imagination

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.

New Years Worksheet

Yesterday, we continued a discussion on the Story we find ourselves in, as well as our role in it. I can’t think of any better day than New Years Day to look back, reflecting on what has past, and look forward, considering the future. Where have we been, where are we going? What have we learned, where have we grown, where have we fallen, where have we soared?

Where Christmas was a discussion of THE GIFT, New Years is one of response. As we move through Advent and Christmas, we enter a new season: Epiphany. The significance of Epiphany, The Christ child is here, what does that mean? He has come, so what now? Our lives are our answer to the question of Epiphany, our answer to His coming, our rescue, our salvation.

A great, meaningful life (which we can also call a faithful response) doesn’t happen by accident. We don’t get where we’re going without an idea where we want to go, or a knowledge of where we’re called to go. Again, this conversation is about the call, what Story, Whose Story, we’re in and what our part is.

Each person’s individual calling can be different, but one thing is always certain: It’s God’s Story, and He gave us all a call in common.

This common call is found in the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

GO and MAKE DISCIPLES. We talk a lot about the first part (“As we’re going”), not as much specifically about the 2nd (“make disciples.”) How exactly do we do that? How do we make disciples? With our words (1 Peter 3:15 “Worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to give an account”), song, beliefs, doctrine, time, $, energy, and I’d suggest, most importantly, with our lives.

So, what kinds of lives are they? New Years is a great time to ask these questions and set path forward. Years ago, a woman opened my eyes to the value of a ‘word for the year’ to set my focus upon, to set this path upon.

What’s important with any path is that we’re on it. We need to start, take a step, move, join, jump in. Where is yours? Where are you being called to take steps? What do you think?

Here are our questions to ask: What kind of life am I living? What needs attention? What needs to change? What needs to be fed?

The cool thing about living a life WITH Jesus is that no one has to give us much direction here. You are probably feeling something very specific to you and your circumstances, listen to that. God is speaking, we simply aren’t listening too much. Or we’re ignoring what we hear, for whatever reason, usually fear. We just might need to stop and be quiet long enough to listen to the Spirit moving within our souls.

We are the artists of our lives, what sorts of lives will we create???Where do we start?

Zechariah 10 contains the idea of a plumb line. A plumb line is a string with a weight designed to set a straight line to build walls. We’re not building walls, we’re building something much more important. He is our plumb line. He is (according to the scholar Creasy:) “the straight line by which we measure our crookedness.”

The idea of a plumb line is to have a YES – something to look & move towards.

What makes your heart sing? What excites you? What stirs your heart? What are you being called into? As you answer, let your community help, encourage, spur you on, and love you as you go out from this awesome Dinner Table.

There is one more idea in Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…”It is NEVER too small, God loves when we start, when we take a step towards Him and His Story. The greatest achievements all have 1 thing in common: somebody started. How do you build a temple? A brick at a time. How do you build a life? A brick, a step, a bite at a time, on purpose.

1 last (not always obvious) thing before we get to some more questions; To use a plum line requires we have one. To line ourselves up to Him, we need to know Him and what He says. We need to walk with Him, read His Word, pray, spend time, let His Spirit guide us and speak to our hearts.

The word of the year for the Bridge is “Love.” What does it mean in our lives to love Him? To love each other? What does it mean in & for this community?

So what’s yours? (And no reasons why not!! Who knows what’s possible when nothing is impossible?) What kind of life are you building? Where will you give your attention? (And tell someone – tell me;)

What I do know is that we’ll keep our eyes on the plumb line, dreaming, praying, listening, building this Bridge, and getting our love all over everybody. That’s the thing that set apart the early church and it’s same thing that sets us apart today.

The Last Post of the Year

This will be the last post of the year, and I’m thinking back on the year, while looking forward. I totally recognize that everything I write at this time of year shares a common thread. This is no surprise, here or anywhere (I am by no means unique in this – every post anywhere shares this common thread.) It’s a natural transition.

Often times, circumstances coerce us to move, our situations force us to turn. Something has to, we only change when that pain becomes larger and hurts more than the pain of staying the same. Though it doesn’t always feel like it, it’s mostly a necessary, positive step and will usually leave us better than we were before. The big problem with this sort of transformation is that it’s an individual, lonely journey. Yes, if we’ve been blessed and intentional with that blessing, we have a community to hold us up, but they cannot know where we are in the deepest parts of us. That’s why the first step is so frightening and intimidating, it is one that feels as if we take it alone. (We aren’t, of course, but it certainly seems like it’s totally in the dark.)

This time of year is abnormal because we all stand in the same dark space with the same invitation in our hands. Who were we, who are we, and who will we become?

It’s an invitation that confronts our beliefs about what is possible.

Even the characters in the Big Story we tell around Christmastime were given the same invitation. I wonder if there were others that said “no” or “I can’t,” or “what if You’re wrong,” before Zechariah and Elizabeth received their angelic visit. We know Abram’s father, Terah, had the opportunity to “GO,” which he refused, before Abram was given his call. They were all faced with the same choice we are, will this be a space where we say “Yes?” The five we read about (Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus Himself) all answered; this was the life they said yes to.

Can we say the same? Is this the life we said yes to? Is it the one we will continue to say yes to? Or is it simply the one we have?

As Patricia beautifully phrased in Saturday’s retreat, “We are invited to giving birth to all that can be.” We spend so much time at the Bridge (because the Bible spends so much time) discussing the vital role imagination plays in faith, hope and love (“but the greatest of these is love”;) Will we have the courage to be so vulnerable to dream of something different, something new? Faith is the assurance of things we can’t see – that takes God-breathed imagination. So, will we? Or is it just what it is, what it has always been? Is this just the way I am, and will always be? What keeps us from answering that invitation to give birth to all that can be?

Yes, we’re scared to fail, to fall, but you understand by now, we’re also terrified to shine & fly. I don’t know what the Bridge can be, I don’t know what I can be, but I do know I’m beginning to get more and more comfortable to the idea of finding out. I’m absolutely convinced we all have a divine call that is our own (in addition to the command to Love God & each other, and The Great Commission.) Maybe this year we would hear it. Maybe we already have, we’re just been full of reasons why we might have been mistaken in what we heard. Who knows? I just know we’re in this together, “let’s take this one step at a time, I’ll hold your hand if you hold mine,” so this year, let’s agree to be open to the possibility. After all, this Christmas story begins with a baby (!!!) and ends with an empty tomb (!!!!!!!!!!!), so maybe our wildest dreams aren’t big and amazing enough for this kind of God.

So, my brothers & sisters, have a truly joyful New Year.

Plumb Lines

As we race towards the end of the year and the beginning of a new one, it is my practice to reflect on where I’ve come from and look to where I’m going. I pick a focus word or 2 and make a plan to move forward (in pencil). There have been times when what is in front of me is intimidating in its scope, like staring at a smooth, slick wall stretching up into the clouds. Where do I even start?

If you’ve ever watched the show Hoarders, as the houses fall into such a state of disrepair, the people fall into a state of apathy. The work is so vast, it’s hard to see any way out. They have no idea how to clean what used to be their home but is now just a storage space for dirty dishes, trash, and junk. There is no end in sight, no light at the end of a massive tunnel.

A life can feel exactly the same. I remember many times, for seasons or years, where my soul was one of those houses. There were behaviors that didn’t serve me well, destructive habits, the worst tape loops playing in my head, self-sabotage, all buried under an avalanche of unhealthy perspectives. The task, cleaning me up, creating new pathways, was so enormous, I ended the next year with, at best, the same work ahead as the previous.

What I so clearly see now is that the answer is the same, put a few dishes in the sink today. Then a few more tomorrow. In the Bible, the exiled Jewish people return home and work begins to rebuild the temple. The old temple that had been razed was so grand, fantastically ornate and glorious, how could they ever possibly rebuild that one? The prophet Zechariah wrote, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (Zech. 4:10)

There is a Japanese concept called kaisen, where continuous small, almost imperceptible changes compound, leaving the company, or process, drastically transformed.

I think this is what Zechariah is talking about, kaisen, or small beginnings. Set a plumb line – in this case, set our eyes on God and His vision for the temple, or our lives, families, communities, nations. This plumb line stays static, not swaying to meet the popular, convenient, or comfortable, and we begin to build with that as our guide. One block at a time. One dish. One moment. One lie in the tape loops that screamed in my ears. Just one. One step. We don’t need to know when the tunnel ends, or even where it will lead. We have a plumb line, and that plumb line is trustworthy and certain.

I know one step seems insignificant. We want to lose 100lbs by working out for 7 hours a day every day, but the next time that works will be the first, and we end up doing nothing. If we eat a bag of Oreos every day, maybe instead of eating none, we eat a bag minus one today. Or we do 1 pushup. Or read 1 verse.

We set the plumb line, don’t despise the small beginnings, and know that Our God, Our Creator rejoices to see the work begin. Then, the next year, we look back and barely recognize the person who began the work. We are increasingly new. We can see our bed and sleep in it without risk of suffocating under all of the ways we harm ourselves.

There is an old adage, an answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. Maybe this year, we start taking bites.

Dialogue

I just received a new book as a Christmas gift from a very good friend who buys me books I always love. Not this Christmas. This was a gift from last Christmas, but we couldn’t find the time to get entire families together to exchange presents and, more importantly, presence.

I’m embarrassed to say we couldn’t find the time, but all I can say now is that I won’t say it again.

The book is called Daily Prayer, and there’s a passage I want to share with you: “Most of us are in dialogue when we read a book. I know I am. That’s the point, I think; to listen to the writer, to listen to yourself and to listen to the space between where things said by neither are nonetheless said. The things we take away are the things that we were already looking for. What you seek is seeking you, said Rumi, and while this is a frightening concept, it can be a consoling one if we listen to the desires that will feed us, not destroy us. Rumi asks us to trust that wisdom waits, and might be found in unlikely corners.”

We talk a lot about these conversations with the Bible. We find what we find, sometimes it’s in the text and sometimes it’s not. But it is absolutely vital that we acknowledge this dialogue and listen to what is being said to us in this personal space. Every now and again, someone hears a talk of mine and comments on what they heard and it’s impact on them here, now, and I wonder where they heard that because it sure wasn’t in my message. It hardly matters, it’s awesome either way.

[An unrelated observation: “the desires that feed us, not destroy us” – can you think of any 1 piece of advice more important than learning to tell the difference between the 2?]

This passage is in the How To Use This Book chapter, then on the page called 30 (for the day of the month): “May we listen to our hearts when they burn with life knowing that You are speaking with us. Because You are with us along the way in the faces of many strangers.” That is what’s called a Benediction, which is a sending off with a blessing, and often it’s just words. But today, as I read it and talk back and listen, I’m thinking of the times when I don’t listen to my heart, don’t know it is God who is speaking. In my distraction, leaving those words unnoticed, I take this beautifully sacred divine moment and treat it like it was no more than hollow noise. And I’m thinking of the stranger’s faces that I ignore, walking past the very face of Jesus. Maybe there aren’t ordinary moments, just spectacular holy moments that we miss.

I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe there is ordinary time, but as that time is truly lived, fully present, it becomes holy. And spectacular.

I’m having dinner with close friends tonight and it’s “just” dinner on a Wednesday evening in November. No event, no real reason to get together, nothing special. Hold on, “nothing special?” We are brothers and sisters sharing a meal, what could be more special? That’s the event. That’s the reason. Lives lived together. If only that would be the ordinary.

I will remember this passage, will notice my heart burn, at dinner. Then, afterwards, at a high school basketball scrimmage. Then, at 1am, as the Angel and my boy Samuel arrive home from a school trip to DisneyWorld. I’ll hug and kiss them both (and then I’ll do it again.) The more I think about it, how could I miss anything? This morning I sat with a brother and listened to his soul cry out. Tomorrow I’ll go to the gym, eat a salad and tapioca pudding, and work in the weight room before the 4 of us (together again!!!) sit down to dinner. Can any of this really be called ordinary?

Or maybe it all is ordinary, unexceptional, until we turn our eyes and hearts and jump in with our whole selves. We participate in this Story happening all around us, and in the engagement (in the dialogue) it becomes…actually, it crackles and hums with meaning, significance, with life. The Spirit sings and in the listening, we finally hear it.

It’s a pretty good book so far.

Church on Thursday Night

Last night I took my son Samuel to see his first live music show. 2 artists (American Authors and the unfortunately named Phillip Phillips) in the Midtown Arts Center in our state capital. Adding to the excitement of the adventure, there wasn’t any parking and the building was barely marked and so easily missed that we weren’t entirely sure we had arrived even as we were walking inside.

So, we go in and sit and wait for the doors to the concert area to open, watching people and talking like friends. It is a beautiful under-acknowledged gift to actually like your children. Of course, we love them, we sort of have to. Also of course, there are times they drive us craazy. But to like them? That is an unguaranteed, unexpected, overwhelming blessing that is not to be overlooked.

American Authors opened – they were the reason we went, he feels like he discovered them and loves them like they’re pretty much his secret – and were terrific. He even got his picture taken with them that I’ll show you when I see you. But they played this one song, Deep Water, that is providing the thread that stitched us all, the entire night, this entire season of our lives, together, and is sliding seamlessly into the narrative of our communities (at the Bridge, work, school, towns & cities.)

Before I give you the lyrics, there’s a story in the book of Kings where the prophet Elijah is fleeing an evil king and queen and ends up hiding in a cave. He thinks he’s alone, but it’s there that he is ministered to by God. He is definitely not alone. Elijah is scared and complains that he’s being chased, and why is he being chased, what is going on, why why why, and that he’s the only one left. God answers the way God usually answers, without answering any of Elijah’s questions, BUT what He does is tell Elijah that there are more just like him and where to find them. God knows what we so easily forget; we don’t actually need answers (we only think we do), we just need someone to hold our hand. We just need someone to walk alongside. We just need someone to listen, to care, and to love (and who will love us in return.)

Now, Deep Water – the singer-songwriter referenced some heavy struggles (the deep water of the title) and his gratitude for the people who willingly waded into that water, sometimes to rescue, other times just to tread the same water in which he was treading.

“Please, tell me I won’t wash away. When it pulls me under, Will you make me stronger? Will you be my breath through the deep, deep water? Take me farther, give me one day longer Will you be my breath through the deep, deep water? When I’m sinking like a stone, At least I know I’m not alone.”

It’s not a superficial pretending that there isn’t water, or that the water isn’t deep, or that he wasn’t sinking like a stone. There was, it was, and he was. It’s not the need to fix that overflows from our fearful uncomfortability of this deep water. It’s only presence, sensitive to the times where we can “tell [him he] won’t wash away,” “make [him] stronger,” to “be [his] breath,” or to simply be in the water when he’s “sinking like a stone.”

This is our call.

I looked through watery eyes at my son who is, and will be again, in deep water. Just like the rest of us in that room and in every room. I pray that he has a tribe who will hold him up and be his breath, and that he can become the kind of person who will be theirs.

The most beautiful thing about a concert is that we are all there, we are all now, inextricably connected by the purity of our shared love. Life can be hard and we can think we are very, very different, but in the dark, on a Thursday night, affirming the creative spark that has been generously given by our Creator, we were all human, nothing more and nothing less.

Then, Phil Phil performed his biggest hit, Home, with these lyrics: “Hold on to me as we go, As we roll down this unfamiliar road. And although this wave (wave) is stringing us along, Just know you’re not alone ‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home. Settle down, it’ll all be clear. Don’t pay no mind to the demons, They fill you with fear. The trouble, it might drag you down. If you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you’re not alone ‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.”

Well, this is just great, now I’m writing through watery eyes as I think about him again, about those who I have held onto as we go, who have been my breath, who found me when I was lost, as I think about you. I know I’m not alone, you have all made this place my home.

The thing that gives me the most hope is the pyramid scheme. If we can do this for each other, and we have, and we will continue, eventually we can all know we’re not alone and that we are all extravagantly loved. Then, anything is possible.

Depth

Nahum was a prophet tasked with warning of coming judgment on the city of Ninevah in the ancient empire Assyria. If that sounds to you exactly like the call of Jonah, you’re right, it IS exactly like the call of Jonah. The only difference is the when – Jonah wrote his book in 785-760 BC and Nahum wrote his in 663-612 BC, roughly 100 years later than Jonah. When Jonah went, the people of Ninevah listened, mourned, repented, and changed their lives…for a little while. Obviously, that’s a little (a lot) convicting when I start to think of how many times I make a nice change until I don’t.

Anyway. Verse 6 in chapter 1 reads, “Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.” That isn’t a very feel-good passage, right? But verse 7 sounds different, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”

The note in my Bible says, “For those who refuse to believe, God’s punishment is like an angry fire. But to those who love Him, His mercy is a refuge.”

An awful lot of the Scriptures, maybe all of it (from a perspective), details the choice we all have: whether we will or will not enter into a relationship with this God. Will we believe, follow, fall in love, and if we do, what does that actually mean? These verses seem to say, this relationship is up to us. The kind of relationship we have with God depends on our engagement. I think that’s true, God extends His loving hands to all of us, the question is if we will hold it or not. God gives us all the coat, we decide if we’ll put it on. There’s a place already reserved for us at the table, will we sit down with Him? What kind of relationship do we want, what kind will we choose?

It’s a big question, maybe the biggest.

But what I’m thinking about now is, in our daily lives, how much is left to our engagement, or lack thereof. Is the level of meaning we find in our lives closely linked to our level of participation? Does the depth of our relationships correlate to the depth of our immersion in those relationships?

Some very good friends of mine once criticized a church I belonged to as “clique-y” and “closed to anyone new.” Maybe it was. But would it have been so closed if they had shown up more often? Do we consider groups to be cliques if we are on the inside, and if showing up is the only requisite to our entrance?

(I recognize there are actual closed groups where the walls are made of steel, immovable, impenetrable, and awfully nasty. But are these the much more rare exemptions, as in ascribing psychopathic behavior to the general population? OR, now that I’m farther into this, is this simply another example of the importance of perspective, the idea that we get what we’re looking for? I find notably less locked doors now that I operate as if all doors are wide open. Is that true?)

What I know to be true is that showing up to our lives, awake and accepting of possibility, while not leading to a perfect life (and what is that anyway????), certainly leads to beauty, significance, and weight. We won’t ever experience the exhilaration of the ocean if we only dip our toes and run from the tide. Maybe the only question left is, (in our relationship with God, our spouses, friends, neighbors, strangers, enemies, our world, ourselves), how deep are we willing to go?

Like a Nice Chili

2 weeks ago, on the Saturday retreat, Patricia quoted de Chardin, “Don’t try to force them on as though you could be today what time (that is to say grace & circumstances acting on your own free will) will make of you tomorrow.”

There’s so much here, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

Pulp Fiction, one of my very favorite films, was revolutionary for so many reasons, but the most striking is it’s use of chronology. The first scene is somewhere in the middle of the narrative, the last is later, but also in the middle, the beginning and the end liberally cut-and-pasted elsewhere. That’s what we’ll do here now, hopefully not to such a jarring effect.

“…will make of you tomorrow” implies movement. We (and everything) are becoming something else, growing, maturing. Right about now, as my boy is 2 weeks into his senior year of high school, it’s easy to want nothing more than things to stay exactly the same, as if he would be here forever. We sometimes don’t want to change, it’s uncomfortable and full of scary next steps into unknown realms. Even if now isn’t the greatest, it is familiar, right? We know what to expect, even if those expectations are squashing our spirits.

The other reasons we might not be moving forward are simple: apathy and distraction. Either each day is so full of relentless routine, requiring nothing of us, we’re set to autopilot, bored, listless, uninspired. Or we are distracted by our devices and/or numbing escapes, focused on entertainment, seeking nothing more than pleasure or, at least, a reprieve from the pain.

These few gigantic enemies of growth are illusions. Nothing can ever stay the same. There’s a saying in the business world – “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” It isn’t only the business world.

“Don’t try to force…” What is more common to the human experience than our predilection for control? We want to be there, now. We want to bypass the 10,000 hours, jumping right to mastery. When I officiate weddings, I read 1 Corinthians and every time I say “Love is patient,” I look at the couple for any small sense of honest recognition. We really hate patience, we write nasty reviews if we sit in the waiting room for 5 minutes. Don’t try to force? I didn’t want to start with those words because they include a built in anxiety that can be overwhelming.

How do we reach that promise of tomorrow, then?

“Grace & circumstances acting on our own free will.” It’s a triangle with the pressures, trials and celebrations of the world around us and our desire to step into who we will be as the 2 shorter sides. The longest, most significant side being the grace of God (grace means gift, or gifts, blessings, the unreasonable undeserved unending love of God). All of these work together as a sort of forge to create a new me & you, like a nice chili. Great chili doesn’t happen in the microwave, right? That triangle is called “time” by de Chardin.

So. Now. Who are we today? Who will we be tomorrow? What kind of future is possible if we partner with God?

We’re talking about this today because Sunday I referenced another thing Patricia said, “You will find meaning where you give meaning.” And I think this principle works to replace “meaning” with anything: significance, grace, care, trust, kindness, honesty, peace.

Where are we giving our attention, or our own free will? I want it to be these beautiful lives, families, communities of ours. I want to know what kind of future (my own as well as the future of all things) is possible if we’re intentional, careful, patient and extraordinarily loving. I believe if we give these things, we’ll find these things, and with God’s extravagant grace and love, the tomorrow we make will be a million times better than we ever could have imagined.

Waking Up

I touched on something Sunday in a Biblical/theological context, but I’m thinking more and more that it has wide reaching, wildly impactful applications if we only take it out into the streets and grocery stores and schools.

Speaking of schools, the first day for our local school district was yesterday. Last week, we circled the middle & high school while a group of us prayed over/for the students, staff, administration, and parents. I struggled with a big nagging question: what is my responsibility in all of this? First, what do I mean by “all of this?” The school district is no different from the rest of culture (and, to draw some parallels, the Corinthian church) in that they (we) are angry, frustrated, and all of the other adjectives that erupt from the root condition: divided. How do I (we) bring unity to a deeply fractured community? How do I help to heal, to replace insecurity with belonging, replace inadequacy with kindness and love? This is probably something we’ll explore here in the next few weeks, months, & years.

BUT today…

Familiarity with something breeds a certain unfamiliarity, neglect, and apathy. We take for granted the most extraordinary ideas and concepts. The BIG illustration Sunday was that “the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead” is inside each of us. How can that not change everything about the way we see everything? Easy, because we’ve heard it so many times, it’s become simply a collection of letters in an old book instead of the same power that raised Jesus Christ is inside of us. John 3:16, the Church, Communion, and on and on. There is no shortage of examples in the Scriptures.

Now think of our lives through these lenses. Of course there are a million conveniences that are modern miracles (including the mind-blowing one we are communicating on/through right now), but consider spouses, children, and friends, too.

If we begin to see all as gifts, do you think that could seismically shift the way we hold them?

I think we usually choose to view our days, possessions, and people through a paradigm of entitlement, through the twisted picture of what “I” deserve.

Maybe a change in perspective could eliminate the negativity, and the army of should’s. We can get anything we want from any area of the world at our grocery store, we can mostly afford the things we need, we can drive there at any time of the day or night, and be out quickly and easily. Instead, we complain that the prices are increasing, the cart wheels squeal, the others inside are too slow, it should be easier/cheaper/more convenient for me. Our desire for more obscures the very real wonder of what is.

My wife is gorgeous, capable, independent, funny, brilliant, and caring. (If you know her, you know I could continue this list, but I do have to stop at some point.) She’s well out of my league, but we’ve been together for over 20 years so I can focus on how she eats pretzels or on the music she listens to. I can drift from gratitude into the tragic distraction of how she should be doing the smallest, most trivial thing. Obviously, she should always be doing the thing the way I want her to, right?

If you look at any social media, you’ll see an avalanche of this exact mindset. The school should be doing (anything) like this. My neighbor should be parking, cutting his grass, voting the way I want. My kids should ______. The President/government/authorities should whatever. And this leads to a perpetual discontent.

I started this little diatribe with “Familiarity with something breeds a certain unfamiliarity, neglect, and apathy. We take for granted the most extraordinary.” I think what I’m really saying is that maybe that’s not the best thing for us, and maybe it’s costing us more than we can imagine. Jacob wakes up and says, “Surely the Lord was in this place and I was unaware.” I don’t want to be unaware anymore. If I could only open my eyes to the world around me, I bet I would see colors and textures and beauty that would leave me speechless. Maybe the only spiritual journey is one of waking up; to Jesus, faith, the Bible, ourselves, each other, love, peace, and the items on the grocery store shelves.

Street Sweeping

2 weeks ago, my boys played in a basketball tournament called Sweep The Streets. This particular tournament was held on 6th street of the city next door to our tiny suburb.

We arrived early and didn’t have to look for signs or follow directions, the music blaring from loud speakers and the smell of hamburgers and sweat were plenty to guide us in. The 2 outside courts were packed with players from 7 local-ish high schools, lined with the lawn chairs of parents and coaches.

It was boiling hot in the sun, and there was very little shade. I set up my chair under the scorers table tent in silence, hoping to go unnoticed. The scorer at the table just happened to be the creator of the event and nothing would go unnoticed by him. But instead of chasing me out, leaving me burned crispy outside, he engaged me as if we were old friends. Together there for the day, we did become old friends. We both rooted for our surprisingly overachieving “scrappy” team, heartbroken as we lost 2 close contests; 1 in double overtime, 1 in the last seconds, both we were figured to be food for, whipped early, providing lots of playing time for the second- and third-strings.

It was an extraordinary day of basketball for a very young team who is forging a new identity as a tough, passionate brotherhood that will neither quit nor go quietly, if at all.

But it was the event that was truly striking to me, inspiring me by it’s existence. Of course, I had heard of street ball and famous city courts where legends play, but I also read the news and pass police officers at every school entrance in the smallest towns. We live in a world of locked doors and hopeless division, a basketball tournament for a crowd of boys could not have seemed a safe bet. I wonder how much resistance he faced, how many times he heard sentences beginning with “you can’t…” He must’ve heard legions of reasons why not, and how many measures he would have to take to keep everyone safe or, from the most pessimistic, alive.

And probably the naysayers would have been right. The sheer number of violent acts in Anytown, USA show us how little of a guarantee we actually have for security. So, get all of this testosterone together, competing on hot asphalt for a whole day, there was bound to be problems.

Not to mention, I had just emerged from a baseball season where the behavior was abysmal. Each night of games was an embarrassment full of coaches and players acting like escaped animals with no concept of perspective, class or sportsmanship. My expectations were low.

Everyone who came inside the fences shook my new friend’s hand, every one seemingly a cherished old friend. The affinity and respect for him was obvious. The games were well played, hard fought, and free of the cocky fearful inadequacy that colors so much of youth sports, the cheeseburgers were excellent, bathrooms clean, sunshine brilliant, and the company was much much better.

As I was reflecting on just how beautiful this entire situation, and the man who organized and made it run so smoothly, was, it occurred to me why I found it so new & inspiring and yet oddly familiar. We can think God exists only in our ornate buildings with fancy offering plates and smoke machines, from 10-12 on Sunday mornings, where we are reciting Bible verses and singing hymns. We can think church takes place in pews, under stained glass. But again and again, we are proved wrong. God is not, and will not be, confined to walls and ceilings. The Church, The Bride of Christ, isn’t a place at all, it is simply the people, you and me, our neighbors, the workers at the grocery store, the runners on the street, teachers in the schools, anywhere and everywhere. And the local church is on street corners just as well as it is in little white buildings with orange signs and cracked parking lots.

The boys were exercising the gifts they’ve been given, (all different, working like parts of a body), together, as it was meant to be in the Garden in Genesis 1 & 2. That’s why it felt so good, like home (like Home). It’s what we were created for, this community, all functioning in God’s grace, under God’s binding sun, in glorious shalom. We all knew it, we didn’t want it to ever end, even if maybe we didn’t know why. This was the Kingdom breaking through, speaking fresh words, testifying to the new creation right in the middle of this one. And all that’s left is for us to notice and humbly offer up our praise and gratitude.