perspective

The Nineties

I just finished a book called The Nineties, written by one of my favorite authors Chuck Klosterman. He mostly feels like a smarter, sharper, funnier version of me, which is a great compliment to me, but maybe not as much to him. The book is about, well, The Nineties, a decade that has been so important in shaping much of who I am, the extent of which I am still discovering. It’s a perfect, and horrible, time to read this, as I am sometimes given to nostalgia. You know the type, the “things were better when I was young” – type of thing. Even if they weren’t. Even if they weren’t even close. So, maybe they weren’t better, but simpler for sure. And with much better music.

Personally, no day has been better than today. I’d trade all the great music of the ‘90’s (including Nirvana) for 5 minutes with the Angel and the 2 boys that live in this house (one of whom is now 15 years old!!!!!).

But the last 2 years have certainly been heavy, and it is absolutely understandable to want for a simpler time, one where we weren’t quite so divided and full of rage about that division.

Klosterman points to the 2000 election debacle and 9/11 as the 2 moments that birthed our current situation, where we started to break into pieces and everything became an increasingly either/or situation. You either agree with me OR you are a heartless, ignorant monster. There are no shades of gray, no in between.

We could talk about that – and I am happy to do so, commentary on culture is one of my favorite things to discuss – but what I’m thinking and why I’m writing about it here (and not on my other space) is because this makes me think about church.

Maybe the things that tied us together ever were pretty fragile. Maybe great music and tv shows and area codes and cubicles were always too superficial to last, like ropes tied to cracked branches.

When the 1990’s began, I believed there was nothing more important than what you liked.

A funny story: When I first went to the Angel’s apartment to pick her up for our first date, I not-so-discretely perused her cd collection. It was totally acceptable, a solid B, the only problem is that it WASN’T HERS!!! I’d find out later that it was her roommate’s! Angel’s were in a small plastic case in a chest at the foot of her bed and the small collection was…just awful.

So, when that happened, in 1998, the flaws in my theory became seriously evident and could no longer be ignored. There had to be something more to bind us, all of us, together.

Also in 1998, I began to fall in love with Something More, and as Jesus became more and more real to me, other things got less and less important. As He got bigger, my theory got much smaller. As He grew, politics shrank.

I miss the ‘90’s. I miss when small disagreements weren’t dealbreakers. I miss when we could coexist. Of course, maybe the ‘90’s weren’t this idealized pastel colored picture in my head, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? I miss this memory (even if it is slightly distorted), because it can feel so disjointed and broken now.

The other part of this is that this weekend is Easter. What I remember about the ‘90’s is true in Him, in His Church. We can be different, individually wonderfully made, think different things, vote for different people, listen to different music, like different flavors of ice cream, but if He, if His life, death, resurrection is the tie that’s holding us together, then those differences are just colors and textures that are beautiful decorations on the truth of an empty tomb.

Moody

D.L. Moody, an evangelist in the 1800’s, said, “If I wanted to find out whether a man was a Christian, I wouldn’t go to his minister. I would go and ask his wife. We need more Christian life at home. If a man doesn’t treat his wife right, I don’t want to hear him talk about Christianity.”

I don’t really want to talk about the content of the quote right here & now. (Maybe I do… but I’m not going to.) I do want to talk about our reaction to that quote. And seeds. That quote is a great beginning, because it, in all likelihood, elicits some sort of feeling, and probably a pretty strong feeling, right? And then what? What do we do when faced with an idea that pulls on the threads that hold us together? Whether we agree or not, some words require a response, one way or another. What is that response, and have we ever considered our own?

There’s a parable in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke about seeds. A sower lets some seeds fall in 4 different spaces. The first it can’t ever take root. The second is received but is quickly forgotten, never taking root; third is also received but is crowded out and wilts. The last is considered good soil, where the seed grows and grows, yields “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” It’s obviously not about seeds, it’s about us and how we receive information, specifically the Gospel. What kind of seed are we?

D.L. Moody, for example, plants a seed. Now what? Would we initially nod along? Or bristle? Would we mourn because we’d think about the marriages or relationships we know where one (or both) is treated poorly, abused, neglected? Would we think about our own marriage? Would we be courageous enough to ask our spouse what they thought of this quote? Would we be convicted and evaluate our behavior in each of our relationships?

If we nod along in assent, would we, as second seeds, forget as if it were the next internet challenge. Or squeeze it out as the hours pile up at the office, or the demands of the schedule subdue anything else, like third seeds?

Would we search for any reason to ignore it? He’s from the 1800’s, his perspective is skewed, he’s old-fashioned, outdated, patriarchal, whatever. Maybe we wouldn’t like his beard, or that he goes by D.L. instead of Dwight. Maybe we’d dig for evidence of his own marriage, read his other quotes for any shred of hypocrisy.

Or would we argue, reject it immediately like we do on social media? Maybe it struck a nerve and it’s easier to quickly throw it out than consider the possibility that it could have something to say about our homes, facing our Insecurity and Inadequacy as bouncers at the door. Would our instincts rebel, close our ears and eyes and hope it goes away?

Or would we sit with it like a million-pound gorilla in the corners of our lives and let it actually affect us? Would we reflect on it, meditate on the implications? Would we make a different decision? Would we allow that gorilla to destroy the steel door that keeps us on the throne and Jesus out, from being #1 in our hearts, homes, marriages, jobs, lives?

The thing is, we get to choose. If we were 2nd seeds today, we can be 4th tomorrow. Or vice versa. The choices are ones we get to make every day, every moment, with every new idea or person or experience. But I’m wondering now if there’s another question that we have to answer before we can even begin any seed work: Are we really prepared to give that kind of attention and intention, prepared to show up in such an active fashion to our own lives? And that beautifully significant question might be the scariest of all.

To-Do

Every Sunday afternoon I write all of my responsibilities, meetings and appointments in a journal with the word peace on the cover. That’s my idea of a hilarious joke because to-do lists are good for a lot of things, but peace isn’t usually one of them. Anyway, this week is a full page. A full page is unusual, and leaves me very little of the unscheduled time that is so precious, leaving little time for rest of work (unless you happen to see ALL of life as work: mission;)

There are seasons in our lives, right? And speaking of precious, Samuel’s high school baseball season opens this week with his first game, and these are the times we will all remember forever. So the full page of items to-do is jammed with these sorts of wonderful things, but as I look at this week, my breath begins to shorten and my muscles tense. You understand feeling overwhelmed. Like you are a coffee mug and life is trying to pour a gallon jug into you.

Yesterday (yesterday!!!) the message in church was about worry or judgment or, what it really is, control. It’s amazing how the teachings on Sunday mornings are often given for me as well as given by me. 1 day later, the pouring starts.

I am more and more convinced that this is no coincidence, that it is totally intentional and the enemy’s primary tactic. Worry, control, anxiety, fear, a looong to-do list. Lots of ripples, like a stone into a serene summer lake, but the cause of all of them is our absence in this moment. We get lost in yesterday or tomorrow, sacrifice today, and wake up lamenting, “Surely God was in this place and I, I was unaware,” and the now God was in is gone and tomorrow is spent thinking about the today we’re ignoring/missing (depending on how much responsibility we’re willing to shoulder.)

I can see the real danger here. If I am suffocated under the perceived avalanche of ink on the page, I focus on crossing the items off, and in the process, I check out and float far from the beautiful life that is unfolding here and now. You become an item instead of a treasured friend, the game becomes an obligation rather than the joy it is. If I spend the day looking for something better, I disrespect and devalue the something better that is in front of me right now.

That is the actual cost, what Jesus (and most of the people that knew Him) would call death. This day is a priceless gift: here and now, fully present, engaged, connected. I still have these things to do, but it’s the preceding word that makes all the difference. Do I have to do, or do I get to do? It might feel like a subtle difference, but what it really is is the infinite chasm between life and death.

Now if you will please excuse me, I get to go pick my boy up from practice in 10 minutes.

Do Something

Late February and the month of March are very difficult weeks for me. It’s the end of winter, we’ve been inside for 3 months, it’s been dark, it’s cold, and then we tiptoe into March and immediately my heart breaks: the 3rd is the anniversary of my dad’s death. Once that is safely in the rear view, the 22nd was his birthday. He lived for baseball and that’s about to begin. On a normal year, pitchers & catchers have already reported. My son’s baseball season started yesterday, tryouts for the team I coach is next weekend. I miss my dad an lot.

So, I can get pretty sad about now.

This heartache, this spirit-ache, leaves a wide wake. I feel bored, uninspired, rudderless, you understand. I don’t work too much, choosing to watch tv, read, and feel generally awful. (It’s strange, I feel this and don’t know why, until I figure out that this is the exact same pattern every year! You’d think I’d get used to it.) I didn’t post anything last week, worked very little. I wait for it to pass.

I get monthly emails from Mark Manson, who you may or may not have heard of – he wrote a few books with clever, filthy titles that are impossible to forget. I like his perspective, even if I don’t always agree. That’s why I read him. If I agreed with everything, what need is there to read his work? Anyway, he (I think it was him, I can’t find it now – it might have been Aadam Ali or Matt McLeod, if you’re fact-checking my references) talks about a “Do Something Principle.” Motivation doesn’t matter, how you feel doesn’t matter, just do something. And it’s that something that leads to motivation rather than the other way around.

Then I was reading the 2 Kings books of the Bible and there’s this famous passage about the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal. It’s reads like a movie, like he wins the faith championship of the world, and then immediately he is crushingly depressed in a cave on the run from King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. How does that happen? Who knows, but it does to most of us at some time or another. Sometimes it’s after a mountaintop, too. Elijah is empty, saying “I have had enough, LORD.”

Twice the LORD asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah complains, answers him with the same words (as if He didn’t hear the first time), detailing his hopelessness. I think if the LORD would ask me the same question now, “What are you doing here,” while I’m on the couch under a blanket thinking about pitchers & catchers and watching tv shows I don’t really like, I would do mostly the same thing. I’d talk about the cold, March 3rd, baseball, and anything/everything else that has me utterly lost and alone in this cave. And He’d probably ask me again. And I’d tell Him again. That’s why I’m not that judgy of Elijah. If you want to talk mountaintops, I’ll put a life the Angel, these 2 boys, and you up against any other, even Elijah’s Old Testament smack down. So what are we doing here?

God answers Elijah, and when I reference this passage I focus on the fact that He doesn’t really answer, He simply tells him he’s not alone. I say we don’t need answers, we need hands to hold. I’m right about that, too. But this time it was the verses before the one about the 7,000 others that jumped off the page.

He tells him to “Go back the way you came…anoint Hazael…anoint Jehu…and anoint Elisha.” You see, Elijah is a prophet. One of the main things prophets do is to anoint. He told Elijah to do his job. Do something. Remember your purpose, Elijah. And the people are obviously because life is nothing to do by yourself, for a legendary prophet or anyone else.

I’m still sad. There’s a war on the other side of the world that breaks our hearts each moment. People are still sick, divided, wondering where they’ll find their next meal or a shred of hope to keep moving. My dad is still gone and his birthday is in 2 weeks. These things are very true. Faith isn’t about pretending everything is peaches, it’s about seeing it, weeping, and getting up (whether He lifts us or just gives us the strength to lift ourselves doesn’t matter) to be the hands and feet of a God who loves you, me, Elijah, Ukraine, Russia, and Jezebel enough to find us in all of our caves, feed us, remind us of our purpose and people, and send us back in to love again.

Valentine’s Day

[I wrote this post last week and posted it on my other blog, but not here, very purposely. The followers there, mostly, don’t know me personally. Here, you do. So posting something I’ve written that is super personal about my wife, and about my marriage, is a lot vulnerable and a little dangerous. I don’t mind too much over-sharing all things me, but I try to be pretty careful about others. After all, they aren’t necessarily choosing to share these things. However, this is 1 week later and with time, I still think there’s value in this conversation. And besides, I asked first and she said I could;) So here it is]

There are a lot of drawbacks to being married to me, the fact that I’m writing about a pretty terrible Valentine’s Day on the internet isn’t even close to the biggest. But it isn’t great.

The Angel and I have been together for 24ish years, and in the course of those 24ish years, yesterday was The Worst Valentine’s Day we’ve had. (Maybe it’s important to say that I’m not the best at caring about greeting card holidays, but I do love LOVE and I do love my wife, so I’ll participate;)

We often talk about youth sports in this space. Over the years, all of us of a certain age has noticed a trend that we’ll call the Sportscenter-ification of the games. What I mean is that almost nobody watches entire games, we watch the highlights on Sportscenter or YouTube or forwarded GIFs. I coach baseball for boys who have very little knowledge and/or perspective of a game. These kids have no appreciation for the ups & downs, the slow parts, and fundamentals are a completely lost art (I KNOW I sound like everybody’s dad, talking about how it was “when I was young,” and that hurts me a little. Anyway, I am somebody’s dad.) We’ve been conditioned to think a game is all dunks and home runs.

Our culture suffers from this same malady. For instance, we think marriage is the same; all highlights and clip packages, candles, bubble baths, one long music montage set to some bouncy love song. And when it’s not, we think we’re broken. That the love is gone. That we’re doing something wrong. That it’s not how it’s supposed to be.

The thing is, that whole Sportscenter-ification is a lie. Marriage is time outs and bunts and bounce passes. It’s crappy Valentine’s days and wonderful random Thursdays. Life, too. It’s not all mountain tops, it’s Monday mornings, too.

The Church has a liturgical year. Yes, there is Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. But there’s also the rest, which is called Ordinary Time. That’s perfect, right? Ordinary Time. We go to work, change diapers, watch tv, eat in the car. Not all of our workouts are personal records, sometimes we’re tired and all we can do is get there at all.

It’s not broken. We’re not broken. We’re not doing anything wrong. I wrote a card to my wife yesterday that spelled out how overwhelming and wonderful it is that after 24 years, our relationship is so much better than it was on our wedding day. And that’s absolutely true. Kissing her slow and soft still gives me butterflies, it’s still shocking that I get to be the one that gets to do it. We make dinner together, make the bed together, change our bunny’s litter box and sit next to each other complaining about our sore backs in bleachers at basketball games. Of course, there are also fireworks and game winning half court shots and championships.

Sometimes the bands/singers on the radio are horrible, sometimes they’re just ok. It’s not always the Greatest, it’s not always Morrissey. And the songs aren’t always There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. And it’s a crazy delusion to think they would be.

The Angel & I communicate very very very well, (even so far as to discuss how the wheels fell off on our Valentine’s Day – it’s not high maintenance, it’s real, and it’s really important). We talk a lot, laugh and cry together, trust each other, find beauty in every day, love each other to the moooon even when things aren’t going perfectly. We advance the runner, catch fly balls, make our free throws and rebound. Teams that do those things win, marriages that do those things never break, and lives built on that are full and awesome, even when they aren’t.

Happy (best, worst, and everything in between) Valentine’s Day, everyone.

More Catfishing

I just posted a mini on Facebook about Hebrews 12, and the countless mentions in the first several verses of us, our and we. Well, it’s not countless, it’s 9, but you get the picture. 10 if you count the reference to the huge cloud of witnesses. The point was that we’re called into relationship, into running together, into connection, but nobody has to tell any of us that, no matter how much we pretend that we are islands.

Today is Catfish reruns all day on MTV, until the new episode on tonight at 8. The one on right now is about a woman having an online romance with a super-hot model with a broken phone (always a super-hot model and ALWAYS a broken phone which makes a video chat impossible) to whom she has been sending mountains of money. If you were watching, you’d be thinking the same thing I am: What is wrong with this woman?!!?

But we already know. These thoughts tie together neatly. We are called into relationship and will do most anything to have it. These people just acknowledge this fact and are actually doing anything to have it, including trying to buy it.

The stories of our lives are defined by the people in them (or the lack of people in them.) I say it all the time, you can surely finish this sentence for me, one of the biggest wounds COVID inflicted was/is the isolation. In addition to the depression and every other kind of mental unhealth, the lie that we don’t need each other desperately is the worst and most damaging.

The other thing about Catfish is when the scales from this woman’s eyes and she sees she’s been manipulated, when her heart is breaking out loud, she turns into Nev (the tender-hearted host of the show) and they wrap their arms around each other. She’ll cry and he’ll comfort her. He’ll tell her she’s beautiful and convince her there’s nothing wrong with her. She loved, and trusted the object of that love. The show always ends with hope, that’s why it’s so great.

The story of Elijah in the Bible takes us to a cave where the prophet is crying out. He’s isolated. He’s broken. He’s alone. He’s asking all of the questions. When God answers, He doesn’t answer the questions, He says, “there are 7,000 others…”

Catfish reminds me of Elijah. This woman will feel totally alone, will cry until there she doesn’t have any tears left, will not get any answers that make this heartbreak any better, but she will get a person to hold her up.

And that is enough.

Color-Fullness

Last week, there was a memorial service for a sweet lady who had lost her fight with Alzheimer’s after far too long (though any length of time is far too long to witness the horrors of this heartless disease.) I helped to carry her casket in & out of the church, spoke at this service, and stayed afterwards to share a meal with the family. I really did love her and would be happy to tell you why, but this post isn’t going to be too much about her at all. Instead, it’ll be several observations and a final thought or 2.

We almost got into an accident less than a mile from the church. My son has been driving on his own less than a month – he’s a good driver who made a mistake and it is nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t collide with the other. I cringed as the metal should have loudly twisted but didn’t. I saw every second and still can’t begin to explain how it is possible that we avoided this angry mess, so I won’t try. We’ll just leave this here. 

She was Puerto Rican, and I am not. She speaks Spanish exclusively, and as much as I like to brag that I speak fluent Spanish, it’s simply not true. I had 1 year in high school almost 30 years ago and only remember autobus, caca, hola and senorita. So, she would see me and light up, grab my face and kiss my cheeks, then she’d talk to me like we were old friends. I’d nod and smile. It didn’t really matter, we understood each other even as we didn’t understand the words the other spoke. The Spirit speaks, and that is very often enough.

We first passed by the church, called New Birth, because we couldn’t read the sign. Then when we arrived, most of the people there were family, Puerto Rican and exclusively Spanish-speaking, so I required a translator. This was my first experience with translation and my translator was a very short, lovely woman named Miranda. The passion I have for everything comes pouring out of my mouth quickly, like water. As you may or may not know, a fast talker and translation (even with as gifted a translator as Miranda) do not always make the happiest combination. It wasn’t easy for me or for her, we stepped on each other, fumbled for words through awkward pauses, but it absolutely worked out, tears and celebration and wide open hearts are universal. 

The service was 4 hours long, with singing, sermons, shouting, laughing, sobbing, and everything in between. In the culture I am familiar with, we search for excuses not to attend funerals but when we have to, we are quiet, reserved, and try to fake whatever emotions we deem “appropriate.” This was not the culture I am familiar with. 

The food was Spanish and amazing, especially this coconut rice that I’m still thinking about. 

Anyway, the reason racism is so dumb is that coconut rice. It’s not what I’m used to, it’s not apple pie and cheeseburgers. The funeral wasn’t what I’m used to, it’s not quiet, dark, and too often inauthentic. The language wasn’t what I’m used to, isn’t what I even understand, it’s not American English. They’re also a big part of the reason tolerance is pretty ridiculous, too. Here is the definition of tolerance: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.

The capacity to endure something without adverse reaction? Like a cobweb or vegetables? So, the bar we’re setting is that I can endure a different sex, color, faith, culture without getting hives or committing a violent crime? Endure your language? Endure your food? Endure you?

Is it the best we can do that I simply endure another human being without adverse reaction? What are we doing when that is the expectation or, worse, the hope?

I didn’t endure this service, and they certainly didn’t endure me. We loved each other, we loved each other’s skin tones, practices, & accents. We hugged each other and cried in our multicultural shoulders, then we laughed in our diverse ethnicities.

Why would we want to be the same? And why in the world would we want to pretend we aren’t different? It’s the different flavors that make everything taste so good, the various textures that make living feel so good. Nothing was endured without adverse reaction, no one was discriminated against. The call isn’t colorblindness, it’s brilliant, vivid color-fullness. We are different and we are wonderful. We loved this woman, each other, each other’s everything, and the same God that created all of it.

As Ourselves

Today I am catching up on a few emails that have sat unread in my inbox. (Probably the proper plural form is ‘email,’ not ‘emails,’ but even if it is proper, it sounds ridiculous to me and I won’t use it, today or ever.) In one of them, I read this from a fitness/nutrition coach named Aadam Ali: “Most people only love the idea of change. But they don’t really want to change and do what needs to be done to become the person they want. I can give you all the tools you need to succeed and offer advice. But all the guidance in the world means nothing if you aren’t willing to commit and do the work that needs to be done.”

In another one, this time on motivation from Mark Manson, “When I’m feeling unmotivated or just outright lazy, I use what I like to call “The ‘Do Something’ Principle.” It’s based on the observation that action is not just the effect of motivation, it’s also the cause of it. That is, not only do we take action when we feel motivated to do so, but taking action creates motivation to take even more action. And so if we can just manage to do something—anything really—this almost always sets off a chain reaction where action begets motivation which begets more action which begets more motivation… and so on.”

First, I agree wholeheartedly with both of these perspectives. And second, you’d think this fits nicely with the New Year and the train of thought in the talks I’ve given over the last few weeks (new bowls, possibility, etc). Right now, though, it makes me a little uncomfortable.

You see, there is a general restlessness communicated in these messages. It’s unstated and subtle (and at least in my case, unintentional), but the implication is that who we are right now isn’t good enough, that what we’re doing right now isn’t enough.

Maybe we do need to change, maybe we do need to do ‘something,’ but the question is why. What drives us to desire this change, this transformation? Is it from a positive platform, a yes that invites us to step into a new way of living? Or is does it stem from a negativity that whispers discontent and disappointment into our ears, an ultimate no?

It’s very different to say, “I am going to (eat healthy or read my Bible or meditate or exercise or organize my closet or whatever) because this is all a gift, because I am loved and worth this attention, because I want to become more of who I have been made to be,” instead of, “I’m going to (eat healthy or read my Bible or meditate…) because I’m pathetic, I’ve ruined it, I have to flee from this that I am now.”

I think that the reason so many resolutions or diets or new leaves fail is because they’re taken from that second space, and where we might start fast, the thread that convinces us we are not good enough remains the foundation and is only a matter of time until it whispers again, but this time that we are not good enough to continue on this new path because we ‘always quit,’ or we are unworthy or whatever our particular negative narrative is.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that contentment is not the same a complacency, and rest is not the same as laziness. Maybe our entire perspective has to shift. Instead of hating ourselves into a new reality that may look different but feels eerily similar to the old one, perhaps love is a much better motivator. Instead of running from, we might try moving to. The verse is loving our neighbor as ourselves (we often forget that second part, right?) And I’m just not sure our impatient dissatisfaction with this messy, sweet, broken, wonderful, deeply flawed yet even more deeply beautiful person we are right now is very loving at all.

The End Of The Year

This will be my last post of the year. Tomorrow is a half day at school and that means this house will be, more or less, full and I’d like to be totally present for every second of it.

If you’ll miss this space, and these posts and my thoughts on the new Spider-Man film, you can read what I wrote throughout the year on my other site, lovewithacapitall.com. And I did write a book 2 years ago about the Bible, the Bridge and me. The truth is, I talk and write a lot, so if you miss me for the next 2 weeks, there is a humongous pile of work you can find. Or you can call, text, or email anytime.

This last year was so full, right? Our hearts were stretched, damaged, broken & bruised, healed, always deeply moved. We were disappointed, discouraged, overwhelmingly sad AND fulfilled, elated, overwhelmingly joyful. Would you say it was a good year?

I get the giant honor of performing marriage ceremonies, and there was this one. Many in the immediate families weren’t coming because there was fractured relationships and misused religion. (Until 1, a dad, did.) And in the middle of these 2 lives with very scary, winding paths, obstacles, challenges, dark nights…And also in the middle of a field right next to the Susquehanna river at dusk on the most beautiful night of the year, we got married. Would you say that was a good day?

This other one. I happened to be there because of a not so happy pastoral decision – but one’s not so happy is my wonderful gift. There was a huge family and one largely absent, and next to a pond on another lovely day, we got married. During the ceremony, all of the guests gathered around us, holding hands and each other and prayed. How about that one?

And one other. This one had very few of us under a tent in the rain on the side of a mountain in Harrisburg. Again, winding paths, not even close to the way we dreamed when we were kids, obstacles, challenges, tears, but right there in the rain, we got married. Was that day good?

Ok, 1 more. This one was at the neighbor’s house with lots of questions and stress and second-guessing and fear over if they were or were not ready, whatever that means. Are any of us? There was also love and respect and potential and hope. High school sweethearts and me, there in the hot sun, we got married.

I’ve been asking if these weddings were good, because these weddings are pretty perfect metaphors for 2021. Which of us would’ve chosen last year, chosen illness, chosen loss, fear, (oh man, the fear, the FEAR), sadness, chosen broken relationships, busted marriages, chosen division, anger, hate, disrespect, chosen extra police presence in our schools, chosen isolation, loneliness, hopes dashed on rocks, chosen to hurt? Do I need to go on?

But you know what? What else about 2021? New hopes, new creation, new jobs, careers, relationships, marriages, amazing discoveries, fresh words, renewed commitments, communities, the Dallas Cowboys, Shang-Chi & Spider-Man, presence, rhythm, blessing, the gift of you & me here now, peace. I could go on here, too, right? We got to love each other.

Each of these weddings I mentioned (Jesse & Heidi, Brad & Becca, Sonia & Jeff, Mark & Muriah) happened in the same month and (where I only knew Mark & Muriah last year) they are now my friends. Can you imagine how awesome that is to say? We are friends. FRIENDS.

In front of God and all of us, they gave themselves to each other in the wild risk of loving another person. Their paths might not have been perfect, but those messed up paths brought them here, before God, to each other, to us. We can watch them navigate the choppy (sometimes calm, serene, sometimes dark, treacherous) waters of marriage with grace, forgiveness, celebration, and gratitude that we get to watch from up close while we walk alongside of them.

2021. Maybe things are judged as great in their depth and significance. Everything happened this year and we were here, feeling all of it, wide awake, with authenticity, honesty and the courage to continue to show up with faith, hope and love. And as we know Paul says, the greatest of these is love.

So, now. Was it a great year?

It was the greatest.

A Season Of With

I’ve been reading the book of Hebrews lately, and really loving every moment. There is a distinct possibility there is more in my Bible in my own handwriting than from the author of this letter, whoever that is. It doesn’t start like a letter, but it ends like one – there’s even a celebration that Timothy is now out of prison and greeting from the Christians in Italy.

Hebrews has everything anybody would ever want from a book in this vast beautiful library of books we call the Holy Bible; doctrine, instruction, history, even very personal touches. What I could do is pluck a verse from anywhere and talk about it for a few paragraphs here, but the one I am choosing is in chapter 10, verses 24 and 25, with Christmas on my mind.

This has been a long year of variants and political warfare, loss, disconnect, and division. Last year, we hoped the mood would pass with the year, full of hope that the new 2021 calendar would be new, fresh, peaceful. Now we know the only thing that changed was the calendar.

So now what? You know that is my favorite question, said with wide eyes and anticipation. I don’t throw my hands up and sigh, “now what?” I lean in and feel the energy crack and hum. The answer can and will set our course. The posture we take can and will decide our future. Do we think 2022 is, again, just a digit of difference, or is it a whole new world? Can it, can we, be transformed? Is January 1 just an extension of December 31, 2022 just 2021 part 2, 2020 part 3, or can it actually be the beginning of an original story?

Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Maybe instead of spending our time alone, thinking of ways to tear each other apart, we could give our time to coming together and brainstorming as many ideas as we can manage to encourage each other. And if we could fan the flames of culture and humanity with love & good works instead of paranoia & pain. Maybe our flags could have less demeaning slogans and more of, literally, anything else. And instead of standing on the sidewalks shouting at each other, we could take our conflicting views to the yellow line in the middle of the street and engage in actual conversations. (I did not say our opinions have to be in the center. We can hold opposing perspectives, but only with the acknowledgement that, though our ideas may be far apart, we are not.)

I can love you. I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit (the SAME Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave), learn to start to try to start to try to love my enemies. I can listen, reach out, feel, hope.

I have always thought that the only way this great divide could happen is to stop sitting next to each other, causing us to forget that it’s NOT us vs. them, that it IS just us. When we don’t sit next to each other, our 3rd, 4th, 5th, 100th dimensions fade away, leaving cardboard cutouts, caricatures drawn on the boardwalk.

And the only way it can end is when we “not neglect our meeting together.”

This season, a season of love and presence, a season of “with,” is one that is crying out for us to heal these wounds. To build bridges across these imaginary divides. To sit side by side in worship of this Savior who came to show us what it meant to be human and gave us the Church to live it out.