Genesis 2.0

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Everyone benefits from an obsession with family history. Maybe too bold a statement…? I can only speak from my own experiences but if you will allow me to explain my reasoning I think you will agree.

Had I, like many others, not followed my genealogical paths backward, I could never have better understood the whole of who I am in the way that I do now. Knowing what I know about all of the astonishing things that had to occur and all of the remarkable people who were able to survive along the way – all contributing their own DNA along the way, it has helped me to realize just how unique we all are but also amazingly true is how similar we are.

Genealogical research has a way of reverse-engineering our souls. It breaks us down piece by piece, and reveals an honesty about our pasts which is sometimes flattering and newsworthy and just as often ugly or immoral. For some, it can reveal a surprising or hidden truth, blurred by time, exaggerations, or even lies. For the majority of us, what little information we do learn from our ancestors only represents a tiny fraction of the story of us.

I vividly remember my paternal grandfather, Papaw White, telling me that we were Scotch-Irish and that I was named after Capt. John White of early American colonist fame – Roanoke/Croatoan story. I never doubted the Scotch-Irish ancestry but somehow I never really bought the Capt. John Smith story. A couple things just didn’t add up; the Captain was English and, most importantly, after returning from England to discover that his colony was lost, he returned to England and never returned to American soil.

My grandmother, however, shared her family history with me which has turned out to be pretty accurate, albeit scant in detail. She told me her family immigrated to the United States from Germany. What I later discovered was that they immigrated from a tiny hamlet called Mitschdorf, Alsace which is actually in France. Situated on the Rhine River bordering France, Switzerland and Germany, Alsace has a complicated history as it sits just below the traditional French customs border of the Vosages Mountains although the French territories stopped at the Rhine River – just beyond the tiny town of Mitschdorf. The people who inhabited that region were principally of German descent.

The German language and customs of the inhabitants of these French outskirts continued for centuries through the 17th and 18th centuries – including the time when my Neese family immigrated to the United States. Thirty year old Hans Michael Nehs, infant son Michael and his twenty seven year old wife Dorothea along with 266 other Palatines arrived in the port of Philadelphia, PA on 21 September, 1731, sailing on the ship Britannia having sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, Holland. Soon after immigration the Nehs family, either through ignorance of the language or by choice, Americanized the surname to Neese and/or Neece and other similar variations which have since scattered themselves to and fro across the entire country.

So, my grandmother was actually pretty close right? You could say that but only if her story began or stopped right there – but it doesnt. Michael’s father and mother Mathias and Maria had just been living in Rusovce, Bratislava, Slovakia prior to moving to the Alsace region of France.

Cognizant to most of us family tree-climbers is that just four generations up the tree gives me no less than sixteen great grandparents. Another generation beyond that gives me thirty-two grandparents – another gives me sixty-four… each grandparent having his or her own distinct ancestry, some of it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, some is also lost forever to time and insignificance. Perhaps we should expend more energy while we’re alive with the goal of not being so insignificant.

Most of us associate our general lineage and ancestry by our last names. The truth is that you have hundreds of last names, some you’ve never heard about. If I push my ancestry out just ten generations beyond myself, I can personally verify 128 different surnames. This does not include incidences where the same last name repeats from other ancestors marrying cousins which occurs nearly a dozen times in that same ten-generation time span. There are also familial lines where I can’t YET go back ten generations.

Family Tree

I have found a wealth of new names, belonging to me, I’d never even heard before. Some of the oddest names in my lineage: Cazeneuve, Coggeshall and Erchtebrech. The Beaufort, Ragland, Marcell and Simpson are surname lines that I’ve researched heavily while the Pfeiffer, Koch, Emot and Lisbet lines are among the many still lying in wait for me to catch an interest. The gist of everything I’m writing here is that we are all so much more than the sum of two parts, even if you’ve not been formally introduced to the other parts.

While I grew up thinking I was just an average white guy with Scotch-Irish/German ancestry on my paternal side and maternal Welsh/English ancestry, I’ve since learned that I hail from Scandinavia, Spain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, and Belarus. My ancestors were Vikings, Jews, Knights Templar, Spanish conquistadors, American colonists, Native Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and early American statesmen. They were Frankish kings and Welsh nobles and they were poor farmers, merchants, tin smiths and shoe cobblers.

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What my ancestors have most in common with your ancestors is that they were all survivors. They are the survivors of numerous plagues, copious wars, inquisitions, witch trials, battlefield forays, and voyages across unknown and uncharted waters. They survived attacks from neighboring warlords, tribes, and villages. They fought off zealous religious groups, parried political unrest, returned from great world wars, defeated the Nazis, found something to eat under communist regimes, lived through indentured servitude and found freedom after generations of slavery. Our ancestors avoided the horns of Jericho and the plagues of Egypt. Had they not, you and I would not be having this conversation.

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All of us are extremely lucky to even be here. There were far more opportunities for us to have never been born at all than for us to have ascended from whatever heaven and hell our people endured. If you look far enough and broad enough backward, sideways, and crossways, you’ll find a bit of both.

Since I know that I’m a Gaul, a Latin, an Etruscan, a Greek, a Celtic, a Briton, a Silurian, a Native American, a Jew, an Arab, a Spaniard, a Frank and a Viking, I can safely assume that other people living among me who are firm in their belief that I’m either a deplorable, infidel, heathen, left-winger or right-winger might also themselves be a great many things they never knew about.

Despite our differing features, sizes and shades of skin, we’re very much a homogeneous community of very blessed people of common origin and descent. Not the kind of homogeneity like Hitler envisioned but in the way that if you look deep enough, what you find is me. Hitler didn’t have the ability to know that he himself was a Jew – we, however, do. If we all choose to use our extremist obsessions to peel back the layers of our own ancestry instead of the flaws and faults of others who disagree with us, perhaps we could all realize that we are all many different things…things which would not qualify us to be the judge of all others. Said differently, if I’m an infidel, we’re all infidels; because I am you.

 

Resilience – Navigating the Art of Moving On

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Most of us are living lives that started off in one direction, confident that we would become this or end-up doing that, but instead we dove in head-first only to come up for air in some totally different place or profession which was never even on our radar at the time. We just knew that we were going to marry a certain someone, have X number of kids, have a well-paying job with excellent benefits, then retire with a great big house overlooking God’s glorious creation in its most subjective splendor. If you’re a woman, your dreams may have been much loftier and may or may not have included a sparkly crown, glass slippers, and a blue-eyed Greek shipping magnate.

Nowadays, you’re lucky to find a guy who regularly plucks his ear and nose hair so if you’re still waiting on the sparkly crown, I shouldn’t have to be the one to inform you that your high expectations may be to blame for perpetual loneliness. You could be one of those people who are thinking about all those daydreams-gone-bad and or instead you may be living and gorging yourself on every ounce of your prepubescent insight. Most of us, however, are probably somewhere in-between being pissed off at our parents for not being honest with us about our true capabilities or just happy to have a decent car, job and mortgage debt.

To put it bluntly, where I am today and where I thought I’d have been at fifty-years-old couldn’t be much further apart. I actually thought I would grow up and become a psychiatrist. A short time in college majoring in Pre-Med cured me of those dreams as I quickly realized just exactly what I was a naturally gifted at and what I sucked at. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still love giving advice or tinkering in psychological subjects. It just means that I wasn’t prepared for everything else that comes with an education in science, particularly all the stupid crap I don’t like.

So what happens when you suddenly realize that all of your dreams were simply well-intended hallucinations? In many cases, our parents push us toward our most outwardly apparent aptitudes or instead the things they always wished they’d have done and our teachers push us toward the trending job market. We were provided with lists of job-titles along with their equivalent salaries and were immediately driven toward the big 3 – Pilot; Doctor; Lawyer…? Sometimes we have dreams that don’t fall into any of the above categories. Maybe you wanted to be a musician or a dancer or an artist but you were discouraged by worried parents.

School was very easy for me. I honestly never really took schoolwork all that serious and my grades were high enough that my parents never really worried about me enough to check on what I was doing or not doing. I just sort of did what I wanted and floated through school never worrying about my grades or if I’d have benefited from making higher grades or challenging myself. My parents had much more serious challenges with another sibling so I guess it was easy for me to fall between the cracks and pretend that I was doing everything I should be doing.

That all came to a head in college when I suddenly realized that I hadn’t really paid all that much attention in high school. A perfect example of this was in my sophomore year. I was enrolled for an honors level English class but my best friend was enrolled in a resource English class. On the first day of school I showed up to his class and took a chair because I just wanted to hang out with him and when the teacher didn’t call my name from her list of students she asked the class, “Is there anyone here whose name I did not call?” I raised my hand, she wrote my name down on her list and I ended up spending that year in a class that I could sleep in and still make straight A’s. The good thing was that I was just smart enough to fool the system; the bad thing was that I was just smart enough to fool the very system that was trying to help me.

Maybe if I’d have paid more attention and taken school more serious, I’d have been writing professionally instead of writing for fun. On another note, maybe if I hadn’t have done all of those stupid things in life, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to overcome my own adolescent ignorance with better adult decisions which led me to the wonderful life and the precious wife and son that I have today. It’s kind of like the song by Rascal Flatts called Along the Broken Road, “Every long-lost dream – led me to where you are…God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.” The lyrics are a metaphor for adolescent stupidity mixed with a little luck or a lot of grace, whichever form of mercy you subscribe to.

Broken roads and broken dreams are just part of the plan it seems. We don’t realize it when we are fifteen but most of those dreams are pretty lofty anyway. Plus, that girl you like so much turns out to be bi-polar at forty and the football quarterback with dimples and a hairy chest is on disability, has diabetes, and plays video games well into the wee hours of the morning. Fifteen turns out to be way too young an age to determine just what is and what is not a good quality in a spouse. Boobs are a wonderful thing but if that girl don’t love you enough to protect you from your own ignorance then she ain’t worth having.

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Resilience, the subject of this blog, is something you learn from all of the little and big faux pas we are destined to make along the bumpy, curvy, divided, and forked road of our youth. Even though you’re way smarter at fifteen then you are at fifty (Just ask Jeff Foxworthy), you don’t have enough real-life experiences with which to relate all that natural born brilliance. You end up learning a lot more about the real world from good ole Murphy than you ever would have if you’d actually listened to all those lectures. Murphy is a complete asshole. He helps to thicken your defenses and sharpen your offenses. But, he could also destroy your confidence and leave you crying in a fetal position if you’re not prepared.

Never afraid to pack up and move or to take on some exciting new adventure – my mistakes have spanned an immense territory and I’ve met many hundreds of people with whom I have shared some pretty stupid experiences. That kind of adventurous free-spirit comes with a price. I was talking to my wife, Emily, a few weeks ago trying to figure out just how many times I’ve moved since I first left home as a fledgling adult. The number was much more difficult to figure out than you can imagine because the number was pretty high; like 26 or something. It was this painful exercise that inspired me to write this blog.

Each one of those moves, however haphazard it may seem now, had something to do with career, emotion, opportunity, relationships or going broke. I’ve certainly never been afraid to try new things. That has probably been the defining statement of my life. The excitement that always comes with some new discovery has driven me almost on auto-pilot. You might say I have the repertoire of an articulate hobo. I’m sure my mom must have been pretty worried about me for a long time but all of that uncertainty and seat-of-the-pants living contributed to the broad vernacular you see in my blogs today. And don’t think that every move I made was done so by choice.

That resilient protective layer I’ve been talking about comes from standing in the batter’s box and taking a few wild pitches into the torso. Just being honest and good or generous doesn’t gain you any immunity from trouble at all. It turns out that Murphy is an Atheist and doesn’t care that you sent $50 bucks to Joel Osteen last week. There is a literal cornucopia of chaos that life can throw at you at a moment’s notice. Surviving these moments grows our experience-knowledge and helps us to nurture more buoyancy and assuredness so that we are able to survive the next wave of pandemonium. That level of comfort grows and grows with each struggle until we emerge with something very close to confidence. Then our confidence can be shattered when we learn that Murphy also throws a great knuckle ball.

An old Chinese proverb says “Failure is the mother of success” and I believe it wholeheartedly but sometimes people get caught up in the failure itself instead of the lesson. Failure is never a person; failure is an event. How would anyone ever know how sweet success really tastes when they’ve never tasted the saltiness of sweat and failure? So you strike out every now and then…knuckle balls are hard to hit. The players that make it in the big leagues learn how to ignore the pain or embarrassment of striking out and absorb something valuable from each failed attempt in order to improve their odds of their next “at bat”.

In discussing our near future a few days ago, Emily and I were talking about what type of home we may build on the farm and she said to me that she’d come to a place in her life where she no longer cared about what people might think about how she lives or how successful others may think we are or aren’t, she said she just wants to build exactly what we want and need within the limits of our budget. I think that moment where you live your dreams not because of what it will prove but because that is all you want to do is the definition of contentment. I’m very lucky to have her.

Being married to Emily has helped me to realize that love is not always about winning or losing. Perhaps real love is more about a few sweet moments in time, followed by an eternity of growth and discovery. The fruits of marriage can last indefinitely through our children and the people we touch. From this perspective, I realize that we not only benefit in life from the one’s we love the most, but we also benefit from the love’s we have lost and the relationships that have failed for whatever reason. We as spouses both get to benefit from each other’s failed endeavors and marriages.

That level of recognition comes from the ability to let go of baggage, hate, failures, and the heartaches in your past. Letting go of unnecessary baggage doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t care about that person or that endeavor anymore it is simply the realization that the only person you really have control over is yourself. If the weight of certain things are dragging you down instead of lifting you up then you should move on to the next thing. Looking straight into the eyes of each person or situation; you must decide if this is going to be a part of your history or a part of your destiny.

Letting go of anger and hate is also an incredibly important concept in moving on. If you hate something or someone it/they will always be with you. You may think that you can move away from a person you hate but as long as you are feeling the emotion of hate then they are going to be with you metaphysically. Discovering that you possess the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers which are Resilience, Courage, Dignity, and Peace.

  • Resilience we learn from getting back up after being knocked down and discovering that no matter how hard the punch – we will always be able to find a way to get back up.
    • Courage promotes discovery which contributes to wisdom. We obtain courage from ignoring our fears and just being ourselves.
    • Dignity is a personal emotion that is derived from doing the right thing even when doing wrong would better serve you. Resilience and Courage allow us to maintain our dignity even when others question our motives.
    • Peace comes when you no longer even think about any of the aforesaid attributes. Peace is not caring either way. You know you’re going to do what’s right so why waste time worrying about what others think. Your resilience to criticism and your courage to stick to your guns give you a place of peace that only time and experience can buy.

The rest is all up to God, thus forget trying to know what all that means. God knows; man thinks. It is how knowing differs from knowing-about or wisdom. Man thinks he gets to know when he thinks, but he never does because he only thinks from his own singular experiences. Each of our human perspectives about life, the world, family, sexuality, war, or whatever are molded and shaped by what we have personally observed and learned in the way a blacksmith hammers and forges iron. Our brains are like hot furnaces that shape, anneal, and organize whatever metals get thrown inside and what comes out are products of that very individualized mixture. No matter how smart you think you are…you really don’t know much in the big scheme of things so get over yourself and be real because cousin Murphy is always watching for an opportunity to let some hot air out of you.

Finally, resilience requires you to stop judging yourself unnecessarily. There is not one human on this earth that is not also a sinner or worthy to tell you what kind of life you should be living. Insecurity, especially religiously oriented insecurities are like Kudzu to the psyche. It climbs, coils, and latches onto every part of your life if you allow it. There are few things in life that can be as destructive to your soul as the counterfeit son of Man.

As I already stated: God knows; man thinks. If I cannot really know you as God knows you and if I cannot really know why you are the way you are or why you do the things you do then how can I judge you in a religious context? I have no problem judging you as a singer or a mechanic but judgement of the soul is reserved for God only. Interpreting the word of God is not just about reading specific words; it about reading the whole book and understanding the context in which those words are describing something.

Example:
Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ephesians 2:3 “…we were by nature deserving of wrath.”

What I’m trying to point out is that we all have this very modern and contemporary view of religion which always involves some particular sub-faith being taught to us by some particular sinner, among a building full of other sinners who all have an unhealthy interest in what you’re doing such that people are less likely to be asked what they themselves might be doing. Even the idea that one church has a higher favor with God over another faith is an arrogant and sinful concept. It’s exactly what we humans do. Every generation thinks it’s smarter than the generation before so we evolve our beliefs and attempt to gain followers in order to prop up our own arrogance. Your faith, or lack of it, exists inside you and is a personal relationship you have between yourself and your God. Simple as that.

Whatever your weaknesses and guilty pleasures may be – you can be forgiven by the One who really counts. It’s not up to me and not up to your neighbors. Stop allowing the judgement of others to undermine your own confidence and self-esteem. You are always going to be whatever you are – always. If you believe that you’re sinning by being yourself then also believe in the concept of Grace. God knows that human biology creates an occasional misfire and sometimes those misfire’s can be beautiful. It’s a Grace thing. The God I know is anything but mercilessness.

There are enough land-mine’s in life and enough bully’s to fight without having to deal with them in a place of worship. Stop worrying about your failures and start looking for the hidden carrot in those failures. We all have weaknesses, find out what you’re great at and do that instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole. If you cannot find that special job – create it. If you can’t find that special person – be that person yourself and maybe they will find you. Above all, do something. Be brave and be bold. Resilience is about fighting back.