Miss

It’s good advice for habit building,

Never miss twice.

Sleep in, lose a morning workout. Eat that guilty snack during a fast. Skip a day journaling. View pornography. Forget to follow through on a work assignment. Fall off the wagon. Let a diet slip for a donut. Fail to post a blog essay.

I have nothing profound to share. It’s just haunting me that I lost my streak of posting every Thursday morning. I’m an Enneagram One, I beat myself up for silly things like this. I shouldn’t, but I do.

But you know what?

I will not miss twice.

Computing

The act of observation in quantum physics and computing complicates matters significantly. The wave-particle duality of light is a property also known to physicists as superposition. Until an object like an electron or Schrodinger’s cat is observed to be in a particular state, then it is actually in all possible states. The electron exists at all points along a wave until it is observed to be in one discrete position. Our unfortunate feline friend is both alive and dead inside the box the instant before it is observed to be either alive or dead. Observation simplifies matters for our simple, dualistic minds; however, observation complicates what seems to be the more natural state of the universe by forcing things at even subatomic scales to pick a position and stick to it. The same issue arises in computing.

I received an email yesterday from my brother, and with his permission, I am sharing it here. David holds a degree in Computer Programming and is a voracious enthusiast of coding in his free time. While he attended school, he lived with Dixie and me and would bring conversation topics like this, often over an evening cigar or a beer.

Please do not let the coding itself daunt you. I would encourage you to take your time to understand the basic arguments he spells out, because the parallel that will be drawn between computing and the brain is a powerful one. Enjoy!


I’ve been contemplating the nature of computing; and how our brains relate to computers. I found a parallel I’d like to share.

Let’s take the following code (C#):

david1

This code will initialize a place in memory to 0, and increment it to 10000. Essentially counting from 0 to 10000 and doing nothing with the value.

This code takes 418 ticks (0.0000418 seconds) to run on my computer.

Now, let’s observe the value of i every time it increments:

david2

This code will print the value of i to the console every time it increments. So it will display 1 2 3 4 5 6 …  to a console window, until it reaches 10000.

This code takes 76,107,513 ticks (7.611 seconds) to run on my computer.

Developers know that observing memory in a human readable format is the most costly operation to take. According to the above, it takes 182,075 times more time to observe what is going on inside my computer.

A computer is optimized to think internally, in language that it understands. When I ask to see output, it has to do considerable work. It is in my best interest to only inquire on these values when it is absolutely necessary.

If I count from 1 to 10,000 in my head. It will take considerably longer than 7 and a half seconds. But certainly my mind can count much faster. There is a space in my brain that is holding my current value as I count. I would like to believe that my brain can increment that memory to 10000 in 418 ticks. But if I try to observe that happening, I am inherently slowing the operation down. I can’t even think the word “one” in 418 ticks.

However, I don’t have a way to consciously instruct my brain to execute the first set of code. I don’t know how to tell it to do something if I am not observing it. This leads to the conclusion that our brains are only reporting a minuscule amount of their internal processing.

Let’s look at the side of a die:

david3

Let’s pretend that your brain hasn’t memorized that image and knows it to be six (called memoization in computing).

If I ask my brain to tell me how many dots are in this image, the only logical method it can take is to scan the image, and increment a counter every time it encounters a dot. And finally, tell me the final value of the counter.

To pretend I can write brain code, I imagine it would look like this:

david4

Now consider how a toddler would determine the amount of dots. The would likely say out loud “one, two…”. They are observing their brains. They are interrupting what is extremely fast, and asking for a process that is extremely slow.

To conclude, this all leads me to wonder; what is my brain up to when I’m not watching? Has my brain made decisions that I have yet to observe? Is meditation beneficial because we stop observing our brains, and in doing so allow it to work at maximum speed? Can I learn to stop observing my brain so much and only retrieve output when it is necessary?

Fin

– David Henning

Shattered

This week began like any other. My alarm got me out of bed at 0445 am. I was dressed for the gym and finished my journal entry for the morning by 0515 am. I got a great workout in on the spin bike. I finished my workout and my shower and left the gym to get to work. As I approached my car beneath the street light, my first thought was “oh that’s weird, why did my passenger window frost over like that? And my other windows have no frost at all?” Then my brain finally put together the fact that I was looking directly inside my vehicle through a broken window. I stood there blinking at it for a moment, dumbly dazed, before it occurred to me that my messenger bag was missing from the seat where I had left it. My brain was moving so slowly through each logical step; it had no categories in which to sort what it was taking in. My window was broken, bag stolen, property and domain violated.

It all felt like a moment of divine comedy. As I quietly snapped pictures of the scene for the police and searched the surrounding area to see if that bag had been ditched, the irony was not lost on me that I had written about unfortunate circumstances like this recently in B27. “This just is. Do you want to stay mad about these circumstances largely out of your control?” I arranged to come in late to work, checked insurance information, vacuumed out the shattered safety glass from my seats, and made a quick appointment to get the window fixed at the shop.

Throughout the process, I was honestly surprised by the relaxed equanimity in my response to the unfolding morning. (If that sounds like bragging, it’s because it probably is.) I never felt a flash of rage or anger. I never lost my temper and threw a tantrum about “the injustice!” Being an Enneagram 1, my relationship with anger tends to manifest more as quiet bitterness and resentment with sudden, yet seldom, bursts. But not here, not this time. Not even resentment came out to play.

Don’t get me wrong, I was and am certainly confused, perplexed, disappointed. Mostly just releasing a long sigh with “why?” somewhere there in the wind. What a petty and childish way to get what you want and don’t have. These kinds of thoughts have visited too, but I’ve mostly been debriefing on a few items I’ve learned and realized as a result.

First, I am so glad that Dixie and I found the wisdom and the willpower to begin our minimalist journey a few years ago. My relationship to things has changed and grown so much that it was easy, even in the moment, to recognize and tell myself that all things like this are replaceable. Yes, the bag had some sentimental value, being a gift from my dad one Christmas in high school. And yes, the notebook I had tucked in there had ideas and items that I hadn’t transferred yet to my Evernote. But they are ultimately just things. The bag was a daily reminder of the fantastic relationship my father and I have built following some rough years in high school. I lost the bag, but certainly not the relationship. The notebook had good ideas in it, but if the idea really was worth keeping track of, it’ll return in it’s time. We love people and use things, because the opposite never works.

Second, I am so grateful for the lessons in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. It was because of this program that the financial cost to replace the window was a non-concern. Even if we were working on getting out of debt still, Baby Step 1 is to save $1,000. It is precisely for out-of-the-blue moments like these that this starter emergency fund exists. Thankfully, we paid our debt off completely back in October of 2019, so our emergency fund is much larger in Baby Step 3 as we work to fully fund that account. It was such a weight off our shoulders to know we’d be financially covered and that we would easily recover from the setback.

Finally, I’ve learned in the aftermath that I can be proud of the inner work I’ve done with myself to grow in equanimity, serenity, and forgiveness. I found myself praying throughout the day that they at least enjoyed my lunch. I even posted what I thought to be a pretty funny Instagram story that read, “To the person who stole my bag this morning, I hope you are as perplexed by my collection of Rubix cubes as I was perplexed by my broken window.” Cheeky, I thought. I really am happy with how my instincts have shifted in response to sudden difficulties like this. I have been stolen from twice before, and I can promise I did not respond this well in the past. Funny how the story of my young adulthood is told in stories like these, and not just all the good times.

Anakephalaiossathai. Grace and peace, my friends.

Replaceable

Our guest this week on Know Normal People, Maria, offered up a short and hauntingly powerful question: How replaceable are you?

Does that question needle at your ego, like it does mine? If you’re anything like me, I apologize for this, but I just committed you to a few weeks of pondering your replaceability.

My gut screams, “I hope I’m not at all replaceable!” But I struggle to identify this as anything more than my own ego afraid of becoming small and insignificant. Maybe I should let it get small.

Would it be worth it to struggle through life, attempting to secure my irreplaceability, only to forget to live a meaningful life? Will I struggle too hard against the border of temporality that I forget I’m not chained inside a cell, but rather fenced in and secure inside a garden? No! Rather, I ought to open-handedly live in a meaningful way, letting the question of replaceability dissolve entirely, and thereby, possibly, accidentally, become irreplaceable to the people who matter most to me in the process.

“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”

B27

I had to spend the night at Gate B27.

Ever have one of those weeks that just feels like the whole thing is conspiring against you? What can go wrong will go wrong. You might as well stretch some bedding out on the couch, move some pillows, and dig up a spare blanket, because your old college buddy, Murphy, is going to stay a while. Dixie and I just had one of those weeks.

I don’t want to really bait and switch you here. I’m not asking for a bunch of comments and messages asking if we’re okay. We are. But the situations that have arisen recently aren’t far enough in the past for me to really reflect on teachable moments or deep insights. Our temporal proximity to ground zero is very close, and the dust hasn’t quite settled. We’re healthy, we’re safe. We’re just emotionally rattled.

However, recently, I do have a recurring memory, reminding me of the time that I spent a whole night trying to get some sleep on the grey, office carpet of Gate B27 in the Denver International Airport. I was on my first business trip out of the state, flying to Wisconsin for work at a couple gas terminals. This was not my first trip of this nature for the summer project, but it was the first and only that required detailed travel plans like flights and rental cars.

The itinerary was as follows: Fly from Montana to Denver for a short dinnertime layover. Fly from Denver to Minneapolis. Pick up rental car and go for a 3 hour nighttime drive to the hotel. Get 7 hours of sleep before reporting fresh to work.

It was an excellent plan if I do say so myself. Maximum efficiency. But context clues have probably shown you the major flaw: delays. My first flight was late by about an hour in arriving to Montana, causing my short dinnertime layover to shrink to about 20 minutes. Okay, doable, but cutting it close. Then! Then, our aircraft is directed into a holding pattern above Denver due to a large amount of traffic. My 20 minute window becomes 15, then 10, then 2. I believe I watched my Minnesota bound plane takeoff without me from the supreme comfort of my upright, tray-table forbidden seat, thousands of feet in the air.

Okay, connection missed. Do I want to stay mad about it? First, I confirm on my airline app that my bag is set aside, to discover that I’ve been automatically booked for the next, soonest available flight that takes off at 0700 the next morning. It is 2145 now. At least my flight is booked, bag secured. Check. Win for systems and customer service. I call the car rental company to let them know I will be about 14 hours late. Check. Win for tech and communication. Now for some dinner. I wander the B concourse for so long trying to make a dinner choice, that they all close except for McDonald’s. I approach the McDonald’s counter as the sharp-suited business man ahead of me finishes his order and just as the employee puts up the “closed” sign. That employee walks off, and the look of dumb bewilderment that involuntarily twisted my face must have made her feel some degree of sympathy and pity, because an angel of McDonald’s moves the sign, and takes my hurried and thankful order with a smile. She was willing to take the ire and anger of her coworkers having to create one more order, of which she took much, visually and audibly. I tipped her personally and privately for stepping in like that. Win for humanity.

So the details are worked out, a mostly satisfying meal has begun the digestive process, and then it dawns on me, “I think I have to sleep here tonight.” I was taking each detail in stride and as they arose in importance, I lost sight of the big picture. DIA might just be my overlarge, overpriced bedroom for the night. I called my wife up home to give her the news. I search for a customer service desk for my airline to look into vouchers and hotels. All the desks have now been vacated. They’ve gone home. I’ve missed that window too. I find my next flight on the monitor and meander my way down to Gate B27.

The story basically ends there. I eventually take off in the morning, get the car, make the drive, and start work right away. I slept for about 13 hours after leaving work. Back at the airport and in the timeline, I stuffed my laundry bag with clean clothes for a pillow, wrapped my bag straps around my legs, scooted under a row of chairs, headphones in, phone charging and gripped tightly, and tried to sleep. If you’ve ever tried this, you know how futile my attempt to sleep really was. I’m on carpeted concrete, no padding, no insulation, no darkness, no comfort. And it turns out, an airport really never sleeps! Lights stay on, cleaning crews sweep the area in trained formation, red eye customers walking and talking, gate and departure announcements over the intercom, planes and trucks still constantly moving outside in the tarmac.

I really can’t tell why this memory is popping up this week, amidst today’s struggles and questions. As if the present didn’t need my full attention. But I can remember an odd peace, not resignation, but acceptance throughout my fitful night in the airport. I remember sitting at B27 and thinking, “This air travel system is incredibly complex. There are bound to be some glitches. This just is.”

Maybe that’s what my past is trying to remind my present? This just is. Do you want to stay mad about these circumstances largely out of your control? Does it benefit anyone for you to yell at the closing McDonalds employee? Can you celebrate and be inspired by the systems that put you and your bag on the next flight? Can you be grateful and generous with the woman willing to serve you dinner after closing time? Can you enjoy the extra time to read and listen to podcasts? This just is.

Between every stimulus and response, there is a choice. That’s what I’m teaching me this week. Anakephalaiosasthai. So let me revise my opening line:

I had got to spend the night at Gate B27.

Know Normal People

I launched a podcast this month, called K(no)w Normal People. My wife, Dixie, and I host the show together, while we interview the interesting people found in our circles of family, friends, and acquaintances.

The podcast was born out of a desire to have fun conversations with the interesting people in our lives. We didn’t need another show on the internet that interviews the same authors, artists, and thought leaders. If you’re a regular podcast listener, you may have had a similar experience. An author comes out with a new book and begins the media circuit. A podcast you follow interviews the author with some insightful questions and some pretty standard media questions. And then another show interviews them, and another, and another. On the whole, you hear most of the same questions with most of the same answers. Little variety. Once you’ve heard one, you’ve likely heard them all. So why not try a podcast with a fresh format?

We wanted an excuse to interview and learn from the people already in our lives. We knew that we are surrounded by interesting “normal” people and created a brand new show from the idea. We know deep thinking baristas, energetic pastors, passionate leaders, humble business owners, inspiring parents, photographers, musicians; friends. These are the shows we release every week. A fun conversation getting to know the normal people in our lives.

We’re willing to bet that not only are you interesting too, but that you are surrounded by fascinating people! In line for your favorite coffee, sitting in the desk next to you at work, a few rows in front of you at church: all these people have passions, interests, and quirks that make them unique. Why not ask them some questions and dig for something more than small talk? We’ve discovered that it’s a lot easier than we thought and our lives are exponentially more interesting since adopting a curiosity mindset.

Visit www.knownormalpeople.com to listen and subscribe. And remember…

“The only normal people you know are the ones you don’t know very well.” – Alfred Adler

Fìn

Or was that just the beginning?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about transitions. Beginning and ending and beginning. I think we all can feel the typical New Year energy humming in the air. Like the self-aware population of our earth collectively decided to strike a tuning fork before the 2020 recital, re-tuning our instruments for another year of practice, rehearsal, and performance. That really is the ritual we’ve built into the much maligned New Years Resolution. For some reason, we feel the gravity of that transition, but can we really say there was much functional difference between the two days? It was Tuesday, then it wasn’t. A Wednesday was born, then it wasn’t. Yet 2019 was laid to rest while 2020 dawned. It was inconsequential, yet momentous.

The New Year transition has the power it has because of the power we’ve collectively given it. The accepted calendar says something shifted, and that’s enough for us all to call it a holiday and watch a ball of lights drop to the ground in a city most of us don’t live in. Substantially, something seems to have changed, so why not act like it? There is something so natural in using artificial transitions like this as a reset; hence, the New Years Resolution. Use this time of year to reflect on the past, take stock of the present, and collect yourself for the future. New Year is a great beginners course in embracing transition and harnessing the power of forward vision. Because as hard as this New Year might feel to stick to your goals, you can bank on there being one next year. And do you want to merely start over or have something to build on? This particular orbit, this wheel of fortune and fate, really never stops spinning.

Around this time of year, my wife and I take a long weekend to get away from the house and the job and the cats and the chores to intentionally celebrate what went well in the previous year, recognize what didn’t go well, and set goals for the next twelve months. Throughout the year, we harness the power of the transitioning months to review our goals for the year, course correct, and set specific items to be accomplished in the next 30 days. Once a week, we sit down for twenty minutes to review progress made, details of the week, and celebrate the small wins. Twice a day, I take time to write in a journal, taking notes on my day and review progress made on the year’s goals.

It’s not always perfect. But it’s regularly intentional. And it’s a few steps beyond utilizing New Year. Each transition is useful to address some facet of our many-sided lives. The New Year rolls the calendar over. The birthday marks another successful orbit around the sun. The wedding anniversary marks another year you successfully avoided divorce and hopefully developed an even strong intimacy and friendship.

I wonder how different our culture would be if we gave more thought to these kinds of transitions and rhythms? How do we end and begin things? Are we paying attention enough to use them in their full potential power? How could a shift in mindset change a day or a year?

Consider the Jewish practice of Shabbat or Sabbath. The traditional day of rest in this culture begins at sundown Friday evening and lasts through sundown Saturday evening. The transition from day to day in this mode of thought occurs with a concrete, predictable moment that observably occurs every 24 hours. The boundary in the calendar is actually far less arbitrary than saying “midnight” is when the date changes. So if the day begins at sundown, it follows that the first substantial act of the new day is actually rest and sleep. Regardless of whether Sabbath is beginning, rest and sleep are the first things on the agenda, top priority. Only after vital time is passed resting does waking, eating, working, and playing begin. This is really what we were handed in the Genesis story of creation. Adam enters the scene on the culmination of the sixth day, then the seventh day is declared to be a holy day of rest, consecrated by the Divine Itself. Like he got to walk on the stage for the first time just for the standing ovation. Adam’s first full “day” of Being was passed in rest.

It’s a mindset shift. Are you sleeping every night in preparation for that day’s work or are you sleeping to catch up from the last day’s work? Do you charge your phone battery before you utilize it as a tool or do you charge it after you’ve spent it? Do you earn your paycheck to budget and spend in the future or do you earn it to cover what you bought in the last two weeks? Are you leaning forward in anticipation or limping behind in despair?

How can you treat endings as beginnings and beginnings as endings? How can you Fortuna_Wheelrethink transitions that will help put you in a growth mindset? In the historic cantata, Carmina Burana, composer Carl Orff adapted 12th and 13th century poems to create a work of musical mastery. The poems deal with the ever turning cycle of fate. In a very real way, the piece at the same time celebrates and laments the wheel of fortune. The opening (translated) lyrics erupt from the choir:

O Fortune, like the moon you are changeable, ever waxing ever waning; hateful life first oppresses and then soothes playing with mental clarity; poverty and power it melts them like ice.

The first poem of the piece is known as “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” (“Fortune, Empress of the World”) and starts with the very well known “O Fortuna”. And in a perfect illustration of the ever turning wheel of fortune, the work ends with the same poem, the same declaration, “O Fortune, like the moon you are changeable, ever waxing ever waning”, the same notes. The beginning could be the ending of another cycle while the ending could be the beginning of another cycle.

So consider this New Year a chance to subtly shift your mindset and set some real intention behind the transition of the decade.

Fín.

Or was that just the beginning?

Cat

I recently allowed a cat under my roof. And I’ve made an agreement with this little ball of feline fur, that as long as she knows I’m the pride male and get to set boundaries based on where the photons emitted by our star’s nuclear fusion reaction make impact with our apartment’s interior*, then she and I can be friends in a mutually beneficial relationship. In other words, she’s an indoor cat. And being an indoor cat, we’ve been learning to share living space together.

As with any new addition to a household or family, once the initial “aw cute!” phase wears off, there is a trove full of lessons to be learned as we begin to adjust to each other. I believe that life is so much more interesting if I assume that everyone and everything can be my teacher, so I ought to be open to wisdom in whatever form it is packaged as a humble student. So in no particular order, I’ve been collecting some observations that Dinah, the cat, has helped me recognize and put into words.

  • Renaming something isn’t always helpful or necessary. When my wife and I first began the process of adopting Dinah, we thought we would like to rename her Pudding. There was no particular reason why, beyond we liked how cute the name Pudding is. But on her first day in our apartment while she was doing her initial exploration, we learned that she actually recognized the name Dinah and responded by looking up at us and coming toward our outstretched hand. So she was never Pudding to us, she will always be Dinah. — I identify as some sort of Christian outside of American evangelicalism, call is more progressive or liberal Christianity maybe. And I’ve noticed within this particular movement, there is an interesting aversion to holding onto the traditionally used and accepted metaphors for God, such as God the Father. I’ve read and heard many critiques of “father” being overly patriarchal and misogynist, thereby we must wholesale reject that metaphor for God the Mother, All-Spirit, or Creator. All are metaphors that add and enrich my own conception of God, but I’m not so sure we need to throw out the Father because it makes some uncomfortable. Especially when literal millennia of the Church has operated under the baptism of our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Renaming something isn’t always helpful or necessary.
  • Negativity disguised as jest is just as much a habit as positivity in affection and love. If you have a pet, you know that your pet is named something, and then there are the bastardizations of that name ad infinitum. Unfortunately, many of them for me quickly devolved into blatant insults toward the cat. So even disguised as a joke, calling my cat ugly names became my habit whenever I was feeling annoyed with her or chastising her for breaking our terms of agreement. This habit painfully revealed itself to me when I was attending to my two year old niece recently at dinner, my human niece (to be 100% clear, not my cat), who was trying to stand up in her high chair, and I accidentally slipped one of the many ugly names I’ve called my cat as I was trying to get my niece to cooperate with fun Uncle Stephen. At that moment, I knew I had to change that habit immediately. Even as a joke, I never want my niece or my own future children to be torn down by an ugly habit like name calling, especially from their uncle or father. And neither will my cat hear such things again, because habits do not discriminate, positive or negative. Negativity disguised as jest is just as much a habit as positivity in affection and love.
  • Healthy boundaries are okay to expect to be respected and enforce when they are breached. My one primary rule for Dinah is that she does not get to walk where human food is stored, prepared, and served. Cabinets, countertops, sink and table are strictly off limits. We quickly established this upon her arrival, by her being abruptly launched in an upward, airborne trajectory when she first explored the space. I did not intend to harm in the slightest, but we established that boundary early and forcefully. And we agree on it now. Healthy boundaries are okay to expect to be respected and enforce.
  • Do I sharpen my metaphorical claws with enough regularity? Along with dealing with spacial boundaries, we’re finding that it’s a training and adaptation to get her to sharpen her claws on the designated spots instead of the back corner of my favorite chair. I understand that cats engage this ritual to simultaneously trim and sharpen their ever growing claws, and that perhaps, this offers me a chance to check in with my own sharpening practices? Do I exercise enough? Do I read and write enough to challenge my own preconceived notions? Do I have stimulating conversations on those ideas that I read and write? Do I allow pushback and critique from trusted mentors, partners and friends? Do I sharpen my metaphorical claws with enough regularity?
  • A little mess is all part of it. A house that’s ready at a moment’s notice for that perfect Instagram shot is just not a realistic expectation. Perfect order is a neurotic utopia, which is hard for someone like me to hear and know. A little foreign smell, a little free floating cat hair is just part of my life now, teaching me to know that a little mess is all part of it.
  • With the proper degree of openness, I can learn from anyone and anything. Life is most interesting to me when my default stance is that everyone is my teacher. And I’ve quickly realized that this cat will spend her entire life running me through doctorate level studies in patience. My cat enjoys two things, food and attention. Both of which she is not shy about asking for, loudly… at 0430 in the morning. Pet owners can relate to that moment when your pet makes it crystal clear that you haven’t fed them in, let’s say, the last 20 minutes. They either lightly paw at the food box and meow to win your pity and affection, or they glare at you from behind a dark corner with that look in their eye that can only come from behind the yellow eyes of an ancient, instinctual, only slightly domesticated predator. And this can really get on my nerves, which is slowly revealing to me that my patience wears thinnest where any unplanned inconvenience threatens my own agenda. I can learn from anyone and anything with the proper degree of openness.
  • Curiosity is natural to the cat, while I am actively retraining myself in it. Curiosity could certainly eventually kill the cat, I totally get the cliche now. She is often looking into closets when we have them open, crawling under the couch, exploring window sills and desks, she is even learning how to pry open the bottom kitchen cabinets to get a peak. At first, this frustrated me. “There is nothing interesting here for you.” – Said the human, uninterested in the contents of a cabinet, to the creature that can find endless enjoyment inside a cardboard box. For her, every corner, door, and surface is potentially her new favorite place to hide, nap, or groom. That natural curiosity is expected and should never be discouraged, in fact, I am actively retraining myself in curiosity because of her.
  • Adapting to a cat in the house is teaching me to use a slower pace and practice greater body awareness. When she’s looking for attention, she likes to nuzzle against our calves and ankles, which is usually never an issue if we are sitting down to read or watch a movie, but if we’re strolling into the kitchen at night for a drink of water, this fun habit of hers becomes dangerous to us both. Me, at risk of tripping, her at risk of flattening. She’s inadvertently teaching me to practice mindfulness in all my limbs, simply noticing the feel of the floor and the light brush of fur on my ankles. In addition, I’ve realized that I just need to be slowing down more often to give her a kind petting, scratch between the ears, or a playful belly rub.
  • Cats are worth petting just by the fact that they are cute, soft, and enjoy it, probably more than you enjoy petting them. I’ll just leave this quick quote from Jordan Peterson’s rule 12 of his monstrously popular 12 Rules for Life book: “Cats are their own creatures. They aren’t social or hierarchical (except in passing). They are only semi-domesticated. They don’t do tricks. They are friendly on their own terms. Dogs have been tamed, but cats have made a decision. They appear willing to interact with people, for some strange reasons of their own. To me, cats are a manifestation of nature, of Being, in an almost pure form. Furthermore, they are a form of Being that looks at human beings and approves… Maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it then you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it. [So] pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.”

*(“Everything the light touches, is our kingdom”… Lion King quote for those playing along at home)

Eucharist [Pt. 3]

In my last two essays, I’ve shared thoughts on what I consider some of the finer details of our modern practices of Eucharist.

To begin, in part one, I hope I showed what I consider to be the great rhythm we’re taught through our table practice. The body broken and the blood poured out. This is what we commemorate, while we simultaneously celebrate phase two, where the body is healed and the blood poured in. The rhythm at the heart of Eucharist seems to be a cosmic inhale/exhale, body broken/body raised, blood drained/blood filled, battery depleted/recharged. We take this meal to remind us that it’s okay to be caught in either side of the cycle. We share this meal with each other to knit us together and be reminded that we’re never alone.

In part two, I took on a cursory argument for open table theology. I hoped to show what I believe to be a better reading of Paul’s warning to the Corinthian church. That we as the body should be as inviting and welcoming as possible to those “on the outside” and break down the walls and dividing lines that tempt us to exclude and divide. The holy Eucharist binds us together in mystical and metaphorical ways and I for one wouldn’t dare to exclude anyone from the love of God, as demonstrated in the gift of table fellowship. The universal Christ invites us to a universal table. It is a sacrament lovingly designed to equalize all. Power only inspires bigger and better next to the smaller and poorer, while the upside-down power of the Kingdom equalizes all around the place of nourishment, sharing, and vulnerability. It’s a gift, so please don’t be stingy with it.

In this third and final essay of this series, I’d like to go further to suggest that it all comes from a sadly poisoned theology of the body, tracing it’s deepest roots to an emphasis of Genesis 3, forgetting that Genesis 1 and 2 come first.

In the first 2 chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures, we’re given a glimpse in on a divine dance or a cosmic symphony. The Triune God, who in and among Itself is Relationship in it’s truest form, begins calling out of nothing that which is the universe we know. This Divine Spirit takes utter delight in each “day” of Creation, transfixed and in love with how the earth responds to the Voice. I like to imagine a child being pushed by her mother on a swing, each time reaching the peak before swinging back toward her mother’s arms, giggling with delight and begging “higher! higher!”. The days of Genesis 1 were each push of the swing and God is and is in the child, the mother, and the swing all at once. The purest goodness and delight.

And the final push came when Mother God offered dirt and dust formed in Her own holy image. Adam, mankind, humankind, infused with warm, dynamic, holy breath. Out of this man, God realized that the one not good thing that required righting was that man needed a partner, for without relationship, we are incomplete. Woman, like the cherry on top of it all: Eve. Divine image sealed with a kiss and a human body for the rest of history and eternity. This original goodness, original blessing, original righteousness, holiness, sacredness is jammed packed into Genesis 1 and 2 in so many ways, I can’t imagine tiring of these couple short chapters. This is where the whole story begins. So why don’t we remind ourselves of it more often? Instead, we build up our neural pathways to believe that Genesis 3, the wicked Fall, is the beginning of our story.

To have a fully robust understanding and appreciation for Eucharist, I believe today that we need a fully robust theology of the body rooted in Genesis 1 and 2, where the story really begins. Our bodies are good, infused with original blessing, coursing with the very breath of the Divine I AM. A mix of bone, soul, dust, spirit. A meat bag full of blood, tissue, sweat, and holes that allow food to flow from entrance to exit. Our skin sheds and is replaced. Our muscles tear and rebuild. From our marrow, our bones rebuild themselves. Our eyes blink to keep moist. Our chests rise and fall with our lungs. Our stomachs yearn for food and water many times a day. We digest and poop. We drink and pee. Our hearts beat blood and oxygen to the brain, feet, and toes, with an exquisite distribution infrastructure plan that boasts of no cell being more than 2 cells away from a capillary.  Every bit of this awkwardly warm flesh is sustained by a rhythm: heart, lungs, eyes, skin, hunger, sex, sleep. The thing that knits that together, holds your molecules together to stay cells, that’s grace, that’s love, that’s Christ spirit. The Christ that is in you is in and through all, and this spirit teaches us the rhythms of life and death. Modeled in the birth of Jesus, in a body, all the way to his death, in a body, there is again a rhythm that under-girds it all.

One of the greatest beauties of Christianity, that I feel in my body, mind, and heart, is that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The Creator enters the creation. The author writes himself into the story. The universal, cosmic Christ entered the particular body of Jesus of Nazareth. He was not beamed down to Earth through the Bifröst like Thor, no, He came into the world in a bloody, loud, human way. God saw that it was good and that it was beautiful enough to enter himself as a baby, born to a terrified, homeless, ostracized teenage girl. Christ Jesus, God the All-Vulnerable at the mercy of a mother who had probably barely lived past a decade herself. The Lord incarnate, the Christ in a meat body, painfully and beautifully delivered to a 7th grade age girl, to a world commiserating with her birth pain. This world that was ready and pleading for a cosmic reminder that the body was created to be good and is good.

Each new dwelling place for soul, that is, the human body, begins inside another. The mother/child relationship is itself a wonderful metaphor for the fact that we were only ever created inside the cosmic womb of God’s love. Something bigger than bigness itself had enough love and joy and grace to share that it had to start it off with a Big Bang, with holy Relationship being the ultimate plan for such a vigorously expanding universe. God created a universe that could love it back, just as a mother gestates a child that can love her back. Can you see this holy promise of original blessing baked into it all? Can you see that the body may be good from the start?

It evens means something mystical to me that this Word made flesh was unmade and remade flesh for us. To see that God is willing to enter our vulnerability and suffering, in solidarity, identifying with our pains and death, letting Jesus’ body be ripped to ribbons, nailed to the world’s greatest torture weapon, and left to die. All-vulnerable at death. All-suffering on the cross. All dead on Friday night. All dead, all absent on Saturday. All missing Sunday Easter morning. All human, yet more after being buried. That the Christ would even enter death for us, carrying the flame of original blessing and goodness through death, just to show us that the body is so good, in fact, that it is part of the plan that we keep it on the other side of death. All human, All Christ, All body, All spirit.

If the bread represents a holy body, given and taken freely, I firmly believe that Jesus is also making a statement on the whole of humanity. We have a remaining sacrament through the life of Jesus that chooses to affirm the goodness and beauty of the human body as his temple. We’re not originally born of hideous spiritual deformity, destined to a hell upon our first cries outside the womb. We’re crafted of an Image, of a holy Pattern, the Imago Dei that births us forward full of joys, loves, hopes. Fundamentally, the Eucharist meal reminds me that my body is a good thing, not a tool of the devil and his temptations, or a thing to be beaten into flagellating obedience. Christ as Jesus took up the form of a human body as a baby on Christmas and laid that body down for a time on Good Friday. Affirming the image of the Divine within us was his first holy act on earth, even before he could utter a word. This is a radically new way to be human. I believe Christ is showing us a deep and eternal truth: that every human being is holy ground. Holy ground to be contended with through a high regard for their dignity, their lovability, and their sanctity. We know there is something different in us as humans, we see a soul where we see none throughout the rest of our animal kingdoms. In her work “Aurora Leigh”, the mystic poet Elizabeth Barret Browning says,

Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush is afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes, the rest sit around the bush and pluck it’s blackberries for a pie.

May it be that we learn to have eyes like these. Eyes that see every common bush, every human being, afire with God. A work of great beauty and dignity worthy of respect and love first. Let communion be a reminder of this: that you are loved, not in spite of your body, but because your body and it’s Image of the holy Divine.

“This is the table, not of the church, but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love God and who want to love God more.

So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.

Come, because it is not I who invites you: it is the Lord, and it is God’s will that you who want God should meet God here.”

Eucharist [Pt. 2]

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul in his letter to the Romans, 8:38-39. If I may be so bold as to add one to the list, I’d say that the church cannot separate you from the love of God, especially through the Eucharist table. I believe that a tragic misreading of 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, coupled with any power structure’s natural bent toward exclusion, has inappropriately disqualified many from partaking of the Lord’s table. All ought to be welcome at the table of the Lord. An open table is an inviting table.

A bad reading of some rules Paul gave to the church in Corinth. See, as I understand it, the Eucharist was a new practice for this first century church, and in their Greco-Roman culture of the day, there was a social strata. There were already customs of feasts and gatherings in these cities, but it was organized according to class and social status. So when Christianity swept through this area of the world and many saw the beauty of Christ and his message, the church formed around an idea that was directly opposed to the culture of the day, namely, the poor now ate with the rich as equals in the dignity and goodness of both belonging to the body of Christ and recognizing the goodness and holiness in each other.

Except, old habits die hard, and the rich in this particular city were starting the party early to pre-game with all their buddies before the poor had the chance to show up because they weren’t released by their masters or off work for the day. So by the time the poor arrived, there was little food left at the Eucharist table. Of course, this just made the Christian church look like everything else in the culture, instead of the upside-down, “first shall be last” core teaching of Jesus. So Paul warned these rich dudes to wait for the table to be full before they began eating, unless they wanted to eat and drink themselves into a stupor before the poor showed up, thereby “eating and drinking judgment upon themselves”, meaning that the city culture around them just took them for another party and not the radical, counter-cultural thing they were attempting to model and encourage. They were disgracing the radical work Jesus started by regressing into their old lives and excluding the very beloved ones that he had died to redeem. The unworthy manner of partaking in Eucharist meal is excluding the poor and more needy at one end of the table, not recognizing the dignity and equality of all humanity. The same old traps of riches, wealth, status, position, and thinking you are more righteous than “that” man. Paul envisions the table for what it was intended to be at it’s institution in that Upper Room, a place where all are sustained by the body and blood of the human Lord, a place where we are served by the foot-washing king. No one is beneath Jesus or beneath sharing a meal with him and his people. No one.

That’s where it started, but of course, a church system that grows around any kind of doctrines or teachings will eventually develop a power dynamic with it’s masses, especially when eternities are at stake and the very Word of God is ordaining it. Go ahead, you claim that you’re doing the Lord’s work, regardless of if you are doing it or not. Say it loud enough and often enough and act as if it’s true, and you will gain power. Claim that you have the power to forgive sins yourself, absolve your flock, lead them into the light and snatch them from the cobweb that grips them precariously over the lake of fire, you’d get powerful too.

Power is a curious thing…Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall and a very small man can cast a very long shadow. – Lord Varys, Game of Thrones (S2E3)

Power inspires bigger cathedrals, fancier robes, gold lined plates, extravagant altars, taller hats (in the case of the pope). Power suggests that those entrusted with the fancy stuff, with the better costumes, should be separated from the masses to preserve their power and grip on the image. Power asks for more adjectives and labels, more dividing lines drawn, more separation, more exclusion. This, my friends, is when a bad exegetical reading of a letter by Paul pairs nicely with the nature of power. The church use this passage about eating the Eucharist meal in an “unworthy manner” to teach that you’re not worthy if you’re not a part of the system that they defined for themselves. Are you a confirmed Catholic? Are you the right kind of inerrentist, creationist, apologist, cessationist, determinist Calvinist, evangelist, apostolic, complementarian, pre-millennial, non-denominational (but closeted Baptist) Evangelical that defends the sanctity of marriage on the Supreme Court steps, that got your purity ring at age 12 and shared your first kiss at the marriage altar, that fights the culture war as hard as you’d fight the empire’s real war with your 12 stockpiled guns which are named after the 12 tribes of Israel under the banner of the divinely inspired and ordained red, white and blue? No? Then you don’t get communion either, it’s just for us.

[Please, please, please hear me when I say that I have no one person in mind. Caricatures are easy to vilify, so I leaned into the satirical absurd. I’m choosing to lean into every label I can think of to help support my point, which is that we divide over small things when we’re allowed the luxury to do so, and that that division lends to excluding the very lovable people that Christ made room at the table for]

The universal Christ invites us to a universal table. It is a sacrament lovingly designed to equalize all. Neither slave or free, Jew or Gentile. We are all one body, knit together by partaking of one body. Not only are we looking forward to a future in which we are one under Christ, we are softly listening to what this meal is doing to in causing us to become one in this very present moment. The holy city consummated between heaven and earth in the final chapters of scripture paint an image in metaphor of a cosmic city, stretching North, West, South, and East. Encompassing all creation with a holy dwelling place, lit by the glory and light of the Christ that leaves the gates thrown wide open. Amen and amen.

The Eucharistic meal is meant to be a microcosmic event, summarizing at one table what is true in the whole macrocosm: We are one, we are equal in dignity, we all eat of the same divine food, and Jesus is still and always “eating with sinners” (for which people hated him) just as he did when on Earth. – Richard Rohr

Contrary to what I learned as a younger man, this is not a time to remind myself about how shitty I am, or be afraid of what “wrath” I may be drinking upon myself with unconfessed sin in my heart (because who doesn’t have that?). This is a time to reflect on beauty, grace, the messy and beautiful realities of being knit together with those beloved humans humble enough to say “I am not sustained, but by the Eucharist that you too eat and of which I share with you.” Now, instead, I choose to speak and call the words of the great traditional prayer of invitation:

“This is the table, not of the Church, but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love God and who want to love God more.

So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, because it is not I who invites you: it is the Lord, and it is God’s will that you who want God should meet God here.”