perspective

Senior Night

Tonight is Senior Night for the basketball team. There are 3 games left, and this is the last home game. Maybe there will be playoffs, but I don’t have anywhere close to the intellectual capacity to figure that out – the districts, sections, and classes have never made any sense to me. I imagine someone will tell me if we have more games.

This team is much much better than previous years. There was a toxic class to pass through the school and their influence will take time to dissipate, so this year was the first in rebuilding an entire culture and, playoffs or not, has been an almost total success. “Learning to win” is a tired sports cliche and the reason it’s tired is because it’s so often true. These boys are beginning to learn to win. Tonight, that isn’t an issue, they will probably not have to worry about winning. But the great thing about sports is that you never know. In the 1988 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat an unbeatable Oakland A’s team in 5 games. It was impossible, yet it happened. So maybe…but the result hardly matters.

Tonight is the first senior night for my oldest son (there will be another one for baseball in the spring.) We’ll walk him out to the middle of the court and smile and barely keep it together. Or we won’t and the Angel and I will cry like babies. Either way, we will be there, fully present, with each other and with all of the emotions surging in our hearts and souls.

I’m remembering the night I learned he was no longer an idea. The Angel took a test on the phone with me, of course I couldn’t wait to get home, and she gave me the news. I was on 422 coming through Lebanon and pulled over in front of the community college and wept, equal parts terror and elation. Well, not exactly equal parts. We had prayed for him and now he actually existed, it was more celebration and gratitude. But there was certainly terror, swirled in like the cream cheese filling in a pumpkin roll. What kind of daddy would I be? Was I ready? What kind of boy would he be? And the hundred million more questions that flood in once the doors have been opened.

If you’ve met him, you know how amazing he is. If you haven’t, I’m sorry, you really should.

We often refer to a 2 hands theology, and a 2 hands life. Nothing is usually just 1 thing, it’s a combination, more like a hurricane, of different, sometimes wildly conflicting, emotions. Tonight, I’ll be proud of my boy, happy for the boy he’s been, the guy he is, and the man he’s becoming and grateful that I got to watch him so closely and know him so well. I’ll also be heartbroken, crushed that he’ll not nap on my chest again, and frustrated that each day couldn’t have been forever. What a 2 hand anything requires is honesty. We show up as we are, feel what we feel, no hiding, no images. We don’t miss a thing. We don’t wake up and say “God was in this place and I was unaware.” We show up.

I think back to all of the moments that brought us here. I didn’t want to go to Lebanon Valley College, but somehow I found myself there, a business major in 2 classes with the Angel, who had a boyfriend for nearly all 4 years. She happened to drop him right on time. I happened to be in the computer lab one evening, and she happened to be there, too. I happened to talk to her, even though she was ridiculously far out of my league. I happened to be on a plan that took more than 4 years – the last semester, which I shouldn’t have had, was when we met and went on our first date. We happened to go on that date, happened to get married, and happened to make this person who will have his senior night tonight.

I say “happened to” and “make” with the same posture. It all seems so orchestrated, almost as if there was a wonderfully loving God making paths, moving feet and softening so many hearts, which of course, He was. We didn’t make Samuel alone, couldn’t have ever made Samuel without the Creator of the Universe making him first.

So now, I want to tell you my answer, with 18 years of hindsight, to the question if I was a good daddy. Maybe. What I do know is that I was intentional. Everything I did (even the mistakes I made) I did on purpose. When he sits down with a therapist to complain about me, what he’ll say is that I hugged, kissed, and told him I loved him too much and too often. And I can live with that.

There are other places where I’ve written to him (beginning with that positive test on his first night), much more detail I could, and will, dive into, but those are only for him and I. Here, tonight is senior night and I will do the 2 things I have done every day of his life; I will be there, authentically, embarrassingly me, present and engaged, and more than that, more than anything else, I will love him.

Into The Light

Sunday we discussed marriage, single-ness (if that is even a word…it doesn’t feel like it is), and sex. The Apostle Paul writes about these subjects often, they’re found in many other spaces in the Bible, yet every time a sermon in church is based around sex, it’s met with a certain level of surprise and/or uncomfortability. This unease increases even more when the topic becomes sex between married couples. I suppose I know why, but it’s points to an early breakdown that has led us all down many different, unhealthy paths having little to do with sex at all.

The cracks begin with a bizarre learned aversion to conversation, especially about the most important topics. This aversion leads to a pathetic lack of communication that gives rise to the lie that sex is dirty and obscene and should be kept out of view. Obviously, this secrecy (like all secrecy) is the doorway into any number of dark rooms that are steal our dignity and are dishonoring to our hearts, souls, bodies & spirits.

When we build entire structures around the notion that some things need to be hidden in the darkest places, guilt and shame grow like mushrooms. Shame isolates us, and we stay sick with imaginary diseases. Sex isn’t shameful, isn’t dirty or obscene. It can be, but just because something can be misused doesn’t mean the thing is defective.

I can’t say the first talk I gave on sex didn’t give me deep pangs of anxiety, but I can absolutely tell you that it doesn’t now (any more than anything else. I still get butterflies of excitement every single Sunday, and I hope they never stop.)

The more we talk openly & respectfully about anything, the less power it has over us, the less fear-inducing it is. The more we can drag into the light, the less mold can spread. The 30th difficult boundary conversation is much less threatening than the first, and as it loses power, we can much more treat ourselves and each other with kindness instead of control. That need for control is rooted in fear. And control and love simply cannot coexist, so the more we can remove that fear, the more love we can display, the more love we can freely give.

If I don’t need you to see everything my way, vote for my candidate, behave the way I want you to, I can then allow you to be you, listen, actually listen, and maybe exercise some empathy (in some cases long dormant) and find the common ground that is always there. Common ground and understanding are nearly impossible to discover from behind thick walls of fear.

If we can talk honestly about marital sex and it’s many gifts (intimacy, connection, affection, I could go on and on), then maybe it won’t be a monster in the corners of the church. The Church has long been afraid of human sexuality, maybe she should be more concerned with secrecy and isolation. But again, just because the Church & religion have been misused, doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Quite the opposite. They are perhaps more valuable, more important, now than ever. But we can’t ever get to reclaiming the actual divine picture of The Church if we’re too proud or too frightened to mention Her and/or address the ways She’s been defaced. Think about the violence done in the name of Jesus, and imagine the horror and hopelessness if we threw Him away because of the offenses done in His lovely Name.

So we’ll keep talking about the beautiful purity of sex and the way it’s been dragged through muddy alleys. We’ll keep screaming about the immeasurable joy of marriage and mourning the damage too often done in the context of a lesser view. We’ll keep having these discussions with hands open in love, reclaiming these life-giving words and concepts, and we’ll do this all together.

Resolutions

We’re nearly 2 weeks into the new year and the vast majority of New Years resolutions have fallen by the wayside. The new faces at the gym have disappeared, new diets have crashed, we are hopelessly behind on our devotional plans. That’s not unusual, resolutions historically aren’t so resolute.

However, the interesting thing to me is the question behind them. We are responding to a prompt or a call, a desire to address a problem area, or a pull forward into needed growth. The catalyst that leads to the resolution remains long after the resolution is forgotten. It’s vital that we not forget the catalyst, too.

The focus word we discussed is different from a resolution because there’s no failure, perceived or otherwise, involved. If we’ve not decided on a word, we can do it now. If we have one, and haven’t moved towards it, towards making it a part of our lives, we don’t have to wait for next January, we can pay attention tonight, right now. We’ve been prompted, called, given a desire, whether we act on it doesn’t change the fact that the Spirit moved in us.

I’ll often begin long discussions with myself to talk myself out of this reality. Maybe it was just me, a delusion, vanity, maybe I was following a trend, heard somebody say something on a podcast, or a Sunday sermon, maybe it was indigestion. But it probably wasn’t God, right?

Why do I do that? Maybe you do, too, and maybe our answers are very very different, as different as we are, but I’m thinking that instinct is, and has always been, misguided, grounded in a misunderstanding of our value.

The prophet Samuel had to be called several times before he could acknowledge that it was actually the God of the Universe saying his name. I wonder how many fishermen and tax collectors Jesus had to ask to “follow me,” before the 12 came to grips that He wanted them, was asking them on purpose.

Sometimes we don’t continue on this path because we don’t think we’re worth the time and energy and care to give to our own growth. We are what we are, and we’ll always be. I used to think that way, but it’s strange, the more time I spend in the Scriptures, the more I’m convinced of His love for me. And for you, no matter who I am or who you are. The seeming conflict in that – that we are all loved so extravagantly, like we are His very favorite – makes us big and small. It fills us with confidence and humility. We understand that the refrigerator is His and our picture is on it. Mine, yours, everyone’s, picture is on it. He’d die for us, why is it so hard to believe He’d want to spend time or call us into the life He promises, the life He created us to live?

So, maybe your devotional calendar says January 3, skip ahead to the today, 13, and start again. Then start again when you get behind. Go back to the gym, make dinner a good one, reach out, connect, go to bed early, turn your phone off, whatever is sticking in your heart. Listen to that, listen to Him. You are loved beyond reason or limit. And maybe you did make it up, maybe it was dehydration, and that’s ok, too. Start anyway. As Paul writes in Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And remember, we’re worth it, and I know because He says we are.

New Years Worksheet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depth

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

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

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

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

It’s a big question, maybe the biggest.

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

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

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

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

Re-Feed

Let’s talk about 2 quick things before we get into the point of this post.

First, I follow a man named Aadam Ali (physiqonomics.com) online who talks about fitness and nutrition, and he uses a beautiful term to describe the increase in calories following time in a deficit (I don’t use the word diet anymore, it doesn’t have positive baggage in my head): Re-Feed. It’s great, right? When I eat a little too much (over the number my tracker tells me should be my intake), the Angel & I and now my boys call it a re-feed.

I’m going to use it in a slightly different context here.

The other is that I follow several other people virtually; some churches, pastors, artists, podcast hosts, comedians, experts in different things I care about (like Aadam Ali). It’s one of the best things about the internet. 3 weeks ago I emailed a podcast for the 2nd time, they read both on air, and now we’re best friends. A woman in Denver and I comment on each other’s posts on Instagram like we’re neighbors. This complex network connects us in ways we couldn’t have imagined only a few decades ago. It also gives us the sense that these screens and “friends” and connectivity are community, but that isn’t exactly true.

Following a church online is not the same thing as belonging to a local church. It can supplement, but it can not substitute. Having said that, those supplements are very important to living lives of faith, and can serve as spiritual re-feeds. We add devotionals, emails from mailing lists, sermons from around the world, instructional articles & videos, practices to our usual routine, and they give us fresh perspectives, inspiration, encouragement, and a voice different from the local every-week pastor (no matter how compelling that voice is;).

This is Thursday’s email from someone named Justin at WiRE (clever alternative spellings are not necessary, I guess, but they sure help – maybe from here on out, we’ll be “thaBridGe?!”):

“. . . build up the ancient ruins

. . . repair the ruined cities – Isaiah 61:4

Three relationships broke when man fell, so long ago: the relationship between man and God, the relationship between man and himself, and the relationship between man and other men (and women). Our jobs now, are to repair and rebuild those relationships, in our own unique ways, as much as we can during our lifetimes . . . and to encourage and assist others in doing likewise. Our King, Jesus Christ, gave us our instructions—love “God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and love “your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 27:37-29). His two-part directive covers all three relationships: love God more than anything else; love yourself sufficiently; and love other people at least as much as you love yourself. It’s all there.

So how do we begin? Well, we restore relationships with God when we soften our hearts, decide to trust him more than we trust ourselves, and bend ourselves toward obedience. We restore relationships with ourselves when we soften our hearts and decide to care for ourselves as God intends, finally dealing with self-condemnation or idolatry or addiction (to work, to food, to alcohol, to pornography, or anything else). And, we restore relationships with others when we soften our hearts, decide to look around for people who need us, and bend our lives toward loving and serving and forgiving them.

Okay, so what do we do?

Take a moment to survey your life. Which type of relationship is most broken? If none is obvious, take time for listening prayer. Ask your counselor, God the Holy Spirit, to guide you. Once you’ve focused-in on what’s most in need of rebuilding, what’s most in need of repair, you’ve got your own, individualized blueprint for “what’s next.” Begin working on it this week. Start with something practical.”

Right??? How are those 3 BIG relationships in our lives? What a great question, and a very important one. Most days I read this Justin’s message quickly, distracted by something or other, just moving through it as fast as I can so I can delete it. But on other days… Last Thursday I read this and it stopped me in my tracks, yanked me away from my distracted mind, and remained stuck in my head since. I’m reflecting on the answers to his question “So what do we do?” and creating my own blueprint.

However, this particular email, these 3 important relationships, or practical blueprints aren’t the point. The point is that we are learning how to build lives of faith, individually and corporately, to re-feed. Our local community provides the community, a shared place, and a common vision to walk together, and as we grow, the community grows. You can picture the early churches meeting for meals, sharing Gospel teaching, discussing theology and it’s practical application, reading letters from Paul and Apollos and social media cultural influencers, holding more and more hands in prayer each month. It’s an idea that probably has been hi-jacked by so many cultural factors, damage, misinformation and misinterpretation. Now it’s time to reclaim this beautiful tradition and create lives based in/on Jesus, the Gospel, and faith, plant and nurture communities, let every step be taken in love, for Him, each other, and ourselves. Revolutions like this don’t happen by accident, they happen through intention. We’ve been rescued, now what?

Sex

I think it’s hilarious to title this post “Sex,” and wonder what you’re thinking/expecting when it comes across your email or Facebook feed.

On Sunday, we discussed a passage in 1 Corinthians that referenced “sexual immorality,” and it was my assumption (not an entirely incorrect assumption, I don’t think) that, historically, most church leaders’ perspective was that all sexuality was sexual immorality, and therefore, not to be discussed on a Sunday morning – there were (gasp) CHILDREN there! – outside of a strict warning of the dirty inappropriateness of it all. But it’s absolutely not dirty or inappropriate, God created it, blessed it, called it holy.

[Of course it has been twisted and dragged through some great rivers of mud, but that doesn’t make it twisted and muddy any more than all music turns into brain dead misogyny simply because a band called Limp Bizkit existed in the ‘90’s.]

So, I knew what I was going to talk about, and then I saw 2 young(er) girls sitting in front of me, and faced a moment of hesitation. Is this the sort of thing that will offend? Their parents are some of my very favorite people, will I get nasty phone calls questioning my judgment? What had I prepared exactly, was it in any way blue? Would it warrant a higher age rating on Netflix? Would I deserve those phone calls, if they came?

As it turns out, I didn’t pull back and I didn’t apologize. Maybe that was the way to go, and maybe it wasn’t. (I haven’t yet gotten any angry messages.) But the way I figure, the church has to have a voice in reclaiming words and concepts that have been hi-jacked and lost. These girls have, no doubt, heard much much worse in school hallways and on TikTok. Sex has been inexplicably referred to as “casual” more often than I can count even though we all know it’s not. A church that sees physical intimacy as completely taboo is doing us a huge disservice and creating a vacuum that (like all vacuums) will be filled, in porn sites if not in sermons.

But ultimately, the reason I talk about sex as often and as openly as I do (and it’s actually not that often, it only seems that way), to the horror of my boys, is because the Bible talks about sex openly, honestly, and very often. It’s there, in most of the books, whether we acknowledge it or not. It’s really important that we don’t just ignore the parts that make us uncomfortable. We’ve done that for too long and that pretending has allowed the beauty and truth of the Scriptures to become either irrelevant or a hammer used to hit others to prove our own tightly held opinions.

I hope nobody was scarred, I didn’t talk one second about the biology of sex (which is more than I can say about Song of Songs, a book with lots and lots of biology). But the way I see it, if it begins a conversation on respect, selfless giving & receiving, commitment, holy intimacy, and fidelity, then we will begin the long process of taking our sexuality back and returning it to where it belongs, back where the rest of us belong as well: in the arms of a loving God.

Impossible

Last week was my birthday, next week is my sister’s, tomorrow is her 27th wedding anniversary. My sister is one of my very favorite people in the world, so it’s a really beautiful time to celebrate her and her marriage, as well as reflect on another year for myself. Where am I, where am I going, what will I add, what will I leave behind, that sort of thing.

One of the gifts I received from my son Elisha was a jigsaw puzzle that was pink. Just pink. No picture, no shading, no distinction to any of it. Just a torturous pink rectangle. We finished it last night (which is why I hadn’t written earlier;) and it’s wonderful. I’m going to glue & frame it, and never, ever do it again.

Samuel also gave me a puzzle, full of musical artists, exactly the puzzle that will be a great time. But he threatened to give me something called an Impossible puzzle. There aren’t any flat edges (gasp!) and there are extra pieces that don’t fit. I’m glad he didn’t. As much as I like to think and talk about it, it’s not welcome in this house.

But it did remind me of our conversation Sunday morning. 1st Corinthians 3 has a terrific passage where Paul asks what materials we’re using to build the local church, and that can easily be adapted to ask what materials we’re using to build our lives. Hopefully, it’s the same answer; our first fruits, not what’s left at the end of the day. Do we find that we’re showing up (to work, our families, the gym, any- and every-where) fully present, awake, engaged, giving the best of us, peaceful, authentic, honest, hands and feet of Jesus…OR…are we exhausted, our attention always split, pretending, dishonest, inauthentic, negative, carrying a spirit of despair, ”as if we don’t belong to the Lord,” where there’s no tomorrow, no new creation, as if the tomb isn’t empty?

The idea is to live lives (build our greatest works of art) with attention & intention. Lives of purpose, meaning, and joy don’t happen by accident, just like they don’t happen by using inferior, leftover, scrap materials. How are we going to walk through this one life we’ve been given? How will we treat the temple of God (and just in case any of us haven’t heard or need reminding, that’s you and me, we are the temple of God)?

What does this have to do with that obnoxious Impossible puzzle? Well, there are many many pieces out there, but not all of them fit. Maybe they fit me, or your neighbor, but they don’t fit you. The real impossibility is to know what pieces to keep and which to discard without having an idea what picture we’re making. The great philosopher the Cheshire Cat says it doesn’t matter which path we take if we don’t know where we’re going.

Marriages don’t last 27 years and counting chasing cars.

We don’t use permanent marker, we don’t chisel anything in stone, we’re just not waking up saying, “God was in this place and I was unaware,” anymore.

Chapter 2

I don’t know if you know this, if this has ever been your experience, but sometimes a Bible passage is difficult. Sometimes we don’t like it. Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us. And other times, the passage simply leaves us unmoved. Last Sunday, I gave a message on one of these last kinds that felt a little aimless in my head.

(Maybe I shouldn’t say this, maybe I should have all the answers and be very certain about everything and never give voice to any doubt or anything less than wild enthusiasm. Sigh. If that’s what I’m ‘supposed’ to do, I guess I’m not what I’m ‘supposed’ to be. Or maybe this is exactly who I’m ‘supposed’ to be and what I’m ‘supposed’ to do. What I know is that it’s true and I’m way too old to spend time trying to pretend anymore. I did more than enough of that.)

So. When we get into a passage of Scripture that is difficult, for any reason, what do we do?

This reminds me of a close friend of mine who recently recounted a sermon she had heard in a church service that she did not like at all. She disagreed with most of it, and the other parts were just ok, and her reaction was super fun to watch as her passion boiled over. What was she to do with this? Obviously, a sermon isn’t the Bible, but is the process similar?

The first option is to skip it and move on. This was not available to me. The chapter (1 Corinthians 2) seemed to me redundant and unnecessary, but we go verse-by-verse at the Bridge. I know when passages are tricky or quite unpopular well in advance, ones like this are a bit surprising, but the result is the same. We have to address it. But in our personal lives, we can jump to chapter 3 and move forward.

The second, the one I chose, is to dive in, read, reread, reread again, reread 100 times, follow cross references, read commentaries, articles, pray, meditate, spend time with blank screens, take notes, delete the notes, discover contextual details, ask, seek, and knock. In Sunday’s case, after all of this, I still couldn’t find the hook.

Now, either one of these is a good option. The 3rd is the only one that isn’t, to close our Bibles and disengage. We figure the Bible is old and outdated, we don’t understand it, it’s hopeless, whatever.

As my friend and I talked about the sermon, the only path we would not take is to ignore it. In the Scriptures, if we get angry or vehemently disagree, why? There’s always a reason the text pricks us in a sensitive spot. Why is that? Why did that message affect her in that way? Why did that book, movie, person, interpretation, affect us in that way? Maybe that ‘why’ is exactly the point. That ‘why’ will end up asking more questions, often these soft spots are the places that invite us into the greatest growth.

If we don’t understand, why? Maybe we don’t understand because we need more information, discussion, time, prayer, or maybe we just don’t understand it now. Once I couldn’t swim, but later I could. I’m glad I didn’t get out of the water forever.

We must not quit and walk away. I tried to read the book A Clockwork Orange several times. It’s a hard read, with the language, the vocabulary, the subject matter. Twice I threw the book across the room, promising to NEVER again try to read such a piece of garbage. Then I’d pick it up again and stop early again. Then I finished it and it wasn’t at all garbage, it was brilliant, deep and important, and I am now an avowed Clockwork Orange evangelist.

So, about Sunday. 1. I think the natural vs spiritual is something we’ll come back to again and again. 2. The revelation of the Holy Spirit, the getting out of the way and allowing the Spirit to lead, is very important. Even as that is true, today I’m still missing the usual spark I feel about chapter 2. Maybe it’s just me, now, in this space, and the obstacle is wholly personal. I have no idea, but what I do know is that I can assure you that Sunday, and writing this today, aren’t the end of my wrestling with it. I’m finding this is what faith-ing is, a life walking with. It sure isn’t always firecrackers and mountain tops, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Like a Nice Chili

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we reach that promise of tomorrow, then?

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

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

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

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