even supposed to do now?” My mind was tired of the grappling.
I lay down. Time continued to flow, but I was imperceptibly removed. The passing of cars through puddles outside lulled me away. That’s all there was.
Cars coming and going and faint music from another room.
I woke to a clear mind and a healthy sense of being. I hadn’t done much, but I certainly had received.
What’s more refreshing than accepting that which is freely given? What’s more refreshing than grace?
“To be human is to learn to live with faith. We must die, but also learn to be okay.” (“Attachment”, Jeff Pianki)
Yesterday I visited an old spot in a wooded area. I had been there one year before.
Frustrated with different events, I barreled from the Spring Arbor dining commons with reckless abandon, not caring that I was flying on a road bike on wet grass or that there were pedestrians milling about ahead of me. I knew I was done. I didn’t know where I was going, but I sure was going to get there fast.
I ended up in some woods. I sat, I listened, I wrote and I made up my mind. I wasn’t going to force anything anymore. And I was at peace with that.
I took a twig to remind myself of the promise, which to this day sits on the dashboard of my car.
While the twig lasted, my resolve on the decision did not.
Regardless, it was good to get back to that spot. It was good to be reminded of why I keep that stick on the dash and think about what it means now.
“All circles presuppose they’ll end where they begin. But only in their leaving can they ever come back around.”
(mewithoutYou. Or Hegel)
“You like the struggle more than the progress,” she said, referring to a pieced together quote I’ve come to cherish and return to often. Truth has a way of hitting heaviest when it’s succinct.
I sat reflecting upon that moment at a cafe across from MSU’s campus in East Lansing. I was using their outdoor patio, chilled, my clothes wet from cycling in the rain. I could have driven. But I chose not to. My only regret was not packing along a dry pair of pants. There are certain things that I have done or am doing that lend credence to what she said that evening. And I’m not going to pretend that there’s a simple reason behind those things.
For instance, for over a month now I’ve been telling people that I was going to write about sleeping in my car. I’d tell them that it would be better to write something clear and concise and then direct them to it, in order to save time and evade misunderstandings. I told two coworkers just that today. But I’ve changed my mind.
I don’t completely understand why I choose some of the struggles that I do or cling to some of the pain that I do. There are words that I can bring up that are true and defend certain actions- simplicity, solidarity, faith, frugality, self-discipline, trust, sustainability, freedom, minimalism- but they don’t completely encompass or express what is.
I’m going to paint something further with two broad strokes. I choose it because:
There is something in the struggle.
And there is something beyond the struggle.
Something in it: It’s choosing to live. I can feel it. The negative ramifications of my choices and perceived effects upon my own value come strongly and frequently. These are easy to fall into, but altogether serve as a beneficial reminder than I’m not simply following. I’m confronting something.
Something beyond it: It points beyond itself. It’s made whole by something that has yet to occur. It’s fulfillment is not completely encountered in the present. This has much to do with why I can’t fully explain it. I don’t know where it leads.
I walked briskly towards the Refugee Development Center this afternoon, a bike with two blown out tires at my side. As I strode, a bearded African-American man appeared in front of me. He was bundled up and washing the store-front windows in the November cold. He asked how I was. I said “fine, thanks”and asked how he was doing.
The truth of his response was audible as the word passed beyond his lips. The winds quieted, and I continued my walk.
If you have the ability to be contented in your circumstances, and offer perspective to others, you have much. Words may not always be the best way to explain why. You may not need to defend your actions; maybe only persevere. I can’t explain why this man was as he was. But it’s what I want. The ability to show something; to have something to offer. Something more than empty words and rhetoric. Progress?
“To marry in order to enjoy oneself more will never work. To put marriage — union with the person you love — as your main aim, replacing everything else, is a big mistake. And it’s obvious if you think about it. The aim is marriage. Well, you get married, and then what? If you have no other aim in life before marriage, then later on it will be terribly difficult, almost impossible for the two of you to find one. It’s almost certain that if you have no common aim before marriage, nothing will bring you together afterwards, and you will always be falling out. Marriage only brings happiness when there is a single aim — people meet on the road and say, ‘Let’s walk on together’; ‘yes, let’s!’ and offer one another their hands — and not when people are attracted to one another and then both turn off the road in different directions
Life is neither a vale of tears nor a circus of entertainment. Life is a place of service, where one sometimes has occasion to put up with a lot that is hard, but more often to experience a great many joys. Only there can only be real joys when people themselves understand their life as service: have a definite aim in life outside themselves and their own personal happiness. Usually married people forget this completely.
Marriage and the birth of children offer so many joyful things to look forward to that it seems that these things actually constitute life itself, but this is a dangerous delusion. If parents live and produce children without also having a life purpose, there will be nothing to point their children to or guide them along the way. And then they will lose their human qualities as children and the happiness linked with them, and become pedigree cattle.
Those intending to marry, even if their life seems full, need more than ever to think and make clear to themselves what each of them is living for. And in order to do this, it’s necessary to think, and to think hard about the conditions one lives in and about one’s past, to evaluate what one considers to be important and unimportant in life and to find out what one really believes in — i.e. what one considers the invariable, indisputable truth, and what one will be guided by in life. Otherwise one does not truly know what he believes in, or whether one believes it or not.
If life is service, then the “good” consists of love. In order to love I must first train myself to require as little as possible from others. Unless I do this, I will be inclined not to love but to reproach. This demands a lot of work. Second, in order to love I must do something useful for others. This involves even more work. Lastly, it is necessary to learn gentleness, humility and the art of enduring unpleasant people and unpleasant things, and whenever possible not to offend. This requires the most work of all, and work that is non-stop, from waking up to going to sleep. But this is the most joyful sort of work.
When considering marriage, therefore, a couple needs to think and live as lovingly as possible so that they can find out whether they are really going along the same road and whether or not it’s good for them to give each other the hand. If they are sincere, the thought of marriage will lead them to what is higher, to find ways to bring more love and truth into the world. They will marry because it will enable them to attain this aim. But once having chosen what is higher, it will be necessary for them to put their whole heart and soul into it, not just a little bit of oneself; a little bit is no use!”
-Tolstoy (Personal Correspondence)
I continue to go. I move on after periods of time much too short. My heart and mind know that this can’t be kept up forever. Since my freshman year of college, I don’t think I’ve remained in any one place for more than six months.
This last leave was half voluntary. California’s Rim Fire, the fourth largest in state history pushed us from our jobs and living arrangements to safer ground- the Yosemite Valley. Our season was clearly over. We were given a choice: to take new positions with Delaware North, or get out of dodge. I chose the latter. This choice brought me to Los Angeles weeks before my scheduled arrival.
It’s been wonderful seeing my brother. He’s been super hospitable, generous with his time, space and resources. As an RA at the University of Southern California, full-time student and part-time IT guy, he has plenty asked of him. Despite that, he’s been willing to put up with me.
The city and campus are very impressive. I can feel that I don’t belong here though. In a couple weeks, it will again be time to move on.
I wonder how this transitiveness affects myself and my view of others. I think I have a tendency to plunge to certain depths with persons whom I see a certain trait in much faster than is usually desired or is expected. I think there are times when I don’t want to put any effort at all into meeting or getting to know people. I think that there is a strange subtle reinforcing loneliness that I tend to embrace at times, rather than trying to put myself out there and surmount it.
Further, how do I serve others in the context of this semi-nomadism? What am I trying to achieve through this constant reshuffling of persons and surroundings? As a start, Tolstoy’s recommendations as far as service to others, and how to love and view them are spot-on: to require less, offer something useful and do such things with the right position of heart. There are major strains of Christianity that view service as being a matter of simply being polite with others, avoiding profanity and supporting worthy causes. A commitment to justice and loving others is held to, yet not tightly enough to raise eyebrows or cause discomfort. Although this does require work, and is a step in the right direction, it simply isn’t enough.
It’s the faith community’s equivalent of “green consumerism”. There are a plethora of companies making a killing based solely on the fact that there are many, many people who want to make beneficial changes in this world and their lives, yet lack understanding of a handful of primary natures: that of change, that of sustainability, that of labor, that of necessity, that of exploitation, that of subsidies and trade agreements, so on and so forth. What you end up with are unnecessary products with “green” labels being embraced by the public and furthering corporate profits and control, as well as abuses of the environment and human rights.
Tolstoy’s first admonition, to ask less of others or to need less, can be a clarion call for Emerson-style self-sufficiency or a heavier dependence upon God. One of these ends unhealthily. Those well-versed in self-reliance understand that the term is a misnomer. To depend on oneself for everything is dangerous-emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc. The other form of dependence however leads to a genuine back-and-forth, or “relationship”, something spoken and written of much in Christian circles, but not always present. I digress. Tolstoy’s admonition that we should ask less of our fellow humans and planet has gained in relevance exponentially since his passing.
Beyond getting rid of unnecessary burdens upon that and those which are outside of ourselves, the ability to offer something is imperative. To tear something down without offering a replacement or alternative is senseless. Negation and removal only get one so far. Being proactively beneficial requires understanding what is worth doing, creating, sustaining. As Tolstoy mentioned, it does require reflection and work. But it is a vocation worth pursuing.
The last step Tolstoy offers is one of the heart and discipline. This is the one Andrew Murray speaks so eloquently about (humility). It’s the one that ties Paul together with the sound of clanging cymbals (love). It’s the one that we are to known by (love). This is the one that we must find ourselves before we can offer it to others, and gives worth to all of our words and actions. It’s one that we in the Christian community tend to lack, myself especially.
These three concepts can, and should, fill a lifetime.
After Los Angeles, I’ll be heading for Lansing, MI. God willing, I’ll be:
1.) …living at an intentional community where members focus their time and lives towards knowing God and serving Him and His creation.
2.) …living an extremely spartan existence (first-world standards). In short, my “room” will be smaller than most bathrooms and sitting on four wheels.
3.) …interning at Lansing’s Refugee Development Center, hopefully working out aim #1.
And after that, I hope to attend a five month long farmer training program just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.
In between the lines of the moves and rapid changes that I’m embarking on, I see what I am heading for. It’s slow going, but I think that it will be achieved. Something having to do with knowing what I believe, what should be done and what I have to offer. Although I’m tired of leaving people whom I don’t want to leave and meeting others knowing that that’s likely what lies ahead, I continue. To tie in Tolstoy’s primary subject matter, maybe someday I’ll meet someone on that same path- extend hands- and press on. Maybe not. I’m not sure it matters much.
“Understand: the task of an activist is not to negotiate systems of power with as much personal integrity as possible–it’s to dismantle those systems.” -L.K.
(liberalism vs. radicalism)
In all honesty, I feel like this is one of the best, if not the best, things to come out of these recent debates.
Yesterday I was invited to head to East Lansing to help out with an ESL program meeting at a church. The bulk of those attending were from Nepal. I went. It was very good and very much not what I was expecting. I don’t know the girls in the picture above, but apparently they’re Nepalese. And, well, these people from Nepal that I did meet- they tend to be considered Nepalese. That’s the connection.
When we got there, we were assigned different tasks according to our interests and abilities. I was pretty ambivalent about where I was going to be placed and ended up helping out with a multicultural youth group. I also got to spend some extra time speaking to the 10th-12th grade guys attending. There were three of them. Two were Americans who had grown up in the church and the other was a Nepalese Hindi.
I was really looking forward to talking to them. I thought to myself, “I’m really going to speak to these kids hearts. Relate these things and make them real. I think God is going to speak and impact their lives tonight…”
When people aren’t interested in what others have to say or don’t care to think about things deeply, it really dampers that wonderfully engaging environment suitable for profound insights.
These kids weren’t having any of it. Kamal, the Hindi boy humored me but that was as far as I got… We did talk about tea, mountains, prayer flags and Ganesha though. That was nice.
Anyway- some people don’t care to get deep or serious about things too often. I like to contemplate things on a regular basis, but, that’s just me. I don’t know if it was their ages (probably) or what. Maybe it had to do with the story related to them earlier in the evening. The parable of the prodigal son, except modernized into an anecdote about a businessman with a penchant for Gucci. Who still travels by donkey. (Huh?)
Anyway, who knows what those guys got out of the experience. I’d like to say nothing, but I definitely can’t with any authority of any sort. Maybe that seed- yeah.
In the words of Liam Lynch-
It was good to be there. Discouraging, but an eye-opening experience of sorts. I’ve been having those lately. And on a fairly similar note, I’d like to go to Mongolia… Sorry about the cynicism, didn’t get much sleep last night. I have a car and a cell phone number. Strangely enough though- that wasn’t the cause of my sleeplessness.
If you’re reading this, have a good one. You probably didn’t get anything out of this, but sometimes that’s quite alright…
What am I doing here?
Why am I here?
My first week here at Spring Arbor University has been both overwhelming and stretching.
There have been times in which I have felt purpose, felt meaning, felt close to God and where He wants me to be.
There have also been times of stress, times of doubt and times of what felt like the absence of God’s love and hand in my life.
Much of that absence has been my own doing. I’ve found a cycle that is often followed in my life to be that of God seeming to provide an opportunity, challenge, prodding or something of that sort. What I tend to do is try and take hold of that wholeheartedly- but with time, my intentions are nearly every time subverted. I lose that feeling of quickening and without even realizing it, muddle my aims for something lower, easier and more immediate. I’d attribute this to several things- one being neglecting to stay in the Word- something essential for growth and a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ. Several Catholic mystics and monks I’ve been reading advocate contemplation before scripture as the primary means of God’s revelation to a seeking heart, but I think I’d have to disagree. Yes, that simple act of “listening to God” is so powerful and so important, but it so easily can be a misguided and divisive practice if it isn’t utilized with a preemptive understanding of core Biblical tenets.
I’d also attribute it to a simple trust that God is endeavoring to produce in me. The mountain-top experience as opposed to the valley is so often used to depict this. Several persons have written regarding the “dark night of the soul”. Whichever illustration is used, the truth underlying each remains the same. We are called to Christ in times of happiness as well as times of trials. To forsake him when he doesn’t seem to be close is an unfortunate way out, one that prevents much spiritual growth.
There are other reasons, but-
It’s late. I feel I’m rambling.
I’m so thankful to be here. I fear I may be painting an inaccurate picture of my experiences here so far. I’ve met good persons here and have been blessed immensely. I am learning much. I have developed a very different perspective in these past years and months, which is so clear when I look at my mindset regarding these classes as opposed to that which I had a few years ago. That’s nice to see I guess. Anyway though- back to the point-
As a professor prayed simply this evening- “Not I, but You”.
That’s why I’m here. That’s how what is intended for me through this school is going to be brought about. I hope to gain a better understanding of how I can implement that “doxy” into “praxis” while I’m here. To have a heart broken by the needs and hurting persons in this world and the understanding- words- choices- convictions- decisions- and actions to allow God to work through me in his present redemption of humanity on Earth today*.
I pray to be constantly reminded of my intentions as well as my purpose in being here. And that love, that burden, that meekness, that thankfulness, that patience, that gentleness, that hope, that sorrow- that those would fill my innermost being and flow outwards as well.
*I understand this is a theologically loaded statement. I don’t mean it to be. I don’t have the energy to reword it right now. I just want God to work through me in the lives of others as he intends to.