Recycling Faith

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When I was in elementary school, our district did a can drive to promote recycling and cash-in the deposits for funding. Classrooms competed to collect as many aluminum cans as possible. The principal promised an ice cream party for the winning homeroom. I begged my parents to buy soda in bulk (“It’s the responsible thing to do!”). Instead, my father took us dumpster-diving.

We lived at the edge of suburbia in the midst of America’s housing boom; any square-foot of untouched land held potential for profit. At the end of each day, once construction crews were finished, we’d cruise the neighborhood looking for promising worksites. My sister and I scaled the metal walls of dumpsters glancing toward our father waiting by the car like we’d just been granted permission to rob an ice cream truck. Once in we would pick our way around the rubble, tossing any cans over and out where Dad collected them, like they were Easter eggs on a church lawn. Memory exaggerates, but I’m sure we collected several hundred cans with this routine.

A couple of weeks back, I went for a drink with a friend from grad school. We discussed his doctoral work, which was creating something of a faith crisis. “The old stories just don’t work for me anymore,” he told me. His tone was neither desperate nor dismissive; he wasn’t looking for answers or advice. Good thing, because the only response I could muster was swishing my glass while muttering “the drinks here have always been a bit too weak for me.”

It was in middle school that I began attending the weekly youth meetings at our church. We met on Tuesday nights for games and a Bible study. The youth pastor was young and cool (like, wore jeans-to-church cool); several college-aged leaders with frosted tips greeted us as we arrived. For two dollars, we could buy two slices of pizza and a soda.

We talked about Jesus and the Biblical stories. Seven days of creation, belly of a whale, virgin birth, the apocalypse…we got a crash course in fundamentals of the evangelical tradition. More importantly, we learned how to express that tradition (“share the good news”) to others. It was the latter that gave our education a sense of urgency. Faith had to be erected quickly like the new homes of the housing boom, structures built to meet the material demand of the masses which call for answers and concise paradigms. But, like a bursting bubble, not much is needed to reveal the weakness in the frames.

My childhood and the housing boom ended at roughly the same time. Dumpsters and muddy plots of land were replaced by overgrown gaps in the sidewalk. As puberty struck, I grew peach fuzz and skepticism. By the time I graduated college, enough of my long-held assumptions had been scrutinized that I felt like I was coughing in a cloud of smoke but still asking “is something burning?”

All this makes me think of a metal mug my father had in his office which he used for stashing all his loose change. Every six months or so he enlisted us kids to count up the coins into paper rolls— 100 pennies, 40 nickels, 50 dimes, etc. Completed rolls were left on his desk to be deposited in the bank. He called it our college fund. I never saw the deposit slips, but I’d call that “dark humor.” That said, it’s only recently occurred to me that the school district and my father seemed to employ a similar strategy for funding my education: save what you can, it just might add up.

I like to say that my childhood faith has evolved into deconstructed pieces. Practicing this faith is a kind of dumpster diving. Instead of checking boxes next to “I believe” I seek the pieces of my Christian heritage that can be recycled. Some days it’s difficult not to feel as though my tradition takes sincerity and cashes it in for platitudes. The 2016 election, for instance, was like someone gathered all those recyclable cans I’d been collecting and tossed them into the ocean, right above some seals. Baby seals. Just because they could.

I never left the church. Even though the old stories haven’t been working for a long time.  I think I lack the courage. A hiatus here and there may have done me— and my faith— some good. But I’ve never had the bravery of Thomas— searching for answers out in the world while the other disciples remained huddled, terrified, in a locked room.

My class won, by the way. And ice cream during school hours never tasted so good. Which is to say that I do think there’s still–there’s always— hope. Even if it comes from a dumpster, even if only worth a nickel. Because who knows, it just might add up.


            “Tonight,” the professor was saying, “I’m honored to speak to all of you who are on the verge of graduation. I don’t have much to say that is my own. Rather, I have the words of another that I’d like to share with you.”

            It was my senior banquet; I was sitting at a table with some of my dearest friends, eating a fine meal and preparing to listen to a speaker before heading to a formal dance. The only downside to the whole evening (apart, of course, from the prospect of dancing publically) was that I was wearing a suit and had realized, moments before when I’d slipped out to use the restroom, that my fly had been open for the previous three hours. Thoroughly embarrassed and a little insulted that no one had even said anything about my new briefs (they matched my tie, for goodness sakes!), I returned to the table right as the evening’s speaker took the stage. He was a theology professor at the college, greatly admired and respected within the community, and I was excited to hear what he had to say.

            “It’s a poem,” he continued, “and I think it speaks for itself.” Then, without another word, he began:


As you set out for Ithaka,

hope the voyage is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery…”


            A year ago I graduated from college. In front of my family, friends and fellow classmates, I paraded across the stage, shook a hand, took a small case I believed held my diploma (only to find out later it was actually a slip of paper saying something along the lines of “We are holding your real diploma hostage, ransom amount is your outstanding bill.”) and then concentrated four years of higher education on not tripping as I finished walking across the platform. Later, I swapped hugs with classmates, took pictures with family and then joined some of my best friends at a barbeque. 

            It was one of the best days of my life, but it was also a little terrifying. Truth be told, I had good reason to be scared.

            I was twenty-one years old and had just turned down the only career I’d been offered. I owned an old car, some books, an envelope of cash and some far off notions of adventure. I was moving across the country, green enough behind the ears to earn me a free beer on St. Patrick’s Day, had acquired only temporary employment but seemingly permanent loan payments and (just to complete this picture) 2012 was just around the corner.

            Yet here I am a year later, alive and well…against my best efforts.


“…Cyclops and angry Poseidon- don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way,

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body…”


            Granted, it hasn’t been the smoothest of roads. I’ve had high’s (like standing on top of a 14,000 foot mountain) and lows (like capsizing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean). I’ve had a job I loved (“Hello, my name’s Bryn and I’ll be your kayak guide today…”) but even that was trying at times (“NO! For the last time! It’s Bryn! B-R-Y-freakin’-N!”).  I’ve been broke (“woops, that whole monthly payment on college loans thing starts now, you say?”), and I’ve found myself with, well, not excessive amounts of money, but enough to take my girlfriend out on dates (and “what the heck, let’s splurge and not order off the value menu!!”). I’ve been lost on the top of mountains, stranded and injured in the middle of the woods and exhausted by the side of the road. But I’ve also reached summits, finished races and, for the most part, emerged in one piece, better for the experience.


“…hope the voyage is a long one.

May there be many a summer morning when,

With what pleasure, what joy,

You come into harbors seen for the first time…”


            And all this brings me to now. One year after graduation, after I walked across the stage and, with a sense of mystery, excitement and fear stepped out onto a road named “future”. Now, as I look back, I have to smile when I think of where that road has taken me.  Now, as I sit at my computer, typing away and banging my head against the desk, I arrive at the oh-so-familiar point of being at a loss of words.


“…Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you are destined for…”


            Then I think of how, just a couple days ago, I saw a movie about a young man who was diagnosed with cancer and given a few weeks to live. Distraught with the news of his impending doom, he decided to drop everything and drive across the country to the Pacific Ocean. I can’t really remember what happened at the end, though I’m sure it was touching, and I vaguely recall something about a surf board and a whale, but I remember having one thought as I watched: how sad.

            Because I don’t want to wait until my life is almost over to realize it’s an adventure. I don’t want to put off the things that are important for the ones that aren’t. I don’t want to sacrifice idealism for realism and find that somehow, my soul was slipped into the deal. I’m young, I get that, but if wisdom constitutes resignation to “the way things have to be”, then I find wisdom to be somewhat overrated or, perhaps, misunderstood.


“… do not hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

So you are old by the time you reach the island,

Wealthy with all you have gained on the way,

Not expecting Ithaka to make you rich…”


            Because when I really think about it, I realize that I’m not looking for security; I’m not searching for a future. The desire of my heart is not in a bank account, corporate building or even a spouse and family.

            What I’m looking for is God.

           It can be easy to conclude from the adventures I’ve had this year that the mountains, the oceans and everything in between are the true desires of my heart. But to say these are what I’m pursuing would be akin to declaring a love sonnet as the final aim for the poet. To some, adventure may be the ends, but for me, it’s a sonnet I’m crafting for a God I love because, frankly, I know no other way. Rest assured, there are other methods, of that I have no doubt. But, for the time being, adventure is the pen with which I craft my poem to God, and I will do so until I find another. With every mountain I climb, every ocean in which I paddle, every slope I descend and every race I run, I will seek to write that poem to Him. For these adventures are not my desires; they’re just the song I sing on my journey to Ithaka.


“…Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you would not have set out…


            I often receive the question, from friends and strangers alike, of “so you graduated from college a year ago? What are you up to now?” I’ve given up trying to explain. I’m a kayak guide; I’m bike shop mechanic. I’m a ski bum and I’m a mountaineer. I’m an administrative assistant and I’m an awful cook. I’m a boyfriend making long-distance calls and a limping thrill-seeker grateful for every second I’m alive.  I’m a sinner and I am, through grace, made a saint.

            I don’t know what exactly I am; I just know what I’m looking for.  


            “…if you find her poor, Ithaka

won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so

Full of experience,

You will have understood by then

What these Ithakas mean.”


            With that, the professor finished the poem bowed his head slightly before thanking us and walking off the stage. I lowered my eyes from the podium and looked down at a candle in the middle of the table.

            “Wow,” a friend said next to me. “I really liked that,”

            I nodded but didn’t look up from the light of the candle dancing it’s own poetry across the table.


          So when people ask me that question “what are you doing now?” I don’t try to explain. Instead, I smile, doing my best to make the next line sound as authentic and heartfelt as possible. As I say it, I can only hope to sum up everything I’ve learned in one, six-word, sentence:


            “What I’m doing,” I tell them, “is finding Ithaka.”




Thus ends my first year of life in the real world.

For those of you who have been with me at any point this past year, I thank you so much. Your support and readership are my motivation for writing. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you putting up with my antics on the paper (well, computer screen, I guess…you get the point).  

 I am currently in San Antonio (“deep in the heart of Texas…”) conducting training as part of my military obligation. Brace yourselves and even warrant a smile, because I’m excited to share some of that life with you (think Catch-22 meets M*A*S*H meets…a kayak guide wondering how the @#%! he wound up in Texas).  I will be in down south for a few short months, before returning to a summer of kayaking, hiking, adventuring and general shenanigans in, you guessed it, Maine. Also, not to get your hopes up or anything, but there may even be some lobster fishing thrown in the mix. In short: the journey is far from over.


And, just so you know, I’d love for you to tag along.