Spirituality

Temple of the Deadlift

Every year I create a plan for the coming year. I know, I know, plans… But at the same time, like the Cheshire Cat sort-of asks, If you don’t know where you would like to go, how will you get there? And how will you know if you do? You get in your car and either left or right, north or south, who cares? What’s the difference? I have lived most of my life aimless and unfocused, chasing what was right in front of me, and it all seems pretty silly now.

Anyway. My plans are always to increase the number of people in my circle, to allow others to walk with me, help to carry burdens, that type of thing. The Bible says “iron sharpens iron,” and my life is often dull.

My very good friend asked me once: “Who is running with you? (Obviously, this is not literally running…I do not run. Although I should probably start, I will run in my first foot race this summer.) Who feels some of the weight you do? Who do you connect with?” My silence was deafening and I wrote those questions down on a piece of paper that I still keep next to me when I do any kind of work, and is in fact next to me now.

To be fair, I have a wonderful tribe surrounding me who would love to run with me, carry weight, connect. The obstacle is me, only me.

When the wheels shake and threaten to fall, when the walls press in around and on me, when the darkness comes (and it always does), I retreat into a self-imposed isolation. A prison cell where I hold the keys of my own liberation. I’ve struggled with so many crushing headaches and stomach issues that are surely to some extent caused by my actions, or rather, inaction.

This is odd and wildly hypocritical because every wedding I officiate includes the Bible verse, “it is not good for man to be alone.” Then I implore the couple to reach out, that they were never meant to do it themselves. If you’ve been to the Bridge more than once, I’m sure you’ve heard it, too. But what is easy to see in theory, in truth, and in others, is sometimes impossible to see in ourselves. And the chasm between what we know and what we actually believe and do can be wide indeed. When I say those thing, I’m right.

I could, though. That’s why it’s in every New Year plan. It really isn’t good for me to be alone. Yet it’s exactly what I have done. I check out, don’t return emails, texts or calls (who calls anymore??) and mourn that I am unbearably lonely.

There’s a GIGANTIC difference between “I just went through…” and “I am going through…” “I just went through” is most likely an exaggerated story of victory, of overcoming, of strength and independence. Of pride. I am very good at those stories. The ones that detail the bouts of depression and heartbreak and weakness, the ones that start with “help,” I am not.

I suppose this post is a story of both. Yes, it’s written from the perspective of hope, as I am beginning to learn what it means to reach out. I have started to crack this ridiculous shell of pseudo-protection and allow the presence of safe brothers and sisters, allow you to hold me up. And it feels amazing, like I am stepping through a threshold. But to begin, I had to acknowledge the fear I felt and reach out to 2, then 3, then another, and tell them I am hurting. And that “-ing” is the key.

Here’s a story of old me and what is hopefully new me: I never knew how to do deadlifts, so I didn’t ever do deadlifts. I lived in a deadlift-free universe. But 2 months ago, I decided that universe was not what it could be, not what it should be. That a deadlift-free universe was no place for me to live. SOOOOO…I walked right up and asked a guy named Rick at the gym to show me how. And now I see what I was missing. Deadlifts are just the absolute best. Why did I stand outside of the Temple of The Deadlift that was built for me, cold and shivering, for so long? Same reason I carried the chains of the church of me and the lie of independence for so long: My pride. My need to be good enough, to know everything, to be strong enough.

There’s another verse in 2nd Corinthians that says “But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

I’m not strong enough, I’ve spent 44+ years proving it. But now that I am deadlifting, everything is possible and I can’t even begin to imagine what that looks like.

Some News For You

I have a few stories to tell, then some news for you.

First, Jesus gave this “Great Commission” (in Matthew 28:18-20): “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Maybe today we need to know that He is “surely” with us always; interesting how comforting and safe a commission, a command is with this lovely Jesus. But it’s that word “go” that we’ll talk about now. I’ve heard it translated more accurately as “As you are going,” and that makes a difference. It’s not an addition, not something else, not a demand to try and find room to scribble something “spiritual” on an overflowing calendar. It is an invitation to transform what we are already doing, where we are already going. It is an invitation to acknowledge that this space and interaction is sacred, and treat it accordingly…as we are going.

2. In high school, the head football coach, Phil Kauffman, reached out to me (a soft, round, insecure, sad young man who was struggling to stay alive, blind to any gifts or talents I might possess). Mr Kauffman offered to open the weight room and show some important, compound movements and proper form. I was not a football player, he had no reason to do this. I wasn’t even a student of his any longer. He had absolutely no reason to do this.

And C. In November, my wife the Angel opened my eyes to a new weight room position at the local high school in the district where she works. I filled out the application and was given an interview. Honestly, the hours were pretty inconvenient, the pay was not exactly going to push me into the next tax bracket. As far as jobs go, it wasn’t ideal. And as long as we’re being honest, there wasn’t any sensible reason to do this.

So. I accepted that position, I’ll start in February (given that the Superintendent and School board approves me.) That’s the news, brothers and sisters.

There are certain times in your life where you are given the opportunity to discover if the faith you say you have is the same as the one you actually have, in real life. It’s easy to say any number of things, right? But every so often, you get to find out if you truly believe the words that fall out of your mouth, if they are theory or practice. This is a little bit like Christmas morning, unwrapping the paper, hoping for the best inside.

I believe we change the world “as we are going.” I believe Mr. Kauffman changed my life forever – through lifting weights, sure, but more importantly by showing me that I held some value that I couldn’t see, that I was worth his time simply for no earthly reason other than that I was. I believe the words and actions of beautiful people at certain times can create entire worlds that were impossible before. I believe that Jesus saved us, and saves us, and with every breath we get to respond to that overwhelming love.

A living faith with feet and hands that spots your bench press is far more valuable than a bloated paycheck and convenient hours.

Maybe I’ll have this position until the end of the school year, or until I’m 105. Maybe the board will say “No, thank you.” Maybe I can be Phil Kauffman to someone, too. I don’t have any control over any of those things. What I do have some control over is the bricks that I’m using to intentionally build my life, bricks that are held and stacked with tremendous gratitude.

Odds and Ends

There is not much here, today. As it turns out, I’m pretty sick and it’s possible I have been for quite some time. My doctor, the greatest doctor on earth, feels like the symptoms that have plagued me for several months might possibly be the same illness, sometimes more intense and sometimes less. Go figure.

This week, though, the looks of fear I saw as Angel and the boys helplessly watched me cough and cough finally convinced me and I made an appointment and now take a myriad of pills and inhalers (including a pill that’s so huge it must be for a giraffe.)

This morning, I wrote a lot on another site I have – it’s mostly for pop culture and whatever else that might not be Bridge material;) – It’s called lovewithacapitall.com and you might like it (or you might not.)

I’m going to use this as a space for some brief thoughts and ideas, considering we just had our manifesto and it’s fresh in my mind.

An addition to the manifesto this year was a section on our “strict commitment” to intolerance, and I felt like I should’ve given it a bit more space. That space was going to happen this week on a mid-week Facebook Live post. (We dipped our toes into this last year with a short mini-teaching from our trip to Canada.) This is something that has been marinating for some time, and would’ve happened Tuesday-ish…but I’m not exactly fit for something new. Maybe next week, keep your eyes open – when it happens, I’ll include it in the email.

I also want to encourage the interaction I mentioned last week. The Bridge began as a conversation, and moved into a more standard service-type structure. Obviously, I am not advocating screaming out mid-message (unless it is to express how much you like me or my sweater) or hi-jacking the time – like our friend who walked in and right down front – to pass out papers and opinions. What I do mean is through comments, notecards, email, photos (shared to a Bridge Google drive), prayer, studies, and on and on. There are so many ways. This is our community. As far as what I said before, if you want to scream out mid-message or pass out papers, there are ways to do that, too, that I would absolutely jump at the opportunity to provide to you. If you want to teach us how to cross-stitch or scrapbook or play the guitar…or you just wanted a time to play the guitar for everyone, the answer is usually Yes. We really like to say yes.

As a community that affirms the creative spark and unique gifting of the Spirit, we don’t do too many No’s.

So, what do you like to do? What’s important to you?

There’s always the chance you don’t know. First, breathe, say hello to you and spend a bit of time learning about you and who God made you to be. Trust me, you’re terrific. 2nd, in the very near future, we will be having a spiritual gift discussion that will include guidance towards discovering, or remembering, you and give you permission to dance.

The thing that makes the Bridge so great is… in fact, the things that make the Bridge at all are us. To paraphrase Thor:Ragnarok, “the Bridge isn’t a place, it’s a people.”

So, let’s kick off our shoes and dance a little.

The Art of Subtraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year End

I genuinely want to wish you all a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

I suspect this will be my last post for the year – everyone is home from work/school next week and I don’t think I’ll sit down to write until they go back. I have some thoughts today, with the end of the year in mind, and there’s the chance it could get lengthy. (Since it’s the end of the year, I also want to thank you from the deepest parts of my soul for reading any of the things I write – and extra special thanks if you’ve liked, commented on, or shared any of this. There are an awful lot of choices of the things that compete for our attention, it is always humbling, appreciated and never taken for granted that you might spend a minute or 2 here.)

In the Bible (2nd Samuel to be exact), King David sees a woman named Bathsheba, spends time with her, she gets pregnant, and he (indirectly) kills her husband, Uriah. Now, this is the same King David that is called “a man after God’s own heart,” and we could explore the implications of God’s forgiveness and grace and what it might mean for us forever. But not today. Today we’ll only talk about the mess David got himself into. Usually, when we make a mess like this, it’s an ‘accident,’ a ‘moment of weakness,’ a ‘slip,’ like falling into a hole. This is very nearly never the case. It’s a long series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road – a guy named Michael Fletcher called them “neuropathways” – somewhere we don’t think we’d like to go, but the long distance from “I’d NEVER do something like that” to the pregnant Bathsheba is shortened in increments until it’s no longer a giant chasm and instead becomes a very natural step. That story of David begins with “In the spring, when kings go off to war…” David didn’t, even though he was a king, even though he had always gone before. So many places to turn back and change the story. He could’ve gone to war. He could’ve seen her and averted his eyes, could’ve gone inside and watched Netflix documentaries, played his harp, had a nice meal, took a bath of his own, spent time with one of his 9 million concubines, anything. But he didn’t. He looked, kept looking, and the action that would have been so appalling earlier was right in front of him, leaving Bathsheba pregnant and Uriah dead. It’s never just 1 misstep, it’s 100 exit ramps along the way that we pass on the way to the big “Oops” that we pretend was an accident.

There is a flip side to this, one that is wholly positive and encouraging. This principle works in reverse, as well. We just as rarely become the people we want to become overnight, like we’re struck by lightning or possessed by an angel of light. It’s the result of a series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road, shortening the distance from “I could never be like that” to “maybe…” to “I am almost like that.”

We don’t change behaviors (quit drinking, lose 30 pounds, stop telling lies, make good friends, build a beautiful marriage, get in shape, whatever) overnight, we change them a moment at a time. We didn’t gain the 30 pounds overnight, why would we lose it by tomorrow? The small things we do today are the foundation to who we will be in 6 months or 10 years, and should be taken very seriously. So, what neuropathways are we forming?

Interestingly, there is a baffling pattern I am finding more and more (in myself, as well as around me). We begin to erect these structures intentionally, to become something new and awesome. And we are, in fact, becoming just that. We eat more vegetables, we follow a workout program at the gym, we regularly read our Bibles, and we feel great, like superheroes who are breaking generational curses and are capable of ANYTHING at all. The best versions of ourselves, growing every day in every way. Then, something happens that hurts, circumstances change, the wheels get wobbly, the tides rise and water gets choppy…and we stop! Why?!!? Why would we stop the things that make us strong and courageous, build confidence and self-esteem, make us the good kind of proud of ourselves???

I eat more vegetables and less processed ‘food’ made in factories, feel great, sleep better, buy new pants (while keeping the old, because you never know, right? 😉 have more energy than I had since high school…then she breaks up with me and I reach for the donuts, ice cream and soda, which makes me feel even more like garbage, so I eat some more candy and chips and on and on and on.

I go to church because I decide it’s important – for any number of reasons – and IT IS!! I make new friends, connect on a deeper level, grow in relationship with God, discovering that the Bible isn’t at all the hateful book of a crazy religious cult but is instead a gorgeous letter of Love, Grace and Peace, begin to fall in love with Jesus…then my wife and I fall into a pattern where we are fighting more and I stay out Saturday night and sleep in later and don’t really feel like going where I might have to talk to someone who would ask me how I am (THE HORROR!!) and really should do the yard work and catch up on the latest season of Fleabag and the fights continue and I avoid the phone calls from those new friends and feel more and more desperate and like we are spinning our wheels and maybe our problems can’t be fixed and and and.

I have been writing a new book and when I make time, schedule time to write a lot, it comes easy and I feel inspired and fresh and engaged with my life, but when there are more basketball games and appointments, it’s often the first thing to go. Why is that?

When we, in ordinary times with clear heads, make commitments and create practices to evolve and grow in ways we desire, maybe we should not abandon them the second the terrain gets shaky. Maybe that’s actually the best time to hold them a little tighter. Maybe that’s the reason we have them in the first place. Small decisions made over and over lead to BIG wonderful changes.

Now. The truth is that sometimes it’s hard to notice, and that can be discouraging and lead to this abandonment. What about that? Well…I have an idea about that.

Last night was the Christmas (or Holiday, whatever. Obviously I don’t mean to offend you when I say Christmas – if you are, maybe you could get a hobby or a book to read or something to think about – I don’t get offended if you wish me Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa blessings. In fact it’s the opposite, I totally welcome your open kindness to welcome me into the warmth and beauty of your traditions) concert for the high school chorus and band. (My boy Samuel is in the band.) I have seen these students since Kindergarten and see them a few times a year in spaces like last night. It’s the most amazing thing, they are no longer children and are becoming young men and women, with striking talents and distinct personalities. A girl named Grace Coleman, who I have sort of known for years, sang the solo and knocked everyone down and into pieces with her UNBELIEVABLE voice. When did that happen? Maybe she doesn’t even know the extent of her (what I now know is) boundless, overwhelming talent, and do you know why she might not? Because she sees her, hears her, every day.

We grow in small baby steps. I used the words “seemingly insignificant” earlier on purpose, because these kids make seemingly insignificant decisions to practice and commit to their dreams and interests, but they’re not insignificant at all. They are monumental. They stack upon each other, brick by brick, until they perform and we are all in awe that the 4th grade concert we suffered through produced this. Grace sings and sings and sings and this instrument of hers just becomes normal for her – but it’s not normal. It’s extraordinary.

So, my idea is to have a great big concert/talent show for all of us. Haha, that’s not true. My idea is to notice. I think we’re so busy, distracted, that we ignore ourselves and our development, however small we might think that development is.

My mom has decided to quit or cut down on her smoking. She now smokes a quarter of what she used to – Hallelujah! She might wave that away as small, but it’s not small. It’s extraordinary.

Your bench press went up 5 pounds and it’s just 5 pounds. Just 5 pounds??? There’s no such thing as ‘just’ when you’re on the journey to who you want to be, who you’ve been created to be. Instead of 7 reps, you did 8!!! Your weight went from 206.2 to 205.8!!! You read your Bible twice this week!!! You took your wife out for a lunch date!! You said “Thank you” this morning to the God that gave you this lovely day, this magnificent gift that is your life!!

Maybe our lives aren’t that magnificent? Maybe not now, but maybe they could be. Maybe it just takes a bit of attention/intention and the time to notice how blessed we have been and how far we’ve come

Start something, stop something, move. And notice the baby steps. We really don’t need concerts, we just need more present’s, more now’s, to pay attention to the new creation we are becoming.

I wish you all the love and peace.

C.

Basketball Season, v. 2: ELCO

We had a basketball game Tuesday evening. Well, we didn’t, my son did – I tried to play basketball in the fall and have very little business playing basketball. And they won again! They were down big early, and fought back to finally take the lead with a minute left in the game – it was an epic comeback (as epic as junior varsity gets, but everything is relative) in a hostile environment (well, ELCO) that exposed the heart and resilience of the boys.

There are just a two observations I’d like to make about this game…

Last year, the team Samuel was on was just terrible. They won 1 game and were mauled all the rest. And this house had near-daily conversations about character and how we get up after we are knocked down. When they got behind early, a comeback was impossible. Instead, as shoulders began to slump, finger pointing and pouting would bury them and early deficits would grow into embarrassing final scores. What changed? Who knows? What I do know is that, way too often we make decisions based on wild guesses stained by the past. Since last year went this way, this year will, too.

I remember an argument my sister and I had on the boardwalk at Ocean City. Neither of us had actually done anything, we were both operating out of our expectations of what the other would do, or think, or say. I totally ruined an evening because of who my sister was 10 years earlier. She was a different person, but the boundaries I forced onto her wouldn’t allow me to see it. (Unless she wasn’t, of course. Maybe she hadn’t changed, but we would never know as long as I was seeing her through these restrictive lenses.)

I say, “she’s always going to be like this,” or “that’s just who he is,” or the worst phrase ever uttered, “it is what it is,” much too often. (I understand it can be wise to appropriately discern and not allow toxic people to continue to be toxic all over us, but if we were all honest, it’s usually not wisdom, just despair and hopelessness.)

Sometimes, it isn’t what it is. It’s a new day. I heard a terrific quote: “A person never reads the same book twice.” We change, teams change. Just because it happened yesterday doesn’t mean it will happen today.

Everyone who was ever crucified died and stayed that way…until One didn’t.

**

For the varsity game, the ELCO gymnasium was loud and charged with energy. The students in the specially designated section under the basket were obnoxious and boisterous, jeering our boys and cheering for theirs in rehearsed chants.

You might think I would spend this time shaking my head in disappointment, like a dad would, talking about class and respect. Nope.

I LOVED IT! I laughed when a girl in the front row offered a longer-haired player her scrunchie, admired their black shirts and wished we all had red ones of our own.

(In college, one of my favorite memories was a doubleheader at Messiah college where I was ruthlessly mocked for long hair of my own. They called me ‘She’ and asked over and over when LVC started allowing girls on the baseball team. I smiled, shook my head, threatened to steal their girlfriends and had two of the best games and one of the best days of my life. When the games ended, an LVC sweep, I took my hat off and bowed to them, showing them every strand on my sweaty head of hair, and they laughed with me and applauded louder than they had all day.)

These ELCO kids loved their team, maybe loved their school, and at least for that hour, loved each other. Sports are fun, a fact we mostly forget, turning the heated competition into THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD. It’s not. These kids are just like our kids, just like us, having a great time, an exhilarating escape from a world that usually only takes from them, only giving anxiety over endless stressors.

No one raised a fist, or a gun, just their hands and voices. The words were harmless, not containing any true slurs or hateful spirits. We were a community of humanity, all of us, no matter what color shirts we were wearing. It was a tiny gym in Lebanon county, loud and hot and super fun, and it was perfect.

One Big Lump

I have no idea what I’m going to talk about on December 22nd or December 24th. Now, this is sort of a big problem because December 24th is Christmas Eve, our faith community extended will be at the church, everyone will look so sharp and happy, an overwhelming amount of hugs will be given, and when the first set of worship music ends, I’ll stand up, whether or not I discover what will come out of my mouth.

This is only mildly disturbing, rather than panic inducing, for a few reasons. One, because it’s December 6th and I have a little time. (It’s unusual to not have at least a tiny seed to tend, but there is time.) Two, because God is faithful and I have no doubt He will provide.

Three… Well, it’s Three I want to talk about this morning.

Yesterday morning (while I should’ve been working), I had breakfast (pumpkin pancakes and 4 slices of the best bacon ever) with a very good friend. We talked about things that matter a lot, things that matter a little and things that don’t matter at all. And, to make it even better, in addition to the gift of his time, He paid.

Last night (while I should’ve been working), the 4 people who live in my house crowded onto the sofa around Samuel’s school computer for hours. For some reason, his phone couldn’t/wouldn’t connect to the big tv or the computer which could’ve projected onto the big tv, forcing us to climb on and over each other to see the photos and hear the stories of his band trip to Disney World.

This morning (while I should’ve been working), I woke up too early and worked out, breathing deeply in gratitude for the physical gifts I have been given.

Later (while I should’ve been working), I spoke to 2 other very good friends on the telephone (answering the modern question of “who actually talks on the telephone anymore?” with a surprising, “I guess I do”) about the Dallas Cowboys heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears last night, community, workers compensation, spiritual warfare, and whole life transformation.

Tomorrow (while I should be working), I’ll be at a contemplative retreat at 9 and then drive to Hamburg for 2 basketball games at 11 and 12.

And right now I’m writing this to you instead of working, sweating, chopping wood trying to unearth the main thread for this Christmas message in 2-parts (that can, of course, stand alone.) And as you can surely guess, the questions begin, whispering “What will they think?” “What if it’s not good enough?” “What if you’re not prepared?” And moving to the accusations: “You have always been lazy,” “You’re not enough for these beautiful people,” “You’ll let them all down.” To finally, “What if He doesn’t give you anything this time?”

It’s this last one that exposes the charade. This last one is so clearly, obviously a lie, and leads me to question the rest. What will they think…not good enough…not prepared…lazy…not good enough… What’s interesting is that right now, I don’t care. They are either true (which some of them probably are) or they’re not (which some of them definitely are), but it is Christmas.

You see, Christmas is about a baby, a Savior, a man, God. It’s not about my work, my trying/earning/justifying, my being good enough. It’s about the Gift. It’s about all of the gifts – and there are many.

Like, for instance, 3 friends, bacon, cell phones, and my very favorite one: The holy accident that my boy’s phone wouldn’t connect and instead of sitting all over the room, we were smushed into one big lump of family and the kind of boundless love that makes everything so wonderful.

“What if He doesn’t give me anything???” Baby, He already has, more than I could have ever asked for or dreamed of, and if I miss that, then I’ve totally missed the point – of Christmas, of grace, of Jesus, of me, of you, of life – and it doesn’t matter what I say.

Basketball Season, v. 1

Last night, basketball season began with a scrimmage at Northeastern middle school in York county. I spent an awful lot of time in York when I was delivering medical equipment…and I really hated it. I have a colorful expression to describe the area that I wouldn’t use here, because we’re a family friendly space;)

The game was not awesome, the Northeastern boys whipped our Annville-Cleona middle schoolers without mercy or apology. They dominated every facet of the game and left us downcast and discouraged. Anyone who has every competed in anything (from monopoly to Fortnite to the Super Bowl) knows that you sometimes have to weather a vicious thrashing from time to time. It builds character, coaches say, and they’re usually right.

But where they were wrong is that the loss itself doesn’t build the character; sometimes the loss is just a loss and nothing more. Nothing is built. Instead, you use the loss to build the character.

My son Elisha is on the team and I don’t mind at all if he loses a game or 2 or all of them. In fact, I find myself getting excited to see what he’ll do now, how he’ll choose to react. Will he cower in fear for the next game? Will he become resigned to the notion that they will lose again and again? Or will he pick himself up and fight? Will be use this loss to “build character” and become something new, something strong, stable and unstoppable (win or lose)?

It’s also the thing I get excited for in my life and the lives of the people I know and love. How will we face and deal with that attack, setback, disaster, pain? Will we get up (and get up again and again and again) and with what kind of mindset?

Now, the truth is that team was much better than our team was, at least it was last night.

In basketball or life or faith, growth (what we could call “becoming all of what we were created to be”) doesn’t just happen. It we go half speed and give about half of what we have to give, we get eaten up and stand around wondering how in the world this happened. I’ll often say we need to “show up” to our lives, but what I mean is an awful lot more than simply riding a bus, putting on a uniform, and making it to the court. I mean show up, commit, risk, take a shot, work hard, give all we are and all we have to whatever it is we are doing.

Our boys knew they were beaten the day the schedule was released, and that’s exactly how it looked from the stands through the eyes of a man who knows next to nothing about the X’s and O’s of this beautiful game. I don’t know what plays were called in what type of offense, but I’ve done enough giving up to clearly recognize that.

So what if they lost last night? Or if they lose them all? These boys are hopefully becoming men and last night’s lesson on the basketball court will give them the bricks to build the sort of character we all need in our homes, lives, and society. Or not. It can also just be the first of many pointless losses. The team gets to decide.

There’s a cool book called Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk, that ends like this:

“Paige and I just look at each other, at who each other is for real. For the first time. We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.

In the trees, a mourning dove calls. It must be midnight.

And Denny says, “Hey, we could use some help here.”

Paige goes, and I go. The four of us dig with our hands under the edge of the rock. In the dark, the feeling is rough and cold and takes forever, and all of us together, we struggle to just put one rock on top of another.

It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos.

What it’s going to be, I don’t know.

Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

And maybe knowing isn’t the point.

Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.

-end-”

I can’t wait to see what they will build.

Cold & Broken

As you can surely tell, I don’t like the Mariah Carey song.

I don’t like pretense, or anything that smells of inauthenticity. Social media is a wonderful exchange of ideas and photos until it jumps the track into fictional representations of characters who only slightly resemble the flesh and blood human beings that you actually know and have listened to and walked alongside. Jesus called us “whitewashed tombs” when we participate in this sort of masquerade; clean and glistening on the outside and full of dead men’s bones inside.

But what if someone did have Mariah Carey feeling emotions? Is it fake, like I have assumed, if it sounds amazing? If it is produced and pretty, does that automatically make it another brick in a wall of manufactured image? If it is whitewashed, does that mean that it’s a tomb inside?

Mariah Carey has been gifted in ways most of us aren’t. Where do these gifts come from? Why do I immediately judge her “emotions” as inauthentic? Because she’s not screaming? What if her octaves come from the same place, deep in the seat of the soul?

I also make the same assumptions about Christians in church – if they are meticulously made up with a constant unwavering smile, impeccably dressed, are they faking something?

(And if they are, why is that always wrong? Do they have to advertise their brokenness to everyone? Can they not hold it together through the service – because they just need God right now – before melting in the arms of their trusted friends? Is there value in changing out of our ripped jeans and sweats to dress up in Sunday best, as if for a date, which maybe they are? What if the very act of preparation begins to change the struggle with inadequacy & insecurity, begins to transform the dishonor and subtle devaluation we all fight into a space of dignity, beauty and “Good enough?” Is it possible that washing the tomb can alter the story of the bones inside, perhaps giving them life?

At different points in my life, my heart, soul, psyche, and self-image have been severely damaged. And sometimes, the crack in the dark, dank shack of a hopeless existence that let the light in was a shower or a haircut or brushing my teeth. It may sound superficial (and maybe it is) but it allows the light to shine on a new perspective that the way it feels now just might not be forever, and there is certainly value in that, isn’t there?)

And besides, who am to decide what their motivations are? Who am I to judge if they are “faking” anything? They, and I, might be or we might not be, but it probably looks EXACTLY the same. What makes me an authority of authenticity? Isn’t this the height of arrogance?

SO.

Is all of this, 4 weeks of posts, to say we should each mind our business? Not exactly.

I want everyone – and I will fight with every breath for this to be – to be all of who they are, in every space and situation. I want us all to be “Hallelujah,” sometimes “cold and broken,” sometimes angelic, and sometimes both or neither, sometimes instrumental (because words just don’t work) or full of profound precise words, quiet or loud. The reason I want this is because most of what I perceive to be wrong with us, disconnecting us, burying us under such loneliness and inadequacy is held in our collective hypocrisy.

Either we are pretending to be someone/something else (because what we are is, for some reason, bad or wrong or less than) and this creates a duality that has been dis-integrating us, wearing us out and tearing us apart from the inside out.

Or we are measuring ourselves against another’s carefully crafted (and entirely fictional) public image, and this creates a self-loathing because our pasta or pet or husband isn’t as good as the ones we see on Instagram, because we can’t look as spotless and sound as spiritual as Joel Osteen.

Bullying, minimizing, walls, rudeness, disrespect, all of it comes from this posture of image-making and manicuring these made up images to cover up our fear.

This is what God speaks to when, in Hosea 6:6 says “I don’t want your sacrifices” – your idea of what is perfect, what you think is the right answer – “I want your love” – your heart, your honesty, I just want the gorgeously messy, beautiful you. Bring all of you to Me, to the world, and then, baby, we can start to heal all of these wounds.

In “Hallelujah,” and the Bible, we celebrate, joy, praise, laugh AND we weep, question, rage.

I’m not minding my business, even for a second, and why? Because we need all of you. The world needs you – I need you – (the real you) to step into all that you have been created to be. That’s how the world gets put back together; when we love us and each other enough to be honest & open, and when we love God enough to step into all that He created us to be, which is all we’ve been looking for all along.

On The Way

Then I met a girl and we fell in love. Then I met 2 families and we fell in love. Then I met Jesus and we fell in love, too, and my life was forever changed. So, I took some Bible classes, mostly because Rob Bell was tying books of the Bible to other books of the Bible to my life that made sense in a way that nothing else could, and I wanted to know how to begin to do that on my own. To borrow a trite expression, I wanted to learn how to fish.

Writing all of those papers, I was discovering something very surprising. The Bible wasn’t perfect, or produced, or pretty. It was beautiful, but in the kind of way that Rise Against is beautiful. 

In 2011, Rise Against released an album called Endgame that’s 2nd track was “Help Is On The Way.” This song was a scathing indictment of the response (or lack thereof) during hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. (To be fair, this song, and especially the video, affected me in such a visceral way because we were also the victims of a tropical storm and flooding that ended with my home underwater and all of our possessions gone and a sickening apathy on the part of organizations whose sole purpose is to respond and care for victims like us. I knew what it was to watch your child’s grade school artwork float away, knew the pity in a school secretary’s eyes when she asked if we were still “homeless,” knew what it was to walk barefoot into the Walmart to buy some shoes, knew what it was to face bankruptcy because the flood insurance didn’t cover total losses. But we are not really talking about the video. But as long as we are, you could listen to “One Blue Sky” by Sugarland, too.) The song, when he screams, “Right here, right now!!!” Then later, “We were told just to sit tight, ‘cause somebody will soon arrive, help is on the way…but it never caaaaaaaame!!!” That guttural wail is what it sounds like when your heart is torn out of your chest. Now, maybe Tim McIlrath doesn’t know what it feels like to wait without hope, feeling lost and forgotten, maybe he doesn’t care about people like me, but it sure sounds like he does. It sure sounds like he has something in his soul to say that absolutely must get out, even if no one will ever hear it. 

In the Bible, Habakkuk asks why bad people succeed and good people don’t. We study Jonah and whales as kids, but the book of Jonah is very much about a disobedient boy who runs rather than helps those he doesn’t like. Lamentations is a full book (excepting a few verses in the middle) of how mean God has been to us. One Psalm details a wish that the writer’s enemies will have their babies “dashed on the rocks.” And I could go on and on. These are real people in real places in real times with things to say that have to be said, screamed or cried.

The thing about these very honest questions, doubts, prayers, is that they are never met with judgment. Never does God (or the authors of the individual books) chastise or punish these people for the exchange. They are allowed to exist, just as they are. If you are one who, like me, believes the entire book is inspired by God, and the books collected are collected with God’s divine guidance (So, why would God want these things? If I was writing a book about me, I would probably leave out the parts that weren’t too complimentary. I would only include the parts testifying to how awesome I am), the God of the Bible seems very comfortable with these questions, with the conflict, with the wrestling. Sometimes, (almost all the times), the questions were never answered. Certainly not in the concrete way we’d prefer. 

As I fell more and more in love with the Bible, it was obvious that the Bible was far more Rise Against than it was Mariah Carey. 

The Bible was not what I had been sold, not even close. There was room for me, my questions, my rough edges, and my inadequacies. Right where I was, right where I am.

Now. This exhilarating fact led to an inevitable next uncomfortable question: If there was room for me, was there also room for pretty, perfect production, too?