perspective

Words Matter

Here’s something I read from an article written by Edward Klink III: “Let me state it plainly: it is impossible to have a faithful walk with Christ and Christian life—biblically or practically—without committed participation in a local church. To talk about Jesus and not his body, the church, is not to talk fully and rightly about Jesus at all! You cannot just have a spiritual relationship with Jesus without a real connection to his physical body. Even talk about a “personal relationship with Jesus” can be misleading if not properly defined. To say that a person has a personal relationship with Jesus is to speak about how a person becomes a Christian, not how a person lives as a Christian.”

I often read things pretty mindlessly, almost like skimming. I don’t know why I’m in such a rush that I can’t give a few minutes to engage wholeheartedly, I’m not that busy. Just today, my inbox had several weeks worth of email (that gmail helpfully categorizes as Promotions and files them away) needing to be addressed eventually. One was an expired invitation for a special virtual conference that I remember seeing and being interested in, but without immediate attention it became just another tap of the trash can icon.

Anyway. I keep them because of a well-intentioned desire to return & carefully read. Then on a day like today, I open and pretend to read them all before moving them to the garbage heap. But this article, this paragraph in particular, against all odds got stuck in my mind and brought the momentum to a screeching halt.

Is it really “impossible?” What does the subjective phrase “faithful walk” mean? Or “committed participation?” And “real connection?” What a fascinating few lines of text, right? All good writing asks something of us; to stop, to be here, to engage. To put aside the thoughts of meal prep or fantasy football lineups or the next item looming on the calendar. Even to put aside our own accepted positions that have not been re-evaluated in way too long, taken for granted as true (or if not necessarily true, they are our accepted positions, and should be defended as such.)

Do I think it’s impossible? Maybe. I used to think it was absolutely possible, even preferable, to be without a local church, which is full of hypocrites (like me) and other’s issues (like mine). I don’t so much anymore. Now I’m sure it’s not preferable, but impossible?

The answer to that depends on how we define “faithful walk,” “committed participation,” and “real connection,” I suppose. And as none of our definitions will be the same, it’s hard to use a word like impossible. If we use Klink’s definitions of “faithful” or “committed,” it’s impossible. Maybe not if we use mine. And my own definitions have changed over the years, even over the days or minutes, and will surely continue to transform.

I know, after a global pandemic caused a seismic shift in my concept of “connection,” I’m more convinced that a local church isn’t a luxury.

I also know that I’m very wary of using the word “impossible” in the context of a faith based on a God who became a man who died and was resurrected. It seems after all we’ve seen and heard, we should probably excise the word from our vocabulary.

So we could spend forever chewing on those words and how they play out in our own lives, but it’s that last sentence and the difference between “becoming” and “living” that is chewing on me. The point I’m trying to to make is that words matter. Becoming a follower of Jesus is different from living as one – becoming involves One Big Yes, living requires thousands of them. Can we do that – living – alone, without a community? I guess the answer is maybe, but the better question is, why on earth would we want to?

dishonor

My family & I read a devotional with the suggested passages of the Bible and then answer the questions. This is a relatively new practice for us. Maybe not that new. We’ve started this type of thing several thousand times over their lives, sometimes it lasts for a day or 2, sometimes for a week, hardly ever longer. When I think about my boys having no spiritual study or direction in their own homes, I am embarrassed and know exactly why God had to look for the man in the garden in Genesis 3. We desperately want to hide our faces rather than see & feel the look of disappointment in His eyes. Where are you?

Anyway. The topic last night was our bodies, presenting them as living sacrifices to the God who made them and gave them to us. It’s a devotional “for athletes,” so it focused on drugs, mostly the performance enhancing kind. As far as I know, my boys don’t have much experience with these, so I changed the first question a little. “What substances do you put in your body that might bring dishonor to the name of God?” became, “Do you do anything that might dishonor this gift you’ve been given?”

There is a fine line here. It’s a decidedly good thing to examine the care we take with ourselves, what God would consider His temple. And we can even examine the ways we dishonor ourselves that, in turn, dishonor this gift and the Giver.

But it is a very bad thing to cross that line into the space where God is disappointed with us, looking down with arms crossed shaking His head. Do you remember when your parents would say, “I’m not angry, just disappointed,” and it would break your heart in a million pieces? That is the posture we assign to God, and through that posture we receive guilt and, even worse, shame. This is the shame that causes us to run away to hide our faces.

It’s so bad because, as far as I can tell, it’s just not true. As it says in Romans, there isn’t any condemnation or separation from God. There isn’t any distance we can go that’s too far away, no amount that is just too much. In the Age of Grace, our transgressions are as far removed as the east is from the west. (Ps. 103) The shame we feel doesn’t come from God at all, we are the ones dragging that baggage to the feast.

I don’t think true life change happens from a negative impulse (like “shall not ___,” “stop ___,” etc.) Instead, it comes from a big, strong Yes. The shall not is a consequence of a beautiful shall. What I mean is, there’s no room for cake when we’re so full of Brussels sprouts. (Which is probably a bad example because Brussels sprouts are soooooooooo gross.) We will stop scrolling porn sites when we’re turning pages in a great uplifting book. There’s no time to stoke the embers of infidelity when we’re fanning the flames of a passionate marriage. We won’t have energy to gossip when we’re listening to and following our divine call.

So. The earlier question’s ‘dishonor’ can lead to visions of disappointment which leads to shame which leads nowhere. I’m convinced that look in God’s eyes is a crushing sadness that comes from His awareness of the violence we’ll inflict on ourselves.

I don’t believe God is mad at me anymore for my lack of follow through. (It’s a great thing to dive into the Bible and this devotional, the conversation an even better thing, the connection the absolute best thing.) I think His heart breaks at the horribly destructive words I point at me, His own carefully, wonderfully made creation.

My answer to the question is, yes, I do. I have been mean and disrespectful of me way too often. The only difference is that His arms aren’t crossed, they’re wrapped around me loving me into a different perspective, a different response, a different reality.

A Million Bucks

Earlier this week I was standing on a chair (long story), got too close to the edge and fell. After sitting for a second to do a quick “is anything broken?” conversation with myself, I walked around for a minute reflecting on how old I am and just how much that fall from a kitchen chair hurt. Then, in the middle of the night, I got up to walk to the bathroom and discovered that the room was spinning with the earth. That’s nothing cool to discover anytime, much less the middle of the night. In the morning it became apparent that the world was not spinning, I was.

You know that natural lack of awareness that we have where we can see clearly in others what we are completely blind to in ourselves? Well, I’ve been through some training and am a reasonably bright person, so I know the symptoms of concussion. However, I am made of steel so I simply can’t be concussed. 

Anyway. I shouldn’t have been driving a car so much and ended up on the couch, Netflix and chilling alone. Generation Wealth was the doc, not onNetflix, but on Amazon video. This Generation Wealth is the feel good hit of the summer, displaying our drive for excess, love of money, and rampant consumerism at any & all costs. 

The filmmaker made an interesting observation I hadn’t previously considered. In the old days we coveted our neighbor’s things (cars, donkeys, picket fences, wives, etc) but now we look to celebrities, athletes and CEOs with whom to compare ourselves. 

Most everybody has an addiction in the modern world, whether it’s money, fame, plastic surgery, work, OxyContin, or sex. If a little is good, more and more and MORE is better. Maybe that’s true, but it really depends on what it is we’re getting more of. If it’s peace or love or peanut butter cups, that’s true. If it’s sports cars or infidelities, probably not as much.

When the world shut down because of COVID, I had dreams that there would actually be a “new normal.” I dreamt that we’d find the time at home is awesome, that we like our families, that our priorities would be rearranged. I dreamt we’d miss each other more than our cars and wheels & ladders to success. 

Of course I was wrong. There’s no new normal, just more of the same. But the people in the documentary (and I suppose all of the people ever, even us, now) all learned something. I’ll tell you what it is in about 3 paragraphs.

Today I went to the funeral of a man whom I never met. By all accounts, he was a beautiful, caring, loving man. Many of his family spoke, telling stories and reminiscing. They had the blessing of feeling only loss. What I mean is that we often get more than 1. We get loss, but we also get regret, anger, fear, right? It is a fortunate person who can only grieve, and the only regret in that packed room was that they didn’t get to spend more time with him. 

So, the chorus of the voices speaking at the memorial was how much and how well he loved them. I saw this quote from Mother Teresa the other day: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Too many times we get this all mixed up, and we leave home to change the world, leaving our families as casualties of our ambition, no matter how well intentioned it might be. 

This man, Paul, loved his family, and as in most people like him, family was far more than blood relation. It was anyone and everyone in his sphere, anyone and everyone the universe brought into his path. And they were all better for it. But here’s the thing, he loved that family, stuffed them to the gills with significance and worth, and now I get to know them and I’m all the better for that. 

That’s how it works with beautiful people and the pyramid scheme of love. We love those in our orbits, then because they have been loved, they love those in theirs, then they do the same. 

I cried at the service. I listened to this shining tribute – of course, there were flaws, but just like all of us, the flaws lose power in the light of connection, presence, and love. Maya Angelou said people will never forget how you made them feel, and he made everyone feel like a million bucks. I would love to be just like him when I grow up. 

In the film, a guy in Iceland who had lost everything, said, “That’s the good thing about collapse.” What a strange thing to say. But what everyone had in common was they got all they wanted and it wasn’t anywhere close to filling the hole. It was just more. More more more. 

Sometimes it takes catastrophe, or collapse, to figure out what is truly meaningful. And as it turns out, what matters in our lives isn’t money or stuff at all, it’s the people we share them with. It’s the broken-hearted families, full of tears and overwhelming gratitude. It’s the people who run when you fall off a chair. It’s the hands to hold and the arms that squeeze so tightly, they keep us from losing any pieces when we fall apart.

Hotels

One morning last week I woke with a physical exhaustion that has thankfully become quite rare. So when I came home from an unenthusiastic workout, I opened Netflix and crawled under a blanket.

In one of my searches, I discovered 2 documentaries that interested me and were listed to be streaming on Netflix, but were not! I scrolled and scrolled, past so many until I landed on The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel. A young woman named Elisa Lam left Vancouver in a familiar quest for answers to the question we all ask at some point; Who am I? This quest took her to California, first San Diego through Los Angeles ending in San Francisco. She would get no further than LA, no further than the Cecil Hotel.

It was an eerie story of conspiracy and perhaps the supernatural as she simply disappeared. There was a surveillance video of her in an elevator and then no more. It was also a story of homelessness, hopelessness, mental illness, depression, bipolar disorder, the police, a hotel’s history of evil/tragedy and a musician in Mexico. 

The series was 4 episodes and in the 4th, we learned what actually happened. I’ll ruin the suspense here, this is the 4th paragraph and there wasn’t a conspiracy or governmental coverup, there was a lovely young woman who had serious mental issues that caused her, ostensibly, to climb into a water tank on the roof of a hotel and drown.

I intended to make this a post about easy characterizations and a need to understand that lead us down all sorts of paths we don’t want to go, and which have been adding to our disconnect and division. Maybe I will, but it’s so much more in my head now, I just can’t let this one go.

Elisa Lam was a very prolific blogger, posting every thought and idea on Tumblr. I imagine anyone who read her work felt as if they knew her, that’s probably why the story was so captivating for so many. She was our sister, daughter, friend, co-worker, wide open about every thing in her life. We wanted the best for her, wanted her to find meaning and love. If you’re reading this, do you feel like you know who I am? Do you think we’d be friends? I hope so. In all likelihood, we would. It’s sure a new, interesting world, where we can become close to people we’ve never met, and in Elisa Lam’s case, never even had a conversation. 

I like that. I think it’s one of the most beautiful side effects of social media. We are closer than ever before, nothing separates us (except physical space, I suppose.) And we are farther apart than ever before, falling prey to the delusion that online relationships can take the place of relationships IRL. She traveled to California and slowly fell apart in public and no one asked the smallest question, if she was ok. Maybe she would’ve lied, pretended like we do, that yes, she was fine. But maybe she would’ve told the truth, that no, she wasn’t.

I wonder how many times I pass by a person in distress, too busy or distracted or too minding my own business to look or listen. I wonder if a human connection – even a tiny, superficial one – would’ve saved Elisa Lam’s life.

You already know I think we’re here to walk together. We’re made for just this sort of human connection, and we’ve wandered so far off that path that when we are asked, it’s jarring and we feel a sense of intrusion. When did that happen? And I wonder if we felt it slipping away. 

In this film, one of the main characters was Los Angeles and a part of LA called Skid Row. Apparently, the idea was to take the homeless and other “undesirables” and imprison them in a square of the city where they could be ignored and forgotten. Human beings were “undesirable” and systematically, purposely ignored and forgotten? It seems like we all have to ask the question that drove Elisa Lam to California in the first place: Who are we???? 

Her death obviously wasn’t the Cecil Hotel’s fault, but it sure feels like a metaphor. The Cecil was crafted with great care and beauty and over time, seems to have forgotten it’s original creation. Great care and beauty were poured into this structure so that it could take creat care of others. But without a clear vision or purpose, it fell into disrepair and became just another flop house where the people who interacted with it were seen and treated as disposable, which in turn made this once grand hotel disposable, rotting from the inside.

It was a super sad documentary, but as Black Widow says to Bruce Banner in the 1st Avengers movie, “No, we need a little worse.” Not paying attention, whistling through graveyards and hiding behind masks of the images we desperately try to keep, has gotten us here. Maybe we need a little worse, too, a few more cameras shining the light of truth on our increasing dysfunction, to force a course correction. And if we do that, if we start to care or listen or love, maybe Elisa Lam’s death would’ve been for something. Now, it’s just a senseless casualty of modern life. 

But it doesn’t have to be. We get to choose what it is, and we get to choose here, now, today.

Mayhem

We’ve been in a conversation on spiritual gifts at the Bridge, and Sunday we had homework. I called it Project Mayhem because any time I can reference Fight Club, I do. In that film, the underground clubs (that we DO NOT TALK ABOUT) are the first step taken towards shaking individuals out of the familiar rut of modern life. Once that step is taken, once the culture is beaten out of them, once they see light in darkness, once they taste life, there is no returning to what they had mistakenly called life before and now have newly opened eyes to experience the big, beautiful gifts of their lives that these men had taken for grated for so long.

The film is just so great.

Anyway. Once they are transformed, there is a need to take this revelation out into the world to ‘infect’ the others who are still sleepwalking behind masks/images of their own creation. This is what they call Project Mayhem. (“I want you to start a fight…and I want you to lose.”)

Now before we go further, the characters in Fight Club are violent and are bent on destruction, both of which are decidedly not part of the homework assignment. But here’s the thing about this metaphor, doesn’t it sound familiar?

A person finds/meets/experiences something (or someOne) that changes them (us), transforms us, opens our eyes to a new way of life. This transformation exposes the superficiality of the previous sand that we had built upon. There is now meaning, significance. We are connected to each other and the world around us in ways we never acknowledged, never noticed. We start to care. We are loved and we fall in love. We are brand new.

If it stops here, it’s a cool thing that’s happened, but that isn’t where it ends, is it? We want to pass this beautiful new life on to others, because we know beyond reason that if others receive, it doesn’t decrease ours. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The more who are awake and alive, the more the world crackles and hums with the energy and possibility of the Divine. So we take it out, and since telling isn’t always good enough, we show. We show with joy, peace, patience, life, love. The world changes, or rather, the world can change. It’s the only way it can change.

Yes, Fight Club uses violence and destruction to bring about the “complete destruction of civilization,” but listen to this: “SO THAT [we] can build something better.”

I know I talk too much about Fight Club sometimes, but I’m not sure the way it is is exactly what we want or what we dream it could be. Maybe we are also called to build something better…

Maybe not by using bombs or baseball bats, though. Maybe with hugs and prayers and meals and kindness and empathy and best of all, Jesus. Maybe that’s the mayhem that tears this whole silly facade apart and then it can finally be replaced with a Kingdom.

Drones

I’m reading a book by Frederick Buechner called Secrets In The Dark, A Life In Sermons and it’s amazing. His talent is pretty shocking, to be honest with you, and last night it made me think of the spiritual gift conversation we’ve been having lately.

There used to be a time when someone else’s talent made me stop from expressing mine. When I saw a movie like Pulp Fiction or read a book like American Pastoral or heard a song like There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and the sheer overwhelming beauty of the work would effectively put a cork solidly in my own. I could never do that, so what is the point? If I can’t do it at that level, then why do it at all? I tried and, because I didn’t write like them, I figured it was a failure.

Talent is interesting. Sometimes we take this all or nothing approach. If we’re not a 100, we’re a zero. But who decides? Maybe you don’t think Pulp Fiction is perfect. (If I was 20, I’d probably tell you you’re wrong. Now, at 46, I still think that, but I’d NEVER tell you;) Anyway. Talent, giftedness can be intimidating, right? It can cause us to second-guess and end up at home on the couch, dreaming unrealized dreams, asking what if and wondering why we are so bored.

Any and all conversations on giftedness have to start here, with inadequacy, insecurity, humility (the actual humility v. the upside down perversion of humility we might have bought) and self-consciousness.

A few thoughts on all of this, before we get started:

Comparison is a nasty emotion. As the Jedi master Qui-Gon Jin says in The Phantom Menace, “There’s always a bigger fish.” Comparison can lull us into a false arrogance because,”we’re not as bad as _____” or lead us to a self-sentenced whipping post because “we’re not as good as______” I am Chad and Chad alone. God created me on purpose for purpose, so to use your measuring stick is woefully misguided and will never lead to any path I am called to walk.

I’m reading Buechner now, but I often listen to and read Erwin McManus and Rob Bell, 2 of the finest communicators you will ever find. Comparison will ALWAYS leave me coming up short, listening to the “not good enough” lies and following the promptings of fear. And the truth is, probably they have read and listened to people that made them feel small in comparison. Another’s talent didn’t dampen Bell’s impact on my life. No song is as perfect as “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” but that doesn’t change how much others mean to me.

One of the most wonderful things about faith, Jesus, and spiritual gifts in particular is, strangely, this smallness. We are all tiny in the light of such an amazing God. But at the same time, we are also enormous in our significance in this light. With this God, anything, everything is possible. If He sees me, knew me before I was a thought in his world, what does that really mean? If He’s that big and sees and cares for little me, then what?

So many things. But right now it makes me think that if this God gifted them so much so well, what did He give to you? The law of scarcity tells us that there’s a finite amount, that if they have more, we have less. This God is not a God of scarcity. This God is One of abundance, which means that He gives out of His never ending, boundless love, and if you have more, then you have more. It’s not pie.

This Jesus of abundance frees us from those cultural constraints of comparison, allows us to read Buechner and be inspired. He allows us to see the gift He has given and ask, now what? Do you remember what you thought when you first saw Pulp Fiction? The old ceilings and walls we believed were set in stone didn’t apply. That’s what spiritual gifts do, reset expectations and possibility. All gifts. Buechner’s. Tarantino’s. And yours and mine. But we do have to take them out of the box and play with them.

At a junior high football game yesterday, a group of my favorite 9th graders and I played with a drone that belonged to one of them and also made me think of spiritual gifts. The drone was awesome, but only once it was out of the case and in the air. There are bigger, more expensive drones, but this one was absolutely perfect.

Now what?

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.