Church

There’s an adorable English mastiff I saw a few times in the yard adjacent to the Lutheran church a block from my house. There’s a living quarters on the premises, so I guessed that that the dog belonged to the pastor. One day an elderly gentleman in that yard asked me if my dog’s frantic barking at his dog was playful or otherwise, and I guessed that he was the pastor.

“I’m pretty sure it’s playful – it sounds playful – but he’s a rescue and he’s so big that I don’t want to risk it,” I yelled back across the street. When I got home after that walk, I went to my whiteboard to-do list and wrote, “Go to church/befriend pastor.”

So yesterday, that’s what I did. In addition to that particular ulterior motive, I’ve been wanting to go to a place of worship lately. I enjoy the sense of community and the singing, and generally, I find church services to be a good reminder to be a good person as often as possible.

It was a windy day in Chicago, so there wasn’t anyone standing outside to indicate which door might be best to walk through, so I went through the front door. Opening the heavy wooden door was a dramatic affair as it blew open violently, and the wind rushed in along with a hurried me trying to get out of the cold. The small group of greeters standing inside looked at me wide-eyed and one said, “Well hello!”

I said hello and grabbed a program and started to walk by them, when they stopped me saying, “Do we know you?”

“No, I don’t believe you do!” I said, and I turned around and shook each of their hands (all of them were super awkward about it, but sweet, so I stopped myself from making snide remarks).

I introduced myself to the pastor, and laid the groundwork with a reminder of who my dog was. He’s loud, and a doberman with a tail, so he stands out in a crowd. The pastor remembered him and me by proxy.

The inside of the church was beautiful. Ornate dark wood carvings lined the front of the church, and behind that was a colorful abstract stained glass window. The same type of glass dotted the walls alongside the pews. The carpets were a deep red. Overall, I’d describe the space as warm and cozy, even in spite of the high ceilings and ya know… the churchy vibe.

By the time the service started, I was the only one seated in the first 4 rows, and the back of the church was only sparsely populated. Since I hadn’t been to church in so long, kept turning around to check if people were standing or sitting at certain parts. For the most part, I enjoyed my time there. The song selection was a bit dated, and I know we all love us some organ music, but if I slept less the night before before, the tempo would have lulled me to sleep.

The takeaway from the sermon was that we should more mindfully dole out small measurements of love to improve the relationships in our lives. Jesus said in Luke 6, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

To the children, it was put in terms of baking cookies, and the pastor handed out chocolate chip cookie mix packets to the children at the front of the church. My favorite part of the whole service was the audibly whispered, “YESS!” from one of the parents behind me.

After the service, I glad-handed downstairs between bites of homemade banana bread and sips of coffee. I put four boxes of Girl Scout Cookies on hold in the school office (I was supposed to go get them today, but my check didn’t go through, so I’ll go get them tomorrow – it’s only a block away after all). I walked back into the cold grayness of the outdoors with a smile on my face.

I don’t know how often I’ll go back to this particular place of worship, but I’ll definitely go get those cookies and introduce my dog to Cici (that’s the mastiff’s name). I also hope to open a philosophical dialogue with the pastor while our dogs play.

I spent a lot of time in churches when I was growing up, and the similarity between what Jesus said and what Buddha said (according to my recent readings) is striking. I mean, I always knew that, but churching it up yesterday reignited that bit of knowledge. Now I want to check out a synagogue, and a mosque, and a non-denominational spiritual center to see how everybody else is doing this whole “spread the love” business that I’m such a big fan of. Maybe I’ll learn something, or maybe I won’t, but I’ll be going in with an open mind and an open heart to see what there is to see, and spread some love of my own.

Rebranding

I’ve spent the vast majority of my formative years meandering through what seemed like a meaningless string of careers and experiences that had nothing to do with one another. I wanted to join the Navy, then I wanted to become a psychologist, then I wanted to work in politics, communications, sales, physical fitness, animal wellbeing, firefighting, comedy, the service industry… The list probably isn’t over.

I know I want to write going forward – that’s going to be a given from now on. In all the research I did on becoming a comedian or an author, so many of those who had already made it asked their audience, “What is it that you want to tell the world? Who are you? What is your brand?” I’ve been struggling with that ever since. Like… Why should anyone listen to meĀ talk about my meditative practice? Why should anyone be willing to lend their precious time to me for the sake of reading what I’m writing? Entertainment? Yes, obviously I’d like to be entertaining, but shouldn’t what I’m saying have some substance?

I think it should. That’s why I’m choosing to pursue this degree in counseling psychology in Vienna. I mean, sure I just really want to move to Europe, and Vienna is calling to me, but that’s why I want to reignite my passion for the field of psychology – because I think I can actually fucking help people. I think all of my failings and falling down and getting back up can actually mean something if I put some time and energy into figuring out their links.

When I was in college, I tried acid for the first time. I was just doing it for the sake of trying it, and it was a small blip in what became years of recreational drug use, but even then I knew it was something special. I read Electric Koolaid Acid Test and I became enthralled with the history and emerging science of psychedelics. I realized that there was something sitting on the edges of our consciousness that these drugs allowed us access to, but I got caught up in the powerful current of doing drugs for fun, and it took me WAY farther downstream than I thought it even could. But now, MDMA is being proven to treat PTSD and more and more research is showing there to be some therapeutic value in these substances I was captivated by (not cocaine, though).

Since high school I’ve been a strong advocate for physical fitness and eating well (mostly). I set up training sessions for my friends and me, organized trips to the park to climb on jungle gyms or throw around medicine balls, researched ad nauseum how different muscle groups worked together, and how to maximize each of their potentials. I’ve continued reading articles through to this day about the advances we’re making in kinesthesiology and nutritional science – how we can fine-tune what we’re putting into our bodies to reach new potentials.

I’ve always been an avid hiker. It’s been one of the most frustrating things about living in Chicago – I haven’t hiked once in the last six months, and I’m pretty sure it’s driving me mad. I’m a proponent of hiking because of the physical aspect, yes, but also because I believe strongly that immersion in nature can have such an unspeakably positive effect on our emotional and mental stability. There is no substitute for being five miles into the wilderness, and basking in the sunlight while you look out on rolling hills and vast mountain ranges, and absorb the energy of the life around you.

Still, there is no substitute for being surrounded by people you love, or people you don’t even know for that matter, and laughing together – unencumbered by social mores and time and space. Going to church and singing with 300 other people, voices harmonizing (or just being kind of shitty, but at least together) is an experience we should all have regularly. Having a drink with friends or making new ones at a bar in a new city can be just what I – what anybody – needs after long hours grinding away at work. We are social creatures, and socializing nourishes us in ways that nothing else can.

I want to study what it means to be a whole human being. I want to become one, sure, but I want to help others find whatever wholeness they can. I think that all of these things are a part of it, each as important as the last. We must all look inward and outward for pieces of the pie (mmmm, pie…), and each of those pieces will help us to paint a more full, rich picture of the people we ought to and can be.

That is the future I’m signing up for. That is the future I’ve been signing up for all along. And dammit, I’m really looking forward to that pie.