My weekend: The Lineage Project

(a note to my regular reader: you may have noticed that I am doing something kinda gimmicky with the blog as of late. For the past few weeks, all of my posts have begun with the word “My”. It’s similar to the sitcom Scrubs. I figured I would forego any pretense that this blog is not a vanity project, produced due by insecurity and maintained by narcissism. Enjoy!)

This weekend, I and 17 others sat at the feet of two amazing women to learn about the Lineage Project‘s classroom model. The Lineage Project’s stated purpose is to bring mindfulness-based practices to at risk youth, with a particular focus on the incarcerated and those in various levels of the criminal justice system. From the moment we did introductions, I wrestled with imposter syndrome. My classmates were yoga instructors, educators, social workers and seasoned meditators. Being only months into my own mindfulness practice, I felt totally out of my element. But the theme for our first day was cultivating “beginner’s mind”, that fresh sense of wonder and curiosity one has when they are learning a new skill, so I was able to come into the training imagining that I was on a level playing field with my classmates.

The day was set up so that we would start each session doing a  model class. Then we would have a lecture. After lunch, we would take time to prepare and then, in pairs or small groups, we would teach part of Lineage’s model to the rest of the class. This was how the class was set up… on paper. Did I mention that I attended this training in New York City while NYC was in the midst of a historic snowstorm? While most of the elements of the class were intact, we had to be a bit flexible at times. We ended early on Saturday and started late on Sunday, but this, as anyone who has taught knows, is the kind of thing that happens in a classroom, and even more so when that classroom is a part of the criminal justice system.

We talked very little about the theories of mindfulness nor the mechanics of yoga. We spent much more of our time thinking about how to cater such things, often reserved for white, middle to upper middle class sensibilities, to people of color who have experienced extreme traumas. We talked about race, privilege, trauma, and resiliency. We talked about doing classroom management in the heart of the prison system. We talked about our own self care in the midst of working in hard environments. The whole class seemed like an acknowledgement that what we were doing was hard, counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, and risky in the way that all worthwhile things are. In many ways, this was less a training about how to do mindfulness in hard places and more a training of how to do mindfulness in hard places.

The fact that I don’t necessarily feel anymore prepared to do this work than I did before the training has less to do with the training itself and more to do with the fact that, in some ways, I am stepping into a new world. One of my fellow students referred to me as part of the “mindfulness community” and I was taken aback. I was unaware that I was taking a step into being a part of a new community. All I knew was that mindfulness has been a key element of facing, dealing with, and healing from the traumas of my past and I want to bring those skills to places that don’t have access to them. But it is a shift. A shift of mindset, a shift of community, a shift in ways of being in the world and like or not, I just got baptized into a new family.

I have a lot more to process from this weekend. Please reach out to me if you’d like to help me process or if you’re just curious about what I learned. This feels to me like the beginning of a new journey. It is terrifying. It is exhilarating. It is… unknown.

Yet, I’m trying to maintain my beginner’s mind; curious, filled with wonder, and open to the possibilities of what the future may have in store…

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My Buddy: Poe Dameron

A couple of weeks ago some friends and I started writing character pieces based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I started with Kylo Ren, my friend Aaron picked up with Luke, followed by Shannon with Maz Kanata and Layton on BB-8. Not gonna lie, this has been crazy fun for me; fun to write about Star Wars, fun to collaborate with friends and find out just how brilliant my peers are, fun to play in this world that has meant so much to me for most of my life.

I’m continuing on with our little series writing about Poe Dameron. Very minor spoilers follow because, well… I’ll get to that.

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Poe Dameron is instantly likable. He’s introduced in the opening crawl as the best pilot in the resistance. Superlatives related to flying are big in the Star Wars universe. Obi Wan describes Anakin as the best starfighter pilot in the galaxy. The Millenium Falcon is the best ship in the fleet. Luke and Han are both known to be excellent pilots. These are things we will instantly care about and so we’re anxious to meet Poe. When we finally do, we’re greeted by the handsome and intense face of Oscar Isaac. Poe is incredibly earnest. Yes, he’s on a mission, but when he and Lor San Tekka talk about “The General” there is real respect and admiration in his voice.

I should sidestep my moderate geeking out for a second to totally geek out. Marvel did a four-part comic book series called “Shattered Empire” that shows a few adventures after the events of Return of the Jedi. In it we are given Poe Dameron’s “origin” story (it is strongly suggested that he was conceived in the celebration after Endor). His mother was a pilot who had been a part of the attack on Death Star 2 and his father was one of the commandos who helped bring down the shield generator on Endor. Poe is second generation rebellion and it’s easy to believe that he has been steeped in the lore and the ethos.

Because of his admiration for General Organa and his history with the rebellion/resistance, the opening exchange with Kylo Ren has a little extra weight. There is a good chance he knows the guy behind the mask and they probably aren’t that far apart in age. They were probably friends. (As much as anyone can be friends with the strange emo kid!) The banter, though one sided, is playful. Poe adds a lot of charm to the film but also a lot of humor.

It’s painfully tempting to draw parallels between the original three main cast and the new main cast. While I doubt there will be any complete one-to-one parallels, Poe is clearly the Princess Leia of the new trilogy thus far. He has one mission that adjusts slightly based on circumstances, he is the one captured early in the film and rescued by someone dressed as a stormtrooper, and most importantly, he is the one with no character arc. Nothing dramatic has changed for Poe by the end of the film. Yes, he’s been captured and rescued, he returns the missing piece of the map, he’s destroyed the Starkiller base (with a lot of help), and he’s probably lost a bunch of friends both in the republic fleet and the resistance squadron, but he hasn’t changed, not nearly in the ways that Finn and Rey’s lives have been changed. Like Leia, Poe’s role is to connect the other main heroes to the larger story of galactic warfare.

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None of this is to say that Poe is a weak character. On the contrary, he’s the constant against which the other two main characters can be measured. He is a hero through and through and never wavers. When the resistance arrives to bail out Han, Chewie, and Finn you know Poe Dameron is going to be there leading that charge. He is quintessential hero, he’s confident but not arrogant, resolved but not invincible, serious about his mission yet light hearted. Once he likes you, whether former stormtrooper or droid, Poe Dameron calls you “buddy”. Poe Dameron is the guy you want to have a beer with!

Much has been made of the Poe/Finn relationship and while I do hope that we someday get a full on LGBT relationship in the Star Wars films (there are several in the Star Wars: Aftermath novel… big geek here), I don’t want that for Finn and Poe. I want to see a full on Star Wars bromance! Luke and Han were never on equal footing. Han had more of a bromance with Chewie. There are precious few glimmers of Obi Wan and Anakin bro-ing it up. Some weak banter, some history and weak jokes, but it’s never quite believable and the master/student dynamic works against it. With Poe and Finn we have the first real chance to see an intimate, platonic male friendship in this universe and I’m so here for that. I would love for episode 8 to begin with Poe and Finn on some sort of buddy cop-style mission.

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In a world filled with conflicted smugglers, AWOL Jedi, stormtrooper dropouts, force prodigies, and dark side daddy issues, you need a simple hero; one who does what is right because it’s right because that’s how he was raised. Poe Dameron is the guy you want on your side. I’d wear his jacket any day.

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A street fit for a King

derricklweston

Have you been to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd? Or Court? Or Place? Or Street? Or Avenue? Most cities have one. Have you been there?

Probably not. There’s a good chance that it is the worst street in your city. It is more likely than not the epicenter of drug activity and violence. It is probably run down. Maybe it’s abandoned. Maybe you can no longer read the sign that says “MLK Way”. Maybe it has boarded up buildings from when idealistic entrepreneurs attempted to revitalize the street with a small business but soon ran out of capital or customers who were willing to make the perilous jaunt. Revitalization takes time and patience.

I have joked many times about the MLK streets in communities around the city. Once I was going to a convention in Cincinnati. It was my first time in the city. I got lost on my way…

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My list: 36 things I want from my next year

  1. More writing: blog posts, articles, and personal journaling
  2. More running: much more. 35 year old me was not a good runner
  3. More cooking: a byproduct of living with great cooks is that I’ve been a slacker.
  4. More reading: because you can never read too much
  5. More races: not enough to run more, races have me to push myself
  6. More music: I got out to a lot of concerts last year. More live music, more playing music
  7. More snuggles: cat snuggles, kid snuggles… you want a snuggle? I got your snuggle right here!
  8. More hugs: cause it’s not okay for me to snuggle everyone
  9. More smiling: I have a great smile. The world needs to see it more.
  10. More worship: It’s time for me to fully re-engage in the part of myself that needs to be in awe
  11. More community: I need to get out of my own way in finding meaningful connection.
  12. More gardening: I want to grow all of the things all of the time.
  13. More mindfulness: I want to deepen my practice and teach others as well.
  14. Less stuff: I have too much stuff.
  15. More experiences: Experiences are far more valuable than stuff.
  16. Less waste: More recycling. More composting. More repurposing.
  17. Getting my career back on track: I’m a pastor by gifting and training. Someone’s gotta want me to do that.
  18. More dad time: I want to have more authentic time with my kids.
  19. More reconciliation: Some bridges can’t be unburned. For all the rest? I need to make the effort.
  20. More “I love you’s”: cause I do
  21. Less worry: Cause it solves nothing
  22. More kindness: cause it solves most things
  23. More laughter: because nothing is that serious
  24. Better finances: I’m not gonna dig myself out of this hole in a year, but I can make some steps.
  25. Move slower: hurrying makes you anxious and less careful. I don’t need either of those.
  26. More geeking out: Cause there’s nothing wrong with being a passionate fan.
  27. More dreaming: because without vision the people perish
  28. more planning: cause dreams need to be incarnated
  29. More encouraging: because there are enough critics.
  30. More water: because I never drink enough.
  31. More creating: cause we’re predisposed to make things.
  32. More collaboration: because my ego can handle it.
  33. More listening: because I have a lot to learn
  34. More prayer/meditation: because I am part of something larger
  35. Less fear: Because failing is part of the journey
  36. More self compassion: because I’m only human.

My Generation’s Villain: Kylo Ren

Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers ahead.

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One of my main anxieties before seeing The Force Awakens was Kylo Ren. For the new Star Wars to really “work”, it needed to have a convincing villain, a complex character who I wanted to both root for and against. After my first viewing, my biggest relief was my utter delight with the character of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. Ren was the one thing I have been wanting to see in Star Wars movie, a force-user who was also seemingly insane. He throws tantrums, his lines are filled more with biting sarcasm than actual threat. The one time he does throw a threat at General Hux, you don’t get the sense that Hux is all that threatened. He’s menacing in a completely different way than Darth Vader.

One of the saving graces of the film is that no time is wasted in establishing that Ren is from an important family and, mostly likely, the important family. We’re told early on that his father is Han Solo and then, in dialogue with the charred mask of Vader, it is confirmed that he is a Skywalker. The figure of Darth Vader looms large in Ren’s mind. When he and Rey go back and forth between each other’s minds, a brilliant scene, what is exposed is that Ren’s primary fear is that he is not as powerful as his legendary grandfather.

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This, to me, is the real power of the character. Darth Vader is an uber-masculine figure.  Dark, foreboding, quiet and strong. He is what my generation both remembers and imagines of our grandfathers. We grew up with the stories of our grandfathers fighting in WWII. They were “the greatest generation”, strong, tough, and quiet. My generation, on the other hand, is the father-less generation. We’re children of divorce and abandonment. We’ve been raised by mothers and grandmothers and as a result we’re more outwardly sensitive. We hate our fathers for what they’ve done to us and we wish we could be the men our grandfathers were. I love Kylo Ren because he is me. Much has been made of the fact that Ren not only throws fits, but he cries when confronting his father in the fateful scene. Similar criticism was thrown at Anakin’s crying in Episode 3 as he makes his turn to the dark side. And this, whether the filmmakers’ intention or not, is the brilliance of the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo. Ben wants to be the projected image of his grandfather but he is much closer to the reality of his grandfather. Not the silent menace of Darth Vader, but the powerful, whiny ball of insecurity that was Anakin.

And here’s the thing, he is powerful. TFA is movie with no wasted scenes. Throughout the film, a joke is made of how powerful Chewbacca’s crossbow, which after all of their years together, Han seems to be discovering for the first time. So it’s not inconsequential that Ren is able to shrug off the blast he takes from a weapon that has been shown to catapult lesser targets through the air. He’s clearly wounded. He beats his wounds as if the pain is fueling him and it likely is. We can imagine a future version of Ren delighting in the wounds he’s received both from his father’s co-pilot and from Rey. We can see him using these injuries as excuses to further mechanize himself like his idol, to become more machine than man.

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The future for Kylo Ren is compelling. He and Rey seemed to have the same kind of interwoven destinies that Luke and Vader had, but what the nature of their relationship will be is unknown. We also know that he has dark history with his uncle. We know that he and the knights of Ren were involved in wiping out Luke’s first class of Jedi. What might their reunion look like? And most importantly, in my mind, what will his relationship be like with his mother? He doesn’t seem to have the same animosity for Leia that he did for Han (though he seemed to have no qualms about blowing her up with the rest of the resistance), but certainly their reunion will be be fraught with emotions.

The biggest question left for me is can Kylo Ren be redeemed. Maybe that’s the biggest question I have left for me too. Can me and my generation be saved? 

My Permission

I don’t know how to say what I want to say here, but I’m feeling like writing will help me to process. I feel like I’m at an emotional crossroads. I’m worried about remaining stuck. I want someone to give me permission to be happy, but I realize that that is not anything that anyone can give me.

I wonder sometimes if people think that I don’t understand the consequences of my actions. Even those close to me sometimes intimate that I am damaged goods, damaged beyond repair. Maybe they just feel it is too soon for me to be put back together. Trust me, I’m not all together. Not by a long shot.

But I can’t keep beating myself up. I can’t feel guilty all the time. At some point, if I’m going to live an actual, fully functional human life, I have to be able to move forward. The problem is that I keep looking for external things that will allow me to move ahead. I look for it from friends and family. I look for it from those I’ve hurt. I look for it from the church. It’s the same search for external affirmation that lead me into this mess in the first place.

I feel like I’m supposed to keep saying “I’m sorry”. Well, I am. I am deeply sorry. The problem is that for some people, no amount of saying or showing remorse will be enough. There is no apology great enough.

Of course, this could also be in my head. There’s a very real possibility that I’m driving myself crazy thinking about my sins and I really am the only one thinking about them. I don’t think that’s true, but I have to leave room for my neurosis.

I guess I’m just tired. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not allowed to be happy. I’m tired of feeling like I should perpetually feel guilt and shame. I’m tired of feeling like I am irredeemable.

I’m tired of it… because when I look in the mirror, that’s not what I see. I see a man; older, wiser, fatter yet somehow lighter. I see someone who has known deep loss and deep heartache. I see someone who has made mistakes but is more than the sum of his errors. I see someone who is capable of great love, great humor, and great insight. I see a beautiful smile and bright eyes. I see someone that, if I were meeting them for the first time on the street, I would want them to be happy.

I want to be happy. I want it the way that everyone does. I deeply believe that every human wants happiness. Most of our searches for said happiness go astray because we live in a world that capitalizes off of our unhappiness, but deep down we all desire to be happy. I want happiness for those I love and for the first time in a long time, I am one of my loved ones.

I went looking for happiness once. I thought I would find it outside of myself. I thought I had attained it, but it was fleeting because what I was searching for cannot be given. It is something we have, God-given, the delight of being made in the Divine image. The joy of being able to love, give, share, touch, create, laugh, cry, and feel. It is the true well of happiness that we so often stop up or seek others to unleash in ourselves, but only we can get it flowing.

I feel like I want to ask for permission to be happy again…

Derrick, I give you permission to be happy.

My Messy Life

I was reminded recently that my life now is nothing like what I would have expected from it five years ago. At the beginning of 2011, I was a happily married father of an almost one year old, pastoring a church that I was about to take through a process of discernment. I was exactly where I wanted to be and exactly where I thought hard work was supposed to lead. See, to that point and in broad strokes, I had done everything right. I had been a good enough student, a good church going kid, a college grad who felt drawn to work with inner city kids and ultimately drawn to ministry. I married only my second serious girlfriend . We waited for each other. We had our adventures and got to be together six years before having a healthy baby boy. Unbeknownst to me, my life had a plan. I was pretty much going by the book. 

Then life happened, and it threw me off my game. I wasn’t prepared for failure. I wasn’t prepared for uncertainty. I didn’t have the emotional infrastructure (my therapist’s terminology) to deal with the swirls of emotions and I allowed things to fall apart. Now, five years later, there are my two kids five hours away, my ex, a career on hold, a new partner who has similarly had her script disrupted and her two kids, a trail of broken hearts, and an uncertain future. Oh, and a dog and a kitten. My life is messy. 

It’s not that my life suddenly go messy. It has always been so. All I did was blow up the facade. Life is messy because people are messy. We do all we can to hide our messiness from one another and then we’re shocked and appalled that when we see someone else’s mess while breathing a sigh of relief that are thin veneer hasn’t yet worn down. The game is exhausting and not very fun. 

I am a messy person. I’ve never been incredibly organized, I’ve always had a messy desk, car, bedroom, etc… I know that bothers some people and I try to keep it contained. But I am messy. I am complicated, moody, wildly insecure and an incredibly proud. I love people but am highly introverted. I’m hopeful but easily discouraged. I’m passionate but sometimes lazy. I’m scatterbrained but very thoughtful. I’m funny, witty, and insightful. I’m undisciplined, careless, and arrogant. I am, in short, very human. I love/hate that about me. 

My life right now is a bit of a mess. Like my bedroom, it is a comfortable mess and I know where everything is. I’d love for it to be less messy and will make efforts toward that end, but I won’t apologize for it. I’m sorry if my mess offends you. Oops, that’s an apology. See? Messy.