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.

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living in exile…a voice in the desert!

It was the title that caught my eye…”What do low-income communities need?” Intriguing. Definitive. Hopeful? Maybe…I clicked the link and read the article in hopes of finding the answer.

After reading it, I’m not sure I necessarily “liked” what I read. But, I still felt compelled to post the link on both Facebook and Twitter. Megan McArdle’s perspective was frankly pretty dark and cynical in some respects. As I read it I found myself torn. There are ideas here that rub my liberal sensibilities the wrong way and others initiate a loud AMEN from those same sensibilities. I also found my more conservative impulses reacting almost exactly opposite my liberal side in precisely those same places.

Ultimately, the writer didn’t answer the question posed in the title. And that was sort of a let down after all of the opposing visceral reactions I experienced while reading the piece. Don’t get me wrong. McArdle’s point is well taken, specifically as she stated it in her last paragraph:

“Public policy can modestly improve the incentives and choice sets that poor people face–and it should do those things. But it cannot remake people into something more to the liking of bourgeois taxpayers.”

And there’s the rub. Just like so many other things in our culture, we want to apply some kind of pharmaceutical remedy to all our problems and make them disappear. We don’t necessarily care how the drug works, just so it takes the pain away. It is in that spirit that we attempt to apply social policies to issues at the whims of elected officials whose main goal is not to solve the issue at hand but to be re-elected. Lets just say the “results” of these politically motivated prescriptions pretty much read like the foul side affects that are hurriedly read following the utopian myth offered by the drug ads we are constantly barraged with on TV (would anyone like to recall the first time you heard “please call your Doctor immediately if you experience an erection lasting for more than 4 hours” with your kids in the room? For a funny digression, check this out.)  All of the efforts from “both sides of the aisle” to solve these problems seem to be more effective at inducing cynicism and resignation that any sort of hope for real solutions.

However the false promise of the article led me to another thought. I was reminded of a passage of scripture we read in our Corner Bible Study at King’s Cross Church a couple of Sundays ago:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
—Isaiah 61:1

It was a prophetic word to a people who had lost everything: their homeland, their culture, their religion. They were returning from exile in a foreign land to rebuild their lives from the ruins of Babylonian conquest. And it was very good news.

I think we often forget that we (all of us) live in exile as well. As I listen to the noise of partisan politics and recognize it’s absolute inability to deliver the good news proclaimed by the ancient prophet, I begin to long for the realm promised by God.  As I become inundated with the call to consumption and materialism to which this season has devolved and recognize the fleeting nature of the “highs” provided by the giving and receiving of stuff, I long for a voice calling out in this wilderness. (With all due respect to my friends who work for Nissan, this particular ad was the last straw for me.  Seriously?…”most wonderful sale of the year“…seriously?)

This Advent season has been a reminder for me to rediscover the true source of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for allthe people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  — Luke 2:10-11

This is what poor communities really need.  Frankly, it’s what all of us need. Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love…generously applied in our day to day lives.  Generously applied to the problems of our day.  The empty words of politicians and the fleeting pleasure of the accumulation of stuff pale in comparison.  It is my prayer for my family and for all of you this season that we all absolutely enjoy our Christmas celebration.  All of it…the giving and receiving of gifts, time with family, the lights, the food, the TV shoes, even the shopping (but that was a bit hard to write).   But I also pray that in all of this busyness and activity that you will “make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  Peace!