What Works for Me, Part Two

This is the second part of a little blog series I’m writing called “What Works for Me,” in which I’m sharing the ins and outs of my spirituality. I hope you find it useful.

Last time I talked about “Open-Mindedness,” one of the spiritual principles that I try to live by. The second principle (but again: these are not linear, but are inter-woven and inter-dependent) is self-honesty.

SELF-HONESTY

Being honest with myself means that, before I complain about other people and their behavior, I take a look at ME.

And I mean a REAL look.

It’s so easy for me to let, well, ME off the hook. I make excuses for the same behavior in my own life that I normally scream about in others’ lives.

(In fact, the longer I live in this life, the more convinced I am that when something REALLY infuriates me, it’s usually an indication that, somewhere, somehow, I am guilty of doing the EXACT SAME THING.)

Self-honesty means owning my own thoughts and behaviors on a very deep and sincere level WITHOUT SHAMING myself (because, to the degree that PRIDE is about distinguishing myself from everyone else—”I am the best” OR “I am the worst”—SHAME is just another expression of pride).

Self-honesty means that I am always willing to ask myself, “okay but what did I do?” BEFORE I dwell on what someone else did to me.

Because, the truth is (if I’m being honest), my motives are practically ALWAYS mixed.

(NOTE: that question above does not address issues of abuse or victimization. There are many times in my childhood where I have not done ANYTHING to “deserve” the treatment that I received. But as an adult, I have had to be at least willing to entertain the thought that I have a part in a lot of the difficulties in my life.)

Already you can probably see the relationship between being open-minded and being honest with yourself. CLOSE-mindedness can very easily conclude, “It’s THEIR fault,” while being open-minded introduces the idea that maybe, JUST maybe I had some role in whatever is going on in my life.”

(Which, by the way, means that I have AGENCY—response ABILITY—to do something about it.)

Practicing self-honesty, to me, means that I normally reflect on my behavior in a day, and ask myself about my thought life and behavior. Was I selfish? Was I fearful? Did I over-react to a situation? Was I ambitious and prideful?

There’s nothing damning or too damaging in these answers. They are meant to remind me that NO ONE (including/especially me) is perfect.

Additionally, practicing self-honesty ALSO means that, because I am prone to making mistakes, I am likely to hurt other people. AND if I have hurt other people, that means I can also be open (and willing) to going to them and apologizing, and trying my best to make the situation right in some way.

But that’s getting into WILLINGNESS (which is next).

What Works For Me, Pt. 1

To me, there is no “spiritual life.”

There is only MY life, and it’s up to ME as to how “spiritual” it is or is not.

This means that washing dishes can be as God-infused as a worship gathering.

(Though what is missing in dishwashing is often the gathered people of God.)

Someone wrote once that we live in a “God-bathed world.” I like that. I believe that there is no place or no time that God cannot inhabit, and so I seek to make my life as thoroughly spiritual as I can.

(Pssssst: before you think that somehow I’m a “super-Christian”, please know that I seldom get this all “right.” In fact, it’s not about “getting it right” or being perfect—sorry over-achievers—it’s about PRACTICING a spirituality that actually can work to change you.)

So, for the next few weeks, here’s how I do it. It’s about spiritual principles, a simple program, and some basic actions.

I wonder about the significance of the fact that I did not learn these in seminary, or from a famous pastor or Christian celebrity, but rather hanging out with people whose lives—like mine—were tremendously broken, dominated by obsessions, compulsions, and behavior over which they seemingly had no power. Somehow in our desperation, we reached out for ANYTHING that had the power to save us, and somehow we found something that works.

I was thinking this morning about the beginning of Jesus’ “beatitudes” in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5, when he proclaims that “blessed are the poor in spirit”—or, as I’ve also heard it said, “blessed are the spiritual losers.”

It seems to me that if you think you have it all together in any sense of the word, maybe you just can’t get desperate enough to try something that seems so simple.

It’s only when our illusions are completely and utterly shattered that we get the clarity and humility to say, “Maybe I should try something different.” For better or for worse, it seems that it takes some kind of significant failure of whatever systems of maintenance and happiness we use to get us to be open to a new way of living in the world.

(And for some of us, even that’s not enough; we seem too stubborn and dug in—to our theology, to our emotions, to our tribalism—to be open to the idea that life might, JUST MIGHT, have more for us than what we are experiencing. In the meantime, we go on hurting ourselves and the ones we care about the most, cultivating more pain and more isolation in our lives.)

But… IF you find yourself at the end of SOME KIND of rope, and want something MORE, here’s what worked for me.

Let’s start with PRINCIPLES. I base my life, as do millions of others, on three spiritual principles: open-mindedness, self-honesty, and willingness.

They are very simple principles, but I hope a couple of things will stand out. First, I have found them to be extremely powerful, almost limitless in their potential. I can “go back to the well” again and again, and find something new. Also, to me they are inter-related, and in fact it actually undermines their impact if I sever them from one another.

OPEN-MINDEDNESS

For me, open-mindedness is closely related to concepts like humility and wonder. To be open-minded is to be willing to say, “I don’t know,” and (furthermore), “It’s OKAY that I don’t know.”

Open-mindedness means that I am willing to let SOMEONE or SOMETHING else—whether it’s God or a trusted friend, or simply a FACT that I haven’t considered before—impact my life and shape my behavior and my thinking.

To be open-minded is for me to ALWAYS consider the possibility that I am being blinded by my ego, or my background and brokenness. These things tend to warp my view of reality, and to convince me that I am more important than I actually am.

(HUMILITY, by the way, does not mean treating myself bad, or with shame. Humility means that I am willing to be “one of the herd,” neither more or less important than anyone else.)

Open-mindedness is also about being willing to believe that there is more to life than what we can see; that there are realities (and even beings) that may be “more real than real” and “more true than true.”

Practicing open-mindedness means that I have counselors (professional as well as informal) that have access to my life and can speak into it. (NOTE: It ALSO means that I LISTEN to said counselors, and am willing to change.)

Practicing open-mindedness means also that I am placing myself before facts and spiritual truths, and being willing to admit when I need to adjust my perspective.

Practicing open-mindedness means that I adopt an internal perspective that says, maybe, just maybe I don’t know exactly what’s going on, or even exactly who I am. Maybe, just maybe I can LISTEN at least as much as I speak (preferably more).

Maybe I can be open to input from others.

There’s a power and a freedom in open-mindedness. It means I do NOT have to have all the answers and, because it’s actually IMPOSSIBLE for me to have all the answers in the first place, I can be free to be imperfect, and to be human just like everyone else is.

Next Up: Self-honesty.

Love Hurts (AND…)

Whether you like Nazareth’s Scottish hard-rock/chest hair/great mustaches version, or the kinder, gentler Emmylou/Graham Parson’s version, “Love Hurts” is a truly amazing song. 

But it only tells half the story. 

Love hurts, love scars
Love wounds and marks any heart
Not tough, or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud, it holds a lot of rain
Love hurts

I’m young, I know
But even so
I know a thing or two
I’ve learned from you
I really learned a lot, really learned a lot
Love is like a flame, it burns you when it’s hot
Love hurts

Some fools think
Of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness
Some fools fool themselves I guess
They’re not fooling me
I know it isn’t true, I know it isn’t true
Love is just a lie, made to make you blue
Love hurts

“Love Hurts,” Boudleaux Bryant

Just like Neil Young says, “only love can break your heart,” yes: love hurts. It does, in fact, wound and scar. 

And it does take a lot of pain. 

But here’s the thing that the lyric leaves off (and even I hate to admit it): 

In this life, pain is the main mechanism for our growth. 

So, as painful as love can be, and as bad as it can hurt, it’s also the way in which our lives can get a little bit larger, and more whole, and even more resilient. 

And over time, if you “do pain right”, or “suffer productively”, we can see our lives get a little more capacity for joy, and wonder, and—get this—even more love. 

I think most all of us love something, or somebody, which means we’ve probably all been hurt. When I hurt because of love, my reaction is often to silently declare, “Well, I’ll never do that again,” meaning risk myself, extend myself, reveal my soul. 

(By the way: I’m talking here about “love” in the grander, more expansive sense, not merely romantic love. I’m also talking about the deep, rich love and affection that can grow up between people in community, sharing lives together. THIS love can be just as powerful as any romantic love.)

But that—the pulling BACK from love (and pain) is to move towards isolation, and (ironically) the potential for MORE fear. 

Which can start a pretty unpleasant cycle. 

So yeah, love hurts. But that’s not the whole story. I’m learning that to risk, and to love, and to hurt, and to grow is better than to not have loved at all. 

Love also heals us, and grows us, and helps to make us slightly better human beings. 

When Jesus Messes Everything Up

There’s this one little passage in the Book of Acts that really messes with me; I’ve been sitting with it for about a week now, but it REALLY seems like it applies to most of my life over the past four months (at least). 

Here’s the way it reads in the Common English Bible: 

“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the regions of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit kept them from speaking the word in the province of Asia. When they approached the province of Mysia, they tried to enter the province of Bithynia, but the SPIRIT OF JESUS WOULDN’T LET THEM.”

Acts, Chapter 16

If you’ve ever studied Paul’s journeys, it’s very easy to see that Paul was pretty organized. His trips around the Mediterranean make sense and are planned well (while simultaneously being “Spirit-led”). So when the story says that he and his companions were trying to go Asia and the province of Bithynia, it’s because (a) they were confident that’s where God wanted them to go, and also (b) it made a lot of SENSE to go there. 

But then Jesus shows up. 

And says, “Nope.” 

It makes me think about my reaction when something seems to go wrong that I believe is (a) where God wants me to go/what God wants me to do and (b) makes a lot of sense. 

I tend to think that if something doesn’t work out the way I’d planned my reactions are some combination of: 

  1. Human brokenness is to blame. We were too prideful, or whatever. 
  2. There is some kind of opposition—call it the devil, or Satan, or whatever—that is opposing “God’s work.” 

But here the Scripture clearly indicates that it was JESUS that was saying no.

And if Jesus is present in the “NO”, that means that everything that tends to come with Jesus—peace, love, compassion, joy, etc.—can be present in that NO as well. 

So I can settle down just a bit, and say, “Okay, Jesus: what are you trying to tell me or teach me right now?” 

(“Don’t go to Bithynia.”)

So…

Next time your plans seem to blow up, and nothing makes sense or lines up with what you thought God wanted you to do, consider: 

… Maybe it’s NOT a result of your (or others’) brokenness. 

… Maybe it’s NOT some kind of spiritual opposition. 

…Maybe it’s actually Jesus, which means there can be GIFTS inside the “No,” and all you really have to do to find them is to ACCEPT the reality of the NO and then ask with an open heart, “God what are you trying to show and teach me right now?” 

Most likely, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the answer. 

Thoughts: Prayer and Presence

I don’t pray for God to “show up.” 

There’s never any PLACE nor any TIME in which He is not. 

(If he wasn’t, the whole operation of creation would cease to exist.) 

What I pray is for the eyes to SEE where and how He is moving.

I don’t pray for God to speak; He’s always speaking. 

What I pray is for my openness to HEAR, and then the strength and COURAGE to obey. 

I don’t pray for God to be with me; when He—in the form of Jesus the Christ—opted to take on human skin, He did that ONCE AND FOR ALL

His love is not conditional. 

What I pray is for me to live in the reality of that solidarity and love, to reject shame and any effort to try and EARN grace. 

If God only showed up in certain times and places, if He only spoke or revealed Himself to certain people in certain conditions, if He was only with SOME people at SOME times, than (to me, at least), it would mean that there were “special people” that get to experience God, while the rest of us get some kind of lesser experience or portion of Him. 

And that’s not grace. 

So I take God at His word—that grace is REALLY grace (“unmerited favor”)—and that “Good News” (“Gospel”) REALLY IS GOOD NEWS. 

I have all I need, SHOULD I CHOOSE TO LET HIM BE IN CHARGE. 

When all is said and done, it looks a little like this: 

“God show me how You are moving today. I surrender everything: my will, my plans, my thoughts. You are in charge. Guide me, and show me Your will, and give me the strength and courage to follow You today.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

"I Know Something"

I may not know a lot about you, but I know something
I may not know a lot about you, but I know one thing (and that’s)
I’m alive.

“I’m Alive” by pop poppins

Some of my favorite lyrics and musical ideas come from local bands that no one has ever heard of. 

If you weren’t there, you missed it: in this case, Dallas, TX, in the early 1990s. 

I’ve always loved that line, and I was so grateful when the internet gave me the gift of being able to once again hear some of the music that we were soaking up, just out of college and being oh-so-serious about music. 

That line comes from a song called, “I’m Alive,” and the band was called “pop poppins” (inspired from Mary Poppins, no less). 

Beautiful, dreamy alternative (from when that word really mattered) music. 

But I use that line a lot. 

Seems like the older I get, the less I “know.” 

And I’m becoming okay with that. 

But it’s not like I don’t know ANYTHING. 

I do not have to know everything: about God, about life, about music, about creativity, about my wife or my children, or my friends.

I know SOMETHING. 

And that’s, well, SOMETHING. 

All I have to do is do something with the something that I know. 

And be content with all of the stuff I don’t know. 

Morning Pages, 3 Dec: When the Music is All Around

There are moments when the music is all around, when it surrounds me like a great blanket and I feel LOVE and there’s nothing between me and the universe and I’m not taking (nor faking) and there’s only notes BUT notes aren’t really notes they are BLOOMS and messages to and from the soul place. 

There are moments. 

There are moments when all the HURT and PAIN and DOUBT DISAPPEAR and I-am-making-a-difference to myself at least and that is usually enough and I can give and receive at the same time because they are actually both the same. 

I do not think of the shoes I’m wearing then, not do I remember why I picked the shirt to wear then I only CHOOSE without thought — is that a choice? — Maybe I only have to MOVE TOWARDS (not choose) the next note or chord, only because THAT’s the next note/chord to play. I need no reason, because THE MOMENT IS THE REASON. 

I don’t have an itchy soul then. I AM ERIC, and ERIC is music, because MUSIC is what is happening then. When music is not happening, then to be Eric will mean something else…

… making-eggs Eric

… reading-books Eric

… having-an-argument Eric

… praying Eric

… sleeping Eric

… being-lazy eric

ALL of those Erics are Eric, and they are all valid and LOVED.

It’s just that… music is… well, music is…

SSHHHHHHHHHHH.