Monday, December 30, 2013

The Bus

I was naïve as I looked at the bus drive away.

Today I saw the same, but life has taken naivety away and given hope to be afraid.

We were the last kids dropped off. I’m still the kid filling voids, still wondering what’s the point.
No ink stain proclaims the life-stain- the blot  which spreads, oblivious to joy and pain.

I was a boy saying the f-word. I’ll work on my pronunciation my whole life. It will sound the same.

I will have an addressed mess inside. I will get tangled up. I will find myself where I started at the end.
I was a boy in the trees romanticizing manhood. I am a man in the trees romanticizing boyhood.

I threw sticks at sheds and rocks and machinery. I throw words at cars and rakes at walls.
The leaves still fall around me. The traffic curtails would-be thoughts. Portals to life gone like time. They must not be as important as they seem, neither is my mind.

I want you to stay in the garden while I hide behind the wall so I can know this loneliness is no mistake. Stay at the workbench and make my solitude more than an illusion while I run down the hill, over the creek and twist myself into a knot. Let me make a desperate dash for what can’t last. Of course I ran away, home would be gone tomorrow which would become today.
I wanted to yell at no one as the English language ricocheted violently inside me smashing what was left to devalue it, for it had all the worth I knew and was taken away.

I didn’t look up but I know the sun lit the branches as I drifted by, my bones leaving home, to be taken in by my pupils no more. We live nowhere. My name gone. Unknown I move into the unknown.
Who can hold what was missed against what was gained? What was lost would have had losses too, but I never knew them. What would have they been?

Bent-over in thought since the first time I walked up those steps. What was to come has. What will come will.
Who can condemn the numinous? Who can annul history?

Keep your recipe, your books, and your rules. Fall writes better notes than you and has no concern for bounds or guidelines. Her words mimicking the vibrant colors of death inside.
What I have is tainted, but is it?
All I know was broken, but I can’t be sure?

Brushing my teeth and helping Dad chop firewood were rigors, but I have painted them with nostalgia.
The varnish can’t be taken off. The real, the raw, the then is gone. I know the now will become then. What do I have but love that’s worth giving? What do I have but love that’s worth receiving? I need love, not like poet knows it- a lost hope. But, as fed by it's spring.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Conflict is Hollow

I like to watch squirrels. They fight a lot. Sometimes it looks like play, other times it looks vicious. They look stupid fighting against each other. It seems pointless, like they are only holding their own kind back. It causes tension in squirrel-dom. What good comes from it? Infighting has the same effect on humanity and the kingdom. It’s a type of cannibalism. Nothing good comes from it. Infighting was a big problem in the early church. We can tell from Paul's letters getting along is exceedingly important to God.

Our old selves are like squirrels: territorial, overanxious, selfish, greedy, envious, demeaning, harsh, quarrelsome and looking for conflict. Ironically, the old self prohibits us from life, liberty, wholeness and wisdom. We need a new self.

“Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” –Ephesians 4:2-3
Have the attitude of Jesus. (Philippians 2:4) Being humble and making allowances for each other’s faults are not things we do, but it’s who we are- our new selves.

In Ephesians, after Paul tell us how Jesus creates unity between the Creator and the created and Jews and Gentiles He tells the Ephesians, and us, to be united as well. After that Paul says, “Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise…Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” (5:15, 17) If we are not reconcilers and peacemakers we are wasteful, thoughtless and acting unwise.

Many times I wonder, “What was God thinking? Did God choose that person and those people to torture me?” It’s hard time to reconcile myself to the church and all her flaws. (I must think I’m better.)  But, I belong to a gang of fools God is hopelessly in love with.

My old self wants to nourish the conflict and dispute others within myself. My new self bears in love, gets along and is amazed at who God gathers. I want to leave that dusty, ghost town and come into a meadow where life flourishes. There is no substance to conflict. It is a seed of meaninglessness. We open it up and find nothing. But, love is full. We open it up and find everything.
I need Jesus’ resolve. I don’t mean a future ticket through the pearly gates. I need a new self today. I need contemporaneous eternal life, because I am harsh on my family.

Lord, because you are good rescue us from that old being. We are needy and our hearts are full of self- that comparing and contrasting and prideful self that knows enmity and division. Brush our old selves like a locust. We are helpless with self. God, we need what you do- make us new. Amen.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Why Worry about Nature?

Five years ago I scoffed as Jewish woman told me about her ecological footprint. I thought “Why don’t you focus on important things?” I made no correlation between spirituality and our relationship with nature. I was reading The Mortification of Sin by John Owen at the time. His thoughts on “behavior befitting for those separated” did not mention nature. Yet, our relation to the physical and biological world, including animals, trees, plants, energy, food and air is spiritual and related to moral behavior. Whether we realize it or not we have a relationship with each of those things.

Conservative Christians have generally neglected creation care, leaving it to liberals. Perhaps, our theology has been formed by our reaction against nature mysticism, liberalism and naturalism which have been deemed heretical. Ironically, there are always things to glean from “heresies."

I recently came across an essay by Richard L. Means called “Why Worry about Nature?” He quotes Albert Schweitzer: “The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with the relation of man to man."

I started recycling a while ago. I got lazy last week and instead of rinsing and peeling off the labels of recyclable glass and plastics  I threw them in the trash. It felt morally wrong. I did a disservice to humanity and creation. Our trash affects the poorest people in the world, though we are mostly sheltered from its effects.

Means mentions that Calvinists, “Envision God as absolutely transcendent, apart from the world, isolated from nature and organic life. The implications of this are a dichotomy between nature and spirit.” This is also called dualism. This leads to, ideologically and operationally, exploitation of nature since it is believed God removes spirit from nature. Yet, God made us from dirt and part of Jesus’ redeeming work includes physical, spatiotemporal restoration, therefore our present relationship with the physical creation.

A man said, “To a Christian a redwood tree can be no more than a physical fact. The whole concept of a sacred grove is alien to Christianity.” That says a lot without saying a lot.
Could these distorted religious and ethical beliefs be the historical roots which contribute to our ecologic crises? I think so. It also seems anti-matter propensities contribute to the devaluation of the arts, humanities, philanthropy and creativity.
Western thought has led us to conceive nature as a separate substance- a mere material and in a metaphysical sense, irrelevant to humans and our spirituality and relationship with Christ. That’s not a Romans 8 gospel, which has us longing for total redemption, not escapism. We don't fail to care for nature because Jesus is Lord. We care for nature because He is. He is Lord over more than our lives- He became man, lived, died and rose to do more than reconcile Himself to disembodied souls, but to set creation free from death and decay.

Means quotes Eric Hoffer who said the problem comes from us thinking: “The great accomplishment of man is to transcend nature, to separate one’s self from the demands of instinct. Thus, a fundamental characteristic of man is to be found in his capacity to free himself from the restrictions of the physical and biological.” That sounds more Buddhist and Gnostic than Christian; our ultimate hopes are bodily resurrection and new earth.

Means wrote, “Any assault on its natural state is an equal attack on man’s capacity to wonder, to contemplate his environment and nature’s work…We need to appreciate the more fully the religious and moral dimensions of the relation between nature and the human spirit.”

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Cancer at 29

He sat in my office consulting me. Consoling me.

All I had was what I saw. All I saw was others. My mind and world crowded with them and all their goods, health and property. They looked vivacious in my imagination. Harm oblivious to their whereabouts. Pain and void were things in books to them.

Privy to my cancer I wondered if I had been abandoned long ago and just become cognizant. Thinking the little light coming in at night was god.

I am a river splitting the territories of love and hate. One on either side of my shore and neither in the middle. Leave me where I am to run and freeze and saunter and rage.
“Good sufferers are the most valuable assets to the human race,” I had written one time. My cancer, however, was not the trail I wanted so I abandon that gush. Your well-wishing is sandpaper on my eyeball.  Your condolences are deflating. I only wish you had cancer, then you could speak.

Will you put me high on a bridge so I can look down on and be far from my friends who are my enemies? Will you make the straight crooked, so I can rejoice in their ruin? Can you send cancer into them?
My misfortune is too big to care about the size of yours. The difference between our portions I don’t care. Count me among the most bitter and immature. I don’t know yet how the hurt leaves or mutates.

Wouldn’t it be nice to enter the house of mourning where the heart is made glad? To be concealed, hidden in a sanctuary where I am out of reach from trouble? I can't say like the Psalmist "Then I entered the sanctuary of God and knew." My inner chambers where I stored my loot robbed.

I have no enemies, but I make them, so that doesn’t count. I am beloved hating those who pursue me with love. There are no spoils for such a fool. His hate is his food and love is not his language.
Our story tells the story, your story, I think. I don’t think you cause trouble, but my heart doesn’t agree with my head. I think you hope to console us in trouble, but I can’t reconcile my intellect and inner current.

I wish I was not. I never asked to be human. I didn’t give permission to anyone to put me inside a body that rejects me. No one explained I would have to eat, sleep, suffer, be controlled by gravity and necessity, need toilets and would struggle to accept the love I need most.
I am who I am and what has happened has happened. I wish I wasn’t and I wish it didn’t.

Dying is embarrassing. How do you do it with grace? You don’t look noble doing it or when it’s done.

Show me your cancer and I’ll show you my resolve. God, redeem the death in me.

PS- I don't have cancer...yet.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Thieves and Christian Whores

There are videos and slogans against consumerism and the commercialization of Christmas every season. We say, “The true meaning of Christmas gets lost in consumerism."

But, I find myself part of the problem. How can I despise consumerism if I wear a sweatshirt made by an 8 year old quasi slave in Bangladesh? How can I bash and advocate consumerism? It’s like an attorney bemoaning attorneys because they are all crooked. In the words of Jesus, our actions are far from our words.

Brennan Manning said, “Judgment depends on what we see, how deeply we look at the other, and how honestly we face ourselves.” It seems are not looking honestly at ourselves when we judge other's consumerism. We are so busy judging others we can't see our own participation.

When we complain that Christ has been taken out of Christmas we should consider how many times we’ve done that today, in the last week, during Advent, in July. Consumerism is not something "bad" people do around Christmas, but a propensity we all have each day. Consumerism is something we participate in in the inner workings of our soul, not at the Gap.  

Our own consumerism hides behind the status quo and relativism. We compare ourselves to people we consider more materialistic people than ourselves, i.e. the people who have nicer things. But, as a middle class American I am probably a prolific consumer year-round.

Let’s find ourselves in the man who hit an elderly lady in her head with her own purse. Let’s be found among the greedy and self-absorbed, lest we lie. Let’s admit we are hypocrites and we take Christ out of Christmas. Let's admit we need Jesus and that we put Him on the cross. Jesus is Lord of the penitent, not the self-righteous. Our self-righteousness is a loan-carrying façade, a well-dressed brand name tomb.

I pay thousands of dollars of interest to a greedy institution on my home loan instead of giving that money to the poor. I'm a poacher.  I’m robbing humanity. If we are not part of the solution we are part of the problem.
Admitting we are thieves and whores reveals the meaning of Christimas; that we need a Messiah.

We don’t put Christ in Christmas when we bash those who don’t, but when we do it ourselves.


Friday, December 20, 2013

A Tale of a Jealous Groom

Judy: (Married to Mike) I’m going to John’s tonight. We’re going to go to dinner and a movie then I’ll stay at his house and be back sometime tomorrow afternoon.

Mike: (Married to Judy) Sounds good. Have fun!

Can you imagine sharing your spouse? People do it I guess. But, there have to be a plethora of hurtful emotions that come with it, unless we are totally dulled to love and its sensitivities. There is a sense of healthy, jealous possessiveness that comes with marriage because of it's lifelong commitment and trust invested. This is picture of the marriage God has with His bride, the church.

In Isaiah 46:5, 9-10 God said: “To whom would you like me and make me equal and compare me, that we would be alike?...For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have been done.” 
He continues: “For my own sake, I will act; for how can my name be profaned? And my glory I will not give to another…I am He, I am the first, I am also the last. Surely my right hand founded the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens.” (Isaiah 48:11-13)

God is adamant we have one God; Him. Our spouse is (most likely) adamant we have one spouse; them. Why honor another person as our spouse when they are not? Why honor another god as our God when they are not?  
Jesus was adamant that the Jews (and everyone else) reorient their lives around Him, the chosen one, the deliverer and redeemer of Israel and the world. He refused to be an equal. He said He had authority of His own to forgive sin and He said His words were one and the same with Israel’s God and Lord. His teachings, for instance that He would destroy the temple and rebuild it, incensed the Jews so much they murdered Him.

In Isaiah, God refuses to be compared too. He is insistent the affections of His people not be given to false gods, because He is jealous. So jealous He puts Himself into our heart and takes fatal idols out. Through His own actions He reclaims the hearts of the wayward people He desperately loves. There is no one remotely like Him- He created the cosmos and lays down His life for us. Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s furious love we see in Isaiah. We see a desperate bridegroom in Jesus coming to claim His bride, the church. Apparently, this analogy of intimacy in marriage most accuratley describes the intimacy God has with His people.
God, doesn't like us to trade intimacies with other gods just like our spouse wouldn't like it if we were intimate with another person. It would be hard to have many spouses and it's hard to have many gods. It's easier to focus on one God and one wife.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jesus: A Mysterious Hybrid

I’ve been reading Isaiah. It’s different from the Psalms and gospels I gravitate towards. In the Psalms and gospels, God seems to me like a soothing room in our house. He calls us to supper, chews with us and listens to us. We are in awe because He is like us.

In Isaiah, God evokes not an awe of likeness, but an awe of other-than-ness.  When I read Isaiah it’s hard to think of the motherly, reclining Jesus simultaneously. In the gospels, Jesus puts His hands on our feet. In Isaiah, our lips are touched with hot coals. We become aware of His other-than-ness and our utter distance from Him. "Woe is me, I’m ruined." (Isaiah 6:5. See Job 38 and 39 too.)

Jesus had that exact effect on people. After Jesus' disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing at Jesus' word their nets were filled. Peter said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8) People were not only cured and impressed by Jesus' power, they were terrified. Some towns made Him leave right away because they feared His other-than-ness, his holiness.

It's important to note that Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing and, "God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. We haven't always known this, but now we do." (Brian Zahnd)

My point is it’s hard for us to simultaneously think of God as sovereign/other-than and personal/like us. This is part of the mystery of God. It’s not something to be solved and explained, it's something to enjoy and marvel at like the stars.

In Jesus, we have a mysterious hybrid- someone totally like us and someone totally different than us. He walks with us, He strings out constellations like Christmas lights. We pour Him wine, He lays the earth’s foundation. Jesus comes to us and kneels at our feet and draws in the dust when we are accused, He is the self-governing ruler of the cosmos. God is humble and sovereign. Jesus is all-powerful but sets aside His entitlements to suffer with us, for us and instead of us. This is beautiful and this is our pattern- to set aside our position to help others who can't help themselves.

We have the other-than God and personal God in One.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Diluting our Loneliness

I wonder if we think being lonely is unacceptable. In such busy times loneliness doesn’t seem justifiable. But, many of us are lonely and don’t even know it. We probably have a hard time admitting it to ourselves and others. If someone tells you they are lonely that's soul level. It's like coming out of the closet. It's not like telling someone you are mad. We attach shame to loneliness. We don’t call our alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, addictions, boredom, anger and anxiety loneliness, but maybe it is. It's more socially acceptable to be called a shopping addict than lonely.

There’s a problem with not admitting we are lonely…it’s a lie. Everyone is lonely. Your loneliness is 90 proof. Don't dilute it. Take a shot. Even Jay Z and Beyonce are lonely. They may be exceptionally lonely. It’s lonely at the top. A successful middle aged man told me he hates silence. Why? I wonder if it’s because God is in silence. I wonder if we hate loneliness for the same reason…because that’s where God is- in our loneliness.

One of my favorite songs of the 90s is “Lucky” from the American poet and philosopher Britney Spears. It says, “She’s so lucky, she’s a star, but she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking if there’s nothing missing in my life then why do these tears come at night.” Crazy. A famous pop star who millions clamor over has solidarity with a holed up elderly man who no one visits. To be human is to be lonely.

Ironically, activities and goings-on can be symptoms of loneliness. Eventful outward appearances can mask inward loneliness. We are experts at managing, avoiding and diluting our loneliness. I am. We can Instragram, work, drink, eat, use the internet, watch TV and movies, etc. But our loneliness is a lifeline to our lifeline.

Have you had a person be unsympathetic to you when you are lonely and hurt? It feels terrible. Have you had a person be sympathetic in your loneliness and hurt? It feels needed. God is gracious and compassionate to us in our loneliness. If He wasn’t He wouldn’t have come here to us. He wouldn’t have put His hands on us, looked at us, felt for us, healed us and hugged us. He sympathizes with us in our weaknesses and loneliness and He delights to. He sees us hiding wanting companionship we don't have.

The ruler of the universe who has been from the beginning and will be in the end became man and sits with us in our lonely room over a cup of coffee. He’s the greatest and He visits the least. Jesus lived, died and rose because God doesn’t want you to be lonely. He wants to be with us. (John 17)

“Though God was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) God became lonely so the lonely wouldn’t be lonely anymore. Here's a soul level song by Johnny Cash we might relate to:


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Amendment to My Story

Sitting on the couch the night after I posted “My Story: Lee Jeans, Bud Light and Nikes” I found myself rebutting what I wrote. I wondered if my story was too individualistic. Perhaps, my lone ranger syndrome was evident. I focused on personal revelation and left God's family out. I left out my parents, family and the people in the church I grew up in and all of God's peculiar people along the way which are like streams flowing into a body of water.

I wanted to emphasize the important of personal revelation and encounters, but probably deemphasized church, family and community in doing so. I wanted to emphasize that we are Christian because God has changed us inwardly, not because we belong outwardly. Growing up in Christian home, being baptized, knowing verses and creeds, are generally a "good" person," having Christian principles, going to a Christian church does not mean we are Christian. It doesn’t mean we’ve received revelation, rebirth and renewal from God. I can wear all the Husker gear I want but it doesn’t mean I’m on the team. I can be in the church (the building and congregation) and not be in the church (Christ's body, bride), and vise versa. However, outward annexation has a way of leading to inward annexation. When a town is annexed it takes on the name, identity and belonging of a different town/city in a real way.

“You are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit.” (Romans 2:28-29) We are right with God because of God-given, lasting faith in Jesus.

The confusing part for me is that I sense I was incorporated into Jesus and belonged to Him early on because Jesus took me in through my family and the church I grew up in. I belonged outwardly (by God’s grace) and this, mysteriously, influences inward, actually belonging. Yet God nabs many of us with little to no help from people.

I think of my wife’s story and mine. The churches we grew up in incorporated us into God's family as if we were one of them and we became part of the invisible church through the visible church. I think of my three nephews who have so much presence of Jesus in their life through their family, family friends and church. This outward annexation influences inward annexation. The community will not make the boys Christian, but, paradoxically, we might be the reason they are Christian.

So, the family of God is integral to the inclusion of its members. The visible church, if it consists of its invisible members, has the very real power and presence of Jesus and it gets in the bones of those who come out of it. I think this happened to me. I remember being about 5 years old talking to God, believing in God and playing Him in basketball probably because I was raised and guided to that truth, probably not because I had a personal revelation.

When God speaks to us and pulls back the curtain it's a testament to Him and it's cool for us, but we don’t need to hear words from God to be Christian. Hopefully you have encountered the numinous, the mystical and the deep. Hopefully you've felt peace, hope and love beyond the norm. Maybe you feel it, but can’t explain it. Instances of personal revelation are vital and so are human relations, which God interacts with us through.
Now I can sleep better.


Friday, December 13, 2013

My Story: Lee jeans, Bud Light and Nikes

In Nebraska in the 1990s Z. Cavaricci, Pepe, Guess and Lucky were among the acceptable brands of jeans to me. I despised Lee jeans. I thought the pockets of Lee jeans were shaped stupid and didn’t like their color of denim. If you had the right brands you had what mattered most to me.

I had a pair of Nikes in the 4th grade. They were not Nike “Airs.” This was the difference to me between a plane and a plane with wings. I thought having no Air under Nike reduced my value as a person. When my friend Brian wore the orange and grey Nike Air Max’s on a field trip to the zoo I was filled with jealousy. I thought I was cooler than him, but I didn’t have the shoes to back it up. I didn’t see an animal that day I was staring at his shoes.

Today, I look down on domestic beers like Bud Light with the same snobbishness I had for Lee jeans. (I just offended 2 of my 4 readers.) I enjoy beer from New Belgium brewery. My wife and I went to the brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado. The New Belgiumites are passionate artists fashioning distinctive beers. I’ve been to the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis and their “brewers” stand around in white suits indifferent to what is inside the giant industrial vats. God is like the New Belgium artists not the Anheuser-Busch industrialist.

Why am I telling you this?

In junior high, high school and college I believed if God were jeans He would be Lee. If Christianity was a beer it would have been Bud Light. If Christians were shoes they would have been plain Nikes. God and God stuff no appeal. God was not cool. He was a fun thief. I thought Christianity was boring, strict, not true to life or relevant. If God was a movie I thought He would more like Finding Nemo than The Shawshank Redemption. If God was a thinker I thought He’d be more like Pat Robertson than Albert Einstein.
I knew God by the culture’s caricature of Him often aided by His own loony people. No academia or hip-hop artist I liked extolled the Christian God. Christianity seemed intellectually naïve and judgmental. (The ironic thing is if we haven't met Jesus we can't even understand Christianity enough to critique it.) I judged the idea, “not by its merit but by the fashionable or unfashionable delivery of its message. Maybe these unfashionable ideas were pointing to something mystical and true…I thought God made a marketing mistake.” (Donald Miller)

Christians, it seemed, couldn’t partake in the things I desired the most and partook in the things I desired the least. Christianity seemed like it would have taken me out of the exciting world I lived in and for. I didn’t want to, or have the courage to be different. I thought being a Christian was a misfortune, like having cancer, and I was glad it hadn’t found me. (I still feel this way sometimes.)

I thought Christians were prohibited from going to a Snoop Dogg concert and rapping “What’s my Name?” and “Gin and Juice” in unison Snoop. They couldn’t get wasted, squeeze into a batman custom that would fit an 8 year-old and carry a case of beer in a backpack across campus trying to hide from campus police, arrive at the party to the tune of Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001 album.

The next morning in the college cafeteria I was aware of who was not at the party the night before. I sometimes wondered if they knew something I didn’t. Most times I thought, "A tamed life for God is the waste of a perfectly good life. You only live once so live it up. I concurred with Bob Seager, “We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow…Let’s make it last.”  I don’t think there’s an inherent problem with Snoop and Bob, the problem is that they were my guiding lights, my sages. I lived their mantras and they harmed me and still haunt me. “Sometimes the things we want most in life are the things that will kill us.” (Donald Miller)

When I was 23 I started wanting deeper things so I got a book from the library about Malcom X and also adopted some naturalism beliefs, maybe from quotes on posters I had seen. I liked poets. Buddhism was interesting to me. It seemed unrestrictive, yet spiritual. I wanted to be spiritual. I believed I was the captain of my soul and ascribed to the lingo that goes with it. An “independent thinker” I said. That means a detached brain on a stick in the middle of the woods in Canada.

Then came a couple strange encounters that were not self-instigated. Out of nowhere I heard the words “Follow me” while playing basketball over lunch at the YMCA. Later I heard the words “Do you trust me?” at Holmes Lake. The words were more seared than spoken. I knew who the words came from. I started having motions, thoughts and burnings in me that weren’t from me. This is why we say we can’t boast. We don’t conjure up belief in God- He appears to our understanding. We are inexplicable drawn to Him and can’t separate ourselves from Him.

This was organic, close, personal and real. In my other delving I was inquiring, but now there was another probing, pursuing and nudging. I invited a guest, but I wasn’t sure if this god was the one wanted. He intruded.

My self-energized attempts at understanding the world and seeking deep meaning seemed puny in light of these new profundities, which felt elemental to my existence unlike anything else I had come across. These new morsels were more profound than 10,000 quotes from wise philosophers or Snoop.

God didn’t tell me to give intellectual assent to doctrines, become a conservative Republican, concur with televangelists, stop enjoying beer and start listening to Christian radio. “Follow me,” is more important, more transformative, deeper, more real, more world changing, more costly and harder than a sociopolitical association or self-declared “conversion.” We follow a person, not a religion.

After these new movements things started to change slowly. My group of college friends dispersed. The pressure to live like they did wasn’t there anymore. I started a new job and met some great new friends. C.S. Lewis was tearing me apart and so was the Bible. I don’t know when I became a Christian but I know when I sensed I was. Donald Miller describes his journey, which is like mine:

“My life began to parallel Christian spirituality…It felt as though my soul were designed to live the story Christian spirituality was telling. Like my soul wanted forgiven. I wanted the resolution God was offering...

"The magical proposition of the gospel, once free from the clasps of fairy tale, was very adult to me, very gritty like something from Hemingway or Steinbeck, like something with copious amounts of sex and blood. Christian spirituality was not a children’s story. It wasn’t cute or neat. It was mystical and odd and clean, and it was reaching into the dirty. There was wonder in it and enchantment…I felt as though the world were a watch and God had lifted the lid so I could see the gears…It seemed I had been provided questions I had yet to ask."

*This is my current perception of my story. There were workings of God throughout my life not on my radar and some that are that are not as significant as I think they were.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Made to Matter

I had the privilege of writing my friend’s 90 year-old mother a birthday card for a card shower. I’ve never met her, but I let her know how much she has impacted me. She impacted my friend Barb and Barb has gone out like Mother Teresa and influenced many, who influence many.

Our impact comes by impacting people who impact people. There’s no way Barb’s mother could have directly impacted the thousands of people. We do not need to always be around people. Much of our impact is indirect. It’s a case of quality over quantity. At least as an introvert who sometimes gets anxiety with more than two people around I’d like to think so. (I wonder if prayer is the biggest mark we can make on the world.)

The power to change people’s days and lives is a gift the creator has endowed to the youngest, oldest and weakest of us. We were made to be like the one who made us. We were made to be an integral person in the story of humanity. You are a stitch in the tapestry that tells the greatest story ever told. Our endowed power can be used for good (Martin Luther King Jr.) or bad (Adolf Hitler.) We are mini versions of both. We are MLK Jr.’s when we, with God, reclaim space, time and matter, and we are Hitler’s when we misuse and abuse space, time and matter. Our space interlocks, intersects and overlaps with God’s space. This is why some say “We bring heaven to earth.”

If we help someone who helps people we help more people than we can imagine. I train a man who has a great business mind. As a business owner he impacts hundreds of people. I can’t impact people the way he does, but I can impact him which impacts them. Likewise, spending time with youth in any way, shape or form changes the future landscape of humanity, for good or bad. We are not inconsequential. We were made to matter. Relationships are where we make a difference and sense our impact. We can do this knitting, making cards, inventing or firefighting. Is there even a task not relationship oriented in some way?
Impacting people positively has a great deal to do with who and what we believe humans are. It has to do with how much we value them and important we believe they are.

Everyone is very fragile on the inside. We are impressionable even as adults. It’s easy to believe I’m important when someone treats me that way. It’s easy to believe I’m unimportant when someone treats me that way. It’s easy to see myself as God sees me when someone manifests His love to me and hard when no one does. If we are around someone who treats us like we are great we might begin to believe it. In a way we are God’s presence on earth to others.
Why do you believe you matter? If I wasn't made by God, for God and others why do I matter? If I’m not a freely loved child of God who already possess everything I wonder why I matter. If we're not living for the one who died and was raised on our behalf who has a plan for us I wonder who and what we're living for. What rationale besides those do we have that says people matter?  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Solo Sojourn to RMNP Days 2 and 3

August 15, 2013: I woke at about 5:30am in a campground in Grand Lake, Colorado. I slept in our Ford Escape, which was icy. But, a friend's Marmot sleeping bag kept me warm.

The coffee shop I retired to the evening before, after the grueling Fifth Lake hike, was my morning destination. I hung out inside for a while then called Asha. I leaned against the brick wall outside sharing my soul findings from the day before.
Next I headed up Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I stopped at the Kawuneeche Ranger Station to register for a backcountry site to tent that night. I wanted to stay in the Wild Basin area. That would put me right on the trail for my long hike the next morning. The ranger calmed by fears about being attacked by a mountain lion or killed by a bear. He said he's been hiking in the park for 30 years and only seen one bear. He said I should count it a privilege if I saw one. Ok. He said he's never seen a mountain lion, but that they had seen him. Nice. He said to gouge their eyes out if one attacked. Easy enough.
However, he did say there was a bear in the Wild Basin area that “was not acting like a bear should.” He was breaking into cars and thinking he was invited to dine with the tenters. I opted to register for a site at Moore Park near Longs Peak. I would need to stop in Estes Park to rent a bear canister on the way there.

I drove over Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuous paved road in the United States at 12,183 feet. I stopped at Desert Rocks (pictured on right) and said hi to a fat marmot and took some pictures. It was windy and cold. Descedning Trail Ridge Road I noticed the view of the valley looking toward Old Fall River Road. (Picture 1)

I stopped at Little Horseshoe Park nearby. A ranger said Big Horn Sheep often visit Sheep Lakes in there because they eat the green stuff on the lake. I didn’t see any but he had a set of horns to show visitors. I was amazed how heavy they were- about 25 pounds.
The northwest part of the park is beautiful and less visited. Lawn Lake, Crystal Lakes, Chiquita Lake, Spectacle Lakes, Ypsilon Lake (none of which I saw) would be worth the effort.
I rented a bear container from a sporting shop in Estes Park and got supper at Subway. I hiked two miles into the tent site from the Longs Peak trailhead. My bag weighed about 50 pounds. An experienced backpacker can probably live a couple weeks on 20 pounds.

Two of the sites at Moore Park were reserved. I based my decision on that. I wanted company. They didn’t show up.

I set up and moved small logs on each side of my tent. 4 inch walls. Bears could scale them I knew, but it helped my psyche. There was a clearing a couple hundred yards from my tent site so I sat there and read and watched the setting up light up one massive side of Long’s Peak, Twin Sisters and Estes Cone. It got cold quick so I headed for the tent.
Day 3
I woke up about 5am. Looking for my bear canister 70 paces from my tent in the dark proved difficult, especially since I hid it in what looked like a bear den. I didn't notice that the night before. I found it and then hiked out two miles. Wild Basin Trailhead was about a 30 minute drive.
Wild Basin's woods are dense and green. It feels more like Oregon than the rest of the park.

It was about 7 miles to Lion Lake #1. (Pictured on bottom.) When I arrived it was about 70 degrees, clear sky and no wind. I only saw one other person. The meadow leading to the lakes is beautiful. The clearing where Lion Lake #1, Lion Lake #2 (pictured above with Chief's Head Peak), Trio Falls and Snowbank Lake are situated is massive. Hundreds of acres of alpine glory. The sheer face of Mount Alice (below), which looks like a giant arrowhead sticking out of the ground rises high above Snowbank Lake.

I explored for about 3 hours. Imagine a 5 year old getting a giant playground for Christmas. In my opinion there is nothing more beautiful than lush secluded lakes at 11,000 feet.

I hiked out to “Anchor” by Beautiful Eulogy, “Lofty” by Propaganda, “Yellow” by Coldplay and “Bitter” by Andy Mineo bathing in God. I returned the bear canister in Estes Park and headed back to Nebraska.




Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Fake Sweepstakes?

I don’t know about you, but my selfishness and pride are turned up loud like a broken knob on an old TV. The volume won’t turn down. I often feel dominated by my sin. I feel like I'm a 3rd grade basketball team going against the Miami Heat. I wonder if the person manning me is asleep at the wheel. He keeps taking wrong turns. Does God forget to cut the cancerous tumor out of me out when he is performing surgery? The fiend within needs valium.

My Dad used to get official looking documents in the mail saying he won $5 million. It was a hoax. It sometimes feels like freedom in Christ is like “winning” a fake sweepstakes. The plunder is elusive. I grow weary in walking and trying to do good because I never arrive at a new level- I’m never done with the old crap. The doldrums are always on tap. They are easy and cheap. Virtue and goodness are hard and expensive. Someone put it, “We’re going to suffer no matter which path we take- the pain of change or the pain of staying the same."

A battle lies in the Good News: “Jesus gave his life to free us from every kind of sin…” (Titus 2:14) not just the final acquittal verdict. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) If we are God’s children the renovation that will be complete began in the past.

Yet, the old is present. We’ve grown accustomed to it like putting on deodorant. Sinning is part of being human like going to the bathroom and sleeping, but it’s not part of being a new human made to be like Christ.
Telling us we don’t need to sin is like telling us we don’t need to eat. It’s our meal. It’s a close friend we don’t want to part with. It’s an old, comfortable place we go to rest.  It’s our chair where we sit. I know how to live sinning, but I don’t know how to when I’m not. Taking sin from the human is like taking the basketball from Michael Jordan. He doesn’t know what to do. He was proficient at basketball, but for him to try to hit a baseball is like the human, who is proficient at sinning, learning not to do harmful things.

Sin: I mean “The diminishment of relational love with God, self, others and the world,” (Scot McKnight) not conforming to behavior that is God’s standard, distortion of good, not doing what we should do, seeking to be both more than we are and less then we are.

Paul said, “You are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” (Romans 8:9) Really? I wish I felt controlled by the Spirit all the time. Apparently, the Spirit is in control of us even when we don’t feel like He is. Feelings are good liars.

No matter how much dominion we give sin in our lives, if we belong to God, sin is not our boss. This is good for us to believe. Satan would have us believe otherwise. Sin was fired when the new boss came on. I don’t have to obey sin because it’s under me. A CEO does not take orders from the custodian. Sin is a custodian. God puts us high in His company. Sin, our former President, lost his bid for a second term.

We don’t have to sin. Could it be? I’m baffled. I’ve had glimpses of the glorious freedom, but sin still seems like my boss- like I have no choice but to obey it. But, I don’t have to.
“So Christ has truly set us free.” (Galatians 5:1) I wonder how well I know that and live it. Not much. It’s life changing. He’s Abba and our license says Freedom…and He is working in us to achieve this liberty. (Galatians 3:3)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Undermining My Righteousness

Have you ever had someone outdo you at something you are good at and known for?

Imagine you were the best student in your class starting in 1stgrade until someone smarter moves to town and joins your class your junior year. Imagine being the only doctor in a small town and being well liked then another doctor who is more likeable starts a practice across the street. Imagine you have the smallest ecological footprint of anyone you know then you meet someone who has a smaller one. Imagine you park the farthest away from the door and take pride in that and then someone parks even farther away.

My wife and I like to watch The Andy Griffith Show. In one episode Mrs. Johnson, who won best pickle at the county fair 11 years in a row was in danger of having her streak broken by Aunt Bee. Andy and Barney threw out Aunt Bee’s terrible homemade pickles (see their reaction below) so they wouldn't have to eat them and put store bought ones in the jars. Aunt Bee realized how good these pickles were and decided to enter them in the county fair.

Meanwhile Andy learned how important the contest was the Mrs. Johnson. She told him, “When I get sad I just get this blue ribbon scrapbook out and it makes me feel better. It means so much to me.” Barney and Andy ended up getting Aunt Bee to make more of her terrible homemade pickles so she wouldn’t win the blue ribbon. Mrs. Johnson won.

“Best rapper” is a sought after title. It seems like multiple rappers simultaneously hold the title. A rapper gets dubbed “the greatest” then comes someone who people say is better. Usually, they diss each other and a lyric war ensues. Eventually they end up dead or doing a song together. Their righteousness/title/perceived value is their threatened when another “best rapper” crops up.

Confession: I have good guy syndrome. Fact: It’s a terminal condition.

I recently realized how much I have come to trust in and lean on my reputation as a nice, good, caring, clean cut, stand up guy. For a long time now people have perceived me that way because of my demeanor. I didn’t choose my quiet demeanor that appears kind. Often I am raging inside with enough anger for an army, but to others I appear like a calm trustworthy gentleman, a fine chap.

A new gentleman started in a similar role as me at work. He has a demeanor like mine, but he might actually be more sincere. Has he stripped me of my title of “kind, caring, nice guy?” He has gotten attention, compliments and recognition I sometimes get. At first I wondered why I was peeved. Then I realized I felt like my righteousness was being undermined. I have to laugh and confess. Good guy syndrome is a disease and pride, greed, envy and strife are at its roots. We can do good things because we are bad.

Coming to know God initially and then deeper is about relinquishing our perceived righteousness- our blue ribbon for pickles, best rapper title and good guy front. Those talents are from God and for God and others anyway. We didn’t fashion our bodies and assign our self certain talents. We get confused and think we've done great things so we come to lean on our accomplishments, or be crushed by a lack of them. But, God makes us good through faith in Jesus, not works, or lack of them, so one no can boast.

Mrs. Johnson, Lil Wayne (self-proclaimed best rapper) and myself need to lose our identity and value to gain identity and value. We have value because God made us, loves us and gave Himself up for us not and no blue ribbon compares to that.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What do you need?

I was delighted to go for a walk Sunday, a day I took really slow. I felt like I was taking a bath in a war zone. Going slow in middle of busyness feels like you are breaking an unwritten rule.

For my walk I had this “exercise” in mind: “Not worry about anything, instead pray about everything and tell God what I need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6) When we do that Paul says we “experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.”(Philippians 4:7) I was begging for that peace. I realized this was going to take some concentration and intentionality. Instead of taking Instragram pictures and checking my email every five minutes I was going to not worry, pray, tell God what I need and thank Him.

I thought the list of things I needed would take most of the long walk. I thought it would be fun to have the singular objective of telling God what I need.

I began: I need you to have my co-worker take a different job. I need something new and different to break the routine- we need to go to Europe for two months. I need people to not expect so much from me. I need less people to know me. I need less noise. I need people to stop being so stupid, myself included. I need at least a couple people to understand me. I need more people to read this blog. I need a house my wife and I would like to come up on the market. I need you to resuscitate my music career- maybe be cool and famous. I need you to save me from mediocrity and kingdom grunt work, because I'm better than that. I need my family to be easier to get along with. I need a church I don’t hate. I need "Christians" to not be so frustrating.
I realized those aren’t things I need. When I asked myself what I really needed I was surprised how hard-pressed I was to come up with anything. There is literally nothing I need except these two things:

1) I need God to carry me.
2) I need God to change me. (In micro and macro ways.)

There are a lot of things I want and don’t have. However, one thing I have, God, should leave me not wanting anything else. I’m ecstatic that what I have and what I need are the same exact thing. The secret to contentment is not in having more, but in having little. We grow restless and dissatisfied in our reaching for what we have only in God. We get faithless and stressed in our pursuit to acquire what can only be found in God.
I went on my walk with the attitude of Israel in the desert, “demanding foods I craved.” (Psalm 78:18) I focused on what I wanted, not what I needed. With Israel it came down to either A) Living in the crippling world of want or B) Being content with what, rather who, they already had. Same with us. Israel grew faithless because they weren’t grateful for who God was and what He gave them and so do we. Gratitude and closeness with God are the cure-all antedate.

Go for a walk, with the one who walks with you, and tell God what you need and you might be surprised what you come up with, or rather what you don’t come up with.


Monday, December 2, 2013

12 Years a Slave: A Robust Disease, A Robust Cure

Solomon Northup hung from a tree in the middle of a beautiful day on a lovely plantation while children played nearby. You could hear the children laughing, the chorus of insects and birds and Solomon gasping for air for about 5 minutes. It was almost torture to watch. The rope just long enough for him to dance on his toes so his entire bodyweight wouldn’t hang. (This is a relatively mild scene compared to others.)

Though I recoiled and had my eyes closed through a lot of 12 Years a Slave I wonder if gut wrenching reality is healthy on a cellular level like Brussels sprouts. After all, God reaches into gruesome reality, not Candy Land.

The reason 12 Years a Slave is refreshing is the same reason it is disturbing. It's not airbrushed or packaged with a nice bow like a Disney, Hallmark movie or "Christian" movie. The human condition is shown for what it is: disastrous, greedy, terminal and unjust. 12 Years a Slave accurately portrays the ailments of humanity Jesus came to remedy. It shows the fullness of sin, not only personal guilt, but humanity's relational diminishment with God, people, ourselves and the world.

John Wesley said, "Know your disease. Know your cure." A robust disease requires a robust cure. Jesus did not come so we could go to heaven when we die, but to eliminate the pervasive evil "that is eating out the insides of those He loves." (Becky Pippert) If we don't confront the ugliness of humanity, beginning with our own heart, we will not seek it's cure or ascertain one and remain subjects of the tyranny of death. 12 Years a Slave shows the ugliness of our universal disease up close.

We are used to having things sugar-coated, not true to life. Yet, the book that is God’s story is R rated. He spares no ugliness. Everyone’s life if it were turned into a movie would be rated R. God doesn’t rescue PG people because there are none. God accepts our rated R story not the fake PG one. (I’m not saying to go watch every R rated movie. It seems about 99% of them are litter, not edifying or true to life.)

Solomon Northup was a successful, educated, free, wealthy African-American family man who was snatched off the streets of Washington, D.C. in 1841. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery and taken south.

Although the cast and acting in 12 Years a Slave is superb, it's not a movie you “like,” or “enjoy." One critic called the movie “a nightmare in broad daylight.” There was something profoundly unnerving and wrong about it just like there is something profoundly unnerving and wrong about Jesus’ story too.

Jesus’ story somehow becomes comfortable, nice and neat, sanitized, suitable, spiritual, theoretically and applicable. But, it’s bloody, too close for comfort and tangible. It’s so “extremely loud and incredibly close” we have to look away. No one ever had to look away from a theoretical thing- a theoretical God that doesn’t actually exist. Flesh and blood reality and story makes us shudder and evokes a visceral response. A god from a textbook or a made up one doesn't affect us. A theoretical, sugar-coated Savior does us no good. A Savior with smelly hair, a side profile and skinny bloody legs does. I wonder if God often seems hypothetical to me, so I’m not as affected and moved as I should be.

In the first fifteen minutes of 12 Years a Slave Solomon Northup was kidnapped, shackled and whipped mercilessly like Jesus was. I couldn’t watch. We should be intensely affected by Jesus and His story in the same way we are affected by Solomon Northup and his story.

Don’t think of smiling Jesus with a dove flying out of His hand, think of God who “took on our condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.” (Romans 8:3, The Message) Crown Him.