honesty

Less The Rock and More Lobot

Last week, I posted “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” on both of my blog sites. I write on the Bridge page and I write on a page called Love With A Capital L. Both are about spirituality because everything is. What’s different is that on the Love page, I don’t always mention God by name, like the book of Esther, but it’s always about Him. This ‘Yesterday’ post ended up in both spaces, and it received an extraordinary response on both.

I am a man who thinks (or probably more accurately, over-thinks) and I wondered, why? Why do some things strike chords and others swing and miss? Why this one? Why not that one?

Who knows? Maybe I don’t care, maybe I shouldn’t. If too much time is given to thinking about response, we’ll subconsciously (or not) begin to bend and shape ourselves into whatever position we think they’ll like best.

This can happen easily in any creative expression.

The bigger tragedy is how easily this can happen in our greatest creative expressions; our lives.

We look for approval, for the most “likes,” resembling actors on a stage. It’s interesting, the things that mean the most to me are those that are the most authentic, but when the artist attempts to mean the most to me, the very thing that was so appealing is compromised, disappears, and immediately stops meaning the most to me. It’s like the theory that observation affects behavior, so any study of “natural” behavior is impossible (unless it’s secret and invisible and probably unethical).

You know I’m going into the idea that we have an “audience of One,” right? That’s not terrible because that One is the only One who knows who we actually are, so moving towards that vision of us is, essentially, moving towards the version of us that is the most pure and true, the most authentic.

The filters I use that make me look like a cat or like I’m always supercool, pensive and mysterious aren’t me. I have rough skin and deep creases around my eyes from years and years of smiling. The sweater I wore on Sunday makes me look much better than I actually do. I get angry and am awfully mean to me from time to time, thankfully much less than I used to. I shave my head because it’s thin and moving backwards, less the Rock and more Lobot from Star Wars. I like to think my jokes are all pretty terrific and could edit a short YouTube video that makes me compare favorably to Dave Chappelle, but in real life, well… you know, probably he’s not even that funny all the time. (On second thought, he probably is.)

The idea here is not to point out all the ways we’re messy, or to advertise my faults. It’s not even to stop using filters. It is to love, and be loved, anyway. It is to see those rough edges. It is to dance with who and where we are right now, even as we acknowledge that we are, as my friend says, “perfectly in process,” moving (sometimes slowly) towards who we’ve been created to be. One of the coolest aspects I learned about the Scriptures were their absolute commitment to honesty. Not everyone is shiny, nobody is perfect. (Well, One is.) They yell and scream and shake their fists at God. They often make terrible decisions and aren’t always the heroes of the story. But it’s real. And Beautiful. Just like us.

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday

So, let me tell you about yesterday.

The Angel & I took the boys to school and left immediately, driving north to Scranton (home of Dunder Mifflin Paper) for the funeral service of a friend’s father. He (James Chickson) was a terrific dad, husband, and man – exactly like my friend. At the Bridge, we would call men like him bull elephants, and the world doesn’t have enough of those, so we gathered to mourn. It was a catholic service and as a general rule, I find catholic services a little sterile and impersonal (just me, just my opinion, but I am very messy, overly sensitive, mushy and untraditional, so I would), which this one was…UNTIL my friend stood to give the eulogy. He was beautiful. He was all of the things we love about him, and probably all of the things we loved about his dad. It was awesome and exhausting, just what a funeral service should be.

Then we came home, picked my boys up from school and had some ice cream because ice cream is perfect for a broken heart.

Then at the dinner table (dinner after dessert is also perfect for broken hearts…well, any hearts, really), we discovered that there were new PA COVID restrictions that would, among other things, “pause” school sports. It was then that my boys expressed their emotions in what is sometimes the only appropriate way, with tears of sadness and rage.

Now, I know school sports are comparatively minor in relation to the widespread wreckage COVID has wrought, but it is absolutely real to them. And to me. Because we all have those comparatively minor’s, right?

Once the tears stopped and we were able to re-focus and gain a smidgen of perspective, then I began the phone calls to the core group of the Bridge to discuss what we would do, if anything, to address the new restrictions. Again, a small church in Annville is comparatively minor in the grand scheme, but it is my family and it is definitely doesn’t feel comparatively minor.

We are losing loved ones, businesses, homes. We have been disconnected and isolated, and that leaves us raw and exposed, sensitive to very fine points. I remember months after the flood took our house, I had an appointment where I would need dress socks. I rarely wear dress socks and now that I needed them, I realized, I didn’t have dress socks. The pair I had was lost in the flood. I was working, driving on a major highway towards State College, when I realized this insignificant detail (big deal, stop anywhere and pick up a new pair) and had to pull my truck off the road when my sobbing made driving impossible. Everything was overflowing, all of the months of “What are we going to do????” and utter powerlessness to answer had crested, and dress socks pierced the thin shell that barely kept it all on the inside.

High school seniors have lost proms and graduations, weddings have been moved, suspended, our lives have been radically upended, and we know that a missed dinner & dance for upperclassmen is nothing in relation to 200,000+ dead in this country alone, countless more worldwide. But that doesn’t make a canceled school dance hurt less. There isn’t a finite amount of love and care in our souls, we can deeply feel all the things in this human experience. There isn’t a cause/effect relationship where ignoring our pain leads to an increase in empathy. I would suggest if there is a relationship, it’s an inverse connection, where turning the blind eye to suffering (in any and all forms, even our own) leads to a practiced desensitization to suffering (in any and all forms).

I bring all of this up because what I notice is that we often say the words, “but other people have it much worse than me/us,” as a way of minimizing or trivializing our own pain & suffering. At funerals, we say the person is in a much better place or that God has a plan (which are both true) and pretend that we are fine, that are hearts aren’t shattered. In the Scriptures, God asks us for 1 thing above all. He asks us to bring who we are, everything we are, honestly and without pretense, to Him. He says that He doesn’t want our sacrifices, He wants our hearts. He weeps over the death of a man He intends to resurrect to validate the suffering of his community.

The Bible says, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and it’s that through that makes all the difference. We can’t walk around, or avoid, or fake that it’s not the shadow of death. We can’t get through anything without going through. My beautiful buddy’s eulogy had very evident pain and loss, and it also had a lived-in gratitude that his dad was his dad, and I’m pretty sure the 2nd doesn’t come without the first.

So, I guess what I’m saying is this: Sometimes you need ice cream to ease the ache of a broken heart, or screaming rage for a 3-week break from basketball, or an offering of bitter tears over dress socks. There are no comparatively minor’s with God. There is only us, and that’s enough.

Enough

“If only this is done, it is enough.” The story, according to the “church father” Jerome, is that the apostle John, as a very old man (the only disciple who lived long enough to be considered old) ended church meetings with the same phrase: “Little children, let us love one another.” Everybody got tired of that and asked him why he said the same thing all the time and he answered, “Because it is the Lord’s commandment, and if only this is done, it is enough.”

Now. We could (and probably will another time) talk about how John was so old and meeting together was so important that he had to be carried into church…and I sometimes don’t feel like going. We could also talk about how he was the only one not to die a gruesome death. Or that the people with him got tired of hearing the exact same words every meeting, even if it was from John, “the one Jesus loved.” You can almost hear the grumbling, “I don’t care who he is, he could at least mix it up a little, keep it fresh.”

But what we will talk about is that one small-ish word, enough.

I loved this quote when I found it and it was perfect in the message Sunday morning, but sometimes even as I’m talking, it hits in a new way, surprising me, like when my boys jump on my back when I’m not looking and knock all the wind out of me. Enough, is that even a thing?

So, I look around, holding back tears, thinking about how my shoulders slump from all of the responsibilities, demands, opportunities, questions, judgments of every day. I think about wanting to please everybody, always doing more, being more. 10% more, usually. The need to be perfect. I think about our lives as artwork, how we offer this creation of us to the world and wait for the verdict. What should I do? What should I say? Who should I be? Have we accomplished, achieved enough? Are my clothes, my shoes, my children, my words, good enough? We call our fear stress and it is brought on exclusively by this question – will I be enough?

It pounds in our heads and twists our stomachs as the voices in our own heads convince us the answer is no. As I’m standing there, this is going through my head and I want to just stop and address this thing in me.

But what I see is that it’s not in me, is it? I mean, it is, but it’s not just in me.

It’s weaved all through the passages of the Scriptures, appears throughout so much great art and history books. I guess it’s the human condition. Or the human disease. Religion hasn’t helped, saddling us with hoop after hoop of what we need to do (or not do), heavy baggage we carry. But John here says there’s just one thing, to love each other, and that’s enough.

Released from those sharp chains of insecurity and inadequacy, we just love each other, without condition, without judgment or verdict, without regard to if we are worthy or enough. Maybe then the question might not seem as important anymore, and maybe that’s the point.

This is what’s going through my head. I’ve given my life to communicating the message that you are loved, accepted, valued, worthy, enough. It might be time to include ‘me’ in that ‘you.’

It’s sort of strange to share these thoughts and emotions on social media, but it has been my experience that enough is such a foreign concept. And keeping quiet and pretending it doesn’t exist hasn’t helped anyone ever. Most of our energies are funneled into answering that big question and, afterwards, proving that answer. I’m pretty sure what John means is that those energies could be better used in other places, loving other people, loving ourselves. And that will be enough.

Far Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

And maybe knowing isn’t the point.

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

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

The Slovenian Flute Maker

One of the books I’m reading is called Heroes and Jerks, written by Ed Daly. This massive doorstop of a book breaks down human history into segments and then, in each segment, lists the 10 Best and 10 Worst people of the time. Now, there might be a bunch I wouldn’t ordinarily like about such lists, but it’s educational and hilarious, so what I wouldn’t ordinarily like doesn’t matter in this instance.

I tell you about this book because I want to tell you about a Slovenian flute maker and me and times like these, in particular.

First, the Slovenian flute maker. He’s #5 in the best of the Early Ancient History category (spanning two million B.C.-501 B.C.). And he’s the #9 worst. In 43,000 B.C., he hollowed out a cave bear’s femur and fashioned the first musical instrument, so if you’ve ever loved a song, danced, or cry when Gisy sings on Sunday morning, you have this guy to thank. AND if you’ve ever heard a Britney Spears song (or that Extreme song, “More Than Words”) and hated it, you also have this guy to thank.

I’ll be 45 years old in almost 2 weeks and I’m only just beginning to embrace the fact that the best thing about me is also the worst thing about me. It’s the thing that makes you (and my wife and my kids and anybody else) love me and it is the very thing that drives you crazy and want to never see me again. Just for knowing, it drives me crazy, too. I used to want nothing more than to change it, to leave that part of me well behind. I don’t anymore.

2020 is hard. Yesterday my phone rang and on the other end was a friend I haven’t spoken to in quite some time. She was in distress over the tragic news in our town (and her job and the local schools and COVID and everything else that is making us all feel like the world is upside down and tearing at the seams). I am in distress over the same things, as well, so we mostly just talked about how hard it is to get out of bed some days. How it can feel like it’s all for nothing. And somehow in the middle of ALL of the emotions we were feeling, there were sprinkles of laughter and hope and genuine care.

Then there’s this boy who came into the weight room where I work yesterday. Usually, the early teen-aged boys are overcome by insecurity and inadequacy and are absolutely insufferable (!!!!!), but this boy came in quietly and asked me what to do. He is apparently often in trouble. But he is also the boy who brought a bag of pretzels to the school office to share with my wife last year.

I don’t really feel that much like writing today. But times like these are discouraging and depressing. But just like the Slovenian flute maker (and everything else), they are not simply 1 thing. They are full of tears, but they are full of beautiful old friends, too.

Last night I had a rehearsal for a wedding that I’ll officiate Saturday and as I looked at these kids, I knew what was coming for them, for their marriage: the fights, the fear, the illnesses, the funerals, the all night conversations, the shouting, the questions, the anger, the pain, suffering, heart aches. I also know what else is coming: the joy, the celebration, the wins, the healing, the reconciliation, the passion, the dinners, the cozy movies on the couch, the births, the answers, the kisses, hugs, the hands to hold. It’s all wrapped up in a swirly mixture of a full love and life. It hurts and it is THE GREATEST. It’s always more than 1 thing, (everything is always more than 1 thing), if we only can have the imagination and faith and courage to just keep going.

9 Years

This week is the 9 year anniversary of tropical storm Lee. I talk about this particular storm so much because it started to rain on a Sunday and when it stopped on Thursday, my house was underwater and our lives would never be the same. We now refer to memories and personalities as Before the Flood and After the Flood. It’s 9 years later, though, and it’s fingerprint is still branded on our souls. I had a friend (a good friend, despite the story I’m about to tell;) who said to me about 5 months afterwards, “Isn’t it time to move on? It happened months ago.” I wonder what he’d say now, and I wonder if I’d still want to punch him when he did.

Sometimes you move on, but the scars are still there and sometimes they still ache.

We all were forced to closely examine our unhealthy relationships with control. Maybe that’s the biggest, most valuable loss – the delusion that we were ever in control. I thought I could be a superhero, protecting my family from all threats, keeping them safe and secure with my strength and will. As it turns out, my strength and will couldn’t stop the rain, couldn’t keep the water from swallowing my house, couldn’t make the insurance company make good on their promise, couldn’t make the family pictures reappear, couldn’t give anybody back what was lost.

This was a great big domino that started an avalanche. This horrible lesson/sledgehammer broke me open and walked me into many many more “couldn’t”s.

Now. Last week, in this space, we discussed control, the things that ARE actually ours to control, and taking it into settings, circumstances, situations. The flood, when it broke me open also broke my heart (a sledgehammer is NOT a particularly precise tool, that’s why we don’t use it to crack eggs) and when it healed, it formed in a different shape and pattern with grooves and texture that wasn’t there before.

I have bad skin, the consequence of years of abuse. I hated that skin for so long, was often disgusted when I would look in the mirror and see only imperfections. But now, when I see the marks on my face, I only see me. I’m not flawless. I’ve made poor decisions with food and drink and lifestyle and sunscreen. I’m getting pretty old and, where there once was a baby face stands someone’s husband and dad, wrinkled around the eyes and mouth from laughter and tears and lots and lots of smiles. I’ve been slapped, pinched, frozen in a questionable procedure by a dermatologist, scratched by cats, and on and on and on. But it’s my face and I wouldn’t change one thing.

And that heart that turned out to be wildly mistaken about my imaginary strength, will, superpowers, and control – it’s mine, I wouldn’t change one thing, and I’ll be taking this new broken/repaired heart everywhere I go, into every landscape and environment.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to some college students who were volunteering to clean “flood buckets” (buckets filled with supplies and sent to flood victims about). I jump at those chances now. You see, I don’t exactly want to talk about or even think about our flood anymore, but now it’s a different sort of story. It’s about what I couldn’t do. It’s about kindness & peace & opening up my hands to the things to which I was desperately grasping. It’s about value and “enough.” It’s about losing all of my stuff and discovering that I didn’t really care about that stuff at all. It’s about my face. It’s about the redemption of my heart.

It’s about Jesus. It’s a Gospel story, now, and it’s a very good one.

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.