Ravens of Elijah

If you’re anything like me, then you’re inclined to believe that life can only make sense if on some scale, on some level, there is some measure of balance and symmetry. That with each wave of life that hits from every direction, eventual our boat rights itself on even keel. I don’t know if this is just a philosophical borrowing from Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, or am I just making up my own version of Dualism, without all of its eastern mystic trappings.

In common parlance this notion is better recognized as our instinct to believe that life should be fair . . . even though we know it isn’t. We seem to want to test at every turn the axiom “no good deed goes unpunished” because we know it to be broken. We want to believe that with whatever hardship we endure in well doing there will be an approximate counter weight of experienced blessing . . . and yet our lives seem to be constantly caught in the tensions found in every asymmetric circumstance that envelops us.

Back when I was a child in Sunday school, there was an image of Elijah being fed by ravens – and I remember being unsettled by the thought. As a child I couldn’t put my finger specifically on what it was that bothered me, but the older I got it became more clear. Here was Elijah willing to live as an outcast for speaking God’s truth, already willing to suffer hardship – and then God miraculously shows up to feed him during his time of need . . . so far, so good.

But of all the possible ways God had available to him as a means of meeting Elijah’s hunger – having birds, not known for their cleanliness, delivering carrion (rancid decaying meat) . . . strikes me as being at the bottom of the list. The tension here is palpable – God is unquestionably blessing Elijah . . . but in a manner that seems tone deaf to the sacrifice Elijah is already making at the time. I mean the Children of Israel in the wilderness ate manna and quail . . . and they complained the whole time! And without complaint, Elijah eats a far less desirable meal. It is this very disproportion that remains a mystery to me.

RavensOften my struggle with doubt isn’t over whether or not I believe God will show up, but rather in what he might choose to do, when he does – I’m desperate for him to bring balance to my life, and more often than not keeping me off balance seems to be his agenda. All I know is that when I begin to ponder what it means to submit myself to the inscrutable purposes of God – I find myself in Gethsemane.

I begin to imagine the long and lonely agonizing night – knowing full well what lies ahead. To have the disciples fallen asleep, unaware of how this night will end . . . and having just a few hours before hand, having washed the feet of Judas who was, even now, returning in betrayal to this garden. It is only then that I am reminded that even Jesus had to contend with the asymmetric vagaries of a fallen world . . . and I begin to confess my hopeless need for his love to carry me beyond the foolishness of my need to understand.

I love how this David Wilcox song exposes how our sense of balance
is nothing more than illusion.


Walking With A Limp

When my wife, of more than 30 years, and I were first married, I labored under the ridiculous misconception that if she would just provide me with a list of things she wanted and didn’t want – I would be happy to oblige . . . and our marriage would be smooth sailing. But that’s not how marriage works — in fact, such a perfunctory reduction misses the point of marriage, altogether. Not only is it completely devoid of intimacy, it smacks of contractual obligation . . . which invariably distills down to the least amount of effort while still maintaining compliance.

We experience relationships far more organically, knowing that they require a far more intuitive subtlety. That human desire doesn’t really function with binary precision, rather it follows a relational curve, where our desire is constantly being shaped by the dynamic of our relationships. This is why a static list, no matter how well conceived, can only at best, offer nothing more than a relational starting point . . . and sadly many relationships never grow beyond this superficial point.

This is the subtext found in the Gospel exchanges between Jesus and the Pharisees – the Pharisees were insisting on talking about the list, while Jesus was inviting them to think beyond the list. Ironically, the Pharisees chose to have a relationship with the list itself, rather than pursuing something more – because checking items off a list allowed them to meet the obligations of the relationship while maintaining a life apart from the relationship . . . given such a passive aggressive posturing, is it really any wonder that Jesus referred to them as whited sepulchers (Matthew 23:27)?

wrestling-with-GodAccording to Genesis 32, Jacob becoming Israel is an unusual story about a restless night, where we find Jacob fearing retribution from his twin brother, Esau – so he sends his family away to a safe distance . . . leaving him alone to face his brother. But that night as he slept, a mysterious angel/man appears to wrestle with him all night long — and it is out of this long night’s wrestling a relationship is forged. They wrestle until daybreak, but Jacob is unwilling to let the angel/man go, even though he has been wounded in the process — because he wanted something more from this encounter.

As it turned out his sparring partner was God himself, and because Jacob was willing to stay engaged with God all night long, God renames him Israel (He who struggles with God). The next day he limps out to face Esau (as well as his fear) – but it turns out his brother was so happy to see him, and the joy and generosity in Esau’s expression was like the very face of God to Jacob (Genesis 33:10).

What a wonderfully curious intimacy this story has – Jacob spends the night fighting for his relationship with God . . . and wakes to find out that his brother wants to reconcile their relationship. Are you willing to go into that long night and fight for that relationship . . . even if it means you might walk away with a limp? Or will you maintain a safe distance . . . with a dispassionate list of obligations in your hand? That’s God waiting for you in that ring – so why don’t you climb in and go a few rounds . . . there’s a blessing waiting for you in there.

My brother Garrison has written this beautifully intimate song
about Jacob wrestling with God.

Taking A Wrong Turn

My wife is somewhat of a directional savant – you can drop her in the middle of any large city and in a half an hour she will know all of the major thoroughfares and the best way to get you anywhere you want to go . . . even though she’s never been there before. I, on the other hand, am directionally challenged. When I come to a fork in the road, where logically there can only be a 50/50 chance of getting it wrong – I will lay you odds 10 to 1 that I will take the wrong turn. I don’t know if it’s that my internal compass is somehow askew, or if my mind is just elsewhere solving a more creative puzzle . . . leaving my body behind to sort out the details.

Quite often, you aren’t even aware that you’ve even taken a wrong turn until it becomes obviously, and sometimes painfully, apparent. So with just the slightest twinge of shame, igniting frustration and anger, you begin to think about how you might get yourself turned around again. However, it is in this very turning around and the journey back, where I want this metaphor to find its focus. Because it’s in the unanticipated course corrections of our life, and how we choose to recalibrate, that interests me most. For it’s in these epiphanic paradigm shifts of discovery where our real choices are made.

Because it is with these unearthed truths about ourselves, those things that come to light about the path we’re on, where we find the true crossroads of our life. No doubt our fear and shame, anger and hurt, want us to return to the bliss of ignorance — so the temptation to ignore our need for a course correction is very strong. But one cannot simply choose to un-know an unavoidable truth — it will invariably make itself even more evident over time. I believe this is the very proving ground of our faith – do we really believe that God can change us . . . and are we really interested in him doing so?

yz4Pc1FTiZNs8z1EhNZqocVJho7We just need to address these undesirable behaviors and habits, head on . . . is the way we usual think about willing ourselves back on to the right path again. But that’s just another wrong turn – as that can only lead to a perpetuating cycle of failure, shame, and even more layers of undesirable behaviors and habits. What lies beneath the surface will only leach through again. So if ignoring our need to change direction is going the wrong way, and attempting to cosmetically address our addictive behaviors and habits is just another wrong turn – then what is the right direction?

Arguably, the right direction to take, is to do the will of God — to which we profess “. . . he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion . . .” (Philippians 1:6). Which is better explained in Philippians 2:13 “for it is God who works in in you, both to will and to work for his pleasure.” We’re not merely a fixer-up project that God is observing with a critical eye – wondering when we’re going to get our act together. He is actively working to make us completely new. Our reconciliation to God is an ongoing occurrence, one that God is superintending out of his great love for us. Therefore, the right direction is to fully embrace the relationship that God is perpetually inviting you to . . .

. . . and one day, love’s going to carry you home.

That’s Not How It Works

When Otto von Bismarck in 1881, introduced the concept of retirement to Prussia’s Reichstag, it was thought to be a radical idea – because up until then people simply didn’t retire . . . and couldn’t imagine why they would. Working was so integral to how they viewed their lives; the idea of not working struck them as a form of amputation – separating them from some vital and useful part of how they understood themselves. This was decidedly an interruption to the familiar rhythm of labor and leisure, which made up their everyday life.

It is a theological misconception to view labor as part of our fall from Eden, as if it were a curse and a judgement upon us. We were designed for work; it was always a part of our intended purpose. What got broken in the fall was our relationship to work. In the same way every relationship was broken – with God, with one another, and to the world, itself. Therefore, the reconciliation of God is the only thing that can restore us back to a right relationship with our labors.

We were created in the image of a creator – let that soak in for minute. So the idea of holding idle leisure over and above our daily labors, is to place us out of balance with our intended purpose. Therefore, the notion that all of our efforts, apart from our designated spiritualized activities, in this life are nothing more than an inconsequential moving game pieces around on a board that’s destined for destruction – is in fact a form Gnosticism . . . creating a false dichotomy between our sacred and secular efforts. And that’s not the way it works . . .

tumblr_oa4c0mIyNO1qfvq9bo1_1280All that we are, all that we have, and all that we do is to be done to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31) – which has far more to do with an integrated life than a sub-divided one. Therefore, there is no divide between the sacred life and secular – there is only the life of faith that views all things as sacred. We find an expression of this in ora et labora (pray and work), a tenet of St. Benedict – where all of the tasks of the day are placed in context by a life of scripture and prayer. My point isn’t that we all must follow a monastic life, but rather that we begin to see how our life of faith is meant to be an integrated life.

So much of our culture has been shaped by the ethos of modernity, a two-story perspective – the things that we think on one floor, and the things that we do on the other. It tells us that we ostensibly live in our own heads – so that’s where the important stuff happens, like faith . . . and everything else is just idle motion in a corruptible world. In this way, modernism has poisoned our perspective. Our faith isn’t just an elevated way of thinking — but can be found in both the profound and mundane activities of our life. . . when that life is offered as an oblation to God, living fully in his presence. So we work as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23) . . . because ultimately, there really is no one else to work for.

Tim Keller unpacks the importance of having a contextual narrative understanding of our vocation.

The Alchemy That Love Brings

When I sit in my living room, in my favorite chair, and look out of the window, I can see the stand of tall pine trees behind my house — I can watch them sway almost imperceptibly in a gentle breeze, as the late afternoon sun begins to paint their upper branches . . . until I become entranced. I can’t explain why this moves me the way it does, bringing me such a sense of well-being – I just know that it does. I do know however, that the older I get, the more acutely attuned to the simpler pleasures I become – the very details of which, I undoubtedly raced passed in my youth.

As the eyes of a kid in a candy store grow wider with the seemingly infinite possibilities, he becomes filled with the reckless desire to have far more than he can hold – when even a starving man is more possessed of need than desire . . . the child is natively drawn into desiring more than his need requires. But an unconstrained desire for anything other than God can only lead us into various permutations of addiction. This is likely why our youth is often ill spent in chasing after our passions — first one thing and then another.

Even our desire to love and be loved can become distorted and pulled into the undertow of diminishing returns, creating in us an insatiable need to control the outcome . . . of how love will serve our desire.  So we become more preoccupied with conforming love to our agenda than with allowing love to change us. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul makes the case for love’s preeminence – not as something held hostage to our every whim, but as something with the transformative power to change the way we see everything else . . . bringing proportion to what we value.

1By design, love isn’t meant to pool up and become stagnant, but rather, it is meant to cascade over the edges of your life spilling on to everything in your life, until you begin to understand it all as a sacred blessing. In this way, everything and everyone appear as changed, no longer to be known as ordinary, but appreciated within the full economy of creation, because God has spoken it all things into existence. This is the alchemy that love brings – God changing us to the point where everything we see appears to us as being changed, as well.

This dynamic is most obvious to me while playing with my grandchildren, or enjoying comfort food my wife is expert at preparing. But I am learning to detect it in the less obvious details of my life, learning to find God’s fingerprints hiding in plain sight. As I learn to look for all of these rare and ponderous moments awaiting discovery in my every day, God is reshaping me, reshaping my heart and mind to more readily find his presence . . . so don’t mind me – I’m just watching God’s hand swaying in the pines.

The line “the alchemy that love brings” was taken from this song I wrote for my daughter’s wedding . . . which happened just this past weekend!

Walking Through Walls

I never met a kid who wasn’t interested in having super powers. And judging by the popularity of all of these comic book movies and TV shows that continue to come out, there’s still a bit of a kid in each of us still entertaining, if only as a passing interest, this particular fantasy. I fully appreciate the allure – super powers would address so many things all at once. Our sense of significance; our struggle with feeling powerless; our desire to do something important with our lives; and our ability to serve the downtrodden. So not only would it be very cool to have super powers – there would also be tangible benefits . . . maybe God ought to look into this.

In truth, we can game out a thousand “if only . . .” scenarios that would work far better than the one we feel stuck in – but what if that’s just a trick of perception? What if I told you I walk through walls, and walk on water every day . . . and so do you? Would you believe me? Your first reaction, no doubt, would be to consider it impossible. But then as you’d begin to think of it in terms of a riddle to be solved . . . then O yeah! “he’s talking about walking through doors and taking a shower!”

Reflexively, we think of what is common, as being common, and what is impossible as being impossible – until we are forced to find where the overlap may exist. Could it be that much of what we find impossible is really more about our failure to identify where this overlap might be? My riddle can be solved when we reframe what is impossible by reimagining what is possible. This isn’t found in the fairy dust of positive thinking, which more often than not is built on nothing more than existential expectations — no, this is a radical redefining of the way we define what is possible.

jesuswalksonwaterIn Matthew 17:20 Jesus tells us that the smallest amount of faith can move a mountain – now, you are more than welcome to hold this in the abstraction of metaphor . . . but even as a metaphor, it is still fundamentally insisting that we must rethink the very fabric of what is possible. That when we are willing to see others and ourselves through the lens, of even the least amount of faith, the possibilities begin to multiply on our horizon.

The admonition of Jesus to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5: 44) may strike you as an impossibility, that the distance is too great and the walls are too high . . . and that even Jesus would have written those people off by now. But trust me when I tell you – that’s Jesus calling you to walk through walls . . . all of the walls you’ve built, all of the walls they’ve built. These walls cannot withstand the love of God, they will fall like the walls of Jericho . . . like the gates of Hell. And God’s name will be glorified for what only he is capable of doing. So the only real question is – are you willing to believe you can walk through those walls?

Here’s a song I wrote years ago about the way we view walls 

Ears To Hear

The shout-them-down rhetoric of tribal factions has so thoroughly taken over our cultural discourse until the simplest conversations have become minefields. Either you’re expected to contribute to the vitriolic diminishment of those with whom you disagree, or you will be ostracized for not conforming to tribal expectations. This isn’t to suggest that the ethos of tribal groupthink is somehow a new thing, rather, I’m only recognizing the high pitch of the sharp divide that has seized so much of our cultural engagement of one another, these days.

The only thing that the flamethrowers on each side can agree upon is that scorched earth is the only way to win – you gotta burn it down to reboot it! The good news is that those willing to actually strike the match are in a very small minority – but the bad news is that it has been this very small minority’s dark, dehumanizing mentality, which seems to be subtly at work fueling the debate. So instead of the civility of an intellectually honest exchange of ideas, where amicable disagreement is allowed to occur – we are now embroiled in bumper sticker bromides, snarky memes, and denouncements of anyone we disagree with as being stupid and/or evil . . . even when our own duplicity conspicuously exposes the shallowness of our own partisan agendas. In short, all we can do is talk at each other.

arrowsMy point here isn’t to drill down into the political minutia that has become our disproportionate justification for why we must prove how right we are and how wrong they are – as I no longer have the desire to contribute to the incessant inflation of political agendas. No, my point is that we are losing our ability to hear the humanity in the voice of those with whom we disagree. Now, before you assume that I’ve been secretly speaking about “them” and that “we” are different – let me disabuse you of that notion . . . as I am convinced we all share culpability in this coarsening of the discourse.

In the gospels, the words of Jesus were often met with resistance by those lost in their own echo chambers of context and influence. So he would invite them to set aside their expectations of what they want to hear, what their ears might be itching for – words to agree with . . . or words to pounce upon — like red meat. Jesus invited them to come and know something new – in a new way of knowing. Something they may have been previously leaving out of the equation. So the choice was theirs to make – to stay and try to figure it out . . . or to walk away convinced there was nothing new worth knowing.

When my wife and children accuse me of not hearing them, my first instinct is to dismiss the accusation as absurdly inaccurate — I can obviously hear them . . . which may be true if words were all they were trying to convey. But in the invitation of Jesus to have ears to hear, I have been learning to humble myself, so I might be able to listen beyond the logic of the words being spoken, to listen for what the heart may be speaking. There is an innate dignity we extend to one another when we truly seek to listen beyond the words. You may still end up disagreeing, and that’s all right, but you will have remembered something far more valuable – that the unconditional love of God might be trying to interrupt your conversation . . . and you might just want to let that happen.

I thought this was an excellent philosophical analysis
regarding the nature of the divide.

Knowing the Back Story

Our culture is driven by a self-affirming narrative, lost in the circular logic of “What I say has importance because I have said it”. But ironically, this narrowing narcissistic perspective appears to be on the rise during a time when avenues of personal communication are now at an all-time high. So we have all of this opportunity, like no other point in history, to connect with one another . . . and still, we end up speaking past each other.

The importance of first impressions is like a two-edged sword. We cannot help but formulate opinions about someone we first meet, measuring them by their initial appearance and conduct, placing them on a continuum ranging between exceptional to objectionable. Then we reflexively allow these superficial assessments of others entirely too much weight – knowing full well we have no desire to have ourselves known in such a shallow way. However, inescapably we know that this is exactly how we’ll be judged — so we present ourselves in the best light possible. This is a dysfunction of our fallen natures – hiding behind our selfie smiles.

This appears to be the corner we’ve painted ourselves in to – maybe we should have paid closer attention to those proverbial stickie notes we left ourselves about “Don’t judge a book by its cover” or “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” . . . we might have remembered that everyone has a back story. Truth be told — we’re all alike, we all just want to be truly known and deeply loved. So you’d think we would reject the reductionism of pigeon holing those we barely know – instead, choosing to hold sacred their dignity and personhood. However, if social media is to be taken as an anthropological indictor – then you’d be wrong.

It is an odd form of isolation – to be so connected without actually having any real connection. That in an ever-growing vacuum created by the lack of meaningful affirmation that only real connection can provide . . . we speak past one another in self-affirming terms. So that in this hyper attempt to live in the moment we end up living our lives on the surface of our own pretense. It’s as if we’re living at a distance from our own back-story . . . from our own truer selves.

20120609_ASD000_0In T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men, we find ourselves disturbingly mirrored – lost in the superficiality of our context, denying any meaningful sense of self, because we circumvent any true sense of community when we choose to devalue one another’s back-stories – in this way, not only does it invariably diminish others . . . but also, in the process our own story becomes diminished. When we worship at the altar of individuality, it should not surprise us that being alone has become our reward.

My faith discipline does not grow deeper because it’s just about God and I working things out – rather, it is in the way my faith community enriches my back-story. As each of us shares the details of our lives, we discover God in our midst (Matthew 18: 20). Because all of our individual back-stories find their true significance in the story that God is telling, a story given far more dimension in the cross-pollination found only in community. You are more than the virtual persona you maintain. You are the beloved of God, and you are my brother and sister — so allow this profound truth to animate how you treat others . . . both in person and online.

Here’s a well done recitation of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men

Knowing Your Calling (5 of 5)

You may have heard it said that survival is our strongest impulse. But consider this — if life has absolutely no purpose other than survival, then survival would be better understood as a cruel prison sentence. Because if life has no meaning or significance, then there can only be despair and disillusionment – making the mere subsistence of survival little more than a burlesque absurdity, ever mocking our very existence. So in this regard, it isn’t our survival instinct that propels us forward – it is the all-consuming belief that life must have purpose and meaning, and that the significance of our life is best found in the role we play within this greater purpose and meaning.

“The point of life isn’t just to live – but to live for something, definite” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky. “I want to find a reason for which I can live and die” ~ Soren Kierkegaard. “I want to find the answer to the question, which underlies all other questions—what am I here for?” ~ Abraham Heschel. The constant undertow of the ocean that is philosophical thought is obsessed with this very question of why. And whereas, this question is expressly a teleological question, to be sure – it undeniably finds each one of us in our beds at night staring at our ceiling . . . distilling down to the question – “So, what am I supposed to do about it . . . what am I called to do?”

Now, there is no shortage of books offering various strategies and metrics for how you might determine what you’ve been called to do. Never mind that most of this advice maintains a modernity paradigm that attempts to pair your marketable attributes (gifts and talents) with a consumerist presupposition about what their value might be – all of which ends up gutting the whole idea of being called of any of its mystic faith quality . . . completely forgetting that being called inextricably requires an enigmatic voice that calls.

downloadNothing has so plagued my faith sojourn as much as this topic. Because as an artist you either enjoy the celebrity of popular acceptance, where your calling is unquestioningly validated. Or you are relegated to being the resident dancing monkey, capable of doing a few clever artistic parlor tricks, but not quite marketable enough to be considered a real calling. In other words, in a world where we ask one another — “So, what do you do for a living” . . . there isn’t much of a place for someone like me, convinced I’m called to do things which aren’t really measured by gainful employment and occupational prestige. No doubt this is why well-intentioned friends often have trouble understanding what motivates me.

But I’m convinced that our calling has far more to do with how God made us than the utilitarian value of what we can do. That being comes first – then the doing. Os Guinness offers us this insight “Calling is not only a matter of being and doing what we are but also of becoming what we are not yet but are called by God to be.” Which seems to be framing calling as more dynamic than static. In this respect, following our calling is inseparable from the process of becoming the person God is making us. Therefore, knowing your calling always begins with tuning into God’s presence in your life . . . because it is his presence in your life that becomes the substance of his calling on your life.

Here’s one of my favorite songwriters, Mac McAnally explaining the part that attitude plays in appreciating our calling . . .


Knowing Your Desire (4 of 5)

The heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care” there is a beguiling simplicity to this Emily Dickinson quote. At first blush the understanding of it seems conspicuously apparent, but as the mind begins to turn it over, it seems less likely to be about the capricious nature of our emotions, and may actually be suggesting that our emotional state has a much more predictable under current – by design a current meant to take us somewhere . . . somewhere only our deepest longings can identify.

When we are hungry, or thirsty, or sleep deprived, we don’t see these so much as emotions in and of themselves, but rather as desires that drive emotion. These are examples of physical want, which when left unaddressed become the singular focus of your heart and mind. You don’t have to think about it – the desire becomes so overwhelming and self-evident, it’s desire on autopilot. What we learn from these primal desires is that desire is meant to be reconciled . . . and not merely to remain as an open ended emotional state.

But what of those unsettled desires that we’re unsure of even how to name? Because we all have a resident longing we’ve learned to compensate for, either through addiction or distraction. A restless desire, preoccupying the subconscious mind, a steady under current pulling us along — never quite satisfied, ever seeking, ever reaching . . . insatiably. It is that primal longing to be truly known and truly loved – with a kind of knowing that is capable of penetrating our multitudinous layers of subterfuge, with an unflinching love that can not be dissuaded.

mass-desireBy faith, I identify the object of this desire, as God – but because such an explanation is often couched in the antiseptic cognition of modernity, it gets conveyed as a form of propositional knowledge, lacking the visceral engagement of our desire. So we turn to sentimentality in order to compensate for our lack of visceral experience, which allows all of our other competing desires driven by sentiment to create an amalgam out of God—a god who values our happiness above all else.

But in the psalms, David seems held transfixed, describing his desire for God in terms that closely mirror physical want – hungering and thirsting after God, losing sleep in his deep longing for God’s presence. And Jesus describes himself as the bread of life (John 6:35) and living water (John 7:38) – inviting us to partake of him . . . and not merely the idea of him. But what if these are more than metaphors? What if the good news of the gospel is far more than a proposition about God to which we give mental assent? What if engaging God wasn’t filtered by our vain intellect, or our foolish sentimentality, but rather was found in the communion of his presence? Then desiring him above all else would be more like a thinning of the walls dividing heaven and earth . . . so that our knowing of him might be intimate — so that the whole of our desire might at last find true satisfaction.

This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

It’s Always You                        

Out of the whispering dark of night
Into the fragrant light of morning
I feel my heart grow light
But still the ache, the ache of longing
I long for you
It’s always you

Wade into the shallow of the day
The shifting tide of afternoon
A borrowed light to guide my way
Enough to trace a silhouette of you
An image of you
It’s always you

The healing song of evening
Seducing the mystery of the dark
Translates the eloquence of breathing
A simple refrain ignites the spark
That starts with you
It’s always you

Every day measured in this way
Everything held captive to this thought
As if woven deep into my DNA
The culminating threads of all I want
Are found in you
It’s always you

Knowing Your Addiction (3 of 5)

There are some topics we are confronted with that require us to have a bare knuckled vulnerability, a naked honesty – that sets aside the polite social protocols that hedge our self-perception, insulating us from the layers of dysfunction we dare not look directly at . . . it is that thread we dare not pull. So we broach such things in the abstractions of theoretical analysis, as things that other poor souls fall prey – instead of taking the humble path of confessing our brokenness. In this way, any honest discussion about addiction can be like rolling a hand grenade into the room . . .

I’m removing all of the substance abusing addictions and sexual addictions from the table – but only for those who have already freely chosen to confess their brokenness in these areas, as they likely already know, in vivid detail, why knowing your addiction is so vitally important. But for the rest of us who think we have these areas under manageable control, or think addiction is only confined to these specific areas – I ask you to join me in inviting God to remove from us the vanity and lies (Proverbs 30:8) that beset our thinking . . . so that we might break the chains we are incessantly forging.

Since our exile from Eden, and the intimacy with God it afforded – we have been compensating for that vacuum. Because the break in our relationship to God also created a tear in our understanding of ourselves. By design, we don’t know who we are apart from God. So our reality apart from him feels like a demented carnival, our perspective distorted like a funhouse mirror, as we ride the jerking, plunging rollercoaster of our emotions – so we go into the survival mode of self-medication.

imagesAll of us are in survival mode. All of us are trying to compensate our brokenness. All of us are self-medicating against the pain . . . this side of the fall, none are immune. You may be thinking that you don’t have an addiction, because you don’t have a socially unacceptable addiction – but that’s not the same thing, is it? Remember, addiction is whatever we do to compensate against the soul crushing disappointments, disillusionments, and despair in our life – all of our insecurity, loneliness, and emptiness . . . it’s whatever we do to fill that void. Because addiction is everything we do on our own, apart from God, to solve our deep and abiding longing . . . that lingering vestige of the fall.

To confess your addiction is to confess that there are insidious layers just beneath the surface that need healing . . . and that you are not satisfied with the illusion you create for others – you want to be truly healed. But if you hold your addiction in abstraction, treating it as if it were nothing more than a minor character flaw, or insignificant peccadillo – not only will you be living in self-deluded denial, but you’ll be missing out on how God wants to heal you. Because what was broken in the garden can be healed, and the reconciliation of God already knows how broken you are – even those hidden places you’re afraid to go . . . allow him to go there with you, so he can heal that too.

Here’s a song I wrote years ago about addiction . . .

Knowing Your Limitations (2 of 5)

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate the finely tuned wisdom of knowing my limitations. This is not merely because the bravado and naiveté of my bullet proof days of youth are now far behind me – but I think there is a focusing clarity that accompanies the realization that there are fewer days ahead than behind. Now, I know this might seem like it flies in the face of the popular zeitgeist of the self-help positive confession mantras of positive thinking – but I’m not really juxtaposing optimism with pessimism here . . . it might be more helpful for you to understand my point as offering a little bit of ballast, for keeping your feet when the tempest blows.

Just as sure as being paralyzed by our limitations is undoubtedly a ditch on one side of the road — when we speciously evaluate our life as having no limitation, we run the risk of swerving into the ditch on the other. Even so, a proportional assessment of our limitations, for some reason seems elusive. Some limitations will appear to us as insurmountable, only to discover they can easily be dispatched – while others will go completely undetected as we barrel head long into the same wall, repeatedly. But by their very nature, it would seem, we conduct a sort of fight or flight relationship with our limitations, likely because we rather not look at them too closely . . . probably because on some level, our limitations are such an unflinching truth telling about who we are — we’d rather leave them in abstraction.

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-brick-wall-rustic-old-metal-doors-private-parkingHowever, truly knowing our limitations allows us to see a clear path, to focus our energies on where our gifts and passions lie – while allowing the things we can’t control to drop from our hand. Because all too often we live under the misconception that we can control things far beyond our control. I can’t ultimately keep myself, or my loved ones, safe from all harm– life is just too dangerous a place. I can’t have everything I want, in the way I want it . . . and this is likely a good thing. I can’t make myself significant to someone else – no matter how hard I try. So the sooner I confess such limitations, disarming my fear of them, the sooner I can get about the business of doing what I was meant to do. Because ultimately, I must surrender all that I can do, as well as all that’s beyond me, into God’s hands.

But no doubt there are some reading this thinking “What about Philippians 4:13 ~ ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ – doesn’t that say I can do all things?” But with a careful reading of this passage we discover that it is actually declaring that our natural state is very limited, and that it is God, who is limitless. Therefore, the strength to do all things can only be experienced through God – so we must confess our limitations, before we can embrace the strength found in Christ . . . these two are inextricably bound. It is in beginning to know our limitations where we begin to learn the limitless value of our faith. So yes, in faith we are to take it to the very limit . . . and then be amazed by all that God is accomplishing through us.

This Peter Himmelman song off of his latest recording project, is a haunting interior stroll through the garden of our self-imposed limitations . . . as time indifferently bears witness.


Knowing Yourself (1 of 5)

Back in high school, if memory serves, I had a teacher who devoted a couple of days to a discussion about the self-assessing question of “Who am I?” As I recall, it was a meandering stroll through an existential waste land. And as you’ve likely already deduced, given that we were a room full of hormonally charged, largely bemused, malcontent teenagers, we were grudgingly participating – because after all, we knew exactly who we were . . . we were bored. Well mostly, except for that one guy who kept challenging the premise of how the teacher was addressing the question . . . and he will remain unnamed.

Know thyself” — this was already a known maxim of Plato’s day, as the need for being self-aware is timeless. So at the risk of chasing this rabbit too far down the psychobabble rabbit hole, I want to ruminate this concept. But given that it is a direct subset concept to the mother of all philosophical questions “Why do we exist?” – It invites a measure of philosophical consideration. But I’ll be foregoing the panoramic view of the forest, in favor of pondering what it might feel like to be a tree . . . how you and I might seek humble honesty when approaching the question of who, and why, we are.

So where do we begin? We are such a mixed bag of emotionally disparate ideas about who we might be. We are ever being pulled between pride and shame, ever comparatively referencing ourselves against the moving target of our perception of who we think others might be and how they might view us. So whatever we might glean from this wild menagerie of random thoughts will likely not yield much in the way of discernment — like a mirage, it can only tempt us into thinking we can simply take a peek inside and know with some degree of certainty what any of it might mean.

unexamined-life-6-9It’s really no surprise that we’re incapable of objectivity when it comes to ourselves – but perhaps, through the eyes of another, we can uncover some clue, some insight into the truth. But then again, everyone else is mired in their own mixed bag of self-informed misconceptions as well – so the idea that they might offer an authoritative opinion about who we might be, would be like looking through an opaque glass filled with misshaped shadows — hardly definitive or discernible. So whether it’s our own self-referencing musings, or the existential opinions of others, the best we can do is to tease around the edges of the question.

I know for those of you who regularly read my blog, this is a common theme – but I just can’t help it. There’s simply something therapeutically confessional about owning my inadequacy, to end the pretense that my perspective could ever be anything other than self-serving. As such a confession forces me to realize that it is only because of the mercies of God that I could ever hope to even begin to know who I am . . . to be set free of myself enough to accept his appraisal of me.

Because here’s the thing – there is no longing more primal than wanting to be truly known for who you are . . . and to be loved anyway. And we are so woefully inadequate at giving that to one another, let alone ourselves, with any level of consistency or significance. But in the love of God, we can not only have the courage to unflinchingly know ourselves, but we can learn to love ourselves and others as God loves us – to love extravagantly and without hesitation. Because this is exactly how God’s self-sacrificing love works — empowering us to let go of the self long enough to authentically love and be loved.

Here’s a David Wilcox song for those times when you look inside
. . . and discover those empty lonely rooms

Along The Way To Somewhere Else

Every once and awhile, lost in the motion of any given week, while tending my conveyer belt filled with all of the squeaky wheels I have to keep greased – I wonder how it is I got here. It’s not that here is such a bad place, it’s just that I thought I’d be somewhere else by now . . . perhaps, someone else by now. No doubt, I am not alone in feeling as if most of my life has been spent on a treadmill – so much going on, while not really going anywhere. Sure, I could choose to step off the treadmill – but what then?

The idea of choice always has a certain allure – as if anything and everything were possible. But if you’ve lived long enough, you likely know what it means to see plan A work its way down through the alphabet . . . until you find yourself, with the noise of squeaky wheels ringing in your ears, trying to remember which plan letter you’re currently on. Until invariably that reoccurring “what if” daydream about plan A begins to whisper its familiar siren song, only to quickly become the mocking voice of disappointment over what might have been.

46aef803925ee34cf9c3123e86f1e2f4All of this particularly comes to mind as I think about two weary and emotionally depleted travelers, who were on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-32). They were on their way back from Jerusalem, where they had just experienced a very dramatic pendulum swing — having met a man who had given them a life changing glimpse of hope, one they would have never imagined possible . . . only to have the religious class haul him in before the roman authorities, eventually ending in a scandalous execution. So with heavy hearts, this familiar road seemed especially long and unforgiving . . . and that’s when, unbeknownst to them, Jesus joined them along their way.

They began to explain to him how everything was on the verge of forever changing . . . and then it all fell apart. Sure there were those still holding out hope – but let’s face it, plan A had just crashed and burned beyond all recognition. At this point Jesus interrupts, telling them that God’s plan involves far more than their narrow expectations were allowing for – suffering isn’t derailment, but an important part of the path that must be traveled. These were likely puzzling and unsettling words for the ears of these weary travelers, as they entered into Emmaus. I mean, what could this stranger possibly know about God’s plan? It was at that point when Jesus broke bread and all was made clear.

On this side of the Resurrection, after having internalized its theological significance, and celebrating it as the centerpiece of our faith — sometimes we think about the road we’re on, and wonder if it’s really going anywhere. We begin to wonder if God is off somewhere else on an extended business trip, leaving us here on our own to figure all this stuff out . . . and that’s when Jesus joins us on that road, reminding us that the plan hasn’t changed. So that we might also say “. . . were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road . . ?” ~ Luke 24: 32

Here’s a song my brother Garrison wrote about the Emmaus Road . . .

The Enchantment of Spring

Already there’s a stirring in the stillness, as things dormant for months begin to make themselves known again. The planet shifts its weight, reaching for the light, for the all too familiar warmth, long absent from this hemisphere. Each passing day seems to sweep what’s left of the thinning shadows off into the shimmering expanse of morning sun spilling over the horizon. These are the days that make one believe promises made about an everlasting day – the promise that all things can be made new. This is the enchantment of spring.

The whole point of a good enchantment is that it allows you to suspend, if only briefly, your normal expectations, your usual way of knowing things – so that a deeper magic of knowing might emerge. So that you might imagine yourself standing in a field of Easter lilies spreading out like a sea of supple white flags waving as if floating on a gentle sun lit breeze.

Then out of the soft rise and fall of this swaying meadow, comes the rousing applause of angelic celebration, like an ancient melody sung by nascent voices. And as you are being swept up in the elation that has overtaken this pastoral setting – you begin to wonder what wonderful thing has occurred that could cause such a music? And then you turn and stare in disbelief — it is the great eucatastrophe of the crucifixion and the empty tomb . . . and you are undone by the sheer weight and wonder of it.

The Passion of Christ is like a winter’s menacingly dark sky looming over God himself, hanging on a cross . . . a darkness cracked wide open by the Resurrection, which moves with the force of a spring morning exponentially multiplying the life of everything it touches. Where death is broken by the power of love, tears give way to joy, and fear is chased back into the shadows of disbelief.

hqdefaultThe relentless beauty of all of this goes far beyond a theological knowing of salvation. Rather, we find it in far more visceral ways of encountering these profound truths, ways that lift right off the pages and penetrate the soul, ways that alter the way we see everything else . . . like spring. So as I step out on a clear spring day, I feel as if the promise of new life is more than a theological contractual clause – rather, it is as certain as spring following winter.

We don’t live our lives in our heads, we live them in the dimension of lived out experience. So the rich significance of the gospel narrative isn’t merely a cognitive switch we throw about an intellectual proposition – rather, it is a narrative that captivates us at the core of our being. There exists a hint of God’s redemptive work vibrating with new life hidden in the details of everything we experience – waiting for us to tune into that frequency . . . as we take a walk on a spring day.

Not sure, what it is about this old hymn – but I have always associated it with the emergence of Spring in the way it seems to call for all of creation to celebrate God.