…the public “I”

woods
—photo by Mike Young

“…everyone has a life that is different from the ‘I’ of daily consciousness, a life that is trying to live through the ‘I’ who is its vessel.   …there is a great gulf between the way my ego wants to identify me, with its protective masks and self-serving fictions, and my true self.”   —Parker Palmer, from Let Your Life Speak

Parker Palmer’s book is difficult for me to take in at times.  Each line resonates deeply leaving me wanting to highlight everything I’m reading.  The power and profundity stem, I think, from the modesty inherent in Palmer’s proposal…rather than selling himself as the expert, he merely plays the role of servant guide giving the reader permission to delve into the stream of the true self flowing free below the frozen surface of the public “I”.

I find Palmer’s lines above very provocative.  It moves me to look beyond the public persona and move deeper into myself.  Thomas Merton speaks to the same idea with the metaphors of a fire or a ship: “We are warmed by a fire, not by the smoke of a fire. We are carried over the sea by a ship, not by the wake of a ship.  So too, what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.”  —Thomas Merton, from No Man is an Island

Often of late, I have engaged in conversations with people (mostly men) who are struggling deeply with issues concerning vocation.  So much of our identity is wrapped up in our vocation and our performance in that vocation.  Much of my current struggle with my identity is centered on the public “I”…the role, vocation, and social face of my life.  But that revolves around job, career, resume’, public perception and performance.  It is much more difficult for me to articulate what is happening in the stream of my self flowing below that sheet of ice.

The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy.  If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out.  But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.    —Parker Palmer, from Let Your Life Speak

I guess what I’m saying is that I am entering the woods.  Quietly.  I’m going to find a tree and sit down for a while…
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…architecture and community/sustainability

Houses of the Future – The Atlantic (November 2009).

curtis-architecture-new-orleans-wide
NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 24: 1631 Tennessee Street - Photos of New Orleans Houses photographed for Atlantic Monthly on August 24, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Atlantic Monthly)

This is a link to an intriguing article I read on Monday in the November 2009 issue of The Atlantic.  Several things were interesting to me.

In particular are the comments sprinkled throughout the article that pertain to remembering, re-building, nurturing , and sustaining community and the role that is playing in the architecture on the homes being built.  One interesting section describes features of some of the traditional homes of New Orleans…tall ceilings (“allow residents to live below the worst of the summer heat”); shotgun cottages lack hallways (“allowing for efficient cross-ventilation in every room”); transoms (“make the walls porous and keep the air moving”).  Michael Mehaffy, Executive Director of Sustasis, says “What we’re learning is that these traditions are not just fashions.  They’re rooted in the real adaptive evolution of a place.”  Such an observation requires living in a place and listening to its voices.

An observation by Andres Duany, co-founder of the Congress for New Urbanism, was particularly insightful:

“When I originally thought of New Orleans, I was conditioned by the press to think of it as an extremely ill-governed city, full of ill-educated people, with a great deal of crime, a great deal of dirt, a great deal of poverty,” said Duany, who grew up in Cuba. “And when I arrived, I did indeed find it to be all those things. Then one day I was walking down the street and I had this kind of brain thing, and I thought I was in Cuba. Weird! And then I realized at that moment that New Orleans was not an American city, it was a Caribbean city. Once you recalibrate, it becomes the best-governed, cleanest, most efficient, and best-educated city in the Caribbean. New Orleans is actually the Geneva of the Caribbean.  …All the do-goody people attempting to preserve the culture are the same do-gooders who are raising the standards for the building of houses, and are the same do-gooders who are giving people partial mortgages and putting them in debt,” he said. “They have such a profound misunderstanding of the culture of the Caribbean that they’re destroying it. The heart of the tragedy is that New Orleans is not being measured by Caribbean standards. It’s being measured by Minnesota standards.”

As someone who grew up in south Louisiana near New Orleans, this is the first time I’ve heard that description of the city…frankly, it rings true.  Much damage is done to culture, place, community in the name of progress or good intentions.  Duany came by his observations by living in New Orleans and walking the streets, talking to people who love the place.  Brad Pitt, of all people, has bought a home in the city and is an integral part of the “high design” Make It Right development in the lower 9th ward.  Again, grew to love New Orleans, moved there, spends time there and becomes part of the solution.  (from the article, “BRAD PITT FOR MAYOR t-shirts are not uncommon around town.”)

The writer of the article quotes Steve Mouzon speaking to a group of contractors and architects: “The very core of sustainability can be found in a simple question: ‘Can it be loved?'”  Ultimately, that will be hinge of success in the rebuilding of New Orleans.  Wayne Curtis closes his article with, “The past here has much to inform the future, not just for New Orleans, but for an entire country that needs to rethink the way it designs its cities and homes.  New Orleans won’t be rushed—it never is—but the chances are good that whatever results here will be loved.”

examination…

photo my Mike Young, on the grounds of Ignatius House, Atlanta (March 2008)
photo by Mike Young, on the grounds of Ignatius House, Atlanta (March 2008)

I rediscovered this “examine” received while attending a Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation in March of 2008.  I thought I would post it here.  I found it to be very thought provoking.  (I am unsure of the source)

Examination…The Lord’s Prayer throughout the Day…

Our Father in heaven

  • When did you sense the greatest intimacy with God?

Hallowed be your name

  • When were you most aware of how unique and different God is?

Your Kingdom come

  • When and how did you see the kingdom making itself real?

Your will be done on earth

  • When were you most alive?

Give us this day our daily bread

  • When were you given bread?
  • When did you share bread?

Forgive us our sins

  • When were you most aware of sin and the desire to end your relationship with it?
  • When were you a part of the problem, rather than light toward a solution?

As we forgive those who sin against us

  • When were you forgiving or an agent of forgiveness?

Lead us not into temptation

  • When did you feel God’s guiding and defining action?

Deliver us from evil

  • When did you feel God protecting you from evil in yourself and without?

For the kingdom, power, and glory are yours

  • When did you sense or confess it is about God?

Forever

  • When were you most aware of eternal realities or the Eternal?

Amen…

Christianity as practice vs. belief system

Brian McLaren was featured in an interesting interview on the FERMI Project podcast discussing his new book, Finding Our Way: The Return of the Ancient Practices. I picked up a copy last week but haven’t finished it yet. At the beginning of chapter one, he tells about interviewing Peter Senge at a pastor’s conference. McLaren opened the interview by acknowledging for Senge that the audience of pastors was probably different than his usual gatherings of business leaders. Senge replied,

“Well, Brian, you’re right. I don’t normally speak to pastors. Actually, I was thinking about that very question yesterday when I was in a large bookstore. I asked the bookstore manager what the most popular books are these days. Most popular, he said, were books about how to get rich in the new information economy, which didn’t surprise me. …Second most popular, the manager said were books about spirituality, and in particular, books about Buddhism. And so when I thought about speaking to five hundred Christian pastors today, I thought I’d begin by asking you all a question: why are books on Buddhism so popular, and not books on Christianity?” (McLaren, Finding Our Way, p.3)

McLaren returned the question to Senge, “How would you answer that question?” Senge’s answer was, I believe, profound and very intriguing:

“I think it’s because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief. So I would want to get Christian ministers thinking about how to rediscover their own faith as a way of life, because that’s what people are searching for today. That’s what they need most.”

This was a wonderful statement for me personally because it speaks very pointedly to my own faith context at this particular time of my life. (I alluded to this in a blog post a couple of months ago). I have found my received Christianity-as-belief-system increasingly problematic as I move through my life. The fact that this belief system began 44 years ago as an extremely fundamentalist and literal form of Christianity has had much to do with my discontent. It simply could not bear the weight of life and circumstances and I found I could no longer ignore the empirical evidence of life lived outside the bubble of Christendom. And yet, I couldn’t leave “the church” or faith or Jesus.

Several weeks ago, I attended a 5 Day Academy for Spiritual Formation. To be perfectly honest, I began the experience extremely cynical and with very low expectations. I left that experience with a profound new understanding of my own faith journey and of my practice of faith from that point forward. Specifically, my new understanding revolves around this tension between practice and system of belief. I would love to hear some of your thoughts on this.

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