Conversations on Doubt

I’m not all onboard with the church anymore. If this is news, I’m sorry we haven’t been in better contact. My decision to stop going to church is complicated.

As I’m writing it, that quick summary feels inauthentic. But then so does forcing you to read an essay. I’ve been earnestly trying to know what’s right in my life. I am having a wonderful, peaceful, time at it. I’m terribly happy but not without my doubts about my decision to leave.

I’m trying not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Tolstoy said of his own doubts, “failing to find an explanation in knowledge I began to search for it in life, hoping to find it among the people around me.”

So on June 1 of this year, after feeling I had exhausted the topic through study, I decided to send out an email to a group of pragmatic and like minded friends. In the email I gave them a summary similar to the one I’ve given above. Then I said,

“Why do you go to church? Does it make you happy? Do you have any doubts or anxieties about the church? Please be yourself. If that means not replying to this email, that’s okay. If that means sending me a link to Finding Faith in Christ and talking to me like a complete stranger, that’s okay too!”

The open call for testimonies wasn’t an attempt to see how intelligent my friends are. It was a call to ethos. I wasn’t then and am still not ready to believe that if Faith is a delusion that it couldn’t also be worthwhile. For the first time in my life I feel open to anything, even the idea that a lie could also be a great cornerstone to base your life on.

I was touched and impressed with the work that many of my friends put into their reply. With their permission, I decided to publish some of them here, anonymously. The back and forth conversations I had with many of them felt very healthy—both for doubter and believer.

This is a really long post, that has been heavily cut back to be more consumable. Everything that follows has been modified for length, focus, and to maintain anonymity. If there is a back and forth, I put my reply in italics.

There isn’t a ton of normal logic to why I go to church currently

First off, this is a pretty common topic around my family these days. [A majority of my brothers] no longer believe it to be something good for their families. I’m still going, But seeing so many people that I respect and love make this decision has only made me more introspective, which is leading to a good thing in my opinion.

There isn’t a ton of normal logic to why I go to church currently. We’ve had a hard time fitting in and feeling welcome in the ward, and besides a few nuggets here and there, we find the services to be a bit dull and repetitive. We asked to be released from our calling because it was freaking us out, and making things much harder for us to understand. My wife really dislikes most of what she has been learning about church history and feels like she had been mislead in certain ways. I really dislike the marketing and business side of the church. I still can’t believe I’m starting to get spam-like emails from the church with buzzfeed-ian subject lines and hashtags.

I like to believe that there is something beyond what I called “normal logic” above. I don’t believe that we know very much in the grand scheme of things and that makes me want to lean on the feelings I have felt more than things that I read. That doesn’t feel quite right to me, as they should go hand in hand, but that is what I’m doing right now.

I remember telling myself during a couple spiritual moments in my life, “Do not forget this. Come back to this feeling if you have doubts.” Right now, I’m riding on the fumes of those feelings. I haven’t done a ton to create new ones lately and it’s running out of steam but there is a past version of myself that is telling me to keep going and I’m not ready to tell him to shove it until I know for sure it was my youthful naivety. I don’t want the pride of my know-it-all 20’s to be the deciding factor.

Right now, it’s not making me the happiest but I also don’t feel depressed or sad at all either. I feel conflicted that I’m not living the gospel well, but I also realize that the happiest way might not be the right way for me. In a lot of areas I choose the path of least resistance and that makes me happy temporarily, so I don’t want that personality trait to make this choice.

——-

Have you made any progress on your feelings here or still about in the same spot? Asking because I’m getting more confused by the day.

I’m finding a small amount of consolation in imagining up a God whose visage is more like a taste than it is a law. Perhaps the lens of faith is a proverbial lens and each person can righteously see things differently. This certainly explains why diversity is still so prevalent among good and well intended people. If God truly did create a testing ground, he would need us each to be different in order for lessons to be learned.

I’ve been reading Seneca’s On The Shortness of Life, in which he says, “It was nature’s intention that there should be no need of great equipment for a good life.” That sentiment feels true to me. It would seem that overcomplicating things is not the answer. Reading and studying has only sent me in circles—and I’m certainly not going to claim knowledge is inherently problematic but I’m getting the sense that it’s a lot like expecting a good curry recipe from a college chemistry class.

A good God gave people their minds and their relationships. For each person, the answer to life is uniquely therein.

I’ve met a few Mormons recently whose sense of religion is one I could get on board with. Is that all that religion really is? If your people aren’t in church, are you really worshiping? If your spouse disagrees, what Christ-like community can you really be entertaining? What have you been feeling? What’s been making you more confused?

When you said “reading and studying has only sent me in circles” — I had to reread the email I sent you because that’s exactly where I am at but didn’t remember mentioning that to you.

The more I read about the history of the church, official and unofficial, the more uneasy I feel about everything. I really expected the opposite to happen, which has me pretty confused. It’s really hard to understand the culture and full story behind what Joseph Smith (and most of the early leaders) were up to and what their motives were and how it applies to me. Like some really weird stuff from my 2015 point of view was going on with my ancestors and my traditions. These folks are my people!

I really like the idea the idea that everyone can see righteousness a bit differently – but it sounds so easy. And coming from a life of extensive doctrine and missionary textbook answers to every question, this thought has me really wrapped up in thinking that it can’t be that simple. We believe in so many steps, ordinances, rituals that we consider vital to glory, it’s hard for me to see a world where for some people those things aren’t required.

But yeah, that’s sort of where I am at. Nowhere near having any answers but hoping I start to feel something more concrete at some point. I definitely can’t spend the rest of my life in the middle confused with touches of guilt.

The rewards are more amorphous

I think Mormons try really hard to be good people, and this counts for a lot as long as they acknowledge they are world class stumblers along with everyone else on the planet.

Along with being generous and patient with each other I think we also have the responsibility to address things that we can improve. In doing so, I try to remember that some things are mine to decide and some are not. Some matters may be very important to me but less so to the community, and that’s ok if we share essential values and remain humble. I’ve seen that when people advocate for change because they feel so strongly about their version of improvement, voices on both sides of the discussion sometimes include judging and belittling.

The reason this all makes sense to me is that I believe wholeheartedly, without reservation, in the agency God grants us. We choose whether to believe, whether to obey, whether to consecrate. This applies to everyone in or out of the church, including prophets and apostles. Their responsibilities and burdens are greater, and one would expect their access to God’s guidance to be greater and perhaps more specific. But I have to believe they are stretched and required to wrestle with things and apply faith and works just like the rest of us. I have no doubt that God interacts with us in ways that we can understand and that we need, providing frequent promptings and occasional dramatic clarity but not always instant feedback for course corrections.

It’s been an interesting process, taking the aggregate responses and trying to have them make sense all at once. Some go to church and hate it, some go to church and love it, some see the church as a utilitarian social structure, others a reasonable system for good living. I’m certain now that no one person is going for the same reason as another. And that feels less exclusionary, in a good way.

I can’t help but worry about the dilemma of choice. It troubles me that if God does care about what we choose that he hasn’t provided a clear enough reward for making the right choice (as he has with good health and other seemingly important choices).

I think the physical health analogy is a pretty good one. Some things make us feel healthier pretty quickly, others don’t change how we feel day to day but we trust in the long-term benefits based on lessons from science, history or personal experience. Some decisions feel like sacrifices but we believe they point us in a good direction. Other things seem harmless or actually feel good, but have a cumulative effect that ends up being catastrophic.

On the spiritual side I do think the rewards are more amorphous or variable. In the church we speak of consequences as if Action A produces Result A (hold family home evening, automatically experience more beauty all around.) But I’ve come to think of those things as secondary — not exactly irrelevant but also not really the point. The primary benefit as I see it is that we become transformed as we exercise faith. Following commandments and embracing covenants is more about becoming something than receiving something.

The pattern I have seen in my life is that most of the time I am expected to act on faith instead of knowledge. This includes beforehand and usually afterward as well. Most of the time it’s a general sense of having done the best you could at the time and under the circumstances, and trusting this is an acceptable offering. Then you build on those experiences so that your best becomes more than what it used to be.

Initially the physical health analogy caught me off guard, and provoked that ever consistent worry I have that perhaps the peace I feel lately is the spiritual equivalent of eating a candy bar. Maybe the nuances of a spiritual diet (when illustrated to a child) don’t make sense when your spirit is so young and flexible. I suppose like children, God designed our spirits to bounce back quite easily from spiritual candy bars as he knew we would eat them often.

That being said, I still struggle with the cumulative catastrophe model as it is the one we most attribute to the devil. It being a more sly or sneaky way of trapping someone into a lifestyle. It seems unlike God to provide laws (regarding eternal salvation) that are not readily apparent until it is too late.

It’s a matter that could be debated, surely, but my issue isn’t with objective good and objective bad (as that model I think there is evidence for) it is with objective truth. Objective spiritual truth seems much less easy to prove. And in that regard, I really wish that consequences were less amorphous!

It’s true because it always tries to be

I want to be edified and feel the spirit there, I believe that the sacrament is necessary, I sometimes gain new spiritual insights. I work with 4 young men and I really want to see them succeed in life (something that is against the odds in their neighborhoods). I think the church can play a big part in that goal. I want to show them an example, and be at church (and our activities) to help them gain testimonies and also try to show them the potential they have.

I also go for social reasons. It help fights the urban isolation that I think a lot of people face in this city.

Does it make me happy? Usually. There are times where I feel a little held back by it or overly stress out about my calling or service in the ward generally. But it gives me goals, a structure, and opportunities to serve I like having quite a bit.

I would classify the majority of my concerns as relatively minor annoyances. For example boy scouts, ugly buildings, and shrouding the temple in mystery unnecessarily. Doubts aside, I do believe it is the only true and living church of God. The living part is probably the more easily definable part of that phrase to me. It is living because it has the authority. Its true because it’s always trying to be.

If you don’t mind my asking, why do you go to church now?

I have wondered that myself. Perhaps old habits, or maybe a longing for community? I spent the last year or so reading theological books, and I’ve decided this year to read memoirs or more emotional takes on the experience of religion. I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s Confession this week, and I can greatly commiserate with him in that he was, “tormented by the problem to live a better life.” I cannot seem to believe in subjective truth and Mormonism at the same time. Yet subjective truth seems to have more evidence in its favor—and it also strikes me as more important if everyone is to be saved or to live a better life!

Kind of a long answer, but I guess it’s because the truth is that I don’t have an answer.

Hey Kyle, just was cleaning out my inbox and found this. Any updates?

This email was sent to ten friends and three of them have surprised me with saying they are inactive or doubting. I’m starting to see that doubting as a lifestyle isn’t very sustaining or desirable.

Eyring said, “however large the kingdom will grow […] you will not ever feel lost or forgotten […]. God will call people to care about you and to teach you.” I’ve met a lot of people lately who are a good archetype for that, but then so are you and others who have worried for me and provided guidance.

I mentioned this before, but it continues to be the theme that presses me of late: I’m trying to go back to how knowledge was when I was at the MTC—not as much a fact as a feeling. Another Eyring thought in this vein, “I knew that what he said came from God and that it was true […]. That was before scholars told me how hard it was to know.” It’s pretty anti-cerebral, but it feels like it’s the only option I have left. Reason answers none of the important questions, Faith provides none of the reasonable facts. Perhaps their lack of overlap suggests they must work hand in hand?

Conclusion

Lately when asked I call myself a secular Mormon. I might watch general conference this weekend, and I try to stay in regular contact with my ward. I’ve attended the wards of good friends, by their insistence, hoping that perhaps there is a Mormon congregation nearby that is healthy for my doubting soul. I can now see that I did not immediately become an ex-Mormon those months ago because of some vague awareness that my ideas might be mistaken.

I am interested in living a considered and meaningful life. I hope I am never closed to the ways by which others find meaning for their lives. I want healthy conversations, and I want to learn more about instincts other than those of my own soul.

And in a large part I detest my own privilege. My ability to dismiss Faith entirely is a showing of my wealth and good fortune. The world’s poor has no time for Tolstoy nor access to Seneca. Am I too good for the system by which billions live and find joy? But also those who I love and keep near to me, who need Faith in their pursuit of goodness as it has lent meaning to their lives—am I not the same as they?

The Great and Spacious Starter Home

It became official while closing on a house. As it turns out, you can’t buy a house unless your spouse signs the title. Jessica Christensen, the loan officer, was the first person we told that we were separating.


In 2012 Claire and I made to decision to buy a 1966 26′ Airstream Overlander. It was a pretty romantic concept, but it was also our religion.

The tracts on Jesus Christ have had just as much weight in my mind as the ones on self sustained and debt free living. Physical fears and famines even held a greater urgency than the spiritual ones.

For a long time I had wanted to live in a Silver Bullet. This probably had more to do with MTV than it did with prophetic counsel, still the trailer was teaching me how to be prepared without having over-abundance. The trailer was helping me to understand God.

So at 23 years old, we moved from our great and spacious basement apartment in the low income part of Provo to embark on our holy quest of stripping ourselves of commercialism. I earnestly believed that doing so would help me understand why I felt like an outsider among my people, and would bring me peace.

We sold our clothes, paints and canvases, musical instruments, recording equipment, and leftover wedding gift crock pots. It was hard, but there was a little consolation in getting one step closer to that peace I felt owed. And a decent baptism it was into the community of minimalism. I felt a little proud, and it was hard not to ostracize those who were not baptized as I was. My wayward grandmother pressed us, “what will you do with your wedding gifts?”


Girls would often give Claire uncomfortable looks when she showed them her clay engagement ring (valued at about twenty dollars). We weren’t traditional in a lot of ways, but we were fully there where we thought it counted. But you don’t have to be on the outside to feel like an outsider. Not so deep down, this caused a discomfort that made understanding spiritual and community signals confusing. Many messages felt mixed, and things were beginning to feel a lot more gray.

Around that time we visited some family friends to announce our engagement. They had met Claire many times, but I probably wouldn’t say they were comfortable with each other. Still, when she held out her hand, I vividly remember the way the father tilted his head while dropping his tone to mutter, “interesting.”


After a year of restoring and repairing, finally graduating from BYU, and quitting our jobs, we hit the road for Portland. I had been offered an internship there, so there was much to be excited about. We felt truly free for the first time in our lives.

Still at the time Claire was suffering with extreme depression. Despite many low moments it felt like if we were faithful in holding our arms wide the fruit of our labor would fix many things.

About 30 miles before arriving in Portland we pulled off the freeway, near the Columbia River, to sleep for the night. In the process Claire found herself up a dead end without the space for our forty-seven foot rig to turn around.

She jumped from the truck and sat on the ground, just feet from the open door, running her hands through her hair. Earlier in the day a storm had torn our roof vent, a window, and an aluminum panel from the trailer. And although this type of anxiety was not unexpected, it was becoming more and more common (the opposite of our prediction). The look in her eyes matched how she looked each day after work, each night before school, and each Sunday before church. They screamed. They screamed that I should put the truck in reverse and not stop until we were back in Utah.

After the sun had set Claire climbed back into the truck. I put my hand on her leg and gently tightened my grasp as I said to her softly, “you got this. You’ll figure this out.”

She didn’t speak, but her ten mile stare suggested, “this isn’t what I signed up for.”


Charles was the sixty-year-old obese, gay, machismo manager of a trailer park on Killingsworth street, just six miles from my internship. He was sitting across from us in the front room of his double wide trailer while helping us fill out the necessary paperwork to live in his poverty stricken macro city. His perfectly parted pompadour stood heroically against the three rotary fans that surrounded him.

“So you want to move in. You and your,” he paused from filling out paperwork, pointing to me with his elbow.

“Husband,” Claire said quickly.

“Husband? You’re really married, for real?” Charles frowned through his questions.

“Uh-huh.”

“Well. Lots-a kids roaming round the park, but your spot’ll be hitched on a solid slab of concrete. No grass, gets pretty hot and isn’t much fun for little ones.”

“We don’t have any kids.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-four.”

He turned to me.

“Twenty-five.”

“You’re twenty-god-damn-years-old and you didn’t get married because you got pregnant? Well. You are a rare breed here.”

And although I have a hard shell from a lifetime of peculiarity, I couldn’t help but feel sad that perhaps this would be another place where we would be outsiders.

In that brief interview he told us his only rule: go about your business as you please, just don’t bring it outside. “I don’t care if you knock your husband around, just keep it in the trailer.”

Though, nobody really ever did keep it in the trailer. Certainly not the man directly behind us, whose 2am shouting at a prostitute seemed to go relatively unnoticed against the backdrop of the woman to our left whose turrets (we could only pray) caused her to scream unmentionables like clockwork from 11PM to 3AM. And though strange those people were, Claire and I found home in dropping our reservations and fighting the pains we were feeling in being far from home, poor, lonely, and stuck living in a perpetually broken trailer.

I hastily backed our truck into a fire hydrant during one particularly memorable fight.

I can only imagine this is why Mormonism thrives in the sprawl-ed suburbs of the West where there are a great many rooms and spacious fields whereby we can all the easier “keep it in the trailer”.

Even with the crime—the drug deals and the thefts, the three strip clubs across the street, and the mangy homeless dogs—that neighborhood became my home. I got to see the subtle beauties of a community in depression. They were good people who cared about us—and let us know we belonged.

They were the glimmer of gold on my road to El Dorado. They were humble, and they didn’t have the ability to let possessions burden them. Still they didn’t have peace.


Our journey continued across the country. A year later, we stumbled back to Utah. I was certain that the experiment had failed, and was pretty vocal about needing space. The two year long marathon in 120 sq/ft had left me gasping for space. But Claire, the long distance runner that she is, wanted to keep running.

I bought a small house on a large lot with 10 large fruit trees, high ceilings, and a garage the size of four Airstreams. This was when Claire left. If you don’t count brief interactions about taxes, we haven’t talked since then. And although I know her better than anyone else, in a way we’ve become outsiders to each other. We had started a religion, and I had abandoned the fold.

So I to my great and spacious, and her to even simpler living. Each walking in opposite directions, in search of the gospel we’d been promised.

Star Trek Morality

Star Trek serves as the base for a lot of my morals. And it managed that for one key reason: it depicts a future that I would like to live in. It offers a hopeful future in which humanity has in large part conquered its prejudices and vanities.

“Star Trek has been a really important vision not only of what future space flight could look like, but also a reflection of what the hopes were, especially in the 1960s, for what human society could look like. So, very importantly in 1966, it’s a mixed-sex, racially integrated, multinational space crew that even includes an alien. I […] was inspired by the idea of people from all nations coming together to explore space.”
— Michael Barratt, NASA Astronaut

The writers of Star Trek sent a strong message about the value of diversity and equality. The actress that played Uhura [Nichelle Nichols] tells the story of meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a fundraiser where he told her she must not leave the show because, “for the first time we are seen as we should be seen. […] it is not a black role, but an equal role.”

It showed that people are not as easy to classify as dogma might like. It featured television’s first interracial kiss, but it did far more than that for minorities of all kind. Star Trek pushed the idea that women could be successful in a leadership role, that the physically or mentally challenged could still be heavy contributors to society, and that programs and technology will never advance society quite like a correctly prioritized humanity can.

There are limited examples of money being used on Star Trek. Creator Gene Roddenberry mutated the prevalent careerist ideology by introducing the concept of a future where the acquisition of wealth was no longer the driving force. Instead, people could spend their lives working toward the betterment of themselves and humanity. By stripping out personal greed, and assuming people longed for the best for each other, the show could easily access the secondary and tertiary causes for larger systemic and societal problems. The stories, like biblical parables, have helped me to see complex issues more simply.

Star Trek has given me the ideal. A simple ideal off which I often make large decisions with the hope it will lead to a future where people respect one another for mutual betterment.

Social Progression — A Mormon Narrative on Common Ideological Issues

Here are some musings on the culture of Mormonism. I have nothing to say on the doctrine, as that is not my place.

“Any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding age have assured us of;—and yet we learn to read only as far as Easy Reading…and our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies…” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I like the idea of Easy Reading. It lends itself well to an analogy I’d like to make about walking.

“We boast that we belong to the Nineteenth Century and are making the most rapid strides of any nation. But consider how little this village does for its own culture. […] We need to be provoked—goaded like oxen, as we are, into a trot.”

Also for the purpose of my narrative in this analogy: Thoreau’s townsmen are the members of my community: Mormons.

And now, the main event.

The request to lengthen your stride (1) insists that you both become more kind or charitable while also becoming more disciplined. Flexible, and strong. Often the two tasks confound one another. So it’s easier to just pick one and stick to it. Lately Mormons are stuck on obedience—discipline. Easy Walking: good pace keeping.

But the confounding of charity is not necessary. There is room if we are willing to re-examine our gait. The command to lengthen is not to operate beyond your capacity but to operate within the fulness of your capacity, not unlike this commandment from the New Testament, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” The command resides within the confines of “all,” the command makes no request for beyond. And within that all is both compassion, and strength.

“It is time that villages were universities…”

Mormonism is the village whereby we learn and grow socially, and culturally. It is our relationships, and the major sum of them are of one mind. Thoreau is not asking that our village gain the bureaucracy, or fraternities, of universities. But that the culture take on the innate, individual, mutability of academia. The fearless longing for truth. Like Oxen, we will push along until the trot changes—collectively, not individually.

“…let us have noble villages of men. If it is necessary, omit one bridge over the river, go round a little there, and throw one arch at least over the darker gulf of ignorance which surrounds us.”

Fear is a dark shadow, drawing a confrontational line that insists we take sides. In fear there is no moderation, there is no grey area. And in ignorance there is no room for compassion.

Because of these looming threats, many of us have not prepared well for mixing personal ideology with lifestyle. So we walk confidently but misguidedly into life, lacking empathy, and treating our personal community with love but those outside (general humanity) with misunderstanding and disrespect. We’re stuck in bomb shelters, having a cold war against intellectuals, feminists, and the state of Colorado.

The guise of better form and longer strides has become a sure way toward social damnation.

Let us have noble villages of men. Let us be proud of a stride which has within it a sense of duty for bettering the world around us. Let our stride not just be disciplined in trot, but open to change of pace and willing to break form for charity, education, and social betterment. Change must become a part of our gait, and understanding manifested within our form.

It’s Not All About Satisfaction

I’ve decided that it’s just about time I put together some of the thoughts I’ve had since starting the passionately project with Claire.

The question we posed as our thesis was, “is it possible to feel successful and satisfied?” And as we wrapped up our seventh video today, I’m getting stuck on this quote that he gave:

“… there’s also just the satisfaction of doing a job. There’s a client and they have a problem, and it’s hard and you can’t fix it, and then you figure out a way [to] solve their problem.” — Dan Cassaro

This got me thinking about how much we had painted our project into a corner. We had assumed that everyone wanted to feel satisfaction—which is an awfully presumptuous thought. I’ve since tried to determine all the things in my life that make me feel good but that I certainly wouldn’t call feeling satisfied. To be satisfied, I think, is to feel a little bit of resolution. It is to say that a thing is done and that there is no longer a draw to be doing it. But I love: cleaning, going for a run, drinking soda, talking with friends, getting caught up on twitter, taking photographs, playing the guitar; and the thing that I love about these things is that they are constant and do not have the qualities of a satisfied thing.

Dan’s mentioning of a simple, punch the clock kind of, job reminded me that art is not always about overcoming something. Often it is about being counted on to just punch the clock and do the thing. And that, in its own way, can have a very healthy satisfied feeling without ever actually being called done. Sometimes punching the clock is doing a draft, and sometimes its fixing a bug from a project you thought was finished.

Always expecting an orgasm out of art when more often than not you’re just holding hands will lead to a very bad relationship. And one that, logistically, would be pretty time consuming and not all that desirable.

Love

We live such monogamous lives.

We’re not just afraid of plurality, we’re entirely afraid of the infinite. We’re afraid of all that can’t be seen and touched. We live a duality with our love of the internet in that it gives us access to all but we are insufficiently tooled with the ability to actually obtain and comprehend it all. This is terrifying.

This is also why we both love and hate marriage. To be married is to obtain it all, but it is also to know that you can be closer to someone than anyone else is on the planet and still not fully understand the full depth of their person.

My mind only lets me love what it can comprehend, yet it fantasizes with unexperienced realities in a hope that there is something more love-able outside those confines. This is the societal struggle with all forms of love. How can you have a love for a couple in a homosexual relationships if you have not understood what it is like to be a homosexual? And that same brain makes me wonder, how can you love your job knowing that their might be better jobs out there? The push and pull is relentless, and the relentlessness is so overwhelming that it can become sedating.

I’m finally beginning to feel like I “get” love. It’s always seemed so much bigger than me—like a poem I can memorize but I could never write. But lately it’s so simple without actually becoming any smaller or insignificant.

It is plurality. It is bigger than me, but it is also just the right size. Like trudging through the infinite and seeing the final milestone, I feel refreshed in my understanding that I have had a place in this task. That I have a gift to give that is bigger than just being myself or being someone worthy of a laugh. There is an opportunity to be bigger than a guy whose thoughts are worthy of giving company to. In this moment: no longer is uniqueness, or individuality, the priority of my life.

And in the beauty of the paradigm, I know that I am still being monogamous in this thought. I know that tomorrow I will be dual in my hate, and the next day triple in my confusion. But for the first time, in the repertoire of my talents, I feel like I can be loving and that that love can be felt.

I have finally learned to love, and I am no longer afraid of dying alone.

A Dutiless Year

This last year taught me a lot about living. As a classically trained Christian who was obsessed with a dutiful desire to be obedient to God by expressing charity and love, I’ve always felt that it is rather difficult to be a decent human being. And that thought extends far past that thought and into ambiguous territory like the difficulties of: reading the right books, feeling the correct emotions, using my time in the right ways, or having the appropriate self body image.

Anyone who has the background that I do loves programs because they give a life rubric that is easy to carry around in your pocket. For those who know me well, I’m sure you’ve heard me reference Quadrant 2 (from 7 Habits) or codependence (from Codependent no More) quite a few times. The not so easy, but task focused, philosophies within self help books have always offered me an out for my unwillingness to be disobedient to those aforementioned ambiguous rules.

And though they may have made me a good, or successful, person they have not made me a person worth being in the company of. A drone will always make a lousy friend.

Don’t get my wrong: I’m writing this article now because of my need to see it as a task accomplished. Tasks are not inherently wrong, but they are highly addictive and in so being become life dominating. They are the mechanics of the day to day, but nothing more. In looking back in my life, I would hope those day to day trees are forgotten for the sake of the forest.

If you were to die right now, what would be the feeling texture of your last moment? […] Are you so absorbed in some task that you would hardly notice death upon you? — David Dieda

So, as I begin this year, I’m trying to take more opportunities to celebrate my failure at keeping to all the lofty goals I’ve set for myself in 2014. Any disenchantment with tasks is a cause for celebration, especially if your grand tally of tasks kept was hindered by a grand tally of moments lived.

There is no way to turn loving someone, or becoming a decent human being, into a series of tasks. That act is achieved in the being, not in the doing. And if being takes all day, at the cost of disrupting a pattern of doing that you’ve long hailed as an indicator of success, I’d consider it a day well spent and a pattern rightly sacrificed.

Has your task addiction built blinders that limit the vastness of your vision? — David Dieda

The Object of Your Concentration

Living in the Airstream, these last seven months, has meant spending a lot of time cleaning. Unlike a house, an Airstream often has direct access to dirt and mud simply because its intention is to not be surrounded by concrete. Likewise, being on the road has done some major damage to the cleanliness of the truck. I spent an hour or so yesterday, deep cleaning the exact same areas I had cleaned a week ago. They looked like years of soda, soil, and dog hair had been piling up. I’m sure you can all all imagine how a road-tripped car floor looks.

But I enjoy it. Cleaning something makes me more grateful over it. It’s a unique time to take an account of things. A time to look at what you own, care for it, summarize its value in your life, and try to return it to the state in which you bought it. Usually by the end of the experience I’m filled with a kind of profound gratitude for that thing which has been so filling to serve me and my needs.

To know something is to clean it.

Lately I’ve been thinking quite a lot about life, why we are here, and what God expects of us. I’ve come to more firmly believe that God wants us to experience life, make mistakes, and expect His forgiveness and Love through the example I’ve explained above.

“All things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.”

— Moses 1:35

God’s ability to know all of his Children, and to number them, is connected with the time he has spent cleaning them and caring for them.

A Disciple once came to a teacher to learn to meditate on God. The teacher gave him instructions, but the disciple soon returned and said that he could not carry them out; every time he tried to meditate, he found himself thinking about his pet buffalo. “Well then,” said the teacher, “you meditate on that buffalo you’re so fond of.” The disciple shut himself up in a room and began to concentrate on the buffalo. After some days, the teacher knocked at his door and the disciple answered: “sir, I am sorry I can’t come out to greet you. This door is too small. My horns will be in the way.” Then the teacher smiled and said,: “Splendid! You have become identified with the object of your concentration.”

— How to Know God, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali

I have thought often of this passage in the context of modern Christianity, and what it truly means to become the object of your concentration. As Christ is the teacher, in the passage above, I concede that he intends on us becoming as he is through this very same act of meticulous meditation. Not that we live perfect lives, on the contrary, but that we begin to know who Christ is by doing as he does. Perfection, or to be perfect, is not a verb nor an act. When Christ says, “that which ye have seen me do, that must ye also do,” he is talking about the acts of a Christ, of a Savior. And one significant act that we often overlook, as we emulate the savior, is the act of cleaning.

A great teacher was once asked to explain one of the most seemingly mysterious actions recorded in the Gospels, Christ’s cursing of the barren fig tree. “Become a Christ,” he replied smilingly, “and then you will know why he did that.”

— How to Know God, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali

God’s plan was marvelously crafted so that we would be inclined to park our trailers near mud, because he knew the significant gratitude and love we would learn to have in the process of cleaning them. Only by regularly meditating on Christ would we come to know Him and to be known of Him.

I believe we spend too much time mourning for our mistakes, and not enough time emulating Christ through cleaning up our mistakes. The process of having Faith, and seeking repentance through Christ, is the Christlike act of cleaning. In that moment we are able to become the object of our concentration and see ourselves through his eyes.

I have always seen repentance as an act of humility, not as a pursuit of value and knowledge. It’s more clear to me now why God would have us perform this act quite regularly rather than a single proclamation of Faith and a desire to be clean from that moment forward.

In each of these repentant moments we gain esteem and gratitude for our imperfections, and fondness and love for our weaknesses. To know something, is to clean it.

The Complicated Business of Cross Disciplines in Commercial Arts

A few months ago I made this blog post on the font site about what my philosophy has been in selling fonts. In the last 10 months of selling type, my philosophy has evolved quite a bit. Each situation that presents itself makes my position a little more difficult, and my ethics a little more complicated.

I recently got an email from a college student who said that, “money is currently an issue,” and that his, “commercial font selection is very limited.” Precisely the audience I’ve been looking for! He then went on to ask if I could do him a favor by expanding his font selection.

After I got over the initial appeal of how gutsy he was for asking for free tools, I wondered what made him think the exchange he offered was advantageous to either of us. Here are a portion of my thoughts, that I sent to him as my reply.

I’ve been a student before, so I know where you’re coming from. If getting better fonts is your solution for having a better portfolio, perhaps this will be a worthwhile learning experience for you. [I couldn’t afford] any typefaces by H&FJ, House Industries, […] or any of the big names in type design—but boy did I want to. So I stole them (pirated), thinking that it would improve my portfolio.

To make a long story short, it didn’t make me a better designer, it made me a lazy designer. I guess, here’s what I’m trying to say: take advantage of the time you have without great tools. Use the ones you have, recognize their weaknesses, and learn to adapt. Learn to hand letter, study what makes a great typeface—and then buy a few mediocre ones to get you started. There are some very affordable, versatile font families out there (Gibson, for example, http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/canadatype/gibson/).

The issue is pretty complicated. Digital type has given young designers the opportunity to look like they know more than they do. It’s a big boost, but it’s an artificial one at best. It’s one that’s plaguing an industry and giving outsiders the idea that all it takes to be a great designer is a great set of tools. Own the Creative Suite and the right fonts and you’re just as good as anybody else. It cuts out the complicated middlemen named: time, study, and failure.

I’m a huge proponent of type, and I have no problem with a high price being set on a high quality tool. Digital type is going to restore the beautiful alphabets that were lost during the transition from sign painters to digital publishers. Nor do I have a problem with well developed programs (not really talking about Adobe here). They’re not the problem—the culture is. Type designers and graphic designers alike need to begin crediting each other where credit is due. We’re not in competition; our relationship is symbiotic.

Our talk is often critical of one another rather than educational. The forum for discussion is not open, causing confusion and misunderstanding to abound. Can we work on this? Look at your position in the commercial arts and ask yourself, “is my dissidence with the artists of other disciplines making the world a less beautiful place?”

What 13-year-olds Taught Me About Being an Adult

I’ve certainly learned more during my time at Mountain Ridge Jr. High than I’ve taught. By the end of it I’ve realized that it wasn’t my college degree, nor my age, nor my lower voice that separated me from them, but simpler things. Some of them are cliche, or ego-ethics, but I think they’re important.

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. You have always been a snot nosed kid, and you will continue to be a snot nosed kid. Learning strategies like blowing your nose in a bathroom stall, or picking your nose during your 30 minute commute, will come with time.
  2. You become an adult when you learn how to frame your hair against your face. Catch me right after I roll out of bed and you’ll agree that I don’t look that different from many Jr. High students.
  3. Forget about respecting your mentors, begin to respect your peers. Those you look up to will forgive you for your disrespect—that’s why you started looking up to them in the first place. Someone who is truly an adult will take the time to respect those that are easy to look down on.
  4. Creativity is not a genetic trait. We are only as predisposed to a talent as we choose to be.
  5. Sometimes you need a pat on the back, sometimes you need a rebuke, most adults need both. 13-year-olds needs as many hugs as 18-year-olds need slaps. As adults, we assume that it’s all slaps from 18 on. Many of the largest critiques of Dribbble is its cultural inability to critique—as if respectable adults don’t support and comfort each other. A healthy adult will seek to stroke their ego just as often as they’ll seek to critique their ego.
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