decisions

yes

My boys and I are having conversations about the word yes.

Teenage boys are very familiar with no, they are very clear on what they do not want to do. Sometimes it’s not only teenage boys, it can be a 30 year old man who has recently lost his father and realized that his entire life was built upon who he would not be. That 30 year old is me, and I absolutely knew then that I did not want to be like my dad. I had a very long list of things I would not do, say, or think, and almost nothing on the side ideally detailing what I would. My boys know that they don’t want to go along, clean up, mow the grass, or eat the vegetables. But where do they want to go, instead? What do they want to eat?

In the Scriptures, we are commanded to rest. (Let’s just put aside that we don’t want to rest. Nevermind that the world will stop spinning and fall apart if we don’t produce for a day a week. This is called suspension of belief in the movies. Let’s pretend this is a world where we can and do want to rest.) The thing about rest is…well, God rested after 6 days of creation. There’s no rest without work, no ceasing if there’s nothing from which to cease.   

Part of the big problem with politics nowadays (Ha! I say nowadays because it sounds old-timey and implies that there was ever a time when it was different. And maybe it was, just not that I remember) is that we are given 2 choices and asked to choose which one we do not want. Have you ever heard or said the phrase “lesser of 2 evils?” We stare at the ballot and cast our vote against one of the candidates. Political advertisements scream, “Don’t vote for him/her!” and never “Vote for ____!” We hear what their candidate has done wrong, never what our candidate has done right.

Don’t eat sugar. Don’t watch so much tv. Don’t spend so much time on social media. Don’t worry. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. But what am I supposed to do instead???

If I simply don’t, there is a vacuum left that will be filled. This is probably why so many resolutions fail. I say I won’t eat chocolate, but when I want to eat chocolate, I think about not eating chocolate instead of what I will do, or eat, instead.

Of course, there are times for No. But no makes much less sense without a yes. Maybe I do want to go along, or maybe I do want to clean up. Who knows?

A burning desire for comfort isn’t filling us up with purpose and passion. Living from a negative posture hasn’t changed anyone’s life.

I know, I know, they’re teenagers and boundaries to differentiate, to discover where I end and they begin, are so, so valuable. And of course there is a place for knowing where we do not want to go, or characteristics we do not want. But when Jesus asks any of us, “what do you want Me to do for you?” Or, as God asked Jacob, “Who are you?” we might want to have an idea what that answer might be and why. Obviously not etched in stone, but the sooner the question begins to shift from ‘who am I not?’ to ‘who am I?’ (a super scary shift, to be sure) the sooner we can begin to move from ‘freedom from’ and into ‘freedom to.’ The difference between the 2 is shockingly wide, and it all starts with a baby step, a hesitant jump, a whispered yes.

Moody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

A 3 Or 4

No post here or anywhere last week because I was quite ill. In fact, over the last 3 weeks, a virus (not THE virus) has swept through this house, affecting each of us to varying degrees. This happens. Spending time in close contact with others carries a certain risk, as people are walking, talking, hugging germ farms.

So we get sick from time to time.

Now that I think about it, spending time in close contact with others carries giant mounds of “certain risks,” so many, and so big, that it’s easy to wonder why we would ever spend time in close contact with others. If we are honest, some parts of the quarantine weren’t awful, right? We had a built-in excuse for anything and everything we didn’t really want to do. Nearly every one of our relationships and communities suffered from the distance. Screens are a substitute, but they just aren’t that great of a substitute. My dad had a saying, “6 in one, a half dozen in the other,” meaning the 2 choices were so similar, the choice was insignificant. Screens are not 6 or a half dozen, they’re more like a 3 or 4.

We are still hanging on to the excuse. It’s become the new “washing my hair,” the new “I don’t have time, I’m too busy.” We all know we have time. We maybe don’t have time for this, but we do have time. It’s hardly ever about dirty hair or jammed schedules.

Maybe we just don’t want to take the risk, and would like to be safe instead.

The author Paulo Coelho wrote: “A boat is safe in the harbor. But this is not the purpose of a boat.” It is not the purpose of a human being, either.

Since my cold is still stubbornly hanging on, a standing Monday morning meeting was moved from in-person to Zoom. The person I meet is lovely, and is also lovely on Zoom. (Like I said, it’s a 3 or 4, not a zero – it doesn’t turn beautiful things into trash.) But both of us would be lying if we said it was the same. In her living room, we can easily spend an entire morning in deep, thoughtful conversation. Today it was barely 45 minutes until we both faced silence and the familiar, “well… I guess we’ll get going.”

This isn’t a surprise. BEFORE the fall in Genesis, 1 thing was “not good,” and that was for you & I to be alone. We are made for this kind of relationship, to celebrate, to laugh, to cry, to bear each other’s burdens. I have been made to share in your mess. My arms were made to wrap around you, and if that sometimes means we get sick, well then, I guess I’ll get sick.

Words Matter

Here’s something I read from an article written by Edward Klink III: “Let me state it plainly: it is impossible to have a faithful walk with Christ and Christian life—biblically or practically—without committed participation in a local church. To talk about Jesus and not his body, the church, is not to talk fully and rightly about Jesus at all! You cannot just have a spiritual relationship with Jesus without a real connection to his physical body. Even talk about a “personal relationship with Jesus” can be misleading if not properly defined. To say that a person has a personal relationship with Jesus is to speak about how a person becomes a Christian, not how a person lives as a Christian.”

I often read things pretty mindlessly, almost like skimming. I don’t know why I’m in such a rush that I can’t give a few minutes to engage wholeheartedly, I’m not that busy. Just today, my inbox had several weeks worth of email (that gmail helpfully categorizes as Promotions and files them away) needing to be addressed eventually. One was an expired invitation for a special virtual conference that I remember seeing and being interested in, but without immediate attention it became just another tap of the trash can icon.

Anyway. I keep them because of a well-intentioned desire to return & carefully read. Then on a day like today, I open and pretend to read them all before moving them to the garbage heap. But this article, this paragraph in particular, against all odds got stuck in my mind and brought the momentum to a screeching halt.

Is it really “impossible?” What does the subjective phrase “faithful walk” mean? Or “committed participation?” And “real connection?” What a fascinating few lines of text, right? All good writing asks something of us; to stop, to be here, to engage. To put aside the thoughts of meal prep or fantasy football lineups or the next item looming on the calendar. Even to put aside our own accepted positions that have not been re-evaluated in way too long, taken for granted as true (or if not necessarily true, they are our accepted positions, and should be defended as such.)

Do I think it’s impossible? Maybe. I used to think it was absolutely possible, even preferable, to be without a local church, which is full of hypocrites (like me) and other’s issues (like mine). I don’t so much anymore. Now I’m sure it’s not preferable, but impossible?

The answer to that depends on how we define “faithful walk,” “committed participation,” and “real connection,” I suppose. And as none of our definitions will be the same, it’s hard to use a word like impossible. If we use Klink’s definitions of “faithful” or “committed,” it’s impossible. Maybe not if we use mine. And my own definitions have changed over the years, even over the days or minutes, and will surely continue to transform.

I know, after a global pandemic caused a seismic shift in my concept of “connection,” I’m more convinced that a local church isn’t a luxury.

I also know that I’m very wary of using the word “impossible” in the context of a faith based on a God who became a man who died and was resurrected. It seems after all we’ve seen and heard, we should probably excise the word from our vocabulary.

So we could spend forever chewing on those words and how they play out in our own lives, but it’s that last sentence and the difference between “becoming” and “living” that is chewing on me. The point I’m trying to to make is that words matter. Becoming a follower of Jesus is different from living as one – becoming involves One Big Yes, living requires thousands of them. Can we do that – living – alone, without a community? I guess the answer is maybe, but the better question is, why on earth would we want to?

“Who Was With Her”

“She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Genesis 3 is when everything gets broken, when a creation marked by shalom becomes one of chaos, conflict, pain, fear, and on and on and on. This is where all of it starts.

I don’t find too much of a surprise in the woman’s actions. It doesn’t matter how many doors are open, I always focus on the one that’s locked. We don’t mind wearing a mask until they’re mandated. One of the most common things I hear is that we are so busy, we’d really love to have some down time to sleep in, rest, and decompress. Last March, when we were told that’s what we HAD to do, it was largely met with outrage. We are a rebellious bunch.

She took the fruit and ate it and so did he. Sadly, we probably would’ve done the same.

[If you know anything about me, you know we could talk about those actions forever, but I’m downplaying them because it’s that 2nd very tiny, very ‘insignificant’ phrase in the sentence that wears me out.]

Interestingly, the serpent tempted the woman, who was never actually personally told the rules of the garden. The man was. As she is manipulated, vulnerable and overwhelmed, he is “with her,” silently allowing it to happen.

A friend once told me, “you read too much into this,” and he is half right. I do read into this, but it is certainly not too much. What can possibly be “too much” about the first sin to occur in the Scriptures? We usually consider that the eating is the first, but it’s the man’s passivity that preceded that bite. It’s the first, and it continues to run roughshod over all of our lives. In fact, I might suggest that it is the most widespread characteristic of American men. (Maybe it’s everywhere in each sex, but I happen to be an American man and they always tell you to “write what you know.”)

We wait and see, we avoid risk, we sit idle, we play video games. It looks like patience, but it’s not. It’s complacency. We stay the same because the possibility of failure and the fear of change are greater than the faux-comfortability of our parent’s basement.

I often reference David staying home during the time of year when the kings go off to war. It’s during this comfortable abdication of his role that he causes the trouble with Bathsheba (infidelity, murder, among so many others). And all of this gigantic mess has it’s root in passivity.

The passive aggressive behavior that is so common pales in comparison to our aggressive passivity.

The athletes want to win games but will not show up for offseason workouts or invest the time in growth. Boys want the beautiful partners in their dreams but will not become the sorts of men who would be beautiful partners. Growth is hard. Standing is hard. Speaking when the serpent is spinning lies is hard. Taking the shot is hard. Giving every effort is hard.

“Try hard” is now a form of derision in schools, directed at those whose only transgression is to try hard.

Who knows what would have happened if the man had protected her as fiercely as he protected himself and his own comfort? Maybe it would’ve gone down the same way eventually. I imagine it would have, we were going to fall. Our rebellion and bend toward idolatry are hungry monsters that would’ve found a way to eat. But it might not have happened then, there and in that way.

And who knows what would happen if we would protect our families, friends, neighbor as fiercely as we protect our own apathy? If we’d just be try hards for the Kingdom. Nehemiah said, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” I would add, “and fight for ourselves.” We weren’t made to be just standing next to her while the serpent leads all of us into darkness. We were made for the light, and most times, light requires our presence and active engagement. Light requires us to show up.

The Invitation

Last Sunday I used the phrase, “we are to use our creativity to actively impact our environment,” knowing how many questions it carried along with it, like barnacles hitchhiking on a whale. Do I have any creativity? Does everyone? Either way, what should I do? What is our environment? Can I really impact the world? This all seems so big and overwhelming, is it possible? How do I find time to do this? If God wants this, why doesn’t He do it Himself?

And on and on, right? It sometimes seems like each line of the Scriptures asks more than it answer, every word a doorway to a new idea or avenue of exploration and reflection. That’s not an accident, I don’t think, it is the design.

I’m not going to A any of those Q’s I referenced earlier, except the 1st and last.

1st: Yes.

Last: Built into the story of us, right there in the first 2 books of the Bible, we find our answer. Everything created is given the ability to produce, to participate, to carry on, to move this story forward. If we weren’t supposed to be robots “in the beginning,” why would we be now? (Well, maybe that’s a bad question – we might be because most things we touch, we break. But that doesn’t appear to be God’s intention for us or this entire creation.) We have been gifted with the free will to choose; love or indifference, surrender or control, engagement or apathy. We can be here now, awake to the unbelievable blessings around us, OR, we can sleepwalk down streets jammed with burning bushes, wondering if God exists and, if so, where He is and why He isn’t speaking to us.

This participation applies to our relationship with His Word. This beautiful library of poetry, song, history, wisdom, parable, and whatever Revelation is, is not now and has never been intended to be an instruction manual, like in the glove box of your car or the LEGO booklets that have a step-by-step guide to making their product. If it was, I promise you there wouldn’t be 2 verses that were exact opposites!!!! Those verses are Proverbs 26:4 & 5, google them, and spend the rest of the day considering why they are consecutive verses, instead of spread chapters apart, where we could forget. It’s as if we are being forced to deal with the contradiction. On that note, it’s similar to the parable of the vineyard workers. If the landowner had paid the workers from the first hired to the last, they wouldn’t have known that they all got the same amount. He wanted them to know, wanted to confront them, wanted them to wrestle with the implications. He wanted them to participate in their own growth, wanted them to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.”

The invitation has been given, it’s now up to us what we do with it. What kind of world do we want to live in? That might be the biggest question we have to answer on this subject, because the way we answer that will direct our steps on a daily basis. If I want to live in a world of kindness, I will practice kindness.

(And as John would probably say, if we aren’t practicing kindness, maybe we don’t really want to live in a world of kindness. Maybe we don’t really believe kindness works.)

If we want to live in a world of generosity, we will be generous. If we want love, we will love.

This is the invitation. There is a party, now how will we dress and what will we bring?

Where It Leads

On the mini earlier today, we began to tie the clouds of our lives together. It’s like that scene in The Karate Kid. After Daniel-san has been painting fences & houses, sanding the floor, and waxing on and off for who knows how long (it’s about 15 or 20 minutes of the movie), he begins to pout. Well, he doesn’t just begin to pout here, he begins to pout about this here. He pouts often in the movie. Probably, Daniel Larusso is the most unlikeable hero we’ve ever seen. Anyway. Mr Miyagi miracles the soreness out of his shoulders and unleashes a barrage of punches and kicks that Daniel-san expertly blocks with his surprising new ability. Given connection, context and application, the isolated moves have become skill and talent and will eventually win him the All Valley Karate Tournament and Elizabeth Shue.

We’ve been talking about weight, values, showing up, effort, energy, time, choice, quality, quantity, intention – and when Jen spoke this weekend, saying “Garbage In Garbage Out,” (she was talking about input to our hearts, but later the words themselves met me in a space where I was receiving so much stimulation from all directions) everything coalesced into a nice fiery ball of awareness for me.

What we give (the quantity and, even more so, the quality) can directly inform what we get and how we experience our surroundings and circumstances. If I pour in the very best of me to my relationship with God, my marriage, community, children, career, fitness, friendships, on and on (wherever I choose to spend my time & energy) the chances go up exponentially that whatever it is will be positive and fulfilling. If I don’t, it won’t.

(Now of course, it’s not 100%. If we’ve learned anything at all, it’s that we are not the ones who are in control, right? This is not our story.)

I have a very good friend with whom I used to spend an awful lot of time, we were tight and deeply connected. Then we stopped attending the same church community, didn’t see each other as much, the tight, deep connection loosened and now, though we still care for each other, the friendship is largely superficial. You get what you put in.

If I stay up late Friday night, eat a bunch of junk food, and wake up late Saturday morning, when I log in to the retreat I am tired and uncomfortable, and where I usually find the retreats very meaningful, this time it happens and leaves me unaffected. Garbage in garbage out.

Now, the million dollar question is, how do I know where to choose to give my time & energy? How do I decide what to give?

This is where the hard work we’ve been doing on weight comes back to reward us. We’ve been praying, relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discover our values. We explore what we think is important to us and examine if it actually is. This revelation of our hearts is painstaking but vital, and now we know why. We give our time & energy to what weighs more, we give the best of us to the most valuable.

If we don’t know where to focus, we’ll just give more and more pieces of us to everything. We respond to all of the personal emails, forwards, ads, and spam in our inboxes, unable to tell the difference. We’ll feel drained and used and confused as to why our relationships suffer, why our work suffers, why we don’t feel inspired, why we’re tired all the time, distracted, bored.

If we do, and don’t act on it, we can become angry and/or resentful because we aren’t doing the things that give us life, that we are made to do, that mean something to us. We’ll feel drained and used, our relationships will suffer, our work will suffer, we’ll feel tired, uninspired, distracted, bored, but this time, we know why and that makes us disappointed in ourselves.

The idea is that we listen and follow the Spirit into the depths of our souls, start to find out who we are and for what we’ve been created and called, then step (however lightly at first) onto that path, show up and give everything we have, and see where it leads. I bet it leads somewhere awesome, miles from where we thought we would be.

If & How

I have been thinking of taking a break from writing these posts. There are lots of reasons for this, the most compelling is that I am working on a new book and it’s call is getting louder and louder. I started working on it (the title is “Be Very Careful Who You Marry,” after a fantastic pearl of wisdom from my dad) months and months ago, and I sometimes let weeks go by without adding even a word. Life also gets quite busy and trying to do everything usually means the quality of that everything you’re trying to do decreases drastically, and that is something I can not abide. So, if something has to go, I’ve been thinking it would be this.

Then today, as I was cleaning up my emails, I saw one I wrote to myself late at night. It simply said, “I get to choose every day how I show up.” I don’t remember the context, if I saw it on Instagram or heard it in my own head, but today as I was scribbling it into my small leather bound notebook (a gift from my sister) to remember, it reminded me of this space.

It’s certainly true. First, we get to choose IF we show up. This is always, obviously, step 1. How can it be any other way?

But then, we choose HOW. Are we there physically, but not emotionally? Are we distracted, prisoners to the past or the future? Are we resentful and bitter about having to show up, as if we were forced to attend, victims?

OR are we engaged, interested, enthusiastic, connected?

This requires a great deal of work to decide what we will show up for, but once we do, we decide our own level of fulfillment. We decide what’s important, THEN what we will bring to the table, and finally, what we will receive from that same table.

I think this space is important. Whether anyone reads what I post here is a question for another day. Or maybe it’s not. Whether anyone reads what I post here has absolutely no bearing on my decision to do it or not. Our individual offerings are a sacred gift, this is one of mine, and sure, it is a gift to you, but more than that, it is a gift (a response) to the One who has given so generously to me. I can only give; how it is received is completely out of my control.

So, I decided a long time ago that this space is important. Maybe that will change, but until it does, I will show up and give you my heart, body, soul and mind, and how I will do it is fully present and aware that this is a gift, an offering.

Now that I think about it, that’s how I want to show up to every single thing I am blessed enough to experience.

I’ll write my book, too, and the first page will say “to my dad. thanks.’

Far Away

“All we are is all we made” is a line from a song by Breaking Benjamin called “Far Away.” I don’t exactly know what it’s about, some comments I read say it’s about the rapture, religion, and/or God. Maybe. You know, some songs sound very obviously about one thing to later find out that’s not what the songwriter had in mind at all. I just watched a short form documentary on Netflix (called Song Exploder) about “Losing My Religion,” by R.E.M. and I didn’t really know what the song meant then and any of the guesses I did have turned out to be totally wrong. The good thing is that, with very few exceptions, I have learned to a. release these artists from the weight of my expectations, and b. release my need to know everything about every band I liked to be super cool and impress you. No one was ever all that impressed anyway. All that to say I don’t really care why the band’s name is Breaking Benjamin (is anyone named Benjamin? Who knows?) or why they wrote that song.

“Far Away” might have been written with the rapture or casserole or artificial intelligence in mind, but when I heard the line “all we are is all we made,” I knew that it would mean a great deal to me and that it would soon appear in this space. I heard it on a very good friend’s phone and ran for the nearest pen and index card so I wouldn’t forget.

Our lives are the structures created from many, many individual bricks stacked by many, many individual choices. That structure doesn’t exist by accident, it’s the sum total of each of these bricks. If we use a certain brick, we can’t expect them to magically transform into something different, like logs or steel or straw. If I wake up in a cornfield, there is a better than average chance that I planted corn.

In January of this year, 3 months before the world are to a screeching halt, this space was going to be a year-long exploration of the small, seemingly insignificant decisions and details that become these bricks that become us. Of course 2020 had other plans, but now, with this song, I wonder if it isn’t time to point ourselves back in that direction. Maybe it’s exactly what we need. Maybe after months and months of disruption/invitation, it’s time to re-evaluate what is happening, what needed to go and what needed to stay, and what kinds of people we’ll be and what we need to plant to grow those people.

The lyric asks us, if all we are is all we made, what have we made? And what are we making? The state of everything has illustrated that our passivity, our sleepwalking hasn’t served us very well. This is all going to take attention and intention. I so often refer to the final page of the Chuck Palahniuk book Choke:

“Paige and I just look at each other, at who each other is for real. For the first time. We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.

In the trees, a mourning dove calls. It must be midnight. And Denny says, “Hey, we could use some help here.”

Paige goes, and I go. The four of us dig with our hands under the edge of the rock. In the dark, the feeling is rough and cold and takes forever, and all of us together, we struggle to just put one rock on top of another.

….

It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos. What it’s going to be, I don’t know. Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

And maybe knowing isn’t the point.

Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”

Now, we’re not exactly deciding for ourselves – we have a Spirit inside of us that is leading us into the beauty of our calling, if we would only listen – but you get the idea: we get to decide to listen. This time truly feels like “nowhere in the middle of the night…in the ruins,” and that’s either terrifying or wonderfully exciting. Maybe both. Yes, both. It’s a good thing we are here to do this together.