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.

The Art of the Story (5 of 5)

Compositional Nihilism is the belief that the only things that actually exist, exist sub-atomically – everything else is just a cause and effect permutation of that reality. Therefore, the events of your life, which you commonly interpret as having purpose and meaning, are just an illusion – your life is nothing more than the incidental happenstance of a meta-script being written on a subatomic level. I can’t think of anything more antithetical to the way we actually live our lives than this philosophy.

We are far more inclined to view each event in our life as contributing to our personal history, making us who we are as individuals. In this way, it could be said, that we tend to see our lives as an unfolding story – a story filled with discernable characters and themes. And whereas, there is much we’d like to edit and revise, we can’t help but feel our story has a point – a purpose. With this in mind – just how intentional are you about the way your story is being told?

Whether you know it or not, you tell your story with every choice you make, in the way you conduct every relationship, and in how your time and treasure is spent. It is in the memories you create with those who know you best, it is found in the way you rise to each challenge, and it is measured by the grace and love, for which you are known. These are not merely the happenstance of impersonal forces – they are how you tell your story. So what kind of story-teller are you?

captura-de-pantalla-2015-07-09-a-las-7-56-58-1Simultaneously, there is also a larger narrative at work, a narrative that your story is intended to play a role in – it is a story only God can tell.  All of the grand themes are present – good and evil; love and hate; light and darkness . . . and the role of your story in this larger narrative is to navigate these grand themes by faith . . . in doing what is good, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6: 8). In this way our life’s story is meant to bear witness to this larger story being told, contributing our fleshed out details of this grand narrative.

God speaks the universe into existence, which is only the first few stanzas of this grand narrative – so we can only imagine the depth and beauty of the story that follows must be on a scale beyond all comprehension . . . and yet we are invited to tell our portion of it. It is a love story of grace and reconciliation, where we are both the ones being reconciled to God, and agents of his reconciliation — so that by design, all of our story lines are converging, seeking to be in God’s presence . . . together.

Here’s a song from one of my favorite story tellers . . .
reminding us that it’s a slow turning from the inside out

The Art of Sojourning (4 of 5)

“Home is where the heart is” – what a wonderfully ambiguous old adage! Does it mean that home isn’t about a fixed location at all, but rather is the ability to feel at home no matter where we are? Or does it mean that home is a fixed location that we have a resident longing for, no matter where we are? Or is it actually possible to be both at the same time — and what if this phenomenon is exactly what it means to live a life of faith . . . what do you think that would look like?

In many ways I see this as the native confession of my faith. On one hand, there is a larger framing of my life where I know myself to be an ambassador (2 Cor. 5: 20), advocating on behalf of a different realm, a realm that by faith, I claim to be my home. And on the other hand, I make my home in the life I’ve been given, living by faith in the presence of God, fully believing that my home is wherever he is (Psalm 90: 1). So I see myself as a pilgrim, my whole life is about making my way home to a specific destination – and as a resident, fully embracing the place God has me now.

This is what makes sojourning such an art form – learning to live fully in the moment, while not allowing that moment to define you; learning to be content and at peace with every circumstance, while unwaveringly embracing your longing for what should be. It is amidst these very tensions where our faith attempts to navigate us to an understanding of how to prioritize our lives. And the priority that keeps rising to the top, is our need to pursue our relationships more deeply — with God and others.

20160312185445095Without the stabilizing effects of relationship, our sojourning either devolves into a stagnate waiting around for our real life to begin, or a superficial pre-occupational drifting through life.  But this really isn’t that surprising – because when we think of home, we think of the place where we are known and loved . . . by those we know and love the most. So it only makes sense that if sojourning is about discovering what it means to be home, and being home is about the relationships we find there – then sojourning is best understood as a celebration of those relationships.

So then, it is in my faith in God where I hear the call to come home, and learn to abide in his presence everywhere I go. And everywhere I go I find myself in relationship with others who are trying to figure out what it means to sojourn through this life. So I share with them, all of the beauty and the wonder of the home I have found – inviting them to make their way home, so that they might be known and loved in the way, only their hearts can understand. “Home is where the heart is” might not strike you as being a theological axiom – but I assure you that it is . . .

I have always been transfixed by the simplicity and meloncholy beauty
of this Bruce Cockburn song of sojourning

The Art of Authenticity (3 of 5)

“It’s the real thing” – this was Coca-Cola’s slogan back in the day, when I was a kid. Looking back now, I’m struck by just how esoteric a slogan it was. I’m almost certain their point wasn’t really about metaphysics, as much as it was about authenticity – recognizing that the longing for authenticity is primal . . . that on some level we all just want to know what’s real – what’s genuine. In a world where so many things seem so tenuous, where people are so mired in the context of their own agendas – we’re all looking for something more reliable, more certain. So what about you – how authentic are you?

Let me catch you before you answer, and remind you that just beneath your carefully maintained persona on display for everyone else’s approval, is a person who intimately knows all of the fear and pride, self-doubt and self-preservation that preoccupies you 24/7 – and right now that person is likely beginning to pump the breaks on offering an answer. Because the first step to being authentic is being honest with yourself – to own the fact that there are aspects of you that you’d rather not have exposed.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m suggesting that we remove all social filters, as if being authentic equaled being obnoxious and inappropriate – that’s just being a jerk. But we shouldn’t allow social etiquette to inhibit us from being redemptively vulnerable with one another – which is where you share your genuine struggles as a form of truth telling that invites others to share their struggles, creating a safe place for bearing one another’s burdens. Such a naked honesty doesn’t come natural – so it takes practice and finesse before it becomes incorporated into your personality as a natural skill set . . . this is why I say there is an art to authenticity.

mask-1And even though it wasn’t likely the intent of Coca-Cola’s slogan to raise the question of metaphysics – authenticity (being “the real thing”) inextricably finds its significance in the metaphysics of aseity . . . separating what exists contingently from what exists in and of itself. St. Thomas Aquinas addresses this with the mind-blowing concept of ipsum esse subsistens (the act of being itself) – that because God’s existence is not contingent . . . he is the very essence of existence . . . and it doesn’t get any more real than that!

In Acts 17:27, 28 Paul is making his bedrock case before the Areopagus – that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’”. Therefore, because our existence is contingent on God, our ability to be real and authentic is inseparable from our relationship with God. In this sense, our longing for authenticity is a longing for God. So as we are being conformed to the image of Christ – it could very well be said that we are becoming more real . . . more authentic.

This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

All of This Is Mine

All of this is mine
The vaulted sky and everything beneath it
The ever-widening hole in the ground
Denying light and cataloging everything I desire

These folding chairs carefully arranged
To view the cataclysmic event of my fall
The polished surface of my achievements
Measuring me in preposterous effigy

This mirror of self-approval promising
To hide me from the honesty of light
The Sisyphus Stone of fear I hold at arms-length
Keeping it from crushing my will to continue

Every word on this page attempting to emerge
Hemmed in by my self-aware need to explain
O, would that I could, strike a match and watch it all burn in holy fire
To stand apart and laugh wildly with the freedom of having nothing at all

The Art of Forgiveness (2 of 5)

It has been my experience that what is profound, often comes wrapped in an elusive simplicity – such is the case with forgiveness. A quick census of any group of people would likely return a generally correct definition for forgiveness – albeit, one that almost exclusively emphasizes its contractual aspect. And if the same group were asked about their personal habits of forgiveness, most would no doubt view themselves as reasonably forgiving – each offering their particular caveats and conditions. But if asked about unforgiveable actions – invariably, each would provide at least one unforgiveable deed . . . only serving to indicate just how superficial their appreciation for how forgiveness really works.

You can learn a great deal about someone talking with them about forgiveness. For some, it is what I imagine it would be like to have to negotiate with a person wearing an explosive vest, threatening to blow themselves up unless their demands are met – except with the person choosing to withhold forgiveness, they seem almost completely unaware that the majority of the damage done will befall them. Others view forgiveness as a mythical incantation, when once spoken can dispel any harmful consequences by jettisoning the offending event out of existence. But for most of us, it usually takes on the cognitive dissonance of some emotional combination of these two extremes.

As it is with everything, our tendency to control and manipulate forgiveness invariably distorts our understanding of its innate beauty and grace. But in Alexander Pope’s minimalist axiom “To err is human, to forgive is divine” we discover an insightful primer about the underlying truth of forgiveness — without God, forgiveness is impossible! In Matthew 6:14, 15 Jesus provides us with a very important formula regarding forgiveness – the way we experience God’s forgiveness is inextricably tied to how willing we are to forgive others. This isn’t to say that God’s forgiveness is conditional, but rather that our experience of it, our ability to feel forgiven, is in direct correlation with how we forgive.

imageThen Jesus gives us another insight in Matthew 18:21, 22 by framing forgiveness in an idiom of speech that suggests that forgiveness is to be offered in a perpetual state – completely dispelling any notion that forgiveness is a static event. This is what makes forgiveness an art form. As with all art forms, there is a learning curve specific to each occasion of forgiveness where the artist becomes vulnerable — willing to leave behind a piece of themselves in the process . . . trusting that God will inhabit each oblation.

All of us are called to be agents of reconciliation in this world — therefore our capacity to forgive is an essential protocol . . . as it was forgiveness that allowed us to be reconciled to God. There are choices we make that close us off from all that is life giving – and then there are choices that enrich our lives, deepening our appreciation for every moment we are given . . . but the choice to forgive ushers us into the presence of God’s heart like no other choice we make.

This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

An Uncommon Treasure

Unwrapped and left out in the open
In the full warmth of the sun
Where anyone might find it
An uncommon treasure
Taken by the grateful and greedy alike
Inscrutably it sets the captive free
Setting aside the need to explain
Causing the auditioning truth to speak
Into the dark echoing hollow of vengeance
To find absolute peace in surrender
Like a rare and ponderous jewel
Left out in the open
In the full warmth of the sun
Where anyone might find it
Forgiveness is a gift
Best offered unwrapped

The Art of Lament (1 of 5)

No one likes a complainer, which is likely because complainers are often consumed by a self-possessed measure of whining and disproportionate blaming – imposing this indulgence on us, serving no other purpose than to off load their unbridled grievances . . . otherwise known as venting. But the trouble with complaining is that it only begets more complaining, as it usually is nothing more than a vacuous rehearsal of the assorted ways we’ve lost control of our lives . . . which of course, assumes we ever had control in the first place. But the primary problem with most of our complaining is that it places us at the center of our own universe . . . and I don’t know about you, but if I’m at the center of the universe—we’re all in trouble. So then what are we to do with all this unreconciled irascible stuff rattling around in our heads—if not complain?

If we’re ever to get beyond our incessant compulsion to complain, then we must commit ourselves to the task of learning the art of lament. Now, I get it that lament isn’t the first thing that leaps to mind, as you correctly associate it with mourning, sorrow, and regret – all of which you would rather spend a day at the dentist, to avoid. But could it be that part of such apprehension is due to the fact that we are so poorly practiced at lament? Which of course only further begs the question – why in the world would anyone ever want to be well practiced at lament? What value could that possibly render?

I would only point out that there is a clarifying honesty at work in the helpless vulnerability of lament that distills you down to the things that really define you – evacuating you from the center of your own universe, so that in a realigning of your heart and mind, circumstances can begin to take on true proportion. This invariably brings down the façade of your well maintained fiefdom, causing you to give up any claim on control, forcing you to become a refugee, needing to remove your inner most self to a safer distance.

shockSo now, camped out on these outskirts, mourning the loss of the life you thought you wanted most, is where you begin to take inventory. But the life of a refugee is one of traveling light, so the pickings are pretty slim – so there is only the contemplation of an empty hand. Until at last in this most desperate hour, you look beyond yourself to discover others honest enough to enter into their own lament . . . and so you travel together.

To a refugee the idea of finding refuge isn’t just a reassuring pleasantry—it is an inescapable necessity. So when we read psalms like Psalm 91:2 about God being our refuge, scripture isn’t merely offering us a reassuring backstop plan B – but instead invites us to confess that this is actually the only possible plan. It is the wide-eyed confession that the mythology of “having it all together” can only lead to despair. It is the foundational confession that the center of the universe belongs to God and that the only way we can occupy that space is when we take refuge in him . . . and that it is by way of our lamentations where we are the likeliest to see God as our refuge.

Here’s a song I wrote this past summer,
mourning the untimely death of an old friend.