Churchill’s Lost Decade In The Wilderness

In 1929 Winston Churchill was driven from his political life and entered into what the ambitious and ‘crushing it’ among us today might consider a “lost” decade.

After being in parliament for 30 years, he was out of office and at home. What followed was a period of recharging himself by engaging in activities which fed him. He spent a great portion writing, traveling, as well as the well noted painting and bricklaying. He remained engaged but at a pace outside of public servanthood which allowed him to regain focus.

In the context of Ryan Holiday’s book Stillness Is The Key, emphasized was Churchill’s ability in this time period to read and write, to sit and do nothing, to take the temperature of the world around him others were too busy to figure out. It was this time in the 1930’s he would focus on the concerns coming from Germany. His contemporaries would call his focus and alarm sounding “scaremongering” about the leadership in Germany. It was his time away, painting during the day, writing as found to be inspired, that allowed him to read into what others were dismissing.

Which is why Churchill is called back to lead Britain once the realization became reality through war. He had become still enough, slowed down enough, while staying active enough to focus his attention on an issue which prepared him for a moment in time like World War II.

Holiday asks if the dynamo and larger than life figure Churchill could have taken on the task at hand to lead his country during such a pivotal moment in history if Winston didn’t get still for a decade. The obvious leading answer is no, and Churchill would have been the first to say so.

Churchill wrote about the importance of every prophet’s forced exile into a wilderness. Into a time and place, as Holiday pens it, “of solitude, deprivation, reflection and meditation.” This was a decade of time. It wasn’t an unproductive time. It just took a different form of productivity by slowing down and gaining an energy and focus we can only find once we’ve exited the rat race, turned down distracting noise, and focus intensely on things which matter most.

A time being in wilderness which prepares us for strength. Not weakness.

John Mark Comer pivots our normal way of thinking about wilderness as a place of weakness in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. He notes the word eremos, translated as desert, is the place Jesus enters into a number of times throughout the Gospels.

The issue with our modern day goggles is the word eremos in Greek can mean a number of words, such as desert, lonely place, quite place, wilderness, solitary place. And it is in these places, or figurative deserts and wildernesses, where Jesus enters to gain strength for what is next. Not to become weak from the slower place. It’s where He would go to charge up, to regain energy, to establish connection between Him and His Father.

The wilderness is not a place of weakness. It is a place to restore by stripping away all which does not matter and drains us. All the things hijacking our attention. Causing distraction so we can’t see the inevitable around us.

What strikes me most about Churchill’s anecdote above is through the near ritualistic engagement of reading, writing, painting and more, he becomes very clear with the concerning rise in power in Germany. He gains a form of clarity on a single subject which prepares him to take some of the most important actions in history during WWII.

Churchill’s abilities were birthed from a period of stillness, rest, and reflection.

The wilderness prepares if we are willing to do the work found inside the intentional slowing down of life. There is work to be done inside of stillness for sure. But apparently, a work which is elusive even when everything designed to busy us is slowed down.

“I think we’re all lost till we’ve walked in the wilderness.” – My Epic

Chatter And Noise – Towards A Still Mind

Chatter of the news and the noise of the crowd is filling you past the point of full.

Ryan Holiday’s summary chapter about the Mind in his book Stillness Is The Key starts with a paragraph re-stating the issue before he moves onto the next topic, of why it’s so hard getting to stillness. Those two items, a constant news and a perpetual noise, are major contributing factors robbing us entry into stillness.

I keep saying something along the lines how I wish I had people in my life to talk to directly about this topic of elusive stillness in an increasingly digital world. I feel this way when the wheels start turning in my head about this topic because, well, Ryan Holiday is writing and talking about it. Cal Newport is too. And John Mark Comer.

And many many others.

I’m not alone in observing the noise of the crowd are the social media mediums.

And I am not alone in observing the chatter of the news is just that, chatter without deep substance of understanding, vetting, or regard for clarity for the masses.

This first paragraph of Ryan’s conclusion on the mind sent my mind into…..focus.

It’s when he then speaks of the buried insights. The reward beyond the problem of the chatter and the noise. The only way to get to the buried insights is to not dig at them like a conspiracy theorist looking to connect things that are not even there. No, it is the task of clearing out the noise just to reach the things already present.

They’re just buried under the social media pings, opinions flying unchecked, and the rising noise of our age.

I can’t help but connect this a step further to Comer’s recent book as he attributes a rise in noise (let’s call it distraction from mindfulness) to the Devil himself. Chiefly because it is the Devil’s best interest to get us unfocused, distracted from the pursuit of truth, to be in a constant state of frenetic pace.

Even if you are one that removes spirituality from this or doesn’t have a specific religious view on the matter, a point still stands where we know there is an intentional distraction or misleading of breaking news, coupled with unchecked opinions from bloggers and social media posts. We know it and subscribe to it as a sort of disclaimer.

But we perpetually feed ourselves with these mediums instead of doing the more chore like tasks of finding what peer reviewed journals, books, scientific magazines, and/or experts in niche subject matters have to say.

My point here is self awareness plays a large role here as we evaluate our ability to enter into a stillness in order to produce our best and not to avoid responsibility.

There is some analogy that escapes me right now, but it involves getting wildly excited and sober minded as the results come in from a test you are conducting in a lab, and the results demonstrate you are one that suffers acutely from what it is you are discovering.

I sense this is the reason people really find a passion in solving something, finding what is buried underneath the chatter and noise. It is because there is a disease of sorts and you are relentless in finding a solution to it because as you research more and more, you find how it affects you greatly.

Because yes, I seek the stillness Ryan describes in the book because I find it completely worthy of a task to continue ridding myself of the chatter and noise in exchange for the buried treasure below its surface.

Leveling Up When It Wasn’t Planned

This seems familiar to me.

 

Because this wasn’t the way it was suppose to go.

I was freshly laid off. Having moved into my grandmother’s house only a month prior to help care for her as she was living alone. The long term plan was to also save up for a down payment for my own home in a year’s time and then move out.

But I was laid off. A month after the move.

What followed I can’t explain as some sort of seven step guide. It’s merely my story. But in the immediate months that followed, almost the week right after, I started down a path I am forever referring to as my next education.

My initial jumping off point was I knew I didn’t want to do what I was just doing as a career. I knew I had to pivot. I knew things weren’t going to be the same.

This lead me to reading books by Jon Acuff, James Altucher, Jeff Goins and many more. Books I never dared to read before because I thought they were too self-helpy/salesperson/’I can help you but first pay me money!’ I was only interested in scholarly books or theological books. But the career driven, make your own path, exit the Matrix and do things different books? They were never on my radar.

Until they got on my radar because of the strong desire to pivot.

Well, one thing led to another and within a couple months time I was reading a library copy of Tim FerrissThe 4-Hour Workweek. And I have wrote about this story in particular before, but what I want to detail this time around was having exposed myself to a line of thinking and problem solving and paradigm shifting I had never considered before, I found myself doing mini experiments and exercises in finding what matters most to me and how I can daily change for the better regardless of being suddenly ‘stuck.’

The self education just snowballed into reading more and more similar books, listening to podcasts of the same nature and more. What happened immediately was a thirst for knowledge.

Next came following through with all this knowledge into action. The advice of several of these authors were implemented into daily practices, routines, or otherwise one-off challenges I had again never considered. Birthed out of this time frame was the formation of practices I have maintained in some fashion to this day which have greatly leveled me up.

Journaling,

not only to get the toxic stuff out of my head onto paper, but also, not surprisingly, to greatly improve my writing skills.

A more structured eating and gym regimine,

as I had already been on a journey where I lost 30lbs prior to the lay off. I have since been told by several people given the situation I was in, I had all the excuses in the world of letting a few things go in those regards. Sit around and play video games and eat unhealthy. But I did the exact opposite because having tested out new ways of doing things and seeing the positive results, I trusted learning and implementing whatever someone who has been there and done it has to offer in regards to diet and exercise. This lead to the next 50lbs being lost. And a completely new way of treating food as fuel and exercise as stimulation for the mind.

Reading on top of reading on top of reading.

I remember after graduate school being burned out with books and assigned class reading. But with a new sense of freedom I was looking forward to recreational reading on my own terms. Well, five years would pass by before I got serious about recreational reading. The lay off gave me time to sit down and read masterminds, folks who are so much more in the know than I am, who offered wisdom through their years of being there and done that. It become intoxicating and was leveling me up more.


There are countless other improvements which were made during this knocked off course time period.

What is standing out to me in the period of time the globe is finding itself in at present are the two streams I see daily on the social media feeds.

One stream is fueled to take this time to improve themselves.

The other stream is fueled by panic and fear.

I am once again realizing, having gone lax on some of my own daily regimens, that pregnant in this moment is the opportunity to regain some disciplines all over again. To better myself. To complete a couple trajectories I was on just prior to the events in the world going on right now.

And more importantly, I realize it’s not just time for me to better myself. It is time to help others more than ever.

Because now in the midst of our situation at hand we didn’t plan for, we can pivot, we can improve, we can change, and it can be for the better.

Slow Solitude

Not being in a hurried rush means, once slowed, we can become present to all around us. People and Someone we weren’t seeing as we went by in a blur with our daily to-dos. Or thrown off by our phone notifications. Or an increase in our ancy emotions to impulsively be distracted constantly.

What is it we have incorrectly desired to be distracted from?

Solitude.

It is a very misunderstood virtue.

When fully engaged in a healthy manner, solitude is a place the soul draws from to replenish, not to go into despair. That would be a state of loneliness, as Henri Nouwen rightly distinguished.

Instead solitude is a placed of strength when engaged properly. We can look no further than Jesus in seeing the importance of solitude.

John Mark Comer in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry helps reframe the many references of Jesus retreating into a wilderness, pulling back from the crowds, entering into days of prayer, as not states of entering into weakness but instead entering into places of strength.

Solitude is a place of strength:

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” because it was there and only there, that Jesus was at the height of his spiritual powers. It was only after a month and a half of prayer and fasting in the quite place that he had the capacity to take on the devil himself and walk away unscathed. (P. 125)

The issue is the magnification in our modern world of constant distraction. But here is Jesus, 2,000 years ago and free of a cell phone and breaking news red banners, in need of drawing into a state of solitude on numerous occasions. He needed to draw away from the noise of that era so He could hear from His Father right then and there.

C.S. Lewis fictionalized in a very true metaphor in his book The Screwtape Letters, that the devil’s realm is a ‘Kingdom of Noise.’ And that in fact, the demons and the devil together say that ‘We will make the whole universe a noise in the end.’

It’s no surprise that noise and distraction and a hurried life leaves all of us crippled in our soul. Drained of energy, even the most hustle driven among us, we know we must retreat into solitude and rest now and then. Otherwise all the noise out there just keeps distracting.

But the moment of solitude and retreat into the wilderness, be it from a rushed life, too many kid’s practices, several board meetings, church committees, and recreation league softball, whatever those appointments were, the moment you can stand still for 10 minutes and retreat into the present moment, is the moment you find a slow stillness that nourishes.

What’s at stake is missing the present. And Comer emphasizes that all our “hurried digital distraction is robbing us of the ability to be present.” (P 121)

Because the amazing flipped on it’s head reality about God’s way of things, is that through solitude and stillness, we become more present to God, other people, all that is good, beautiful, and true in our world, even present to our own souls. (P 121).

What would you do with an increase in solitude? Would you welcome it or find yourself cascading into an unhealthy loneliness? In solitude, we are guaranteed to find Jesus there, in no rush and filled with all the patience in the world there ever could be.

 

Slow Down

I was already slowing down my pace. Embracing how slow and methodical and meaningful my pace is. 

Sitting in another Grand Rapids coffee shop, a year after doing the same thing reading a book on a very similar topic, a few things were finally clicking about me and my ability to do important work when I am really…

…Slowed down.
…Void of distraction.
…Away from instant messaging pings.
…Distant from hurried busy work that only gets in the way of doing my actual job.

This trip to Grand Rapids, with these realizations hitting me like a ton of soothing bricks, inside a pristine, minimalist designed coffee shop with clean lines and soothing accents all around, was just two months ago.

The book that was doing this to me this time was The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. In the book, a focus emerges about how what we value the most should rise above anything else that is fighting for our time, our energy, or attention.

But it must be a deliberate action of holding those values high. A deliberate fight. 

I was there in that coffee shop once again embracing the slow life. The slow pace, where the greatest work is done.

The things clicking I started embracing more were:

  • I write all my scholarly and creative work from a place of slowness and tuning out of the world except for the topic I am writing about.
  • I make music after listening to tons of music. And the best music ideas come to me in hour 2 of playing, not right from the top.
  • Poetry I share comes to me swiftly when I am deliberately slowing down, suspending everything we all get trapped into flooding our minds over.

So only two months ago, 

TWO MONTHS AGO,

I began the process once again (as I had started it a year prior), in taking a massive self inventory about what matters more than anything else in my life, removing the rest, and amplifying my highest held values at a pace I work best at. 

Removing things that are ‘good’ in order to keep only the great.

Removing even some of the great for the top three greats (if you have more than three greats). 

Basically, over the past two months, I was removing things that don’t matter to me as much as the things that are on my ‘great’ list. I was attempting to forcefully remove distractions, negative people, downer perspectives, filler recreations, things I don’t want to spend as much time on as other things, etc.

I was doing this two months ago. 

So here we all are. Slowed down.

And that’s not bad.

I invite us all in this moment of time to embrace the slower pace, and not to confuse it with being less productive.

This involves a radical shift in your relationship with time and your capacity to tell really good opportunities no. To tell really good friends no. To tell really good volunteer work no.

This involves focus. Allowing yourself the chance to become obsessive over the only few things you value than all others.

The fact I was engaged in a deep embrace of a slower pace of life prior to our social distancing is something I can’t hoard selfishly. I want to encourage and pass along more as I continue on in this state of self examination, to offer up what I’ve learned.

Which is what writing is all about. It is what it’s always been about for me. Finding solutions to the problems I face, and then sharing it. Giving it as gifts. 

We are slowing down and readjusting to what will be several new normals. But this doesn’t mean we are going to abandon every single thing we were carrying around in the back of our heads as the things that we value more than anything but never had the time for. We have it now. 

It was a choice previously. Now, it is something you still can choose, but the time is more ready than ever before to do so.

And we can continue to have this opportunity as we reshape a culture that was built on grind and hustle. We can rebuild with a pace the soul was built on, a slow pace focused on our values.

“Slow down
We are too fast now.” – So Long Forgotten, Light is a Metaphor

Pain As Purpose – Wave Of Anxiety

There is a wave of anxiety out there.

It’s out there and it keeps increasing. It’s around us and it isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t discriminate. It takes all sorts of people hostage.

I was recently at a Levi the Poet show in a little coffee shop. The show carried an emotional weight to it before I arrived, the artist being Levi the Poet after all whose material is shared from painful depths from his innermost being.

The opening acts, a couple solo singer/guitarists, took the opportunity to share some of their own stories in between songs. They were gut wrenching, tales of broken dreams, betrayals, personal screwups, and…..also about the radical love of Jesus.

A love that seems to completely defy what is in the air around us and in us with the increasing anxiety in our world.

These artists set the intimate stage of sharing deep pains they’ve been through, while in the same sentence at times turning around and talking about how we have a healing God, a God of life, a God who loves regardless of what has happened and what is still going to happen.

Brokenness filled the room. But healing overwhelmed it too and filled the broken gaps. Perhaps this is because space was given to be honest of our collective and individual brokenness.

A coffee shop worker came up between sets and felt compelled to share his testimony. He talked about how his call to become a pastor had come true, him and his wife moved to another state, were a year into what he absolutely knew was his purpose in life and the beginning of a promising career helping build up the youth in Christ’s love.

Then the church fired him after a year. Because they said he didn’t fit.

The opening act talked about the four year relationship he had that came to a terrible end. I’ll spare the details because they were very painful and I don’t recall the story exactly, but to be sure he experienced racism, a miscarriage and more.

Yet, both of these gentlemen expressed how Jesus, in spite of their sorrows, is the lover of their souls. Jesus gives dignity, provides the next day, the next foot forward.

I once read a statement from a Donald Miller book titled Searching For God Knows What. He said:

“Show me a guy who was molested by a minister and still loves Jesus, and I’ll show you a genius. The stuff that guy would have had to think through in order to arrive at an affection for God is nothing short of miraculous.” (p. 199)

I was in the presence of several geniuses at the concert.

People are carrying deep emotional wounds.

Then in addition to all that, there are pressures to keep up with the next overachiever you see in your feed screaming to crush it and work 14 hour days. There are models of perfect execution leaving us all with ‘no excuse’ not to execute as perfect as them in the information age.

I personally believe there is a strong connection to the digital era in all this increased anxiety as well. After reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport I see it all around now. The mechanism or the conduit, it’s a double edged sword to be sure. We are connecting better but we are not communicating better.

On one hand, I was in a room filled with people primarily under the age of 30. As long as there are reports like this one that keep turning out about Millennials experiencing loneliness at higher rates than other generations, despite our increased internet usage which is supposedly devised to make us connect better, anxiety will find a way into our lives as we don’t fulfill interpersonal needs we are wired to thrive off.

On the other hand I was able to go to the show that night because I found out about it on social media. It’s a tool that can benefit for sure.

But it’s about how we use the tool. And I keep seeing this theme of constant connection, a wave of anxiety, and an increased sense of loneliness.

It’s why it was so important to listen into all these geniuses at the concert. Levi in several lines of his poetry alluded to silence, stillness, quietness. Understanding we have to withdraw is the most important thing. It’s a true paradox, because we need each other and we need the community that springs forth from connecting with each other. But we also need to withdraw. Otherwise the anxiety is simply going to get worse.

Witnessing folks in person spilling their guts, many younger than me, was Jesus in action that night. Folks were doing something about what they experienced. They were releasing it out there. And they were doing it with and in the presence of each other.

I am left with the impression that my own anxiety is a result from living a life I’ll have studied and examined, and not done anything about.

The big first step for myself is showing up. Then acting on what I know.

And I know this.

I am not the only one in pain. And it would be selfish of me to keep what I know about dealing with the pain to myself. I must give and I must help. Because I must take care of myself, and as I do so, I have to reach out to others. We need each other and will continue to need each other. Maybe this is how the wave subsides.

Breathe For Us Right Now

You find yourself out of breath. Gasping.

You don’t have any breath to draw.

Is this panic or anxiety? Or something worse?

You can’t write at this moment. You can’t talk. People are asking for things of you and you have answers lodged inside of you you know you are saying but they aren’t coming out, you can’t figure out how to get them out.

If only you could just breathe.


Wim Hof  wanted to replicate the rush of cold he experienced after diving in ice water, which led him to find out how to control his breathing. The man from Amsterdam took a plunge and was addicted to the rush he felt in the cold water, how it made him feel so much more alive.

What Wim Hof eventually figured out through self trial and error was his breathing pattern would change from submersing in cold water daily. He was breathing deeper. This rush of feeling good was concentrating his breathing as a reaction to the cold. He soon would go on to develop breathing methods separate from cold water stimulation to mimic the rush of adrenaline and improvements to his mind’s condition. He replicated the cold therapy through deep breathing patterns.

What Wim has discovered, and is being backed by scientific research, is a method of breathing and mindfulness which actually controls the body’s autonomous system. Wim is altering and controlling his body’s immune system, state of well being, fighting depression, and reducing stress levels. Even making him a better athlete overall.

All by starting with breathing and embracing the cold.

Just breathe.


If all it takes to calm ourselves down and establish a greater level of wellness is to deeply breathe and enter in a mindful presence, then there is a deeper connection I’ve always found myself astounded by.

The Hebrew word ruach can be defined as wind, breath, or spirit. It is exactly the word describing the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of creation. The strong connection in the Hebrew language between the Spirit of God and breath is poetic. God breathing into the nostrils of His creation. Job welcomes the breath of God as that which sustains him.

It sounds more essential than mere poetry. Breath as the life sustaining Spirit of God.

If people like Wim Hof have stumbled upon the strong connection of physical well being and breathing deeply, then there is some notion God is hinting at us.

Just breathe son.

Just breathe daughter.

All that stress and worry and anxiety. Just breathe it in and out.

No really, just breathe in deeply 30 straight times. Hold the last breath in. Then let out.

Then think of your Abba, Papa, good good Father God as He embraces you exactly where you are in life.


Wim Hof’s wife committed suicide in 1995. By then, Wim had already been doing his daily cold therapy and breathing for years.

After his wife’s death, he doubled down on the concept of redemptive purpose. He dealt with the pain and grief he was experiencing by assuring people like his wife don’t have to make the decision they made, but instead, can resort to breathing and cold therapy to find healing.

Wim breathed in deeply. And he wants to help as many as he can to breathe as deeply and as often as they can.

 

The Rise Of Anxiety Due To Instant Messaging And Digital Connection

In case I am wondering why I am, at one level, personally shook in response to the book Digital Minimalism by computer science professor Cal Newport, and at a second level, shook for society en masse, look no further than this statement from Newport’s investigation into the present crisis on college campuses:

She [the head of a mental health service at a well-known university] told me that everyone seemed to suddenly be suffering from anxiety or anxiety-related disorders. When I asked her what she thought caused the change [from previous cohorts of students born prior to 1995], she answered without hesitation that it probably had something to do with smartphones. The sudden rise in anxiety-related problems coincided with the first incoming classes of students that were raised on smartphones and social media. She noticed that these new students were constantly and frantically processing and sending messages. It seemed clear that the persistent communication was somehow messing with the students’ brain chemistry. (pg 105 of Digital Minimalism) [emphasis added]

This bares repeating: messing with the student’s brain chemistry. Newport highlights studies by Jean Twenge, professor of psychology and expert on the study of generational differences, demonstrating in her work that the ‘iGen’ generation (born after 1995) and Millennials (born between 1981-1995) are displaying the sharpest spike in generational behavioral differences ever recorded. In other words, the way the iGen cohort behaves compared to Millennials is the largest difference in behavior between succeeding generations since psychological observations have been occuring.

I am going to agree with this statement and its revelations until proven otherwise for now, and work from this baseline in writing what follows. Let’s say Newport, Twenge, anonymous school therapist are right in their hypothesis.

What are the smartphones doing to us? To me? 

If I look personally at the first level, I can say given whatever preexisting cognitive conditions I unknowingly have, over usage of texting and instant messaging serve as detrimental tools instead of beneficial. The key being over usage.

Let’s say my ‘shyness’ I’ve always had in life is some form of communicative hindrance. Now, add the medium of constantly typing to people in a manner which allows for backspacing, editing, getting my random thought out there minus my speech impediment (yes, I was in speech therapy most of my young elementary school life), and all of a sudden the hypothesis of an altering brain chemistry in order to process and keep up with frantic, constant inputs from other people, let alone my own participation, is an urgent call to modify my behavior sooner than later.

Of which I have already.

Initially after reading the book, I entered into a state of digital minimalism as prescribed by Newport. This meant not checking instant messaging, not texting unless it was an emergency or to coordinate meeting with someone, and certainly the removal of social media apps or any distracting apps at all from my phone.

I was two weeks into drastically cutting down my messaging to friends. Not a full cut off like Newport recommends, but drastically diminished. 

And I have to say I was clearer thinking. I wasn’t as anxious. In fact there was an anxiousness of some other variety I didn’t even know was present to me until I cut off the constant engagement of messaging and connection.

I have unlocked some portion of my mind where, and this is the kicker, I recall being in undergraduate libraries circa 2005, reading class material and only focusing on the material. Not switching tabs every 10 minutes in my open browsers. Focusing intently on what I need to do. Not checking my analog cell phone for notifications. 

To stress the point being made by Newport and others, my brain chemistry already begun changing for the better in this detox period. There is no question. I was recovering a state of focus I’ve experienced, oddly enough, as a teenager and young college student.

As for the iGen cohort, they’ve only known instant messaging. What’s at stake?

There is an anxiety rising like we have not witnessed en masse. The generation born after 1995 have been bombarded with constant connection and are increasingly anxious over things that people wouldn’t normally have the time for.

The band Fit For A King emphasized this on a recent track. As an interview from Altpress reveals about the song When Everything Means Nothing:

Fit For A King’s Ryan Kirby told AP that he knows people who are depressed because their lives don’t seem to be going as well as some people who share a lot on social media.

“I just wanted people to know that no one is living a perfect life,” Kirby says. “If you are struggling with things like depression and anxiety, it’s normal. It doesn’t make you less than a bunch of other people. A lot of other people go through the same thing.”

As the opening line of the song says:

“One’s and zero’s fill my eyes
Am I supposed to be like everybody else?”

Too Much Found His Mind

Most of my waking hours I am speechless, and I know some friends of mine won’t understand what I just wrote there. But most of the time I’m not saying much.

Or just saying surface level canned statements. You know:

The weather is bad,

Wow was the traffic a mess today,

How ’bout them Cowboys?

However, much closer to the forefront of my mind are deep analytical, historical, emotional and socio-political ramifications of you asking me “so how’s it going?”

How’s it going?! Well, considering both of us just heard a little about maintaining good personal finances, here are my thoughts on the history of the Christian Monastic Community and the distribution of possessions, successful and failed attempts at communal living, and the complete horror of the pervasiveness of the American Dream within our culture.

That’s what I want to respond to “how’s it going.”

Because I mean let’s just get frank and cut the small talk.


In mewithoutYou’s song Bethlehem, WV there is a line right in the beginning which caught my attention and gave me pause of everything I was probably thinking about at the time:

A stranger’s face appeared—
They say he lost his mind
(Or too much found his mind?)
I hear it all the time

Too much found his mind? 

I immediately resonated and searched the lyrics to see if others caught it. Sure enough, too much found his mind proved too good a line to go unnoticed. It reminds one person of Nietszche’s madman metaphor.  To someone else, a possible reference of John The Baptist.

The metaphor of Nietzche’s Madman is about someone who is deeply perceiving a lot, too much, or perhaps all which needs to be perceived, in contrast to the masses asleep at their own wheels. I sense it is more about the person making connections with all which is finding their mind.

It speaks to a kind of ‘awareness’ of things. Awareness provides the opportunity to make pathways between seemingly unrelated items, a connection process of information more than a lack of perception of said items in isolation.

For example, John The Baptist was witness to the same information as anyone else of his time: socio-political movements, imperial occupations, and sacred scriptural promises of a coming liberating savior who will tidy everything up when the time is right. It’s just while others are giving their attention to individual portions, only a few pieces, or woefully unaware of anything not involving only themselves, John was preaching the way he was preaching because he was putting a few pieces together.

When I am looking to add to a conversation I often find myself wanting to take someone straight to the implications of what we are really talking about. How does this connect to events of the past? In what ways is our discussion more about selfish ambition versus growing yourself and challenging your own thoughts? How did you feel when that happened or this news came to you?


I began sharing a little more here and there to others in the above manner. Instead of maintaining surface level, I’d go where I am residing presently. Speaking directly of the things which I was constantly connecting and what I found worthy of actually sharing.

As if I had forgot or discredited what my grade school teachers would always say of me, a few individuals paused me in recent years because they saw the 10,000 foot view of what I was doing. In the middle of conversation they would say “wait, you’re reading all these books right now and connecting what’s in them?” Or “not everyone is still enough in a moment to capture the thought you’re expressing.”

These were long lost encouragements I had stuffed away or discarded entirely a long time ago. I was hearing them afresh from encouraging people.


Perhaps I was sharing more readily again because two things finally started kicking in.

One was leaning completely into what happens to me within certain environments. So much finds my mind just sitting at a coffee shop, looking out at the sunny day outside, wondering about the old man in the corner of the shop and his long contemplative look. I guess at his hopes and dreams, the life he has lived, and the regrets he has faced head on or is still running from. The next thing I know I have jotted down some lines of poetry without anticipation. Poetry helps condense volumes of things finding my mind into digestible portions. And it comes when I am surprisingly at rest.

The other helpful practice for me is discerning what continually rests on my mind. Daily journal practices of writing anything and everything that comes to mind is an excellent sifting exercise. Once on paper or on computer screen, we see what is taking up unneeded space.

We don’t ask for some of the things which find their way to our minds, but we can do a fantastic job of filtering down what matters most.

Too much on our minds can be made into a blessing.

A Lot Has Changed In The Past (2)Year

Wage War has the song that defines my last two years. It’s going to be my anthem, my marker of these years.

The chorus says it all. But I’ll get there. 

First a walk up to the chorus with a verse punching me in the gut: 

Let’s get this straight
A lot has changed in the last year
Thought I had everything together
But watched it all disappear

It is remarkable what has disappeared from me. Previous to 2 years ago, I thought I was at least on the trajectory of putting it all together. I knew I didn’t have it all together. But I was on the correct path.

Silly me. 

I watched a lot of ‘stuff’ disappear. What’s remaining in the process? I’m finding the Person I always identified as the core behind everything. 

This is where every biblical metaphor of pruning, burning away, and seeing what’s left over applies to my last two years.

Thought I had everything together takes on a unique meaning for me. I didn’t arrogantly believe I had it all together. In fact swaying heavily in the other direction, I was already well on the way of holistic improvements a year, two years, really a few years in the making because of an acknowledgment of not having things together. Improvements made because of the humble identification of desperately needed change.

So when the hits started coming one after another over the past two years, all my personal improvements felt for not.

These personal improvements ironically had no challenging places to test themselves out in (or at least not in the arenas I figured I would apply my personal improvements in).

In other words, if I could establish habitual changes when times were ‘good,’ without realizing it, I was being prepared to keep it up when times became ‘bad.’ 

It’s kinda like the stakes were raised so change wouldn’t be on my terms anymore.

So here I am putting my past two years into perspective, and with everything that is burned up and gone, it is what remains which brings me to my knees.

This chorus. It stuns me:

Now I see, I was broken to be made a better me

There are so many defeats I’ve had to deal with. There are many incredibly significant moments of pruning. What’s astonishing within this reflection is how I have become a better me in the process. This is the best version of myself ever. I have never been ‘clearer.’ 

A career stall actually turned into a time period of incredible learning through massive amounts of reading and writing, all combining to solidify my why.

An empathy I possessed intellectually a decade ago as a believer has now manifested itself personally through intense breaking and healing. Frankly put, as I reflect back on the idealistic 22 year old Jesus follower, having consumed massive volumes of early 2000’s Christian blogosphere material, and beginning their graduate studies with the aim of ‘getting into’ a field based on helping people, I see a person only scratching the surface of servant-hood. 

The ‘better me‘ standing now embraces hardship completely different. I had somehow avoided major pains in my life and figured I could serve others out of a timid, shy, intellectual point of view.

But I was finally broken so that I can look into someone’s eyes and see their pain better. 

I was assuredly empathetic before. But pain? Obstacles? Losing it all? Terror?

I’ve come into contact with pain I’d wish on no one. And yet here I am on the other side of it. I have learned the art and practice of taking the obstacle as a learning tool, as a data point. 

Am I still here? Is it morning? Is it a new day? 

Then be grateful.

Is Jesus still standing with me? He sure is.

Then be faithful.

And now I….

‘Had to learn to let it go and let it be.’ 

This is the clear marking of ‘forward.’ There are things I simply must let go. Even the process of breaking must be let go at some point. 

There are burdens too heavy to carry on my own. They were never meant to be my burdens. 

Now I can start fresh over again changing things I am actually tasked to change. Not things I have no control over. Only the pieces I have been given to put together.

The serenity prayer is on my heart like never before.