The other day, we took the L train downtown to go museum-hopping. Rory was on winter break and a lot of the museums were free to Chicago locals, so we took advantage.
At the Merchandise Mart stop, this young lady got on. She was tall with dark skin and broad shoulders. Her hair was plastered back and styled as if to be intentionally dynamic. She was wearing a red jacket and was having a ‘power conversation’ on her phone posturing about how she was getting things done and making heads roll and all that dynamic, powerful kinda stuff.
She was a force of nature, that one. On a mission.
We got off the L a few stops past that point and went about our evening. We went to Potbelly subs and had dinner (yes, classy) and then headed across the street to the Art Institute (for real, classy). After doing our thing there for about an hour and a half, we decided to jump back on that beautiful L train and head back north towards home.
As we approached the platform, I glanced up at the sign to see when the next train was due. The next natural place for my eyes to transition to was the platform straight across from us. And what did my eyes behold?
Red jacket-donning, tall, broad-shouldered power-woman. Still on her phone. Being powerful.
I couldn’t believe it. She could have gone anywhere and done anything. She could have hopped a helicopter to Washington DC or taken a different Metra train to Indiana. The possibilities were endless. But there we were. Walking up to the same platform at the same time.
It’s not the first time something like this has happened here in Chicago. Stuff like this blows me away. And it makes this big city really, really small.
I’m 39. So I’m not incredibly old (in human years), but I’m also no spring chicken.
The other day, I was thinking back to a point in my life about 12 years ago. I’d first met Alex (my wife). I was a golf professional living in rural Nevada who was politically conservative (though starting to have reservations), day-trading FOREX on the side, and training heavily in the Japanese martial art of Aikido working towards my black belt with the hopes of one day opening a studio of my own.
Being a dad wasn’t even a thought in my mind. Living in Chicago wasn’t on my radar. And if I told that person that he would someday consider the seminary or blogging about contemplative matters, he’d think I was insane.
When I close my eyes and put myself in that person’s skin, I feel like an intruder. I’m not that person anymore. Sure, there’s a resemblance of him at my core, but it’s really like a past life.
I can rewind even further to when I was a Junior in high school. My mom had passed the year before and I was mostly living with my heroin-addicted aunt (unbeknownst to me at the time) who was doing her best to support me when my dad was out of state working for weeks at a time.
Totally. Different. Life.
I’ll go even further back to when I was five. It was the first birthday party I have a recollection of. I remember eating the cake batter my mom was making in our kitchen on River Road in Modesto, CA. My friends were coming over soon and we were going to have my party at the neighbor’s house (they were a retired couple who had a huge swimming pool and my birthday is in August, so that worked nicely).
Waaaay. Different. Life
Life seems to be about constant deaths and resurrections. We have so many past lives…
Which ones lay ahead for us to live?
It’s amazing how little (and how much) control of that we actually have.
Alex (my wife): She was born on the day I was baptized, so there’s some seriously weird voodoo going on there, at least.
Rory (my daughter): I mean, she’s my female mini-me. My little sage. And she drives me crazy. Which is good for me.
The rest of my friends and family (no, I will not list all of you).
Coffee: The dark old-school stuff. Not the newfangled hipster kind. I want bold and burnt, not orangey and raisiney. (This is not me macho-signaling. On the contrary, it’s because I put a lot of cream and sugar in my brew and actually want to taste the coffee.)
Oatly oat milk: I used to buy cartons of it in bulk, but now it’s not available to non-commercial customers. So I mostly go with Trader Joe’s soy creamer, which is delicious but isn’t very healthy.
German beer: Preferably bock beer or Oktoberfest. We live in an old German neighborhood in Chicago, so I’m in German-beer heaven.
Open fires of any size: From a candle to a bonfire, doesn’t matter.
Cabin porn: My Instagram feed is full of the work of cabin pornographers. I wish I could be one myself. Gotta figure out that business model.
Books about hygge: Yes, the hygge craze these last few years has got me good.
Contrast: Warm inside spaces with cold weather outside: Or cool inside spaces with hot weather inside.
Early American Hymns: It’s one of the things I love so much about our particular Lutheran church. Chamber music and early American hymns. Just puts me there.
Bach Sonatas: Especially via Chris Thile on mandolin.
A certain subset of modern bluegrass musicians: including, but not partial to all musicians in the following bands — some of whom overlap: Punch Brothers, Hawktail, I’m With Her Band, Nickel Creek, Crooked Still, and The Wailin Jennys.
Traditional Liturgy: Candles. Robes. Incense. Scripture. Stained glass. Bowing. Kneeling. Bread. Wine. It’s a tradition that’s in my bones. Brings me home every time.
Good conversations: If you talk about sports or politics, you’ll be talking to yourself.
Sarcasm: If done well.
Mountain lakes: I prefer these to oceans because I like to be able to see the other side. Again, I like contrast and the mountains and smooth water bring it in a big way. Tahoe is my favorite and closest to my heart.
Learning new things: Because there never is enough.
Being wrong: Because this is the only way I actually learn.
Being right: Because it feels so good, yeeeah!
Ireland: Perfect climate. Great pubs. Fantastic storytellers. Kind people. History. Ahhhh…
Pubs with no TV’s: Again, Ireland.
Playing golf with friends: Walking, not riding in carts. Golf was my first life, and it’s fading from my current one, but it’s still a part of me.
Hiking: Alex and I used to hike a lot when we lived in Nevada. And then we had Rory. For the first year or two, we could throw her in the hiking backpack. But then she got too big to fit but too small to walk for more than 20 feet without complaining. She’s almost big enough to start hiking, so I hope to be back at it soon.
Skiing: I learned at age 37 and am not very good, but I love it.
Reading: Mostly non-fiction. But this year, I’m FORCING myself to read fiction consistently. Nothing helps my writing more than reading fiction.
Good sermons: I used to like sermons that made me feel awesome, but these days, I love sermons that make me feel small (but that make me see how awesome God is).
The audacity of humanity: kindness, courage, and compassion that’s beyond human reason is God in motion.
Jesus: Of course. But a different Jesus than a lot of Christians in America worship (I write about this A LOT, so I won’t explain here).
Chicago: Stormy, husky, brawling — this is the city of big shoulders. Classy. Hard-working. Big-hearted. Architecturally astute. Well-planned. I could go on. This place where I live is incredible.
Lake Tahoe: It’s still home to me. Driving around that lake never gets old. Swimming in it never fails to cleanse the soul. And there is no sky like the sky above Lake Tahoe.
Lutheran Theology: Luther was a maniacal genius and I love him for what he did with the gospels focusing on grace through faith rather than works. I’m not crazy about some of his personal opinions, but this is where I exercise my faith in the grace he spoke of by knowing he is a flawed, forgiven human — perfect in his imperfection.
Cubs home game days: Not that I watch sports. I only know two of the players' names (one happens to live down the street from me). And the games are super expensive. But there’s something about Wrigley Field and the buzz of a Cubs game day that I love being around (we live 1.5 miles from the park).
Family gatherings: I have a (very) small family, but my wife has a big family out in the suburbs that I love hanging out with. Even though it makes me a bit neurotic to have dinner with that many people, I always wanted a big family and it’s nice to have been brought into one through her.
Laughing: I mean, right?
Crying: Even better. And something straight, white, cisgender males don’t allow themselves to do nearly enough. I learned that you can only cry when you feel safe. And they produce healthy cleansing hormones in the body. So unlike many of our fathers may have suggested, tears are good news.
Good stories: Again, Ireland. The Irish tell the best stories, hands down. I can’t stand it when people’s eyes dart away when I’m telling a story, so it’s something I’m constantly working on. I can write one, but speaking one is a different — well — story.
Poetry: It shows me that I can be loose with my words. Writing poetry is extremely therapeutic. You can let the words take over and do their own thing. Reading a good poet reveals the color and richness available in the human language.
Hot springs: When we lived in the Sierras, we had access to a number of natural, inhabitable hot springs. There’s nothing like sitting in a bath of mother nature’s bubbling brew surrounded by snow and staring up at that wide sky.
Although I’ve been doing it more regularly lately, writing about faith and especially the ‘C’-word (Christianity) is something that terrifies me every time I do it. Why?…
I know that this ‘C’-word is appended to a certain kind of label in the overall cultural zeitgeist. Because that ‘C’-word is usually uttered in the same breath as another ‘C’-word (Conservative). Or a ‘T’ word (Trump). Or an ‘F’-word (fundamentalism). None of which, I identify with…
It’s also terrifying because I know that many of my readers found my work when I was in my SBNR (Spiritual-But-Not-Religious) stage and that’s what they identify me with. Many of them have been religiously wounded (often by certain subsets of the type of Christianity I alluded to above) and have very good reason to despise Christianity.
But here I stand before you — a progressive American *gulp* Christian. I figure I may as well own it and get comfy in these slippers. I also wanted to provide my layman’s perspective to outline the flavor of Christianity that I’ve stumbled into so as to possibly provide a framework for you, dear reader, to check out — especially if you’ve walled off Christianity forever because you’ve deemed that word goes along with the ‘C’, ‘T’, and ‘F’- words above. I wish I’d known about this years ago, so who knows — maybe it’ll help you on your inner path. I’ve tiptoed around it these last few months, but I want to give you something a little more comprehensive.
A Christianity that’s liturgically orthodox while maintaining a progressive worldview
Yes, these two things exist in the same building. In fact, I just stepped out of one. At my Lutheran church here in Chicago, I just witnessed one of the most beautiful, humbly prophetic, and progressive sermons about the immigration crisis (based on the Virgin Mary) spoken by a female pastor who identifies as a lesbian in a traditional liturgy before receiving the Eucharist.
I don’t know about you, but I love paradox. I love it when two seemingly opposing things join together in truth and wholeness. Afterall, the yin exists only with the yang. A magnet is nothing without the north or south pole. Chocolate is better with vanilla. And for me, an orthodox liturgy is so wonderfully enriching along with a progressive worldview.
So how can this be? What is this thing all about? That’s where we’re going next…
First of all, to keep the peace
As a registered 9 on the Enneagram, I’m inclined to keep the peace before even jumping into the heat of this thing. Here’s my attempt to do as such.
I don’t write this to convert or convince you. If you happen to have a grand conversion because of this post, that’s on you, not me. I don’t care about changing your mind. If you’re still reading, my guess is maybe you’re game to hearing what I have to say. If not, no hard feelings. Your standing is still good with the Divine no matter what you do, so go in peace.
Christian diversity is. It just… Is. Seriously, how can anyone say that their way is the only way to be a Christian? It’s insane. (Please walk away from people who tell you that.)
Christianity has been around for thousands of years and has spanned the globe. My Lutheran church in Chicago is totally different than one, say, in rural Wyoming. I say we embrace the beauty in it. To not hold so much of a dualistic grasp on striving for ‘one way’, but to see Christianity as a beautiful buffet. From the enthusiasm of the Pentecostals to the quietude of the Quakers, I say all denominations should keep doing their thing their way. It’s beautiful.
I’m about to speak of a couple different versions of Christianity. I’m also about to take a side.
I admit that splitting this gigantic thing in two is a drastic simplification.
I’ll also say that by picking a side, I’m, by no means, damning the other side. I have many friends and loved ones on that ‘side’ who’ve found profound enrichment and nourishment there. More power to them. However, when it comes to hatred and harm, that ‘side’ can piss off (as can those on my ‘side’ who do the same).
I’m not a credentialed theologian (as of yet). I’m merely a layperson taking a stab at this thing. You’ve probably read more of the Bible than I have and have been a devout Christian for longer than me. I submit to your experience and expertise. If you try to ensnare me in some kind of deep theological battle of the minds, you’re going to be faced with air. I have a job and don’t have time to go to intellectual war. Go find another more worthy opponent, please. I don’t have the time or the reps in to do battle with you.
The two buckets I’m lumping everyone into today are conservative and progressive Christians. Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle, I don’t know. But you can probably identify with one more than the other. I, myself, identify with the latter, so there’s my bias. If you’re a hard-line conservative Christian, you’re not going to like this post. However, it’s always nice to stay open to other perspectives, right? Uh… Right?
Know that there are harder and softer sects of each camp. Also, know that I’m only touching on the major differences between the two. This is not a complete guide, but more of an overview.
Okay, I’m all done with the bold print… Ready?
Christian conservatives worship the God of supernatural theism — the ‘Man Upstairs’ as God is often referred to in our culture today. This God is a person-like male being who lives outside of our world who occasionally intervenes when the mood strikes him right but remains distant most of the time. He wrote a book a long time ago, but he’s been pretty inactive since his son died. On that point…
Jesus is seen, in conservative Christian eyes, as the literal son of God who was divinely sentenced to death for our sins so that we could be forgiven and go to a place called Heaven when we die (if we believe and/or do the right things).
Jesus is the promised Messiah who can show up again in the flesh at any moment and take all the good people with him to heaven while damning the rest to burn in a place called hell.
(Again, there are harder and softer forms of each category here and I fully realize I’m being really snarky here.)
The Bible’s Origin
For conservative Christians, the Bible is a divine product with divine authority. Conservative Protestants claim that this divine authority comes from the Bible. Conservative Catholics claim this authority is grounded in the church hierarchy (papal fallibility). The claim by conservative Christians of “The Bible is the Word of God” really means “The Bible holds the WORDS of God.” It’s essentially a Holy Encyclopedia that’s designed to be followed to a T.
Biblical Interpretation & Function
Conservative Christians make a literal and factual interpretation of the Bible. To them, God is a literal, linear thinker and has written his book as such. The sea really did part in two to let the Hebrew slaves escape the Egyptians, Mary actually was a virgin, Jesus totally walked on water, multiplied loaves, etc.
The Bible’s function is to serve as a divine revelation of doctrine and morals. God has written exactly how he wants us to live and the creeds are 100% on point.
Side-note: Conservative Christianity is not as old as you think. It’s actually a modern notion that was born out of the Enlightenment. Though it sounds traditional, it’s only a few hundred years old. People didn’t start writing about Biblical infallibility and inerrancy until the 1600’s. Papal infallibility wasn’t recorded until around 1870. Before the enlightenment, it wasn’t the literal meaning of the Bible that mattered most for Christians, but its ‘more-than-literal’ meaning.
The life focus of conservative Christians is on the afterlife and what to believe or do in order to be saved. They see ‘faith’ as ‘believing’ (and, because a male God who lives in the clouds and shakes his finger at some while blessing others is hard to believe, it takes a certain kind of faith).
For many, the blessing of an afterlife is the only reason to be a Christian and believe the things they’re ‘supposed to’ believe. Some talk about being loving in this life, but for many, it’s about requirements and rewards (the main prize of which is having an afterlife in the country club of Heaven after they croak). Some go to Heaven and some don’t (after all of that work, God can’t let every slacker in the world in, right?).
Side-note: What I find interesting is how conservative Christians often use the language of God’s grace, but they make grace conditional, which nullifies it. Okay, moving on…
Christian progressives see God as panentheistic (pan = ‘everything’ en = ‘in’ theistic = ‘God’).
This is slightly different than ‘pantheistic’. Pantheism sees God as the universe. Panentheism sees God as the material universe and that which transcends the material universe. Panentheism brings into account the ‘moreness’ of life that is not ‘of this world’. God is in us, around us and outside of us (that in which we live, move, and have our being in).
God is not seen as a separate person-like being apart from the universe, but as a sacred personal presence that is experienced and can be communed with.
Although the word ‘panentheism’ is modern, it beckons an ancient and biblical way of understanding God. This God is both personal and impersonal.
With progressive Christians, Jesus is both a historical life figure as well as a metaphor of God (according to us Christians, the metaphor of God). Jesus embodied a spirit-full life. He was a Jewish mystic (had many encounters with the luminous — aka, God) and a teacher. He was also a social activist who served as a huge thorn in the side of the power structures of his day.
Instead of building a huge temple and promising cash and prizes to his followers, he kept it real and told them that love, acceptance, and forgiveness was what mattered. He was no bliss bunny, though. He gravitated towards those who were ousted from the status quo (like criminals, leapers, prostitutes, and tax collectors). He had a bit of a temper. And he wasn’t a perfectly coiffed white dude. He was a lower class nomad of Middle Eastern descent.
Through his execution (which he totally could have avoided), he told the world that he’d rather die than keep up the ‘sin accounting business’ (as Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it) that the power structures of his day upheld.
And so we die daily to the power structures and accusers both within and without. This death is no cakewalk, but our resurrection into new life is glorious. This is a small glimpse into the value of Christ to progressive Christians.
The Bible’s Origin
For progressive Christians, the Bible is a human response to God. We acknowledge that people wrote the Bible. When we read about God changing his mind in the scriptures from a damning God to a more loving God, this is an account of humans changing their minds about what God means to them. Although these people may have been ‘divinely inspired’ as they wrote, they’re human nonetheless.
We also know that the Bible is not linear and a lot of it has been through the ringer as far as interpretation and omission has gone throughout the centuries. This doesn’t take away from its impact.
Biblical Interpretation & Function
Progressive Christians take a historical, metaphorical, and sacramental approach to the interpretation of the Bible.
It’s historical in that it’s the product of ancient Israel and early Christians. It was written for them, not for us in the postmodern world. We should interpret this book taking into account their ancient historical contexts.
It’s metaphorical in that it is more-than-literal and is focused on meanings, not literal accounts.
It’s sacramental in that the Bible can mediate the sacred. A sacrament is a visible and physical vehicle of the spirit.
The life focus of progressive Christians is based on relationship and transformation. It’s not about meeting requirements for a future reward after we kick ye olde bucket. It’s about how we relate to the divine presence of God that transforms us in this life. Faith isn’t so much about ‘believing in God’, but fostering an ongoing and forever deepening trust and relationship with God lived within our inherited Christian tradition as a metaphor and sacrament of the sacredness of our life.
The life focus of progressive Christians is based on relationship and transformation.
We also affirm religious pluralism and don’t think that Christianity is the only way to deepen this relationship with the divine. As for me, I think the Sufi’s have things down pretty good. However, because we were born into this tradition, we embrace it and have found our footing in it without having to cast any of the other faiths away.
So there you have it
A super brief layman’s perspective on progressive Christianity. Hopefully, it gives you a new perspective as far as the Jesus story goes. Like myself, I hope you find that this perspective carries real transformative power for this life we’re living now — not merely some contrived afterlife which may never come.
Alex and I have moved a lot over the years. It’s always sentimental. Especially those last run-throughs when the rooms are bare and your voice echoes when you’re checking for things you might have forgotten, asking yourself, “Is that it?”
But I gotta say, it gets way worse when you have kids.
Kids ruin you, emotionally, forever.
Right now, I’m looking at this bare house and am seeing Rory’s first steps. Her first sentences. And the time she tumbled down the concrete stairs in the back scaring Alex and I to death.
I’m not sad we’re moving, necessarily. We love our new place. But it’s not just a physical house we’re moving on from. It’s a collection of memories as a young family trying to figure it out.
I take issue with a topic that I write about regularly: Mindfulness.
Not the topic itself — that’s all well and great — but the name.
When I think of ‘mindfulness’ I think of a ‘mind’ that’s ‘full’. In other words, it can seem that the aim of this thing is to get up in your head.
And that’s exactly what those of us who consider ourselves ‘mindful’ do. We eat, sleep, and breathe mental… stuff. We meditate, pray, affirm, release, etc.
Meanwhile, I believe we’re missing out on a lot of our… Lives.
Well, I want to propose the opposite buzzword: Mindlessness.
I know. It has a bad connotation. But I think we can make it work.
It’s really the perfect word. See, I want LESS on my mind. The point should not be to fill my mind up with more mental chatter, but to let that stuff pass through unimpeded so I can BE (not ‘think’) in the moment.
Now. And now. And now.
We’re splitting hairs with definitions here. I do apologize. But I hope you see where I’m coming from.
Mindlessness can be a good thing. If done in a mindful fashion... Erm, mindless… Whatever.
I live in Reno. This place has a certain beauty and vibrancy to it. It has so much potential, but… Yeah… We’re moving to a smaller town closer to the mountains and away from so many people.
As I write this, fireworks are going off... Again.
Three days a week, fireworks are going off downtown. For whatever reason. Sometimes it’s because of a baseball game. Or a car/motorcycle festival. Or a Beer Crawl, Santa Crawl, Zombie Crawl, Pokemon Crawl, Steampunk Crawl, Mardi Crawl, Sci-Fi Crawl, Pirate Crawl, Pajama Crawl, or any of the dozens of other crawls this town has to generate a few bucks for the bars, casinos, and liquor stores downtown.
I know what you’re thinking…
Why are you complaining about fireworks? Fireworks are awesome!
Not these. These fireworks, you have to be right underneath to see. They typically shoot them off from the baseball stadium instead of from the top of the larger buildings in town, so in reality, most of us who end up experiencing the fireworks (involuntarily) can only hear them. From our homes. As our kids try to sleep.
I don’t know about you, but hearing a 15 minute series of faux gunshots and bomb-blasts at 10pm that only a few people too inebriated to notice can really enjoy seems like a horrible idea as far as a city-planning perspective is concerned. I don’t know if they’re trying to impress us or drive us out of town.
I mean, maybe the organizations who produce the fireworks should pool their money to put towards a new homeless shelter or the dismal school system in the area. That might be a better way to make the community better rather than embarking in mass acts of noise pollution.
But no… The Reno community sets off fireworks three times a week. Which are cool. On the fourth of July. When you’re 10 years old.
I can’t wait to move to the sleepy town we’re in the process of moving to. No fireworks. Just music in the park in the summer. Farmers markets. Christmas markets. That’s about it.
Am I getting old or what? Damn, I’m a curmudgeon. Have a great weekend everyone. No existential point to this one. Just a little grumble grumble as I sit perched on my sofa.
Maybe you can relate to it. Perhaps we can find solidarity in our snootiness. I think I’m gonna go fire off those old M-80’s I have in my junk drawer now.
Here I am looking out through my eyes. I can move my hands and toes. But if my body is me, who is the ‘me’ whose body this is?
(Cue mysterious music… Thank you.)
I also find myself identifying with my self-image…
But my self-image is just made up of fleeting thoughts that change moment-to-moment. I can say that I am these thoughts, but who is the ‘me’ who’s experiencing them?
Certain experts say that I am my feelings…
These also change, depending on my thought in the moment. I can say they’re my feelings, but who is the ‘me’ who’s feeling them?
Who is the one who’s having an experience of being me?
Makes the wheels turn, right? Good. Me too.
Pondering this stuff helps us look in the right direction to the root of it all.
The ‘thing’ that we are is hardly ever what we think it is.
Who we are is the formless, creative intelligence behind our experience.
We are not this body, this self-image, or these feelings. We are the maestro behind the scenes orchestrating it all, moment-to-moment. When we forget this, the maestro puts the baton down and everything gets out of whack.
Is this useful information? Practical? Or just existential mumbo jumbo?
I think weird stuff sometimes… That’s just me though, right?
Like about the dude I was just driving behind... The one who was going 20 on a long stretch of 45 mph road. Just him and me.
Not many things get under my fingernails like slothfulness. Leisure is fine. But slothfulness… Guh.
I wrote his entire life story in about 20 seconds behind the wheel of our Kia Soul (whatever — it’s economical, okay).
He was a drunk convenience store manager who was horrible to his kids. His neighbors were constantly calling the cops on him because they’d catch him naked on their front lawn at 3am, mumbling and grumbling at the top of his lungs in a drunken stupor.
For awhile I wasn’t sure if these weird thoughts were from just being overtired. But now, after reading and watching plenty of others who’ve claimed to have these same types of whimsies running like twinkle fairies on angel dust through their minds, I’ve finally decided this is just part of the human condition.
We humans tend to think weird, insane, inappropriate stuff. All the time.
Makes me wonder — how do we do it? How do we function in a somewhat organized society? It’s amazing, really.
I used to think the key was getting a hold of my thoughts. Being able to wrangle and manage them. I’d get so disappointed. Not THAT thought again. Here we go. A whole flood more just like that one.
The more I pushed against them, the faster they’d come at me, some with pitchforks and torches. But I looked around and only I was there. It was me against me. How ridiculous.
I’ve learned that it’s not about overcoming these thoughts. It’s about noticing them. Finding amusement in them. And getting comfy with the power and thrust they have in my experience.
I can lay the sword down, kick my feet up, and let them entertain me at my leisure. (They tend to laugh back if I laugh with them.) I can even write about them.
Occasionally, I get caught up in their drama. But isn’t that what this whole ride as humans is all about?
I’m not sure about you, but I came here for a damn good movie. Not a numbed-out experience in a remote cave.
Examine the thoughts. Give them notice. See what they invite you to. But have the wherewithal to shift if they start taking you down long, dark, windy roads and the audacity to laugh in their faces if they start getting too serious.
When we think of ‘going big’, we see ourselves starting a thing or creating art that effects jillions (yes, jillions) of people.
It was really bizarre. I went to my first Dave Matthews Band concert this past weekend (don’t judge) at the famed Gorge Amphitheater. As great as it was to finally see one of my favorite artists live, the venue itself was a spiritually excavating setting.
27,000 people. On a grassy hillside. Overlooking the Columbia River in eastern Washington. Incredible.
At one time, I started thinking… “Damn. This is a lot of people gathered in one extremely remote location across three days for the admiration of a few dudes. And it’s only a small fraction of their following.”
This took me down the rabbit hole of — “Wow, there’s about 25,000 people who follow Higher Thoughts. Like, all these people in this huge venue.” (Not that every single one of them would show up for me in the boonies of Washington — but stay with me here and let me dream.)
When I got back, I couldn’t get this picture out of my mind. Like everyone at the Gorge was sitting on the other side of my computer screen, waiting for me to hit Publish.
After some initial stress and heart palpitations, an insight struck…
A particular passage from Montaigne arose (which I had to look up for accuracy-sake)…
You and one companion are audience enough for each other; so are you for yourself. For you, let the crowd be one, and one be a crowd… You should no longer be concerned with what the world says of you but with what you say to yourself. Withdraw into yourself, but first prepare yourself to welcome yourself there. It would be madness to entrust yourself to yourself, if you did not know how to govern yourself. There are ways of failing in solitude as in society. Montaigne
This is the work we have in front of us. Inner-approval first and foremost. Your audience is you. Always. (Everything I write is just as much for me as it is for you 😁)
I don’t want to see you explode on the scene. I want to see you implode and create from within.
If you’re creating something that you find useful/enjoyable, keep at it. But if you’re chasing the audience without paying homage to your soul, something will ALWAYS be missing (no matter how many people are standing on that grassy hillside hoping you don’t lose your voice at the end of your tour).
I want you to be so gung-ho about what you’re bringing to the world that you can be elated with it even while the world around you is rolling their eyes.
Implode. Go within. Light yourself afire.
Sure… Take the occasional peek to see who might be paying attention. But never forget where the true audience lies.
Gary Vaynerchuk has lately been going off about the topic — ‘Document, don’t create.’ Essentially, what he’s pointing to is the value in showing your process — with all the ups and downs — along the way rather than just shelling out advice and expertise.
It would be really cool to have content right now about when Vera Wang started learning — like, literally learning — how to create a dress. Gary Vaynerchuk
As much as I love this concept, hearing it made my palms sweat.
Don’t we need to establish authority from the starting line? Who’s going to hire me if they see that I’m just ‘learning’ something? Would I buy Vera Wang dresses if I knew she was just a… Beginner?
The advice I received long ago was to only share your flaws after the fact. Like, after you’ve succeeded. Then, and only then, can you touch on your failures.
I think it’s much smarter for you to talk to the world about your process of going through this than the advice you think you should be giving them. Gary Vaynerchuk
After sitting with it for awhile, my fears subsided. My ego calmed down, and — as is usual with the mind — clearer thoughts started showing up. I actually got a boost from this message.
It made me think back to when I started Higher Thoughts and blogging daily. I had zero clue what my end goal was. I just wanted to share a higher thought from my human experience every single day. That was it. That’s what drove me.
The content just so happened to end up being generally about creativity, mindfulness, and living better.
But then the ego swoops in…
You gotta find your niche. Stay on-topic and (again) ‘build authority’.
Well, here’s the thing about ‘building authority’...
When everyone’s a self-proclaimed ‘authority’, no one is.
I know… Establishing expertise seems like the best business decision around. But I believe, at this point in time, the real business is the business of being human.
Gary Vee’s thoughts have sparked my insatiable urge to reconvene with and share my day-to-day truth, which was the fuel to this daily collection of thoughts to begin with.
I’d say this is universal among humans. We want to get the truth out. The ugly, dirty, and beautiful of it.
So here it is. My documentation, if you will.
In actuality, I don’t know who/what I am, exactly. I wouldn’t call myself an ‘authority’. I’m just a guy who loves to write and share. I’ve fought my share of dragons and have had some of the most incredible insights along the way and it’s really cool when my little essays end up helping others in their human experience and creative journeys.
I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing professionally a month from now, a year, or a decade. But there’s one thing I know I’ll always be for the duration, and that is… a human. And as long as I’m a human, I’ll continue documenting my work, sharing my process, and asking myself the timeless question that Montaigne asked throughout his life:
“How to live?”
(Yes, this particularly snooty ending was intentional #highbrow #ftw)