Looking Onward, To A New Year

The coming of a new year is an event a great many look forward to with excitement and optimism, even if January 1st is little more than a day on a calender. New years bring packed gyms, new haircuts and many more commitments from the non-commital. One could easily lay the blame upon mass media and well funded advertising. But looking in closer, one must confront the uncomfortable fact that the ads that tell us to lose weight and become a fitter, happier and more productive human being* are striking at a profound angst within most all of us.

In the spirit of looking for hope in the future, many of us make personal resolutions toward change. Few of these survive past march. And in this we see two competing forces in a dance around the aforementioned angst, optimism and non-commitment. Of course the forward momentum of human kind would seem to show that optimism is in the lead. But realistically, this is a mere illusion of history. The propulsion of man has at best been driven by the vision of an ambitious few. And their visions are largely carried on the shoulders of the masses, many of whom seek little more than scant opportunities for pleasure in life.

Now, in case anyone is misled by this seemingly synical and wizened tear, let me tell you that I too fall victim to this dance with consistency. We all do. Even those ambitious few have had their moments of dismay, as the once poor Lincoln would have seemed after three of his four sons failed to see adulthood. But it is in these times of dismay that we most deeply confront the meaning of hapiness in our own lives. Personally I find greatest hope & happiness in the same way as another, much older, man by the name of Abraham.

I know that I will see many more moments of dismay pursuing my hopes and dreams, as will most everybody. But for those who can still remain hopeful and at piece in even the deepest pits of grief and self loathing, the is future a thing of hope no matter what may come.

Unless of course the Tzolk’in is correct

*Thanks Radiohead

Giving Thanks

Five days removed, Thanksgiving is still something my mind is dwelling on. Its not that this year was all that distinguishable from the last. The food was still in delicious abundance & the time spent with my family & friends was as deeply mollifying as ever. Maybe it was the change of venue, switching in my cousin Matt’s beautiful home in Rhode Island for the Connecticut home of my uncle Mike. But really, it was the ride back to Philly. Crawling along in traffic I could not help but to reflect on the fact that in the light of my present condition, the many things that I have to be thankful for cast a long shadow over most anything I could muster complaint against.

While the things I am thankful for could easily fill a few volumes, this is not what strikes me the most. Rather it is the very focus on thankfulness that this great holiday inspires. Thankfulness is something my life desperately lacks. And while I can assign most of this guilt to time distracted, the fault lies within me. Just as any skill demands focused practice, so too does thankfulness.

Not only does embracing active thankfulness bear the fruits of temperance and humility, it inspires lives of generosity. And in this spirit of thankfulness, we are best equipped to acknowledge how precious little we have can be claimed of our own doing. In this time of advent, I will commit to focusing on thankful praise. Especially for that greatest of all gifts, Grace.

 

For a great post on the season advent, check out the blog of my good friend Paul. You’ll be glad you did.

http://paulburkhart.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/welcome-to-advent-2011-1/

 

Better Late Than Never?

In every part of our country’s social history, the people who have played some part in it have been looking for ways to self improvement. Whether it be the founders who sought freedom to conduct themselves apart from self proclaimed authority, or our fore-bearers who sought freedom from old world poverty, the people of America have always known there is something more. For many in our modern age these goals are similar, if only ramified by modern consumerism. In my own experience I went from a listless high schooler to a person obsessed, often excessively, with becoming a better man. In my best times my faith is at the center of such goal making. However, sin does have a way of creeping in.

Ever since barely scratching my way out of high school, I thought that scholastic excellence and discipline would assure me a seamless road toward success and happiness. I’m one of the few who went to college assured of what I wanted out of it. However, during college I was more A fool than I ever allowed myself to believe. I cast off all desires for social ties. Its not a surprise I left with so few. As I got into grad school, I was finally getting tired of my asceticism. By God’s grace I met great people who showed me it is alright to live. As my career path was beginning to hone in on what I had long hoped for it to be, I began to try and regain some what I had ignored for so long. Before long, my biggest personal goal was to gain some semblance of a social life. Something that should be so basic. But to my shame, spiritual growth was being eclipsed by my desire for social growth.

I’ve made progress, but I still have much to learn. I still feel inexorably awkward around people, not trusting my own words. I wind up in states of analysis paralysis, and wind up doing things that in hindsight are stupid or even disrespectful. Lets not even get into relational pursuits. Sometimes I look back upon where I was in undergrad, fully aware of how much I had missed in my solitude, and wish I could have the old me back.

And it is in this that I must give thanks to God for where he has taken me, and in prayer find the resolve to press forward knowing that this is only a foretaste of what lay ahead. For all of my verbal fumbles and situational errors can really only have one of two purposes. The first, which I can often fall into amidst the prideful doldrums of self pity, is too chalk it up to weakness. This leaves me to doubt my self further as I grow in resentment of my situation. But, in faith I trust that God will me lessons in my failures. And even more importantly humility. It is in this I pray that I will have strength to see my weakness for what it is and move forward with a sense of what “self improvement” really means .

A reflection. One of many.

Looking back on the prevalent themes of classic & modern literature, mankind’s struggles with angst flow like water through some of our most beloved tales. The archetype of almost all adventure fiction, the hero’s journey, is so widely celebrated in no small part because it reveals to us threads of hope through self transforming triumphs over the entrapment of angst. Yet most of us live our lives relegating such hopes of victory to fantasy. It makes sense of course, seeing as the most fervent ambitions in our hearts are the ones that are the most absurd.

I have known this to be all too true in my own life. I know that at times I pursue my own goals like an addict, scheming and planning, hoping that if I do everything right I’ll get what I want in the end. But then my absurd designs fall through, & my desires go unrequited. I get down on myself and I wind up looking with a sense of “whats the point” on more and more aspects of my life. I ultimately resign to a secluded state in which I deny all ambitions – or even worse, lash out in sin. I convince myself that I’m not good enough and make peace with not growing. This is me at my worst.

As I reflect on the events of this day ten years ago, I can’t help but wonder if such a behavioral model may hold true when looking at the perpetrators of the most senseless act of violence in mankind’s recent memory. These 19 “men” (for lack of a better pronoun; no respect is given here in the slightest) carried out a plan many years in the making with horrific results. No one knows for certain what compelled each of them to do this, though the theories are myriad. Living in a world that has in many respects rejected change since the european renaissance, one could surely assume that these 19 had encountered many daunted dreams in their day. Maybe they were lashing out over lives filled with pent up angst and aggression at what they thought to be the source of their problems. Is this man at his worst? Deep down inside are we all in someway capable of crossing over into such a depraved state?

In reality such possibilities never leave the realm of theory for most of us, and that is something we should all be grateful for. While this prideful self-destruction exists as a possibility for all of us, so too does grace. And in grace, purpose. 9/11 brought people together who would have never otherwise had any reason to do so. It focused all of our attention. It shifted our perspective. And while the trajectory that was followed by the leadership of this country may have once again fallen victim to prideful, arrogant scheming, the people gained a new dialectic. One wherein this country is seen not as a given, but a blessing.

In truth we need to continually adopt this paradigm for both our lives and our country. I know that my life is short, and if I spend it trying to grab for whatever I can as fast as I can, I will ultimately come away with nothing. The same can be said for our country. If we keep striving to retain control of everything that transpires outside our own borders we may one day look back and ask where has our country gone. If 9/11 can teach us anything on this it’s tenth anniversary, it may be that humility is the cure to many of our ills. Because it is in humility that we can begin to focus on the aspects of life that are truly important, and why we are on this earth in the first place.

 

On this, the tenth anniversary of September the 11th, 2001 I offer my prayers for God’s saving grace in the lives of all it has touched.

Storms

It is really amazing what natural disasters, even those that don’t transpire, do to us. Just being warned of the possibility we buy things we’d never otherwise buy, & the news cycle churns ceaselessly. We go indoors and just ride it out, hoping that our greatest fears do not come to pass. And why all this fear and preparation? It’s because we want to keep hold of those things with which we define our lives. The thought of losing power and all of the other important things we can so easily take for granted rattle out of us the insecurity that tells us we really don’t rule this world, despite all of our inventiveness. But in truth, such revelations can be good for us. Like New Orleans after Katrina or Manhattan after 9/11, we are brought together in times of trial. And for a moment, we can look to the future with eyes wide open and see what matters most to us. Hope for a better future, embracing life in each of it’s miraculous yet fleeting moments, the relationships we have and further hope to form.

But then the storm passes. We return to our lives, and quickly forget our inspired moments of commitment. I know that Hurricane Irene wasn’t as bad in Philly as it was in other areas, and for that I can only give praise to God. And in that I thank him again, because at least for this moment the storm has made me look with new eyes on the simple windswept beauty of a calm morning.

Packing – Thursday, August 18, 2011

Packing. It is an event I approach with nearly as much excitement as one would approach an impending colonic. It is not the mere tedium of the act – if it were only that. It is that queezy feeling of foreboding. That feeling that causes you to say “well, I guess that’s it” as you attempt to squeeze what’s most important to your identity and sense of peace into a few boxes and bags. Its been a good summer and I feel immensely blessed and satisfied. But there is always that lingering feeling of “could I have done more, neigh, should I have done more?” But as any practitioner of Zen will tell you – the past is passed and the future is a mystery.

As I prepare for my return to Philly I feel unchanged. Alas, my time in God’s word has not been what I would have hoped, and I feel that I have left much undone in living out my faith. But in faith, I pray that I may find a lesson in this time and in that grow closer to a true Christian walk. God only knows what the future holds for me upon resuming my life in Philly, but for now I feel blessed to have this last day at home with friends and family.

Starting Off – Wednesday, August 17, 2011

As summer draws to it’s close, the time seems right to get a blog up and running – as it is something I’ve wanted to do for some time now. It’s been a great two months and I am looking forward returning to my second year of dental school (Temple). This year is going to be tough, but I feel that with a creative outlet such as this I can have a release for any angst or creative confinement that I may feel as my workload grinds back into action.

This summer I’ve been doing all of my favorite things, with some of my favorite people. I went with my Dad and brother to Maine, Montreal and the Adirondacks for ten days in July. The rest of the time I’ve been running, biking and relaxing in the blessed company of my friends and family back home in Goshen, NY. It will be a bit uneasy going back to Philly, but I know it won’t take long to settle back in once I am there. In fact, I have loved my first year in Philly. I have met and gotten to know a host of wonderful people in both school and church. With regards to that church, Liberti is the first place that I’ve ever attended where I have felt like an active member in the community. It is easy, especially for myself, to go into a church and feel like another face in a crowd without any sense of real connection. So I feel blessed to have met and shared with some of Liberti’s great people, and I am looking forward to becoming a member this coming September.

As to the future of this blog, the shape it will take can only be told by time. For one, I have just finished a six week writing course at Gotham Writer’s Workshop. As such I am intent to post here as I begin to hone the craft of freelance writings – with essays, poems short stories and possibly even chapters of prospective novels. Additionally I love to cook, so invariably some of that will make it here. But this is by no means a food blog, there are plenty of people out there who are much better. Also, I’m a big fan of music, movies, books and various explorations of artistic enrichment. Ultimately, this will all be new to me, and your invited to join in the experience.