perspective

My Speedo

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

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

How many times? How much did I miss?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much of my life have I not been present?

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

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

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

Answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salvador Dalí, pt 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Canvas Shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salvador Dalí

Last week I read this blog post, written by Cristian Mihai: 

““Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?” – Salvador Dalí

You see, those who accomplish little in life will think that he became the Salvador Dali that everyone knew and could afford to make such statements… after all, you’d act that way too, right?

If you’d have the money, the respect, the talent, the appreciation of others…

Sorry to break it to you, but he became Dali because he thought like that. He thought like that about himself until the world gave him what he demanded of it.

Average wishes it were easy. Greatness enjoys it for being hard. Average thinks of all the reason why it won’t work. Greatness, of all the reasons it will. Average blames circumstances. Greatness creates circumstances. Average waits for the perfect opportunity. Greatness knows such a thing does not exist.

So, [nasty words directed at] average… procrastination… laziness… depression… anxiety… waiting… other people and what they think or say or do… fear.

Conquer yourself and you can conquer the world.

So, tell me, what prodigious thing will you do today?”

Now. There might be some things I don’t agree with about this post. For instance, maybe I wouldn’t direct the nasty words at “other people and what they say or do,” because sometimes “other people” are our family and friends and mentors and care an awful lot about us and have our interests at heart and the “prodigious things” we would do today might not be all that healthy for us, might actually cause us great damage. (You know many of the things that wound us are self-inflicted, right?) But I get the point. The “other people” he is referring to often have agendas and are driven by the fear that would paralyze us, too. They are paralyzed and wish the same for us. Negative Nelly’s, Debbie Downers, we all have them – we all have been them. 

Anyway, I loved the post. I love that Salvador Dalí experiences an exquisite joy at waking up to be Salvador Dalí and the promise of what he will create. I love all of the attributes given to Average. And I don’t get too twisted by what I could argue with that I miss what is important for me. Then, in the comment section, I read this, by Mr Wapojif (I don’t know what to say about this handle…): 

“Success also takes a great deal of luck. You need a variety of happy little accidents and coincidences to open doors for you, it’s not just about working your [rear end] off or being a genius. 

In England almost a quarter of the population lives in poverty. 14+ million people. The door is very firmly shut for them as the modern trend for inequality escalates rapidly.

Appreciate this post is about positivity and “get up and go”, by the harsh reality isn’t quite like this for tens of millions around the world. 

Perseverance is key, but there can reach a point where you’re deluding yourself.”

Many of this is also true, with some things I could argue with, as well. I find that’s the case for most things. I can love a song and hate the key change at the bridge or a choice of words. With the exception of the saxophone solo in INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart,” very little artistic expression is perfect. There has even probably been moments where you have disagreed with me in these posts or on Sunday mornings (gasp, nooooooo!!!) and that is ok. We can love each other deeply and hold each other’s hands and follow Jesus together and passionately disagree on my red shoes or the movies I like or my interpretation of the first 7 verses of Romans 13.   

There’s more to be said on these posts. (Next time, I am going to write a post on what success is and if it actually takes “a great deal of luck.”) But for now, I’ll let them sit and marinate in your head and your heart and begin a new post for later in the week on yesterday’s Riverboat and the chicken I had last night.

What If

I just finished a book called The Way Of The Warrior by Erwin McManus and here are 2 questions that have settled in my head:

What if we are more than we know and in our disconnection with God have become less than we were ever meant to be?

What if miracles look like aberrations because we have accepted the world as it is and not as it should be?

Sometimes ideas, concepts, and observations stand out because they are so counter to what we’ve ever considered to be true, ever imagined could be possible. Other times they give language to what we’ve always known but didn’t have the words to express. These questions, to me, paradoxically reside squarely in both.

You see, I believe the premise of both of these questions – that our brokenness and “disconnect” have led us to settle for far less of our world and of ourselves. I think we struggle so much with acceptance of injustice and suffering, and so often say, “it’s not supposed to be like this,” because it isn’t. Maybe the fantastic stories of the Bible – where Elijah asks it not to rain for 3 years and it doesn’t, where the same Elijah asks God to send fire to the altar and He does, where a few fish and loaves feed thousands, where Ezekiel breathes life into dry bones, where Jesus and Peter walk on water, where manna is provided, where seas and rivers part, and on and on and on – what if these fantastic stories aren’t the exceptions? What if we are? What if, when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,” he meant it? What if it wasn’t a metaphor or hyperbole, what if he actually meant that nothing will be impossible for you and me?

***That’s a big “what if” and the implications are staggering…***

Of course, the other side of this is that it leads to a perfectionism that is unreasonable. Our expectations – of ourselves, others, and the world around us – can become chains, holding us in a prison of self-loathing and judgment. 

Maybe there’s a happy medium. Or maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s just a case of mistaken identity. If I think it’s my duty to be perfect or better or enough or amazing, I will try and try and push until I am. And fail, like I always do. Because even when I am awesome (we all are, you know) I open the door to the hammers that start pounding in my head, saying I’m not awesome enough or I should be more awesome. It’s never enough. 

This is where I too often go – so when McManus asks those questions, I see impossibility and yellow caution tape. Turn around! Be careful! 

But since I’ve ignored the warnings and have, instead, been feeding and caring for them, I see something new. What if the phrase “in our disconnection with God” is and has always been the key? Maybe my impossibility and less-than thoughts of not enough is simply more disconnect. Maybe as long as I’m trying to find enlightenment in my own achievement, it will just be further disconnect. Maybe I can’t make a mountain move because I’m trying to move it in my own strength, on my own shoulders. The mistaken identity is that I think I need to create me – that I decide what I was “meant to be.” That I manufacture my own miracles. 

(My great friend and new daddy Jay uses that life-changing phrase, and I’m henceforth stealing it from him and calling it my own.)

I was already created, in love, with a purpose, for an overflowing life of joy and blessing and love. I don’t have to create anything, it’s already been created. I just have to step into it. Then my expectations of the world can be a holy revolution, full of love and invitation (instead of bitterness and judgment) and my expectations of myself can be a realization, dripping with kindness and openness and awakening.         

Yet Another Post About Youth Baseball

I am finished coaching baseball for the year, and I am equal parts disappointed and thrilled.

This weekend we will not be playing in the state tournament for 13 and 14 year old all-stars. Baseball is strange (and that is, of course, what makes it so great.) Samuel’s team played a best-of-3 series with a Harrisburg area all-star team and, in the first, Saturday morning, pounded them 14-2 in a 5 inning mercy rule game. The second, after 4 innings, we were ahead 5-0 and planning our trip and hotel accommodations. In the next 2 1/2 innings, we were handed a 9-5 loss. This forced us to come back for Sunday afternoon and the wrong end of a 17-6 whipping. What looked like an easy coasting to the next step turned to mush in our hands. Baseball, right?

Samuel, for his part, played very well, but baseball is a game where everything you hit can be solid and hard and you can come away empty. That’s just what he did, with great frustration. I keep reminding him that you can also hit everything softly off the end of the bat and find every hole and go 4-4. He didn’t care about my wisdom. Not even a little.

I thought the team was pretty good, pleasantly surprising me in other ways off the field. The kids were kind and encouraging, the best players were leaders and, at least for 2 days, displayed the sort of character that made me feel like the future was sunny and everything was possible (if not winning a 3 game series.) I told a few of the boys and wanted to call each of their parents. 

This was a stark contrast to our summer team (ages 13-16). I thought this team was pretty good, too, and also surprising off the field. This just wasn’t a good surprise. I expected the older kids, fresh from high school ball to encourage the younger, wide-eyed newbies, to show them what it meant to be ballplayers, where to go on a steal, who the cut-off man is, how to spot a pitcher’s tendencies, and most importantly, what a team looked like, felt like, and what winning required inside each of them. Sadly, the mood crashed the day they came, 2 weeks after practice had began for those not yet playing for the school. With one very notable exception, the boys were clique-ish and sarcastic, choosing to mock and tear down rather than build. Of course, they didn’t take coaching well, usually disrespectful, rarely listening and often saying “No” to instruction on the field (ON THE FIELD!!!!) – after all, they are early teenagers and we all understand that all we’ll ever learn we’ve already learned by our thirteenth birthday, right? They were nasty and mean to each other as well as the requisite muttering behind backs (even to their ‘buddies’ in their own clique.) They clearly didn’t like each other, and to me, the most heartbreaking part of that truth is what it tries to hide: they don’t like themselves. Their insecurity (not only theirs, theirs is just more obvious because of the outward nastiness) worn on their sleeves like a sponsors logo directed every word and move. 

It was an environment that caused my soul to ache every day. What could I do to affect some change? What could I do to speak fresh words into such negative self-regard? What could I do??? I tried many approaches, to varying degrees of failure. The questions still haunt, and the nagging new question: did I let these broken boys down? I guess I probably did. Sigh.

I also coached a team of younger boys (under 14) from 3 different areas. We were, by all accounts and measures, terrible. I believe they have far more ability than even they would guess that needs to be coaxed into the light, and we made strides. We were always able to find encouraging details to build on, even in the middle of mounting losses.

I will say this, though, about those boys. I loved every moment of our short time together. I told all of those boys that I liked them so much “they could come and live with me” (HA!) and I actually did contact most of the parents (I will end up contacting all of the parents) to appreciate their children. 

I guess the point is that hardly anything is ever just one thing. Sometimes you play well and lose, sometimes you lose and have a great time, sometimes the worst thing is the best, sometimes you’re depressed and thrilled, sometimes you’re full of gratitude and regret.

I spoke at a funeral yesterday (an experience that deserves its own space, which I will give another day, but…) and my funeral messages usually concern this duality, and I offer my own humble permission to feel everything. The Scriptures have an underlying honesty that God, at the very least, allows. Allows? I would say the truth is much closer to ‘demands’ or ‘requires.’

So. 

It’s now around a week later and I am still looking at this, still on this screen, yet to be made public, and I’m only this morning seeing the irony in my hesitance. You see, I’ve been waiting because of the paragraph on the older team. I lost a good friend once because similar feelings, observations, and words about kids (1 in particular) I had coached proved me, to her, harshly judgmental in my assessment. I understand her perspective, I probably did look like a man who had written off these kids and closed the book, rigidly deciding who they were and who they would be. If there was a misunderstanding, it was only in the finality of my opinion. I hold all of this loosely, only an observation, hopefully wishing to open my hands and pick up a new one. The 1 that cost me a friendship did indeed have some of the qualities I perceived. But that was then. One year later, he had grown and matured – as most people do – and I would no longer say those things. Not only would I not say them, I no longer think those things. He is different. And (hopefully) so am I. So are you. 

Every day, I drove to the teener practice crossing my fingers that this would be the day that a big red switch would be flipped and they would step into the next phase of their development. Each evening, I mourned that another day passed in the old patterns, and each morning, I saw them with new eyes. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next Tuesday.

The irony is that this post is about honesty – and here I am hesitating to communicate in an authentic fashion, wondering if I should… 

I should. We are in the business of offering all of who we are, even the ugly parts, and allowing them to move and change and transform into who we will be. Ignoring, or hiding, them leaves them unseen and unchanged. Swept out of sight, unacknowledged, we stay who we are, and that is the only unacceptable outcome. 

This post also concerns things not being just one thing. You’re not just a nurse or a lawyer or a pastor or a teacher or a wife, and neither am I and neither are they and neither is any moment of our lives. I held off on posting this because I didn’t want to be misunderstood again, but maybe I will be. And that’ll be ok. These kids are not one thing, now or ever, and they are certainly not today who they will be in 1 or 2 or 15 years. I don’t ever close any books. Nothing is final.

No, that’s not true. Some things are final. But we aren’t. We’re works in progress. 

Today is not just an extension of yesterday. It isn’t just what it is. 

Except this post. It is exactly what it is. And I’m posting it before it gets any longer.            

Holy Hell

Last year, my family made a switch to DirecTV from Comcast to save some money, and it would be impossible to understate the mountain of regret it caused. I was happy to tell them about my poor decision (in emails, phone calls, customer surveys, etc…all of them completely unacknowledged. For example: “Mr Slabach, is there anything else I can do for you?” “Yes, I have rued the day I chose to become a customer, hostage to you monsters, so if you could roll back time and prevent me from making the terrible change to DirecTV and your horrible customer service, that would be great. Or you could release me from my contract so I can go somewhere else TODAY. That’s something else you could do for me, but I don’t guess your script has a generic response with up-sell for that.” And without even a pause: “Well, if there’s nothing else, thank you for choosing AT&T and DirecTV. Have a great day.”) I’d be happy to tell you about it, too, but not here. The point of mentioning the woeful telecommunications behemoth is to tell you the nightmare is over. I paid the ransom to release myself from it’s grip and returned to Comcast and, in the process, gained Netflix. With this marvelous addition, we also gained it’s treasure trove of documentaries.

Today I had some free time and chose to spend it watching one called Holy Hell, about a religious cult called Buddhafield. What began as a beautiful space of community and belonging was revealed to have been a blanket covering a bottomless pit of spiritual and sexual abuse that damaged some members for over 20 years. 20 years!!! To tell you the truth, there was nothing surprising about any of it, you could see where it was going from the opening shots. Probably, anyone watching this group function at the time would’ve easily seen it as well. As is pretty standard, the only ones who couldn’t see the group (and it’s despicable leader) for what it was, were the ones on the inside being victimized. But it was the closing interviews that were very interesting, where they reflected on their experience. It had been 10 years since their escape, would they still be full of rage, hatred, resentment? Would they blame the others? Were they able to move past these atrocities? Were they able to have healthy relationships, jobs, careers, and spiritual lives? 

Of course they were angry and wounded, they wept while they told the story. Or at least they were angry, then. As they recounted the horrific details, clearly painful, it was swirled with a peaceful acceptance that was shocking. Each one spoke honestly, never avoiding even the worst of the abuses, but each one used words like thankful and gratitude. The true, lasting sadness was in the mourning over the loss of the community they all shared that was taken from them by the evil of the guru. 

In Jeremiah 24:5-7 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” The worst thing that could happen was exile. They were removed from everything that mattered to them; their land, history, name, their temple and their God. Yet this perspective was as one of beauty and grace.

Maybe the DirecTV debacle was actually a good thing? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t have been offered the package with Netflix if I was a current customer. (I wish it wasn’t that way – it’s like marriages, all too often. Once you get the girl, you let yourself go and take her for granted, stop pursuing her. Like telecommunications companies.) When I look back at the worst things that happened to me… I don’t hate them as much anymore. In fact, I’m almost thankful they happened, because they changed me in profound ways. They taught me lessons I might not have learned otherwise. 

As usual, it’s never the circumstance, it’s our response to the circumstance.

We’ve all been victims of someone’s violence, we’ve all been exiles, we’ve all experienced DirecTV. It’s how God uses these trials to grow us that can be the most astonishing gift… Now, if we can only be open to the transformation.