Becoming Who You Are

Read the rest of the Via Positiva: Cosmic Kindergarten series

Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, S.C.
Readings for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost:

Get up and eat. (1 Kings 19:1-8)
I am the bread of life. (John 6:35-48)

Thomas Earl Petty was born in Gainesville, Fla., in 1950. Petty was 10 years old when he met Elvis Presley and decided he wanted to be a rock star. He had some great help. One of his first guitar teachers was a guy named Don Felder, who went on to play with some band called The Eagles. Petty seemed destined for stardom and has sold some 60 million albums in his career. Our first song comes from his 1989 album Full Moon Fever. “Runnin’ Down a Dream” went to #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Let’s try it.

It was a beautiful day,
the sun beat down
I had the radio on,
I was drivin’ Trees flew by, me and Del was singin’,
little Runaway I was flyin’

[Chorus] Yeah I’m runnin’ down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads
Runnin’ down a dream

Probably the most frequent question you were asked as a child was a simple one: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

So, what did you want to be?

Isn’t in funny how no one said, “I want to work in a factory,” or “I want to work all day in a cubicle and be underpaid and under-appreciated!”

No, as kids we always had wild, open and amazing dreams for our lives. We wanted to be firefighters, or police officers, or famous singers or athletes, or ambulance drivers, or even lion tamers. No dream was too wild, too crazy, or too far out of reach. We were children, and the world was ours to tame.

Then of course, we met up with our own lion tamers. They were usually known as “vocational guidance counselors.” There’s a great Monty Python skit where the corporate accountant comes in and tells the counselor he wants to be a lion tamer. The counselor asks him what his qualifications are and he answers, “I have a hat!”

Isn’t that all it takes as kids to qualify us for what we want? If we have the hat, then we believe we can tame any lion we may meet. Of course, the guy in this skit had mistaken an anteater for a lion — and was scared right back into his corporate accounting job when he was informed that a real lion is far scarier than an anteater.

That’s the job of a vocational guidance counselor, isn’t it? To scare us right back into the boring, socially acceptable role that the world forces us into?

I remember a meeting with my vocational guidance counselor in high school. She asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her: “I want to be a writer!”

“What skills do you have to qualify you as a writer?” she asked.

“I have a pen!” I told her.

Then she proceeded to tell me that while it was a nice pen, I might want to consider being and accountant or a secretary to cover the bills in case my first novel didn’t shoot to the top of the bestseller list. In short, she told me, no matter how many pens I may own, I would starve as a writer. Running down that dream would only lead me down a dead end road.

Actually, I’m happy to report, I found a career in journalism that — while it didn’t lead me to write the great American novel — it did actually pay the bills and then some. And I bought a lot more pens! But, that didn’t prevent me from actually dabbling in a few accounting courses, just to be safe. Isn’t that what the world always does, though?

It scares us away from what it calls “childish” dreams and tells us to grow up, get a job, do the right thing — and for God’s sake, take off that silly hat.

I felt so good, like anything was possible
Hit cruise control, and rubbed my eyes
The last three days, the rain was un-stoppable
It was always cold, no sunshine

[Chorus] Yeah I’m runnin’ down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads
Runnin’ down a dream

Elijah the prophet was a man of many dreams. He dreamed big, not just for himself, but for his people — and like the dreams we have for our lives, it got him into some big trouble with those who seek to tame our dreams.

In today’s Hebrew scripture, we find Elijah on the run from Queen Jezebel after he has defeated and killed all of her prophets. She’s a bit ticked off at old Elijah and is out to kill him, so he’s hiding out in the wilderness — scared out of his mind that Jezebel will make good on her promise.

Understandably, Elijah is a bit depressed and suicidal. He’s lived into the life that he believes God has called him to. He’s done everything he believes he should have done — but things are going as smoothly as he had hoped.

This, Jubilants, is the nature of our true dreams. They are never easy to obtain — and often we feel under attack not just by the world around us, but mainly by ourselves whenever we ignore the world’s warnings, don our lion-tamer hat, and get into the ring with the true dream we have for our lives. The truth is, to get to our dreams, we often have to fight for them — and often, it can feel like a fight to the death.

While it’s true that our lives may not literally be in danger as we pursue our dreams, we still live most of our lives in fear that we could lose everything.

Sometimes though, losing everything isn’t all that bad, and it can lead us to the life we’re meant to live. Losing what the world calls valuable can often lead us back to that sweaty, grubby 5-year-old who knew they wanted to play in the dirt and totally enjoy their lives.

I talked to my mom just the other day and she asked how I was doing. I was packing my car to go lead a Weight Watchers meeting and she said to me, “It’s tough to be without a job in this economy.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. “Um, Mom, I have several jobs,” I told her. But, you see, my mother, the dream tamer, thinks I’m unemployed because I don’t spend my days in cubicle-land collecting one paycheck from one company for the rest of my life.

I tried living in cubicle-land and it was soul-killing. I don’t know if it’s my ADD or just my personality, but I enjoy having several jobs that employ all of my different skills. I’m living my dream, Jubliants — but to the dream tamers I’m an unemployed slacker.

It is this judgment of the world that keeps us locked up in cubicle-land, afraid to bring down the wrath of the dream tamers who tell us we’re not really working unless we’re workin’ for the man!

Don’t think that the kings and leaders of Elijah’s day didn’t wish he’d just shut up and be a nice silent farmer or shepherd. It would have made their lives easier — and it would have looked like Elijah would have an easier life. At least he wouldn’t be sitting in the wilderness waiting for Jezebel to come and kill him. But, despite Elijah’s misery in this passage, it would be worse for Elijah if he wasn’t living his dream.

Elijah’s story is valuable to those of us dedicated to running down our dreams. In our dream world, it’s not all a life of leisure and ease. Some days, even our living into wildest dreams can feel like hell. But that’s the moment when Holy comes to us and says, “Get up and eat.”

To survive, we must eat — but we must eat the food that really sustains us, that feeds our souls so we can continue our journey toward our dreams. We can’t keep feasting on the junk food of popular culture and what the world tells us we should be. That hasn’t satisfied us in years.

Instead, as we slumber through our lives, going through the motions, the Holy nudges us every day, encouraging us to “get up and eat” — to eat from the fruits of life that bring us alive, that give us the energy we need to sustain not just our bodies, but our souls in this world that is starving for that kind of food, that kind of nourishment.

Instead of running from something like a Jezebel who has us in her sights, we have to begin to see what we’re really doing is running down that dream that the Holy plants deep within each of us — that dream to be who the Holy has created us to be.

Breathe deeply.

I rolled on, as the sky grew dark
I put the pedal down, to make some time
There’s something good, waitin’ down this road
I’m pickin’ up, whatever’s mine

[Chorus] Yeah I’m runnin’ down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads
Runnin’ down a dream

What prevents us from running down our dreams is one word: Resistance. Writer Steven Pressfield believes that resistance is what takes otherwise healthy people and turns them into drug addicts, OCD sufferers, gossips — or gives them ulcers or worse, because we refuse to put on our lion-tamer hats and do the thing that our inner genius, or the Holy, is calling us to do.

Pressfield writes in The War of Art:

If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step toward pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business. Prisons would stand empty.

The alcohol and tobacco industries would collapse, along with the junk food, cosmetic surgery, and infotainment businesses, not to mention pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and the medical profession from top to bottom. Domestic abuse would become extinct, as would addiction, obesity, migraine headaches, road rage, and dandruff.

In short, Jubilants, society needs us to live into that wild, crazy dream we have. Society relies on us to never abandon our dreams, and to work like crazy to make them come true — because if we don’t, it’s not just we who are crippled by our failure, but the whole world. We are all called to be Elijah, to prophesy to the world to “get up and eat” of the deep mysteries of life, the spiritual food that feeds our dreams and turns us all into lion tamers.

So, put on your lion-tamer hats, Jubilants, and breathe deeply.

Our second song comes from the Irish rock band U2. The band formed in 1976 when all four members were teenagers. Since their first album in 1980, they have sold more than 150 million records, collected 22 Grammy Awards, and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. This song comes from their 1991 album Achtung Baby. “One” went to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Let’s try it:

Is it getting better? Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you,
Now you got someone to blame,
You say, One love, One life,
When it’s one need
In the night
One love
We get to share it
It leaves you baby if you
Don’t care for it

In our Jesus story we find our guy, like Elijah, concentrating on food — and even comparing himself to food.

“I am the bread of life,” he tells his disciples. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

His disciples and the Jews listening to him, though, are a bit confused by all this talk of bread and eating. They question how he can be the bread of life — or even come down from heaven, since they know his parents, Mary and Joseph — and they know for sure that Nazareth is not heaven.

He says it again, “I am the bread of life.” Many of our Christian brothers and sisters of a more conservative bent take this passage to mean that Jesus is the only way to get to God and that the whole world must be converted to Christianity. I, not surprisingly, see this passage quite differently.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” Jesus is putting on his lion-tamer hat for the whole world to see. Which is why they think he’s crazy — so they have to scare him back into reality by ridiculing him. But in this passage, Jesus is inviting us all to put on that lion-tamer hat and pursue the dream that the Holy has for each of us — to live fully into our gifts and hopes and dreams.

You see, Jesus is living into the dream the Holy had called him to. By living that dream, Jesus recognizes that he is the bread of life, but the deeper secret is this: We are all the bread of life to each other. Our essential self is one that feeds not just our own soul, but all souls. Just as I said in the meditation on sharing a few weeks ago, we are at our happiest when we feed each other. We are unhappy when we are selfish. When we hoard the bread of life, we all go hungry!

We are here to nourish, to carry, each other. We’re one, but we’re not the same — all called to feed one another, but in different ways. Some feed our hearts, some our souls, some feed our minds, others our spirits — we all have different gifts, and we are called to live into them.

When Jesus realized he was the bread of life, he lived into it with no hesitation, no self-doubt, no questioning. This is what we are called to do — but as Jesus’ example shows, often this way can lead to death.

Perhaps we are not called to a physical death like Jesus, but when we become who we really are — make no mistake — we will face death and loss. Relationships that are important to us now may wither and die. We may have to die to the place we are in now to get to the place we are meant to be. Jobs, expectations — all of these things may fall to the wayside as we begin our new journey.

Most of you may remember our fellow Jubilant, Scott. When he came to Jubilee! he was working at a job that really satisfied his essential self. He loved the work and he was good at it. But he was working in an environment that very much felt confining and suffocating. He tolerated this situation as long as he could before his essential self cried out so loudly that he couldn’t do it anymore.

He was honest with his employers, and it cost him the job he loved. Death was very real for Scott in this situation. He lost many relationships that had been valuable to him, and he is still dealing with difficulties in his own family. His way of life died. Everything he knew was taken from him, and some of it he gave up voluntarily when he left us to begin his new life in Chicago.

Scott resisted these changes for a long time, preferring the safety of that good job, because leaving it — putting on his lion-tamer hat — came with a steep price tag.

As the old saying goes, Jubliants: Freedom isn’t free. If can often mean the death of all you know now as you face the brave new world you’re setting your sights on. This is what keeps most of us stuck. We may be miserable, but at least we’re miserable and safe. But, I think if you asked Scott today if all the struggle, all the death and grief were worth it for him to live fully into his essential self, I’m betting his reply would be: “Oh, yeah.”

Did I disappoint you? Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well it’s Too late,
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to,
Carry each other
Carry each other

Life coach Martha Beck gives us a handy test to use whenever we become lost in the wilderness like Elijah while we are pursuing our dreams. She says we have to judge the direction of our lives by discerning whether our current situation is a “shackles on” or “shackles off” experience.

If you’re contemplating something in your life, think about how it physically feels. Does it feel like shackles are being put on you? Does it make you feel restricted and unhappy? If so, it’s not part of your essential self. If whatever you’re contemplating — changing jobs, moving to a new place, courting a partner — makes you feel liberated, like the shackles have been removed, then it’s something that’s moving you closer to you essential self.

That being said, sometimes there are “shackles on” experiences that we have to get through to get the shackles off. I’m not promising you you’ll never feel shackled — but if you have to do something unpleasant to get to where you essential self is going, then you have to buckle down and git ‘er done! Then, move on to the shackles-off activities that your heart longs to do.

That perfectly good job that my mother was horrified that I gave up was terrible. It was a shackles-on experience every minute of the day. We are not meant to live in shackles, but in the wide open world of spiritual and physical freedom. We are meant to nourish ourselves, but also to become the bread of life for others. We must live our lives so that we are satisfied, and in that satisfaction, we feed and nourish the dreams of others who seek to break from the shackles of a life laden down with society’s expectations of them.

Oh, but we can’t all just quit our jobs and pursue our dreams — who would serve us hamburgers? Who would put out fires, make our widgets and sell us shoes? Y’know what? All of those occupations call to somebody. There are people in this world who find their deepest satisfaction in cooking, who find their deepest satisfaction in running into danger instead of away from it, who find their deepest satisfaction in inventing and making widgets, who find their deepest satisfaction in seeing you in a fabulous new pair of shoes.

The difference would be, those who are meant to be burger flippers, firefighters, widget makers and shoe sellers would be the ones doing it. They would find their freedom in these vocations, and those who feel shackled in such jobs would be free to do what they want to do!

This is what it means to be the bread of life, Jubilants, and to invite each other to “get up and eat”! When we realize that we are one, but not all gifted in the same way, we can get on with our Holy job of carrying each other, serving each other, and feeding each other with that mysterious and filling bread of life.

I invite you, Jubilants, dream your big “childish” dreams — feed your inner kid — and don’t let the world tell you that you can’t be what the Holy calls you to be. Instead, put on your lion-tamer hat, strike out toward your dreams and soon you’ll be saying, “Oh, Yeah!”

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head

Did I ask too much? More than a lot.
You gave me nothing,
Now it’s all I got We’re one,
But we’re not the same
Well we hurt each other
Then we do it again

[Bridge] You say, Love is a temple
Love a higher law, Love is a temple
Love the higher law,
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on
To what you got,
When all you got is hurt

One love, One blood, One life
You got to do what you should
One life, With each other Sisters, Brothers
One life, But we’re not the same
We get to, Carry each other
Carry each other One, One

Oh, Yeah!