honesty

A Tale Of Two 30 For 30’s

2 different documentaries were released by ESPN this year followed much the same outline: Huge star athlete brought down by scandal and where is he now? They clung pretty close to the template, but they felt like polar opposites.

Lance Armstrong won 7 Tour de France’s (Tours de France?) amid wide doping speculation that he vehemently denied, destroying the lives of all those who happened to get in his way. As it turns out, he was using performance enhancing drugs forever and if you search Tour de France winners, his name is excised. Nobody won those years.

Michael Vick transformed football by transforming the quarterback position – everything is different today directly because of his talent, success and impact…until he was jailed for nearly 2 years for dogfighting. He returned to football and was, again, successful on the field but still walks around with the criminal brand he earned.

Now, why are they so different? On the surface, it’s just 2 supremely gifted athletes who lost everything. And so what? Why do we care?

They are different because Armstrong continues to blame everyone else. He was, by all accounts, a mean, nasty, arrogant jerk. It is still not his fault. He admits his act through clenched teeth, but it is only in the context of “everyone else was doing it.” The real villains in his story are the people who blew the whistle to bring down such an American hero. The film ends and we did not enjoy it. We do not like him. We would NEVER trust Lance Armstrong.

They are different because Vick has looked (and continues to look) squarely in the mirror at his own wrongdoing. He has reasons but never excuses. He was the one responsible for his downfall. We did enjoy this film. We may not like or understand him, but we are proud of him. His is a story of redemption and beauty.

(I recognize 2 things. 1. That Vick’s crimes were far more heinous than Armstrong’s. I do not and could not ever defend what he did. 2. I never guessed that I’d call a film that included some of the ugliest behavior I’ve seen “a story of… beauty.”)

Now, so what, why do we care? Genesis 3 has a man passively, quietly stand by while the woman eats the fruit specifically forbidden. When God asks them about it, the man says, “She did it!” Then continues, “And as far as that goes, You put her here!” God asks her, and she says, “It was the serpent, he tricked me!”

Today has us all explaining that “He did it!” “She made me!” “I was scared what would happen if I didn’t go along.” I clicked because she didn’t…”

Genesis 3, Adam, Eden, 2020, me, you, Cleona, Los Angeles. “I’m sorry, but…” is just another way to say “you’re mad, but it’s not my fault.” It’s your fault, or his, or theirs. I only know it’s not mine, or if it is, I’m going to do any sort of contortion to avoid the responsibility of the action.

We care because blame is as old as human beings and it is still just as gross as it was the first time. It has never gotten less obvious or less pathetic.

The problem is that it’s such a lie. Dishonesty interrupts relationship, distracts from connection, until we are so far apart we have no idea what’s real and what isn’t. You and I will have conflict. You and I will disagree. I will let you down. You will, too. Each close relationship has countless hiccups, missteps and offenses that we endure. Blame is the wall that makes forgiveness impossible and prevents reconciliation absolutely, our arrogance in this deception keeps us behind masks of being “right.”

There is amazing power in “I’m sorry,” the kind of power that allows us to celebrate Michael Vick and shake our heads at Lance Armstrong. The kind that makes marriages work and friendships last. The kind that that gives fresh starts, leads us to grow and transform into brand new me’s and you’s and Michael Vick’s (but not yet Lance Armstrong’s), and sees what is possible instead of what has always been.

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.

Unicorns

I have a very good friend who said to me, “You know, I’ve noticed you do a lot of things out of a reaction to past experiences.”

Or I should say “I used to have a very good friend who…” because when he threw such a mean-spirited, judgmental hand grenade at me, I did exactly what we’re all supposed to do: run like crazy in the other direction. He should’ve known better, we don’t have time for this sort of closed-minded attack. He’s obviously a bad guy, right?

OK, that’s not true at all. I mean, my response isn’t true. What he said is absolutely right on. I do. It didn’t feel nice to hear.

My posture as a man, husband, and father began as a Costanza-esque commitment to “do the opposite” of my dad. [My perspective has since changed with age, maturity (which is clearly not the same as simply being alive longer), understanding, and grace.] I bristled at the Bridge being called a church for years, so much baggage comes with such a small word. I wouldn’t allow anyone to refer to me as its pastor. Again, a word that carries such heavy baggage from those who have done such damage and misused the position and influence. And the biggest sacred pillar for me was money. The business of God was always so gross to me, it’s the primary reason I ran from God for the first 20 or so years of my life. If you’ve had your eyes open, you’ve heard stories of churches placing dollars before people and buildings before God. I never even wanted to take an offering at all! We don’t mention our orange box and certainly don’t “pass the plate.”

There are a thousand things to find in this small interaction between my friend and I, outside of what he actually said.

I am thankful that I have a friend that is so committed to my growth that he would take the risk. It’s a vulnerable and frightening position that can (and has, as I can personally attest) result in a broken relationship. As we talk so often about, what weighs more; the relationship, superficial and suppressed, or each other’s growth, honest and accountable? I am thankful that he chose me over some watered down and ultimately dismissive version of me.

I am also thankful that Jesus has taken my hand and led me, kicking and screaming, with the help of people like my friend, into a space where satisfying my ego and pride, selfishly protecting the status quo in my own life, isn’t my first priority. It is still sadly a priority I cling to, I’m sure, it’s just not the first anymore. But He has pursued me until I could run no longer and is inviting me daily into a brand new reality.

That’s 2, 998 more to go. Maybe next time.

It’s difficult breaking down patterns in our lives, whether they’re patterns built to expand our arrogance and/or hold fast to the past experiences that we have chosen to define our present and future. This breaking down is terrifying, and nothing that should be done alone. I pray we all have friends like mine, and I pray that we recognize these unicorns for what extraordinary creatures they are.

Word Offering

After a desperately needed week off – though it wasn’t a week free of drama and chaos, it was a week off from this space. I do love this space (the imaginary blog space and the psychological space of work, as well as this actual physical space of chair and computer) but stepping away gave me the opportunity to respond quickly and without reservation. It gave me the opportunity to answer the phone and quickly say yes, and that is something we (at least that I) don’t get the freedom to do nearly enough.

I’ll touch on last week soon enough, but I do want to dive into the Visio Divina poem from 2 weeks ago. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please take a second to read my last post, ‘This Branch.’)

So. This branch – “This branch is blowing, sometimes gently, sometimes violently, moved, led, a dance of differing tempos. This branch, before the cool gray shy and behind the jarring, out-of-place power lines, connected to the tree, (the Vine), healthy, crisp, bright, refined, bending, swaying, it is beautiful, an extension of the tree, it’s very nature is, here, now, lovely. As it is.” – is me. You. Him. Her. Us. We are beautiful, lovely, at our deepest essence. Exactly as we are. (Despite the lies we believe distance us and make us something less, we remain made in the image of God, after all, made in, by, and for, love. As Rise Against sings, “We are far from perfect, but perfect as we are. We are bruised, we are broken, but we are ** works of art.”) Exactly as we have been created, joined, connected to the Tree that gives us life and vitality. We are acted upon by our environments, consisting of the world around us. This takes many forms, none intrinsically good or bad, like neighbors, work, viruses, winter, pizza, sex, money, the ocean, etc. The environment that blows us, weathers us, and threatens to sever us from the Tree that sustains us as it reminds us again and again that we are these amazing works of art.

Now, the condensation: “But a stripe from the window, a separation, condensation (cold meeting warm leaving unwelcome evidence of the battle on the glass) cuts through the branch, blurs, dulls, smears, makes the concrete abstract, changes perception, confuses, redefines the branch, the branch loses it’s essence, unrecognizable.” As the environment simply exists, it can engage with itself or other environments in many ways, some of them in conflict, which can change the perception we have of ourselves. We become unrecognizable (I mis-typed and was corrected to “unrecognized” but that is no correction at all, it’s 100% wrong. The Tree recognizes us, no matter where we are, how far we go, or how much condensation separates us.) and confused. We own the notion that we are re-defined by this blur, so we re-define ourselves, which encourages us to re-define others, as “sinners,” or some other broad-sweeping generalizations that reduce the beauty of the branches and the Tree for one unfortunate aspect or behavior.

I don’t have any idea how coherent this explanation of this Visio is…probably not very. Maybe it’s so difficult to convey because any revelation, any truly soul-altering experience, is ultimately a personal exchange between you and the Divine. An intimate moment beyond words… that we try to use words to catch and maybe in the attempt to capture, loses its nature or its heart.

Maybe I should delete this whole thing, maybe sharing it profanes it’s purity. But you already know I won’t. I won’t delete it because maybe its purity is instead magnified in the overwhelming goodness of a God who would meet us in a branch and smudge on a window. So, on that chance, I will post it gladly, in all of its jumbled inadequacy, His goodness displayed in my weakness, as a Word Offering (like a drink offering of the Old Testament) to the God that so thoroughly provides.

Unknown

Last week, I wrote a post from inside the process. This is only noteworthy because it so rarely happens. We have gotten accustomed to stories with an arc; beginning, middle, and end. A story without an end leaves us in varying degrees of discomfort. Where are we? What is happening? And most importantly, will everything be ok?

I got several messages asking these questions, looking for resolution, from people I love very much and who love me back. My sister (The Best Sister In The World) sent the first, on her lunch break, then hearing that I was in fact better than ok, she was able to return to work. People are just wonderful.

But I think we’ve been mislead somewhere along the way, and it was last week that started me down this path. Because I was so happy and full, if a little confused and unsure in the middle of this swirl of information trying to find cohesion, it was strange that those I love so dearly would be concerned. The path is dangerous, but nothing worthwhile ever comes without it, so maybe our ideas of good & bad, desirable and un-, should be re-arranged. Maybe the things that make us uncomfortable should be welcomed with a bit more hospitality, because the ‘us’ that we will become is so valuable. Maybe the uncertainty of the journey is the catalyst for the stretching that will leave us transformed. Maybe we should, as this brilliant fitness guy I follow online (Aadam Ali, Physiqonomics) says, “embrace the suck.”

Sure, we don’t want to, but the only way is through.

I was struggling with words and judgment because not everything I see, hear, and experience is for public display. Before I write or speak about anything or anyone, I have to discern if it is personal and/or the person would not appreciate seeing his or her name on a website or Sunday morning. That’s not always easy. As you have probably figured out, I think everything should be out in the open, where the light can reach it. We have these stories of defeat or celebration, with everything in between, for each other to glean from, to find hope or belonging or acceptance or encouragement. We find that we are not alone, and that’s probably what we’re all looking for anyway, right? Even more than we want to know why, we want someone’s hand to hold in the unknown.

BUT I might not be in the majority in this, and other’s stories are not mine to tell.

Last week was the last week of basketball for my boys and that brings with it a full, heavy load of contrasting emotions. There are things I’d like to protect them from (teenaged boys can be awfully frightened, insecure animals and act out of those fears in inhuman fashion) and behaviors I’d like to shield them from, but there are also vital lessons that are learned there, about themselves and their teammates. They find courage and the will to do the hard things that are so rewarding, as well as pride in themselves and their hard work.

Now. I do this work for lots of reasons and sometimes, like today, I find the reason mid-stream.

I had trouble last week making sense of all of this chaos…because there was no end. My boys are still working their way through it as well, we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Will the locker-room nastiness and fake boyhood posturing jade them or will they rebel against a culture of comparison and competition, where we tear each other down in a misguided attempt to build ourselves up? Who knows???? I want to text them from the end and ask if they are ok, if everything turned out for the best, just like my friends did with me, but there is no end here. Maybe there’s never an end, here. Maybe it’s just all the journey, different steps on the path, different heights on the mountain, with slips and falls and leaps and bounds.

Maybe we just keep taking steps, embracing the suck, eyes wide open for the beauty in the midst, remembering (and reminding each other) to trust that this story was never ours to begin with – it’s God’s, and He is still with us, has never abandoned us – and holding each other’s hands in the unknown.

The Art of Subtraction

Happy New Year, it’s 2 thousand twenty. It hardly seems possible, right. I was born in 1975, so that means I’ve now seen 6 decades. I suppose this is my favorite, if I had to choose – you see, all things considered, life gets better every single day. I imagine my 7th decade (if I get that far) will be even better yet.

Though if I were totally honest, this year has so far been a little bit of a bummer. I was a little sick at the end of last year for Christmas, and then I was seemingly better, then yesterday woke up with a cough! Nursing this tiny cold hasn’t been too much of a nuisance, with the giant exception of the 2 twin babies I’m dying to spend tons of time and smooches on that I can’t yet. I’m not one of those psychos that visit regardless of symptoms and hack all over their sweet soft round faces. The hugs and kisses are coming the second I am tip top, that I promise you.

We’ve been spending some time at the Bridge reflecting on what has passed and imagining new beginnings. A few years ago, the mother of the 2 babies walked me through her practice of a focus word for the coming year. Her practice that would immediately become mine, too. That first year, my word was Release. I’ve always struggled with expectations, trying to control how I was perceived or how you responded to me. Obviously, this had the potential to be (and often became) a crushing weight on my shoulders and soul. That year, I began a nice journey of finding freedom and peace and joy in the process itself, simply offering up whatever I am or have as the act of worship, releasing you to behave exactly as you would, and releasing me of the chains of manipulating your behavior/response.

This year, I am also choosing Release, but I’m calling it Release, v. 2, because it’s a different kind of Release.

Still expectations, still control, but as I am a different man, my perspective has changed.

Here’s an old example of the sort of journey I am taking this year: For the first 4 or so years of the Bridge, I virtually ignored the orange offering box. (In fact, it’s still entirely possible for you to be there and have no idea if we have such a thing.) This was a conscious decision on my part because I had seen and experienced such abuse at the hands of the church in regard to money, or rather, the idolatry of money. So, I was content to throw the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater. And I was wrong. Thankfully, I surround myself with people with far more wisdom that I and they were finally able to open my eyes to the beauty (and necessity) of living a generous life, a life free of grasping and grabbing, a life free of the mastery of money. I still don’t focus on what comes in every week, but the over-reaction has lost much of it’s irrational power over me.

As we know, a life lived in negative posture never changed anyone’s life. Saying No to financial abuse ignores saying Yes to financial transparency and responsible stewardship.

I lived so so much of my life wanting to be not-my-dad. But what did it mean to be Chad?? I would later find out, and be very happy with the answer. And as it turns out, my dad wasn’t so bad, after all, not a monster, just a man who had plenty of wonderful qualities, too, to go along with the parts I hated.

Negative postures never change lives, just continue reinforcing limiting beliefs that keep us stuck.

This year’s Release is sort of complicated. It’s a release of negative postures based on experiences and baggage that I have not left behind, for whatever reason.

There are many examples I could detail, but here is one (since this is the Bridge page, after all): I will often leave unsaid what I do at the Bridge or that I even belong to a faith community at all. As you can figure, I have reasons – reasons that are not awful. Sometimes, in very high-profile ways, local churches have done such damage to where the word “church” is viewed as a dirty word. Instead of peace and love, the first words associated are judgmental and hypocritical. Reacting to this, I ran as fast as I could from the word church. And maybe that’s ok, in service of our mission to reclaim the initial splendor of the Bride of Christ. But running from the word is different from running from the idea of The Church – and the church. The Church is a lovely expression of kindness, encouragement, mutual respect and personal/communal growth. Or it should be. And how can we take it back if I am too scared to confront the truth of what it is (and has been) while still affirming what it could be, what it was intended to be?

The Bridge is a beautiful home, just what you might need in your life – but how will you know if I am governed by what someone did somewhere else?

Just because Britney Spears albums are horrible doesn’t mean we have to throw out our record players.

I’m not going to become a crazy sidewalk preacher wearing sandwich boards. At least I don’t think so. But I need to release the idea that I should not be a crazy sidewalk preacher wearing sandwich boards, and embrace just being me.

Genesis 1 says we’re made in the image of God, and it has been my experience that when we just strip away all of the fears, expectations, should’s, should not’s, and negative postures (I called it the Art of Subtraction in a message 2 years ago), we’ll find us – who we really are, in our deepest Genesis 1 Truths – and when we do, we’ll really like what we see.

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.

Emotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Another Post About Youth Baseball

I am finished coaching baseball for the year, and I am equal parts disappointed and thrilled.

This weekend we will not be playing in the state tournament for 13 and 14 year old all-stars. Baseball is strange (and that is, of course, what makes it so great.) Samuel’s team played a best-of-3 series with a Harrisburg area all-star team and, in the first, Saturday morning, pounded them 14-2 in a 5 inning mercy rule game. The second, after 4 innings, we were ahead 5-0 and planning our trip and hotel accommodations. In the next 2 1/2 innings, we were handed a 9-5 loss. This forced us to come back for Sunday afternoon and the wrong end of a 17-6 whipping. What looked like an easy coasting to the next step turned to mush in our hands. Baseball, right?

Samuel, for his part, played very well, but baseball is a game where everything you hit can be solid and hard and you can come away empty. That’s just what he did, with great frustration. I keep reminding him that you can also hit everything softly off the end of the bat and find every hole and go 4-4. He didn’t care about my wisdom. Not even a little.

I thought the team was pretty good, pleasantly surprising me in other ways off the field. The kids were kind and encouraging, the best players were leaders and, at least for 2 days, displayed the sort of character that made me feel like the future was sunny and everything was possible (if not winning a 3 game series.) I told a few of the boys and wanted to call each of their parents. 

This was a stark contrast to our summer team (ages 13-16). I thought this team was pretty good, too, and also surprising off the field. This just wasn’t a good surprise. I expected the older kids, fresh from high school ball to encourage the younger, wide-eyed newbies, to show them what it meant to be ballplayers, where to go on a steal, who the cut-off man is, how to spot a pitcher’s tendencies, and most importantly, what a team looked like, felt like, and what winning required inside each of them. Sadly, the mood crashed the day they came, 2 weeks after practice had began for those not yet playing for the school. With one very notable exception, the boys were clique-ish and sarcastic, choosing to mock and tear down rather than build. Of course, they didn’t take coaching well, usually disrespectful, rarely listening and often saying “No” to instruction on the field (ON THE FIELD!!!!) – after all, they are early teenagers and we all understand that all we’ll ever learn we’ve already learned by our thirteenth birthday, right? They were nasty and mean to each other as well as the requisite muttering behind backs (even to their ‘buddies’ in their own clique.) They clearly didn’t like each other, and to me, the most heartbreaking part of that truth is what it tries to hide: they don’t like themselves. Their insecurity (not only theirs, theirs is just more obvious because of the outward nastiness) worn on their sleeves like a sponsors logo directed every word and move. 

It was an environment that caused my soul to ache every day. What could I do to affect some change? What could I do to speak fresh words into such negative self-regard? What could I do??? I tried many approaches, to varying degrees of failure. The questions still haunt, and the nagging new question: did I let these broken boys down? I guess I probably did. Sigh.

I also coached a team of younger boys (under 14) from 3 different areas. We were, by all accounts and measures, terrible. I believe they have far more ability than even they would guess that needs to be coaxed into the light, and we made strides. We were always able to find encouraging details to build on, even in the middle of mounting losses.

I will say this, though, about those boys. I loved every moment of our short time together. I told all of those boys that I liked them so much “they could come and live with me” (HA!) and I actually did contact most of the parents (I will end up contacting all of the parents) to appreciate their children. 

I guess the point is that hardly anything is ever just one thing. Sometimes you play well and lose, sometimes you lose and have a great time, sometimes the worst thing is the best, sometimes you’re depressed and thrilled, sometimes you’re full of gratitude and regret.

I spoke at a funeral yesterday (an experience that deserves its own space, which I will give another day, but…) and my funeral messages usually concern this duality, and I offer my own humble permission to feel everything. The Scriptures have an underlying honesty that God, at the very least, allows. Allows? I would say the truth is much closer to ‘demands’ or ‘requires.’

So. 

It’s now around a week later and I am still looking at this, still on this screen, yet to be made public, and I’m only this morning seeing the irony in my hesitance. You see, I’ve been waiting because of the paragraph on the older team. I lost a good friend once because similar feelings, observations, and words about kids (1 in particular) I had coached proved me, to her, harshly judgmental in my assessment. I understand her perspective, I probably did look like a man who had written off these kids and closed the book, rigidly deciding who they were and who they would be. If there was a misunderstanding, it was only in the finality of my opinion. I hold all of this loosely, only an observation, hopefully wishing to open my hands and pick up a new one. The 1 that cost me a friendship did indeed have some of the qualities I perceived. But that was then. One year later, he had grown and matured – as most people do – and I would no longer say those things. Not only would I not say them, I no longer think those things. He is different. And (hopefully) so am I. So are you. 

Every day, I drove to the teener practice crossing my fingers that this would be the day that a big red switch would be flipped and they would step into the next phase of their development. Each evening, I mourned that another day passed in the old patterns, and each morning, I saw them with new eyes. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next Tuesday.

The irony is that this post is about honesty – and here I am hesitating to communicate in an authentic fashion, wondering if I should… 

I should. We are in the business of offering all of who we are, even the ugly parts, and allowing them to move and change and transform into who we will be. Ignoring, or hiding, them leaves them unseen and unchanged. Swept out of sight, unacknowledged, we stay who we are, and that is the only unacceptable outcome. 

This post also concerns things not being just one thing. You’re not just a nurse or a lawyer or a pastor or a teacher or a wife, and neither am I and neither are they and neither is any moment of our lives. I held off on posting this because I didn’t want to be misunderstood again, but maybe I will be. And that’ll be ok. These kids are not one thing, now or ever, and they are certainly not today who they will be in 1 or 2 or 15 years. I don’t ever close any books. Nothing is final.

No, that’s not true. Some things are final. But we aren’t. We’re works in progress. 

Today is not just an extension of yesterday. It isn’t just what it is. 

Except this post. It is exactly what it is. And I’m posting it before it gets any longer.            

Far From Perfect

There are days, weeks, seasons of our lives where the walls are caving in, every phone call is at best: an emergency, at worst: the worst. There is no end to our prayers, no more tears to cry, our heart hurts even though it’s already in pieces, broken so thoroughly it feels as if it’ll never be put back together. You know these spaces, this darkness, this pain. And yet we pray, we still cry, still hurt. We keep moving, because tomorrow can’t be like this, right? And then, of course, it is. This is a season like that.

But we get up again. We don’t want to, but we do. We stand.

This is why it’s so important to examine and understand weight, priority, value – for times like this. Because it’s hard to see at night. Sometimes, it’s hard to breathe and we’re overcome with despair, and it’s precisely these times when we need to know what we are about, when there’s no time to think and the foundation is shaking. When the water is rising.

Everyone responds well when the sun is shining, everyone is gracious when they win.

Anyway. 

I love to watch court shows, like the People’s Court. The People’s Court is on where I live at 1 and 5, I record the 5 o’clock and watch it the next day while I eat my lunch around noon-ish. Today, I’m not watching it because I’m writing. This isn’t too unusual, but I’ll tell you something. I’m sad today. There’s a sweet boy I know undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor right now, I’ve had a run of bad news, relationships are falling apart – others and a few of my own, my legs hurt from a spin class 2 days ago, a good friend is trying to get home but is in the hospital while his insides bleed slowly, several people have passed away and I’m praying for peace for the beautiful friends who have lost. SO. All I want to do is lay on the couch and cry a little and watch Marilyn Milian. 

I’m not, though. Instead, I’m writing. Because that’s who I am. At least it’s who I’ve decided I want to be, who I have been created to be, long before the surgeries and phone calls and funerals and spin bikes. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time exhuming myself, getting rid of all of the walls and dirt and damaging words and thoughts and lies I’ve buried myself under, trying to discover me.       

I value honesty, mercy, and forgiveness. (I’m really working on the last 2 towards myself, but I’m working on them because they are so important to me.) 

I believe people are created in the image of God (even me, which may be the most difficult to accept, right?) I believe that waaaaay down, in the deepest parts of my soul. Then when people let me down (and we always do, eventually) and I’m tempted to think humanity is a hopeless lost cause, I remember what I know – what I learned in the daylight, when it was quiet and I could think clearly. 

But if I didn’t give the time and effort then, I would surely forget the million examples of beauty and love and be prisoner of the moment, of the offense, of the wound, and make decisions based solely on circumstance. Only on the now.

I’m finished for now. I’m going to lay down and cry a little and listen to some music. But there is this Rise Against song, that seems totally appropriate today. It’s called ‘Far From Perfect’ and this is the chorus:   

“We are far from perfect, but we’re perfect as we are.

We are bruised, we are broken

But we are [expletive deleted] works of art.”