The greatest empire is to command oneself

Seneca the younger has said that “the greatest empire is to command oneself,” and I’ve noted in a reflection on this blog that you should know your enemy, namely yourself. As time passes by, I find the concept rings truer than ever, and that more often than not the greatest adversary I face is myself. I can apply that to many a little thing, whether it’s summoning the courage to do something or motivating myself to be less lazy. But I find in my life there are much deeper battles that must be fought and they are squarely between myself and I. Between my perception of reality and the facts that I know. Between the ideas I have of myself and the reality of who I am. Between my desires, and what I must do. Between my weakness and my will.

I see more and more, each day, how great a task it is to master oneself, and I admit I am so very far from it.

The Cost

For all the stoic self-control I so extol, I think this collection of writings has failed to capture the pains I have gone through to try and be whoever I am. Like most, I am an imperfect man with many vices, and I’ve lead a life where I’ve used those vices to replace connections in my life, fill holes in my heart and pass vast swathes of time where I would have preferred for my brain to be off rather than on. All of it has taken it’s toll on my body. So young and yet so broken. It ought not be like this, and it is a sobering thought to consider I have already done too much damage.

I would say to the reader, avoid this. Avoid a lifestyle of vices and self-destructive habits, especially if it’s in order to get by with your everyday life. It isn’t strength. It’s not even weakness. It’s death in a time before it should be, and if you do to yourself as I have done to myself, you will have none other to blame but yourself.

A Man Who Breaks His Own Heart

We move like swing sets
–  Talking Through Glass by Thrice

I write this, knowing full well the story isn’t over, but I suppose in my hearts of hearts, I am expecting the worst. I wonder sometimes how I do this to myself, get involved, dive in, commit myself to something as that is like a wisp of wind. Will it turn into a storm, or fade away with the rest of the air currents? Metaphors aside, I think I know the answers, and I don’t think I’m wrong for doing things the way I do them. Of course I could be, but what’s the point, if one doesn’t have a few principles?

Love – It always comes down to it. I believe it can make you the best you can be. Love will test you, push you to your limits. Love without bounds is passionate, intense, violent even. It’s open, flowing and vulnerable. Love is binding, a feeling, a promise, an emotion, a decision, a duty. Love is what I must do, at all costs. And I might be mad for thinking so, but I would rather give my all, then hold back, reservedly, with fear for my heart. To break it, to mend it… it can be done – and if that process means I will shine a light at least briefly into someone’s life; than it’s worth it. I do not want it to be said of me that I did not love, that I did not try, that I did not give what I had.

There will be pain and suffering, but there will also be beauty. If I give nothing, there will be nothing and I might as well be lost to an empty vastness. Here’s the rub: In all situations, I think love is the best I can do. I think to try as much as possible, although certainly not perfectly, to do something for someone else, give freely, and to extend oneself… its the best I can do. Sometimes, especially when I am weak and broken –  it’s all I can aspire towards.

I readily admit and I say this as a person who finds it difficult, if not impossible to love myself: The purest form of love is to live for someone else, to say that someone’s happiness becomes more important than mine and to enable them to achieve the best they can be, and become the best versions of themselves.

That’s exactly what I’ll try to do. If I can’t catch the wind, I’ll become it.

More Than Dust

“You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of dust.” – Beautiful Things by Gungor

Today (Oct 1st 2015 on original writing) I thought “is it possible that I am a beatuiful thing?” In my heart, I believe I shouldn’t think like that. But why? Why could I not also be a piece of the world that God has created?

Because I believe I haven’t much, or actually value. I am a machine. Either I do as I should or I fail. There shouldn’t be, in my life a reward.

But I believe in love, and I believe that I am a child of God, along with everyone else. I am in conflict with myself – to be good I must do as my faith tells me to, but broken pieces of me think that is bad. I must be different and uncommon.

I’m stupid though, and I think it’s dumb. How can I be different? I think I must listen to my friends. See myself as they see me, or see myself as I see them. What does God want from me? This is also important. Now that I am here, in a new city, what shall I do for my Lord. So many questions, so little answers.

“Du skaper vakre ting, du skaper skaper vakre ting fra støvet” – Beautiful Things by Gungor

I dag (Oct 1. 2015 når skrive jeg dette) jeg tenkte, er det mulig at jeg er vakre ting? I hjerte mi, jeg tro jeg må ikke tenk som dette. Men hvorfor? Hvorfor kan jeg ikke også bli en del av verden om Gud hadde skapt?

Fordi jeg tro jeg har ikke mye, nei… ingen “value.” jeg er en  maskiner. Jeg enten fullført hva jeg burde, eller jeg feil. Der skulle ikke bli, i dette livet min, en “reward.”

Men jeg tro i kjærlighet, og jeg tro jeg er gudsbarna sammen med alle mennesker. Jeg er i konflikt med meg selv – å bli god jeg må gjør som mine tro fortelle meg til. Men brutt deler av meg selv tenkt om det er dårlig. Jeg må være forskjellig og uvanlig.

Jeg er dum. Å tror dette er dum. Hvordan kan jeg bli forskjellig? Jeg synes jeg må lytte til vennene mine. Se meg som de se meg, eller se meg som jeg se dem. Hva vil Gud fra meg? Det er også viktig. Nå om jeg her, i en nye by, hva skal jeg gjør for herren mine? Så mange spørsmål, så litte svarer.

 

Back on the ol’ horse

It has been yet again a long time since I’ve written anything here, although this time it has been quite different, because it hasn’t been because I haven’t thought of anything, or because I haven’t wanted to. No, on the contrary it’s because I’ve chosen some silence, to keep my thoughts to myself. As some who happen on this may know, the ultimate objective of this blog is to keep some log of my thoughts, maybe the best, maybe the worst, maybe just what is; so that I can one day share this with my own children. However, knowing that even a few can read these words, and be privy to some of my inner monologue has detracted me from my goal, and wanting to be a person of some strength, I chose silence as a way to mask my weakness.

I would not want to sound ungrateful of this past year, for many a great thing happened, but also a few really difficult things that I had a hard time talking about. My way of living life, the combination of being a rampant work-a-holic and dealing with that by being an actual alcoholic, caught up with me, and for a moment, I was pretty sure my number was up. On the surface, I can brag about how proud I was that the doctors and nurses were absolutely stupified by the fact that I was not only alive, but on my two feet, doing what I usually do – but the reality was I was terrified. When enough people in scrubs tell you you’re a dead-man-walking it can get to you. In my heart of hearts, I have never fealt so defeated, so weak, so confused.

I had already constructed a plan to do something different with my life, before I found out I had the rage blood in me, but this was very much the last straw. I wasn’t gonna sit there, and die without having seen some of the beautiful things this world has to offer. For a time I was just angry, and I don’t know how much of that got out, but I felt like I just had to work so hard all the time, whether it was the office, or all the volunteering I usually end up getting myself involved in. But hindsight and time have made me realize that’s nobody’s fault but my own, and since I’m a big believer in choice, I chose to get the hell out of dodge.

Fast forward, and here I am now, in London, far from my native land. I hope for myself, for the sake of what this is about, that I can get some stuff written down here now and get over my fear of my friends (because if anyone reads this, it’ll be you) knowing something about what’s going on in my noggin’, and get back to writing about my reflectiongs or experiences. That said, maybe this blog will take a turn – maybe there’ll be less PC philosophy… I don’t know. I just don’t want to make excuses anymore.

A Struggle for Identity

There exists in me a troublesome dichotomy. Who am I? What is my value? While one can be their own harshest critic, you yourself often have the most information available to you, having direct access to the self, one’s feelings, one’s mind. When I turn my mind’s eye inward, I see but a small flame, enveloped by darkness. For me, as I have looked inwardly over the years, that flame has waxed and waned, but over time, grown weaker. It is a sobering idea to think that I am much less of the man I use to be.

But what if I don’t see things correctly. Perhaps, I am an inaccurate critic, despite the immediacy of my observation. Perhaps I am unfair? This past weekend, a good friend of mine, a priest and my confessor, suggested that I take an Ignatian examen of my day, every night before I should sleep. He wanted me to see the good things in my day, not in the spirit of self-congratulation, but in the hopes seeing perhaps what God sees in my daily life.  The idea was further corroborated by a dear friend who said in prayer “Allow him (me) to see, what I see.”

While I have to admit that this was extremely touching, I have found the concept to be surprisingly difficult to grasp. I find, that it is easy to joke about my feats, usually embellished by myself or by others, but to actually consider, internally, that I did something good an meaningful, is not easy. Inside, I don’t feel like I’m capable of any real good, or that I cannot hold that credit. It is confusing, because such feelings are simply illogical, because facts would show that at least, from time to time, I have done some good. Yet I refuse to feel pleasure or identity in such things. I’d rather consider that it is never enough.

I may have mentioned it in previous confessions, but the closest analogy I can think of, in regards to my inner reflections on this, is that of a tool. A tool, whether it is a hammer, a drill, a calculator, or a super computer, does not appear to have any intrinsic value in it’s ability to do good. It simply does that as a result of its design and its purpose. It shall never feel good, nor will it decide that. It simply functions as it should. The analogy is incomplete of course, since I make decisions about good and bad all that time, but when I act in coherence with good, I think it nothing more than my purpose – thank me not for doing what I ought to have done, for it is simply my purpose.

I have faced this thought before, and it is difficult to shake. Part of my tells me that I must not shake the simplicity of  being an instrument. But if I am a creature forged by God, if I am a man in that image, than reducing myself to a tool is not only destructive to my true purpose, but it is ultimately blasphemous to the person of God. The Lion King, oddly enough, breathes a little life into that idea, when in the clouds Mufasa tells his son, Simba: “You have forgotten yourself, and in so doing you have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become.”

I must embrace my identity, and I must not forsake my own place in the whole.

Reflections on my Story with God

I am wrapped in the mystery that is Jesus Christ, because although many things are known about this god-man’s life, about his being here, and about his saving grace, he is ever-more than what I have been able to understand… more than what I could ever imagine.

To some, he is a good man. A teacher of wisdom. To others he was radical, brash even, someone who was shaking the system too much. Many called him a prophet, and few dared to call him King. But he was nothing short of phenominal, not because he shook the system, but because he shook the entire world, where now, 2000 years later, millions upon millions profess his teachings, his love, and yes, his divinity. But to talk about who he was, is a fallacy, because it is not as if he has ceased to be, rather, he is. Jesus is now, will be, and shall forever be because he is not merely a man. He is God… but not simply God (if one could make sense of what I’m trying to say).

To say God-Man… I feel that it doesn’t do justice to him. It’s almost like touting the names of greek heroes like Perseus or Heracles… It seems finite in nature, a statement aired in the language of our mortality. Rather, Jesus Christ is God who became man. And this, is of terrible importance. Jesus is the everlasting, the eternal God reaching down to us. Because when we said “Save us,” when we said “hear us,” and we confessed that we couldn’t understand the divine, that we could not do it on our own – that blessed, most glorious heart… that love which can scarcely be uttered… listened. God listened to me, and to you. To our forefathers who cried out in the darkness. He heard the entire world, and he did not stand idly.

Instead, he brought himself to us, and what a loving sign that should be! That he would come, and love us, embrace us and teach us what his heart is, and what his will it. How surprising it is to know that the plan was “Love” all along. But the fascinating thing is, he didn’t stop there, and with a wisdom, a justice, a mercy…. a mind I could never really understand, he righted our wrongs.In a most humble way God, in the person of Jesus Christ became frail as we are, to show us the strength that we have – in the almighty. And then, in a demonstration of perfection – perfection misunderstood through eons, he gave his very life, sacrificed himself to fix us.

When I think about all that Jesus has done. I’m blown away… and I’m broken… ashamed even. Because I take it for granted. I constantly judge, and I call Christ out… and while one day, I hail him my commander and chief, the other I curse him. I realize the gravity of what I’m saying and I know that it isn’t a commentary on Him, but rather it’s a commentary on me… and maybe, if you can relate, it’s a commentary on us. And how screwed up we can be about this relationship. I find it shameful, and difficult in many ways to explain how I could at times be of two minds with the idea of God. But to understand what I’ve experienced, you must also understand that Jesus Christ didn’t just give of himself, but he asked of us certain things too.

You see we often look at the historical documents that reveal Christ to us, our primary source of course, being the bible. And when we look at that, we see it through our eyes now, with the added benefit of two millennia’s worth of hindsight. Often, we imagine a non-imposing calm Jesus who would let things slide. But if I’m honest Jesus would have frightened me because he was intense… everything about him was passionate, and his countenance… his eyes pierced the people around him. He said the boldest of thing: “I am the Truth, the way and the Light.” He said “I am the living water.” His power was so much that when the sea rose hungry for the lives of men, he had to but utter “Peace” and she was still again.

This man, who raises the dead, and heals the sick is the same man who challenges us. Be different. “Love the lord your god.” “Be Perfect as your father in heaven is.” He teaches us to take care of our widows, to love our children, to attend to the poor. He challenges us to be as he was…

… and he promises us everlasting life.

I think that’s the part I got wrong… perhaps, the source of mind dual-mindedness… Now I don’t mean to say that he doesn’t promise us that. Indeed, like many of you, I truly believe in that promise. But I constantly forget the difference between now and eternity – between the tasks set out for me now, and the promises set out for me in the future

I’ll try to explain – Those who know me well, know that in the past… and I guess even now, I’ve given up a lot of my time volunteering, in a small variety of different groups. Sometimes, it’s teens, kids, sometimes it’s people our age… I’m here today, to do that. Those who know me better, know that what time I have left between work, volunteering, and school in the past, was left to give personally to different people… one on one… friend to friend… just trying to love and be Jesus to the world.

But in the years of doing that, I constantly shut myself off. The road wasn’t two ways, and I confess that many a time I cut off God, my lifeline… even if it was him that I was working for – because deep within me, I didn’t really understand Jesus’ “Love” plan.

Somewhere along the line, through a seemingly endless series of misunderstood misfortunes, I began to believe that I was entitled to a certain a kind of happiness – That my Master “owed me one.” I wanted just one thing, maybe a few things… here and now, and that consumed me. I lost sight of the promise, the everlasting life. I lost sight of the goal, and the purpose. I lost sight of god.

It got bad. I got tired. I gave up. Bit by bit, I lost myself to the work of Jesus, instead of losing myself to him. I grew resentful, because of all the energy I was expending… versus the perceived lack of return from God. I came to a point where I no longer believed I was a person, and I mean that in a most serious way. I became a “good” machine. A tool. And that’s all I saw in myself. I robbed myself of my own emotions, my capacity to internalize the things that we often take for granted about our humanity, until finally… after a long series of poor decisions… I poured the very last bit of person-hood I had into someone, instead of giving it to God.

It is difficult to explain, in the context of our most fortunate way of life, the desire to escape it, and to leave the world of the living behind. Like Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, I was torn desiring to part and be with Christ, knowing all the while, that to live was the true intent of God. It’s even more difficult to explain how such a knowledge had become a great torture chipping away at the last spark of life I had in me.
My soul-less-ness was years in the making, but through all that time, Jesus stood by my side, and I knew it. And like any good Commander, he fed me even if I would not eat. He showed me, through his church, and through the people around me what his love means. And he impressed unto me, despite my constant resistance, until I could no longer ignore the concept that perhaps, I was a subject of love, and not just a tool of it. Jesus showed me that Love is much bigger than what I can do, and that I had to partake in it. I remember reading through Marcus Aurelius who surmised that a man could not expect of himself what was not natural. I couldn’t love the world without wanting it back, and I realized that even God almighty loves the world, with the desire that we will love him too.

It’s still in the works now, and understanding person-hood (which I had long abandoned) is a troublesome affair for me at times. After all, even slaves can get used to being less than what they really are. And though I shy away from internalizing love, I know that God is calling me to it, to understand it, so that I might actually be more like him, in service and in enjoyment of life. So, just as I have been challenged to understand this plan of God, so too I challenge you to let Jesus love you first, so that you can go on to love him and the rest of the world.

The Lapses

Lately, I’ve been praying for someone to show me Jesus. The greatest hallmark of Christianity should be our love and I deeply desire to be blown away by that. I want to find, in people, Christ. His grace, his mercy, his love, his peace… And I think that’s a good thing, but I feel like maybe I’m going about it the wrong way.

Perhaps the reality is that I would like to re-encounter Christ, in a very passionate way. And perhaps instead of wanting someone to show me Jesus, I ought to ensure that I show Him to the world, through my actions. The way is simple, but somehow always harder than it seems. Pick up the good book and read a bit, get myself over to church, pray a little.

…It’s difficult to be inspired at times.

Taking Time

A good friend and mentor of mine, once said that human beings are fairly resilient emotional creatures. We are constantly getting our “hearts” broken, constantly submitting ourselves to change, constantly seeing our loved ones go, in one way or another. Somehow, most of us get through it, and we find fulfilling ways to carry on. This is normal. But what happens when we feel broken for too long? When things seem like they can’t be fulfilling any longer, and that our loss (whatever the nature), seems to overcast the whole world?

I used to think, perhaps not outspokenly, that brokeness is controllable. And once we’ve cycled through the stages of our problems, we can return, shortly, in good repair to a normal life. I thought, maybe because I didn’t understand, that long term sadness was a major defect, and that people who couldn’t get out of their rut, simply wanted to be there. I didn’t even really get the idea of depression, although a clinical condition did make it more “acceptable” to me.

I suppose the years have show me, however, that sometimes, it just sucks for awhile. And that’s OK. The expression that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, rings with a certain reality. Sometimes, we invest a part of ourselves, unconsciously into someone, something, or even an idea, and when we lose it, we lose our way. For a time, I definitely invested myself too heavily in volunteering work, so that when I didn’t have as much to do, I found myself lacking in identity.

But what to do when we’ve lost that thing? I’m learning, and I suppose sharing the concept, of taking time. Whatever you really need, I suppose. There’s probably such a thing as too much time, but I think that’s a lot longer than I had originally thought, and probably longer than most of us think.

My aim in this short confession is this: I’m telling myself, and telling those of you out there that it’s OK. It’s OK if you’re not doing alright, and it’s OK if you’re still dealing. I’m no expert, but I’m human, and sometimes, it’s not easy. Sometimes the bolts are rusty and take a lot more time and effort to undo. So take the time, don’t rush yourself. Rather, take the time to find yourself. Find the best things about you and remember them.

Hold your own,
Know your name,
Go your own way,
Everything will be fine.

        -“Details In The Fabric” by Jason Mraz