02.28.19

the work, feelings about foles, and religion

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:01 pm by Administrator

a few days ago, I got to experience Byron Katie’s approach to what she calls “the work”. it was at times a slow, grueling experience, and it delivered less of an emotional payoff than I had perhaps expected. but in that slow, iterative process of inquiry we practiced, i sensed its value in the way it encourages doubt: doubt in self, doubt in belief, doubt in conviction. that confession of self-doubt, repeated again and again, inevitably leads to the deconstruction of underlying identity. this is where the power of the approach resides. it is no different in essence from what eckhart tolle preaches; it is a probing, relentless chipping away at the barriers we erect between ourselves and others, for the purpose of becoming aware of our suffering—our self-inflicted, arbitrary, and unnecessary suffering.

on another note, nick foles is now a free agent, and i will miss our quarterback immensely. perhaps i am still among the minority of fans that believes we should have committed to him for the long term while trading away our younger star in the wings, carson wentz. alas, the franchise probably made the right decision. after repeated reflections, I’ve determined that the top positional priorities for our first three picks (picks 25, 53, and 57) have to be defensive end, offensive tackle, and running back, most likely in that order. it’s a close call between wide receiver and running back in the second round; but the fact of the matter is that the eagles have decided to be a win-now team, and while first-year wide receivers typically struggle with a steep learning curve, rookie running backs are often capable of an immediate (and significant) impact. we’re better off drafting a running back and signing a free agent receiver rather than vice-versa. cole beasley or chris hogan for $5-6 million would be great fits for an offense that needs a legitimate slot receiver and a longer-term replacement for the flashy but ever inconsistent nelson agholor.

my friend in prison grew up in the Christian faith as i did and is now having profound questions about the nature of her faith. what is this belief system that prescribes a facile “believe and you’re in” doctrine of justification by faith? how does that kind of religion work when human beings face such a variety of profound sufferings and obstacles to this invitation to relationship that we call “grace”? i offered her my thoughts, as i empathize with her struggle:

The deeper I get into philosophies of mindfulness and self-care, the more I recognize that the essence of religion is breaking with false identity. False identity can be defined in innumerable ways, and indeed this is what distinguishes the major faith traditions. But in essence, false identity is that which compels an individual to act out of selfishness, greed, malice, and self-loathing. Getting free of that burdensome and self-destructive identity frees the individual to experience not only personal peace but also true and transforming benevolence toward others. I don’t see any purpose to religion beyond that. I don’t think Jesus Christ did either.

I’m in a chapter of my life where I’m working through my deep anger toward the church and toward intellectual Reformed Protestants of the American Evangelical tradition in particular. Where did their religion of complex concepts, exclusive covenants, and intricate moral structures come from exactly? With time, I’m learning to forgive them; they are as driven by fear and self-doubt as anyone else in the world. The process of sanctification or enlightenment, however you name it, truly resides in forgiveness–profound forgiveness that allows you to get free of the past, to get free of unnecessary judgments, and to be truly kind to oneself and ultimately to others as well. Any religion that prevents a person from exercising profound kindness and compassion to self and to others is idolatry. And Christianity is indeed that idolatry for many (if not most) of the people who practice it. That is a sad fact indeed.

when i consider the idea of God, i ask him not if he is true but rather if he is necessary. necessary to my living and dying. necessary to my ability to love and to care for others. necessary to my understanding of beauty, dignity, and mutual compassion. and God does not answer me when i do not permit my ego to speak for Him. rather, i sense a profound sympathy for myself, in the long path i have taken. wasn’t God with you, throughout all these years of struggle, sadness, and searching? wasn’t God at the center of you, in your process of understanding the self?

yesterday, i asked the four question, regarding my belief in God. to the question “is it true?”, i answered “i don’t know.” to the question “is it undoubtedly true?”, i answered “certainly not”. i asked myself “what is my reaction on account of this belief?”, to which i answered “a lifetime of pain and suffering.” and finally, “how would i be if i did not believe in this thing?” free of suffering, i said. able to see possibility in the moment before me. able to see the sufficiency of others, not their lack or their sin or their evil.

but if i did not believe in this thing, then i would not have taken the journey that brought me here, to awareness. if nothing else, God is the one who brought me to this place. God is the reason that i seek love and understanding. perhaps it does not matter whether or not i can prove to myself that God is necessary, because God was necessary for me and for what i am experiencing in this very moment. is that not enough?

02.26.19

the voice of the ego

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:45 pm by Administrator

it’s like dave wrote in his last quiet time entries. there is a sin of greed, which drives us to take what is not ours in order to become what we were not meant to be—separate, isolated, desolate.

after a day of work that was like every other day of work, my ego said to me, “we must ask for a raise.” when i did not respond, he thought ahead and visualized the conversation with those who have authority over me. “they may resist. they will resist. but you must be resolute. you must have a plan.” and then the wheels of my mind began turning, because he was turning them. in that solicitous voice, he purred his way into my thoughts, as he leaned over the wheels and the gears, his face leering in the darkness beyond his hands that were moving, constantly moving. “and i will make that plan for you…” he said.

it begins so frequently with money. is it any accident that the biblical writers speak of money more than any other single thing, as if it were the very fixation of their belief system? yet what other thing is there that so captures the nature of the ego voice—that fear of others, that doubt in their intentions, that need to be not only self-sufficient but also powerful over others? i have been beholden to this voice for many years. i called it my sin, and i resisted it, but my resistance only empowered it, as with a forbidden fruit or a long-suppressed desire for glory. only now am i entertaining another way: to observe it, and in observing it, to be distinct from that greed.

i listen to that voice of the ego. it begins with money. it moves to all other things. it warps, distorts, destroys, corrupts all things. it takes what was meant to belong to all and it reserves it for one. it sees in the universe of living things that which is self and that which is other. this is the profound lie, the cruelty of original sin, the disruption of shalom, the great sin of greed. for me, there is only one way through it—to hear its voice, the way Christ sat with the devil in the wilderness.

we will have many conversations, you and i. i know what you are and where you have come from. speak to me again, and i will listen; but your voice is not my voice, and your desire is not my own

02.20.19

two i admire

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:58 pm by Administrator

my best friend is a missionary in Tibet nowadays, and while we don’t keep in touch as regularly as we once did, i think of him and his wife often. most often, i think about them with some concern for their well-being, because they’re settling in an unfamiliar and very poor area with probably limited access to good health care. i also think of them with admiration, because renunciation of wealth and comfort is always a rare and noble thing to behold. and i also think of them with a strange and sometimes outrageously funny sense of horror as well, because they are preaching the very thing that i cannot stomach nowadays: the gospel of evangelical americans, which prescribes one path to salvation, one acceptable sexual orientation, and one proper reading of the scripture.

in their latest newsletter, they spoke of their attempts to dialogue with (and convert) a local Tibetan Buddhist leader. the usual Reformed arguments disputing the basic validity of all philosophical approaches other than Christology did not appear to move this monk, but my friend was hopeful that a “seed of doubt” was planted by the conversation. meanwhile, his adult bible study on human sexuality based on nancy pearcey’s “love thy body” was unexpectedly postponed. i’d previously written to him about my strong reservations about pearcey’s views, which triggered an extended on-line argument between us and a tacit agreement to abandon the conversation for the time being. i’m tempted to consider the postponement of that bible study a veritable act of God.

i call this situation “outrageously funny” because it is thoroughly ironic in so many ways. just at the time when i am exploring Buddhism, my friend decides to move into the Tibetan region, learn about Buddhism, and convert Buddhists to the cause of Christ. just when i have convinced myself that the church conversation on LGBTQ inclusion is evolving, i encounter my friend’s surprisingly ultra-fundamentalist outlook on sexuality, which posits that anything but heterosexual behavior necessarily betrays a “low view of the body”. and yet, despite these shocking contrasts, i will still acknowledge that my friend is living out his faith in a manner that i consider to be thoroughly authentic. how else is a sincere believer to react to the Gospel of the American evangelicals? if one is convinced of the “justification by faith” doctrine so elemental to evangelicalism, how could one reasonably not devote his or her life entirely to the conversion of “unreached” people throughout the world? anything short of this would be hypocritical. my friend, despite our differences, is anything but this. once upon a time, i shared his particular view of the heathen world. to think upon that now is to experience a mix of feelings: nostalgia, regret, insecurity, and profound relief above all.

one of my good friends at church passed away unexpectedly almost a week ago. he was a leader in his church throughout his sixty years of life, and he never stopped loving the church even after he went through a crisis of faith and abandoned the neat framework of Reformed theology that had once been the anchor of his life. he told me many times that it had been his blessing to finally find the church of his dreams after many decades: a gay-affirming, universalist, and socially conscious church. for two years, we walked together, as two of the older men in the community and as two people haunted by the churches of our past. dave gave me courage to look beyond orthodoxy and to imagine spiritual community as the sum of God’s great aspirations for humankind. he shared with me his dream before he died; and now i am reminded that despite all of its many imperfections, the church is still a precious thing, to God and to humanity

02.13.19

the patterns

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:48 pm by Administrator

it strikes me that emptiness with self-compassion and awareness can be experienced as what eckhart tolle would describe as spaciousness; it is a freedom and lightness of mental space.

by contrast, emptiness without understanding is a hollowness. i have experienced this myself, as have many others that i have observed in their times of suffering and isolation. there is no fundamental difference between these two versions of emptiness, other than the activity of the ego.

on my way to work this morning, i remembered some specific moments from my childhood that i would describe as shibumi—spontaneous and subtle beauty. i remembered showering in the home i grew up in and seeing individual drops of water fall from my hair. i remembered the sound of my piano teacher’s fingernails clicking upon the keys of her grand piano. these remembrances made it clear to me that once upon a time, my mind was clear enough that i could be fully present with the simplest of perceptions. even time itself proceeded a hair more slowly for me, slow enough that i could capture greater subtleties in movement and transformation.

it’s not that i aspire to regain this level of perceptual acuity again. i’m getting old. things are not so new to me as they once were; and my brain does not work with the flexibility and spontaneity that it once did. but i can acknowledge that there is a certain basic pleasure of the solitary moment that i struggle to experience. whereas once in my life this experience came naturally, now i must prepare my mind to create such a moment; and the preparation, as with meditation, is necessarily exquisite.

it struck me this morning as i watched the gray sky and the treetops through my car’s windshield that my friend is undergoing surgery today and that this fact makes me think of death. contemplative space has no answer for the fear of death, not really. but the example of Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, does have this answer. to look at Christ from afar in this manner, after many months of contemplative discipline without any prayer at all, is to discover a simple comfort in his story. i wonder if this is not what is most impressive about Christ, not only for me but for all who have experienced him across time—that he was a man who did not fear death and who proved that physical death is not the end of living consciousness. jesus christ never explained the theology of this or the concept that his living and dying were meant to embody. and so i wonder if that theology—of atoning sacrifice, of covenant, of soteriology as a whole—is actually necessary at all to receiving the gift that the god man wanted to give us. it is a simple and wonderful gift, this bare and unpretentious statement on the preciousness and eternity of life. i accept that gift.

the words of thomas merton from his final work the inner life do resonate with me very much and a great deal more than those of his earlier works. it seems that toward the latter part of his life, he was less fixated on creating proper context for contemplative space (as in the purpose of contemplation is the experience of Christ). in inner life he seems more comfortable with describing emptiness for what it basically is—a space that requires no added purpose, no philosophy of significance, no trajectory to give it meaning. emptiness is emptiness; it allows true self to surface in the absence of an exterior trapping, and it affords a basic pleasure of existence that requires no embellishment or justification. i like the way he describes this form of contemplation. there is nothing to be gained from it, other than what it is.

there are so many patterns that i have come to recognize about our existences. patterns of illness. patterns of repair. patterns of struggle. patterns of optimistic thinking and hope. patterns of abuse, and patterns of healing and connection. these many patterns are not structures, though they may appear to be so. no, they are ebbs and flows of collective identity, ingrained in us deeply and echoing through our words across the generations to sustain ideas of what we are and should be. when i am mindful, the patterns dissipate, and what is left in their wake almost seems nonsensical—disparate, disconnected, strange, and wonderful turnings that do not come together to create a movement. there is no movement. there is only stillness and that which is created in order to contrast with the stillness. there is nothing at all wrong with recognizing the nonsense for what it is. i delight in the nonsense—the falling drops of water, the clicking of fingernails upon keys, the feel of the dirt caked within the engraved letters of my father’s name, the movement of my daughter’s eyes beneath her eyelids as she sleeps with her limbs flung in every direction like a starfish or a fighter knocked out in the ring. contemplation is appreciation of the nonsense. there is no sense to it, and so the beauty of it requires no explanation

02.10.19

getting sick

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:49 pm by Administrator

this past week, i got pretty intensely ill. it was in fact my first illness in more than a year, i think. i missed two days of work at the tail end of the week, and as a result of that i ended up having four straight days of bedrest and almost complete confinement to the home.

normally when my weekly rhythm is disrupted to this degree, i tend to experience a sense of dislocation and sometimes even anxiety. what’s happening at work in my absence? what accumulated labor will be waiting for me when i return? what’s becoming of my body? what is the purpose of my life? the questions range from the particular to the extremely obscure, and as i lie in bed trapped in the heaviness of my body and unable to initiate meaningful movement that might itself engender more meaningful movement, i find myself unraveling to the core.

but perhaps my contemplative journey created a different context for this period of disruption. as i slept and slept and intermixed other bodily functions amidst the napping, i found my mind unable to develop a momentum of thought. i was in the body—in every labor of movement, in every sensation of soreness and pain, in every transition of consciousness into unconsciousness. i achieved something over the course of several days of sickness that i struggle to experience consistently when i am well—a total cessation of preoccupation. and indeed i found myself thankful for the experience.

january was a very difficult month for me. it began with anxieties about money; and then my mind found other things to fixate upon, like football games and political news. then i found myself powerfully disturbed by political issues at work, which unearthed sentiments about potent ideas like justice, entitlement, and job security. my ego was up in arms with all the problems of the world that it could not solve, and it delighted in the unceasing streams of frustrated and emotional thought that resulted from that agitation. i suffered for it, with fitful sleep, pains in my body, rising blood pressure, headaches, and feelings of urgency and unease.

it took a good old-fashioned overwhelming upper viral infection to flatten me on my back and entirely silence my overworked mind. i was able to sleep through the night again. my body tics, always a reflection of stress in my body, completely dissipated. i could sense inner spaciousness again, that sense of self that i only gain in deep meditation. a life free of cares was mine to experience again, and it only required a forgetting of a kind. a forgetting that i am a professional with a job, a man with a family, an individual with a future. when i forget these things, i remember that i am nothing more than an embodied consciousness. all that i ever have in life is the moment before me, which itself has no meaning, no purpose, and no destiny. to be present with that moment is perhaps the only goal worthy of an ambition.

today, i was well enough to meet a few friends from my church for coffee, and i experienced that strange thing that emptiness offers—presence without performance. i found myself struggling with small talk and pleasantries, and even the idea of speaking words in order to foster emotional connection struck me as unnatural labor. i enjoyed that struggle, because there was truth in it. normally i navigate my day filled with the power of performance, summoning passions and concepts and identities in order to derive from them a language of mutual importance. but in a place of emptiness, even the act of conversation is something to be considered, as with a decision. even as i struggled with and eventually relinquished a self-expectation of efficaciousness, i felt the space that i shared with others, and i observed their words and their feelings as well. it was not easy, but that does not mean it was unnatural. how strange it is that we meet one another expecting that words and the ideas that they entail will be sufficient for mutual awareness. in fact, words are inexact and most often misleading; and in the end, it is not our feelings but our mutual awareness often in spite of those powerful, distracting, and self-projected feelings that allows us to experience community.

afterwards, i found myself in a bookstore skimming some books by thomas merton, trying to understand why a life of contemplation is so difficult for me to reside in consistently, and trying to understand why a life of contemplation makes society so imposing and even threatening for me. merton comes back to a certain point again and again—that emptying of identity simply to experience the negative is a futile exercise. one must empty the self with a trajectory in mind, that being for the clearing of mental space for a more focused reflection on the plain and non-conceptual experience of God. i have to admit that i don’t get that. when i fall through organized thought and into contemplative emptiness, i do not find God there, and thus i do not pray. what i find is akin to what i see outside the window right now: a rosebush that is shivering. my conceptual mind tells me that there is a wind i cannot hear, which is moving those roses and the stems upon which they are fixed. but in fact, i do not see the wind. when i am empty, i see a world filled with living things, and they are essentially interconnected and sharing the same moment of life. what binds them need be no more complex than this. there is no need to explain their interdependence and mutuality by means of a creator God, a savior God, a present God, an intervening God. whether or not this cosmic being exists, what is before me is sufficient for appreciation and even for love. life is the mundane, and the slower my mind moves, the more clearly and beautifully the mundane demonstrates its permeating truth. the shivering rosebush, the frail body in fever, the heavy clouds, the living and the dying which occur every passing second across the expanse of the earth—all of this requires nothing of us, and yet it is everything that we are

02.02.19

More eagles thoughts and Mock Draft #2

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:47 am by Administrator

there’s a super bowl game this weekend, but of course it’s totally irrelevant and i don’t give a crap who wins.

salary caps have been updated and it would appear that the Eagles will start this off-season a little less than $10 million over the cap. howie roseman strategically started salary negotiations with rodney mcleod—a critical piece of our defense and a good guy but also a player coming off a serious injury and with a 2019 cap figure begging for outright elimination from the payroll. roseman got right to work on a guy that he knew would play ball, and he managed a coup by saving $7 million for the team. in doing so, he toppled the first domino in what should be a logical progression of renegotiations leading up to the draft.

why roseman started first with mcleod and not jernigan is interesting to consider. jernigan has the much bigger cap hit ($13 mil), can be cut with no dead money, and would appear to be the most logical starting point for a GM interested in cutting costs. what the situation tells me is that roseman doesn’t want to cut jernigan from the team; he wants to keep jernigan at a major discount. the mcleod negotation was a key precedent that will deliver the message to jernigan’s camp loud and clear: we’re expecting you to make the sacrifices that others are making to stay on this team. jernigan will likely be back, and he might even get multiple years, but i would be surprised if his cap hit for 2019 were any higher than $7 million—another $6 million off the payroll.

nelson agholor and jason peters will come after jernigan in my opinion, for different reasons. agholor’s renegotiation will be pushed to the end of the process to give him and his agent some time to think about just how low they’re willing to go. roseman wants them to think real low, because the fact is that agholor is not only not worth $9 mil in 2019 but also frankly expendable. he’s not a bad player, but the shaky route running, the bad hands, and the inconsistent results have made him little more than a gadget player in the offensive scheme. i’d be shocked if we brought him back for even $4 million in 2019. jason peters on the other hand won’t get a call from roseman til the end of the process (if ever) because ultimately management would prefer not to have to renegotiate with JP at all. his $8 mil cap hit is by all accounts reasonable for his skill set and position, and if jernigan and agholor fall in line, then the team will be $8 mil under the cap without touching his pay.

$8 million under the cap gives Roseman what he needs. we can look seriously at the trade market for Foles, knowing that we have the cap space to opt in on Foles’s $20 million option. whether we choose not to take the option or find a trade partner of Foles’s liking that can give us a 2nd round pick, we’ll eventually find ourselves $28 million under the cap. after accounting for about $5 million that we’ll spend on our abundance of high draft picks this year (hopefully a 1st and three 2nds), we’ll have about $23 million left over for free agency fun. and $23 million might just be enough to get everything we could’ve dreamed of.

for one thing, $23 million gives us the opportunity to bring back Brandon Graham. assuming we get a slight discount on his services, his total cap hit in 2019 of about $14 million will leave us $9 million. $9 million is the right number for a few odds and ends plus a deal for Jordan Hicks. i’m not even talking about a one-year prove it deal; with $20 million in salary coming off the books no later than 2020 (by which time Peters, Kelce, and Chris Long will likely retire), we’ll have enough flexibility for a multi-year deal with hicks without worrying about cap space for wentz’s $30 million per year extension. it’s a good opportunity to secure our inside linebacker of the future at a discount price, and i think roseman will pull that trigger as soon as foles is dispositioned.

so there’s my prediction: we trade foles for a 2nd rounder and we bring back brandon graham and jordan hicks on multi-year deals, without losing tim jernigan, nelson agholor, or jason peters. now how’s that for a howie roseman off-season?

if it all goes down this way, then our concerns about depth at all three levels of the defense really fade considerably—and it may not be necessary to focus our draft on the defense. it’s odd to consider that we might pass on an edge or d-line player in a draft that’s quite strong at these positions, but at the same time it gives us something of an advantage if we have the opportunity to go against the flow of traffic on draft night. no, it’s not an optimal draft to be hunting for o-linemen and offensive skill players, but there’s enough talent there that we might just get what we need. if we have three picks in the first two rounds, i see us going for a running back, wide receiver, and offensive tackle, not necessarily in that order. i’m not usually one to go for running backs in the 1st round, but barkley, penny, and michel were all money from last year’s draft, and if josh jacobs falls to us at pick 25, he’s probably the right choice. hollywood brown, riley ridley, or parris campbell would all be fine speed receivers in the 2nd round.

MOCK DRAFT #2

1. Cardinals: NICK BOSA
2. 49ers: JOSH ALLEN
3. Jets: QUINNEN WILLIAMS
4. Raiders: RASHAN GARY
5. Broncos (trade up with Tampa): DREW LOCK
6. Giants: DWAYNE HASKINS
7. Jaguars: N’KEAL HARRY
8. Lions: CLELLIN FERRELL
9. Bills: JONAH WILLIAMS
10. Bucs: GREG LITTLE
11. Bengals: DEVIN WHITE
12. Packers: JACHAI POLITE
13. Dolphins: DANIEL JONES
14. Falcons: ED OLIVER
15. Redskins: KYLER MURRAY
16. Panthers: DEANDRE BAKER
17. Browns: JEFFERY SIMMONS
18. Vikings: CODY FORD
19. Titans: BYRON MURPHY
20. Steelers: GREEDY WILLIAMS
21. Seahawks: MONTEZ SWEAT
22. Ravens: AJ BROWN
23. Texans: JAWAAN TAYLOR
24. Raiders: CHRISTIAN WILKINS
25. Eagles: JOSHUA JACOBS
26. Colts: DEIONTE THOMPSON
27. Raiders: MACK WILSON
28. Chargers: DREā€™MONT JONES
29. Chiefs: AMANI ORUWARIYE
30. Packers: JOHNATHAN ABRAM
31. Rams: DEXTER LAWRENCE
32. Pats: ZACH ALLEN