…to my family, friends, and acquaintances.
You know how we sometimes assume that everyone knows what goes on inside of us? Until we realize that we have not made our heart and mind visible at all.
Recently, I've received an email from a friend (an excerpt):
“When I first met you, I had the impression that you were this sort of inherently caring humanist, so I am sad to see that you are not that way after all, or any longer. You charge money - lots of it - for the soul-searching that pastors supposedly deliver to their congregation for free, asking only for camaraderie and collegiality in living this life, and spreading the love of God. I typically withhold judgment of others' pursuits, but seeing your evolution over the years into a person who commercializes the wisdom inherent in loving God the way that you do, has made me sad.”
Reading this, I felt misunderstood and realized that this cloud is hanging over what I have decided to do with my life. And that is up to me to clear it.
I remember the moment when I was 19 when my father, after realizing he lost his son to religion, finally broke down crying. He simply ran out of anger and gave way to sadness. It is a long story I have spoken and written about before. Fifteen years of struggle, progress, regress, and finally grace. At my father’s funeral, I remembered our difficult journey and bowed down in gratitude for his love for me and for his passion for life.
Eventually, I did leave organized religion. One day, I went to my religion bosses and turned in my Pastor ID Card, a symbol of my life’s calling, proof or ordination by authority, and assurance of my financial safety. I had to follow a voice, small at first, the voice of my father and the voice of God mingling together, over time becoming a voice I could recognize as my own.
It was calling me to something much greater and way more dangerous. It was calling me to faith in human life. Faith in what is and faith in what could be. In fleeting moments, I would see the sacred shimmer everywhere, at the car wash in California and in subway cars in New York City. I would know with certainty that the truth, whatever it is, is out in the open and accessible to all.
So, ten years ago I had to acknowledge what had been happening within me and left the church ministry. I decided, however, to stay a pastor and be alone in the world. No card. No authority. No salary.
And it wasn’t just me. It was many of us. We simply knew that we had to move on before we knew where we were moving. We had to step over the edge, letting ourselves free fall, with the faith that someone or something would catch us.
For years, there was nothing to catch me, except a few precious friends with their checks and unconditional love. There were years of falling asleep in the morning, after the exhaustion of worry in my bed all night. I learned to breathe my way forward. Little did I know that someone would indeed catch me. That, someone, was the person I was becoming.
I was becoming a believer. I began to have faith in human transformation. People, if they show up and have an intention to, can change. They can transition from one challenge of life to another, on and on, to a life that is broader, deeper, and truer then they ever could know. People can change the way they see the world and the world itself. People can alter their future and even their past!
Look at us. It is not easy to live, yet we have come this far. Future is unknown, therefore everything is possible! Success? Possible! True love? Possible! Miracles? Possible!
But here is the greatest kicker of all and truly good news: Transformation is a human experience.
Here is what I came to believe:
1. My first conversion (known as “being born again”) was real.
2. My second conversion (becoming alive to God in all and for all) was real.
3. Conversion is not a religious but a human experience and can happen again and again in anyone’s life.
I decided to pursue my calling so that there will be more people who love themselves, others, world and everything in it, and love it well. We can actually move beyond our presently sanctioned survivalist mode of being separated, selfish, and scared, and become people who are connected, compassionate, and courageous. I have been a witness of too many people stepping over their inner thresholds and transforming themselves, getting rid of their fears, and turning around their relationships, to give up on my life’s calling now.
I took time and studied hard, harder than I ever did during my doctoral program, apprenticed myself not only to loving and wise teachers but also to my own life. I learned to care for human beings more skillfully than I ever did during my pastoral ministry. And I weathered long years on the edge of a financial collapse.
I was on fire because I decided to tackle what seemed impossible: to freely speak of God, soul, spirit, and mystery, in the common language of regular human experience. Forget God talk. God is in all talk. Forget about talk. God is in silence. Leave the God-management systems and get lost in God. And don’t waste time creating sacred experiences. Pay attention to the already sacred experience of here and now.
And I loved it!
Grace is Christian. But only because Christians are humans first. Bewilderment of mind and fire of the heart are Sufi only because Sufis are humans who have paid attention to it. Sabbath is Jewish but the whole world is starving for a new relationship with time. Every group of friends is a church. Every business is a community, complicated but still a community. Every day is a sanctuary. Every diaper, every secret ambition hiding in our hearts, and every moment of sadness—all teachers, all precious.
I came to believe in my calling to live and help others live what I call “a fully human life.” Death as included as birth. Our feet on the ground. Our head in the heavens. And our hearts pulsing in between.
And I decided that I am going to make a living out of it.
I decided to offer others my mind, heart, and hands in service of their transformation. I decided to help people have the life they want by being present to the life they have. To love what is. To ask what if. To discern what matters. To do what works.
I am not an idealist. I am a realist. Reality is God. Simply because reality wins. Reality is also magical because it will surprise, for sure. The world, as it is, is enchanting. I have decided to claim this faith as my calling, my work, and my offer to others. Like baking and selling wholesome bread, or sewing and selling suits that make people happy, or selling my expertise as a park ranger who makes people’s awe possible.
I know one thing for sure—people who do not invest in themselves will neither thrive nor stand a chance of making a difference for others in the future. We are all drowning in information and thirsting for transformation. We don’t know how to embody what we already know. This need to be has been true since the beginning of time when people began telling stories of meaning around their first fires.
Today, human life is growing digitally complex beyond anything we have prepared ourselves for and it is the human spirit, human soul, and our irreducibly human skills (like imagination, intuition, and choice) that will be the most valuable of all. If you don’t know how to be present to your own life, if you don’t know how to cross your inner thresholds, and if you don’t know how to live aligned with your own truth, there’s no way forward into having a life you can call your own. No information and no busyness will make up for transformation deficit.
I have come to know people who do this kind of work. They helped me more than I could have ever fathomed looking at them with judgment from my previous church perch. You can call them secular pastors, urban shamans, or intuitive coaches. Not all, but a vast majority of them are people with impeccable morals, incredible skills, and generous hearts. To Christians, many of them are invisible, but they are real. They are of a God who is in all and for all. And without them, there is no future. Like there is no future without our business managers, physicians, or teachers.
And now about the business of it all.
I have decided to claim my space, serve in my role, and live. This is the farmer’s market of life. Here is my sale stand with a sign on it that says Wisdom Workroom L.L.C. On this stand, I put my love, my faith in the future, and the fruits of my lifelong labor. And it is good. It is very good.
You may take it or you may leave it and find something better. But whatever you do, go and invest in your life.
Everything is possible.
Do you want to share this adventure with me? Make sure to check out my free infographic about a life-giving Practice of Not Knowing.
To stay in touch via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WisdomWorkroom/.