new years

The Art of Subtraction

Happy New Year, it’s 2 thousand twenty. It hardly seems possible, right. I was born in 1975, so that means I’ve now seen 6 decades. I suppose this is my favorite, if I had to choose – you see, all things considered, life gets better every single day. I imagine my 7th decade (if I get that far) will be even better yet.

Though if I were totally honest, this year has so far been a little bit of a bummer. I was a little sick at the end of last year for Christmas, and then I was seemingly better, then yesterday woke up with a cough! Nursing this tiny cold hasn’t been too much of a nuisance, with the giant exception of the 2 twin babies I’m dying to spend tons of time and smooches on that I can’t yet. I’m not one of those psychos that visit regardless of symptoms and hack all over their sweet soft round faces. The hugs and kisses are coming the second I am tip top, that I promise you.

We’ve been spending some time at the Bridge reflecting on what has passed and imagining new beginnings. A few years ago, the mother of the 2 babies walked me through her practice of a focus word for the coming year. Her practice that would immediately become mine, too. That first year, my word was Release. I’ve always struggled with expectations, trying to control how I was perceived or how you responded to me. Obviously, this had the potential to be (and often became) a crushing weight on my shoulders and soul. That year, I began a nice journey of finding freedom and peace and joy in the process itself, simply offering up whatever I am or have as the act of worship, releasing you to behave exactly as you would, and releasing me of the chains of manipulating your behavior/response.

This year, I am also choosing Release, but I’m calling it Release, v. 2, because it’s a different kind of Release.

Still expectations, still control, but as I am a different man, my perspective has changed.

Here’s an old example of the sort of journey I am taking this year: For the first 4 or so years of the Bridge, I virtually ignored the orange offering box. (In fact, it’s still entirely possible for you to be there and have no idea if we have such a thing.) This was a conscious decision on my part because I had seen and experienced such abuse at the hands of the church in regard to money, or rather, the idolatry of money. So, I was content to throw the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater. And I was wrong. Thankfully, I surround myself with people with far more wisdom that I and they were finally able to open my eyes to the beauty (and necessity) of living a generous life, a life free of grasping and grabbing, a life free of the mastery of money. I still don’t focus on what comes in every week, but the over-reaction has lost much of it’s irrational power over me.

As we know, a life lived in negative posture never changed anyone’s life. Saying No to financial abuse ignores saying Yes to financial transparency and responsible stewardship.

I lived so so much of my life wanting to be not-my-dad. But what did it mean to be Chad?? I would later find out, and be very happy with the answer. And as it turns out, my dad wasn’t so bad, after all, not a monster, just a man who had plenty of wonderful qualities, too, to go along with the parts I hated.

Negative postures never change lives, just continue reinforcing limiting beliefs that keep us stuck.

This year’s Release is sort of complicated. It’s a release of negative postures based on experiences and baggage that I have not left behind, for whatever reason.

There are many examples I could detail, but here is one (since this is the Bridge page, after all): I will often leave unsaid what I do at the Bridge or that I even belong to a faith community at all. As you can figure, I have reasons – reasons that are not awful. Sometimes, in very high-profile ways, local churches have done such damage to where the word “church” is viewed as a dirty word. Instead of peace and love, the first words associated are judgmental and hypocritical. Reacting to this, I ran as fast as I could from the word church. And maybe that’s ok, in service of our mission to reclaim the initial splendor of the Bride of Christ. But running from the word is different from running from the idea of The Church – and the church. The Church is a lovely expression of kindness, encouragement, mutual respect and personal/communal growth. Or it should be. And how can we take it back if I am too scared to confront the truth of what it is (and has been) while still affirming what it could be, what it was intended to be?

The Bridge is a beautiful home, just what you might need in your life – but how will you know if I am governed by what someone did somewhere else?

Just because Britney Spears albums are horrible doesn’t mean we have to throw out our record players.

I’m not going to become a crazy sidewalk preacher wearing sandwich boards. At least I don’t think so. But I need to release the idea that I should not be a crazy sidewalk preacher wearing sandwich boards, and embrace just being me.

Genesis 1 says we’re made in the image of God, and it has been my experience that when we just strip away all of the fears, expectations, should’s, should not’s, and negative postures (I called it the Art of Subtraction in a message 2 years ago), we’ll find us – who we really are, in our deepest Genesis 1 Truths – and when we do, we’ll really like what we see.

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.