Bible

George Floyd & Hawk Nelson

Before we begin, I want to say something. Police officers murdered George Floyd. I’m sitting with this, broken-hearted, and would like to write something on it. It’s a revolting act of racism, and the frequency of things like this illustrate that it isn’t isolated. It isn’t the act of 1 or 3 officers in a certain situation. It isn’t a single town, a single police department. It’s a virus that has spread through all of us, in every town, in every country – a virus we’ve chosen to ignore for way too long. To loosely paraphrase Eugene Debs, while there is a knee on anyone’s neck, we all can’t breathe. No more.

Here’s an unrelated thing. (That’s a joke, nothing is unrelated.)

Jon Steingard, lead singer of Christian band Hawk Nelson, stated yesterday that he no longer believes in God. In a looooooong Instagram post he confessed his conversion (or de-version?). Maybe Instagram is the perfect place for that sort of thing. If it isn’t, then where is? Anyway. He detailed an upbringing spent in the church (dad was a pastor), his marriage to a nice Christian girl (her dad was a pastor, too), singing and songwriting for a band that may or may not be any good (they’re at least popular enough that his recent un-faithing made national news), into the circumstances that led him to ask the questions that would drive him away from God.

He asked BIG picture questions like if God is all loving and all powerful, why is there evil in the world? Can He not fix it, and if He doesn’t want to, WHY NOT? Then more specific about what is in the Bible: Why did God allow the horrible things to happen to Job? Why would He command Abraham to kill his son? Why did Jesus have to die? (As you know, there are verses, paragraphs, chapters that are very problematic.) Then, about the Bible itself: Is it “simply a book written by people as flawed and imperfect as I am?”

These are real questions. I know them well, I’ve asked them.

The thing is that the church has historically run from any and all forms of doubt, been terrified of questions, especially ones like these. But for some of us, they absolutely need to be asked. There is no other option. We need the space to walk in the wilderness with a God big enough to withstand the uncertainty. (Like most of my reservations with God, faith, The Church and the church – they were rarely with God Himself. I wanted a God Who was big enough, and He was already there, waiting for me to ask. And exactly as in the Bible, He was often the only One completely comfortable with all of the questions and doubts. I didn’t say I got answers, but He never said I would.)

And we need others humble enough to set aside their need for control and withstand it, too.

What happens over and over is that we all worship our comfort and understanding so much that anything that might shake it even the slightest bit is squashed. We pretend these questions don’t exist and violently shame anyone who might not assent to the facade until they do, or until they walk away.

It’s exactly the same with this kind of institutional racism, wishing it away, fingers crossed. Because to open our eyes to the death of George Floyd (and the system in which it exists) and see what is actually there…well, it’s unconscionable and requires action, demands revolution.

As far as any of the questions, most I still can’t answer. But I have to keep asking. We all have to keep asking. Maybe if we asked earlier, Hawk Nelson would still have its lead singer and George Floyd might still be alive.

Panem & Pennsylvania, pt 2: Lists

Yesterday, I posted about the lines that end the final movie of the Hunger Games series,  Mockingjay, pt 2. Katniss Everdeen says, “Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play.”

This is obviously a paraphrase of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:8), “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.”     

I should’ve continued a paragraph longer, with what is called an “action step,” but I didn’t and now it’s much longer. According to the University of Kansas website, Community Tool Box, an action step is: “An action step refers to the specific efforts that are made to reach the goals your agency has set. Action steps are the exact details of your action plan. They should be concrete and comprehensive, and each action step should explain:

  • What will occur
  • How much, or to what extent, these actions will occur
  • Who will carry out these actions
  • When these actions will take place, and for how long
  • What resources (such as money and staff) are needed to carry out the proposed actions 

And if you’re familiar with my teaching, I’m not that awesome at specific, exact details. You see, we are all so different and what is valuable and life-changing for you might not be valuable and life-changing for me. It might not be helpful to say it is vital to your spiritual growth to dead lift simply because it is to me. Maybe you’ll get much more out of quietly sitting in a chair or a treehouse or walking on a mountain trail or baking pies. However, I have done it before, I am capable. But only if I’m absolutely convinced that it is a practice/perspective/mindset that is truly for all of us – then I call it ‘homework.’ So, I have homework for us, and to please the University of Kansas, we’ll address each point of the suggested action step.

What will occur: We make a list of what’s noble, pure, lovely, of all the good things we’ve seen people do, every little thing we can remember, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy. We could think them, say them out loud, or write them down…Actually let’s say them out loud or write them, give them a little space to breathe. You can email them to me, too. 

How much, or to what extent, these actions will occur: As much as we need it. When it gets hard or heavy, when we feel anxious, overwhelmed, depressed, etc. When we feel the first familiar rumblings of fear. At least every day.

Who will carry out these actions: Each of us.

When these actions will take place, and for how long: at least every day, forever.

What resources (such as money and staff) are needed to carry out the proposed actions: It’s FREE!!! No money, no staff. All you need is a willing heart and the Spirit of God to guide you while holding your hand. (If you need staff, ask someone, ask me. And if you need to spend your money, I’ll help you with that, too.)  

I think the real pandemic that isn’t addressed with a quarantine is fear and brokenness – these are the nightmares that take us apart in so many ways every day. The Bible over and over counsels us to remember. Nearly every time a command is given, it is preceded with “I am the LORD your GOD, who rescued you from Egypt.” These nightmares (whatever they are, specifically, for each of us) are now our Egypt’s. And if God rescued us then, He’ll rescue us now. We so often only see and feel the oppression of Egypt instead of the liberation of the LORD our God. He hasn’t left, is still very much here, if we only have eyes to see. But vision takes practice, so we think about the gifts He has given: what is noble, pure, lovely, the good things people do, the beauty we experience everyday…and we make a list. I wonder how much that could impact mornings and middle-of-the-night’s and the way we see our noisy neighbors and our shady politicians. I wonder how much that could impact our lives, and in that, how much that would impact our world.

Panem & Pennsylvania

The Hunger Games was a wildly successful trilogy of books that was adapted into 4 movies. They were so successful that a brand new prequel novel is/has been released this month – wildly successful things aren’t ever left alone to age gracefully, every cent must be ruthlessly squeezed from marks whose only crime is appreciation. They were so successful that I protested their popularity and avoided them at all costs. I imagine I would be avoiding them still if it wasn’t for the woman who lives in this house. You make all sorts of compromises when you get married, right? Watching movies you would never watch under any other circumstance is just one. (Letting your sweet bride hog all of the covers is another, but that isn’t really the point here.)

We are spending the quarantine watching lots of movies, and my lovely Angel has been wanting to see the entire Hunger Games series, so we spent 4 days with our heroine Katniss Everdeen. I won’t go into any reviews or explanations here, but I will potentially spoil the ending. 

(Incidentally, I did like it a lot, as it turns out. But I like everything. Except the band Coldplay, I don’t like Coldplay.)

So stop here if you care, if 5 years just wasn’t enough time to see it.

If you’re still here, it’s your problem now. Anyway, the last lines of the movie are spoken to her baby: “ Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play.”

It’s an awesome moment, but why am I writing about it? There are many, many awesome moments every day. (Hugs, kisses, magic tricks, chocolate, pushups, walks, People’s Court, when my boys wake up, when my special lady comes home, great songs…so many awesome moments.) This one, though, was particularly relevant. We have nightmares. We’re caught in a global nightmare in addition to the nightmares we face every day. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken bones, lost jobs, divorce, war, anger, bitterness, fear, inadequacy, illness, headaches, anxiety, fear, and on and on… and what we all want to know is how do we survive them? How do we move through them? How do we keep waking up and getting out of bed in the morning???

And Katniss has the same answer that the apostle Paul had 2 thousand years ago. He writes in Philippians 4:8, “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.” Now, Paul has been through much pain, suffering, an almost endless string of trials, and he says he knows how to be content “whatever the circumstances.” I think this is the why and how that Katniss has figured out.

I know we are all dealing with so much – whatever our specific nightmares are – and we are all desperately searching for a why and a how. And we have been looking to contemporaries for answers. Maybe our search is too limited. Too often, the Bible gets mistaken as outdated, ancient words for ancient people in ancient times that has no use for us here, now, today. But this Divine wisdom might be exactly what we’re looking for, if only we have eyes to see it wherever it shows up. Maybe it was the answer in Philippi & Jerusalem then, in Panem & Pennsylvania today.

Blood

In chapter 17 of our favorite book of the Bible, Leviticus, there is a long, detailed explanation/instruction dealing with how we are to handle blood. It’s long, detailed passages like this that give us problems with the Bible and, more specifically, Leviticus. So if we haven’t already skipped over Leviticus, like normal people, we’ll certainly skip over this passage. What does a long, detailed section on blood have to do with us, here, now, today?

Probably nothing.

We’re talking about it today, here, not because I particularly care about blood (as long as it stays on the inside), but maybe this long, detailed section has to do with much more than blood. (Just for knowing, the next 2 paragraphs owe in no small way to Rob Bell.)

First, blood was a way (a BIG way) to talk about life. Usually, if we had your blood on the inside, and not on the ground, you were alive. If not, you weren’t. So any talk about blood was really about life. The other understanding we would have, as readers of the Scriptures is that life is a sacred gift, not a random, senseless occurrence.

Leviticus is about living in a wholly intentional fashion, and Chapter 17 is no different. The blood is a vehicle to heighten our sensitivities to life & death. The people of the time – the people of any time – had a tendency to adopt a pretty cavalier attitude toward life. They/we take it too easily, willingly, as if it is theirs/ours to take. Leviticus is a proclamation, an absolutely revolutionary proclamation, that everything doesn’t exist for our mindless, unreflective consumption.

Maybe chapter 17 isn’t necessarily about blood at all. Maybe it’s about our relationship with each other, with our world, with all things. Chapter 18 is about sex, and there is an absolutely revolutionary proclamation there, too. In fact, it’s the same proclamation: Everything doesn’t exist for our mindless, unreflective consumption. So much of the Law concerns food, and our relationship with it, and includes an absolutely revolutionary proclamation, as well.

Life isn’t only about blood and breath, right? It’s relationships, sex, food, joy, mourning, brushing our teeth, music, pain, exercise, making tacos, laughter, art – and it’s all sacred. And we have a tendency to adopt a pretty cavalier attitude towards all of it.

This COVID-19 disruption in our lives is severe, unexpected, and has shown us just how much of our daily lives have been woefully taken for granted, how much has been mindless and unreflective. I miss my gym and the people there, especially my buddy Rick, and when I look back it’s shocking how little I appreciated my time there. I miss the hands I held and people I squeezed so deeply. I miss seeing people’s smiles at the grocery store. Small things, sure, but it’s the small things that create the texture for a life well lived. Like praying for another with a warm hand on a shoulder. Like the energy of a basketball game. Like a terrific meal in a crowded restaurant. Like breakfast together. Like a birthday party (or 2).

I think the Bible is the way it is because God knew us better than we know ourselves, knew that we would forget, knew that we would reduce each of these glorious blessings to tools, would reduce ourselves to consumers.

Hopefully, this reset is a gigantic reminder and when it’s over (and it will be over), we will take a bit more time to soak in the beauty of life. All of it. Hopefully, our time of mindlessness is already over and when we get to squeeze each other again (and we will get to squeeze each other again), we’ll squeeze each other with overwhelming gratitude for the God that made you, me, and the squeezing.

Guidance/Approval

I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah for a while now. Usually, we only read Jeremiah in 1-verse increments where the verse is always 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It’s SUPER famous and perfect for bumper stickers and tattoos. Of course, it follows a 70-year exile and continues with some instructions to seek God with our whole heart, but that doesn’t play as well in a sound bite. We prefer to think about all the ways we want God to “prosper” us, which don’t always include exile.

In chapters 42 and 43, a military officer named Johanan calls for Jeremiah and asks for guidance from God. He promises to do whatever He and his buddies say, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.” I do that, too, sometimes when I pray. Just save me, heal me, take this (whatever) away and I’ll do anything You ask.

Apparently, Jeremiah has heard all of this before, (for at least 42 chapters,) so when he gives the message from God to “NOT GO TO EGPYT,” he follows it up with, “And today I have told you exactly what he said, but you will not obey the Lord your God any better now than you have in the past. So you can be sure that you will die from war, famine, and disease in Egypt, where you insist on going.”

And of course, they DO go to Egypt, and it doesn’t go that well for them there.

The Bible happened, and the Bible happens. I think this Johanan is an imbecile, obviously, and could’ve saved himself all the trouble if he had only listened! God had plans for him, plans to prosper him and not harm him, but nooo, he had to do things his own way. I shake my head until my neck is sore at this prideful ignorance. And then, after I sit with this for a moment or a day or 20 years, I remember how often I ask for advice, or guidance, or direction when what I really want is approval. I want to be told that yes, my plan is just right. If I’m not told exactly that, then I move on and go to Egypt anyway. I am Johanan more times than I’d ever admit to you.

I want God to prosper me (but maybe prosperity means something different in God’s economy), to bless MY plans, to give me a hope and future as long as they’re the hopes and futures for which I’ve been praying (but maybe His idea of a hope and a future is different from mine.)

I want the control, I want to be right, I want to know, I want to go to Egypt. I used to think I had all the answers. Probably Johanan did, too. Probably going to Egypt sounded like a smart plan.

29:11 begins, “For I know…” Maybe I don’t have to know. Maybe it’s just enough that He does. And maybe that’s the point.

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?