Tim is another Liz Goodrich recommendation. And another gem! We exchanged a few emails before meeting and each of them brought a smile to my face as Tim's got a lovely way with words. I find it really interesting to correspond with a stranger and then show up at their door without any idea of what they look like or how old they are or anything about them other than a few kind words passed along from another. After sitting in the wrong driveway for several minutes (I'm habitually early) and then realizing it at the last moment, I made my way to Tim's front door and only made it a few paces inside before we were deep into conversation. Tim and I have many points of commonality in our backgrounds and likely the most impactful is our growing up in and then leaving the fundamentalist church. There are many things to discuss in that realm, but one of the more interesting and lesser discussed points is what that does to the use and understanding of certain words. Purpose is one. Belief is another. Good and evil are a couple more. Anyway, it's a long list. I loved chatting with Tim because he seems to have found a way to put judgment aside while navigating life. I'm still working on that, so I'm thankful for the example.
Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
I am a father, a husband. I think something else that as far as how I would identify myself right now - kind of a recovering fundamentalist. Spent a lot of my life chasing after certainty. And I'm somebody who's trying to rediscover curiosity and just being able to lean into uncertainty. I would say that's one of the bigger marks of my life right now.
What matters to you? What motivates you?
If I were to be blunt, fear motivates me. Which I think kinda ties into my last question that I'm trying to start learning to lean into that and understand it better and still pursue my values, even in face of that fear. Which is partly this interview - something I was definitely a little bit resistant to at first, but just trying to lean into those things. I used to work with juvenile delinquent boys and one of the founders of the residential facility that I worked at had a saying that's been attributed to him that Beauty is the silent teacher. And I think that's one of the things that has been motivating for me just as far as trying to create that for my kids -whether it be through keeping the house clean or taking care of other things - just really trying to instill that. We talked briefly about me being an aspiring photographer - just using that lens to bring some beauty into the world that people can see. And just understanding how profound beauty can be as a teacher.
What concerns you? What gives you a heavy heart?
I think one of things that gives me a heavy heart is just the level of individualism in our society right now. My background's in sociology. I've always been a very collectivist thinker - kind of understanding how these structural systems are all working together. Though it's been heading this way for a while, I think seeing the present political climate and just how kind of isolating it all feels and how we've all retracted into our own little bubbles and with our own kind of binary, black and white issues - that's one of the things that definitely has been troubling to me, especially as I raise two kids and I'm thinking a lot more about not just the physical environment, but just the social environment that they're growing up with. It's very daunting knowing how to navigate that and teaching them to be able to look out for other people and just be aware of the world outside of their individual cocoon.
Where do you find peace or livability through that? What enables you to continue on?
Two things: I think one thing is being a dad and knowing that I'm raising two kids that are going to go out into the world has been invigorating for me just wanting to, again, instill those values. And then I think, too - just learning to be intentional. I have a tendency to kind of rage against the darkness at times, but just kind of getting to that point of realizing that sometimes I just need to turn on a light. I need to just live out my values; I need to live out my love, peace - you know, all those different things that I value - in front of my kids, in front of my family and just allow that to be part of my mark on the world.
What do you think we mean to each other, person to person?
Hopefully I'll answer your question, but I might veer off slightly. As I've gotten older, I think I'm starting to see the value in our stories and being seen - as that ties into community, as that ties into a lot of different things. And I think that's what I mean to people and I think that's what people mean to me is just being able to be seen - be visible, to have someone that can hear my story and accept me and affirm me. And also be that for other people - just someone that can actually see you beyond our carefully curated Facebook image that we put out. Just that authenticity and, again, being seen.
What does being part of a community mean to you?
I think it goes back to what I was just talking about to some extent - it's just find that safe place that I can be seen. I recently started a men's group in Bend and there's about 10 to 15 of us right now and it's really just a space for us to get together on a monthly basis - sometimes a little more often - and just share; to be real, to be authentic. Not necessarily in the sense of fixing each other's problems, but really just discussing What is manhood? What is being a husband? What is being a parent in our present culture? And that's been pretty remarkable, I think - just the level of, again, authenticity that we've been able to generate. I've got what I would see as a community of 10 to 15 guys where we can sit down and tell our stories; we can look each other in the eye and say This is me. It's not my carefully edited Facebook pictures of my family vacation or that my kid's on the honor roll, but kinda the blemishes. To me, that's community and it's something that I would love to see expand. We've even talked about getting our families together once every three/four months and kind of connecting through that. That's been one area. To me, that's what community is. It's not necessarily going into town and seeing someone that I know, but again, being around a group of people that really see me and that are willing to hear my story.
What do you think the greater value or the longevity is in being seen as an individual?
I think in the end, that's what we have is our stories. I know as a parent there are times as I'm going through different parenting frustrations, sometimes just hearing that somebody else is going through that as well - even without answers, without strategies - just I'm not alone in this. I think there's a lot of power to that - just knowing that we're not alone. And I think as we move forward and those stories are passed on, I do find a lot of value in that.
How do we take care of human rights and injustices? How do you do it?
I think the answer is somewhat in your question just in the sense that I think we all do have our areas of passion - we all do have our areas that we may understand better; we may be able to provide a voice, to be an ally for - and I do think it starts there. I sometimes fear because I write a lot that I'm just hiding behind a keyboard. I'm trying to make people aware of these situations; I'm trying to provide my voice because I have a small readership - they'll be able to see what I'm putting out there. But I do wrestle with that same thing. Am I just sitting behind a keyboard and I'm not actively involved in these communities? I do think it's integral, but again, even that has its own problem wrapped into it: how do I be an ally without drowning out their voice? And I think that's very easy to do. I mentioned my background was in sociology - I think it's very easy for me to look at social theories and put things out there, but am I actually listening to these cries of injustice and what they're looking for? So, personally, I feel like the best that I have to offer right now is just to listen. To listen as best as I can - to ask questions; to be curious; to ask what's needed of these communities from us - and then become involved. Right now, that's my writing. To some extent, I think it's my parenting - it's making my children aware of these situations, trying to create a global consciousness in them so as they get older, they're continuing to pass that on. I don't know if I'm exactly answering your question? It's a tough question.
Do you think there's a point of critical mass or a tipping point?
Not necessarily. One of my areas of interest is racial inequality. We went through these decades and centuries of overt racism and structural violence. And we've gotten to a point where overt acts of racism are somewhat frowned upon, but now it's become very covert and there's a lot of other ways to pass on these inequalities that are - I don't want to say they're more insidious, but because they're so imperceptible to a lot of people they become more - insidious. I don't know if we're gonna hit critical mass. I feel like these issues have been around since they beginning. They continue to morph and change, but as far as hitting critical mass, I don't believe they will.
What are your thoughts on the philosophical problem of evil, which I think ties into all of that social inequality?
I think sometimes the very framing of evil is almost part of the problem. I think it does become a philosophical debate about What is evil? and then What is the remedy? and Which religious group has the answer? It's not a conceptualization I use with my kids. I think it really gets back to dehumanizing people. Seeing that as the - I really don't even know how to frame it - the central absence of good, but I wouldn't even necessarily frame it as evil.
I'm not a big fan of telling stories that are widely told, but I still have been struck by the story of this kid who was walking along the shoreline after a big storm and just throwing [starfish] back into the water - one by one, just walking down the shoreline. And this older man walked by and said, Do you really think you're gonna make a difference? There are just thousands and thousands and thousands of these [starfish]. The story goes the boy picked one up, threw it in the water, and said, It made a difference to that one. And I think that's where I have to be. I have to be in a spot where I can't solve the bigger problems. I can only impact what's in front of me. I mean, I have to keep my eyes open; I have to be curious; I have to listen. But I think at times I try to take it all on and it's just paralysis - I become so overwhelmed by the broader issues that it's easy to just shut down completely. So I think for myself, it's having to just be aware of what's in front of me and making changes where I can make changes and hoping that it reverberates out.
Do you have a sense of purpose?
Yes... there's a lot wrapped up into that. Unfortunately, some of it ties back into my fear, but I think creating a safe place for my children and for my wife is one of my central purposes. We talked kind of briefly about our backgrounds in the past, and I think just having grown up with a somewhat tumultuous childhood that is a huge deal for me now - is just making sure my kids feel safe and my wife has a great place to come back to when she gets off of work. So I would say that's a lot of my purpose. And then, too, I think - and we touched on it briefly - is just trying to provide a voice for those people who do not have a voice. I don't always know what that looks like. At times I am concerned that it comes off as paternalistic or condescending, but just trying to become better at that - just becoming an ally for those that may not have the ability to say anything. Being that voice, but also learning how can we provide them a voice where it's not always facilitated through someone who basically has a lot of privilege in this society.
What do you want more of in your life?
That is a tough question. Shouldn't be. I'm going somewhere with this... we recently bought a house about a year ago and a couple weeks ago we had a birthday party for my son and I was sitting outside under our willow tree and it was the first time I'd actually sat out there and just enjoyed it. And I think, for myself, what I want more of is just those times I can take a deep breath and enjoy what I have because I think I can get caught up in pursuits - wanting more, always feeling like there's something else to do - and I think, at times, just more of an awareness of what's around me at the time. I think about that sometimes with my kids as I'm trying to clean the house and provide this life for them that I envision and I'm also ignoring that they're wanting to show me how well they can juggle or something they just drew. So what I want more of is just an awareness of right now because I can get very caught up in where I'm heading and what I want to do tomorrow. Again, I can frame it very selflessly - This is what I'm trying to do for my children or my wife. But sometimes realizing that what they need and what I need is just attention - just being there in that moment with them. So, I think that's one of the things that I really would like more of. Which is in my grasp - it's really just a choice that I'm making.
Do you have anything else you'd like to put out there so you won't be kicking yourself later?
I'd rather just kick myself later (laughs).
Do you have anything you'd like to ask me?
Where do you see this project in five years or where would you like to see it? Do you have a vision or is it what you see right now - you just want that to continue - or do you have a vision in five to ten years of where you would like this to go?
(Laughs) I appreciate the way you asked it - it's a bit more fair than how some people do. I'm not much of a planner - I'll start answering it by saying that. I'm pretty content to show up even in a foreign country - maybe I've got the first night of Airbnb, right, but I need to map it all out. I think there might be a fair amount of hypocrisy in what I'm about to say, but I'm fairly excited about the journey. But then while I'm in the journey I'm freaking out. And I guess that's probably the fairest way to say this. I'd love to say I'm just really excited to see where this goes, but every single day I feel tormented by not knowing. I'm not married to the project looking as it does. I'm happy to see it evolve and change and grow. I do hope that in five years that I have a bit more peace in it, that I'm feeling some satisfaction in the numbers that it's reaching and the potential impact that is has. Right now I'm really sad and confused by the seeming lack of effect this particular ripple is having. And I'm struggling to figure out how much more of my own energy and time I can put into it. I put in so much.
It's interesting - the things that really become popular, in my experience, seem to lose so much of their value and they just become a thing to associate with without real magnetism or real draw or real effect, so I also don't want that. I don't want it to just be on the tip of someone's tongue, but I want it to be affecting lives. I'd really love - and it's hard 'cause I don't have a clear vision of what my payday is in it as far as just making it sustainable - but I'd love for people to just begin doing this on their own. Even if it's not documenting it for the world to see, but really just engaging with people that they don't know. You can have a pretty deep and meaningful conversation with a total stranger. Boy, I don't know that I answered that very succinctly, but I'd like to have some impact.
I know I've had this happen in my own life where I felt the futility of what I was doing. It felt futile - it wasn't. And then someone will touch base with me five years later and say, That really had an impact on me. And I think, too, just knowing that as you're moving forward with something you value, you may not always see the ripples, but they're out there. You may have those moments from time to time where you realize what a profound impact it had. It's happened to me several times where I thought, How much did this really ever matter? and realized years later that it really did. I think it's an amazing project. When I looked it up when we first touched base, I was pretty excited about it and I've mentioned it to some of my friends. There's definitely the beginning of a ripple here.