Living With Uncertainty When Certainty is Expected

I question almost everything in life. No, I wouldn’t and don’t consider myself a skeptic by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a seeker and someone who’s always looking for a deeper truth in almost any place I can look. There isn’t a stone unturned that isn’t examined from every different perspective imaginable, despite the fact that the stone will always be a stone. In moments of questioning, as I do, there is always a truth to hold onto; the stone remains a stone, even if smashed. Just the same that, who I really am, in the eyes of God, will always remain, no matter how much it feels like what I have known is also falling apart.

It’s easy to analyze a stone, but when it comes to our lives, we live with a much greater amount of uncertainty, despite our most basic of instincts wanting to grab onto something we can be certain of, bringing us some sense of peace, albeit momentarily, in moments when it feels as if everything is falling apart around us. I only know it because I’ve been there in my own life, my natural inclination to return to what I am most comfortable, not wanting to live with the uncertain and the uncomfortable. It’s as if, at times, where in my life I am playing a game of ping pong between the two, not always wanting to sit in the tension of the two, in finding another way of going forward. However, more often than not, even that feels like the unknown and uncertainty in my life because we have become so accustomed to our own way of thinking, tribal thinking, nonetheless.

We all want to belong. It might be the one thing we can be certain of in life. It begins with our desire to be a part of a family, and then peers, coworkers, church, political party, for it gives us some kind of definition in our lives and also provides us a platform to stand upon and something to stand up for in our lives, especially if we haven’t found our own voice. It gives us the certainty that we want in life, that helps to keep us feeling safe, despite its very rooting in fear. What we fail to see is that so much of it isn’t worth standing for and yet we’re willing to go to the stake for it, defending something that merely lies at the surface of who we are and never moves to the deeper understanding of our soul, of our identity in Christ and who we are as people.

I have found myself struggling greatly these days, in particular for a man that does question and seeks deeper meaning in life and in the world. I have found myself struggling with our inability to see ourselves in a different light, where we have gone wrong and where the Gospel demands us to look at our own fragility and shadow side that only seems to loom larger with each passing day and week. I struggle with how we can be so certain about where we go as a country, often locked in our tribal thinking that only seeks to destroy us as a people, when, even in my own life, I am almost never certain of direction. Something is dying and yet we fear it so greatly that we must clamp down on what we know and what we’re certain of, all the signage that has defined us as a tribe, digging our heels in all the more rather than allowing ourselves to sit without reacting and learning as to what it’s revealing about me and my life and what I’m holding onto and where I need to let go, a nonviolent resistance towards myself. Whether we like it or not, we don’t need to build walls as a nation because we’ve already done it with each other and our tribes. The mere desire of building walls rather than bridges should not surprise us, for that is what and who we have become and now we reflect it outwards. For all intensive purposes, the wall has already been built and each of us has helped to lay the bricks over these years.

Sure, maybe it’s not our tribe that wants to build walls, cutting ourselves off from foreign land. That doesn’t exclude me from my own fears and building of walls in our own ways. If it’s not our bricks we can almost be certain that it’s our cement that is helping to hold it together. We become name callers and step onto the world stage with a pride that dampens my ability to see the other as myself. We demonize and put down and think less of because of my own certainties rather than questioning and opening myself up to the possibility of doubt. In this quest for deeper meaning, it becomes unsettling and raises anxiety for our humanity, and maybe because of such tribal thinking, we must always view everything as winners and losers, and yet, when we do we all remain losers, giving into our own fears and continuously reacting, out of our own fear and often self-righteousness, while gradually cementing the walls of separation, each certain of the answers and direction yet neither seeking “a more perfect union” but rather a win for my America, not ours. A win for my tribe, not the common good.

Do I see walls as an obstruction, of course, but I also believe we live in a finite world, often plagued by sin. Do I believe that when the dignity of any human person is being violated we must, if anything, be open to providing out of our abundant resources, absolutely, but I am also aware of my own mortality and fragility in always getting it right. It’s what makes me question and seek deeper understanding and meaning and to examine that stone I’m ready to throw from all different perspectives before I cast judgment, knowing I may have missed a perspective different from my own. I also believe that we must also serve our own. I see them daily from the comforts of my office window, encountering them as they go and wait, often times in the biting cold, waiting for food. They’re not moochers and lazy, they’re my brothers and sisters to whom it’s often more comfortable to journey with in life. That I am certain of; so much else doesn’t matter much anyway, many times simply seeking the necessities of life.

It’s easy to talk and it’s easy to cast judgment from behind my computer screen; really easy. I hike myself upon my high horse and cast the stones that I have accumulated, building a wall around myself, a tribe of one at times. How easy it can be to start throwing, free of reason, free of reflection, free of understanding, free of love, and yet, not free at all. That’s the irony of so much of our circumstances and the way of thinking that has plagued us. We fight for freedom for all and yet we’re not even free ourselves. I’ve learned that so much is theory, even the Gospel, until we have that personal encounter with the other who hurts and who we have walled out over time. I think of the homeless I have ignored. I think of someone who looks different that I feared. I think of someone who spoke in derogatory ways when I didn’t speak out of fear or wanting to be liked. Then the encounter. Then the uncertainty. Then the breaking down of the walls and ego. Then the change of heart. Then the comfort with mystery and unknown. Then the discernment. Then the nonviolent resistance. Then the real change that is needed.

All too often we pick and choose what it is we think is most important and what we’ll speak out against, so often as it’s been defined and spun for us, but at the heart of all of it are fragile human beings, often used and abused as consumers to get what we want for our own gratification and to stroke our own ego. Over the years, in particular since 9/11, we have gradually laid bricks and cemented them into place tightly around the heart of this country that found itself deeply wounded, an innocence lost and taken away, trying so desperately to fill that void with something, with a certainty we think we once had, the city on a hill, the beacon of hope to the rest of the world. It’s time we “tear down that wall” and no longer band-aid what has ailed us as a country. My fear is we will only continue to build the walls higher and with stronger cement; but one day Troy will fall, as every empire eventually does in time, when it can no longer sustain it’s own perceptions and illusions that it thinks it is, an illusion of strength, an illusion of superiority, especially when everyone else knows otherwise.

You can only avoid your own pain and hurt for so long before it catches up with you. That I am certain of and have experienced. The greatest challenge is, that when that uncertainty and doubt begins to creep into our lives, as it always will, that we don’t quickly react to it, laying yet another brick and stone; rather, to respond to it with love, for it is only love that begins to crack walls and move us forward and inward to our deepest identity that promises life and death, always uncertain and yet seeking, discerning what is necessary to lead not to more certainty to hold onto, but rather, the wings needed to fly above and beyond while descending me to greater depths of meaning and understanding while encountering my own deeper humanity in the other.

It’s not about our tribes and this reptilian brain that wants to trap us into our way of thinking and this need for certainty. Rather, it’s about our consciousness of it happening within me and setting it free. Then, and only then, do I begin to find the space necessary in my life for certainty and uncertainty, known and unknown, fact and mystery, superficiality and deeper meaning, tribal and yes, our truest identity, all of us, that holds all things together in Christ. That is why I question. That is why I seek. And for me, that is what it means to live with faith, with uncertainty, when all too often people demand certainty. If I’m so certain, I then question where God is in my life.

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Arrivederci!

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Today is our final day at Sea. We’re currently sailing somewhere in the vicinity of British Columbia, or at least that’s what I believe we were told. It’s a full-day at sea. It’s been a day of final shopping for a few things. It’s been a day of packing and unloading and preparing for disembarking the Island Princess tomorrow morning in Vancouver and then fly out in the evening. Before I do all of that and get on the treadmill of travel to get home, some of this day has just been sitting on the deck of the ship and taking in the quietness of the waters. As a matter of fact, although I can see some land in the far-off distance, it’s pretty much all water and the lapping of the waves beyond us and up against the ship as we sail.

As I write, I’m up on the eleventh deck of the ship so there is much below me. Even as the birds fly by below, they seem so far away from where I sit. I was thinking, though, just how much life is below me here. I don’t necessarily mean the people that are below me on this Ship, although there are more than two thousand on board, but rather the thousands of feet of water that lies below and all that calls that home. We never get to see much of it at all. We were told we’d most likely see whales among other creatures living in these waters, but this time we’ve seen none of it here. We all certainly get credit for gazing toward the horizon, day in and day out, seeking to catch a sight of something, and yet, all I see is the lapping of the waves, both here and far. All I see are the land masses that pop up from time to time and the gulls that seek food below. As much as we can’t see below, I at least know that they can see into the depths as they search for food.

But that is the hard part of any journey and what we call life. It’s, at times, nearly impossible to see what lies below the surface of the waters. We tend to live in a world that seems better suited for what we can see and what lies on the surface rather than seeking something more, rather than taking flight like the gulls, and seeking what it is we are looking for. I even know, that, once I step outside my room here, I will enter another world, so often seeming superficial in trying to buy and sell and shop until you drop on the cruise ship. Now I’m fully aware that it is vacation and there is an element of that for all of us. We like to have a good time, celebrate, and be with friends. But in many ways, coming to my room here has been a sanctuary, sitting out looking over the waters before me calling me back home to myself and to the mystery that I am as well.

We will never completely know what lies before us, beyond us, and even beneath us. Why would we want to anyway. Without some unknown in our lives we no longer have a need for faith and hope. It’s when we stop taking flight out into the great blue yonder or allowing ourselves to enter into the deep waters of our own lives that we become content with what we see and what we know rather than seeking more. It’s the more that continues to enthrall us, invite us, even seduce us to a dissatisfaction with the flashing lights and the latest gadget rather than falling overboard into the depths of the ocean with the faith and hope we need that God too will swoop down and lead us to greater depths and take us to places we’ve never seen.

As this experience draws to a close and I continue to try to take in as much as I can, of all that I can see, I’m mindful of what lies beneath. There too the splashing of the waters lapping against the heart bringing about new life and new opportunities. Sure, the sea often feels the roughest at those moments, but it’s also what makes it exciting and and adventure. There is so much I can see and yet even more so that I cannot. All I can do is continue to accept the invitation as much as I can, without fighting it and allow the depths to take me away to new places, to new realities, to new experiences that are always within reach.