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.
Yeah, I know. You think I’m insane because, just two months ago, I started writing about how I’ve been enjoying my tip-toe back into Roman Catholicism.
Trust me, I think I’m insane too. Because here I go now... Lutheranism. Talk about a 180, right¹? But this is the curse of a blogger. Because we publish so often, you see each little increment of our lives in depth.
[Side Note] Yep, I put footnotes in this post. You can find them in (you guessed it) the bottom of the post 👇.
I have to laugh at myself. As I’ve said before, stepping into a Roman Catholic church was nostalgically nice. It reconnected my wife and I to the church we were married in and to our past as Roman Catholic kids. It was refreshing to have no idea what I was doing and to have zero chance of getting politically involved, etc. after helping open a spiritual center/church.
But the Roman Catholic church was still… the Roman Catholic church. Big, sprawling, ornate (elements I liked, in fact), and politically askew in a few big ways, in my opinion.
Still, we were going to give it a shot. We had no notions of leaving…
And then I found the work of Pr. Nadia Bolz-Weber.
Take a minute to acquaint yourself here if you haven’t already…
Pastor Nadia: Clerical collar. Liturgical tattoos. Well-spoken. Foul-mouthed. Prophetic.
I was intrigued, to say the least, so I started looking into Lutheranism (at least the lineage that Nadia is a part of; as I’ve said, every religion holds the spectrum of humanity, from fundamentalist conservative to progressively liberal) and was blown away by how it seemed to be so well aligned to where I am, theologically speaking².
I had no idea. I always thought of Lutheranism to be a modern mainline evangelical Protestant tradition. But when I jumped on YouTube and watched a service, I was essentially watching a Catholic mass with a female priest (pastor, as they call them).
Some things I’m learning…
The first big ‘yay’ my wife and I gave Lutheranism was when we learned that the clergy is allowed to marry — even in a same-sex marriage.
They’re liturgy-based, offering the Eucharist and Sacraments, much like the Roman Catholic church (huge, for us).
And politically, this branch of traditionally liturgical and theologically progressive Lutheranism speaks our language.
I immediately began reading Nadia’s books, watching her videos, and generally obsessing (like I do) over Lutheranism. Here’s what I learned to be some of the main underpinnings of the faith (from Pastrix, Pastor Nadia’s memoir)…
God’s grace is a gift that is freely given to us. We don’t earn a thing when it comes to God’s love and we only try to live in response to that gift.
No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different than spiritual self-improvement.
We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time.
The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.
The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety and goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.
The biggest one for me is this, right here…
We receive God’s grace through faith, not works.
We cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions. God’s love and grace is an unconditional gift. We need not be somebody or do anything to deserve it. It’s free and is only to be received by faith.
I can’t tell you how refreshing this was after my long journey in modern Oprahism (yes, I’m making that a word — or should it be, Winfreyism?) spirituality (“You must raise your consciousness and be more ‘spiritually sophisticated’”) and my brief stint back into Roman Catholicism (“You must do the ‘good works’ that righteous worshippers do in order to receive God’s grace.”)³.
‘The way of Glory’ and other Lutheran no’s
Another thing I’m loving — LOVING — about the Lutheran faith is its stance against what they call ‘the way of Glory’. In short, this means using personal charisma, the sword, miracles, rewards, reason, etc. — to promote even righteous causes. They say no to ‘Christian armies’ using force to spread or secure the faith to modern Christian groups using slick advertising techniques and promises of ‘cash and prizes’ (as Pr. Nadia says it) to manipulate people into the ‘kingdom’.
This got me... My past spiritual Winfreyistic path was driven by personal charisma, miracles and rewards. And I was one of the marketing people.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
But this faith —‘ the way of the cross ’ as Lutherans call it — is more about dying to the small, boastful, manipulative, insecure self in order to allow the resurrection from our divine source which is constantly trying to smash in and pull us towards a renewed life.
No to a religion which proves itself by miracles, answered prayer, worldly blessings, fulfilled prophecy, or rational thought.
No to a religion which validates itself by worldly standards of success, strength, effectiveness.
No to a religion which uses worldly power techniques to make history come out right or to fit a certain definition of ‘righteousness’.
No to a religion which promises certitude or life without questions or risk.
No to a religion which asks us to only believe doctrines about God rather than introducing us to a living God who calls for radical change.
No to a religion which offers the joy of ‘living with Jesus’ without facing our sinful ways — our egotistical, over-consumptive, earth-destroying, people-oppressing patterns of life.
No to a religion which offers personal salvation without living, serving, growing, struggling, and celebrating with the body of Christ, the church.
No to a religion which avoids the pervasive Biblical themes of sharing food with the hungry, caring about the poor and oppressed, living as good stewards of God’s creation.
No to a religion which fulfills our human need to have higher status than others, to be better than others, to have ‘outsiders’ or ‘unbelievers’ to despise.
No to a religion which provides divine approval for the assumptions of a particular nation, culture, society, economic system, or race.
No to a religion which provides a way we can bargain for, work for, or earn our status as saved persons.
No to a religion which teaches ‘going to heaven when I die’ as the main reason to believe in God.
No to a religion which avoids teaching that the crucifixion is both the sacrificial atoning act of Christ and the example of the way of life we are to follow.
And I like their ‘yesses’…
Yes to a religion dedicated to human liberation.
Yes to a religion in solidarity with human pain.
Yes to a religion that allows the freedom to be human, weak, and vulnerable.
As I get ankle-deep (if that) into this faith, I’m met with seeing how much of a sinner I’ve been. But I’m also getting — at a visceral level — how perfectly okay that is and how, looking back on my life, it’s been true… God will keep on breaking into my life to proclaim the truth about herself and the world that’s opening before me.
I’m not saying Lutheranism is perfect. Far from it. Every human institution is flawed — from atheism to paganism to theism and beyond. Every sect has elements of sin involved and Lutheranism is one of the guiltiest. I’m well aware that Luther was a completely evil guy at times. I understand how his antisemitism was used to fuel German officials to justify the Holocaust.
But again — this God we’re dealing with refuses to let that little man’s ego to be the last word. I know that the Lutheran church I’ve been attending would be one of the first to speak out against such atrocities today.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
From my extremely limited understanding of Lutheranism, I’m seeing a religion that I know I’m thirsty for (and I think a lot of us Americans are at this socio-political moment). In our western world, the few overindulge while the rest of the world wallows in poverty and hunger. This system is not set up for ‘us’. And that’s why so many of us westerners suffer from anxiety and depression. The chicken of our past greed and consumption is coming home to roost.
I’m done ascribing anxiety to brain chemical stuff. I’m no neuroscientist, but I think all the chemical imbalances are a reaction to the environment we’ve created, not the cause of it.
We’ve created a situation out west that’s unsustainable as we continue polluting our earth, creating welfare systems for the rich, and bloating our international killing power as our safety net continues fraying and our digital lives keep us on the hamster wheel that sends us fruitlessly in the direction away from our souls⁵.
It’s here that we meet a God who hangs on a cross and suffers right along with us. One who’s beat death through unconditional grace. One who’s taken the violence out of circulation and resurrected it in everlasting life.
(Or something like that.)
So, here we go… It’s nice (and extremely terrifying) to be a rookie Lutheran.
May you know that love underlies your being no matter your past and that grace is constantly entering into your human experience no matter how walled off you are to it.
This, in itself, changes everything.
Before you go…
Hey, I’m Jonas Ellison. I chronicle my life and faith on this here publication, Cricket Hill, which is currently the top spirituality publication on Medium.com. You can also find my work in The Huffington Post, Observer, Thought Catalog, The Mission, Good Men Project, and more.
To get my missives for free via email along with other fun stuff, click here.
 It’s crazy how, although I’m an ‘Interfaith’ theology student (the world’s main religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Sufism, Taoism, etc.), life has taken me down an ‘Innerfaith’ path (exploring the Christian traditions alone seems to be enough to keep me busy). And I’m SUPER fortunate that my wife and I have stayed united on this circuitous journey 🙏 .
 Now, I will say, when we were in Europe a few years ago, my wife and I visited Wartburg castle, where Martin Luther translated the New Testament of the Bible into German, but we had no intention — zero — of even considering Lutheranism at the time. Here we are…
 I keep saying ‘Roman’ before ‘Catholic’ because Lutherans consider themselves ‘Catholic’ — meaning ‘universal’ — but not ‘Roman Catholic’. Luther didn’t want to break away from the Roman Catholic church, but to be a part of the continuation of the universal church.
 Yes, I know I’m using digital means to reach you now, but I hope it puts a wrench in the gears of your particular hamster wheel rather than perpetuating it.
For brevity sake, I won’t go into the full backstory here (but if you’re interested, here ya go). If you follow my work, you know I had a stint where I helped open a New Thought church and was really into that spiritual tradition for quite a long time. You might also know that things didn’t really work out with said church.
Okay, you’re all caught up.
So for a month or so, my family and I have been just… hanging out… on Sundays. Which is weird because for the last six months, Sunday has largely been a work day for me.
I’d get up early, load up the red dragon (our trusty Kia Sportage) with plastic bins (it’s a rented space, so it was a church-in-a-box situation) and head downtown where I’d help situate things, prepare my spiel (if I was up that particular week to do the ‘Welcome to church’ thing), set up the livestream on Facebook, shake hands, welcome guests, and generally go into minister-in-training mode. Then I’d stay late, shake more hands, roll up the cords and pack up my equipment, load up the bins, throw them in my garage, and get home around 2 or 3.
My wife and I live about 500 feet from a beautiful Catholic church. Our background is Catholic. We were married in a Catholic church. But we’re coming out of an I’m-mad-at-you-Catholic-church stage. Like many other Catholics, we hit a point (around 2008) where we rebelled. We were kinda like, psssht. Eff that guilt and dogma stuff. That old white guy in the clouds with the beard is a drummed up version of Santa Claus that we don’t believe in. We don’t like the fact that so many priests have done the molestation thing. We’re rational westerners and we’re out.
And we bounced. Goodbye Catholicism. Hello Atheism. Hello rationalism.
The world was right. (For awhile.) And then we had a kid. And we realized something was… missing.
That’s when we found contemporary spirituality (actually, I’d been a bit of a spirituality junkie long before that) and a New Thought church. It was so nice to have a spiritual community. And a progressive one! One that wasn’t Jesus-centered. One that touted a guilt-free, dogma-free atmosphere!
I went all-in (like I do). Eventually got involved with New Thought ministry. Moved to Chicago. And recently realized, upon the not-working-out-of-things, ohhhh… There is a strong sense of guilt and dogma and shame (albeit a less direct, more passive-aggressive one) even in this community that touts the absence of those things.
Wow, self — I said to myself — Guilt and dogma are human things. They’re baked into the human condition. It has nothing to do with the ‘church’, per-se. It has to do with the way we’re wired and how our cultural narrative is arranged.
Every day since we’ve lived here these past nine months, we’ve walked by that big, beautiful Catholic church and nostalgia has started to seep in.
Personally, I never had a huge issue with my Catholic upbringing. Mass put me to sleep, but beyond that, it was a pleasant experience. And Jesus — I think he’s woefully misunderstood.
My wife was a little more attached to the church growing up, so her rebellion was a bit more intense.
However, time has smoothed the jagged edges wrought from our deconstruction of Catholicism. (Plus, I’ve really been enjoying the readings of progressive Catholic thinkers like Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Dorothy Day, and others who’ve offered hope in this ancient tradition.) Through my Interfaith ministry studies, mystical Catholicism has grown more and more intriguing to me. And, like I said, it’s a mere 500 ft. away.
So, the other Sunday, we went.
It was weird not getting up super early, not loading up the car, not setting up any media, not having the pressure to be ‘on’. But just going in and sitting with my family in the midst of a tradition that’s been going on — in one form or another — for thousands of years in a community of billions of people.
Thousands. Billions. The grandiosity of Catholicism is palpable.
That’s the first thing that struck me as we walked in. The largeness of the building. The architectural beauty (the church was built in 1902) is astounding (as Catholic churches are).
During my deconstruction of Catholicism, I resented this. Why does God need a huge, expensive building? I mean, how many people are they guilting money out of so that they can build and maintain these things?
(You know, the necessary questions. Questions every Catholic likely has to a degree, but might not want to embrace.)
And now, after coming back, I see it differently. I see it through the softer eyes of someone who’s consciously returning to something… special. Sacred, in fact.
It’s like the energy between you and a loved one after the argument. You said what you needed to say and it’s better now. The air is lighter. You can laugh about it a little. Yes, you’re both a little apprehensive, but in their presence, you just feel… Good.
First off, I had no idea what to do. The moves — I totally forgot them. When to bow, when to kneel, what to say, when to say it. Gone.
I realized that I’m a really horrible Catholic. I’ve always been a horrible Catholic. And it’s fantastic.
Even way back when I used to fall asleep in my mother’s arms in mass due to extreme boredom. To when the nuns yelled at me and my friend, Eloy, for playing too rough in Catechism.
And stumbling over myself in there the other day, I absolutely loved it. My imperfection blends right in there. There were so many of us under that roof that it didn’t matter one bit.
What a great metaphor for life.
As I knelt there on that pew and gazed up at the stained glass, I felt something essential to the human experience…
I felt small. And it was incredible.
In that Catholic church, as a mother holding her year-old-ish baby on her hip while reading the missal made way for a robe-laden priest spoke a warm message so soft that it was almost inaudible, I felt like a small part of a larger… body.
Looking around, I saw what looked like a real community. Babies, kids, siblings, young parents, older folks, ragged, dapper, male, female,
all of us together in one Holy Body.
The Body of Christ. Perhaps?
They talked about their efforts in the community. Feeding the hungry. Providing shelter. And a few other muffled things that I didn’t hear (I tell ya, they have to work on their sound system there, the words just fly up into the air and dissipate before hitting the ears). I felt community there. Real community.
I was small again. My ego was disarmed. Ahhhhhhh… Utter relief.
It’s what we love so much about standing at the foot of a mountain range, giant tree, skyscraper, or while looking into the eyes of a newborn…
It takes the weight off of our shoulders. The world doesn’t revolve around the demands and insecurities of our individual egos. As terrifying as that can be, at a deeper level, it’s incredibly healing.
In our western culture, it’s all about the individual. Modern spirituality has fallen into this groove as well. The New Thought church I was involved in was like going to a mini Tony Robbins event every Sunday. Much of it is about individual manifestation, the law of attraction, prosperity gospel, and materialism.
(Yes, I’m fully aware that I’m going through a bit of a rebellious stage towards modern spirituality, and I’m totally good with that.)
But right now, I like feeling small. It’s so nourishing.
And I’m loving being a really horrible Catholic.
Edited: Since writing this post, I’ve actually converted to Lutheranism:) Read more here.
You’re the dad. That one. The one at the park with your kid and wife. You leap from platform to platform. You climb with great speed up the ladder. And slide with deft down the twisty slide. All the while Shouting with glee.
I’m the lava monster, yaaaaahhh!!!
Us other dads have clearly been outmatched. We have never been Nor will we ever be As fun or as lively As you.
We look at each other Hands in our pockets. Some of us try to step it up. We run a little. Some of us clap.
But we all watch…
Watch as you fly across the zipline. Feet kicked up high. Will it hold? Or will it snap? Sending you to the earth Knocking the wind out of you And bringing the lava monster To its demise.
Your dockers and wingtips are like a professional dad uniform. Amazing, the support they provide As you jump off the top level by the steering wheels and drums Landing far below.
That one was a little much. Pretty sure that was against park rules. Other kids are copying you now. Mothers are angry. And I see it might have hurt your right knee a little. But victorious you rise Arms outstretched and hairy belly shamelessly revealed To all the dads who bow at your feet As you shout Braveheart-style…
I am the lava monster! Yaaargh!!
Now you’re on the see saw Having so. Much. Fun. Bouncing higher than ever. Face red. Smile beaming. I’ve never seen a see saw move so violently. Your little girl flew off. I think she might be hurt. Nope, she’s good. You leap off and run to the rope ladder web thing Where you scale to the top So fast So fast.
You run up the twisty slide. Pretty sure that’s another infraction. Other kids follow your lead. More angry moms. More angry moms.
You are that dad. You are the lava monster.
Now my little girl is asking me Daddy, can you be the lava monster?
No, honey, I can’t. There is only room enough for one at this park.
She’s disappointed, I know. She turns away and stares at you As you spin around on the spinny thing Maxing out the weight limit.
Bold move, friend. Bold move.
You shout and you growl and you spit your fire Just like a real life Lava monster.
Other dads are starting to leave now Clearly defeated Clearly outmatched Clearly out-funned.
Sweat oozes out of every pore of your brow. Your work clothes aren’t the breathable type. They might be great for selling insurance But not for owning the role of The lava monster.
You’re spent now. Good show, old sport. I want to walk up and shake your hand. Good match. But that might just be weird.
You gather your clan. Jump in your van. And off, you speed. Another day won.
It’s just me and my daughter there now…
I am the lava monster!!!!! Yaaaargh!!!!
And she says it…
Dad… Stop acting weird.
Jonas Ellison is a writer who blogs about his life over at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily-ish missives and musings at JonasEllison.com
This is where he used to sit in front of an open window on the first floor of his downtown London apartment… Naked.
Here’s what an article from the Smithsonian said about it…
And early most mornings, before he set to work, Franklin would sit, he wrote to a friend in France in 1768, “without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season,” at his open, first-floor window, letting the air circulate over his, by then, considerable bulk. What the neighbors thought is apparently not recorded.
Got the visual of seeing ole’ Benny Franks sitting there sprawled out naked in his living room soaking in the breeze? Doesn’t seem very founding-fatherly in the puritanical sense, but ya know what — that man had it figured out.
Connecting with the physical world around us is something most of us don’t do very often today. We’re so caught up in our heads and in our electronic devices that we live a large percentage of our lives not… here.
I mean, forget about meditation in the technical sense. No need to pay a guru a couple grand for a mantra. Also, no need to take an air bath (although, if you’re bold enough and have the wherewithal to do so — take advantage).
Just set your timer for noon and 3pm (or pick whatever other times work best for you). When it goes off, stop what you’re doing (if you’re not driving or operating heavy machinery), look around, take a big abdominal breath, let it all out, feel the ground beneath your feet and soak in to the sensory smorgasbord your five senses provide you in every moment.
What are you smelling, seeing, hearing, tasting, and feeling against your skin?
We’re constantly walking on holy ground.
We’re so caught up in our thinking. So much chatter. So much distraction. So much judging of self and others. Our defense mechanisms are constantly triggered. It’s trade wars this and nuclear that.
Stop. Let the chatter do its thing. Pull back from it. And sink in to the world around you.
It’s still a little chilly here in Chicago for an air bath, but I’ll see what tomorrow holds. Me in my birthday suit with a cold beer, an open window, and the Masters on TV seems like a fantastic Sunday afternoon.
Not sure if my wife and daughter would agree, but that’s their problem, I suppose.
Being from rural Nevada, these block party shenanigans are new to us. But apparently, in Chicago, they’re the norm. A big reason why we moved out here was that we wanted a more community feel. Out west, people seem to drive straight in the garage and zombie out inside for the evening.
We had a block party tonight.
Families on stoops Cubs hats strong midwest accents whose toys are these go ahead they’re yours so nice to have you here we’ve been here for 6 years 25 years firepits s’mores on the sidewalk sweaty handshakes more drinks.
We lucked out moving to this street. Not all streets in Chicago are like this. But this is what community feels like.
I could hang out with everyone on my block for hours. Such kind, quirky, classy-but-comfortable, down-to-earth-but-not-bumpkin people.
Tonight reminded me that community is a human thing. Our souls yearn for it. It’s dangerous to be isolated. That’s coming from the fingertips of someone who, just a few years ago, was one of the most hardened individualistic introverts around.
The following is a journal entry (edited for your readability) that I recently did. It’s a character sketch of my beard. Enjoy…
I am Jonas’ beard. I am very itchy. Especially at this point (I just turned three weeks old, yay!).
I make Jonas feel confident. I make him feel like a man.
His wife hates me, but loves me. I disgust her, but I make her desire him.
So what does that mean? I think it means she desires me, but I’ll give Jonas the credit (I’d hate for him to murder me again like he’s done several times before).
Jonas never knew his dad without a beard. Can you imagine not seeing your father’s jaw line — ever? Weird, right?
Before he died, his dad told him that the reason he had it was because, when he was a young man, he had a job at a gas station. One day, a big truck came through with a flat tire. So, he went, jacked the car up, inserted the tire iron, pulled it back with all his might to pry the mighty tire, and BAM! It slipped from his grip and nailed him in the jaw. Knocked him unconscious after shattering some teeth and leaving his face broken and bloodied.
Apparently, that scar was nasty. It made him self conscious.
I think I make Jonas feel closer to his dad. Even though he’s not around anymore, I remind him of that special man every time he itches me. Just like his dad did with his.
I hope I stop itching soon, though. Else it’s off with my head.
I remember moving to Chicago the first time, back in 2008. It was a new adventure. I was leaving the small town rural life behind for new horizons. I was leaving the ordinary world for the stormy, husky, brawling city.
When I got to Chicago, I felt so… Alive.
Chicago ended up not working out the first time. Being that we were in the midst of a worldwide recession, money ran short. We decided to head back home to northern Nevada closer to family after a two-year slugfest with the big city.
Human capital is a great thing when you’re feeling low, both spiritually and financially.
I remember that move back home. It was a rough one. We returned, tail between our legs, defeated by the city of big shoulders. That’s hard on the ego. So what did my ego do? It did its typical judo reversal and bashed the big city. My personal narrative went something like this...
Ugh, yeah, Chicago sucks. It’s too cold in the winter. Too hot in the summer. Crime and homelessness everywhere. So much nicer here at home.
The ego forces us to choose. To define. To pick black or white.
We grew to love it back home. And then this opportunity came up for us in Chicago. All of a sudden, the ego did the same thing.
Yeah, small town living is lame. We need more than this. There’s not much to do here. So boring. Chicago is so much better.
But this time, I called my ego and its dualistic hijinks out on the floor. And I realized that it was just doing its thing, being a helpful decision-making tool.
But it’s limiting. Severely limiting.
Yes, the ego forces us to choose. To define. To pick black or white. But the spirit has room for infinity.
I just went for a walk tonight like I do every night with my dog. It’s a warm late summer’s night. Our neighborhood here in Chicago is sublime. It’s just quiet enough but lively enough. It’s clean but vintage. It’s friendly but not intrusive.
And then, my thoughts took me back home. The Sierras were practically in our backyard. Lake Tahoe was 20 minutes away. Crime was zero.
No, ego. I can say yes to both. I can love both. I can fully own the fact that both can live in the same sacred space.
School just started this week in my neighborhood. Since I typically walk the dog in the morning, I get to navigate through streets flooded with parents and kids scurrying toward the big red brick building that takes up so much of their lives.
It’s charming to see the fanfare that is back to school week. But on a couple occasions, I’ve witnessed the terror — especially for the little ones — that this time of year holds: A parent or two walking hastily down the street with a somber, robotic, even an enraged expression on his or her face as their 3, 4, or 5-year-old kid screams at the top of their lungs, I don’t wanna go!!!!
It’s enough to make me want to curl up under an existential blanket and hide there until Rory turns 10 (they’re usually over the dread by then, right?).
This hits home for me because, a year ago, when we introduced her to a new school back in Nevada, she cried every single day at drop off for five months.
Five. Months. Every. Single. Day.
Do you know how heart wrenching that is? A couple times, as soon as I got home, I sat down with my face in my hands and bawled.
What kind of monster am I to just take my only kid to a building full of strangers and abandon her there? One time, I just took her back home with me. I didn’t have it in me that day.
Looking back, I know it’s absurd to feel such guilt (and I knew she was totally fine as soon as we left — at least that’s what the teachers told us), but it kind of makes sense. Our kids want to be around us. They want to be home. And we should be so fortunate. Because one day, they’ll be 16. And we’ll be wondering why they never talk to us anymore.
Rory started preschool today. At a new school. In a new city. With new faces. And new surroundings. It’s a big day. A day that takes as much spiritual fortitude as a parent can muster.
I know it’s cliche, but they do grow up so fast. I took the photo above because it’s about the last part of her that’s still a little baby. Those indented knuckles. Like tiny little craters on a soft, peach fuzzy moon. Her little fingernails with nail polish chipped from digging around for sticks and rocks in the yard.
When we took her to school, she walked right in. Smiled. Waved. And she was off.
Hold on, Father Time. Give me a second. And never let me forget to enjoy this.
I read this in Anne Lamott’s new book, Hallelujah Anyway (which is fantastic, btw, of course) this morning…
Rilke wrote: “I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie.”
We got folded by trying as hard as we could to make everyone happy, to please everyone, and to fill every moment with productivity. Our grown-ups said this would bring approval, and approval would bring satisfaction, and they would like us more. But we also learned to sabotage ourselves so they wouldn’t feel eclipsed.”
I don’t know about you, but I get this on such a deep level...
I remember being around eleven years old when my uncle Ken came over for dinner. Ken was married to my mom’s sister before they divorced. But while they were married, he and my dad became as close as brothers and stayed that way (with the typical brotherly spat here and there).
Ken worked for UPS for thirty something years before he retired. He worked the night shift, so he’d often come over and hang out with us during his lunch break at around 8 or 9pm.
Ken was a riot. He liked to drink — a lot — but he was fun loving enough if he liked you. Back in the day, his hobby was bar fighting. I remember him having me push on his nose to show me his battle scar of having no cartilage in there anymore. It’d been beaten out by bikers, shift workers, and truckers across the US. His knuckles were scarred and flattened into a plank.
But he eventually found Jesus and was ‘saved’. (I can be cynical about that, but it truly did get him out of the shit.)
Anyhow, he was a joker. He was loud in everything he did. He lit up a room. He was my favorite uncle (sorry, other uncles, I love you too). I wanted to be that funny and lively. And I did everything to impress him.
So, back to this one occasion when he came over for a late dinner (which was actually his lunch break): Having an inclination for wisecracks myself, I recall saying something, and all of a sudden, my dad got reeeally quiet. Like, bad quiet.
I knew I did it. I overstepped.
When my uncle left, my dad let me have it. He said — or growled — something to the effect of, “You’d better never say anything as stupid as that again when we have guests over. You keep your ridiculous jokes to yourself.”
That got to me. I accepted the idea that my humor was hurtful. And I became extra sensitive and even more shy than I’d already been when guests came over.
I was crushed. I remember thinking that what I said wasn’t THAT bad. But it triggered him. It made him look small.
In his mind, it eclipsed him.
That shadow hung around for a long time. Until I rolled back the shades one day.
Welcome! I’m Jonas Ellison, the Chief/Sole Editor and Head Janitor around these parts and I’m honored to have such a motley crew of folks like you who read this publication. I’d love to make your experience here as comfy cozy as possible.
I’m a writer, a husband, a father, a friend, a foe, and a lot of other things that aren’t relevant here.
In the spring of 2015, I started a daily blog. What began as a 30-day creative experiment turned into an addiction and eventually a life purpose. Four years and 1400+ posts later, I somehow ended up with the #1 single-author publication here at Medium.com with a readership of over 70,000 people (way more than I can fit into my living room).
Today, this publication is more of a twice-a-week occasion and my daily musings have moved to my private email newsletter (which you can get for free here).
As for my subject matter, I mostly write about life, faith, and work. Though I tend to go off-topic (it keeps things interesting), my main task is to share my personal testimonies and confessions about radical grace and how it shows up in this fumbling, bumbling, flawed, broken, and beautiful human experience.
I’m also a student and a teacher of contemplative spirituality and centering prayer based in the Christian wisdom tradition. (Trust me, I’m way too snarky, sarcastic, and self-conscious for this kind of thing, so if I can benefit from the practice of it, I know you can too.)
As someone who’s going through discernment to enter ELCA Lutheran seminary at a fairly late age and who struggles daily with the complexities inherent in life and faith, it’s my only saving grace (quite literally).
About the whole ‘Christian’ thing
I confess; I am a Christian. But that’s a big loaded word. Here are some particulars of where I’m coming from, personally…
It doesn’t matter to me whether or not you proclaim Jesus your personal Lord and savior. As a proponent of committed pluralism, I laud whatever faith brings you closer to the divine. I see Christ in all of creation, and I think that’s what Jesus was pointing towards.
My faith is both contemplative (based on my lived experience of the divine) and Biblical (based on scripture).
Politically, I’m too liberal to call myself a conservative and too conservative to call myself a liberal.
I believe in climate change, am a big fan of science, and think God works through evolution.
I’m enamored with traditional liturgy.
I can’t stand Christian Rock or ‘worship music’. Give me hymns, choir, and chamber music any day.
We need more women, people with various shades of skin, and LGBTQIA+ folks as clergy. The world is so tired of white straight cisgender dudes like me behind the pulpit (hopefully there’s a little more room if I ever graduate from seminary, though).
My faith is based on grace, not personal development. I’m of the belief that we all are born installed with a human propensity to — as Francis Spufford says — f*ck things up. To harden our hearts and turn in on ourselves and others (aka, to sin).
I often get along with atheists better than I do with fundamentalist Christians (because the God that many of them don’t believe in, I find that I don’t believe in either).
All of this being said, I’m a terribly flawed human who’s drunk on power and self-righteousness just like the next. As a 9w8 on the Enneagram, I’m the most passive-aggressive and emotionally conflicted person I know. I get it wrong most of the time and only stand a chance because of God’s grace that acts as the ground of human beingness.
Please know that everything expressed here could very well be complete rubbish and is merely my way of seeing it at the moment I click ‘publish’. I am not a trained and monitored authority, merely a rogue layman with a platform and a strong opinion.
I post daily (at least, more-daily-than-not) and have been doing it for almost four years. So, yes, there are definitely contradictions and discrepancies in my work. Again, opinions, not facts here, friends.
Anyhow, I’ll stop now. You’re here and I think that’s awesome. Welcome. I hope you enjoy the daylight out of it.
As Ever, Jonas
P.S. Again, if you like what you see and would like to get my musings, missives, and mutterings without having to root around on Medium for them, please subscribe to my email list below…