Free to be me

I could choose what felt right for me without needing to be like everyone, or needing everyone to be like me.

Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whitness

I’m not coming from the same place as Austin Channing Brown, but I still feel the weight of these words. It is a freedom we all hope to discover. To know, even if I’m not like you, I’m alright. In fact I am more than alright. I am incredible.

I think we all start with a desire to belong. We want to fit in. I’ve never really felt like I fit in. Looking back, it is probably because I tried to fit in everywhere. The best I could do was skim the surface as a Christian, as a nerd, as a musician, as a jock… as whatever mask I wore at the moment. Some of it was authentic. There were lines I would not cross. But outside of those, I did my best to be who I thought they wanted me to be. Trust me, it’s no way to live.

I am reminded that often directly pursuing happiness and satisfaction, in this case belonging, prevents us from attaining them. I tried to be everyone but the person I was made to be – me. I won’t lie and say it’s not still a struggle. I’m not done yet. But I’m amazed by the friends I have found since beginning to walk in my own identity. We’re each unique, and it’s made for a diverse mess of a community. One I’m proud to be a part of.

I don’t know who or what opened or will open the door for you, but as I write these words I both pray and hope that each of you will be able to find a place where you choose what feels right without needing to be like everyone, or needing everyone to be like you. And I pray and hope that in doing so, you come a little closer to the unique gift to the world you were created to be.

 

Seeing Through the Veil of Expectation

casual-close-up-eyes-1698938

But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.‘”

2 Kings 5:11, English Standard Version

It’s been many years since I encountered the story of Naaman. As a celebrated commander of the Syrian army, he enjoyed riches, fame and the favor of his king. However these things could not protect him from leprosy. A diagnosis that would be akin to being told you have a terminal disease.

I don’t know how many options he had, or how many he’d exhausted before an Israelite servant girl offered a ray of hope. There is a prophet in Samaria. “He would cure him of  his leprosy.” So Naaman approached his king, and with the king’s blessing made his way to Israel. To shorten the story a bit, he ended up standing outside the prophet Elisha’s home where he received a message telling him to dip himself seven times in the River Jordan.

It’s here that we pick up. Until yesterday, I’ve always noted Naaman’s pride in this passage. He is a man offended by the blatant disregard for his greatness. The prophet sends a messenger to him instead of meeting him directly. He then directs him to wash in a dirty river. All things Naaman thinks himself too good for. However, I now see something more.

Elisha had violated Naaman’s expectations.

Expectations can be dangerous. Unmet expectations are downright destructive. We fail to live up to our expectations, and it wounds our soul. We fail to meet other’s expectations, and we hurt relationships. We sit under the weight of expectation and anxiety threatens to overwhelm us. And when reality doesn’t match our expectations we get angry and walk away, just as Naaman did.

Naaman walked away from healing because it did not match his expectations.

Let that sink in.

Has it hit you in the gut yet? Does this ring with familiarity? I know it does for me. I wonder how many times I’ve missed out because I could not let go of my expectations to embrace good counsel, training or what might seem a little crazy in the moment. Sadly, even knowing this truth, I am often blinded. Knowing doesn’t make me immune.

It takes humility. We have to accept our limitations. It takes courage. We have to dive into new waters, and they might be different than the ones we’re used to. It takes a community of care. We need people with us who will, like Naaman’s servants, challenge us and help us take the blinders off.

And when humility, courage and community uncover our eyes, I wonder what healing awaits us beyond the veil of our expectations.

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.

All Things in Common

breaking bread

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.