The Nineties

I just finished a book called The Nineties, written by one of my favorite authors Chuck Klosterman. He mostly feels like a smarter, sharper, funnier version of me, which is a great compliment to me, but maybe not as much to him. The book is about, well, The Nineties, a decade that has been so important in shaping much of who I am, the extent of which I am still discovering. It’s a perfect, and horrible, time to read this, as I am sometimes given to nostalgia. You know the type, the “things were better when I was young” – type of thing. Even if they weren’t. Even if they weren’t even close. So, maybe they weren’t better, but simpler for sure. And with much better music.

Personally, no day has been better than today. I’d trade all the great music of the ‘90’s (including Nirvana) for 5 minutes with the Angel and the 2 boys that live in this house (one of whom is now 15 years old!!!!!).

But the last 2 years have certainly been heavy, and it is absolutely understandable to want for a simpler time, one where we weren’t quite so divided and full of rage about that division.

Klosterman points to the 2000 election debacle and 9/11 as the 2 moments that birthed our current situation, where we started to break into pieces and everything became an increasingly either/or situation. You either agree with me OR you are a heartless, ignorant monster. There are no shades of gray, no in between.

We could talk about that – and I am happy to do so, commentary on culture is one of my favorite things to discuss – but what I’m thinking and why I’m writing about it here (and not on my other space) is because this makes me think about church.

Maybe the things that tied us together ever were pretty fragile. Maybe great music and tv shows and area codes and cubicles were always too superficial to last, like ropes tied to cracked branches.

When the 1990’s began, I believed there was nothing more important than what you liked.

A funny story: When I first went to the Angel’s apartment to pick her up for our first date, I not-so-discretely perused her cd collection. It was totally acceptable, a solid B, the only problem is that it WASN’T HERS!!! I’d find out later that it was her roommate’s! Angel’s were in a small plastic case in a chest at the foot of her bed and the small collection was…just awful.

So, when that happened, in 1998, the flaws in my theory became seriously evident and could no longer be ignored. There had to be something more to bind us, all of us, together.

Also in 1998, I began to fall in love with Something More, and as Jesus became more and more real to me, other things got less and less important. As He got bigger, my theory got much smaller. As He grew, politics shrank.

I miss the ‘90’s. I miss when small disagreements weren’t dealbreakers. I miss when we could coexist. Of course, maybe the ‘90’s weren’t this idealized pastel colored picture in my head, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? I miss this memory (even if it is slightly distorted), because it can feel so disjointed and broken now.

The other part of this is that this weekend is Easter. What I remember about the ‘90’s is true in Him, in His Church. We can be different, individually wonderfully made, think different things, vote for different people, listen to different music, like different flavors of ice cream, but if He, if His life, death, resurrection is the tie that’s holding us together, then those differences are just colors and textures that are beautiful decorations on the truth of an empty tomb.

Moody

D.L. Moody, an evangelist in the 1800’s, said, “If I wanted to find out whether a man was a Christian, I wouldn’t go to his minister. I would go and ask his wife. We need more Christian life at home. If a man doesn’t treat his wife right, I don’t want to hear him talk about Christianity.”

I don’t really want to talk about the content of the quote right here & now. (Maybe I do… but I’m not going to.) I do want to talk about our reaction to that quote. And seeds. That quote is a great beginning, because it, in all likelihood, elicits some sort of feeling, and probably a pretty strong feeling, right? And then what? What do we do when faced with an idea that pulls on the threads that hold us together? Whether we agree or not, some words require a response, one way or another. What is that response, and have we ever considered our own?

There’s a parable in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke about seeds. A sower lets some seeds fall in 4 different spaces. The first it can’t ever take root. The second is received but is quickly forgotten, never taking root; third is also received but is crowded out and wilts. The last is considered good soil, where the seed grows and grows, yields “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” It’s obviously not about seeds, it’s about us and how we receive information, specifically the Gospel. What kind of seed are we?

D.L. Moody, for example, plants a seed. Now what? Would we initially nod along? Or bristle? Would we mourn because we’d think about the marriages or relationships we know where one (or both) is treated poorly, abused, neglected? Would we think about our own marriage? Would we be courageous enough to ask our spouse what they thought of this quote? Would we be convicted and evaluate our behavior in each of our relationships?

If we nod along in assent, would we, as second seeds, forget as if it were the next internet challenge. Or squeeze it out as the hours pile up at the office, or the demands of the schedule subdue anything else, like third seeds?

Would we search for any reason to ignore it? He’s from the 1800’s, his perspective is skewed, he’s old-fashioned, outdated, patriarchal, whatever. Maybe we wouldn’t like his beard, or that he goes by D.L. instead of Dwight. Maybe we’d dig for evidence of his own marriage, read his other quotes for any shred of hypocrisy.

Or would we argue, reject it immediately like we do on social media? Maybe it struck a nerve and it’s easier to quickly throw it out than consider the possibility that it could have something to say about our homes, facing our Insecurity and Inadequacy as bouncers at the door. Would our instincts rebel, close our ears and eyes and hope it goes away?

Or would we sit with it like a million-pound gorilla in the corners of our lives and let it actually affect us? Would we reflect on it, meditate on the implications? Would we make a different decision? Would we allow that gorilla to destroy the steel door that keeps us on the throne and Jesus out, from being #1 in our hearts, homes, marriages, jobs, lives?

The thing is, we get to choose. If we were 2nd seeds today, we can be 4th tomorrow. Or vice versa. The choices are ones we get to make every day, every moment, with every new idea or person or experience. But I’m wondering now if there’s another question that we have to answer before we can even begin any seed work: Are we really prepared to give that kind of attention and intention, prepared to show up in such an active fashion to our own lives? And that beautifully significant question might be the scariest of all.

The Pyramid Scheme

[This morning, I wrote this post on the lovewithacapitall site, but I think you might like it, too.] The world is mostly on fire. Every single thing seems to be, in equal parts, depressing and terrifying. I recognize this, every moment weighs on my heart, head, stomach, and in my bones. I tell you I recognize this because we’re about to talk about youth sports again, and that can feel ridiculously insignificant.

Maybe it is, but the thing is that when problems appear to be so BIG and overwhelming, it’s easy to become paralyzed by the sheer size of the monsters in the room. Often the best (and perhaps only) action is, simply, to do something

There’s a parable of a man and his daughter walking on the beach full of beached starfish. The young girl begins to throw them back into the ocean, one at a time. Her dad says, “you can’t save them all, what does it matter?” And she answers, of the one she’s just returned to the water, “it matters to that one.” Or at least that’s how I remember that parable going, you get the point. Honestly, as I write it, the dad is really disappointing, right? 

Anyway.

We’re all watching the news, feeling the bombs and violence chip away at our souls, gas & grocery prices at our wallets, and general hopelessness at our hearts. There’s a palpable darkness that can drag us down a deep, deep spiral. Can I end this war? Can I actually affect any sort of change in the East, in the UN, in the schools, banks, hospitals, or anyone’s lives? It feels like each of those answers are no, but I’m not so sure. 

Baseball meetings – it’s likely all youth sports meetings, but baseball has a special gift for bringing out crazy – can drag on and on, begging the question, “how far and how fast would I have to run to get enough force to break through that window, what injuries would the broken glass inflict, and would I survive the fall to the ground?” But as we discussed/implemented codes of conduct (because coaches and parents find ways to ruin everything and force discussions on codes of conduct), I began to consider the kids on my team, thinking about their faces, their voices, their sometimes sad family situations that are beached on the sand. 

Maybe we can’t transform Vladimir Putin’s mind today, but if we can create new systems, maybe the next Putin won’t be quite so hellbent on starting a war. The idea (that sounds like a joke but isn’t at all) is one of a pyramid scheme, but instead of leggings or cleaning products, the product is love. If I love you, and you love 2 more, and those 2 love 2, and those 4 love 2 – it’s compounding interest in an economy of grace. Now, this is not the ‘love’ we usually mistake, conditional and manipulative, but a new (old) kind, a generous, unselfish, unconditional love. One that is not designed as a means to get, but as the end in itself, only to give. 

In that starfish parable, instead of spreading just more of the same doctrine of despair, instead of trying so hard to break the innocent spirit of his girl, maybe the dad could start helping out and throw some starfish back. Maybe we’re all that dad with the same choice in front of us. We can choose which kind of dad we’ll be. We can keep lamenting, “what can we do???” Or we can start getting our fingers in the sand to make a difference to just one ballplayer (or student or cashier or whatever) at a time in our homes, neighborhoods, in this cracked, violent, messy, sweetly beautiful world.

To-Do

Every Sunday afternoon I write all of my responsibilities, meetings and appointments in a journal with the word peace on the cover. That’s my idea of a hilarious joke because to-do lists are good for a lot of things, but peace isn’t usually one of them. Anyway, this week is a full page. A full page is unusual, and leaves me very little of the unscheduled time that is so precious, leaving little time for rest of work (unless you happen to see ALL of life as work: mission;)

There are seasons in our lives, right? And speaking of precious, Samuel’s high school baseball season opens this week with his first game, and these are the times we will all remember forever. So the full page of items to-do is jammed with these sorts of wonderful things, but as I look at this week, my breath begins to shorten and my muscles tense. You understand feeling overwhelmed. Like you are a coffee mug and life is trying to pour a gallon jug into you.

Yesterday (yesterday!!!) the message in church was about worry or judgment or, what it really is, control. It’s amazing how the teachings on Sunday mornings are often given for me as well as given by me. 1 day later, the pouring starts.

I am more and more convinced that this is no coincidence, that it is totally intentional and the enemy’s primary tactic. Worry, control, anxiety, fear, a looong to-do list. Lots of ripples, like a stone into a serene summer lake, but the cause of all of them is our absence in this moment. We get lost in yesterday or tomorrow, sacrifice today, and wake up lamenting, “Surely God was in this place and I, I was unaware,” and the now God was in is gone and tomorrow is spent thinking about the today we’re ignoring/missing (depending on how much responsibility we’re willing to shoulder.)

I can see the real danger here. If I am suffocated under the perceived avalanche of ink on the page, I focus on crossing the items off, and in the process, I check out and float far from the beautiful life that is unfolding here and now. You become an item instead of a treasured friend, the game becomes an obligation rather than the joy it is. If I spend the day looking for something better, I disrespect and devalue the something better that is in front of me right now.

That is the actual cost, what Jesus (and most of the people that knew Him) would call death. This day is a priceless gift: here and now, fully present, engaged, connected. I still have these things to do, but it’s the preceding word that makes all the difference. Do I have to do, or do I get to do? It might feel like a subtle difference, but what it really is is the infinite chasm between life and death.

Now if you will please excuse me, I get to go pick my boy up from practice in 10 minutes.

Do Something

Late February and the month of March are very difficult weeks for me. It’s the end of winter, we’ve been inside for 3 months, it’s been dark, it’s cold, and then we tiptoe into March and immediately my heart breaks: the 3rd is the anniversary of my dad’s death. Once that is safely in the rear view, the 22nd was his birthday. He lived for baseball and that’s about to begin. On a normal year, pitchers & catchers have already reported. My son’s baseball season started yesterday, tryouts for the team I coach is next weekend. I miss my dad an lot.

So, I can get pretty sad about now.

This heartache, this spirit-ache, leaves a wide wake. I feel bored, uninspired, rudderless, you understand. I don’t work too much, choosing to watch tv, read, and feel generally awful. (It’s strange, I feel this and don’t know why, until I figure out that this is the exact same pattern every year! You’d think I’d get used to it.) I didn’t post anything last week, worked very little. I wait for it to pass.

I get monthly emails from Mark Manson, who you may or may not have heard of – he wrote a few books with clever, filthy titles that are impossible to forget. I like his perspective, even if I don’t always agree. That’s why I read him. If I agreed with everything, what need is there to read his work? Anyway, he (I think it was him, I can’t find it now – it might have been Aadam Ali or Matt McLeod, if you’re fact-checking my references) talks about a “Do Something Principle.” Motivation doesn’t matter, how you feel doesn’t matter, just do something. And it’s that something that leads to motivation rather than the other way around.

Then I was reading the 2 Kings books of the Bible and there’s this famous passage about the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal. It’s reads like a movie, like he wins the faith championship of the world, and then immediately he is crushingly depressed in a cave on the run from King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. How does that happen? Who knows, but it does to most of us at some time or another. Sometimes it’s after a mountaintop, too. Elijah is empty, saying “I have had enough, LORD.”

Twice the LORD asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah complains, answers him with the same words (as if He didn’t hear the first time), detailing his hopelessness. I think if the LORD would ask me the same question now, “What are you doing here,” while I’m on the couch under a blanket thinking about pitchers & catchers and watching tv shows I don’t really like, I would do mostly the same thing. I’d talk about the cold, March 3rd, baseball, and anything/everything else that has me utterly lost and alone in this cave. And He’d probably ask me again. And I’d tell Him again. That’s why I’m not that judgy of Elijah. If you want to talk mountaintops, I’ll put a life the Angel, these 2 boys, and you up against any other, even Elijah’s Old Testament smack down. So what are we doing here?

God answers Elijah, and when I reference this passage I focus on the fact that He doesn’t really answer, He simply tells him he’s not alone. I say we don’t need answers, we need hands to hold. I’m right about that, too. But this time it was the verses before the one about the 7,000 others that jumped off the page.

He tells him to “Go back the way you came…anoint Hazael…anoint Jehu…and anoint Elisha.” You see, Elijah is a prophet. One of the main things prophets do is to anoint. He told Elijah to do his job. Do something. Remember your purpose, Elijah. And the people are obviously because life is nothing to do by yourself, for a legendary prophet or anyone else.

I’m still sad. There’s a war on the other side of the world that breaks our hearts each moment. People are still sick, divided, wondering where they’ll find their next meal or a shred of hope to keep moving. My dad is still gone and his birthday is in 2 weeks. These things are very true. Faith isn’t about pretending everything is peaches, it’s about seeing it, weeping, and getting up (whether He lifts us or just gives us the strength to lift ourselves doesn’t matter) to be the hands and feet of a God who loves you, me, Elijah, Ukraine, Russia, and Jezebel enough to find us in all of our caves, feed us, remind us of our purpose and people, and send us back in to love again.

Valentine’s Day

[I wrote this post last week and posted it on my other blog, but not here, very purposely. The followers there, mostly, don’t know me personally. Here, you do. So posting something I’ve written that is super personal about my wife, and about my marriage, is a lot vulnerable and a little dangerous. I don’t mind too much over-sharing all things me, but I try to be pretty careful about others. After all, they aren’t necessarily choosing to share these things. However, this is 1 week later and with time, I still think there’s value in this conversation. And besides, I asked first and she said I could;) So here it is]

There are a lot of drawbacks to being married to me, the fact that I’m writing about a pretty terrible Valentine’s Day on the internet isn’t even close to the biggest. But it isn’t great.

The Angel and I have been together for 24ish years, and in the course of those 24ish years, yesterday was The Worst Valentine’s Day we’ve had. (Maybe it’s important to say that I’m not the best at caring about greeting card holidays, but I do love LOVE and I do love my wife, so I’ll participate;)

We often talk about youth sports in this space. Over the years, all of us of a certain age has noticed a trend that we’ll call the Sportscenter-ification of the games. What I mean is that almost nobody watches entire games, we watch the highlights on Sportscenter or YouTube or forwarded GIFs. I coach baseball for boys who have very little knowledge and/or perspective of a game. These kids have no appreciation for the ups & downs, the slow parts, and fundamentals are a completely lost art (I KNOW I sound like everybody’s dad, talking about how it was “when I was young,” and that hurts me a little. Anyway, I am somebody’s dad.) We’ve been conditioned to think a game is all dunks and home runs.

Our culture suffers from this same malady. For instance, we think marriage is the same; all highlights and clip packages, candles, bubble baths, one long music montage set to some bouncy love song. And when it’s not, we think we’re broken. That the love is gone. That we’re doing something wrong. That it’s not how it’s supposed to be.

The thing is, that whole Sportscenter-ification is a lie. Marriage is time outs and bunts and bounce passes. It’s crappy Valentine’s days and wonderful random Thursdays. Life, too. It’s not all mountain tops, it’s Monday mornings, too.

The Church has a liturgical year. Yes, there is Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. But there’s also the rest, which is called Ordinary Time. That’s perfect, right? Ordinary Time. We go to work, change diapers, watch tv, eat in the car. Not all of our workouts are personal records, sometimes we’re tired and all we can do is get there at all.

It’s not broken. We’re not broken. We’re not doing anything wrong. I wrote a card to my wife yesterday that spelled out how overwhelming and wonderful it is that after 24 years, our relationship is so much better than it was on our wedding day. And that’s absolutely true. Kissing her slow and soft still gives me butterflies, it’s still shocking that I get to be the one that gets to do it. We make dinner together, make the bed together, change our bunny’s litter box and sit next to each other complaining about our sore backs in bleachers at basketball games. Of course, there are also fireworks and game winning half court shots and championships.

Sometimes the bands/singers on the radio are horrible, sometimes they’re just ok. It’s not always the Greatest, it’s not always Morrissey. And the songs aren’t always There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. And it’s a crazy delusion to think they would be.

The Angel & I communicate very very very well, (even so far as to discuss how the wheels fell off on our Valentine’s Day – it’s not high maintenance, it’s real, and it’s really important). We talk a lot, laugh and cry together, trust each other, find beauty in every day, love each other to the moooon even when things aren’t going perfectly. We advance the runner, catch fly balls, make our free throws and rebound. Teams that do those things win, marriages that do those things never break, and lives built on that are full and awesome, even when they aren’t.

Happy (best, worst, and everything in between) Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Brown M&Ms

I post and talk a lot about showing up; to anything, work, relationships, baseball practice, the gym, church, mostly just showing up to our lives. This is the most important thing, and it can also be the heaviest, most intimidating step. Every body of water is deep and scary before we jump in (then sometimes it IS super deep and scary, but others are only up to our knees and we wonder why we didn’t do it sooner.) So, yes, we show up because we’ve been given a gift and we’re worth it.

But what I want to talk about today, though, is how we show up.

There’s a verse in 1 Kings (6:7): “In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.”

This is a relatively innocuous verse, easily missed, except for possibly to say, “who cares?” Right? Why do we care where the blocks were “dressed,” or if anything was heard (my translation says, “the entire structure was built without the sound of hammer, ax, or any other iron tool at the building site”) during it’s construction? Mostly, we don’t.

Unless there’s something else here.

I heard a story once about the band Van Halen. A contract rider is a list of demands by the artist or band for the venue/promoter. Van Halen stipulated that they have a bowl of M&Ms WITH ALL OF THE BROWN ONES REMOVED, or the entire show would be forfeited at full price. This sounds like egos running wild, simple garden variety arrogance, and it made me really dislike them for quite a while. I don’t anymore. See, the point is that the venue read the rider. Van Halen wanted tons and tons of bells and whistles, it was the “most sophisticated stage setup” at the time and most places were too old & outdated to comply. This would at the very least compromise the band’s vision and possibly create a safety issue. So they would look at the bowl of M&Ms ad if they saw brown, they would know the venue didn’t bother, and if they didn’t bother here, they wouldn’t bother in other areas.

The brown M&Ms didn’t matter, they all taste the same, and the sound doesn’t really matter here. These aren’t instruction plans, directions for building our own churches in 2022. It illustrates us the importance of demonstrating care, concern, honor and respect for God and His temple. It’s like saying, good, now that we’ve shown up, we can talk about if it matters how we show up. And it does.

If I sit down to dinner with you with my phone out on the table, volume up, watching the door, thinking about what else I have to do, totally absent except for my physical body, it shows a decided lack of care and honor for our meal, our time, our relationship. (Of course there are times where exceptions exist, and just showing up in the middle of a tsunami of responsibilities and chaos is the peak of care and honor for our relationship.) Showing up becomes just the last in a string of moves in preparation.

I guess the verse asks the question, are we demonstrating care, concern, honor and respect for God and His temple? (Maybe here’s a great time to be reminded that what “His temple” has changed, no longer a building and instead refers to His people – you & me & the guy who cut us off in traffic & the snotty worker at the grocery store & …) So, are we? How are we showing up to Our Creator? How about to the ‘temples’ in our lives? Are we dressing the blocks at the quarry, whatever dressing means? Are we removing the brown M&Ms?

More Catfishing

I just posted a mini on Facebook about Hebrews 12, and the countless mentions in the first several verses of us, our and we. Well, it’s not countless, it’s 9, but you get the picture. 10 if you count the reference to the huge cloud of witnesses. The point was that we’re called into relationship, into running together, into connection, but nobody has to tell any of us that, no matter how much we pretend that we are islands.

Today is Catfish reruns all day on MTV, until the new episode on tonight at 8. The one on right now is about a woman having an online romance with a super-hot model with a broken phone (always a super-hot model and ALWAYS a broken phone which makes a video chat impossible) to whom she has been sending mountains of money. If you were watching, you’d be thinking the same thing I am: What is wrong with this woman?!!?

But we already know. These thoughts tie together neatly. We are called into relationship and will do most anything to have it. These people just acknowledge this fact and are actually doing anything to have it, including trying to buy it.

The stories of our lives are defined by the people in them (or the lack of people in them.) I say it all the time, you can surely finish this sentence for me, one of the biggest wounds COVID inflicted was/is the isolation. In addition to the depression and every other kind of mental unhealth, the lie that we don’t need each other desperately is the worst and most damaging.

The other thing about Catfish is when the scales from this woman’s eyes and she sees she’s been manipulated, when her heart is breaking out loud, she turns into Nev (the tender-hearted host of the show) and they wrap their arms around each other. She’ll cry and he’ll comfort her. He’ll tell her she’s beautiful and convince her there’s nothing wrong with her. She loved, and trusted the object of that love. The show always ends with hope, that’s why it’s so great.

The story of Elijah in the Bible takes us to a cave where the prophet is crying out. He’s isolated. He’s broken. He’s alone. He’s asking all of the questions. When God answers, He doesn’t answer the questions, He says, “there are 7,000 others…”

Catfish reminds me of Elijah. This woman will feel totally alone, will cry until there she doesn’t have any tears left, will not get any answers that make this heartbreak any better, but she will get a person to hold her up.

And that is enough.

A Consistent Relationship

I signed up for a list to get emails from a woman named Kristin Hanggi. She’s an artist and a creativity ‘coach,’ offering workshops, advice, and general positive vibes. A few weeks ago she addressed something we talk about often, whether she knows she is talking about faith communities and discipleship is questionable. It doesn’t matter too much, though, does it?

She writes, “The most important part of birthing a new idea is creating a consistent relationship with it. We show up day-after-day-after-day, and being a part of a supportive community can give us the encouragement and tenacity to go the distance. Something happens in our consistency and showing up. We start to learn that we are trustable. We start to believe in ourselves. We start to develop a relationship with our powerful inner voice.”

Probably the most important part of anything worthwhile (whether it is a new idea, marriage, work of art, deadlift, whatever) is creating a consistent relationship with it. How can we expect to grow or connect or explore something without showing up? I remember speaking with a good friend 15ish years ago and he said our church at the time was clique-y, that it was very hard to “break into” (his words). I disagreed, figuring it’s actually quite easy, but significantly more difficult when you only show up every couple of months. That’s only become more evident with time and experience.

Obviously the prototype for a supportive community is a church.

The BIG thing that happens in consistency and showing up is intimacy. We know and are known. If either of those are missing, so is the intimacy. That’s why we talk so much about the destructive nature of hiding, of hypocrisy, of pretending. Actual relationship is impossible without authenticity or without presence. It’s impossible to build trust when we’re not physically, emotionally, spiritually there. It’s also impossible to build trust when we’re there, but in disguise.

She mentions trusting ourselves, believing in ourselves and developing relationship with our inner voice. The command is to love others as we love ourselves, but we very rarely love ourselves well, so what does that say about our ability to love another?

Then, in the email today from Ms. Hanggi, she speaks of 5 things every human being needs (an idea from author David Richo), and 1 in particular: Allowing. “How can I freely allow the idea to be what it is, as opposed to my idea of what it needs to be?” I think I’d paraphrase that as “How can I freely allow myself to be who I am, as opposed to my idea of who I need to be (should) be?” No kidding! The mountain of should’s that crush us daily keeps us from loving us, loving each other, telling the truth, and showing up to the sort of community that picks us up, sustains us, and moves us forward.

Now. That’s helpful, but none of it is exactly the point I’d like to make. Kristin Hanggi is a writer/director/podcaster/creative person in Los Angeles. I’m pretty sure she is a Jesus follower, but she is not what one would call a “Christian” artist. St. Augustine famously said, “All truth is God’s truth,” and it is not even a little surprising that Jesus would be found in a ‘secular’ mass email, or a blockbuster, or a pop song, or scientific theory, or in a Netflix documentary, or my neighbor down the street. If it’s true – and I’m not saying everything is truth, of course, some things are quite the opposite, but if it is true… – it is from God, because all truth is His.

Instead of making our world smaller and smaller, only acknowledging certain labels and genres, placing boundaries where none exist, maybe we could hold hands with the Spirit as She trains our eyes to spot Jesus, opening our eyes and minds to the overwhelming, limitless beauty of Love, the Gospel, and the One who made it all.

Color-Fullness

Last week, there was a memorial service for a sweet lady who had lost her fight with Alzheimer’s after far too long (though any length of time is far too long to witness the horrors of this heartless disease.) I helped to carry her casket in & out of the church, spoke at this service, and stayed afterwards to share a meal with the family. I really did love her and would be happy to tell you why, but this post isn’t going to be too much about her at all. Instead, it’ll be several observations and a final thought or 2.

We almost got into an accident less than a mile from the church. My son has been driving on his own less than a month – he’s a good driver who made a mistake and it is nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t collide with the other. I cringed as the metal should have loudly twisted but didn’t. I saw every second and still can’t begin to explain how it is possible that we avoided this angry mess, so I won’t try. We’ll just leave this here. 

She was Puerto Rican, and I am not. She speaks Spanish exclusively, and as much as I like to brag that I speak fluent Spanish, it’s simply not true. I had 1 year in high school almost 30 years ago and only remember autobus, caca, hola and senorita. So, she would see me and light up, grab my face and kiss my cheeks, then she’d talk to me like we were old friends. I’d nod and smile. It didn’t really matter, we understood each other even as we didn’t understand the words the other spoke. The Spirit speaks, and that is very often enough.

We first passed by the church, called New Birth, because we couldn’t read the sign. Then when we arrived, most of the people there were family, Puerto Rican and exclusively Spanish-speaking, so I required a translator. This was my first experience with translation and my translator was a very short, lovely woman named Miranda. The passion I have for everything comes pouring out of my mouth quickly, like water. As you may or may not know, a fast talker and translation (even with as gifted a translator as Miranda) do not always make the happiest combination. It wasn’t easy for me or for her, we stepped on each other, fumbled for words through awkward pauses, but it absolutely worked out, tears and celebration and wide open hearts are universal. 

The service was 4 hours long, with singing, sermons, shouting, laughing, sobbing, and everything in between. In the culture I am familiar with, we search for excuses not to attend funerals but when we have to, we are quiet, reserved, and try to fake whatever emotions we deem “appropriate.” This was not the culture I am familiar with. 

The food was Spanish and amazing, especially this coconut rice that I’m still thinking about. 

Anyway, the reason racism is so dumb is that coconut rice. It’s not what I’m used to, it’s not apple pie and cheeseburgers. The funeral wasn’t what I’m used to, it’s not quiet, dark, and too often inauthentic. The language wasn’t what I’m used to, isn’t what I even understand, it’s not American English. They’re also a big part of the reason tolerance is pretty ridiculous, too. Here is the definition of tolerance: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.

The capacity to endure something without adverse reaction? Like a cobweb or vegetables? So, the bar we’re setting is that I can endure a different sex, color, faith, culture without getting hives or committing a violent crime? Endure your language? Endure your food? Endure you?

Is it the best we can do that I simply endure another human being without adverse reaction? What are we doing when that is the expectation or, worse, the hope?

I didn’t endure this service, and they certainly didn’t endure me. We loved each other, we loved each other’s skin tones, practices, & accents. We hugged each other and cried in our multicultural shoulders, then we laughed in our diverse ethnicities.

Why would we want to be the same? And why in the world would we want to pretend we aren’t different? It’s the different flavors that make everything taste so good, the various textures that make living feel so good. Nothing was endured without adverse reaction, no one was discriminated against. The call isn’t colorblindness, it’s brilliant, vivid color-fullness. We are different and we are wonderful. We loved this woman, each other, each other’s everything, and the same God that created all of it.