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The Spiritual Life of the 30-Year-Old (or: House-hunting is Suffering)

Now that I’m 30, everything around me seems to be oozing with spiritual significance. I’m assuming this is a normal part of approaching the age when your mind and body briefly meet in the middle, as the mind grows deeper and wiser but the body hits its peak and starts to get–like, more tired? Not as eager to stay up past 10 o’clock? And kind of sore in the ankles and wrists? Etc.

But I love getting older and feeling like every experience I have is some kind of teacher. An example: we’re house-hunting. Which, I’m learning, is a bizarre paradox of life–you spend months or longer doing painstaking research and analysis of neighborhoods and combing through every inch of your finances, knowing the final result of all that work is a go-with-your-gut quick decision in which you and your partner look at each other, give the OMG This Is It look, and say, “Let’s make an offer.”

At which point, your sweet suburban realtor will make a fast and frowning phone call, where she learns that the owners have actually already accepted an offer. And it was just a few hours ago. And maybe this happens twice in one week.

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That Which We Cannot Have

Yeah. So there’s patience in all this, and non-attachment. This could be a real downer, but it’s actually a good experience to have if you consider all of life to be one great spiritual journey–which you do, because I already told you that you’re 30 and life is different now. (Sleeping more, ankles, etc.) And when life chucks you some curve balls, you almost feel grateful for the chance to practice catching them. (You also feel very self-conscious now about using Feel-Good phrases like that, but let’s not kid anyone–in twenty years you’ll be the old hippie handing out dreamcatchers on Halloween, so you might as well OWN IT now.)

I also just read The Hobbit for the first time, and am working on Lord of the Rings, and it’s blowing my mind that I didn’t read these books when I was a kid. Because didn’t you see me, skulking around in my parents’ backyard with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, dragging a Radio Flyer full of canned goods and flashlights, muttering to myself about Going on a Pilgrimage? That kid would have loved the shit out of Tolkien.

 

 

 

Everything is Okay

as long as the poodle is comfy.

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Facepalms & Fried Chicken

This afternoon, I slipped out of my office to grab something for lunch. Since I work on a university campus, the closest place for grub is the student union, which features a mixed-bag food-court, including a few fast-food establishments and a salad bar (my preference). I was surprised to see an unusually long line trailing from the food court, wrapping around the hallway. A peek into the cafeteria clarified the situation: these folks were all waiting to buy a sandwich at Chick-fil-A.

Unless you live in a yurt, you have probably heard about the Chick-fil-A stuff in the news. I’ll summarize: the place is run by a self-described Christian who donates a good chunk of its profits to religious groups that work to to ban gay marriage and keep gay people off of anti-discrimination protection lists (you heard that right—millions of dollars to make sure it stays illegal to love and legal to hate).

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Many Americans bravely faced heartburn & diarrhea today in order to prevent gays from getting married.

After this (old) news hit the media this week, lots of shit hit the proverbial fan: inevitable anti-Chick protests ensued (including mayors who want the restaurant to GTFO of their respective cities), the restaurant’s genius PR team tried to win back support by allegedly creating fake Facebook pages and spinning up lies about Jim Henson, and conservative Mike Huckabee got incensed enough about the protests to declare today “Show Your Support for All of the Above Day.”

This last bit I learned from the cashier at the union’s convenience store. I had to buy a pre-packaged deli sandwich because the chicken people had flooded the food court, and as the cashier—a twenty-something college student—was ringing me up, I asked her if she knew what was going on.

“Mike Huckabee declared today a day of support for the business,” she said, and immediately her face turned red, her voice took on an odd tremble. She was either completely against the idea, or fiercely protective of it—I couldn’t tell—and I could see that part of her unease came from the fact that she didn’t know how I was going to react. Was I for Chick-fil-A or against it? Did I support marriage equality or was I homophobic? Which news media outlet was I getting all my information from? A twist of anxiety filled the air between us, a potential fire that could manifest as either rage or loyalty if either one of us chose to ignite it.

We didn’t. I got my change. We wished each other a good afternoon. I took my sandwich and left without ever figuring out whether we were supposed to be friends or enemies. Sometimes it’s just not that clear what we’re supposed to do.

***

To be fair, Chick-fil-A released a statement that said it respects all customers, “regardless of sexual orientation,” but that seems to be a bit of a back-pedaling stretch, given its history of incorporating anti-gay propaganda into children’s meals and funneling money to groups that try to “cure” homosexuality but tout AIDS as God’s inevitable plan.

And it’s misguided to think that the people who came out for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day aren’t making an anti-gay statement, that they’re simply identifying themselves as aligned with the principals of Christianity. You can support the institution of Christianity without standing in a fast-food line. You know how? Be fucking nice. Toss a neighbor a real smile sometime. The great part is that none of this will diminish you; rather, you will flourish, and so will everyone around you.

This is what I saw today: approximately 70 people standing in line for a fast-food restaurant, all willing to sacrifice their own personal time (the average wait for a sandwich appeared to be about 20 minutes), money ($6.50 for a meal + $9 to park in the garage), and physical health (obesity, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes), just so that I cannot marry my partner.

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North Shore Refreshed

I’m back from a week on the North Shore. No internet, no cell phone service, no air conditioning, and the only television channels were CNN and that one that plays The Big Bang Theory over and over.

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“But what,” one might ask anxiously, “do you do when you do find yourself experiencing a sudden and dizzying lack of internet and cell phone service and satisfactory sitcoms?”

WELL. In this particular situation, one spends a great deal of time reading thick novels and scratching blistered mosquito bites and drinking Finnigan’s and staring out at Lake Superior and pondering the incredibly nuanced and pocketed experience of being a Live Human. I just finished Lama Marut’s book A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life (yeah, yeah, one of those embarrassingly earnest titles that you cover with your hand when reading on public transport), and he says that one of the most important mind states to cultivate is gratitude. Super easy to do when you look out the window and see this:

Also Lama Marut says, since you’re already allowing some potentially miraculous positivity to enter your brain, why not also chew on the possibility that you yourself (the recipient of tons of awesome shit for which to be grateful) are the reincarnation of some super dedicated and flexible yogi from a thousand years ago, and THIS, right NOW, is your natural karmic reward for lifetimes of hard work.

It sounds absurd, like totally unlikely, but WTF is human life itself if not a giant, juicy miracle?

Anyway. These are the things I think of when I take a minute to chuck whatever anxieties I’ve managed to construct in my head and just take a look around me–at my sweet lovie who let me remove her stitches like a BOSS even though my only experience with surgery is readingCutting for Stone, at our sweet pup who ate half of the blinds in a blind panic when she spotted a bear (which turned out to be a golden retriever) through the window, and the thick and hearty Minnesota landscape that folded before us as we drove home, listening to Sarah Silverman’s surprisingly compassionate memoir on audiobook. Maybe we’re all yogis, laughing like crazy at Jew jokes.

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Book-spine poems

Finished my thesis, and for the next couple of weeks until my defense, I have whole hours to gaze upon the stories on my bookshelf.

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Squirrel

It’s warm outside, again. We found a baby squirrel on the sidewalk. We took him home to make him comfortable, and he was, and then he died. The dog was very maternal, very careful, tiptoeing as best a poodle can tiptoe around the box. That was a good day, lots of sunshine.

Here he was, pink and alive and sleeping:

Prague, day 6

Two months! I win the prize for worst blogger. But life has been busy. Here I am:

Except I’m in a cafe, and there is a pianist playing a violent version of “Memories” from the musical Cats, and the tap water costs 400% more than the beer so you can guess what thirsty me ordered when I arrived.

My Czech is so bad all I can say is thank you, and I’m sorry, and excuse me and yes, please, which, I realized, is a good majority of the vocabulary I use out loud in daily life anyway.

It’s strange to be in an old city–in Minneapolis we organize double-decker bus trips to see a building from the 1880’s–but it also feels very natural to be here. You can live fairly easily in a city without a grasp of language or literacy. Because we all want the same things: food (point to the menu or learn the word “goulash”), a bathroom (say “toalety” or grimace), and long walks alone, without anyone to disrupt our perfectly ordinary thoughts that don’t manifest in either English or Czech, but rather in squares of color and textures from our childhoods.

Oh, dear. A man selling roses went to every table but mine because I am all alone. Now I feel like an outsider.

Love Wins

I read an article in Time magazine on the Stairmaster today about an evangelical pastor named Rob Bell, whose new book, Love Wins, puts forth the wild un-conservative notion that there may not actually be a Hell.

Bell wrote the book in response to a note that was left by a visitor to an exhibit at his church, a note which said that Gandhi is in hell.

Gandhi: a real dick

A lot of questions came up for me as I read:

  • Gandhi? The skinny salt guy?
  • But if we don’t believe in hell, how can we make our children behave?
  • Won’t that just make us a lawless species?
  • Isn’t it safer to err on the side of believing?
  • When did I start being the kind of person who read magazines on a Stairmaster?

It seems that Pastor Bell’s argument is presented for those Christians who struggle with the question of whether or not belief of Jesus Christ is the only ticket to redemption. What if, say, there was a hypothetical person who was not raised in a Christian household but practices love and forgiveness more often than even our beloved TV Evangelicals? Or what if a person can’t intellectually grasp the concept of the crucifixion and resurrection but implements the practice of compassion in his everyday life? Or what if this hypothetical person was Hindu but used nonviolence as a way to gain independence for an entire country?

Who is going to hell–A, B, or C? Or everybody, just to make it even?

I was thinking of this today because my Facebook wall was cluttered with joyous posts about Osama bin Laden’s death. Here’s a sample: “I feel joyous knowing that bin Laden has a painful eternity of pain while burning in hell!!!”

(This is a person who would also comment on pictures of my dog with “OMG she is sooooooo preeeeecious.” A person who emits glee regardless of circumstance, I suppose.)

Shirley: heaven on earth

And maybe I am a terrible person, maybe I have eternal fires waiting for me, but I just cannot justify an eternity of pain for anyone, no matter what pain they caused during his life. I can’t even picture this kind of torture without feeling nauseous with empathy. And if god’s love is roughly 239,573,297% greater than mine…

I don’t know, though. Does anyone? But I thought this was a nice bit from the article:

One thing heaven is not is an exclusive place removed from earth. This line of thinking has implications for the life of religious communities in our own time. If the earth is, in a way, to be our eternal home, then its care, and the care of all its creatures, takes on fresh urgency.

A Very Quick Update.

The copy machine never works when I need to use it, Minnesota hasn’t yet cracked the 45° mark so we keep putting boots away and pulling boots back out, Obama was born in Hawaii, we all already knew Obama was born in Hawaii, royal people are getting married, Christina Aguilera has a new show where she sits in a spinning chair, Nurse Jackie is the best Netflix decision I’ve ever made, the Wikipedia entry for Insidious was scary enough for me to decide not to see the movie, I drank three beers and nearly cried because Flannery O’Connor is not alive to talk to me, tornadoes are plowing their way through the country, every day we’re closer to finding the God particle, none of us has any idea what that means, Androids are terrible phones that shudder and power off when you’re trying to make an important call, I read Endless Love and hated it, I read The Violent Bear it Away and loved it, I’m reading Empire Falls and I’m ambivalent, Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer, one of the students at my university was killed by a semi truck, it’s still snowing and it’s almost May, Lindsay Lohan is working in a morgue, in Oklahoma they want to give you a life sentence for cooking hashish, they say Tina Turner has a drinking problem, the rivers are high in Iowa, the sky looks like Saran wrap today, the dog is asleep, and still there are so many other things.

A Good Day.

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