Crossing The Divide

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

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

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

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

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

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

If for only a moment . . .

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

Walking With A Limp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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