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@ Sea with Justin McRoberts
34 minutes | Oct 14, 2021
In the book Prayer: 40 Days of Practice, I take a swing at unpacking the word “spiritual;” not an effort to redefine the word for all users, but an effort to expand its application to meet my own experience and expectation. I do so by way of a kind of allegory; one in which a young man visits a religious guide of some kind, I think I call him a priest in the actual chapter, and shares that something feels wrong in his connection with The Divine. He describes it as a kind of pain in his chest; one he experiences most keenly at night when he lays down to reflect on his day. After describing the discomfort in some detail, the young man expects a particular kind of “spiritual” response from his priest friend. But that priest friend reaches into his bag to retrieve an antacid, saying “Son, you have heartburn.”My hope is that the story expands a readers’ take on what it means to think of themselves spiritually. That, instead of “spiritual” matters being those that are disembodied and separate from financial, social, physical, mental, or emotional ones, thinking spiritually is about seeing all those aspects of one’s existence as integrated, sacred, and attended to by The One Who Holds All Things Together. And while the story presents a bit more prescriptive role from the priest, that expanded expectation regarding what is “spiritual” is part of the work of spiritual direction. And spiritual direction, as a practice and a profession, deserves a whole long look before we go simply and easily defining it. If living spiritually has to do with considering every square inch of my life worth the attention of God, then learning to practice that kind of life takes a very nuanced, very detailed, and (dare I say) very personal help. That has been the role of spiritual direction for me and one I have longed to play in the lives of others. I am currently apprenticed to Tara Owens who is a spiritual director and the founder of Man Cara Ministries. Her wisdom and experience have been on the revolutionary side of enriching for me and because I know my attempts at passing along the things (and the ways) I’ve come to see by way of her guidance, I visited her in Colorado Springs so that I could pass along our conversation. I think you’ll dig it. Check it out.
6 minutes | Oct 7, 2021
The Problem of Care
A few weeks ago, I was in a contraption with a few folks my age and older who were voicing concerns about all the “information” kids get online. During that conversation, statistics were thrown around about how much data we’re subject to. Apparently, every person creates something like 1.7 MB of data every second, which amounted to 2.5 quintillion data bytes per day. ThatIsA Lot At some point, someone said something about kids knowing too much. I don’t remember the exact phrase but it was something along the lines of “it’s just too much information. They’re overwhelmed.” That.. gave me pause. Something about it rang true, but not entirely. You see, I wonder if the hang-up here isn’t that there’s too much to know; I wonder if it’s that I feel responsible for caring about all of it... or even too much of it. And saying I don’t care about everything can be a slightly troublesome thing to say. Because “everything” is a very long list and it includes things you might think are REALLY vital; maybe even essential. So, as I confess my limitation of care, I just might be telling you that I don’t care about the things you care about the way you care about them or to the same depth… and now… now we might have a problem. And that… that’s overwhelming; to feel like I have to overextend my care or even pretend to overextend my care in order to remain true to my tribe. What if I care about the hungry teens in Pleasant Hill / Martinez, CA who are sleeping in cars around the corner from their local HS instead of at home so they know they can get to school on time … but my heart isn’t drawn to the clean water crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa?What if I spend the lion's share of my charitable, care time and energy in the area of child exploitation and human trafficking and, because I do, I don’t know enough about trans persons or biology or the science in the mix? What if I don’t care about what you care about? And what if it scares me to tell you that? What if it’s not the amount of information available to us. What if it’s the degree of responsibility we feel we have to have for that information; I don’t have the time or energy or the resources to effectively and consistently care for more than a few things. That’s just true… and I know it’s true. I also know it’s true that there are absences on (or from) my care list that have been disappointing to more than a few people. And that’s been a point of stress at times; Moving the question from “what do I care about?”To “what should I care about?”Author and Missiologist Michael Frost gets a lot of questions that basically boil down to the question of care. Because he’s in the field of teaching religious-minded about responsible “mission,” he regularly converses with folks who are searching the world around them for urgent needs to fill so that they can participate in the Grand Work of Redemption and Restoration. Rather than prescribe to folks attention to “that which matters most,” Michael turns the question towards people To whom are you called? Who will go with you? Michael redirects issue-focused conversations to the people whose actual, human, soft, and precious lives are affected, altered, damaged, or saved; the people whose fundamental value is the foundation of value for any and every “issue” or idea in all of human history. This is why I have been so richly blessed by David Dark’s commitment to Reality. It is her complex and sacred humanity that is David’s doorway into care for issues and ideas like criminal justice, responsible citizenship, and a more comprehensive expression of what it means to be “Pro-Life.” “To love a person” David has written, “is to love a process.” Yes. Also, to love a person is to enter into a world full of ideas and dilemmas and issues, but to find them in their proper context; encased in the soft, impermanent flesh of humanity.So…What if we’re not so much overwhelmed by the amount of information available to us; what if we’re simply distracted by it. And in our distraction, we lose touch with what enlivens us; what grounds us what makes any and all of the 2.5 quintillion daily data bytes worth a thing.That our hearts are not build to simply KNOW the world and those who live in it; we are built to care for the world and those who live in it…. So far as we are capable.
55 minutes | Oct 2, 2021
David Dark #2
When I am asked what I do, I often say that I try to prove language for the process of faith and art. I think that does a decent job of describing my work, even if it’s a bit nebulous. Thing is, language shapes and defines cultures; the difference between one culture and another is often a matter of difference between the words we’re using for the same things.. or even the same experiences. This is why David Dark is one of the very few second-time guests on this podcast. His very peculiar and precise use of language stretches my imagination to reconsider the words I’m using and more seriously consider many words I avoid. In this second conversation, we cover a lot of ground (as we often do when we talk), but spend the lions share of our time on, not just a word, but a name: Reality Winner That name, and the life of the woman that name references, has been a lightning rod for David on many levels. His continual responsibility to that names has brought to life conversations about what it means to be a patriot, what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a citizen; words whose ideas propel whole cultures. Check it out
5 minutes | Sep 23, 2021
Facts & Feelings
It’s likely you’ve heard something like “You’re being emotional.” Or “let’s not bring emotions into this.” And it’s likely that, when you heard it, it was said in the context of the conversation is about something very, very serious; something serious enough that, were we to “get emotional” or “bring emotions into it” we would complicate it and muddy it. That has been my training (cultural and institutionally) as well.That the more real and consequential the thing we’re talking about is, the more important it is that we distance ourselves from whatever feelings we might have and rely on the numbers. Don’t get caught up in sentiments. Look for the bottom line or at least the dominant trends. Now, I don’t have the time or space here (nor, if I’m honest, the expertise) to dissect what is meant by “feelings” in a lot of these moments; what I am comfortable saying is that it’s a pretty bold move at any point to look at a list of vital human traits like:Intuition Memoryor even triggered responses or trauma and entirely throw them out because they make the math feel funny about being so cold and… well.. unfeeling. Is it enough to feel something? Or to have feelings about something? I suppose that, nowadays, before I attempted a straight answer to that, I’d get a little bit Jesus-y about it and turn the question on its head; Is it enough to know the numbers? because no... it’s not enough. It’s not enough to separate any one aspect of human life (or the experience thereof) from all the others and then prioritize that element as more vital or primary; making all other experiences and moments subject to it. Do the numbers matter? Yes. But only insofar as those numbers represent patterns of very real, often highly individualized human experiences and (lookout) feelings. Does the way I feel matter? Thank God yes. And if, when I look at the numbers, I find myself alone in the way I feel about something, I get to ask some good/hard questions about how I see and experience my own life. It is hard to be whole. It is hard as an individual and even more so as a collective. In part, it’s hard because being whole doesn’t always come with being at peace (within myself or with those I’m living life with). So if we’re talking about sexual violence, yes, the numbers matter, but they aren’t as weighty as the life’s worth of trauma the woman you’re talking with is carrying because she was one of the “one out of four.” And if we’re talking about climate change, yes, I get that you need to drive or fly for work (so do I) and that your kids might go to different schools in different parts of town and have sports… but when we look at the statistical realities the scientific community has offered us, it’s probably worth considering what patterns we might help set by our personal, individual changes and sacrifices. It’s hard to be whole. Because becoming whole is a processAnd it doesn’t resolve. So, feelings change and the numbers keep growing.Because sometimes the feelings are the facts and sometimes the facts don’t feel right and, therefore they aren’t right.Because being human always means knowing or assuming or believing or (dare I say it) feeling that there is more to who I am individually and more to who we are collectively than the particular metrics can measureWhether those metrics are feelings or factsWhether it is math or connection Or memory or sentiment There is always more.
48 minutes | Sep 16, 2021
I’ve come to pretty fundamentally believe that some things cannot (and should not) be discussed outside of personal experience. That might sound odd coming from someone with a relatively traditional education in western philosophy. But… here I am. One of the keenest examples of that is gun violence. The way I see it: despite the numbers, despite the mathematics, everything stops with the phrase “I lost a loved one.” Or “I almost died.”All that math and all those statistics only matter in light of the value of human life. And the value of human life is established in places outside of Mathematica and statistics; Places we call “emotional” or even “sentimental.” Taylor Schumann’s accounting of gun violence is personal. And that, in my opinion, makes it powerful. Not because the story is dramatic or even culturally triggering. But because, as a matter of statistics fact, there are only so many people who have heard gun-shots near them and faced the actual reality that they might die at the end of a gun. Taylor Schumann has.And because she has, I believe her and think what she says matters. I think you will, too. Check it out.
54 minutes | Sep 2, 2021
Pádraig Ó Tuama
Sometimes, there aren’t sufficient words for a moment or a season or a feeling. The other side to that coin is that sometimes the wild, the unexpected, or inexplicable … serve the blessed purpose of breaking the words we are used to using and inviting us to make something new from their pieces. This is one way to talk about poetry. I think of the way the Scriptures of my own religious tradition open with poetry in the strange shadow of timelessness, orderlessness, and the Creative Will of a Being beyond comprehension. That same collection of histories and prophecies and reflections and wisdom texts ends with poetry in the blazing light of a hopeful future beyond either chaos or order or death or time itself. Poetry is, among other things, a way to say “There is more here. I can’t hand it to you plainly, so I’ll point in its direction and, in so doing, honor the complex and beautiful reality of… well.. reality”For Pádraig Ó Tuama, many of the realities that frame his personal and cultural history necessitated a treatment and use of language that bent towards the poetic. Pádraig's work is born of political strife, poverty, and a dominant religious culture that often largely denied his humanity; it is work that suggests regularly and beautifully, that there is more here. I’m a fan of his and had been looking forward to this conversation for years. I hope you enjoy it. I think you will. Check it out.
5 minutes | Aug 26, 2021
Rachel Held Evans, Language, and Trust
I have mentioned Caroline McIntyre‘s book “caring for words in a culture of lies“ many times over the course of this podcast’s five years. It was, upon first read, a formative and grounding resource; it continues to be. In part because I have historically had a tendency to talk too much, putting too many words on the table and muddying the connection that better words, more thoughtful words, might have otherwise forged. Similarly, McIntyre warns that misuse or careless use of words disconnects us from the heart of the things we were talking about; that, if I truly love a subject or an idea or experience or a truth, it is my responsibility, through language, to communicate that subject or idea or experience or truth in a way others might come to appreciate it as well; that when there is a disconnect between a thought I am moved by and the ability of someone I care about to perceive it, that gap is my problem and is a problem of language. In short, Caroline McIntyre suggests that language is a primary expression of love; love for the things I take interest in and love for those I am living life with. And in so far as that is the case, that language is an expression of love, how important it is that I recognize the often tragic limitation of language. My words, your words, can never quite capture or enlighten every aspect, angle, and nuance of Life and the particular elements of life in which we find joy and pain.Which is part of why I am so often moved by the courage of those who are willing to put the best of their words on the table while knowing those words can only do so much. It is also why I am often moved by the courage of those who, after a time, find and apply new words to older conversations in which we’ve grown maybe too comfortable with our language gaps and the divisions we settle into because of them. For instance, I’ve marveled at those who have faithfully approached the language “God is love” and have been not only consistent enough but humble enough to allow a phrase like that to become less about particular conclusions and more about possibilities. Which is often what I see in stories about Jesus when, as the conversation about the Love of God hits the table, ends up handling questions like “who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus offers a story that has layers of cultural implications and a much broader set of possibilities than the “conclusions” his audience had learned were associated with “God” or “Love.”The possibilities and pathways available in the Divine will always be infinitely more interesting and beautiful than the language we use to point at them; which leads me to think that perhaps the best we can do with our language is hope to point others (or even our own souls) at the Good, True and Beautiful and then trust not only the fuller reality of those things but even other people’s experiences of those things to fill in “the gap.” Maybe everything else is an exercise in control?So, I think of recent writers like Rachel Held Evans, I don’t find any kind of real scandal in the conclusions she was trying to get people to come to (if there really were any of those); I think the “scandal” of her legacy was the constant and wild suggestion that the love of God is actually for everyone and that, whenever someone has left off of that “everyone,” we’ve come up against a limitation of language and human will and can do better. I love that. I really do. Namely, because I really do believe that if I am not actually scandalized on occasion, I must not be actually paying attention to God. Great religious language points us to possibilities beyond the words we are currently using and then invites us to trust the rest of our process to the Divine who desires far more than the understanding and cognition we chase with words, but desires, instead… relationship; an ongoing, evolving, growing, and deepening relationship that is far beyond understanding.So, maybe we can take the pressure off ourselves and those we’re giving our precious attention to by not having to trust so deeply the messengers, specific. Instead, perhaps can we learn to trust the larger process that the messenger is part of.
60 minutes | Aug 19, 2021
Matthew Paul Turner
When Rachel Held Evans died, on May 4 of 2019, she left a significant m emotional and cultural void; one that was felt by her followers and readers but also one that was felt differently by those she was working alongside. See, Rachel was part of a whole tribe of persons working to establish and celebrate a new language for a generation of people of faith. In the long shadow of her passing, other members of the tribe felt a kind of witty responsibility to continue the legacy she was forging. Among those people was (and is) Matthew Paul Turner. when I met Matthew recently, he was quite literally surrounded by hundreds of copies of his most recent children’s book. As a New York Times best-selling children’s author, Matthew had taken on the particular and beautiful responsibility of finishing a children’s book project Rachel had begun before she passed. Entitled, “What Is God Like?” the book is less an effort to answer the question precisely and more an imaginative exploration of the possibilities that question presents; possibilities that might mean that there is room in God for everyone. It is a poignant and appropriate continuation of Rachel Held Evans‘s legacy. It is also a beautiful and powerful addition to the body of work Matthew Paul Turner is releasing into the world.I truly enjoyed my conversation with Matthew and I think you will too. Check it out
6 minutes | Aug 12, 2021
The Power of Celebrity
The way I hear it used, the word “celebrity” almost always comes with a tinge of disdain. In fact, I was recently interviewing a band about their relatively wild public success and used the word “celebrity” to ask a question about how it felt to have the kind of influence they’d garnered. Boy oh boy did they distance themselves from that word. They wanted nothing to do with it. Not one bit. The next few minutes featured phrases like “We’re not celebrities.”and “I really don’t think that word describes what we do.”Or just flat out “I don’t like that word.” The lead singer of the band then went on to be very clear that there were just “normal people” with normal lives who make music; That the celebrity aspect of things caused a gap between them and their audience they didn’t want. “We go through all the same things y’all go through.” I do understand that. I also resonate with it. At the same time (and you can feel this part coming), I struggle with making simple what I think is a slightly more nuanced reality. See, just about 3 hrs after I wrapped that interview with them, that band got on microphones that amplified their voices over hundreds of feet from the smoke-and-light drenched stage they stood on; a stage that was 8 feet off the ground, literally holding them up above the people who had paid to see them. See, I don’t have any problem at all with that band being on stage with lights and smoke or that people pay to see them. I think all that makes some sense because they’ve committed to their artwork, it has connected with and made a difference to a lot of people. Which makes me wonder if the actual moral dilemma good-hearted people have with the word or concept of “Celebrity” is that it’s a way to talk about power; I wonder if it’s the power we’re sometimes afraid of having.. or at least the power we’re afraid other people see us have. I remember being pointed towards James Baldwin’s work by black activist friends here in the Bay Area and being pretty surprised to find clip after clip of him on Television programs in the late 1960s. And not just his appearance on PBS programs but on celebrity-heavy programs like the Dick Cavett show, which preceded Johnny Carson’s show, which set the tone for Jay Lenno, David Letterman and pretty much any Late Night show you and I have ever seen. Part of why I found it surprising is not only because Baldwin was a black man in the 1960s but that he was also gay. And publicly so. In each of his TV appliances, James Baldwin is confident and clear; resolved and unshakeable, even in the face of at times direct challenges to his philosophy, his intellect, and (as a gay, black man) his right to even exist. He wielded the power of the position he was handed by PBS and Dick Cavett without a hint of the hesitation I saw in that band I mentioned earlier. And I won’t pretend to know Baldwin’s mind here… but… I do wonder a few things;I wonder if he found the work he was up to vital enough that he was willing to bypass the emotional crisis his opportunities presented. And/or I wonder if he simply wanted the power of the positions he was granted because he trusted himself to wield it well. Which is to say, I wonder if he didn’t worry much at all about being a “celebrity” or being seen as one because he knew what he was up to, knew it was important and knew he’d do it wisely, lovingly, and well. Before that band I was talking with left the stage from our interview, several audience members asked questions about their lives and practices; looking for inspiration or help or clairvoyant for their own lives and practices. A few even shared about ways the band’s work had deeply changed a moment or even a whole season in life. The way I saw it, while this band didn’t like the word “celebrity,” they had been wielding the specific power the word describes well enough to make that room of people feel loved; and probably many other rooms just like it.I think it’s unavoidable that some people get lifted up “above” others for one reason or another. I think that’s our nature. Sometimes that’s because they’re cute and funny, sometimes it’s because they paid their way there and sometimes that’s because they’re simply so good at what they do that they cannot and should not be ignored by the masses. The real question becomes, then, the same question anyone has to answer when offered power in another life: What will you do with the power that position offers you? I wonder if saying “I don’t want it” is an expression of fear rather than humility. I wonder if pretending you’re a “normal” person and “just like everyone else” when you’re handed a microphone and given access to the consciousness and wills and emotions of hundreds or thousands or even millions of people is a quiet way to excuse oneself from the responsibility of the position you’ve either earned or been handed. When it comes to the power of Celebrity, I get that it can be a terrifying thing. But insofar as it is a cultural and anthropological reality, I don’t think you have to not want that power to be responsible for it.
39 minutes | Aug 5, 2021
I actually never watched the Batchelor. And that’s not a thing I say with pride or any sense of superiority. I honestly just don’t watch a lot of TV and haven’t since I was about 12, when shows like “The A-Team” and “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” took up space on the probably 20 networks available. So, when I connected with Ben Higgins on Twitter, I didn’t exactly know why a few of my online friends freaked out a bit. See, while I came to find out Ben was a “celebrity” in the most “celebrity” of ways, having done reality TV like The Bachelor, I found a man who wasn’t resting on the random success that such a thing offers; I found in him someone who was looking at where he was, the influence he had on hand and asking the question “What can I make with this?” I loved talking with Ben (on his show and then on mine). I think you’ll enjoy it, too. Check it out.
5 minutes | Jul 29, 2021
Simone Biles, Athletics and Whole Health
Stephen Pressfield calls it “Resistance.” A number of religious traditions call it “sin.” But regardless of the name folks apply to it, it seems to me that we generally share, cross-culturally and throughout history, a sense and a lament that things don’t work out perfectly; that things fall apart and that plans don’t always go in order. In that light, part of what that means in my personal history is that planning for success means planning for (or at the very least be prepared for) things not going well. Now before you hear me preaching an “it is what it is” message, counter to the heart of my most recent book effort, I promise you that’s not what I’m saying. Instead, I’d suggest that the anticipation of obstacles and missteps sets me up to see those moments differently; that even my missteps and failed attempts can be elements of my creative process. What do I do with the moment things go … wrong? This week, gymnastics legend Simone Biles pulled out of events in the Olympics, setting off a series of reflections and discussions (including this one) about mental health, sports ethics, performance patterns, rising to the challenge, and public responsibility. There are moments when the best of us, in us or about isn’t available for our “greatest opportunities.” Things don’t always work optimally in optimal situations. In my reading, it’s not what Simone Biles was up against (internally and externally), it’s what she did with that moment, both professionally and publicly, that makes this the moment it is. She chose her health over performance and then told the world. And in so doing, I’d suggest that she moved the goal post regarding what “greatness” can look like for a Legendary athlete. In 2020, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine published a short study about the detection, treatment, and prevention of mental health issues in competitive athletes. Along with more recognizable factors like “perfectionism,” the study delves into what is known as “Athlete Identity,” which is the degree to which someone views themselves within the athletic role and looks to others for confirmation of that role. In short, an unhealthy dependence of an individual on their success in that one area of life comes at the cost of overall health. And we hear that put really simply by athletes like Simone Biles when she says, just hours after pulling herself from competition on the global stage, “There's more to life than athletics.” Or why, in response to Simone Biles's story, we hear Michael Phelps, a legend in his own right and time, say “We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect. It’s okay not to be okay.”See,.. what if it’s harder to be a whole and healthy human being than it is to be great at any particular thing? What if Simone Biles actually took a step towards whole human goodness by removing herself from the metrics that confirm her greatness as an “Athlete?” In 2009, David Bazan released one of my favorite songs, entitled “Hard To Be.” A somewhat tongue-in-cheek examination of the Biblical notion of sin, David walks through some of the odder explanations and justifications for the fact that life is hard; that things fall apart, and that people get hurt. Then, he daftly returns, in the chorus to the very simple, fundamental truth that It’s hard to beHard to beHard to beA decent human being. Yes, it is.And let that make us fans of one another. That, just as we pause the celebrate Simone Biles’s remarkable and unparalleled talent, we’d pause to cheer on our neighbors and roommates as they pursue wholeness and health and the full life God desires for beloved ones around us. As hard as it might be to achieve the things that make one an Olympic champion in a season of life, it just might be harder to live healthily, well, and wholly over the course of a lifetime.
55 minutes | Jul 22, 2021
I was setting up to interview an upcoming guest when she told me “I’m sorry I’ll have to be pretty strict with the hour and leave right away. I’m seeing my therapist right after this.” “Absolutely,” I told her. “We’ll probably talk for 45 min.”“Great. I’m really looking forward to this session with her.” Now, it’s not just of note that this guest was looking forward to her therapy session; but also of note that this guest is a Spiritual Director. Therapy is not for “weak” people. Therapy is for people Who wants to live into their strengths. Therapy is not for “broken” people Therapy is for people who want to want to live healed and whole. Therapy is not for “sick” people Therapy is for people who value their health. Part of what I think you’ll hear in my conversation with KJ Ramsey is that posture towards therapy and what is now often called “self-care.” The practice and belief that confessing and facing my shortcomings is an expression of health and strength. Check it out.
6 minutes | Jul 15, 2021
You Are The Gift
Toward the end of the introduction of my most recent book, It Is What You Make Of It, is a kind of admonition; a clarion call, as it were.“There is a virtual army of contentious voices around you screaming that life “ is what it is,“ and particularly in places, you feel stuck.Your work-life quote is what it is.“Your social life “is what it is.“Your physical health “is what it is“I’m saying all that is garbage. Your life is not just a set of steel circumstances that “or what they are“ without any hope of change or improvement or transformation. I don’t know exactly where that voice is coming from in your particular life, but I want to help you locate it and shut it up forever.”It’s actually a somewhat poorly kept secret that I’m not always very interested in the specific accomplishments or achievements of those I get to work with as a coach. In other words, while I certainly do find a lot of the projects my clients introduce me to interesting, it’s pretty much never the book or the album or the business startup or jewelry line I’m emotionally invested in. Instead, I am regularly and often deeply moved by the person doing the work; who they are, and who they are be becoming. You are the gift you are offering the world. The service or the artifact you’re working at or dreaming up is how you’re passing yourself on. Which is why one of the most important chapters for me to have written in that book (the one I read from a few moments ago) highlights a rather unsavory event from my vocational history. I won’t recount the entire story here; I think it’s worth reading in the book. But for the purposes of this episode, here it goes, in short: I was working with a designer/art director on what would be my first book project. It was a massive project because we’d thrown in visual art, a second edition of the book, documentary video, and music… So… having bitten off WAY more than I could chew in the time I gave us as a two-person team, I was stressed. We’d passed our first self-imposed deadline and then another and then I realized how badly I needed to get the thing turned in to be available for the tour dates I’d booked. in my stress, I blew up at one of the customer service agents who was employed by the printing service we’d hired to make the book. We’d had a few errors come back when we submitted the files and I … kinda .. lost it. I don’t remember exactly what I said at the moment, but it was pretty insulting and the young man on the phone took it personally. And then… he quietly and very effectively retaliated by digitally corrupting the upload process so that, over the next several weeks, it became impossible for my project to be approved and completed. Eventually, my partner took over the conversation with the printer and we got the thing done. And.. honestly, I’ve always been decently happy with that project; it’s not great. ButThe most important aspect of that entire process was that I realized I didn’t like who I became while making it. And that being someone I liked; someone respected by partners and workmates and readers and listeners (… someone who respects and honors partners and workmates and readers and listeners) was not only more valuable and more desirable, it’s more enjoyable. I am the gift I am giving in and through my work. It’s not the service or the artifact I’m working at or dreaming up; it’s me, through what I’m making. Which is why, along with 4:30 am wake-ups to ensure I put my most focused work hours in when my head is clearest, I do the work of ensuring I can be clear at all. I see a therapist and have for many, many years. I work with a spiritual director. I get exercise and get sleepI’ll find myself a session or two with a new coaching client, hearing the hesitation and confusion on their end while I ask them about how often they’re getting outside and what time they’re getting to sleep. I stopped asking about the project and started tying the value of even doing the project to their health and wholeness because that’s what I think it’s all about to begin with. You are the gift you are giving the world. Which leads me to this: in the same way that books don’t write themselves and melodies don’t just fall into place; in the same way that Justice doesn’t just roll down and Peace doesn’t just get a chance… you and I do not simply become. You and I don’t just get healthy. Just like your idea needs time and curation and attention from you, you and I need the help of those outside us in order to be shaped and grow; sometimes even just to heal and get right. I don’t recommend therapy because I think you’re broken. I don’t recommend spiritual direction because I think you’re lost. I don’t coach because I think you’re incapable. I think you might be just fine without any of that. I really do. But I don’t do what I do, whether it’s this podcast or the book “It Is What You Make Of It” because I want you and I to be fine. I want you and I to be way better than that; and that takes deep, hard, inner-work… often work you and I don’t have the training or expertise to executer much less the altitude on our own lives to do effectively. So, while you’re working on your passion project and your legacy, who’s working on you?
52 minutes | Jul 1, 2021
You know that friend who gets to the gym 7 days every week. I think we all have that friend (if we’re not that friend). I don’t think I’ve ever heard a friend like that called “weak” for working out regularly. Quite the opposite. Sometimes that friend gets called “obsessive” or something like that (often by people who aren’t taking their physical health as seriously)But.. even, in that case, they’re overdoing a good thing; nobody is suggesting that the desire to hit the gym is, in and of itself a sign and practice of weakness.So, why isn’t that the case with therapy? Why is it that, even now, after all, we know about brain chemistry, the control mechanisms in human psychology, and the well-funded attempts by markets, political systems, and corporations to manipulate human thought and emotion.. that the dominant pushback folks have about going to therapy.. is about being, or appearing “weak?” I don’t really know the answer to that in full What I know is that some of the language used to critique psychotherapy and the need for it emanates from Western Religion. Which is part of what makes Monica DiChristina’s work so interesting and important. I really enjoyed my conversation with her and I think you will, too.Check it out. Links for Monica DiChristina:https://monicadicristina.com Links for Justin :JustinMcRoberts.comSupport this podcast Order the new book - It Is What You Make ItHearts and MindsAmazonBarnes and Noble Episode Sponsored by BetterHelpCheck them out - http://betterhelp.com/atsea
5 minutes | Jun 24, 2021
The Work of Art
I remember sitting on the edge of a hotel bed, sorting through line after line of a ledger to figure out if the tour manager had missed paying me, two weeks prior, the $55 per night I was promised. At that point, Frank Tate, who owned the label I was on and whose band was headlining the tour AND who I’d struck the $55/night deal, pulled some cash out of his wallet at said “Okay. Here’s $55. Let’s get back to work now.”As we left the hotel room, I sidled up to Frank, thinking he’d taken my side against the faulty memory of our tour manager. “Thanks for your help in there.” But he hadn’t taken my side. At least not the way I wanted him to. “I gave you the money because I didn’t care. You shouldn’t, either. You should be thankful you get to do this.”It felt like a jab at the time. It wasn’t. It was the push I needed.I was the weakest part of that tour. Easily. But not even that was Frank’s point. Frank was wanting me to love the work more than I loved the results of the work. He knew I’d be around longer if I did. If you’ve read “It Is What You Make Of It,” you’ll know there are even more stories about Frank Tate’s influence on the way I see my life and work and the relationship between. Years later, my experience and reflection on the love of work resulted in an analogy I used in my 2nd book, which I called Title Pending.The book was a kind of precursor to "It Is What You Make Of It” In that book, I recall a memory about, my son in which we went hiking. We left the place we lived and drove about 15 miles across the way to Mount Diablo. On the drive over, my son was really excited to get to the mountain. But as we got closer to the mountain, the houses in front of the mountain blocked his view. Once we were there on the trail and hiking up the mountain, you couldn’t see the mountain at all. My son got confused and “Where did the mountain go?” I said “buddy, we’re on the mountain. This is the mountain” and he didn’t believe me. “This is the mountain. We’re on it.” But what Asa didn’t know (and was learning) is that, once you’re on the mountain, it doesn’t look like a mountain anymore; It looks like 400 feet of dirt. And if I don’t apply my energy and the best of my efforts in that 400 feet and then the next 400 feet and then the next 400 feet, I don’t get to the top of the mountain, which is what I intended to do. From a distance, the mountain is beautiful and majestic and I want to be there. But then once I’m there, I lose that majestic vision and I just have the 400 feet of dirt; I just have the work. So, with books, it doesn’t look like 175 - 200 pages of printed text, it looks like 4 AM wake-ups and long slogs on the keyboard with a blank page in front of me. In music, it looks like a bad song after a bad song with lyrics that don’t pair and a melody that just doesn’t seem to make sense (until finally, it does). In a relationship, it looks like arguments and therapy and other friends helping out. The work of life is the thing I need to fall in love with in order to love the life I’m living. And one of the great gifts artists can offer the world is to stick around long enough to become disillusioned with “success” the way they were chasing it, fall in love with the process. Talk about their process. Share their process so that, when we’re in the midst of our own slog or in the midst of our own work, we look around our own lives and are not just inspired by the success and by the beauty and by the accomplishment of that artist, we are challenged and informed by the way they got there. That’s one of the things that makes it art.
68 minutes | Jun 17, 2021
In his Legendary book “The War of Art” Steven Pressfield writes:“The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. . . [he] steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul.” I’ve personally met very few artists who embody and practice that attitude quite as well or as consistently as Christopher Williams. Like the Professional in Pressfield’s book, Chris does the work of being an artist. Little to no flash (though there’s definitely some pizazz on display when he’s playing that hand drum) No complaining (though he can clearly articulate the difficulty of life as a full-time artist) Little to nothing extra: Just the songs, which, 14 projects later, are better than they’ve ever been. This is my conversation with singer, songwriter, and percussionist, Christopher Williams Links for Christopher Williamshttps://www.christopherw.com Links for Justin :JustinMcRoberts.comSupport this podcastOrder the new book - It Is What You Make ItHearts and MindsAmazonBarnes and Noble Episode Sponsored by BetterHelpCheck them out - http://betterhelp.com/atsea
7 minutes | Jun 10, 2021
Poetry, Love and Control
A number of years ago, I sat in on a reading by the poet Gregory Orr. Gregory Or was then (and is now) a favorite poet of mine. In fact, he’s a favorite writer of mine. He was maybe five or six pieces into this reading when a conversation struck up between two of the other gentleman in the room. Sitting behind me, I heard one of them saying, loudly enough for me to hear, “I don’t understand any of this” I’d definitely heard that about poetry or about poems before. I’ve probably even said that even as an English major and someone who writes poetry. “I don’t get it” So, that’s not the remarkable part of the story; to say or hear “I don’t understand this poem or poetry.” What was notable was that the person he was talking to gave that moment of pause and said…“Actually, not everything is meant to be understood.” This need or desire and me to understand is, in essence, an expression of control. When I talk about “getting” something, when I talk about “understanding” something, part of what I mean by that is that I have a kind of power over it. Part of what good (if not great) poetry does is it disorients me to my own language; the words I normally would use to identify, name, pin down and control the world around me. Great poetry gives me the opportunity to get an attitude over my own life; to re-orient myself and my perspective to be, in fact, charmed again by the life I’m actually living. And while you will not find in me an enemy of liberalism on the whole, what you will hear me say is that a strict literalist understanding of life, scripture, relationship, and humanity steals from me the sacred joy and gift of being named in my life. See. when I name myself or a name my world, I generally do so (unfortunately) in a posture of power and control and in usefulness. All the while, near the heart of my being, is the desire to be more than useful to be more than understood and more than powerful too, in fact, be loved And to be Beloved is a thing I can only be named from outside myself. Deeper than that: To receive that Title from someone else, from a culture, or from God, requires me to be in a position of powerlessness requires me to be in a position in which I don’t get to understand I simply get to receivePoetry primes the spirit, primes the mind, loosens to grips I have on the language by which I will control my life my definitions and postures me to actually become someone who can be loved. and is that not the thing in life that is simply wider, deeper, stronger, and better than any form of understanding: love One of the great tragedies of religious culture and religious practice is the propensity to lean towards literalism. Bot because literalism is an enemy in and of itself; it’s simply a limited way to understand the language by which we talk about humanity and the divine and history and relationship. Some things, yes, should be understood. But only in the service of posturing me to love my world better. The need I have (and desire I have) to understand the world around me should always be subservient to the deeper desire to love my world. To understand you should not be my goal; To love you well should. And yes, sometimes when I don’t understand you and I don’t understand “why you are the way you are,” it can be more difficult to love you. On the other hand, sometimes the desire to just “get you” is too small a goal; I don’t get the great joy of discovering and learning and having to expand in order to receive you as you are. And that is the call of great poetry; to pause long enough to listen to the pattern, to the rhythm, to the placement and the choice of the words on the page or uttered by the author's mouth. That I would open myself up slightly wider to a different understanding of the same word that I might receive that word might receive that reality on a deeper level in a different way.And if I can do that with languagethen maybe I can do that with the people around me.Culture is usually formed and shaped and solidified by the words we use to identify the lines between people; I’m here you’re there and this is our relationship. Poetry takes those words and sometimes unpacks them and sometimes unpacks us with them. That we might look around our lives and inside ourselves and say something more like this: “I don’t understand and that’s probably not just OK; that’s probably good. Because I’m not here to ‘get it… I’m here to love well.’”
52 minutes | Jun 3, 2021
In a bio of mine, I describe myself as someone who desires to “provide language for the process of life and faith” I am a “words” person. Not everyone has to be or is. But I certainly care quite a bit about the words I use and the words that I take into my life. A lot of that came from a book I read a number of years ago by Marilyn Chandler McIntyre. The book is called “Caring For Words In A Culture Of Lies.” Right smack dab in the middle of the book is this notion she writes out with beautiful words. It says “The business of telling the truth and caring for the words we need for that purpose is more challenging than ever before simply the scale on which lies can be and are propagated can be overwhelming“ Because of that urgency, I’ve moved from just admiring and enjoying poetry to understanding poetry as a gift to great good and powerful culture. For a number of years, Tanner Olson has been making poetry and putting it in the world. He’s also one of those artists who recognize that the work he does requires a bit of translation. He’s not just a poet who puts poems in the world and hopes that people might or might not get them. He actually invites people into his process as a writer because he is actually doing the work of caring for the language is using and its impact on those to take it in. I’ve enjoyed watching him from afar I’ve enjoyed our growing friendship and I really enjoy this conversation I think you will, too.
6 minutes | May 27, 2021
During studio sessions with younger or inexperienced musicians, my dear friend and music producer Masaki Liu would often be asked questions like “What do you think about our chances?” Or “Do you think we can make it?”And, more often than not, he’d consistently respond with an intentionally cryptic piece of encouragement that went pretty much like this, word-for-word: “If you keep at it and stick with it, stay together as a band and keep making music, you’re going to be around for a long time.” Often enough, the band would take that as a compliment, though it wasn’t entirely intended to be. See, in that moment, what the band or artist wanted to know and hear was that they were good enough right there, right then. And that, because they were good enough, right there and right then, they had a more secure and hopeful future. The thing is… like just about everyone, including me when I started recording with him, … that young or inexperienced artist or band wasn’t good enough to “make it” right there, right then. Most of those artists and bands aren’t “around” right now making music. They didn’t make it long-term the way they were dreaming too. And there’s no shame in that: very few do. And I’m pretty convinced part of that part of why so few are still at it, investing in their chosen discipline years down the line is because it’s so easy to become focused to the point of obsession with early success or shallow metrics like being good enough, right now. Yes, there is something to be said for having talent for the thing I want to do. But, more substantial than that, the strengths and capacities that are necessary in order to make a career or a relationship or an organization or movement or dream work long-term are only developed over time and in a commitment to my own process of becoming. Early in my religious training, a lot was made out of what was called “The armor of God.” In a letter written to new religious converts in Ephesus, The Apostle Paul encourages the Ephesians to put on this armor, as one might do in preparation for battle. He talks about the evil of the world and the dark forces they’ll be up against and prescribes the wearing of: truth… righteousness … peace… faith.. But not so that they would go out and win battle after battle and conquer the world around them with the fervor of young soldiers. Instead, Paul prescribes the wearing of this armor (and this is from the letter itself):“so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground”When it passes, will you still be here? Will you still be standing? At the time of this writing, I’m just a few days away from the release of what will be my 5th book, overall. Entitled “It Is What You Make Of It,” there are stories in the book from the past few years of my work as well as from as long ago as high school and my childhood. The thing that binds together the stories in this book is the perspective and the wisdom I have from where I am. Which is to say, 'who I am now looking back on who I was'.I did what Masaki said to do. I stayed. I’m still here. And there simply isn’t a singular victory or success in the entirety of my career that means as much to me as to say, “I’m still here. I’m still at it. And yes, because I’ve been at it for this long, I am better at what I do now than I’ve ever been at anything I’ve done previously. I am more equipped because I am more of the person I need to be in order to do the work I want to do.”The day I’m writing this is also the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. A moment in America’s racial history that opened the door for a great many people to enter into the work of justice and reconciliation, many of them for the first time. It is a good work. It is a necessary work. It is also a difficult work in which victories and accomplishments and benchmarks can seem small, at times insignificant, and far too infrequent. Which is to say that it is a work that can be deeply exhausting, particularly if I am deriving my energies from achieving the next success required of the work instead of becoming the kind of person who does the work, even in the face of disappointment See, there was and is a pearl of very practical and lifelong wisdom in Masaki Liu‘s decision to not answer directly the question being asked of him in the studio. If you want to know if you’re good enough right now, I’m not going to answer that question for you. The real question is,... Will you be here long enough to become the kind of person who does the kind of work you want to do today?
65 minutes | May 20, 2021
JJ and Dave Heller
Close to 20 years ago, I sat in a park near my place in The Bay Area, talking with Dave and JJ about their hopes and dreams. Having spent the first few years of their musical career between Arizona and California, they were right on the edge of a move to Nashville.They wanted to take a full, big league, swing at their work and believed that move would do it.Which is to say, they were doing what I regularly tell my clients to do, especially when young and less attached:They were betting on themselves and it has been a sincere joy to see them keep doing that.Because among the many rewards and awards available to professional artists, the joy of having stayed, over years and then decades is among the richest and most valuable.This is my conversation with JJ and Dave HellerCheck it out. Links for JJ and Dave Hellerhttps://www.jjheller.com/ Links for Justin :JustinMcRoberts.comSupport this podcastPre-Order the new book - It Is What You Make ItHearts and MindsAmazonBarnes and Noble Episode Sponsored by BetterHelpCheck them out - http://betterhelp.com/atsea
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