Trees Of Life

I have been feeling really awesome for quite a while. Physically strong and healthy, emotionally connected and healthy, spiritually inspired and healthy. So, why do I sometimes feel like dirty dish water? My normal resting reality is highly sensitive, particularly susceptible to the pain, joy, anger, wonder around me in others, anywhere. This is nothing new. In fact, it’s a bright shiny key that I am right where I have been created to be, that my heart is fully functioning. In this space, I am me and I happen to like that me very much.

But this dirty dish water business is a nagging splinter in my soul, unconnected to a particular person or circumstance. It’s more like a tinted lens that dims and dulls the surrounding world. On Sundays I often speak of a heaviness and sometimes that’s specific, but other times it’s this pall over us all and I haven’t clarified simply because I couldn’t. I didn’t know where it was coming from or what was causing it, just that it was there.

I think I do, though, now.

Proverbs 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Proverbs 15:4: Perverseness in [the tongue] breaks the spirit. Proverbs 12:18: Rash words are like sword thrusts. James 3:8: The tongue…is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

This weight absolutely feels like so many sword thrusts, an overwhelming air full of poison resulting in what feels like the death of our communal soul. If you would ask me 2 days ago, I’d at some point use the words “broken” and “spirit.”

I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. If you listen (and I highly recommend you do), you’ll hear a cacophony of sharp words full of razor blades and acid. In schools, kids, coaches and teachers speak only in terms of “not” – as in what we are all not: what we are not doing, not doing enough of, or not doing well enough. The implication is that we are not, defined primarily by a lack or deficiency. No matter the laughing tone or the nasty smile on the mouth that speaks, these are not jokes, not funny in the least. And far more destructive than we could ever have imagined.

And like the endless McDonald’s ads subconsciously convincing us that we neeeeed that hamburger, these messages when they are uncontested become truth. (By the way, McDonald’s hamburgers are nothing we neeeeed;)

This glut of information wounds us so deeply, filling us with anger and inadequacy, of course the darkness will come out of our own mouths, too.

Last night I left my weight room dragging my heartache. On one hand, “We love each other,” and then sports teams and insecurity fill the air with the polar opposite.

(You know there’s a study about a scientist talking to crystals – maybe I’ll tell you next time.)

So I left and stopped at the grocery store. The cashier told me I should “go to another aisle,” where there was a line. I said I’d just take my things back and she said “ok, whatever.” This isn’t awesome and when I got in the car, in front of my boys (IN FRONT OF MY BOYS!!!!!!), I described this interaction using precisely the same words & spirit of which I have been force-fed. In front of my boys…

We’re supposed to be telling a different story, speaking fresh words, rebelling against the hail of razor blades dipped in acid. And if we’re not careful, we’re no longer salt and light. We’re just more actors in the same old tragedy.

The cool thing is that was yesterday. It’s been the last couple of months, years, millennia. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way tomorrow. Each of the verses I quoted earlier had a 2nd part – one was “a gentle tongue is a tree of life.” A Tree Of Life sounds perfect.

So now what?

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

And in our favorite, Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Maybe we just need to be a lot more aggressive in our building, a million times more audacious in giving grace. Maybe in our positivity, our pure, lovely, excellent thoughts, and praise, we can all become Trees that fill each other not with old dishwater, but with beautifully clear spring waters Of Life.

Y Chromosomes

Last night there was a prayer walk at the school district in my town. Maybe you don’t believe in prayer, don’t think it does anything, is just a silly dog and pony show. That’s ok, I don’t mind. Maybe it does do something, maybe it affects the energy in the universe in a positive way, maybe it is the first step in making the impossible possible. Who knows, for sure? It is a good thing to do, people coming together to think about the well-being of other human beings can’t ever hurt. Especially now – it’s a pretty hard time to be someone with a working heart.

Prayer looks and sounds a lot of different ways. (Which is only natural, we look and sound lots of different ways, why wouldn’t our prayers?) But if you were at this prayer walk last night, you’d be forced to believe that it’s an exclusively feminine practice. There were quite a few people there and my boys, myself, and 1 other grandfather were the only ones with a Y chromosome.

That’s disappointing, right? Of course. Unless there’s another explanation. Maybe it’s corporate prayer that men shy away from, that they have full, vibrant prayer lives but it’s alone, safely in their bedrooms. Hmm. Maybe. I wonder if full and vibrant and alone and safe all sit in the same sentence comfortably. The words seem to contradict, like they are seconds away from losing their restraint and throwing hands at any moment.

I read a quote last week from Charles Spurgeon, a famous old-time preacher, “Christ never contemplated the production of secret Christians, – Christians whose virtues would never be displayed, – pilgrims who would travel to heaven by night, and never be seen by their fellow-pilgrims or anyone else.” And I think he’s probably right. It seems pretty solidly steeped in western philosophy to consider independence and privacy spiritual virtues. 

Anyway. (That last paragraph might be a different discussion and not just a line or 2 in this one.) It’s not just that prayer group. It’s not just prayer groups at all. We have a book study and, when we’re lucky, we have 2 men. [It’s no longer “last night” that the prayer walk was, it is last week. But nothing is different in my heart and mind.] I wonder why the men largely aren’t showing up for their (our) spirituality, why prayer groups are women’s prayer groups and book studies are women’s book studies. 

So I did what you would do in my situation: Asked Google. Google, what’s the statistical difference between men & women in the church? I expected vast differences in these numbers, but the only thing I found was that all numbers are falling in church and participation in spiritual development. Of course, there are more women than men, but it’s not as striking as my experience has led me to believe. 

Why is this? It’s probably some mixture of religious abuse, self-reliance, fear, disillusion with organized everything, politics, depression, our neighbors, (it’s easy to forget that I am someone’s neighbor, too, and likely one of the reasons some have walked away from spiritual communities) and any number of other probably pretty valid reasons.

I have no idea why I’m writing or what I’d like to say in regard to this exodus from the local church. I know I wish there would be more men AND women in these groups and on Sunday mornings, more men AND women loving everybody all the time. Maybe that’s the most glaring reason that none of us want to acknowledge. Maybe we’ve confused love with church attendance as the highest call on our lives. Maybe we haven’t been loving everybody all the time and that’s what’s emptying the pews and thinning prayer walks. Maybe we’ve been busy fighting over politics that we don’t want to sit next to ‘those people’ and if we don’t, why would anybody else? 

Maybe we’ve forgotten that it’s love, not division or doctrine, that defines. Maybe we all need to be reminded

The Point Is

I don’t usually do what I’m about to do, but we’re about to dive into a deep pool of self-reflection in regard to our own personal discipleship and those waters require a healthy bit of preparation. (Um. Maybe you heard me very clearly specify our own discipleship. We all know it’s super effective to wear a nice coat of self-righteous condescension, but just this once, let’s try to extract the logs from our own eyes first.)

Anyway, what I don’t usually do is simply reiterate some of the questions from Sunday to remind and re-focus our busy, end of summer/beginning of school, distracted minds. This year I haven’t heard the cacophony of “Can you believe the summer is already over?” In the world of COVID-19, nothing is ‘already’ and time doesn’t particularly fly. It’s hard to remember the time before quarantines and masks and angry internet battles.

We can be not salty and not light through contamination, compromise, mixture, misapplied strength, hiding our intrinsic human beauty under beds & baskets, cowardice, laziness, and the big 2 that always seem to appear in lists like this: Fear and it’s annoying partner, Passivity.

The unfortunately named website GotQuestions writes: It seems, then, that the role of the Christian as salt and light in the world may be hindered or prevented through any choice to compromise or settle for that which is more convenient or comfortable, rather than that which is truly best and pleasing to the Lord.

MyQuestions are: Where have we compromised? When there was a choice, where have we chosen convenience & comfortability? Where have we entertained what a writer calls “unclean thoughts?” When have we spoken less than the truth, for whatever reason? When have we taken our considerable strength and power and used it for our personal edification or the squashing of another’s humanity? Where have we remained sleeping in our beds when we have been called into conscious engagement?

I think the most difficult for me is the crackling menace of “Where have I settled?” Looming tall in the corners of my mind, this monster intimidates simply because it’s slobbery mouth is overflowing with answers. I’ve settled too many times, squandered the gifts I’ve been so generously given more than I can count.

We ask in the promise that we will be given the wisdom and strength to finally say, “No more.” We ask in the promise that the overflowing answers are forgotten and replaced with “I don’t remember.” We ask for lots of reasons, but the point is that we ask.

The First 40

The new episodes of Catfish air on Tuesdays, so almost the entire day is devoted to old episodes. (The one sad, lonely exception is Teen Mom 2 the hour before the premiere. Sigh.) I watch while I eat my breakfast and tend to my rabbit HoneyBunny. Though I didn’t personally name her, I really love it because at least once every day, I say “I love you HoneyBunny,” like Tim Roth’s character does in Pulp Fiction. Anyway. The episode this morning was a bit of an anomaly. The Catfish had been to jail and out because the Catfishing turned into criminality. Simply lying on dating profiles and direct messaging isn’t against the law, but extortion is. Nev & Max traveled several airplanes and one long drive through snow covered roads so far north to a town that may or may not be on maps in hopes of an interview. Of course, they got one – it is a TV show and reality isn’t exactly real like we know it to be. So as they left that depressing house, Nev said, “One thing I’ve learned from all these years of Catfish is that there are no monsters at the end of the line.”

I love the show, have been watching it for so long, I guess it’s only natural that this would have informed so much of my perspective. Episode after episode, for 40 minutes I think the person they’re chasing is just horrible, a nightmarish villain looking for no more than to be a wrecking ball in some poor sucker’s life. And then for the final 20, I realize I’ve been wrong. They’re just sad or lonely or damaged. (Now sometimes, they are pretty awful, but it’s so unusual, it’s a perfect example of the phrase ‘the exception proves the rule.’)

And then last night I sat down to watch the Netflix documentary on the Malice At The Palace – a riot at a basketball game in Detroit where NBA players jumped into the stands and fans stormed the court to exchange punches and injury. I’m a sports guy so I was very familiar with this unfortunate incident, and very familiar with the immature, violent ‘thug’ athlete storyline. The players were 100% wrong, referred to as wild animals, and the fans were victims, innocent bystanders, targets of uncontrolled rage. This easy narrative turned out to be what we could have all figured out is total garbage.

It’s the 100/0 mentality, or what we can from now on call the First 40 Syndrome, where we operate as if the whole truth is contained in the first 40 minutes of Catfish, before the inconvenient reveal that we share more in common than we’d like to acknowledge. We neeeeed the players to be all wrong, to be space aliens – anything other than strict division between us and them would prove that we are closer to the edge than we can handle.

In the book of Joshua (a book about us/them if there ever was one), as Joshua is fighting anyone different than himself, he comes face to face with someone new. In ch. 5, v. 13: Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

This is what we’re all asking, everyday, online, in our cars, the supermarket and on the news, right?”

Are you on my side, or theirs?” “Who is all right and who is all wrong?”

And get this, in a shocking twist, that man (who is revealed as the “commander of the army of the LORD”) standing with a drawn sword says…

“Yours, of course.”

That’s what we expect, what we need. And it’s certainly what Joshua expected. But this man says, “Neither.”Are you on my side or theirs? Yes. Which is it? Both. Neither. Who is right and wrong? Both. Neither.

Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along. Maybe we’re operating with a limited visibility, as if 2/3, or the First 40, of the show is all there is.

Joshua then asks a different, infinitely better, question, “What message does God have for me, His servant?”

And I can’t help but feel that the profound, heartbreaking reply is the same for us today: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing [whether it’s the northern edges of the earth, a stadium in Michigan, whether it’s Annville or Afghanistan] is holy.”

Now.

Acts 5 tells a pretty terrifying story. There is a married couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who sold a piece of property.

Well, first, we probably need some context. In Acts 4:32-37: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

We could talk about “one in heart and mind” forever, (doesn’t it sound amazing???), but not today. So, they shared everything and no one needed anything. Joseph the Levite from Cyprus sold a field and brought the money to the apostles to be distributed, this example (probably one of many) stands in stark contrast to what comes next from Ananias and Sapphira.

In Acts 5:2-5a “With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died.”

Of course this punishment sounds a bit excessive, but there are some other things here that can be overlooked because of what we might call an overreaction.

He didn’t have to share it at all. It sounds like there was no mandate, no collectors, no stranger-armed enforcers scouring the property transaction section of the newspaper for transgressions. Usually when we lie or hide our behavior, it’s because we feel some sort of way about it. We bring the guilt and shame, it’s an internal consequence of our own conscience. Generosity was something these early believers got to do, a privilege, an honor, an answer to an invitation into a new way of being. It wasn’t a have-to, which is probably why so many did. Giving was the natural outpouring of a grateful heart, instead of an obligation to be fulfilled.

Ananias’ heart wasn’t as much grateful as it was transactional. He “had” to give, the others would see, so he would, but only after he skimmed a little (or a lot) off the top for himself, just in case. That’s all we’ll say about that today. It’s a big ocean to swim in, but a new thing stood out to me this morning.

“When Ananias heard this,” immediately “he fell down and died.” Again, of course it seems pretty shocking that he, and later Sapphira after repeating the same lie, would have their lives taken for what could be seen as a relatively minor offense. But it’s the “immediate” part that is devastating to me, here and now.

You see, sometimes we don’t get tomorrow. Sometimes we don’t get this evening. And in the case of Ananias, sometimes we don’t get one more moment. How much do we put off until another time? How many nights have we gone to bed angry? How many times have we slammed the door to effectively end a screaming match?

I was in a hospital 2 days ago praying with a woman who was/is fighting for her life. She is currently sedated and totally unresponsive. Maybe she won’t wake up. I don’t know her entire story, my friend, her daughter, appears to have a beautiful relationship without too many unresolved issues. That’s a gift that maybe every one in her life shares. And maybe her marriage was terrific, but I do know that the last interaction she and her husband had was less than awesome, marked with sharp comments and harsh tones. They went to bed and maybe she’ll wake up in the hospital. And the truth is that maybe she won’t – it’s the truth for all of us.

I spend a lot of time talking about this moment, today, here, now, fully present, not missing a second of this wonderful gift of our lives that we have been given. And lately I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about the many, many ways we are awful to each other, creating thick divisions where none exist and turning each other into monsters in our own minds. How many relationships have been fractured during the last year? How many violent words have been spoken or typed into a keyboard that have wounded loved ones? How much forgiveness and reconciliation has been delayed because of our bitterness and resentment, because of our pride?

Ananias didn’t get a second chance to apologize, repent, or make this right. Maybe we won’t, either.

But we do have right now and maybe right now is a really great time to make a different choice.

…And It Was Spectacular

So. I want to share the last 2 posts I wrote for my Love With A Capital L blog (lovewithacapitall.com) with you. They’re about an all-star state baseball tournament, coaching, and Cars 3. They’re also, of course, about Jesus, because everything is.

I wrote them for that blog because, in my head, everybody rolls their eyes when I tell yet another story about youth sports, and most of the people that read those posts don’t know me in real life at all. They’re from China or New Mexico or somewhere else that makes coming to the Bridge on Sunday mornings mostly impossible. But maybe you do care. Maybe you don’t know that I write in 2 places. And maybe you really want to know what I thought of Cars 3.

*Here’s the 1st one (called This Is Not A Lament):

This Saturday, the county all star baseball team my son plays on will compete for a state championship.

I just wrote a post for the Bridge site about the aggressive passivity that is running rampant, crushing everything (including our spirits) in it’s path. The post is a lament. Marianne Williamson says, “Our playing small does not serve the world,” yet that’s what we have decided to do. We’ve chosen to lower the bar, setting it on the ground so that we never try, never fail, and consequently, never succeed and never grow.

This post, however, is not a lament.

Last week, I watched as a group of 15 & 16 year-olds offered their substantial gifts to pursue excellence. (The day before, I had the privilege of sitting with a player who had been given news that he would not play, that he was an alternate, a victim of roster limits, as he wept in disappointment. That kind of holy disappointment only happens after we’ve given everything.) 15 & 16 year-olds have a reputation, perhaps deserved, of apathy and indifference. But not on this team.

This team was full of boys who had trouble sleeping the night before, whose bellies were full of giant butterflies. This team was full of “try hards.” (“Try hard” is, inexplicably, a term of derision in schools nowadays among insecure, inadequate kids overwhelmed by their own fear.) This team was full of passion and energy, driven by, and full of, life and love.

It goes without saying that I’m proud of them. What might not be so obvious is how deeply I am inspired by them. Do you remember that movie, As Good As It Gets? Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt, “you make me want to be a better man.”

I am an assistant coach for these young men on this team. I throw batting practice and hit balls infield/outfield. I give high-fives. Every now and then, I try to give helpful suggestions learned from years and years of being a ball player.

A coach is in an interesting, enviable position. I am more thankful than I can tell you that I am allowed to watch from the inside. They remind me how I want to show up to my own life, every day, for ‘practice’ and for games. They don’t take days (or even plays) off, they pour into themselves and each other. They are committed. They are deeply respectful – of absolutely everything. They are gifted and grateful. They give without reservation. They bring all of them and they show up. I used a million words, but the only one that truly describes what they do is worship.This is not a lament. This is a celebration. If they are the future, we can all breathe easily and with tremendous hope.

Man, I want them to win this championship, they really deserve it. But I guess it doesn’t really matter, they’ve already won. And so have we.

*And now here’s the 2nd, after those amazing young men did actually win the state championship (called I Was There):

Yesterday we watched Cars 3. Everyone loved the first and nobody loved the 2nd. That’s interesting, right? How can the same creative team make a beautifully beloved movie AND an overstuffed misguided mess (albeit with some very nice moments)? They must’ve asked themselves the same question, and as an answer/apology, produced the 3rd installment to give a proper end to this story & these characters. It was really great. Lightning McQueen passes the mantle to newcomer Cruz Ramirez and becomes her coach in much the same way Doc Hudson became his 2 movies earlier.

Baseball season is over, and here’s how it went. Saturday, the all star team I help to coach won the state championship. During the regular season, the team I head coach didn’t win any sort of championship. I have played many years of baseball, 8 years old through college, and coached for many more, and if I was forced to choose, this year (championship and not) was my favorite.

These 2 things are related in presence and presence alone. So many times, we live sometime other than now, somewhere other than here. I remember my dad, who had so much trouble making the transition into new here’s and now’s, always remembering & mourning what had been, when he was, what he should’ve been. He’s certainly not alone, right?

It’s the unholy mosh pit of regret (past) and worry (future) stomping violently on today. These cartoons – or I guess we should call them animated features, that sounds fancy and pretentious – use colors and fantasy (cherry red cars that talk and have more expressive eyes than most people) to illustrate and invite us into authentic emotions we might otherwise be too distracted to notice. They ask us questions we might otherwise avoid. McQueen is angry and grasping to the good old days and doesn’t know how to move forward gracefully until he does, and then he learns, as Doc did, that there was shockingly more joy, purpose and fulfillment involved in leading another to victory (in life and on the racetrack… and the field;). He learned to leave his past glory where it is and allow tomorrow to breathe up ahead while he pulled his parking brake on now, an anchor to the significance of this moment.

I maybe didn’t do much to lead those 15&16 year-olds to the crown (I’ll leave that for them to decide), but what I do know is that I was allowed to watch these young men from the dugout, as close as you can get to excellence. I was allowed to coach with a brother, who continually surprised me with his smooth, easy, absolute greatness. And I was there. Not thinking about how I wish it was me playing and winning, nostalgic for my own ‘glory days,’ or if we’ll go back next year. I can’t imagine a place I would have rather been. I love those boys, am so grateful I was allowed to tag along to their march to 1st place.

I get so many things wrong, make so many mistakes, see the overwhelming gifts and blessings in the rear view mirror rather than as they are holding me in life and love. I say too many things like, “next year” or “when I was…”

But not this year, sister. You know what I can say about this year, the most important thing I can say about this year? That I was there and it was spectacular.

“Stupid” and “Uninformed”

I have friends on Facebook who are extraordinarily nasty to me. Now, to be fair, they don’t know it’s me to whom they’re being extraordinarily nasty. Of course the car is always driven by politics. From one side, I’ve been called “selfish” and that I “don’t care about other people.” From the other, I am “faithless,” “living in fear,” and that I “don’t care about the Bible.” I take the Bible too seriously and simultaneously water down the Gospel. But in this world of solid lines of division, what we can all agree on is that I am “stupid” and “uninformed.” About what I am so stupid and uninformed, however, is different and strictly adheres to those solid lines.

You know, I considered putting the word friends in the first line in quotes, as if these people are actually not my friends, just an imaginary designation to perpetuate the illusion of connection. But they ARE my friends. They are very lovely people, some of the very best human beings I’ve ever known, IRL and they would never, never say these things about me to my face (or to anyone else, for that matter.) I’m quite certain they don’t know they’re talking about me when the violence is posted.

Before we go too far, I should say I really like Facebook – I love your pictures and I love your point of view, even if we don’t agree. I care what we all think. I want to know what the people in my life think about masks and vaccines and Game of Thrones and the Dodgers and LeBron James and dinner and voting rights and Britney Spears and even your vegan lifestyle. I believe that we are capable of having these conversations respectfully and without the vitriol that marks social media posts. In fact, I think it’s even possible to have an honest, open discourse with love and kindness and the sort of space that allows us to search and perhaps change our minds (gasp!!!!!). Love and kindness and that sort of space do not exist in the same space as “stupid” and the rest of the condescending name-calling.

This post is, again, about “us” v “them” and “the other.” It’s easy to write about a general faceless nameless villain who is the enemy, who is stupid and uninformed and whatever else our politics demand. But when we put flesh and blood on these few specific slices we’ve decided are the most important and fully round out the whole picture, including all of the many facets that make us, us, it’s much harder to discern who the bad guys are, if there are bad guys at all.

Maybe that’s why Jesus created the Church, to remind us that more unites us than separates. (Maybe not more in quantity – there’s an endless well of opinions and differences – but absolutely more in value.) That maybe He is worth infinitely more than these distinctions, and loving each other is far more important than winning. The Church connects us and dismantles the us/them dichotomy. It is nearly impossible to hate the one that sits next to you on Sunday morning when you know their birthday, have prayed for their children, celebrated that great new job, and mourned the passing of their parent, even if they did vote for the wrong candidate. That’s why the isolation of quarantine has made us so sad and angry, we’ve simply forgotten that we are all made in the image of God.

Which brings me to these nasty posts unwittingly about me. The command to not judge was vague and hard to understand for me for so long (we are asked to discern but not judge, what is the difference????), but recently has come into focus. Judgment says you are “stupid” and “uninformed.” Judgment says I am right and you are wrong and you are wrong because you’re not as smart, sophisticated, and awesome in every way as I am. Judgment reinforces the walls between us. Discernment decides what is beautiful and healthy and what is not. Judgment uses fists while discernment uses hands.

This hurts my heart because I have so often made mistakes. I have fought with sharp, cutting words dripping with venom. I have sarcastically made others feel small and insignificant. I have devalued people I dearly love by devaluing their perspective. I have not been careful with journeys and paths that were different from my own. I have tried to control using any and all means necessary. And I’m deeply sorry for all of this.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the good stuff – tell me about last night’s vegan dinner and your thoughts on Olympic badminton.

“Who Was With Her”

“She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Genesis 3 is when everything gets broken, when a creation marked by shalom becomes one of chaos, conflict, pain, fear, and on and on and on. This is where all of it starts.

I don’t find too much of a surprise in the woman’s actions. It doesn’t matter how many doors are open, I always focus on the one that’s locked. We don’t mind wearing a mask until they’re mandated. One of the most common things I hear is that we are so busy, we’d really love to have some down time to sleep in, rest, and decompress. Last March, when we were told that’s what we HAD to do, it was largely met with outrage. We are a rebellious bunch.

She took the fruit and ate it and so did he. Sadly, we probably would’ve done the same.

[If you know anything about me, you know we could talk about those actions forever, but I’m downplaying them because it’s that 2nd very tiny, very ‘insignificant’ phrase in the sentence that wears me out.]

Interestingly, the serpent tempted the woman, who was never actually personally told the rules of the garden. The man was. As she is manipulated, vulnerable and overwhelmed, he is “with her,” silently allowing it to happen.

A friend once told me, “you read too much into this,” and he is half right. I do read into this, but it is certainly not too much. What can possibly be “too much” about the first sin to occur in the Scriptures? We usually consider that the eating is the first, but it’s the man’s passivity that preceded that bite. It’s the first, and it continues to run roughshod over all of our lives. In fact, I might suggest that it is the most widespread characteristic of American men. (Maybe it’s everywhere in each sex, but I happen to be an American man and they always tell you to “write what you know.”)

We wait and see, we avoid risk, we sit idle, we play video games. It looks like patience, but it’s not. It’s complacency. We stay the same because the possibility of failure and the fear of change are greater than the faux-comfortability of our parent’s basement.

I often reference David staying home during the time of year when the kings go off to war. It’s during this comfortable abdication of his role that he causes the trouble with Bathsheba (infidelity, murder, among so many others). And all of this gigantic mess has it’s root in passivity.

The passive aggressive behavior that is so common pales in comparison to our aggressive passivity.

The athletes want to win games but will not show up for offseason workouts or invest the time in growth. Boys want the beautiful partners in their dreams but will not become the sorts of men who would be beautiful partners. Growth is hard. Standing is hard. Speaking when the serpent is spinning lies is hard. Taking the shot is hard. Giving every effort is hard.

“Try hard” is now a form of derision in schools, directed at those whose only transgression is to try hard.

Who knows what would have happened if the man had protected her as fiercely as he protected himself and his own comfort? Maybe it would’ve gone down the same way eventually. I imagine it would have, we were going to fall. Our rebellion and bend toward idolatry are hungry monsters that would’ve found a way to eat. But it might not have happened then, there and in that way.

And who knows what would happen if we would protect our families, friends, neighbor as fiercely as we protect our own apathy? If we’d just be try hards for the Kingdom. Nehemiah said, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” I would add, “and fight for ourselves.” We weren’t made to be just standing next to her while the serpent leads all of us into darkness. We were made for the light, and most times, light requires our presence and active engagement. Light requires us to show up.

The Ocean

Last month, my family and I spent a few days at the beach. This mini-vacation turned out to be exactly what my tired, bruised spirit desperately needed. The previous days and weeks had felt as if each moment, each day was a tiny sharp chisel chipping away lightly, almost imperceptibly, until the very integrity of my self was compromised. 

The first thing to go is gratitude. I imagine it’s that way for most of us. It’s much harder to see a silver lining when we’re tired, distracted, resentful, in pain. Everything is just cloud. Of course, it’s also the prescription to ease the circumstance, but the darkness is blinding inside.

[Do you know how long, how many stops and starts, it’s taken me to get this far? It’s not that I’m wrestling with what to share – I’ll share everything with you. It’s simply that I can’t find the words.]

When we got in the packed van to leave, I was an angry, broken man. Those are 2 of the words that are just perfect, no trouble finding them. I was angry and broken. The chisel found a nerve and continued to tap tap tap an irritating beat. I felt different, like I was a completely new person…but not ‘new’ new, more like an older, outdated version of me that had reclaimed my soul.

Sometimes you can lose things and not know they’ve gone. A hoarder doesn’t have a house like the ones you see on tv in 1 night. It takes years and years of small invisible steps. The ground is taken an inch at a time. I guess I had been asleep for too many of the inches?

David made the poor decision with Bathsheba that started a snowball not in an instant, but in a series of small, unfortunate, seemingly insignificant, seemingly harmless choices. It’s a slide; a long slow slide, like the one from the top row of Chutes and Ladders. 

On Sundays, I teach about presence and gratitude nearly every week. How could I forget to be thankful and present? How could I be sleepwalking through sermons about the importance of living wide awake? How could I blindly read verses about “eyes that see?”

Of course, it’s easy, right? Things get uncomfortable, noisy, the volume and speed gets turned up, we’re tired, maybe bored, distracted, our focus shifts to the temporal. It’s easy.

Last Sunday we talked about how blessed the pure at heart are, and towards the end, I said, “being focused and connected doesn’t just happen,” and that’s really true. I study all week to teach the Bible, but like that trite horse & water, I can be at the well dying of thirst without intention. Life can become simply a mindless series of responsibilities and obligations without the thread that makes them strands of beautiful fabrics tied together into a rich tapestry of worship and thanksgiving.

So I got in the ocean and the waves folded around me in a (freezing cold) embrace that quickly, pasionately shook me into here, now. Not who I was. Not even really who I am. But who He sees. 

The scales (along with the anger and brokenness) fell – life sometimes seems like a great big long series of scales falling away – loudly to the ocean floor. I know it’s not the last time I’ll be there, on the slide, BUT I also know that He’ll wrap me up time and time again with that overwhelming love of His that just never quits.

A Shadow

So that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. (Acts 5:15)

That’s a strange passage, if you stop for a second to think about it for a second. I think that sometimes we think of the Bible as mere words on the pages of some old book. I know people that make fun of religion figure it as a work of fiction, like a science fiction novel, but when we read passages like this, do we really handle it any differently?

What I mean is, we read it every Sunday morning and (hopefully) a little during the week, we call it the Word of God, we defend it to our friends and teach it to our children, but does it impact our daily lives. It sits on our bookshelves or on our home screen, but have we allowed it to cross over into our cars and beds and schedules and lives?

We’re studying the Beatitudes, and we don’t seem to value the poor in spirit as if the Kingdom of God is really theirs/ours. Or that the meek will actually inherit the earth. If we did, maybe we wouldn’t put such a premium on image, on looking like we have everything together, on winning. If mercy was worth as much to us as it seems to be to God, maybe we could relegate resentment and the grudges we feed & water to the trash heap of our pasts.

I ask these questions of myself often. I teach the Scriptures in a faith community, yet there are weeks when that is simply an intellectual exercise. My study might as well be of flowers or physics. The Bible becomes a textbook, which might be better than collecting dust on the nightstand. But maybe it’s not. Who knows? I know that both perspectives strip it of its life-changing power.

But then there usually comes a disruption. There always comes a disruption. And that disruption is either a distraction or an invitation.

For instance, yesterday I received this passage in Acts in my email and didn’t read it until an hour ago, maybe yesterday I wasn’t open or attentive. Maybe I was so miserably hot I couldn’t think straight. Today, when I did, my mind was flooded with observations, having nothing to do with a sermon and everything to do with phone calls, baseball practice, COVID vaccines, kisses, pop songs…in other words, it had everything to do with everything.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had the faith to take my sick friend out into the street in hopes that a shadow of a man I’d never met would pass by and fall upon him/her. Again, it’s the street and it’s A SHADOW! And I think of the many ways in which I display a faith that, essentially, believes that that friend is mine to heal or that a shadow couldn’t possibly be enough. Of course, there are lots of other very specific ways each of our spiritual lives show a depressing lack of faith.

So today this is the disruption that has stopped me in my tracks. Either I can treat it as a brief annoyance that takes my mind from my work or the responsibilities on my day planner, quickly chasing it out of my mind like a spider on the ceiling. OR. I could ask the questions, sit in the uncomfortable space between Q and A, and consider where the sick friends in my life are that I need to take to Jesus, for the impossible to be possible and the ridiculous expectations that sit on my shoulders to transfer to His infinitely stronger ones that are actually made for those same expectations. He is the One that saves, rescues, heals and gives peace & joy. Not me. Isn’t that great?

This gift of disruption is leaving me raw, soft, gushy, inadequate, loved and very grateful.