Sunday, April 10, 2011

First Impressions of the City

I wrote the following thoughts down in a notebook at Sugar Cafe, a coffee shop in San Francisco full of beautiful people.
These are rambling and chaotic, disconnected and strange, but they stem from my observations of the crazy new climate I experienced.
I think the greatest thing about all of this thinking and writing was the connection I made about cities and the world at large....very illuminating for me.


The city life is incredible.

Everyone is an outsider. Everyone is isolated. Even in a group, you are isolated outsiders.
It is a place where the confident are sharks and the rest of us are clown fish, afraid to leave the confines of our coral apartments.
People put themselves on display, equate everyone else with what they wear and where they do what.
Location, location, location.
For an obsessive, hyper-conscious person such as myself, I would never survive.
I cannot help but be conscious of what I say, how I say it, what I wear, and how I wear it.

Independence is everywhere.
It's a paradox, because there are so very many in this environment, yet there is so much loneliness. How is this possible?
It's not all bad.
People are friendly, but I feel like everyone has become so accustomed to being in a shell that there is never an attempt to move beyond work or current social groups.
I'm not sure.
I think most of it stems from a mis-identity with people, a cycle of wrongly-placed importance. Our society has placed in our minds such an emphasis on standing out, being noticed, being cool and hip and catching someone's attention, that it's almost like stepping out the door is an assessment, the presentation of a final draft we are not sure is complete.

A strong sense of social worth and belonging and purpose allows one to parade through streets and coffee shops with bravado and ease. This person is a final draft they are proud of, one they could see getting published, accepted as literature, enjoyed by the masses.

A weak sense of social worth, and the person is forced to place an incomplete manuscript in front of watchful eyes. A walking rough draft that may, at first glance, seem ready for critique, but in reality, it is full of holes--and the author knows it. This false confidence is often over-done, and it is then eclipsed by resulting shame and discontent.

I cannot imagine being an active, productive, strong Christian without a central group of fellow believers at my disposal. A group that offers encouragement and affirmation in the midst of such an overwhelming call for independence and security.

Consider the specific case of a romantic relationship--one defined by a certain amount of intimacy--when all of the pressure for success is placed on the duo's shoulders. It's not wonder so many buckle under the weight. How can two people so very independent and confident and self-reliant come to a place of genuine need for the other? How can someone, the result of years of personal discipline and social indoctrination, arrive at a place of emotional dependency on another, a place of emotional trust in the other person? Could the difficulty of this be a reason why so many relationships are based on physical connection and intimacy, rather than emotional attachment? When it is very challenging and demanding for self-reliant people to rely on another emotionally, the only thing left to offer is physical connection, something we all know to be, in and of itself, neither challenging or demanding. It is the easiest connection. We don't even have to think. In fact, in some cases, thinking is a great way to ruin such shallow pursuits. Could this tendency toward physical attraction further emphasize the need for one to present one's self in the most attractive and reflective manner? Could this be why so many rough drafts try so very hard to look final? They fix the margins and change the fonts of the title page, but leave the substance untouched, because, after all, no one will bother to read that far...

I do not mean to mock or malign city life at all, because, the more I write this--the more I realize these characteristics are not those of a metropolis. These are not traits of a collection of humanity, but of humanity itself. Everyone, in any social demographic, experiences these same truths every day. From the highrise apartments in NYC to the trailer parks in rural Missouri. We are all unique snowflakes, yes, but we are all snow, and the same white blanket of vices and virtues covers all humanity. We are all independent. We are all isolated. We are all wrapped up in our comfort zones and social cliques. We all feign confidence. We all demand perfection.

However, just as a scientist connects the dots easier with a larger number of guinea pigs, these traits of humanity are seen clearer when more of us are in one place. Competition increases with each athlete added to a contest, independence and ambition increase with each human added to a given location.

Because of this, as I mentioned earlier, being a passionate Christian within the physical and cultural limits of a major American metropolis would seem to be a very challenging thing. It would require a strong sense of identity in God--obtained through devoted prayer and regular study in His word and among His people. It is absolutely possible for a single Christian to survive and be a light in his or her social atmosphere, but it means obstacles and persecution, but obstacles and persecution demand focus on God and purify our faith.

I think the only point of this whole discussion was to work out my thoughts about the city environment, which are, in turn, thoughts on humanity at large. The implication of all this talk is the recognition of the existence of difficulty in a strong, faithful Christian life. We have to understand our battle and respond to it appropriately.

Independence vs Dependence.
This is a battle I fight daily.
I want to be self-reliant. I want to be an island. I want security. I want absolute certainty.
But independence is not the Christian life.
I am human. I am incomplete without a relationship to my Creator.
Even though every cell in my brain screams for independence and self-reliance, I know my body and soul were created for union with the Trinity of Glory.

Pride and humility wage a war inside me. Inside us.

I love you all.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Road Within

This probably won't be one of my research-intensive posts.
It probably won't be deep or insightful.
And it definitely will not be 100% coherent.

I have been flying the friendly(ish) skies for the past many hours, eating cheap pretzels, breathing recycled air, watching brainless television.

Give me a break.


Many of you know I have just returned from a trip to San Francisco. The (chosen) few on my Facebook friends list have certainly seen random snapshots and synopses of said trip. You might ask, "Why the heck aren't you posting about your adventures?"

And I might answer, "Because. Those experiences--though shared to a certain extent through conversation and photographs--are my own. I ingested them, absorbed them, lived them. I don't want to become the person who publicizes every event or describes every encounter. I am a relatively private individual. If you see me, ask me. I'll tell you about some of the things I did, the sights I saw, the paths I walked. Sometimes, I don't take a camera on my adventures because I want to be focused on breathing the air, the new, exciting air, rather than lining the sky up for a great shot. So I do want to talk about San Francisco. I did have a great time. But you might not find a lot of specific, "I ate at this place and tasted this food and saw this girl and watched this commercial and rode in this taxi," type of posts on here. Just sayin.....or actually I'm NOT!


Long answer from a long-winded guy.

Traveling is so incredibly important to me, and it is exponentially more important (and more rewarding) when the destination is new. Few things in this life are more dear to me than experiencing a new place, meeting a new friend, or living a new culture. So, needless to say, this trip was much-needed and much-much-appreciated.

As is the case with other great traveling adventures, this one has created a great amount of excitement and hesitancy in my heart and mind. I find that every time I travel and experience a new thing, a new way of life, I reach a crossroads constructed by the realization, the shocking revelation, that my life is one of many. My problems, my pleasures, my worries, my fears, my joys, my desires, my obstacles, my victories. All of these belong to one tiny person in one tiny city in one tiny state in one (not so) tiny country. I am not important. ((Thanks to those friends and family members who immediately furrow their brow in worry and debate whether or not to call and reassure my pensive mind that I am, indeed, important to them)). I do not mean this in a depressing or self-degrading manner. I simply mean that my life is insignificant in the scope of the world at large. The thirty square miles that house the majority of my daily and nightly activities is a needle in a haystack of needles in a field of needlegrass on a hillside get the idea.

This is such an amazing and frightening reality because it tilts the scales in the opposite way of our default state of mind in which ME, the individual, is all-important.

And this IS the default mode for all of us. Like one of those stupid toys that pops back up every time you knock it to the ground, our pride returns without any help from the outside. All its power comes from within, and like a rush of adrenaline, our independent heart minimizes any images, experiences, and memories that might remind us that our world is not the only world, our coffee shop not the only coffee shop, our friends not the only friends, our anxiety not the only anxiety, our fear not the only fear, our failure not the only failure, our love not the only love.

Traveling counters this default state of mind. I am exposed to other people, other lives, other areas, that exist completely independent of my involvement. The Cedar Lodge in El Postal, California existed before me and it will exist after me. The cab driver on Bush and Leavenworth and the lady who shared the fare had a childhood without me, without each other, and they will both have the same separate future.

This realization presents a crossroads, as I mentioned before. It creates a great opportunity for change, for encouragement, for battle, but it also creates an opportunity for nothing at all. This moment I have, right now, can either make me a better person or a worse person. All of the new experiences, new adventures, new encounters of this past week can either be a series of blows to the stubborn toy of my pride and independence or a list of reasons why I should never expand my horizons again.

Because, and I'm probably losing most of you out of boredom and/or confusion, we WANT to feel like we matter. We want to feel like our problems our the only problems. It serves some kind of sick pity party, some kind of justification for folding our hand when we should have raised. We want to feel like our victories are the only victories because it makes us all the more accomplished and deserved.

So....what does all this crap mean? To me, this crap is a struggle against my tendency to convert my life into a hole from which there is no escape or observation beyond my walls of dirt. This is a discussion about my struggle against selfishness and independence and vanity.

And right now. I'm winning.

You see....a trip is not only going one place and coming back again. A trip, every trip, is going some place and never returning at all.

I am not the person I was when I left for San Francisco.

The trip I started then, continues now, and if I am smart, I will continue it tomorrow when I drive to the grocery store one mile from my driveway. If I am smart, I will see in my neighborhood the same truth I saw on the cable car streets of San Francisco. If I am smart, I will hear the same message in the Gulf winds that I heard in the concrete breeze:

It's not about me.