The chorus from the song Cardiff Giant by mewithoutYou contains a sentiment which has played through my mind a lot.
“I often wonder if I’ve already died.“
I keep looking back to my late twenties and wonder if I died back then. I wonder if I squandered freedom.
Subliminally, I think I died.
Superficially, I obtained multiple degrees (family cheers), I got the start of a technically skilled career (society cheers), and I even materialistically helped stimulate the economy by buying a car with said start of career (auto-makers cheer).
Prepared during my late teens and early 20’s with my arsenal of bibles, books and blogs, I knew I was entering my late 20’s (and the rest of my life?) with Jesus centered ways pinned to my chest.
I had my worn down Blue Like Jazz book. I had my copy of Irresistible Revolution. My NIV bible had my notes in the margins and underlined verses. My blog roll was a who’s who of Christian blogging at it’s finest (and worst) of the mid-2000’s. Blogging’s golden years.
I put in the work I needed to position myself to be in the world but not of it.
Vocation would eventually line up, I kept telling myself. My degrees could be justified in several ways once I started doing the tough, missional like work in my field. And I was certain I would be volunteering for key places doing incredible community development work.
But I wonder if I died somewhere before.
Which death had I died?
A death for freedom? Or a death for fear?
Death is cunning because it just sort of slinks in and sits back. It really doesn’t have to do much after a nudge.
I didn’t account for cubicle sitting. Sitting and sitting and sitting. I realize in college and for the previous 25 years in my life there were things like recess or the end of the 45 minute class. Or even the class of physical activity in and of itself. The desk job life was nothing I prepared for.
Sitting at work all day and doing a job would lead me to medicate at the fast food line carousel. Enabled, ironically, by the payment received for sitting at the desk and doing work.
An additional 60lbs later, the outward manifestation of my death was showing.
I also didn’t account for brain drain and video game indulgence. I played countless hours of video games after coming home from work. The last thing I wanted to do was think more, so why not mindlessly button mash? Quick dopamine surges to the brain in the form of taking the imaginary hockey team you manage to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third year in a row. Besides, healthier more put together people my age play way more video games than I do.
Another outward expression I had died at some point, pacified by a fake digital world.
I hardly needed to be coached about not buying a new car. Used will always be the best bet, if I even need a car at all. Financially it would make sense. But by the time I was done test driving the newest model car it wasn’t even logic anymore. New car it was.
More outward expressions I had died along the way. Shane Claiborne would be mad.
And there were the denials.
When leaving work early on a Wednesday a co-worker asked where I was heading off to. Instead of answering plainly “I’m heading off to worship band practice at the church I attend,” I would say “oh, off to something I got to do.”
Not only did ‘something’ satisfy the curiosity of my colleague, but it satisfied my dying state.
When writing up a meet the staff blog post about me, one of the interview questions was “Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?” I said that I have been playing the guitar since the age of seven.
But why, over two years into this job, would something so central to my core be a surprise to my co-workers? Why would this be something I need to hide from people?
What a weird surprise. I had slowly killed the musician in me the more I justified the pursuit of a career.
I don’t think I have to wonder too much if I had died.
Right now death is pissed off.
I came alive again. I woke up slowly inside safe, small community talking about several of the above items, while they were happening.
Only when you are alive do you know how dead you were.
All that preparation ahead of time in my life prior to my late 20’s didn’t go for not. All that digging into who Jesus really is and how I am to navigate this world was deeply embedded in me.
The problem was I didn’t allow any of it to release. I was letting death deal blows while life suffocated inside.
But now I am alive.
I am alive because the fast food line doesn’t control me anymore. The 60lbs put on is now 80lbs I’ve lost over the past two years.
The guitar isn’t just back in my hands, it never left, but it is truly a mark of worship to the God who gave me the ability to play in the first place.
My down time isn’t spent playing video games to decompress, but to continue self educating myself with books I’ve always wanted to read.
And death hates this so much.
I often wonder if I’ve already died.
Well, I did die.
But now. Now. I am alive.
I leave you with what the singer of mewithoutYou has to say about this song, not only what I took from it. It’s a song off an album about a circus train derailing in 1878. Hence why he mentions the animals in the following interview responding to Cardiff Giant:
“That song is a dialogue between the tiger and the peacock, both of whom stayed in captivity for different reasons. The tiger was very deliberate in remaining because of his sense of internal freedom regardless of external circumstances, but the peacock just feels kind of stuck. And the first time it’s the peacock saying “I often wonder if I’ve already died,” meaning a sense of having squandered her freedom—she missed the opportunity to escape and she’s stuck in this life that has no purpose or growth. And then the tiger responds in the second chorus saying the same thing, but it means almost the exact opposite—the tiger is wondering if the ego has been annihilated, if the self has been totally surrendered, and the tiger has been taken to some new, higher level of consciousness or reality. So it’s taking the same exact sentence and flipping it on its head.“
I was the peacock certainly. Death had me trapped and was convincing me I squandered my freedom. Give up. You’re dead.
But I’m the tiger now. Death got me for sure. But it never got me internally. Death can’t trap me anymore. I am surrounded by too much life, life abundant.
In between obtaining my bachelors degree and my masters degree, starting in the fall of 2007, I took a ‘year off.’ I graduated in four years and was only 21 and realized there was no rush just to keep going to school.
What followed was a year I didn’t exactly map out on my own but a time where I had one guiding principle:
Say yes to things you normally don’t say yes to.
Now of course, not things I should obviously say no to for the sake of self preservation, or against societal morality.
Instead, I am talking about things I was scared of doing, or used the lame excuse of “I’m busy with school,” or whatever other excuse I would use back then. Truly it was personality reasons down deep as I was timid about sticking my neck out.
Right away, my first curveball. In September our church gets a new youth pastor.
Me and him hit it off immediately. We are reading the same theologians. We have the same dry humor. We have the same sense of self deprivation. We both are sports nerds. We both are nerds.
And because of this bond that forms on month one of my year off, my cynicism for most things in the organized church starts to diminish.
My own personal hang ups about youth group growing up are greatly challenged when the youth pastor keeps asking me to volunteer. Actually I don’t think I have to be asked, I just simply start showing up on Wednesday nights to youth group (something I didn’t do when I was in the age range!) just to hang out since I have time on my hands and how much of a bond I was forming with the youth pastor.
Next thing you know I have a guitar in my hand helping lead worship at youth group…
…Next thing you know I am leading a small group bible study of college and career age folk, people my age or older, because our church didn’t have anything extra curricular for this age group. We start meeting in parks and our youth pastor and his wife’s apartment, forming bonds that never existed outside of church, bonds that didn’t exactly exist in church.
All because I said yes to filling a void I knew needed filled, even though I was pulling the classic ‘not me Lord, I am no preacher/leader/talker/etc.’ Classic. Because I said yes to something I told myself I wasn’t, our group of less than 20 twenty-somethings grew closer together spiritually and friendship wise.
Another thing I said yes to: I played guitar for the AA style recovery group at our church Monday evenings.
At those meetings is where I realized, perhaps, deeper and more profound church occurred. No slight to the rest of our church or any church. But people would get up and talk about their hurts, hang-ups, addictions, and all together sins. In front of other people! What a wild idea.
But in that setting was a trusting intimacy knowing everyone had each other’s back. As I was part of the worship band that kinda hung out in the corner as the main meeting would end and the small groups would break off, I often wondered why I didn’t go into the small groups. I was challenged to wonder why the whole church didn’t participate because the truth is we all could break down into this setting.
And I realized all the more by saying yes to helping other’s worship on a Monday night in a converted garage, they were helping instill in me a taste of what vulnerability really looks like, what coming together and confessing sins to one another means, and what healing and helping each other can do in each other’s lives.
And there was the cross country road-trip to San Diego from Detroit.
Well, as cross country as you can get by starting in Detroit (sorry east coast!).
Me and two friends packed a Pontiac Sunfire to the brim and set off for San Diego in February. A great time to go when you live in Michigan. Not only had I not taken a road-trip like that before, I had never been west of the Mississippi.
By saying yes to a road-trip I’d otherwise say no to because of ‘studies’ or ‘homework’ or other lame but important things, I got to experience travel and logistics and conflict resolution (tons of that with three guys in a Sunfire!).
All while seeing America the slow way. No fly over and jump to the heavenly beaches of San Diego. First we had to see Des Moines and Tulsa and Indianapolis in all their winter glory.
By saying yes to this trip my friend prodded me to go on (who was in college himself and simply took a week off), I saw the country instead of seeing pictures online of the country in the undergrad library.
And things I could have never planned for myself were molded into my heart at an incredibly impressionable time in my life.
Stepping up and serving a church body not out of fear but out of love to get people together.
Witnessing vulnerability first hand, which set the early stages for me becoming vulnerable myself in safe community later on.
Bonding with friends and problems solving their way across the open roads of America.
I said yes to not being afraid. And my dreams finally enlarge themselves.
The first is how the authors establish very quickly an important corrective argument to conventional wisdom: fear is good. It’s not bad. Fear, as it turns out, is truly a life saving mechanism. Our survival counts on it. You can see it in the natural world, and for humans, we are no different. Fear triggers our survival mode and gets our senses on high alert.
When working with the idea that fear is good, I connected it to my Christian worldview and stumbled upon an incredible re-focusing on a somewhat perplexing concept. The scripture commands “do not fear” so frequently that you begin to figure out this is a very important piece of advice. People throughout the biblical narrative are constantly told not to fear.
But here in Maurer’s work, we discover fear is actually a good thing for us so long as we do not apply fear to the wrong objects or over inflate the situation at hand. Is this conflicting information?
This is incredibly intriguing because the scripture does in fact offer us something to fear. It’s a Person. Fear the Lord. Fear God. We come to find God is asking us to not fear our situation, our accusers, our circumstances…but to fear only God.
To me it was always strange and off putting that we are to fear God. What does this phrase mean in a deeper sense?
In light of Maurer’s work in Mastering Fear, an explosive reality kicked in for me. I am to fear God literally for my benefit. Not out of an unhealthy fear. But the type described in the book as the mechanism which heightens our senses, directs our focus on the object which we must pay attention to.
Fear is good for us so long as we direct our fears on the only thing we should fear. Because as the brain kicks in with hyper focus we will spend time trying to figure out the object of our fear with closer attention.
The second major observation is what the author’s offer as the healthy solution to utilizing fear. Since fear is good, we must use it correctly and place it on what only matters. But how we cope with undesirable fear is striking. The authors suggest the only healthy response for humans found through several studies and research is the following: we must reach out and support each other.
Built into us is the natural response to reach out to other humans when we are afraid. This is observable in children especially, but not long after or during childhood we begin to toughen up or begin to lose trust in people. And so we resort to not asking challenging questions or reaching out to other people when we find ourselves scared of terrible circumstances or events in our lives. Or even simple situations we may personally become fearful over that others do not find terrifying at all.
If we can only muster the courage to reach out and express what it is we are fearful of to other people we will find not just step by step solutions to our fears. The act in and of itself, reaching out and asking for help, is what calms our fears.
I find this incredible in light of what God’s answer is yet again for us. Christian community is foundational to the faith. The Trinity itself, as perplexing as it is to comprehend, offers something intrinsic to our nature. The Trinity has been in eternal community on it’s own. The essence of God is community.
We must share our fears with each other. It is literally how we are wired. And it is the only answer to calming our fears.
We hardly even need a step by step answer to get us out of our situation. See Job and his friends for that one. We simply need to be with each other silently for days if it takes. But we need to be able to come to each other with our fears and be both receptive enough to listen to each other’s fears and also willing enough ourselves to let our guards down.
I sense there is need for a ton of support out there based on what so many people are afraid of today. We are afraid of so much, when instead, we need to recognize how good fear is if we direct it towards the only Person worth our intense focus. We need to reach out to others when we are afraid because we are designed to cope with each other.
The authors of Mastering Fear tie handling fear in a healthy manner to the laws of success. They state, “successful people recognize their need for support and consistently see reaching out to others as a strength rather than a weakness.” (P. 51) The authors’ desire was to figure out elements of successful people and found their approach to fear being a key factor.
I make this final note because it means when we are viewing a person who has made it in our field or conquered a major obstacle in life we do a great disservice to ourselves believing they just toughed it out or set out on their own and made their course corrections all by themselves. Not at all. They became fearful just like anyone else but found the humble courage to ask others for advice, to express their fears and to move forward by doing so. We truly are wired to help each other.
I know you’ll wake up inside your mind
In order to discover the visions were true
And never had places to set themselves into
The dusted covered up screaming face
Of lost passions justified by pursuits
Entangled in the next best thing
The way things are not suppose to be
But in the ways other’s desires burn intently,
Forgive my lack of self care
It was never a duration of time I wanted
While sifting through debris piles
Justified by covering up a true person,
As I provide you papers which are built
Inside a system of discarding without learning,
As I want you to not want any of this,
I maintain these words are desperately crafted.
There is no way anything can speak volumes
About an entire life, my life, your life
Those who we never care for or choose to see
If there was never a rounding to the closest soul,
I’ll check the math again and skip over mistakes
I maintain in order to never see stark pasts
Inside multiple light sources shouting down
Shallow intimacy with a person no one knows
Why provide documentation stating
Zero passions built on top of decaying foundations
With lyrical rhythmic bullet points filling space
To get you faster to no where I would ever go,
Approaching the slumbering forgetful mind
Not paying attention to everyone Abba keeps putting
On beaten down walking paths I can’t find on a map
But which tread painful impressions at sacred destinations.
When I was in elementary school I had to go to speech therapy because I couldn’t talk correctly.
In elementary school I had to wear prescription shoes to cure myself from walking tiptoe. They basically looked like dress shoes. Imagine wearing dress shoes but prescription dress shoes in elementary school. Go ahead, imagine.
I was told I was lazy by several teachers because I couldn’t focus at all, but I got good grades (and that is a tip to where this article is heading).
I say all these things slightly against the advice of Ramit Sethi’s pointed article on the trappings of vulnerability culture. I first heard this in detail on the James Altucher Show when Ramit said he’s tired of people being vulnerable ahead of being excellent at something, basically spilling their guts on the Internet without having tasted the sort of success which gives credibility to their exposed vulnerabilities. I totally agree.
When I began overcoming my conflicts by coming to grips with the incredible God given value I have in me, I started to see shortcomings as superpowers society was beating out of me. Only recently have I seen them as assets, value God gave me. Challenges to refine, not discard.
By not becoming vulnerable, or let’s call it honest self awareness, I enter too many situations where I’m trying to fit into a world that doesn’t really know what to do with a Misfit like me. By putting on a mask and trying to fit in I just make things worse for myself because then I think there’s something wrong with me when things are not working out. They’re not working out because I haven’t dared enough to be more myself and double down at getting better at perceived weaknesses. The weaknesses are actually strengths in disguise.
It’s refreshing to know there are James Altucher’s out there who yes, after success, can write about their most intimate shortcomings, their most intimate flaws.
It’s great to hear from Richard Branson that he’s dyslexic. It’s ten times more refreshing to read how he overcame it in spite of it being there, embracing it is a part of him, and figuring out how it actually is a superpower of his.
They are encouraging because they are the aspirational leader. What I find most encouraging about their stories is weakness came before excellence. They began harnessing their shortcomings prior to excelling. They didn’t enter into the comfort of success and then faced shortcomings. Misfit nature came when they were born. Their misfit nature was given to them. Their weaknesses were gifts, but they had no idea what to do with these gifts initially. Neither did I.
Having not become a Branson, Altucher, or Sethi yet myself, should this post even exist? Yes it should. Because I believe I need to reach out to my fellow metal head misfits so we can move along in confidence with our true gifts.
Over the past three years, in close community, I’ve gone through the process of slowly waking up to who I really am. This process sparked the awareness I needed to begin losing the weight I gained. The weight gain and lack of self-care was a mask I put on without realizing it because I was miserable ignoring my weaknesses (unrefined superpowers) while attempting to bolster societal strengths which I don’t posses.
If I don’t shed my weight by first focusing on what is really going on inside of me, then I don’t release any of these words to the world.
And this doesn’t happen.
A friend recently told me my weight loss encouraged him, realizing he too can lose weight. Then he went about doing it. I didn’t have to say much at all to him before, I just joyfully shared how I had to work on my inner value, and gave a couple food and exercise tips here and there (maybe a lot of tips with my hyperactive mind).
First I know I am a walking talking speech impediment, then I practice over and over the art of clarity in communication, knowing my sporadic mind is actually a gift when I refine it, not discard it.
First I know I walk on my tiptoes as a kid, then I realize come time for sports in high school I can run as fast as the more athletic kids because I run on the balls of my feet, something the coaches have to constantly teach the other kids.
First I am told I am lazy by teachers, then I realize it’s because I have this racing mind thinking of a billion things at once and I need to simply harness this power and focus intensely on a few things I really care about. Like getting into shape.
First I know I am loved as I am, then I have the freedom to change.
We’re supposed to be misfits. And together we’re suppose to excel. We’re meant to succeed together as ourselves by sharing our shortcomings so we can lead to the excellence in front of us.