Recalling a Sermon on Contentment

I haven’t listened to many sermons in the last few years, but I did tonight. It was a simple message, but it helped me see some blind spots.

The preacher shared a quote from Voltaire. It basically said ‘God created man in his image and man has attempted to return the favor.’ What this means, is that we try to create a version of God in our mind that fits our life. If we value financial stability and providing for our family above everything, we twist God into this being that understands when we hoard our money and don’t give with open hands to the poor. If we value romantic relationships above everything, we twist God into this being that understands and welcomes our sexual sin.

The preacher said we should twist ourselves to align with God instead.

“There are things about Jesus that I don’t like,” the preacher said. “There are commands that Jesus makes that are hard for me. But we cannot twist Jesus into something we like. We must twist ourselves instead. Die to ourselves and learn to cling to Jesus more.”

He went on to say that Jesus was radical. Jesus didn’t know where he would eat the next day. Jesus didn’t know where he would sleep the next night. But he still relied on God. Because Jesus was radical, we should live radical lives too; giving our security away so our brothers and sisters can eat, abstaining from sexual immorality when the world promotes lust.

The preacher said the reason we are not content is because we don’t really believe that Jesus is enough to sustain us.

These are things I have been hearing in church circles for a long time, but they struck me tonight. Dying to myself is hard. Believing ‘Jesus is enough’ all the time is hard. But twisting God into my own image does not work.

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One creative expression a day

One creative expression a day. That’s what I’m hoping for. Some folks put deadlines and disciplines between them and creating. If that’s what helps you, do you. I haven’t put deadlines on myself to create ever, but I’m not saying it won’t happen in the future. I’m pretty good at being consistent and I like to alleviate stress there.

I’ve been painting and drawing and writing songs and performing and recording music and writing poems and submitting articles. It’s been a good, hearty season for expression. I’m teetering on the edge; do I plummet, submerge myself and go ‘all in’ or do I find other work and keep creating as a hobby?

I’m gunna go all in.

Megaphone

It is not until I’m seated in a reclined position that I realize how heavy the mental burdens of the day have been. Then I can see how unwieldy they really are. 

I’m wondering out loud a lot to my fifth grade definition of God. “Why all this pain? Why all this broken and bent and tragic? What are we doing? What are You doing? Do you love us, still? Did you ever at all? 

Basically, it boils down to : this life is really hard. A real slog at times. 

God doesn’t like to be asked direct questions, it seems. He likes to whisper in the wind and speak in a mourning dove’s song. I’mma be honest, I get pretty tired of discerning meaning from the breeze on a blade of grass (that’s a joke). 

How about some megaphone responses? Maybe he does that too in the face of tragedy, but I’m talking some straightforward, not cryptic, unmistakable commentary. I mean all of this light-heartedly (for now), but it would be nice to see some road signs marked, “Tyler, go here.” 

I’m in a life-lull for the moment and a big, clear push is welcome. 

 

Fly Away – a meditation

“One bright morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away.”


I want you to notice how soft that line is; how light and divine. It’s like the sentence is angled into a crescendo somehow; like the end of the sentence is taking flight above the clouds.

Sing it over and over in your head. Get lost in the idea of flying away. Pick up and leave every heavy thing behind. I don’t have to name the heavy things. We all know what they are. We recite them again and again until the area between our brow wrinkles.

But letting go of every heavy thing sounds nice, doesn’t it? All those recitations suddenly forgotten completely. And instead, that line above replaces them. The morning is bright, the race is run, I’ll let go of everything and just fly. 

No need to overcomplicate things; just flight and a new perspective from on high. 

 

Confidence lacking

Confidence is something I’ve lacked my whole life. People have told me I need to gain confidence; everyone from my mom to my pastor. I would love to feel comfortable in my own skin, in my beliefs, in my doubts, in my struggle with depression and mental illness. But I’m not – not really anyway and on top of that, I’m not sure how to work on it.

Maybe if there was a special pill I could take in the morning (along with the litany of other pills I already take … what’s one more?). That sounds nice and easy.

There are not many areas where I can hold on to confidence and feel secure in myself. I am an average musician, with an average voice. I am a poet who has never been published. I am an author with a book collecting dust. I have never experienced success in the workplace. I have a disorder that makes all manner of those things difficult. I care about my friends more deeply than they care about me. I suck at romantic relationships, to use a word that doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of this piece. You get the idea.

But I am kind. And I am honest. The world does not need more confidence in my opinion before it needs more kindness. I’m not saying confidence is not important, it clearly is. However, it comes down to: what I want to practice in my life. I want to practice kindness before everything else.

I want to practice honesty too; telling it how it is with no white-washing or bullshitting. And maybe, I’m realizing, confidence can come from those places instead of some vacuum that I don’t understand or some elixir that doesn’t exist. It can be born out of those top-tier things, like love for your fellow man.

I might have to be ok with a confidence meter that is perpetually half-full. I don’t know how to work on increasing it. I do know how to be more kind. There are always ideas in my head for that. I am naturally very honest and it could be that my apparent lack of confidence is really just a proclivity for telling the truth. The average man or woman probably feels the slights and nervousness that I feel, but doesn’t voice them. Along with their doubts and failings and unsuccesses.

Maybe it is not I who should be more confident, maybe it is you who needs to be more honest.

I am fascinated by confronting myself and telling the truth about every situation. ‘Know thy self’ seems like an idea worth pursuing and who knows, confidence could come with it some day.

If Jesus is for the poor…

As I was about to take communion in a church in Findlay, Ohio earlier this year, I was struck when the pastor quoted Paul saying, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” Paul goes on to say we should “examine ourselves” before we partake.

I took a hard look at myself and wondered about my standing with God. I thought of all my doubt. I thought of my trials and when I shook my fists at the heavens in anger; beating my chest was not even a metaphor. Times when I’ve said ‘Fuck You’ to God and really, deeply meant it.

I wasn’t sure exactly where I stood.

There was an uneasiness during this part of the ritual that I had not experienced before. Was I unworthy? Was I going to ‘drink judgement’ on myself? I felt unsteady on shaky ground.

Then I thought about the person of Jesus, looking for things I knew for certain. There is no one else that has been presented to me as perfect. Not even fictional characters, that I can think of. Maybe more than that, there was no one who even came close. No one who is thought of as spotless and wholly righteous. Other religious figures claimed to be prophets. Claimed to be enlightened. But Jesus claimed to be God – and also claimed perfection with that lofty statement.

My mind seemed to ‘settled in,’ remembering all the teaching and studying that I have done; my footing seemed to manifest under my feet again. “If I am going to hitch my wagon to anything,” I thought, “It might as well be perfection.”

Then I also traveled down another road in my mind.

If Jesus is for the poor, then I am for Jesus.

That thought seemed to anchor me down to earth, because I do believe that Jesus is for the poor. There are these counter-cultural aspects to Jesus that I love – the idea of an ‘upside down Kingdom’ where the lowly and oppressed from this life are exalted on high in God’s Kingdom and placed on the same plane as the Almighty Throne.

If Jesus is for the weak, then I am for Jesus. If Jesus is for cancer patients and widowed mothers and suicidal addicts and paralyzed children and abuse survivors and the mentally ill and the hopelessly hungry and the war-torn refugees and teenaged girls contemplating abortion…

then I am for Jesus.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I have to think of God as a symbol because I can’t wrap my brain around the mystery of ‘existence.’ I get caught in my own head a lot; questioning everything at every turn.

My disorder is difficult; a very fickle thing. I run the gamut of emotions – all in a given day. I struggle with thoughts of suicide as I have mentioned before. I struggle – wrestle and writhe and twist and grapple – with knowing my worth; wondering if I am a contributing member to society.

Sometimes I need to simplify my spinning, swirling ideas and this thought seems to help: If Jesus is for the poor, then I am for Jesus.

After that I took communion and was glad it wasn’t a mindless act as it had been at times in the past.

A short essay on worth

I was speaking with someone today about the purpose of college. We talked about selecting a major only to change our minds halfway through our sophomore year and the hassle of transferring credits. We talked about campus culture and campus groups and making lasting friendships. We wondered aloud if classes outside our major were a money making scam. We talked about a lot of the different factors that make up these little ecosystems and we landed on one idea:

College’s primary function is as a stepping stone in finding a job.

The idea is to build skills that make us better candidates to qualify for a purposeful job that affords us financial security and stability.

When I was a senior in high school, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go to college. The idea of helping starving people in Africa sounded more impactful to me. Maybe I told people I wanted to help the poor out of some misguided sense of importance or a hero complex. I’m sure that was in there somewhere, but more than that, I wanted to “make a difference.”. I wanted my life to matter in the grand scheme of things and my vision was fogged to how the world actually worked, so I still felt like I could shake things up (a bit of sarcasm there).

I decided not to sell all my personal belongings and move continents and instead attended university, like so many of my peers. Classes came easy to me and the subject didn’t seem to matter. Geology, world literature, art history, creative writing, all were met with top grades on my part. I truly enjoyed learning and working hard to master the subject at hand.

Four years passed. High honors were earned. My degree showed up in the mail and that chapter of my life ended. So began the journey of diving off the high dive into the “real world.”

At this very same time, I moved back to connecticut (leaving my solid community in Ohio), my parents divorced, and I experienced my first true manic episode and subsequent hospitalization. Because of the episode, I was forced to leave a job that I had just started (and really enjoyed) teaching P.E. at a private school and tutoring high school students in english.

Seven years have passed since I graduated college at BGSU and to spare a lengthy description of all the downfalls, I’ll just say it like this:

I have never experienced success in work.

There have been jobs that didn’t challenge me at all. Jobs that could have been done by robots. Jobs that I didn’t understand. Jobs I wasn’t passionate about and jobs I’ve had to leave because of mental health woes.

It gives me great insecurity to watch my peers secure work with relative ease, leaving me behind in the proverbial dust. There are countless ways that I feel behind; relationally, financially, in job stability and so on.

During a conversation I had with my father, I broke down, thinking of all these failures: am I ever going to amount to anything?

This is a question we all encounter and there are many like it. Do I have what it takes? Do people respect me? Do I matter?

When I look from 10,000 feet up, I can see that we all matter equally; each affecting the next and accumulating great spheres of influence in a butterfly affect sort of way. But much of the time, I’m not accompanied by that sort of perspective, and instead focus on what is five feet in front of me and right now, I don’t like that five feet so much.

I feel very sleepy a lot of the time because of the medicine I take. Depression is something that comes to me often and suicidal thoughts come more than I would care to admit. (It is rather odd when a psychiatrist asks you if you think about harming yourself and you have to come up with a manner of speaking your truth that doesn’t involuntarily land you back in the hospital.)

What I am saying is, there are a lot of factors that have worked against me finding stable employment and I wish I could end this short essay with something that turns the negativity on its head. Something that you could put on a bumper sticker or a cleverly edited social media photo with lense flares and handwritten script. The point of this thought is that: sometimes your truth is enough with no spin; not every sentiment needs to be wrapped in a little bow. Not every story has a silver lining.

I ask myself, ‘will I ever amount to anything’ many times a day. From my perspective right now, I’m still not sure. Perhaps you can relate.