Someone’s #1 Mom

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Corpse-like, her body hung over the armrest of the seat in the waiting area. Two-toned orange and black hair lay across multiple tattoos. Asleep? Drunk? Sick? I didn’t know, I really didn’t care. It was time to board my flight home.

It was a great week teaching and coaching and working with people I love and who make me better. I’m a better me when I’m with them. I can see more clearly who I am becoming and who I want to become when I’m with them. Their love and acceptance of the authentic me has helped change the course of my life. And then this happens.

I thought I heard the door close and the seat next to me wasn’t taken, some was about to move over when two-toned hair and a pocked face cemented with makeup and fake eyelashes so big they looked like fuzzy dice hanging from a rearview mirror. Her white tank top looked like pillows that have been sweated on for decades. And my only thought was literally: “Please no God, please no. Don’t let her sit next to me.”

She shuffled by me and this time the door was closed and I slid over, a row to myself. 

A few moments later, I heard some slurring words in a slight protest as one of the flight attendants gently escorted her to the seats across the aisle from me which were unoccupied. I heard her trying to explain why she was behaving this way, but didn’t catch it. The flight attendant was so kind and gentle with her I actually started to feel ashamed for the way I had acted toward her. 

She quickly fell asleep. 

And as she lay there, in whatever state she was in, I looked over and saw a key lanyard attached to her purse and on it was printed: #1 MOM. 

Seeing that lanyard made me feel so sorry for this woman. This is someone’s mom, someone who must be loved deeply by someone else. I think of how my mom struggled – differently, but still struggled as a single mom. 

I notice one of her tattoos is The Serenity Prayer. 

It also made me feel like an asshole. Everyone is someone who is just trying to make it in life. Everyone has a struggle. Everyone has a story. 

My heart is too bitter yet. There is still a “them” for me. I am not very aware of the Presence. 

I must keep working. 

What We Think About on MLK Day

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imageIf I made a list of the most influential people ever to walk on this earth, it would go: 1) Jesus 2) Moses 3) Muhammed 4) MLK 5) Ghandi. Personally, I would put MLK ahead of Muhammed, but if you think globally, you just can’t do that.

It’s interesting, as I look at that list that every person on it was intensely focused on the poor. Jesus famously spoke volumes on helping the poor. Moses helped create laws about leaving the corners of your fields un-harvested for the poor. Muhammed, the founder of Islam, has within it the festival of Ramadan where fasting is done from sun-up to sun-down to remember the plight of the poor. Ghandi, who peacefully led the Indian people to independence from British rule, began by working for the economic equality of the peasant class.

And it’s very timely that a new study showing that the 85 richest people on earth have more than half the wealth of the world came out on the day we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While MLK is most known for the tremendous strides he helped make in civil rights, the last few years of his life he was devoted to eliminating poverty and reducing the gap between the rich and the poor.

I’ve always been fascinated with MLK. Even as a kid I loved listening to him speak on the grainy black and white clips that would come on TV every once in a while. In my early twenties I read Let the Trumpet Sound and The Preacher King and my admiration of him grew.

But while this holiday is about celebrating MLK and the Civil Rights Movement, I’m sitting here in my warm house, writing this on an iPad, with a fridge full of food, and a body that could use a little more sleep because I stayed up watching a football game last night where tens of millions of dollars was spent for men to play a game to entertain the citizens of the wealthiest country on the planet.

Maybe this day should be more about celebrating a total message of equality on all levels. And in our age, maybe we should especially focus on wage equality.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with people earning a good living, but Clayton Kershaw just signed a baseball contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers that pays him about a million dollars every fifth day when he pitches a game. Is this okay? I say all this and yet I’ll still tune in and listen with voracity to talking heads on ESPN tell me why he’s “worth every penny.”

I don’t think the problem is in earning money, where I think the problem lies is in the wage gap. This TED Talk by Richard Wilkinson is astoundingly enlightening in regards to the wage gap. Data shows that there are significant negative effects on health, education, quality of life, crime, and all of society when the wage gap between the rich and the poor grows larger. Countries with the lowest wage gaps are places where people live longer in better health in less crime and in more peace.

Most of the people I know (myself included) couldn’t live the lifestyle they are accustomed to on minimum wage. Could you? Heck, most of the people I know couldn’t make it on $3 more than minimum wage. What does that say?

Civil Rights equality is still a big deal today – I don’t want to minimize that message – but what today has become (especially for middle-class white people) is a day to celebrate the idea of racial equality as something that happened in the past. It’s a day to marvel at the profound words and voice of an incredible speaker.

It isn’t a day to take an honest look at our country and how we are doing in terms of violence and war and poverty and the wage gap. It isn’t a day for us to look at the broken systems and structures that have gotten us here. It isn’t a day to move us into action. And I think Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Would be greatly saddened by that. Am I? Are you?

What Phil Robertson Said

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I admit right upfront: I’ve never watched a second of Duck Dynasty.  So that makes me very unqualified to talk about the faith the Robertson family projects on the show.  But what I can talk about is the storm that has blown in since GQ released some quotes from their interview with Phil Robertson.

But what are we really talking about here?  Some people (and specifically GLAAD) are very upset with Phil Robertson over his quotes about homosexuality.  

Based on Robertson’s comments, I’m not sure why this is such an issue.  But what I do know is that this is going to become incredibly divisive and speak loudly in our culture.  There are rational responses to what he said from both sides, but people are going to take this to extremes (at least the ones who have platforms on television and internet).  

I don’t have any really good, concrete answers for either “side”, but what I do have are some questions:

Why would anyone who identifies as a LGTBQ care what this bearded, duck call makin’, country boy has to say about homosexuality?  I’m not going to pretend I know what it’s like to be ostracized in this way, but if Phil Robertson was quoted as saying things against middle-aged white guys who live in the midwest I honestly wouldn’t care one bit.  

Why has Phil Robertson become an official representative for Christianity?  If I’m going to really dig into issues of what the Bible says about homosexuality and sincerely try and wrestle with this issue that is dividing churches and denominations, I’m not going to Phil Robertson for exegetical commentary on Leviticus or any of Paul’s letters.  

Can’t Phil Robertson be entitled to his opinion?  Yes.  We all are.

If Phil Robertson believes something deeply as a Christian, should he hide that?  No.  We live in an incredibly over-reactive society and this topic is proof of that.  Whether you agree with him or not, don’t we all want people who are willing to stand up for their beliefs?  Isn’t that the same exact thing that GLAAD is doing against him?

I can see all the sides/angles to this story.  And personally, I wish Phil Robertson wouldn’t have said what he said.  I wish he would have stopped after he said: “if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off.”  

I think we should start at love, continue with love, and end with love.  I think Christians should be an inclusive people, a loving people, a people who look past what some believe are the sins of others in order to focus on love, reconciliation, and restoration.  

And I also wish we could be people who aren’t so reactive and instigative.  Who really cares what Phil Robertson has to say?

 

Happy Holidays – Offensive Edition

St-NicholasI was at my youngest son’s school Christmas program last night and there was no mention of Jesus in any of the spoken parts or songs.  The main point of the program was that Christmas should be about peace, love, and harmony.  I was slightly offended, but not because of any of that – I’m definitely down with peace, love, and harmony.

Maybe you’ve heard: there’s a war on Christmas (according to Fox News).  I know some people who claim they are very offended when someone says, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” but I’m not one of them.  I could care less what someone working retail at this time of year says to me as I check out.

And let’s be honest: does someone not wishing you a Merry Christmas really affect whether or not you do have a Merry Christmas?  Maybe it does, but for me it doesn’t.

But what I will say is that for Christians – if you are really into keeping this time of year about Christ being born as a human baby and coming to teach us the way to live our lives according to God’s design and to redeem us all – then there are some other changes we need to make too.

What I’m slightly (very slightly – because ultimately it doesn’t affect me) offended by was the promotion of Santa Claus.

I’m sure that because it’s a public school there was an intention not to sing any sacred music or talk about the birth of Christ due to not wanting to offend anyone.  I get that, and it doesn’t bother me.  But yet they had a Santa Claus stand in because “the real Santa was too busy making gifts and getting ready for Christmas and so we could talk to one of his helpers who happened to be dressed exactly like him (except he was 8 years old).  If I’m getting technical here, if you can’t promote Jesus, why can you promote Santa Claus?

My kids have never believed in Santa Claus, because I’ve always told them the truth.  We retell the story of the historical Saint Nicholas and always have.  We’ve told them not to tell other kids their age that there is no Santa Claus because some people choose to believe that way and we should let them find out for themselves.

I’ve taken some flak for this over the years from family, friends, and even people at our church.  I’m ruining the magic of Christmas.  I’m taking the fun out of it.  Really?  If people are as staunch defenders of the real reason for the season, then why do they promote consumerism, greed, lies, and magic during this holiday?

One reason is that Santa Claus is more the reason for this season than Jesus is in America – for those who believe in Christ and those who don’t.  It’s a federal religion same as the Easter Bunny (that’s a post for another time) and the reason people want military and federal holidays promoted during worship.

I used to be very vocal and have a real distaste for Santa Claus.  So much so that people kind of walked on egg shells at Christmas celebrations around me to make sure that Santa Claus wasn’t made too big of a deal.  I can remember one family member asking if it was okay for one of my kids to wear a Santa hat during a party.  But now, I don’t really care – if you want to talk about Santa, if you want to have decorations of Santa, if you want to tell the Christmas story – you know, the one where Santa makes his list and checks it twice and somehow magically comes down chimneys (even when you don’t have a fireplace) and eats milk and cookies leaving a note written in your parents handwriting – go ahead.  It doesn’t affect me.

I’m not offended by the two competing (yes, they are competing) narratives that occur at Christmas, but I am offended by Christians who get so uptight about greetings and salutations at this time of year and yet have no problem with making Christmas about Santa Claus and the birth of Christ.  And really, “offended” is probably not the right word anymore for me – I just see how the federal religion has so entwined it’s tentacles into Christianity and the church and I see how the “War on Christmas” does nothing to promote the values and teachings of Christ.

And really, this date on the calendar was created as the date of Christ’s birth.  The Bible says the shepherds were out in the field at night when the angels came to announce the birth of Jesus.  Shepherds in the Middle East don’t spend the night in the fields during the month of December – it’s too cold.  They do that in the summer.  Roman Emperor Constantine chose this date because because it was the beginning of the week of celebrations of the rites of Mithra, the sun god of Persia.  For a great resource on this, I recommend reading Pagan Christianity by George Barna and Frank Viola.

But mostly I say, “So what.”  My kids are told what Christmas is to us – about celebrating the birth of Christ.  I know what Christmas is all about.  So whatever you do at Christmas, go for it.  Enjoy it.  Just be careful about declaring war on something in the name of something else when really your war is on you because you’re doing the same thing you just don’t think you are.  Does that make sense?

Because for me, as long as peace, love, and harmony are promoted during this time of year – I’m down with that.

Painting in the Language Medium

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This video – Shoot Christians Say – has been making the rounds (or maybe I’m late to the party).

I crack up when I watch it because in the insulated church community it sounds normal, but how must this sound to anyone not in that community?

I stopped by today after work to talk to a friend at his place of employment (it’s a bar) and it was just me, him, and another guy sitting on the stools.

Our conversation switched from faith and doubt (I was asking my friend to speak at an event I’m putting on September 29) to gardens, pickling, and canning (you know, the stuff guys talk about when we aren’t talking about doilies and the subtle nuances of a fine Earl Grey). The other guy, was pretty knowledgeable about these things, but he was also very skilled in the many grammatical uses of the f-word.

But I wasn’t offended.

Like Ralphie’s dad in A Christmas Story, I have been known to work in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. At one time in my life, it was my true medium; I was a master. I’m actually known among friends from high school for creating combinations no else had come up with before. So while I notice it when others speak obscenities, I don’t get uncomfortable.

Did you know there is a difference between obscenities and profanities? We’ve been using this website to help screen movies for our kids and from our research I found out that profanities are words that profane or disrespect the name of God(think G-D). Obscenities are words that our society has deemed “naughty.”

The other guy at the bar and I left at the same time and as he was getting on his bike and I was walking to my car he asked, “What was that you were talking about in there?” He was referring to the conversation with my friend.

So what kind of language do I use?

I didn’t paint in my old obscenity medium, but I also didn’t speak church words. I just talked. He told me it sounded interesting but he couldn’t come on Sunday nights because that was the night he had his kids. Then he told me he was Catholic but he hasn’t been to mass in forever. I was honest with him and told him I was a pastor but that if I wasn’t, I don’t know if I’d go to church every Sunday. That led to a conversation about him not liking the church because of all the politics and judgmental people. I brought up Pope Francis and his recent comments about not judging. He said he had heard about that and kind of liked this nee pope. As we parted ways I told him I hoped I’d see him again.

So what’s my point?

I know a lot of Christians who would have been so offended by this guys language they would have moved to the other side of the room. I know just as many who would have never been in a bar or have struck up a conversation with this guy.

I’m not saying I’m so great (cuz that ain’t true) but why is it that God so loved the world and yet most of the people who claim to love Him avoid the world?

Why is it that we are so easily offended at language but not concerned at all with our own off-putting language?

It’s interesting to me: I’m sure there were obscenities in Jesus’ time – I’m sure he heard them perhaps from the Gerasene Demoniac, maybe at Ceserea Philippi, or other times – and yet He doesn’t move along or avoid those people. Why do we?

That Salty Discharge

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My oldest son just read The One and Only Ivan. When he finished (2 hours later) he came downstairs and started to tell me how much he loved it.

And then he said: “I cried at the end.”

There’s the moment – one of the most pivotal moments in this boy’s life. Do I go in the “big boys don’t cry” direction or do I give him a hug and say, “That’s awesome buddy, I’m glad you really liked it!”

I went with the latter.

For these reasons:

1) I cried at The Dark Knight Rises when Alfred was standing over Bruce’s grave. I cried at The Water Boy (don’t ask). I cry every time I watch The Kid and I cry every time I hear my friend Nate tell this one story about his son. So all my boys have seen me cry during movies and wondered what was wrong.

2) I want my boys to be okay with being emotional. I don’t want them to be grown men who wonder what the salty discharge leaking from their eyes could possibly be (Seinfeld reference).

3) I want my boys to love literature and the arts and feel like that is normal instead of weird.

4) I don’t want my boys to repress any emotions or run from them. If you’ve read any of my other blog entries you know why.

5) I cry every once in a while, but there have been about three times in my life where I have just bawled my eyes out. And those times are some of the powerful and deeply sacred moments in my life. I wouldn’t want them to miss out on those in their own lives.

So…now I guess I have to go read The One and Only Ivan.

The Devil Made Me Do It

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There’s no denying that there is evil in this world. What I see, however, is too many Christians blaming Satan for things that I’m not sure are Satan.

I believe Satan tempts, but most people’s way of describing Satan is that of an sneering puppet master orchestrating events in our lives, the church, and the world. I don’t know if I believe that.

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I’ve had some experiences recently in my life where some people have acted in destructive ways. I’ve watched those destructive ways hurt others and cause division. And what I often hear is: “Satan is out to get us.” Or sometimes I hear things like: “We must be doing something good or we wouldn’t be coming under attack.”

I don’t know. That may be true, it may not be.

But what I do know is true is that we are a fallen humanity. We are imperfect. We are selfish and egotistical, we have the capacity to be mean and destructive, to gossip, to slander, to let all sorts of evil come from our tongues. And if we want to blame those things on Satan, then doesn’t every evil or destructive action need to be placed on Satan too?

What about the ways in which I act that could be considered evil or destructive? Did the devil make me do it? When I overeat or lose patience with my kids or drive a few miles over the speed limit – did the devil make me do it?

See, I think we are looking for someone else to blame. We don’t want to take personal responsibility.

Because “The devil made me do it” is just that. I have relieved myself of all responsibility. I’m just a pawn, a very weak-willed soft-minded action-figure of Satan.” And I don’t believe that, I’m a child of God, not a tool of the devil. I do bad things, I sometimes have no self-control, and I could take a blue ribbon in the selfishness-showing category of the county fair. And that’s the problem. I don’t think it’s Satan.

These people, who have been acting in destructive ways – I can see why they are doing it. They are anxious, afraid, confused. They fear losing control. They are immature. They are simply, imperfect human beings.

Paul said: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:15-20).

For Paul, there is a sinful condition – you could call it an imperfect humanity. But never once does he blame the devil for his actions. He says “I…I…I.” A part of him wants to do these destructive, sinful things – his sinful nature – but also a part of him wants to do good. In other places Paul certainly communicates the reality of evil powers in this world and of a spiritual realm, but when it comes to human behavior, he doesn’t blame any of it on anything spiritual.

So when we say attribute a group of people acting in harmful, divisive ways as “Satan is trying to get at us,” I think we allow people to continue to act in selfish, immature ways. We don’t address their behavior, we don’t help them accept personal responsibility, and we perpetuate a system built on really incomplete theology.

I’m not a theologian, and I’m sure people smarter than I am could argue with me about this and probably make a very compelling case for their views. But what I am, is an imperfect human being and I know first-hand how imperfect beings behave.

Some Thoughts on Community

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I want to be a part of a community that is more than an institution, more than a country club, more than what we’ve come to accept as “church”.

I want to learn about how to have a full and meaningful from a community that seeks to live into God’s design.  Not just a moral life.  Not just a “good” life.

I want to find people to journey with who are willing to invest time with each other, give attention to each other, risk self-disclosing and being vulnerable with each other, and commit to each other.

I want to be in a community where shame is vehemently guarded against and lessened with compassion and empathy.

I want to be in a community where where there is no hierarchy, where no one dominates, where leadership is shared, and where no one thinks of themselves as superior.

I want to be in a diverse community where people are different than I am and differences are accepted without judgment.

I want to be in a community with people who are further along in their journey and with people who might not be as far – and that those who are further are not considered more important or those who aren’t as far aren’t considered less important – but a place where just being on the journey together is the most important thing.

I want to be in a community that seeks truth and recognizes that all truth (no matter where it comes from) is God’s truth.

I want to be in a community where life is shared relationally in both fun and deep ways.

Where can such a place or such a group of people be found?

 

 

 

Self-Doubt

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“But what if I don’t pass?”

That’s the question my son was asking me before his yellow belt test in karate yesterday morning.

What if I don’t…
What if I can’t…

What if I fail?

Those questions must form sometime around a year old. When we are learning to walk it’s okay if we fail. Take a step, wobble, fall – applause and smiles and encouragement. But maybe once we get passed those first unsure steps and start running, maybe the pressure sets in.

What if everyone laughs at me?
What if I’m not very good?
What if they don’t like me?

Self-doubt.

Do you struggle with it? Those “what if” questions can be paralyzing. They can lead us to never try anything. They can put us in a corner shivering with fear. They keep us from really living.

It’s more than just a kid wondering if he’ll remember his karate routine or stepping up to the plate for the first time – it may begin to form there – but it definitely dictates our adulthood too.

But it makes me wonder: is life supposed to be epic? Is it supposed to be an adventure? Are we supposed to risk and run and jump and put ourselves out there?

Why would we?

Strike three with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. You bravely ask the girl out and she says, “No.” You do something where you step out courageously and you get shot down. You try and follow God’s leading and people get upset. You hear the talking behind your back.

Our deepest doubts and fears get confirmed in the reactions of others. So we stop trying. We play it safe. We live small.

I asked a friend the other day why we let a few negatives speak so much more loudly than a bucketful of positives:

When people tell us something sad or wear us down, be it slanderous or not, it cuts because it’s axing away at our pride. And if a person has a low self-worth, it’s going to cut further because it’s confirming all the things they know to be true of themselves but try to block out.

Wow.

Who told you that you couldn’t be a ballerina? Who told you that you’d never amount to anything. Who told you to choose a different career because you’d never make any money doing that? Who told you that you can’t?

For me, I’ve been feeling led to start some sort of alternative faith community. A group of people who don’t care about the institution that we’ve come to know as church or those who have been ostracized or made to feel unwanted. A group of misfits who don’t fit in the box. I don’t know what it would look like, I don’t know who would even want to be a part of it, but what I do know, or at least have a sneaking suspicion about, is that it would fail. The looks I would get. The feeling I’d have when no one showed up. So I don’t do anything. I live in fear. I live small.

So what’s the antidote to this?

The only thing I know to be true here, is that encouragement is the only thing that has a chance to give us hope.

But in order to have others encourage us we need to share our hopes, ideas, and dreams with others. Otherwise the encouragement doesn’t come.

And another helpful thing my wife helped me see us that we live in an age of right or wrong, pass/fail, good and bad. But what if it was enough that we tried? What if it was enough that we wobbled, took a step, and fell? Those who truly love us (really the only ones that matter) would still cheer us and encourage us all the more.

We showered my son with massive amounts of encouragement before the test and the kid not only passed and got his yellow belt, he also broke a wooden board with a front kick on the first try! He’ll keep that board as a reminder to have courage next time.

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I hope, with my whole being, that all my boys aren’t afraid to try and fail. But that means I not only need to encourage them, but I need to set the example.