An Indelible Name

My wife and I took great care in naming our children. Because not only would our children need to survive the uniquely adolescent cruelty that can be made of someone’s name, but their names are something they would be saddled with for the rest of their lives. It will be the name their grandchildren will be looking up when locating their obituary, and will be the name discovered ten generations later by someone researching their genealogy. In this regard, our names are far more permanent than tattoos.

“What is in a name?” is the famous question mused by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. The gist of the point being – would an object somehow be altered, if it were named differently? If not, then what real significance does a name actually have? But as the play unfolds, we discover that everything that is named is inextricably contingent upon its context – no object exists within the vacuum of its own self-determination. For Romeo and Juliet, it is the tragic context of their family surnames – but if they weren’t born into these two rival families, they would in fact not be the same people.

In the creation narrative God invites Adam to name the animals (Genesis 2:19, 20). Now, this may strike you as a rather innocuous detail, but I take it to be an invitation for man to join in on the work of creation. Because to name a thing, is to identify it for what it is – it is to recognize its significance within the context of creation. So not only is this man’s first act, it is this specific act that defines the very nature of what it means for mankind to co-labor with God in his vineyard. But in our exile from the garden – we’ve lost our ability to accurately name things according to their true significance.

imagesAt the point when God makes his covenant with Abram, is the point when God reveals to Abram that his true name is Abraham (Genesis 17: 1-5). Likewise, at the point when Simon correctly identifies Jesus as the Christ, is the moment when Jesus chooses to reveal to Simon, that his true name is Peter. (Matthew 16:13-20). Taken within the specific context of these events, the significance of the renaming of these men leaps out. It is as if the underlying ontological truth about these two men were breaking through our previously opaque understanding of them – that their true names were inextricably tied back to the true nature of creation.

After an all night’s wrestling with God, Jacob finds out that his true name is Israel . . . and the story of God’s chosen people begins. Just imagine what it will be like when you finally hear your true name! (Revelation 2:17) An indelible name, identifying you as the beloved of God, an immutably ontological truth about you. Now read 1 John 3:2 ~ “. . . and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”. So – what’s in a name? . . . turns out, quite a lot.

. . . but there is a name above all others.

So, What About Evil In The World? (3 of 3)

An atheist will tell you that morality is nothing more than a human construct — that good and evil don’t really exist, but are only malleable concepts intended to serve the evolutionary pragmatism of our specie’s survival . . . and then with a straight face, they’ll ask you how you can believe in a god who allows evil to exist. The cognitive dissonance of atheistic intellectual sophistry, notwithstanding – the presence of evil in the world is problematic for every philosophical position . . . including theism. Because frankly, evil is so devoid of purpose that it strains our ability to comprehend why it would even exist.

The Magi enter Jerusalem, the seat of power in Judea, bearing gifts for the new born king (Matthew 2: 1-12). Naturally, they had assumed that a king would be born in a place of power to a royal family – and so they inquired of Herod, where this child king might be found, so that they might worship him. Little did they know that this inquiry would set into motion inconceivably horrific events – that Herod, out of his paranoia, would choose to kill all of the male children under two, in the region of Bethlehem (16-18).

The juxtaposition of this is so profound – juxtaposing those traveling from afar, having come to worship the Christ, the incarnate hope of new life; with those who in blind obedience were willing to carry out the evil deeds of Herod’s dark political ambition, leaving death and despair in their wake. The temptation is to think of this juxtaposition as being about two groups of people – but as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us “. . . the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”. So we do well to remember, that good and evil is not a choice between us and them, but rather a choice within each of us — we either choose the way of life . . . or the way of death.

quote-most-of-the-evil-in-this-world-is-done-by-people-with-good-intentions-t-s-eliot-35-31-08In this way, evil is best defined by everything that chooses to be contrary to life. A pocket watch might fail to keep time, thereby failing to function within the purposes for which it was designed, but we would not describe this failure as evil, but rather as broken. But if the pocket watch insisted that the broken way it keeps time, is the way that time should be kept, placing it at odds with its design – then we are no longer dealing with a simple failure to measure up, rather we are dealing with an open insurrection, one that seeks to act contrary to the very purpose for which it was designed.

Evil isn’t defined as evil simply because it runs afoul of our current cultural mores, but rather because it is an arrogant denunciation of all that has been spoken into existence. It is an attempt to disassemble through violence, oppression, and death all that is good and gives life, in the world. It is everything that the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ is not. One desires to restore what is broken, the other only seeks to smash everything into submission. So in the godless universe of the atheist, the pocket watch must be coerced into denying that it was purposefully designed, in essence, denying the very meaning of its existence . . . and it is this very undoing of all things that is evil.

. . . but love will show the way.

So, What About The Impoverished? (2 of 3)

When the atheist assumes that he must empirically witness an unquestionable display of God’s power, leaving no room for doubt – he is tipping his hand, as to what kind of God he would be. Imagining he’d be a benevolent potentate, ever flexing his muscles, on full display, beyond a shadow of a doubt – he’d damn well make sure you knew he was God. Because, after all, what’s the point of having all that power, if you don’t show it? For the atheist, this is the kind of God that logic and reason demands – one that can’t be denied.

And this is precisely what makes the nativity narrative so perplexing for the atheist – there’s no great fanfare, no awesome displays of power . . . just another poor child, born into a cruel and pitiless world. So when Jesus enters this world under the scandal of a teenage pregnancy, born to impoverished parents — this could hardly have been the advent of the King of Kings. Because surely if God exists, he doesn’t need to enter the world in this specific way – so why did he? Why not simply pronounce his intentions accomplished, and impose his will on his creation?

Powerful leaders aren’t known for willingly subjecting themselves to this type of degradation. Sure, they might on occasion, strategically feign a lowly and common demeanor, as a sort of photo-op, to create the illusion that they’re just like one of us regular folks. But the entire life of Christ is scandalous, from his prosaic birth to his public execution. So the life of Christ isn’t simply humble – it is conspicuously antithetical to what we might expect. So instead of an aloof condescension, Jesus chose to identify intimately with our struggles and hardships.

bangladesh_-_0111_-_caritas_invernoSo when we come to Matthew 26: 6-16, we find a woman bringing Jesus a gift, much like the gifts of the Magi, gifts of great value . . . gifts of foreshadowing what was to come of Jesus. The woman anoints Jesus with this costly oil, to the objection of Judas who had calculated that the oil would’ve been better spent on the poor. And when Jesus not only defends the actions of the woman, but extols her spiritual perception – Judas, there and then, makes up his mind, to betray Jesus. Because Judas, like many today, think that poverty can be solved by nothing more than a redistribution of wealth . . . and clearly Jesus was working a different agenda.

Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9 tells us “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” This is the agenda of Christ – to enter into poverty to be with us, to know us, allowing us to know him, that we may be made richer in such a knowing. This is the very template of how the world is to be engaged – that we would genuinely enter into the lives of those in need, allowing the grace and mercy of God to animate our hearts to be redemptively sacrificial. On Christmas, Jesus comes incarnate, as a gift to a world in great need . . . inviting us to go and do likewise.

So, how will you celebrate this Christmas?

So, What About Peace On Earth? (1 of 3)

It would be a reasonable conclusion to say that the whole of human history could be described as a cycle of three reoccurring phases – 1) Events leading up to war; 2) war being waged; 3) and the aftermath effects of war. So even though every generation has cried out for peace, peace has never really been on the agenda — except as peace defined on our own terms . . . of being in control. Wanting a better world is a noble dream . . . but wanting a better world on our own terms is the very stuff of which nightmares are made.

For even when we reduce this to the microcosm of individual relationships, we discover the very same war/peace paradox at work. When we seek to be at peace with everyone in our lives, invariably we end up fighting to create and maintain the type of peace we imagine should exist. But isn’t this the same way we approach love? We desire unconditional love — but we end up practicing conditional love. This is because even though we hate to admit it — what we want most, is a world created in our own image. But could it be that fundamentally, we aren’t even at peace with ourselves?

The whole reason for seeking professional counseling is so we might learn how to be at peace with ourselves — someone to walk with us through the mine field of our fears and anxieties, to help us locate those self-sabotaging behaviors besetting us, and to develop within us a better self-talk language. But the truth is — it really doesn’t matter whether or not we’re even in counseling – we all share the same fallen diagnoses. Paul puts it this way “but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” ~ Romans 7:23, 24.

downloadSo, what are we to make of “peace on earth, good will toward men”? The atheist will, undoubtedly, surmise this to be the seasonal pipe dream rhetoric of a delusional, misguided mythology. But all the same, he keeps his longing eye on the idea that all of humanity might someday be perfected by evolution . . . and in that evolved perfection, find peace. But it is the confession of the Christian faith that peace must first be found in Christ – because apart from him, we invariably default back to our own definitions of peace. For only in the peace of Christ are we capable of transcending every circumstance.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace, born into a violent world, only to suffer a violent death at the hands of a violent people. But even so, we can know peace — for it is in his resurrection, we are given a hope capable of animating a real and lasting peace. Therefore, during this Advent season I whisper “peace be still”, to quiet the war that rages within my own heart. I say “shalom (peace)” to all I meet, regardless of whether they consider me their friend or foe. And I say “peace on earth, good will toward men” to a world longing for peace — so that it might finally realize that peace never begins in the vain imaginations of men . . . it begins in a manger.

May the war within you find peace on earth . . .

Crossing The Divide

The first thing an anthropologist observes about a culture is how the people collect themselves into groups, how those groups interact, and how each person draws their sense of belonging and significance from the group(s) of which they are a member. For it is in this very cultural dynamic that customs and ethics are created and maintained. So it could be said that group think is inextricably woven, not only into the fabric of cultural ethos, but also into the psyche of each person, within the culture.

For some folks this offends their social narrative that celebrates individuality as the ultimate expression of human existence. While on the other end of the spectrum, we find those who insist that a collectivist polity is inevitable, because they misconstrue the anthropological significance of why humans seek relationships. In their own way, each of these opposing views are a distortion of what it means to live in community – one coercively seeking an homogenized conformity, while the other promotes a rationale for self-indulgence. So for the moment, let us set both of these aside.

Group identity, whether involuntary, like family and ethnicity; or chosen, like political and religious beliefs – inextricably contributes to each person’s sense of self. We can’t help but explain who we are, why we do and think the things we do, without including a group identity of some sort. This is likely because thinking of ourselves in terms of relationships contextualizes us – which is no real surprise given that we are physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually designed for relationship.

It is the image of God at work within in us that compels us to seek relationship – but because of the fall, we either end up dismissing the value of community, or community becomes a place of manipulation and power struggle (the aforementioned distortions). So even as we gather with extended family to celebrate what we’re most thankful for, some of those relationships, might seem like a tinder box awaiting a single combustible word to ignite them.

200px-Arch_Balance_(cropped)Since our exile from Eden, fear and shame hides in the shadows of every relationship. And because real relationships require the honesty of transparency and vulnerability, fear and shame either drives us to a self-possessed autonomy, or to a manipulative insistence upon lockstep conformity. But each of these drives a wedge between us, keeping us at an insulated distance from one another . . . where our fear and shame won’t be exposed. So how do we cross that divide?

Lest we forget, Jesus has already crossed this relational divide, and has opened a way for us to do the same. Christ suffered the brutality and shame of public execution – a form of torture intended to be so horrific that everyone would look away, and in fear fall into compliance with the Roman authorities. But the very God who spoke into existence the universe, humbled himself, willing to suffer for the sake of our reconciliation – in order to redeem each of us to himself . . . as well as, each of us to one another. This is how we cross the divide, allowing our hearts to be filled with the love of Christ, a love that’s willing to risk the shame and pain of vulnerability — so that the reconciliation of God might be on full display . . . so let this be what you are known for this Thanksgiving.

If for only a moment . . .

When Hope Leads You Home (3 of 3)

To view life as a journey that must be taken, is one of the grand themes of storytelling. Like all of the grand themes, it rings true for us because on some fundamental level, we experientially know it to be true. But isn’t this just a trick of retrospection, attempting to make sense of all of the events and circumstances that unavoidably collide with our life? Aren’t we simply affirming our own narrative — pretending our life has meaning by pretending our life is going somewhere? This is the tension found between hope and despair.

The concept of hope is best understood as a form of faith, which isn’t really too surprising, given that what we often place our hope in, is where we have likely already placed some measure of our faith. Conversely, despair comes on us like a capsizing of our will to live, swamping us under the weight of relentless doubt. So it would seem we are ever pulled between hope and hopelessness — the beauty and the wonder, the heartache and the pain, that mark the path all along our way . . . each one of us alone –yet, all of us together, alone.

But still, it is an act of faith to embrace as true something that you can’t actually prove to be true. And even though this is a point of consternation, confounding the atheist who imagines themselves above the intellectual fray of faith beliefs – it remains axiomatic, nonetheless. In this way, faith and hope have an intellectually tenable dimension. But even so, hope isn’t really found in a cognitive vacuum, but rather, in our real world engagement of life – where the sharp edges of reality aren’t really impressed with what you think you know, because it’s going to drop the hammer on everything you’ve chosen to believe . . . just to see if it will last. Which is why the beliefs we hold will either go the distance, or be exposed as delusion.

downloadTherefore, it’s no wonder we draw meaning and significance from believing that life has purpose. Now, this is either a feature of ontological design, because life actually does have a purpose – or purpose is a fiction contrived out of a self-referencing delusion, where there ultimately is no purpose to life . . . and the best we can do is pretend that one exists. Hope disenfranchised from a purposeful framing of existence is unsustainable. But when hope is hardwired to a purposeful beginning — it will always find it’s way to a hopeful conclusion.

Every journey has a destination in mind, a place it’s taking you. Now, your personal story might have taken a few wrong turns along the way, in fact, so many wrong turns that you no longer even recognize your journey once begun. Leaving you to feel lost and disillusioned until despair begins to occupy your every stray moment — until like the prodigal son all you can think about is going home . . . in hope that there will still be a place for you there. But that porch light has been left on for you a long time, and your Father is more than eager to run out and welcome you home.  This is why when hope leads you home, the things that matter most — just fall into place.

Even if it’s a long way home . . .

When Love Calls Your Name (2 of 3)

It was a cold December night when I first met my wife. It was a Christmas party – I showed up with some other girl . . . and Doreen (my wife) who doesn’t drink coffee, brought coffee for everyone else (and that was my first clue). And even though she and I only spoke for a few minutes, she ended up inviting me, through a mutual friend, to a dinner she was hosting at her house, between Christmas and New Year. So as they say, the rest was history – we were married the following May. And we’ve been married now for 35 years. We have 7 kids and 4 grand kids . . . with another one on the way.

That was the night my life was forever changed. I went from being a vagabond poet, living in the wild impermanence of a single life – into a shared path of abiding love with my sweetheart, a woman who has been so completely woven into my life, that I can no longer clearly identify exactly where I end and she begins. I guess you could say, that December night, was a night that love called my name, pulling me into another dimension, making my life much larger than the life I was living. But that is the way of love, it is unconstrained, and will not be domesticated . . . as if it could somehow fit into the small life it originally finds us living.

Love is a powerful thing—it will take you to extremes. With love, you’ll experience the greatest of joys, and invariably, you will experience the deepest of sorrows. But here’s the thing — more often than not, we are hardly ever prepared for what love is actually calling us to do. Because we falsely assume that we can have our own agenda with love . . . as if love had no agenda of it’s own. When we define love as getting everything we want — then it really isn’t love at all . . . because real love is incapable of being selfish.

AdobeStock_144177491_webEven the person with a healthy appreciation for self-love doesn’t subscribe to a selfish love, as much as they practice a form of self-identifying love – correctly identifying themselves as the beloved of God, as one who bears his image. For they know that love has been calling their name long before the foundations of the world, and it is that very love resonating within them that they have identified. Because love set apart from the ineffably transcendent truth, that God is love, is nothing more than a meaningless self-indulgence pretending to be something more.

St Benedict is said to have pondered – what could be better than to have the Lord call your name? Because it is a profound intimacy, to be known, and to be loved in just this way. This is the very love that took Christ to the cross, so that he could reconcile us to himself – becoming the love story, by which all other love stories are measured. So yea, that’s love calling your name – are you ready to allow it to forever change your life? But before you answer that, remember — there really isn’t an option where it doesn’t.

“I threw the dice when they pierced his side
— but I’ve seen love conquer the great divide”

When Faith Answers Your Question (1 of 3)

There are many ways one might reasonably summarize life – but here’s one you likely haven’t yet considered: Life is a relentless string of questions requiring you to define your existence, ever challenging your presupposed understandings, ever unpacking the small boxes you’ve carefully packed, vainly attempting to divide things into discernable categories. No doubt, this is why those who do their dead level best to order their lives inevitably discover that life is like a bed that won’t stay made — because invariably somebody’s going to sleep in it.

It doesn’t matter whether you address these questions head on or ignore them altogether — once asked, the effect of them lingers, all the same. This is no doubt, because much of life goes unexplained. But not because life is unintelligible, or out of a lack plausible theories — but rather, because the questions about life that haunt us most aren’t merely points of conjecture that can be answered as if they were nothing more than an intellectual exercise. This is because the answers that allude us most were never meant to be discovered out of the noisy machinery of the mind . . . but rather, in the quite meditations of the heart.

The modern mind believes that every problem has a solution, every question has an answer, and that eventually, given enough time, the secrets of the universe will unlock. So just as soon as our scientific locksmith finishes whittling us up a key, we’ll become the masters of all we survey . . . as if the universe didn’t already belong to someone else. But what if the point of some questions weren’t really about having an answer? What if the point of some of those questions were about finding out how many unanswered questions we could be at peace with?

faith-and-reasonWhen faith answers the question, the answer is no longer tethered to our need to understand. Now, this isn’t just an abstract philosophical fine point, to be appreciated academically – no, this is where your faith beliefs collide with your real life. Every iteration of the question: “what will become of me, and my loved ones?” is addressed. Every detail of your life, beyond your control, is addressed. Every fear and shadow of doubt, is disarmed by faith . . . faith placed in the creator and sustainer of all things, the Lord God of heaven and earth.

The juxtaposition of Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” is the very fulcrum of faith. Because one must step away from trusting in their own understanding, in order to step towards trusting in the Lord. In this way, faith answers all of the questions in our life – not by explaining every answer to us so that we might control the outcome, but rather, in how it sets us free from the limitations of such explanations . . . as such explanations can only lead to more unanswerable questions. We are finite beings in a vast universe – the temptation is to believe that knowledge is the only way we could ever possibly hope to survive . . . but faith knows better.

So give me some faith . . .

The Shaming of the True

There are two very well-known sayings when it comes to lying – ironically, each one tells a particular truth about lying, each revealing something insightful about the human condition. Mark Twain, an American humorist said “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” And Joseph Goebbels, the infamous NAZI propagandist said “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” So judging from these two quotes, it would seem clear that we are all pretty susceptible to believing socially accepted lies – especially, the type of lies that affirm what we already want to believe.

But the lies that we are the likeliest to accept, are the ones we tell ourselves — and if you think this doesn’t apply to you . . . we may have just identified one of those lies. Truth requires an unimpeachable point of reference, and too often we assume that we are that reference point . . . and that if we were lying to ourselves, we would certainly experience some measure of shame commensurate with such dishonesty. But this assumes that the lies we tell ourselves aren’t shameless in the way they skew our self-perception.

You may have been raised by a parent who was overly critical, scrutinizing every detail and flaw of your life, without a single word of approval or affirmation for what you did right This was a lie told about you – that you likely grew up telling yourself. And this is just one of many examples, of how lies use shame to silence the truth. But there is also a shaming of the true that occurs on a cultural scale, where a group-think ethos attempts to control the cultural narrative – demanding compliance and marginalizing dissent . . . and as it is with all lies — the method of shame employed doesn’t have to be true.

imagesHere’s a truth – all human life is sacred . . . but there are many lies perpetrated intent on marginalizing, oppressing, and exterminating various sub-groups of humans. Racism is the lie that says certain groups of people are less human. Misogyny is the lie that says women are less significant than men. Abortion is the lie that says humans in utero don’t have an innate right to exist. Those defending each one of these lies will offer you compellingly emotional explanations for why each sub-group is the exception to the rule, that all human life is sacred . . . in an attempt to shame you into conformity with their lie. But, in fact, each one of these lies is its own deconstruction of the whole truth that all human life is sacred.

But for the father of lies (Satan), false accusation is the shaming weapon of choice. Because where a false accusation is made, doubt is created – even if there isn’t an ounce of actual evidence supporting the claim. In this way, the damage is done, regardless of the truth. In John 3:19-21 we are told that the light comes into the world by way of sacrificial love. But all that lingers in the dark, hates the light – for the light of truth exposes every lie (20). But whatever is true, lives in the light, and thereby belongs to God (21). So the real test for what is true and what is lie, can only be conducted in the light of God’s love – so come stand shamelessly in the light of that love . . . and allow the lies you tell yourself to fall away.

When in doubt — hold it up to the light.

Changing Clothes

Ingrid Bergman starred in the 1944 movie, Gaslight — a story about woman being psychologically manipulated into believing that she’s going insane. This is how gaslighting has come to describe scenarios where one person deliberately attempts to re-tell events through a skewed self-serving filter, in order to manipulate someone else into doubting their own natural perception of those same events.

We find a variation of this in Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The emperor is conned into believing that only an astute and refined person can perceive his new clothing — so not only is the emperor being deceived, but everyone in his court was thrown into crisis, doubting their own perception, torn between what their eyes clearly see . . . and what social conformity demands of them.

Let’s face it, social conformity has been attempting to gaslight us since the day we were born – telling us what we need to have, and how we need to act . . . and how odd we must be if we disagree. And in a world where the ethics and mores are as changeable and capricious as the latest fashions, we become culturally conditioned to doubt our natural instinct to question the change . . . for fear of being ridiculed as out of step with the times.

So whatever the new rules are, we best not run afoul of them – but if we wait long enough, the current rules will have been over-written . . . the way the old ones were. Every generation tries to re-imagine the world, pushing it through a skewed self-serving filter, until it approximates a world that conforms to their manipulative desires. Could it be that like the emperor, we’ve been wearing the clothing of our own vanity? What if I told you that you’ve been wearing old clothes, long destined for the dustbin – would you think I was gaslighting you?

downloadIn Colossians 3:9 Paul invites us to quit lying to ourselves and one another, and to remember that we’ve already taken off those old clothes, and the madness associated with them. But this invitation isn’t just another iteration of rules (Colossians 2:20-23), for in Christ we are dead to those rules. No, this is an invitation to remember that as image bearers of God, all of the superficial things that divide us evaporate in Christ (Colossians 3:10,11).

For these are the new clothes we wear (Colossians 3:12-15) as God’s beloved – woven into the fabric of humility, meekness, and patience are the threads of compassion, kindness, and forgiveness . . . pulled together in a harmony of love. And all those who wear this garment are filled with grateful hearts and the peace of Christ. Now, if you ask me – those are some pretty spiffy duds! Makes you wonder why you keep trying to put on those old rags of the old self – when clearly the vestments of the new self have been purchased for you at such an extravagant cost.

So maybe it’s time you started working on that rewrite . . .

The Gift of the Open Hand (5 of 5)

Undoubtedly, you have heard it said that time is money. It is an economic maxim of sorts, meant to define time as a resource under the rubric of supply and demand and measured in terms of productivity. We are only given so many minutes in a lifetime, before time’s up, for each of us. This is likely what gave rise to the old adage “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” – because we are either spending our time pursuing worthy endeavors or it will be wasted by default in a dissipation, of one form or another. That’s where that impulse to look busy when the boss comes around comes from – instinctively, we know we’re supposed to be busy doing something.

Productivity is one of those empty container words, of which the definition is completely contingent upon the contents found within – contents which, regardless of intentionality, produces an outcome all the same. And even when volitional intention is specifically involved, there can still be a variance between intention and outcome. So here’s the sobering reality – your life is always producing an outcome . . . whether or not it’s an outcome you intend. Maybe we should pay more attention to the content we’re putting into that container.

The daily grind of our day to day will at times take on a frenetic pace, multi-tasking the mundane and exceptional, alike – as we attempt to keep our lives on track. Preoccupied with paying the bills and triaging our calendars to reflect what needs to get done . . . while making room for what we want to do. So we daily fill our hands with all of the stuff and activities we’ve convinced ourselves are required to produce the life we want — all the while assuming that the outcome of our efforts will be such a life . . . and this is where the disconnect occurs.

imagesThis is the most common disconnect between being and doing. We always assume that the doing will lead to the being – so we occupy our hands with what we think we should have, and with what we think we should do to have it. We are willing to trade time for money, in hopes that we’ll finally have enough money to buy the kind of quality time it will take to be who it is we want to be. All the while failing to see, we already have that time right now to be that person. This is the gift of the open hand – it holds nothing, and it is content to do so . . .

Everyone’s familiar with Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”, but few connect this very bold statement about doing with the importance of the preceding verses (11,12) about first learning how to be content no matter the circumstance. The fulcrum of living in the power of Christ is found in learning how to be in Christ – being transformed into his likeness. In Luke 10:38-42 we find Martha angry that her sister, Mary is doing nothing. But by being with Christ, Mary is actually beginning to discover the whole point to everything she’ll ever do. So I say, have a seat Martha – quiet your busy mind and let your heart be lifted . . . and let your hands fall open.

Gotta hold it with an open hand . . .

The Gift Of Not Knowing (4 of 5)

I’ve always been a slow reader, tentative and methodical, and likely a little dyslexic – but I’ve always had a healthy appetite for learning. I remember sitting in my high school library reading an unassigned history book, wondering why educational systems make education such an uninspiring slog. It has since occurred to me that education is largely viewed as a means to something else . . . and not a desired end, in and of itself. This, of course, makes for a rather curious epistemological feedback loop – assuming that the knowing driving the acquiring of knowledge will somehow go unaltered by what has been learned . . . that one might take you a minute to puzzle out.

The Enlightenment flipped on all of the lights of modernity, hoping it could provide enough impetus to make our knowledge of everything enough to make our lives meaningful. “Knowledge is power” is a phrase attributed to Francis Bacon, thought to be the father of the Scientific Method, being the earliest to articulate its tenants. And ever since, knowledge has been treated as if it were a power source unto itself, capable of leading us all into a bright future. Until Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the Atom Bomb, gives us pause with this thought “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”.

It was the knowledge of good and evil that opened this Pandora’s Box – believing that our knowing of good and evil would be all it would take to be like God. Again, we find the same feedback loop as before, assuming our intentions to know are good before we can even know what makes something good . . . and something evil. But what we do know is that knowledge is power, and that power is control . . . and that we want control. So that feedback loop circles back around and we assume that we already know what we would do with such knowledge – we would control things for the better . . . but how could we possibly know that?

imagesNow we live at a time when the details of your past can be weaponized against you, should those details run afoul of our current cultural mores. It’s a bloodless unforgetting and unforgiving knowing of you, capable of unraveling your entire life. So yes, knowledge is power . . . a power that can be wielded by anyone for any purpose. Is this the world you want to live in, where we know every detail about one another? Which given our current technological trajectory, could very well involve calculating one another’s thoughts at any given moment.

I worship God in a room full of people, with whom I am happy in not being burdened with knowing every sinful detail of their broken lives – as I’m glad they don’t know those details about mine. Such details are meant to be shared as an intimate unfolding, as a gift of vulnerability we freely give to one another – and not as a ceaseless torrent of reckless gossip ripping through the middle of a congregation. This is what the gift of not knowing looks like — it looks like God’s grace and forgiveness found in not having to know. I’m always willing to carry whatever burden my brother or sister needs me to carry. But I won’t lie — the gift of not knowing is pretty sweet.

. . . and may God show us mercy on our way.

The Gift of a Broken Heart (3 of 5)

We tend to think of shame as the hard cruel light of guilt exposing every imperfection, every unguarded thought, and every misstep leading to every misdeed – placed out in the pitiless open air, so that every mocking voice of ridicule will have the opportunity look down in heartless sanctimony upon us in judgment. But in truth it is the fear of shame that is far more paralyzing. Like walking in a mine field, we measure every step, anticipating every scenario, calculating every choice, and hedging against every possibility that shame might find us.

Now, this might strike you as a bit hyperbolic, because you’re not consciously aware of this happening. But that’s just the thing about fear, it lingers in the shadows of our thought process, whispering cautionary advice whenever we’re tempted to take a chance . . . or step out in faith. The hissing voice of fear reminds us of those times we felt the deadly daggers of rejection and shame . . . and just how unbearable that pain can be.

In Genesis 2:18 we read “. . . It is not good that the man should be alone . . .” Whereas, this was most certainly true of Adam, it is no less true of every human that has ever lived. We were designed to be in relationship, first and foremost with God . . . but even God knew that this was not enough – that we would need one another. But since being exiled from the garden, not only was our relationship with God broken, our relationship with one another has had to struggle through our brokenness, doubts, and fears – allowing us only intermittent moments of meaningful connection.

imagesSo it could be said, that we are drawn into relationships that are fundamentally unworkable – presenting us with a choice: either we approach all relationships, protecting ourselves from the inevitable fallout, or we choose the way of love, knowing full well the price we’ll have to pay. It is the way of Christ to choose love and bear the pain, so that love might eventually win out – this is the way we are called to walk. And yes, it will break your heart, more than once, and in ways you’ll never expect.

Alfred Lord Tennyson famously said “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” – I find this to be a rather profoundly insightful bit of theology. For it is the gift of the broken heart that allows us to know the riches and depth of love, which goes far beyond the passing pleasantries of love experienced as mere sentimentality. It allows us a glimpse of the Father’s heart, like no other experience. It is the gift that reveals the true value of sacrifice, which is itself the very gift of giving one’s self away. So yes, this is the way of Christ, who did not allow the shame of the cross to dissuade his love for us . . . so that he might teach us that a broken heart is a sacred wound.

. . . it’s the bittersweet life

The Gift of Things Forgotten (2 of 5)

They say that our brains are like a computer – this not only strikes me as reductive, but it makes me wonder if they ever had a brain. Such a notion assumes that the stuff we know and the memories we have are nothing more than readily accessible data . . . when clearly that’s not how it works. The slightest smell, a momentary glimpse, a long forgotten tune, are all capable of involuntarily triggering a data dump of memories – and if you’re lucky, you’ll experience a nostalgic interlude . . . otherwise, you can end up feeling emotionally ambushed.

Have you ever tried to remember someone’s name, or struggled to think of a particular word? Did you ever take a test and knew the answer . . . and yet still couldn’t quite pull up the answer? So if my brain is basically just a computer, then it isn’t a very good one – interrupting me with unqueried information, while blue screening on the very data I’m actually trying to access. Given that our lives were meant to be more than just a complex AI algorithm, the fact that we are more than just a repository of knowledge and experience should give us a clue about how we should relate to our past and all of the things we’ve learned.

We live at a time when everyone can be googled, unearthing searchable data so that our lives can be forensically unpacked and re-contextualized into a malleable narrative. It used to be that only news worthy personalities had to contend with such an intruding scrutiny. But now anyone applying for a job, volunteering at soup kitchen, or just going out on a date, has likely been googled – and if you can’t be googled, well then, that’s just a whole other red flag. So apparently, we’ve all bought into the idea that a person is nothing more than a repository of misfit experiences, just data to be mined for some future inquisition.

37846a5d8ed847904f1a55f62a7575f7How is that we’ve arrived at such a mercilessly paranoid appraisal of one another? Ironically, this is the direct byproduct of existential relativism’s mischievous question: Who are we to judge? The original intent of which was meant to create a sophistry of moral ambiguity, believing that right and wrong was merely a human construct. But instead of making people less judgmental, it ironically has ended up allowing them to feel entitled to a more bloodless, exacting form of judgment that never forgives and never forgets – as a means of socially dispatching anyone we oppose.

The Pharisees bring an adulterous women to Jesus (John 8:1-11) to see how he will pass judgment on her. But instead of confronting her with her guilt, which he could have done, he chose to forgive her. And invited everyone in the encircling crowd to throw there rocks at her, if they thought they weren’t in desperate need of forgiveness themselves – as it turned out, they were all in need of forgiveness . . . just like every one of us do.

We want to pick up those stones because we feel entitled to confront the guilty with their guilt – but we also desperately want the type of forgiveness that’s willing to forget, that allows our future to be free of the fear of all the unexploded land mines in our past. The love of God keeps no ledger – our guilty deeds are removed, as far as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12). This is the gift of things forgotten that we have received . . . and it is the gift we must learn to give to one another, as well.

In the end we all have to let it go

The Gift of Dirty Dishes (1 of 5)

For the average working stiff, Monday is often experienced as a depressive disorder known as a “case of the Mondays” — a lethargic mind-funk that can actually last for days. While Fridays are often celebrated as a minor holiday, where each passing hour is counted down like a NASA launch sequence. In common parlance this attitude is known as “living for the weekend”, a 48 hour dispensation setting us free from the daily grind so that we can focus on what’s really important . . . sleeping in. But I’m beginning to think I could find rats, trapped in a maze chasing cheese, living a more purposeful life.

What we do, why we do it, and how we do it – directly contributes to how we understand ourselves within the world we live. This doesn’t just apply to our chosen occupations, but makes itself relevant to every action we take. In this way, being and doing are inextricably symbiotic. For it is out of who we are, that we act . . . and it is our actions that demonstrate, in the most practical, if not primal way – who we are. So here’s my question – is there a disconnect between how you see yourself and how you do the things you do?

Like most, my life is full of various reoccurring menial tasks that must be done – a list of chores, of which the primary benefit is found in how they momentarily unclutter the functionality of my life. Each one requiring a minimal amount of brain cells to accomplish – yet each one relentlessly making claims on my time. The lawn needs mowing. The trash needs taking out. The dishes need washing. Every task following its own predictable cycle – the very definition of monotony. So how am I to do these things in a way that best reflects who I am?

secret-cleaning-scuff-marks-off-dishes-silverware-faster-why-works.w1456I like the water hot – so that what goes unseen to the naked eye still comes clean . . . similar to the way humble tasks are able to purify the heart and mind. The most conspicuous thing about doing dishes is that I’m reminded that a meal or two has been prepared – that I eat regularly, and often with loved ones. And when I start to finish up – while wiping down the counter tops, I experience a subtle sense of accomplishment. Other things in my life may feel incomplete, or frayed, or even broken – but these dishes are done . . . a small victory – but a victory all the same. This is the gift of dirty dishes . . . a sacredness found in the smallest of details.

Is this not how we best understand the admonition of Colossians 3:23 – “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord . . .”? All that we are and all that we do belong to God, already – so it’s just a matter of aligning our lives with this most profound ontological confession. The common assumption is that we make our faith confessions, using words to which we’ve given mental assent – but perhaps it is the faith confessions of our deeds that have more to teach us . . . because that’s where we experience the presence of God at work — moment by moment . . . even in the smallest of details.

It’s always best to have a working prayer