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.)

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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.

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.  

Coffee For Lent?!?!

Coffee For Lent?!?!

59284097I gave up coffee for Lent this year. A little context…I have 2 Keurig machines. One at home and one 2 steps from my chair beside my desk at work. On an average day I drink 5 large cups of black dark roast coffee. I prefer French roast or Italian roast. No added cream or sugar…that would be unhealthy.

I say that not to pat myself on the back or for you to think of me as some sort of sainted spiritual ascetic. It’s more of an acknowledgment of the first of the 12 steps…I admit that I am powerless over caffeine. Who knew there were actual withdrawal symptoms?!? Irritability? Insomnia? Depression? Leg pains? Check. Check. Check. Check.

I’m getting past these. A couple of Aleve and a sleep aid tablet the second night of my little adventure got me 8+ hours of sleep and I’ve been almost back to normal since. It’s more the habit I miss anyway. Well…that and the taste…and the smell…the warm cup in my hand…the steam rising from the rim on a cool morning on my porch…STEP 2! STEP2!

This Lent thing wasn’t part of my small town, conservative Southern Baptist tradition growing up. But it has become an important part of my faith. Each morning, I walk into the kitchen by the light of the coffee maker that has switched on in anticipation of my first cup of the day. For the next few weeks, rather than stick in a coffee pod, I switch off the machine, grab a glass of juice and head out to the screen porch and think about this practice.

I would love to have something profound to write here in this place. God parting the caffeine free fog with some glorious Lenten wisdom. Not yet. Still waiting. That is probably the point. Waiting. Trusting. Anticipating. The God who made all of this is meeting me here in this spot each and every morning. In silence. I’m wondering if that in itself might be point.

What’s your text?

What’s your text?

“Everything’s wrong says he. That’s a big text. But does he want to make everything right? Not he. He’d lose his text.”
—George Eliot, from Felix Holt

biblical-text-verse-new-testament-golden-verse-49688382What’s my text? What’s yours?

It’s not a question I ask myself very often…maybe never. But I’m asking it today and I’ll throw it out there for you to consider if you will.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been hearing a particular text being thrown around: some form of, “they are wrong…they are scary”. Much is due to our current emersion in partisan politics and a very contentious election between two extremely polarizing figures. There could only be one winner.

Having come out of that election with a “winner”, it’s obvious that nothing really has been settled. We are still a country divided. Neither side claims the other side’s President as their own. Both sides have protested something. However, it seems when distilled down to the common denominator, each side is operating from a very similar text: “they are wrong…they are scary.” At least we have some common ground. (Insert darkly ironic sarcasm here.)

I’m not talking about individual policies or issues. On that there is much diversity. Much passion. Much thought. Many many words written and talks given. Much scholarship and study, and prayer on behalf of both sides. I’m not trying to deny those differences. I have my own positions on those issues that I hold passionately and thoughtfully. And quiet frankly, I’m right! (Roll your eyes…snicker if you like, but you feel the same way about your positions on “the issues”.)

But what I AM writing about here is the common text we seem to have devolved into following: “they (the other side) are wrong…they are scary”. I’ll not hear anyone try to tell me that their side doesn’t do that. All sides are doing it. But is that all there is to our text. Is that really the only option? The other side is all wrong? Really? Is that all we got?

George Eliot points out the reason this text has become so dominant. In an odd way, seeing the world through this dualistic (and extremely simplistic) text relieves the tension. We don’t have to solve any problem as long as we can demonize the other side and rest comfortably in our little nest of “answers”. But, meanwhile, we are all on the verge of “unfriending” people we have loved all our lives and calling people names we know probably do not fully apply.

I think we have many more options than that. And I’m not about to let the polititians and the “news industry” determine my “text.” In his book, “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit“, Parker Palmer suggests 5 “Habits of the Heart” that I know would be a wonderful alternative text for you to try. (if you don’t know who Parker Palmer is, find out…pick a book…any book he’s written. I’ll suggest “Let Your Life Speak” as a good start.) By “Habits of the Heart”, Palmer means the filters we habitually use to interpret our experiences. They are habits that we filter everything we experience through. They are:

  • We understand that we are in this together.
  • We must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness”.
  • We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  • We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency.
  • We must strengthen our capacity to create community.

I’m not going to elaborate on these. I think they are obviously superior to the divisive “THEY are wrong…THEY are scary.” So…I dare you. Get a new text. Practice it. I dare you.

Aleppo, Rolex, BMW, & Light

Aleppo, Rolex, BMW, & Light

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The Fall of Aleppo (image from The Economist, Dec 17-23, 2016 issue)

The cover was pretty striking. The image to the right with the headline: “The Fall of Aleppo: Putin’s victory, the West’s failure”. I tried to imagine what it would be like to care for this child in such a place. Then, what was maybe the most disturbing point about this issue…I turned the page. 3 times.

 
  • First page: 2 page ad for “Rolex, The Cellini”: retail value $15,200. “It doesn’t just tell time. It tells history.”
  • Second page: 2 page ad for BMW 750Li xDrive: beginning MRSP $98,000. “Sheer Driving Pleasure”. Has a remote control key to park the car for you into tight spaces. So you don’t have to actually drive it yourself.
  • Third page: Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator: retail value $3500 (had interior cameras for “food management and direct grocery ordering). Comes with app for your phone so you might look in your refrigerator from your phone…rather than the annoying practice of opening the door.
 
The tragedy, and the irony printed in the first 6 pages of this magazine was a gut shot for me this morning. And it will haunt my Christmas. This isn’t a guilt trip post for the holidays. It’s not intended as a political statement per se. But, for me anyway, its my morning meditation on the closing of Advent 2016…the coming of the Christ…the hope and savior of the world. Where have we who call ourselves the “Christian West” gone wrong? How do we return to be the light the Christ showed us how to be to this hurting world? We are chosen by God not to be singled out and special. We are chosen to be witnesses to this light.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. —John 1:5 (NRSV)

Peace On Earth

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It’s been a difficult Advent to try and speak about peace.  Every where one looks the evidence of its absence is overwhelming.  I would write a few sentences here summing up the news headlines of late but I’d rather not. We all know them far too well.

If I turn from the headlines toward my expanded neighborhood of friends and acquaintances on social media, it seems there is an election looming.  In fact, there seems to be one looming 365 days a year.  And a cursory look at the posts on my feed seem to imply that one particular brand of politics or the other has the solution[s] and/or “leader[s]” to remedy this chronic lack of peace we’ve all been experiencing for quite some time.  Call me cynical but, I’m not really buying what they’re selling.  Seems as though this has been the claim by all sides of every issue for as long as I’ve been alert enough to pay attention.

So, what to do?  Do I give in to the cynicism of the age?

I don’t have an answer.  But I do have my faith.  The faith I have is rooted in a God who loves.  Call me naive.  Call me idealistic.  But, the older I get, my cynicism toward the powers of this world only grows and my faith in this loving God is continually confirmed.  Even when someone throws the turmoil of this world at my “loving God” saying the chaos is proof that my faith is in vain, I realize that I would rather live my faith in this loving God than in the false hopes and unfulfilled promises of the powers that be in our world.  It’s simply a better way to live my life. I would rather live in that love of God than in the fear and frustration offered by the alternative.

One of my favorite quotes about peace is by Nicholas Wolsterstorff:

“The state of shalom is the state of flourishing in all dimensions of one’s existence: in one’s relation to God, in one’s relation to one’s fellow human beings, in one’s relation to nature, and none’s relation to oneself…An ever-beckoning temptation for the [American] evangelical is to assume that all God really cares about for human beings here on earth is that they be born again and thus destined for salvation…  [However], what God desires for human beings is that comprehensive mode of flourishing which the Bible calls shalom…God’s love of justice is grounded in God’s longing for the shalom of God’s creatures and in God’s sorrow over its absence.”

—Nicholas Wolsterstorff

If the system you subscribe to isn’t offering this type of peace…this shalom…then, well, it might not be worthy of your faith.  And it just might be contributing to the absence of peace we’re all enduring in our world.

I think my favorite Christmas song is Christmas Bells and my favorite rendition is by John Gorka.  Check it out here.  (Here is a live version of the song.)

Peace.