imagination

The Best Chicken I’ve Ever Had

After the riverboat docked and we were safely aground, we shared a meal, inviting everyone who was on the boat and whoever happened to be walking close enough to accost. I always make the joke (which is actually only half a joke) that one of the things we do best is eat. So, all of us ate the food we offered together at heavy stone tables across from our friends and, until recently, strangers. It is and has always been so valuable to me because, in addition to how deeply I love to eat, it is where all of the walls and barriers we concoct to separate us fall away and we can simply be ourselves, enjoying the blessings of God. (Now, I understand school lunches and dinner parties and business lunches and… well, I understand not ALL meals are about unity and blessing and instead focus on power, prestige, image, popularity and who is sitting where, with whom, but that’s gross and a perversion of the very idea of the table. We’ll talk about those distortions another day. Today, we will talk about when food and the table are right.)

The pavilion that covered us was full of laughter, noisy conversation, and full bellies. Everything was just as it should be.

Clean up was easy, the food was nearly gone. 

As we turned out of City Island and back onto Market Street, I realized just how exhausted I was. Big weeks take a toll in much the same way that sledgehammers take a toll, so I was ready, counting the seconds until I could collapse onto my very soft, very comfy couch and put a movie on that I wouldn’t see. And that’s just what I did, the lone exception being that the movie was replaced by the HGTV program Good Bones – I am married to a woman who strangely feels that there is more to entertainment than superheroes. Go figure. 

We were satisfied, peaceful, soaking in God’s lovely grace, half-awake.

Angel’s phone interrupted our lethargy with a dinner invitation that we would obviously decline.

Yes Man is a pretty good book, written by Danny Wallace, that was adapted into a completely average movie starring Jim Carrey. I only mention it because I have been taking steps (sometimes small and imperceptible) to say Yes to things I would regularly refuse. The thing is, my ‘natural’ bend is towards a hermit-like isolation, which has cost me many friends and experiences. I’d like to change that, don’t think it’s ‘natural’ at all to crawl into a hole where I am the only resident. I think my ‘nature’ is more like laziness and apathy and doesn’t deserve to survive the next metamorphosis of my evolution.

So, we said yes to dinner with some new friends (so new that it would be the first social interaction I would have with this beautiful family). They had a gorgeous home, great dogs, an easy openness, and far more food than I was prepared for. I count calories for everything I put in my mouth (you can judge me if you like, I certainly do), and when I saw the amount of pure deliciousness that would be served, there was a decision to make. I haven’t eaten a cheeseburger in a looong time, my friends. Where does a caloric threshold fit into saying Yes?

I’ll tell you, at least last Sunday, it doesn’t. 

I ate a huge juicy cheeseburger and chips and something called dump cake (exactly as awesome as it sounds) and then there was the chicken. As I was wrist deep in burger and macaroni salad, a plate of chicken was set before me, as if it were delivered by angels. Now, chicken is not something I would usually comment on, it is mostly fuel: bland, dry and laced with protein. But this chicken was marinated in God’s love and herbs harvested from the garden of Eden. I ate until I was sick in gratitude, deciding that these people were amazing and chicken was now my favorite food.  

The calories would have to wait to be tracked.

****

So, Now what?

This is the last post on this riverboat/chicken adventure and now I can see that they (including the message I shared, though I couldn’t have guessed at the time) are all tied in the willingness to show up, to open ourselves to possibility, to imagine that this hurting world can be (in fact, IS) beautiful if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hands to hold and hearts to love and be loved, if only we have the courage to say Yes. A tapestry of chicken and new friends and swimming pools and Shukran and riverboats and Gisy’s voice and Mephibosheth all sewn together by a God who has not left us, not even for a second, who is just waiting with wide-open arms for us to sit down at His table

What If

I just finished a book called The Way Of The Warrior by Erwin McManus and here are 2 questions that have settled in my head:

What if we are more than we know and in our disconnection with God have become less than we were ever meant to be?

What if miracles look like aberrations because we have accepted the world as it is and not as it should be?

Sometimes ideas, concepts, and observations stand out because they are so counter to what we’ve ever considered to be true, ever imagined could be possible. Other times they give language to what we’ve always known but didn’t have the words to express. These questions, to me, paradoxically reside squarely in both.

You see, I believe the premise of both of these questions – that our brokenness and “disconnect” have led us to settle for far less of our world and of ourselves. I think we struggle so much with acceptance of injustice and suffering, and so often say, “it’s not supposed to be like this,” because it isn’t. Maybe the fantastic stories of the Bible – where Elijah asks it not to rain for 3 years and it doesn’t, where the same Elijah asks God to send fire to the altar and He does, where a few fish and loaves feed thousands, where Ezekiel breathes life into dry bones, where Jesus and Peter walk on water, where manna is provided, where seas and rivers part, and on and on and on – what if these fantastic stories aren’t the exceptions? What if we are? What if, when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,” he meant it? What if it wasn’t a metaphor or hyperbole, what if he actually meant that nothing will be impossible for you and me?

***That’s a big “what if” and the implications are staggering…***

Of course, the other side of this is that it leads to a perfectionism that is unreasonable. Our expectations – of ourselves, others, and the world around us – can become chains, holding us in a prison of self-loathing and judgment. 

Maybe there’s a happy medium. Or maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s just a case of mistaken identity. If I think it’s my duty to be perfect or better or enough or amazing, I will try and try and push until I am. And fail, like I always do. Because even when I am awesome (we all are, you know) I open the door to the hammers that start pounding in my head, saying I’m not awesome enough or I should be more awesome. It’s never enough. 

This is where I too often go – so when McManus asks those questions, I see impossibility and yellow caution tape. Turn around! Be careful! 

But since I’ve ignored the warnings and have, instead, been feeding and caring for them, I see something new. What if the phrase “in our disconnection with God” is and has always been the key? Maybe my impossibility and less-than thoughts of not enough is simply more disconnect. Maybe as long as I’m trying to find enlightenment in my own achievement, it will just be further disconnect. Maybe I can’t make a mountain move because I’m trying to move it in my own strength, on my own shoulders. The mistaken identity is that I think I need to create me – that I decide what I was “meant to be.” That I manufacture my own miracles. 

(My great friend and new daddy Jay uses that life-changing phrase, and I’m henceforth stealing it from him and calling it my own.)

I was already created, in love, with a purpose, for an overflowing life of joy and blessing and love. I don’t have to create anything, it’s already been created. I just have to step into it. Then my expectations of the world can be a holy revolution, full of love and invitation (instead of bitterness and judgment) and my expectations of myself can be a realization, dripping with kindness and openness and awakening.         

Yet Another Post About Youth Baseball

I am finished coaching baseball for the year, and I am equal parts disappointed and thrilled.

This weekend we will not be playing in the state tournament for 13 and 14 year old all-stars. Baseball is strange (and that is, of course, what makes it so great.) Samuel’s team played a best-of-3 series with a Harrisburg area all-star team and, in the first, Saturday morning, pounded them 14-2 in a 5 inning mercy rule game. The second, after 4 innings, we were ahead 5-0 and planning our trip and hotel accommodations. In the next 2 1/2 innings, we were handed a 9-5 loss. This forced us to come back for Sunday afternoon and the wrong end of a 17-6 whipping. What looked like an easy coasting to the next step turned to mush in our hands. Baseball, right?

Samuel, for his part, played very well, but baseball is a game where everything you hit can be solid and hard and you can come away empty. That’s just what he did, with great frustration. I keep reminding him that you can also hit everything softly off the end of the bat and find every hole and go 4-4. He didn’t care about my wisdom. Not even a little.

I thought the team was pretty good, pleasantly surprising me in other ways off the field. The kids were kind and encouraging, the best players were leaders and, at least for 2 days, displayed the sort of character that made me feel like the future was sunny and everything was possible (if not winning a 3 game series.) I told a few of the boys and wanted to call each of their parents. 

This was a stark contrast to our summer team (ages 13-16). I thought this team was pretty good, too, and also surprising off the field. This just wasn’t a good surprise. I expected the older kids, fresh from high school ball to encourage the younger, wide-eyed newbies, to show them what it meant to be ballplayers, where to go on a steal, who the cut-off man is, how to spot a pitcher’s tendencies, and most importantly, what a team looked like, felt like, and what winning required inside each of them. Sadly, the mood crashed the day they came, 2 weeks after practice had began for those not yet playing for the school. With one very notable exception, the boys were clique-ish and sarcastic, choosing to mock and tear down rather than build. Of course, they didn’t take coaching well, usually disrespectful, rarely listening and often saying “No” to instruction on the field (ON THE FIELD!!!!) – after all, they are early teenagers and we all understand that all we’ll ever learn we’ve already learned by our thirteenth birthday, right? They were nasty and mean to each other as well as the requisite muttering behind backs (even to their ‘buddies’ in their own clique.) They clearly didn’t like each other, and to me, the most heartbreaking part of that truth is what it tries to hide: they don’t like themselves. Their insecurity (not only theirs, theirs is just more obvious because of the outward nastiness) worn on their sleeves like a sponsors logo directed every word and move. 

It was an environment that caused my soul to ache every day. What could I do to affect some change? What could I do to speak fresh words into such negative self-regard? What could I do??? I tried many approaches, to varying degrees of failure. The questions still haunt, and the nagging new question: did I let these broken boys down? I guess I probably did. Sigh.

I also coached a team of younger boys (under 14) from 3 different areas. We were, by all accounts and measures, terrible. I believe they have far more ability than even they would guess that needs to be coaxed into the light, and we made strides. We were always able to find encouraging details to build on, even in the middle of mounting losses.

I will say this, though, about those boys. I loved every moment of our short time together. I told all of those boys that I liked them so much “they could come and live with me” (HA!) and I actually did contact most of the parents (I will end up contacting all of the parents) to appreciate their children. 

I guess the point is that hardly anything is ever just one thing. Sometimes you play well and lose, sometimes you lose and have a great time, sometimes the worst thing is the best, sometimes you’re depressed and thrilled, sometimes you’re full of gratitude and regret.

I spoke at a funeral yesterday (an experience that deserves its own space, which I will give another day, but…) and my funeral messages usually concern this duality, and I offer my own humble permission to feel everything. The Scriptures have an underlying honesty that God, at the very least, allows. Allows? I would say the truth is much closer to ‘demands’ or ‘requires.’

So. 

It’s now around a week later and I am still looking at this, still on this screen, yet to be made public, and I’m only this morning seeing the irony in my hesitance. You see, I’ve been waiting because of the paragraph on the older team. I lost a good friend once because similar feelings, observations, and words about kids (1 in particular) I had coached proved me, to her, harshly judgmental in my assessment. I understand her perspective, I probably did look like a man who had written off these kids and closed the book, rigidly deciding who they were and who they would be. If there was a misunderstanding, it was only in the finality of my opinion. I hold all of this loosely, only an observation, hopefully wishing to open my hands and pick up a new one. The 1 that cost me a friendship did indeed have some of the qualities I perceived. But that was then. One year later, he had grown and matured – as most people do – and I would no longer say those things. Not only would I not say them, I no longer think those things. He is different. And (hopefully) so am I. So are you. 

Every day, I drove to the teener practice crossing my fingers that this would be the day that a big red switch would be flipped and they would step into the next phase of their development. Each evening, I mourned that another day passed in the old patterns, and each morning, I saw them with new eyes. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next Tuesday.

The irony is that this post is about honesty – and here I am hesitating to communicate in an authentic fashion, wondering if I should… 

I should. We are in the business of offering all of who we are, even the ugly parts, and allowing them to move and change and transform into who we will be. Ignoring, or hiding, them leaves them unseen and unchanged. Swept out of sight, unacknowledged, we stay who we are, and that is the only unacceptable outcome. 

This post also concerns things not being just one thing. You’re not just a nurse or a lawyer or a pastor or a teacher or a wife, and neither am I and neither are they and neither is any moment of our lives. I held off on posting this because I didn’t want to be misunderstood again, but maybe I will be. And that’ll be ok. These kids are not one thing, now or ever, and they are certainly not today who they will be in 1 or 2 or 15 years. I don’t ever close any books. Nothing is final.

No, that’s not true. Some things are final. But we aren’t. We’re works in progress. 

Today is not just an extension of yesterday. It isn’t just what it is. 

Except this post. It is exactly what it is. And I’m posting it before it gets any longer.            

What Do You Want?

There’s this story in the Bible: 

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:46-52)

We have spent the previous weeks discussing weight and value and priority, and this is why. Because sometimes Jesus stops, as He’s leaving the city and asks, What do you want?

What will you say??? What He’s really asking is, what’s important to you, what is the desire of your heart, who are you and what are you about?

So, what is it that we want Him to do for us? (…And how you interpret that question speaks volumes…)

It’s entirely possible we don’t really know.

Modern political elections have become exercises in complaint, shouting from a negative stance. We are asked to not vote for him or her, to vote against this or that, to look at problems and grumble over what is obviously broken – the notion that we could support ideas or people and discuss solutions is quaint and hopelessly outdated.

In our lives, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t want. We know what we don’t want to do, where things have gone wrong, where we are unfulfilled, and you know what, Jesus, now that You mention it, I actually have no idea. I’ve been sitting here on this road shouting because I know my situation is messed up, that I am uncomfortable and empty and anxious and depressed and angry, I don’t sleep at night and I have this ulcer and I couldn’t pay my bills last month and my boss is super-mean to me and I’m bored and tired all the time… I know I don’t want that, but what do I want?

Again, I’m not going to tell anyone what they want – maybe I want a fancy pair of jeans or my sidewalk fixed or better health insurance or to build a wall or a new job or a new boyfriend or this boyfriend to treat me better or whatever. That’s between you and Jesus (we’ll get right back to this.)

What I will say is: that blind man could’ve said, “You know, Son Of David, it’s hard being blind, what I want is a new special cane or a service dog or a friend who can lead me around.” Right? We very often settle for less. We settle for the good when we really want the great. We don’t want to ask for too much, maybe, not be greedy. We end our prayers, our answer to this question, with “whatever is Your will.” This man shoots for the moon and makes no apology for asking. “I want to see.”

It’s impossible, it’s pretty narrow in scope, small in relation to the world, but Jesus asked, and this blind man knows exactly what he wants. AND he believes Jesus can – and will – do it.

Maybe He has a bigger gift for us than those jeans. Maybe we are asking for a ‘standard of living’ pay raise when He has a corner office reserved for us. Maybe we’re just asking for the abuse to stop when He has a complete transformation planned.

Maybe He is just aching to say Yes, and give us our sight, give us a vision.

Did you ever think, “you’re so much better than that?” Sarah McLachlan had a song (called ‘Good Enough’ and is my #4 favorite song of all time) where she sang, “you’re so much more than good enough.”

But that’s between you and Jesus. That’s why we’ve spent the last several weeks discussing weight and value and priority. So that we actually give some time to learning ourselves, figuring ourselves out and getting an answer to His question. Because when we do, when we invite Him into this search and self-discovery (sometimes a little at a time, sometimes a maddeningly slow process), He will show us where we have settled, where we’ve been looking for canes, where we’ve been praying for just ok. He will show us who we are, what we’ve been created for, and why we are all “so much more than [the] good enough” we’ve accepted for far too long.    

A Brand New Thing, starting today

There is something called Alice In Wonderland Syndrome, which “causes one’s surroundings to appear distorted. Just as Alice grows too tall for the house, those suffering from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome will hear sounds either quieter or louder than they actually are, see objects larger or smaller than reality, and even lose sense of accurate velocity or textures. This terrifying disorder, which has been described as an LSD trip without the euphoria, even perverts one’s own body image.” This sounds horrible, but it’s interesting to note that Alice In Wonderland Syndrome is also called Todd Syndrome. I wonder why? (My brother-in-law’s name is Todd.) Who is this Todd? Was he or she the psychologist that diagnosed it or the first one unlucky enough to be afflicted? Sheesh, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the internet and lose several hours or days or years. I was simply searching for information on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) when I happened upon my brother-in-law’s syndrome. 

I’m pretty sure I suffer from this seasonal depression, and the reason I tell you this is because it probably explains my irregular posts, breaking the most important rule of ‘effective blogging.’

But as these things so often do, everything in the entire universe is speaking the same language – maybe it always is, but I so rarely listen, and when I do, my mind is blown by the connectedness of the messages being received. You know what I mean, right? The song on the radio, plot of your favorite show, the conversation you overhear between 2 people you don’t know in the grocery store, the Bible passage you randomly picked, all pointing you in a shockingly specific direction. 

So, we’re going to break the usual format and start a sort of online series, called Every Detail.         

Leviticus (everyone’s favorite book of the Bible) details a time in the history of Israel where the people, who have been slaves in Egypt, have now been set free. They now have a land and a fresh start, an opportunity to re-order the world from scratch. How will they do it? What will be important? How are they going to live in this new creation? 

It talks about sacrifices, forgiveness, food, skin, mold, discharges – it’s a weird book nobody reads anymore that is so boring your face gets numb in just a few paragraphs. But the foundation it builds upon is a total integration of every dimension of life, that the details matter, and how you do anything is how you do everything. 

We’ve been sold an idea of compartmentalization, where there are different parts of us that don’t bleed into the others. George Costanza, on Seinfeld, spoke of the conflict between “Relationship George” and “Independent George.” We may not have relationship and independent selves, but we might have work, friend, student, church, parent personas, like avatars in separate video-game worlds. The fallacy goes that these faces are natural and necessary, a kind of modern survival strategy.

“If Relationship George walks through that door, he will KILL Independent George!!!”     

The Bible argues that this murder is absolutely necessary. But instead, maybe Independent George should kill Relationship George, or church Chad should kill work Chad, or whoever. The idea is that we should not be dis-integrated in any way, and who we are should be who we are in all spaces, regardless of who is there or what time of day or night it is, and the images we’ve created, with their masks and affectations, for different audiences, have to go.

We have been created, purposefully, wonderfully, for a certain beautiful reason – and every detail of our lives should reflect this. This is what this space will address, in many different ways: how we re-order our worlds and what that means for every part of us, from our desks to our closets to our food to our toothpaste to our daily routine. 

Last night, in a discussion on our increasingly fractured and hurting world, one of us asked, “How do we change it?” 

Because it is not just what it is. 

Because all revolutions begin with that question.

What if the answer has been right there, in front of us, all along?

Restart

This morning I finished a book of Elisha’s called Restart, by his favorite author, Gordon Korman. It’s about an 8th grade boy who falls off his roof onto his head and remembers nothing; not his mother, not his friends, his room or anything at all about his life. On the back cover, it reads, “Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is – it’s who he was… and who he’s going to be.” What a fascinating question this book is asking… 

It turns out this Chase was a football star and a pretty terrible person, the worst bully in the school, awful and making life hell to everyone unlucky enough to cross his path. He didn’t know why – I suppose no one really knows why we do the awful things we do, and to whom. Sure, it’s obviously insecurity and fear, but why do we choose to turn it outward and why focus on that particular him or her? 

Anyway, he wakes up with a do-over.

The principal says, “This is an awful thing that’s happened to you, but it’s also presenting you with a rare opportunity. You have the chance to rebuild yourself from the ground up, to make a completely fresh start. Don’t squander it! I’m sure you’re not feeling very lucky, but there are millions of people who’d give anything to stand where you stand right now – in front of a completely blank canvas.”

Last Sunday, the message was essentially the plot of this kids’ book. If I had read it earlier, I would have quoted it then. In fact, we also asked the question, “Who are we going to be?”

It’s New Years, and I love New Years! I always get squishy and reflective around New Years. Maybe more so this year, wondering who I am, who I’m going to become. 

The message of the Gospel is that today is new, we are new. That today is not just an extension of yesterday.

But still we repeat lies like ‘it is what it is,’ ‘I’ll always be that way,’ ‘it’s just the way he/she is, the way I am, the way we are,’ or ‘they’ll never change,’ along with so many others that keep us stuck. So we stay in jobs we hate, unhealthy relationships, or unfulfilling lives believing these hopeless stories that cast us as helpless victims, chained to narratives that lack imagination and suck our souls dry. 

We don’t usually get a cliched soap opera twist to provide us this opportunity, but we don’t need one. We already have a reason, an opportunity – we just don’t take it. 

We are more open to the possibilities at New Years, right?

There’s a favorite story of mine in Genesis, where Jacob wakes up and says, “God was in this place, and I was unaware.” I think of that often, that I don’t want to wake up and say, “I was unaware.” What if we live our whole lives with the invitation to be new, to change (us, the world, anything and everything), to imagine, to find peace, to give/receive/experience Love… And we miss it? What if we leave that invitation unopened?

We probably don’t have to leave those jobs or relationships or lives, (maybe we do), we just have to transform the way we see them. We simply have to see them from a different angle with different eyes. What if we woke up with a blank canvas, free from the disappointment of unrealized expectations – of ourselves and of others? What if we had today to ask and to answer who we are going to become?

We don’t need amnesia, just a mustard seed of faith that things could be different.  

The book was amazing, by the way. I bet Elisha would be happy to let you borrow it.