Between Knowing and Doing (1 of 6)

Have you ever found yourself asking “How could they choose to do such a thing, don’t they know better?” The innate assumption here, is that knowledge informs our volition and that volition ignites our actions – thereby suggesting that modifying our behavior begins with choosing to know the right things. Which seems like a simple enough linear explanation, until you realize – how could you ever hope to recognize what was right, in order to make that choice? In other words – what knowing would inform that choice? Which is why I think this is precisely where we misunderstand how volition works – it isn’t catalyzed by what we know . . . but rather, by what we desire.

It likely doesn’t surprise you to find out that what you desire most would turn out to be the engine of your will – because it makes absolute sense. But it does beg the question – are our desires merely capricious, promiscuously susceptible to the passions of any given moment? Or do our desires reflect who we imagine ourselves to be, in a world we imagine we understand? I would argue that the way we define ourselves is the cultivated soil best suited for germinating our desires. So conversely, it could be said, that what you desire most, becomes a window in on how you’ve come to define yourself.

We see this most clearly played out in the life of someone who struggles with a conspicuous addiction – as they have obviously allowed what they desire most to define everything else about their lives. We can see who they’ve chosen to be because their actions have exposed their desire. But does that mean we should understand our actions as a binary indicator of our desires? Or is it more likely that we all live lives of conflicted desires – exposing the fact that we are unclear as to exactly who we think we are? Does not the Apostle Paul seem to be rehearsing out loud this very conflict in Romans 7:18-25? . . . a palpable conflict struggled with daily.

I am both omnivores in my diet, and heterosexual in my sexuality, but I hardly ever think of myself as such, as a way of self-identifying – because those desires are largely inconsequential to how I define myself. As a matter of proportion — if I allow these desires to become disproportionate, then they begin to skew my understanding of myself, distorting my will, and contaminating every choice I make. We do best to remember that we were created to desire God above all else — but as St Augustine correctly observes, our fallen state has disordered our relationship to desire to the point where every other desire we have actively seeks to displace what only God can satisfy. Which is why we can so often experience our will as promiscuously set a drift.

Some might suggest that this is a simple matter of mortifying the flesh, as if having conflicted desires were nothing more than a lack of willpower – but this seems to ignore that our volition can only act upon desire. But thankfully, Paul reminds us of who we are in Christ — “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” ~ Philippians 2:13. So we are not only empowered by God to do what pleases him most, but our will is being empowered, as well. For he is ever at work in us, drawing us to himself – ontologically, he is recalibrating us to the default settings of Eden . . . to be at peace with him. To be sure, this doesn’t make our experience of conflicted desire go away – but like the North Star, it clearly points us to the desire that best defines us as the beloved of God. . . where all other desires are being brought into submission to authentically want most what God is changing within us.

. . . then let your confession be — take my life.

Embracing the Burden

It’s in our adolescence when we’re supposed to learn to appreciate the innate symbiosis that exists between privilege and responsibility – learning that the more latitude we’re given to explore our own adulthood, the more we’re supposed to take on the burden of our own actions. At least, this is how it’s meant to work – clearly, some folks never got that memo. While still others, strain and chafe under the coupling of privilege and responsibility, as if adulthood were an ill-fitting suit, binding them in all the wrong places, while being far too loose in others. No doubt, adulting is a process that takes a life time to master . . . and some never do.

Some people take on burdens of their own creation, burdens born of incubated fear and perpetuated self-loathing — burdens they’ve convinced themselves they must carry because the indiscriminate cruelty of living life somehow demands they live in a prison of their own making. While still others, choose to play hide and seek with anything that even remotely resembles the burden of obligation — happy to allow others to care-take them as if they were children. But God forbid you should actually treat them like children . . . for childishly wanting to escape what the rest of us have the maturity to endure.

These are but two manifestations of shame – feeling inept and overwhelmed, each one turns inward focusing on its own needs, convinced that life is a mine field of bad choices they’d rather avoid walking through . . . in this way, they have allowed shame to measure every step they take. This is what it looks like to imagine that you should be at the center of your own universe. It’s like being in a circus sideshow room full of distorted mirrors bending everything, until the way you perceive the world, and your place in it, has completely lost any sense of proportion.

In contrast, it is the life that is turned outward, to the needs of others, that often becomes the life with a more fully-formed perspective — willing to live a life shared with others . . . a life, by design, we were always meant to live. Learning daily to embrace obligation and responsibility as an essential part of living — because our journey from the narrowing preoccupied self, to the wider world that others occupy, is what best exemplifies imago dei in our world. For this is how the love of God is made known . . . each of us becoming willing servants of love’s summum bonum.

At first, these two quotes of Jesus, appear to be at odds with one another – “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23), And — “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). One describing the way of Christ as being a cross we must bear, and the other one seems to suggest that such a burden is easy and light. But how can this be? It can’t be — unless we’re willing to recognize that redemptive sacrifice is not only the calling of Christ . . . it is the way of Christ.

Jesus, God incarnate, lives a missional life of self-sacrifice culminating in the self-emptying choice to endure the cross, reconciling the world unto himself — showing us all what it means to be truly human. And how being truly human will always involve a willingness to enter into one another’s lives, embracing one another’s burdens. And I think this is precisely what Paul has in mind in Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Because to choose Christ is to choose the way of Christ – to live fully-embodied lives where God has placed us, so that we might be a unique expression of his love. And even though it is a burden we must be willing to take up – it is actually Christ within us who carries it . . . as he carries us.

. . . and remember — you need to hold on to that heart.

Stuck Up A Tree

I must have been about six years old, when my younger brother Jon and I were playing in the backyard on a Saturday morning — when Jon had climbed too far up into a tree and became too afraid to come down. I didn’t know what to do – so I went in and got mom. So mom came out and climbed up to where Jon was, but quickly discovered that she couldn’t hold my brother and climb down safely – so I had to go get my dad . . . to get my mom . . . to get my brother. So I know a little something about what it means to be stuck up a tree.

But I suppose we all know, to varying degrees, what it means to be out on a limb, as the metaphor goes – to discover we’ve placed ourselves in a vulnerable and intractable position . . .  wondering how we’re going to back ourselves out of the mess we’ve made. And very often it has been the short-sightedness of our choices that have placed us in our predicament. Because sometimes we see what we want to see, and everything else fades into the background . . . until what we’ve blinded ourselves to, makes itself so conspicuous, that we can’t ignore it any longer.

This is how imagine Zacchaeus ended up becoming a tax-collector for the Romans. There’s a lot of money to be made working for the most powerful empire to have ever existed – besides, it’s better to walk in step with the powers that be, than to be crushed under their heel . . . and a man of small physical stature, living in such cruel times, needs to look after his own. So if he doesn’t seize this opportunity, the Romans will just find someone else to do the job . . . someone else to enjoy those benefits. Surely, everyone could see he had little choice . . .

But then the reality of his choice began to settle in – he had become a pariah to his own people, a traitor profiting from their oppression, bloodlessly shaking them down, regularly stealing from them their dignity . . . and no amount of money could ever hope to rid him of the shame, and loneliness that now haunted his every waking hour. So what had once seemed like a simple matter of common sense to him had become a life of dread and regret. In this way, Zacchaeus found himself out on a limb long before he ever climbed that tree.

I like to think Zacchaeus had heard about Matthew (Matthew 9:9), and wondered what it would be like to just walk away from the comfortable prison he had created for himself. I also like to think Jesus was thinking of Zacchaeus when he told the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector (Luke 18:9-14) – that somehow he could hear Zacchaeus’ quiet cry for God’s mercy to save him from himself. So that by the time Jesus was standing underneath that sycamore tree inviting Zacchaeus to climb down, the mercy of Jesus was on full display . . . to the grumblings of the crowd gathered there (Luke 19:1-10). And I also like to think — that this is the same mercy, inviting you and I to let go of that limb . . . and let Jesus make his home within us.

I can’t help but imagine Zacchaeus’ reaction was similar to Matthew’s in this clip from The Chosen

Speaking With Your Own Voice

If you would have told me, when I was a kid that one day, not only would I have a computer in my home, but I would have one in my pocket — I would have likely asked “why?” I would have been wondering what kind of future would require so much computation. Because how could I have ever possibly imagined the role that the internet would end up playing in everyday life? And it is both, a blessing and a curse, to be sure – it affords us many privileges, and demands of us much responsibility . . . at least that’s the way I think we should appreciate it.

Social media has reconnected me with various groups of people from many different eras of my life, in some cases rekindling old friendships. It also allows me to enjoy pictures of my children and grandchildren, in real-time – a wonderful treasure regularly popping up unexpectedly, making my day brighter. But social media most certainly has a far darker side. There are those who clearly lack discretion in what they post, expressing wince-worthy political or religious opinions – opinions so gracelessly conveyed, with such vitriolic fervor . . . that you can’t even imagine someone being so recklessly unfiltered – knowing their words will now exist in internet perpetuity.

I suppose for some people these days, this is what passes for speaking your mind. But if you’re able to hang in there long enough to observe these mud-slinging food fight extravaganzas, you pick up on the fact that most people aren’t so much speaking their own mind, as they’re just parroting the talking points of their tribe. And while listening to the cognitive dissonance of their remarks, it will likely occur to you that they haven’t actually been internalizing, in a thoughtful way, the opinions they’re spouting, as much as it is an outburst of emotional reaction.

But their remarks end up being haunted with the hollow disembodied echo of someone else’s anger, because they have lost their own voice in the torrent of their emotional meltdown. When our convictions aren’t any more substantive than bumper sticker platitudes and memes – they’re just a poor substitute for real convictions. Because true convictions arise out of a far more deliberative meditative process, where our beliefs emerge from the crucible of our struggle to reconcile the tension between what is, with what ought to be. And it is this very internalizing that produces true conviction.

So is it any wonder that scripture invites us, so many times, to meditate on the Lord, on his word, on his law? For it is his voice that we are learning to hear, until his voice enters into us like the bread and the cup, altering us from the inside out – until our own voice speaks with the simple clarity of God’s love and grace. And even though it is God unmistakably at work within us, we have learned to speak with our own voice – because every word has taken root within our soul, becoming a garden of God’s redemptive love making all things new.

. . . and as we hear ourselves speak —
even we’re surprised at finding God’s words in our mouth.

Giving Yourself Away

Charles Darwin gave us the evolutionary axiom — “survival of the fittest”, and ever since it has been the cornerstone motto of non-theism, contributing to their appraisal that survival pragmatism is indisputably the highest value that humanity can embrace. This is, no doubt, because to the rational mind, self-preservation is the most obvious universal instinct. Besides, what could be more practical than wanting to stay alive? Then again, the impulses of instinct can make for a tricky moral compass – ever convincing ourselves that being selfish . . . is just being a good survivor.

But here’s the thing about framing everything in terms of survival – it assumes that our natural state is to be at odds with our own existence, that the innate forces of the world around us are ever seeking to undo us at every turn. So if you don’t want to be exterminated – you must evolve . . . just to survive. This is because within the evolutionary paradigm you never really arrive — you will forever remain at odds with a hostile existence, no matter how evolved you become. And the reason this seems plausible to us, is because on a very primal level, we’re constantly experiencing some measure of alienation from our own existence.

But is this pervasive sense of alienation really how we exist, or is it just a distortion of our perception? What if survival pragmatism wasn’t our preeminent criterion – what would that look like? It is the confession of my Christian faith that we all exist in God, because there is no other existence. And because we were made in his image, by design our existence can only find its true orientation when we are in harmony with him . . . and apart from him, alienation. So for me reconciliation with God is the preeminent value . . . and survival isn’t even a close second.

To be set free from the pernicious delusion of self-existence that survival pragmatism so subtly insinuates, is to be unburdened of the fear and anxiety that always accompanies self-preservation. I no longer have to serve the self, allowing me to begin to see the true value of others as being the beloved of God – those for whom Christ gave himself as a willing sacrifice. So that I might find at the very center of all existence — a God who gives himself away as an infinite measure of his love. How can I not, but do as he does? To give myself away to others, so that they might know him all the more . . . and be set free from their alienation. Were we not made for this?

Is it not the very centerpiece of Advent, that we might find the babe in a manger as a gift – a gift of hope, forever declaring we can live our lives beyond the mere subsistence of survival? It is a declaration that peace on earth begins with each of us being at peace with our own existence. And you might do well to remember that this season of gift-giving was originally inaugurated by a God who gave of himself, without hesitation . . . and may we all choose to do likewise in the coming year.

I always thought this old Christmas Carol was haunted
with an intuitive sense of how costly was the gift of the babe in the manager

As If The Only One

Retrospection can very often be misleading, if not deceptive – but just as often it can afford a uniquely helpful perspective, allowing you to see the larger patterns of your life’s journey that you wouldn’t have detected, otherwise. How these patterns begin and play out, contributing to your story, can be subtly woven into your choices, almost innocuously. But when surveyed over the long haul, can explain why you are the way you are, and what fears and longings have been quietly pushing the buttons and throwing the levers, shaping your life all along.

I grew up with three brothers, two older and one younger. So as the middle child my natural inclination was to be a peacemaker. But when my parents divorced when I was in middle school, my middle child inclination took on a whole other dimension – one that I can only fully appreciate now in retrospect. I systematically became the closest brother to each one of my brothers, desperately attempting to hold the family together . . . and protect myself from ending up alone. At the time, I was completely unaware of the purpose of my actions – but looking back, the self-preservation of my choices is now very evident to me.

Embedded within our primal desire to be known and loved, is our desire to belong and to matter. Which is to say, we are drawn into community so that as individuals we might have our significance validated — but the psychology of this desire takes on a precarious balancing act in the process. We don’t want to belong, as just another face in the crowd, disappearing into some homogeneous aggregate . . . losing our identity. Each of us wants our belonging to the whole to be a celebration of our unique identities – each one a part, each one special.

Sometimes I think we miss how the rhetorical question that Jesus is asking in his parable (Luke 15:3-7) of the lost sheep, takes the listener off guard — but ends up addressing their mostly unspoken desire to be found uniquely important. Because for the shepherd to place at risk the ninety nine to go find the one, would have sounded recklessly indulgent to this agrarian savvy crowd. What an extravagant choice to make for a single sheep. But quickly each listener would have happily tossed aside their pragmatism, so that they too might celebrate the idea of the one lost, being found . . . secretly wanting to know what it means to matter that much to someone else.

This is the extravagance of Christmas — the love of God on full display, announcing itself to the whole world, while simultaneously finding each one of us in our own specific need of his love. This is the great gift of God, which so thoroughly permeates the whole that it seeps into every crack and corner, celebrating each life it touches as beloved. So I say ponder anew the treasure of your faith confessions – God found you in that impossible place your life had become, and brought you home . . . and now there’s a sky full of angels rejoicing.  

. . . and while your pondering your gifts — don’t forget this one

Being Good

My mother kept a note from my 3rd grade teacher that read: “Greg, was a good boy today. He didn’t bother anyone today and only hit one boy on the playground.” My teacher was apparently offering a rather generous definition of being a “good boy” – or perhaps just a definition, referencing the relative baseline of my previous behavior, comparatively speaking. And I suppose, relatively speaking, I was a good boy – at least that was my mother’s take on me, having shown me that note when I had become an adult . . . but then again, mothers aren’t really known for their unbiased opinions about their own kids.

So is that the way it works – being good is just a subjectively assessed value, subject to how we choose to interpret our culture’s mores or religiously held moral professions? Is being good merely an absence of being bad? Is it a legal formulation, where good and bad keep canceling each other out – except for the really bad stuff . . . whatever that it is? Is this not the very dilemma we created for ourselves in the garden – believing we could figure out for ourselves, what to deem good and bad? So isn’t our whole legal framing of morality, on some level, just a relitigation of that original sin?

If you have a toaster that no longer toasts, you might call it a bad toaster, because a good toaster is able to do the very thing it was designed to do. Good and bad, in this regard, is clearly not a legal matter – but would be better understood as an ontological matter. The whole reason for a toaster to exist, is to toast – if it can no longer do that, its existence is in crisis. This is because what a thing is and what it is meant to do, is inextricable.

Now, you might say “that this may be true of inanimate objects, but don’t humans have moral agency?” To which I say – all things have a reason to exist. So isn’t the whole point of having moral agency, to identify whether or not we are existing as we were intended to exist? If not, then what’s the point? Put philosophically, there is an innate symbiosis between our ontology (existence) and our telos (purpose) – they can’t be separated. Psychologically speaking, when we can no longer identify why we exist, this is precisely when we’re the most susceptible to making bad choices – choices clearly at odds with our own wellbeing.

In Mark 10:18 Jesus says “No one is good except God alone.” If we take Jesus’ words to be legally axiomatic – then not only will you never be good enough, you can’t be good at all! But if his words are taken ontologically – then being good is not only what God does, it is also who he is! Which is why, apart from God, being good is impossible. Therefore any legal measurement of being good, will only ever be misleading – just another attempt to pick forbidden fruit. We were meant to live in God’s presence – to be with Him. And every moment of our existence is inviting us to remember that this is who we are . . . and this what we do . . . and it’s pretty good.

It’s a simple life in a difficult time . . .

Using Your Inside Voice

There are many unspoken cultural protocols governing communication and conduct. For instance, when attending a sporting event the expectation is that you loudly verbalize your solidarity with your team – but if you were to enthusiastically cheer on the soaring crescendo of an aria at the opera, you would likely be unceremoniously escorted out of the building. This protocol likely finds its origin in your mother’s admonition to use your inside voice when you were a kid – reminding you that you were no longer on the play ground . . . so you might want to dial it down a skosh, we can hear you loud and clear.

Undoubtedly, this was one of our earliest lessons in self-awareness – learning to deferentially place ourselves in context with others. But like any lesson, this one can easily devolve – allowing us to become so preoccupied with what others might think of us, until we end up disappearing into the capricious expectations of others . . . losing all sense of our own identity. This happens when our inside voice has shamed us into believing we are unacceptable the way we are and need to become a more homogenized version of ourselves.

And you can always spot the person on social media who never quite learned to speak with their inside voice, as they appear to have no social filters, whatsoever. They have become so impressed with their own opinions they feel obliged to set us all straight, and marginalize any objectors as either stupid or evil. But what they’re apparently unaware of – we hear them loud and clear, but not because of the point they think they’re making . . . rather, we hear the contempt and arrogance of their conspicuously self-involved identity.

When asked — what is the greatest commandment? Jesus said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40) For those listening to his answer, they would have recognized him as hyperlinking them to the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), something they had been taught as children. Because within every Jewish home, self-awareness and cultural identity, was a lesson learned, by first learning to love God.

So when Jesus adds “And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” to the Shema, he is merely pointing out the obvious implications of what it means to love God – we best demonstrate our love for God when we love one another, as we would love ourselves. This is the inside voice Jesus is wanting to cultivate within you – before speaking or acting, to ask yourself “how might I offer the love of God to this person today, in the same way God’s love has been so graciously given to me?” In this way, we become the face of God to all we meet . . . and this is always an appropriate protocol to follow.

. . . and let that voice sing like the sparrow

Lazarus At Your Gate

We don’t mean to be so selfish – it just seems to happen. It’s just the default undertow of our daily experience pulling us ever toward the life we desire most. Which is why it takes a concerted effort to not find ourselves at the center of our own universe . . . and allow ourselves to feel the gravity of others in our orbit – so that we might be pulled into a better appreciation of their daily experience. I suppose this is why Jesus describes, loving our neighbors as ourselves, as a commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) – because if it were left up to us . . . we probably wouldn’t do it.

1 John 4:20, 21 seems to be underscoring the symbiotic nature of the two commandments Jesus declares in Matthew 22:40 as being the foundation of which the Law and the Prophets is built upon – that our love of God is inextricably tied to our love of our neighbor. Such a framing leaves no room for any high-minded spiritualized love of God that doesn’t involve some measure of our loving engagement of our neighbor. So that in the same way that loving God isn’t merely a Christian ideal we aspire to — loving our neighbor must be pursued as an essential discipline of our Christian faith.

Loving our family members may, or may not, be filled with obstacles and land mines – but it still remains the most conspicuous place to begin . . . as this is supposed to be the place where the patterns and practices of love are meant to mature. Loving friends is likely the easiest, as these are people we’ve chosen to be around, while loving work acquaintances may present many unique challenges to be worked through. But the real testing ground for our faith inspired love, is found when we are willing to love someone who offers us absolutely no relational advantage . . . those in great impoverishment of body and soul.

rich_man_and_lazarus-1In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells a story with a particular sense of symmetry. It is a story describing, how in life, a chasm was created by a rich man — between the selfish indifference of his affluence, and the conspicuous suffering of a beggar at his gate, named Lazarus . . . and, how in death, this chasm created by the rich man, remained as a monument to the love he had in abundance for himself . . . but had none for his neighbor. And just in case, you misunderstood Jesus’s point here, the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is there to remind us of who is our neighbor.

I do not pretend there’s a simple answer to how we best deal with Lazarus at our gate, but I know this — it can’t involve an answer that allows a chasm to grow between the love we say we have for God and the love God expects us to demonstrate to others. Because the love God shows us isn’t meant to pool up and grow stagnate, it’s meant to flow through us. So we do well to remember — our faith calls us to be the hands and feet of the gospel, so that the love of God might always be on full display in both our words and deeds . . . especially, to the least of these (Matthew 25:45).

It is the little things done with great love

The Lie of Self-Existence

In describing the relationship between the cognitive process and the emotional state, Jonathan Haidt, in his book “The Righteous Mind”, uses the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The rider (our intellect) might be able to get the elephant (our passions) to lean in one direction or another, at times – but just as often the elephant is likely to take its rider on a completely unplanned excursion. And even though the rider might like to think of himself as being in charge — the sheer girth, force, and volatility of the elephant, would suggest otherwise.

This is a truth, of which, advertisers and politicians have long subscribed – they don’t really need to convince your intellect, in order to win you over . . . they just need to feed your elephant what it already wants to eat. It is a diet involving two basic food groups – what we fear and what we desire . . . as these are primal passions that we respond to pre-cognitively — on a gut level. This is how the politician can take you from “everyone panic — it’s a crisis!” to “. . . and I have the solution”. And how the advertiser can take you from “I didn’t even know I needed it . . .” to “. . . I can’t live without it”. And this was how Satan took Adam and Eve from being comfortably contingent upon God, to wanting to become their own god. (Genesis 3:1-5)

This is not to suggest that the serpent is somehow responsible for the choice that Adam and Eve made – it was always their choice. And if we examine this choice at its most basic premise, it is ontological – as it fundamentally challenges the very nature of existence. If you believe that God exists, and that everything exists in him, then you know your own existence to be inextricably contingent upon God’s existence. But once you begin to entertain the idea that the nature of existence is a concept up for grabs – then it’s not that hard to imagine yourself as being your own god.

2bfa9e242cc5a4824a2de96dff43696acb530cec1431cfbb38614e089dc8008a_1This is how we accept the lie of self-existence – not as an intellectual conclusion, but rather, as a pronouncement of will, having no basis in reality, whatsoever. It is a contrived choice, created entirely out of fear and desire. We fear an existence that we can’t control – so we desire to control it. In this way, every sin of man is an ontological disavowing of his own existence. Even the rational mind of the non-theist ends up placing its faith in the theories of science to assuage the fear of being contingent upon a meaningless universe – inventing both the predicament and its imagined solution.

So inescapably, the confessions we make about existence will always dictate how we experience our existence – therefore, if your confession is at odds with reality, your experience of reality will be at odds. And even though your elephant rider may fully appreciate the logic of this fact — depending on the diet of your elephant, it won’t make a bit of difference. This is why it is the confession of our Christian faith that we fear God, and nothing else, and we seek to make him our preeminent desire – so that every other desire can be rightly placed into proportion with what it means to exist in him.

. . . and eventually you realize you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Splitting the Adam

The invention of the atomic bomb marked an infamous moment in human history – as it was the moment we realized we had finally invented the means of our own obliteration. Nuclear weapons are of such a destructive force that they are not only capable of a large scale annihilation of life, but the lingering contaminating devastation left in their wake renders a place uninhabitable for years to come. Making this diabolical invention, not merely a careless peek into Pandora’s Box, but the looming specter of the Sword of Damocles awaiting the insanity of a madman’s sociopathic agenda to be set into motion.

We say we want peace, yet every generation seems to find its own way of demonstrating that peace isn’t really on their agenda. There are war-torn places in this world that have been mired for decades in the ceaseless brutality of political and religious conflicts . . . and there are communities in this country, long forgotten by the headlines of breaking news because violence has become so common place, it’s no longer considered news worthy. So even though you may live in a place where your experience of this type of chaotic cruelty is largely a notional abstraction – the reality of it lingers all the same . . . especially, given the combustible nature of our current political environment.

We long for unity . . . and yet, disunity is often our first instinct. Like magnets ever drawn to connection, yet never quite able to line up correctly – we get caught up in forces ever holding us apart. It is this distance we feel most conspicuously, while simultaneously feeling an unreconciled connectedness – as if we were in a perpetual state of being torn apart. But in our broken condition we can only attempt to mend the tear, on our own terms, and our own terms seems to always involve a subjugation born of imposed will . . . leading us to an ever escalating violence.

Unity-300x175In Genesis 2:18-24 God brought every living thing before Adam, so that he might give them names. But in the process it became painfully clear to Adam that every creature had a mated pair, only to stir within him a longing to behold his own mate. But God does not choose to create Eve, in the same manner he created Adam – instead, he chose to split Adam, by taking Eve from out of his side. So that where there once was one, now there are two. But they are not meant to be identical, but instead, corresponding parts of a whole. And in the innocence of the garden, the oneness of these two was effortlessly maintained in the presence of God.

It is this very oneness we intuitively long to recreate, but in our brokenness, division is all we can seem to manage to create. In Romans 5:12-21 the failure of Adam’s oneness is being juxtaposed with our oneness found in Jesus Christ. And just as the choices of Adam and Eve lead us away from the presence of God – it is Jesus who opens for us a way back into the originally intended unity found in his presence. Which is why Paul admonishes us to walk in this already existing unity of oneness found in Jesus (Ephesians 4:1-7). Therefore, we can only ever fully understand being made one with each other — when we begin to understand how we are made one in Christ.

I love the way Dr. Voddie Baucham breaks it down . . .

All Other Ground . . .

In Juvenal’s 1st century critique of culture, the Roman poet suggests that one need only offer the people bread and circuses to keep them appeased – observing that a people so superficial and banal need only be feed and entertained . . . and they will easily be controlled. Nineteen centuries later, you might be tempted to think this may have been true of a largely uninformed uneducated ancient culture, but not us – until it occurs to you that we live in the age of information, awash in opportunities to be informed and educated . . . yet, our culture appears to be no less superficial or banal.

Does this not dispel the modern presupposition that a more educated culture inevitably becomes a better culture? Such a premise presupposes that any culture can be reeducated to have a more evolved understanding and engagement of the world – regardless of the native foundational ethos of that culture. Which is to say, the preexisting sub-structure of the culture would somehow be inconsequential to what gets built on top of it. No doubt, you can already see where the flaw is in this premise.

When you start out believing that the human race is not much more than highly processing thinking things, requiring only a bit of reprograming and a reboot – is it any wonder that you would end up placing so much faith in the power of our cognitive formation? But what if cognition played a much smaller role in what it meant for us to be human? What do you imagine such a foundational shift in self-perception, would look like? Remember, one must always know what constitutes the foundation, before they can ever hope to build anything of lasting value upon it.

QuicksandIn Luke 6:46-49 Jesus starts off by basically asking “You’re calling me Lord, but then you act as if I’m not Lord?” then Jesus, the carpenter, uses a building metaphor to make his ontological point. Here’s the point: We can’t ever hope to understand the words of Jesus — unless we are willing to make knowing Jesus our foundational desire . . . these two things are inseparable. For the words of Jesus parsed as if they were theoretical propositions intended for our intellectual evaluation – is a house that will not stand! Jesus is Lord! If this is not your ontological cornerstone – then not only will you fail to understand his words, but will also fail to understand the true significance of your own existence.

Ultimately, we are creatures of desire, who by design, are meant to desire God above all else. This is the very sub-structure of reality . . . and everything else is a fiction of our own vain imaginations. All other desires are meant to be calibrated by this preeminent desire – that in knowing God we might know the fullness of life, a deeper immersion into what it means to be alive.  But in the absence of this preeminent desire – every other desire rushes into that void, becoming reckless desire, endlessly seeking to be sated . . . which is what makes all other ground the sinking sand of banality.

Thought this was a nice rendition of this old hymn . . .

The Art of Living with Yourself (3 of 3)

My dad once said to me “most people don’t know how to be comfortable in their own company” – at the time, I didn’t fully appreciate just how insightful this observation was. But now, given the ubiquity of smart phone zombies, lost within the back lit glow of their latest distraction, making them presently absent – his words seem to ring true. His point was that most people aren’t really practiced at living with their own thoughts for any length of time, relying instead, on external stimuli to keep them pre-occupied . . . to keep the resident disquiet of their minds at bay.

Perhaps you’re more familiar with this the other way around – someone being described as “comfortable in their own skin”. A sort of psychological assessment of well-being, identifying an apparent absence of inner conflict. Or maybe you’ve heard someone described as “knowing their own mind” – which is an apt description for someone who’s measured confidence is derived from their thoughtful discernment. So where do you see yourself on this continuum? How would others readily describe your default demeanor?

When we cultivate a humble and grateful heart, peace of mind invariably follows. To know such contentment is a virtue – but an elusive and ephemeral virtue, it would seem. But in the same way the virtue of patience requires that we slow things down so we can form a more measured and thoughtful perspective – contentment requires we widen our perspective, so as to place ourselves within a more discerning context. Which only begs the question — What exactly is it about us that tends to speed up and narrow our perspective?

As it happens, these are two prominent characteristics of addictive behavior. But in order to fully appreciate this, one must understand that addiction occurs on a continuum — both by degree and type. So the definition of addiction isn’t simply confined to the socially unacceptable behaviors, which often leap to our minds – but must also be applied to every misplaced desire that we allow to preoccupy our hearts. For whatever we’ve allowed to preoccupy the desires of our heart, invariably becomes the very thing that defines us. This is why any desire we place in competition with our desire for God, inevitably devolves into an obsession that can never be satisfied . . . in other words, an addiction.

girl-looking-out-a-window-by-Krista-Campbell-Photography-300x200So it really isn’t surprising that on some level, to varying degrees, we are all unsettled – given there exists a subtext of simmering addiction, attempting to define us . . . but in all actuality, it is attempting to redefine us. Because the core seduction of such addictions, is the notion that you are capable of defining yourself, on your own terms – by pursuing your addiction. And this notion will always and forever be at odds with the way that God has already defined you.

It’s a question of identity – are you what you say you are, or are you what God says you are? You’d think this was a no brainer – but that doesn’t make the conflict any less real. So when I read John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” — I get the distinct impression that Jesus knew we would be tempted to seek a peace of mind that wasn’t the peace he was offering. Which is why he leaves with us the Holy Spirit (verse 26), to remind us of our true identity. Because when we embrace our true identity, we are at peace with God . . . and ourselves.

Remember . . . you are who he says you are

The Art of Playing the Fool (2 of 3)

It is our natural instinct to place ourselves in the most favorable light possible, believing that first impressions, like fingerprints, need to be left with discretion . . . as each can come back at some point to haunt us. So to varying degrees, we take care to present ourselves as the persona we imagine best approximates the way we want to be seen. We know it’s not the whole truth – but it’s often the only truth we’re willing to tell . . . because who could possibly accept us if the whole truth about us were ever known?

We hide in plain sight. It makes no difference whether you’re the buttoned up type blending in with the work-a-day world of normal behavior, or the tatted up bohemian non-conformist conspicuously wearing your contempt for normalcy – chances are, you’re still incognito . . . while the real you stays tucked in behind your carefully maintained veneer, lest anyone look too closely. In this way, shame is a lingering vestige of the fall, constantly reminding us that vulnerability comes at a cost.

Now, here’s a little glimpse into how my mind works – when I read 1st Corinthians 1:27 “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise . . .” – I often associate it with Zacchaeus up a tree for a better look at Jesus (Luke 19:1-5). I do this, not because I think Zacchaeus was particularly foolish, rather it’s because, for that brief moment, Zacchaeus forgot his shame and allowed himself to appear foolish . . . so that in his foolishness, conventional wisdom might be shamed. We would do well to remember, it was the name of Zacchaeus that Jesus speaks, for his willingness to risk a little foolishness, in the midst of this nameless crowd.

out-on-a-limb-feb-2019More often than not it is desperation that causes us to shamelessly play the fool. And if you look careful enough, you’ll discover that the Gospels are full of desperate characters, looking for their moment with Jesus. I wrote about this type of desperation, a few years back — Being Desperate. But do we really have to wait until we feel desperate before playing the fool? What is desperation after all, but an awareness of a need that has reached crisis proportions, allowing us to remove all of the social filters that hide our natural response to need?

But isn’t being in crisis just the realization that our need has become so great and unmanageable that it requires a different response? So what if we began with a different response – conceding our great need upfront? Is it not the confession of our Christian faith that apart from the ever pursuing love and mercies of God that we would be totally lost without hope . . . or are we so foolish as to believe that we’re beyond that now?

Following Jesus can’t be done while still posturing and pretending you’ve got it all worked out – because the way of Jesus is a humble path . . . which is why the humble of heart are never afraid of seeming foolish. So if you ever find yourself up a tree, acting conspicuously vulnerable and foolish, chances are you’ve got the best vantage point for seeing what God has next for you.

“I surrender to the mountains
I surrender to the sea
I surrender to the one who calls my name
I surrender to my lover and to my enemy
I surrender to the face that holds no shame”


The Art of Speaking Your Mind (1 of 3)

They tell us that there is a significant disparity in the amount of words spoken by the average man and average woman, on a daily bases. But in the same way that all statistical curiosities are basically a Rorschach test, we are left to our own imaginations to interpret what the meaning of this disparity might be. For me, words indiscriminately measured by volume, seems a rather hollow index for reaching any kind of meaningful conclusion. It would seem, the content of what’s actually being said would be a far more relevant concern — regardless of how pithy or voluminous the conveyance.

I’m a person known for speaking my mind – a description often used both in disparagement and celebration of my personality. But over the years I’d like to think I’ve acquired a modicum of discretion and discernment – learning to choose the right moment and words, to best fit the situation . . . even though I still require a considerable amount of remedial discipline in this regard. But in truth, all of us are learning how to fine tune the social filter of our communications — because learning when to speak, and what to speak (or not speak), is an art form that takes a lifetime to master.

Having long been a songwriter, I’ve been asked about my songwriting process, by those interested in composing their own songs. I tell them that long before composition there needs to be cultivation – a cultivation of the heart and mind. Because the only thing we will ever reap from the uncultivated field of our vain imaginations, are the weeds and thistles of an undisciplined perspective. Therefore it’s a false assumption, to believe that inspiration could somehow occur in a vacuum, apart from a preexisting context of perspective.

imagesSo I ask — “What are you meditating on? What preoccupies your heart and mind?” Because whatever preoccupies us most, invariably becomes our meditation, cultivating our perspective . . . and whatever grows in that field becomes the content of our words and deeds. But you don’t have to be a songwriter to realize that our words don’t just pop into our heads – rather they grow out of the ground we’ve been cultivating all along. This is likely why Jesus in Luke 6:45 tells us – “. . . for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – reminding us that our words have been taking shape in us . . . long before they ever cross our lips.

Perhaps this is why we find so many on social media rehearsing out loud, their own fears, while exacting judgement and condemnation on others – they’re only reciting what they have written on their hearts. And maybe that’s why some folks remain silent, held speechless by a shame that binds them. But I say — let your voice be sure, not in the self-assured confidence of hubris, but rather in the humble acknowledgement that God is remaking you daily, conforming you to the image of Christ. To meditate on His word, to seek His Kingdom – making these, the very content of your words . . . and by all means – use as many words as you’d like.

. . . and sometimes our meditation requires no words at all.