As we begin yet another orbit around our star and bid 2018 adieu, I am weary.

I am weary of a constant anger and frustration at seeing so much potential in our world strangled by irrational fear and incomprehensible hatred.
I am weary of the conflict and division sown into our daily lives by our media, our leaders, and our friends.
I am weary of those so lost in the swamp of rhetoric and dogmatism that they forget that we are all on a similar journey, though we may find different paths.
I am weary of those who claim to follow the greatest example of love in history, yet cannot find love in their hearts for their neighbor.
I am weary of those who inflict pain and incite anger, excusing their vileness as “telling it like it is” or working against “political correctness.”
I am weary of a growing, nonsensical refusal in our society to accept reality and its requisite truths and facts.
I am weary of the insanity that sees us as lords over Creation, and that its destruction for short-term gain is acceptable or won’t have a profound negative impact on our progeny.
I am weary of seeing people dehumanized because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, who they love, the deity they worship, or the leaders they support.
I am weary of unending war and escalating rhetoric that has reshaped our culture into something grotesque, that builds the idea that it’s us against the world.
I am weary of the normalization of violence and aggression, of lies and propaganda.
I am weary of those who seek power over others, who corrupt themselves for personal gain, who rise to their status on the backs of those who most need their help.
I am weary of our out-of-control commercialism and materialism that so often cripples our happiness and tethers our futures in debt.
I am weary of the astounding hubris that allows one generation to sacrifice the future prosperity and hopes of the next.

Yes, I am weary. But I haven’t lost hope. Not yet. Amid such terrible darkness, there have still been rays of light. Bright points of hope for the future seemingly against all odds. And so, in this new year and beyond, let us make a commitment together to correct our destructive course, to amplify and protect those bright spots in the darkness.

Let us bury fear and hatred in hope and love so that the astounding potential in our world can break through and cast away anger and frustration.
Let us put aside those media sources, leaders, and friends so hell-bent on sowing conflict and division.
Let us join hands across our different paths and show those lost in rhetoric and dogmatism that there is a better way forward, together.
Let us stop trying to speak and judge on behalf of Jesus of Nazareth, and instead actually follow his example of love for all.
Let us speak and act with kindness, so that we may soothe pain and make rare anger.
Let us accept that reality cannot be denied, and that truth and facts cannot be changed no matter how much we wish them away.
Let us protect our only home and understand that our existence is dependent on our environment, recognizing that the short-term profit of a few holds no contest against the future of all.
Let us stand up for those marginalized and trampled in society for aspects of their being over which they have no control or for their worldviews born from the heart.
Let us resist the constant calls to war and rhetorical escalation and instead strive for peace with and understanding of our fellow man.
Let us cut out or reduce those elements of our daily lives that normalize violence, encourage aggression, or spread lies and doubt against evidenced truth.
Let us support those leaders who do not seek power for power’s sake, who do not corrupt themselves with dirty influence, who reach down to raise up those who need them instead of simply standing on their shoulders.
Let us strive for simpler, happier lives, resisting the commercialism and materialism that encourages envy and mires us in debt.
Let us make decisions with future generations in mind, and not unjustly laden them with hopelessness and a responsibility to correct our poor judgment before it’s too late.

I’ll be making some changes in 2019. Will you join me?

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence. Wherever a man separates from the multitude and goes his own way, there is a fork in the road, though the travelers along the highway see only a gap in the paling.”

-Henry David Thoreau, Journal (October 18, 1855)

Some months ago I made public my intentions of stepping down from my position as Technology Director for Mill Grove UMC to likely return to school, but in a new direction. As seven months have passed and I haven’t gone anywhere, numerous people have approached me trying to figure out what happened. My simple answer? A lot.

Around the same time I started to consider my departure, Mill Grove underwent broad leadership changes. As I came to feel a personal responsibility to help them as much as I could, my stay was extended.

Shortly after, we also started preparing to sell our house after my father’s passing at the end of 2016. As a do-it-yourself family, this in truth became my full-time job for the last half of 2017. We also simultaneously closed on a new house over 20 miles away but didn’t move in until a month later, all while commuting and continuing to work on the old house during and after the lengthy move. There’s no time to train new people and lose income while you’re painting, repairing, packing, selling, dumping, and moving mountains of inherited furniture and collections. And so, my stay was extended.

But now I’m running out of excuses and “extenuating circumstances,” and I still don’t truly have a solid plan in place. Yet I am certain of one thing: what joy there was for me in such technological immersion is gone. I find myself stressed by every ding of my phone. I can’t focus for the distractions of the screens around me (indeed, even writing this has been a struggle). I feel tethered and restricted, despite having all the wonders of the world within my virtual reach. Something must change. For me, what must change is my focus.

For some time, I made the claim that despite my skills and interests in technology, I could likely drop it in a moment and not look back. The past few years have very nearly convinced me that that claim is sound. My peace and happiness – my purpose – lies elsewhere, quite separated from the maelstrom of endless technology and Pavlovian bells and whistles.

On a more personal level, I’ve begun to realize that I am a fundamentally restless person. I don’t necessarily mean in a physical sense, but also intellectually, philosophically. Fate and upbringing made me a student of many different disciplines, which has made finding my “narrow and crooked” path frustrating. I was finding myself lost and stumbling about, never getting any closer to anything that felt like my purpose. I am convinced of a great healing power in nature, though, and at a time in my past when it felt as though I was losing everything, two days alone in a silent, foggy woods restored my soul. Thus, nature has become my true sanctum sanctorum. Looking back to those times of reflection and silence, I’ve at last started to envision my “gap in the paling.”

“I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Through all my contemplation the past few years, I am ever more certain that pursuing a vastly simpler life – a more “minimalist” life – somehow tied to nature, focused on personal experience, and away from the chaos and strife that is so ingrained in our modern lives will be that forked path in which I can “walk with love and reverence.” My desire for the parade of gadgets and material things our consumerist society waves in front of us hundreds of times a day has largely evaporated. I want to continue to bring some beauty into this troubled world through my music and photography, but without the distractions and endless stress encouraged by our society. The traditional “American Dream” that exists for most simply is not my own. To just exist within this world and never truly experience it seems like such a tragic tale. Looking back, the primacy of experience has really been a factor in my photography for years. I have passed on many a shot in favor of appreciating the moment, and it’s why I came back from a two-week, 7,000-mile trip and published just 23 images. I think it’s long past time I applied that same philosophy to my life.

What will this simpler life look like? Honestly, I’m not sure. I think that discovery will become a part of the adventure in a way. I do know that it will require a tremendous leap of faith – maybe even several. So long as I can supply my basic needs and throw a bit toward my passions of music and photography, I will have considered this grand adventure a success. I have no delusions that any of this will be easy or without struggle, but how many lives truly are? I do not fear what challenges lie ahead if it means finding my purpose, my peace, my happiness.

And so, the next months will see me finally acting on what I said I would do last summer. I’ll then spend a little time getting things stabilized for myself, and ultimately start looking for that limb to step out on.

If there is a sin superior to every other, it is that of willful and offensive war. Most other sins are circumscribed within narrow limits…but he who is the author of a war, lets loose the whole contagion of hell, and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death.

-Thomas Paine, The Crisis Number V (1778)

I will not share in the jingoism and nationalism exhibited by others on days like today. I will not sing patriotic songs. I will not share banal images celebrating our military. I will not cover my home in flags. This is a day of remembrance, of mourning, and of healing. On Memorial Day we remember the costs and evils of war, and how very precious is peace. While our warmongering politicians barrel ahead with bellicose threats of aggression, we honor those lost in conflict and the families who will never again see their loved ones.

But Memorial Day isn’t just to remember the fallen, but also to recognize and support those who returned home but lost a part of themselves in the experience. A recent study determined that an average of 20 US veterans die from suicide each day, many from the inability to cope with their traumatic experiences. This period of endless war and its long-term effects on our society will truly be a dark blot on our nation’s story, and I fear this generation may never fully recover.

Every life lost to war is a life cut short; a bright light of potential snuffed out. Someone’s father, someone’s sister, someone’s child. We may take pride that such people lived, but to celebrate such sacrifice is shameful. Honor them. Honor them not with hollow words and ridiculous flag worship, but by striving to make war a distant memory. Honor them by reversing the tide of interventionism and militarism that has taken hold of our society and our government, mocking their precious sacrifice. Honor them by demanding that peace and diplomacy always be made our first priority, with military action an absolute last resort. Honor them by turning away from our society’s sickening glorification of violence and conflict. Honor them by remembering the value of life, and recognizing that every drop of blood spilled in aggression is an unforgivable sin.

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

-Jack London

In honor of the 65th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, below is an excerpt from Robert Leckie’s memoir, Helmet for My Pillow:

I lay in the hospital ward and the Sign of the Mushroom rose over the world.

I lay in a hospital for the tenth time since I had chosen to enter the Marines. My comrades and I had suffered in our persons as the world had suffered in her peoples since the Nazi swastika had clasped the Japanese rising sun in spidery embrace—the whole world, racked for six years like a giant organism; and now the Sign of the Mushroom was rising over it.

The ward in Newton D. Baker Army Hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia, was quiet—shocked, still. The impersonal radio voice said, “America has just dropped the first atomic bomb in history on the major Japanese city of Hiroshima. The city has been destroyed.”

Monster cloud rising over Hiroshima, over the world—monstrous, mushrooming thing, sign of our age, symbol of our sin: growth; bigness, speed: grow, grow, grow—grow in a cancer, enlarge a factory, swell a city, balloon our bellies, speed life, fly to the moon, burst a bomb, shatter a people—explode the world.

So it rose and I shrank in my cot, I who had cringed before the body-squeezing blast of a five-hundred-pound bomb, hearing now this strange cold incomprehensible jargon of the megaton. Someone had sinned against life, and I felt it in my very person.

But then I, too, sinned. Suddenly, secretly, covertly—I rejoiced. For as I lay in that hospital, I had faced the bleak prospect of returning to the Pacific and the war and the law of averages. But now, I knew, the Japanese would have to lay down their arms. The war was over. I had survived. Like a man wielding a submachine gun to defend himself against an unarmed body, I had survived. So I rejoiced.

A few days later, the war did end, and there was a victory celebration in Martinsburg. The townspeople walked and rode around the square twice and then everyone went home. A slender Chinese gentleman, noticing my green uniform among the khaki, my ribbons and my shoulder patch, perhaps concluding from these that I had fought the Japanese, came up to me out of the crowd as I stood before the beer hall, and said, “Thank you.” Then he walked away. That was victory, that was jubilation—under the Sign of the Mushroom. I returned to the hospital, stark sober. In a few weeks, I was a civilian.

…[Sacrifice] is enough for all, for it is sacrifice—the suffering of those who lived, the immolation of those who died—that must now be placed in the scales of God’s justice that began to tip so awkwardly against us when the mushroom rose over the world. It is to sacrifice that men go to war. They do not go to kill, they go to be killed, to risk their flesh, to insert their precious persons in the path of destruction.

…That is why women weep when their men go off to war. They do not weep for their victims, they weep for them as Victim. That is why, with the immemorial insight of mankind, there are gay songs and colorful bands to send them off—to fortify their failing hearts, not to quicken their lust for blood. That is why there are no glorious living, but only glorious dead. Heroes turn traitor, warriors age and grow soft—but a victim is changeless, sacrifice is eternal.

And now to that Victim whose Sign rose above the world two thousand years ago, to be menaced now by that other sign now rising, I say a prayer of contrition. I, whom you have seen as irreverent and irreligious, now pray in the name of Chuckler and Hoosier and Runner, in the name of Smoothface, Gentleman, Amish and Oakstump, Ivy-League and Big-Picture, in the name of all those who suffered in the jungles and on the beaches, from Anzio to Normandy—and in the name of the immolated: of Texan, Rutherford, Chicken, Loudmouth, of the Artist and White-Man, Souvenirs and Racehorse, Dreadnought and Commando—of all these and others, dear Father, forgive us for that awful cloud.”

— Robert Leckie, “Epilogue,” Helmet for My Pillow


8/6/2015: Edited and republished for the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima’s destruction.