Considering Good Friday


“For a truly religious man nothing is tragic.” – Wittgenstein

For me Easter has no religious meaning. There was a time in my life when I wore the label of (c)hristian, but at present I am a blissfully content Agnostic. What happens during any religious holiday is that I consider how these people are living, and whether through their lives they are examples of being more ethical,content and giving than the rest of us. Let us be clear that I am not grouping all of a faith into a single bucket. They are nuanced in how and what they believe, and to universally label them is unfair. But Easter holds an almost universally accepted element of the faith: Jesus died and rose again.

So what is next? How is this act interpreted? With death seen by humanity as that which cannot be defeated, does the story of Christ not show us anything is possible and subsequently nothing is tragic?

As noted I was once a “believer”. Upon reflection it is not clear that, for me,  there was ever a “conversion experience”. It is a demanding ask to pull the memory from behind all the life experiences which have succeeded it, yet I do recall being on a youth retreat courtesy of Parkwood Baptist church when I made “the choice”. My newest friend and neighbor Billy Bond had invited me to his church, and having a parent who felt the Church brought value to one’s life my attendance was supported. What I cannot recall is whether I personally felt anything beyond the opportunity to be with a friend and meet girls. The church was a building. God was not a concept discussed, much less seen as relevant.

So here I was, Epworth By The Sea if the mental lines being drawn are straight, sitting in a room with a few others my age. Head bowed down, as requested by the group leader, listening to a series of questions directed at my eternal soul and whether my life was constituted with things to bring peace. In spite of the directive to keep our eyes closed I peeked to see if others had their hands raised when the calling for whether anyone wanted to give their life to Christ was presented. Others raised their hands. My hand went up. There was no emotional fan fare, but there was crowd acceptance. A decision made absent of any reasonable discussion, but validated by welcoming as if being selected to a mysterious club.

There is a degree of confidence that if I spent time reminiscing with those who were also in attendance that certain details would achieve greater clarity. While part of me doubts some of the specifics, the sentiment is not a thing to doubt. To a greater extent focusing on the specifics will be a distraction from the narrative. But what is the narrative without a grounding on some truth? It’s just a story, and one which loses some level of practicality  Things must happen for the lesson to be learned.

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” – Daniel J. Boorstin

To be sure, then, what I know is that the feeling of closeness to the divine was less than a feeling of belonging. This played out for many years with me simply accepting statements rather than questioning them. There were times of civility, and there were times in which caustic confrontation was the lantern. There was significant reconciliation of conflict as the Baptist theology collided with my love for music. Rush. AC/DC. Iron Maiden. Def Leppard. Judas Priest. The Police. It probably wasn’t until U2 landed that any degree of harmony was obtained. This made the relationship between faith, sound and the extended congregation less hostile. But it took years to make the decision that the world didn’t look brighter, I wasn’t treating people better and I wasn’t more at peace with faith pulling the rope.

Where did I go when stress came? Sorrow? Struggle? It was music (and now it is also nature) that absorbed the world to clarify its messages. You might even say this clarity was my “religious experience”. Falling into the singular mode of thinking that the bible was the source of record, one which validated the confirmation bias being taught, was a tragedy but it was not tragic. The need for the religion experience was part of my steps being built which will constitute my final self. As time passed there was clarity which has me in what one might call a Zen state, though I can assure you such a term must be understood within an irreligious undogmatic context. And it’s also always a process of becoming.

Today, while millions are preparing for this holy time of year I am listening to Band of Horses’ Acoustic at the Ryman. It’s 80 degrees outside, the back door is open and the sounds of someone doing yard work is the present backdrop to “The Funeral”. Is what I’m feeling right now so much different from my Christian friends?

My thoughts inevitably go back to that Wittgenstein quote, and I think about how certain events are portrayed. Was the crucifixion a requirement? Is suffering an existential condition as much as joy? Are all experiences lessons on how to be at peace with being? The news is littered with the religious fighting against the rights of the LGBT community and radicals murdering those of other faiths along with those who they feel offend their faith. Why do many who call themselves religious, through these myriad of religions, react as if occurrences will somehow derail their divine? What is tragic about that which they fight against?

As hard as I try to it is almost impossible to not see some things as tragic. But at times I’m reminded that thinking is illusion. Years ago I watched a story about a girl who was raped, got pregnant and carried the child to term. How does someone do that? Asking my memory for another gift I seem to remember her stating how the child came to be was not more important than the child being. She said her Christian faith gave her the strength to see things that way. If I’ve learned anything it’s that people have the strength to not see things as tragic, they just need something to ground them. If my grounding is just as religious as the religious then common experiences, while leading to different views, have left us with a similar perspective. It is people like this girl who define the truth of the faith as equally as those who can’t live it make it a lie.

Easter, from a secular perspective, can be a story about being reborn as someone who sees things not as tragic but as hopeful. And if the faithful are living that then we are neighbors.

 

The wind blew a path through the fallen leaves
And there showed a crack in the old oak tree
The door stood as if it was standing guard
Of the dozen chipmunks in the backyard

Every house not a home but dare do I roam
There’s a light on the porch here for someone

Once upon a time in a border town
The war was over, the guns laid down
The women, the men, the children say
Now it’s hard to remember it any other way

When the law acts as though there is nothing to show
There is compassion and depth in a neighbor

Now if Bartles & Jaymes didn’t need no first names
We could live by our own laws in favor

Every house not a home but dare do I roam
There’s a light on the porch here for someone

Now if Bartles & Jaymes didn’t need no first names
We could live by our own laws in favor

“Neighbor” by Band of Horses

 

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Clear Sky Friday – Seeing Good 31/01


How many out there follow British/English Premier League Soccer? A few years ago, at a point when the business machine of college and professional football here in the United States was beginning to disgust me, I turned my attention across the pond. While not a life long passionate soccer fan, I am a dedicated World Cup viewer. When the Summer Olympics came to Atlanta the one ticket I had to get was a men’s soccer match, and we were doubly rewarded. We were there when Nigeria defeated Brazil on their way to Olympic gold. Upon leaving the stadium the crowd was informed that tickets still remained for the women’s gold medal match between the U.S. and China: So we grabbed two and witnessed history.

Wanting something different, while knowing that British soccer is not distinct from other sports institutions, I researched teams and decided Newcastle United would be my club. It is relatively close to where my family hails from, Fulford, and the fan base is a passionate bunch with a rich history. Deciding I also wanted to cheer for an American player I added Everton to my small pantheon being that Tim Howard is their man between the pipes.

Two weekends of Derby play saw Newcastle lose to Sunderland 0-3, making this a sweep for the season in which the Magpies were shut down 0-6.  Last week saw Everton lose their Derby match to Liverpool 0-4.

Tough week.

But it is just sports, something that is more a respite than foundation. A news story that put that in context was one the Today Show highlighted yesterday. It told the story of Sam Polk, a once greedy Wall Street success story who dropped that life because he realized it was destructive. You can read about it here.

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Clear Sky Friday – Seeing Good 24/01


IMAG0074CUMC Youth Group with citrus and Second Harvest truck

This past Saturday was the Second Harvest City Wide Citrus Glean in Jacksonville, FL. Officially the title is qualified as “Second Annual” as it was the second hear Second Harvest and Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) coordinated efforts to feed the hungry by picking fruit that would normally fall and rot.

My role was retained from 2013, which meant the responsibility of site coordinator for the San Jose area. Last year we had approximately 20 volunteers, and those could not reach all the houses on the list. Sunday found me gleaning an additional three homes. However, this year the volunteer count was approximately 80, which meant all houses on the list had their trees picked clean. Thanks to the work ethic of those in the field we were able to glean from an additional three houses. Those volunteers were out from 9:00 am until 2:00 pm, and thanks to the weather the day was more redeeming than expected.

From church youth groups to local business to mindful individuals, people from a variety of beliefs, cultures and socioeconomic areas gathered for a common goal: affording the less fortunate something many of us take for granted. From a 2011 Yahoo article:

“Almost 15 percent of households in America say they don’t have enough money to eat the way they want to eat,” Seligman said. Recent estimates show 49 million Americans make food decisions based on cost, she added.

Per Elliot Darkatsh with Second Harvest these were our weekend results:

In about 4 hours on a chilly Saturday, over 400 volunteers were deployed to pick from about 130 homes.

Here are the results (in lbs):

  • Potters House (westside):                  3039
  • Arlington:                                           3820
  • Chets Creek:                                       4002
  • San Jose:                                             7459
  • Mandarin:                                          8029

Total:     26,349 lbs of citrus!  This was a slight increase from last year, which considering the freeze this year is good.

I could not find my data for San Jose from last year, but I know we were far above that count.

Gleaning is a great way to meet new people and to be a positive impact for change in the world. I work with SoSA. Find one in your area.

SoSA

Second Harvest of North Florida

NPR Article

Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network

USDA’s How to Glean

Gleaning Network of Southern Oregon

UK Gleaning

Gleaning the Fields blog

Clear Sky Friday – Seeing Good 17/01


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Last night my son was part of a two-man presentation at our local outdoor store where he works, Black Creek Outfitters. Along with Jack Stucki they spent a good two hours detailing their respective adventures on the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trail. The presentation topics included gear, food and mindset. On a personal note it was a proud moment through which I observed my son sharing his passion in a professional atmosphere.

One comment that Jack made stood out, and it greatly serves Clear Sky Friday, was inspired/taken from Zach Davis’s book Appalachian Trials. Part of Jack’s closing comments to the audience centered around why one might commit themselves to months on trail, a question Mr. Davis writes about as being elemental to answering if one is to best maximize the adventure. With my longest section hike being four days, the “why” of an extended hike had never been considered beyond the answer “I just like to hike”.

Both Jack and Evan, when speaking of memories, found that the community of hikers was a grand emotional monolith. From Trail Angels to a simple person willing to give a tired hiker a ride, the basic good you find while on trail is special. Being a hopeful cynic, this is what my “why” would be. To see the good in humanity. Yes it exists apart from trail, but the quiet of the hike along with the kindness of strangers amplifies it.

With that in mind, here is an article which reminds us that good is all around us if we just look for it. Link courtesy of Sustainable Man via Facebook.

http://www.world-actuality.com/index.php/people/671-these-20-photos-are-going-to-make-you-cry-but-you-ll-see-why-it-s-totally-worth-it

Clear Sky Friday – Seeing Good 9/27


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The rain came to Jacksonville roughly three hours ago. While the onslaught consumed my area of the city there was still blue demanding to be seen through the gray. In anticipation of today’s lawn fertilization my Thursday post-work activity was prepping the yard, which means mowing, trimming and edging. That the sky gave an offering to the cause was an added benefit and at present the late-afternoon sky appears to be a cloud thinning event.

As I prepare for tomorrow’s MS150 my mind is considering all of those who suffer daily from an ailment that impacts their ability to be normal. Do they need help simply getting out of bed? Can they not focus long enough to read? Is hiking, swimming, biking, walking, sitting, laughing, talking so painful that they must seek other means of life stimulation? Will they never be able to see themselves as independent? Does each day demand an answer to “how will I afford this?” as opposed to  “what can I accomplish?” Is helplessness a frightening reality while love stands as a mocking stranger?

The trite next question is to ask “what are we doing about it?” but there are a myriad of complicated questions to be asked even prior to knowing what help would mean to any of those in need. So while in the throes of training (there are more events to come), something which has kept me from taking the opportunity to writer for a local magazine, and amidst a close friends reminder to make time for important things, the idea of “good” became less defined.

This week’s post focuses on taking something away from someone. It focuses on character building and how being “good” sometimes coincides with what might be considered punishment.

Matt Labrum, a football coach at Union High in Roosevelt, Utah, suspended the entire varsity football team. It was a response to bullying but it was also an aggregate of generally bad behavior. While the act itself is news worthy, that the coach made an effort to stress the story was about the players and not him gave it a sense being good for the sake of good. It would have been easy to grab the spotlight and pat one’s own back. Read CBS Sports writer Gregg Doyle’s article about it here. Or go to the original story from the Deseret News here.

Karter Rook shoveled pig crap.

That’s how Rook paid his penance — well, that’s how he started to pay his penance — for being part of the Union High football team. Understand, Karter Rook isn’t necessarily a bad kid, and he seems actually like quite a nice one. Lots of these kids are no doubt good and decent people, but what was happening at Union High was too pervasive for the coach to pick and choose who to punish. Besides which, Matt Labrum didn’t know exactly who had been behaving the worst.

He knew which kids were acting up in class, who had skipped some school, whose grades were slipping. Labrum teaches gym at Union, so if any of his player have issues at school, he’s going to hear about it.

It was the bullying that drove Labrum to act. It was done anonymously, on a social networking site called Ask.fm, but the victim went to a Union High guidance counselor and laid out the evidence that suggested the tormenters were members of the football team.

Enough, Labrum decided. Enough. He met with his coaching staff a few days before Union’s game last Friday against Judge Memorial Catholic High, and deep into the night they kicked around disciplinary ideas until finally settling on this one:

Everyone’s off the team.

Everyone.

Gregg Doyle