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Every Detail.

After more than 2 months, today is the last week of this series, the week where we take all we’ve been discussing and reflecting on and tie it all together. Mostly, it’ll be an entire post of questions, because remember, no one can tell you what is actually important to you.

(Of course, everyone can, and usually does, tell you what should be important to you. Even you know “the right answer” and will happily state what should be important to you. But we are not in high school, we are not in the business of “right answers” and should be’s. We all ‘should’ like Radiohead albums but if we were all totally honest and not pretentious music-snob pretenders, they’re all unlistenable since The Bends.)

So, first and most important, who do you want to be? This question is made up of many factors. Who are you? Whose are you? What gives you peace? What is the deepest desire of your heart? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you do that makes you lose time and have that feeling that (fill in the blank) is what you are made for? What gives you joy? What do you want? 

*Maybe this isn’t very difficult. I suspect it will not be, because these things are hard-wired in our souls, they’ve just been buried under many, many years of unconscious routine, too many moments asleep. We’ve been made a certain way, it just takes some time and quiet and honest contemplation for your heart to re-engage.  

Once you start down this path, these answers will inform your concept of weight. We all have internal value rankings of people, actions, possessions, everything. If we don’t give any attention to these rankings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have them, it just means we don’t give them any thought. Instead of, say, Jesus, we give the throne to comfort or laziness or the People’s Court or whatever is popular or pressing or discomfort or fear or what they think. It means we are building our lives on a foundation that shifts and will collapse under stress.    

*In contrast to the first step, this is super hard in practice, because our initial answers are hardly ever what we truly live.

If you decide that honesty weighs heavily to you, but you call in “sick” from work, um… 

If you say creating a safe, healthy home for your children is your priority, but haven’t seen them in days because the demands of work have you working late hours… 

If it’s your friendships, but the second your life goes off the rails, you drop out and isolate yourself…    

If living a healthy lifestyle is your deal, but you spend each evening with cocktails…

If your wife and marriage is what you’ve decided, yet haven’t sat down to dinner with her or told her you loved her or held her hand or laid like spoons in months… 

(See, this is really uncomfortable. I’ve been struggling with questions, here, because I want to build a home of grace and service, but I also want that home to be one where consequences and discipline live together. But sometimes, they come into conflict. If I ask Elisha to put his clothes away (because for some reason HE DOESN”T MIND RANDOM PILES OF CLOTHES AROUND HIS ROOM?!!!???????) and he doesn’t (BUT WHY WOULDN’T HE?!!!???!???) then maybe I would do that for him or I would ground his filthy buns for 6 months so he can learn the values of cleanliness, order, respect for authority, and obedience. Or maybe I wouldn’t ask him at all and put them away because I want to show him what it means to do things to help someone else, for no reason other than you want to do something for someone else. Which weighs more?)

And when we rank these qualities, we must clearly define what they mean to us. Sometimes, words don’t mean what we think they do. For instance, provision can mean a lot of different things to different people. It’s possible two men both rank providing for their families in the top 3, but those ideas of provision bear little resemblance. One believes that being a strong provider carries largely financial implications. The bills are paid, the house is warm and cozy, and the kids have clothes that fit. To do this they might have to work long hours away from the family that is the focus, away from the people who are the motivation. The other man believes that he is called to provide financially, but also spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically in equal measures. He might carry the stress of late fees, but doesn’t miss a game, devotions or date night.  

It’s these small, ‘insignificant’ details that are the bricks of our character and are, ultimately, who we actually are. 

For instance, whether or not to allow space in our lives for pornography appears relatively inconsequential, yet its radius of affect is wide. As a man, such ‘entertainment’ completely transforms the way you perceive sex, women, yourself, and on and on. The word pornography itself has roots in commerce, or the buying and selling of goods and services. Except, in this case, the goods are people. Porn is the buying and selling – the using – of people. Now, how you see the performers – if they are to be consumed, if they are to be regarded only in terms of whatever pleasure they can provide to you, if they can be segmented into only one aspect of their physical makeup instead of as complete, fully integrated human beings – holds to the same rules as everything else. 

How you perceive, or value, one is how you value all. To dehumanize one woman is to dehumanize them all.

How you do anything is how you do everything.  

Do you really want to outsource such important matters?

The point of these past 3 months is really mindfulness; active participation in the creation of your own character and the pillars of our lives. It’s not alcoholism or overtime or socks or baseball or messy living rooms or porn or the People’s Court or cake or watch batteries. It’s about all of them. And what you think about each of those is what you think about each of those, the point is that you think about each of those. The enemy of full-on presence is disengagement, distraction and routine. 

The first question in the first entry in this series (after “what is Todd Syndrome?”) was “Sooooo, how do we change it?” This is the answer, and it’s also why there’s so many rules and shall’s and shall not’s in the Bible. Details. Marie Kondo’s method isn’t to clean the whole house now as fast as you can, it’s to look at that one blouse in your hands with thankfulness and decide if it brings you joy, if you’re the kind of person who wears a blouse like that…and if you can do that with them all, with each item getting respect and care, then the house will be the sort of house you want to live in, one you’ve built with attention, intention, gratitude, and most of all, love.  

Watches

This morning, I picked up 6 watches I had taken to a local jeweler for battery replacements. I had been missing them for quite some time, and it is very nice to have them back and the one that is apparently my favorite, back on my wrist.

I love the look and function of a nice watch, I think it says something wonderful about the person that wears it. I also like the look and function of people, too, so I engaged him, asking an innocent question – more a statement with a question mark, really: “There sure aren’t many that still do watch batteries anymore, are there?”

He had opinions (and we’ll get back to this in a minute.)

First, there is a machine that exerts pressure on the face to put the piece back together. This machine is fairly complex and, if the proper fitting isn’t used, the crystal can easily break. Sometimes, the hands get bent and the mechanics get damaged as well, if this machine is used inappropriately. To prevent this sort of problem, it takes patience, training and careful operators.

Second, watches can be pretty cheap. Most of mine are. In fact, I bought 2 in Canada at a department store that was having a GIANT sale for less than $2 each. My watches aren’t all that inexpensive, but I also don’t have any that I have to insure.

These 2 actually share the same root. We are living in an increasingly disposable world. It’s cheaper and easier to buy a new watch than replace a battery, it’s cheaper and easier to hire a new employee than train and keep the old one. TV repairman are relics; if my picture fails, next Thursday I’ll take it out to the curb with the rest of the trash. Sewing is a lost art. I’ll put the pants that split right next to the tv.

I find this mostly depressing. I like cheap and easy, but I’m not sure I like it as much as patience and care. Speaking with the jeweler, who would’ve gone on all day about the watch replacement battery procedure and the many different choices of tools involved, who spoke slowly, softly and clearly (also anomalies), I was struck by his passion and talent. You know how that is, when someone cares deeply for something, you find yourself completely engrossed in whatever it is, right? (I have a good friend who is a tax lawyer and absolutely love to hear stories about codes and assessments) I wanted him to go one all day, was disappointed when the next customer opened the door. (She wanted a bracelet engraved. Engraved. Nothing I own is engraved. Yet.) I wanted him to offer to show me the machine, to train me, to give me a job. I wanted to be a jeweler. I wanted more fancy watches and I wanted them engraved.

Now, it’s an hour later and I don’t honestly care too much about watch batteries, outside of the simple fact that my watches tell time again. But this disposable world issue is farther reaching, and that’s harder to ignore. Our relationships are disposable, people are disposable. I guess it was inevitable, We treat each other as commodities, as we would dish soap or bedsheets  – remaining as long as they are useful. If my buddy has a rough patch and is no longer making me laugh or providing a fun time, I’ll find a new buddy, leaving him to deal with his rough patch alone. If my marriage doesn’t feel very good lately, maybe it’s time to upgrade and get a new one. Of if he disagrees with me, or has something negative to say about a decision of mine, or she expects too much of me, or wants me to do things I don’t want to, everyone can be replaced. Who has the time to invest in something that doesn’t offer a high return immediately? 

Marriages, authentic relationships, honesty, loyalty, kindness, care, love – these things aren’t cheap and easy, but they’re so great, they’re the best things about being alive. What does it say about us when we so quickly discard the most important for the most convenient? When we trade commitment for detachment and indifference? 

I know they’re only watches, but I’m not convinced we should become the kind of people who just mindlessly throw anything away.              

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

My new favorite tv show is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The idea is that a lovely Japanese woman, an “organizing consultant,” enters someone’s house and life and helps them decide what to keep and what to get rid of and where to put the things that are kept. Actually, that’s not exactly true. She doesn’t help anyone decide. They want her to help them decide. They want her to do more than help, in fact they want her to make the decisions for them.

But she doesn’t. Making the decisions teaches helplessness and breeds resentment. As far as I can tell, she’s not in that business.

In the KonMari method (her clever name for the process), step 1 is to have the client take all of their clothes and pile them up on the bed. Think about that for a second. All of them. Do you have a big pile or a little pile or the kind of pile that prevents anyone else from ever going in that room again? (Years ago, while checking an oxygen machine, I was forced to climb a pile of clothes taller than I was, then servicing it lying on my belly with my feet over my head in a diving position. Good times.) Once the pile is created, you would take each item of clothing, from shirts and pants to socks, flatten it out with both hands, and as she says, “Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy.” Does this jacket bring me joy? Do these t-shirts? If they do, they stay. If they don’t, they go. Now, this sounds incredibly long and tedious because it is. But it is also completely present and mindful. 

It’s valuable because we do soooo many things by rote. (As long as we’re here, a definition of rote is “mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition a joyless sense of order, rote, and commercial hustle.” Unthinking. Joyless sense of order and hustle. How much of our lives are joyless hustling, coasting on autopilot?) 

Step 1 sounds new-agey and goofy, but it engages every part of us, every sense, every intention.

The episode I watched (I know, it’s hard to call a show your favorite when you’ve only seen 1, but I’ve always been given to hyperbole, so it’s not only my favorite but it THE BEST TV SHOW EVER) featured a family of 4. What was very interesting was that the clutter (relatively mild, some clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink, things on counters and tables) was eroding the marriage. The young couple, married only 5 years, was being consumed by the noise and restlessness of a lifestyle neither had chosen. The garage was full of boxes of treasured memories that should be inside, displayed as reminders of love and commitment. Their time spent together was bickering over closet space and toys on the floor. They spoke of ‘differences’ and ‘frustrations.’ Both wanted to find each other again, but thought they had grown, and were growing further, apart.

But mindfulness has this amazing thing that it does, it brings you back to here and now. When we offer our most precious gift, our time and attention, our eyes snap open to the gifts we have been given, by our spouse, partner, co-worker, friend, child, and more importantly, the gifts OF our spouse, partner, co-worker, friend, child. All gifts we have been given by Our Creator. And so, when we actually see and acknowledge them, we have no choice but to be grateful. 

Marie Kondo is not addressing our books or our silverware, she is addressing our mindset, our approach to this beautiful gift of life to which we have grown blind. The couple didn’t suffer from “differences” or even a messy house or too many shoes, they had simply fallen asleep over time to what was there all along. It just took a woman and huge piles of undies – small, far from ‘insignificant,’ details – to point it out.

Advice/Endgame

I don’t usually make a habit out of dispensing advice (especially unsolicited advice.) It has been my experience that most of us don’t care at all what you think, unless, of course, you agree with me. This hasn’t always been my perspective. I used to think we wanted the truth, or at least honesty, but I am no longer a child.

Today is an exception. I have 2 pieces of very good advice.

First, a story. 

Last night, I explained to my boys that the trash was to find its way to the curb and, if not, they would not be staying home from school to see the new Avengers movie with me. (Yes, we all take the day off to see a movie. Do you remember any Fridays in school in late April? Me neither. We will remember today.) My youngest said, “no you won’t,” with a nice smile, not as mean-spirited or disrespectful as it sounds here. And this morning, when I woke to see that they did not do what had been asked of them, I knew he was right. 

#1. Do not ask questions of which you are not prepared for all answers or make threats you are not prepared to see through.

I knew my comment was ridiculous and should never have been said. It was meaningless as it left my lips. They are home today, and we are going to the movies. 

#2. Being ‘right’ isn’t always the most important thing to be.

Instead, maybe a peaceful, forgiving, clear-headed presence is. I was an unbelievably angry young man, and I have absolutely no idea how I was able to sustain that level of energy. This morning, I was mad when I saw the trash (STILL IN THE HOUSE!!!!!) but I went to the gym and took a breath and all of that negative energy quickly dissipated and I was left with us and the facts of the case (that won’t mean anything in a week.) Now, there will be punishment, but it won’t be at the expense of a memory we won’t get back. I know it’s only a movie, but it’s far more; It’s a special day – set apart, holy, a celebration of a journey we have taken, and are taking, together – these boys will spend with their daddy, who thinks they are the sun and moon. This is no small thing, (in fact, as most of us are only too aware, it’s the biggest thing, more valuable than we’d ever acknowledge) and should never be traded for right-ness or wrong-ness. I’m right, they’re wrong, we all know it…now what?

I can’t imagine the regret I’d have if I still was that angry young man and, still trying to prove myself enough, led around by my raging ego, mistaking a simple error for an indictment of my own value, took such a sacred moment from us.

They are sweet boys. This was no rebellion; his innocent (true) comment made it appear to be, but it was not so, only a job half-done (maybe he should read a several week teaching on details) They are sweet boys who are learning lessons about love and kindness and service and becoming who they have been created to be. There will be mis-steps, forgotten tasks, slights and subtle disrespects – by all of us – but we simply cannot lose sight of the bigger picture that gets more and more gorgeous with every moment not taken for granted.

…And now for the ENDGAME!!!! 

         

Leviticus

We are nearing the end of this particular line of thinking, next week we will gather all of the threads we’ve been pulling on and tie them all together, hopefully creating a beautiful tapestry of transformation. I guess we’ll see.

But for today, let me tell you about Leviticus.

As you may or may not know, this book of the Bible has my attention in an unusual way. When we are confronted with a previous perception of what we accept as ‘truth,’ and it is exposed as something different – maybe not a lie, but certainly not Truth (we should probably explore this idea in greater detail another day) – this deeply disruptive inner-quake stays in the front of our thoughts for quite some time. For instance, Leviticus is super-boring, full of hard to understand rules that have nothing at all to do with our lives, here and now. Right? That’s true, isn’t it?

No. (Well, maybe a little – it is sort of boring)

The idea, to over simplify, is that the people of Israel are new. They have been chosen by God, set apart and set free to affect the world: to give the world a picture of who God is and what He’s like. But what does that mean??? What does that look like? How does one begin down such a path?   

With the details.

When I start anything new, it can be overwhelming to look at the end result. If I wanted to learn to play the guitar, it’s not helpful to try to play the guitar solos from Van Halen albums, it’s much more important that I have a comfortable strap that is the right softness and width. We start with shopping for good shoes if we want to run a marathon. Or getting a nice cutting board to begin to cook. And if we want to illustrate being set apart, we might want to look at the food we are eating or the way we treat our neighbor in certain areas.  

A perfect picture Rob Bell (…speaking of Rob Bell, his Leviticus teaching has been the jumping off point for much of this discussion. You understand how it works: you find an insight and follow it and it reminds you of something else that you studied or read or heard or thought that you didn’t realize was relevant and soon enough the sacrifices and food laws of Leviticus makes perfect sense in a discussion of weight and the People’s Court and hoarding and baseball gloves and the insight is priceless and you breathe and are unbelievably grateful…) uses is the question: “Do you think Lebron James knows what kind of socks he wears?” Of course he does, what a ridiculous question! He makes his living, crafts his reputation, with his body – why would he leave any of that to chance or doubt? That’s why, several years ago, when Barry Bonds was being investigated for steroids after a failed blood test, his “I don’t know what I took” defense was so offensive to everyone. It was so obviously a blatant lie because we all understand that details matter, whether we acknowledge that we understand or not. 

It matters how the Temple is built, what animals are used in sacrifices, and what we do with our time. It matters, because everything matters. 

How you do anything is how you do everything, which is why mindfulness, weight, priority, value, socks and cutting boards are so important.