honesty

Senior Night

Tonight is Senior Night for the basketball team. There are 3 games left, and this is the last home game. Maybe there will be playoffs, but I don’t have anywhere close to the intellectual capacity to figure that out – the districts, sections, and classes have never made any sense to me. I imagine someone will tell me if we have more games.

This team is much much better than previous years. There was a toxic class to pass through the school and their influence will take time to dissipate, so this year was the first in rebuilding an entire culture and, playoffs or not, has been an almost total success. “Learning to win” is a tired sports cliche and the reason it’s tired is because it’s so often true. These boys are beginning to learn to win. Tonight, that isn’t an issue, they will probably not have to worry about winning. But the great thing about sports is that you never know. In the 1988 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat an unbeatable Oakland A’s team in 5 games. It was impossible, yet it happened. So maybe…but the result hardly matters.

Tonight is the first senior night for my oldest son (there will be another one for baseball in the spring.) We’ll walk him out to the middle of the court and smile and barely keep it together. Or we won’t and the Angel and I will cry like babies. Either way, we will be there, fully present, with each other and with all of the emotions surging in our hearts and souls.

I’m remembering the night I learned he was no longer an idea. The Angel took a test on the phone with me, of course I couldn’t wait to get home, and she gave me the news. I was on 422 coming through Lebanon and pulled over in front of the community college and wept, equal parts terror and elation. Well, not exactly equal parts. We had prayed for him and now he actually existed, it was more celebration and gratitude. But there was certainly terror, swirled in like the cream cheese filling in a pumpkin roll. What kind of daddy would I be? Was I ready? What kind of boy would he be? And the hundred million more questions that flood in once the doors have been opened.

If you’ve met him, you know how amazing he is. If you haven’t, I’m sorry, you really should.

We often refer to a 2 hands theology, and a 2 hands life. Nothing is usually just 1 thing, it’s a combination, more like a hurricane, of different, sometimes wildly conflicting, emotions. Tonight, I’ll be proud of my boy, happy for the boy he’s been, the guy he is, and the man he’s becoming and grateful that I got to watch him so closely and know him so well. I’ll also be heartbroken, crushed that he’ll not nap on my chest again, and frustrated that each day couldn’t have been forever. What a 2 hand anything requires is honesty. We show up as we are, feel what we feel, no hiding, no images. We don’t miss a thing. We don’t wake up and say “God was in this place and I was unaware.” We show up.

I think back to all of the moments that brought us here. I didn’t want to go to Lebanon Valley College, but somehow I found myself there, a business major in 2 classes with the Angel, who had a boyfriend for nearly all 4 years. She happened to drop him right on time. I happened to be in the computer lab one evening, and she happened to be there, too. I happened to talk to her, even though she was ridiculously far out of my league. I happened to be on a plan that took more than 4 years – the last semester, which I shouldn’t have had, was when we met and went on our first date. We happened to go on that date, happened to get married, and happened to make this person who will have his senior night tonight.

I say “happened to” and “make” with the same posture. It all seems so orchestrated, almost as if there was a wonderfully loving God making paths, moving feet and softening so many hearts, which of course, He was. We didn’t make Samuel alone, couldn’t have ever made Samuel without the Creator of the Universe making him first.

So now, I want to tell you my answer, with 18 years of hindsight, to the question if I was a good daddy. Maybe. What I do know is that I was intentional. Everything I did (even the mistakes I made) I did on purpose. When he sits down with a therapist to complain about me, what he’ll say is that I hugged, kissed, and told him I loved him too much and too often. And I can live with that.

There are other places where I’ve written to him (beginning with that positive test on his first night), much more detail I could, and will, dive into, but those are only for him and I. Here, tonight is senior night and I will do the 2 things I have done every day of his life; I will be there, authentically, embarrassingly me, present and engaged, and more than that, more than anything else, I will love him.

A Woman I Know

A woman I’ve recently met lost her husband last year. I didn’t know her then, I never met him. She began coming to a small group after her tragedy, as a broken-hearted widow trying to hold on to God, to other people, to meaning, to today, to life. She sometimes looked tired, sometimes like she had just finished weeping (which she probably had), yet she always shows up.

I stay quiet, muted in my Zoom box, watching and listening, fully present to her suffering. You know, in the book of Lamentations, the author wails “Look! See!”, simply seeking a witness to this searing pain. The crushing hurt of loss and abandonment has overtaken her, “Look at this affliction!” In Lamentations, the God she knows has “broken my teeth with gravel; He has trampled me in the dust.”

This woman I know understands Lamentations, I bet, only too well. She said last week, “I don’t trust God so much right now.” I don’t know how she felt about saying it. Sometimes, we can get so wrapped up in what we are “supposed to” say, “supposed to” do, who we “should” be, that we ignore who we are. And from behind that facade, we ignore who God is.

When I was in seminary, studying the Bible and writing research paper after research paper, more than any particular story or verse, I was surprised at what I was finding over and over. The overwhelming theme was God’s desire for honesty. Even as He was commanding rites and rituals, He was reminding us that the rites and rituals meant nothing at all without heart. If they were just sacrifices, just songs sung and hands raised in church, just plastered smiles and rote prayers, they were nothing more than hypocritical performance. The Scripture tells of a God who wants us, who we are, how we are, right here, right now, instead of our hollow dog and pony shows.

This woman I know sees the value in showing up in her weary brokenness. Which looks exactly like grace, His grace as well as her own. I think when she says, “I don’t trust God so much right now,” He probably smiles, because in her courageous authenticity, she is displaying that she does. She trusts Him enough to tell Him the truth, confident He won’t leave her, that He’ll keep His arms around her. And if she doesn’t feel it this second, she will.

And she has chosen to trust us. We have been this woman’s witnesses. We almost never get the answers we think we want, but we do get hands to hold. We get people to love us and hold us up when we just can’t do it ourselves anymore.

This is an online Bridge post, but it’s also a love letter to her (that she may never read). I want to thank her. I want to tell her how much she’s meant to me, how she’s inspired me, how she’s given me courage and strength by simply being a warrior everyday and letting me watch. I guess that’s why we were given The Church. Showing up and taking one more step is nothing to do alone, our gift is that we get to take those steps and live these lives as a community. And if we keep showing up, keep opening our eyes, hearts and hands to each other, we get to experience these moments of immeasurable beauty and love up close.

Into The Light

Sunday we discussed marriage, single-ness (if that is even a word…it doesn’t feel like it is), and sex. The Apostle Paul writes about these subjects often, they’re found in many other spaces in the Bible, yet every time a sermon in church is based around sex, it’s met with a certain level of surprise and/or uncomfortability. This unease increases even more when the topic becomes sex between married couples. I suppose I know why, but it’s points to an early breakdown that has led us all down many different, unhealthy paths having little to do with sex at all.

The cracks begin with a bizarre learned aversion to conversation, especially about the most important topics. This aversion leads to a pathetic lack of communication that gives rise to the lie that sex is dirty and obscene and should be kept out of view. Obviously, this secrecy (like all secrecy) is the doorway into any number of dark rooms that are steal our dignity and are dishonoring to our hearts, souls, bodies & spirits.

When we build entire structures around the notion that some things need to be hidden in the darkest places, guilt and shame grow like mushrooms. Shame isolates us, and we stay sick with imaginary diseases. Sex isn’t shameful, isn’t dirty or obscene. It can be, but just because something can be misused doesn’t mean the thing is defective.

I can’t say the first talk I gave on sex didn’t give me deep pangs of anxiety, but I can absolutely tell you that it doesn’t now (any more than anything else. I still get butterflies of excitement every single Sunday, and I hope they never stop.)

The more we talk openly & respectfully about anything, the less power it has over us, the less fear-inducing it is. The more we can drag into the light, the less mold can spread. The 30th difficult boundary conversation is much less threatening than the first, and as it loses power, we can much more treat ourselves and each other with kindness instead of control. That need for control is rooted in fear. And control and love simply cannot coexist, so the more we can remove that fear, the more love we can display, the more love we can freely give.

If I don’t need you to see everything my way, vote for my candidate, behave the way I want you to, I can then allow you to be you, listen, actually listen, and maybe exercise some empathy (in some cases long dormant) and find the common ground that is always there. Common ground and understanding are nearly impossible to discover from behind thick walls of fear.

If we can talk honestly about marital sex and it’s many gifts (intimacy, connection, affection, I could go on and on), then maybe it won’t be a monster in the corners of the church. The Church has long been afraid of human sexuality, maybe she should be more concerned with secrecy and isolation. But again, just because the Church & religion have been misused, doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Quite the opposite. They are perhaps more valuable, more important, now than ever. But we can’t ever get to reclaiming the actual divine picture of The Church if we’re too proud or too frightened to mention Her and/or address the ways She’s been defaced. Think about the violence done in the name of Jesus, and imagine the horror and hopelessness if we threw Him away because of the offenses done in His lovely Name.

So we’ll keep talking about the beautiful purity of sex and the way it’s been dragged through muddy alleys. We’ll keep screaming about the immeasurable joy of marriage and mourning the damage too often done in the context of a lesser view. We’ll keep having these discussions with hands open in love, reclaiming these life-giving words and concepts, and we’ll do this all together.

Sex

I think it’s hilarious to title this post “Sex,” and wonder what you’re thinking/expecting when it comes across your email or Facebook feed.

On Sunday, we discussed a passage in 1 Corinthians that referenced “sexual immorality,” and it was my assumption (not an entirely incorrect assumption, I don’t think) that, historically, most church leaders’ perspective was that all sexuality was sexual immorality, and therefore, not to be discussed on a Sunday morning – there were (gasp) CHILDREN there! – outside of a strict warning of the dirty inappropriateness of it all. But it’s absolutely not dirty or inappropriate, God created it, blessed it, called it holy.

[Of course it has been twisted and dragged through some great rivers of mud, but that doesn’t make it twisted and muddy any more than all music turns into brain dead misogyny simply because a band called Limp Bizkit existed in the ‘90’s.]

So, I knew what I was going to talk about, and then I saw 2 young(er) girls sitting in front of me, and faced a moment of hesitation. Is this the sort of thing that will offend? Their parents are some of my very favorite people, will I get nasty phone calls questioning my judgment? What had I prepared exactly, was it in any way blue? Would it warrant a higher age rating on Netflix? Would I deserve those phone calls, if they came?

As it turns out, I didn’t pull back and I didn’t apologize. Maybe that was the way to go, and maybe it wasn’t. (I haven’t yet gotten any angry messages.) But the way I figure, the church has to have a voice in reclaiming words and concepts that have been hi-jacked and lost. These girls have, no doubt, heard much much worse in school hallways and on TikTok. Sex has been inexplicably referred to as “casual” more often than I can count even though we all know it’s not. A church that sees physical intimacy as completely taboo is doing us a huge disservice and creating a vacuum that (like all vacuums) will be filled, in porn sites if not in sermons.

But ultimately, the reason I talk about sex as often and as openly as I do (and it’s actually not that often, it only seems that way), to the horror of my boys, is because the Bible talks about sex openly, honestly, and very often. It’s there, in most of the books, whether we acknowledge it or not. It’s really important that we don’t just ignore the parts that make us uncomfortable. We’ve done that for too long and that pretending has allowed the beauty and truth of the Scriptures to become either irrelevant or a hammer used to hit others to prove our own tightly held opinions.

I hope nobody was scarred, I didn’t talk one second about the biology of sex (which is more than I can say about Song of Songs, a book with lots and lots of biology). But the way I see it, if it begins a conversation on respect, selfless giving & receiving, commitment, holy intimacy, and fidelity, then we will begin the long process of taking our sexuality back and returning it to where it belongs, back where the rest of us belong as well: in the arms of a loving God.

Impossible

Last week was my birthday, next week is my sister’s, tomorrow is her 27th wedding anniversary. My sister is one of my very favorite people in the world, so it’s a really beautiful time to celebrate her and her marriage, as well as reflect on another year for myself. Where am I, where am I going, what will I add, what will I leave behind, that sort of thing.

One of the gifts I received from my son Elisha was a jigsaw puzzle that was pink. Just pink. No picture, no shading, no distinction to any of it. Just a torturous pink rectangle. We finished it last night (which is why I hadn’t written earlier;) and it’s wonderful. I’m going to glue & frame it, and never, ever do it again.

Samuel also gave me a puzzle, full of musical artists, exactly the puzzle that will be a great time. But he threatened to give me something called an Impossible puzzle. There aren’t any flat edges (gasp!) and there are extra pieces that don’t fit. I’m glad he didn’t. As much as I like to think and talk about it, it’s not welcome in this house.

But it did remind me of our conversation Sunday morning. 1st Corinthians 3 has a terrific passage where Paul asks what materials we’re using to build the local church, and that can easily be adapted to ask what materials we’re using to build our lives. Hopefully, it’s the same answer; our first fruits, not what’s left at the end of the day. Do we find that we’re showing up (to work, our families, the gym, any- and every-where) fully present, awake, engaged, giving the best of us, peaceful, authentic, honest, hands and feet of Jesus…OR…are we exhausted, our attention always split, pretending, dishonest, inauthentic, negative, carrying a spirit of despair, ”as if we don’t belong to the Lord,” where there’s no tomorrow, no new creation, as if the tomb isn’t empty?

The idea is to live lives (build our greatest works of art) with attention & intention. Lives of purpose, meaning, and joy don’t happen by accident, just like they don’t happen by using inferior, leftover, scrap materials. How are we going to walk through this one life we’ve been given? How will we treat the temple of God (and just in case any of us haven’t heard or need reminding, that’s you and me, we are the temple of God)?

What does this have to do with that obnoxious Impossible puzzle? Well, there are many many pieces out there, but not all of them fit. Maybe they fit me, or your neighbor, but they don’t fit you. The real impossibility is to know what pieces to keep and which to discard without having an idea what picture we’re making. The great philosopher the Cheshire Cat says it doesn’t matter which path we take if we don’t know where we’re going.

Marriages don’t last 27 years and counting chasing cars.

We don’t use permanent marker, we don’t chisel anything in stone, we’re just not waking up saying, “God was in this place and I was unaware,” anymore.

Chapter 2

I don’t know if you know this, if this has ever been your experience, but sometimes a Bible passage is difficult. Sometimes we don’t like it. Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us. And other times, the passage simply leaves us unmoved. Last Sunday, I gave a message on one of these last kinds that felt a little aimless in my head.

(Maybe I shouldn’t say this, maybe I should have all the answers and be very certain about everything and never give voice to any doubt or anything less than wild enthusiasm. Sigh. If that’s what I’m ‘supposed’ to do, I guess I’m not what I’m ‘supposed’ to be. Or maybe this is exactly who I’m ‘supposed’ to be and what I’m ‘supposed’ to do. What I know is that it’s true and I’m way too old to spend time trying to pretend anymore. I did more than enough of that.)

So. When we get into a passage of Scripture that is difficult, for any reason, what do we do?

This reminds me of a close friend of mine who recently recounted a sermon she had heard in a church service that she did not like at all. She disagreed with most of it, and the other parts were just ok, and her reaction was super fun to watch as her passion boiled over. What was she to do with this? Obviously, a sermon isn’t the Bible, but is the process similar?

The first option is to skip it and move on. This was not available to me. The chapter (1 Corinthians 2) seemed to me redundant and unnecessary, but we go verse-by-verse at the Bridge. I know when passages are tricky or quite unpopular well in advance, ones like this are a bit surprising, but the result is the same. We have to address it. But in our personal lives, we can jump to chapter 3 and move forward.

The second, the one I chose, is to dive in, read, reread, reread again, reread 100 times, follow cross references, read commentaries, articles, pray, meditate, spend time with blank screens, take notes, delete the notes, discover contextual details, ask, seek, and knock. In Sunday’s case, after all of this, I still couldn’t find the hook.

Now, either one of these is a good option. The 3rd is the only one that isn’t, to close our Bibles and disengage. We figure the Bible is old and outdated, we don’t understand it, it’s hopeless, whatever.

As my friend and I talked about the sermon, the only path we would not take is to ignore it. In the Scriptures, if we get angry or vehemently disagree, why? There’s always a reason the text pricks us in a sensitive spot. Why is that? Why did that message affect her in that way? Why did that book, movie, person, interpretation, affect us in that way? Maybe that ‘why’ is exactly the point. That ‘why’ will end up asking more questions, often these soft spots are the places that invite us into the greatest growth.

If we don’t understand, why? Maybe we don’t understand because we need more information, discussion, time, prayer, or maybe we just don’t understand it now. Once I couldn’t swim, but later I could. I’m glad I didn’t get out of the water forever.

We must not quit and walk away. I tried to read the book A Clockwork Orange several times. It’s a hard read, with the language, the vocabulary, the subject matter. Twice I threw the book across the room, promising to NEVER again try to read such a piece of garbage. Then I’d pick it up again and stop early again. Then I finished it and it wasn’t at all garbage, it was brilliant, deep and important, and I am now an avowed Clockwork Orange evangelist.

So, about Sunday. 1. I think the natural vs spiritual is something we’ll come back to again and again. 2. The revelation of the Holy Spirit, the getting out of the way and allowing the Spirit to lead, is very important. Even as that is true, today I’m still missing the usual spark I feel about chapter 2. Maybe it’s just me, now, in this space, and the obstacle is wholly personal. I have no idea, but what I do know is that I can assure you that Sunday, and writing this today, aren’t the end of my wrestling with it. I’m finding this is what faith-ing is, a life walking with. It sure isn’t always firecrackers and mountain tops, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Israel

The youth retreat was last Tuesday. This day, the youth was a group of high school aged boys (Only boys. Not because boys are the only ones welcome, but because that’s just how it was. There is one lovely young woman, but she happened to be on vacation, so we had all boys. I am not complaining or lamenting this fact.) This group spent 12 hours together with 2 adult facilitators swimming in a lake, reading the book of Mark, and eating. Towards the end of the evening, I had the opportunity to ask if there was anything they wanted to talk about, fully expecting silence or, if anything at all, I figured something about girls.

For some reason, the evangelical political-spiritual movement in this country has decided the 2 most important issues facing the Church are not grace, love, compassion, poverty, kindness, non-violence, addiction, or anything else. Abortion and Homosexuality are the big 2, and judging by the overwhelming amount of time & energy given to those 2, there isn’t a 3rd. I tell you this because one of these thoughtful, courageous boys chose to take my invitation to ask about homosexuality, which became a wildly fascinating hour long discussion.

These young men were engaging with the Scriptures – much more than just these two current hot buttons. What is the role of the Bible in our lives and in the lives of the country and culture? What did the Bible say about a subject, specifically? Do we actually care? Does context/translation matter? Is there a seeming conflict elsewhere, and if so, which weighs more? And we can’t forget the most important question: Now what?

In the book of Genesis, Jacob (whose name means, “he grasps the heel,” which doesn’t mean much to us now, but it also means “he deceives,” which does. Jacob’s story in Genesis illustrates this second meaning.) finds himself in the wilderness, all alone, with a “man.” Jacob asks this ‘man’ for a blessing, which gives us the clear hint that this is not an ordinary man. They wrestle all night and in the morning (after an unbelievably significant question about his name), the ‘man’ finally blesses Jacob, but not before he injures his hip. Jacob’s name is changed here, and becomes “Israel,” which means “one who wrestles/struggles with God.”

We can struggle with God, too. Right? And sometimes that struggle leaves us with a permanent limp. The Jewish people saw this struggle as absolutely vital to a life of faith. We don’t as much, we mostly want assent, agreement, conformity. I easily find doubt, questioning, and wrestling all over the Bible. It’s much more difficult to find assent and certainty.

Athol Dickson says: “What if God placed the paradoxes within the Scriptures to cause me to struggle for the truth? What if it is the struggle He desires as much as the truth itself?”

Haven’t you ever thought that Jesus could have pretty easily cleared up a lot of our questions? Maybe instead of answering with more questions (inviting the one who asks into a conversation, a struggle), he could’ve just given us the straight answer, in plain words, with bullet points. And why does the Bible sometimes contradict itself? Couldn’t it have been far more instruction manual and far less poetry? More fact and less story?

I could have said, “this is the answer,” if I felt like being that guy, and shut that discussion down immediately. As they wandered around in the dark, throwing guesses and opinions against the wall, I could have said, “no,” or “that’s wrong,” if I happened to disagree, (or even “yes,” or “that’s right”) and they would have learned that this was no safe place, no place where their authentic searching engagement was valued, only their quiet acquiescence, their right-ness.

That’s what’s so inspiring and encouraging about this youth group conversation. They aren’t content to just take what they’ve been offered, they want to turn it over, around and upside down. They aren’t cool with being “the one who grasps the heel,” they’re willing to fight for the truth, and in the process, become “Israel.” And that fills me with more hope for our homes, communities and world than I can even begin to tell you.

Valentine’s Day

[I wrote this post last week and posted it on my other blog, but not here, very purposely. The followers there, mostly, don’t know me personally. Here, you do. So posting something I’ve written that is super personal about my wife, and about my marriage, is a lot vulnerable and a little dangerous. I don’t mind too much over-sharing all things me, but I try to be pretty careful about others. After all, they aren’t necessarily choosing to share these things. However, this is 1 week later and with time, I still think there’s value in this conversation. And besides, I asked first and she said I could;) So here it is]

There are a lot of drawbacks to being married to me, the fact that I’m writing about a pretty terrible Valentine’s Day on the internet isn’t even close to the biggest. But it isn’t great.

The Angel and I have been together for 24ish years, and in the course of those 24ish years, yesterday was The Worst Valentine’s Day we’ve had. (Maybe it’s important to say that I’m not the best at caring about greeting card holidays, but I do love LOVE and I do love my wife, so I’ll participate;)

We often talk about youth sports in this space. Over the years, all of us of a certain age has noticed a trend that we’ll call the Sportscenter-ification of the games. What I mean is that almost nobody watches entire games, we watch the highlights on Sportscenter or YouTube or forwarded GIFs. I coach baseball for boys who have very little knowledge and/or perspective of a game. These kids have no appreciation for the ups & downs, the slow parts, and fundamentals are a completely lost art (I KNOW I sound like everybody’s dad, talking about how it was “when I was young,” and that hurts me a little. Anyway, I am somebody’s dad.) We’ve been conditioned to think a game is all dunks and home runs.

Our culture suffers from this same malady. For instance, we think marriage is the same; all highlights and clip packages, candles, bubble baths, one long music montage set to some bouncy love song. And when it’s not, we think we’re broken. That the love is gone. That we’re doing something wrong. That it’s not how it’s supposed to be.

The thing is, that whole Sportscenter-ification is a lie. Marriage is time outs and bunts and bounce passes. It’s crappy Valentine’s days and wonderful random Thursdays. Life, too. It’s not all mountain tops, it’s Monday mornings, too.

The Church has a liturgical year. Yes, there is Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. But there’s also the rest, which is called Ordinary Time. That’s perfect, right? Ordinary Time. We go to work, change diapers, watch tv, eat in the car. Not all of our workouts are personal records, sometimes we’re tired and all we can do is get there at all.

It’s not broken. We’re not broken. We’re not doing anything wrong. I wrote a card to my wife yesterday that spelled out how overwhelming and wonderful it is that after 24 years, our relationship is so much better than it was on our wedding day. And that’s absolutely true. Kissing her slow and soft still gives me butterflies, it’s still shocking that I get to be the one that gets to do it. We make dinner together, make the bed together, change our bunny’s litter box and sit next to each other complaining about our sore backs in bleachers at basketball games. Of course, there are also fireworks and game winning half court shots and championships.

Sometimes the bands/singers on the radio are horrible, sometimes they’re just ok. It’s not always the Greatest, it’s not always Morrissey. And the songs aren’t always There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. And it’s a crazy delusion to think they would be.

The Angel & I communicate very very very well, (even so far as to discuss how the wheels fell off on our Valentine’s Day – it’s not high maintenance, it’s real, and it’s really important). We talk a lot, laugh and cry together, trust each other, find beauty in every day, love each other to the moooon even when things aren’t going perfectly. We advance the runner, catch fly balls, make our free throws and rebound. Teams that do those things win, marriages that do those things never break, and lives built on that are full and awesome, even when they aren’t.

Happy (best, worst, and everything in between) Valentine’s Day, everyone.

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 Consistent Relationship

I signed up for a list to get emails from a woman named Kristin Hanggi. She’s an artist and a creativity ‘coach,’ offering workshops, advice, and general positive vibes. A few weeks ago she addressed something we talk about often, whether she knows she is talking about faith communities and discipleship is questionable. It doesn’t matter too much, though, does it?

She writes, “The most important part of birthing a new idea is creating a consistent relationship with it. We show up day-after-day-after-day, and being a part of a supportive community can give us the encouragement and tenacity to go the distance. Something happens in our consistency and showing up. We start to learn that we are trustable. We start to believe in ourselves. We start to develop a relationship with our powerful inner voice.”

Probably the most important part of anything worthwhile (whether it is a new idea, marriage, work of art, deadlift, whatever) is creating a consistent relationship with it. How can we expect to grow or connect or explore something without showing up? I remember speaking with a good friend 15ish years ago and he said our church at the time was clique-y, that it was very hard to “break into” (his words). I disagreed, figuring it’s actually quite easy, but significantly more difficult when you only show up every couple of months. That’s only become more evident with time and experience.

Obviously the prototype for a supportive community is a church.

The BIG thing that happens in consistency and showing up is intimacy. We know and are known. If either of those are missing, so is the intimacy. That’s why we talk so much about the destructive nature of hiding, of hypocrisy, of pretending. Actual relationship is impossible without authenticity or without presence. It’s impossible to build trust when we’re not physically, emotionally, spiritually there. It’s also impossible to build trust when we’re there, but in disguise.

She mentions trusting ourselves, believing in ourselves and developing relationship with our inner voice. The command is to love others as we love ourselves, but we very rarely love ourselves well, so what does that say about our ability to love another?

Then, in the email today from Ms. Hanggi, she speaks of 5 things every human being needs (an idea from author David Richo), and 1 in particular: Allowing. “How can I freely allow the idea to be what it is, as opposed to my idea of what it needs to be?” I think I’d paraphrase that as “How can I freely allow myself to be who I am, as opposed to my idea of who I need to be (should) be?” No kidding! The mountain of should’s that crush us daily keeps us from loving us, loving each other, telling the truth, and showing up to the sort of community that picks us up, sustains us, and moves us forward.

Now. That’s helpful, but none of it is exactly the point I’d like to make. Kristin Hanggi is a writer/director/podcaster/creative person in Los Angeles. I’m pretty sure she is a Jesus follower, but she is not what one would call a “Christian” artist. St. Augustine famously said, “All truth is God’s truth,” and it is not even a little surprising that Jesus would be found in a ‘secular’ mass email, or a blockbuster, or a pop song, or scientific theory, or in a Netflix documentary, or my neighbor down the street. If it’s true – and I’m not saying everything is truth, of course, some things are quite the opposite, but if it is true… – it is from God, because all truth is His.

Instead of making our world smaller and smaller, only acknowledging certain labels and genres, placing boundaries where none exist, maybe we could hold hands with the Spirit as She trains our eyes to spot Jesus, opening our eyes and minds to the overwhelming, limitless beauty of Love, the Gospel, and the One who made it all.