honesty

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.”

Change the Details, Change Your Life!!!!

Before we get to the details that will change your life (that sounds like a spiritualish self-help promise on a book jacket – “Change the Details, Change Your Life!!!!” – in a whimsical font over a gauzy picture of me with a cheesy smile and big hair, doesn’t it?) Before we get there, we have to ask some hard questions, figure some things out and do some homework. You can’t paint the walls and choose fixtures before you pour the foundation. 

In the Bible, we see that there are some situations where we are faced with a choice where the options come into conflict with each other and are both mandated in the Scriptures. (Wait, WHAT?!!!?) 

There’s a story about a Good Samaritan. (It’s found in Luke 10:25-37, you can read it now, I’ll wait…) So, the first 2 religious men crossed the street to avoid him and walked right on by. The horror, right? Except for, in Numbers 19:11 “All those who touch a dead human body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days.” and Leviticus 5:2 “Or if a person touches anything unclean–whether the carcass of an unclean wild animal or livestock or crawling creature–even if he is unaware of it, he is unclean and guilty.” and Leviticus 21:1 The Lord said to Moses: “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron—say to them, ‘For a dead person no priest is to defile himself among his people…” and Leviticus 21:11 “He must not go near any dead body or make himself unclean, even for his father or mother.” 

It’s a horrible thing they did, until we realize they did exactly what they were supposed to do! 

George Bradford Caird says, “it weighed more with them that he might be dead and defiling to the touch of those whose business was with holy things than that he might be alive and in need of care.” 

But, as far as “care” goes, also in Leviticus (19:18), it says “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” and Deuteronomy 15:11 “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” and Proverbs 14:21 “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” and Psalm 82:4 “Rescue the weak and the needy”

So, what would you do? Would you follow the law, the Bible? Which part? How do you choose? Which is weightier?

In Luke 14:1-5 “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?””

Well, of course we’d all pull our donkey out of the well. But in Exodus 20:8-10 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” 

Isn’t rescuing our donkeys “work?” Of course, it is. 

Now what? 

And add to that that we might choose differently, right? The honest truth is that things that are weightier to me might not be to you.

It seems that the Scriptures are an invitation into a certain way of life, where everything isn’t spelled out and it’s not all black and white. Maybe this is because what you may value, or need, at certain times in your life aren’t the things you will value at others. And maybe its because we’re not all at the same place on the journey. Maybe maybe maybe, so many maybe’s. But this big, beautiful book is like a doorway into questions and more questions and transformation, and letting go of our need to understand, to have everything under control, and to be right. 

There’s another story, about a kid who disowns his family, runs off and makes a giant mess of his life. Eventually, when he realizes how giant the mess is, he returns. The Father doesn’t wait for an explanation or even an “I’m sorry, dad,” He throws a party because He’s just so happy the son is home. Now, everyone is happy about this, except for one, the kid’s brother. And it ends with the Father inviting him in. But if he chooses to go in, he’ll have to leave all of his ‘rightness’ outside, and discover who his Father is, who his brother is, and what he’s been dying to know all along: who he is. What weighs more, the party or being right? 

And I’ll give you one guess to what the Bible does with this… nothing. The story ends before he decides, with the brother, with you and me, outside, the invitation hanging unanswered in the thick night air.

Paper Cuts & Fractures

Anne Lamott once said there were 3 types of prayer, ‘Thanks,’ ‘Help,’ and ‘Wow,’ and I think that’s pretty accurate, but it’s the ‘Help’ ones I’m thinking about today. Often, in the Scriptures, the writers are asking for guidance, for help through any number of situations or challenges or obstacles. Sometimes the help is to deliver them, to grant them peace, or a good night’s sleep, or to bash their enemies on rocks. Either way, the cool thing is that they always come to God with a beautiful humility, a sense of their place and of His place. They have a problem and He can fix it. He was big, strong, awesome enough to fix anything they could carry, and He was loving enough to want to. (Whether He did or did not is another matter, a question for another day.) But, perhaps more importantly, they believed that they were big enough, significant enough to Him that He would care about their problems, obstacles, their well-being enough to come to their rescue and provide what they needed. 

The interesting thing that has happened, as we get more religious and less childlike is that that innocent humility is gone, replaced with the modern idol of comparison.

Where we would immediately go straight to God and say/scream “HELP!!!” now we wonder if our problem is enough to warrant an audience with the Creator of the Universe. There are others with so many more pressing issues, catastrophes, global disasters, matters of life and death. We say, “well, it’s not as bad as ____, and we should just get over it.” This lie grows in our heads, whispers that our trouble is inconsequential, selfish, and we should be ashamed to even consider bothering Him with it.    

This is a bizarre kind of idolatry, where we are the focus instead of the character of God. 

As the humility goes, the honesty goes, too. And we hide our hearts under carefully crafted masks of what we think we should be. 

Could you even imagine speaking of revenge before God, saying,  “Happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks,” as the prophet Jeremiah did in Psalm 137? 

I’m not saying you should feel that way, but what if you do? 

Well, I would probably pretend not to, because it’s not very spiritual and what would everyone else think? I would probably paint a smile on your face and hide those feelings in a corner somewhere until they disappear – they will disappear, right? 

More masks, more idolatry, more destructive circles, more unhealthy behaviors, more resentment, more bitterness, more fake plastic people.

There are 2 words in the Bible that explode this whole warped system of ours. In John 11, a man named Lazarus dies and Jesus is late and if He “had been here,” Lazarus “would not have died.” The story has a very happy ending, but before Jesus does exactly what He came to do, what He knew He was going to do all along, verse 35 says, “Jesus wept.”

He didn’t say calm down, don’t cry, just wait, watch this. He didn’t try to cheer anyone up, didn’t minimize their pain (and consequently, His own). He didn’t tell anyone what they should be feeling or where to direct their heartbreak. He wept. He wasn’t concerned with comparison or comfortability. He was interested in the hearts of these 2 sisters, in their honest, authentic, wide-open hearts, without pretense or the self-imposed weight of “the should’s.”

The truth of the Bible (and of human experience) is that no one heals by covering brokenness with denial. It is only through dragging it into the light, weeping over it, laying it down and leaving it there, at His feet. Sure, our wound may not be as deep as someone else’s, our diagnosis not as severe, but comparison has never been His concern. His concern has always been our hearts, and He heals paper cuts as well as fractures, if we only trust Him enough to stop pretending and ask.