Learning To Watch the Night

Our expectations are built upon our presupposed understanding of how the world is supposed to work. Which is to say, we have layers of expectation, we’re likely not even completely aware of — constantly shaping our perspective. And chances are, we only become aware of these embedded expectations when we find ourselves becoming increasingly impatient about something. In this way, our impatience is measuring the space between what is and what we imagine ought to be – either because it hasn’t happened yet . . . or worse, we begin to believe it won’t happen at all.

It’s funny how willing we are to allow our emotional state to be dragged around behind such poorly defined expectations – that the baseline peace and contentment of our hearts and minds could be so fragile. Could it be that our understanding of being at peace and finding contentment are all too often chained to the roller coaster ride of our ever-changing circumstances? So how do we break those chains? How do we refine our expectations and longings, so that we might learn the humble path of patience?

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” (Psalm 130: 5, 6). I have long been drawn to the emotive beauty of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120 – 135), in the way they resonate with our visceral experience of sojourn. But this particular psalm’s invitation to wait the night like a watchmen waits for morning, always strikes me as especially evocative – maybe it has something to do with the way waiting is the unexpected verb.

C10q0NWW8AAPr84In the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25) we find an important distinction between those who have prepared themselves to wait the night . . . with those who have not. When the discipline of patience is given focus, like those in the parable prepared themselves to wait the night for the bridegroom, it becomes a meditation of the heart. Our longing for daybreak, filled with anticipation, filled with a sacred expectation – allows us to know the night as a friend, delivering us eventually to our hearts desire. This is what it means to watch the night – to keep vigil through the night . . . knowing the morning will come.

Of course, all of this has a particular application this time of the year, given that Advent is all about being expectant — where all of our longings are met in the birth of Jesus. Our faith embraces an already accomplished reality, as it reaches through the long night of our daily circumstance, toward the moment we’ll know face to face, what it means to enjoy the unobstructed presence of the lover of our souls. So this year you might want to allow this Advent season to instruct you in what it really means to watch the night, and in so doing, sanctify your expectations of what comes next . . . and enjoy peace on earth all year long.


I have always loved the melancholy of this Christmas Carol 

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Learning To Read The Room (1 of 8)

Having been a music engineer and producer for many years, take it from me, the process is much more than simply recording the music. There’s agreeing upon the arrangements and performances, settling on and managing a budget, and hiring and directing the musicians – every part contributing to the desired vision of the project. So I end up wearing three hats – I’m an administrator, a music conductor, and a psychotherapist.

The need for musical expertise seems obvious enough. The management of time, people, and money isn’t really that surprising, given the type of undertaking such a project requires. But what is often over looked is the need to cultivate and maintain the creative process of all of the artists involved who will be leaving their fingerprints on the end result. Artistic talent doesn’t simply get flipped on like a switch of a machine, it needs to be entreated to find its voice within the dynamic arch of the music.

vDzdZBgSo I learned early on, the importance of tuning into the emotional state of everyone involved. I had to learn to read the room. The more I focused on the objectives of the project, the more I ran the risk of leaving behind those who I had asked to join me in the process. So sometimes, I needed to be willing to put on hold those objectives in order to assure that everyone was making the trip together. Because making music, making art, is first and foremost, a very human enterprise. After all, music that is evocative, that moves us, in a very real way, is an expression of our deep longing for transcendent beauty and significance.

It has likely already occurred to you that my point here has little to do with music production, and more to do with our need to be mindful of how we might tune into those around us. Because it’s not enough to find our own path within God’s purposes, our path must include others, challenging and encouraging them on their path. The temptation is to view these opportunities as teaching moments—as if imparting some great wisdom were the point. Yes, the temptation is to think giving someone good advice is what they need – when what they actually need most is our presences in their life.

We experience Christ as incarnate, not as a conceptual ideal, or a proposition about heaven. He isn’t an academically insulated spiritual teacher, as if removed from our real world experiences — rather, he makes his dwelling among us, so that he might be with us . . . and us with him. When you read the Gospels it’s plain that Jesus knew how to the read the room. Because his desire to enter our room, in the first place, was evident — he left no doubt that he valued being with us . . . not as an opportunity to change our thinking, but because he knew that just being in his presence would change us.

In music there is a melody line and various harmonies moving together along the meter of the song. So think of Jesus as the melody, inviting us to sing our part – where the beauty of the music rises far above the smallness of our individual lives. It is a song of gratitude and rejoicing. It is an endless symphony, ageless and unencumbered, floating free of the cages of our isolation. It is an ancient song our hearts have always known . . . we just need to be in the room together, inviting one another to remember how it goes.


This is an Advent song I wrote with my old friend Mo Leverett a few years back

An Observable God

Because we’ve come to know so much about the universe, the modern non-theist considers himself brave enough to face the uncertainties of that universe without the irrational encumbering mythology of belief in God. Meanwhile, he simultaneously ignores the blatantly self-referencing circular logic, which is the central theme of his own philosophical thesis – that survival is the most important value to life. And how does he know this . . . because his own survival instinct told him so, of course.

But somehow, the atheist can’t seem to wrap his head around the idea that if God created the entire universe, we likely wouldn’t be able to investigate or measure him, as if he were nothing more than one more object among many, in a universe . . . he created. But this does not keep them from demanding an observable God – one that is subject to their terms of inquiry, and conforms to their expectations.

Which has led me, over the years, to ask a few questions. “What percentage of all that can be known, do you think we already know?” This is a great question for thinning out the intellectual herd – if they offer a percentage . . . I know right away that they don’t have the intellectual bandwidth to continue the conversation. But for those who realize that we have no idea how little we already know – I ask “Then, on what basis of knowledge can we say that God doesn’t exist?”

Then I go on to ask “What specifically are you looking for, what evidence would convince you?” You’d think they’d have a ready answer for this question. . . and you’d be wrong. In my experience, after a few uncomfortable minutes of ill-considered thought, their answers fall into one of two categories – (1) God revealing himself directly to them – to which I remind them that they regularly dismiss anyone offering such evidence. Or (2) God revealing himself to everyone all at once – to which I remind them that they would simply explain away as a scientifically explainable event we just haven’t discovered the reason for yet. So it isn’t that their evidentiary bar is too high – it’s that it’s too self-referencing . . . they assume an objectivity for which they are simply incapable of ever hoping to attain.

IMG_0800So it turns out that the non-theist knows precisely the God who doesn’t exist — but is absolutely clueless about the one that might actually exist . . . because they refuse to accommodate the idea that if he is God, then logically he would be the one to dictate the terms under which he makes himself known. So, I ask “when you look out the window of your home and there are no cars in the driveway – you are aware of their absence, because you’ve established a baseline expectation of what you’re looking for . . . but if you really don’t know what you’re looking for, how do you know it’s not already there?”

When I ask them to tell me about the God they don’t believe in, quite often they describe a god that I also don’t believe in – and this surprises them, because they expected a different response. So, I ask “Could it be that you’ve spent all of your energy rejecting a non-existent god, instead of humbly seeking a God who might exist?”

It’s a false assumption to believe that God can be found with the intellect alone – we are far more complex than that . . . not to mention the inscrutability that is innate to the nature of God’s existence. Could it be that intuitively our longings and desires speak with more clarity about what truly satisfies the heart and mind. Could it be that we expect to find meaning and purpose in everything, because we were meant to find it? So would it not logically follow, if we are truly made in his image, then he can be found . . . if that’s what we really desire. Is that what you really desire?


We’re all trying to make our way home

What Is It That Haunts You?

What a person fears says a lot about them. It tells us what they value most. It gives us insight into how they conduct relationships. It allows us to see how they view themselves. The old adage “Fear is a great motivator” rings true to us, but what does it motivate? Then again, fear can just as easily incapacitate us, paralyzing us with indecision. Sometimes what we fear is apparent to us . . . but sometimes what we fear hides in our sub-conscience undetected, nudging us away from things, unbeknownst. So what do you fear?

There are three general categories that our fears fall into – the fear of the unknown, the fear of shame, and the fear of suffering. Then each of these three categories break into three subsequent categories:

Fear of the unknown – The unknown is a mystery, which includes everything about the future. We may be able to predict with a measure of certainty, but the unforeseen always lurks in the shadows – death being one of the most obscure shadows. The unknown that plagues our decision making. How do we know the choice we’re making will be the right one? We may end up with regret. The unknown of how we’ll respond. Will we hold up under pressure? Will we hold fast to what is right? All of these unknowns foster their own unique forms of fear.

Fear of shame – The shame of having all of our darkest thoughts and deeds exposed. The shame of what we did not do because some other fear held us hostage to inaction. The shame of feeling like our lives don’t matter—that we have no worth. Shame can be a very powerfully crippling form of fear, and can be the hardest to detect.

haunted-homesFear of suffering – We fear that we might have to suffer, whether emotionally or physically. We fear that a loved one might suffer, and all we can do is helplessly watch. We fear that we might be the cause of someone else’s suffering, regardless of our intent. The fear of suffering, in many ways, is the most obvious to us – but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

But there’s a fear that’s underneath them all – the fear of not being in control, and it is the fear we struggle with the most . . . because we can’t resist trying to be in control. It is this fear that is in direct competition with our fear of God – tempting us to believe that God has lost control, so we must step in. Which is rather foolish when you think about it – but fear isn’t always rational.

In this way, our fear of God restores for us the true understanding of the universe – everything is contingent upon him . . . and when we forget that, we create a vacuum that all of our fears rush into. When I say “fear not”, you might think “but you don’t know what I’m going through”. But when Jesus says “fear not” he also says “I am with you always” – so trust that there’s nothing beyond his control.


So remember . . . it’s alright

Naked and Screaming

We all come into this life fragile and innocent, naked and screaming. Instantaneously, we become aware of our overwhelming need – our need to be feed, to be held, to be protected . . . to be loved. And these are the needs that remain with us for the rest of our days – because our existence is inescapably contingent . . . and no measure of self-sufficiency can change this. To be innately filled with such a consuming need, is to be exposed and vulnerable, which invariably leads us onto one of two paths – humble acceptance or fearful shame.

It could be reasonably argued that naked and screaming is a defining aspect of our fallen nature – regardless of our age. Because our impulse response to being vulnerable is to act out of shame, to seek control, demanding the capitulation and deference of others . . . hoping to distract them and ourselves from the shame that is ever at work in us. But very often we foolishly assume that if our actions were driven by shame that we would certainly know it. But what if our instinct to cover the nakedness of being exposed was more reflexive than cognitive . . . do you still think you would know then?

But before I continue, let’s make an important distinction here between a cultural framing of shame, and the psychological outworking of shame. We might view those who choose to live a life of openly self-destructive behavior as having no shame – otherwise they would take care to hide their conspicuously consuming behavior . . . because that’s what we would do. We are tempted to assume that because they no longer maintain the social pretense of covering their shame, that they aren’t experiencing shame . . . but nothing could be further from the truth.

imagesInstead of screaming “Look away! . . . or you’ll never be able to accept me”—they’re screaming “Look at me! . . . and see what my fear of not being acceptable has done to me”. The innate vulnerability and need that is common to us all becomes harder to detect in these cases – because of the broken and distorted extremes they’ve gone to in addressing the disquiet and fear they experience . . . it is a need that has become for them a devouring abyss.

But like I said, fearful shame is only one of two paths. The humble acceptance path of our vulnerability becomes a solemn confession – it is not simply to confess our need, but to confess that every human attempt to address need will always be flawed. We can neither be fixed by someone else (human), or fix ourselves. It’s a humble confession that God’s grace is required – that underneath every need we have, is our need for him. Not only does this allow us to unflinchingly know ourselves as he knows us – but it also allows us to be grateful conduits of God’s grace in the world.

So when you experience people screaming (metaphorically) at you to accept them on their own broken terms of hiding shame, we can choose instead to accept them on the terms that sets us all free from shame, an acceptance that brings shame into the light so it can no longer have power. So that finally their deepest longings and needs can find a corresponding satisfaction that can only be found in God.


It is shame that steals everything from us . . .

A Different Drummer

Humans have the oddest relationship to conformity – it’s part sleepwalking ambivalence and part cognitive dissonant reaction. There’s a baseline anthropology driving our default psychology in regards to conformity, like an elastic band keeping us from straying too far, before it snaps us back into line . . . until like a toddler we begin to wobbly wander off in another direction. But by and large, most people follow socially normative expectations with agreeable compliance.

Ironically, many assume that the popular counter cultural persona they carefully maintain, based on what is currently counter culturally acceptable, somehow places them outside of conformity . . . and I just don’t have the heart to break it to them that it really doesn’t matter how much ink, metal bits, or smarmy aloof posturing – they’re still conforming . . . as I’m pretty sure the irony of this is completely lost on them.

Then there are those odd birds, who are simply contrarian – imagining that this qualifies as defying conformity . . . not realizing that all of their contrary choices are entirely predicated on their reaction to social norms – which of course means they’re still tethered to the cultural script, dancing to the same tune . . . albeit, with a measure of contempt for having to play along.

But with the artistically inclined, there usually isn’t so much a deliberate reaction or response to conformity, as such. For the creative mind, the social norms, which for most people, end up being either followed or challenged – are mostly ignored. Not really as a conscious defiance, but mostly out of a lack of sensitivity to the social queues. It’s because they’re preoccupied, listening for a different call, following a different path –which ends up taking up all of their attention. As an artist, I’m well acquainted with this blithe state of altered focus . . . and it is not easily explained.

B4rbqxvIUAIOdKxThe operative dynamic here is one of perception. The common perception detects the most conspicuous patterns of mannerism and behavior, language and value, apparent in the culture. But for the artist, with a different drummer in his head, he perceives many layers of pattern at work – the places where harmony and dissonance are vibrating beneath the surface of the culture . . . to see the beauty and the brokenness that often hides in the details of how life is lived.

In Romans 12:1-2 we are admonished to worship God by sacrificing the life we have, and this can only occur as God transforms us, renewing the way we perceive the world, letting go of the common patterns of conformity, so that we might recognize the deeper patterns of God’s will at work in the world. Then in Romans 8: 28-29 we discover that we are being conformed to the image of Christ, which is the very transformation in chapter 12 at work, allowing us to perceive all of the circumstances of our life as working for the good . . . regardless of the world’s perception of our circumstance.

I guess you could say that Jesus is the different drummer in our head, creating a different cadence that we might walk in by faith, allowing a different melody to be sung – a song of hope, a song we can sing everywhere we go . . . to everyone we meet. Can you hear that? That’s Jesus calling you to live in the power of his life – by seeing the world in a whole new way!


. . . and here’s the song I wrote to prove it.

A Disembodied Sense of Self

Believing that morality is nothing more than a human construct, Jean Paul Sartre in his book Existentialism and Human Emotions, places emphasis on the importance of being self-actualized – which is predicated on the idea that the act of choosing is of paramount value. Such a view finds no moral significance between the young man who assists an old lady across the street, and the one who pushes her into traffic – the only important thing is that they make their choice.

But within his existential framework Sartre offers this caveat – the choice of an individual must always be made with the full awareness of its impact on the collective. So even Sartre, given his atheistic relativism, understood that the identity of self is inextricably linked to its sense of community. This, of course, has long been an axiom of anthropology . . . and theology – that as the individuals shape the culture, the culture in turn, shapes the individuals. It is an unavoidable symbiosis.

Technological advancements have had a profound effect on how our sense of community has changed — making the world smaller, by making travel faster, and by the way it has multiplied for us various avenues of communication. My father was born at a time when radio was the principle window on the world, until television came along and largely displaced its impact. In the same way, television was my baseline context – so for me the impact of personal computers wouldn’t become a factor until after I was married. Like my father, I had enough time to anthropologically adjust to the curve of technology’s influence on culture, and in turn its influence on me – shifting at a pace that could be assimilated and adjusted to reasonably.

But my children inherit quite a different context. For my oldest son, Ryan the world begins with a PC as a prominent fixture of the home, but barely into his adulthood, his brother Benjamin, my youngest, inherits a world where computers are in everyone’s pocket. So the time for assimilation and adjustment to the rapidly shifting cultural influences of technology has collapsed. Where there was once a generational time span to respond, it now occurs within a single generation. At this pace technology is beginning to outstrip our ability to anthropologically absorb its impact.

shutterstock_163173239-270x180Therefore, it is my suspicion that this has led to a fragmented understanding of community, which in turn, has led to an ambiguous sense of self. In many ways our sense of self has been virtualized – as we are glued to back-lit screens. Rooms full of people texting one another, present together yet isolated, allowing a reductive superficiality to replace real human contact. On social media, we’ve become increasingly uninhibited, but not as a means of genuine vulnerability, but as a self-possessed spectacle, hiding behind our calculated anonymity, spoiling for a fight.

My point here isn’t to denounce technology – my point is that we have, in many ways, become culturally adrift in very dark waters. The technological influence on how we understand our place in the world is pervasive . . . and we don’t even know to what extent — our mores and ethics are beginning to reflect our disembodied sense of self. We seem so eager to carelessly pitch out many of our long established anthropological moorings without a moments pause — as we begin to inhabit Sartre’s existential relativism . . . where what’s real is diminished daily.

As a follower of Christ, all of this is so antithetical to the sense of self and community that is native to my faith confession. Because for the Christian, imago dei is our primer code for calibrating our comprehension of reality, and not merely as a religious abstraction. But in such a disembodiment of the self, I fear there is a wholesale form of forgetting taking place, where the irreducible value of human life is being eroded by all of these vain attempts to deconstruct reality and remake it in our own image. Invariably this leads to disillusionment and despair — because either we embrace existence, as created by God, or we disappear back into the non-existence from which he spoke us out of to begin with . . .


It’s a disembodied emptiness — like a hole in the heart

Walking In Light

I’ve never met a legalist who thought that they were one. Just goes to show you how powerful the influence of self-referencing can be. As the theory goes, there will always be someone else requiring a stricter adherence to a longer list of expected behaviors and enumerated misdeeds — so clearly such a person is far more likely to be a legalist than we are. But isn’t that just how a legalist would think – comparatively measuring themselves with those who aren’t doing it quite right? Ouch!

The Pharisees were expert in the art of comparative judgement. They were so devout in their observation of the law, that they went well above and beyond what was required . . . and they made darn sure everyone knew it. For them the value of righteousness and transgression were in how they were external expressions of conformity or defiance, and as such, the only indicator needed for determining a person’s worth and significance. And because the Pharisees kept the law so impeccably, their religious authority went unquestioned.

So when this carpenter, turned itinerate rabbi, comes to town, hanging out with the riff raff of the city, with a message that exposed their hollow conformity for the empty self-serving arrogance that it was (Matthew 6:1-7) – the Pharisees knew that their authority was being questioned, and their manipulative control over people was losing its grip. So they laid rhetorical traps for Jesus, only to be ensnared by their own deceitful intent. Until Jesus finally calls them out into the full light of day, speaking woe upon their self-serving hypocrisy (Matthew 23) – a scathing repudiation of the religious fiefdom they had been building for themselves in the name of God.

stepping-into-the-lightThey say light is a great disinfectant, exposing every hidden agenda, leaving no place to hide. For those who have spent their life in the dark this is a humbling undoing, stripping away the layers of bondage. But for those who have been pretending to live in the light, the true light is experienced as a far more searing rebuke – as it lays bare all of the hidden dark pretense of pride. So there’s no wonder, the common sinner felt invited to be healed and set free, while the self-righteous felt exposed, by Jesus’ words of life.

So when we come to 1 John 1:5-10, the invitation to “walk in the light” (vs 7) is best understood, not as a burden we were never intended to carry, but as a freedom that only the honest and humble can know. This is because this invitation to walk in the light has a conditional clause, we are to do so “as he is in the light”. The way of Christ is a humble path, so only the humble can walk freely in his light. But here’s the tricky bit – if you make being humble a task to be accomplished . . . you will have completely missed the point. Humility will never work from the outside in, it must come from the inside out. Now, here’s the great thing – it is the light of God within us working its way out that allows us to walk in light . . . so let’s join him in the light.


. . . and let him take your hand

Planning His Escape

Over the last few years, it became pretty clear to me that my dad had already made plans for his escape. It had become apparent that as this world grew dimmer for him, the call for him to come home had grown louder. So just after his 88th birthday, I experience him now . . . as absent from the body and present with the Lord. He is now realizing his heart’s desire – to know face to face what his faith had long confessed . . . that a life set free from the confines of this world is more wonderful than our minds could ever hope to imagine.

My father was not a great man, at least not in the common way greatness is thought of, but he was a good man, who loved the Lord and desired to do his will, as best as he knew how. I would do well to have my life measured favorably in just this way. He was a man of many flaws. So I will not pretend that he was some larger than life, heroic figure – because he most certainly would not have wanted to be remembered in that way. He knew all too well his own flaws and failings, but he also knew them to be an integral part of his redemptive story. He knew that ultimately the power of God is given far more glory when shinning through our weakness and brokenness.

He had a keen intellect, an affable personality, and a very expressive passion. But for me it is his wisdom that will linger longer and continue to speak into my life when all else has faded from memory. Because the wisdom he imparted to me shaped me into the man I am today. Here are just a few examples:

He taught me that it wasn’t enough to simply think – but I must be willing to think about my thinking . . . to be willing to examine carefully why it is I choose to think the way I do. He knew that our superficial beliefs require the scrutiny of intellectual honesty – but that can only happen if we are humble enough to hold intellectual honesty in high regard.

29314639_10155360297538202_5939009862703775744_nHe taught me that our whole life is spent trying to figure out how to get out of our own way – and that most of us don’t even know that’s what we’re trying to figure out. So not only was this excellent advice in regards to a golf swing (something my father was constantly tinkering with) – but it offers a unique insight about the human psyche. A primer for how I might begin to work through my own psychological and emotional baggage and in turn help others identify the many ways they sabotage their own lives.

He taught me that people choose to believe what they want to believe. And even though most folks like to imagine that they’ve chosen their beliefs after having carefully weighed all the evidence and having logically come to a conclusion – in truth, it has been their passions that have been leading them to their beliefs, all along. Because self-deception is inescapable.

And if you pull a thread through these three examples you’ll likely discover the unifying principle he was trying to convey to me – that I must always be honest with myself . . . so as to have an uncluttered appreciation for God’s presence in my life. So I learned to seek a naked honesty, because after all, God always sees us naked, stripped of all the subterfuge and pretense we clothe ourselves in. He sees our failures and flaws, and all of the many broken places inside of us — and yet, he loves us with a love beyond measure . . . and my father was a great expression of what that kind of love actually looked like . . . I guess that was something else my dad taught me.


. . . and now he gets to see the wide open vista that awaits us

The Seduction of Merit (9 of 9)

When a star athlete signs a record breaking contract, you can bet dollars to donuts, that for the next couple of seasons, if not longer, that this athlete will turn in a sub-par performance – history has demonstrated this time and again. There’s an additional psychological burden in play here – a cheering fan base can quickly become a jeering mob if a player receiving an above average compensation, turns in an average performance.

In this way the shifting weight of expectations can tip the scales out of balance – where the reward for doing something well enjoys a short lived accolade . . . disappearing into a disenchanted “What have you done lately?” Success, when caught in this type of performance loop, begins to resemble the Sisyphus Stone – you arrive at the top after having given everything you have to get there . . . only to realize that you’re not allowed to stay.

But this is only the most conspicuous permutation of the performance paradigm, a paradigm that, in truth, is subtly infused into every relationship we’re in. We come into this world seeking affirmation, only to discover that affirmation is the coin of the relational realm. Extending and withholding affirmation is often the subtext of how we conduct our relationships – more than we’d like to admit. Earning favor is what we assume is expected of us . . . because it’s exactly what we expect of others.

So it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how this can become a perverse distortion of our own sense of worth and significance – to allow our own value to be measured in terms of what we deserve and what we can merit. And then because that’s not insidious enough – we measure everyone else’s value by creating our own criterion for how they are to merit our approval, respect, and love . . . and in so doing we end up sabotaging every relationship we’re in.

165493383It’s a very seductive notion to believe we have the right to determine someone else’s value, as if a person’s innate value was something that could be negotiated on our own terms. Now, this isn’t something we consciously do, but it is a dynamic at work subverting relationships, all the same . . . as it is one of the most egregious vestiges of the fall. When our relationship with God was lost, we lost the ability to know ourselves as valuable — because that value is completely predicated on being made in His image . . . so everything since has been our vain attempt to make what is broken work as it was intended.

This is what makes the gospel such good news – that in being reconciled to God we can begin to remember what our real significance is, and how that significance can’t be merited, but is immutably established by God . . . which means that any attempt to determine someone else’s value apart from this is in direct conflict with God’s assessment. In this way, the admonition of Jesus for us to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34), and the syllogism of 1 John 4:12 “No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” – gives us no room for imposing our own system of merit . . . and in the presence of such love — why would we?


What he offers, we could never earn . . .

The Seduction of Consumerism (8 of 9)

Back in the 80’s there was a notable bumper sticker that read “He who dies with the most toys—wins!” But here’s the thing, there were just as many folks who took this as a reasonable take on how life works, as there were folks who took it as an ironic commentary about the conspicuous consumption of those days . . . and I still couldn’t tell you what was the original intent of this slogan. But there does seem to still exist this peculiar ambivalence regarding consumerism — like a bad habit we freely confess, while fully accommodating . . . as if we’re not completely convinced it’s a bad habit.

It’s that spark, that lift you experience when you buy a new smart phone or a car, or some other significant purchase. There’s an associative dynamic at work here – when we acquire something of perceived value, it has the psychological effect of causing us to feel as if our own personal value has been elevated. In many ways this has become the drug of choice, falsely assumed benign – which is what makes it so seductive. I mean after all, our entire economy is predicated on buying stuff, right?

On the short list of questions we have for those we first meet is this one “So, what do you do for a living?” On the conscious level this might be nothing more than an inquiry about how someone spends there time, vocationally — but on a sub-conscious level it is, among other things, a polite way of asking how much relative purchasing power they might have. Because that same associative dynamic of assessing value is at work subtly insinuating value about us and those around us.

barcodeBut our estimation of innate value, this side of Eden, is an elusive and mercurial thing. Because inanimate objects only have the value that human desire places on them – and nothing more. The innate value of hay bales of hundred dollar bills on a deserted island is nothing more than kindling . . . which begs the question: how is it that we allow money and stuff to have so much power over us? What if the idea of walking on streets of gold in heaven, was meant as a clue as to the comparative value of gold – that in truth, gold is nothing more than dirt beneath our feet . . . would that change your opinion of gold here on earth?

So we find ourselves at the familiar crossroads of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30), who lived a devout life, giving unto God what he thought God wanted . . . so he could keep the rest for himself. But what he failed to understand was that it all belongs to God, and that to divide out something apart from God is to make it a rival master to God’s authority on our life (Matthew 6:24) . . . invariably you can only choose to serve one or the other. Our hearts cannot be divided, our treasure can only have one home (Matthew 6:21). May our confession be that of Peter’s “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life”. In light of such a treasure . . . everything else is merely fuel for a bonfire.


This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

All of This Is Mine

All of this is mine
The vaulted sky and all that is beneath it
The ever-widening hole in the ground
That denies light and catalogs everything I think I want

All of 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 I have written 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 Seduction of Experts (7 of 9)

At some point experience and knowledge become interchangeable. Regardless of the discipline, becoming proficient requires, to varying degrees, a measure of both applied experiences and the didactic experiences of pedagogy. In this way, it is axiomatic that knowledge is a distilled translation of experience. So this is why those who have given decades of their lives to the acquiring of specifically applied and educational experiences are deserving of the deferential designation of expert.

Before the modern era of experts, one would enter a barber shop for a haircut and a shave . . . or a bloodletting, amputation, and a tooth extraction – talk about your one stop shopping! So needless to say — things have changed. Almost mindlessly, we enjoy many benefits of modern expertise. Beyond the obvious expertise of brain surgeons, airline pilots, and rocket scientists – we regularly take advantage of the expertise of farmers, auto mechanics, and clothiers. In truth, our reliance upon experts in our culture is more than just an economic dynamic, it’s an anthropological phenomenon . . . an ever refining of translated personal experience by proxy.

Prior to the Great War (World War I), there was an optimism within western intelligentsia regarding the future of humanity. It was predicated largely on the existential framework of Hegel and Nietzsche, informed by the theories of Darwin and Marx – until eventually a collection of experts was formed known as the Fabians. This became a coalition of those considered most equipped to decide the future of mankind’s evolution. They envisioned an oligarchy of experts making all of the big picture decisions for us, and of course, they naturally imagined themselves to be the best qualified purveyors of such wisdom. The most notable of their social engineering ideals gave us the bloodless expedience of eugenics. . . the horrors of which were perfected by Nazi Germany.

imagesAllowing the experts to do our thinking for us is very seductive, as we can simply parrot their thoughts on various topics, as if they were our own. Not only does this afford us the appearance of intelligence, but it also allows us to pursue our own interests without the distraction of having to form a thoughtful opinion of our own. No doubt, you’ve experienced people on social media like this, people who answer almost every question by hyperlinking you to some expert opinion. Makes you wonder if they’ve actually ever taken the time to internalize the meaning and value of that opinion they just took off the shelf.

A brand new shiny bullet train sure is impressive –until you realize that where it’s headed is . . . off a cliff. So I suggest that before our brains experience complete atrophy, we begin to understand ourselves as tasked with assessing the veracity of expert opinion, learning to discern between an experts actual sphere of expertise and when they’re merely inserting personal values. And we should do so within our faith disciplines where such discernment is refined. So when a secularized promise of a better world attempts to offer us a better means to a better end – the question you need to remember to ask yourself is: Where do they place their hope? . . . and then remember where you place yours.

My hope is in Jesus Christ, and so I follow his call – not to create a better world. Creating a better world is the mantra of modernity — so I say, let them chase that mirage off into oblivion. My confession is Hebrews 12:1, 2 “. . . and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross . . .” Because his is the way of redemptive sacrifice — where the human soul is held as sacred . . . something for which the scientific machinations of the experts has no category.


Donald Fagen is the master of satirical lyrics
. . . and this song became hard to resist when writing this weeks blog

The Seduction of Victimhood (6 of 9)

Since our exile from the garden, we seemingly have a limitless capacity for visiting abuse, oppression, and destruction, upon one another. In this respect, we are as much the walking wounded refugees of the fall, as we are its perpetrators. It is also psychologically demonstrable that the harm we exact on each other is often fostered in the harm done to us working its way through us – it is a perpetuated cycle of dysfunction and sin.

Some might assume themselves unscathed by this dynamic – but chances are they’ve not looked close enough inside of their own default settings, to discover the layers of hurt and brokenness they’ve experienced . . . and are now passing along, unbeknownst. Which is why a humble and honest inventory is required to unlock those doors where we keep the most broken places of our heart . . . and even then, sometimes those rooms are so dark, we need to trust someone to go there with us.

There is great power found in allowing yourself to name aloud the things that have held you captive for so long. But with this newly discovered freedom comes the responsibility of stewardship – to be an agent of grace and hope to others without trying to fix them . . . which is an art form that takes a while to master. I say this because it is possible to break the chains of the cycle of hurt, while creating a new avenue of dysfunction and sin — this often occurs when we’ve allowed the damage done to us . . . to define us.

downloadThere’s a peculiar seduction that often accompanies having been wounded deeply that attempts to justify the harmful experience by allowing it to become a predominate feature of your identity, as if everything about you were stuck in that experience from then on. This isn’t to say that life changing experiences shouldn’t be life changing – but when they become a dead end cul-de-sac that your life can’t move beyond . . . it is because, on some level, you’ve chosen to keep it that way.

Now, this might strike you as an unsympathetic assessment, but I assure you, allowing someone to drown in their own victimhood isn’t loving – it’s codependent. For it is precisely because someone has suffered such great pain and sorrow that they need to find hope beyond the darkness attempting to deceive them into believing – this is where they belong.

I have no spiritual platitude to offer, no plastic Jesus bromide – all I know is that there are deeper and more wonderful truths about who you really are, that go far beyond the tragic realities of your past. And maybe you’re afraid to ask God why he allowed such evil to occur – don’t be. God can take it! I don’t know that he’ll answer all of your questions – likely he won’t. But he knows where you hurt and the deep longings of your heart – he is the lover of your soul and the redeemer of all things. And though it may not feel like it –you are his beloved. He has given you a unique story to tell . . . and it can still have a happy ending.


. . . and sometimes you gotta set it all aside and come on up to the house.

The Seduction of Self-Esteem (5 of 9)

For those who suffer with anxiety attacks, there are likely two things in play – the physiology of their brain chemistry and the psychology of their predisposition. So somewhere on the spectrum between these two is where those living with this malady find themselves. More often than not, brain chemistry can be brought back into balance with medication, if not with changes in diet and routine; but as for those reoccurring patterns of negative self-talk, driven by a predisposed psychology — this will require a renovation of perspective.

Since before we were old enough to even realize it, we have been accumulating experiences – experiences that become the very substances of the telling of our story about the world we live in, as well as, who we imagine ourselves to be in it. It’s principally a story that we tell ourselves, about ourselves — but quite often, we’re unsure as to what part we’re supposed to play, even though it’s a story we’re telling . . . you can see already how that could be a problem.

We are constantly narrating what we assume to be the subtext of our daily events, mostly in first person — but there are times when we drift into a third person telling, detached as if helplessly watching. This is when disappointment, depression, and anxiety begin to control our narrative – placing in crisis our identity, our sense of self . . . as if we were disappearing. Undoubtedly, such a narrative is broken, as it erodes all self-worth, dignity, and significance.

imagesClearly a new narrative needs to be adopted, but are we to simply replace what’s negative with what’s positive? Wouldn’t that only be trading one subjective fiction for another? Are we to merely embrace the Johnny Mercer lyrics “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative . . .”? Is that even sustainable? Is this not the seduction of self-esteem – believing that we have the power to existentially pronounce away things we don’t want to believe are true . . . about ourselves?

Any honest estimation of ourselves will always seek to know the whole story, recognizing that self-evaluation is not only limited, but is also highly susceptible to self-deception. So fundamentally, the question here is – what truth do you profess? Because the narrative of your self-talk will always follow the path of your profession. So if what you profess rises and falls in reaction to every circumstance, or is a Pollyannaish denial of circumstance – then your self-talk will always be subject to circumstantial events.

But self-talk that is a profession of immutable truth, a profession that is affixed to the true nature of how the world actually exists, is not only able to correctly identify the context of the world we live in, but can also correctly identify our significance in it. This is why it is a measure of our faith to profess what is true, even when circumstances seem contrary. So here’s the truth about you – you were made in the image of God, thereby given an immeasurable value; you are the beloved of God, inextricably made to share in an intimacy of relationship with him and everyone else in your life; your life has been given purpose and meaning, so arise every day and live in the wonderful power of this gift.

Now, that’s some self-talk worthy listening to . . .


God chooses to love us knowing full well who we are –
his love pursues us no matter how alone we feel in self-doubt.

The Seduction of Moral Ambiguity (4 of 9)

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – I can’t think of a more quintessentially existential statement. It assumes that no real moral distinction can be made, because it assumes that they’re simply competing morally equivalent opinions in conflict. This, of course, is just another variation on the theme of “Who are we to judge?”.

Interestingly enough, I have never met anyone asking this question who didn’t philosophically presume themselves to have this authority . For that matter, I never met anyone who objected to moral absolutes who didn’t seek to absolutely impose their moral presuppositions on all the rest of us. And whereas the question “Who are we to judge?” is more often employed as a rhetorical gambit intended to disarm, in an ironic attempt to claim the moral high ground – it remains a sound philosophical question . . . if we’re intellectually honest enough to pursue the answer.

The question of where moral authority resides has long been an open question — most especially in a culture that has charted its course into the vague and mercurial waters of relativism. Are we to view ourselves as authoritative moral agents? Are we to simply follow the anthropological tipping points of shifting ethics and mores as our authority? Or is morality affixed to a more transcendent source, pursuant to the purpose for which it was designed?

Nietzsche would say that morality is a struggle of “Will to Power”. Kant would say that morality is a simple matter of cultural pragmatism. Sartre would say that morality has an esoteric value found in self-actualization. Each one of them making the argument that morality is nothing more than something we make up as we go along – something to be ushered into existence by the existential pronouncements of the prevailing culture.

It is a very seductive notion to believe that morality could be that ambiguous – an ever morphing social contract vacuously insisting we comply and conform . . . a standard so tentatively constituted, that no one could ever take it seriously. With a wink and a nod, we can simulate conformity while still pursuing our own selfish agendas – because after all who’s to judge?

imagesBut still, intuitively, we believe that there innately exists a tension between what is and what ought to be . . . as if a pattern were being interrupted. This is likely because we instinctively know that every moral question is predicated on how we measure the value of human life. Which is to say, if human life is to be measured in the flux of the sentimentality generated by circumstance – then morality will be nothing more than a validating aspect of that sentiment. But if human life is to be understood as having an immutable value – then morality must have immutably transcendent moorings.

Being made in the image of God is the game changer – either all human life has an immeasurable value established by God . . . or human life is at market value, allowing us to haggle over its value, by way of our moral opinions. Without getting into the weeds over the specifics of what a transcendent morality might look like – let’s suffice to say, that it is God who must lead us into all understanding; that he is the final authority; and that we must defer to his judgements – humbly confessing that he is God . . . and we are not.


Here’s a great philosophical framing of morality