Nothing Wasted

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A few days ago, struck by a sudden boldness, I picked up the guitar again. I’ve been thinking about learning a song for weeks, but taken no action. Finally, guitar in hand, I pulled up the tab and started picking at the strings. In far less time than I anticipated, the song began to come together. Now, after a few hours of practice I have already exceeded my expectations and am playing and singing. Not performance worthy as of yet, but campfire worthy? Yes.

The last few days have been a joy as everything came together. In part because it happened far faster than I ever believed it would. More so, I think, because I realized all the effort I’ve put into the guitar over the years has not been wasted.

It’s difficult at times to look back on my life in a world that promotes the mindset that we are what we do and find I am nowhere near where I hoped I would be. As I mentioned before, I’ve picked up and put down my stories and my songs off and on for years. Never abandoning them. Never fully embracing them. Also not seeing the fruit of labor won only in finishing the work.

But I realize I am seeing fruit. The work of years has not not been wasted. The talent and skill is accumulating, if slowly. That realization is a healing balm and an encouragement to press on.

May that also encourage you. Whatever it is you’re chasing. Keep going. It may take a little while to see, but all labor eventually bears fruit. Nothing is wasted.

Facing the Monster under the Bed

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been delving deeper into the Enneagram and what it means to be a 7. The process has been challenging, but also life affirming.

When it comes to 7s, we don’t like pain. We don’t like unpleasant emotions, and we do whatever we can to avoid them. Most of the time by distracting ourselves. As Ian Morgan Cron puts it, “a compulsive need to devour positive experiences, stimulating ideas and fine material things in order to fend off suffering , hurtful memories and a feeling of chronic deprivation.”

So, uh, yeah… that’s me.

The trouble being a life of pain avoidance is a life of perpetual, self-inflicted darkness. I’d rather move on to something else or think about the future than deal with the pain that’s right here, right now.

Retreat. Deal with it later. Maybe.

In a way, it’s my own little monster under the bed. Do you remember yours? The idea that something waited just over the side terrified me as a child. I still remember a day I dared to look and found a red, tribal mask staring back at me. I don’t know if something was really there or if I stared at a monster of my own making, but it’s the only time I remember truly being frozen in fear.

But in order to live, I believe we must learn to look. While it scared me terribly, I had found the face of my monster. And considering the present discourse, I find the face of my monster fitting. A mask, just like the ones I’ve created to protect myself. The masks that make up my false self. I created them to protect me, but maybe they are the true monster. So I steel myself, and look over the edge of the bed.

Why?

Because the first step is awareness. By awareness I don’t mean just knowing something is out there. We all have that sense of danger that tells us something lingers in the shadows. I mean finding the face of our monsters. Until I know the face of my monster, I can’t recognize it. Until I know the mask it wears, I can’t engage it.

It’s here that the battle begins. Firstly, a battle with self. When the monster shows its face, I have a choice to make. Retreat or engage. The greater battle begins on those occasions when I choose to engage. I choose to face my monster, look it in the eyes and try to see what lies beyond it. To see the source of my pain and fears. One may again ask the question, why?

By getting to the source of my pain and fears, I can hold it, handle it, look at it from different angles and come to understand it. And maybe in knowing it, it becomes a little less scary. I can then examine my responses. I don’t always freeze in the face of my monsters. Sometimes I run. Sometimes I fight. Often at the expense of people around me. Until I see, I strike out blindly. Once I begin learning to see, I can make better choices. Not saying I always will, but I can. And that’s not only better for me, but also for the people I care about.

In all, I think the gift of facing down my monsters can be summed up in a single word.

Freedom.

Freedom from fear. Freedom from the protective habits that hurt myself and others. And freedom to become more of me, the real me.

Different but Good

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Prior to taking this seat before my computer, I spent some time with my parents. It began with my usual role as the family’s IT guru. On the way out, I stopped to let them know I would be busy with a church event Saturday morning. Saturday is a time we generally spend together as family.

To shorten the tale, it led to my father asking about the church I have been going to. A place I know will not meet his approval as a place “rightly dividing the word of truth”. The whole idea of getting deeper into that conversation made me uncomfortable. I love my dad dearly. I also find that when he holds to something he holds to it completely and without deviation. It makes it difficult to converse sometimes, and with my personality I try to find paths to harmony rather than pushing back.

It is this trait that pinned me in. He asked a question, one he said would tell you if the pastor of a church “rightly divided” the Scripture. Before answering it, he changed his mind and turned the question on me. I turned inward and sought the answer I thought best fit what I knew of his beliefs and what I’ve studied myself. Needless to say, though a reasonable answer, my best guess missed the mark and he quickly jumped in to educate me.

So I listened.

Recently, I’ve listened a lot more. As I said, it can be difficult with my dad. He can come on very strong, but for a reason I respect. He truly believes everything he is telling you, and he’s spent a considerable amount of time studying to come to those close held beliefs. I would love it if he were a little more open, but I don’t worry about it much these days. I learn a lot from him, and he loves his family, his friends and his God. I trust him, even if I don’t always agree. He’s very different than me, but his life still points me to God.

“God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator.

Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion of joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction….

I can never know beforehand how God’s image should appear in others. That image always manifests a completely new and unique form that comes solely from God’s free and sovereign creation.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

To Stay Together

If someone said when I was young how much it cost to be in love, I would’ve run.

– Johnnyswim, Back to You

Honest lyrics can be a glimpse of truth. Life lived gives them depth. Love is hard. A few days ago, I learned of another divorce. I’d known them for years. It took me completely by surprise. Sadly, it’s not the first time, and I know it won’t be the last.

I usually ask the same questions. What happened? Why? When did it start? All useful questions, but only if they can be answered. That said, this happened in the midst of a week surrounded by little drops of wisdom. So I’d like to share those in hopes that they may touch you and encourage you as they have me.

Earlier this week I listened to a podcast featuring Drew and Ellie Holcomb. As they talked openly about counseling, they said something powerful. Drew’s parents, from the get go, encouraged not only premarital counseling, but ongoing counseling. So, for them, counseling was not stigmatized. Put these two together, and maybe we have something to ebb the flow of broken homes.

It’s hard. It’s going to be hard. Find people to help you work your way through it!

On that same podcast, this time featuring Johnnyswim, Abner said something that struck me. He started by saying he felt we didn’t emphasize “til death to us part” enough. He’d just been in a couple weddings. He’d ended one with, “to toe tags and body bags”. Maybe a little morbid, but a strong statement. It’s the commitment he and his wife made to one another. A commitment they fight for. They’ll be together until one is sitting beside the other and they breathe their last.

I believe in the value of commitment. Ultimately, we do some of our best work when we don’t give ourselves an out. It’s a cheesy example, but it’s a pretty strong statement in the movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Their relationship went deep enough to matter because they couldn’t easily back out.

The last instance came following a lecture at Christ City on the heart of contemplation. In sharing her history, the speaker expressed thankfulness that her awakening had not ended her marriage. Though she didn’t go into detail, the process of her becoming, her changing, her growing put a serious strain on their relationship. It reminded me of another story. One I shared with the pastor afterward and he confirmed as possibly being the most important part of getting through. It came from an old man who, when asked how his marriage had lasted so long said, “I never tried to control her. I was married to eight different women.” She changed. Pretty significantly. He didn’t stop her. He didn’t fight her. He didn’t fear who she would become. Instead, he accepted her and continued to love her.

In light of that, I’ll close with these lyrics from Penny and Sparrow’s “Duet” which I believe capture much of what I’ve expressed here.

Because I’ve seen you and I know you, and I’m not going anywhere.

The Value of Commitment

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Commitment is powerful. This coming from someone who struggles with commitment. Nearly a year ago, I dove into a body building and strengthening program. I was all in. I committed. And that commitment taught me several valuable lessons.

  1. Commitment simplifies things. I remember my first trip to the grocery store after I had established my diet. In and out in fifteen minutes with a week’s worth of groceries.
  2. Commitment makes it easier to say ‘no’. We all struggle to say no. Usually because our priorities are not clear. Commitment aligns us with our priorities.
  3. Commitment goes deeper. I think we all intuitively know that committing to one thing means saying no to another, even when we’re trying to do everything. It is true. My understanding of diet, nutrition and the body has grown to a level I never anticipated. A necessary outworking of dedicated work toward a goal.
  4. Commitment frees you. Odd, right? That something that sets a restriction would bring freedom, but it does. I no longer have to waste time wondering what I should do, or worrying whether it’s going to work out or not. I just have to do.
  5. Commitment leads to results. Stick to anything long enough an we’ll see the benefits. For me, my commitment led to me gaining a healthy new equilibrium at 185, and a stronger, leaner body I’m proud of. My journey is not over, though I’m focusing on conditioning right now before I bulk again. I know that holding to my commitment will bring the results I’m looking for.

So, tell me, what is it you want to accomplish? Are you committed? I guarantee it will make a difference.

All Things in Common

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And all who believed were together and had all things in common. – Acts 2:44

After Wednesday’s statement regarding the importance of community, I began to think about a very special time in my life. For a little over a year, I had the privilege of living alongside an incredible group of people. I suppose I could call it an unintentional commune of sorts. That time forever changed my perspective on what the church is.

As I began to walk down memory lane, words flooded my mind.

They had all things in common.

Only the context had shifted the meaning for me. For a moment, I’d like you to return to the passage at the top of this page. Read it and take a moment to think about what it means to you.

Have you done it?

If you are anything like I was, your first thoughts will probably include Acts 2:45. It reads, “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” For me, this verse has always been tied to a material social justice and self sacrifice for the benefit of those in need. I’ve always seen and used it in the context of “living simply so others may simply live”. I still believe there is truth to that, but as I’ve recalled my time in Waynoka Cove I have come to realize that if that is all we take from “had all things in common“, then we have come away with far too little.

“The Cove” as we called it, was simply a group of neighbors and friends who shared a common faith and who chose to share our lives as well. And sharing our lives went far beyond just sharing our resources, though it wasn’t uncommon for us to do so. That is the key point I want to try to convey about having all things in common. Life together is bigger than the sharing of material wealth, and I think Acts 2, if we look beyond vs. 44-45 supports this idea.

And day by day, attending the temple together…

Life together is a life of shared worship. While some of us did attend the same local congregation, not all of us shared that bond. Only once, on a very cold and snow covered weekend did we hold a church service in our apartment. I won’t go into detail, but I remember that weekend with fondness and longing. We did however worship together in our daily lives. What I remember most is that God was on our lips. We would discuss books and theology. We would pray for one another. We would occasionally sing together. I don’t mean that it was a constant everyday thing, but it was a very real and consistent part of our lives.

and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.

I think maybe food is one of the glues that hold society together. There is an incredible joy to be had in sharing food with family and friends. And food shared with gratitude to one another and to God is a profound gift.

praising God and having favor with all the people.

We were very fortunate to connect with neighbors and friends as a result of each individuals gifts and connections. I remember Gary who would drop in on me and my roommate for what sometimes turned into deep conversations about life and God. Knowing that at some point he’d exclaim, “Man, you a ****ing scientist!” I remember the Sudanese boys who would come to see Pete after school. They were bonded to him by the years he ministered to them at Neighborhood School, but they were just as much my friends as his and we served them together. We snacked, played basketball and worked in the garden together. I remember standing outside Jorge’s apartment with Jorge, Pete, Andrew and a three foot tall tin knight as Andrew serenaded Jenny, Jorge’s wife on their anniversary. A throwback to a Colombian tradition to have mariachis serenade your fiancee before the wedding. What was traditionally one day, Jorge had turned into a week.

When I think back on those days, I smile and I am filled with joy. Don’t get me wrong, things were not always happy. We didn’t always get along. We didn’t always serve one another well. And that is part of sharing life as well. But I think, in the end, that maybe we got to experience Christian community in a way that would benefit us all. A community that bonded us. One I feel bonds us even now. We “had all things in common”, and far more than just possessions.

It’s something to consider.

From the Pulpit… or not?

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Not long ago, I gave a brief recounting of my own personal church history. Today, as I read the next chapter in Phileena Heuertz’s Mindful Silence, two statements resonated with me deeply. The first reads as follows:

“Many people find church services wanting, the worship music and teaching to be shallow, not relating to our complex human condition and our soul’s voyage.”

And the second is like it, but it is in the second that I believe we find an answer to the need expressed in the first. It begins with the same frustration and disillusionment brought on by an emphasis on orthodoxy that “fails to address their most impeding obstacles to developing personhood.”

And what is personhood?

She defines personhood as “a person who is united with all reality- an eye within the body (1 Cor. 12)”. To further clarify, it is a person who has died to the old self, the false self, and in whom his or her self identity is united with God and others. To put it yet another way, it is a self awareness that allows us to freely enter into real relationship with God and others. A place she would say we’ve been connected to God all along. It happens when we have been stripped of the lies we tell the world, layer by layer until the core of who we are remains. A core identity that has been set free.

And? So what?

“Ascribing to ‘right belief’ isn’t helping with the everyday challenges of discerning purpose, being faithful in vocation, accessing patience, mercy and long-suffering in relationship, and loving and forgiving those who hurt us.”

It’s great to tell me what I should and should not do. But how?

For me, I began to find the lessons I would need outside my local church. It was Julia Cameron who took me down the first paths of contemplation with The Artist’s Way. In exposing myself to Christian contemplation I soon discovered that my daily journal, my morning pages, are for me a contemplative prayer. The Spirit always meets me there and in that place, I am vulnerable and exposed. I began learning freedom there, and it taught me to listen. In listening, I began to see my lies and face them. In those pages were the seeds of self awareness.

Discerning purpose, developing routine and the power of habit to strengthen discipline came from Darren Hardy and Mike Matthews. One a success mentor who gave me the tools I needed to bring some order to my chaos. A man who taught me the importance of saying no. The second is a man who gave me the tools to take control of my health and make my way into the best shape of my life. The personal and life lessons learned in these processes are still helping me grow. Those lessons forced me to make decisions that provided greater clarity of vision, helped me better serve those around me, better keep my word, and remain truer to the man I claim that I want to be.

It was in living alongside friends in an unexpected community of believers that I began to better understand patience, mercy and long-suffering in relationships. During that year, that community of friends, of family, taught me more about what the church is than a hundred thousand sermons. We were sold. We were also seen as a little dangerous, vocal outliers upsetting the status quo.

In the end, I still sit here with as many questions as I do answers. I am not sure of the local church’s part in all of this. I do believe we can do more to address the orthopraxy that accompanies our orthodoxy in areas beyond bible study and prayer. I also believe that the key lies in our community. I’ll speak more on this later, but community is, in my opinion, the greatest struggle of modern day congregations. Probably because it is also a great struggle of our Western culture. That said, it’s people who lead us to connections like the ones above. And maybe, as I discovered for myself, we’re expecting too much of the local congregation and thinking too little of the church universal.

Ultimately the lessons lie in living this life alongside God. We learn as we go. We learn on the hard packed roads and hidden paths of our adventures!

What do you think? How do you think the local church can better meet the needs for deeper truth and better understanding in living a fulfilled life? Is that even something we should expect of our local churches?

 

Note: I linked quite a few books in this post. Books that have greatly influenced me and helped me to grow along the way. In case you’re interested, here are a few more.

The One Thing – Gary Keller & Jay Papasan

Bigger Leaner stronger – Mike Matthews

Walking on Water: Reflections on Life and Art – Madeline L’Engle

Engaging the Other

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Over the past few years, I’ve been searching for a church home. A dear friend and partner in ministry recommended I check out a local church. A couple weeks later I did. Most of what happened that day is unclear but for general feelings, but one moment stands out with complete clarity.

I entered the church, grabbed a bulletin from the greeter at the entrance and took up a seat nearer to the back. I suppose I intended to remain inconspicuous. Just ahead on the right I noticed two familiar faces, a gay couple I’d known for years as a barista as Starbucks. They are both wonderful people. I made a note to say hello after the service. When it came time to celebrate communion, I rose to join the line funneling its way forward and noticed these same friends in the next line over. My gut clenched. At this time, I hold the belief that homosexuality is a sin. Nothing in my study has persuaded me otherwise. To say the moment challenged me is probably an understatement. But, at the same time, I realized something very important. I needed that tension in my life and in my walk with Christ.

Yesterday’s sermon spoke to this need, and as I listened and reflected I knew today’s post needed to change.

The core of the sermon can probably be summed up in a single word – “We.” Rather than unpack everything, I want to focus on a single point. The common ground, the 99.5%, better known as the DNA we all share as human beings. In our study of the human genome, only 0.5% varies from person to person. And yet we tend to focus our attention on that 0.5%. I realize this is a physiological statement, but I believe the concept goes beyond that to the psychological and philosophical. As humans, we gravitate to people who share our views, our ideas, our goals, our likes and dislikes – in short, people like us. And the church has been no exception.

In fact, I was taught embracing and engaging those who did not believe like me placed me in danger. By doing so, I risked tainting my faith. I believe this is one of the most destructive trends in modern local churches and in society at large. We’re taught to fear the other. So we sit in judgment, in ignorance, and often in hatred. Fear is toxic.

But fear is not from God.

Fear is not ever from God!

In saying this, do I mean to do away with fear of God. I cannot go so far. Scripture rebuts such a statement. We have statements like “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10) or “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). These do not always mean merely an awe of God either. For those under judgment it should be a terrifying thing.

But it is not fear of God I am speaking of here, but fear of everything else. Fear that does not know the God who drives out all fear. For those of us who know Him, His power, and His love, there is no fear. (1 John 4:18) God is bigger than all our fears. And God is bigger than anything that waits across the aisle. I’ve mentioned before that the point at which we refuse further revelation is the point at which we cease to grow. By standing in the shadow of fear and refusing to engage the things that make us uncomfortable and challenge us, we are closing ourselves off from growth. Most heartbreaking, we are closing ourselves off from the blessing of God’s deeper revelation of Himself.

I get it. It’s scary. In fact, it can be downright terrifying. But we desperately need it. Engaging the other leads to transformation as we engage more deeply with God. And God is bigger than any fear we can imagine.

Maybe it’s time to trust Him, to be courageous and step across the aisle, across denominations, across political lines, across divides of sexuality, across the tracks, and engage the other. Not to win them over or change them, though that may happen, but instead to listen and learn. And in so doing, to change. Yes, it will change us. Taking us from caterpillar to butterfly. Drawing us more into the image and likeness of God himself.

The Other Side

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Time away from the local church and its meetings and ministries opens a door. For some it reads ‘Exit’. For others it is more like a backstage pass, an invitation to go deeper. As I mentioned in my last post, for me it was the latter.

As I’ve written, rewritten and changed this post time and again I’ve began to wonder why it was an invitation for me and not an ending.

Ultimately, I believe it is a result of the grace of God. I remember a specific moment in my past filled with doubt when I realized I don’t have a say in the matter. I knew that, even if I didn’t want to be a Christian, I was. I am His. Period.

When I take that into consideration, all the other things fall into place. He’s doing the work of sanctification. Making me more like Him. And He’s opening up the door for me to enter in and dine with Him, talk with Him, know Him. It reminds me of the only definition of eternal life I’ve seen thus far in scripture.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”   – John 17:3

But knowing Him is not the same as knowing about Him. These past few years have been the testing ground of my knowledge about Him, and the deepening of that knowledge into understanding Him better. More often that not it is a relationship forged in the furnace.

It’s been a while since I’ve considered the trials of my furnace. Loneliness, definitely. Frustration also. Fear. Doubt. I’ve continuously struggled with who I am. Recently, in reading someone else’s struggles I think I gained a little more insight into why. She explained how she never felt accepted for who she was as a child. I feel like my story is a lot like hers. No matter what I did, it was never good enough. I’m not sure where this idea came from. I’m not sure who I was looking to for approval. All I know is that I decided that strength was being good at everything. I had to be Superman to be accepted. I would make everyone look up to me. Looking back, this wrecked me. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve found more freedom to be myself, weaknesses and all. It’s also only recently that I’ve allowed myself to admit that I desperately need other people, and not just admit it, but really know that it’s okay to need others.

It helps me to see another truth. As God exposes me, He is healing me. I feel like someone waking up. He’s freed me to dream again in places I hadn’t realized I’d given up. In so doing, He’s also helped me to know Him more. I have never been more aware of His love, His pride and His belief in me and who He made me to be. He’s cultivating me still to be an image bearer and a beacon of His glory to the world. Where I think it’s too late. He reminds me that it is never too late.

Never too late to create.

Never too late to have a family.

Never too late to see the world.

The adventure is just beginning!

 

 

 

 

To Share a Journey

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My return to the world of blogs is the result of a confluence. A desire to grow as a writer, and a desire to unpack my faith journey over the past few years, specifically as regards the church. These two things have spurred me on in what I hope will, in the end, bless us both.

The landmarks of my journey are connected to recurring themes – community, the arts, worship, social justice, and freedom. They weave their way throughout my story and will provide the markers by which we’ll navigate. So you can follow one or all of these ideas as they progress.

I hope my journey may be of use to those who are or have been where I’ve been. My path has brought me from an early faith bound in legalism, to the first whispers of grace and on to a growing freedom in Christ. I’ve been “in the ministry”, I’ve served in the church and I’ve simply lived as a Christian. For most of my life I never missed a service. Until I did, and for a handful of years I hardly darkened a church door. And I feel compelled to state – those were not dark years. I was not living the life of a prodigal outside the church. They were enlightening years, and my relationship with God grew as a result. I have seen in every season the rise and fall of my own depravity and the heights and depths of God’s miraculous love.

I do not claim to be a scholar. I do not claim to be an authority. I am only a man sharing my own story. You are free to disagree with me. You are free to challenge my ideas, though I do ask you to be civil. That, when all is said and done, God may teach us both.