Month: April 2014

Ever wonder what God would sound like if he prayed to us?

I interviewed a monk recently for a story that will be published in the July/August edition of Post Magazine. The story is about how this particular collection of monks has developed a pretty popular brand of bread, Monks’ Bread, and orchestrates a lucrative, high-tech bakery within the walls of its otherwise solemn monastery.

Curiosity wouldn’t allow me to leave without asking my own questions about religion, faith and practice that would find no home in my 700-word article. I don’t often seek out religious figures. I don’t go to church after 13 years of Catholic schooling. My wife and I didn’t get married in a church or by a priest. It’s something we’re still figuring out, so I had take this chance. We spoke for about 40 minutes, which is an immense amount of time out of a monk’s schedule. And among the things he said that stuck with me was this:

“There’s a line in a poem [‘The Dry Salvages’ by T.S. Eliot] that says, ‘We had the experience, but missed the meaning.’ This is very true, especially in our very frenetic, 21st-century world that all of us have had experiences of grace, but frequently we miss the moment and it doesn’t have a chance to sink in because we’re already on to the next thing. So, we keep looking for new experiences but the experiences we’ve had haven’t had a chance to sink in and be appreciated. If they had, a lot of our questions may have been answered. In monastic life with a slower pace, these kinds of simple, repetitive manual tasks are opportunities to absorb one’s experiences, to digest your experience. All of us, most of us, right now are going around with these half-digested experiences. We need down time to catch up and let things sink in.”

Father Isaac is as thoughtful a man as you’d expect from a monk, but he didn’t say this–or anything for that matter–in any ‘holy-er than thou’ tone. I may not know what I believe in, but I believe what he said. We have experiences every day that happen so fast we fail to feel them. A conversation, a glance, a song, a breeze–so regular are these that we refuse to notice why each is unique. That it can teach us something. That it did teach us something.

Weeks later, I was at work shooting the shit with my friend, Christine. She and I banter quite a bit from one side of the bar to the other (I tend bar every so often). I couldn’t tell you how we got there, but I brought up the concept of flipping the script on a prayer.

“Imagine how happy God would be if you just started a prayer with: ‘Hey, God, how was your day?'”

She paused and I can tell she likely never considered it (how many people have, right?). I continued the banter as I usually do with what felt like humor but now feels like perspective.

“So there I was controlling the weather …,” I say, impersonating God with my hands hovering over an imaginary Earth. We both start laughing because, ya know, how ridiculous is that? A real ‘What if God was one of us?’ type of thought. It was funny. The moment passed and we went about our work, changing the subjects to drink orders, how slow it is, and how much we can’t wait for summer.

That was weeks ago. And I think I finally felt it: the prevailing wonder of what God would sound like if He prayed.

“I need Your help. I can’t do this alone any more. I feel like there is so much pressure on me to make things right, and I don’t know if I have the strength to do it all without You. I mean, I work so hard every day to be all things to all people, and it’s like they don’t even care. It’s like I’m invisible sometimes. Like I don’t exist. I feel like I have all of these great ideas on how to help people, but no one wants to listen.

Are You even listening?

Please, give me a sign. Just show me that you understand how much I care. You can change things so easily if You want to and I don’t understand why You wait for me. What can I do that You can’t?

Help me. I can’t do this without You. Please.

Amen.”

This makes sense to me. Not an omnipotent, omnipresent God, but a helpless God that needs Us as much as We need Him. He’s busy controlling the weather. And gravity. And throwing more coal on the sun. He is limited by Us and Our dependence on Him to carry Us.

But We are the rock that God himself cannot lift.

Not every moment we digest is religious or spiritual, but the content of this one just happened to be that for me. Others will be about being a husband, or a friend, or a writer. Father Isaac’s words won’t always hit me when I need them because he’s not here to speak them again and again. I have to apply them to moments as they pass to make sure I take what I need to take from them. That was his point, and at least this time I was listening.

Adult Homework: Decorating the house is a not-so-secret guilty pleasure

I enjoy making stuff out of things. The cool kids call it ‘re-purposing’ but I like my sentence better than their word. Our coffee table? It’s a former crate that used to hold who-knows-what inside a building at Kodak. The entry way table pictured above? It’s scrap wood, stone and paint picked up at ReHouse (my favorite local salvage store). The box frames in the living room? Drawers I pulled out of a dresser someone put next to a dumpster.

Take that, Hobby Lobby.

The drawers on the wall could easily be standard box frames. But instead, they're drawers. The dangling drawer pulls make the  difference.

The drawers on the wall could easily be standard box frames. But instead, they’re drawers. The dangling drawer pulls make the difference.

Let me be clear, I like Hobby Lobby. And Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, Homegoods–pretty much all stores like that. They’re like candy stores for grownups that make you feel like you can afford to look like you have more money. What’s not to like?

But I have a fundamental problem with walking into one of these stores and buying ‘shabby chic‘ furniture. I can’t stand the idea of someone walking in, sitting down, and saying, “Nice end tables. We just picked up the same ones at Marshall’s.” I’ll buy the napkin holders, maybe some pillows and a new coffee mug with a catchphrase on it, but there’s something about furniture and wall art that makes me want it to be unique.

So, I make stuff out of things.

It was surprising when I realized how much I enjoy coming up with an idea for how to use something and then pulling it off. The backdrop for our wedding was three antique doors supporting an antique chandelier. It wasn’t an entirely original idea (see Pinterest), but it had some uniqueness to it that will never show up on anyone else’s big day. It probably wasn’t built the right way. I probably used the wrong screws and maybe it’s not “level” by a level’s standards. But that’s how I know it’s mine.

My new favorite piece of art is the watercolor painting my niece Madison did for me, and it’s new home is inside one of those three drawers. It’s an original, signed by the artist herself and is 1 of 1 in a collection of 1.

I can tell I sound like an ass writing this, scoffing at the un-creative buying their wares with artificial shabby and mass-produced chic. SCOFF! SCOFF, I say!! It’s not like that (entirely), it’s just the way I want to be. I already know Caitlynn is biting her tongue at some of my decor. We have different tastes and she’s letting me get away with it for now. At some point she won’t, and I’ll have to say, “Yes, I love that hutch from Pottery Barn way more than this one made from old picnic tables.”

And then I’ll make a shelf out of discarded window shutters. That’ll shutter up.

DeSean Jackson

Give credit: The Eagles–not the Redskins–gave DeSean Jackson his clean slate

DeSean Jackson was cut less than a week ago for a list of vague but troubling reasons. One of the most explosive players in the NFL over the past six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Jackson was unceremoniously let go for some combination of having a poor work ethic, not playing well with others, and something else … what was it? Oh, right, his possible connections with a Los Angeles gang.

I purposely put the whole ‘gang’ thing last on the list for two reasons: (1) it can’t be proven, but more because (2) it’s already become a footnote in his bio. He’s a member of the Washington Redskins for the bargain price of $24 million over three years, $16 million of it is guaranteed. Move forward. Get away from the possible, probable and definite issues Jackson carries with him. He’s a dynamic playmaker, and if he can help the Redskins surpass their division-rival Eagles (as well as the Cowboys and Giants) then he’s an absolute steal.

Right?

What’s most likely to happen: DeSean Jackson will put up some serious numbers for the Redskins. He’ll take attention away from WR Pierre Garcon, stretch the field for RB Alfred Morris, and take pressure off of QB Robert Griffin (or QB Kirk Cousins). And by ‘pressure’ I mean in terms of how often teams blitz. They’ll need more players in the secondary to keep up with DJax. I actually think the pressure from fans, media, teammates, media, coaches and media will skyrocket for RGIII. (Yeah, media is mentioned three times to account for all of the NFL coverage out there.)

Jackson won’t commit any crimes worse than a traffic violation. He’ll show up to voluntary workouts like he never has before. He’ll be a boyscout. And when he torches the Eagles secondary, win or lose, Chip Kelly and the Eagles’ brass will draw ire from fans, media, teammates, media, coaches and media. Washington will likely be better, the Eagles might be worse, and if it results in the Redskins finishing ahead of Philly, the Eagles will never hear the end of it.

But the Eagles will not have been wrong. Someone with more clout than me needs to remind them of that fact. It will never be proven, but Philly’s higher-ups may have at the very least prevented a crime or at the most saved a life. It’s not that dramatic of a statement. They’ll never dish the full list of reasons why he was released, but just consider what it would take for your team to dump arguably its best player in the prime of his career. It wasn’t money–Jackson just had a career year AFTER signing a huge contract, so his value was still going up. They had to have found something, and it may have been so small as identifying a destructive pattern that needed to be broken before it turned a man into a criminal (see Aaron Hernandez).

Aaron Hernandez

On August 22, 2013, Hernandez was indicted by a grand jury for the murder of Odin Lloyd, and is currently being investigated in connection with other murders in Massachusetts.

Ever see ‘Minority Report’ with Tom Cruise? The crux was a paradox of punishing people for committing a crime they did not yet commit. If you stop them, then they can’t be guilty. In this case (reality), instead of charging someone with future crime and putting them into some trance-inducing prison, DeSean Jackson was fired. Again, there’s no telling what he might have done. He was punished for a having an alarming probability of poor conduct with a wide range of possible outcomes. *He was pulled over for DUI before the possibility of causing a fatal accident. It’s likely the Eagles saved his life.

But history will never write it that way unless Jackson has some deep realization and at some point publicly thanks his former employer for it. The likely facts will be that Jackson has a productive, maybe illustrious career with the Redskins. The Eagles will not reach a Super Bowl without him, and they’ll get shamed ( externally) for letting go of a unique talent in his prime. Even if Jackson were to get into trouble after a successful career is over, the team would not be able to escape the criticism of giving up on him.

What is also likely is that the Eagles made the right decision. They may have even saved a life. Maybe not a literal life, but more that they broke a man’s destructive pattern, allowing him to refocus his life into something productive instead of criminal.

*To be clear, this statement is metaphorical. As far as I know, DeSean Jackson has no DUIs on his record.

NOTE: This was spurred by the ESPN article announcing Jackson’s signing with the Redskins. In that article (roughly 16 paragraphs long), there was no mention of why Jackson was released by the Eagles in the first three-quarters of the story. ESPN is already over it.