Sabbath Year

inhale, exhale (you're okay)

Sometimes, I think fiction is one of the hardest styles and genres of writing to want to excel at. Maybe it's just me, but I think the inability to churn out piece after piece of fiction (since I've been finding that even short stories are challenging to mass produce, for lack of a better term) makes it seem almost like the loftiest of writing goals. Unlike poetry, nonfiction, or other types of essays, it takes time to develop the voice, style, characters, flow, and all the other elements that go into crafting quality fiction, which I think frequently prevents writers from being able to showcase their fiction ability regularly. It seems to come down to actually publishing a popular novel or getting a short story published in a good literary mag, and that can be discouraging for a lot of writers I feel like.  

This has been something that's run through my head a lot as of late, especially since I've mentioned that I've been doing a good deal of storyboarding and outlining for fiction the past few days, and it almost feels like all of that work has nothing to show for itself, since I haven't actually written anything yet, just conceptualized ideas and thought through them.

 

At any rate, that's some of my internal process I've been going through while trying to write fiction the past couple days. So, today, I'm publishing another piece that I wrote a little while back. Even reading through it now, it sort of seems all over the place, but that makes a little sense since it was originally born out of a sort of literary pep talk I was trying to give myself at the time.

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inhale, exhale (you're okay)

You said it. It’s done. It’s out. But somehow, it still feels almost as heavy as the first time. Or maybe it always does.

 

You inhale and tell yourself it’s okay. Then you exhale and let the silence tell you’re okay. Because the stillness isn’t tense. There’s no thickening of the air. Instead, the quiet invites you to continue telling your story.

 

So you inhale and tell yourself you’re okay, and you exhale and let the empty air affirm that you are indeed okay. Because there’s no hesitation. There’s no held breath, no ellipsis, no comma at the end of the sentence. For once, a period and its finality are comforting, because it means you’re okay.

 

Your emotions are okay. Your feelings are okay. Your desires and every unspoken thing are okay. And by extension, that means you are okay.

 

So you inhale and exhale nervously.

 

But you’re still okay.

 

There are no arguments. There are no reasons. There’s no theological rhetoric or overspiritualization. There’s just stillness.

 

So you inhale and you exhale. You’re okay. Because there are no questions, no comments, no concerns. You’re just okay.

 

So you inhale and you exhale, letting it sink in, to the depths of your soul and being, something so fundamental, yet something so often misplaced.

 

You’re okay.

 

You’re okay. You’re okay as a person, and your love is okay too, not bound by binary systems or arbitrary rules. And your heart is also okay, not strange or out of place because its love pulls you toward an identical set of chromosomes.

 

It’s okay.

 

So you inhale and you exhale. You breathe it in deeply so that it settles in your lungs, so that it puts down roots, so that it fills every empty space of your being, so that it echoes within, constantly reminding you that after everything you’ve even been told:

 

You’re okay.

have we become the pharisees?

Currently doing some storyboarding for some more fiction I'm working on, but I discovered another piece hidden away in the archives that I had never published (seems like this is a semi-frequent occurrence). As I'm transitioning back to writing some fiction, I've been finding that it's taking me a lot longer to figure out how I want to write things and what kinds of ideas I want to use, but maybe that's more normal than I'm giving myself credit for.

With this piece, the primary idea behind it was conceived through a series of discussions I had at my Bible study where we talked about what it means to actually be a Christian in the 21st century, in 2016 and how we can sometimes read our own biases into the parables and stories we read in the Bible. Oftentimes, this manifests as us, as mostly privileged, American Christians, identifying more closely with the oppressed people groups described in the Bible rather than with the oppressors. However, something that we realized over the course of our discussion and Bible study was that while the Israelites and the entire nation of Israel have typically been the minority ethnic group and minority religion in the majority of eras, that's not really the case for most Westernized or American Christians. What we decided is that more often than not, our actual lived realities align more with those of the oppressing Pharisees than with those of the oppressed Israelites. Interesting food for thought for sure.

have we become the pharisees?

When I was younger and still in Sunday school or just in school for that matter, since I went to a Christian K-12 school for a long time, sitting in a sagging, scratchy couch in one of the many rooms scattered along the length of the Catholic church activities building that my school rented, I always thought that things were pretty straight forward. By the time I left that school after my sophomore year of high school, it was easy for me to assume that I had a lot of things about my faith and about the Bible all figured out, something that remains one of the most false thoughts I’ve ever had in my entire life. One thing that particularly sticks out in my mind is the way that we learned to categorize people in Bible stories. I always used to think that the Pharisees were the bad guys in the Gospels, but something I’ve been realizing is that they really weren’t, at least not at the time. No, quite the contrary, the Pharisees were the good guys in their day, and they were probably viewed as the ones who were as good as anyone was going to get.

The Pharisees knew their Scriptures. They knew the Old Testament law. They could probably recite entire chapters from what they had of the Bible without missing a beat. To make a loose parallel, the Pharisees were the pastors’ kids who were born and raised in the church, the kids that showed up to church every Wednesday and Sunday, the kids that were on worship team and hospitality team and everything else in between. Unlike how we were taught to view the Pharisees in Sunday school, they were the good guys, the good Christian kids of Biblical times.

And Jesus and His disciples? They were probably seen as the rebels of youth group and Sunday school. Jesus was the lone rabbi who may or may not have actually had rabbi credentials who went around Israel with his ragtag group of twelve, give or take a few. As far as we know, Jesus didn’t work during His ministry, instead living primarily off the support of his followers such as Mary and Martha and perhaps His family. When you think about it that way, it’s actually not too hard to imagine why the Pharisees and the other religious folk didn’t like Him.

Jesus was the unemployed fake rabbi wannabe who lived in his parents’ basement and only seemed to stir up trouble wherever He went. He took out the moneychangers in the temple with a whip, he hung out with the other good-for-nothings in Jewish/Roman society like the tax collectors and prostitutes, and he repeatedly broke the Sabbath, which, last I checked, was probably just as central to the Pharisees’ theology as being pro-life and saying that marriage is between one man and one woman are to conservative Christian theology today. On top of all that, he told them over and over again that they were being too legalistic, using all kinds of relatively nasty metaphors to get that message across. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Whitewashed graves. Blind guides. Jesus didn’t hold back when it came to telling the Pharisees exactly what He thought of them.

The more I think about those dynamics, the more I think that perhaps I would’ve been pissed at Jesus had I been living during that time period too, and that’s a scary thought to have, because I think that many of us have been raised and taught to identify more with the oppression and hounding of Jesus and His disciples than with the self-righteousness of the Pharisees responsible when I don’t think that’s the place that we hold in modern Christian circles. I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, it makes more sense to put ourselves in the Pharisees’ shoes than in those of Jesus and His disciples, if we’re being very, brutally honest.

Again, the Pharisees really knew their stuff. They knew what the law said about what you could and could not do on the Sabbath or the regulations stipulating this or that about ceremonial uncleanliness, and I think that’s really reflective of many of us today, myself included. Many of us were raised in the church, and we also know all the Bible stories as well as what they’re supposed to mean and what we’re supposed to get out of them. Along the same lines, we also know all the verses that tell us what’s good and what’s not. We know the verses that supposedly tell us that women shouldn’t be leaders in the church. We know the verses that say homosexuality is an abomination. And we know the verses that “clearly” state every other thing we’ve learned in church or in school, but because of that we’re missing the point, just like the Pharisees were.

Because the truth of the matter is that it’s not about the rules or the law or anything else that makes the world seem like it’s black and white to us. It’s always been about standing out and being different, with radical love as our banner, because that’s what Jesus did, even though it doesn’t necessarily seem to make sense all the time. If you think about it, Jesus didn’t have to heal or do miracles on the Sabbath. He didn’t have to be kind and loving to the tax collectors who were seen as sellouts to the Romans. He didn’t have to heal the Roman centurion’s servant. He didn’t have to do any of it if He really wanted to fit in with the Pharisees and live His days as the good Jewish boy that He could’ve been, but instead He chose to be radical in way that directly opposed many of the religious traditions and norms of His day. He prioritized people and meeting with them, touching them, and loving them individually over religious correctness, and I think that’s crazy. I also think that the saying is true that we would probably crucify Jesus all over again if He walked the earth today, regardless of whether that’s physically, politically, socially, or culturally and that saddens me, though I would also include myself in that statement.

Something else that I kept asking myself as I was going through elementary school and middle school was how all of these people missed what Jesus was trying to do and how they couldn’t seem to understand some of the most basic concepts that He was trying to teach them, but I think I understand now because our American world has become so similar to the world that Jesus lived in, filled with people who know the Bible backwards and forwards, who know theology like it’s their native language, who know facts about God and arguments for this doctrine or that doctrine, but also filled with people who don’t know what love looks like anymore. All of sudden, love looks like being right when it comes to this or that theological question and knowing all the proper motions to go through at church, because you know that your love for God is measured by how often you show up to church, or how good of notes you took at that last sermon, or whether or not you’re on the church or school worship team, or whether or not you support the right political candidate, or whether or not your views on a particular issue align exactly with those of your church. That’s what love and devotion to God look like in 21st century American culture, and I think that’s the exact same kind of religious atmosphere that Jesus was born into 2000 years ago, at least by my reading of the Bible, and that makes us the Pharisees, regardless of whether we like it or not. We’ve become the bad guys that we loved to hate in Sunday school, all without even realizing it, because just like them, we think that we’re the good guys.

In light of that, I think that we need to try and do what the Pharisees failed to do. We need to follow Jesus’ example and start worrying less about being the good guys and more about loving the way that He did, because that’s the only way that we’re truly going to transform and engage with culture, not by being right or good, but by being loving.

roses

It's funny to think about some of the things that inspire certain pieces and how long it can take to actually complete one even after the original idea has come to you. This piece was inspired by an older show that I watched when I was younger. One of the characters has a rose motif, and part of her personality combined with some ambient creative energy to give me the initial image that I used to conceptualize this piece, throwing around some abstract ideas critiquing how we tend to think about love, specifically romantic love, and how roses have traditionally been one of its icons. I suppose in some sense, that means that this post vaguely fits into my summer friendship series, but just tangentially.  

One last thought: I'm definitely not a poet, and I would've always been hesitant to use poetry as a literary medium until recently, but I originally tried to put this piece through the filter of a couple different written mediums and it just turned out better this way, which was just so strange to me. I would've much rather done this as a short story or as nonfiction, but it came out in this form, so I decided to run with it. I just think that's so crazy sometimes, how your writing takes on a little bit of its own sentience and guides you as you're shaping it.

 

roses

--

Maybe roses didn’t always have thorns.

What if they grew them to protect the frailty of our hearts,

To warn us of the neuroticism of fantasy,

That spews lies about romanticism,

Supposedly sealing its essence behind petals and chlorophyll?

//

Maybe the roses knew better than us,

That four letters encompass much more than mere emotion,

But we’ve deluded ourselves into believing,

In gestures and rules about courtship,

When empirical theories can’t begin to encapsulate this dance of affection.

//

Maybe the roses were trying to teach us,

How to actually love without conditions that hinder,

So they prick our fingertips and draw blood,

To pierce our hearts and spurn nonchalance,

But we shunned their wisdom and chose to indulge fairytales and false magic instead.

//

Maybe we should’ve listened to the roses,

When they said we’d have to work and fight pain,

As we toiled in our own gardens in order,

To grow the love we dream about at night.

Now these thorns are the only remnants left reaching out for our attention.

clouds

Here's to continuing to write something every day in order to keep that fire going. Today's poetry edition comes from some reflections I made while driving home through a thunderstorm from seeing a friend I hadn't seen in a while. It's not very long, and poetry has never really been my thing, but there's a first time for everything, right?

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clouds

Do you think the clouds feel heavy

When they carry seas in their bellies,

Waiting to unburden themselves in a downpour,

Or a slow drizzle when they can’t bear the weight

Of a thousand tears pulled down by gravity?

//

Do you think the clouds feel lost or lonely,

Drifting along the atmospheric tides,

As perpetual nomads with no rest,

Traveling by night and by day,

Not knowing where they’ll go or arrive?

//

Do you think the clouds would tell their stories

Of the endless journeys they’ve made,

All the lands and peoples they’ve seen,

And all the waters they’ve weathered and crossed,

If we only just asked them to?

//

Do you think we’d even believe their words

If they told us everywhere they’d been,

Places we humans can only dream of,

Untold, unseen, unexplored, and unimaginable?

Do you ever think about the clouds?

middles

In a lot of ways, I think middles can be some of the hardest places to find yourself in. That’s not necessarily because they’re the most stressful or the most arduous places to be in, but perhaps more because of the perspective you’re afforded from the vantage point of middles. From the middle of most things, you can usually still see a shred of the beginning, where you started, and at the same time, you can probably start to see part of the end, where you’ll end. Regardless of whether the ends or beginnings are the points where things get better or worse, being able to see things from the middle can instantly conjure feelings of comparison and contrast between those two endpoints. If the beginning was good, it can be discouraging or difficult to see an end that doesn’t seem quite as shimmery, or even harder to see one that’s much worse before things start to get better. Similarly, if the beginning was trying, it can be easy to look at the end and all the good things, or perhaps even the minor improvements, that lie there and forget about all the work and all the trials you’ve overcome to reach the middleground where you’re standing now. Instead, having the perspective of the midway point can create feelings of longing for the end and bypassing the rest of the work you have to do to get there. Either way, middles can be just as difficult, if not more so sometimes, than the beginnings or ends of things.  

Maybe this is just something that I’ve felt, but I think summers during school often evoke a lot of these middle feelings. Before it actually arrives, it’s so easy to get caught up in making lots of different plans for our summers, whether that’s work, an internship, family time, friend time, or whatever it might be. By the time late July rolls around, we’re in a prime position to both look back on a good part of our summer and see how much of it has actually lived up to our expectations, while also being able to look out on the next month or so that remains, wondering if it’ll be as good as the rest of our summer if it’s lived up to our expectations, or maybe pondering whether or not we’ll still get the summer we were hoping for if it didn’t. At the same time, I think a lot of us maybe feel a time crunch as well, with school rapidly approaching again and a return to campus and classes imminent. Or maybe if you’re graduated like me, the pressure can start mounting to find a job or lock down some solid plans for the next several months while everybody else goes back to school or work.

 

But I think one of the worst parts about middles is that it’s so easy to be robbed of our ability to be present. Rather than continuing to be in the place we are, taking in those moments and the lessons that God might be trying to teach us, it’s incredibly tempting to focus instead on the things that have already come and passed or the things that are still out there on the horizon, deluding ourselves into thinking that the best is still on its way. When we do that, suddenly our middles disappear altogether and we lose valuable time because we’re too fixated on either the past or the future to see what’s around us in the now, even if that now might be a challenging middle we don’t want to face for whatever reason, whether that’s because it’s a lull in activity or whether it’s a chaotic mess.

 

I think I definitely struggle with trying to be present in the valley of middles, but maybe that’s also a lot of us. While this summer definitely feels like a gigantic middle in between the end of one season and the start of another, I think perhaps many of us face middles of varying sizes throughout our lives and we could all get a little more out of them if we remembered, or maybe even forced ourselves to try and remain present during those times, even if it feels like we might be wasting our time or accomplishing nothing. After all, God is always moving, regardless of whether it seems like He is or not, and maybe if we were able to be present, we’d be more of aware of it.