I’m reading a book by Frederick Buechner called Secrets In The Dark, A Life In Sermons and it’s amazing. His talent is pretty shocking, to be honest with you, and last night it made me think of the spiritual gift conversation we’ve been having lately.
There used to be a time when someone else’s talent made me stop from expressing mine. When I saw a movie like Pulp Fiction or read a book like American Pastoral or heard a song like There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and the sheer overwhelming beauty of the work would effectively put a cork solidly in my own. I could never do that, so what is the point? If I can’t do it at that level, then why do it at all? I tried and, because I didn’t write like them, I figured it was a failure.
Talent is interesting. Sometimes we take this all or nothing approach. If we’re not a 100, we’re a zero. But who decides? Maybe you don’t think Pulp Fiction is perfect. (If I was 20, I’d probably tell you you’re wrong. Now, at 46, I still think that, but I’d NEVER tell you;) Anyway. Talent, giftedness can be intimidating, right? It can cause us to second-guess and end up at home on the couch, dreaming unrealized dreams, asking what if and wondering why we are so bored.
Any and all conversations on giftedness have to start here, with inadequacy, insecurity, humility (the actual humility v. the upside down perversion of humility we might have bought) and self-consciousness.
A few thoughts on all of this, before we get started:
Comparison is a nasty emotion. As the Jedi master Qui-Gon Jin says in The Phantom Menace, “There’s always a bigger fish.” Comparison can lull us into a false arrogance because,”we’re not as bad as _____” or lead us to a self-sentenced whipping post because “we’re not as good as______” I am Chad and Chad alone. God created me on purpose for purpose, so to use your measuring stick is woefully misguided and will never lead to any path I am called to walk.
I’m reading Buechner now, but I often listen to and read Erwin McManus and Rob Bell, 2 of the finest communicators you will ever find. Comparison will ALWAYS leave me coming up short, listening to the “not good enough” lies and following the promptings of fear. And the truth is, probably they have read and listened to people that made them feel small in comparison. Another’s talent didn’t dampen Bell’s impact on my life. No song is as perfect as “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” but that doesn’t change how much others mean to me.
One of the most wonderful things about faith, Jesus, and spiritual gifts in particular is, strangely, this smallness. We are all tiny in the light of such an amazing God. But at the same time, we are also enormous in our significance in this light. With this God, anything, everything is possible. If He sees me, knew me before I was a thought in his world, what does that really mean? If He’s that big and sees and cares for little me, then what?
So many things. But right now it makes me think that if this God gifted them so much so well, what did He give to you? The law of scarcity tells us that there’s a finite amount, that if they have more, we have less. This God is not a God of scarcity. This God is One of abundance, which means that He gives out of His never ending, boundless love, and if you have more, then you have more. It’s not pie.
This Jesus of abundance frees us from those cultural constraints of comparison, allows us to read Buechner and be inspired. He allows us to see the gift He has given and ask, now what? Do you remember what you thought when you first saw Pulp Fiction? The old ceilings and walls we believed were set in stone didn’t apply. That’s what spiritual gifts do, reset expectations and possibility. All gifts. Buechner’s. Tarantino’s. And yours and mine. But we do have to take them out of the box and play with them.
At a junior high football game yesterday, a group of my favorite 9th graders and I played with a drone that belonged to one of them and also made me think of spiritual gifts. The drone was awesome, but only once it was out of the case and in the air. There are bigger, more expensive drones, but this one was absolutely perfect.
I’m now 46, passing last Wednesday without incident. I still haven’t reached the mid-life crisis I hear so much about. Maybe next year. But for now, I want to talk about this Instagram post I saw a few days ago that made such an impression that I emailed it to myself so that I could spend some time thinking about it.
This is it: “Pay attention, none of this is happening by accident.”
It’s from a new age-y account that is sometimes strange and sometimes profound and mostly both. So, about this one.
“Pay attention.” If you’ve ever been around me and heard even a tiny moment of the Sunday morning talks at the Bridge, you know why this stands out so brightly to me. In Genesis 28:16, Jacob wakes up in the wilderness and says, “Surely God was in this place and I was unaware.” And in Exodus 3, Moses notices a bush burning and not being consumed.
I think probably the biggest obstacle we have in creating and living the full, beautiful lives we dream of is the simple fact that we’re distracted. We’re really distracted, right? We’re busy, too busy, trying (and failing) to always multi-task, glued to smartphones, wishing we were somewhere/somewhen else, missing the best moments of connection and significance. So if we could pay attention to each other, here, now, we would see immense kindness, compassion, love – we would be in absolute awe at how wonderful this divine gift of life can be and often is.
That’s why that stood out in this post, easy peasy.
Now, the rest. “None of this is happening by accident.” I don’t even know if I believe that, I literally don’t give it a second of thought. Did I see her, meet him, hear that song, see that ad, get caught in traffic, stub my toe, eat that sandwich, as part of some grand plan? Or on a larger scale, is that war, that genocide, that abuse, those atrocities happening on purpose? Was it pre-ordained? Do I have choice in my life, do any of us, or are we simply pawns in a game?
Maybe I don’t give those questions any thought because there just aren’t answers for us, so it truly doesn’t much matter, outside of an interesting intellectual exercise.
But there is something there that can be awfully important.
If we viewed our lives as accidents, random happenstance, or absent any free will of our own, we can easily take them for granted and check out. We can sleepwalk though these days, these interactions, these moments. But maybe if we held Now as something that is meaningful, we would have a much easier time of showing up and engaging with it. We would notice. We would have our eyes, our hands, our hearts, open to the possibility that always lives inside Now.
When we’re at the store, at work, at the dinner table, holding our spouse’s hand, playing with our children, everything, everywhere, every time – if it is all of grand importance, great significance, then we won’t have to wake up and say, “sheesh, God WAS here, I was alive, we were together, this all mattered…and I missed it,” ever again.
Today is my 46th birthday.
As birthdays so often do, that new number brings with it a certain amount of conflicting emotions. I am no longer 20, can no longer be considered a young man. In fact, even with what has always been a bit of a baby face, I am no longer mistaken for being significantly younger than I am. That’s not too awesome. I have so many lines on my face and gray hairs in the growth on my face (but not on my head…I have been shaving that since before I started to lose it).
I’ve learned quite a lot and have become a very different person than I was yesterday, much less 20 years ago. That is pretty awesome.
I get the opportunity to officiate weddings, and before every one I tell 2 Bible stories. In Genesis, Jacob wakes up from a dream in the wilderness and says, “Surely God was in this place and I was unaware.” And in Exodus 3, Moses sees a bush burning and not being consumed. Bushes burn all the time and they are always consumed except for this one time. But to notice that it was not being consumed takes a great deal of attention, takes eyes that are wide open and fully awake.
Over these 46 years – and I get awfully reflective on days like this – I think about where I am, from where I’ve come, where I’m going, the people who are here or gone, the bushes that are burning, and the spaces where I have been unaware.
Maybe I’m not perfect (maybe;), but I am not who I was yesterday, and what I’ll do today (whatever day today is) is pay attention. I’ll surely open my heart more than is wise or prudent, I’ll laugh, I’ll eat ice cream cake, kiss my wife as many times as she’ll let me, and hold my boys tightly once we’re out of view of their friends at school.
The biggest difference between 16 year old Chad and 46 year old Chad is how deeply thankful I am to be here, now, and me. I couldn’t always say any of those things, especially, especially, the 3rd. That allows me to be fully present much more often, and it seems to me like that’s most of what makes life meaningful, that I walk past less burning bushes and the times I am unaware is smaller.
(I wrote a post earlier this week on the Love site, and it ends exactly the same as this one will:)
At 46, I have many trusted people in my life who love me and exercise an unreasonable concern for my heart. Maybe that’s why every year is better and better, my circle is expanding. The Angel, these boys, this family, this faith community, these neighbors, you. You know, if you asked me when I was 18 to dream of a wonderful life, I could not have come anywhere close to the beauty of this one and the absolutely overwhelming blessing of it all. Of course, it hasn’t been easy or without heartbreak, floods of tears, or tragedy. I haven’t erased the depression or the issues in my head. But it has been real and it has been full. I have loved and I have been loved.
I’ve learned to release my grip on how you see me, what you think of me, what I should do, who I should be, and instead jump from the top of that hell into the wildly loving arms of a Savior and an endless sea of others who will not only catch me, but walk with me every step. I’ve learned to believe what is true about me rather than the nasty destructive lying voices that have always been in my head (more or less;). I can give the keys to me back where they belong.
46 is a lot of years full of days, moments, and all I can really say is that I’m grateful. So if today is my last day or if I get 46 more years, it will have been, as it is right now, a very, very good life.
A very good friend sent me this text today: “It is impossible to be increasing in our love for God and simultaneously increasing in our contempt for others. When our speech is saturated with contempt, our hearts are revealed.” (It’s from a post by Jen Wilkin)
I had planned to write about last week’s message and “As you are going” or changing “versus” to “and” or any one of the interesting bags we began to unpack last week. And I liked that, I wanted to write about that, it would have been easy and (relatively) comfortable. Then I got that text.
Later, on Facebook, I opened up the “Parents of (insert local school name here) Students” group and read the continuing dialogue (if you want to call it that) on masks in school. When I read this, (and I always do, under the guise of staying informed and on the pulse of the community in which I live), I always think about the Nine Inch Nails album entitled “The Downward Spiral” because that’s what it feels like. Incidentally, the album is aggressively hopeless and violent.
And I thought of this Wilkins’ quote.
I really don’t have an excuse… I mean, I could invent one using some advanced intellectual gymnastics to rationalize what can only be my embarrassment at the revelation of my heart. I’ve never met this woman, Jen Wilkins, but she quite obviously knows me. She’s heard my noisy internal contempt. You see, I would not have called it contempt, I would have called it something else, surely something that makes me sound super-spiritual and not judgy at all, more like the voice of reason seeing and remarking on this angry vitriol from a safe distance. She knows I haven’t prayed for us all to find common ground, to remember our shared humanity. She knows the downward spiral is in my own heart, not some online bulletin board.
I guess the truth is that it’s probably both. And I guess that’s where things get so quickly off the track, where the we becomes us/them. The nasty posts are easy to see and shake our heads at, and immediately there it is: Look at their posts. Why do they do whatever, why are they so whatever? And I’m absolved, pointing fingers, writing blog posts about the importance of eliminating the Other Mentality. But I’m doing it from the imagined safety of the Other Mentality.
So, my very good friend (who I will NEVER talk to again;) sent this text. Maybe she was trying to be the prophet Nathan, screaming “You ARE that man!!!” Or maybe she wasn’t at all. Maybe she was just sending a quote that moved her and wanted to share it with me.
I know we have to Philippians 4:8 a 2021 world, but we also have to expose hatred and violence, don’t we? Maybe we don’t, I’m not sure. Maybe the love we have will be enough. Maybe we all just need the new story, without a commentary on the old one that we already know doesn’t work.
I’ll keep asking questions and inviting the discussion, though, and keep trying to see only the new story.
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.
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
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 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.”
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.
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.