Last Monday, before the deluge of riverboat posts, I shared a post written by Cristian Mihai (his blog is pretty great and it’s located at cristianmihai.net if you want to read his work) and a comment written by Mr Wapojif (I have no idea if he has a blog, I’m not sure I’m his target audience.) (My post is called Salvador Dalí if you wanted to catch up.) (SO MANY PARENTHESES!!!!) At the end, I promised some thoughts on “success and if it actually takes a ‘great deal of luck.’” These are those thoughts.
I attended a church for years that abruptly closed its doors one Sunday. Abruptly isn’t exactly the best choice of words, it was a surprise to me, but all of the signs were there to be noticed. I just didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to believe my home church would ever end. Instead, I wanted it to go forever and ever. Now, that church had a pretty standard curve – we opened, grew, had a pretty significant dramatic split, and then slowly diminished until New Song Community Church was in the past tense and we were without a church.
Now, in hindsight, we can ask the compelling question, was it a failure?
I love competitive sports. I played, lived and breathed sports. If a team lost, they had failed. It seemed so simple, but now I see that may have been an oversimplification, at best, and a colossal misconception, at worst.
If you take the shot and miss, you fail, right? If the church doesn’t become mega- and meet in an arena, if the church closes because it can’t pay the rent, hasn’t it failed?
Now, in the realm of the spiritual, there is a theory that if God is in something, it will succeed. But what does that mean? Will it grow? Will it be profitable? Will it provide private jets and luxury cars?
Was God no longer behind New Song because numbers shrank? Was God no longer behind the disciples who were martyred in various horrible ways? Is success illustrated by financial prosperity and status? Is success measured by wins and made shots and attendance and account balances?
I coached 2 teams this year. One was regularly thumped, and the other had its share of wins. But it can be no doubt at all that the one who had all the talent and wins was far less successful than our team of lovable losers. That’s strange. Unless God’s idea of success has always been unrelated to ours.
Maybe God doesn’t care if we make the shot, as long as we take it. Maybe God doesn’t care about the shot at all, just about the one who takes it.
Success might be about courage and risk and obedience – better yet, subjection – and following Him, no matter where that leads. Success might not be about how long New Song lasted, but that it’s impact be felt for generations through the people profoundly transformed there. As Vision says in Age Of Ultron, “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” And a thing isn’t successful because it lasts or because it wears the nicest jeans and has the most followers or likes.
I wrote a book and it broke even and that’s about it. (That’s good news for you because I still have some, if you want one;) Maybe the people who bought it read it, maybe some of those even like it. But that it isn’t Harry Potter or I’m not the Next Big Thing on Amazon yet doesn’t make it worthless or unimportant. I followed a dream that was inside me and in following that dream and the God that put it there, I changed. I became something different than I was before. Maybe it’s a missed shot…
…But I shot. New Song was awesome. My bad 14u team was the greatest.
Maybe God doesn’t want me to sell a bajillion copies, but wants me to continue to be transformed.
Maybe God just wants all of us. Maybe He wants us to show up and shoot and trust Him to take our missed shots and make exactly what He always intended. So Mr Wapojif, I think you’re wrong, there isn’t any luck at all involved in that.
After the riverboat docked and we were safely aground, we shared a meal, inviting everyone who was on the boat and whoever happened to be walking close enough to accost. I always make the joke (which is actually only half a joke) that one of the things we do best is eat. So, all of us ate the food we offered together at heavy stone tables across from our friends and, until recently, strangers. It is and has always been so valuable to me because, in addition to how deeply I love to eat, it is where all of the walls and barriers we concoct to separate us fall away and we can simply be ourselves, enjoying the blessings of God. (Now, I understand school lunches and dinner parties and business lunches and… well, I understand not ALL meals are about unity and blessing and instead focus on power, prestige, image, popularity and who is sitting where, with whom, but that’s gross and a perversion of the very idea of the table. We’ll talk about those distortions another day. Today, we will talk about when food and the table are right.)
The pavilion that covered us was full of laughter, noisy conversation, and full bellies. Everything was just as it should be.
Clean up was easy, the food was nearly gone.
As we turned out of City Island and back onto Market Street, I realized just how exhausted I was. Big weeks take a toll in much the same way that sledgehammers take a toll, so I was ready, counting the seconds until I could collapse onto my very soft, very comfy couch and put a movie on that I wouldn’t see. And that’s just what I did, the lone exception being that the movie was replaced by the HGTV program Good Bones – I am married to a woman who strangely feels that there is more to entertainment than superheroes. Go figure.
We were satisfied, peaceful, soaking in God’s lovely grace, half-awake.
Angel’s phone interrupted our lethargy with a dinner invitation that we would obviously decline.
Yes Man is a pretty good book, written by Danny Wallace, that was adapted into a completely average movie starring Jim Carrey. I only mention it because I have been taking steps (sometimes small and imperceptible) to say Yes to things I would regularly refuse. The thing is, my ‘natural’ bend is towards a hermit-like isolation, which has cost me many friends and experiences. I’d like to change that, don’t think it’s ‘natural’ at all to crawl into a hole where I am the only resident. I think my ‘nature’ is more like laziness and apathy and doesn’t deserve to survive the next metamorphosis of my evolution.
So, we said yes to dinner with some new friends (so new that it would be the first social interaction I would have with this beautiful family). They had a gorgeous home, great dogs, an easy openness, and far more food than I was prepared for. I count calories for everything I put in my mouth (you can judge me if you like, I certainly do), and when I saw the amount of pure deliciousness that would be served, there was a decision to make. I haven’t eaten a cheeseburger in a looong time, my friends. Where does a caloric threshold fit into saying Yes?
I’ll tell you, at least last Sunday, it doesn’t.
I ate a huge juicy cheeseburger and chips and something called dump cake (exactly as awesome as it sounds) and then there was the chicken. As I was wrist deep in burger and macaroni salad, a plate of chicken was set before me, as if it were delivered by angels. Now, chicken is not something I would usually comment on, it is mostly fuel: bland, dry and laced with protein. But this chicken was marinated in God’s love and herbs harvested from the garden of Eden. I ate until I was sick in gratitude, deciding that these people were amazing and chicken was now my favorite food.
The calories would have to wait to be tracked.
So, Now what?
This is the last post on this riverboat/chicken adventure and now I can see that they (including the message I shared, though I couldn’t have guessed at the time) are all tied in the willingness to show up, to open ourselves to possibility, to imagine that this hurting world can be (in fact, IS) beautiful if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hands to hold and hearts to love and be loved, if only we have the courage to say Yes. A tapestry of chicken and new friends and swimming pools and Shukran and riverboats and Gisy’s voice and Mephibosheth all sewn together by a God who has not left us, not even for a second, who is just waiting with wide-open arms for us to sit down at His table
We boarded the riverboat around 9:30, and by 10 she was full. Our Bridge community comprised only about half of the total on the boat, and this allows an interesting amalgam of 2 contrasting emotions to hold hands and enjoy each other, despite their obvious differences.
On the one hand, new faces and hearts brings me into a fairly anxious space, where I feel the familiar fear of, “what if I’m terrible?” Or if I’m not terrible, “what if they hate me anyway?” This sounds self-absorbed and probably is, but it’s also a desire to introduce someone new to the God who rescued me, who gave me life (generally, capital L Life, and also specifically, this beautiful life of mine.) The baggage that comes with that is, fair or not, that someone new could possibly mistake me for God and the Bridge for The Church – I know that makes me seem like I have a complex, the biggest delusion of grandeur EVER, but how many of us or those we know have walked away from church or God because of something a Christian did, or didn’t do? What if the person sitting next to you in church was the person you saw be rude to the server at the table next to yours last night? What if the pastor said something dumb on his blog, or in an off-handed comment at a youth baseball game? What if 2 women on the church board dropped off offering envelopes at your house because you hadn’t attended in several weeks? What if the drummer on the worship team has an addiction? Now it’s not so far-fetched, right?
So that can be heavy if I think about it too long, but the opportunity to point to the actual Living God who loves you now, has always loved you, no matter who you were/are, who you think you are, what you’ve done, how far you think you are from Him, is so fantastically exhilarating, it’s why I get out of bed and onto a riverboat in the first place.
It’s a swirl of emotion, and is compounded by the fact that many of the new faces were Muslims there for the Eid al-Adha gathering. What will they think of me, of us, in our shorts and sunglasses? So many questions, will they think us disrespectful of Our Jesus? Will they find our worship not, um, well…not enough? The truth is, it doesn’t actually matter, our worship is for only One, we do not do anything for, as it says in the Bible, the praises of man. But again, we would like to not be off-putting and a reason (irrational though it may be) to turn away.
Here’s another question: How many Muslim services have we been to? How many would we attend? What about the open hearted spirits of those who joined us, though they may have been taught our separate faiths, our separate cultures, our separate lifestyles, could not under any circumstances coexist, and certainly not for something so trivial as a free boat ride?
Yet they did, and as I began, I wondered how they would receive my message…
I wrote the message years ago – with the changes it required. (I once heard that we never read the same book twice, and I find that true of most everything. The book might not change, but we do. So, I could look at a message I wrote last Tuesday and be affected by something entirely different today. All the more when we speak of months and years instead of days and weeks.) I often use the Old Testament as a jumping off point, and did here as well, discussing the story of Mephibosheth. It’s a wonderful illustration of grace; Mephibosheth didn’t do anything to deserve it, but was invited to sit and eat at the table of the King forever.
But beginning with the Old Testament allowed those of us with different faiths some common ground, like an open door to a deeper universal conversation. I wrestled with this topic for some weeks, even as I worked to prepare the concepts, and was immediately thankful the book of 2nd Samuel and Mephibosheth won. Often, I find if we can stop being “us” and “them,” or generalizations, labels and sound bites, we’ll usually find similarities (like bosses and kids and car trouble and back pain and promotions and Morrissey and the Avengers and how lovely my wife is) and if we can find similarities, we’ll start to like, then maybe even care about and ultimately love each other. This is often surprising, but it shouldn’t be, we’ve all been created by the same God, in His image. Sometimes, though, it takes a free ride on a riverboat to see it.
I’ve promise the next post will be about food, including the Best Chicken I’ve Ever Had. But one more thing on the impact of our shared humanity on that boat: As one man (very near my age, holding his child while his wife held another) left the boat, he purposefully turned, found me, and said, “Shukran.” I had no idea what that meant and, since we had shared such a sacred space together, had no interest in doing what we usually do and nod and pretend to understand, so I asked, “What does that mean?”
Of course, it means “Thank you.”
The Pride Of The Susquehanna, the riverboat on City Island in Harrisburg, usually charges a fee to cruise, but the cool thing they do on Sunday mornings is allow different local churches to use it to hold their services and open to the public to ride for free. Some people use it as their home church and attend every Sunday and hear & experience different denominations, speakers, andcommunities. Last Sunday, those folks had the distinct and surely unexpected pleasure of the best singer they’ve ever heard and the rest of us at the Bridge Faith Community.
Now. When we arrived, just after 9am on a Sunday morning, the island was flooded with cars and people, nearly impossible to find a parking spot.
The reason for the congestion was a truly wonderful surprise. I say surprise, but I sort of knew…I didn’t know the extent of the event, all I was told was that there would be a Muslim prayer service on the island from 7:30-8:30, so we may want to give yourself some extra time. Whatever is in your head is inadequate to describe the scene. Thousands of people in the most breathtaking dress gathered for the holiday of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice. This four day Feast of Sacrifice commemorates when God appeared to Abraham and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience.
(I teach in shorts and red canvas shoes with my shirt untucked, so what I’m about to say is going to sound awfully hypocritical…and I suppose it’ll sound that way because it is. Oh well.)
We so desperately value the nonjudgmental freedom to attend church in our pajamas, if we so desire, coming “as we are,” that something has been lost. Perhaps what is gained outweighs what is lost, but as I soaked in the colors and beauty of the dress, I imagined their morning and felt every ounce of the loss. I imagined each of them waking hours early to prepare, as if for a special date or a wedding, wearing their finest clothes, souls peaceful and focused, mindfully approaching. This is a sacred occasion and must be entered into with the utmost respect and love for their God.
In my house, we calculated the night before the latest we could sleep so we could rush through our many duties for the service and lunch. The contrast in my heart as I acknowledged the weight of their worship was striking and convicting, as if the Spirit was whispering into my ear that it would sure be nice if I would give that kind of attention to our time together.
I recognize this is what’s called projection, that probably some hurried, rushed and sped through Walmart, getting on each other’s nerves on their way, but certainly not all of them. Well, I probably shouldn’t even say certainly…maybe all of them did. Maybe the rude woman working at the Walmart that yelled at me when I asked about mustard packets had been asked about mustard packets since 5am for the Muslim prayer service. Who knows???
The point is, it doesn’t really matter – it felt far more sacred than my polo shirt and slip on shoes. I think that God doesn’t much care what we wear to the party as long as we come, but at the same time, giving our attention and intention to how we come is valuable to our own hearts and us becoming the kind of people we are created to be. We don’t have to…we get to.
And maybe the Spirit was whispering in my ear, after all, using an unexpected example to get my attention.
It’s interesting, at different times in our lives, different things are vital to our spiritual journey. In some seasons, maybe the pinnacle of faithful worship is setting aside the suits and ties of religion and enjoying the freedom to wear pajamas and flip-flops. At others, maybe a suit is exactly what we need. What we look like as we sit in church illustrates almost nothing about our relationship with Jesus. That we are prepared to hear those whispers and prompts, on the other hand, sure does.
(I haven’t even gotten to the riverboat or the chicken. This may be a longer series than I was expecting;)
Last week I read this blog post, written by Cristian Mihai:
““Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?” – Salvador Dalí
You see, those who accomplish little in life will think that he became the Salvador Dali that everyone knew and could afford to make such statements… after all, you’d act that way too, right?
If you’d have the money, the respect, the talent, the appreciation of others…
Sorry to break it to you, but he became Dali because he thought like that. He thought like that about himself until the world gave him what he demanded of it.
Average wishes it were easy. Greatness enjoys it for being hard. Average thinks of all the reason why it won’t work. Greatness, of all the reasons it will. Average blames circumstances. Greatness creates circumstances. Average waits for the perfect opportunity. Greatness knows such a thing does not exist.
So, [nasty words directed at] average… procrastination… laziness… depression… anxiety… waiting… other people and what they think or say or do… fear.
Conquer yourself and you can conquer the world.
So, tell me, what prodigious thing will you do today?”
Now. There might be some things I don’t agree with about this post. For instance, maybe I wouldn’t direct the nasty words at “other people and what they say or do,” because sometimes “other people” are our family and friends and mentors and care an awful lot about us and have our interests at heart and the “prodigious things” we would do today might not be all that healthy for us, might actually cause us great damage. (You know many of the things that wound us are self-inflicted, right?) But I get the point. The “other people” he is referring to often have agendas and are driven by the fear that would paralyze us, too. They are paralyzed and wish the same for us. Negative Nelly’s, Debbie Downers, we all have them – we all have been them.
Anyway, I loved the post. I love that Salvador Dalí experiences an exquisite joy at waking up to be Salvador Dalí and the promise of what he will create. I love all of the attributes given to Average. And I don’t get too twisted by what I could argue with that I miss what is important for me. Then, in the comment section, I read this, by Mr Wapojif (I don’t know what to say about this handle…):
“Success also takes a great deal of luck. You need a variety of happy little accidents and coincidences to open doors for you, it’s not just about working your [rear end] off or being a genius.
In England almost a quarter of the population lives in poverty. 14+ million people. The door is very firmly shut for them as the modern trend for inequality escalates rapidly.
Appreciate this post is about positivity and “get up and go”, by the harsh reality isn’t quite like this for tens of millions around the world.
Perseverance is key, but there can reach a point where you’re deluding yourself.”
Many of this is also true, with some things I could argue with, as well. I find that’s the case for most things. I can love a song and hate the key change at the bridge or a choice of words. With the exception of the saxophone solo in INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart,” very little artistic expression is perfect. There has even probably been moments where you have disagreed with me in these posts or on Sunday mornings (gasp, nooooooo!!!) and that is ok. We can love each other deeply and hold each other’s hands and follow Jesus together and passionately disagree on my red shoes or the movies I like or my interpretation of the first 7 verses of Romans 13.
There’s more to be said on these posts. (Next time, I am going to write a post on what success is and if it actually takes “a great deal of luck.”) But for now, I’ll let them sit and marinate in your head and your heart and begin a new post for later in the week on yesterday’s Riverboat and the chicken I had last night.
I just finished a book called The Way Of The Warrior by Erwin McManus and here are 2 questions that have settled in my head:
What if we are more than we know and in our disconnection with God have become less than we were ever meant to be?
What if miracles look like aberrations because we have accepted the world as it is and not as it should be?
Sometimes ideas, concepts, and observations stand out because they are so counter to what we’ve ever considered to be true, ever imagined could be possible. Other times they give language to what we’ve always known but didn’t have the words to express. These questions, to me, paradoxically reside squarely in both.
You see, I believe the premise of both of these questions – that our brokenness and “disconnect” have led us to settle for far less of our world and of ourselves. I think we struggle so much with acceptance of injustice and suffering, and so often say, “it’s not supposed to be like this,” because it isn’t. Maybe the fantastic stories of the Bible – where Elijah asks it not to rain for 3 years and it doesn’t, where the same Elijah asks God to send fire to the altar and He does, where a few fish and loaves feed thousands, where Ezekiel breathes life into dry bones, where Jesus and Peter walk on water, where manna is provided, where seas and rivers part, and on and on and on – what if these fantastic stories aren’t the exceptions? What if we are? What if, when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,” he meant it? What if it wasn’t a metaphor or hyperbole, what if he actually meant that nothing will be impossible for you and me?
***That’s a big “what if” and the implications are staggering…***
Of course, the other side of this is that it leads to a perfectionism that is unreasonable. Our expectations – of ourselves, others, and the world around us – can become chains, holding us in a prison of self-loathing and judgment.
Maybe there’s a happy medium. Or maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s just a case of mistaken identity. If I think it’s my duty to be perfect or better or enough or amazing, I will try and try and push until I am. And fail, like I always do. Because even when I am awesome (we all are, you know) I open the door to the hammers that start pounding in my head, saying I’m not awesome enough or I should be more awesome. It’s never enough.
This is where I too often go – so when McManus asks those questions, I see impossibility and yellow caution tape. Turn around! Be careful!
But since I’ve ignored the warnings and have, instead, been feeding and caring for them, I see something new. What if the phrase “in our disconnection with God” is and has always been the key? Maybe my impossibility and less-than thoughts of not enough is simply more disconnect. Maybe as long as I’m trying to find enlightenment in my own achievement, it will just be further disconnect. Maybe I can’t make a mountain move because I’m trying to move it in my own strength, on my own shoulders. The mistaken identity is that I think I need to create me – that I decide what I was “meant to be.” That I manufacture my own miracles.
(My great friend and new daddy Jay uses that life-changing phrase, and I’m henceforth stealing it from him and calling it my own.)
I was already created, in love, with a purpose, for an overflowing life of joy and blessing and love. I don’t have to create anything, it’s already been created. I just have to step into it. Then my expectations of the world can be a holy revolution, full of love and invitation (instead of bitterness and judgment) and my expectations of myself can be a realization, dripping with kindness and openness and awakening.