Bull Elephants & Catfish

It is well documented how much I love the tv show Catfish. If you’re unfamiliar, a Catfish is (according to dictionary.com) “a person who assumes a false identity or personality on the internet, especially on social media websites, as to deceive, manipulate, or swindle.” The show details the search to discover the truth about their online relationships, bring these couples together, shine light onto & expose lies. The last few episodes I’ve seen happen to have everything to do with Sunday’s Bull Elephant Day.

First, we all know the first sin is passivity, right? The woman is tempted, eventually eats the fruit, then “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Gen 3:6)” Who was with her?!!!!???!! He stood idly by while this beautiful creation was broken. Maybe the biggest generational curse each of us has to break is this one, passed down from the very first generation.

In this episode of Catfish, a woman is currently begging her virtual boyfriend to meet in person, after years online. When the hosts ask her what the first thing she intends to say to him, she answers, “I’ll thank him for meeting me.” The boy refuses, but they find him and when they ambush him, he reasons that he was scared to meet, it was easier to hide. Mostly, the poor baby was nervous and scared. This ends with her moving across the country to be with him.

Terah, Abram’s father, stops and “settles” in Haran on the way to the Promised Land.

This might all come from the same root – the idea that “fine” is good enough. It might be. Rather than speak out, rather than risk any conflict or an argument, rather than stand on a principle, it’s easier to stay quiet. Rather than risk a moment without a boyfriend, it’s more comfortable to accept table scraps. Rather than travel the long distance to the unknown in the heat, Haran is fine.

The girl in the show has forgotten the last several years of avoidance and hiding, ignoring the last several years of the catfish protecting his own self-interest. She is snuggling under his arm. She is “hoping he calls her more.” She is moving to California, hoping “he picks her up from the airport.” He is fine. Crumbs and banana peels are better than…well, what? What are they better than?

I think often times we forget we are made in the image of the God of the Everything, made to live in the Promised Land.

And instead, we believe the lie that Haran is the destination and not “settling.” We forget we are made to be bull elephants instead of shrinking to cause the least disruption to the status quo.

What if we are made to disrupt the status quo?

Maybe standing idly by isn’t the greatest call on our lives. Maybe the Promised Land isn’t fine. Maybe eating trash outside the feast, leaving our seats at the table empty, isn’t the design.

It’s Bull Elephant Day Sunday, there’s a new episode of Catfish on in a minute, God calls Abram to continue on to Canaan. Today is a new day to disrupt the status quo that isn’t helping anyone and write brand new stories. (And I’ll finish this post exactly the way I finished last week’s) And that will take courage and strength. And that will take reminders why and practices of focus. And that will take Jesus.

3 Weeks

I think it’s been 3 weeks since we’ve connected here. 3 weeks!??! I wonder how many of us are having the same experience; our schedules are overflowing, and some very good, very important things are forced to wait. As we know too well, saying yes to something means saying no to many others. Having said that, I’m happy to say yes to this space today.

In Joshua 1:5, God says, “I will not fail you or abandon you.”

Then, in verses 6, 7, and 9, God says, respectively, “Be strong and courageous,” “Be staring and very courageous,” and “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.”

Verse 9 ends with “For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

And one more, in the middle, verse 8, “Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night.”

Now, why am I simply listing Bible verses from the book of Joshua about violently conquering the Promised Land? Clouds have to be seen & observed before they can be tied together in 2022.

Joshua is told to be “strong and courageous” 3 times, bookended by promises that God would be with him, that Joshua would not be alone. Where does our strength begin and end? Where do we root our strength and courage? Where, in Whom, is our faith? These passages tell us that before we can stand, we know why and for Whom we are standing. We don’t stand in our own power, we find this strength and courage in Him.

It’s interesting, each time we are commanded to do anything, those commands begin & end with a promise from God. He acts first, decisively, mercifully. We can stand in strength and courage because we are not alone, because He is with us, because He will not abandon us.

We see this in the 10 commandments (before any command, He reminds us that He rescued us first) and the Beatitudes (before any command, Jesus announces that the “poor in spirit” are “blessed”), among many, many other examples.

It’s cool, right?

And in the middle of all of this, there is a reminder to study/meditate on Scripture. When things (storms, attacks, monsters) require strength and courage, we are easily distracted by the size of our fear, or the overwhelming nature of our enemy, or the desperate perception of impossibility. This seems like an invitation to focus (on the beginning & end, on the why or the because.)

Begin with God’s faithfulness. End with God’s faithfulness. Persevere in/with God’s guidance. And throughout, do the things. Show up. Stand. Speak. Risk. Take shots. Shine. Be strong and courageous.

So much of the Law is about here, now, today (even though we might not see it in the middle of ancient practices and outdated cultural norms). The Law is evidence that what we do matters. And not only does it matter, it affects our hearts. The spirit & physical body are inextricably tied. The Old Testament commands address our actions because we can often behave into new ways of living. This is why taking care of our bodies is so important. Taking care of our bodies is taking care of our spirits & souls.

That’s why rest, what we eat, and how we build altars or offer sacrifices are so important to God. It’s why we take days (or 3 weeks;) off or take slow morning walks or long family dinners. It’s why we do our jobs with integrity and character. It’s why we volunteer and coach youth sports. It’s why we call, why we hold, why we step, why we go, why we send heart emojis or tell each other we love them. Did you ever wonder why there are so many pages of maddeningly detailed instructions in the Bible? What we do matters. Everything matters.

We’re not earning anything anymore or bolstering our spiritual resumes in order to buy God’s acceptance or love. We already have all of that, we always have. But we do the things because through them, we walk out our faith, we respond to the boundless love that has been poured onto/into us, and we live out this radical design for life. We show our hope.

And that will take courage and strength.

And that will take reminders why and practices of focus.

And that will take Jesus.

Mile Markers

My sister lives in New Jersey, so to get to her from here, I drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike. There are these green reflective signs, every tenth of a mile that illuminate your progress. 289.8, 289.9, 290.0, and on and on. Sometimes it feels like each sign is separated by forever, others fly by so fast I miss them entirely, 289.9 to 301 in a blink. The point is, they’re helpful to show us where we are along the journey to wherever we’re headed. Like the arrow on the mall directory (when there were still malls) that said “You Are Here.”

Sometimes in our lives, we get those same kind of markers. We were there, and now we’re here. Maybe that’s not the greatest news, right? I don’t wear the same size pants that I wore in high school, and when I bought the bigger size, I had to face the new marker. But maybe it’s great, too. What I’m thinking about (and lamenting) is how often we get so distracted by the pieces that we don’t ever take a moment to step back and see the whole picture. We don’t know how we got here because we don’t really even know where here is.

Last week, the baseball season began for the team I coach. Our first game was against our cross town rivals and we lost on a walk-off in the bottom of the last inning. It was a heartbreaker and I won’t bore you with details because you might not care at all about youth sports, but let me just tell you I made a terrible decision on the last play of the game. If you make a terrible decision in the first inning that costs a run, it’s still a run, but the one in the last inning (ESPECIALLY the last play!!!!) feels worse, like you lost the game. I gathered the boys and told them the mistake I made and why it was such a bad mistake, apologized, then reminded the boys that the sun will come up in the morning and it’ll be a new day. They all made mistakes, too, and needed to know mistakes happen and do not define them. A 16u loss is not the sum total of my life and it won’t be theirs either.

Having said that, I sat on that bench long after everyone else left thinking about that 1 mistake. Maybe the sun wouldn’t come up the next day for me, right? When I was young, playing baseball through college, a loss would leave my soul in ruins for days. A loss in a championship game where I made the error on the last play (which I had) for months. I can still see the ball rolling under my glove in nightmares. I would snap at friends and family, cry in my room, and feed the monster that was always berating me, telling me I was not now and would never be good enough. This sharp steel tether to my performance cost me so much of my life. I didn’t want that for my boys on that team, wanted them to give everything they had for each other, to the game, empty themselves on the field, and sleep like babies, knowing they had given all. Mostly because I want them – and you and me – to give all to everything in their lives; their God, marriages, children, jobs, careers, relationships, everything they decide has value.

But like so much else, it is for them. Not me. I let them down. I failed. Which as we all know leads down a short severe path to I am not enough, I am a failure.

I sat on that bench, watching the sun go down. But here’s the thing; that familiar path never came. I was heartbroken, I made a mistake (and I hope I don’t make it again), we lost, and I expected the emotional wreckage to wash over me like it had for so many years. It didn’t.

Yep. I made a mistake. Losing stinks, especially to that team. And now what?

It’s not every day we see such clear mile markers that show us where we are, so when they come, we have to pay attention. We may not be where we’re going yet, but we’re not where we were and that is a big deal that needs to be noticed and appreciated. That night, after seeing the marker of who and where I am, how far I have come from that sad broken boy I was, I stood up, fully present and fully grateful. Then I went straight home, kissed the Angel and slept peacefully.