Bible

Plant-based

My sister is a vegan now. She has been a vegetarian for a looong time, as long as I can remember. I mean, I know she used to eat cheeseburgers and hot dogs, but that was years and years ago. I bet it’s been 20 years or so. I admit I thought it was a fad, a chasing after a trend, but if it was, 20-ish years of anything is not fashion or fancy, is it? It’s simply life.

But this vegan business… Well, we all know vegans are more evangelical than Evangelicals. It’s not enough just to be vegan, everyone needs to know. It’s a bit like CrossFit that way.

I tell you all this because she has sent me many texts gently encouraging me to plant-base my diet, 3 separate texts on a podcast called “The Exam Room,” with someone called the “Weight Loss Champion,” she thinks I’ll like that can give me some more information, “if I’m interested.”

The other problem with my sister is that I give a shocking amount of attention to everything she says or thinks. (Don’t worry, this post doesn’t end with me proclaiming I am now a plant-based weirdo. I can’t promise about the next one, though;)

So, I listened to 3 of these podcasts and now I’m thinking about plants in my sleep and studying all foods like my life depends on it (which, perhaps, it does.)

My weight is down a little and I feel like a million bucks.

Maybe it’s because I’m stepping a bit more carefully in the kitchen OR maybe it’s because I’m thinking a lot about this Divine gift of my body, such an amazing blessing that is so often taken completely for granted. Even more than usual, I am considering what I put into me and what it does once it’s there. And that focus is leading to a number of positive outcomes.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Maybe it’s the salads or that my pants fit, but I know for sure that thinking about the overwhelming gifts of God is right, pure, lovely and this alone fills me with gratitude. Instead of dwelling on whatever is wrong, or worrying about what might be or could be, I can peacefully rest in what is so gloriously right and that has no choice but to change the way I see everyday, every moment, turning each onto worship.

This can probably happen with anything, like playing the guitar or lifting weights or going to church or singing or running or vacuuming or plant-based eating. Anything that leads us into the lovely, true, pure space of mindfulness, of thankfulness, which in turn lead us to Him.

In my previous life, before I fell in love with Jesus, there was an album that gave me headaches and led me down a path in my mind that was super dark. The arrangements were heavy and the lyrics even more so, and as I listened to it over and over, I would notice an angry hopeless pall that would settle over my soul. Several days of Tom & Jerry and we would notice a new violence in the interactions between my boys.

What we put into us matters. Why would we think that our bathroom trash can would somehow grow flowers? Right, we wouldn’t. Using the same principle, why would I think my body would feel terrific after feeding it nothing but garbage? Or even more importantly, my soul?

That’s what Paul is saying. It’s also what my sister is saying.

Anything that is excellent or praiseworthy. Anything. Maybe like a vegan diet, but certainly like my wise plant-based sister.

Temple of the Deadlift

Every year I create a plan for the coming year. I know, I know, plans… But at the same time, like the Cheshire Cat sort-of asks, If you don’t know where you would like to go, how will you get there? And how will you know if you do? You get in your car and either left or right, north or south, who cares? What’s the difference? I have lived most of my life aimless and unfocused, chasing what was right in front of me, and it all seems pretty silly now.

Anyway. My plans are always to increase the number of people in my circle, to allow others to walk with me, help to carry burdens, that type of thing. The Bible says “iron sharpens iron,” and my life is often dull.

My very good friend asked me once: “Who is running with you? (Obviously, this is not literally running…I do not run. Although I should probably start, I will run in my first foot race this summer.) Who feels some of the weight you do? Who do you connect with?” My silence was deafening and I wrote those questions down on a piece of paper that I still keep next to me when I do any kind of work, and is in fact next to me now.

To be fair, I have a wonderful tribe surrounding me who would love to run with me, carry weight, connect. The obstacle is me, only me.

When the wheels shake and threaten to fall, when the walls press in around and on me, when the darkness comes (and it always does), I retreat into a self-imposed isolation. A prison cell where I hold the keys of my own liberation. I’ve struggled with so many crushing headaches and stomach issues that are surely to some extent caused by my actions, or rather, inaction.

This is odd and wildly hypocritical because every wedding I officiate includes the Bible verse, “it is not good for man to be alone.” Then I implore the couple to reach out, that they were never meant to do it themselves. If you’ve been to the Bridge more than once, I’m sure you’ve heard it, too. But what is easy to see in theory, in truth, and in others, is sometimes impossible to see in ourselves. And the chasm between what we know and what we actually believe and do can be wide indeed. When I say those thing, I’m right.

I could, though. That’s why it’s in every New Year plan. It really isn’t good for me to be alone. Yet it’s exactly what I have done. I check out, don’t return emails, texts or calls (who calls anymore??) and mourn that I am unbearably lonely.

There’s a GIGANTIC difference between “I just went through…” and “I am going through…” “I just went through” is most likely an exaggerated story of victory, of overcoming, of strength and independence. Of pride. I am very good at those stories. The ones that detail the bouts of depression and heartbreak and weakness, the ones that start with “help,” I am not.

I suppose this post is a story of both. Yes, it’s written from the perspective of hope, as I am beginning to learn what it means to reach out. I have started to crack this ridiculous shell of pseudo-protection and allow the presence of safe brothers and sisters, allow you to hold me up. And it feels amazing, like I am stepping through a threshold. But to begin, I had to acknowledge the fear I felt and reach out to 2, then 3, then another, and tell them I am hurting. And that “-ing” is the key.

Here’s a story of old me and what is hopefully new me: I never knew how to do deadlifts, so I didn’t ever do deadlifts. I lived in a deadlift-free universe. But 2 months ago, I decided that universe was not what it could be, not what it should be. That a deadlift-free universe was no place for me to live. SOOOOO…I walked right up and asked a guy named Rick at the gym to show me how. And now I see what I was missing. Deadlifts are just the absolute best. Why did I stand outside of the Temple of The Deadlift that was built for me, cold and shivering, for so long? Same reason I carried the chains of the church of me and the lie of independence for so long: My pride. My need to be good enough, to know everything, to be strong enough.

There’s another verse in 2nd Corinthians that says “But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

I’m not strong enough, I’ve spent 44+ years proving it. But now that I am deadlifting, everything is possible and I can’t even begin to imagine what that looks like.

Year End

I genuinely want to wish you all a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

I suspect this will be my last post for the year – everyone is home from work/school next week and I don’t think I’ll sit down to write until they go back. I have some thoughts today, with the end of the year in mind, and there’s the chance it could get lengthy. (Since it’s the end of the year, I also want to thank you from the deepest parts of my soul for reading any of the things I write – and extra special thanks if you’ve liked, commented on, or shared any of this. There are an awful lot of choices of the things that compete for our attention, it is always humbling, appreciated and never taken for granted that you might spend a minute or 2 here.)

In the Bible (2nd Samuel to be exact), King David sees a woman named Bathsheba, spends time with her, she gets pregnant, and he (indirectly) kills her husband, Uriah. Now, this is the same King David that is called “a man after God’s own heart,” and we could explore the implications of God’s forgiveness and grace and what it might mean for us forever. But not today. Today we’ll only talk about the mess David got himself into. Usually, when we make a mess like this, it’s an ‘accident,’ a ‘moment of weakness,’ a ‘slip,’ like falling into a hole. This is very nearly never the case. It’s a long series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road – a guy named Michael Fletcher called them “neuropathways” – somewhere we don’t think we’d like to go, but the long distance from “I’d NEVER do something like that” to the pregnant Bathsheba is shortened in increments until it’s no longer a giant chasm and instead becomes a very natural step. That story of David begins with “In the spring, when kings go off to war…” David didn’t, even though he was a king, even though he had always gone before. So many places to turn back and change the story. He could’ve gone to war. He could’ve seen her and averted his eyes, could’ve gone inside and watched Netflix documentaries, played his harp, had a nice meal, took a bath of his own, spent time with one of his 9 million concubines, anything. But he didn’t. He looked, kept looking, and the action that would have been so appalling earlier was right in front of him, leaving Bathsheba pregnant and Uriah dead. It’s never just 1 misstep, it’s 100 exit ramps along the way that we pass on the way to the big “Oops” that we pretend was an accident.

There is a flip side to this, one that is wholly positive and encouraging. This principle works in reverse, as well. We just as rarely become the people we want to become overnight, like we’re struck by lightning or possessed by an angel of light. It’s the result of a series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road, shortening the distance from “I could never be like that” to “maybe…” to “I am almost like that.”

We don’t change behaviors (quit drinking, lose 30 pounds, stop telling lies, make good friends, build a beautiful marriage, get in shape, whatever) overnight, we change them a moment at a time. We didn’t gain the 30 pounds overnight, why would we lose it by tomorrow? The small things we do today are the foundation to who we will be in 6 months or 10 years, and should be taken very seriously. So, what neuropathways are we forming?

Interestingly, there is a baffling pattern I am finding more and more (in myself, as well as around me). We begin to erect these structures intentionally, to become something new and awesome. And we are, in fact, becoming just that. We eat more vegetables, we follow a workout program at the gym, we regularly read our Bibles, and we feel great, like superheroes who are breaking generational curses and are capable of ANYTHING at all. The best versions of ourselves, growing every day in every way. Then, something happens that hurts, circumstances change, the wheels get wobbly, the tides rise and water gets choppy…and we stop! Why?!!? Why would we stop the things that make us strong and courageous, build confidence and self-esteem, make us the good kind of proud of ourselves???

I eat more vegetables and less processed ‘food’ made in factories, feel great, sleep better, buy new pants (while keeping the old, because you never know, right? 😉 have more energy than I had since high school…then she breaks up with me and I reach for the donuts, ice cream and soda, which makes me feel even more like garbage, so I eat some more candy and chips and on and on and on.

I go to church because I decide it’s important – for any number of reasons – and IT IS!! I make new friends, connect on a deeper level, grow in relationship with God, discovering that the Bible isn’t at all the hateful book of a crazy religious cult but is instead a gorgeous letter of Love, Grace and Peace, begin to fall in love with Jesus…then my wife and I fall into a pattern where we are fighting more and I stay out Saturday night and sleep in later and don’t really feel like going where I might have to talk to someone who would ask me how I am (THE HORROR!!) and really should do the yard work and catch up on the latest season of Fleabag and the fights continue and I avoid the phone calls from those new friends and feel more and more desperate and like we are spinning our wheels and maybe our problems can’t be fixed and and and.

I have been writing a new book and when I make time, schedule time to write a lot, it comes easy and I feel inspired and fresh and engaged with my life, but when there are more basketball games and appointments, it’s often the first thing to go. Why is that?

When we, in ordinary times with clear heads, make commitments and create practices to evolve and grow in ways we desire, maybe we should not abandon them the second the terrain gets shaky. Maybe that’s actually the best time to hold them a little tighter. Maybe that’s the reason we have them in the first place. Small decisions made over and over lead to BIG wonderful changes.

Now. The truth is that sometimes it’s hard to notice, and that can be discouraging and lead to this abandonment. What about that? Well…I have an idea about that.

Last night was the Christmas (or Holiday, whatever. Obviously I don’t mean to offend you when I say Christmas – if you are, maybe you could get a hobby or a book to read or something to think about – I don’t get offended if you wish me Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa blessings. In fact it’s the opposite, I totally welcome your open kindness to welcome me into the warmth and beauty of your traditions) concert for the high school chorus and band. (My boy Samuel is in the band.) I have seen these students since Kindergarten and see them a few times a year in spaces like last night. It’s the most amazing thing, they are no longer children and are becoming young men and women, with striking talents and distinct personalities. A girl named Grace Coleman, who I have sort of known for years, sang the solo and knocked everyone down and into pieces with her UNBELIEVABLE voice. When did that happen? Maybe she doesn’t even know the extent of her (what I now know is) boundless, overwhelming talent, and do you know why she might not? Because she sees her, hears her, every day.

We grow in small baby steps. I used the words “seemingly insignificant” earlier on purpose, because these kids make seemingly insignificant decisions to practice and commit to their dreams and interests, but they’re not insignificant at all. They are monumental. They stack upon each other, brick by brick, until they perform and we are all in awe that the 4th grade concert we suffered through produced this. Grace sings and sings and sings and this instrument of hers just becomes normal for her – but it’s not normal. It’s extraordinary.

So, my idea is to have a great big concert/talent show for all of us. Haha, that’s not true. My idea is to notice. I think we’re so busy, distracted, that we ignore ourselves and our development, however small we might think that development is.

My mom has decided to quit or cut down on her smoking. She now smokes a quarter of what she used to – Hallelujah! She might wave that away as small, but it’s not small. It’s extraordinary.

Your bench press went up 5 pounds and it’s just 5 pounds. Just 5 pounds??? There’s no such thing as ‘just’ when you’re on the journey to who you want to be, who you’ve been created to be. Instead of 7 reps, you did 8!!! Your weight went from 206.2 to 205.8!!! You read your Bible twice this week!!! You took your wife out for a lunch date!! You said “Thank you” this morning to the God that gave you this lovely day, this magnificent gift that is your life!!

Maybe our lives aren’t that magnificent? Maybe not now, but maybe they could be. Maybe it just takes a bit of attention/intention and the time to notice how blessed we have been and how far we’ve come

Start something, stop something, move. And notice the baby steps. We really don’t need concerts, we just need more present’s, more now’s, to pay attention to the new creation we are becoming.

I wish you all the love and peace.

C.

Cold & Broken

As you can surely tell, I don’t like the Mariah Carey song.

I don’t like pretense, or anything that smells of inauthenticity. Social media is a wonderful exchange of ideas and photos until it jumps the track into fictional representations of characters who only slightly resemble the flesh and blood human beings that you actually know and have listened to and walked alongside. Jesus called us “whitewashed tombs” when we participate in this sort of masquerade; clean and glistening on the outside and full of dead men’s bones inside.

But what if someone did have Mariah Carey feeling emotions? Is it fake, like I have assumed, if it sounds amazing? If it is produced and pretty, does that automatically make it another brick in a wall of manufactured image? If it is whitewashed, does that mean that it’s a tomb inside?

Mariah Carey has been gifted in ways most of us aren’t. Where do these gifts come from? Why do I immediately judge her “emotions” as inauthentic? Because she’s not screaming? What if her octaves come from the same place, deep in the seat of the soul?

I also make the same assumptions about Christians in church – if they are meticulously made up with a constant unwavering smile, impeccably dressed, are they faking something?

(And if they are, why is that always wrong? Do they have to advertise their brokenness to everyone? Can they not hold it together through the service – because they just need God right now – before melting in the arms of their trusted friends? Is there value in changing out of our ripped jeans and sweats to dress up in Sunday best, as if for a date, which maybe they are? What if the very act of preparation begins to change the struggle with inadequacy & insecurity, begins to transform the dishonor and subtle devaluation we all fight into a space of dignity, beauty and “Good enough?” Is it possible that washing the tomb can alter the story of the bones inside, perhaps giving them life?

At different points in my life, my heart, soul, psyche, and self-image have been severely damaged. And sometimes, the crack in the dark, dank shack of a hopeless existence that let the light in was a shower or a haircut or brushing my teeth. It may sound superficial (and maybe it is) but it allows the light to shine on a new perspective that the way it feels now just might not be forever, and there is certainly value in that, isn’t there?)

And besides, who am to decide what their motivations are? Who am I to judge if they are “faking” anything? They, and I, might be or we might not be, but it probably looks EXACTLY the same. What makes me an authority of authenticity? Isn’t this the height of arrogance?

SO.

Is all of this, 4 weeks of posts, to say we should each mind our business? Not exactly.

I want everyone – and I will fight with every breath for this to be – to be all of who they are, in every space and situation. I want us all to be “Hallelujah,” sometimes “cold and broken,” sometimes angelic, and sometimes both or neither, sometimes instrumental (because words just don’t work) or full of profound precise words, quiet or loud. The reason I want this is because most of what I perceive to be wrong with us, disconnecting us, burying us under such loneliness and inadequacy is held in our collective hypocrisy.

Either we are pretending to be someone/something else (because what we are is, for some reason, bad or wrong or less than) and this creates a duality that has been dis-integrating us, wearing us out and tearing us apart from the inside out.

Or we are measuring ourselves against another’s carefully crafted (and entirely fictional) public image, and this creates a self-loathing because our pasta or pet or husband isn’t as good as the ones we see on Instagram, because we can’t look as spotless and sound as spiritual as Joel Osteen.

Bullying, minimizing, walls, rudeness, disrespect, all of it comes from this posture of image-making and manicuring these made up images to cover up our fear.

This is what God speaks to when, in Hosea 6:6 says “I don’t want your sacrifices” – your idea of what is perfect, what you think is the right answer – “I want your love” – your heart, your honesty, I just want the gorgeously messy, beautiful you. Bring all of you to Me, to the world, and then, baby, we can start to heal all of these wounds.

In “Hallelujah,” and the Bible, we celebrate, joy, praise, laugh AND we weep, question, rage.

I’m not minding my business, even for a second, and why? Because we need all of you. The world needs you – I need you – (the real you) to step into all that you have been created to be. That’s how the world gets put back together; when we love us and each other enough to be honest & open, and when we love God enough to step into all that He created us to be, which is all we’ve been looking for all along.

On The Way

Then I met a girl and we fell in love. Then I met 2 families and we fell in love. Then I met Jesus and we fell in love, too, and my life was forever changed. So, I took some Bible classes, mostly because Rob Bell was tying books of the Bible to other books of the Bible to my life that made sense in a way that nothing else could, and I wanted to know how to begin to do that on my own. To borrow a trite expression, I wanted to learn how to fish.

Writing all of those papers, I was discovering something very surprising. The Bible wasn’t perfect, or produced, or pretty. It was beautiful, but in the kind of way that Rise Against is beautiful. 

In 2011, Rise Against released an album called Endgame that’s 2nd track was “Help Is On The Way.” This song was a scathing indictment of the response (or lack thereof) during hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. (To be fair, this song, and especially the video, affected me in such a visceral way because we were also the victims of a tropical storm and flooding that ended with my home underwater and all of our possessions gone and a sickening apathy on the part of organizations whose sole purpose is to respond and care for victims like us. I knew what it was to watch your child’s grade school artwork float away, knew the pity in a school secretary’s eyes when she asked if we were still “homeless,” knew what it was to walk barefoot into the Walmart to buy some shoes, knew what it was to face bankruptcy because the flood insurance didn’t cover total losses. But we are not really talking about the video. But as long as we are, you could listen to “One Blue Sky” by Sugarland, too.) The song, when he screams, “Right here, right now!!!” Then later, “We were told just to sit tight, ‘cause somebody will soon arrive, help is on the way…but it never caaaaaaaame!!!” That guttural wail is what it sounds like when your heart is torn out of your chest. Now, maybe Tim McIlrath doesn’t know what it feels like to wait without hope, feeling lost and forgotten, maybe he doesn’t care about people like me, but it sure sounds like he does. It sure sounds like he has something in his soul to say that absolutely must get out, even if no one will ever hear it. 

In the Bible, Habakkuk asks why bad people succeed and good people don’t. We study Jonah and whales as kids, but the book of Jonah is very much about a disobedient boy who runs rather than helps those he doesn’t like. Lamentations is a full book (excepting a few verses in the middle) of how mean God has been to us. One Psalm details a wish that the writer’s enemies will have their babies “dashed on the rocks.” And I could go on and on. These are real people in real places in real times with things to say that have to be said, screamed or cried.

The thing about these very honest questions, doubts, prayers, is that they are never met with judgment. Never does God (or the authors of the individual books) chastise or punish these people for the exchange. They are allowed to exist, just as they are. If you are one who, like me, believes the entire book is inspired by God, and the books collected are collected with God’s divine guidance (So, why would God want these things? If I was writing a book about me, I would probably leave out the parts that weren’t too complimentary. I would only include the parts testifying to how awesome I am), the God of the Bible seems very comfortable with these questions, with the conflict, with the wrestling. Sometimes, (almost all the times), the questions were never answered. Certainly not in the concrete way we’d prefer. 

As I fell more and more in love with the Bible, it was obvious that the Bible was far more Rise Against than it was Mariah Carey. 

The Bible was not what I had been sold, not even close. There was room for me, my questions, my rough edges, and my inadequacies. Right where I was, right where I am.

Now. This exhilarating fact led to an inevitable next uncomfortable question: If there was room for me, was there also room for pretty, perfect production, too?

Emotions

I gave a talk at a youth group near Gettysburg last Saturday. The church is fairly conservative (although it could be said that, to me, maybe every church is fairly conservative) and there was a very good chance that I would not play well there. I shared the message for their Sunday service several years ago and have not yet been invited back. The looks on the congregants faces told me as much, so the fact that I was not yet invited back was far less surprising than that I was for their youth group.

I was because I have very good friends who either persuaded everyone else who (hopefully) had forgotten the past or hidden my visit from them altogether. I didn’t ask which one.

My very good friend asked me to come and speak about music and faith. I said yes, of course, then asked “um, what kind of music?” Because the kind of talk I would give on Christian music might not be what she had in mind. And actually, what music I consider to be Christian might not be everyone’s, and we should probably know what definition we’re using to avoid the kind of misunderstandings I enjoy. She said whatever I wanted, and I asked her to pretty please repeat that. And she did. So, I said yes again.

Now, I think it would be fun to explore those songs and ideas here, in a short series based on that talk, called “It’s a Cold and It’s a Broken Hallelujah.”

The songs are: “Emotions,” by Mariah Carey. (So you know and can follow along as intended, we played the videos – easily found in a Google search. For this one, however, I offered to simply play the song because there was “a significant cleavage issue.” And there is.) “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” by Nirvana. “Help Is On The Way,” by Rise Against. (This one is the only one that the video is absolutely necessary.) And “Hallelujah,” the cover version by Jeff Buckley.

“Emotions” was a gigantic hit record in 1991. It was all of the words that begin with P: polished, produced, perfect. What an unbelievable showcase for that extraordinary instrument of hers, right?!! She looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. The video is exactly like the song, glossy and refined, as if a team of marketers created it in a laboratory for maximum exposure and sales figures.

The problem is that it’s called “Emotions,” and I don’t feel any at all. Except that she’s awesome, I suppose.

Pretending is the other P word that comes to mind with something like this. It’s like an advertisement for LIFE, or at least the life other people are living, that I could be living if only I…whatever. It brings to mind – and the reason I play it in discussions of spirituality – gauzy pictures of Christians with perfect teeth and plastic smiles. This was the perspective I had of people of faith for the first half of my life. To me, they all looked like Joel Osteen book jackets, all smiles and manicured nails. My life wasn’t all smiles and manicured nails. In fact, no life I knew was all smiles. Sometimes, there were tears and dirt and darkness and hairs wildly out of place.

When you’re upset and the wheels are falling off, a Christian, with their cliches and cheery platitudes and “God’s plan,” is often the very last person you’d like to see. The carefully crafted images of rounded edges and masks they wear usually just amplify their uncomfortability and insecurity.

Everything is fine, and if it’s not, shhh, we’ll just hide that behind the closet door and hope it goes away.

Phony (another ‘P!!’) That is what “Emotions” means to me.

I understand that this is not the most positive way to start a conversation, but it gets better. It has to.

Red Canvas Shoes

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;)

What If

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.         

Parties

The parable of the Prodigal Son is both wildly popular and wildly disturbing, which is a strange phenomenon. Usually ideas or art or people that challenge our accepted worldviews, that make us uncomfortable, are quickly discarded, because we defend nothing as tirelessly or viciously as our own ‘right-ness.’

Even One as beautifully, monumentally disruptive as Jesus (or the Bible), we reduce to bullet points, scouring stories and verses to find only those that confirm our already held beliefs and trashing the rest.

Yet we keep the Prodigal Son. 

(My guess is that it is most often used to describe others – always others, of course – who have walked away from our beliefs, comforting us with the hope that they will return, just like this son. I could be wrong, though. And I am more than fine with this comfort and hope. Mostly, I’m more than fine with all comfort and hope, especially the hope that comes from a God who runs to us, no matter what we’ve done or who we’ve been or if we’ve been eating the pigs food, and brings us into the feast. This story has given me rest as well – I have been the son who walked away and was welcomed back with hugs and acceptance and love. It’s a really great story. But there is so much more to it.)

The parable ends with a brother – a “good” boy, doing all the right things, following the rules, never leaving home – standing outside, in what he would surely describe as righteous anger. He honestly details his frustrations to the Father, and the Father listens and patiently answers – “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” One of the most gorgeous verses in the Scriptures: “Everything I have is yours.” 

And the story ends with the brother outside, with a decision to make.

How many times have I decided that this party is not, should not be, for them (whoever ‘them’ is)? 

It’s called judgment, and it’s not awesome. We decide where the walls are, who is on the guest list (of course, OF COURSE, we are always on the inside), what the admission requirements are, who has been good enough and who has not.

I used this parable Sunday in a message about forgiveness, because we are all the brother. We have a choice to make. Do we want a world of Fairness – because to tell the truth, it’s not fair that the brother gets in. He severely disrespected the Father and everything He stood for – or do we want Forgiveness? Do we want entrance requirements? Do we want walls?

He is with us, and everything He has is ours, now do we actually want His kind of party?

Can we really live a life free of comparison, free of being “better than” someone else? 

SO many questions… 

Can we enter a party where the guest of honor is our “enemy,” who has not followed any of the rules, who looks and acts differently that we think guests at this party should look and act?     

And if I start to look at that brother honestly (which in itself takes a humongous amount of courage) and see that I share more in common with him than I’d ever care to acknowledge, then I’ll start asking all new questions and opening the door to a whole new life and I’m pretty sure that kind of whole new life is what Jesus had in mind all along.

How We Talk

Last Sunday, we walked right into a trap. We were just learning about how to live like the new creations that we are, how to love God and each other, and “love” is supposed to be soft and squishy, like walking in healthy morning grass or good night kisses. These weeks are supposed to be comfortable greatest hit albums.

Then, verse 10: Honor one another above yourselves. So far, so good, relatively innocuous, we can usually ignore the ‘above yourselves’ part and keep reading, right?  

But upon closer examination, I found this (in Gill’s exposition of the Bible): “In honour preferring one another; saints should think honourably of one another, and entertain an honourable esteem of each other; yea, should esteem each other better thou themselves; and not indulge evil surmises, and groundless jealousies of one another, which is contrary to that love that thinks no evil. They should speak honourably of each other in Christian company, and discourage that evil practice of whisperings, backbitings, and innuendos; they should treat each other with honour and respect in their common conversation, and especially when met together as a church of Christ. They should go before each other in giving honour, and showing respect, as the word signifies: they should set each other an example; and which also may be taken into the sense of the word, should prevent one another, not waiting until respect is shown on one side to return it again.”

I always love the extra English ‘u,’ as in honour or favourite – bringing to mind the Depeche Mode classic ‘Blasphemous Rumours,’ but we can’t get distracted by its superfluous beauty. This evil surmises and groundless jealousies business hurts, because I often know exactly what everyone else’s motivations are, and that they are not often positive. I know just what the politicians aims are, what co-workers and neighbors really mean when they ask favours, what my sister means when she says that, or my wife with that look she gives. Our expositor Gill seems to think we should stop that. What?!? He seems to be writing that it’s less than honouring to the other to pretend we have clearly discerned their heart.     

And whisperings, backbitings and innuendos? How else is there to talk about someone?

Gill goes on to call us to treat each other with honor and respect in conversation. Ok, but what about the sarcasm, condescension, or manipulation in which we have become so proficient? Sometimes, they don’t even know we’re talking down to them! So funny, isn’t it? Or the open rudeness we proudly call honesty and rationalize as one who “tell(s) it like it is?” Principle and strength of character.

[I was just about to shift the tone of this piece and confess that I am one who has trafficked in sarcasm for much of my life, but the funny part is that you already know that. I’ve been unwittingly employing it for the past several paragraphs, thinking how clever and subversive I was. There wasn’t any in my expressed love for the extra ‘u,’ though.]

The first problem with these tactics we so casually employ is that their chief purpose is to tear down and to minimize another’s worth and value. It’s garden variety judgment – we decide they are less (using whatever qualification) and act accordingly.

Of course, we engage in this judgment for just one reason: our own poor self-esteem. I am afraid that I am actually the one who doesn’t measure up, so I point at others, spread news (always negative information,) gossip, mock. I actively try to belittle and demean thinking that I am fooling everyone into thinking that I am the powerful, the moral, the intellectually superior, when the sorry truth is that I am scared to death of being ‘found out,’of being exposed. This is simple bully behavior. Kids who bully are the most insecure of all, and it’s the same with us. The meanest, most arrogant, selfish, condescending of us are without exception buried under our own perceived inadequacies, desperately wearing masks to hide behind. 

The second problem is that, as we tear each other down, we also destroy any true, authentic relationship. It’s impossible to relate on any deeper level without trust, care, kindness and love. We use our words as a wrecking ball to clear the area around us, further isolating ourselves until we are finally alone. 

The Scriptures are laying out details to bring us closer together, to create a beautiful unity. I’ve only recently begun to read these many lists of ‘shall’s and ‘shall not’s as gifts to protect us from ourselves, providing a vision that we may flourish. We simply can’t achieve this vision while our goal is, ultimately, to defend the altar we’ve erected to ourselves.