honesty

2 Corinthians, Chapter 4

What I have found is that sometimes I get busy, distracted like those dogs i the Pixar classic UP shouting “Squirrel!!!” I chase the new & shiny or what I mistakenly perceive as urgent and easily turn a blind eye to the things that have brought me so much peace and growth. It’s maddening when I finally see it. My soul is (and has been) thirsty, trying to catch my eye and my attention.

Last week was Easter and during the message – I know that sounds like I am disconnected, but it’s actually quite the opposite. I prepare well so I can remain open and receptive to any promptings, which often come – so anyway, during the message I had a tremendous clarity that I absolutely believed the words I was saying. I know, I know, we hope that goes without saying, but what I mean is that because I believe, because I know this, maybe my life should be reflecting this knowing.

This revelation sounded odd to Elisha, who already thinks my life does reflect this love, this passion. But what he doesn’t see is that in my Google calendar, I have reminders for the dishes (Monday & Friday, because I love my wife) and to call my sister on Thursdays and text/call my mom every other day, and not a one for prayer or meditation. I NEVER miss a workout ever, but I sometimes “don’t have time” to sit down and read my Bible, even just 1 verse.

On the 1st of the month when I take care of the bills, the first thing I do is write a check to the Bridge. I give 1st because if I wait until the end, there won’t be “enough.” My time, though, is different. You know, I have been saying (and I said it Easter Sunday) that we settle for “table scraps” from others when we should not, but it’s those words that are haunting me because scraps of time are what I am too often tossing to God.

I suppose I shouldn’t say this out loud, or maybe this is precisely what I should say out loud. Who knows? As a lifelong over-sharer, I’ve never been great at knowing that line. This is me. So starting over Monday (faith is such a journey of starts and stops and re-starts and re-stops) I give to God right away, for as long as we want or need. And it is so great.

Sometimes we just sit, or I read and am relatively unmoved, and then sometimes I receive this beautiful peach in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, which I’ll share with you.

[Just a side note, do you know at the end of chapter 1/beginning of chapter 2, Paul says (my paraphrase): “I didn’t come to you when I said because I didn’t want to yell at you again?” Isn’t that awesome? It’s easy to love the Bible.]

“Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 2 We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.

If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus,[d] will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

How could I, why would I, not find time for this?????????

Another Week In 2021

So, last week was another week in 2021, which is shaping up to be even more of a bear than 2020. I’m soon going to be able to stop that sentence immediately after “last week was another week,” and we’ll all know what that means.

As you know, I lost a buddy I knew last week to a drug overdose. He left behind a wife and 2 small children. He struggled with addiction since high school, maybe earlier, and his was one of those stories that they say will end in a jail cell or a coffin. 2 days before his overdose, he posted a long grateful note of thanks to God on Facebook. It was his 7 months clean anniversary.

It’s common to wonder in situations like this, why? Why was he so sick? What was so bad that he would spend his life in the familiar pattern of detox and relapse? Or the question I asked of my own dad once he passed that will surely haunt his family, why weren’t we enough? Where did these demons even come from?

I know some of those answers in my buddy’s case, if all that he had shared over the past 4 years had been true. This is not a certainty, of course. His service was for a person I never knew and barely recognized. If there weren’t pictures, I would have questioned if I stepped into the wrong church. But with this, for some reason I believe him. Like so many, the damage inflicted upon him by his family of origin (broken, dysfunctional in every way) was crushing, ultimately leading to his death. They all dutifully carried on what are called generational curses. Midnight Oil, in the terrific song “Forgotten Years,” sing, “Few of the sins of the father, are visited upon the son.” In this case, it was significantly more than “few.” It was an avalanche to dig out of, too much in fact, and he simply could not.

Now. I have to be very careful when I get overwhelmed with the weight of loss and sadness, it can be pretty oppressive and increase my already hyper-sensitive soul. And there, on my dresser, was a borrowed copy of the movie Joker. I had good advice from the Angel to, under no circumstances, watch it while in this state. Very good advice that I ignored.

This movie was, essentially, a re-imagining of my buddy’s life. Abuse, neglect, illness, loneliness, depression, on and on – the Joker turned his violence outward and my buddy directed his mostly at himself. But other than that difference, it was the downward spiral of self-loathing that looked for all the world completely inevitable.

Was it?

One of the arguments against both is that, at some point, we have the choice and responsibility to build something new, something better. Maybe that’s simplistic ‘bootstrap’ psychology from those who have never been in that sort of darkness. (I happen to know that darkness, so total that the hope that there could ever be light again has faded and been replaced with emptiness.) But maybe it’s not.

We have the ability to choose life. I know it sometimes doesn’t feel like that, it feels more like there are footsteps marked out for us from which we are unable to deviate. That our lives are scripts where improvisation or rewrites are impossible. That we are powerless to our fate. That it is what it is. That I am what I am.

If you’re familiar with me or my work, you’d think this is the point where I start painting pictures of love conquering all, detailing pyramid schemes of love, how love drives out that fear, how a small perspective shift and a bit of imagination and a hug will break those chains. Maybe this is that part, probably it’s like that part in the Bible where Jesus asks Peter, “Are you going to leave me, too?” And Peter says, “Where else am I going to go?” It’s not exactly a rousing declaration of victory, it’s a cold, broken “Hallelujah.” It’s the acknowledgment of Truth in the face of suffering and discouragement, that Sunday is coming even though we cannot see it, that tombs can be empty because once, one was.

I totally believe those things I say, by the way. I have to. Otherwise, I’d have to resign myself to the robotic hopeless futures of those 2 sweet boys, and that is something I can not do, something I will not do.

Joker is a fictional character, but his story is real for so many of us. It’s a pretty good film (even if it isn’t the feel-good hit of the summer), but it’s a really bad story and one that we have to believe can change. The 4 minute mile was impossible until it wasn’t. It just has to start with one (or an army of us) who keeps running into the impossibility.

Even So

It’s snowing again and it is absolutely lovely. I haven’t always thought this way, that it was lovely. In my family, we would see the forecast for snow in the 10-day and fear would grip us tightly, first in our stomachs, then our necks. I thought it was a thief and a killer, waiting to take and take from us wherever it could. I don’t think that anymore.

Last weekend a friend of mine died of a drug overdose.

If you happened to see the sermon on Sunday and thought, “what a mess, that guy is coming undone,” you were right. Grief and confusion tend to do that. I’m not too sorry, either. This is also relatively new for me. I was raised to be nice, unoffensive, and pleasing, without edges or confrontation, like that horrible white Wonder bread that everybody kind of likes and nobody really likes at all. Or McDonald’s hamburgers. I thought that was how I would not be alone, if I was nice and soft and squishy. I don’t think that anymore, either.

My friend and I spent hours and hours together at the gym. He would mostly talk and I would listen, just be there, sitting Shiva to the suffering in his soul. He had a wife and 2 small boys.

I often stand up on Sundays and say, in the middle of all of this bad news (like the devastating stories in my town of people we know or the news of people we don’t), that we just need to keep loving each other. Love will be the thing that changes everything and, until then, makes every day bearable. And sometimes I feel like I’m wrong. Maybe nothing can change anything this side of Heaven. Maybe we’re just in a downward spiral of pain, and there’s nothing that can keep the wheels on anymore. It’s hard to stand in front of people if you think the things you’re saying are wrong. It’s even harder to stand in front of the mirror if the things you think you believe are wrong. There’s no peace there. No rest.

But here’s the thing that I realized. I wasn’t having a crisis of faith. I was not doubting Jesus. In fact, it ended up being quite the opposite. I was just sad. And in that depression, I realized that those things about loving each other…they’re true. And even better, even if they’re not, it’s what I’m doing. Maybe it is, or looks like, a downward spiral, but it is without question the thing that makes every day bearable and that in itself can change anything, can change everything. It is love that did change everything.

And then I read this today, in front of my window looking at this beautiful snow falling, in a book by Anne Lamott called Stitches:

“This is all that restoration requires most of the time, that one person not give up. For instance, when I was in school, there were a few teachers along the way who must have seen in me a hummingbird of charming achievement, all eyes, bird bones, frizzly hair and a desperation to please and impress. They knew that there was power and beauty deep inside me, but that I was afraid of this and I was in fragments. Men and women alike, old and new at teaching, were like aunties or grandparents in their firm patience with me, in their conviction of my worth. They had a divine curiosity about me – “Hey, who’s in there? Are you willing to talk straight and find who you actually are, if I keep you company? Do you want to make friends with your heart? Here – start with this poem.

This is who I want to be in the world. This is who I think we are supposed to be, people who help call forth human beings from deep inside hopelessness.”

I think so, too, Anne Lamott!!!

There are 2 phrases that I will carry with me until the last day.

“In their conviction of my worth.” We have all looked into someone’s eyes who held a conviction of our worth. Maybe we didn’t believe it. Maybe we couldn’t receive it. But even in the darkest spaces, it holds the hint of possibility that it might be true. That we are worthy, in our mess, whatever that mess is. Can you imagine?

And “Are you willing to talk straight and find who you actually are, if I keep you company?” In the sadness of a buddy dying of a drug overdose (and I am awfully sad), it’s easy to question if keeping each other company matters. It does. It really really does.

So. This is who I want to be in the world, too, a person who helps to call forth human beings from deep inside hopelessness. The very bad news is that this carries with it a certain amount of risk that hopelessness can crowd out the Gospel from time to time. And even so, we keep calling.

Funeral

There was a funeral last Friday for a lovely woman.

I’ll sometimes force my sons to attend funerals or memorial services with me, to which they usually respond, “I don’t want to,” because they’re teenagers and human. I usually ask, “why?” because I am their dad and horrible, to which they say, “I don’t like them.” Here, I lie and say, “nobody likes them.”

I tell them that lie because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like and it’s mostly better if everyone else is doing things they don’t like, too. Like eating vegetables or running.

The truth is that I love them. I know how that sounds, but it’s not to be confused with loving death, dying or anything weird like that. I’m not a psycho. They’re thin spaces, and I find thin spaces – where, according to Eric Weiner in The NY Times, the “distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine” – absolutely inspiring and beautiful.

When you stare out of the car window, flowers, grass, guardrails, and other cars blur into one undefined smudge. Nothing is clear. You can’t even tell where the flowers start and the Honda ends. This is like my life. I have a full schedule, see a lot of people, go a lot of places, drop off and pick up from practices, grocery stores, and on and on. Too often, I hurry, don’t stop to listen, don’t pay attention.

Last March when the world stopped turning, I dreamed of a new normal where we would find that we quite liked the slower pace. Instead, almost a year later, the new normal is just the old normal with more Zoom meetings and Amazon deliveries. It’s still a blurry smudge if we’re not careful.

Funerals operate like isolated March 2020’s. They stop us where we are, open our eyes, heaven and earth collapse, and we are invited to see these divine glimpses. Now, maybe we don’t accept the invitation. Maybe we stuff our emotions and check the boxes on what “has to be done,” work like crazy until we can finally get back to work (because who knows if the company will actually be standing if we’re not there to hold it together.) Maybe we numb and check out. Maybe we pretend we’re SuperSpiritual and read from the list of cliches while we convince ourselves that it’s somehow selfish to acknowledge the honesty of the loss and stifle anything that looks like tears and feels like grief.

But, baby, if we do accept the invitation… The clean lines of the Honda, blades of grass and bright colors of the flowers come into focus and we can actually see the beauty all around us that we’re too busy to notice any other time. We cry our eyes out when we need to and often find those tears surprisingly becoming laughter and smiles at the wonder of our tremendous gratitude.

[There is a pink elephant in this room. What if the tears are of sadness but also anger or rage or bitterness or resentment? Then, there is no laughter and gratitude is in short supply. This sort of situation is even more important that we accept the invitation into presence. There’s a character in the movie Magnolia who says, “we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.” The longer we run from the fact that there are chains around our necks, the longer those chains stay around our necks, strangling us slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, just taking our lives a breath at a time. I know it’s horrible, but we face what comes, dump it on the ground, look at it, and then we maybe pick it up and do it all again next week, but at some point, we leave a little on the ground, we pick up a little less, until the tears feel less like acid and more like peace. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but we have to believe it’s possible. If the tomb was empty once, nothing is impossible ever again.]

So, all of this mourning, grief, celebration, gratitude, looking at an empty place at the table or in the chair… well, it hurts like crazy when our hearts break. But we are awake. Our eyes are wide open to the blessings of today, and open to the blessings of yesterday, when they were here (It was awesome when they were here) and what a gift it was that, of all the people in the world, they were here with us and it was great.

A Bad Back & 2 Bad Shoulders

My back is feeling much better. Several weeks ago, I forgot who I was and what I was about and worked out my ego instead of my body and ended up with a small injury that is slowly meandering it’s way back to health. Who knew that I wouldn’t recover immediately, like Wolverine, now that I’m not 18?

I guess everyone. Anyway. Sometimes our body gives us subtle warnings to get our attention and sometimes it gives red alert total shutdowns. This might not be a red alert shutdown, but it might as well be, because I have received the message clearly. I mentioned months ago on a Facebook mini that both of my shoulders were acting up and now I couldn’t sleep in the position in which I’ve slept for as long as I can remember. An old friend who is becoming a better friend than ever posted a comment, reminding me that she is in fact a physical therapist and could help. Her advice was to stop the traditional moves, start some injury-specific exercises and stretching. Also, she gently scolded me: “you aren’t earning a living walking on your hands or carrying things overhead so there is no need to destroy your shoulder over these exercises.” Of course, I listened (for the most part;) and my shoulders are better every day.

Why do I tell you this? Because our spiritual walk is very much like our physical walk.

At any time, we are doing any number of exercises that work out our egos and “destroy our shoulders.” Usually, these exercises are kept hidden, our pain remains secret and we pretend that we are sleeping fine and that putting a coat on isn’t excruciating. The uncomfortability is the first nudge; low grade anxiety, nagging stress, butterflies, interrupted sleep. This moves to pain; higher grades of everything, guilt, shame, sleep is only possible with pharmaceutical help. Then, there are lots of ways this would go from here. Either our pain will increase into the unbearable, driving us closer and closer to breakdown or we will harden, numb, check out, build thick walls and survive keeping warm under a thick blanket of independence, anger and selfishness.

All of these symptoms can be teachers and all of these steps can be gifts.

Now. Ideally, we don’t hide and we can listen openly to the “physical therapists” in our lives before we get hurt. This is why honesty is so vital. We aren’t alone, aren’t under the weight of secrets and pretense, are able to see some light through the hands and hearts of those who would show us the light exists, however dim it appears to us.

But this isn’t an ideal and instead, we often hide behind an image of capable independence, superhero-esque and bulletproof. Like the kids on my sons’ basketball teams that are arrogant and mean to cover up their towering inadequacies and insecurities, these images are sadly, obviously, charades. Children playing dress up. We exercise our egos instead of our bodies & souls. And we end up injured.

This week, I am struggling through a passage of Scripture that painfully illuminated a blind spot I have. It felt like a sledgehammer and knocked me down. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see where I missed or ignored the first and second nudges; a text, conversation, movie dialogue, and other experiences pointing me to this ramp that would lead me back to the narrow path. Whether I innocently missed them or willfully turned away from them is pretty unimportant now – mostly unimportant because I don’t know the answer – but what is important is that my vision is improving. I see how far I have wandered. And I see how to come back. I have no idea which is the bigger gift, but what’s clear is that the 2nd can’t happen without the 1st. Coming back is awesome but it’s impossible without the revelation that we’re lost. There can be no healing without the injury.

So, here I am today, kind of thankful for the pain.

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.