Sediment of the Soul

I had poetically poignant moment today. Not that the very life I live isn’t full of symbolic gestures of beauty, but there was a moment today when my words actually sounded poetic to another “actual” human being.

“Sediment of the Soul”… that was the particular phrase that caught the attention of others. Invoked through the context of rigorous honesty, I was attempting to convey my experience with transformation. I find that my most pregnant opportunities for transformation lie in my encounter with struggle and more… that I, more often than not, recognize the spirit of my struggle – it feels familiar. It is an old friend; its taste reminds me of my former selves, an inescapable history of self-identification. When I face struggle its like the sediment of my soul is stirred and darkens the waters of experience. It’s blinding; clear direction is lost. I literally fumble about peoples lives, knocking people around, aggravating, offending. I come face to face with core unskillfulness – a powerlessness that courses through… AND, that’s my signal to completely, utterly, let go. My experience is than in “letting go”… with practice (mediation, prayer, spiritual community, service) with each additional stir the sediment dissipates or is re-integrated a little more so that less and less settles on the bottom. The water of my soul is being purified.

BUT… not in the moments I make lewd gestures about sex or piss my sister off in a bout of projected frustration. All that happened this week… Super unskillful. Utterly desirous. Whatever. I think I’m becoming a Buddhist. If I started talking about “sin” you think I’m uneducated so… more dots…

On a similar topic, a really weird sensation flowed through me last week. It was an encounter with a former self in a super real, somatic, alternative-reality, visionary way. (you know…right?) It was brought on by a powerful experience of deja-vu. The deja-vu was me walking into my classroom knowing I was in deep trouble and being confronted by my two bosses. It struck me heavily; I literally stopped in my tracks walking to my desk. I tasted my fear, and looked around my classroom. I was alone. I started speaking over myself immediately. I told myself that nothing was wrong at all. I started praying immediately and thanking God that I wasn’t in trouble. Here, I got a deep vision of a former self whose fear was real because he was in trouble and I felt a deep sense of gratitude that this was not me. The heaviness of that experience stayed with me all day… I still remember… It was unmistakable fear. I’m convinced it flowed from an old piece of hard wiring sending messages that would have formerly applied to my experience – attempting to psychologically protect me from the harm of failure, tragedy. It was the fear of failure or doing something wrong, or being found out or something of the sort, but it was familiar and intimate; It was my history – the sediment of my soul.

Excursions into the Southern Church

It’s more than an excursion I guess. It feels more like a calling and a dream yet realized… which has all sorts of frustrations attached to it.

Its been a little over 7 months since my return from China and just about a year since I left San Francisco as a resident. It’s strange to think of time this way. The time has passed so quickly, it feels almost unjust. The farther my distance in time and intimacy from San Francisco the closer I find myself to Chattanooga, TN. Place lends itself to attention, and after some months of avoidance or just apathy I’ve been dabbling, testing the waters, of the Southern Church. It tangles me up inside. I don’t feel very safe inside Churches anymore, much like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra I feel overwhelmingly compelled to cry out – become the madman – in fiery critique as each word, sentence, declaration is uttered from the pulpit and parroted by the congregation; it all reeks of antiquation. “Have you not understanding?!! You’re beliefs are rotting beneath the very language you use to profess them! Your precious faith requires renewal, not only of the heart but of the mind!!”

I want to be the madman but the courage is not with me. Perhaps, I need more training, or perhaps I care to much for my new, prominent job as a teacher – I doubt whether I would keep my job very long if I built a reputation flying off at the handle in every new church service I attended. Even after years of excavating and healing my anger, it still finds me; it is an anger that finds fuel in the strangest of ways. Most recently it found me as I explored a new growing, popular Church in Chattanooga.

I recognize my anger. It flows from a familiar karma, an emotional, circumstantial contradiction between the is and the ought, the actual and the potential. When I walk into Church communities I am hit face to face with my own powerlessness, anger, humility, love and compassion. It’s all there. The egoic voices run first and loud: “Doesn’t the church “need” me? Hasn’t my path toward liberating the Christian mind been valuable, worth communicating and even… preaching?” This passionate frustration often expressed in anger flows from a place deep in my heart. In so many ways I have devoted my entire life toward this end – toward the liberation of the human soul. Upon this identity more than any other I hung my desire to serve and lead. I do dream of preaching a liberation and liberating gospel – that is yet to be realized in my life.

I have steered clear of these particular communities for so long – the Fundamentalist Christians – overtly “Biblical” they are demanding “Salvation” where “Jesus” and “Blood” and “Cross” are interchangeable locutions for belonging. On the one hand, I have a deep affection for this particular brand of marketed/plastic/commodified Christianity. I know it; I came from it; And I desire to change it. And on the other, the very truth I hold out as its new aim – a history of conscious evolution, the integration of religion and science, the integration of the sacred and the material, a critical consciousness of liberation, justice, and love – the conviction with which I believe “Christianity” needs this message reeks of the very judgement that I find so reprehensible in its message. “I have the “Truth” and you deserve to hear it and be redeemed by it!”

I’m working on being compassionate toward Christians. They need prayer as much as anybody. I have no business warring with it or anything for that matter. When its my time to radically change the Church I’m sure I’ll know it. In the mean time, I have to continually realize the truth which is that I am a teacher. I do not sell a new version of Christianity. I teach 6th grade Global Cultures and its awesome enough.

The Power of the Gendered Body

I’m running with a few different lines of thought in this post. I’ll start with the notion of the body, in particular the gendered body as a site of power. Recently, I participated in an event called the Cat/Rat parade – a long tradition at the school that I am now a proud employee. (In another post I’ll have to talk about the legacy of hazing this tradition carries into the present – an interesting topic in-and-of itself.) Before the event started I was following a few other of my gendered-female co-workers into the room were all the girls were getting ready. One of my co-workers all the sudden turned around and suggested that I wait outside because we had no idea where in the process of putting on their costumes all the girls would be, and I wouldn’t want to walk in on anything inappropriate. I took her suggestion and we both waited outside together. Something she said sparked in me a moment of monologue about the significance of the body which I would like to share now.

The education I received in San Francisco was very attentive to the body. We held classes in somatic therapy, body work, classes that facilitated, in both theory and practice, safe exploration of embodied touch across gender boundaries; we thought critically about the body and the assumptions both genders carry about each other; we used the categories of sex and gender to re-frame our perspectives about self, other, and society. Standing on the side walk that day, I caught myself about to critically engage a hyper sexually repressed Christianity and the power those narratives hold over and against the body. As Michel Foucault might relate in his book Discipline and Punish – those power structures, our very history, defines the body, forces it to act, to repress, control; these forces position it, offer it up for celebration or discipline, acceptance or shame. The body is constituted by these forces, perhaps a great deal more that it acts upon them.

Standing on the sidewalk, I didn’t get that far in my analysis before a line of 6th grade girls dressed as different toys by their “cats” (the seniors), all flowed out of the building: Care Bears, Legos, Toy Story – they were adorable! BUT, if I’d only had a brief bit longer I would have gone into a differing line of interpretation which, now that I can reflect upon it, am grateful that I was interrupted because I was about to enter risky, though thoughtful, territory.

I want to problemitize the assumption that the masculine body is somehow inept, un-useful or worse unsafe/suspected, in the context of an all girls environment or any environment for that matter. These assumptions are, though often unconscious, practically innate and determined from a 5,000 year history of masculine domination, a dominance, which has always been about sexual domination and genital hierarchy. The history of Christianity, along with the deep process of modernization, has sufficiently tamed and confined the sexual body within the institutions of marriage. Deviation from these institutions (divorce, LGBTQIQ relationships, non-monogamous, non-heteronormative relationships) irrupts from the twisted course of sexual repression looking for new formations, meaning and celebration. AND tied closely to the deep confusion sexual “mix-conduct” brings – the shame, guilt, pity, victimization and perpetrator costs – is the very heart of feeling caged in a culture without meaning. In our normal days we are now as valuable as our production rates, our pay, our maximization as consumer and our ability to become a commodity within the market/machine. The result is that sustained healthy expressions of sexually are incredibly rare, as is happiness. But, perhaps I have digressed…

I am happy. And per the invocation of my particular case study…I am at an amazing school and our trust of one another, across gender-lines, is something of a model. It’s hard for meaning to elude teachers, despite their pay.

The interesting thing for me continues to be that I am one gendered masculine person among a sea of women! Often, in any given setting, room, meeting, event, I am the only man. I notice demographics. I didn’t always notice demographics…and for men of my demographic position, it isn’t usually this way. All my life I have occupied a privileged position in society – indeed the most privileged! I occupy every demographic of dominance one could list: White, male, straight, middle class, Christian, American, educated, even athletic, even handsome (right?)! Of course each of these categories resist simplicity; I am far from a “straight” boy, barely identifiable as “Christian” – especially in TN, and my education has proven to be the very weapon that I wield to consciously intervene on my privileges, to see other perspectives, offer hospitality to the stranger, be that one of differing religion, color, or gender.

The point that I’m coming to and must conclude with is that the power of ‘consciousness’ – expressions of felt compassion and awareness built upon the very convictions of experience – liberates us from the confines of repetitious history and confining constitutions, be it gendered, raced, classed, sexed, religious, political or otherwise. My history, the particular formation and performance of my masculinity makes me suitable and valuable to an all girls school. I am quite proud. It’s a gift.