Jesus

Fighting

I am sitting at my dining room table. This is unusual because I usually sit in the living room in a super-soft and cozy reclining chair that was given to me. I’m here because we have a fish tank in here, so I’m facing that direction watching the colors of the light fade into one other, wanting to write this post but having NO IDEA what to write. Incidentally, there aren’t any fish in this tank. Just 2 snails.

Staring at the tank, through the water, I can see a 4×6 index card I have on my mirror. I have 2. 1 has a quote from a Mark Steele book, Half-Life/Die Already I think: “I don’t know what’s coming. But I know it will not be too much.” The one I’m interested in today has a Bible verse, Nehemiah 4:14 (I mistakenly wrote 5:14): “Remember the LORD, who is great and awesome, and fight for your friends, your family, and your homes.” On my mind this morning – and last night as I lay awake, unable to sleep – is the fight I had with my boys and it’s consequences.

I don’t care what the fight was about, to tell you the truth, except to remember that they lost their video games for 2 days (!!??!!) and to follow through on that ban.

What happened afterwards is what I care about. I live my life in such a way that, if you and I have a disagreement, no matter how heated it may get, when it’s over, it’s over. You see, when I was growing up, I had a dad who would withhold himself from me in anger and/or disappointment. There would be days and weeks where he would silently ignore me until he didn’t, and then we could go back to normal. It was crushing and never failed to thoroughly break my heart. So, in all of my other relationships, I promised that we would never so carelessly waste precious moments like that. Early in our marriage, Angel and I would argue and she would attempt to escape to…well, who knows why she would try to escape? Possibly to stop the escalating tension and gather thoughts, a count-to-10 situation. But what I do know is that those attempts would be unsuccessful. Because my dad did this kind of thing and we are waaaaay too important to miss. We are such valuable gifts. He was, too, (especially to me), but I didn’t have a say then. Now I do. So we would fight and then the fights would be over and we could hold each other’s hands and give each other smooches again.

Yesterday, the boys got in trouble and, minutes later, I wanted to show something to Samuel. Whatever it was was cool and interesting, I’m sure, but that something was also to display that we were still in love. It has recently been pointed out to me that I stand in certain places and move in certain ways as to initiate physical contact. Probably, that’s true. AND HE MOVED AWAY FROM ME, just an inch or 2, just enough so we were not touching.

He was mad or sulking or whatever and wanted to wound me, and he did. But at what cost? I’ve been teaching one thing their whole lives; that we do not withhold ourselves from others to manipulate or control. Well, 2 things; that we can argue and that’s ok – our love is unconditional.

Now, I’m mad and sulking and whatever. Mostly sad. I’ve failed as a parent blah blah blah. That my dad is gone and I miss him like crazy, and now my boys and I are going to miss each other forever. You know how these thoughts pile up, like a terrible avalanche of sadness and loss.

And here’s Nehemiah. What does it mean to fight for my friends, my family, and my home? Sigh. I guess it means to take my tears and wounded-ness and plow through his rebellion. Because he’s 14 and I’m right – this is not always the case, but in this one, it FOR SURE is. We are waaaaay too important, and some things are worth fighting for. I may have to chase him around like I did (and sometimes do) with my wife, but this story is going to end with big bear hugs and a tidal wave of smooches on his cheeks that he only pretends to hate.

I didn’t know what it meant to fight for my dad and those sweet moments that were gone too soon, but maybe in fighting for these, now, we are all fighting to reclaim those, too.

Sports?

I write so many posts on sports because I grew up on a steady diet of sports, and often the things we eat when we are young remain integral to our lives. Teams, players, won-loss records, ERA, batting average, and second-guessing were often the only way my dad and I could relate and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t absolutely LOVE it. One year in the NFL playoffs, after I was out of the house and married to my Angel, Peyton Manning had a first half that was unbelievable, something like 5 straight TD drives, where he looked like a space alien brought here to play football. I was alone in my living room and called my dad. Just a father and son loving Peyton Manning together…

So, I love sports. Maybe I really just love my dad and the 2 have gotten mixed up over a lifetime into where I can’t tell the difference, and now he’s gone but sports are here and that’s going to have to be good enough.

Anyway. I can also see now that sports are primarily windows and illustrations – instead of ERA and batting average, I care far more about character, drive, and the human condition, perfectly displayed and refined on the practice field, bench, and weight room.

Both of my boys play basketball, and some days come home very frustrated and very angry. I understand this. There are some other boys on the team that, well…

Adolescence is marked by fear and insecurity, right? We are awkward and riddled with anxiety and acne, growing into the people we will become – but we’re scared to death that those people we’re becoming are somehow not enough. Of what? Whatever, we just live our lives wondering if we measure up. This leads kids to fight and claw and try to annihilate the ones standing nearby in a fruitless quest to appear better in proximity. 

The most arrogant, condescending and nasty of us, it’s easy to see, are the ones who are most viciously ruled by this inadequacy. In schools, playgrounds, fields and courts – then later workplaces, offices, and conference rooms – this behavior is totally predictable.

I understand this, too.

I know what it is to wake up in fear, wondering if today will be the day I am exposed, that they ‘find out’ (whoever ‘they’ are and whatever they ‘find out.’) Faced with fear, we fight. We rip and claw at others to prove our dominance.

We sit and talk about these other boys, they vent and I listen. 

I know these boys they talk about and the weight under which they are struggling that threatens every second to squish them. I want to hug these kids, hold them and tell them they are ok, that they are enough. I also know they won’t listen, will probably alienate everyone around them until they are alone and hollow, exhausted from the constant image-creating. I know how hard it is to see through the too-small eyeholes in the masks we wear.

When I was young, I wanted them to get what they deserve. I wanted to give them what they deserve. Now, I still do, but the thing they deserve has changed. I don’t want them fed knuckle sandwiches anymore (though I always fear that’s where this is headed), I want them loved, unconditionally and beyond reason, for no other reason than that they too are children of the King.

I think this is what Jesus meant when He said to love our enemies, the ones that are hardest to love, the ones that make it their business to make others feel sall and embarrassed and worthless, the ones who pretend, the ones who bully our kids at school.

This impossible-sounding command is only possible if we can see them as they actually are, without their carefully curated disguises, as frightened children. 

I want my boys to have these eyes that can see. I want to have these eyes that can see, too. 

Now that we’re here, I also want those boys to have the eyes to see themselves as they are, as He does. We are walking this path together, and if Jesus is to be believed (and I truly believe He is), this kind of overwhelming love will drive out the fear and we can all begin the healing. Let’s imagine that, just for a second, for a day, forever…        

    

My Speedo

This is going to be a very personal, difficult post to write…but I’m going to write it anyway. Maybe I’m just like ‘the kids’ today, where all of life is meant to be online, where it didn’t happen if it’s not on social media. It’s a logical extension of a movement that truly began in Madonna’s illuminating (and completely insufferable) documentary Truth or Dare, where Warren Beatty says, after Madonna refuses to talk to her doctor off-camera: “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing?” Or maybe I just want to be honest with my life. If I’m going to write a blog where we relate authentically, why would I hold such a meaningful piece of me back? (I want it to be that 2nd one. I don’t want to be Madonna or a Kardashian, so let’s all just agree and say it’s the 2nd and go from there, ok?)  

I started in the sand at Rehoboth beach: As I lay here in my Speedo, I remember all of the time I spent fully dressed – self-conscious and embarrassed. I’d wear t-shirts in community pools, lakes, oceans…if I’d even go at all. Usually, I would lie about some made-up excuse and decline invitations. My body wasn’t perfect, lumpy where it should be flat and flat where it should have curves. [Who was it that decided what my body “should” look like? Who knows?]

How many times? How much did I miss?

I wouldn’t dig holes and make castles with my boys – something they absolutely LOVE to do (again, who knows why? The point is, they do) – because of how I would fold and my skin would roll. So they dug alone, and I watched from under layers of clothes and the chair extended enough to not scrunch my belly too much, sweaty and uncomfortable.

And for what? Why why why why why?????

Because THEY might think…um, what might they think?

That I wasn’t a professional athlete, bodybuilder or Abercrombie & Fitch model? That they might think I was just a person who is a child of the Living God, who leads a full life, loves his wife and children, works, writes, reads, eats great meals, likes jeans with a little stretch, and has no idea what his body fat percentage is or what his biceps measure?  

That’s ok, because that’s precisely what I am. (Except for the biceps measurement – I know that.)

How much time and energy have I spent distracted, wishing I were someone else, with someone else’s waistline or skin or paycheck or wit or whatever, while another beautiful moment of my life passed right on by. The number on a scale or letter(s) on a shirt taking precedence to the people and the places around me. What a crushing tragedy!

How much of my life have I not been present?

I’m finishing on my sofa in Cleona: So. I’ve been coming along with this, finding some deliverance from the stern body image monster whispering in my ear, until Angel decides to post a few pictures on Facebook. She shows me first, because she’s kind and respectful and the sweetest  woman this planet has ever known, and there it is…In the middle of a handful of perfectly lovely photos, there I am in, kind of sideways, more than kind of unflattering. You know how you sometimes see a picture of you and you ask, “do I really look like that?” The answer is always yes, and unflattering or not, this one is me, too. I wanted to un-check the box, but instead I handed her phone back and smiled, “They’re great!” Because they really, really are.

And I guess it’s small insignificant acts like those that are the things that really change us. We step out one tiny step further than we’ve ever gone, then there’s a brand new line waaaaay up there that’s scary and intimidating and we think, ok, we did this, but could never do THAT. Then we do, except it’s now just a small step because we’ve taken 100 microscopic tiptoes before this. Then another. And another.

And before we know it, this is our life and there we are, living it. 

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Every manifestation of greatness has hidden behind it a life of discipling, determination, and persistence. – Erwin McManus

Our local school district sends an email every Sunday that details upcoming events. This was one of the bullet points in Sunday’s message to parents:   

“As a District, we are focusing more on Social Emotional Learning (SEL).  At the Secondary School, all students will participate in bi-monthly meetings with their teacher during Advisory/Enrichment.  The first meeting will be on Monday, September 16.  The topic is Passion and Joy and the question all students will be asked to consider is:  “What brings passion or purpose to my life?”  Please feel free to ask your son/daughter about this as it will help bridge the home-to-school connection.”

I did ask my son, a 9th grade student, for his help in bridging the home-to-school connection, “First, what in the world is Social Emotional Learning? And second, what brings purpose to your life?” I don’t know if you’ve ever held a conversation with a 14 year old boy, but I still don’t know what social emotional learning is. It sounds important. After all, it has an acronym. All modern “important” things have acronyms. Truth is, I don’t much care what the administration means by SEL, I just love the 2nd question and he was able to answer that beautifully.

It’s a variation of my favorite question: what is your why? Why do you do what you do? We all answer that in so many ways in everything we do. 

I began with the McManus quote because discipling, determination, and persistence can never come without passion or purpose, without a why. If I don’t have a reason, it’s just an exercise in the will alone and that power loses interest or is distracted or stays up too late or gets sick or finds a date. Something will become more valuable and that will get the focus that was on the last shiny thing. The reason the SEL class started with passion/purpose is because that’s where everything starts (or, at least, should start). Without a solid why, persistence is generally impossible.

Most of my biggest disappointments, the things that kept me up at night, could be traced to a lack of determination and persistence. I failed tests because I didn’t study, lost games and underperformed where I hadn’t practiced or prepared. But it wasn’t a lack of determination. I actually have plenty of that – just not in those spaces, for that work. I wasn’t missing resolve or self-control, I was only missing a raison d’être, or more aptly, a raison de faire. (I have no idea if that is a real saying – I know raison d’être is “reason to be,” and raison de faire might very well be “reason to do” – probably because I didn’t pay enough attention in French class. I had no reason to, then. How could I know I’d write this someday?)

I wonder how often our passions line up with our lives. If they don’t, life can feel very much like an uphill climb. We would be tired, bored, uninspired. We would continue to believe awfully destructive lies about ourselves, like that we are lazy or unintelligent or clumsy or weak or whatever, when in reality, we are simply searching for our why.

I’m sure my son’s why will change, and I hope and pray he changes with it, tightly holding onto it’s hand until it becomes a Him and he truly learns the meaning of the statement, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (Jn 10:10 MSG)

Answers

Yesterday I received a text message that said, “Is this Chad Slabach?” What a strange, interesting text – it could be anyone, about anything, and begs so many questions. Who is this? How did you get my number, and why? It’s like a big open door leading to who knows where. How exciting! 

So, I couldn’t do what I always do when I don’t recognize a number and ignore it (there are soooo many telemarketing garbage calls). This person knew my name, which immediately placed them in a different, more personal, category than the callers who don’t know my name but have an urgent message from a random electric provider regarding my Wells Fargo account (which I don’t have) or my nonexistent Medicare eligibility. I replied with a quick “Who are you?” 

As it turns out, it was a friend from high school.

A few things about that. I haven’t really kept in touch with anyone from high school because I hated most everything about high school and decided years ago that I would leave it behind. Now that I am a bit older and wiser, I wish a little that I hadn’t made that decision. There are a handful of people with whom I would quite like to see again, and this text message came from one of them. I later told her that she was “a very good friend to me,” and that’s 100% true. In that sea of dark isolation, far more Lord Of The Flies than Acts 2, she was always a wonderfully kind, loving ray of light.

How did she get my number? Because she read my book and I put it in there!!!! So many exclamation points, because everything about that sentence is astonishing. She read my book! How did she even know about it to seek it out and order it? As fate would have it, Facebook told her about the Bridge and Chronicles, Nehemiah and Other Books Nobody Reads. How it knew to tell her – I don’t have my own account, I use my wife’s – I have no idea. Facebook, with their fancy algorithm, probably knows more about me than I do.

So, she read it, and I put my phone number in so I could continue a conversation with whoever was reading it on just how much Jesus loves us. She didn’t know if it was really my number, and if wouldn’t have been if I had taken the smart advice I was given, but Bob Goff included his number in his book Love Does, and if it’s good enough for him, it would be for me, too. I didn’t exactly anticipate my book going all over the world, either, to where I would be getting calls at all hours of the night, asking about this Jesus and His amazing love.      

And here she was, texting, asking if it was me.

I coached a legion baseball team in the neighborhood of 20 years ago and while I was doing it, I met the kind of young man who makes you stop questioning, for a second, why you’re coaching in the first place. He was cool, quirky, and had a trouble-making reputation. That year wasn’t too awesome, but he was, and when I think of him, I hope he has a great life. I hope he is happy and full of peace. 

I tell you this because last night at the high school football game – my sweet boy Samuel plays the trombone in the marching band – I saw this not-so-young-anymore man with his wife. I met his lovely wife and we all spoke for a few minutes about his 4 daughters, how he coaches their sports and the problem with travel sports. He does have a great life and is happy, peaceful.

I think most of our prayers are mostly our hearts aching for connection. We’re made for each other, made for relationship, and the reason our desires for money or things or position can’t ever satisfy our holy longings is because they don’t breathe and smile and hold our hands. 

I’ll sometimes pray for circumstances to change, illnesses or pain to stop, but when I see my wife or you and we sit together and you say “me too” or nothing at all, I can breathe again. I can see the light through the cracks. I realize that I was praying for you all along. Maybe God’s “plans to prosper [us]…plans to give [us] a hope and a future” are not big bank accounts and comfy chairs at all. Maybe they’re each other. 

Maybe these Kelly’s and Nate’s are answers to prayers we haven’t the vision to ask. They are the perfect miracles, gifts from a God Who hasn’t forgotten, Who knows exactly what we need.    

Notes From A “Try Hard”

This morning I played competitive basketball, which means my ankles, knees, calves, well…every single part of me is asking me why? Why would we do that?? Saturday mornings in the winter of either 1983, 84, or 85 (I don’t exactly remember which) was the last time I played sort-of competitive basketball, so I can forgive my muscles for forgetting. My brain forgot, too. 

Last week was my first, and it was a very pleasant surprise. I was able to endure the hour and a half without blacking out or calling an ambulance. Whether board games or foot races, I’ve always been awfully serious about competition, but winning and losing hold far less significance when survival is your primary goal. That was the big win for me. As far as the actual sport, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t terrible. I didn’t embarrass my boys too much.

On that note, to compete alongside your own children is one of the most rewarding experiences a man like me can have. All of those hours I spend in the gym were validated on the court, as we gave all we had, standing side by side, encouraging each other to persevere, winning and losing together.        

But we won a bunch and I made a few jump shots. In fact, some looked so good I considered that maybe it wasn’t too late to make a run at a semi-pro league. I played hard, sweaty defense and hustled.

Elisha informed me afterwards that I was what the kids at school call a “Try Hard,” which is a playground slur for those who aren’t cool enough to pretend to not care. Like the kids that actually dance at school dances or study for exams. It’s pretty jarring to find out that one of the virtues you’ve spent years trying to instill is one of the things that will get them mocked and ridiculed at recess. Go figure. 

This week, this Try Hard couldn’t make much of anything, so I’m putting the semi-pro idea on the shelf for now, but even if your shots don’t fall, you can play hard, sweaty defense and hustle. My team lost all of the games this week, too.

Sports. 

I started this post in a white rocking chair on my porch, feeling every day of my nearly 44 years, not knowing what I would write for this Bridge blog, just knowing that I would. Then, “basketball” came out of my fingers and what does that have to do with God or church or spirituality? I always like to have some kind of bigger point that ties everything up nicely. 

I don’t have any, though. Hmm. Do I really need a fancy big idea? I guess not. 

Now that we’re here, though, I think probably basketball and writing and being someone’s daddy and prayer and living a good life are pretty much the same things. We show up not knowing if we can do it, (and before too long, there we are, doing it!!!), and sometimes we’re AWESOME and the next second we’re THE ABSOLUTE WORST, no one has ever been worse, we’ve ruined it. But we haven’t – not even close – because we keep showing up with what we have been given – which is always enough – and we Try Hard. 

Basketball was super fun, hurts and leaves me exhausted and weak. And there, in that exhaustion, weakness, and pain, I learned more and more about me and my boys, the virtues of trying hard, gratitude and the overflowing gifts of the Divine, lessons I might not have learned elsewhere. 

So, ankles, knees and poor tired feet, that is why we would do that.       

Salvador Dalí, pt 2

Last Monday, before the deluge of riverboat posts, I shared a post written by Cristian Mihai (his blog is pretty great and it’s located at cristianmihai.net if you want to read his work) and a comment written by Mr Wapojif (I have no idea if he has a blog, I’m not sure I’m his target audience.) (My post is called Salvador Dalí if you wanted to catch up.) (SO MANY PARENTHESES!!!!) At the end, I promised some thoughts on “success and if it actually takes a ‘great deal of luck.’” These are those thoughts.

I attended a church for years that abruptly closed its doors one Sunday. Abruptly isn’t exactly the best choice of words, it was a surprise to me, but all of the signs were there to be noticed. I just didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to believe my home church would ever end. Instead, I wanted it to go forever and ever. Now, that church had a pretty standard curve – we opened, grew, had a pretty significant dramatic split, and then slowly diminished until New Song Community Church was in the past tense and we were without a church. 

Now, in hindsight, we can ask the compelling question, was it a failure?

I love competitive sports. I played, lived and breathed sports. If a team lost, they had failed. It seemed so simple, but now I see that may have been an oversimplification, at best, and a colossal misconception, at worst. 

If you take the shot and miss, you fail, right? If the church doesn’t become mega- and meet in an arena, if the church closes because it can’t pay the rent, hasn’t it failed?

Now, in the realm of the spiritual, there is a theory that if God is in something, it will succeed. But what does that mean? Will it grow? Will it be profitable? Will it provide private jets and luxury cars? 

Was God no longer behind New Song because numbers shrank? Was God no longer behind the disciples who were martyred in various horrible ways? Is success illustrated by financial prosperity and status? Is success measured by wins and made shots and attendance and account balances?

I coached 2 teams this year. One was regularly thumped, and the other had its share of wins. But it can be no doubt at all that the one who had all the talent and wins was far less successful than our team of lovable losers. That’s strange. Unless God’s idea of success has always been unrelated to ours.

Maybe God doesn’t care if we make the shot, as long as we take it. Maybe God doesn’t care about the shot at all, just about the one who takes it.

Success might be about courage and risk and obedience – better yet, subjection – and following Him, no matter where that leads. Success might not be about how long New Song lasted, but that it’s impact be felt for generations through the people profoundly transformed there. As Vision says in Age Of Ultron, “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” And a thing isn’t successful because it lasts or because it wears the nicest jeans and has the most followers or likes.

I wrote a book and it broke even and that’s about it. (That’s good news for you because I still have some, if you want one;) Maybe the people who bought it read it, maybe some of those even like it. But that it isn’t Harry Potter or I’m not the Next Big Thing on Amazon yet doesn’t make it worthless or unimportant. I followed a dream that was inside me and in following that dream and the God that put it there, I changed. I became something different than I was before. Maybe it’s a missed shot…

…But I shot. New Song was awesome. My bad 14u team was the greatest. 

Maybe God doesn’t want me to sell a bajillion copies, but wants me to continue to be transformed. 

Maybe God just wants all of us. Maybe He wants us to show up and shoot and trust Him to take our missed shots and make exactly what He always intended. So Mr Wapojif, I think you’re wrong, there isn’t any luck at all involved in that. 

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

Shukran

We boarded the riverboat around 9:30, and by 10 she was full. Our Bridge community comprised only about half of the total on the boat, and this allows an interesting amalgam of 2 contrasting emotions to hold hands and enjoy each other, despite their obvious differences. 

On the one hand, new faces and hearts brings me into a fairly anxious space, where I feel the familiar fear of, “what if I’m terrible?” Or if I’m not terrible, “what if they hate me anyway?” This sounds self-absorbed and probably is, but it’s also a desire to introduce someone new to the God who rescued me, who gave me life (generally, capital L Life, and also specifically, this beautiful life of mine.) The baggage that comes with that is, fair or not, that someone new could possibly mistake me for God and the Bridge for The Church – I know that makes me seem like I have a complex, the biggest delusion of grandeur EVER, but how many of us or those we know have walked away from church or God because of something a Christian did, or didn’t do? What if the person sitting next to you in church was the person you saw be rude to the server at the table next to yours last night? What if the pastor said something dumb on his blog, or in an off-handed comment at a youth baseball game? What if 2 women on the church board dropped off offering envelopes at your house because you hadn’t attended in several weeks? What if the drummer on the worship team has an addiction? Now it’s not so far-fetched, right? 

So that can be heavy if I think about it too long, but the opportunity to point to the actual Living God who loves you now, has always loved you, no matter who you were/are, who you think you are, what you’ve done, how far you think you are from Him, is so fantastically exhilarating, it’s why I get out of bed and onto a riverboat in the first place.   

It’s a swirl of emotion, and is compounded by the fact that many of the new faces were Muslims there for the Eid al-Adha gathering. What will they think of me, of us, in our shorts and sunglasses? So many questions, will they think us disrespectful of Our Jesus? Will they find our worship not, um, well…not enough? The truth is, it doesn’t actually matter, our worship is for only One, we do not do anything for, as it says in the Bible, the praises of man. But again, we would like to not be off-putting and a reason (irrational though it may be) to turn away.

Here’s another question: How many Muslim services have we been to? How many would we attend? What about the open hearted spirits of those who joined us, though they may have been taught our separate faiths, our separate cultures, our separate lifestyles, could not under any circumstances coexist, and certainly not for something so trivial as a free boat ride?

Yet they did, and as I began, I wondered how they would receive my message…

I wrote the message years ago – with the changes it required. (I once heard that we never read the same book twice, and I find that true of most everything. The book might not change, but we do. So, I could look at a message I wrote last Tuesday and be affected by something entirely different today. All the more when we speak of months and years instead of days and weeks.) I often use the Old Testament as a jumping off point, and did here as well, discussing the story of Mephibosheth. It’s a wonderful illustration of grace; Mephibosheth didn’t do anything to deserve it, but was invited to sit and eat at the table of the King forever. 

But beginning with the Old Testament allowed those of us with different faiths some common ground, like an open door to a deeper universal conversation. I wrestled with this topic for some weeks, even as I worked to prepare the concepts, and was immediately thankful the book of 2nd Samuel and Mephibosheth won. Often, I find if we can stop being “us” and “them,” or generalizations, labels and sound bites, we’ll usually find similarities (like bosses and kids and car trouble and back pain and promotions and Morrissey and the Avengers and how lovely my wife is) and if we can find similarities, we’ll start to like, then maybe even care about and ultimately love each other. This is often surprising, but it shouldn’t be, we’ve all been created by the same God, in His image. Sometimes, though, it takes a free ride on a riverboat to see it.

I’ve promise the next post will be about food, including the Best Chicken I’ve Ever Had. But one more thing on the impact of our shared humanity on that boat: As one man (very near my age, holding his child while his wife held another) left the boat, he purposefully turned, found me, and said, “Shukran.” I had no idea what that meant and, since we had shared such a sacred space together, had no interest in doing what we usually do and nod and pretend to understand, so I asked, “What does that mean?” 

Of course, it means “Thank you.”

Red Canvas Shoes

The Pride Of The Susquehanna, the riverboat on City Island in Harrisburg, usually charges a fee to cruise, but the cool thing they do on Sunday mornings is allow different local churches to use it to hold their services and open to the public to ride for free. Some people use it as their home church and attend every Sunday and hear & experience different denominations, speakers, andcommunities. Last Sunday, those folks had the distinct and surely unexpected pleasure of the best singer they’ve ever heard and the rest of us at the Bridge Faith Community. 

Now. When we arrived, just after 9am on a Sunday morning, the island was flooded with cars and people, nearly impossible to find a parking spot.

The reason for the congestion was a truly wonderful surprise. I say surprise, but I sort of knew…I didn’t know the extent of the event, all I was told was that there would be a Muslim prayer service on the island from 7:30-8:30, so we may want to give yourself some extra time. Whatever is in your head is inadequate to describe the scene. Thousands of people in the most breathtaking dress gathered for the holiday of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice. This four day Feast of Sacrifice commemorates when God appeared to Abraham  and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience.

(I teach in shorts and red canvas shoes with my shirt untucked, so what I’m about to say is going to sound awfully hypocritical…and I suppose it’ll sound that way because it is. Oh well.)

We so desperately value the nonjudgmental freedom to attend church in our pajamas, if we so desire, coming “as we are,” that something has been lost. Perhaps what is gained outweighs what is lost, but as I soaked in the colors and beauty of the dress, I imagined their morning and felt every ounce of the loss. I imagined each of them waking hours early to prepare, as if for a special date or a wedding, wearing their finest clothes, souls peaceful and focused, mindfully approaching. This is a sacred occasion and must be entered into with the utmost respect and love for their God.       

In my house, we calculated the night before the latest we could sleep so we could rush through our many duties for the service and lunch. The contrast in my heart as I acknowledged the weight of their worship was striking and convicting, as if the Spirit was whispering into my ear that it would sure be nice if I would give that kind of attention to our time together.

I recognize this is what’s called projection, that probably some hurried, rushed and sped through Walmart, getting on each other’s nerves on their way, but certainly not all of them. Well, I probably shouldn’t even say certainly…maybe all of them did. Maybe the rude woman working at the Walmart that yelled at me when I asked about mustard packets had been asked about mustard packets since 5am for the Muslim prayer service. Who knows??? 

The point is, it doesn’t really matter – it felt far more sacred than my polo shirt and slip on shoes. I think that God doesn’t much care what we wear to the party as long as we come, but at the same time, giving our attention and intention to how we come is valuable to our own hearts and us becoming the kind of people we are created to be. We don’t have to…we get to.

And maybe the Spirit was whispering in my ear, after all, using an unexpected example to get my attention.

It’s interesting, at different times in our lives, different things are vital to our spiritual journey. In some seasons, maybe the pinnacle of faithful worship is setting aside the suits and ties of religion and enjoying the freedom to wear pajamas and flip-flops. At others, maybe a suit is exactly what we need. What we look like as we sit in church illustrates almost nothing about our relationship with Jesus. That we are prepared to hear those whispers and prompts, on the other hand, sure does.

(I haven’t even gotten to the riverboat or the chicken. This may be a longer series than I was expecting;)