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Category Archives: God

The Slippery Slope: A New Paradigm

'101 km to Mount Everest Base Camp' photo (c) 2007, Marc van der Chijs - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/A group of expeditioners formed a team to attempt a summit of the formidable Everest.  They anticipated the journey would be arduous so they spent years training and stock piling the best gear to aid them  with their ascent.  During this time of preparation they, through excited conversations with friends and acquaintances, added many to their numbers.  By the time of departure their group numbered over fifty.

As they set out the air was thick with excitement.  Taking the traditional southern route, the climb began in the small town of Namche Bazaar, Napal.  Yaks and dzopkyos were loaded heavily with supplies.  Sherpas and porters were hired.  The travelers would spend the next 8 days making their way to the Everest Base Camp at a 17,700 feet.  By all accounts the trek, even in its early phase, was far more difficult than they were ready for.  Even many of the most physically fit members had a difficult time adjusting to the thin air.

On that 8th day they finally made it to the Khumbu Glacier which is followed for the final part of the trail to the Base Camp.  The icy path was treacherous for the crew, each footstep was placed firmly to ensure safe passage.  After this obstacle they reached the location where they would rest and acclimate for two weeks.

'Tents, Everest Base Camp' photo (c) 2007, Andrew Eland - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Tents were pitched, a makeshift kitchen was setup, and the sojourners settled in.  When the winds weren’t whipping too hard they would gather into small groups discussing the journey so far and planning for the next section of the journey.  There were a few core members of the team that were widely recognized as the leaders.  They talked at length with each other about methods for keeping the others following the straight and narrow.  Each afternoon the leaders would call the group together as a whole to go over safety strategies and outline their plans.

Over the first week at base camp other climbers also arrived, setting up their makeshift settlements nearby.  A few of the leaders would go to chat with the newcomers, always reporting back to their own group that the others were inexperienced, ill-prepared, and had little business being on such a dangerous mountain.  Occasionally they would try to convince some of the other groups to come and follow them up the mountain.  Their sales pitches claimed that the only way they would be guaranteed a safe summit was if they learned from them and obeyed their instructions.  Some actually did agree to abandon their own teams to study at the feet of the leaders and to follow them to the mountain top.

Each time a new convert was brought into the group the training sessions would begin again.  Though the delays disappointed the original crew, the leaders explained that it was for everybody’s safety that the recruits received a full and robust training.

The two-week acclimation period passed, then another week, then another.  With each passing day the instructional lessons became more detailed, more rigid, and more strict.  What was a 1 hour informal gathering had now turned into a 2 1/2 hour class taught daily.  Each now had a title and corresponding theme.  One was called “7 Practices of a Highly Effective Climber”, another “Mountaineers in the Hands of an Angry Mountain”.

Eventually some of the members of the crew became disheartened at the postponements and the increasing fanaticism of the leaders.  The mountain grew colder, windier, and more frightening with each passing day.  A group of 5 asked a couple of the sherpas to escort them back off the mountain so they could return home.  As they began to hike away from the camp and down the glacier they could hear mocking from the distance…something about being quitters, being weak, being lost.  From that point on the classes would also contain a section on the failures of back-sliding down the mountain, of sliding down the slippery slope.

'Everest Base Camp Tent' photo (c) 2008, ilkerender - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/There was one young woman in the group, named Amy, who had dreamed of this journey since she was a small child.  The walls of her room as a teenager were filled with posters of Everest.  As an adult her coffee table had been littered with mountaineering magazines for years.  She had taken smaller journeys across many of North America’s most famous peaks.  When she heard of this expedition Amy had convinced her fiance, Brian, to take this trip with her.  Brian had not dreamed of this trip since childhood, but Amy’s enthusiasm proved quite contagious.

Now she was forced to sit impatiently on the side of the mountain, so close…and so far away.  To Amy, the classes being taught each day were little more than pep talks and repetition of lessons she had learned years earlier.  She began skipping the lectures, instead venturing to nearby camps to express her vexation.  She dared not speak her doubts and frustrations among her own team lest they shame her for being on the verge of the slippery slope.

Eventually the quicksand of this base camp became overwhelming for Amy.  She had been thinking about turning back, going back home to return later.  There was one particular group she had been venting to for the past couple days.  When she told them that she was thinking about leaving they offered to let her join their expedition.  Upon hearing the invitation Amy glowed.

She quickly rushed back to Brian and told him they finally had a way to continue on their journey.  Brian was hesitant.  He wanted to join Amy and this new team, but the training was echoing through his thoughts.  The other groups are “unsafe”, “unreliable”…how could he put himself and Amy at such risk?  And of course he knew the shaming would be imminent.  He certainly didn’t want to be a back-slider.

There was one thing, though, that he felt more strongly than any of those fears.  He wanted Amy to be happy.  Brian told Amy he would love to join her and the new climbing team she had found.  As they packed their gear some concerned companions came by to convince them that they should not leave.  They expressed that they were worried for their safety.  Brian and Amy thanked them for their concern but also conveyed that they were going to continue the climb and didn’t believe they could do that with the original expedition.

'Depuis le sommet du Kala Pattar (5545m)' photo (c) 2012, Jerome Bon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/As they finally began their long-awaited trek out of the base camp they could hear murmurs behind them.  The words they had expected finally came as somebody mentioned the “slippery slope” Amy and Brian were on.  They smiled at each other because now they knew that not all slippery slopes are a descent…some are a long, hard climb towards your dream.

 

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3 Spiritual Principles I Learned From Food Network

I have a confession to make…I love the Food Network and spend far too much of my time watching, what many would consider, pointless cooking competition shows.  From Iron Chef to Chopped to Cupcake Wars (do I lose a manly-man point for that last one?)  I find myself glued to the flashing screen in front of me.

In a never-ending attempt to prove to myself that I am not just “wasting time”, I have been contemplating the spiritual lessons I have gleaned from these shows.  So without further ado:

1. Tension and balance are essential.

Many a chef has been “chopped” when a judge utters the criticism that their dish was “one note”.  If there is a secret to making amazing grub, it might just be providing contrasting yet complementary flavors and textures.

Corn Ice Cream w/Habanero Tequila Caviar

Corn Ice Cream w/Habanero Tequila Caviar

If you are going to make a sweet dish, it is a good idea to add a sour or spicy flavor to create an interesting tension.  Likewise, if you are going to make a soup you had better include a piece of crunchy bread to contrast the textures. A meal without contrast is a recipe for a boring dining experience.

This is also true of our spiritual journeys.  If we think faith is all about believing what we were taught to believe and never about doubting then we can only go so far.  It becomes predictable and repetitive.  However if we truly embrace belief yet are authentic in acknowledging our doubt it usually provides a deeper more robust spiritual experience.  This can also be true with grace vs. justice, metaphysical vs. physical, and truth vs. mystery.  Finding the tension between the two is where the magic happens.

2. Deconstruction of the classics can lead us into a deeper understanding.

Bagel and Lox - Deconstructed

Deconstructed Bagel and Lox

Take for example the dish to the left.  It is a deconstructed version of the classic bagels and lox.  The chef has abstracted each of the components: bagel (in crumb form), cured salmon, cream cheese, onion, cucumber, and capers. In this the diner can experience this meal, with a long history, in a new and fresh way.  In so doing they can more easily understand what each component adds to the dish.  The bagels add the starch and crunch.  The cheese adds the creaminess.  The fish adds the smokey savoriness.  The capers add the tart sourness.  I think you get the point…  In addition the eater can play around by tasting a couple of the components in tandem to see how those flavors play off of one another.  The whole experience leaves the diner with a  far greater understanding of the meal they have eaten.

Similarly deconstructing our doctrines and theologies can lead us into a more robust comprehension.  It is easy to let our spiritual ancestors fight through all the questions and arguments for us, consuming whatever is placed before us.  It is a worthwhile effort to dig into them to find out who they were, why they made the decisions they made, what influenced them, and what impacts it has had.  When we truly understand the components that our dogmas emerged from, perhaps we can imagine them in a new way that will bring life to ourselves and those around us.

3. Exposure to diversity can produce creativity

Sea Urchin Carbonara Noodle Bento Box

Sea Urchin Carbonara Noodle Bento Box

Culinary lines have long been fought over.  The French will claim their cuisine is the best in the world, the Italians theirs, the Japanese theirs, and so on.  Purists from any tradition will often scoff at the rest of the inferior lot.  If you, like me, have watched the original Iron Chef program, Iron Chef America‘s Japanese predecessor from the 90s, you will have noticed that each of the chefs came from a specific cuisine (French, Chinese, Japanese, Italian).  Many times challengers would enter Kitchen Stadium from opposing classical schools.  Most of the time the chefs would stick to their specialized flavor profiles, but occasionally a spark of creativity would come over them as they “stole” an ingredient or flavor from the rival tradition to elevate their dish.  Over the show’s 7 year run this practice increased as it became known as a winning formula.  The Iron Chef who showed this type of creativity more than any of the others was Masaharu Morimoto, who eventually crossed the Pacific to join Iron Chef America.  In the American version of the show almost every Iron Chef and challenger follow this tradition where they “bring together the pungent flavors of east and west”.

I have found spiritual parallel here as well.  There are a great many spiritual traditions in the world.  For the longest time I saw them as rivals, as an inferior lot.  As I have opened myself to hearing what is important and meaningful to them, I have found inspiration for my own faith tradition.  Many times I have felt myself fall into a rut…thinking the same thoughts, doing the same things, falling into the same patterns.  Having a real appreciation for spiritual diversity (including the agnostics and atheists I know) provides me with the spark of creativity it takes to get out of those ruts…and I’m truly thankful for that.

 

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Breaking Up With G-d

Occasionally a song resonates with your soul.  Sometimes that resonation has little to do with the artist’s original intent.  Perhaps that is one of the signs of truly meaningful expressions.  There’s something wonderful about a song that transcends its topic.  I’ve had that experience over the past week.  Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” has been that song for me.  Rather than a reflection on a former romantic relationship the song has placed melody and lyrics on my former relationship with G-d…the one I knew in my youth…the one I knew from my Evangelical born-again phase.


Reflect with me, if you will, on the lyrics for a moment:

Now and then I think of when we were together
Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
Told myself that you were right for me
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember

You can be addicted to a certain kind of sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end
So when we found that we could not make sense
Well you said that we would still be friends
But I’ll admit that I was glad that it was over

But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
No you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done
But I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know

But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
And you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

SomebodyI used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
SomebodyI used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

I used to knowThat I used to know
I used to know somebody

I should probably specify at this point that I haven’t become an atheist or agnostic.  I still believe in G-d but what that looks like is quite different from what it has been in the past.  I have broken-up with the anthropomorphic projection of my fears, hopes, insecurities, prejudices, self-doubt, anger, and desires.  Moreover, I have ended my relationship with those projections of my culture and the cultures that serve as the foundation of my culture.  There are, I still believe, parts of that affair that were shadows of the divine.  All of those elements were, though, tangled hopelessly into an idea I named “G-d”.

I feel particularly connected to the imagery in the video.  The relationship I shared with this G-d was created by filling in a paint-by-numbers pattern.  Piece by piece, doctrine by doctrine, sermon by sermon…the tapestry of our journey together took on shape and color.  It was not until later that the sharp corners and lack of shading began to bother me.  By the end…color drained away all together and the borders vanished.  All that remained was raw human flesh ready to move tentatively toward a new era, a new love.

'Broken Heart' photo (c) 2006, David Goehring - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Breaking up doesn’t mean though that I am free and clear of that previous “personal relationship”.  I will carry the baggage of that failed relationship…it has undeniably become a part of who I am.  It is intertwined with my very being for better and for worse.  That was love and it’s an ache I still remember.

Your friends, divine former lover, still come around to remind me that it’s over.  They snatch back the mementos of our relationship, as if they actually could, to serve as a reminder that you never needed me to begin with.  Though we shared a deep and meaningful history, when that relationship was over your messengers told me I could no longer call myself “Christian”.  I became a stranger and that feels so rough.  You found others who will love you more truly than I ever could.  I did love you, but we found that we could not make sense.  I’ll admit that I was glad that it was over.  

I’m deeply sorry I had to leave. I needed to.  You see, I didn’t feel like I could be myself.  The relationship demanded that I become someone I couldn’t truly be…but I’ll be damned if I didn’t try to become that person.  Every time I failed to accomplish the impossible you claimed to forgive me by acting large and when you did I felt so small.  I realize now that I was always set-up for failure.  And I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say.

In the end it is better off this way…for both of us.  I will always remember the good times we had and the love that we shared.  The past is the past though.  Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.

Somebody…

…that I used to know.

 

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