Only Human?

Only Human?

Nice Human cropped

It seems to me that the more we have divided ourselves up into smaller and smaller ideological groups, the more anxiety and conflict we have experienced. Ultimately, there is always a smaller box to draw and defend. Eventually, this practice merely leaves us alone in a little box of our own making.

One thing that is becoming evident during our social distancing experience is our coming to share something that crosses so many of the lines we’ve drawn of late. There are still attempts to describe this crisis along some of those old, tired, and disruptive lines. I’ve heard Republican responses and Democratic ones. There have been racist attempts to explain this circumstance. Others are claiming moral superiority. I’ve observed every narrow and highly defended box we have constructed in our efforts to define ourselves of late contorted in attempts to bring some meaning to all of this anxiety and disruption.

But, without fail, the best responses—the ones that have resonated with me; the ones that have moved me—have been human beings responding to other human beings. I’ve watched home learning live feeds that have evoked a huge, lingering smile on my face. I’ve seen celebrities open up their homes via Instagram. I’ve seen people taking care of people. Those responses have been wonderful. The more we step back and broaden our boundaries of who’s in and who’s out, the better the stories become. Even at a “social distance,” expressing and recognizing our shared humanity, without fail, becomes life-giving and light-giving.

Be an excellent human today. You can do this from your COVID-19 bunker. Make a phone call. Check on an elderly friend by phone. Write some letters. Send some texts. Use Facetime. Post human stories rather than political ones. Post helpful information that keeps us all safe and dispels the misinformation and divisions. I came across a beautiful little meme from the amazing Brené Brown this morning:

“This pandemic experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves. In the context of fear and vulnerability, there is often very little in between because when we are uncertain and afraid, our default is self-protection. We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave, and kind.”

THAT sounds very human in the best sense of the word.  We can do this! Hell, we canceled the NBA, March Madness, Spring Training, and the NHL! Zero riots! Come together (at a safe social distance). We got this!

I woke up AFib on Wednesday
Hospital feet
My standard “foot pict” with sushi smuggled into the hospital by my dearest friends.

I woke up AFib on Wednesday. Atrial Fibrillation. The chambers of our hearts usually beat on a regular rate. However, it can go all Southern Baptist on you and lose its groove. I felt just a little dizzy and just a little nauseous. Nothing really debilitating or significant. I started to go to work and then decided to lay down and go in just a little late. But I got a couple alerts from my new Christmas present like those new Apple watches are apt to do. It was telling me my regular 55 BPM heart rate was bumping along at 120. I called a nurse friend who gave me some [good] advice, but instead, I decided to do what dudes do…I sat in my chair and drank some water and figured it would all work out in a minute or two. This grand plan was interrupted by my little sister from another mister who bugged the hell out of me to go to the Quick Clinic. I gave in.

So there was this point when the doctor at the Quick Clinic was telling me what my watch and my little sis had already told me. Doc had just said the EKG was AFib, and he was elaborating that I was heading to the ER and that I couldn’t drive myself. This bugged me because I was perfectly able to drive my own damn self to the ER. I had driven myself to the clinic, and I was a grown-ass man. I was also anticipating the I-told-you-to-go-to-the-ER text from my lil’ sis. I had been told all this earlier that morning and responded to it all with the skeptical and well-practiced eye-roll my dude nature gave me.

So my good and loving wife (a true saint and so much better than I deserve) left work to chauffeur me to the local ER. I was afraid the “healthcare” “industry” was going to life-flight me the mile and a half from the clinic to the hospital and take a massive bite out of my retirement savings (because that’s such a better system than one where costs are regulated and shared—evened out, so no one is thrown into financial ruin because of unexpected medical expenses…but I digress.) The humans of actual “healthcare” took great care of me. They smiled. They were comforting. They built up my confidence in a very unfamiliar place. They apologized for sticks and pokes that are simply part of their jobs because they knew it was uncomfortable for me. They even laughed at my occasional “dad humor.” From the very low paid aids to the very accomplished doctor, cardiologist, nurses, and other staff, all were wonderful. (Except for the chicken salad sandwich I was attempted to be fed at dinner time (see the picture above for what I actually ate) and the lousy hamburger patty served with some canned “gravy” poured on top presented to me at lunch as a “hamburger steak” …but again, I digress.)

I sit here on my back porch today with my feet up by the fire reading a little, writing a little, wasting some time on Facebook a little. As my heart bumps out its irregular little tune, I contemplate how perspective changes almost immediately sometimes. I’m fine. No drama intended with this post. But I also recognize the reality check my little life-hiccup gave me this week. More motivation to get healthier this year. More perspective on what matters. Love for those people who are friends who become family and for blood family who are always here for you. Here’s to 2020. Here’s to beating out a brand new rhythm this year. And my heart getting back to a healthy and utterly non-Southern Baptist rhythm.

Fixer-Upper

Fixer-Upper

Spirituality - BBTI’ve been involved in a renovation project over the past several months. Demolition stage was challenging and required some trust that the outcome would be worth the effort. Some of the demo was merely cosmetic. However, there were some loadbearing walls involved as well. These walls were substantial, and I’ve had some pushback from some who thought I went too far. But to this point of the project, I’ve not regretted any of those decisions. These were the changes that really opened up the space to be something I could never have imagined otherwise. Now that the demo stage is pretty much complete, and I’ve begun to add some framework to the foundations that were exposed. The intent is a very open space conducive to hospitality, conversation, and growing relationships. As the construction continues, I hope to be open to suggestions and input growing out of those conversations and relationships. I’m beginning to recognize that this project will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. I’m anticipating taking out and replacing some of the features added recently. Probably not rising to the level of a full demo, but being open to the likelihood of redecorating as the need arises. It’s very gratifying to know that the work that has been completed to this point has really produced the desired results! I’m loving this space! (Even as it’s still under construction and probably always will be.)

Horizons

Horizons

©Mike Young, Horizon

“A horizon is a phenomenon of vision. One cannot look at the horizon; it is simply the point beyond which we cannot see. There is nothing in the horizon itself, however, that limits vision, for the horizon opens onto all that lies beyond itself. What limits vision is rather the incompleteness of that vision. …What will undo any boundary is the awareness that it is our vision, and not what we are viewing, that is limited.”

James Carse, Finite and Infinite Games 

I’ve officially been unemployed for several weeks. The difficulty of writing and ultimately posting that sentence online revolves around how much us dudes draw our identity from our places of employment. It’s an open admission of what very well might be our most significant vulnerability. In that time, I’ve been turned down by some potential employers as I’ve been through their process. I’ve turned down a potentially good gig as Senior Pastor of a good church. I’ve also sent out resumes and applications that received nothing but the standard rejection form letter. Those of you who have experienced such a process recognize the highs and lows, the hopes and the hopes dashed.

I’m continuing to look, searching for an opportunity worthy of investing my work, my life, and my talents…but also someone who will “pick me.” It’s an interesting place to find oneself. The lure of someone wanting you is strong and very appealing. And the desire for a comfortable place with a steady paycheck can sometimes have an undue influence on the decision, leaving more important criteria neglected or even ignored. I’m convinced that if at all possible, the best criteria are to ignore the ego as much as possible and get to know my soul a bit more intimately. The soul is that most pure expression of who we were created to be. So much of our everyday experience is crafting narratives that often begin to define our identity but mask our very souls. If there is anything I’m sure of, it’s that I want to invest my soul into this next season. I type that knowing that a “want” such as that is luxury that often none of us can afford. There are bills and house notes and other necessities of real life.

What exactly do I want to do in this next season? That’s a more difficult question to answer at this crossroad of career/job/vocation/calling/faith. The opportunity for self-reflection these past weeks have provided is a rare and precious gift. I recognize fully the luxury and my privilege to engage this sabbatical. There have been several books, numerous podcasts, many miles of running/walking/thinking, untold numbers of social media posts and articles that have provided the intellectual/spiritual backdrop for my journey.

The past few weeks have been a time to recognize and distinguish true friends and community from the superficial, very southern, and very “churchy” imitations. It’s interesting how clearly this can be seen. In fact, it is probably only times like this that this can honestly be seen. It is, at first, a punch in the gut, then a revelation, and finally an extreme blessing. Knowing who your real friends are, the ones that love you unconditionally and are a part of the family you choose and who return that blessing by choosing you is invaluable. I would suggest it as the only way to attempt to walk through this particular road that I’ve been walking these past few weeks. Speaking only from my experience, I wouldn’t want to travel this road without them.

Where I find myself today…here on my porch by the fire on a gorgeous fall morning with my MacBook in my lap…is a place of complete freedom. I can do whatever I want to do. And then it hits me…”Oh shit! What do I do?” Sometimes, no constraints are the heaviest and most oppressive of obstacles.

I’m not at all sure why I would publish such a vulnerable essay to the judgmental whims of a blog post or social media. There are many reasons not to click the “publish” button. Except, I’m almost certain that what I’m experiencing is a universal human condition that is often denied or at the very least, covered up.

James Carse’s book, Finite and Infinite Games provides a profound lens through which to view our world. This sabbatical of sorts that I’m walking through has offered an opportunity to expand my horizon so to speak. What I saw as boundaries we’re merely limits of vision. While my ego is still desperately seeking a label/title to place on its lost self, my soul has begun to reintroduce itself. I haven’t quite pried ego’s hands from the steering wheel and placed him in his comfortable back seat. My Soul is waiting patiently to assume the driver role.

I’m looking forward to seeing that horizon move.

Self-impersonation

impersonation | imˌpərsəˈnāSH(ə)n |noun — an act of pretending to be another person for the purpose of entertainment or fraud

Hillary_Andrew_Wedding_Sberard-7790I don’t regularly post pictures of myself. My take on just about every photograph of me is usually, “A face for radio!” However, this particular image is my favorite. My daughter and I are dancing at her wedding reception to Landslide by Stevie Nicks. I had just performed the ceremony, and here we are during the much anticipated “Daddy/Daughter Dance,” and my face says it all. I’ll even own up to the fact that I get a bit misty just thinking about that moment and looking at that picture. The very first people Hillary and I saw when we finished our dance were my wife and sons. The image that captures their reactions immediately following our dance leaves me even more emotional.Hillary_Andrew_Wedding_Sberard-7822

There are many reasons I treasure these photographs. One of those reasons is that I recognize in these images our true God-given selves. There is no pretending or posturing. It’s us. Really us. I was unaware of any other people in the room. Most profoundly, I was completely oblivious to the character I play in my everyday life. I was utterly un-selfconscious animated only by the person God created me to be.

Our ego creates and maintains a character that we impersonate as we move through our lives. The culture of career and image encourages us to only present to the outside world a self that feeds into this charade. So we move through our lives playing roles that are guarded and rarely resemble the human beings we were born to be. We’re afraid if we show our true, vulnerable selves—our God-created beautiful humanity—we will be shunned; that the other egos and self-impersonators with whom we share our days will take advantage of that vulnerable self.My God-given Self - Merton

But, what if we all actually showed up? Everyday? I know how idealistic and naive that question sounds. Completely unrealistic. But, what if? One thing I know without any doubt is that the self that shows up in the photogaphs above was utterly joyful and present. I’m not sure why THAT person needs to be put away only to be brought out of the closet for special occasions and only then at an unguarded moment.

I believe that the mess we find ourselves witnessing daily in our world is a direct result of the characters we self-impersonate each and every day. And these characters go thrashing around through life scaring the skittish wild human beings we were created to be back into hiding. And we are all the more impoverished because of that. It is precisely those skittish wild humans whom the world so desperately needs to show up.

Not every moment can be a beautiful father/daughter moment. I get that. But I also know that every moment in which I’ve dared to be vulneable and show up fully has the potential to be beautiful and life giving. More often than not, in my experience, those moments become cherished and sustaining memories. I hope you show up today. No impersonation. Just you. I also hope you create the space around you that coaxes those other selves around you to show up as well. Go get ‘um!

Distractions

Distractions

IMG_1683I began several times intending to write about God.  Finding traction was difficult. There was the distraction of Rosie the Labrador.  At 5:30, she came bursting from her night of quiet, eager to taste and smell and run and roll in her world.  And she so wants me, you, everyone to experience it.  She licks my leg, urging me out of my chair, bounding forward through the screen—through the screen—that could never be a barrier.  

“Silly dog! You broke the screen! Ran right through!”

 

But who is the silly one?  Rosie the Labrador challenges every supposed barrier.  Runs through some, paws at others but tests them all.  Not for any grand purpose other than to live the life of a Labrador with which she was blessed and has blessed us.

She bounds back up the stairs, tail beating a rhythm on my metal chair.  She paws my legs inviting them to move.  She sniffs my arm, tongue tasting my knee, eyes alert to all movement, nose to all smells-those I’ll never know.  

She wins.  We went on a walk.  I left the phone and ear-buds at home.  And I heard some things I would have otherwise missed.  

Profound truthMaybe we have our sights set too low.  Maybe we’ve settled for merely “correct” as we have come to understand it rather than recognizing we might actually be capable of entertaining the profound.  There is often enough logic to justify our small notions of correctness.  But when we look further toward the mystery and the ambiguity, we lose the safety and security of our certitude.  We might have to accept the existence of someone or something we don’t fully understand.  We will probably lose the perception of control that we’ve always mistakenly assumed.  Correct is fine for what it is.  But the profound is a journey worthy of your soul.