love

Accidents

I’m now 46, passing last Wednesday without incident. I still haven’t reached the mid-life crisis I hear so much about. Maybe next year. But for now, I want to talk about this Instagram post I saw a few days ago that made such an impression that I emailed it to myself so that I could spend some time thinking about it.

This is it: “Pay attention, none of this is happening by accident.”

It’s from a new age-y account that is sometimes strange and sometimes profound and mostly both. So, about this one.

“Pay attention.” If you’ve ever been around me and heard even a tiny moment of the Sunday morning talks at the Bridge, you know why this stands out so brightly to me. In Genesis 28:16, Jacob wakes up in the wilderness and says, “Surely God was in this place and I was unaware.” And in Exodus 3, Moses notices a bush burning and not being consumed.

I think probably the biggest obstacle we have in creating and living the full, beautiful lives we dream of is the simple fact that we’re distracted. We’re really distracted, right? We’re busy, too busy, trying (and failing) to always multi-task, glued to smartphones, wishing we were somewhere/somewhen else, missing the best moments of connection and significance. So if we could pay attention to each other, here, now, we would see immense kindness, compassion, love – we would be in absolute awe at how wonderful this divine gift of life can be and often is.

That’s why that stood out in this post, easy peasy.

Now, the rest. “None of this is happening by accident.” I don’t even know if I believe that, I literally don’t give it a second of thought. Did I see her, meet him, hear that song, see that ad, get caught in traffic, stub my toe, eat that sandwich, as part of some grand plan? Or on a larger scale, is that war, that genocide, that abuse, those atrocities happening on purpose? Was it pre-ordained? Do I have choice in my life, do any of us, or are we simply pawns in a game?

Maybe I don’t give those questions any thought because there just aren’t answers for us, so it truly doesn’t much matter, outside of an interesting intellectual exercise.

But there is something there that can be awfully important.

If we viewed our lives as accidents, random happenstance, or absent any free will of our own, we can easily take them for granted and check out. We can sleepwalk though these days, these interactions, these moments. But maybe if we held Now as something that is meaningful, we would have a much easier time of showing up and engaging with it. We would notice. We would have our eyes, our hands, our hearts, open to the possibility that always lives inside Now.

When we’re at the store, at work, at the dinner table, holding our spouse’s hand, playing with our children, everything, everywhere, every time – if it is all of grand importance, great significance, then we won’t have to wake up and say, “sheesh, God WAS here, I was alive, we were together, this all mattered…and I missed it,” ever again.

The Keys To Me

Today is my 46th birthday.

As birthdays so often do, that new number brings with it a certain amount of conflicting emotions. I am no longer 20, can no longer be considered a young man. In fact, even with what has always been a bit of a baby face, I am no longer mistaken for being significantly younger than I am. That’s not too awesome. I have so many lines on my face and gray hairs in the growth on my face (but not on my head…I have been shaving that since before I started to lose it).

I’ve learned quite a lot and have become a very different person than I was yesterday, much less 20 years ago. That is pretty awesome.

I get the opportunity to officiate weddings, and before every one I tell 2 Bible stories. In Genesis, Jacob wakes up from a dream in the wilderness and says, “Surely God was in this place and I was unaware.” And in Exodus 3, Moses sees a bush burning and not being consumed. Bushes burn all the time and they are always consumed except for this one time. But to notice that it was not being consumed takes a great deal of attention, takes eyes that are wide open and fully awake.

Over these 46 years – and I get awfully reflective on days like this – I think about where I am, from where I’ve come, where I’m going, the people who are here or gone, the bushes that are burning, and the spaces where I have been unaware.

Maybe I’m not perfect (maybe;), but I am not who I was yesterday, and what I’ll do today (whatever day today is) is pay attention. I’ll surely open my heart more than is wise or prudent, I’ll laugh, I’ll eat ice cream cake, kiss my wife as many times as she’ll let me, and hold my boys tightly once we’re out of view of their friends at school.

The biggest difference between 16 year old Chad and 46 year old Chad is how deeply thankful I am to be here, now, and me. I couldn’t always say any of those things, especially, especially, the 3rd. That allows me to be fully present much more often, and it seems to me like that’s most of what makes life meaningful, that I walk past less burning bushes and the times I am unaware is smaller.

(I wrote a post earlier this week on the Love site, and it ends exactly the same as this one will:)

At 46, I have many trusted people in my life who love me and exercise an unreasonable concern for my heart. Maybe that’s why every year is better and better, my circle is expanding. The Angel, these boys, this family, this faith community, these neighbors, you. You know, if you asked me when I was 18 to dream of a wonderful life, I could not have come anywhere close to the beauty of this one and the absolutely overwhelming blessing of it all. Of course, it hasn’t been easy or without heartbreak, floods of tears, or tragedy. I haven’t erased the depression or the issues in my head. But it has been real and it has been full. I have loved and I have been loved. 

I’ve learned to release my grip on how you see me, what you think of me, what I should do, who I should be, and instead jump from the top of that hell into the wildly loving arms of a Savior and an endless sea of others who will not only catch me, but walk with me every step. I’ve learned to believe what is true about me rather than the nasty destructive lying voices that have always been in my head (more or less;). I can give the keys to me back where they belong.

46 is a lot of years full of days, moments, and all I can really say is that I’m grateful. So if today is my last day or if I get 46 more years, it will have been, as it is right now, a very, very good life.

Love & Contempt

A very good friend sent me this text today: “It is impossible to be increasing in our love for God and simultaneously increasing in our contempt for others. When our speech is saturated with contempt, our hearts are revealed.” (It’s from a post by Jen Wilkin)

I had planned to write about last week’s message and “As you are going” or changing “versus” to “and” or any one of the interesting bags we began to unpack last week. And I liked that, I wanted to write about that, it would have been easy and (relatively) comfortable. Then I got that text.

Later, on Facebook, I opened up the “Parents of (insert local school name here) Students” group and read the continuing dialogue (if you want to call it that) on masks in school. When I read this, (and I always do, under the guise of staying informed and on the pulse of the community in which I live), I always think about the Nine Inch Nails album entitled “The Downward Spiral” because that’s what it feels like. Incidentally, the album is aggressively hopeless and violent.

And I thought of this Wilkins’ quote.

I really don’t have an excuse… I mean, I could invent one using some advanced intellectual gymnastics to rationalize what can only be my embarrassment at the revelation of my heart. I’ve never met this woman, Jen Wilkins, but she quite obviously knows me. She’s heard my noisy internal contempt. You see, I would not have called it contempt, I would have called it something else, surely something that makes me sound super-spiritual and not judgy at all, more like the voice of reason seeing and remarking on this angry vitriol from a safe distance. She knows I haven’t prayed for us all to find common ground, to remember our shared humanity. She knows the downward spiral is in my own heart, not some online bulletin board.

I guess the truth is that it’s probably both. And I guess that’s where things get so quickly off the track, where the we becomes us/them. The nasty posts are easy to see and shake our heads at, and immediately there it is: Look at their posts. Why do they do whatever, why are they so whatever? And I’m absolved, pointing fingers, writing blog posts about the importance of eliminating the Other Mentality. But I’m doing it from the imagined safety of the Other Mentality.

So, my very good friend (who I will NEVER talk to again;) sent this text. Maybe she was trying to be the prophet Nathan, screaming “You ARE that man!!!” Or maybe she wasn’t at all. Maybe she was just sending a quote that moved her and wanted to share it with me.

I know we have to Philippians 4:8 a 2021 world, but we also have to expose hatred and violence, don’t we? Maybe we don’t, I’m not sure. Maybe the love we have will be enough. Maybe we all just need the new story, without a commentary on the old one that we already know doesn’t work.

I’ll keep asking questions and inviting the discussion, though, and keep trying to see only the new story.

Trees Of Life

I have been feeling really awesome for quite a while. Physically strong and healthy, emotionally connected and healthy, spiritually inspired and healthy. So, why do I sometimes feel like dirty dish water? My normal resting reality is highly sensitive, particularly susceptible to the pain, joy, anger, wonder around me in others, anywhere. This is nothing new. In fact, it’s a bright shiny key that I am right where I have been created to be, that my heart is fully functioning. In this space, I am me and I happen to like that me very much.

But this dirty dish water business is a nagging splinter in my soul, unconnected to a particular person or circumstance. It’s more like a tinted lens that dims and dulls the surrounding world. On Sundays I often speak of a heaviness and sometimes that’s specific, but other times it’s this pall over us all and I haven’t clarified simply because I couldn’t. I didn’t know where it was coming from or what was causing it, just that it was there.

I think I do, though, now.

Proverbs 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Proverbs 15:4: Perverseness in [the tongue] breaks the spirit. Proverbs 12:18: Rash words are like sword thrusts. James 3:8: The tongue…is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

This weight absolutely feels like so many sword thrusts, an overwhelming air full of poison resulting in what feels like the death of our communal soul. If you would ask me 2 days ago, I’d at some point use the words “broken” and “spirit.”

I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. If you listen (and I highly recommend you do), you’ll hear a cacophony of sharp words full of razor blades and acid. In schools, kids, coaches and teachers speak only in terms of “not” – as in what we are all not: what we are not doing, not doing enough of, or not doing well enough. The implication is that we are not, defined primarily by a lack or deficiency. No matter the laughing tone or the nasty smile on the mouth that speaks, these are not jokes, not funny in the least. And far more destructive than we could ever have imagined.

And like the endless McDonald’s ads subconsciously convincing us that we neeeeed that hamburger, these messages when they are uncontested become truth. (By the way, McDonald’s hamburgers are nothing we neeeeed;)

This glut of information wounds us so deeply, filling us with anger and inadequacy, of course the darkness will come out of our own mouths, too.

Last night I left my weight room dragging my heartache. On one hand, “We love each other,” and then sports teams and insecurity fill the air with the polar opposite.

(You know there’s a study about a scientist talking to crystals – maybe I’ll tell you next time.)

So I left and stopped at the grocery store. The cashier told me I should “go to another aisle,” where there was a line. I said I’d just take my things back and she said “ok, whatever.” This isn’t awesome and when I got in the car, in front of my boys (IN FRONT OF MY BOYS!!!!!!), I described this interaction using precisely the same words & spirit of which I have been force-fed. In front of my boys…

We’re supposed to be telling a different story, speaking fresh words, rebelling against the hail of razor blades dipped in acid. And if we’re not careful, we’re no longer salt and light. We’re just more actors in the same old tragedy.

The cool thing is that was yesterday. It’s been the last couple of months, years, millennia. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way tomorrow. Each of the verses I quoted earlier had a 2nd part – one was “a gentle tongue is a tree of life.” A Tree Of Life sounds perfect.

So now what?

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

And in our favorite, Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Maybe we just need to be a lot more aggressive in our building, a million times more audacious in giving grace. Maybe in our positivity, our pure, lovely, excellent thoughts, and praise, we can all become Trees that fill each other not with old dishwater, but with beautifully clear spring waters Of Life.

Y Chromosomes

Last night there was a prayer walk at the school district in my town. Maybe you don’t believe in prayer, don’t think it does anything, is just a silly dog and pony show. That’s ok, I don’t mind. Maybe it does do something, maybe it affects the energy in the universe in a positive way, maybe it is the first step in making the impossible possible. Who knows, for sure? It is a good thing to do, people coming together to think about the well-being of other human beings can’t ever hurt. Especially now – it’s a pretty hard time to be someone with a working heart.

Prayer looks and sounds a lot of different ways. (Which is only natural, we look and sound lots of different ways, why wouldn’t our prayers?) But if you were at this prayer walk last night, you’d be forced to believe that it’s an exclusively feminine practice. There were quite a few people there and my boys, myself, and 1 other grandfather were the only ones with a Y chromosome.

That’s disappointing, right? Of course. Unless there’s another explanation. Maybe it’s corporate prayer that men shy away from, that they have full, vibrant prayer lives but it’s alone, safely in their bedrooms. Hmm. Maybe. I wonder if full and vibrant and alone and safe all sit in the same sentence comfortably. The words seem to contradict, like they are seconds away from losing their restraint and throwing hands at any moment.

I read a quote last week from Charles Spurgeon, a famous old-time preacher, “Christ never contemplated the production of secret Christians, – Christians whose virtues would never be displayed, – pilgrims who would travel to heaven by night, and never be seen by their fellow-pilgrims or anyone else.” And I think he’s probably right. It seems pretty solidly steeped in western philosophy to consider independence and privacy spiritual virtues. 

Anyway. (That last paragraph might be a different discussion and not just a line or 2 in this one.) It’s not just that prayer group. It’s not just prayer groups at all. We have a book study and, when we’re lucky, we have 2 men. [It’s no longer “last night” that the prayer walk was, it is last week. But nothing is different in my heart and mind.] I wonder why the men largely aren’t showing up for their (our) spirituality, why prayer groups are women’s prayer groups and book studies are women’s book studies. 

So I did what you would do in my situation: Asked Google. Google, what’s the statistical difference between men & women in the church? I expected vast differences in these numbers, but the only thing I found was that all numbers are falling in church and participation in spiritual development. Of course, there are more women than men, but it’s not as striking as my experience has led me to believe. 

Why is this? It’s probably some mixture of religious abuse, self-reliance, fear, disillusion with organized everything, politics, depression, our neighbors, (it’s easy to forget that I am someone’s neighbor, too, and likely one of the reasons some have walked away from spiritual communities) and any number of other probably pretty valid reasons.

I have no idea why I’m writing or what I’d like to say in regard to this exodus from the local church. I know I wish there would be more men AND women in these groups and on Sunday mornings, more men AND women loving everybody all the time. Maybe that’s the most glaring reason that none of us want to acknowledge. Maybe we’ve confused love with church attendance as the highest call on our lives. Maybe we haven’t been loving everybody all the time and that’s what’s emptying the pews and thinning prayer walks. Maybe we’ve been busy fighting over politics that we don’t want to sit next to ‘those people’ and if we don’t, why would anybody else? 

Maybe we’ve forgotten that it’s love, not division or doctrine, that defines. Maybe we all need to be reminded

Now.

Acts 5 tells a pretty terrifying story. There is a married couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who sold a piece of property.

Well, first, we probably need some context. In Acts 4:32-37: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

We could talk about “one in heart and mind” forever, (doesn’t it sound amazing???), but not today. So, they shared everything and no one needed anything. Joseph the Levite from Cyprus sold a field and brought the money to the apostles to be distributed, this example (probably one of many) stands in stark contrast to what comes next from Ananias and Sapphira.

In Acts 5:2-5a “With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died.”

Of course this punishment sounds a bit excessive, but there are some other things here that can be overlooked because of what we might call an overreaction.

He didn’t have to share it at all. It sounds like there was no mandate, no collectors, no stranger-armed enforcers scouring the property transaction section of the newspaper for transgressions. Usually when we lie or hide our behavior, it’s because we feel some sort of way about it. We bring the guilt and shame, it’s an internal consequence of our own conscience. Generosity was something these early believers got to do, a privilege, an honor, an answer to an invitation into a new way of being. It wasn’t a have-to, which is probably why so many did. Giving was the natural outpouring of a grateful heart, instead of an obligation to be fulfilled.

Ananias’ heart wasn’t as much grateful as it was transactional. He “had” to give, the others would see, so he would, but only after he skimmed a little (or a lot) off the top for himself, just in case. That’s all we’ll say about that today. It’s a big ocean to swim in, but a new thing stood out to me this morning.

“When Ananias heard this,” immediately “he fell down and died.” Again, of course it seems pretty shocking that he, and later Sapphira after repeating the same lie, would have their lives taken for what could be seen as a relatively minor offense. But it’s the “immediate” part that is devastating to me, here and now.

You see, sometimes we don’t get tomorrow. Sometimes we don’t get this evening. And in the case of Ananias, sometimes we don’t get one more moment. How much do we put off until another time? How many nights have we gone to bed angry? How many times have we slammed the door to effectively end a screaming match?

I was in a hospital 2 days ago praying with a woman who was/is fighting for her life. She is currently sedated and totally unresponsive. Maybe she won’t wake up. I don’t know her entire story, my friend, her daughter, appears to have a beautiful relationship without too many unresolved issues. That’s a gift that maybe every one in her life shares. And maybe her marriage was terrific, but I do know that the last interaction she and her husband had was less than awesome, marked with sharp comments and harsh tones. They went to bed and maybe she’ll wake up in the hospital. And the truth is that maybe she won’t – it’s the truth for all of us.

I spend a lot of time talking about this moment, today, here, now, fully present, not missing a second of this wonderful gift of our lives that we have been given. And lately I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about the many, many ways we are awful to each other, creating thick divisions where none exist and turning each other into monsters in our own minds. How many relationships have been fractured during the last year? How many violent words have been spoken or typed into a keyboard that have wounded loved ones? How much forgiveness and reconciliation has been delayed because of our bitterness and resentment, because of our pride?

Ananias didn’t get a second chance to apologize, repent, or make this right. Maybe we won’t, either.

But we do have right now and maybe right now is a really great time to make a different choice.

…And It Was Spectacular

So. I want to share the last 2 posts I wrote for my Love With A Capital L blog (lovewithacapitall.com) with you. They’re about an all-star state baseball tournament, coaching, and Cars 3. They’re also, of course, about Jesus, because everything is.

I wrote them for that blog because, in my head, everybody rolls their eyes when I tell yet another story about youth sports, and most of the people that read those posts don’t know me in real life at all. They’re from China or New Mexico or somewhere else that makes coming to the Bridge on Sunday mornings mostly impossible. But maybe you do care. Maybe you don’t know that I write in 2 places. And maybe you really want to know what I thought of Cars 3.

*Here’s the 1st one (called This Is Not A Lament):

This Saturday, the county all star baseball team my son plays on will compete for a state championship.

I just wrote a post for the Bridge site about the aggressive passivity that is running rampant, crushing everything (including our spirits) in it’s path. The post is a lament. Marianne Williamson says, “Our playing small does not serve the world,” yet that’s what we have decided to do. We’ve chosen to lower the bar, setting it on the ground so that we never try, never fail, and consequently, never succeed and never grow.

This post, however, is not a lament.

Last week, I watched as a group of 15 & 16 year-olds offered their substantial gifts to pursue excellence. (The day before, I had the privilege of sitting with a player who had been given news that he would not play, that he was an alternate, a victim of roster limits, as he wept in disappointment. That kind of holy disappointment only happens after we’ve given everything.) 15 & 16 year-olds have a reputation, perhaps deserved, of apathy and indifference. But not on this team.

This team was full of boys who had trouble sleeping the night before, whose bellies were full of giant butterflies. This team was full of “try hards.” (“Try hard” is, inexplicably, a term of derision in schools nowadays among insecure, inadequate kids overwhelmed by their own fear.) This team was full of passion and energy, driven by, and full of, life and love.

It goes without saying that I’m proud of them. What might not be so obvious is how deeply I am inspired by them. Do you remember that movie, As Good As It Gets? Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt, “you make me want to be a better man.”

I am an assistant coach for these young men on this team. I throw batting practice and hit balls infield/outfield. I give high-fives. Every now and then, I try to give helpful suggestions learned from years and years of being a ball player.

A coach is in an interesting, enviable position. I am more thankful than I can tell you that I am allowed to watch from the inside. They remind me how I want to show up to my own life, every day, for ‘practice’ and for games. They don’t take days (or even plays) off, they pour into themselves and each other. They are committed. They are deeply respectful – of absolutely everything. They are gifted and grateful. They give without reservation. They bring all of them and they show up. I used a million words, but the only one that truly describes what they do is worship.This is not a lament. This is a celebration. If they are the future, we can all breathe easily and with tremendous hope.

Man, I want them to win this championship, they really deserve it. But I guess it doesn’t really matter, they’ve already won. And so have we.

*And now here’s the 2nd, after those amazing young men did actually win the state championship (called I Was There):

Yesterday we watched Cars 3. Everyone loved the first and nobody loved the 2nd. That’s interesting, right? How can the same creative team make a beautifully beloved movie AND an overstuffed misguided mess (albeit with some very nice moments)? They must’ve asked themselves the same question, and as an answer/apology, produced the 3rd installment to give a proper end to this story & these characters. It was really great. Lightning McQueen passes the mantle to newcomer Cruz Ramirez and becomes her coach in much the same way Doc Hudson became his 2 movies earlier.

Baseball season is over, and here’s how it went. Saturday, the all star team I help to coach won the state championship. During the regular season, the team I head coach didn’t win any sort of championship. I have played many years of baseball, 8 years old through college, and coached for many more, and if I was forced to choose, this year (championship and not) was my favorite.

These 2 things are related in presence and presence alone. So many times, we live sometime other than now, somewhere other than here. I remember my dad, who had so much trouble making the transition into new here’s and now’s, always remembering & mourning what had been, when he was, what he should’ve been. He’s certainly not alone, right?

It’s the unholy mosh pit of regret (past) and worry (future) stomping violently on today. These cartoons – or I guess we should call them animated features, that sounds fancy and pretentious – use colors and fantasy (cherry red cars that talk and have more expressive eyes than most people) to illustrate and invite us into authentic emotions we might otherwise be too distracted to notice. They ask us questions we might otherwise avoid. McQueen is angry and grasping to the good old days and doesn’t know how to move forward gracefully until he does, and then he learns, as Doc did, that there was shockingly more joy, purpose and fulfillment involved in leading another to victory (in life and on the racetrack… and the field;). He learned to leave his past glory where it is and allow tomorrow to breathe up ahead while he pulled his parking brake on now, an anchor to the significance of this moment.

I maybe didn’t do much to lead those 15&16 year-olds to the crown (I’ll leave that for them to decide), but what I do know is that I was allowed to watch these young men from the dugout, as close as you can get to excellence. I was allowed to coach with a brother, who continually surprised me with his smooth, easy, absolute greatness. And I was there. Not thinking about how I wish it was me playing and winning, nostalgic for my own ‘glory days,’ or if we’ll go back next year. I can’t imagine a place I would have rather been. I love those boys, am so grateful I was allowed to tag along to their march to 1st place.

I get so many things wrong, make so many mistakes, see the overwhelming gifts and blessings in the rear view mirror rather than as they are holding me in life and love. I say too many things like, “next year” or “when I was…”

But not this year, sister. You know what I can say about this year, the most important thing I can say about this year? That I was there and it was spectacular.

“Stupid” and “Uninformed”

I have friends on Facebook who are extraordinarily nasty to me. Now, to be fair, they don’t know it’s me to whom they’re being extraordinarily nasty. Of course the car is always driven by politics. From one side, I’ve been called “selfish” and that I “don’t care about other people.” From the other, I am “faithless,” “living in fear,” and that I “don’t care about the Bible.” I take the Bible too seriously and simultaneously water down the Gospel. But in this world of solid lines of division, what we can all agree on is that I am “stupid” and “uninformed.” About what I am so stupid and uninformed, however, is different and strictly adheres to those solid lines.

You know, I considered putting the word friends in the first line in quotes, as if these people are actually not my friends, just an imaginary designation to perpetuate the illusion of connection. But they ARE my friends. They are very lovely people, some of the very best human beings I’ve ever known, IRL and they would never, never say these things about me to my face (or to anyone else, for that matter.) I’m quite certain they don’t know they’re talking about me when the violence is posted.

Before we go too far, I should say I really like Facebook – I love your pictures and I love your point of view, even if we don’t agree. I care what we all think. I want to know what the people in my life think about masks and vaccines and Game of Thrones and the Dodgers and LeBron James and dinner and voting rights and Britney Spears and even your vegan lifestyle. I believe that we are capable of having these conversations respectfully and without the vitriol that marks social media posts. In fact, I think it’s even possible to have an honest, open discourse with love and kindness and the sort of space that allows us to search and perhaps change our minds (gasp!!!!!). Love and kindness and that sort of space do not exist in the same space as “stupid” and the rest of the condescending name-calling.

This post is, again, about “us” v “them” and “the other.” It’s easy to write about a general faceless nameless villain who is the enemy, who is stupid and uninformed and whatever else our politics demand. But when we put flesh and blood on these few specific slices we’ve decided are the most important and fully round out the whole picture, including all of the many facets that make us, us, it’s much harder to discern who the bad guys are, if there are bad guys at all.

Maybe that’s why Jesus created the Church, to remind us that more unites us than separates. (Maybe not more in quantity – there’s an endless well of opinions and differences – but absolutely more in value.) That maybe He is worth infinitely more than these distinctions, and loving each other is far more important than winning. The Church connects us and dismantles the us/them dichotomy. It is nearly impossible to hate the one that sits next to you on Sunday morning when you know their birthday, have prayed for their children, celebrated that great new job, and mourned the passing of their parent, even if they did vote for the wrong candidate. That’s why the isolation of quarantine has made us so sad and angry, we’ve simply forgotten that we are all made in the image of God.

Which brings me to these nasty posts unwittingly about me. The command to not judge was vague and hard to understand for me for so long (we are asked to discern but not judge, what is the difference????), but recently has come into focus. Judgment says you are “stupid” and “uninformed.” Judgment says I am right and you are wrong and you are wrong because you’re not as smart, sophisticated, and awesome in every way as I am. Judgment reinforces the walls between us. Discernment decides what is beautiful and healthy and what is not. Judgment uses fists while discernment uses hands.

This hurts my heart because I have so often made mistakes. I have fought with sharp, cutting words dripping with venom. I have sarcastically made others feel small and insignificant. I have devalued people I dearly love by devaluing their perspective. I have not been careful with journeys and paths that were different from my own. I have tried to control using any and all means necessary. And I’m deeply sorry for all of this.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the good stuff – tell me about last night’s vegan dinner and your thoughts on Olympic badminton.

The Ocean

Last month, my family and I spent a few days at the beach. This mini-vacation turned out to be exactly what my tired, bruised spirit desperately needed. The previous days and weeks had felt as if each moment, each day was a tiny sharp chisel chipping away lightly, almost imperceptibly, until the very integrity of my self was compromised. 

The first thing to go is gratitude. I imagine it’s that way for most of us. It’s much harder to see a silver lining when we’re tired, distracted, resentful, in pain. Everything is just cloud. Of course, it’s also the prescription to ease the circumstance, but the darkness is blinding inside.

[Do you know how long, how many stops and starts, it’s taken me to get this far? It’s not that I’m wrestling with what to share – I’ll share everything with you. It’s simply that I can’t find the words.]

When we got in the packed van to leave, I was an angry, broken man. Those are 2 of the words that are just perfect, no trouble finding them. I was angry and broken. The chisel found a nerve and continued to tap tap tap an irritating beat. I felt different, like I was a completely new person…but not ‘new’ new, more like an older, outdated version of me that had reclaimed my soul.

Sometimes you can lose things and not know they’ve gone. A hoarder doesn’t have a house like the ones you see on tv in 1 night. It takes years and years of small invisible steps. The ground is taken an inch at a time. I guess I had been asleep for too many of the inches?

David made the poor decision with Bathsheba that started a snowball not in an instant, but in a series of small, unfortunate, seemingly insignificant, seemingly harmless choices. It’s a slide; a long slow slide, like the one from the top row of Chutes and Ladders. 

On Sundays, I teach about presence and gratitude nearly every week. How could I forget to be thankful and present? How could I be sleepwalking through sermons about the importance of living wide awake? How could I blindly read verses about “eyes that see?”

Of course, it’s easy, right? Things get uncomfortable, noisy, the volume and speed gets turned up, we’re tired, maybe bored, distracted, our focus shifts to the temporal. It’s easy.

Last Sunday we talked about how blessed the pure at heart are, and towards the end, I said, “being focused and connected doesn’t just happen,” and that’s really true. I study all week to teach the Bible, but like that trite horse & water, I can be at the well dying of thirst without intention. Life can become simply a mindless series of responsibilities and obligations without the thread that makes them strands of beautiful fabrics tied together into a rich tapestry of worship and thanksgiving.

So I got in the ocean and the waves folded around me in a (freezing cold) embrace that quickly, pasionately shook me into here, now. Not who I was. Not even really who I am. But who He sees. 

The scales (along with the anger and brokenness) fell – life sometimes seems like a great big long series of scales falling away – loudly to the ocean floor. I know it’s not the last time I’ll be there, on the slide, BUT I also know that He’ll wrap me up time and time again with that overwhelming love of His that just never quits.

WW84 & Luca21

Last weekend, as a little bit of an act of aggression towards my son who had gone with a friend (who was NOT ME!!!!) to the beach for 4 days (4 DAYS!!!!), I watched Wonder Woman 1984. We had not yet seen it and this is usually the type of movie we watch for the first time together. But he was away and it was available on a free trial of HBO, so… In case you haven’t seen it, if you Google it, the first result is the question “Is Wonder Woman 1984 the worst movie ever?” Ha! It wasn’t great, but it started me on a path that leads me here, with you. 

But first, let me tell you we also watched Luca, a Pixar film on Disney+. This one was tremendous and my favorite part in a movie of favorite parts was Luca’s wide eyes. 

Before we tie WW84 and Luca’s eyes into a tidy bow, there’s a song called ‘Roses’ by the Band Camino and here are some of the lyrics:

“Why you wanna be a sad boy, waste your time?/Lookin’ for something that was right here all along/I think we’re gettin’ it wrongIt’s too bad/When did it get cool to be so sad?/We’re spinnin’ backwards, did we all go mad?/Yeah, we’re only human but wе’ve got hands and hearts and noses/So stop and smеll the — roses.”

There’s a young man I coach who is so similar to me, he drives me crazy. He hated the Wonder Woman sequel, but he happens to be that certain wonderful age and disposition where every single thing is just horrible. I know the age well, hyper-critical, painted with elitism, sarcasm and a deep grouchiness. 

The younger me thought it was super cool to be bored, jaded, sad and dismissive of most art, most everything actually, because I was so far above it all. It was awesome to make fun and pick apart anything. I was sooooo funny and disaffected. And I was totally miserable.

Luca left the water for land and was overwhelmed with wonder. There wasn’t anxiety or routine or a mountain of inadequacy. There wasn’t a hierarchy of people or things he ‘should’ like or not, no such thing as a “guilty pleasure” – just pleasure. Just beauty. Just roses.

Of course he would have to deal with the thorns, like we all do, but unlike many of us, he chose to not be overcome with those sharp points. There was the local bully and antagonist Ercole Visconti (there always is) but there was also the lovely Guilia. Luca had the same choice we do. Which one do we allow to color our experiences? To which do we give the keys to our heart? Which one gets to chose our perspective?

Wonder Woman probably wasn’t a great film, but so what? Not every film has to be Fight Club or Pulp Fiction. 

Has there ever been a circumstance where tearing something down led to the teeniest bit of our own growth? 

Another ‘Roses’ line goes, “Maybe you’re the person that you always wanted to be,” and after a lot of thought, the truth is, the person I want to be is one who likes stuff, who can see beauty wherever I look. I want to live a life of wonder and joy, so I do (mostly), and I think if we did more of that…

Well, you know how it is when you get a new car and it seems like those are the only cars on the road? Maybe it’s like that with love and wonder and Luca and positive energy. Maybe it’s like an electricity that each of us feel and absorb.

So, yes, I think if we did more of that, there would be more of that. We’ve got hands and hearts and noses, so let’s just try to stop and smell the — roses.