Running Anyway

For this writing I want to break from my usual tone and reflect on the journey that brought me to today, and I want to look at it through one of my favorite pastimes: running.

Here’s a short story.

As I looked down at my GPS watch trying to keep my heart rate below 136 beats per minute (bpm), I marveled at just how untrained my aerobic system was. My whole life (at least since I was a junior in high school) I’ve been trying to run faster. I would run as hard as I could as often as I could but I seemed to plateau at just below an average pace.

My frustration–not to mention my self consciousness–was only heightened when I arrived at West Point. Track-and-Field stars, marathon runners, triathletes, sprinters, it seemed everyone arrived with a prestigious running background except for me.

During our basic training, known as Beast Barracks, I was often relegated to the dreaded Brown Group. The third in a tired running system–blue, green, brown.

There in the Brown Group we would sprint hills, jog for long slow miles in the rain, be randomly set to sprints such as to induce vomiting, but mainly we were just disdained for the “shit” we apparently were–as denoted by our group’s designated color.

Running wet, bedraggle, and discouraged all I could think about was how miserable I was while running.

The message to us was clear, it went something like this:

“We’re not sure how you got in to West Point with these run times, but if you want to stay, you better figure it out.”

So like I had in high school and like I did at the West Point prep school where I had been the year before, I began running as hard as I could as often as  I could until I was able to convince our group leader I was ready to move out of the team most associated with fecal matter.

To me though, the message had been sent loud and clear and I would often repeat it back to myself.

“I’m a slow runner and always will be. I’m ashamed of this.”

What’s strange is that from the first time I tried going out on a simple job with my dad in middle school I loved it. But my inability to run faster or farther always sat there–at first questioning me, then accusing me, and ultimately discouraging me.

Taking a PT test at West Point and watching many of my peers do literal laps around me (while the marathon team would joke how they hadn’t even warmed yet as I dry heaved across the finish line) my internal narrative would solidify even further.

Even though I loved the experience of running on my own, I would never be good at it and would forever feel ashamed of my abilities. I was even afraid to go on a jog in the middle of the day for fear of being quietly judged by the people I passed for my slow pace (a ridiculous thought that carried to this day!)

“Better not run past the Superintendent’s or Commandant’s house” I would think as I would plan my hidden route.

I did have a few bright spots, the greatest of which came when I was working on my stride. I learned to ditch my heal-strike gait and saw a bit of improvement. But ultimately it wasn’t what I was hoping for.

I remember my worst run time came the last PT test I took before getting out of the Army as a Conscientious Objector. I was worn out from fighting the system all by myself, hopeless, and anxious not to mention out of shape. I passed by 2 seconds.

As we would cover those miles in formations up and down the mountains of West Point, or as I would secretly jog by myself so no one could judge me, my mind would often enter the common reflective, meditative state that many endurance activities encourage.

It was on many of those mediative, quiet jogs that I would find dread, confusion, or worry waiting for me as I considered what I was really training and working so hard for at the academy. I would think about the logical end of my time at West Point which was always in some way supporting “to close with and destroy the enemies of the United States.”

I could barely muster enough energy to warrant hitting my friendly opponent in the face at boxing or combative class. This sort of behavior, practice, or mentality didn’t seem very helpful. This “warrior” they want me to be, it’s not my true self. I’m not violent, I’m not a killer, I don’t believe in aggression or destruction to solve any type of problem.

“This song makes me want to beat the shit out of ISIS,” I would then hear in my ears, remembering one of our senior leaders bellowing proudly as he ran past me on one of our infamous brigade runs–a 4,000 person painful speedwalk through West Point and the surrounding village. An activity of whose purpose I am still uncertain.

These runs were led by our senior leaders–our Superintendent, a 4 Star General, and Commandant, a 1 Star General. They would stand in front all 4,000+ Cadets and our instructors and we would just, run.

The senior leader who made the aforementioned remark had sat with me at a contemplative prayer vigil a few weeks prior to his public confession about wanting to beat the brown group out of his enemies.

“Am I really ok being this hypocritical?” I wondered.

“Can I love my enemies while training to kill them?”

A few years later I would submit and be granted discharge as a Conscientious Objector. The culmination of years of contemplation, reflection, and trying to be honest with myself.

So yesterday, when I looked down at my heart rate monitor on my GPS watch my mental landscape was quite different.

The pace was comfortable. I learned that, “In order to go faster, you have to go slower.”

By training in my fat burning zone (or zone 2) I’m teaching my body to use fats as a fuel. In the past when I would run as hard and as fast I could I would instead use carbohydrates and sugars in zones 3 or 4.

As it turns out, this was forcing my body to deplete all of its glycogen–something it can only sustain for about 90 minutes. Training in this way leads to the grey zone, or zone 3 plateau. Basically, you only train your quick twitch, fight or flight energy system which always leaves one fatigued, unimproved, and unchallenged. Hence the name the gray zone.

So I learned I needed to stop running as fast as often as I could and slow down to train my zone 2 endurance, for me anything under around 136 bpm. The more I train in this zone the more efficient my body becomes and my pace is slowly catching up to its usual time but my heart rate is staying low.

In life, I’ve also had to slow down to go faster.

I had to abandon my career–which has meant serious social, financial, and life-altering consequences. I had to be real with myself about what I was working for, and slow down to evaluate the direction of my life, how it was going to impact the world around me.

Once I was going slow enough to listen to the still, small voice of divine consciousness inside me (inside all of us) it was clear what must be done.

I’d rather be a dead seed in the forest of peace than a blind, scared cog in the machine of violence and hypocrisy.

As I looked down at my GPS watch and settled into my new, slower pace I hardly even noticed the sideways, freezing rain beating my body as I made my way down the lonely street.


For more information about ways you can join Matt in running and serve others, click Run Anyway With Preemptive Love 

Creative Love

[If you’d like, feel free to read the first installments of this series Love Your Neighbor and …as yourself ]


“Mutual Love is nothing special. It only means repaying good with good. But love of our enemy is not love as repayment; it is prevenient and creative love. Anyone who repays evil with good is truly free.” – Juergen Moltmann

If there is any single, one thing that I could mark as the turning point in my life, it was a time in college when I finally decided that loving my enemies was not only attainable but essential, if not the cornerstone of christian practice.

I sat there reading

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 

I love especially “To you who are listening.”

“Was I listening?” I wondered.

This is Jesus, as remembered by Luke in the 6th chapter of his gospel narrative.

I was at a time in my life in which I was experiencing great dichotomy, great tension within myself. So much of what I was trying to work into my life from studying the wisdom teachings of Jesus had no room for expression in my life.

I read this above passage for example, over and over again while training to become an artillery officer in the US Army at West Point.

It felt clear to me that in the gospel stories, I was much more like the hypocritical religious leaders and Romans than like Jesus. Yet, so much of my religious life at West Point revovled around the affirmation of our chosen profession and lifestyle.

To say I was confused would be an understatement. In this time, I decided to just go for it, to just run with it. I thought, “would if this is actually as clear and simple as it seems, but it’s just really hard?”

So I did what any philosophy student does when they’re confused, I wrote an essay.

It was titled, “The Ethic of Love.”

In the midst of a semester on ethics it became clear that if you really believed what Jesus taught, it would naturally manifest itself in something like an ethic, a way to live one’s life.

I fleshed it out as best I could and sat dumbfounded as I realized that I was a hypocrite of hypocrites.

I was the furthest thing from loving my enemy (let alone my neighbor, or myself.)

Over the course of the next few years I would walk down the lonely road of quiet dissent, deciding to leave the Army as a conscientious objector–a choice that cost my status, comfort, social bearing, and financial health (the Army saddled me with a substantial debt for not finishing out my contract).

And so I found it to be true, the reason that I was able to be such a hypocrite, in a culture where hypocrisy had been normalized, was because being anything else was expensive, uncomfortable, and costly. So we just called it sin.

Ironically, the very same people who were obsessed with a fundamental adherence to the scriptures on every other point (especially where we get to marginalize people like women and our LGBTQ family) somehow were alright killing people, so long as they did it for the government.

And I thought “picking up my cross” was not looking at porn, or not swearing, or not listening to rap music.

But maybe, loving your enemies is simple, and maybe it is attainable. Maybe choosing to obey to law of love over that of the land, that of social convention is a worthy decision.

Maybe choosing to side with the oppressed and love the oppressor means we need to identity more with a helpless refugee baby and executed prisoner before we identify with power, influence, and social status.

Maybe, instead of sacrificing my creativity at the altar of economy, injustice, or war, like Jurgen says above, I can use my creative energy to find new ways to love those who hate me, to return evil with good, to give to all who ask.

 

Mud, MLK, and Me

A few nights ago, I did something really absent minded.

I had just pulled in the driveway from a run as the sun was setting, it had been raining but I didn’t realize how much.

I was trying to use my headlights to get a better look at something in the backyard so I thought it was worth pulling forward into the grass to get a bit closer.

I live on top of what I thought was a gradual slope, but last night I learned differently.

When I was finished I proceeded to turn around, only I couldn’t. I kept sliding further and further down the muddy hill until I had descended into my neighbor’s property (an empty few acres he is trying to sell) and found myself hopelessly stuck in a muddy field spinning out in circles while my rear-wheel drive pickup did little else than get me into deeper, and deeper ruts in the mud.

I was so embarrassed, “Why did I think this was a good idea, how did this turn out so badly, so quickly?” I wondered.

Aside from feeling awful I had made muddy tire tracks in my neighbor’s property, I looked up to find I was well over 500 feet from the nearest pavement, at an angle with a row of trees blocking my view.

This is my only vehicle, and my wife just gave birth to our second daughter, I couldn’t afford to leave the truck stranded in the backyard before the field dried, that could take weeks!

I hopped on the phone with my insurance and they sent out a wrecker right away. As the rain was beginning to turn to snow, and my post-run high was being replaced by deep shivers in my damp workout clothes, the wrecker operator took one look and said, “No way. Sorry man, can’t help you.”

He called back my insurance company and drove off.

I dreamed all night of trying to pull that truck up that hill, but like the fabled myth of sisyphus, every time I would reach the top, I would slide back down and find myself completely hopeless.

I woke up in a mood reflecting my restless night’s sleep.

I started making calls again, and finally was connected to a guy, Steve, who said he couldn’t promise anything, but he’d love to come try to help.

Steve pulled up and immediately set to work, listening to my suggestions, working with me, and trading turns trying this angle and that. Somehow, Steve was able to get us out of the initial rut! I couldn’t believe it, I thought that would be impossible. It took us about an hour, but we were at least out of the mud.

For the next hour we tried to inch our way up a few feet at at time. We would summit one tiny ridge, only to slip back on the next rise and fall to the base of the hill again.

He had a winch, so we were just trying to get into a close enough distance to where we could get a line connected and pull it up.

He left and bought some extra cable. We kept breaking it under the tension, improvising new knots, pulling, and breaking it again. We probably did this for an hour, inch by inch.

Turns out Steve lived for 15 years in the same city I’m from, where my entire extended family remains to this day.

Every time I wanted to give up, Steve wouldn’t let us, remaining hopelessly optimistic, correcting my hopelessness with belief we could make this happen.

About five hours in, we started making some really good progress, inches turning to feet, the winch getting closer and closer. And I realized, the day nearly gone, hands frozen and face feeling numb, that for the first time all day something interesting happened, I actually believed him that we were gonna get out of there!

Finally, we got the truck into straight line towing distance. We connected all the chains he had and got the truck back to the pavement.

We chatted on top of what had become our Everest, two warriors celebrating our own private victory of some intimidating enemy, it seemed.

Steve grew up in rural America, dirt poor as he said. His father worked himself to the bone to make ends meet for the family. He said, “I was raised to treat everyone the same, and that was with absolute respect and dignity. It didn’t matter if they were a nobody, or super famous and rich. Everyone deserved the same dignity. You know, sometimes, when I’m out here working, people don’t see me like you, they think I work for them, that they’re entitled to boss me around and demand immediate solutions.”

I told Steve I didn’t grow up like him. I always had much more than I needed, went to great schools, and had many incredible opportunities from athletic outlets to travel. What’s more, I told him that until very recently, I too looked at people like Steve and saw someone who worked for me, that I was entitled to his help. I grew up privileged, white, and honestly ignorant.

I said to him,

“It’s pretty crazy, many of our forefathers hated each other, fought each other. But here I am, completely dependent on you, a neighbor and friend to get me out of this ditch. I was stuck, upset, helpless, and alone and I needed you. But you showed up, you listed to me, and you stayed until this job was done. The other guy just left, didn’t even try.”

Steve is a black man, probably six feet tall, lean, and used to working with his strong hands. I’m barely 5’7″, white, young, and helplessly lost at anything to do with cars, stuck in the mud or not. He should have seen me and after trying a few minutes to help told me the ground would dry and wait until then, just like everyone else.

But he was filled with love, compassion, and a genuine desire to help his neighbor. He has every reason to be mad, upset, and dismissive of so many things in this country, especially someone like me.

But he loved me without condition.

As he drove away I thought about tomorrow as the nation stops to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. He rejected a nation that only saw race and not the whole person. A nation where one type of person felt entitled to manage the affairs of another, even the timetable of their freedom! Where someone like me, in seeing a black neighbor didn’t see the story of strength, resilience, and dignity I’ve come to learn in the last few years.

He saw a nation where people like me owned our horrible past, and honored the dignity of our black neighbors as they have always deserved. He saw a nation where black men and women enjoyed the same access to privilege as their white neighbors.

We have so far to go in this nation, and sometimes it feels like we’re even going backward.

Today, in some small way, those words of Dr. King that have been buried into my psyche were manifested as I gratefully acknowledged the deep respect I had for my neighbor who saved me, and the love and respect I received from someone who had no reason to offer it to me.

Steve taught me how to break straight through the racial tension in our communities.  Someone who could have hated me, could have written me off without ever saying a word, chose instead to love anyway.

That’s the kind of person I want to be.

…As Yourself

This is the hardest of the love teachings. In western culture it’s wrong to think of yourself first, these are the narcissist right?

At the same time, how can one even survive in a modern capitalistic system without ever considering themselves first? In fact, our international economic system is based on the idea of scarcity, a zero-sum game.

Talking about this, Susan Wolfe coined what many in western culture consider “Common Sense Morality,” as she puts it. This is anything or anyone who is selfless–who considers themselves last if at all.

What she is trying to get at it, is that to be moral in a western setting, one must be selfless. These two concepts are inherently linked (based upon her own research and findings).

Ironically, this is overplayed against a backdrop of an economic reality in which selfless entities cannot survive.

This paradox has left a lot of room for guilt, confusion, and self-denial especially in religious communities. There are more unhealthy expressions of this paradox and confusion that I have room to explore here.

But at its root is a truth to the universe that we all seem to deny: we are all connected. We are already one, we are not separate.

So much of our modern life expresses back to us our own false projection of separation. But it’s just that, a projection from our psyche.

Instead of looking at our own delusions and theories, let’s consider nature.

Nature exists in ecosystems. Ecosytems are inherently interdependent. It’s utter foolishness to think about the world in any other way than interdependent.

Without really knowing why, many of us simply perpetuate the belief that we were created by a discrete super-being in the sky to be independent identities, inherently flawed and separated from one another and the divine.

These ideas are rooted in Greek philosophy, specifically Plato and his musings about a perfect world of forms as he callas it, of which we are all mere shadows, he postulates. This was accompanied by the original Greek idea of individualism, that we are discrete and separated from each other and our environments on our own journey back to perfection, a perfection we have lost.

These ideas, once absent from judeo-christian thinking found their way into christian theology during an era in which greek philosophy was fashionable in the church, and become intertwined with the theological narrative.

But what if we allow the parables and powerful poems of the Bible to speak to us in the way they are meant to–our psyches and subconscious, our spirit and soul–and let nature explain to us clearly what is. 

And what is, is an uncomfortably dependent universe that has co-evolved to give, receive, and need all else that is. I remember learning in elementary school science that when one species of an ecosystem is damaged or lost, the whole environment suffers. This should be basic knowledge of our reality.

We are not separate. We need each other, and what’s more we belong to each other.

Cynthia Bourgeault captures this reality from the wisdom teachings of Jesus in her reflections on the parables Jesus tells about grapes and vines. She notes,

No separation between human and human is an equally powerful notion—and equally challenging. One of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings is “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39). But we almost always hear that wrong: “Love your neighbor as much as yourself.” (And of course, the next logical question then becomes, “But I have to love me first, don’t I, before I can love my neighbor?”) If you listen closely to Jesus however, there is no “as much as” in his admonition. It’s just “Love your neighbor as yourself”—as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you. There are not two individuals out there, one seeking to better herself at the price of the other, or to extend charity to the other; there are simply two cells of the one great Life. Each of them is equally precious and necessary.

When we are able to shed the lie that we are separate, and we see ourselves as flowing in and out of god, and in and out of each other, we are able to live in the mutually beneficial and abundant reality that the universe we inhabit has to offer. The only true scarce resource in our reality is money, and funny enough anything that money touches seems to somehow become scarce as well (even water which we now have to purchase in polluting plastic bottles).

The modern economy is the culmination of this projection of scarcity onto our abundant reality (to paraphrase Charles Eisenstein.) But, when we instead see ourselves for how we really are, extensions of the divine and of one another, not in competition with but in extension of each other, we are able to see another reality, a truer somehow more spiritually attuned reality.

In fact, when we turn into one another, and into god in us (Emmanuel) we instead find exactly what we’v always been looking for.

 

Love Your Neighbor

This idea of loving your neighbor is a cornerstone of the christian tradition. From it, we are informed about charity, generosity, and thanksgiving fleshed out in later reflections from early church leaders.

In many of the stories where people argue with the teacher Jesus about who is a neighbor and who isn’t, people try desperately to hammer down where they are allowed to draw the line. Of course, they always find there is no line but you already knew that.

In the most relevant text where the teacher Jesus speaks with someone about loving their neighbor someone quips, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied by telling a story [the story of the good Samaritan] of showing empathy, compassion, and sacrificial generosity to someone that many in the crowd think should not deserve their help (someone stupid enough to get himself into trouble). Furthermore they are being helped by someone who shouldn’t be helping (an evil, malicious foreigner!) But you probably already knew that too.

But it’s worth reflecting on this idea that stopping to help, and showing empathy and active compassion to someone you think doesn’t deserve it, is a good starting point to love. And what’s more, the people who are already living like this are the ones we think are other, unlike us, maybe even dirty or evil.

After all, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” Jesus asks.

I will let you put that in your own world to consider what that might look like in your life.

This isn’t a Sunday Morning sermon where you feel guilted into giving a pot pie to your actual next-door neighbor, chances are you live next to them because they look like you anyway and probably think like you, plus modern suburban culture has greatly confused this word neighbor in the first place.

But if we take a moment, we see Jesus leading the conversation away from the usual text -based legalism of the day into a deeper reality that is present in all of his teachings:

We are not separate.

And as evidenced by who is saved and who does the saving in the parable of the good samaritan, unity is not based on all believing the right and same thing (that idea is a hold over from what Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has dubbed Slaveholder Religion.)

Rather, what we see here is that love is manifested when we cross ethnic boundaries, socioeconomic divides, race and class boundaries, and even enemy lines.

This is where a lot of people would get fired up for a missions trip, but we have to remember that the gospel is written from the bottom up perspective, not the top down. The point wasn’t to prepare the kingdom “up there” by telling people everywhere “down here” to believe the right things.

That idea comes from Plato and was and injected into early christian thought in the 300s AD. Plato believed that we are discrete beings and this world is ugly and imperfect, therefore, we must be a reflection of a perfect “world of forms” toward which we are all straining to return.

Originally, the good news of the early church was curated for the poor, the marginalized and outcast, the oppressed and diseased. It was a way to bring out the better world we all know is possible from inside each of us, as a gift to your neighbors.

As mentioned above, around the the 300s AD the story was hijacked by the wealthy and powerful who needed a new moral justification to stay in power and suddenly the church’s story was told from the top down (all this borrowed from one of my heroes, Richard Rohr). This is where the platonic ideas of separation and metaphysical eternities was mixed into the church.

It’s interesting to read the early church leaders and witness the appropriation of greek philosophy over the course of the Byzantium era and onward.

So if we consider the parable of the good samaritan again with a bias for the poor, migrated, outcast, homeless, sick, and marginalized suddenly it means so much more.

It means that the ones the privileged dislike (the migrants, the poor and homeless, the minority, the other) and are trying to “keep out” are actually more likely to stop and help in their genuine love of neighbor than the religious and pious. This same social critique of Jesus’ day remains true today. Like the religious elite in ancient Israel, many of us in modern privileged, white christianity are too busy “winning souls” (like my colonizing forefathers) to consider first how to love all of our neighbors .

The real message of loving your neighbor, is that showing compassion, empathy, solidarity, and sacrificial hospitality is how we love. Especially if they seem different.

We love with compassion, with action, without judgment.

We don’t love by getting the answers right.

In that case we are legalistic text-obsessed lawyers straining at gnats while swallowing camels.

What would communities look like that prioritized compassion and empathy followed by  active expressions of hospitality ? Imagine if all of the energy used to convince people we had the right answer, was translated into active love of neighbor.

That feels, at least a little, like hope in the future repaired.

 

Love…?

I remember a few years back when I really began to pivot in my spiritual journey. I was on the trail of discovering what I knew to be true but was yet unsure how to articulate it.

One day I was wrapped in a sort of quasi-argument with someone in my church community and like many before this man was agitated and confused by our conversation.

We kept doing this awkward back and forth until we finally reached it.

As we spoke it seemed clear that his perfectly ironed and pressed worldview was beginning to falter, and in his mounting frustration I saw a moment of vulnerability that I don’t necessarily think he meant to show.

“My life’s goal is to love well,” or something like that I had just conceded.

With a mixture of longing, fear, and denial in his eyes he snapped back, “But what does that even mean?”

A few awkward seconds went by while all of his religious instruction took back over his thinking from his momentary flirtation with his own uncertainty, “we need things we can measure, we can count, we can see. We need to see the fruit of our labor in how many people come to faith, that’s what love means.”

He confirmed something I knew all along but finally was said in plain language. I think this is a subconscious truth buried beneath mountains of denial and notches on the belt, fruit harvested and labor rewarded as they say.

Of course, in retrospect this was an extreme example regarding the confusion with love in the church, but the longer I kept my eyes open, the more I found it to be an unsettling reality in many spiritual communities. Some, it seems, are just better at talking around or hand waving through the existential crisis of realizing we have no idea how to love.

Few of us at all, in fact, seem to know how to love. Or even what love is. If it’s not the physical fruit of “souls won” or “truth told” or “missions trips taken” or “times I was nice” than what is it?

I wasn’t sure how to reply to such a stark contrast of worldview in the midst of this deteriorating discussion. So I smiled in anxious heartbreak.

“This is where we part,” I thought silently to myself.

Since that time I’ve grown in a capacity to articulate why I was comfortable seeking love as my life’s goal, and many around me would remark on my “compromise” or “backsliding.”

Since this time I’ve been learning how in the evangelical, sacred text-based culture that I came from, deciding that people don’t need you to save them is the ultimate sign that satan has won over your heart.

From another perspective though, I found Love. And Love doesn’t need converts.

Sometimes, it seems, that in our pursuit of “winning souls” we were straining at gnats while missing the camel, traveling land and sea to make men and women twice the children of hell that we were, to paraphrase an old teacher.

After all, a world based on the premise of me, “empowered by the spirit” or not, saving other people from a a vague metaphysical eternity of torment seems like a contender for hellish living if you ask me.

So in this vein of thought, I want to unpack three ways that we are encouraged to love from the christian tradition. You don’t have to be a christian to read or be encouraged by these meditations, they will in no way be sectarian or denominational. Having come from the tradition of the christian church, however, it is a healthy starting point for my own psyche as I begin to parse through the ways that my faith actually informs me to live verses the hell in which I was spiritually weaned.

I desire that together we can sow the seeds of hope repaired and love restored in a short series of mediations.

First, “Loving Your Neighbor”

Second,”…As Yourself.”

Finally, “Love Those Who Hate You.”

We will see how each of these three arms of love work like a family where each member is uncomfortably dependent upon the other.

I’d be honored if you’d join me.

Until then,

Peace.

 

Desperation in Tijuana

I left Tijuana yesterday afternoon.

As I was leaving, there were police amassing, a growing helicopter presence overhead, and Federal Police with heavy weapons driving in.

It was clear that something was developing. It seemed to me that this preparation was far less intense, however, than the Mexican military unit that had set up a checkpoint in a back alley neighborhood between the baseball stadium functioning as a displacement camp and the San Ysidro Border Crossing I was waking toward.

Their goal, as it most usually is my local friend told me, were the cartels. We chuckled talking about how the migrants had brought so much attention to the neighborhood that it was becoming somehow safer from the cartels and gangs who usually control the area.

Today, I am witnessing from an airport terminal with anxiety that some of the migrants broke from an otherwise peaceful demonstration and attempted to rush the border fence and were fired on with rubber bullets and tear gas.

I was reading an account from Washington Post Reporters Sarah Kinosian and Joshua Partlow and saw the story of Maria Lousia Caceres who recounted that, “We thought it was a peaceful march today, but then I saw everyone running and I thought, This is it, God will touch Trump’s heart.”

She was referring to an idea that is popular among the migrants. Many very genuinely believe that in showing their need in a peaceful way, their plight will touch and change the US President’s position and allow these asylum seekers immediate refuge.

Another migrant, according to the report, Alex Alemendaros noted, “It [attempted fence hopping] just gets people mad at us and I want asylum.”

This pervading tension among the migrants about what they believe is true, what to do next, or what is even realistic about their situation is a common theme I noticed during my trip.

It was clear that some of these migrants were attempting to band and stay together with unified and peaceful cause, while some, like a mother of 3 children I met, has been on the run for only a few days after a gang assaulted her family. She would go anywhere or do anything that was safe. While even others were tired of waiting and getting restless, frustrated, and impatient after months of traveling.

One reality is common, as Alex objectively noted, “Desperation has lead some people to really believe that crossing is possible.”

I’ve been speaking with a member of the migrants, my new friend Nelson Reniery Ruiz Maradiaga, who I interviewed on FaceBook Live while I was in Tijuana.

He was among the larger, peaceful protest of about 3,000 people that was happening in Tijuana, and heard that people were being shot with rubber bullets and tear gas somewhere nearby. He searched the area to find where this was happening, and saw groups of people being engaged as described. He talked with one man who had multiple rubber bullet wounds.

He also said that many of the people have already left the border area to return to the displacement camp.

He was safe now, but like most of his friends he’s just hungry and is looking to move forward. Even just a little hope for the future it seemed.

If there is anything that I could offer to this situation, it would be this perspective:

  • Right now there are about 5,000 migrants seeking refuge from war, violence, and corruption. 
  • There were 80,000 people at the first concert I attended. 
  • There are 2.8 million members of the US Department of Defense with an $717 Billion Budget. 
  • There are over 60,000 Border Patrol Agents in the US with a near $14 Billion Budget.
  • There’s nearly 300,000 members of the Mexican Armed Forces alone, and that’s not counting the police. 
  • There is just no feasible way that this is a legitimate security issue. 

With those numbers in view, I offer my perspective that the overwhelming majority in this group are very desperate people on a journey to provide for themselves and their families.

And that desperation has to be the greatest enemy right now.

Without compassionate hands reaching out to provide the basics like food, warm clothes, and tents, this desperation is leading some of these people to try to take matters into their own hands, risk their lives for something, anything different than starving and freezing in a baseball stadium.

I can’t say I’d be much different.

I can’t help but to wonder if a little love, a little attention, some open ears, some patient thinking, some flights to Tijuana, some food, some tents, might turn the heat down in the pressure cooker that has become Tijuana.

And then maybe, some of the 42 million Americans with our Trillion Dollar GDP, or 12 Million Mexicans, or one of the other billions of people in the world can offer a helping hand to these 5,000 in need. Be good neighbors like we preach about on Sunday mornings, like many preached about this morning.

Is it just me, or is it insanely poetic that Jesus managed to provide for 5,000 people with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish?

 

Friends and Fear. Lessons From Tijuana.

As Felix and I walked back to the border checkpoint he told me a parable.

A young monk was seeking training so he made his way to a special monastery just for the purpose. 

He accidentally traveled to the wrong monastery, so an old monk volunteered to take him the 3 day journey to the right place. 

These monks were of a very peculiar order, and could have no contact with women of any kind! The young monk especially took these rules very seriously. 

On the first day of their journey, the two monks came to a small river to cross, and an older woman was waiting, contemplating how she was to get to the other side. In compassion for the woman, the old monk offered to carry over, and she agreed.

As they approached the other side, the old monk put down the woman and they parted ways, she grateful for the help. 

As they continued their journey, the young monk was indignant, mortified that the older monk had broken one of their cardinal rules, he touched a woman, spoke to her, even helped her! 

For three days the young monk worried, complained, repented on behalf of his superior, and wondered what would happen to them for breaking their vow.

As they approached the monastery the young monk became increasingly nervous. 

The old monk looked at the younger and said, “I put down that lady 3 days ago.” 

As I pondered the last few days of being among migrants who have travelled from Central America in search of something, anything other than the egregious violence and desperation of their homes, I felt this parable appropriate.

We all look at what these men and women might have done in their past, who they could or could not be. We wring our hands from the safety of our kitchens, from the the comfort of our armchairs while we watch the evening news.

Like young monks we complain that these people are dangerous, untouchable, that they did this to themselves, that we are not to get involved! Our religious duty is piety, purity.

Maybe, like an old monk, it’s okay if we choose to show compassion and love, serve our neighbor even if someone told us we’re not supposed to.

And when we’re assailed for our choice to reach across a border–weather it be a river, a fence, or socioeconomic divide– maybe it’s ok if we just put the lady down, and keep walking.

Jesus. Fed. The 5,000.

Regardless of how you feel about Christianity, the Church, even Jesus, here’s a story for you. 

Jesus, so it goes, was followed, pursued if you will, by a caravan of nearly 5,000 people the Bible says. 

At the end of a long day of teaching and walking, the closest friends to Jesus urged him to stop teaching so they could leave and find food. 

But Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

It reminds me of another time that Jesus was put on the spot, presumably by someone in this caravan.

“What’s the meaning of life,” asks the man (paraphrased of course.) 

“Love God, and love your neighbor,” says Jesus. 

Loving God—an abstraction or concept that’s easy to convince yourself you’ve done. 

But Luke says, “[The man] wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus:

 And who is my neighbor?” 

Loving those people, the unclean, those that I’m allowed to hate, that’s not safe, or even realistic!

So Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan. Even if you’ve never been to Sunday School you’ve probably heard it. 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus concludes the story. 

The samaritans were the scary, violent, unknown foreigners across the border of Jerusalem, separated by an ancient, forgotten border war.

The man replied to Jesus’ question, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Feed the 5,000. Love your neighbor. Even if he scares you.

Stop Being Angry. Do This Instead.

For this piece, I want to speak specifically with one group of people. I want to talk to those who feel like their faith has been overrun and used against them. Who are realizing that much of what they grew up trusting is actually awful and has betrayed them. Those of you who are afraid of the injustice of our time coming from people of “faith” and feel helpless to fix it. Who feel scared, cornered, and enraged. Who, are beginning to take action and speak out. Who are consumed with a desire to do something, anything.

There is a way out, but I don’t think it can be found on our current path.  


So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

-Jesus

Fall is a time where nature attempts to teach us something profound.

All things die. And most often, certain things dying means a winter of waiting before new life of spring replaces that which once kept us company.

The old must die, the new must come.

But that new fruit, the growth, adaptation, and change that nature depends upon, would not happen if first, the trees, plants, and wilderness did not let go of last season’s hard work and experience to confront the silent loneliness of the winter.

Sometimes I fear that spirituality in this country is more often about teaching us how to unnaturally hold on to that which is meant to be let go. We need to accept the past season–good or bad. And more, we need to allow the uncertainty and chill of winter to envelop us.

This contemplative season is necessary for your spiritual health, yet most of what we call spirituality today spoon-feeds us a false certainty that our leaves will never wither and die, that change will not happen, that we can be the only tree in the history of the forrest to remain unchanged for 4,000 years.

As humans we ache for simplicity and certainty.

Whether you follow the teachings of Jesus or not, the statement quoted above has woven itself into the fabric of everyday modern western morality.

It seems common sense. It’s intuitive. It’s basic.

We even call it the Golden Rule.

Now, look at it again paraphrased to fit this country in the 21st century (shout out to Carlos Rodriguez, excellent creativity)

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 8.54.44 PM.png

What’s difficult to swallow about Jesus’ teaching, is that the core of his message is to embrace the people you hate the most right next to those you naturally love. Rarely is this about them, or even about world peace, but about you.

Peacemaking so very rarely has to do with forcing, coercing, or even articulately convincing others to believe what you do. Rather, it’s about confronting your own inabilities to love, your own darkness, your own eerie similarity to the people you hate.

It’s the KKK member realizing that like everyone of some white European decent, at least part of his genetic structure reflects his African heritage.

It’s the soldier of democracy realizing that she too has been susceptible to propaganda, manipulation, and socioeconomic forces far greater than herself–just like her enemy.

It’s the democrat realizing that he too can be a partisan, stubborn, narcissistic, misinformed participant just like his republican counterpart.

It’s the estranged son realizing that he shares the same blood with his loving family.

This message is radical.

And I don’t mean radical in the colloquial sense, but in its true meaning.

Radical literally means to refer to the root. So someone who is radical simply travels to the root of the relevant topic.

Jesus is espousing radical religion. Treat others like you want them to treat you (even if they don’t!)

So let’s pause take an internal inventory of sorts. Ask yourself:

Are you really mad at your church and the people inside it; what they’ve done with your faith heritage?

Do you disdain, maybe even hate certain politicians and the direction of this nation?

Are you overwhelmed by racism and classism and hearing about it on the news?

Are you scared about your children’s future?

Are you tired of all the confusion and misinformation coming from Washington?

Do you see all of the injustice and all that is wrong around you and just want to shut down?

Does this make you want to just get angry, take to the streets in protest, yell at the TV, but not before crawling in a hole and sulking away?

If you feel this way, you can get angry, you can protest, you can share Facebook posts and join in the dualistic war that has erupted in this nation.

Or we could do something that nobody will notice, that won’t allow you to get it off your chest, feel like you accomplished something just because you had empathy or went to a rally.

We could love our enemy.

I think this where many of us are getting lost.

Loving your enemy looks a lot like winter.

You will confront your own coldness of heart, your own bitterness of spirit. You will feel isolated and alone, dead if not down-right stupid.

“No one else is doing this, this is absurd and pointless” that jaded voice in your head might say.

“Is this really even doing anything?” you might hear in a whisper.

But maybe, this sort of direct, loving, nonviolent, non-resistant confrontation is just what we need.

Maybe we need to let to go of the leaves from last season and go deep inside ourselves and wonder what’s really there. What type of soil am I planted in, that of peace, unconditional love, empathy? Or that of violence, strife, dualism, and war?

Maybe its time we let go of and even accept the past, so we can take stock of the present.

But this might be uncomfortable.

I think many of us were raised to see those in power–government, economic, or spiritual–as good people ordained by God. We gave them our allegiance and trust.

The pastors, the presidents, the congressman, the police, the military.

But for many twenty and thirty somethings these last few years have served as an initiation of sorts.

We lost our innocence and realized that our savior and the kingdom of heaven wasn’t “over there” on Capitol hill, or “up there” in a metaphysical paradise, or “right here” in a church building (to loosely paraphrase Jesus, Luke 17:22-24). Rather, it’s “at hand” and “inside you.”

It’s there when you “loose yourself” and let the leaves of your self-constructed ego fall to the earth and die. What you find when you’re stripped of your leaves might surprise you. I think many of us are too scared to let go and find out, I know I am.

I believe that many of us are still trying to simply reform the over theres, the up heres, and the right theres. We tirelessly polish the image of those we once held so sacred instead of accepting that our enemy was never the immigrant, the foreigner, the terrorist, or the gay person as we were raised, but rather it was those who taught us to have enemies in the first place.

Instead of realizing that those we once trusted betrayed us, we try to reform them. And this only makes us more angry.

I think in fact that most of the anger among millennial Christians right now stems from the frustration associated with unsuccessful reformation. We feel betrayed and and unable to move on. We got stuck in a moment to quote Bono.

We need to accept that our enemies are now actually most likely in the pulpit, the uniform, the white house.

And this is isn’t denominational or partisan. I think we spend too much time trying to get “our man” in power instead of learning the art of engaging those we disagree with.

Jesus never said, “vote democrat,” or “vote republican” or “be liberal” or “be conservative.” Heck, anytime the pharisees or sadducees (the dominant competing world-views of 1st century Jewish life) tried to get Jesus to take sides he would refuse.

But, he would say to love your enemy, neighbor, self, and God. To be one with the father, just as he and the father were one.

Life is such that you will always find yourself engaging people you dislike, even hate!

But this is good news, because if you follow Jesus, you know exactly how to treat your enemies.

As you would want to be treated.

With love and dignity.
With civil discourse and forgiveness.
With patience and long-suffering.
With commitment and love.
With unconditional regard and humility.
With service.
With authenticity.
With truth.
We could bless them and their families.
Not because we think they deserve it, but because they too bear the sacred breath of life, the very image of God inside them radiating through all of the noise.

We could pray for the president (regardless of who it is, and not in order to get to God make them think like you!)

We could respond without anger and hatred when they oppress our neighbors (but still respond!)

We could empathize, understand, and engage without violence or rebellion.

Hear me! We must also love and serve the outsider, immigrant, oppressed and incarcerated. And honestly, we need to open our hearts to them and even join them much more than we are right now. But this should be the basic stuff, are we not to do this regardless? We shouldn’t be arguing over that!

I think the distilled message of Jesus is accepting that those you were raised to hate, you are to love, and realizing that those you were raised to love you now hate. And then choosing to love both groups of people anyway, unconditionally and from an eternal source found deep inside you.

What type of concept is this, is it idealism taken too far? Surely this is not what Jesus meant?

Or perhaps we’ve been taught to see such a concept as idealistic because there is no profit in peace.

 

The Peacemaker’s Manifesto

I am committed to Nonviolence.

Not as a political tool or a means to an end.

But as the end itself.

I am a servant of all people, everything I have I share.

What I have is impartial, unconditional love.

God-willing, when others come to take from me, this is all they will find left.

I am committed to loving the oppressed, and the oppressor.

There is no bottom 99% or top 1%. The good shepherd left the 99 to find the 1. There is only the 100%.

I pledge allegiance to no state, religion, or politic.

I choose to serve both the elected official, and the impoverished constituent. The CEO and the minimum wage employee.

I will be mislabeled, misunderstood, and mischaracterized.

Like a lamb to the slaughter I will not make a sound.

You can take nothing from me, because I’ve already decided to give it to you.

I am weak, and at the mercy of your violence, alongside the incarcerated waiting execution and indefinite confinement.

I am vulnerable to your power, alongside my bothers and sisters of color, the foreigners, asylum seekers, immigrants, and my LGBTQ family.

I labor not for the rewards of a future, heavenly realm, but the awareness of paradise inside me; as my ego and self-centeredness break apart and reveal something that’s been hiding itself all along.

There is no me, only we.

Welcome to the Non-Resistance.

And sometimes I will fail, and then they will mock.

And I will chose to love anyway.

The Short Story of a Long Road: Why I Left the Army as a Conscientious Objector

As you enter this life, 

I pray you depart, 

With a wicker face

and a brand new heart. 

-U2 in Love and Peace or Else


I’m writing this blogpost on the heels of some big news. After nearly two years of work, waiting, revision, and more waiting I have finally been granted discharge from the US Army as a Conscientious Objector.

I want to share the short version of the story. But I want to be really careful.

This post will not affirm a partisan leaning–right or left.

But that is sort of the point.

You see, the reason that I applied for this status and followed through with the two years of constant uncertainty was much more akin to a whisper or a hint…a guess if you like.

I’ve been on a spiritual journey, a quest of sorts since about the time I started college. I didn’t get into West Point my first go round, so I accepted a slot in the prep school where I was able to work on my deficiencies and reapply the year after.

I was accepted into the class of 2016 and I cannot overemphasize how much I was in love  with West Point, the Army, and going to war for my country.

Stirring in the background was something like a ringing in my ears. I’ve heard a guy named Kent Dobson talk about his own spiritual journey and discussed this phenomenon–this intuition and knowledge that comes from a deep quiet place but you can’t explain. I think the Quakers call it the still, small voice or the inward teacher, Dobson calls it a ringing in the ear.

It was quiet at first and manageable. I was young, confused, and locked deep inside a system of belief that dangerously incorporated faith, authority, America, and a military chain of command. Untangling my spiritual life wasn’t going to be easy.

The biggest barrier was my own pride to be honest, my own ego. I had developed a reputation for being sort of spiritual, for being someone that others looked to for guidance and direction. For me to abandon all that I had grown up into (spiritually and professionally) would be costly and require me to give up the clout I had established for myself.

I’ve best seen this process explained by a Russian Artillery Officer who, at the end of WWII was rounded up and sent to a gulag in order to meet a quota of officers arrested by the secret police. He recounts from his time in the Gulag:

“It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how a human being becomes good. In the intoxication of youthful success I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that…The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties–but right through every human heart and through all human hearts.”

I came by this quote long after I had submitted my packet (it was posted in a tweet by a pastor named Brian Zahnd, thanks Brain!) but it mirrored what had been to this point only a mysterious whisper, a quiet steady pull away from my youthful religion.

“In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good.”

This paradox revealed more to me about human nature and reality than possibly anything else ever had.

The harder I tried to do good, serve god, and be on the right side of everything the more susceptible I made myself to manipulation, to self-service, and ultimately to bolstering my own ego.

So much of my life to this point–going to West Point, being active in the Christian community, becoming an Officer in the Army–was about seeking to be good largely for my own ultimate gain.

I was–and in many respects still am–the definition of a hypocrite. Line me up with Nicodemus and the other Pharisees and Sadducees that wrestle Jesus ultimately to his death while flirting with his truth.

For so long my life was about becoming a good person, ensuring my own sort of spiritual certainty and cleanliness. I had absolutely no bearing (and again, still only have very little) about what it means to be human, what God really is, and what Jesus meant.

My dissent into dissension came at an emotional crossroads. One day while seeing a movie with friends, I was confronted with a wave of emotion. It was actually Hacksaw Ridge, the story of a conscientious objector. I spent most of the film judging the main character, thinking he was overly moralistic and didn’t understand the real world (remember, I was “well supplied with systematic arguments.”) But something was working in me at such a deep level it’s as if my conscious mind wasn’t even aware of it.

As the first combat scene broke out in the film I fell into a wave of emotions, like a jumper off a bridge hoping to breathe his last breath.

Splat!

The game just changed.

I was sick to my stomach, I got up to go throw up. It wasn’t about the movie, something deep inside me broke.

Playing sports growing up I’ve been standing next to many an athlete while his hamstring snapped, his tibia broke, or achellies tore. It’s like some bone in my soul just popped.

I felt like my true self–something deeper than any of the images I had constructed to shout at the world who I thought I was–had broken through the surface for the first time. As I bent over the theater toilet to vomit, instead of getting sick years of confusion, repressed compassion, and running away bubbled to the surface.

I wept uncontrollably and collapsed to my knees in surrender.

The game just changed, my eyes were opened, though I didn’t understand what the hell was going on. I just wept and wept and let go.

The words came up from within me so deep I dared never visit there before, and honestly I’m not sure if I have since.

“Please don’t make me do this, God. I can’t kill anyone, this isn’t right. This isn’t me. This is wrong. Please, I’m stuck, what can I do.”

I was scared shitless.

In my evangelicalism I thought “the enemy” had attacked me as they say. It was dark, brooding, violent, and uncertain. I had been taught my whole life this was what they call spiritual warfare.

This particular weekend my wife was out of town for a sister’s getaway. So I stayed up late, petrified, anxious, and without peace. The only problem was, this wasn’t some satan attacking me, this was something good, true, and right breaking out of me though I had long repressed it.

In retrospect, I think it’s what some call the dark night of the soul, the first step of genuine spiritual initiation. The beginning of the end for a sense of “I” and personal morality.

It wasn’t to be silenced. So I laid face down on the floor again in surrender.

I wept again and again, in fear, in uncertainty, in brokenness.

It wasn’t a voice from the sky, it wasn’t some profound meeting of an angelic being, it was a knowledge so deep and pure it was almost hot to the touch. Steady and persistent like a train on the tracks. There was no going back. Nothing would ever be the same.

I began bargaining and wrestling, I knew that I needed to get out of the Army and refuse to participate in war. But I was stuck, as a graduate of West Point I owed the Army 8 years of service.

So I caved, I slowly began ignoring what I knew was truth in me and looked for a way out. I opened up a file with the Chaplain’s Corps. I spoke with a recruiter and told him of my situation. I had found a friend who, a year earlier, had suspended his contract to go to seminary and re-enter the army as a Chaplain.

I could do the same thing! So I did what I was taught to do, I took charge, made a plan, mitigated risks, and brought it together.

Only, this was the plan of my ego, the best of both worlds. Save face, keep the ego inflated, and don’t risk losing that free college.

My next step in the process was getting interviewed by a chaplain.

But, it seems fate had plans to box me out. I wasn’t going to get away with this.

I scheduled an appointment with him, told him my story, told him my plans.

After listening to me for hours, he looked at me and said:

“You know Matt. I think you should just get out. And that’s okay.”

I looked at him dumbfounded. “I came here so you could check off the box and get me into the Chaplain Corps, not get advice, I can’t do that,” is what I was thinking.

He went on to say, “There’s a long and honorable tradition in the military of folks like you choosing Conscientious Objection.”

My mind began flashing between images of Hacksaw Ridge and the judgement I had pronounced on the main character, and hippies too busy smoking pot to serve their country.

I was at first indignant, “that’s not me!” My ego screamed.

But at the same time, something else was happening, he just gave me permission to believe what I knew was true since I broke down at the movie theater: it’s okay to get out.

Leading up to the movie incident, I had been in training event after training event where I was just slaughtering people.

10 casualties here, 30 casualties there, 50 here, 100 there. Apparently you don’t even have to be that confident to kill lots of people.

And we watched a film of four men sitting in a village, confirmed terrorist they say. The Artillery Officer coordinated the fire and

Boom!

Three of them disappeared, just gone.

One lone man remains, though without a leg now, trying to crawl and hobble away.

Boom!

We got him too.

And my classmates cheered.

Got his ass, can’t wait to get me some of that.

Hell yeah!

This wasn’t right. These were people, sitting in a circle unsuspecting and boom.

I don’t care about the circumstance, something in me said this wasn’t right no matter how you spin it.

But the Army had me by my finances, so I repressed it, along with the countless people I was sure to kill in my future duties.

This incident would remind me of the stories I would hear from many of the senior officers I would encounter, everything from slaughtering the enemy like animals and loving it, to failed suicides sparked from the children killed as collateral damage.

What foreign policy objective was worth any of this?

And forget my own feelings, what about those people, over there, who without court or right to speedy trial, or children and civilians caught in-between a long-misunderstood feud were murdered? What of the thousands of men wrongly detained for years, and families separated by a brutish force with an at best confusing agenda.

The US is claiming responsibility for 500 civilian deaths in 2017 alone, though many watchdog groups calculate a much higher number.

Furthermore, I meditate day in and day out on the teachings of Jesus and find that he espouses exclusively a singular way to respond with enemies and that is with love, compassion, and radical inaction! His ethic is so far beyond nonviolence, it’s almost non-responsive. It’s absurd.

This ethic says, not only will I die for my friends, but I will die for enemies. I’m convinced walking down the road to the cross Jesus wasn’t trying to satisfy an angry God, He was loving his enemy even unto death.

The pharisees just like me. The soldiers just like me.

If you ever wonder what you would have done during the time of Jesus, ask yourself what you are doing now.

I would have been a Roman soldier; just following orders.

In a moment I knew the chaplain was right. I had to leave.

So I did my homework, prepared for the worst, and met with my commander to start the process.

It took two years of writing (my initial packet was nearly 200 pages), the help of some incredible people ( huge thank you to CPT Kyle and Hollman, Eric, Ellen, Julio, Brian, Drew and Alex just to name a few ), lots of interviews and tons of waiting in uncertainty, but my packet has finally been approved.

And this whole time, my wife stood by my side. She had absolutely no idea what she was getting into, but she saw in my eyes that this was real, this was right, this was serious. She strapped in and buckled down and counseled me through an incredible roller coaster of an emotional journey.

She too has been put through the ringer with constant uncertainty for our young family (our daughter is just over a year and was born in the middle of this!) doing her best to trust that we’d make it through this alright. For months it seemed we would never hear back, and that if we did it would be to pack up and start over, that my packet would be denied.

She didn’t ask for any of this, but remained affirming and constant through it all. (And on certain days, we’d trade places while she opened up about her own fears and worries!)

But finally after two years, word came. I was approved.

It was bitter sweet because they slapped a 100K+ price-tag on my education that I owed back to the Federal Government.

But it’s worth every penny.

I knew the risks–and so did my wife–but we both experienced a reality that we couldn’t ignore. Such a small price to pay to express solidarity with peace, with victims of war and displacement, with families without sons and daughters, in this country and others, because of war. This debt is a small daily reminder of our choice.

And so we go with only a few days left on active duty.

I think of the song Israel sang when led out of Egypt that Jews continue to sing at passover,

“Had He brought all, brought all of us, brought all of us out from Egypt, then it would have been enough”

So much has changed in me and I would love to write and explore more of it later. But for now, as I am leaving my Egypt, I look back and know, it is enough.