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the revenant

jonathan myers

When I walked out of a movie theater on a Wednesday afternoon after having the privilege of previewing The Revenant, I felt ill. Maybe it was the fact that my body only had coffee in it at that point, or maybe as I get a little older I’m becoming more sensitive to things I see. After taking some time to reflect on my experience of the film I am left wondering if the film was terrible or if it was so good that it had such a visceral impact on me.

A revenant in mythology and folklore is the reappearance of one who is dead, or assumed to be dead, for the purposes of haunting in some way the people connected to his or her life and death. They typical story deals with this phenomenon in apparitional or reanimation forms and usually has to do someone who was salty in nature while alive. (see

Alejandro González Iñárritu casts Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, an 1820’s scout on the ‘frontiers’ of the westward expansion of what we know of as America. I will be up front about my feelings on this film. I did not like it. There were a few occasions when I simply wanted to get up and walk out of the theater. I will say that film is at times beautiful and the expansiveness of the western part of North America is wonderfully captured. I didn’t know anything about the story before the film and I’m sure it makes a wonderful read in the novel. On film however, it is just too hard to watch, at least for an Enneagram Nine who is mostly over the idea of viewing gratuitous violence as entertainment.

You can read the synopsis of the film on IMDB, but the gist is Hugh Glass guides a team of hunters through the wilderness to trade furs and make money. Glass has only his survival instincts, understanding of the land, his son, and the memory of his wife, a Pawnee Indian, with him. Life is terribly difficult for them as the outsiders on the expedition, even though they are critical to it’s success. The story turns when Glass has an encounter with a grizzly and is left for dead by his men. His is a story of survival in the harshest of conditions with the only motive keeping him alive is exacting revenge on the man who becomes his arch enemy and his exact opposite in every way.

It is a classic revenge fantasy, which ultimately left Glass and this viewer unsatisfied and empty. It is an epic tale of survival to be sure. But the question I left the theater with was, “Survived for what?” He is utterly alone in the end, with nothing but a trail of blood, memories he will never shake, and the complete absence of those he loved most. He does not even have one friend. Nobody he is connected to makes it to the end of the film alive. In some ways the story becomes almost cartoonish because there is no way a human being could endure as much as he did in two and a half hours. Of course that is the beauty of the story as well.

The viewer must suspend any normal sense of time with incredible intentionality and endure what would’ve taken weeks or months to happen in just about a ninety minute span of time at the end of the film. I found it terribly insensitive of those involved with the making of the film to expect a human being to suffer as much grotesque physical and emotional violence as I did watching what Hugh Glass went through. It begs the question, “Are all stories meant to be shared visually?” An epic and potentially inspiring story like this is valuable to be sure, but is it actually beneficial on any level to actually watch someone’s interpretation of it? A story this intense deserves to be savored and allowed to work in someone’s mind and heart. This story in film format does not allow for that kind of time and space.

I’m aware that I do not possess the knowledge or training to write a review as a film critic. I am a particular personality type, with particular commitments philosophically, ethically, and religiously. I know that the feelings I had leaving the theater and that continue to stir within me have more to do with me than the film. For me, it wasn’t a good film to watch and I wouldn’t encourage most people to go see it. DiCaprio’s performance is garnering praise, which may be deserving, because at times I completely forgot I was watching a film. Most of the time I felt like I was his companion on his journey and I felt like the man on the screen was Hugh Glass and not a famous actor that many woman and men croon over. So in that sense, his performance is excellent. My issues with the film go above to more systemic questions of the value of watching grotesquely violent revenge fantasy and its impact on the human person who lives in a violent, xenophobic, and fearful world.

My only hope I am left with after having seen this film is that the viewer will understand better that complete emptiness that comes with exacting revenge. To see the protagonist at the end is left unsatisfied, alone, and still grieving after having finally killed the man who had wronged him throughout the film, is a dystopic experience. I can only hope that others will feel the same way and come one step closer to realizing that an ‘eye for an eye’ is not a value system worth our time and energy.

(without) speaking the truth

jonathan myers

What is truth? This is question is as old as human civilization at the very least. In some ways I suppose this is an unanswerable question. Pontius Pilate asking this question of a man he did not want to condemn to death at least seems to point to the elusivenss or impotence of this question. Maybe the very asking of the question is a sabotage of truth itself. Words only seem to get in the way.

And...truth seems to be a global and universal value. People seek various forms of truth: justice, authenticity, substance. Truth seems to be something that is known more than it is something that is explicated. Yet, so many in the various contexts I inhabit seem to have a strong commitment to holding onto a truth that I invariably need to adopt in order to be a right (or true) person. Often this truth is explained using words. I have learned to distrust this impulse primarily when it comes from the mouths of advertisers, salespeople, politicians, and preachers. The only words I hear are agenda, coercion, and lies. The sadness of this learned behavior on my part is not lost on me.

Truth is something. It is some thing that can be known and felt. It may not be rational, but it is still knowable. In this sense truth is more like a note that resonates, or rings true. It is the difference between sitting in a comfortable chair that fits the contour of our bodies and one that is painful to sit in for more than fifteen minutes.

I stumbled upon a brilliant book by Robert Grudin, Design and Truth, in a recent trip to Powell's Bookstore in downtown Portland, Oregon. I picked it up largely because my community, Common Table, is working on our website and logo. Grudin works with two hypotheses (sic),

If design is itself a medium of social interactions, overdesign is a sympton of interactions that are dysfunctional. And if, as is generally acknowleged, design is a kind of rhetoric, overdesign is an opportunistic abuse of rhetoric in the application of some of power.

This is a thought I can sit with for weeks. This idea rings true for me. He goes on to say,

Even body language is a form of excess of rhetorical zeal is usually the first sign of manipulation and deception. Mass market advertising, campaign speeches, jingoism, evangelistic tirades, and seductive crooning all display the same link between exaggerated rhetoric and attempted exploitation.

I wonder where my life is overdesigned. I wonder where my vocation as a priest is over reaching. I'm connecting dots between Walter Brueggemann's Sabbath as Resistance and this notion of good design as truth telling, possibly even without words. Living in an urban context that values busy-ness and a Church that conistently keeps people working and going to meetings. I far more often get the question, "How is work going?" than I hear, "How are you?" My life is designed that way because my society values it.

I'm wondering how to re-design my life. How to re-design the church. To take the Episcopal church that I am a part of as an example. I have a foot in the established institution and one in an emerging community. I wonder about the liturgy from Grudin's perspective on design. What truth are we attempting to convey rhetorically? I think of the colors used, the space created, the music, and the words used. Oh, the words used. While I do struggle with kinds of words used, I am mostly thinking now of the sheer volume of words spoken. I look at the thickness of my Book of Common Prayer, which is nothing but words. I wonder if the amount of words we use belies the truth we believe we are telling that aesthetics, presence, embodiment, and even silence actually matter.

Many places have worked hard to redesign their spaces by moving from pews to chairs, reorienting the altar, and so on. And yet, I wonder, do we have an overdesigned liturgy? Have we overdesigned the church? I believe it is. And so, if Grudin is correct, what dysfunctions are masked in our over reaching design of church?

What if our overall design was actually restful? What if sabbath was true in our design? What if community was true in our design? What if justice was true in our design? What would that church look like in an Episcopal/Anglican identity? How can I participate in critical act of designing life and a community that is true?

thoughts on (extra)ordinary things

jonathan myers

A few months back, I wrote that something new was emerging in Lake City, Seattle's most northeastern neighborhood. That something new has continued to take shape and is now known as Common Table. We gather on the evenings of the first and third Sundays of each month and bring food to share in a meal and conversation. This is a very common and ordinary thing to do. People all over the world do this very act of coming together for dinner. In fact, the cool and edgy practice in pubs and restaraunts around Seattle is to have a community table. So if you come in without a reservation, you can sit at a large table with strangers and eat amazing food with a ridiculously overpriced bill to pay at the end.

And yet, as one of our community members pointed out a few weeks ago, what we do on Sunday nights is anything but common. I guess, in our society, the more common practice is to eat in front of a tv, or drive through a fast food chain, or just eat dinner as a family unit. But intententionally bringing kindred spirits around a table for the explicit purpose of building or creating community is not a common practice. It is actually a radical departure from our society's norms.

What further serves to make this ordinary practice of eating food around a table with friends extraordinary, is that we integrate it into sacred space. We are in our own way enacting the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples when he broke ordinary bread and passed an ordinary cup of wine around saying that those elements would take on a new, symbolic meaning. At Common Table, we too bless bread and wine and share it around the table. We meditate. We pray. We read sacred story. We share our opinions, our worries, our hurts, our joys, and our hopes with each other. Then we clean up together and go home to get ready for our respective weeks.

The past couple of weeks this conversation, which is always ongoing, has been enriched by the voices of Walter Brueggemann and Peter Block. As these two elders sit on a porch and have a conversation, we get to sit in on it because of the recording of Travis Reed and the Work of the People. We heard last night of uncredentialed people creating lasting transformation, about how to sit with a thought for several weeks, and about how friendship is the most radical practice a person could engage in that would actually make a significant impact on her/him and maybe others. This is what we want at Common Table and what I long for in my own life. We don't need a savior that exists outside of time and space. We need each other and the Holy One is present in the midst of our table gatherings and in our neighborhoods. There was much to sit with and marinate from last night's conversation and I hope to try and work out some of those thoughts in another post later this week.

lake city community center

jonathan myers

Dear Council Members, 

First and foremost, thank you for your service to our city. I know that much of what makes your jobs difficult is that you have to choose between good and needed projects and that not everything can get done when we want them too. So, thank you for taking everything into serious and thoughtful consideration. 

I'm writing as a Lake City resident and worker. The needs in Lake City, as you all know, are great and seemingly endless. One of those needs is of course the full service community center. I moved here from North Beacon Hill and so I know first hand what a great benefit a good community center is for a neighborhood and as Lake City continues it's growth, especially among younger adults and children, a new community center will be invaluable. 

Lake City has very little park space, commons space, or walkable area. A full service community center would add these needed spaces for our neighborhood to continue to grow closer together and be more invested in our community. You all know the demographics that support this call for the community center, but the real impact of a community center goes beyond data and numbers. The way a community center brings together a community of citizens is probably unquantifiable, but it is real and noticeable. 

Thank you for supporting this project and for all you do. 

something new is emerging in lake city

jonathan myers

For the past few months a small group of people have been gathering in an upstairs apartment in the heart of Lake City sharing meals and having conversations about what an alternative future full of possibility might look like. Sunday night, we came up with the answer. The next thing we are going to do is write a vision statement, a mission statement, an identity statement, and then a strategic plan. After we have all of that written down, we will give ourselves a name and then launch our website, Facebook, twitter, and instagram profiles.

The challenge for community building is this: While visions, plans, and committed top leadership are important, even essential, no clear vision, nor detailed plan, nor committed group leaders have the power to bring this image of the future into existence without the continued engagement and involvement of citizens. In most cases, citizen engagement ends when the plan is in place. The implementation is put in the hands of the professionals. In concept, the master plan provides some parameters for development and the use of space, but in real life it usually is a call to let the arguing begin. For all its utility, it rarely builds interdependence or strengthens the social fabric of a place.

What brings a fresh future into being is citizens who are willing to self-organize. An alternative future needs the investment of citizens - leaders not in top positions - who are willing to pay the economic and emotional price that creating something really new requires.

Therefore, the challenge for every community is not so much to have a vision of what it wants to become, or a plan, or specific timetables. The real challenge is to discover and create the means for engaging citizens that brings a new possibility into being. To state it more precisely, what gives power to communal possibility is the imagination and authorship of citizens led through a process of engagement. This is an organic and relational process. This is what creates a structure of belonging. This is more critical than the vision and the plan.

~ Peter Block from Community: The Structure of Belonging

Peter Blocks words were our central text Sunday night. Personally, I gave up on strategic plans, vision and mission statements a long time, at least in so far as trusting their ability to actually create healthy change or sustain vitality. Yet, there is a shadow side of me that can and will give into the temptation to think that these elements will in fact do the very things I know they will not. In attempting to create something new, the inevitability of being faced with the question, "What's the vision? What's the plan?" is a reality. It will happen. It already has happened by different types of people with various kinds of connections to our community, and my first response is the sinking feeling of not knowing and feeling of inadequacy that goes with not knowing. And yet, I try to answer the question anyway.

Block's words give me courage. In fact the book from which I pulled the quote above is, in it's entirety, a game changer for me. He says things that I have known and longed for intuitively for a long time. He wants to focus on gifts, on possibility, on accountability, and on collaborative wisdom from the ground up. The social structures that I am a part of and to some degree support by virtue of my participation in them are more interested in limiting possibility. This move is probably not intentional, but anxiety and the felt need to relieve it are often so dominant and subconscious, that well intentioned people sabotage the very thing they want to create or that someone else is trying to create.

I am grateful that this new community I am a part of convening is willing to take the risk to not know where this is going to end up. This community is willing to be present, to offer their selves and the gifts each of them bring to the creation of an alternative possibility. Of course we have hunches, but we are choosing to lean into the uncertainties that are actually more real than a vision or strategic plan could mask.


jonathan myers

I've been spending a good portion of my week tucked ever so snuggly in bed with a ready supply of tissues and cough drops. Which means, I've been enjoying the sun breaks and warmer weather from the wrong side of the window. However, I did get out a little here and there. Last night we had our quarterly Partners' Council gathering at George: Center for Community. This meeting marked my third and second as the Vicar there. Each meeting, I become more and more impressed with who comes to the table and the vision, passion, and energy they bring to our little center for community.

For those who might want to know a little more about what George is, this quote from theologian Letty Russell:

We can identify the basic qualities of partnership. They would seem to include 1) commitment that involves responsibility, vulnerability, equality and trust among persons or groups who share a variety of gifts or resources; 2) common struggle and work involving risk, continued growth, and hopefulness in moving toward a goal or purpose transcending the group itself; 3) contextuality in interacting with a wider community of persons, social structures, values and beliefs that may provide support, correctives, or feedback. There is never a complete equality in a dynamic relationship, but a pattern of equal regard and mutual acceptance among partners is essential. When such a relationship is alive and growing we usually find the gifts of synergy, serendipity and sharing. That is, partners produce an overspill of energy that is greater than the sum of the parts, and that displays unexpected or serendipitous gifts and the impulses to share that energy with others.  ~The Future of Partnership p. 18-19.

Our hope is to create an environment of synergy, serendipity, and sharing. And amazingly enough, that is happening. We began conversations around fundraising to add elements of flexibility and openness to our Great Room upstairs and the possibility of growing food on our property. The energy and commitment are there. I feel lucky to be part of such a great group of folks. George is lucky to have such a great group of partner organizations that make that space come alive and for the Lake City neighborhood and northeast Seattle to use and make their own.

the beautiful voice(s)

jonathan myers

Image-1 This morning I find myself sitting in the Starbucks on Lake City Way having some Italian Roast and an Old Fashion (the doughnut, not the cocktail)

The Super Hangover continues in Seattle. We've all settled back into work or school now after we exhausted ourselves celebrating our Seahawks, that is until tomorrow when many will pack 4th ave to cheer this great team on in person. For all the fun that the game itself was, there are two commercials have stayed with me longer than the euphoria of watching our team win the Superbowl.

Both of these commercials came up in my social media conversations as they were happening and the next day. The first was the Chrysler spot that talked about how America does cars, Asians do technology, Germans do beer, etc. Immediately I thought this was one of the most disturbing commercials I've ever seen. It is both ignoring the complexity of the current American and global economy. And it was deeply racist in it's assumptions of other cultures and societies.

But the one that disturbed me even more was the Coca Cola spot with another deeply resonant icon of our country, a song. However this song, America the Beautiful, was sung in a variety of languages with images of faces representing the variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds that make up this country and is a reflection of the global impact of CocaCola. In many ways, this commercial was the antithesis of Chrysler's misguided campaign.

Personally, I found the commercial to be quite beautiful. I thought the commercial was courageous and was a step closer to a more honest narrative of where this country is right now and where it is going. What was disturbing in the moment was that I knew in my gut there was going to be a huge backlash. I could hear voices from my hometowns in Ohio voicing, "If you're in our country, speak our language," or "how can they just speak their own language when I can't understand what they're saying."

If you're not aware of the backlash google or go to twitter and type in #Cokecommercial

As I walk the streets of Lake City and get to know this beautiful neighborhood, I hear these beautiful voices. The Asian dialects, the Mediterranean dialects, the Middle Eastern dialects, the African dialects, the German dialect, or the Fijian's who worship at George every Sunday. I see the faces of people walking the streets and waiting at the bus stops that do not look like my own and my heart softens. We don't need to fear what we don't know. We don't need to fear the other. The backlash against CocaCola says a lot about some places in our country. But honestly, anyone could spend a day in Lake City and shoot a commercial just like that one. And it would be beautiful.

diary of a priest living in lake city

jonathan myers

photo-2 There are no grand plans. Not for this blog anyway.

I have no ideas on changing the world. I have not schemes of changing Lake City, my new home.

I just want to notice and reflect. And I want to hear stories and allow those stories to change me.

If anyone out there is interested in going along this journey with me, please know that you are welcome. If not, I should be quite easy to ignore.

I will post a couple of times a week. I will let you know what I'm up to as I walk up and down and across Lake City. I look forward to learning what you all are up to as well.


jonathan, vicar of george