Day 30 – Believe

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I met Jason for coffee at Qualia in Petworth. Homey place. Good coffee. We sat outside and talked about church: how it’s changing, what it needs to adapt, and what part I might play. After an hour of brainstorming, I realized that he was encouraging me to see and to value the gifts I bring–as a teacher, a Hill staffer, a talker, a thinker. I came expecting to talk shop. He came to affirm me.

I don’t know where any of this leads in terms of future career. So far, I think it means becoming a priest. But I do believe he was right. All the experiences I’ve endured, the heart aches and triumphs, the skills and the doubts, could be drawn together in giving myself to something greater. I can take the next step in a direction not fully known, trusting that I have something to offer.

Later that night I met a group of friends at Compass Rose on 14th Street. What a madhouse that strip is now. Compass Rose, though, is delightful. The restaurant serves international street food in a renovated row house next to Saint Ex. Over a bottle of Georgian wine and khachapuri, we had a spirited conversation about travel, hymns, and sex. Mostly we talked sex. Imagine that, among a group of gay guys.

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I left buoyed by the conversation, not just the wine. It was a full day, full of the really good stuff that makes this world splendid sometimes: bread, wine, God, sex, laughter, friendship. I am grateful that people shared these last 30 days with me. And they shared more than the new coffee shop or restaurant. They shared a part of their story, and the things that make them tick, including the tragic and the sublime.

I come away from this month believing more. I believe that this city is full of tucked away places and unknown neighborhood spots. I believe that people have so much to offer just by sharing their thoughts and their fears. I believe that there is depth of spirit in everyday occurrences, waiting to be discovered if you’re willing to slow down, reflect, and maybe even write about what you have experienced.

This world is full of splendor and pain. All of it is worth savoring until it yields to that infinite, creative possibility that lies within it. Open your eyes, Jeremy. Think and feel. Taste and see that this world is good.

God, what a life you have given me.

 

Day 21 – Drink Beer, Talk Art, Get Serious

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I went to the Bier Baron Wednesday night to check out a drinking and discussion group. The special was a burger and beer for $10. The topic was art and how you learn to see. (Nice surprise to run into my friend Catherine.)

A local artist walked us through slides of art, describing how to see what they are about, how we process our reactions, and what this tells us about seeing things in daily life.

She drew particular attention to images of suffering–sketches of the homeless, photos from the Depression, images from 9/11. “Do you see these images or people,” she asked, “or do you look away?” Nothing goes well with beer like a robust conversation about pain. But something struck a chord with the twenty of us.

After the presentation several peopled mentioned that images of suffering linger in their mind more than sunsets or flowers. Others said suffering spurred them to action, while others said it caused discomfort. I wondered how being Christian shapes looking at suffering, since the cross is a key symbol of that faith. How you deal with pain, particularly when little or nothing can be done about it, is a big life question for those willing to ask it.

I am aware that my mind is full of vivid images of suffering. I lost a job unjustly. I held the hands of both parents, and two grandparents, as they died. For one, I was alone. I was mugged, beaten, and left bloodied in the street. Plans for a new career were put on hold, and questioned if they would ever happen.

I have much to learn about how to look at these experiences. One thing I have learned so far is that sometimes the only victory is not running away.

Stay. Sit. Hold the hand of a dying loved one so that they are not alone. Stare down the darkness and imagine a flicker of light. Look at the pain; don’t turn away. This too is true, though not the whole truth. Accept the hurt as a bleak sacrament that is itself and a mysterious opening to something truer and more real.

I can open my eyes to suffering because there’s more to see than the pain. What I am willing to see may break my heart, but I am convinced it will also break my heart open. There is more to receive, more to see, more to become, for those with eyes to see.

“The hearing ear and the seeing eye—the Lord has made them both.”

Proverbs 20:12

“Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?”

Mark 8:18

Day 7 – Drink with Friends

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

Benjamin Franklin

 

 

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I first discovered the Iron Gate 10 years ago when my boyfriend and I walked past it on our way to the Tabard Inn. It has a small, discreet entrance set back from the street, giving it a feeling of seclusion and mystery. Through the narrow vaulted bar lies an outdoor courtyard and carriage house that are both ideal for a late Spring happy hour. I met two friends there after work. It was my first time inside the place since first stumbling across it a decade ago.

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Both friends know I’ve been blogging about my “different” experiences, and they wondered how drinking with your friends qualifies as different. I decided the new location counts for something. Plus, I don’t remember the last time I’ve lingered over wine (and fried fetta) on a Wednesday. Not to mention some fun, punchy conversation about gay life in Washington.

Eating and drinking together is such a basic act, a fundamental part of being human together. We probably often take it for granted or ignore its deeper dimensions. But sharing food and drink, meeting our basic needs together, keeps us alive and keeps us animated. We talk and laugh and open up to another, and in so doing are fed, nourished, enlivened, by more than just the food and drink.

“More than just.” This is really my 30 day challenge, to experience new things as more than just experiences, but as invitations to discover what is deeper, broader, truer, and more beautiful, what may be hidden in plain sight in things like wine, cheese, and good conversation.

 

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Day 1 – Jog Down a Side Street

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I went for a jog around 7:30pm. Instead of taking my usual route up and down 13th Street, I headed West into a bright, brassy sunset. Despite trying to shake things up, I wound up taking another well worn route toward Meridian Hill Park. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a side street I didn’t recognize. So I made a quick right turn down Fuller Street.

Immediately past a busy cross street, the noise dropped, the air grew calm, and the breeze became a whisper. I had stumbled into one of those sanctuaries in the city.

For the next 10 minutes I meandered through hushed, leafy streets, winding up on the back side of the Zoo. At one point, I was completely alone in the damp shadow of the trees. I could hear my breath and the rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement. The air smelled wet and dark. For a few brief minutes, I felt a solitude within. It was short lived though. At the bottom of the hill I had nowhere to go but to slog uphill, reaching the top short of breath and back to the real world of 16th Street traffic.

I don’t know about you, but that rare combination of outer and inner aloneness is mysterious. Even stranger, sometimes in the very middle of the city the horizon seems to shrink down to my very thoughts and breath. In the midst of a crowd, I feel absolutely alone. Not lonely, but alone. At times I reflect. At other times I feel disconnected and discomforted. Sometimes I pray. I’m not sure what or how I pray, or even if it’s prayer at all. But I try to be open in that moment, present to what feels like a deeper reality that is as big as the sky and as intimate as the well within, as vast as the ragtag mix of people at the Columbia Heights Target and as singular as my own heart beat.

It was just a jog. But for a few moments, at least, it was also something more.