Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Simple Things

So, today's my birthday. I'm 28 years old now. In typical fashion, it's been an interesting day - some parts amusing, some parts not.

I woke up to a text message from one of my foster parents, informing me that one of the foster kids got into a fight last night, which resulted in a broken nose. Then, as I'm about to leave for work, exiting my house while simultaneously taking a bite out of a pop-tart, I drop the pop-tart. As I'm trying to catch it, the storm door hits me in the head. I arrive to work to find a no-longer-employed-there colleague there using the intern computer(which, since I'm an intern, is my computer). This of course had me very confused. So, in any case, I decided to work on some of the forms/files which didn't require a computer. Then I realized I had left those files at home (I have folders for each of my foster kids, plus a 5th folder dedicated to forms that need to be filed in the agency files, and other "to do" list items that I keep with me in case I get to work on them from home during the week when I'm not in the office). So, I go back home to get my folder and also go ahead and bring my laptop as well, so I'll have a computer. Spent the rest of the afternoon working on my paperwork, before going on my last home visit with this one extra client I picked up from another colleague to help him out for the month of November. They weren't home. So, I went to my youngest foster kid's house to have a visit with him. I do believe it's just as therapeutic to me to visit him, as it is him. He's 7 years old, and has cerebral palsy. One of his behavioral targets is speaking loud enough to be heard, as he has a tendency to whisper. However, from what I've seen, he only does that when I first get there, and when I tell him it's time for me to leave, or if he's asking me if I have to leave yet (which he does any time I start talking to his foster mom). Anytime I'm stressed or frustrated, all I have to do is spend an hour playing with this foster kid, and I feel better. Classic case of the old cliche, where people in helping fields learn more from the ones they're helping, than vice versa.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. Television, the usual stuff. Decided not to do much, or any for that matter, homework today as a birthday gift to myself.

Between the birthday wishes from friends, and the time spent with the youngest foster kid, I was already in a bit of a contemplative/nostalgic mood, which is typical of me on these days. I think, however, the highlight was a voice message I just got a little bit ago.

Back in June, before I went part-time at my current job, I quit the part-time job I was also working at as a 2nd job, at a low management group home. While I was there, there was this 13(now 14) year old I really connected with. By the time I left, I was almost the only one who could get him to take his ADHD meds with little struggle, and he was actually going around telling other staff I was his dad. On my last day there, he spent the whole day with me. When he had to go to another part of campus to practice for some kind of skit that he was supposed to be in the following week, he became argumentative and defiant. It wasn't until I promised that I wouldn't leave until after he finished, that he calmed down and went to the practice. After the practice, we said our goodbyes. Before I left, I gave him my phone number (this group home didn't have as strict a policy on that as the mental hospital, that I knew of, and if they did, they're even worse about following it), and also told my co-workers that they're all welcome to call me anytime and say hi. As of now, I keep in contact with a few of my old co-workers, and a couple of the kids, via myspace/facebook.

Anyways, a little bit ago, I received a voice message on my cell, it was from him and a couple of the other boys from the group home, wishing me happy birthday. Now, they're not supposed to have cellphones, but, it's something I haven't pushed since I'm no longer there - a large part of me feels that, the agency makes it so easy to sneak things on campus, they kind of deserve it. I confiscated the phones if I happened to see them while I was working there, but didn't go to great efforts to look for them. All they had to do was on the next Wal-mart trip, buy a pay-as-you-go phone.

This one simple voice message seems to have thrown me into a stage of nostalgia and even pride. To know that these kids wished me happy birthday when I haven't even seen them since June, makes me feel like I actually did something right in spite of the office politics and weird structure (or lack thereof) of the place. I miss the kids, and even most of the co-workers. One old co-worker has said I should come visit(although technically I'd be trespassing since I no longer work there), but I don't think I would know how to act, it's been so long.

It's funny the things that make you thankful. That make you remember that in the end, everything is worthwhile.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


 Tuesday night, a friend and I went to an interfaith service at a local Conservative Jewish synagogue, sponsored by the local Christian-Jewish Council. It was quite interesting. There were responsive readings, prayers, and readings from the Jewish prayerbook, the Siddur. Although it wasn't a passage that was read, one that I glanced at which caught my eye. It is Pirkei Avot 1:14, which states:

"Hillel used to say: If I am not for myself who will be for me? Yet, if I am for myself only, what am I? And if not now, when?"

In a way, it fits with the holiday, for me. It talks about helping others, and standing up for others. It reminds me of how thankful I am to have had friends over the years who have helped me through some very dark times; and likewise I have tried to be there for them as well. Yes, my life isn't quite where I want it to be at the moment, as can probably be gathered in previous posts. But it could be a lot worse off as well!

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it!

Recurring Themes

     Ever have times in your life where things seem to happen in a pattern? Like, you'll wake up thinking of something, and for the next day or two, everything that happens around you will somehow seem to relate to that particular thought. That seems to have been happening to me the last few days.

     This time of year is always a bit contemplative for me. Tomorrow (well, technically today) is Thanksgiving. The time when we remember everything we're thankful for. On Tuesday is my 28th birthday, which I will inevitably spend, at some point, mulling over what I've accomplished over the last 28 years, and what I thought I would have accomplished by this point in my life. Once I started actually gaining some self-esteem and became comfortable with the concept that I actually did have a future, I fully expected to, in similar vein as most other Southern young adults, be married with a kid, blah blah blah. Instead, I haven't had a relationship since 2007, and have had maybe 3-4 dates this entire year, all with different girls - and that's a step up from 2008 and 2009. I'm not saying I regret this - I've definitely needed the time to figure myself out and recover from a lot of drama that happened in my last serious relationship - it's just not where I expected to be at this point in my life. Likewise, I fully expected to be finished (or at least, almost finished) with school at this point, going to grad school straight from undergrad. Instead, I ended up having to wait three years between finishing undergrad and starting grad school, during which time I dealt with an abortion, unemployment, virtual homelessness, and moving no less than, but perhaps more than, 5 times between graduation and starting grad school.

     I will admit that I do get frustrated and lonely sometimes. I have great friends that I hang out with when I can, but I feel like I am actually finally at a point emotionally where I'm ready for a relationship, should the right person come my way. Yes, I have a lot going on with school, but if I put the rest of my life on hold to focus only on career and academics, how unbalanced is that? The truth is, with the field I have chosen, I may always have to be doing something to advance my career - once I do get my MSW, and later my licensure, I'll have to even continue attending seminars and classes to keep that licensure. The problem seems to be that while I have met and befriended several girls that I feel I would be compatible with and am attracted to, the timing always seems off. Either they start asking about my work, and I (assumedly) freak them out, or otherwise talk a little too much about it (my view = "they asked, I have to talk a lot about it to really answer their questions!"), or they end up saying they have too much going on to date (which, personally, doesn't make much sense to me - if you know this, then don't go on a date with someone, and tell them such afterward, it looks like you're making excuses!).

     Anyways, such seems to be the theme lately. Been feeling a little more restless, frustrated, and lonely, in part due to the holiday season, in part due to the fact that my defenses seem to be lower overall due to frustrations with school assignments I have been working on, and so I get frustrated more easily. Saturday morning I had a nice brunch date with someone that went well, although we haven't talked much since. Downside is that later that day (like, an hour after I got home), she said she had fun, and I'm really cool, but she realized she's not ready to date again yet due to some recent break-ups. Which is understandable, but still had me kind of disappointed and feeling like I just had a date with yet another "one hit wonder". And then on Monday, in the true sense of humor the Divine seems to have, the designated scripture passage in my Celtic Daily Prayer book, is the one where Abraham's servant is sent to find Isaac a wife, and finds Rebekah. The thought went through my head "Really? Are You trying to make me feel better, or worse?"

Themes are hard to understand, sometimes. Maybe someday I'll understand mine.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Daily Practice

 One thing I didn't learn very well growing up: how to actually live out your faith. Sure, I learned the basics, such as The Golden Rule, which is a large part of my life even today. But obviously, people of any spirituality - or none at all - hold The Golden Rule and similar concepts as key components of their moral codes concerning how to treat others. What I never learned was how to express my spirituality in a way unique to my personality and my understanding of the Divine. My family was very active in the church. Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, youth group, church Christmas/Easter plays, that kind of public spirituality. But at home, the most spiritual we got was praying before meals, and reading the traditionally read Scripture passages on Christmas Eve. Aside from these practices, and from occasional periods of "family Bible time" here and there, the only other time they would show any practice of spirituality at the home would be during times of conflict. During these times, they would typically whip out their KJV Bible and read some kind of passage that they could basically twist into some rendition of "I'm a good parent, you're a bad son, God's going to punish you for your disobedience".

This seems to have carried into my adult life. Even though I have a chosen spiritual path far different from that of my parents, one that encourages and allows for personal exploration (and indeed, emphasizes personal experiences as an important facet), I struggle with ways to keep my spiritual practices fresh and consistent. My Celtic Daily Prayer prayerbook helps, and around this time of year I tend to become more consistent due to my practices related to the winter holidays (Advent, Christmas, Yule, last year I even experimented a little with Hannukah just to get a feel for it, and a recent UU-specific invention called "Chalica"), I still am at times lost as to how to live out my spiritual beliefs in day-to-day life. I'm working on becoming more aware of everything around me, the more spiritual nature of life. But I still feel like I need more structure to improve my self-discipline.

Therefore, something I may gradually incorporate after the holidays, will be the First Degree Curriculum laid out within the AODA. As I've previously mentioned, I am planning on delving more in-depth into that organization once I get out of grad school and get my career goals more settled. In the meantime, though, maybe if I start to incorporate elements of their practices into my life now, then by the time I get to that point, I will be already have become more self-disciplined in my lifestyle. I really do need to work on self-discipline.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Kind of Christian Are You?- Beliefnet.com

What Kind of Christian Are You?- Beliefnet.com

You are A Brian McLaren Christian
Brian McLaren Christian

A.k.a. a Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, Eugene Peterson Christian. You subscribe to Sojourners or Relevant...or, more likely, Rolling Stone, Paste and The Atlantic. (And maybe even Geez!) Your Christian history is rooted in St. Francis, who leads (through Gandhi) to Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. You emphasize social justice as an element of God's kingdom. You might be "emergent" or "progressive," but you're probably post-evangelical.

Want more? Watch videos with Brian McLaren. See Rob Bell on the resurrection. Read Phyllis Tickle's Lent blog. Read our interview with N.T. Wright.

I took this quiz on Beliefnet. I don't know who Brian McLaren is, but in short, it says I'm a liberal Christian. Some of the questions on it have gotten me to thinking a little. What does it mean to be "Christian"? I believe in Jesus' teachings on helping the poor, "suffer not the little children", etc.... the social tendencies to welcome the outcasts that he exhibited. Love God (however you define God) and love your neighbor(including, for me, our non-human neighbors). I don't believe in literal virgin birth, death, resurrection. I believe possibly that he was able to understand more and perhaps become a Christ figure via progressive rebirths, similar to the belief that Siddhartha was able to attain Buddhahood thanks to multiple rebirths that finally led to the life in which he understood Enlightenment. I don't believe in a literal heaven or hell..... well, heaven as a possibility, hell definitely no. But I also believe in reincarnation as a possibility. And lately, Buddhism is starting to appeal more to me. So why not become Buddhist? This is something I've been thinking about a bit lately, as I'm reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Zen Living, and desperately attempting to utilize my Zen practices to balance the most stressful semester of school I've had yet - I didn't do very well on a recent major paper in class, and I'm (temporarily) up to 8 foster kids in my internship.

One thing about Gnosticism is that it is kind of a blend of both. It is Gnostic, Buddhist, Pagan, whatever else, yet it is also above all of that. Being a Gnostic means the practitioner seeks the esoteric similarities within all religions of study, seeking the Divine Spark, the Divine Inspiration, that is the source of it all. Some Pagans(and indeed, a lot of Gnostics), view divinity like a diamond. With the Wiccan "All Gods are One God" view, the belief is that whether you are praying to Zeus, Hades, Apollo, whoever, you are simply praying to different aspects of the same Being. Gnostics seek to find that Being, the big jewel that all the facets make up. That's why you find many Gnostics who, although they consider themselves Christian and pray to Jesus, also pray to Isis, Horus, and other deities(usually of middle-Eastern or Egyptian pantheons). That's something I still struggle with, myself. Before embracing Gnosticism, when I was Pagan, I was a polytheist, and followed a number of deities, primarily from the Celtic pantheon. While I did eventually come back to Christianity as a Gnostic, and recommit myself to Jesus (albeit a different interpretation of him), and even attend a Christian church, what of those other deities? I fully believe that I connected with them. My first experience with Brighid was a very powerful experience, part of why I still feel connected with her and follow her in her Saint form. I don't believe that my experiences as a Pagan were any less real than my experiences as a Gnostic have been, just because my faith has evolved. What I struggle with, even now, is how to integrate the two to make my spirituality as holistic as fits my generally eclectic personality and approach to everything, including spirituality. Maybe it is okay to pray to Jesus, and Manannan, and Brighid, and Isis. I'm hoping the next book on my reading list, Christopaganism, will give me some ideas and insights.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Little Things

First, an order of housekeeping: I've added three more links to the links section, three forums I frequent when I can: The Center for Progressive Christianity, Pagan Journeys, and The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids.

Today, I'm learning to appreciate the little things. Since I haven't been working at the mental hospital as frequently, I've been generally able to manage my anxiety and emotions better while I'm there, because I don't feel as burned out - for now. At church yesterday, the head of the southeast association for my church's denomination spoke at our church, and officially instated our Interim Minister. It was also All Saint's Sunday, where we lit candles to remember those who have passed away in the past year(as Monday of last week was All Saint's Day, and Halloween was their Harvest Sunday, All Saint's Day was commemorated this past Sunday). I have been fortunate to not have had any relatives die within the past year. But as it was my first All Saint's experience, my mind was brought to other relatives I have been, or considered myself, close to, who have died. My paternal grandparents, of lung cancer and emphysema respectively; my maternal grandfather, who I never met, who died in a car accident when he was 22 years old, three months before my mother's birth (somehow I do feel a connection with him, although we never met); my uncle, who died in a freak accident while I was in undergrad. I wondered where they are now, if they've reincarnated, or are still in the spiritual world. I admit the afterlife is one area this Gnostic is more "agnostic" about. I know I don't believe in Hell, but I don't know what I truly believe happens - reincarnation just makes the most sense to me so far. I try not to worry about it, as how does that really help me live my life in the here and now?

Today, I had an amazing experience connecting with one of the foster kids on my caseload. He's seven years old, and suffers from cerebral palsy. We played Mancala, a kind of Chinese marble game. He was so excited to count how many he could fit into his hand, as compared to how many I could. He counted those things over and over and over, pausing only a couple of times to let me know he had to go to the bathroom, or to ask me when I have to leave. It's moments like these that make the frustration, the near mental breakdown that this semester is bringing me, worthwhile. It's how I know I'm doing what I'm meant to do.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stopping to Breathe

I've come to recognize that, in general, I'm a very busy person. I'm always either going to church, to class, to my paid job, to my internship, or doing homework. As I'm becoming more accustomed to and consistent in my Zen practice, I'm very slowly learning to calm my mind more and take a few minutes to just "exist".

On Samhain/Halloween, a good friend and I spent the evening in downtown Charleston. First, we had dinner at Tommy Condon's, one of my favorite Irish pubs/restaurants. Then, we walked through the battery and Waterfront Park. It was so quiet and peaceful. I just lay there for a few minutes on a seat on the deck, looking at the stars. I don't even remember the last time I really looked at the stars. The ocean, yes. The trees, yes. But the stars have a beauty of their own. Our ancestors used to navigate by them. We are made from them. This put me into an adequately somber mood for the final event of the evening - a haunted ghost tour. It was probably the most interesting "haunted tour" I've ever been on, in terms of learning about legend. Granted, I've only been on two, including this one. And, granted, the first one was a little more exciting, thanks to a streetlight flickering just as the guide was telling the story of a body buried beneath the candy shop directly across from the light. But this one had many more stories - makes sense, since Charleston is such an old city. And two of the stories actually centered around my church. So I thought that was an extra interesting bit. Because I was so tired, I held my own private prayers honoring my physical and spiritual ancestors on Monday, All Saint's Day.

Today, in between a meeting with one of my foster families and their caseworker(even though today was technically my day off....), an eye doctor appointment to order new contacts, and meeting with some classmates to work on a roleplay that we have to do for our counseling/micro-level class(I'm roleplaying a Jewish guy.... apparently everybody thinks I look Jewish), I went browsing around for some Christmas shopping ideas, since I want to start early so I give myself enough time, with all the other things going on in my schedule.

I'm amazed at how early people are starting to play Christmas music and put out Christmas decorations. Now, granted, I'm probably going to go ahead and decorate my seasonal altar for Christmas/Yule on my next day off with my Advent wreath, etc. But that's because as far as seasonal-related holidays go that are religiously oriented, that's the next one. Thanksgiving is mostly a secular holiday, a day to give thanks. There are no real decorations for that, as Druidry has other harvest-related holidays(and I struggle with harvest-related themes anyways since, at the moment, I don't garden). But still, Thanksgiving is completely overlooked in the media and shopping centers it seems. I feel giving thanks is important. And it just goes to show how we are always jumping from one thing to another.

I think that's the biggest lesson I've been learning these last few days. I need to stop and live in the moment, because that's all I have. The more I recognize that, my spirituality will grow. Appreciate life. Live in the moment. Corny, I know. But if we just learned this, how much better could we be?