Thanksgiving 2021

“Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

It’s been over a year and half since we were thrown into the maelstrom that is the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 was brutal in every way – physically, economically, spiritually, socially, and politically. And now, at the end of 2021, most of those same issues still plague us – albeit in new variants. We still have health insecurity as COVID moves from a pandemic to an endemic disease. And we still have economic instability thanks to the widening wealth gap (a kind of “K” recovery). We also have fierce divisiveness around vaccine mandates, voting laws, and abortion legislation, and even the ugly head of our racial inequities has reared itself again with recent court rulings.

But my faith tradition has an ancient practice of giving thanks to God no matter the circumstances – as a way for us to remember that God is a good God who is in control (Jeremiah 29:11) and who knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). The people of God are not unaccustomed to hard times – whether it be Jewish enslavement in Egypt or exile in Babylon or wandering in the Wilderness for a generation, or early Christianity’s persecution by the Roman Empire for its first 300 years as a fringe, counter-cultural, religious movement.

The people of God also know the imperfect history of European colonization, and our own historical issues here in the United States (genocide and enslavement woven into the fabric of our country’s founding, our Civil War, our Jim Crow laws, the continued evils of labor exploitation, mass incarceration, the death penalty, our treatment of the unborn and their parents, and white supremacy).

But the Christian faith has long promoted the practice of thanksgiving, the practice of proclaiming God’s sovereignty and goodness amidst any and all circumstances. We do this, as people of faith, because we know that God has shown He can lead His people out of Egypt by parting the sea, that He can keep His people safe inside a Babylonian furnace, that He can bring His people into the Promised Land, that He can rapidly grow a fledgling Church amidst Roman imperial persecution…

…that He can save the Union from a white supremacist insurrection and exorcise our original sin of slavery, that He can bring us Civil Rights leaders that give political voice to all races, genders, and sexual orientations, and that He brings hope to our present day as activists win clemency for death row inmates, as white supremacist vigilantes are (at least sometimes) convicted of murder, and political leadership – at the local, state, and national level – still work to form a more perfect Union. In short, I do still believe that though “the arc of the moral universe is long […] it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr).

There is power as we practice thanksgiving, especially during tough circumstances. So, today, despite the continuation of difficult days here at Thanksgiving 2021, I give thanks. I give thanks for my wife and my boys. I give thanks for our extended family and our community of friends. I give thanks for my colleagues, my company, our church, our country, our health, our schools, the COVID vaccines, and our frontline workers who continue to put themselves and their families in harm’s way to serve us all.

Yes, this season has been a hard one, and it continues to be hard more than a year and half into this pandemic. But my faith tradition teaches me that we have reason to be thankful on this Thanksgiving 2021 – despite the difficulties.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Romans: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited […] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:12-16, 21 NIV)

So, today, I “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalms 107:1 NIV).

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones.

-KGC

Books September and October 2021

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

Live No Lies by John Mark Comer

John Mark Comer on the The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (from 9.8.21)

Courage is Calling by Ryan Holiday

The Road to Character by David Brooks

Shoutin’ in the Fire by Danté Stewart

Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggemann

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

Live No Lies Podcast with John Mark Comer

I’ve gotten through some really good content over the last two months. A great novel to start September, some really good writing on faith, culture, morality, and race in America, and some good podcasts. Hopefully you find a few recommendations here that you want to add to your list!

As always, there is a lot of discussion happening on all these topics and more. Don’t hesitate to (thoughtfully) reach out if anything is of interest to you. Always up for a good convo and/or a good book/podcast recommendation.

-KGC

15 Years

A Decade and a Half with Mental Illness

It’s Sunday, October 10, 2021.

World Mental Health Day.

Today is always a sobering day for me, as I think through my now 15-year journey with mental illness.

For those that don’t know: I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in June 2006, during my first major depression. I spent my graduation day from UCLA in a mental hospital coming to terms with the diagnosis that I had a mental illness – a disorder that causes up to 60% of those afflicted to attempt suicide and causes up to 19% of those afflicted to lose their life to suicide.

Those are sobering statistics, for sure.

But, now, having managed my mental illness for 15 years, I’ve learned that managing a mental illness like bipolar is a long, grind of a process. Occasionally, there is a game-changing breakthrough, like in December 2006 when I turned the corner toward progress after 6 months of intense treatment post-breakdown.

But those big moments are the exceptions, not the rule. Managing a mental illness over decades is the accumulation of a large number of small, consistent, incremental choices. For my mental health, these include: medication each and every day, a meditation practice, a hunger for knowledge about my illness, regular sleep/wake, daily exercise, alcohol in moderation, no illicit drugs, a practice of prayer and the reliance on the prayers of others, a team of mental health professionals to rely on, a faith in God, and a knowing of my limits when it comes to a heavy workload.

Small, consistent, incremental decisions that all add up to a mental landscape that is drastically different and drastically healthier than the broken-down, untenable, and suicidal reality of just 15 years prior.

Modern day Bible translator and Christian pastor Eugene Peterson uses the phrase “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” for one of his book titles, and I think it’s a very applicable phrase for a mental health journey. That “long obedience in the same direction” is exactly what it means to manage mental illness: using small, consistent, incremental choices to pave the way to greater mental health.

Not that I’ve arrived, by any means. I’ve had plenty of ups and downs along the way – including experiences of anxiety and depression. But I’ve also come a long way since 2006. And while my mental health still has many more iterations to go as middle and old age come my way, I know that my “long obedience” has already produced a healthy marriage and family, a career in Corporate America, a strong faith, and healthy relationships with those that are close to me. And for that, I’m so thankful.

My goal is that I continue in the “same direction” so that, in another 15 years, I can still say the John Newton quote:

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

So, prayers for you, friends, as we all manage our mental health in this pandemic season – and as we acknowledge World Mental Health Day today. Know that I’m praying for you, that you don’t have to have it all together, that God is for you, and that you have what it takes to practice that “long obedience in the same direction.” 🙏🏻

-KGC

Halloween

Why I’m a Wuss About Halloween

I’m a wuss when it comes to Halloween. Just sayin.

I don’t like the skeletons, ghosts, ghouls, witches, scary masks, scary costumes, scary movies – any of it. Even Disneyland’s Halloween decor/parties give me the willies. I’m fine with all things Harry Potter, but all the dark stuff that comes with Halloween? I’m just a wuss about it all LOL. 😅

But, before you judge me, let me explain.

One of the verses in the New Testament that I’ve meditated on for years is from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 4:8, Paul writes “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (NIV).

I also think a lot on a verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).

These two verses have been in my mental and spiritual practice for years, and they always come up when Halloween comes around each year. Don’t get me wrong: I love that my kids get to dress up and trick-or-treat. And the school costume parades (pre-COVID) were the best. But there’s a dark side to Halloween that just wigs me out. A kind of spiritual darkness that always gives me the willies. And while I’m no theological expert when it comes to spiritual darkness, I have studied the concepts due to my own journey with mental illness – including recent resources like John Mark Comer’s latest book Live No Lies.

Moreover, though, I believe that we, as humans, are more than flesh and blood. I believe we have a spiritual part of us – an infinite, eternal part of us that is bigger than biology, something more metaphysical. And it’s in this spiritual reality, in the deepest part of what it means to be human, that the God of the Universe is drawing us to Himself – thanks to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. So, if it’s true that we are spiritual beings – if it’s true that we have an infinite, eternal part of our existence and that God Himself is working in that reality – then I want to make sure that I keep “the powers of this dark world” and the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” as far away from me as possible. That’s not too crazy, right?

Instead, I want to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,” anything that is “excellent or praiseworthy.”

All said, I know that I’m a wuss about Halloween, and that this post might be a bit much. But, Halloween just wigs me out LOL. 🤗

I can’t be the only one, right?

Prayer Team

How Prayer Acquaints Us with Suffering and Teaches Us Faith

I’ve been a member of the Prayer Team at my local church for some time now, and I’ve come to learn two things about the Christian life because of it:

1. Nowhere do you become more acquainted with the suffering of your faith community than when you commit to pray as part of your church’s Prayer Team.

2. In practicing prayer with a Prayer Team, you get to learn, in greater nuance, the Christian understanding of faith.

Let me explain.

Churchgoers go to a Prayer Team with any number of prayer requests – oftentimes pertaining to very difficult situations, and in my church’s case, identified only by their first name. These prayer requests include but are not limited to sickness, divorce, financial struggles, mental illness, spiritual issues, and even the death of a loved one. And these tough prayer requests come to us, as Prayer Team members, week in and week out. You can see how quickly one would become acquainted with the suffering of his or her faith community by being included on these regular communications. Furthermore, you become even more acquainted with that suffering as you daily pray for those requests. It is as if, daily, in prayer, you reopen the wound of a fellow church member’s suffering as you intercede on his or her behalf.

All said: committing to a Prayer Team makes you well-acquainted with the suffering of those you share the church rows (or pews or YouTube channel) with. And that can be difficult, for sure, as your heart breaks over the pain others are going through. It’s also a not-so-gentle reminder that life is hard. For all of us. Or as Katherine and Jay Wolf might say: being part of a Prayer Team disrupts the myth that church life is a pain-free life. Or, even more, on a theological level, maybe this is part of what it means to be a co-sufferer with Christ.

But then there’s the faith part of being on a Prayer Team. And I don’t mean the wonder and joy that comes when a prayer is answered: a healing occurs or a financial provision appears or a Service member comes home safely from overseas or a prodigal family member comes home to God. Moments when God answers prayers the way we hoped for are wonderful, but Prayer Team members are still left with ongoing prayer requests about difficult situations that don’t have resolutions.

Instead, by practicing prayer as part of a Prayer Team, you get to learn a more nuanced take on the Christian understanding of faith:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

And…

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

(2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV)

To daily enter into the prayer requests of my faith community teaches me that faith is the “assurance about what we do not see.” Faith is “what is unseen,” and, more, it’s in the unseen that we find the “eternal.” Faith resides in the immaterial, the spiritual, the eternal, in the infinity that resides within a human soul, in the deepest parts of what it means to be human. Faith is found collectively in the metaphysical beauty of a faith community as it leans into the love of God. Faith is not something you can quantify on a spreadsheet or store in a bank account; yet, it is cosmically powerful.

So when we go to prayer, we enter into that God-created space where, in His Presence, we can practice what we “do not see.” We can lean into the “eternal.” We can choose to hand over our own mortal, finite abilities, and, instead, have faith that the immortal, infinite Creator of the Universe will answer our prayers for our community’s good. The Apostle Paul says as much in his often-quoted letter to the Romans: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” (Romans 8:28 NIV). And while we lean into the practice of prayer on our own and as a Prayer Team, the local Church can also bring us together regularly for communal worship and the study of Scripture – while also meeting material needs as they arise. From a theological end, this could be part of what it means to be co-heirs with Christ, right?

In total, being a part of a Prayer Team both acquaints me with suffering and teaches me faith. As I daily pray over what are, oftentimes, the tough realities of my fellow members of my local church, I daily open the wounds of those I share community with. And that practice is hard, no doubt. But in so doing, I also lean into the healing salve of faith: faith in a God who is present in the unseen, the eternal, and the infinite, and who is working in the very depths of our souls for our good. And, maybe, in this, we get to be co-sufferers and co-heirs with Christ, and be a Church that comes together to meet the needs of our community.

🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

Sabbath

Finding Rest in a World that Doesn’t Stop

I read a phenomenal book last year by Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel titled The Sabbath. Heschel’s writings on Sabbath and rest are profound and accessible, and one of the many quotes I highlighted was:

“Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”

As I’ve been thinking through what it means to find rest in a world that doesn’t stop, I think about three things that we all are facing:

1. Our capitalist economic system: a system fixated on never-ending growth that requires constant work to generate ever more profits.

2. The COVID-19 Pandemic: a pandemic where the virus mutates to infect ever more people, including those that are vaccinated – forcing all of us to remain on edge as we work to keep those we love protected and healthy.

3. Our democracy here in the US: a system of government that has moments of moral clarity, but then so often returns to the machinations of systemic inequity that so obviously scar our nation.

Where do we find rest in a world that doesn’t stop? Amidst American Capitalism? Amidst this pandemic? Amidst our system of government?

I can’t help but repeat Heschel’s words over and over in my head: “The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”

In my faith tradition, that Someone Else is God – the God who first showed Himself to the world through the Jewish people, and who then made Himself available to all of humanity through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The fact that our souls belong to this God requires us to think through how we can find Sabbath and rest in this non-stop age. We have to think through how we live in the “six days a week [where] we wrestle with the world,” as well as think through our practices as we take time to “care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.”

In thinking through Sabbath and rest and their relationship to our economic system, our current pandemic, and our democracy, I was reminded of a verse in the Psalms of King David: “‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth,’” (Psalms 46:10 NIV). I’ve known and quoted this verse for most of my adult life, but I never noticed until now the kind of “Sabbath/Rest Equation” built into this verse.

Let me try to explain:

Be Still + Know that God is God = God will be exalted among the nations and in the earth

Or, more…

Rest and Be Present with God + Be Present in the Knowledge that God is God and We Humans are not God = God is exalted everywhere

Or, even more…

My Sabbath and Rest = God is exalted in all of Creation

This “Sabbath/Rest Equation” does require a definition of terms, because one might mistake “Sabbath/Rest” for doing nothing or being lazy – a kind of passive or negative event. However, both Sabbath and rest in this context are far from passive events. Being still and present with God, much like being still and present with your kids or your spouse or in a meditation, requires effort – an act that is “intrinsically positive” (Heschel). And more, we see positive action from God on His seventh day: “What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose,” (Heschel).

In total, by being still and by sitting in the knowledge that God is God and I am not, God is so intensely worshipped that our worship echoes throughout all of Creation, all that ever was, is, and will be. And tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose are birthed. What a crazy equation, right?!?

As we process a work-life amidst Corporate America, as we navigate the Delta Variant, and as we come alongside those who are working to realize a more perfect American Experiment, we must take time to rest, to Sabbath, to be still, to know God is God and we are not. And, in so doing, our rest is transformed into worship that resounds across the universe and echoes throughout time.

In other words: in Sabbath and rest, we give our souls back to the One to whom we belong. “What is the Sabbath?” asks Heschel, “Spirit in the form of time.”

Books July and August 2021

Got through a lot of content in the last two months. Reading while holding a sleeping newborn for most of July helped encourage the reading, and then I just kept at it through August. I’ve also included podcasts here for the first time as well. Hopefully you find a few here that you want to add to your list.

For original writing formed and shaped by books and podcasts like these, visit:

http://www.kevingeorgecarey.com

Or you can find my writings in my previous Instagram posts.

There’s always a lot of discussion happening via my texts, DMs, phone calls, and FaceTimes regarding all these topics and more. Don’t hesitate to (thoughtfully) reach out if anything is of interest to you. Always up for a good convo and/or a good book/podcast recommendation.

-KGC

The Premonition by Michael Lewis

1 Samuel and 2 Samuel from the Bible

The Comfort Book by Matt Haig

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Deeply Formed Life by Rich Villodas

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (1st time reading it to Wells!)

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

The Gospel of John from the Bible

On the Road with Saint Augustine by James K.A. Smith

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron

Hebrews from the Bible

Better: A Study of Hebrews by Jen Wilki

The Comfort Book by Matt Haig (2nd time through)

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill by Christianity Today (a podcast, first 8 episodes)

Be Antiracist with Ibram X. Kendi (a podcast, Season 1)

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were Refugees

Afghanistan, August 2021

My prayer today: that America would swing wide its gates for the Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban.

This is who we are as a country:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-From The Colossus, the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty

Read below for some words from my Christmas 2020 Post that are applicable today.

(From Christmas 2020)

“As soon as Jesus was born, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus immediately became refugees as they fled the violence of the Herod regime. Mary and Joseph were prompted BY AN ANGEL NO LESS to flee to Egypt. That is to say, God told Mary and Joseph to leave their homeland and live as refugees in Egypt until they could safely return after Herod’s death…

…It is not enough to say that God is for and with refugees. It must be said that God Himself has been a refugee.”

The Lord’s Prayer

Finding God in the Middle

We all have become well acquainted with loss, grief, and difficult news over last year a half: the spread of the virus, the world shutting down in 2020, a still uncertain future midway through 2021, expressions of systemic racism and systemic inequalities, economic instability and financial hardships, the Delta Variant, positive test results, and other severe health issues. It’s really been a heck of a last 18 months for all of us.

But we’ve also seen miracles: multiple vaccines created in record time, the self-sacrifice of our healthcare workers, teachers, and other essential workers, slow but real progress in the ongoing fight for civil rights for marginalized communities, and the US government taking huge steps to meet the needs of millions of Americans.

Although we have gone through so much over the last 18 months – as individuals and families, as communities, as a nation, and worldwide – we presently find ourselves in a kind of middle: heartbreak and pain and uncertainty commingled with hope and perseverance; a seeming pathway out of this pandemic but still many more steps until we reach any kind of finish line; a faith-filled “now” but a very real “not yet.”

It’s this kind of “middle” that my faith tradition knows really well. The Christian Scriptures tell of a Wilderness in between Israel’s slavery in Egypt and their arrival in the Promised Land; of 3 days of despair for Jesus’ followers after His death before the first news and then proof of His resurrection; of the groaning of Creation currently while we live in the midst of all things being made new in Christ (Romans 8:20-23).

We’re in the middle, the midst, the in between, the here but not yet.

But I believe it is here, in this present “middle,” that God is at His most intimately present. The Lord’s Prayer speaks precisely to the reality of a kind of “middle”: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9-10 NIV). God is in Heaven and is ever present with us, holy and perfect, and He has a Plan from eternity past where His kingdom comes to earth: first through the Jews, then through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and finally through the rest of human history where imperfect beings become perfected by being caught up in His perfect Will and extravagant Love. It’s with an infinity of brush strokes that all of Creation is being repainted, reborn, and renewed – made whole and complete, as it is in Heaven.

The reality is that the Artist is painting the Canvas every moment of every day, but the Masterpiece is not done yet. We’re in the middle. The midst. The in between. The here but not yet.

That’s why Jesus continues the Lord’s Prayer the way He does: “‘Give us today our daily bread’” (Matthew 6:11). We’re in the in between, the here but not yet, so we need His Provision daily to stay hopeful and faithful and determined and loving and kind and good. We need His Spirit to keep the candles burning through this long, dark night – this middle, this midst. And we need grace for ourselves and each other (v. 12) because the Wilderness is hard. Jesus crucified and in the tomb is hard. The groaning of our Spirits and of Creation is hard.

Right before Jesus is arrested and ultimately crucified, He tells his followers this: “‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’” (John 16:33). We Christians know the middle, the here but not yet, the in between. But we have, in Jesus, the Overcomer, the Peace-giver, the Author and Perfecter of faith, the Resurrection and the Life, the One who brings Heaven to earth. Here in the in between, we can take heart. And we can pray the way Jesus taught humanity to pray – so that we don’t forget the Hope we have here in the “middle.”

The Artist is painting. It’s been an eternity past of brush strokes so far, and He has an eternity future to get His Masterpiece perfected. But the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that He is at work, today, here in the middle – in every single moment. We can take heart because He is making earth as it is in Heaven. He’s here with us in the middle, so very intimately with us. And that is good news in this present season; a bright light amidst our current night.

Books: May and June 2021

It’s been great last two months of reading.

The list is below, and reviews are in my Instagram Stories. Hope you find some good ones to add to your list!

Boundaries for Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

Anxious People by Frederik Backman

The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday (2x)

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl