I always get self-reflective at New Year's (even more so now that NYE is my wedding anniversary - yesterday was our 2nd anniversary!), thinking about the previous year and years.
This year was a little different though, mostly because I had spent my last semester of seminary doing that through some of the writing assignments in my Human Development and Christian Formation class. I had to write my life story, but also discuss my personality, my faith development and my vocational understanding. And so I do have a wealth of understanding that I did not have a year ago.
What did I learn about myself? A lot more than I can tell (or want to tell) in a blog post. But probably the most helpful thing was this bit that I wrote in one of these assignments:
I also think part of my journey in the years to come is to learn the lesson of balance. I think God wants me to be a good minister, but I am also called to be a husband, a father, and just a human being. I need to learn not only how to be busy but also how to live. Right now I am doing better than I have in the past, but I am not doing well. I am often not happy, despite the circumstances of my life being pretty good. I have a wonderful wife who loves me. I have a son, who despite my novice status as a father, loves me very much. We have plenty to eat, and enough money in the bank, and a nice home to live in. We are reasonably healthy. All of these things should be enough to make me incredibly happy, but there is still a lot of stuff from the past that is bubbling up under the surface. I believe that dealing with these unresolved issues will be my most important work in the coming years.
Over the last few weeks I've given a lot of thought to this question: why am I often unhappy?
A few possible answers come to mind:
1. Depression (which admittedly has a biological component)
2. Excessive busyness
3. Being spread too thin between too many different areas of responsibility
4. My continuing uneasiness with the legal profession
5. the normal strains of adjusting to life as a new husband and father
6. unresolved issues from the past (particularly with regards to secondary trauma from my 7 years of practicing law serving troubled active-duty servicemembers and veterans)
7. a feeling of disconnection between my daily life and the earth and the rest of humankind.
I think the truth is a mix of all of these things. And so I do all of the things that I should do to try deal with these issues. I go see my counselor. I take an antidepressant. I continue to sort through my vocational issues (mostly through the context of my seminary classes). I take downtime to focus on my family (and to disconnect from other, less important responsibilities). I continue to practice the art of saying "no" more often when good causes call for my attention. I do all of these things imperfectly, but I just have to keep trying.
But there is one component of unhappiness that is still screaming out at me, and it is the last one on my list. I have tried to alleviate this sense of disconnection (mostly through bike riding and failed attempts at gardening) but I can't deny that much of my life feels very disconnected. Our food occasionally comes from the farmer's market but more often comes from far away corporations. I don't know my neighbors here in suburbia and the only real sense of community outside of family that I feel is on Sundays at church and online. And when I think about the values I want to impart to my son, I can't help but feel like I'm failing. He is in a wonderful holistic school (that combines technology, nature and creativity in amazing ways), but much of this time away from school is immersed in consumer culture.
These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head over the last few weeks, but yesterday I gained a new place of clarity thanks to our city council here in Oklahoma City which voted 7-2 to NOT allow residents to raise chickens in their backyard.
In the aftermath of this vote, I read this words on Ed Shadid's (OKC City council member and candidate for mayor) campaign facebook page:
7-2 vote on urban hens was a blow to private property rights, public health and efforts to promote self-sufficiency among OKC's large population living in poverty. The OKC Council is showing not just indifference to the poor but hostility. Making those who take Greyhound now be dropped off at Reno/MLK where they must pay for a taxi because there is no connecting transit service, the steadfast refusal to protect the thousands of daily transit riders with adequate bus shelters, the lack of nighttime and Sunday bus service, spending $150,000 out of a $1billion budget on social programs and now telling the thousands of families suffering from hunger and poor nutrition that they cannot have six hens which would produce six eggs/day healthier than anything they could buy in a grocery store if there was one within miles of them are examples of our indifference. Today, we lost this round, but this is not the end of the effort.
Ed is right. This is an issue of basic social justice, but it is more. It is about the corporate powers of our city (and state and nation) who want to keep us enslaved to the money economy, who want to ensure that we can't dare to not buy our eggs from them (to say nothing all of the other things we need to live). And it is about the corporate powers who want us to be forbidden by law from having the power to raise and grow our own food and provide our energy, either by ourselves or in cooperation with others. (outlawing chickens is only one part of this equation)
My first impulse is to think about the electoral system (either running for city council or finding others to run for city council), but I don't really think that is the answer. Or maybe it is just little piece of the answer (certainly I will be voting for Ed in March and doing my part to let others know that there is an alternative to a corporate-controlled puppet mayor (Mick Cornett) in the upcoming election), but the bigger answer is direct action. Instead of lobbying our government to do the right thing, we need to focus most of our energy in doing the right thing, right now, whether the government officially "allows" us to do so or not.
The problem is that I often don't know what to do or how to do it. I've tried to do the right thing. I've planted many gardens over the years. I've tried to bicycle commute at times. But most of the time the "real life" keeps me from it, or else my lack of energy after trying to do all of the other things in life that need to be done (which is why my gardens normally are overgrown with weeds by August). Certainly there are areas where I am more successful (my eating has been much better since getting married, thanks to my wife's love of home cooking and healthy living) but I am still frustrated by the many areas of improved sustainability that are left undone.
I think the problem is that my efforts have not actually been rooted in praxis. - Praxis, is a word that I've learned from Bob Waldrop's Ipermie book that means "Action coupled with contemplation and reflection and observance of feedback." I have at times taken action (sometimes with thought beforehand), but I haven't spent much time observing the outcome or reflecting on it.
So, this will be my new resolution for the year, to learn how to do praxis when it comes to our family's way of living. I'm going to start by studying Bob's book ipermie! How to permaculture your urban lifestyle., but then seek to bring others into the conversation and then to start taking some action on what I'm reading.
I don't know if this will answer everything but it might at least be a start. Maybe I will write some about the process on this blog?
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