Tag Archives: rites of passage

How I changed my name in residency

2014-07-03 12.04.30When I started this last year, I was faced quite painfully with many of the forgotten and unexpressed emotions that I had for such a long time resisted. I was a boy once with dreams, an imagination, an innocence, and a carefree-ness.

I began to believe things, one way or another, about myself. Things that were not true. Things that made that boy “grow up.”

Shame, guilt, competence, fitting in, having the right answers, not getting caught… these were things that I didn’t know or care anything about. But I began to believe things, one way or another, about myself. Things that were not true. Things that

2014-07-03 12.08.28made that boy “grow up” and push down feelings of loneliness, sadness, anger, and confusion. My supervisor told me one day, “Nate, I want to know that little boy’s name.” For a long time, I just called him “the Little Swedish Baptist boy.” He was the one who was hurt, the one who was not quite ok just the way he was.

And then one day, or over the course of a few days (I don’t remember how the process fits together), I realized that I have always been known as Nate. At least since our family moved to Michigan and I first experienced what it was like to be bullied by my peers. There was another Nathan in the class, a mean little guy, who was so cruel to some of us. I was the new kid so I accepted the name change. And Nate was the self I crafted. Nate became, to an extent, a false self. Not to say there weren’t glimpses of my true self coming through, and often, but I’ve experienced a lot of “hedging in” in my 34 years. A natural and good curiosity told that this or that was outside the realms of orthodoxy or was “new age” or was silly or an embarrassment… the list could go on. I realized that around the time of using “Nate” as my name, I first began experiencing tangible shame.

2014-07-03 12.06.51So I tried introducing myself as Nathan. It was a reminder to myself that my true self can do this job. My true self is ok to be present here. Often speaking of this significance brought me to tears. So Nathan is sticking. As my supervisor noted one day, “It’s almost as though you are realizing that Nate can’t authentically do this work of chaplaincy, but Nathan can.” How true, how true. It becomes easier and easier for me to speak of myself as Nathan, a name that for many, many years didn’t seem like it fit me any more. Each time, part of my true self is brought into the relationship and I am reminded of who I am.

cropped-img_3359.jpgTraditional rites of passage for men almost always involved some sort of naming. A boy would go into the wilderness, leaving his family and his community, to connect with Spirit and with self. It was in the wilderness that he would find what his true gift to give to the community was. And he would be given his new name. He would then re-enter the the world of his people with his new responsibility (Bill Plotkin calls it the “soulcraft”) and his new name. It is in a legacy such as this that I will often say that this time has been a year-long rite of passage. For I have my soulcraft, my sacred dance, and I have my name.



Here I am blogging, writing for online magazines, twittering (natebettger), facebooking, texting, cell phoning, emailing… while in the meantime reading stuff like the following from Richard Rohr (Adam’s Return):

Lifestyle and relatedness is more important than words, or as Francis of Assisi is supposed to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” We may reach out through the media and technology or through our written or spoken message, but we finally transform and initiate each other through who we are. Transformed people tend to transform people. In fact, we tend to be able to lead people only as far as we ourselves have gone.

It is relationships that change us much more than ideas. We cannot really do something until we have seen someone else do it; it cannot yet enter our mind as a possibility,. You do not know what patience is until you have met one truly patient person. You do not know what love is until you have observed how a loving person loves. What power we have for one another! For good an fro for ill. Thus rites of passage were communal rites, led by elders and father figures, and not sermons or a series of questions and answers – very low-risk encounters and forms of education, which the churches have relied upon for centuries.

It’s challenging to me, as I feel like these new media communication technologies can be so helpful for staying connected. Yet at the same time, I know my own tendency to neglect the one (more important) thing in an effort to stay up with the other. This is where my eyes often start aching in and my head starts pounding. I feel as though I need to stop my face to face conversations to answer that text, respond to that email, or check the latest facebook status. My presence is spoiled with someone and what is really going on in their life because I need to talk about the latest widget or external application for my online utilities.

My challenge is to focus first on what’s happening within myself and my present world that I am in. Rather than getting lost with my computer and headphones at the coffee shop, I hope I can see that the person sitting next to me is clearly hurting or the woman behind the counter is stressed out. I will only be able to transform and effect the place I currently find myself in by being present and transforming myself. This must be my highest priority. The media is merely a means.

Why we can’t make changes from the top down

I post this quote, in part as a response to Greg’s questions HERE, and also as another effort in processing the importance of “elder wisdom.”

Richard Rohr, in his article, “The Catch 22 of Male Initiation” (LINK), writes,

It has become rather clear to many of us that both top leaders in the church and leading politicians in society are largely made up of men who wanted to get there.  They pursued roles and positions of power for any multitude of reasons, some of which are even praiseworthy.

At the second level of “management” you find priests, ministers, civil employees, and corporate bureaucrats who have rightfully sought their own career goals, but unless there has been some influx of wisdom, suffering, or mentoring from life itself, their ego structures tend to be pretty well intact and self serving. “My personal upward mobility, but for the sake of the kingdom of God” is the best we can hope for!  They have done even good things, but the underlying motivations of self image, security, status, and self aggrandizement have never been looked at or seriously questioned.  In fact, they assume this is what life is all about.  This creates a major spiritual blindness at both levels of leadership, and of course in all men who have not stumbled, fallen, and been raised up (the central paschal mystery).

What is lost to our society, however, is much needed wisdom and the common good, and often just basic spirituality.  Such patriarchy becomes a self perpetuating machine at an arrested level of consciousness. Uninitiated men appoint, affirm, and promote other men at their same level of moral development, because their own ego standards are all that they have to judge by. In other words, the water never rises, levels of consciousness do not naturally proceed by attraction and promotion from the top, which is what we all hoped for. This is the meaning of eldership, seniority, and mentoring, but it only really works in “wisdom based cultures”, which we now have very few of (Tibet, Bali, and small, hidden pockets, especially in remaining native cultures still found on all continents.)

So wisdom often has to come from the outside, the bottom, or the edge.

So the reason I call it a “Catch 22” is that you have to build your tower of success, even though it is the very thing that can destroy you, and will destroy you if we do not see through it.

We will lose if we do not find our power.  But we will also lose if we find our power and then do not “unfind” it!

So you must let go of the very thing that you have supposedly found.  But the trouble is you are very identified and attached to it by then!  So someone must warn you ahead of time, or it is often too late.  That is initiation.

I love this, and it speaks to my own thoughts on adults in leadership running around as adolescents. I have to be careful here in how I say this, as I myself am only just beginning in my journey of maturity and wisdom. I would say though, from experience, that there are many men of whom I know would have much to offer me and my peers in our “becoming,” but from whom I feel as though I don’t really have much to learn from in regards to what it means to be a well-rounded and wise man in our world. We must call them out.. call them to a higher standard… but I get the sense that many of them, in their “ego worlds” would not hear our requests for more present leadership. This, don’t get me wrong, is not always a fault of their own, but often due to their own father wounds and also to merely being a part of a perpetuating cycle that has lost its emphasis on initiation.

“Born again” is all messed up…

I never really have liked that language… and in fact you probably won’t ever hear me use it in conversation or speaking.
Here is from Richard Rohr (Adam’s Return)

It seems that most of humanity intuited the need for two births: the first a physical one, and the second a spiritual one, which was necessary to make sense of the first. The phrase “born again” now tends to mean “a Southern USA version of the Christian message,” or a person who has had a certain emotional experience. Someone who is born again usually has a moral and individualistic character, is tied to sets of words, and is extremely self-assured, often with a kind of warrior-for-God energy. Yet after the rebirth of authentic initiation, the effect tends to be much the opposite: ecstatic, communal, earthy, and humble – more the lover-and-wise-man energy.

Jesus term for such a big-picture thinking was the “Kingdom of God” or “Reign of God,” but we have altered it into “my” kingdom and my salvation experience. Being born again does not often feel like a rebirth but more like a continuation of the first biological and cultural birth, with some new buzz words added and some specific actions subtracted – drinking, cussing, gambling, homosexuality, abortion, and dancing being toward the top of the list, none of which Jesus talked about. Too often, there is little or no critique of one’s self, one’s own country, or the closed culture of the born agains. This culture is not prepared to preach the Gospel to all nations because it frankly never leaves home, and it tries to bring everybody back there.

Answering the questions of patriarchy, masculinity, and femininity

A few questions were posed in regards to my last post on patriarchy and rites of passage. I think they deserve a post of their own.

Why is it so important to have rites of passage other than that is what we have always done?

Isn’t that sticking to tradition?

I think the question is whether we still have rites of passage and if the traditions that we have now work as these rites… I really do think that we have lost some things in our present culture. Mostly in regards to roles and responsibilities and recognition from the men of the community (or women, if you are talking about women). Robert Bly has some really good things to say about this in Iron John.

The father working away from home. The father coming home and presenting his spent self (tired, moody, “dinner and the news” dad). He eats, watches the news, and goes to bed. Then gets up and does it over again. This, of course, is not across the boards, by any means. We have gotten more individualistic, though, in how we as a community defines when we became a man.

What about circumcision both male and female?

This is surely not a rite of passage anymore and I don’t know that it every really was. For men, it was a sign of the covenant with the Jews… and then became about hygene.preference.etc. From what I know, female circumcision, practiced in Africa, may actually be more a rite of passage than for the men… at least one that is still remaining within cultures. I don’t really want to get into that here.

What about “first” communion?

Could probably be a rite of passage for some, but I would ask the question what purpose does it serve in general society… or amongst the community? For me and many other evangelicals, I would say it is more about the parents than the children.

Do you mean rites, like the Order of the Arrow in Boy Scouts, killing your first deer and eating the heart? Smoking a cigar, drinking a beer? Could you give an example of a rite of passage you think is necessary?

I would say that these could be considered rites of passage if they involved the greater male community and gave the men responsibility and honor in the culture. If it is about pleasure or individualistic, I don’t think they count. Vision questing was a rite of passage in many cultures.

How much influence does your community have on who you become?

A LOT!! Or at least it should. If it doesn’t, I think we become lost in individualism.

Is “our” patriarchy really blessed?

That was more of a sarcasm than an actual feeling. I feel that our patriarchy is much less than what it could be. With an effort to honor the masculine AND the feminine, we wouldn’t be as frustrated about patriarchy as many are.

Perhaps we need a “persons rite of passage” event??

I don’t think you can have rites of passage events with men and women together. Too many loaded emotions. You need women guiding the women and men guiding the men. You get mixed genders together and things get way too complicated.

I am curious to know Nate, what things you see as exclusively masculine and as exclusively feminine? You state “Women traditionally did not have rites of passage… at least there is not as much of a need for them. They have more physical transitions into womanhood.” I would challenge this view as being patriarchal and outdated. Reformed Judaism added the Bat Mitzvah, but Orthodox Jews still do not do it since girls/women do not lead in worship in these synagogs

I need to devote a whole post to this one! What things are feminine and masculine. Again, I would say, read David Deida. He’s got it down.