Bible

Yield

Last Sunday at the Bridge around 9:30ish, after everything was ready, Gisy & Muriah were rehearsing, Mark was listening to his wife sing with hearts in his eyes, Donovan was dramatically overreacting to minor allergies, and no one else was there yet, I wrote this in my notebook:

“I wonder if the reason I have so little tolerance for pretense, acting, & hypocrisy is because the Truth is so much better? The Truth of who we actually are and that we are exactly where/who we are, that we are deeply, irrationally loved there, in that sometimes messy, sometimes ugly, sometimes painful, space. The Truth that we’ve been rescued.

See, the “show” is based in the belief that who we authentically are is somehow not enough, not accepted, not loved…that we are, first and foremost, NOT.

But instead, we ARE.

We don’t have to pretend any longer, we simply have to be us. We simply have to yield to His work, His grace, His love. Yield to Him, and that is all that is necessary, that is enough.

A need to create an image is a fundamental misunderstanding of who He is and what this story is (and how great that story really is.)

So when I see us hiding, masquerading, image-making, I actually see our empty parts, our missing parts, our misplaced belief in foundational NOT-ness

And Jesus has a different story, a different word.”

Then some people began to arrive and the thread was broken mid-sentence (here’s the sentence: The cross represents the old world and how far the empty ___ – I don’t know where I was going, I imagine the next word was ‘tomb,’ but I’m no longer sure.) I wanted to share it with you because we all so often struggle with our identity and our identity in Christ and how the 2 of them might not be the same. That disconnect causes us to contort ourselves into many unnatural positions, trying to be something we think we should be, or something we think they want us to be, or something whatever. Something else.

But it’s Easter, and what the cross represents is just how far Jesus would go to show & tell us who we are, show & tell us what we’re worth, most importantly show & tell us WHO HE IS and that all this pretending/hiding or how many shows we put on doesn’t change that at all. Maybe I wrote it then and maybe I’m writing it now is not because we didn’t know, but just because we need to hear it again.

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.

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 Great Persecution Broke Out

I have always been fascinated by our propensity to remain in spaces that, if not exactly destructive (though they are often that), they are at the very least not working for us. I usually ask it like this: “I wonder why he/she stays there/continues to do that when they KNOW it’s wrong for them,” and I say it less with wonder than annoyance. The good news is that the “he/she” part is immediately replaced with “we,” because it doesn’t take long for me to remember.

I stayed at a job years after I knew it was time to go. I had relationships for far longer than either of us would’ve categorized as healthy. In almost every area of my life, I can point to patterns that existed past their obvious expiration date. You probably can, too. Not because you and I are particularly unique, but the opposite. This is a human problem that has been a thorn forever.

There’s an interesting passage in the Bible that illustrates this better than our unfulfilling jobs or broken relationships or pointless routines ever could.

That last words Jesus says, in Acts 1:7, are “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Essentially, GO and tell everybody everywhere about me and this divine love. And then, in chapter 7, they are STILL in Jerusalem! Now, this was good because the number of disciples in Jerusalem was increasing daily, but this was not good because it was a violation of the specific command of Jesus. Chapter 7 details the murder of Stephen and then chapter 8 starts with this easily overlooked phrase: “on that day a great persecution broke out.” They wouldn’t go, so they were forced to go and then the story of the Church, of us, really begins. Without that great persecution, without those disciples telling everybody everywhere, who knows?

I don’t like to leave until there is a great persecution, either. Aadam Ali (on Physiqonomics) says often, in the context of health and fitness, that nobody changes until the pain of staying the same outgrows the pain of change. This is absolutely true, right?

How many of us are bored, tired, rudderless, aimless, just trying to get through another day with no challenge or big ask of us? Well, there is one challenge; get through another day and not let our soul wilt any more. Sometimes, as in my case, I used to drive to work miserable with a dream in my heart that I couldn’t/wouldn’t pursue. And why? Comfortability, stability, I had been there so long, knew the job inside out, complacency… The driving force behind all of it is fear. What if I can’t get another job? What if I don’t get another girlfriend? What if I’m alone for the rest of my life, living in a car under a bridge by a filthy river thinking about this moment when I threw it all away?

Of course, there is selfless responsibility and seasons in our lives where we are in valuable places, learning and growing. But my guess is that we mostly know the difference.

You may have heard some variation on this a hundred times from me, but today, this week, all of this is simply a way to celebrate my mom.

Now, my mom is the greatest. She strong, courageous, loyal and the most generous person I have ever known. If you know her, you know this, but what you don’t know is that she gave her 2 weeks notice at her job earlier this week. In our conversation where I told her how proud of her I am, she confessed that she was terrified and was full of second guesses. Faith is like this. It’s why the disciples didn’t leave until chapter 8.

Am I doing the right thing???? What if? What if? WHAT IF?????

In this same conversation, we spoke about her selling that house (the one I grew up in, that she has lived in for 35 years) and moving, too! Can you imagine the automatic negative thoughts in her head? Me, too. We don’t have to imagine, right?

And she did it anyway. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s acting in spite of that monster. This is yet another example of how she’s inspired me in a list of a million. I’ve always wanted to be as beautiful as my mom when I grow up, and never more than right now.

When the disciples finally left, that proved to light the fire that still burns, still changing the world 2,000 years later. Every time I see an act of courage like this, taking steps in the darkness, I lean in and ask, wide-eyed and breathless, what amazing thing is God going to do here? And you know what? Almost every time it’s so much better than I could have ever imagined.

A Season Of With

I’ve been reading the book of Hebrews lately, and really loving every moment. There is a distinct possibility there is more in my Bible in my own handwriting than from the author of this letter, whoever that is. It doesn’t start like a letter, but it ends like one – there’s even a celebration that Timothy is now out of prison and greeting from the Christians in Italy.

Hebrews has everything anybody would ever want from a book in this vast beautiful library of books we call the Holy Bible; doctrine, instruction, history, even very personal touches. What I could do is pluck a verse from anywhere and talk about it for a few paragraphs here, but the one I am choosing is in chapter 10, verses 24 and 25, with Christmas on my mind.

This has been a long year of variants and political warfare, loss, disconnect, and division. Last year, we hoped the mood would pass with the year, full of hope that the new 2021 calendar would be new, fresh, peaceful. Now we know the only thing that changed was the calendar.

So now what? You know that is my favorite question, said with wide eyes and anticipation. I don’t throw my hands up and sigh, “now what?” I lean in and feel the energy crack and hum. The answer can and will set our course. The posture we take can and will decide our future. Do we think 2022 is, again, just a digit of difference, or is it a whole new world? Can it, can we, be transformed? Is January 1 just an extension of December 31, 2022 just 2021 part 2, 2020 part 3, or can it actually be the beginning of an original story?

Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Maybe instead of spending our time alone, thinking of ways to tear each other apart, we could give our time to coming together and brainstorming as many ideas as we can manage to encourage each other. And if we could fan the flames of culture and humanity with love & good works instead of paranoia & pain. Maybe our flags could have less demeaning slogans and more of, literally, anything else. And instead of standing on the sidewalks shouting at each other, we could take our conflicting views to the yellow line in the middle of the street and engage in actual conversations. (I did not say our opinions have to be in the center. We can hold opposing perspectives, but only with the acknowledgement that, though our ideas may be far apart, we are not.)

I can love you. I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit (the SAME Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave), learn to start to try to start to try to love my enemies. I can listen, reach out, feel, hope.

I have always thought that the only way this great divide could happen is to stop sitting next to each other, causing us to forget that it’s NOT us vs. them, that it IS just us. When we don’t sit next to each other, our 3rd, 4th, 5th, 100th dimensions fade away, leaving cardboard cutouts, caricatures drawn on the boardwalk.

And the only way it can end is when we “not neglect our meeting together.”

This season, a season of love and presence, a season of “with,” is one that is crying out for us to heal these wounds. To build bridges across these imaginary divides. To sit side by side in worship of this Savior who came to show us what it meant to be human and gave us the Church to live it out.

A Book I Don’t Like

I was reading a book I don’t like until Tuesday, when I closed it for the very last time. I’ll drop it off at one of the used thrift shops in town this weekend. This was the 2nd time through. I didn’t like it the first time, but the author is one I very much enjoy, I own several books of his that I would happily recommend, so it sat on my shelf asking for a second chance.

It was even worse this time, but even in that, there is something important to learn. Reducing a whole to simply one of it’s parts is dangerous. Reducing a person to one of his quirks, one of his habits, one of his days, one of his mistakes, is wildly disrespectful to that person and the One who created him.

The best part of this book was a quote by another. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.” This quote deserves it’s own post, series, year of sermons and small groups to unpack, but not today.

In 1 Corinthians 3: 21-23, Paul writes, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” I think what Paul is saying is that we sometimes spend our time arguing over what or who or where we can find God, when God is everywhere, if we just have eyes to see and ears to hear.

We can find beauty and truth in a child, a movie, the mall, a greeting card, a sunrise, or a book we don’t like. And wherever we find beauty and truth, we find Jesus, and it is our business to point it, to point Him, out. Later in the Scriptures, Paul quotes a poet from Crete to Titus. Cretan poets are not Christians, their poetry not “Christian” art, but Paul is wide awake and quick to claim truth wherever and whenever he sees it.

I think that quote illustrates this theme nicely. We are half-hearted, looking for God in churches and temples and the Christian section of the bookstore, when infinite wisdom and joy and truth and presence is offered us. Isn’t it the same story, we try over and over to compress the story of God into one that we can easily understand? This compression didn’t serve Moses, Jonah, Ezekiel, and on and on and on very well then and it doesn’t serve us well now.

I know I’ve said this before, but maybe spirituality is an art of subtraction. We get rid of the things that no longer serve us, we cast off the weight that holds us back, we break the blinders that keep us from seeing God as He is instead of as we are. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but growth always is. We grow by subtracting and find, strangely, that we’ve gained all things in the process.

dishonor

My family & I read a devotional with the suggested passages of the Bible and then answer the questions. This is a relatively new practice for us. Maybe not that new. We’ve started this type of thing several thousand times over their lives, sometimes it lasts for a day or 2, sometimes for a week, hardly ever longer. When I think about my boys having no spiritual study or direction in their own homes, I am embarrassed and know exactly why God had to look for the man in the garden in Genesis 3. We desperately want to hide our faces rather than see & feel the look of disappointment in His eyes. Where are you?

Anyway. The topic last night was our bodies, presenting them as living sacrifices to the God who made them and gave them to us. It’s a devotional “for athletes,” so it focused on drugs, mostly the performance enhancing kind. As far as I know, my boys don’t have much experience with these, so I changed the first question a little. “What substances do you put in your body that might bring dishonor to the name of God?” became, “Do you do anything that might dishonor this gift you’ve been given?”

There is a fine line here. It’s a decidedly good thing to examine the care we take with ourselves, what God would consider His temple. And we can even examine the ways we dishonor ourselves that, in turn, dishonor this gift and the Giver.

But it is a very bad thing to cross that line into the space where God is disappointed with us, looking down with arms crossed shaking His head. Do you remember when your parents would say, “I’m not angry, just disappointed,” and it would break your heart in a million pieces? That is the posture we assign to God, and through that posture we receive guilt and, even worse, shame. This is the shame that causes us to run away to hide our faces.

It’s so bad because, as far as I can tell, it’s just not true. As it says in Romans, there isn’t any condemnation or separation from God. There isn’t any distance we can go that’s too far away, no amount that is just too much. In the Age of Grace, our transgressions are as far removed as the east is from the west. (Ps. 103) The shame we feel doesn’t come from God at all, we are the ones dragging that baggage to the feast.

I don’t think true life change happens from a negative impulse (like “shall not ___,” “stop ___,” etc.) Instead, it comes from a big, strong Yes. The shall not is a consequence of a beautiful shall. What I mean is, there’s no room for cake when we’re so full of Brussels sprouts. (Which is probably a bad example because Brussels sprouts are soooooooooo gross.) We will stop scrolling porn sites when we’re turning pages in a great uplifting book. There’s no time to stoke the embers of infidelity when we’re fanning the flames of a passionate marriage. We won’t have energy to gossip when we’re listening to and following our divine call.

So. The earlier question’s ‘dishonor’ can lead to visions of disappointment which leads to shame which leads nowhere. I’m convinced that look in God’s eyes is a crushing sadness that comes from His awareness of the violence we’ll inflict on ourselves.

I don’t believe God is mad at me anymore for my lack of follow through. (It’s a great thing to dive into the Bible and this devotional, the conversation an even better thing, the connection the absolute best thing.) I think His heart breaks at the horribly destructive words I point at me, His own carefully, wonderfully made creation.

My answer to the question is, yes, I do. I have been mean and disrespectful of me way too often. The only difference is that His arms aren’t crossed, they’re wrapped around me loving me into a different perspective, a different response, a different reality.

Trees Of Life

I have been feeling really awesome for quite a while. Physically strong and healthy, emotionally connected and healthy, spiritually inspired and healthy. So, why do I sometimes feel like dirty dish water? My normal resting reality is highly sensitive, particularly susceptible to the pain, joy, anger, wonder around me in others, anywhere. This is nothing new. In fact, it’s a bright shiny key that I am right where I have been created to be, that my heart is fully functioning. In this space, I am me and I happen to like that me very much.

But this dirty dish water business is a nagging splinter in my soul, unconnected to a particular person or circumstance. It’s more like a tinted lens that dims and dulls the surrounding world. On Sundays I often speak of a heaviness and sometimes that’s specific, but other times it’s this pall over us all and I haven’t clarified simply because I couldn’t. I didn’t know where it was coming from or what was causing it, just that it was there.

I think I do, though, now.

Proverbs 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Proverbs 15:4: Perverseness in [the tongue] breaks the spirit. Proverbs 12:18: Rash words are like sword thrusts. James 3:8: The tongue…is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

This weight absolutely feels like so many sword thrusts, an overwhelming air full of poison resulting in what feels like the death of our communal soul. If you would ask me 2 days ago, I’d at some point use the words “broken” and “spirit.”

I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. If you listen (and I highly recommend you do), you’ll hear a cacophony of sharp words full of razor blades and acid. In schools, kids, coaches and teachers speak only in terms of “not” – as in what we are all not: what we are not doing, not doing enough of, or not doing well enough. The implication is that we are not, defined primarily by a lack or deficiency. No matter the laughing tone or the nasty smile on the mouth that speaks, these are not jokes, not funny in the least. And far more destructive than we could ever have imagined.

And like the endless McDonald’s ads subconsciously convincing us that we neeeeed that hamburger, these messages when they are uncontested become truth. (By the way, McDonald’s hamburgers are nothing we neeeeed;)

This glut of information wounds us so deeply, filling us with anger and inadequacy, of course the darkness will come out of our own mouths, too.

Last night I left my weight room dragging my heartache. On one hand, “We love each other,” and then sports teams and insecurity fill the air with the polar opposite.

(You know there’s a study about a scientist talking to crystals – maybe I’ll tell you next time.)

So I left and stopped at the grocery store. The cashier told me I should “go to another aisle,” where there was a line. I said I’d just take my things back and she said “ok, whatever.” This isn’t awesome and when I got in the car, in front of my boys (IN FRONT OF MY BOYS!!!!!!), I described this interaction using precisely the same words & spirit of which I have been force-fed. In front of my boys…

We’re supposed to be telling a different story, speaking fresh words, rebelling against the hail of razor blades dipped in acid. And if we’re not careful, we’re no longer salt and light. We’re just more actors in the same old tragedy.

The cool thing is that was yesterday. It’s been the last couple of months, years, millennia. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way tomorrow. Each of the verses I quoted earlier had a 2nd part – one was “a gentle tongue is a tree of life.” A Tree Of Life sounds perfect.

So now what?

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

And in our favorite, Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Maybe we just need to be a lot more aggressive in our building, a million times more audacious in giving grace. Maybe in our positivity, our pure, lovely, excellent thoughts, and praise, we can all become Trees that fill each other not with old dishwater, but with beautifully clear spring waters Of Life.

The First 40

The new episodes of Catfish air on Tuesdays, so almost the entire day is devoted to old episodes. (The one sad, lonely exception is Teen Mom 2 the hour before the premiere. Sigh.) I watch while I eat my breakfast and tend to my rabbit HoneyBunny. Though I didn’t personally name her, I really love it because at least once every day, I say “I love you HoneyBunny,” like Tim Roth’s character does in Pulp Fiction. Anyway. The episode this morning was a bit of an anomaly. The Catfish had been to jail and out because the Catfishing turned into criminality. Simply lying on dating profiles and direct messaging isn’t against the law, but extortion is. Nev & Max traveled several airplanes and one long drive through snow covered roads so far north to a town that may or may not be on maps in hopes of an interview. Of course, they got one – it is a TV show and reality isn’t exactly real like we know it to be. So as they left that depressing house, Nev said, “One thing I’ve learned from all these years of Catfish is that there are no monsters at the end of the line.”

I love the show, have been watching it for so long, I guess it’s only natural that this would have informed so much of my perspective. Episode after episode, for 40 minutes I think the person they’re chasing is just horrible, a nightmarish villain looking for no more than to be a wrecking ball in some poor sucker’s life. And then for the final 20, I realize I’ve been wrong. They’re just sad or lonely or damaged. (Now sometimes, they are pretty awful, but it’s so unusual, it’s a perfect example of the phrase ‘the exception proves the rule.’)

And then last night I sat down to watch the Netflix documentary on the Malice At The Palace – a riot at a basketball game in Detroit where NBA players jumped into the stands and fans stormed the court to exchange punches and injury. I’m a sports guy so I was very familiar with this unfortunate incident, and very familiar with the immature, violent ‘thug’ athlete storyline. The players were 100% wrong, referred to as wild animals, and the fans were victims, innocent bystanders, targets of uncontrolled rage. This easy narrative turned out to be what we could have all figured out is total garbage.

It’s the 100/0 mentality, or what we can from now on call the First 40 Syndrome, where we operate as if the whole truth is contained in the first 40 minutes of Catfish, before the inconvenient reveal that we share more in common than we’d like to acknowledge. We neeeeed the players to be all wrong, to be space aliens – anything other than strict division between us and them would prove that we are closer to the edge than we can handle.

In the book of Joshua (a book about us/them if there ever was one), as Joshua is fighting anyone different than himself, he comes face to face with someone new. In ch. 5, v. 13: Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

This is what we’re all asking, everyday, online, in our cars, the supermarket and on the news, right?”

Are you on my side, or theirs?” “Who is all right and who is all wrong?”

And get this, in a shocking twist, that man (who is revealed as the “commander of the army of the LORD”) standing with a drawn sword says…

“Yours, of course.”

That’s what we expect, what we need. And it’s certainly what Joshua expected. But this man says, “Neither.”Are you on my side or theirs? Yes. Which is it? Both. Neither. Who is right and wrong? Both. Neither.

Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along. Maybe we’re operating with a limited visibility, as if 2/3, or the First 40, of the show is all there is.

Joshua then asks a different, infinitely better, question, “What message does God have for me, His servant?”

And I can’t help but feel that the profound, heartbreaking reply is the same for us today: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing [whether it’s the northern edges of the earth, a stadium in Michigan, whether it’s Annville or Afghanistan] is holy.”