Thursday, July 25, 2019

Spoils of Toil



As far as collusion with pathological thinking goes
We have to not collude to not collude

Not colluding takes effort, or willingness, which is not to be confused with effort

It’d be nice if not colluding with untruths required nothing, but came naturally
But it doesn’t

If we didn’t have to not collude to not collude then we would be perfectly free
But we are not perfectly free,
Because we are not without tension and adversity, or without requirements in order to surpass pathological thinking-
We are not above needing to rise

We dare to recognize and challenge our skewed script- 
We think about our thoughts like they belonged to another- 
to have space between us and them 
Because it’s not wise to believe everything we think and feel

Without this mental adversity, without being among the species who must overcome, we might be worse off-
Like an angel-
Who, since they can’t collude, don’t know the spoils of toil

An angel can’t sit in a concrete stairwell and look up for God and see ceiling tiles like us
Maybe they are to be pitied, not us-

Maybe not-
Maybe angels pity us, who look for God but see ceiling tiles 
Maybe angels pity us, who know the grief redemption demands

Or perhaps, both the lucky and the unlucky are lucky
Angels can’t soar in the a.m. after being cooped up in a dark night of the mind And humans can’t look up in the stairwell and see God

*Painting is "The Big Dory" by George Bellows. 





Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Crushed or Hoisted



“I don’t need opinions, no, I did this for myself.” –from I Ain’t Done by Andy Mineo (pictured)

Around 2004 the first few times I gave people a CD of the music I recorded it felt like everything hinged on their opinion. If I played my music for them when I was with them, I studied their facial expressions and imagined their thoughts. If I gave them a CD, I nervously waited for their opinion and imagined what they thought. I was crushed if they didn’t say, “Wow. You are great” and I was hoisted if they said, “Wow. You are great."  

Maybe all of us ponder and presuppose people’s opinion of us. But not all of us care that much. (Blessed are those.) Some of us are so effected by what we think people’s opinion of us it effects our mood and behavior. It effects what we do and don’t do, what we share and don’t share.

While people’s opinion of us is not unimportant, since our reputation is usually tied to how kind, moral and ethical we are, the opinions of others shouldn’t crush or hoist us.

I love Andy Mineo’s honesty. Since he openly battles the temptation of being crushed or hoisted by other’s opinions, the lyric above, for him, is celebratory. For him, recording music that he likes to record, is a hard-won freedom. His freedom comes from not being obsessed with how his music will be received and what people will think of it. We can have that freedom too. 




Monday, July 22, 2019

Like the Thunder




My head agrees that God’s love has no limits. But in reality I believe there are many stopping points to God’s love. My God and His love are manageable and understandable. My God has limits.

It was hot and dry in Lincoln for several days. There were cracks in the dirt and the grass hadn’t grown much in ten days. But on Sunday morning it was pouring when we woke up. I went to the garage and sat in a chair and watched the rain and lightning and listened to the thunder.

One thunder sounded different. It sounded like it was in a tunnel, like it was bound. It sounded restrained and limited. But all the other thunder sounded unlimited, it cracked and rolled and touched everything. The thunder that sounded like it was in a tunnel is like my God.

It’s uncomfortable to have a God who is unmanageable and unlimited. I mean, how do we control Him that way? If no place is safe from God- no place in our lives and in our towns- that means God is out of our control.

This unbound God will invariably ask us to go where we think He is not. He will already be somewhere, in our heart or town, and we will think, “Nope. That’s one of the stopping points.” But God says, “I’m unlimited and there are no stopping points."

Sound is “mechanical vibrations transmitted through an elastic medium, traveling in air at a speed of approximately 1087 feet per second at sea level.” (Dictionary.com)

Mechanical vibrations in thunder are not tame. Neither is God.

We might think the only way we will feel safe and certain is if God is controllable. But the only way we will feel safe and certain is if God is uncontrollable, like thunder that runs free.



Saturday, July 20, 2019

Give it back


Quit the stranglehold
Give the land back to itself
Don’t poison it
Let it breath
Let the land be what it would be
This will help us see

Help the land be a habitat for it’s natives
Help the land reclaim is dazzling heritage
Second guess the application of what isn't indigenous

Give the land back to itself
Let the land be what it would be
This will help us see



Friday, July 19, 2019

When's Payday?




It seems like we should get a paycheck for faithfulness like we do a job. At work, we get paid biweekly or monthly. The faithfulness paycheck should come on time too. At work, our amount of pay depends on our hours worked. The faithfulness paycheck should be that way too. But sometimes the faithfulness paycheck doesn’t come, or it’s tardy or puny. Asaph had beef with his faithfulness paycheck in Psalm 73, so it seems justifiable to lament our revenue.

But it’s also dumb and dangerous to insist on getting what we deserve for these reasons: 1) If God gave us nothing more ever God would have already given us more than we were owed. 2) God already gave us Himself and that is enough. 3) God already gives us a lot everyday we fail to acknowledge. 4) Our faithfulness to God is peanuts compared to His faithfulness to us. 5) Our faithfulness to God is what we should give while expecting nothing in return. 6) We aren't working for wages, but for freedom and joy. 

Even still, Asaph complained about his payday. So we will. We can say to God, “When is our payday? Did you forget about payroll? Like a farmer, we thought faithfulness was like a seed that yielded a crop. We thought that crop would give us sustenance and happiness. New challenges come up when we follow you and we expect something for taking them on. We are thinking cha-ching. In the form of clarity. Hear our prayers and pay attention to our daily deaths. Don’t forget how hard it was to be human. We aren’t asking for the $400 million jackpot, just $700 a week." 

*Painting is "Builders of Ships / The Rope" by George Bellows. 



Thursday, July 18, 2019

Orange



A nervous parent of a high school senior wanted to know about my experience at my college alma mater-
Which his son was considering attending

He wanted to know why I chose it
I couldn’t think of a reason other than I liked orange-
The school color

But I couldn’t say that
Because I would sound stupid and it would make him more nervous

Instead, I decided to comfort him

I said, “The advisors were first-class, the classes were intimate, the scrambled eggs were good, and they call it the Harvard of the Midwest you know?” (None of which were untrue)

He was visibly excited by my selling points

The next week his son decided to go to my alma mater, perhaps, because I like orange,

Or maybe because his son does



Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A Cult for the Kids




Our kids are starting to ask questions about our cult 
They asked why they put the people underwater
I told them that’s what we do in our cult because our leader told us to
They nodded
They asked why a prayer sounded like everyone saying the same thing
I told them that’s what our cult leader told us to do
They asked why the thick books 
I told them because that’s our story
They asked why the bloody man
I told them because we need that
They asked who our cult leader was and I told them
An itinerant radical

*Photograph from Freaktography. 




Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Joy and Pain that Matters




When we laugh with someone who speaks a different language.
When we don’t know the answer in class and people stare at us.
The first makes us feel connected.
The second makes us feel alone.

Those experiences are neurological and emotional events. They occur in our inmost being and are hidden deep in our fabric.

When those seemingly meaningful events happened, Earth didn’t slow. Trees didn’t stop growing. Hundreds of people sneezed. Millions were asleep. Millions were on crowded streets, oblivious to our personal experience, having deeply personal experiences of their own we knew nothing of. Nothing in the world was impacted by what we experienced, even though it seemed like something to us.

We should wonder, “Who’s right, me or everything else that says the events didn’t matter?" We should wonder if our cerebral and emotional events- our feelings of connection and loneliness- mean anything. We should ask, “Does my joy and pain matter?" Jesus says yes.




Thursday, July 11, 2019

Absence is Presence

When someone passes, their absence becomes their presence. We don’t notice if someone who never existed isn’t somewhere. But we do notice the absence of someone who has existed.

Perhaps, our absence is missed to the degree we were mentally and emotionally present while we were physically present. If we were checked out when we were physically present we were already absent.

This is a case 1) for existing, since no one remembers someone who never existed and, 2) being mentally and emotionally present.

But having our absence noticed only lasts for a couple generations at best. After that no one knows to miss us- it’s like we never existed. No generation can be responsible for missing those they don’t notice the absence of. But maybe each generation is responsible for noticing the presence of an absent person, so they aren’t forgotten.

*Painting by Wassily Kandinsky.  




Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Eyes like the sea




Someone I know went to Africa. She said a lion wandered toward their Jeep, stood beside it and stared at her. She said its eyes were like the sea. She was mesmerized. So was the lion. She moved her hand to touch its head, but drew her hand back when she remembered it was a lion.

A lion’s DNA tells it what it will be and that’s what it is. They have no choice. I love how clueless they are as to how marvelous they are. They don’t know what we see in them when we look at them. 

Humans are like that too. Our DNA tells us what we will be and that’s what we are. Like a lion, we are nearly clueless about our true deep beauty. We have little idea about what God sees in us when He looks at us.

A lion’s DNA produces a beautiful animal with a type of glory as singular as its DNA. So does a human. Like a lion, our traits are in our DNA. But we have super DNA. We were “born of God,” which refers to genetic composition. That's sons and daughters talk. God’s purposes, spirit and love are in our heredity. Just like a lion can’t alter its heredity, we can’t either. We can marginalize or neglect it, but not erase it.

When I look at an animal I often wonder if it knows who it is to us. 

I wonder if when God looks at us He wonders if we know who we are to Him. I wonder if God thinks our eyes are like the sea. 



Friday, July 5, 2019

Honey War


Thought I’d try fiction. This is inspired by The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss:

On June 27, 2019, Jud of Sequt, smeared honey on the steps of the Froy National Capitol. That was the most malevolent act that had ever been committed up to that point in history. That’s because all people had the desire and ability to consider others more important than themselves. Their propensity to be empathetic seemingly couldn’t be overridden.

Until Jud of Sequt, whose deviant act launched a new era.

President Williams of Froy met with her cabinet and they decided to form a group to defend their territory. The group named itself “The Armata.” The word was taken from a fiction novel by Salvador Marquez written in 1419. Marquez prophetically imagined a world where people hurt each other- where the desire and ability to love others wilted.

In the novel, conflict beget conflict. That seemed far-fetched for 600 years. But now it was reality. The establishment of The Armata was a retaliatory act, so the begetting began.

The Armata considered what to do. This was new and awkward, like shaving left-handed, since people were previously inherently kind. This original nature was apparent, because they struggled to be mean.

One member of The Armata thought a water balloon strike at the outdoor market would rival the honey act. Most thought that was too discourteous, especially if it was a cool day.

Someone else recommended deadheading the flowers at Hallat Park in the heart of Sequt Town, the nation’s capital. Removing the beauty, they thought, was too impolite.

Another suggested putting “really sticky stickers” on Essay Hub, a prized landmark in the oldest part of the city. Too inconsiderate, they thought.

On June 30th, The Armada reached a consensus on their plan of attack. They ordered several delicacies from Sequt Pastry bakery in Sequt Town and had them shipped over the sea to a nondescript address in Tifton, Froy.

These were high-shelf sweets. Desserts like doughnuts with saffron and rose water and Persian halva and Love Cake.

When the chosen man in The Armata, Milson, arrived in Sequt Town he was nervous. His body was quaking with deviousness. It felt wrong and it felt right.

He was going to smash the pastries, which were in his backpack, on the street in front of Sequt Pastry. And he did.

The baker was astonished when she saw Milson out the window. Like Jud’s honey smearing, this act countered what it meant to be a person. Something surfaced in the baker she didn’t know was there and she stormed Milson.

She pushed him. This was a new form of conflict, which The Armata named “hand-to-hand combat.” Where would this type of warfare lead? It quickly lead to kicking and punching. Where would it end?

The world exploded with news of these fresh evils. Then one evil led to another and another. The Honey War caused what became known as the Honey Divide. The divide lasted 18,000 years, so long the people couldn’t imagine their world otherwise.

18,000 years later, Sequt and Froy were gone. Their history was reality, but it seemed like a fable to many.

But in a fortunate turn of events, the trends reversed again. Ben, Jud’s ancestor, was the anti-Jud. Because of Ben’s lineage, he was as empowered as Jud was to change history. But in a different way.

Like Jud, Ben was singular. Except Ben was not given over to himself like everyone else. He didn’t veer from the bolt of fierce and easy love down his midline. And the clouds obeyed him.

The honey that Jud smeared on the steps was gone. But its spirit was woven into people’s DNA. Ben wondered, since if the present DNA was once inconceivable, why a new equally inconceivable DNA couldn’t be instituted. If Jud took what was good, honey, and made it bad, why couldn't Ben take what was bad and make it good?

Ben knew this couldn’t happen in a lab. Nothing synthetic could remedy a rift at the human nature level. Ben knew it had to be done in the heart- the immaterial portion of us.

Ben didn’t go back in time to undo what was done. Instead, Ben repeatedly went against the ways Jud established. He was hated for it, as all good revolutionaries are. When Ben was killed in the middle of his kindest, most enemy-centered act it rippled through the DNA of the masses. People’s propensity to harm others ceased as quickly as it began. 

The Honey Divide was over. Just as conflict beget conflict during Jud’s reign, peace beget peace during Ben’s.





Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Almost, but not even close




A friend said, “Congratulations! You’re almost done.” He was talking about us getting done with the planning process of building our house. I said, “That’s funny to congratulate us on being done when we haven’t started yet."

Our basement is not dug, our driveway is not in. The pasture where we are going to build looks like it did 200 years ago. But my wife and I, mainly my wife, have thousands of hours into the project.

We are almost done, but we haven’t started yet. How can that be?

That shows how key planning is. The planning, while not the brick and mortar, determines where the brick and mortar go. And planning where they go is everything but the physical structure.

Everything but the physical structure. It’s far from a perfect parallel, but right now the kingdom of God is like the state of our house project.

We can congratulate God on His kingdom right now. We can say, “You’re almost done.” But it’s funny to congratulate God on being done when, in a way, He hasn’t started yet.

While Jesus and the Holy Spirit inaugurated a new age, God promised a time when there would be no more tears. God promised a place where there would be no more suffering and death. God promised to resurrect us with new physical bodies. God promised a restored state and place.

While God (and us) have thousands of years into that project, we can see from watching the news we aren’t there yet.

While the foundation for the next age is being planned, and probably even being laid, it’s still not visible and tangible like it will be one day. While the kingdom of God is underway, it will one day be present in new, fuller and different way. Maybe our house will be too.




Monday, July 1, 2019

Several Favorites



My wife was assigned a mentor, Carolyn, when she went to seminary. In a humble and endearing way, she said “I’m one of God’s favorites.” It was cool Carolyn believed God especially liked her. She took being God’s beloved serious and personal. It made her joyful, because when she looked at herself she imagined God looking at her and liking who and what He saw.

We have to personalize God’s love for it to matter. If God’s love is a general or impersonal idea or fact, it might not make a difference to us or transform us.

If we believe God is love, but in our minds we don’t believe God’s love includes knowing and loving us, we don’t have intimacy, connection or experiential knowledge of God’s love.

We can under-personalize God’s love, which isn’t good. But we can over-personalize it too. God’s love, while personal, is general too. It pertains to the world and the church (and people we don’t like!)

If we over-personalize God’s love- if we think we’re God’s favorite- we might think we’re better than others. We might think God wants our team or nation to win. But God is not into favoritism. He favors a lot of people (even people we don’t like!) God has the same intensely personal love for the smelly person in the airport from Antwerp as you. Truth is, God has many beloveds.

That’s hard to understand, because we usually have one beloved. But God has many.

It’s good to personalize God’s love as long as we know God has several favorites, just like a child has several “favorite” colors. 

*Painting is "Irish Landscape" by Robert Henri.