I took a class through my church, Mars Hill Bible Church. The class was called Exegy, and it was a year-long look into your soul. Who are you? What do you care about? What are you life values? It was interesting. Everyone I've met that's taken the class has walked away moved, or changed. Perhaps 'empowered' is the right word. Well, at the end of the class, you present something you learned, in whatever form you see fit, and show it to the class. It's called an altar:
This is My Altar
As Exegy winds down, and I create an altar - or my perhaps alter my experiences - I figured the best way to do that is by giving a little bit of what I got. Which is sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. Sometimes bare minimum, sometimes a lot.
I try to go forward and never go back, but often it’s seemed there’s something I lack. So I’m not fully present, unless I’m imbibed. It seems theres been a constant battle to flip that train of thought. And, progress, its has gotten better with age.
In my life, there have been a lot of things that are and have been consistent. I’ve always attempted to take steps forward, progressing on a path toward Something. That Something always includes a God that’s loving and merciful and blessed and there. A God that cares. Cares about the poor, the hurting, those that have nothing. A God that roots for them, cheers them on, is on their (my) side.
This was exemplified through A Good and Beautiful God, a book I thought would be cheesy, but really changed the way I think about God. I’ve always been able to see God believing in The Least of These, and have had a pool of compassion for the poor; I’ve been able to encourage and help; but when it’s come to my own self and my own life, that script had flipped. My Baptist upbringing taught me to look for what was wrong, because (I think the Calvinists too, for that matter) something always is. We live in a fallen world, after all, so there are always things that need fixin’. This includes myself.
Which meant that I couldn’t be on my own cheerleading team. Couldn’t encourage myself. Because I was bad.
Even writing this, though, I realize that was/meant/couldn’t are all past tense. Which means that as my 34-year old self writes these types of reflections about my 14-24 year old self, I see it as past or even passed.
Which sort of brings me to Exegy. Why I did this class in the first place. Things have been going on, and I know The Lord has been working on me. One thing that’s started that is going somewhere is the belief in Spirit. In the life-force-and-source that’s God. The connectivity of all things. I feel it. I think there’re answers in Quantum Physics, something my ENTP-thinkin’ self gets on a conceptual level – perhaps 88% - but doesn’t understand at all on the small playing field of the facts.
There are many facts I don’t know. More I don’t care about. And I’m learning that that’s okay, especially since I’m only one man, with one path, one plan, doing – hopefully to the max – only what I can.
And what I can do doesn’t include answering whether or not people can go to the bathroom before 8 am (or anytime, for that matter, hopefully). It doesn’t include following some stupid fucking system with no reason or purpose. It doesn’t mean getting negative evaluations by incompetent people that set high expectations without providing support.
It doesn’t include talking to people before having a cup of coffee and reading ten pages. It doesn’t start a day without fiction.
It isn’t entitled.
But it is unwritten.
And in writing.
One sad reality I’m coming to realize is that the things that have given me life and provided me with joy are the things that seem to be fleeting from the day to day; while the things that suck the life out of me, making me fat, lazy, and angry take their place.
When I don’t laugh, it’s not a good thing.
Something that stands out when reflecting upon my own journey is that I’ve often been misread. Misunderstood. Taken as some variant of an over-confident, self-serving being that’ll take you and break you and leave you worse for wear.
Which is so far from the truth that it’s laughable, but the problem is that my submissive, rule-following self set out to prove wrong or peacemaker or calm or mediate, instead of just being.
I’ve tried to fit so many molds, so many times that I actually have a hard time of saying (admitting?) what I want. I’ve tried to fit the role of a teacher, the role of an example, the role of a passive, blindly obedient pupil.
But there were and are problems.
Like the fact that I pick up on innuendo in an instant. Like the fact that the question ‘Why?’ jumps to my mind the instant I’m asked to do something even slightly stupid. Like the fact that I’m a really good listener, and remember things that people say. Like the fact that I care.
I’ve always had this yearning, this desire for more: for justice, for peace. And I have talents to do something about them. But it’s been like this:
So often I’ve though ‘oh alas’
Or something like - this too shall pass
And then it does
It’s something that was
And I’ve only sat on my ass
Or at least so I thought. Until Kairossly, one of my friends – some blend of social and intimate – told me that I’m the example he uses of a person that goes out and gets what I want. Which made me think: that’s true. I do.
Right out of college, after a job I had lined up unexpectedly fell through, I got a different one right away. I moved to Chicago jobless, and got two pretty quickly. When I wanted to move to GR, I pursued it for two years and (sort of) have a job here. I wanted to write a book, and have. I want to get it published, and have submitted it over twenty times and don’t see stopping that process until I succeed. I wanted to use my writing talents for the Lord, and now I write for Mars Hill. I wanted to take my faith to a more seriously, practical level and have taken Exegy. I need to develop a bigger web presence for my writing, so now have a website.
Which means and makes me believe in myself. In my potential. Which is good. And it’s a way I use the unique gifts The Lord has given me. Another person, anti-religious, definite N.C. told me I’m the example he uses for someone who’s both Christian and cool – the only example he’s ever met - insinuating that if he were ever to hop on the J.C. bandwagon, I would be a major reason why. And my first thought, probably a prayer of thanks, was: that’s fucking cool. Which often seems to be how I process the beautiful and the sacred. Via some blend of the holy and profane. When I use this blend and speak to God, God talks to me.
I’ve been speaking back to God, too. I’ve been asking what? Being willing. Feeling anger. Letting things die. Seeing what I can say no to now so that I can say yes to something else.
I know good things are on the horizon. Good things are there for the taking, desired by the Good and Beautiful God. The one who has subtly spoken to me several times. In a loud voice on Good Friday in the spring of 2000, as I drove my old shitty Lumina, probably smoking a Marlboro Light from a soft pack. God said, “Tom. I forgive you. This is what this day is about.” And I’ve felt forgiven ever since. God told me one morning, not too long ago, “I want your book to get published.” God spoke to me two weeks ago, while I was sitting in a meeting getting cussed out by an irate parent; yet rather than feeling anger or frustration, sense of peace and patience came over and filled me as God said, “Tom. This isn’t what I have in mind for you.”
Right now that’s God telling me to write things down. To get ideas I’ve had – some of which are legit brilliant – on paper so they don’t become something that could have been, but rather become things that are and that bring peace. God’s telling me to pursue them, to be me. I’m feeling this in my body, in my spirit, the very essence of whatever I am.
I know I’m in that second half of life, about to emerge into something. I’m at a crux, and impasse. I can either pursue these parts of me, puruse these things that give life and add beauty, or I can allow them to die and become a bitter, jaded person. Something of which the world doesn’t need another. But that isn’t me, and I won’t let it be me. I’m going to take the blends of my own self, from the very ugliest and most vile to the best and most beautiful, and use them. Which could go a long way. Which could start a new blend of fiction that goes out into the world and says to people that haven’t felt a peace and/or comfort in the world of God that: You, too, belong.
This class has been, for me, more of an impression, or like I wrote on my Retreat Rock – a Step Forward, than anything else. It’s been the confidence that God made me this unique blend of secular and profane, witty, quote unquote different thinker, with skills with language and people and strength to do something more and bigger. That I need to do something more. That I can do something bigger.
And it’s in me, here and now.
And this is my altar.