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!

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Christianity After Religion

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In her Acknowledgments at the end of Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Diana Butler Bass says, “These pages are my long-considered answers to questions a book and a teacher raised during my senior year in college.”  Christianity After Religion is one of those books that took me a long time to read.  Not because it was difficult, but because it required me to look at questions that have lingered around my faith and life for years.

Raised in a very religious home, faith has always been an integral part of my everyday life.  It was not merely a program to be consumed a couple times a week at our local church.  It was giving thanks at every meal.  It was hearing the Bible read each night as we gathered in my parents’ bedroom.  Those readings closed with us all kneeling beside the bed and expressing prayers to God. The church of my youth taught me that when some tenet of that faith was challenged by culture or science or another doctrine, the first response was defensive because the challenge seemed to attack the very foundations of all the provided meaning and purpose for every aspect of my life.  Religion had been framed as a no-holds-barred death-match…winner-take-all.

There was a point about 12 years into my vocational ministry that this framework made absolutely no sense to me.  My denomination had been embroiled in religious/theological/cultural battles for 20 years and the lines that were drawn between the sides didn’t seem to be significant or substantial enough to justify the carnage being wrought between good and faithful people (Diana Butler Bass has a wonderfully succinct description of this battle on page 233).  It was for damn sure draining my very soul.  A journal entry I made during that time simply said, “God, if you’re there, cool.  If you’re not, cool.”  I had had enough.

During that time, my family was a part of a community of faith that seemed to be a refuge from the battles…a spiritual DMZ so to speak.  No doubt, our congregation was labeled by those in the fight, but my pastor, Dr. Larry Taylor, and the good people of that community had remained true.  There was something different for me about that place.  These people were not sheltered by any means and if pressed for a position on the issues of the day, whether religious or political, you would get an impassioned and well reasoned opinion from anywhere on the continuum of possibilities.  But, we were ultimately followers of Jesus in a place called Emmanuel Baptist Church and that community was more important and life giving than any one political/theological position.

When looking back, I recognized that I had experienced this same type of community in a couple of places before.  In the Baptist Student Union at LSU led by Frank Horton, and in the college department of First Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, led by Anne and Jack Lord.  Rather than soul-sucking battles for “truth”, I found life-giving and transformative spiritual community.  It was in these communities of my college days that I felt a call to vocational ministry.  And it was Emmanuel Baptist Church that helped salvage that call from the hubris of denominational leaders seeking to tear apart such communities in the name of their particular versions of truth.

By the time I reached Chapter 7 and read Diana Butler Bass’ description of The Great Reversal, I recognized she was describing those communities from my past.  These were not utopian by any stretch.  But when taken as a whole, my experiences in those places were lived examples of belonging, behaving, believing (in that order).  Butler Bass’ connecting this vision of community with spiritual awakening was exactly the appropriate link to make and her practical actions of “prepare, practice, play & participate” placed the lofty aspirations of such an awakening on the solid ground of experience and tangible action.

Christianity After Religion has become a foundational book for me.  I’ll read it again and, with difficulty, will attempt to find more space for notes and thoughts in it’s margins.  I recommend it very highly.  And I recommend you take your time.  It’s not a “page-turner” and I mean that in the absolute best sense of that term.

a little Thomas Merton to chew on…

It’s funny how Thomas Merton always challenges me at election time…

The aggressive and dominative view of reality places, at the center, the individual with its bodily form, its feelings and emotions, its appetites and needs, its loves and hates, its actions and reactions.  All these are seen as forming together a basic and indubitable reality to which everything else must be referred, so that all other things are also estimated in their individuality, their actions and reactions, and all the ways in which they impinge upon the interests of the individual self.  The world is then seen as a multiplicity of conflicting and limited beings, all enclosed in the limits of their own individuality, all therefore complete in a permanent and vulnerable incompleteness, all seeking to find a certain completeness by asserting themselves at the expense of others, dominating and using others.  The world becomes, then, an immense conflict in which the only peace is that which is accorded to the victory of the strong, and in order to taste the joy of this peace, the weak must submit to the strong and join them in their adventures so that they may share in their power.

— Thomas Merton, Choosing to Love the World

Peace!

wandering around the routine in bare feet

Back in my Collegiate Ministry days, one of the first things discussed at the beginning of each year by our student leadership team was our theme for the year.  There was usually a quote or a scripture passage and then logos and t-shirt designs would follow.  One of my very favorite t-shirts emerged from that process during the 1995-96 academic year at Louisiana College.  “Shoeless” was all that was printed on the front of the shirt.  The image  to the right was on the back.  It proved to be very popular.  (Those are Scott’s feet…I didn’t want to know how he stood on the copier)

(True story: A group of students and I attended a Rich Mullins concert in Lafayette, LA that year.  We hung around afterward so people could get some autographs.  One of the students came to me (Lori) and said, “Rich Mullins wants your shirt!”  I walked over to the merchandise table where he was busy signing things and he said, “Can I have your shirt?” My response was, “Uh…sure…uh…I’ll send you one.”   Mullins: “no…that one…I’ll trade you…you can have one of these.”  Simultaneously awkward and cool moment.)

The quote is from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “Aurora Leigh”.  It seems to turn up often in EBB quotes. ( I’ve used it about almost 4 years ago on this blog).

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries

Your assignment…if you choose to accept it:  Take off your shoes!  This can be figuratively or literally.  Look around for the holy ground we so easily pass right by without ever noticing!  Don’t let this day be chained and defined by a dry and godless routine.  Be aware…God will begin to become evident in surprising places and people. You might even be one of those common bushes for someone else. (share you’re burning bush stories below)

PEACE!

100

100 posts

That’s a nice round number.

32,027 words

WOW!  that’s a surprising number!

Clicking the “publish” button on post #99 the other day made me aware that the next time I clicked that button would be for post #100…a good time to reflect on this little 3 year old experiment I’ve called “…so…here we are in the field.”

I’ve been far from disciplined in my writing. A quick scan of some of my past posts shows that.  “Lots of bases covered” is probably a little overstated, particularly in the “covered” area.  I’ve posted on faith, theology, politicssports, Facebook, etc. Some of my favorite posts got very little notice (like THIS ONE, or THIS ONE, and THIS ONE.  (What the heck…one more.  This one is not anything that I wrote.  Just a link to an interesting article about what makes people happy.)  I even sniffed the “blogging big-time” once with a post about being unfriended on Facebook which made the WordPress “Fresh Pressed” list for the day. I didn’t know what that meant until my page hits went from a handful a week to well over a thousand that day. Of course that “fame” was short lived and reality struck again.

I had no real expectations when I started this blog. My first post alluded to that. I had been hanging out with a lot of “emergent” types at conferences, etc. around that time and it seemed as though one had to have a blog to fit in. It seemed a little ego-centric and self indulgent.  But I finally caved and joined the blogosphere.  It’s good to look back. Sometimes I’m pretty proud of what I wrote. Other times I resist the urge to delete a post altogether. But I guess that’s sort of the point of this little blog.  It’s putting myself and something I’ve created “out there” for someone to see.  What I’ve come to realize is that this blog is not really about ego…it’s about being vulnerable.  I’m not talking about being an exhibitionist with my emotions or intimate thoughts.  It’s about opening up the conversation. It’s about putting something on my mind into words and setting it loose for people to see.  So often, we keep some of these thoughts inside and miss out on opportunities for connection, for deeper relationships and conversations.

So…post 100…it wasn’t really that sexy or provocative.  I really don’t anticipate it getting the “fresh pressed” treatment.  One thing it has been for me is a time to stop and look back.  I’m grateful for the peer pressure unknowingly applied by my hipster emergent friends pushing me to take the plunge into the blogosphere.  I hope if you’ve read this far and you aren’t blogging yet, go for it! (If you do, post your blog address below.)  I’ll bet you’ll enjoy you’re 100th post as much as I have…even if it’s just for yourself!  Peace!

(For a really inspiring talk about “The Power of Vulnerability”, check out Brene’ Brown’s talk on TED.com and also her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who You Are)

Start What You Need

I’m one of the “littles“…( a FAN of the Tony Kornheiser radio show).  I listen to the podcasts of the show religiously when I’m on the road.  It’s funny, smart, snarky and covers topics from sports, politics, movies, culture, food, etc. (frankly whatever “Mr. Tony” wants to talk about).  For WAY more information than you really want to know…check out his wiki page).  I was scrolling back through some of my past blog posts and rediscovered a post from 3 years ago that featured a clip from his show. (Listen to the excerpt here…Tony Kornheiser on Spirituality. It’s a little over 9 minutes long but worth the listen.)

In my original blog post, I said that I wanted a group like the the one Kornheiser describes (beginning at around the 5 minute mark of the clip).  Specifically I said, “…what was so meaningful about [Kornheiser’s golf] outing and what draws most of us toward that kind of experience is the community that allows such a conversation to occur.  I want that.

Something has evolved for me over the past couple of years that resembles the community evident in Kornheiser’s Yom Kippur golf outing. It is what I “wanted” but looks different than I expected.  A few months after that blog post, I started a conversation with several friends facilitated through a private blog.   It is a group of friends who trust each other implicitly, enjoy spending time together whenever we can, and who are a source of encouragement and challenge that make life better just knowing they are there.  We have a lot of things in common, but we differ on MANY things as well…politics, theology, religion, even continents.  But unlike many institutional forms of “community”, these differences haven’t seemed to hinder the friendships. In fact, the relationships have probably grown deeper through the differences.  More specifically, the growth has occurred through the trust to share those differences out in the open without fear of reprisal.  Which brings me to another observation from Mr. Tony’s radio conversation.

Tony Kornheiser and David Aldridge’s skepticism toward religious institutions is clearly articulated.  Their experiences of and attitudes toward these institutions are shared by many people in society today.  We have all heard those feelings expressed from many of our acquaintances, neighbors and/or co-workers.  This is obviously a problem from the perspective of the institution.  To address the problem, institutions have expended huge amounts of time, energy, and resources.  “Outreach” programs are developed.  Books are written.  Consultants are hired.  Neighborhoods are canvased. Small group programs are initiated.  But we still hear of skepticism directed toward the church based on real or imagined stereotypes of church and religion.  I’ve come to believe we are not going to create the type of community people hunger for by introducing more programs, or slick marketing campaigns.  What to do?

“Start what you need.”  I would suggest starting a conversation among some of your friends…a conversation that is based OUTSIDE the doors of the institutions in question.  A conversation specifically intended to create the community you are looking for.  Don’t force this conversation; allow it to evolve.  However, be intentional.  Take some risks.  Share yourself…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Share the questions and the doubts as well as the definitive portions of your faith.  Chances are, you and some of your friends share that same need.  I have a hunch that the more community we experience in our personal lives, the more community develops in the institutions in which we participate.  It’s a hunch that I’ve experienced personally…both in my friendships and in my church.  A couple of years ago, after hearing something that made me write, “I want that”, I started what I needed.  It’s been more than I thought I wanted.

Lonely

…the continuing saga of a Facebook Fast…

I travel a good deal with my job.  I regularly commute to Murfreesboro from my home in Tullahoma (about 40-45 minutes each way).  On Thursday, I had an appointment in Nashville and I began the routine drive after dropping my son off at the High School.  About 30 minutes into my trip, I became aware on how alone I felt.  I frequently drive in my car with no one in the passenger seats.  Things were normal from that standpoint.  But on this day, I was aware of a different quality to the empty car. I had logged out…no Facebook.

I have likened Facebook to non-Facebook friends to being in a large room with acquaintances from all periods of my life.  There is the constant buzz of conversations going on in this room.  At any point in time, I can choose to join in a conversation or start a new one.  These conversations range from silly to sublime.  Family, sports, spirituality, politics, news, religion, art, music, books, reunions… The list is endless.  Sometimes, you just want to sit in the room and relax with your thoughts.  But always, there is the comforting buzz of family, close friends, high school and college buddies, church members, work colleagues, etc.

What became vividly clear during these first few days of the Facebook fast was that I had stepped out of that room.  I had closed the door.  A deep sense of silence and a different quality of “alone” permeated my empty car.  I know how this might sound a little crazy to the folk that have been trying to intervene in my Facebook thing.  But the effect was profound.

There are several implications to this but I’ll mention two.  First, I have rarely been truly alone over the past year or so.  Being connected “virtually” via my cell phone and social media is something significantly more real than I realized.  I’ve missed the renewed relationships with people from my past.  I’ve recognized that conversations with my friends locally are enhanced and deepened via social media.  Rather than typical small talk, on Facebook we move on to snarky comments and humor.  We also begin to ask the second level questions and make comments that move conversations to deeper levels than might happen when we merely bump into each other in the grocery store.  I also have become more aware of why the most brutal from of punishment for a teenager these days is taking away their cell phone.  In a way, it places them in “solitary confinement”.  I think at times, that’s exactly the punishment that is called for in a situation.  However, it also might be more extreme than the situation calls for.  I need to think a little more about this next time parental justice comes down.

The second thing I’ll mention is that…well, I’ve rarely been truly alone over the past year or so.  Rather than solitude and quiet, I’ve taken comfort in the noisy room.  I think true solitude is something extremely important and is in fact missing from my spiritual life.  I don’t think merely logging off of Facebook is going to provide the solitude that I’m talking about here.  I fill the space constantly with podcasts, music, email, newspapers, magazines, TV, YouTube, etc.  We are constantly barraged with media, information…noise.  I think this constant sensory overload might just be overwhelming the still small voice of God’s Spirit…of my own spirit.