I’m Not Giving Up for Lent

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We’re smack in the middle of Lent, y’all:

That feared-but-blessed 40 days of fasting undertaken by the Faithful before we revel in the joyous, holy Feast of Feasts: Pascha [that’s Orthodox Christian for Easter]. For those of us who observe Lent, the experience is varied. Some give up things they love or have dependence on: chocolate, booze, and social media come to mind. Some choose to add-in rather than take-out, and incorporate good habits- like exercise and meditation-into their daily routines. For Christians following older traditions, there are prescribed fasts (see: Orthodoxy, Catholicism).

One thing rings true about Lent no matter your tradition: it’s hard. We live in a “whatever makes you feel good” culture of consumption and instant gratification. Saying “no” is looked on with suspicion, especially when it comes to denying my own wants and impulses.

Not only is it hard for me to keep my body in-tune with Lent, my perspective is often skewed as well. If I’m being honest, I tend to interpret “how Lent is going” one of two ways:

Fail-centric: I can’t believe I ate that cheese cube! And then the other cheese cube! Why didn’t I do better?! And how many times did I forget to pray today? Probably like a thousand. Boy, am I terrible at Lent!

-or-

Fast-centric: Looks like I made it through another week of eating nothing but chickpeas, black beans and almond milk. I would love to join you for dinner, but it’s God’s will that I eat yet another peanut butter and jelly sandwich, seasoned with tears. Boy, am I great at Lent!

The problem is both of those thought patterns are are self-focused, with little attention being paid to God’s help, or the actual point of the fast. Not to mention they are the opposite approach to the one Christ tells his followers to take in the Gospel [essentially: if it’s to make you look better or more pitiable, you’re doing it wrong, Matthew 6:16-18].  I became frustrated with the emotional pendulum swing between my two approaches, so I took it to Confession. “I just don’t like Lent,” I said. “It’s hard, I don’t enjoy it, and I’m not very good at it.” Father turned to me and said quietly, “It’s not supposed to be easy. If you’re not enjoying it, you’re probably doing it right.

ImageSo Lent is not about whether or not I am winning the struggle to be righteous. It is about whether or not I am struggling to be righteous at all. If it’s difficult then  I’m struggling. If I’m struggling, then I need God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. If I realize this and turn to God for that grace, I will receive it, which will bring me into closer communion with God. The point of Lent it’s not to be perfect, it’s to be in touch with imperfection. It’s not for everything to be easy and well done; it’s to continue to push through the difficulty in prayer and humility toward God and others.

If your Lent is hard, it’s real. If you’re failing, you’re doing it right. If you’re struggling, you’re receiving grace. Even the smallest step forward is one toward Pascha and the feast.  So, hang in there. If you’re “not doing great at Lent”, keep up the good work. No matter what you’re giving up for Lent, just don’t give up.

 

the best ten minutes of your day is in this blog.

I felt kind of horrendous for bits of last week. Studies show that feeling horrible isn’t good. 100% of the time, feeling horrible is unpleasant. I know how it feels when work gets you down, or when you feel lonesome, or when you remember with a few minutes to spare that your big paper is due tomorrow and not the day after tomorrow. It’s the worst. And sometimes you just have to admit that to God and the Internet and everybody.

But sometimes, life throws you a bone. Sometimes, there is a glimmer of hope in an otherwise Gloom-and-doom Sadfest.

Like today, someone called me back at work. Not to tell me about another problem, but to thank me for helping them. To let me know that everything was going to work out, and that they appreciated me walking them through it.

Excuse me, I thought, are you sure you have the right number?

But in that kind of situation, you don’t ask questions.

So.  just in case you’re having a rough week, or day, or whatever, I bring you two videos that I can solemnly-courtroom-style swear will comprise the Best Ten Minutes of Your Day. Go ahead. Bookmark it. You’ll be back.

First, this delightful animated short, Paperman, which is nominated for an Academy Award:

Let me guess, did it get the nomination for THE MOST ADORABLE THING I HAVE EVER SEEN?!

Go ahead. Watch it again. No one will judge you.

As if that isn’t wonderful enough, Soulpancake has put this kid on the map. He’s Kid President. And he has a Pep Talk. For you.

Best part? Not cool, Robert Frost!

What I love most about this video is the underlying assumption that everyone is awesome, and therefore, can be awesome and do things that are awesome. That includes you, you know.

Since it’s obvious that Kid President and I have a lot in common, it shouldn’t surprise you that I want to participate in making this an Awesome Year for Other People [and not just by dancing]. So I’m going to write up an email to the President himself, asking him to give an interview for this very blog. I’ll let you know what he says.

I hope it’s yes.

And I hope that if you were having a bad week, it just got better.

If not, let me know what else I can do.

the (block) party is over.

My friend Kimmie is awesome. She blogs, too. And she does it so well that she has fans other than her own mother [No offense, mom, I love you!] that send her goodies in the mail. She is becoming a bloglebrity. I am really proud of her.

I have been complaining to Kimmie for years about this and that. Today’s topic of discussion was a common one for me: what the flip do I blog about? Ever since starting this blog about 5 years ago [that seems long enough ago for me to have been writing about my favorite member of *Nsync, but I digress], I have struggled with content.

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I went through a short story phase, a poetry phase, an interview phase, and an album review phase. But the story ran out of steam, the poetry was too sad, I couldn’t find enough of the right people to interview, and I had the opposite problem for album reviews [it proves a daunting task in Nashville where you are surrounded by both aspiring and actual talent].

My creativity is not neatly compartmentalized. My ideas are in piles. The exciting part is also the harrowing part: when it comes to rummaging through my own mind for ideas, I never know what I might find.

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The other problem(s) I run into have to do with  complications resulting from utter lack of pop culture knowledge. You are looking at someone with no cable, who doesn’t listen to the radio, and whose most recent Netflix views include Matilda and Shaun the Sheep. Where do I turn for fodder when I run out of sociopolitical or theological observations? Who in the world can I relate to besides Kermit the Frog or Wallace and Gromit?

To go all Jane Austen on you, the whole thing vexes me greatly.

But the fact of the matter is, if I’m not writing, nobody’s reading. If I’m not committed to creating, no one else can be inspired to create through my art. If I’m not unpacking my emotional baggage in front of God and the Internet and everybody, someone else might not have the strength to let go and be themselves.

So I owe it to you all and to myself, and to cyberspace to set a goal.

My motto for 2013: i will KEEP WRITING.

My resolution: i will WRITE REGULARLY.

My goal: i will write a minimum of ONE BLOG A WEEK.

Yes, I’m type-shouting. Yes, it’s that important.

Because our Art is who we are: it’s the lifeline to all of our sparkly, wonderful greatness not only for ourselves, but for others. Making art makes us happy, sharing our art makes others happy.

So I might not have any idea where I’ll end up in the end, but I can tell you this much.

This year, I will write.

Get Thee To a What-ery?!

One of the creepiest-and most entertaining-things about the Internet is that it seems to “get you”. Pandora always seems to know what song you want to hear next. StumbleUpon is a veritable rabbit hole of brilliance. Pintrest, Tumblr and Twitter seem to anticipate your every whim.

It’s all fun and games. Until it gets super weird.

Today I was whiling away my life on Facebook as usual, when I noticed one of my sidebar Ads. Underneath this-and-that artist who sounds like Bon Iver begging me to visit their Bandcamp, I saw something peculiar. “Be a Nun!” it declared.

Wait. What?

What do you mean, “Be a nun!”?

I know. I am very-super single. And I do say a lot about Church.

But that does not mean I am sitting in a tiny, windowless room singing “Climb Every Mountain” all day long.

Don’t worry, says Internet, if being a Nun isn’t for you, I bet I know what is: Christian Dating. Artist Dating. Dating for Almost Vegans. Date a Millionaire.

Happiness is a click away, it seems to whisper, try it now for free.

To me, “Be a Nun!” and “Find Your Soulmate NOW!” are two extremes on the same continuum. All of it rubs me the wrong way. Just because I’m single now doesn’t mean I want to be celibate forever. And just because I’m not dating Mister Dot Com, doesn’t mean that my life won’t be complete until I do so.

from Sister Act 2

“oh, no she didn’t!”

Don’t get me wrong. Being a nun and dating, respectively, are both about having healthy, strong relationships, learning how to give, and being a part of something greater than oneself. I dig that.

But what if I want to be single right now? What if I choose to enjoy the life I have in this moment? What can the world sell me to make things better if I am happy with the way things are?

That’s the goal for me these days. I have to ask myself: where am I, and how can I be content, wherever that is?  My recent piece on The Huffington Post, on faith healing and why I would opt out, has caused quite a stir. As I re-read it the other day, I got to thinking. What if I applied this same thinking [and faith, as it happens], to other areas of my life?

Instead of focusing on upward or lateral mobility at work, what if I just focused on doing the best I can with the job that I have right now? Instead of wistfully imagining Ryan Gosling waiting for me at home with dinner on the table [okay, that will always happen], what if I made the most of my time alone by using it to take better care of myself with exercise, sleep, or eating right?

But how?! HOW DO I GET THERE?

“The Lord is my Shepherd,” says the Psalmist, “I shall not want.”

This thought hit me right out of the blue today, like a Frisbee to the face.

For me, faith is an integral part of the process. Because I believe I have been given what I need to get through whatever day it is. “Grace is sufficient for me,” the Apostle Paul writes in his letter, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Of course, I am not leaping out of bed and skipping through every day with glee. And that’s not what I’m committing to. I’m committing to acceptance of where I am and what I’m doing, the same way I advocate for a faith healer to accept what I look like and how I move.

For my peers in the Faith, God is faithful. For those who are not, you’ve made it this far! All of you are doing fine. It gets rough, but you’re growing from where you are. Otherwise you’d be dead. Don’t stretch and strain and hurt yourself. Just accept it, be thankful to have another day, find beauty where you can. 

And yeah, it’s easier said than done. But you’re in good company. Right where you are. Right who you are.

GalileON with your bad self.

You guys remember Galileo, right?

Back in the day, the Catholic Church [Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!] put him under house arrest. Galileo preferred his theory of heliocentrism to theirs: geocentrism. In other words, he was all like, “Whatever, guys. The heavenly bodies revolve around the SUN. Not the Earth. Duh.” And they didn’t like the cut of his jib. So he spent the rest of his life in confinement over something we wouldn’t hesitate to affirm today.

It gets me wondering. Because I am a deep thinker and an intense feeler. Despite my apparent extroversion, it is very easy for me to internalize things that I think and feel about myself, and I tend to get lost in my own thoughts. And the stronger a feeling is, the easier it is for me to accept it. But just because I believe something very strongly does not make it true. In fact, when it comes to believing something super negative about myself, my life, or how I relate to others, the opposite is almost always true.

Galileo wouldn’t stand for that kind of thing.

I like to imagine his staunch rebuttal of untruth whenever my self-esteem is down to critical levels.

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Me: Oh, man. This is hard. No one except for me has ever been through this, and I will never survive.

Galileo: Wow. Um. First of all, calm down. Secondly, you’re not an anomaly. While there is a great deal of variance in human life, many circumstances are common to us all. And you’re probably not going to die. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. YOU’LL MAKE IT. I REFUSE TO BACK DOWN.

[or . . .]

Me: Man. I am a difficult person to deal with, and my friends are just around me because they’re nicer than average.

Galileo: It’s cute that you think that. But it’s WRONG. It is a FALSEHOOD. Your friends hang around you because everyone needs friends. Including your friends. 

[or. . .]

Me: I will never be able to handle the ever-increasing number of responsibilities in my uncomfortably grown-up life. I am starting to regret this job/apartment/career/major life decision, and am going to commence an uncomfortable-for-everyone self-loathing session.

Galileo: Seriously? This is getting ridiculous. Obviously, you wouldn’t be in this situation if you didn’t have the ways and means to get here. Things will work themselves out with time. And you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s another part of the human experience. I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS. GIVE ME ONE OF THOSE OBNOXIOUS ANKLE MONITORS IF YOU HAVE TO. I STICK TO MY GUNS. I’M GALILEO.

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See how easy that is? The next time you have a pressing thought that’s obviously bringing you down, ask yourself: is this true? If it is true, keep calm, eat some ice cream, say a few prayers, and revisit the whole thing later. If it isn’t true, [which is probably the case] go all Galileo on it.

Tell yourself the truth of the matter and stick to it. No matter what.

Make old GG proud.

He hath converted my soul.

I love my little green Psalter. It reminds me that to be a saint and a human being [or a saint and an artist, for that matter] is not mutually exclusive. With the Psalter’s help, I can have my pick and pray any one of more than a hundred different ancient prayers anytime I choose.

And [the good news for someone like me is] they run they emotional gamut; it seems like there is a Psalm for every sentiment, a prayer that reflects every mood or experience.

But I always come back to one of the simplest, most beautiful, and most familiar:

 

“The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall not want.

In a place of green pastures, there hath He made me to dwell; 

Beside the water of rest He hath nurtured me.

He hath converted my soul, he hath led me on the path of righteousness for His Name’s sake.

For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me;

Thy rod and Thy staff, they have comforted me.

Thou has prepared a table for me in the presence of them that afflict me.

Thou hast annointed my head with oil, and Thy cup which filleth me, how excellent it is!

And Thy mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.” – [Psalm 22 (23)]

 

It has been an uphill climb lately, for me, and for a lot of people around me. But this gives me so much comfort. To know I can pray with faith “He hath converted my soul”. To know that I can believe-whenever I say this prayer, and whenever else I choose to remember it-that G*d Himself has changed [and is changing] my soul. The poking and prodding of the crook is unpleasant at times. It’s unwelcome, it’s unwanted, and it seems to come from all sides. But it is keeping me on the right path. It is changing me.

One of my laments during this season of repentance is “I don’t know if I’m changing. I can’t tell if anything is really getting any better, or if I am really getting any closer to G*d.” I hope that remembering and saying this prayer will ease my distress. I am changing. And it can only be for the better. Because He Himself is the one changing me.

Easier to believe than see, granted. But then, true faith is rarely glamorous.

If G*d is changing me, then what is my responsibility? To keep near him, To not stray-in my stubbornness and shortsightedness-from His path. The Psalm reminds me He leads me to rest. He makes me lie down. He prepares a table for me. His Mercy itself chases me down. 

I am beginning to see that this Psalm is perfect for my frazzled, frustrated, exhausted, confused but sincere soul, as it sits just past the middle of Lent, longing for the Feast and for New Life. I must be humble enough to accept His guidance, yes. But I cannot forget to accept His Grace and Mercy in my determination to stay on the right path. 

Jesus says in John’s Gospel that the sheep will hear His voice and recognize Him, and that He will be among them and Shepherd them (John 10). It is my hope and prayer that I am learning-as I wander through what feels like a wilderness-to listen to and follow not only his discipline, but His great love,

May it go with you also.

 

 

in case of Mayan Apocolypse.

Okay.

It is probably safe to assume that people like me-with the attention span of a hummingbird, and an equally overdeveloped guilt complex-should not focus too much time or energy on resolutions for the new year [or on how I may have dismally failed to keep the ones from years prior].

But now the Mayans are going all Televangelist on me and telling me it’s going to rain blood and explode badness at the end of 2012. That means I need to set at least one goal I can feel good about. You know, just in case I get thrown down some kind of Doom Pyramid. [To be fair, the Mayans were a little intense. They probably looked forward to that sort of thing.]

S0. If things are going to get a little Kubrick by the end of next year, I might as well take every opportunity to Carpe Year, as it were. Don’t fret. I don’t plan to throw responsibility to the wind and give over to Bacchanalia. And I don’t mean to pull a Thoreau, quit paying taxes, and become a forest dweller. I just need to continually engage in pursuits that make me feel whole and happy, while I have the chance.

My resolution for the year? Be creative. I mean, embody the term; redefine it if I have to. . . it is high time to push my creativity to the limit. Challenge it. Grow it. Do whatever it takes to more fully participate in it.

Because, along with being in Sacred space, being in creative space gives me peace and joy. It makes me feel like I am more fully myself. It shows me new parts of myself. It humbles me and makes me proud. It gives me crystalline awareness of the human and the Divine.

While taking part in a collage night a few weeks ago, my friends and I adopted a new rule: The answer is Yes. Should I give FDR giraffe legs? Yes. Should I place the words “The Strangest” across an American flag? Absolutely. Should I give Baby Buddha robotic hands? Of course you should.

When it comes to Being Creative, if I ask myself “Should I try this?”, I am starting to understand the answer should be yes. [I’m not saying that every single impulse has to be indulged and obeyed, or that every endeavor will be successful. There’s just no reason I should limit myself in an area where everyone is meant to drop the limits.]

How is this goal going to be quantified? I’m not sure. But the nice thing about having a resolution completely based in creativity is that my approach can be, too.

I have been thinking on this for a while. And the glimpses of freedom and joy I have felt while immersing myself in creative projects is something I had to make a bigger part of my life.

I have basked in the love of my friends and family long enough to know that you guys will not only support me and hold me accountable, but that many of you will jump on the bandwagon [which undoubtedly resembles the bus from Magical Mystery Tour] and join me in my foray.

And knowing how talented so many of you are, and how much you inspire me, we seem to be well on our way.

Look out 2012. Look out Mayans. We’re painting this town red. Or blue. Or decoupaging it. Whatever. We’re making it beautiful and sparkly and awesome. And in that way, we are claiming it. We are promising to make it new.